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I was once a Woman

I was once a woman.

A free woman.

A happy woman.

A live each day, love my life, embrace my future, woman.

 

I was once a Lover.

A hopeless lover.

A consumed lover.

A swept away with passion, can’t believe my good fortune, believing in magic, lover.

 

Then I became sorry.

Sorry I misspoke,

Sorry I misunderstood.

Sorry I couldn’t be quiet enough, smart enough, worthy enough.

 

I was once a Victim.

A tear stained, bruised and begging victim.

A lying, concealing, withdrawn victim.

A story weaving, excuse making, dreaming of change victim.

 

I was once a Victim.

A disillusioned, hoping for change victim.

A tremulous, wrong in my own skin victim.

Certain each time would be the last, but fearing it would really be the last of me.

 

I was once a Victim.

A weary and broken down victim.

A weak and hesitant victim.

A shell of my former self, a barren and desolate victim.

 

I became a Fighter.

A timid fighter.

A losing fighter.

A weak and failing fighter, no-one would bet on me, I’m not even betting on myself.

 

I became a Fighter.

A determined fighter.

A stronger fighter.

A backbone growing, never going back, you don’t control me, fighter.

 

I am now a Survivor.

A fledgling survivor.

A determined survivor.

A lead as many as I can, never give up never look back, you don’t define me, survivor.

 

For I was once a Woman.

A free woman.

A happy woman.

A live each day, love my life, embrace my future, woman.

I STILL AM.

 

Although this story is not truly my own, it is the story of so many women I love and have loved. You may not think this is your story either, but if there is even a seed of doubt that it may be…Get out. Get away. Get help. Make a change. You ARE strong enough and you deserve SO MUCH MORE.

 

In loving dedication of my beautiful grandmother Norma Momenee who existed her entire life at the hands of various abusers. In loving memory of Joy Carpenter whose beautiful legacy as a mother and woman is being spread among my community as we mourn her loss. In loving memory of all the other mothers, daughters, sisters, that have been lost at the hands of a loved one. And in regretful memory of those that will still be to come. Let’s bring about change.

Frenemy

I have an enemy. Well, okay, she is really more of a “frenemy”. We have been friends for a very long time. Although I have tried to release myself from her, especially when I feel the pain and rejection of her words and negative thoughts, she is my oldest friend, she is a part of who I am, and being with her is as comfortable and natural as breathing, unfortunately letting her hurt me comes just as naturally.

Her verbal abuse started sometime when we were in elementary school. It may have been earlier than that, but it did not leave a memory (or a scar) until probably about fourth grade. While I was desperately trying to fit in she was quick to point out all the ways I did not. I would leave my house in the morning feeling cool in my outfit, or new hairdo, only to have her chip away at that confidence with negative remarks and criticism throughout the school day; inevitably leaving me to feel like crap by the time I was riding the bus home. I would try to suppress my tears while acknowledging to myself that I was not cool, or pretty, or smart and I was never going to be. To be fair, she was just as good at bringing me up as she was at bringing me down. There were lots of days that her pep talks were what pulled me out of the despair. She would remind me of all the friends that I did have that loved me, or how pretty my long hair was, or how well I did in English. It was the kindness and love that always drew me in, even though I knew the negativity was always likely to resurface.

In high school she was often the only person that I felt safe enough to share my feelings with. Things were often strained with my family, especially my mother, and I frequently lashed out at her or made poor choices in my school and social life. I hung around in some pretty rough crowds at times, but her influence was always the worst. She was great at convincing me to sneak out, get drunk, or skip school. I would inevitably get caught and the punishment never seemed worth the crime, yet she could always convince me to do it “just one more time”. I met my son’s father in the last year of high school and for a while I was so consumed with young love I didn’t have a lot of time for her and we seemed to grow apart, however my “bliss” was to be short lived.

After nine months together I received two surprises…The first- I was expecting my first child. The second- “The love of my Life” had been cheating on me for pretty much the duration of our relationship. Unfortunately the first surprise did little to change the second and we separated… This was a low point in my life, and although my friend and I had barely talked, she was ready with love and reassurances. She reminded me that him cheating was something broken in him, not me. And when I could only seem to focus on all the ways I fell short compared to other women, agonizing over what they had that I did not… It was her gentle voice that assured me that someday he would regret the loss. Dealing with this brought us closer than ever and over the next few years we were inseparable.

