Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Celebrating the wonder of Brian Doyle

Brian Doyle was a prolific and gifted writer, editor, philosopher, father and husband, friend, and prophet who expired from this world far too soon.

The first time I met him was at the Wild Arts festival when I bought one of his books for my dad, called Spirited Men: Story, Soul and Substance. He struck me as a bit quirky and sarcastic, probably bored out of his gourd in the book signing room while all the bird lovers seemed to be more interested in the avian arts and crafts. I wasn't sure how I felt about him...he left me a bit off balance.

The second time I met him was at the Search for Meaning book festival in Seattle, after I heard him read from his book A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary, when he had a packed lecture hall laughing until we peed our pants a little, wiping away tears from our eyes, and singing Amazing Grace a capella in perfect harmony. He wept freely as he recounted the friends he lost in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and read his gorgeous tribute to those victims, "Leap." In a culture that rabidly suppresses and insults male vulnerability and emotion (with homophobia at its roots), BD (as his friends call him) did not fear going deep and sensitive, regularly baring his soul raw to audiences far and wide, both in his writing and his speaking. He felt, loved, and lived with a wonder and a passion that was unparalleled and freely expressed. I loved the experience and had to buy his book.

This entailed waiting in a long line that moved like hard honey, because BD had a significant conversation with every person before he signed their books. By the time I reached him, I had read several of the poem-prayers, and I'd found the Prayer for Editors and Proofreaders. I told him how much I liked it, and we fist bumped.

A few months later I decided I wanted to feature BD's uncommon prayers in the April A to Z blog challenge. I emailed him to ask his permission, and he responded by connecting me with his publicist, who gave permission as long as I included a link to Broadway Books, BD's favorite local bookstore. Of course, I obliged. And so I began a month of reading his poems every day and writing about what they meant to me. You can access all those posts here.

Late last year I read that BD had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. His response was to tell people he wants people to keep laughing.

“I’ll hear all laughter,” Doyle said. “Be tender to each other. Be more tender than you were yesterday, that’s what I would like. You want to help me? Be tender and laugh.”

That's what happened a few weeks ago, at the incredible celebration of his life. Packed into the First Congregational Church downtown, we and 700 of BD's closest friends, family, coworkers, and admirers paid tribute. Seventeen of his friends, including well-known Portland writers Kim Stafford, Robin Cody, and David James Duncan spoke for roughly 5 minutes each, telling hilarious anecdotes and touching stories about BD. Broadway Books sold Doyle's books in the back of the church. We laughed and we cried.

We were wowed by Seattle firefighter Jimmy Watts, who was clearly not a public speaker. He'd met Doyle through the shared experience of having a child with heart disease, a friendship I can relate to. He shared a letter he wrote to Doyle about the worn T-shirt he was sending him, offering him hope and courage in his last few months of illness. “You’ve always been a firefighter, Brian” he said.
Doyle's family

BD's brother shared an intimate email, in which Doyle exhorted his brother Peter to stop ragging on him for exaggeration and taking the opportunity to expand on truths, not always being entirely accurate. And author David James Duncan (The River Why, The Brothers K, etc.) went last. He spoke of his intimate, brotherly, loving friendship with Doyle, and I was struck and saddened by (1) his deep loss and (2) how rarely men speak of each other in such terms.

Mike and I had to work wonders to get there that evening, but I was so glad we made the effort. Afterwards, we went to the Fulton Pub (BD's favorite watering hole) with our dear friends Catherine and Brad to toast this amazing man and prophet. They drank some Jameson's whisky in his honor. It felt right and proper to honor Brian Doyle with good food and drink and sacred friendship. This literary, holy evening made me realize I need to read Brian Doyle regularly as a spiritual practice. His writing resonates deeply in my soul.

And I leave you with this: his "Last Prayer," which he published just a few years before he died, in his Book of Uncommon Prayer:

Dear Coherent Mercy: thanks. Best life ever. 

Personally I never thought a cool woman would come close to understanding me, let along understanding me but liking me anyway, but that happened! 

