Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sticks and Stones

“Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.” ~ Proverbs, 12:18; The New Living Translation of the Holy Bible

Words are powerful. I learned this when I was twelve years old – I was mercilessly bullied and called all sorts of horrible names while I was at school. The boys who tormented me went on molest and sexually assault me the next year, and sometimes I wonder which of the abuses hurt me more. In the deep watches of the night, I hear their voices and the hateful, hurtful words that they said just about as often as I still feel their hands on my body. Let no one deceive you – that “sticks and stones” thing we learned in kindergarten is a load of crap.

During my eighth grade year, being molested was a daily occurrence. There was nothing uncommon about being backed into a corner and touched intimately, and it didn’t matter if I yelled or fought – generally, no one came to my aid, and my struggles just ended up causing me more pain. Everyone in my tiny elementary school knew what was happening, and no-one wanted to deal with it. When I spoke with my teacher about it, he said, “Well, if you wouldn’t wear make-up and dress like that, then these boys wouldn’t feel like they could take liberties with you.” A classmate asked me on the bus why I “let” those boys do that to me – didn’t I know it made me look like a slut?

I lived for many years believing that I had done something to deserve the treatment I received. I didn’t know or understand that what had happened to me was not my fault. I thought that my 36-C sized bra caused the problems, or maybe it was my Levi’s, or the tee-shirt I wore that day – after all, it only came down to the top of my jeans. For a long time, I accepted what I had been told – that somehow, I had caused myself to be raped and abused because of what I had chosen to wear, and the fact that my body had developed earlier than those of the other girls in my class. I accepted this horrible lie and took the blame upon myself, and it nearly killed me.

But I am here, alive and well, thanks be to God. And about ten years ago, I came across some words written by Shannon Lambert, creator of Pandora’s Aquarium and a very wise woman. Shannon said, on her website Welcome to Barbados – “It doesn’t matter what you said, what you did, what you wore…” Wise words. They brought me healing, and they have helped me to realize and understand that I didn’t deserve to be raped. What I wore had nothing to do with it. In the end, my rapists chose to hurt me, and they didn’t make that choice because my short tee-shirt had inflamed them beyond their ability to control their urges. They made that choice because they wanted to hurt me. Nothing I did caused that desire, and there was nothing I could have done to change what happened. I learned that what happened to me was not my fault; it really didn’t matter what I said, what I did, or what I wore.

Words are powerful. They can wound us deeply, compounding the horror of the sexual and physical assaults we suffer. But we can stand up and say, “No more.” We can refuse to take the blame for the actions of another. It doesn’t matter what you said, what you did, or what you wore. It doesn’t matter where you were. If you were raped, your choices were taken away, but if you survived, then you have choices now. You can stand up and you can tell the world that you are strong, that you refuse to accept responsibility and shame for what your rapist did to you. You can choose to work hard for your own healing. Despite the scars you carry, you can choose joy.

Next month, I'll be attending a SlutWalk. Yeah, I hate that word; hearing it makes my skin crawl. I hate it because it has had so much power in my life; it was used to wound me, and so I've decided to refuse to allow it to hurt me anymore. I will march and speak and wave my sign, and I WILL NOT be ashamed about it. I will take back the power that word has had over me, and in doing so, I will be choosing to live in freedom and in joy. I survived - and hurtful words have no power over me anymore.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Her name was Trisha Sadler. By all accounts, she was a bright, generous person, who was well liked by her co-workers. Her family certainly loved her – her adoptive father, Michael, speaks of her as the baby of the family and talks about how badly missed she will be. She didn’t have to die. There was no illness, no reason for her life to end at age 29. Trisha Sadler was murdered by her boyfriend, stabbed to death and dismembered in the home she had bought for herself. Just a few days before she died, Trisha told her co-workers, “If I don’t come to work, call the police. He’s said he’s going to kill me.”

Willie J. Ward, Trisha’s boyfriend, had a history of abusing her. Trisha would come to work with bruises, and said that Ward threw her around. So maybe you’re wondering why a bright, generous person like Trisha Sadler would stay with an abuser like Ward…

Frankly, so am I.

Yeah, I know, it doesn’t make sense. After all, I’m a survivor of domestic violence. I stayed, even after my former partner hit me and threatened me with a knife. So if anyone should understand the reasons behind Trisha Sadler’s decision to stay with Ward even though he abused her, I should. Right?

But I don’t. I find myself wondering why anyone would stay in that kind of relationship. I find myself wondering why I did. Oh, I know…at first, I loved him. At first, he didn’t hurt me; he was gentle, loving, and kind. And later on, when I began to see who he truly was, I convinced myself that if I could just hold on things would go back to the way they had been. After a while, I knew things would never get better, but by then I was sure he’d kill me if I left. He had threatened to, after all. And even when there came a time when I thought it would be better to risk death than to stay, I was afraid of what he might do to other people. And frankly, I was tired…I didn’t have the energy left to fight it anymore.

Maybe that’s the answer right there. Abusive relationships wear you down – by the time you know how bad they are, it’s either too dangerous to leave or you just don’t care what happens to you. Maybe that’s how Trisha Sadler felt – maybe, by the time she realized how much danger she was in, it was too late to get away. And even if she had left, it wouldn’t have ensured her safety. Intimate partner violence accounts for 30% of the murders of women in America, and women who leave their batterers are at 75% greater risk of severe injury or death than those who stay.

I wonder, too, about Trisha’s co-workers and family. Her friends at work knew what was happening – did they encourage her to leave? Did one of them call the police to report that Trisha was being battered? Did anyone try to intervene? Trisha said that if she didn’t turn up for work, they would probably find her dead – did they think she was being melodramatic, or did they believe her and try to help?