I would like to say that our friendship remained full of love and encouragement, but it did not take long for her to start in with the criticism and judgements. Always quick to point out my failings as a mother, daughter, and friend. Gentle as she was in my first real break up, she became ruthless in sabotaging my attempts at any new relationships. She would tear each man apart until all I could see were their flaws. If that didn’t work she would convince me that I was not good enough to deserve them and I would inevitably walk away. As I grew older I began to see her as a poison and again distanced myself from her, but like many old friends, I have never been able to truly let her go and I know I never will.

We spoke today. It was the first time in a while that I have heard from her. I had some other friends make me feel left out and I started to feel pretty down about it. I acknowledged that not every snub is intentional and sometimes we are hurt by friends who never even realize it. She argued that this was likely intentional and that either they were crappy friends or more likely, they just didn’t like me very much…And although I have not let her pull me in to that insecurity for such a long time, for one moment today it was if I was right back in middle school with her feeling alone, awkward, and unloved. Never quite right, never “one of the girls”. But only for a moment.

You see, as I have grown older I have become comfortable in my skin and in who I am. I no longer feel as though I don’t fit…Through the love of God, my husband, and family and friends I have gained a love for myself that she cannot diminish.

But oh does she still try…and sometimes she wins…but when she starts up I look right back at her in the mirror and I just say “Honey if you don’t have anything nice to say to me, then don’t say anything at all…”

 

Where are you from?

Such a seemingly simple question…but is it really? I was recently in class and we were asked to go around and state our name and where we were from in an effort to get to know one another. As I waited for my turn, I thought how silly this exercise was…Does where I am from really have anything to do with who I am? And will knowing where my fellow classmates come from really do anything to foster a connection or help know them any better?

 

The quick answer is no. But as I thought about it, I realized something…

 

Where we are from does shape who we are, but it’s not the geography that makes the difference.

I am from a mother who clawed her way out of poverty. A mother who struggled every day to support three children, even when no one was willing to support her. A mother who fought through, and finally out of, several abusive relationships to freedom. From her I learned to never give in to the dire circumstances of my life, no matter how bleak they may appear. To put my children in the fore front and keep fighting for them, even when no one else was in the background to fight for me. And most importantly, to never settle for a love that hurts.

 

I am from a sister that gripped my hand as we huddled in our bedroom, counting the screams from the living room, waiting for the storm to blow over. A sister who has loved me through every awkward phase of my life and every break-up. Never more than a phone call away and always ready to pray with me or just listen to my tears. A sister who is really a best friend. From her I learned I am never alone in this world or in my own struggles. No matter how isolated I feel in life, there is one person who can always see me, always understand me, always reach me.

 

I am from a baby brother who gazed up at me with soulful blue eyes as I used my body to shield his car seat from the harm of a phone being whipped across the room. Just grazing my back, the intended target being my mother. A brother who grew up resenting always having a second mother in his life, yet still always turned to me when the need for comfort or safety arose. A brother who still feels more like a son to me than anything else. From him I learned the fierce need to protect those you hold dear. To stand firm in the face of fear for the ones who are too weak to do so themselves. To ultimately grow into the loving and protective mother I now am.

 

I am from a best friend who stepped up to the plate at the birth of my first son, when his father abandoned us. A best friend who encouraged me to push at every Lamaze class while she learned techniques to keep me calm. A best friend who rushed to the hospital when it was time. A best friend who followed me home and got up in the middle of the night when I had nothing left. From her I learned that the love that we need, might not always come from where we expect it. That friendships can be fleeting and some friends only last for a season, but if I am lucky to have a few true friends in my lifetime, that is enough.

 

I am from a man who was patient with my previous baggage, gentle with my past scars, and forgiving of my flaws. A man who possesses a love that is truly patient and kind. A man who sees me not just as who I am in front of him, but as who I am deep within myself. From him I have learned that I am finally safe in my emotions and in who I am. That pure love really can exist in this world among a man and a woman. That I am capable of loving someone so much that two really do become one as God has intended.

 

I am from a group of women known as the Woman’s Co-op that is diverse in so many ways, yet all share so much in common. From a group of women that may come from the same places I do, while others come from places I can never understand. From a group that knows that no matter where they come from, or where they are going, they will always come together when a sister is in need. From them I have learned to see the world in a bigger way. To never judge someone by a first impression or even a second or third. To practice forgiveness and humility, and appreciate when they are extended to me in return. To never underestimate the power of women and friendship.

 

When my turn came I simply said “Hi I’m Jessie, I’m from Toledo.” And it was on to the next student.

I know most of those among me that day will never truly know who I really am and where I come from, but I’d like to think that I carry the essence of myself and what I have learned around for the world to see.

 

Every experience we have, every person we encounter will touch us in some significant way… It is up to us to decide how we will let where we are from shape who we will be.

