"Let the gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you. Then, it will be a really good day." Louie Schwartzberg
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Shine as We are Meant to Shine


posted by Susan Dominikovich

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Linking up with SheLoves Magazine this month.  The theme is "Mirror"


There is finally a chill in the air now that we are well into autumn here in New Zealand.  A light dusting of snow on the mountain makes me think of winter.  I pull my scarf close around my neck, sip my warm caramel macchiato and I remember.

I remember my winter in the middle of summer, having travelled to Canada to spend Christmas with friends and family there.  I remember wrapping my fingers around an egg nog latte to keep them warm while walking along the Sidney waterfront in B.C., marvelling at how big the seagulls were and how low the sun sat on the horizon even at mid-day. Two months ago. Two seasons ago.  I am back in New Zealand and from winter into summer into autumn. No wonder I am feeling slightly disoriented, the sun still high but beginning to dip low. 

As I sit here with my coffee thinking that I must dig out my woollen sweaters and tan boots soon, I remember that day in December, barely tasting a vanilla latte in Tim Horton’s, Mission B.C. because I was sitting across from Sarah Bessey, whom I had only just met, trying to make the most of the time that I had with her. Having discovered her blog earlier in the year and subsequently her powerful book Jesus Feminist, I frequently found myself saying to anyone who would listen, my husband and my dog in particular, “she gets it.” She gets the grief, the loss, the pain, the anger, the bitterness and rejection. She gets the irony of feeling unsafe in church and how it’s just not supposed to be that way. More than anything, she gets the freedom and redemptive and transforming power of life in Christ. Alive in Christ.

I must have babbled on about Sarah Bessey to more than my husband and my dog because a dear friend (who also gets it) contacted her on my behalf to say, “my friend Susan is a Canadian living in New Zealand who LOVES your work and it just so happens that she is going to be in your neck of the woods in December… would you? Could you?”

She would and she could and she did. There she sat in her black-rimmed glasses and khaki coat. Sarah Bessey waiting to meet me in a crowded Tim Horton’s in a far-away place, drinking coffee with a small box of Timbits on the table in front of her. Eyes shining, heart warm.  Waiting for me.

And I almost didn’t make it. Yes, the drive from Surrey to Mission along the 10 and the trans-Canada highway is torturous even when you don’t account for the Great Canadian Railway and their carriages that are double stacked with containers and murderously slow. Even my train-mad kids grew tired of counting the cars.

But earlier that December day in one of those God-appointed, stuff of dreams moments, I had my turn on the red couch with Idelette McVicker, founder of SheLoves Magazine. The night before I had shown Sarah Bessey’s little yellow book to my friends with whom we were staying in Surrey and Kelley remarked on the poem “Let us be Women who Love” written by Idelette.  She told me that Idelette lives just two minutes away and that their children had been car-pooling to school together. 

Here I was, a woman away from home visiting friends in Surrey, B.C, only two minutes away from Idelette McVicker, the editor and founder of a magazine which had consistently been light to my spirit through a dark year.  I explained to my friends how much I admired her, having recently discovered the on-line magazine and community of writers through Sarah Bessey’s blog.  How the themes Idelette’s editorial team had chosen each month were exactly right every time and so necessary for me, not only to read but also to write about.  I asked my friends if they would pass on an encouraging word to Idelette next time they saw her, so Doug picked up the phone.
 
It was late and it didn’t matter. 

I talked to Idelette and was able to put a voice to the name and so did she.  And then the next day after church with only twenty minutes to spare before we had to leave Surrey so that I could make my meeting with Sarah Bessey, Kelley and I visited Idelette at her house and we shared and we enthused and we encouraged and we had a photo together on the red couch.  And despite the bizarre wonderfulness of such a thing to happen to this Kiwi-Canadian-teacher-writer-musician (such a thing!), it was the words in a frame that I took away with me.  In her lounge and beautifully framed were the words of a great man who had died not long before, a man mirrored in men and women like Idelette:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?  Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." Nelson Mandela

A friend who loves me had sent me this quote not long before. I had already cried with the truth of Mandela’s words so infrequently practised in the church.  Here they were in front of me in a beautiful frame.

Here they were in front of me, mirrored in Idelette.

Mandela’s words and their outworking in Idelette were still in my heart when I finally met Sarah a couple of hours later.  We met and we shared and we talked. Our spirits connected as Jesus lovers together as we unpacked church, grief, life, her book and new things. And she signed my little yellow book, called me her friend and said that I gave her hope.

I gave her hope but she and Idelette gave me so much more.  They gave me permission to shine.

I admit, as I sat near those women on this God-appointed day, I had stars in my eyes. But at the same time, it was an ordinary meeting of like-minds and kindred hearts. And Sarah said to me that I will one day be able to look at the things that happened that year, the church hurt, the betrayals, the ugly cry and instead of being bitter because of it, that I would be grateful for it.

