worth

Age of Consent

vosges mist

I’ve been thinking a lot about consent lately. What it is. What it isn’t. And how this fits into my world view. I’m not just talking about consent in sexual relationships, though consent is a HUGE part of sexual relationships. From the one night stand to the committed monogamous relationship. Without consent, enthusiastic consent, sexual partnerings are not equal. Ever. Consent goes deeper than sex. It should be a part of the very fabric of our lives. Which is why I’ve been thinking about it so much these days.

I’m a Christian. I’m learning that I’m a very strange breed of Christian. I believe in love. And acceptance. And inclusion. I don’t believe I have all the answers. The Bible is not to be taken literally in all cases. God gave us free will and expects us to actually use it. I believe in ethics before theology. I think sin is overused as a focus for faith. And seriously, why should we be focusing on sin and hell when God is all about life? I’m not sure I even believe in hell. And I’m not 100% sure that Jesus died for my sin. Or of how the concept of the trinity really fits into the foundations of Christianity, which is first century Judaism. I disagree with the religious right. And I wish the United States would get back to separation of church and state because this entire policing morality shit is really messing us up.

I question things. A lot. And I’m okay with not having a definitive answer. I am not okay with doing harm. I don’t consider myself messed up, backslidden, or apostate. I consider myself a person trying to do the best she can in this world.

What has this got to do with consent? In one of my daily excavations of the internet I link clicked myself to a blog post by a wonderful woman who for reasons of her own has deconverted. Her post centers around consent and the fact that Western Christianity has a consent problem.

This makes me sad. Not because this woman experienced a lack of consent through her fundamentalist upbringing. That makes me angry, actually. That faith was used to beat submission into her. That it’s used to tear away a person’s right to belong to themselves. That is abusive and wrong on oh so many levels. And I know it happens in almost every denomination from the fundamentalist conservative right to the liberal left.

While her experience make me furious, what made me sad was that she’s so very right. And this is part of what’s so very wrong within Western Christianity.

Think about it. Do Christians ask permission before they evangelize or proselytize? Do we teach our women to submit to their husbands because for some strange reason men just know better than us women? Or are less emotional?  Do we teach that emotions aren’t to be trusted? That we belong to God and therefore aren’t entitled to live our own lives? That we should be holding each other accountable whether or not we have been invited into each other’s lives? That boundaries don’t belong in a community of believers because we are one big happy family?  That saying no to a request from a sister or brother in Christ is just…wrong?

Do we expect everyone around us to live life according to our rules? To never question authority? That women don’t really have dominion over our own bodies? That men are to be held to a different set of standards because there are apparently different rules? That there is no room for other religions, philosophies, points of view because whichever brand of Christianity we belong to is obviously the right one? Is there room in heaven for those who do not comply with our particular brand of faith?

In general, no. And this makes me sad. For us. For everyone else. Because aren’t we supposed to be different? Safe? Non-judging? Inclusive? Compassionate? Loving? When people start telling us we aren’t, there’s a problem. A huge problem. And some of it comes down to what we teach , or don’t teach, about consent.

I can’t speak for all Christians. I can only speak for myself. Consent wasn’t in any of the lesson plans in the curriculum of my faith. I was presented with a lot of mixed messages about a lot of things, which lead me to believe that no one denomination has it right. That no person has all the answers. That maybe there are many ways to interpret the bible. And many ways to live life.

In every church I have attended consent has rarely been a topic of sermons or conversation. Respect, sure. Honoring the autonomy of others, sometimes. But consent? Never. Submission, oh yes. Submission to parents, to authority figures, to husbands, to God – this has been preached and taught in spades. But consent? Not so much. Without consent, well, I’m not really an individual, am I? Without consent one doesn’t have to worry about things like rights. Or questioning authority. Or questioning at all.

I want to be different. I want to be a Christian who cares about consent, respect, and honoring the autonomy of others. I want to help build a community that is all about love and inclusion. I want to honor the individual for all that is unique and wondrous about her. I want to be a safe person and live in an environment that is safe for every person, every gender, every race, every faith system. I want to enter into your hopes and joys and fears. But only if you give me the consent to do so. It’s not my right to tell anyone how to live, how to love, or how to believe. It is not my right to judge.

