Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Scandal of the Evangelical Church

The biggest scandal of this year, in my opinion, was not the fact that 11 years ago, while being taped for an entertainment show, the Donald laughed about sexually assaulting non-consenting women because he could; rather, the biggest scandal of this year was the reaction that some of the most prominent Evangelical church leaders in the United States had to the surfacing of this video. Instant calls for forgiveness were issued and expected to be immediately followed by members of the Evangelical movement of Christianity. The entire issue was glossed over as if a, "nobody said he was perfect" response was good enough. They distanced themselves from the issue immediately, citing Hillary's many indiscretions, because two wrongs, in this case, make a right. If both presidential candidates have had "potty mouths," then they cancel each other out. Right? Wrong.

This, though it should be surprising, is not surprising.

For the past year or so, I've started listening, really listening, to the stories of people who have been burned by the Evangelical church - and when I say burned, I mean this: I have heard stories of girls in their teens being raped by youth ministers and then the victim and her family being shunned from the church for "slander"; of pastors cheating on their wives with congregants and still being able to hold their title/office while their wives either stay with them out of fear or leave and are shunned from the church entirely; of people who have had trusted leaders swindle money from them; victim after victim, story after story of the church covering its own leadership before it covers the congregants within it.

And to think that not so long ago the Evangelical church prided itself on not being the Catholic church when priests were sexually abusing young children.

"At least we're not like them."


it is.

I have my own stories of sexual assault. I am eternally blessed because the church I was going to at the time believed me when I came forward during my crumbling marriage and said, "I need help." Not only did they believe me, they were the ones who heard my story of feeling like things were just "not right" and taking me by the hands and saying, "Lisa, do you realize that what you are describing is abuse?" They wept with me. They took me in. They offered me financial support. 

That is the Evangelical Church I know and love deeply. 

They offered the freedom that the Gospel offers - true freedom. This church condemns both the words of Donald Trump and the immediate call to forgive him, simply because they know the amount of work it takes for people who have been sexually assaulted and/or abused in other ways to be able to forgive. They sit with us in our pain until we realize it's time to move forward. They allow us to process anger and indignation - righteous anger, might I add because abuse & assault have no place in the kingdom of God. 

Let me say that again:

Abuse and assault have no place in the kingdom of God.

I was eight when a boy who went to my Christian school & belonged to the same church as I did wouldn't stop making fun of my body. I was told by authority figures to "pray and forgive him," but the daily taunts did not cease. The verbal abuse, in fact, became worse with every single day at school, when the boys who were in my same combined 3rd/4th grade class caught on and continued taunting. Over and over I was told, "just forgive them." "It means they like you." "Boys will be boys." "The Bible tells us to pray for those who persecute you." "If you pray for them, they'll stop."

They didn't. 

When I was in 7th grade, the idea of "rating" girls based upon their appearances took off. Every girl in my middle school was rated. The girls who were rated highly were treated with respect. The girls who were rated lower were taunted. I was one of the lower rated girls and constantly called, "thunder thighs," and teased about my height & weight. I was severely depressed, suicidal, and had an eating disorder. 
I was told, "boys will be boys." "this will pass." "it doesn't really matter anyways, does it?"

It didn't pass.
And it did matter.

I learned how to be quiet when, in high school gym class, the boys would make fun of me when I was running because of the way my already-quite-developed breasts would bounce. I learned to be quiet when they would pass me and "accidentally" brush against my butt. I learned how to be quiet because whenever I objected or asked them to stop they told me that I was being crazy. I learned to be quiet when asked if I was just making things up because I needed attention. I learned to be quiet when my bra was snapped against my back or when the boy behind me unclasped it in class because "it's harmless fun." I learned to be quiet because, after a while, I started truly believing that I was the problem.

Because "boys will be boys. They'll grow out of it."

And in these stories, many other girls have found their stories. The stories that require, "Me, too" responses, weeping together over the brokenness that has, in some very literal cases, penetrated our bodies without our consent. 

My first kiss was in first grade when holding the door open for my class to return to class and the last boy in line grabbed my face and kissed my lips. I remember weeping because six-year-old me knew that that wasn't ok. 

At sixteen, a boy I had "met" in a Christian online forum relentlessly pressured me to send him nude photos of myself. He then went on to describe all the ways in which he would sexually please me, never mind the fact that up until that point, I had no interest in having sex and was completely unaware that sex could be pleasurable. I was a virgin of virgins. I hadn't even had my first real kiss yet. I'd told all my friends that I had, but that was just so I didn't seem weird and I'm mostly positive they knew I was bluffing anyways.

I had anxiety attacks for weeks after cutting off communication with him because he told me he'd find me and rape me and post nude photos of me all over the internet. He told me he would wreck my life. He told me he'd kill himself if I stopped talking to him. He guilted me into continuing to talk until I just couldn't handle it anymore and blocked him. 

But I knew that if I told somebody about this, it would be glossed over. I'd be blamed for leading him on. How could I have talked to someone I never met before and allowed him to do this to me? Was I just being overly dramatic? I was probably making this stuff up.

