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Why I Marched

Today, I joined approximately 60,000 women, men and children marching in Toronto for women’s rights. Such marches, originating in Washington, D.C, took place in 50 states and over 600 hundred marches in solidarity on 7 continents. For some, this was a protest against President Trump and his tweets and speeches that put women down, sexualize them or mistreats them. However, this march stood for so much more!

When I announced on Facebook that I was going to this march, I received quite a bit of resistance which surprised me, claiming, for example, that this was primarily a pro-choice march. In Toronto, we had an hour of speeches and this divisive issue was not mentioned. Instead, there was a focus on the way that women of all backgrounds and beliefs have been treated. What I found special about this protest march is that it brought together people who may not agree on many things, but who all stood for fair and equal treatment for women. It was a peaceful and nonviolent protest. There were people in their 80s present as well as babies. There were men of all ages there and many of them wore pink – to all the men who came, I want to say a special thank you for standing in solidarity with women’s rights. In doing so, you speak volumes that women’s rights are something that everyone should be concerned about.

At the outset, let me say a few things. First of all, I did not agree with everything that was said nor did I stand behind each sentiment on a protest sign. At the beginning of the march, we were given pins that asked “Why are you marching?” I spent quite a bit of time in the presence of women who I know have experienced similar things to think through why I was marching. The organizers of the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. posted a four page typed list of what people were standing for. And most of those things were why I marched. Second, I am also aware that this is a pretty negative post. It is all things that I think people need to hear. However, I’ve also been blessed with people who deeply respect women and value my input, gifts, experience and knowledge. I’ve been privileged enough that I haven’t felt that my gender has prevented me from work or from fair pay, a privilege I know many others do not experience. I’ve had the privilege of working for people who did not treat me differently because I am a woman. I am thankful for these people in my life and for the hope they give me in respecting women’s rights.

So let me get personal.

I have my own painful story of what I endured growing up and the consequences of speaking up. I’ve written about that elsewhere and want to focus this blog post on some other things I’ve experienced. However, this was one of the major motivations for me to walk today.

There is seldom a week that goes by when I haven’t been “cat-called” or had a comment about my body by a stranger.

I’ve grown so used to these comments that I don’t think about them anymore. Well, most of the time. Sometimes they still catch me off guard and anger me.

In the fall, I was assaulted on the bus by a stranger. I wasn’t the only one. Someone told the driver, who was subsequently required to stop the bus and wait for the police to show up. He was only allowed to tell us that transit control required him to stop. The men on the bus were quite upset that we weren’t going anywhere. Then the police showed up and removed the passenger in question. Then came the stories from all the young women on the bus who had been assaulted to varying degrees spoke about their experiences. This all happened in front of others. Granted, I know all to well how consumed in a book or my own thoughts I can become as I commute. But I have since found out that this is a common experience for women on our transit system.

Since that day, I’ve found myself sitting closer to the driver.

On Christmas Eve, I went to a candle light service that ended such that I would be at the subway station waiting for the bus after midnight. I could walk home, but the street is not well lit, there are a couple of bars with people drunk and smoking outside, and often shady characters. I asked a friend if she’d wait at the subway with me until a bus came as I didn’t feel safe.

If I’m walking at night, I am holding on to my phone – just in case I need it.

I am no longer surprised if I hear that someone has been sexually abused or assaulted.

In a workshop with youth about bullying, I had them write down on sticky notes things that they have been called. The words that the girls have been called break my heart.

Online dating is a thing for my generation. Many people have found their match through these sites and, as a tool, it alone is neither good nor bad. But for every polite conversation I have with a guy, I’ve had to delete a ridiculous number of messages that are overt in sexual come-ons.

In a recent Facebook discussion, I mentioned a stat that I had read that talked about how roughly 50% of girls who get pregnant, the father is 5-6 years older than them. Depending on how old the girl is, that is statutory rape. A person’s response was “Oh please, they wanted it”. If that was the only time I’ve heard such a sentiment, I think I could handle it ok. But it’s not.

Also in that discussion, the same person said that women should be in control of their bodies… because they are the ones that get pregnant. First of all, this dismisses the many people who have been abused, assaulted and/or raped and it’s a message we hear all the time. Why didn’t we do something about it? Why didn’t we kick or scream? Why didn’t we say no? Why didn’t we report it? But even in consensual relationships, it takes two to make a baby! Yet, I hear over and over and over how women are the ones who are to be responsible and the men get off. Interesting isn’t it, how in Scripture, the adulterous woman is about to be stoned and there is no mention of the man with whom she committed adultery!

I know what it’s like to not be believed. I know what it’s like to be dismissed because I’m hormonal. I know what it’s like prepare a sermon and have it called “teaching” simply because I was in a church that doesn’t allow women to preach. I know what it’s like to say something and have it dismissed, only for a man in the room to say the same thing and be applauded.

