#PTSDisrealWCPSS

Hi. I'm Shannon. My husband Lee and I have six kids, some by birth and some by adoption and all fiercely loved. 

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Part of how we came to adopt is our belief that every child deserves an advocate. Ideally, that advocate comes from the family or community a child is born into. Given my own experiences with childhood abuse, we knew the ideal isn't always the real. 

We don't deserve any kudos for advocating for any of our children. They are all ours. They are all worthy. Growing inside me doesn't make two deserving and the other four charity. 

No, I am Mama Bear to each of our six. 

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Usually, I'm successful. I have an undergrad degree in communication and a graduate one in education (specifically special education, so I know the legal pathways we can take). We've had the gift of passionate, child-focused teachers and administrators.

Until now, unfortunately.

I do think it can be different. I have hope. I think the principal we're facing wants to do the right thing for our child. The issue at hand is both simple and complicated:

We have a child with PTSD.

This WCPSS principal isn't treating PTSD as if it's real. 

She treats our kids as if their smiles mean they're not affected by the past. This principal even ends each email with "smiles," followed by her name. But we need her to look beyond the smiles and believe PTSD is real.

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Our child's diagnosis is well documented. The story is not mine to share, though. I won't use our child's name or pronouns throughout this piece to protect their identity. Some adoptive parents tell their child's stories, including the deepest trauma and struggles, as if they're the center of the story. We aren't.

Hear. This. Clearly: We never were meant to be the star of our child's show.  

What can I share with you the trauma this child survived, though? Here's a story: This is a child who asked, "you no beat me?" whenever caught in trouble in the first two years in our family. Let me say that again: this is a child who asked "you no beat me?" to any adult. Again, this child didn't expect the answer to be "no, sweetheart, I won't beat you" each time because they had received the opposite in the past. 

Miraculously, this child knows safety now and trusts us. Beyond us, few are trusted. Our child has known that previous teachers weren't going to physically beat them, but that's as close to trust as they got. Because our child didn't feel safe in those previous classes, academic performance and overall motivation has always been challenging. 

Simply put, because of PTSD, this kiddo is below grade level in reading and math. 

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We were all looking forward to this school year. For the first time ever, our child could have a trusted teacher and an optimal environment for learning. As a child who has shut down in every other classroom, this year would be different. They only trust five adults, including me and my husband. One teacher is on that short list, teaching in the same grade our child should have entered with fellow classmates two weeks ago. We expected our child to flourish in that classroom.

We took all the possible steps. We submitted a parent input form on May 11, 2018, asking for this child to be in the trusted teacher's class. I emailed the principal on May 18 to make sure she got it, but because she routinely doesn't reply to emails, I didn't consider it concerning when I didn't hear back. 

Then our child was assigned to a different teacher with no explanation.

Unfortunately, now the principal insists that I never turned in a form on May 11, despite two parents being in the office as I did so who remember seeing me turn it in. One parent remembers because we chatted about how this was the first time in a long time that she wouldn't submit an input form for the next year because she wouldn't have any elementary school students in the coming year. The other parent was submitting her input forms at the same time I did. 

What happened to my form? I don't know. I won't speculate. I don't know if it was lost or misplaced or discarded, so I am not accusing this principal of anything. Meanwhile, this principal says I'm lying about turning in the form.

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We emailed and left phone messages through the two weeks leading up to school starting. The principal only responded once we involved her boss. By then, school was about to start. She offered to meet with us on the first day of school after school had already started; only one of us could attend that meeting because we couldn't put our child in the position of seeing friends enter classrooms while not having no place to go. I was sick, so I was the one who stayed home. I ended up meeting with the principal the next day.

Her second argument emerged in those meetings: "That class is now full. It wouldn't be fair to move a child from that teacher's class because school has already started."

Again, she chose to ignore us until we escalated our communication to her boss. This is a key point. Had she cared to respond before then, in May or even in early to mid-August, our child could have been moved easily. The barrier the principal stands by is one of her own making. She can make the change, but she doesn't. She can even request permission to add one more child to the desired teacher's classroom, as the average class size for each grade is the primary concern. I don't care how she solves the problem she created, but it's up to her to solve it.

But this is about more than a desired teacher. We aren't throwing some fit because we want or prefer something but could accept something else. At this one school, we have had 22 different teacher assignments (including one that was changed right before school started a few years ago). We have accepted 21 of those assignments with no fuss. This one is different.

