This ain’t no bro joke

A recently created meme on Facebook asks “If American women are outraged at Trump’s use of naughty words, who in the hell bought 80 million copies of 50 Shades of Grey?” This equates the choice to read erotica with deserving to be sexually assaulted.

Calling Donald Trump’s words “naughty” is a way to minimize the nature of the crime of sexual assault. Grabbing a woman’s genitals is no bro joke. It is not harmless fun, and it isn’t “locker room talk,” or “what men do,” or what women deserve. It is sexual assault. If you still can’t understand why American women are outraged by Trump’s behavior toward women, I will tell you.

We are outraged because we have been sexually assaulted by men who think they have a right to grab our pussies, feel our breasts, or squeeze our buttocks just because they have the urge.

We are outraged because our friends, sisters, mothers, and daughters have also been sexually assaulted by men who think they have the right to invade our bodies at whim and will.

We are outraged that Trump is a sexual predator who objectifies and degrades women and girls, and gets away with it because he is “a star.” We are outraged that so many seem to have little problem with that, and even minimize and justify it.

We are outraged because our “justice” system allows convicted sexual abusers and rapists like Brock Turner receive greatly reduced sentences because they are White, or athletes, and therefore a judge doesn’t want “a few minutes of pleasure” to ruin their lives, even though they ruined the lives of the people they violated in a most personal and damaging manner.

We are outraged because one in four American girls and one in seven American boys are sexually assaulted or raped before age 18.

We are outraged because one out of every six American women is subjected to rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.

We are outraged because most of us will be sexually assaulted at least once in our lifetime.

We are outraged because an American is sexually assaulted every two minutes.

We are outraged that so many people, male and female, make light of sexual assault and rape and downplay the effect it has on the victims, when 70% of rape or sexual assault victims experience moderate to severe distress, a larger percentage than for any other violent crime.

We are outraged because there is too little help for victims of sexual assault and rape. We are left to figure out for ourselves how to recover as best we can, or, most often, to suffer alone and in silence.

We are outraged because the dominant culture is a rape culture, which validates, promotes, and humorizes sexual abuse while condemning those who dare to speak up.

We are outraged because too many of us live in fear of being sexually assaulted or raped by strangers, and by the men we know.

We are outraged that the suffering of sexual assault and rape victims is minimized and dismissed.

We are outraged that after we are assaulted or raped, the police and courts treat us as if *we* are the criminals.

We are outraged that our friends and family members ask us questions like “Why did you let him…?”

We are outraged that the shame of sexual violence is too often put on the victim, instead of the criminal.

We are outraged because sexual assault and rape are such pervasive crimes that if they were caused by a virus, they would be considered an epidemic, and yet, few resources are dedicated to stopping these crimes or helping victims recover.

We are outraged that the lives of too many of our sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, friends, and colleagues are forever affected by violent crimes rooted in the concept that males have the privilege to do whatever harm they want to female bodies.

We are outraged that the world is nearly silent regarding male-on-male rape, and too many of our brothers, fathers, uncles, grandfathers, friends, and colleagues are forever affected by violent crimes rooted in the concept that males have the privilege to do whatever harm they want to other male bodies.

We are outraged by the pervasiveness of the attitude that women are here for men to grab and rape as they please, and if we don’t like it we are humorless and frigid bitches. These men expect us to hush up and let them take whatever they want from us, even our own bodies. A lot of people–male and female–are currently defending that mentality, which means they agree that women should submit to male sexual assaults and pretend it’s alright.

We are outraged because too many people try to dismiss our outrage by characterizing it as unreasonable when outrage is the only reasonable response.

We are outraged that men are largely silent on the issue of sexual assault and rape. They decline to speak up about objectification of women and continue to laugh at bro jokes, cartoons, and stories that degrade us.

I have seen some men speak against this, but not many. Apparently, a lot of them are silent because it’s more important to avoid breaking the bro love by calling a rapist a rapist and a sexual predator a sexual predator than to acknowledge the real and horrific impact of rape and other sexual predation. As our fathers, brothers, sons, friends, and coworkers, men should be outraged, too.

#NotOkay

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The truth about Cheryl

What do Christian pharisees do when their target, a single mother and successful businesswoman, will not shrink in fear of their highly abusive demands and submit to their delusional self-appointed authority? They collude to defame her and deprive her of the livelihood that supports her family. This time, they picked the wrong target, because Cheryl did not go away quietly like prior victims; she chose to fight. This is a detailed synopsis of the landmark Sherman Anti-Trust case, Seelhoff v. Welch. 

In early 1994, Cheryl Lindsey was the mother of nine children, owner of a successful family business, and a rising star in the Christian homeschool speaking circuit. Her name was widely recognized and her talks attracted large audiences. Cheryl’s publishing and speaking provided sole support for her family. Her magazine had 15,000 subscribers, and tapes of her speaking engagements made substantial money for convention hosts. Another prominent Christian homeschooling publisher, Mary Pride, had offered to pay Cheryl Lindsey to substitute Gentle Spirit as a way to satisfy Pride’s subscriber obligations for her failing newsletter, “Help for Growing Families.”

Through a religious discussion folder on the Internet, Cheryl began an ongoing conversation with Rick Seelhoff, a computer programmer in Minnesota. The details of her relationship with Rick, and of the dissolution of her long-troubled marriage were about to be used against her by some of the Christian homeschool movement’s most influential and well-known leaders, in a collaborative attempt to drive her from the marketplace. The defendants asserted that the motivation for their actions was biblical scripture, and their goals were “restoration of the family” and fulfilling responsibility.

Michael Boutot, Sue Welch, Mary Pride and Gregg Harris were not Cheryl’s mentors, confidants, friends, spiritual advisors or superiors; they knew her little more than by name. Still, each chose to join a campaign that used personal information against Cheryl’s business. Exerted on a lesser spirit, that might have resulted in disaster. But Cheryl chose to fight.

In March of 1994, Cheryl’s husband, Claude, moved away due to intensifying marital problems. He left Washington State and was living in Louisiana. The following month, Cheryl met Rick Seelhoff face to face at a workshop in Dallas, where she was a speaker. About two weeks later Cheryl confessed to her pastor about the new relationship.

Pastor Joe Williams of Calvary Chapel of Tacoma, and his wife, Irene, were long-time, close friends of Cheryl and Claude. They heard Cheryl’s confession, and her fear that Claude might become violent when he learned of it. The pastor told Cheryl that she should cut off her relationship with Rick Seelhoff. Cheryl withdrew from the church and did not attend any services thereafter.

During the month of May, Rick moved to the Key Peninsula, to live near Cheryl. On May 31, Cheryl’s estranged husband returned temporarily. He stayed with the Williamses, who were aware of Claude’s anger problems and the anti-harassment order Cheryl obtained against him. Claude returned to Louisiana permanently on June 21, indicating to the Williamses, Cheryl, and the children, that he had no interest in reconciling the marriage. Cheryl decided to file for divorce.

On June 17, 1994, Cheryl and Rick departed for the Christian Home Educators of Ohio convention, where Cheryl had a speaking engagement. CHEO had asked for her keynote address, “Titus 2, Living in a Feminist Age.”

“Titus 2” refers to a biblical passage that Cheryl had long quoted in her publication. It advises women to be “keepers at home…and obedient to their own husbands.” But Cheryl’s life had moved away from alignment with those conditions. She had been writing a monthly magazine exhorting women to submit to and obey their husbands, as she had done through twenty years of marriage, until two months prior. That very obedience and submission had helped create an abusive situation for Cheryl and her children.

