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.

Sorry.

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?

Because I Choose Peace | #FMF

I’ve been wanting to try out Lisa Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday blog linkup for some time now and never seem to catch it, but today was my lucky day!

The concept is simple: Write for five minutes and only five, then linkup and visit the blogger who posted immediately before you. Today’s writing prompt was the word RELEASE, and my mind immediately went to just one thing: my need to please.

Ready set go …

 

A life spent people-pleasing is a life that’s spent.

Not lived to the fullest, not fully known, not fully anything but spent.

Spent emotions, spent energy, spent eternally conflicted over an internal debate over who must be pleased today. Tomorrow. And every day after that.

An endless cycle of pleasing, an endless cycle of needing that nod. That approval. That pat on the head or the back.

I’ve confused pleasing with peace too many times, but they’ll never be the same.

Peace is free. Peace is truthful. Peace is me.

Peace is releasing my need to please.

Five Minute Friday

Want to spend five minutes writing your thoughts on RELEASE too? What does YOUR mind immediately go to?
If you don’t have a blog, feel free to spend your five minutes here in the comments section or over at Lisa’s place!

The Realist Speaks: 5 (More) Things You Should Never Say to a Victim

[TW: Abuse and Victim-Blaming]

In February of this year, author and abuse-survivor Mary DeMuth wrote a guest post for Sarah Bessey outlining 21 things that should never be said to an abuse survivor. (Hence the “more” in the title, because I don’t need to reinvent the wheel here, and the DeMuth piece is a must read.) But in the aftermath of the Leadership Journal debacle, I wanted to share a few more things I’ve been reminded of that should also never be said around or to an abuse survivor.

(Hint: You don’t always know if an abuse survivor is in the room with you. Or in your audience/congregation. Or about to drop a comment below yours after a blog post. Or standing behind you at the grocery store.)

1. “If so-and-so had touched me, I’d have told someone right away.” Sorry, friend. What you would or wouldn’t have done is not only completely irrelevant to someone else’s pain, it’s also impossible to know unless you actually faced the exact same abuser in the exact same situation. For the sake of victims you care about, it’s best to refrain from this speculative comment that only hurts.

2. “My parents raised me to stand up to people.” This is victim-blaming, disguised as a compliment to your parents. It implies that the victim’s personality or his/her parents’ parenting style is responsible for the abuse. While some “shy” kids may be targeted at times, many so-called confident kids are also abused. Consider also those who are attacked or drugged, where no mental intimidation and manipulation is even involved. Every case is unique and every victim is unique. Please don’t victim-blame.

3. “Aren’t we called to love rapists and pedophiles too?” This is an inappropriate thing to say to any victim, but it’s particularly inappropriate to say around or in front of people whose history you don’t know. Sure, we are called in Scripture to love everyone. But it must be weighed with justice (which can also be a form of love) and loving others is not your commandment to enforce, friend, when it comes to rapists and pedophiles. There may be places where you can say this and have a legitimate discussion of how the church can love such people. However, putting this on a single *individual* or throwing it out to all abuse survivors is very sketchy territory. If you believe in the Holy Spirit, give this one to the Spirit, let it go, and reserve your thoughts on this matter for appropriate venues where it can be discussed with great care.

4. “You’ll need to learn to talk about this if you want to help others.” No, actually abuse survivors don’t “need” to do anything except survive. Not every abuse survivor needs to be an advocate, and–if they chose to be one–not every battle needs to be theirs. Knowing when to step away, knowing when a conversation is only going to inflict more pain, is part of healing and setting better boundaries.

5. “But what about your abuser’s family? You’re hurting them by speaking up.” This is a tricky one. It’s never really the family’s fault, even if someone was a bit enabling (unless of course the family absolutely knew and did nothing to stop it). The bottom line is that it is the abuser who has hurt his or her family, not the victim. The victim should never carry the weight of protecting the abuser’s family from what their loved one has done. When the abuser’s deeds are brought into the light, the abuser’s family will survive in the truth, just as the victim has had to. The rest of us can work on not hurting the abuser’s family, don’t put this concern on the victim. (And if the abuser WAS the victim’s family, even more reason to keep your worry about hurting others to yourself. The victim is very aware and doesn’t need your reminder that truth can come at a price.)

I’m thankful that an unfortunate event has re-opened the conversation about sexual abuse. It’s an ugly topic, and few want to engage it. But it’s so important that we, the church, start getting this right and that good can come of what went on last week.

__________

What about you? If you’re a victim, what’s something you wish hadn’t been said to you or in front of you?

 

This One Time, We DID #TakeDownThatPost

TW: Child Abuse

 

It’s amazing to see people come together for a common cause. It’s amazing to see women raise their voices. It’s amazing to see their brothers—both literal and figurative—follow their lead and join their cries.

It’s amazing.

It’s even more amazing when the urgent and immediate goal, even if it’s just the tip of the iceberg, is actually reached. In a matter of just days. In fact, it’s actually easy to count the hours on this one. And that’s something.

That’s really, really something, friends.

__________

Earlier last week when people like Dianna AndersonEmily Maynard and Dani Kelley (among others) were already talking about the now infamous “My Easy Path from Youth Minister to Felon” (link later) post at Christianity Today International’s Leadership Journal, I was blissfully unaware.

I was getting my hair done.

Then Wednesday night Caris Adel put the original post on Facebook, without much explanation other than her frustration. And I’m glad I had the chance to read it that way, without any front-loading, without any notice of what I was about to read. Because when read it that way … it was truly jaw-droppingly bad.

