The Sexual Harassment Wounds We Hide

A few years ago I was at a Christmas party, sitting with a few girls on a couch. When one of the girls got up to get some more punch and a tight spot was left empty beside me, a well dressed acquaintance filled it. He put his arm behind my shoulders, and his hand rested on my right shoulder as he leaned in and commented on my sweater. I froze completely.

I got up and left the room, only for him to find me 10 minutes later and back me up against a closet door and invade personal space I didn’t know I had. I was trying to be polite, so polite, was my face okay? was my sweater okay? how close was I to the kitchen? Oh, nod, yes, mhmm. Lock eyes with someone. “Rescue me.” I fled again, this time into the kitchen with the excuse I needed to help out the hostess.

By this time I’d told someone to keep him away from me. The third time (that same night), he came up so close to me that I backed up in panic. A friend’s arm shot out in instinctive protection to hold my back because in my panic to back away, I almost went backwards down a flight of 12 stairs onto a tile floor. The gut wrenching red-flag alarms God gave us to keep us safe from danger were all going off on high alert. I still think to this day of something I should have said. But I didn’t. 

The Silence that Holds Us

I’ve been keeping up with the recent Weinstein Scandal and tonight I had the most revealing conversation with a good friend, which then turned into a 1 hour conversation with my Mom, and conversations with three different women (in the next half hour) who had been sexually harassed. The more we talked, the less I felt comfortable letting it go as if I’d never been talking about it. Simultaneously, I felt extreme protection over these women and a fierce desire to keep their anonymity.

I have 10 such stories as I’ve written above, different in their own ways, some unwanted touch, some harassment, some emotional and verbal abuse, and some clear violation of my wishes in conversations as well in personal space. The more I talk about it, the more I remember memories that have been filed away in my brain as “traumatic” because they were trauma at the time. It’s so odd, because they were “small things”, but still stick in my mind as a time when I felt scared or threatened or vulnerable or violated.

Just one conversation tonight had me in tears. A young friend was touched when she was nine while playing hide & go seek. NINE. Another friend has multiple memories that still affect her of guys coming up behind her and grabbing her shoulders. Last year a guy grabbed my wrist and I almost slapped him out of sheer fight instinct because my first thought is “What if he doesn’t let go?” Another interaction this year left me feeling so vulnerable and threatened and shattered that I was hysterically sobbing unable to speak for 30 minutes. I cried the rest of the day.

And so the silence holds us. It hears our sobs and whispers to us that this is a safe place.

But it isn’t. 

The Silence Cannot Rescue Us or Heal Us

Once upon a time, a man in our church told me that my “flight” instinct from any painful or scary situation kept me from fixing problems or relationships. I cried because YES. I always want to run. But even if you’re in a crowd of friends, you can still be looked over, looked down on and talked about like you’re a painting they made themselves.

The silence will tell you that everyone will tell you you’re being “too sensitive”, that “he would never hurt you”, that “that’s just how he is” and “what did you say to him?”. Some will. But if you have good friends, some will leap to your protection, some will tell him to back off, some will counsel you and hug you, and some will not leave your side. Silence may hold you but it cannot rescue you and it cannot heal you. It cannot save you.

It’s easy to say “Tell someone!” when my own life/job/social standing isn’t on the line. When I’m not being stalked by an obsessive, relentless and dirty mouthed stalker. I’ve just been the friend collecting evidence for a lawsuit that won’t happen until there is physical abuse. I’ve just been the friend gripping hands tightly with a friend as tears stood in her eyes as she shared.

About ten years, I got a message from one of my best friends telling me that she’d been raped. I went running and just remember having to stop by this tree because I was going to pass out because I was sobbing so hard. I almost threw up I was so shattered for her. The pain and injustice she underwent is beyond what I can imagine and I hate it.

I’ve never been raped or molested.

I’ve only grieved. I’ve grieved that so many men in our world look at a woman and instead of seeing a beautiful, precious, tender being that God created, they see a soul to extort, distort, hunt and destroy that gentle joy and innocence. It breaks my heart, and I know it breaks yours. We all have been the women holding our friends, or the women speaking with a catch in our throats as we share something too horrible for words.

And so you’re probably wondering why I’m writing this at all. It all boils down to this:

You Matter in our World and to the God Who Made You

I’m talking about this, about you, because it’s important that you know there are safe spaces to talk about this, that what you felt and suffered is important, and that YOU. ARE. IMPORTANT. You matter! You matter so deeply.

I don’t care if you were wearing a bikini. I don’t care if you had more than one cocktail.
I don’t care about the million excuses our society tells you that you deserved it.

you. didn’t.

Your experience or attack doesn’t make you someone you are not. What a man or woman sinned against you is not your sin. Your memories will tell you it’s your fault. It isn’t. 

