It’s Tough Being Switzerland, (even though I #believe survivors)

 

alpine beautiful bloom blossom

I have mixed emotions about the #metoo and #believesurvivors movements. I empathize with and support other survivors through prayers and well wishes but I really just want to ‘be like Switzerland’ (neutral) in regard to the whole worldwide movement thing.

As an assault survivor I do not want my name, or my trauma, to be made into public fodder.

I know that many other survivors also don’t want to go public with their stories using their ‘real’ names (fearing for our lives is a reality for some of us). Add a bunch of public attention…and victims who wished to remain anonymous are often nosed out by reporters.

From the start I feared this would end up being all about the ‘left’ versus the ‘right.’ Religious versus heathen.

It pretty much has now. And that’s painful to watch.

On the one hand, I appreciate the awareness and the support of so many survivors coming together. I know how desperately victims and survivors need to hear three simple words: “I believe you.” Those three words can be the difference between recovery and an even darker hole.

Others see the pain the family members of accused perpetrators are going through and get angry at the people coming forward with past claims of abuse.

I suggest feeling empathy and sadness instead. Because the reality of sexual abuse is that there are MANY victims, never just one. Perpetrators’ children and spouses suffer greatly as well, even if they were never perpetrated upon themselves. Spouses and children of victims suffer too. This is a testament to the horror which is sexual abuse.

Now that this topic has been pushed into the public conversation, many feel they can give their own opinion…whether or not they have lived through it themselves, or whether or not they actually know the people paraded about in the news.

I live in Middle America, where it is more red than blue. My Facebook feed is full of memes about alleged perpetrators being innocent and alleged victims being liars. There is even a ‘joke’ going around that George Strait sexually assaulted Emmylou Hayes…and other memes urging me to ‘support Kavanaugh’s family’. One minister I follow referred to Kavanaugh’s accusers as ‘harlots’. That was very painful to read.

So today when a Facebook ‘friend’ shared a photo of Dr. Ford’s lawyer walking behind Hilary Clinton with a ‘does this surprise anyone’ headline…I thought to myself:

Nope. It doesn’t surprise me. I saw this coming. I suspected the me too movement would become a toxic political ‘football’ and that the ones hurt the most by that thing flying around would be survivors (who may be triggered by public vitriol).

Plus, I went through a big ‘end times’ phase before I got sick with PTSD. During my studies I learned things like thesis + antithesis = synthesis. I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but it’s probably already too late for that. So: I sense the Hegelian Dialect is at play here.

What is the synthesis we are being pushed toward?

Hang on, I’ll get there. First of all, I believe the escalation of sexual abuse, particularly in the Christian church, is an act of pure evil. It is by design. It is one of the ways the enemy is seeking to destroy Christians before his time is up. And it’s working. Because not only is this evil damaging victims of abuse. Ministers and church goers are being swayed by their emotions (through well-placed memes and photos) and taking up the mighty sword of ‘the pen’ in hasty response. (Things we post on Facebook and blogs are ALL self-published materials–by us, even shared memes from others become our property and responsiblity when we share them). Engaging in public battles we can’t possibly know the real facts about, is not normally seen as Christ like behavior. But yet it is applauded tine and again by Christians. As in most things; there is a proverb for that.

Therefore, I am afraid that we are collectively being ‘synthesized’ (thesis+antithesis=synthesis) to accept chaos and lies as normal.

Liar. From the one side.

Liar. (and: harlot) Shouted from the other side.

What to believe? Who to believe?

Everyone’s trust becomes ruined. Which is why I have a hunch this is a battle that Satan himself encouraged just for the love of chaos and the churning out of more lies.

John 8:44 When he (Satan) lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Oh, I’m not some kind of saint here. A part of me really wants to get personal and use my own sword in the debate, since I have also been called ‘crazy’ for claims I have made about my own past abuse.

But I don’t know Kavanaugh or his accusers, I don’t trust any media outlets right now, and so I cannot opine one way or another. A ‘that is really awful’ and ‘I am going to trust God to sort it out’ response seems the only wise Christian response, to me. So I hope to remain like Switzerland, even though its getting tougher all the time. As long as I have Jesus as my rock though, I don’t need a view of the Matterhorn.

