I Won’t Back Down

Well, I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down

No, I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground

And I won’t back down
(I won’t back down)
Hey, baby, there ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down)
Hey, I will stand my ground
And I won’t back down

Well I know what’s right
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground

And I won’t back down

-Tom Petty

 

I write my blog for a few reasons…to help me process how I am feeling, to help me learn my own lessons for my personal growth, and to share my stories in case it helps other people. Sometimes I simply have something to say – something important that I need to share others. Today, I write for all these reasons.

As I sit to write this part of my journey – I want those reading this to know that it is never my intent to hurt anyone else. I am about to write about a painful chapter of my life that I have never shared in detail on my blog before – and I am doing this to help me process some painful memories, and to try to help others who may learn from my experiences.

Over the last few weeks, I have been carrying some emotional heaviness. I have been helping a friend going through a challenging time. In addition, the #metoo hashtag has gone viral over the last few weeks. It is no surprise to me that I am being triggered by my own past as I hear so many stories. On one hand, I have glossed over the heaviness – thinking that nothing “terrible” has happened to me compared to others. But – that nagging heaviness hasn’t gone away and has been really affecting my moods. Last night as I had a great heart to heart with my friend Susan– I finally named it – I was feeling pissed. And as usual for me, underneath that anger was some residual pain from my past.

You see, I was a victim of emotional abuse for many years over the course of my 13-year marriage. I have never written that sentence before. But there it is. I don’t like to use the word victim, and I still have a tough time seeing myself as a victim – but in denying I was a victim is denying a very important chapter in my story. And I believe in the truth and in living an authentic life, so I need to speak my truth.

So yes – something terrible did happen to me – many, many times.

I remember the first warning sign when I was dating John who would later become my husband. We were about 22 years old and on a trip to Newport, RI for their Jazz Fest. I remember the car ride with his sister and her husband – and John got upset with me about something and lashed out at me in front of everyone in the car. I am not sure exactly what he said – but I think it had something to do with my being “spoiled” or “entitled” – this was to become a major theme over our marriage. Because I didn’t want to cause a scene, I stayed quiet until we arrived and I remember storming off to be myself. I remember he eventually found me, accused me of being dramatic and ruining everyone’s time. There was no apology – or even acknowledgement of my feelings at all. I remember pushing my feelings aside for the sake of “peace” – which was the start of a vicious pattern over many more years.

When we were first married, my husband took 100% control over our finances. To his credit, he did manage to save a lot while I had pretty typical spending habits for a 25-year-old. I do believe that it was highly unlikely we would have been able to save money and buy a house had it not been for John’s thriftiness. However, the path to that dream was a painful one. I was expected to place every single receipt into the “in” box where I was then questioned about the contents of those receipts on a weekly basis. Now – to some of you that may not sound unreasonable. We were trying to save for a house – and we did need to live within our means. And I had proven I was irresponsible when I neglected to share that I brought $4,000 of credit card debt with me into our marriage.

But you see – no matter what I tried, I could not convince John to set up a “budget” or in other words an “allowance”. I remember suggesting that he “allow” me to take out $40 cash each week that I could use for groceries, lunch, gifts, clothes…whatever. The point was that I wanted to make my own decisions. I was tired of him knowing what I bought for his birthday and how much I spent before I even had the chance to give it to him. I wanted to be able to go to lunch with a friend without having to justify it to him. I wanted buy a snack and not have to explain why I ate what I did and spent whatever dollars to do so. He thought my suggestion was crazy and unreasonable – it was impossible to come up with any kind of system or compromise. He was in control and that was that. As time went on, I would forget or lose receipts…I would become numb to the weekly arguments, bury my feelings and endure the monthly bank reconciliation. I would eventually get into “crafting” and making/selling jewelry so I could have cash on hand – glad to have a creative outlet that could also help me endure the situation.

What I didn’t realize was that the financial control was merely a stepping stone to the emotional control John would eventually take. He started in on my weight pretty early in our marriage. We were almost the same height – and when we were dating he almost broke up with me because he didn’t like that he didn’t feel bigger than me. So what did I do? I minimized myself as much as possible. I dieted before we got married – and got down to the smallest size I have EVER been and thought all would be ok. All was not ok. What ensued was nothing short of emotional abuse. He tried to control everything I ate on a daily basis. We would go out to dinner, and somehow I would be convinced to order an appetizer instead of an entrée. We would go on car trips, and if I wanted to stop for lunch I was told something was wrong with me because I couldn’t miss a meal. We would go to a ball game – where the only food options were hot dogs/burgers – you know the usual ball park food – and I would be ridiculed for not finding something healthy to eat.

