Adventure in Fear of God, Afraid of Church

This is going to be long, and it’s going to be messy, but it’s going to be something I need to say. So stay with me. Or don’t. It’s your choice.

In the highly likely event that you missed me rambling on a podcast a couple of months ago, here is the link again. In this conversation I admit something hesitantly to Adam’s listenership that I’ve told few people in my own life, and now find myself having to be more open about. Which, I suppose, was my intent. In case you hate listening to things or you find my voice grating, which I’d understand, I’ll tell you. With just about the same amount of hesitation. I’ve been sexually assaulted on four separate occasions. It never gets easier to say, because the truth of it doesn’t ever get easier. But I’ve been trying to tell people for a while now, not just for my own sake, but because I think it’s time that we all start being honest about it.

our lady of stone

 

There’s so much sense of shame around it all. And on the wrong people. Victims should feel no sense of shame. The people who should be ashamed of things like this never really seem to be able to admit they’ve done something grossly wrong. The truth is I’d been doing a pretty good job of repressing everything. A magnificent job. Sure, I’d get really sad or upset for what even felt to me like no reason at all. But the time came where people were beginning to tell me I was happy. I was healthy. I was beginning to believe it myself. Then something happened again, and that’s when it all went south. You never know when PTSD is going to be triggered, and if you don’t know you have PTSD you definitely aren’t expecting your brain to suddenly fall to pieces and start dripping out of your ears and nose and eyes.

Here’s the thing though. A while ago, the second time, the worst of the times, I had been going to a church that I wasn’t fully connecting with. That happens to me a lot. People in congregations do not approach me. People who have been attending service places for a long time do not approach me. I’d been going to service this place for a few years before I finally felt like I had people I was pleased to see on Sunday morning or looked forward to seeing and who looked forward to seeing me. People who seemed genuinely interested in my life, but I still didn’t feel connected.

But I was finally doing all of those things people tell you to do when you aren’t meeting new people at church. I was going to all of the events. Sure, I always went with one or both of my roommates, but I went. And one night someone who seemed to have been trying to talk to me for a while approached me at St. Patrick’s Day party at the church building. My roommate and I had been upstairs in the balcony listening to the band and he approached me to tell me he liked my silly St. Patrick’s Day ensemble. It wasn’t anything exciting. Mid-calf length brown trousers, green and white striped socks, combat boots, and who knows what top I was wearing. Who can ever know? I just remember the bottom half because it was absurd.

Two Sundays later he approached me again and asked if I wanted to get coffee with him. Why not? I admit it. I was excited. I hadn’t been on a date, mmm, much of ever. So that afternoon, while short notice, I met up with him. We, mostly he, talked for four hours. And if I’m honest we didn’t actually drink coffee. And he didn’t want to actually meet in the coffee shop. He wanted to go into the church basement for privacy. It was suspicious, but fine. Mostly he raved in that manipulative boastful insecurity. A sort of insecurity that attempts to manipulate the listener into countering everything the speaker is saying into building him up, buuuut the listener doesn’t need to. Because the speaker some how finds a way to do it at the same time. Not a humblebrag. That’s important. It’s not a humblebrag. It’s boastful insecurity. Confident low self-esteem.

Later that night we went for a walk, but even though we lived down the street from each other, he wanted to make sure we weren’t seen by the other people he lived with. Again, weird, but whatever. Nothing quite like feeling like someone is ashamed of you, but still wants to spend time with you. Honestly, it’s probably a definition of abuse somewhere. Definitely of manipulation and control. Make her feel wanted, but make sure she feels reliant on that feeling enough that she shrugs off that nagging reminder that he’s hiding her.

Part of me kept saying that it was all just for fun anyway. I didn’t want anything, it was just nice to have someone to hang out with for a while.

We hung out a couple of more times, but things kept getting weirder. He kept asking to skype with me, but as you’ll remember, he lived down the street. MAYBE four blocks. I never did. It was too weird.

One night we went for a car ride and things took a terrible turn. Back roads. I won’t get into the squeamy details for you, but it was terrible, which is an understatement.

