Because What If It’s True?

Just two days ago (pre-Josh Duggar confession) I saw a very well-meaning online commenter indicate that the explosive “rumor” of the molestations had been around a long time and that the source of the rumor was believed to be “a liar and a scammer.”

Let that sink in.

As it turns out this “source of the online rumor” was not a victim, but was in fact a very concerned person with inside (and actually highly accurate) information about multiple instances of child abuse and molestation at the hands of a teenage Josh Duggar and the gross mishandling of it after the fact.

Unfortunately, even those claiming to be victims of child abuse or other kinds of abuse are also typically dismissed and falsely labelled as liars, scammers, crazy, bitter, out for money, etc. And all it takes is for one credible person to pass along that label to others and suddenly it’s treated as fact by even the most well-meaning of individuals.

“Oh you heard that? Because so-and-so says she’s not a victim, she’s just bitter.”

We spend a lot of time worrying that people will be falsely accused of abuse and wrongly labeled as abusers, but the reality is that’s actually quite rare—though not unheard of. What’s more, false allegations of child abuse—when they do come up—usually crop up midway through bitter custody battles. This limits the odds significantly if that custody factor is out of the equation. (Though please don’t dismiss an allegation just because custody is involved.)

What is way more prevalent and all too common is that messengers of truth with either a warning for others or a cry for justice are falsely labeled and wrongfully dismissed. Victims and whistle-blowers get put under a microscope of scrutiny while a wall of protection and “believe the best” and “innocent until proven guilty” is mounted around the alleged abuser.

So, we have a choice every time an accusation is made: We can worry that someone is being falsely accused or we can worry that someone isn’t being believed.

But why can’t we do both? you might say.

And I hear you, I hear you. It’s just extremely tough to do both, because in order to get to that golden, idealized moment of “both sides of the story being heard,” the alleged victim who isn’t being believed usually has to assemble an army of support just to get even a sliver of that almighty “both sides” microphone.

Those shielding the reputations of the accused can be a literal Hoover Dam-sized obstacle holding back the tide of justice and the flow of accurate information. What’s worse, they are usually unaware that they are protecting a guilty person, which makes their wall that much stronger and that much more impenetrable.

It’s a hell of a thing to try to take down that wall. Try doing it without losing your mind, losing your friends, losing your cool, losing your hope.

Maybe the next time you hear a shocking rumor and the source of the rumor (the accuser) is described to you unfavorably so as to dismiss the credibility of the so-called rumor, maybe you can stop and check yourself. Remember this: Really, really “nice people” have been known to do really, really horrible things. And really, really honest victims have been known to practically destroy themselves—and occasionally even others—under the weight of their wounds.

So if your gut reaction is placing the two sides into categories of nice person and sketchy person as your litmus test of honesty, force yourself to push the pause button on those often-misleading labels. And simply allow yourself instead to ask this one important question:

What if the horrible thing is actually true?

Because Toddlers Are Magic

It wouldn’t be fair to tell a parent in the middle of a two-year-old’s temper tantrum that one day he’ll think of that little fellow, that cartoon voice, that cherub face, and he’d take the temper tantrum if he had to, just to hold that squirmy, unruly little angel-with-the-devil-scream one more time.

I mean, parents of toddlers are a hassled lot, who ride whiplash roller coasters of heart-swelling delight and meltdowns from hell. There is not enough sleep, there is not enough Tylenol, there is not enough coffee, there is not enough juice. (Oh, Lord, why is there never enough juice?)

But toddlers are magic, I tell you. They are pure, unadulterated magic. Their world is new and around every corner is enchantment.

Unless, of course, that corner unexpectedly brings dignity-crushing parental humiliation brought to you by an emotional and physical F5 tornado: the classic toddler apoplectic fit.

Magic?!” some of you are spitting right now over the screams, as you yoga-breathe your way to serenity in the middle of the storm. Your eyes are glazing over as you seek the happy place deep in your mind that feels like the only escape from the madness: I am better than this. I have read five parenting books. I do not yell at my children in the middle of Target

And let’s face it, at this point even the Baptists are swearing in their heads, because, you guys: TERRIBLE TWOS. (Yeah. Real talk. I have not forgotten.)

It’s just I know now in a deep and bittersweet way that what all the parents of older children said was true: This too shall pass.