In addition to the keynote address, Cheryl was scheduled to give six workshops at the convention. Although she had reservations about delivering her talks under the circumstances, the Gentle Spirit publisher had agreed to speak over a year prior, and Cheryl felt obligated because she knew that many people would be flying in to hear her. On the way to the CHEO convention, Cheryl and Rick spent a few days at Rick’s mother’s house in Minnesota, and received counseling from Rick’s pastor.

During the convention, held June 23-25, Cheryl’s estranged husband phoned Gregg Harris, then the owner of Christian Life Workshops (CLW) and later a columnist at Crosswalk.com and owner of Noble Publishing. Cheryl had previously spoken at CLW’s homeschooling conferences.

Claude, who had received the notice of divorce on the eve of the CHEO conference, told Harris that Cheryl was having an affair with Rick, and asked him to look for evidence in case Rick was at the conference. Harris said he needed verification, asked for the pastor’s number, and called the Williamses to confirm. He agreed to watch Cheryl, and reported that he didn’t see her with anyone likely to be Rick.

The witnesses’ conflicting court testimony makes unclear the order of who called whom, but reveals the defendants’ choosing to insert themselves into Cheryl’s personal life. Court records indicate that Welch and Harris spoke to each other; that both initiated talk of church discipline with Cheryl’s former pastor; each asked whether Williams would exercise discipline; and that the Williamses had never publicly disciplined any church member in their 10-11 years at Calvary Chapel Tacoma.

To confirm suspicions about Cheryl, Harris deceived Rick into disclosing that he had been at the conference. He obtained Rick’s phone number and called. When Rick answered, Harris asked if he might have lost a credit card at the hotel in Columbus, Ohio, which was the hotel where Cheryl had stayed. When Rick said “yes,” Harris made a remark about it being taken care of and hung up the phone.

Harris then notified Pastor Williams, because “the pastor’s responsibility is to watch for the souls of their congregation.” Harris also informed Welch so she could keep The Teaching Home from “being used in this scandal.” Harris also gave Pastor Williams’ number to Welch.

This was not the first time the publisher of The Teaching Home had a worry about Cheryl. A year prior to the CHEO convention she phoned its Executive Director, Michael Boutot, after learning that Cheryl’s family is biracial. Welch felt that Cheryl had purposely hidden this, and the public deserved to know that she was in an interracial marriage.

Boutot sensed Welch was asking him to participate in making it an issue, and he was disturbed because he felt the information was irrelevant. When he voiced his opinion, Welch dropped the issue with him.

The publisher of The Teaching Home also expressed her concern to Cheryl, telling the speaker that if she did not disclose that her family was biracial, Cheryl’s workshops would not be listed in Welch’s magazine. Cheryl consulted her attorney and replied with a letter. The Gentle Spirit publisher told Welch “it is not appropriate to concern oneself with the color of skin of the people with you are doing business with.”

Welch responded with a letter saying she had a change of heart and would be glad to list Cheryl’s speaking engagements. Welch’s testimony on the topic differs. She said she had “absolutely no problem with an interracial marriage,” but was simply passing along the concerns of people who sponsor the conferences.

To verify the latest information on Cheryl, Welch contacted the Williamses and introduced herself as the owner of The Teaching Home magazine. She said she needed to confirm some information regarding Cheryl before informing CHEO’s Executive Director, Michael Boutot. When Welch asked whether the Williamses were going to exercise discipline against Cheryl, Joe replied that he would.

While the Gentle Spirit publisher was en route to the conference, the pastor’s wife contacted Cheryl’s family with an urgent request to speak with Cheryl. When Cheryl returned Irene’s call, the pastor’s wife said she was considering informing CHEO about the relationship Cheryl had with Rick.

Cheryl told Irene she had no right to interfere, especially since Cheryl was no longer connected to the church in any way. Cheryl also spoke with the pastor, who did not agree with his wife and believed it was not right to deliver such an ultimatum. Irene decided to obey her husband, but she didn’t need to tell CHEO; Boutot found out from another source.

On July 1, 1994, after Cheryl had returned to Washington from Ohio, Sue Welch called to give Boutot information on Cheryl’s personal life. He felt it necessary to document the matter, should the need arise for him to refer to the discussions. Welch played an audio recording of Irene Williams reading the letter of church discipline, gave Boutot the pastor’s number and informed him that Christian Life Workshop owner, Harris, was also aware of matters.

Soon after speaking to Welch, Boutot called the Williamses. They corroborated what Welch had said and affirmed a need to proceed with the church discipline. The Williamses said they would fax him a copy of the letter, and gave him Claude’s number in Louisiana, so Boutot could call to further confirm the information.

According to Joe Williams, CHEO Executive Director Boutot had called in an irate condition, questioned Williams’ spiritual authority, and castigated him for “letting” Cheryl speak when he knew she was involved with another man. He wanted to know why Williams didn’t call to warn CHEO. Had Boutot known Cheryl was involved with another man, he would have recommended to the Board of Directors that she not be allowed to speak on any of her topics, even “Living a Simple Life,” or “Cooking a Hundred Meals in a Day.” Boutot believed any topic Cheryl spoke on would have focused on her family, therefore he would have excluded her entirely.

At the trial, Boutot said he did not remember criticizing Williams. The CHEO’s former Executive Director’s memory often failed him during testimony, and he frequently responded to questions with “I don’t recall,” or “I can’t confirm or deny that.”

Pastor Williams also spoke with Boutot and Welch about demanding proofs of repentance. If Cheryl did not show she was repentant, the Williamses would exercise “discipline,” meaning they would expose her to the church, in order to bring her “into obedience in the Lord and back into the fold.” According to Williams, Boutot came up with the idea of requiring from Cheryl some “proofs of repentance,” and presented the list of demands.

Initially, the Williamses planned only to read the letter of exposure to the congregation at Calvary Chapel, about 40-50 adult members. But when Boutot and Harris told him that Rick was in the same room with Cheryl, Joe Williams felt betrayed, because he believed she had repented. After speaking with the Christian homeschool leaders, Williams decided to present his letter to a wider audience.

Sue Welch said she didn’t recall whether she had been involved in wording the letter of discipline, although her phone notes contain some language identical with the letter attributed to Joe and Irene Williams. The publisher of The Teaching Home seemed to be confused in her testimony and the plaintiff’s attorneys moved to publish her deposition. Numerous times she responded to questions with statements like, “I don’t have memory of that right now, but I am certain it could have.”

Pastor Williams was afraid of a lawsuit and wanted to ensure his exposure letter didn’t contain anything that could cause trouble for him. Sue Welch also worried about the legality of the group’s actions, especially concerning the effect on Cheryl’s business. She put the Williamses in touch with her lawyer, Michael Farris. Farris was president of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), Legal Editor of The Teaching Home, and Executive Producer at Crosswalk.com. Pastor Williams testified that he read the letter to Farris, who gave his approval.

Farris suggested Welch should notify people in a letter that came from Cheryl’s former pastor. Welch requested a cover letter from the Williamses, saying the pastor and his wife were asking for the publisher’s help in notifying Christian Homeschool Organization (CHO) leaders of the personal information on Cheryl.

CHO was a group of state organizations that had a working agreement with Welch. The publisher of The Teaching Home thought it important to notify the CHO state leaders, who might consider Cheryl as a speaker.

Welch created a “packet” of information consisting of the letter from the Williamses, a photocopy of the June 27th Tacoma News Tribune which indicated Cheryl’s divorce filing, and the cover letter from the Williamses. That letter includes the sentence, “We request Sue Welch of ‘The Teaching Home’ magazine to facilitate for us the notification of Christian State Homeschool Organization Leaders of this information regarding our local church discipline of Cheryl Lindsey.” Circulating the packet, Welch expected, would cause her associated Christian homeschooling organizations to cancel any speaking engagements Cheryl had arranged with them, and they would not invite her to speak “at least for some time.”

