Old Friends

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to hook up with my best friend from elementary school. We had been out of touch for easily 20 years. I looked forward to seeing her.

As a child, I had not known that she was badly sexually abused by her father. I knew her father was mean to her and everyone else, but I didn’t know about the sexual abuse. As an adult, I certainly realize now the signs were there.

Now, she had a husband and a daughter the same age as my daughter. I drove two hours to visit with them and spend the night.  It was enjoyable, but I was a little creeped out. Her husband and daughter treated her like she was a complete idiot…and she would just laugh it off. I felt like Goldie Hawn in “The Banger Sisters.”  I wanted to scream at them and tell them, “This woman is awesome!  She is smart!  Stop making fun of her.”  But, I didn’t. It was her business.

As time went on, she wanted to come visit me in the city, but there was always a problem caused by her husband, Dr. XXX (PhD, not MD). Something came up and he couldn’t drive her in or her daughter made plans so she couldn’t come. When she finally did come to see me, I had my elementary school yearbooks for her to see. Her father had thrown hers away while she was at college.  We spent the evening going over yearbooks and memories. Suddenly, things changed. She got on Facebook on my computer and spent the rest of the night messaging our friends from elementary school.  It was weird–I thought, “Maybe her husband doesn’t let her use the computer at home?”

Then, I moved out of the area and lost touch. I texted her a few times with no replies. I assumed she was just busy with her life and would get back in touch when she had time.

I finally checked to see if she was still on Facebook and there she was. But, I had been “unfriended.”  Ugh. This is awkward. I sent her a message, “Hey, how are you…blah, blah, blah.” Just ignoring the unfriending.

I received the following reply:  I’m glad you are well. But I can’t help but feel it’s inappropriate for you to contact me after not even letting me know you were moving.You had my cell number & as much as I reached out to you, trying to develop a stronger friendship, you couldn’t even return the kindness with a short call or text.It really hurt & saddened me.Friendship is so much more than Facebook. I wish you & yours the very best.

Odd. Because I had sent her messages. Then it hit me. The husband. She has married her father. A controlling, manipulative man who makes sure they have only one car so she can’t go anywhere on her own without his permission. Who puts her down so that she has such low self-esteem. Who makes sure they move frequently so she never develops any real friends.

The only regret I have is not being Goldie Hawn that weekend. At least I would have felt I had done my part.

Going Blind

As a child, I suffered an accident that left me blind in my right eye.  I was very young, so the I was unable to express that anything was different with my vision.

The disability was not identified until I was in third grade.  The school did the customary vision tests.  They thought I was faking because I said I couldn’t see anything on the right side when they covered by left eye.  I was sent to an optometrist who verified that I was telling the truth.

Fast forward to age 15, another optometrist identifies that I have a small congenital cataract on my left eye.  It has been growing slowly for 36 years now.

As an adult, I finally realized why sports were so difficult for me–no depth perception.  Can’t see how far away a baseball really is.  Can’t see how far away the basketball goal really is.  I’d spent junior high physical education going through humiliating exercises where I couldn’t go to the dressing room until I made a “basket”–I was always the last one in my class to do so.

I am lucky in that I have a world-renowned optometrist whom I stumbled upon in Kansas City before he became quite so famous.  You can’t get an appointment with him now unless you have an unusual and serious eye disease.  Someday, he will remove the cataract–a surgery that can go wrong and leave me completely blind.

As we age, we tend to lose peripheral vision, but mine has been deteriorating since I was in my 30’s.  At this point, I frequently walk into objects that I cannot see  in my periphery.  I have to increase the font on computer documents so I can identify the 0’s from the 8’s.

I have to consider how I will live my life if I end up blind.  I protect my left eye like the precious thing that it is.  It is hard to imagine what it may be like to never see the faces of my loved ones, never see sunsets, never drive, or be able to read again.

My disability is invisible–there is nothing that looks different about my right eye.   I try not to think about it or talk about it.  But, I sometimes wonder if tomorrow will be the morning that I wake up and the cataract has grown to the point that surgery is emergent.  And what will be the outcome of that surgery-plunged into darkness or restored visual clarity.

