Just Zoë, Just Life

Category Archives: Getting to Grips with the Past

The children are away for the week, with my parents. Did you know that the day has twice as many hours in it when there are no children around? Remarkable! 


You may have noticed my new facebook page. I left facebook just over a year ago. I was going through a rough patch. Really, all I wanted and needed were real friends. Not fakebook friends.


Every time I was on facebook, I would see someone’s post about how light and lovely their life was, or how successful they were in their chosen sphere, or how wonderfully blessed they had been, ‘hallelujah’ (sometimes true, but sometimes boasting). Or it would be utterly, godforsaken, inane babble about whether Bob is going to choose fish ‘n’ chips or curry for tea, or  Betty’s endless posts about kittens doing Awww! Cutesy-wutesy kitteny stuff. Or the posts from Kelly about shoes and being a ‘yummy mummy’ to a perfect baby. Lots of people vying to compare themselves with one another.


Then there was the time I was bullied on facebook by classmates while studying for my Access to H.E. Diploma. These were adults resorting to playground bullying. Before I’d even had the chance to say anything, someone had reported it to the college. The would-be bullies were jealous because I’d scored distinction. Pathetic. On another occasion, someone I’d never even met started posting vile things about me. She had mental health problems, which she used as an excuse to be vicious, and expected people to be ok with that because of her ‘illness’ (and many were not only ok, but jumping on the bandwagon). No flippin’ way, José! I spent a decade doing that for the ex-husband and his ‘illness’.


Nowadays, some of my real friends are on facebook, but because they’re already my friends, we stay in touch in other ways. And people who were my ‘friends’ on facebook but who made little effort to know me in real life were probably quite relieved when I disappeared. It was a lifeline when I was an isolated single mother with a hyperactive autistic child, but other than that… well, if you like fakebook, good for you, but you get my drift. I left, and I have not looked back.


Anyway, today, while revising something on the Just Zoë, Just Life facebook page, I made a mortal error. I began looking up people I used to know, and used to be ‘friends’ with on facebook. Bad move. Even though I couldn’t see people’s ‘timelines’, there was the ‘I got such-and-such a degree at such-and-such a university’, ‘I went to such-and-such school’, ‘I work for such-and-such’. To someone like me, it’s rubbing my nose in how awesome everyone else’s life is, and how mine just hasn’t been, and still isn’t (though it’s a lot better). Even when it’s not how ‘awesome’ someone’s life is, just the fact they’ve had it fairly normal is enough to make me feel unworthy. I haven’t had the chance to do a lot – most – of those things. My youth, my dreams, are long gone, sacrificed through coercion to motherhood (NB my children come first, whether I chose to be a mother or not). Negative thoughts, feelings of envy and ‘why me?’ and ‘I’m different’ began to surface.


But I sighed and clicked the little red cross in the top right corner. Because I have learned that I have choices. I don’t choose to continually put myself up for display, ready to be admired or scorned, or anything. I’m just doing my best to be me.


Paul, at the end of his letter to the church at Philippi, says, ‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things… And the God of peace will be with you.’  Philippians 4:8,9


That’s what I’ve held onto since I left facebook, and it’s done wonders.


People seem to exist for the sake of labels sometimes. And for the labelling of those different from themselves. Facebook is the epitome of this! Some labels are helpful, for example my son’s diagnosis of autism. Most are not. They try to control the world by putting people into boxes.


The box I struggle with most often is the ‘What a Woman Should Be’ box. This box is everywhere, and filled with a different idea every time (facebook is overflowing with boxes)! There are cultural boxes that say I should work, and that housewives are leeching scum, misogynistic boxes that say all women must be sexually available at all times and should look like Barbie (have you seen the number of young women who look so similar they’re like plastic Barbie clones?), and supposedly-biblical boxes that say I must be a godly woman, who is genetically programmed to enjoy baking, sewing and housework. Either way, the labels on the boxes insist I must be the best woman that I can be.


But… I don’t want to bethe best woman that I can be.


I want to be the best me that I can be.


More importantly, the best me that God made me to be. If God’s the one who dishes out talents, I trust Him to get that right.


God made me. And He has given me loads of stuff that I’m good at, and I like doing. I don’t care about shoes (shoes? aren’t they something you wear on your feet so they don’t get cold and wet?) or make-up. I don’t particularly like baking. I don’t like needlework. I really don’t get any satisfaction from housework. I do it because I do it, but I never chose to be a housewife. Being a grown-up means getting on with it. My mother seems a natural housewife, which is great, but it’s not me. I find small-talk a challenge. It bores the pants off me. FlyLady, and a compassionate heart, are the reasons I have success at this job. There’s nothing innate in my DNA.


