I made a speech…

My lovely friend Miss K. asked me to speak about my experience for the Stand Up and Speak Out March yesterday. Anyone who knows me knows that speaking to one person often causes hives and extreme anxiety for me. Speaking in front of a crowd at a rally on the town square? That is a few steps bigger than a conversation.

But I said yes. When I moved out of the shelter, I promised myself that I would do anything I could to help other women get out of harmful situations.

So I spoke.

I was terrified. I got hives. My voice shook. It was windy and I don’t know that anyone heard a thing I said. But I did it.

22448169_1834346583544807_8768126055507071375_n In the video recording (which can be found on Facebook), you can’t hear much, so a few people have requested a written transcript.

This was my speech:

Hi, I am Shannon Norman, I am not sure if I am a speaker or a storyteller like we are supposed to be in order to stand up here, but I am a survivor. So, today I would like to share a few things with you. I am better at writing than speaking, but I am okay at reading, so I hope you don’t mind if I just read this word for word. 

I can still feel the cold tile of the kitchen floor, hot spit landing on me as he screamed. Calling me crazy, telling me how worthless I was as a mother and a wife. Telling me once more what a waste of space I was in this world. I attempted to stop crying, trying to get it together as I looked up at the man who was supposed to love me, the father of my children. Was this really what love looked like? When had it all come this?

He didn’t hit me though, not at first. I swore if he ever touched me I would leave.

Looking back, I can see the progression, but it was so gradual I didn’t have a chance of seeing it while I was right there in it.

It all started innocently enough. Maybe I didn’t load the dishwasher correctly, or the laundry wasn’t done in a timely fashion. He talked about needing more freedom, or wished I was more fun, how he thought I should be doing more to help our growing family. There were a few arguments here,  and then he started making some degrading remarks occasionally. He always felt that nothing was ever quite right and when we tried to talk, he would twist my words so I couldn’t figure out what I was trying to say… But, somehow, I was always wrong. I began to doubt myself. Every word became monitored, every move calculated carefully to see if it would set him off or create an argument.

Eventually the external pressure began to break through to my heart and mind. I was convinced I was unworthy of love. His constant disapproval gradually turned to threats, constant fault finding, and reminders of my worthlessness.

But still, he had never touched me.

So many nights I cried myself to sleep, terrified about what might happen if I didn’t do exactly as he said. So many times I knew I shouldn’t give him my paycheck, but I did it anyway. So many times I felt like I should call someone and tell them to come get me. I told myself to get out. I told myself that life would be better if I just left.

But those thoughts came along with his voice, telling me I wasn’t strong enough, and I would never make it on my own, I was stupid and couldn’t succeed in the corporate world, much less find people to love me. I knew that if I left and failed, it would just prove my weakness, prove him right about me.

So, always haunted by the  fear that he was right, I stayed.

A few years into our marriage, I stopped recognizing myself. I would look in the mirror and see a woman too fat to love at 100lbs. I saw a mother destroying her children because she was a terrible parent. I saw a wife who could never satisfy her husband. I saw stupid. Fat. Ugly. Worthless. Useless.

Eventually though, I just saw nothing. I had become the invisible girl.

I found emails, text messages, panties and lipstick that didn’t belong to me. But, if I were to bring it up, “I” ruined our day, or our evening, or our life. He didn’t understand why “I” always took the fun out of everything. Maybe if I was a bit more fun, he could be a bit more loyal to me, to our family. But I was so boring, he couldn’t handle it.

So, I tried to change. I started cheerleading for the arena football team, went to parties ad clubs with him. Acted like I was young and exciting again. I was miserable, but I wanted to make our marriage work and I had figured out very quickly that it was all on me to do so.

It didn’t work though. Nothing changed. In fact, when he commented on any efforts I was making, I could see how much he enjoyed the power, knowing that I was in pain, that I could no longer speak up, that all my boundaries had been broken down.

I began to live and breathe for the moments he would hold me in his arms and apologize, saying I brought it out of him. Things would be better for a while, full of laughter and smiles and good memories, even if making those memories meant we were getting swallowed up by debt. But, he convinced me in those precious moments that he wasn’t like this. I made him like this. I should have approached him differently. I should spoken in a softer manner. I should have done more listening and less talking. I should make my wishes clearer without being demanding.

He knew he could react differently if I just approached him correctly.

So, I adjusted my approach. Again and again and again. Until finally I realized the only way to avoid the pain was to be silent. Until eventually even that didn’t work anymore.

