Back in Town

The birds in the treetops outside my 6th floor balcony serenade as I write today. It has been over 3 years since I posted. A long time-out, no?

The mission of Serenity Sisters, to explore, excavate, and facilitate authentic narrative of the women impacted by prostitution (past or present), continues through appropriate interruptions for personal healing both in my family and myself. We have weathered a few storms and there is no reason to think there won’t be more.

This is not a pessimistic outlook people. A rational assessment of my family revealed my truth as a mother – We are grappling with mental health challenges and any number of addictions. So what.

So what? Right. We are not unique in the landscape of challenged families. What makes us unique, IMHO, is our (mostly) anti-shame approach. Who needs shame and/or stigmatization when a son or daughter’s life is in the balance?

I have learned in ministry with the homeless in Cambridge and within my own family that basics (ADL’s) are a starting point for self-respect and healing. Just encouraging someone to care enough to take a daily shower can be a starting point. The INTENTION PLUS ACTION to take a shower while living on the streets is a boldface act of hope among the destitute, “I may be trash to society but I know who I am and I matter. I want to be ready for the new day.”

When any of us are down for the count I have come to believe there is a silent count of surrender to authentic hope that begins – if we could hear it … “You are ready now. Let Me fight this battle…My Love never let you go.”

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Cold in Boston

Since I last posted I graduated from Harvard Divinity School with an MDiv degree. The day was May 31st and it was about 100 degrees.  Today I can’t fathom such heat. Today the weather was around 10 degrees, considering wind chill, and Boston got close to 5″ of snow. Yes, the weather has our attention today as it did back in May – the extremes get attention.

And now I wonder about this tendency to look up when life throws an extreme situation. Like someone screaming ‘Stop him – he stole my wallet!” – Our community’s calm, that was taken for granted, is shattered and we look up toward the crisis or we look away.  I wonder if something is missed or gained by this acute attention to discomfort? Perhaps there is a gain: a reminder that gratitude was missed on better days? A two-for-one!

And so I pause to consider the life stress I have with family – another member has a tough bout with mental illness and we are all looking up. I missed out on claiming the good days! I miss them. But this is our family’s long day’s journey into night, again. I must be present, cell phone at my side.

It is times like this that I consider the meaning of life and these strange bodies and the membrane that separates this life from the ‘other side.’ It seems to be thin as a child, thickens midway and thins again as the years pile up. I am not to worry but notice. How can there be any worry when the outcome seems foregone well before there was awareness of a crisis. It is a bit late to worry.

So, I think when we look up in a crisis, it is too late. That is like looking up when two cars crash in an intersection. Now it is about intervention after the fact, not prevention. It would seem to be the same story about teens and prostitution. By the time a runaway lands in prostitution, that teen has pretty much given up on the reliability of home-adults to be a support. Hello, that was why most run away. Why did we, as a society, not look up to see this teen’s family in crisis before the crisis got an additional pile-on of prostitution, a secondary event? To then show up for this teen with a ‘rescue wagon’ with an anti sex-trafficking message seems pathetic. Why not deal with the primary cause? No message about family’s coping with teen life or is that not enough of a fund-raising appeal?

Tie this to today’s weather? Okay. It would be like a young teen asking for a warm coat (at best) before they walked 3 miles to school. Maybe the teen refuses to wear a coat (worst case) but the adult does not look up to do anything about a coat – the house is warm and the adult is complacent and negligent. The kid goes out in the extreme weather and gets frostbite on the way to school, landing in the emergency ward. The crisis call from the hospital causes the parent to finally look up but by now it is too late. Do we run an educational campaign or outreach about families having clothing protocols in place that keeps everyone safe, regardless of the weather? (Yes) This would be a primary concern: support families to function as families. A secondary event is underage kids and frostbite. Its the catch basin. Kinda too late.

Parents miss cues. I know with my five, I missed cues to look up before a crash more than once. This time is not the case. And this time a crash just might happen anyway. You do what you can.

This is a time for the Serenity Prayer.

