#metoo Raise Your Hand If You’re Sure

Ahh, social media, you’ve done it again… the Harvey Weinstein story has started a hashtag trend, and it’s good, great in fact. I am not surprised at all by the number of women posting #metoo and if you are then, wow, open your eyes.

I have not posted a status update that declared #metoo. And I want to be honest about why. The encounters with sexual harassment and assault haven’t been as traumatic as the post-encounters. And friends, that is a bold statement.

I have not posted #metoo because I wouldn’t be able to handle one more shred of “are you sure?”

Let me say, I keep my Facebook friends tight, I don’t think one of them would ever say to me, “Are you sure?” (however, they have in the past) but I will not have that discussion one more time. I won’t. (and yes, it is far more dangerous putting it here. I know.)

I detest when people say, “You are not a victim, you are a survivor.” (BTW- if that makes you feel powerful, great, really, I’m glad) I have been a victim, trust me, I survived it, but not without a very high cost. That cost is so high that I can’t type #metoo in a status update without feeling physically ill. Am I only a victim, no, absolutely not, but I cannot deny that part.

But every encounter of sexual harassment or assault I have experienced has also been gaslight. Gaslighting is not a term I particularly like because of it’s definition: manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. I don’t like the use of the word sanity, I don’t know why particularly, but there it is. The people who have questioned my stories are sometimes really good people trying to understand, and yet, in that moment, I cannot be your teacher. I don’t like the idea that I have bought into the idea that other people know better than I, but I have. Over and over and over again.

Very rarely it was the abuser themselves, since I do not usually feel safe enough to confront them, very often, it is the people around me who are well intentioned and well meaning.

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When I was in college I was sitting with my sister and two of our closest girlfriends, a few male friends were sitting near us. The steps of the School of Music at UofL are shaped like an amphitheater, we would spend hours at that building and take breaks from practicing or studying to sit in the sunshine on those steps.

One of the boy’s pass times would be to sit on the steps, watch for attractive women to walk by and they would yell “Go Cards!” at them if they liked what they saw. I’d watched them do it a hundred times, yet, the four of us sitting there felt powerful enough in our group to call one of them over and told them how offensive it was. I believe there was even a justification of “what? it’s a compliment?” As the discussion went on he exclaimed that sexual harassment or assault was very rare and it just gets “highlighted” often. I asked of the four of us sitting there how many of us fit into that category. All of us raised our hands.

I was about 21 years old at the time and was just beginning to find my voice on this subject.

Our dear, “innocent” male friend was appalled. He knew us, trusted us, we weren’t lying and he couldn’t make any “she was asking for it” kind of excuses.

A few years later I told my rape story to one of my closest friends in seminary. “Are you sure?” he asked. “I mean, sometimes my wife says she ‘doesn’t want to’ but does anyway, and that’s not rape.” Seriously dude? You just compared my rape to your committed, trusting relationship with your wife, whom you are married and have children with?

No. Not okay. You don’t get to ask me if “I’m sure” it was rape.

This kind of encounter with gaslighting was not unusual, to the point that I did question the word I used “rape”. Was it “rape”? Maybe it was “date rape”? Maybe it was “mixed signals”? I spent so much time and energy around what to call it that I went years too long not dealing with it.

In therapy I learned to call it what it was, I was raped. I was raped by a man I let into my house, who I did not trust, who I had previously dated, who did not stop when I said no.

Are you sure? Damn right I’m sure.

The effects of that night haunted me for years, and on a very, very rare occasion still do.

Because of other people’s gaslighting I took the fear of sex into my marriage. Was it okay to like it? (Conservative evangelicalism didn’t help with that one either). Was it okay to say no? And if I said yes, but only kind of wanted to, what did that mean?

Let me pause to say my ex-husband never hurt me, not once, he never pushed or forced and he was patient and kind. But there is no way the issues around sex didn’t effect our marriage and it was another thing I mourned during the divorce, that man, was still fucking me over.

I once tried to bring it up, very early in our marriage, with our couple’s therapist. I told her that I was afraid sometimes, that even though I know my husband is safe that I still get scared, I was afraid to want sex, that sometimes in the middle of it, I would get flashes of my rape and have panic attacks. (this is called PTSD friends) She told me, in front of my husband that I was being ridiculous, that I needed to get over it and freely have sex with my husband.

I relived my rape in dreams and flashbacks during sex for months. I would cry, silently in my pillow, either because we had sex, or because we hadn’t.

Eventually I got a therapist who specialized in childhood sexual trauma and rape, the story changed, I began to heal. I began to tell my story to other male clergy in safe groups to help them understand what the women in their pews lived with, they looked at statistics but people hadn’t really told them stories and guess what? “Are you sure?” was the first question out of their mouths. “I mean sometimes…” they would say.

I realize now that the “are you sure” is a need for absolution, “that time” when they made a woman uncomfortable and desperately need to justify it because they “would never do that”.