And in a world that doesn’t talk about it enough….what happened to you was not right. It was wrong and it is heartbreaking and I long for the day when you are healed from it.

In the meantime, remind to your heart that you matter deeply, and the reasons that you matter will never ever be altered or affected by whether a man laid his hands on you and hurt you. You matter because YOU are a beloved child of God, YOU are made like Him.

The God Who SEES You

The whole world would be in an uproar if a member of royalty was sexually assaulted, and what you have yet to understand fully is that you ARE royalty to the God Who made you. We are invisible royalty with our promised awaiting crowns and thrones seated next to our Father King. Mankind with blinded eyes cannot see this, but we know it.

In your trauma and in your pain and in your silence and in your agony, you are SEEN.

When you stood there with your dress torn and tears on your face and you had to stand at the hospital while they scraped underneath your fingernails and took pictures for evidence and then gave you no justice after you reported it to the police, God saw you.

When you were little hiding in the closet because you were scared and didn’t want to mess up by telling on someone when someone bigger hurt you, God saw you.

When you were sitting in the group of well-meaning-but-poorly-spoken Christian women at your church and someone dropped the comment: “If you dress like that, expect to be raped.” and “this is why modesty is important, to keep our men pure” or “if men lust after you, you need to repent because it’s your fault”, God saw you and your tears.

When you waited for rescue and none came and you bore the words, God saw you.

When you struggled to get away or woke up the next morning bloody, God saw you.

And He is the God of Justice. And He will not stay silent. 

The God Who created you will not stand for injustice against the most beautiful and precious and beloved thing He ever created. Such deep sin would never go unpunished, would never go unseen, would never be inconsequential to such a loving Father as He.

We can trust that when He promises to judge the wicked, that He WILL.

We can trust the God of the Bible, the Jesus Who crossed ALL the racial and societal boundaries while walking our earth to SEE women for who they were, and LOVE them. To the whore, to the shunned women, to the adulteress, He spoke to them where they were and called them to Himself. He threw off their shame. He crowned them with love.

Believe that He is that for you. He is the Rescuer. He is the Judge. He is the Redeemer.

Look for the men spoken of in this quote by Desiring God: “Men with gospel-filled souls won’t see women as things to manipulate or control but as treasures to honor and guard.” 

I know men who wouldn’t dare disrespect a women by touching her. I suspect I know men who would, and who see women as dirty things to use. And God sees them all. 

You are worth protecting

I told my friend tonight that I had no idea how to tie up this article, and 1800 words later, it’s still true. I just wanted to give some respectful space to sharing about this hard thing we keep in our wounded bodies and in silence. I wish silence wouldn’t hold us in so well.

I wanted you to know that you can find safe people to talk about it, and I wanted to tell you that I don’t care if you’re in the strictest church ever, immediately call the police. If your family believes that you are made in the image of God, they’ll want you to be safe and secure. Tell someone you trust and if they do nothing, find someone new.

You are worth protecting. You are worth everything. 

Tell that man or woman to back off. Voice your concerns. Listen to your warning bells.
If something feels wrong: say something. It’s hard but I’ve done it many times.

Let’s be each other’s safety. Let’s be each other’s bravery. Let’s look at each other with the eyes that God gave us and see each other as the beautiful, made-in-God’s-image people we are. Let’s speak out in peaceful voices and tender hearts and let’s be gentle to one another. Let’s pull one another in to be safe places for the wounded to heal.

And please everyone read this article on sexual harassment: “That Time I Danced Too Close” by Rachael Watson. It’s honestly one of the best things I’ve ever read on the topic, and was so moved I wrote this article! I couldn’t even come close to her words. So good.

As I close, I just want to say how proud I am and how much I pray for my friends who have undergone numerous sexual harassments and rape. You are in my heart. The ways you show grace and forgiveness and the way you bravely live in joy and friendship makes me look for ways I can exemplify you and can also be Jesus to a broken world.

I love you. 

Relationships that look like Jesus

I remember visiting a church in my elementary years, and after the pastor read John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down his life for his friends.”, he said “It sounds extreme, doesn’t it?”. I looked around rather confusedly at the people surrounding me and then down at my Bible, and felt so out of place because it actually sounded perfectly sane to me.
It’s how I’d always loved: all in, no hold back, for forever.

I’d step in front of a bus for anyone I know. I’d feel bad for all the hospital bills my family would inevitably pay (and uh, the sadness), but that was what love did. Love….LOVED.

Love was all of 1 Corinthians 13, and also stepping in front of a bus for your people.

Now before you call my parents…..read the rest of the article. I’m quite safe, really. 

Relationships deeply matter

When I was in my late teens/early twenties, I babysat a lot for one of my best friends who was terribly sick during her pregnancies. I’d come over (invited & occasionally uninvited) and clean her kitchen and fold her laundry and play with her sweet babies.