Why? PTSD.

Our child's diagnosis is not being treated as if it's real. But PTSD is real, WCPSS.

#PTSDisrealWCPSS

Our child's psychologist is licensed and has her doctorate in psychology. She wrote a supporting letter for our request. I won't share all of it, but here are some pertinent details:

[Child] suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) related to severe trauma experienced during early childhood. [Child’s] current therapy goal is to develop basic trust through relationships with safe adults, which include [their] parents, therapist, and teacher.

In summary, the basic treatment goal is for our child to trust big people. That's why this teacher assignment isn't a mere preference. It's a need, based in a real diagnosis that impacts every facet of life, especially learning.

The letter from the psychologist continues,

In the school setting it is critical that [child] feels psychologically and emotionally safe in order for maximum learning to occur. In other words, when [child] does not feel safe, [child] shuts down and is unable to learn effectively. In school, children without PTSD due to early childhood trauma are able to establish trust bonds quickly with safe teachers and thus focus on the task of learning. [Child] is not that child. Trust takes a very long time for [child] to develop...


... [Through circumstances given in the letter], this child subsequently developed a relationship with [trusted teacher] over [period of time], Since a significant trust bond has already been established, my strong recommendation is that [child] be placed in [trusted teacher’s] class. Instead of wasting time developing trust with a new teacher, [child] can move fully into academic learning with [trusted teacher] , which is paramount. Mrs. Dingle included her parental opinion and my professional opinion on the teacher input form she submitted May 11th to the school. This request was also denied.

Note that May 11 bit? That form, that I completed with psychologist input, is the one our principal says I never submitted. We did. Accusing us of lying, this principal is bold enough to insist confidently that that I didn't submit the form.

(In her last email to us, she claims I didn't turn in the form on time, so I wonder if they found my form after all and have changed their story to say it was submitted late when it was not.)

Placing [child] in another teacher’s class, even an excellent teacher’s class, is likely to be experienced as a personal rejection which will further impair [child’s] fragile self-esteem.

If you don't understand why this principal won't provide a suitable learning environment, you're not alone. It doesn't make sense. It isn't logical.  

This principal action's and WCPSS's support of her shows us that they don't consider PTSD to be a real and serious condition. Science says they're wrong. Psychology says they're wrong. Historical reports and research says they're wrong. 

In fact, I asked our photographer not to edit out the tombstone in the background of our first family picture. Some things that have died from our pasts live on because trauma's tentacles hang on to us tightly. Trauma - mine. theirs. ours. - is like a ninth member of our family. We have hope, yes, but we also carry trauma. The trick is simply to work toward the hope being greater than the trauma. 

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We have documented everything painstakingly.

But, in our state, the principal has final say on teacher assignments. So, here we are. WCPSS won't help. Everyone else in the district, other than this principal, has conceded that this is not ideal but repeated the party line that the principal is the only one who can change student placements with teachers. 

WCPSS, PTSD is real.

On today of all days - World Suicide Prevention Day - it would make good sense to recognize mental health diagnoses as necessary in educating the child. After all, adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide than nonadoptees. Why? It's a toxic combination of trauma, grief, and more. That toxic combo includes schools saying no to reasonable accommodations because they don't think PTSD is real. 

I don't want to be writing this. I don't want to be fighting this fight. I don't want to be calling out the principal and school system. 

But I'm a Mama Bear. I fiercely love and advocate for each of my children. For my children and for all the families lacking the privileges I have to persevere through this, including the privilege of time to keep our child out of school (and, if necessary, homeschool). But every family isn't able to do that. WCPSS needs to treat PTSD seriously for the sake of all students and ensure schools are trauma-informed.

#PTSDisrealWCPSS.

It really is.

The rules of misogyny won't fix sexual abuse in the church.

I survived sex trafficking. The church didn’t help. I still grieve over that.

Recent stories about abuse and misogyny in the church have me thinking about those days when a man sold what wasn’t his to sell and his customers took what wasn’t theirs to take. The product was my body.  I don’t write about this often (or ever before now, other than Twitter), but it’s time.

Let's sit, face to face, eye to eye, and talk.

 photo by Amy Paulson Photography

photo by Amy Paulson Photography

Or let's do the closest thing to that possible via a blog post.

