When I Was 19

*Trigger Warning: Self injury, sexual abuse. Please take care of yourself when reading, make sure you are in a strong place/being supported.*

When I was  newly 19, I was not thinking about College or University. I was not picking courses or working a steady job. I was living on the couch of a family I knew, whom had dubbed me, for better or worse, their “couch-surfing teenager.”

I had been cutting myself regularly, almost daily, in fact. I had carved the word “ALONE” into my arm, and I was attending a recovery program called “Celebrate Recovery” at a local Alliance Church. I am pretty sure I was the only one there under 30….and the only one there because of Self Injury. On the outside, it looked like  that family were saints for taking me in. I looked like an emotional basket case, a psycho, a hopeless addict who was ruining their lives. And perhaps I was all those things, it certainly seemed so. There were fights, there were times where things got physical. There was an occasion when the bathroom door was flung open, and I went flying and crashed into the tub, and ended up huddled on the floor, hyperventilating in a ball. I was accused of “theatrics,” while I was struggling with reliving a similar situation from my childhood. Of course, I understood her reaction, as did everyone else. She was overwhelmed, and I clearly needed more help than she knew how to give.

What no one knew, was what was happening behind closed doors.

It started one day when I was trying to run out the door with a knife. I had been told they would not allow me to cut under their roof, so I had been sneaking out to a park bench to cut. I wanted to stop, desperately, but I could see no way out. I struggled almost daily just to breathe, I fought the voices in my head, tooth and nail, just to stay alive, to not just end everything. Cutting was the only way that I could think to make that happen, while also screaming physically to everyone around me, “I am hurting! I am drowning! Please help me! Please care! Show me I am worth saving!”

They did not understand this. They thought I was Crazy. Theatrical. Possessed.

The woman, “G,” was sleeping in her room. She was sick, if I remember correctly. The husband, “J,” was awake, and saw me trying to sneak out. He stopped me, demanded to know what was behind my back. He asked me to give him the blade. I said no.

He did not take no for an answer.

He lunged for me, hand around my back. The next thing I knew, his mouth was on my cheek.

Except, it was open. The kiss may have appeared innocent, but it felt wrong. Seductive. Dirty. The “kiss,” involved a tongue.

I froze. It worked, I suppose, in that he was able to take the knife away, as my body went limp. I was confused, my head was spinning. The only clear fact that remained, was that this man, whim I had seen as a protector, had now become just like all the other men.

The ones who had used friendship and trust as a means to and end. Like my arm said, I was alone. I let him hug me, and that was the end of that occasion.

********************************

It was early morning, and through the blur of half asleep fog, I saw J on his way into the kitchen, getting ready to leave for work. He stopped and stared at me. I pretended to still be asleep, hoping to avoid a conversation, as I was not in the mood.

He climbed on top of me, and laid there. Once again, I froze. The only language I understood in those days was, play dead. Maybe if I played dead, he would go away. I know better now, and I strive everyday to make sure others know that too.

As his hand slides around my back, in what he would later claim was a “hug,” I had the idea to act as if I was just waking up. I stirred and let out a mumble, and he jumped up as if he had caught fire. I said nothing to him, and he said nothing to me. What could I say?! I had nowhere to go.

Later that day, J started acting strange. When G finally asked him about his quiet, strange restlessness, he asked to speak to her privately. I was told to stay there and distract their two young children.

When G finally came back, she was angry ..but not at her husband.

She told me I had a spirit of seduction following me around that I needed to have cast out of me. She claimed this “spirit” was making me appear helpless to men, win their sympathy, and eventually get them to sleep with me.

Essentially, I was a whore, but it wasn’t my fault…it was the devil’s. I needed to find somewhere else to go, because her husband was just too vulnerable. I eventually got away from them, with the help of another  family. Yet, that ugly label has continued to haunt me, and I continue to be falsely accused.

Many people I know think this man is a hero. You see, this man is very actively pro life. It is wrapped up in almost every part of his life. It consumes him, like the whale consumed Captain Ahab. He sang about it, spoke about it, wrote a documentary about it…

When I started getting physical with my not-quite-boyfriend, his first reaction was, “She could have gotten pregnant!” And yet, he himself tried to sleep with me. At least the guy I was with had the decency to stop when he saw I was under duress, and could not consent. Not only that, he was actually my age, not old enough to be my father.

That was the only role I had ever seen this man in: a father figure, and his wife, a mom. I had felt like a big sister to their kids, but they were beginning to resent me. Perhaps they seemed the tension, heard their parents talking, and thought I was to blame. Whatever the case, his pro life ideals were “the big picture,” and they made it clear at one point that I was a distraction, and they had to get back to “the business of saving lives.” I was not currently in a crisis pregnancy, so I was not part of that plan.

Now, I come to today. I have seen this man argue on a mutual friends’ timeline that the women’s march was wrong and misguided. Because, the unborn.

Never mind the abused women. Never mind the injustice of rape, of assault, of people hating LGBTQ and Muslim’s, never mind the wage gap. No, the “only issue” worth talking about was abortion. I actually started to confront him, but he erased everything he wrote in reply. He scolded me, told me, “That’s Enough,” and “This conversation makes me sad.” Then, he erased every single comment he made.

So, this is where I shall take my stand. This is where I will say, I stand with those women. Yes, I am a mother, and yes, I love my children fiercely. I am a mother, but I am also a woman.

A recovering rape and molestation  victim

A Victor

A human being

He will not take those things away from me. He tried to tell me he understood, but he can’t, and never will. In some ways, I regret continuing to engage with him at all. In other ways, though, I don’t, because it led me to write this.

And in writing this, perhaps I can finally be free.

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Mothers Are “Someone,” Too

Dear Church,

The Mayor of our city was standing on your alter today, promoting the “I Am Someone” anti-bullying campaign in front of the congregation. Normally, I am the first in line to promote such ideas and campaigns. I love that you are participating in such an awesome organization, and are supporting it so enthusiastically.

Today, however, I couldn’t clap and nod along. Today, my heart was heavy, and I stood in worship with silent tears streaming down my cheeks and my jaw quivering, until I had to leave….because, in this place, where everyone is supposed to be part of a ‘family,’ I had just been made unwelcome.

Why is this? Because I have “big boobs.”

More specifically, because my daughter will not eat under a cover, and I feel lonely in the storage closet, formerly known as the nursing area.

I was pulled aside today, by one of your well intentioned female leaders, who had apparently recieved several complaints about me nursing openly, uncovered, in the church lobby.

“You have big boobs,” she said, “and they’re beautiful, but do you really want some seventy year old male usher staring at them? I don’t think you do, you have more self respect than that, don’t you?”

I was told that this “incident” had happened many times, and so many people complained, that it had “fallen to her” to finally discuss it with me. Apparently, dear congregants, one of you was about to angrily confront me in the lobby on Thanksgiving Sunday, but she stopped you by assuring you she would speak to me about it and get me to stop.

I wonder, have you ever *been* in the nursing mother’s room? I can describe it for you:

It is the size of a large walk in closet. It doubles as a storage room, with a changing table, long coffee table, a crib, several excer saucers tossed around on the floor, and a rocking chair stuffed in the corner. Things are often piled in the crib, or all shoved in front of the rocking chair. I have had to physically climb over the table and around the obstacle course of things to get to the chair. There is a flimsy curtain in front, blocking anyone from seeing in.