Over and over again, in cycles of abuse, I would always come back to what the Evangelical church of my childhood would tell me - "its your fault anyways. You shouldn't have dressed so provocatively. You should have just left. You shouldn't have....you should have..."

Just forgive them. Boys will be boys.

You can maybe get a glimpse of what I mean, then, when I say that I was triggered less by Donald Trump's comments this past weekend than I was by the calls of Jerry Falwell Jr, James Dobson, and Franklin Graham to forgive him. Immediately. 

Don't get me wrong, Donald's comments this past weekend triggered anger and anxiety in me. 

The response of the prominent leaders of the Evangelical church almost gave me a nervous breakdown.

"TOO SOON!" I wanted to shout. "IT'S TOO SOON." It's too soon. It's too soon. It's too soon. It's too soon.

These are not "just words," "just locker room talk," or "the words of a man before he was changed," because if there's anything in my history to suggest it, men don't often "just talk" about sexual abuse - if they talk about it and there is no remorse, they do it.

And don't tell me that he has changed when, according to his actions after his "conversion," he has shown no signs of repentance, a desire to reconcile, or an attempt to make amends for the things he has done. Instead, he continues mocking women, spewing sexist remarks, shaming women for sickness & weight gain. He has said he has nothing to repent for when he has led a life that warrants repentance. But there is none. There is, in his opinion, nothing to merit repentance. 

And yet we're expected to forgive and believe that he has experienced a conversion.

He's compared to David. To Paul. To the people in the Bible who were sinners and yet God used them for the Kingdom.

But it's often forgotten that each one of those people who experienced God, before Christ or after, fell on their knees, tore their clothes, wept, and repented for who they were and what they had done. Paul calls himself the chief of sinners and isn't proud of it. He doesn't boast in his strengths but in his weaknesses. He doesn't boast in his wealth but in his poverty. He doesn't boast in his status as a Jew, as a Roman citizen. David? The adulterer? He wrote Psalm 51, pleading with God to have mercy on him. 

Trump has done none of these things. He boasts in his strength, in his wealth, in his status. He refuses to repent when it has been shown time and time again that he has plenty in his life that warrants repentance.

So do not gloss over this, Church, as you have done for your pastors and leaders caught in sin. 

Weep with those of us who have experienced sexual assault at the hands of other people who claim to be Christians. Do not respond to this with a blank-slate, "sinners gonna sin" response. If you want a Christian candidate, require that their life be one that shows change, that shows the "good fruit" that comes from being pruned by the Holy Spirit. One where an apology shows true remorse, does not try to deflect to another person to make themselves look better, has a plan for making amends, and is working towards true change. None of those things were actually present in Donald's "apology." "I never said I was a perfect person" is not an apology - it is, in fact, Donald putting the blame on other people for expecting better from him. He takes no responsibility. He has no remorse.

And do not tell Christians to forgive him while you, yourself, are withholding forgiveness for Secretary Clinton's indiscretions. We see your double standards, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson & Franklin Graham. We see the hypocrisy. And believe me when I say this: your words telling me that I must forgive immediately hurt more. His words and his actions are not ok. His inability to repent is not ok. And the freedom he boasts is one that is not of Christ, so please stop pretending like it is.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


"When we practice generating compassion, we can expect to experience the fear of our pain. Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us."
Pema Chodron, The Places That Scare You


I was probably 7 or 8 years old when I heard the word "divorce" as it related to a childhood classmate of mine. I can remember not knowing what it meant and then coming home to ask my parents about it. It was then that I remember the fairy tale glass-house shattering around me - two people who were married and promised to life happily ever after could no longer be married? How did that even work?

I was 12 when I had a serious discussion with my sister about divorce. She and I had spent multiple summers working on our best-selling novels about falling in love with our favorite boy-band members, and I remember her telling me that she didn't believe in divorce, and that if she were married and something went wrong, she would just go get counseling. Divorce was the easy way out, in her mind, and I agreed. 

I was 15 when I realized that abusive relationships weren't something just talked about in newspapers and health books in school. I told my sister that in a case of abuse, I'd go to family counseling; in a case of extreme abuse, I'd just leave, but remain married.

In other words, although I had never experienced it and had only seen about it's existence from the eyes of a child, I somehow knew exactly what needed to happen in each and every case.


"In cultivating compassion we draw from the wholeness of our experience - our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity."
Pema Chodron, The Places That Scare You


I was 18 when I first realized that I was in an unstable, unloving relationship. I had been talking to this guy for over a year; we had plans to meet up at the end of the summer (he was flying from England to be with me for 3 weeks); we had plans to finish college, get married, have babies, live in England. We'd met online and he had seemed to be perfect. And then there was one moment when we were talking on the phone to each other and he had had an awful day. It had happened to be a day in which I found myself extraordinarily busy and couldn't take his call right away, so I called him as soon as I could, finding out it wasn't soon enough. He blamed me for not picking up the phone right away, for the fact that he biked to the bank in the rain, for the fact that his bike broke down, for the fact that I was in a play (months before) that involved me kissing another guy, for working at a summer camp so I wasn't able to take his calls all the time, and I remember taking all of that blame, trying to console him, and realizing that it wasn't working. Not just consoling him, but the relationship. It just wasn't working. He had almost shamed me into not taking the part in the musical, for not taking a job at a summer camp, and I had had enough.

