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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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religion vs faith

Post Traumatic Faith Disorder

PTFD. Post Traumatic Faith Disorder. I don’t know if it’s a real thing or not.

But I know it’s a real thing for me. I suffer from it. I suffer through it. Every day.

And in no way am I trying to compare myself to those individuals who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those who have served our country or survived a violent crime or a natural disaster. No way whatsoever. The fear they suffered… the fear they still suffer… the demons triggered… the hell they went through… I ache for them.

I know mine is no where near the same.

But I do have extreme fear and irrational anger and horrific flashbacks. And I live in the South. In the Bible Belt. Where faith is everywhere and gets tossed around like holy confetti.

And for a person like me… it’s terrifying.

PTFD. I hate it. I hate that I can’t walk into a sanctuary without feeling a visceral ache in my solar plexus. You think I’m kidding. I’m not. I took the boys to cotillion this summer in the basement of a church and I fought back demons the entire orientation.

I hate that if somebody sends me a text asking me what they can specifically put on their prayer list for me this week my pulse surges and I kind of want to vomit.

I hate that if a friend writes a bible study, I can’t read it. I want to. I really, really do. I’ll read anything else. But not that. I can’t. I feel too exposed. Too vulnerable. Too likely to have my scars crack open and flood my brain with darkness.

When folks invite me to church, I know they’re being kind. I know they’re being genuine. I believe they are true believers. I believe they aren’t trying to control me. Or convert me. (Maybe.)

I know these things. But it doesn’t make it any easier for me to stomach. I still feel queasy and manipulated. It comes from early and aggressive brainwashing. And it has ruined me for life.

I’m a believer. I am. But I am not a believer in organized religion. It won’t get its talons in me ever again. I’ve been eviscerated once. It won’t happen again. I’ve seen the corruption of power. Or the power of corruption. I don’t know which I believe it was… or is. But I believe it’s not for me.

It was rammed down my throat and up my innards until I was raw and wracked and ruined for all eternity.

There’s a John Donne poem, “Batter my Heart, Three-Person’d God” that I first encountered in college. It’s all about being ravished by God — being bent and broken and overthrown completely by the Holy Trinity. And that’s all well and good.

But when you’ve been overthrown and ravished by unholy persons of God, bent and broken and burned by an unholy tribe of them, then that’s another thing entirely.

Now I’ve entered church sanctuaries in the years since my escape. Of my own free will. But I have to be the one who initiates it. Who opens myself up to the possibility. But I taste fear and shame every time. And I never last long.

I read a book a few years back… A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. It is an incredibly dense and discerning book about (among other things) a man who was sexually abused in the most brutal and blasphemous ways as a child — and then again as a young adult. Anyone he loved and trusted in his youth raped and assaulted him. His body and brain were bludgeoned by something meant to be so sweet and sacred.

From there on out, he could never have sex again. He tried. He found love. He loved deeply. Profoundly. But he couldn’t have sex. The trauma was too deep. Too damaging.

I can relate. But in terms of organized religion. A church building. A sanctuary (oh, the irony is not lost on this English major), I just can’t do it.

I know Love. I know Christ. But that building… that congregation… that coming together as one.

Nope. Not for me.

So if you’re one of my good friends, my dearly beloved and oh-so-very-dear friends — I love and treasure and value you so very, very much. I do. So please understand if I don’t respond to your prayer request request or I don’t read your parable or I don’t… well, I just don’t.

Even though I really, really, really, REALLY want to be able to — please don’t take it personally. Please.

It’s Post Traumatic Faith Disorder. It’s self-preservation. And it’s the devil.

Who Cares What Men Prefer? You Do Not Need a Man to Translate Scripture or Life For You

I’m not a man hater. I’m not. But I also know (I’ve learned the hard way) that I have the freedom to decide for myself what I like and what I think and what I do.

I’ve written before about the Toni Morrison quote that compels me to write: “The function of freedom is to free someone else.”

Well, yesterday, while thumbing through social media, I came across a blog that slung me so far backwards that the bars of my prison-house were very nearly reinstated. It damn near set me back decades.

And that blog proved to me that I’m not done yet. That I need to keep fighting. To truly free myself from the side-effects of my childhood and to help free others still struggling behind the iron shackles of dogmatic religion. Not faith. Religion.

The blog was a recent post from The Transformed Wife. The title is menacing enough to me — the word “transformed” implying that the author was forced to undergo a dramatic, life-altering change to fit into the unforgiving mold of Wife.