I was told I could “participate in the service” by listening to the sermon via the speaker system in the room. However, the speaker in that part of the room has been broken for months, (some claim it never worked at all,) and the part that does work, fades in and out, and sounds like muffled whispering. When there are toddlers shrieking and running around, or even over normal talking among the teachers, that can’t even be heard.

I felt embarrassed and ashamed today. I looked down at my shirt and frantically pulled it out of my daughter’s grasp, afraid that someone might spy a bit of my bra and be offended. I glanced around, searching for a frown of disapproval, an eye roll, anything to tip me off as to who I angered by nourishing my child. My husband attempted to speak to the woman, explain to her how I felt, and suggest they designate an area in the lobby, and was immediately shut down. “We already have an Opperation Christmas Child tree there. There isn’t any room.”

No room. No room for a mother trying to do her best for her baby. There is no space. I feel isolated, shoved aside, an inconvenience.

Do you know why I chose to nurse in the lobby? I want to fellowship. I want to feel like I am part of somewhere, like I belong. You do not know my history with church, but how can I share it when I feel like I have a Scarlet letter attached to me? When I have to spend a great deal of the service, locked away in what amounts to a supply closet? Do you realize that a big part of the reason my family left my husband’s childhood church is because there was no where for us to take my son once he could crawl? We met in a school gym, and I was told to take my baby to the gym change rooms.

I am supposed to dedicate my daughter next week. I am supposed to stand in front of all of you and commit to raising my child, and trust you to do the same. How can I trust you with my children, when you won’t allow me to do my very best for them? When every week, you all feast on God’s Word, and all you offer my children and I are table scraps?

I don’t want to give up on you, Church. But I am so tired of making excuses for you. I am tired of being shamed. When will you either learn to accept me…or will I just eventually leave you? My son loves Sunday School, and I don’t want to take that away from him…but what of my daughter? Or will she only be accepted once she is able to stay in the nursery without me? What if that doesn’t happen?

I am this close to giving up. I have been told the room will be fixed…until then, I don’t know what to do. I will still dedicate my daughter next week, but my trust in you is shaken.

I am someone, and so are my children.

You need to do better, Church. You just need to be better.

Sorrowfully,

R.H.

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Just Because it Happened at a Church, Doesn’t Make it Ok

*Trigger Warning: Sexual and religious abuse, and some discussion of self injury. If you can relate, I hope that my story can tell you: you’re not alone. I’m standing with you.

I don’t know for sure when it started, but the earliest I can remember happened when I was about four or five.

I have fragments of memories about him coming into my room, of him touching me, and telling me to do things to him. It happened infrequently, but this man was in our lives for my entire childhood. There are pictures of him smirking at my first birthday, and blurbs of his visits in my baby book. My parents never had a clue, always assumed he was harmless, if a tad quirky. He had odd habits and mood swings. He would disappear for long durations, only to reappear without notice on our front doorstep, laughing and telling corny jokes, as if he had never left. He would range anywhere from a happy- go -lucky jokester to a sullen, withdrawn shadow in a moment’s notice. He was a forty-something year old, single man, with no romantic prospects or steady job, living in his parents’ basement.

He often made comments that, as a parent now, would set off alarms in my head. He would make comments in passing, such as “wanting a daughter just like me.” References to how much I was growing, how I was becoming a young lady. He would read Archie comics with me, voicing all the male characters, and telling me how “bad” Betty and Veronica were for wearing bikinis in front of poor, naive Archie.

My mother would hear these comments, but never seemed to bat an eye. You see, he had a pass: He attended our little Pentecostal church regularly, when he wasn’t faithfully taking his mother to Sunday morning Mass at the local Catholic Church. No one bad, or sinister, could ever attend our church!

Except, they could. I was a very sheltered, extremely affectionate child, raised with the understanding that everyone at church was good, and would look out for me. I was one of very few children who attended long-term, while many others drifted in and out with their respective families. Also being home schooled, it was an often lonely existence, and I spent a majority of my days around adults. In order to maintain some level of respect for my elders, I was made to call many of them “aunt” or “uncle.”

Aside from the aforementioned “uncle,” another man molested me upstairs in his house while his wife hosted a wedding shower in their downstairs living room. He was left in charge of myself and his two grandchildren, one of whom watched, then looked away. He was younger than me by two years, and his eyes still haunt me. He almost got caught that night, when someone came upstairs to use the bathroom. The offender pulled his hands away and pretended to be asleep. As far as I’m aware, nobody ever questioned why he had a seven-year old girl leaning up against him on a couch, her clothes slightly askew.

Both men had the odd and uncomfortable habit of carrying Werther’s Original candies around in their pockets. I formed an aversion to them, and started spitting them out anytime they gave them to me. To this day, I can’t even stand the smell of them.

When my older sister moved out, I was about nine years old. My parents still weren’t comfortable leaving me home alone, so it was decided I needed a babysitter. Uncle number one volunteered, and so my most vivid memories of the abuse began. He had free access to me on those nights, and having full awareness of how I was being taught, he took full advantage. If I didn’t want to ‘play,’ he would scold me and tell me that the Bible said to respect your elders. I was told he would tell my mom that I was being disobedient. Now, that sounds like something an average nine-year old would know isn’t true, but I had always been taught that church meant safety. He was using the Bible, and using the Bible meant it was truth, and if I didn’t want to be punished, I needed to obey. I remember crying while it happened one of the nights.I remember the color of the curtains and watching the sun go down out the window so I wouldn’t have to look at him. From my recollections, he stopped when I was eleven, and started attending public school.

He wasn’t finished, though. We moved away shortly after I turned thirteen for my dad’s job. At the farewell party our church threw us, they asked this man to speak. He got up and took the mic. He never once looked up, as tears rolled down his face, and he kept whispering, “I’m sorry…I’m sorry.”

Nobody asked about it. I suppose they assumed he was apologizing for not being able to talk.

Even after we moved, he continued to haunt me from afar. He sent me birthday, and Valentine’s Day cards. When I turned fifteen, I went back for a visit. He gave me a card that talked about how to have a great party…and playing “Naked Twister.” I read it out loud…people were uncomfortably silent, but again, nobody spoke, or called him out on the inappropriateness of giving such a card to a fifteen year old.

At eighteen, I moved out, and needing to go somewhere familiar but inexpensive to live, I headed back to my little childhood town. I moved in with a relative, who was regularly going for dinners and coffee with this man. He was over a lot, following his old pattern of coming over whenever he wanted, with no notice or warning.

One day he came by, and my relative wasn’t home. I had been told to let him in if this happened, so I did. By now, I had burried what he had done, and had no real recollection of what he had done. It had taken its toll, though, and I felt quite damaged. Even though I had never really dated, I clung to guy friends like a liferaft, and desperately searched for their approval and affection. I had been fighting with my parents, which was what had led me to move away. I was also actively self injuring, and trying desperately to stop.

I was extremely vulnerable. And this man knew it.

He started out by talking about the tightness of my pants. Apparently boys would notice, and boys “only wanted one thing.” I responded in typical teenage fashion, rolling my eyes and jokingly calling him an old man. I wandered into the office, hoping to catch a friend online.

He followed me, and started tickling my feet. Uncomfortable, I pulled my foot away and told him to quit it. The next thing I knew, he was tickling my knee and moving up gradually. I started to panic, and kicked him away as hard as I could, yelling loudly “I said, No!”

