Friday, April 30, 2010

Just Like Kindergarten, I Started Playing House

I have reconnected with people from every stage of my life. From people who knew me as a child in Brooklyn to people where I now reside, in South Dakota. My facebook friends range through all the years of my life and many of them are reading this blog. Many of these friends knew me when all these events were going on. For countless reasons, they never knew.  Any one has the chance to know now. If you are reading, I'd love to know. Comments are welcomed!

Shortly before our wedding, we had also purchased our first home. We had rented a small house and cleaned it spotless. I remember the discussion with my mother of whether hands and knees scrub-brush or a mop with lots of water was better. I, always wanting to be the martyr, wanted to get on my hands and knees. She and Alvin both agreed a mop with lots of water best. Other than the day we spent their cleaning and my adventure of trying to pee in the shower since the toilet didn’t work, I don’t remember much of the details of this short rental.

Alvin coming from a culture where even if it was a shack, you owned your home if possible, found a trailer for sale. I had been enamored with trailers when we first moved to Missouri. Our Sunday afternoon entertainment was going through trailer open houses on the various lots in Columbia. I thought they were new, modern and would be a wonderful place to live. My parents, never having owned any real estate considered this major move, but never took it while my father was alive.

He found our first home parked in a trailer court. It was a red and white camper. It’s dimensions were 8 feet by 16 feet. It had a full size not frost-free refrigerater, a small gas stove and sink. The bathroom was smaller than a closet but worked. Built-ins provided limited storage. What furnishings we had were from the bounty of loved showered on us at our reception.

I remember only a few things of the gifts we received that day. Most remarkable was the $100 given to us by my brother. I hesitate now to say it was a gift given by love, but I don’t know what his motivations were then. I know he had refused to allow his son, Ben, to be my ring bearer saying that he wanted to use the money he’d have to spend for that for a gift. I would rather have had my nephew in the wedding party.

I am sure I must have gotten an electric skillet. It was sort of the microwave of its day. You could cook almost anything in it. I remember learning to use it to make all manner of burgers, sauces, pancakes and more. Armed with my Betty Crocker cookbook, I practiced with diligence to be a good wife. I rarely offered up burnt offerings to my new husband. I even entertained. One time inviting the visiting evangelists to our home I prepared lasagna and salad topped with a homemade cake and coffee. The wife marveled at my willingness to bring them to a trailer and that I actually knew how to make a good cup of coffee at 16.

I always thought that cheese ball with the crackers was the coolest looking thing. And that gazpacho looked interesting but I never tried it.
The other gift I remember so clearly was the gift that I thought was the best wedding gift I had received. It was a bucket. Yes, a bucket – it was filled with brushes, sponges, dish rags and all manner of kitchen gadgets, peelers, paring knife and more. I even remember who gave it to me. It was the mother of my husband’s best friend. She said I’d need those things. And indeed, it contained the things I needed the most. When her son got married, I got the same gift for their new life. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to be as appreciated by that happy couple.

I was set. I was playing house with greater expertise than you would image a 16 year old would have. I looked forward to a life of a preacher’s wife. He was already working on credentials with the Assemblies of God. He got them. We thought about being evangelists until we were experienced enough to pastor.

We parked our trailer in another trailer court next to Ronnie and Connie Cooper, a college couple we knew from church. Somehow, even though just a few years older, they seemed so much wiser. They were good neighbors. So close they could hear the sound from our trailer. At times, they stayed up at night listening to my cries. 

At church we no longer went downstairs with our peers to Sister Riley's High School Sunday School class. We now were in the chapel with the ever fiery Pentecostal teaching in Sister Parker's Young Married class. I couldn't imagine reaching the old age of 35 and having to go to the adult Sunday School class taught by her husband. We would be young marrieds for a long time. 

In that week before we got married I also saw a doctor. My mother, now understood that I wasn’t pregnant after all, took me to a doctor to get the “pill.” It was relatively new at the time. She thought this was wonderful. A crusty old doctor who saw me not as a young girl to be helped but as yet another low-class teenager, gave me the prescription. His instructions were that after you have your next period, you should start these. Then come and see me again. I’ll examine you once you are a married women.

That next period never came. Fertility never being an issue, I conceived immediately. Now I had given cause for the suspicions and rumors of those convinced I had been unchaste before my marriage. I wasn’t the first in that church to be guilty. Mixed with the rumors was acceptance and even forgiveness. At least we had made it right, we were married.

As I cleaned that little trailer, learned to cook and shop, dreamed of our future and child to come, I didn’t realize that emotional abuse had already begun and physical was not far behind.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Now Pronounce You...

July 2, 1968 wearing a white satin princess cut dress with bows on the shoulders attached to a six-foot long white train, I walked down the aisle at First Assembly of God in Columbia Missouri.  So long ago, I almost can’t remember the details of the day. I am sure much of the memories of those hopes, dreams and anticipation has been erased by the pain and abuse that followed.

I have five daughters. I have looked at them when they passed through their 16th year and wondered how my mother could have ever allowed me to get married at 16. She had to give permission. It was the law. Even the law knew that a 16 year old shouldn’t be making such decisions on their own. In fairness to her, I am sure she thought she was doing what I wanted.

Alvin was a good church going guy at the time. We believed in a theology of redemption and individualism. His parents, his upbringing, even past sins could not stop the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.  I spent time in my childhood at the original Teen Challenge facility in Brooklyn. I’d met the major players in the life and ministry of David Wilkerson and the famous Cross and Switchblade book.  All we saw in Alvin was a young man with a call to ministry. Perhaps this was the way to keep the wayward daughter on the straight and narrow, married and secure in the fold.

My mother said that she cried all the way back from the courthouse after signing permission for me to marry. I didn’t understand that at the time of course. Now I wonder if she had a moment of clarity. Or was it tears of disappointment, or of regret? I don’t know. She just said she cried. She just said, “what have I done to my daughter?”

I think the bigger question is why did she sign those papers. I think the answer is complex. Answers like this always are very complex. I doubt even at the time she could have told you exactly why she did or didn’t.  At the heart of it I am sure was a fear that I was pregnant. The solution in 1968 for pregnant teen agers was to marry them off.