There are no easy answers to these questions or to the problem of domestic violence. In the end, it is the abuser who chooses what happens, regardless of what the victim decides. Where is the justice in that? Why does someone have to die before people intervene? Where is the boundary between live and let live and loving thy neighbor as thyself? Inertia affects us all – victims of violence and those who watch it happen but stand by and do nothing. May God give us the courage to act in his name, for peace, and for justice.


McGill, Andrew; Tyler Richardson. 2011. The Morning Call. Retrieved June 21, 2011, from

Statistics courtesy of: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the Domestic Violence Resource Center

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


My knees hurt. So does my upper back, my knuckles, and my right hip. The pain ranges from a dull background-type of ache to raging, burning agony, depending on the weather and the amount of sleep I've had, whether I've been eating too many refined carbs or have been drinking enough water. When I talk to my doctor about the pain, she shrugs and says, "arthritis." I'm sure she's right, but ouch...what a depressing thought. In my vocabulary, arthritis equals OLD.

My birthday is rapidly approaching, and when it comes, the singular comfort of being able to say that I'm still in my thirties is flying out the window. I will turn forty this year, and the approach of that milestone has me thinking about a lot of things, not the least of which is how far behind I seem to be. I often find myself humming that Pink Floyd song, Time, specifically the lines "and then one day you find ten years have got behind you; no one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun." That's how I feel - as though somehow, the race started when I wasn't paying attention, and now all the other runners are out of sight and I'm limping along with a stitch in my side, favoring my arthritic knees, and wondering how in the world I'm going to catch up. I have spent the last decade thinking this way, lamenting the fact that life has largely passed during the time of my deep disengagement, and that I've missed so many important things.

Until now, anyway. Because now, for the first time ever, I feel as if my feet are on the right path. I am open to what God is calling me to do, and there is nothing standing in my way. I am surrounded by people who encourage and uplift me. I expect that there will be many hurdles and pitfalls, but the path itself is the right one. Maybe all the waiting, wondering what I'm supposed to do with my life, trying this and that and never quite fitting in was all a part of the road that has led me to this time of my life. Maybe I was always supposed to take a different path.

In January of this year, in the entry Falling, I said that my journey had taken a turn into the deepest, wildest part of the wood. I imagined myself standing in the dim, grey forest, waiting as the sky lowered and snow began to fall. Now I feel as if the winter of my heart is beginning to pass, and the promise of spring is finally evident. I am ready for warmth, for life, for growth. I am ready.

Friday, June 3, 2011

I Choose Joy

Just what is the language of my past, anyway? Since I wrote my last entry - "Written in Stone" - I've been thinking about those words. When I wrote them, I was referring to the misery stemming from the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse I've suffered. But today, with an important milestone behind me and a clearer sense of direction for the path ahead, I'm thinking that misery isn't the only language of my history. Looking back, I can see suffering, but I can also see survival, healing, and victory. And if it is true, as Madeleine L'Engle wisely said, that human life is like a sonnet - with its form and meter and length pre-set, but with the freedom to write whatever we wish within those parameters - then I can also choose how my future will be written.

The freedom to make choices is one of God's greatest gifts to humanity. Because we are free to choose, any service we offer God out of our love for him has deeper value than it would if it were compulsory. We are at perfect liberty to pursue our own desires and wants first, after all. But the willingness to give of ourselves brings us full circle from selfishness and into the Christlike nature that cheerfully gives everything that we are in service to others, and so to God. It is in choosing to use my hurts to fuel my desire to help others who have suffered what I suffered that I take ownership of my life and bring light out of darkness.

I am free to choose how I live and what I believe. I am free to write my future in any language -  regret or rejoicing; sorrow or song; hate or healing; judgment or joy.

I choose joy.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Written in Stone

We write our futures in the language of our pasts. Tonight I feel overwhelmed by memories that I can’t shake. I know that they are of my own making, but right now I have a thousand-pound weight on my shoulders and there is no one to share this burden with. The choices that brought me to this crossroads at this time in my life seem to me to have been the only ones I could make, but my heart whispers might-have-beens inside my head and I am tired – tired – tired…

Why is it that memories rise so viciously at the times when I am most vulnerable? Like ravening wolves, they search me for signs of weakness so that they can attack. And I am weak, I admit it. I am tired, I am heartsick, I am alone. In just five short days, it will have been twenty-six years since I was gang-raped. The anniversary is looming and my PTSD is responding with nightmares, flashbacks, and heightened anxiety. In the meantime, I am approaching the culmination of two years of reflection and prayer as I sit before the District Committee on Ordained Ministry to talk about the possibility of candidacy. This is a natural next step on the path and I am trying to feel good about it, but all I can think of is how, two years ago, I was getting ready to take this step and the pastor I trusted used his offers of spiritual support and guidance along with offers of counseling to worm his way into my life and nearly destroy my faith – not to mention the awful abuses he perpetrated on my emotions, my mind, and my body. So this time, which should be joyful with anticipation of exploring God’s calling in my life, has become something to dread for the triggers and memories it brings. One stone is easy to carry. Two stones might feel heavy but they won’t stop your progress. But I feel like I’m carrying a sack-full of stones tonight, and the weight is crushing me.

I wish the interview had come a month later, when I was past my anniversary and feeling stronger. I wish that I had never met the man who used my faith to hurt me so badly. I wish I had chosen differently, or that I had known at the first of that relationship what I know now. I wish that I wasn’t alone tonight. I wish that my past was written in easier words, ones that didn’t represent so much pain. But wishes are meaningless, and the past is written in stone.