And I never once felt like I could approach someone in the church about it. He lived with so many guys from the church, and I didn’t feel safe with anyone. And I got the impression, I was not the first person this had happened to. He kept bothering me. He was quite sure he didn’t do anything wrong. I was being dramatic. He was well connected, not just in the church. So, while I was offered a job I would soon fall in love with, I moved to Indianapolis. As soon after things happened as I could. And he called me one night while I was out with friends. I had told him earlier that day to leave me alone and never speak to me again. I had gotten a new job, and I was moving. And he told me he was proud of me. Someone I’d seen a few times and was a total monster, who had not invested in my life in anyway other than total devastation was proud of me. To this day, I find it very uncomfortable when people tell me they’re proud of me.

I moved and he still tried to engage in conversation. Was going to come to Indy and visit. I ignored him, but was unsettled. I tried a few churches in Indianapolis, and the only person who spoke to me at any of them was a 7-year-old girl. And that was just to thank me for letting her have a drink from my water bottle because she was coughing uncontrollably.

In less than a year I moved home. Still struggling to connect with a church community When things were triggered last year I slowly stopped going to church. I had been going with my boyfriend, which felt safe, but he started going somewhere else, and I tried to go with him. But I had a pretty big wiggins every time I went. Then I slowly stopped going at all. Then we broke up. Then I stopped altogether.

Church wasn’t safe. It wasn’t safe without knowing I had people right next to me who would fight for me. That church where I met that terrible man was not safe. Those people weren’t safe. The church that I had been attending for five years fairly consistently wasn’t safe. There weren’t enough people who knew me. It was only my parents and a few people I knew threw high school. The people from high school were so well connected in the church though that I felt disconnected. I would run into people from church, still do, that I had to introduce myself to a dozen Sundays. People who had met my friends once and threw their arms around them in public and looked at me like I was a total stranger. Who never, while treating me like a stranger, asked again who I was in public. That’s not a safe feeling. Being a single woman with no attachments in a church filled with families is uncomfortable. And when people in your church make you feel unsafe and you don’t have enough connections to say something you stop going.

So other than Easter, I haven’t been to church since February. Maybe January. Because it’s not safe. It doesn’t feel safe. A place that is supposed to be safe isn’t safe. I want to start going again, but how do I start all over. I don’t particularly want to search with other people. It has to be something I can do for myself. Brave enough. Strong enough.

Here’s the thing though. Just because I haven’t been to church in a while, doesn’t for a moment mean I’ve given up on God. Quite the contrary. He’s my constant reason for…anything. To stay. To live. To try. He’s important. He’s everything. Attending a service somewhere on a Sunday morning is not salvation. If it is one’s salvation, one has missed the message. I’m not saying that fellowship, that constant interaction and teaching of God’s Word isn’t important. Goodness, it is. I am saying some of us don’t feel safe there. Some of us have been hurt so deeply by the Church that church terrifies us. Don’t assume sleeping late on Sunday mornings means a lack of faith or turning one’s back on Christ. The people who claim his name and then do terrible things and go back to the safety of his community. They are the reason I’m going to have to fight pretty hard to get myself to go back to church. Anywhere.

As a point of interest, that man is married now.

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Carol Rossetti is incredible, and here is some of her work. Here is a link to more of her work. She was in Fort Wayne not that long ago. And here is her website.

Adventure in Moleskine

I’ve always been dreadful at filling notebooks completely. I don’t do a lot of things well in that way. But once in college I filled an entire journal. I forced myself to write in it every day. It was bleak. The end result was bleak.

But something about a Moleskine, this Moleksine, has made me faithful. It’s the second one I’ve ever filled completely. Almost two full years (short by a mere two weeks), and as it has come to the end of its journey, I offer you several of the trinkets in it that stick out to me. May they serve you as they serve me.

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This Sunday I crack open my Moleskine with the sketch of Smaug on the cover, and a new adventure shall begin. A Moleskine befitting Resurrection Sunday.

Adventure in No One is Alone

Recently, I had the opportunity to–well, to be fair, I’ve had a lot of opportunities, but recently I had the opportunity to sit down with two dear friends.

