Intimacy and the Stumbling Christian Male (Adult Content)


Not too long ago, I was chatting with my gentleman caller – code name “Stockholm”- about some of our various online dating experiences. Stockholm and I are of type. Middle aged, educated, we take our faith seriously, and are interested in making a difference in the world around us. Stockholm and I have zero interest in the ‘hookup culture’ that seems to permeate the dating world today.

Throwbacks that we are, Stockholm and I share an  interest in romance, in finding another relationship that’s marked by kindness, cherishing one’s partner, and putting the needs of a future partner first.

In the several months that I have been exploring online relationship development, I’ve found that there continues to be a profound disassociation between what people will do or say online, and what will actually occur in the physical world.

Consider intimacy, Visitors.

I’ve long operated on the assumption that humans of all ages crave intimacy. We desire to be known, we want someone close to hear us, to listen to our innermost desires or fears,  to actually view our hopes and dreams in as much vivid color as we see our own.

It is incredible to me how quickly the desire for intimacy  gets transmogrified into a desire for sex.

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trans·mog·ri·fy
transˈmäɡrəˌfī,tranz-/

verb

humorous
past tense: transmogrified; past participle: transmogrified
  1. transform, especially in a surprising or magical manner.
    “the cucumbers that were ultimately transmogrified into pickles”
    imgres.png
Anyone who has wandered into the world of online dating knows the drill. Share some basic information, upload some pictures, answer questions that make a stab at intimacy. I get where these dating app developers are going, they are addressing the very desire we are talking about here.
On OKCupid, I have long felt the belle of the ball. I get DOZENS of overtures weekly, sometimes daily. I skim through them, apply some screening criteria, and pick and choose the ones who appear promising. Ones who appear to be solid Christian men, educated and interested in the same things as I. I would respond to overtures, engage in some online back-and-forth chit chat, and generally see where things went.
To date, gentle Visitors, I have been the recipient of FOUR pictures of these gentlemen’s genitalia.
Sit with that for a minute, Visitors, and then you can crack up.
FOUR DICK PICS! FOUR!
These are the SCREENED MEN, Visitors!

The first one, frankly, I was tempted to share with you here. I mean, the opportunities for hilarious mockery were endless. The man in question was not fit, and had taken pains to find a horizontal full length mirror. Wearing nothing but a scowl, he, his limp member  and substantial gut were captured for the world to view, and he sent this treasure to me.

GAG!

The others were more anonymous, which led to some puzzled head-scratching on my part. Ok, so this one was large. This one, a disconcerting shade of purple, this one was most definitely photoshopped to an unappealing length.

WHAT on earth is going on? I ranted about this to Stockholm, and he assured me he found my profile to be articulate, erudite and even funny. Thus, I can’t say I was attracting the trash factor. WHAT on earth made these men think it was OK to do something so demeaning?

( I got this hilarious groaner from the political Stockholm shortly after this discussion-

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The friendly Dick Nixon. 

“This is the only Dick Pic you’ll get from me!”  Facepalm!)

As I wandered further in the dating wilds, I screened and met many other interesting men. One, a fit, accomplished leader in the business world, who simply could not stop talking about his accomplishments. They were considerable! He was affluent, well-liked in his world, and had a heart for Philippine orphans. Looking for wife number three, “Ed” was so caught up in his own desire for intimacy, he had no room for mine. I simply could not get a word in edgewise with Ed regarding my own aspirations.

“Dave” was another. Recently divorced, Dave was a COO of a large manufacturing firm. A solid Christian, Dave and I had many discussions about very intimate things. Love, loss, politics, church life, the state of the world, all sorts of closely-held topics. Dave was a world class athlete, well-travelled and a genuine desire to follow Jesus anywhere. Imagine my surprise when I discovered Dave was simultaneously cultivating similar intimacy with other women across the country. (Women, I can feel your eye-rolls from here. Selfish to the extreme. )

The tales of middle-aged, self-absorbed, needy Christ-professing men went on, and on, and on.

It’s enough to wear me out. What to conclude from all of this, Visitors? Well, first off, the desire for human connection is only natural. Really, it is. I get it! I am convinced God made us this way. Very, very few of us are made to be the ‘lone wolves’ of society, we simply need each other.

But at what cost? Honestly, all laughter aside, it disgusted me that these men who seemed appealing thought so little of me that I’d be interested in such pictures. It is dismaying to see that the “Daves” and “Eds” of the world could be so completely self-absorbed that the needs of a partner would simply not be part of the equation. No space for my dreams, no space for my interests or desires.

I can only conclude that the divorced population  of Christian men has some inner work to do. Trust me on this one, gentlemen, grief is hard. You are not ok.  “Getting back up on the horse”- that is to say dating immediately after your divorce- is a simply terrible idea.

Your divorce has left you scarred, just like my widowhood has left me. What can you learn? How can you be a better partner?  Christian men especially, how can you authentically, honestly put the needs of someone else before your own? Things have changed, middle age is different than your twenties, you are different, and believe me, no woman of character wants to see your dick pic.