When he and I had talked about marriage, we wouldn't even say the word, "divorce." It was just, "The d-word." 

"Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself."
Dumbledore, J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone


I was almost 23 when my ex-husband and I postponed our wedding due to "a problem with alcohol." He needed to spend time working on himself. I needed to spend time figuring out how to live in the agony of shattered dreams. We were still engaged, but church leaders encouraged us to wait no more than six weeks to decide whether we would remain engaged and set a date, or call the whole thing off.

Looking back on it, six weeks is nothing when it comes to alcoholism. The alcoholic isn't even fully sober at six weeks, let alone six months, and really shouldn't be making any big life decisions until a year of sobriety. But we were given six weeks. 

Six weeks after that meeting with our church leaders, we took a walk. He was barefoot and nervous. I had already crafted up the perfect plan. He wasn't ready, but couldn't tell me that. I was more than ready due to my whopping 2 visits to a local 12 step group (in which I had everything figured out. ha.) to marry him. He tried telling me in not so many words that he had cheated on me, and I didn't hear it. I heard what I wanted to hear - that getting married would make everything better.

Three weeks later we married.


"I think our first response to pain - ours or someone else's - is to self protect. We protect ourselves by looking for someone or something to blame. Or sometimes we shield ourselves by turning to judgment or by immediately going into fix-it mode."
Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection


I sat in the home of my church elder not even a year later, tissues in hand. I had already wept for days before this, and so I was pretty well out of tears, but just in case, I had tissues. 

"I'm so sorry," I kept on repeating. 

"Tell me what happened," he said, his wife sitting next to him.

And so I told him. I told him everything. I told him why I hadn't been to church in six months, why I had been harboring so much anger and resentment towards the church, what had happened to me in my own home, the reason why I left.

"I don't even know what to call what I've been through," I said.

"Abuse," he responded.

"But how do you know?" I asked. "I had told him months ago that he was abusing me but he told me he never laid a finger on me and demanded I give him exact accounts of how he has abused me. I don't even know what it is anymore."

"That," he said, "that is abusive. You feel unsafe in your own home. You cannot say what you need to say. You feel guilty for doing things you want to do. You feel like at any time he's going to blow up for no reason and it will be your fault. That is abuse."


"When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don't fit with who we think we're supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting,p leasing, and proving. Our sense of worthiness - that critically important piece that gives us access to love and belonging - lives inside of our story."
Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection


For the next six months, I fought like hell for our marriage. I gave him space. I supported him in any way that he needed it. I started counseling and became even more involved in my 12-step program. I worked on me. I fought like hell for me. I became my biggest advocate.

We started seeing more of each other and started dating again and I thought things would be OK. He started changing - in some ways, the change was welcome: he had become compassionate and thoughtful, and while I knew it would be a long road to sobriety, I saw him actually want it. He found a vision of a life he wanted and worked so hard to achieve it. 

So hard that his vision changed. He and I had some long talks about Christianity and he told me that he didn't think that he believed it anymore. I sought guidance and was told to stay in the marriage, to be a godly example for him. I stayed. He left to do a training for what he wanted to do, came back, and everything was different. He was excited about his future, but something seemed off. I didn't pry.

The next night he was in my apartment, telling me that everything he had told me the night before was to get me to tell him that we shouldn't be together. I had done the exact opposite, telling him that he should pursue his future, to find his passion, and that I'd be waiting for him.

So he told me the thing that he knew would end it. 
"I can't be with you if you still want to be a Christian. Our lives don't match up anymore and I can't put you through that. I'll pay for everything, but I can no longer be your husband."


When in doubt, choose compassion.


If there's anything I've learned over the course of these past five years, it's that we don't have the answers. The minute I say the words, "You should," I start 'should-ing' myself. 

"You should go to therapy."
"You should talk to someone."

It's so much easier to "should" people than it is to really hear what they're going through. I go into fix-it mode, which isn't compassion, and end up alienating the person who's come to me for a listening ear. I, for some odd reason, think that I know exactly what needs to happen in their lives - as though I am God and can tell exactly what the outcomes will be. 

I'm not alone in this.

Compassion is the farthest thing from easy. As Brene Brown is quoted earlier, it requires reaching into the darkest parts of ourselves, owning them, and sharing our humanity with other people. 

When we lack the ability to take responsibility for our darkness, we become judgmental shamers, unable to both give and receive grace. We place ourselves on a pedestal, saying to the world, "Look at me! I am exactly what you expect of me, and I do all things correctly!" We are so wired to competitiveness in this country that we have lost community. We have to be better, have a better job, have more money, have a bigger house. We cannot settle for "average." We all want to be the exceptional outliers, the 1%. 

