Saturday, January 21, 2017

Love Always Wins

Tonight, I am having three of my Sunday School students over. These little girls who come each week with joy sparkling in their eyes, love exuding from their pores, tender hearts that care deeply for the world, strong in who they know themselves to be spiritually, have the average age of eight. I promised this sleepover ("Yes, you can bring your American Girl dolls") a couple months ago, before I knew there would be a Women's March in Denver.

As I have been cleaning and prepping for their arrival, I have been receiving pictures from dear friends marching in cities all over the country. Prayer has filled my consciousness, supporting peaceful expression of the power of solidarity in love. The practice of non-violent demonstration, and our ability to raise our voices in support of justice has played such a vital role in my experience growing into and through womanhood. My heart has been very present with all the women, men and children gathering to stand up for love, dignity, civility, compassion, fair treatment, and a host of other reasons - each person marching with their own.

I have been surprised by the stream of thoughts flooding my consciousness, images flowing through like leaves on a creek. Not pretty images. Rather, all the many threatening personal experiences and situations I have had to pray, heal and forgive my way through over the years. Because I have really worked through each of the transgressions, they come more like images on a screen of a movie I have seen, not traumatizing other than the nature of ugliness about mankind they represent. I had never taken inventory of how large the catalogue of these experiences really was. I had worked through the majority of these troubling moments long ago, no longer feeling any sense of being victimized. With that incredible freedom had come the maturity to handle the situations that occurred after working through the initial slew.

Then around noon, I received this photo:

The text that accompanied it said, "This sign is for you." That was the last leaf the stream could handle. The stream breached the dam. Tears flowed.

"Love Always Wins" is a guiding LAW for me. In fact, it guides everything I care about in my life.  The two people pictured are my dear friends Emily and Jared. I have had the pleasure of sharing a house with them for a season, and now Emily and I are colleagues at The Link School. She is our awesome English teacher. Jared, her husband, is one of my favorite men on the planet. Not hard to see why. He embodies all that is good and real about true manhood.

As I sat quietly asking myself what was really stirring inside me, I was filled with a mixture of immense gratitude and an awareness that a blog was rising in me calling to be written.

The reason I believe with every ounce of my being that Love Always Wins is actually a "law", stems from seeing this played out throughout my life. I have seen people faced with extraordinary pain, hardship, and suffering at the hands of those who had some form of power over them (physical, political, societal, mental, etc), finding forgiveness in their hearts that seemed impossible to me to imagine. Most of us have seen these people in the news, on movies, or through reading biographies. I decided a long time ago I wanted to know how to return blessing for cursing, turn the other cheek, set down the weight of resentment towards those who had harmed me in some way.

When the tape surfaced of Donald Trump bragging ten years ago so grotesquely of how he treated women, saying to Billy Bragg that when he met beautiful women he felt he could "grab them by the pussy," continuing, "You can do anything," my heart broke. I cried for all the little girls who had and had not been told it was never okay for anyone to EVER touch them in this way without their permission. The tears flowed for all the women who had been so "grabbed" by other vulgar men. They flowed for all the times I had been treated this way.

I was raised to know myself as empowered, spiritually whole, and that I was just like every other human on the planet - a beloved child of God. Unlimited. Capable of anything that I felt called to do with my life. My dad was (and still is) always respectful to women. I never heard an ugly joke, or single degrading word come out of his mouth - toward my mother, my sisters or any other woman. "Locker room talk" would never be an excuse for speaking any differently.

I was loved by grandfathers, uncles and male family friends who also treated me the same as my father. I had models of strong, loving, capable women in my mother, grandmothers, and aunts who expected this goodness and uprightness from the men in our lives. I had no idea until I was eight that men could be anything but good.

The flow of images that came to me today, was a slideshow of all the ways I had been physically and verbally mistreated and even assaulted over the years. I share this litany of ugliness only to inform, not to upset or traumatize. I share this "movie" in case it may help to contextualize the rest of what I am sharing in this post. Please feel free to skip to the next paragraph if it may be too upsetting for you.

When I was eight, a neighbor of ours (a father himself), raped and murdered a neighbor girl who was the same age as I. That was the first time I had any inkling that men should be feared. This was a time when we were on the cusp of concepts such as "stranger danger." Even then, this man was not a stranger.