You know what though? This kind of work rocks. I’ve wrestled with these questions since Chris died. Thank heaven for good counsel, great friends, and the forgiveness of those who love me. We can make progress, we can figure this out, we can find like minded friends. We’ve got this.

I think  I might even ask Stockholm to lunch.

Much love,

Victoria

Life at 52: Finally Playing With A Full Deck


So, I turned 52 a little while ago, Visitors, and I couldn’t be happier.

When I was younger, I thought that the fifties would be some sort of gateway into senior citizenship. As if five decades carried some sort of identity card that gave me street cred, and I could lord it over those younger than me.  (Oh, wait, what about that red AARP card?  How did they know my birthday, anyway? Creepy.)

Hilarious.

Hilarious.

Instead, I find it cause for meditation and action.  One of my favorite Star Trek characters once said “Recently, I have become aware there are fewer days ahead than there are behind.” (TNG, Picard, for you purists.) Well said. In our fifties, this is likely the case.

Since Chris died, I have been acutely conscious of the fact that time is more valuable than gold. It’s funny, if you’ve walked with someone to their death, perspective changes on all sorts of things. When Chris was fighting his battle, the cancer establishment that surrounded me often concentrated on achieving ‘more birthdays’, ‘more events’, ‘more time together’. I grew to appreciate that idea then, and treasure it even more now.

I was discussing this type of thing with a new friend the other day. He’s about the same age, and we were sharing stories of how we had gotten to where we are.

I  listened to my friend’s meditative  inventory.  He listed to me all the things that were going right in his life, all the reasons he had to be thankful. I realized that at this age, I do that all the time myself. Kids doing well? Check. Dad all right? Check. Roof overhead, food on the table? Check. No looming disasters of impending doom barreling down the tracks at me? Not today, thank God.

See, Visitors, Jesus said that there are some things we will always have with us. The poor. Troubles. Trials. Oddly, we are to ‘consider them pure joy’ because these things produce endurance and maturity in us. In James 1, we are told that this will make us ‘mature and complete’ lacking in nothing. Yah, I guess I can see that.

I grow so tired sometimes though, of Christians who preach that we are somehow entitled to abundance of any kind. In the midst of the past few years of suffering, I have grown weary of the idea that we are somehow entitled to ANYTHING at all. The Apostle Paul says we are to owe nothing, except a debt of love to each other. (Romans 13) Matthew 25 says that when we are kind to people with less, it is as if we are being kind to the King of Heaven.

So, perhaps we are entitled to kindness from our brothers and sisters.  Imagine with me, if you will, Visitors. What if we actually did share with those who have less, as if we were sharing with Jesus? What if we lived debt-free, except for the ‘debt of love’ owed each other, that Paul talks about in the book of Romans? Hmm. What a wonderful world that would be.

In the mean time, I reflect on my own worldliness. I’ve gotten beat up since Chris, my mom, and everyone had the nerve to die on me. This is true. My list of ‘wrongs suffered’ is pretty long. Really, though, in these smooth sailing times, it’s a lot easier to see that God actually does heap blessing up on blessing to us undeserving Christians. I’d like to see that more clearly in the midst of the storm.

That’s a prayer for myself. Clarity.  Also, to be more willing to share. Share more, share better, give for no reason other then we are asked to do so. Our heavenly Father loves us, and we love Him, and he asks us to do this. Share our money, share our  time, be the kind of Christ in the flesh that Jesus would want us to be.

Share too, of our maturity. Visitors, those of us who have endured great loss, do you ever feel like this? Princess Louisa, a child of the king. Her battle for clarity, purity, servant to her people, all have left marks on her body and scars on her face.

What's next, for my people?

What’s next, for my people?

Or the weariness of Donal O’Sullivan, the last prince of Ireland, preparing his people for a losing siege against the merciless British?

Weariness can overtake.

Weariness can overtake.

Our suffering has given us gifts. (I never, ever thought I would say that.) We are marked, to be sure. Some of our marks are permanent, and hard to view. Hard as it is to believe, people look to us after suffering. People look to us for reassurance, for succor, for guidance. We’ve been where they are. We understand. Let’s lead our people with our endurance, maturity and grace.

Much love,

Victoria

 

 

Full Throttle Aging: Here We Go!


Volume One: Who Are You And What Have You Done With My Body?

     Visitors, I turned 50 over a year ago, and it’s more fun than should be allowed. I’ve got this curious affliction going, where time just rockets along the older I get. Ever notice that yourself?

I’ve been toying with the whole aging thing since Chris died. Honestly, all of us know that colon cancer is usually an older person disease, Chris was part of that 3 percent that gets diagnosed before 50. In the five years that he’s been gone, I’ve been slowly settling in to the fact that time keeps rollin’ along. I have this horror of getting stuck anywhere along my timeline, so I figure I better shake it off and figure it out.

