A New Year's Prayer

Originally, this post was going to be titled "A Christmas Prayer" - because it arose out of a prayer used for my church's Christmas Eve service.  However, life got busy and I didn't have time to get this post typed up right away, so it has become a New Year's Prayer instead.  I think this is good - this prayer is not just for Christmas time, it is my prayer for the entire year of 2017.

As I mentioned this was the congregational prayer used during the Christmas Eve service at Ankeny First United Methodist Church (Faith Chapel) - I don't know if the same prayer was used at all of the church's Christmas services at each of their three sites - but the words of this prayer took hold of my heart.  The credit for this prayer goes to Ankeny First, I have modified just a few words to make it fit as a New Year's prayer.  It's a prayer that could be said everyday in this new year as we as  individuals, as a country, and as a world face many changes.

Amazing God, you come to us in the strangest ways: sometimes in the stillness at the eye of the storm or in the midnight of our lives; sometimes in the raging whirlwind of our responsibilities; at other times in the moment of birth when all is potential and the future cannot be known.

We gathered on Christmas to celebrate your very real birth.  May this year be a time when we believe again.  May we hold to the knowledge that LOVE is stronger than FEAR, that PEACE is more enduring than HATRED, and that no DARKNESS will ever defeat the LIGHT.  You transformed the world on that first Christmas, we ask that you transform it here again.  Create, redeem, heal, and sustain with your presence here, now.  May Christ's LOVE be born anew in our lives and in our world.  We pray this in Jesus' name.  Amen.

May your 2017 be blessed with God's LOVE and LIGHT.


The FACTS about Unemployment Benefits

Recently, the Des Moines Register published an article written by the AP (Associated Press) about me receiving unemployment benefits.   Here is the article, in case you didn’t see it.  Unfortunately, the unnamed author of this article was either ignorant to how unemployment benefits work in Iowa, or they had a specific slant they wanted to put on the article – a habit of poor journalism that has become all too common lately.  The author made is sound as though I knowingly collected benefits that I didn’t deserve.  People who know me, will know that is not the case.  Here are the facts that the Associated Press author didn’t report. 

After I was fired by the State of Iowa, I did apply for unemployment benefits.  This involves filling out an online form and answering several questions – including whether I was fired, laid off, or voluntarily quit.  I answered that I was fired. 

The next step in unemployment benefit claims when someone is fired is a “Fact Finding Interview.”  This is essentially a phone hearing attended by an arbitrator from Iowa Workforce Development, the employer (a representative of the State of Iowa) and the employee (myself).   I took part in this hearing, as did a representative of the State of Iowa.  The state was allowed to give their reasons for firing me, I was asked several questions about what led to the firing.  Just because someone is fired, it does not mean that they are not eligible for benefits.  There is a specific standard that the employer must show to be met for the employee to not be eligible.  About a week after the hearing, I received a letter stating that the Iowa Workforce Development Arbitrator ruled that I WAS eligible for benefits.

At that point, I started filing for unemployment benefits, making sure to meet the requirements of applying for a specific number of jobs each week, and reporting any hours worked for other employers each week.  The State of Iowa decided to appeal the arbitrator’s decision. 

The appeal hearing was held over the phone before Administrative Law Judge Stephanie Callahan.  The State asked for a continuance on the original appeal date, delaying it by several weeks because they weren’t initially ready.  They then entered two exhibits into this hearing less than 4 hours before the hearing was to take place.  I had never seen either of these documents, they were not included as part of the official file on my investigation.  One of the documents was a Word document with no title, no author and it had never been published anywhere.  Yet, Judge Callahan allowed the exhibits into the record.  It is her ruling that was reported on by the Associated Press, but they made no mention that a previous arbitrator had ruled against the State of Iowa. 

As the article reported, Judge Callahan ruled in favor of the State of Iowa, reversing the previous decision.  Truthfully, I can’t blame this judge for making the decision she did.  After all – it has been well publicized that the Branstad administration has penalized and reportedly fired judges who testified that they were pressured to rule on the side of employers over employees. (Here is link to the Des Moines Register article about this issue).  She is an employee of the State of Iowa – she had a choice of ruling against her own employer, or against me.  I’m sure she wants to keep her job. 

