A Cold Winter’s Night

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Since actress Alyssa Milano inquired over last weekend how many women have been sexually assaulted or harassed close to one million women, have responded with #Me too. I have my own story to tell.

I attended the College of St. Teresa in Winona, Minnesota in the late 1970’s. It was run by the Rochester Franciscans. The chaplain, Fr. John Surprenant was a diocesan priest. John’s home located on the edge of campus was a gathering place for many of the students. No one seemed to question girls coming and going from his house at all times of the day and night.

Being a religious studies major, I was also quite involved with the campus ministry team. I saw John at all sorts of campus functions and felt no reason to mistrust him. That is why one winter night during my junior year I stopped in at his house on my way back to the dorm from the library. Surprisingly he was all alone. We chatted about a boyfriend I had back home and some issues we had had. Somehow he got me across the room into his arms. He told me he could help me feel more comfortable being touched by a man. I remember him kissing me and touching me in ways I knew were inappropriate for a priest. The last thing I recall was him saying goodbye to me at his front door.

For a very long time, I never understood what had gone on between us. Was I somehow special to John now? I couldn’t talk to anyone about this. How do you tell a friend you’ve made out with the priest? My confusion lasted well until after graduation. I do know I made sure I was never in a room alone with him ever again.

Ten years later when I was 30 years old, Fr John was charged with sexual assault by several students. Only then did I realize what he had done to me. His whole ploy to get me in his arms was disgusting, but it seemed I wasn’t the only one he had used it on. But there was still a splice in my memory tapes. How did I get myself away from him? How did I get out of his house that night?

Forward to 2002 when the Boston Globe report on clergy abuse came out. The dam broke loose on what truly happened to me that winter night. My story is too long to tell here, but I can tell you the reason for the blank space in my memory is because what John did to me that night was so horrific that my psyche shattered.

He somehow got me upstairs to his bedroom and locked me in. There he stripped me. Although I fought back with everything within me, he told me I would never see my family again if I didn’t submit to all he wanted. He reminded me no one knew I had come to his house. He could keep me for days.  In the end, he choked and beat me until I couldn’t fight back. He raped me all the while telling me men would be grateful in my future because he had taught me about sex. It’s still fuzzy how I got out of his house that night.

Even though all this happened, I feel incredibly gifted. I walked home that night with no recollection of the terror I had endured. I did not get pregnant. Other girls did from this man. I would not recall any of this for the next 25 years. I got married and raised two children. Only then when I had the profession psychological and spiritual help I needed did all these memories come back. I’ve had the right people to walk this healing journey with me. And most of all God’s blessed me with a loving husband who has been my rock through all of this. I can only be grateful.

Please feel free to contact me if you have a story of clergy abuse. Maybe if only to say ME too!

My next blog will cover how the Catholic Church and my family and my friends responded to me when I decided to come forward as a survivor.


Finding Our Way in the Darkness

Here in Minnesota autumn is ablaze in color. The trees wave their leaves at you in a richness of red, gold, and bronze. I’m a native Minnesotan, and every year I look forward to this time for all its beauty and splendor.

But up here in the “Northland” the season of fallduskonroad.jpeg brings the waning of daylight hours. With the coming of October, we eat breakfast in the dark and by seven in the evening dusk arrives. It seems that each day this luminous glows gets noticeably shorter. Many of us crave this light that nature slowly snakes away from us as winter comes. The lack of sunshine affects our circadian rhythms making of us want to sleep more or at inconvenient times in the day. Some of us can get depressed or grumpy because we can’t get outside in the evening since it is already dark after dinner.

Something is different this autumn though. The people I know are experiencing foreboding in a deeper way than the usual October. It’s not just the slow loss of light. Since January negativity has continually plummeted our lives. Politics has grown vicious in our country. Folks are either on the right or left. There is no room left for those of us in the middle. We go from one crisis to the next with no answers to problems we face.

