Sunday, January 13, 2019


"What is your word for the year?" This is the first year I think I have hear that question and it seems to be popping up everywhere. I like the concept, actually. I like it much better than New Years resolutions, which are almost always self-improvement based and self-focused in a superficial sort of way and are usually along the lines of weight loss and eating better and exercising more to the end of greater health and youth and beauty.

The word for the year is different. Seven years ago I came close to the concept when I wrote Not a Resolution but a Prayer, about my desire to be able to actually rejoice with those who rejoice. Mourning is really easy for me. Rejoicing with another, especially when I don't have occasion to myself, is a bit of a challenge.

A few years later I had another concept for the year: Listen. It wasn't necessarily something I publicized but more something I tried to do more of. I learned a lot about listening and the truth that, as David Augsburger says, "Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable." Even this past year I heard about another term, vigilant listening, which took my desire to listen to others and for the skill to hear others, to a whole new level.

When the question about the word for the year came up, I rebelled and decided I wouldn't get with the program. I couldn't come up with anything that didn't seem too nebulous. Hope? Peace? Joy? (The fact that joy scares the bejeebers out of me is the subject of a future, perhaps too personal, blogpost.)

But I DO have a word. It is a concept that hit home with me a couple of months ago. According to Google....

Acknowledge: 1.) accept or admit the existence or truth of. 2.) recognize the fact or importance or quality of. 

Everybody wants to know that their presence on the planet isn't an accident, or worse, a mistake. Everybody wants to know they matter.

To acknowledge someone says this:
I see you. You matter. Your ideas matter. Your experiences. Your wisdom. Your hard work. Your gifts. Your generosity. Your ingenuity. Your kindness. Your heart. Your heart matters. 
I see you. You matter. Your suffering matters. Your confusion. Your frustration. Your anger. Your disappointment. Your loneliness. Your pain. Your grief. Your broken heart. It matters. 
You are not invisible to me. You matter. You matter in this world. You matter in God's plan. 
To acknowledge someone does not mean that you have to agree with them or become their very best friend. And it certainly doesn't mean that you have to fix whatever it is that is weighing them down or tearing them apart. It just means that you see them and you are there with them and they matter.

You can acknowledge someone by finding the person outside the group and striking up a conversation. By going out of your way to say hello. By finding something you have in common. Asking questions and their opinion. By listening, yes, listening, to their ideas without the need to argue and set them straight.

You can acknowledge a person by responding to them. Reply to their message or text or phone call or email. Nothing tells a person that they don't matter like complete silence on the other end. Sometimes the silence conveys disapproval. At to other times dismissal. It always conveys the idea that you just don't care. In fact, my husband wants to start a new hashtag #nocrickets, to encourage people to respond, even if it is just to say, "I got your message. Let me think about it." Acknowledge the message and you acknowledge the person.

Pastors, you can do a great deal of good by just acknowledging specific types of suffering in the sermons. It tells your people that you see them. You know their pain. And you are with them in their suffering. Ignoring pain doesn't make it go away. Speaking of it gives it meaning and connection. No fixes needed. Just acknowledgement and understanding.

I am not trying to lecture anybody else as much as to remind myself just how important this is. I know I have failed at this so many times. I acknowledge even that. We can do that. We can acknowledge where we have failed and hurt people.

So, here is to 2019. The year to acknowledge.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Comparing Pain

I got my bubble burst last week. I have always been enamored with natural disasters. Maybe because I love severe weather. Maybe because I love the excitement. Maybe because I a bit of an adrenaline junky. Maybe because I love to see a shakeup in the status quo. But mostly because of the way people are when a collective disaster strikes.Walls come down. Differences fade. Community develops. The little things just don't matter so much. I long for that. I thought that was the way it always was.

Last week I was reading Richard Lloyd Parry's chronicle of the earthquake and the tsunami that hit rural northern Japan in 2011, Ghosts of the Tsunami. He particularly focuses on one village and one school. There were just over 100 students in this K-5 school. After the earthquake, several parents came and took their children home. leaving 78 children at the school when the unexpected happened and the tsunami hit. Of those 78 children, only four survived.

The immediate aftermath of the tsunami brought about what we have all come to expect: kindness, compassion, camaraderie, a pulling together to survive. But after the initial shock wore off and life began to take shape again and families had to move forward, a rift developed. It developed between the families that had lost children and those that had not. Between the families that had lost all their children and those that had at least one left. Then a rift between the families that were able to find and bury the bodies of their children and those who could not. It is absolutely heartbreaking that in a scenario of such horrific loss each person was so completely absorbed in their own brand of loss, in their own story, that they could not see that their stories were more alike than different. Pain, suffering, loss, grief....they do that, I guess.

We all do it. We compare. We compare our pain to somebody else's. Other people compare our pain to somebody else's. And chide us. "At least he isn't hitting you. Look at Sandra's husband. Now I feel sorry for her." "At least it wasn't rape. It can't have been that bad." "Quit whining, you have a roof over your head. Look at those poor people in India." We expect that quantity and quality are the same thing.

