He Doesn’t Hit You But…

*tw: emotional abuse*

EDIT: The image for this post features a man of color and a white woman.  This image in no way indicates a correlation between abuse and race.  The featured image was chosen for other reasons by the author and should not be taken to imply that men of color are more likely to abuse their partners.

Several years ago, a popular hashtag cropped up that provided a space for people who had endured abusive relationships to share about their experiences.  Survivors of emotional and verbal abuse, primarily women, took to Twitter to increase visibility for the types of abuse they had endured.  “#HeDoesntHitYouBut his words create bruises just as punches would.”  “#HeDoesntHitYouBut treats you like property.”  “#HeDoesntHitYouBut he uses breaking up with you as a constant threat.”

At the time, I didn’t say much about it, but I sat back and watched friends and strangers validate my own experiences.  It was through this hashtag that I realized the truth of things I had experienced.

In the beginning, he was charming.  I was young and still figuring out who I was.  I was blown away by the fact that a boy I had just met was interested in me.  I was pretty dorky in high school and was still growing accustomed to the fact that men might pay attention to me.  I was naive and had unrealistic expectations of what romance should look like.  We fell in love over a summer, and it wasn’t until we entered our first few months of long distance that things started to shift.

I would call him and he wouldn’t answer.  While I knew I couldn’t expect him to be available every time I called, I would sometimes go three or four days without a call or text from him.  I would start to get worried and would contact one of his friends or roommates in a desperate attempt to make sure he was okay.  They were never very helpful, and eventually he would reach back out to me.  He would give some sort of flimsy excuse about why he had been off the grid, and I would blindly accept his explanation.  I wanted him to think I was “chill” and not clingy, and grilling him on where he had been seemed like a definitive way to drive him away.  He would disappear like this intermittently during our first year of long distance.  Eventually, it stopped.  Even after years of being with him, though, I never got a clear answer on his disappearances.

His flightiness was only the beginning.  Eventually, he tried to control what I wore and who I spent time with.  I wasn’t allowed to wear leggings or yoga pants outside my house because other men might look at me.  If he saw a picture of me in work out pants on Facebook, he would call me and question me about whether I had worn them outside the house and why.  I wasn’t allowed to wear too much make up.  Sometimes, I wasn’t allowed to wear any make up.  I initially thought this was romantic.  I thought it was evidence that he thought I was naturally beautiful, and maybe that was true, but controlling what I put on my body was not the proper way to show me.

Arguing with him was impossible.  Sometimes I would bring up things that were bothering me about him or about our relationship.  He would always claim I was making it up or exaggerating.  He would say I was attacking him and turn my concern back onto me, claiming I was the one who was flawed.  We would never resolve the initial things I brought up and I would leave the conversation feeling like a terrible girlfriend.  There were times when these arguments would get heated.  I’m not an aggressive or angry person.  I very rarely yell or snap at people, but with him, I did.  Often over the phone, we would yell and I would hang up with him and throw my phone across the room in exasperation.

Things continued to worsen when I moved to a different city.  I made new friends that he had never met and that concerned him.  Any time I claimed to be alone studying with a male friend, he would be noticeably suspicious or even blatantly angry.  I wanted to spend time with the new friends I was making, but if I told him I wanted to get together with friends instead of visiting him, he would always get angry or at least annoyed.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of this relationship was that he cut me off from my family.  My parents never liked him, which, obviously, as an 18 year old, made me even more defiant.  However, he gradually convinced me that my parents weren’t the people I thought they were.  By the end of the relationship there was a noticeable distance between my parents and myself.  He had convinced me, over a period of years, to be completely on his side, mistrusting my family.  He manipulated me into believing that he knew what was best for me better than my parents did, so I trusted the things that he told me about them.  It was a vicious cycle.

He was never physically violent with me, and I’m grateful for that.  There were times when I worried about it, especially when he got angry.  Still, I know that plenty of people experience violence and abuse in relationships much more severe that what I catalog here.  But if you’ve experienced this sort of gaslighting and manipulation, I want you to know that you’re not alone.  If you are reading this and wondering about the state of your own relationship, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or someone you trust.  Because this isn’t just about me.  It’s about equipping others to leave unhealthy relationships, and healing in the aftermath. It’s about recognizing the signs before it’s too late. It’s about teaching (not exclusively but especially) our men deeper empathy and compassion.  Even the strongest among us can be emotionally abused, and the first step toward stopping it is realizing that it’s happening.

why did you stay?

why did you stay?

He grabbed
my waist
and told me
he liked my lip ring,
and then kissed it.

I said,
“no, please,
just come lay with me.”
I wore a white comforter,
and we held hands
on the couch
at 6:30
on a Sunday morning.

