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Last Valentine’s Day…

Last Valentine’s Day was hard.

I had had plans, of course. I was going to continue the tradition that my boyfriend and I had started two years earlier where we give each other President’s Day cards instead of Valentine’s Day cards. The card was still sitting in my desk drawer. It said, “You baRACK! You’re da oBAMa!”

But now the plans were cancelled because there was no one to give the stupid card to anymore and the student union was rubbing it in my face with all the hearts on the walls that said things like “URA ZERO,” and I couldn’t decide whether to put the obligatory Christian Valentine’s Day facebook status about how God loves everyone or to make some bitter comment about how this day was meant to remember a priest who was beheaded anyway and…

oh…

I had an email.

But wait. It was just another notification from that stupid Christian dating website. Ugh. Christian Cafe? Really, Sarah? Why would you sign up for that? What possessed you (besides crippling loneliness and desperation and four days with no sleep) to join Christian Cafe?  It was some guy with the screen name Gnomad something or other, and he thought I was cool because I had a picture holding a toy stuffed Link from The Legend of Zelda. He seemed like a nice guy and he was really cute which obviously meant he was probably really a 60 year old creepy man using a fake photo (because everyone on the internet is, or so I’d been taught). Or maybe he was just a fake account set up in order to lure me in so I’d buy the Mocha Grande Payment Package (seriously, folks) after my free trial was up ’cause no one that attractive would be on Christian Cafe (and then I thought, “Wait! I’m on Christian Cafe! Lovely. Just lovely).

And with THAT, I closed my computer and resumed the break-up routine that had been going on for a few weeks now: listen to Relient K’s Forget and Not Slow Down all the way through,  cry, eat about a million beefy crunch burritos from Taco Bell, try to sleep, fail, repeat. That was last Valentine’s Day.

Then I woke up. Valentine’s Day was over, and I think it was Tuesday because I didn’t have to work and I’m pretty sure I skipped all of my classes and I decided “Hey. It is the day after Valentine’s day and I am going to love myself today.”

And so I walked to my car, because I was going to go to Walmart and buy clearance candy and eat it, damn it!

And then I was going to cut off all my hair, damn it!

And then I was going to dye it red….damn it!

And my car’s tires ended up being frozen to the ground, but I didn’t even care.

I would walk two miles to Walmart in the cold if I had to. And I did.

As I walked, instead of listening to Relient K’s depressing breakup album, I listened to sunshiny 60s pop music (’cause the magic’s in the music and the music is in meeeee!) and I fell in love with me again.

The red hair, and the cheap chocolate, and the fresh air after months of sulking in my dorm room, and the Lovin’ Spoonful? That was the turning point. The point where I untied the chains of that three year long failed relationship. That was freedom.

This Valentine’s Day, I celebrate a personal victory.

I celebrate the seemingly ordinary factors that combined in a magical way to give me the strength to move on.

I celebrate the message in my email inbox that was waiting for me when I got back from Walmart saying, “I forgot yesterday was Valentine’s Day! You seem pretty awesome so this is for you: <3” and I celebrate the fact that I decided, “Oh, fine, I’ll talk to this Gnomad guy. He seems alright.” (he was)

But mostly, I celebrate love and the fact that no matter how broken your heart is, you can still find it–in the clearance section at Walmart or in a box of hair-dye or in a song from the 60s or even on Christian Cafe.

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends.

Let’s celebrate love.

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Join the chorus: Teri’s story

A few days ago, I invited my readers to help me speak out against abuse. To be a choir of voices  for the voiceless (if you would like to be a voice, read my post “Join the chorus” for more information).

Teri J responded to my post and gave me permission to share her story of emotional and mental abuse. I hope you’ll take time to read her story below, and afterward check out her blogs: 

http://unexpectedroad.blogspot.com/ 

http://mymostfavoritethings.wordpress.com/

I am a victim of emotional abuse. 

I must describe my childhood because it is where the wounds began that affected the rest of my life and which caused the fears and struggles that I battled. It also describes my relationship with God, and how it began and progressed. I think the story of my childhood is sort of like an illusion that tricks the eyes because if I look at it from one angle, it appears to be one way, but if I look at it from another angle, it appears a totally different way. Looking at it a third angle, changes it yet again. So in telling the story of my childhood, I have to tell it from several different perspectives: from the way I thought my childhood was, from the way it really was, and from the perspective of my spiritual walk. This is complicated and difficult because one touched and affected the other, and I don’t know how to tell it in any sort of logical order.

