STORY

More Than a Cup of Kindness

All I know is that the rocking started before I even had a self
and I lived through the feeling of it.

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I rocked until I left home. And I’m not talking about being a cool eighties, punk rocker, but more like an autistic child who rocks back and forth to shut the world out. And no, I don’t have Asperger’s and I have no desire to conflate my “bumping” as my parents called it with an actual syndrome. I was alert, I started talking at nine months of age and I was a very verbal child, if not precocious.

When I was two and a half we visited my grandparent’s house in Medford and my great grandmother prophesied that I would be rocking until I went to college if they didn’t stop me. This inspired my parents to try to stop me. One hundred years after she wrote her love letters to my great grandfather, I published them in a book called Love Letters 1909. In those letters she described sitting on the porch to swing or rocking inside with her cat when it was cold. So perhaps I came about my rocking and love of cats genetically. While Grammy campaigned to stop me, my sweet Grandma never once scolded me for rocking, but then she didn’t always get along with her mother-in-law.

The first time I remember rocking was when my dad was moving our stuff to Alaska. I was only two, but I missed him while he was gone and rocking was the way I self-soothed. The second time was when my father spanked my sister for trying to touch the stove. Thus began months of her going through what my parents called “the terrible twos” in which my six foot two inch father engaged in constant power struggles with a two year old to break her will. Sometimes he even used the belt. When these battles ensued, I ran to my rocking chair to rock and wish it all away.

As I grew older, my fear of “The Persuader” (as my parents jokingly called the belt) grew. I knew if any of my siblings weren’t safe from the belt, then I wasn’t either. Rocking became my number one coping strategy. Every year when we moved, I rocked at first because I was sad to say goodbye to my friends and school, then as I accepted reality of the impending move, I happy-rocked while I dreamed of making new friends and seeing new places.

Every time I had to start a new school late and leave it before the year was out, I rocked and dreamed of never moving again. When I was pulled out of school after sixth grade, I spent most of my teen years rocking from anxiety and the worry that I would never catch up with the other kids my age because I wasn’t allowed to go to high school.

Looming over my childhood was the Persuader. I was belted for complaining about not going to school and moving and music—always music. I was belted for borrowing the neighbor’s John Denver records back when my dad still thought they were rock and roll. I was belted for Donnie and Marie and I was eventually belted for Amy Grant. I was also belted for talking too much in church and in the car and belted for not being quiet when my dad was in a bad mood. I was also belted for not cleaning the kitchen or not moving fast enough to pack boxes when we were moving in a hurry. I rocked to reframe every belting and every move to cope with the insecurity of not knowing where I would lay my head that night or if we would get kicked out of the place we were living.

Once, when my parents were gone, they put me in charge of all the younger kids and told me to make sure all of our chores were done before they got home, I did my best and ended up in fights with everyone who didn’t want to do their part. I finally got the house cleaned and baked six loaves of bread and I was thrilled to realize I still had some time to rock before they got home. I put up the couch cushions so I could rock against them. Then as I was entering my bliss, I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. It was my parents spying on me through the window. I was fourteen, but I was belted for rocking. I was often belted for rocking. My mother called me a retard when I rocked, but it was rocking which gave me comfort.

A musician must make music,
an artist must paint,
a poet must write,
if he is ultimately to be at peace with himself.
What a man can be, he must be.
-Abraham Maslow

Recently I was called a monster by one of my siblings, who accused of making my parents out to be monsters. I never saw them as monsters–not then and not now. I loved them and wanted to please them. They thought they were doing their religious duty to spank the evil out of me. Now that I look back they were confused about what evil is because it is not rocking—even to rock music. I was a compliant and tender hearted child and I am the same person today.

I am all the ages I have ever been.
–Anne Lamott

I continued to rock between houses when we lived in motels or campgrounds or at my Grandma’s house. Sometimes I rocked because I was sad and scared, but other times, I rocked to escape my body and current living situations to dream and find hope within myself to go on. When I first went to a counselor, I told her with great shame about my rocking. I will never forget her response. She smiled gently and said, “Be true to yourself precious child, rocking was the gift you gave yourself to survive.”

When I met my husband, I told him I like to rock. He shrugged his shoulders and said okay, no problem. After years of rocking from anxiety, one day in my first year of marriage, I realized I hadn’t rocked for months. I had finally found acceptance and a home with him and I no longer needed to rock unless it was for fun while he played the piano.

Last year, we saw this homeless guy sitting on a curb by the side of the road rocking. He had a grocery cart full of old clothes all wadded up like a bad batch of laundry. He shut his eyes like I used to when I rocked back and forth. It was near Starbucks, so I asked my husband if we could stop and buy him some breakfast.

As a lifelong vegetarian, I’ve never tasted bacon in my life, but I’ve heard people like bacon. So I choose a bacon breakfast sandwich and a Pike Place coffee for him. When I handed it out the window, he barely made eye contact with me at first. Then as the food exchanged hands, I whispered, “I used to rock too.” His eyes met mine and filled with tears as he softly said, “This is really nice of you.” Then my eyes filled with tears too.

It was our shared experience that made him smile and hold his head a little higher. In the words of C. S. Lewis, I had said, “Me too!” He might be homeless, he might even be mentally ill, but for a few seconds, he knew he was not alone and as we drove away, I prayed that he would always know that he is “The Beloved.”

When two people relate to each other
authentically and humanly,
God is the electricity that surges between them.
-Martin Buber

STORY

Hope for the Holidays

If only we could live in a Hallmark Movie,
maybe we’d find going home something to look forward to,
but my experience in planning hallmark moments
is it always turns out more like
the “Home for the Holidays” movie.

With some families all you can do is hunker down for a long winter’s nap and hope to wake up when the holidays are over. If this is how you’re feeling, I want to say you are NOT alone. There are thousands of people who are feeling it too. Here is a story of one of the darkest times in my life.

Red and gold leaves were swirling around my feet, but I felt anything but festive. I was walking on the railroad tracks, balancing on one rail and feeling desperate and alone. There was less hope in my heart than there were leaves on the trees and that wasn’t saying much. I carried my Walkman in my hand wearing my one earphone playing Peter Cetera and Chicago in one ear, while I strained to listen for a train with the other. I didn’t really want to get hit, but I took the chance because well, my life was crap anyway.