The publisher of The Teaching Home said she had nothing to do with the writing of the church discipline letter – only the cover letter, which she wanted to come from the minister so she could distance herself because “it was a church matter.” Welch admitted that she also “did not want to have to answer any questions.”

The timing is not clear, but at some point, Sue Welch discussed with Boutot that she was prepared to replace Gentle Spirit with The Teaching Home. Welch also spoke to Boutot about the amount of money in the Gentle Spirit bank account and informed the CHEO Executive Director that “GS was to be no more.”

Harris, Welch and Boutot all requested copies of the letter of exposure, and the Williamses complied. Irene and Joe had decided to notify “the Body of Christ,” meaning all Christians, believing it was their moral obligation because Cheryl was a “public figure.”

Cheryl had almost no knowledge of what had transpired while she was out of town. Back home, she stopped by the Williams house to pick up some of her children’s belongings left behind when they visited their father. The Williamses confronted Cheryl, telling her they knew she had been with Rick during the convention and they had spoken to the two Christian homeschool leaders, Welch and Harris.

The Williamses presented her with the “proofs of repentance.” They told Cheryl that she should “step down from public ministry,” refrain from public speaking, not spend time alone, give up her beeper and her personal P.O. box, stop publishing Gentle Spirit, stop answering her phone, turn over the contents of her business and personal bank accounts to a third party, agree to not defend herself, fire her attorneys, withdraw the restraining orders she had obtained to protect her family and business, and replace Gentle Spirit with The Teaching Home magazine.

The pastor and his wife told Cheryl that they would expose her to the church if she did not perform the “proofs.” Cheryl was surprised, because she was no longer a part of the church, and she would not agree, as a single parent of nine, to refrain from answering her phone, or to give up the business that supported her family.

The day after the confrontation, Cheryl heard that the letter of discipline would be read to the congregation, and she requested that Irene read it over the phone. Desperate to keep it from going further, Cheryl wrote a letter dated June 29, 1994, addressed to Welch, Harris, the Williamses, and others. She pleaded for their understanding and asked them not to expose her to the homeschooling community. She faxed it to them but learned that Welch, Sharon Grimes, and Jonathon Lindvall had already begun to inform conference hosts and Cheryl’s engagements with them would be cancelled. Cheryl believes the behavior and demands were “extremely destructive and not consistent with Christian love.” She thinks they were justifying it like “people who bomb abortion clinics believe that they do it also out of love.”

Cheryl was flabbergasted when Sue Welch told her Jonathon Lindvall – owner of the Bold Christian Living ministry – had cancelled her talks. He had not arranged her speaking engagements, he wasn’t sponsoring any of the conferences, and he had no connection with Gentle Spirit other than selling them at his conferences.

Cheryl’s appointment as women’s keynote speaker at the Loving Education At Home (LEAH) conference was terminated, as was an engagement at a conference in southern California. Harris canceled her appearance at his Atlanta conference, and a tentative speaking engagement in Missouri was also crossed out.

Once Welch put out the word, Cheryl never again received an invitation to speak at any state conferences or to have a table at any of them, although she had annually for many years prior.

On July 3, 1994, Cheryl’s former pastor read the “letter of discipline” to the congregation at Calvary Chapel’s Sunday morning service. The letter stated that Cheryl had “been involved in an ongoing adulterous relationship with lying,” there had been no evidence of her “willingness to reconcile with Claude,” and Cheryl had filed for divorce outside of scriptural grounds. Yet, Claude had already expressed to Williams his lack of interest in reconciliation. Cheryl was aware she had been publicly excommunicated at the church that morning by Joe and Irene Williams, her closest friends. She felt as if she were “under siege.”

Illustrating the depth of the Williamses lack of good judgment and receipt of wise counsel is the deposition testimony of Pastor Chuck Smith, leader of the 300-plus Calvary Chapel churches. Smith has a church of over 10,000 people, has been a pastor 30 years and has never gone to the “third step” of church discipline, public exposure. Smith stated that a pastor’s breach of confidentiality is a serious matter, one he would consider “foolish” and “naive.” Pastor Joe Williams had not asked Smith for advice before going forward with his version of discipline.

The evening of July 3rd, Cheryl received a call from Michael Boutot of CHEO. Despite Cheryl telling him that she had left the church in April, Boutot presented her with a list of “agreements,” steps he wanted her to take in order to prove her compliance with the “church” discipline. The “agreements” – two of which were Boutot’s ideas – were that Cheryl would: return the honorarium from the CHEO conference (which she had already suggested, although attendees had expressed complete satisfaction with her presentations); write a letter to Rick Seelhoff, breaking off the relationship and present a draft copy to Boutot for his prior approval; dismiss the divorce proceedings and agree to counseling out of state; and call Boutot the following day at 6 p.m.

Boutot’s call was completely unexpected. It was the first Cheryl knew that the CHEO Chairman had been involved. She listened to the list of “agreements” in absolute horror, totally numb. Cheryl felt angry and shocked, and as she recounted, “I knew I was up against something huge and I was all alone.”

Boutot told Cheryl that if she didn’t comply with his proofs – and if she was truly a Christian – he expected her untimely death, and that if she did not pass away in that fashion, it would indicate she is not a true believer, and she would be turned over to Satan.

Boutot’s testimony is that Cheryl agreed to the “proofs.” Cheryl believes the CHEO Executive Director construed her terror as acquiescence. She agreed only to return the honorarium and to try to write the letter to Rick. Cheryl indicated she would try to meet Boutot’s other proofs, but she was not pleased about the idea of leaving her children to fly to Iowa for counseling with her estranged husband, Claude, and said she never indicated she would turn over her bank accounts to anyone.

That night Boutot kept late hours. Around midnight he received a call from Bold Christian Living’s Jonathan Lindvall, who suggested finding someone to “escort Rick out.” Lindvall told Boutot he would call Welch, to let her know that Cheryl was “agreeing with these conditions.”

At 12:30 a.m., Boutot received a call from Cheryl’s son, stating that his mother had been out alone for two and a half hours that morning, that Cheryl said she was being coerced, and she wanted to divorce Claude and marry Rick. Two hours later, Boutot called one of Cheryl’s sons while attempting to verify some information. Then he phoned Joe Williams. During the trial Boutot testified that he did not remember the exact reason, except it had to do with his desire “to get the Lindsey family back together.”

When presented with his phone notes Boutot said that one of the Williamses had suggested further “fruits” or proofs of repentance, and that Cheryl should prepare a letter of apology – to Williams, the church, Harris, Welch, Boutot, Lindvall, and Claude, plus the Gentle Spirit subscribers – and fax this to Boutot for his approval before sending it. Cheryl wrote the required letter to Rick, but couldn’t go through with it. She felt trapped and blackmailed, as though she had no choice.

The evening of July 5, 1994, Boutot spoke to Irene Williams, who had spoken to HSLDA’s Michael Farris and Sue Welch of The Teaching Home. Although Boutot did not appear to remember specifics in the courtroom, the CHEO chairman’s phone notes from that evening hint at what transpired between the Williamses and the Christian homeschool leaders. Boutot’s notes include these phrases: “Ideally letter needs to come from Cheryl… Letter to leaders (also subscribers), include: Under church discipline; specify sins (lying and adultery); decline all speaking, et cetera; potential replace Gentle Spirit with The Teaching Home. Michael Farris is agreeing with direction. Would rather letter publicizing be letter from Cheryl versus others. Letter needs to be reviewed by me… Cheryl needs to advise advertisers and columnists so they don’t continue to write. Feels I need to call Dr. Dobson, Focus on the Family, as they have been promoting and endorsing.”