Today was a day that hundreds of people around the world said that all these things are wrong. It’s a day that we stood in solidarity saying that women have the right to be respected and a right to equality. It’s a day when we said no to hate. It’s a day where we said we will not be silent. It is a day when we said to each other – you are not alone. It was a day where people came together – despite their differences – to say that we demand that women be treated well. All the time.

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Speaking out

My head and heart have been distracted this past week. I have read countless articles and comments about Ghomeshi, victims of sexual crime and rape culture. I have tried to challenge and speak into what has seemed like a sad commentary on both what victims experience and people’s responses. In doing so, my story has been more public than I am used to. Yes…I write a blog and what I write is out there. But 100+ hits a day to one post is simply not what I am used to. Enough has been written on this topic and so I don’t want to say much at the moment.

But I would like to add to the discussion what speaking out is like…even for someone whose offender has been convicted.

Each time I tell a new person that I was sexually abused, I am worried that I will lose relationships. Speaking out has cost me my family and much more.

Each time I admit that I too was a victim, I worry my voice will be discounted since I am damaged … Or worse…that I am crazy as some have said.

Each time I mention the abuse by my stepfather, I wait in fear for the words of my grandmother that echo in my mind “I don’t believe you, but continue.”

Each time I tell my story, I worry what people think of me. I worry that people will consider me unfit for ministry. I worry that people will only see this side of me.

Each time I tell someone, I worry their niceness is them feeling sorry for me. I worry that silence means they don’t believe me.

I worry how this information would be used against me or used to hold me back.

This is after ten years of telling people. And the majority of them walking alongside me in the long and difficult journey towards healing and wholeness.

Dear world,
If you want more women to speak up and out, you need to know that we risk everything to do so. There is no glamour or rewards for doing so. Just shame, fear and pain. Respond tenderly. Even if you don’t believe our offenders did what we say. Even if you don’t know how to reconcile your good opinion of the person and the allegations. Choose silence over blind statements about our character. Refrain from judgment of us, just like you want to do with the offender.
Affirm our courage. Chances are, we are telling the truth and the cost of doing so is beyond what you could even begin to imagine. Affirm our pain. You do not need to know whether what we say is true in order to see that we are troubled by something.
Don’t give up on us. Whether you believe us or not, walk with us. We need you.
Respond tenderly. Affirm our courage and pain. Stick with us.
And together we will work towards a culture that does not permit sexual violence.

There’s a Crack in Everything

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Back in Lent, I wrote about putting God on trial for the seeming absences and failure to act in my life. It wasn’t the easiest Lenten journey by any stretch of the imagination! I have frequently enjoyed a closeness with God in my life that has provided solace, peace, refuge, and even joy when not much in my life provided that. I would cry out to God, longing for His comforting presence during Lent, and to be honest, it’s been awhile since I’ve felt that closeness. And then there was fear and trepidation as I, a mere human, dared to question God Almighty claiming his failure and abandonment. Fear because if God is not a God of love, could I survive such accusations? Fear because what if I was right? What if God cared for everyone but me and was merely using me as a pawn for his glory? What then?

When I embarked on this journey, one thing was very clear – I could not do this alone. I needed people to hold me in prayer and accompany me on this dark journey. I needed people to hold onto the truths that with my head I know are true but my heart was questioning. I took a risk and shared with a few people in my church community who did not know my story along with those who did. It’s been interesting starting fresh in a new community. This community is incredibly welcoming and caring. But they have not journeyed with me for long. They do know the many twists and turns my life has taken over the 9 years I have lived here, the struggles I have faced, and the person I am. However, if this was to be the community that would walk with me through this time of questioning and darkness, I needed them to know a little bit. So I sent a prayer request note to them.

I don’t think I really have answers. Nor do I think I am done asking the questions. I still don’t have that warm fuzzy feeling that God is present back in my life. My days are still not easy.

Instead, something surprising has come out of this period. I don’t feel as horribly alone.

To understand this, one needs to know that I feel so very alone most of the time. I’m always managed to make friends and have fulfilling relationships. I’m often around people. But I have always yearned for that deep understanding from someone who has “been there”. I don’t know anyone who has lost relationships with their family (especially much younger siblings!) because they spoke out about the abuse. I don’t know anyone who found out they have another sibling by an email of a friend of a friend who had no idea that I had no idea. I don’t know anyone who was only told that their grandmother was dying on the condition that they wouldn’t call her. I don’t know anyone who has withstood a gruelling cross-examination – one that I have heard from several crown attorneys that it was one of the worst they have seen. In other words, I don’t know anyone who seems to really get me. People who are in my life catch glimpses of my story and every time it feels like dropping a bomb.

letting my faith community into my life has not really changed this. I still don’t know anyone who has been through what I’ve been through, who is steps ahead of me in the healing journey.

