Friday, September 28, 2007

Reclaiming a Shattered Life

Just between friends, I have to tell you, this summer, a high school-aged close relative of mine was at home in her bed in the middle of the night where she belonged. A normal night, just like hundreds of others. Except that this night, while her mom and stepfather slept right down the hall, an intruder got behind the closed doors of their home, behind her closed bedroom door, and, with what she knew was a knife at her throat, spent the next two hours raping her. He'd been to their house once before. Knew what screen to cut. The dog recognized him.

She's a strong girl. Raises pigs for slaughter, hunts with her step dad, knows how to gut a deer. But he was stronger. And she is forever changed.

The story doesn't end there. He's older than her but attended her school last year. He claims that she invited him over. That she cut the screen. The prosecutor is reviewing the evidence and is to decide this week whether or not she's going to prosecute. This young girl who was violated in ways she shouldn't even have to imagine, then put through the difficulties of a hospital rape kit exam, and interrogated twice by the police, now faces the possibility that she will be blamed for all of this. And if she gets lucky and the prosecutor does prosecute, she faces a trial where a defense attorney will attempt to prove that the rape was her fault. That it really wasn't rape at all.

She has demons now. Fights them every single night. She, who was so strong and able, panics at the idea of being left alone. She feels guilty because she's pretty. And her only sin was being born female.

I have a book out from MIRA this week, a psychological thriller, Behind Closed Doors. The first scene in this book, written a year ago, is a home invasion. A bi-racial couple is asleep in their bed at night—behind the closed doors of their home. Two men break in. They tie up the man and take turns with the woman. And the husband and wife are left with the remains of their lives, their marriage. She has demons. Fights them every single night. She, who was so strong and able, panics at the idea of being left alone. She feels guilty for her existence. And he does for his, as well. He's convinced that the attack was racially motivated, suspects The Ivory Nation, a white supremacy organization, and is hell bent, prepared to go to hell, to prove his theory and make these men pay. The two of them are put through medical procedures, interrogated by the police several times, called in for line ups—and if their attackers are found, they will be put on trial, made to answer while every minute detail of the nightmare is dissected. They will be made to feel as though they are liars, that they somehow asked for, provoked the attack.

I am very personally acquainted with another woman who has suffered. She was a college student. A virgin. On a date with a classmate she'd known for more than a year. A church-going man she trusted. He took her out to a dark road in the middle of miles of farmland and forced himself on her. He was one hundred pounds heavier than she was. Eleven inches taller. He could lift her with one arm. But who would ever believe that this nice man whom everyone looked up to, who was a big brother to her sorority, would ever do such a thing? He told her it was her fault. That she'd teased him. Led him on. She'd owed him. And with a heart full of shame, she never said a word to anyone about what happened. She knew she'd have been put through humiliating medical exams, interrogations, perhaps a trial. And what proof did she have? Who'd have believed her? It took her years to admit what had happened. After all that time, some still didn't believe her. And she still has demons. Fights them in the dark of the night. She, who was so strong and able, has always panicked at the thought of being alone. She has always felt unworthy, deserving of abuse and ashamed of what happened to her that night.

I cry for each of these women. And for the millions of others just like them. They suffer, every single day of their lives, consciously or not, for something that is criminal. Worse than criminal. Rape is a sacrilege against all that is natural and beautiful and gentle. It desecrates one of life's most precious gifts. And the aftermath damages, sometimes forever, the heart of the woman who has suffered so.

Our society does what it can, in many cases, to help us prevent the crime. But we need to do more, far more, to protect the victims of this crime. Counseling, where you sometimes feel as though you are singled out as “different” from other women, is not enough. We need to band together as women—and aware men—wrap our arms around all women. To watch each other's backs. And if they get dirty, to wash them, too. We need to be aware, to keep our eyes open, to know. And to realize that when rape happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. Because we live in a society where rape exists. We all have to fear, or at least be wise. We all have to watch our steps, and our daughter's steps.

And, I hope, the more aware we become, the more we suffer with our sisters who have been raped, the more we speak of these things and openly proclaim that rape is NOT the victim's fault, no matter what she did or didn't do to provoke it, the less different they become. These sisters of ours had a precious gift stolen from them, and our love and support, our validation and understanding, is what we can give back to them. We can help fill the empty and scary places, to replace some demons with angels. To give new life. Just between friends, please think about that. Please don't look away. Our sisters need us. We need each other. Just between friends.

