The Cloud is Moving – Courage in the Midst of Change.

It oftentimes takes courage to say that something isn’t working anymore, and truthfully, it hasn’t worked for some time for us.

A little over five years ago our family left Michigan for a dream that included a simple life in rural Tennessee. This is how Ryan and I operate – we hear “GO!”, and we go. We married quickly, Ryan moved to Michigan within months of proposing, and we moved to Tennessee after seeing our current house once. We are decisive, informed, and not prone to obsessing much about how our decisions will be perceived by others outside of our immediate family. To reference a Biblical metaphor, we move with the cloud. Continue reading “The Cloud is Moving – Courage in the Midst of Change.”

#metoo

(Disclaimer – this post contains graphic words depicting sexual acts).

Deep breath.

This is the first time I’ve shared my #metoo story publicly. I wrote this post four years ago as the Vanderbilt rape trials were occurring, and it has remained unpublished until now – tucked away in a file called “potential blog posts”.

Why now? You may wonder. I’ve asked myself the same. I don’t have an agenda outside of adding my story to the collective whole which is enough of a reason because attitudes only change when we openly acknowledge the wrongdoing and then move forward through authentic and open dialogue. I hope by adding my story to the conversation, others will also add their stories and as we add, one by one, brick by brick, our voices will begin to echo through the corridors of history, and we who have a story of sexual assault will no longer be mocked or dismissed. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll instead be believed and affirmed in our pain and our stories will lead to our sons and daughters having a different experience than we had. Maybe.

These have been difficult weeks – first with Bill Cosby’s sentencing and then the circus surrounding Judge K and Mrs. Ford. I don’t know the specifics of most of it as I’ve been too busy prepping for The Lucas Project’s first official respite day, but I do know this: I was sexually assaulted years ago, and I probably would not have been believed if I had said something. I don’t know if Mrs. Ford is telling the truth or if Judge K is telling the truth – and that’s beside the point in this post – but God help us all if we don’t stop the whole “this side is right and this side is wrong” argument. It is wrong to sexually assault a person, and it is wrong to lie. Period.

You see, twenty plus years ago, I was a nobody, and my assaulters were somebodies, athletes to be specific – untouchable Christian athletes. They were under the influence. I was not. I was a naïve, homeschooled girl way out of her league and flattered by the attention. I was sexually assaulted. It was wrong. They were wrong.

I wasn’t sure I would ever be brave enough to publicly share – and even as I push publish – my heart is racing. I have no reason to feel shame about what happened, but my fear comes from the world’s reaction. Will I be believed? Or will our culture adamantly defend two predators? Will I be mocked and ridiculed? Admittedly, my story isn’t nearly as horrific as many others; in fact, it’s pretty mild in comparison, but it’s still my truth. I don’t think about the incident often, and I don’t wallow in the pain that occurred. The experience doesn’t own me in any way, but it is a part of who I am, and as with most parts of my story, good and bad, if positive growth occurs from sharing it, then that’s enough for me.

I went there alone that fateful afternoon as a young nineteen year old. I entered the apartment of a man I knew, an athletic star, an untouchable athlete, a man who I was casually seeing, a man who was casually seeing quite a few women unbeknownst to me at the time. I’ll call this man Bob. I naively assumed I would eventually win Bob’s heart through my desperate devotion and desire. He knew how much I wanted him to want me; he preyed on that knowledge and became my teacher as I clumsily navigated my way through a new college environment; an environment so completely different than the innocent, sheltered homeschooled life I had experienced.

I knocked on his door, and he opened it. A cloud of hazy smoke and the smell of marijuana welcomed my arrival – although at the time, I assumed the joint in his hand was a cigar – yes, very naïve. Through the smoky haze I noticed two large men, boy men, sitting on a battered couch with a coffee table littered with empty beer cans in front of them. These were his relatives, also star athletes from a few towns away.

The details leading up to the incident are fuzzy, maybe due to fear or maybe due to the protective nature the brain can often provide, but I remember being summoned into the bedroom by Bob who smirked as he suggested I could help him study for an upcoming test. We sat on the bed together, and the two other men immediately joined us. I was confused. Bob quickly rose from the bed and slammed the door shut — leaving me alone with the two men I had just met. Two huge boy men towered over me while Bob tightly held the door shut. I heard hysterical laughter coming from him and so I assumed it was all a joke. A very bad joke.

