Inexcusable

Please set aside your politics.  This post is not about the 2016 presidential election or a particular candidate. Let me emphasize, NOT about any particular candidate. It is about something much more important.

News cycles for the past week have been filled with allegations, conjecture, denials and deflections related to sexual exploitation and abuse of numerous women. Both major party candidates have their individual baggage related to the issue, and every voter will make his or her decision about who to support as the chaos continues.

Listening to the barrage of media commentary  in recent days, I have been struck by the dehumanizing and calloused discussions among individuals on both sides of the political fence.  Among the many alarming comments I’ve heard is the questioning of why a victim of unwanted sexual touch would wait “so long” to bring it up.  I’d like to offer my perspective on that one.

It is the summer of 1984.  I am 16-years-old.  I am a camper at a Bible camp in North Carolina.  It is just after midnight of the first night.  I wake up in the middle of a thunderstorm and discover that my sleeping bag is soaking wet; there is a leak in the roof above my top bunk.  I lay awake for what seemed like eternity, not wanting to bother anyone with my problem.  Eventually I muster the courage to wake up an adult chaperone in the cabin, a youth minister popular in that region.  I inform him that my bunk is wet and ask what I should do.  He responds, “You can sleep with me.”

He opens his sleeping bag and instructs me to lay down next to him.  I just want to go to sleep.  He wants something very different.  What happens next should never happen to anyone, but it happens.  It is unwanted, non-consensual and devastating. Eventually I pretend to be asleep.  It stops. I am silent…for 17 years.

I type these words sitting in a Chick-fil-A surrounded by the spectacular beauty of Superior, CO.  I have dealt with my abuse experience in therapy. I have shared this story on four continents and across the US as a speaker on sexual issues.  I have a masters degree in counseling and specialized training in sexual trauma & abuse.  I have worked with scores of sexual trauma survivors over the past 10 years.  Yet, I am still holding back tears as I write and sipping on my second Cookies and Cream milkshake to calm the emotion that has been stirred. The effects of unwanted sexual touch are a deep mine shaft drilled long ago – always there.

The fact that I was abused 32 years ago does not lessen the impact it had on my life.  The fact that I waited 17 years to disclose the details does not mean it did not happen!  The fact that I have not confronted the youth minister that perpetrated the abuse does not excuse his behavior or remove his responsibility for it.  And what HE did most definitely is not MY fault.

The abuse that occurred in a relatively brief period of time resulted in consequences that hurt me, my wife and my children.  Sexuality is attached to the core of our being, and it effects every aspect of our person – mental, emotional, behavioral, relational and spiritual.  Trivializing the impact of sexual abuse, devaluing victims or attempting to silence their voices, be it from perpetrators or society at large, are inexcusable responses! Male or female, as individuals made in the image of the Creator, every person deserves much, much better than that.

If you are voting in the 2016 American presidential election, by all means vote for the candidate you choose to support.  But please, please don’t allow your political fervor to turn a topic deserving of respect and sensitivity into a political chess piece. I choose to believe that we are still better than that.  We certainly should be.

 

The Best Dog Ever (Part 1)

Crying in the shower is not the way I typically begin my day.  In fact, I can’t remember that ever happening.  But when Facebook callously reminded me it had been exactly one year since Baby Ruth passed, it triggered a sadness that drew tears throughout the morning.

Steve&BabyRuthEdited pic 2Baby Ruth was the best dog ever!  If you also have owned the “best dog ever,” then you understand how I felt about my beloved furry friend.  Holly gave me Baby Ruth for Christmas in 2003.  It was, without a doubt, the best Christmas present I have ever received!  I picked up Baby Ruth from a breeder in Charlotte, NC, and she rode in my lap the entire drive back home to Greensboro, NC.  For the next two weeks, Baby Ruth slept cuddled next to my head on my pillow every night.  The connection that formed in those first weeks became a once-in-a-lifetime bond with man’s best friend.

Many people have asked why the name Baby Ruth.  Interesting story!  I wanted to name the puppy after a candy bar. My son, Michael, 11 at the time, wanted to name her after the Bible character Ruth.  There was such an obvious solution to our situation that I didn’t explore his motivation.  The name “Baby Ruth” worked for both of us!

Several weeks later, Michael informed me that it was not Ruth he intended to name the puppy after.  He wanted to name her after the woman who helped the spies escape the city of Jericho.  He had mixed-up Ruth and Rahab!  I cringed at the thought of wandering the neighborhood hollering “Rahab” if the dog were to get lost, and I was pretty certain there was not a Rahab bar on the market.  Thankfully it was too late for a name change. The AKC papers already had been submitted!  The name “Baby Ruth” was set in stone.

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Me and Baby Ruth in the snow.

I realized two important things about Baby Ruth very early, she loved to work and she loved to be with her people.  When Baby Ruth was 3-4 months old, Greensboro received a blanketing of packable snow that made for great sledding down the only hill in our neighborhood.  The three children living in our house bundled up like the little brother in A Christmas Story and headed toward the hill with our only sled in tow.  Baby Ruth barked incessantly from behind the big window in our living room.  She wanted to go with the kids!