My family had moved to Alaska without telling me. I happened to find out through mutual friends. My grandparents lived 250 miles away and I knew there was no hope of seeing family for the holidays, but that was the least of my problems. I’d been struggling with my grades in college. I needed more work to pay my bills and it felt like it would ever be enough.

My five roommates each had somewhere to go. Most of them had already left for winter break, so I was walking back to my apt alone—more alone than I’d ever felt in my life after a day of temporary work at the rehab center. Even if I worked throughout the entire break, I still might not have enough money to pay my rent. I not only didn’t have a boyfriend, but I’d never dated anyone seriously and wasn’t sure what a good relationship could look like. My young adulthood seemed to be getting off to a miserable start and I saw zero hope for improvement.

It was dusk and I saw Christmas lights twinkling on in the distance, but even their bright colors depressed me. What good are pretty lights when you have no one to share them with? What good is a job if it only lasts until next week? What kind of family moves away without telling you? Was my life worth it even if no one cared what happened to me?

As I walked along an old Dodge Dart alarmed me as it stopped a little way up the road in front of me. It was puke green in color and nothing about it struck me as safe or kind or hopeful, but when I got close, the door flew open and I recognized the guy driving as one of the janitors at the rehab center. My fingers were freezing to my Walkman so I decided to chance it and take the ride.

He was a high school senior and I saw no romantic potential in him, but since I didn’t have a car and I didn’t know how to drive but he did, I was grateful for the ride and even the scintillating conversation.

As soon he dropped me off, I went inside and turned the answering machine on. After wading through various men sending messages to all my roommates and a teacher warning me about failing my class if I didn’t get my paper turned in, I finally heard a warm voice. It was the older woman who was my temporary boss. She thanked me for my hard work and said she was willing to hire me full time. This was the little glimmer of hope I needed. A boss who believed in me, better pay, benefits, consistency and for the first time in weeks, I realized I was going to make it through to the next year.

I had no idea how that job, that place, that boss and that guy would all grow inside my heart. I couldn’t see any potential for me or him that night, but several years later I would wear white and pledge myself to him for better or worse. Thirty years later I can say it’s been much better than worse.

STORY

Skip the Rant and Make it a Story

One of the biggest reasons we write memoir is to tell our stories, but good memoir not only tells a story, but describes the journey the author has been on which might include their own faults along with the people who might have abused them.

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When I read so-called memoirs that simply go on and on complaining about every horrible thing ever done by the narcissistic, I often wonder where the rest of the story is that I’m missing. Oh I believe the author and I fully understand how a narc parent can make life super miserable for their child, but I just want to shout, “Where is your story friend?” The truth is I don’t enjoy the experience of reading such books as much as I enjoy those well written story memoirs that reveal actual character arcs and show us how the author herself is only human and struggles in life as well. Let’s face it, we’ve all got some fleas from our parents. None of us are perfect and growing up in a dysfunctional family will always leave some sort of a scar.

On the flip side, as much as I want to believe the narcissistic parents portrayed in such books are all bad, experience tells me that most people–especially narcissists can have a very charming side. If you doubt this, read the book “The Sociopath at the Breakfast Table” by the Drs. Jane and Tim McGregor. Whether your narcissistic parent was in-your-face-controlling or behind-the-scenes-sneaky, they probably also had some positive attributes.

Our goal in writing memoir is to tell the truth as we see it. This includes the positive attributes of our family members along with our own struggles. None of us are all good or all bad. When people write a binary story where the characters all good or all bad, they’ve missed the point of memoir–which is to tell an authentic story.

Writing about the good and the bad can give your story depth and meaning instead of just presenting a negative caricature of someone who abused you. Allow your memoir to reveal your heart against the backdrop of frail and often failed humanity while helping the reader realize how circumstances, events and choices can affect our lives.

The people we might go no contact with have some redeeming quality–even if the only good we can find is that we were born—we can speak gratitude about the gift of life. Why is this important? Because until we can be honestly grateful, we might struggle to be honest about our tragic losses and we need an honest assessment of both in order to heal and move on.

Good memoirs also encourage us to live healthier lives by reminding us we don’t have to accept rude behavior from people just because we share the same blood or believe them just because they say something is so. There are things we would never put up with when it comes to strangers—so why have so many of us allowed our relatives to tell us how to live our lives? This is part of the authentic truth we must get to the bottom of when writing a memoir.

One author wrote her memoir so authentically that she sent me on my own journey to write a childhood memoir. Her name is Jeanette Walls, and you may have heard of her memoir, “The Glass Castle.”

Jeanette didn’t make herself out to be a saint, she didn’t trash her siblings and she didn’t even assign motives or blame to her parents’ choices. She simply described her own childhood experiences. She gave us a real story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Her story even reveals a character arc where her character grew and changed over time. This is a good read and I couldn’t put it down once I began reading. If you haven’t read it, now is a good time because “The Glass Castle” is coming to theaters in mid-August.

Memoirs are modern day, authentic fairy tales. They tell us true stories about the struggles of real people. No matter how crazy your day job is or how broken your marriage, there is always a story somewhere of someone who had it worse than you who has pulled themselves up from the bottom. Such stories inspire us and give us the courage to live better lives and sometimes they even inspire us to tell our own stories.

If you’re reading a memoir, happy reading!
If you’re writing a memoir, happy writing!

 

NARCISSISTIC ABUSE, STORY

Writing Memoir–Why I Can’t Keep Quiet

When I was eight and my family suddenly left the house we lived in to sleep in a tent at an abandoned sawmill, I had no idea what was going on. To this day, my parents have never told me what happened. What I do know is that we never went back to that house. And our lives became a quest to find a house so we could, in my mother’s words, “Live like normal people.”

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We moved onto some land where my father built a cabin and while I no longer had a bedroom, I had the whole outdoors. One of my favorite places was the mossy spot under the rhododendron trees where I would lie on my stomach and read books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In my attempts to negotiate living like she did one hundred years before me, Laura was my guide.  I figured if Laura could rely on a wood stove to cook and heat water and stay warm, I could survive it too.

