I was attacked. He was convicted of drunk driving. Why women don’t report.

When I was assaulted by a stranger nearly 40 years ago, I was a professional with a lawyer for a boyfriend. Still, the court only convicted my assailant of driving while intoxicated. If a professional with private counsel couldn’t make an assault charge stick, why would a teenager like Christine Blasey ever have tried?

When I was assaulted by a stranger nearly 40 years ago, I had two advantages over the typical victim: I wrote for a daily newspaper, and I was dating a lawyer. No one questioned my ability to accurately observe and report what happened. And someone was standing beside me in the courthouse who cared about me, knew the law and knew what it could do.

Still, the court found my assailant guilty only of driving while intoxicated. Instead of a life-shattering prison term, he suffered the inconvenience of living a few months without a driver’s license.

If a professional with private counsel couldn’t make an assault charge stick, who could? Why would anyone try?

I ask these questions because my Facebook feed is full of people suggesting that if there really had been an assault, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford would have reported it at the time. And it’s also full of people who seem to think that drinking to excess is not such a big deal, even when it’s done by illegally by a minor, as Judge Brett Kavanaugh was back then.

My attacker was a grown man driving (as it turned out) an appropriately named Dodge Ram. My best guess, almost four decades later, is that he’d been drinking at a bar just two parking lots away from the newspaper in Lowell, Massachusetts where I worked. The bar’s parking lot had a clear view of the lot where The Sun’s employees parked our cars. Perhaps he saw me climb into my Volkswagen Beetle at the end of my long night, after I had turned in my account of some government meeting or another.

I didn’t realize I was being followed until I was a long way out of the city, driving the freeways back to my apartment some 26 miles away. I could see headlights, way too close, glaring through my rear window. I tried speeding up. The headlights stayed with me. I slowed down, trying to force the headlights to pass. They slowed down and stayed with me, still glaring in my rearview mirror. When I exited the beltline to get on the highway that would take me home, the headlights followed. Continue reading

Posted in Carlene Byron

Unrushed … not by choice!

It seems extraordinarily ironic to see the prompt “rush” on a day when I’m sitting on my back patio, waiting for my brother to help break into my house because I locked my keys inside and can’t leave for work.

This is the first time I’ve ever locked myself out of my house. And I can’t think of anything unusually rushed or distracted about this morning. I ate breakfast, talked w God, dressed, packed my lunch, and gathered up the bag I packed last night. I took my phone from the counter. And for some reason, I didn’t take my keys from the dish where they sit.

The only difference I can see between this morning and every other morning is that today I put my cellphone in the pocket where I usually put my keys. (Usually the cell phone is in my bag when I wear pants without back pockets.)

But it meant that the cue of “weight in pocket” was satisfied, even though the need of “keys with me” was not. And it wasn’t until I closed my locked door that I realized my keys were on the other side.

So now I can’t rush. Even though I wasn’t rushing! I listen to the wind while I wait, grateful to have a nearby brother who’s handy.

Social scientists describe more than one kind of time. There’s our Western, post-industrial “clock” time, where seconds are counted against the demands of efficiency. And there’s the earlier “relational” time, where what matters is whether the needs of the ongoing encounter are

Posted in Carlene Byron

Am I a Bird or a Car?

I’m listening to birdsong and highway roar from my patio, and I wonder why I can even hear the birds. Are the birds louder? Or are they just different? What if birds imitated highway sound because that’s what most people spend most time hearing and creating? Could I hear them then? Would I recognize them? And are Christians more like birds or cars?

I’m feeling some nudges toward a more “set apart” way of life. Which still might happen within earshot of a roaring highway. Your thoughts?

Posted in Carlene Byron

The Best Small Group Ever

Three women in living room talking and smilingI don’t remember the curriculum at all. But our small group built such solid relationships that three of us continued to call each other and pray for each other as our lives carried us across four continents over more than 20 years. Did our small group leader do something other leaders could imitate?

It wasn’t the usual first meeting ice breaker opener. The leader of the women’s Bible study divvied us up into groups of three and gave us 30 minutes to meet each other and pray for each other. Ten minutes per person, per her timing.

