Small Circles

rape-survivor

I had an experience last April that I haven’t talked about yet. My friend, Moira Finley, has this amazing idea that churches should find a place to name and honor the strength of survivors of sexual abuse and assault. At first read, this would seem like a no brainer. Churches are supposed to welcome people, you know, like Jesus did. Many churches work very hard to be inclusive of everyone and make that incredibly difficult balance work. Some churches want to include everyone, but get hung up on one particular group, like welcoming offenders of sexual assault, but not making a whole lot of space for survivors. Other churches have a whole lot of talk about welcoming people, but once you look beyond their welcome mat, it is easy to see they only want people who look and love like they do, which is a nice way of saying they only want people who believe in their particular brand of hate.

Moira has this idea, revolutionary as it is, that churches can welcome and hold space for survivors of sexual assault and rape. She created this amazing liturgy which you can find at breakthesilencesunday.org. You can also read her blog and wait for the 2017 resources, which will be written soon.

My seminary, Eden Theological Seminary, held what I think was the very first Break The Silence Sunday service. It was held on a Thursday. I was fortunate enough to go. I wanted to go in part because I was so proud of the work they were doing in including survivors in this revolutionary way. I wanted to be a part of that. I also wanted to go to make sure they were handling the concerns of survivors and educating new pastors about survivors in a respectful way. They did great, if you were wondering.


break-the-silence-sunday

At the service, I wore this button for the first, and only time. I have it on my purse every day and sometimes I think people see it, and sometimes I want them to see it. Sometimes I don’t think people see it, and sometimes I don’t want them to see it.

rape-survivor

Whether I want people to see the button or not, and whether I want people to know I’m a survivor or not, I am. I can’t, and won’t deny it. Sometimes I tell the story and remove it from myself. I let people infer whatever details they want, or don’t want, to know. If asked, I’ll say more. Usually when I separate what I survived from my self, I am disappointed in what I’ve said. It is part of my story, not all of it of course, but it is a large part of who I am.

For myself and most of the survivors I know, this election period has been intense. It has been a soul crushing reminder of exactly why not everyone tells their stories of rape and abuse. Society as a whole does not want to know. It is too painful, too scandalous, too real, too raw, too much.

People are angry. Angry at survivors for speaking. Survivors are angry. Angry for being reminded again that we are just supposed to take it. We are supposed to let anyone who wants to abuse us and just smile and keep taking whatever shit anyone throws at us.

Well, that plan isn’t working so well. Survivors are talking. Jennifer’s last post spoke to that. It spoke of the anger and how many people are people are tired of taking the abuse. Survivors are done. We are tired. We are hoarse from silencing our screams. But we have successfully been unable to answer the question of now what. We’re done. We’re tired. But now what?

We have seen in the news some of the now what’s even if we couldn’t quite identify them. Women are sharing their stories. Twitter exploded with stories of how women are raped and abused, groped, fondled, harassed, cat called, dismissed.

Survivors are doing their part. We are speaking up. We are also doing our very best to live in a world that doesn’t want to hear us. Advocates are doing their part. They are listening and giving survivors a place to speak. They are educating young people, and old, what can be done to stop rape. Men are speaking about the toxic masculinity that crushes us all.

Conversations are being had. Some people are listening. Some are not. I don’t think that the world is worse than it used to be. I think we have access to far more information that anyone ever imagined.

I do not know what now. I do not think there will be one event we can point to and say this is the now what. Each day, we all make a choice as to what will be the now what. I hope we are on the gaining edge in which we can end rape, hate, violence, and all the other things so many of us are fighting to stop. It must change. The world just cannot take the cries of agony from so many.

So, I leave you with old words presented in a new way. It may not seem like it, but the world has already changed. Let’s keep it swinging in the direction of change, even if it is just in small circles.

Unexpected Sighting

Let me preface this by saying I’m sorry. I’m not writing this to scare you, but it is my guess it will. I shouldn’t have to write this post, and you shouldn’t have to worry about it.

But I have to write it and you now have to worry, if you weren’t already worried.