1 Corinthians 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.

Matthew 7:14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

 

 

Stressing Forgiveness

This post is quite a bit longer than I plan to make most of my posts. I feel compelled to share these thoughts, as I think there is a bit of a crises regarding this topic. I thank anyone who takes the time to read this in its entirey.

In my recovery from abuse, I reached a point where I was ready to talk about it with others. Some people heard me, really heard me, and were empathetic and supportive. One friend who had listened very well to me, died shortly thereafter. Another friend listened to me and ‘got’ me better than anyone I’d ever had in my life, outside of my husband. I consider her one of the best gifts God gave me (along with my husband and children).

As I shared my story with others, though, I heard advice which I found to be a bit frustrating. It made me want to justify myself. But I’ve spent a lot of money in therapy to learn how to stop needing to justify myself. I don’t want to waste the investment. Therefore, I am going to attempt to write out some thoughts on forgiveness; without delving (too much) into justifications of my own experiences.

In short: I experienced some moments where fellow Christians urged, gently encouraged, or even outright insisted, that I forgive my abusers.

I found it frightening because their summation of me triggered one of my fears. I thought I had forgiven it? Did my anger return? Did I sound bitter there? What about me or my demeanor led them to conclude I haven’t forgiven this? Show me Lord, so that I can remove it!   

See, I used to be very afraid that I was harboring some sort of bitterness or unforgiveness toward someone. Thereby I would not be able myself to receive God’s forgiveness (that I know I desperately need). I take Matthew 6:15 to heart. God gave me faith and simple understanding of the gospel in early childhood. That story can be for another post. In my mid-twenties, when I first began to understand that some of what had happened to me in childhood was actually abuse: I believe I forgave it; near immediately. I did that because I wanted it to go away; and my understanding at the time was that forgiveness would erase it and enable me to continue being in contact with people who had done horrific things to me—but who I loved nonetheless and over which I did not want to harm the relationship.

After I hit a wall and couldn’t go on without openly owning my past in all its ugliness, I started to share bits of that ugly past, here and there. As time passed, my voice stopped tremoring when I spoke of the incidents. My body calmed. I didn’t feel, or come across, as traumatized anymore. I have to wonder now, in hindsight, if some who advised me to ‘forgive’ were simply misreading symptoms of bodily distress as anger and unforgiveness.

Either way, when I was told I needed to forgive, or saw others sharing similar stories only to be told the same thing (‘you need to forgive’), it left me spinning. Had all those years of offering up forgiveness to others been fake? Had I deceived myself even more than I realized?

Once I began to understand trauma and the process of healing from it, what forgiveness entails, that forgiveness is not going to fix anything but still has to be done, that sometimes reconciliation is not possible, and, this was the hardest part, that sometimes you need to separate from people who continue to be abusive, those fears subsided. New feelings emerged. And some paranoia.

When I heard repeated sermons on forgiveness (a very popular theme where I attend services), I wondered if the pastor who counselled me to forgive my abusers had told the lead pastor at the church my story. Another day a sister in Christ told me that she’d been listening to a popular speaker who had forgiven her father for abuse. I nodded. I was aware of her story. And I also knew how many years had passed wherein she openly owned the abuse– before her father apologized to her and admitted that he’d abused her.

I thought to myself, Where is she going with this? Why is she telling me this? Why is she looking at me like I’m the one doing something wrong because I am now estranged from certain family members?

My therapist asked me if I had asked her what she meant by that. Oops. I believe I said something like this in response,  ‘Right now, I believe God is clearly telling me to avoid certain people in my family.’

Based on the look on her face, and the fact that it turned pink, I think I knew what she was getting at.

It felt, at times, like no one was getting it. Here is why: usually in telling my story I prefaced it with ‘I have forgiven my abusers, but we are now estranged as a result of me telling the truth.’ Or, I followed it up with something similar to what I’d told the person who seemed to be suggesting I do something other than what I was/am doing:  ‘This is where I believe God wants me to be.”

