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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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Open Letter to Donald Trump

Dear Mr. Trump – you want to “make America safe again”?
I hear you say this over and over again in your campaign rallies, your interviews and the debates. I cannot comment on the veracity of your statistics or the genuineness of one of your go-to slogans.
Now would be a good time to demonstrate the leadership qualities of humility and to apologize wholeheartedly for your ‘locker room talk.’
You say that you apologized and others have backed you up.
But you have made the classic move that a sexual offender makes when caught for their actions.
You have said…
I’m sorry… if I offended anyone

I’m sorry… but I’m not a perfect person.
I’m sorry… but this doesn’t reflect who I am
I’m sorry… but I’ve done a lot of good
I’m sorry… but there are more important things to look at
I’m sorry… but Bill and Hillary Clinton have done worse.

This is not a sincere apology.

Mr. Trump – it was good and right that you said this in your public apology: “I said it. I was wrong. And I apologize.” You should have started and ended with these words. Maybe you could have offered us how you’ve worked to change your attitudes and words inciting violence against women. Though given the allegations that are popping up, it would be difficult to be honest or genuine. But owning what you did, stating that it was wrong and apologizing without any ifs or buts, would have been a good thing at a time like this.

As soon as you say “if I have offended anyone” – you demonstrate that you don’t really think you’ve done anything wrong. Instead, it is other people’s perceptions that cast you in a bad light, not your own words or actions. As soon as you say “but”, you negate the apology. As soon as you say someone did worse than you, you show that you really don’t know the gravity of your actions. As soon as you focus on how wonderful you really are, you minimize your apology.

So no… Mr. Trump did not offer a sincere apology. And until you make a sincere apology, I do not think you truly care about making America safe again. Until we see fruits of repentance – of a truly changed heart that has learned things along the way – the kind of America you have to offer is sadly the kind of society that so much of us already live in.

Why does this matter so much?

 
I suggest you do some research on how many women and children experience what you diminished and falsely label as “locker room talk”. Take a look into the prevalence of men using words, power, and actions to take advantage of far too many every single day.
 
You say it’s just words.
I don’t believe you.
But suppose for a moment, it’s “just words”.
 
Know that anyone who has experienced sexual assault will not feel safe in your version of America where it’s ok for anyone, let alone a presidential candidate to speak so crassly.
 
To deny it’s lewdness.
 
To diminish it’s effect.
 
It would do you good – if you really want to “make America safe again” to understand the gravity of sexual assault.
 
I know too many people to count who have to live out the reality of being sexually assaulted.
 
I have witnessed how long it takes to recover – if recovery is even possible.
 
I’ve seen the toll on their mental and physical health.
 
I’ve seen how it wreaks havoc in their relationships.
 
I’ve seen how the pain and memories can be all consuming.
 
I’ve seen how one is not the same after they have been assaulted.
 
I’ve seen the cost that victims of what you describe in your “locker room talk” bear.
 
Your words – even if they are “just words” – are not acceptable.
At all.
 
But even more so because you claim to be a leader and worthy of being the president of one of the most powerful countries in our world.
And in case this isn’t sufficient reason, it’s because your campaign is based on making America safe and great again.
 
(Maybe as a primer – watch this short clip by Joe Biden on Sexual Assault https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilOEuIxpfz4)

8 Years

Image

Tomorrow marks a very important day in my journey.

Some of my readers will know this as my “Exodus Day” – indeed, it was a day that I left behind what I knew and ventured into the road towards freedom.

I’d like to tell the story of that day.

That term, I had been struggling with what was going on at home. I would stay at the university late or stay at a friend’s house or my grandparents’ house to escape the abuse. I had plans to move out in June or July (I can’t remember which month now). Technically, my stepfather had said that wasn’t allowed. So, I found myself a job and a place to live and simply announced it and proceeded as if everyone was cool with it. For me, it was non-negotionable.

But I was struggling emotionally. So I went to friends and shared a little of what I was going through. They supported me, I didn’t tell them much, but told them enough. We were to get together for lunch when my exams were over.

That day was April 28. And over lunch, one of my friends informed me that she was obliged to call children’s aid because there were young children in the home. I tried everything I could think of to get her to change her mind. After all, I knew children’s aid only to be anti-Christian and against families. After awhile, I realized a call was going to be made…with or without me. And I decided that I wanted to take on the responsibility of calling. So we made the call together.

And then I knew I could never go home that night.