I sat on the bed and waited for the joke to be over, but it didn’t seem to be headed in that direction. The two men each found a seat beside me and formed a tight barrier that would be difficult to escape from. They also seemed to find the situation highly entertaining as they laughed and began discussing random sexual activities and their presumption that I lacked in experience having been homeschooled. They then suggested that I should be tested to see if I knew what I was doing in those areas and if not, it would be a good idea for them to teach me. I nervously laughed and said probably not – still trying to be cool about the uncomfortable situation I was in. I didn’t want to get a reputation as one of those girls who was highly dramatic and couldn’t take a joke. My denial, sadly, was not in being horrified that two men thought they could joke about using me as a sexual pawn but had more to do with how Bob would react if he knew what was going on behind the closed door. At the time, I wasn’t willing to risk losing the precious, non-existent relationship I had with him.

I tried to stand, and one of them immediately grabbed my hair and shoved me back on the bed. He climbed on top of me and began dry humping while the other one unzipped his pants and proceeded to put his penis in my face – rubbing it crassly against my cheeks and mouth. They took turns taunting me in this way, one sitting on top of me, while the other one slapped his genitalia against my face while admonishing me to open wide. Tears streamed from my eyes, and I begged them to stop as laughter loudly resounded from the two of them and from the other side of the door.

I think that’s as far as it went.

I don’t know for sure.

I know it ended in one way or another but past those horrific moments I have no recollection. I don’t know why I can’t think past the point of being held against my will.  At times, I fear that I’ve blocked out something to terrible to recall, and at times, I pray that’s as far as the assault went. I don’t know how I finally left the room. I don’t know if I sat and talked with the three of them after it was finished. I don’t know if they continued laughing. I assume they did. I do know I didn’t blame Bob for what occurred. Somehow my mind was able to separate him from them for years until I just couldn’t anymore.

Back then, I didn’t know I had rights. Rights for what? I put myself in the situation. I chose to associate with Bob which in turn meant I associated with his acquaintances. I didn’t even know at the time what an experience like that would be called. I didn’t know if it was partly my fault because I had gone over there alone. I did know it would be my word against three athletes – three athletes who all stared on their respective teams.

I do know that I was naïve enough to think that’s just how men were, and it was a woman’s responsibility to accept it – “boys will be boys.”

The incident absolutely affected me, but it didn’t break me, no it did quite the opposite actually. A righteous flame flickered and grew intensely strong against the weight of many trials and formed the woman I am today – a woman who has stood firm in her faith against a thousand battles. I do know that if something similar happened today I would be killed before allowing anyone to shove their genitalia in my face. I also know that I would report it immediately. I do know that I’ve forgiven each one of them even though they’ve never asked, and I know that I am extremely grateful that throughout the past few years the law has repeatedly served justice towards men who had the audacity to think that they could treat women in such a horrific, uncaring way. This fact alone will enable my daughters to have a different college experience than I had. They will not be afraid to come forward – God willing.

I do know it’s time for women to stop pointing the finger at one another and saying stupid things like, “she deserved it, she was a slut, she dressed inappropriately, or she drank too much” or whatever it may be. It’s also time for everyone to stop blaming the very small percentage of women who lie about sexual assault and screw the system because for every one lie there are thousands of women who keep their mouths shut. Thousands of woman just like me.

I want to see justice permeate throughout our culture for men and women at every level. There are good men, and I sat beside one of them last night as he wept while reading this. We need more men to weep for us and to speak up for us and to defend our dignity and our honor. It’s time for women to end the silence and the shaming and start raising our voices. It’s time for our collective stories to not only be heard but to also be believed. Be brave. Breathe. Tell your story.

If you have a story you’d like to share, I’d love to publish it in this space. Please message me at jessplusthemess@gmail.com.

Just keep livin!

Happy, Crappy Father’s Day.