I want to apologize to every person who has been hurt because someone didn’t honor your right to be yourself. Because someone took away your consent. Or imposed their world view upon you. I’m so sorry. What can I do to be different? To be safer for you? I can’t change the rest of Western Christianity, but I can change myself.

Photograph by David Penny

 

 

 

Advertisements

You’re Never Going to Break My Soul

Days like today I’m glad I’m not a parent. My maternal lioness is pacing and roaring, wanting to slash at something. Someone. It’s a little disturbing just how much my inner lioness wants off her leash.

One of my dearest friends is feeling deep emotional pain. The kind of pain that is born from cutting betrayal. I want to curl myself around her and protect her from her husband’s cold rage and his gaslighting. I want to walk up to him and punch him in the balls, pack his bags, and kick his ass on his way to the curb. My lioness claws as me, begging me to let her out. She will protect to the death. She will deliver swift justice. Then she will lay down at my friend’s feet and purr, letting her know that things will be okay.

There are words for what she is going through. The words are dark and are spoken in hushed tones, if spoken of at all. Abuse. My friend is being abused by her husband. Why? From what I am aware, because he doesn’t like himself and he doesn’t like his life. He’s likely jealous of the relationship my friend has with her daughters. He’s tired of being asked to step up and be a good father, a good husband. He earns a very good living and is very good at his job. Brilliant, in fact. He’s been courted by companies who are willing to pay him extremely well to do what he does.

When he comes home, it’s like he regresses to a teenager. He plops down on the couch and wants to play with his iPad or play video games. Or sleep. He doesn’t help with the house. He doesn’t clean. He doesn’t take care of the house or the yard. He ignores his children at best and gaslights them at worst. My friend carries the heavy load of maintaining the house, raising and loving her children. If she doesn’t do it, things don’t get done. Does he help? Only when it is asked or demanded of him, and even then begrudgingly. I’ve seen this in action. If he is asked to step out of his comfort, he lashes out and punishes. It’s insidious. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you just think something is off. I know what to look for. I worked with abuse victims for a few years. I was one.

There is a death occurring. My friend has lost her hopes in what her marriage could be. She’s lost who she thought her husband was and the potential of their partnership. She’s lost feeling safe in her own home. These deaths cut like knives into wounds that haven’t been allowed to heal. The emotional and psychological hits keep coming.

Abuse is never okay. NEVER. It doesn’t matter if a person has a deep well of self-loathing or if a person feels trapped in a life they didn’t sign up for. No matter how angry, how desparate, how hurt a person is, it’s never okay to lash out at others. It’s really not okay to play games, fuck with another person’s perception of reality. Crazy making is a special hell. A former boyfriend was a master at this. He lied with such sincerity everyone around him thought he was broken and vulnerable. When someone came too close to seeing his true self, he started in with comments designed to make a person doubt themselves. Doubt the truth. With emotional emotional manipulation meant to shut the person down.

I questioned my sanity for almost two years. I started to believe that I had a problem. I took responsibility for the sexual abuse he dished out and for the emotional manipulation. For making him so angry he wrestled me to the ground and used brute force to subdue me and degrade me. Most of the time he didn’t even need to touch me. A well placed comment sent me to my metaphorical knees begging him to love me, trying to convince him I was sorry for whatever imagined slight I had undertaken. I was putty in his hands.

It took therapy with a highly qualified therapist and a year in prayer demanding God show me what was real before I felt any sort of balance. By the time I met my husband, I had a firm grasp on what had occurred. And yet it wasn’t until I was working with victims of abuse that I was able to apply that word to my own experience. I had been abused. I didn’t deserve any of what he had dished out. I wasn’t broken or crazy. It took me longer to realize that the church generally has very naive views about abuse. Many men and women are encouraged to stay in an abusive marriage. The abuser is believed over the victim because most abusers are cunning and master manipulators. Wives are banged over the head with the call to submit. Where is the call to love? Abuse is not love. It never was. It never will be. So women, and men, stay, believing if they just love their spouse more purely, if they can fix themselves (lose themselves) to become better christians, better spouses, better at anticipating behavior and adapting their own, the abuse will stop. Spouting bible verses and higher standards to this type of situation does not work. It reinforces the abuse. It leaves a person not only abused by their partner but by the very faith community that should be holding people accountable and a safe haven for the vulnerable.

