Be Sad, Apologize, But Don’t Forget Jesus

“The silence was worse than the rape “ Prince Of Tides

Look around you: We are everywhere.  We are your sister, your daughter, your aunt, cousin or friend.

We are survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  It was only a matter time before the #MeToo movement impacted places of worship- places that should be a mecca for hurting hearts and at a minimum should protect children from people who live to harm them. Along with the rest of the world, I watched it play out in the Catholic Church and then various independent fundamental Baptist churches, and more recently the Southern Baptist Convention, of which I am a member.

I am a victim of abuse in both the independent fundamental arena as well as the Southern Baptist Convention. Two of my seven abusers were at church by people who were charged to protect me.

As an adult, I returned to the independent Baptist church where he was still in charge of protecting children, and my shameful admission to them was met on deaf ears. I never told anyone about the abuse at the hands of the Southern Baptist Convention staff member.  This is largely because that church, at one time, was one of the largest churches not only in the Southern Baptist Convention, but also in America. Its storied pastors and rich history is well known in the Southern Baptist Convention and really around the world.  Truthfully, I was just an unwanted kid who wandered into that church for some food, I knew that I would never be believed.

I’m not sure I was right.  I never gave them the chance to prove me wrong.  This is not uncommon and I join the ranks of probably thousands who didn’t speak up and were never given the opportunity to find out if we would have been protected.  In so many ways, the silence of it all was worse than the actual abuse.

And so that fact that the whole thing has been exposed allows survivors to function in the light.  I’ve followed the story of the SBC and my response may surprise you.

For the most part, the reality is that those in current Southern Baptist Convention leadership were young pastors in small and probably unaffected churches.  Yet, they write blogs, stand in pulpits and shed tears. Reading, hearing and watching their response has healed something inside of me that felt fundamentally broken. There is no more silence.  Many of them are carrying the weight of this on their shoulders and some of them had family members affected.

As a survivor, I appreciate the swift response from SBC leadership, but appreciate even more their desire to prevent this in today’s churches.  Leadership is charged with two different jobs, helping survivors and preventing abuse.  It is my prayer that the church would implement (or keep) leadership that will move the church forward in it’s pain by working closely with survivors to prevent abuse and to ascertain how survivors can both be helped and maybe help other survivors.  Many of us would die on the hill that would mean that not a single child was ever touched again.

Use us; we are sitting under your leadership.

In the book Philippians, chapter one and verse twelve, Paul writes to the church:

“I want you to know that the things that of happened to me have really served to further the gospel”

This is my life’s verse and the true desire of my heart.  You see, I am one of the fortunate ones.  I sought and received solid Biblical counseling and the Lord has done a remarkable, redemptive work in my story.  And incidentally, a Southern Baptist Church, and its leadership, was instrumental in saving my life when all of this along with other trauma put me in the hospital under suicide watch.

It’s easy for us to point fingers and rightly so.  Surviving Southern Baptist Convention leadership that were abusers; complicit in abuse or silent about abuse have no place- except for a place of healing and restoration-in the church.  Those that can be found and tried deserve to pay society’s price as well.  But at the end of the day, it is my prayer that leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention will not take their eye off the ball.

Here’s the reality: we can hear apologies from blogs, from pulpits and the president of the Southern Baptist Convention himself –and that is great.

But it’s not enough.

It will never be enough because you are not enough.

ONLY Jesus is enough.

Please keep pointing us to Jesus, Who is more grieved by this then even survivors are.  We need you to be patient with us as many of us blame God for the sins of these abusers or people who protected them. Many have walked away from Him; your job is to keep proclaiming Him anyway.

We are hurting people and in some ways you will find the angriest among us energized by recent revelation.  That will level off as survivors find that ire at you does little to ease their life long pain.  Remind us that Jesus understands our sorrows and that is why He went to the cross in the first place, so that we could have access to Him and His unconditional love.

Remember that day when you gave your life to Him; remember when you graduated from seminary; remember your first pastoral role.  Remember why you did that in the first place.

You did it to tell the world the good news of Jesus.

You have a group of screaming people who need that good news.  You are just going to have to out wait, out love and pray through the layers and walls it will take for you to get to us.

But we need the gospel, and you are called to give it to us.

Let the healing begin.

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Praise In The Storms, pt 1

2005

We entered year 11 of violence in our home.  Both God and the state of Florida called this a marriage, but it was a nightmare.  The bottom was dropping and it was dropping fast. I’d tried everything but nothing stopped the hits, punches or his hurtful words.  Those words hurt more than any punch as they penetrated an already wounded soul.  I’d lived so much life in those 33 years; had endured so much pain, but also enjoyed tremendous redemption.  I thought my marriage would be a nice little bow on top of the redemption of the bad stuff. The children’s home had done a good job of helping me deal with all of the childhood abuse and ultimate abandonment. I finished Clearwater Christian College with a degree in Biology on a full ride scholarship.  So while there was plenty of bad to go around, I will always be grateful for the redemption, while temporary, of some of that pain.  I thought getting married, gaining a family and building a business was a flip of the switch from one emotional hit or loss after another.

But it wasn’t.  By 2005, I decided to go to the only place that never moved.  The only place that never changed.  I ran to the only place where unconditional – love resided.  I decided to go to my Jesus.

God and I had been on a decade long hiatus.  I didn’t go to church or even read my Bible.   Most days I couldn’t even find a Bible, not that I looked for one.  But I never lost my love for Christian music. I invented and often played a game of Jesus Music Roulette where I would put my 12- disc CD changer on shuffle and half whisper to God to give me a word through the randomness of the music.  My commute back and forth to work was 2 hours, so there was plenty of time for Jesus Music Roulette.

One day, this song came on, and I found the repeat button.

“I will praise You in this storm, and I will lift my hands, You are Who You are, no matter where I am, and every tear I cry, you hold in Your hands, You never left my side, and though my heart is torn, I will praise You in this storm” 

It had been awhile since I raised my hands to Him in either praise or surrender.  I started first in the shower, then in my closet and finally in my car, much to the dismay of the other drivers on the road.

“As the thunder rolls, I barely hear You whisper ‘I’m with you’, and as Your mercy falls, I raise my hands to the God Who gives, and takes away….”

I’d sit at stop- lights, park at the beach or hang out in parking lots singing this song at the top of my lungs.  It continued to minister to me as my God found a way to my shattered heart.