I was called the most insane names you can think of – but the most common one was “Fatso.” And it happened ALL THE TIME. Every single day. Whether he was drunk or sober, he called me horrendous names. I honestly don’t remember ever enjoying a relaxing meal without being questioned why I was eating/drinking “that” and making some comment about my weight.

As a person who values the truth – I developed some terrible patterns to lie about what I ate, how long I worked out, and how much I spent on things, all attempts to regain control of my choices and of my life.

John and I tried to have children. I suffer from endometriosis and had to have several surgeries to remove some painful, large cysts. I went through many tests to determine my fertility – and therefore I was to blame for our situation. John refused to be tested. Instead, he blamed my condition – and at his worst moments, called me “barren” and “childless.” These are the most painful memories of my marriage.

Over our years together, I started to become more and more successful in my sales career, while John started to struggle in his career. He was incredibly smart and talented, and had the unfortunate luck to work for an HR outsourcing company whose major clients were Circuit City and other major companies that eventually went out of business. While I excelled, he suffered – and he saw this as in inverse relationship – meaning the better I did, the worse he felt. I could not share any of my successes without hurting him – so once again, I minimized myself – tried to make myself smaller – not just physically – and buried my feelings. My most painful experience related to this was the night I won “Salesperson of the Year” at our annual awards banquet. I dreaded the evening with every fiber in my being. I specifically asked to NOT be seated with our CEO and the executive team because deep down I knew what was going to happen. My worst dreams were realized when John proceeded to get drunk and mutter LOUDLY during the entire ceremony. “When is this going to be over?” “Look at you – you are so special (laced with sarcasm).” “This sucks – when can we leave”. Everyone at the table heard him. I was humiliated and so consumed with shame. Within seconds of the end of the ceremony, I grabbed him and we headed for the exit – somehow I thought I could escape and pretend that night never happened. It was truly terrible – one of the worst nights of my life. I had never felt so exposed and ashamed by having my work and personal lives collide like this.

I grew to avoid that collision of my personal life with other aspects of my life as much as possible. I alienated myself – more accurately, I allowed John to alienate me from my family and friends. I became so unhappy that I started to wish time away – I would be relieved to fall asleep so I could wake up the next day – having endured another day.

And despite ALL of these things that happened, I stayed. This morning, I watched a Ted Talk by Leslie Morgan Steiner called “Why domestic violence victims don’t leave.” She said she didn’t think of herself as being abused during her tumultuous marriage. You can see her TED Talk here.

She said, “I thought of myself as a very strong woman who was in love with a deeply flawed man.” EXACTLY – I got goosebumps hearing that. I used to say John was misunderstood – that he was like a porcupine, prickly on the outside and squishy on the inside. That people didn’t see the “real” John. Well – I didn’t see the real John. John wasn’t one person on the outside, and another on the inside.  Instead – just like everyone else including me – he is a whole person made up of many layers, many facets, strengths and flaws. I wasn’t healthy enough to see the truth through my denial.

Today my life is dramatically different – in a positive way. I sought help and have worked very hard on my emotional health. I am a truly happy person with so much love in my life. My marriage ended over six years ago, and four and a half years ago I met Jerry who loves me for exactly who I am – with all my strengths, all my weaknesses. I am 100% myself, 100% of the time now – no minimizing. I have the family I have always wanted with his children, Kaitlyn, Chelsea and Eric, all of whom I love with my whole heart. My relationships with my family and friends are the best they have ever been, and I no longer sacrifice any of them for the sake of my partner – because to do that would be to sacrifice myself.

I can still be tough on myself when I get triggered like I have been these last few weeks. When I spoke to my friend Susan last night – I said I am still “pissed” at both John, but also at me for “allowing” myself to be treated badly for so many years. That is why I sat down to write this morning – that is why I am seeing myself now as a “victim” – a word I have never used before to describe myself.

If John or his family are reading this – please try to understand that my intent is not to cause any of you pain, but I understand if it does. This is MY story. These things happened to ME.