You Know Someone

Do you know five people?  Do you have five people who work for you?  Then you know someone who has mental health problems.

According to NAMI (NAMI.org), one in five adults faces mental health issues in any year in the United States.  Of those, 60% did not receive any sort of treatment.  These mental health issues can vary from depression to schizophrenia.

In 2001, a study published by the Harvard Health Publications found that 18% of individuals age 15-54 who were surveyed reported having a mental health issue in the last month (Mental health problems in the workplace).

What are our responsibilities, as employers, to these individuals?  Do we just look past it unless it effects performance?  Many managers and executives would say so.  Let me tell you what is wrong with that:  it is inhumane.

Did you know that people with long-term mental health issues die 25 years earlier than those without mental health issues (NAMI.org)?  That alone should be impetus enough for employers to take notice.  We could help our employees literally live longer.

I work in healthcare.  My first job was in a psychiatric hospital.  Working with children.  Let me  tell you, what some parents do to kids, it is no wonder that there are so many mental health issues.  Those kids grow up eventually and enter the workforce.

Healthcare has its own share of issues.  I think many people who are drawn to healthcare have mental health issues…or develop them while working in the field.  Why?  We see people die.  We see people who need treatment, but can’t get it because of insurance.  We see people diagnosed with incurable diseases.  We see people become not themselves.  People who are drawn to work in healthcare are “caring” people.  The negative outcomes for our patients take a toll.  Yes, babies are born and people are cured.  But, they are eclipsed by that first patient who died in pain while you held her hand.  Or the family that begged you to find a cure that wasn’t there.  Or the insurance company that denied coverage of treatment that was working.

What are we, as employers, to do to help?

  • Make sure your company has an Employee Assistance Program
  • Educate everyone, from CEO to janitor, on h ow the EAP works, so that any employee can help another
  • Ask questions when you see one of your employees struggling–or have their manager do it–just make someone does it
  • You don’t have to listen to the whole story or lose your boundaries–just say, “Hey, it looks like you are having a hard time.  Maybe the EAP could help you.  They have all kinds of help available.”  Then, give them a referral card
  • Talk about mental health issues at staff meetings–you don’t have to go into the warning signs of schizophrenia, but touch on things like dealing with stress, even if it is just a handout
  • Smile and make eye contact with people–haven’t you ever heard the story of the man whose suicide note said he was going to the Golden Gate Bridge to commit suicide, but he would not go through with it if someone smiled at him on the way (The New Yorker)?

It is everyone’s moral responsibility to help people who are struggling.  If you are an employer, you see your employees every day and you know when something is “off.”  Take time to ask.  You don’t have to play therapist.  But, you may be the only one who asks and the one who makes the difference between someone getting help and someone getting worse.



Making a Murderer

I’ve just finished watching the Netflix docuseries “Making a Murder.”  Whether one believes Avery is guilty or not, the story is disturbing.

There has been an outpouring of comments (and support for Steven Avery) on the internet.  Recently, I read one comment that really got under my skin.  The writer said, ” I tried watching it and I couldn’t stand watching a show about trailer park trash.

Hmmm.  Reality check here, friend.  Whether one is “trailer park trash” or a socialite, one deserves fair treatment by the justice system.

I’ve been in hundreds of homes like the one Steven Avery lived in, both professionally and personally.  His parents’ home is fairly neat and clean, but their personal belongings aren’t custom designed by an interior designer.  Does that make them bad people?  No.

In fact, Steven Avery’s parents should be applauded for sticking wiith him through thick and thin.  His mother visited him more than once per week during his first incarceration (for which he was exonerated) of 18 years.  How many prisoners can say that have someone like that on their team?

Calling these people “trailer park trash” is deplorable.  It is snobbery at its worst–because of education and socioeconomic factors.  Not everyone is dealt an easy hand in life and clearly Steven Avery isn’t a member of Mensa.  It doesn’t make him less deserving of being treated fairly.