I loved Laura’s writing so much that I thought of her as one of my friends. When boys were rude to me at school, I took solace that Laura would understand. When a rich girl was snotty to me, I knew Laura had borne her own cross with Nellie Oleson. And when I dreamed of growing up, I dreamed of becoming a writer and writing my own memoir of what it was like to live the Laura Ingalls Wilder lifestyle in a modern world one hundred years later. That dream was put to sleep a few times, but it never died.

There were times I questioned if I actually had a story to tell, but then a series of events in my adult life, woke me up to write my childhood story. I’d been told they were not connected–that whatever happened in childhood was water under the bridge and should be forgotten, but let me reassure you–whatever happens in childhood, never stays in childhood.

In my family of origin, some topics were taboo–we never spoke of my dad belting us and we never spoke of our lack of education. The rule went something like this: We didn’t have the right to discuss how hard our lives have been because my parents choose to not allow us a high school education. In other words I had no right to talk about my struggles and pain which were the direct result of their choices because it made them feel bad.

Even among my siblings we barely referenced it. When someone did speak about it, someone else was always quick to defend my parents. I was one of the defenders for twenty-five years after I left home. We were taught it was dishonorable to mention our pain in order to protect them from pain. When someone did point out the issues were we all having of finding jobs, trying to take adult remedial classes and starting life unprepared in the real world, we were trying to survive without the emotional support of family. My siblings and I are the only four people who know what our childhood was like and yet we could barely talk about it with each other.

This lack of open discussion was further exacerbated by the fact that my parents had their golden child and scapegoat back then and even though we all took turns playing these roles, any time siblings feel desperate for their parents love and feel pitted against each other to compete for parental approval, it inhibits the friendships and blocks them from true intimacy. I’ve heard the word intimacy means into-me-see–well because I had to please my parents and not share my heart, it became more and more difficult to be around my family because I couldn’t be myself. Sometimes when I tried, I was scoffed at for being honest.

And being honest with myself was also very hard at times. My husband and I once took a book about integrity to a coffee shop where we planned to follow the book’s instructions and compose a lifeline of our lives. Neither one of us could do it. I felt each year of my life had so many variables and was so chaotic, it made me physically ill to try to piece a timeline together. It didn’t help that I had no hometown or high school class due to constantly moving nearly forty times by the time I was twenty. Even this might be challenged by the narcs because they only count houses, but I count motels and campgrounds and staying with relatives or any place we lived while not having an actual house to go home to. In the coffee shop that day, I literally had to shut up that book and like Oprah says, I tried to eat my pain.

A few years later, when I was forty five, I was at a women’s group at church when someone asked where I went to high school and I said the same thing I’d said for the twenty-five years since I left home–that I was homeschooled–but my parents forgot to buy the books. People always laughed at that answer, but I never laughed with them. It was my compromise from telling the lie my parents told me to tell church members in my teens and I added the last part to be honest because I hate lies.

That day I went home from the meeting and stared into the mirror and screamed. I was sick of pretending that I had a normal life. I was sick of lying that I had done homeschooling. I was sick of pretending I was okay. I was sick of eating all my pain.

That’s when I started my blog. I went to a seminar about that time that brought me profound healing to discover that Jesus said he and the Father are one. This blew me away. I realized most of my life I had been afraid of God and jumping through hoops to win my salvation much like walking on eggshells to keep my parents happy. I discovered God is not like my parents and it changed my life.

When I first wrote stories about my childhood, I used pseudonyms. I did this to protect my parents, but even then my parents were upset that I wrote about my father belting me in church when I was seven or eight. He held the belt in the middle and hit me with both ends with every strike. The result was bruises–some in the shape of the buckle all over my legs. This story represented the beginning of my fears about God because it taught me whoever has the most power can hurt you–if you don’t do what they want. Ironically, this is the message I have received from my controlling parents my entire life. They are the boss and I am to do whatever they ask at any expense to my own integrity and self.

I needed to make sense of this story because it had changed my life, but my parents were angry that I wrote about it and accused me of making it up and lying. I realized they felt shame so I tried to smooth it over and reassured them I still loved them and that this incident was nearly forty years before. Plus if it was untrue, how did they know that story was about me? Finally they had to admit it was true. Then my mom said, “Well if you hadn’t jerked around so much while Daddy was belting you, he wouldn’t have had to use both ends of the belt.” So in her words it was my own fault I was abused.

When I stood up for a child in my family to have access to both parents in a divorce. It involved sharing some emails to show someone’s state of mind. My parents, in an effort to discredit me, wrote a letter to a judge saying I was a religious fanatic and liar and just like to make stuff up to hurt people. Since then they have tried to convince most of my relatives that I am a liar and troublemaker. When I confronted my father, he basically taunted by asking, “What did the letter say? I don’t even remember what we said because we were just trying to discredit you.”  There was no apology for his lies. Yet he acts like pitiful victim that I am ruining his life by telling my story. I guess Anne Lamott has some words for this situation;

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

So for the last eight years most of my family members have barely spoken to me. I’ve gotten hate mail a few times and every one of them refer to me telling the truth about my life in this blog. I’ve never stopped caring about my family. I’m the same person I’ve always been who loves them and cares about remembering birthdays and spending time with anyone who wants to meet up, but because I was scapegoated, I’ve stopped coming to family gatherings. Why should I spend the weekend with people who talk about me rather than to me? Or assume the worst about me without asking? Or never apologize for their lying rude behavior?

In the latest hate-mail I received yesterday, one of my sisters called me a monster for writing this memoir (even though she has not read one chapter of it and has no idea what I am writing about). She said “I supposed you will write a bunch of nasty stuff about me in it too.” I cannot even tell you how sad this makes me. This is the same person who I had a good conversation with on her birthday. I have nothing to hide and I have no intentions of writing anything mean about anyone and especially not her, but this just shows how fear and scapegoating and evil surmising by narcissistic people makes people paranoid and destroys relationships. It is super sad, but I can’t convince anyone of anything they don’t wish to know.