Later that evening, Boutot wanted to check on Cheryl, but she would not answer the phone or reply to his messages on her answering machine. Attempting to track down Cheryl, Boutot left a message on her parents’ answering machine. He also called Jonathan Lindvall, Irene, and Cheryl’s son, Roland Lindsey, to let them know Cheryl was making herself unavailable. When the CHEO Chairman got through by circumventing the answering machine, Cheryl refused to talk with him. Her mother called Boutot, accused him of “trying to ruin Cheryl’s life,” told him that her daughter would not cooperate any more, and that Cheryl wanted him to leave her alone.

At that, the CHEO Executive Director “removed himself from the situation,” because it was evident that Cheryl had changed her mind. He felt he was in a position to try to lead her to restoration of the family and there was nothing left to do. Boutot advised Roland Lindsey, Jonathan Lindvall, Cheryl’s estranged husband and Pastor Joe Williams to remove themselves and “turn [her] over to Satan.”

The next phase of the campaign against Cheryl began on July 14, 1994, when Sue Welch contacted Christian homeschool publisher Mary Pride. Welch knew Pride was a direct competitor with Cheryl because of her expiring magazine, Help for Growing Families. Welch also was aware of Pride’s online presence.

Mary Pride was not a member of the Christian state organizations, so Welch had no working contract duty to inform her. Pride testified that Welch contacted her, even though the two hadn’t communicated about anything having to do with homeschooling or the back-to-the-home movement or homeschooling industries for a long time.

Welch’s fax to Pride included a handwritten note, along with the exposure letter packet. Pride asked her employee, David Ayers, to investigate Cheryl with an eye for a potential expose.  Ayers had never seen an article on anyone’s personal life in Pride’s publications before. In his testimony, Ayers was sure the expose was Pride’s idea. But court transcripts show Pride had repeatedly made a point of not remembering who originated the idea.

Ayers said Pride told him the reason for the expose was to make sure the people in the homeschooling community and the whole circle of Christianity were not deceived, “to eliminate rumors with cold, hard, fact.” Ayers felt the issue had aired enough and no one was being deceived. He also felt a small company like Pride’s could not handle the potential liabilities, and was afraid a lawsuit would result.

Ayers sent Pride a memo saying he was refusing, and she acquiesced. The day she received Welch’s fax, Pride was due to take her final issue of Help to the printer. The newsletter hadn’t been a big moneymaker, and Pride planned to let it die because Gentle Spirit had met the needs of the target audience. If Gentle Spirit was gone, she felt there would be a very important gap, which her magazine could fill.

Pride sent out her summer 1994 newsletter, disclosing the “horrifying” information about Cheryl’s divorce, conjecturing about the future dependability of Gentle Spirit, and asking readers to commit to renewing subscriptions. Explaining her vision, Pride wrote, “It had always been my dream to make Help a national newsstand magazine, capable of competing with the secular humanist titles on their own turf…Will you support me in making Help a viable magazine that cannot only fill the gaping void left by Gentle Spirit, but perhaps finally get a Christian point of view into the family magazine marketplace?”

Pride told Ayers to look at Gentle Spirit for potential advertisers that might sustain Help. According to Ayers, the publisher wrote a letter, putting Ayers’ name on it, giving him the title “advertising sales manager,” and mailed them on July 26, 1994. Ayers believed it was unfair; he felt there was an “attack side to it.” He told Pride he didn’t want to work on it and she let it rest.

Mary Pride also began an Internet campaign, using the information about Cheryl’s personal life as a starting point for the revitalization of Help.

On July 20, 1994, Karen Faye posted a message titled, “The Truth About Cheryl,” on AOL in the Gentle Spirit folder and on CompuServe and Prodigy. Karen Faye was a big fan of Help for Growing Families. She and Pride had posted back and forth on a variety of topics. In her testimony, Pride said she “cannot confirm or deny” that she may have sent Karen Faye a post in response to the rumors about Gentle Spirit and Cheryl. She disclosed she had informed Karen Faye about the pastor’s letter and divorce filing. Pride admitted she probably sent the message to Karen Faye before “The Truth About Cheryl” was posted, and that she was probably the first person to share this information with Karen Faye.

“The Truth About Cheryl” was “almost word for word” the letter of exposure from Calvary Chapel. It also encouraged readers to contact Cheryl’s former pastor. In response, some people posted thanks and others said it didn’t belong online.

Virginia Hunt, a long-time and daily user of the AOL boards, said she had not seen Pride post in that folder any time previously, but once the announcement was presented, the Practical Homeschooling editor began to make her presence known. Pride’s posts thanked the original poster and chastised the people who thought it was the wrong place for such information, saying it was important to expose, to tell the truth so people know.

Four days after “The Truth About Cheryl” appeared, Pride proclaimed she was starting a new folder entitled “Help for Growing Families,” which she announced in the Gentle Spirit folder. Hunt said that topics in the Help folder were much the same as in the Gentle Spirit folder before it had been “derailed by the announcement of Cheryl’s sin.”

Illustrating Pride’s influence on Christian homeschooling is the testimony of Pride’s employee, David Ayers: “in The Way Home, Mary had strongly encouraged women to have as many children as God sent, not to use birth control… [and] she had letters… from women that had stopped using birth control because of her book.”

On August 12, 1994, Pride created a folder to publicize and discuss “divorce and re-marriage.” The topics were “Cheryl and Rick and their relationship, and whether it was legitimate or whether it wasn’t. Whether or not they should be able to be divorced… the biblical basis of divorce and remarriage,” Virginia Hunt said.

Pride called for people to stop associating with Cheryl, and for her to discontinue publishing Gentle Spirit. She made these posts “all over AOL,” said Hunt. She even sent out e-mails to individuals, telling them to “Please look at the message I just posted about Gentle Spirit.” In her posts, Pride went as far as to compare “remarried persons” to child molesters and serial murderers, concluding that, if one could forgive divorce and remarriage, “you should be willing to have a child molester run the nursery and a serial murderer stand there with a knife in his hand slicing the bread for the fellowship meal.”

Pride’s new “divorce and remarriage” folder received about 200 posts per day. At one point, it received over 1,500 in a day. It was by far the most active folder on AOL.

Like AOL, Prodigy had a folder devoted to the rumors behind the news, and posts from AOL were copied verbatim to Prodigy. When Rick asked Prodigy’s board monitor to remove the inflammatory posts, the entire folder was permanently deleted. Rick didn’t find any similar folders on CompuServe, but he overlooked the Christian section of that server.

AOL board monitors let the discourse continue, but indicated they were watching it closely. A good number of posts were pulled, especially in the first weeks. The monitor frequently added warning messages aimed at those who were “flaming,” using inflammatory language and derogatory terms, like “harlot” and “whore.”

Because of Welch’s circulation of the information packets to homeschooling leaders and state organizations, and Pride’s Internet campaign, Cheryl soon began to receive an avalanche of messages. The Gentle Spirit fax machine and answering machine worked overtime, receiving a tremendous amount of messages. Rick said the fax paper “would just roll across the floor and the floor was covered in…paper…The phone machine was filled up…there [were] 50 messages in there, the light blinking. And every one of those…said ‘we heard, what are you doing? What’s wrong? How dare you?'”

During the month of July, five Christian publications carried news of Cheryl’s personal life. The Gentle Spirit columnists quit, and many of the advertisers withdrew their ads and asked for refunds. The phone was ringing constantly, the fax machine churning, and an onslaught of subscription cancellations ensued.