It's a lonely place out there in perfect-land.

We cannot give ourselves grace for mistakes made. We brush them off, holding on to the secret shame that we are not as exceptional as we think we are, and then project that onto other people who are in the same stage of life as we are. It's why the internet is full of "mommy blogs" that tell you exactly how you need to raise your children. Not one of those blogs actually knows your children, so how are they qualified to tell you how to raise them? 

It's why I balk at the thought that there is exactly "one way" of doing marriage in Christian, especially Reformed Christian, circles. 

It's why I cringe when I see ads that promise, "swimsuit ready" bodies. 

It's why, when a freak accident happens in which there is a child affected, the parents are immediately blamed.

"They certainly don't know how to raise a child."

As if we make the correct decisions at all times and in all places and would never allow our children to be placed in potentially harmful situations. 

As if we are never distracted by something else in life and make a mistake.

As if the sign above the doors of our houses say, "Welcome in to the place where not a thing is ever out of place. We are that family you've been dreaming of. Now don't make a mess."

It's the reason we immediately apologize for "the mess" when we have guests over - even when there is no mess to speak of.

So we blame and we shame because maybe if someone else feels blame and shame we won't have to bear our shame alone. But we still keep our shame secret and so it continues to fester and then we continue to blame and shame and the cycle. keeps. spinning.

This is why it always takes me a few days after a tragedy before I write about it. Because I know that my first response will not be compassionate. I know myself well enough to know that I need to spend time taking inventory of my own pain and my own shame  before I can adequately pen a response to pain; to take a breath, to take a step back, and respond out of a place of love and compassion instead of a place of hurt and shame.

My mom once asked me how I became so compassionate because she knew that not a lot of compassion happened in my home growing up.  I laughed and told her I wouldn't put my worst enemy through the compassion training that I went through, because that training happened in the midst of an abusive, terrifying marriage. But compassion is still something that I'm working on. I pray that someday my first response will be compassion, but I know that in praying that, I'm signing myself up for some not-so-fun things.

But I'll keep working on it. I'll keep walking in it. I'll continue to own my mistakes and I'll own them out loud so that they will not have the chance to take over my life. I will not be a slave to shame.


"Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn't require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are."
Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Just as an aside, if you really want to do some good work on yourself around the areas of shame, compassion, and perfectionism, I highly recommend the book I've been referencing this entire time - The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. Two thumbs up.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Adaptability. Confidence. Rebirth.

The memories fade, but they're never gone for certain.

When I drive down that one street, take a sip of that one beer, I mean, if we're being completely and fully honest here, I can't even feel like I can step foot into the one house that for three years became my home because the memories, though faded, come bursting back in high definition. I long to make new memories with new people, or maybe the old people that I have just re-learned how to love without him involved. But the memories are there. I don't know if they'll ever fully go away.

I still have dreams. Sometimes nightmares, sometimes just memories, but still, when I wake up, I feel guilty for having dreamed of him. 

My psychological testing for Seminary provided me with conflicting information about who I am as a person, as a leader, and confused me at first. The testing came out that I am both a strong leader and not much of a leader; I am collaborative to a fault. I lack confidence but show it outwardly, fooling the people around me. And somehow, that makes sense. 

 I've spent my entire life double, triple, quadruple checking that the words that I say come out right and can't be refuted so I can't be told that I'm stupid, I'm wrong - translated, I'm worthless, unlovable, unable to be the person that I was created to be because I don't even know who I am. And that's the reason why it's taken six months to be able to sit down and write this out. Only he knew who I was and he molded and shaped, for himself, the perfect enabler. I became the one who said, "Yes" to anything he wanted and, "No," to anything he didn't want. 

I've been told, for most of my life, that my dominant personality trait is my adaptability. Throw me in any waters and I'll figure out how to swim. I can be comfortable anywhere at any time. And that gift that I've been given was used against me in so many ways. He broke me with it. Completely shattered me. For a while, I was fine being who he needed me to be. The most heartbreaking example of this is when he told me, after he had been out all night satisfying his addictions, that he had slept with someone else. 

My outward response was exactly what he expected. Me, curled up on the floor, crying, wailing, recoiling at his attempt to try and soothe me, refusing to let him sleep next to me or to touch me.

But for as good of an actor as he was, he couldn't see that inside, I had already died. This admission of guilt, just one more thing for me to adapt to, and I was already adapting. I had already known, without him even telling me, that he had slept with another woman, with other women, and thought that I could change him, and this was far before that hell of a night where he wouldn't return my calls and his friends didn't know where he was. I knew. And I had adapted. I became a shell of myself, unwilling to be hurt, unable to be touched. And I didn't care about this admission. I didn't care at all.