Her decision is being appealed.

Now you have all the facts.

NOTE: (After the initial publication of this post, the author of the article contacted me and has stated that he does understand the unemployment process, but chose not to include any other information due to space limitations.  While I understand that news articles are limited in size, leaving out the single statement that this ruling was the result of an appeal significantly changed the nature of the entire article.  This is an example of inaccurate, slanted journalism in my opinion, and should not be tolerated).

Random Acts Of Kindness

We’ve all heard the phrase “random acts of kindness.”  In the last few months I’ve been the recipient of a few of these special acts – and they have always come at just the time I needed them.

The first one was a few months ago.  I was on administrative leave from my job and had been treated horribly by my bosses who for over a decade I had trusted and respected.  While out running errands one day, I was desperately trying to avoid running through Dairy Queen for my guilty pleasure treat of a blizzard.  Eventually though, my self-control dissolved andI found myself in the drive-thru ordering a blizzard.  I pulled up to the window and handed my card to the clerk – he handed me the blizzard and said “I feel generous – there’s no charge for you.”  The cost of a small blizzard is three dollars and change – not that significant.  But the significance of this clerk’s kindness on a day when I felt so low, and so betrayed by so many (bosses and coworkers) meant more than I could have ever expressed.  Saying “Thanks,” I managed to hold back my tears until I had pulled away from the window.  I probably enjoyed that blizzard more than any I’ve ever had, not because it was free, but because it signified a generosity I wasn’t seeing much of at the time.

The second act of kindness was a few months later, several weeks after my employer had fired and then negatively portrayed my name and reputation publicly in a gross over-reaction to an event.  One afternoon, our doorbell rang.  I opened the door to one of my neighbors standing on my porch.   My husband and I had owned our house for less than 6 months at the time so we hadn’t had the opportunity to really get to know our neighbors beyond saying “Hi” a few times and having short conversations at the end of the driveway.  This neighbor said he had come over to let us know some family members would be parking their car on the street for a few days and he didn’t want us to be worried about the strange car.  (After receiving threats from people on social media due to the public slander by my former employer, I appreciated the warning).  He then said he had heard about what had happened in the news, and wanted us to know that him and his family were praying for us and had no judgement toward me.  He then gave me two small Christian tokens for my husband and I.  This act of kindness alone would be significant.  What my neighbor did not know was just a few hours earlier, I had returned to my former employer to return some supplies that were at my house when I was unexpectantly fired.  While I was treated respectfully during the interaction (I only had to interact with the secretary, and not my former boss), the finality of that act had shaken me that day.  Realizing that I would likely never again return to the career that I had passionately served for the last decade was devastating.  I had no doubt that my neighbor had been called by God to reach out that day because God knew I needed the sign of support, from my neighbor, and from Him.

So often, we feel urged to do something nice for someone else.  Hopefully, we act on that urge. Then we go on about our days, probably thinking nothing about the encounter.  We may never know how profound the effect of a simple act of kindness can be towards the recipient.  This has been a great lesson for me to act on those thoughts and nudges from God to help someone else out.  We must always remember God sees a much bigger picture than we do.  A seemingly minor act may have an effect far greater for the recipient.

Courageous Words

Another powerful message from a courageous survivor. I am sharing the following message that was shared with a sexual assault message group. Because this is a more public forum, I have chosen to remove the author's name (because she is a survivor of sexual assault). She wrote the letter openly, but I don't know her, so am choosing to protect her privacy. Great words...

Good Morning, the Fort Wayne Sexual Assault Treatment Center is lucky to know a brave woman [survivor's name withheld]. Below is the letter that she wrote in response to Mr. Turner stating that his son should not have to be punished his whole life for "20 minutes of action." Please share with whoever you feel would benefit from her powerful words. In today's society, it seems that sometimes a blind eye is turned for our patients, and no one truly understands until it happens to them.

