Saturday, June 11, 2016

A letter to my son

Your mom at 23. 

Dear Shepherd,

There's a big case in the news right now about a woman at Stanford, a prestigious university in California, who went to a party, drank way too much, passed out, and was raped by a 19 year old student. It's been all in the news.

And for the past few days I've been wondering how to discuss it with you.

You are 12 years old, not quite 13.  You are on this teeter-totter between manhood and childhood. Which,  just so you know, makes learning how to do the mom thing really tricky.  I'm never quite sure how much to tell you, especially when it comes to things like sex, and drugs, and drinking, and my own mistakes.

But you've recently told me lots of very personal things. And I can't tell you how happy and honored that makes me, that you've confided in me. So now I'm going to confide in you.

Back to the girl at Stanford.

Here's the lowdown on the case: a 23 year old girl, we don't know her name, but we know that she's very smart and funny and has a job and a serious boyfriend. She's very normal. She goes to a frat party at Stanford with her little sister. Imagine your sisters in 10-15 years: Eva and Maggie at a college party. Or Maggie and Bethie.

The girl drank way, way too much, as always happens at frat parties. It's stupid and reckless and dangerous but it happens. You asked me before if I ever got drunk in college and I think I changed the subject. Now you know. I got drunk lots and lots of times in college. Way too many times. It was just what we did - it honestly didn't occur to me that there was another option. Just so we're clear: there is. Repeat after me: Drinking is not mandatory in college. 

So. She's wasted, really wasted, can barely talk or walk.

Yes, your mom has been that drunk before. Not in 20 plus years, mind you. But yes.

It's hard to know whether or not to tell your kids this, by the way, because it seems like we're giving you permission to do the same thing. So let's be clear: I am not. Don't do that Shep. Don't ever do that. When you drink that much you *only* do stupid things. Trust me, you will not make one solitary wise decision when you are drunk. Every single thing you do when you're drunk will be stupid and dangerous. Say that out loud. Now. Say it. Out loud. Every single thing I do when I'm drunk will be stupid and dangerous. And some of those stupid things will change my life.  

So she's walking out of the frat house, she's wasted, she's in stupid and dangerous territory, and she's lost her sister, and this guy named Brock, at Stanford on a swimming scholarship, finds her. She passes out back in the parking lot behind a dumpster. When you pass out from drinking, you're, like, in a coma. No one can wake you up. First you have a 'blackout', where you are conscious, but you will remember none of it later. Then you just fall into a deep sleep. This is when some people never wake up - the alcohol poisons their system so much that it shuts down and they die. The scariest part is, with alcohol you cross this line very quickly and never realize it. Just one beer can be the difference between living and dying.

Yes, I've passed out before. Once in college. It was freaking scary.

So, she collapses, and this guy, only seven years older than you - you, in a few very short years - sees her lying on the ground, helpless. He has a choice to make now. 

If you were in this situation, what would you do? Think it through. If one of your sisters were in this situation, or I, or GG or Mimi, what would you want someone to do? 

The choice Brock makes is this: he rips off her clothes and violates her body with his. And he took some pictures of her when she was naked, and sent them to his buddies. But then some other guys, grad students from Sweden of all places, ride up on bicycles, see him, yell, he runs, they tackle him and call 911.

One of the Swedish guys? When the police got there, he was so upset by what he'd seen, that he was sobbing - a grown man sobbing. He could barely talk to the police.

So rapist dude goes to jail, and his trial was last week. And, he blamed her. He said she came on to him, that she totally was okay with what they were doing, that she even enjoyed it. He also said he'd never done drugs, but his text messages showed he was a liar (yes, the court can and will seize your phone and read all your texts. The internet is forever.) The jury didn't buy it and he was convicted of three felonies. The judge got to determine how long he would go to jail for.

His dad wrote this letter to the judge. Read it and tell me what you think of it.

So the judge only gave him six months in jail, and the whole country is freaking out over that. He also got kicked out of Stanford. He was a really good swimmer, he wanted to go to the Olympics, and now he's banned from competitive swimming forever. And he has to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. And the whole country hates him. His life as he knew it is over.

So my fear is that you're thinking now, whoa, that's really harsh! I mean, that's not nice what he did, but they were both really drunk...

This is why we're talking right now.

Now read another letter: this one is from the girl's boyfriend to the judge.

And I've been a little obsessed with this story, for lots of reasons, but here's one of them.

My senior year at UT, I took a Women's Studies class. Yes, that's a thing. And no, it was not full of leather clad lesbians - in fact there was only one. The rest were very cute sorority girls. And me, and two guys. One was a boyfriend of one of the girls. The other was named Chris C.

And one night, I was out on Sixth Street, and I drank too much beer, and I ran into Chris C.

I knew him okay, he was cute, but I didn't know him well enough. But I was drinking. See up there, the part about stupid dangerous decisions.

He drove me back to his apartment, and we kissed - I'm sorry, I know this is grossing you out.

Just kissed. No big deal. I still remember what his living room looked like. Which you know his amazing since I have the absolute worst memory. There was a fireplace. I was sitting on the arm of his sofa. It was brown suede. He was standing up.

