The Joyful Heart Foundation: Some of the work I’ve been doing.

I’m not really ready to talk about how I’ve been doing. I’m doing better–less depressed. I have a new psychiatrist. She’s awesome. That’s sheer luck, since I found her via the insurance company directory and chose her because her office is two blocks from my house. What I am happy to talk about is some fundraising work I’ve been doing for The Joyful Heart Foundation. I turn thirty, tomorrow. Here’s what I want for my birthday: donate to or shop a fundraiser I’m running, to give money to this foundation.

I’ll explain:

Have you seen commercials that repeat “No more” or marathons of Law & Order SVU with the hashtag #nomore? That’s Joyful Heart. Have you heard about SVU’s star, Mariska Hargitay, donating money to any police department who will work with her, in order to pay for rape kits to be processed? No? Well, she created Joyful Heart, and its cornerstone project is to make a dent in the backlog of unprocessed rape kits that sit on shelves in evidence lockers, sometimes until the statute of limitations on the crime has run out. Rape victims are waiting, for years, for the DNA collected during the incredibly difficult examination that collecting a “rape kit” involves; sometimes, that DNA has degraded, before underfunded and understaffed police departments get a chance to process it. Databases are incomplete. Crimes go unsolved. I’m going to talk about the reason that this is so important to me, and it’s going to be hard to read. Fair warning.

When I was a little girl, just about 10, exactly 20 years ago this month, a man my mother trusted came into my room and sexually assaulted me. He was careful, quiet, and probably didn’t leave any DNA. I was terrified. I didn’t tell anyone at all, for another four, maybe five years. When I did tell my story, it was terrifying. My body shook, uncontrollably. My therapist at the time was pretty incompetent, so I don’t know if he actually did anything, but he told me that he had reported everything I had told him to the police, and that they would keep it on record, in case anyone came forward with a similar story. I hope that helped someone else; I was certainly not the first person he had harmed. In my mid-twenties, I went to a police station to report that a man I didn’t know had tried to walk me home from the subway, and that I was petrified that he had seen where I lived, and would come back. The atmosphere in that police station wasn’t awful; it was hardly conducive to a scared young woman remembering enough detail to make any difference. One officer made a comment about the way the clerk looked, and I could tell from the look on her face that she was used to that. I don’t think he knew that that qualified as sexual harassment, but it did, and it happened while I was reporting harassment.

My story makes me believe in Hargitay’s mission to educate, “heal the healers,” and ask police departments how her organization can work with them. I know that Rape Culture minimizes the experiences of survivors. But I believe that much of the law-enforcement side of this problem can be solved with more education, listening, and financial help directed at the right places.

The foundation's plan of action to effect real change.

The foundation’s plan of action to effect real change.

I learned about this organization from my aunt. My dad has one sister, and she has been a pillar of strength in my life. She has loved me for ME, as long as I can remember. We haven’t had a lot of time together; she has lived in California, as long as I’ve been alive, and I lived in Minnesota, for as long as I can remember. But she threw my mom a baby shower, and I have a picture of that day, and the cake she baked for us. When my family visited a few of my dad’s siblings, in California, I remember her most clearly, because she talked to the kids like we were just short people. My dad’s family yelled a lot, but I never heard her yell. One aunt-in-law, and my beloved aunt, distracted the kids, when the brothers stared up. I’ve pieced that much together. When I was processing the memories I had finally talked about, at age fourteen or fifteen, she just sat and listened to me. And she even told me to hold up, before deciding that it was all my mom’s fault, because she said she knew what it was like, as a mother, to see her children hurting, to know that it was her “fault,” and that I couldn’t understand that pain. When I wanted to punish my mother for letting that man into our house, my aunt told me that my mom was suffering and to be gentle. Her voice echoed in my head when I made the decision to start calling my mom during therapy sessions, to work through some of those feelings.

