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Posts Tagged ‘domestic violence’

I haven’t always been Kerry Osborne.  Once upon a time I was Kerry Sims.  I’ve also been known by some of my slightly-less-than-charming acquaintances as Dim Sims and Waddles. Those names have a cute and whimsical ring to them these days, when I view them from the comfort of middle age, but back in my school days they felt anything but cute.  They stung, they hurt and left me burning with shame.

“Dim Sims” was flung around in my primary school days – an ‘amusing’ adjustment to my surname which left me feeling like I was stupid.  Ironically, the boys calling me this were regularly failing their tests and getting the cane for their bad behaviour, while I was the “good girl” getting straight A’s.  But the irony was lost on me in those days.

“Waddles” emerged in high school and had a more vicious undertone, as it was a reference to my awkward gait and slight limp due to a then-undiagnosed hip problem.  I remember one day being circled by a group of boys, imitating my walk, thinking it was quite hilarious.  I don’t even remember who they were, but I do remember the burning shame I felt, the tears in my eyes and the heavy feeling of worthlessness.

I was almost forty when I was ready to face my hip problem.  Chronic pain and a concerned partner finally forced me into a corner.  When the orthopaedic surgeon told me that I had severe hip dysplasia from birth and my hip sockets hadn’t formed properly I was shocked.  It was also a gigantic “Aha!” moment when the truth finally hit me. Apparently I had done an amazing job getting around all of those years but now it was time for surgery.  The shame I’d locked inside all of those years, trapped like a big block of ice, began to melt away.  In the café at St Vincent’s Hospital the tears flowed hot and fast, the ice melting at last, as the shame that had shut down parts of my emotions finally washed away. As St Vincent’s Café sees many tears, I was able to cry without interruption.

Thankfully over the years a culture has emerged where bullying is no longer the norm and mentioning it isn’t treated with scorn.  I work these days in a school vigilant in finding ways to empower students and protect them from bullying.

But sadly in our society bullies continue to persist, despite our enlightenment. Bullying may begin in the school-yard but it continues in the workplace and sometimes, sadly, in our homes.  The bullying child may have endearing qualities with his cheeky smile and grubby knees, but the vicious boss who verbally strips staff of their self-worth, or the violent husband who humiliates and damages his wife with his fists and his controlling ways are just plain ugly.

When I was in my twenties I met one of the old school bullies at a party.  My life was full and fabulous and I was about to head off overseas to work and travel the world.  My old classmate was unemployed and just out of hospital for treatment of his mental health and drug dependency issues.  One of the first things he said to me was how sorry he was for the way he had treated me at school. He seemed to be struggling under the heaviness of guilt.  I smiled at his heartfelt apology and told him not to worry.  One look into his eyes told me he had already paid for the way he had lived his life thus far.

Comedian, Jerry Seinfeld  puts it well in his advice to those surviving a break-up:  “The best revenge is living well”.  Now I’m not an advocate for revenge, but there is certainly wisdom in those words.  For a time we may feel belittled by the bullies in our lives, but the scales will turn one day.  The key is to hang in there, and wait and watch.

So if you are being bullied or have been bullied, please take heart.  Don’t believe what you are hearing about yourself. It isn’t true.  Just as I’m not dim, and my disability wasn’t my fault, the same is true of you. If you don’t believe those damning words and hang in there, one day the tide will turn. Walk away, smile to yourself, and believe that you are valuable, gifted and full of potential.

So to my old bullies I say this:  I forgive you all – you were young, silly and thoughtless, and perhaps someone was bullying you too.  But I do believe you reap what you sow and Someone has my back who is far more powerful than all of us.  I pray that you will confess, apologise and take an honest look at yourself, and learn to live a life that brings joy to others rather than despair.

There is no room in this vast and beautiful world for bullies, and there is no room in my heart to listen to them anymore.  Kindness and love are far more interesting.

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”   Romans 12:17-19 (MSG)

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The other night at dinner one of my sons said to the other:  “It was so funny, we were playing on-line with a six-year-old and he was saying – ‘Stop stabbing me’ and we just kept on stabbing him!”

