Hidden Away

878930EE-0F89-44EE-B45A-4352E1A8387DShe was like the moon—part of her was always hidden away. 

Dia Reeves, Bleeding Violet

Yesterday, I watched a clip from the 2018 ESPY Awards. I could not help but pause to listen to the athletes tell their stories of years of abuse by U.S Olympic Team doctor, Larry Nassar. I wondered how many years of silence they each endured, holding the horrible secret inside where it had the power to do great harm. That’s the thing about sexual abuse — it’s often a big, bad secret. Victims hold the shame in the place where they pack away their secrets, and the rest of the word hopes never to have to hear about it. So the secret is safe, hidden away, at least for a time.

But not this time! The “sister survivors” of the disgraced sports doctor’s abuse accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2018 ESPYS. Dressed in glittering gowns, holding hands in solidarity, more than 140 women gathered onstage to share the award given to athletes whose bravery “transcends sports,” as the audience rose in a standing ovation.

Sarah Klein, a former gymnast who said she was among Nassar’s earliest victims three decades ago, was the first to address the audience. “Speaking up and speaking out is not easy,” she said. “Telling our stories of abuse, over and over and over again, in graphic detail, is not easy. We’re sacrificing privacy, we’re being judged and scrutinized, and it’s grueling and it’s painful, but it is time. We must start caring about children’s safety more than we care about adults’ reputations.”

Tiffany Thomas Lopez, who in the 1990s played softball at Michigan State University where Nassar practiced, had a message for other victims who might still be silent. “I encourage those suffering to hold tight to your faith, and stand tall when speaking your truth,” she said. “I’m here to tell you, you cannot silence the strong forever.”

Olympic gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman was the last to speak. She was unsparing in her criticism of the adults who she said for years failed to protect the victims, instead opting to silence her and others “in favor of money, medals and reputation. But we persisted, and finally, someone listened and believed us.”

In January, more than 150 women and girls gave victim impact statements at one of Nassar’s three trials. In a Lansing, Michigan courtroom, they spoke of abuse under the guise of medical treatment, which for some began when they were elementary school age. Following their testimony, Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced Nassar to up to 175 years behind bars.

When the years of silence ended and the women released their secrets, justice followed, relief followed, inner peace followed. Therein lies a lesson for us all. How many times have women kept silent to protect others? How many times did we guard a secret because revealing it might hurt other people? Did we realize that by hiding away the secret, we were harming ourselves? The words written by Dia Reeves is true of us:

She was like the moon—part of her was always hidden away. 

And so it is with women. There are always parts of us that are hidden away, often for many years. There are parts of our stories that we hold in our souls, secrets we would rather not speak. It seems important, though, for each of us to develop the wisdom of knowing what we should hold in silence and what we should speak. As for the big, bad secrets — well, saying them out loud breaks their power. The chains of our silence fall to the ground, broken! 

And finally, we have freed ourselves! 

Rootedness

FEB12BA8-9746-4E12-84C7-A6CDCCEC2347

Photo by Jeremy Bishop

I spend a good deal of energy trying to understand myself. I wonder about the places my emotions go, how I got to where I am spiritually, where my deepest convictions came from. Self-assessment is a lifelong process. Saleem Haddad expresses the process with great insight when he writes this in his book, Guapa.

 . . . Digging through my roots to understand the way my branches grew.
(https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14107015.Saleem_Haddad)

These days, I have been digging through my own rootedness, and as I have contemplated my roots, I recalled the deep childhood influence of the two people who literally nurtured my sense of rootedness — my Aunt Koula and Yiayia, my grandmother. It is clear to me that I was rooted in the devotion of these two strong women.

From my dear Aunt Koula, I received the kind of lavish love that is most surely a part of a Greek aunt’s DNA. And from my attentive (sometimes intrusive) Greek grandmother, fierce protection. One can thrive on lavish love and fierce protection, and I did thrive.

But my teen years brought change. I was no longer near my aunt, my grandmother, or even my mother. Instead, I lived with a harsh and abusive father, a broken man held together with alcohol and the sexual abuse of his only daughter. So I was a troubled teenager, adrift for a season and feeling that I had lost my rootedness.