He fell back and caught himself on a chair. He stared at me for a moment, before grabbing my hands and chastizing me for wearing purple nail polish. The last thing he said to me was, “I’m very disappointed in how you turned out.”

I was shaking all over, and ran downstairs to cut in the bathroom. My relative finally came home, and I packed a bag and left. I stayed at a friends’ house for three nights. Her husband bandaged me and called my relative, explaining what happened, and told the man to stay away from me.

He continued to stalk me, showing up at my workplace and forcing me to serve him. The panic attacks I had a result affected my work, and I was fired.

It was then that I found out from a friend that he was asking odd questions just before I came into town. He asked her when I was arriving, and then asked, “When in a woman’s cycle is the best time to get her pregnant?”

He still had no girlfriend at this time.

I moved away again, not feeling safe there anymore. My new church was into a lot of charismatic things that made me uncomfortable, and I was shamed by the pastor and no longer welcomed as a result. My cuts were revealed and I was told I was in sin, had a divisive spirit and bad fruit, and therefore had nothing of value to say spiritually. I was even ostracized from the children in the congregation, some of whom I had played with and felt a deep affection for. I had also told the pastor about what the abuser had done, at the insistence of a woman who grew concerned at my fear of walking home alone. The pastor did have the deacons patrol the front of the church, and made him leave on a few occasions when he showed up, but no counseling was ever offered or suggested, and the police were never contacted.

I started to remember the abuse from my childhood, and after moving around for awhile, an old youth leader of mine helped me find a counselor. Being a mandated reporter, once I told what happened, she had to report it. I decided to take charge, and told the police what happened. I had it all on record, even giving them the cards he had sent me, pictures and a video of his giving me the infamous twister birthday card. I decided to press charges.

My parents found out, after my mom stumbled across an old poem I had written detailing some of the abuse. My mother grilled me for details. I was only able to tell her the barest of details. She then made me repeat it verbatim for my dad, and then said it herself when I cried and begged him not to make me say it out loud. Her response almost seemed to be one of relief, as she said “Well, at least he didn’t have sex with you.” I also told her about the other man in the upstairs of his house. My mother looked confused. “What do you mean, he fondeled your chest? You didn’t even have anything worth touching yet!”

She also maintained that the first man probably didn’t ‘mean’ to abuse me. After I told about an instance involving a bath, she said that he must have become tempted by seeing me naked, and a demon “jumped” on him, making him do it.

My dad just shut down. He told me he was sorry, but he wouldn’t be able to come to the court case, if there was one, because he “didn’t know what he would do if he did.” I was told in no uncertain terms that I was on my own, and he didn’t want to talk about it anymore. My mom ended the painful discussion by saying, “I hope you know, it’s not your fault.”

…No, apparently it was the devil’s, using my body to accomplish it.

The case was dropped, due to lack of evidence. I was told at one point that he must have moved, because they couldn’t find him. (In a small town, of about nine thousand at that time.) Devastated and feeling worthless, I got involved in an abusive relationship, which I have written about here before.

My family went back for a visit last summer, so I could show my husband where I grew up. I thought it was safe, as I had been told he had moved. Someone innocently mentioned I was in town, and called, congratulating me “on the birth of my son.” He then showed up at the front door…my husband had told the people we were staying with in no uncertain terms to not tell him anything or let him see me. Thankfully, the woman answering the door took it seriously, and made him leave without ever glimpsing me. It shook me up, though, and I spent a lot of the trip being afraid.

Fast forward to today. I am thirty-seven and a half weeks pregnant with our second child, a girl. I posted an article about the Duggars, and how the abuse was allowed to happen, and what we can do to help prevent such travesties of justice. While I did get a lot of positive responses, a gut reaction of others was to dismiss it as untrue, or in another case, accuse me of slander and gossip, and then be chided for not posting on other, “celebratory” topics. Well, this isn’t celebratory, but it is about me. It’s about why I won’t stop bringing abuse into the light. It’s about teaching my own children that just because someone says they are Christian, doesn’t mean they are safe.

People see the Duggars in the tabloids, and scream “Persecution! People are just trying to take down the Christians! What about forgiveness?”

I could go into how all evidence points to it having actually happened, about the police report and personal admissions on the part of their family…but I won’t.

I can say I forgive my parents, and their church, for leaving me vulnerable, for burying it when my abuser started stalking teenage girls, and just “talking” to him about it. I can do all that, but it doesn’t make anyone else less in danger. It is not up to me, and it is not my fault. Neither is it the devil’s. It is his. And until we recognize that, and stop making excuses, we are enabling, and being accomplices, in those crimes. Grace doesn’t mean there is no consequence. And admitting to your crimes when they have already been exposed, like the Duggars did, is not courage. Surviving, and choosing to call out the darkness for what it is: That is Courage.

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I Dated Christian Grey…and I Don’t Care To See Him Again

So, there’s this book/movie that has come out recently: it’s called Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps you’ve heard of it? Well, I sure have, and I’ve seen the throngs of mommy (and non-mommy) squee-ing over the very idea of a dark, mysterious man sweeping girls off of their feet and having incredible sex with them. Oh, if only Mr Grey really existed! I hear women sigh longingly.

Well, ladies, guess what: he does exist.

I should know: I dated him.

And so have about 4 million women in North America in one year alone.

Here’s the thing. Mr Grey in my world was not a high powered businessman, in fact he wasn’t rich at all. He was actually a twenty-six year old, blonde haired, blue eyed, church-going construction worker. He wore a cowboy hats, drove a pick up truck, and I had no idea what I was in for when he asked me out.

I realize my simply saying this really isn’t enough. But I recently lost at least one facebook friend, simply for posting a blog article detailing fifty examples of abuse in the first half of the trilogy. I read the article out loud to my husband of almost four years, (not Mr. Grey,) and all I could think was, This sounds almost exactly like my ex.

So, if you are still reading at this point, and have slammed your laptop screens in disgust, or turned off your monitors, I ask your indulgence as I attempt to make a point-by-point comparison to Mr. Grey, and my ex.

I met Mr. X (yes, we are going with that alias,) at a church retreat. He asked me to go on a walk with him, along with several other girls, who all declined. (A rain shower had just let up, so it wasn’t exactly ideal hiking weather. It was also late January in Greater Vancouver: you do the math.) At any rate, he was tall, good looking, and I was extremely vulnerable. I was a molestation victim who was in the middle of  pressing charges against my childhood abuser, and my parents were currently in Africa doing missions work. They had also made it clear that they would not be attending my court case, should I carry it forward. I was not technically a virgin, (though not by choice,) but I was entirely new to the dating scene. The only guy I had ever really pursued a relationship with was an on-again-off-again I-like-you-but-I’m-scared-to-do-anything-about-it guy friend from my youth group days, and that was hardly the same thing. (Please note, this was not the guy who raped me before. On-again-off-again and I did not ever really get past groping.)

Ultimately, while on the walk, I opened up to him, and he eventually admitted that his intention was to get just me on the walk with him. He admitted to noticing me and wanting to get to know me. I was twenty, and he actually thought I was younger.(!) He was six years my senior (which, incidentally, is the same age gap between Mr. Grey and Ana, though I actually didn’t know that until now, thanks to the internet.) Within a week of the retreat, Mr. X and I had exchanged numbers, and he had procured information about my workplace and hours from some well-intentioned girlfriends of mine. He first showed up at my workplace, and asked me out…to dinner and a movie. On Valentine’s Day. To the Keg, on a first date. (Interestingly, my older brother had warned me that guys who take girls out to the Keg on a first date only want one thing, but I dismissed that. He was a good Christian boy, after all!)

