The Devil Wears My Sister’s Face

When I think of the Devil, I see an angry, red, scowling face. I don’t see a mythical figure. I see my sister. This is the only part of her I ever saw.

“Nobody will ever love you. Nobody will ever want you. Nobody will ever be your friend. You’ll never be anybody,you’ll never do anything.” So went the litany of non-affirmations she heaped on me constantly. She drew an imaginary line down the middle of our bedroom, and I was never, ever, allowed to cross it, unless it was to reach the closet, or one of the two doors leading out of our bedroom. She was older than me. She knew me better than anyone. She had to know what I was really like. I believed her. Sometimes, I believe her now. When I entered a room, she wrinkled her nose, like she smelled a foul odor. I was convinced that I stunk until I was 30 years old. How she managed to remember to wrinkle her nose every time she saw me, I don’t know. But she did. I got the message. I stunk, and my mere presence was distasteful. I felt ashamed.

As a child, I was small for my age. My sister is five years older. She was always bigger, and when she started hitting me, it was never a fair fight. When I reached my final adult height, I was almost 5’3″. She was 5’8″.It was never going to be a fair fight. I could never win, and she used her height and weight to her advantage. By the time I was six, she was hitting me every time my parents left the house, although she felt free to attack me when it was just mom in the house. All mom would do was scold. Both of my parents knew that it wasn’t safe leaving me with her, yet they did, knowing fully well, I would be in pain and hysterics when they got home. She always warned me never to tell, but I did anyway, so she would be punished. If I was in pain, I wanted her to hurt, too. I didn’t think it was fair for just me to hurt. So I would get it again the next day, so really, I guess it was my fault. Her favorite method was slapping hard. You cover more area when you slap, and she was fast as she slapped me as hard as she could up and down my body. Twisting the skin of my arm in opposite directions was a favorite torture method, as was digging her fingernails into my arms as deep as they would go.

Our father was as scary as she was, but he didn’t hit as much. When he did hit, it was with a belt. His favorite scare tactic was to slam the door to our bedroom open, turn on the lights and come in screaming at the top of his lungs in the wee hours of the morning, school night or no, for us to get up, because he’d found a microscopic speck on a piece of silverware or a plate. We’d get up, shaking in terror, and wash every plate and piece of silverware in the house. We did the dishes together, every, single night, her washing, my drying. She took advantage of the opportunity of our being alone in the kitchen to verbally and physically abuse me, but we were both very, very careful to inspect everything that passed through our hands. That we were going to slip up was a given. We were children. Every time we did miss something,here came Dad, blasting through the door. To this day I have a highly exaggerated startle response. Any noise will set me off, and I had then, as now, a considerable hearing loss. I’m still waiting, at almost 55 years old, for my dad to come blasting through the door.

When he was home, Dad sat. We waited on him hand and foot…taking his boots off, keeping his glass full, plate full, whatever he needed. When he wasn’t home, and when my mom started working when I was twelve, I did the same for my sister…or,else. She sat in his chair, and while I didn’t take her shoes off I had to make her lunch, and keep her glass full…or else. She would hit me worse than she normally did. Should we share something, she’d cut it in one big piece and one little piece, because “Rank has it’s privileges”, as she put it. If I accepted the small piece, it was one less reason for a sound slapping.

I had nightmares from her threats. She would threaten to kill me, and once threatened to put a knife in my back. That caused a nightmare that reoccurred well into adulthood, but thankfully, I am free of it now.

Home was a living hell. School was a living hell. Denied any special education but speech therapy, because my parents were afraid that if I met other kids like me, I would lose my speech, I was in regular classes and subject to nonstop harassment because I talked funny, and wore hearing aids. In high school, someone. I had known in junior high told me in front of a group ” I used to not like you because you talked funny and wore hearing aids.” Thanks…I think….I also had trouble with math, and trouble focusing on my work, because I was too depressed to deal with anything. It was just easier to zone out in class and focus on nothing. The only places I,was safe was with my speech therapist, or church. My family was non religious, and I had been invited while young to go to Sunday school. While I may not have been very popular, I was safe. No one ever hit me, made fun of me, or said nasty things. To this day I am grateful. I grew up, and got married in that church. We had a great youth group, were loved, cared for, and had some great times.

As my sister’s high school years came to a close, she became even more violent than her normal slaps, arm twisting or nail digging, and I had to be very alert to make sure she didn’t cause any serious damage. I remember two times when she very well could have harmed me permanently. When I was in seventh grade, in a fit of rage, she came at my face with her long fingernails, fully intending to drag them down my face. Since I was sitting, and wearing boots at the time, I kicked her, hard, every time she lunged for my face, as I covered my face with my arms. Finally I managed to hurt her enough for her to stop. That day was a first. I got grounded for hurting my sister. That she was going to try to claw my eyes out and disfigure me made no difference, and in fact, she had managed to disfigure someone. One of my nieces, as a toddler, slipped and fell on a furnace grate. My sister watched as the baby burned. When she screamed, getting my older sister and my mom’s attention, causing them to run into the room, they were livid. When they asked why she didn’t save the baby, all she had to say was that she didn’t feel like getting up. Our niece recovered. She still has the scars, and luckily, they are really faint. But she shouldn’t have to have even that.

My sister took a course in cosmetology, and I was made to skip a day of school so she could use me as a model. She cut my long hair off to above my shoulders. I was devastated. Emboldened by being allowed to to this, she would start in on wanting to do my hair at home, too. The time I resisted, she simply beat my head against the hard porcelain sink until I could fight no more.