And it does.

This one time I had toddlers. Pixie-dust giggles, Precious Moments-eyes, and hands that still reached for mine: toddlers. With sticky cheeks, dirty knees, no grasp of time, and an inherent penchant for irrational debate.

Their conversation skills were often limited to four little sentences on repeat:

2 maddie 2“Wake up, Mama.”
“Watch me again, Mama.”
“More juice, Mama.”
“But I want it now, Mama.”

And I had four of my own:

“Mommy needs rest, baby.”
“In a minute, baby.”
“Say please, baby.”
“I said no, baby.”

And it would be easy to focus my memories on those exchanges and the days I hung by a thread, fearing just one more call to poison control or one more spilled sippy cup would drive me to the brink of insanity, and who am I kidding? Sometimes it did.

But the days weren’t always like that. There is so much more to tiny humans than absurd demands and colossal messes requiring hazmat cleanup.

Newness … remember?
Pure love … remember?
Magic … remember?

I do.


It is 2001. He is two and a half and he has been staring at his face in the full length mirror for the last five minutes. I have noticed, but I am brushing past. The baby inside me is heavy, and I have much to do.

But not him. He has no to-do list. He has no plans. He grabs my pant leg with a still-dimpled hand and looks up at me, all smiles, bubbling joy.

“My eyes, Mama,” he says, and points to the big, beautiful brown windows to his soul, fringed in fine chestnut lashes and glowing with the light that will always be his.

“Yes,” I say, and smile, because he’s the embodiment of wonder and perfection in that rare peaceful moment. And I’m busy, but not too busy to see it. “Yes, those are your eyes,” I say and nod, believing our conversation is over.

But he shakes his head, gleeful, still pointing just to the right of his nose, and grinning like he has the secrets of the world on the tip of his tongue. “My eyes,” he says again in that darling deep voice I’ll never forget, “Like chocolate, Mama. Like chocolate.”

Yes, yes. They are the deepest brown, and they are … just. like. chocolate.

And I am in love.


It is 2004. She is nearly three—that baby once inside me—and she’s is laying in the crook of my arm, head on my shoulder, our bodies tucked under the covers of the big sleigh bed. It is almost dinner time, but I am not a new mama anymore. I am learning to slow down. To hold her when she wants to be held.

We are watching the rays of sun steal through glass and shutters, splashing onto vaulted ceilings, filling the room with ethereal shadows and light.

She’s been quiet, in thought, and I am still, inching closer to a late afternoon nap. Our cuddle conversations are usually about dinosaurs. Yes, dinosaurs. And cake. And cats. But she is silent today.

And then she speaks. Sincerity, thoughtfulness, and pure goodness in every breath.


“Yes, my love,” I answer as we continue to focus our eyes above.

“What kind of cookies does God like?”


Now the boy with chocolate eyes is taller than I am, and I wear his hand-me-downs—his softest old t-shirts—to sleep at night. I watched him put gas in the car just yesterday, but he still wants a hug every night.

The girl who continues to ponder what God likes now borrows my shoes. She plants the garden. She makes me food when I’m working long hours.

The children who sat on my lap and curled in my arms have become the teen and tween whose burdens are my burdens and whose joys are my joys. They bicker in earnest and they bicker in jest. When bored, they throw ridiculous insults at each other that end with “your mom.”

And I probably should scold. But I don’t, because I can still hear the pixie dust giggles in their laughter.

These are the adolescents my delicious, adorable, irrational toddlers grew up to be.

I am learning to look past the imperfections and savor the good stuff. We are all growing and we are all doing it together, and that isn’t always pretty, but I love them truly, madly, deeply.

Because I am their mom.

And I know now in my heart that even this—this (mostly) peaceful place between grade school and the inevitable battle for independence—this too shall pass. And all I want is not to miss it. Because maybe the true magic of toddlers or teenagers or any child in between, is that we—their imperfect, probably-going-to-make-them-need-therapy parents—ever get to have these amazing wonders at all.

Because I’ve Got 20 Minutes …

I neglect my writing in the summer months.

Since my children got out of school 10 weeks ago I have posted precisely four times, and two of them should barely count as blog posts, since one was a photograph with a single sentence and the other was a 200-word writing exercise.

Maybe this shouldn’t count either.