But this isn’t just about being raped. Sexual harassment is far more common and an almost daily occurrence. I have been blatantly harassed by men who are my superiors, unwanted advancements from my peers, I have been felt up by men who felt that my body was okay for their hands since the sixth grade. I’ve been cat-called and stared at, and even in what was the most polite ways, made uncomfortable by unwanted advancements.

“Excuse me ma’am,” he said from his pickup truck, “I don’t want to be rude but you are looking very nice today.” Man at gas station, last spring. Was that harassment, are you sure?

Just a few weeks ago I was gaslight by someone who said that because they “weren’t attracted to me” it’s not sexual harassment. Grow up.

In full discloser, I want to say, I have also sexually harassed, both explicitly and implicitly. There is no question that they are amongst the most shameful and deeply sorrowful moments of my life. I am so sorry, I really should have known better.

The #metoo hashtag is not surprising in the least and I’m sorry to see it, but it in no way is a new revelation. However, if you have even spent one second questioning these women then I need you to take a good, long, hard look in the mirror. Because yes, we’re sure.

Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

When I was doing my chaplain residency I was assigned to three units, the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, the Cardiac Care Unit (level below) and a Mother/Baby unit. My supervisor heard nothing but positive things from the CICU and the CCU (well, except for the complaints that I was a woman). “she’s great in a crisis”, they said, “she listens well and is very warm and people respond well to her.”

At one of our meetings my supervisor asked me about joy, about celebration. “How do you feel about joy?” “Fine, I guess, why?” He had spoken to the nurses on my mother/baby unit and although I was great in  crisis, I (apparently) didn’t know how to respond when something good happened. I was always waiting for things to go wrong.

“Well, that’s really sad.” I thought.

He assigned me a task to start teaching myself to celebrate, to start shifting my thinking to a little more “glass half full” (I cannot tell you how infuriating that was) and yet it stuck with me, and I couldn’t stop asking myself the question, “Do I know how to celebrate?”

Truth is, I worked on it, and I became better and better at celebrating the joys in people’s lives. Here we are 15 years later and as a pastor and friend I love celebrating with people, celebrating their accomplishments, who they are, or when good things happen. There was still a flaw, however, I can celebrate the joys of others lives but not my own.

I guess you could say I struggle with this: Joy is for other people. 

Good things don’t just happen to me, or at least they don’t seem to, or, probably most accurately, I don’t really notice them when they do, I have to work at it, I have to work at celebrating the joys of my life.

Please don’t read this as ingratitude, I am extremely grateful for my life, my gifts, my friends, but I have a hard time celebrating. Celebration involves not just gratitude, but a freedom. And you can’t feel free when you’re constantly afraid the thing or circumstance that brings you joy will be taken away.

So I guard myself, I downplay my excitement, I keep joy at bay. Why? Because in my head if something bad happens, it will be easier to deal with when it’s gone. And frankly, it so often has in life, that my heart works overtime to protect itself.

When I became pregnant with my daughter I was on the phone with one of my dearest friends who understood loss of pregnancy and even children, but also the joy of two surviving. I was downplaying my excitement of the (very early) pregnancy. “It’s not a big deal” I kept repeating.

“Shannon! This is a VERY big deal” Mary shouted at me. She knew how many years I had wanted this, how worried I was when the doctor said, “this may not happen for you.” But she also understood my concern. After months of fertility treatments and a snowball’s chance in hell of getting pregnant here I was, pregnant, and there was one last hurtle, carrying to term, which statistically I had a 50/50 chance of.

I was afraid of the loss that didn’t happen, that wouldn’t happen, but that could happen.

This is a pattern I repeat today. I’m scared. I’m scared to be free enough to celebrate, to let all my fears go and enjoy. But I’m trying, and more then trying, I’m challenging myself to do just that.

I’m getting married in 10 days. It’s going to be a beautiful day surrounded by my closest friends and my beautiful children in a stunning celebration of, not only marriage and family, but one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced, hope after hopelessness and love after loss.

I am not afraid that it will rain or that I will look fat in my photos (okay, maybe a little on that one) or that some thing will go wrong because I would marry Derrick anywhere at anytime in anything. I could not ask for a more loving, caring, and sensitive partner, who listens even when what I’m saying is hard.

I could not be happier about it or filled with more joy and excitement. But I am holding it at bay, afraid of what it looks like that a 37 year old woman is giddy about her second wedding. (or just that fact that it needs a qualifier like “second”) I’m flighting against the cliche’s of marriage, “You only get married once!” or “It’s the best day of your life.”

I’m scared for it to be a big deal and for no other reason then “something could go wrong”, I won’t go into details, but there’s a list. It wouldn’t “ruin” the day but there are many scenarios in my head that could put a downer on the day. (mostly toxic people who will make all of this about them) But it’s time for me to put that in a drawer where it belongs and focus on the good.

It’s time to turn Kool & the Gang full blast and Celebrate. It’s time to free myself to feel what I’ve been holding at bay, the bliss of being in love, so madly in love with someone that I am willing to risk any “could” that might ever come my way again for the rest of our lives.

