Saturday, June 4, 2011

Child Abuse is No Excuse for a Life Wasted

I am a survivor of childhood abuse. Though there were intermittent episodes before the age of 13, the real, constant and violent abuse began after my step-mother left my dad for the final time just one month after my 13th birthday. With his long-time punching bag gone, I became the designated heir of his violence, anger, hatred and beatings. I can remember the first one so vividly, it could have happened yesterday afternoon. We were at his girlfriend's home and while they were in the living room watching TV, I was in her daughter's bedroom playing cards. Suddenly I heard his angry voice calling me to get in the living room; the timbre of his voice, and the venom that permeated it, were foreign to me, at that time. Despite knowing he was angry, I walked down the hall without fear because I had never experienced what was about to unfold, although I'd witnessed similar violence as he beat his former wife.

When I got to the living room, his girlfriend was sitting on his lap in the recliner. He asked me if I had told his girlfriend that he had beat my step-mother and I answered yes, because I had told her that and he had beaten his wife. Then he asked me why I had told her that, and I answered that I told her because it was true. He stood up so suddenly, his girlfriend wound up sprawled across the floor, and he struck me so hard with the back of his fist I flew across the room and landed in the hallway. I don't know how long he pummeled me with his fists or kicked me with his cowboy boots, but I do recall his girlfriend, her daughter and oldest son were all trying to get him to stop, even trying to grab his arms to keep him from striking me. All I could think, after it was done, was that he had just proven that what I had said was true, despite his protestations that it wasn't.

I tell this story to make this point: I suffered physical, emotional, mental and spiritual abuse at the hands of my father for many years. My father had two modes of dealing with me: beating me or neglecting me; there was no in-between. I was shuttled back and forth between his sister, his parents, his girlfriend and a broken down motel on Bossier City's infamous strip for almost 5 years. Yet, despite all of that, I did not grow into a monster, myself; I don't kill people, I don't steal or cheat. I still suffer consequences of those years, but the fact is, I am responsible for my own actions and behaviors. When I do something wrong, it's not because I was abused, it's because I chose to walk a path that led me to a place where I did not measure up to society's standards, or I missed the mark to achieve complete acceptability of my behavior.

Too many people have stood in courts in this country and claimed they are murderers, rapists, thieves, etc., because they were abused as children. Hogwash! They are those various types of criminal because they chose to be and their offering up the excuse of abuse is merely their attempts to minimize their culpability and any punishment they may face. You see, I have the choice to live my life reacting to what I endured as a child, or to live my life acting under the guidelines and rules that govern decent, civilized people. No memories of my abuse could ever justify perpetuating behaviors which bring harm to others.

I will say that my attitudes and behaviors are still influenced to some degree by what I went through as a child, but I make the choice on whether to behave poorly or with character, to obey the laws of the land or rampage my way through life trampling on the rights, hearts and feelings of others. It is my decision, and my responsibility alone. I pray, frequently, for God to remind me where I came from, to help me live my life in the here and now and to prepare, today, for what will come to me tomorrow. The biggest hurdle I have faced in my life was to let go of the bitterness, anger and hurt of my youth; but I realized that those feelings were mine to embrace or to let go of. No one could make me live my life with them, and no one could take them away from me; it was my choice on what to do with, and about, them.

Yes, childhood abuse has a lasting effect on its victims. The entirety of their lives will be shadowed by those events, but that doesn't mean they have to live their lives as victims forever. Each individual has to make the choice whether to live with it or live by it. I chose to live with it: using it as a catalyst to make me more compassionate, more helpful, more sensitive to those around me and to spur me on to do good in this world.

I had some great, loving people in my life who showed me the other side. They lived their lives in ways that gave me an insight into how to live a positive, upstanding and productive life. For them, I am eternally grateful. And I pray God will continue to guide me into His light and His righteousness. He has never once forsaken me or failed to meet my need. And He has helped me overcome the disadvantages of my youth in order to be the man I am today who continues to seek the good and the right, so that I can make positive difference in another person's life. And maybe, just maybe, to be one step closer to the man that He wants me to be.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Blame Game

I'm so sick of "the blame game" that has become ubiquitous in this world. Politicians blame the other party; Congress blames the President; the President blames the Congress; corporations blame the government; the government blames the taxpayers; everyone blames everyone else -- no one is willing to step up and admit that we are all responsible for the situations we find ourselves in, as a nation.

As voters, each and every one of us is responsible for the government we have, and the decisions they make. We put them in office, and we've left them in office, so whatever they've created or destroyed in this country is our responsibility. Don't like the direction the country is going? Vote those who have been in office for the past umpteen hundred years out and put someone in who has fresh ideas. Didn't vote? Then you have no right to complain!!

And let's all remember there are some things our government and its leaders have no control over. Everyone is hating the price of gasoline right now; trust me, I hate it BIG TIME. When it takes more than 15% of my monthly income to fill my tank, it HURTS! But, I also know that the President and the Congress don't have any control over the price of gasoline or the price of oil. Yes, they can influence the price of oil a little bit by releasing more of the fuel that is held in reserve, but for the most part the price of oil, and hence the price of gasoline, is out of their jurisdiction. So is the cost of groceries. Inflation, on the other hand, is something the politicians can influence.

We've become a society that doesn't take responsibility for our own actions and sues every one and every firm at the drop of a hat. I read just yesterday that Spanish farmers are suing Germany because of comments made by German officials about the source of this new, deadly strain of E.coli, which they traced back to vegetables coming from a particular region of Spain. Because of that announcement, the sales of vegetables dropped significantly, so the farmers are now suing. Reminds me of when beef ranchers sued Oprah because she said something along the lines of she wouldn't eat a hamburger during the mad cow disease epidemic a few years back.

One of the tenets of my faith says that I have to admit my sins and errors and ask forgiveness for them. Nowhere does it say I should find someone else to blame for my shortcomings and mistakes. But, Jesus also teaches that we are to love everyone as He loves us. Well, love does no harm to others, either by suing or blaming them for my mistakes. Sort of makes sense, then, if I love everyone, I will take responsibility for my actions, instead of blaming someone else for them, and I will try to do better in the future to not make those mistakes, again, or similar ones.

It's time we grow up as a people and stop expecting others to shoulder our responsibility; and stop allowing politicians to blame everyone but themselves for the mess our political arena is in, today. Let's hold them each accountable for their own misdeeds, and give them the credit when they deserve it.