So for now, as I walk back through my childhood and I tie up the loose ends of my memoir, I have zero family support because narcissistic people just want me to shut up–

Shut up about being beaten

Shut up about moving every year

Shut up about having no teenage friends

Shut up about having no high school education

Shut up about finding out God is better than they told me

Shut up about finding a way to integrate all the years of my life

Shut up about the healing that comes from choosing a life of integrity

Shut up about the lies my parents told to the judge and relatives

Shut up about my childhood pain

Shut up about growing up with narcissistic parents.

I am not, nor have I ever been an angry person. I am sad person–an empath who not only feels my own pain, but the pain of my parents and siblings. I grieve the fact that most of my family live their lives in fear of speaking about the truth of our lives. It breaks my heart that we cannot be ourselves and speak of our pain without hurting each other. I weep because I feel narcissism is an insidious seed that has grown to over take truth and integrity in this family and I am afraid it will affect the next generations. Narcissism has been jerking our lives and relationships around ever since I can remember–I just didn’t have a name for it back then.

I’ve lost most of my family because of my parents who tell everyone I am a hateful liar, but it’s not true about me now, and it was never true about me then. I am not writing my memoir for my family or to prove anything. I’m simply telling my story. And I can’t keep quiet… anymore.

I’ve discovered a song by MLCK that really speaks to my truth this year:

But no one knows me no one ever will
if I don’t say something, if I just lie still
Would I be that monster, scare them all away
If I let the-em hear what I have to say

I can’t keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
I can’t keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
A one woman riot, oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

I can’t keep quiet

For anyone

Anymore.

STORY

Encounter at Grouse Gap

The scent of yarrow always takes me back to
an abandoned sawmill when I first became homeless.

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Photo by Leon Contreas on Unsplash

Writing childhood memoir is not for the faint of heart. I’m often seeking inspiration for the silver lining in the lonelier parts of my story. That’s what made me pack a lunch and head up to Mount Ashland with my husband last summer. He intended to hike, while I planned to work on a chapter in my book. As the car wound its way up the mountain, I noticed the wildflowers were more abundant than other years and I rolled down the window to follow their scent up the mountain and back in time.

Grouse Gap is a stop along the Pacific Crest Trail that you can also access by car. It’s a majestic setting where the altitude provides a respite from the hot valley below on a summer day. When the sky is cloudless, you can almost touch Mount Shasta. We arrived at the shelter, to discover a pickup camper parked in our favorite spot. There was a small tent next to it. The inhabitants appeared to be staying for a while, and I’ll admit I was a little peeved to see them spreading their stuff across the entire picnic area including the shelter where they’d already built a roaring fire.

As we searched for a place to set up our chairs, my mind was already in my book. I remembered how my eight-year-old self, woke up in a tent beside a shelter and a field of wildflowers. The similarities were uncanny. It was a confusing time because it seems we’d left our house and became homeless overnight even though no one used the word. I remember Mama acting very strange and whispering, “I guess we’ll just have to make do until we can live like normal people again.”

Despite the shock of trading a house with bed and toys for sleeping in a tent, I embraced the new adventure with wonder and discovered the beauty around me. Mama suggested we pretend like we were at a summer camp. I was the oldest, and since none of us four kids had ever been to a summer camp before, it wasn’t hard to convince us to play the game. We exulted every time we washed our dishes in the teal camping sink or swept out the tent or folded our clothes and sleeping bags. At the time, it never occurred to me this was Mama’s ingenious way of getting us to do our chores.

As I set up my picnic, a young girl came out the camper to stare at me.

“What a lot of wildflowers! Have you counted how many different kinds are around us?”

She shook her head. “I think there might be too many bees to go near them.”

I chuckled. I was once a girl known to scream at any insect, but I reassured her the bees were probably more scared of her. Her only response was to dart off into the woods.

The highlight of “summer camp” back at the abandoned sawmill was “hiking” around the field of wildflowers next to the shelter. Every once in a while, I’d run back to ask Mama and about her summer camp experience to make sure mine was up to par. Things were exquisite in summer-camp-land; the sky was azure, jewels sparkled on a million dewy necklaces, birds sang arias, and I danced in a meadow with a million glorious wildflowers waving their stems around me.

The little girl at Grouse Gap reappeared. She was hauling a large limb behind her father who had an armload of wood. It reminded me of the way I used to help my dad at that age. Of course, looking back I realize I couldn’t be much help to a man who was hiding his family in the woods from bill collectors. I remember how Mama had to hush me every time I used my “outdoor voice” because she was afraid someone might hear us and discover we were squatting on the land.

The campers walked back and forth, passing me several times, carrying broken branches and pieces of a hollowed log which they stacked in the shelter to fortify their fire. When the father walked past the third time, he said, “Hello.” He was blond, but his skin was dark from working outside in the sun much like my father’s.

Motioning toward the fire, I asked, “Are you guys cold?”

“Not while the sun’s shining, but when we left the freeway last night, it was 103 degrees. By the time we got up here, it was dark and only 53 degrees. It’s hard to sleep in the cold, but we’re glad for a free place to stay.” Then as if I had asked, he motioned to the camper. “My wife’s sleeping now, she sleeps a lot. I guess she’s tired.”

“Where are you from?”

“Nebraska by way of Florida and California. We’re hoping to find the right place to settle down.”

My heart empathized with his wife, and I felt a kinship with his daughter, but it was hard to know what to say. I knew the rules. Fathers–even homeless fathers, have their pride.

“It’s a beautiful spot to camp.”

“Yeah, it’s the first time in three days we’ve been able to get out of the pickup and stretch our legs.”

He went back to scrounge for more wood, while I went back to my writing.

Like greedy hummingbirds, my sister and I had flitted from flower to flower across the meadow, gathering armloads of yarrow and purple fireweed, before racing back to place our bounty in Mama’s arms.

I sniffed my fingers. The yarrow was pungent and left its spicy scent on my hands. Mama’s eyes twinkled in love as she inspected each flower thoroughly. Then, in an eerie tone of voice, she said, “Watch out for spiders.”

I was surprised. “Spiders like flowers?”

“Yes,” Mama’s shoulders gave a slight shudder when she said it. “But they don’t like you. You’ve got to get rid of them before they get to you. The only good one’s a dead one.”