And You and I both remember that doctor in Boston saying polite but businesslike that we would not have children but then came three children fast and furious! And no man ever had better friends, and no man ever had a happier childhood and wilder brothers and a sweeter sister, and I was that rare guy who not only loved but liked his parents and loved sitting and drinking tea and listening to them! 

And You let me write some books that weren't half bad, and I got to have a career that actually no kidding helped some kids wake up to their best selves, and no one ever laughed more at the ocean of hilarious things in this world, or gaped more in astonishment at the wealth of miracles everywhere every moment. 

 I could complain a little right here about the long years of back pain and the occasional awful heartbreak, but Lord, those things were infinitesimal against the slather of gifts You gave mere me, a muddle of a man, so often selfish and small. 

But no man was ever more grateful for Your profligate generosity, and here at the very end, here in my last lines, I close my eyes and weep with joy that I was alive, and blessed beyond measure, and might well be headed back home to the incomprehensible Love from which I came, mewling, many years ago. 

But hey, listen, can I ask one last favor? If I am sent back for another life, can I meet my lovely bride again? In whatever form? Could we be hawks, or otters maybe? And can we have the same kids again if possible? 

And if I get one friend again, can I have my buddy Pete? He was a huge guy in this life--make him the biggest otter ever, and I'll know him right away, okay? Thanks, Boss. 

Thanks from the bottom of my heart. See You soon. Remember--otters. Otters rule. And so: amen. 

You can read other accounts of Doyle's life here:

A remembrance to and for Brian Doyle in the Catholic Sentinel, written by a friend's sister, an English teacher at St. Mary's Academy

The Story Catcher in the Notre Dame Magazine

The Salt Seas of the Heart, a beautiful collection of favorite BD stories from The Sun magazine

And this beautiful obituary written by my friend Amy Wang for the Oregonian

Rest in peace, Firefighter Doyle. You will be remembered with laughter.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Everything possible: my miracle baby is an adult!

Here's one of the many things I learned on the morning of August 23, 1996, 21 years ago today:

If you are in the medical field, never gasp when you are examining a patient.

That's what Lynn, the labor & delivery nurse, did when my obstetrician suggested she look at my cervix again. I'd already told Lynn that I'd felt the umbilical cord come down when I was taking a shower. Lynn told me this was unlikely before examining me and then pronouncing me fine.

When Dr. Weaver arrived, she was grave. After she confirmed the umbilical cord had indeed prolapsed, my water had broken, and the baby was in a breech position, she told us she was sorry because it was too early. She would not be able to save our baby. Lynn turned away in tears. They both left us alone to grieve the impending death of the child we'd been waiting for.

In Alaska, 23 weeks pregnant
Back in 1996, obstetricians didn't know as much about premature labor--or at least they didn't educate their patients as well. I'd had near-constant bleeding throughout my pregnancy, and I'd been monitored closely, but I'd never been warned about the signs of premature labor.

Now I know I'd been in premature labor the previous few days. The week before I'd taken a business trip to Alaska and I just didn't feel right. On the evening of August 21, I began having painful stomach cramps...but we thought it was constipation. Mike plied me with prunes. I was actually due to fly to Seattle for a management meeting on August 22, but I had to cancel after waking up at 5:30 a.m. to get ready and then doubling over in pain.

During the day the pain lessened, but it increased again in the evening. I lay awake all night with severe cramps—sharp, shooting pains, like stiletto heels gouging me in the pit of my stomach. I suffered in silence, though, not wanting to wake up Mike. I prayed that my stomach ailment would pass and I’d feel better. How could I have known I was in premature labor? I was barely 24 weeks along.

A few minutes later, Dr. Weaver returned to our hospital room with a tiny bit of hope. She'd called a neonatologist at Legacy Emanuel, who informed her that 24-weekers now had a 50 percent chance of survival. So she gave us a choice: we could have a radical c-section and the baby might live...but all my future births would have to be by c-section. Or I could deliver the baby naturally, and he would die. He was already at severe risk for oxygen deprivation with the prolapsed cord...not to mention countless other risks I wouldn't learn about until later. (We were told after his birth that he had a 50 percent chance of major disabilities if he did survive.)