I still struggle with celebrating “me” but thinking about celebrating Derrick and our love, our commitment, and our family, which we have worked so hard for… well that’s easy. I’ll bring my good times, and my laughter too, I’m going to celebrate and party with you. Because I do know that you, reader, are happy for us, and celebrating with us.

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Nothing But Love for Women of Color

I need to say a few things. I am a privileged white woman (white, educated, middle class) and I am tired, TIRED of my sisters of color getting treated like dogs. First, we are women together. We struggle with issues in this world as one sisterhood: rights to our bodies, struggles with underpayment for the same jobs and mansplaining, oh my God, the mansplaining.

But unlike my sisters of color, I am a protected class as a white woman.

Now, I am a white woman in an interracial marriage with children that span skin color, etc. But that doesn’t negate my privilege, it does alter it slightly at times. However, that is nothing, NOTHING to what my sisters of color go through on a regular basis.

Last week the president called Colin Kaepernick a “Son of a Bitch”. I’m done. Kaep’s mom is a white woman and her badass self tweeted to the world in response that she was one proud bitch.

(Side note: Jesus was once put in his place by a woman of color after he called her child a dog, and guess what he did, apologized!)

The term has been reclaimed, but used in this way is highly offensive (read this). Yes. Yes! the term really does revert women to animals, and in this country specifically black women as “bitches” really does refer to them as dogs. And yes, I do believe that’s exactly what he meant when he said it.

Which makes me dreadfully sad. It makes me painfully sad that specifically black women are still looked at by white men with a slave mentality, that they are dogs and therefore allowed to be treated as such. But this doesn’t stop at white men.

Last week a news story came out about two nurses who posed with an African American newborn baby. You want to feel sick, read this. “Little Satan” they snapchatted with a NEWBORN BABY! I wonder if they have a “Pro-Life” bumper sticker on their car…

These woman have taken a “do no harm” oath and were hired to care for and protect newborns and they do this. Yes, they got fired, but all the expletives! I hope those parents sue that hospital for everything.

When I read this article I admit my first response wasn’t anger, it was extreme sadness. I imagined the moment post-delivery when they wheeled my newborn out of the room. I was flooded with the thoughts of someone violating the fragile body as they “danced” the baby around.

Then the anger came, what if someone had done that to Thomas and Sophia at birth (although I wasn’t there) and never got caught? What if this were my son or daughter? Because this precious baby is someone’s child.

A mother carried her around in her womb for 9 months, struggled through labor and birth and was forced to trust a hospital staff with her care for a few short moments while they defiled the most precious thing in the world to them.

There are no words strong enough for the feelings that arise.

Sortly after I stopped crying there was another post that appeared on my timeline. It was an instagram post of Serena Williams of her daughter, and a written letter to her mother.

It is a beautiful letter of a mother wanting to protect her child but also naming some painful childhood trauma around body shaming. Body Shaming from one of the most celebrated athletes in the world.

“But mom, I’m not sure how you did not go off on every single reporter, person, announcer and quite frankly, hater, who was too ignorant to understand the power of a black woman.”

We ask women of color on a regular basis to take all the shit of this world on their shoulders and then tear them down even when they respond gracefully, let alone try to protect their children in the most basic, human ways.

And finally, there was this:

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A grandmother trying to protect her 13 year old grandson in a St. Louis mall while he had an asthma attack, was choked and arrested.

Women of Color deal, on a daily, hourly, and minute by minute basis discrimination on every level. I am outraged, I am disheartened, and I am deeply saddened.

So I’m here, we’re here, to support you, to encourage you, to lift you up and help in any way, but mostly, I’m here sisters to get out of your way because you are magic.

 

God is Watching

This sermon was preached at Ashland Presbyterian Church in Hunt Valley, Maryland on August 20, 2017. You may find the audio file on the church sermons page.

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Psalm 139:7-12

7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

There is nowhere we can go to escape God’s sight.

This is one of the most comforting and terrifying sentences of my life. God is always with me, God lives and dwells among us, God is now here. I hold to these statements in the deepest darkest moments of life.

Moments when I felt my life was in danger, moments I was in pain, moments I thought nothing could every get better. God is now here, I am never, you are never, we are never alone.

Jesus is sent to earth and is named Emmanuel, literally God with us. We are the Beloved’s and the Beloved’s is ours. And not only does scripture tell us that there is no where we can go to hide from God, there is also no earthly thing, nothing in all of creation to separate us from the love of God.

“38 For I am convinced” Paul says, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

You are fully know, unconditionally loved, and partnered with the one who adores you. Is there anything better news than that?

And then there are the other times… The times in which I wish I could escape God’s sight.

A colleague reminded me that while this Psalm’s references to “hand” (vss. 5, 10) can be comforting and serve as a guide, they can also weigh heavily. “Being so close to God is as burdensome as it is beautiful.”