A train when by
the window
and he ordered me
around the bedroom
in a way that
I mistook for
romance.

He left
granola out on the table
for me,
and honey.
“You’ve overcome
so much,”
he said.

He held
me in his lap
and I touched
his sweaty neck
while he exhaled
and told me his secrets.

He told me
my writing
reminded him of
a certain British philosopher.

I misunderstood,
“I know we
should
let this go, but I
still
want to kiss
you.”

I saw a
pink hair tie
on his nightstand
but
excused it for
a rubberband.

The man before him
told me that I couldn’t
wear tight pants
or make up
because other men
would look at me,
so this kind of violence
seemed more romantic.

I am used to
lies,
and his, at least, came with
honey on his hands when
he held me down,
sticky sweetness on his lips when
he said,

“No wonder this is so hard for you.”

We Need Holy Saturday

Good Friday makes us uncomfortable.  The blood and the gore of the crucifixion makes us sick.  The guilt that all of this had to happen because of our own terrible actions in this world is almost too much.  And it is for these reasons that we must sit in this space known as Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Most of us skip straight on through from Palm Sunday to Easter morning.  Those are the fun parts, the happy parts.  We listen to children sing and wave branches and sing Hallelujah.  But these two bookends of Holy Week mean significantly less without what happens in between.  If we consider the rest of Holy Week, Palm Sunday suddenly becomes a little more bittersweet.  While the people rejoice and make a beautiful gesture to Christ by laying down coats and branches, one that had been done before in their history to greet kings, Jesus knew what was coming.  He knew that because of these actions, he was seen as a threat to be exterminated by the Roman government.  He likely knew he was in danger by entering Jerusalem.  He knew the time was coming.  Yet, the people rejoiced and exalted him.

When Thursday comes, we remember the power of Eucharist.  These were the final moments of peace Jesus would have before the excruciating events leading up to his death.  For his disciples, it may have been just another Passover at first.  But then Jesus did some strange things.  He washed their feet.  He told them the bread was more than bread and the wine more than wine.  He tried his best to get the message through to them in these last moments they had together.  Not only was Maundy Thursday the last moments Jesus spent with those who loved him before his death, but it’s also Jesus’ final demonstration of what this whole thing has really been about.  He shows them humility.  He tells them that his body is a sacrifice.  He models the vulnerability of ministry.  And they still don’t quite get it.  But they will.

Then Friday comes.  So many of us don’t participate in Good Friday, especially compared to the droves of people who show up on Sunday.  Maybe it’s because we’re too busy or because we don’t see the point.  But there is no Easter without this terrible day.  If we cannot force ourselves to sit in the sadness and the pain of Friday, what good is Sunday?  If Christ is not dead, how can we celebrate him being alive?  We have to allow ourselves to experience the death to experience the resurrection.  In my tradition, we strip the sanctuary.  We read the painful Passion story and watch as candles get blown out and the adornments of the sanctuary are removed.  The crosses are hidden by black cloth.  There is nothing to celebrate.  Jesus is dead.  All is lost. It is painful.  I feel the weight of it in my chest.  Now, of course, we know what is coming.  But the disciples didn’t know.  They thought it was over.  When Christ declared, “it is finished,” it really was finished for them.  This man they had followed and given their lives to, who had shown them the face of God, was gone.  There is no victory in this day.  There is no hope.

Yesterday, on Good Friday, as I left the sanctuary of my church in silence, I was struck by the silence of all those around me.  We left the sanctuary without a sound and carried the reverence through the hallways of the church, only daring to speak once we had entered the parking lot.  The holiness of the pain and suffering we held space for was staggering.  The weight of Good Friday sunk in during these moments.  I was grateful to worship a God who understand my pain.

Today is Holy Saturday, perhaps my favorite liturgical day of the year.  That may seem like a strange statement, but the waiting of Holy Saturday sits true in my life.  In Saturday, there is tension.  Saturday is the day when the disciples began to process what had happened.  The tragedy was over.  The body was buried.  It was a day of sitting around and wondering, “what do we do now?”  It is a day of sitting in darkness.  In the words of Thomas Merton, “when the time comes to enter the darkness in which we are naked and helpless and alone; in which we see the insufficiency of our greatest strength and the hollowness of our strongest virtues; in which we have nothing of our own to rely on, and nothing in our nature to support us, and nothing in the world to guide us or give us light – then we find out whether or not we live by faith.”  It’s in the hours of Holy Saturday that we realize our weakness.  Human power cannot bring Christ back from the grave.  No amount of wailing or pleading done by the disciples could resurrect him.  They must have sat around together, confused, crying, defeated, as anyone does after a tragedy.  I imagine them sitting in a house all together.  No one knows what to say because the pain is too great.  They know they have to follow Christ’s instructions to continue to spread his message of hope, but things do not feel hopeful.  They feel broken and they only have each other.  Life feels like this sometimes.  In fact, for a lot of us, we often feel broken more than we feel resurrected.  And the feeling of Holy Saturday affirms that for me.  We have a God who knows suffering.  It’s ok for us to feel broken and lost and confused.  In fact, to fully open ourselves to these two days of mourning means that, when Sunday comes, we may rejoice more fully.