Before even asking Mike, I told Dr. Weaver I'd take the c-section. Fortunately, we agreed on one thing: our Christopher Hugh was meant to be born. I thought to myself, "No matter what happens, we're going to will this baby to survive." And so he did, thanks to a huge deal of prayers, excellent medical care, his tremendous will to live and thrive, and an enormous dosage of luck.

At the warming bed when Chris was a few weeks old
That morning was the beginning of a four-month stay in the NICU, the most difficult weeks of our lives. Because we spent countless hours staring at Christopher's numbers on the monitor, what better way to summarize the NICU stay than do it in numbers:

1 pound 6 ounces and 11 inches long
1 terrifying bout of cerebral edema/low flow to the brain and 1 damaged kidney
1 slip of paper that said "NORMAL HEAD GETTEL"--the ultrasound report the day after the brain injury, when we'd been told Chris would probably be a vegetable
Tiny little thing
1 dose of septic shock, at 5 weeks old
2 lungs affected by chronic lung disease
2 eyes afflicted with retinopathy of prematurity
2.84 pounds at 10 weeks old
3 surgeries, the first one when Chris was just 19 days old and weighed less than 2 pounds
At least 3 life-threatening crises when we were urgently called to the NICU from home because it looked like Chris would die
4 nights I spent in the hospital before having to leave my precious baby behind in the NICU
Off the vent at last
(AWFUL!!)
4 weeks he was the sickest, smallest baby in the unit (until two more 24-weekers arrived)
6 weeks on the ventilator before moving to c-pap
10 weeks in Level 3, the most intensive care part of the unit
10 (?) excruciating eye exams
17 mylar balloons and handmade signs, one for each week he was there
At least 20 times nurses or doctors infuriated me for various reasons!
28 days on a warming bed before he was stable enough for an isolette
Holding Chris for the first time
33 days until we got to hold Chris for the first time (34 days for Mike--we had to alternate days at first)!!!
100 times our nurses did something truly touching or that kept us sane
117 days and nights in the NICU (he came home on December 21, the happiest and most terrifying day of our lives!)
(180 months until Legacy opened a new NICU with private rooms for families, in 2012)
234 nurse shifts and 234 shift changes during which we had to wait in the waiting room
351 visits to the pumping room
(1095 days until he began talking at age 3)

I've written many times in this blog about our NICU journey and Chris' progress through the years, and one of these days we will finish our book. The first few years were full of joy and challenges, as we saw the developmental delays that result from being cut out of your mother's womb 16 weeks early. But even though he came home on oxygen, a couple of machines and monitors, and several medications (he was totally high tech!), and even though he got reflux and was projectile vomiting all over us several times a day...he was always an easy-going, lovely child. Many preemies have a very difficult time adapting when they go home from the hospital, but not Chris. He was just so happy to be with us all the time.

Chris truly is our miracle boy, now man! He has lived out "Everything Possible," one of the songs we sang to him daily in the NICU. In fact, he loves music more than almost anyone I know--probably the result of our constant singing to him in the NICU.

He's entering his junior year at Pacific Lutheran University, majoring in theater with minors in communications and politics. He is one of the kindest, most forgiving, enthusiastic people I know. He does not have a mean bone in his body. College has been a great adventure, and I've been delighted to see him get interested in politics and social justice. No matter what he does with his life, I have no doubt he will continue to inspire people.

Chris' birth and survival inspired this blog, Every Day Is a Miracle, based on the quotation by Einstein. He will always be my hero...not just for surviving the odds, but also for living his life to the fullest and appreciating the wonders of the world.

Chris: Happy birthday, wonder boy! 
I am so proud of you and happy to be your mom. 


Saturday, May 13, 2017

When Mother's Day is complicated

On the eve of Mother's Day, I am acutely aware of my own mothering privilege.