I know that this is the case because we had a conversation about it one week before I got married. We were walking around a grocery store and I made a remark about women’s sanitary products. She replied that I certainly wasn’t going to need them for quite a while. She thought I was pregnant. I informed her that I wasn’t as I was experiencing the proof as I spoke. It was one week before the wedding. I wonder if she had further regrets for signing those papers.

Being a mother, I understand that we never fully realize the impact of a mother’s decisions on the lives of her children. A mother does the best she can, always motivated by love and a mixture of other influences. Nothing is ever pure or perfect.  I wonder what went through her mind as she sewed the dress I would wear to become Mrs. Alvin Harry Lynne.

A rented white altar, the songs Wither Thou Goest, Because, and Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us, shocking pale blue satin dresses, a flower girl and a ring bearer that I didn’t know, all are images of that day. A congregation of people, new people in my life, yet people with open and big hearts to this seeming prodigal daughter, now dressed in white, exchanging holy vows to one of their own. We were two children attempting to jump into adulthood and adult responsibilities.

A couple of years ago I was in that sanctuary for the first time in probably 30 years. The building looked the same. The neon Jesus Saves sign still proclaiming a basic truth of the gospel.  I remembered the day we exchanged our vows. Memories, so mixed, so complex, so overwhelming filled me as I saw in my mind the saints who that day were sitting in their favorite pew. The pain of the past was once again soothed over by the memory of love. Not the love I had for him nor his for me, but the love of the community of faith.

They showered us with gifts, well wishes and love. The pastor’s wife assured I had the flower girl and ring bearer I wanted, children who had served in other people’s weddings and had the appropriate clothes. That night at First Assembly, the ring bearer, now the pastor of the same church was preaching the word of God. It was surreal.

After the I do's, the cake and punch, on a Tuesday evening in July we got into our car, a 1951 Chevy with three on the column – it was a tank.  A vehicle I never learned to drive. Our destination was Veits Village a very cheap motel in Jefferson City.  Just married sign and cans on our car, followed by the wedding party and a few friends, our married life began.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Lindbergh Missouri

It is tempting to go on with just the story of the molestation. To tell you how eventually, many years later, I began to experience healing. It was important for you to understand my comments about the effects of being molested as I tell my story. The rest of that story, will wait for another time. Now is the time to finish the story I started.

I thought I was in love. I assume he did too. We were children really. Children who thought we were old enough to assume adult life and responsibilities. Obviously, we were not. His background and childhood was equally marred. I give him no excuses for the pain and abuse he ultimately inflicted. Nevertheless, his childhood shaped him into the person he became.

He was living in an apartment near the campus. He was still in high school. Rules were lacks. He managed to get an apartment, live on his own and go to High School at the age of 17. I don’t remember the first time I visited his mother. She lived 10 miles away in the unincorporated “town” of Lindbergh.

There were perhaps 10 houses in Lindbergh. There was one little store. At one time people traveled the road that ran through Lindbergh, now it was bypassed by the interstate. Most of the houses were terribly run down. The house that Alvin grew up in was perhaps one of the worst.

He never really knew his father. He had gone to jail when he was small. His mother was on her third husband. His step-father was a good heart but crusty gentleman named George. Set in his ways, he refused to put a toilet in the house. Even after his mother had one put in, he refused to use it for several years. The same was true with the washing machine that eventually sat in the middle of the kitchen draining out into the front yard. He took his clothes to the Laundromat.

Ironically, his mother worked at the state mental institution. She was loud and opinionated. She found me “uppity.” She would say I was lazy and that I thought I was better than they were. I always had difficulty eating at their house because of the multitude of mice running through the house. Food was stored on a porch. Rats and mice made their home in the bread and cakes. The refrigerator door, unable to shut was held by a padlock hasp. A cat tormenting one of these mice before consuming it supplemented entertainment in front of the console TV.

Eventually for lack of rent, Alvin lost his apartment and was relegated to the attic. The property owner benevolently let him put a bed on top of rafters and insulation.  Talk of marriage escalated as a new place to live became necessary.

My mother thought those hours alone with Alvin had led to a pregnancy. They had not. Most people thought that it was good for us to marry before I did get pregnant, if I weren't already. Whispers abounded and my mother readily agreed. No doubt influenced by my mother, my father agreed.

My father had hopes I’d go to college.  Acquiescing to the push for marriage, my father would rationalize that "Joyce always loved her dolls and playing house – she was born to be a wife and mother." He would talk of my doll carriage that I pushed during our long walks in Brooklyn.

Both of our parents received Social Security checks for us; his because his father was now dead, mine because my father was retired. Our marriage cut my parents income in half and his mother’s by one-third. The impact of that never crossed our selfish minds. We were young and in love with the idea of being married.

Even if there had been no abuse later on, it was a marriage doomed from the start. Alvin had no idea of what a loving marriage looked like. He knew nothing about commitment and fidelity. I was a broken insecure girl who was looking for validation and acceptance.  With the blessings of our parents and the church, marriage plans were solidified. I wanted to be a June bride. My father requested we wait until July. We would marry July 2 so my father could get one last Social Security check before their income was halved. My mother began to sew my wedding gown.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pastor Dahl Tells All

It took less than a minute to walk from Barbara's house to mine. I wonder what went through my mind as I did. Being 8 years old, I am sure it can only be described as confusion. Too young to understand shame still I knew something was wrong. I had kissed him on the mouth when I knew better. Yet, I always wanted to be a good wife and mother - girls of the 50's dreamed of those things. Was this what I needed to know to secure my future?

My block in Brooklyn was my small town. We had a bad neighborhood, right there on the block. How fitting that I remember being in front of the "tenements" when I told my mother that I had done something bad. I had kissed Mr. Thompsen on the mouth. Feeling better that I had told, my mother I am sure feared there was more to this tale.

I don't remember it, but in a rare conversation a few years ago with my mother about Mr. Thompsen, she said she was giving me a bath the next day. It sounds bizarre now but in those days, Saturday night was bath night. Every other day you simply washed at the sink. Saturday meant time in the tub and a shampoo to get ready for church the next day.