Now that I’m an adult, I know more about the life my aunt has lived. It’s not my story to tell, but she is the victim of incest, rape, domestic violence, emotional and verbal abuse, from family members, now ex-husbands, even my own father. She’s got medical problems that keep her immobile, sometimes, but every day she can, she walks for at least twenty minutes. I want to tell you about what she’s doing, now, because my heart feel stronger, every time I think about how she spends her time. She’s the one who told me about The Joyful Heart Foundation and its mission to flood cooperative police departments with money to process the backlog of rape kits that plagues our nation. She hasn’t ever had the kind of closure that DNA proof from a processed rape kit can provide, but she wants it for other survivors. You can learn more about the project to End the Backlog, here. My aunt goes to group therapy for survivors and ends up supporting the therapists by telling the younger women understand that they are making choices, even when they feel like they are trapped. She tells them about the way her own children have suffered, when she stayed with abusive husbands, after she left, just because life is hard. She’s honest about the mistakes they have made, now that they are all grown, and how she feels responsible for that. She talks, because she hopes that knowing about her life and the lives of her kids will help someone else. Her imperfections, “wrong” choices, and the sheer force of her will to keep on going – this is how she helps the rest of us.

One more thing about my aunt – she was worried about me, this month, around the same time that I was silent here on the blog, because I hadn’t returned her calls (only two, because she doesn’t want to bother me). She called my sister to make sure that I was ok. I’ve felt invisible, often. That happens when you grow up with an emotionally abusive father preoccupied by his own paranoia. I know that she’s thinking of me. She even told me once that sometimes, she might not call me back right away, because she never wanted me to have to bear the burden of her depression. It means the world to me that she is so careful to maintain healthy boundaries with me, not a little bit because my dad didn’t even understand that concept.

I could tell more stories about more women I know who never had justice or closure. I can’t do anything to give that to them. But I can do something for the women whose rape kits just need more money and more pressure to get processed before the statute runs out. I can do something for the women who will be raped and whose assailants’ DNA must be included in a database, where it can be matched with the results of other rape kits.

As I leave my twenties behind, I look back on a decade spent using my wits, my will, my time – every resource I could grasp – to take back my life from the people who asked me for my power. My father. The man who assaulted me. They are the worst offenders. I learned to love my body, to feel its power. I learned that some of the people I love can be trusted, implicitly, and that where the trust is too corroded for a relationship to continue, I can love and maintain boundaries, from afar. The only thing that I needed, outside myself, were other people to believe in me. And THAT is what The Joyful Heart Foundation does. It connects the people who need healing with people who can help them heal. Not everyone is as lucky as I am, to have such an aunt, a husband, a sister, a mother, to believe in me.

Donate directly to The Joyful Heart Foundation, here.

Until Monday, October 13th, you can join a Facebook “party” where my friend Vanessa and I are selling jewelry and Jamberry nail wraps, together. I’ve made it “public” – you don’t even have to have a Facebook account to see it. If you join us by clicking “RSVP” you’ll have a chance to win discounts and free merchandise! You’ll find the short version of everything I’m about to post in that party, so go there!

If you’re not a Facebook person, keep reading. You can shop for beautiful jewelry at my friend Vanessa’s Chloe + Isabel website. See the bumble bee? I have one! It’s amazing. Mine is a charm clipped to a turquoise beaded “convertible” piece that can be one long necklace, one long + one short + one bracelet, one medium + one bracelet, etc. I wear it all the time!

c + i collage

For every $1 you spend, she will donate $0.12 to the foundation, as long as you remember to choose our “pop up shop” like this, during checkout:

c + i pop up shop choice

And, of course, I’m selling Jamberry nail wraps and lacquer for the cause! Like Vanessa, I’m donating $0.12 for every $1 you spend on my site. Choose “Gems & Jams” as your party, at checkout. Jamberry will ask you “Don’t you want to pick a party?” if you forget, and I can fix it, in case you forget twice.

I have a special project, too. If you buy order a design I did myself, I will donate 100% of my commission to the foundation. This is the design:

joyful heart 2.0 preview watermarked

And you can fill out an order form, here. It will ask you for your email address, so that I can email you an invoice for $20. (The words are a watermark–they won’t be printed on the design! And, if this form isn’t working for you, click on this link.)

If My Child Loves Yours

{This is a response to “if my child marries yours,” a post that was shared on my Facebook feed a few times. I didn’t gush about warm feelings or leave comments about my mommy tears. I felt left out.}

If my child loves yours…

Another writer wrote, very recently, that she is “pretty sure that our longest days – the ones that are brim-full with hair-pulling moments, impossible messes, and toddler meltdowns – those are the days that we are fashioning hearts.” I really like that. “Fashioning hearts.” Their hearts beat before we can feel these beings move, within us, or within the women who birthed them. My child lets his joy flow freely, and his frustration, too, and I hope to help him fashion a heart that will always be so open.