Quantity of suffering does matter. The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study shows that with each ACE comes a large percentage increase in physical and mental health issues well into adulthood. And yet even with the ACE, there are mitigating factors. So quality of suffering matters, too. A child with more resilience will have fewer negative effects with a higher score than a child with less resilience. So a child with no social or emotional support will suffer just as much or more over an adverse experience as a child with better support but more experiences.

I saw a meme this morning that said that you can drown in 8 feet of water just as easily at 20 feet of water. The quantity of water doesn't matter.

We can't compare suffering. We just can't. Abuse is abuse. Betrayal is betrayal. Loss is loss. Pain is pain. How can we come alongside each other, alike in our suffering though perhaps different in our circumstances? What are your ideas?

Monday, November 26, 2018

Mid-Life Musings

It's been an existential crisis kind of week....month....year....jumble of years. As I try to make sense of my thoughts and emotions my doggie begs to be adored and scratched, wiping my hands away from the keyboard. Duty must come before words. It is hard to make sense of it all.

I don't know exactly how to describe the maelstrom of thoughts, struggles, feelings, longings, disappointments, internal battles of faith and dreams and purpose. How to make sense of the experiences that have colored my world and shaped my heart?

I guess this could be called a mid-life crisis, though I think I have been having one of those since I was about 30, overwhelmed with more children than hands, no longer mistaken for a teenager, and realizing that running away to a ranch in Montana was no longer an option.

My life has been, by the standards of the world, a very wonderful thing. No poverty. No oppression. No discrimination (well, some of that). A roof over my head. Shoes on my feet. Food in my belly. A kind husband (always go for the one who is kind). Children who are amazing beyond anything I could ever imagine. And I get to live in a place where tourists come and come and come (you can go away now and take the traffic with you, says my tired, cynical self).

And yet I am at a place in my life where I don't really see a path forward and I see all of the paths behind me that I never took. What is my purpose? My kids are gradually leaving town for grand adventures, following their dreams. It never occurred to me to really, truly follow mine. I had neither the confidence nor the strength of resolve to take that path. And I look in the rear view mirror and they are there. Waving goodbye. Which, if any are still possible? Am I too old to pursue what I long to do and long to be? Statistically, I have likely another 30 years, at least, on the planet. If I take after my grandmothers, then let's bump that up to 40. Then why does it feel like it is all over? The grey hair? The changing body? The feeling of defeat?

And then there is so much I don't get. So much of what I used to believe I just don't know about any more. I have more questions and fewer answers. The Christian life isn't near as neat and tidy as it was packaged and sold to me. I have spent some time dumping out everything I believe and slowly, gradually, picking back up the important things, the essential things, and putting them back in my bag of certainty. That bag is much lighter now. Some people call it the deconstruction of faith. It is something I have had to do. The shoulds, the must haves, the extrabiblical mandates, and the lopsided emphases were killing me.

How do I channel the disillusionment into compassion? How do I love my neighbor with a clean conscience? How do I funnel the fact that I think too much, wrestle too much, feel too much into an outward facing love for other people? How can I reflect something of the character of God to others? How do I grab onto that compassion and love and mercy for myself? How do I embrace the intensity of emotion that comes with this time in my life and accept it for what it is? So many questions.

I guess that it what it is. A period of more questions than answers. Of more listening than speaking. Of more waiting on God than doing. A period of lightening my own load so I can bear somebody else's burdens.

Maybe that is what mid-life is all about. Grieving the loss of dreams and maybe getting some new ones. Letting go of the old ideals of what gives me value and learning to believe something new about myself. I just don't want to be one of those old, cranky people who waves her finger at others, scolding them for their screw-ups. I want to be MORE kind. MORE compassionate. MORE committed to listening and caring and coming alongside. MORE willing to set aside my dreams for the good of someone else.

I want God to use me for something good. I guess that is what it amounts to.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #31

Domestic Abuse Misconception #31: Domestic abuse just isn't that prevalent or that serious. I saved this one for last. Domestic abuse is incredibly widespread. A woman is twice as likely to be abused than to get breast cancer. One out of every four women is or has been in an abusive relationship. So if you are sitting in church and there are 100 women there, 25 women have or are experiencing or will experience domestic abuse. 

Sure, you say, domestic abuse is bad and all but it doesn't get really bad very often, does it?

The fact of the matter is that domestic abuse can, and often does, turn deadly. The numbers are horrifying. One graphic I found, with numbers from the FBI, showed that between September 10, 2001 and June 6, 2012 11,766 women were murdered by husbands and boyfriends. This was more than the deaths during that time frame in the War on Terror (deaths on US soil (9/11), troops in Afghanistan, troops in Iraq) combined. 

There are some truly terrifying statistics. Pregnant women are at much higher risk for homicide. The presence of a gun in domestic violence raises the risk of homicide 500%. Intimate partners are not the only ones in danger. Family members, friends, law enforcement, and even strangers have been killed along with the intended victim. And, as I shared in Misconception #8, 75% of homicides occur while the victim is seeking to leave the relationship or in the weeks or months after she has left. 

Domestic abuse is a serious, serious problem and a life or death issue. Here is a link to more information on domestic abuse and homicides. 