My friends came to me, concerned that I was disappearing. I defended him, told them that we were just going through some things and learning to be a team. All marriages had to go through a learning curve, right? We were both educated, we knew how to work through things, we could figure this out. I just knew it would all work out eventually.

When people began to ask why I no longer smiled, I learned to say “I just have a lot going on” and left it at that. When I accidentally let slip one of the terrible, hurtful things he had said to me, I immediately found myself justifying it by degrading myself exactly as he would.

Eventually I stopped talking about it. I didn’t want anyone to see the shame, didn’t want them to know the insanity of my circumstances. I couldn’t fathom the idea that a strong, independent woman like me could no longer take care of herself and leave an obviously toxic situation. 

But, I had stopped expecting anything better for my life.

And all of this before he ever laid a hand on me.

I knew I could never explain that I felt it was my fault too. I had studied social work in college, of all things, and battered women always thought it was their fault…

But I was different, right?

I mean, no one knew him the way I did. No one really understood our situation. No one saw how much potential was locked behind his pain. I knew that if I could only protect him long enough, if I could just help him figure out his temper issues, he could learn to be better. He had to, for our children’s sake.

Plus, in a selfish way, I didn’t want people thinking I was married to a monster. I didn’t think I could handle them knowing I was so weak, making this decision I knew wasn’t healthy. I didn’t want them knowing that the man I loved treated me so poorly. We had a beautiful home, we were small group leaders in our church, we were involved in the community… We looked like we had everything together.

I couldn’t talk to anyone about the reality of my life, so I was left feeling completely alone.

Plus, he still had never hit me.

I found a job working from home. It was much easier to hide. I didn’t have to answer “how are you?” questions. I didn’t have to feel like a liar every time I said I was fine. However, my solitude meant that I no longer saw a reflection in other people’s eyes to remind me what normal looked like. 

Now, the only reflection I saw was the one in his eyes. And the beliefs I had attempted to fight for so long flooded over me. I began to believe everything he told me about myself. I began to believe his irrational explanations despite my own heart and eyes. He defined my reality. I had no one but the monster to tell me who I was.

I knew that if any of my friends knew what was happening, they would try to force me to leave.  In fact, a few of them already had by this point. But they never knew details, so they respected my decision to stay… while distancing themselves from me.

I still believed I would leave the moment he touched me.

And never go back. Until the night it happened.

He grabbed my arm and pushed me into the table, followed by a quick slam into the wall. The next day I left.

But…

The way I thought about myself began to cloud my vision. My doubts and fears brought me to a realization that he could be right. What if no one else could love me? What if I was the terrible person I saw reflected in his eyes. What if I really could never do anything right? That first day, he texted and called me so many times that my friend I was staying with thought we should call the police. She was so concerned. And rightfully so.

But he convinced me that I owed him communication for the sake of our children.

That communication lasted several months until one day, we went to the park with the kids. There was a photographer, and he made sure it was the perfect day. Then he gave me the perfect apology with the perfect words. He told me that everything would be different now. Sometimes we just have to fall when we learn to ride a bike. We had fallen off the bike, but we could learn from it. He begged me to come back, to try again. So, I “got back on the bike with him”.

I rationalized that he had only been violent because I provoked him so much. I told myself that if I was able to avoid confrontation, it would never happen again. I believed he had realized just how crazy and out of hand things were.

I thought my leaving would change everything. I mean, it was obvious to everyone how much he loved me. Perhaps even how crazy I made him was proof like he said. He cared so much that he became overwhelmed by his emotions; anger, sadness, jealousy, whatever it was, and he just couldn’t control himself.

I was wrong. There were several instances after I went back where the police were called to our home. Eventually, I left in the back of an ambulance, after he attempted to murder me with his bare hands. Choked, thrown  down a flight of stairs, my arm shredded, wrist broken, and shoved over the railing in front of our house.

I knew that night that I could never see him again. Because I believed the officer as he leaned in close and whispered, “next time, you will be dead. You are worth it. Those babies are worth it. Please take care of yourself. Please stay away.” I knew in my heart that he was right. 6 years of marriage and two children ended with my husband in the back of a police car while my children and I looked on from an ambulance.

I was lucky to get out alive, but we are here today for those who did not, or who still cannot walk out.

Because 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men experience domestic violence.

Look around. 1 in 4 women. 1 in 7 men.

Does it surprise you? Or are you one of those people?

Either way, I want to talk to you about a few things.

