Dawn Armstrong

Homelessness has a face…and it’s mine.

I come from a long line of broken women and bad men.  By the time I was 14, I had experienced so much suffering and abuse that I was tired of being scared all of the time. One day I packed a bag and headed for the city. I didn’t know where I would go, or what I would do…but I knew that I had to get out of there.
No one came looking for me, either.

By nature, I am an introvert. I was always quiet and reserved as a child, never asking for much. Needing things got me into trouble. I learned to stay shadows to avoid that trouble. Being homeless however, it taught me how to be an extrovert. I knew that if I wanted a meal or a place to sleep, I had to learn to make friends quickly. I learned to read people well and to listen when they talked. I always knew when it was time leave. It was around the time that parents started asking,

“Do her parents know she’s been here for three days?”

“Should I call her mother?”

“Why is she still here?”

Yep, time to go.

Making friends became my job. Getting food and shelter was how I got paid. When you aren’t old enough to work, you become very resourceful. As soon as I was of legal working age, I held down a job and went to school. Working was never a problem for me. I was an Iowa farm girl. I knew how to work. I took any job I could get—mostly fast food or as a waitress. It was quick money, I had somewhere to eat, and I was warm for my whole shift.

There were times where there just wasn’t a friend to be made. I would sleep anywhere and everywhere I could find. There was one night in particular that’s burned into my memory.

It was right in the middle of a harsh Midwest winter, and it was frigid outside. I had no coat. I just had this basketball sweatshirt with my name on the back of it. Man, I loved that sweatshirt so much. I had bought it with the money I earned de-tasseling corn for a local farmer a few summers back. Something about that sweatshirt made me feel normal—like I was just this kid on a basketball team who had a great life and was not a homeless beggar. That cold, winter night I walked up and down the streets of Council Bluffs, Iowa, not sure what to do. I remembered that one of the friends I’d stayed with had recently moved. I wondered if the house was still vacant. In complete desperation, I ran to the house and found that it hadn’t been rented yet. I went to the back, scaled the house, popped open the window and crawled inside. To my despair, the heat was turned off. It was still so cold. I looked around for anything that had been left behind to cover myself up with. Nothing remained, so I found a carpeted room in the middle of the home and laid down. I rolled up in a ball and shoved my knees as far up my sweatshirt as I could. I put my hands inside the sleeves in an attempt to warm them to any degree. I sat in the dark and cried.

I felt so alone in the world. My hands hurt. My stomach was so hungry. The weight of my situation was so heavy. As I sobbed that night, I could see my breath in the dark, another painful reminder of how cold it was even inside the house. Exhaustion set in. I could feel my body start to succumb to how tired it was.
My last thoughts that night were wondering if I would freeze to death. If this spot in the carpet would be my final resting place. Would this be the way that I died? I wondered if there would be a funeral.  I couldn’t think of anyone who would come. How would they even know who I was if no one was looking for me? I was afraid to go to sleep, not certain that I was going to wake up. I was just so tired.

I woke up the next morning to the sound of someone entering the back door. I was startled and shot up like a rabbit. I heard them talking. It was the landlord showing the house. They saw me, and I ran out the front door in shame. Shame that they saw my need. Shame that they knew. Shame that I had broken into his home because I had nowhere to go. I ran for three blocks before I stopped. That adrenaline was the first warmth I had felt in a long time. The tears came back.

At the time, I didn’t even know I was pregnant with my first child. Being homeless was becoming very inconvenient. Things that people don’t realize:

You can have a baby at 16, but you can’t sign a lease. You can’t buy a car. You can’t turn on your utilities. You can get welfare, but technically I made too much money. In time, I made enough money to support myself to some degree, but none of it mattered because I wasn’t legal. I found a few friends that let me stay here and there, but there was no stability. Everything relied on me never being underfoot and always perfect. I always tried to disappear or remain in the room of the friend I was staying with. I did this somewhat in hopes that they would forget I was there, and I’d get to stay longer. My survival was completely based on the generosity of others creating space for me in their life. At seventeen, hoping for a miracle, I reunited with my child’s father and found myself pregnant again. Upon this news, my boyfriend left us for his full-ride scholarship.

I had no choice anymore. I had to keep Anthony safe. He would not survive freezing temperatures.  I went to a homeless shelter which broke the rules and let me stay there. I can’t tell you how humbling it was to walk through those doors with one hand on my pregnant belly and the other holding the hand of my one-year-old—especially knowing that this was all I had for them, and it wasn’t even mine to give.
I would stay in this homeless shelter until the day I turned 18.

