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.

Advertisements

love vs. lust: thoughts on respecting women.

I recently read the story of Jane, a student at The Master’s College who was raped and then blamed, made to apologize to her rapist and then forced out of the school. It is a horrifying story that sounded all too familiar to me. Then I read Elliot Rodger’s manifesto from a few years ago, and the initial shame he felt over his sexual energy and the disdain and then hatred he felt for women was, again, horrifying but familiar. These are the extreme ends of a problem that exists everywhere, at every level and in every institution of society. We Christians, thinking we’re healthy, are often really just living with symptoms of the same disease. In the world at large, women are leered at, catcalled, and objectified. In the church, we’re side-hugged, get the look-away (you know, the brief eye-contact and quick averting of the gaze) and told not to cause our brothers to stumble. We’re objectified in the place we should be safest. I love the church. I want her to be everything she can be, so I have a few things to say.

Christian men, I am a woman. I am not a temptation to you by virtue of my very existence. I do not threaten your purity just because I am here. The fact that it can sometimes feel like a lot of you think this hurts me, but I believe it hurts you, too, because you’re living in a way that is not in line with God’s heart. It hurts our credibility as witnesses to Jesus, and our relationships as believers. So can we stop this? Can we stop limiting the conversation about respecting women to strategies for fighting lust?

Purity does not equal the absence of attraction. The real problem is not with sexual attraction at all, but with a direction of the heart. It’s how you think about women. If you are a straight man, you are going to find all kinds of women attractive and that’s never going to stop. We were created sexual beings–that’s just part of our biology, and newsflash: women experience attraction, too, it’s not just you. The right response is not to distance yourself from women or to stop looking at them altogether. That is toxic and exacerbates the problem, because it’s just a different symptom of the same sickness. Viewing women as objects who are there to use for your own pleasure very easily turns into viewing women as objects who get in the way of your walk with God. The same delusion that made Elliot Rodger think that he was owed sexual favors from beautiful women and that he deserved retribution for their disinterest is what makes many Christian men think that if they can build enough of a boundary between themselves and real live women then they will no longer lust, while they remain entrenched in pornography addictions. It’s all the same thing, and it feels the same way to women. Whether you’re overtly hitting on women or covertly trying to not look at them, we remain two dimensional objects of either your lust or your guilt. Distancing yourself from us doesn’t change that.

All your boundaries will never change your heart. Changes of heart only come through community, with God and people. People including women. So stop putting the blame on attraction, because attraction is not lust. Lust is that part of you that chooses to use others for your pleasure and ego, and the responsibility for it lies not in the attractiveness of women but your own heart. You are redeemed. You are in the family of Jesus, and you are called to model yourself after him. So, if Jesus could sit, alone, and talk with a promiscuous woman for hours without sin, you can look your sisters in the eye. You can have appropriate friendships with women. You can interact with women without using them, or blaming them. You can do it! The love of Jesus is changing you, and you don’t have to be afraid, of yourself or of women. The world and the church both desperately need you to learn how to walk in this truth more fully. I see you trying, and I know that it can and will get better, because he who began a good work in us promises to finish what he started.

I was sharing these thoughts and frustrations with my husband, who, after hearing my reaction to some of the accepted strategies for maintaining “purity” that I feel belittle and objectify women, asked, “what should I do instead? How should I be thinking about this?” My hope is that you will all do likewise, humbly ask and bravely listen to the women around you. And women, my prayer is that we will not be trapped in fear or jealousy of our sisters but learn to walk in the powerful position we have as daughters of God, fighting for freedom for ourselves and our brothers. Freedom is not fearful. Jesus died to give us right relationship with him and each other, and we should settle for no less.

“…treat older women like your mother, and treat younger women like your sisters with appropriate respect.” 1 Timothy 5:2

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18

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.

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.