I was thrown into a group of three who didn’t have much in common beyond Jesus:

  • Teresa was quiet and proper, an office administrator married for nearly two decades to a PhD corporate researcher, who was a nonbeliever. She spoke with a British accent and considered the UK — where she’d lived since age 8 — to be “home,” even though she was born in the US.
  • Ann was small and intense. Single, in her 30s, she worked in organizational leadership and typically uncovered a major structural or staffing challenge nearly the moment she started a new job. Her employers didn’t always enjoy her insights and initiative. She was, at the moment, job hunting.
  • I was an almost-newlywed at age 42, in a business leadership role myself with a husband who focused his life on the church. I had recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was embarked on what would become a dizzying circuit of treatments over the next seven years.

We went to our group of three, the first started talking, we prayed with her and then the leader called “Time!”  Each member of each group of three was allowed exactly 10 minutes to introduce herself, ask for and receive prayer. The Bible study leader reconvened the large group, let us know we’d be praying together in these groups of three throughout the duration of the study, then turned to the Scripture lesson.

For the next 12 weeks, Teresa, Ann and I would share our time-limited snippets of life. Each of us got 10 minutes to describe recent events and receive prayer for current needs. No one got to be the “needy” person who sucked up all the listening and prayer time. No one was allowed to be the “generous” person who sacrificed her own sense of need on behalf of the other. All shared, all prayed, and all received, in equal proportion.

Sounds a little legalistic, doesn’t it? And yet, how many times has the sharing time in your small group been overtaken by the same person week after week. In women’s groups, it’s often the unmarried women — those of us who don’t have a listening adult ear at home. We go on and on, while the married member who just lost her father sits and stews about not being able to get a word in.

By creating a system for sharing, this women’s leader created the certainty that all would have the opportunity to share, and all would have the opportunity for prayer. All would also have the responsibility to listen and to pray.

The outcome, more than 20 years later? Teresa, Ann and I are still in contact. Teresa and I have talked or Skyped at least twice a month for two decades. We were weekly prayer partners for most of 10 years. In recent years, we also text several times most weeks. Ann and I are only Christmas card friends, but Teresa and Ann are in frequent contact.

During those two decades, Teresa has lived on three continents (Asia, Europe and America) and Ann has lived in both the US and Africa. All have had multiple jobs; two of us have changed careers; all have experienced the losses that tend to go with aging; the two who were married are no longer. Through all of these changes, we still know each other.

I wish I could introduce you to the remarkable women’s leader who facilitated the beginnings of our friendship. It’s been more than 20 years, and I don’t remember her name. The study I attended was her last at that church. So far, I’ve not been able to find her.

I can only commend her strategy to all who want to lead groups of women into lifetime, spiritually supportive friendships. Do this and the relationships in your small group will blossom. For everyone who is past those easy school years of deep friendship formation: this really works.

PS: The stock image isn’t us! But now that we’re all on the same continent, maybe someday we’ll find ourselves in the same city again. If we do, I’ll get a group photo.


Posted in Carlene Byron, Friendship, leadership, small group | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Happy Home, Dirty House

carlene and the chicken smaller

My mother grew up on a Maine farm where dirt was what made plants grow. I imagine her mother taught her something about cleaning. Otherwise, the farmhouse kitchen linoleum would never have been a place for me to be seated in my toddler overalls, a box with muffin crumbs between my chubby, outstretched legs and a chicken in my lap, waving one finger at Dad’s camera as if I was practicing to preach. Still, cleaning was never high on Mom’s list of priorities.

One of my vivid childhood memories is of Mom standing on a scaffold, six or eight feet off the ground, holding a wooden clapboard in place as Dad nailed new siding on the back of our house. I remember vividly another day before we owned a house. Six of us lived in a cramped singlewide near the military base where Dad worked. At the moment I recall, Mom was wrapped in her apron of the era: cream, patterned with tiny men and women formed of yellow and black triangles, almost certainly hand-sewn. The four children, all aged 6 and under, were playing in the “dining area” while she worked. She turned toward us, lifting from the oven a pan of hot, freshly baked cream puffs.  She set the pastries on top of the range to cool, then began pulling out milk and eggs for a from-scratch vanilla custard filling.

Who bakes cream puffs with four little children crowding her feet?

It could be a woman driven by her generation’s version of Pinterest shaming. Cream puffs are listed among “50 Basic Recipes for Beginners” in that era’s Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking-School Cookbook. (Other “basic recipes” included mayonnaise, fruit jam, doughnuts, chicken timbales, and “Canning Fruits and Vegetables.”) But my mother’s intense engagement with the kitchen could also represent the drive of a woman who took great joy in her own competence. I tend to think that my capable mother took the Fannie Farmer list as a challenge that she expected to master, easily and with pleasure.

