I want to take you to the “Hundred Acre Wood” of Winnie the Pooh.
Pooh was walking through his Hundred Acre Wood on a beautiful spring morning and Piglet was not far behind
Piglet sidled up behind Pooh.
“Pooh”, said Piglet..Taking Poohs paw…
“Yes Piglet” said Pooh..
“Nothing”, said Piglet..
“I just wanted to be sure of you”…
At that moment in time Pooh was Piglets Hero
To me a Hero, in keeping with the theme of the month is someone you can be sure of. And being sure of someone or something means something different to all of us.
In a world of economic uncertainty, political unrest, and the breakdown in family homes, Who and What can any of us be sure of? As Piglet is sure of Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood on that Spring Morning I would like us to reflect this Spring morning on who we can be sure of…and who can be sure of us? Not only as individuals but as a church..a Gathering..as a whole.
A little about me..
Some of you may know the type of work I do. I am a Social Worker who has worked in the field of helping the less fortunate for over 26 years. In the last 15 years I have worked specifically in the area of Sexual Victimization. Six years ago I worked exclusively with children who were victims of child sexual abuse, and their families. I, along with a team of workers helped these young victims to better understand that what happened to them was not their fault. We know that these type of crimes are about power and control. We helped them understand that at the time of their victimization that they were powerless to stop the attack. Many felt guilty because they did not say “NO” or they were unable to fight back.
Often they were victimized by the very one that at one point they were “Sure of” . A father, grandfather, brother, uncle… a neighbor, a teacher.
I often have people ask me “Don’t you get depressed hearing all these stories of pain”? “I tell them that I don’t think about the abuse and pain so much. Rather I think about the possibility of healing”. Because to think this way keeps me focused on the daunting task at hand.
Healing was the favorite part of my job. The time when I could help a child understand that though they were once powerless when someone hurt them, that they have all the power now to be okay. In Psalm 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” and In Psalm 147:6 The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground. I would like to say this was the outcome of my work..that these children were healed from their broken heart…and the ones who hurt them were cast to the ground or in other words getting punished for their acts. I don’t have to tell you this was rarely the case. Injustice some might say.
However, over the course of 8 years doing this job, and out of the number of children I worked with there were those few that had mended hearts, and were able to walk away “Being Sure” they would not be defined by their abuse and pain.
After eight years of working directly with some of the most horrific cases of child sexual abuse in Northern Kentucky, and despite the fact that I was focused on healing rather than the pain, I began to experience burn-out. And once burn-out sets in one can become cynical and less productive in whatever work they are doing. The children that I saw in the first year of my job I was beginning to see again. They were either re-victimized or I was seeing their siblings, or cousins. I knew it was time to take a break. But what would I do? I still believed in healing.
I want to take you out of the Hundred Acre Wood to a different place and time.
I want to take you to Jerusalum
In February 2004 a movie open to a storm of Controversy. The Passion of Christ… My boys, Jude was 17 and Elijah (you all know Elijah! was 7). Jude had gone to see the movie one evening and as was standard I would lay awake in bed until I heard his keys in the front door. At that point as many of you can relate to; that sound of keys in a door late at night from someone you love has a way of making the world okay. Also, which was a standard practice Jude would come to my bedroom door tell me he was home (like I was asleep right?) and tell me a few brief things about his evening. On this night he told me he had seen the movie The Passion of Christ and we talked very briefly about it. But he said something that I held for the next few weeks until I saw the movie. He said “Mom there is going to be a part in the movie that you are not going to be able to handle, I thought about you immediately when I watched it”. I thought he meant the violence.
A few weeks later I went to see the movie with a friend. During this time I was still working at the Family Nurturing Center working with sexual abuse victims. Very shortly in the movie there is a scene with Mary and Jesus as a young boy. She is comforting him, holding him, nurturing him, the first time that I saw Jesus and his mother as possibly real people. I loved that part in the movie. In a way it deepened by faith. Wow! I remember thinking. They had a relationship. Mary is mentioned so little in the bible. At that point if Jesus were to take Mary’s hand he would…in keeping with my Winnie the Pooh tale…have been “Sure of her”.
The movie progresses and throughout I could not help but to think of why my son Jude would say there would be a part I could not handle? I was probably more focused on his statement than on the movie. I was intrigued.
The crucifixion scene began. This was obviously the controversial part of the movie. The one in which some would say was an unnecessary “blood bath” scenes gone too far to portray the death of Jesus. “Over the top” some would say. I was fine until…..Mary the mother of Jesus was shown in the scene. And there she is…Without a doubt the scene my son said I could not handle.