My friend recently went to a movie. It was one of those movies geared toward kids, with some humor thrown in for the adults who need to go with them. Just because the movie was geared toward kids doesn’t mean adults can’t go and enjoy it, but sometimes, there is something more sinister going on.

My friend is a survivor of sexual abuse. As she was getting her tickets, she thought she saw a man who looked like her abuser. She shook it off because she thought it was unlikely that her abuser would be at this particular movie; a kids’ movie. She and her boyfriend found their seats and a few minutes later, someone sat down behind them. She got that feeling-that creepy, something isn’t right feeling. She glanced over her shoulder, and there was her abuser. He was with his wife and step-daughter. At least he wasn’t there just by himself, but he was still there.

My friend got up and walked out of the theater. Her boyfriend, not knowing what was going on, followed. She told him who was sitting behind her and then they talked about whether or not they should stay.

She ultimately decided to stay. They watched the movie, and then on the way out, she went to the bathroom. Her abuser’s wife and step-daughter were in the bathroom. If they recognized her, they didn’t say anything.

I absolutely could not have stayed in the theater. This isn’t about judging my friend for her choice. I would like to think I would have had enough courage to announce to the crowded theater of kids and parents that there was a convicted sex offender in their midst. I’m not sure I could have done that.

I don’t want you to never take your child to a movie again. Or a park, or, church, or school, camp, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, daycare… I hope you get my point that predators are EVERYWHERE. We cannot assume that they are cowering in the shadows. They are bold and brash and looking for an opportunity to abuse kids.

The very best we can do for our kids is talk to them about staying safe. Teach them about safe touch. Teach them to say no. Tell them they can tell you anything and you will believe them and do everything you can to keep them safe. Teach them that secrets aren’t something to keep and that even if someone touches them inappropriately and threatens to hurt you, that it’s just a threat to keep them quiet. Tell them how much you love them and how important they are. Go with them to movies, and the bathroom.

You cannot keep your kids home so they never experience danger. That kind of defeats the point of having them and wanting them to be independent people.

Above all, teach them to be smart and pay attention. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Tell them it is okay to say that something doesn’t feel right and to get out of that situation.

Sex offenders are everywhere. Kids are everywhere. Even if they are never abused, and I hope beyond hope that they aren’t, they will encounter them. Give them the tools to keep themselves safe. This is the only way we can stop the epidemic of sexual abuse.

This story was used with permission of my friend. No one has been named to protect her privacy. If it weren’t for that, please know I would have named the abuser.

The Question of Forgiveness – Pam’s Story, a Pastor’s Perspective You May Not Expect

Here is the newest addition to our Story Wall. Please take a look. We would like to thank Pam so much for letting us share it here. Thank you for your courage and your strength.

http://www.learninghope.org/story-wall/story-wall/pams-story-on-forgiveness-and-childhood-sex-abuse-not-what-youd-expect-a-pastor-to-say/

Child Abuse Awareness and Sexual Assault Prevention Month 2015

 

April is Child Abuse Awareness and Sexual Assault Prevention Month. Here are some pictures to encourage you through the month. Please feel free to share them!

 

breathing

 

only one

 

survivor

Moving Toward The Wrong Goal

Last fall, I took a part time, or what I thought would be a part time, job. I was told that the job would be ten to twenty hours a week. Starting a few weeks before Black Friday made this far from true. The job required that I go into stores and assemble new displays, count types of software present in the store, audit displays, talk to employees about specific types of software, and sometimes updating demos on computers on display in certain stores.

My house is basically in the middle of the territory I was supposed to cover. My drive from my house to the first store in which I was to work for the day and my drive from the last store to my house was considered my commute and not time for which I was paid. Sometimes that was reasonable, but sometimes it did not work out in my favor. I was putting huge amounts of miles on my car, sometimes working for a few hours a day, sometimes working for twelve hours a day.

Shortly after starting the job, I put in my two weeks notice. It was too much. Too much driving, too much sitting at the computer printing off instructions, running to the store to buy ink, not having all the pieces I needed to complete the job, just too much. My manager called me and said he hoped he could convince me to stay. He said I was doing a good job and that no one had complained about the work that I had done. I’m still not sure why anyone would have complained, but I guess that’s beside the point. I agreed to stay on and try to manage the work differently. I thought the problem was me.