When I turned 50, I noticed a peculiar thing happening. Pre-50, I could pretty much eat whatever I wanted, go about my usually frenetic lifestyle, and hover around the low 130’s, weightwise. During the winter of my 50th year, I  noticed the Newkirk Chubby Handles growing a little bigger. Well, hell, it was November, barreling into the usual confections of Christmas and New Years, who cares if I got a little bigger? January melted into the hearts of February, and March arrived with me fully twelve pounds heavier than that the previous fall.

WHAT on God’s green earth was going on? Now, before you think me the shallowest of body-obsessed fools, consider this. Unusual weight gain or loss is a sure sign of physiologic change. This was very unusual for me, so rather than just blithely go along, it behooved me to pay attention. I have folks who worry, after all.

So I made the rounds. Thyroid, check. Other cancer markers, check. Routine blood tests, check. Menopause (that silly word) comes late in my family, check. No cancer or other soul-sucking disease, today, anyway. So what was going on?

The answer from my doctor, a giant, crashing NOTHING!

“It happens, Victoria. Things slow down. You’re probably eating slightly more, and working out slightly less, and your metabolism isn’t as efficient.”

Huh. It happens. I pondered that for a while. Honestly, I’m sure all of us have heard the same thing, friends slow down, start complaining about their various ailments and expanding waistlines, how it’s all downhill after 50.

Not for ME it isn’t. So I thought about it. Eventually, I connected with my trainer, the illustrious Michele Sodon and her Fit Photage program. Fit Photage is a hard core regimen of diet,  and deliberate, conscientious exercise. I decided to take the twelve week plunge on this thing, and work toward the prize of an excellent photo shoot with the wonderful Dustin Sheffield of Dustin Sheffield Photography.

See, Visitors, I had heard this story so often it was trite. So many of my clients, after producing a string of bouncing babies, go about their lives and blossom into these heavy, complaining Evergreeners who mourn their age, their lives, their slipping athleticism,  and eventually the hand God has dealt them. I just can’t stand that.

Michele is this  deeply caring little firecracker of a woman, who used to lift competitively and still competes often. She scorns skinny jeans, and trash talks her clients nine ways to Sunday. The schedule was intense, I saw Michele four days a week, and picked up the slack the other two on my own.

The gains I made were impressive. I lost nearly two inches on my waist, picked up about an inch and a half on each arm, and the two inches I lost on my waist reincarnated themselves into a firmer, stronger back and chest measurement. I also stopped eating wheat entirely, cut out my daily Starbucks cold turkey (FORTY SEVEN grams of added sugar. FORTY SEVEN. That’s what, eight teaspoons, fellow lifters?) and ate six or seven times a day. I refocussed my eating toward protein, fresh everything and processed nothing, and lost almost six of the twelve pounds gained. I also learned to leave the scale obsession back in my dancing days. It wasn’t good for me then, and it’s not good for me now.

The thirty year old 132 lb dancer was a pretty good stage, but this 51 year old power lifter is even better. I’ll take it.

Much love,

Victoria

Next time- Full Throttle Aging: Dancing with the Stars.

 

(Photo credit: Dustin Sheffield of Dustin Sheffield Photography. He makes me look pretty good, don’t you think? )

 

Divorced Baby Boomer Men Are The Most Fragile Of The Species


So I’m in Puerto Rico now, Visitors, because my son asked me to come see him accept an award from AGC, the Association of General Contractors. Frankly, I find that to be manly as can be. This kid did a project that landed him a week-long, all expenses paid trip to Puerto Rico, a cash gift and a nice plaque, and he asks his mother to accompany him? How secure is that?

This got me to thinking about some recent escapades I’ve had with some remarkably insecure baby-boomer men. See, I’ve discovered that single men my age (just turned 50) can be categorized. Category 1- about 1%. Never married. What’s up with that? Heartbroken? Ok, but for decades? Mommy issues? Rather just be single? Ok, fair enough, but can we quit pretending we’re interested in a solid relationship with a woman?

Category 2- Widowed. Another 1%. Of that tiny fraction, about half have no business dating, they need to grieve their wives, and not kid themselves they are OK. Get busy boys, it’s a lot of work, trust me on this. The other part of that fraction? I’m not sure they actually exist, except once on a blood moon I see a happy, settled, widowed man announce his engagement. Generally to a widow.

Category 3-and buckle up- 98%. Divorced And Fragile As Hell. There’s a gentleman in my life, we’ll call him “Mitch”, who’s company I really enjoy. He’s divorced, bright, educated, hilarious and capable of great kindness to me. We recently had a discussion where he admitted to me that he was ‘as intimidated as hell’ by me.

“Really? By me? What on earth is that about?” Mitch and I had great talks.

“Well, I guess I’m old fashioned, but I think the guy should be the provider. You know, make more, give his lady things. You don’t really need anything from me. ”

(Mental facepalm)

“I drive around in my beater cars, and live in a little house in Broomfield.” Mitch pauses.