There was Mary. A mere spectator if you will in the crowd watching her son being brutally beaten. The mother that was with him throughout every major event in his life. Though at this event she was helpless. As she watched she cried from afar. Tears streaming down her face. At that moment..in that cinematic scene she stood out to me as Heroic. She could not save her son from being crucified. But she did an act more heroic. She loved her son, “No matter what”, to the bitter end. And I knew…I knew too well that as a mother of two son’s there may be a time..like Mary where I could not extend my hand. My son’s may not be able to “Be sure” of Me, nor I of them. That things could happen in life that even I… a good mother…a loving mother…could not prevent. This was the scene. The one that little did I know at the time would be a reference for me to change paths in my career. My son knew me all too well.
Change in directions
I am still a social worker but I no longer work exclusively with children who have been sexually abused. I spend my days now, and have for the last 6 yrs. working with a population of individuals that some people in their extreme approaches would like to see put on an island and forgotten…perhaps castrated…incarcerated for life..and put to death. Lepers as are referred to in the Bible. In the Old Testament they were ones “Not to be touched, and to be out casted”. We have not unfortunately caught up to the New Testament and times when in:
Matthew 9:35 referred differently to Lepers…
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.
See I work with what some would say are Modern Day Lepers I work with Sex Offenders. Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the last ten years you understand what a hot topic this population is right now. You cannot watch the evening news without a new report of sexual offending, nor a new law that has made it more difficult for this population to live in society. I refer to it as a modern day Salem Witch Trial.
Now as I have had to answer the question “Don’t you get depressed hearing about children being sexually abused”? You can imagine the questions I get about working with this population. If I have a moment of their time this is what I tell them.
I tell them a story about my first court trial that I was called to testify in. It was a young man age 24 years old and he was facing 15 years in prison. He was one class short of completing his Bachelors Degree and he was engaged to be married. For every parent this would be what would be wanted for their young adult child. I won’t tell you the details of what had occurred but I will say the crime involved a social networking site, Facebook, MySpace, and the female victim was sixteen years old.
Throughout the trial I watched his mother and I could not help but to reflect on the scene with Mary in The Passion of Christ. This scene never left my visual thoughts, and I suspect it never will. She would tear-up, put her head down, nervously reach in her purse for another tissue. The trial ended for the day and we all knew this boy (her son) was most likely going to spend time in prison. Though there was a chance he could get probation, be on the Sex Offender Registry, and continue treatment in our office which he had already been doing since his arrest 6 months earlier.
At the end of the day the mother walked up to me and took my hand. She looked me in my eyes with tears running out of hers and said “Will you take care of my son”? “My son”, she said needs someone he can count on that is going to help get him through this”. “This is bigger than my job as a Mother”. To me what she was saying is she wanted someone who her son “Could be sure of”. I knew then if I answered her in any way I had a big responsibility and commitment to this mother and her son. Because you see at that moment in time he was still her son. No matter what he had done to hurt someone else.
Because of testimony and our willingness to work with him at our office the judge gave him probation and strict orders that he would be violated and sent immediately to prison if he so much thought about another sexual offense. And that he continue in treatment. She specifically ordered him to continue seeing me for therapy. She was a female judge and again I wondered was this a “Mother thing”? Did the judge also recognize that he would need someone “to be sure of”.
I continue to see this young man weekly. He has not missed one appointment in almost the four years that he has been with our office. He has made tremendous process. Will he hurt someone again? I can’t be sure and I certainly cannot promise a court, probation officer, the victim’s parents, nor his mother that he won’t. What I can say is this…that if he continues to take his treatment seriously he will have a really strong chance of NEVER hurting another child.
I often remind those who continue to want punitive punishment for these individuals that first and foremost we need to remind ourselves that they are a person. They are grandfathers, fathers, uncles, brothers, and someone’s son.
I sometimes get asked by the offenders themselves when they first meet me why I do this kind of work? I am a woman after all, and don’t all women want people like them behind bars? The answer is easy I do this because I am a mother to two son’s. If my children needed help and I couldn’t be there I want someone who cares enough about them to be there in my place.
Voltaire the famous French philosophers said: “One of the chief misfortunes of HONEST people is that they are cowardly.
I chose the Gathering to be my church and my son’s church because upon visiting this congregation I immediately felt a group of Honest people trying not to be cowardly. A group of people that would be as I have attempted to be for the last years; to stand up for what I believe is right. To not be cowardly when at times it would be easier to do so. I believe The Gathering backs their words by actions. We do the right thing because it is the right thing to do!
As we progress as a church and we continue discussing what populations of individuals we want to work with in the way of volunteering that we do so with a strong commitment. That we embrace this work in a way that they can count on us… That they can “Be Sure of Us” no matter what. That they can reach for our hand at any given time and we will be there for them. At a time of uncertainty I hope that our Little church on the Corner can be one that others can “Be Sure of” when perhaps others in their lives cannot be there for them.
Thank you for listening to my story. And in keeping with tradition I open up time for reflection and discussion.