That night we went to see (me for the second time) to see Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. There’s something intoxicating about seeing a band of friends working together to produce something important to them for the fun of doing it. It’s inspiring. In my opinion, it makes the end product all the more powerful.

That being said, after the movie we went out for a drink to sit and chat. After some awkward shuffling around small talk we began talking about survival. My friend David turned his glass in his hand before he began asking me some very probing questions, as only David can. Things I hadn’t thought about or things I didn’t want to think about, but there they were. And some times one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to be really honest with your friends.

One of the most valuable things that came from the night, outside of reinforcing how valuable these two people are to me, was perhaps the realization or awareness or maybe refresher that no one is alone. Not in Christ. That’s sort of the point of the Church. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people dwell together in unity.”

As it is, there are people all around us who yearn to remind us that we are alone. Surrounded by people you’re alone. Safely in a relationship, you’re alone. You. Are. Not. Alone. It’s the devil’s game to make you think you are. I’ll say it. When Luna Lovegood says to Harry, “Well if I were You-Know-Who, I’d want you to feel cut off from everyone else. Because if it’s just you alone you’re not as much of a threat,” she’s not wrong. Why would Satan want us believing we could all be united in Christ? Spoiler: He wouldn’t. When depression has you resigned to your bed, you’re not alone. You’re just not. Someone is on your side.

 

Unrelated, this is my new roommate.photo (72)

 

She wants you to pray for Joel.

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She also wants you to see Starcrossed.

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Adventure in I will be better

I realize that January is nearly over, but I’m pretty crap at making resolutions for the new year. I’m almost as bad about making them as the rest of you are at keeping them. I can’t disappoint myself if I never make a promise to me. I also can’t do much growing that way either. So after some consideration I’ve decided that without making strong commitmenty sounding words I’m going to try at these things.

I want to be better at being alone. I spend 90 percent of my time alone these days, and I complain about it a lot. But only because it’s really hard. It’s so much harder than I thought it would be. I lived by myself for a year at college, but I wasn’t really alone then was I? Not with hundreds of people around every day.

In that same vein I want to stop being so fearful in my solitude. It offers me so much, including constant opportunity to be alone and undistracted with God. It also offers me the chance to step out of my door and do the things no one else in my life ever wants to do with me. This Saturday I’ll start pursuing those things by going to the art museum. I’ll go to the movies I want to see. I’ll go to theatre productions. I’m probably not back on board yet with going to dinner alone, but I’ve done it before. Maybe by the end of the year I’ll be stronger.

I will take risks in the new church community I’m pursuing. I will sign up for classes that interest me even though I know no one, because who could I ask to go with me? Who better to take than Christ. Christ beside me. The Spirit speaking.

My friends Brett and Erica and I want to run the Fort Wayne mini marathon together, so I suppose I should get better at this running thing. It goes well in phases. And then I remember that there are cookies that can be delivered right to my door in the middle of the night. Discipline and self-control.

I want to be better at listening to the Spirit. I want to be better at understanding how the Holy Spirit directs me, and I want to be better at discerning my weird desires from the Spirit’s weird proddings.

I will take risks in the new church community I’m pursuing. I will sign up for classes that interest me even though I know no one, because who could I ask to go with me? Who better to take than Christ. Christ beside me. The Spirit speaking.

Speaking up. Over the course of the last seven months I’ve lost my voice and my strength. I want it back, and I’m going to take risks in that. It’s scary, and it will be hard. But I can’t feel silent anymore. I don’t need to be loud. I just need to know that I’m sitting idly by as I watch injustice exist. I will raise my voice. I will shout. I will try.

I will do my best. I will try to be better. I will try.

Adventure in what I have to offer (if anything)

This Sunday I’m going to try again. There’s one place that people have told me to try. All sorts of different people, but I didn’t want to go because it’s big and intimidating. Turns out the more time I spend away from people the harder it is for me to be around people. So this Sunday I’m going to try another church. After multiple attempts at multiple locations with no one speaking to me or only negative stirrings from the spirit I’m going to give it another shot.

One, because I can’t continue to flounder on my own. Two, I can’t continue to be so selfish as to only support myself.