Love does not fix abuse. You cannot love the abusive behavior out of someone. Therapy, the willingness to see the self clearly, learning new skills such as anger management, and remorse can help an abusive person. It may not be enough to restore a relationship, however. You know what? That’s okay. There is no guarantee that any relationship that has been systematically destroyed can be restored. God doesn’t promise this.

Knowing what I know about spousal/partner abuse, knowing my friend, I have a hard time leashing my inner lioness. I need to. She doesn’t need me to slay her dragon. She needs my love and compassion and unwavering support. She needs me to speak the truth, but to also speak love and hope. When she is unable to see a future where she is free to be herself in all her beautiful glory, I can hold that future for her. And I demand that God take note and hold her husband to account. Abuse, no matter whether it is intentional, premeditated, or not, is never okay. NEVER. I believe God will step in and provide restitution for those who suffer at the hand of someone else. God is so much bigger, so much kinder, so much more than we can imagine. I’m not naive enough to believe that everyone in an abusive situation will be able to leave it. Or have the resources to heal on the most foundational of levels. But God sees all the suffering.

I pray that for my friend, God will recompense her for more than what her husband has taken away. That God will hold her husband to account for his beliefs and actions. And that she will be free. She is strong enough. She is resilient and resourceful. She is not afraid of the truth. Not afraid of entering into the often difficult work of healing and skill building. She is, quite honestly, amazing.

If you know someone who is being abused, please do more than pray. Educate yourself. Speak with compassion. Find resources so when your loved one/friend is ready s/he can take the steps to move forward. Love them. Always love them. Don’t judge the decisions they make out of self-preservation. Cry with them. Laugh with them. Walk beside them. Enter in. Hold a better future for them. Be patient. Be kind. Be honest and compassionate. Speaking as one who was abused and had no one who believed me while I was in it, believe them. Stand witness to their stories. Be willing to walk alongside them for as long as they need you to. Be a safe place. If you need to do your own work in order to be that safe place, do so. The world is a messy place. Relationships can be messy. Don’t be afraid to love someone in all their messy glory.

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. 

 

No Expectations

Several things coalesced to form an insight bomb that exploded within me. My unmet yet unvoiced expectations have been causing me pain.

I spent the last day listening to, thanking and then dismissing the internal voice that wanted to heap on the guilt and shame and self-recriminations. What do I tell the pre-marital couples I work with? That unvoiced expectations become unmet expectations and drive wedges in relationships. How much easier it is to explain these concepts to other people than to live them out in my own life. I’m very good at teaching these concepts to others. I’m not as adept at internalizing them myself. The good news is, eventually I do internalize them. Eventually I get there. This was one of those times.

What led me to this epiphany? It started with finding out on Saturday that my MIL is coming to town and will be staying with use for a few days next week. Any time she comes to town I start to feel a certain level of dread, but I was able to put most of this aside after an insightful email exchange with Claire and a night spent in prayer and, okay, generally bitching at God.

But something was still gnawing at me. I couldn’t put my finger on what.

The weekend came and went. I have a pre-marital couple who are considering coaching so I brushed off my materials and did a quick review of expectations. Nothing new, but I haven’t coached in several months and I wanted to make sure the materials were able to be adapted for a couple who had been living together for a couple of years and were expecting their first child. That gnawing started to get louder, became more of a chewing. Still, I couldn’t identify the source.

Yesterday I read this post by a good friend and fellow blogger and boy did I relate. I was nodding my head as I read and started to see a picture of me looking down on my husband when he told me he talked to his mom and she was coming for a few days next week. I turned to myself and it was as though the conversation was put on pause and the version of me who was interacting with my husband was able to turn and look at the me who was observing. I asked conversation me, ‘Do you know why you’re so upset inside right now?’