These experiences have helped to make me who I am today, and I am a truth-teller. I won’t back down from the truth.

If my story helps even one other person speak up – it is more than worth it. Because here is a hard truth. One in every three women has suffered from domestic abuse. I am one of them – and many of you didn’t know this about me. And I am 100% certain that you know others that are being abused today. You may be one of them. If you are – please hear me loud and clear – the shame of domestic abuse cannot live in the light.

In her TED Talk, by Leslie Morgan Steiner talks about shedding light on domestic abuse – and after watching it today, I felt compelled to shed my own light – to “shed my silence” on this issue.

#metoo

 

Advertisements

(What’s so Funny) About Peace, Love & Understanding

IMG_7660

I took this picture outside of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC July 5th, 2015.

 

“As I walk through this wicked world

Searching for light in the darkness of insanity

I ask myself is all hope lost

Is there only pain and hatred and misery

And each time I feel like this inside Just one thing I want to know

What’s So Funny bout Peace, Love, and Understanding oh

What’s So Funny bout Peace, Love, and Understanding

As I walk on through troubled times

My spirit gets so down hearted sometimes

So where are the strong who are the trusted

And where is the harmony sweet harmony

Cause each time I feel it slippin’ away Just makes me want to cry…”

Songwriters: NICHOLAS ORAIN LOWE; Performed by Elvis Costello & the Attractions

Where are the strong, and who are the trusted – because it is time for you TO SHOW UP. It is time for you to SPEAK UP.

What happened in Charlottesville last Saturday was domestic terrorism. I am baffled to hear our president once again reiterate that he sees “many sides” to what happened and that there were “fine people” on both sides of this. I did not see one “fine person” holding tiki torches and Nazi flags. I am horrified to see David Duke thank Trump today for his support of their hateful movement.

There are not “many sides” to the hate being spewed on my television and my phone since Friday night. There is only one right side of history to be on. And there is only one wrong side.

I wish I could say I am surprised – but in my heart, I believe that Trump is simply revealing himself – ONCE AGAIN. What will it take for the strong and the trusted to say enough is enough?

It is up to each and every one of us to shine our light on the darkness that has come out of the shadows. This is not about politics. This is about our values – the very ideals our nation was founded on – the very values that our “Greatest Generation” fought and died for in a WORLD WAR.  I never thought I would see a time where a white nationalist is allowed to work in my president’s White House – a place I have honored and respected my entire life. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would see Nazi flags on display in my country in this day and age, and that it would take days for my President to tepidly denounce it, to only one day later, unleash his true self like he did today.

I am angry. I am bitterly disappointed. I am terrified. I am trying as hard as I can not to spew hateful words and rhetoric back at these people and at our president. I would like to be able to say he is not my president – but the bottom line is that he is indeed my president. He carries the “football” that contains the nuclear codes that can start a nuclear war within minutes. He has that power until the day he leaves office.

I am trying to not answer hate with hate. I am trying with ALL of my might to channel my anger in some kind of constructive way.

I ask everyone out there who is also upset, angry and frankly pissed off – to please not contribute to the violent rhetoric. Be pissed off – but demand change, resist, protest – but in a peaceful manner and don’t contribute to the violence.

I ask everyone who supported Trump and who is now upset about what is happening – please do not stay silent. It is time to speak up. It is time to demand better. Please be brave and see the truth and authenticity that Trump is showing us about himself each and every day.

We are better than this. We need to ACT better than this. We need to DEMAND better than this. Staying silent implies complacency and even complicity. Doing nothing is a choice our country may not survive.

Stand with me on the right side of history. This is my rally cry for each of you to be the light in the darkness of insanity!!

Nobody Told Me (There’d Be Days Like These)

Let me tell you something that no one told me about summertime. For working moms (and maybe stay at home moms too – I am the former, so that is all I know).

SUMMER SUCKS.

I used to love summers. The slower pace, unstructured days/weeks, vacation travel…

These things that I used to love are now my enemies. I have a shit-ton to do. Who has time to relax and go with the flow??? NOT ME! Well – that’s what I thought until I HIT THE WALL on Monday.

