healing

When A Question Broke My Heart

“I’ve already had sex. That means God can’t love me. Right?”

My heart died a little the day the eighth grader asked me that question. It was in an abstinence support group I was leading in one of the local public high schools. No religion allowed. Just the facts, ma’am.

This brave, broken girl was only 14 years old, on that rocky divide between woman and child. And she was already sexually active. She came from a “good” home: two parents, stay-at-home mom, father who brought in the big bucks after working long hours. They lived on an island of privilege in a sea of borderline poverty. They attended a large church. She spent as much time at church functions as she did at school extracurriculars. I share this because I’m shocked by how many christians believe if they the parents do everything right, their children will remain virgins until marriage. Or at least until they are engaged. Because, oh my God, sex! It’s evil, it’s wrong. Avert your eyes, my children, until you say I do, and then through some sort of magic, sex becomes the right thing to do. It’s your duty, don’t you know.

Our group met once a week in the high school, a school she attended because her parents wanted her to be in the world while learning to be not of it. As a facilitator I had gotten to know each girl’s story, teased out what they knew about sex – biology and psychology. Who were their mentors and teachers of all things sexuality. While the majority of girls learned about the birds and the bees from their health class – with a little additional exposition from a parent or older sibling and continued “education” from peers – this girl had learned only about abstinence within the hallowed halls of church purity culture. Don’t do it. Save yourself for marriage. You are your virginity and once that’s gone, well, you will always be a broken doll. Why? Because Jesus and Pastor So-And-So said so.

She was shamed into remaining pure. And that shame, plus lack of knowledge, kept her at her older boyfriend’s beck and call.

She had been pulled from the units in health class that focused on reproduction and sex education. The wisdom of youth leaders and her parents would be enough to keep her pure until she married. She was kept so busy she shouldn’t have time to think about boys. Or dating. Or, God forbid, sex.

But she joined my group. A voluntary group where the focus was on abstinence and how to make good choices, but my focus was on relationships and education. Perhaps some of my experience, some of my hard won wisdom could help even one of these girls. I wasn’t going to preach purity to them. Instead, I helped them understand they had options. And how to weigh the consequences of those options. Some of this was totally outside of where my girls were developmentally, so I tried so hard to have open dialogue and to be a safe person to come to with questions. I was not there to judge. I was not there to parent. My job was to educate.

Since all the girls in my group were sexually active in one way or another, I asked them the question “How does having sex make you feel? Is it like how you thought it would make you feel?” One by one all the girls admitted feelings of shame, confusion, anger. So we talked about that. One girl loudly blamed the boys she had sex with. It was always about them, never her. Maybe she needed a real man. So we talked about what was normal developmentally at various ages. About statutory rape. About consent. We spoke of birth control. Of saying no and what coercion can look like. About the fact that guys get to say no as well. We talked about abstinence and how that may be appropriate developmentally. And how that at any time one could choose to be abstinent, just as one could choose to be sexually active. We spoke about abuse, self-esteem, and how hard it is to be the only one who feels like she isn’t doing it when the rest of the world is. How once we have sex, we will forever carry around something from that person with us. We discussed consequences.

Then one week we talked about how sex made them feel, deep, deep down inside. Ashamed. Scared. Loved but afraid that love will go away if we say no. Powerful, but only for a little while.  Uncertain. Special. Dirty. Confused.

And that was when she raised her hand and whispered her fear that God could no longer love her.

My heart was breaking and I wanted to cry as I asked her why she thought that God couldn’t love her. Not wouldn’t or shouldn’t. Couldn’t. Like if there was one single act a human could perform that would cause God to turn away from us forever, that act would be sex outside of marriage.

She told us all in those quiet words that she was told by her youth pastor that a girl who has sex before marriage is forever damaged. That God prizes our purity above all. She painfully recounted how her parents would speak of the child of another family in church with condemnation. Why? Because this child had gotten pregnant at the age of sixteen. How horrible it was. How the troubles this family was now seeing were due to the sin of the child. And that the sin of the child was likely due to the sin of a parent. The rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the sinful tree. How another family was reeling from the news that their college aged daughter had been raped. Well, you know how those liberal state schools are – a breeding ground for sin and temptation. They should have sent her to a faith-based school. She was probably asking for it, anyway, with her skimpy shirts and short skirts.