In September 1994 Pride made a final attempt to resurrect her deceased Help newsletter. Although Pride testified that she had hired David Ayers to conduct research and assist with advertising, Ayers says he understood his job was research director, to research educational issues and help with Practical Homeschooling. Very soon he found himself doing work he hadn’t expected. Pride had told Ayers that Help would be out of publication by the time he began employment, but she was trying to re-start the newsletter and wanted Ayers to assist with finding advertisers.

Initially Pride testified that neither she or anybody on her behalf undertook an investigation to find out if the Gentle Spirit advertisers would be interested in advertising in Help, even claiming she would be surprised to learn that Ayers called advertisers, asking them to switch to Help. But when confronted with a document titled “Notes for speaking with Potential advertisers – H.E.L.P.” Pride admitted she had asked Ayers to produce such a document. The first line reads “For those considering shifting to Help from Gentle Spirit.” The last paragraph includes: “We are presenting Help…specifically as an alternative to Gentle Spirit…Our readers are similar to GS’s.”

Ayers vividly remembered speaking with one advertiser from Gentle Spirit, Phil Lancaster, publisher of Patriarch magazine. Ayers believed “it was a big deal because [Pride] and Phil didn’t speak to each other.”

Despite her efforts, the editor of Help couldn’t drum up enough interest from subscribers or advertisers. The summer 1994 issue was the last. According to David Ayers’ testimony, around the third week of September, Pride revived the idea of printing an expose on Cheryl in her Practical Homeschooling magazine.

As part of the piece, Pride wanted Ayers to interview Cheryl and Rick, using a list of queries she provided, Ayers stated. But Ayers felt the interview questions were too personal; he couldn’t imagine sitting down and asking such things. [Ayers, 820] Ayers testified that if Pride ordered him to go forward he would have to resign. Ultimately, even though he had relocated his family upon accepting the job, Ayers did resign.

Pride’s deposition states that she did not pursue the expose because she had decided that she did not want to “get involved in heavy journalistic types of pieces.” The publisher of Practical Homeschooling said she had not been sure if it was a good idea to present such an article, but admitted she had been willing to pay Ayers to investigate. Again Pride made a point of not remembering where the expose idea originated. Her words conflicted with Welch’s testimony as well as with Ayers’.

Much of Pride’s recollection was weak on the day she testified. The publisher of Practical Homeschooling said she hadn’t asked Ayers to call Gentle Spirit advertisers or to put together an article on Cheryl. Pride’s testimony changed when Duffy, the plaintiff’s attorney, presented her with Exhibit 156, an email to her from David Ayers, which refers to just such an article.

The Internet message boards continued to be overrun with messages related to Cheryl and her private life. Cheryl received an enormous amount of phone calls and letters, referring to the letter of discipline she thought had only been read to the local church. It was evident that it had been circulated nationally.

Despite professional counseling, Cheryl was depressed, and cried constantly. She tried to defend herself, and planned to put out an issue of Gentle Spirit, but it was impossible for her to write.

In January 1995, Sue Welch published a notice about Cheryl in her State Leader’s Memo. The notice wrongly announced that Cheryl’s divorce was final–it would not be for another eight months–and “she is planning to marry the man who was involved in sin with her.” The column also asserted that Cheryl lied about putting out Gentle Spirit, and she was “misrepresenting her [former] husband.” It ended by asking readers to pray that people “are protected from her false teachings.”

The State Leader’s Memo announced the information in a column titled “We Wish We Didn’t Have to Tell You, But You May Need to Know…” which details the shortcomings of other people as well, such as one who was “active in speaking against HSLDA and homeschool leaders.”

In February 1995, Cheryl published an issue of Gentle Spirit. In it, she told her version of the events, and offered subscribers the option of receiving the remainder of their subscriptions in back issues, which were very popular. Cheryl received a lot of emotional support from readers who were angry about what happened to her. They understood she had opposition from key leaders in the Christian homeschooling industry. She received some financial assistance, but not enough to sustain publishing. She also continued to receive plenty of hate mail. Cheryl would not publish another issue of Gentle Spirit for over four years.

As soon as the February 1995 issue came out, one of Cheryl’s competitors, Mary Pride of Practical Homeschooling, came online and demanded that she refund instead of publish. Still, many of Cheryl’s readers chose the back-issue offer.

The March/April 1995 issue of Patriarch magazine devoted 1/3 of its pages to a piece titled “An Open Letter to Cheryl Lindsey.” The author and publisher, Phil Lancaster, a pastor, claimed he had been “charged to correct the errant and warn against them.” Lancaster’s “letter” said that even if Cheryl’s allegations about Claude’s abuses were true, divorce is not warranted, and he reminded her that “women are called to…not give in to the natural fears of following a sinful man.”

Another possible motivation for Lancaster’s “Open Letter” is revealed by its text. He urged Cheryl to return to her church and her estranged husband, and to stop defending herself. The Patriarch publisher described Cheryl’s influence as greater “in the lives of many women than their pastors or elders…you are a leader/teacher among women.” And continued by expressing his fear that, because of Cheryl’s example “many women who also have hard marriages will feel justified to make ungodly choices like divorce.”

Cheryl’s divorce was final on August 30, 1995. She and Rick Seelhoff married six days later. Realizing the heavy criticisms and publicity would prevent her from generating enough business to support publication of her magazine for some time, Cheryl decided the next best thing was to publish online. According to documents on file at the Pierce County Superior Court, on October 10, 1995, she announced Gentle Spirit Online.

Less than two weeks later, Mary Pride announced her new magazine, Big Happy Family.  She promised the first issue would be out within two weeks; but it was not mailed out until the following April. The debut magazine appeared similar to Gentle Spirit; the topics were quite alike, the unusual frequency was the same and the price was very similar. During her testimony, Pride explained that the subject matter of her new magazine include birth and babies, money management, recipes, midwifery, plus a letters section. Like Gentle Spirit, Big Happy Family might address homeschooling, but was not specifically dedicated to the issue.

With the start of Gentle Spirit Online, the firestorms on the Internet were rekindled. Cheryl received heavy criticism and threats for daring to publish on the Web.

In late October of 1995, Sue Welch heard rumor that Cheryl was speaking somewhere on the East Coast. The Teaching Home’s editor launched an investigation to find out if Cheryl had the audacity, as Welch’s phone notes label it, to speak after 14 months had passed. Welch’s notes reveal she contacted several people and spoke to Cheryl’s former pastor before learning that the rumor was false.

In November 1996, visitors to the Practical Homeschool folder on AOL were urged to report Cheryl to the Fraud Investigations unit of the US Postmaster’s office. Six months later, in May of 1997, Cheryl filed suit against Calvary Chapel of Tacoma, Joe and Irene Williams, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, The Teaching Home and Sue Welch, Gregg Harris, Christian Home Educators of Ohio and its Chairman Michael Boutot, and Bill and Mary Pride, alleging a number of causes of action, among them defamation, outrage, interference with commerce, and violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act of the United States. Suddenly, the harassment stopped.

Michael Boutot, Calvary Costa Mesa, and Gregg Harris settled in March of 1998, well before the trial began. Mary Pride settled in August of 1998, just prior to the trial. The court convened on August 14, 1998. A no-nonsense judge chastised lawyers for both sides. He repeatedly reprimanded one of the defense attorneys to stop bringing up Biblical law, reminding him that the court was not ruled by that text, and he denied testimony from the defense’s expert witness on Christian religion. Judge Burgess also excluded two Plaintiff’s witnesses: Mark Hegener of Home Education Magazine, and homeschooling author Dr. Raymond Moore. Both would have presented testimony relating that Sue Welch and others had been previously involved in similar smear campaigns. The intent was to show that the actions against Cheryl weren’t about church discipline or restoring a marriage; it had happened before. The judge ruled that such testimony would be peripheral to the issues between Cheryl and Sue Welch. Judge Burgess also excluded testimony of Cheryl’s therapist, who would have testified on the effects the public exposure had on Cheryl’s ability to function in her business.