I did have friends. Two girls from the neighborhood and I became friends and by the time we were teenagers, we were inseparable. They are friends to this day, and there aren’t enough words to describe what they mean to me. They, and their parents treated me as normal. In junior high, I made another friend, and we were close all through high school. We also are still friends.

The year I was in eighth grade, my sister left mid school year to go into the military. I was elated. I was free of her. I saw her a handful of times until I got married, none of them spectacular times. My mom and oldest sister kept her up on my doings…upon hearing that I finally had a boyfriend at age 19, she asked “what’s wrong with him?” Later, she came home on a visit. Looking him up and down, she asked one thing: ” What does he see in HER?!” My relationship with my boyfriend led to marriage. My sister didn’t come. She didn’t want to come.

I’d like to say that we both grew up, matured, and became friends. I can’t say that. She had two failed marriages, both of which resulted in children, except for her oldest, she didn’t raise. Her oldest child is emotionally scarred beyond belief. An unloved, abused child is not a happy child. They have no contact. The second child escaped her when she broke the child’s arm as a toddler. Raised by the father, the child did not see her until adulthood, when our oldest sister died. The two youngest children were raised by their father. I have never met them. She kept secret from them the fact that I existed. I told lies about her, you see, about things that “never happened”.

When the youngest found out about me, as a teenager, it took years for her to find me. She wanted to meet me once when she came through my town, but couldn’t. Her mother wouldn’t tell her my name. I still have never met her in person. We are in touch via social media. I am grateful. I worried, cried and prayed for years. We long for the time when we can afford to meet in person. Her relationship with her mother is not close, is the only thing I can say. To say more would be violating another person’s privacy.

Am I over her? Not completely. I no longer pale at the mention of her name. Sometimes I disagree with her assessment of my worth. A lot of times I still agree with her…and as I continue to struggle with depression. Do I blame her for my depression? I believe that I may have suffered from depression anyway. Some of my early memories are of being depressed. That she was allowed to treat me they way she did angers me. I see glimpses of her personality in previous generations leading back to a great great grandfather who emigrated from England. His sons were terrified of him. My Aunt was traumatized by his granddaughter, her mother, and my grandmother. My grandmother was mean, and my father could be cruel and heartless as well.  However, unlike my grandmother and sister, he had a great sense of humor and could be fun to be around.  I can definitely assert  that my sister has inherited these traits, too, and there are clues that she passed these traits on, although her youngest child has been spared them.  After college, my depression hit full force, and I only had two short lived jobs. My dad apologized to my husband for my being so worthless, and told all who would listen, just what a waste my life is. This is my current struggle…making peace with the things my dad and sister have said, and finding my self worth. My dad is long gone, and despite the cruelty he could have, I miss his sense of humor, and ability to tell me how to fix anything. My sister is still alive, but we have no contact. I tried for years to have a relationship, but it is not possible. Her opinion of my worth has not changed. I wish her well, and I wish her health. It’s really, as far as she is concerned, all I can do.


Filed under child abuse, Sibling abuse

A Preacher’s Wife’s Take on Religion, And Customs. (Or…So Stone Me Already!)

imageMy favorite quote about religion is one I coined myself to put on Facebook to describe myself when it comes to religion. I know, I’m tooting my own horn…scandalous…I know…who am I to think that I am quotable?…but here it is:
” I may believe a certain doctrine, however fervently. But that does not mean that God agrees with me, because God does not take religious instruction from me.”
My parents had no religion. My mother’s German Lutheran family left Germany for Russia, and the German speaking village they settled in had a German Reformed Pastor.

So, in the blink of an eye, they became Reformed, and this travelled with them 70 yrs later when they moved to Nebraska in the United States. My mom was soured on faith because she was worn out from a childhood and youth of being screamed hellfire and brimstone sermons in German every Sunday. Dad’s father’s family were Lutherans in all three places, Germany, Russia, and here. There’s a story that the local Lutheran Church asked his parents not to let my dad go back because he’d had polio and they were afraid he’d fall down the stairs. Dad was bitter about that. He never went to church again except for weddings.
When I was very young, I was invited to go to Sunday school at a small Presbyterian church four blocks away. A right turn instead of a left turn, I could have been Lutheran like my ancestors, instead. I loved Sunday school. My best memories growing up at church are from there. We kids were loved and nurtured. I was also cautioned constantly by the older women to walk like a lady once I hit my teens…If only they’d succeeded! Every Wednesday we had a program at church where we went, did crafts, had a Class in which we sang and were taught lessons on a flannelgraph by a gifted teacher named Evangeline Robles.  We then were turned loose to play if it was daylight savings time. Every session ended with dinner, after which we went home. This cost us all of a quarter! When my 6th grade teacher tried to keep me after school on Wednesdays because I was hopeless in Math, I was shattered. My mother had to intervene. I had very few enjoyable things in my life, and my mom put her foot down because I came home so happy on Wednesdays. I attended this program, called Open Door, till it ended. We also had Vacation Bible School in Summer and when I got older, Church Camp and Youth Group. I have amazing memories of growing up in that little place, and it was where Steve and I got married. When you hear me criticize the Christian faith in other writings, this is not where I am referring to…I am referring to places I attended much later.
I had the same Sunday School teacher from 7th grade until I left home to go away to finish college. He kept me spellbound, and amused. He had an intimidating stare, but he knew I wasn’t afraid of him, and we teased each other. When he was away, he gave me an excuse note from his wife, and when I was away, he got a note from my mother to make him laugh. At Easter we each got an Easter egg. Mine, however, was special. It was always the ugliest shade of grey he could get it…hard to explain, no it didn’t shame me or embarrass me, it made me laugh. Everyone else got whatever color he pulled out of the bag. Mine he made personally. I looked forward to it every year.
We got a good grounding in the Bible that rivals anything taught at a good seminary. Having edited and punctuated my husband all through seminary, I know. That plus I took a Bible as Literature class in college. It was the only class that didn’t require that I study, since I knew the subject.
We were constantly told to challenge our Sunday School teacher and question him. None of us did, but I liked that we had the freedom. He had one habit that I loved. If he had a question about Catholicism, he would call up a priest. If he wanted clarification on Jewish customs when he was teaching Old Testament, he called a Rabbi.
This got me interested in different religions and cultures, and how important they were to those who follow them. We had a very large Pentecostal holiness church in town that had a dress code. Women could not cut their hair, or wear pants. The dresses were well past the knees and sleeves had to be no shorter than 3/4 in above the elbow. Men could not wear shorts. These girls had to wear culottes instead of gym clothes that the rest of us wore. They didn’t dance, go to movies, and some didn’t watch TV. I became curious about their beliefs, because we saw them everywhere…no  belief in the Trinity, wild worship and a belief that the only way to Heaven was the ability to speak in tongues.