This is an excerpt from a post I wrote back in 2013. Not much has changed.  Today, on this Father’s Day 2018, we woke up to poop and a rotten egg; the egg which was discovered, of course, after we had already cracked 12 good eggs into the pan.  What do you do except “just keep livin” 🙂 Happy Father’s Day to all of you amazing men. 

Sunday was Father’s Day, and we had every intention in the world of making it to church although that task in and of itself can often be enormously tedious. I laid out all of the kids church clothes the night before, bought donuts for an easy breakfast and purchased a honey baked ham for lunch. I snuck out of bed early without waking Ryan, displayed his Father’s Day card on top of the bathroom sink to surprise him, went downstairs, made a cup of coffee (it may be Fathers Day but some things still don’t change!) and then made him a cup as well. I was in a cheerful mood, having slept well and asked Mabel to go downstairs and let Luke out of his bed. He has a huge, 6 foot tall, padded bed (similar to a baby crib) that opens in the corner to allow him access in and out. She ran down to “free” him for breakfast and two seconds later Tate came running up the stairs, out of breath, barely gasping out the words..

“Mom, Luke is covered head to toe in poop and he’s crawling all over the basement!”

“WHAT!” I exclaimed in horror, eyes bulging out of my head, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME???”

Any cheerful disposition was pretty much down the drain and exchanged with some choice thoughts bordering on profanity.

I raced downstairs to discover that yes, indeed, Luke was covered in excrement and bonus, he was naked. This is his new thing, and we don’t know what to do about it. When he gets bored, he takes his clothes off. Apparently he didn’t want to wear his pajamas that morning and apparently he also didn’t want to wear his dirty diaper any longer and decided to take matters literally into his own hands. He undressed, took off his two diapers, and in the process made a huge mess all over his bed, his walls, his floor and the basement. No picture for this one… use your imagination, it wasn’t pretty.

My happy demeanor was completely gone. I wasn’t exactly “giving thanks in all circumstances” as Paul admonished the Thessalonians to do around 2000 years ago as I scooped him up, placed him ever so gently into the bathtub, and then proceeded to fill a big bucket with lots of soapy water, scrubbed down the bed with one hand and large cup of coffee in the other. I felt angry tears forming, out of pure frustration at how difficult it can be to raise a severely handicapped 8 year old, especially as two curious three year olds looked on offering their commentary about how “stinky” it was, and then suddenly, my hero stepped into the room.

“What happened honey?” he asked.

My husband, my calm in the face of some serious crap, my much more patient half on his special day, Father’s Day, offering assistance.

“You clean Luke, and I’ll get the bed” he offered with a smile.

“But it’s Father’s Fay” I protested, “You shouldn’t have to clean up crap on Father’s Day!”

“It’s just another day” he replied with a smirk.

Tate then piped in his delightful two cents –  “This is probably the worst Father’s Day ever, huh dad?”

His father did not reply. Ryan’s a good man like that, he just does what needs to be done without making a big deal out of it. I am a blessed woman to have him in my life, our kids are blessed to have him in their lives, and Luke is blessed to have a father, an adopted father, who without batting an eye, or puking up his dinner from the day before, cleaned up piles of poop on Father’s Day. Yup, we have a keeper over here at our house.

We did not make it to church with the mess taking most of the morning to adequately clean up.

The rest of the day was a little less eventful, church on tv, honey baked ham for lunch and a wonderful Father’s Day grill out for the amazing man in our life.

Just keep livin!

A Mama’s Guide to Surviving Summer Break

 

The first week of summer break sucks every single year.

I always vow to wrap my mind around the concept of all of my blessed offspring being home for every blessed second of all of our blessed lives but apparently I fail somewhere because it doesn’t feel very blessed about 10 minutes into the first morning as the fighting begins over PBS versus Netflix followed by moans of disgust at the sight of scrambled eggs and teenage smirks as the youngest squeals “CABUB! STOP IT RIGHT NOW!”

Where’d I set my coffee?

I know, some parents love the freedom and flexibility that summer break offers, but I am not one of those people. I love structure because structure in the form of a school building brings me a few peaceful hours of productivity and peace and productivity are this introverted mama’s best friends. Amen.