He told me to go back to his bedroom. I said no. He said yes, a little more insistently. I got a little worried, and I said, "I'm not going back to your bedroom." And then he said, "You can go back to my bedroom or you can effing get out of my house." Only he didn't say effing.

So I grabbed my purse and effing got out of his house.

Problem was, he lived off campus - way off campus, down Mopac somewhere. I had no idea where I was. I think I was north of Zilker Park somewhere. Far from campus! It was deserted. No buildings, nothing. And Shep, I was walking up and down the freeway in the middle of the night, terrified, crying, all alone, having no clue where I was, and there was no one around. This was pre-cell phone days, okay? I was totally helpless. Your mom. That was your mom. So many ways this story could have ended.

So how did it end? God totally saved me. In the midst of my utter stupidity and drunkenness. a white pickup truck pulled over and this woman got out, ran toward me, and said "Do you need some help??" In the car, she called Chris C. a slew of cusswords as she drove me home. Then she told me that sometimes we get saved by angels, and she was mine. She probably wasn't. She was probably just an Austin woman in a white pickup truck. But she may have been a real, honest to God angel in a white pickup truck. I still wonder.

So, he certainly never raped me. All we did was kiss, then he was a total ass, and I left. Big deal, right?

Here's what you need to know honey - that experience destroyed me. .

I went from being a confident, happy, I-can-rule-the-world 22 year old to an insecure, depressed, fragile little girl. I didn't want to get out of bed. The UT campus where I'd spent four years, that I loved, that I knew so well, suddenly became scary and full of danger and formerly cute college guys who were now all threatening. I had to make appointments to tearfully and humiliatingly explain to my professors why I was missing so many classes and not turning in my work. And get this - I still had to go to class with Chris C! I had to listen to him raise his hand and give proper professor-pleasing Women's Study answers, the same answers that deluded me into trusting him and thinking he was a good guy. A safe guy. I wanted to kill him.

Because the kicking me out etc etc was bad. Total jerk move. But here's what really happened to me that night: in one instant, my world was completely, forever changed by the revelation that any man, at any time, can do any thing he wants to me, simply because I am a woman.

Shep, just thirteen years ago you were in my tummy, and now you're six inches taller than me, and still growing. You're a kid and you can overpower me. You can overpower almost any woman. You roam the earth every day with that reality, even if you don't realize it.

I knew that before, in my head, but after that experience, I knew it in my heart. And it was terrifying. To this day, I see every man as a potential predator and take precautions to that end. Which, sadly, is actually a healthy outlook, one that I teeter-totterly teach to your sisters.

So why am I telling you all this yucky information? Especially when, like you said, "I'm only 12, and I really don't plan on ever raping anyone."

Because I don't think that Brock's mom every thought he would ever rape anyone, either.

Because Brock's dad still thinks he is gentle.

Because Brock's friends and family say that he's a great guy, that he was a great student, got great grades, liked to eat great pretzels. They are all listing what he did prior to that night. But it's not what we do that matters - it's what is in our hearts. And when Brock saw an unconscious, helpless woman, it wasn't his grades or his swim times but his heart that saw her as a mere body for him to do with as he pleased.

Probably, one day you too will be presented with a similar situation. Maybe even while you'll still in middle school.

When Jesus sent out his apostles, he told them, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."  He meant that naivete was not an option when changing the world. They needed to know evil to combat evil, without actually practicing evil. It's a teeter-totter. 

This is how I feel sending you out into the world. 

This is why we're discussing this even though you're still 12 and don't really ever plan on raping anyone. 

It would be really easy for me to just say, be the hero, Shep! Be the Swedes on the bikes! Be the angel in the white truck!

But then it would all be about the things you do. And your dad and I have raised you and your siblings with more intent than that.

The girl wrote a long letter to the court too. It was amazing. Utterly amazing. I've debated about letting you read it because it's graphic. But I think you need to read it too, so that you can get to know her as a real person, not just a victim. Because I think it will sink into your heart.

And I hope my story will sink into your heart, which is why I told it to you, embarrassing as it is to me. I hope that talking about these things openly and honestly in the few years that I still have you will shape you into the man we know you can be.

We're doing our best to teach you that all people are image bearers of God, even when they are lying unconscious behind dumpsters. That all women are to be seen as your little sisters, or your mom, or your grandma, or your future wife, or your someday daughters. That women's beautiful bodies are inhabited by precious, unique souls that matter to God. That when you violate a woman's body, you violate her soul.

We named you Shepherd, after the Good Shepherd, defender and protector of the weak. Your dad and I have raised you to be a defender and protector of the weak.  You know that the only way that women are weaker than men is physical strength - but height and weight and muscle mass combined with a darkened, selfish heart is a stupid, dangerous, oh so dangerous thing.

My prayer for you, Shep, is that the strength of your body always pales in comparison to the strength of your heart. So that when, not if, but when you see a woman who is defenseless, the snake in you recognizes that she is in danger in order that the dove in you will protect her from evil.

Protect her, Shep. 

Love you so much,



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