It is significant that every defense witness–other than the paid financial expert–offered a portion of trial testimony that contradicted his or her deposition. Of course, this questions the credibility of a witness’s testimony. Closing arguments by Barbara Duffy, the Plaintiff’s attorney, maintained that in the Christian homeschool industry, “the stark facts about a divorce and an extramarital relationship can be economically devastating. Sue Welch knew that. And with that knowledge she undertook a strategic course of spreading this into the marketplace…she could simply have taken that notice of Gentle Spirit magazine workshops out of her publication, but Sue Welch wanted Cheryl out of the marketplace. She told her that in her letters. And she was successful.”

During his closing arguments, defense counsel Rudy Lachenmeier invoked the name of the 1950’s demagogue Joe McCarthy, and contended “There’s only one conspiracy here…to be a good Christian. And that’s not a violation of the Sherman Act.”

However, as reiterated throughout the trial, Judge Burgess’ opinion were to the contrary. The judge stated, “A claim of good motives, like a claim of ignorance of the law, cannot justify or excuse a violation of federal antitrust laws.”

The jury was charged with considering eight days of complicated and conflicting testimony and determining whether Sue Welch – the only defendant choosing not to settle out of court – was guilty of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. The judge instructed the jurors that the plaintiff had the burden of proving: there existed an agreement, conspiracy or combination among two or more persons AND that it specifically intended to harm or restrain competition AND that one or more of the defendants’ acts assisted an agreement, conspiracy or combination AND the defendants’ acts did cause injury to competition. The plaintiff had to prove each proposition; if any were not proven, verdict would be for the defendants.

Judge Burgess told the jury that “The law does not define which [trade] restraints are reasonable and which are not. It is for you to decide whether the evidence in this case shows an unreasonable restraint.”

On September 9, 1998, the unanimous jury returned a verdict saying the defendants Welch entered into an illegal conspiracy in restraint of trade in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, that damages were caused and determined the damages to Cheryl’s business were in the amount of $445,000. In antitrust actions, awards are automatically trebled, so Cheryl was entitled to receive in excess of 1.3 million dollars from Sue Welch. In addition, she was entitled to recover her attorneys’ fees and costs. Subsequently, Welch and Cheryl settled for an undisclosed amount.

Antitrust suits are ordinary events, but, according to Barbara Duffy, the plaintiff’s attorney, what made the Gentle Spirit case unusual was the use of personal information, particularly obtained through a breach of pastoral confidentiality, for a competitive advantage. The defendants worked in a market where such disclosure of information would likely be devastating.

In May of 1999, for the first time in over four years, Cheryl published Gentle Spirit. The magazine no longer carried its previous reference to “Titus 2” in each issue. Although it was still concerned with simple living, self-reliance, community and homeschooling, the flavor was more accepting of the diversity of humanity and spirituality.

The Gentle Spirit subscriber base never recovered from the damage wreaked by the conspiracy against its publisher. Attempting to trace subscribers and fulfill their subscriptions cost Cheryl and Rick thousands of dollars. Some of those subscribers responded with rage and demanded that publication stop. Yet, the hubbub also sparked the interest of new subscribers. Cheryl and Rick were very hopeful, but not sure the renewed venture would thrive.

The inside cover of the foremost issue of the “new” Gentle Spirit presented a letter from Rick and Cheryl, in which they described some of their beliefs: “all human beings are treasures…one size never fits all in matters of the heart, mind and spirit…we reject violence and coercion on all levels…we also reject the abuse of power…We have changed our minds many times about what it means to ‘live Christianly’…other people should likewise be afforded plenty of room to grow and to change and seek the Lord in their own ways.”

When that issue of Gentle Spirit reached subscribers, the Internet blaze rekindled. The participants discussed every snippet of information revealed, and debated whether the defendants’ actions were justified by scripture, or if they simply broke the law and should publicly apologize. The publisher of Gentle Spirit stayed away from the Internet debates and  wondered if she would ever recover from the trauma she endured, which stole her trust and faith in human beings.

Throughout her difficulties Cheryl continued to enjoy the support of many of her former subscribers and a few faithful Christian friends. However, the most help came from unexpected quarters – “liberal Christians” and “worldly” people. Cheryl said,”It is ironic that those whom conservative Christians typically warn against, out of fear they might draw Christians away from the Lord, turned out to be instrumental in my healing. They were often more compassionate and faithful and loving by far than many of the Christians who had cautioned me against associating with such people.”

The original Complaint for Damages was filed in June 1997. In April of 1999, Cheryl settled with the Williamses and Calvary Chapel of Tacoma on the remaining, pending state claims, which brought the litigation to an end.

Although she was wary of further attacks, Cheryl’s life broadened, allowing for “enjoyment of things I had forbidden myself for many years, thinking they were of their very nature off-limits for a Christian–music, books, movies, theater, art, food, a glass of wine…whatever clothes I wanted to wear.”

Now, more than 20 years after these events began, Cheryl’s children are all adults, and so are four of her grandchildren. She is at peace and is proud of the good and satisfying life she has made for herself. Cheryl still occasionally receives orders for back issues of Gentle Spirit magazine and is happy to fulfill them. She remains excommunicated by the homeschoolers on the Religious Right who originally orchestrated her excommunication.

© 1999, 2016 Shay Seaborne. All Rights Reserved. 

 

 

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Heart like a feather

When my kids were little, I took them to visit a special museum exhibition on ancient Egypt. We learned was that Egyptians believed that only those, who have a heart that weighs no more than a feather, can enter heaven. That means this is what those people strove for, lightheartedness. To have a light heart means one looks on the bright side, laughs easily, forgives others, behaves with integrity, and atones for mistakes.
I have long said that heaven and hell are right here on earth; they are our choices for what we make of our lives. Now I combine this with what the ancient Egyptians believed, and the result is that those, whose hearts weigh no more than a feather–because they look on the bright side, laugh easily, forgive others, behave with integrity, and atone for mistakes–can live in heaven right here on earth.
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The great give-away

In some Native American cultures, people perform a ceremony called a “give-away” as a public recognition of a new personal status–such as through a wedding, or the naming of a baby–or to express thanks for blessings received.

Last year, I gave away virtually everything I owned. This included furniture, kitchenware, clothing, books, music, artwork, decorative items, photos, jewelry, and mementos. Letting go of belongings was difficult at first, but became easier as I felt the increase in lightness that accompanied the cutting loose.

As I went through the stages of unburdening myself of material goods, I recognized that most of the value of our belongings is in our emotional attachment to them. That was part of the reason I gave away most of my stuff, rather than throwing it or selling it. The Great Give-Away took longer than if I had had a yard sale, and did not bring me any cash, but I found much satisfaction in the ability to be more generous than I could otherwise be, giving nice things to friends–and strangers–who wanted and could use them.

Sometimes, these generous gifts strengthened an existing friendship, if mostly by offering the impetus to get together and hang out. When I gave my small collection of quirky foreign film DVDs to my dear friend, Beckie, she cried with gratitude. Other times, my give-aways spawned new friendships, or re-connected me to  something that had been important. For instance, one stranger, who picked up my herbs and spices, is the new director of a local non-prof that had helped me out years ago, and for which I had volunteered in a serious manner. She accepted my invitation to come in and chat for a bit, during which I told her how much the organization’s work had meant to me. Also, we discovered that she sees daily the four pieces of artwork I had made and donated to the organization. When I told her I was the artist, she gasped, teared up, and got goosebumps, because she loves them and finds them so meaningful, and even more so, having met me and heard how the organization had greatly helped me in years past. The new director later invited me to speak at the organization, and after that event, to a regional group of such organizations.

