The Quiet Area

Today we celebrated EJ’s birthday.

His official birthday isn’t until the end of March, but we have so many fun adventures on my birthday, which is in early October, that we decided we would take turns celebrating our birthdays throughout the year. I mean, seriously, why should we wait?

A trail map on the kiosk at the entrance of the park.

We have wanted to go to Sand Lakes Quiet Area ever since we moved to Northern Michigan so we decided to go today. “Quiet Area” sounds so appealing to us introverts who love quiet and nature! Sand Lakes Quiet Area is about a 3,000-acre tract that is part of the Pere Marquette State Forest. It has miles of trails through beautiful forests and around several lakes. Motorized vehicles are prohibited so it’s very serene and a great place to watch wildlife, hike, bike, or cross-country ski. The weather was in the mid-70s today and the autumn colors were beautiful. Some areas have more color than others, but we think the trees are at or near their peak right now.

We walked through the quiet forest for about 2 1/2 hours. We occasionally encountered others walking or riding their bikes along the trails and we all said a polite “Hello!” as we walked past each other. EJ and I chatted quietly with each other at times, but mostly we just walked silently together and absorbed the peaceful beauty. It was, after all, a “quiet area.” We pretended we would get “shushed” if we spoke too loudly–like at a library.

I love forests. I also love the beauty of the autumn leaves falling like a golden rain. I took several videos of the falling leaves, such as in this video:

When we saw a glimpse of one of the many lakes through the trees, we took a side path down to it. The water of the lake was very clear and rippled to shore.

We took a different path away from the lake and then we weren’t sure what path we were on. One of EJ’s superpowers is a strong sense of direction so while I was totally lost in the woods, he reckoned–correctly–that we were headed in the right direction. We made it to a seasonal road, which means that it’s not plowed in the winter, and walked along it for quite a way until we found the parking lot where we had left our Suburban.

I took several hundred photos. Here are just a few:

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After we left the Quiet Area, we had a few errands to do. We drove to TSC for poultry feed, straw, and some fencing so we can protect our apple trees from the deer this winter. Next we stopped at Joann’s Fabrics because I need a red paint pen to finish (finally!) my sign. We both love Joann’s Fabrics, but the perfumes and scents bothers EJ, so while I was in the store, he went over to the nearby Dunhams to window shop. Then we ate out at Culvers. Our final stop was at Goodwill because EJ needed some new sweatshirts for work.

It was a wonderful day.

Next time it’s my turn to celebrate my birthday! 🙂

 

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Autumn Joy

Today was an absolutely beautiful autumn day. The sun was shining and the sky was the shade of deep blue that only occurs in the autumn. The warm winds were 15 to 20 mph with gusts as high as 30 mph. The leaves flew off the trees like flocks of colorful birds.

The day was so beautiful that it was impossible not to feel a deep satisfying joy.

I dragged our stepladder down the hill and set it up next to my sign so I could reach the higher-up boards. I spent a happy hour or two outlining the yellow letters with orange paint pens. The orange looks good, but I don’t think it’s dark enough to be seen from a distance so I will probably re-outline the letters in red as soon as I can get to Joann’s Fabrics to buy a red paint pen.

After I finished working on the sign, I carried the stepladder back up the driveway. It was a lot harder carrying it up than it was carrying it down. I kept stopping to rest, and also to enjoy the wind blowing the leaves off the trees. I also couldn’t help noticing my shadow self carrying a shadowy ladder. I took a photo. I’ve always thought shadows were interesting. I have fond memories of making shadow creatures with my hands when I was a child. JJ and I used to take “night walks” when he was younger, and we had fun playing with our shadows that were formed by the street lights. I always remember an interesting  short story I read years ago called The Shadows. It was written by George MacDonald, an author who lived 1824-1905. I like the interesting patterns formed by shadows, and sometimes I take pictures of them–like these, which I took over the last couple of months:

This afternoon and evening, in between my other tasks, I began working on a new crochet project. I’m experimenting with making small snowflake dreamcatchers/ornaments. I’ve never done it before, so I did some ripping out–mostly because I didn’t really understand the pattern I was using. I really think the designer left out a row in her instructions, and I didn’t quite understand how to double crochet around the metal ring. I found a different snowflake pattern and adapted it to fit in the 3 inch metal ring. I took a quick picture of it so you can see it. I’ll take better photos when I post it at my Etsy store. I’m quite proud of my efforts. I searched for and printed off other snowflake patterns to adapt as well.

I have a long list of projects I’d like to work on….including designing/adapting a crocheted shawl and learning to macrame. I learned how to make macrame pot hangers years ago in summer camp, but I have forgotten how–and there are so many more interesting techniques and patterns these days.

 

Shrewed Discovery

I named yesterday’s post, “The Killing of the Shrew” because “shrew” made think of Shakespeare’s play, “The Taming of the Shrew.” Last night I asked EJ if he knew why a “shrew” is a description of “a bad-tempered or aggressively assertive woman.” Are the mouse-like shrews “bad tempered”? “Aggressively assertive”? Curious, because I don’t know that much about shrews, I started looking up more information about them. I discovered that Michigan has about four different kinds: the masked shrew, the water shrew (one of the few mammals in Michigan that live exclusively in wetland habitats), the pygmy shrew, and the northern short tail shrew. I’m quite sure that the one Madeline killed yesterday is a northern short tail shrew. I was not really surprised to learn that shrews have poor vision. I was quite surprised to learn that they move about with echo-location like bats and whales. I was extremely surprised to learn that some shrews, including the northern short tail shrew, is venomous. That’s right: venomous. Apparently their saliva is toxic and is strong enough to kill small animals. It’s secreted through grooves in their incisors. The shews don’t inject their prey like snakes or spiders do. Instead, they chew the venom into their prey until the prey is subdued. If they bite a human, their toxins can cause pain that lasts for several days, but bites are rare; they usually occur when someone tries to handle one.

Fortunately, Northern short-tailed shrews have many predators. They are preyed upon by snakes, cats, skunks, raccoons, opossums, owls, hawks, weasels, red fox, coyotes, and occasionally pickerel, trout, and sunfish when they venture near water. Northern short-tailed shrews are aggressive, and they threaten and physically drive away any intruders. They escape predation by remaining hidden in the cover of vegetation or under the soil or snow during foraging expeditions from their nest. They may also make themselves distasteful by exuding a musky odor from glands on their belly and sides. Many mammal predators may refuse to eat northern short-tailed shrews because of their foul taste.

(Sources: biokids.umich.edu and Wikipedia)

After reading about the aggressive and venomous shrew last night, I became concerned about Madeline. I imagined her in pain or paralyzed by a bite. So I went out to check on her before I headed to bed. She ran up to me as soon as I entered our garage. She didn’t seem to be in any distress or pain. In fact, she acted completely normal. Apparently, the shrew didn’t chew on her. I told her to be careful around those shrews. I can’t believe we have such creatures here. Next someone will be telling me that Big Foot or the Dogman are real.

The cats waiting for their morning treat.

This morning before it was fully light outside, I looked out the window and saw Madeline hunting something on the other side of the duck pen. She was dashing here and there and occasionally leaping. I didn’t find any dead bodies in the garage today so either her prey escaped or she left the body outside.

Meanwhile, the four inside cats gathered as usual in anticipation of getting their morning treat of canned food. They always remind me of little panthers. HUNGRY little panthers. I love black cats.

I like the red letters outlined in yellow.

The weather was very nice today so I walked down the hill and used a yellow paint pen to outline the red letters on my sign. The red wasn’t showing up very well but I think the outlining really makes the letters stand out. They look better than in the photo. Although it’s not absolutely necessary, I thought I’d outline the yellow letters as well. I would like to do them in red, but I don’t have a red paint pen and I don’t know when I’ll get to Joann’s Fabrics again. I have to get the sign done before cold weather hits, which could happen at any time. I couldn’t decide which of the colors I already own to use–green, orange, or black–so I did a few tests and I decided to outline the letters in the orange pen. I could always paint over the orange with red at a later date if I want. I hope to do it tomorrow.

After I finished working on the sign, I walked back up the hill, admiring the beautiful blue sky. I noticed two birds soaring overhead and clearly saw their white heads and tail feathers: Bald Eagles! They were near the sun, which blinded me so that I wasn’t able to see them in my camera’s view finder. Oh, well. I’m thrilled I got to see them!

The Killing of the Shrew

Kee-Kee

It was quite warm early yesterday morning when I went outside to care for the ducks and chickens but the temperature steadily dropped from the mid-60s down into the 40s throughout the very rainy day. Overnight it was even colder–in the 30s. Brrrr. The cats snuggled with us in our bed. Kee-Kee lay up near my head and Timmy lay on top of me. Whenever I turned from one side to the other, he resettled back on top of me. One or two of the other cats slept elsewhere on the bed. With the cats and the warm blankets, we were very comfortable.

I always try to make the bed as soon as I wake up because the cats are more interested in getting their canned food treat and I can make the bed without them on it. But sometimes I’m late making the bed and I have to work around the cats. The photo shows how I make the bed when a cat is on it. Ha ha!