Nevertheless, I plugged on. I kept owning the truth; and sharing it when it seemed appropriate; and/or safe. I began to deeply understand that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. I stopped being so hard on myself as I realized that every time I offered up forgiveness to those who had sinned against me, even before I had stopped denying the extent of the abuse itself, God honored it. God used my willingness to face the early things by nudging me further toward the light and toward the truth of the later things which were much more difficult to own. Those early attempts were not in vain. It was all part of the peeling of the onion that needed to happen.

Through therapy , talking with people who did and do support me, journaling, and prayer, I fleshed out my belief system about forgiveness.

*Forgiveness lets people off your hook. It does not, and we cannot, let people off God’s hook. They still face Him for their actions. We all do.

*I am going to suffer the consequences of the sin against me regardless. I may as well forgive it and set myself free from seeking out restitution and repayment of something that cannot be repaid anyway.

*If a bank forgives a debt, do you think they loan money out to that same person again? Without a probation period? Or some other stricter conditions for repayment?

*If someone tossed mud all over your life, which took you a long time to deal with, and then that same person wants to come back into your home, without removing their muddy shoes first, do you let them enter? Or do you politely but firmly say, ‘You can’t come in here until you remove your muddy shoes.’

Those things are not ‘unforgiveness.’ They are wisdom.

It took decades for me to understand the extent of my child abuse. With the help of a therapist, I was able to see that I had been forgiving as much of it as possible each time I dealt with a fresh memory. I also learned, though, that forgiveness is an ongoing process. In my experience, forgiving didn’t facilitate immediate, miraculous healing. A one and done prayer didn’t help me. Rather, I believe a deeper layer of forgiveness, and acceptance, naturally started to happen as I owned truth after truth and damage after damage. All of which became more intense as I entered the lower layers of the healing process.

You can’t forgive damage until you become fully aware of the extent of the damage. I was in denial about how damaged I had been in my childhood. I hadn’t allowed myself any time for grieving and looking over the devastation and effects of it. I’m still peeling deeper layers of that onion. As a friend once told me, “And peeling onions always makes you cry.” Indeed. I am thankful, so thankful, when people get that.

To my discouragement, though, I sometimes still find myself lashing out in anger at a ‘safe’ person who doesn’t deserve it. It seems like once a month, now, I uncover more hidden damage and thereby have even more to forgive; and to ask for forgiveness myself of others, for my own mistreatment of them. Forgiveness, like repentance, is an ongoing thing. Sins from years ago can enter our minds fresh, with a burst of anger, and you can realize you are harboring something all over again that you believed you let go of a long time ago. Had you not done it right the first time around?

Here is what I believe: I think we lean toward forgiveness and God honors that as He helps us get there; in time. I believe that’s part of the Holy Spirit’s work of ongoing sanctification, as we are being perfected in our walk. I don’t think that means I didn’t do it ‘right’ the first time around. Some offenses run deeper than others. So long as we put our face toward a forgiving stance, choose to walk that direction; God makes sure we get there.

But to tell a brother or sister in Christ who is reeling with trauma that they ‘just need to forgive it’ is a bit like telling a two year old they need to cut up a steak before they can eat it. They are sitting there, tied to a chair, with tantalizing food in front of them, and they are not presently capable of using a knife and fork. They need someone else to make it into bite sized pieces for them. As they grow, they can cut their own meat.

How do we help cut up the meat for others who have been injured?

I have some ideas. But first: I do not think people were necessarily wrong to think I needed to forgive my abusers. Just like it isn’t wrong to notice that a two year old can’t eat a steak without it being cut up first. How we deal with what we are observing is key. Asking ourselves why we want to tell someone else to ‘just forgive it’ might be helpful. Is that for our benefit and comfort; or theirs?

I’m a ‘why’ person. My husband read this quote and shared it recently. “If you know how to do something you will always have a job. If you know why you are doing something, you will always be that other person’s boss.”

So, I wanted to know why some people, Christians usually, immediately start stressing forgiveness to those that are brave enough to share their stories of abuse. It can seem like victim shaming and blaming. I don’t want to call it that, though, as I don’t believe everyone means it to be that way.

This morning these verses in Ezekiel came to mind.