Now I don’t know about you, but this isn’t the sort of table conversation that appeals to me.   It did, however, lead to a discussion about some of the Playstation 3  games they had been playing that day at a friend’s house.   One of the games in question was ‘Call of Duty Black OPs’ (rated MA) which I’ve had a look at and banned from our home as I found the realism, graphic violence and the general grimy feel of the game a little disturbing and inappropriate for my boys who are 10 and 11.

Another game I’ve encountered is ‘Grand Theft Auto’ where all sorts of adventure unfolds.  I was, of course, expecting them to steal cars, but I wasn’t expecting them to  pick up prostitutes, have sex with them and then kill them.   Lovely stuff.  Just the type of behaviour we all want our little boys to learn, hey girls?   I was horrified to discover that another friend had her teenage sons playing this game when my boys visited when they were only 5 and 6.   It no doubt went over their heads, but it’s still not something I want them exposed to.

But according to my sons I’m ‘over-protective’ and ‘every other kid at school is allowed to play MA games, even the Year 3 kids’.   It seems I’ve earnt the reputation of being the old fuddy duddy.  My boys also tell me that shooting games are vitally important to them and I’m preventing them from a normal part of their development.  Where do they hear this stuff?

But I guess  they do have a point in part.   Even when I ban the games, I find them engaged in armed warfare in the backyard, with their plastic guns ‘blazing’.   At first I banned toy guns as well, but gave in when I realised they just grabbed sticks and used them instead.  

Perhaps violent play is engraved in the genetic makeup of boys and trying to stop it is like trying to stop puberty.  But somehow seeing them running around in the fresh air pretending to conquer Osborne County isn’t as disturbing as watching them choose a particular gun and shoot a life-like person on-screen in a depressing alleyway with screaming, swearing and blood.   It seems to me that their imagination is enough to fan the flames of violence, without allowing Hollywood into my home to make it more real for them and to lead them even further down the slippery path.

Technology offers our kids a lot but it also robs them of a lot.  Sure it offers them easy adventure, new worlds and excellent computer skills, but it robs them of their imagination, the real world, exercise and knowing how to relate to real people.   One thing’s for sure, my boys are way ahead of me in the technology race.   I’m one of the few people left who doesn’t possess an I-phone and I watch in awe as they tap away on their I-pods.   Even though we have blocks in place to protect them from watching inappropriate stuff, I still catch them at times watching some dodgy things.  It is so difficult to police what they are doing.

I write this as a parent who is struggling to know how rigid our boundaries need to be.   This generation is using technology like no other so we are indeed the guinea pigs of the parenting world.    We are yet to discover the long-term impact of growing up in a world of fantasy where social networking, texting, gaming and U-tubing dominate a child’s attention.    I wonder if what is at stake here is far more significant than many of us realise.  

After the ‘Black Ops’ discussion at dinner the other night, I went for a late night walk around the block, tears streaming down my face as I felt myself losing my sons to the clutches of these faceless computer game lords.   I also berated myself for being so emotional about it all, as I know many other mums who don’t seem concerned about these issues at all.   The next day I went down to my favourite bookshop at Cronulla and stumbled upon a book by Maggie Hamilton:  ‘What’s Happening to Our Boys’.    I’ve been reading it ever since and it is a thought-provoking, well researched and confronting account of the way technology and the media are impacting our boys.  Reading it has been fascinating and has confirmed in my mind that my tears the other night weren’t foolish, but were a true indicator of the gravity of the situation.

As with all aspects of parenting, we can talk to our kids and do our best to teach them the right way to live their lives but ultimately they will make their own decisions. But while they are young, vulnerable and under my care I will do all I can to protect them and keep our home as nurturing, loving and free of violence as possible.   I cannot condone behaviour which I find repulsive and I don’t care if it’s encased in a trendy game that everyone plays.  I’ve seen the damage violent men can do and I am regularly sickened by the stories of physical and emotional abuse suffered by women and kids in a local refuge where I do some voluntary work.    Violence may sell games and provide hours of entertainment, but it also destroys lives and creates the most unimaginable horrors.  So I will remain the old fuddy duddy, stand my ground and pray hard for two little guys growing up in a crazy world.

