Thank you Maya Angelou.

Only two days ago I tweeted this – ‘surviving is important, but thriving is elegant’ by one of the most inspiring women I know about. She had not long celebrated her 86th birthday. I remember tweeting then too. Every now and then I will post a quote by her. Because I have them on my walls. A small handful, on a wall at home, that remind me of some truths.

Just over 6 years ago some friends invited me to stay at their house.
I spent most of it smoking, crying or in bed, but they were safe people. Who took me in as I was.

Over that week or so I discovered two different things that would impact me, and continue to in the following years of carnage that has been life. Things that will never leave me.

And one of those things was a book on the bookshelf just above my bed in the room I was sleeping in, and it’s author.

It was ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’.

And I discovered who Maya Angelou was.

I read it twice that week. And then I googled and discovered the poem ‘Still I rise’

Wow.

I’d never heard of Maya Angelou before, until that week. Until that book. Until that poem.

Anything I write simply could not do justice to her, and the life she lived.

But this woman was writing her story in this book, of being raped as a child.
And then not speaking. Literally. For years.

Until she did find her voice, again.

And my God, what a voice.

Discovering Maya Angelou that week, a week where I laid in bed night after night crying because I was silent about being raped 10 months earlier was the smallest smallest flicker of light and hope I needed.

This woman was an actress, a singer and dancer and director.
This woman was an astonishing author and poet.
This woman had an activists heart, especially within the Civil Rights movement.

This woman overcame deep deep rooted racism, trauma and being raped as a child to become a shining light in a dark world.

A bright bright shining light in a dark world.

She was grace.
She was stunning,
She was beautiful,
She was amazing,
She was bold,
She was courageous,
She was wise.
She was a teacher.
She was a survivor.
She was a warrior.

She has inspired generations.

She rose above.

She has, still does, and forever will inspire me.

‘We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated’ – Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou – May you rest in peace.

Maya Angelou – Thank you.

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Everything has changed …

Everything has changed. Nothing is the same. It can’t be.

Rewind to last Friday night. I was running late, heading out the door to go to friends, via the Dr’s who had called asking me to collect something. I’d had a massively busy week, but it was OK. Until I looked in the mirror as I was about to walk out of the door, and one of the biggest realisations/revelations I’ve had to date about God hit me. Big time. I then spent the entire evening crying.

I had little sleep that night, maybe 3 hours. I was up at 6am, so I could head to the Gathering of Women Leaders, an event happening in London. Which is exactly what the title suggests, a gathering of women from across the country meeting to be with each other, support each other and to hear from inspiring and amazing people – particularly women leading within the Christian context. To connect, learn and develop.

The website is here if anyone is interested (or feel free to ask me about it)

http://gatheringofwomenleaders.info

I’ve only made one of these gatherings before. My personal issues of believing I was inadequate and not recognising that I was entitled to be there stopped me. And then by the time friends who attend or who are involved with facilitating it finally convinced me that actually it was fine for me to be there I was unable to because of health issues – each time I planned to make it I’d either be in or had just come out of hospital.

Finally I actually made it! Hurrah! And I am SO glad I did.

An amazing day of being with friends, catching up with others I know but don’t speak to/see regularly, and meeting/connecting with new people.

It was inspiring to hear from someone who manages a hostel for women in central London, and her work there. It was brilliant to hear from Ruth Mawhinney, the new editor of ChrisitanityToday.com who also edited another Christian magazine before. Her honesty was incredibly refreshing. And it was brilliant and thought provoking to hear from the amazing Jenny Baker who talked about equality from her new book ‘Equals’ which I have at home and cant wait to read. These are amazing women who are doing amazing things, inspiring generations.

But we also heard from Tamsin Martle who is an executive coach and who spent an interactive hour with us at the GWL thinking about our personal mission statements. She titled it – Women of Purpose.

I have to confess that when we started the session, I did ½ roll my eyes, thinking this would not be relevant to me whatsoever as I have no mission statement, purpose or point but happy to sit with it because I was surrounded by some super amazing women doing super amazing stuff, so it would be relevant to them.

