Saturday, March 21, 2015

Why Monica Lewinsky's TED Talk Matters (to me)

This morning I listened to that woman talk for twenty-two and a half minutes about cyber-bulling and the way public shaming and humiliation can affect a soul.

I don't know her. I just know what the media has told me about her.

I've never spoken to her.

I've never had a conversation with her.

And I would never, ever claim to know what psychological disorder (or disorders) she might possibly suffer from.

But I sat, captivated for twenty-two and a half minutes.

And I thought about her mother the entire time.

Because I have seen, first hand, what happens when people think they're being funny by photo shopping a nasty picture with your child's face on it for all the world to see. I have seen what being called whore, slut, bitch and nasty ass ho over and over, in the halls, yelled from a passing car, and plastered all over Twitter and Facebook can do to the inner dialogue of a daughter.

And, just in case I was slow in my education, I know what it's like for a seventeen year old girl to be known by many, but in reality known by few. I know the feeling of watching the face of my daughter drop as, day after day, yet another horrifying comment was made by strangers and "friends" alike after an online news article, or following a Facebook post,  - things like pretty sure she was drunk, and if that was me I'd kill myself. 

I know how, as her mother, I felt angry and helpless. How, before the police report of the criminal investigation ever came back, I knew that even if she had made a horrible, awful, tragic mistake - my love for her, my protection for her heart, my worry over her soul, knew that no matter what had happened, she did not deserve what she was getting.

Because my beautiful 17-year old daughter - who was grieving all sorts of loss and what if's - was forced to stand before thousands of faceless judges and juries, who were happily declaring her guilt and pointing out all the reasons no one should care that she might possibly be hurting all over social media.

And we made sure she wasn't left alone.

And we made sure she showered with the door open.

And we made sure people checked on her multiple times throughout the night.

Because, what no one was saying but what everyone was thinking was, "no one can withstand this torment."

I had wanted my daughter to "get back to normal" as soon as possible. I forced her to walk back into the hallways of a school where her peers whispered about her in a volume loud enough for her to overhear. And the tools I gave her to protect herself? "Don't take that stuff personally. They don't know what happened." Like that actually helped.

Her senior year, she barely passed her classes, and yet, I am the proudest mother on the planet. Because she survived. Day after day, she walked into that school - well, to be honest, most days she tried her hardest to avoid that school - but she survived it. 

She survived the rumors and the jokes that were never the least bit funny and she survived knowing that the whole time, there was a pending criminal investigation against her because, yes, if the police found anything that she had done wrong, she would be charged with causing the death of her baby sister. And she survived the online commentary about the pending criminal investigation and about how they knew for sure she was guilty and she lived each day knowing that it wasn't going to magically go away and get easier. She woke up each day knowing her hell was simply continuing.

And, I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I would have the strength to handle all of that at an age where I should have been suntanning and getting obnoxious at football games and hanging out at the mall talking about what college was the ideal distance away from my parent's house.

Instead, my daughter tried to hide from the public shaming. She avoided the city we lived in at all cost. She deactivated her Facebook. We prohibited her from going online.

And, one day, when I thought maybe, just maybe, we could start moving forward again, the Twitter feed was found. Post after agonizingly awful post.

Ironic, right? That just when I thought we could move on and into a better future, the internet shoved everything from the past back into the forefront again. It's relentless, these interwebs. Unforgiving. Always, always ready to strike.

But there were bright lights in my daughter's path during those dark, dark months. A couple dear friends that wouldn't release their grip on her. A girl she had met years ago at bible camp who would drive hours from the city just to spend the weekend attempting normalcy. A young man who had recently lost his father in a way that seemed to make the public salivate, who drove her to school so that she wouldn't have to walk in alone. Another friend who, instead of gossiping with the rest, saw my daughter's strength and told others about it. Even nominating her for a special award that was presented to her on graduation. Grace and compassion standing in front of that entire gymnasium, speaking about the strength and goodness of my daughter.