I am extremely privileged to have a supportive husband who makes enough money that I really do not have to work outside of our home. Jeff is so loving and supportive and he really just wants me to follow my dreams. His support is more than I ever dreamed.

I wasn’t writing here anymore. I wasn’t working as hard on the facebook page that Jennifer and I maintain. I was putting all my energy into driving hundreds of miles, for a small amount of money. Money isn’t the most important thing in life, and while most people could always use more, I wasn’t able to focus on what really matters in my life. I would think of ideas to write about during my drives, but would not write them down, and didn’t have the energy to write about them even if I remembered by the time I got home.

I continued to work and sometimes was assigned more territory because other people quit. I have worked for another company to help set displays and redo aisles of product. In this job, I don’t work as much, I usually get more mileage, and I get to chose which jobs I take. I didn’t have a choice in this second position I was working. I think part of that was that my manager was trying to give me more work, but also other people quit and he didn’t have a choice.

The last job I did was supposed to take two hours and ten minutes. It took me five hours. I wasn’t moving slowly. I cannot say what took so much extra time, except that I spent a lot of time looking for pieces of the display I needed, finding shelves, getting labels printed, and trying to make pieces fit on a display that were not really the right size.

The day before, I had done a similar job. Part of the job required me to assemble a stand for a vacuum. The display required six stands. Each box I opened contained a screwdriver. That may sound like a normal thing, but I think I was struck by the amount of waste. I was required to carry a screwdriver with1 me as part of my work tool kit. But I acquired six new screw drivers in one setting. The screwdrivers smelled so strongly of chemicals that my hands still had the chemical smell on them hours later, even though I had washed my hands several times.

In our lives at home, Jeff and I try to use minimal chemicals. Even in the garden, we use as little as possible and try to search out natural ways so we don’t have to spray heavy chemicals on what we’re going to eat and share with others. I struggled to get my mind around the absurdity of the waste and whatever chemicals were on the screwdriver handle.

I was missing the point. I was spending so much time and energy working for this company that I didn’t have any energy to write, or read, or make dinner, or do the things that are important to me. I quit after the five our job. I’ve never just quit on the spot, but I knew it was not going to get any better. It would be a few weeks of not much work, then I would be slammed. I’m sure for some people this job is totally fine, but it was not fine for me. It was not fine at all.

I need to get back to writing. I need to get back to putting energy in advocating for survivors of sexual abuse. I may never make much money doing this, but it is my passion to help survivors find their voices. I was working toward the wrong goal, and I am truly grateful for Jeff’s support and help to get me refocused on what matters in our lives.

Have you ever worked toward something that took you further and further away from your real goal? It may have seemed like it would help you reach a goal at the beginning, but took you in a completely different direction. I’d love to hear your stories about what took you away from your goal and how you get back on track.

A Healing, In Three Parts, Accompanied By James Taylor.

In March, I wrote about how the Chieftains touched my soul with their music. A few weeks ago, I was able to get a powerful reminder that they are not the only ones able to lift my soul.

Music is woven into the fabric of my journey. It has been escape, rescue, resting place, an expression of anger, and has provided strength and fortitude.

In college, I had the joy of meeting two amazing people who loved the music of James Taylor. Katie and Liz, mother and daughter, are two of the most amazing and strong women I know. I live far away from them now and I seriously miss them. They are strong and fun and kind. And as I said, they love James Taylor. Katie had the two CD set of his music and she would let me borrow it. I knew the music, but having the CDs to listen to over and over (and over) again, let me know the words.

The first song that helped me heal is “Shower the people.”

“You can play the game,
And you can act the part,
Though you know it wasn’t written for you.
Tell me how can you stand there,
With your broken heart,
Ashamed to playin’ the fool?”

I was doing a lot of acting at that time in my life. I was trying to play a part, the one everyone wants to see, but I felt inauthentic and broken. I was ashamed and I didn’t know how to fix it.