As my husband drove me away from that meeting-place of hope and affirmation, as I tried to put into words the emotions and understanding I felt, I realised she was right.  I was already grateful. Grateful for all of it. Because if it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t now know and see so clearly the truth. The truth that my value as a Christian woman doesn’t lie within the four walls of an institutionalised church and what I can or cannot contribute there.

The truth is that my value exists because I am a child of God with gifts and knowledge and discernment and potential for love that He will use as He chooses, for the sake of His kingdom. For the glory of God.

I am also grateful for events that led me to Sarah Bessey, Idelette McVicker, SheLoves Magazine and scores of other bloggers, writers and preachers…all men and women who are “brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous.” Men and women with a voice, reflecting the life of Jesus Christ.  Men and women empowered to use their voice for glory.

God’s glory.

Men and women who understand Nelson Mandela’s edict that “there is nothing enlightened about shrinking.”

Men and women who have taught me to stop shrinking and to find my voice too.
So let us stop playing small.

Let us not shrink for the sake of other people’s insecurities.

Let us be a mirror to each other.  Let us reflect Jesus Christ in our lives as we are going.  Let us shine as we are meant to shine and in doing so, “unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

As Sarah Bessey and Idelette McVicker have done for me.




Crickets and Candlesticks


posted by Susan Dominikovich on , ,

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We sat under a blanket listening to the chorus of the crickets until late.  Every minute of that beautiful night held tight.  We both knew our late summer evenings were numbered, the dew on the grass thick every morning.  The moon was only just waxing but as bright as if it were full.

We'd heard of a storm coming and so we talked about that.  Should we peg down the trampoline?  Move the swing?  Protect some plants?  No.  Nothing needed.  We were ready for the storm.  We'd already been through several and maybe lost a branch or two but everything still standing and still in its place. 

And we talked about the every day.  School.  Swimming.  A birthday coming up.  Fundraising.  Camp.  

Then we were quiet and let the crickets do the talking.  We both understood that sometimes talking about the every day can be overwhelming.  And when Jesus says, "do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34 NIV) we understood.  So we stopped.  Because like our property that would weather tomorrow's storm, we are firmly rooted in our faith.  Tomorrow can worry about itself.

And then you gripped my hand tighter under the blanket and told me about your Jean Valjean moment you'd had with a boy.  How he had stolen the silver and you gave him the candlesticks.  

Grace.  

Hope.  

Redemption.

A second chance.  

You shrugged your shoulders and said you didn't know how it would turn out and this boy might very well squander his chance.  I shook my head.  I reminded you that with another boy at another time, you would have thrown the book at him and it would have been the right thing to do, just as I was certain that this second chance was the right thing now.  I reminded you that your sensitive spirit had heard a quiet whisper in your ear and that's why you'd offered grace.

And you were right.

Because later on that evening when even the crickets were quiet and it was time for bed, you checked your emails and there was one from the boy's mother.  You were right.

You were so right.

You were right to give him the candlesticks because God whispered in your ear and in your heart and you listened. 

When we listen, we don't need to worry.  God takes care of today as well as tomorrow.  

God takes care of the storm.

A Question of Truth


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Paul and I stayed up into the wee hours last night discussing truth and our responsibility with it.  The question that plagued us was, is it ever okay to let go of the truth, or by doing so, are we actually committing an un-truth?

I am not writing here about being asked a question and then wondering if we should or should not tell the truth.  The answer there is ALWAYS tell the truth.  But sometimes we know a truth and we aren’t asked for it.  Others are blissfully unaware of the truth and unaware that they might be standing on the edge of danger/ruin/degradation/waste/harm/humiliation/etc.

The question is, when we know a truth, is it our responsibility to tell it?

Take last night for example, the reason for such a heavy discussion and bleary eyes this morning.

We had a lovely evening with friends celebrating their citizenship ceremony.  After the ceremony, a group of us continued the celebrations in a nearby bar/restaurant. 

Paul and I were wondering what to order off the menu when we spotted a flyer on the bar which had a picture of a burger and chips heaped on a plate.  The flyer said, “Wednesday special:  steak sandwich, $15.50.”  Excellent we both thought.  It fit the bill perfectly and we ordered it.

When the steak sandwich “special” arrived, it looked nothing like the picture.  It was a few bits of stir-fried meat between two thin pieces of garlic toast with onions and sauce, accompanied by no more than ten chips.  So by “special” the restaurant meant “smallish” or “half-size” or in fact, “meagre.”  It was fine for me but left Paul still ravenous plus there was the feeling of having been misled.  I hate to be deceived or taken advantage of.  It wasn’t a special price for an ordinary meal, which we had assumed.  And it was nothing like the picture.  It was, however, very tasty.