On Monday, I was guilty of doing what I do best:

  1. Having unrealistic expectations
  2. Taking on too much
  3. Trying to control uncontrollable situations

Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? Well – no one got hurt, my partner Jerry dealt with my drama, and I practiced some self-care and realized I needed some alone time to do some “work” on myself. I went for a long walk on the beach, and played my favorite play list REAL LOUD. I finally allowed myself to FEEL some things that I have been avoiding. If anyone out there saw a fast-walking woman crying and then laughing on the Isle of Palms on Monday night – well, you maybe you thought you saw a crazy lady, but really you just witnessed me having the “feels”.

Have you ever fought a nagging feeling? Trying to just “power through” without really getting to the root of the issue? I do this all the time! Then I realize how exhausting it is to play “Whack a Mole” with my emotions – because just like that dang game, that mole pops up somewhere else no matter how hard I hit it. It’s like playing through the pain – I think I can overcome it by just buckling down, by trying harder…working harder. Oh, doesn’t it just sound exhausting??

I have learned some good lessons over the years – and I recognize when my wiring gets me into trouble. I literally can feel it in my body. I am a giver and a doer, and am self-reliant – these are qualities I really like about myself, but too much of a good thing is…not a good thing.

My walk helped me to release that nagging feeling – to finally FEEL it, own it, and start to move through it. At first it felt a little ugly to admit to myself what I was feeling… which is this: I finally realized that on days like Monday, I miss my more simple, carefree life that I had before becoming a full-time mom. In doing so, I brought that darkness out into the light and saw it for what it was – fear. Once I did that, I felt a release – which was followed up with a renewed sense of myself, and something I can only describe as forgiveness – a feeling that helped me to be kinder to myself, and that resulted in some self-confidence and hope that all was going to be ok.

I am pretty sure that every parent feels this way at times. I think is natural and healthy for parents to feel this way – and it felt liberating to realize I can feel this fear while at the same time loving my stepson Eric unconditionally.

My lessons learned:

  1. Expectations: Expecting myself to be a super hero is setting myself up for failure. I felt like a failure on Monday. As much as I admire Wonder Woman – I am not her. I am human, and I need to cut myself some freaking slack. And if you are reading this and nodding your head – you probably could benefit from doing the same thing! Failure is not a kind word. I value kindness, and I value myself – so I am purging the word failure from my vocabulary. I value my ability to do a lot – but I also value myself and my sanity! I can fail (the word fail is totally fine) – I can fail – I have and I will again – and that helps me to learn – but I am not a FAILURE. Nope. Let’s just not use that word to describe ourselves anymore – got it?
  2.  Taking on too much. I have a few remedies for taking on too much:
    • Say “NO.” Without explanation.  “NO” is a one-word sentence. When I feel the need to explain myself, I see the people-pleaser coming out – that person who doesn’t want to disappoint someone, that co-dependent Laurie that takes care of other people at the expense of my own feelings. “No” helps me practice self-care and to continue to break those old habits that did not serve me well.
    • Delegating to someone else. The trick is to allow that person to do it differently and maybe not as well as what you would have done. Because let’s be honest – I know there are a lot of us out there that can get a LOT of shit done, and done pretty well I might add! LOL – see how we can ourselves into trouble?? My friend once said, “I know if I got hit by a bus, my husband would probably feed my kids popcorn for dinner every night, but you know what – he would keep them happy and alive, and that is what matters.” That sentence has stayed with me for years – and helps me keep things in perspective. I know some incredible women who raise the bar HIGH. Expecting their partners, or really anyone else, to be as amazing as they are is… well…see #1!
    • PAUSE. Take a minute to pause and get present. A quick exercise to get present is to go through your 5 senses – what do you see, smell, taste, feel, and hear in this moment? Pausing helps to get perspective – and often when I do, I can catch myself and realize that just because I am busy and “doing” does not mean I am accomplishing something that is meaningful. Pausing helps me connect to the bigger picture – my purpose. If the list of tasks I am trying to work through doesn’t serve that, I can let some things go.

      IMG_7370

       I just had to buy this shirt for Eric a few days ago – and now I realize it has some deeper meaning. “Slow Jam” is my new name to taking a few minutes to pause, slow down and get present to what’s happening – just look how happy that sloth is! And how happy Eric is! Lessons to be learned here!!

 

  • Ask for help. Self-explanatory, but usually not top of mind for me. That’s what I did on Monday, and guess what – Tuesday and Wednesday have been a whole lot better!