“I lift my eyes unto the hills where does my help come from, my help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

I tried, I really did, to lift my eyes to Him and when I finally could, the things on earth grew strangely dim.  I began to focus on getting back in church.  And when I got back into church, things got worse at home as he began to lose control and God took control of my desires of my heart.  My husband took second place in a heart with very little room. I understood that God was and is the only constant; everyone else left or hurt me. He was my Help, my only Help. I began to understand that getting married and/or gaining a family was not going to fix the trauma of my youth, only God could do that.  So, Mark Hall’s opening lyrics to this song resonated with me and was and is a true picture of my heart:

“I was sure by now, God you would have reached down and wiped our tears away, stepped in and saved the day, but once again, I say ‘amen’ but it ‘s still raining.”

I was being mentored and loved at church, and we were praying for a change in my husband’s heart. But every night that ended with a hidden bruise or a bloody nose eroded my fragile faith.  I begged God to change my situation, I begged Him to change my husband.

I stood in church one day with my hands held high and screamed at God that I’d had enough.  I begged Him to come down and wipe my tears away, I begged Him to step in and save the day.  I was sure that I’d had my fair share of pain.  I was sure that he didn’t have enough containers to hold all my tears.  But I also understood on my deepest level that He is a God that gives and takes away. My heart was so torn, that the only stich that could mend the holes was praising Him, and so I did.  Two years later I left and filed for divorce.  God had not, seemingly, wiped the tears away or stepped in and saved the day.

It was still raining.

 

           

Yolo, The Final Chapter

YOLO, Pt 1

YOLO, Pt 2

YOLO, Pt 3

She didn’t come out to the car and I got worried so I got out of my car and walked to the door–she stood on the other side.  I saw her reach for the lock and that’s when I knew she didn’t know who I was. I knew that if she could hear my voice the pieces would connect for her, and when they did she grabbed me and hugged me tightly.  I was there to pick her up for weekly Bible study.  She was visibly shaken, she thought somebody was coming to get her and whoever that somebody was didn’t like her. I walked her to the car and held back my tears.  I was prepared for the normal “who are you and where we going?” questions but I was not prepared for the terror in her voice and the tears in her eyes as she legitimately thought someone could hate her.  This is Bootsie– this is everybody’s mamma.

I’d cued a song on my phone: “I know whom I have believed”.  I’d been told she loved the song. I asked her if she recognized it and she told me that she did not but that it did remind her of one of her favorite Bible verses. Terror was replaced by peace evident in her demeanor and tears were replaced by light in her eyes, evident by her gorgeous eyes shining as I’d grown accustomed to seeing.

She rattled off the Bible verse as if it were her name.

2 Timothy 1:12

“For I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded that he is able to keep all that I have entrusted to him against that day.”

I was sitting at a stop- light, when the light changed I was too stunned to take my foot off the brake. Just minutes before, she was convinced that someone could hate her.  Fast forward and suddenly we were having revival in my car! She repeated the verse a few times and after the third or fourth time I was able to recite it with her.  She told me she was afraid that “day” was close for her. The tears returned and I added mine. She told me that she just wanted a little more time and how she wasn’t done here.  But she told me that she really believed that He is able to keep all that she’d committed unto Him.

She told me that she had Hope.

My sunglasses hid my tears.

And just like that she asked me where we were going.

One of the very first things I told Crissy when we met is that I thought she had a cool mamma.  It wasn’t long before her Mamma became my mamma too.  I can’t explain the bond that was created, not in this lifetime anyway.  I was 35 years old.

We began noticing her memory fading a few years ago.   Many of us noticed at the same time but never really acknowledged it to each other. I couldn’t imagine a God so cruel to take her for me.  It was a miracle I attached to her in the first place, as my counselor likes to say, “you shouldn’t be able to do that”.   She been more of a mom to me and 20 minutes than my own mother had ever been.

These things, these life events for me, aren’t supposed to happen. My mom wasn’t supposed to leave, but she did. I shouldn’t be able to form that bond with somebody else’s mamma when I was 35 years old, but I did.   Her memory wasn’t supposed to fade, but it is.  She wasn’t supposed to get Alzheimer’s and yet she did.

October brought with it the craziness that always brings.  Work kicks it up a notch and October 2018 was no exception.  October is a busy month for writing since it’s domestic violence awareness month and it just happens to always be a horrible month for me.

I’m still a little stunned, if that is even possible. Sometime in late September or early October we got the official Alzheimer’s diagnosis.  It was not the run of the mill diagnosis, but rather the most rare, and because of other health issues, it is untreatable.

This hit all of us pretty hard and she began to decline even more rapidly -it seemed- after the doctors gave her sketchy memory an official name.   It was as if somebody pulled a smoky screen over the entire world.  Nothing was or has been as bright as it was before that day.

We got through October– I still don’t know how- and November was ushered in by an impromptu trip to Nashville to see one of our favorite authors and friends who was nominated for Christy award.  That decision to drive 8+ hours to Nashville was the most insane and irresponsible decision ever.  The timing could not have been worse from every perspective. I was still fighting the demon on the scale, work was insane and I literally could list 50 more reasons why going to Nashville was a remarkably stupid idea. But Cris kept telling me how she felt strongly that we should go and after a decade of doing life with that girl I just go with her instincts.  They have never served me negatively, so to Nashville we went.

Every mile we drove away from home a brought a sense of calming for both of us. I don’t think either of us realized what a pressure cooker our lives had become.   Our friend won two Christy awards! I got to meet Jerry Jenkins and Charles Martin and I got to hear Jaimie Jo Wright’s acceptance speech for her debut novel, “House on Foster Hill”.  I was close to the stage and I realized she was immediately my people because she had Converse shoes underneath her formal dress!

Crissy, also known as, “The Book Bully” had been telling me that I needed to read Jaime’s novel described as a time slip novel (meh), historical fiction (meh) and creepy (that would be a hard pass).  I’d avoided it and was reading “my kind of books”.

But, when I heard Jaimie‘s acceptance speech, I simply could not get to that book fast enough. During her speech, she got lots of laughs off of her powerful one-liners. She talked about being in the foster care system and getting a family, her voice cracked as she thanked them.  She talked about a scary health situation with her young daughter and thanked a friend for walking her through that scary time in her life. She talked about the struggle with the perceived solitude in the writing community.  After thanking her support team, family and God she said something that stopped me in my tracks. 