Today was mostly sunny, but the high reach only 55 degrees. The house was a bit chilly, especially in the morning, because we haven’t yet turned on our furnace. I could turn it on if I wanted to, but the chill was not intolerable and we are trying to put off turning the furnace on until we absolutely have to, which will happen soon enough…but not yet. The temps are supposed to climb into the mid- to high 60s this week, and I’ve even heard it could be as warm as 80 degrees this weekend, which is too warm for a furnace. So I stubbornly wore a sweater today, wrapped myself in a comforter, and drank hot coffee or tea (coffee in the morning, herbal tea in the afternoon).

Shelob blocked the entrance to her lair.

Yesterday I mentioned that Shelob, the huge wolf spider who lives in a burrow in the ground near the poultry pen, fills in the entrance to her lair when it rains. Yesterday afternoon I took a photo of her entrance. By then she had it so blocked in that it was difficult to even see that there was a hole. I kind of wonder if she pulled the green leaf over her lair to also help block the rain. She is clever. I haven’t seen Shelob for at least a month, but observing her lair get blocked and unblocked tells me that she is still alive. I always assumed that all spiders died off in cold weather, but I looked it up and learned from one website that:

“Because wolf spiders spend their lives in amongst the leaf litter where there are many more species than in the air, they have had to become hardier than many types of spider. This is why they are often able to attack and eat web-building spiders even of their own size. Of the wolf spiders that live several years, many will hibernate during the colder winter months either in a burrow or under a rock. Those that live under rocks tend not to hibernate fully, which would be very dangerous, but rather just become sluggish and only move if they have to.”

Observing and learning about wolf spiders has been very interesting, but I am still scared of them.

I almost accidentally drowned Shelob again today. The key words are “almost” and “accidentally.” I had supper simmering on the stove–I was trying a new recipe–when I went out to gather eggs and give the ducks and chickens fresh drinking water. I was in a hurry to get back into the kitchen and I forgot to turn off the hose. A few minutes later I glanced out of the window and saw water everywhere. It was about only about a foot or two from Shelob’s lair when I turned off the faucet. It did not reach her though.

Annie, Madeline, and the dead shrew

This morning I saw Madeline outside and was able to take a photo of her. I usually only see her when she is in the garage; she vanishes outside.  Later I found a dead rodent in the garage near the back door in about the same place that I saw the dead mouse the other day. Madeline the Magnificent has killed again! At first I thought it was another mouse, but when I scooped it up with a shovel to throw it outside, I saw that it was more mole-ish than mouse-ish. I googled “What is the difference between a mole, vole, and shrew?” and I learned that Madeline had killed a shrew. I learned that

  • A shrew has a pointed snout
  • A shrew’s front feet are not enlarged.
  • A shrew’s eyes are tiny, but visible in most species
  • Shrews have many habitats, depending on the species.
  • Shrews will reuse the tunnels made by moles and voles, and will also occasionally invade buildings.
  • Shrews feed on insects, earthworms, slugs, small animals, seeds and roots.

I had wondered if Madeline was killing mice in the garage or if she was killing them outside and bringing them into the garage. The shrew made me suspect that Madeline is probably bring in some that she has killed outside. I told EJ that one of my awesome readers (Lucindalines) had commented yesterday that “Ms Madeline is showing her appreciation for being loved, safe and cared for. She may also be showing that she likes her new home and is happy to bring you the best presents she can.” EJ suggested, “Or maybe she thinks she’s paying rent.” I think Madeline is very sweet. She and Annie always come up to me for lovings whenever I enter the garage.

The sunset was gorgeous tonight:

Autumn Activity

On Friday evening we were planning to visit EJ’s friend and his wife. They live further downstate but were camping this weekend at a campground near us. EJ met the man on Facebook and they went fishing together this summer. EJ says he’s a really good guy. I met the guy briefly when he stopped by at the end of their day of fishing to look at my chicken set up and ask me questions. I think they were considering getting some chickens of their own. Anyway….the couple had to cancel their camping trip because the wife wasn’t feeling well.

Although we were sorry we couldn’t get together with the couple, it seemed wise to cancel the trip because not only was the wife sick, but it was actually forecast to rain all weekend. Further south of us had several inches of rain on Saturday–some places more than 4 inches!–and more was expected today. Those places are being flooded. It didn’t rain much in our area until last night. It rained all night and is pouring buckets right now. When I went out this morning to care for the ducks and chickens, I noticed that Shelob’s hole is almost completely closed. She closes up her hole when there’s rain. Sometimes she puts a duck feather over it to shield it. I think critters are amazing.

Early last week one of EJ’s favorite work friends died unexpectedly. He was having seizures at work so his daughter took him to the hospital. The hospital couldn’t find anything wrong with him so they sent him on his way. He asked his daughter to stop at work so he could get his stuff from his locker before heading home. When he didn’t come down, she asked someone to check on him, and he was found dead in the locker room. I think that is very sad. We stopped in briefly for visitation at the funeral home yesterday. EJ knew only the deceased co-worker and I didn’t know anyone at all so we didn’t stay long. I told EJ on the way home that I felt like crying even though I had never met the co-worker.

Birds on the wires.

On the way to the funeral home, near Meijers, we saw hundreds of little birds sitting on the power lines.  I hurriedly got out my camera, but I didn’t have time to get a very good shot. The birds in the photo are only a small segment of what we actually saw. They were everywhere! On the way home, EJ pulled into the road leading to the store so I could take a video of the birds. He loves nature as much as I do and indulges me in my photographic endeavors.

The funeral home is located in the same area as Joann’s Fabrics. We arrived at our destination a bit too early, so we stopped in at Joann’s. I needed to get a couple of yellow paint pens so I can outline the red letters on my enchanted sign.  The yellow letters show up clearly but the red letters are a bit too dark. As soon as we dry out from all the rain, I will finish the sign.

A couple of days ago I finished another sign. I love making these signs! I hung this sign on the fence dividing the chickens and the ducks. Cuddles, our male duck, liked to stand at the fence and pluck the feathers of any hen that came too close to the fence. Sassy the rooster would try to protect his flock by keeping himself between the fence and the hens, but sooner or later a hen would get within Cuddles’ reach. I finally fastened chicken wire on the fence so Cuddles couldn’t reach through, but he still waited by the fence, and Sassy still patrolled the fence and glared at him. I thought the “fowl play” sign was appropriate.

All summer long Cuddles has been, uh, intensely pursuing Esther. Esther is the older lame duck that EJ’s sister gave us. Esther is Cuddles’ favorite female and he was after her all…the…time. I felt sorry for Esther because Cuddles was merciless in his attentions. EJ called Cuddles season of lust his Pon Farr in reference to the reproductive cycle of Vulcans in the Star Trek universe. As Wikipedia explains it, “Every seven years, Vulcan males and females become aroused. They undergo a blood fever, become violent, and finally die unless they mate with someone with whom they are empathically bonded or engage in a ritual battle known as kal-if-fee.” Now that Cuddles’ season of Pon Farr is past, I often find him in the coop quietly hanging out with Esther.

Yesterday afternoon after we returned from the visitation, EJ’s friend stopped by–not the same friend we were going to visit at the campground. EJ has been friends with this guy since high school. They are closer to each other than to their own brothers. They call themselves “brothers from different mothers.” The friend stayed for a few hours before heading back home to the other side of the state.

Madeline

This morning when I went out to feed Annie and Madeline and to care for the ducks and chickens, I found another dead mouse in the garage. Actually, it was near the back door of the garage and I sort of stepped on it. I got a shovel, picked up the mouse with it, and threw it outside. Then I praised Madeline for her mouse-killing skills. She is Madeline the Magnificient Mouser! She’s killed more in a few weeks than Annie does all year.  But I give Annie lovings too and tell her she’s a sweet cat.

The trees are growing noticeably more colorful and beautiful every day. I love the beauty of autumn–and also the excitement as birds gather in preparation of their journey south. Here are a few photos that I took on our way home yesterday:

Plum Crazy

I’ve gone kind of “sign crazy.” I’ve been having a lot of fun making cute little signs. I’m getting low on wooden letters so I’ve been constructing new letters out of old letters–like making an “R” into a “P” or a “Y” out of a “Z.” Eventually I’ll get to a craft store to buy more letters. 🙂

I used my purple paint pen to color the “Plum Crazy” letters. Then I turned the letters upside-down and painted the back with blue paint. Some of the blue paint got onto the front side, which I think gives the letters a wonderful “plum crazy” look. When I finished with the letters, I glued them to the gate leading into the poultry pens.

 

I painted other letters green. I glued some of them outside over the chicken’s little door, which is at the back of the coop:

I glued other letters for the ducks’ door. Since their door opens to a little alley between the coop and the garage, I glued the letters to the front of the coop with an arrow pointing to the ducks’ little door:

I have another sign that I’m working on. I’ll share it with you when I get it finished.

While I was outside gluing letters on the coop, I heard a flock of birds flying overhead. I looked up, but couldn’t see them. I kept hearing them so, curious, I went further into the garden so I could locate them. At first I still couldn’t see anything, but finally I saw a large flock of birds circling very high in the sky. They made sort of a cooing/warbling sound. I didn’t know what they were, but I videoed them so I could show EJ and maybe we could identify them. EJ immediately identified them as sandhill cranes. I have never before seen so many. It was very awesome! Here is the video:

Enchanted Signs

Our cat Tesla was so old that she didn’t have many teeth left so a couple of years ago we started to buy canned cat food for her. After she died last year, we kept buying the canned food. Every morning I put a dab into four portions for the inside cats, and then take the remainder to the outside cats. The rest of the day they have dry food. The inside cats love the canned treat, and they are so eager to get it that they have begun waking us in the mornings by leaping on us like trampolines. Sometimes they leap from one to the other. Silly cats.