Compare this with Mr. Grey: He shows up at Anastasia’s workplace, three hours out of his vicinity, and admits in the second book that he discovered this by stalking her. This is made to look romantic and cute, but really, it’s not. It’s an invasion of space and privacy, not to mention a way to break down her defenses. He later tells her that “Even if she moved to Alaska, he would find her.” He also repeatedly shows up places, even after she tells him no. He follows her to her mother’s house, in Georgia, after she specifically asks him to give her time to think about the relationship. When she second guesses signing a sexual “contract,” he warns her that he is “not a patient man.” This is not ok, people!!! 

Back to Mr. X: After I broke up with him, he turned on the stalking behavior again. When I stopped responding to texts, he dropped off flowers and a card to my workplace. At one point, he actually broke into my sister’s house, (whom I had just moved in with,) and started telling me how much he had changed. Uhh, right. He had just broken into my place of resident, ie. barged right into the house without knocking and certainly without an invitation, and would not leave after repeatedly being told to do so. Yup, he had changed, alright! (Sarcasm.) He only left after I pushed the door shut on him after he stepped onto the porch, and I had the phone in my hand, dialing 9-1-1.

The claims of change in Mr Ex had also been evident before culminating to the break in. At one point, he called me, crying over the phone about how he “needed me,” and promising he would become a better person. He threatened suicide, because he “couldn’t live without me.”

Here again, we see “shades” (pun intended,) of Mr Grey. In book two of the series, Mr. Grey dramatically falls to his knees and refuses to speak, terrified that Ana is going to leave him. He magically recovers, only after she promises to never leave him, states she isn’t good enough for him and that she can’t stand the thought of anyone else being with him. That is exactly what he wants to hear. There isn’t any real remorse there. Just as Mr X used a suicide threat to try and manipulate me, Mr Grey uses the silent treatment as a means to an end. Also, once she sees herself as lower in her own eyes, Mr X is again free to do whatever he wants. He has power over her, that she unwittingly gave him.

Mr X was insanely jealous. If a guy friend texted me, Mr X demand that I read the texts out loud, or sometimes he would grab my phone and read them for himself. (He didn’t do this as often, being dyslexic, and therefore finding it hard to read them on his own.) If he heard my phone go off more than twice in any given hour, he would get angry and threaten to take my phone away. He warned me that the only time he would “ever hurt me” is if I cheated on him. He also threatened that if I ever got pregnant by another man, even if it was rape, he would put a morning after pill in my orange juice, thereby forcing me to not conceive/have a child. He also “casually mentioned” a story about how his best friend said he would push his girlfriend down the stairs if she ever got pregnant. He then laughed about it.

Mr Grey is also jealous. He gets angry with her for receiving phone calls from her friend Jose, then just assumes that she is going to call him, when in actuality, she wants to call her female friend, Kate. He speaks to her in what is described as a calm and deadly voice. On one occasion, he says he “Doesn’t like to share,” and in another case, while having sex with her, he says he wants her to “Remember that I’ve been here. Only me. You are mine.” 

Mr X was obsessed with making sure I knew that he was in control. He couldn’t get aroused unless he was physically pinning me down during sex. He would insist on using controlling language, saying he was going to “take me.” On one occasion, when I was in serious pain from a back injury that required me staying home from work, he said I should “Just let him get off, then.” I could just “Lie still, and I’ll do all the work.” In the book, Mr Grey tells Ana “If you struggle, I will tie your feet, too. If you cry out, Anastasia, I will gag you.” In another section of the book, when she begs him not to have sex with her (!) (seriously, how can this even be argued to be a consensual situation?), he claims that this sex isn’t for her, it’s for him, and that he “Wants her to be frustrated. That’s what you do when you don’t talk to me, by denying me what’s mine.” 

Newsflash! Even when you are married, your spouse isn’t YOURS! Any true, caring spouse/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend knows that sex is something mutually agreed on by both parties. If at ANY TIME, someone says no, you had better get the heck out/off. I didn’t realize this going into my relationship with Mr X. I thought that once I “gave my gift of sex away,” by agreeing to it once, that gave him a free pass to do anything he wanted. Had you asked me at the time, I might have said that no means no, but I didn’t truly understand that.

Mr X coerced me into talking to a doctor about birth control pills (even though I wasn’t sure at the time that was the method I was comfortable using,) and took my prescription and had it filled without my knowledge…then blamed me when the pharmacist was suspicious and grilled him about why he was getting the pills and not me. His reason for doing so? He doesn’t like condoms.

Mr Grey does essentially the same thing, He has a doctor come to see her, about birth control, and he says it’s because he doesn’t like condoms. When she objects, saying “It’s my body,” he says, “It’s mine, too.” I’m all for protected sex, but your partner does not own your body, and they don’t get to have a say in the method you choose.

Which leads me into my next point: Mr X used a twisted form of lower level BDSM with me, without bothering to explain to me what that entailed. He knew I had been molested in the past, and that it wasn’t even something I was comfortable with, on any level. He pouted, insisting it was what he wanted for his birthday, and revisited the topic any chance he got, until I gave in, hoping that I could get away with only doing it once.

It was traumatic on every level. Not once did I feel cared for, or romanced in any way. He was upset with me because I couldn’t get aroused. I went physically limp, numb, felt completely humiliated and degraded. He was upset because I couldn’t get aroused. (Not upset for how I was feeling, however: upset because it somehow destroyed his ego to not be able to manipulate my biological responses.) Some women *might* find this scenario empowering, but I definitely didn’t. Remember, I was an abuse victim, and I had to tune out in order not to relive my trauma. In the second part of that “session,” Mr X had me hogtied on the bed in a lacy skirt, and mimed taking pictures of me, crooning about “what he would do next time.” I was shaking, visibly, from head to toe. There was no way he couldn’t have noticed that, or me trying to bury my face in the sheets to avoid looking at him. He found it sexy. There was no safe word: I didn’t even know those existed!

Now, let’s examine Mr Grey. Ana is a virgin. She has had no experience with sex, consensual or otherwise. He draws up a contract, which he pushes her to sign, again and again, in which she will agree to be exclusively submissive, and plainly states that she is only allowed to leave if he decides to let her! And yet, he can call it off at any time! This flies right in the face of empowerment, of any form whatsoever of choice and mutual participation. When performing BDSM on her at one particularly graphic part of the book, Ana is crying out in pain. Later, when she tries to tell him it wasn’t ok, he chides her for not using the “safe word.” It’s all her fault she was upset. Right, just like the girl who wears a short skirt is to blame for being raped. (Sarcasm.)

Then of course, there’s the traumatic back story. I am by no means saying that trauma can’t lead to behaviour issues, but it is not an excuse. Mr X had a traumatic story about growing up dyslexic, being made fun of by both teachers and kids at school, and threatening to perform a school shooting. All of those may have been valid traumas, but they were not excuses to treat me the way that he did. Mr Grey, of course, also had a traumatic childhood, and claims this is the reason for his sexual “tastes.” He needs therapy, not a toxic, enabling relationship.

I thought at first that Mr X was simply protective of me, but later I saw all his actions as controlling and manipulative. When Ana and Mr Grey’s lives are threatened by a crazy ex of Mr Grey’s, rather than calling the police, he hoists her over his shoulder and literally SPANKS her, in public, while carrying her off screaming. This isn’t protective, or romantic. It’s humiliating and degrading.