I wanted to take those parents in hand and smack them. I wanted to share some words with that youth pastor. But even more, I wanted to take that girl and wrap my arms around her and tell her God loves her. God believes in her. And that we are not defined solely by our past or present. I shared my story. Molested as a young child by male babysitters. My own acting out and promiscuity. A boyfriend in college who was a predator and decided that broken me was just who he was looking for. Years of shame, anger, pain. Of carrying the guilt that wasn’t mine and acting out in unhealthy ways – not because sex is an unhealthy activity, but because of my motives.  And above all, of learning that God loves me.

He loved me when I was being abused. He loved me when I was the one doing the abusing. He loved me through it all. And that right there – that is humbling, my friends. It didn’t matter what was done to me or what I chose to do, God loved me through it. That didn’t negate the natural consequences of my choices, or the fact that I had to deal with the consequences of the choices and actions of other people. Consequences don’t just go away because God loves us. But that love, that perfect love, that can help us work through and heal from those consequences.

God’s love isn’t something that is relegated only for the pure. And who can judge purity anyway? God’s love is for all of us. God’s forgiveness is for all of us. For all have sinned. All have missed the mark. All have wandered from the law. All. Of. Us. And guess what. God loves us anyway.

This is what I was able to tell this girl. I didn’t tell her she needed to repent – so many in the church have the concept of repentance wrong anyway. I didn’t tell her God would forgive her. I told her what she needed to know. God does love her. God will always love her. That won’t make the physical, emotional and psychological consequences of having sex go away. But it removes the shame. And once the shame is gone, we can have open conversations about those consequences and whether we are willing to continue paying them or whether we want something different. She had been continuing having sex because she felt she was already so broken there were no other choices. It wasn’t the boys she was having sex with telling her this. It was her church. It was her parents. It was a culture that prizes virginity and purity more than it prizes people.

I don’t know where she is now. It’s been fifteen years. I hope she’s found a life she wants to live. I pray she knows God loves her with a fierce and holy love.

Please, dear Christians, think about this girl who was so broken because someone told her that her virginity was valued above all else, that sexual purity was the standard God was holding her to and to step outside of that was to invite the wrath of God. Think about her the next time someone comes to you with questions. Or comes to you broken. What are you going to live out for them? Are you going to condemn? Heap coals upon their already fragile heads? Or are you going to love them as Jesus loved? It’s not our place to judge. It’s not our job to save. It’s ours to love. We got that so mixed up somewhere along the way.

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It’s Enough To Drive You Crazy If You Let It

I woke up this morning to the sound of my dog panting in my ear, urging me to get up and start my day. Which I did. If he’s not bothering the husband and resorting to me, that means he must go outside. NOW!

I sluggishly got out of bed, threw on a robe, and escorted the wee beastie to the door, where he promptly went outside and did his business. I let him back in and returned to the bedroom, ready to fall back into bed -and hopefully more blissful slumber – when I glanced at the clock. Holy Crap, it was 9:00am. I was so late for work! Why didn’t my husband wake me before he left for his job? Why didn’t my alarm go off? Where the gods conspiring against me?

I rushed to the shower, leaving a trail of pyjamas as I went, turned the water on full heat and let the inferno burn the cobwebs from my brain. Just as I was shampooing my hair it hit me.

I am no longer employed. All this rushing around was due to a habit honed through years of holding down a job. And as of last Friday, I no longer had a job. 

This is not a bad thing. I was not fired or downsized. I tendered my resignation because I was burned out and my health was now at risk. I needed to step away from the stress and the deadlines and the stress of other people in order to let my body reset. I am not Wonder Woman, and yet for the last year, I had been ignoring the signs and pushing myself to meet expectations and deadlines at work. And it finally caught up with me. 

So I’m on a self-funded sabbatical, if you will. For the next three to six months instead of focusing on my ‘career’ and working outside the home, I will be venturing forth on a journey of healing. Whole person healing. 