With a flood of recent stories covering the allegations against [insert latest pastor/church], I’m hearing a broken record from many conservative Christian leaders (almost all men, from denominations that bar women from being pastors). If only he had followed the Billy Graham Rule, also called the Pence Rule for the vice president’s adherence to it, then nothing would have happened.

This rule was set as a personal one for Graham, who traveled often in his crusade work. Many male leaders have adopted it as a prescriptive law for the church. If you are blessedly unaware of this rule, then I’m a bit jealous. Here’s the gist: a man is never alone with a woman who isn’t his wife. Period.

When I was trafficked, my body wasn’t treated with respect. (Obviously.) It wasn’t even treated like it was mine. No, men owned it, took it, exploited it, and dehumanized themselves in how they used any part of me they could touch.

Meanwhile, the Billy Graham Rule, especially when dictated as a best practice, tells men that it’s okay to assume any woman might be a seductress or false accuser and/or it’s a given that men sometimes lack control of their own sexual desires but, at the same time, possess the self-control to follow this rule strictly. They don’t have to be their own keepers. If they own, take, or exploit a woman in a one-on-one setting (which is statistically far more likely than the seductress or liar trope that blames the woman), then it’s because they didn’t follow the Rule.

We’re preaching lies when we teach the Rule, whether it be from the pulpit or in a tweet or by a Hogwarts owl. When women are victimized, not adhering to the Billy Graham Rule isn’t the problem. Not adhering to the Golden Rule is.

We don’t end sex trafficking with the Graham/Pence Rule. It’s not designed for that, clearly. So why in the world would we expect to end any other kind of sexual predation that way, as some have suggested it could have in the case of crimes or harassment of women by pastors? In the Southern Baptist church where I spent my first decade of adulthood, daytime women’s Bible study leaders were required to wear skirts, no pants. That was rooted in Southern definitions of gender roles rather than anything in scripture, much like the Rule.

Men, if you want to honor the women in your life, practice dominion over year own body. Period. You don’t own anyone else’s. No other body than your own was designed for your control.

I’ve been in rooms alone with men who were sex traffickers and rapists. They trafficked and raped me. I’ve been in rooms alone with men who were colleagues, friends, or acquaintances. They did no sexual harm to me. The difference isn’t the environment. It’s the type of man.

You can keep your rules, the ones that strip men of responsibility and women of humanity, but #churchtoo will persist. The path to flourishing isn’t in these arbitrary and extrabiblical laws but rather in the practice of love, giving and receiving it.


This summer, the scandal of Patterson’s recording and recent statements reminded me of another recording. (Don't know what I'm talking about here? Check out my piece in SKEW a couple months ago for the backstory.) Before Omarosa wrote that he did this in the White House, the then-candidate Trump said, on 2005 tapes from Access Hollywood and released less than a month prior to the election,

You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.

Christians of all genders shouted together, “This is not okay.” But then 81% of white evangelical voters decided that the value of unborn babies mattered more than the lives of women and, given his previous comments, the lives of immigrants, black people, and those living with disabilities, to offer a few. (Nevermind that providing greater supports for women lowers the abortion rate more than any restrictions have.)

I’ve seen women speaking out against entertainment icons and being heard. I’ve seen others speaking out against political figures and sometimes being heard. But then I see who is in the White House, review the list of credible accusations against him, recall his own words about grabbing women’s genitals, and remember that my white evangelicals still support him in droves. The most recent poll shows approval ratings of Trump by white evangelicals to have held strong at 75%. This is why I’m not sure the church is ready for the reckoning we need. I pray I’m wrong, but it’s hard not to be concerned by continued support for an openly misogynistic politician.

The Patterson statements, the Access Hollywood recording, and the Graham/Pence Rule are all related, as are the ridiculous comments trying to link pedophilia and being gay in the wake of Catholic church cover-ups. The voices, input, and establishment of each were created in a bubble where only white, straight, cisgender, American-born men had input. I’m married to a white, straight, cisgender, American-born man, so I’m not hating on anyone who fits those categories. I’m simply acknowledging that women are often harmed when the only voices factoring in to a stance are from men who seem more dismayed about assaults against boys in another church than assaults against women in their own.

This isn't a new story. Women of color are harmed when those at the decision table are all white feminists. Same song, different verse.

