Archive for May, 2014

Voiceless.

Posted: May 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

messytheology

Pleading hands stretch out on a wooden doorframe. Crimson blood stains its lintel. A woman’s life slips silently away as the members of the household sleep in peace, safe on the other side of the door. Do they not care that she has spent the night in indescribable torture? Does it not matter to them that she has been raped and beaten beyond recognition? But they sleep on, undisturbed by her plight. And she breathes her last, voiceless in life as in death.

In those days Israel had no king. Now a Levite who lived in a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. But she was unfaithful to him. She left him and went back to her father’s house in Bethlehem, Judah.
Judges 19:1-2

What voice did she have in leaving home and becoming a concubine? Bethlehem was her birthplace, and…

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It’s been about a year now.  A year since I went to counseling.  I only had a handful of sessions.  You’ll read about that in parts 3 and 4 of my story which I plan to make public within the next few days.  One of the last things my counselor suggested was that I write my then-pastor a letter – not to be sent, of course, because, well, it wouldn’t have mattered.  But just to tell him all of the things that I wanted to say but couldn’t because he wouldn’t meet with me.  This letter captures the essence of what had happened to me and my heart for wanting to have a God-honoring conclusion to  this story.  I’m still waiting for that.

Dear Elliot,

I realized a few days ago that one day, one of us will attend the other’s funeral.  And when that day comes, I wonder how the one left behind will feel?  Will there be regret? Relief? Sorrow? Joy? A wish that more had been said?  Or less?

If that moment were today, and I was sitting in that pew, I would be wishing that you could have known my heart.  That I always saw you as a great and good man. That I always believed that you saw me through a glass darkly and if you could just swipe away the muck that had been hurled toward me, you would see me as I really am.

Not that I am perfect – I am a perfect mess.  but that over all, I am hard after God.  Just as I believe you are.  That’s why, unless I am forced to by circumstances beyond my control, I will never give up on you.  Never turn my back. Never walk away.  As long as I am confident that you are hard after God, too.

Not that you are perfect – no one knows more than I that you, too, are a perfect mess. But, I also know that it is in our determination to extend to one another that same amazing grace that has been granted to us through Jesus, that we, no matter how close or far apart at any given moment, are the rarest of compatriots . . . we who have forgiven much.

Still, the questions haunt me.  Questions I was too frightened to ask in the midst of the hell that I was living. At least not face-to-face.  I came from such a hellish place and carried it with me.  Perhaps my first mistake was in thinking that you understood.  How broken and battered I was.  So wounded that even the tenderest of touches was met with distrust and self-protection.

Yet, I always trusted you to do what was right.  I thought, if you just knew what was happening, you would put a stop to it. I listened to your words about grace and forgiveness, restoration, reconciliation, and I thought you would champion those things . . . even for me.

So, when the beatings came, I looked to you. To rescue me, I suppose. To step in and say, “No, this is wrong. This has to stop.”

I was always told that you were aware . . . when I was ostracized, uninvited, told I didn’t measure up.  But I didn’t believe it.  I had heard your words and I believed that you believed them.  I know you did.  But believing and living, as we are all too aware, don’t always walk hand in hand.

I was too afraid in those days to speak with you face to face, and even those few times when we did speak, I was too timid to ask the hard questions – the “why?” questions or the “what have I done?” questions.  I was a frightened animal, cowering in the corner.

So, I wrote my questions to you.  Believing that you were aware of the judgments that had been placed upon me, having been told you were – and how could you not know? Yet, never have my questions been answered.  Avoided. Ignored. Tacit agreement, I told you, was my conclusion.

And so, the haunting. When did this start? With the church we attended before? With the letter from the mother regarding Phillip?  With Phillip himself? With the Personnel Committee?  With the many others who told me I was not allowed to participate?  Or was it with me? Because I asked? Because I kept asking? Because I wanted – no needed – answers? Because I didn’t understand?  Because I refused to just go away? (I am rare, index, am I not – for not going away?)

Also, I wondered, “Why only me?”  When I was drawn into your office and accused of having inappropriate conversations about leadership, it was only me.  Not the other two women involved in that conversation.  Only me.  You named them as having been involved in the conversation with me, but you only accused me.  I don’t understand.