“Thank you God for giving me a family when I wasn’t supposed to have one”

It was then I realized I had not hit the record button on my phone since Crissy asked me to record her acceptance speech.  I was that stunned.

And so I got home and read the book in about six hours.  The brilliance of the book forces me to choose my words carefully here because I do not want to give any spoilers.

Similar to “A Rumored Fortune” featured in YOLO Pt 3, this book is historical fiction and again not in my lane. However, I am a big fan of the message of this book and you should be too.

Two of the characters face extreme difficulties, unimaginable loss, immense sadness and gruesome discoveries. Both characters find themselves in the same place: they could choose to let their lives and their grief overwhelm them or they could use Hope.

When I came to this part of the book I realized I could let the fading memory of a giant in my life become the knockout punch and most people would completely understand that.  After all, I was like Jaimie, it would seem, not picked to have a family, yet find myself with one.  But, one of the lynch pins of that family that God chose to gave me doesn’t even know who I am sometimes.  But Jaime’s words of that Christy acceptance speech captured my heart and I spent some tears in my decision to choose Hope in my deep sadness.

Let me let you in on this foster kids secret: most of us have thought at one time or the other that something is fundamentally wrong with us.   Even people like Jaimie who got a family young in life will sometimes feel this way.  We simply are not wired for parental rejection.

My heart attached to Mamma Bootsie and those questions were put to rest for the most part.  She’d chosen me.  And that choice alleviated some of the emotional pain for being abandoned by my own mother.  But the place these characters found themselves mirrored that of my own on this day where I experienced the elation of revival in my car and the pain of repeated questions.  I could choose Hope or I could choose to worship the gift of her rather than the Giver. I realized that if I chose Hope and the Giver that His memories of me won’t fade, and He always knows my name, as He knew me before the foundation of the world.

Even though most days I choose Hope, I don’t know how many times either of us can handle those rides to morning Bible study. I’m trying to be brave, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it feels like my heart is being ripped out of my chest.  This is a horrible disease and our family covets your prayers, as there have been plenty of tears around here these days.  I just try to hang on to that Bible verse and the Hope highlighted by an author I’d never read and who belongs to the same club as I—the one that hit the jackpot and got a family when we weren’t supposed to have one.

When I finished Jaime’s book I knew that Hope was and is out in front of me.   Not unlike the characters in the book I have no reason to Hope. My body is still fighting itself, food seems like a bothersome option of my days and the rest of life pressures threaten to take me down.

I will not follow conventional wisdom.  I will choose ridiculous, unexplainable Hope because that choice is the only choice that lands me at the feet of my Jesus.

If Mamma could tell you some version of this passage in Jaime’s book, it would sound a little like the beautiful words of this beautiful author who no doubt got these words from her Father. Bootsie can’t tell you her legacy or what she wants it to be, so allow Jaime to do so:
“Someday I will see his face and all of this will wash away.  What do I leave behind? What will my legacy be? I choose Hope”

 

And since I am stealing Jaime’s words, I will continue to do so as these words are a true picture of my broken heart.

“Thank you Lord for giving me a family when I wasn’t supposed to have one.”

When my mom abandoned me all those years ago I never thought I know the unconditional love of a mamma.  But I do.  Even if she doesn’t remember I will never forget.

I will choose Hope.

Because Jaime, again, captures it beautifully:

“My eyes see beyond today, beyond my circumstances in a world jaded and so scared by sin.  I see into heaven and it is beautiful and it is good.  It is my future.  There is no despair in eternity, in God’s presence, in His perfection.  There is Hope.  He is my Hope.”

Dear Jesus, help me every day to choose Hope.

Because I won’t only live once.

YOLO, Pt 3

YOLO, Pt 1

YOLO, Pt 2

When I remember 2018 I will remember it as the year I spent on the ropes and backed into a corner.  I got a few punches in, but my bruised and swollen eyes often had me swinging at the wrong things.  It was the year that I proved the old adage “hurting people hurt people” true.

In some ways the hot summer days spent at Mayo Clinic were comforting.  Every time I walked through those doors I felt like I could stop fighting because I was there for them to take care of me, something at which I am an award-winning failure.  Under their care, they took care of hydration and sometimes food.  I had zero responsibility to seek life- giving nutrients on my own.  Under their care, the pressures of life- particularly work pressures -were absent.  So, when the doctors landed at “gain weight” “control stress” and “take this pill for that” I was thrown for a loop because the answer for my physical well being rested squarely on my shoulders.

It meant I was responsible for life giving nutrients.  It meant I had to “take care of Amy” and I was reminded of advice I so often give to others “put your own oxygen mask before trying to assist others”.  Relieved that I was going to be ok, I left Jacksonville and started driving west. That trip is always weird to me because I leave a place I’d known as home my whole life to go to a place where my house is and a lot of people I love.  I had a lot of time to think on that drive.  I made mental lists of nutrient laden foods.  I was determined.  My determination was only outmatched by my gratefulness that I was leaving the Mayo Clinic in MUCH better shape than the vast majority of people.

So August was ushered in with a lot of standoffs with food, nausea was my ever-present friend and peppermint became my favorite essential oil. Desperate for control, every morning I’d step on the scale just praying it didn’t go down. But I was l shocked at my reaction when the number on the scale began to increase.  I’d argued against an eating disorder for months, and I truly know it didn’t start that way, but I found myself in unchartered territory. I became obsessed with that number and I attempted to become a master at life giving nutrition. Still on the ropes, I needed strength to hit back, and to hit my real enemy not my perceived ones.  While I have always been fond of control, the need to control that number on the scale was new territory for me as I’ve never been obsessed with my weight and have always been a little heavy. I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t love dropping clothes sizes and a number on the scale I don’t even remember weighing in my life. One thing was true: I understood that regardless of the story of the scale, my body was wrecked by malnourishment; my stomach attacked by inflammation and emotions hijacked by stress- relentless stress. I understood that I had to fix it but that meant genuinely taking care of myself– a concept that is foreign to me as living in Dubai

I found my phone more silent as I simply didn’t have the energy to keep and stay in touch with my friends. I needed every molecule of oxygen I could get. There wasn’t any extra to give away.  Several of my friends and family checked on their “strong friend” and when they did, I didn’t try to fake it. There is one particular text conversation with my friend Joy that reads like my personal manifesto to destroy myself as well as a crisis of faith. I regretted that conversation the next day because that conversation was about as real as it gets.