You see, I have set my alarm for 20 minutes—yes, exactly 20—and have promised my daughter that when my alarm goes off I will hit publish and get back to our day, because she is more important than filling the blogosphere with more words and opinions or even stories and feelings.

It isn’t that I don’t have anything to say (who doesn’t have something to say about the state of the world right now?) or don’t long to sit and craft something lovely with words. On the contrary, I have a lot to say. And, yes, I could go to a coffee shop or hide in a bedroom like I’m doing right now or write in the wee hours. I know that I could. I could have worked harder at getting more posts written. At maintaining my “online presence.” But you see …

I don’t want a blog post or a silly “online presence” (oh, we writers are beat over the head with this idea) more than I want my busy, productive, fun-filled, sight-filled, and wonderful summer.

And just because I’m not saying all the things doesn’t mean this season hasn’t been rich with creativity. It’s doesn’t mean these hands have been idle.

I have reupholstered two vanity stools (refinished one of them too!); repainted a hope chest recently passed down to my daughter (she did about half the work herself and has since filled it with books—take that, patriarchy); made a lovely throw quilt for my bedroom; turned an Ikea twin duvet cover ($8 at a garage sale!) into bedroom curtains; turned two matching twin bedskirts into one Cal king bedskirt; made three baby blankets; painted lamps for same bedroom no less than two times (STILL can’t find the right orange!); and so on and so on …

You get the idea.

I’ve edited five books. I’ve planted. I’ve baked. I’ve scoured G-sales. (I think it’s a PNW thing. Don’t ask.)

Notice the absence of fancy words added to this photo. This is what I'm talking about: Only 20 minutes, people.

Notice the absence of fancy words or effects added to this photo of the quilt I made. And this is what I’m talking about: Only 20 minutes, people.

Life during this season of summer has been time with family; tears and giggles on Voxer with friends; coffee on my back porch swing; feet on downtown streets and in the cold water of the lake and the ocean; movies on Netflix after dinner; hands on a 20-year-old sewing machine at midnight; science fiction on my Kindle at bedtime; head on my pillow until shameful late hours of the morning; and dinner with good friends and family around fancy tables, foreign tables, tiny tables, picnic tables and campfires.

It’s been a season rich with memories. Rich with love. Rich with the stuff of blog posts and memoirs and novels and sermons to be written on days when I have more than 20 minutes to give to the luxury of my own words …

And there it is. My alarm has sounded. My 20 minutes are up.

And I know another season is just around the corner.

Because Your Response Matters

Depression. Suicide. Addiction.

These words can bring out the worst in those who walk through the complexities of life without their empathy shoes.

Every time these loaded words come up, judgments get passed, solutions are given, and all too often the complexity of these issues is lost.

The complexity of these issues is lost.

I do know depression intimately and—in my darkest moments—even suicidal thinking. Addiction also hits close to home, as it has been a part of my extended family.

So when a blogger boils severe depression down to a single black and white dichotomy, I remember the years of treatment and counseling it has taken (and still takes) to unravel the mysterious and even conflicting layers of mine.

When a newscaster equates suicide with cowardice, I think of the courage it takes to even get out of bed when one is deeply depressed.

When a commenter on Facebook says he doesn’t feel sorry for someone who took her life by overdosing on the drugs of her addiction (another day, another celebrity), I consider the mental torment of addiction, the difficulty my loved ones have had regaining and maintaining sobriety, and I can’t help but wonder how many of us could actually do it … particularly that compassionless bastard on Facebook.

And when anyone has the arrogance to stand over the soul of a wounded human being he didn’t know and proclaim that the departed just needed to know Jesus, I want to scream that maybe he did and that knowing Jesus simply hasn’t saved everyone from everything.

In the face of ignorance, disdain, or even naivety, my heart is often overcome.

I am overcome.

And I could literally write a book about how it feels. No really, it would take a whole book, because my feelings about hearing and reading such things are so layered and deep and complex and hidden under a mountain of emotional and spiritual baggage and shame and stigma and pain.

So I can’t really get to that today.

But I can do this: I can share a tiny piece of my own story again.

I share it to remind those hurting that they are not alone,
to remind those handing out solutions that not all stories are the same,
and to remind myself that God’s love is deeper and wider
than our collective naivety and ignorance
about any of these things.