All I knew now was that I was unable to tell my family anything; his family had to be left in the dark.  It became our secret. Sundays, we would go from "church" (that place where I'd ask him if he wanted to go to church with me, he wouldn't want to go, I'd be terrified of going alone, so I'd stay at home playing games on my computer) to his family's house and we would not speak at all on the 40 minute ride there and back, but as soon as we got in the door of his parent's house, I felt like I could breathe because it was big enough that I knew I only had to deal with him over dinner. And when we got back, he'd go out with his friends, I would go back to Netflix, and I'd make sure to get out of the living room before he got home. I was isolated from my family, my friends. I had no one.

Growing up and then being with him shattered my confidence. The only way I knew how to rebuild it was by faking it. By spending more time at work than anywhere else, learning as much as I could, teaching myself as much as I could about business and energy and processes and system functions and coding. My boss was my confidant and biggest supporter. He listened to me, cried with me, and challenged me beyond my experience level. He encouraged me every single day, debated theology with me, and continued to make sure I was doing OK. He offered me time off the day that I finally mustered up the courage to leave, and then understood when I told him that working allowed me a portal to the only shred of sanity I had left. 

I remember that day all too clearly. It was my 24th birthday. My best friend in Michigan sent me flowers to my workplace, bringing me to openly weep in the workplace. My coworkers, without any knowledge of what was happening, tried to plan a potluck (without my knowledge, and I was the potluck planner) and inadvertently they all made desserts with the exception of one person who brought chips and salsa. We laughed that day, our bodies trembling with the highs that come with eating too much sugar. My mentor, the only other person I really honestly trusted at that time, took me out for lunch where we had vietnamese pho and sandwiches and, with that savory food, I wept and she offered to let me stay at her place. I booked a conference room to myself that day, working on a database in solitude. I worked while weeping; I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew that I couldn't be numb anymore. 

I just couldn't be numb anymore.

I knew that being numb was part of his appeal of being with me. I just didn't care and so he could do as he pleased. But in my very first sermon, just a few weeks ago, words that I put down on paper and the words that I spoke have come back to haunt my memory over and over:

"When you numb pain, you numb joy. And let me tell you from experience that living a numb life feels a lot like death."

And so, even after years of growth and years of therapy and years of tears, I still feel the twinges of the past. And I think that's ok, as long as I don't let them be the only thing taking up my mind and heart-space. If I don't re-visit some of that pain, I can't be as compassionate with people experiencing it now. I have to let myself feel it, to dig deep into the uncomfortable abyss that is the remnants of PTSD that, as much as I hate to admit it, still keep coming to me in the most inopportune, impractical, and unpredictable times.

I'll forever be a bit broken because of what I've lived through. The scars of emotional and psychological abuse never fully go away. And maybe somebody will tell me that I'm being too compassionate in certain situations where abuse is happening, or even just starting; maybe that I'm too quick to say, "That's abusive." But when I look back, I wish someone would have just flat out told me, "What he's doing is abusive," even if I didn't believe them. Because maybe, just maybe, I would have been able to put words to what I was going through, what I was experiencing, with a bit of proof to back me up so that when I said those words and he responded with, "How am I abusing you," I would have had something to say.

And maybe I wouldn't have said anything, but I would have known, even if for a brief second, for the first time, really known I wasn't wrong.

And I would much rather be too compassionate than allow another human being to experience emotional, psychological, and spiritual abuse at the hands of the person who has promised to spend their whole lives loving you, supporting you, and being faithful to you.


If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse of any kind - sexual, physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, etc. - please let them know that they're not crazy and they're not alone. 

If you're not sure whether you're dealing with an abusive situation, here are some questions to answer:

Is your partner:
  • Telling you that you can never do anything right
  • Showing jealousy of your friends and time spent away
  • Keeping you or discouraging you from seeing friends or family members
  • Embarrassing or shaming you with put-downs
  • Controlling every penny spent in the household
  • Taking your money or refusing to give you money for expenses
  • Looking at you or acting in ways that scare you
  • Controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do
  • Preventing you from making your own decisions
  • Telling you that you are a bad parent or threatening to harm or take away your children
  • Preventing you from working or attending school
  • Destroying your property or threatening to hurt or kill your pets
  • Intimidating you with guns, knives or other weapons
  • Pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with
  • Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol
AND: If your partner is doing any of those things claiming religious reasons:
  • Put downs: "You're supposed to be the man of the family, the head of the spiritual life! You are nothing but weak!" or "You're the woman of the family and you will do what I say because the Bible tells you to be obedient!"
  • Controlling who you see/Where you go - "You can't hang out with those people anymore because they're not true Christians." 
  • Pressuring you to have sex - "the Bible tells you not to refuse me, so you don't get to say, 'No'"
And many more. 

If you have a friend or a family member who is dealing with an abusive situation or recovering from one, allow them space to heal, give them the encouragement and support to be who they are, not who they were or who you'd like them to be. Encourage new hobbies and interests, even if you don't understand it. As they redefine who they are, get to know and love that person. 

And if nothing else, provide, for them, a safe space to grow, to be, and to breathe.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Problem of "Casting Stones."