If you—or someone you love—has suffered this unspeakable horror, here you have a chance to talk about it—anonymously, if you like. Here you can find support and love and reassurance that it was not your fault.

Tara Taylor Quinn
Author of Behind Closed Doors


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sandwiched between Grandma and a hard place

As we Boomers hit a certain age, the whole world has acknowledged that we've become the 'sandwich' generation, dealing with kids and maybe even thoughts of our own retirement, along with elderly relatives. My own situation is probably easier than most. No kids, for one thing. And for another, I lost both of my parents years ago -- my mother at the way-too-young age of 60 and my dad 20 years later at 80. Both were in comparatively good health, if you can say that of someone who died so young of an aneurysm. And my dad was able to do his favorite thing, work in his garden, right up until the day he died of a heart attack.

So what am I doing writing about this topic? For one thing, almost every one of my friends is or has been struggling with the demands of elderly parents, so it's a hot topic among all of us. In addition, over the past six years or so, I've had at least partial responsibility for helping out with an uncle, his wife and an aunt who is now 94. My uncle died after a long battle with cancer that took its toll on all of us, but especially his wife and his son and daughter. Then, only a couple of years later, we all struggled with the decision to put his wife -- their mom, my aunt -- into an assisted living facility. At the time, it seemed like the very best option available, but given her very quick decline and subsequent death, we all regret not keeping her at home with help.

Here's the thing, though, we all make the very best decisions we can at the time, for our relatives, for our families and for ourselves. At one point friends of mine had both moms living with them in very tight quarters. It was an incredible strain, but it was a decision with which they were comfortable. Those of us who watched from the outside marveled at their capacity to juggle the needs of two women, one with Alzheimer's. And -- to be honest -- the two women didn't even like each other very much. Yet my friends incorporated them into their lives and those of us who cared about them made them part of our lives as well.

Today I'm just back from a two-day visit with my 94-year-old aunt, who still lives alone with very little outside help. She has someone who comes in to clean and someone who will go with her to doctor appointments. My cousins -- her niece and nephew -- shop for groceries for her. When I'm in Virginia, I go up every couple of weeks to take her out for a ride, a meal, a hair styling or whatever else she wants to do. She's still sharp, but her hearing is going and so far none of us has been able to drag her to an audiologist to get a hearing aid. There are things she does that make all of us a little crazy. My own particular gripe is that she treats water like medicine and refuses to drink it except in very tiny doses. I've tried sending articles, explaining the consequences in terms of her health, pleading. So has the doctor. It all falls on deaf ears -- no pun intended. She didn't get to be 94 without having a few strong opinions and, believe me, I'm not going to change them at this late date. She has the Woods gene for stubbornness in spades. My cousins and I have promised her we will do everything in our power to keep her at home as long as she's careful and not in need of more assistance than we can get for her. I hope we never have to renege on that promise.

If any of you are dealing with an elderly relative -- or have tried to help out an elderly friend with no family around -- let us know your thoughts about this. Have you had to make the difficult decision to move a parent into a nursing home? Divide your time between your family and an ill parent in another city? How have you coped? What choices have been the hardest for you? What kind of support system have you put together? Tell us. . .just between friends.

Sherryl Woods

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Living at Home After School -- a Blessing or a Curse?

I can tell you from experience that living with parents after graduating from high school is not as easy as some people might think. Sure, either all or most bills are paid, but the issue is about so much more than just money—it’s really about control. In my eyes, I’ve graduated high school and have a job, so I think I should be able to do what I want, when I want to do it. My parents, on the other hand, think I should follow their rules out of respect for them. What my parents see as respect, I see as being treated like a child with them trying to control my life.

I realize this isn’t the case—parents are generally just trying to make the new graduate more responsible and independent, because high school does not teach everything that is needed to survive the real world. Most parents are not trying to control their children, but rather trying to teach them the lessons they need to know before they really are out on their own.