During this bath, she evidently got me to tell her what else had happened with Mr. Thompsen. Exactly what I told, or even how much, I don't remember. In our brief adult conversation, she only said thank God you don't remember it all. Eventually I did. Alarmed, she told my dad. More alarmed, my dad told our Pastor at church the next day. Kindly white haired Pastor Dahl, the spiritual leader of our world now knew I had kissed Mr. Thompsen on the mouth and worse.

Always concerned about what people thought, my mother was quite furious that my father had told our Pastor. I would love to know why my dad told him. I would love to get into his heart and mind. Now I thank God that he told. At the time, I thought my mother was right. I had done something bad, something I instinctively knew was shameful. What would Pastor Dahl think of me now?

I clearly remember my mother's anger at the secret being told. Pastor Dahl, wise beyond the experience of his generation called the local precinct and reported it. Long before mandatory reporting and after school specials on child sexual abuse, Pastor Dahl called the police. Reports were taken from my parents. My mother was mortified. Two male detectives were put in charge of the investigation. This was the late 1950's.

My mother told me that the police knew. I was terrified. Not only did all the important people in my life know what I had done, I also knew this was the end of the candy store trips. Remember I was only 8. Then the police came to school. Standing in the front of my classroom were two detectives and my mother. I was being dismissed from school early. My classmates were stunned. My teacher nervous.

I went with them to their car. We didn't own a car so being in a car was still an adventure for me. Being in a car meant someone in our church was giving us a ride to a church event out of the neighborhood. Usually it was a trip to a park or camp. It was always fun to be in the backseat of those large cars of the 50's. Not this time though.

The detectives explained to me that they thought they had found Mr. Thompsen. They said they needed me to identify him. That made me feel important and yet I thought I had betrayed the person who was going to assure I was a great wife. He had told me not to tell. I had told.

Arriving at the corner in front of the side gate of my church I sat in the back seat of the car. There were actually three people by the name of Thompsen living on that block alone. They had ruled out two. They asked me to stay in the car and watch as they asked the suspected Thompsen to come out on the stoop. They wanted me to look at him very closely and tell them if he was the right Thompsen. They were sure they had their man. He was the right age and met the description in every way.

Out came Mr. Thompsen. This Mr. Thompsen had no beard. This Mr. Thompsen was clean shaved. I couldn't say for sure if he was the right Mr. Thompsen. I was told I had to tell the truth. The truth was, I didn't know. The police drove us home.

My mother, still furious about the situation told me that this too was my father's fault. She said my father had seen Mr. Thompsen on the street during one of his daily walks. He confronted his daughter's abuser. He told him the police were coming to get him. I had told. He would be arrested. Smart Mr. Thompsen went home and shaved.

I saw Mr. Thompsen around the neighborhood after that. I never was given candy again. I would watch as other girls were brought to the candy store with Mr. Thompsen's arms around their shoulders. I would wonder if they too would be taken to a hallway or his apartment. I had once been invited to his apartment as well. I also regretted that I was no longer special and could have someone buy me any candy I wanted.

Several months later the police came again. This time they had a plan. This time they asked me to talk to Mr. Thompsen when I would see him in the neighborhood. They asked me to tell him I wanted to go to his apartment like he had asked. I did.

In events that even sound fictitious to me, but events that I clearly remember and always have, I became a decoy. Still only 8 years old, I talked to Mr. Thompsen. We agreed that I would meet him in front of my church, by the gate. The time and place set, I stood in my navy pleaded skirt, white shirt and red scarf of assembly day waiting for my abuser to come. I had been told by the detective to bring library books. It would make it look like I had told my mother that was where I was going.

The detective stood across the street and watched. I stood and waited. No one came. It was over. Mr. Thompsen continued to abuse countless girls in my neighborhood luring them with candy. As far as I know, he was never caught.

I was caught. My sentence was a life of insecurity and shame. Mr. Thompsen promised I'd be a good wife, now at the age of 16, I attempted to be just that.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Forbidden Doors

There is great risk in what I am doing. It occurred to me that I could be jeopardizing potential jobs in the future. Being old is enough to jeopardize a career, now I add truth, vulnerability and candor to the mix. I am telling you how I got to be that young woman giving birth to her third child while her peers received their degrees. It is frightening to expose myself like this. But I have a story to tell. A story I feel that needs to be told for that one person who needs to know they can pull through by God's grace, mercy and help.

The story of your life is not fixed in your past, it is fixed in today. It is fixed in getting up today and stepping into your future.

I realize whomever it is who reads this story, whether in this blog or a book that may materialize in the future, may think I am foolish. Others may say I am brave. Exposure to the critical eye of another is always both. My motives are not for my own self-promotion, or even self healing. My motives are to share the still unfolding victory that Christ has brought, is bringing, and will bring in my life.

If I am to tell my story honestly, I have to tell you about the little girl I was. Today, I will share with you the pain of a molested child. Thanks be to the God of Victory, who has brought me to this place where I see the child, but no longer feel the intensity of her pain. She is me.

I have always remembered much of what I am going to tell you. Other parts took several years of exploration under the watchful eye of a competent therapist. I trust all the memories I now have. At times I suspect there are more dark memories yet uncovered.

Look at this picture

Do you see how cheerful and bright her eyes are? If you were to make a story about her just from this picture, you would no doubt say she looks like a happy child. I think she was. Soon things would change forever.

Even in the 50's Brooklyn's children were told to not talk to strangers, never accept candy from them or go anywhere with them. I was always an obedient child. Mr. Thompsen was not a stranger. Living near our church and being Norwegian, my father knew him superficially. He introduced me to him one day while my father was cleaning the church.

I never liked the children's show Mr. Rogers. I never knew why. Clearly, Mr. Rogers is a good man, who loved children. I now know that pedophiles can behave a lot like Mr. Rogers, soft spoken, kind, generous grooming their next victim. This was Mr. Thompsen.

I would always be excited to see him because it meant a trip to the candy store. A fresh coin for a Hershey bar would be my reward for a smile. He would stand with his arm on my shoulder in the most gentle and kindest of voice ask me what kind of candy I wanted. I could have anything I wanted.