I cannot tell you how many times I've heard it (and, lets' be real, said it) in my life:

"Judge not, lest ye be judged."
"Let him without sin cast the first stone."

Most often, those things are said as soon as someone mentions to another person that they are concerned that they are sinning. They come to the person - either humbly or not - and say the words, "This is a sin," and our automatic defense mechanisms go off like a car alarm in a thunderstorm and we get all, "DON'T JUDGE ME, YOU JUDGY JUDGER" on people. At this point in time, it doesnt' matter if the first person came in humility or not. We've just decided that because they're not Jesus Christ himself they aren't worthy enough to point out our flaws.

We're ever so transparent (sometimes) about our own flaws.

"haha. You know me! I'm SUCH a procrastinator!"
"Look at me eating this entire pint of Ben and Jerrys! I'm such a glutton!"
"Just livin out my total depravity, yo."
"Well, I never said I'm not perfect!"

But when someone else says that we're not perfect?


"Wait. YOU'RE judging ME right now? Who died and made you our Lord and Savior? I thought all that judgement stuff was meant for when I meet Jesus face to face and he gives me that gold star right here over my heart for doing good things!"

"Well, the blood of Jesus certainly covers a lot - I mean, all the stuff it has to cover in YOUR life?"
- - -

When did calling sin, "sin," become the equivalent to throwing people off cliffs and raining heavy rocks upon their battered bodies?

When did saying, "I'm concerned about this area in your life," become something we can't say because of planks and specks in eyes?

When did we start using the word of God as a way to justify our own desires and sinful nature?

Well, the answer to that last question is, "In the garden of Eden." There was once a crafty serpent...

But seriously.

There are so many churches today that refuse to even come close to touching the words, "Church Discipline," with a ten foot pole. They won't even pick up the pole. When there are blatant and serious sins in a person's life, it is our job as the body of believers to take our concerns to that person in humility and say, "I'm worried about you. I see this pattern of behavior in your life and it concerns me. And I'm going to call out this thing right now and call it sin."

And it is our jobs as believers, when someone comes to us with those concerns, and SHUT UP before we decide to point out every single one of their flaws and, thus, making their concern and their words nil.

Just because someone else sins doesn't mean that it cancels out your own. 

We have held SO TIGHTLY to the words of Jesus, "Let he who hasn't sinned cast the first stone," that we've forgotten his words to the woman right after everyone left:

"Go and sin no more."

Lest we forget that those words of Jesus are just as applicable to us as they are to everyone else. Lest we forget that those words of Jesus are heavy. Go and sin no more? How? 

And as for specks and planks? The very moment we use that verse when someone points something out in our lives, we now have that plank in our own eye and are judging the speck in our fellow believer's. And all of that is because of a few verses before that - "Judge not, that you will not be judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." When we tell people, "judge not, that you will not be judged" in response to their concern, we've become the judge in their lives. 

It's tricky.

And it's one of the major reasons that I think we're seeing more and more abuse in the church. Spiritual abuse, spousal abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse - these things, unchecked, kill. But if our super-sensitive-defensive-alarms are the only thing we listen to, we will never let anybody touch that sin in our lives - 

"Because who hasn't done bad things?"
"I'm just doing things the way I think the Bible says."
"Submit. The Bible tells you to submit to me."
"Honor your parents and all will go well for you."
"She wasn't satisfying my desires enough so I was forced to watch pornography/hire an escort."
"If you don't listen to me, you're not doing what God wants you to do."
"What did I do to deserve this from you? Am I that horrible that you would do this to me?"

And then we will need to face it come judgement day. 

And that...
that won't be pretty.

- - 

Maybe instead of seeing called-out sin as "casting stones*" or "pointing out specks," we can see it as an opportunity to grow; or maybe we can even see it as Jesus talking to us through our brothers and sisters in the faith, helping to sanctify us, allowing us to see parts of ourselves to that which we may be blind.

*note: if ALL you receive or give is criticism or you decide that a person's worth is based upon how many sins they've done, or you're unable to see your own sin for what it is, then that's what I'd call casting stones. 

If we take the time to see our own sin, there is SO MUCH GRACE for dealing with other people's sins - or at least there should be. If we look - REALLY LOOK - at ourselves and where we need help and where we need growth, then we can look at our brother or sister who is struggling and our first response should then become, "Hey. I see this thing in your life and I'm concerned about it's implications. I know that I'm not perfect, but I just want to help in any way that I can."

But if we see abuse happening and let it happen because, "I mean, I'm a sinner too..." or because you're afraid that they're going to point out your sin, then you've become a part of the abuse. And that's how abuse becomes systemic.

Discipline ≠ Bad. 

It may be uncomfortable, but it doesn't mean that it's BAD. If it's done well, it is good

So let's learn to not be impulsive and Hulksmash everyone who comes to us with concerns about our behavior.

Because the weight of Jesus' command, "Go and sin no more," isn't something we can do on our own strength. We need Jesus. We need each other.