“Mitch. What. Seriously? You own those things. You have 20 percent left to pay on your house. I’d much rather be driven around in a beater you own than some fancy car you have out on payments. You know this. I also admire your discipline about your house. You know this too. ” Mitch and I talked a lot about economics.

“Well, I don’t know, Victoria. You’re beautiful and driven, and financially better off than me. That’s just kind of intimidating.”

When Did This Happen?

Visitors, maybe because I’m more firmly established in my widowhood. Maybe it’s because I’m fifty. Maybe it’s my manly son, who had a secure man as a dad for 18 years, but I just couldn’t stand it. Mitch’s paycheck isn’t that much smaller than mine, and are we really so fragile?

“Mitch. You’re just going to have to deal. I’m done apologizing for who I am. If we’re going to be friends, than accept me for who I am and what I do. ”

THAT was six weeks ago. Yep, not a word.

Another, this one a  divorced business associate. You folks know I dabble in real estate. I’m negotiating a little bitty condo deal right now in Denver. The owner has his mother, yep, his 70 plus year old mother, respond to all of my negotiations.

Recently, I laid out a fairly short list of inspection objections, totaling about three grand.  His MOTHER nearly ripped my head off . I was bossy, I was demanding, I was uninformed, and the answer was no.

Fine, I walked away from the deal. The son, FINALLY, sent me a meek little email asking if I would still be interested if the conditions were met. I got what I knew was reasonable, and the son made a jaggy little comment about ‘how I drove a hard bargain’. Really? What makes you such a wuss? It’s just business, and didn’t you learn not to take that personally your first job? Honestly.

Seriously? Say it isn't so, men. Please.

Seriously? Say it isn’t so, men. Please.

Still another, someone I thought was a dear friend. Divorced, ex- military, we had been friends for a couple of years. We cycled in and out of each other’s lives, a delightful ebb and flow. Recently, we had a lovely dinner together. I thought about it afterwords, and decided I was done with the incidentalness of things, and wanted to see my friend more.

I sent him an email, and made some suggestions. A picnic at the lake? A bike ride? A hike in the park?

Poof! Like magic, my friend disappeared. That was three months ago. Thinking the best, I sent him a couple of texts. “Are you OK? Kids all right? Everything OK in your world? ”

Not a word. Then “Friend, did I offend you? What’s up? ” The silence was deafening. Sigh.  What else to think but I some how broke something fragile in this man. Again.

Well, for heaven’s sake. How frustrating. Nary a male soul my age to be found who isn’t a quaking flower, unable to deal with a strong, self-directed woman like me.

So I’m stumped, Visitors.  Suggestions? I like men, I’d like one in my life. But I utterly refuse to be something I’m not, to cater to a frightened, oversensitive, fragile man. What do you think? Am I being to hard on them? Suggestions and thoughts are welcome.

Much love,

Victoria

Some Sundays are Like That


This is a picture of Christopher a couple of years ago when he was improving his accuracy skills. “Accuracy” in skydiving, means jumping out of a plane two miles in the air, piloting your canopy to a landing spot, and placing your feet within a three foot circle. In competition, it means stomping your foot on an eight inch circle that sounds an alarm, while the judges mark you for points.

He called me up after this jump, and with his heart in his mouth, breathlessly told me “First off, Mom, I’m still alive.” (Great opener, son. ) Turns out, he had misjudged his landing and collided with an unexpected gust of wind, and had gotten dragged along by his face for several yards. (Later on that year he won a bronze medal in a National Collegiate accuracy event.)

It’s funny, Visitors, how grief can sometimes feel that unexpected. Those of you who are grieving, ever notice that? Things in Lierheimer Land are actually pretty good right now. Christopher’s interning in LA on a massive subsidized building project, Faith landed a competitive yearlong spot in England at the University of York, Abi is buzzing along in Savannah, and Rachael comes home from Warren Tech with the most interesting tales from her forensic studies. (It’s hilarious to watch crime shows with her now. She’ll stop CSI and yell “Wait! No! They’re doing it WRONG! Mom……)

I’ve started Class Two in my graduate sequence in Criminology, with the emphasis in Psychopathology at Regis. It’s utterly fascinating. It’s fast, engaging, a ton of work and very much where I want to be.

I think too, that I’m getting a handle on this single thing. Except when I’m not, like today. Lazy Sunday mornings were a favorite around our house. I’d make banana pancakes, Chris would make coffee, and the kids would laze around until it was time for church.

Now, today, I feel like my son in that picture. Sort of raw. I miss Chris’ warm feet, I miss him stumbling around until coffee, I miss (acutely) telling him what all these kids are doing, and man, didn’t we do the right thing by them (so far, anyway).

Well, anyway. I try and draw something out of this, if not something good, at least something useful. It was a beautiful day when Christopher marked up his face,  and it’s a beautiful day today. I get to go to church with Rachael and Dad, and that’s always a treat.

I suppose I’ll always miss Chris to some degree or another. Were he here, I think he’d encourage me to go out, get the gym, go to church, and not sit gazing out the window and wondering what he’s up to.