Right now there is pain.  But resurrection will come.  Be here in this pain, with me, with the disciples, and with Christ, but know that it won’t last forever.

Nasty Women

We beat our hands into
the muddy ground,
centuries of asking
for more,
always perceived as
a threat
no matter how we phrase it.

Internalizing requests
to be less,
settling for
assistant,
vice,
“Mrs. John Smith.”

We have our own names
and strong bodies,
consistently colonized
by laws
and vanity
and men’s mouths.

So the pain
of losing again
to a man
who has no idea
that he is a perpetrator
is no surprise,
but just another
thing to overcome.

We will continue
bringing new life,
subversively
proving our strength,
beating our hands into
the muddy ground,
packing down the seeds
in the earth
to grow.

Resolve in a New Year

I am not much for New Year’s Resolutions.  They seem, more often than not, to represent our failures to follow through on promises to others and to ourselves.  For me, they provide a slippery slope to perfectionism.  They call me to do more, better, too much.  They make me anxious about where I am and where I could be.  If too caught up in the spirit of resolutions, I make a list of unrealistic expectations for myself that will only bring disappointment.

While resolutions do not serve me, soaking in a long bout of reflection about the past year often does.  2017 was hardly akin to a long soak in the tub, however.  I fought for my rights and the rights of others.  I worked my body and my heart harder than I thought I could.  I built strength.  I built resolve.

I learned that it’s okay when things don’t go as planned.  When I show up to a 5k late with a 12-hour old tattoo, it’s okay not to run my fastest race.  When I create a storytelling class for my guests at work, it’s okay when our conversations don’t make sense.  When it’s thundering outside, it’s okay to bail on my long run and go to the Women’s March last-minute instead.

I learned that I am terrible at resting.  I spent a handful of extra days hanging onto several colds because I refused to slow down at the onset of my symptoms.  I took my first sick days and tried my best not to feel bad about it.  I took my first mental health days and tried not to feel bad about it.  I tried to live into the word “vacation” by doing all my exercising and cleaning the night before so that I could have a full day with no obligations.

I learned that I am in charge of my body.  I practiced saying “leave me alone” to men who called and whistled at me on the street.  I practiced calling out the sexism of the guests at my work place, even though the oppression they suffer seems often worse than my own.  I practiced using my voice to protect other women.  I practiced sending love to the places on my body that I often do not love: my lower belly, the wrinkle to the left of my mouth, the hair under my arms.

I learned that my words have power.  Only I can tell the truth about my experiences.  What I feel is true, even if it is skewed by the cycles of my body or mental illness or lack of sleep.  Writing words about my own places that hurt is worth it.  I take the words of others seriously, which means that they sometimes hurt, so I should be careful with my own.

I learned that I am strong.  I ran a marathon and came back for another.  I marched with signs more times that I thought I could handle.  I clicked “Publish” on this still tender and pink project of mine.  I called out people who have hurt me, and that makes me brave even if they refused to offer me healing.

In the year to come I am resolute: to rest, to fight, to speak.  I am not who I was at the beginning of 2017, and for that I am grateful.  We have a new year before us – a whole year of learning, growing, and being resolved to make things better.  A new year full of broken bones, painting pictures, snow days, crying on someone’s shoulder, making coffee, midnight conversations about Kierkegaard, and this is a blessing.  May it be so.

Undervalued

Each day
people without
teeth
money
homes
tell me
who they are.
Master’s degrees
or heroin
or bipolar disorder
or a new steady job that requires ever elusive work boots
or a bruised eye.
It is always both
surprising and not surprising.

Some of the men
in the waiting area
tell me I “look nice today”
They look at my body
as I pass by,
and I don’t know
whether to be angry
or glad
that they finally smiled
about something.

A woman cries
when she tells me
about her three-year-old
with Down syndrome.
A teenager tells me
his mom threw away
all his depression medication.
A child spills Goldfish
on the floor of my office
because he is too ravenous
to eat politely.

I hold their stories
in my hands
like small,
bruised peaches.
Because if I
don’t pay attention
to see when they’re ripe,
who else will?

The Women Are Tired

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Carrie Fisher, patron saint of fierce females

all the women.

in me.

are tired.