And we need a good dose of humility.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Life is a Journey

So this one has been a month or so coming, but the words just never seemed to find their way to my fingers. Until today.

Learning how to not be a victim is tough, especially when most of the time, you blink and months have flown past. 

For me, the last 6-8 months have been a whirlwind, to the extent that the other day I still thought it was September. Oi. The problem was me, obviously, but it wasn't until I recognized that the only reason why I felt like life was happening to me was because I refused to get emotionally involved in...well, myeslf. I have taught myself that I am too busy for emotions. I've cut myself out. I've overworked, over-stimulated, over-numbed myself so that I can't feel what is actually happening to me, or, rather, I can't feel the things in which I participate. So I numb. I become more emotionally involved in other people's issues than my own.

And, friends, I burned out.

And I guess, that's a major part of this life-update.

I exhausted myself in my effort to not realize what was actually happening to me. I had all of these words, all of this hurt, pent up in my body that I became exhausted.

And so I'm taking a step back. I realized, very quickly, that the move to South Haven was a shock to my system - as good as it was to be closer to home. In Houston, I had really close friends, a support system, and a really good therapist. As soon as I came to South Haven, I had to re-build everything. While my friends and family were close, they hadn't been through the past two-and-a-half years with me. They had held me from afar but they hadn't been fighting the wars with me that my support system in Houston had. I had roots in Houston that I didn't even realize until I left. I needed to make new friends in a town that, sadly, doesn't work for people in my age/life-situation. I lost my support system, I lost my therapist, and falsely believed that I could do this thing on my own after suffering trauma in Houston.

I didn't feel at home.

I felt a strange pull towards Western Theological Seminary, though, and at one of the busiest times in my career at Hope, I threw in my application there. It wasn't until orientation that I realized how life-giving seminary would be for me, how incredibly easy it is to make friends who understand what you're going through, studying the same things you're studying, and willing to be silly. While I had burned myself out at work, I found life and joy and light and peace at seminary.

And so, about a month ago now, I sent in my resignation letter to my church. I needed to take a step back from something. I kept being pulled towards seminary. And somehow, everything just fell into place. Two of the best people I know have opened up their home to myself and Chewbacca. I just signed the paperwork today to work in the dining hall on a 25-30 hour-a-week basis. Life is becoming centralized again where I have a therapist and I'm gaining a support group outside of school and everything that I'll be involved in is less than a mile away from me at all times.

And I feel at rest.

I feel at home.

I feel at peace, for the first time.
I feel like I'm in a safe space to express feelings and I can't tell you how excited I'll be to take a giant pay-cut and learn something completely new.

Because taking a vacation from myself isn't something I can do anymore.

And right now, I'm just recklessly trusting that God will provide for each and every single one of my needs.

Does this mean that I hated my time in South Haven and that I am excited in terms of "giddy, happy" to leave? No. I will weep big fat crocodile tears on November 15th. I did gain valuable relationships. I got to know amazing people. I loved the church and the people of the church. I will miss the church and the people and the town. I'll be back to visit as often as I can.

But am I excited as in, "ready to go?" Yes. I am.

So if y'all could throw some prayers up for me during this season, here are some specifics:

- Somehow I need to pay for school this year. Falling and breaking my elbow ended up pulling money out of my school fund.
- My arm, while it's getting better, still hurts.
- For the ability to trust without doubting that God has got me.
- Sanity.
-  That I don't drive my new housemates crazy.

Peace. Love. Light.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Be Cautious: Delighting in Evil

I find myself in the strange situation where I can put myself in the shoes of victims of abuse because I've been there.

It's uncomfortable.

It's especially uncomfortable when I hear the love and devotion to abusers.

And it's even more uncomfortable when I hear the voices of outsiders telling those who love  abusers to, "leave. Get out. Walk away. He is a piece of trash and will always be a piece of trash."

And, to go further, it is maddening to see the people who say those things also rejoice in his downfall...
and profess to be Christian.

Here's where I find the words to say, friends. 

I have experienced loving a man with all my heart - loving who he was at that very moment and seeing the potential in him while thinking that I knew the sordid details of his past; believing fully that he had changed, reformed, and found Christ; trusting him with my heart and with my life because I thought I knew him. I believed, with my whole being, that I knew him.

I have experienced the ripping pain that comes with realizing, very suddenly, that I don't actually know the man I married - that the past that I knew about wasn't everything; that the past melded with the present in a very real and tangible way, and that I had been given the Reader's Digest version mixed with a fairy tale. Some truth, some fiction, and a whole lot left out.

I have experienced the soul-crushing, suffocating feeling of finding out that the man you love has been looking elsewhere for sexual satisfaction. I have curled up on multiple floors, weeping uncontrollably, fully believing that his indiscretions were my fault, and, the first time that he confessed, fully believing that I could forgive him, and if I loved him through it, he would have no choice but to never be unfaithful again. And then finding out later that he was once again, unfaithful. Multiple times. 

I have experienced well-meaning friends and family telling me, multiple times and in multiple ways, to just, "leave. Get out. Walk away. It isn't healthy for you." 