Warm regards, Visitors. Much love to you all.

Victoria

On Weddings and Victoria’s Garden


Here’s a picture of a good friend of mine.

Rose was a beautiful baby!

Rose was a beautiful baby!

I knew Rose shortly after she was born. She came in this dress to my wedding, staged right here in 1987.

Happy Anniversary, Chris Lierheimer.


images-4

Twenty seven years ago today, I :

*Was very young. 23 seems a lot younger now than it did then.

*Was twelve pounds lighter and had great knees! It’s amazing the noise they make now.

*Decided that life with Chris Lierheimer was better than life without him.

*Thought that all an abused man needed was the Holy Spirit and the love of a good woman. (There’s a book about naivete in there somewhere. )

*Was lighthearted. Thought PTSD was a designer disease for slacker soldiers.

*Thought a lot less than I do now. Pretty much accepted what my conservative Baptist upbringing gave me, word for word.

*Thought about ‘terminal’ in terms of trains and airports.

*Was exceedingly self-absorbed. The world was my oyster, and I was going to make a difference.

*Had no idea what an ‘intact family’ was. Didn’t everyone have one? What’s up with making a special name for what’s normal?

Now, twenty seven years later, on this day, I:

* Am 50. That seems so substantial. My peers are busy getting their minds blown about teetering on the brink of old age, and I don’t have time for that. As far as I’m concerned, 50 is High Noon, so let’s get busy!

*Weigh in at around a buck forty instead of a buck thirty. Guess what? I’m never going to stand on a pointe shoe again, and good for the 23 year old Victoria who could. My body has mothered four children, seen a good man to his grave, held the hands of dying men and women, and kissed my own mother goodbye. I’m delighted with this ‘car’ God gave me to drive around while I’m here, in spite of the fact I have to take in for repairs more often. I can swim, run around, hike, ballroom dance, turn the heads of the middle aged man set, (and a few women) -In short, this body rocks.

*Still think that life with Chris Lierheimer was better with him, than without him. It would be now. I’m sitting on the porch of our lovely little family cottage in Upstate New York, watching the herons and loons go by. Having kids is great to share these things with, but having him would be better.

* Realize that paternal abuse is about one of the most heinous things someone can do to a child. Chris needed years of therapy before marriage, and certainly before children. Had his mother addressed this instead of denying it, many of our bumps would have been diminished.

*Carry a lot more weight around. Chris’s death was the most traumatic event I have ever endured, and the fallout from PTSD lasts. More on that later.

*Realize the kind of Baptist upbringing that I had was a genuine mixed bag. The youth leader was a charismatic high school teacher who actually believed that Catholics likely weren’t Christians because they worshipped saints. All the ‘cool’ kids went to youth group, and chubby stutterers like me were relegated to the outskirts. On the other hand, we hand a constant, steady stream of solid grounding in the Scripture, and for that I am grateful.

*Shudder less at the word ‘terminal’. My good friend Clare Flourish (clareflourish.wordpress.com) unwittingly gave me a piece of life-changing wisdom a few columns ago. We were trading experiences about seeing our fathers age, and in her case, die. She told me that she had, rather than a sense of ‘a life lost’, ‘a life completed’, at the loss of her dad. I believe that we were created not to die, but to live with God and enjoy Him forever. Clare’s words gave me a vision of my dad finishing the work he was to do, and getting off at his terminal. He’s going to be with his father, and his Heavenly father. This is a good thing. Thank you, Clare Flourish.

*Am a great deal less self-absorbed. Thank God. Had I no children, no husband, no divorced, agnostic, Jewish, Buddhist, doubting, gay, transexual, young, elderly or otherwise different friends, I’d be a crashing boor. I shudder at the thought.

*Mourn the loss of my intact family. There is simply no getting around that. My dear friend Bird Martin (everyonehasastory.me) once observed  …wouldn’t we want our loved ones to keep a little token of us in their hearts should the roles have been reversed?…Chris will have left behind a little legacy in that you will be little more empathetic for others who are going through the same thing. Don’t fight it in those sad moments when you think of him. Embrace the fact that he deserved to have someone grieve for him  here on earth.”  

I find this to be true. And as I said a few days ago, some pain demands to be felt. But my family is not intact and I wonder where the fractures will end. God is the Great Physician, to be sure, but we do not know His plans.

Even so, life is good. On this, my twenty-seventh anniversary, my children and I raise a glass of peach wine to that marriage day long ago. Happy anniversary, Chris Lierheimer.

Much love,

 

Victoria

On Kenya, Uhuru and My Own Freedom Child


“232234523234”

A line of random digits appeared across my Caller ID. I’m always suspicious of that kind of thing, I’m amazed that Apple hasn’t figured out how to conquer phone spam yet.

“Victoria Lierheimer”.

Chris started identifying himself by his name about a year before he was diagnosed. Sounded more professional than ‘Hello’, he thought. Frankly, I thought it was just a more intimidating way to answer the phone,  and I liked it.