That was eight years ago. We were studying Exodus as a Bible study at the time and I really found myself in that story. The abuse was a slavery of sorts – a slave to one’s selfish and misdirected passions. I had been freed from bondage to this way of life.

Yet – as the drama continued and I found myself with an angry family, without a home, and overwhelmed, I found myself saying that it was better at home. Yes, I knew what I was saying – but the desert isn’t a fun place either. I found myself crying out to God like the Israelites – it was better in Egypt. I remember each day as a struggle. Many days I could not fathom getting through, let alone reaching eight years.

And yet, here I am. 8 years later. I love God and know that he is with me. I am thriving in school and work and in life and enjoying all that God has blessed me with. While I have my moments, a joy and peace has filled my life and sometimes I cannot contain it. Each day I am discovering that God’s love is deeper, longer, wider, higher than I ever thought imaginable. I have learned that God’s timing is perfect (though for a perpetually impatient one like myself, I think this will be one of those things I will learn and relearn throughout my life. I have come to see how God can take what is ugly and messy and orchestrate beauty out of it. I can laugh at knowing that God loves me and knows me better than i know myself.

8 years… and there’s still pain, but there’s a lot more healing. The picture above is a clay vase made by a friend of my aunt and uncle. It has become my symbol and hope in healing. For the longest time, I had the other side visible… a woman, with her head down and in chains. And then, I turned it around at some point in my journey… we will overcome some day. I’m not sure one ever stops healing. I think healing and growth continue throughout one’s life.

But my friends and family and readers who have journeyed with me thus far…. we have overcome.

Thanks be to God.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month – Resources

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. I’ve been rather busy lately and have not had the chance to really do much advocacy writing. But I have been wanting to update my book list and thought now would be a good time to do it. I’ve read bits and pieces of most of these books, some more than others, and any of my readers are interested in knowing more about a particular book, I’d be happy to elaborate when I find a few spare moments. Some of these books are written for survivors of abuse but all of them are good to draw from if you are walking with an abuse survivor. Some are from a Christian perspective while others are not. I’ve added a few notes where i thought it would be helpful.

Books on Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse

  • Healing the Incest Wound by Christine A. Courtois (This is a thick book and one that is frequently quoted. It is definitely more on the academic side)
  • The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused edited y Andrew J. Schmutzer (I highly recommend this. I love the title, especially since I did my B.A. Honours thesis on phenomenology of home. I think the title is very apt for the healing journey – long, a journey, and finding ‘home’ It’s quite a comprehensive book of articles by theologians, doctors, nurses, psychologists and others who are involved in caring for victims, offenders and their families)
  • The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Wendy Maltz
  • Invisible Girls: The truth about sexual abuse by Patti Feuereisen and Caroline Pincus (this is focusing on helping teen girls recover)
  • Stolen Tomorrows: Understanding and treating women’s childhood sexual abuse by Steven Levenkron and Abby Levenkron
  • The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis and the Courage to Heal Workbook by Laura Davis (These were my first books on healing from abuse that I ever bought. I remember vividly going to chapters with it and trying to muster up the courage to make it look like it was really for someone else but I couldn’t and was shy and meek and just dying to get out of there. It’s easy to read and is the best first resource for an abuse victim. I didn’t really use the workbook but the activities are actually quite good in there.)
  • Father-Daughter Incest by Judith Herman (Have glanced at this one only but it’s one of the ones that is always quoted)

Memoirs of Abuse Survivors (I have found memoirs helpful in my journey. I have struggled to find someone who is ahead of me in my journey who shares similar aspects. Turning to books was my way to find someone who understood who was steps ahead of me)

  • Living for Today: From Incest and Molestation to Fearlessness and Forgiveness by Erin Merryn (I was really impacted by Erin’s journey and this is a memoir I would like to return to sometime. It was in reading her story that I decided to ‘go public’ with sharing my journey on my blog and hopefully one day in a published memoir to encourage and help others)
  • No place to cry: The hurt of healing sexual abuse by Doris Van Stone and Erwin W. Lutzer
  • Door of Hope: Recognizing and Resolving the Pains of your past by Jan Frank (I appreciated this author’s honesty about her own journey but also her emphasis on facing the skeletons in our closets in order to find healing. I’m not sure I agree with the steps and order she prescribes, but she does provide helpful insight)

Books on Healing from Abuse (non-specified)

  • Mending the Soul: Understanding and healing abuse by Steven R. Tracy
  • Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman
  • Childhood: it should not hurt! by Claire R. Reeves (I haven’t read this one)

Books on Healing Generally (I have included both books that get at various issues that many survivors struggle with.)