We certainly didn’t make a fuss or let it spoil a wonderful evening.  But it became a topic of conversation later at home between the two of us.  As these things do.

Knowing that I’m on a particular bent for social justice these days, Paul asked me if I should write to the restaurant to complain about the “special.”

I told him that if we were in Canada, I would have left a “special” tip in response (ie, meagre) and probably tried to explain politely and firmly to management that we felt ripped off.  We don’t tip in New Zealand. And we as a culture of very kind and “look the other way” people, don’t like to complain to management.  About anything.  If we had, management probably would have raised their eyebrows high in surprise and then completely missing the point would have said in their defense, “what are you complaining about…you didn’t pay full price did you?”   So we didn’t bother, and I can see why others don’t bother.  I’m not advocating for a tipping system, but there are reasons why it works.

But the interesting thing is that we now have this thing called social media.  Most restaurants and bars have their own facebook page which you can follow, like and even post comments.  I have seen people complain about service/meals/etc on some of these pages, for all the general public to see and read.  The potential for damage to a business’s reputation is huge.  So this culture of kiwis who never complain is soon becoming a culture of people who think it is their right to “out” and abuse anyone on-line that they disagree with or are offended by.

This is not the right response, at least not in the first instance.  It is much more gentle and appropriate to speak to management privately or to write a letter.

But is it always appropriate to speak the truth or do we sometimes have to let things go?

And what about our friend who was choosing his own meal and asked us if the steak sandwich was any good?  Paul asked him if he had already ordered it, to which he had replied, “yes.” So Paul wisely said, “then yes, it was very good.”  He did not lie.  It was a very tasty tiny bit of food.  If our friend had looked carefully enough at our plates he would have seen it for what it was.  If he didn’t, but ordered it blindly, and was disappointed, then I would have felt bad for him, but I wouldn’t have felt responsible.  Just as if he had asked before he had ordered and if we had replied, “tasty but not good value for money,” but he ordered it anyway, then no responsibility would have fallen on our shoulders at all. 
 
Having said that, it would have been a different matter if we had eaten our meals at another table and then joined our friends and so we knew none of them had seen the food or lack thereof on our plates.  Then if we heard our friend tossing up his options including the special, should we have told him our experience of it even if he didn’t ask?  Yes.  He may have been really hungry. He may have had a craving for a burger bun instead of garlic bread and assumed as we did that he was getting something that looked like the picture on the flyer.  It would have been wrong for us to let our friend make a mistake out of ignorance.  If he had all the facts about the special, in other words the truth, before him and then he ordered it for whatever reason, then that would be his business and no concern of ours.

This restaurant meal is a little thing but it is a good illustration.  We could choose to do nothing except refuse to give this restaurant our future business.  Yet, the meal was hot and tasty, delivered to our table speedily, and all the other meals appeared to be good value.  Is it right to form such a drastic judgment based on one incident which may have been an oversight or just a bad night for steak sandwiches? 

So we could do nothing and give them another chance, but learn from our mistake and not order the “special” again.  In effect, we could get over ourselves at having been misled and this is certainly the easiest option which requires the least amount of effort on our parts.  We get over ourselves often.  But what about the next person who comes in and orders the special and walks away feeling used and deceived?  What about the person who feels so aggrieved about the special that was nothing special, they jump onto this restaurant’s social media page and start slamming them?  And so word gets out, the damage is done and the restaurant starts to lose business and income.  Which leads to laying off staff.  Which leads to the single mum who had worked hard for that job so she could support her kids, having to go back to Work and Income stressed and worried about the future…
 
Drastic, I know, but possible.

I think I have answered my question and this doesn’t just apply to a restaurant meal.  Think about it:  if you had narrowly escaped with your life out of a dark forest and you saw some people heading into it, you would stop them and tell them there were wolves in that forest, even if they hadn’t asked or didn’t appear to want to know.  You wouldn’t prevent them from entering by chaining them to a tree but you would make sure they knew the risks.
 
But there is no point in answering my question on truth without looking for answers from the ultimate source of Truth.  The Bible makes it pretty clear.  In the Old Testament God speaks through His prophet to the people of Jerusalem and Judah, "These are the things you are to do:  Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts" (Zechariah 8:16, NIV).  And also in the New Testament, the apostle Paul writes to the church, "Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body."  (Ephesians 4:25).  In neither instance are we told to speak the truth when asked.  Just simply, speak the truth.
 
The right thing is to tell the truth as we see it, to the people who need to hear it.  If we tell it and people choose not to listen or hear the truth that is their business.  But if they do hear the truth and do something about it, then the potential for harm is lessened.
 
It doesn't mean that speaking the truth will be easy.  But in the words of J.C. Ryle, "Never let us be guilty of sacrificing any portion of truth on the altar of peace."