The Psalmist admits, one cannot flee (vs. 7) from the one for whom darkness does not overwhelm (vs. 11). Why would we flee from something beautiful? For me the thought that God lurks and works even in dark places might be burdensome.[i

When there is no where I could go, in all of creation or even inside myself that I can hide from God it means I am fully known. It means each thought, each sin, each terrible flash of judgment is known to God

God doesn’t just see the thoughtful, put together, ordered life I present to the world, my perfect selfie taken from just the right angle with just the right amount of smile. God also sees the me I attempt to hide from the world. The messy, chaotic, even hateful self that exists.

Last week I watched as white supremacist marched through the streets with torches and were threatening to burn down a church where clergy were holding worship.

The clergy had concluded a non-violent activist training event and were praying. The mob surrounded them, reports and tweets that said, “we are not safe.” When the police tried to get them to their cars through the back door a few were taken and beaten, these young white men with torches were protesting the removal of a monument of Robert E. Lee, violent and hateful from the beginning

They were Nazi’s, they were KKK, they were white supremacist.

They no longer felt the need to wear hoods, as they felt that their government would protect them, because their government, the president’s top advisers was one of them.

This is the moment where I say, God sees you. God sees every hateful moment of your sin, God sees your heart and weeps, and is angered.

It is one of those moments where I wished I believed in a vengeful God. The one my southern Baptist pastors used to talk about. I wished I believed that God would forced them to answer for their crimes as a harsh Ruler, a judge and that when their day comes they would be sentenced to burn in the flames of hell.

And there it is. Right there.

That’s my sin.

Because there is nowhere I can hide from God, but sometimes, occasionally, I wish I could.

Truth is we all want peace but in the face of conflict we want to fight. We sat here last November and talked about our awkward Thanksgiving tables and all the people that said, “how much damage can a president do?”

Some of us here marched in the streets in January and proclaimed slogans of love not hate.

But friends, when I saw White supremacist marching in the streets without hoods, I had hate in my heart in a way that made me want to fight, to throw stones, to turn into some shadow of darkness vigilante and end this now. My sin is, I wanted them to hurt. And this time it was easy, who doesn’t want to fight literal nazi’s and bring them down?

The truth is, I want to spew messages of hate right back at them. I want to use violence on them just as they used on an innocent crowd, I want them and their way of life gone.

But God is watching.

Thank goodness, God is watching.

Praise Jesus there is nowhere I can hide from God.

The path God has laid out for us is a difficult one. The path God has laid out for us is one of painfully slow, incremental changes, because the path God has laid out for us is peace. You got yourselves into this mess, and you have to do the work to get yourselves out.

God is watching.

Over the last week we have relived articles and conversations about the past. About the civil war that ended 152 years ago, conversations that compare modern day America to Nazi Germany and quoting great and inspiring civil rights activists from the 1960’s. And yes, let us learn from our history, but it’s time for us as a society to admit that we cannot hide our sins from God anymore. The sins of yesterday, are still the sins of today.

We can no longer talk about race issues as if they were something in the past. We can no longer look at white supremacy and over 200 registered groups of well armed, self-trained militia carrying assault rifles in the streets and call them fringe groups. They are here, we are a society that helped create them and God sees our sin, it’s about time we did too.

We are asking where God is in all this, and God is asking us where we are? We cannot pretend and say God is nowhere to be found in this, for God is now here. In and among us. Working through us to choose peace, to link arms and sing “This little light of mine.”

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God is in the hard work of leaving sin and hatred in our hearts and not fighting fire with fire. It’s not that being angry itself is wrong, we should be outraged, it’s what we do with it. God is using us, we who are fearfully and wonderfully made, to work all things for good.

Rene is not here this week, he is on a much needed vacation. When he is here Rene blesses us with his faith and leads us in the prayers of the people. He is heartfelt and sincere.

Rene starts the prayers proclaiming that God is good, all the time. And each time we discuss a tragedy he reminds us of what? God works all things for good.

What that looks like, I don’t always know. But I know it happens one person, one relationship at a time.

Diana Butler Bass, a church historian and speaker was in Charlottesville yesterday. Her daughter is a student at the University of Virginia and she gave this update on her FB wall:
When in Charlottesville, we went to the memorials for Heather Heyer. On the street where the car attacked the marchers, there exists an eerie holiness, a sacred sense born of sacrifice and suffering.

We walked mostly in silence. A pilgrimage to the pain of our own time.

At the top of the street, on the downtown mall, a preacher — one of those evangelistic sorts — was proclaiming the Gospel of Mark through a bullhorn, trying to convert passersby.

As we approached, he was nearing the book’s end, reading from chapter 14:

“She has done what she could to anoint My body in advance of My burial. And truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached in all the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

And so, the Spirit moves. An unintended grace. In memory of her.

There is nowhere we can go that is not in God’s sight. And thank goodness. With God watching I am given the strength to meet violence with peace, to whisper words of love, which speak louder than hate.

God is now here, working all things for good. May it be so…

 

[i] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2329

Acting Like We Care

As of this moment the Senate of the United States is debating the most atrocious healthcare bill I have every seen. It is heartless, and the people debating, exempt themselves from its consequences.