But inside me was a persistent resilience. In the midst of abuse, I sent my roots even deeper into the nurturing soil, a soil that still held the nutrients placed there by my aunt and my grandmother. I managed to keep myself rooted. Through the pain of abuse, I became stronger as my roots pushed deeper into the earth beneath me. I found the Divine Source that made sure I would be rooted and grounded in love.

I was always a religious child with meaningful ties to my Greek Orthodox faith. But as an eighteen year old, I discovered an even stronger foundation of faith. I found God in a new way, reborn by a fresh faith in Christ.

My roots held me firm. I was stronger than ever before. And at times during those difficult years. I would fall into God’s arms of grace as I repeated the prayer that, through the years, would inspire me more than any prayer in scripture.

. . . I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

— Ephesians 3:14-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

To all around me, I appeared strong and vibrant during those years of chronic and constant abuse. Like a tree that displays the splendor of its verdant leaves in the sunlight, I displayed my own “leaves,” in spite of the destructive and pain-filled environment that was my life.

Budding. Growing. Greening. Branching out.

Outwardly, I seemed healthy and strong, but the real strength was below the ground, roots and taproots pushing deeper into the soil. What happens there is unseen — below the ground. But that which happens below the ground, unseen, literally fashions the glory of what is seen, above the ground, branches reaching high into the sky toward the heavens, pointing to the God of the ages.

It is miracle, really, a grace gift from the God who longs to plant us firmly and deeply into a holy foundation. And so we can withstand the storms and the winds when they threaten, even gale force winds that move us, but cannot destroy us.

I call it rootedness.

 

Evangelicals, Clean Up Your Act!

US-VOTE-REPUBLICANS-TRUMP

It’s hard to imagine a greater illustration of Christians losing the plot than when they defend predators. — John Pavlovitz.   Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images.

I so hate to publish this photo. But it is a fitting image for these troubling days for people of faith. However, just so you know, this post is not about politics. It is about ethics, morality and living one’s faith authentically. I happen to be a follower of Jesus, and my Bible speaks to me about “loving the least,” allowing little children to come to Jesus, and calling peacemakers blessed.

So from that sacred place, I simply cannot comprehend persons of faith who claim faith in Jesus while defending a sexual abuser. As John Pavlovitz states so eloquently,

I don’t know how to understand the mind of a man or woman who attempts to profess devotion to Jesus while simultaneously defending a molester—and I’m not sure I want to. That’s a darker place than I think I can go without losing hope or sanity. I can’t imagine how a human being can so horribly distort the “love the least,” “blessed are the peacemakers” message of Christ, enough to stand on a wooden or social media platform—and knowingly bless a man who rapes, patently excuse violence to a child, or passionately campaigns for a predator. It’s all about as stomach-turning as it gets.

– John Pavlovitz, https://johnpavlovitz.com/2017/11/18/christians-defend-predators/

Pavlovitz goes even further.

There are few bastardizations of the life and the message of Jesus . . . as grievous as taking the side of rapists and pedophiles and genitalia grabbers—but this is where we are now. With the Evangelicals embracing Donald Trump and with those now rallying to the defense of Roy Moore, this is what we’re watching in America . . . Regardless of the Bible verses they drop or the high-profile ministries they wield or how sanctified they try to sound—when Christians defend predators, they deny Jesus and they sell off their souls. It’s really as simple as that. 

Yes, indeed. It’s really as simple as that. To my brother and sisters who call yourselves Evangelicals, clean up your act! It’s past time.

And may God help us live our faith with integrity, hold the vulnerable among us in high esteem, stand firmly against those who would cheapen our faith, and allow the life of Jesus to inform our thinking and guide our steps.

Me Too: Wounds of the Spirit, Scars of the Soul

95CD73CB-3B8E-44AB-B1F4-4057D76D838FFor weeks now, women have been making heart-rending declarations — “Me too,” they cry, as they reveal their experiences of past sexual abuse. As for me, I say, “me too.” Add my name to the mournful list of women who have endured the pain of sexual trauma.