It seems like the minute we leave high school with a diploma in hand, we walk from the playing field to the battlefield—enduring endless fights with our parents. That’s sometimes the cue for the graduate to spread her wings and fly away. After all, the graduate reasons, “I’m an adult now. I don’t have to put up with this.” So then where will the graduate end up? At a minimum wage job that could never support their newfound rent and bills, and the frustrating realization, “I should have stayed with my parents a little while longer—until I was sure I could make it on my own.”

My parents and I are working on a mutually beneficial solution. We live in the country and have a large piece of land. They have agreed to put a trailer house on their property and let me pay rent to live there. I’ll be near enough to have the advantages of home while learning to pay bills. They will have the security of knowing I’m near by, but I won’t have to answer to them regarding where I’m going and when. How have you handled the precarious balance of being a near-adult but still living at home with mom and dad?

A new graduate in Lovelady, TX


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Keeping those dreams alive

You've all heard the advice -- live each day to the fullest -- or to phrase it as Tim McGraw did in his hit tune -- Live Like You Were Dying. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to do that.

These days we're all juggling careers, families, elderly parents, car pools and many other demands of everyday life. How, in the midst of all of that, are we even supposed to remember our dreams, much less find a place for them in our lives?

A couple of years ago, I started asking myself exactly that. Not only was I writing several books a year, but I also owned a bookstore, which I ran myself, working there several days a week for several months of the year. I tried to spend time with elderly relatives in other cities. And I split my time between two different states -- Florida and Virginia. I hardly had spare time to think or read (my favorite pasttime) much less dream.

One day I took a step back and said, "Hold on. What happened to my life?" As a writer, I'm used to talking to myself, but not always to listening. This time I did. I knew something had to change before it was too late to do some of the things I've always enjoyed such as spending time with friends around the country or traveling overseas.

Since giving up my career wasn't a realistic option, I decided I had to give up the bookstore. I'd owned it for ten years and loved almost every minute of it -- not so much the flood from frozen pipes that caved in the ceiling -- but all the rest of it. A booklover can't help but enjoy opening boxes of books every week and trying to put them into the hands of readers who will love them. And someone who works in front of a computer also needs that human interaction. Still, I saw no other choice, so I sold most of the inventory and the building, crammed way too many boxes of leftover stock into my house and prepared to get back to my dreams. But what were they?

I sat down and made a list of all the things I'd once planned to do -- from small things such as making a point to stay in touch with people I'd neglected to the large ones such as trips I'd wanted to take.

I'm happy to report that I'm slowly getting back to my dreams. I've spoken to people I've missed and taken trips to new places -- the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Ireland this year -- and to visit an old college friend in Denver last year. I can't say I'm living every single day to the fullest, but I am getting some much-needed balance back into my life. Maybe that's the best we can hope for, that amidst the craziness of everyday life, we can find a few moments or even an occasional week to do something special, something that will make our lives a little richer.

Have you struggled to juggle everything going on in your life? Have you found ways to live your life to the fullest, to stop neglecting your dreams? Share your solutions with us.

Sherryl Woods

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Monday, September 17, 2007

A Policeman's Wife - Support Behind the Badge

My name is Sarah, and I live in a small town in Oklahoma. I have been married for 4 1/2 years to Dusty, a police officer. I am a recent stay-at-home mom due to the birth of our son, Cayson, who is now 4 months old.

I have been asked how I feel about my husband’s profession in a dangerous field. To be honest, I try to block out the dangerous part. I like to think of his job as a job he loves, where he gets to do "all kinds of fun things." I think that if I dwell on the unsafe aspect, I will become consumed with worry. Deep down, I know that anything could happen and he faces all kinds of situations. I have to trust God to protect him and trust Dusty to make the right decisions. I pray constantly for his safety and that he will be able to focus and think clearly when facing situations that arise.

On the opposite spectrum, I get aggravated when people say, "Oh, at least your husband is a police officer in a town where it is a pretty safe job." Those people have no idea what he faces and the crimes that do go on in our "safe" town. He faces situations where the outcome could be devastating. Nobody knows what someone who is high on methamphetamine will do when facing the possibility of jail. There are so many officers that are killed on routine calls where the unexpected happened.

One of my friends whose husband is a police officer recently responded to a routine vandalism call. Things quickly got out of control, and he ended up shooting and killing a man in order to protect himself and his partner. My husband and I have talked about these types of situations, and he has already made the decision that he would shoot and kill someone in an instant if it meant he would come home to his family. His number one priority is coming home alive and protecting his co-workers and the innocent.