With my mom and sister
before the women's march
I am exceedingly fortunate to have a supportive, loving, amazing mom who loved me even before I was born and whose love has never diminished in these 52 years. And I'm also very lucky to have three great kids who love me and tell me so every day!

One Mother's Day many years ago, a friend spoke truth at our church, where we have a tradition of hearing from mothers or children on that holiday, and bravely told us about how she disliked Mother's Day because of her own difficult relationship with her mother. It was raw, honest, authentic, and real. So many of my friends are in this situation. It was a great reminder that this day is not all roses and Hallmark cards.

Summer after my first
Mother's Day
I've had my own share of hard Mother's Days. Like my first Mother's Day, when we finally took our fragile 24-weeker out in public to church. We'd waited until winter had passed and he was less susceptible to catching respiratory synctitial virus, which could kill him. We were so happy to introduce him to our church friends. But I remember the brunch at my parents' house, when I was trying to get him to eat. I was in tears, and he was in tears. He suffered from reflux, so eating was probably painful and uncomfortable with him. But I felt intense pressure to pack calories into him. I was deathly afraid that he would be labeled "failure to thrive." Not the best memories from my first Mother's Day! And then there were more difficult Mother's Days during my season of losses through miscarriage, when I wondered if I'd ever be able to carry a child to term. 

Ever since infertility and coming to know parents who'd lost children--and also knowing many close friends have difficult relationships with their moms--I've become sensitized to the complexity of Mother's Day. So here's to all the people who will not be sending or receiving happy Hallmark cards on this holiday:
  • Mothers whose children have died, in utero or after birth
  • Children whose mothers have hurt them verbally or physically
  • Mothers who rarely hear from their children or feel disconnected from them
  • Mothers who've lost children for other reasons--estrangement, drug use, or other reasons
  • Children who have lost their mothers through death or estrangement
  • Women who have never been able to have children
  • Mothers with babies in the NICU or PICU
  • Moms whose children are ill or dying
  • Moms like my friend Katie who have answered the call of being a foster mom
  • People whose moms have died, especially in the past year
  • Moms who are terminally ill and know they will not be able to see their children reach certain milestones
  • Mothers who worry about their children, especially those who are affected by drug use, depression and anxiety, or mental illness
  • Women who were sexually abused by family members and their moms did not believe them or worse, blamed them
  • Mothers in prison who are unable to care for their children (and cheers to Black Lives Matter for raising money for women in prison to be able to pay their bail!)
You are loved, you are valued, you are worthy. I am holding you all in my heart as you endure this difficult day.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

If your baby is going to die, it shouldn't matter how much money you make

Jimmy Kimmel redeemed himself after that awful hosting gig at the 2017 Oscars, where he made fun of people's names (all people of color) and thought it would be funny to lift up Sunny Pawar, star of "The Lion" like he was in "The Lion King." Last night he gave the monologue of his life, the most tender and sweet one I've seen on late-night television (video at the bottom).

Last week his wife gave birth to a baby boy, William (Billy). Three hours after Billy's birth, a nurse noticed that he had a heart murmur and was slightly purple. She quickly sprung into action and soon they discovered that he had a heart defect. Kimmel recalled how the room soon filled up with people, all trying to figure out what was going on with Billy. (And boy can I ever relate to that!) He had to have the first of what will be several surgeries to repair a valve in his heart.

As Kimmel is telling this story, he tears up not once, not twice, but several times, which of course makes me tear up too. Because it takes me back to the NICU and the terror of not knowing if your precious baby will live or die. And I'm sure my wonderful husband can relate to this: "It's a terrifying thing," Kimmel said. "You know, my wife is back in the recovery room, she has no idea what's going on and I'm standing in the middle of a lot of worried looking people--kind of like right now--who were trying to figure out what the problem is."
My own very sick, 1-pound-six-ounce baby
(covered in Aquafor because of his fragile skin)
He cried again when he thanked all the people who surrounded his family with love and care...again, something I could relate to so well. Never have I felt so loved than when our first son Chris was in the NICU for 117 days back in 1996. We didn't have to cook for ourselves that entire time because of the meal train. We had enough flowers to open a florist shop. And we learned quickly who our truest friends were...they were the ones who surrounded us with hopeful messages, prayers, and constant caring.