I write to heal the small hurt I feel when I acknowledge the probability that, if we met tomorrow, this other writer mother would not welcome me into her life with open arms, and as long as I’m being honest, I would hesitate, too. I hesitate and put up my guard, when I meet Christians who have buildings to pray in, on Sundays, and communities that stretch around the world. I have not found my internal path to be a comforting one, nor have I found a place in the community built around its church. But my soul knows that this is my path. I feel a mixture of envy and of fear that my own path will find too little respect for a friendship to grow, with a parent like this writer, if my child loves hers.

I thank this other writer and mother, because she inspired me to write this. No, I did not see myself in her prayer. In moments like that quote about the longest days fashioning hearts, and her desire for a multitude of baby photos to swap, I see a mother I might know… I write with love for her, even though I am a little bit angry, because if my child loves her child and creates a family with her child, I know that I will long for us to be friends, and to support that family together, wholeheartedly. The only way I know how to cross a bridge so wide is with love, the kind that’s deeper than words and appears, behind my eyes, as light.

My ability to see the people she leaves out of her prayer doesn’t make me a superior being. I am one of those left out, and so I see gaps. I want to write my own hope prayer that includes her and every mother and father whose child may one day grow up to love mine. After all, the toddler who will grow up to carry my son’s heart may have two fathers, or two mothers, or one of each, or just one parent. I want to include everyone, because I do not feel included.

All the same, it is wonderful to send love and friendship, right now, to the people who are raising my son’s future love, to the parents of the person with whom he will build his own family. I write this for you, wherever you are, knowing so little about you, and yet so much, because we are all parents.

Today was one of the hair-tearing, messy toddler days, for me, and we both cried, at one point. It might have been for you, whatever that looks like for you, wherever you are. My hope prayer is that you, too, received a gem to hold; my baby said his first grammatical sentence, noun and verb together, with no words missing, today. I hope that something like this, a milestone or just an unexpected hug, lifted your heart.

My hope is a prayer, and my prayer is silent. I don’t go to a building on a Sunday. My path has been internal, and I find that God feels closest to me when I can hear the voice of Intuition, which I believe is the voice of the Holy Spirit, whose other name is Om. When I think of you, awake with anxious insomnia, a sick child, a child who won’t sleep for some reason you’ll never know, or even sleeping peacefully while I sit here, typing, I imagine you surrounded by a light that brings peace and comfort. I send a whisper from the part of my soul that remembers that we are made from God, to the part of your soul that knows it, too. My heart sends love to your heart, in the hope that this will slow your racing mind. I have never met a mother whose mind easily slows down, while raising a toddler, so I think you probably need that, just as much as I do.

Because I am a writer, my hope prayer carries no words; these are merely the best words I have to convey parts of it. If words could say enough, I would be out of a job.

I hope that you make your home a welcoming, warm, place, whether it overflows with material wealth, or whether its cupboards are bare. My hope prayer carries no words, because my language may not be your language. Whatever language you speak in your home, your child must learn to love, to be vulnerable, to cherish the family that you have created together, and so you must create a home, whatever it looks like, that promises safety. Perhaps we look alike, and we both worry about too many activities, or too little enrichment. Too much socialization, or too little. My hope prayer does not need words to send you a plea for a safe, warm home and unconditional love, because these are universal longings. Listen to that voice, straight from God, telling you to love, to hold close, to keep safe.

My hope prayer wraps your family, whatever it looks like, in its warming light; whether you are married, or not, raising a child who shares some of your DNA, or none of it, I hope that you feel, often, the touch of unconditional partner love. Our children will find their way more comfortably, if we model a loving partnership for them. But mostly, I hope that you have this precious thing, and that you keep it forever, because it is a very nice thing to have. Support and commitment from a partner strengthen a parent’s heart.

Whether my son loves your daughter or your son, I send this hope prayer out into their futures: may we love them so fiercely that they never doubt their family.

Whether you recognize your God in my church, or cannot find Him/Her/them there, I send a hope prayer out into the future that you understand me when I tell you, “I show him faith, the deepest faith I feel.”

Whether or not we immediately like each other, I hope that we grow to be friends as we watch our children build families of their own. They say that children need roots and wings, so my hope prayer includes the desire for shared moments of joy that they have had strong roots and of excitement that they want to use strong wings (mixed, of course, with fear that they will feel pain).

Whether or not we share a familiar celebration, like a wedding with a bride and a groom, I send my hope prayer into the future for a celebration in our heart of hearts that our children are brave enough to undertake this wild journey that is creating new family.