In praise of wardens.

We all have them in our church, different denominations call them different things, wardens, deacons, whatever, they’re the people who help balance the books, manage the material resources of the conregation, and generally help the entire community by getting organised behind the scenes so we don’t have to. 

And in my denomination, the Anglican Church, we get together once a year for our Vestry Meeting/AGM and interrogate them. Hopefully thank them too. 

Because that’s what I love about my church wardens. They shoulder a huge responsibility in caring for the budget and buildings, they have endless meetings, heaps of banking and admin to do, basically all the life admin stuff I hate, and they do it voluntarily so that we can all get on with all the other service we have to do. They make their decisions openly, we can talk to them about what’s going on, they’re happy to be questioned, but they do so much that goes unnoticed and unthanked. These people are champions! No wonder one of the first ones ever was stoned to death!

Stephen, the first martyr of the church, was one of the seven deacons appointed to sort out the issue of feeding the widows of the church. Classic admin job. He happened to perform a few miracles on the side, and made the longest speech in the book of Acts, in the Sanhedrin court, which is no surprise really because the qualification for his job was being known to be full of the spirit and wisdom. He could explain and defend his faith, as well as organise a fair system for distribution of resources. 


Stephen is the gold star standard for wardens because he was faithful to Jesus and to His word, as well as executing his duties in organising the meal roster. His character and faith shaped his service, he wasn’t just useful at admin. 

I’m so thankful to God that my church wardens are like that as well. I don’t want them to be martyred, they make so many sacrifices already to serve our church and therefore our community in this way! But I’m thankful that not only are they great at their voluntary roles, but they’re people of great character and faith as well. 

I really want to make sure I thank them more and pray for them more often. I’d encourage you to do the same. 

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I just don’t feel like it. 

A few of my posts recently have circled around the tricky space between emotions and will, and a conversation at Bible study yesterday prompted me to address this head on. 

What do you do when you feel emotionally and spiritually dry, and you know the sacrifice God desires is a contrite heart? That He wants our heart’s attitude to be shaped for Him, and that He hates hypocrisy? Do you keep going to church even though “your heart’s not in it”? Or would that be an insult to God and others, and/or make things worse? 

There’s so much that could be said about this but to give us a smaller arena for discussion, I’m gonna focus on Isaiah 1, which was our passage at Bible study yesterday and prompts my thoughts on this issue. 

In Isaiah 1, God is criticising His people for their empty religious practices. 
““The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭1:11-15‬ ‭NIV‬‬

At this point, it’s important to notice that the sacrifices etc were required by God’s law. The problem (here at least!) is not that they’re sacrificing to idols or something like that. God is saying that He is sick of their sacrifices and prayers. Why? Well, the explanation begins in the final phrase of the above verses, “your hands a full of blood”, which God then tells them to wash off themselves. 

“Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭1:16-17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

So, we do see a problem of hypocrisy; they’re doing the right religious ceremonies, but they leave it at ceremony, instead of letting God’s will direct everything else about their relationships, individually and as a society. They’re not obeying God’s will in all things. So, they’re hypocrites. Unjust ones. 

But we don’t actually see a hypocrisy of emotion. It’s not that they’re prayers don’t feel genuine to God, or that their sacrifices don’t have a ring of emotional sincerity. The hypocrisy is the gap between their religious ceremonies and the rest of their lives. God isn’t concerned with their emotions at all in this passage, but their actions, and the way their actions reflect their understanding of and attitude towards themselves and God. 

So does that make it irrelevant to the issue I’m trying to address, of when there’s a gap between how we feel and the way we follow Jesus? Shouldn’t I pick a passage that talks about emotions?!! 

Well, yes, but also, a huge part of that problem is simply us, our society and culture. The culture of the Bible is aware of emotions, most emphatically, they’re not ignored or discounted, but they’re not given the high place our culture gives them. So the hypocrisy we feel regarding emotions and actions isn’t necessarily directly addressed. 