In the homeless community there are two subcultures. There are vagrants, and there are homeless.

Vagrants are those who have accepted homelessness as their way of life. They come to shelters for a meal and a bed. They have no interest in rehabilitation or getting off the streets. Something in their way of thinking shifted in life. Homelessness grants them anonymity. They are able to escape expectations, responsibilities, and heartbreak. In my experience, most have some mental illness. They seek refuge in friends who need that escape, too. A high percentage of them are riddled with addiction because that’s the way they truly get to “disappear.” When the generosity of others wains or the drugs run out, they aren’t above committing crimes or hurting you to steal what you’ve got.

The homeless are the rest of us. I spent four years in that world, and I can tell you firsthand who these people are. They are people who were in similar situations to mine, either experiencing teen pregnancy or escaping abuse at home. Some were battered women who took their kids and ran. Some had lost jobs, and for others, medical bills were the cause of their financial demise. Some were people that had been shunned by the world for one reason or another and had just shut down. Back in my time, there were a lot of LGTBQ people or girls who had gotten pregnant and had been kicked out of their homes for disappointing their families. They had nowhere to go.

We were all ashamed to be there. Deep shame. The kind that makes your soul quake.  At first, we all just tried to stay in our rooms. It was easier to not have to look people in the eye. During meal and chore times, we were forced to interact. Sometimes the thought of having to face people made me really not hungry. I only went into the kitchen because my baby needed to eat.

One evening during another awkward meal at the dinner table, I got brave and asked the person sitting next to me, “So what are you in for?” The whole table laughed, and we all started to open up about what had gotten us there—the roads we had traveled. Every single one of us wanted a chance to say that we were more than just our circumstances. It helped with the shame. When people came into volunteer, it made us all uncomfortable in a sense. We scattered like roaches. We didn’t want to be seen or treated as less. Some of that stemmed from how we viewed ourselves, being in one of the weakest moment of our lives. When we had chores that brought us face to face with staff or volunteers, we were quick to tell our stories. We didn’t want to be lumped in with vagrants. We didn’t put ourselves above the vagrant population, but it was vital to our long-term survival for those around us to know that WE WANTED OUT! We didn’t want to be here. We needed people to stop judging us long enough to see that. No one could judge us as critically as we judged ourselves. We, too, wanted so desperately to hold our heads high and do well for ourselves. Our chances at that point relied solely on people’s willingness to see beyond our circumstances. We needed someone willing to open a few doors for us—doors we couldn’t open for ourselves, despite our best efforts.

I signed the lease for my first apartment on my 18th birthday. I walked through that door with pride. I owned nothing but the two towels assigned to me by the homeless shelter, along with three children’s books given to me that I read to Anthony every night. I bet the people who donated those books had no idea how much I’d come to treasure them. They were three of the five things that I owned. My apartment wasn’t much by the world’s view, but those were the most beautiful four walls I had ever seen. They were my four walls.

I wish I had the time and space to tell you the whole story, because the first 20 years were absolute hell and this post makes it look like Candyland. It got so much worse. I only give you this rare and very private view of my life because I want people to see that
struggle…has a face. It’s my face.

For months I have watched cities throughout Utah consistently reject bringing homeless resource centers into their communities. This week it happened in my own home town of Draper, Utah. A proposal to house a resource center for women and children was brutally rejected, no questions asked. As leaders tried to calm the angry mob and address concerns, they were booed or yelled at. Threats and insults were flying everywhere. I can’t tell you how much it broke my heart. I don’t think my community realized they were rejecting one of their own. 20 years ago, that was me.

Draper’s response was no different than any other proposed hosting city. Every meeting has had the same result, each proposed site being shot down with the same vigor. Rooms filled with anger, resentment and awful words spoken. This happens in cities all throughout our nation whenever the subject of homelessness comes up.

The heart of the message is always the same: “We don’t want you.”

I can’t help but feel the sting of that sentiment. I can guarantee that for some of the people walking the halls of those homeless shelters, they’ve heard those words before…and it’s part of what landed them there.

There is also a very important part of the story that you aren’t hearing—the end.

After struggle… comes triumph. I normally wouldn’t give my resume (I’m not about that life), but I think it’s imperative in this instance because people need to understand that someone’s beginning does not determine their ending.