Another recipient turned out to be a homeschool mom that I had helped years ago. Though we had not been in touch since, she still remembered and appreciated my kindness in taking time to allay her fears. I was gratified to hear her update on her homeschooling and her children’s progress.

One person was so grateful for the things I gave away–some long curtain rods for her new home, as well as some perennial divisions from my garden–that she insisted on repaying me for my kindness by coming to my house with her cleaning supplies. That is how a total stranger came to spend most of a day washing windows and scrubbing the floors on her hands and knees, so my house would be ready to put on the market.

These encounters were enriching in ways that money and material goods cannot reach, and affirmed that for me, the connections with people are the most valuable of things. My great give-away also proclaimed my new personal status, that of a traveler whose belongings are light enough to take her into a whole new life, a childhood dream come to life.

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When pinched for time, slow down

Free range organic eggs from the farm market.

I was running late for an appointment in another state, and realized there was no way I could make it on time. Not even close. Instead of stressing and trying to get there as fast as possible but still failing by at least half an hour, I decided to slow down. Slow down instead of speed up.

My route brought me to a farm market that I had passed many times in the dark when it was closed. This was the first time I had seen it open, so I pulled over. Lured by the signs proclaiming southern peaches, local tomatoes, eggs, asparagus, mushrooms, and honey, I thought I would stop and buy something to bring to my friend Jean, who is letting me stay at her house for a few days while I’m ashore. I wandered about the little store, appreciating the beautiful fresh produce and local goods, and settling on a dozen local free range organic eggs, and some of the most beautiful peaches I have seen in years.

Striking up a conversation with the cashier, I was sold on tasting the ruby red tomatoes that sell for $2.99 a pound. The saleswoman told me that they were the best tomatoes ever, and she described how they were grown by a local man who carefully starts his plants in January in a greenhouse on warming beds and provides the gorgeous globes starting in April. The woman said that her customers come from miles around to buy these tomatoes, which are expensive but evidently worth the cost. She assured me that I hadn’t lived until I had tasted one of these tomatoes, so I decided to buy one to eat right there. She rang it up and asked me if I wanted her salt shaker. “Sea salt,” she noted, “so it’s even better.” I accepted and I stood at the counter, shaking sea salt on to each bite of that luscious, perfect tomato.

We chatted as I ate. She told me about working in the farm stand greenhouse all winter long, and asked me about life aboard my ship. The woman informed me she had seen a reality TV program about people living aboard yachts, and they show how there’s no privacy and lots of drama. I said we have much less drama, but no more privacy.

Having eaten the red fruit, I told the woman that she was right; it was the most luscious best tomato ever. I collected my eggs and peaches and went happily on my way, glad that when I was pinched for time I decided to slow down instead of speed up.

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Picking all the flowers

Birthday bouquet of all the flowers blooming in the garden at My Palace of Peace

Picking flowers can be a radical act.

My former husband would “forget” my birthday and other occasions, long before the formal divorce process began. About 10 years ago, a friend, who knew this about my then husband, asked me what I was going to do for my upcoming birthday. I said that I was going to “pick every rose in the garden, put them in vases, jars, and glasses, and fill the house with their beauty and scent.” My friend laughed with delight and approval.

I did do just that. Since we had 1/4 acre, which I had turned into a great and lush garden with a variety of healthy rose bushes, the rose bouquets were bountiful and their mix of scents intoxicating. My husband came home from work and acted like he had not noticed the bounty of flowers. Nor did he acknowledge my birthday in any way.

I was used to the man’s passive-aggressive behavior and knew from where it came. This was the man whose mother sent me birthday cards addressed to “MR. [HIS FULL NAME]’S (‘WIFE’)” just like that, all caps, quote marks, and parentheses. Like I did not have my own name, and as if I was his wife only by title, perhaps a sort of pretend wife. This because she was angry that I had taken back my own last name after seven years of using his. (My last name is awesome and I love it, while his is bland and never felt like mine.) The passive-aggressive ex-mother-in-law did this to goad me about my personal choice, an attempt to darken the anniversary of the day of my birth with her bitter cloud, but I had become immune to that, too. My policy was to immediately throw such envelopes in the trash, unopened.

Picking all the flowers was, in a way, a radical act, a milestone. It meant that I had finally accepted the reality of my situation, and decided that I would be kind and generous to myself instead of waiting and hoping for crumbs from my husband. The lovely sprays of roses stood in defiance against what tried to demean and undermine me as a person.

The following year, I did the same thing, picking all the roses, for the same reasons, and with the same non-response from the man I married. That fall, I signed a contract on a house of my own, leaped back into the workforce after 17 years of absence. I also convinced my husband to sign a separation agreement that included I would have sole physical custody of the kids, and my girls and I moved out.

I called the 1970’s brick townhouse My Palace of Peace. The soil there was sandy clay loam, a gardener’s dream, and the perennial divisions I transplanted from the heavy clay at the marital home flourished. When my birthday came around, I picked some of every kind of flower blooming in my yard. There were Dutch iris from my dear friend Jill, hardy orchids from my cousin Elena, pink cabbage roses from my grandma’s garden, yellow evening primroses from my former neighbor Evelyn, crimson mini-roses from my old friend Barb, lavender mallows I had grown from seed, and sprigs of lavender from “My Little Provence,” a row of lavender shrubs I had planted in the back yard.

It felt decadent and rewarding to pick all of them, to give them to myself, and recognize that they had grown thanks to my own hand. Adding to that richness was that these had grown in my own place, My Palace of Peace, that I established for the benefit of my children, a reasonably quiet and safe place to finish raising them.

I raised kids, flowers, and food at My Palace of Peace for eight years, and in that time I became practiced at meeting my own needs, fulfilling my own desires, and making myself happy. Last September, I sold the house because it had served its purpose and I no longer needed it. Though I had given away many plants and divisions, the yard was still rich with flowers for the new family to enjoy. I wish them the ability to create their own kind of beauty and love in their home.

This is my first year without a garden of some kind since I was a teen. Being a nomad has its disadvantages. Without a garden, I could not cut flowers for myself this year. I miss my garden, so on my birthday I spent some time in the garden of my dear friend, who is hosting me for a while as I play landlubber between sailing gigs.

My friend is a teacher, with a busy life and three boys at home, but still made time to stop on her way from work, so she could bring me a lovely bouquet of flowers. Gail didn’t know the story I wrote here, but she knew I would love the alstromeria. I do. They mean more than she can know.

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Leap into the void

During my transition from single-parent-homeowner-commuter-office-worker to itinerant sailor, I often said that the process was a kind of suicide, a killing off of an old life, of what no longer served me, of the person I had been. Like one preparing for suicide, I lost interest in my life, gave away my belongings, let go of attachment to things and people and places and situations that were no longer positive.

timesheetI was earning income through the one job I had found after 1.5 years of job seeking, which included 14 months of unemployment. I had also renewed my job search shortly after the federal raid on that employer’s home and business. Yet, three years later, I was still “chained to a desk” in a basement doing work I didn’t like, for an employer that was ​mean, ungrateful, devious, and involved in some illegal activities.

I knew the stats on older job seekers, on those without a college degree, and those who had been unemployed for more than six months. I didn’t just know the stats; I experienced them first hand. I had applied for a few hundred jobs over the course of five years, and tapped out my network, too. In that time, I had seen the number of job listings fall off sharply, the pay level decline and qualifications rise. Jobs for which I had qualified seven years ago now required a B.A. and they paid $10,000 less than they did back then. I recognized that this Engineered Austerity Economy pushed The Great American Dream out of my reach. My options were to keep making a 75-minute commute to spend most of my time in an isolated and ​increasingly ​abusive work environment in order to pay down the underwater mortgage on a house I no longer needed, or blow off everything conventional and do what my heart desired. Though the thought was terrifying, the latter was my only true choice; to stay was to die a little every day, and it made my life a misery. There was a lot of fear involved in making the choice to live and to have a life, and some danger, too. However, I did not base my decision on fear, but facts, and on listening to my inner voice.