Mr X insisted on changing my wardrobe. When he met me, I typically wore a kind of punk/emo style. I liked my striped purple and black shirts and tights, my jeans with holes and arm warmers, my beat up pink converse. When we met, I was wearing a baggy hoodie and jeans with an old pair of boots. He was under no illusion that I was a “girlie girl” who liked to dress up. He pushed me to wear dresses and heels, and to do my hair. He would get upset if I dressed casually at a family dinner, even if everyone else was in everyday clothes. He dictated what I ate, when, and how much. I was given limits on how long I could talk to a friend or relative if he was around, (and even sometimes when he wasn’t.)

Mr. Grey, as part of the contract, tells Ana that she is not allowed to eat snacks, can only eat what is on a list that he dictates, can only wear clothes pre approved by him, and only with a budget which he controls. She must wear anything he asks of her, for any reason. She must have regular haircuts/waxes etc, and may only have these done at a pre approved (by him, of course) beauty salon. She also has to regularly see a personal trainer, who has to report to Mr Grey regularly on her progress. Essentially, he runs her world.

People have told me I am being too sensitive. They have told me that it is “just a book,” that we are overreacting. Worse still, they say that in this day and age, women make a choice. That if they are abused, it is their own fault. No one should have to live in fear of their partner. All throughout the book, Ana is clearly afraid, clearly second guessing herself. She describes him as dangerous. These are not the words used to describe a loving partner. The problem is, so many women are seeing Mr Grey as the prefect man. The book is a bestseller, it is described as “mommy porn.” It isn’t ok to encourage abuse, or to strive for a relationship like this. It just isn’t ok. And it isn’t so easy just to “walk away.” There are so many reasons, just look at #WhyIStayed for evidence of that. These books are cold, hard slap in the face for abuse victims. People have judged my objections, saying that I am simply a prude, or that I object to the “kink.” Honestly, if this was just another one of those Harlequin romance novels you can pick up at the grocery store or your local thrift store, I wouldn’t care. I would just shrug and say, “To each his own.” But the fact is, it’s a bestseller. I can’t count the number of “Ooo, Christian Grey, SWOON!” posts I’ve seen all over the web. I for one, will not be watching Fifty Shades on Valentine’s Day. I will be having a nice dinner with my husband, and laughing and talking about life. Without being afraid.

Yes, I dated Christian Grey…and I’m NEVER going back.

Posted in abuse, domestic abuse, Fifty Shades of Grey, rape, Women's issues | Leave a comment

Why I Believe the Women Accusing Jian Ghomeshi

*Warning: Adult themes, and descriptions of abuse. While I try to remain candid and not unnecessarily graphic, could be triggering to abuse victims. Reader discretion is advised.*

I am taking a little break from my series about church abuse to write about a different topic, (though it is still somewhat tied to the subject,) to talk about another issue that is close to my heart: date rape/abuse, and the credibility of the victims.

For those of you who don’t know, (ie. American readers,) there is a big scandal being talked about here in Canada right now. A popular radio personality on a national news channel was fired a few weeks ago, and is suing the company, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for fifty million dollars as a result. The reason for the termination? The CBC gained access to, as they put it, “graphic evidence of physical violence against a woman.” Soon afterwards, more women came forward, and to date there are at least nine women who have spoken out against Ghomeshi, three of whom have bravely decided to press charges. The first women to speak publicly about it began to do so online, and as they did, a flood of people started commenting, taking one side or another. I have seen much of both sides, and what truly shocks and disturbs me is how many people have taken mr. Ghomeshi’s side, and declared that these women are liars, who have a vendetta against this poor Canadian celebrity.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me who he is. He could be the guy down the block, and my response would still be the same. I am more willing to believe the women in these cases. I know that sometimes there are women with vendettas, but I don’t believe it happens nearly as often as people think. Ghomeshi declared that he was being unfairly punished because he likes rough sex,, and is into “kink’ and BDSM. He says that every one of the cases was consensual. I don’t declare myself a direct authority on those things, but I will tell you one thing I do know: People who participate in those worlds are usually under a strict code of ethics, and if I may be so bold, I say if there is any doubt whatsoever, if you cannot say with one hundred percent certainty that both individuals are completely ok with the situation, then consent is not possible. Even in cases where the sex is what most would consider normal, even in the cases of sex between husband and wife, consent needs to be understood and observed at ALL TIMES. If either female or male partner expresses that they felt pressured or weren’t ok with what happened, then the partner needs to take that seriously, and do some serious reparation in their relationship. The fact that Jian is refusing to take responsibility, or even acknowledge that these women were violated by his treatment of them, speaks volumes to me.

But why do I believe these women so strongly? Why do I cringe every time I see this man’s smug face in my newsfeed, why do I check back for updates every couple of days, waiting for news that the investigation has resulted in his arrest? I hope for justice for these women, because I understand exactly where they are coming from. And this is where it gets personal…

When I was twenty years old, I pressed criminal charges against a man who molested me multiple times when I was a child, then attempted to rape me when I was eighteen. I filed the charges as a result of therapy sessions with my counselor, who was of course a mandated reporter, (required by the government to report any abuse against a minor,) and gave me the option to be involved in the process. After being interviewed as the police precinct, I decided to press charges. After months of being contacted with updates and being hopeful, I was told that they could not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, and my file was closed, with no charges laid on the man. Around this same time,a boy in my church young adult group started showing interest in me. He seemed so nice, honest and genuine, the fact that he was six years my senior seemed of little consequence. He took me to an expensive restaurant on our first date, held doors open for me, was perfectly courteous. Having also had a really bad falling out with my parents, and basically being abandoned by them at the time, I was aching for love, essentially starved for affection. I was also under a heavy load of guilt, feeling like I was tainted, unwanted and not believed about what happened to me as a child. So when this guy started pushing for sex, even though I had always had it in my mind I wanted to wait for marriage, I agreed, and let him have sex with me.

The first time, it was hollow. After it was over, I ached, and he drove me home. I cried myself to sleep, feeling completely broken. It was then that I discovered that there was no going back.

After the first encounter, this guy wanted it all the time. Barely a day went by that he didn’t insist on having sex, anytime, anywhere. He would pull his pickup truck to the side of the road to have a “quickie,” pull my pants down on the living room couch, even tell me to go to his room while his extended family were in the other room for Easter Dinner. It seemed like all he ever really wanted to do, and while I complied, I hated both myself and him for it. There were many times I said I didn’t want to, even a few times were I had stayed home due to terrible back pain, and he told me to just lie still and let him get off. That was seriously what he said. He forced himself on me, and ignored me when I whimpered in protest.

Then came the conversation I had never imagined having. Somehow, the topic of bondage came up, (I think I was telling him that I was worried about a friend who was engaging in these activities with a man who was about eleven years her senior.) He admitted to me that he thought those things were really sexy, and that he had felt that way since he was a child, playing cops and robbers with his female cousins. (Yes, I am aware of how sketchy that sounds.) He then started a campaign to get me to try it, bringing it up constantly. Everytime I said no, he would pull a pouty look, sometimes he would give me the silent treatment or try to bribe me, or even suggest that it was the “only thing he would accept for his birthday.”

Not really realizing what I was getting into, I agreed. He said that as soon as I was uncomfortable, he would stop. That night, was one I will never forget, though I often wish I could. I am happily married to a different man now, with a beautiful son and another on the way, and those images still haunt me. I can still play it back, as if it were a movie.