I entered the locked-down psych ward of the behavioral health center with very little dignity but a whole lot of courage—the most courage, I believe, that I’ve ever had to muster.

It was a beautiful summer day in July of 2005, but it was not beautiful for me. It was the longest day of my life—the day when I gave in fully and surrendered, handed over my wallet and my toiletries, signed all the papers, waived my rights, and said, “Something inside me is broken, I am not myself, and I can’t fix this on my own.”

I have sat, since that day, bald and sick, as gloved nurses infused red toxins into my veins. But the thing is … when you sit down in the chemo chair to fight cancer a host of people are cheering you on. You are a hero and your bravery is lauded with kudos and praise and love from everyone who has ever been part of your life.

When a Christian walks into a psych ward to fight depression the support is hard to come by.

There were not kudos or praise or love, except from a very precious few who either saw what kind of shape I was in or had been there themselves.

And as that awful, longest of days came to a close, I sat at a conference table safely tucked away off the main hallway of the ward, and I looked across the fake mahogany at Dr. White—with whom I’d just shared all my feelings, all my darkest thoughts, all my smallness, all my fears, all my very real desires to just give up—and waited with sagging shoulders for his response.

It didn’t come right away, and I wasn’t used to that. I had grown accustomed to knee-jerk diagnoses, quick solutions and swift prescriptions from busy mental health practitioners. But just when I believed that maybe he’d fallen asleep, maybe he hadn’t been listening at all, his voice suddenly came at me from over the table, gentle but imploring …

“So, Tamara, … how does all of that make you feel about God? I mean, how do you feel about him … in light of all of that?”

I’m fairly certain I burst into tears. No clinician—even the Christian ones I’d seen—had asked me a question so open, so honest and without a hint of expectation. Dr. White genuinely wanted to know how I felt. About God. As a Christian in pain.

And so I told him my truth, which might surprise you.

The truth was, I felt very close to God that night.

There would be plenty of other nights, years later, when I would be angry with God, when I would wonder where His justice had gone, if He’d forgotten my name, how He could be so silent, but on that particular night, despite my depression and sadness and desire for eternal slumber, I was at peace with God.

I was at peace with God.

And if your theology and beliefs about mental illness prevent you from believing the sincerity of that, then I hope you’ve never uttered words like “come quickly, Lord Jesus” or “he’s gone home to be with Jesus—thank God his suffering has ended.” Because if you have then you should be able to understand how it is possible for one to be tired of living and tired of suffering, but not tired at all of Jesus … but I digress.

Dr. White didn’t second-guess my answer.

He didn’t try to tell me that being at peace with God was incompatible with depression and that I must have been harboring a secret sin or being dishonest with him. He accepted my truth gracefully. He asked a few more gentle questions, changed my medications, told me I was in the right place, told me I would get better again, and told me to get some sleep …

(The original version of this story is found here.)


Nine years later and it’s still really hard for me to write about that experience. But I did it anyway here on the blog last fall.

And as I reflect on it again today, re-edit it, retell it, what strikes me the most is Dr. White’s response.

Read it again:

He didn’t try to tell me that being at peace with God was incompatible with depression and that I must have been harboring a secret sin or being dishonest with him. 

He accepted my truth gracefully.

He asked a few more gentle questions, changed my medications, told me I was in the right place, told me I would get better again, and told me to get some sleep …

His response was compassion for the complexity. His response was love for the very real needs. With this response, he held his arms wide open for my pain, his heart open for my truth, his mind open for my healing. And it mattered. It deeply mattered in my life and in my story.

His response made a difference.

Oh, my dear friends. So can yours.

The Realist Speaks: Marching Among the Wounded

When I see an alarming lack of empathy for those who’ve been spiritually abused, I’ve gotta be honest with you, the INFJ in me does a full-body cringe.

Lack of empathy on public display is more than a party foul or an Internet faux pas. It does damage. It sometimes triggers those of us who’ve been wounded. It rips open the scars.

Maybe it’s because many of us who’ve experienced or even witnessed spiritual abuse crave compassion in order to reconcile with the Church, in order to believe that not all Christians are heartless enough to march through a field of wounded wearing boots with cleats.

Or maybe it’s déjà vu, because one very common characteristic of abusers (spiritual or otherwise) is, in fact, a lack of empathy, which is tied closely to narcissism.

