Gathering up all my brave.

Dear friends,

For the last few weeks, I’ve been acutely attuned to the distressing situation that has unfolded a mere 90 miles away from me in Ferguson, Missouri. I’ve followed social media intently, I’ve devoured information on news sites, and I’ve given a lot of thought to what it means to me as a Missourian, as an American, as a mother, as a human who cares passionately about social justice and civil rights.

I’ll refrain from drawing conclusions at this moment about precisely what happened between the police officer and the young Michael Brown. There are ongoing investigations and I suspect we’ll be years down the road before we have anything close to “clarity” on how the particulars of the incident and the aftermath reflect on our system of policing and justice, not to mention our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But here’s what I know. Whether we acknowledge it or not, there are distinctly different realities of life in America based on race, gender, age, sexual orientation, education, wealth and geographic location. What one man calls justifiable force, another calls oppression and discrimination. What one man deems “justice,” another deems “just us.” Socio-economic factors create a unique “lens” for each of us and until we can view the world through multiple lenses, many of them foreign or possibly distasteful to us, we cannot begin to approach “truth.” To say otherwise is to ignore that evil and corruption thrive despite our best intentions, or to fall prey to the myopia that threatens to permanently disable our nation.


So it is through this dismaying, nay disorienting, perspective that I am saddened to tell you Mr. Mom and I recently received devastating news. We lost our lawsuit.

Our attorney sent us the judge’s verdict a couple of weeks ago with an email message that said “It will make you want to throw up.”

Not in the “gag me” way you might refer to when something is annoying. In the “fall to your knees and retch” way until you are hollow-eyed and certain the injury is mortal.

I haven’t filled in many of the blanks for you about the condemnation trial we attended in April. I honestly haven’t been able. I felt in my gut it didn’t go “our way” and I guess I wanted a few months of denial between what I thought was the reality of the trial and the resulting ruling from the judge. But reality gut-punched us recently and we still haven’t caught our breath.

Losing our case means our land remains inaccessible (except via a 10-mile hike through the adjoining national forest). It also means our family is responsible for the Unfriendly’s legal fees. If their testimony is to be believed, they have spent three times what we have. At one point in the trial, their attorney referred to one of our claims as “outrageous.” During a break shortly thereafter, our attorney whispered to me “The only thing I’ve heard in court today that’s outrageous are the fees their damn attorney is charging them!”

We will appeal the ruling. It is our opinion, and our attorneys’, that the judge ignored the instructions handed down from the Appellate Court. That she ruled in contradiction to case law. We won our last appeal when the prior judge contradicted case law, so who knows?


Late into the night when we first heard the news, when Mr. Mom and I lay in bed, silent, unable to fathom the future, financially or emotionally, I finally said this:

“Listen. I understand. I understand the inclination to become fatally cynical. To succumb to rage. To believe that everything you’ve thought to be true about life is a lie. I feel it right now with an intensity I cannot describe. I am angry and I am disillusioned and I want to hurt somebody equal to our pain.

But here’s the thing. Our loss represents land and money. Land and money. We are not angry or cynical because our child is dead through injustice. We are not suing because some big corporation poisoned our water and gave us cancer. We are losing land and money. In the meantime, we are managing to put our children through college and they are by all accounts thriving. We have a strong and loving marriage.

We are losing land and money. Let’s remember what we still have before we risk sinking with this ship.”


So, I’m thinking of Glennon Melton and her words of wisdom. I’m gathering up all my brave and trying to do the next right thing. It ain’t easy, believe me. I’m not nearly as kind and patient as I want to be. I have long stretches of despair and regret and bitterness. I’m clinging to a faith that love and hope prevail in the end, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. I’m limping on tender feet, hurt beyond words, unsure how one keeps from drowning in the tsunami of fear and trouble and worry that rises over us.

Still, I refuse to end with anything other than gratitude. Despite this very big thing that has gone grievously wrong for far too many years, so much has gone right. I know it. I see it. I feel it. And if I can gather up enough brave, maybe I can trust in it.

With gratitude {for, as always, the partner that makes this journey bearable},

Joan, who welcomes your good thoughts and kind words but asks that you not dwell on injustice. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that justice is in the eyes of the beholder and what feels like a travesty to us is heralded as right and proper by the Unfriendlys. Please don’t tell me how shocked you are or how unfair this seems. Life is ridiculously unfair to legions of souls every day, most of them far more afflicted than I. If you have anything to offer, offer us equanimity, in the belief we will rest in it, heal in it, and pass on more than our share to those around us.


  1. My sweet “old” friend (not is age) but time, thank you for sharing your life journey. We live hundreds of miles apart but yet I still feel connected to you. The good, bad and ugly of facebook a side. For those of us who have friends from all over it allows us a glimpse into our lives and this lets us not feel so alone. Never stop sharing your journey. LIOB Sue

  2. Thank you, Magpie, for passing on what you have learned to me. I have been learning these things about injustice lately myself and its not fun. Miss you. xoxo.

  3. You stopped me in my tracks, Joan-Marie (and I was working on your script). Thank you for sharing your story with your readers and friends. You honestly lift us all up.

  4. LInda Baker says:

    Thank you for your honesty, Joan. I really admire you. I am navigating my own journey of injustice and haven’t really made sense of it all. Life is all about developing empathy, I think.

  5. Amen, Linda. It’s the only antidote that seems to work for me to combat resentment and fear and bitterness.

  6. You are asking me to ignore my gut reaction here, which is to draw a line, declare an “us” in direct opposition to “them” and then go straight for the other guy’s jugular (metaphorically). WIth the breathing room your wise request provides, I find space on some level deeper than emotional reactivity, to accept what you are suggesting.

    This world does indeed need more peace and peaceable people and less knee-jerk vengeful wagon circling. We cannot simultaneously dig in and rise above. Empathy is the only way forward. I wish for you a continued clear line of sight to your truth of what is important in all this, and past that, a peaceful acceptance that the example you set helps bring healing and balance to us all.

    • Texasdeb’s perfect sentence: “We cannot simultaneously dig in and rise above.” Thank you, J-M, for your story and the sharing it has inspired.

  7. Thank you for this post. It was exactly what I needed to read tonight.

  8. Joan, As an African American mother to a Caucasian mother — you give me HOPE!

  9. What a piece (peace) of writing. You shine in explaining the situation. I can only focus on looking forward to your appeal.

  10. What a devastating blow! But you’re right to gather up your brave. You will get through this. Carry on, warrior. Xxoo

  11. Danette Boyle says:

    Joan, You and Doug are such an amazing couple! I am so sorry about this unfortunate situation. Hope and pray your appeal is successful! Danette

    Sent from my iPhone


  12. I want to thank you for your paragraph about “our loss represents land and money.” It really struck a chord with how I’ve been trying to live, trying to view things with perspective and gratitude for what I have.
    Thank you.


  1. […] Some three months later, my pessimism confirmed reality when the court ruling arrived via email and we learned we had lost. I gathered up all my brave and wrote this post. […]

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