I needed to feel what I felt, not how I was supposed to feel. I felt sad, angry, broken, alone. No one really wanted to see that act. But it was the only one I could really play with any gusto, and I am grateful to the people who allowed me to be in that place and didn’t look away.

If we are able to shower the people we love with love, including ourselves, we can begin to heal and survive what we thought was unsurviveable. I truly believe that, and from that love, the world changes, if even  just a little bit.

“You’ve got a Friend” is an amazing work that brings me to tears almost every time I hear it. It was hard for me to learn that people cared about me. It was hard to know that people thought of me as a friend and were a friend to me in return. The relationships in my life that should have helped me learn this lesson were skewed. Once I got that lesson, that I really did matter to people, it is one I cherish and try to uphold with great care. Friendship isn’t something I treat lightly.

The third song that I always liked, but now see in a new perspective is “How Sweet It is.”

I have finally found my love. He understands me and gets me in a way I never imagined possible. I was in other relationships before this, but it was never anything close to the love and acceptance I feel now. <3

Healing, like song writing, is a process. Some things come quickly and amaze me how completely and wholly they come together. Other things take a long time to come together. It feels as if I will never get there, but piece by piece, it all comes together and in the end, it is a beautiful thing.

I’ve focused more on the music here than the feelings and great expressions of love I have been shown. Those are harder to describe.

I rejoice for songs, for healing, for friends and for love. It is an amazing journey, but mostly, I’m enjoying the ride.

What songs and people have helped you heal?

 

 

Self-Parenting?

Do you have kids? Nieces? Nephews? Neighborhood children? Have you ever felt like you had to parent someone? Most people, in some form or another, have had to act like a parent to someone. Or perhaps we felt like someone should be in a parenting roll for a child or another adult.

If the concept of being a parent doesn’t ring true for you, did you have a parent or parental figure in your life?

Many people, for many reasons, have felt like they didn’t have a parent, or needed a stronger one. I hope you found someone, a friend or older adult, who helped you and acted in a parental manner toward you.

Sometimes, however, we can’t find a suitable person to be our parenting figure, or we need more care than the person we found is able to give. What if we were each able to learn to parent ourselves in those kind of situations.

That may sound like just some lame therapeutic tool, but it can be really valuable and practical. Imagine in a situation where you are struggling that you can say to yourself, “Jackie, what do you need to feel better at this moment? What do you need to make it through, even though it seems like you are all alone and everything seems overwhelming and beyond what you can do?” “Do you need to take a few minutes outside of the situation to calm down? Do you need to take a nap? Do you need to stand up for yourself and say something? What is it you need to do to get through this or take care of yourself in this situation?

I have had these moments in my life. I have had a lot of them actually. It seems strange to many of us, and we think that someone else knows the exact solution or knows what we need. Sometimes someone else does know what we need, but that is usually because we know ourselves well enough to have expressed to that other person what we need.

We have to do the hard work of learning to parent ourselves. For so many reasons, our parents weren’t there for us, or aren’t there for us anymore. There isn’t anyone else that can fix it for us. We have to do it.

And the work is hard. It is hard to realize we need to learn how to do it. It is hard to mourn the loss of the people who were supposed to do it. It is hard to have the self confidence to do it. It is hard to keep doing it.

Many of us, did not have very good examples of parenting in the first place. Then to take skills which are not engrained in our minds and use them on ourselves can be pretty scary. So many of us know, just feel it in our bones, that the way we were raised and treated just isn’t right. We would never treat anyone else like we were treated. We have to take that knowledge and use it on ourselves.

We would never say things to others to hurt them. We know what it was like to be hurt and even though we slip and make mistakes, we must learn that we, too, are people who do not deserve to be hurt and told bad things.

Parenting is hard. It doesn’t matter if you are parenting yourself or others, it’s hard work. Some of us have skills naturally to do it. Others of us have to learn as we go.

Regardless of the models you had, everyone makes mistakes. As you learn to parent yourself and treat yourself well and in a way you would like to be treated, be kind and know that even if you make a mistake, you have the opportunity to make a better choice and treat yourself better the next time.