We have discovered that Madeline is an excellent mouser. In the two weeks that she has been with us, we have found at least five dead mice in the garage. Annie has always killed a mouse now and then, but the bodies haven’t piled up as quickly as they have since Madeline has been here.

My goal this week was to finish my signs and get them put up.

The last step was to cover the boards with a protective coating. EJ read the instructions for the can of spar varnish we had, but it said that it could not be used with any type of glue which meant that we couldn’t use it since I had glued my wooden letters to the boards. EJ was going to stop at Meijers for some clear spray paint on his way home from work last night, but he was tired and forgot. I had the use of the car this morning since JJ didn’t have school and he didn’t have to be to work until mid-afternoon so I decided to drive to the hardware store. It’s less than 5 miles away but I wasn’t sure how to get there. Besides the fact that I’m severely diretionally challenged–which means I can get lost anywhere, anytime–usually EJ drives when we need to go to the hardware store. Although we’ve gone many times, I am usually looking at the beautiful scenery we drive through on the way. But EJ told me the way to get there and–surprise!–there were only two turns! I found the store very easily.

When I entered the store, a woman employee asked if she could help me. “Yes!” I said. I explained my project–painted wooden letters on boards that I needed to cover with a clear coat of something that wouldn’t dissolve the glue I used. We went over to the spray cans and we found cans of clear paint and we both tried to read the info on the can. I finally confessed that the print was so small that I was having trouble reading it. “So am I,” she said. She finally found a telephone number to call on the can, so she went to the phone, called the company, explained my project, and asked if it was ok to use with glue. The woman at the company check and said it was ok. So I thanked the hardware lady and bought two cans.

When I got home, I put all the sign boards out on the deck and sprayed them several times with the clear paint to protect them from the weather. I used all of one can and most of another.

We share a short segment of our driveway with our neighbors because our properties were originally one 10 acre property before it was split in two. Our neighbors driveway turns off first while our driveway continues up the hill so every now and then a package gets delivered to our neighbor’s house by mistake, especially if there is a substitute delivery- or mail-person. We have needed a sign with our house numbers on it, so I’ve been making one. I chose an old board that looked like it was pointing up towards our driveway.  I nailed the address board to a short-ish post and then set it up at the bottom of the driveway just before the driveway curves around. I think it looks very “enchanted forest.”

I waited until EJ got home from work tonight so he could help me with the other sign. He fastened all the boards to the post for me. Since he used an electric drill to quickly drive in screws it went lickity split. Once he got all the boards fastened to the post, he carried down the sign dow the driveway while I carried the post-hole digger and sledge-hammer. When we had decided on the location for the sign, EJ dug the hole, I set the sign into the hole, then he held the sign while I stood back to make sure it was in a good spot. Then EJ filled in the hole and used the sledge-hammer to pack down the dirt firmly around the post. We think the sign looks splendid.

I love my signs.

Next I’m considering making a sign or two for the poultry pen. Like maybe “Beware of Fowl Play.” Ha ha.

Birthday Adventure (#2)

This morning EJ and I were awakened by cats jumping on us. They would leap from one of us to the other. They were trying to wake us up so I would feed them canned food, which I divide among them all. They were successful in getting us out of bed.

After yesterday’s journey to the Mackinac Bridge, I was tired and my body was very sore. EJ didn’t sleep well last night; I think he was pretty much awake since 3 a.m. We had so much fun yesterday that I suggested that we stay home today so EJ could rest, but EJ said, “No, we are going on the chair lift at the ski resort as planned!” The one we were thinking about going to is only a few miles away, so I thought, ok, we can go and then return home.

Nothing went as planned today.

It was a beautiful day today, with blue skies and temperatures in the upper 70s.

We had driven past the ski resort two weeks ago when we went to pick up Madeline from the animal shelter. Today EJ took a different route, which is no problem because, unlike me, he has a wonderful sense of direction. He always knows where he is and can always find his way from here to there and back again. His sense of direction is his super power. Except today. We couldn’t seem to find the ski resort, even though it shouldn’t have been a problem. Finally, EJ suggested we go to the ski resort that we went to last year. It’s farther away–about 2 hours–but very beautiful and worth the drive. So off we went.

We had trouble finding the ski resort. We finally found it but, unlike last year, we didn’t see any signs announcing free autumn chair lift rides. The chair lift didn’t seem to be in operation. So we decided to head back towards home. EJ drove back roads, which we love to do. He got turned around a few times, but he quickly found the correct route.

At one point I quoted a line from a poem in The Lord of the Rings: “It might be true that ‘Not all who wonder are lost…'” I laughed, “But sometimes they really are lost.”

We decided to stop at a scenic overlook that we’ve heard about. The article we read said that “it requires just a short walk up a hill in exchange for a breathtaking view over the Valley.” We followed the sign point to “parking” and found both sides of a narrow dirt road lined with cars, with people trekking up the forest path. We weren’t feeling much like dealing with crowds of people, so we aborted the mission and continued on.

We decided to head toward one of the nature reserves near home that we’ve been wanting to go to. But it was late in the afternoon and we were getting hungry. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast. We decided instead to head into the “Emerald City” and eat at Culvers. Afterwards we stopped at TSC to buy poultry feed and cat food. Then we headed home.

Absolutely nothing today went according to plan. Except for the stop at TSC, we didn’t accomplish any of our plans, but we didn’t mind.

“How come you don’t care where you’re going?”
“Cause how you get there is the worthier part.”
(Firefly TV series)

That’s how EJ and I feel. We had a great day. We didn’t succeed in fulfilling any of our plans, but we accomplished our real goal, which is to spend the day together driving through breathtakingly beautiful scenery enjoying the autumn colors. We both feel that the journey is more important than the destination.

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Birthday Adventure (#1)

It was supposed to rain all day, so I expected a quiet day at home–which didn’t bother me any because I didn’t sleep well last night. I woke at 3 a.m. with pain from sciatica. I took some Tylenol but still had trouble sleeping. I didn’t want to wake up EJ so I went to the living room and laid on the couch. I finally fell asleep about 5 a.m. About 7:30 a.m. I became aware that the cats were making a lot of noise. I always divide up a can of cat food for them each morning just before I go care for the ducks and chickens–about 7 a.m. I suspect they were trying to wake me up because I was late feeding them.

Around 10 a.m. or so, EJ suggested that maybe we could go for a drive even if it was raining. I exclaimed that maybe we could drive to Lake Michigan. I’ve been wanting to see the Lake in stormy weather. So we got together our cameras, a thermos of coffee, a bottle of lemonade for EJ and ice tea for me, and an umbrella, and we hopped in the Suburban. Our first stop was to the grocery store for some nuts and pumpkin seeds in case we got hungry, and a two-slice container of cheese cake because, after all, we are celebrating my birthday. JJ didn’t go with us because he always has to work on the weekends. But that’s ok because he really doesn’t enjoy long drives or rock hounding and he so gets bored coming with us.

We headed north along a road that hugs the coast of Lake Michigan. EJ stopped at our favorite roadside park. It’s very beautiful. We walked along the shore for quite a while. A few waves caught me by surprise and soaked my shoes and socks–so although it’s October, I took them off and folded up the legs of my jeans so it didn’t matter if the waves swept in. We looked for pretty, interesting rocks as we walked along. I found quite a few Petoskey Stones, which is Michigan’s state stone. Searching for Petoskey Stones is really the official past-time at Lake Michigan. The best time to search for them is after a storm when the waves churn up the sand and wash new rocks ashore. EJ thinks he might have found some Leland Bluestones. He also found what he calls “sea glass,” which originates as pieces of glass from broken bottles, broken tableware, or even shipwrecks, which are rolled and tumbled in the ocean (or lake) for years until all of their edges are rounded off, and the slickness of the glass has been worn to a frosted appearance. We spent a happy hour or two looking for rocks. 

EJ had thought we might head over to the east where there are elk herds running free, but we decided to first drive up to Mackinaw City to see the Mackinac Bridge. On the way, we drove through the city of Petoskey. It has many beautiful houses (which I videoed as we drove by). Earnest Hemingway once lived in Petoskey.

Michiganders love the Mackinac Bridge. EJ and I think it is so beautiful that it always thrills our hearts to see it. We didn’t have time to cross the bridge today–and were really even tempted because there was a high wind advisory. The The Bridge is designed to sway in the wind, and I’ve heard it can be a scary experience. We walked along the shore and enjoyed the view of the bridge and the lighthouse.  We also saw some large boats (called ships in the ocean) carrying cargo across the Great Lakes.

We stopped here for pasties.

We had considered stopping to eat at the same restaurant we had eaten at last year, but we decided not to spend the money or time for a sit-down meal. Instead, we went to a little store and bought a couple pasties. Anyone who goes to Northern Michigan–especially the Upper Peninsula–MUST eat a pasty. As the History Channel describes in their article:

Few meals have roots as deep as the Cornish pasty, a hand-held meat-and-vegetable pie developed as a lunch for workers in the ancient English tin mining region of Cornwall….The Cornish pasty arrived in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) in the 1840s, just a few years after Michigan’s present-day boundaries were carved out of the former Northwest Territory. Adventurers crossed the Straits of Mackinac to the isolated U.P. to prospect for minerals, discovering significant iron and copper deposits beneath the northern forests. Experienced miners from Cornwall immigrated to help develop the mines, bringing pasty-making with them. Although Cornish migration was soon supplanted by much larger waves of Finns and Italians, the pasty took hold as a traditional miners’ food….After the 1957 Mackinac Bridge opened the Upper Peninsula for tourism from southern Michigan, the pasty shifted from being a food mainly cooked at home by U.P. locals (known as “Yoopers”) to one sold at restaurants to visitors from southern Michigan and beyond (playfully derided as “Fudgies” for their preferred dessert).