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We can do no great things, only small things with great love.  ~Mother Teresa

I spend a lot of my life flying blind.   I want to help others, but what can I do?  As much as I’m inspired by the life of Mother Teresa, I’m not an extraordinary Nun living in the slums of Calcutta, but a forty-something woman, who is prone to laziness and selfishness, living in the affluence of Australia.   I have ideas about ‘changing the world’ but most of my ideas and plans never get past the embryonic stage. It is easy to have ideas, but taking the step to actually birth an idea into reality takes energy and courage.

Yet occasionally an idea captivates me to such a degree that I’m compelled to go through the labour pains and see it come to life.   One of the main motivators for me is an assurance that the idea will truly benefit others, and that God himself is breathing his energy into the venture.

The best way to determine if an idea is worth pursing is to just let it be for a time.   Perhaps run it by a few close friends, stick it in the ground like a seed and see if it sprouts.   If it continues coming to mind and filling you with a sense of anticipation and wonder, then it may well be an idea with a purpose.    If the idea doesn’t die, then take the first step in making it happen, enlist some help from friends and ‘put it out there’.   The door will either open or slam shut.  If it flies open, then you’re on your way.

I was reminded of these simple truths this morning as I delivered a boot-load of Welcome Packs to a local refuge for women and kids.   A small group of us have been providing colourful baskets of essential toiletries and pampering products  to ‘welcome’ women to refuges after escaping abusive relationships and homelessness.  We also provide beach buckets filled with toiletries, colouring books and toys for the kids, and baby hampers with all the essentials for new-born babies living out their first few months in a refuge.

Making Welcome Packs isn’t rocket science.  It does, however, require a lot of preparation time, making sure each pack contains everything each woman and child may need in a time of emotional turmoil and physical exhaustion.  I always ask myself what I would need if I were in this situation.  How can I provide basic nurture and comfort?  We include simple things like soft fluffy socks, soothing hand cream  and some lipstick for the women and a friendly, huggable teddy for the kids.

The other challenge is coordinating the donations we receive.  Sometimes we end up with 47 tubes of toothpaste but 3 toothbrushes and 15 kids colouring books but no pencils.  I’m not a methodical person and have never worked in retail.   My inventory of donations is haphazard at best and I have a tendency to ‘fly by the seat of my pants’, but each time the packs come together in the end.  That’s when I recognise the gentle breath of God as he stands beside me, prompting me to move this way or that, steering me away from silly mistakes and generally cheering me along.

This morning’s delivery was again a series of little miracles.   I work, raise children, run a home, enjoy a close marriage and numerous friendships, so any time I devote to charity work is limited and precious.   A friend and I assembled a dozen Welcome Packs on Friday.  Between us we had a half hour overlap in our busy schedules.   We talked, drank tea and speedily created the hampers.   When my friend raced off to take her daughter to an appointment, I had another half hour left to finish the job.  With only five minutes to spare before school pick up time I realised I was short one toothbrush holder.  The refuges ask specifically for toothbrush holders as the women often share bathrooms.  Oh dear, how would I find time for a shopping trip for one little toothbrush holder?   My only chance was the ‘bits and pieces leftover box’.  Tentatively I opened it and there right in the middle was one pink toothbrush holder.  What a relief!  The packs were now complete.

Yesterday I wrapped the packs in cellophane and found matching ribbons.  As I wrap I pray for each recipient – that they will find hope and healing in their lives and will overcome the considerable obstacles they are facing.  I pray that the Welcome Packs will signify new hope to them and help them to realise that there are people in our community who are on their side, and willing to spend time offering support.   I never find out if my prayers are answered, but I just keep on praying and hoping.

We made one pack for a newborn baby.   A kind woman knitted a soft pastel jacket and bonnet and one of my friends put together an inviting assortment of baby goodies to welcome the little one into the world.   I phoned the refuge this morning and said “You probably don’t have a baby at the moment, but we’ve made a baby pack anyway“…  She replied enthusiastically “Funny you should say that, we had an 11 day old baby come to stay with us yesterday.”   What a joy to provide a few special items to this little person and his Mum.