My parents knew that Mr. Thompsen bought me candy. No one ever questioned. It was probably assumed he was just a man who had no children but liked them. Sometimes I would jealously eye him with arm around another girl offering her candy as well.

I remember him as tall. He had a Norwegian accent, but so did almost every adult in my life. He would somehow mysteriously appear at times. Because of the candy reward, I thought I was blessed. Mr. Thompsen had a beard. A point to this story that becomes very important as it unfolds.

It was chilly. There was a nip in the air, it was Autumn. It was a Friday. I know that because later that evening we walked up the block to 5th Avenue to shop. Stores were not open in the evening, except on Friday. As I always was, I was with my best friend Barbara. I probably had eaten supper with her and her grandmother that night. No doubt it was spaghetti and there was a discussion about the coolie of the loaf of Italian bread. The houses between her house and mine were few. I didn't have to cross the street. I could stay late.

It was dark when I left 410-53rd Street to walk the few steps to 434-53rd Street. As I shut the outer door to Barbara's house I saw him. Mr. Thompsen... would it mean candy? I had never seen him at night. He was waiting at the bottom of the stoop. Just standing there waiting, smiling. I was delighted for I knew a trip a few steps in the other direction would mean candy.

As I am sure you are guessing, it didn't mean candy. It meant a mark of shame, degradation, and pain that would shape my existence for many years to come. Perhaps it predetermined an early marriage to an abuser. Definitely years of insecurity followed that night.

Mr. Thompsen said, "Yoyce, I have something to show you." I thought perhaps he had remembered what type of candy I liked and had already bought it for me. Maybe he had some gift for me. I went with him to the dark entryway of my friend's father's business.

He asked me to kiss him. That seemed an adequate price for all the candy he'd given me. My father never allowed me to kiss him on the mouth. My mother would always kiss me on the mouth. It was not fitting for a grown man to kiss a girl on the mouth, even her father. Mr. Thompsen asked me to kiss him on the mouth. I did.

That led to his opening his pants, exposing himself. It went further, much further. Ultimately as he experienced release, I vomited on his shoes. Apologizing profusely for vomiting, wiping his shoes he told me I'd be a good wife someday. He told me that I did very well. He told me we'd practice my being a good wife again. Since I had done so well, he had a special treat for me. He said it was better than candy. Slipping his hands now in my pants, he opened doors forbidden to children.

I don't remember if we did practice more. I suspect we did. Nevertheless, that is the only time I remember clearly. I walked back up the street to my house a different girl.

Now look at this girl

See the eyes? See the dullness in her face. The smile is gone. Her eyes forever turned downward she had been forever changed by a man named Thompsen.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Balance to Cross

I don’t remember what I wore that day. I am sure it was a dress of some sort. We still were required to wear dresses in public school in those days. The church was very conservative and pants were never allowed anywhere.

When moving to Missouri, we had started at First Assembly. It was the logical choice. We had always been Pentecostal and strict. No make-up, no movies, no card playing, were standards of my upbringing. Even a simple game of “Go Fish” or “War,” played with "devil cards" were unacceptable.

I’ve written before about not being able to see Sleeping Beauty. One of the arguments was, even if the movie is okay, would you want to be watching a movie when Jesus came back? Heaven forbid - your rapture readiness would disappear in the twinkling of an eye.

This church added no pants, no short sleeves dresses and no mixed bathing (swimming in the presence of the opposite sex). Television was frowned upon with long hair preferred for girls. I guess my parents thought this rebel would rebel further, so we went church shopping. I have no idea how many churches we visited. Several we stayed at for a while. Some, too formal for Pentecostals, warranted only one brief visit. Eventually, I said, I think we should try First Assembly again. They agreed.

For whatever reason, it seems more welcoming the second time.  The pastor’s daughter, who was my age, came one Sunday afternoon inviting a trip to the Dairy Queen – she just showed up. Still a dear friend, she made me feel welcome that day. My parents sighed a sigh of relief. We found a church home. Once again, the prodigal daughter, who in reality was never a prodigal at all, seemed safer in the fold.

I must have met him before, but I don't recall. He was just a guy in the church. Someone I never thought would even look my way. He would come to church in an ill-fitting suit strutting to his seat in the front pew. The pastor seemed to like having the young men sit directly in front of him. Everyone was a potential future pastor. Alvin, perhaps looking for a father figure he never had seemed to be a very dutiful disciple.

Under the watchful Jesus Saves sign, Alvin approached me that Easter Sunday. He asked me if I wanted to go the Pinnacles Park north of Columbia for a picnic the next day. We were out of school for Easter Monday.

Other than a couple of dates with a guy that year in Columbia, I only had one boyfriend before that in Brooklyn. I was in the 9th grade, he was a Senior. He was moving into life. I was immature and needy. Seeing my insecurities, he moved on. All the talk of sexual exploits were totally untrue. My virtue was clearly in tact.

I really felt I would never get married. How does a 16 year old assume such a thing? I should have thought I had my whole life before me and not worried about getting married. Here was this handsome seemingly Godly young man asking me out. I said, “of course.”

Not being allowed to wear pants, and thinking he very godly, I had to wear culottes. I remember those culottes well. They were a culottes dress which meant I had to get completely undressed to go to the bathroom. A risky move for a day in the wilderness. It was white with red polka dots. Already being a good seamstress, I had made this hideous outfit myself.

I have never been good with outdoor activities. I am sure that comes from growing up in Brooklyn. We went to this very rustic, undeveloped park for our picnic. I remember trying to cross a log over a stream lacking balance I ended up in the water. Something clicked between us. We were both needy in ways we didn't understand.

Like the log I could not cross, I was about to attempt a much more dangerous bridge. Years later I would nearly drown in the water.

That day it was about attention and insecurity. Perhaps I was not so undesirable that I could never find a husband. Perhaps echoes of the sense of violation of my virtue, leaving me unworthy of marriage. My molester had told me things that while forgotten still echoed in my soul.