You see, you can discount Monica Lewinsky's message because you think she's the sum total of who she was twenty years ago, quoting stories and clips that you can still find online; and you can choose to ignore her words because you feel she's unworthy of saying them based on who you think she is from what you read online, but the truth is, we have an epidemic that can no longer be ignored.

In our small community alone, there have been too many young adults who have not survived the public shaming of whatever it was the online community deemed them guilty of. Some were too fat and should have been embarrassed to be living. Others thought they were too high and mighty and needed to be knocked down a few pegs. And for others, the ones everyone thought were beautiful, well, they needed to be reminded about that one night they got too drunk and made a fool of themselves so they were nothing but a little whore.

There are too many kids not surviving.

Personally, I don't care who Monica Lewinsky was twenty years ago, or two years ago, or even who she was the last week when she walked into her bathroom. But I do care that she spoke out and reminded us that we, as participants of an online community, hold some responsibility to how we make others feel. She offered us an invitation to choose whether we participate in this world as bystanders or as upstanders.

And, maybe she is only talking about this because she's a narcissistic opportunist and likes to see herself in the limelight. To be honest, I don't care. Because there is hard truth to her words.

Ask Tyler  Clementi's family.

Ask Megan Meier's family.

Ask Amanda Todd's family.

Ask Ryan Halligan's family.

Ask Viviana Aguirre's family.


I think you get the point. And if you don't, well, it's pretty easy to add more names. Beautiful, precious children that should still be here, like Erin GallagherPhoebe Prince and Ronin Shimizu.

We've gotten to the point in our society where we believe that our opinion must be spoken out loud - regardless of how hurtful or damaging it may be to someone else. As if our need to speak our mind deserves to trump the heart of the person we're attacking.

Where our compulsive need to speak our opinion supersedes our potential for compassion. 

Maybe it's time we started think before we speak and follow some simple rules:

Is what I'm about to say TRUE?

Is what I'm about to say HELPFUL?

Is what I'm about to say INSPIRING?

Is what I'm about to say NECESSARY?

Is what I'm about to say KIND?


Regardless of how one feels about Monica Lewinsky, there is a dialogue that has been started. A dialogue that affects too many young people in our world today. A dialogue that deserves to take place.

So, you can either take place in the dialogue about cyber bullying and the effects of public humiliation and shaming, or you can choose to make comments about how awful you think that woman is and how anyone who shares her words are perpetuating an opportunist. That choice is yours to make.





And, for those of you who really need to know the nitty gritty details: no, there were no traces of drugs or alcohol; there was no cell phone usage - calls, texting or pictures; there was no speeding, and there was no negligent driving. In fact, it was proven she was driving 5 miles under the posted speed limit. And that comes from our District Attorney. There were no charges and no tickets issued. It was simply, an accident. One that God was well aware was going to happen on that day, at that time, and in that manner. And the moment Avery turned and looked into the face of Jesus, there were no tears. Just an incredible, unbelievable,  joyful reunion between a little faith-filled girl and her beloved Heavenly Father!

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Melting of Snow and Sadness

There are times when I get so inside myself I don't know how to come back out. I hurt. It's only expected, of course. Ask any parent who has lost a child and they will tell you the hurt never goes away.

I met a 91-year old woman who lost her son when he was 11. She told me not a day goes by where she doesn't think of him. She remembers him as if he were here yesterday.

You can, externally, appear very put together. Very well adjusted. Very okay. Possibly even very thriving. But sometimes, sometimes the hurt is too much to bear.

It might last seconds, like when triggered by a smell. Or minutes, like when triggered by a song on the radio.

It might last an hour as you flip through the pages of a photo album remembering with great fondness that time you went camping.

For some, the hurt pulls you down and holds you hostage for days, weeks even, sometimes months, threatening to never leave.

Sometimes the only way to escape is to talk yourself out. But family is tired of hearing the same sadnesses repeated and friends are busy and the therapist was on vacation and is now scheduled two weeks out.

And it's tempting to feel defeated. As if the sadness is winning by an overwhelming margin. And it's too late in the game to make a comeback.