But there’s the rub and here’s where I’m at in all of this, without any attempt at pity just honest communication, what do I have to offer the Church? I suppose in a grander sense with the universal Church there’s more. There’s always prayer to be offered for the Church. But what do I have to offer a church? Honestly, I’m at a loss. I was asked earlier today if I practice anything or what my hobbies are. I’ll tell you what my hobbies are! I…don’t know. Which puts me in a real bind for what I can do for anyone anywhere. I’m not particularly good at anything. I’m proficient at mediocrity. Which is not to be celebrated. From my grades in college and high school to my “art” and “performances” mediocrity reigns supreme.

Which doesn’t speak well to anything I might be able to contribute to a community of believers. And my goal in finding a place where I fit is not just a place that benefits me, but a place that I can also be a benefit. But with nothing real to offer I find that hard to truly pursue. At some point it becomes me taking and never giving. Or not giving enough. But then what am I giving if I am giving something?

I’ve never been particularly good at anything. I’ve only ever been notably get-by-able at everything. In middle school I play volleyball and basketball. I couldn’t sink a shot for the life of me, but I could rebound and get the ball to Krista. I could dive and get a ball out of a tight spot, but I couldn’t direct it anywhere. I cheered in middle school too. I once saved Laura Stoll’s coccyx, but my low-toned voice brought our chants down. I did gymnastics for a while as a kid, but I didn’t have any arm strength. The uneven bars were my greatest nemesis. Tumbling I could manage because it was brief moments of arm strength. So I took up swimming to build my arm strength. The only meet I have a firm memory of I dqed because I couldn’t remember where I was. I took piano lessons for a while, but it wasn’t fun so I stopped. Now I have almost no control of my pinkies, especially my right-hand pinky. I played the clarinet for a while. I was even first chair, but then, I was also the only one in the band.

None of those are even things that would be beneficial to a church, but that’s not the point. The point is I never stuck with anything. I changed my major three times in college, and I still don’t think I made the right choice. I had professors who will confirm that.

So Sunday I try again. I try again to find a place that is “right” for me, and that I am “right” for. With mediocrity as my only support.

*Again, this is not to be pity-inducing, so please keep all “you have so much to offer” comments to yourselves.

Adventure in Single-Living

When I first moved to Indy I tried to live two distinct lives. Actually, I just tried to maintain my former life while working in Indianapolis. Well the time came quickly for me to get my act together and realize that lives change and people won’t always be together, despite the illusion the Christian college campus may make you believe. So I tried. I tried a few churches, some quietly without anyone else knowing. Some with pleading for prayer when I couldn’t get myself to get out of the car.

Part of the problem is this. It took my three years to feel comfortable or welcome at the 509 a place that most of my friends went to, but something about being there made everything completely different. Relationships outside the 5 seemed irrelevant. But after a few 509 summers I found a semi-comfort. After I moved that uncomfortableness at the 5 returned in the form of someone telling me I couldn’t be coming there anymore. So if that’s the relationship I have with a place I felt comfortable, for the most part, and that took a while to build, how much more difficult will it be when I know no one?

Well, let me tell you. Exponentially. Because first, it’s a lot of hit or miss searching. It’s a lot of sketchy theology. It’s a lot of stirring of the Spirit. And it is a lot of married people, or nearly married people. One particular church I tried a few times. I was on board with the teaching. I was on board with their philosophy of community. But it only one visit for me to notice the limited amount of uncoupled people. I went back once with a visiting friend. She saw it too. What’s worse, outside of a brief greeting when told to talk to your neighbor was the only interaction I received with anyone else there.

One Sunday I did not go to that particular church. I believe I was home. That Sunday my married friends tried it. (I will say they had tried it once before) Invited to a house church. Now it’s where they go. And that’s wonderful. It is. We should all be so lucky.

But we the singles are not very often so lucky. Especially those of us who are in no hurry to be married. With pastors saying things like “You aren’t fulfilling God’s will for your life, if you aren’t married,” I suppose I should be panicked, but I think I’m more along the lines of hurt and a little furious. (A little furious looks a lot like pissed). What if God isn’t calling me to marriage? Or what if he isn’t calling me to marriage right now? I’m not going to force his hand and get into some messy marriage because I have to be married to be a good Christian.