Reflections from our Executive Director and Co-Founder

Woman's Co-opIt began in the fall of 2004.  Two women with families brought together what food they had.  They made a meal that started a conversation.  What they discovered was that when two come together they are stronger than separately.  When three, four and more join in, the added numbers becomes courage and from courage comes action.

To think it all started with, a few pork chops, beans and applesauce.  Melissa said, “we need to be in the friend business.” And from that moment we set out to draw other women in that shared similar situations. The first night as a group ten women came to the circle.  And the notebook of “needs” was started.  We sought out creative ways to help each other through their individual challenges.

A friendship circle was born. Genuine concern for others grew from the time spent together learning about the lives of others.  Everyone needs to be accepted, to develop friends.” And the group provided that.  The soon-to-be Woman’s Co-op was meeting a need in the lives of women in Battle Creek.

These women all reached a point of change in their lives.  Each had a wayward compass that suddenly found north so to speak.  They were now collectively moving in the same direction, and while they may not have realized it at first, they soon became a wave with its own current pulling other women towards it.  Otherwise put, a magnet with the strength that could stand against the pull of distractions and challenges that would normally have kept them going in circles.

Why Co-op? Where does the passion come from? Simply put – it comes from “love” Love that is celebrated, love that is lost, love that hurts us, and love that saves us.  This is why Co-op started and why it continues today.  The programs are for transformation and opportunity but what calls and keeps us is the love and acceptance we find there.

Transformation

I had the opportunity this week to observe butterflies emerging from their cocoons at my daughter’s school. There were five of them in the net butterfly cage. When the teacher arrived at school that morning, one had already emerged and a second cocoon was wiggling. By the time the children all joined in on circle time, the second butterfly was visible from the cocoon as it worked to fully free itself, and two more cocoons were shaking as the insects inside struggled to finish their transformation. One cocoon was shaking so furiously back and forth, over and over, I was afraid it was going to fall. The other cocoon would shake a few times and then go still. The shakes themselves were so small, you had to look closely to even see the attempt. There were smears of red on the napkin on which the cocoons were attached, and the teacher explained to the children that the butterflies did bleed during the transformation, but they would be okay once they were free. As I watched this process, I found myself thinking of the Co-op. I thought of how we categorized our members into caterpillars, cocoons, and butterflies, and in that moment I realized just how accurate that truly is. The symbol of the butterfly stands for so much more than just a pretty and colorful insect, but of the journey and struggles our women face daily to truly metamorphosis into something stronger.

Many of the women that enter our doors are caterpillars. Struggling as they crawl through life, uncertain of where they are going, or who they are to be. They are taken in and encouraged to lean on those around them. Their only job at this stage in their life is to consume what they need from others to survive, not quite ready to be on their own or sustain anyone else. As time passes these women will grow and slowly weave a cocoon of support and friendship around them. Although we never leave their side, they must eventually enter this cocoon alone and begin an internal journey towards transformation.

Just as it was happening in the butterfly net, each woman carries out this process differently. Some women are fighters, they shake furiously past barriers and constraints, determined to bust through the cocoon and spread their wings. Others are more hesitant, they take steps slowly, at times it looks as if they are taking no action at all, but if you look close enough, you can see they are trying. We strive to always be encouraging them from the outside, telling them in so many words “you are going to bleed a little, but you will be okay once you are free.” For some that is enough to encourage one more shake, one more push, until their world cracks open and they are forever changed.

Once the butterflies were free, the teacher took great care in laying down flower petals and showering them with sugar water. She explained the water would give the butterflies nourishment and strength to successfully fly on their own and survive released. This is so important to the butterflies, if they are released before they are strong enough to fly, they will not survive. It is just as important to the women we serve. They work through huge transformations and appear to be a healthier stronger woman on the outside, yet many are still so weak and fragile. We shower them with encouragement, affirmation, and support until they truly are strong enough to fly. In addition, if we have nurtured them right, they will continue in the program, joining the flutter of their sisters to encourage the caterpillars coming in the door.

For many this process can take several years and we must wait. It is never easy to wait for a woman to see and embrace what we already know, to embrace how amazing she truly is, to embrace the potential of who she is to be, and what her life can hold someday. No, it is not easy, but it is worth it. Someday she will find the strength. Someday she will break through, and on that day I look forward to being there, to nourish her, to encourage her, to eventually set her free. This blog will be a place to share their stories and experiences, as well as my own, as I am privileged enough to be a part of this organization. I hope that you will be as inspired as I am by the strength and determination among the butterflies.

Woman's Co-op

 

Reflections from the Butterfly Garden

Welcome to the Butterfly Garden. We will be sharing reflections of membership and life among the Co-op.

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