I Hope Your Soul is Changing

I have dreamt a song like this for years. Literally dreamt it in the night, waking up confused and disillusioned. I have wept over my abusers. I have shouted and cursed at them. I have fasted for them. And I have prayed for them until I grow weary and God grants me sleep.

Praying
Kesha

Well, you almost had me fooled
Told me that I was nothing without you
Oh, but after everything you’ve done
I can thank you for how strong I have become

‘Cause you brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I’ll just say this is I wish you farewell

I hope you’re somewhere praying, praying
I hope your soul is changing, changing
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, praying

I’m proud of who I am
No more monsters, I can breathe again
And you said that I was done
Well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come
‘Cause I can make it on my own
And I don’t need you, I found a strength I’ve never known
I’ve been thrown out, I’ve been burned
When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name

You brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I’ll just say this is I wish you farewell

I hope you’re somewhere praying, praying
I hope your soul is changing, changing
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, praying

Oh, sometimes, I pray for you at night
Someday, maybe you’ll see the light
Oh, some say, in life, you’re gonna get what you give
But some things only God can forgive

I hope you’re somewhere praying, praying
I hope your soul is changing, changing
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, praying

If you haven’t heard Kesha’s comeback song, Praying, I recommend giving it a listen, in its own right without my commentary.

This is my own story tied in, which welled up in me as I listened to this song about a dozen times on repeat.

I have dreamt a song like this for years. Literally dreamt it in the night, waking up confused and disillusioned. I have wept over my abusers. I have shouted and cursed at them. I have fasted for them. And I have prayed for them until I grow weary and God grants me sleep.

Once, as a young teenage girl, late at night, a much older man messaged me on facebook. This man was a quintessential abusive narcissist. To this day, I use him as a benchmark when discerning red flags in others. It is not my aim to compare, but I can’t help it. Someone will say or do something and I instantly know. I know that something is off. I know I’ve seen this all before. I want to shout, “I know that game. We have to fight or we have to flee. And we have to do it now.”

I remember one particular night in college, with a handsome yet gaunt, bony but strong boy. I had made him angry by trying to leave, so he threw me against the wall of his dingy apartment. An apartment where I had been promised there would be others. There wasn’t. I arrived to only him. As he pinned me there, and I stared at the floor cloaked in all my fear and shame, he whispered to me things which ought to have seemed sweet. Things about “love” and possibilities. But his voice morphed into one I had heard before. One much older that spoke to me when I was much younger. It sounded caring. Sweet like honey. But its end was to shame and control. I knew this game. I knew it. So I shook my head staring at the floor until he shoved me again and let me go.

“You’re at least gonna clean up this mess before you leave,” he said. I had had the audacity to knock over a glass while kicking him off of me on the floor.

“Okay,” I said, actually believing I owed it to him.

He handed me a paper towel, and I tried not to shake or cry as I mopped up the liquid. Then I left. I kicked a dumpster in the parking lot near my car, and I remember feeling so ashamed at having such an outburst. How very un-christian of me. I thought something nasty to myself. Something about how now I wasn’t just a dirty temptress; I was a dirty temptress with a dirty temper.

Since puberty it had been heavily implied, if not outright stated to me, that I was either whorish or gave off a certain inexplicable vibe that I wanted to be whorish. That’s why the boys treated me so poorly, you see. Or so I was told… Since it seemed this label followed me despite my efforts to be rid of it, I had come to accept it. I accepted it with heartache as this lie tangled itself into the deepest parts of my soul, but I accepted it nonetheless. But at least I was a very sweet and kind whorish girl, I assured myself. What an earth shattering crisis it was then, when I couldn’t afford to be nice anymore. I shed my niceness to survive, and yet it almost killed me.

But that’s for another time.

Back to the man. And my laptop. And the late night message.