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #30

Domestic Abuse Misconception #30: Religious beliefs and scripture will always be used to encourage and comfort the victim. Oh, people! It is just not so. 

Most people understand that domestic abuse sometimes does include physical abuse. Hopefully most now understand that it always includes emotional abuse as well as financial abuse. Domestic abuse can also include sexual abuse, resulting in a victim's inability to say no, or at times resulting in flat out rape. But many people don't understand that there can also be spiritual abuse. 

Spiritual abuse happens with the person with the power uses specific religious ideology or scripture (often out of context) to maintain control over the victim and to coerce the victim into some activity. 

It is common for an abuser to demand obedience and submission to demand power over his victim. He might also demand forgiveness and reconciliation, emphasizing the sacredness of marriage vows. He might use scripture to his own advantage. He might use the words of faith to manipulate and give the appearance of repentance and transformation, pulling the wool of the eyes of both victim and onlookers. 

But spiritual abuse doesn't just happen between the abuser and his victim. If the victim's church becomes involved in the situation, the same dynamic can take place, in effect, giving the victim a double dose of abuse. 

As I discussed in Misconception #14, uninformed and ill-equipped churches are rarely a safe place for victims of abuse. Churches carry their own authority with them. Pastors and elders speak of their spiritual authority over their flock. Victims are beaten down and unsure of themselves and, at this point, very vulnerable to others telling them what to do. It is a perfect storm. 

Here are some of the ways (and there are so many more) church leaders or members can use religious ideas and scripture in ways that are harmful to anyone, but especially to victims of domestic abuse:

-Forcing the couple to meet together.
-Treating the abuse problem as a marital problem.
-Demanding the victim examine her heart and confess her sin which is causing the abuse. 
-Telling the victim she needs to be meeting the abuser's needs by having more sex with him.
-Commanding forgiveness from the victim and reconciliation with the abuser.
-Insisting the victim get help only from "approved" therapists and community groups.
-Telling the victim it is God's will that she suffer emotional and physical harm at the hands of her abuser.
-Threatening church discipline if the victim refuses to comply with their demands regarding her relationship with the abuser.

When those who claim belief in God then use those beliefs to get and maintain control over another, it is abuse. And it isn't only abuse, it is a slap in the face of God because it is a blatant lie about his character and who he is. He is not a God of oppression but of safety and freedom.

Here is a good article that spells out spiritual abuse.

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)

Domestic Abuse Misconception #29

Domestic Abuse Misconception #29: Once the victim leaves, she won't go back. That would seem logical, wouldn't it? It is so hard to leave you would think that once a victim got up the courage to leave that she would run far, far away, never to return. Sadly, that is just not the case.

A victim leave her abuser and then returns to him on seven times on average before she leaves for good. Why on earth would she do that? There are a lot of reasons, really. 

Lets start with fear. Fear for her and her children's safety. There is financial need. There are the promises of change from the abuser. There is the pressure from others to return and reconcile, especially if the abuser has enlisted Flying Monkeys (Misconception #18) and/or the victim is part of a church that believes that reconciliation is always the desired (or required) outcome. 

Sometimes victims return because the abuse is all they know. They are, in a way, addicted to the adrenaline rush of the up and down. They don't know how to function without it. Some say that the victim suffers from Stockholm Syndrome and identifies with and has an unhealthy attachment to her abuser. And many victims have such a low view of themselves that they don't believe anybody else will ever love them. That the abuser is as good as it's gonna get. She will endure Mr. Hyde if she can only have Dr. Jekyll every so often. 

It is absolutely heartbreaking to watch a victim that you love return to her abuser. The discouragement and helplessness are overwhelming. Yet remember that this is her decision and she will leave for when she is at the point of being ready to do so.

Here a victims explains her reasons for returning to her abuser before she left for good. 

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #28

Domestic Abuse Misconception #28: Financial abuse just isn't that big of a deal. The reality is that, while financial abuse may not sound like a serious issue, it has a huge impact on a victim's life, ability to leave an abusive relationship, and ability to start a new life away from her abuser.

Financial abuse, or economic abuse, is almost always present when there are other forms of abuse. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that 94-99% of domestic abuse survivors have experience economic abuse.

Financial abuse happens when an abuser takes the victim's money, refuses to let the victim get a job, jeopardizes her ability to keep a job due to stalking and other abuse, refuses to let her get the education she needs to get a job, 
limits her access to money, hides income in separate accounts, takes out loans in her name, or forces the victim to pay for all necessities for both the abuser and the victim. Again, this is all done as a means of power and control. 

The damage is huge. A victim who has no access to money has very few options. Most victims find they are unable to leave their abuser because of economic reasons. The ability to establish a new life, free from abuse, is particularly challenging when the abuser has run up huge bills in the victim's name and likely ruined her credit.

Please don't ever take financial abuse lightly. It may not seem as serious as physical abuse or emotional abuse but it is certainly destructive with the intention on limiting the victim's freedom.

Here is an article that discusses some of the challenges a victim may have when trying to move forward with her life. 

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)