A few weeks ago I was talking with a woman from another church who was working church camp in partnership with my church. Somehow in the discussion I was telling her the birth story of my eldest child. I will spare you details but essentially it goes like this: I ignored what my body was telling me and trusted the experts in front of me. After all, what did I know? I told the nurses and doctors something wasn’t right, but they told me it was fine. It wasn’t, and although we all lived there was needless suffering.

When my children were babies they would get ear infections, like babies do. But with my kids there was no fever, no rubbing of ears, no “outward” signs. You know how I knew? They wouldn’t sleep. And my kids always slept, like were sleeping “through the night” (6 hours) at 6 weeks. When they didn’t sleep they were sick.

Our pediatrician, a woman in her 50’s, told me I knew my baby better than anyone, I knew how she would react and I shouldn’t wait for a fever, if I believed she was sick, bring her in. The other doctors in her practice (yes, all of the others were men) didn’t see it the way she did. And maybe this isn’t completely fair, but here was my experience, and it happened with both my children and multiple times.

One of my kids would have an ear infections, so I would call the pediatrician and didn’t care who I saw as long as it was that day. Because when my kid is sick, they are sick and need to be seen today. I learned my lesson from my daughter’s birth and followed the advice of the doctor. I was her advocate, I knew my children best.

The male doctors of the practice, every time. Every. Damn. Time. Would look at a “young” mother (I was 27 when my first was born) and give me a lecture about how they don’t have a fever. About how they aren’t rubbing their ears. I would have to sit through a lecture on how I was over reacting.

“Just look in their ears” I would say, every time they said something stupid. You want to lecture me? Fine, but do it AFTER you have examined my sick kid. Every time. Every. Damn. Time. They would look in my kid’s ear and say “whoa!”

I had all the curse words for those guys.

My kids take after me, a fever is not our first indication, but we know when we’re sick. Whenever I have a doctor who listens to me I am truly thankful. But as a pastor, these stories are not unusual, and they’re even worse when you’re not a person our culture considers “believable”.

Last year I had two different people in my life get misdiagnosed and mistreated because the doctors and nurses weren’t listening to them, thinking they were over reacting. They had Lyme’s disease. Yes, Lyme’s is very difficult to diagnose, but as soon as they started telling me symptoms I knew they needed to be checked for Lyme’s. You know what? Just test for it if you even wonder… for realz.

One of them kept asking for the test and 3 different doctor refused to give it because the symptoms didn’t follow the checklist. A month of excruciating headaches (caused from meningitis, but they said were “migraines”) and medical leave they finally convinced a doctor to check, suprise! Positive. The second person had symptoms of Belly Palsy and when in the ER had the Lyme’s test and it was positive, but no one followed up with her to tell her so three months went by undiagnosed.

In these cases they were a middle aged white man and older white woman, living in the suburbs with good insurance. Then today I prayed with a man who’s story sounded very familiar. In 2011 he started having symptoms and as soon as he started talking I knew where this was going. He is a middle aged Hispanic immigrant who has insurance, is an american citizen and has lived in the US over half his life, he also lives in the city, but to suburbs. Guess how long he was in and out of the hospital? Guess how many doctors he complained to and no one listened? Guess how long it took him to get diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease?

For the 40 something white male it was 4-6 weeks, for the 60 something white female is was 8-12 weeks, how long did it take the Hispanic immigrant to get his diagnosis?

Five years.

It took 5 years for his diagnosis. He lost his job and his house, all because of his illness that went diagnosed. After 5 years it was so bad a doctor finally caught it, but the effects are there and he will forever be altered by the consequences of the doctors and nurses not listening to him, not believing him when he was first hospitalized.

Again, I am not here to debate Lyme’s disease, I know it is difficult to catch sometimes and many people go undiagnosed, but these stories are so eerily similar. And today, of all days, all three of these people had insurance which is the reason they were diagnoced at all, but the irony is not lost on me today.

As the Senate debates this senseless bill, I have to say but one thing. Healthcare is broken, taking away options especially for the poor will make things worse, not better. Doctors need more time, more resources, and we all need better coverage, NOT LESS.

How much money, time, energy, and pain could have been saved with a little more care and attention. Let’s not just act like we care, let’s actually make a care act that cares, listens and treats people.

After all, they are our bodies, we have the right to be heard about what is happening with them.

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The Empathetic Jesus

A few weeks ago I preached on comfort. The sermon, which I forgot to record, is still being talked about with parishioners. I was curious, it was interesting, but when something like this happens with parishioners I ask myself, what resonated so deeply?

Not to sound too judgmental, but often times I wonder how much common sense is really preached from the pulpit. So often our theology is toxic, especially around grief. God does not “need one more angel in heaven” and we are not always comforted that our loved ones “are with their king.” Because we are selfish and we want them with us (Steel Magnolias in case you didn’t catch the reference.)