I went on to have a beautiful life. I worked HARD. I fought my way OUT of poverty. I worked multiple jobs and never turned my nose up at an opportunity to further myself.  All of those desperate times shaped my character in ways you can’t even imagine. It gave me the grit I needed to stare down the obstacles in my life, including myself. People’s willingness to see my potential—rather than my circumstances—gave me a chance to move on and to do beautiful things. I outworked everyone, because I wanted a good life.

I spent a long career as a director at a local hospital, where I specialized in addiction recovery, motivational workshops, marketing and strategic planning, clinical care, and sensitivity training. I was the first person in the State of Utah to achieve several National Awards for Excellence. I served as a consultant for several hospitals throughout the Intermountain West. In 2009, I walked away from my six-figure salary to stay home with my (Surprise!) twins.

For several years now, I’ve devoted hundreds of hours to humanitarian service every month—thousands of hours per year. I spend time investing in communities around the globe. I sit with the broken. All day, every day… I walk people out of the dark. Some of the time is spent in mentorship programs for young single mothers. Some of it is spent at the women’s prison, or juvenile detention centers. I’ve also worked with bereavement groups.  I’ve held dead babies in my arms while mothers wept from their unspeakable loss. Often times it’s in a church. I work with men, women, and youth around the world, counseling them through abuse, addiction, marriage, suicide, grief, loss, LGBTQ issues, and a host of other heartbreaking circumstances. I love my life and I don’t make a dime, although I have been able to help raise money for others in need. In fact, sharing a tiny bit of my story helped to earn the American Red Cross 1.2 million dollars.

I have been happily married to an incredible man for 20 years this summer. We have eight well-educated, nurtured and loving children that go out to serve with us. That is ten people serving communities. And the generations that follow them will, too.

My son Anthony… he’s currently in the Junior Core at the Marriot School of Business, one of the top business schools in the country,  highly focused on integrity in business. His education follows two years of service in South Africa, where he had the chance to lift up and offer aid to some of the world’s most humble and impoverished people. My next oldest son, Andrew, has just sent in the paperwork to serve for two years as well. Upon returning, his plan is to attend medical school. My other children are too young to know their futures, but I know they will serve their communities well because it’s modeled at home.

My point is that we have to look at the return investment. I am confident in saying that it worked out for those who invested in a tiny homeless girl in the Midwest. We won’t always see the ending, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a beautiful one.

We have got to recognize what Charity is and what it isn’t. Charity is not going down to the homeless shelter on Thanksgiving and serving dinner, then snapping a picture for Instagram. Charity is not being willing to help those in need, as long as they stay out of our communities. That’s the worldly and human need for a social pecking order, with the elite always remaining on top.
We might as well be saying, “I am fine helping you, but know your place. The only way you are welcome in my community is if you can afford to buy your own ticket.”

Can we truly call that the pure love of Christ?  Christ entered the world homeless, and was of humble means throughout his life. Yet his contributions are quite literally our saving grace.  I think his view on this subject was pretty clear:

“For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not…
Inasmuch as ye have done
 it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Good people of the world, I challenge us to search our consciences—to channel our Christian hearts. Good deeds are not done by walking into a church. They are done when you walk outside of that church and help others.

We have got to change this “No Room in the Inn” mentality. There’s room if we make room. True charity is sacrifice. True charity is giving to the point that it hurts a little bit, or sometimes an awful lot. That’s the very essence of Christianity: loving sacrifice. It’s what shapes our character and defines our hearts. I beg of our communities to share in the sacred responsibility to serve our most needy.

Stephen Colbert said it best:

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition, and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

 

Dawn L. Armstrong is a humanitarian, speaker, blogger, and lover of all people. Her autobiography, “A New Dawn”, highlights the struggle to break the chains of abuse, neglect, and poverty. In it she provides insight on how to heal from the wounds of this world, and go on to have an extraordinary life. Look for it in book stores later this year.

 

 


 

 

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How eating popcorn could kill you, or make you wish you were dead.

I love popcorn. I do. It’s been my favorite snack since I was a little. I’ve raised my children with this little love affair as well. Every movie night is celebrated with a great big bowl of this buttery yumminess.

Lately, I’ve been using it as my nightly snack. My son Julian will pop me a big bow full of it and I’ll eat it over a few days time. Last night was Ethan’s Halloween Orchestra Concert, so I made dinner early. By the time it was over I was starving and I was on the hunt. After rummaging through our pantry, I went upstairs defeated – resounded to going to bed hungry. As I entered my room…complete joy flooded my memory!!! I remembered I still had a half a bowl of popcorn!

