safe to be sad.

I’ve been doing it again. I’ve been trying so hard not to feel those pesky feelings. I have been caught up in the heady anger at injustice, the righteous indignation of all that needs to be made right, and it’s been self-medication so that I don’t feel how hurt I am. I haven’t been betrayed to the extent that many of you have been, but I have been hurt, used, and not cared for by people I trusted to do so. I’ve been told things about myself that are not true, by people whose opinions mattered to me. And the pain of that is real, and intense. My mind does not like to feel the complexity of trauma, and I have been medicating, numbing. With my anger, with my obsession with reformation, with alcohol, with endless entertainment…I have been frantically trying to not feel. I don’t want to feel sad, or weak, or used, or hurt. Add on top of that the guilt of not being able to just.get.my.shit.together, and you’ve got a real tender, wounded, sad and angry Rebekah who’s white-knuckling it through each day just to try to forget it all for a minute before starting the cycle all over again. It’s not always like that. But something will bring it all back and I’m there again, it seems, right at the beginning.

So last night I thought, in a rare moment of empathy for my own self, that I need to start talking to myself like I’m a friend. I saw everything that has happened in the last years, on top of my mental health spiral before that, and I let myself feel sad for myself. And rather than berating myself for not doing all the things I know I should, I tried out talking to myself a little differently. Like I would talk to you if I had you in front of me, with your own raw and aching heart.

Oh honey, I said, you are so hurt and sad. The things that have happened to you are not right. You need to take care of yourself, now. You need to give yourself space to heal.

Come, take a nap. Just rest, and sleep for awhile. Your body has been through a lot trying to deal with this trauma, it’s okay for you to just sleep. You’ll have more energy soon, you’ll be able to face it all soon. But for now, just curl up here. You’re safe.

You don’t have the energy to exercise. That’s okay. Come sit outside, and feel the sunshine on your skin. You can just sit here for awhile.

Let yourself feel sad. It’s okay to cry. You’re safe, nobody is going to hurt you here. You can choose who to talk to, who to cry to, whose words to allow inside your aching heart and mind. You can hug your husband, or your friend, and just cry.  

These feelings are so hard, but they are not wrong. They’re not going to hurt you, and they’re going to come and go. You won’t be here forever. You don’t have to try to escape them, these feelings are actually trying to help you.

Look, I don’t know how we get out of here. I don’t know how long the pain lasts, or even if we’re strong enough to handle it. People say that we are, but I have never been to the other side, yet, so I don’t know. But you and me, the wounded and the runaways, we have to remember that the only way through it is through it. And I have a suspicion that, like me with my children, it is easier for people to come alongside us to help us when we are feeling the sadness that is so often masked by the anger. It’s just really hard to let the anger go, because it feels so much safer there. I don’t know. It’s not fair that we have to walk this road, it’s not right. But the pain is calling us, and on the other side we will be something more.

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he called me.

Every summer, my youth group went on a week-long mission trip with our sister church in Indianapolis. We would pack up a bunch of rambunctious high-school kids into a ramshackle bus and make the long drive to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where we would partner with a local Salvation Army to put on a VBS for the local kids. We’d drive around the neighborhoods each morning, picking up kids who otherwise would not have been able to attend.

I had not really felt like I belonged anywhere in junior high, so the trips we took as a youth group were my first experience of having so much fun with a bunch of people, some of whom were a lot like me, many of whom were not. My parents had always been inspiring to me, but the leaders of our two youth groups and the young people who helped them were my first role models of the faith outside of my family. They showed me how to have fun, how to exuberantly love Jesus and people. In the muggy summer air of the deep South, I found a family of faith. Those youth group leaders became my friends, and I could not have had better mentors. It was during those two trips I took, my freshman and sophomore years of high-school, that I first began to consider what it might look like to live in the city, and the mission field of simply knowing and loving your neighbors. But even more impactful, it was on my sophomore trip to Vicksburg that I wrote my first song.

We had gone to a Wednesday night church service at a local church. The details escape me: what it looked like, what it was called, even how we got connected with them. But I remember that the pastor was a woman. She spoke passionately about people who gave up their lives to follow Jesus and share him with others, and I was deeply moved. I knew I wanted to give up my whole life to follow Jesus, even to death. I had forgotten about this until recent months, but I believe that it was on that night that God called me…to something. Vocationally, I mean.

I left that night and the words to my first song poured out of me, effortlessly. Being that I was sixteen years old, it was a little over-dramatic, but the sentiment was genuine. I didn’t have my guitar with me, because I wasn’t playing regularly, but I went home and picked it up and basically didn’t put it down again for a couple years. I wrote hundreds of songs while I was in high-school–all prayers poured out to God.