A dark cloud passed over the sun. Purple and white flowers fell to the ground. That’s why Mama had been so quiet. There were two things Mama despised above everything else–germs and spiders. I warily glanced across the field of flowers and for the first time, I noticed fat, speckled spiders spinning in their webs. They were everywhere in the bushes and trees all around us. A few were even claiming space in the shelter. What appeared to be a fairyland of wildflowers and sparkling jewel necklaces, was a field of terror to Mama.

The girl at Grouse Gap interrupted my thoughts when she brought me a bouquet of wildflowers. Like Mama, I accepted them with a gracious smile. I felt touched by her willingness to brave the bees for a stranger like me.

She stared at my lunch. Then I remembered I had pastries, so I opened the cooler and handed her the entire box.

“Why don’t you take these to your mom?”

She showed no emotion. I wondered if she even liked pastries, but a few minutes later I saw her hauling wood in one hand while she savored an apple turnover with the other. A younger girl came running out of the trailer with a Danish and waved at me.

When their father stopped to catch his breath from hauling a large log up the hill, he sat down on a stump near me and stared at the wildflowers which were already starting to wilt in the cup holder on my chair. I wanted to let him know I understood a little of his plight.

“My family once lived at an abandoned sawmill next to a field of wildflowers when I was about your daughter’s age.”

He slowly smiled, and then I could tell he was opening up his mouth to share his story.

“I grew up in a camp trailer down by the river with my parents and two sisters. It wasn’t all that fun. My dad used to beat the hell out of me, and the kids at school called us river rats. I remember a teacher giving me the good advice to use the gym’s showers before school, and that helped a little.”

He paused. I sensed his childhood scars while he continued.

“We got along okay, until one day our trailer caught fire and exploded taking the old pickup–our only transportation with it. Everything went downhill from there – first my parent’s divorced, then foster homes, bullying, more beatings from strangers and finally I dropped out of school and ran away.”

I wanted to comfort the young boy he’d once been, but again I came up with nothing to say, so I sat with his sadness.

After a moment, he gave a cynical laugh. “Glad to be in a better place now.”

“Where are you guys headed?”

“Well, just about anywhere. I’m looking for work in construction, and I want to make sure we get the girls in school by the time school starts.”

I glanced at his daughters who were now doing cartwheels and looking my direction. My heart ached for them. How would they be treated at school? And would they be able to settle down in the next couple months?

“We never carry cash, but if there is something you need, let us know, we’ll go down to Ashland and get it for you.”

“Oh no, thank you, ma’am, that won’t be necessary, I’ve already been down there with a sign and made $130 to fill the tank and buy a little food to keep us going. We’ll be fine.”

I bit my tongue. I realized he didn’t want charity from me, but he’d be glad to swap stories like an equal, so I shared another of my stories before he went back to his wood collecting.

Despite his caution not to help, when my husband got back, I whispered, “If those girls don’t have any marshmallows or hot dogs to roast, I feel like driving down to buy them some groceries.”

The intimate stories of strangers always inspire me, but this magic cocktail–the shelter, the field of wildflowers, the scent of the yarrow mixed with aromatic wood and this homeless family, brought my heart full circle. I felt like I was once again camping in uncertainty with my own family in the shelter of that old abandoned sawmill over forty years ago. As cool breeze rushed past my face, I felt a whisper as if the God of the homeless was reminding me how he would provide for these falling sparrows despite my concerns.

I thought about women who are homeless and how they get that way. Is it sudden? Do they bring it with them from former scars that increase their chances of marrying men who are always looking for a better view? My mother had actively protected me and made an adventure out of our situation, but I questioned if this mother was able to do the same. I wondered if she was depressed, checked out–or on drugs. I’d like to have met her, but she never showed up. Two fathers both with dreams and instability, two young girls both discovering the world with wide-eyed wonder, two mothers with different responses to being homeless – one watching and protecting – the other checking out.

Just before we left, she offered me a roasted marshmallow framed with a dirty hand. I hesitated.

I wanted to give this girl and the little girl inside of me the same advice. You have intrinsic worth just like a wildflower. You don’t have to give people gifts or please them to be loved because you’re already worthy–whether you live in a tent, a motel, a shelter or a house. It was a message this little girl probably wasn’t ready to hear, but a truth my mature heart always needs to remember.

“Would you like one?”

It was a deep golden tan on the outside, and I could tell it was melted to gooey perfection on the inside. It was the kind of marshmallow I’d love to eat slowly by tearing it open to suck out the creamy white filling before savoring the gold on the outside. If only she hadn’t offered it with fingers that had been hauling wood, dancing across the ground in cartwheels, or heaven forbid, been to the outhouse.

I stared at the pitch stain on her arm and waited as long as I could. Her eyes were staring at mine. We stood suspended between my childhood and hers. In one moment it would be over, I could say no, and we would go our separate ways, or I could accept.

I screamed up a silent prayer for Jesus to disinfect it; then I partook of the Eucharist she offered. It was high communion between daughters of fathers who don’t have work and live in campgrounds between houses. It was a celebration of the hope to find a better life.

As I swallowed the sugary manna, she sighed with satisfaction. “That was the first time I’ve ever roasted one by myself, was it good?”

I smiled back through sticky lips. “Yes, I believe that was the best marshmallow I’ve ever tasted!”

STORY

Anne With an E – A Richer Flavor of Avonlea

Who doesn’t love Anne of Green Gables? For most kindred spirits, that’s like asking who doesn’t love raspberry cordial.  Well, I binge-watched the new version titled, “Anne with an E” on Netflix this weekend and my biggest problem with it was that there was just not enough of it.

As a loyal fan of L.M. Montgomery books, who still has an entire shelf in my library designated for them, I believe “Anne of Green Gables,” like any great work from the Bible to Sherlock Holmes—is always worth reinterpretation. That’s why the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland (just a stone’s throw from where I live) is so popular. People want to hear these stories retold in different settings and time periods because they learn something new. In the case of “Anne with an E,” it’s the same setting and time period, but with new emotional shades. This Anne is more vulnerable and with that vulnerability comes even more to love. She is not some flutterbudget just spouting off eccentric words to impress people, but a child who is lost inside and using her imagination to survive.