He used handcuffs first. I will spare you the details, but he insisted I be naked, an other than when I was molested as a child, I have never felt so alone and vulnerable. He seemed upset that he couldn’t get me to climax. I just tuned out, trying to pretend I was a lifeless doll, with no feelings, no attachments. Just a hollow shell. After this, he crooned at me what a good job I did. I started to panic. He then had me put a  lace skirt on, and tied me up. Hogtied, I could not move, but I was shaking everywhere. Not an inch of me was still. My breathing was laboured, and image after image of the man who abused me as achild went through my mind, until this man abusing me now and the one doing it then merged, and I couldn’t tell where one left off and the other began. He knew I was shaking, but rather than stop, he just kept going, kept talking. He stepped back and pretended to take pictures, holding his fingers up like a camera and making pretend clicking noises. He talked about how next time he would have me pose and take real pictures, after I was more “used to it.” I couldn’t talk. My voice had gone away, but I know that he felt my shaking, saw my frightened eyes. He saw, and he relished in it.

He took the skirt off, and untied me, but then immediately pushed me against the bed and had sex. I vaguely remember feeling guilty for not enjoying it, so I faked it. All I can tell you in my defense is that I thought that was all I was good for at the time. I felt nobody wanted me, and since I had already “given it away,” I might as well let him do whatever he wanted. I was also terrified of him. I had learned that his ex wife had a restraining order against him, and he had been arrested on assault charges. (Of course, he had a different story.) He had access to guns, and while the police had confiscated them, he was fighting in court to get them back at the time. He was obsessed with guns, and knowing how to shoot them. I overheard him one morning on the phone with his best friend, saying he wished he had just “killed the b****, (his ex wife,) “When he had the chance.”

This guy had been isolating me from many of my friends, particularly male ones, but one couple in particular, who I was fighting with pretty intensely at the time, as they both knew he was bad news and wanted me to get out of the hostile relationship. They eventually came up to Canada from the States, and sat down with me for some hard, serious talks. Once they left, I broke up with him…but he wouldn’t let go that easily.

He turned it up to full gear, first trying to bribe me with gifts, then talking to friends and trying to talk them into convincing me. Some of the people believed him, and did try to talk me into going back to him. He even went to my pastor behind my back, telling him only half the story and painting himself to be the innocent victim of a needy girlfriend, and him a slave to his passions. He threatened suicide, which I called him out on. The friends who I had pushed away before didn’t understand, (many of them,) and weren’t speaking to me anymore. I was basically put in a situation where I was forced to move in with my sister, and no one would help me move. Desperate, I stupidly reached out to this guy once again, telling him firmly we could not date, but that I needed help to move.

At first, he was charming and helpful. He was back in the honeymoon phase, acting like he did when we first dated. He was understanding and kind. I was even toying with the idea of going back to him.

Then all hell broke lose. On the way back, he pulled over into a dark, secluded park. He told me he needed help re arranging some things in the trailer that were rattling around. I figured I hsould help him, got out of the vehicle, and folloed him into the trailer. The next thing I knew, the door was shut behind us. He pushed me onto the camping bed, firmly pinning me with his hands and knees. “Now you owe me,” he hissed.

I didn’t fight. I did try to reason, hoping I could bargain my way out. I tried to use the excuse of no condom. As it turned out, he had “saved one just for this.” As it also turned out, he finished too soon for his liking, and had done it twice by the end, the second time he was not properly protected. The three weeks following that night before my period arrived were some of the longest of my life.

The police even arrived in the middle of the second round. Turns out the park was closed, and his license plate wasn’t on the car I had an opportunity to tell that I had just been raped, but I didn’t really know I had been raped at the time. I didn’t clearly say the word no, and I didn’t fight back. But I didn’t say yes either, and he used force to hold me down. He knew I didn’t want it. But he didn’t care.

Shortly afterwards, I left Canada for a month, and stayed with the aforementioned couple for a month, trying to sort out what had happened to me. While there, I read a book called Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of  Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. (Excellent read, by the way!) I saw patterns in many of the descriptions, and was finally willing to admit that I had been caught in an abusive relationship. When I returned to Canada, I broke away from him for good, and to this day I have no contact with him.

When I tried to tell people what happened, I received alot of distrust and questions. Alot of people who I had assumed were my friends, told me how I was just as much, if not more in the wrong than he. That I was making him a villain, trying to get attention, looking for sympathy because I had just gone too far and regretted it. The number of people who truly supported me was surprisingly small. So I eventually stopped talking about it as much.

There is more to the story, details of how I later found out he was trying to date other naive young virgin girls in the church. I did try to reach out to them and their families and friends to warn them about him, and thankfully, he no longer attends the church. As I said earlier, I have healed some. I am happily married to a wonderful, gentle and kind man. But as I also said, I will likely always bear the scars of what that man did to me. I realize that I could have made better decisions, and the women in Mr Ghomeshi’s case probably could have, too. However, I will not participate in victim blaming behaviour. I will  not stand there with a list of reasons they do or do not qualify for being victims. I chose to believe them. I chose to applaud them for being brave, and telling their stories. I chose to raise my son to treat women with dignity and respect, and to know that even in a marriage, anything less than a yes means no.

Ladies, if you are reading this, please know that I believe you, and I am standing with you. From the heart of one broken girl to another, let us help heal each other, not tear one another down. When one has committed crimes, as I believe Mr. Ghomeshi has, it is in the best interest of the boss to make the job place a safe environment. So thank you as well, CBC, for doing the right thing, even in the face of a lawsuit. People have speculated that perhaps they knew earlier, and could have done something. This may or may not be true, it is not for me to say. However, I chose to applaud the CBC for taking action  and being transparent now. I know I may not change everyone’s mind, heck, I might not even change anyone’s mind. If I reach one person, however, be it victim or innocent bystander, then telling my story will have been worth it.

Thanks for reading.

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Tonight, I Am Broken

I received news tonight, that a beautiful, brave young woman I knew back in an old church I attended, died at 1:30 pm yesterday. This young woman was the daughter of the pastor: a pastor who made it clear that I was no longer welcome in his life, and in the life of his church. Because of that, I had no real contact with this girl since I left his church. But I watched from afar, smiling over posted facebook photos of her wedding day, a mere six weeks ago. Six weeks as a new bride! Those kinds of things seem only to happen in tragic romance movies. One never expects that in real life! I had never met her husband…maybe once or twice I saw him in passing, as he had siblings in the church whom I knew, but…I feel so very out of touch.

When I told my husband, swallowing the lump in my throat and blinking vacantly at my cellphone, after telling me he was sorry, he asked me: “Were you close?”

Not really. You see, this church was all about being ‘family.’ It was about transparency, and strongly encouraged (or perhaps enforced) close ties with one another, and not really any other church. Going to another pastor for advice or prayer, unless that pastor was directly connected in some way with the denomination, was frowned upon. As a result, I spent most of my waking hours with people from that church, and of course, she was one of them.

She was only two years my senior. She had Lupus, and was often very sick because of it. She was tiny and frail looking, but strong…so very strong. She had such a beautiful smile, and a very soft heart. She had spunk though: you wouldn’t want to mess with her. She loved to dress up in hilarious costumes, and she didn’t care what anyone else thought. She followed her heart, and danced to the beat of her own drum. I admired her for those things. she was the first one to welcome me to the church, and after she left, she still occasionally saw me around town, and she always smiled and waved. She could have pretended to ignore me, especially because of her dad, but she never did. She probably never knew it, but that meant the world to me.