I have experienced the expectation of the Church to stay and the maddening confusion of Christians telling me to leave while being unable to shake away the feeling that I was still supposed to be a, "good, faithful wife," leading my, all of a sudden, unbelieving husband to salvation.

Friends, in this process, there is ZERO room to delight in the downfall of one who had once professed a saving knowledge of Christ. There is more to the story than the abuser. There is more to the story than the adulterer. 

Someone's life is being ripped apart and you delight in that? Someone's family is being ripped apart and you rejoice in that? 


Let me repeat that.


Today, Josh Duggar was once again called out - his actions done in the dark were brought to light in regards to his name being on the the Ashley Madison leak list. He, supposedly (for while the credit card statement certainly looks like it's him, he hasn't made any statements as of yet and there were some reported fake accounts on that list; and I don't like to jump the gun), used the site for all that it was worth, as a way to meet women open to committing adultery with him. And people around America are delighting in his demise. 

Christians are delighting in his demise.

Can I repeat something I said before?


Stop it.

He has a wife. He has children. He has a family. And while you might think he is the sleaziest of sleazeballs, there is NO reason to delight in this evil. 

Yes, all things done in the dark will come to light - but there is zero reason for us to delight in that.

It is a cause for mourning; a cry of our souls for Christ to come quickly. But this deed will cause extreme pain for those who love him, who believed him, and who live with him. And that breaks. my. heart.

I. Don't. Care if you don't like him. I don't. But not liking someone was never a cause for not loving someone. "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

How are you protecting the victims of his indiscretions? Are any of you hoping that he truly repents and seeks justice for his wrongs? Or are you hoping that more comes out so you can hate on him further? 

Are you delighting in evil?

If so, check yourself. Were it not for the grace of God, that could be you, your family being ripped apart - and don't you for one second think that it's because of your own willpower that it's not because we are ALL the worst kind of sinners. 

As for grace? Grace, in this case, can take the form of hoping and praying that he seeks help for both himself AND his family. Grace takes the form of praying for him and his family during this time. Grace takes the form of not delighting in evil, in hoping that the Holy Spirit works through him and his family and uses them for the glory of God. 

You don't have to like him. But you don't need to spread slander. You don't need to jump the gun. And you don't need to delight in evil.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Victim No More

Sometimes a fresh start is necessary.

This little online journal of mine has gone through some significant changes over the past 24 hours. To be honest, there are a few journals that, as of today, are now ashes. To those of you who wonder who in the world would ever set a journal on fire, considering the things those journals contained, it's a wonder they weren't set on fire before today.

Stories are meant to be remembered. Life, for me, is not filled with regret, with wishing things had turned out differently. My life, for all intents and purposes, is one that is marked with perfectionism, with pain, with great sorrow and great joy. In the setting free of the words that had been trapped on the pages of those journals, I chose, not to forget, but to let go. 

I won't ever forget. I don't need journals to remind me of the laughter that was once so prevalent I ended up sore, with wet cheeks of the tears that were filled with pure joy. I don't need journals to remind me of the love that was tangible, of the desires hidden beneath a paper-thin surface, ready to break through at any moment. I don't need words to remember the joy of expectation, the broken hearts, the pain of hope deferred. 

And I will remember. But I do not wish to remember from the viewpoint of being in the trenches, not knowing what the future was to hold. In that narrow view was a girl, terrified of the world and what it had to offer. In those stories was the raw pain that has since mellowed.

And while some find it interesting to go back and feel that pain all over again, I am not one of them. I feel pain now. I feel the pain of those who have been outed as victims of assault without their consent. I feel the pain of an unjust society perpetuating violence by fighting with violent words. I feel the pain of people who aren't allowed to speak up for themselves, who are told they are stupid, unworthy; those who cannot speak for they have been told that their voice doesn't matter. I feel the pain of people who know they are being abused but don't know what to do about it. I feel the pain of those who believe they are completely in love with wonderful people only to find out that the person they love is not the person they thought. 

I will never not feel the pain. I pray I will never stop empathizing, that I will always feel. For it is in the feeling that I can understand. It is in remembering the pain that I can know the joy that comes on the other side. It is what allows me to see, to speak, but to choose my words carefully.

It is what allows me to stop and listen. To hear the stories of those who have been severely hurt and simply say, "I am sorry for your pain. What can be done?"

And so, I start over. I look back at the years gone past with new eyes, a fresh perspective, and the generous space of a few years - something my timehop reminds me of on a regular basis. I have the support and love of a man who does not judge me on my past but sees it as something that God used to grow me into the woman he now knows. I do this knowing that my story is similar to others, that I am not alone, that maybe someone may be given the same courage that was given me from one of my friends who went through a similar experience around the same time that I did.

I speak. I open my mouth. There are very few people on this earth that know all the details. My therapists, my pastors, the friends who walked with me through every moment. Even through speaking, though, I will omit some details. I will speak as one who WAS a victim.

But is a victim no more.