For a few different reasons, we’ve ended up with a culture where emotions (which are notoriously changeable and unreliable) are the main measure of genuineness. How we feel about a decision is how we should make it, our preference or mood should dictate our actions. “What do you feel like for dinner?” Is a normal question to us.  Dinner is no longer about nutrition, price and community, but, emotion…? 

This obsession with emotion and genuineness is particularly emphasised by the idea that spontaneity = authenticity. If two people fall in love “instantly” it must be genuine, and if it takes longer or even much longer than that, we question it. This has an interesting side effect in church, is a prepared prayer still genuine? What if someone else wrote it and we’re all saying it at the same time? Are these really “my” words? 

How we feel about something has become the only measure for truth. We leave jobs, relationships, houses and countries all because we’re not “feeling it” any more. We seek new jobs, relationships, houses, countries and other experiences so that we’ll feel something. 

Whereas, if we pause for a second and ask, “hands up who feels better about things after a good sleep?” Our collective hands would be raised, in acknowledgement that our emotions can change, simply through physical processes! “Hands up if you’ve felt sad at 11pm and ok again by morning? Or if you’ve been grumpy and then eaten a good snack and everything has improved?” For heaven’s sake, we’ve even got advertising based around that fact!  “Hands up if you feel better after a good cry?” And bam, you’ve got a whole field of psychology. 

We do actually know that emotions change a lot, over time, for heaps of different reasons, including medication, but our culture tells us that how we feel should be key in decision making and general actions. But is this what the Bible says? And what do we do about that? Does God want me to “genuinely feel” some particular way about Him and His people and the thing we’re doing for me to do it? What should we do when we’re not “feeling it”? Take a spiritual snack? Have a spiritual nap? Is the old, “break from church” the solution??* 

Well, if we return to Isaiah for a moment we can see that God’s solution to their hypocrisy was not simply to have an emotional response and a change of emotions, but actually is a call to fresh action. “Seek justice, learn to do right, defend the oppressed.” They’re not going to fix the problem of their hypocrisy simply by emoting about it; mourning, regretting, etc. All of those would be appropriate emotional reactions, but, more than that, God is calling them to act. He wants what they do to represent what they say they know and believe. Elsewhere, He will talk about mourning and sighing over their sins (for eg) but He wants action, that aligns with that they say they believe. 

Our culture says, “let your emotional state govern your actions”, the Bible says, “let God’s will govern your actions”. We might not feel anything in particular about God and His people. Or we might be angry, disappointed, sad, etc etc etc. But what do we say we believe? That God is the divine ruler of the world and deserves all honour, power and glory? That means we could take at least a tiny slice of our week to be devoted to a sacrifice of praise to Him? Do we believe that we should not giving up meeting together, as instructed in Hebrews, because each of us has a part to play in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians)?

I am a person of interesting emotional states. I have depression, which means often my emotional state is “die or hibernate under quilt forever.” Or the great, yawning gulf of “meh” which some of my fellow depressives are familiar with. “Cute cat”, meh. “Mum died”, meh. “Won lotto”, meh. And, some of my days are a constant battle against the conviction that everyone would be better off if I was dead. In fact, if there was a way we could erase my exitsence altogether, that would be better, let’s make it as if I had never been born. Is that an emotional state? Mm, kinda Mostly. Should I act on it? No. Why not? Cos it’s not true. It doesn’t define me and shouldn’t be allowed to make my decisions for me. 

Yes, sometimes stuff like going to a church service is hard or just boring. Or prayer feels like it’s not happening cos it’s not an emotionally rich experience. Yes, I look forward to the day when I will feel how I’d like to feel about these things, but for now, the gap between my feelings and my actions is not hypocrisy, it’s hope. Hope that how I’m feeling now will change. Hope that putting into practise what I believe will be better for me and for everybody around me. And better for them too, if they do it too. 

*I’m not actually gonna say it never is, sometimes a break is just necessary for sanity, especially in tough circumstances. Talk to someone whose emotions about church are mixed because they’ve been molested in a church, or whose congregation is constantly at war over trivial matters, or whose minister is a discouraging hate monger and you’ll be talking to some people who find church emotionally tough. Talk to someone whose mental illness makes it difficult to leave the house, or whose chronic pain makes sitting upright in a pew excruciating, and you’ll be talking to someone who finds church mento all tough and might need a break from going to services.           