I am sensitive to the undercurrents of things. Nobody ever told me that I couldn’t do x, y, or z because I was a woman, I just knew that I couldn’t. I read between the lines, and formed my life accordingly. God called me to something, and I never took steps to figure out what that was, because I didn’t think it was an option. I decided, over time, that the trip’s main gift to me was songwriting, and eventually forgot about the momentousness of the way it happened. I forgot about the fact that my first song was in response to a clear call on my life, because I simply didn’t think it was possible. I didn’t ask, like Mary, how can this be so? because I thought it wasn’t. That is nobody’s fault, it’s just how I am wired and I didn’t know it until now.

So, I want to figure it out, now. I know it is never too late, I’m clinging to the fact that this is not the end. The years the locusts ate, God promises to restore. And, in the meantime, I’m building my own little family of faith again, like I had in high school–friends and mentors whose infectious joy and tenacity encourages me to never let go. Just like he never let go of me.

is God mad at me?

I don’t think I ever would have said I believed in an angry God. I felt loved by God from the time I was small. Both my family and our church really honored the fact that God wanted to be in relationship with children, and would speak to us just as much as to adults, so I felt like my walk with him was honored and validated from the beginning.

But even though the overt message was one I agreed with then and still do, during my formative years our church was also open to some pretty flawed writing and teaching. Over the years, through books I read and people I knew, I picked up little bits of theology here and there that really impacted my heart and directed my subconscious beliefs. I think that most of these concepts can be traced back to authority–who has it, who needs to obey, and how you can have a safe, blessed life. I don’t know if you’ve heard about the umbrella of protection, but it’s the idea that God is in charge, then men, then women, then children. And if you disobey or question authority, you’re stepping out from under the protective covering that God’s placed over your life and that’s the absolute scariest thing that can happen.

My family and I were talking about the fact that one of the elders at our church was handing out copies of To Train up a Child for awhile, which is this evil book that prescribes harsh punishment, training where you trick your little toddler into disobedience again and again and punish them til they learn not to do those things–just a vile book that is completely contrary to the heart of God. My mom read the book and confronted him, saying that she thought it was dangerous (I have never been prouder to claim her as my mother). One woman my mom knew told her that her husband was punishing their young daughter by having her sit on the ground, naked from the waist down, with her legs open, bent over til her nose touched the ground, and then hitting her on the bottom and legs with a wire switch: a procedure advocated by this book. The family soon moved away, and we don’t know anything about them now. I hope they got free of the hateful theology in that book as a family, but if not I hope they got free from that man. Another family we knew spanked their son until his bottom bled, and my own mother once called our pastor, weeping, asking if she had to keep spanking me when I was a year and a half and refusing to stay in my bed. To his credit, he emphatically said she did not.

I want to rage at this, to say I don’t understand how books like that one can influence even decent people, but I get it. We’re so afraid. We as people are so scared of doing the wrong thing that we form all of these extra rules to try to keep ourselves and the people we love safe, but that was never the point. And then people come along with teaching that they can justify with a few well-picked over Bible verses and promise us that they can keep our children safe and following Jesus, and we get swept up in it. We have always added extra things to the list of what we need to do: even the Israelites added extra rules to the law just to be extra safe. If there was a fence around the thing you weren’t supposed to do, they’d build a fence around the fence.

But ultimately all those fences separate us from the God who knows we are dust. He made us and loved us, and before we even messed things up he had planned the solution. We were always made to be in his family. As I grow as a parent, I realize that, when I’m angry, I’m angry because I’m afraid we’re not okay. I’m afraid my kid is going to grow up not okay. But when I parent in a way that feels led by the Spirit, when I am more closely mirroring the love of God to my kids, I’m not scared. I’m not angry, I’m not punitive. I’m with them, I’m walking through it, I’m helping them where they are weak, because I love them and I want them to grow. Just like God is with me. All of the harsh punishment parents might dole out to their kids just teaches them that they are not acceptable, that they can be separated from love if they don’t act rightly. It’s contrary to the gospel, and it’s contrary to the heart of God. It fills hearts with shame and fear.

Sometimes I wish I could just get over the stuff that I’ve acquired over the years that’s not of the gospel, that I could just move on. But I can’t. And then I think that maybe that’s why I am the way that I am, because God can’t get over it either. His sense of right and justice is much stronger than my own, and his love for his precious children inspires in him even more anger than I feel when someone leads them astray or uses their power to oppress.

So when I see that fear in my heart, I will fight it. When I see it in the world, I will fight it. When I see it in our churches, I will fight it. Because in this way, I am representing the same Jesus who said it would better for someone to be drowned with a big-ass rock (my paraphrase) around their neck than to cause one of the little ones who trust in him to stumble.

because I’m a woman.

I’ve always wanted to go to seminary. In college when we were getting close to graduating, a couple of our friends were talking about going to seminary, and I longed to go, too. I can’t remember if I vocalised it, but I know that if I did it was with the caveat of “I mean, I know I wouldn’t use it, really, but I think it’d be fun,” because that’s the caveat I used in my head. Because why would a woman go to seminary? Really. Any female pastors I had seen were explained by the complementary “Deborah” interpretation: God only called/used Deborah (and/or any other woman in leadership in the bible) because there weren’t any men to do it, so it was okay in that situation but not the norm.

