why i write, more personally.

Last night as I was lying in bed not sleeping, I was thinking about the post I wrote yesterday. It had been on my heart for weeks and I finally wrote it, but I do this thing, frequently. I’ll write what feels like this very prophetic piece about things I believe deeply. And then I’ll feel very strongly that I must put it in proper context, the context of my personal life. Because I’m a BIG VISION person, I get upset easily about the BIG PICTURE. That can be a prideful place to be, but that is not how I feel. I honestly do believe that God has given me insights to share, but I want you to know who I am, too.

I think yesterday’s post could be summed up in this simple statement: I feel compelled by my faith in Jesus to write so that I and others will feel less alone, and to remind the church that her God is better than this and has better than this for her. Those two things are in tension, I get that. I write the raging fire that’s clearing the field of weeds and the cozy fire that keeps you warm. All I can say is that they are in tension in my heart, too, and they always have been. If you knew me in high school and college, you may remember my pointed scripture readings at the sharing mic at church, or my old Xanga posts. I remember them with some embarrassment and humor, but also appreciation, because I finally remember myself again, back then.

I have always felt the ills of the world very deeply, I just slowly stopped letting myself. I remember weeping at our dinner table when I learned for the first time about child suicide bombers. I honestly don’t know if that’s a true memory or if it was one of the first times I remember feeling the weight of the world in my chest, so massive and wild that there was no way to handle it. I don’t think that means I am broken, I think that means the world is broken and I feel it.

I am not in good shape right now. I am dealing with a lifetime of pain that I have not known how to understand or feel, so much so that I forgot it was there for awhile. I have been very good at coping (ignoring it), but you can only cope for so long without facing your demons. They grow stronger during the coping. But I’ve grown stronger, too, in the last few years so I’m slowly, in fits and bursts, facing it. I have been in a panicky few weeks for many reasons: getting deeper and truer in my therapy sessions, the season’s change making it cold(er) and dark, and I have been isolated for a number of more or less unavoidable reasons. Yesterday I bundled the kids up and got them to school on time with lunches and clean clothes, feeling confident they felt loved and prayed over, and got back in my van and immediately started crying. I came home and promptly crawled in my bed without eating. Every time I emerged from my room to attempt movement in my day, I panicked and started crying.

I don’t say this to be dramatic. I am getting help. There is a way for me to be uniquely myself and healthy, and I am fighting for that. I say this simply to let you know, I am not special or strong or doing well. I just know that I can speak, so I must.

I don’t want to try to cope anymore, I want to feel it and I want to speak it. But I don’t want you to think that I’m just angry, or mentally ill, or that I am more mature and wise and probably have it all together. I am nothing more or less than myself, and I want to remember to share myself with you. I will continue to try to share my story, the way I’m working all of this out in real time, in addition to my more bird’s eye view kind of posts.

I have mentioned before how I relate deeply with Jeremiah. Now, if that doesn’t sound like a hubris-filled statement, I don’t know what does, but bear with me. Jeremiah was an incredibly sensitive soul. He was tasked with reminding the people of Israel who their God was, and showing them how deadly their current way of living and relating to God and each other was. The book of the Bible that’s named after him is full of his fiery calls for justice and shalom and warnings of where their behavior was headed, juxtaposed with his tender reminders of God’s deep, deep love, all sprinkled with his emotional outbursts. I feel you, Jeremiah.

“Oh, my anguish, my anguish!

   I writhe in pain.

Oh, the agony of my heart!

   My heart pounds within me,

   I cannot keep silent.

For I have heard the sound of the trumpet;

   I have heard the battle cry.” (Jeremiah 4:19)

 

“Whenever I speak, I cry out

   proclaiming violence and destruction.

So the word of the Lord has brought me

   insult and reproach all day long.

But if I say, “I will not mention his word

   or speak anymore in his name,”

his word is in my heart like a fire,

   a fire shut up in my bones.

I am weary of holding it in;

   indeed, I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:8-9)

 

I am not finished yet, not by a long shot. I imperfectly share what is on my heart, and I want to grow in grace. But I continue to write because I don’t have to wait for growth before I share, and because in the writing, I grow. I write because I can’t help it. I write because I have to. 

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why i write, right now.

I saw and heard about a lot of terrible things growing up, some of which happened with the blessing of church leadership, most of which was hidden. I grew up in a church that had abusive families in attendance. So did you. If you go to church now, you go to a church with abusive families in attendance. The rates of domestic and sexual violence in our country are abysmal, and they’re the same in the church as out. According to GRACE, 20% of the people in the pews of your church were sexually abused before they turned 18. If you go to a church of 400, that’s 80 people. The church does not know how to love and protect victims of abuse, past or present. I believe that we have a problem of power in our churches, and vulnerable people are being hurt on our watch.  I have personally experienced the hurt of an unacknowledged imbalance of power, but my hurt is nothing compared with that of many I know and so many more I do not.