Not easy.  But important.

On Saying Good-Bye and a Stiff Upper Lip


posted by Susan Dominikovich on , , , , ,

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Our Abby-girl said good-bye to her best friend today.

Let me clarify, I am not big on the terms "best friend" or "bestie" or "bff."  Paul and I have discouraged our girls from using these phrases and instead, tried to encourage them to consider the feelings of all the children who consider themselves to be their friends.  Not one friendship is any more important than another.  Each of their friends is special to them in their own unique and wonderful way.

But in this instance, Our Abby-girl said good-bye to her best friend today.

Abby and her twin sister Violet were inseparable at kindergarten and in their first months at school.  I was glad for them that they had each other, that miraculous twin-bond, but also sad that they weren't included in the other children's games.  There weren't many birthday party invitations cluttering the fridge under bulky magnets in those days.  It was as if the girls had a little sign over their heads which read, "already taken...don't bother." 

Then at some point in their first year at school, the teachers decided to put Violet in one class, leaving Abby in the other.  The theory was to encourage Abby to come out of her shell, to find a place away from her older, bigger, louder twin's shadow, to develop an identity of her own.

And it worked.  She came out of her shell and at the same time developed a bond with her friend Kaitlyn who happens to live just down the street from us.  Abby and Violet have been together in classes ever since but Abby's bond with Kaitlyn has stuck.  And in one of those ways that only God could have conceived of, our entire family has developed a bond with Kaitlyn's family.  They have become more than friends; they are our community.

So in fact today, we all had to say good-bye to our friends.



But when I met the girls at the gate at 3:00 it was Violet who clung to my leg and tucked right in for a cuddle. I had been on a river trip with our older two and although I knew it was our friends' last day at school before moving away, my brain was still somewhere between rapids and wet suits.  Concerned, I asked Violet what had happened and if she was alright.  "Kaitlyn," she stammered.  "We just said good-bye."

Ugh.  That word.  Good-bye.  That one word on any occasion has the power to bring out the emotions of what seems a life-time of walking through a gate at International departures and getting on a plane.  Good-bye.  Oh how I dread that word.

We had a whole day of drawn out good-byes on our recent trip back to Canada.  Our friends and their beautiful family in their home.  My mom in the hospital where we also said good-bye to my brother and his family.  Other friends who hold a firm place in our hearts because they hold us in theirs.  My sister and her husband and my growing-up-too-quickly nieces.  My dad the next day.  Grandpa.  Grandma.  Aunts.  Uncles.  Cousins.  Friends.

Ugh.

Through it all, I smiled stoically and I choked on the tears and my eyes shone, but I got through it without uttering the words which I felt:  "I can't do this.  I love you too much to have to do this.  Again."

Ugh.

So today I looked at Abby and she was smiling and sticking her tongue out at Kaitlyn who was giggling and blowing raspberries in return.  Characters.  Her mum and I walked the girls down to the cars and I took photos and we both tried to get the girls to say a "proper" good-bye.  Maybe a hug or an "I'll miss you."  But no.  More giggling and raspberries and "I'm coming in your car" and "ha ha ha."  And then finally her mum and I laughed and shook our heads and said, "it's fitting really" and so we quickly hugged our good-byes with each other instead and I put on my stiff upper lip and clambered into my van to drive away.

And I thought to myself, I can cook a mean pasta and gesticulate with the best of them when drinking a good red wine but where oh where is the Italian in me when it comes to saying good-bye?  Oh how I wish I had the courage to express the anguish in my heart in these moments. These moments which are too many.

There was our Abby, still giggling on the trip home.  I wondered if she was being stoic like her mother or if she didn't understand or just didn't care.  Meanwhile, I buried myself in memories while the children had afternoon tea and amused themselves with technology.  Sam played Harry Potter on the wii and Madeline found her tablet.  Eventually I discovered the twins tucked up in Madeline's bed with their blankies and pillow pets, watching E.T.  Interesting choice.  "E.T. phone home."  Not a coincidence.

Later that evening, after catching up on our days with Paul and preparing dinner, I realised the movie was long-since finished and I wondered what our Abby-girl was up to.  There she was at the dining room table writing in a book from school.  It was her turn to write a special prayer in the prayer book  for her class this weekend.  And this is what occupied her thoughts and her little heart:


The words of a seven-year old (spelling changed):

Dear God, I hope that Kaitlyn has a good time travelling to Wellington and that she likes her new school and she makes new friends and she won't forget about us.  I pray everyone in their family has a good time in Tawa and that everyone at our school has a good day and that she'll come back and we'll never forget her and I hope that Holly has a good time at her new school.  Amen.