Show me your narcissism married to a lack of empathy, and I’ll show you the Most Likely to Abuse Award I’ve got waiting for you in the hall closet.


That was snarky. And maybe even lacking in empathy toward narcissists and those who lack empathy. (Is empathy for narcissists and the unempathetic something worth striving for? Discuss.)


Empathy: Do you have it?

Empathy says, “I get that I can’t fully understand what you’ve been through, because it didn’t happen to me.” Empathy says, “Tell me your story, so I can learn.” Empathy says, “I’m not going to blame you for bleeding grief and anger when your soul is cut open.” Empathy says, “I’m not going to blame you for the way others have behaved toward you.” 

Empathy. Some of us have it for certain people, while at the same time lacking it for others. (I know this is true of me. Exhibit A can be found just a few paragraphs up.) And some of us have gained our capacity for empathy over time. Maybe we had to experience something for ourselves. Maybe we read a book or watched a film that changed us. Or maybe we were challenged directly by another person, confronted with our lack of empathy, and finally saw the rocky, empty chasm where our empathy should have been.

In fact, there are a lot of ways we can fill the chasm and increase our empathy over time. Most of us are still nurturing it, coaxing it to grow in our hearts every time we see it missing for an individual person or people group.

But here’s the thing about empathy: I can’t force you to have it.

And here’s the thing about spiritual abuse I hope you’ll one day understand: We almost never see it coming.


Sometimes spiritual abuse hits like a drive-by shooting. We’re sitting in conversation with someone we’ve just met, and the next thing we know they are saying incredibly wounding and insensitive things that rip tender places wide open. Judging. Telling us that sharing our stories of hurt and asking for justice is whining. Blaming us for things that have been done to us. Pinning our pain on lack of Bible knowledge or worse, lack of personal faith. And sometimes these things are said with such sincerity and couched in such loving language we don’t even know how deep the bullets went until the marksman turns the corner and leaves us to bleed.

Try getting over the drive-bys.

We can tell ourselves a thousand times the person didn’t know us, means nothing to us, and that their words shouldn’t matter to us or hurt us … and yet, the words will still sting. Even the person’s potentially good intent does little to minimize the damage. Were their motives really pure? Then call it an accident and not a drive-by. More of a reckless hit-and-run. But the bottom line is the same: We didn’t chose to be hurt by the words that came toward us faster than our hard-won boundaries could be laid down.

Other times spiritual abuse creeps up like a cancer. By the time we feel the pain, it’s too late to walk away without losing a part of ourselves. Maybe we didn’t see the warning signs, because we didn’t know to look for them or because they were never revealed to us until the last possible moment. But when the cancer of spiritual manipulation and control makes itself known, cutting it out of our lives, extricating ourselves from its poison, is a battle not everybody wins. The scars can be spiritually and emotionally debilitating for a time, if not for always.

And sometimes spiritual abuse is a sucker punch, delivered at the exact moment we’re looking for the exit. We see the abuse happening to others. We know we have to get away from it. But turning for the door is precisely what puts a target on our backs and makes us vulnerable. Too many of the wounded have been vilified, humiliated and shunned by spiritual abusers precisely because they saw the abuse and chose to exit the building.


Friends, we almost never see it coming until the damage is done.

But if you haven’t got any empathy for the spiritually wounded, I can’t force it on you.

If you can’t recognize the complexities of spiritual abuse and see that your judgement only harms hurting souls, I can’t help you.

Everything in me wants to stand in that field with the wounded and order you to lose the cleats and take your march elsewhere. Everything in me.

But I’m a realist. I know if I point out the needle-sharp barbs coming out of your shoes, you are likely to present me with a thesis on why the cleats are indispensable for this terrain. You’ll call for reinforcements. You’ll march harder and longer than before.

I know this, because it’s what I do when I’m the one wearing boots.

So, I won’t ask you to remove them. But I will invite you to sit down in this field and stay a while. Listen to our stories. Hear our hearts. Observe our scars. Don’t get hung up on our language. Don’t dismiss our pain. Enter, instead, into experiences you may never fully understand and practice believing a side of the story you may never see with your own eyes.

You might not ever chose to remove the cleats, but maybe next time you’ll tread with greater care.


Have you ever gained empathy in a particular area? What opened your heart and increased your compassion?