What is Faith?

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. ~ Hebrews 11:1

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tag - You're It

I've talked about being overweight, partially disabled and middle aged, but have I told you that even with all of the aches and pains, I know that I know, that I know, that God isn't done with me yet? That He has called me to do this and that He has many things in mind for me to do accomplish before He calls me home. As I have mentioned before, I do in fact wonder why it is me that He has called to do these things.

Well the same can be said for my dear friend of 25 years Patrick Williams. Patrick knew that I had been trying to get my little tiny non-profit wanna be for the homeless off the ground, but it wasn't taking off as well as I would have liked it to. I often have a hard time remembering that it is not in My timing, but His. But Patrick has been one of my biggest supporters in my fight to end homelessness. He knows of my past and although he lives 800 miles away, we still talk almost every day.

We are very different, he and I, the first difference being our age. He is 12 years my senior but other than his thick crop of silver shite hair, you would never know his age by speaking with him and hearing about his ideas and passions. When it comes to politics, I am passionate about the homeless, street kids and battered women. Patrick on the other hand is passionate about politics. Period. He is highly educated, speaks in words I sometimes don't understand since I got my high school diploma through a snail mail course found on the back of the National Enquirer.

Where I am always on the go, rarely allowing time to let the grass grow under my feet, he is
laid back, slow walking, always contemplating decisions before deciding on the outcome. I am a spur of the moment, fly by the seat of my pants, always willing to take a chance kind of gal, he on the other hand doesn't. Oh he likes spur of the moment things, but he is not usually the one to implement them, but he knows that I am.

I called him up one day out of the blue and left a message saying, "I have the most scathingly brilliant idea." He returned my phone call almost immediately and I told him about the Change-for-Life awareness walk. "Wanna go?" I asked him. Without batting an eyelash, he said yes. I hoped he would, but this was not a 'hey let's go to the beach' type of spur of the moment trip. This was a trip that would take him away from his family for almost 5 months.

When I asked why he said yes, all he said was "Lynn I have learned over the years, either help or get out of the way."

I began making plans for the two of us to take this trip. He would drive up here from Sunnyvale, California somewhere around the 10th of April. We would rig his van with all of the touches of home we would need to sustain us on this 5 month adventure, like food, pots and pans, bedding, camping equipment and even shelving units to carry all of these things.

Although he is somewhat directionally challenged, I am not. As you know by now, I have laid out this trip step by step. Unless we can equip the van with a couple of pairs of Reebok's and camouflage it's appearance, Patrick will often have to take a different route than I, simply because there are no other places that I can walk, that the van cannot go. Since I don't think that is going to happen, I have lain out a second route for him to follow.

A month into the planning, I learned that Patrick was feeling somewhat useless, not being able to do much for the planning and as he thought he was only driving the van. When I asked him for a second time, why he said yes. His response was "Life with you has been a fun roller coaster ride and I just usually go along for the ride." Patrick may have thought I only needed him to drive the van that carries our equipment, but nothing could be further from the truth.

I cannot walk 20 miles a day. I am physically not able to do it. I blew the cartilage out of one knee, and shattered the others years ago. I have a bum hip and bad back due to do a work injury 18 months ago. Perhaps by the end of the trip, I will be able to walk better than I can now, but even with all of the training and preparing, I just can't seem to get past the 10 miles per day mark. My knees won't take it. So Patrick and I are going to tag team. I will take the first and last round of the day and Patrick will take the middle. But he is with me for so much more than playing "tag, you're it."

Patrick is a veteran of the Navy and is now a retired teacher. He will be the voice of the 200,000 plus homeless men and women who valiantly laid down their lives for their country and have now been let down by that same realm. Patrick will be walking because he cares deeply for this fellow Navy men and women, the Marines, Air Force, Army, and National Guard. He will be walking as representative for all the armed forces so they can continue to protect this great nation, knowing that when they come home, people like Patrick will protect them as well.
As I said earlier, Patrick and I have many differences, including our faith. He is an agnostic, where I am a follower of Christ. but it is through this agnostic, that this believer was reminded of a lesson that all Christians should live by.

I am not in control. God is. So why not sit back and enjoy the ride?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The History of Battered Women

Movement first gains momentum in England as Chiswick Women's Aid, the first identified shelter opens

Women's Advocates in St. Paul, Minnesota starts the first hot line for battered women. Women's Advocates and Haven house in Pasadena, California established the first shelters for battered women.