I don’t know what it was for him. I do know that from that day on, we were a couple. Most of our activities centered on the church. Our Saturday night date was visitation at the nursing homes, the cancer hospital, etc. One older woman would look at Alvin and tell him he reminded her of Jesus. When we were alone, he did not act like Jesus though. He claimed a call to ministry. I dreamed of a future as a minister's wife. Validated and pure, I would finally be regarded as worthy.

As predators usually do, he sensed my insecurities. Much later I found out he had dated other girls who were new in the church and seemed insecure. He was on the prowl, on the hunt. He wanted to marry. Why? I’m not sure. He was 17. I was 16. We thought we were old enough to know what we wanted to do. I succumbed to my insecurities thinking I had better jump at the chance to get married while I could. 

Heaven knows, no one else would want me – or so my thinking went. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Leaving Brooklyn Behind

It was Easter Sunday, our first Easter in Missouri. We had not gone to the Sunrise Breakfast, an Easter tradition with the church we were attending. The next Easter I would go. I would be married, be a mother whose first child would be dedicated that morning at First Assembly of God in Columbia MO.

I had thought moving to Missouri was a great adventure. I had visited with my parents the summer before. My oldest brother was working on a doctoral degree at the University of Missouri. Looking back it now seems odd that we moved. At the time, perhaps I looked at it as the same as so many of our friends moving to Long Island, New Jersey or Staten Island. Brooklyn was experiencing exodus. Replacing the Norwegians were mostly Puerto Ricans; later would come the Chinese.

The neighborhood was changing. My father was retired. Being in his 50’s when I was born, retirement came while in Junior High School. They would tell you that the reason for the move was me. I am not sure if that was really all there was to it. Nevertheless, I had developed a persona of being a rebel. I really wasn’t. Ninety percent of the things they thought I did, I never did.  Oh, I wanted them to believe these things because I was a child who was desperately looking for attention.

I was recently told by a former in-law who lived with us when I was a child that there was a lot of neglect in my childhood. I felt relieved when she told me that. I felt validated in some way. I think my parents, and I’ve written much about this in my blog, absolutely did the very best they could. However, they fell short in many ways.

My mother was sick a lot when I was a child. I remember going with her to the grocery store as a small child. While she bought food for the family, she bought small jars of baby food for herself. She was skin and bones. She would only say that she couldn’t handle eating food. There were trips to a local doctor who gave her “liver shots.”  Then came the migraines. Sprinkled in between were a few surgeries.

The migraines would leave her vomiting in the bed for days. I would try to be a dutiful caring child. Most of the time, I was – she would tell her friends how nicely I would behave when she was sick. Other times, she had a different tale to tell. There was a pattern developing in my mother’s migraines. Holidays, family trips and significant events were all cancelled or altered by her migraines. Thanksgiving turkeys were not cooked as she vomited and agonized with a migraine.

I was always expected to behave and perform well. Love was given out on a performance-based system. As I got older and was no longer cute, love was further withheld.  Like all insecure attention starved children, I learned that acting out was the best route to attention.  However, I never had the nerve to do the things that would get me that needed attention.

I had a friend in Junior High School. We gravitated to each other immediately. She had her issues; I had mine. We developed a “game” of sorts. We called it “Stump the Youth Pastor.” We would collaborate tales of sinful behavior for the ears of our respective youth pastors. One time, I went to mine telling this young idealistic but caring couple of how I lost my virginity. I was still a virgin. I had not lost anything. The wife held me with tears streaming down her face dropping on mine as she wept for my soul. I felt bad. I still feel bad. I just wanted to know someone cared. She did.

My friend and I were both crying out not just for attention but also for God. My mother never understood. She forbade me to see my dear friend. Of course I did. In our own way, we encouraged each other on a quest for God. The next decision was to get Joyce out of the city. Columbia Missouri was ultimately foolishly chosen thinking that with my brother living there, we’d have family nearby. Once we were settled, he and his family had little to do with us, shadows of deeper painful things to come.

What I didn’t understand until many, many years later and what my parents never understood, was that in this mix were the effects of sexual molestation. A man in the neighborhood had molested me when I was about 8 years old. They knew about it but like most parents of their generation, they had no idea what to do about it. Neglect at home, my mother’s illness, molestation, all a perfect storm leading to a decision to move to Columbia Missouri in the Fall of 1968. A junior in High School I left a tough inner-city school in Brooklyn New York to become a Hickman Kewpie.

Springtime, Easter time, a time for love -- A new player was about to enter my life. Three months later he would be my husband. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Draft...

I've been thinking about writing a book. I've mentioned my desires to write several times now in this blog. I've mentioned the book. I've mentioned that when I was in high school, in Brooklyn NY, I thought I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Although I haven't heard it in a few weeks now, for a while, it seemed every few days someone said to me, you should write a book.

I wish I could tell you that the reason for my quietness on this blog has been that I have been busy with starting the book. I haven't started it. Nor do I have any idea of when I will write it. Then there is the book that my husband and I are supposed to write. Yes, I use the word "supposed" to because while I still may have doubts that any one is that interested in my life, I do know that "our" life is very interesting.

I've wrestled with thoughts of "who do you think you are that any one would want to read about YOU?" I've told myself, "you'll be seen as arrogant because you think people would be interested in YOU." That's never been the point. However, at points in my life I get tired of being second guessed and misunderstood. I've been that way a lot lately. Really tired of people assuming they know what is in my heart. Really tired of mislabeling and misjudging... in general, just really tired of a lot of things. Too many things... And yet, if I tell my story, tell you about my life you'll see that I have reason to be tired.

Another question I've asked myself, is does it matter to me that you know any of this? Does it matter that any one know any of this? I only suspect, that if this drive to write, if all the comments that I should write, actually mean anything at all, then there must be someone out there, who needs to hear my story. I use the word need because I suspect there might be someone who is like me. Someone who is on welfare and food stamps, has been abandoned by their spouse, someone who everyone assumes is nothing, who might hear my story and say, if she can do it, I can. Or more correctly, if God helped her, God can and will help me.