Do you think the farmers who grow the food you eat live in mansions?  Do you think the farmers who milk cows so that you can have milk, cheese and ice cream live in mansions?  No.  They wear work jeans stained with manure, work boots, and have farmers’ tans. They work from before dawn until after dusk without weekends or holidays off.  That doesn’t make them less of a human being than you.  And you certainly enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Why do you think the Averys run an automobile graveyard?  Because someone is going to!  People look for used car parts.  People look for an inexpensive used car.  The Averys developed a business to meet a need,  That’s just smart business sense and they don’t have MBAs.  Not everyone goes to the Mercedes or Rolls dealer every year and walks out with a new model!

Big city man, get your head on straight and realize that not everyone is worth millions.  But, that doesn’t mean they are any less of a human being than you and that they deserve any less justice than you would.  Try living in a trailer on a huge plot of land for a few months–maybe the fresh air will clear that smog out of your head.


The Devil Wears Pendleton

“She told me my yeast infection was caused by having sex with my boyfriend.  She says it is because we aren’t married.”

This horrifying declaration came from a previous co-worker whom I had recruited to work with me.  She was a talented young woman with a good heart, a sweet little son, and a devoted boyfriend.

Our boss, the company’s owner, had her own talent–wheedling information out of you and then using it against you.  Usually in the most painful ways.

I had come to work at her small, Christian company because she was looking to grow one division.  That division happened to be my area of expertise.  Over the next three years, I would grow the start up from a $60,000 per year after-thought to a $3,000,000+ efficient, revenue-producing machine.

When I’d first come to work there, I’d told the owner that my family was looking for a new church.  She invited us to attend her church, where she was a deacon.  It seemed to me this was a sincere invitation and my family accepted.

I loved that church.  I loved the people at that church.  I loved the music.  I loved the programs.  I loved the minister.  Despite its strict doctrine, which my family worked hard to adopt and uphold, I loved it there.  I still miss it.

We would soon spend many weekend afternoons with my boss and her family at their home, going over after church.  They seemed sincerely happy and God-centered.

Then the polish wore off.

I don’t know if she’d always been this way, but my gut tells me she had been and just pulled the wool over my eyes so she could “convert me to Christ.”  Self-aggrandizing.  Above reproach.  Ego-maniacal.  Psychopathic.  Focused on nothing but making money–even if it was a little crooked–and justifying it with her favorite saying, “You can’t outgive God.  I tithe 20% of my income and God pours out the blessings to me.”

Human Resource standards didn’t apply to her.  She once posted a sign in the women’s bathroom instructing ladies to flush before any solid matter hit the water to avoid making a smell.  Nothing was out of her notice or comment:  weight, stray mole hair, ugly sweater.  It was a free-for-all for her to critique.

Despite her eccentricities, she kept talking about retiring.  She promised, more than once, to make me President when she did.  Then, I did something she didn’t expect:  I got pregnant.  On purpose.  Without asking her first.

I thought it was best to have another baby before I had the responsibility of running the full company, which included three divisions.  I worked up until the day before I had my daughter.  I worked 60 hour weeks.  One day, the server crashed and I couldn’t reach anyone, so I went in to reset it, despite the fact that my baby’s head was against a nerve and I had to drag my left leg up the stairs.

When I returned from maternity leave, I tried to discuss the President position with her.

“I don’t know what you are talking about.  What promotion?”

“The promotion you promised me.  President of your company.  You said you wanted to retire next year.”

“I never said that.”

Oh.  My.  God.

I should have seen this coming.  I had seen her turn on others for the tiniest infraction.  She fired the Office Manager the day she returned from vacation after hearing a rumor that the Office Manager was considering quitting and starting her own business.  She made the Vice President of another division apologize to all the office staff in a meeting because she had refused to sign the annual Medicare report–because the VP wasn’t convinced the accounting was correct (smart woman).

Her husband left her.  One of her sons became a drug addict and stole his brother’s social security number to obtain credit.  Her personal life began to crumble.

She decided to get an office cat.  The kitten was at the vet getting neutered when she changed her mind and wanted an office dog.  I said I’d take the kitten for my son, so we went by the vet to meet it on our way out of town for a family trip.  My son was very excited.The next Monday, she announces she will have both an office dog and cat.  Great.  Now it is up to me to calm a crying 7-year-old with a different kitten.