One perspective of my childhood would make it appear golden. I was the fifth of six children. My brother was the oldest and then there were five girls. I loved my family deeply. I loved God, I longed to be good, and I had a strong desire to obey. I could be counted on to do tasks without complaint. I was a very good student, and graduated from high school with honors. At church I always did my lessons, always memorized the verses, and was said to be wise and very responsible. I began teaching my own Sunday school full-time when I was in 9th grade. I was asked to be the head of the primary department at church when I was a senior in high school–but declined because I didn’t think I was mature enough. I was captain of our church Bible quiz team, and usually president of the youth group. I was highly praised at home and at church.

Another perspective is not so rosy. I feel now as if I was blinded to the problems and dysfunctions in my family. I didn’t really recognized what was happening until later in my life. I didn’t see that my Mom compared children, favoring some over others. I wasn’t consciously aware that love in the family was based on performance and meeting expectations or that the children who weren’t compliant were unaccepted and unloved. I was unaware of the half-truths and deceptions that my parents used that caused conflict and broken relationships between siblings. I didn’t know that my Mom had never loved two of my sisters. 

My perspective of my family completely changed when I got engaged to be married when I was 27 years old. At first, my Mom praised my fiance, but it wasn’t long before she began to criticize him and me, and to place unreasonable demands on me. I believe she began to see my fiance as a rival, and fear she was losing her control over me. I had called her every day on the phone (often more), but she wanted me to visit. Everything I did was wrong. She began to lie about me to others. When I asked her for help planning my wedding, she said she couldn’t help me and to just get a wedding planner book. When I tried to tell her about my wedding plans, it was obvious she didn’t want to hear. However, she told my finance’s family that I refused to tell her my plans or let her help. She accused me of not deserving to wear of white wedding gown (I did). She said that I was the “boldiest and brassiest bride” she had ever known, so determined that this was MY day, and I would enjoy it. In reality, I have always been quiet, polite, and obedient. My Mom gave me so much grief that my fiance and I weren’t sure my family would attend our wedding so we finally decided on a small immediate family only ceremony. My Mom wore black to my wedding. My pastor said that in all his 30 years of being a minister, he’d never encountered a family like mine. 

The difficulties continued even after I was married. I cannot describe all the mind-twisting abuse we have suffered. My Mom told me that I was “a daughter from Hell. The worst daughter a mother could have.” She told lies about me to other family members, turning most of them against me. She twisted, interpreted, and “rewrote” things that happened, making lies seem like truth. She told others in the family that I hung up on her when I didn’t, and that we were only “nice” because we wanted other people to think we were nice. She got mad because I mailed her a card from work instead of the local post office, got upset because I was in our apartment building’s basement laundry room and didn’t know she had come to visit, condemned us for putting our TV where we did in our apartment, and criticized my husband and me for going to town festivals the first summer we were married. “Life isn’t all fun and games, you know,” she said. Sometimes, trying to deal with her, has made me feel crazy.  

At first, I had no idea what was happening. I begged my Mom not to make me choose between my husband and her because I loved them both. I tried to compromise without giving her total control over my husband and me. For 20 years I’ve struggled with how to love her, how to reconcile with her. When I am direct and tell her I love her and want to reconcile with her, she pours out rage on me at the terrible failure I am as a daughter. When I step back from the abuse, she sends me sweet birthday cards, which for many years has confused me, making me renew my efforts to reconcile because “maybe she is just wounded and doesn’t know how to love.” I was told by one sister that my Mom has said that all my efforts are “a mere drop in a tea cup” and that she will never, ever forgive me. When I called my Mom in May 2010 to tell her I love her, she raged at me, criticized my husband for saying something stupid 20 years ago, and insulted him terribly, raging that he had brainwashed me. When I told her, “Don’t you dare talk about my husband that way,” she repeated over and over again with great rage, “Oh I dare, I dare, I dare, oh, I dare…” until I finally said, “Then it’s over”–and at that time I really did hang up as she continued, “I dare, oh I dare, I dare, I dare…..” At that time, I decided that for my sanity, I needed to separate from the abuse and have nothing to do with my family.

I think the most difficult, painful, and lonely thing about emotional abuse is that when you try to tell others, they don’t believe you. Decades ago, rape victims were silent about what happened to them because if they reported the rape and their case went to court, they were put on trial more than the rapists, as if somehow they deserved the rape. At one time, women who were physically abused by their husbands were told that they needed to be better wives–that they must have done something to cause their husbands to abuse them. I don’t think that many, these days, would advise an abuse victim to stay with their abuser. People are now aware that physical abuse is not the victim’s fault, and that the abuse tends to become more violent if a victim stays. However, there is a form of abuse that few recognize: emotional (or psychological) abuse.