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You too can make grown women cry! 

So, I’ve got this friend Graham and he’s magical. For lots of different reasons, but especially including his incredible talent for making women cry. 

Now, I recognise that that’s not something everyone wants to do, so, maybe that’s not the magical part… 

Maybe the magical part is that the women almost always feel better afterwards. Feel… Reassured, welcomed, listened to, cared for. It’s pretty special. So many of us have to pay someone for that. A counsellor, a psychologist, a psychotherapist. Graham does it for free. And it’s an effective and beautiful gift. 

What does he do that brings women to tears? Apart from being the friendliest, smiliest man ever? (There was this one time when he was sick on a group trip, and not smiling, and like, the whole dynamic of the group changed. It’s like the bottom fell out of everything. Graham unhappy. So weird!) 

What he does, is that he sits down with you, looks at you and says, “how are you.” 

Yup. That’s it. The question we all hear a bunch of times a day really. So why is it different when he asks? 

It’s partly that he manages to communicate that he’s actually asking and actually wants to hear the answer. Think about it, when was the last time someone said “how are you” as more than just phat speech? The fill in speech we all say. The type of thing you can easily say at the same time and just laugh it off, cos it matters but doesn’t matter. Phat speech. When you accidentally say, “hihowareyou” at the same time. 

It’s rare to be asked “how are you” and know the person wants the answer, whatever it is. Graham manages to convey to you that he does want the answer. AND, he’s happy to hear the answer however long it takes. 

Graham is used to me, and probably used to people like me, which means he knows we’re used to being asked “how are you” but not used to having the answer welcomed or listened too. We’re hesitant at first when he asks us because it feels like actually the answer to that question could never end. And we know people don’t have time for that. They don’t actually have time to bother. We feel like we’ll be a hassle, so we don’t answer. 

Or, we feel like the person asking won’t understand. Yes, we could tell them that bit and that bit, but not all the bits. We’re constantly self-editing. We have to. There are very few people who give us the time and safety to say how we actually are doing. 

Which is why Graham is magic cos he manages to inspire the confidence so quickly, you believe him when he asks and you can tell from his body language and tone and everything that he’s not gonna push you, but he’s hearing. It really is pretty incredible. So many times, my heart has been lifted because Graham has said, “hey! How are you?!” 

Now, with Graham, I know there’s more to it than that. Like I said, there’s the smilingness. And he gives great hugs. And he’s big and comfy and friendly, he’s the perfect, non-threatening listening post. Not all of us have those qualities. And not all of us do have have time all the time to ask all the people this. And that’s ok! But it’s certainly interesting to observe Graham’s magic in action and figure out what the rest of us can replicate. 

I think the key thing is that it starts in the same place Graham starts, which is asking. And making it clear you’re asking seriously, and have the time to hear the answer and want to hear it. 

I am so blessed to have Graham as a friend. He has lifted my heart many many times in many ways, but including lightening my load by asking “how are you”. I’m also even more lavishly blessed to have quite a few people in my life who, if they ask this question, I know that, like Graham, they want to know. But so many people don’t have that. For lots of reasons, they can be hesitant to actually tel someone. But also, for many of them, too few people actually ask. 

How about we all try to use the magic of “how are you”? You might be amazed, surprised, dismayed, enlightened or amused by the response. But whatever the content, it’s a wonderful gift to someone. 

Now just wait til I blog about Graham’s incredible wife Sarah!!
*disclaimer – I’m sure this has a pretty similar effect when Graham asks his many guy friends how they are as well , just maybe not the crying part? IDK. They might do that behind closed doors. 

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Sometimes I’m good at welcoming*

*and by welcoming I’m mostly talking about at church, but also in my people based ministry job.  But I actually apply these things all the time, at people’s parties, funerals, sudden shared public experiences. I like to think I’d be useful in a plane crash. 

So, I’m an introvert, and I don’t like new things, and I don’t like people (OK, well sometimes I do) and yet most people think I’m an extrovert who loves meeting people. Is this an evil deception on my part? Poor ability on behalf of others to understand people? An accident? 