*So, apparently (as everyone has noticed) the story of Brock Turner has been weighing heavily on my heart. Today I sent his father an open letter. I wanted to share it for all of you who continue to live with the effects of sexual assault.

Dear Mr. Turner,
I have, as much of the nation, followed the story of your son’s trial as well as the circumstances surrounding the rape of his victim. I wanted to say first and foremost that as a parent and a Christian, I understand your desire to protect your son, to ensure that he has a life to return to and that he can be a functioning member of society. It is, what I believe, all parents wish for their children, even ones who have committed a heinous act. No parent should turn their back on their child, and I am sure that no one expected you to feel any differently regarding your son. 
I do, however, wish to offer you a very important prospective that may be vital to your point of view. 
You see, I am your son’s victim. 
Not the most recent, you understand. I am what a victim has become twenty years after sexual assault. 
While you speak passionately about how your son has been unable to eat, about how he will now be affected for the rest of his life because of his “twenty minutes of action”, I would like to give you some insight on what those actions, regardless of how brief, impact a victim for the rest of her life.
Like your son’s victim, I was young, I made mistakes, I was somewhere that I had used poor judgement before going to. Like your son, my attacker was an “elite athlete”, who had so much going for him beyond what he had done. 
Unlike your son's victim, I caved into pressure. I was told that there would most likely not be a conviction and, afraid of everyone knowing what had happened, calling me a liar, a whore, an attention seeker, I caved into pressure and buried my shame as far down as I could reach. I was not brave like your son’s victim. 
But here are some ways that your son’s victim will be like me:
She will have parts of her body, regardless of the showers, the therapy, the emotional cleansing that she goes through, that she will want to set on fire. She will remember touches from your son, from nurses collecting samples and will wince occasionally and unintentionally when she is touched lovingly by her husband.
She will be on stage accepting an award for the good works that she has performed, and she will catch a hint of cologne that instantly throws her back to that night. She will have to do everything in her power, unknown to a room full of clapping admirers, to keep the bile from rising up in her throat and vomiting all over that stage.
She will be cleaning a skinned knee after her son comes to her crying from a spill off his bike, and the peroxide will suddenly remind her of cleaning her wounds after her attack. There, kneeling in a gravel alley over her little boy’s band-aid, she will use every ounce of strength to command her body not to shake and convulse in front of him.
As a parent, I imagine it is hard for you to have any empathy past your own son, which may be an indicator into his upbringing and why it was possible for him to do what he did to this young woman. Good parents have kids that make mistakes, for sure. But your excuses for him are beyond protective and downright disturbing, Mr. Turner. The fact that you can completely disregard your son’s victim with the knowledge that this could have been your wife, your daughter, your mother...
No one is telling you to stop loving or abandon your son, Mr. Turner. What we are asking is that you stand up for your daughter. Your wife. Your mother. Your future grand-daughters. 
Men are also victims of sexual assault and rape, Mr. Turner. I ask that you take into thought that by your actions you may very well be paving the way for someone who victimizes your son or grandson. It doesn't end with women. 
For they are all your son’s victims. They are all us, and we are all them, and when you excuse and condone your son’s actions, you are not only violating your son’s victim, you are violating the people you love, you are destroying their place in the world, you are ensuring that there is nowhere safe, or just, or merciful for any of us. 
We hope you keep this in mind, Mr. Turner, as your son continues his life and throughout the next victims that he creates (and believe me, Mr. Turner, there will be more.) 
My hope is that you can find some way to repair the damage you have done from the role you played in all of this, and that one day you can understand that those “20 minutes of action” as you refer to have done more damage that you can possibly imagine to more people than you or your son could ever make amends to.
[Survivor's Name Withheld]