With emotional abuse, there are no bruises to point to, no broken bones to prove it happened. The abusers can be so manipulative and deceptive, and appear so loving and charismatic, that people–even the victim herself (or himself)==find it hard to believe that abuse is happening. People often make excuses for the abuser: she is probably just wounded. He doesn’t know how to love. I’m sure she really loves you. They advise the victim to love her abuser more or forgive more, and in doing so add to the guilt and shame that the abusers are already inflicting on his or her victim. When victims try to share their story, they appear petty, unforgiving, bitter. They aren’t believed so they end up being silent, struggling and suffering alone.

You want a picture of emotional abuse? Read the book T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton or watch the movie Tangled. In T is for Tresspass, the nurse is an emotional abuser, appearing good while she is abusing her patient. Kelsey, the main chararacter, shows what it’s like for those trying to deal with emotional abusers. In the movie Tangled, Repunzel’s fake mother sounds very loving, but she is actually controlling Repunzel with guilt and shame so she can use her for her own purposes. How could Repunzel be so terrible as to disobey her dear mother who just wants to do what is best for her??? Repunzel’s struggle between joy at her newfound freedom when she escaped from the tower, and guilt over being such an awful daughter describes my struggle to be free quite well.

A victim of emotional abuse has to fight very hard battles to be free of emotional abuse. She has to seek truth in her life–about others’ dysfunctions and her own–and keep hold of it. As I began to recognize dysfunction, I realized that I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know what I liked/disliked, I struggled to make decisions of my own, and I had no personal boundaries in place. I also felt guilt over the problems with my family, and have thought, “If only I had done this or that…we wouldn’t have had these problems.” I have wondered (and sometimes still wonder) if it’s my fault, if I’m the monster they describe me as. Over the years, I have been growing step by step into healing and freedom. I have come a long way, so I know who I am, I like who I am, I know what I like and dislike, and I don’t have a such a need to gain others’ approval. I continue to fight to overcome the effects of dysfunction in my life. Part of my fighting has been to finally make the decision to separate from my family–or most of them–as long as they remain abusive. This has been an anguishing decision for me. When I have contact with my family, even indirectly, I have to fight again to overcome fear, guilt, feelings of suffocation. I then reread information about emotional abuse to remind myself that I am not crazy, I’m not making this up, it’s REAL.

The book, In Sheep’s Clothing – Dealing With Manipulative People, has been very helpful to me in understanding my family. The author seems to be very accurately describing my Mom/family. Here is a link to an excerpt from the book, as well as links to sites about emotional abuse.


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Why do you know your limitations?

“I can’t do that,” a friend of mine said to me recently. “I know my limitations.”

I’ve heard that phrase many times. “I know my limitations.”

But my question to anyone who has uttered those four words is this: why do you know your limitations?

Do you know your limitations because you put them there? Did you hand pick the bricks to build up the walls you’ve put around your life?

Or, do you know your limitations because you’ve been to them? Because you’ve tested them and pushed them?

Do you know your limitations because you’ve tried over and over to beat them? Or do you know your limitations because you limit yourself?

We all have limits. And it’s not always bad to set limits for ourselves.

But we need to realize why we know our limitations before we say, “I can’t.”


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Words bruise

As I’ve discussed in several of my posts lately, my first boyfriend was abusive.

He didn’t hit me very often (in fact, I only remember him hitting me once). He didn’t need to. He could bench press 300 lbs, so I was just a rag doll to him. He pushed me around, threw me into things, or picked me up and shook me when he was angry. If I tried to run away, he would grab my arm so tightly that it would leave bruises in the shape of his hand.

Those things hurt. They hurt badly. And the bruises were ugly, purple and green.

It’s been five years. They don’t hurt anymore. And the bruises are gone.

But my first boyfriend left some bruises that haven’t faded. Bruises that can’t be seen. Bruises that still hurt.

Bruises caused by the impact of words.

I haven’t done the research, but I would guess that verbal abuse is far more widespread than physical abuse. As easy as it is to get away with physical abuse (hint: it’s pretty damn easy), getting away with verbal abuse is even easier. I would assume that this is partly because people do not take verbal abuse that seriously. 

But it still hurts. The words always come back to me, always in his voice.

Whenever I firmly stand up for what I believe I hear,

“Bitch.”

Whenever I am reminded of the fact that I am not a virgin due to the sexual abuse I suffered as a child I hear,

“Whore.”

Whenever I study for a difficult exam in college I hear,

“You’re too stupid for college.”

When my current boyfriend tells me he loves me I hear,

“You don’t deserve to be loved.”

I know they say that words can’t hurt, but to be honest, I think I’d rather take my chances with the sticks and the stones.