Only a few years ago, I was a card-carrying member of the white evangelical club. We didn’t actually have cards, of course, but I have a speaker name tag for an event cosponsored by Focus on the Family and the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, so I figure that’s close enough. I’m speaking as an outsider of that subculture now, but I was an insider and remain dear friends with some who still are.

The day before the 2016 election, I sat across from my therapist and said, “this is it, and I really think Trump might win.” She didn’t think so, but she didn’t know white evangelical culture from the inside like I do. There’s so much beauty there, so much worth fighting for, so many rich souls who I am better for knowing. But just like the most delicious pancakes can be ruined if covered in poisoned syrup, the best theological intentions are dangerous when soaked in only one perspective, especially a toxic one. I knew that dog shit was mixed in with the batter, and I didn’t want to eat those brownies.

I didn’t make up that gross analogy but borrowed it from purity culture, which is simply rape culture wearing its Sunday best. Yes, the original metaphor is that sex before marriage was the manure ruining all the ingredients in the person. Yes, I heard this taught in church. And, yes, the poo isn’t the only reason I call the analogy gross.

I knew that a culture so entrenched in protecting white supremacy and patriarchy wouldn’t reject it on the ballot. That’s what those 81% of votes were, not cast contrary to church teachings but entirely in line with them. Trump was never the disease of the white church. We’ve always known who he was. He’s simply a symptom of a larger cancer, one that infected some of us and woke up the theological immune systems of others. Fellow white Christians, none of the racism and ableism and xenophobia and misogyny, with a side of homophobia and transphobia from one accompanying Trump on the ticket, is new.

Yet with article after article by white people who experienced an awakening about all the -isms during the campaign or after the election, we are Columbusing racism: “Look,” we shouted, “we just discovered this new thing,” while everyone not white are like, “hi, we’ve known this all along. If you’re serious, let’s talk and act.” So far, I see the editorials about white awakening coming steadily, each author covering the same old song, but not the actual dialogue or needed action.

Religious groups were instrumental both in the hope of Christ’s rising and the horror of his death. Why are we surprised when they’re instrumental in both hope for and subjugation of women or any other marginalized group? If you regard women in the church as sisters in Christ, like you claim, then it’s time to be a brother who cares when we’re bruised.  


Let’s stop overlooking the bull(dog)shit and instead break bread – or brownies – together, all of us who love our just and loving God. For those who can’t partake in that community, like domestic violence offenders, let’s go restore them lovingly to justice, which should include law enforcement officers because their assaults aren’t character flaws but actual crimes.

Finally, for the men who don’t think any man should come to the table one on one with a woman, because that might seem too improper to others or too tempting for him, let’s focus on the breaker of the bread on the Thursday before the next day’s crucifixion. Jesus met one-on-one with the Samaritan woman at the well, not only female but also known to have multiple sexual partners, without following the rule that would later be set by Graham and affirmed by Pence. He also was left alone with the woman caught in adultery, once again a setting in which the rule’s excuse of avoiding the appearance of impropriety wouldn’t hold up.

How do we change? I don’t know, but trusting women like Jesus did is the place to start. I spent a week last fall on the #RubyWooPilgrimage, riding a bus and revisiting history with 35 other Christian women leaders, speakers, and writers, many women of color. The wisdom of our small group was astounding. Men have led our country and our churches long enough and made many of those spaces sexually unsafe for the rest of us. Maybe it’s time listen well to women.

Maybe it’s time to remember that both the stories of Christmas and Easter hold women as key players worthy of great honor. Mary carried Christ. God first revealed his rising from the dead to women via an angel at the tomb, sending them out with the good news while his male followers were hiding. The risen Jesus appeared first to a woman, the same Mary Magdalene cast by male scholars as a whore with no biblical justification.  

In the kingdom of God, there is no hierarchy of those created with more or less of the image of God in them. No, “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). 

What would our churches (and our politics) look like if we all - especially those who have historically held more power than the rest of us - actually treated one another as fellow image bearers with dignity and worth bestowed by God?

I call myself a disabled woman, not a woman with disabilities. Here's why.

Disabled.

It’s taken a long time for me to embrace that term. My knees were damaged in middle school, but I just called that bad knees. My back was first injured at age 23, too young for that sort of thing, but I just called that a fluke and had a corrective surgery. My health nosedived after my first child was born, but I first blamed it on suspected postpartum depression that I didn’t want to verify. Once I went to the doctor, I was diagnosed with a couple life-altering autoimmune disorders, but I planned to medicate and exercise them away.