Crissy had been bugging me to read “A Rumored Fortune”  by Joanna Davidson Politano.  It’s historical fiction and a little out of my lane, but Crissy was insistent so I finally gave in and started the book.

And just like Becky Wade’s “Falling For You” I can describe this book to you as a work for fiction covered with the truth of the gospel.

“Force a vine to struggle and you give it a better chance at life. For any vine that has to reach its roots deep into the soil to find water and cling heartedly to the guide wire against the wind will have a firm anchor to withstand any climate” A Rumored Fortune

Struggle-a word I don’t like very much and I certainly am not a fan of the actual experience. While some of the struggles late in August were due to my desire for control of a number on a scale, the initial health struggles were merely a symptom of a much greater problem. I was not using any guide wires, much less the Ultimate Guide Wire.  Being forced into those struggles made me find that Guide Wire, it made me seek Water that would feed my dry soul, one that had been on the ropes and in a corner for far too long.

I thought I was a fine living off the nutrients of everything and everyone except the True Vine but my God loves me too much to let me wither up and die at the hands of the wrong attachments to people things and accomplishments.  So the pruning continued.  I was reminded of the beautiful scripture regarding vines and branches and the relationship between the two.

“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more” John 15:1-2. 

Sometimes the only peace I got during those hot summer August days were the times I opened this book, and with every page, my God met me there. 

“The appearance of death of a vine does not mean the end has truly come, every vine has its winter but when you cut below the stiff surface you will find life” A Rumored Fortune

While it certainly felt like the rope was finally going to break and I was going to fall to my death, I managed to get out of the corner.

I went looking for signs of life in my broken body, heart, mind and spirit. Clearing out the winter struggle continues to feel extremely selfish to me. But, with every bite of food, drink of water or good nights sleep I’ll begin to feel alive again. I’ll begin to experience the sweet nectar of life that comes from the true Vine.  I hope to stop looking for empty nutrients that I can provide.  I have to remember that the appearance of death does not mean that the Vine died, it is an opportunity to dig a little deeper and remember my attachment to the True Vine. And find life, under the damage of winter.

I am beginning to focus on living life as a loved and cared for offshoot of the Vine that gives abundant life. Not the kind of sugar water from an IV bag but from soul feeding nutrients that woke up my senses and reminded me that I don’t have to live life alone. I don’t have to fix everything.  I don’t have to control everything.  Because everything I need is holding on to me. And while I don’t like the pruning, I would need the precious truths of my life- giving Vine, because 2018 had one more punch for me.  And the rope broke, as did my heart.  And the first place I went is to my Vine.

YOLO, Pt 2

The entire month of July was spent commuting 120 miles from my house to Mayo Clinic. My weight continued to drop, I was incredibly malnourished and the sheer number of IVs I had in a single month probably rivaled that of most IV drug users. I sat in a room full of chemo patients for three days straight while I received IV steroids in an attempt to calm down an angry G.I. system. Whispers of feeding tubes and conversations like “she’s not progressing” filled the silent air, that silence only interrupted by the beeps of the heart monitor. They thought I was sleeping. But I heard them and I understood them–I understood every single word. When they weren’t talking, the silence was deafening.

Tests continued and for most of them I went by myself. Having plenty of experience in hospitals, I preferred it that way.

Until I didn’t.

After receiving one test result that would result in removal of polyps in my small intestines, I caved and asked Crissy to go with me. By the time the day of the procedure came, I was at my lowest weight–and it was impossible to ignore the concern in the eyes of everybody involved in my care. I’d managed to avoid mirrors, scales and even pictures because I realized I looked like I felt and for once in my life I was terrified.

As these things seem to go, the procedure was on a Thursday so the official results would not be ready until Monday. The weekend that followed that procedure was the longest weekend of my life. Even though the doctors told us that the polyps were likely just a result of an auto immune inflammatory process, I was terrified. This terror was new to me it occurred to me that unlike most times in my life I legitimately wanted to stick around on this planet. This was unlike the time I spent five days in the hospital after what should’ve been an accidental overdose. This new feeling of wanting to be alive, while it surprised me, also brought night terrors. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to live with cancer or some other scary diagnoses. This was new to me as I often would say over the years that if a diagnosis like that came, I would be okay with that. Something changed inside of me. I wanted to be and stay alive.

That weekend God and I had lots of conversations about performance and how much better or more efficiently I needed to perform for Him to give me a break. I remembered all the times I considered myself a mistake to a woman who did not want me and who left me. One of those weekend nights I remembered a portion of a book (“Falling For You” by Becky Wade)I’d read. And in the wee hours of the night I found myself looking for a particular portion of this beautifully written story that is laced with struggles of guilt, remorse and questions of God–big questions like being abandoned by a parent.

There is a part I’ve since dubbed “Willow’s Surrender” and when I found that passage in the book that night, tears dropped on the page as I was experiencing exactly what was being described there. I found the words on those pages anointed. A single quote is highlighted, underlined and then smeared because of tear drops. The heroine wondered “Is my faith too small or my regrets too big?” I had plenty of regrets, and I wondered if those regrets landed me in the health crisis I was experiencing. I knew my faith was too small. On the outside, I proclaimed a God Who does all things well, but the reality is that the heroine and I shared the same questions and experienced the same confusion of God.

But then I read two simple words:

“But Jesus”

Those words stuck with me. I tried to go back to sleep, but the panic attacks and fear kept creeping up and stealing the air from my lungs. I was simply terrified that I was going to die. I stood in front of my bathroom mirror and frantically tried to calm down and the the Lord brought those words to my mind:

“But Jesus”

I repeated the words over and over and then finally screamed:

“But Jesus WHAT?”

Suddenly my mind was flooded with the truth of Who He is, Who I had learned Him to be and Who He had proven Himself to be.

This I know, Jesus loves you because the Bible tells you so.

Jesus is not unfamiliar with our sorrows, because He Himself felt sorrow, He felt abandonment, and He carried my sin to my cross.

Jesus will finish what He stared, because when He starts a work, He finishes it.

Jesus accomplished everything that needed to be accomplished to cover my regret when He died on a tree made of wood He created–my performance is inconsequential because, He meant what He said when He said “It is finished”. It is, indeed, finished.

The remembrance of these things, and more importantly the recognition of them flipped the switch on my faith and my regrets. I found my faith to be growing and my regret shrinking.

I crawled back into bed that night with the surrendered heart not unlike that of the heroine in that beautiful work of fiction that is dripping with Jesus.