Wait…did my kids get to it? Is it already gone? I was panicked, hoping the kids had not sniffed out my treats like the bloodhounds they typically are when any kind of goodness lurks within the walls of my room. Just as I was about to give up, I noticed the bowl on the floor behind my office chair and jumped for joy! “Woo hoo!!!” I cried out. Craig was already in bed and laughing he said, “What’s got you so happy?”

“The kids didn’t eat my popcorn!!! Now I’m about to get in my bed, snuggle up to my honey, and watch a movie til I fall asleep!” The lights were all out and I climbed into bed about to snarf down my bestie snack with a vengeance. Then…the thought came to me- I better go wash my hands first. I can’t stand putting things in my mouth with the thought of dirty hands. I set the bowl on the counter and went to the bathroom while I was at it, cause ain’t nobody got time to  interrupt a deep sleep because of a full bladder.

Ok….Handled my business, check. Washed my hands, check.

I grabbed my bowl of yumminess off the counter and went to shut the lights off. Just as I was flipping the switch, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Double take….was something moving in my bowl? So I turned the light back on for better inspection. I leaned my head into the bowl and again had to adjust my eyes….what is thaaaaaat?

Is that a WORM? Oh my gosh, YES!!! I continued to scan the bowl and there lied a second, but smaller worm!!! I refused to look for anymore at this point… but I can tell you from my observation,  they were the happiest worms I have ever seen. They were practically dancing all over the place as they mounted the various kernels of popped heaven clouds. Soooooo GROSS!

Now a word of warning, I’m not typically a cussing type person – however I reserve the right to belt out profanities in times of extreme fear, extreme pain or creepy crawlies in my food.

I screamed out, “Craig!!!!!! There are worms in my damn popcorn! Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Ewe ewe ewe ewe ewe ewe ewe ewe ewe!!!!!!!!”

Craig, “the hero” comes hopping in to save the day… (he’s only got one leg) and is like,

“Whoa…those are huge!”

Grabbing his arms I was like…. “I KNOW….!!! I almost ate them! I almost ate these nasty things! What if I wouldn’t have stopped to wash my hands?

What if I would have just jumped into bed in the dark and started chowing down?!

WHAT if I picked up a kernel with a worm on it and it touched me?

Or I put it in my mouth and squished it?

Oh my gosh Craig! I could have died!

Where did these worms come from?!

I bet they hatched in the bowl! Ewe! Wait?!

I’ve been eating that BOWL for two days!

WHAT IF I ALREADY ATE SOME?

What if they are alive inside of me?

What if I ate some kernels that’s had worm eggs in them and now they’ve are hatching inside me while we speak?

What if they crawl up my throat with all of their disgusting little succor feet and come out of my nose or mouth? I almost died Craig! I almost diiiiiiieeeeeeed!”

Craig laughing at my ridiculousness (that’s a daily affair for him) tried to convince me that they must have gotten in there somehow. That they didn’t hatch. Blah blah blah.

“There’s no way dear, that one worm was HUGE. He couldn’t have gotten that big in a day.” he says.

“Craig, of course they can! They’ve been eating my popcorn!”

Sorry, I just couldn’t take his word for it. So I took to the internet. Low and behold, worms and popcorn are a thing. Even found pictures of my worms. They are the ones in the photo below. 🙁 And for your viewing pleasure I have included a video on youtube of little larvae that hatched inside a movie theatre popcorn bin. That’s what these worms look like before they fill up on popcorn. 50 shades of nasty.

The tiny worm on the left was the size of one of the worms. The second worm was the size of the one of the  far right. I want to cry right now.

I spent the entire night paranoid….thinking of how many worms I had ingested over the course of my popcorn loving life. I’m probably infested and they are swarming through my intestines as we speak.

Craig thinks the acids in my stomach would probably kill them, but I’m not convinced. I mean if they have survived pesticides, harvest, treatment and packaging facilities, transport, storage, sale and cooking at high temperatures in oil….then what are my little ole stomach acids gonna do? Nothing. I’ve probably been pooping worms my whole life. How can I even move forward after this?

This morning, all I could think about is how I can get rid of my critters.

Some ideas are as follows….(warning! DON’T try these at home – this is dangerous crazy talk)

1.Drink the equivilent of worm drano – hopefully clean all the “pipes”.