The first friend I met in first grade was and is,Catholic. I became such an expert on Catholicism from my own library reading that many, many years later when I joined the church, they brought me in early, since I could have taught it to them.
In high school had the life scared out of me by a Church of Christ girl who stalked me and criticized my dress (modest by most standards), insisted that instruments in church were wrong, and unless I was baptized by Immersion in her specific church building, I was going straight to hell. She stalked me, called me and  wouldn’t leave me alone. I had nightmares. She didn’t succeed in getting me.

I felt uncomfortable by those in the Jesus movement that wanted us to pass out tracts threatening hell and damnation to those who didn’t read the tracts or to those of us who refused to pass them out because. They felt that if we didn’t acknowledge Jesus by sharing our faith this,way, we were certainly going straight to hell. That worried me. I had no trouble admitting to,being a Christian and telling anyone what they wanted to know if they asked. But I saw firsthand how having religion forced down their throats by an aunt impacted my parents.  But it was another movement that I met in college that encouraged you to pretend to be someone’s friend, convert him forcibly by scaring him and successful, drop them as a friend and move on, that made me cringe. What hypocrisy! Where was the idea of being friends with someone just to be a friend, because you shared common interests? They also wanted us to go away to a certain college and we all should become missionaries….that should be our only option. There was a heavy push to go to an expensive conference to sign up and train for the mission field.

Another close friend I grew up with was and is, LDS, commonly known as a Mormon. I read the Book of Mormon out of curiosity, and learned a good,deal of their doctrine. I exasperated a teacher who later when  we became good friends tried to convert me to the LDS church, because I could repeat so much of his own doctrine back at him. As he said:” How can you know ‘The Truth’ and not give in?

I wrote a good friend from high school when he was on his two year mission for the LDS church. While he and I were just friends, I teased him with perfumed letters to amuse his roommates, who thought we were involved. He appreciated the letters from home and enjoyed the joke on his roommates.

In Junior college I reluctantly took a required anthropology class. Much to my shock, I not only got an ‘A’ easily, but it was more of the same thing, I was and am fascinated with! Culture, Belief systems and how people live.
I made friends in high school with Baptists, and discovered that they had the same fervor in their faith that we had been taught to have at ours, except we baptized babies, they dedicated theirs, baptized their adults, while we confirmed ours. My youth group sang concerts in many of those Baptist churches that my friends attended. As I got older I started to realize that while many adherents to Christian groups had different beliefs and customs, they actually had very equivalent rituals, that in fact, pretty much mean the same thing. But they couldn’t see it. When you baptize a baby, you promise to bring her or him up in the faith. When a baby is dedicated instead of baptized, the same promise is made. Adults that are confirmed, confirm that they believe. Adults being baptized do the same thing. I’m not arguing the theology behind the different customs. I can put you to sleep explaining them to you, and why each group ‘knows’ the other is wrong. But, honestly, as I said, it boils down to the same basic idea, culturally speaking. I met many, many people during the time that my husband was in the Army that had very different beliefs from me, yet a very deep faith and relationship with God as they understood God. They had lots of wisdom, and lots of love. Who was I to tell someone this positively affected and in love with their faith that they were wrong, when you could see the evidence in their lives for the positive?
In the Chapel we attended in Germany, while my husband Steve was with the Army, I found what is still my model for people of,different faiths and customs. We usually had three chaplains of different Protestant denominations, and a Catholic priest assigned to the Chapel. What I have never seen since was the amazing cooperation between the chaplains, and how those they served became caught up with this idea of cooperation. If someone had a religious need, and no-one there could do it, Heaven and Earth was moved to fulfill that person’s need. This is still the job of chaplains today. Whether they agree with your faith or not, it is their job to care for you and help you find what you need, should you have one they can not fulfill. Sadly, some chaplains ignore this.
Communion Sundays in the Protestant chapel both amused me, and earned my respect. It was a three ring circus. We had pews reserved for people who could only receive communion kneeling, and a chaplain standing at the front for those who could only take it standing from an ordained minister. Lastly for those of us who were Presbyterians, unable apparently to move….they passed communion down the rows of the pews, the wine segment with both wine and grape juice. ( I was thrilled; I HATE grape juice)
When someone in the Catholic congregation needed someone fluent in sign language to teach a Catholic child his faith. I volunteered. The priest gratefully passed my offer along, but in the meantime, the child’s mother decided to do it herself.
It was hard to leave that place. We became friends with the chaplains and met frequently with them and their wives for dinner. Our favorite chaplain was one who came from such a different background religiously that we were on different pages in that respect. True friendship surpasses these things as inconsequential. We had lots of fun. Our sense of humor meshed with his and that of his wife. Or, true friendship SHOULD, surpass religious differences and customs in my opinion. But he helped us when we needed him, helping Steve to make the decision to become a chaplain himself, and gave him sound advice.
Since then, we have attended many churches….some I’ve adored, some I haven’t, some with good, sensible doctrine, some questionable.
As I have gotten older, I’ve become sure of one thing. I don’t know it all. I don’t have the corner on the truth. I’m secure with this. I believe that God, if God is God, uses the information we have about our knowledge of faith, no faith, and customs, to work with us to,reach us. It’s the same, I think, of speaking Spanish or German or whatever to talk to those who speak that language. I think our Creator is comfortable with us believing different things, even vastly different things.