I write for those people, myself included, who are hurting. I don’t have all the answers, obviously. I have opinions, so many opinions, but one thing I know is that we have a problem and leaving it unaddressed any longer is unacceptable to me. Good theology that is not paired with the right treatment of people is worthless.

I write because of what I believe. I believe that God created people to need him and others, to be in relationship with him and people, and that relationship was broken when our first parents acted based on a lie spoken to them to make them afraid. I believe that brokenness is everywhere, perhaps nowhere more clearly than the systems of abuse propagating violence at every level of culture. I believe that God loves people, and that our humanity is not disgusting to him. I believe Jesus came and became a man, as God, to restore relationship between people and God. I believe that relational and institutional violence killed Jesus, who willingly gave himself for our violence. I believe that Satan thought he won, but Jesus defeated death and thereby our fear, that first fear that held us captive. I believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that nobody comes back to God except through him. I believe in God’s powerful and redemptive love, that being with him and other people is what changes us. I believe that the work of the Spirit is gentle and personal, and still hurts like hell sometimes. (But no person gets to tell you their hurtful behavior is the hurt of the Spirit.)

I write because I believe the same things that the institutions which house and often protect abusers preach from their pulpits, but I refuse to accept that “oops, we got it wrong that time” (over and over) must always be the way that it is. I believe that Jesus is a safe place for hurting people, and the church needs to learn how to be, too. I write because whether you’re a complementarian or egalitarian, you must be able to recognize abuse in whatever form it presents itself–like did you know there is such a thing as financial abuse?–and protect the vulnerable partner, not send the couple to marriage counseling. I write because whether you believe it was statutory rape or consensual sex, no young girl should ever have to confess anything in front of a whole congregation. I write because no children should be beaten, no sex abuse survivors made to feel blame for their abuse, no system should be tilted in favor of those with power. No more.

I write because so many of us have been so afraid. And if anywhere on this earth is safe, it should be where we pass the peace and partake in the body and blood of Jesus. I write because I love the church. I love her so much. I write because I love the people she’s made up of, and because the system we’re in is poison for all of us. For the people in power who can’t understand why their best efforts keep creating more damage, for those who abuse and for those who experience it. And for those of us who are somehow a little bit of all three. It’s messy. And it’s poison.

I write because I want anyone whose hurt has been compounded by the church system to know that it is not okay. I want you to know that Jesus loves you. I want you to know that somebody sees, knows, cares, and is going to try to fight for change.

That, for now, is why I write.

 

If you’re interested in more resources, check out GRACE and Ally Kern’s website. Her intimate partner violence syllabus is very thorough and has a lot of great resources.

he remembers that we are dust.

“The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children.”
-From Psalm 103

Years ago, I wrote a song called Dust to Dust. I listened to it yesterday for the first time since I’ve begun this painstaking journey of rewriting my life, wresting it back from the controlling grasp of trauma and anxiety. A few things struck me, while listening. First, it’s a decent song. It holds up, years later. I feel proud of myself for writing it, and of my dear friends’ ability to play it after only two run-throughs. Second, while the message is, I believe, ultimately redemptive and comforting, I wrote it in the throes of guilt, fear and shame. For so many reasons, most of which in retrospect had simply to do with my humanity rather than egregious, purposeful sin. I truly felt that I should bring something to the table, I should be able to control this heaviness in my heart, I should be able to change myself.

There is clearly space for lament, right–so much is so wrong in our world and our hearts. People like me, we are pretty good at lament, though, and while our songs are good to help lead other people who might not be as naturally good at it, we need help to see that lament does not have the final word. Our nature is very different from God’s–even our redeemed nature! This has always, from creation, before the fall, been the case. When I wrote this song, I didn’t really know these things in the depth of my being–I was afraid and weighed down with a rock of anxiety in my chest. The intrusion of my anxiety showed me every flaw, every fear, and amplified it to an unbearable, unrealistic extent. As I listened yesterday, though, the verse above about God remembering we are but dust came to my mind and I saw it as a comforting, rather than disapproving statement.

God is not up there, shaking his head at your inability to do more than you are able. He calls us to more, to better, to growth, yes, emphatically yes. But he is not an abusive father who lays out unrealistic expectations and punishes us when we can’t meet those expectations. He does not exasperate his children. Rather, he knows what you are capable of, he knows what has happened to you, he knows your fears, and he is tender and safe with them. He walks beside you and changes you along the way. He treats you like a loving parent does when their baby falls down when learning how to walk. He doesn’t belittle, mock, or berate you. He dusts you off, picks you back up again and remains close as you try again.

 

Your nature being dust is not bad. He made you! He walks with you. He loves you. And he loves it when you come to him. You can rest, finally, here.

I think the bridge of this song is the most redemptive part, to me. I can see how God has fulfilled that cry, to breathe his gospel over me, and slowly, by his Spirit, set me free. If you listen to this song, now, I hope you can hold all these thoughts in tension and find comfort in the One who knows and loves you, dust and all. I hope you find freedom to try and fail and grow in light of that.