First, let’s look at a few red flags that could reveal a dangerous match.

The National Domestic Violence hotline says that most domestic violence relationships begin just like mine. A whirlwind, incredible romance where your partner seems too good to be true.

To quote from their website, “many abusers may seem absolutely perfect on the surface — as if they are the dream partner — in the early stages of a relationship. Possessive and controlling behaviors don’t always appear overnight, but rather emerge and intensify as the relationship grows.”

Here are a few things that you can look out for. If you see your relationship in any of these, there are resources that can help. Get out while you still can.

Some of the signs of an abuser are:

·   Embarrassing or putting you down

·   Looking at you or acting in ways that scare you

·   Controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do

·   Keeping you or discouraging you from seeing your friends or families

·   Taking your money or refusing to give you money for expenses

·   Preventing you from making your own decisions

·   Telling you that you are a bad parent or threatening to harm or take away your children

·   Preventing you from working or attending school

·   Blaming you for the abuse, or acting like it’s not really happening

·   Destroying your property or threatening to hurt or kill your pets

·   Intimidating you with guns, knives or other weapons

·   Shoving, slapping, choking or hitting you

·   Attempting to stop you from pressing charges

·   Threatening to commit suicide because of something you’ve done

·   Threatening to hurt or kill you

·   Pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with

·   Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol

·   Preventing you from using birth control or pressuring you to become pregnant when you’re not ready

Obviously, domestic violence doesn’t look the same in every relationship because every relationship is different. But one thing most abusive relationships have in common is that the abusive partner does many different kinds of things to have power and control over their partners. It’s all about power and control.

As a friend of someone who might be abused, keep your eyes open.

When it really sinks in that over 25% of our population as women, over 14% of men are abused, you start to look around you a little differently. You start to realize that some of the people who look like they have it all together might not. And you realize that you have at least one, if not more people in your circle who are experiencing the pain of living with a monster in the dark.

So, how can you help?

Talk to them. Let them know that you see them, that they are not invisible, that their pain matters and it isn’t okay. But try not to judge them if they stay. Judgement means isolation and makes the decision harder for them.

Be sure that if/when you address it with them, it is in a safe place. If it gets back to their abuser that they were discussing their relationship, there is a chance that you are putting them in harm’s way.

Listen to them. Really listen. Sometimes feeling heard and validated can change a person’s mindset more than anything.

If anything, help them realize how common it is. Help them see that it is not their fault. Most abusers are master manipulators and their victims, aka your friends, feel that they are the one at fault for the hell in their life.

There is a very real possibility that your friend will be like me, in a state of “abuse cant happen to me because…” And whatever reasons they have come up with are real and true to them, so it is important that you use clear examples of the things you have seen and explain that although things may not be to “that level” yet, domestic violence tends to escalate over time, and you are concerned.

You can provide them with resources or help them develop a safety plan in case things escalate.

The most important thing is to let them know that they are not alone.

Leaving is the hardest thing I ever did. I had to start over, from ground zero. Realizing and redefining my ideas of normal. I had to realign my expectations. And I still have to consistently remind myself that acts of violence are never acts of love, no matter how heated the moment.

It has taken me a long time to see life reflected in other people’s eyes again. I am so grateful that there are more people like me, people who have broken down the walls that kept them in the darkness. There are incredibly strong, courageous women who have shared their stories, and by doing so, gave me the strength to continue. They embraced me with the pain of their pasts, showed me that I was not alone and that I am worthy of so much more.

Although that was a truth that was hard won in my own head.

But…

Knowing I am not alone has allowed the shame to dissipate over time. I still struggle with many of the thoughts that were forcibly shoved into my brain on a repeated basis. But I no longer believe I was crazy, or overly sensitive or my imagination was just running wild, because I could not reconcile the love and the abuse in my mind.

Both existed. I have accepted that.

And now, I can only pray that as I speak, my words will find the woman they are meant for, that they will embrace you in the knowledge that you are not alone. I pray they equip you with strength and love and give you wings to rise from the depths of your own darkness.

As that officer whispered in my ear all those years ago, “next time could be the last time. You are worth it. Your babies are worth it. Please take care of yourself!”

Thank you for listening to my story today.

 

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Life by Design – So many questions

I have spent the better part of my adult years around network marketers. You know, the people who are always saying bigger is better and life needs to be maxed out in every way? The people who push you to dream bigger, to push yourself, to live the life of fantasies…

This weekend really started me thinking. If you have read any of my other posts, you probably know that I am a firm believer that every person on this planet can do whatever they set their mind to. If they want it bad enough. I am also a believer that there is excessive abundance in the world and it’s there for the taking. And I believe that things, high-quality, nice things, can be very fulfilling in their own manner.