I've given a lot of thought to where I would start if I did write a book about my life. Do I start with once upon a time in the borough of Brooklyn on a chilly November evening a little girl was born in the Norwegian maternity hospital. I can hear you yawning right now. Do I start with the present? I am the mother of eight children who is about to start her doctoral program late in life. That sounds nice but I doubt that would keep your interest-that just sounds rather self-exalting to me.

I think I would start with the birth of my third child. I've shared a bit about her birth in previous blogs. I've shared how I looked out the window of my hospital room with sadness and despair as my peers in their caps and gowns graduated from the University of Missouri. I've shared that I wasn't sure my child would live, how I'd been deserted by her father, how I was a single mother with no future. I've shared that something inside me (God) rose up and gave me courage to become a graduate three and a half years later.

What I haven't shared was how I got there. Even most of my family has either never heard, nor truly listened to anything I've shared about the years before. Oh they know that there was a first husband named Alvin. They know he is the father of my three older children. They know he was not a nice guy. But they don't know. They don't really know.

My oldest son knows the most. He lived it. However, he lived it through the eyes of an abused abandoned child. He has his own memories. He recently shared with me what he also realizes at least in part, what it must have been like for me. As we talked about family issues, he said of his siblings, "Mom, they have no clue what you've been through. If they did, they'd behave much differently."

I don't know if that's true. I don't know if anything I share here, or in the book to come, will even be read, let alone understood. But I'm going to start. This blog is my practice sheet for a book. I'm going to share for a while how I got to be a welfare mom abandoned in a hospital giving birth to her third child.

Less people are reading my blog of late. Not sure exactly why. If you are reading, share with me your comments. If you like what you read, ask other people to read it. You never know where that one person is who might find courage and strength to move forward.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sing a Song of Sixpence

Last Saturday I woke up screaming. I had a strange dream. Unfortunately, this is not an unusual thing for me. Frequently I have nightmares. Some I remember, some I don’t. I have a recurring dream that often is nightmarish of moving back to Hannibal Missouri. I don’t usually wake up screaming with that dream.

However, last Saturday I did wake up screaming. I had a convoluted nightmare that ended with me being in a strange house. Having been rebuked by the leader of a “prayer meeting” being held in that house for singing a song in parts, 10-12 black birds came flying toward me. Their wings fluttering loudly, they wrapped themselves around my head and neck. I managed to pull them off my neck but couldn’t get them off my head.

With that, I started screaming, waking my husband who always asks the same question. Are you seeing a bad dream? I mean, duh? No I just like scaring him out of a sound sleep. Sometimes I won’t answer him because I just don’t want to talk about the dream. Sometimes to “divert” me he’ll ask me if I have to go to the bathroom. That always makes me feel like I am five years old. I usually don’t answer that question either.

This dream was different from my usual nightmares. Often in my nightmares, I am abandoned. I am left alone in some fashion. I often wonder why I have so many nightmares. Often they make no sense. This dream last Saturday seemed ominous. Black birds are not usually seen as good omens.

As the week unfolded, it seems that many black birds have flown into my life. This has not been a good week to say the least. It has been a very difficult painful week of betrayal and loss in relationship to my brothers. I was processing this situation with a wise woman who referred to their actions as evil. I thought of the birds. Clearly if there is a meaning to my nightmare, they are prime candidates for an evil classification as black birds attacking me.

There have been other things this week. Two of my three older children are dealing with excruciatingly painful circumstances. Their pain deeply affects me as well. In their pain, I do marvel at their resilience and love. They inquire about me in the midst of their own pain. I have never delineated between my older children and my younger. They are all my children. I love them equally. I am proud of all of them.

My three older children however, are the children of my very painful youth. They are children who were, like me, abandoned by their father. The oldest of the three witnessed and endured the abuse of their father leaving an indelible imprint on his life. All three have struggled because of the pain of their early life. The love and care of later years never quite washed away the early pain.

Now they struggle with issues that seem insurmountable. Yet, I see the strength that comes through the forging of the crucible that they have endured. They are strong. They are pushing forward. There has been no easy road for them. Like their mother, they seem to go from crisis to crisis. Like their mother, they are survivors.

Yes, this week the black birds have come. They have been vicious in their attack. They have clouded my brain and left holes in my heart. I will always remember this week. It is a week I wish to forget.  As I look at this week however, I am proud of my family. We may have difficulties and struggles that astound people. Yet, we are strong. We are strong because of Christ.

My oldest daughter is the strongest of all of my children. She has endured more black birds than anyone should ever endure. She still sees them fly over her head, sometimes nesting like they did on my head in the dream. Yet, she echoed this week in her blog some words that I need to remember as well.

Only one life will soon be past
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

As I start a new week, I will remember Paul’s words to the church at Philippi:

Friday, April 16, 2010

An Odd Compulsion

I would like to say I come from a family of writers. However, I think it would be more accurate to say, I come from a family of “wanna be” writers. Within my extended family sphere, three of us are blogging. My daughter is the latest to blog. She has been writing deep poetry for many years now and I am glad to see she has taken this step. Even in her teens, her poetry when read in church brought tears to the eyes of the hearers. Her poem about the death of her grandmother was read at her funeral.  I am very proud of her.

We have another poet in the family, a niece, who has won awards and trips to Europe. I’ve not read her poetry, but evidently it is quite good. The awards give a legitimacy to her poetry. 

Another niece has a deeply profound and moving blog about her journey. She is quite candid about her life. Since unfortunately my only personal interaction with this niece was when she was a baby, I’ve gotten glimpses of her as person through this blog. She has tremendous strength that I surmise comes from her mother. Her mother was the strongest person I met during my childhood. Her strength that I did not fully understand as a child made a lasting impression on me.

Then there are the book writers. My parent’s two sons both have written books. The older of the two has written several books. Lacking a publisher, he chose to self-publish them. To ease with publication, he even started his own publishing company. As an academic, he has been published. He also has written some rather unusual fare about the Holy Ghost in Sunset Park – odd allusions to our childhood in Sunset Park Brooklyn and our Pentecostal heritage. Also published was his ramblings against the Bush administration by attacking the father of the attorney general who snubbed him while in college. 