It’s these darker shadows of Anne’s past that bother some viewers, but maybe they just like vanilla ice cream. Vanilla ice cream is great for what it is, but when you add the darkness of chocolate into the mix, you get tantalizing options of multiple flavors hitting your tastebuds like Rocky Road, Moose Tracks or Boudreaux Cherry. To me, that’s what “Anne with an E” tastes like. And just because you like one flavor, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the others.

I have to be honest, I loved the Megan Follows version of Anne. That series is among my favorite shows of all time—right up there with Lark Rise to Candleford, but the truth is most of these darker elements were there all along both in the books and even in the eighties version of Anne. Even diehard fans will have to agree the whispers of Anne’s insecurity and eccentric behavior could point to her past abuse. They include Anne talking to her friend Katy in the mirror (this Anne uses the window of the grandfather clock), the stories of her old adoptive family where she was treated like a slave and the mother burned her book because she was late, only in this newer version Anne is beaten. This newer version uses more backstory to reveal what Anne went through while she was an orphan living at an orphanage and acting as a slave for a woman who had three sets of twins.

Maybe one reason I find this Anne with an E, so compelling is because when I was younger, I felt like that eighties version of Anne–all I wanted was for everything to be beautiful, romantic and pristine like, “The Great White Way.” I certainly didn’t want to think of Anne as having gone through hard times. Now, as an aware Enneagram Seven personality,  I realize I have chosen to ignore my own abuse for years because it was too painful to think about. And when I did think about it, I would have to not only feel bad for myself and my siblings, but feel bad for my parents too. That was just too much pain to deal with–so at the time, I said “No, Thank you” to introspection. It was much easier to stuff that pain down with food and other forms of escapism. So I stumbled through life making lots of mistakes because I couldn’t face my own past.

Even though I wasn’t an orphan, when I watch this Anne deal with her childhood PTSD, I know exactly what she is dealing with in some scenes. It thrills me that Anne can teach people who had a happy childhood what it’s like to deal with PTSD. There are actually people who discount PTSD and say it’s made up, but I can reassure you that any child who has been beaten with a belt never forgets it and it lives on for decades in your body even when your mind ignores it. And any child who was treated like a slave to do housework and not allowed to go to school realizes the value of having a book and an opportunity for education. These are things I share in common with Anne, a fictional character who I have always felt a deep connection to as a kindred spirit.

The town of Avonlea is just as charming, but there are imperfect people who carry their own prejudices and snobbery and jealousy. This is not a gothic version of Avonlea as I saw some critic call it, but it’s more like a microcosm of a real life town where people have struggles and prejudices which they need to set aside so they can learn to get along. Anne has her own prejudices and learns a few lessons while Marilla’s enduring friendship with Rachel Lynde is a prime example of compassion and loyalty despite different life circumstances and views of politics.

Anne is not the only one who was abused or had limited choices in life. In “Anne with an E,” there are other children with struggles not that different from her own. Matthew and Marilla both unrequited romances just as they did in the books, but with a little back story embellishment, we are reminded they too, were either orphans or slaves to the farm long after their parents and brother died. Which brings up the question for each of us about why we make the choices we do in life and the commitments we respect. Matthew and Marilla and Anne show us that in the end, love is always worth it—that not all love is romantic, but love can remain true and faithful despite the hard times.

If you’re an Adult Child of a Narcissist, or an orphan, or foster child or an outcast that was enslaved or abused in any way, you will probably find “Anne with an E” a little more realistic and palatable than the more saccharine versions of Anne. Here, even with the bitter, we find the sweet and this trip to Avonlea is another delicious treat.

RELIGIOUS ABUSE, STORY

5 Reasons You Should Watch the Shack

Isn’t The Shack just a made up story? Yes.
Is it even based on biblical facts? Yes, in some ways,
but I like to think of it as an allegory.
Pilgrim’s Progress wasn’t a true story either.

But wait, God is a man and not a woman, right? Well, who of us has seen God? These are some of the questions people have about the movie, The Shack based on Wm. Paul Young’s book by the same name. This book and movie have taken a lot of heat, but most of the critics haven’t bothered to read or watch it. If you are one of the skeptics, allow me to share five reasons why you might want to watch The Shack.

1. If You Have Ever Suffered a Huge Loss and Wondered Why

The Shack tries to answer the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Many of us in hard times after a death of a loved one or some other terrible event have asked, “Where is God if he is sovereign?” This movie attempts to answer this question through telling a story about one man broken by a terrible childhood and then a loss in his adult life.

2. If You have Father Issues and Feel You Can’t Trust the Father

Early in The Shack we see Mac’s father beating him with a belt. If you grew up with a narcissistic parent who beat you, put you down or abused you in any way, you might find it very hard to trust God. This is because God’s original plan was for parents to act in the role of God to their children. When we were small and unable to provide for ourselves, we relied on our parents for everything. When they were abusive, it gave us the idea God might be abusive too. Part of the reason for this is that little kids can’t see the abuse. They won’t assume their parent is abusive, they just think they are bad. As children, we absorbed our parents’ sins and now as adults, we still feel unworthy. In the Shack, Papa goes out of the way to make sure Mac knows he is worthy of God’s friendship and love. That word friendship came up several times between Mac and Jesus. It reminded me of one of the least repeated verses in the Bible where Jesus says:

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15

One of the problems we ACoNs have with our parents is they often won’t release us to be their friends, because they want us to be their servants and slaves for life. Of course it is a form of love to serve our parents–but not when we are adults who are forced to submit to a narcissist abuser.

The Shack reminds us that God is not at all like a narcissistic parent, he is always concerned about what is best for us. In the words of Papa, God says, “I am especially fond of you!” And what is so amazing is that he is especially fond of every person in the world, but it doesn’t take away from the wonder and love he has for each of us as individuals. God is a good parent who loves every one of his children equally, but differently.

3. If You Have Been Afraid of God’s Wrath

In The Shack, Mac asks Papa what about God’s wrath. And Papa says, “What? What are you talking about?” Mac thinks God is vindictive and revengeful toward sinners and Papa reassures him this is not true at all.