Other memories followed: being restrained and fondled backstage in the green room of my high school theater by a cast member I trusted implicitly who came upon me prepping makeup for the upcoming dress rehearsal, forcing me up against the sink from behind (fortunately someone came in as he was trying to rip off my pants, but no one ever said a word); all three of my closest high school girlfriends date raped by guys we knew; being actively stalked by a man when I was in my first semester of junior college; rape jokes told by "good guys" in college (and being ridiculed when I called them out on it); being raped by someone I trusted deeply; traveling abroad and being horrified when a man sitting in a plaza on some steps below my friends and me while we ate lunch turned around exposing himself masturbating, the grossest smile on his face; a guy forcing a kiss on me in a club as he grabbed at my breasts; a man I took dictation for on an hourly basis, after six months of working for him becoming enraged with me when I wouldn't lie for him on a legal matter, accusing me of thinking that because I had "nice tits I could do whatever the hell I wanted" - all this in my own home, after nothing but a completely professional relationship with him; being aggressively sexually harassed (being degraded, fondled when I was unable to physically defend myself) by a veteran mountain guide who had not liked that I spoke out against his sexist treatment and comments, who'd had a lot of seniority in the guiding company he had worked for years, and then finding out that he had a history of this but no woman would ever come forward officially (I did and he was finally fired); a man sitting next to me on a nearly-empty Amtrak train, talking to me for hours, despite my asking him to leave me alone, and then trying to force himself on me with a kiss, along with attempted groping, on a trip to see my family. The list goes on.

But women all over the world deal with this kind of aggressive harassment and abuse to much higher degrees and with greater regularity. I have long been aware that by appearances, this planet is a very dangerous place to be born female.

I don't want to focus on false images of masculinity. I want my precious nieces, Goddaughters, students, mentees, and all girls and women the world over to know the men who are REAL men out there. There are SO many of them. Men like Jared pictured above. Men like my dad and grandfathers and uncles and professors and dearest friends and many, many colleagues and mentors.

Men like my friend, who wrote this email and sent to the women in his life, the morning after the election:

An Open Letter to Women we Love From Men
We are deeply sorry that once again, it looks like we have sacrificed you for personal gain. Please know that you are loved, respected for who you are, revered, cared for, and that we know what incredible patience you have shown your entire lives.
This is not how we think. We don’t see you as objects, as bodies for our consumption. We don’t see you in any disrespectful or selfish way. We see you as leaders as thinkers and as highly cherished and fully respected equals. We look to you now more than ever for the solutions to fear, sexism and hate. We can only imagine how it seems to you that you are viewed, but it is not true.
Despite how it looks, we do care about you more than we care for money, for our base desires, more than we care about personal interests- even more than guns and walls. Please know that, despite the appearance, we have not chosen ourselves, once again, over your safety and wellbeing.
We will fight anyone who says your bodies are not yours, anyone who says that your worth is in your appearance, anyone who tells you what you have to offer is in anyway less than what your brother, classmate, coworker, boss or partner has to offer. Please know how deeply we feel this.
Fear and hate do not trump love and principle.
With love and respect.

There is hope. Men growing up to be good men. Men teaching each other what true strength looks like - mutual respect, radical kindness, security in themselves. Men eradicating excuses for violence against women - both verbal and physical - as "locker room talk" and "boys will be boys." I look forward to witnessing as our collective strength, resilience, capacity for forgiveness, our desire for unity and compassionate care for each other - our largeness of heart -  marches forward as we navigate all the noisy assertions of turmoil in our nation and world.

In a couple hours, those little bright-eyed girls will arrive with their American Girl dolls by their side. We will have a tea party and talk about their dreams, about how unlimited they are, how strong, resilient, spiritually whole they already are. We will sip tea and eat cake, and watch an American Girl movie. "Melody 1963: Love Has to Win" is about a young girl their age in Detroit in the 60s using her voice for justice and for what is right.* I will revel in the freshness of their perspectives, and luxuriate in the pure joy of their giggles. We will talk about how each of them has a voice as well.

Most importantly, we will talk about how Love always cuts through any adversity, bringing light to any darkness. Love Always Wins. It already has.

POSTSCRIPT: The sleepover went just as I had predicted above. The tea party, the giggles, the movie, the hopes and dreams. And, well after I'd left them to settle in for the night, when they thought I was out of earshot, I heard them chanting, "Freedom for all! Freedom for all!"I had nothing to do with that...and it made my heart grow another 5 sizes at least!

*Movie can be found on Amazon Prime. Here is a short video about the inception and making of the movie here, and a link to the trailer here.