But I wasn’t disabled

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Another surgery, this time my wrist. More knee braces than any person should own. A knee surgery. A hardcore insistence that I was fine, just fine, as I told our adoption social worker and got my doctor to confirm. A falling apart emotionally after three months brought the one, two, three punch of my best friend’s suicide, our failed adoption of one of our children’s siblings, and the death of a dear friend's preschool son.

Through it all, I limped on my bad knees, gave myself shots or got IV infusions for my bad joints, took pills for my bad mental health, and sold a car and bought a new one as my bad hands couldn’t turn the key in the one I bought at 21.

I was comfortable calling all my parts bad, but I wasn’t disabled.

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Meanwhile, I taught special ed for two years before and in the year of my first back surgery. I worked for Teach For America, re-writing their special educator training materials as my wrist recovered from surgery. I earned my MAEd in Special Education while being diagnosed with multiple disorders and starting IVs. At the same time, I launched an inclusive special needs ministry program at a large Baptist church in our area, speaking about the lessons learned at conferences around the country.

But I wasn’t disabled.

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After the master’s and in the midst of ministry’s launch, we adopted a daughter with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair full-time. Our biological son had his first seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy and then autism, ADHD, and anxiety. In between conferences in Philadelphia and Chicago, we adopted a sibling group of three, with the educational and emotional needs that come with older child adoption. One lives with HIV, and I added trainings in bloodborne pathogens, universal precautions, and stigma to my speaking topics.

But I was just fine. I was ready to call myself a special needs mom, but I wasn’t disabled.

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I wrote as often as I could, seeming transparent about the topic at hand but hiding other areas of my life away. I went to therapy when I was so overwhelmed with life that the words didn’t come. I still clung to facts, reading all of the facts and style books and research.

As I did, truth seemed to shift in disconcerting ways. One truth I taught and wrote and lectured about was the importance of person-first language. I wrote essays about why labels limit us and modeled person-first language in my trainings. As I identified more with people with disabilities, I noticed they didn’t use that language. They self-identified as disabled people. I didn’t know what to do with that.

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I do now. For starters, I am disabled. I wasn’t being honest with myself or anyone else when I tried to pretend I wasn’t. I use a cane most days. I use a wheelchair sometimes. I have a collection of tools I use to accommodate the limitations of my hands. I have physical disabilities.

I am a disabled woman. I’m also a white woman, a straight woman, a married woman, and a Christian woman. I wouldn’t call myself a person with whiteness, a person with heterosexualism, a person who is married, and a person who is a Christian. No, I’m comfortable with language that centers my race, sexuality, marital status, and faith, because each is considered part of my identity. So is being disabled. The only good reason I can see for not wanting to center my ability status is if being disabled is a bad thing. I bought into that, as you can see in my language throughout this article: bad knees, bad joints, bad mental health, and bad hands. I think that’s where person-first language started, with the idea that disability was negative. But that stigma, even when I accepted it, has never been right.

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Some disabilities never fit well with identity-first language, though. My daughter wouldn’t ever be called cerebral palsied girl, and you usually only hear “a Downs kid” from someone who isn’t part of the Down syndrome community. No, it’s still a girl with cerebral palsy or a boy with Down syndrome. Likewise, I prefer to say I'm living with PTSD and would side-eye anyone who called me a PTSD person (though I'm fine with survivor). Meanwhile, when it comes to self-identification, it’s almost always autistic adults rather than adults with autism. Furthermore, language is important to the Deaf community in ways I can’t do justice here.

That said, some things haven’t changed. No one argues convincingly that the word retarded is ever okay anymore, even in the case of libtard or other variants. Neither is midget, even when Sho Baraka disappointingly drops it in a line in one of his songs. (I’m also not a fan of lame, spastic, moron, and other disability-associated words being used as negative slang, but I don’t usually make an issue of those in the way that my kids know I will if the r-word comes up.)