If you have not discovered the fact that God’s wrath in Romans 1 is really about God letting people go to their choices and not about revenge, then study up on it. There will be fundamentalists who disagree, but a thorough study of the subject might back up Young’s ideas in The Shack.

This film gives a great example of letting go through the art of storytelling. While it has theological tones, the story itself is well written, well directed and well-acted. People without a religious bone in their body could still enjoy The Shack—because it is a well-told story and the heart of this movie is not about religion, but a relationship.

4. If You Struggle With Judging or Forgiving Others

It also shows how we can let go and still honor our losses.This movie is not just about losing someone dear, it also carries the message to stop judging others and forgive them–despite the horrible things they have done.

Every abuser was formed most likely by the abuse of their parents going all the way back to Adam and Eve. While judging and forgiving seem to be at odds with each other, the way we can deal with both healthfully is to let go.

In the situation of narcissistic parents, we are healthier for letting go. The burdens we carry don’t have to hinder us and tie us down, God can turn our pain into wisdom as we grow stronger until we learn to fly. In this story, like in many of our lives, there were characters who needed to be forgiven and there were nightmares that came from the darkness that could only be put to rest by looking to Jesus as our brother and friend.

I was particularly touched by one scene with Mac and his father. Once we see our parents’ wounds we can forgive easier and we can realize they didn’t mean to harm us, they were broken by the fall too. How many children’s hearts would be turned back to their fathers if parents only they owned what they had done and asked for forgiveness? Of course, we realize most narcissistic parents will never do this, but we can forgive them even when they don’t say sorry. We are the ones who will heal when we do this.

5. If You Have Trouble Trusting God in Any Way

About ten years ago, I went to a seminar where the speaker asked if Jesus was behind one door and the Father the other, which door we would choose to go through. My answer was the Jesus door because I thought Jesus was the good guy who had saved me from the Father. That night I learned some things starting with the fact that Jesus said he and the Father are one. God’s wrath is letting us go to our own choices. There is no revenge in the Spirit of God. That whatever Jesus would say and do for me is the same as what the Father would say and do for me. I was first in shock, then in awe of God.

The next morning I got up at dawn and looked at this amazing and gorgeous sunrise full of pink and gold. As I stared up at it, I felt the Spirit speaking to my heart that this display was for me. That Abba, Papa, Father–whatever we call God was shining his love on me and I began to weep. I asked him, “Father, can you really be this good?” I will never forget that morning—it was the day that changed everything in my life. I have never had a worry about the future or my salvation since. My feelings were similar while I watched The Shack. I was profoundly touched by God’s love.

The Shack gives us a little God’s eye view of humanity where we can see how God loves every person. One of my friends who went to see it with me said, “I wish I could go and stay at the shack for a long time.” Why? Because to dwell in that shack is to be nurtured and loved unconditionally by God. To get answers from God. I believe The Shack is a little taste of heaven and it will change your heart, but you’ll have to see it for yourself.

 

GASLIGHTING, NARCISSISTIC ABUSE, STORY

A One Woman Riot

Photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash
Photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash

When I was a kid, if my siblings and I argued
or made too much noise, we were put on silence.
Silence meant we were not allowed to speak or make any noise.
If we found a way to communicate through spelling letters
through sign language or motioning,
we might even be put on frozen statues.

Frozen statues meant you were not to move at all. No touching or laughing or smiling because a smile meant you might be up to something. If you did not obey the rules of silence and frozen statues, then you could be beaten with the Persuader. Such was the “fascist regime” of my childhood. And while I loved my parents, I hoped to leave such control behind by the time I reached adulthood.

Of course, I didn’t realize when people can no longer control you with the belt, they will guilt and shame and shun to push you into doing what they want. Even as a young adult, I rarely spoke to my siblings about what happened in our childhood because to do so was considered breaking the ultimate rule of family togetherness. Family togetherness means you never speak of the past—not even to each other–all must be forgiven and forgotten.

Family togetherness also means you never, ever speak about the family to outsiders. And in case you are wondering, I’m doing that right now. I’ve been doing it for seven years and I have had less phone calls from my parents than you can count on one hand. Every year, I get an email from my mom acknowledging that I was born on my birthday, but my attempts to have a real relationship with them is very limited—not because I don’t want to have one, but because they feel I have broken the rules of family togetherness and they basically have no interest in my life.

Simply speaking about things that happened over thirty years ago makes me a monster to them, but I am writing a memoir—not out of anger toward them (actually I hope to portray them with love and compassion) but because my childhood was unique and strange and it was very hard for me to grow up when I got out into the real world.

So why can’t I keep quiet? Because if I don’t speak up, no one will ever have known that I was alive or what happened in my life. No one will know what it is like to have Mt. St. Helens blow up your life and be isolated from other teenagers and denied an education while you wait for Jesus to come. I have to speak it because it was not just their lives that were affected by their choices, it was my life. These are my stories, not so much theirs, but they do play a major part.

I’ve mentioned how the current US administration brings on my childhood PTSD. It’s the authoritarian rule. In the past no matter which party was in office, it was not a huge deal because presidents from both sides respected the U. S. Constitution and at least made an effort to treat all people as equal. But my PTSD was most recently triggered this last week by the treatment of the press by the White House.

I took some journalism classes in college and the first thing we were taught is the press is the watchdog on the White House steps and to imagine it being muzzled reminds me of many fascist regimes throughout history and the losses of freedom including religion. The worst part about this is that so many, even within my religious community, seem unable to see this.

My sweet grandma always kept a diary. I call her sweet because whenever I walked into the room, she made me feel like I was the most important person in the world. And she wasn’t playing favorites, I’ve seen her greet my male cousins and brother and my sisters in the same way. I think it could be fair to say she was kind to even her son in laws who really never seemed to respect her very much. There was a lot of eye rolling because she didn’t cook much and she did CPR on cats at least twice to save their lives. It’s true she talked to cats and raccoons and skunks and birds. She was like a Grandma Doolittle and many people were nervous about the skunks she fed on her back porch. It could be said about Grandma that she walked with skunks and angels.