Although it’s no longer summer, there were a lot of tourists in Mackinaw City so we drove further east along the coast to a small roadside park. We ate our pasties sitting on large rocks on the shore with a view of the Mackinac Bridge and the big boats.

After we ate, we headed south. We intended to drive in the area where the elks were, but we had to get home before dark to put the ducks and chickens safely in their coop. We decided to go see the elks another day. Tomorrow we are going to ride on the chair lift at the ski resort, and maybe do a couple more things closer to home.

The day started out rainy, but at most we had only a few times of sprinkles now and then. It only started raining in earnest after we got home.

We were really tired by the time we got home, but we have a wonderful day! We always have such good times on my birthday that I asked EJ if he wanted to do similar things for his birthday in March–assuming we don’t have so much snow that travel is difficult. He said he thought we should take turns celebrating our birthdays whenever we have free weekends. So next weekend we are going to celebrate EJ’s birthday by visiting his friend and his wife. They will be staying at a campground near us. After our visit, we will do other fun stuff. Then the next free weekend we will celebrate my birthday again. And then EJ’s. I mean, who says we have to wait for the actually days of our birth, right?

October Dilemma

Madeline, our new outside cat, is settling in nicely. I don’t worry about her comings and goings now that I know that she knows where “home” is. I always know when she’s in the garage because when she hears me, she immediately pops up her head with a little mew and comes over for some lovings. Unlike Annie, who I often see wandering about in the yard, Madeline vanishes when she’s outside. I see neither hide nor hair of her. I only saw her outside once, a couple of days ago, when I glanced out the window and saw her on the deck. I opened the door to give her some lovings but as soon as she heard the door open, she ran into the forest. I called to her to see if I could lure her to me for lovings, but she never made an appearance. (The cat in the photo is Tesla, who died of old age a year ago. Madeline looks like her.)

While I was out calling to Madeline, I surprised a garter snake in the yard not far from the deck–and he surprised me! I had my camera in my pocket, so I took a couple photos and a video of him. He blended in so it was difficult to find him in the viewfinder. I had to locate him by finding a clump of tall grass or dead leaves near him to zoom in on him…only to find that he had moved. I was amazed at how quietly, quickly, and gracefully he moved through the grass. I don’t really like snakes, but I can appreciate their beauty if they aren’t too close.

Little Bear

Yesterday my morning was very quiet. I sat in my chair by the window wrapped in my blanket, drank coffee, and read a book. Little Bear fell asleep in my lap using my hand as a pillow. He looked so cute. My camera was across the room out of reach, but my laptop was in front of me, so I carefully took a photo of him using its webcam.

I spent the afternoon putting a few summer things away in preparation for winter: the patio table and chairs, the grill, our park benches. We won’t have too many more warm days to enjoy.

Today is my birthday. (My age is one year more than yesterday. 🙂 ) I wasn’t going to mention it except I have somewhat of a dilemma. We rarely do anything special on my birthday–I mean, on the actual day of my birthday. That’s because for quite a few years, my favorite birthday gift has enjoying a special day together making memories. On the weekend closest to my birthday–and sometimes on both the weekends before and after–we always go on a memory-making drive to enjoy the beautiful fall colors, spontaneously stopping along the route to do whatever strikes our fancy. Since we’ve moved to Northern Michigan (in 2015), we have driven through the Tunnel of Trees and along M-22, both of which are famous for their beautiful autumn drives. We’ve driven to Mackinaw City and dined at a restaurant within sight of the beautiful Mackinac Bridge, we’ve stopped along Lake Michigan to look for pretty rocks, and last year, after seeing a sign along the road, we stopped at a ski resort to enjoy a free chair lift ride to view the fall colors from above.

This year we plan to celebrate my birthday on Sunday since it’s supposed to rain all day Saturday. We discovered that a ski resort closer to home is offering chair lift rides. Theirs is not free, but they offer donuts and cider,so we plan to stop in. Other than that, I’m not sure what we will do. In this area there are so many beautiful drives, and nature trails to walk, and bird sanctuaries to enjoy, and many other interesting places. I keep changing my mind about which to go to. Wherever we go, I’m sure we will have a super time. I’m really looking forward to enjoying the day.

I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables)

 

We’re All Just Stories in the End…

“I’ll be a story in your head. That’s okay.
We’re all stories in the end.” 
(Doctor Who)

Two weeks ago we had a sweltering heat wave. Last week temps dropped into the 30s at night and barely reached into the 60s during the day. Over the weekend we had days with brilliant blue skies and temps in the mid- to high 70s; it was perfect with an autumn coolness just under the warmth. Overnight we had storms and this morning is gloomy with rain. I like such days. I feel cozy as I sit in my big brown chair sipping my coffee.

The newsfeed  of my personal Facebook page has been filled with the headlines of the mass shooting at Las Vegas. I’ve only read a few articles and watched a couple of videos about it because my heart is overwhelmed and numb with the tragedy. However, I did pause to witness a slideshow of the almost 60 victims who were killed. I looked at each face, and read each name, and grieved for the loss of each life. I do it–maybe–for the same reason that Jews read off the names of the Holocaust victims: to acknowledge that people are more than mere statistics. Each had a story. Each loved and was loved, each laughed and cried, and succeeded and failed. Each was important. They mattered and their deaths are a loss.

Photo from PTSD: The War Within You.

I feel the same way about abuse survivors. Most victims are not heard. They are disbelieved, minimized, told to “stop talking about it” and “just get over it” and “move on.” Often they feel invisible, unheard, worthless. I think that one of the most powerful things that can be done for abuse survivors is to listen to their story. So no matter how painful, no matter how the stories break my heart, and even if the survivors don’t know I’m there, I read their stories as a witness that their stories mattered because they matter.

Sometimes when I read their stories, I don’t know what to say. So I say, “I’m sorry this happened to you.” “I’m sorry” is not adequate enough, but when I say “I’m sorry,” I actually mean that I’m grieving for them at the deepest parts of my being, but I can find no words that will adequately express that.

This week I’m rewatching Doctor Who for the millionth time. Doctor Who is my “comfort binge-watching series.” The series is funny, witty, scary but not too scary, and somewhat sad in all the right mixes. It just occurred to me this morning that I might have begun watching the series this week because of The Doctor’s  perspective on people. He thinks humans are maddening, frustrating, sometimes stupid and naive, but when it all comes down to it, he thinks they are amazing, incredible, and worth saving when they get into trouble. The Doctor is sort of a type of a Messiah figure. I totally relate to these quotes:

“There’s no such thing as an ordinary human.”

“900 years of time and space and I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important.” 

“An ordinary man: That’s the most important thing in creation. The whole world’s different because he’s alive!”

“Who said you’re not important? I’ve traveled to all sorts of places, done things you couldn’t even imagine, but you two: street corner, two in the morning, getting a taxi home? I’ve never had a life like that. Yes. I’ll try and save you.”

“When I close my eyes I hear more screams than anyone could ever be able to count! And do you know what you do with all that pain? Shall I tell you where you put it? You hold it tight till it burns your hand, and you say this. No one else will ever have to live like this. No one else will have to feel this pain. Not on my watch!”

“This planet, these people, they are precious to me and I will defend them to my last breath.” 

Rose Tyler, one of The Doctor’s companions, said that he taught her: “You don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand! You say no! You have the guts to do what’s right even when everyone else just runs away.”

In one of the movies that Alfred Hitchcock made (I can’t remember the name), a boy was given a package and told to deliver it at a certain place. He was told to go directly there without delay. The package had a bomb in it, but the boy didn’t know it. He meandered on his way, as boys do, taking a bus to the location, stopping at various places to enjoy this or that. The suspense built and built for the audience, as we kept fearing that the bomb would go off and yet, somehow, believing that it wouldn’t and the boy would spared. But the bomb did explode, and the boy was killed. I watched the scene with shock, and I read that the original movie-goers were angry that Hitchcock did that. It was during that movie that Hitchcock first understood that in a movie there has to be breaks in the tension and suspense for the audience to catch their breath or it becomes too much.

I think life is like that. People need to have breaks in the sorrow and tensions of life. I know that I certainly do. Sometimes it all becomes too much. Sometimes it becomes overwhelming. Sometimes it batters me. My body feels as if it’s thrumming with stress this week because first Jane’s story touched me deeply and then the Las Vegas shootings saddened me. I’m trying to refocus and rebalance and breathe. Some of the things I do is this:

I ponder who God is, and that He cares about the oppressed.

I go to nature, which restores my spirit. Sometimes I go outside and just breathe in the peace and beauty of our wonderful Enchanted Forest. There are tragedies in the world, but nature reminds me that there is also beauty.