I can’t really explain why my heart is broken, why there is a lump in my throat that I just can’t swallow. Perhaps it is because I had to find out via facebook, from reading someone elese’s status in my newsfeed. I wasn’t told directly, I had to piece it together myself. Somehow, it makes my heart hurt that I can’t reach out to the pastor and his family, to tell them how very sorry I am. That I am praying for them, and that I fear for them. I am afraid that as this pastor has done before in less personal situations, he will blame his congregation. I worry that as he blamed his congregation in the past for the miscarriage of a young woman in his church, (saying it happened because the church didn’t ‘cover them in prayer enough,’), he will blame them all the more, because it is his daughter. I wish that I could do more, but I cannot. He will not listen to me, nor will he allow me to say anything of value to anyone else in his family. I suppose this saddens me because I still care. This pastor is a person I grew up around. He was friends with my dad, once upon a time. I care, and at least on some level, I still wish I had his approval. I still wish I was in that inner circle, offering comfort.

Another part of my grief, is over the girl herself. Twenty seven is so young, especially after only six weeks of marriage. While everyone talks about how Heaven is so wonderful, how it’s our real home…I can’t help but grieve that she never got to experience so many things. She never had a first anniversary, never had a child. Or maybe she wanted to go back to school, get a degree….I don’t know. But there was so much life left untouched. I can’t pretend to understand it. I read someone from her family’s statement, requesting that no one ask any questions (understandable,) and saying “It is what it is.”

Honestly, I wanted to scream at them, to shake them. It is what it is?! What does that even mean?! But I know they are grieving, far worse than I ever could for her. I know it is how they are coping. But I want to ask the big questions. I want to ask, “Why?” Even though I know I will probably never get an answer. I know the how: brain aneurysm. It was very sudden. But I still question, and I still wish she could have experienced so much more here on earth. Tonight, I am broken: my heart is broken, and I feel so many things. Guilt, for not keeping in better touch with her, despite who her father was. Regret and Sadness, that her father wants nothing to do with me. Even some anger, that I do not feel safe leaving notes for anyone in the church, because I worry there will be backlash. All I can do, is grieve, and pray. All I can do, is remember…and with those memories of her, come so many other ones, about the place that I left behind.

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The Least of These

               “I can’t compete with a child all night. You need to take him out of here.”

I freeze, feeling the curious eyes of the congregation on me. My son, oblivious to the ruckus he seems to have just caused, squirms and continues trying to yank the front of my shirt down, complaining loudly when I don’t comply. Quickly, I scoop him up. “Don’t worry, we were on our way out anyway,” I mumble, unsure of whether the speaker has heard me or not. I briefly wonder how he couldn’t have noticed that my husband had already started gathering our things the moment that our son had started indicating that he wanted to nurse. 

We are at a summer retreat, hosted in part by my father in law’s church, which I had attended with my husband ever since we were dating. We had left the church amicably mere months before, mostly because as a congregation with a majority of older members, and meeting weekly in a school gym, there was no nursery to take our son to. He was now learning to walk, which meant that he was in to everything, and the storage room I had been using to discreetly nurse and change him in was no longer safe for him, surrounded by stacks of chairs, wooden benches and a barbeque. We now attended a church a few towns over, with a large children’s ministry…including, a fully stocked nursery to take him to during the sermons. There, we had the option of leaving him with the nursery workers, or staying there and playing with him while watching the sermon on a television. The summer retreat, however, was a family tradition, and very important to my husband. I agreed that we would attend the weekend long retreat, and my mother in law kindly offered to take our son part of the time, so that we could enjoy the messages. I didn’t for see any issues, as at the church we had kept our son in the services without issue until he fussed. Happy, social baby squeals invited some friendly chuckles and smiles, but no one bothered us. If anything, he was the church darling, being the pastor’s first grandson, and the only baby regularly in the service. The speaker was not from our church, however, and wasn’t expecting what he saw, I suppose, as competition.

Moments before this, the speaker had pulled a puppet out of a black garbage bag and had been using it as an illustration. My son, seeing the toy on the man’s arm, began to squeal and point to the puppet, bouncing up and down and babbling excitedly in baby talk. What fun! His grandpa had never played with him during a sermon before! How was he to know that the man was using the puppet to make a point, and not for his amusement? My husband and I chuckled quietly, along with many of the other people in the room. The speaker glanced briefly in our direction, and  frowned. I noticed it, but it was gone as quickly as it had come, and my one year old’s attention span predictably lapsed. He started to toddle off down the aisle, and I scooped him up before he could get too far and set him on my lap. 

This pulled his attention to the fact he had not eaten in a while, and wanted a snack. Before the service, my husband and I had discussed what we were going to do for the night already. Since the service would run past his bedtime, we agreed that we would pull our son out of the service as soon as he started acting up. I would nurse him, as I always did before putting him to bed, and then my husband would take him back to the room for the night. Then, I would be free to come back for the healing service that would take place as soon as the talk was over: something I was very much looking forward to. I loved to pray for people, and be prayed with. I loved sitting in the presence of God with His people, and ministering to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. To me, it was the walking out of our faith: the chance to respond to what we had been learning all weekend. This service, I was particularly looking forward to, as the speaker this year was dynamic, and had a past that I could identify with. He had been burned by churches, and had left them for a long time, spiraling into a deep depression. He said that as a church, we needed to minister to the broken, to the marginalized. I had longed to hear this message from the pulpit, to see people really understand that. As someone who had been to many churches, and had been deeply scarred by many of them, I sought healing and safety. I thought that if anyone could understand me, it would surely be this man. 

But there were signs early on, signs I ignored. At one point during a talk, he told the congregation about how he counseled people during sessions. He said he was patient and walked with them, but at some point he always asked them, ‘how long will you remain a victim?’

My husband had glanced at me when the speaker said that, worried I would take this badly. He was correct, that it didn’t sit right with me. I had been asked that question before, during the many times I had cried, deep, gut wrenching sobs over the hurts I had endured…hurts that I had chosen to forgive others for, but that the pain and rejection I bore remained. Each time I was hurt, it took me a little longer to trust again. As someone who always wanted to see the good in others, and admittedly has an issue with wanting so much to be loved that I will often overlook things, this in reality was a good thing. I was learning that I could forgive, but the reminder of the sting kept me from making the same mistake again, (at least as quickly.) There really isn’t any way to sugarcoat it: I have been abused spiritually, emotionally, and yes, sexually, by people in almost every church I had been in. In a few cases, I have been rejected and threatened by pastors, whose very job it is to bring comfort and gentle teaching to their sheep. While I do agree that people will can become bitter, or refuse to move on from their hurts because they are scared to be without them, I find that this attitude of “tough love” isn’t helpful, nor is it wise. I had learned all about holding hurts in and trying to force myself to ‘get better, faster,’ and it had almost destroyed me. However, as I often do, I overlooked this man’s words, and tried instead to see the good that he was doing by bringing light to the subject of hurting people at all. It isn’t exactly something regularly preached from the pulpit.

        One of the yearly traditions of the camp was a talent show, where people shared songs, poems, jokes and other gifts with everyone. I decided to share two poems, one of which was particularly raw. It was about reaching out to outcasts, and sharing God’s love with them. About being Jesus’ hands and feet. It seemed like it was well received, and the day went on. My son is very musical, and as the speaker was strumming and talking, my son clapped and squealed. Since the talent show was just that, a show, I didn’t see this as a problem. The speaker suddenly turned to my son and told him to “Be quiet.” 