I am finally after all these years, comfortable discussing things night and day different from what I have been taught. Don’t come to me dissing Native American Religion and customs. It has worked for Native Americans for Centuries. I respect it tremendously. I won’t attack you if you believe in reincarnation.( To those who don’t approve-throw the rocks)If you DO believe in reincarnation, I am interested in hearing about it. I’ve always been curious.

I’ve met Wiccans, and know so little about them that I am embarrassed. Steve, my navy chaplain husband, had a great rapport with them on ship. Why not? It’s his job to care for people. That’s what he does. He’s good at it. There’s more to diversity in the military and the workplace than accommodating Seventh Day Adventists, and Jewish Holidays. I read a book recently by two doctors, brothers who grew up in India, and are Hindu. They discussed the various Hindu deities, who there were, and old Hindu legends, if that is the right word. I was fascinated! I feel,sad that I know little of Buddhism, but I adore the Dalai Lama. I read his autobiography. He is,truly a great man who is not afraid to tell you that he thinks you may need to return to your own religious tradition. That alone caught my interest. If you have no religion, like my parents, I am fine with that, too, and interested if you want to talk about it.

As a chaplain’s wife, (one of few, I’m sure) it is my interest in as many faith groups being represented in the military as possible. I have given the LDS missionaries that have come to my door contact information for their chaplaincy representatives. I felt like I was about to be stoned at a meeting of chaplain’s wives once, when I told this story.
I’ve met Muslims and enjoyed talking to them.
I have, finally satiated….almost, my fascination with the Amish. I have Mennonites in my family. I don’t know them, but I have absolute adoration and respect for the way Mennonites care for people.
As I start to wind this down, there are some things I wish: We as religious and those who have none would do. Scorn not the person different from you that you do not understand. Do not ignore the poor, even if your church believes that only the rich have God’s favor. You might miss out on having a good, wise, friend. Do not shun your family that believes different from you.  Good relationships with family nurture. Separations because of disapproval hurt. Love them, cherish them, and have fun. Celebrate your common interests and celebrate your heritage. Don’t do what my aunt did: send my mom a birthday card wishing her a very happy birthday and many more, accompanied by a tract that says, believe this, or you’re going to hell! Rejoice in the milestone of your niece or nephew’s confirmation in a faith that you might even abhor, or not understand, because it’s important to them, and they should be important to you. Give them an appropriate gift, money, or that religious book they can’t afford, even if it makes you shudder. You are showing love to the young person. Be respectful of those who don’t consume certain substances, but don’t condemn the cultural practices of those who say, drink alcohol when you are horrified by  what you perceive as the mere sinfulness of the fact.  Some people drink their ancestors’ ashes mixed with water. This horrifies me. But it is very important to them. Why should I dismiss this custom to them? They’re not forcing me to do it.  Likewise, If you believe that only YOU are chosen by God to be in Heaven, it wins you little admiration if you treat those you deem are not chosen like trash.

Finally, my last wish :  if you have always shunned them, please respect and love the gay, lesbian, and transgendered, regardless of what you have been taught. The Bible  (should you follow it)  doesn’t say that ‘God made us in his own image,’ “except for those people over there.” Don’t do the condescending ” Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” thing. That’s looking down on people, right there.  There have always been people in these categories. They have feelings, fears, experiences and emotions. They have the same needs as straight people. The only difference is that in many states, it is still legal to treat them shamefully. Nobody is forcing you to be friends with anyone you don’t want to be friends with.
Women finally have rights. People are no longer allowed to put signs up that say “No Irish need apply”. It is no longer legal to turn down a disabled person for a job they are well able to do, like it was for my dad, who had polio. Or refuse to serve me at an office because you claim my speech is too poor for you to try to understand, and talk to the person with me like I’m stupid. Yes, this happened.
Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered people are the only people left that we can deny basic human rights to….I don’t want to hear how horrible you feel gay marriage is. Fine. Your church doesn’t have to marry anyone it doesn’t want to marry, including divorced people if that’s an abomination to you. But marriage in every country is essentially, a civil contract. You get your marriage license from the state. Do you know how painful it is not to be able to give someone spousal benefits, such as insurance? Don’t bring the sex part of it up to me. Do I ask you about your sex life? This is about basic security. This is not about religion. The state above all, should not deny basic rights and freedoms enjoyed by most to a select few, just because some people don’t approve.
Rocks? Do I see any incoming?


Filed under Disabilities, Faith, LGTG, Religion, Uncategorized

Me, My Parents, and a Plea to Parents of Disabled Children

 The first disabled person that I knew was my father. Except I didn’t know he was disabled. He’d had polio as a toddler ,and as an adult, walked with a limp.  He also grasped things rather stiffly with his left hand. Since Dad was right handed, it didn’t hinder him from what I could see. He could do anything he wanted to do. He could rewire a house. He could fix plumbing. He worked on his cars himself. He was incredibly strong.