The list of things that I haven’t done because I’m a woman is pretty short. There’s only really four items on it, but those things are pretty vital to who I am as a person. I haven’t actively pursued making music, I haven’t “wanted” a career, I never went to seminary, and I never really considered a life in ministry. I just remembered last week that for awhile in high school I thought (like I really, actually thought) that I would like to be a pastor’s wife. It had escaped my memory til recently, because I met my husband and once I met him that was it for me. But I truly believe that I wanted to be a pastor’s wife because I wanted to be in ministry in a local church, really on the inside helping lead it, and felt like that was the only way.

I think that maybe for some people, the fact that most churches don’t include women in the inside circles of leadership doesn’t feel like it affects them. Maybe they wouldn’t want to be an elder, or a pastor, or maybe their marriage works pretty well with the traditional gender roles. But the fact that I grew up thinking it was not ever going to be an option for me to serve in the church, not the way I would want to, actually deeply affected who I am and how I’ve struggled. And I know that I am not alone.

The church I go to is really great. So was the one I went to before this, and the one before that. But you’ll go months, sometimes even years, without hearing a woman’s voice speaking her own thoughts about God and faith and life. Our church has women read scripture, so you’ll hear her voice, but only reading the printed words off the page. I may not be complementarian anymore, but I believe that even within the complementarian framework there is plenty of room to be made for women’s voices above and beyond token scripture reading.

If God’s image wasn’t completely reflected in humanity until he made women, then maybe we ought to be hearing from them. Maybe there’s a fullness that we’re missing as a church when we limit the story to being told from only one gender’s perspective. Or one race’s perspective. I’d love to walk into my complementarian church one Sunday, and see a woman welcoming us to worship, praying over our service in her own words, sharing her thoughts on the scripture reading.

Honestly, maybe I’d like that woman to be me.

it’s okay to feel.

Motherhood, for me, has been one endless parade of fears. The searing fear of my kids ever being hurt, the knowledge that they inevitably will be, the memory of my own struggles, the feeling that I am incapable of handling their intense emotions because I am incapable of handling my own…it’s completely overwhelmed and undone me. My anxiety has robbed me of all the feel-good moments of parenting, leaving only the helpless dread and the anger that so often masks fear. The only way to face the fear is to remember that it is not my job to shield my kids, or myself, from pain.

Being a parent has exposed me to all the negative emotion I have spent a lifetime trying to avoid, but without the option of escape. I’ve had these moments of reckoning before, but I’ve always run away. This time, I’m finally listening. I’m finally, slowly, learning to lean into the pain rather than try to escape it. I’ve finally begun learning, for the first time, the lessons which I’ve longed to impart to my children. And now, especially as they have gotten older, I have begun to tell them the things I am learning to tell myself. In fact, when I speak these words to them, often I’m speaking just as much to myself in that moment.

It’s okay to feel scared. You won’t feel this way forever. You are safe.

It’s okay to feel angry. It is not so bad and so big it will control you. You can absolutely feel angry and still not hurt the people around you.

It’s okay to feel negative emotions. It doesn’t mean you’re bad or doing something wrong.

It’s okay to feel out of place sometimes. Most of us do. There is no right size or way to be. You can be as loud or as quiet as you need to be.

It’s okay to feel big emotions. Feelings come and go, they don’t have to be the boss of you. You don’t have to hide or be afraid of your feelings.

As much as I try, I am not always a safe place for my kids feelings. As a sensitive person who is only just coming to terms with her own emotions, I don’t always handle theirs well. But I can point them, and myself, to Jesus. No one person is going to be a completely safe place for you. It breaks my heart wide open every day, and I wish it wasn’t true, but I fail you. But Jesus is never put off by you. He is never overwhelmed. He is never surprised or scared.

It might be worth noting that these conversations don’t feel great to me. It’s not warm, fuzzy, or pretty. I hope it will get easier, but I imagine it will always be hard for me to let my kids be in pain. I recently left a school drop-off feeling helpless and heartbroken for one of my kids who’s having to navigate a difficult situation. She’s safe, and there is no danger to her, or I’d step in and throw down. But she is having to learn how to be a sensitive person and feel those strong emotions, but then set boundaries and actually ask for what she needs, all while still being kind, because she has a big heart. I talked her through all of that, and I prayed for her–I did everything right but I left feeling like I’d failed because she was still in tears and it was still going to be hard. So, I had to talk myself through my own feelings afterward. My job is not to fix every hard situation or shield her from the pain of growing up. That is not the measure of success or failure, as much as I feel like it might be better if it was, and I find peace when I reconcile myself to that fact.

My job, my hope, is to raise children who are able to acknowledge and feel their emotions, who can face hard things and walk through them because they know they are capable and they know that Jesus is with them. That’s my hope for me, too.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.