Grandma talked to Jesus and about Jesus every day. And for decades, she kept a diary. The contents were often mundane about the weather or her pets, but sometimes they told stories of her faith in God and how he came through for her. She lived through her parents’ divorce which mortified her and separated her from her siblings and she endured the great depression and worked as Rosie the Riveter during WWII and endured many sad events such as losing her firstborn child at birth. Grandma lived a life of faith despite her pain.

When Grandma hurt her hip and ended up in elder care, my parents took all those decades of diaries and burned them in a big bonfire. They took away her voice before she was even dead. My siblings and I were appalled when they told us but no one confronted them because we knew it would make things harder for our family to get along.

Silence. Silence from one party can mean sadness, anger, disconnection, or even death. But forced silence is another thing altogether. Forced silence is a form of control to murder another’s voice. Or even another’s right to determine the truth by hearing more than one side of the story.

During the Women’s March, I saw a video of a group of women singing a song by MILCK. My husband played it for me because he thought I would like it and when I heard it, my eyes immediately filled with tears. This is why I must write on. I can’t stop my blog or my memoir as hard as it is when I have no family to support me in telling my story, I will press on because Jesus cares.

Jesus never asks us to keep quiet about our pain or to ignore injustice. Jesus comes to each of us with love and forgiveness, but he always, always leans in to listen to our pain. I have a friend who had an abortion decades ago and she is still feeling ashamed about it. I asked her if her little boy ran over his pet turtle on his bike and was feeling horrible about it, would she care about the turtle who was not in any more pain now, or for her child? She said her child of course.

Jesus is like that. He knows we have all messed up big time at some point in our lives, but he cares more about our hearts than anything we have done wrong. This is true for parents as well as children.  But the one thing Jesus doesn’t ask us to do is be silent when we have been hurt. We are free under God’s government to share our stories and to tell our stories because this is how we overcome (Rev. 12:11).

So I don’t know about you, but I am nervous about this changing of the guard from a land of freedom of speech and diversity to a land where we are threatened to be quiet if we have a different opinion or color of skin from the powers that be, this is not how God runs his government. Jesus runs his government on freedom for all and he says we will know the truth and the truth will set us free.

If you have been shamed and abused, don’t worry if someone scapegoats you and calls you a monster. Don’t let them shut you up. You are not alone. You are one of many. Tell your story. Embrace the messy truth, speak the honest truth and cherish the value of your own voice. I’m doing it for myself, but I am also doing it for Grandma and all the women before us who were forced into silence. Let’s not be quiet. We can each become a one-woman riot! Viva la resistance!

NARCISSISTIC ABUSE, STORY

The Polygamist’s Daughter Book Review

At the age of nine she was shipped off to Mexico
to audition to be the wife
of one of her father’s church members.

Anna LeBaron grew up in a fundamentalist Mormon cult and while she misses living with her mother and wonders when she will ever see her again, she is told they must sacrifice for God’s work. At the time Anna barely knew her own father and when he comes to visit, so she spends a lot of time observing him while he writes out long messages supposedly from God and hardly notices her–until he needs someone to make him coffee.

Despite modest dressing and fears about worldly entertainment and music, the cult she is growing up in rarely speaks of Jesus, so despite all her trials, Anna barely knows to call on Jesus for help. It seems the god in this cult is the cult leader, but life is about to change for Anna in several ways and the twists and turns will take her to the edge of what faith she has.

LeBaron’s childhood was not one of comfort and security, but of child labor and neglect. Despite all the things that happen to her, Anna LeBaron retains her optimistic and resilient spirit. As she grows and decides to take her life into her own hands, she faces even more devastating obstacles including murder, but she is a true survivor and retains her heart of compassion regardless of what others have done.

This story is not a cry for pity. LeBaron’s matter of fact storytelling seems to assume life just is what it is, and we all have choices in this life. Some of her family members made different choices, but Anna LeBaron makes lemonade out of the lemons life has thrown at her.

I received this book as an advance reader copy from Tyndale in exchange for my honest review. It came during the busy holidays, but I couldn’t put it down and finished it two days. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in a beautiful and true story of survival.

The Polygamist’s Daughter

RELIGIOUS ABUSE, STORY

The Sound of Gravel Review

There’s no place like home
unless it’s a shanty reeking of mice droppings
without indoor plumbing and hot showers
and there are live wires hidden everywhere.
The house Ruth Wariner grew up in
was more like a booby trap than a home.

Photo by Camille Minouflet on Unsplash

Photo by Camille Minouflet on Unsplash

Located in the village of Colonia LeBaron, her childhood home was in a compound started by her grandfather and led at one time by her father who was considered a prophet in the Church of the First Born of the Fulness of Times–a spinoff of what most would call fundamentalist Mormonism. Ruthie never knew her father because he was murdered by his brother in an act of Cain and Abel betrayal. She was not even given her father’s name. Her father had dozens of children. But this story is not about Ruth’s father, but rather what transpired as the result of her mother becoming the second wife of another man. This is the story of betrayal and survival, poverty and resilience and a story of teenage hate for her narcissistic stepfather and a pitiful love for her mother.

We rejoice with young Ruthie as she discovers her new friends are actually her half-sisters and she finds out she is not alone in this world. We sigh with annoyance every time her mother becomes pregnant because we wonder how she will be able to clothe and feed yet another mouth in this world where men are rarely home to help with the chores because they are off spending time with another wife.

Without giving away the plot, let me just say Ruth Wariner survived the unthinkable several times over, yet she wisely tells her story with the innocence of childhood, much like Jeannette Walls does in “The Glass Castle.” As Wariner describes her family’s drama in understated tones, she chronicles her private traumas with skill and uses her real-life plot twists to keep the reader turning page after page wondering what else could possibly happen to this girl.

This book contains triggers of various kinds, so read at your own discretion with a box of tissues. However Ruth does NOT write as a victim, she writes as a shining star–one who shines most brightly against the darkness of evil. In the end, Ruthie triumphs against the face of false religion and abuse and learns to speak the truth–even when her voice shakes.

Ruth Wariner, thank you for sharing your story with the world. You truly deserve your place in the Sheroes Hall of Fame!

The Sound of Gravel