‪#‎BrockTurner‬  #StanfordRapeCase 

Sexual Assault Awareness Day 29

If you've been assaulted - seek help. Go to the hospital. A medical exam can be done and evidence can be collected even if you are not sure you want to talk to the police. There is NO CHARGE for any of this, your insurance will not be charged. Your kit will be stored in case you choose to report to the police at a later date. Iowa is one of the few states in the nation that stores kits for the entire length of the statute of limitations - 10 years. If you have had evidence collected, it can be processed and charges can be filed up to 10 years after the assault occurs (or 10 years after the victim turns 18 if they are a minor when the assault occurs). It truly is never to late to tell someone about an assault.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Day 27

 I’ve often heard from parents that their child is too young to hear about sexual assault. Consider this fact: 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are UNDER AGE 12! 44% are under age 18! I am all for preserving our children’s innocent view of the world, but I would rather make a slight dent in that innocence to warn them about sexual violence, then to have that innocence shattered by them becoming a victim. Obviously, every parent needs to make their own decision about when to discuss this topic, but keep this fact in mind when you are making that decision.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Day 22

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Day 22 Fact: Far too often, victims come forward to someone they trust, and are not believed or blamed for what happened. No one thinks this will happen to someone they know. From the Start By Believing Website:

There is no shame when your loved one dies. When your car is stolen. When you’re diagnosed with cancer. Friends and loved ones gather around you for support. They don’t blame you for "bringing it on yourself."

It should be the same with sexual violence. But all too often, survivors who have the courage to tell someone what happened are blamed for bringing it on themselves. This needs to change.

Start by Believing is a public awareness campaign designed by End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) to change the way we respond to rape and sexual assault in our communities.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Day 20

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Day 20 Fact: A Sexual Assault Response Team is a group of dedicated people who respond as a team to a sexual assault. Typically the group that responds includes a victim advocate, law enforcement and a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. The SART team also includes prosecutors and the crime lab (although they don't respond to a sexual assault victim. The Mid-Iowa SART which serves central Iowa has a webpage with more information.  Click HERE to check it out. #SAAM2016

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Day 17

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Day 17 Fact: According to Uniform Crime Reports, there were 1128 rapes reported to police in Iowa in 2014. These reports led to only 147 arrests. Statistics say only about 5 of these arrests actually went to prosecution. (*Disclaimer - this statistic only includes crimes meeting the definition of "forcible rape" - all other sex offenses are counted separately - numbering roughly another 1000 reports - there are no arrest statistics for those crimes). #SAAM2016

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Day 14

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Day 14 Fact: While rape can affect all ages, 44% or rape victims are under age 18, 80% are under age 30.‪#‎SAAM2016‬.

 I'm often asked at what age a parent should start talking to their children about sexual assault?  The youngest case I've worked where there was evidence a sexual assault had occurred was a 2 year old victim.  My youngest victim where sexual assault was suspected was 6 DAYS old.  So basically, if your child is old enough to be away from you, you should be talking to them (in age appropriate language) about sexual assault.

Many parents are hesitant to bring up rape to their children/pre-teen because they don't want to "take away their innocence" by telling them of the evil in the world.  My view is that opening their eyes to the evil through a conversation is better than having their innocence shattered if they fall prey to a predator.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Day 12

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Day 12 Fact: 44% of rape victims are under 18, 80% are under age 30. A few years ago, when inquiring about what education high schools in central Iowa provided about Teen Dating Violence and sexual assault, a superintendent of a central Iowa school system told me "That's not really a problem for our students - you should talk with the local college." I replied by sending him this statistic. (Source RAINN). #SAAM2016

Sexual Assault Awareness Month - Day 11

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Fact: 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men in the US are victims of sexual violence (source RAINN). Next time you are in a crowded restaurant, look around you - there is likely 1 victim present for every table or table and a half of people. Gives a new perspective on how common this crime is. ‪#‎SAAM2016‬

Ankeny Author's Fair

If you are like me, you love to read.  And, if you have gotten to meet the author of the book you are reading, it makes that book even more interesting.  Tomorrow, nearly 60 Iowa authors will be available to talk to you about their books, their writing, and any other questions you want to ask at the Ankeny Author's Fair.  I recommend coming and checking it out.  It will be at the Pinnacle Club on the Otter Creek Golf Course from 9am to Noon.  Hope to see you there.