  Dad was loved by some, hated by others. Years after his death, when he was discussed, nobody mentioned his limp. It was just the way he walked. It didn’t define him. It would have never occurred to any of us to discuss it.

  When i was in first grade, my parents found out that I couldn’t hear well at all.

The school district wanted me to have special education. My parents refused. They were afraid that if I was around other children like me, that I would lose the speech that I had, however impaired it was. So I went to the neighborhood elementary school and had speech therapy four days a week.

It was recommended that I be fitted with a hearing aid. Dad didn’t like the idea, but gave in. When I was 8, I got my first hearing aid. Two years later i got my second, paid for by the Lions Club, as had been the first one.

   I wanted music lessons when they offered them in elementary school, but refused because I “would fail”. Dad,  I’m guessing here, because he never talked about it may have had memories of being taunted as a child for because of the way he walked and didn’t want me to endure ridicule and taunting by other children when inevitably as he saw it, I failed because I could not hear what I was supposed to be playing. When I was older I wore them down and was able to take guitar lessons. I gave it up, but even years later retained the ability to read music and tune.

   In junior high we were required to take Spanish and my parents refused because once again, as they put it, I “would fail.”  They may have had a point here. I couldn’t even speak English plainly enough for everyone to understand me. How was I going to learn Spanish if I couldn’t hear well enough to speak English?

  By high school I insisted on taking German and they didn’t fight me. I took it in college with minor accommodation- no language lab because I could not hear the recordings. But I did well. I used my German the three years my husband and I lived in Germany where he was stationed with the Army. We were both glad that we had taken German!

  My husband and I moved often and one thing was consistent: Everywhere I lived, not giving any thought as to how it was I could sing, I sang in church choirs, which I had done since I was 13. Honestly, I don’t know how I did it back then. My hearing aids we found out later, were worthless. My hearing unaided is not good. I have nothing in the high frequencies. My loss cuts halfway through the speech range. I do have decent hearing in the low frequencies but that is all.

   Several years after the Army, my husband made a switch to the active duty Navy and was sent to Iraq. During that time I started seeing a new doctor to treat my PTSD. He’d casually had me tune his guitar after I had told him that I was going to start teaching basic guitar to a friend’s son. I tuned it and unwittingly passed his test. I got told that I was going to play the guitar again to relax. So, I got the guitar. While experimenting, I realized that I didn’t need to see music for anything I wanted to play…because I could play any melody by ear!  I had gotten frustrated and tossed my music aside because I didn’t want to adapt music written for the piano to the guitar.  So I just started playing. I was shocked! My brain had retained the knowledge of where the notes are on the guitar, and I didn’t even have to think about where my finger would go next.  It was also at this time that I discovered that I could sightread music well enough to tell if someone was playing exactly what I was looking at, or not. I was at choir practice one night, and our choir the directorplayed a song. Suddenly I  realized that while she was indeed playing the tune, she was not in fact playing what I was reading. What I was reading was within my voice range, and I knew it. What she was playing was an octave higher. I couldn’t sing that. it was too high!

   So here I was, near 50, and discovering music ability I didn’t know I had. A cousin confirmed that it was a talent that ran in the family, and I was no different. She was not in the least bit surprised! At least one of us wasn’t. I sure was!

    By this time, my parents were long gone. I began to mourn for what could have been. I decided that I had to move on, and enjoy what I could do now.

  My parents meant well. They tried to shield me, to keep me from enduring pain, which they couldn’t anyway, and their over-protection impacts me to this day.

   Not long after I had made my music discovery,  I was lost in thought. It was a saturday, and I was thinking about my parents, and all parents who face the challenge of having a child with a disability. I decided to write a letter, and this is what I wrote. If you have a “special” or “challenged” child, I hope you will consider my plea. Here goes:

I am your “special” child.

 I may not see the world you see, nor hear the words you hear.

 I may be slow to learn to speak, if I ever speak at all.

 My legs may never hold me up to climb a single stair.

 My fingers may not ever know the nimbleness yours do.

 My mind may more simple.

 I may be slow to learn.

 The world I live in may not be the world my sister knows.

 I may not pick up subtleties that social skills require.

 I may never grasp the humor in my brother’s many jokes.

 Don’t see me as ‘disabled’, ‘impaired’, or even ‘challenged.’

 The loss you see and hurt for me is pain that’s all your own.

 How can I mourn the loss of what I never knew as mine?

 Why can’t you see that what I am is normalcy for me?

 I beg you not to shelter me.

 I beg you to let me fail.

 If I don’t try, how can I learn

 What strengths that can be mine?

 You may think you know my limits.

 You may think you know my strengths.

 But what you may not know is that, I may be the exception.

 I’ll paint an awesome masterpiece of what I shouldn’t see.

 I’ll write a ringing symphony of sounds I shouldn’t hear.

 I’ll sing the melody of words you think

 My lips can’t ever form.

 I’ll dance with joy the steps you’re sure my legs will never take,

 I’ll touch and sculpt with skill beyond the limits of my fingers.

 I’ll show you how I sidestep places damaged in my brain,

 I’ll teach you knowledge that I’ve gained, despite slowness in my learning.

 My identity will be far, far more than to be your “special “child.

  Copyright 2012 by Judy Dundas


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The last time I posted, there were many things I did not know, not being able to see the future, and to be honest, had anyone told me, I doubt that I would have believed it anyway.