Well, I hope it’s not an evil deception, and it’s true that some people aren’t great at looking below the surface, but it’s certainly not an accident. 

Instead, it’s an intentional practise on my part, for quite specific reasons, in most social circumstances, to be more than my natural self in order to love others.

1. Intentional. If left to my own devices, I would possibly never leave the house. Well, maybe occasionally, but only if people promised to be interesting and skip the small talk. If I’m ever gonna be welcoming, it has to be on purpose. 

2. Specific reasons. This is connected to the final point, but I don’t just do this cos I feel like it’s what people should do. I love manners, I think they’re a sign of a gracious society  of respect, but I try to be welcoming because it’s a measureably, provably good way of helping people become part of a community. So, the big reason is love, the specific reasons are; welcoming is a form of hospitality, it helps new people integrate into a community, it encourages others to think outside themselves too. 

3. In most social circumstances. As stated above, I’m particularly thinking about the process of welcoming people at church (you know how the people up the front keep bugging you to be welcoming? I’m talking about that) but I do usually try to be welcoming wherever I am. It’s a service you can provide for others who might feel shy, sad, uncomfortable or uncertain. Plus, when you meet people, you never know what could happen through those a new connections, so it’s good to keep that in mind too. 

4. In order to love others. When I’m at church, and there’s new people, or new-ish people, and I’m thinking about me, I could be thinking any or all of the following:

 – I am fat and ugly, no one would want to talk to me. 

 – I am tired and want to go home. 

 – I am sick of being the one to do this, why can’t someone else talk to that new person?!

 – I’d really love to be nourished this morning, instead of having to give, I give all week. Being nourished does not include awkward small talk. Ugh. I just really wanna talk to just my friends. 

 You will have your own versions of this. It could include things like:

 – I am here to flirt. I only have one chance to see that girl this week, I’m gonna make a beeline for her and start leering. 

 – I have no idea what to say to people. This would be awful and full of awkward silences and they would never want to come back and may instead prefer to move to another state rather than have to talk to me again. 

 – I feel awkward talking to that weird looking older man, for I am but a 19 year old girl. I can tell from here that he’s weird. 

Most of these things, when focussed on me instead of the other, would prevent me from ever bothering. 

But here’s some things the new people are thinking:

 – gaaaaaaaah!!! This is so awkward!!! I hate meeting strangers, and here I am, surrounded by strangers! And I don’t know what I’m doing, cos this is a new church and they do things weird here. 

 – ohmigosh, that weird old guy is going to come over and talk to me, and I am but a 19 year old girl. I can tell from here that he’s weird. Oh! He’s the minister… Awkward!!! 

 – I am trying to be brave today, but everyone is just talking to everyone else, and I don’t feel confident enough to break into someone’s  conversation. Maybe I’ll just really quickly finish my awkward cup of tea and go and find another church where people are nice. 

 – I am fat and ugly and no one wants to talk to me (unfortunately, I’ve had people, real life people tell me that at this point they’re thinking, “it’s cos I”m Asian/black/gender-ambiguous isn’t it” (for eg) which is sad enough that people have so many reasons to feel that and terrible when/if that’s actually what’s going on!!!).

Imagine feeling all that stuff! And being surrounded by people who are so busy thinking of themselves they can’t be bothered talking to you! 

If you want to love and welcome other people, you’re gonna have to get over yourself. Yes, you might be fat and ugly, you might hate meeting new people, but this is not about you. It’s about them. 

So, if you’re like me, what do you do to be better at this? Once you’ve fixed the attitude that is. 

1. I try to take care of myself. What a place to start, right? But seriously, I tend to feel most depressed and self-conscious when (I stop taking my medicine) I don’t get enough sleep, or spend some time doing things I enjoy, or having fun with people I love. So, I try to make sure I do that stuff so I’m as energised and fresh for the (for me) harder task of meeting new people. 

