"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Zahra Baker: A Call to Action for All of Us

Undoubtedly, you instantly recognized the photo above as that of Zahra Baker, the Hickory North Carolina 10 year old who was recently confirmed dead, allegedly at the hands of her stepmother and possibly her father. The details are blurry. It has not yet been confirmed if the stepmother acted alone or if Zahra’s father was involved. Accusations are flying.

Several reports have alleged that Zahra’s stepmother was terribly abusive towards her. In articles I searched and read this morning, this was a common theme. One article quoted a family member as having witnessed beatings, but she didn’t call DSS or the police because she was addicted to drugs and feared being caught or charged. Other articles have stated that other people involved DID call DSS, and that the school that Zahra attended had also tried to get involved and help.

I have never seen so many people I know so upset by a story. My Facebook page is exploding with tributes to Zahra and heartbreaking status updates about how this case and this little girl are haunting them. So many people say they wish she was here so they could hug her, comfort her, take care of her.

It is too late for Zahra. It is NOT TOO LATE however, for countless other children out there who are enduring the very same abuse and neglect in their homes. Unfortunately, I can almost guarantee you that within your county, your city, your state, there are several children just like Zahra that need you. NOW.

We all feel helpless when we hear of these stories. And in some cases—either by geography or circumstances- we are. But, if more people in every community started to take action, to get involved in organizations that prevent and aid in child abuse cases, it would make a difference.

I was a Guardian ad Litem in the state of NC many years ago, and the impact it made on my life was significant. I know that my involvement was crucial in at least one case that involved a child being removed from a dangerous home situation- and I hold that memory dear to my heart. The real impact that experience had on me though was the stacks and stacks of folders of abuse cases in ONE county in North Carolina, too numerous and horrific to stomach. I was in shock to learn of the sheer number of cases, and over half of them as serious and horrific as a Susan Smith case or a Zahra Baker case. So many don’t make it into the media, so we all—understandably so—think these are isolated cases. Abuse seems to happen “somewhere else” in another neighborhood.

It happens every day, in every socioeconomic situation. In the worst neighborhoods, and in the best. From people you would expect, and people you would never dream could harm a child.

So, here’s my call to action for everyone reading this, everyone I know, everyone who is aching over Zahra Baker. DO SOMETHING. Not just writing a check to an organization—that does help—but we need more.

First, pay attention to the children you know, the children in your child’s school, children in your church, your co-worker’s children—everywhere. We should not be a paranoid society, accusing innocent people of wrong doing. But, children give signals, and most of us know—we get that gut feeling when something is wrong. If you get these signals, get involved, find out what’s going on, and if need be—report it. Yes, it is drastic. Yes, it is a HUGE decision not to be taken lightly or made for any other reason than the safety and well being of a child. But, you could be changing a life--saving a life.

Severe abuse is not always physical. You can’t just look for bruises and broken bones. The worst abuse is sometimes emotional and is easy for the abuser (and the victim) to hide. Again, listen to your gut. Does the child seem sad, depressed, timid, or excessively anxious or worried? Do things just seem ‘not right’? (click here for a list of signs for recognizing abuse).

More often than not, your gut is telling you something is wrong because of a series of factors. You know one or both parents and are questioning their actions or lifestyle, AND the children seem to be struggling. 

Cases of abuse are not always an obviously evil abusive parent or family member. Unfortunately, the parents or family members are often sick themselves—either fighting addiction or mental illness—and in these cases they truly can’t see the harm they are doing. But no matter who has what trouble, no matter how tough it all is—the children need to be put first. Their safety and well being is all that matters. The emotional scars from all kinds of abuse take years—sometimes lifetimes—to heal. 

The other action we can all take is to get involved with organizations that do good work, hands-on work in the fight against child abuse and neglect. I was so inspired by a friend of mine this week, who said after this case with Zahra Baker, she felt she had to do something to help. She found out about the Guardian ad Litem program and applied to be a volunteer. Inspired by her action, I also decided to go back to the Guardian ad Litem program, finding an application online and downloading it just yesterday.

I do not want Zahra Baker to have lost her life without something positive coming out of it. It is a senseless, horrific, heartbreaking tragedy. This child got the worst hand dealt to her by life, and I can’t make sense of it all, no matter how hard I try. All I can do now is try to prevent it from happening to even one child in my community. And none of us should rest until we all do the same.

Here are some organizations doing great work. Check them out, become educated, become aware. Do something. (click below to go to the organizations' websites)


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Name Change

I have a new last name. It is bizarre after 41 years to say the name, write the name, know that it is mine. It is a gift.

I was married last Saturday, November 13 in a small church near our home. If I had handpicked one day out of the year to tie the knot, I could not have picked a better one. The weather was absolutely perfect, around seventy degrees, and if there was a cloud in the sky, I didn’t see it.

Without a doubt, I had given up on this dream ever coming true. About 3 years ago, after a combination of heartbreak, bad luck, and just life, I remember writing in my journal: I am on my own for good, I know it. I have to face that.

I didn’t have some hope off in the distance, I wasn’t writing those words to be dramatic. It was my truth. I knew it in my heart. 

I am writing these words now because I want so badly to give hope to someone out there who feels the way I did. And I want to be so clear that I was in such a low place, as low as one can get. I just remember seeing emails and stories of friends and strangers finding love, bliss, happiness, and it seemed like another species on another planet to me. Depression had an unshakable hold on me, had grabbed me with its tentacles, and pulled me into the shadows and gave me no hope of breaking free. Depression had found me as a result of many things—my childhood, failed relationships, career let downs, and my own self esteem.