I enjoy the comfort of the animals. Danny loves me devotedly and follows me around everywhere. There is nothing like the love of a dog! The cats cuddle on my lap and soothe me with their purrs. The chickens run out whenever they see me, and gather around my feet with their cluckings. The ducks make me laugh with their goofy antics. They used to rush out whenever I opened the coop doors in the morning. Now they stay in the coop loudly reminding me to fill their food dish. They only go outside when they see me scooping feed into their dish.

I did have a scare with our new cat Madeline though. The animal shelter had told us that she  needs to be a “barn cat” because she wasn’t happy living in a house. I’ve kept her contained in the garage for a week and a day so that she can reset her inner “GPS” that this is home–and also so she and Annie can get to know each other. I’ve gone out to the garage several times throughout each day to give her (and Annie) lovings so she can grow to trust me. Madeline is very skittish so it takes her time to approach me–we can tell she wants to because she keeps running past us. We give her time and space and once she draws near enough to touch, she is extremely affectionate and keeps rubbing against us.

Our other outside cat, Annie, loves to roam free but she’s been shut up with Madeline. We can’t put Annie outside without access to food, but we can’t leave food outside because we don’t want to attract coyotes or hungry bears preparing for hibernation. I felt a week and a day was long enough so I unblocked the pet door yesterday. The cats stayed in the garage for most of the day. I suspect they didn’t realize they were free to go out. When I went out at about 4 p.m. to gather eggs, Madeline was gone from the garage. When it grew dark, I went outside and called for her, but I didn’t see any sign of her. I knew it was a risk letting her out–but it would have been a risk if I had waited for a week or a month and the cats can’t be shut up in the garage forever. But still I was worried about her. I woke briefly in the night when I heard thunder, and then I had nightmares about searching for Madeline in the rain. She was still gone when I went out to care for the poultry early this morning, but when I entered the garage to go back into the house, she was there, wet and hungry. I was so relieved! Now I know that she knows how to find her way back to the garage, I won’t be so worried.

Whew!

Other ways that I rebalance myself is by doing creative things. I’ve wanted to make an enchanted forest sign post for quite some time. My sign is actually more of a “welcome” and “go away” sign. I found some wooden letters in the craft department at Mejiers last weekend, and EJ painted some of the letters on Sunday and I finished painting the others. The last couple of days I’ve been gluing the letters onto boards that I pulled off old pallets earlier in the summer. We need to paint them with some sort of clear polyurthurane to protect them from the weather, and then we can nail the boards to a wooden post at the bottom of our driveway.

You may have noticed that one board says “No Political, Religious, Sales People.” That’s because in the two years that we’ve lived in Northern Michigan, we’ve had at least a dozen visits by Jehovah Witnesses. They don’t visit during the snowy months–no one wants to venture up our steep driveway in the winter–so we get frequent visits in the summer. I’m not a JW and I’m not going to change my whole belief system or church because a random stranger knocks at the door. We are rather isolated so I don’t like unexpected strangers. I was going to put “No uninvited strangers” on a board, but I ran out of the necessary letters.

ANYWAY, I also made a sign post with our house numbers on it. Our property was originally 10 acres, but the original owner split it off into two 5 acre properties. We and our neighbors–whose place is their vacation property so they aren’t here all the time–share a portion of the driveway. Their driveway splits off not long after turning off from the road while our continues up the hill. Our packages sometimes get left by mistake at our neighbor’s house, usually when there is a substitute mailperson or deliveryman.  So a sign post is quite necessary.

I also find balance through humor. Laughter is good medicine, so we take time to find humor in different situations.

Luke

For example, this morning I headed into the bathroom to use the toilet. Uh, TMI, right? I’m mentioning it because Luke ran into the bathroom and used the toilet before I could. Luke taught himself to use the toilet; we didn’t teach him. One day years ago, I opened the bathroom door and someone was using the toilet. I said, “Oops! Sorry” and started to close the door when I realized it was the CAT. Neither EJ nor JJ believed me until I took a photo of him one day. Now, we sometimes have to wait for our turn to use the toilet….because of the cat.

The coop latch.

On Saturday evening when I came back inside after putting the ducks and chickens in their coop for the night, EJ glanced at me and then exclaimed, “What happened to you???’ I had a bloody wound in the center of my forehead. Apparently it looked quite nasty. I explained, “There is something I have never told you before, but I think it’s now time. You see, I am actually a unicorn and my horn is finally beginning to emerge.” For some reason, EJ did not believe me (“You are NOT a unicorn,” he exclaimed!) so I had to tell him a boring alternate story: The latch on the coop door sometimes works itself open, especially if it’s windy outside, so I always put a bucket of drinking water in front of the door so it can’t swing open and whack a duck. The latch must have come undone–or else I didn’t latch the door well enough when I went to gather eggs earlier. When I bent down to dump out the bucket for the night, I hit my forehead–hard–on the latch. Ouch. And, sure, EJ believed THAT story. I liked the first one better.

Ella Empowered

I debated whether or not to write further about my thoughts about Jane, the woman who had been raped 11 years ago while a student at Master’s College (now University). I wrote about it a couple of days ago. I am especially distressed about the statements of Jon Uhler in regards to Jane. I don’t know Jon well, but I had talked to him on the phone a couple of times earlier in the summer when he invited me to join his abuse advocate team at Facebook. I declined to join his team because, well, it just didn’t feel “right” at the time, and I prefer to speak up about abuse when and if I have something to say. Mostly I just like to write about the simple pleasures and struggles of my life. It helps me find balance and expression.

Yesterday I shared Sam Powell’s response to Jon. I thought he described what I felt more eloquently than I could have. In fact, many abuse advocates and survivors are so much better at, well, advocating than I am. I don’t actually consider myself an ADVOCATE. Sometimes I can speak very boldly, other times I ask myself why I ever open my mouth, and I declare that I am never, ever going to speak up about abuse again. But, of course, I always eventually speak–or, rather, write about it–especially when something upsets me.

I am an INFJ Personality Type, which is the rarest and most complex of all types. I’m not here to explain our complicated characteristics. I just want to say that we tend to be writers. As described in the article, Why Do So Many INFJs Want to be Writers:

INFJs are often natural writers. We not only have the empathy to understand others, but as Introverts, we enjoy working alone. For many people, the solitude necessary for writing is the hardest part, but for INFJs, it often feels like a sanctuary. It gives us the time and space we need to stop and think, reflect on our ideas and express ourselves. 

As sensitive individuals, we are always absorbing information around us, including sights, sounds, smells, temperature, light and other people’s feelings. We are constantly processing this information and trying to make sense of it. Because we absorb so much, we need an outlet for all this energy. This is what gives us a creative drive. Without attending to our need for creative expression, however, we can quickly become ill or experience physical systems of being “blocked,” including skin problems, headaches, digestive ailments and sleep disorders.

I totally appreciate and feel very honored by those who take time to read my blog. I like to see where readers are from. Sometimes I exclaim to EJ, “Today someone from California…Australia…the Netherlands…India…(or wherever) read my blog!” And he asks, “Why would anyone from Australia (or wherever) want to read about our boring little lives?” I say, “I have no idea!” But I cherish the fact that you do.

I don’t write because I think that I have an exciting life, or with the expectation or goal of becoming a famous blogger, or because I think I’m any sort of an abuse advocate. I write because I have to. Writing is my creative outlet. Writing is how I express myself. Writing is my voice. Jane’s situation has distressed me, and Jon Uhler’s comments have upset me. My body has felt stressed, I haven’t slept well, I have had bad dreams, and the other day I forgot to feed the ducks and let the chickens out of their coop until later in the day because I was focused on Jane’s story. I need to process this all by pouring it out in writing.

I have loved ones and friends who have been sexually abused. My son was victim-groomed (but not touched, he says) by his uncle years ago. I, myself, have never been sexually or physically abused. I am a victim of emotional abuse by my Mom/family and others. One of the difficult things about emotional abuse is that few people actually believe it’s abuse; at the very least, people consider it a “lesser” form of abuse. Sometimes I think they are correct. When I hear stories from survivors of sexual assault and physical violence, I’m horrified and heartbroken at what they’ve gone through. But I also hear horrifying and heartbreaking stories from survivors of emotional abuse. Still…at times I wonder that if emotional abuse is so much lesser, why do I feel so damaged by it?  Sometimes I ask my husband, “Am I imagining it? Was my family really as abusive as I believe? Or was it just me?” He always says, “They were absolutely terrible. You didn’t imagine it.” He would know. He was there during the worst of it. I also once exchanged stories with a new friend via email. After reading her story, I wrote something like, “Compared to what you have suffered, I think I have hardly suffered at all.” I had no sooner clicked “send” when I received an email from her. Our emails must have passed each other in cyberspace. She had written almost the same words to me.

I first started seeking information about emotional abuse because I felt confused and hurt, and I wanted to understand what was happening to me. As I learned about emotional abuse, I began learning about other forms of abuse as well. Often people experience more than one form of abuse at the same time so if you start to read about one form, you also become exposed to other forms. As I read articles and survivor stories it seemed to me that the tactics used by all abusers are very similar:  Abusers first appear good, loving, kind, charismatic to draw their victims in. The things the victims suffered are also very similar:  disbelief from others, smear campaigns, accusations, condemnation, minimizing the abuse, guilt, shame, struggles with identity, struggles with faith, anxiety, depression, self-doubt, insomnia, flashbacks, other PTSD symptoms.