3. For trying to control uncontrollable situations – this one is tough. For me, recognizing what I am doing is a huge help. If I catch myself, I can sometimes redirect my energy. It sounds corny – but I use music a lot to help me relax and let go of control. Let it Be, Let it Go – whatever it takes!! I literally wear a ring that says, “Let it Be.” I need the constant reminder! Laughter, fun – anything I can do to help me lighten up also helps me to let go of control. Thankfully I have a partner that really helps me with this. Somehow Jerry can make me laugh during these episodes – there’s probably a survival instinct on his part, but hey – if it works, it works. Pausing to help someone else also helps me to gain perspective – and serves as a reminder that the world does not revolve around me. Taking some time to myself to do the “work” – to get to the root of my feelings, and to move through them rather than avoid them – that helps a lot.

 

 

Not quite sure how to sum up – besides to say that I am going to “slow jam” the rest of my week. And I hope you do too!

The Warrior (Wonder Woman)

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have been a fan of Wonder Woman for a long time. In the 70’s, Wonder Woman was the one of the few shows we watched as a family. For some reason, my dad never complained when our family sat down together to watch Lynda Carter change into the various Wonder Woman outfits to kick some butt and save the day.

Since then, I have been looking forward to her movie for many years. I have seen countless Marvel and DC movies over the years – and enjoyed most of them – and I could not have been more excited to buy tickets for opening night of Wonder Woman this week. Don’t worry – I won’t reveal any spoilers. I don’t intend for this to be a movie review…in short – go see the movie. It’s highly entertaining.

I do feel compelled to explore why I feel a connection to Wonder Woman – and to describe how the movie made me feel…and to find some meaning about my own life in some way. As I often do, I write to try to figure these things out.

Wonder Woman (Diana) stands for peace and justice. She is the first person to fight for it when no one else will. I got goosebumps when Diana says, “I’m willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.” Having my step-son Eric in my life has made me become a fighter in this way.

IMG_6780

Eric and my Wonder Woman Bobblehead – a gift from his dad (Jerry) who knows me very well.

 

Let me explain. A little more than four years ago, I was a single, divorced woman who always wanted to have a family. I embarked on a journey to make that happen – exploring international adoption, private adoption, foster care…Today, I have a family made up of my partner Jerry, his beautiful twin 23-year-old daughters (Chelsea and Kaitlyn), and his 18-year-old son, Eric, who has multiple disabilities. There are a LOT of stories in the “…”, and a lot to learn from that journey. However, that is not my focus today.

When I think about fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves, I immediately think of Eric. Eric, who now lives with us full-time, is non-verbal. He relies on us to take care of him and his basic needs – and to also be his voice. Having him in my life has changed me forever. Eric’s teachers wrote me a note on the last day of school this Friday where they called me “an amazing mother, and a fearless advocate for Eric.” I cannot think of a better compliment I have ever received.

No one needs to feel sorry for me. In fact, when people do, I am almost offended – like they don’t really get who I am and what I stand for. Eric has brought so much joy and meaning to my life – I don’t need or want anyone’s sympathy. Instead, I want their support and recognition that Eric and other people with disabilities have so much to offer the world – and they deserve to be an active part of their communities. I fight for that every day as Eric’s step-mom and as a board member at his amazing school, PACE Charter school, a program of Pattison’s Academy.

Another thing that Diane says in the movie is this: “It’s not about what you deserve.  It’s what you believe.  And I believe in love.” I do too.

When we make choices from love instead of fear, we make our relationships better. We make ourselves better. One tiny step at a time, we change the world for the better. I believe that each one of us has the power to change the world, and that we should never give up trying. Anger is a fuel – that is certain, but it is a fuel that leaves us on “empty” – more tired than we were when we started. Love is a renewable fuel that not only keeps the tank full, but fills other tanks. It grows exponentially and will never run out.

Since the last presidential race, I have been overcome by “noise” on a regular basis. I try to deal with this noise by focusing on what I can do to live my values, and to try to make a difference in any small way that I can. I try not to succumb to fear by contributing to the noise. It is not easy, and I don’t always get it right – but this is what I try to do. Loving my family and doing what I can to fight for what is right is keeping me centered and hopeful for our future.

As the movie concludes, Diana says, “I used to want to save the world, to end war and protect mankind. But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives inside their light, and learned that both will always be inside them, and that is something no hero can defeat. They must always choose for themselves. So I stay, I fight, and I give, for the world I know can be. This is my mission, now, forever.”