“Hi Mom!” There was a slight pause, “It’s Faith! I’m using  E-‘s phone! He can get reception in Kenya and I can’t!”

Good Heavens! The Luddite in me is still astonished that communication can take place halfway around the world through this slim little metal box in my hand. One of my babies was calling my phone, maintaining that family connection that has grown as slender as a spider silk, these days.

Those of you who have been with me for a while know that Faith and Christopher were rear-ended by a careless driver coming home from my mother’s funeral, January, 2012.  (For details, the essay here is “The Surprising Adventures of Single Motherhood”) Faith broke her wrist, and Christopher sustained a minor concussion.

The other driver was fine. As “Death By Infuriated Mother” is not acceptable punishment for such carelessness, I had to settle for a personal injury attorney. He netted all accident-related bills paid for, of course, and a small cash settlement for both children.

For Faith, this settlement proved to be pivotal in her growth. We had long talks about what ‘pain and suffering’ actually mean in an award like this, and it was a great opportunity for self-awareness.

How would this cash help alleviate the ‘pain and suffering’ brought on by this accident? What would a bigger bank balance actually do for the pain of suffering an injury on the day of her beloved grandmother’s internment?

Well, it’s a matter of the heart, really. Faith’s heart, along with those of the rest of my children, had been crushed by the death of their father, a mere 18 months earlier. Then, Nana passed, another blow. What would serve to help lift Faith out of this accident-aggravated depression?

Enter Uhuru Child.

http://www.uchild.com/

Uhuru means ‘freedom’ in Swahili, and it’s an effort by Brad Brown and his wife Annie Johnson to figure out sustainable solutions to enormous poverty problems in Kenya.

Faith is near Nairobi

Faith is near Nairobi

These kids are exploding with the desire to bring some sort of the life of Jesus Christ to people mired in some staggering poverty.

Faith, at 19, is on the cusp of figuring out what direction she wants her life to go. All of my children are fairly other-centered, thank God, and every one of them have some pretty interesting unselfish stories to tell.

But Faith is the one who’s inner well-being seems to depend on this type of thing. She decided that this is where she would like to spend her money. She decided this in March, and has researched, worked and learned about the goals over there for months. It was a remarkable thing to watch. This goal really has done a lot to alleviate her ‘pain and suffering’, and breathe some life into her developing adulthood.

Uhuru child has a major goal of sustainability. Western charitable projects in countries like Kenya develop an unhealthy dependence on the flow of money from their donors. When that flow dries up, so do the projects.

Uhuru child has a goal of developing jobs and schools that can maintain themselves. Click on this thing to see something you don’t see in America. This is awesome.

http://vimeo.com/47913640

Faith has been working on lettuce farm for a week. With U-child’s inital startup, this is a functioning, self-sustaining business, that will be there long after the Westerners go home. 

Faith will be there for another week. My child’s heart is changing, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch.

Much love to you, Visitors.

Victoria

Addenda: Recently I’ve taken more care with studying faces. Here a couple for you!

Goofie selfies are the universal language of fun!

Goofie selfies are the universal language of fun!

Building Bridges in Kenya

Building Bridges in Kenya

Weird Christian Attitudes About Money


imagesChris and I had a simply terrific pastor for pre-marital counseling. His name was Mark Brattrud, and he pastored a little Full Gospel church that met in a Howard Johnson’s in Albany. Mark was perhaps thirty at the time, married for a few years with a couple of small kids. The church grew like wildfire. Made up mainly of college kids and young marrieds, we got the job done.

We sent out missionaries, sent up Sunday school programs for little ones, and had all kinds of positive things going in the community. I’m convinced that one of the reasons this happened was because Mark took what the Bible had to say about money very seriously.

At the time, a man named Larry Burkett had started a ministry called Christian Financial Concepts out of Georgia. Larry merged his ministry with another one, and it’s now called Crown Financial Ministries. Larry passed away after that from cancer, but Crown continues to thrive.

Mark got all of the “managing your money God’s way” materials and made Chris and I study them together as part of our counseling. We learned all kinds of things like this:

*Jesus talks more about money than any other topic except salvation and love. “Did you know that?

“The Bible has a lot to say about finances and belongings. I have researched God’s Word and found more passages about money and possessions than about heaven, hell or the Second Coming. The Bible offers more than 500 verses on prayer and fewer than 500 on faith — but more than 2,350 verses on money and possessions! There is no doubt that the church should have something to say about financial matters in the church as well as in the secular world.” (www.crown.org)

*”Thou Shalt Not Go Into Debt” is nowhere to be found in the Bible. It does, however, admonish us with all kinds of scary images about debt. Ps. 37:21 calles us “wicked” if we borrow and do not repay. Proverbs 22:7 says the “borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” Yikes!

* Money is intimately connected to your heart.

Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

So, Pastor Mark wanted Chris and I to “hide these things in our heart” from the very beginning of our relationship. Considering that nearly 80% of all divorces cite “Money” as one of the top 3 reasons for splitting up, this was a very wise idea.

