rewiring.

I am alone.
It’s all up to me.
No one can help me.
The world is scary.
I’m not safe.
My feelings are bad and they’re going to get me in trouble.
I can’t trust my own judgment.
I have to do whatever other people want.
I don’t know what I want.
I can’t handle any of this.
I have to handle this, it’s up to me.
There is no happy ending.
Something bad is going to happen and it will be all my fault.
I have to fix myself.
I have to fix my feelings.
My feelings are not ok.
I need someone to tell me what to do.
Everyone else’s feelings are more important than mine.
I have to hide.
I’m alone.

 

I am loved.
I don’t have to do it all.
I can ask for help.
The world is tragically flawed and breathtakingly beautiful.
I will have what I need to face what happens in my life.
My feelings give me important information and help keep me safe.
I can trust myself.
I can decide what I need to do.
I can figure out what I want.
I am strong.
I can choose what’s important to me and live accordingly.
I can be happy.
Sometimes bad things happen to me that are not my fault.
I am growing.
I don’t have to be afraid of my feelings.
My feelings matter.
I can ask for what I need.
No one is more important than anyone else.
I am allowed to be myself.
I am loved.

 

The child in me sees the child in you.
Your fear is different but when you name it
You can rewire it too.

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what’s my name?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, where things went wrong. Like if I could pinpoint the exact time or situation, then it would all make sense to me. I know this isn’t that kind of story, though. It was a lot of things, some big and some small, over a long period of time. There’s so much I want to talk about, but so much I still feel I’m not free to say. But I thought of this story the other day. It didn’t feel like a big deal at the time, but remembering it helped me make some more sense of my story now. This is happening to me a lot these days, these little flashbacks to seemingly insignificant moments. Scarier ones, too, moments that were unquestionably traumatizing, but I can’t talk about that yet.

When I first started working at the church where I was employed for six years, I was told by my boss that he was going to set up a meeting for us with the head pastor. The pastor had been developing this system, called Identity Mapping, wherein he would meet with people and over a period of time, come up with a name for them. The idea came from that verse in Revelation that talks about the name that God has for us that we’ll discover when we get to heaven. I was highly skeptical, but it did sound pretty great, I guess. Like you could pour out your whole story and in return, you’d get this two-word name: a phrase that summed up who you were made to be. I had been feeling very lost since we had moved to Indianapolis as brand-newly-weds a year earlier, and hoped that, if I had to do this for my job, maybe it would help me. My boss said that they were going to do it for all of the employees. He said I could bring my husband, so I did. I was nervous and uncomfortable, but it didn’t even occur to me that I could say no.

It felt weird, sitting there with two men I didn’t really know at all. In my memory, I was seated slightly in front of Matthew and my boss, but maybe Matthew was right next to me. I was uncomfortably aware of my boss and pastor, and glad that Matthew was there. I don’t remember how the session got started, but I was encouraged to be very vulnerable. I know I cried a lot. I also know that I did not give my pastor enough information, really. I felt like he wanted more from me but I was not comfortable with him. I was as vulnerable in that meeting as I am with anybody (which, let’s be honest, is more vulnerable than some people are with their best friends, because I am who I am), but I held back plenty. I didn’t understand my own story at that point, or who I was, and was not prepared to invite him in to make sense of it, for which I am deeply grateful. I felt bad, though, like I couldn’t give him what he needed. I wanted it to be over. After a couple hours, he ended the session with a name that was not me in the slightest.

Matthew and I laughed about it as we drove away. We felt like it was a joke, a waste of time. I felt exhausted and shaky, though, and like I had not been seen or heard. I figured I was just emotional and hadn’t given him enough information to get a good name that fit me. I thought, this has helped so many people but I guess I failed Identity Mapping, which I thought was kind of funny, with an undercurrent of despair. It was probably my fault that it didn’t work, of course. I rarely thought about it again, except occasionally to laugh with Matthew and roll our eyes.

I don’t think it’s funny now. It marked the beginning of many years working in a place where I felt like I couldn’t say no. That feeling is mine, created by a lifetime of feeling like I was supposed to unquestioningly, immediately obey. Any questioning I did may have seemed easy on the outside but took an incredible amount of courage for me. I formed an exterior bravado while subconsciously still believing that authority is not to be questioned, believing that I couldn’t trust my own judgment but needed to trust theirs. Maybe, anyway. I’m still not sure how it all shakes out. Ultimately, I should have felt like I could say no, but I didn’t. I don’t blame myself for what I did not know, mostly, but I do feel embarrassed pretty frequently. I look back at that pregnant 24 year old and feel an almost parental pity. I want to protect her. I want her to know she can say no to anybody, even her pastor, even her boss. Any trustworthy person will understand. The rest don’t deserve a yes.

It’s extremely telling, looking back, that my time working at this church opened with a session in which I was encouraged and pushed to be very vulnerable with two men I did not know, one of whom was directly my boss and the other who was my boss’ boss. There’s just no explanation that makes that appropriate. This scene, while itself not terribly traumatic, sets the stage for everything that came after. All the trauma, all the panic attacks from flashbacks, all of it. I don’t think they knew what they were doing, but they should have.

I keep thinking, keep turning it over in my mind. I feel crazy, sometimes, when I feel like I’m back in it and the events of the past two years are happening all over again. They’re not, though, and the growth I’ve gained as a person in those years, and as a musician in the years prior, is a gift I wouldn’t wish away.

But it shouldn’t have been like this. And only God can name me, now.

Just a reminder: I write the things I write so that I and others will feel less alone, in the hope that God will use what I share to form his church. I do not write to shame anyone, criticize, or gossip. I share my story to exhort those in power and comfort those who aren’t.

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. 

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.