I’m just not a very girly girl. I like maths, music, writing, reading, experimenting with creating natural cleaning products (with a view to beginning a business one day), historical engineering, theology, science fiction… I love talking about big ideas. I really enjoyed the few chances I’ve had to preach, and I know I was good at it. I’ve discovered abilities in myself by way of leadership that I never knew I had. Strengths, a sense of ‘this is where I belong’ and ‘I need to follow this’.


I owe it to God, and I owe it to myself, to be the best me that I can be. 


What about you? Do you feel that you are the best you that you can be, or are you jumping into boxes because you think you should?


Very interesting, thoughtful piece on the BBC today:

‘The Decades-long Shadow of Abuse’


It does not exactly reflect my own experiences, but enough to resonate. It’s good to read of other people’s journeys.


The boy has been off school for nearly a month. I have been fobbed off again and again by the LA regarding any alternative provision, or any respite. Meanwhile, the Royal ‘Panel’ sit in their magnificent castle, away from the likes of us mere peasants, and occasionally have ‘meetings’ where they get to feel magnanimous as they discuss the fate of Special Needs children. The Royal Panel meet again on Friday when, with enormous largesse,  they may deign to grant my dear boy a place at the local special school. Or they may instruct their handmaid – the caseworker – to fob me off yet again, telling me they have to have another ‘meeting’ to decide to send him somewhere else.

That’s if we last that long. 

It is doing HRH no good to be stuck at home all the time, and it is doing me no good either. I have been valiantly trying to help him learn, while also trying to sort boxes, make the endless moving-house phonecalls, and keep up with the daily treadmill of housework (I hate housework with a passion) but, dear God, the last conversation about carbon monoxide made me almost wish for a faulty boiler.

I lost my temper, though I did not shout. I just said, through slightly gritted teeth, “Ok! Ok! Enough! No more questions about carbon monoxide, or carbon dioxide, or whether it’s going to kill anyone, or whether or not grown-ups are going to talk about you when you’re not in the room. I will talk about you sometimes. I’m your mother. Get used to it. No, I am not going to tell you each and every time I do. The boiler has been checked. We will get a carbon monoxide alarm, but WE ARE NOT GOING TO KEEP HAVING THIS CONVERSATION.”

I paused. Knowing that by heck I needed some time out even if he didn’t, I offered him twenty minutes on his precious wii (which turned into forty). The characters of Animal Crossing don’t mind if he asks the same question over and over and over. I do.

I am also waiting for a phonecall from the police officer investigating my case this morning. That is probably not helping my stress levels either. And I read someone’s lovely blog post about when she had her babies, and it made me want to cry, or smash something – I’m not sure – because I never had any of that. I don’t even have any photographs, because the ex-husband had stored the (innocent) photographs of my babies, my children, with the indecent images. At least, I assume he did because the police, during that investigation, took all the disks and I never got any back. Still makes me nauseated.

Why does this stuff come all at once? 

So I have turned to my Julian of Norwich book, which happened to be sitting beside me, open at the page of one of my favourite passages:

‘He showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, in the palm of my hand, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with my mind’s eye and I thought, “What can this be?” And answer came, “It is all that is made.” I marvelled that it could last, for I thought it might have crumbled to nothing, it was so small. And the answer came into my mind, “It lasts, and ever shall, because God loves it.” And all things have being through the love of God.

In this little thing, I saw three truths: the first is that God made it. The second is that God loves it. The third is that God looks after it.

What is he indeed that is maker and lover and keeper? I cannot find words to tell. For until I am one with him I can never have true rest nor peace. I can never know it until I am held so close to him that there is nothing in between.’

Julian of Norwich, c.1400. From the book Enfolded in Love, containing modern English translations by Sheila Upjohn from Julian’s book Revelations of Divine Love.

My thoughts exactly

This Jimmy Savile business http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/18/jimmy-savile-protected-media?commentpage=3#start-of-comments has been very distressing for me, because it has stirred up so many memories, particularly at a time when police are still investigating what I told them, back in June. I am blessed to have the support of my family through this investigation, despite how horrible it must be for them to have to dredge up something which they thought they had been able to let go, at least to a degree.

In reality, the lack of investigation when the crimes of my abuser were reported to the police by my parents, 20 years ago, affected all our lives. It made all of us, my parents, sister and I, believe that maybe there was something inappropriate about our reaction, our devastation as a family. The fact that my parents remain married is testament to their deep commitment to one another. They have truly lived ‘for better, for worse’ in a way that most people would only imagine in their worst nightmare.

Abusers make sure that victims feel responsible for what occurs. The police confirmed this by not investigating. I believed, to the very depths of my being, that there must be something inherent in me. This is why I then married so very young, and stayed married, to an abusive husband. The marriage ended when he too was revealed to be a paedophile.

I have stayed quiet as the JS story has unravelled. I don’t have too much to say about it directly, other than that I hope it opens people’s eyes to the reality that paedophilia is perpetrated throughout society.