  • Why do I feel so down when my faith should lift me up? by Grant Mullen (This is a super easy to read book. As someone who struggled for years with deep depression, I found myself often thinking that either if I had enough faith i could be better or that I’m a total failure for not being able to have enough faith. I’ve turned to this book many times)
  • Women who hurt themselves: A book of hope and understanding by Dusty Miller (Many abuse survivors have struggled with cutting, burning, suicide attempts and other ways of hurting themselves. this is a good book to gain some understanding into this)
  • Lying in Weight: the hidden epidemic of eating disorders in adult women by Trisha Gura
  • The Healing Path by Dan Allender (haven’t read this one)
  • Care for the Soul edited by McMinn and Phillips
  • A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis (this book helped me immensely when my grandmother passed away and I was really struggling to understand)
  • I thought We’d never speak again: the road from estrangement to reconciliation by Laura Davis (this is really helpful for anyone who has been estranged from their families)

Books on Legal issues and Abuse

  • Trauma, Trials and Transformation: Guiding Sexual Assault victims through the Legal system and beyond by Judith Daylen et. al.

Books on Theological Issues that are Relevant to Healing

  • Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis by L. Gregory Jones
  • The root of suffering by Phil C. Zylla
  • Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf
  • Surprised by Suffering by RC Sproul
  • Seeking Peace by Johann Christoph Arnold
  • Surrender to love by David Benner (excellent!)

I would love to have other books that have been helpful in people’s journeys.

The good news

December 31, 2012 1 comment

This Christmas season, I have been reading and thinking and reflecting on passages and stories behind the traditions and our way of life both as it pertains to Christmas celebrations but also to life generally. I am discovering more and more that Christianity today is so frequently watered down and, frankly, meaningless. The ‘good news’ of Christmas demands far more than a declaration that one will follow Christ and has implications far beyond a mere ticket to heaven.

Today a song that spoke to me deeply several years ago came to mind as I sat in church today. It is a song that made me feel heard – like somebody got not only the pain I have felt as I deal with my woundedness but also my dissatisfaction with the answers I was being given.

In order to understand this song’s significance for me personally, I need to share a part of my story.

As a preteen, I was given a subscription to Focus on the Family’s magazine for girls called Brio (a name that i love – “with flair” – how beautiful!). Anyways, inside an issue was a story of a girl who gave her mother a gift for her own birthday as a way to say thank you for giving birth and raising her. I loved that story. So I went to the dollar store and found two candles and wrote a letter to my mom. I packed them with my belongings, eager to give the small package to my mother. We were going camping for my thirteenth birthday – which just so happened to fall on friday the thirteenth. It was going to be a momentous weekend. Little did I know how much.

One of my siblings had a nightmare that night. We shared a tent together. My Dad came in to settle her. But he didn’t leave that night. Instead he used me for his own purposes. That wasn’t new. But the degree of intrusiveness was. I remember feeling afraid and confused.

I woke the next morning feeling sick and confused. But one thing was clear to me  – my mom could never find out what had happened the night before. I remember presenting my gift to my mom – but not with the innocent child like joy and anticipation. Rather, I had a forced smile that was trying so very hard to not show that I had been spoiled.

I do not remember much else about that weekend. Except that I went into the tent later that day to find the sleeping bag that I had zipped up open and ready for two people to sleep. I knew the fate I was facing. And sadly, I was right.

That was my thirteenth birthday. It was definitely a freaky friday and a nightmarish weekend. It was not the first time I was abused. But it was significant enough that I associate it with the day I became an adult and the day I was spoiled.

Violence demands an answer. if there is to be good news in Christ’s coming down as a babe in a manager in the lowly town of Bethlehem, it must provide an answer to violence. Not an answer of well meaning platitudes that “God works all things together for the good of those who love him”. That is a true statement, but the way it is frequently offered, it is no more than watered down mush.

I’m going to piece together the various stories I’ve heard as the background for the song that has been on my mind. While I’ve written the composer to find the exact details, all that I have heard is indirect and so I apologize in advance if the details are slightly wrong. I think the message holds even if I’ve missed or misrepresented certain aspects. The lyrics are at the bottom of this post and I encourage you to go to groove shark or to steve bell’s website and have a listen.