What’s more with the media’s constant coverage of natural disasters be they forest fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, or floods we are overwhelmed with trauma. If it’s not happening in your own neighborhood friends, this is coverage is called “secondary trauma”. When we view constant devastation, we never have closure.  When the media covers tragedy after tragedy 24/7, we view violence that is too much for our hearts to endure. We get no time to rest. Our spirits are laid bare to sorrow.

We are encountering a darkness that separates us from our souls. This destructive deluge of messages that surround us is slowly but surely shattering the very fiber of our beings. The leaders we usually would look to for strength lack all moral character. In fact, many are the very heart of most of this problem.

 

I invite you to join me in stepping back from all news media, be it TV, online, or paper. I decided this week that to save the sanity of my soul and mind I needed a break. Taking a conscious respite from this deluge was the only way I could stay caring about those around me.

For the last several days I have only skimmed the headlines for good things. Otherwise, I spend my free time reading books, crocheting, or watching a good program. It’s amazing how much freer I feel already. My burden has lifted significantly. I no longer feel the need to check social media regularly. My whole being is lighter. It is not that I don’t care about what is happening in the world. Stepping back gives me a better perspective.

Self-care is so important these days. Fill the world around you with good things. Breathe deeply, go for a walk in the autumn colors, or watch an old movie. It will lower your blood pressure and help you sleep better. Do remember to sit in front of your lightbox as these daylight hours wane. Let us fight the darkness on so many fronts. And most of all let us all pray to our Creator for peace within our cities, our nation, and around the world. God send us strong moral leaders to guide us through all we are enduring.

Some questions for journaling:

  1. What happens inside my body with the constant negativity on social media?
  2. What three positive activities I can personally do to practice self-care?

 

Who Am I To Judge?

A few weeks ago I had lunch with a woman I’ve known for many years. In the midst of our conversation, she mentioned she had been reading the obituaries the day before. In a sneering sort of tone; she said, “There was one where a woman was survived by her ‘wife.’” Then she clicked her tongue, to show her disdain for gay marriage.DontJudgeMe

Ignoring her comment, I changed the subject and went on with our lunch. But I honestly wanted to say. “Who are you to judge this woman and her spouse?” “How did their relationship change your life?” She probably wouldn’t have heard a word I said or would have got angry with me.

When did it happen that all of us got to the point where we feel it is our responsibility to decide how others should live their lives? Her clothes aren’t right. His tattoos offend me. No one should be allowed to have so many piercings. And that’s just about how people look! Many religious folks think they are the morality police condemning those who are divorced; or young women who have had a child outside of marriage. They never look beyond the situation itself. Did a woman leave her husband because it was an abusive situation? Was that pregnant teenager better off not getting married so young?

Jesus called us to be people of compassion. He never made anyone feel guilty for the life they lead. When the townspeople started to stone the adulteress woman he drew a line in the sand and challenged the people who had not sinned to throw the first stone. Amazingly they all left. How many times do we start to throw stones when we need just stop and think about our own lives?

One thing I’ve come to know is that life is more gray than black and white. If we live our lives with kindness and mercy toward others, we will be far happier. Rigidity and harshness do no one any good, especially if it is in the name of religion or morality. We need to move over and let the grace of God in.

Here are some questions for you to reflect on and possibly journal about:

  1. In what situations am I prone to judge others?  Why do I feel it is my place to do it? Do I feel better about myself when I do it? How do I stop passing judgment?
  2. When I’m in a group and others are judging the people around us do I speak up that it’s wrong or do I join in?
  3. What can I do to follow Jesus in being more compassionate with others?

Good & Gracious is our God…

oecan stormFrom reading social media lately, one would think certain evangelical preachers presume to have a direct line to what our God is thinking about the natural disasters we are experiencing in the United States. They tell us our Creator is angry and is punishing the people of Houston and Florida with hurricanes. They know God is angry and vengeful for the gay lifestyle some have chosen to live. They tell us God is punishing cities and states for the sin going on within them.

1 Corinthians 2:16 says “Who can know the LORD’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?” So how is it these preachers such as Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr, and Jim Baker seem to have such intimate connection to what God is thinking? Why is their God an entire moron to make millions of people suffer when not everyone leads a sinful lifestyle?