And don’t even get me started on “you’ll see them again in heaven” because honestly, that’s not even Christian Theology.

So I preached on the real pain of grief and what Jesus did to bring about real comfort. Here’s the story, it’s long, but worth it:

The Death of Lazarus
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin,said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Empathy in grief is not easy, and Jesus gives us a road map. Here’s what I see:

Establishes Trust – Jesus has a relationship with this family, so when Lazarus is sick Mary and Martha send for Jesus. The area in which they live is a dangerous place for Jesus, the religious leaders are after him and could be deadly for him, but he shows up no matter the consequences. Also, he waited a few days, I mean “to show God’s glory” but still, he shows up even though Mary and Martha might be mad, because you never regret showing up, even if they are mad…

Meets Them Where They Are – We know the personalities of these sisters from a previous story. In it, we know Mary is the emotional one who sits at Jesus’ feet and listens, and Martha is much more practical doing housework. In our story Martha meets Jesus, she has a piece of her mind she wants to give him. Notice the exchange, Jesus has a very heady theological conversation. “Your brother will rise again.” But when he meets Mary there is no talk of resurrection, but he met her emotion with silence and emotion. Jesus weeps. It is a beautiful moment, but no less beautiful then his exchange with Martha, because in both circumstances he opens himself to their feelings in the places they are.

Defuses Tense Situations – Both Mary and Martha blame Jesus for their brother’s death. I think this is a crucial part of this story for us, as we blame Jesus a lot in our grief for taking away that which we love. Notice that he responds by not responding. In their grief both Mary and Martha need someone to blame, and Jesus is the target, and instead of shouting back at them, “That’s a damn lie” he simple holds them in their grief and says nothing. It’s the grief talking, and empathetic Jesus ignores the hurtful words and loves them in the midst of it all. This story could have ended very differently if he took the accusations personally, but he didn’t, he knew that we lash out at those whom we love most because they’re safe.

Remains Present – Immediately after the part of the story I quoted Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, and yes, it is miraculous, but even though Jesus knows what will happen, he weeps with Mary and talks with Martha. He remains present in their grief because the pain of it is real, and always will be. He honors them and who they are by remaining with them in it, despite knowing it will get better. He is not too quick to make it all better, even though (unlike us) he can make it better immediately. Instead he remains present with them.

There’s a lot we have to learn from Jesus, but this, is so very important in so very many ways. Think about someone who is grieving. It could be from a loss of life, a relationship, a medical diagnoses, and take a page out of Jesus’s book.

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Jesus Wept by Daniel Bonnell

Living with Demon Days

Last night a friend who’s dealing with long term clinical depression came over to hang out. It’s a rare thing when someone who is deeply depressed can do that, I know it was hard for them and I am grateful for the time with my friend.

For those of you that don’t know my fiance Derrick lives with clinical depression, yesterday he wrote a blog about his depression called “Demon Days“. I invite you to read it. A few years ago I also wrote about demons in a blog post called I Am Not Jesus which may give you some other context about the demons reference. We call the voices that arise in our heads “demons” some people call them the saboteur. We all have them, but depression amplifies them a thousand fold.

My friend is single, and during the discussion there was some reflection on how it is that we, as a couple, navigate my fiance’s depression. More specifically there was a bit of worry, “will someone really love me if I have clinical depression, is that really possible?”

Because Derrick talks so openly about his depression others often find it helpful to talk to him, as I do other partners. I’ve been thinking for a while, about starting a Facebook support group around spouses of people with clinical depression. It’s important to talk about depression, but not just from the people who are experiencing it. There is another side, there are the people who live with the people, who love the people, experiencing it. And just like depression itself, there are healthy ways to navigate our relationship and unhealthy ways.

I have experienced depression, but mine is situational. Only a few times in my life have I been very depressed, it is not the same as clinical or chronic depression. However, those periods of my life have given me enough understanding to not only have sympathy but understand that this is not the same and I can never “completely” understand.

If you are a person who experiences clinical depression or partnered with someone make sure you educate yourself. Set aside the stigma, depression is part of the deal, it’s not going away. Medication helps, there’s nothing wrong with medication, but finding the right one is most important. Also, therapy! Derrick and I have individual therapists and a couples therapist. Remember what you’ve learned about co-dependency, you can’t fix this.

There’s nothing you can do to “make it all better” but there are certainly things that can make it worse or hurt the relationship. I will say too, that I have a partner who is active in managing his depression and it is a different conversation if your partner is not. Our relationship is built on trust that both of us will continue to manage our mental health and that means we sometimes have to say hard things to each other.  How do I do that? Here are some thoughts.

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Take Care of Yourself. I am a natural caregiver, I can go down into the pit of depression with him if I’m not careful. I often describe living with someone living with depression is like a dark grey cloud over my house. But the thing is, the cloud doesn’t just follow him around, if I have any compassion or empathy with my partner at all, when he’s depressed I am affected too. There are lots of articles out there about caregivers for people with physical illness, the rules apply here too.