Trying to demonise the entire Catholic church, for example (as some cynical anti-faith types have tried to do #ahem# Richard Dawkins #ahem#) as unique in its having paedophiles – and cover-ups – has in the end only done a disservice to all victims of sexual abuse.

In all things child protection, we must remember the one golden rule:

The wolf will always hide among the sheep.

Christ himself warned of this level of deceit when he addressed the scribes and pharisees: “You are like white-washed tombs, which look fine on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all kinds of rottenness. For you appear like good men on the outside—but inside you are a mass of pretence and wickedness.”

Matthew 23:27,28 JBPT 

He warned his followers:

“I am sending you out like sheep with wolves all round you; so be as wise as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.”

Matthew 10:16 JBPT

The wolf will always hide among the sheep

Please don’t dismiss what this really means, or use it to create problems where the risk is very small, e.g. the notion of ‘stranger danger’ when most victims are abused by someone they know. I am not Catholic, but I thank God the Catholic church has begun to address the seriousness of this problem. Let’s hope the rest of society can follow.

Also, I would not have been considered in any way a ‘vulnerable child’. I came from a relatively well-off, middle-class family. No neglect, no alcohol, no violence, no financial deprivation. On the contrary, my father worked hard for his family and my mother was as sweet and gentle a mother as anyone could wish for. So being a ‘vulnerable’ child (as in the Rochdale incidents) could not have been used as a reason why the police did not even investigate the allegation of repeated rape of a child.

Given the JS case, where repeated, separate allegations were made to people in positions of power, including the police, and given my own circumstances, where I know for myself the same attitude, how can the Catholic church be held up for condemnation when even the police (whose very existence is to prosecute criminals) treat the victim, by default, as ‘a troublemaker’?

It doesn’t make the abuse of children by priests excusable (of course not!), but it shines a different light on the situation. That light shows that wolves like to hide among the sheep. In the church, we even use the words ‘sheep’ and ‘flock’ to refer to the congregation, and ‘shepherd’ to refer to God. But ‘wolves’ and ‘sheep’ can be anywhere: a church, a family, a school, the BBC… We must all act with wisdom.


I hope, if nothing else, that the JS story is the beginning of a sea-change in our culture, where paedophilia is not so taboo that its recognition becomes a witch-hunt (which is of no use to victims, but devastating to the falsely accused), and that real, genuine recognition and healing can take place. Above all, I hope it leads to a situation which protects children from lives blighted by unnamed shadows.

I have lived a life of shadows.

That said, I have come from shadows into light, and I would like to end this post with Jesus’ golden words:

I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

John 10:25-28 NIV

The Good Shepherd, 3rd century, catacombs, Rome (one of the earliest depictions)

Two tremendous things happened today.

The police called. They told me they arrested and interviewed the one who abused me when I was a child. He denied it (of course – after nearly 30 years of hiding his crimes, he’s hardly going to put his hands up now, is he?). Now it is referred to the Crown Prosecution Service for them to decide how to proceed.

I have no desire for revenge. I want justice.

My dear friend Kay, knowing we have but two days left to blast off (the day we move to a whole new area), came round this morning and gave me the time to talk about how I was feeling (which amounted to every emotion possible, all at once). She then helped me clear out all my clothes and decide which I was giving to charity, which I would pack away ready for removal and which I wanted to keep out to wear over the next few days. I was emotionally all over the place, due to the phonecall, so Kay’s calming, patient presence was coolness and balm incarnate.

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

Psalm 27:4,5

Today God has done just that. He gave me the presence of not only my beloved Frank, but also the wonderful Kay. I’m going to miss her terribly when we go.

Aside: Psalm 27 is one of the most beautiful of the psalms. I hope one day to read it in Hebrew. I’d love to know the sounds and shapes of the original poetry.

Reblogging instead of posting afresh because I am packing, ready to move in less than two weeks o_O This is from a series I wrote in May. The reblog was inspired by http://goinswriter.com/story-begins/#disqus_thread



And though the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide Himself any more, but your eyes will constantly behold your Teacher.

And your ears will hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way; walk in it, when you turn to the right hand and when you turn to the left.

Isaiah 30:20,21 (Amplified bible)

Just Zoë, Just Life

I ended yesterday by asking what happens when life tells you that you have no value. There are many reasons that this might occur. One of the biggest causes is poverty. It is possible to live in very poor conditions and know that you are valued. Wess Stafford talks of this in his book Too Small to Ignore. While the village where he grew up was incredibly poor, they were rich in love and in community. Of course, when life is so hard that each day is just about survival, you don’t even have the time to wonder whether you ‘have value’. Life becomes an existence, an hourly struggle. Also, I have no idea whether Wess’ experience of a loving community is common. I suspect not. And he speaks in heart-wrenching detail about the times when love was not enough to save the life of a child whose death was…

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