2. You can actually learn small talk and practise makes perfect. “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met before. Is this your first time here? Oh, and what brought you along today? What do you do during the week? How did you find the service today? Would you prefer to eat poo flavoured icecream or icecream flavoured poo?” There are various questions that work across lots of different demographics, and the key thing is to listen because then you might have a follow up question. “Oh, so you’ve moved to the area, how did the move go? What brought you here?” Etc etc etc. Before you know it, you’re having a conversation. YES it’s not the most riveting conversation ever had, but it’s better than leaving them standing there alone, and you can introduce them to someone else too. Then they know TWO people! 

3. Recruit other people. Maybe you are a 19 year old girl and don’t want to approach older men (for eg), then, get to know some of the guys in your church and, when you notice the new guy, drag one of the guys you already know with you to make it less awkward. 
ALSO, sometimes you do just need a week on the bench. The week has been really draining and you do just need to catch up with a friend. Your anxiety level is high today and the fact that you left your house is energy enough. That’s great! You do that! Let someone else do this occasionally. If we’re all welcoming, everyone can have their necessary time off. Sometimes it’s your friend who’s had the crazy weekend they just need to debrief with you. Again, that’s great, you’ve encouraged all the other people at church to be welcoming, so you don’t have to carry the whole load by yourself. Hooray! 

And that’s it actually, that’s all I’ve done/all I do, and I’ve convinced literally hundreds of people that I’m confident and happy to meet them! Slash, and more importantly, I’ve helped hundreds of people survive their first week at a new church and showed them some of the love of God. 

You do not have to be a glamorous, extroverted, confident person to welcome people into your church and church family, cos even I can do it! You don’t need a personality change; you just have to care. 

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What’d I miss?

It’s the holidays, and so of course, I’m home alone and in a reflective mood. Particularly at the moment I’m thinking about the moments of 2015 that passed me by. 

Fitbit – this is a thing right? Is it just a pedometer…? Or what? I’m confused, but they’re everywhere. You know you can get a pedometer for $3 at Kmart right? Anyway, it seems like Fitbit (and pedometers in general) could end up involving maths. Ugh. Best left alone. 

Biebs –  Of course there were more Justin Bieber moments in 2015, there have to have been. But as I only recently started listening to commercial radio again, I have mercifully missed most of them. Unfortunately the words, “my mama don’t like you and she likes everyone” are torturously circling through my head rn, but I choose to blame the shopping centre for that one. Other than that, I’m sorry Biebs, you garnered even less of my attention in 2015 than granola. 

Star Wars – a late entry into 2015 in terms of opening date, but not in terms of public consciousness. Notsomuch for me. I know I watched the original trilogy at some point in early life, but I really don’t remember it. I can remember some bits of The Phantom Menace, but mostly cos we got the computer game. I just… Well… Meh. Sorry guys, it’s not that I don’t like Sci Fi (did somebody say Jean Luc hubba-hubba Picard?!) but I just don’t “get” the Star Wars thing. I am however enjoying people saying “pew pew pew” to me. 

Crop tops – of course, I am forbidden by fat-ists from wearing one (and even the fat positive blogs would probably blanch at the public display of my Robin Williams-esque quantity of upper tummy hair (hey, it was apparently quite cold at some point in my genetic heritage!) even if they found my chub acceptable), but yeah, apparently crop tops were/are a thing this year? All I know is, when I wandered into Sportsgirl for the first time in years because I was desperately trying to find black lipstick, a lot of the stuff in the store looked like I’d walked back into highschool (especially circa 10 Things I Hate About You (oh Heath! Why?! Why so young?!)) up to and including white crop tops with long black skirts. Well, idk, welcome back crop tops I spose. Will we get all those little bejewelled butterfly hair clips back too? 

Burgers – ok, so I didn’t really miss burgers, like, I ate some, and not all of them from McDonalds. I even queued in the dark at a food truck (and then several hours later revisited that delicious meal… At least I got to smell it all again) for one (I’m very trendy). But apparently, Sydney at least, went crazy for “American style” burgers, but I didn’t keep up my end of the bargain and I haven’t even been to The Burger Project. Of all the things I’ve missed this year, this will be one I aim to catch up on. 