I closed my eyes and fell asleep but not before remembering one more “But Jesus”:

“I will never leave you or forsake you”.

I woke up the next morning with a peace that cannot be explained–even by the best wordsmith. So, when the phone rang and I realized it was the doctor I remembered those two words as I touched the green button to accept the call.

But Jesus

I barely heard his words that everything was benign. I truly think that no matter what the result would have been, I was in sweet community with Jesus, and while that book is written by a Christian author, those words were not hers. Those two words are imprinted on my heart and soul and would serve me greatly as 2018 was not done with me yet.

YOLO, Part 1

Maybe it was the anti-climatic Times Square acts, maybe it was an overdose of Ryan Seacrest, maybe it was because the ball wasn’t as pretty, but on December 31st, 2017 I decided I was going to make some changes. I realized how unremarkable my life seemed and I was determined to change it.

It was as if turning 46 just a few weeks earlier sent me into this weird phase and my relationship with time was transformed. As if on some sort of cue, the mirror reflected my years on this planet. And I did not like it one bit, nor did I feel like I’d lived enough life to match that mirror reflection. At the beginning of 2018, I had a twilight zone moment. I suddenly became aware of how the preceding decade was just gone, and I felt like I had very little to show for it.

So, I decided to have a YOLO year. I will admit, since I don’t hang out with high school kids anymore, there may have been a time when I had to google what that even meant.

“You Only Live Once”. It’s a fact for sure, but also the recognition of such and my drastic changes in behavior to make the most of every moment presented challenges. I don’t know if the expectation bar was too high or it the year itself was just going to be one like so many before, filled with loss, pain, health problems and blindsiding news. Either way, it will be the year I remember that I found God faithful, maybe more than ever before.

The year started fine but I’d began having appetite and stomach issues. Looking back, these issues became prohibitively difficult when we were in Maine just a few weeks before that New Years Eve when I decided to make my unremarkable life remarkable. I was convinced that the stomach and food issues were linked to stress, and certainly it played a part. But, as ironic as it may seem, my desire to have a YOLO year, as difficult as it started and is ending should never be able to happen.

My desire to make the most of every moment is a miracle. It is a reflection of deeper healing. Healing that is so profound that it has changed the landscape of my faith and outlook on life.

We had our annual girls weekend in January and my friends began commenting on my weight loss and I would smile and nod and chalk it up to stress. The girls weekend was a lot of fun and certainly my YOLO desire brought with it behaviors like putting down my phone in the presence of other people and shutting my laptop even if I needed to work. My love language is quality time and not unlike most people, I have a deep longing for more of it—sans the personal computer in our hands stealing our time. I became aware of my desire to be present and stop with any illusion that I can ever be anything near perfect. That quote “Present Over Perfect” became popular in 2018, but it truly was and is the desire of my heart.

We entered into 2018 as our 9th year at Watermark, and while that is certainly something to celebrate, it was an incredibly stressful year. I knew it was going to be and the hard conversations and decisions that had to happen was NOT on my YOLO list! Oftentimes, I stared at that fancy MBA on my wall with about as much bitterness as I do when I write the check every month to (still) pay for it. That very expensive piece of paper did little to bridge that huge stress gap, or the toll it took on me as evidenced by how badly I felt all the time, or by watching my body waste away because apparently food wasn’t on the YOLO list either.

I am not a CEO, not a good one anyway. I don’t mean that as a knock on myseIf. I don’t think being in leadership and having a heart for people are mutually exclusive but I don’t have the cut throat personality that often goes with the title. I am not willing to harm a human being for any amount of money or success. But, nevertheless, we had to make some changes and that took it’s toll on me. I continued to drop weight and I would go days without eating. And I didn’t care either.

Before spring rolled around, there were more YOLO moments, a Billy Joel concert with amazing tickets that cost stupid money, weekends in Jacksonville reconnecting with family, a lazy day spent on the river kayaking with manatee (and probably a few alligators) with Michelle and her too grown kids, our annual gathering in Crystal River with POstable friends and many other pretty cool things.

A cross country flight took me to a bucket list item and I fought the food demons on an Alaskan cruise. If I were to leave this planet today, know this: that trip was very near the top of my bucket list. Late spring brought with it a trip to Philadelphia with Crissy and Joy where we were in pure bliss. We hung out with one of our favorite authors, got a ton of free books, and made more memories. Weight continued to drop, people got louder and I continued to nod and smile.

Before summer I felt the intense pain of yet another loss. Kevin (step son) and I were rebuilding a relationship. He was clean and having him back in my life began healing a part of my heart and it was amazing. Hearing him call me “Mom” and watching him slay the heroine demon was truly not only one of the highlights of the year, but maybe of the decade. It was Joy so unexplainable that it’s probably easier to describe the pain that a single Facebook message brought. After a year clean, this 32 year old beautiful soul stepped out into eternity with a needle in his arm.

I was devastated. Besides the obvious, I can’t explain the devastation or what his death did in its attempts to derail my emotional healing. I couldn’t accept it as just another loss, and I found myself on an island, wondering as John The Baptist did, was Jesus really the Expected One?

By June, even I was scared of what I saw when I finally got on a scale. As part of my YOLO year, I’d planned a 3 week trip away to visit one of my closest and best friends and her family. I thought the change of scenery would serve me well, and Amy is an amazing cook with a family to feed, so I had thinly veiled hopes that I could jump start my appetite to stop the now scary weight loss. While my time there was amazing, and good for my soul, I got on the plane to go home at least 10 pounds lighter than when I’d left.

So July (really the entire summer) was filled with doctors, needles, MRIs, CT scans, bloodwork and 3 separate surgical procedures. At the end of all of those test and procedures more diagnoses of more health issues poured in, and I was officially out of the capacity to deal with any of it. Concern from friends and family felt more like a pressure cooker and I simply had zero ability to deal with any of it.

But Jesus.

Bring The Rain

 

“I could count a million times people asking me why I can praise you with all that I have gone through.  The question just amazes me how circumstances could possibly change who I forever am in You.  Maybe since my life was changed long before these rainy days it has never really crossed my mind—to turn my back on you Lord the only shelter from the storm.  So I pray bring me joy bring me peace bring the chance to be free bring me anything that brings You glory, I know there will be days when this life brings me pain, but if that is what it takes to praise You, Jesus bring the rain” Mercy Me, “Bring The Rain”

Rain.