I remember sitting in my car in front of a man-made lake. Just staring out. It was such a beautiful, beautiful day. And I was 22 and had a baby and the father fluctuated between nonexistent and threatening and my paycheck didn't pay for anything and I was constantly reminded of what a mess up I was because I wasn't in college getting my degree in marketing or economics and I felt alone and like a failure and I was tired, so very, very tired.

And I sat looking at this beautiful water, reflecting back the rays of this incredible golden sun, wild flowers blooming all around. And it was so incredibly perfect that it made me remember how incredibly tarnished and ugly I felt.

And I just wanted to be done. Done with everything.

Done with the 3 a.m. phone calls that I would never see my baby again. Done with the snide comments that no one would ever want me now that I had a kid. Done with feeling like a leper every time I walked into my church. Done with electric bills that went unpaid and water that kept getting shut off and formula that was too expensive to buy. Done with feeling absolutely alone in this beautiful world filled with beautiful people.

I just wanted to be done. To just not feel it all anymore.

I closed my eyes, started my car, and backed out of the parking stall.

And I headed home.

I can't say it got easier. Not overnight. In fact, it got harder. Life did. Much harder. Custody disputes, crazy new wives, braces and glasses. A sham marriage and a ridiculous divorce. Moving from apartment to apartment. Taking on two jobs, then three. It was hard.

But I kept doing it.

And I don't know when it was exactly, but one day I happened to be driving by that man-made lake and I remember thinking, "the last time I was here I was so incredibly depressed it threaten to keep me. I wouldn't let it."

Maybe I was too stubborn.

Or maybe there was still this teeny, tiny speck of hope that still glowed from deep within. One that I couldn't see at the time but somehow just knew was there and knew that if I kept putting one foot in front of the other there was a small chance it would finally ignite and my darkness would be illuminated. And I would finally be able to see truth.

Because depression lies.

Deep, loud lies.

And I, somehow, without grand knowledge or great fanfare, had made a comeback.

A quiet, slow, inch by painful inch comeback. Like a man learning to walk again after a stroke. With the physical therapist beside him, encouraging him on. You're doing great today, sir! Look at you! Much stronger than you were yesterday! My, have you got the fighter spirit in you! 

How important it is, that encouragement.

And I think that if more people made it a point to be bold and tell others about the good they see in them, maybe, just maybe, those truths would drown out the lies we hear in our heads.

And I think that if more people made it a point to be bold and speak truth out loud and write it on someone's Facebook page or send it in a card in the mail, or leave it on a note in their coat pocket, then maybe, just maybe, those truths would drown out the lies we hear in our heads.

And I think that if more people made it a point to be bold and say, "hey, I see that you've been riding that person really hard lately and that's not right" then maybe, just maybe, fewer and fewer people would think it's okay to be purposefully demeaning to others. And maybe, just maybe, that respect would drown out the lies we hear in our heads.

The sun is out today and the snow here is finally beginning to melt. My prayer is that everyone's sadness and depression melts away, too. But just as the snow needs the warmth of the sun to melt, so sadness needs the warmth of family, friends and especially strangers to melt.

So, starting today, go out at give three honest, heartfelt compliments to someone you think might not hear them as often as they should. Post on their Facebook page. Stop them in the hall. Leave a note on their desk.

Be the sun to melt someone's sadness. Because that encouragement will light the way for someone else's comeback.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Searching for Your Set

When I was in college (and I use that term lightly, since I was, at that time, a single mom who was taking night classes over an hour away and never graduated), I had a friend who was always on the lookout for some sort of antique pink wedgwood china. She'd scour antique malls and rummage sales, attend vritually every estate sale in the tri-state area and planned vacations around flea markets.

When she was successful she'd bound into class like a little kid jumping off the ferris wheel at the local fair. You will not believe what happened! she'd practically scream, and we would all settle in for a detailed account of the successful purchase of a dessert bowl or service plate. Because it was never just about the plate; it was always about the journey to find the plate.  