Confused yet? I know it’s all tricky. I didn’t write this as a list of what not to do but rather an essay about my own journey with both language and disability. Love trumps language, so don’t be scared away if you don’t know all the rules. Language evolves, as does our understanding of disability, so grace abounds. Want to know what words to use? Take a look at adults living with that particular disability. How do they identify themselves? That's a good indicator for how you should identify them as well. Beyond that, simply ask. Relationships are the context in which we use words anyway, right? 

As a Christian, I consider my identity to be first and foremost in Christ. That doesn’t negate any other aspect of my earthly existence, though. I’m a disabled woman, and I’m finally okay saying that.      

I don't know how to celebrate America anymore

Some days I wonder if I have done a disservice to my black children by bringing them to America. Years ago, when my friend Thabiti shared his fears about moving back to the United States from the Bahamas with his black son, his words struck a chord for me. I, too, knew the feeling of both loving my country and hating how my country treats black children.

 .                            source:  Daniel Rarela

.                            source: Daniel Rarela

I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time, but I’ve held off. I haven’t wanted to be misunderstood. I haven’t wanted to be maligned or attacked. But I’ve realized that there’s no way to say these hard things without inviting pushback, so I’ll risk the response instead of hiding behind the privilege of saying nothing.  

 .                            source:  Daniel Rarela

.                            source: Daniel Rarela

Before I go further, let me be clear about one fact: I stand by our decision to adopt. I am thankful for the children I have the privilege of parenting. I am thankful we had private investigations done in their home countries before we added them to our family to ensure that international adoption was truly in their best interests. Nothing about this article is admitting some corruption after the fact. Adoption always involves loss and too often includes colonialism or trafficking, but many - ours included - are good.

But our country isn’t. Our country bears beautiful and horrible things. Our adoption wasn’t corrupt, but the country to which we brought our children is. We were so corrupt from our beginnings that many of the forefathers we celebrate were the orchestrators of Native genocide. We are so corrupt in our current day that we elected a leader who leveraged racism for his own political gain. My husband and I brought these beautiful black children into a country in which the second amendment only applies to those whose skin is like mine, in which we’ve declared an open season on black bodies. While we decry the sexualization of children as a whole, we choose to ignore the criminalization of black ones. My white son can play with a toy gun in our yard or a park. My black son cannot.

 .                            source:  Daniel Rarela

.                            source: Daniel Rarela

On the rich clay roads of Uganda, life was hard. But blackness was beautiful and beloved. There, most deaths made sense. Malaria makes sense. Police brutality doesn’t. I can’t explain why Philando Castile or so many others like him have died, not in the same way I can explain the losses experienced on Ugandan soil. Deaths by malnutrition and AIDS-related illnesses can be dissected and described and researched. Moral diseases like racism aren’t even up for discussion among many of our leaders, as they like to pretend it doesn’t exist just because it doesn’t seem to harm them.

 .                            source:  Daniel Rarela

.                            source: Daniel Rarela

I grew up as a white child in a white family in which we saluted the flag and lit sprinklers. The Fourth of Julies of my childhood were full of parades and anthems and ignorance, though not much was said about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Now I’m raising children who are black and white and Asian, and I can see what I didn’t know as a child. Then I believed that America was great. Now I acknowledge that in America whiteness is great.

 .                            source:  Daniel Rarela

.                            source: Daniel Rarela

I’m not disowning my country or denying that which is beautiful here. I love America. But I love her like I love my own children. I nurture them in what is good and right, but I don’t stop there. I encourage them to keep growing and knowing better so that, in the words of Maya Angelou, they can do better.

At the same time, I’m exhorting myself to do likewise, and I’m asking the same of my fellow countrypeople. America, let’s know better. Let’s do better. Let’s be better.

 .                            source:  Daniel Rarela

.                            source: Daniel Rarela

I love this country, and I love independence. But I can’t and won’t celebrate our nation’s independence as if we really are the land of the free. We aren’t, not yet, but I hold hope that we can be. For that to be possible, though, we need to be honest instead of only smiling upon the most sanitized quotes said by Martin Luther King, Jr. We need to stop looking down on places like my children’s birth country as if black children in our own country are safe from harm. I know all of Africa is beautiful, and I’ve had my breath taken away by the abundantly vibrant life and land that is Uganda. America doesn’t have a monopoly on hope or joy or wonder.