Turns out it was the most relevant part of the day, for me.

At one point we had to spend some time thinking about what we would like people from particular groups of people around us to say about us at our 80’th birthday party. I found this quite hard, and initially went into my auto mode of joking – although to be fair most people who know me well would also express surprise at the thought of me making my 80th! Anyhow, someone next to me nudged me in the right direction, told me to start thinking of what I would LIKE them to say not what I think they would, as I’m never very nice about myself.

So I got through that bit, and continued on, engaging with some of the questions she threw out and starting to think about a personal mission statement.

Another bit was ‘what do I want to achieve’ – another hard one for me. Until I actually decided that if I got to 80 and the people around me were saying the things I had already written down, that I would like them to be saying, then that was my achievement.

If I get to 80 and people around me are saying I am/was loving, kind, committed, loyal, hard working, reliable, determined, passionate, honest, focussed, trustworthy, inclusive, faithful and non judgemental then I would be happy

Another point Tamsin mentioned was this question ‘how do our most trusted friends and family ACTUALLY see us’ – positively and negatively. She challenged us to consider perhaps asking them …

We also thought about ‘what gives my life meaning’ and ‘What is at my centre’ – Is it Jesus?

There was some really important stuff/questions to think about.

And my head was challenged. But it was also stuck with the thinking that its been stuck with for the last 7 years – and that’s ‘but I used to …’

‘But I used to have a focus, a vision, a mission, a personal statement’

‘But I used to do this, I used to do that and so on …’

‘But I used to … and I don’t any more’

Anyway – I took the paperwork, filed it in my bag, and carried on with the day.

And then on the train home, that evening, I relooked at it. Rethought it. And the ‘but I used to …’ thing hit me. It’s been something over the last few months I’ve been trying to move on from. Since life changed so dramatically for me 7 years ago I have changed. I’m not that same person and I don’t do those same things. But I’ve been living in mourning for a lot of it. My identity has been who I ‘used’ to be. And it has been the right thing to try and severe the ‘I used to’ links. I used to be a lot of things and then it felt like I lost everything.

I need to live in the ‘who I am now’ and not the ‘who I was then’ which I lost.

When I got home, very late I found a piece of paper, which must be about 10 years old or so. With some simple words written on it. Another thing I felt I lost.

And then on Sunday morning, I woke up and was getting ready for church, and it suddenly hit me – actually I’ve not lost everything.

I really have not. I’ve not lost what was written on that piece of paper. Deep down in my soul, I’ve not lost that. That still exists.

Those words – they were my personal mission statement. And actually they still are. They convey what my heart was passionate about, and they still do.

I USED to have a mission. A vision. A focus. A purpose. A call.

And whilst I have changed – it hasn’t.

The words written were about being a radical ‘bridge gapper’.

It was why I left my nicely paid job, packed up my stuff and moved. To work with people, who for whatever reason sat on the fringes of society.

My passion, desire, vision, focus, ‘call’ was to love the unloved and to bridge the gap between wherever they were at and God/church. To go out to them and be with them where they were at, and not expect anything in return.

It was to be a voice for the voiceless – a voice for those without one.

That was my heart. Until 7 years ago when I lost my own voice.

But Sunday morning, the day after the GWL event, I realised my voice is coming back.

And then when I text that to a friend, her response was this ‘its already back, you just didn’t realise it’.

And she was right. She IS right.

My voice IS back.

And I do have a vision, a purpose, a reason, a focus, a ‘call’.

And it is EXACTLY THE SAME AS 10 YEARS AGO.

My voice is back – it has changed. It has had to. It cannot be possibly the same one before 7 years ago. It never will be. It’s different one to before. But it is back.

And it is still passionate about the oppressed. About speaking out for those who cannot themselves.

On Monday morning I woke up, bright and early, having slept well, a rarity for me, and the very first thing that entered my head were these words ‘everything has changed’.

And it has. It really has.