This is my mission too. I may not be a superhero, and I certainly don’t have any special powers. But I do have the most important thing – love, because as Wonder Woman says, “Only love can truly save the world.”

 

America

Free,

Only want to be free

We huddle close

Hanging on to a dream

“America” sung by Neil Diamond

I know many of you are both mentally and emotionally exhausted from the constant barrage of “noise” over the last couple of weeks. It’s been hard – even harder than I expected it to be.

Out of all of the “noise”, the immigration ban has brought me to tears numerous times. I am so deeply saddened that America has been forced to shut its doors to people seeking a brighter future here. To suspend immigration is un-American to me. To ban refugees is against everything I believe in.

But while I am sad, I refuse to wallow, because wallowing would be living in my “privilege”. What right do I have to wallow when thousands of people’s lives have been thrown into sudden chaos? Yet, I also refuse to ignore the ban and to pretend I am not affected in some way by it. If each one of us took the time, we would find that we do indeed know someone in our community, in our circles, in our friendships, workplace – somewhere, someone you know is suffering from this ban.

So – what do I do?

Well, I decided to channel some of this energy, and do a little research on my own immigration story. Like each and every one of you that is not Native American, my ancestors came from somewhere else. All of my life, I have proudly said that all eight of my great grand-parents emigrated from Italy. They were not refugees in the way that Merriam-Webster defines it as “a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution.” I imagine that all of them did what so many others did in the early 1900’s by coming to America to pursue the American dream – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Using the research my dad has done on our family tree, I subscribed to ancestry.com to see what I could find. It didn’t take me too long to find ship manifests that contained the names of five of my eight great-grandparents.

First is my dad’s maternal grandfather, Salvatore Raffaele, who left from Naples and arrived in New York City on the SS Britannia in 1893 at the age of 21. I am not sure when he married Maria Valenti, my great-grandmother, or when she moved to America. I do know that they had seven children, their fifth being my grandmother who was born in Stamford, CT in 1911.

salvatoreraffaele

Next, my dad’s paternal grandmother, Amelia Maria Lamazzo was only 15 when she sailed from Naples to New York on the SS Lombardia in August, 1903. She married Francesco (Frank) Sessa sometime around those years, lived in Stamford, CT and had her first child (of 10!) in 1906 and then had Samuel (my grandfather) in 1907. According to the 1930 census, my great-grandfather Francesco (Frank) emigrated from Italy in 1900. I found a ship manifest with Francesco Sessa’s name on it from 1909 – so my guess he returned to Italy to visit and came back to CT – because he and Amelia had eight more children after that.

amilialamazzo

francescosessa

On my mother’s side, her paternal grandfather, Arcangelo Martino, was 19 years old when he sailed on the SS Romanic from Naples to Boston in 1911.

archangelomartino

My mother’s maternal grandfather, Raffaele Ronzio, was also 19 years old when he left from Havre and arrived in New York City in 1913 on the SS Niagara. He was from a small town in Italy called S. Apollinaire – so I am not sure how France is part of his story. I do know that he married my great-grandmother Maria Valente before they moved to the US because my great-Aunt Lucy (Lucia) was born in S. Apollinaire, and then they had 2 more children (including my grandmother) in North Providence, RI.

raffaeleronzio

My family history may be a bit boring to anyone outside my family. What I hope happens to all of you reading this is for you to reflect and think about your own family’s emigration/immigration story. Because we are (almost) all alike in that we have one. If you think that immigration has not affected you in some positive way, I ask you to consider where you came from and why you are here.

And if you don’t think immigration affects your community today – well, maybe you are not looking hard enough. This article was posted today called “Meet the Last Refugees to Arrive in Charleston Before the President’s Ban”. The Mufuta family luckily arrived 24 hours before the ban went into effect. If you read this article, you will learn that Bakemayi Mufuta lived in refugee camps since he was seven (he is now 30 years old) when he fled his hometown in the Congo. He met his wife Rose in a refugee camp in Zambia (she also had fled the Congo). They have two children, 6 year-old Promise, and 3 year-old Georgina. They spent 4 years on the resettlement process that led here to Charleston a few weeks ago with the help of Lutheran Services Carolina. I am sure that nothing about that process was easy.