And why weren’t my accusers present?  Why didn’t you send them to talk to me first? One-on-one. Like Matthew 18?  Instead, you listened to their eavesdropping accusations and you accused me.  Remember when the woman approached you and told you what are conversation had really been about (menopause!)? You apologized to me.  You wondered why someone would want to hurt me by telling lies about me.

And hurt me they did.  Over and over. For years. With no explanation.  I begged for help. I begged for answers. My broken and bloody spirit cried out for mercy.  It never came.

I truly believed that if just once you had been a champion for the things you preached; if just once, you had said, “This isn’t the way we do things here.  We don’t ostracize people,” that would have ended it.

But you didn’t.

And I didn’t understand.

I am not perfect – I am a perfect mess.  But no one ever sat down with me and kindly told me what I had done wrong.  No one gave me opportunity to know so that I could apologize.  No one told me so that I could make amends.

It haunts me.

I asked, and asked, and asked, and asked the only person I felt I could trust . . . you.

But you never answered. Tacit agreement.

Still, I trusted you.

Through all of the ostracism, through all of the avoidance, through all of the years and years and years of paying for sins I had no awareness of.  I trusted you.

It took someone else to finally bring me to my senses about the whole thing.  I was still believing that if you would just talk to me – if you would tell me the “why?” – I could take whatever steps were necessary to make reparations and find closure.

Her questions startled me.

“Why do you want to talk to someone who doesn’t respect you?”

“Who refuses to meet with you?”

“Who doesn’t answer your questions?”

“Who allows people to talk to you that way?”

“Who allows people to treat you that way?”

“Why do you want a relationship with someone who doesn’t respect you?”

I had never considered that it all comes down to respect. That somewhere along the way, I had lost your respect – or, perhaps, never gained it.

It took hearing those questions for me to realize that, yes, if you had any respect at all for me, you would have stepped in and said, “No, this is not how we treat people.” If you had any respect for me, you would have insisted on meeting before I had a chance to ask. If you had any respect for me, you would not have watched me sit in church week after week, month after month, year after year, and watched me weep without once inquiring as to why I was so broken.

You didn’t need to ask.  You already knew. And your lack of respect for me wouldn’t allow you to reach out and minister to me.

No one ever knew. No one ever saw.  The ways that you, too, ostracized me.  You would always smile and wave and shake my hand when people were around. You always responded to the trivial.  But those deeply impaled wounds – those you allowed to fester and weep.  For years.

Still, I thought, “If only he knew my heart . . . ” And I believed your words . . . and I hung on . . . and I kept trying . . . and now I understand . . .

You were behind it all.

I am not perfect – I am a perfect mess.

You are not perfect – you are a perfect mess.

And there is a Jesus in me that never gives up; never gives in; never lets go; and so I am accepting you just the way you are. Without knowing “Why?” Without being known.

I am hard after God.

You are hard after God.

I believe that.

And we are rare ones, we who stick it out even if we don’t stick together.  We are rare ones who don’t walk away, who love anyway – through and in spite of and no matter what.  So, even though you have tossed me aside, in my heart, I still walk with you.

And I pledge to you my respect.

Because I am hard after God and that is my heart.

One day, one of us will attend the other’s funeral. And if it’s me sitting in that pew, I will mourn deeply.

Because I have loved deeply.

If it is you sitting in that pew, I pray you will do the same.

With gratitude,

Ellen

 

 

A Healing Friend

Posted: May 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

So, so very true! To have a friend who would challenge the abuser at great cost to him or her self is so truly Christlike.

Thank you so much again for this wonderful insight.

Ellen

messytheology

“I know it’s a lot to ask, but I need you to believe me. My experience is real. It has redefined my life. I feel alone, because no one else sees it. I feel rejected, because no one else will risk facing it. I need you to take me seriously. I need you to walk this with me.”