We would love to know who your parenting role model was and how you have learned, or are learning, to parent yourself.

We Need to Talk About the F-Word

No, not that one…Forgiveness.  It’s a touchy subject for many who have been abused.

We hear it from both religious and secular sides.  “You need to forgive your abuser“.  “True healing and/or salvation will elude you if you don’t forgive“.  This recent post on Facebook received over 1,600 comments.

forgive

 

First, there’s an ongoing debate over what forgiveness exactly means.  For some, it means reconciling.  For others, it means letting go of anger and bitterness.  For a few, it means absolving the other person. 

Many Christians are fond of quoting the Bible on the topic of forgiveness.  Interestingly, most Biblical commandments to forgive others are actually directing wealthy people to forgive the monetary debts that people can’t possibly pay back, not telling the abused and oppressed that they need to forgive the abusers.

So, I don’t believe that forgiveness is a pre-requisite to healing.  And, I don’t think that I have any moral or spiritual obligation to forgive my abuser.  I think we can all heal without forgiving.

Having said all that, I want to add that I think forgiveness (defined here as letting go of the pain and bitterness) is the natural, eventual, wonderful outcome of healing.  My advice is to forget about forgiveness and focus on healing.  Learn to love and protect yourself.  Reach out to other survivors.  Tell your story, with all its anger and bitterness so that others will know that they are not alone.

And forgiveness will find you in its own time.

 

You’re In My Spot

Have you ever gone through boundary training at a place where you work or volunteer? If you haven’t (and I think many more people need this kind of training), boundary training deals with learning what is appropriate and inappropriate in the workplace setting. It usually deals with what touches are appropriate, what language and types of discussions are appropriate, what things are questionable, and which things should be avoided completely.

We talk a lot, though not as much as we should, about the physical boundaries we each have. Some people have a very good understanding of physical boundaries. They stay out of other people’s space. They don’t stand too close when they speak to someone. They do not cross into another person’s physical space without the other person’s permission.

Physical boundaries are fairly easy to understand, at least in concept. There are circumstances, such as in a crowded elevator, when we may have to give up our physical boundaries, just for a little bit, for the duration of the ride. Once the ride is over, you can go back to the standard boundaries you have.

For lots of reasons, many people have their boundaries set too low. They do not know how to appropriately protect themselves from others. Many other people have their boundaries set so high that almost no one can get close to them. It is very hard to set appropriate boundaries, especially for survivors.

But what about emotional boundaries? We have written here previously about energy vampires, people who get too much in your emotional space and drain your energy. What about other layers of emotional boundaries?

In conversations with spouses, friends, colleagues, people we meet on the subway or airplanes, we have different emotional layers and allow people in at different depths. With your partner, you should be able to let that person into your very deepest emotional layer. He or she should honor and respect all the emotions you share and you should be able to share most of your emotions with that person.

With friends and close family, you should be able to allow the person into another layer of your emotional sphere, not as close as a partner, but not as distant as a colleague or even a new friend.

What about those people with whom you should be able to let down your emotional boundaries, but who have shown you usually time and again, that you can’t?

Those are the people we have to learn to protect ourselves. There are circumstances that force us to be in the same physical space as these people, but for our own sanity and protection, must be thousands of miles away emotionally.

This is hard. So. Hard. It is self preservation, but always feels a little bit off because these are people you should be able to trust. But, if you know these kind of people and have tried to let them back in, hoping that “this time it will be different.” It probably won’t, no matter how much you want it to be and how much work you’ve done on yourself to change it.

Chances are high that this person will not change. They do not wish to do the hard work to change. Their actions benefit and feed them, even if they don’t realize it.

For your own health and safety, you sometimes have to learn to dance within that space. You have to, because of circumstances, be in the space of someone who wants to live off your emotional energy. They want to know your emotions and thrive off of them. And yes, sometimes the people do not realize what they are doing, but they benefit from it anyway. You have to learn to set your emotional boundary so that you can be in the physical space that you must, but allow your emotions to be absorbed or sucked out by the other person.