But then there’s the title of her Monday blog: “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins Without Tattoos.” As if women should  be driven and controlled by men’s desires. Our minds, our lives, our bodies. Controlled. By men.

Ugh. The title was frightening, but I kept reading.

The entire intent of the blog is to caution women about everything from advanced education to independent living and thought. She strongly suggests in the second paragraph that women be wary of attending university lest they learn to be “independent, loud, and immodest instead of having meek and quiet spirits.”

Are you kidding me?!?

My skin flinched; my lips curled; my eyes rolled. I was sucker-punched backward to my broken and bridled teen years, where I had this exact bullshit horsewhipped into my soul.

I still suffer from the aftermath. I am meek and quiet – at least in person. This computer screen gives me confidence and a voice. But in person, I tend to shy away when conversations heat up. Or when I do speak up, if somebody pushes back hard enough, I back down. I shut down. I was conditioned to avoid confrontation, to keep my head down, and to NEVER contradict a man.

And it pisses me the hell off. (I was also taught never to cuss. That it’s not ladylike. But I’m making pretty good progress there…)

I was also conditioned to believe my sole purpose in life was to submit myself to men and to fear my own thoughts and actions – a notion the author goes on to address: “The husband will need to take years teaching his wife the correct way to act, think, and live since college taught them every possible way that is wrong.”

Vomit. Convulsive. Bile-riddled. Projectile. Vomit.

My father’s church did not approve of women attending college either, despite Dad hailing from a family full of advanced degrees. (He and his brother have PhDs; his sisters have a Master’s and an MD.)

But no college degrees were in my future — only apprenticeship under some elder’s wife where I would learn “biblical womanhood” and how “to serve others” and “live in submission” to my husband.

That was my destiny.

Luckily, I was rebellious. I was really good at being a thorn in the side and a fly in the ointment. And after a long, exhausting struggle I was finally deemed an unfit vessel for husband and church, and thrown out of the fold and into to my grandmother’s arms.

She was headstrong and rebellious, too. And she taught me to believe in myself. Or she tried. And so did my aunts and uncles.

I spent a single semester at UT in a dorm room under their generosity. But the brainwashing from all the biblical bludgeon-ings was too deepset. I clung to the notion that being in love and in a marriage and with child was my one true calling.

I still believe motherhood is one of my truest and strongest callings. I absolutely believe in love and marriage and children.

But I do not believe in submission and ignorance and mind-control. And I never will again.

The author also states the importance and value of having young women remain “under their father’s roof until they get married.”

One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I never lived on my own as a young woman. I believe independent living is one of the most crucial life-skills a woman can glean. The ability to think for herself. Provide for herself. Trust in herself. To believe she is strong. And capable. And worthy.

I learned all of these things. But it took me a long time. I didn’t really absorb them until after I was divorced, when I struggled to survive on rice cakes and peanut butter and struggled to find my confidence and my voice. But survive I did. And more than that, I found my voice and I found my confidence (as confrontationally-challenged as it may be…).

But I am proud to say that both my girls gained independence and self-worth at a far younger age than I. They are strong, capable, autonomous women. One of my daughters, a surgeon with more advanced education than practically any person I know (and will continue her formal education for another four years), responded to the blog’s ridiculous restrictions with the following:

Well, I’m probably the most in debt of any woman out there. And I’m a 31 year old non-virgin. With a tattoo. It seems, based on this grammatically horrifying piece, I’m undesirable. But my brain is worth more than the 300,00 dollars I’ve invested in it, and I will never waste my heart on a man who teaches me how to think or feel.

Well said, my girl. Bravo.

And my other daughter, in honor of International Emoji Day, promptly posted a green vomiting icon. My sentiments exactly, my girl.

So my freedom has resulted in the freedom of my girls. And I take great pride in that. But I’m not finished yet. There are still women out there who believe they can’t exist without the guidance of a man — someone who can translate life for them.

Because the part of the blog that rattled my soul and wrenched my girl parts the most was the sorrow the author felt for women who “have not read the Bible with their father or husband to explain it to them.”

To EXPLAIN it to them?

What. The. Fuck.

What the ever-loving, mind-blowing Fuck?!? (Told you that bridle was gone. I’m the only one who controls my mouth now, thank you very much.)

Let me tell you about the husbands and fathers who “explained” scripture to me. They twisted it. They tortured it. They twisted and tortured scripture and they twisted and tortured me.

And it is taking me a lifetime to free myself from the dogma and the dictators.  Don’t let me be you.