David was still struggling to believe it himself. Saul, his beloved mentor, his idolized king, was also his manipulative abuser. After years of living in Saul’s home, fighting his battles, comforting his spirit, and being part of his family, the realization was just starting to sink in that David’s perception of their entire relationship had been a lie. Saul didn’t love him. Saul didn’t care two wits about him. Saul had only kept him close so that could control him, use him, and when that was finished, eliminate him.

A friend’s…

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After returning from the Southwest, I loaded several photos and videos of sites at the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, the Painted Desert, and Zion National Park onto the iPads my students use in my music classes. Their assignment is to select photos and videos, put them in a sequence to tell a story, write the story, and then compose background music.  As the students have been searching through the photos and videos I gave them, many have asked about a picture from Arches National Park.  It isn’t until a scroll down to the bottom of the picture and they see the tiny form of a person standing under the arch that they start to get an inkling of the enormity of the arch in the photo.

One of the things that I have learned as I travel this journey through and out of spiritual abuse is that it is very difficult for those who listen to or read my story to wrap their head around it if they haven’t been there themselves.  Especially if they are familiar with the church I attended for nearly twenty years, with the pastor, leadership, and people who go there.  And I know it must be hard because it was hard for me even as I was going through it myself.

There have been people who, try as they might, simply cannot accept that what happened to me was “as bad as” I have claimed.  At best, they will respond with, “I just don’t understand.”  At worst, they try to rationalize on the side of the pastors and leadership saying, “Well, they have so many other more important things to deal with that answering your questions or explaining their reasoning probably just wasn’t in their list of priorities.”

I have been met with attitudes of superiority:  “Well, if it had been me, I would have (fill in the blank).”  I have been met with arrogance:  “I would never have put up with that kind of treatment!”  I have been met with people who think they have 20/20 ‘fore’-sight:  “I could have told you years ago that this was going to happen.”

There are some who appear to have a need to be right at any cost when they express their opinions about my blog, my writing, my story, my experience.  They think they have all of the answers.

And all I can say to those people is, “I guess you had to be there . . . ”

Because unless you’ve been there, you really can’t understand.  Unless you’ve been there, you can’t know what it’s like to be bludgeoned spiritually.  You can’t know what it’s like to try to live a life that is faithful to Jesus while dealing with the tyranny of judgment and ostracism.  You can’t know what it’s like to offer grace and forgiveness in the form of long-suffering and unconditional love to those who would torment you endlessly and without explanation simply because you believe that since God never leaves or forsakes us, we should not leave or forsake one another.

So, may I respectfully say to those who really can’t understand because you haven’t really been there (and some have been there, but in such a different way that they, too cannot understand):  Please don’t tell those of us who have suffered spiritual abuse what we should have done differently.  You weren’t there.  You can’t possibly know.  Please don’t tell us that we are wrong – whether it be in how we handled the situation, or even if in your estimation, spiritual abuse was not what happened to us.  Again, you weren’t there.  You can’t possibly know.  And please don’t tell us (in so many words) how much “better” you are than we are because you would have seen it coming and would have had a better response.  You weren’t there.  You can’t possibly know.  And as one person who emailed me said, “Hindsight is something nobody has at the time!!!”

Those of us who share our journeys have suffered enough without being met with insensitive comments, advice, and judgment.  If you need some advice on how to respond, try this:

“Wow, I had no idea.  I am so sorry you were hurt that way.  It must have been very painful.  I’m glad you shared your story with me and any time you want to share more, I’m willing to listen.”

And for those of you who have been spiritual abuse victims:  When people start telling you all of that other stuff, just quietly and politely say, “I guess you had to be there . . . ”

 

 

 

My friend, Alice, whom you met in another post, and I were meandering through the town where my former church sits yesterday.  It was the height of their yearly spring festival and the streets were packed with people.  Surprisingly, I had only seen one person from the church over a period of several hours until we got to the corner of the square.

The woman we met – I’ll call her Sharon – averted her eyes and I thought, “Oh, boy. She’s been warned to stay away from me.”  I’m convinced that people have been told to keep their distance since no one except Alice has made any attempt to stay in touch with me.  When I attended a small, local conference a few weeks ago, the people who were there from my former church – a couple whom I had considered friends and several others who were acquaintances – also averted their eyes and would not return my smiles or waves.  Now, here stood Sharon, turning her head away and barely responding to our greeting or our comments.