Before our son was born, my only concern if something happened to my husband at work was myself. Now I have a helpless baby to protect and nurture. I hate to think of what I would do if something devastating affected our family, but I know I would be stronger now that I am a mom. Being a mom brings out the protectiveness and an inner strength that I did not have before.

My husband has contemplated switching careers to a safe 8-5 job with weekends off. Now that we have a child, he would love to be home on weekends and be able to spend more time with us. I just know that he loves his job, and I think sitting behind a desk or doing routine aspects of an 8-5 job would bore him. I have chosen to accept his career because it makes him happy.
How do you cope with your husband’s dangerous career choice? Have life experiences affected how you view his job?

Sarah, Oklahoma Police Officer’s Wife

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Can our marriage survive a financial fiasco?

Credit cards companies are the devil. Okay, so maybe I over-exaggerate a bit, but with interest rates topping out near 40% and expansive marketing campaigns with slogans like, “Free to do what I want” and “Make Life Rewarding,” they’re innately evil at the very least. Unfortunately, the husband and I were seduced by the “get it now, pay later” mentality in our early college years. Eleven years later, we’re still paying off that debt, and with the exorbitant interest rates, we’ve probably paid for the original item ten times over. That financial burden can cause a huge strain on marriages, and it’s been known to end more than a few otherwise good relationships.

A few years ago, we came to the realization that we were only about a month away from bankruptcy. We played the blame game about which one of us put our family in this predicament and contemplated divorcing, but ultimately, we decided to power through for the sake of our two young children and the eight years we had invested in our marriage. Since we had already cut out all unnecessary expenses, we were left with only two choices: bankruptcy or make more money. Neither of us could stand the thought of shirking on our responsibilities—that was our debt and our responsibility to pay it off. So that left us with our only option: to make more money.

I’m here to tell you, it’s by no means an easy thing to do, but you CAN make more money—regardless of stature or education. We networked with everyone we knew, and the hubby eventually decided to take a job with an oil company. He works incredibly hard in sweltering heat and he travels A LOT, but one year later, we’ve paid off more than $5,000 of our credit card debt. We still have another year or so to be debt free, but we’re making great strides.

We’ve had to sacrifice time with each other, and he’s had to sacrifice time with our kids. Is that a selfish thing on our part? Yeah, it stinks that he’s missing out on a dance recital here and a trip to the park there, but what a great lesson in responsibility and consequences for our children. We’ve actually strengthened our marriage in this whole debacle, because we worked together to create a solution for bad decisions we made together.

Have you ever been faced with a potentially relationship crippling problem, but come out healthier and stronger on the other side? I’d love to hear your story!

—Kickin’ the Credit Habit in Chico, CA

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Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Pain of Losing a Friend . . .

“Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold.”

So says the song from our childhood, and I imagine that most of us would agree with the sentiment. But in spite of our best intentions, we sometimes lose our friendships, and when that happens, it can be devastating.

Relationships are of primary importance to women. Before I began writing fulltime, I worked in women’s ministry. When women came to my office for counseling sessions, nine out of ten times they came to talk about relationships—relationships with husbands, children, parents, siblings, and sometimes, girlfriends. I came to realize that, in many ways, women’s friendships are almost as important to them as their family relationships. When those friendships were broken, the women felt a deep sense of pain and loss. It broke my heart to see the level of grief they experienced in those situations.

A couple of years ago, a dear friend of mine abruptly ended our relationship. After multiple attempts to repair the rift, I finally realized the relationship was dead. My friend was gone forever. In the weeks and months that followed, I went through a process that can only be described as grieving and included disbelief, denial, guilt, anger, a sense of betrayal, and deep sadness. It took a long time, much longer than it should have, until I was finally able to work through my feelings and reach the point where I could forgive, release my old friend, wish her well, and move on to embrace new friendships.

So, how about you? Have you experienced the loss of a dear friend? If so, what advice do you have for people who are going through the same thing? What helpful (or unhelpful!) things did others say to you while were working through your own grieving process? I’d love to hear from you. Perhaps what you’ve gone through will help someone else who is mourning the loss of a dear friend.

Marie Bostwick
Author of On Wings of the Morning
Kensington Books, November 2007

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