“Courage…is doing what you must, when doing what you must is the hardest thing of all.”

Three weeks into my 2 month stay at the “Safe House”, otherwise known as “Shelter for Battered Women”, I ran across this quote. And cried. Buckets.

So, how is it that this “established”, “professional” Stockton girl came to the point where she had to leave her home in the middle of the night with her two children forever? (Pause) I don’t know. I’ll have get back to you when I figure that one out.

I’m sure many of you have seen the Weight Watchers commercial that depicts hunger in your life as an annoying little red furry monster with Groucho Marx eyebrows. When there’s domestic violence in your life, the monster you deal with takes on a much different form. More like 7 to 9 feet tall. Long shaggy, matted, dirty fur. Lots of snaggled sharp teeth, and foaming at the mouth.

And just as with the hunger monster, when you have the DV monster in your life, you constantly have to make decisions.

Don’t laugh, but I like Dr. Laura. On the radio, people come to her with life’s questions, and she tells them what to do. Clear cut. No gray area. But when people call and ask for some types of specific marriage advice, all of a sudden she says she can’t make that decision for them. That used to really tick me off! Because it hit me where I lived.

When the domestic violence monster is hanging around, pretty much any decision you make causes somebody to suffer. And if you decide “not to decide”, then the suffering that already exists just continues. This is neither the time nor the place to embellish upon what caused me to make my final decision to leave; but suffice it to say that had I allowed our lives to continue as it was I would have would have been a sham as a mother.

When I was asked to speak for this event, it rang like a bell in my heart to do this. I feel very privileged to have this opportunity to pay honor and respect today to an organization that remains mobilized and at the ready 24/7 to intervene for a family in crisis.

Our relationship with the Women’s Center–YFS began, like many relationships nowadays, with an internet search. It was followed by a series of phone calls, mostly to the crisis line. And then, finally, it led to our extended honeymoon at the Chateau Women’s Center. Can’t you just hear the E-harmony music playing in the background?

On our fist day just after the kids and I lugged our belongings into our room and flopped down on our bunk beds, I told them, “Well kids, we’re home!” To which my daughter replied, “This isn’t home.” I countered, “Hey, home is where you hang your hat.” Then another response from the 11 year old voice of reason, “I don’t have a hat. I’m gonna call this place HOUSE.” Much as I wanted my kids to be able to “rise above”, I had to respect their frame of mind. They were facing the prospects of possibly never returning to their own warm, cozy beds, their beloved pets, or any semblance of what was familiar in the life that I had worked so hard to provide for them.

I would like to share a few things about the intense, but oddly healing, time we spent at HOUSE.

First of all, you need to know that the people who work there are cut from the finest cloth imaginable. If being a mother is a thankless job, then working at the shelter is probably the mother of all thankless jobs. In the midst of distracted, distraught, and distressed individuals, the staff members at HOUSE have been an oasis of clarity, even-temperedness, fair judgment, and kindness.

I did notice a behavior cycle in the stream of people who passed through HOUSE’s doors. First, you’re in a fog when you arrive. And rightly so, you are feeling all the aftershocks from making a life changing decision. You’re wondering if any of the threats made against you will actually be carried out and what other repercussions there will be. Personally, I hit several walls of exhaustion in those first days. I cannot express to you how grateful I was to put my head on a pillow at the end of the day knowing that no harm would come to me and mine as we slept.

After a few days the fog starts to lift, and you gradually begin to open up to the people around you. Your peer counselor helps you stay on track and focused. There is an onsite therapist who lovingly helps you and the kids keep track of your emotional pulse. You attend group meetings that provide you with research-based information that helps you unravel how it is that your life got chipped away bit by bit. And then you start rebuilding. You lift your head up, you breathe easier, and you start to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

There were also lighthearted times at HOUSE. We became particularly attached to the little kids. One of our fondest memories is when we took water bottles from the recycling bin and turned the upstairs hallway into a bowling alley for them. There was another night that a mom and I were in our little kitchen fixing dinner. I kept hearing her little guy saying, “Want dat. Want dat. Want dat.” I didn’t realize he was speaking to me until I heard, “Wite Wady…want dat!” So if any of you want to email me, I am now wite wady at live.com.

For those of you who remember the M*A*S*H TV series, you might recall the funny, makeshift things that the characters used for their celebrations. Believe me; we were just as inventive when it came to holidays, birthdays, and baby showers, but we never blew up any rubber gloves!

And then the time would come for one of us to leave HOUSE. The hardest was always when someone was going back to her relationship. Outwardly, you’d smile and wish them well, but inwardly you felt as if the air had been sucked out of your lungs. What I have seen consistently from the staff is a non-judgmental acceptance of these women’s choices, coupled with the assurance that the Women’s Center–YFS will be there for them if needed in the future.

Now back to my daughter’s initial observations about HOUSE. Whenever we happen to be in the neighborhood, guess who’s the first one to suggest that we cruise by HOUSE to see if there is someone we can wave “hello” to. As for my son, I can’t say that spending time in a HOUSE full of women and children is on his top ten list of things to do again. However, he has experienced a thick slice of life that will go a long way toward his becoming an exceptional man.

There’s another thing they say about home. As I look around today, I see a room full of people who have plunked down quite the dandy price for their vittles. I highly suspect many of you have been giving to this incredible organization for years. I also see a group of amazing people who for some crazy reason have made this work their life’s calling. There was a time when my heart was not much more than a bunch of fragments floating somewhere out in space. If home is where the heart is, then I sincerely tell you it was your hearts that made HOUSE a home for me and mine.

Peace and blessings to you all.