I had already identified this man as a wolf in sheep’s clothing and had gone no-contact sometime before. For propriety’s sake, I will not say what this man did, mostly because much of it is not my story to tell. The parts which are my story, still make me ill to discuss. But still, I loved him. He was woven into so many of my childhood memories. I hated to hurt him. I hated to reject him. I wanted him to be who he had deceived me into thinking he was. But a pep talk from a very dear friend echoed within me, giving me courage. I had to shut him out. I had to reject him, no matter how bad I felt about it.

“I do not want to send you my poetry. And it’s inappropriate for a man of your age to be messaging me about personal things at this time of night.”

“I don’t understand where this is coming from. I just wanted to exchange writing with you since I know it’s an interest we share. And I have friends of all ages. It’s really unfortunate that you’ve been convinced to limit yourself by only having friends in your age group.”

I was swallowing anger. He was twisting my words.

“Don’t take the bait,” I thought, “Don’t argue his distractions. Just stay on point.”

“Think what you’d like. I still do not want you talking to me anymore,” I said.

“You said you had forgiven me, but clearly that is not the case. I’ve been very disappointed by the lack of forgiveness you and your family have shown me. I would encourage you to study Christ’s teachings, and forgive.”

Here I will make a full stop. This is trick one. The big one. The ultimate power move that you’ve likely seen if you have ever dealt with an abuser within the Christian community. I cannot state this clearly enough. Forgiveness is to be the aim of the abused (or mistreated etc). Repentance is to be the aim of the one who has done the abusing. Forgiveness is a means to be free from bitterness. It is not a get out of jail free card for those who do harm. A truly repentant heart knows that forgiveness is a gift we ask for when we do not deserve it. It is not a demand. If someone abuses you or a loved one, and then proceeds to turn the tables so that you are the one in the wrong for not giving in to the “forgiveness” they demand, know that you are not dealing with someone who is truly repentant. They are not remorseful over the fact that they have hurt you. They are remorseful over the fact that they are not getting what they want.

We went back and forth for a while longer in this nauseating blur. This man who had lied, manipulated and blame shifted all of his sins, now demanded access back into my life with a healthy dose of guilt-tripping if I refused. He insisted my parents were leading me astray, that he wished I would think for myself and forgive him, and ended with another sickening call to turn to Christ. I’ve learned people like this don’t care much to obey Christ; they just want other people to do so when it benefits them. They also claim very little sin, yet demand large sums of forgiveness. I wonder then, what they are demanding forgiveness from, if they believe they are in the right. Perhaps the tiny half-truths they grant, so that they can appear remorseful.

And all of this, in the long round-a-bout way that I seem to have done it, leads me back to Kesha’s song. A song that settled into my soul the moment I heard it, because I had been waiting for so long for someone to put it into words.

If someone physically abuses you, you may flinch when a hand is raised. If someone sexually abuses you, you may cringe when something sexual reminds you of your abuser. And if someone spiritually abuses you, if they use the Word of God to enslave your heart and wound your soul, a part of you grows heavy when the name of your own creator is spoken. In all my life, I have experienced no greater harm than this.

But there is a persistence in the human spirit, or perhaps it is the persistence of our savior, that causes so many of us to crawl back to him. Amidst all of our fear and guardedness, our soul wants to find healing at its source. And then there’s that sweet stubbornness, that says damn it all if I’m going to let you take me from my maker.

And where that maker is found, there is forgiveness. Not the kind that abusers demand of you, in which you must ignore their wrongs and allow them to continue their abuse. It is a pure and freeing forgiveness, which allows you to walk away from oppressors and live a life of compassion.

Sometimes, I am angry at the tricksters and abusers. Kicking dumpsters mad. I am no longer ashamed of that. But that anger coexists with love and pity. I would not ask this of others, because I do not know their journey. But I know mine. And I know this is at the deepest part of me. It is the part that aches in my subconscious and lingers in my thoughts when my mind wanders.