Erin Pizzey publishes Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear in England, the first book about domestic violence from the battered women's perspective.

NOW (National Organization of Women) announces the formation of a task force, co-chaired by Del Martin, to examine the problem of battering. It demands research into the problem and money for shelters.

Del Martin publishes Battered Wives; the first American feminist publication showing violence against wives deeply rooted in sexism.

Betsy Warrior publishes Working on Wife Abuse; the first national directory of individuals and groups helping battered women.

Nebraska becomes the first state to abolish the marital rape exemption.

Pennsylvania establishes the first state coalition against domestic violence. It also becomes the first state to create a statue providing for orders of protection for victims of domestic violence.

First national conference on battered women is held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin sponsored by the Milwaukee Task Force on Battered Women.

National Communications Network for the Elimination of Violence against Women (NCN), the first national newsletter on battered women, is published. The following year, NCN merges with the Feminist Alliance Against Rape to publish Aegis, the Magazine on Ending Violence Against Women, a grassroots feminist forum on rape, battering, and other issues of violence affecting women.

Oregon becomes the first state to enact legislation mandating arrest in domestic cases.

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights holds "Consultation on Battered Women" in Washington DC, brings together hundred of activists and results in Battered Women: Issue of Public Policy, which offers more than 700 pages of written and oral testimony.

National Coalition against Domestic Violence (NCADV), the grassroots organization which becomes the voice of the battered women's movement on the national level, is organized. NCADV establishes the vision and philosophy, which will guide the development of hundreds of local battered women's programs and state coalitions. It initiates the introduction of the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act in the U.S. congress.

Law enforcement Assistance Administration (a predecessor agency of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice) awards 11 grants to family violence projects to provide a range of services.

Minnesota becomes the first to allow probable cause (warrant less) arrest in cases of domestic assault, regardless of whether a protection order had been issued against the offender.

Office on Domestic Violence is established in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but is closed in 1981

First congressional hearings on the issue of domestic violence is held.

First National Data of Unity in October is established by NCADV to mourn battered women who have died, celebrate women who have survived the violence, and honor all who have worked to defeat domestic violence. Becomes Domestic Violence Awareness Week, and in 1987 expands to a month of awareness activities.

NCADV holds first national conference in Washington, DC, which is attended by more than 600 battered women's advocates from 49 states. The conference gains federal recognition of critical issues facing battered women, and sees the birth of several state coalitions.

A Police Foundation study Minneapolis, funded by the National Institute of Justice, finds arrest more effective than two non-arrest alternatives in reducing the likelihood of repeat violence. The study findings are widely publicized and provide the impetus for many police departments to establish pro-arrest policies in cases of domestic violence.

U.S. Attorney General establishes Task Force on Family Violence to examine scope and nature of problem. Nearly 300 witnesses provide testimony at public hearings in six cities. Final Report offers recommendations for action in many areas, including the criminal justice response, prevention and awareness, education and training, and data collection and reporting.

Passage of the Family Violence Preventing and Services Act through grassroots lobbying efforts; earmarks federal funding for programs serving victims of domestic violence.

Florida becomes the first state to enact legislation mandating consideration of partner abuse in child custody determinations.

Thurman v. Torrington is the first case in federal court in which a battered woman sues a city for police failure to protect her from her husband's violence. Tracy Thurman, who remains scarred and partially paralyzed from stab wounds inflicted by her husband, wins a $2 million judgment against the city. The suit leads to Connecticut's passage of its mandatory arrest law.

U.S. Surgeon General issues report identifying domestic violence as a major health problem.
NCADV establishes the first national toll-free hot line.

First national conference to promote a dialogue among domestic violence researchers, practitioners, and policymakers is held at the university of New Hampshire.

State v. Ciskie is the first to allow the use of expert testimony to explain the behavior and mental state of an adult rape victim. The testimony is used to show why a victim of repeated physical and sexual assault by her intimate partner would not immediately call police or take action. The jury convicts the defendant of four counts of rape.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Eyes Have It

Paul Newman eyes. That's what I call them. An intense, penetrating blue that could pierce your very soul. Sometimes as with Shawnee, you could actually look into those eyes and see nothing. No life, no emotion, and seemingly no essence. It was those eyes that caught my attention, not the waist length emerald, sapphire and amethyst strands of hair. Nor was it the multiple facial piercings; nor the pair of hands that were tattooed in a choke hold around her. It was her Paul Newman eyes.