It was a set that had originally adorned her grandmother's table, belonging before that to her great-grandmother, and she always assumed that the love she held in her heart for the bone china meticulously displayed on special occassions was so apparent and so obvious that the set would one day become hers. (Secretly, I always thought that was ridiculous. She had many cousins and aunts and in-laws who also probably loved the china just as much, if not more so, so I never understood why she felt she had a "right" to it. But in the end it didn't matter.)

The grandmother died and the dishes left and no one thought about it again. 

Except for her.

And I suppose she may have gone through a time when her cousin or aunt (or whoever the recipient was) was the evil selfish one to blame for her heartbreak. And maybe she spent too many lost hours lamenting over the unfairness of it all. Who knows. I sure don't. Because I met her after she changed her attitude, after the paradigm shift, when the disappointment finally morphed into hope and grew into action.

The bottom, unchangeable line, was that she couldn't have her grandmother's dishes... they would be missing from her life forever. And she could sit in the ashes of her dispair and want or she could do something about it.

One day, she took a deep breath and realized she still had blood pulsing through her veins. Her heart was still beating and she was still made up of air and water and the only way to fill the missing part inside her was to find something to fill it with

So, she pulled her car into the third parking spot at the right of the front door of a resale shop and grabbed her purse. She walked up and down crowded aisles filled with old dresses that had once been pretty and tin signs brightly advertising tobacco and flour, and old wooden chairs with broken seat bottoms pleading to be replaced. And when she turned the corner her heart leapt and she stared down the aisle of hope: green milk glass and tea cups of toile, a mixing bowl the same color yellow as her grandmother's and a vintage butter dish in eggshell blue. As she lightly brushed her fingertips across the  plates decorated with chickens and garland of flowers, she suddenly, for the first time in years, felt like she had a purpose.

She didn't find the pink wedgwood design that day but it didn't stop her. She woke each morning knowing it was out there. Knowing and trusting that slowly, bit by bit, she'd find what she was looking for. And she did.

By the time I had met her, she had amassed quite an impressive set. I remember asking her when she would be done, when she would consider her collection complete. She shrugged, sadly almost, her eyes looking out into a distance I couldn't see. "I don't know," she said quietly. "In a way, I hope I never do."

At the time I thought that was ridiculous. Why spend all that time and money trying to replace something that wasn't even what she had lost in the first place? That would never even be complete? But, now? Well, maybe now I understand it a bit more.

I will never have, in this lifetime, on this earth, the ability to have once again the one and only thing I want at my table; the one thing that, for me, would make my table setting feel complete. 

And I can lay blame and lament about the unfairness of it all and sit in the ashes of my despair and want.... or I can go out and find something to fill my missing part in with.

For me, it won't be bone china and my missing part won't ever be filled. Not really. I get that. But that doesn't mean that the journey to find the good things isn't worth trying for. 

I guess that's why I sponsor my sweet son in Haiti. He, too, is missing a piece. And I guess that's why I sponsor my special girl in Rwanda. And probably why I spend so much of my time with other broken children, loving on them and listening to them. Because we're all missing bits and pieces and maybe, just maybe, at the end of our lives, when we're all gathered in heaven, we'll be able to look around at each other and smile when we hear God exclaim, "oh, my sweet children! My set is complete!"

I'd like to think that the journey to find the others - the soup bowl and the bread plate - is, in part, mine. Mine not just to pass the time while on earth, but mine to help make sense of my loss. To make me realize that, although my original daughter was precious in a way that no one else can compare to or replace, that there are other children just as wonderful, just as precious, just as lovely, that, without me taking the time to search for, they might be destined to sit in a crowded orphanage, dusty and forgotten on a cramped shelf, wondering if anyone will think they are beautiful enough to belong to someone's set. I want them to know how beautiful and precious they truly are.