She paused for a moment, obviously mulling things over. ‘I’m upset because he doesn’t see what I see, but I can understand that. He’s lived with her, she’s behaving in patterns that are familiar to him. I’m on the outside of that. I see things differently. I have a different relationship with her than he does.

“What’s really eating at me though is this one simple thing. He didn’t even bother to ask. Again. He didn’t bother to see if it was okay with me. Again. I don’t seem to count in the decision-making process.”

Does he know you expect to be a part of this process, rather than just be informed after the face, I asked myself.

“He should. I’ve told him this often enough over the years. How it bothers me. How we’re a team and when it comes to making a commitment or decision that impacts the other person, I want us to be involved each other in the decision-making.”

But does he KNOW this? To which I had to answer, I don’t know. Outside of having a heated discussion after the fact, I don’t know if he knows this is an expectation. Or if he even shares this as an expectation. In fact, I strongly suspect he doesn’t share this expectation at all after he told me that others make decisions that impact him without his input all the time, it’s just the way life is. And that if the situation were reversed and we lived closer to my family, I would likely be making commitments and decisions like he does with his family and tell him after the fact.

Okay, that last statement aside because I can only deal with so much insight at a time (and isn’t that last one just loaded?), I realized part of my problem in the drama with my MIL is that my husband and his mother decide when she’s coming and how long she’s staying and I am treated like I have no say. Rather, I feel like I have no say. I feel like an after thought. Maybe I am. I expect to be consulted and to be given the choice. I haven’t voiced it this way to my husband, but it’s what I expect. What I want. And when it doesn’t happen, I feel like I don’t count. I don’t matter. Does he feel that way about me? I don’t think so. Is his intent to hurt me? I don’t think that, either.

He’s operating with a different set of values and expectations. Is my expectation unreasonable? No, but…

What were to happen if I let that go? What if I just let it go and didn’t bring it up ever again? If I were to accept that right now, this expectation doesn’t align with my husband’s expectations? Can I be happy even if I’m not consulted? Does it make me walked on or less valued? Does my worth change if this one thing doesn’t happen?

When I talked it over with the Holy Spirit I ended up apologizing to my husband for holding this against him. I let him know I had an expectation and when it wasn’t met I was hurt and angry. I told him that this expectation had to do with a picture I have of what it means to partner and to ‘leave and cleave’ from our families of origin. That this picture was more about my needs than his. I asked him if he understood my expectation and he told me he didn’t. I wasn’t trying to hurt me, he just didn’t understand why he needed to ask me. He certainly didn’t expect me to ask him if it was okay for my family to visit. Just to inform him of when and how long.

At this point, I told him I was letting it go. We have different values here and I had to be responsible for my expectations, my feelings, myself talk and even my happiness. That wasn’t on him. Do I still want that picture to be reality? Sure. But it’s not. And right now I think I need to accept that. I can be happy and not be asked if my MIL can come stay. I can be happy while she visits. I can choose something different. I don’t need to control the situation. I don’t need to agree with my husband on whether a spouse should be consulted before inviting someone to stay. I can learn to see his perspective.

It’s not perfect. He’s still miffed at me for being upset with him. I’m still adjusting to the concept that I don’t need to have a say, I just want to have a say. Marriage can be messy, but at the end of the day, I’m responsible for my beliefs, my behaviors, my actions, and my happiness. This expectation, it needs examining and maybe I need to trade it in for something else.

Only Me, On My Knees…

How many roads did I travel
Before I walked down one that led me to You?
How many dreams did unravel
Before I believed in a hope that was true?
How long? How far?
What was meant to fulfill only emptied me still
And all You ever wanted…

There are turning points in our lives, points in time where there is a quickening spirit and doors are opened if only for a season. Do we walk through those doors? Do we rise to the tasks set before us and grasp ahold of that quickening with both hands and let it fling us forward? Or do we shake our heads and find ourselves focusing too much on the muck and the mire, or the comfort that surrounds us? Focus on the past or seek the future?