Although kids have always been part of my life, first mine and for the last 18 years, kids of others, I knew from experience that I was "The Company." In my day we called it "the Establishment." Either way I would be deemed suspicious. Shawnee would be on her guard around me until trust could be earned, if ever. Therefore I wanted to see her in her element; to see her be herself, the way she acted around her peers. I needed to see her while her invisible protective force field was down.

My maternal heart quivered with compassion for this adolescent which gave me this overwhelming desire to know what was behind those eyes. Why were they so empty? Did they mirror her life? From what I could already recognize, they held horror, fear, an awfulness that few of us could ever perceive.

She was petite, no more than five feet tall. The boy's pants she wore hung low on her hips, making them sag in places that were meant for tautness. The too small tank top exposed more violent in nature tattoos on her biceps, neckline and wrists. Her attire also revealed a paunch that could only be achieved through motherhood, telling me without words, that her maternal heart had been wounded deeply. Her masculine mannerism opened to the elements one who trusted no one; who needed no one; who loved no one, including herself.

After only a few days of observation, I knew many of her likes and dislikes. What made her angry and what made her smile. She had an awkward smile; one that was given rarely and when it was, always through clenched jaws that matched the fists that were always at the ready. She chain smoked with a vengeance, sometimes tossing a joint into the mix, never caring what people thought. Or did she? Was she wanting to get caught, perhaps even needing to be caught?

When she accompanied one of her friends who had been accosted to the emergency room, she looked like she would rather be anywhere else but there, but to her credit, she waited albeit nervously. I made it a point to introduce myself and asked if I could buy her a cup of coffee. While the friend was in surgery, she and I had a chance to talk. I was taken aback when what started out to be a casual chat turned out to be a gushing of self-restricted, fury and fear.

I hadn't yet met a kid that gave his or her right name. It seemed to be not only a way of hiding from their past but a new identity as well. Blue eyes called herself Badger as I would find out in time, the name was apropos as were most self-proclaimed titles.

It turned out Badger was 25 years old and had more battle scars than most people acquire in a lifetime. Badger was born a Native American, abandoned to her 39 year old abusive grandmother in Oklahoma. She was raped by grandmother's boyfriend at the age of fourteen.

"I don't want no damned liar living under my roof," the grandmother drunkenly stated, after Badgers confession of what had been done to her. Seven weeks after the declaration, her grandmother married her off to the highest bidder. The going price for a child bearing fourteen-year old was $239 and a 1969 Cadillac convertible that wasn't running.

Six months later, Badger gave birth to a little girl which was promptly taken away from her and given to the boyfriend, even though it supposedly wasn't his. During Badger's 6 year marriage, she survived extreme verbal abuse, multiple broken bones, and even a gunshot wound to the chest which left her heart a bit weaker than normal. Badger gave birth to two more children, both products of spousal rape.

She loved her children as best she could and through the abuse and violence she did what she could to protect them from their father's daily rants. But the courts declared her an unfit mother when her husband broke the arm and collar bone of their 10 month old boy. She left Oklahoma an empty shell when her children were taken from her and given to the grandmother that never treated her as anything more than a slave.

Badger has seen it all, done it all and at 26 is worn out and tired. Although she has never spoken the words out loud, I believe that if she could lay down and go to sleep, never to awaken, she would be content for the first time in her short life. She went back to Oklahoma two years ago to begin the battle of regaining custody of her children. Although my time with Badger came to an end, her story hasn't. I see it in the faces of the new Badgers. The Badgers that have been abandoned, battered, raped and worse.

Named after a character in CATS, Mungojerrie/Chloe is a pick pocket who insists that all the pockets she has stolen from were deserving. Zelda chose Pariah after her parents labeled her as a social outcast and sent her out into the world to fend for herself at 15. Pregnant 17 year old Lisa calls herself Gypsy. She never stays in one place for very long, for fear of her step-father, also the man who impregnated her, will find her.