Anyone who’s been married for a while knows that reasons for arguing with your spouse abound. It’s nice to knock “Money” off the list from the beginning. I can sit here and tell you with clear eyed truthfulness, Chris and I never argued about money, because of this early training.

So, now that  he’s gone, what to do? In the previous post, I related to you a gritty situation I found myself in regarding money.

The megachurches I have been involved in over the past years, sadly, don’t seem to handle their money well. Before Chris was diagnosed, we attended a church up here that has since shut down. Money was a constant issue. The church was affluent and well attended. It was estimated that the average annual income of the attendees there amounted to about 70 million dollars a year. (Average household income in the area about 70,000$ a year, times about a thousand regular givers.)

Out of the seven years we went to that church, it stretched to meet a two million dollar budget. Jesus asks us simply to tithe. Just tithe, or give ten percent of our income. Jewish folks actually were encouraged to make all kinds of other offerings, the ten percent was a minimum.

Had my old church simply been obedient and tithed, our annual budget would have tripled. Think of it. Seven million dollars. We could have started a free medical clinic, immunized poor kids, supported food pantries, had every single ministry in the family of God provided for abundantly, very likely with some left over.

This is, sadly, the modus operandi of most American megachurches. Honestly, it’s so irritating I could spit. My kids and I talk about this type of thing all the time, and fortunately, so far, their training in generosity seems to have ‘stuck’.

Ten percent isn’t that much. If we can’t get along with 90 percent of what most Christians make, we seriously need to reevaluate.

Did you ever notice, too, that Christians can’t seem to talk about this type of thing without raising up a whole crop of squirrely attitudes?

I got blasted the other day by a regular reader about the previous post. David is a doll, and one of my most valued friends. Still, he’s a redheaded Irishman, and trusts me enough to let loose now and again.

“Victoria! You should take that post down! You can’t assume about people’s financial situations! And besides, you’re making yourself out to be this loaded chick with more money than God! You are sounding very manipulative!”

Hmm. I thought about it. Really, I did. David is one of about 5 people that I actually listen to when they criticize me.

I realized that David was right about some things.  Since Chris and I used God’s principles of handling money from our marital infancy, we’ve always had a surplus. The point of that surplus, after the needs of the family are met, is to give it away. Really, it’s not brain surgery, a minimum of study will reveal that God owns it all anyway, so we may as well be obedient.

Very, very few Christians are obedient in this way.  Thus, people like me come across as indiscreet. How unfortunate. How much better for ALL of us to be obedient, and maybe even get together and TALK about the good we could be doing with a surplus!

When Chris and I were young, we had the joy of discovering that even a well placed 50$ could make a world of difference to someone. As we went along, we learned about how wise Christians provide even for their children’s children (Proverbs 13:22) and how we need to know where our money goes and have a plan for it (Proverbs 27:23) .

The blessings of this sort of concrete planning are really pretty cool. I think the best part of this type of thing is the joy that comes with contentment. Chris and I were not millionaires, and with four children to educate, I’m not  going to be that, probably ever. But we knew the faces of our flock, AND knew the faces that came with sharing with those of us who don’t have a surplus, and could use some of ours.

So, my friends, lay off the judgements, if you please. I talk about giving because it’s what Jesus asks us to do, not because I’m made of money. Also because I think it’s pretty darn fun.

I would dearly love to talk to YOU about giving, because I know for a fact, somewhere you have a fifty lurking around that could change someone’s life. You know you want to, don’t you. images-1

Much love to you all,

 

Victoria

On Christian Misogyny and Feral Children


Last week was an interesting one for me in the annals of human behavior. A friend of mine started a  program at my church.  I wanted to help and provide some financial support. It was turned down by the board of elders, all of whom are white, wealthy men.

Now, before I lose you, understand that I’ve devoted a large part of my teaching career to carrying out what Martin Luther King really meant when he said that he wished his children would be judged not by the ‘color of their skin, but the content of their character.’ If he were alive today, I would venture to say that gender blindness would also be a desired outcome.

I also like men. I have nothing against a white, wealthy man being in charge, as long as he shows some common sense and Christlike character. Still, sometimes things just set my teeth on edge.

My friend has devoted the past two decades of her life to meeting the needs of older singles like me. (Funny, I don’t really see myself as ‘older’ at 48, but it is different, and a lot more fun than in my twenties. ) She started a group whose goal was to provide an environment where singles could meet and mingle that was not a bar, or some other obnoxious meeting venue where chemicals and poor behavior are to be expected.

With a few exceptions, Christian values are upheld, and the group seems to be meeting a need in the greater Denver area.

Here’s the delicate part. Jesus is pretty clear that when Christians get involved in charitable giving, one hand isn’t supposed to know what the other is doing. In other words, if you blow your horn, that’s all the recognition you’re going to get. So give, give generously, but shut up about it.