Don’t eat the bullshit. Don’t learn the helplessness. Don’t believe the lies.

You are worthy enough. You are smart enough. You are strong enough. You are important enough.

To think for yourself. To govern yourself. To believe in yourself. To educate yourself.

To love yourself.

So do it. Be it. Live it.

And then help someone else do it and be it and live it too. That’s the function. The function of freedom.

 

 

A Tale of Two Mommies

Why does the world spawn so much violence? How is it that so many people house so much hatred in their hearts? I find it incomprehensible. It leaves me feeling overwhelmed and broken. Which is ridiculous when I consider the ones who literally are overwhelmed and broken.

I was planning on writing about all our Christmas plans for the upcoming week and the ensuing traditions that will unfold. But instead, watching the morning news and surfing my social media sites, I’m finding that such a blog post is entirely too saccharine, entirely too unpalatable amidst all the vitriol and violence technology has brought me this week.  The cyber bullying of a teenage boy; the terrorist attack in a Berlin Christmas market, the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, and, most heart-wrenching of all, the Aleppo refugees struggling to find safety and loved ones in a war-torn life.

I can’t even.

One of the first unfair, unjust developments of this holiday week hit me on Saturday morning when I became aware of the twitter tirade against our beloved Canes quarterback – a high school student and the top junior player in the nation. He’s just a kid, folks. And while he’s not, technically, still a babe in arms, he’s a baby with an arm and he should not have to brace himself against the nastiness spewing from computer screens and smart phones simply because he chose to go play football at a college that he believes will be the very best fit for his life and his future. Key word here: HIS.

Now I know he has the stature and statistics of a man. I know he’s the number one recruit for 2018. I know he’s been heavily touted and scouted since he came up from the eighth grade. I know he breaks records and slings laser beams. But in the end, he’s still just a kid. He loves sour patch kids and his baby sister. He can’t buy tobacco or drive after midnight. He should be dealing with group projects and impending Senioritis. NOT with cyber bullying on a global (or at least Southeastern Conference scale) just because he picked an ACC school.  He’s a KID, for goodness sake’s! Heck, he may even still believe in Santa Claus. And all of this hatred is being spewed over a GAME! A game designed to instill joy and an escape from reality on Friday nights or Saturday afternoons. My mother’s heart aches for him.

But if I’m being honest here, it aches the absolute most for his mama. Because when somebody attacks your baby – no matter how young or old – it tears a mama’s heart into brittle, jagged confetti. When my girls were growing up, I’d get all kinds of bent out of shape if anyone so much as looked at them sideways. I remember being ready to sucker punch a school bus bully when my baby girl was a kindergartner. I refrained. But I was ready. And just last year, an arrogant asshole of an attending said some hurtful things to my eldest, and I was ready to tear out his external carotid artery with my bare hands. But, again, I refrained. I don’t know how in the world I could refrain if there were basically thousands of ill-tempered SEC fans bad-mouthing my baby on social media for all the world to see. And it’s not limited to social media. Yesterday, while out and about town doing some Christmas shopping, my husband and I – proudly sporting our Canes championship shirts – had to listen to not one, but two negative nellies pontificate on our quarterback’s decision. I was thunderstruck. Really? Who are they to presume to know what’s best for him? All they had in their minds was what would benefit them and “their” team. (As if they truly had anything more than season tickets (maybe) and a college diploma (even more unlikely) and jersey purchases invested in those teams.) And that got me thinking — if WE had to listen to those zealous fans politic for their team, how many more have he and his poor family weathered over the last five days – and indeed the entire season? His mom’s grace is made of firmer stuff than mine, that’s for certain. I admire her poise and her polish. Her motherhood is paved on the high road, and I stand in awe.

So there’s that mama’s pain.For her, it’s been the best of times and the worst of times. But that mama’s pain pales in comparison to the anguish of the mama I saw on the nightly news this weekend. The mama who lost all her babies beneath the all-too-real onslaught of bombs and ensuing rubble in Aleppo. For her, it’s been the worst of the worst of the worst of times.