It says,

I hope you’re somewhere praying
I hope your soul is changing

I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees
Praying

 

 

october twenty-ninth: a saturday

We indulged in large sums of nothingness today. 

Chase made me tea and then drove to Starbucks and bought us both coffee. All with an attitude that it was very normal to spend Saturday morning bringing various hot beverages to your wife. 

We sat on the couch and laughed as the dog tried to speak to us. 

It was rainy outside, and once our coffee was finished we hibernated in separate rooms. He played video games and I watched youtube videos. Somehow dinnertime arrived. I cooked slowly, with as many ingredients I could find that would harmonize. When it was ready, we ate without much conversation; our mouths were too full of fried rice. 

Afterwards he rubbed my shoulders and we joked back and forth, one sentence hopping on top of the other, about all our minds had absorbed that day as we sat cuddled up in blankets.

Then he walked away, and I stayed where I was, and the day faded out as peacefully as it had begun. 

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7 photos

for my husband

IMG_3003

1. (top left) Winter. Chase loves winter. He loves coats and scarves and gloves and snow. Mostly snow. This photo was taken over Christmas break. The students were gone so we had the streets and shops of downtown practically to ourselves. Most of our walks started like this, on our wrap around porch in the cold.

2. (top center)This is the chapel near the house I stayed at while volunteering at a prison over spring break. Chase is not in this photo. That’s part of why it’s perfect for this. He’s not in this photo because he stayed home working full-time while I went on an adventure. He’s always encouraging me to pursue my passions and calling even when that means sacrificing money or comfort or time together.

3. (top right) One of my favorite Seattle trips. This is us making out in a random parking garage downtown. Because we like to kiss anywhere anytime.

4. (center) Taken at a family wedding. We got the time mixed up and missed the ceremony. Then I got ridiculously ill that night when we got home. But the time in-between, exploring behind the barns and laughing by the fields, that part was excellent.

5. (bottom left) Our first home together! The leaves on the trees were lush and green. The sun was bright through the tall floor-to-ceiling windows. We were so so excited and so blissfully ignorant of how much trust and patience God would require of us in that tiny apartment.

6. (bottom center) A candid photo. July 4th, 2015. Our first holiday together. It was perhaps the most perfect holiday I’ve ever had. We wandered through the small trails behind the park then met up with a few close friends for fireworks. Life is rarely blissful, but that day truly was.

7. (bottom right) Driving home with our new puppy, Oliver. He is the strangest fluffiest cutest little dog. We stayed with Chase’s grandparents the night we picked him up in Boise, then he snuggled in my lap for the long ride home. It’s odd. Ollie symbolizes our future in a way. We got him as a sort of graduation present for Chase (the money he received from friends and relatives added up to exactly one labradoodle) and so he was the shift into our next step in the world. Now as we look at jobs for Chase and schools for me, he’s always playing at our feet reminding us he’ll be tagging along for every turn, marking the change of seasons with his ever-growing limbs and expanding fur.

this body

Our bodies are always, in some way, a representation of our stories and our experiences, and as summer dawned and the heat coaxed my winter clothes back into the closet, I could not hide from my own weary body anymore. Denying the hatred of self that tempted me at every turn, I chose to explore all my body could experience and find gratitude in each touch.

Gratitude: A Thought Project

olliethebearcub (1 of 1)

When I look at this photo, I can feel it.

I feel the warm sun on my skin. I feel my puppy, who often looks and acts like a small bear cub, pressed up against me. His fur fluffs between my fingers; his soft belly rises and falls with each breath as he playfully squirms and makes muffled grunts and growls in my ear. I feel my thighs, touching where they did not before. I feel my waist, expanding farther in my waistband than it did the previous summer.

I have heard many women express gratitude for their aging bodies because their changes represent their accomplishments. Stretch marks from the children they have borne. Extra rolls of skin and fat brought on by bearing and caring for their little ones. Wrinkles from all they have felt and expressed. Freckles from laughter in the sun. Sore joints from years of diligent work.