My understanding is that the composer had a foster daughter who was taken advantage of in her young years. I’ve heard Steve speak of his daughter and I’ve seen his tears as aspects of her story break his heart. I’ve met Steve a few times and know some of his relatives but I’ve never really had a conversation with him about this. But as he speaks from the pain of knowing what she has gone through, I have felt known and loved. For those who know that I love his music, this is why…. he is not afraid to tackle some of the hardest questions of life and to speak beauty into them. Anyways, I know he was quite angry to find out about what had happened to his daughter. The story I’ve been told is he had a series of three dreams.

The first dream, he was standing in front of  the perpetrator, with a gun in hand and ready to shoot. The second dream, he again was standing in front of the perpetrator, with a gun in hand and ready to shoot, though this time, Christ stood in between them. The third dream, he stood in front of the perpetrator, with a gun in hand, and Christ said, “Shoot me instead”.

I grew up with understanding that the wages of sin is death – that my sin required my death and Christ, through his work on the cross, paid my penalty. I think that is true. But I wonder if Christ did more than that.

Violence demands an answer.

I have often been accused by family members and defense lawyers that I have acted in revenge in going to the police. Let me set the record straight – there is absolutely no amount of suffering that my Dad can endure to make up for what he has done to me. My thirteenth birthday was ruined and he spoiled me. Nothing can erase that weekend from my memory. He has been sentenced to four years, which in Canada is considered quite a long sentence despite the fact that he was convicted of 8 years of abuse with the judge admitting that it most likely happened longer as I had claimed. I have been separated from my siblings for 7 1/2 years. There is one I have not met and another who was only 6 months when I left home. Four years doesn’t do it justice. But then neither would a lifetime sentence. I disagree with capital punishment for a whole host of reasons – but in this case, I’m sorry, but capital punishment is an escape, an easy way out.

If I want an answer to the violence I have endured, I cannot look to my dad. He doesn’t have enough to lose. He simply cannot pay the price for the pain he has caused me.

But Christ left His seat on a throne to become a helpless babe who had to learn to speak and crawl. From the moment he entered this world, he was involved in the messiness of humanity. He was born into a family of generations of dysfunction, most notably David who – although considered a man after God’s own heart – committed adultery and then put the poor husband at the front of the battle so that he would be killed. Christ slept in the smelly trough of a stable born to an unwed young woman – the ultimate disgrace. His life was sought and the holy family took refuge in Egypt. This morning we read of the story of when he was in the temple that his own parents did not understand him. His own people were fickle – they loved him when he was in their midst healing and feeding them, but then were quick to yell as a mob “Crucify him”. The prophet Isaiah’s words are poignant and deeply meaningful to me and point to a God who intimately knew suffering:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hid their faces; he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53: 2-5

This is not a meek and mild Jesus. This is a Jesus who gave up everything to take on my punishment for the sin that separates me from God. But more than that – this is a Christ who died to satisfy the rage of the losses I’ve sustained by age thirteen. This is a Christ who cares enough about me along with the other orphans, widows and lepers of society to avenge their cause. This is a Christ who answers the cries of the violated.

This is a Christ who chose to pay the price, on a tree, silently and still, just long enough to kill. It is a Christ who sees my pain and anger and says “I can take it, give it to me”. It is a Christ who allows himself to be wounded beyond what my mind can comprehend so that not only can I be saved, but that I can be healed by his wounds and be given peace.

This is not some watered down message.

THIS is the good news.

Somebody’s Gotta Pay – by Steve Bell

Somebody told me about it and burns me up at night

What kind of man would choose to spoil a child?

Who do we call to make it right?

Not gentle Jesus, meek and mild, that’s for sure

Because he won’t fight

 

So I don’t feel guilty about it imagining that I

Could be the reaper grim enough to make it right

Problem is, there’s no one with enough to lose to pay for this

Somebody’s gotta pay for this

Nobody gets away unless somebody dies

And it’s confirmed that there’s been pain

Enough to satisfy the rage

from the losses she’s sustained since age thirteen

Only then can the rest go free

 

I’m still obsessing about it,

Cause it doesn’t end up nice:

Another man, another choice, another child

And who’s gonna pay for all these crimes?