God, Grant me the Serenity to accept the tings I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdome to know the difference. Amen

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Serenity Sister’s First Step is a Step up to Choice

Over the years Serenity Sisters considered the first step of the 12 step program as inelastic to our needs. This is the Serenity Sister Step One:

“As women, we admit we could act powerless over unhealthy sex and love choices — that our lives became unmanageable.”

Compare to AA: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Unlike the alcoholic, the issue for Serenity Sisters was not addiction per-se. But social conditioning was so deep that you’d think we were sex addicts, creatures of self-doom, or perpetual stockholm syndrome ladies.

It was also the case that many of us were indeed addicts – to drugs or alcohol. Addictions were certainly tangled up and influenced our socialized unhealthy choices with love and sex.

The responsibility was ours – the Serenity Sister had to sit down and sort out her business. What was “can act powerless” and what was “powerlessness” ? It could be both. Or just one.

A Serenity Sister could ‘act powerless’ because she was – she was a drug addict.

Or, she  might ‘act powerless’ over choices that were hers to make. Due to cultural conditioning she had no imagination for authentic choice – for the human spirit this is worse than addiction!

The ‘could act powerless’ nuance was not a dilution of AA traditional Step One but an essential accommodation to realize full potential and recovery as a reality – for women.

The Serenity Sister first step reflects freedom of choice – no one else can make you admit anything about your soul. Were we acting ‘as if’ or were we acting ‘in fact’?  This reflection is our choice and responsibility to ourselves.

We have a saying “A Serenity Sister is NOT a victim! She is taking herself back with love peace and acceptance.” Victims in need of rescue? No. We needed to wake up to choice. Take it back.

The traditional first step is one-dimensional as it deals with addiction. Like the Serenity Sister version, no one can force you admit to anything – despite evidence to all witnesses. Ours goes further and is inclusive of authentic choices that seem out of reach: it serves the mission of the tradition while opening it up to even more emphasis for self-actualization.

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Serenity calls out insanity

The sex trade is diverse and includes street work, stripping, ‘indoor,’ escort/call girl, porn, and even the well-kept mistress qualifies for some – the courtesan.

My serenity, as accepted truth, is that I experienced prostitution in a multiple of venues – starting with street work at 15. I have moved on, never to forget the life lessons. It’s all rich even if some lessons were traumatically delivered.

Well, I found out that a sister (we call each other ‘sister’ in our group, Serenity Sisters) who was an escort, has been telling others that many of us were never prostitutes. I guess this was the hierarchal trap of bottom behavior that recovery groups face – “if you did not get a DUI you aren’t an alcoholic..” or “unless you get arrested for prostitution you are not one of us” and “you did not experience domestic violence if it was only name calling – where are the bruises and broken bones?”

Wow. This was a new one for me.

I never thought I would be so fortunate to hear the usual slander in reverse – that I was never a prostitute!

Ah, but Serenity means no mind fucking allowed. What is the truth here?

What I often hear in Serenity Sisters meetings at Rosie’s Place is, “I had to do what I had to do.” You know what – there is dignity in that choice – to do what you had to do to survive.  We are always looking for a healthier way ‘to do what we gotta do to make it!’

So, maybe our group’s sister is right – naming sets up trouble. If I had to choose between “prostitute” and “loved” (and both are my reality) I would say “loved” is the pre-eminent naming and any other can be a distraction from this affirming truth.

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Maintaining Serenity

I do not understand serenity as a stagnant state. I do not understand serenity to be the appearance of a roomful of monks meditating or the relaxed bodies at end of a yoga class. These people have to exit this bubble and engage reality. The real test begins. Can this bliss be maintained in the messiness of life?

I want to be frank. No.

Its apples and oranges. Yet both are fruit. So, what is the thread from a meditative practice that can be held fast in the messiness of the day?

For understanding the potential for meditation to instill a serenity for the rest of the day, I love Charles Keating, the Trappist monk, who promotes Contemplative Prayer or what is also understood to be Centering Prayer (CP).