I actually think different methods of abuse are a bit like different methods of murder. Sometimes I’ve heard people ask, as just a sort of theoretical point to ponder: “Which do you think is a worse way to die” or, alternatively, “How would you prefer to die: poisoned, shot, stabbed, drowned….?” I would rather be poisoned than tortured, and I’d rather be murdered quickly than slowly. But, really, in the end, no matter what method is used, murder is murder and the victim is killed. No one is less dead because they were poisoned instead of tortured. In a similar way, there are forms of abuse that horrify me, but in the end, in every form of abuse, the abuser tries to destroy his victim. In fact, I theorize that the core damage to a victim of abuse, no matter what method is used, is to the self, the identity. Abuse is sometimes referred to as “soul murder,” because that’s what it does. No matter what method used, the abuser tries to “murder” his victim’s core self.

I don’t know why I’m writing all this.

Yes, I do. It’s to say that although I have never been sexually assaulted, and I don’t know what that feels like, I can write about the affects of murder of the soul. I do know what it feels like to be disbelieved, minimized, accused, condemned, guilted, and shamed–and to struggle to overcome it.

Jon said that the ONLY way Jane–or any victim can be empowered and healed–is by naming her abuser. That statement slammed into me and I recoiled in protest. I asked myself why I thought it was wrong. And I asked myself if Jon is wrong, which I believe he is, how are victims REALLY empowered and healed?

First of all, although there are similarities in the tactics abusers use, the ways victims suffer, and the damage done to them, I think people are unique individuals. We are not all the same. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. It’s not true that “one size fits all.” I think that often when people say that everyone needs to believe or do a certain thing, they are either ignorant or insensitive to the needs of others or they believe that THEY have the answers to what should be done and they are trying to force it onto others.

I thought long and hard about what is empowering and healing me and listening to other abuse survivors, I think it is likely/possible that others are empowered in the same–or similar–ways. But that’s for them to say. I can only speak for myself.

Jon has repeatedly commented that  a victim can ONLY be empowered and healed if she publicly names her abuser. I think there is a time and place to name names or confront abusers, but the choice of if, when, and where is up to the victim–which brings me to the point of this post.

Let me pause and switch thoughts a little: I think in metaphors and I tend to use stories to help explain what I am thinking, so I will tell you about a movie called Ella Enchanted. It stars Anne Hathaway and was released in 2004. Although the movie is cute, I think it falls short of being really good and I would be surprised if it ever becomes a classic. However, I value the movie because to me it is a metaphor of what it feels like to be abused and the journey towards recovery.

Ella Enchanted is a retelling of the Cinderella story. When Ella was a baby, her drunken fairy godmother showed up at her house and gave her the gift of obedience. At first glance, a gift of obedience might seem to be a blessing (especially for people who believe women should always submit to their husbands in everything), but in reality it was a terrible curse. The gift of obedience meant that Ella was magically forced to do whatever anyone told her to do, whether she wanted to do it or not. Think about the things people say: Don’t move, wait here, sit down, stand up, bite your tongue, drop it, keep your eyes open…Ella’s step family discovered her curse by accident, and told her to do things such as give them her cherished keepsake, steal, or tell her dearest friend that she hated her and didn’t ever want to see her again.  Things really got serious when the evil king learned her secret and told her to kill the prince she loved. Here is a trailer for the movie:

Ella Enchanted is actually a story about Ella’s journey to gain the freedom to make her own personal choices.  Ella had friends who journeyed with her and supported (not forced) her as she fought for and won her freedom. In the end, she became not Ella Enchanted, but Ella Empowered.

Similar to Ella, victims are forceably told by their abusers what to think, what to feel, what to believe, what to say, what to do, how to do it, how to dress, how not to dress, how to serve, how not to serve, forgive, submit, don’t tell anyone, obey.  And like Ella, the battle to escape abuse is actually a journey to regain personal freedom. Gaining our freedom is what empowers us and this includes the freedom to speak or not to speak, to take action or not take action, to confront or not to confront, to freely choose how to live our own lives.

It is wrong to demand that Jane MUST identify her rapist, that this is the ONLY way she (or other victims) will be empowered and healed. It is damaging to take away her personal freedom in the matter. By demanding that she do what she so obviously chooses not to do, Jon (and others like him) is doing the opposite of “empowering.” He is doing what every other abuser does: insist on submission to their demands, force their victims to do things against their will, silence their voice, steal their freedom. That’s why I love and agree so wholeheartedly to what Sam Powell wrote:

…But there is something even deeper than this that is absolutely crucial to recovery for a victim. We are made in God’s image, which means we have personhood, choice, will, and a voice. Satan hates that and seeks to rob us of those things. This is what Jane’s rapist did. and Master’s college did the same thing. The assumption that she needs others to tell her what to do and how to do it. Shut up. Speak up. Stand up. Sit down. 

She’s in God’s image, with a voice and a personhood. (Diane Langberg is excellent on this). As a counselor, I not only direct victims in the scripture, teaching them about God’s character, I also encourage them to seek justice, but I never bully them into it, coerce them to report it, or force them – by using the bible as a bully pulpit – to do what I THINK they should do. it is crucial that they regain THEIR voice and THEIR choice and personhood in this. That is how they recover. By ordering Jane to do this as you think she ought to do this, or else be accused of lying, or slander, or worse, you have simply allowed yourself to join with her abusers in taking away her voice and her will.

A Shepherd’s Response

Sam Powell is a pastor and abuse advocate. He writes a blog, but I first encountered him through the comments he posted at A Cry for Justice. He wrote the following comment at Facebook in response to Jon Uhler’s posts about Jane, whose story about being raped while attending Master’s College (now University) has gone viral. I believe that Sam’s response reveals the heart of a true shepherd who cares about the abused. He gave me his permission to share it here:

Dear everyone,

I have been mulling this for several days, and weighing whether I should get involved. But since my name has come up, I’ll put in my two cents.

Jon, I cannot agree with your stance here, and beg you to hear me out. First, the point of Jane’s story was NOT necessarily the rape. She reported that properly, names and all, eleven years ago. Biblically, there is no requirement to continue to bring it up, especially since it would leave her and her loved ones vulnerable to expensive lawsuits for years to come.

If a counselee told me in my office “I was raped last night”, I would certainly advise her to do exactly what you are saying. Name names. Go to the police. But she has already done all of that. Old history. Her part of that is finished. 

But the details of the rape were crucial to the main point of her story – which is how Masters dealt with the whole thing. This is what she wants addressed. This is where she DID name names specifically.

If Masters is the same as they were eleven years ago, they would respond exactly the same way that they did – cover-up, accuse, deny. If they had changed, then they would have approached this far differently, sought to make contact in humility, and tried to reconcile.

To me, Jane showed the wisdom of Joseph. He didn’t immediately accuse. He first tested the waters to see if there was any change. There was no change, and I don’t blame her a bit for staying anonymous. It is her story, and her right to tell it her way.

But there is something even deeper than this that is absolutely crucial to recovery for a victim. We are made in God’s image, which means we have personhood, choice, will, and a voice. Satan hates that and seeks to rob us of those things. This is what Jane’s rapist did. and Master’s college did the same thing. The assumption that she needs others to tell her what to do and how to do it. Shut up. Speak up. Stand up. Sit down. 

She’s in God’s image, with a voice and a personhood. (Diane Langberg is excellent on this). As a counselor, I not only direct victims in the scripture, teaching them about God’s character, I also encourage them to seek justice, but I never bully them into it, coerce them to report it, or force them – by using the bible as a bully pulpit – to do what I THINK they should do. it is crucial that they regain THEIR voice and THEIR choice and personhood in this. That is how they recover. By ordering Jane to do this as you think she ought to do this, or else be accused of lying, or slander, or worse, you have simply allowed yourself to join with her abusers in taking away her voice and her will.

There is nothing in scripture whatsoever that forbids her from doing what she has done. She’s gone the Romans 13 route, she’s gone the Matthew 18 route.

I thank God for social media. The power brokers of “ministry” have had too much success in shutting mouths over technicalities and threats of “gossip” for far too long. 

Jane, if you are reading this, there is no sin in what you have done, provided what you say is true. And I believe you.

Jon, one other thing. I also went to a bible college (BIOLA) and can tell you with much assurance that such wicked men ARE in the seminaries and in the schools. They go largely unhindered because there are so many who say, “But that can’t happen here! You mean to tell me that we have RAPISTS and LIARS and those who mock victims HERE??

Yes, Jon. We do.This isn’t the first account, and it won’t be the last.

Here are my two bits. Hope they help. Have a good evening, everyone”

Degrees of Learning

I’ve been thinking a lot about the debate between many abuse advocates/survivors and Jon Uhler regarding Jane, the woman who had been raped 11 years ago while a student at Master’s College (now University). I wrote about it yesterday. I think Jon could learn a lot from the people who have experienced abuse and battled to overcome it, but he repeatedly listed his credentials in psychology and his belief that victims are empowered by naming their abusers. He dismissed what they said (quite arrogantly, I thought). He missed a great opportunity to be a true advocate.

I thought these two topics–education and what empowers an abuse victim–would be interesting to explore. I’m going to split them into two posts. In this post, I will discuss education and I’ll write about empowerment later. I want to begin by stating three things. I could add more, but listing these three is good enough for my purposes:

I value education.
I think a college education has value.
I also think that a college education has its limits.