Another friend donated a pretty party dress with bright pink flowers, a gift for her granddaughter which was too small.  At the last moment I grabbed it to deliver with the packs.   As we carried the packs into the refuge I noticed a woman with a little girl.  Their faces were so serious, sad and withdrawn.  The little girl watched me warily.   I pointed out the dress to one of the care workers and she showed it to the girl.  At first she seemed reluctant to even touch it, but then a bright smile lit her face and she held the dress up in front of her.  When I left she was walking around, grinning widely and cradling the dress to her chest.  I had to sniff back the tears until I reached my car.

Was it a coincidence that I had a dress to give to that girl, a baby pack ready for the baby and one last toothbrush holder?   Trivial little things I know, but important just the same.   I’ve seen it happen too many times – I no longer believe in coincidences.

Giving is its own reward.   There is no greater happiness than helping others who genuinely need help.  Yet how do we know how to help or what steps to take?  I’ve found that it is only when I walk to the beat of a drum played by One who is much larger and all-seeing than I am that I get it right.  On my own I’m clueless.   Even when I’m flying blind my faith somehow knits together the loose threads of my attempts at goodness.   We are simply hands and feet and God is calling us to help Him help a world in pain.   A God of love cannot stand by and watch women and children suffering alone.  We often accuse God of allowing suffering, but do we ever consider that He may want us to be part of the solution?   He plants ideas into our minds and then prompts us and prods us until we take action.   Each of us can play a part and make a difference.  Allow compassion to drive you, and just watch the little details fall into place.

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.  Proverbs 16:9

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Little things are indeed little, but to be faithful in little things is a great thing.    Mother Teresa

Statistics can be dry and clinical, but sometimes they paint a picture.   Do you know that 23% of women who have ever been married or in a de-facto relationship experience violence by a partner at some time during the relationship (ABS 1996, p. 50)?   Statistics for the years 1989-1999 reveal that 20.8% of all homicides involve intimate partners, and in almost half of spousal homicides, there is a clear history of preceding violence (Morgan 2002, p. 26).  Sadder again are the statistics collected by the Victorian Family Violence Database which indicate that just over 45% of family violence incidents had one or more children present (VCCAV 2002, p.12).  

Hidden behind the structure of the facts and figures, is the sadness and isolation of people  living with broken hearts, caught in webs of manipulation and fear.    Over the past six months through my association with a local refuge for women and kids, I’ve heard stories of women  held hostage in their homes, unable to access bank accounts or car keys.   If they escape they often find themselves homeless, their nest egg of cash running out after a few days hiding in a motel.   I hear stories of women and kids who are crushed in body and spirit, searching for a safe haven where they can breathe.

When I’m overwhelmed by the depressing statistics, I go hunting and gathering.    In the supermarkets, reject shops and chemists, I collect an impressive array of toothbrushes, shampoos, moisturisers, and delicious chocolates.   I hound the man in the Liquidators store to order me in more plastic baskets from Melbourne.  My spare room is bursting at the seams with toiletry items and teddies and I’m sure my husband thinks I’m going mad.   Every month or so I meet with some girlfriends and we create ‘welcome packs’ in colourful plastic baskets for the women and kids with the broken hearts.     When they arrive at the refuge with nothing but the clothes on their backs, our welcome packs await, an insignificant little gift but perhaps for some a warm candle flickering in a hostile black night.

Our welcome packs won’t stop domestic violence and abuse, or make the pain and panic go away, but they are a small gesture, a hint at a future with hope.    We can’t fix each sad set of circumstances or restore each broken life, but we can offer our love, our support and our belief that those who are suffering have the strength to take those first awkward steps on the road to healing.  