And I am thinking, she is a lot like me, our Abby-girl.  She has a funny way of showing her grief.  Perhaps I too would have been giggling and sticking my tongue out when I was seven.  And then writing down my thoughts and feelings in a journal or a prayer later.

I suppose neither of us has much of the verbal and expressive Italian in us when it comes to saying good-bye.  But a good deal of the romantic poet. 

I'll drink to that.

A Skyscraper Fallen: on Bullying


posted by Susan Dominikovich on , , , , ,

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Face to face with bullying upon the news of Charlotte Dawson's death


Thanks to the example of some friends, overseas, our family has its own top-40 playlist.  Rather, the girls and I have a top-40 playlist, to which Paul has contributed a couple of songs.  My son just rolls his eyes at the very idea of a playlist.

We know the words to most of the songs but we tend to get rather vocal when singing two of them: Demi Lovato's “Skyscraper” and Katy Perry's “Roar”. 

These are popular songs because they appeal to a generation of tweens, girls who love to sing and fantasize about being on stage themselves.  In fact, last year at our kiddeos’ Talent Quest, we were serenaded by four different versions of “Roar” alone.  It's a small school.  There weren't many acts. This song clearly has some appeal.

When our girls, along with every other tween in the universe, sing these songs, they are telling the world, “Go on and try to tear me down/I will be rising from the ground” as well as, “louder, louder than a lion/'Cause I am a champion, and you're gonna hear me roar!”

They are not just tweenie girl songs though.  At the school where I work I have heard the boys “roar” loudly while singing that song in assembly and they are definitely conveying a message to those around them.

And the songs appeal to me too.  Not only are they on our family top-40 playlist, they are on my necessary-for-walking-at-a-brisk-pace exercise playlist.  Not particularly upbeat, but they get me going.  And I roar when I sing too.  Just ask the cows on my route.

There is a reason why these songs appeal.  They appeal because of the world we live in.  They appeal because we live in a world of bullies who want to tear us down and rip us apart and these songs, as well as many others like them, make us feel like we can stand up to it all.

We have a family rule:  do not respond to bullying.  Ignore the bully.  Don’t react.  Walk away. 

We’ve tried to teach our children that this is the best and only response to bullying.  The bully will find another target in the playground if they don’t get a reaction.  There is no sport in it unless they know they are getting to their victim.  Then they will keep pushing and pushing and pushing until their victim breaks, or until the teacher puts a stop to it.  Hopefully the latter.

We probably should have added “and tell mummy and daddy” to our rule.  Sam is our eldest and in our ‘first time parents’ naivety, we assumed he would come home, sit down with a glass of milk and a chocolate chip cookie and delightedly regale us with the events of his little life at school.  In reality, he probably came home to forget. 

During Sam’s third year at primary school, the mother of his closest friend approached me one day and asked, “did you know that Lana* and Sam are being bullied?  And it’s been happening for awhile?  That an older boy is finding them at lunchtime and hitting them?”

WHAT?

When I asked Sam if someone had been hitting him at lunch, he said no.  Confused, knowing that his friend Lana wasn’t the lying type, and knowing that my boy is extremely literal, I rephrased the question:  “is there a boy punching you?”

“Yes.  At lunch time.  Right here, in the stomach.”

And in that moment, I doubled over with the punch right in my own gut.  And it hit hard.  He was my boy.  I was his mother.  It was my job to protect him.

And so we did.  Paul and I interceded and tried to work with the school but in the end we could not be confident that our child would be safe.  The principal understood and accepted our decision as we moved him to a smaller local school which relied more on personal care and communication than on systems that may or may not work.

Sam left the school.  He would never see the bully again.  Our child was safe.  And despite the school’s best efforts, that bully would have moved on to another victim and so on, because that’s what bullies do.  And if not that bully, then another one.  Another bully, another school yard, another time, another place.

Bullies are everywhere.

And herein lies the problem; the bully will look for a victim that will react.  They will move past the ones who ignore and walk away, until they find the one who reacts, who grimaces, who shouts, who cries, and ultimately who breaks.

New Zealand model and television presenter Charlotte Dawson just broke.

Her struggles with cyber-bullying and on-line abuse is well documented.  She moved to Australia in 2007 because “her reputation had been damaged by ‘nasty snipes’ so badly that ‘I can't come back because people don't want to employ me’" (NZ Herald, 22/02/14).  She suffered from depression and was hospitalised after an attempted suicide in 2012.  And today we read in the headline news that she has taken her life. 

Charlotte Dawson broke because the bullies got to her and she wasn’t strong enough to stand up to it.

Sadly, she’s not the first to break from the pressure of bullying, nor will she be the last.  And it’s not just happening in the school-yard.

Every day on the internet, someone thinks it is their right to insult someone else, to take them down a peg or two, to put them in their place.