I wonder who this God is that they preach. We obviously know and worship different Creators. My God is a gracious and loving God. My God doesn’t lash out in anger and destroy the earth. The Lord I know is there to heal the brokenhearted and bring strength to those who suffer and grieve. The Creator I know is the one spoken of in today’s Psalm; “loving and forgiving, rich in kindness, full of compassion.”

Last winter when I endured several surgeries due to infections in my foot someone asked me if I blamed God for what I was going through. My response to them was “God doesn’t cause MRSA!” But I can tell you God’s arms were wrapped around me and gave me hope to get me through my horrible illness.

Folks God doesn’t cause bad things to happen to us to punish us for our sins. He isn’t at fault for natural disasters and sickness. We have to stop thinking that way. Our loving God is there to help us get through the worst of the worst in life. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different!

Waiting to Heal….

When I started this blog two years ago it was my aspiration to post once a week. Indeed that was my hope. I never intended to go months on end without posting a word. But sometimes our plans don’t go as we intended. Life just plain “gets in the way”.

The last time I posted I was recovering from a stroke. As I continued to heal my doctor decided I needed surgery to repair ruptured tendons in my left foot. That was done three days before Christmas 2016. Little did I know I was about to embark on an adventure that still continues to this day.

In February I contracted MRSA in the surgical wound on my foot. For those of you who don’t know, MRSA stands for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. It is a “super bug” that attacks one’s body and very quickly shuts down your organs. I spent ten days in the hospital and went through three surgeries as the doctors tried to contain the staph and bring me back to some state of wellness. Six weeks later I would again be in the hospital for six more days for another two surgeries as the doctors dealt with more infection in the wound.

It was a scary time. The bacteria moved so fast throughout my body that at one point I began to go into sepsis. Without the wonderful doctors and nurses who literally spent hours at my bedside I wouldn’t be here today. After months of rest and physical therapy I sit here full of gratitude that I am alive, moving toward healing in my foot and the rest of me. I am so blessed to have a loving husband who tenderly took care of me through those many many months.

One thing I gained those months is the knowledge of what it means to be handicapped or shut away from the rest of the world. For weeks I had to use a knee scooter due to not be weight-bearing on my foot. I quickly experienced how as a society we do not take care of those who are in wheel chairs or other means of getting around. I couldn’t get restroom doors open. Sidewalks weren’t shoveled when it snowed or the inclines were icy. I was terrified to go from a building door to the car without my husband for fear of falling. We do not think twice about how powerless these folks feel when it comes to the everyday things we do.

I also came to know the deep loneliness of being all alone at home. I was not allowed to drive and I was in lots of pain. Time would move very slowly. But for me it was only temporary. I knew at some point I would be free from this situation. I think of many people, especially our elders due to aging and illness who are shut away for weeks on end who are desperately lonely with no hope of friends or family to visit them.

Most of this last year has been a time for me to rest in the loving presence of my God. I was surrounded by prayers of concerned family and friends. I knew with time I would be brought to healing. It is only with trust in our Creator’s saving power do we survive such illness and loneliness. We come through more compassionate and open to other’s pain. I know my God has done that for me.

I look forward to posting more often now and continuing our conversation about God’s place in our lives.

Until next time……..

Reading This Could Save Your Life

You may find this a rather drastic title to this blog, but if one person gets the medical attention they need to by reading about my experience of the past four months I would not consider it a gimmick.

In late April, my life changed in a way I had never expected. I suffered a slight stroke. Nothing has been the same since that Friday morning. I wasn’t going to share this extremely personal information in my blog, but along the way so many people have asked me “How did you know you were having a stroke?” I realized many people just didn’t know stroke symptoms. And I also had medical professionals ask me to write about this when they heard I had a blog.

Thursday evening as I was getting ready GlassBuilding.jpegfor bed my mouth suddenly felt like it was full of Novocain, as though I’d just had had dental work done. Because I was so tired I brushed it off and went to bed. But the next morning I woke up and the feeling was much stronger and now the right side of my cheek was all numb. A few minutes later my right arm was numb and my hand tingly. A few minutes after that my right leg felt extremely heavy and my feet tingly too. Being it was all on the right side of my body I knew something had to be wrong. My husband took me straight to the ER.