 .                            source:  Daniel Rarela

.                            source: Daniel Rarela

I see pictures of our Vice President laying a wreath at the MLK Jr Memorial only a few months after he wasted taxpayer money on the political stunt of leaving a sporting event because of the peaceful protest of black Americans. I hear the President speak positively about King’s legacy after referring to countries of black and brown people as shitholes. As I do, I can’t help but think of James 3:10: “Out of the same mouth comes praising and cursing; this should not be.”

 .                            source:  Daniel Rarela

.                            source: Daniel Rarela

I brought three of my precious children from one imperfectly sublime land to another. I love both countries, each almost as dear to me as each of our babies. As we lit sparklers and set off firecrackers and watched parades this summer, celebrating our country like I did each July growing up, we didn’t do so with the side of ignorance I swallowed as a child.

No, we spoke both love and truth, both patriotism and promise for a better tomorrow, both honesty about now and hope for the future. I will keep speaking that truth and love and raising my children to do so, even when it makes others uncomfortable, until independence from tyranny is a reality for all of us in this country.

And I will not stand by while we pretend the white majority would embrace King today, when we never even liked him in the first place until we had shot him down.

 

(Special thanks to the artist Daniel Rarela who created even of these graphics and allowed them for use here.)

Once-broken knees (and the #RubyWooPilgrimage)

My kneecaps are both resting in their proper place, perfectly in the groove where they’re supposed to live and glide and move. This has never been true, at least not since I was 10. Every year, 6 out of every 100,000 people in the US dislocate their kneecaps. For the past 24 years, I’ve been one of those six, every single year.

My friends know my knees have been a pain for me, literally. I worked for a summer camp program in Florida when I was 16. My co-workers watched my right kneecap dislocate, positioning itself on the outer side of my right leg until I tapped it to pop it back in place. (I apologize to you, queasy readers, but please hang in here. I promise to keep the graphic details as few as possible.) It happened again later that week. It happened again at swim practice a few months later, and again and again and again until my coach and I decided that I would only do flip turns in actual meets until my knees were better. That helped, because as a long-distance swimmer who regularly swam the 500m race, I had lots of flip turns.

Physical therapy helped too. My orthopedic doctor then didn’t consider surgery for two reasons. First, he was kind of a jerk to me, barely listening to my concerns and mocking me for saying that my knees dislocated instead of that my kneecaps did. Second and more importantly, I didn’t tell him the whole story because, even if I had trusted him, my mom was in the room.

The dislocations continued, every year, multiple times a year. I worked hard on keeping my quads strong uniformly so the muscles could hold the kneecap in place. That helped some. In college, my unstable knees helped me tread water more effectively as the goalie for UNC’s water polo team. My wonky anatomy never gave me an advantage any other time, but it was nice to get one benefit out of a lot of agony.

When Jocie was 4 and Robbie 2, my right knee started locking up. I hurt all the time, but sometimes I couldn’t even get my knee to bend. Even if I held still, the pain was overwhelming. I found a new orthopedic knee specialist who came highly recommended. We did a minor arthroscopic knee surgery just one week before my youngest child was born.

I wasn’t pregnant then, to be clear. She was being born on the other side of the world in a clinic in Taiwan where her first mother decided to place her for adoption. We’d find out about her a few months later, but that’s a whole ‘nother story for another time.

The surgery didn’t work. I mean, it helped, but my kneecap still slid out of place. Basically, it didn’t know how to stay in place. By my best guess, my kneecaps have dislocated at least 125 times. By the time I returned to Dr. Barker last spring, both of my kneecaps permanently rested out of place, not quite dislocated but far from being in place. Subluxed is the medical term. But in my opinion, you might as well say they were dislocated, because I felt pain whether they were partially dislocated – that is, subluxed – or fully dislocated. I felt so much pain in my knees so often that I barely noticed it anymore. It was background static to my life.

Dr. Barker offered a surgical option that he said would be best but that I needed to know had a serious recovery protocol. He knows me. He knows I have six young kids. He knew six weeks on crutches, minimum, after each knee’s surgery was a huge ask, especially when that also meant a minimum of six weeks not driving after the right leg and two weeks after the left one. Thinking it would be way too much to consider, I asked him to explain what it would entail. No one likes to hear about cutting bones and screwing them back into a better aligned location – aka tibial tubercle osteotomy – or reconstructing a ligament using a cadaver graft, which would also involve drilling into the side of my kneecaps in two places and my femur (that is, thigh bone) in one place.