She would pay me for babysitting, but the hidden reward was far greater …. there would be hours upon hours of conversation. I remember vividly tearful days sitting curled up on her couch (probably eating ice cream or chocolate pie) and pouring out my heart with all the “my world is ending” words I probably had.

She would listen and speak truth to me. She didn’t always say the things I wanted to hear, and sometimes we interrupted the conversation to have a toddler dance party, but she always always always made me feel wanted. We haven’t deeply talked in ages (so much work! so much school! so little sleep!), but when I hugged her on Sunday, I told her I missed her, and she said she’d missed me too.

In that one hug …. I could remember the years of friendship, kindness and care.
In that one hug …. I felt so loved and seen, remembered and valued.

She shaped my early adult years of a true, deep, lasting friendship.

And so today I wanted to write to you about relationships that heal.

Not the ones that break and then heal….we will save that for another time.
But relationships that heal unrelated pain….that in one swift moment, heal the hurt.

 The unexpected gifts of relationships

I only have to take a quick scroll through my Instagram or photos to make me smile at the dear faces that fill them. I will be the first to tell you I’ve been blessed with some of the best friends on the face of the earth. It’s no wonder I have a desire to love wide and long and go deep in relationships when I’ve received so so so much love myself.

When I was younger I wondered how people could say “She/He would drop anything/do anything for me.”, and then when life came crashing to pieces, I figured out very quickly how my people would do exactly that.

They pulled my family in to lasting friendships. Family dinners. Endless meals when we lost our grandparents. Late night Emergency Doctor/Nursing calls. Dog-sitting. Traveling to attend my sister’s wedding from out of state/out of the country. Hosting strangers in their homes. Prayers upon prayers whenever we asked or needed it. Gifts and cards arriving unexpectedly at our doorstep. Simple invitations to go out together, anywhere, just to be with us. Showing up with flowers and hugs and their kids to make us laugh.

I’ve had friendships show up out of nowhere in some of the saddest times of my life and wondered why on earth they wanted to be friends with little ole dramatic me….but they pulled me right in and loved me deeply and continue to be some of the dearest to me.

C.H. Spurgeon hits the nail on the head when he said this: “Friendship is one of the sweetest joys in life. Many might have failed beneath the bitterness of their trial had they not found a friend.” I’ve survived many sad days because of the joyful and incredible ministering of close friends. My life is infinitely better because they are in my life. Being together means real, deep conversations, and knowing they won’t give up on me.

They’ve sat with us in grief, and they’ve made us cry with laughter.

They know us. They love us. It’s been one of the biggest gifts in my life. It has driven me to see how our communities of friends reach past all the circumstances to be Jesus to us. 

Loving Well and Denying Fear

Just last week I received news that made me want to throw up and set me spinning into a very bad week. The very same day, I got the sweetest message from a friend who so kindly told me how the way I loved deeply inspired her to do the same.

She called me brave. 

I sat right down on the kitchen floor and cried. Being brave doesn’t make you feel brave.

I decided a long time ago I would do anything for my people to let them know they were loved. I definitely do not hold up to that to the highest mark that I could, but I try. Most days, I don’t feel brave (not even after a cup of coffee). Sometimes I don’t feel love.

But I refuse to let these short few days on this earth be anything less than being what Jesus calls us to be, and that isn’t the tepid, broken, shallow, fearful relationships the world calls love. It looks much more like sacrifice, more like courage, more like Jesus.

Real relationships say a hundred “I forgive you’s” and “I love you’s”. Real relationships pick up after months apart and remember to pray in the middle of the night for that one prayer request; they rejoice from afar and grieve losses from even farther. They do all this because we’re called to it. They do all this because we’ve been changed by it.

Real relationships heal hurt, love well, and deny fear, because we’re looking at Jesus. 

Real relationships survive on sacrificial love

Here’s the biggest secret the world doesn’t get about real love in relationships: it gives back more than you could ever know at the moment. Real love in relationships IS NOT temporary, only sticking around when it gets what it wants and then leaving. Real relationships don’t thrive on shallow love or rollercoaster feelings, they survive on sacrificial love.

We aren’t called to a worldly love; we are called to a deep, sacrificial love. We are called to more than the world can see in one lifetime, because love matters for Eternity.

We are called to choose meaning, choose honesty, pursue to strengthen our brothers and sisters God has placed in our lives, and yes, sometimes, it means leaving your heart on the threshing room floor and trusting that God sees how hard you tried.

Sacrificial love doesn’t mind driving 6 hours for a hug, because it meant the world to be there. Sacrificial love can turn a dark day into a day wreathed in smiles and peace. Sacrificial love often flows from the Holy Spirit speaking to your heart to move in a way that you’re scared to do. Sacrificial love doesn’t turn up empty, it always gives.