What a year it’s been. So many highlights. And much to look forward to next time. I might even discover when the anti-griddle became a thing. 

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A reason to sing. 

Soooooo, if this link works, you should be able to hear my poorly recorded but not as poor as the morning version of my sermon to St George’s Anglican Church, Paddington on December 6th.

The text focuses on Zechariah’s song, but takes into account the full story of Zechariah and Elizabeth mostly in Luke 1.

Sermon Luke 1 – Zechariah’s Song

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What happens after you say, “I forgive you”?

There’s a trouble that confronts us all when we consider the disturbingly high statistics of domestic violence. 

What happens afterward? 

There’s been a story floating around from the U.S the last couple of weeks about a TV ‘star’ called Josh Duggar. He’s hosted some shows on Discovery and is part of a show about his family, as he is one of 19 children in a religious family. 

It’s become clear that as a teenager he sexually molested five young girls, including four of his own sisters. 

Now, part of me wants to share further details, because, I think rightly, we do recognised that there are shades of intensity in such crimes. For example, we distinguish between murder and manslaughter, when both at their core are the killing of another person. 

But the other part doesn’t want to because that information should be enough! So much abuse is denied and shaken off as “high spirits”, “youthful mistakes”, “just a bad mood” etc etc etc. “Justified”, or, to be more accurate, “excused” based on endless permutations of advocation of responsibility. 

Which of these are justified though? 

In most cultures, we accept that childhood and adolescence involve a lessened amount of responsibility based on lessened knowledge, experience and control. And I think that’s fair enough, I think there should be different treatment and judgement for juvenile offenders. So, there is some justification for it being unfair for the press to drag Josh himself through the mud. 

The real problem is his parents. Like so many others, they did not deal well with the situation. When the learned of the initial molestation, they “disciplined him at home”. This was clearly ineffective as he continued in the behaviour, so eventually, Jim Bob talked to the church elders and they sent him away for a few months. 

AT NO POINT WERE THE VICTIMS COUNSELLED. 

I just want to let that sit for a moment. As usual, the Christian impulse is often to cover up, hide from or pretend sin hasn’t happened, as a greater priority than generously and lovingly caring for those effected. 

Anyways. 

After Josh came back from his summer break, dad Jim Bob introduced him to a policeman, who instead of reporting the issues, as a mandatory reporter which of course he was, he gave Josh a stern talking to. In other news, which some claim to be unrelated information, that policeman was later arrested on charges relating to child pornography and is serving a 56 year sentence. Yeah, totally unrelated. 

So anyways, by the time the official reporting happened, it was more than three years after the events and therefore, according to Arkansas law, couldn’t be prosecuted. His parents waited at least 16 months before telling any authorities. Besides, y’know, the church elders. 

So, there’s lots to be said. But the thing this mostly makes me think about at the moment is “how do we deal with the after effects?”

Obviously for the victims (hello-o!!! ANY help for the girls?! No? Thanks mum and dad!!) but also, what do we do with the perpetrator?

Does the fact that he was a juvenile mean we should “forgive” him (whatever that means anyway)? Even though he was never punished, counselled or rehabilitated? 

What if he was punished, counselled and rehabilitated? Do we ignore all the stats that say he’ll reoffend and carry on as usual?

What if Josh (and his wife and kids) were at your church? Would you be happy to have him on the crèche roster (although I don’t think the men at his church do that) (although let’s face it, that’s reality for a lot of churches. Apparently guys are happy to make the kids, they just leave the crèche roster to the women and children)? Or would you feel like a bad Christian for not wanting him near your kids? Does forgiveness complete the process of restoration? Can it? Should it? 

It’s strange isn’t it that for a religion centred on forgiveness and mercy, we’re often unclear on how to deal with the details and struggles of forgiveness between people in a sinful world.
And we’re definitely not clear on how to do this when it comes to domestic violence, because we’re usually to busy covering it up or pretending it’s not happening. 

It’s difficult people. What do you  do when your son has sexually molested your daughter

I know I’ve mostly just raised questions for now, but I do have some pond rings to share later on suggested, partial answers. 

What about you? 

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