I could not imagine that I would have surgery on my left heel the day after Thanksgiving last year, nor could I have predicted being unable to walk for several weeks. Since I kept falling in our townhouse, I ended up going to North Carolina, where my husband, who is in the Navy is stationed, for all of December, with forays back up north to the foot doctor as needed. I would have never guessed in a million years, that the dog would pack up and leave me, “just like that” as the expression goes. Yes, Molly, our sweet, loyal  dachshund-papillon mix left me. I depended on Molly to hear for me…let me know when someone rang the doorbell or there was something going on outside. But Molly found a better deal. After a month of walking with  her favorite parent along the beach and chasing deer, she balked at staying behind up north while I underwent physical therapy. She saw Daddy packing to go back down south, and she started wailing. I don’t think I’d ever heard a dog cry, but Molly couldn’t bear for her adventures to be over. While we had planned for her to go back anyway, because I couldn’t yet take care of her, I had to face the fact  that SHE was not coming back. How could I compete? I had a tree, squirrels and a townhouse. Her daddy had deer and the beach. It was no contest. She’s been in North Carolina ever since. sleeping all day while Daddy is at work, waking up long enough to boss him around in the evening, then sleeping some more.She comes home some weekends, and is always happy to see me. She makes sure she cuddles up to me. She starts barking when she’s close to the house . She greets me joyfully. But she makes it plain that she’s just visiting.

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PTSD, Depression, and The Problem of Suicide: When Life gets to be too much.

Recently I have read about an awful lot of suicides among everyone from people among our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, public figures, and even young people among our local high school students.

The devastation that suicide leaves behind is tremendous. Loved ones are wracked with guilt, and wondering “Why? Why didn’t I see this coming?” In the case of someone who suicided out of anger, the emotional trauma is even worse to loved ones left behind, because the person wanted to punish them. They’re already going to wonder what they could have done, or think that the event was their fault. Reading an angry note left behind saying “This is all your fault” just makes the situation even more painful, and it’s cruel.

My great-grandfather committed suicide in 1920, I think it was. Upon doing more research, I discovered the reason. He had fallen off a windmill a year earlier. His physical pain must have been tremendous. There was no pain management in those days. He checked out because he could no longer endure the pain. He was found hanging in the barn by a grandchild. This is the problem with the aftermath of suicide. Someone has to find the the deceased. Someone has to suffer the trauma of  being the first person on the scene and seeing the results of the person’s final act.  Physical pain drives many people to end their lives. So does emotional pain.

When someone comes home from battle, and the war is always with them, they see their present world through the glasses of their former world, the war. They have learned behavior to  cope with the danger they were formerly in. Upon hearing a loud noise, some people may dive to the floor. Others many grab for a weapon, any weapon to save themselves. However, upon returning home, the responses that may very well have saved  a person’s life  in war will hinder  their functioning back at home. The self preserving behavior that was formerly so useful has now got to be unlearned. The problem is that by now, the behavior is second nature. It’s unconscious. When the person says “I can’t control it, it just happens, ” he or she is being honest. What few people tell them is that with a lot of work, a lot of the innate behavior can be unlearned and weeded out. It won’t happen overnight. This much I can tell you from personal experience. I have never been to war. I do have PTSD from a painful childhood ruled over by an angry authoritarian father.

It wasn’t unusual  for my sister and I to be awakened at 2 in the morning because Dad had found a speck on a fork or a plate. Dad would burst through our bedroom door screaming at the top of his lungs, and the next thing we knew, my sister and I would be standing sleepily at the sink cleaning every dish and piece of silverware in the house.  To this day I startle at the least bit of noise, and it wears me out when I’m in a situation where I am constantly exposed to unexpected noise.   Dad is long gone, but my body is still waiting for him to come screaming through the door.

This is just one of my PTSD reactions. Let’s continue about PTSD in a military person returned from war. The person suffering will relive the horrors of the things they saw. He or she will constantly find themselves reliving events long past. The current reality fades and they are once again in a convoy, fighting for their lives, seeing, smelling and hearing death. How can you not be tormented by watching your buddy die? Or seeing dead civilians or children?  Or they’ll be fine and suddenly read or hear about someone in the same exact place or situation that they were in, and the war comes back to them. Thoughts and feelings run the gamut to “It could have been me, Why wasn’t it me?” to “Why am I here when my buddy isn’t? ” The person may feel that they don’t deserve to be alive. Not many professionals know how to deal with PTSD. Few people who have not been to war understand what it’s like to still be living in a war you’re no longer fighting, except, yes, you are still fighting it. You’re fighting it in your head, and you need help getting the war out of your head and moving on.

Physical pain from illnesses or accidents, are easier to deal with than they were in 1920, but even now some people come to the point where the pain has taken over their very being and they can get no relief.  Some people may look ahead to where they see that their disease is going to progress to, and not be willing to get to that point in their lives. They want to spare themselves the indignity of helplessness and unbearable pain down the line and spare their families from the stress of care taking.

Depression is an insidious disease that often leads to suicide. The feelings of emotional pain become too much to bear. The toll of day after day of being immobilized by emotional pain and bombarding one’s self with thoughts of things like : “I’ll never get better, I’m worthless, I’m stupid, I hate myself/everyone hates me” become too much in the sufferer’s opinion to bear any longer. Depression is also acerbated by a person not forgiving themselves for mistakes, major or minor and moving on. They may try therapy and not like the therapist and decide after looking for others that therapy isn’t for them. If I could say anything I would say “If you’ve found ten that haven’t worked, keep trying. There’s more than just ten people in the profession.”

The person may feel worthless or in the way, and all the evidence the person sees only backs up the person’s warped view of reality.