       In the split second of awkward silence that followed, the speaker shook his head, grinned and said, “Just kidding. Don’t go running out of here or anything.”

The congregation, including myself, responded with what I can only assume were nervous giggles. Looking back on it now, I wish I had taken this as a more serious sign that he did not handle interruptions well. I wish that I had chosen then to advocate for my son, whom I will not allow to be silenced in the way that I was as a child.

***********************

I sit down in the lobby, settling my son across my lap and nursing him, so that we both have a moment to calm down. My husband pulls a chair across from me and looks me in the eye. He doesn’t need to ask if I’m alright. His eyes are full of understanding, and he looks just as distraught as I am.

“Jesus said let the little children come unto Me,” I say, in as firm a voice as I can muster. “He needs to practice what he preaches.”

My husband sighs, and says, “Yup. I’m so sorry hun. That was way out of line.”

            Neither my husband or I get much sleep that night. We talk for a long time about what happened, and how to address it. I don’t go back to the healing service, as I feel that I would only want to confront him, and both my husband and I agree that the Biblical way to handle it is to go to him privately. I call my godmother and dear friend, who suggests that I write him a letter, and I decide that is my best course of action. My husband still wants to talk to him, man to man, and ask for an apology. I find out from a friend, after the service is over, that there was no healing service this year. The speaker simply finished his sermon, and dismissed everyone after it was too late to stay for prayer. 

 

In the morning, I get up and go to breakfast, allowing my husband to stay behind until our son wakes up. In the buffet lineup, the speaker is across from me. He nods at me and says, “Sorry about your son making noise last night.”

I blink, as I watch him sit down. What does that even mean? How can someone be sorry for something that they are upset that someone else supposedly did to them?

I can’t leave it like this. I swallow down my breakfast, and walk over to him. I ask him if we can talk in private: he says, “Sure.”

When we are alone, I tell him that I need to know exactly what he is sorry for. He answers without hesitation, “I’m sorry that I had to ask you to take your noisy baby out.”

At this point, I am admittedly angry. I take a deep breath, and tell him that what he did was wrong, and that I was very hurt by his actions. The conversation then becomes very back and forth, with him telling me that I was just as wrong for not taking him out of the service earlier, for not sitting at the back, for allowing a distraction, and on it went. His apology is repeatedly only for what he ‘had’ to do as a result of my actions. I explain to him that my son simply thought that the puppets were toys, and that he was playing. My son reacted the way any young child would in that situation. As soon as my son started whining instead of babbling, I prepared to remove him. I tell the speaker that my husband or I would have gladly taken our son to a nursery during the service if one was available, but it wasn’t an option made available to us. I had even discussed the possibility of my mother in law taking him during that time, but she had also wanted to stay for the message.

I am told that the fact that I keep insisting his apology isn’t good enough, it is my problem. He tells me that he didn’t want to get into it right then and there, but that I obviously have hurts and issues that I haven’t dealt with yet, and that is my own problem, not his. He keeps insisting that he deserves the apology, for me being inconsiderate, and not sitting out of the service with my son. My husband walks into the middle of the fray, repeating to the speaker courteously but firmly that he owes us an apology. He backs me up, agreeing that a proper apology is to acknowledge the wrongdoing, and repent for it, not to make excuses or return the blame.  The discussion goes in circles, the same things repeating over and over, with the same old tired refrain. I finally sadly tell my husband that this is going nowhere. The speaker continues, angrily and defensively, until I manage to at least thank him for his time. 

My husband and I are weary, neither of us wanting to stay for communion. “I can’t break bread with someone who is not in communion with me,” he says sadly. I agree. The principle is scriptural, and neither my husband nor I feel that we can put the matter to rest in our hearts that quickly, as there was no reconciliation there. We try to inform my father in law that we wish to speak with him, to inform him of why we are leaving. Unfortunately, the whispered message is lost in translation, and the speaker is annoyed that people are whispering during his message. My father in law remains where he is, and it isn’t until days later that we are able to discuss the matter. To his credit, my father in law apologizes for the speaker’s behavior, and says that he has had, and will continue to have, discussions with the speaker about it. However, we are still given excuses: the speaker’s nationality is one that is very by the book and serious, and he is good compared to them. 

– He apparently used to be much worse, and has improved a great deal.

-He runs his church differently, and isn’t used to how indulgent they are at my father-in-law’s church

Ultimately, I forgive him. This isn’t really about that. The stage I am at now, is still wondering if I was right to trust again so easily. If it was alright for me to be optimistic. I have had many people repeat the same things, that all churches are fallible, because we are all human. That “Church is imperfect because you are in them.” (ie. we are all sinners.) That everyone makes mistakes. I acknowledge all of that. I admit I am just as big a sinner as they are. The problem I have, is that it seems everyone uses that line to avoid responsibility. Very few people are willing to say, “Everyone makes mistakes, and I just made one. I am sorry, and I will do my best to rectify the situation, knowing that I may never do so.”  The speaker was correct, in that it is my job to decide to forgive him, but that does not absolve him of his part in it. On a blog I reccently stumbled upon regarding the controversy at Mars Hill church, written by a former, wrongfully cast out member of the church: 

   The center of the narcissistic apology is the offender saying “I am hurting because of this.” The real apology sees the victim in the center and says, “You are hurting because of this.”  The difference – and a critical one – is empathy.

I admit that I am not fully where I want to be in terms of healing from past abuse at churches. After reading some of the blogs about Mars Hill church and Pastor Mark Driscoll, I have decided to chronicle some of my own journey: some of my own spiritual abuses. You may have noticed that I have not used names in this story: it is because I do not wish to send this man ill will, even though he is a pastor of his own congregation, and I do worry for other young, impressionable mothers who go there, and may be hurt as I was. My goal is not revenge, nor badmouthing. Some of my posts in the future may contain names, but only as it pertains to a church I attended which I now believe to be a cult, and I may post as a warning to others. But while the pastor in this case may have made a hurtful decision, I don’t believe it is right to shine a spotlight on him. 

I was a lost sheep, at one time. I was a hurt and broken, wounded and angry young woman, and it took compassion, love and understanding to bring me back. In Jesus’ day, there were no daycares, no women’s Bible studies, no Mothers of Preschoolers groups, no youth groups. Everyone was assembled together, and Jesus preached, noise and all. As a modern church society, we are so easily distracted, so used to the convenience of not having to reach all people groups at once, and only having to preach to the majority. “Oh, that is so-and-so’s calling.” Well, may I suggest: We are all so and so. Not everyone is called to children’s ministry, I realize that. However, we are all responsible for treating children the way that Jesus would: not as burdens, or distractions, or nusances. Their parents are also just as deserving. They work just as hard as any other person in the congregation, sometimes doubly, as they parent and have another job during the day. The only difference, is they just happen to bring their work with them. Also, the reward is priceless. In baby dedications and baptisms, there is often a part of the ceremony welcoming the child into their midst, and promising to help the parents raise that child to know God. Like it or not, it is our responsibility, and part of that child’s security, is allowing that child to know that they belong. If you teach them that when they are young, they will remember it when they are older. Conversely, if you reject them when they are young…you will be inflicting a lifelong wound on their life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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