It is this same recognition of what shapes our external selves that brought on such distaste for my own changes.

Mine was a body that had recently been shaped by despair. Muscles weakened by the days I could not find a reason to get out of bed. Extra pounds gained from the weeks that I only had strength for one activity per day. If I remembered to eat, it was whatever could be obtained the quickest. My face, which I had become certain would show the cheerful squint of crow’s feet in the coming seasons of my life, was now fleshed out without a laugh line in sight. For long draughts my insides did not stir enough for happiness to reach my face.

A new set of people entered my life, and for reasons I may never understand their actions suggested they would have prefered to have never met me. They painted some horrid unfamiliar image and labeled it with my name. I stood bewildered. It seemed the harder I tried to connect with them, the tighter they clung to this image and the harsher they scolded me for it. I was met too often with cold glances. Repetitive rejection. Whispers of gossip that followed me in the streets and confronted me in places I did not expect from people I hardly knew. But heaviest of all was that daunting knowledge that each sin of those who had targeted me would be placed on my own head. I was the subject of blame for their every turmoil. Each hurt feeling or elaborated offense. Even when I paid no notice of them, and mustered the strength to go about cheerfully with my life, there was always that impending text or that next conversation, where our lives would again be interrupted so my husband could be informed of the depravity of the wife he had chosen. Things as simple as shopping, grabbing coffee with a friend, attending or not attending a party, were marked as bitterness I did not posses, vengeance I had no desire for or pettiness I did not wish to serve but was thrown on me nonetheless. There was nowhere I could go to be free.

On several occasions I found myself consoled to the point of tears when any random acquaintance would do something as simple as taking an extra moment to ask me about my day or invite me to an event. I remember hastily brushing away the joy. Since the cold bite of judgement is what had harmed me in the first place, I was afraid to be vulnerable enough to let anyone see how deeply their warmth affected me. My soul had been bullied for too long. It had slowly been beaten into one aching bruise.

I had never been warned that loving someone could provoke such persistent punishment. Maybe someday I will ask my children that, when they have chosen someone to pledge their devotion.

“Do you love them enough to stand by them even when they make decisions that are unpopular?”

“Do you love them enough to be blamed for choices that were not your own?”

“Do you love them enough to be hated?”

I hope they will be like their mother, in that, when their time is right, they will say yes and mean it.

And I hope, for their sake, that they will not be like their mother, in that the hatred cast on them will not cause them to wither.

Because for me, the hatred was too heavy. Whoever I had known myself to be before seemed to have disappeared. I could not find her. I was some tired husk of myself.

When I would mention my physical changes: clothes fitting differently, simple exercises no longer being achievable, etc. my family would insist I did not look that different at all. And in a sense they were right. A little extra fat here. A little less muscle there. That was all that could be identified externally. But to me, those small changes were unmistakable because they were the result of belittlement, discouragement and a newfound hopelessness.

Our bodies are always, in some way, a representation of our stories and our experiences, and as summer dawned and the heat coaxed my winter clothes back into the closet, I could not hide from my own weary body anymore. Denying the hatred of self that tempted me at every turn, I chose to explore all my body could experience and find gratitude in each touch.

Slowly, I gained courage.

I am grateful for this body. Its transformation, which to me was once a sign of my weakness, is now an indicator of my persistence.

It is a body that still feels the cold rush of water across its surface with each dive into the cold waters of my home state.

It is a body that rows canoes and balances on paddle boards and wrestles with the little bear cub in my arms when he has too much energy to play on his own.

It is the body that hugs my friends and hikes through forests. That walks with head held high down mainstreet even when I have been told all too many times that I ought to be ashamed.

It is the body that makes my husband feel at home. The body that holds in it the hope of every future touch and sensation this life will bring.

It is a body that is weaker than it was one year ago, but houses a soul that is so much stronger.