Today, my life has changed. It wasn’t just because someone walked into my life and flipped a switch. It was a process of healing, therapy, and friends and family circling the wagons for me. It was a long look at myself and my life, and somehow letting love in—cracking the door enough to give my life another chance.

It was not easy. I can honestly say that the last four years of my life were the hardest because as an adult, I had to face down demons, fears, and patterns that had grown accustomed to living with me. Going through everything through the years was excruciating, but trying to relive the worst parts, dissect them, and then make sense and heal was at times worse. There were things I kept shut away, and it was easier temporarily not to put them out on the table.

My husband (I still can’t get used to saying that!) and I do not have a perfect, flawless relationship. We argue, disagree and sometimes annoy each other to pieces. But we do have an honest respect for one another. And we truly like each other as we are- flaws and all. I have never ever been in a relationship where I was myself. I couldn’t be for one reason or another. (all signs that you are in the wrong relationship). It has alarmed me how at ease I am around him, how I catch myself being totally silly or just effortlessly free.

I have realized that I have settled in the past in so many ways, and I beg of anyone reading this—man or woman—don’t settle. Not in any way, not in one cell of your being. And we all know when we are settling. That inner voice tells us. We just ignore it because we think we don’t deserve better or can’t do better. And you can. 

I have cried happy tears every day since the wedding. I have stopped and relived the happy moments of our wedding a hundred times. One of the greatest joys for me was seeing all the people who circled the wagons for me when I needed it, there with us to witness the fruits of their labor. These were the people who refused to give up on me, who saw the hope of something I couldn’t see. These are the people that built a pathway for me to take to the place I am today.

All the decisions Shea (my husband!) and I made about the wedding were the right ones. We fretted over tradition, family pain, our own beliefs, and of course, all the food and event decisions. I can’t count the number of times we have looked at each other since Saturday and said—it was all so perfect.

So many women- my friends and fellow bloggers and women who read my blog- wrote to me before the wedding and told me to try and slow down on the day of the ceremony, to drink it all in. Several women said they couldn’t remember a lot of the day- it was a blur.

I talked to Shea about this a few days before the wedding. We made a pledge to each other that we would savor the ceremony, really take care to be in the moment and drown out everything else.
As I followed my bridesmaids to the back of the aisle, I took a long deep breath. I looked around at the women who would lead me into the sanctuary. I caught a glimpse of the blue sky as we walked by the open back door of the church. And I watched my dear friends wink and wish me well as they headed down the aisle. I will never forget those moments, or the moment I stood at the back of the aisle and saw Shea’s face just as he saw me for the first moment. We never lost eye contact for a second as I walked down the aisle to him. 

It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.

It was the beginning of my new life. 

My new life with a new name.

~~We had an amazing photographer at our wedding, the photos won't be ready for a bit. For those of you that asked and want to see them, I will post a link when they are ready. Thank you to everyone for the sweet wishes for our wedding!~~


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Circle of Love

In the last few months, with the wedding date ahead of us, my fiancĂ© and I have been tumbling through a bittersweet time. There has been so much shared joy- first between the two of us. Both of us are 40 (ok, I just turned 41), and neither of us has ever been married. Although it may not be too uncommon these days for folks to wait to get married—or even not to get married at all—for us, it was never not wanting to get married—it was not having found the right person. We both feel such a sense of gratitude in having finally found each other. It was a long wait, and both of us doubted we would ever have this bond and this love in our lives.

The other joy has been sharing this time with family and friends, feeling the love and happiness pour over us. So many of our friends have been wishing this happiness for each of us—and to see them so happy for us is as touching as anything I have encountered. Our close friends knew how badly each of us wanted this happiness—this love--this wedding—this life. To share it with people who have been along with us for our journeys before this—all the heartbreaks, the career highs, the life losses—it is all so special. At our wedding shower last month, we looked around the room at all the people there, remembering all the milestones we have shared with so many. All the weddings, showers, birthdays, holidays, family additions…the list goes on. These people made our lives whole up until we met each other, and now the intermingling of everyone just makes everything complete.

The bittersweet explanation is the turmoil we have been dealing with that only a few close friends know about. We were betrayed and hurt by people we trusted…so deeply that I cannot find words to write. We continue to try and tiptoe through the daily reminders of this pain, a pain no couple should ever face in the days leading to their wedding. I have watched my fiancĂ© hurt in a way I cannot completely heal, and I have shared his pain in a way I have never shared anything else with anyone. I worried for weeks that our wedding would be tarnished by this pain. I worried that these memories would somehow cast a shadow on everything—darken the day somehow.

Instead, we have found this new strength…knowing how good we are for each other, knowing how strong we are. We have had rough moments but have never for one second doubted one another. This test of us has almost, just almost been a blessing.

I had never doubted anything about the man I am marrying- his morals, his heart, his honesty, his simple goodness and inability to be false. But, even knowing that in my heart is strengthened by seeing it in action. This time of trouble has shown me who he is and who we are. It has let me know how we will handle a crisis. We are not perfect, not without flaws or the ability to make mistakes. But, in the end, in times that are as tough as these moments have been with the worst possible timing, I know that we can swim our way through together, picking up for each other where one leaves off, saving each other in the process.

If it is possible, I will walk down the aisle more sure than I could have imagined that I am headed in the right direction, into the arms of my best friend, my soulmate, my happiness. 

I am finally at the point in my life that I believe I deserve it. 

We both do.



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