I don’t want my reliance to be on another human, and it’s easy enough for me to do that without being married. Add the constancy of another person, and I can’t imagine my focus would ever remotely be on God. Not right now. Yet, in the Church this somehow makes me feel like a failure. Because even if I find a group of single women to interact with, many of them are still just looking for a husband. And a group of coed Christian singles looks a lot like that too. Which is confusing to me. Because I was under the impression we were supposed to “Seek first the Kingdom of God.” If I’m wrong and somewhere in the Bible it says “Seek first your husband,” then please, point it out to me, and I’ll get right to work.

So no. I’m not married. No. I’m not dating anyone. And no. I’m not really interested in it, because there’s this other relationship I’m still really trying to work on that has nothing to do with his and hers towels.

Adventure in NoNaNoWriMo

It’s been a while since I made myself sit down and write all those way too many words in only those 30 days. Maybe it’s lack of inspiration, but it’s probably a lot closer to laziness and a bad case of the sads. Well, my friends, inspiration has hit.

This is not what was inspired; this is where I found it.

Yesterday, I made myself go to a church. One to try. I didn’t hate the sound of their sermons. It didn’t look horrifying, but after my last experience trying to find a home I was shaken. I got up at 7:30 for the 9:30 service, not so much because I need two hours to get ready, but because I couldn’t sleep anymore. Well, 9:30 came and went, and it was clear my brain was winning a battle with my heart. Or maybe it was the other way around. It was 11, and I got in my shaky at best car to drive the 10 minutes. I was still 20 minutes early. I sat in my car listening to A Prairie Home Companion and arguing with myself. Finally, I got out of the car.

I walked into the office building converted into a worship space. I was handed a bulletin without eye contact. I walked to the opposite side of the sanctuary. I found myself a seat safe from the possibility of taking someone’s prescribed seat. A woman and four children sat two seats away from me. Not all in one seat, but you know. It was baptism service. A service of music and the beautiful experience of baptisms. And it hits me. I don’t think I’m being judgmental in being there. I think the Spirit is genuinely stirring in me, shaking in me. “Get out!” I argue I must stick it out. How can I truly get a feel for the place if I leave now? “Get out!” Everything was driven by emotions. Everything was driven by the person. I felt sick. I stayed. No one over the age of 14 was baptized, which doesn’t really mean anything. It was when the little girl said, “my dad told me it was time to accept Jesus. I didn’t know what that meant, but I did it. And now I’m ready to be baptized.” I’m shaking. I’m not okay here. And when I leave I’m glad no one spoke to me.

BUT! One girl did say one sentence that has brought an onslaught of inspiration for children’s books. I won’t go into it now, but inspiration is spinning.

Adventure in Improper Liasisons with Dr. Mary Ruthi

Ah, I think that the idea of being happy and emotionally close to another person through marriage is indeed a relatively recent idea.  A century ago, for instance, women were thought to be too unintelligent to share meaningful conversations with their husbands, and even sex was seem as primarily for reproduction and not as an emotional bonding experience.  The notion that marriage is a partnership of equals is a fairly new idea.  And, it probably does have a lot to do with women’s lib, which advocated the rather novel idea that women were as intelligent and competent as men.  

Of course, the desire for satisfaction in all areas of our lives is far more prominent than it used to be.  We aren’t content with having jobs to support ourselves; we must have meaningful jobs that pay well and don’t demand too much of us.  We aren’t content to attend church; we must be entertained and impressed by the service and by the pastor(s).  We aren’t content to have vacation time; we must go to more exotic locations and do more daring feats.  Once we have met our basic physical needs, we start going after psychological needs (wants??).

Women’s lib has changed over the past couple of decades, or so it seems to me.  In the 1960s and 1970s, women’s lib was concerned with having women receive equal pay for equal work and with securing reasonably equal opportunities for women in employment, education, etc.  Having largely achieved those goals, the women’s movement looked around for other dragons to slay and then started tilting into a bit of insanity (claiming that it was sexist to have mother/daughter banquets instead of parent/child banquets, arguing that all sex is actually rape because of patriarchy, etc.).   