But in all the years I have spent around network marketing, there was one tiny little problem. I could never make myself want “it”. I could never push myself to the next level. I could never picture owning the fancy cars/house/etc. And I felt bad every time I realized that it just wasn’t what I wanted. I thought everyone was supposed to want more, to push themselves more. I felt like I was unambitious and lacking inspiration because I didn’t want fancy. I felt like it was an injustice to my family, my mom, my kids to choose a simpler lifestyle.

But every single time I start to ponder my life, I come back to how much I love the simple things. My favorite date I ever went on was a walk. That’s it. It wasn’t a walk on a beach, it wasn’t a walk through a big, glamorous city. It was a walk, right here at home, in my own backyard. A walk that was full of laughter and deep discussion and real, heart-filled goodness.

My favorite memories with my kids take place in a tiny 800 sq. ft. duplex. Not the massive Victorian show home that I used to live in. It’s those little moments. Reading before bed, playing a board game, letting my son attempt to teach me to play Mario Cart. (I wish I had at least 1 smidgeon of hand/eye coordination, but I don’t). Its the moments where my daughter has come over when I am on the couch and said “Can I snuggle you?”

And when I spend time with friends? I always prefer a quiet cup of coffee with interesting conversation over a night on the town in a chic dress. I want to know them, at a heart level. I want to see things from their perspective. I want to delve into the recesses of their minds and uncover the beauty that lies within.

Please don’t take this wrong. I am not judging you if you want to be rich and have a Ferrari or a 20,000 sq. ft. house. More power to you. If those things bring you joy, then by all means, go out and chase that! Please!!! You won’t be happy unless you are in pursuit of something that matters to you.

I am just saying that I have FINALLY come to the realization that those things do not matter TO ME.

I spent years chasing. Always chasing. Money, relationship, status. I wanted it all. I wanted people to look at me and say “that woman has it all together.” I wanted the power suit, the high heels, the glam hair and the lifestyle to go along with it all. I wanted to be seen. To be noticed. To be respected and admired. I wanted to be a shining example of independence and assertiveness.

And none of those things are bad. Not one. They are actually all pretty awesome things.

But in light of recent events in my life, I am really starting to ponder what really matters to me. What makes me tick? What makes my world spin? What makes time stop for me?

And that has led to more questions. Like, what if I just want a slow, simple life? What if I find happiness in the peace that exists in the in-between? What if I am never rich or famous, but just a normal, everyday person? What if I choose to be content where I am today?

Everything around me is screaming. You need to hustle. You need to improve. Be more.  Strive for bigger things. You need more stuff. You need to look better/be better/have more than the Joneses. You need to compete. Claw your way to the top. Be more productive. Sleep less. Have a huge impact. Make your life count.

But what if that isn’t what I need to be doing? What if, by striving for more, I am missing the blessings I already have? What if all the competition just makes me feel stressed and worn out? What if it steals my joy? What if running after things means I am leaving my peace behind?

Why can’t I just be enough?

What if I am only a mom? A sister? A daughter? A friend?

And what if I focused, really focused on making the people in my immediate world aware of the fact that they are loved. Deeply and fervently and passionately cared for and held in high regard. What if I used my energy to bring out the best in them? What if I made sure they felt wanted, appreciated, necessary? What if I made them feel chosen and valuable?

What if I never build a huge children’s home with horses and archery classes? What if, instead, I focus on our local Dream Center, providing food and childcare and fun times to the people right here in my own neighborhood?

What if I never give a Ted Talk about domestic violence and the impact it has on people? What if, instead, I just meet random people one on one, and I use my experiences as a survivor to instill belief in them and help them escape a terrible situation? Is that enough?

What if I don’t want to have a six-figure business or a high status job in the community? What if I just want to write? Not writing for money, but to make an impact. To change the one person’s perception who actually reads what I have written. To inspire one other person to listen to their own heart instead of the world around them. What if I find that individuals matter more than a following and helping one person is enough for me?

What if I never end up having a physique competitor body, but I accept the healthy, strong body that I have? What if I don’t give up the occasional treat because it is something I enjoy? What if I am happy with my three or four days of working out every week?