And so, whether it makes sense or not, I'll continue to spend the time and the money searching for the kids that are meant to be in my set. And, maybe they won't ever sit at my table, or, if they do, maybe they'll only sit at it for a little while - a week, a month or two, maybe a year or eleven... but, I think the journey to find the good stuff - to love on the kids that deserved to be loved on - well, that's worth it. It's worth it to me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Parenting of Grief

With each child I gave birth to, I found it impossible to figure out how to successfully shower within the first four days. I was sore and tired and filled with these overwhelming emotions that threatened to consume me. And I didn't want to leave the side of this new life force - not even for a second - not even when people offered to arrange for it to happen, not even when people suggested it should happen. I wanted to be selfish in my emotional connection. I wanted nothing else and no one else to interrupt what God had allowed. This baby was mine. This experience was mine. And I wanted to breathe it all in by myself; fill every cell of my body with the knowledge that no one, no matter how hard they tried, could ever begin to feel the complexities of the love that pulsed through my veins.  

Then one day I showered. It was quick and cursory and born out of necessity and I quickly changed into the sweat pants and baggy shirt that looked eerily similar to the sweat pants and baggy shirt I had just discarded because, truthfully, I didn't care what I looked like. I was beginning to tire of being tired and I couldn't remember what day it was because it felt like a lifetime since I gave birth and yet it was only just a matter of hours and I didn't even remember what exactly I had done in the last 60 minutes except that somehow I must have gotten through it because here I was, hair dripping, armpits shaved smooth, thinking isn't it funny how fast hair grows?

And  just when I figured out that the baby sleeps well and not only can I shower but I can also wash the dishes, the baby decided it's more fun to stay awake and make noises and start to roll over and now I had to find another way to make it through my day. Because the changing baby was changing my normal every fourth or fifth day and just when I thought I had it figured out it changed again.

But babies are supposed to grow. I know this. I just didn't know how hard it would be to adapt to the growing, changing days that come when you've been chosen.

But adapt you do because, really, what choice do you have? 

Some days it looks ugly. Messy. Like you're the last person in the world that will ever get it together and figure it out. But somehow you do. You can't explain it other than to say you put one foot in front of the other because that's the only thing you know how to do. Even if it's clumsy.

Losing a child is an awful lot like giving birth. 

The initial shock and disbelief that my little girl is now in heaven; my little girl is with Jesus... that God decided that on this day, at this moment, He would allow for this to happen, that I would be chosen and I am now forever redefined. I could only sit in awe and wonder. Was this really my life now? How did this happen?

I couldn't figure out how to shower.

And yet I didn't want to. I wanted to sit in my grief - MY GRIEF - and let it consume me. I wanted to be selfish in my emotional connection. I wanted nothing else and no one else to interrupt what God had allowed. This grief was mine. This experience was mine. And I wanted to breathe it all in by myself; fill every cell of my body with the knowledge that no one, no matter how hard they tried, could ever begin to feel the complexities of the sorrow that pulsed through my veins.

I was scared to step away from it. Scared, in a sense, because I had no idea what to do with it and I didn't want to do anything wrong. I didn't want to mess it up. How did God even think I was remotely capable of taking care of something so precious and so fragile as the death of my daughter? I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't have the right training or qualifications. Does life just let anyone lose a child?

As the days passed, I found my grief growing, just like a baby does. But not growing in a bad way - not like taking over and taking control; but rather becoming self-sufficient so that I didn't need to spend every single second cradling it. 

One day I found myself able to place my grief in the middle of a blanket spread out on the living room floor so that I could take a shower. And again to wash the dishes. And again to answer the door.

I found myself able to fall into a routine. But as soon as I figured things out something shifted, something changed; the grief changed, demanding more of me, demanding something new of me - and I had to figure things out again.

The stages are the same, it seems, whether birth of a baby or birth of grief: the lack of sleep as I kept strong hold, always cradling stage. The zombie like trance somehow taking me from minute to sleep deprived minute, in a way I couldn't recollect if my life depended on it. 

The come on in and let's talk while the grief baby is playing on the floor stage. Some days I held on tight, still craddling even though I didn't need to, while others I was able to sit next to the grief baby, keeping careful watch, but not needing to grab hold of it. I could form sentences now. I had complete thoughts.