Sacrificial love doesn’t always look like grand gestures. It often looks like living life together. Simple voicemails. Encouraging messages. Rejoicing. Excursions simply wanting to “be with you” has moved my heart more than my friends could ever know.

Some days it’s having church friends over for dinner and ice cream. Some days it’s sitting with your friends in their sadness and not seeking to fix it. Some days it’s a really long hug. You know your people – learn their likes and loves, and take the time to show it!

By our love, the world sees Jesus. So: Reach out. Be there. Show up. Hug. Cry. Laugh. Cheer. Love hard. Value others. Reach across unnecessary lines and labels. Be Jesus. 

Jesus, the Friend Who Never Leaves

You will never know how much it means to you that Jesus will never leave until someone you love leaves you.

There is no One like Him, and never will be. The Faithful Friend Who left everything easy to bear your pain so there would be a peaceful morning and a shimmering Forever.

The Brother Who adopted you into an inheritance you didn’t deserve or expect, Who joyfully pulls you in, Who calls you “Brother/Sister” “Beloved”, Who longs for you to sit next to Him at the table, at the grand Wedding Feast. Who has promised never to fail you.

Every single page of the Bible speaks of the lengths that He will go to to tell His people how deeply He loves them, and how He will never ever let them go. The ultimate Friend who dropped everything to rescue you from the night. The King turned Servant.

It has been one of my deepest consolations this year that when “good” relationships fail and fall apart because of our broken world; Jesus is immune to that. Jesus is not human: Jesus will never break His promise to us, Jesus will always stay, will always love.

Jesus bore all the pain of those relationships in His agonizing hours upon the cross, and when He said “It is Finished”, He proclaimed victory over that agonizing, crushing pain of love lost. Victory over torn-apart families, severed marriages, and broken hearts.

The empty tomb shouts of a victory that we cannot see fully yet, but are promised. 

The pain will end, and we will joyfully rejoice and celebrate with all Who have been redeemed by the same love that covers us all. We will live fully healed in a world that will have no sin left to break hearts and relationships. We shall sing of the ways He has redeemed the pain and hurt.

We shall shine with the radiance of the One Who loves us so unbelievably well. We will rejoice in the relationship that healed all our sin, brokenness and agony in one Day.

Jesus, the Friend Who Never Leaves. Jesus, the One Who binds us together in love.

I choose deep relationships and sacrificial love because it’s how I know how to be Jesus. 

And it’s worth it.

{amazing image by Shannon Ashley Photography}

Never More Loved

This morning I get several sweet texts & messages from friends either wishing me a Happy Valentine’s Day or saying they were praying for me, hoping I knew I was loved.

Oh yeah. Valentine’s. I forgot for 10 hours since “Galentine’s” last night.
It’s “Singles Awareness Day” (hahaha, that always cracks me up).

I’m single for Valentine’s 2017

but I plan on liking or loving or hearting every happy, beautiful Valentine’s post, every flower bouquet picture, every sappy, glittery, pink & red post, every “my one true love”, every “the one my soul loves”, every “my Valentine every day” picture there is in my feed.

I plan on doing on so (and have all day long) not because it doesn’t make me twinge a wee bit in sadness or wistfulness but because I remember the day that God set His extreme love on me … and it’s never gone away. 

Friends – you’re not unloved today. You’re never more loved than today.

You’re never more loved because His love is steady and unshakeable. It is continuous, everlasting.

Never more loved by anyone on this entire earth than by Jesus.

Even those who have their “one true love” could never surpass or know a greater love than God’s.

You.are.not.missing.out.on.the.world’s.greatest.love.story.by.being.single.

If you know Jesus, you already are being known & loved by the most perfect love.

Think back to one of the moments you felt most loved….for some of you, it might have been that first “I love you”, or when your spouse took care of you while you were ill, or the day you said “I do”.

For others, it’s the time a friend reached out and spoke love to you, or a trip planned just to be with you…a surprise party to celebrate you!…or a phone call to say you are loved.

There’s millions of times, right? We have been loved well in our lifetimes. We’ve also been hurt by love. But there is One who perfects love, because He IS LOVE, and He is worth knowing every single day.

“And we have known and believed the love that God has for us.
God IS love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” {1 John 4:16}

Consider the mystery with me for a little bit….throw singleness & marriage out the window….

The Creator of space and time, of moons, stars, sun, endless galaxies, earth, dark and light, Ruler of war and peace, Giver of Life, birth, babies, King over all He has created, Savior of nations….looks at you every.single.day. and says “My Beloved.”

You will never BE more loved in your lifetime than you are RIGHT NOW by God.

I think every day is Valentine’s Day when we rejoice and rest in being loved like that.

“Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made,
were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade;
to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry;
nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.”
– Frederick M. Lehman (1917)