Every day in some marriages, a man or woman feels it is their right to victimise and abuse the other.

Every day in the work-place, someone is holding their position over another employee as if it is their right to humiliate or threaten them, slander or harass them.

And this.  Sadly, this too: 

Every day in the church, a leader thinks it is his or her God-given right to enforce submission to their authority by guilt or condemnation.  They pursue their own agenda whilst pretending it is God’s authority with which they speak, perhaps even drawing from selective Bible verses and disregarding the context in which they were written.  They control those under them with power and spiritual manipulation.

Not every media user, wife, husband, employer or church leader is a bully.  Let me get that straight before you all head to your computers to condemn me. But it does happen.  And I am particularly chagrined by any sort of bullying in the church because if we, the people of God who are commanded to “love one another” decide that it’s okay to do the exact opposite, then sadly, the world has no hope.

Bullying is everywhere and everywhere there is a victim ready to be bullied.  There is a victim whose own self-talk allows them to believe the lies and punches that hit them in their gut.  A victim who doesn’t know how to ignore the bully and turn away in strength but who cowers and cries, ready for another blow.  A victim who doesn’t have “Roar” or “Skyscraper” on their playlist. 

There will be another Sam.  There will be another Charlotte.

Sam was only eight years old.  I know his story.  He did not deserve to be hit in the stomach by someone who was older and bigger than him.

I did not know Charolotte Dawson.  I do not know much of her story except what I read in the newspaper and I doubt that even touches on her story.  Her real story.  I have never walked in her shoes.

But I know she had a story.  A wonderful, amazing, heartfelt, humourous, tragic and so much more story that makes her beautiful. And I know that she was loved by God and that although she was not worthy of His love, He loved her just the same.

She did not deserve the insults and degradations that she received at the hand of people who did not know her, who tried to tear her down.  She did not deserve their judgment or condemnation.  Sadly, they did more than break the windows of her skyscraper.  They knocked it to the ground and buried her in the rubble with it.

There is a sticker that has done the rounds on facebook which says something like, “you don’t know another person’s journey until you’ve walked in their shoes:  be kind.”  There are a lot of people in the world who have forgotten what it means to be kind.  A lot of people who have never learned or have forgotten that we should “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3, NIV).  A lot of people who don’t seem to understand or care that their hate might have disastrous and tragic consequences.  It seems that until people learn that they do not have the right to judge or condemn another person because they have never walked in their shoes, then they will continue to forget to be kind, and they will continue to wound and scar.

So there will be another Sam.  There will be another Charlotte.

There will be another Susan.

Not many people know my story either.  But some have decided that despite not knowing my story, they have the right to put me down, to show me the errors of my ways, to vilify me, to attempt to tarnish my reputation in our small community.

And so far, I have successfully ignored them.  I have not responded or justified or screamed.  I have not moved to Australia in shame that does not belong to me.  I have not cowered or cried.  I have not been hospitalised.  I have not tried to take my own life.
 
Don't get me wrong, the bullies have hurt me.  That's the thing about a skyscraper:  lots and lots of windows to break.  Words, lies, betrayals, judgement, assumption--they hurt deeply.  But I've had so much love, so much affirmation and encouragement that a window is barely broken before a whole team of people are up there replacing it with even stronger glass.

It's a team of people who do know my story.  They know my story and we all know it’s a good story.  In fact, it’s a beautiful story because I am a child of God and I know:

          Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
          You formed me in my mother’s womb.
          I thank you, High God – you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvellously made!
I worship in adoration – what a creation! (Psalm 139:13-14, MSG)


Furthermore, I know I am a new creation in Jesus Christ and as sure of my security in Him as I am of my curly brown hair.  I know my story. It’s a great story.  I know it is, because God gave it to me; and no one can take that story away.

So I will keep writing on issues and expressing my opinions even though it riles some people and causes them to do hateful things.  I will continue to live and work and worship in this small community.  I will keep singing and dancing and playing with my children.  I will keep loving and laughing and expressing in joyful praise my gratitude for this beautiful life I am not worthy of but have been blessed with by a very loving God. 

And I will continue to stand up for justice and I will continue to speak the truth, as Jesus Himself is my example. 

I will continue because I’m sad and I’m angry and I’m grieving for someone I never knew who died so unnecessarily.  I guess she wasn’t as sure of her story as I am of mine.  And I know there are others who aren’t sure of their story either, others who feel like curling up into a ball and making the world disappear, who need to know that God loves them.  And that no one has the right to take away their God-given story.

So I’ll take a stand against bullying.  And in doing so, I’ll take another punch in the gut.  I’ll take it for Sam and for Charlotte and for anyone else not able to take it for themselves.  And in doing so, I hope that I will model what it means to value another above myself, so that my children too will learn to do the same.  Perhaps, when we multiply that out from our nuclear family, we might begin to make a difference.
 