I fastened the harness around Baby Ruth, clipped the leash on, and let her out the door.  She was one excited puppy!  We arrived at the top of the hill and the kids waited in the line that had formed.  When their turn came, all three kids loaded on the sled and started down the long hill.  As they began to slide, Baby Ruth got away from me and jumped on the sled with the kids.  The kids thought having a puppy ride with them was the coolest thing ever!  Baby Ruth appeared to agree.

When they stopped at the bottom, one of us had the bright idea to tie Baby Ruth’s leash to the sled and let her pull it up the hill.  Baby Ruth, thrilled at the opportunity, bounded up the hill with the empty sled dragging behind her.  For the next hour or two, Baby Ruth went down the hill with the kids on the sled then towed it back to the top!

Before Holly located the breeder in Charlotte, I had prayed for God to lead us to the Rottweiler puppy that would best fit our family.  Watching Baby Ruth so filled with joy sledding with her kids that afternoon, I knew God had answered my prayer.  But I had only seen the tip of the iceberg!

Later that year, Holly and I founded UltimateESCAPE.  We moved from Greensboro to Portsmouth, VA where I began graduate school at Regent University.  One evening a car full of teenage boys pulled up in our front yard and parked.  (Yes, in our front yard!)  They got out and prepared to skateboard down the street.  I could hear the voice of Jar Jar Binks in my head, “How rude!”  Holly, equally flabbergasted by their rudeness, suggested that I take Baby Ruth out to “greet” them.

I clipped Baby Ruth’s leash to her collar and opened the front door.  The second she crossed the threshold of that door, Baby Ruth transformed from our friendly dog into the guard dog from hell!  At that time, I was 6’ 2’’ and sported at gym-induced 215 lbs. (not quite the Max’s Donut-induced 240 lbs. of more recent years).  It was all I could do to hold back my 85 lb. Rottweiler from dragging me off the porch as she lunged after that car load of boys!  In the blink of an eye she went from snarling to barking viciously, and white foam was pouring from her mouth.

You’ve never seen a group of teenage boys jump into a car so fast!  That car peeled out of our front yard leaving grass and chunks of dirt in its wake.  One of the guys was a little bit too slow and got left behind.  The last I saw of him, he was running after the car yelling for his buddies to come back for him.

“Good girl, good girl,” I praised her as I patted her head!

Baby Ruth was a faithful companion for many years.  She loved to fetch a ball, catch a Frisbee, go for runs, ride in the car, etc.  She was a winner in the show ring, produced exceptional puppies, slept with one of the kids most every night, and was worth her weight in gold as a security dog for our family.  I absolutely loved my dog!  But the real adventure with Baby Ruth didn’t begin until the summer of 2009.  And that iceberg of answered prayer I had seen the tip of, its massive depth began to be revealed.

Letting Go

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It was love at first sight!  In February of 2005 I found a 1991 Toyota MR2, T-top with leather seats, for sale on eBay.  With each bid, my heart raced faster. The price was rising to the point I knew I should stop bidding.  But I REALLY wanted that car!  Fortunately, the other bidders quit just before the price hit my ceiling, and I won the bid!!  A few days later I flew from Virginia Beach, VA to Tampa, FL to pick up my “new” car.  I can’t recall ever being more excited about making a 12 hour drive than I was that day.  And so began my adventure with my favorite car ever.

Over an 11 year period, I drove almost 150,000 miles through at least 15 states in that little car.  It became a source of joy for three generations of Holladays.  After I graduated from Regent University in May 2006, my vehicle needs changed and a 2-seat sports car no longer was a fit. My dad had become fond of the little car, so he purchased the MR2 from me. After 18 months and a hip replacement,  my dad decided he would prefer to see his grandchildren enjoy the car. The MR2 keys came back to me wrapped in Christmas paper with a bow!

With a center of gravity just under the driver’s right elbow, that car would hug a curve tighter than a toddler hugs a teddy bear.  My kids and I enjoyed many drives on curvy county roads that paralleled the thrill of roller coaster rides!  On one occasion (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it), Griffin and I clocked our time from the south end of Old County House Rd in White Bluff, TN to the Charlotte, TN line just over the Jones Creek bridge at 59 seconds.  That section of road, with its sharp turns, dips and hills, normally required at least 3 minutes to navigate in the Suburban. I was never able to break that record, although I admit I tried a time or two.

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Baby Ruth on a trip back to Texas after “speaking” in Tennessee

Savannah learned how to drive a stick shift in the MR2, thanks to her Aunt Drea. Griffin actually learned how to drive in it. Baby Ruth and I made several trips together in the MR2 during the years she presented with me.  One of my favorite memories of her in that car happened in Holladay, TN at the North 40 Truck Stop.  I had a take out container of pumpkin crunch left over from Thanksgiving that I had packed for the road.  I stopped to fuel up at the truck stop.  In an effort to “Baby Ruth proof” the pumpkin crunch, I stashed the take out container up under the brake peddle and slid my seat forward.  When I returned to the car, I noticed Baby Ruth licking her lips and traces of whipped cream around her mouth.  Sure enough, my 80 lb. 10 year-old rottweiler had managed to get to the pumpkin crunch.  The only trace of the dessert left in the car was quickly disappearing from Baby Ruth’s lips!