2. Drink through a firehose. Maybe the sheer force and velocity would blow them all out the back side. But then I’d probably need a colostomy bag for the rest of my life from all the damage.

3. Colonics (poop shoot irrigation) to lure them out nicely. That’s a lot of trauma for them and for me.

4. Taking deworming/parasite pills and swearing a blood oath to not to look in the toilet after doing my business until I know the coast is clear. Maybe a life time. If I so much as see a worm in the toilet….

I’m still deciding on the most effective form of treatment, but there is one thing I know for sure.

Popcorn – it’s over. We’re through. We had a good run, but you’ve crossed a line- and sometimes there’s just NO. WAY. BACK. This is the ultimate betrayal. It’s time we part ways.

Team Moms and Room Moms –  this is no longer funny. It’s traumatic and PTSD inducing.

Oh and hey God- when you were up there’s creating worlds and such, I know it’s alot. I also know that when Adam and Eve ate the apple, you had no choice but to give us thorns and weeds. And then of course, now we all have to work by the sweat of our brow –  I get it. I really do. It all just kinda makes sense, ya know?

But doing this to our popcorn? Now that’s just rude. I’m not being disrespectful God, but this has to be for your own amusement. I know you’re laughing at me. I’m sure you get bored up there with all the problems and the whining, and the evil doers…..but why you gotta do me like this? Sigh.

Love,

Dawn

PS.  Wash your hands before you eat!  Good Hygene literally saved my life! Happy Halloween. Don’t eat this if someone tries to serve it to you. You could be getting more than you asked for.

if you liked this post….read the one next for a good laugh!

Breakfast in Bed

 

 

 

 

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A call for sisterhood. The number one problem of women isn’t men, it’s women.

Throughout my life, my past and current career, I have spoken to literally hundreds of thousands of women. Women from all walks of life, the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. Highly educated women, and women who could’ve been killed for having learned to read. Women at the top of the corporate ladder and women who scrub toilets for a living. (I’ve been both of those) Women who are mothers and those who aren’t. Religious women from all sects, and women of no faith at all. Every shade, size and background represented.

It’s a cherished space I get to share with women, as they confide in me their deepest wounds. I’m in awe of all that they’ve come through. I haven’t met a woman yet who doesn’t have some battle scars. These warrior women have become my heroes and sisters in arms. It’s been a privilege to wipe thousands of tears as they share their stories with me. It’s through those tears I’ve found that some of the most constant sources of a woman’s pain, has come at the hands of each other. I’m here to tell you ladies, the number one problem of women isn’t men, it’s women. That may come as a shock with all of the marches and women’s initiatives constantly flashed before our eyes in the media. I’m here to talk about what happens when we go home.

First, I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that there is still a lot of room for improvement in the advancement of women in this world. Men undoubtedly hold a lot of keys to that. However, that’s a conversation for another day. Today is about holding ourselves accountable. If the advancement of women is what we truly seek, then it’s time we turn that pointer finger around to our own chest and acknowledge the role we play in stunting our growth.

Somewhere in recent years, we’ve gotten off track. Are we crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s of high achievement? Sure. Women continue to knock down every door that lays before them. At no other time in history have we shared more power or been more represented as women. It’s beautiful, really. Give me an instance where so much of this world is isn’t tempered on the attitudes of women- I think you’ll find there’s few. Other than in cases of abuse or severe oppression, we can count on women to set the priorities, the standards, the examples and most importantly – we set the mood in most arena’s. There’s a lot to be proud of.

However, when it comes to the treatment of each other, a lot of us have gone back to the school yard. We’ve lost the soul of what it means to be a woman. What happened to unity, loyalty, nurturing, mentorship, friendship and love? Some women do those things incredibly well, but not enough of us to stop the bleeding. Ladies, we have forgotten our roots. It’s time to retrace our steps and correct our footing. This is a beckon to higher ground.

Whether it be in at work, school, religious communities or neighborhoods, women express a deep struggle with unity. If you look at the history of women, the key to any substantial advancement was unity. Women laced arms as they fought for the right to vote, to own their own wages and property, and for the power to choose their own destiny. We are the benefactors of centuries of sacrifice. I think it’s time we ask ourselves, how are we honoring their legacy?

In recent years, unity is something that eludes us as women. Even feminism has not been the great unifier that we hoped it would be. I think it’s actually brought to light how divided we are within the ranks of women. Feminism used to be about standing together for equal rights. Now it’s about how worthy you are to wear the uterus. What happened to us?