And what's most beautiful about Kimmel's story is that he understands the privilege he has...of being a celebrity and receiving the best medical care possible for his son. And he outs that privilege by advocating for health care for all. We also were very lucky. Through my private medical insurance, Chris' NICU and followup costs were covered. In fact, we only had to pay $200 for an apnea monitor. Now we'd have to bear a lot more for out-of-pocket costs and premiums, but in the 1990s my medical coverage had only $200/year premium. I can't imagine how much NICU care costs nowadays!

He called out Trump's proposed $6 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health budget, and praised Congress for deciding "to not go along with that." (Even though this could very well change in the next budget.) "They actually increased funding by $2 billion and I applaud them for doing that," Kimmel said.

Kimmel also praised the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) because our medically fragile babies are born with "pre-existing conditions." Under the Republican plan, they could be turned down for health insurance.

He urged Americans to hold elected officials accountable for their decisions on health care: "If your baby is going to die and it doesn't have to, it shouldn't matter how much money you make," he said. "I think that's something that whether you're a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we all agree on that, right?"

Watch the video yourself and cry along with me!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Good bones

I'm staying up late tonight, prepping for a procedure tomorrow morning. Those of you middle-agers know what I'm talking about. While I drink lots of fluids, I'm catching up on some TV, like one of my favorite shows, Madam Secretary. If you've never seen it, I highly recommend it! Tea Leoni and Tim Daly, a real-life couple, are the sexiest married 50+ couple on television.

The last episode was serious, addressing slut shaming and male complicity as well as human trafficking. After the secretary's team had a failed mission resulting in trafficked girls dying during a rescue attempt, combined with budget cuts to humanitarian efforts combined with increased defense spending (sound familiar?) one of Secretary McCoy's staff read an excerpt of this poem, "Good Bones" by Maggie Smith, who wrote it last year after the Pulse shooting.

PRI's the World named it as the official poem of 2016. I love it, and I find it perfect for this time in our world. I hope you like it too.

Good Bones
By Maggie Smith

Life is short, 
though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, 
and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. 
The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, 
and that’s a conservative estimate, 
though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, 
a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. 
Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, 
and for every kind stranger, 
there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. 
I am trying to sell them the world. 
Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, 
chirps on about good bones:
 This place could be beautiful, right? 
You could make this place beautiful.


Smith told The Washington Post, “I’m happy for the poem but not the circumstances of its popularity,” she says. “I wish I had written a poem that people share when babies are born or people get married.”

But she doesn't believe the poem is pessimistic. “I don’t think I could write a poem that the world is beyond repair,” she says. Even if the world may seem at times like a dilapidated house that only a fool would buy, it still “has good bones,” Smith says. “My hope is that the poem is a call to improve it anyway.”

My prayer is that our good bones sustain us and keep us strong through the hurricane to come.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 46: Leo Bancroft

Words from Leo's Good Friday reflection, here
I have reached the final day of my Lenten Challenge--woo hoo! As I was pondering which marginalized voice I should focus on today, I knew I wanted it to be someone I know. And then it occurred to me: of course, my friend Leo!

I've known Leo for several years, back to when he went by the name of Laura. We met through an interchurch Bible study called "Bras, Bibles, and Brew." Laura was one of many in the group who'd attended seminary, which resulted in me feeling less than Biblically literate at times! Immediately, I found Laura to be a fascinating, funny, and bright person, and we became Facebook friends.

Image may contain: 1 person, bird, outdoor and natureLaura got involved with the Cascade AIDS project and became a hugely successful and creative fundraiser and activist. I remember her kissing a chicken while wearing a fun maroon dress and boots, because she'd met her fundraising goals. (I found the photo on Facebook--it's on the right!). And she began a blog called "Just one of the boys...kinda," sharing her perspectives on LGBTQIA issues and the church, along with other spiritual reflections. I followed her blog regularly and occasionally we would cross paths in our Lutheran world.