Once in the Emergency Room a MRI was done and I was quickly diagnosed with a small blockage in my brain. They gave me aspirin and admitted me to the hospital and closely monitored me all day because the chances of a larger stroke within 24 hours after a small one are high.

I should have gone to the ER the night before, but I had never heard of the symptom of one’s mouth feeling all numb. Everything else I felt in the morning was textbook symptoms of a stroke and I knew that. That’s why we headed straight to the hospital.

I feel extremely blessed and just plain lucky. My stroke was caused by a small clot in a vessel in my brain, most likely caused by high cholesterol. At 58 I thought I was far too young to have a stroke, only to find out that the highest percentages of people who have them are people in their fifties due to lifestyle. Fewer and fewer of our elders have strokes these days because of the quality of the healthcare they receive.

What I have discovered is that it takes a long time to bounce back from even a slight stroke. The reason I have not posted a blog in over four months is that I have been dealing with Aphasia.  My blood clot was in the thalamus portion of my brain, the gateway for information to be processed. Aphasia happens when there is damage to the neuro-pathways. Over the last months I’ve experienced extreme difficulty with processing what I read. At times I couldn’t find the right words when I speak or write. With time this is improving. Two months ago I wouldn’t have been writing this as I am. Bringing thoughts together on paper has been a major problem. Concentration and staying on task is also the job of the thalamus. Mine has truly wanted to take a vacation for the summer!

I was not prepared for the total exhaustion this healing process would bring. Still now I must arrange my daily schedule so I can sleep for at least an hour during the day, and what is most difficult is that I have no idea how long this healing will take.

You may find it ironic that I was writing about Liminal Space in my last blogs in April because that is exactly where I’ve found myself these last months. What I can tell you that in many ways time has stood still while the world has kept moving around me. I had to step off the merry-go-round whether I liked it or not. My body has dictated how my life would function. It has taken patience, rest, and trust in the medical people helping me, to know I will get well. I’m not there yet, but I hope you will be hearing more from me. Being quiet all these months has given me loads of time to reflect. I’m now finding the words once again to put those thoughts into print. I ask for your prayers for continued healing.

Please know the signs of stroke and get help for yourself or a loved one immediately if they appear!

 

Liminal Space: Part II

When I last wrote about “Liminal Space” a comment was made that just maybe it is faith and hope that get us through those difficult times in our lives. This is true! I never delved into that part. But, what better week of the year than Holy Week; to look at how our faith in a loving God is how we survive the darkest points in our life journey.

It is when we hit that nether period of life that one begins to truly understand the “Paschal Mystery”. We sit in the garden with Jesus. We cry, understanding the betrayal of those we thought cared about us. No one would even sit with us or stick up for us. Even our best friends walk away from us. We pray Psalm 51 “Be my Savior again, renew my joy. Keep my spirit steady and willing.”Crosstunnelweb

At our lowest times as we search to find a way out of the darkness, we cling to Christ on the cross. There are moments we feel dead. We cry out to God, “Why have you forsaken me?” There seems to be no way out of the tunnel. Often times this is when people fall into a dark tomb of depression. On these occasions we need to find the professional help of a therapist or spiritual director to listen and guide us. We cannot make this journey alone. But it is hope, hope that morning will come again that keeps us fighting. We believe that our Creator surrounds us with love and mercy. “Put your hope in the Lord, be strong, let your heart be bold”. Psalm 27

And at some point we begin to feel whole again. Resurrection happens. We experience light. Colors seem brighter. We are delighted by life. We relive the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus every time we go through a struggle in our own lives. The Paschal Mystery is part of us and us it. Rejoice Jesus is alive within us!!!

I leave you with a prayer called The Soul of Christ to pray and reflect on this Holy Week.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.

Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.

Within your wounds hide me.
Permit me not to be separated from you.

From the wicked foe, defend me.
At the hour of my death,

call me and bid me come to you
that with your saints I may praise you
For ever and ever. Amen. –