Some dream about avenging mine,

I suppose, but nothing will suffice

 

unless you stumble upon it,

like a dream I had one night

about a man

who chose to pay the price

on a tree, silently and still

just long enough for me to kill

Made in the Image of God

November 28, 2012 1 comment

 

This term, I have been taking an Introduction to African Studies course which has been fascinating. But also perplexing – for there are so many times in history (including recent history!) when Africans were mistreated, particularly by white upper middle class Westerners. Throughout the term, I’ve had the question of how could this happen in my mind? Yesterday, in preparing for my midterm, I came across a line that spoke a potential, yet disturbing answer: In order to take a human being into slavery, you have to view them as less than human. If they were fully human, then they require respect that would not have allowed them to be treated like animals.

It made me think of something that I had read in the summer – that the trouble with sexual abuse is that it attacks the very heart of our creation, that we are made in the image of God. To use a child for your pleasure and to meet your needs is to negate that the child is a God-bearer, someone God has chosen and made in his own likeness. I’ve been trying to understand lately how anyone could hurt a child in this way and there seems to be two answers: 1) the abuser thinks of himself as more than being made in the image of God (that is, he thinks he is above humanity) or 2) the abuser thinks of the child as being less than made in the image of God. Indeed, I just wrote a research proposal on a cult leader who considered himself to be God’s instrument and with that assigned himself special privileges that basically enabled him to take any young girl he wanted to be his sex slave.

One of the most confusing aspects of my story, is that my parents are Christians – it was my parents who taught me that I am made in the image of God. They had me memorize Psalm 139 which is one of the most beautiful passages that speak of God’s intimate love and involvement in each person’s life – that he hems me in, behind and before, and wove me together in my mother’s womb. It is through my parents that I first heard of God’s love for me.

And yet at the same time, my dad treated me as an object that could be used for his own gratification at any time of the day or night. It makes sense to me now that I would feel less than human, and that somehow I am not loved by God. A common theme in the various support groups I have been involved in, is a deep feeling of being unworthy mixed with guilt and shame. Honestly, this makes it easier for coping strategies that end up causing more harm than good as if I am not loved by God, if I am less than human and do not bear God’s image, then does it really matter what happens to me? This has led me to dark places. And while I have written and spoken of God’s love over and over, I have always felt that somehow I was beyond God’s love, beyond his grace… until last winter.

And it has been through this love penetrating the deepest parts of me that I have found healing. It has been through a slow reclaiming of being a “God-bearer” that I have found life.

I wish my dad had thought more before crossing the line to hurt me. I wish he had seen that his actions would attack one of the most beautiful things about God’s love for me  – that God has made me in His image.

It’s amazing how viewing someone as made in the image of God changes how you treat them. As I was walking home, a street-involved, or perhaps homeless, man called out to me that I am as beautiful as the day is today. I’ve written about my friends who would be considered the lepers of society and when I am able to see them as fully human, I see God in them. I see God in the prostitutes, beggars, mentally ill and poor way more than I see God in the church. Blasphemous? perhaps. But these people have taught me more about God’s love, God’s grace and beauty than any Christian minister or teacher that I have ever known. And when I see Christ in them, I can’t simply walk by and ignore them without saying hello and asking them how their day is going. I can’t criticize them or treat them poorly. And when I see one of these beautiful people being mistreated, i feel it – like someone kicked me in the gut.

I do forget that the people around me are made in the image of God. And I do treat people as if they are less than that. And I do at times elevate myself to being more than made in the image of God.

But when I remember and see God in my neighbour – whoever that may be – things are different and love is the only approach. Kindness dominates. And nothing less will do.

May we seek to see others, as well as ourselves, as made in the image of God – nothing more, nothing less.

The Blame Game

To make my psychology studies relate to my research and career goals, I have been reading books on various aspects of trauma and recovery alongside studying less interesting topics of perception, learning and other topics that arise in an introductory course. Right now I am working my way through Mending the Soul: understanding and healing abuse (by Steven R. Tracy). Honestly, I was a bit hesitant to read it because it is published by Zondervan, a notably Evangelical publishing company. While I would consider myself an evangelical at heart, I have often been disappointed by the response (or lack of response) by Evangelical Christians when it comes to abuse. Indeed, I was told that if I had gone to a more evangelical and experienced pastor with my problems, he would have sent me back to my family to work out the issues within the family. I have heard countless stories of well meaning Christians who tell abuse victims to forgive (basically meaning to move on, forget the past and to never talk about it again) or to work on their anger issues and an unrepentant heart.