Then in September 2013, Leo revealed in his blog that he identified as transgender:
At the end of March, I had the startling, frightening, and liberating realization that I just might be transgender.  That was the beginning of a journey of questioning that has brought me to this place now – where I want to share more publicly about who I am.
I now identify as transgender: more male than female, one of the guys, in my men’s clothes and men’s haircut. Over the years, there were several clues I gave myself before my moment of realization, even the title of this blog.
Please feel free to ask me any question that you like. I can’t speak for the whole transgender community, just as I can’t speak for all Lutherans or all Oregonians. I’m on a journey where I am still figuring out who I am, so there is a lot I am learning too. But I don’t want to do so in private any more.
Leo with his mom
Ever since that first reveal blog post, Leo has chronicled his spiritual and mental journey of becoming, regularly speaking and writing about his transgender experience in churches, synod gatherings, and conferences. In his followup post, he shared:
Life is not about knowing all the answers, or about finding out the end of the movie before it begins. I want to view life as an adventure! Thankfully this is not something we have to do alone. Many of you have expressed your willingness to come along on this adventure with me, even when it is mysterious or scary, and I do not take that for granted. I hope I am willing to go beside you in your adventure too.
And because this is a devotional blog at heart, I want to add that God is also always with us in this. No matter how dark or confusing life may seem, you are never alone. Sometimes that's hard to remember - I had it tattooed on my arm so I wouldn't forget. I am working on being ok with not knowing how things will turn out; I am working on trusting that God is always with me on this journey. No matter how dark or confusing life may seem, you are never alone. Sometimes that's hard to remember - I had it tattooed on my arm so I wouldn't forget. I am working on being ok with not knowing how things will turn out; I am working on trusting that God is always with me on this journey, no matter what. 
In 2014, Leo was elected to the Board of Directors for the Cascade AIDS Project, and he had an official naming service at the baptismal font and finally felt claimed as part of God's family. His chosen name, Leo Channing, means lion, fierce wolf, and church leader.

In 2015 Leo took on a new role with Reconciling Works, working to make churches more friendly and welcoming to the LGBTQIA community, gave his first radio interview, and began writing a regular monthly column about his transgender journey for PQ Monthly. His articles are deeply intimate and open, as he's taken a huge risk to be transparent in an effort to help others going through a similar journey...as well as to educate the rest of us about what it's like.
Leo visiting our church

Leo's come to preach at our church many times, like in early 2015 (read his homily here). He also spoke at our panel on the transgender experience with Jayce M., the student who filed a complaint against George Fox University for housing discrimination. Leo is a born storyteller and gifted preacher and bridge builder. I've learned so much about the transgender experience through his open heart and willingness to share his story.

In 2016 the Lutheran church in Oregon hired Leo to be an advocate for the LGBTQIA community, to listen to people’s stories and hear their experiences. And he has started a church in his living room, The Flame, which meets Sunday evenings at 6 p.m. He's on his way to becoming a pastor again, several years after being in seminary. (And he's still continuing his day job in IT support.)

I imagine that Leo is constantly traversing his two communities: one of faith and the LGBTQIA community, including many who mistrust or have been gravely hurt by the church. Leo bridges these two skillfully, facilitating communities of faith to walk in the AIDS Walk or Pride parades, and constantly sharing his own story of faith and becoming. I know his journey has not been easy, and he has not always been accepted and loved as he should be.

Oh yeah. And he's taken up trapeze! Look at those muscles!
Leo describes himself on his blog as a goofball who loves trapeze, a bisexual trans guy (just one part of his identity). And he is visible for those who can't be.

I can't think of a better person to profile on this final day of my Lenten journey, a hero advocating for true authenticity and a fuller understanding of transgender people for all, a role model, and someone who walks his talk and roars his roar for others who can't do so.

Leo, thank you for sharing your story and inspiring us all.

Read all my Lenten challenge posts here. I hope you've enjoyed this journey. I certainly have!

Happy Easter Eve!