Colleges were created to pool information so that every individual wouldn’t have to discover knowledge and techniques on his own by trial and error, “re-discovering” what others had already discovered and figured out. Colleges set a standard to attain to in an attempt to make sure students were well-trained and skilled in their chosen profession. Grades and degrees are official stamps of approval indicating that a student was presented with known information and was successful (or not) at passing tests. A degree helps customers seeking a particular service to determine if the person doing the job has been taught the skill.

Although there are certain fields, such as the medical profession, that requires certification before a person is allowed to do the job (and wisely so), college is not the ONLY way to learn and many things can be learned without it. Most students are given books to study and are then tested on the information, but anyone can study a book and learn from it if they really want to. A self-educated person is still educated. He has the knowledge, he just doesn’t have the official piece of paper. For example, I have been teaching myself Hebrew. I don’t need to sit in a classroom, I am perfectly capable of opening a Hebrew book, and I have access to teachers on the Internet, I have a friend who studies with me, and we have at least one Jewish friend who lives in Israel who helps us when we get stuck. I will never get a college degree in Hebrew Language Studies, but if I study diligently I will have the knowledge, which is more important to me. Both EJ and I believe that a truly educated person never stops seeking to learn. EJ went to college (as did I) and he says that college was just a first step. Getting out into the real world was when he really began to learn.

I have three stories to tell about education to illustrate what I want to say. I learn best through stories so I use stories to explain my thoughts.

Knowledge vs. Experience

Larry and his wife were the youth leaders for the Junior High School kids at church when I was growing up. I have forgotten most of what they taught us, but I still remember when Larry told us about when he went to school to learn to operate heavy equipment–you know, backhoes and bulldozers and such. Larry’s classmate excelled at the assignments and tests and got top grades. Larry struggled with the written assignments and got low scores on the tests. I think he might have had test anxiety. When it came time to actually operate the heavy equipment, however, the student who had excelled at the classwork sat clueless and overwhelmed by the controls. Larry, who had grown up on a farm and had operated tractors and trucks for years, was familiar and comfortable with the controls and excelled at actually driving the equipment.

College isn’t the only way to learn and excelling at classwork doesn’t necessary mean a person is actually skilled at the job.

Humility/Willingness to Learn

One of the things I love most about my husband is his humility and willingness to learn from everyone, whether they are college educated or not, whether they are rich or poor, whether they are a CEO at a prestigious company or the bagger at the grocery store. He treats the old man at the park with the same respect he gives to the billionaire owner of the company he works at. EJ believes that everyone has value and that he can learn something from everyone. And he does.

EJ is a CNC machinist. In every company he has worked, he has always sought out the old man who has been a machinist for 30 years or so, and asked him to teach him what he knows. Because EJ was willing to be taught, the old skilled machinists taught him the secrets of their trade–the secrets that weren’t taught at school.  However, inevitably a young man would get hired and he would stride into the factory filled with his own self-importance. He would assume that he knew more than everyone else because he was, after all, educated in the latest CNC techniques and could teach these other guys a thing or two. He had contempt for the outdated knowledge of the old machinist. Because of the arrogance of these young men, the old machinists refused to teach them their secrets. They gained no more knowledge than what they had on their first day of work, which means they stagnated. Eventually, they either humbled themselves to ask the old machinists to teach them or they floundered in their self-important ignorance  and were fired.

Humility and a willingness to learn from others is of great value and will take you further than a college degree.

Superiority

We have a fascinating book by John Hudson Tiner called The History of Medicine. From this book, I have learned some valuable lessons from men like Hippocrates and Semmelweiss.

Hippocrates was a Greek who was born in 460 BC. He revolutionized medicine in his time and is often called the “Father of Medicine.” Other doctors at that time based their healing on the belief that all diseases were caused by evil spirits, hateful demons, and vengeful gods. They treated their patients with chants and magic potions. One treatment called for a patient to travel to one of the many pagan temples in Greece, make a sacrifice, and spend the night in the temple where he was supposed to dream away his disease. Hippocrates believed that diseases had a natural cause. “Find the cause,” he said, “then you can cure the disease.” He worked to gain the confidence of patients and put their minds at ease. He instructed his students to find out as much as possible about their patient–his symptoms, how he felt when the illness began, what he usually ate and drank, did he change his diet? He instructed that patients be allowed to rest and were kept clean, had fresh air, and had simple wholesome food. He taught his students to treat every patient the same, both friends and foes, rich and poor. He wrote a guideline for honorable standards of action, called the Hippocratic Oath, which medical students still take after completing their training. He was remarkable. However, like many pioneers, he had to contend with the jealousy of his contemporaries, who warned that the gods would be angered by his changes.

Years later, a Roman named Galen was born in 130 AD. He made the first attempts to master anatomy. He felt that a thorough understanding of the body was necessary for good medicine. However, there were severe penalties for dissecting human bodies under Roman law which he dared not break so he dissected animals–dogs, goats, pigs, and monkeys–in order to learn anatomy. He furthered knowledge greatly, but animal anatomy differs somewhat from the human body so he could only go so far. Galen urged doctors to study firsthand for themselves, but his advice was ignored. He became the undisputed authority and for centuries no one dared to ever differ from him.  In the 1500s, Jacobus Sylvius, one of the best-known doctors of his day, taught at the University of Paris. He refused to see any errors in Galen, and if the corpse being dissected didn’t agree with Galan’s writings and drawings, he believed the error was in the corpse. It took a doctor named Andreas Vesalius’ hard-fought battles to overcome the belief that Galan was always right and to further medical knowledge.

One of my favorite stories is of Ignaz Philipp Semmelweiss, who became the assistant director of the Vienna Maternity hospital in 1844. The hospital had two wards: one to train doctors and the other to train midwives. Pregnant women who came to the hospital were either sent to the ward run by the doctors or the one run by the midwives.  Semmelweiss was surprised that the women all begged to go to the midwives’ ward. He learned that the women feared the doctors’ ward because more patients died there. In fact, so many women died in the doctors’ ward that it was basically a murder factory. Semmelweiss investigated why fewer women died in the midwives’ ward and eventually discovered that the reason the doctor ward had more deaths was because the doctors didn’t bother with cleanliness. They might leave the morgue after dissecting a corpse, rush to the operating room for surgery, then go straight to the wards to care for patients without ever washing their hands or changing their bloodstained coats. Young doctors were actually proud of their bloodstained examination coats because it made them feel more experienced. In contrast, the head midwife demanded that her midwives be clean and neat. She even had her students line up each morning and hold out their hands to prove their fingernails were clean. Semmelweiss was willing to learn from the midwives, and he set up wash basins and demanded his students wash their hands. He also required that patients’ bed linens be replaced as soon as they became soiled. The death rate in his wards dropped spectacularly. You’d think the other doctors would be thrilled that fewer patients died, but they were enraged by these changes, which they thought were foolish and beneath their dignity. They didn’t want to learn from “ignorant midwives” who didn’t have the education or status they did. They resisted, undermined, and eventually drove Semmelweiss out of Vienna. As soon as he left, the director threw out the wash basins and the students rejoiced. The death rate soared again. They didn’t care. They had “won.” It wasn’t until the late 1860s that doctors finally began to accept that many diseases are caused by germs and can be spread by contact.

A college degree does not mean that a person is superior to others or knows more, even in his field of study. It doesn’t mean he is infallible. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have more he can learn. The person he thinks is ignorant, uneducated, and beneath him might actually have more wisdom than he does (as the midwives had more wisdom than the doctors in the hospital Semmelweis worked at). The point at which a person thinks he has nothing more to learn is the point at which he ceases to learn and grow. A college education merely means that a person has learned the current information that is known–or believed to be true–at the time. It doesn’t mean that the information taught is actually correct or shouldn’t be questioned. Knowledge is only as accurate/true as the knowledge of the teachers–and sometimes it’s very wrong, as the history of medicine shows.  What one generation is taught is often disproved or expanded on in the next.

What I am attempting to say is that I’ve encountered a lot of people who think they are superior to others because they have attended prestigious colleges/seminaries and have a string of fancy letters behind their name. I think that a degree merely means you learned the information set before you, and believing you are a superior person because of it is like believing you are a gourmet chef because you ate the food served you at a fancy restaurant. Don’t get me wrong: A college education can be a good thing, it can be a very beneficial thing, and I’m not intending to take away from the accomplishment of working hard for a degree. I love to learn. The extra bedroom in my house is actually a library filled ceiling to floor with books. Furthermore, I was in the honor society in high school and graduated in the top 20 of my class. I was also in the honor society in college and graduated summa cum laude. I worked hard and earned these accomplishments. But after proudly displaying my honors and degree for a couple weeks, I put them all in my life box (a box that holds momentos from my life) because they don’t define me, they don’t make me superior to others, and I value things like integrity, compassion, and hard work much more than the honors and degrees.

I think knowledge is a tool–like a hammer, saw, or rake. Tools are used to build and cultivate and make life better. If going to college will give you the knowledge to become a doctor and save lives, you have accomplished something awesome. But if a degree makes you think you are better than others, and if it causes you to treat others as if they are beneath you and can teach you nothing–like the attitude of the doctors that Semmelweis worked with–then knowledge has puffed you up and twisted you and your degree is rubbish. Knowledge is a tool to be used; it doesn’t make you a better person.