It’s just water.  But water, “water can make cowards of us all”.

Rain brings life.  Rain takes life.  Rain comforts.  Rain frustrates.  

It’s raining.  It has been raining for a long time.  I have learned to identify the drops; the drops that threaten to take me out of the game from the ones that help my game.

But I want it to stop raining.  Just for a little bit.  I want to see the sun, I want to feel the warm breeze of euphoria for just a little bit.  Maybe just a minute.  And then it can start raining again.

This song by MercyMe has long been one of my favorite songs.  As I am waving my arms through the last fog of writers block, this song and this season of my life continues to bounce around in my head-and if history has taught me anything, when this happens, I know I need to write it.  Often at this point, I have no idea what I want to write, but at the intersection of surrender and gratitude, the keyboard seems take over the job.

As I get older I am learning that I really do desire structure, and much of my energies are spent on the search for and the ascension to solid ground.  The current season of my life seems determined to teach me that solid ground is not a place but a Person.  I realize that what I really seek is Peace, but again, age is teaching me that all of the things I think brings Peace are merely keeping me from the Giver of the life giving rains I am not digging at the moment.

I am cold.  I am scared.  And then I merely hear:

I AM.

Exhausted, I find myself evaluating everything.  Do I want Jesus to bring the rain?  Is that my prayer?  Do I believe He is my only Shelter from the storm?  Can I continue to praise Him after all that I have gone through?

I began this year determined to be present over perfect.  I was determined to seize the day.  I was determined to put my phone down, close my lap top, and have actual conversations with people.  The year of 2018 was to be my “You Only Live Once Year.”

As it seems, my enthusiasm for my YOLO year was met by opportunities to learn that every single moment is to be cherished.  Not different from many endings to the years of my life, I end this year with a significant loss of life as my stepson Kevin died of a drug overdose after being clean for over a year.  The memory of every single cold wait in a room surrounded by beeping machines at Mayo Clinic reminds me to seize the day.  And the fading memory of a giant in my life makes me drop everything and just be.

This trifecta of opportunities to re-evaluate everything I ever thought to be true has landed me grateful for two precious promises.

He NEVER changes.  He will NEVER leave me.

Memories of His faithfulness flood my tired mind and broken heart as I know He will continue to be faithful to do it again.  The rain sometimes clouds my ability to see His hand or feel His presence in my chilly world.  But I can’t do this life without Him.  As I seek His shelter, I beg for Grace to trust Him more.

Because the rain isn’t going to stop.  It may look different, but the rain isn’t going away.  And I realize my choices are limited, I praise Him in the storm or I get beat down by it.  And because He is the ultimate rain maker, I prefer His shelter from the storm He knows best.

I am still cold.  I am still tired.

But if the rain is what it takes to praise Him,

Jesus Bring The Rain.

But please walk with me.

Angel Story: Jennifer & Kelsie’s Story

 

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We hold these tiny computers in our hands, they make life convenient they give us directions, they keep us connected to our friends and family and they can be a device whereby we get information that drives us to our knees so hard that we can be certain that other people feel the fall on the other side of the world.

One Sunday morning, Laura’s tiny computer dinged beside her as she lay in bed nursing a headache.  She ignored the call at first, but when the phone rang again, Laura picked up to speak to her sister Jill.  Laura told me that she could hear the fear in he sister Jill’s voice.  “They are missing” her sister Jill told her.  Confused, Laura asked for clarification and Jill told her that their sister Jennifer and teen aged niece Kelsie were missing.  Jennifer’s boss said that she called in sick to work and Kelsie’s school reported that she was not at school, that Jennifer called her in sick.   Neither reported that the phone call from Jennifer indicated that anything was wrong, and certainly she did not have fear in her voice.  Laura told me that the entire family knew that something was off.  While they’d never heard of any physical abuse, Laura knew that Jennifer’s fiancé was controlling.  That morning when the family received a phone call about him being in ICU in New Mexico, Laura knew something was wrong.  She kept calling Jennifer’s cell phone and Kelsie’s too and when they both kept going to voicemail, she feared the worst. Laura was over 300 miles away so all she could do is stay connected to that phone and hope for the best.  Feeling helpless, all she could do was make calls and send text messages, asking for prayer.  The family immediately went over to Jennifer’s house to look for her.  They knocked on doors and looked into windows and nothing seemed out of the ordinary.  They called the police to do welfare check, again, nothing or no one was found.  Laura told me that she knew that he had killed them when they got word that he was in ICU in New Mexico.  His cousins were there with him bedside and confirmed that Jennifer and Kelsie were not there.

The family, desperate for answers called the police again.  This time, the police forced their way into the house.  A neighbor told the local newspaper “as soon as they got the door kicked in on the third try, we just knew as the family literally fell down and started crying”.  Meeting them at the door was Kelsie’s lifeless body in her own pool of blood.  As the police continued in the house, Jennifer’s body was found in the bedroom, she was also beaten to death, she too lying in her own blood, except he gently laid a comforter on top of her lifeless, bloody body.

The tiny computer dinged again, and Laura told me that she can still remember the exact words coming from her sister on the other line: “they are in the house”—I am sure the details of what came next are both permanently etched into Laura’s mind as deeply as she tries to forget those stinging words from her sister,  words that changed everything.

Her sister and niece were dead, and they were dead because of domestic violence.  Laura told me that she kept telling herself that “this doesn’t happen to us, this only happens in the movies”—but it had, in fact, happened to her family.  And they are still trying to make sense of it all, almost 5 years later.

Autopsies were performed and indicated that he’d killed them both by beating them with a baseball bat, a full two days earlier.  He had been last seen leaving the house that day, waving at the neighbor as if it were a normal day.  He then drove to the bank and withdrew all of their money out of their account and drove 10 hours to New Mexico, where they found him in the ICU 2 days later dying of a drug overdose.  His life held precariously in the hands of doctors who no doubt knew what he’d done, but treated him just the same, where he regained full health.  He was arrested for the murder of Jennifer and Kelsie and is now serving a life sentence in the Texas Department Of Corrections.