It would be a lot easier to stay away from these people all together, and sometimes, you can do this completely and totally. There are circumstances beyond your complete control, so you have to learn to say, even if just to yourself, “you’re in my spot.”

Have you experienced people like this? What do you do in these types of circumstances?

God Does Not Want You To Be In Pain

“God has a plan.”

“Let go, let God.”

“Leave it in God’s hands.”

“God never gives you more than you can handle.”

These phrases, and so many more, make me feel…twitchy. I know that most people mean well when they say things like this. But in my reality, none of them, not a single one, is helpful. Most of them have done me much more harm than good.

I think I started going to church when I was about seven. At the time, my father had not yet done anything that most people would have considered abusive, I was certainly being groomed. My father would watch me in the bathtub. There were no locks on either the bedroom or the bathroom doors. My father dominated my world.

And I started going to church and heard the message that god the father loved me and ruled over my life. God saw everything and god had a plan for my life.

My young mind had no frame of reference to understand that god was somehow different from my father. And the way god was presented to me, there was no difference between my father and god. There was not supposed to be a difference.

My father used his power and position to control me. He had a plan for me. It just worked to his advantage that the church was giving me the same message. I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling. I know men and women who have been abused by priests, teachers, school administrators, family members, and sometimes family members who are members of the clergy. I think we all got this message. God was eerily similar to our abusers. And we were not encouraged to question our abusers or how god was being presented.

God became the divine child abuser. Everything that happened to us was from god. God had a plan for us. God gave us this burden and also ordained that god’s own son suffered and was crucified.

If I stay on that point and think it through, I get more than a little anxious. God, in his majesty and infinite wisdom, came to a young woman and impregnated her. (In abuse circles, there is another word for this kind of interaction. Most people would call it rape. There were many traditions of the time in which stories of gods coming down and raping young women were common.) The young woman has the child, and he grows up and is sinless and perfect.

So, then god in god’s infinite wisdom and as part of his plan, sets the stage for his son, his flesh and blood, to be killed. The reason for this? To allow god to forgive humankind it’s sins. That way, god can continue to love his people.

Does anybody see a flaw in this logic?

I gobbled this information up like candy. God loved me, but had given everything to me, including my father and the abuse he was inflicting on me. God had planned his son’s death and planned my pain.

With this type of thinking going on inside my head, it is still a bit of a mystery why I got into seminary. I think I went primarily because I had questions to ask and I wanted answers. God wasn’t talking to me, but I hoped one of my learned professors would have an answer. They didn’t. I asked. I talked to them privately. I asked questions in class I’m pretty sure many of them wished I hadn’t. But they listened. Some listened more intently than others, but none of them ever dismissed me.

As Jennifer described in her post “My God is a Messy God,” my god is also a messy god. Most days, I think my god is just a mess.

Even though I do not go to church now, some of my greatest supporters and friends are part of the church. I met with one of them recently. He always says that he’s rooting for me. He has always believed in me. At our last meeting, he told me I was fierce. He said that all I really needed to do was survive the abuse, but I’ve done so much more. He said I listen to other survivors and try to teach others how to spot abuse and how to stop it. He said I never give up.

For me, that is where god is. God is in the struggle. God is with us as we struggle to survive and in moments when we overcome. God is in the surviving and rejoices when we thrive.

God does not want us to suffer. God doesn’t give us these struggles. Life gives us struggles and god is the cheerleader encouraging us to go on when it seems too hard and painful.

I have always felt that heaven and hell are right here and now. It all depends on how we treat each other and ourselves. It is a goal to strive for and something to live through.

We all have scars and pain, but not because god wants us to. God wants us to be well and happy, respectful of others and ourselves, always striving for the inclusion of everyone.

People may be sacrificed in life by other people, but for me, god cannot be behind that. I hope you have found supporters in your life like I have. I hope you know that god did not cause your pain. Your pain was caused by a selfish person who had no thought of anyone but him or herself. The pain was also probably continued by people trapped in a system that doesn’t know how to deal with abuse realistically. It is not your fault.

I hope you have found some peace and healing. If you haven’t found it yet, please keep looking and searching. You deserve it. You are not alone.

Birds of Sorrow