When I look back at all the lives we had the opportunity to touch–we employed over 300 people, 99% of whom were women–it saddens me to think we could have been such a positive influence.  A great example as a female business owner.  A great example as Christians.

Instead, the chaotic environment in that office turned the example into a joke.  The turnover of staff was through the roof.  The men who worked in the office fought like bulls–I actually feared they would kill each other.

I decided to leave.  I couldn’t take the constant fighting in the office and the lies upon lies and judgments upon judgments.  When I gave my notice, she became downright evil.

Right before I left, out of pure curiosity and a desire to preserve a need for a reference, I secretly pulled my personnel file.  I found a note in the file (back)dated for a year before.  It said “I told Connie that she could not be President of my company because she had not been a member of my church long enough.”  Guess she did have some HR sense.  The joke was on her, though.  She should have checked her calendar.  She had dated the note for a Saturday, which was our Sabbath–a day that she absolutely forbid anyone to work.

Within a month of leaving, my husband and I got a mean, spiteful “anonymous” letter in the mail.  It was easy to identify that it was from her.  I called our pastor in tears.  He was silent.  I guess I forgot she had more money to tithe than I did.

A couple of years after I left the company, I got a call from a friend asking what the name of the company was that I used to work for.  I told him and he said, “they were just on the news.”  I ordered a videotape (this was long before the internet) and anxiously awaited its arrival.  Sure enough, there she was, with her fat, Pendleton-clad behind, sneaking into the door of my old offices, shouting at the camera about how they were on private property.  The news report was something about getting caught committing fraud.

I learned so many important lessons here.  About not judging others.  About not making promises you don’t intend to keep–even if circumstances change.  About standing behind the people who have stood behind you through thick and thin.  And about evil wearing the costume of Christianity.

Why I Became an Ordained Minister

Let’s just get this out of the way:  the Universal Life Church is called an “ordination mill” by its critics.  They provide free ordination to anyone who feels they can support the Church’s mission of doing “that which is right.”

Yes, you can get ordained, too, and it is free.  For $39.95 you can get a really cool package of ordination materials, including a certificate (suitable for framing), a press pass and a parking pass.

The last five or six years have been a time of spiritual soul-searching and growth in my life.  Not only have I continued to study the Holy Bible, but I’ve also spent a lot of time studying other religions and belief systems and meeting people whose religious beliefs vary widely from the from the mainstream Midwest where I was raised.

I’ve come to this conclusion:  people have the right to religious freedom.  Please don’t start lecturing about non-Christian religions.  That is your agenda, not theirs.  There are extremists in every belief system–including Christians–and you can’t judge the whole group by the extremists.

Given the political agendas out there, I fully expect that one day ordination by the Universal Life Church will go away.  However, I figure the government will be forced to grandfather in those who are already ordained.  I am prepared.

What does it mean to be ordained an a minister?  I can marry people.  I can provide last rites.  I can perform baptisms.  I can start my own church.  I can do anything any other ordained minister can do.

This might make some of you who know me laugh until you wet your pants.  Can’t really picture it, can you?  I cuss like a sailor.  I don’t look like a minister or particularly act like a minster.

I fully believe, however, that God has called me to this.  We have talked about it.  He has given it His seal of approval.  He has a plan for this.  He’s not giving me the details yet, but I trust Him.

You see, I believe Jesus told us everything we need to know about ministry.  For me, it comes down to one thing:  love one another.  He didn’t put any exclusions on that love thing, either.  He didn’t say love one another except…the gays, the obnoxious, the fat people, etc.  He said:  LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.  BY THIS, PEOPLE WILL KNOW YOU ARE MY DISCIPLES (John 13:34).

You see, I already have my own church.  You are a member, even if you didn’t join.  Because I truly love all people.  Some of you are easy to love; some, not so easy.  Those who have hurt me, I still love them as people created by God.  Those who have betrayed me, I still love them as people created by God.  My church has a name:   The Love One Another Church.  Please join–you can be Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, agnostic or even atheist–you can be fat, thin, old, young, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, transsexual–you can be black, white, brown, yellow.  Just be you.  I love you exactly as you are.  I hope to see you at the next service.