Women of the past didn’t have the luxury of division amongst them. We do. We now hold the power they fought hard for, and it’s a power we don’t always use for good.  I think social media has left us all feeling that we are forced to compete with each other in every arena. Now that are lives are on constant broadcast for all to see, too often we find ourselves in the judgement seat of our sisters. Where there is a lack of unity, there is always suffering. We’re all paying that price today.

The Price of Success – One of the biggest surprises in talking to women is what can only be described as “success scars.” You give me a successful woman and I’ll give you a woman that’s got an identity crisis. It’s true. Being successful is a navigation nightmare for a woman. In order to protect the confidences that women have entrusted me with, I’ll share some of my experiences that reflect the sentiment of what I hear every day from legions of women.

Understand that it’s a little daunting to share this. From my own experience – I can say that the more I knocked down the personal barriers in my life that lead to achievement, the harder it is to thrive within my own tribe – women. Now, I love working with women, I do – but it comes at a cost. I’ve learned to stomach that cost, and I’ve got the ulcers to prove it.

In order for you to truly appreciate the struggle – Picture the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” except insert me for Will Smith. That was my life twentyish years ago. Yes, it was that desperate and worse. Shame kept me from telling anyone how hard it was just to survive every day.

From the beginning stages of my career, women were hard on me. One thing I had to learn quick, was that women have a really hard time making room for each other professionally. Especially the seasoned women. Regardless of how hard and long I worked, there was little I could do to earn their respect. I think they felt my ambition to change my circumstances got in their way. Both metaphorically and physically – I hadn’t eaten for a long time. I was hungry and I longed to be fed. That insatiable hunger drove me to high achievement. Yet that achievement offended the women in my life. How do you reconcile that, when you need both? I was so young. I had no family other than a tiny little boy who was counting on me. Their acceptance and mentorship would have meant the world to me. I wasn’t there to offend them. I was there to save me, to save us. It was my deep seeded fear of failure that propelled me forward, but my humility never left. That’s the thing about having good doses of abuse, neglect and homelessness – rock bottom and I became good friends. Honestly, I don’t know which offended them more – my advancement, or the “kill em with kindness” I exhibited during the process – which also made me weak in their eyes.

I loved my career. I cherished my patients. It was truly the most beautiful work. 13 years later, a lot had changed in my life. I left to stay home with my babies. They needed me more than my career did. It was also time to support my husband’s career. His had taken a back seat to mine for the whole of our whole marriage. As I write these words, I can’t help but smile – for that was criticized too.

Fast forward to my current career.

Speaking, writing, loving people. It’s seriously the best job ever. I love this work. I think it’s important to share this piece because it’s so reflect of the stories I constantly hear from women. No matter what their station in life – here in lies the struggle. We’ve zipped up the straight jacket of expectation so high, that none of us can hardly breathe. Entering a room full of women is hard, no matter who you are or what you do.

Whenever I walk into a room full of women who know my background and story, it’s intimidating. People knowing your “junk” isn’t easy. As I greet women, I am always received with one of two attitudes – admiration or indifference – with a hint of resentment.

My heart is constantly conflicted with my stature – so do I shrink or do I rise?

Do I SHRINK? – The indifference or resentment I experience is what I like to call, “How dare you rise” syndrome. Where we see someone’s success and not only do we refuse to acknowledge it, but we are mean to each other because of it. You don’t know how many times I’ve endured being ignored or snubbed by women. Church is the worst. Some people have been really, really unkind. (I’m using my church words) It’s become a door that gives me anxiety to have to walk through each week. Physically my stature doesn’t change, but I’m pretty sure I drop ten inches every time I enter the building. Anyway, the whole attitude reeks of “Other people may think you are something special, but let me tell you – I don’t. You are nothing to me. In fact, I refuse to even acknowledge you.” I can spot that from a mile away. Each time it’s like a dagger to my soul. Do you honestly think that we as women, and as people- ever outgrow the need for love and acceptance? If you think we can “success” our way to immunity in this arena you are kidding yourself. We always need our sisters, and we always need their love. We will always need that sense of community. Honestly, these are the women I spend a lot of time loving really hard. I want them to know I’m in their corner. I’m not about me, I’m about US. I’m paving the way for you, and I know you are doing the same for me. We all have sacred gifts to give and I honor yours as well.