In my case I often think that the lives of those around me would be easier if I wasn’t here, because I often feel that all I do is take up space, cost money and distract people who do enjoy life from living their lives. I often feel like I’m in the way and that I do not belong here. I watch people around me live their lives and I feel like I’m looking through a window. I get so frustrated with myself because it seems like I am constantly failing. How hard is it to keep a house clean? It shouldn’t be that hard. Apparently for me it is. And so I let this failure help me define my self worth. I’m told that’s wrong.

I   used to be horrified at the thought of suicide and felt bad for the survivors. I still feel bad for the people that are left behind and are hurting because they lost a loved one. Unfortunately,as of late I have began to understand why the person who took his or her own life did so, and I can no longer criticize them for their choice. Some times I’m almost envious. And this is what bothers me. So far what has kept me has been my fear of pain and dying and not wanting to cause my husband pain. I hope that this will continue to be the thing that holds me back. In the meantime, my prayers are with everyone who suffers from emotional pain, or mental illness of any kind.

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Weddings, family feuds and those that rise above them.

Yesterday was my 27th wedding anniversary. Since that time, I have attended many weddings. I’ve heard horror stories about mothers, fathers, and other relatives demanding that so and so NOT be invited or they will NOT come. What they fail to realize is that the wedding is NOT about them, it is about the bride and groom. The person who objects to other people they personally dislike attending isn’t punishing the bride and groom. What they do succeed in doing though, is making themselves look petty and childish. I’m sure that many brides and grooms do give into these types of demands, which is unfortunate.

   My family, like many had estrangements, divorces and the like. I had three siblings at my wedding, but only had two come. The other one was too far away It’s a shame. It would have been the only time since I was a toddler that my mother would have had all four of her children together.  The next time we four were together was when my oldest sister was dying.

   I was  denied the presence of a niece and nephew because my sister was separated from her husband and they were with him. He refused to let them come. That did cause me pain. I adored them.

 But, let’s move on. At the time, I had not seen my dad’s brother and sister in five years, since my grandmother died. I greatly loved my aunt and uncle. I knew that Dad was NOT speaking to his brother and there had almost been legal action between them. I actually have the letters passed between lawyers in which they threatened each other.

   As far as I was concerned, this did NOT affect me. I heard that later, my dad had glumly said when he found out that his brother had been invited was “It’s HER wedding. She can invite whoever she wants.”

   Graciously, my aunt and uncle and their spouses came. Two cousins came as well. I was thrilled. My dad’s branch of the family was willing to be there because I wanted them there despite the bad blood between my dad and uncle.

To this day, I am touched. It was a big thing to have them there, and they did NOT disappoint me.

 Another person I invited was my sister in law, who was divorced from my brother. I loved my brother, but I also loved my sister in law.

I wanted her there. So I invited her. My parents had wanted her there, too. So, she came, with my niece and nephew in tow. I was thrilled that she had thought enough of me to come despite being divorced from my brother.

  Twenty-seven years later, I have begun to realize the unusualness of people going to a wedding knowing that their ex spouses or estranged family members were also invited.

   This year is a sad year. My husband and I are not together this day.

His father passed away this week, and my husband has gone back home for the memorial service. While I am sad that we didn’t celebrate our anniversary today, I know that he is where he needs to be.

Because of his military career, there haven’t been many anniversaries that we have had together. In recent years, we’ve been fortunate.

Today, I am torn. I miss my husband, but I am sad about my father in law. He had Alzheimer’s. In his last years, we had a special bond, and even when he was out of it most of the time, when he did come to, he would say one thing to my husband when he would fly to California and visit his dad in the nursing home : “Tell Judy that I love her.”

By then, I am sure that he had no idea about the events that had transpired to make us close, but one thing he DID know. He loved me. Because of this, he made sure my husband knew and told me.

 In the end, isn’t that what life is about? Love?

My life has had lots of pain where family is involved. But one thing I do know. I have family members that love me enough that they overlooked resentments, childish behavior and wrong doing to be at my wedding for me. This is what stands out to me the most of all.

  May I live up to their example.

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The Abbess Muses on “things “Of This World”

Christians have their own subculture and language. When I was 12, it bewildered me. Some 38 years later, some of the phrases now hit me as hysterically funny, especially when I’ve seen the extremes to which people take their meanings. The one that has hit me the funniest is how Christians beat the phrase “Of The World” around. These are not my own opinions. I’ve gathered them from people I’ve known for the last almost four decades.

  I’ve drawn on some of my friends more than others. If you recognize yourself, you may very well be right. But let’s get to my topic:


                   Things Of This World:


This refers to something that can’t POSSIBLY be of God. If something is Of The World, you don’t want it. It leads to hell.

 The worst things “Of The World” always lead to fornication…which is the worse sin next to the unpardonable sin.  Nobody knows what the unpardonable sin actually is. But fornication is it’s runner up. Fornication is a scar that follows you for the rest of your life. You can be forgiven by God and Saved, By Grace, but you won’t be pure.

 . You can’t change your status. You are either a Godless fornicator, or a “Forgiven” ex-fornicator. That’s why it follows you. You can’t escape the word.  It’s just how it is. You’ll be loved by your fellow Christians if you’ve repented, but they’ll remember that you’re not pure. What category they personally fall in is neither here nor there. It’s YOU they’re concerned with.  They’ll conveniently forget the forgiven part if you date their son or daughter unless they are Liberals. Liberals think they are Christians. They’re not because they don’t believe in the devil, sin, or hell. Because they don’t believe in hell, that’s where they’re going. But here is the list of what leads to fornication and hell.

A. Psychology

. Psychology, along with Movies, Dancing and Rock makes the top four on the “Of The World” list. Psychology ranks up there with much of the faithful to be possibly more dangerous than drug addiction. See movies for clarification as to which sends you to hell faster.