Friday, April 14, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 45: Brenda Tracy


In my second-to-last Lenten post, I have a special story to share with you. The other evening I attended a women's activist meeting, where we were led to think about a critical story in our lives, how it contributed to our passion, and where it is leading us to use our energies now.

As I revealed to readers back in October, I was sexually assaulted as an adolescent, and I still bear the scars. I shared this information in my small group on Monday night, along with the epiphany that as a result, throughout my life I've been drawn to the company of women...and this assault was just one of my many life experiences (including childhood birth defects and multiple surgeries, bullying in junior high, travel abroad, and my recent health issues) that contribute to the theme in my life:
RESILIENCE
In fact, I think this would make a fine tattoo for my 55th birthday, don't you agree?

A woman in my small group suggested that perhaps my calling to activism should be connected to women, and in in fact it is already headed that way. And another woman in the group told me about Brenda Tracy.

In 1998, single mom Brenda Tracy was drugged and gang raped by four men, two of which played on the Oregon State University football team.* She reported the attack, but the district attorney never prosecuted the case. She endured death threats and backlash from a community that should have helped her. And the OSU football coach at the time, Mike Riley, defended his players in a newspaper, "These are really good guys who made a bad choice." As Tracy recalls, it felt like a branding iron searing through her flesh to her soul, a scar she would carry forever. Read her story here in the Oregonian.

Even though all of the accused admitted to some part in the gang rape, Tracy did not end up pressing charges...because she'd been victimized before, her boyfriend played on the OSU team, and she felt ashamed (rape culture). After the rape, she strongly considered suicide until the ER nurse, Jenenne Aguilar, who took care of her after the rape, inspired her to pursue a career in nursing. That fall, instead of killing herself, she entered nursing school and eventually also got her MBA.

Over the years she came to hate Mike Riley more than her rapist because she felt betrayed. In 2014, Tracy publicly came forward sharing her story, and releasing the shame she'd felt inside this whole time. Since then, Tracy has bravely met with Riley (who publicly apologized to her), spoke to his team in Nebraska, and built a strong relationship with him. (He recently nominated her for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.) Just this week Tracy returned to Nebraska and led an End Rape on Campus march.

When I began researching Tracy's case, I found this video interview with Tracy and her college athlete son, Darius Adams:



And then I found this letter by Darius, who is working to prevent NCAA from recruiting and allowing sexual offenders to play in college sports, and that's what made me cry. When he was headed down a troubled path at age 17 (in 2010), his mom shared the story of her rape with him for the first time, and it inspired him to turn his life around.

For so long, I too kept my story quiet and hidden, except from close friends and family. But when I decided to go public in my blog last October (inspired by Michelle Obama's speech after the Orange Monstrosity's sexual harassment history surfaced), I felt I needed to share my story with my two oldest sons in case they read it on my blog. With my voice shaking, I told them what happened to me and emphasized the importance of consent in their own relationships with women.

No woman should have to endure such humiliation and violence, much less have to tell her children about it. I'm grateful for people like Brenda Tracy and her son Darius for speaking out so vocally about what happened and working to mitigate rape culture in sports, college environments, and elsewhere. Now if we could just get it out of the White House!

Please sign their change.org petition to the NCAA, asking to create a policy that bans violent athletes.

Read all my Lenten challenge posts here

*In 2014, OSU re-investigated the case, publicly apologized to Tracy, and began an extensive effort to expand and improve its programs to prevent sexual violence and serve survivors of sexual assault. OSU’s ambitious initiative was recently recognized by national media as one of the most progressive in the nation. The university extended the OSU Student Conduct Code to behavior that occurs off-campus. It joined the national “It’s On US” campaign, and launched the Alcohol, Drug and Violence Prevention Center. OSU now requires online courses to combat alcohol abuse and sexual assault, requires all incoming students to take a sexual violence prevention course, and has opened the OSU Survivor Advocacy and Resource Center. Tracy spoke at the opening of that center, which will provide confidential services for sexual assault survivors, help them navigate campus and community programs, and provide access as needed to sexual assault nurses.

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