Before the ban, Lutheran Services Carolina had just begun to resettle refugees in our area – four families have come since January. Of course, the refugee program is now at a stand-still.

I have contacted Lutheran Services Carolina to see what these families could use and how to get supplies to them. I am happy to pass along my findings to anyone interested. You can also follow the SC for Refugee Justice Facebook page if you are interested in learning more.

While sometimes I feel helpless, I won’t give up hope – because again, then I go back to living in my privilege because I CAN go about my business if I choose to. While I pledge to myself to speak up and take action, I will try not to add to the “noise” because it’s hard to hear through the noise.

I will continue to write about my feelings because if it helps even one person feel better or inspire them to take some kind of positive action – it’s 100% worth my time and effort.

I will continue to plea with people to practice empathy – to find what you have in common with the immigrants and refugees that are impacted by the ban. To ask those everyone to do the best you can to act from love and not fear. To rise about the political fray and realize this is a HUMAN issue – not a political one.

I will practice gratitude for my great-grandparents who were brave enough to move across an ocean at their young ages in order to pursue the American dream. I will practice gratitude that they were lucky enough to be allowed to do so.

I will continue to pray for the people who are frightened and confused, who are trying to find a better life for their families, and who are stuck somewhere other than here. I will pray that we remember who we are, where we came from, and what the American values are that we sometimes take for granted.

I will do what I can to help the refugees who do live in my community.

I will continue to follow the “real” news and will not be afraid to read the truth, or to share the truth. I will not remain silent or indifferent.

Get up, Stand Up

Today I helped make history…or as Kaitlyn said, “her-story”. From what I have read by Politicususa, today’s Women’s March was the largest protest in US history. However, I didn’t march today in protest of who sits in the White House. For me, today was not about politics, nor was it about one man. It was (and remains to be) so much bigger than that! It transcends politics and the temporary power that one person has. Today’s march was about renewing my belief in humanity, my love for my country, and my commitment to embody my values. I marched to “be the change I wish to see in the world” as Gandhi taught us to do.

I marched today to demonstrate what I believe in:

  1. TRUTH: I believe in speaking the truth. The truth can be a big pill to swallow. Many people will avoid the truth because once they admit the truth, they may have to take some kind of action – or God forbid – CHANGE. I know this because I spent a lot of my adult life avoiding some hard truths of my own. As a result of facing my truth, I have had to make some painful decisions and have experienced a whole lot of turmoil as a result. Now that I am on the other side of that pain, I know in my heart and in my bones that I am a better person for taking the risk to speak my truth.  When I reflect on our recent presidential election (which I have done A LOT), I feel that one of the takeaways is the truth has been exposed. I have been pretty comfortable in my white privilege and could have easily stayed there “on the fence”  as John Pavlovitz so eloquently wrote about recently. Not anymore. I am willing to speak the truth that racism is rampant in our country. That white privilege is a luxury that too many people cling to and avoid having to change. That too many wealthy people hold the power and WAY too many people have none. That women are not treated equally in the workplace. That people with disabilities need more help. That LBGTQ right’s need to be protected. That there were more people at the Women’s March than at the Inauguration. Some of you may think this is political, and that is your right to think whatever you want. But for me, the truth is a fundamental, personal value. Now that I can speak these truths, I am ready to DO something – I am ready to “be the change.” I am ready to take action to do what I can to make my life, my country, and my planet, a better place.
  2. EQUALITY: I believe that all men and women are created equal. I believe in equal pay for women. I believe that love is love and that everyone should be able to get married regardless of their sexual orientation. I believe that black lives matter. Of course I believe that all lives matter, but I am not afraid to say that black lives matter to call attention to the hard truth that racism is rampant (see #1). I will not be afraid to embody this value of equality – even when it may be uncomfortable. I want my actions to reflect my values. That is why I marched today.
  3. CHOICE: To me, believing in choice goes well beyond a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body. I believe that choice is a fundamental right each one of us has at ALL times. Each one of us has the power to make a choice every moment of every day. Making a choice is the opposite of being a victim of circumstance. I can’t control my feelings, and I can’t control what happens to me…yet still I have 100% control over my choice of my actions in response. By the way, doing nothing is still a choice. And the only person responsible for my choices is ME. Other people may have an opinion about my choices, but guess what – the older I get, the less I care.
  4. EMPATHY: I believe that empathy is the answer to the division in our country today. I believe that I can change the world one small act of kindness at a time. I believe that empathy makes it possible for me to have very difficult but necessary conversations about very difficult topics.
  5. HOPE: I believe that hope comes from my core belief that we are all connected in some way. I have hope that our country remains to be the best country in the world, and that it is built to last no matter who holds office. I believe that fear is the enemy of hope. I have hope in humanity – and today renewed that hope.
  6. LOVE: I believe that love trumps hate. I believe that love is the most powerful, renewable energy that not only replenishes itself, but can grow exponentially. I believe if our choices come from love and not from fear, that the world would be a much better place. I believe that the enemy of love is not only hate – but more importantly – indifference, like the wise Elie Wiesel taught us.