Mary Ruthi, Ph.D.

Gosh, we’re so extreme.
 
See, I can see myself getting being the original notions of women’s lib. Though if someone let me stay home all day and bake and cook I’d be thrilled. I don’t know where this lust for more than we need comes from. Granted, I’m more than guilty of it myself. I have to wonder if the momentum behind it builds as things around us quicken. With the ever increasing immediacy of technology do we find that we should also be obtaining other things more quickly and more extravagantly? And is this “need” for better and better things a first world problem? I don’t really see how it could be anything, but a first world problem. It still begged to be asked.
 
There’s definitely a bleakness to this conversation, but when have we ever shied away from the truth at the risk of a lack of sunshine and rainbows? It’s raised a question with L though, which is, “Is it possible to find a godly man anymore? One that hasn’t had sex?” I happen to know the answer to be yes, but to find one that isn’t an asshat too, now that’s the real trick.
 
She finds herself daunted by the idea that such a man doesn’t exist. But I think that’s a fallacy of our generation. That 1) we think it’s something we deserve and 2) if we look hard enough we’ll find exactly what we’re looking for. Which I don’t think is ever the case. I feel like we’re all too broken to ever be exactly anything to anyone. But I feel like the women, or in some cases, girls of my generation are searching for this “ideal man.” Like life is a scavenger hunt and the perfect husband or even a husband is the prize. But there’s also this wait for him mentality. That if I sit on my couch long enough he’ll just show up at my door. Which, for me, and I think everyone, but for me especially, that’d be a dumb way to look at things. I live in a gated community! It’s dangerous. And it’s I think very telling of us as women, now. That we believe that what we want will just come to us if we wait around long enough. Not that it won’t, but I’m a pretty big proponent of living life and letting things happen.
 
Meanwhile, it poses another interesting question. How did you and the farmer come to meet?
 
Hayley

Hayley,

To me, the heart of feminism is about freedom of choice.  If a woman (or a man) wants to be a full-time homemaker/child care provider, I think that’s fine.  But, if a woman (or a man) wants to work outside of the home (full time or part time), I think that’s fine also.  I don’t like to see people constrained by gender roles.  Fortunately, there are far fewer constraints than there used to be when I was your age. Actually, in some ways, I believe that women have more freedom than men do in this area.  A married woman with small children can stay home full time, work full time, or work part time.  There’s a lot of pressure on married men to work full time, regardless of what they want to do.  And, the cost of child care (and other expenses associated with having both parents employed) is greater than the additional income produced by the spouse with the lowest salary (usually the woman, but not always).  

Certainly there are men who haven’t indulged in premarital sex, but, as you suggested, some of those men may not be particularly attractive and charming.  And, again, the double standard rears its ugly head.  Men tend to want to marry women who are virgins, but many of those men have conducted a number of improper liaisons themselves.  Grrrr!  

Sitting around waiting for the knight to come riding up to your castle on a white horse probably isn’t going to work for most women.  I think you are right that you have to live life and enjoy it as it happens.  If you meet a great guy and end up married to him, that’s wonderful.  But, if you don’t ever get married, that doesn’t mean that your life will be miserable and devoid of meaning.  Marrying a jerk is far worse than being single. However, the more you are involved in your community, church, volunteer organizations, etc., the more likely you are to meet potential husband candidates.  Most of them will end up being jerks, but it only takes one good guy to fill the husband role! 

I picked up the farmer in the Chicago airport.  He had been in California visiting his sister, and I had been in Kansas visiting my family there.  The flight from Chicago to Fort Wayne was cancelled because of fog, so the airline chartered a bus (something that would never happen today!) and hauled us to Fort Wayne.  The farmer was in the line ahead of me as we waited for the bus to arrive, and we just started talking.  He seemed nice, so when we got back to Fort Wayne, I agreed to his offer to come to Huntington to visit me the next weekend.  And, the rest is history (although it did take him a decade to get around to deciding that getting married might be an okay idea).  He doesn’t like to rush into things!  Eeeek! 

Mary Ruthi, Ph.D.