What if my house never looks like a catalog? What if I minimize my possessions and have a lot of empty space? What if I pare everything down to only the bare necessities? What if I am okay with just maintaining order and making real food as much as I can?  What if my home is just simple, but safe?

What if I am a mom who isn’t good at comforting my kids when they cry because I don’t know what that looks like? What if I never attend a PTA meeting or help with a school event? What if I don’t come up with a plan every summer or throw the best birthday parties? What if I am the mom who needs time for myself, even when they are with me sometimes? What if I want someone to put me first sometimes? What if I am just the mom whose hugs are stiff and unnatural but my cuddles are often? What if I don’t keep a rigorous schedule and I let them watch a little too much TV or play on their games a little too long once in a while? What if I am just an average mom who can never live up to my own expectations, let alone yours?

What if some people find me way too religious or uptight, while others find me too free-spirited and open? What if I never publicly proclaim my faith, but share in small spaces and genuine conversations? What if I talk about my doubts, my insecurities, my questions? What if I am not interested in changing society as a whole, but rather changing myself to be the best me for the people in my immediate circle?

What if I just can’t keep up? What if I need to sleep more than a normal person and being sick takes the air out of my lungs when I am walking down the hallway some days? What if I can’t run on two hours of sleep when I have a project to do? What if I don’t have boundless energy and stamina? What if I need solitude, serenity and an abundance of rest to stay healthy and happy?

And what if…

What if I decided that who I am is already enough? What if I decide that when I die, I will never regret the decision to just BE? What if I embrace my limitations? What if I stop beating myself up over the things I can’t do and focus on the things I am already doing that matter? What if  just make peace with who I am and what I need and honor your right to do the same.

What would happen if I accepted that all I want is a slow, simple life? Beautiful on its own and bursting with love, peace and happiness. What if I finally chose to follow the command in the Bible that says “Be still”?

Because that is what I am in the process of doing.

And I think it is enough.

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Wandering Heart

I lean out a little further, uncertain of my own eyes. I can see his face now. That handsome, chiseled face with the dancing, warm eyes. I would know it anywhere.

His sandy brown hair is a bit longer now, soft waves blowing in the breeze, mimicking the red scarf casually slung around his neck. The navy blue blazer complemented his broad shoulders well.

I find myself staring at his hand, gently resting in the hand of a breathtaking raven-haired beauty. His fingers caressed her palm softly as they spoke, the glint of a diamond just visible. I glance at my own naked hand, pondering what that might be like for a brief moment.

He stood 6’4″, as straight backed and proud as ever. I felt as though his large frame should have dwarfed her diminutive size, but she oozed a confidence and contentment that made her seem larger than life in some way.

His smile is genuine, those straight white teeth showing off the talents of a skilled orthodontist so many years ago. Occasional laughter rings in my ears softly.

His eyes never leave her, revealing the depth of his affection.

I still love him. A wistful smile reaches my mouth before I realize it. I could have been that girl. If only my wandering heart could be tamed.

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My car arrives and I skip lightly into the backseat.

Adventure awaits.

Always.

 

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Hiking barefoot. A moment in time.

The rich, dark earth slowly filters through my fingers as the sun shines warm on my back. This is the place.

I look up slowly. Mystery tempts in the shade ahead, trees towering to the heavens, ferns and moss painting the scene with every color green imaginable. The shadows dance and tiny patches of light paint a picture of glorious solitude and serenity.

It is a woodland story. Full of wild beauty; raw, unfiltered and perfect. It draws me. It makes my heart long for more.

As the grandeur of the scenery starts to sink in, the sounds become more prominent. Water trickles over rocks somewhere nearby, full of life and peace. Birds sing in the distance, dancing in the warmth of the spring sunshine. Squirrels scurry through the treetops while the leaves sway and rustle. The wind breathes softly through it all, creating a beautiful symphony.

There is a path ahead, barely visible. I can feel it more than I can see it. It’s pulling me in, begging me to explore, to go deeper.

I take a few steps with my bare feet. Hard, sun baked earth gives way to the damp, dark soil, the incredibly soft covering of the forest that I love so much.

I am home at last.

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The Adulteress

I read this a few years ago and I thought I would share it here. I am not actually sure where it came from originally, but I absolutely love it.

 

“What are we going to do with this Jesus,” the chief priest asked the group. “He is going about healing people left and right. Everywhere I go the buzz is about Jesus. It’s Jesus this, and Jesus that. And the crowds are calling him the Messiah! Everyone knows that the Messiah will not come from Galilee. If we don’t get rid of him, we are going to have an insurrection on our hands.”