What does that mean? My husband asked that question. He understands that I need time and patience and perhaps medical therapies to wrangle my health issues under some semblance of control. And I’m laughing at the word control because believing I had everything under control is part of what got me into this situation in the first place. So not control, then. My body and I need to come to an understanding and in order to accomplish this I need the time and space to allow for healing to take place. I will have good days. I will have bad days. I will continue to push my body’s boundaries and my body will continue to push back. We’ve become strangers, my body and I, and this time is necessary for us to get to know each other anew. 

That’s only part of what I envision. I also want to spend time connecting with God in a deeper, more relational way. I want to work on some toxic thinking through the use of methodologies such as DBT and the 21 Day Brain Detox. I want to clean and declutter my living space so both my husband and myself can enjoy our home in a new way. I want to eat a healthier diet and find ways to move my body that I enjoy. I want to spend time in nature. I want to reconnect with my creative side and write start writing fiction again – only this time without fear and self-judgement. 

That’s a lot to ask of 3-6 months. I look at it this way – this time where I am not employed will give me the space and time to start and to gain momentum in these areas. Momentum I hope to carry with me when/if the time comes where I need to step back into the corporate world. This time will also give me space to explore possibilities. I’ve been closed off and blind to possibilities for so long, it’s strange to think that I have permission to explore them. 

This entire venture is strange to me, which is likely why at 9:00 am this morning, day three of my sabbatical, I had a freak out and starting furiously rushing around. It hasn’t completely settled within me that the expectations and pursuit of career are on hold for a time and my focus can be on, well, me. 

 

Am I Standing Still?

As I write this, we are 36 days into a new year. I used to love New Year’s Day. There was this bright promise of a fresh start. The sort of fresh start that came with the beginning of summer and the end of a school year with nothing but freedom ahead until September. And reprised again with a new school year, new teachers, new things to learn. New beginnings. Yet, when New Year’s spun around, it didn’t seem to spin with it any new beginnings. It seems to…stand still.

I look around me and I see the same things I see every day. Home renovations that drag on and on. Assignments at work that I feel woefully unequipped to fulfill. Snow. Bitter cold. A Father who seems rather silent.

Winter is a time for the land to lay fallow, dormant. The land is allowed to replenish nutrients and, in some cases, heal. Sometimes healing takes more than a season. Sometimes it can take years. Land that has been deeply saturated with toxins takes decades to rejuvenate and become fertile once again. Much activity takes place beneath the surface and what looks still is full of unseen activity.

I feel like that land. Tired and battered and barely gasping with life, now lying dormant. That new beginning? It feels so far off in the future that it might as well not exist right now. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe I need to stand still in order to grow.

I didn’t realize just how scared I was until last year. I’ve been through therapy. I’ve been a therapist. I’ve worked as a life coach and have worked with a life coach. All of this is to say, I’m no stranger to doing the work. I am responsible for my happiness; that task doesn’t fall to anyone else. So, when a mirror was held up to me I had to take a long, hard look. Sure, work had been done and I had grown and become a stronger person. Stronger for what?

This last year has taught me, or rather reinforced for me, the truth that God will give us what we need to become a little stronger, a little more who He knows we are. He wants to provide for us, to be for us what we need in this moment. And when this moment is finished, He wants to be what we need next. To think that we’re finished, that the overcoming and growing and healing is finished is perhaps arrogant. Phew, I dealt with my borderline grandmother. That was hard work. But, hey, I’m finished now. I’m complete. Right.

I’m a trained therapist, you would think I would know better. Life is a process. A journey. We have victories along the way and God does indeed provide what we need in this moment. And a little more because He knows what’s ahead. There’s another beginning somewhere ahead of me. There’s another story to write, another passion to pursue, another layer to my purpose. But right now, it’s time to lay fallow. To renew. To grow. And perhaps to learn anew who God is for me. To spend time in a word that is near and dear to my heart and rely upon the Holy Spirit to write it upon my heart. And give it meaning in a new way.

In a sense, isn’t that a new beginning? It’s not the lush growth of spring or the wildness of summer. It’s not the loamy richness of autumn. It’s the rest of winter. Resting is not standing still. It’s allowing for rejuvenation and healing. It’s finding that secret sacred space in the Holy Spirit where our wells are filled to overflowing within the empty and broken places inside us. It’s a quiet revolution that yields a quiet strength.