But – I know people who have deeply questioned God and wondered where God is in suffering. People who have journeyed with others in horrendous situations and have trouble understanding that God is good. People who have had periods of time without sensing God’s presence. People who have also felt like a pawn for God’s glory. People who still don’t have answers. People who still have faith in God despite not having answers. People who find strength in the absurd – in a God who we don’t understand most of the time. People who have felt alone in their questioning of God. People who have different stories than mine but who feel they put on a mask or drop a bomb into conversations. People who also dodge the typical getting to know you questions because they doubt people really want to know.

Leonard Cohen puts it really well – There’s a Crack in Everything.

we are all broken people living in a broken world. things happen that shouldn’t happen. and for whatever reason, God doesn’t intervene. Injustice continues to wreak havoc in our lives. Children suffer at the hands of those who should care for them.

There’s a crack in everything.

But that isn’t the end of the story. That’s how the light gets in.

 

 

 

Dreams and Reality

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Last night, I had some pretty bizarre and vivid dreams. My nightmares often take on the form of war, where I am fighting for injustice against the ‘enemy’ and risking my life. Last night I seemed to have one of those dreams that just lasted forever. I will spare you the gory details. At the end of the dream though, I had been advised to flee the country because my life was in danger. In my dream, I began to explore the possibility of moving with my cat Shalom to Africa for a few years. Interestingly enough, this part of my dream was incredibly realistic – brainstorming ways to fundraise, pulling names out of the woodwork of various connections I have (connections that I have made over the years in real life, and names of people I haven’t thought of in many years!) and making this plan into action. The plan was to start in Kenya and travel. This part of the dream was so realistic that when I woke, I turned to my computer to continue the search for work overseas.

Today I got my passport – something I haven’t had in ten years. I feel like I have a ticket to the world now, though admittedly with no savings to actually use this passport! Still, it is one step closer to making a dream of traveling to Africa closer to reality.

As my day progressed, I started to shrug off this dream as purely a dream with absolutely no roots in reality.

But then, in chatting with a friend and sharing my nightmare/dream, I started to question myself – why do I feel this is a dream that cannot be translated into reality? what is stopping me from making this happen? Or rather, how do I MAKE this happen?!

I have lamented many times on here that I do not have contact with my immediate family. This continues to weigh heavily on my mind and tears form as I once again acknowledge this reality. I’ve also been involved in a court process against my Dad and I have great hope that this will finally come to an end in the coming months. I feel like so many of my decisions about my future over the past 8 years have either been tied wanting to re-establish relationships with family members or have been held back by what has seemed to be a never ending court procedure. Leaving the country has never been an option.

Today as I was thinking about moving to Africa, I began to realize that I am in an interesting position in my life. So many of my peers have family members to think about in their decision making, spouses to consider, aging parents to look after. I do have extended family whom I love dearly and will consider in any decisions I make about my future. But, compared to many others, I am free to pursue my dreams, whatever they are, wherever they take me without the same pressures that have held me back or that hold others back.

Out of all that I learned from the program, I think one of the things that stands out to me today the most is a desire and readiness to move on, to move forward, to pursue my dreams and make reality those things that I want for me. I mentioned at the beginning of this post that many of my nightmares about war and about me standing up for others and protecting others. I’ve always thought it interesting that this comes out so vividly in my dreams as it mirrors my life and my decision making so well. So much of my decision making has been about protecting, rescuing, saving others. As one of my closest friends pointed out to me recently, I’ve started to make decisions for ME, based on what my dreams and needs are. This is new territory for me and honestly a little daunting. But also exciting, for the world is my oyster! There is so much that I can do, so much that I can explore!

I remember a painful moment in the trauma program where I felt that my Dad set me up to fail by abusing me and I faced the reality of the consequences of his actions over many years. But I am so much more than the abuse, so much more than the damaged goods I used to believe I was, so much more than stupid family dynamics. My Dad might have set me up to fail – but God has raised me up and will use me powerfully for His glory. I think this is one of the beautiful things about God’s economy – that no matter what our pasts are, God can and will use us for His glory. I love the story of Joseph in Genesis who was thrown into a bit by his brothers and sold into slavery. He later was placed into a position of power and was able to save not only his family, but his people as well. When his brothers came to him to seek forgiveness in fear and trembling, Joseph said words that I hope to one day be able to say to my Dad: “What you did, you meant for evil, but God meant it for good.”

And so, in confidence of knowing that God has plans for me and in the desire and excitement of moving on, moving forward, I am going to explore possibilities that I have only allowed myself previously to dream about. I am not going to let those things that once chained me to a stunted reality stand in the way. I am going to dream big and see where that leads me, whether in my own city or to the far corners of the earth.

And maybe, just maybe, in the coming days, months, years, my dreams will become more than dreams. Maybe they will become reality!