Ezekiel 9:3-4

“Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”

In this case the mark is a good thing. You can read beforehand and further on, to see that those getting the mark were the people who would be spared from the angel of death bringing judgment upon Israel.

Back to my point, and I could be wrong. This is just my personal ‘take’. However, I feel compelled to put this out into the world, for whoever may stumble upon it:

The reason why so many Christians stress that the victims of detestable things forgive their abusers is because many of us have stopped grieving and lamenting over sin. (For clarity here: sexual abuse, assault, child abuse, spiritual and emotional abuse ARE detestable sins. Particularly sexual abuse against children by members of the clergy or church leadership–of which I am a survivor).

When I first began to move certain memories of childhood from the file in my brain marked ‘that wasn’t a big deal’ or ‘you brought that on yourself’ to a very scary file labeled ‘I was abused’ – I did the same thing. I didn’t want to grieve or lament the sin. I just wanted it gone. HENCE: I forgave it. Very quickly. Without a grieving process. Without assessing the damages. Without weeping for the loss. The loss made itself known; anyway. The grief rose up and overwhelmed me; anyway.

I believe we can cut up the meat for those who have been injured in the following ways:

We grieve with them. We lament. We listen. We reserve judgment on the victim and believe that they are, indeed, a victim. Unless we are willing to walk with them the entirety of their battle–then we may be compelled to say something more to them. (My husband often suggests that unless I am willing to walk with someone through the entirety of their mess, it’s best I just keep my mouth shut if I think I know of a way to ‘fix’ the problem). And we pray that God give them strength, wisdom, courage, and healing so they can someday cut their own meat again.

Meanwhile: It’s hard to delve into the ugliness of sin. How do we do that? How do we grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are being done in our darkening world?

I don’t know, exactly. I just know it is messy. Peeling onions always makes you cry. Especially the homegrown onions, the ones that were cultivated in our own backyards. Those are the worst offenders of all, and the hardest to recover from.

As a result of intense reading and research on things like ‘normalization’ and ‘grooming’, (to understand better what had happened to me in childhood) I see that the enemy seeks very hard to numb us; to normalize even the most damaging and detestable of sins.

In light of that, the answer may be very, very simple. Perhaps it is time we normalized weeping, grieving, and lamenting, over sin; that we joined our traumatized brothers and sisters in their mess and bear one another’s burdens together to ease the load. Particularly those sins against children. Particularly those, like sexual assaults, which attempt to murder the soul of their victims.

 

 

What’s in this?

Ever eaten a gourmet meal which is expertly done, yet something is still missing?  After a bite or two you find yourself desperately looking for a salt shaker? Inevitably, those white-cloth-tables lack salt. And you don’t want to insult the chef by asking.

The truth is complicated for me. I dig into things deeply. I dislike subterfuge and being fooled. Yet I garnished my own story. Denial. It’s how I survived; at first. It was too painful to deconstruct my life. Someone once said : the truth will set you free but first it will make you miserable. I have lived that.

I am a writer. An artist. In love with the quirky and unique. A finder of beauty. A creative soul who adores picking basil from the garden; setting it just-so on top of a platter.

I eat my watermelon sprinkled with salt. Sweet things taste even better, to me, sprinkled in truth. As a writer I want to make sure I’m honoring the simplicity of story. As a servant of Christ I want to make sure I am sharing both grace and truth. Like sea salt on fresh- sliced, homegrown tomatoes. With or without basil garnish.

I am a survivor of sexual, emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse. I am overcoming the anxiety disorder and PTSD which resulted. I guard my privacy as I continue to heal. I also crave connection, and a place to create and share.

I am watching my grown sons adjust to life on their own as I adjust to life in a quiet house. The refrigerator slowly empties. I cook simply. The other night my BHH (better half of my heart) asked me ‘what’s in this?’ as he scooped a second helping of potatoes onto the serving spoon.

“Just salt.”

“It is really, really good.”

Umm hmm.

Pretense. Overdoing it. For too long, I tried too hard. The unadorned truth-applied with love-is what most of us crave. Like salt on food. Like Jesus preserves His own and His own preserve the world. In an age that’s garnishing everything–pretending evil is good and good is evil–I just want to be a little salt. That’s it.

Just salt.