-Nayyirah Waheed,

The women are tired.  These weeks have been trying more than liberating.  While I am glad that there is a small space in our culture for women to share their experiences of sexual assault and harassment and have others believe them, more than that, I am exhausted.  Sexual assault and harassment does not surprise me.  It disgusts me, it enrages me, but it does not surprise me.  The women are tired of hearing about it because we already know.  These stories are the stories of our friends and relatives.  These stories are our stories.  And hearing them over and over again only serves to remind us that they are true.  It happens every day – a man says “Hey, Sweetie, how are you?” and follows me down the street; a man stares at a woman across from me on the train and licks his lips; a man assumes my silence means yes.

It is not news-worthy to us that old white men in power are using sex to control others.  This is rape culture.  This is patriarchy.  We know what it looks like, even in sheep’s clothing.  What are cat-calling and slut-shaming if not attempts to control women’s bodies?  Nearly every woman I know has a story like this if not multiple stories, so it is far from liberating to hear that women I don’t know also have these stories.  It is assumed.  Though I am glad men are finally being held accountable by their places of employment for their dehumanizing actions, it is hardly enough.  And for some reason, only some men are being held accountable.  There will rarely, if ever, be legal consequences.  Years after something like this takes place, there’s no evidence.  And even if we report something as soon as it happens, the likelihood of a proper sentence slim.  So, forgive us if we are underwhelmed by this sudden reveal of sexual predators and rapists.  Because nothing was revealed to us.  We have always known.

Mary, mother of Jesus, also knew her truth when no one would listen.  For months, Mary knew, despite the famously mansplaining song, exactly what was going on.  And while I do not wish to draw a parallel between sexual assault and the conception of Christ, Mary has great things to teach us about taking women at their word.  The child she was carrying was a part of her, so it seems that Mary would’ve been more than privy to the well-being of the Savior.  But remember her context: an unmarried young woman, pregnant, in a time when women found their worth based on their relationship to either a father or a husband.  Her word meant nothing.  Any attempt to proclaim what she knew to be true in her body would have been either received as a lie, insanity, or punishable sexual promiscuity.  She held something inside of her but was forced to keep it a secret because no one would believe her.  Because she was a woman.  Undoubtedly, Mary was exhausted too – from carrying a child and carrying silenced prophecy.

Mary leaves us a bit of her thoughts, though.  She was not entirely silent.  She had a song to sing in Luke 1:46-55, and even though she sang it alone, she had a voice.  She sang of bringing down the mighty and lifting up the lowly.  She sang of filling the hungry and dismantling the prideful.  Her monologue is short, but it encompasses the sprit of the entire book of Luke.  Her voice sets the stage for a book full of calls to social justice – to bring in the marginalized and prophesy to those who misuse power.

In Mary, the exhausted woman in me finds hope.  Mary shares in my oppression and in my desire for justice.  Mary knows her voice is powerful, even when others might not believe her story.  Mary understands that God’s vision for humanity is not one where women are second, but rather one where those who feel ignored can be heard.  Mary believes in the ability of the child she carries to bring about a new heaven and a new earth – one where, despite our trauma, we can be made whole.

Creating Space for Creative Space

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Welcome to my little corner of the world wide web, friends!

I’ve been sharing my writing here for several years, but I figured it was high time for me to get a big-girl website.  I’m so excited to share my words with you on these (albeit, virtual) pages.  I have a backlog of poems that I’m hoping to share as well as some new developing pieces.  Thank you for bearing witness to my words and for being patient with me while I figure out how the Internet works.

As I’ve progressed in my writing process and in my desire to be more public with my writing, I’ve often struggled with what it means to be a public theologian who shares intimate writings with the world.  How do I maintain the integrity of a faith leader while sharing personal essays and poems?  For a long time, this seemed like an irreconcilable dichotomy, but I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t have to be.  Being a leader, especially one of faith, means being vulnerable.  It means holding space for my own pain to model healing for others.  It means poking holes in my own perfectionism.  This new online space will, hopefully, be just that – a space where people looking for leaders in these tumultuous times can find one who is willing to show her scars.

This new endeavor also serves to hold myself accountable.  If there’s a cute little place online waiting to receive my writing, then I have to keep doing it!  This is for the times when I don’t feel like making something new, to remind myself why my voice is important.  At one point, I was striving to write a new poem each week.  I definitely haven’t maintained that, but with some new eyes on my work and a purposeful space to share it, I’ll be back on track soon.

unguarded (1)Lastly, I wanted to use this space to set an intention for myself, to think about how writing serves me and what I’m moving toward.  I landed on the word “unguarded,” partially from a haphazard Thesaurus.com search, but the more I considered it, the more focused the idea became.  So, my intention for this space is to be unguarded: to relinquish perfectionism, to witness messiness, and to speak my truths.

Thanks for joining me here, and may this space be one of healing, hope, and creativity for you along the way!