Mom mastered many challenges during my childhood. Raising five children to capable adulthood is challenge enough for many. Doing it within a tightly constrained income, so that “shopping” was mostly done at the Navy Relief thrift store, was another. Still another challenge was renovating the old farmhouse we bought, that came with knob and tube wiring, an antique coal furnace, and a kitchen whose “upgrades” to date mostly consisted of replacing the 1913 hand pump with running water.

I don’t remember Mom falling under her burdens. I remember her pressing into a blackberry thicket to collect colander after colander of fat, finger-staining fruit. I remember her peeling and slicing entire sacks of fall apples to cook into chunky, cinnamon-scented applesauce that we ate warm with vanilla ice cream before she packed the rest into the freezer. I remember how hot brown molasses would billow and foam when she added baking soda, just before stirring the sloppy mess into a giant vat of popped corn for holiday cornballs. I remember Mom leading her five little ducklings on summer bicycle rides down country roads, and I can imagine her sitting beside the farm pond of her childhood home as we swam and rowed and capsized the unfortunate “boats” we built ourselves. I remember her fingers endlessly knitting yarn into hats and mittens – first for all of us, then for local charities.

I have almost no memory of Mom with mop or dust rag or vacuum cleaner in hand. I can’t remember Mom polishing furniture. I can see her cleaning up thrift store furniture finds and repainting them. I can remember the formula for her homebrewed paint stripper. But I can’t see her dusting. She must have cleaned floors, especially during the early spring weeks that we in Maine call “mud season.” I just can’t recall it.

Nor can I recall any significant lessons about housekeeping at her hands. When I was a young bride, I purchased a couple of paperback books that taught me how to clean my house. A little later, I subscribed to a website that encouraged me to create at least one small vision of order in my generally chaotic home. That wasn’t a new idea to me. Mom and I both had our little ordered visions. We both created 3D still life arrangements on mantels and in china cabinets and on bookshelves and on side tables. We hung our arranged histories on the walls of our homes. Neither of us looked past those lovely spots and imagined our homes “chaotic.” We both thought of our homes as “busy” places where “creative” people had “projects underway.” As for the floors … of course the place you walk gets dirty!

But during the years when my sisters and I were young single women sharing apartments with other young single women, each of us stumbled across a startling revelation. One day in each of our lives, after living with women who knew how to keep house, each of us returned to our mother’s home and discovered a thin gray film we’d never seen. Our house, we realized, was unkept. We each remarked to ourselves:

“This house is dusty!”

Each, on her own day, grabbed a rag and a vacuum and sought to correct the failings of the family home. Each returned to her own adult home and either trained herself in the habits of our time’s hygienic housekeeping or relapsed into the busy, disordered – even dirty – way of life we learned at our mother’s knee.

There are no “dust bunnies” in my home today. Dust gathers itself into ferocious gray wolves, trumpeting elephants, and charging rhinoceroses, ready to burst from the caverns they’ve found under furnishings and thunder across the savannahs of my floors. Accumulated neglect would like to overpower my day, my time, my mind. “Dirty!” it roars. “Unsanitary!” it shouts. It bellows at the last, “Bad housekeeper!”

Like a powerful incantation, a single sentence from memory holds back the hostile judgments. The words come in my mother’s voice, issuing from under merry brown eyes:

“If your floor’s not clean enough to eat off, don’t eat off it.”

I won’t, Mom. I promise.

Today, instead of trying to eat off my floor, I’ll probably bake something yummy. I’ll finish sewing curtains for the dining room and repairing the side table that has loose joints. I might break up the ice that slicks the driveway or make soup from the bone broth that has chilled to gelatin in the refrigerator.

After all of that, I could decide to hunt a dusty gray elephant or a rhinoceros. But probably not. I don’t plan to let beasts made from dead dust eat up my life. I plan to consume my own life, nourished by what gives me joy, unafraid of the kinds of wild things that dissolve into clouds at each footfall.

You can keep a house or you can make a home. Mom taught me which was most important.

Originally published in the 2017 anthology Cherish Her, edited by Alnita Montague Johnson.

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