There will always be "Badgers," but maybe we can reach out just a little and offer a bit of hope. As I walk these 1863 miles I beg of you, if you have a heart for kids, especially the one and one half million kids who have never had anyone give them their hearts, then please donate 1 penny for every mile to your nearest teen shelter.

Be the Change

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Taking in Strays

I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes, and then I met a man who had no feet."

We were new to the area, having only been here for a month when my oldest son met his best friend. They were in the same class at Hill High. Being typical teens, beyond the idolization of the female anatomy, the biggest commonality they had was the fact that they both hated school and didn't see the point in going.

They were emblematic teens, wearing droopy drawers, strange haircuts, earrings that no one else would even consider wearing. Everything about them shouted "Look at me. I am somebody and I want you to notice."

Everybody noticed Tim. There was no way not to. At 16, he was 6'2" browned skinned, husky and was carrying a brick on his shoulder that just dared you to knock it off. Trust me when I say, my family noticed him a bit more than most.

Tim came to stay with us one weekend back in 1992. The boys had a great time getting into the type of trouble that was more amusing than punishable; torturing Dominick's little brother; taunting his older sister; devouring freshly baked cookies that scorched the roves of their mouths due to lack of patience and always hungry bellies.

Saturday afternoon, the boys were helping me carry the laundry up to our apartment and half way up the stairs, I heard peals of laughter coming from Tim as Dominick requested my assistance. I turned and could not help but snicker myself. With arms full of basket, his pants had slithered slowly down and were now in a pool around his ankles.

They talked about all the girls they were drooling over; which car they wanted to refurbish and how they wanted to start their own rock band, although neither of them could play an instrument nor carry a tune. Apparently however if they were musicians, they could have all the girls they wanted. When Sunday evening came, we were all a bit sad to see the good times end, even if only temporarily.

I drove Tim home and the boys milked their weekend to the very end, laughing the whole way. When we pulled up in front of Tim's family's house, the windows were dark. There were no cars parked in the driveway; no sign of anything. Tim told me to go home, that he had a key. Being an old fashioned mom, I told him I would wait until I saw him safely inside. As he entered the house and flipped the light switch on, we all saw through the window, the horror that waited this already troubled teenager.

Tim's family had taken what should have been an excellent weekend and turned it into something that would haunt him forever. While he was having a grand time visiting with us, his parents had moved, lock, stock and barrel. Nothing was left behind. No note, no instructions to meet them somewhere else; no hint that they had ever existed. With that single act of abandonment, they left behind more than an empty house. They left behind an empty life, an empty soul and now an empty heart.

He stood in the living room that was once filled with his sisters, his mom and dad, furniture, even a dog. His shoulder slumped,but not a tear was shed. He was a man now, whether he wanted to be or not. A man alone. He turned and left the house, not bothering to close the door behind him. He walked back to the car where Dominick and I now stood in dismay of what had been done to him.

Tim very bravely came to us and asked, "Can I stay with you for a few days until I find someplace to live?"

"You can stay with us for as long as you'd like sweetie." I knew a hug would be meaningless to him, but I touched his arm, letting him know someone cared.

His voice cracked, but he still withheld tears. "Thanks Mom." It was the first time he called me that and although I knew I hadn't yet earned the title, my mothers heart broke for him just the same.

Over the last 17 years, I have taken in many young men and women whose family lives have been destroyed one way or another. Most of them were street kids whose lives had been torn apart by violence, abandonment or other such tragedy and had no place else to go. Some came because to stay home would be unsafe. Some parents gave them willingly, because they couldn't understand their children or couldn't handle the teenage years. All of them were at first weary of the crazy lady that everybody calls mom. Eventually they would settle in and call me the same endearing name.
I have been Tim's "mom" for 17 years now. He is married with a 3 year old son who calls me Grandma. That brick on his shoulder is still there,but I think some of it chipped off with the birth of his son. I hope that as his son grows and he become the father he was meant to be, the brick will erode enough for the pieces to fall one by one, and be gone permanently. Until then, although I don't see him too often anymore, this "Mom" is still here for him.

Tim went on a business trip to Texas once. He was to take his family with him. When he asked me if I would object to taking care of his dog, his wife asked what if I minded. Tim didn't bat an eyelash, but gave me a big Teddy bear hug and said...

"Don't worry. Mom's been taking in strays for years. I was her first one."