She was covered in dust, blood parting her swollen face like a Picasso portrait. She wandered aimlessly around a makeshift hospital crying in anguish. But still she finds the tenderness to comfort a toddler boy, hands and bare feet caked in chalk, forehead marked in blood. Both of them are marked in blood —  the blood of the scapegoat that their people have become. A people punished brutally for the sins of others who care nothing for them or their plight. This sweet toddler boy (a boy roughly the age of my own toddler boys) is devoid of tears, his pudgy face paralyzed. Almost. If you look closely, you’ll spy the tiniest, quivering lip. He bites it instantly. He’s learned early to hide the hurt. But the mother – the mother who is not his – she wails. Her tears trace through the dust and drip to the floor, a floor smattered and smeared with blood and grit. All of her babies, lost. All. And then, she’s joined by a young teenage boy (a boy roughly the age of our young quarterback), and he’s carrying his infant brother. A baby brother who did not survive. These three broken humans huddle together, searching for comfort that cannot possibly come. As the reporter proclaims, they are “exhausted beyond words by a life beyond description.”

aya

My mama’s heart agonizes for them. This Syrian mama, this mama whose pain is unreal to me. Cannot be fathomed by me. Pain that is the result of real weaponry, the result of deadly weaponry so far beyond the rantings and ravings of selfish cyber bullies that it seems ridiculous to discuss the two situations in the same blog. This young Syrian teen, this teen who, rather than throwing bombs into end zones, has been on the receiving end of bombs that have ended whole families. This precious toddler, who faces an existential lack and want and void that God-willing, our toddler boys will never, ever encounter. I cannot fathom the pain. My soul runs from the comprehension. It does not want to know. Does not want to understand. It would break me.

As a mother and an American, I feel guilty. Guilty for being so privileged by destiny that I live without such incomprehensible pain and loss. Guilty for uttering my previous, selfish, “God willing” statement. Guilty that I cannot do more than pledge a donation and remember these broken members of the human race in my prayers. Guilty that I am able to sit here, drafting this blog amidst my Christmas lights and wrapped presents, while making road trip preparations, drafting Christmas dinner grocery lists, and doing last-minute, on-line shopping. How can this world be simultaneously benign and oh-so-malignant?

A mother’s pain is a jagged, cutting pain. I have never felt pain like it before. And while I have felt a mother’s pain, I have never felt pain like either of these mothers’ currently feel – my football mama’s pain and our Aleppo mama’s pain. Both pains are torturous; but one is debilitating.

And I am helpless in the wake of their respective pains.

In this season where Christians celebrate a young virgin mother — a mother who also felt the pain of a world that turned against her son, a world that despised and destroyed him — I am saddened that we have not come very far and we have not learned very much. We are still doing terrible things to our sons. And to our daughters.To all fellow humans. We tear each other apart for our own selfish gains. And so often, we use God as the impetus. We destroy in the name of God the Father…  or the god of football. Which is the more ridiculous? I do not know.  I am disheartened.

But I am still hopeful. Because despite the fact that we are all inherently selfish, I know we are not all inherently cruel.

So I offer up words of kindness, words of prayer, and pledges of money and solidarity. It is all I know to do.

But I pray it will be enough. If enough of us do it.

 

Tell all the Truth, but Tell it Slant.

tell it slant

Wise words from Miss Emily Dickinson, shy and sheltered spinster poet. Considering I’m shy and sheltered myself (minus the spinster part), I take her words to heart. All of my blog posts are personal truths about love and motherhood, family and teaching, and just plain life as I live and know it. But the one personal truth I have not yet shared has been my faith – nor had I any intention of doing so. But then last night, I prayed for some guidance about what to write for this week’s entry… and wondrously, at 2:00 am, Dickinson’s lines woke me. They were running through my head like a mantra –which is surprising since I hadn’t read her poem in decades. But I knew immediately what truth I was supposed to tell.

I’ve known a lot of truth in my fifty years. And I’ve known a lot of lies. I know the phrase, “the gospel truth,” and I believe in it.  But I have seen a multitude of transgressions committed in the name of those selfsame gospels, and  I must admit that the Good Book has been used in the past to crack me through to the very core.  And it still can send me cowering to a corner if someone too dogmatic and zealous waves it at me. So how do I go about telling all of you my truth without sending you running headlong away from my sinful self and the harsh realities of my past? Or perhaps worse, running toward me with promises of salvation and sanctuary within the walls that house your own cloistered congregations…

The truth must dazzle gradually, says the divine Miss Em. So let me ease you into it.  And the best way to explain it is that I’m sort of like the alcoholic’s daughter who won’t try a sip of beer or go into a bar because she’s afraid she’ll become a raging alcoholic. She’s afraid she’s inherited that dispensation toward weakness and rash behavior – or in this instance – weakness and rash beliefs and that she’ll — I’ll– end up a radical, out-of-control zealot ready to condemn any and all who don’t think and feel as I do.  So I steer clear of sanctuaries and Sunday schools, and FCA meetings, and even organized prayer chains. My fears are real and they are debilitating. Because from a young and impressionable age I was thrust into a controlling and questionable church. By the way, I’m a believer. But I believe in the Love of Christ. Not the liturgy. Organized religion controlled me once. To the point of near-annihilation. That’s one time too many.