And it already has.
 
Late last year, the pro-active administration at Paul's school held an optional meeting to tackle the issue of bullying, particularly of the female staff by the students.  He teaches at a large boys' school and female teachers are a minority so you can imagine some of the intimidatory tactics the boys were prone to using, not least of which the references and comments of a sexual nature.  Anywhere else, this would (I hope) be considered harassment.  I suggested rather strongly that Paul should be at that meeting.  I was pleased to learn that over half the staff attended the meeting, not just the women.  I was ecstatic to hear that Paul stood up and suggested the male staff begin by examining their own professional standards and language and the messages they were conveying to the boys about respect for women.
 
Champion!
 
Was he popular for saying this?  Probably not by some but was genuinely well-received by others.  Was he right to say it?  Definitely. 
 
It starts here.  One post.  One woman.  Standing up.  And the more people who stand up and do what is right, who become an advocate for the oppressed our modern day widows and orphans, then perhaps we will start to see a change in this world where too often bullies are left unchallenged.
 
I guess I have broken one of our family rules; I just responded to bullying.  I’ll have to make an amendment:  Respond when necessary and always, always respond on behalf of someone else who can't.

Because they have a great story too

Rest in peace Charlotte Dawson. I wish I knew your story. 
 
* name has been changed to protect anonymity

Safe


posted by Susan Dominikovich on , , , , ,

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The rain falls lightly outside my open window.

Somewhere out there, a caterpillar creeps towards safety to build its chrysalis.  We will find it hanging in an unexpected place like the window eave, or the back of a deck chair.  Hopefully not a log of wood destined for the fire.  But we will be careful.
 
This time.

My garden opens its mouth, quenching its thirst.  New salad greens, fresh zinnias, tired shrubs.  All grateful.


Inside the cat sleeps on a box in the lounge.  Not a purpose-built cat-box but a toy box left out.  Because my cat likes to hide in boxes.  She sleeps by day in the safety of our home and hunts by night in places where no mouse or rat is ever safe.

Buster rests beside me as I write.  If I stir, he will look up.  If I move, he will follow.  When I come back, he will settle too.

Loyal. As only a dog can be.

I hear only the rustling of the sycamore leaves and the rain pattering on the deck. 

And I hear my girl coughing.  A barking wheezy cough that she cannot shrug so is having a home day.

A rest day.

For both of us.

We were supposed to be at the beach on a school trip but the rain had other ideas for us.  And I am glad.  I am glad of a rest day with my girl that is growing up too quickly and blossoming into something so beautiful she takes my breath away.

Stay.  Stay a child with me.

A moment ago I wandered down the hall, Buster not far behind, to see how she is doing.  She sits, cocooned in her quilted duvet watching The Fellowship of the Ring.  Blushing at the sight of Aragorn, her first crush.  Dolls on either side of her.  Still a child.  And she is smiling.

And I am glad to see her smiling because she has been worried.  The cough worries her.  The cough that reminds her of when she couldn’t breathe, an allergic reaction to the dyes in her new grown-up-girl clothes.  She remembers that feeling of choking fear and she remembers the late-night trip to the doctor for steroids to get her lungs working properly again.

She remembers.

And so do I.

But this time it is just a bad cough and she is smiling.  And so am I.

Safe.  Safe in our cocoon.

Somewhere outside a caterpillar is transforming itself into a monarch butterfly.

Safe too.

And the rain falls lightly outside my window.

 

The answer in a cup...or just a snowman


posted by Susan Dominikovich on , , , ,

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Knowing that I had to achieve a major grocery shop in town this morning, I treated myself first to a wee excursion at my favourite garden centre which happens to have a lovely café attached.  I ordered myself a large flat white and then found a perfect table in the shade beside a raised flower-bed and fountain.  Summer!  Perfect!
I pulled my tablet out of my canvas bag and started writing a piece that I hope to submit for one of my favourite magazines.  Completely engrossed in the words that kept coming, I almost didn’t look up when the barista brought me my coffee.  When I did, I actually exclaimed out loud and then smiled at the barista.  How terribly cute, this milky snowman in a cup.  How terribly out of place in the middle of a gorgeous New Zealand summer.  Odd, but perfect for me, having just returned here from a Canadian winter.  The barista smiled back.  She could see that I appreciated the care and skill she had put into that cup for me.

For me.  As if she knew.

I sipped and I wrote and I browsed and I shopped and as I breathed my way through the morning more words came into my head.  The theme over at SheLoves magazine this month is “belong.” 

And that snowman in a cup told me that I belong.

Back in December, after a few grief-filled months of spiritual abuse by people in my church, a woman met with me and said the one thing that actually stuck. In fairness to her, she was trying to make some reparations for what had gone on in leadership around her at my expense.  I saw her heart and appreciated her intentions but she started by saying, “I’ve never met a Canadian I didn’t like, and I’m not going to start now.” 