I walked away from that horrible job in the most professional manner possible, fully aware that I would have to sacrifice everything — all I had spent 30 years trying to build — in order to move into My Whole New Life.

Leukemia Cup Regatta 2015A year later, I completed the arduous process to shut-down my life. I gave away nearly all of my belongings, fledged my young adult children, fixed up my house, and turned it over to new owners. All I had left were a car and a few bags of belongings. Also, a whole new self, the person I had yearned to be, but was prevented by the traps of convention and my unhappy attempts at a conventional life.

I leaped empty-handed into the void, having to trust that I could fly, and I found that I can. Most people do not need to take such leaps, but many can find smaller hops that make their lives turn for the better. What about you?

 

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The 4th grade lesson for all

With an increase in hateful behavior in America, apparently inspired by presidential candidate vitriol known as “the Drumpf Effect,” perhaps it is time to change our schools’ curriculum in response, and bring back the exercise that my 4th grade teacher used as an object lesson in the ugliness of prejudice.
My teacher told her students that science had just proven that people with brown eyes are superior and people with other color eyes are inferior. She said we brown-eyeds are smarter, more attractive, and had better character. As she went on extolling the virtues of brown eyed people over those with green, blue, or hazel eyes, I felt myself puffing up and looking with a sense of disdain toward my previously equal classmates.
I saw my classmates deflating around me, but that did not matter much. To a kid with low self esteem it was more important to enjoy the elevated feeling of this sense of entitlement.
After a short while the teacher stopped and asked us to look around the room at our classmates. Those of us with brown eyes — the majority — sat tall, feeling smug, superior, and full of ourselves. The minority of children with eyes of a “wrong” color looked sad, ashamed, hurt, and degraded. Our teacher said “this is how prejudice feels.”
She went on to inform us that what she had first said was a lie. Of course, there was no scientific basis for brown eyed people to be superior in any way. “That was propaganda,” she told us. “Lies designed to make us hate other people for no good reason.”
I don’t remember my 4th grade teacher’s name, but I have never forgotten how ashamed I felt at my readiness to consider myself superior for no good reason, to hurtfully look down upon my classmates based on nothing but a quickly spoken lie.
Now I understand that prejudice — the willingness to believe one has inherent superiority — actually stems from low self esteem. It is a way to feel better about oneself, at others’ expense.
This is a 4th grade lesson for all.

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Hands empty, heart full

heartcookieMy mother taught me to never show up empty handed, so I stopped at the Whole Foods in Silver Spring to pick up something to take to a Servas event. Parking was scarce on that Sunday afternoon in late January., which meant that I had to park about a block away and limp my way to the store, since I had a recently fractured toe. On the way to park my car down the road I saw a homeless woman standing next to the stop sign at the edge of the parking lot. Everybody was ignoring her, probably out of discomfort.

In the store I looked at fresh fruit, hummus, salsa, and other delicious foods as I tried to decide which to take to the potluck. But the image of the homeless woman would not leave my mind, so I decided to spend that money on something for her instead. Then I spied the cart with the tea cookies, some of which were decorated- or cut in heart shapes for Valentine’s Day. That was it! I chose one of each of the Valentines cookies and went through the checkout.

The homeless woman was still on her corner when I came by again. We greeted each other with a smile and when our eyes met, I saw that she was a kind person, worthy of being one of my friends. I said “I’m homeless too, but I wanted to give you these Valentines cookies so that you know that you are loved.” Her eyes and face registered surprise and gratitude, and we hugged each other, blessed each other, and wished each other a good day. As I walked away, I noticed the cars in the queue at the stop sign were pulling up to give money to the woman. It seemed my small act of kindness had broken the spell of indifference in onlookers, and I hobbled back to my car, beaming.

The pot-luck host welcomed me warmly, though I had nothing in my hands. Her home offered long and bounteous tables of food, more than the guests could eat. I met many wonderful fellow travelers and travel hosts, made new connections, learned a lot, felt encouraged, and had a highly enjoyable time. At the end, the host was asking her guests to take away the leftovers, including a box of heart shaped cookies. But in this case, my hands were empty, but my heart was full.

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Night of the speed demon

P1150462During my 11-½ day epic offshore sailing voyage of over 1,700 miles, I began to gauge my performance as crew on whether it woke skipper Matt Rutherford from sleep on his 5-hour off watch. Some days and nights, he did not wake once. Those were the easy watches, when little was happening and the wind conditions were stable. As the passage wore on, I felt greater confidence in my ability to make the right decisions when things did change. Increasingly, I found myself thinking I should change something, and as I was thinking it, Matt directed me to that very thing. This stoked my ego a bit, until the night of the speed demon.

I was enjoying solitude and the splendor of waves lit by the waxing moon, perhaps an hour into the late night start of my 5-hour watch, when the speed demon struck. It was near the end of Day 8 of the Hunter 38 delivery voyage. The skipper woke within minutes.

Before he had gone to bed, Matt told me that the wind was likely to come back, probably off the stern quarter, and if so, I should set the sails. As usual, he had been right. As the breeze came in, I put the Hunter 38 under full sail on a broad reach, a point of sail that seems best for Hunters. There was none of the severe heading up into the wind that we had found with a beam reach.

I was sitting on the starboard bench seat, legs outboard, feet against the lifelines, an expression of glee on my face. “Making the boat sing,” I had just said to myself, clapping quietly. I felt my skipper looking at me, and turned to see him standing on the companionway ladder. “Hello,” I said. “It’s a magical night!”

Matt went to the helm to check our speed. “Eight-point-one,” he said. “We need to slow down. No more than six point five,” he instructed, and then he went back below, knowing that I knew what to do, that he could trust me to do what he said, and leaving the work to me.

Without delay, I moved from the bench seat to the forward part of the cockpit, adjusting lines and line clutches in order to reef the jib and main. Being that the main is mast reefed–rolling inside the mast for storage–it takes a lot of “grinding,” or cranking on a winch handle, to bring it in. This always felt like a workout to me, but by then my muscles had become more used to it. I smiled to myself as I thought “this is one of Matt’s ‘that’ll learn ya’ lessons from the ‘figure it out yourself’ skipper.” After all, it was my watch- and my actions that made the work necessary.

When Matt was back on watch in the morning, I said, “I apologize for that speed demon thing last night. I honestly did not notice the boat speed was so high, but that was partly because I was too absorbed with enjoying it.”

“You just develop a sense for the boat…after about 100 days,” he said, noting that he “would not have been able to go back to sleep” with the boat going that fast. I wanted to know why.

“Part of the reason I didn’t notice the speed was that, unlike at higher speeds before, the boat was not rounding up like it did on a beam reach,” I explained. “Would you please tell me why the speed was a problem, since the boat was under control? Because I have trouble with the concept of ‘too fast.’”

The skipper explained that surpassing hull speed, when not surfing swells, could damage the rig by straining it beyond its capability. “I never push a boat beyond about 80% of its ability, and that’s why I have all these safe deliveries. Others think they are in some kind of race and they push the boat too hard.” I understood. First, a delivery captain does not want to break his or her customer’s boat. Secondly, if even a small part of the rig gave way, it could make for dismasting, which would be a disaster, especially on the high seas.
I learned my lesson, and was sure it would be invaluable at some point in my sailing future. No more speed demons for me. 

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