Until the age of ten, I grew up a free-spirited, southern tomboy. My little postage stamp of native soil was none other than Faulkner’s own Yoknapatawpha.  My summers were a barefoot bohemian paradise. I played house in creek beds, chased snakes in kudzu, deadheaded marigolds in the garden and drank Kool-Aid in dixie cups. Just describing it, I realize that this idyllic place has all of the haunting, symbolic overtures of that original garden and the fall from innocence… And indeed, in the late summer of my eleventh year, thunderstorms stacked themselves tall and dark on the horizon and triggered that inevitable fall.

faulkner

My family decided to pack up and hit the road like twentieth-century tribes of Israel, along with about a dozen others from tiny towns in northern Mississippi, and head out to Dallas, Texas to forge a new, eternal life in the blazing-hot Promised Land. Once we reached the proverbial land of milk and honey, all childhood innocence banished. There were no creek beds or kudzu in the concrete jungle. Instead, there were rules. And orders. And boundaries. And curfews. Fraternizing with the neighbors was frowned upon. So was public television, unless it was church sanctioned. (The church allowed football, thank God, and it’s in Dallas, that my passion for football was formed.So there’s a silver lining.) But back to my coming of age… Over the next five years, I was dutifully schooled on the hazards of being a girl. The world was big; I was small. The world was bad; I was a good girl. The world was dangerous; I was weak. The world was out to get me; I needed looking after. I needed firm guidance. I needed to rely on the Lord’s wisdom and the church’s protection. I was weak and feeble-minded and incapable of forming opinions. As a female, I bore the stain of original sin and would always need a male figure (pastor, father, husband) to guide my wicked and wayward soul. Education was not for me. High school (a private and church controlled ) was as far as I would or could go. My voice was silenced and my opinions were hobbled.

But I didn’t go down without a fight, I will say that. There wasn’t much I could do because I had no true weapons or ammunition, but I did what I could. I quit eating. I quit communicating. I curled inward and shut down. At one point toward the end, the church thought they had me where they could break me. I remember a room filled with elders in beards and three-piece power suits. I remember prayers. And prophecies. And speaking in tongues. And condemnations. And demands. And laying-on of hands.

I have despised beards with a fear bordering on phobia ever since…

The irony of needing salvation from a faith that promises salvation does not escape me.

But escape, I did. And salvation, I found.

grandma

My parents saved me and my grandmother rescued me. Somehow my mother and father managed to extricate me from the ravenous claws of theocracy and religious radicalism, while they themselves remained firmly entangled and entrenched within its dogma. I know it wasn’t easy on them after I left. I know they bore the stigma of failure– and probably a whole lot worse — because of it. I’m sure the inability to control a girl-child was an outrageous sin of grievous proportions.  But they risked all and flung me as far and wide as they could: two states over, to a little town with a big reputation, Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Again, the irony that my salvation was found in the belly of the apocalyptic Manhattan Project does not escape me.

But escape I did. Thanks to my sweet grandma.

She, above all others, showed me what it means to truly embody Christ and his teachings. She sacrificed so much to accept me, her mysterious firstborn grandchild with the broken sense of self and the paralyzed soul.  She nursed me back and she showed me the light. She proved to me that I could make it in this world, that I was important, that I was smart, that I was worthy. She was a female phenom. She modeled what I knew I wanted to be. Strong and willful and courageous and true. Because of her, I eventually went back to school and got my degree.  Because of her, I raised strong-willed, able-bodied, incredibly intelligent daughters. Because of her, I write.

girls

I was silenced for far too long. I shied away from hard subjects. I shied away from confrontation. I shied away from truths. But now I’m telling all the truth. And my truths aren’t told out of anger. Or shame. Or to cause harm. Or to seek pity. My truths are told to help others. Other women who don’t feel or know their value. Who’ve been denigrated and diminished until their spirits are dried up and their souls are sawdust.  Other children who have been bullied and badgered into choices and changes that fly in the face of their sweet sensibilities and ultimate destinies. These stories should be told. These opinions should be heard. And so I will tell all my truth.  And I will wait for them to tell theirs. The truth must dazzle gradually…

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