Jennifer was 44 years old, and Kelsie never got the chance to live her life at all.  We can’t imagine the terror that existed in that house that day that they were taken from this planet.  In this country, every 9 seconds someone is assaulted or beaten in this horrible epidemic we call domestic violence.  Family members that are murdered at the hands of an abuser, usually an intimate partner abuser, are left picking up pieces of their lives, except some of those pieces are so shattered that they can’t be picked up, they can’t be put back together, because for these angel families life will never be the same.  In Jennifer and Kelsie’s case, I am sure the family finds little comfort in his incarceration, but great comfort in knowing that he will never leave another lifeless body for a family to find in the most horrific of circumstances.

I came to know Laura’s angel story through my own little computer that dubs as a phone.  In that little black square box are fellow survivors and a community where we all find strength, hope and healing.  Surviving domestic violence and especially losing somebody to domestic violence is a special kind of pain.  It is a pain the likes of which some never recover.  So, I often log on to our community Facebook page and I meet people like Laura, and I listen to their stories and I am incited to do something about it.  Many of us have made it our mission to write, talk and scream until somebody listens to us.  I do not know the specifics leading up to that day, but I would imagine that there were warning signs, both visible and invisible.  I am sure Laura and her family spend their days misguidedly placing blame on themselves.  I am grateful that this family has an organization like “Break The Silence Against Domestic Violence” who provide for these “angel families” in many ways ranging from financial support to retreats, scholarships, Christmas adoption programs for kids affected by domestic violence and many other programs afforded to not just angel families but all persons affected by domestic violence.

Laura is a survivor too.  She may or may not have experienced domestic violence herself, but everyday she wakes up and tells the story or her sister and her niece she survives that pain so that she can tell the world that we all must take a stand against this.  Laura doesn’t want anybody else to get that phone call that changes everything.  Laura couldn’t explain her pain to me if she tried.  BTSADV has provided her with people who care and people who will listen.  Laura is surrounded by an online community of people who love her and people who understand the pain of losing a loved one in such a brutal fashion.  I am sure in the 5 years since Jennifer and Kelsie’s murder Laura has switched phones and that little tiny computer where she received the horrific news may be at the bottom of a lake somewhere.  But, it is my hope that now she uses a similar device to be reminded how much this country hates domestic violence and how much good people want to help.

It has been an honor (and a little bit difficult) to write Jennifer and Kelsie’s story.  And while it is an honor, Laura told her story to me and I am telling it to you in case you are inclined to help continue the community that is BTSADV.  You can make a one time gift or become a member.   No gift is too small and know that this organization exists solely to support survivors and angel families.  Because as Laura found out, this doesn’t just happen in the movies, this happens to somebody you know, this could happen to you.  And so let’s use all the tiny computers in the world to shout from the mountain tops NO MORE!  Please consider becoming a member today.

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Angel Story, Sarah’s Story

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This angel story was submitted by Sarah’s sister, Gretchen.  In her own words, she describes to us the traumatic life that she and her sister had leading up to her eventual murder.  Thank you Gretchen for sharing your story with us!

I am sharing these stories on my blog in hopes that during Domestic Violence awareness month that you would consider supporting the organization, Break The Silence Against Domestic Violence.  There are many opportunities to help including a one time gift or an ongoing membership.  You can find out more by visiting https://www.breakthesilencedv.org/become-a-member/

This is Sarah’s story, written exclusively by her sister and with very little editing from me.

I only tell this story in the hopes someone will learn from it, or  gun laws get stronger and the gun laws already in effect are enforced better. Sarah was the baby of the family and had 13 siblings. 11 of those siblings lived elsewhere with their other parent. So In our home there was only us 3 girls, and our mother. Our mother became very religious when Sarah started kindergarten. Going to church and being involved with all church functions. As a single parent trying to make a living, we all grew up quickly out of necessity. We were also taught to instantly obey adults, never talk back, never stick up for yourself, always turn the other cheek. Often hearing the phrase, “if you make your bed you have to lie in it”.  I believe all 3 of us ended up in bad marriages.  After all we should be keeping the men happy, no matter the cost of our health and happiness. But through all that Sarah grew up a happy child. We had no television due to religious beliefs, so we learned early to entertain ourselves, play outside, use our imagination. At 17 she fell in love with a man. She was head over heels, and wanted to get married within weeks of meeting him. My mother would not sign papers for her to marry early because he already had 5 children, with four of them living with him. They married 4 days after she turned 18.  They were pretty happy for a while. Whenever they had a disagreement he would just completely ignore her for weeks to months on end, without speaking, or even acknowledging she was in the room.  During the last year of their marriage she stepped out on him several times. I am certainly not proud of that. And that is when her killer came into the picture.  He probably would of just been another affair but she ended up pregnant. Her first husband moved away. And Sarah struggled with the guilt of her oldest daughter not having her father around. She was determined that would not happen again to her daughter, so she stuck it out, he was an alcoholic, he was suicidal several times. In and out of re-hab, using marijuana for sure.  They broke up several times and always got back together with him convincing her that they married for better or worse, in sickness and in health. And his sickness was the bottle.  He had a passion for  guns. Having had a felony he was not allowed to own guns.  So the few they registered were in her name. After that fateful day I learned there was over 25 guns in the house, stashed everywhere according to police report. Under sofas, under coffee tables, etc.  Two years almost to the day, Sarah collapsed at work.  She was life-watched into Wichita Hospital. She was having a brain hemorrhage. The drilled into her scalp and drained blood, in doing so they discovered an aneurysm. She had a 7% chance of recovery if she had surgery. We made the decision as a family to try because her children were 7 and 15 ( the fifteen year old had a baby).  It took nearly a year for her to recover.  She had memory issues, vision problems, shuffled her feet. The doctors recommended some therapy.  He told the doctor, “ nah, she’s home now, and doing well enough for sex”   I went back to the doctor later that day. and set up her therapy. Although that was not legal the doctor bent over backwards. She was definitely  a survivor at this point.   So moving ahead two years now. Brian was due for some surgery. He had mis-used his pain meds of course and was self-medicating that night with alcohol.  My sister was trying to sleep as she was working over the weekend. According the youngest child who was in the house and witness to the crime.  Brian would not leave her alone, begging for sex, etc. My niece said she finally went into the bathroom with him and had sex.  Then he demanded she get out of the house and don’t come back.  So she said, No you leave..  he went into the other room and came back with a military rifle and shot her twice in the chest. As she tried crawling towards the front door, he shot her four more times in the back. She was able to tell her 9 year old, I love you, get the phone and run.  And then Brian shot his head off. My niece called me at 3:30 am 9/9/12.