By far the most memorable adventure involving the MR2 happened in the Grand Canyon.  Griffin and I drove the MR2 out to Prescott, AZ to tour Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University during spring break 2015.  On the way home, we detoured by the Grand Canyon and spent a night in the park.  After a day of sight seeing via bicycles and a hike into the canyon, we started toward Flagstaff for the night.  About 10 minutes into our journey east along the rim on Desert View Dr., smoke began to

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Emergency crews respond to the 911 call about the MR2

pour from the engine compartment of the MR2.  I pulled over, grabbed my computer bag from the trunk, and we ran back about 100 feet from the vehicle.  I called 911.  I think every member of the Grand Canyon National Park emergency crew arrived on the scene about 10 minutes later.  That event may be the subject of another blog post in the future, but the short story is Griffin and I left the MR2 at the Grand Canyon and returned home.  Two months later my dad and I made a trip back to the Grand Canyon to retrieve the MR2.  That trip was another adventure in itself!

Even typing those words almost two weeks after the decision brings tears to my eyes. The MR2 was connected to a sea of memories of raising children and adventures on the road.  It’s been like a friend for a decade of my life.

But sometimes the price of holding on is more than the pain of letting go.  Be it an addiction, a relationship, a collection of “stuff” or something else,  maybe it’s best to open our eyes to the toll it’s extracting.  Stealing joy from the future by holding on to the pleasure of the past seems like a focus in the wrong direction.  Anything you need to let go?

 

 

 

Shot in the Gut

I was just beginning to drift off to sleep a few minutes before midnight when I was startled by a domestic disturbance coming from a house nearby.  I did what any self-respecting Rottweiler owner would do; I put Legend on her leash and took her outside to investigate!  With my 106 lb. puppy in the lead, we walked down to the street to investigate.  All was quite.

I decided the ruckus must be over, so I turned back toward the house. But Legend had picked up a scent and was intent on investigating.  Given the late hour (and not wanting the occupants of the house to discover me lurking outside their place) I whispered for Legend to “leave it” and gave a gentle tug on her leash.  Legend was intent on sniffing out the trail she had discovered, and she did not respond to my wimpy command.  In my fear of being discovered, I reacted by jerking on her leash with all 245 lbs. of my being.

In all honesty, a good 25 lbs. of my being are the result of too many visits to Max’s Donuts, and a habit of overdosing on popcorn and M&Ms.  But there is also a fair amount of muscle hidden beneath my extra pounds.  I have no idea how much force I exerted on that leash, but what happened next provided some insight into that topic.

My jerk reaction was sufficiently powerful enough to bend the metal ring on Legend’s collar, setting free the heavy-duty metal clasp on the end of the leash.  It all happened in a flash.  I heard the “pop” of the clasp breaking free and noticed the street light reflecting off the shiny chrome missile heading straight at me!  In a fraction of a second that clasp traveled the 10 feet between me and Legend.  The thick hoodie I had thrown on while rushing out the door provided little cushion from the force of that clasp.  It felt like I had been shot in the gut.

Several thoughts instantly raced through my mind as Legend continued sniffing the ground, oblivious to the entire incident:  Man that hurts!  I really don’t like my dog right now.  If I start beating my dog, is anyone awake to capture it on video?  Wow, that really hurts.

Fortunately I did not respond in a bad way, as a few seconds later two police SUVs pulled up in front of me.  That distracted Legend from the trail she had been exploring and she walked over to me.  I held Legend by the collar and pointed toward the house I assumed the police were investigating.  Thankfully, they were not there looking for me!  Legend and I made it back home undetected by any neighbors.

When I got back inside, I checked out the damage caused by my overreaction.  The impact from the clasp had peeled back a few layers of skin, resulting in a painful looking “strawberry.”  But that was just the immediately visible damage.  About five days later the full level of bruising was evident, and it was much larger than the point of impact. Additionally, a hard knot developed on the deeper muscle, and it remains there almost three weeks after the incident.

You can learn a lot about relationships from a shot in the gut.  The damage caused by an overreaction is much deeper, and longer lasting, than we may see (especially us parents). Sometimes we resort to a show of force to affect someone’s behavior.  We yell, threaten, shame, manipulate, or bully others into doing what we want them to do.  We might succeed in getting our way in the moment, but we cause harm at a much deeper level.

We wonder why people don’t want to be around us, why they don’t talk to us, why they’re not interested in our ideas or advice.  We’re puzzled why we don’t have closer relationships.  We wonder what’s wrong with them.

A more productive question might be, “Have I done something to cause this?”  Has my show of force resulted in others avoiding, withdrawing from, being embarrassed by or distancing themselves from me?

My recent midnight experience reminded me that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  Perhaps a gentle approach would have been less painful, and more effective.  You may find that to be true as well.