“And ever since the buzz about him multiplying a few loaves and fish to feed over 5,000 people has circulated, his followers have multiplied as well. He must be stopped.”

“I have an idea,” Lucius responded with a gleam in his eye. “I happen to know a certain married man who is sleeping with his mistress at this very moment. I happened to see him slink into her house last night.”

And as the hard-hearted Pharisees gathered round, a spiteful plan to trick Jesus began to unfold.

 

The sun was just peeking through the securely locked shutters of Morah’s bedroom window.  The predawn stillness was broken only by the songs of early rising birds floating on the breeze.  Morah was a tangle of sheets, arms and legs as the man she loved lay sleeping beside her.

“Oh, Zachariah,” she whispered as her fingertips brushed a stray lock of hair from his closed eyes.  “If only you weren’t married. I know this is wrong, but I love you so. And I have to believe you when you say you love me as well. We are risking our very lives with these frequent trysts.”

Morah’s musings were suddenly interrupted by a banging on the door.

“Open up!” the gruff voice demanded.

“Who is there?” Morah cried as she scrambled to find her robe.

“Open up or we’ll break the door down.”

“What’s all the commotion,” Zachariah mumbled as he groggily sat up in bed.  “What’s going on?”

Before Morah could even think to answer, the angry mob of religious men broke through the simple lock and into the lovers’ hideaway.

“What is the meaning of this?” Zachariah barked. “What do you think you are doing?”

“What do you think you are doing, my friend,” the Pharisee countered. “That is the real question here.”

“Morah, daughter of Omar, you are under arrest for adultery under the Law of Moses!” the moral police spat.  “Get dressed and come with me.”

The Pharisee tossed Morah her night robe, but failed to turn his head as she slipped her trembling frame from the cover of the sheets and into the thin cloak. He grabbed her by the arm and began dragging her to the door.

“Where are you taking me?” she cried.

“You’ll find out soon enough,” the Pharisee growled.

“What about Zachariah?” the youngest man of the group inquired.

“Just leave him,” the Pharisee replied.  “We don’t need him.”

“Why don’t you go back to your wife where you belong,” the Pharisee called over his shoulder as the group left the room. And with that, the conspiring mob continued their trek to the temple with the half-clad trembling woman in tow.

Two men flanked the weeping woman on either side, dragging her through the early morning hustle and bustle of the city. The bait was hooked, and now it was time to reel in the catch.

 

Like mice following the Pied Piper, a curious stream of townsfolk joined the parade.  Jesus was already teaching in the courtyard with a group gathered at his feet. As always, Jesus’ message and miracles drew large crowds. A distant rumble interrupted his gentle teaching as the angry mob and curious crowd approached. They marched right into the inner circle of the classroom and thrust the woman at the Master’s feet.

Morah’s unbound hair fell around her bare shoulders and fluttered in the early morning breeze.  Her shame-filled eyes stayed riveted on the earthen floor, refusing to meet Jesus’ gaze. Then one of the men pulled her to her feet and displayed her for all to see.

She didn’t need to look at the man before her. She recognized his voice. It was Jesus.

“Teacher,” the pious Pharisee began, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The Law of  Moses commands us to stone such a woman. Now what do you say?”

Jesus didn’t look at the woman’s half-clad body as the others openly gawked. He looked into her soul.

 

Morah lifted her eyes and looked into the face of love.  What do I detect in his gaze? She thought to herself. It wasn’t contempt, disgust, or condemnation, but rather compassion, concern, and pure, unadulterated love. Somehow she knew that this was the look she had been searching for her entire life.

As Morah listened to the Pharisee’s question, she understood Jesus’ dilemma. If he set her free, the Pharisees would accuse him of ignoring the Law of Moses and deem him a heretic.  If he sentenced her to death by stoning, then his teachings of grace and forgiveness would be negated.

The religious leaders already held the stones in their clenched fists, anticipating his reply. Their hearts were as hard as the rocks they held in their hands. But rather than give a quick answer, Jesus moved his gaze from the trembling woman and stooped to the ground.  With his finger, the very hand of God-made-man, he began writing in the dirt.  A frigid chill swept through the Pharisees pious robes. Suddenly they felt the rawness of naked exposure as Jesus’ eyes looked up at each of them and without a word, uncloaked their sinful thoughts and desires. With one look from Jesus, they stood soul bare and more exposed than the half-dressed woman before them.