His first book is the only book I’ve read. I’ve read it twice. When it was first published, he sent a copy to his mother. I remember she was so excited to read the words of her son. It’s title was misleading, Sister Patsy. Memories of his childhood were told through a not so fictitious account of his memories from his childhood. Accusations against a female preacher of his childhood, alleged to be a lesbian, her final demise is a vulgar and steamy scene with another woman in the church bathroom.The characters of both of his parents were clear. Other characters too closely resembled other people from his past to be considered truly fiction.

My mother’s life was woven through a distorted lens. More than once, she came crying to me while she read the book. In the end, she threw the book at me and declared her son a crazy person. He had killed the character of my mother in the end. She put her head in a gas oven and killed herself.  I wonder what he was truly trying to say?

Equally disturbing to her was his portrayal of her father. Through tears she kept repeating, he made my father seem to be a monster, he was not. As the fog of dementia crept up on my mother, she forgot she read the book. She read it again. She had the same reaction. The fog eventually wiped that memory as well leaving her son still in good standing in her heart.

She never read any more of his books. They were never sent to her and we saw no need to buy them. I understand he has continued to draw very closely from his own life and memories further distorting the memories of those we knew and those we loved. 

The second son of my parents also has written a novel. Like his brother, he lacked a publisher. Unlike his brother, he didn’t self-publish. I have his manuscript. I have never read it. My mother did read it though and had no negative reactions. She just said it was very good.

I too write from my life. I too am telling the story of my life. I do not couch it fictitiously, but speak in the first person.  I will also write a book. It will not be a novel nor will it be fiction. Candid and vulnerable, I will share my story. I will share my pains, my joys, my questions, my thoughts and my hopes. I have started with this blog where I share with you my life, perhaps at times going too far, other times, not far enough.

I do not wonder what compels us to write. I know that writing is cathartic and beneficial. What I do wonder is what compels us to write publically. I wonder what inner drive has come down through the generations leading so many of us with this desire to write. All I know is that I will continue to write. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Googly Eyes

Have you ever heard the song about Barney Google, with the goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes? Inspired by a comic strip, Barney had googly eyes. My dad used to sing this song sometimes. I can remember Sing-a-long with Mitch on the television with the bouncing ball helping us sing about Barney Google. It has a great catchy early jazz tune. I hope you’ll take the time to enjoy the video included.

The word Google first came into the language in the early 1900’s in a children’s book The Google Book where googles inhabited googleland.  Now we use Google to refer to the search engine, Google reader, this blog is a Google blog, the list of parts of the Google Empire is very long. Before we Googled we “askjeeves,” went to altavista or some other search engine. Perhaps you are a “binger” trying the newer search engine BING.

My favorite Google feature is Google Analytics.  I’ve used it since I first started to blog. Another blogger told me about this feature and I love it. Thanks to it, I know how many people read my blog every day, where they live, how long they stay on the blog in minutes, how they came to the blog, whether they are a first time reader, how many unique readers I have… the list goes on and on. I am sure I haven’t scoped out all the features of Analytics.

I started tracking information on Analytics on December 1, 2009. Since then, I have had 1445 visits by 570 visitors who viewed 2806 views. They spent an average of 2.44 minutes and nearly 40% of them are new readers.  These people came from 29 countries. Not surprisingly, the most popular is the US.  There have been 1340 visits came from 44 states. That’s a lot of territory to cover.

Visits from Virginia top the list at 252 with only 5% being first time. Those visits come from Charlottesville. That’s a lot of loyal readership. While I can never tell exactly who is reading my blog, this is no doubt the second child of my parents and members of his family. When I wrote about them early this week, readership from Charlottesville was through the roof! I guess they enjoyed reading that blog.

Virginia is followed by Tennessee and South Dakota. Those make sense.  I live in both of those places simultaneously. Number four is Iowa. That surprises me. It seems the people of Spirit Lake/Estherville area are loyal readers. I’ve never been there so I find that interesting.

People who use Google and end up on my blog mostly search for some variation of my name. Curiously, one of the most popular searches is does God like hotdogs. That particular blog has been very popular as well. It’s the second most popular entry of all time. Recently, I had to delete a few comments on it. Seems people don’t think God can do miracles anymore and were quite rude. That’s sad.

So what’s the point? The point is that there is a big world out there. In my living room, often in my pj’s I write and a lot of people read it. That makes me think about my responsibility. I think of some of the things I’ve written. I know that not all of it was necessary or maybe even the wisest.

I am not out to win the world with the power of my words. Nor do I see myself as some great evangelist trying to preach the Gospel via blogging. If I did, I have already showed you my own struggles and that doesn't make for a good evangelist.

Sometimes my blogs are serious; sometimes they are silly. Mostly they are my thoughts and pains put on paper. Like a virtual diary that I share with the world.  

I’ve been told I am a very transparent person. I am. I don’t think that is going to change. I’m sticking myself out there – perhaps too much, perhaps not. Sometimes you may like what I have to say, sometimes you won’t. But I thank all 570 of you for listening.

Thanks to the googly eyes of Google I know you are out there.

PS – I want to encourage you to check out my daughter’s blog just launched yesterday:

Thursday, April 8, 2010

No Other Name

I’ve been looking at a lot of old photographs lately. I picked up a very odd collection of photographs my mother had in her room. I take greater delight than most in finding an old photograph. A house fire and too many moves have claimed our treasures forever.

I was particularly delighted to find this assortment. It included photos of my dad as a young man, some of his brother and sister-in-law’s trip from Norway to visit us, his son and the 1963 New York City World’s Fair. There were photos of my mother with her siblings. I found photos of my mother as a very young woman with her first two children. How very young my mother looked. Her youthful beauty that she never saw in herself was striking. She always referred to herself as “homely” and as I looked at those pictures, I thought how sad that she never saw what an attractive woman she was.

There have been other old pictures to look at as well. I’ve written before that I had the very unique and wondrous experience of having my faith formed in a Pentecostal church that was made up of Norwegian immigrants and their families. On a whim, I started a Facebook group for this church, Salem Gospel Tabernacle. For a few months, it sat dormant with a few members but no participation. 