Another set of statistics caught my attention this week.    Did you know that in rural Papua New Guinea 1 in 7 women die during childbirth?  In an era of  sterile hospitals and advanced medical procedures, it is hard for most western women to imagine what it would be like to face childbirth alone, with no medical intervention, in the dust and dirt.   Yesterday I read about a simple and wonderful idea to supply women in PNG with a sterile birthing kit which has the essential items to give them the best chance of surviving childbirth.     It is inexpensive, simple and very effective.   Five birthing kits cost only Aus$10.00 – such a small price to pay for what may potentially be the lives of three women and three babies.    I applaud Adriel Booker for her insight and compassion in putting these kits together, and promoting them.  You can read more @:

 http://themommyhoodmemos.blogspot.com/2011/05/bloggers-for-birth-kits-help-reduce.html

Broken lives cannot be instantly fixed or managed, despite our best intentions.   Statistics, forecasts and political agendas loom like brick walls, too high to climb.   Yet I believe it is through the little things that healing will come.    We can listen, we can care, and we can be faithful in the little things we do.   Let’s look at what we can do, rather than be frozen by what we can’t do.   Don’t ever give up the fight to bring about positive change, and don’t ever disregard the little things.

If you would like to find out more about how you can be involved in our ‘Welcome Pack’ ministry, or if you know of any refuges or homeless shelters which would benefit from receiving some ‘welcome packs’ please leave a comment & I will contact you.

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  Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict — alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.
Dorothy Thompson

I heard on the news this morning that a two-year old toddler had been stabbed to death after being caught in a domestic dispute which erupted between her parents about going to the beach.    Another tragedy transmitted on the airwaves to remind us of the frailty of life and the brokenness of people.

Over the past week I’ve caught up with many old friends and I’ve noticed a common thread running through our conversations.     Outwardly confident women have a lot of trouble dealing with confrontation.   We make compromises, change topics, stay silent, swear and curse, run away and do all we can to avoid facing difficult issues.  

There are just as many reasons for this fear as there are people.   A few friends confessed to a family culture of avoiding conflict, where direct communication is a no-go zone, but talking behind the person’s back is fine.    This works for a while and arguments are avoided, but problems fester and issues remain unresolved.   Add a little mental instability, hormonal imbalance, and substance abuse to the mix, and trouble is brewing.

Confrontation terrifies me as I grew up in a family where conflict thrived with no boundaries or limits.    Screaming, yelling, throwing things, and cold silences froze the air and created walls between us.   I can’t remember a resolution to an argument, but only a resigned sadness, which eventually drifted away like smoke, until the next firestorm ignited.

My coping mechanisms include running away, giving up, yelling irrationally, and behaving like a doormat.    None of these work particularly well, but I have tried them all over the years, losing friends and lovers when my fear overwhelmed me.

These days I share life with a husband who loves me, and two rapidly growing sons.     Occasionally my even-tempered husband speaks harshly to me, particularly when I’m driving and he’s the passenger.   I don’t like driving very much and see it as a way of getting from A to B.  My husband however is heavily into motor sports and sees driving as a precise art form.  I constantly let him down in this area.   On New Years Eve I got stuck behind a car turning right and didn’t manoeuvre out of the way in time so we wasted a few minutes getting to the shops.   Ironically, we had been lecturing our boys in the backseat about the best ways to avoid arguments with their friends and then moments later we were screaming at one another.    I felt bruised, sad and alone for the rest of the evening, even though I was surrounded by friends at a New Years Eve party.

A few days later when my husband accidentally splashed superglue in his eye I remained  calm and helpful, and later asked him if he had noticed that I hadn’t yelled at him when he made his silly mistake.   He had.    I went on to point out, with a slight smirk, that this is how I believe we should treat the people we love, rather than yelling at them…

Handling confrontation is one of the most challenging issues we face in our relationships.    Most of us have had some level of dysfunction in our childhood and bad experiences in adult life which leave us wounded and floundering in this area.     Yet when I look at the damage confrontation can cause, as an innocent child lies dead this week, I know this is an area that demands my attention.   I want to learn how to listen to my raging emotions and know that they are coming from a place and time when I too was a little girl caught in the crossfire.    I will take a deep breath,  step back and look at the reality of the situation happening now.    When the seas have calmed, I will find the courage to discuss the issue and work towards resolving it.     I will remind myself that the world isn’t going to end when a conflict arises, and there is a bridge of peace to walk across, full of hope and promise.     For a long time I didn’t know this bridge existed.    If only it had been there for the little girl on the news.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace…    Romans 14:19

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