Do I RISE? – As any women can attest that  when it comes to admiration, “love” hurts. Admiration normally means being put on a pedestal that we never asked to be on. Whether for how far we’ve come, current success, or the pressure for consistent performance, it’s stressful. It feels like you have to constantly keep announcing… “And for my next act…world peace.” Admiration is something that is always short lived, because the second we show an ounce of flaw- we come crashing down off that pedestal that we never asked to be on. In my own experience, people are devastated by my weakness- and I’m not allowed any wiggle room to be a human being. I hope you never know what it’s like to have your friendship, your intimacy and your association with others be contingent on your perfection. It means never really having a friend that you can be yourself or be honest with. I can’t say that it’s lonely at the top, because I don’t feel I’m anywhere near the summit. However, I can attest that it’s awfully lonely in the middle. The nausea of expectation and fear of your world getting even smaller can make you scared to keep climbing. Some women get off the ladder because of this very thing. It’s what’s described as “The loneliness of leadership”. I shudder to think of all the gifts this world has lost at the hands of success scars.

The Cost of “Failure”: I think the only thing worse than paying the price of success, is the cost of “failure” in the eyes of our peers. I hate even using that word, cause it’s so far from the truth. When a woman chooses a life that makes her happy, some times we women feel it is our duty to be critical of her choices. If she chooses to stay home and raise children – she’s “wasted her potential.” If a woman chooses less than a master’s degree, then she’s treated like she lacks the aptitude to have an opinion on any political issue or social construct. If she never marries, we can’t help but wonder, “What’s wrong with her?” If she chooses not to, or finds that she can’t have children- she must be selfish. If she is thin and beautiful, it’s cause for resentment. If she’s plain or plump – she’s either looked past or considered undisciplined. Sigh.

You know, I’ve always resented the 1-10 scale some men use to “rate” women. Placing a number on a woman based on physical attributes is repulsive. Maybe my years have jaded me, but at least a man’s scale is binary. We know where we stand with him.

A women’s judgement is completely suggestive, mostly based off how she’s feeling about herself today. This is EXHAUSTING. Seriously, think about it! With how critical we are of each other, I can’t help but wonder – what in the world would it take for a woman to get a 10?

In the words of Elizabeth Bennet, “I never saw such a woman. Surely she would be a fearsome thing to behold.” (if you don’t know Jane Austin, I’m judging you. 😉

Sisters, here’s the take away. In all my conversations with women combined with my own experiences – it’s safe to say that we’re all struggling to feel welcome in our tribe. We are living in a mode where we are scared to make room for each other. We can be very critical and unkind. We need to mentor more than we manipulate, support more than we sabotage, and help more than we hurt. I think our ancestors would be sad to see that the shackles they shed, have become the shackles we put on each other. We are the key to our own oppression, so let’s liberate ourselves. Their sacrifice means that we get to define what “opportunity” means for us, as women. Whether that means staying home to raise your family, or being a lawyer, or cleaning toilets to feed your babies… it’s all warrior work. So use your powers for good. Help a sister out. Give each other room to breathe. This life is ROUGH, and we’re all taking turns being in the fetal position. The only thing women will ever get from me is a high five celebrating that we’re all upright today. Let us lift each other with love and loyalty.

All My Love,

Dawn

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homelessness

I didn’t know, what I didn’t know.

I sit in awe, as my post meant to be voice for the homeless, continues to go viral.  It’s been picked up by several news outlets, yearning to share the message of hope and healing. I’m humbled by your goodness everyone! Sincerely, thank you.

I’ve gotten thousands of your comments, messages, emails, and letters. I’m trying hard to respond to all of them, it may take me some time.

I’ve had the privilege of so many of you coming forward with your own stories of homelessness. I feel honored that you would share such deep wounds with me. There are so many warriors out there, who have fought- or whom are currently fighting their way to good lives. I’m proud you. I’m proud of us.

Some of you took the opportunity to write some beautiful letters telling me off,
to that I say……I love you, too.  Friends, I didn’t expect to stick my neck out there without some backlash. Good thing I know who I am, and that I have about a ten second rebound rate. Ironically, homelessness taught me that. 😉  You are always welcome to share frustrations. I’m always going to be willing to take some bullets for a good cause.

Out of all the things that have been written to me these past few days, the words that rang through my heart the loudest are these…

“All I can say is, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

These are the most healing words I have heard in a long time. I think if we said those words a lot more often as a society, we could fix most – if not all – of our problems.