The I can walk into the other room by myself and nothing bad will happen stage. There's a trust needed in this stage. A trust that I can take my eyes off my grief, that I can look toward something else, and while I'm enjoying the splendor of whatever I choose to take brief interest in, my grief will be just fine on its own. I'll be able to come back to my grief and I won't need to feel guilty for leaving it.

And if you can make it through that stage, you can move on toward the toddler stages. The ones where you can drop your grief off for a couple hours a day while you find yourself again. You will always have your grief, but you weren't meant to be consumed by it.

In some ways, I suppose I feel like I have two Avery's. My earthly Avery, who grew long and lanky, with sparkling eyes and the best out-loud laugh ever; who carried a Bible and cried during the tragic Justin and Juliet tween love story of Wizards of Waverly place; who only had 11 years on earth with me, but, oh! How I treasure each and every one! And then I have my heavenly Avery, who is growing bright and beautiful, with a faith so strong it's all anyone can see and it's all everyone needs to see; who continues to make me proud every second of every day, making me want to shout from the mountaintops how blessed I am to be included in her story, even in the slightest way.

My heavenly Avery is only two, having passed away on October 24, 2012. She's still so young. And I'm still a newly grieving parent. Learning as I go. Making mistakes, handling things wrong. Worrying too much and being wound way too tight. Allowing anxieties and fears to trump common sense and natural tendencies. But it'll come. It always does. For me. For you. For all the grieving mamas. 

We just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other... even if it's in a way we've never done before.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Resolutions that Matter

I have a love/hate relationship with New Year's. 

On the one hand, getting sloshed and insluting your wife or driving drunk and wrapping your car around a tree just doesn't seem like the right way to celebrate anything in life. I also have a hard time with the comments that stem along the line of we made it through this year! because what about the ones that didn't make it through the year? In my admittedly oversensitive heart you just called a bunch of my loved ones failures and they are nothing of the sort. They simply didn't have the choice to finish off the calendar year here on earth. And that hurts. Thanks for the reminder.

But on the other hand, I love a makeover. There is something incredibly empowering  about washing over the old color of a wall with a new one, symbolizing a new start, a fresh start, a chance to finally get it right.

Resolution suggestions abound the interwebs: lose 10 pounds, stop smoking, drink more water, save $10,000 and finally take that trip to Fiji. They all seem so.... selfish

How does it improve the world if you vacation in Fiji? Yes, yes, I know... you'll be better rested and relaxed and therefore more pleasant to the populous at large. I get it. I really do. But, well, I want more.

I want to make resolutions that matter.

I want to spend less on frivolous things (like soda and pens) so I can sponsor children that otherwise won't have access to safe drinking water or an education. I go out to dinner and it's an easy $30 -- if I eat out just one time less each month I can sponsor another child. So maybe you stop smoking and use the money you would normally spend on cigarettes to sponsor a child of your own.   {you can go to www.gvcm.org to do just that} 

I want to travel internationally - by going to Haiti on more mission trips and encourage others to go, too. I know people who have served in Honduras and Costa Rica and Moldova... and they keep going back. They need to go back. Their heart calls them to it. So, maybe you save Fiji for another year. Why not consider a short term mission trip? You could always stay on for another few days or a week to view things as a tourist. 

I want to save more so I can give more. Clipping coupons and Kids Eat Free deals are great... but  they're even better when it means the free meal is being shared with a foster child. Have you considered fostering? Have you considered a program similar called Safe Families? Save $25 extra out of each paycheck and use it to buy supplies for your local homeless shelter. Take those buy one get one free foods and donate them to your local food bank. 

I want to lose weight - but the weight I really want to lose is the heaviness of a materialistic life that tries to convince me I'm not successful unless I am surrounded by the $78 frying pan and the $65 shower curtain. Instead I want to live simply so I have the means to provide more for others. I want to pack food for the hungry and deliver Meals on Wheels and mentor a single mother who has somehow bought into the lies that all she knows how to do is make mistakes. I want to lose the weight of the world and pack on the pounds of love needed to serve God's people of the world.

I want to make resolutions that matter.

Because if I don't make it through 2015, I want to at least be known as someone who tried to make a difference with the time she had.