None of it sounded fun, but I knew this offered a possibility of something I had never imagined, stable knees. I said yes. He did it all, plus a little more arthroscopically. I was left with three small, two medium, and one large scar afterward, as well as some new hardware and new-to-me tissue in my knee.

That’s the intense surgery – done twice, once on each knee, the right in March and the left in September – that has my knees resting in place for the first time I can remember. By the end of 2017, I will have spent four months on crutches and some time, on and off, in my manual wheelchair. During that same amount of time, I have been required to rest a lot, which has been hard in a year in which I’d prefer to rest less and do more so I could distract from the news cycle any given week.

But here I am, almost on the other side. Sure, my surgeon says I need to stay on crutches a few weeks longer this time because the bone they cut hasn’t healed fully yet, but that feels like nothing. I'll keep up with physical therapy for another few months. I might need more surgeries in the future, but I’m good for now. My knees feel healed. My kneecaps are in place. Pain that I didn’t even notice anymore is now gone.

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I wish I could go back and tell 11-year-old me that this day would come. I wish I could tell her healing is possible. I wish, as her kneecaps were dislocated the first time as her knees were forcibly spread just prior to yet another middle-of-the-night rape by a male family member, she could have known that life would get better. I wish I could rescue her as that same scenario, more often with dislocations than not, played out far too many of her middle school nights. I wish I could go back in time, put him in prison like he should be, get little me the medical care I deserved, and expose our parents’ negligence and abuse that allowed it to happen in the first place. I wish I could smash their one idol, being seen as the perfect family, and the altar to that god on which they sacrificed their little girl. I wish they had cared more about me than their own public image.

I’m not sharing this to draw attention to my pain. I’m not fishing for the empathy I should have gotten back then. No, I’m sharing this because it’s true.

I’m sharing this because a couple weeks ago, I got to see perfectly aligned kneecaps in an x-ray of mine for the first time ever. I’m sharing this because sometimes the darkness feels like it will never lift. I’m sharing this because I’m living proof that the light can break through one day. I’m sharing this because, in the words of John 1:5, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (In the long term, at least. The darkness pressed in with little perceivable light at times for me.)

Even more so, I’m sharing this because domestic violence is too common. I’m sharing this because the pain of rape doesn’t expire. I’m sharing this people still say things like “isn’t it time to move on?” and “how is something that happened so long ago a big deal anymore?” I’m sharing this because people ask why survivors don’t speak up sooner, when the reality all too often is that we’re tending to our own wounds. I’m sharing this because there should be no statute of limitations on sexual violence because there’s no statute of limitations on how it impacts the lives of survivors afterward. (We are not ruined, though. Never ruined.) I’m sharing this because I’m one of the lucky ones who could still go to the cops at any point, because in Florida, where I grew up, there is no statute of limitations on the rape of a child younger than 12 by a perpetrator older than 18. I’m sharing this because we choose far too often to look away from the pain of this world, and that’s how countless adults missed the signs that I was living through hell. I’m sharing to challenge us all to pay better attention.

Furthermore, I’m sharing this because no one knew for far too long. I’m sharing because you’ll encounter other people today. I’m sharing because we can never know the darkness others have survived. I’m sharing because you might have been more gentle with me at times if you knew what I was dealing with, right? I’m sharing because we can offer that same gentleness and grace to others without having to visit their dark spaces and know their secret pain.

Go forth, my friends, with perfect knees or imperfect ones or no knees at all. Care. You don’t have to know the stories. You don’t have to look for a #metoo post. You don’t have to know the details. You can simply know that we all have felt pain, we all deserve healing, and we all can offer grace.

Amen. Let it be.

One last thing… I’m sharing this because I’m leaving Sunday on a trip with a diverse group of Christian women leaders, speakers, and writers, on the RubyWoo Pilgrimage. We’ll be exploring the stories of our foremothers, of intersectional women’s history in our country and in the church. We’ll be discussing present day topics of vital importance to us today. On our last day, we’ll be on the Hill, advocating for voting rights, criminal justice reform, and immigration. The fourth and final issue we’ll be discussing? Domestic violence.

I’m not the only survivor who will be on the trip. Our stories matter. Our stories are important. And, God willing, our stories may influence change so that the stories of others might be different from our own. With him, we are writing new endings for ourselves and, hopefully, for more than just us.
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