Everyone held their breath. The silence was deafening. The tension was palpable. Finally, Jesus rose and delivered the verdict.

“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Then Jesus squatted once again and continued to write.

 

One-by-one the Pharisees unclenched their fists, dropped the stones, and filtered through the crowd. The older men who had accumulated a longer list of sins turned to leave first, with the younger ones not far behind.

The remaining crowd listened closely as the drama continued to unfold.  After the last of the Pharisees cleared the scene, Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are your accusers?  Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she replied.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The woman turned to leave, but not before picking up a discarded stone to take with her.

“To remember,” she whispered

I hope that today I can remember… I cannot and should never judge another for their sins. I have enough of my own.

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My take on church…

I remember Sundays at my house growing up. We didn’t always go to church, but my mom tried to make sure we went as often as possible. And on the days that we did go to church, it was utter chaos in the morning.

Everyone (eight children, two adults) had to be dressed their very best, with Sunday shoes and fancy hair. The hair was a bit rough because older kids did younger kids hair and lots of fighting and “ouches” and winces commenced, followed by my parents raised voices and commands to “stop it,” “be still” and “hurry up.”

But why? Why put us through the torture of styling our hair? Why make sure we were wearing our best clothes?

Because if we were gonna go to church, we were gonna go lookin’ good!

It didn’t matter if we fought and screamed all the way to the parking lot… it didn’t matter if one or all of us had been beaten with a wire hanger that morning… it didn’t matter if we had been crying on our way out the door. When we walked through those church doors, we put on our plastic smiles and our fake laughs and we acted like the world was perfect.

“Good morning!” was said to everyone with a big smile.

“How are you?” The greeters always asked.

“Fine,” “Great,” “Doing well” were automated responses for all of us.

But it was all a lie. We were anything BUT fine. Our world was broken, our household was chaos, and fear and intimidation ruled our lives. My dad was a dry drunk who got his jollies by beating his kids. My mom was depressed and anxious and trying to do the best she could with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Somedays she barely left her bed. I was lonely and afraid all the time. My brothers and sisters varied between angry and fearful. Tears weren’t allowed in our home, so anger and sarcasm were the only ways we were allowed to show emotion. And we did. The fights we got into, the broken noses, the knives, the threats. It was like a war zone all the time.

And, as I have heard stories from some of the other kids that sat in the pews near us growing up, I have realized that their worlds were anything BUT fine as well.

But no one knew. We hid it all so well.

And that… That is why I have a tendency to question “The Church.” That is why I look at the way people LIVE as much as possible before I decide to follow them. That is why a church, any church, that is inwardly focused, has no appeal whatsoever to me.

Because when we get engrossed in the “church lifestyle,” it becomes so easy to put on a mask and pretend that things are good. It feels like that is the right thing. Because heaven forbid, anyone know that maybe things aren’t so easy right now.

What is it about the church that makes us feel like we have to show only our best faces? Shouldn’t it be the safe place? The place that Jesus was to his followers? Shouldn’t it be a place of grace and compassion and love, no matter what your life looks like?

I don’t recall Jesus saying “Go, clean yourself up before you talk to me” to the dirty, disheveled kids that followed him.

I don’t remember him telling the prostitute to go away because he couldn’t be seen with her as she washed his feet.

I don’t recall him telling the woman caught in adultery that she deserved the judgment that people were about to throw at her.

I never read about him telling the people who had no food that they “should have been more responsible.”

So WHY do we do that? Why do we cover up our lives and hide from God and others? Why are we still acting like Adam in the Garden of Eden, attempting to cover our nakedness with a fig leaf?

What is it about the church that makes us feel like we need designer clothes, shiny cars, and smiling faces in order to attend this masquerade ball every Sunday?

Why do we do it? Is it because we don’t want to appear weak?

Is it that we want to appear strong as the rock of Gibraltar even if a husband is beating us on a daily basis, or our son is being bullied at school, or your best friend was just informed she has 5 years to live, or you just discovered that you might not be around until your youngest turns 18?

So we walk through those doors, with all the burdens of the world hanging round our neck.

“How are you?”

“Fine, just fine.  Praise the Lord.” 

And the church becomes a stage, instead of a place to meet our God.

We play “Let’s Pretend,”  and the audience cheers for our performance, but the Director’s voice grows faint in the distance.