These are the reasons I marched today. These are the reasons I will not stay on the fence. These are the reasons I will speak up and take action. I welcome difficult yet constructive conversations.

(Could it be) The End of the World (as We Know It)?

I watched the 3rd and final debate last night and I have something to say and it is this:

Donald Trump is a serious threat to our democracy.

When I heard Trump say that he would “keep us in suspense” rather than agreeing to accept the election results, I was horrified – terrified – and pissed off. The peaceful transfer of power in our country is the bedrock of our democracy. I cannot watch Trump take a sledgehammer to our country’s foundation without speaking up. I have voted in every election since I was old enough to vote. I have voted for Democrats and Republicans. Some have won, and some have lost. Each time I watch the inauguration, I pay attention to the outgoing president shaking hands with the incoming president on the steps of the White House to welcome the first family “home” -to the people’s house – the White House.  This is my favorite moment of each inauguration, and I get goose bumps of patriotism each and every time without fail.

Trump’s recent tirade about the notion of a “rigged” election, paired with his answer in the debate last night, are damaging America and its citizens by inciting people to consider some pretty radical and dangerous ideas. Take a few minutes and watch this clip from CNN showing Dan Bowman, a Trump supporter discussing “taking out” Hilary Clinton or a staging a coup of our government if she wins. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5H5EsG5Ebls

Divisive is not a strong enough word to describe this rhetoric.

This is DANGEROUS. ENOUGH is ENOUGH!

I decided that I would not vote for Trump last November when I saw him mock Serge Kovlaski, the disabled reporter that Trump had clearly known – and in my opinion – clearly imitated and ridiculed at a campaign rally. This example of his inability and unwillingness to own his actions and their consequences was enough of a leadership flaw for me – and that was 11 months ago! The list of transgressions since last November is long. He has insulted so many groups of people for so many different reasons that I will not list here. That is not what I want to focus on. It’s so very clear that he will not stop on his own volition, and I don’t want to waste my time and energy on him any more than I have to.

What I DO want to focus on – is what I can do – and what WE can do as individuals to make a difference.

It is up to us as to make the madness stop.

How you ask?

  1. Vote. Each and every vote matters. Anyone who lived through the Bush/Gore election knows this. Make your voice heard.
  2. Accept today’s reality. The reality today is that our options stink. The die has been cast in this election and these are the options. Pick the lesser of the evils and do the best you can for America. It matters!!
  3. Speak up! Too often, I have been quiet about issues involving racism, gender inequality, LGBT discrimination, gun control – issues that seem may seem political but to me are about human decency, dignity, and unity. To me – this transcends politics, so I won’t be afraid to speak my mind, share my feelings, and be open to having difficult conversations in order to effect positive change in my community, my country and the world we live in. I am encouraged when I see people standing up for kindness. Photos like this give me hope (posted today to Instagram by Cheryl Strayed, author of the book “Wild”) img_2511
  4. Raise our expectations. This is the hard one. I have had enough therapy to know the pain that can come from having unrealistic expectations. It is really unrealistic to feel we can do better? That we are better than this? Some of you may think me naïve for feeling this way. But you know what I think it makes me?? Pretty f-ing patriotic. I love our country. I happen to already think America is great. And I would argue that the vast majority of Trump supporters would not want to live in another country besides America. But we have a LOT of work to do and it starts with us healing from this NASTY election, remembering what this country stands for, and demanding our politicians and parties to hear us as we figure out how to move forward. So think about what you want – what you stand for – and be sure you ask for it in the future.

We can do better next time – because despite what Trump is threatening – there WILL be a next time.