It came to my attention that the group could benefit from some transitional funding, as the church is quite large, and has a budget cycle that should be respected. The fiscal year for this church begins in January.

I offered to provide the funding, not to the church, but directly to the (currently unpaid) leadership.

(Charitable giving used to be a source of great joy for Chris, my late husband, and me. We did our homework, looked at budgets and business structures, administrative costs, and gave where it would do the most good. I miss that intensely.)

The approving elders set a meeting for last January. Then February. Then March. Last week, they finally had a meeting to decide whether or not to fund the position, which, by the way, was largely with my money.

The conclusion? Outside funds cannot be used to fund church programs, and my friend could wait until the next budget cycle to get a real decision. Thanks but no thanks, Victoria, you can keep your money.

Well, that’s mighty white of you, sirs. I venture to say, that if my friend were a man, and I hard- charging male CEO, the outcome would have been different.

Let me pause before I grind my teeth into a powder. Older singles are very much “The least of these” in the eyes of the church. You can really tell a lot about the character of a person, and a church, by how dismissive they can be to the powerless and poor.

Argh.

Next, stand up if any of you had child development in college. Did you ever study feral children?

I had a phone call today from a client that I think may have been thrust into raising  genuinely feral children.

Wikipedia has a pretty good functional definition of a feral children:

Genie (feral child)

Genie (feral child) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A feral child (also, colloquially, wild child) is a human child who has lived isolated from human contact from a very young age, and has no (or little) experience of human care, loving or social behavior, and, crucially, of human language.[1] Some feral children have been confined by people (usually their own parents); …. Feral children may have experienced severe child abuse or trauma before being abandoned or running away. Feral children are sometimes the subjects of folklore and legends.

What do you think of when you imagine a feral child? Most of you probably dial up a Disney-esque Mowgli, a child abandoned by circumstance and left to be raised by animals.

Few of us imagine a child isolated as a toddler, given food laced with sedatives and having very little contact with the outside world. “Mitchell”, we’ll call him, was contacted by the authorities when they discovered his biological triplet sons had been isolated in a room with very little outside contact from the ages of about one to about three.

Mitch’s boys’ mother had multiple psychiatric disorders, and why she had any sort of custody of these kids is a mystery to me. The boys’ physical growth had been stunted and their linguistic development almost nil.

That is to say, their conventional linguistic development. Most of us with healthy parent-child relationships see our children ride a magnificent wave of language acquisition during these crucial years. When the boys were discovered to be living in these horrendous conditions, they had developed a language of their own. They are the size of a typical one year old, and chatter away with each other, clearly understanding what the other has to say.

They bring each other things, have conversations, and play side by side. The problem is, no one else in the world has a clue what they are saying.

Mitch desperately wanted custody of his boys. He received it, but in order to keep it, he has to keep up with an onerous schedule of various therapies all at his expense. Mitch is a blue collar worker, and is pedaling as fast as he can to make sure his boys get to all of their appointments.

So he lands on EA’s doorstep.

“Please. Victoria. No one else has space for all of them. I can’t break them up, and it would kill me to be running to three different facilities. Can you help?”

Can I help.

Three profoundly abused, seriously disabled little boys, and a dad who’s doing everything in his power to keep them at home.

On the one hand, this is the most depressing part of my job. Lock three little children in a room for over a year? The diaper rash alone must have left permanent scars. What kind of person uses their power for such a profoundly negative thing?

A sick one.

On the other hand, what an opportunity for good. Perhaps three isn’t too late. Noam Chomsky postulated on the “Language Acquisition Device” that all children have, and theorized that all children can learn language until about twelve.

Other theorists speculate that the cutoff is closer to six. Much past that, and the hope of being a native language speaker diminishes rapidly.

Still, there might be a chance. So what do I do? Our country is headed for disaster in terms  of early childhood education. If President Obama has his way, our country will soon not have a K-12 school system, but a PS-16 state funded system. The reasons to be apprehensive about this are legion.

Back to Mitch. The state has stated to Mitch that if he does not provide an appropriate educational environment for these boys, at his expense, the boys will land in foster care and the state will find preschool placement for them.

This is insane.

Mitch wants his boys. Because the dad assumes responsibility of these profoundly damaged kids, he must pay an enormous fee for them to come to my school, or the state will take them and tax dollars will not only pay their preschool fees, but their foster care and upkeep as well.

This makes no sense.

Why not halve the cost, have the state pay a discounted rate to EA, and Mitch pay to raise his sons, as it should be?

So, I turn this over in my mind, and I bring it to you. Are any of you advocates for the disenfranchised? Advocates for the rights of fathers? Can any of you help me help Mitch?

If we can find the funding for all three of these kids, including the funding for a special aide just for the boys, we at EA could make a profound difference in the language development of these kids.

In the mean time, pray for Mitch. Pray for the feral kids who are isolated, but not discovered yet. Pray that there is still hope for us, as humans, to treat the least among us with some degree of dignity.

It’s what Jesus would have us do.

Much love,

Victoria