I don’t have a big plan and I have no idea what the future beholds. I have no idea where this is all going, and I have no idea where it is going to end. I need to start thinking on how to start rebuilding my confidence and believing that I can achieve again.

Monday night, on the way to an evening meeting, I was driving down the road towards church, and in front of me was the most stunning scene I have ever seen in my life. My friend and I gasped, and stopped pretty suddenly (sorry car behind us!) – I was gobsmacked. The most stunning, beautiful, bright, full rainbow I have ever seen – spanning across the entire town. And it was a double. I didn’t know rainbows like that could exist.

I found out that evening a little about rainbows (I’ve never really looked into it before) and that they are created by a white light going through a prism and it breaking up into all the colours that make white. Black is not present because black is the absence of light.

It was a fitting end to an immense few days of real revelation, both on Friday evening and on Saturday at the Gathering of Women Leaders event (thank you to all who facilitated and contributed to that) and of continuing journeying forwards.

 

Life has been black. There have beens times where I cannot imagine how it could have gotten blacker.

But life is generally in a different place, I’m moving onwards and upwards. Slowly, but its happening.

And seeing the rainbow reminded me of Gods promises, of life after the storm.

I realised over the weekend despite the view I have held for so long, actually, I’m not done yet. And God is not done with me yet either.

And that’s exciting.

So, everything has changed.

 

 

 

Returning To You.

I am returning to you,

with all of my heart,

with all that I am,

with everything.

I am turning to you.

I am returning to you.

 

I am returning to you,

you have always been on my mind,

and have never drifted far away,

from the complicated space that is my head.

I am turning to you.

I am returning to you.

 

I am returning to you,

because I remember when I first fell in love,

with you, your kindness, your beauty.

and for a moment I felt that again.

I am turning to you.

I am returning to you.

 

I am returning to you,

for my soul longs for your arms,

to be wrapped round tightly, never letting go,

comforting, consoling, loving.

I am turning to you.

I am returning to you.

 

I am returning to you,

for when the blackest clouds closed in,

there was nothing to see or feel,

but learning to live again is happening.

I am turning to you.

I am returning to you.

 

I am returning to you,

for even when I screamed profanities at you,

still your remained there,

never did you go anywhere.

I am turning to you.

I am returning to you.

 

I am returning to you,

make me into what you want,

help me to live a life,

that means something to someone, to you.

I am turning to you.

I am returning to you.

 

© Helen

Dear Mr Helmer … an open letter

Dear Mr Helmer,

This morning I woke up, feeling positive. The sun was shining and I felt like I could take on the world. It didn’t last long. Because a few minutes after checking my emails I was having a quick scan of social media. Twitter mostly. That was my mistake of the day. I love twitter, a lot, and the positive aspects of it far outweigh the negatives. But it was a mistake this morning, because within 10 minutes of waking up in a bright and cheery mood that was crushed. Because the Independent had published an article by Oliver Wright, suggesting that rape be called ’non consensual sex’. He suggests a jury would feel more ‘comfortable’ convicting someone of NCS than of rape, which is what NCS is.

Then this evening I caught up with what you have been saying today. In an attempt to clarify comments you made back in 2011, you suggested that women should take ‘reasonable care’. And then you compared it with people going on holiday locking their doors.

I was gobsmacked. I thought I had misread what I was reading/what you were saying. But I hadn’t had I?

Oliver Wright really did suggest the word rape be changed to some thing people found more ‘comfortable’.

And you really did compare rape with locking a front door didn’t you?

 

So you can imagine how cross I was by this evening. Or maybe you can’t imagine that because you don’t know me …

Why should you?

You’re actually probably thinking to your self ‘why is this woman even bothering to address me’.

I might not be important. I might not be famous. I might not get ‘greeted like a celebrity’ wherever I go, as the Guardian reported earlier of the reception you received at an event you attended today.

I might not be someone you even care about because I probably can’t even vote for you.

To you I am probably a no one.