After a couple of minutes, though, she warmed up to us and even after her family (her grown children and small grandchild) caught up with her, they continued on down the street and Sharon continued to chat with us for several minutes.  It was good to enjoy a few minutes with her.

Later, when Alice and I left the festival, she commented that Sharon was no longer participating in a ministry in the church in which she had a very prominent position.  “I didn’t know that,” I said.

“Oh, yeah,” Alice responded. “She had to quit because she and her husband separated.  When that happened she had to stop.”

Now, I didn’t press Alice for details.  I have no idea the whys and wherefores of Sharon’s situation.  But what I realized was that Sharon hadn’t been averting her gaze because she was supposed to shun me.  She was averting her gaze because she expected us to shun her!  And it was only after we treated her with acceptance and showed joy in seeing her that she was able to relax and enjoy our company for a few minutes.

So, I’m gazing at my picture of Jesus that sits on the shelf above my computer and I’m hearing him say, “Sharon, I am here to offer you living water.”  And I am realizing that yesterday, Alice and I were that living water – the Jesus in us offered Sharon his living water and she accepted it gratefully, drank deeply, and walked away with life more abundant.

Oh, Lord God, please continue to put people in my path who so need to have a drink of you.  Out of my mouth, please bring streams of living water.

I surprised myself today.  A colleague had stopped by my classroom during my lunch break to “talk shop” as she often does.  Only this time, something was different.  I was different.

And I was unapologetic.

You see, we have a person in our department who bullies everyone into allowing her to be in charge of everything.  She thrives on playing the martyr so while she is constantly wrenching control, she is also regularly dropping the ball and then flying off the handle at anyone nearby because blame has to land somewhere.

A couple of days ago, she notified the entire staff – about 100 teachers – that she had forgotten to let them know that there was going to be a special program for all music students at 1 PM the following day and so sorry for the late notice, but would they please allow the students to miss class in order to attend.

Well, of course without the professional courtesy of a few days of advanced notice, most teachers simply could not adjust their course work this late in the school year in order to allow the students to be absent from class, so most teachers did not allow their pupils to attend this program.  In order to drum up an audience, the “bully” then invited entire classrooms of non-music students to attend so that the auditorium would be filled.

As my colleague mentioned the program, she expressed her dismay that several of her students had been unable to attend the program because they needed to be in class.  Then she declared, “Oh well.  It all turned out okay in the end.”

To which I responded with a great deal of indignation, “That is not true!  So many students who would have benefitted from this opportunity lost out!  Students were denied a wonderful opportunity and that is not ‘turning out okay’! That’s just ‘Well, we got through it’ because there was an audience so it looked like it was okay.  But it wasn’t okay when the majority of the intended audience couldn’t even be there!”

My colleague looked at me in wonder.

Because in all the years that she has known me, I have never expressed an opinion so strongly and I certainly have never raised my voice in indignation.

For years, I was meek and quiet.  I kept my head down and my mouth shut and rarely offered so much as an idea in department or even full staff meetings.  I had quit doing that years ago.  Back when I was told that I couldn’t participate in service of any kind in my church and refusal of an explanation.  The mandate that I must measure up to some unknown bar caused me to become too frightened to speak out because perhaps it was speaking out that had brought judgment down on me.

Not only did I not speak up, I didn’t look people in the eye – because maybe I had looked at someone wrong.  And I always tried to smile – because when God is disciplining you, you’re supposed to like it and count it all joy.

Well, I certainly wasn’t smiling today and I was looking directly at my co-worker.  And I wasn’t speaking quietly, either. My students deserved better than “Oh well, it all turned out okay in the end.”

And if somebody doesn’t say so, it’s just going to keep happening like it has happened for all of the years that I have taught with the bully.

A little bit of the real Ellen spoke up today.  It felt foreign.  But it felt good.  It startled my colleague.  It startled me.

And then she said, “You’re right.  It didn’t turn out okay.  Those kids deserve better.”

And I knew it was okay to go ahead and be me again.