B . Movies

Movies are definitely of the world. We learn many of our bad habits from movies and psychologists. Movies are, however more fun because attending them is considered downright sinful. They can lead to fornication. Psychology isn’t as much fun and it costs more. You’re more likely to be prayed for because you are “misguided”. It won’t send you to hell. At least not right away. It takes a while for psychology to send you to Hell. It’s not an instantaneous process. It takes a while for the doctor to convince you of the joys of fornication…

C. Dancing

Dancing will send you to hell as fast as attending a movie. It’s a given that if you are involved in dancing, you’re enslaved to rock music. See Rock music for clarification. Dancing is a horror. You’re (gasp) TOUCHING a member of the opposite sex, and it’s most likely with someone you are NOT married to. That’s bad. Touching leads to fornication. The only exception is if you are holding hands while praying. That’s because your eyes are closed. You’re not looking at anybody’s skin.

  King David danced in his underwear. It’s Ok. King David was one of God’s chosen people. They’re allowed to dance. There’s a song I learned in the charismatic churches that mentions that “when the Spirit of God moves in my heart, I will dance like David danced.” That song always alarmed me because the thought of 2,000 people stripping to their underwear in church was un-nerving.

D. Rock music.

  Rock music is anything that involves an electric guitar and drums. It’s just a straight prayer to the devil asking him to enslave you. It’s a given that if you’re a slave to the devil, you are also a fornicator.

 E. Drugs

This is easier to deal with than rock music or dancing.

 Sometimes all you need is prayer. If you are taking illegal drugs, you’re going to hell. Prescription drugs in your name are fine, unless they’re psych drugs. Those send you to hell. Psychiatrists are just as bad as psychologists, because they both work in hand in hand to enslave you to the devil. The drugs that the psychiatrists prescribe make it easier for the psychologist to convince you that fornication isn’t a sin, and God is a figment of your imagination.


F. Alcohol

It only became a sin after the temperance movement. Before the temperance movement, it didn’t send you to hell. Then after marching through the streets and pouring the beer in the gutters the temperance people rewrote the rules so it would send you to hell. It’s a good thing that the Temperance Movement wasn’t around when Jesus turned the water into wine. They would have sent Him to hell long before the Sanhedrin got a hold of Him.



G. Tobacco.

This is also a victim of the temperance movement, which involved a rule rewrite. It didn’t used to be a sin in the olden days. At my husband’s seminary they have a portrait of the Seminary’s founder with his hand in his pocket. Only it isn’t really a pocket. They were forced to paint over his hand holding his cigar after tobacco became a sin leading to hell. The only exception to the tobacco rule is if you’re a tithing Baptist in a tobacco growing state. Then it’s required because tobacco pays your rent and fills the offering plate.


H. Living in a Co-ed dorm if you are a college student.

If you live in a college dorm that is co-ed, you will become a fornicator. You can’t help it. You’re surrounded with rooms of people the opposite sex from you. These rooms contain beds. You+opposite sex+dorm rooms containing beds=fornication. You can’t help it. It’s animal instinct. You have absolutely no control, because simply by moving into a co-ed dorm, you’ve given yourself to the devil. God can’t possibly be with you if you live in a co-ed dorm.

I. Long Hair On Men

 Long hair for women is considered their “crowning glory” as the Bible describes it, so it’s ok.  Long hair on men sends you to hell because it’s a symbol of rebellion. Nobody notices that Jesus has long hair in all the pictures painted of him….nor did they notice how long Billy Graham’s hair got when he was doing his crusades. I think God gave him special permission. His son Franklin however has short hair. He doesn’t have permission.

   There are two other exceptions to the long hair on men rule. Charismatic preachers are allowed to have it long in the back as long as it’s short in front.  Christian musicians are allowed to do whatever they want with their hair because otherwise they’ll stray into rock music.

J. Short hair on women

Most Christians don’t pay attention to a woman’s hair unless they are Pentecostal or Texans. The Bible says that a woman’s hair is her crowning glory, if you’re in some Pentecostal groups; you go to hell if your crowning glory is cut. You can repent and save yourself from hell, and restore yourself to God’s favor, but the fact that your hair doesn’t either hit the floor or brush against the top of the door frame will be a constant reminder of your past sin. In Texas, women wear their hair in these big helmets known as ‘Big Hair’. Not having big hair isn’t a sin but it tells them right away that you’re not from Texas.

K.  Pants on women.

If you belong to certain Pentecostal groups, you do NOT wear pants because that would mean that you would be mistaken for a man, so it’s a sin that will send you to hell unless you repent.  You cover up your knees and your arms above the elbow to show that you are a Godly, chaste women and to keep men from lusting in their hearts.  You can wear shoes like a stripper and it’s ok. You’ve just got to wear that dress.

    If you are non-Pentecostal, meaning that you have no problem for the most part with pants, but you are “Saved”, you leave those pants at home. You’ve got to wear dresses and hose if you’re a Godly woman.

Pants in church won’t send you to hell because saved women can wear pants everywhere else. It’s just that if you wear pants in church they might mistake you for a Liberal, and think that you are “NOT SAVED,” so they’ll be very concerned.

 ….And another slight variation:

Things of man or Things of Men.

 This is a cousin to things “Of the World”

   Things of man or things of men are never good. They’re religion and religious customs invented by man. If you don’t like someone’s liturgy, or religious customs, you can just disdainfully consign what they do to “Things of Man”. You would never, ever do anything religious that was “of men” instead of God, so you personally are safe. You don’t practice man made religion. Other people however do. They’ll pay for it, too because they are leading people to hell.



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