I used to focus all of my care-giving on him, after all, he needed it more. Depression is a selfish beast, it wants it all and it will only take from you. If it does give, it gives in half-truths and hurtful projections. Depression demands isolation, that’s how it can control the person best. So as his partner I reach out to others who will listen and understand, whom we trust. I ask them to reach out to him. I cannot do this alone, I have to love him after all (says the demon). Friends want to help, they’re there to help, but sometimes they just don’t know they can until you let them know. I also reach out to friends for myself, and ask them to meet me for a drink, and get me out of my cloud.

You Have Needs Too. So, can someone really love someone with clinical depression and get their needs met? Absolutely. However, it takes a lot of self-confidence and a lot of confidence in the relationship. If you’ve entered your relationship knowing about your partner’s depression or it was undiagnosed (or they simply stopped hiding it) things will change when they have an episode.

I get a lot of my emotional needs met through Derrick. When I was new to the whole living with someone who lived with depression thing I put my needs on the shelf and thought I would wait it out. I thought this was the most helpful thing for both of us. Which is fine if it’s a bad day, is another thing if the episode goes on for a week/month or two or more.

This is where the trust in the relationship comes in. Be confident in yourself. By putting my needs completely aside for long periods of time resentment would build, because Derrick didn’t notice my needs weren’t being met or all the extra responsibility I had taken on and then I would break down too. (Guess what’s not helpful?) Depression sometimes looks like the person is being really selfish, when in reality it’s not selfishness, but there is a real inward focus. The demon demands constant attention and the rest of their energy is spent just trying to function.

So I trust that we have a good relationship, I trust that my needs are important, but I triage. I’ve learned to name my needs and ask for them when I really need him. Usually he can muster up enough energy to listen and love me, after all he wants to do that deep down, even if it’s hard. I also modify my needs. What is it that I really am missing?

The other day I was missing connecting with him, I wanted to talk about how sad he was and how I wanted to help, and how are you really doing? Yet, that wasn’t actually productive for either of us because he couldn’t tell me the thing he really wanted to say and I really wanted to hear: I feel all better. So I started to talk about something completely non-related, for us it might be football, a new Star Wars theory, something funny the kids did, his garden. We talked, smiled, even a laugh. Distraction is a wonderful thing. I got the one on one attention I needed, and he got to get out of his head for a minute.  Sometimes it’s just putting on a movie or binging a show we love and snuggling.

Timing is Everything. Do I really need to talk about the complicated intricate issue RIGHT NOW? (If you know me, you’ll know that yes, yes I do…) but do I?

If the depressive episode is lasting a long time or an issue can’t wait, simply mention it. We have a shared journal. Just a composition notebook, that slows down our collective processing. For the one not depressed some things can’t wait, or some things are hurtful. Write them down, tell them how you feel and what happened. They can write back after they’ve had time to process. It just makes things less urgent.

Not all things are written down, sometimes we do talk. The other day we were talking about an issue and it was triggering a demon. I stopped talking and asked if we could talk about it in therapy this week. I could settle my feeling of urgency to have resolution by knowing the time and place it would be resolved and he knew he could think about it at a time that he had the energy to.

Love Through the Pain. This is the most complicated one. Look for triggers. I often know Derrick is depressed before he can recognize it. I know because he’ll respond differently to a “normal” interaction or he’ll get quieter than usual, and sometimes it’s just a look in his eyes. I try not to project my sadness about it onto him (hello, therapist…). I also refuse to believe his demons when they get voiced. The demons create such a complicated web of self-loathing.

I refuse to give them power. I keep loving him as deeply as I would on his best day. I tell him twice as much how much he is loved, how grateful I am for him, and acknowledge even the slightest way he helped. I can do this because I am confident in his love for me and our relationship even if he can’t voice that in that moment. We have spent time talking about how Derrick really feels about me and how I really feel about him we’re both clear and I hold tightly to that truth.

When the demon rears its ugly head I can say to myself and to him, “I know that’s what you think right now but it’s not true.” When he’s not depressed he can unpack if I was helpful or not during the depression, each episode we can learn from each others needs how to love each other better.

This is neurological. If he could “be normal” (yes, I use in quotes, because depression just is part of their life) or “snap out of it” then he would (again, I’m assuming they’re taking care of themselves). They are not doing this on purpose and you certainly didn’t do anything wrong. There are certainly things that can make depression more manageable, like therapy, medication, and exercise. There are things they can do to make it less manageable like alcohol, drugs, and continued isolation. Most of the time something triggers it but it simply is a biological issue. If Derrick isn’t taking care of himself (like drinking too much) I say something. This is also love. At first I would recommend doing this in the context of therapy until you’ve established trust. Remember the demon will rile at the idea of being expelled so sometimes you have to learn to trust each other in a new way while they’re depressed.

And Be Thankful. Love and gratitude gets us through. Each day, depression or not, we talk about the things we are grateful for. I love Derrick. Derrick is both who he is depressed and who he is not depressed. I do not have to love the demons nor be grateful for them, but I do accept that they are part of him. Living in a posture of gratitude has changed my life for the better in every way.