Physical abuse is a terrible, terrible thing. But don’t ever think that verbal abuse is not terrible as well. Don’t ever think that just because your wounds aren’t tangible the pain you suffer isn’t legitimate.

If you have suffered verbal abuse, you have been hurt and it is okay to need to heal. I belittled myself for years for letting those words bother me. I thought I was weak for that.

But the truth is, words can hurt.

So, how do we heal?

Join the facebook fan page for Not This Girl if you'd like to get more involved in the fight against physical, sexual, and verbal abuse!

I’m still in the healing process myself, so I am not an expert. But the best advice I can give you is combat the lies by constantly filling yourself with the truth. And surround yourself with others that fill you with the truth.

God doesn’t make mistakes. You are a beautiful creation. You are significant. You are enough.

**Read more on this topic here, here, and here. If you have a story to share, feel free to do so in the comments or to send me an email. Help me be a voice!


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Love by leaving

How do you love a boyfriend that abuses you? How do you treat an abusive girlfriend like Jesus would treat her? How do you forgive a person without letting him/her hurt you again?

Ever since I broke up with my abusive first boyfriend five years ago, I’ve been searching for answers to this question.

If I had treated him better…

If I had stayed with him longer…

If I hadn’t responded with violence at the end (our break up involved me punching him in the face out of self-defense)…

….would he have changed?

Does loving like Jesus loved mean letting people walk all over us? I used to think so.

But I’ve changed my mind.

I’ve been reading the book Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. If you’ve read other books by Shane Claiborne, you’ll know that he is radically committed to following Christ’s teachings of love, mercy, and peace. He is anti-violence, anti-war, and pro-“enemy love.”

But in Jesus for President, he reminds us that Jesus was not pro-passivity. He didn’t want us to “let people sadistically step all over us (p. 92).”

No violence or hatred.

No passiveness.

Jesus taught a “third way.”

As Claiborne and Haw explain, when Jesus preached on “turning the other cheek” in Matthew 5, he was not supporting passiveness. Because of  cultural law, the Jews of that time would only use their right hand to hit someone. Turning the other cheek would prevent attackers from backslapping you as one would an inferior. Your attacker would have to “look [you] in the eye” and fight you as an equal. Jesus did not want people fighting back or cowering in fear. He wanted them to look attackers in the eye and say, as Claiborne and Haw state, “I am a human being, made in the image of God, and you cannot destroy that.” (p. 92)

Of course, our culture is different. Turning the other cheek won’t produce the same effect today. But we can still stand up for our “sacred humanity” (p. 93). By leaving abusive relationships- by showing our abusers that “I am enough!” we can remind them whose image we are made in.

When we walk away from those relationships, our abusers see our strength. They are forced to look at us, not as inferiors, nor as objects, but as equals. As fellow humans. We escape the situation, and at the same time, we force our attackers to see things from a different perspective.

(By the way, this isn’t always easy. I used violence because I couldn’t find any other way out of my situation. I’m a pacifist committed to non-violence, and my saying this is probably hypocritical. But, if you feel that there is no other way out of your situation and you punch your abuser in the face like I did, I will not judge you. In fact, I might secretly cheer for you in my head. There, I said it. Excuse my imperfections. You may not have to use violence, but you may have to get authorities involved. And you will almost certainly need help from friends and family. It’s not easy. Don’t do it alone)

It’s not loving to provide your abuser with an opportunity to continue his violent lifestyle. Violence kills the image of God in us.

So leave abusive relationships and give your abuser a chance to start over. Give your abuser a chance to see the image of God in you, but also in himself/herself. Love abusers by letting them start fresh- by giving them a chance to change.

As Jesus for President states, “Even those who have committed great violence can have the image of God come to life again within them as they hear the whisper of love.”

Love by ending the violence. Love by leaving.

**By the way, read Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. It’s awesome!


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I’m ready to be a voice (I think)

I don’t always finish what I start. About two weeks ago, I promised a series on the good and bad of Disney Princess movies.  But I never  finished writing even one post besides the introduction.

Perhaps someday I’ll pick the series up again, but at this point I have lost interest. I quit because I got stuck. I had ideas. I even made an outline (and I never do that). But the first movie that I planned on analyzing, Beauty and the Beast, hit much too close to home.

The “bad” that I was going to write about in my analysis of Beauty and the Beast was that it gives girls an incentive to stay in abusive relationships. It promotes the “I can change him!” ideology.

And though I’ve mentioned before that I was once in an abusive relationship, I’d never  written  much about it. I thought I was prepared to explain my failures to “change” the boy that I was with.