When these opportunities have come my way, I’ve been slow to take them. I haven’t seen them for what they were. Or was too engulfed in pain and fear and shame to see the love and desire in God’s eyes. I couldn’t see the kindness motivating the opportunities. I could only see my lack. Or my hubris. So I chose the known over the unknown and my own abilities over God’s and sometimes I missed out. Sometimes God was gracious and showered me with His gifts despite my hesitation, showing me His great kindness even when I couldn’t see it for what it was. Those acts of kindness helped me to trust that God was different.

Isn’t that just like, God, though? He chips away at our reservations and shines the truth on our fears until we start to see God for who He is, not who others say He should be?

How many deaths did I die
Before I was awakened to new life again?
How many half-truths did I bear witness to
‘Til the proof was disproved in the end?
How long? How far?
What was meant to illuminate shadowed me still
And all You ever wanted…

And what does God as in return? To spend time with Him. To engage in relationship with Him. To get to know who He really is. And to accept the gifts He wants to lavish on us.

A year ago, five years ago, I would have said I was there in that place where God and I were encountering each other. But after this last year? I realize what I’ve had and experienced is merely a taste of who God wants to be for me. I’ve made God too small and I’ve believed His love for me wasn’t deep and abiding. I haven’t truly believed that my worth is not based on works or contribution or accomplishment. My faith walk has been burdened with works and lies and living in shadows.

For me to experience more requires some work on my part. Not work so God will find me worthy. More ridding the garden of the weeds that want to grow up and choke out the fruit God has started to grow in my life. In this season of my life I’m weeding and pruning and healing the soil. Only this time, I’m not doing it alone. The Holy Spirit is right there with me, digging in the dirt with a trowel and sometimes with His bare hands. He’s pointing out which plants are the tender shoots that will bear fruit with a little care, and which plants, no matter how pretty, will choke out that young life if left to grow. He’s ruthless but tempers that with a sense of humor. And compassion.

Some of the roots are deep and require strong hands to yank them loose from the soil. These hurt initially. There’s a visceral rending within my soul and a moment of shocked silence as together we yank the weeds free. This is where the compassion comes in. While it may take time for the wound left by the evicted weeds, God is currently quick to reveal what can grow in its place. This isn’t to say He heals everything quickly. I’m still smarting from some fairly invasive species of cursed weeds we identified and removed a few weeks ago. But I can see how the lack of this wicked flora has opened up space for blessing. And renewal.

I think this is part of the process of sanctification. I used to know all these huge concepts around sanctification. Theologies by great men who studied the Bible and proposed doctrines on what it all means. I am in no way dissing these minds, nor I am putting myself up there with them. I’m not a great thinker. Not in that way. What I am is a woman on a journey to know God and to know who I am in Christ. To really know. Deep down in my bones, branded in my mind and heart knowing.

If sanctification is the process of being made holy, of embracing that image of God that has been part of our DNA since Adam and Eve, then isn’t partnering with God to remove the weeds, the roadblocks, the generational curses, the agreements we have wittingly or unwittingly made that pull us away from a relationship with the Trinity part of that process? And isn’t the journey of sanctification being able to see God for who God truly is and wanting to sit at His feet and commune with Him, worship Him, rest in Him?

There are turning points and seasons in which we are offered the path of God’s quickening spirit. If we choose to trust the hand God is holding out and walk into that choice, things will move quickly. Those weeds, God will be very quick to point them out. Never with shame. Never to make us feel guilty. Always to say ‘Do you see that there? If we plucked that out, if we ripped it away and mended the soil, this fruit, this gift will have room to grow. What do you say? Should we do that? Should we get our hands dirty and play in the soil? When this season is over, think of the glorious garden there will be.’

I’m so glad God is patient. I’m glad He has offered me the gift of this season in so many different ways, always prodding just a little deeper until I was able to say yes. And I’m glad He redeems the time. For this, for that patience and those gifts and that steadfast love, I’m truly grateful. What has God wanted? Me. Only me.

Only me on my knees
Singing holy, holy
And somehow
All that matters now is
You are holy, holy

(Nichole Nordeman. Holy. Sparrow, 2002. CD.)