 

Nod Along

renfa (2 of 2)You are a special kind of summer day. The kind that doesn’t roll around ’til August when afternoons stretch longer and hotter. The buzz of bees is set to slow motion. The breeze has stopped. I find myself wishing for the brisk chill of fall and the vibrant sunset leaves, but then the warm rays of August sunshine hug me and I do not want to go. Pastel flowers quiver in the vibrations of a distant lulling lawn mower. My eyes blink in long pausing breaths. They will not light up until the sun goes down and the stars… Well, I don’t need to talk about the stars. We’ve all heard about sparkling constellations in the summer sky a thousand times. But you talk about them. You describe their twinkle as if you were the only one to have ever seen stars before, and the rest of us really ought to go check them out sometime. You reach your hands out in front of you and use your fingers to imitate how they glitter. I nod along.

I do not say what I am thinking.

Circus Girl 1

They never could quite make sense of her. Rarely did her behavior warrant a reprimand and yet she wasn’t quite what they wanted her to be. She was strange. Her essence demanded attention, whether she meant it to or not. Just when they thought they had no use for her, they put her on the stage.

Crayola Crayon & Free Hand
Circus Freak

They never could quite make sense of her. Rarely did her behavior warrant a reprimand and yet she wasn’t quite what they wanted her to be. She was strange. Her essence demanded attention, whether she meant it to or not.

Just when they thought they had no use for her, they put her on the stage. Suddenly they cheered for what had once befuddled them. The fire they had fought to extinguish was now a flame they clambered to take credit for igniting. It was a fury that gathered crowds, sold tickets, sparked talk all across town, and so the crowds grew and grew.

To be clear, they still hardly approved of her. How could they approve of what they did not understand? But that which they saw they admired. And they no longer asked her to change.

Eye to Eye

me1Even in the most joyous of times, the world can drain a soul. Confusion breeds confusion and I question my mind into tangles. With quiet intention, I scan my life, looking to each set of eyes, hoping for answers.

In the first I see only darkness. Faint circles hang beneath eyes that would be lovely were they not so hollow. They sit in a face of skin that has grown gray and gaunt wanting flesh to soften the harsh lines of cynicism. She is bitter. She is cold. I try to make sense of her words but she speaks only perversion so there is no sense to be made of it. Any comfort I try to offer is promptly rejected, so we sit in silence. I stare longer than I should as her brokenness brings me down. Finally she goes away. Still stung by her envy, I search for another pair of eyes.

With great determination, I move along.

The next eyes are blue, bright yet sad. They are hopeful but they are weary. Tiny pupils filled with fear wishing to be brave. Cheeks rosy, lashes long. A face much prettier than its owner knows. There are moments bright and beautiful
before her, smiles so shining and new, but to her they are
tainted by the clinging past and daunting future.
me1 - Version 2Loved ones gather around her table warmed by a meal she prepares, but she misses the joy in their laughter as she questions if she got the spices just right. I tell her the food is perfection; she tells me I am wrong. Her dearest calls her lovely but she does not hear him as she wonders what everyone in the room thinks of her. Another flicker of fear lights her eyes and I do not want to look anymore.

I welcome the next eyes for they are familiar and kind. Gray like the skies they were raised under and the sea they grew up beside. He talks while the rest of us listen, smoke in the air by a tree I used to climb. Wisdom walks boldly from a soul that has seen much more than mine. Still, he always speaks plainly, eyes growing humbler with the passing of time. For every betrayal, I see no bitterness. Both pupil and iris are steadfast and grateful, fully loving of life. For every hurt I’ve had, he’s hurt more and every sin I’ve forgiven, he’s forgiven double. When asked how he loves the hateful when they hurt without having the right, he says, “Hurt people hurt people, so be understanding and always be kind.”

My grace may wear thin to the hurtful, but I’ll heal in a matter of time, for as I watch him loving the hateful, he builds up the grace in my eyes.