But when I sat down to write, I found that I wasn’t as prepared as I’d thought.

I realized that it takes ovaries (which is a feminist’s version of saying “it takes balls”) to talk about abusive relationships. And I wasn’t quite ready to send those naked thoughts out into the world quite yet.

What if that ex-boyfriend finds this and reads it?

What if telling my story makes people think that I was weak and stupid?

What if people don’t believe me?

And then I realize that these are the thoughts going through the heads of so many women in the world right now. And abusers want these thoughts running through the heads of women so that the cycle can continue. So, perhaps it’s time for me to start talking.

I won’t promise another series, since I’m not sure how much talking I’m actually ready to do. But I hope that I can start being a voice on this issue. Because women who have been/are being abused need a voice. Women who have not been abused need to hear those voices as warnings. And the men of the world that respect women may need help understanding this issue.

So, I’m going to be a voice. I may start out as a quiet one at first and my voice may crack a little (like I said, I couldn’t even bring myself to write about Disney princesses because of this, so it’s difficult). But I’m going to be a voice.

So, what about you? Do you have something to say for those who feel stuck in silence? Maybe we can speak together.

When we have a voice, we empower others to speak. And maybe one voice can’t drown out the lies, but a chorus sure can. So, if you’re ready, join in. If you’re not, don’t worry. Send me an email (moonsn11@gmail.com)- I’ll do my best to be one for you.

But no more silence.


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Why I Shouldn’t Write (According to Me)

Writing is hard work sometimes…

Like right now, for instance.

I’ve always felt called by God to write. That’s my part right now in this race that we call the Christian life. But I must admit that I’ve spent most of my life on the sidelines. Why?

Because I made too many excuses.

But lately, as I’ve been pondering these excuses, and as I’ve been reading advice from writers that I look up to, I’ve been learning something. Most excuses aren’t legitimate.

These are my 5 most commonly used ones, and why they are not, as the kids are saying , “legit:”

1. I don’t have time: Now, in my defense, I did spend the last year of my life working full time and going to school full time. But now that I’ve quit my job and am home for the summer, this excuse makes like a penguin and doesn’t fly. I’m pretty sure I’ve played Resident Evil for 15 consecutive hours on more than one occasion this month (remember the episode of Spaced where Simon Pegg plays Resident Evil 2 so much that he hallucinates that everyone he sees is a zombie? I can sort of relate). So, it’s not that I don’t have time. It’s that I waste time.

2. No creative ideas have come to me: I’m not sure why I take such a passive approach when it comes to writing. Sitting on my couch watching PBS and eating Combos, hoping that Creativity shows up on my doorstep isn’t going to help. For one thing, my doorbell is broken. But, seriously, if I want to fill my creative energy gauge, I should go out and do it. It’s not like creative energy costs $4 a gallon. I know exactly what inspires me- a Harry Potter novel, a Queen music video, a Beethoven symphony, a Serious Wednesday post at Stuff Christians Like…Inspiration is all around me. I just have to turn off Elmo’s World and go get it!

3. I can’t write too often. I’ll use up all my good ideas: It’s funny. I’ve never heard a pianist say, “I can’t practice too often. I might learn all the best sonatas.” I’ve never heard a baseball player say, “I can’t play too well. I might run out of home-runs to hit.” Why do I think that writing more is going to make me less creative?

4. It’s not going to make a difference: I wrote my first blog post in August of 2010. It got 2 views. But, one of those two original readers sent me a message telling me how much my post had helped her. I thought, “Every person is worth it. If I help just one person, that’s more than enough.” Now-a-days, my blog usually gets about 200 views a month. I get messages similar to that first message on a regular basis. You’d think I’d be happy. But then I look at these other blogs that get thousands of views a week and think, “Why am I even bothering?” Silly me. I answered my own question months ago: Because each person is worth it. If I help just one person, that’s more than enough.

5. I’m afraid: This one’s usually the killer. See, God could have asked me to blog about movies or video games or other, more impersonal topics. But he didn’t. He wants me to write because he wants me to be transparent. He wants me to get people to think differently. He wants me to be discerning. He wants me to give the gift of going second. Sometimes those things offend people. Sometimes those things kick my pride in the kidneys. Sometimes they make me feel vulnerable. Writing is scary. And it’s hard to crush the excuse of fear.

But writing is not a job for the faint of heart. We have to face, not only our own excuses as to why we should not write, but other people’s opinions on our writing ability. It takes courage.

And furthermore, following Christ is not a job for the faint of heart. Taking up a cross takes courage too. If I want to follow Christ with my writing, I need to put my excuses down and face my fears.

Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

I won’t be alone.