Her words were innocent on the surface and I am sure she had no idea how they struck me.  My first thought was, “really?  After all this time (18 years), I’m still a Canadian?  I thought I was as kiwi as you, but you’re telling me I’m not?”  And my second thought was, “is THAT what all this rubbish is about…a cultural difference?”  Because I had spoken out, told the truth, asked the questions that needed asking and pointed out inaccuracies and injustices, I stood out like a sore thumb.  Here I thought I was doing it because it was the logical and right thing to do, but to her I did it because I was Canadian.  Really?

I don’t know if she intended to communicate those messages to me, but that is what I took away.

And I took it away with me all the way to Canada.  Because ironically, a couple of days later my family was on a plane to visit friends and family in B.C. for Christmas.  It was a fun-filled adventurous time with very special people but it was also a time of soul-searching for me.  Behind every conversation and every place I visited was the question…"is this where I belong?"

I confided some of what we’d been through and what this woman said to me to a friend who nodded with a knowing look at the end of it.  She affirmed that yes, my roots determine that I am a strong Canadian woman, now living in a country which excels in being non-confrontational.  Kiwis, by and large would sweep their dirt under the carpet rather than deal with it.  There is a similar Canadian stereotype, certainly (the Canadian who apologises for everything), but as a mosaic of cultures, we have a lot of strong European voices amongst us and we are also influenced by our vocal American neighbours.  I use the first person “we” because yes, I am Canadian.

I looked at my Canadian friend across the table and I smiled to myself and while I didn’t say it, I acknowledged this woman who has influenced me since we became friends in high school. Because my Canadian friend is also Finnish.  I think Finnish must mean “champion” in translation because she and her family are all similarly honest and open and they are not afraid to call it like they see it, and they all stand tall.  Anne has campaigned and written letters in the face of injustice and indecency on behalf of others and I have applauded every one and even those I don’t even know about because I love her and she has taught me so much.  I thought of her often last year when I was writing my own letters and preparing my own speeches in the face of untruths and injustice.  I definitely said to Paul on more than one occasion, “I wish Anne was here…she’d fight this with me.”  She is my champion.  And she is so much more than Canadian or Finnish. 

Looking back at that conversation with Anne I can see that I should have realised that being “Canadian” means a lot and also means nothing at all.  It’s a label and a stereotype.  It describes where I come from, but not who I am.  That should have been the end of it.  But at the time, my vision was still cloudy and my purpose still elusive, having gone from being a contributing member of a small church ministering in a community that I was passionate about, fully believing that this congregation was my family, to being church-less and unwanted.  From being loved and respected in my community to being shunned by some and avoided by others because they do not know the truth and do not really want to know.

So we came home to New Zealand and I still had no answers.  I admit, I didn’t settle back well and even looked at the housing market in Vancouver Island and investigated the schools there.  I am Canadian after all.  But then I thought perhaps change was the right idea but not quite so far.  Because I’m a kiwi too.  I looked at the property listings in the city near us.  It makes a lot of sense, since Paul works in the city and the kids will be going to high school there.  In a practical sense, it would be a good move.  But God isn’t always about practicalities.

I was plagued by the confusion, looking for signs in many directions.

Things started to become clear yesterday, after two much-needed days by myself once everyone had gone back to school.  There is something to be said for solace.  And I started writing again.

Surprisingly perhaps, today, I found the answer in my coffee cup.

Right there in that garden centre on a hot summer day, listening to Stan Walker and surrounded by the heady scent of roses, I found the answer in a snow man.

An oddly out-of-place-but-perfect-at-the-same-time snowman.  A snowman in a flat white in New Zealand.  Who would have thought?  Probably no one, which is why I expect never to find a snowman in my coffee in New Zealand in the middle of summer again. 

That crazy snowman in my cup of coffee may have been out of place, but it still belonged in the cup.  The barista thought it was a good idea and so it was.  Why not?  I may be out of place in my surroundings too, but I still belong.  If God thinks it’s a good idea for me to be here and if He has things for me to do, then this is where I belong.  Those surroundings or circumstances may change and I will probably still be out of place as long as people only see me as a label, but I will belong because I will be there according to God’s plan for me.  He has made me, He knows me intimately and He knows where I am needed.  And after all, "there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

Yes, I am Canadian.  And I’m a kiwi too.  But if after any length of time that is all you know about me, then I am going to say in a very un-kiwi way, you are missing out.  And in a very un-Canadian way, I won't apologise for saying it.  Because I am so much more than Canadian, or kiwi, or Jesus-lover, or teacher or brunette...

If you want to know me, I’m right here. 

Where I belong.