I have demons too, but they look different. They’re a little more manageable and I know it takes time to tame them. I also know they appear at the most inconvenient times. Those who suffer from depression you are not alone. Those who love those who suffer from depression, you are not alone either. Soon I will set up a Facebook support group. Let me know if you want to be part of it.

Edit: the FB group has been started, DM me on FB if you would like to join.

Two Lovers, of Friends

“When you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected.” – The Avett Brothers

These are the words I clung to after my divorce. I believed them, I chose to believe I was loved, but it was not by my husband, and the rejection I felt was palpable. But I knew I was loved, and somewhere deep inside, I knew I was to be loved and cherished again, or like never before.

I wasn’t ready for Derrick. He wasn’t ready for me. We were broken and scared, we were damaged from our childhoods and our failed marriages. We were broken and holding each other together as friends. If you saw me two years ago you would see I was not ready, if you saw him you would know he was clearly not ready, but if you saw us together, you would have seen something else.

It was my friend Nick who said it, “You love each other, it’s obvious.” “I’m not ready,” I replied. “This is love, Shannon, real love, you don’t give that up.” And he was right. And damn was it hard to heal, but I had something, someone to heal for and it was worth it. As did he.

So we entered couples therapy and started the healing process together (yes, we were already in individual therapeutic relationships). We didn’t want to lose this love, and we fought for it together. We were worth fighting for.

Now, Derrick and I are getting married. He asked me on bended knee at the beach with beautiful words. He asked knowing I would say yes, but also knowing that that yes didn’t come easy. We worked for it. We learned to trust ourselves and each other.

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Derrick is kind and sensitive. When he says something, he means it, mostly because he’s thought it through more times than a stormtrooper misses a shot. To say he is thoughtful is an understatement, because he lives in his head. We are perfect compliments. He slows me down, and I help him function in chaos.

He loves his children and wants to do right by them, as do I. My children have become his children also and his, mine. We have become a family. Our wedding will be a moment to make that legal and publicly confess what already exists, this clan that we have created. It’s messy and complicated with ex-spouses and geography, and yet, so easy and natural when we’re all together as a family of six.

I love him so deeply, I have watched him fight for himself, I have watched him struggle to believe he is worthy of love and it has been my pleasure to love him the way all people should be loved. I have watched him choose to forgive sins that others call unforgivable. He embodies his beliefs and calls bullshit, when bullshit is due to be called, even when it hurts him to do so. He works for justice. I swoon.

He’s ridiculously silly. His laugh is infectious and the sound of absolute perfection.

He loves beer and bourbon and Star Wars. Each morning he brings me coffee in bed accompanied by a kiss. What more can I say? He’s perfect for me. Even when it’s hard he seeks to understand my crazy, but he also gets me. He’s my safe person, and embodies safety for me. Every time his giant arms encircle me I feel absolutely safe and loved. Something I have never felt before.

He loved me when I found myself unlovable. He loved me when he felt he had no love to give. We’re happy. We have a deep abiding love that cannot crumble under the chaos of life and the toxicity of this world.

I am eternally grateful.

Lest you think this love is one sided, you can read all about Derrick’s musings about me and our engagement in his blog post A Second Chance. Obviously, he’s also a little delusional…

I believe that love exists in all things. I believe there is life after death. I believe that God was with us in the midst of our grief, and is extremely joyous in our celebration. I believe we worked hard and will continue to work hard. I believe we will make it because we are better together.

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We will be married this fall among our closest friends in a private and intimate ceremony, among the people who loved us through the most painful and destructive parts of our lives. Who had the grace to embrace us as a couple.

The words from the Avett Brothers are still true, but the song in my heart has changed. Take a listen.

If it Weren’t for My Faith

If it weren’t for my faith this would be impossible.
If I did not have faith forgiveness would be impossible.
Absolutely impossible.

At times, sweet Jesus, you have tested me to the end.

I am so angry, I feel so betrayed, I feel so completely let down.
Why? I know I try to never ask, but Why?
Why since the beginning did you send people into my life who’s “love” looked a lot like a big pile of dogshit?

Why should I forgive when “they have nothing to ask forgiveness of me?”
Why does this keep happening?

I’m not some passive, innocent bystander.
I’ve attoned for my sins, openly, clearly.
I know how to take responsibility, and here it is, again.

I would quit. I really would. You’ve “tested” enough.
I’ve proved myself worthy, I have finished the race, and I want to yell, ENOUGH!!

But here we are. Fucking faith.
You push me to be better.

“Do you really believe this?”
“Do you really believe all things are possible?”
“Do you really think if forgiveness is extended you will be better, feel better, know better?”

Okay, that last one really isn’t a question…

“Do you want to be made whole?”
God asks me.
Yes, Lord. Please, please, please.

Then you have to forgive.
Again. And again. And again.

Damnit, faith. Just, fine! but also damnit.