I love C.S. Lewis. In his book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, there is a scene that reveals what I think God wants for us. (If you haven’t read or watched The Chronicles of Narnia, you should.) In this particular scene, the White Witch has turned many of Narnia’s inhabitants to stone. Aslan, the king, the lion (representative of Christ to some) displays incredible courage as he braves the witches courtyard and gently breathes on each of the statues, bringing them back to life.

This is how the scene plays out.

“The courtyard looked no longer like a museum; it looked more like a zoo.  Creatures were running after Aslan and dancing around him till he was almost hidden in the crowd.  Instead of all that deadly white the courtyard was now a blaze of colors; glossy chestnut sides of centaurs, indigo horns of unicorns, dazzling plumage of birds, reddy-brown of foxes, dogs and satyrs, yellow stockings and crimson hoods of dwarfs; and the birch-girls in silver, and the beech-girls in fresh, transparent green, and the larch-girls in green so bright that it was almost yellow.  And instead of the deadly silence the whole place rang with the sound of happy roarings, braying, yelpings, barkings, squealings, cooings, neighings, stampings, shouts, hurrahs, songs and laughter.”

Amazing, isn’t it?

But unfortunately, it seems many of our churches are stone courtyards, with everyone attempting to blend in, trying to conform to the image that is expected of good, church-going people. Rather than trying to be who we were created to be, rather than finding the image of a good God in all of or individual quirks and follies, we attempt to be JUST LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE.

And that leads to a very boring, very uninspiring world that cannot and will not ever draw anyone in. There is definitely no Magnetism in a lifestyle that does not accept others just exactly as they are. We were NOT created to be clones of one another. We were gloriously created to be colorful, wild, wonderful individuals. Real people. No masks. People on our own journeys. People with our very own purpose.

So, my challenge for you today is to allow yourself to be real. Allow the winds to blow the stone places away from your heart and mind and find just one thing, one moment, that feels authentic and totally you. Then take that moment and celebrate it with everything you have.

Because you, my friend are glorious and perfect and exactly who you should be, bumps, bruises, scars and all.

Much love,

Shannon Joy 

 

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Before I Die…

So, I have been thinking… probably too much because that’s what I do.
But as I go through the process of creating this beautiful life, I realize more and more what is or is not important.
And the important things really aren’t what I thought they were at all.
When I was in college, I was determined to be financially successful, to dress in the best clothing, wear high heels every day, earn the admiration and respect of all my peers, have a huge office to myself and own a beautiful home where I threw incredible fancy dress-up parties.
I fought for that vision for a few years. Then I decided to add a husband into the equation. Then kids came along. Then life really hit me, knocked me down, and tore me apart for a while.
But I kept going. I was determined to have the “things” that would make me happy. So determined, in fact, that I cut people out of my life if I thought they didn’t feed my material goals. And as I struggled and fought to gain these ever-elusive material possessions, I found myself losing out on the more important things, many of which I didn’t recognize until it was too late.
But at this stage in the game, I have begun to realize what I really want from my life. I want a life that sizzles. I want a life that makes me throw my head back and laugh out loud. I want a life of crinkles and creases and stretching and growth.
I don’t want to lay on my death bed and realize that my life was just a collection of meetings and errands and laundry and receipts and dirty dishes.
No, I want to eat all the good food, and belt out Disney songs at the top of my lungs, and wear twirly skirts, and laugh until I am out of breath and my stomach hurts. I want to paint the beauty I have found in the world and bring beauty to the places that are aching for it. I want to stomp through mud puddles in bare feet and dance in a meadow on a sunny day. I want to sleep long and hard on clean white sheets and throw open all my windows and enjoy the fresh air. I want to throw costume parties on a whim and wear a wig just because. I want to watch movies that make me cry and read books so good they make me forget that time exists. I want to be so raw, so honest and vulnerable that it hurts. I want to make people think, really think, about life, about their expectations and standards. I want to experience joy so fully that I can’t help jumping up and down. 
And I want my life, each and every day, to be made of magical moments and memories. I want a life so full that God himself has to belly laugh when he looks at me because he is so glad he gave life to someone who loves it this much.
I want my life to be a blessing. And I want to leave a legacy of joy and hope.
I want to be every single little bit of the Shannon that I was created to be. I want to squeeze every drop of life out while I am still living so there is nothing left to experience by the time I die. I want to be everything I can be and embrace all of me. The messy housekeeper, the eccentric artist, the dreamer, the writer, the boss, the mom, the emotional redhead, the lover, the fighter… all of it.
And when I die, I want my kids, my lover, my friends, and my family to say “wow, she really knew how to LIVE, didn’t she?”
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