Dear Mr Helmer, as I write this line in this letter to you, it is almost 3 am. I have a busy day ahead, but I shall function with little sleep, because that is my reality. Why? – Because I slept well last night. I had 7 hours sleep without waking up, without a nightmare, without waking up with shakes, silently/loudly screaming and dazed. And I don’t get more than one of those ‘good sleep nights’ in a row. In fact I probably only get one of those good sleeps once/twice a week. So tonight sleep is not coming. I’m scared of closing my eyes for fear of what dreams or nightmares will taunt my mind, because they will come. They always do. And because they didn’t last night, I know tonight when I go to sleep, in they will flood. I’m pretty used to them most of the time, but sometimes fear sets in and I just don’t want to close my eyes. That is my reality.

Just last week, along side the nightmares/night terrors, which are a nightly occurrence mostly I had a flashback. My mind took me back to the trauma that I experienced almost 7 years ago. This August it will be 7 years. Since I was raped. The flash back relived every moment in my mind. And when I came out of it, I was left for the following days feeling like I had just been re violated.

This is my reality.

It is the reality of being a survivor of rape. (Yes, rape, not ‘non consensual sex’. I’m not sorry if that word makes Oliver Wright or yourself uncomfortable. I agree it’s an uncomfortable word. But trust me, it is more uncomfortable when you are the one being raped/surviving rape. That does not mean it should not be used).

It is one of the realities of being one of those women who you think should have ‘taken reasonable care’.

Life was already tough for me, having had incredibly painful and negative experiences as a child, being abused by both my biological father and brother.

But 7 years ago, it got a lot tougher. I never knew what black was, until then.

It took me to the edges of cliffs, and to the point where I would attempt suicide 8 months later because I could not cope. I could not cope with feeling filthy. Dirty. Bruised. Broken. Used. Abused. Worthless.

Every single last bit of my dignity was taken. What I had left had gone, what I was clinging on to was lost. Forever. It will never fully come back. And however far forwards I move on, a nightmare, flashback, or something else that triggers memories of that day always comes back to remind me I can never get that far away from it.

This is my reality.

One of my other realities is that I regularly read that someone, somewhere, with a platform has made some ill informed, misjudged comment about a topic they know little about, and that they use as a way to grab media attention. Maybe it’s a topic that gets lots of controversy for you and lots of attention, with lots of people talking. Maybe that’s what you want?

I wonder if you would make the same blasé comments about a woman ‘taking reasonable’ care so as to not get raped if it was your daughter, or mother, or your wife? Would you say the same thing if it was your son or your father? Would you say to them then that perhaps they should have taken more care?

If not, then why say it to us?

Dear Mr Helmer,

Each and every time I read something that suggests I should have taken better care of myself, like you have said today, it tells me that my experience was my fault. Because if I had not walked down that road, that day, or if I had chosen to cross the road, or if I had taken a different route to the one I always took, or if I had done something different then it would not have happened. You are blaming me.

But you know what? However much you blame me and tell me that I should have taken better care does not remove the fact that actually it is/was not my fault. I am not to blame. The two men who decided that they needed to exert power and control over me are to blame. The two men, who decided that they would block the end of the road I was walking down, are to blame. The two men that were much stronger than I was and who were able to silence me not only on that day but in the months and years after too, are to blame.

Women (or men) who are raped are not to blame.

The people who are raping them are to blame. Why don’t you focus on them instead of suggesting the victim should take responsibility?

Dear Mr Helmer, your comments today have proven you know little about rape, and the rape culture that prevails currently in this society. Your comments today show very little compassion and understanding towards men and women affected by rape. Your comments today prove you know nothing about the realities of our lives and the real life realities of being raped.

I respectfully suggest it is time that you educate on yourself on this issue more. There are some amazing charities and organisations out there that do amazing work on raising awareness, and who provide training that I am sure would love to engage with you and give you proper insight into rape and its effects on people.

I highly recommend Rape Crises for England and Wales, and www.everydayvictimblaming.com who you can also find on twitter at @EVB_NOW

Yours Sincerely,

Helen A

 

twitter – @helen_a13

blog – http://www.helenblogs.com