Every year, a week or so before the last day of school, I vow to do better. I vow to have more patience, be more intentional in my unique calling, have more grace and mercy and love – all of those good motherly qualities- but inevitably the stress mounts, especially during the first week as the kids revolt, their need for constant food and entertainment arises, they fight and bicker and moan and bewail their existence, and I turn and hiss at my husband in the dead of the night – or actually like 9 p.m. because we’re so dang tired –

“You can’t work anymore. You need to stay home and co parent for the summer. No individual is physically and emotionally capable of raising this many human beings for any stretch of time by themselves. And honey, four teenagers! Do you understand the complexities and the zits and the hormones? Are you listening honey?”

I hiss even louder –

“It would drive anyone insane!.”

Those are the words I say, and he smiles and lovingly replies, “Honey, you go through this every summer. It’ll get better after a week.”

”

NO IT WON’T! I wail and open my eyes balls really wide so he knows just how serious I am.

“Give it time” he smiles again.

Of course he smiles – he gets to go to work the next morning.

I usually enjoy the rural life that we chose – the peace, the birds chirping, the river, the beauty, the land our children get to roam upon and the innocence this life has provided. I enjoy it all until the last day of school, and then it begins to feel a tiny bit like the land is closing in on me, and the river is rising, and I’m trapped in a zoo where the birds never stop chirping (and yelling and screaming and fighting) and the coyotes are ready to tear me limb to limb if I don’t remain constantly vigilant, and in desperation I inform my husband that we are not living in the country any more. We are moving to the biggest city we can find before the next school year begins. NEW YORK CITY if need be, and I swear I’m not living in rural America for one more day, no sir, no how, I need options! I need restaurants! I need a coffee house and a park and easy access friends for my children and a Mrs. Jones who lives down the road who will dote on my precious babies and feed them snacks and allow constant video games so that their mother can enjoy a few moments of peace and quiet as she figures out how to survive summer break.

I have 8 kids. In our middle of nowhere. 8 children ranging in age from 2-15 and did I mention, four teenagers? One of those teenagers is my special needs boy Lucas who would rather watch videos all day long than go anywhere, and that’s pretty much okay, because it’s really difficult to get out of the house with him AND his seven siblings.

I chose this life but that doesn’t make it easy. I chose to have four children. I chose life for Luke my handicapped son. I chose Ryan and I chose to adopt his three kids. I chose a rural life, and I chose to have another baby but damn – those choices kick my rear end the first week of summer break as we all figure it out again, figure out how to maintain loving, somewhat tolerable relationships with one another in close quarters – relationships with respect and boundaries – relationships where we still like each other at the end of summer. There is a steep learning curve as the kids give up a huge chunk of their social life from school and a huge learning curve as I give up a pretty significant chuck of quiet work hours. Not to mention, the substantial increase in dishes and trash and diaper changes and grocery runs and meals (have I mentioned the meals)?

Every year I prep for the last day of school thinking that forethought will surely save me this summer break.  I frantically implement great ideas for our many hours together such as our pool purchase a few years ago. I plan vacations. I sign them up for camps and volunteer positions and kids bowl free coupons, and Luke! Luke has consistent summer school for the first time ever this year and that will help immensely and honestly, it all helps! It really does. And we eventually get into the groove. We stay up a little later, and we sleep in. I begin to relax into what summer is all about and the kids do too. I kick up my feet and read a good book while they splash away in the pool. I shorten the to do list. I lower my expectations and then – just as soon as summer break begins, it comes to an end and without fail I realize, I survived summer break, and I turn to my husband and whisper in shocked acknowledgement –

“Honey. The kids and I have found our groove. They are really having fun together and doing their chores without me nagging, and helping with Luke and Annabelle and I kind of like this motherhood gig again. Maybe we should consider homeschooling!”

And he rolls eyes just like he does every summer the week before school begins again because he understands that the only reason we have all found our groove is because we’ve also found the light at the end of the tunnel. Those two miraculous life giving head lights that will soon be rolling down our dusty dirt road at 6:30 a.m, firmly attached to a big yellow bus that will transport 7 eager souls promptly back to school.

Ahhhhh. Structure.

Just keep livin.