Listen here.

i hope you come home.

I know, sweetheart, I know.

I know that people in power in your life cared more about their authority than the gospel. I know they used that authority to keep you in line, in fear. I know you were spanked too often and too hard. I know they told you that you were the problem child, that you never felt like you were seen and loved for you, that you had to act a certain way to feel any semblance of love. I know you tried to come up with stories to explain yourself, or lies to protect yourself. I know that you thought if they could just know how you felt, they wouldn’t treat you like this.

I know they didn’t listen to you. They didn’t believe you when you said he did this to you, or they said it was your fault. I know they protected the other people in power, and you weren’t allowed to question their authority. They never took care of you. Your humanity was a problem, and they used it to keep you afraid of God.

I know some of you shut down the fear with perfectionism. If you could do it all just right, you wouldn’t feel the way you were feeling, because you’d finally  be safe. I know some of you tried to drink, smoke and fuck your way to some peace and you can’t stop because the fear and the pain are still right there, so heavy. It’s all even worse because you aren’t supposed to feel that way about God, or about people that were supposed to take care of you. You ran far, far away from those authorities and worked really hard on yourself and you’re better now, better than them, and no one is ever, ever going to be in the position to hurt you like that again.

I know you can’t even go to church because they’re using the same words that were used to beat your tender little heart to a bloody mess. I know when you do find yourself in the pew, you suddenly feel so afraid or angry that you sometimes have to leave halfway through.

I see some of your faces. I was there, I know. Other faces I don’t see yet but I can feel your pain. It threatens to swallow me up some days. I know, and I’m so sorry.

But I also know Jesus. He cared more for you than he cared for his authority. He gave up all his power to put on your skin and mortality. He felt all of the weight of all the shit in the world, the weight that you felt all those years ago when you were so little and the people in charge of you just kept piling it on. But he doesn’t pile it on, he says “come, rest”. He is not in the least bit concerned with who’s in charge or who has authority. He has never cared as much about power as all those people who had authority they were terrified of losing. He’s not scared. He’s not angry. He wants you, as you are, full stop. No ifs, ands or buts.

I’ve been thinking of the story he told about the prodigal son. That boy was talking to himself the whole way home, trying to get his story straight, trying to apologize just the right way, trying to make it look like he knew just what he’d done, just where he went wrong. And his dad just came running out, hugging him, wouldn’t even let him get his words out. His mess, his confession, his apology didn’t matter, because he was so loved. His dad just wanted him home.

You don’t have to know exactly what’s happened, or who’s to blame. You don’t have to sort out your hurt or your anger or your fear before you come. You don’t have to change, do, or be anything different. You can just come. I don’t know what coming home will look like, because my story is different than yours and the path will look different. It might take your whole life, I know.

But I hope you can come home.

time to heal.

I want to write with hope.

I had forgotten that, for a minute, because the extent of the dysfunction of this world is crushing to me at times. I have been digging in too much to the brokenness of the world and the church, and I’m not to the point yet where I can see the hope past the anger and hurt of so many, including myself some days. Lately, I’ve been obsessively trying to find and read about every instance of abuse of power or misogyny, like if I see it at least someone will and it won’t go unseen or unacknowledged. I’ve been sitting in the sadness and hurt in a way that’s been trapping me, weighing me down and keeping me immobile.

So, I’ve been doing some research into my personality type (1 on the enneagram–yes, I’m a nerd) to try to understand my motives better, in hopes that I will be able to help myself progress from the space I’ve been in for a while now. It has become clear to me that I need to give myself space to heal, from church related hurts new and old, overt and covert, and to figure out how to take care of myself. I will never be able to fix everything that needs to be fixed, in the world or the church, but I don’t need to wait for everything out there to be made right to begin living a joyful, integrated, meaningful life of my own.

I don’t know for sure what that means for this blog, but as I was praying about it, I got the sense that for now, this is a space for me to share my story, the hurt and the happiness, and the way God has been changing my perception of him through every phase of my life, despite deeply flawed beliefs that have shaped me. I expect I will still write about women in the church, but I think it will, for now, mostly be about my experience. If I want to speak to the larger picture, and I do, I first need to understand my own life. I want to preach freedom to our world, even to our churches, and proclaim that, in Jesus, the curse is broken. I’m not ready to preach, yet. I still have so much to learn. But I’m ready to figure out my life, and how to shape it according to the truth.

The truth is that I don’t have to fix everything, in the world or myself, to be valuable and welcome to Jesus’ family. I don’t have to try so hard, I can just show up. I can live my life and learn how to be healthy and engaged with the people around me. I am allowed to be happy, even while I’m sad. I can see the renewal that our world needs, and then fight for that same renewal for myself.

So I’ll be here, writing about my sadness and my healing, sharing my search for joy, quiet meaning, and rest. I hope you’ll come with me.