It never seizes to amaze me how the victim takes on the blame of their abuse – whether they were told explicitly that it was their fault or not – and how frequently disclosures are met with disbelief and even blaming the victim. I remember being told by family members that what my dad did was bad, but what I did (reporting to children’s aid) was WORSE! And this was said to me by people who would watch the news and hear of sexual predators and proclaim that they should be castrated and in jail for life. As Bruce Cockburn aptly puts it – everyone loves justice done on somebody else.

Within the history of psychiatry, there was a diagnosis called “hysteria” that has now been removed from the diagnosis manual. This diagnosis accounted for symptoms of women such as flashbacks, seemingly irrelevant fears, panic attacks, self-hatred. Sound familiar? Psychiatrists at the time noted that a common factor for women who exhibited these “crazy” symptoms was that they had been sexually traumatized as a child or youth.

Freud took this on and is known for his elaborate case studies and listening at length to people’s problems hoping to uncover the deeper meaning attributed to their thoughts, dreams and behaviours. Freud too found that there was a consistent link between hysteria and sexual abuse. Hearing so many atrocious stories made him unable to handle what he was hearing. So unfortunately, he concluded that these stories that he was hearing must not be true – a sentiment that is way to prevalent even today. Further, he claimed that the real issue at hand was that these women had a secret childhood lust and fantasy for their fathers which led them to create wild stories of indecent acts that never really took place. Once again, the victim is blamed. And the perpetrators are protected.

I’d like to think we’ve come along way since Freud. But my experience, in hearing others’ experiences and in reading this book, I am saddened by how common this remains today, in an educated world and in a world where police checks and screening are so commonly used by any organization dealing with vulnerable populations. We have a wealth of stories and insurance companies breathing down our backs. And still, the victim is blamed and the perpetrator is protected.

I read about a woman who went to her pastor after multiple treatments at hospitals for physical wounds inflicted upon her by her husband. These wounds were VISIBLE. And this woman was told that she has an angry and unrepentant heart and that she needed to go back to her husband, love him, and pray that God would forgive her anger. This was one of many stories.

I’m starting to realize – and it is a sad realization – that my story is far too common. The reactions of my family members are common. The culture of my family is common.

Tracy uses the story of Tamar in Scripture (who was raped by her brother) and his years of pastoral and clinical counseling to highlight primary characteristics of abusive families. This characteristics are shockingly familiar to me. I share Tracy’s list for two reasons. First, I want other victims of sexual abuse/assault within the family to know that they are not alone in their experiences both of the actual abuse and the resulting consequences of their disclosure. Second, to challenge others to listen to the cries of victims and to face the ugly truth that no one wants to admit – that sexual abuse is common and devastating.

  • The needs of individual family members are highly expendable (my note: he explains this further in the chapter. A few examples… the perpetrator’s desire for sexual contact, importance, and control trump the needs of victims to be nurtured, loved and protected… the family’s need to maintain a perception of the “happy family” or a particular status within the community trumps the victims need to be believed.)
  • Reality is very difficult to discern (my note: When you think of a sexual predator who comes to mind? Did you know that sexual violence pervades all levels of society, all ages, gender, religion? I can’t tell you how many times people referred to my family as the perfect example and spoke of what an amazing father I had who was involved in our lives…. and indeed, there are many good and wonderful gifts that my parents gave me and they are amazing people… but this is precisely why reality is so very difficult to discern – when people whom we have come to love and accept and even admire are accused of indecent acts, we find it hard to wrap our head around how this person could commit such heinous crimes – and yet, the alternative – that the accuser is a crazy liar doesn’t seem to fit either!!)
  • The victim is made responsible for solving needs they didn’t create and could never legitimately satisfy
  • The family’s shiny exterior belies a dark inner reality
  • Vulnerable family members are not protected because no one wants to know the truth (my note: Truth hurts. Truth requires action. If you accept that your beloved husband is abusing your beloved child, you cannot simply ignore it and hope everything goes away on its own – something must be done. Well, actually, much needs to be done. But you simply can’t stare the ugliness of abuse in the eye and then walk away. So we shy away from the truth and even deny it, because the action and decisions required in response are just plain to difficult. If you don’t acknowledge it, it never happened, right?)
  • The victim’s response is futile
  • Abusive families are emotionally unstable
  • The victims are shamed, blamed, and demeaned.
  • Members are isolated and lack intimacy
  • A strict code of silence is enacted
  • Abusive families deny and distort proper healthy emotions
  • The wrong ones are protected

(From: Tracy, Steven R. Mending the Soul: Understanding and healing abuse. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) 2005; pg.70)