Graduating from a seminary doesn’t mean a person is a pastor. It doesn’t even mean he knows God better than the lowest “status” person in the church (whatever that means). Graduating with honors with a degree in psychology doesn’t make a person a counselor. I’ve known “pastors” who ripped apart sheep and “counselors” who were unworthy of the name. I’ve also known people, both educated and not, who had a true pastor’s and counselor’s heart. True pastors and counselors are not wise in their own eyes, do not refuse to learn from others, do not demand that people do things their way, and do not treat people with arrogance, contempt, disrespect, or dismissal. They have humility, love, integrity, respect for others, and are willing to listen and learn.

“…Knowledge” puffs a person up with pride; whereas love builds up.” (1 Cor. 8:1)

I may speak in the tongues of men, even angels;
but if I lack love, I have become merely
blaring brass or a cymbal clanging.
I may have the gift of prophecy,
I may fathom all mysteries, know all things,
have all faith — enough to move mountains;
but if I lack love, I am nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-2)

 

 

Voices of the Victims

I am such a horrible, terrible person! I am bowing my head in absolute shame.

Yesterday afternoon I went out to the coop to gather eggs. The ducks met me, quacking loudly in complaint. That’s when I noticed that I had forgotten to feed them that morning. Horrified, I filled their food dish and they greedily filled their bellies. Then I noticed that I had forgotten to open the chickens’ little door. They had been stuck in their coop all day. I opened their door and they were able to enjoy a few hours of outdoor time.

This morning I opened the coop door and found that the ducks had put their food dish right in the middle of the doorway so I couldn’t miss it. They usually rush outside when I open the door, but this time they waited and quacked loudly until they saw me fill their bowl. I told them, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

Not to excuse or justify myself, but I’m quite sure that the reason I forgot to fill the ducks’ bowl and open the chickens’ door was because I was intensely struggling with a story that has gone viral.

A couple of days ago, an abuse advocate/blogger shared the story of a woman who had been drugged and raped 11 years ago when she was a student at a Christian college. The victim described the experience:

“I am drifting in and out of consciousness [after unknowingly being given a soda with a date rape drug in it]. I do not know where I am. The stranger is on top of me but I can’t move. I am telling him to stop and get off of me. I hear him grinding and mixing some concoction. He is forcing me to swallow more alcohol. It tastes like it has sand in it. He insists I drink more. I wake up choking and coughing. Everything goes dark.”  Excerpt from Do You See Me?

 One website (of many) that shared her story summarized it this way:

Jane (not her real name) was a 21-year-old student at the Master’s College studying to become a Biblical Counselor. In her courses, she learned all about how to deal with situations of rape, including the importance of reporting it to the police. On a school break, she went to a restaurant with some friends who were students at the Master’s Seminary. (The restaurant was an approved location according to the strict guidelines for student behavior.) Also at the restaurant was a friend of her friends (also a Master’s Seminary student) who offered to buy her a drink. She said yes, and he brought her a Coke. But the coke was drugged. After she blacked out, the stranger carried her to his room where he raped her, drugged her again, and put her in a dress that was against the school dress code. He also repeatedly offered her alcohol to drink.

When Jane finally was conscious enough to realized that she had been drugged and raped, she confidently went to the police, knowing the importance of reporting such matters. She then spoke with her Residence Director, who was shocked–not at her rape, but at her use of alcohol and drugs. She was assigned a Biblical Counselor as well, who assured her that the only way to make this better would be to marry her rapist. She was also made to go see Rick Holland, the college pastor at Grace Community Church. He asked for all the details she could remember about her rape, much to her discomfort. (This is sexual harassment, by the way.) Rick consulted with Pastor John MacArthur and together they told her that she would be kicked out of school for violating school standards against alcohol and drugs. They were also angry that she had reported the situation to the police.

Jane was shocked at how people were responding to her, which was not at all in line with how she had been taught in her counseling classes to respond to allegations of rape. She was later contacted saying that she could finish her final year at the Master’s College under a few conditions. She found out that her rapist had confessed to raping her, specifically noting that their sex was not consensual. However, she was required to apologize to her rapist for her part in the matter. The second condition was she must consent to regular counseling sessions with her rapist. She refused, and was subsequently barred from campus. Up to that point she had received all A’s for her classes, but when she was expelled, the school changed all her grades to F’s. When she sought to further her education elsewhere, the appearance of her flunking out of college made that extremely difficult. After she left the Master’s College, she continued to receive messages from people associated with the Master’s College and Grace Community Church calling her to repent for fornication and drinking alcohol. The story was circulated that she was expelled for sleeping around and using drugs/alcohol.

Religious organizations do not have a good track record when it comes to helping abuse victims. This treatment is VERY common, especially in the denomination the college is affiliated with. The abuse advocate/blogger Rebecca Davis wrote:

I had no trouble believing that Jane could have been invited into a room and seated next to “the stranger” who raped her in order to immediately forgive him, not only because I’ve heard so many similar accounts before, some from people I know very well, but also because this is taught by the nouthetic counselors themselves.

If even now Jane, having been raped ten or so years ago by “the stranger” associated with The Master’s Seminary students, were to come to a nouthetic counselor such as this, she would find that the focus is off the wickedness that was perpetrated on her and the concommitant trauma and betrayal, and is instead on to her own sin. That is, no matter what had happened, no matter how bad it was, if Jane had been used in pornography and sex trafficking, still the focus would be on Jane’s sin.

Eleven years later, “Jane” is telling her story.

A few months ago, I was asked to become an Internet team member of a new ministry that seeks to educate churches on how to protect themselves from sexual predators. After much thought, I declined because I’m more comfortable speaking unofficially if and when I have something to say. I’m glad I declined because one of the co-founders (whom I will refer to as CF for Co-Founder) is insisting that the ONLY way that “Jane” will be empowered and healed is if she reveals her true identity, the identity of her witnesses, and the name of her rapist. He declares that she has a “moral obligation” to identify herself to protect other women. He is implying that she is lying and accusing her of trying to “tar and feather” a good man and a good university. He has, by the way, stated that he thinks very highly of John MacArthur and his teachings.

I was aware that many victims who read CF’s comments at Facebook were being triggered and feeling battered. Some of them privately told me they felt so battered and betrayed that they were unable to speak. They told me that they were glad that I was speaking out. I believe firmly in doing what Proverbs 31:8-9 says: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”  My voice wasn’t the only voice or even the most eloquent voice, but I did add it to the voices of the other abuse advocates and victims who challenged CF’s position at Facebook.

Here are some points to consider that were brought up by advocates/victims at Facebook:

  • Advocates who talked personally with Jane vetted her story and believe her. Victims who have read her story (including me) are very familiar with the abusive tactics used against her, so we believe her as well.
  • The statutes of limitations has passed so Jane cannot legally seek justice. Her stated purpose in telling her story is merely to encourage the college (now a university) to change how they deal with sexual assault victims.  Working for change does not require that her identity be known.
  • CF thinks Jane has a moral obligation to protect other women by revealing her identity, her rapists’ name, and her witnesses. He says nothing of the moral obligation of the college to look into how they treat sexual assault victims.
  • CFs criticism was focused ONLY on Jane. He fully supports MacArthur and the college.
  • Several people, including a lawyer, have stated that since the rapist was never charged, Jane could possibly face a lawsuit if she identified him. (CF said she should anyway.)
  • A victim pays a high price when she speaks out, including experiencing accusation, condemnation, blame/shaming, shunning, loss of reputation. If Jane spoke out, besides suffering additional emotional trauma, she could suffer legal liability and, if she cannot afford legal costs, financial difficulties. I think it’s very easy for CF to urge Jane to pay a price that he doesn’t have to pay.
  • Jane has already identified her rapist: 11 years ago she named him in the police report and to the college. The college knows who she is and who the rapist is. It seems to me that Jane has done everything she could, and that the college is the one who is “morally obligated” to protect the women attending their school. I don’t believe Jane is obligated to tell the world her name. Nor do I believe it is safe for her to do so.
  • I’m a bit suspicious of this strong push for Jane to reveal her identity. I wonder if the college would be legally liable if they revealed Jane’s name without her permission, but if they could pressure Jane (either directly or indirectly) to reveal her identity herself, they could shred her to pieces. They don’t have to do it themselves. It is typical that Christians will rush to defend, protect, and support abusers, especially if the abuser is well-known and popular.
  • CF often cites his counseling education/experience but all the credentials in the world are rubbish if a person is not actually listening to the people he claims to be helping.
  • The role of an advocate is to listen to a victim’s story and support her as she makes her own decisions in her own time about the actions she wants to take. THAT empowers her. It will only re-traumatize her to bully her to into doing anything against her will.

I have really hoped and prayed that CF would listen to the advocates and victims who are speaking to him so he could become a true voice for the abused. However, as I worked on this post, I read his additional comments, which were so arrogant that I felt very sick in my spirit. A person can’t claim to speak on behalf of victims if he dismisses and disrespects everything they say. Since CF believes–and insists–that victims need to publicly name their abuser, I will name him: I very strongly believe that Jon Uhler, the co-founder of Church Protect, is no true advocate for the abused. I believe that he is harming, not helping, victims. I strongly suggest that victims do not go to him for help. If you want a true advocate, I suggest A Cry for Justice. (You can also find a link to this and other sites I’ve found helpful at the right of this page.)

I am heartbroken for the suffering of victims. I am angry–and justly–that those who claim to help them only tear them apart instead.

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