Somehow in recent years, we’ve stopped hearing each other. We’ve stopped being willing to pick up the lens of another person, fully willing to view it for a while – until we get the complete picture. To sit, even uncomfortably sometimes…until we SEE.
This time we all came to the table, and were well fed. That is character. That is progress. That is beautiful! Thank you for showing the world through your example…the proper way to solve a problem. To understand it.

So many people over and over, have written me saying things like this:

“I’m completely guilty of saying, ‘Not in my backyard’ but now I am totally sincere in saying, ‘Bring it on.’ I had no idea who I was missing out on helping. I am humble and now grateful for the opportunity to serve the homeless population.”

“I’ve never heard someone’s story of homelessness. Wow, I had no idea what people go through. It has stirred a change in my heart. It really opened my eyes to truly making a difference.”

“After reading this, I decided to start giving regularly to our local Homeless shelter, which is about a mile from our house. I just can’t get the Savior’s words out of my mind, and I have to do something to help.”

“I have to admit that I took a hard look at myself after reading this and I can certainly improve. I sure hope that I am treating everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE, the way Christ would want me to treat them. I also hope I have raised my children to do the same.”

“How can I help, how can I help, HOW CAN I HELP?”

So many heartfelt and amazing words. I could give you a thousand examples, such as the ones above, that confirm what I have always believed–

That people are GOOD.
Amazing, actually. Hearts are wide open, willing to lend aid to the less fortunate. Some just needed the right lens to view from. People don’t mean to exclude, it’s more that we misunderstand. That’s the beauty of humanity, isn’t it? When given the chance-
we RISE.

I can’t thank you enough for all of the letters, comments and beautiful sentiments that have been shared. You have impressed me with your goodness and light!

An update on where this is all headed and how you can help:

1. Don’t get comfortable. Feel free to contact your local homeless shelters to find out how you can help.  A lot of you want to put your boots on the ground right now. I love that. Keep the fire lit! Locally, I am currently talking to homeless shelters to see how we as a community, can most effectively come to their aid. I am hoping we can stock some shelves of much needed supplies, but also maybe do some group volunteer projects! Wouldn’t that be cool to do good together? Heck ya! Give me a little time, I’m working on this. This about to get good! If anyone would like to help coordinate, send me an email.

2.  PLEASE SHARE!!!
http://www.lovedawn.com/homelessness-has-a-face-and-its-mine/
One vital way to help is to share my previous post with your neighbors, friends and family. We need more people in on this conversation. If you felt enlightened or had your heart soften, then please allow others the same experience. We have so much work to do, and we can’t do it without them. For homelessness initiatives to work it, it’s going to require open hearts, and communities willing to receive them. Please rally your communities in this effort.  We need fresh perspectives on a tough topic. That will help tremendously as we move forward.

3. Concerns are VALID and deserve to be heard.  No one is saying that communities shouldn’t have concerns. Most people when they think of homelessness, they picture pioneer park. It can feel intimidating that as a community, you are inviting that in. It is not irrational to worry about drugs, crime rates, impact on surrounding areas, impact on local law enforcement, etc. I ask you that write these concerns down. We need our communities invested in the cause, the only way we can do that is if we allow space for people to be heard and concerns to be addressed. However, may I also suggest that you write down solutions or ideas? We have a ton of brilliant minds in our communities. We need to tap that resource! Please email both to [email protected]

Mayor Ben McAdams office (along with a few others) has reached out to me, and we have a meeting next week to talk about homeless initiatives and resource centers (shelters). I would love input on what the concerns and ideas are so I can share them. The people in his office are amazing, they genuinely want to hear the voices of their communities.

4. Common Decency – Among this important list of ways to help, PLEASE – regardless of which side of the line you stand on – commit to civil discourse. One part of that commitment is to encourage our friends and neighbors along when we see tensions are high. I have never seen anything solved by a screaming match. Remember, these civil servants aren’t bulletproof. They bleed. Some of the ways I have witnessed them be treated…yikes, it’s shameful. Imagine if you were tasked with this. It’s a pretty tall order to take on something that you know is going to meet absolute resistance. I think that shows good character that so many are committed to do the hard things. Let’s be willing to do the hard things too by coming to the table with your concerns, your respect, and your ideas.

I am so so proud of all of us!! Even the haters! At least they started the conversation, right? It’s really been beautiful to watch. We are going to tackle this homelessness together. I’m not saying it will be easy, just that it’s worth it. Stay tuned! <3

Dawn