Recently the group has blossomed to 73 people who have contributed over 100 photos. It has become a virtual church reunion. While most of the participants came after me or are children of people I knew but are younger than I, there is still a strong bond, a connection of those that sat facing the word JESUS in gold behind the platform.

The building had once been a synagogue. When I was a child, there was still a Jewish social organization next door. In the summer, before air conditioning, with the windows open in both buildings, you could hear their dance music. I don’t suppose they heard our string band or orchestra as praises were lifted to the Lord.  The sounds of that orchestra, with its mandolin, guitar, banjo, horns, trombone and musical saw still fill my ears. Complimented by the piano and the organ was the vibraharp played by a woman that could use two mallets on each hand making harmony.  Sometimes when my father would be cleaning the church, I would take a mallet and play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Happy Birthday or some song I had memorized from piano lessons. It was much harder than it looked.

While my visits back to Salem are virtual, several years ago I visited in person. In May 2002, I had the privilege of preaching behinds its sacred desk, the pulpit, and in front of the gold stenciled JESUS.  No one there knew my family or me; all the people were changed. Even the name of the church was changed; it was now Sunset Park Community Church. No longer Norwegian it now represented the community that lived in its neighborhood. It now feeds the homeless and is proclaiming with power the name of Jesus.

The stenciled gold JESUS still proclaimed that the name of Jesus is above every name.  As powerful as any icon in a majestic cathedral, seeing the name JESUS reminded me not only of my memories of the past but reminded me that we worship JESUS, the CHRIST, the Son of God and Savior of the world. It reminded me that there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby you must be saved (Acts 4:12). Like the blue neon Jesus Saves sign in a later home church of mine, it speaks the truth. It speaks life.

Having a stenciled JESUS sign is out of fashion. It doesn’t fit with our seeker sensitive mentality. It makes the church look dated. It is a throwback to a different time and era. The name of Jesus has always been offensive to some. Its presence clearly states that this group of people exalts the name of Jesus.

I am glad the people worshiping in the building of Salem have not taken down the gold-stenciled JESUS. I hope they never do. Not because it has sentimental value to me or any other personal reason; or even because of the power of its message. I hope they never take it down because it is who they are and who they have been.

In the push to modernize, contextualize, update, and seem more relevant, we often lose sight of who we are and where we came from. We forget who we are, we want to become like the rest of the people. I grew up when to be Pentecostal was to be laughed at, thought you were crazy or simple-minded. To be Pentecostal was to be on the wrong side of the tracks. Now we are on the right side of the track and we want to be relevant. Reminds me of the story of Israel that forgot that God alone was their King and wanted to be like the other nations.

I suppose there is nothing wrong with some change. I’ve actually always liked changed. I always want the latest gadget and technology. I am not saying we never update our facilities or even our presentation of the gospel.

As I’ve looked at the faces of those whose love for Jesus put His name in gold, for all to see, I have been in awe of them. I have thanked God that they were true to who they were. That they didn’t compromise the gospel for the sake of fashion. That these hearty Norwegians, who every one thought had lost their mind because they were no longer Lutheran, were bold enough to remain true to themselves.

That’s what I think is missing today in our rush for updating.  It’s a sense of history and respect for those who came before us. It’s a rush to take down the old and “outdated,” forgetting that symbols of the past, like rituals, are powerful and remind us who we are. Maintaining that which represented sacrifice and dedication to the gospel, no matter how outdated it is, reminds us that we have a distinctive heritage to build on and keep us true to ourselves.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Spring has Sprung

The window is open in the bathroom. I always open the window the bathroom when I come to Tennessee. Even when it is cold, I like to have the fresh air. I like to have the cold air hit my wet body. I like to hear the birds. I can't do any of this in South Dakota. It is a symbol of being home.

We haven't been here since my mother died. Memory creep in and then become a flood. Even after she went to the nursing home, I found it difficult to go in the room she occupied. That room, always hot because of the rising sun. Now it is cold because of her absence. I wonder what we will do with that room when we settle back into this house for good.

With a little coaxing and a bribe, my daughter Bethany will clean the house for me before I return. Too many times I have returned to a sink piled high to the ceiling with dirty dishes, trash piled to the back door and not one clean towel. It is worth the money for Bethany to clean. She is amazing. Not just because she cleans but because of the beautiful loving caring person she is. If she didn't need the money, she'd clean to make me happy and reduce my stress just from the goodness of her heart.

Coming here is hard for her though. Her three year old is delightfully busy and inquisitive. Her uncle entertained her with Oreo's and cartoons yesterday. I can hardly wait to see her and have her little arms around my neck saying "I love you Nana."

Bethany is braver in so many ways that I am. She went into my mother's room yesterday. She went and communed with the memories of her grandmother. I went to the cemetery yesterday and did likewise. My visit to the cemetery lacked the warmth of quirky sentences and that noise of delight my mother would make when she would see Maria.

My time at the cemetery was cold. The wind in Columbia was brisk enough to put a chill in the air. Seeing the date of her death engraved on the marble reminded me of the finality of her passing. My husband, his brother and his niece, cupped their hands and offered some prayers. I did not. It is not my tradition or custom.

We talked of her body facing the Eastern sky awaiting the return of Jesus. When the dead in Christ shall raise, she will be facing her Lord and Savior. I do not understand, even with all my degrees and education, this wondrous mystery.

As we traveled back to Tennessee the glimpses of spring were everywhere. I saw trees in bud. I saw some redbuds blooming. I took a picture of a daffodil and noticed it forms the star of David. There are even some daffodils left in my front yard here in Tennessee.

Even more wondrous than the glimpses of Springs, I bathed my thoughts in the cross yesterday. Oh the wonderful cross -- can we ever understand it? Can we ever fully embrace it?

Likewise, today I will await the resurrection. I live in what my Christian History professor who is Russian calls the MiiiiDdle Ages. We have lived in the time between the first advent and the second for centuries now. We celebrate the beginning of the reign of the Kingdom of God, where Jesus is our King tomorrow. We celebrate His victory over death. We remember He is the first fruits and our resurrection awaits.

Just as sure as there are daffodils every spring in my yard. Just as sure as there is a Spring, Jesus will return. I am waiting with great anticipation for that day.