Five pages of a 30-something man’s selfaggrandized sermonizing (that included throwing his wife under the bus for not “appreciating” him at home) and then a stunning revelation on the final page that this person he’d be having what he described as an “extramarital relationship” with was, in fact, a student in his youth group—hence the felon part. “You may have guessed by now” was how he put it, but the answer for many of us was no. No, we had not guessed by then. The twist in the story that would make him a felon was not actually expected to be statutory rape—not for most of us, anyway—because he’d described it so vividly as mutual and consensual and, well, equal in every way, including their guilt.

But if you’re repentant for your crime, then it is widely believed that you are able to name it. It’s widely believed that if a person understands the gravity of being a sexual offender, they will in fact mention their 100% full responsibility before a five-page essay on the topic goes public. But he did not, so Dianna Anderson had to write this response post. And then a Leadership Journal editor had to add a tiny footnote at the end to clarify for everyone that the felon actually understood he was “100% responsible.”

But, you see, an editor’s footnote didn’t cut it, when there were already five pages screaming otherwise.

So I shook Wednesday night as I got to the end of the post. And I continued to shake as I got on Twitter to see if others were thinking as I was. Becca Rose was equally as outraged and she (as well as many others) began to tweet to the editors of Leadership Journal, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Feelings from every other time I have taken on injustice in the church overwhelmed me. I saw horrible phone calls from manipulative men who talked to me like a child. I saw cold and even brutal emails or—worse, for me—I saw being completely ignored. I even saw a Facebook page with my name in the cover image alongside the word “fascist,” and people I used to love “liking” it. (True stories of justice work in the trenches, you guys.)

That’s what I saw. And I shook. And my whole body hurt. And I had to walk away.

But I also saw a dear friend. I saw my friend who, when she was 14, was forced to sign a confession of adultery. I saw her. I saw her as I knew her then. I saw her as I know her now, over 20 years later, when some of her scars have to be hidden with bracelets (or long sleeves in summer).

I thought about how much I didn’t understand what was happening to her at the time all those years ago, and I thought of how long it took me to get there, to a place of understanding. I thought about all the years I mistakenly classified what happened to her as “mutual,” because I was so young and naive, and didn’t know how to frame it any other way.

I thought about how she and I actually shared that abuser. The abuser who could perform a surgery as easily as he could preach a sermon that would make you want to stand up and shout amen. A skillful, wily, manipulative and brilliant man whose current pastor believes he is half really, really sorry and half really, really not guilty.

And I thought about how I would feel if Leadership Journal published our abuser’s grand tale of spiritual legacy and missionary work gone awry, woven with illustration after illustration from Scripture AS IF HE NEVER LEFT THE PULPIT, and that’s when I wanted to scream with rage.

__________

The next morning the Twitterverse was still abuzz, and I read the ever-audacious and bold Elizabeth Esther’s blog post demanding that damn post be taken down (let’s call it what it was), and my fear of hostility and rejection and repercussions was gone. I was WITH her, I was WITH everyone else already going at it. All I had needed was that hard push to JOIN the voices.

So this happened.


takedownthatpost1

And a few minutes later, I saw this happen.

takedownthatpost2

And I was in awe as things just got louder and louder, with the hashtag or without the hashtag, but then the next day this … yes, THIS happened.

howoldwereyou

And I think you probably know how it went from there, but if you don’t … check out what ALL OF OUR VOICES accomplished TOGETHER.

__________

Will Leadership Journal stop deleting legitimately critical comments next time a post goes south? I sure hope so.
Will they never again edit a man’s words after we’ve already heard the truth? I sure hope so.
Will they add a “Clergy Misconduct” and an “Abuse” tag to any future posts? I sure hope so.
Will they start getting input from sexual abuse advocates before publishing articles on sexual abuse? I sure hope so.
Will they start writing more about this whole elephant-in-the-room sexual abuse within the church thing?
This horrible, horrible thing that keeps coming into the light again and again and again? I sure hope so.

Because Leadership Journal is a magazine geared at evangelical church leaders, and if we don’t have evangelical church leaders—if we don’t have all church leaders—with us in this fight it will always be uphill. And so HOPE is what I have to do right now. Because too many other matters of injustice feel hopeless. If I look too long at the hopelessness in the battle I have been fighting for that friend of mine and for myself and the others our abuser touched I lose my mind, I really do. I curl up in a ball, because the hopelessness after years of advocacy work with no justice in sight wears thin.

But I’m not curling up in a ball today. Today is a day of hope. Today WE know that TOGETHER we moved a small mountain, and it’s okay if there’s still work to be done. Because this was good. This was really, really good, and when you have lived through how badly these things can go when you start to lose friends and family and not just a few Twitter followers then you KNOW that. You know that TODAY this is GOOD.

So thank you. Because together our voices were stronger. And I’ll always love you for that.

__________

Shoutouts to those whose amazing voices I felt, who I haven’t already named, like Suzannah Paul, Samantha Field, Bethany Suckrow, Micah J. Murray and his anonymous guest-blogger, and Amy Smith, not to mention my sister Deborah Beddoe, my oldest brother Nathan Barrick, my lifelong bosom friend Diana Durrill (who would have been ALL OVER THIS if she hadn’t been stuck in a car driving across country the whole time), and my OWN youth pastor husband Nate Rice (who would have beat the drum too if he hadn’t been busy banging out not one but TWO grad school term papers) and every other person who shared, liked, tweeted, re-tweeted, wrote an email or picked up a phone.

 

And to the people of #howoldwereyou (which was launched ironically from a very controversial figure among abuse survivors due to her disdain for trigger warnings, Liberty University English Professor Karen Swallow Prior): those of you have survived abuse are so very brave, and I am in awe. That is all. (Read this post for more about that.)

 

I love you guys. Let’s celebrate. Because (can you believe it?) we DID #TakeDownThatPost!