I say I am an adherent but I will never know if I practice this meditation well as there is no grading, no qualification, no levels, no ‘rules,’ and no cult that surrounds any of it. The question is “Will you (Mary) respond to the invitation this day, this hour, this moment, to “be still and know I am God” – the Lover of your life and soul – there is nothing more desired from you than this?”

My response to this pursuing Lover?

Why and how can you love me? When I sit still to be with you I hardly manage ‘quiet’ in my mind or heart – I am a lousy student of this meditation! 

So, I sit still and do nothing. I do what I can to think of nothing. I acknowledge that God (the great Love or Spirit) can do for me in five minutes – a subtle shift in trust – what might take me five years of my own efforts. I believe changes – imperceptible and inexplicable – are the gifts of this trust in being still with the great Lover of us all.

I do CP even when I doubt it. It can’t hurt, I reason, to be still and quiet this busy mind whether I ‘get’ God or not. Frankly, I do not think our minds can fathom God and we should not try to explain – we sound foolish or too religious. It humors God (maybe even enrages?) when we try. I think actions are better, don’t you think?

And I go forward knowing that I chose to center my life on the mystery greater than my understanding. I choose to trust in serendipity and welcome all events and be a student round the clock – open to learn beyond what I understand.

I got a call on Monday – a day when Serenity was being challenged. It set me right. I heard the voice of Bobbi, a homeless woman in Harvard Square who said she picked up my card from the ground and noticed it said “Pastoral Care and Counseling” so she called. I said I would be delighted to meet and ended the call, “Bobbi – can I pray for US?” (we have since met and a new chapter has begun for us both – shared hope)

May you be overwhelmed with Serenity this day!

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What’s in a Name?

Truth and Integrity are in a name. If you go by an alias, wow, that might get confusing. If you listen to labels, that is about as bad.

We are Serenity Sisters.

Sisters implies diversity within unity; we embrace serenity; strive in serenity; and seek serenity in the midst of any and all of life’s challenges.

Serenity, real serenity, helps us to assess life clearly and see all of it – this is the opposite of denial. Serenity is not la la land! There can be pain.  Yet there is a peace that surpasses all understanding with that suffering – we assessed what we could change with courage and what was in God’s hands.

We accept nothing less than who we are – magnificent. We are not a diagnosis, a disease, an alias, a prostitute, a criminal. We may contend with a diagnosis of cancer – Cancer is not our name. Our bodies may struggle with the disease of alcohol – we may ‘have’ alcoholism 100% and must accept it 100%.

Our real name? Our real name is also ‘Loved.’  We are Loved.

My name is Mary, Serenity Sister – I have experience with the disease of alcoholism from which I am in remission.

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Harvard’s University Hall welcomes a Serenity Sister!

We had a breakthrough today! Today I received an award of distinction for trailblazing work with Serenity Sisters’ confrontation of myths about prostitution. The award is from the Hopkins Charity Foundation and is the OLDEST scholarship award in the United States!! Yes, it was established before the US was founded. I received a “Hopkins Shareholder Award” and in centuries past this might have been paid out with sheep or chickens but now it will be a check to defray financial aid in the Fall – so very welcome!

The Harvard Divinity School surveys students in the 2nd year doing progressive field work and six of us are chosen. It is an award that forecasts promise in ministry. I wrote my short bio statement that was read out loud. It went from success with surfing but always seeing the parallel story of women in prostitution, including myself, around the beach culture and SoCal overall. That was my world. Roads seeking change led here to HDS.

Professor Paulsell read my bio while I stood.  It was not easy to hear the words spoken in that great grand hall: that I was also a woman in prostitution wanting out – but this was my experience and not my identity. It was push back time! It was a symbolic move to speak it!  My plan is to demythologize prostitution. Gotta say it!

Huge supportive response!! When it was socializing time, some trustees wanted to help with funding. I received more encouragement to publish.

I felt like I hammered a peg into a granite cliff – to help hoist other sisters up – we are going to make it! We must speak it! Face the Shame that would silence us! No more!

I spoke the words of freedom in Harvard’s University Hall. They will not be taken back.


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