 

 

Angel Story: Brandi, And The Thief In The Night

 

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“She was always off on some kind of adventure. Heck, her life was one big adventure, whether she was camping on the beach or floating down the Comal River. She loved the water”

As I interviewed Brandi’s mamma for a featured “Angel Story” I found myself in awe at the strength of the woman telling me the story of her daughter who was stolen from her family when she was just 22 years old. Brandi was a fun loving kid who did well in school, and “rarely had to study”. Her mamma described her as the “life of the party” and followed up by telling me “she WAS the party”.

Brandi participated in pageants until she was 15 years old. She had an older brother who she called her “ketchup baby” because she put ketchup on everything, including his food! When she was 18, she and her brother walked her mamma down the aisle and Brandi gained 2 sisters in the process. Her room was a mess because she couldn’t be bothered to slow down enough to clean it. Her mamma told me that she was always on the go, but knew that she could always come home, and often did, for a warm meal and a mamma’s hug. She’d often show up at the last minute for a meal, and when she did her mamma knew that she was feeling down—and her favorite therapy was Disney movies and a beer with friends. Brandi loved lady bugs and had one tattooed on her foot. Her family now calls them “Brandi Bugs”. She loved animals and was always bringing home a stray and when she was murdered one of her beloved animals survived the torture that took her life and was found days later. She was loved by so many and even in death it was obvious to her family that their baby girl had very few, if any, enemies, and this is why her murder is difficult to understand.

Brandi was on break from college and working as a server in a restaurant where she’d worked since she was 15 years old. She didn’t bring her boyfriends around a lot but from what Brandi’s family knew of her murderer, he was a nice young man who seemed polite and seemed to care about the pageant winning, water loving, adventure seeking ketchup loving baby girl.

She lived with him for 3 weeks before that horrible Thanksgiving night when every thing changed. They’d spend the day celebrating Thanksgiving with family and ended up in a bar with some friends. This was the day that her boyfriend would become a thief in the night. Witnesses later testified that he and Brandi were arguing and a few times Brandi went outside to hide her tears and regain her composure. Many people at the bar offered her a ride home and she refused. She refused because he told her that if she left him that he would never speak to her again. He’d been exerting control over her for weeks since her car was broken and she depended on him for everything. They lived out in the country and she depended on him for everything. She had plans to move in with her father, but never got that chance. Because of the thief in the night, did what thieves do, he stole every next moment she would have.

We will never know whether the arguments of that night were related to her leaving him, but statistics tell us that the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is after one removes themselves from the situation.

They continued to argue (and drink) that fateful night so neither of them were fit to drive, both of them had a blood alcohol level well over the legal limit. But that did not stop him from driving anyway.

She didn’t know he had a gun. He legally possessed it for 3 months before that night. Later, it would be revealed that he had some mental illness issues and never should have been granted the gun legally, but he had been—and Brandi found that gun pointed at her head as he was driving down the road after they left the bar.

Her mama told me that after he pulled the trigger she likely did not suffer and if she did the alcohol she’d consumed likely helped with what must have been paralyzing fear. After shooting her, he drove past several hospitals and made one phone call to a friend. He admitted to killing the Brandi. He then attempted to crash the vehicle into his house in an attempt to take his own life. When that did not work, he dragged her dead body into the house, set the house on fire, laid on top of her and took his last breath less than an hour he’d stolen her last breath from her. Her mamma told me when it came time to lay her to rest they had to finish what he started and were unable to give her the funeral she deserved. In a cruel twist of fate, her body had to be cremated before her family and friends could say goodbye to the beautiful ladybug loving, family loving, water loving, beautiful daughter, granddaughter, sister and friend.

Brandi’s mamma wanted to make it clear to me that they did not LOSE Brandi to domestic violence; rather she was STOLEN from them. Because that is what domestic violence does, it steals–it steals dignity. It steals value. It steals lives. And even though Brandi’s family is breathing air, the memory of her and her loss brings painful breaths. Almost 8 years later, I could feel the pain in the words of Brandi’s mamma as she told me the story.

For families like Brandi’s, life is never the same. Many people don’t understand that this kind of loss often results in other horrible things like divorce, bankruptcy, severe illness and most of all a lifetime of grief. Senseless acts like this cannot be grasped by the human mind, much less a mother of a 22- year old beautiful girl who had her entire life in front of her. Brandi can no longer snuggle up with that fuzzy blanket and watch Disney movies with her friends. Her mamma will never see her happily married with a family of her own. She will never have the opportunity to see if Brandi would pass her love for ketchup on to her children. Her brother probably can’t even pick up a bottle of ketchup. All of them think of Brandi when they see a ladybug. I read once that “water will make a coward of us all” and while that may be true in the practical sense, this water loving baby girl was no coward. None of us can begin to understand what those last moments must have been like for her. As she felt the metal of the gun on her temple, I am sure her mama and her siblings flashed through her mind—she’d not told any of them about the verbal and emotional abuse she’d been enduring. And while Brandi’s mamma knows it wasn’t her fault, even in her communication with me I could feel the misguided guilt. One of the hallmarks of a domestic violence relationship is isolation and lies. Brandi had done both and her family had no reason to believe she was living with a monster. And somehow they must find a way to go on; and 8 years later I am sure it feels like it was yesterday, because we just aren’t wired to bury our babies.

When I asked Brandi’s mama what an organization like “Break The Silence” meant to her answer to me was simple.

“After losing my daughter to domestic violence, BTS reached out to me at a time when my own biological family were at a loss of what to say or do. They wrapped me in love and helped me put one foot in front of the other. They were my strength when I had none. Then, as my healing began, they gave me courage to do the same for others that have suffered the same as I. BTS is love. Pure love”

Those of us who are part of the BTS family agree. But we need your help to continue to reach families like Brandy’s. If you are interested in helping in any way, please visit https://www.breakthesilencedv.org/become-a-member/and consider either a one- time gift or a reoccurring gift to this life giving organization. Portions of monies donated are set-aside for angel families like Brandi’s.

As far as Brandi’s mamma is concerned, she remains a light and a pillar of hope to us all. Thank you Tammy for allowing us to tell your story. I know you want more than anything to never see another story like Brandi’s in the news or even within our survivor sister organization. As for Brandi, this world misses her light, and we will spend the rest of our days telling her story; may she rest in peace and may her story serve to educate those who do not understand that this is prevalent in our society. May each breath not hurt for you, and may the peace that passes all understanding guard your heart. Your BTS family loves you!