I was sexually abused literally dozens of times, by many men. The abuse began when I was about four years old and continued throughout my years as a young child. Sexual abuse did not stop through my teenage years. And even as an adult I faced sexual violation. Never, not one time, was it consensual.

Questions always bombard sexual abuse victims:

Who was the man who sexually abused you?

It doesn’t matter. You wouldn’t believe me. You would refuse to believe that I was sexually abused by more than one teacher, by a coach, by a Baptist deacon, by a Baptist missionary, by an employer, by my father and several of his poker playing friends. You wouldn’t believe it because you know them to be “moral, upstanding men” who are a part of your community.

Why didn’t you tell anyone?

I did tell. I told many people about every act of sexual abuse I endured, naming every man who hurt me. But I knew all the while that people simply would not take my accusations seriously.

Didn’t you believe that telling might have brought these men to justice and have prevented them from abusing other children?

No, I did not believe those men who caused me suchbdeep hurt would ever face the consequences of their crimes, because most of the people I did tell simply did not believe me. The men were known and respected and no one wanted to challenge that.

Why did you wait so many years to tell?

There are several aspects to this question. First of all, as I said, I did tell certain people who didn’t believe me. Not being believed serves to silence a victim who just doesn’t want to be labeled a liar, an attention seeker, a trouble maker, or worse, an emotionally unstable person.

Secondly, and most importantly, the passing years never take away the pain for someone who has been sexually violated. Sexual abuse is something you never forget. After 55 years, I still remember the time of day, being called into the teacher’s office next door to the classroom, the way he smelled, everything he said and did, and exactly what I was wearing. He was a person I had looked up to and admired. But on that day, he inflicted a permanent wound of my spirit which would become a scar on my soul. Once again, I mourned the loss of my childhood, of the innocence of a young child.

In these days, newsfeeds are constantly reporting the allegations of victims coming forward to say “me too.”  The women have named their abusers — Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, Al Franken, Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, George H. W. Bush. Ben Affleck, Roger Ailes, Lockhart Steele, Michael Oreskes, Mark Halperin, John Besh. Roy Price, Chris Savino, and the list goes on to name perpetrators in present time and perpetrators from the past. I do not say this lightly, but I have wondered just how many men might be holding their breath, hoping beyond hope that their victim(s) won’t expose them.

Wounds of my my spirit, scars of my soul

The unspeakable wounds heal in time, but the soul’s scars remain. And every reminder through these many years — a smell, a memory, a color, a song, and the cries of the women who are saying “me too” and telling the stories of their abuse. All of these are triggers that bring back the sharp, stabbing pain of the old wounds from long past. That’s what I have lived with throughout my entire life— multiple assaults, multiple times, multiple men.

We can come forth and tell our stories. We can give voice to our spirit’s wounds, no matter how far in the past they may be. We can speak of our soul’s scars. But the reality is that we will be judged as women who have fabricated a false story of sexual abuse for some sort of personal gain.

How dare we ask why a woman would wait forty years to bring light to this kind of story! For since the day it happened, she lives with vivid memories, feelings of shame, fear of relationships, the disappointment of betrayal by someone she may have admired. There is a catch in her throat when she speaks of it, and there are tears, lots of tears along the way.

Wounds of the spirit, Scars of the soul

The writing of Saint Francis de Sales describes the depth of this kind of pain with this thought:

The soul is aware of the delicate wound . . . as though it were a sharp point in the substance of the spirit, in the heart of the pierced soul . . . This intimate point of the wound . . . seems to make its mark in the middle of the heart of the spirit, there where the soul experiences . . . feels.

– Living Flame of Love 2.1

So is it any wonder that this kind of wound would leave a permanent scar on the soul?

I am deeply saddened, but also gratified, that so many women are speaking out. I hope beyond hope that their courageous stories will give light to a dark, dark sin that has destroyed so many people for so many years. I pray that we will have the moral, ethical, spiritual and political will to crush the societal culture of abuse and violence and in its place create safe spaces free of fear for every person, every child, every young girl, every woman.

At times, I really want to expose every single man that abused me. But I want peace more. I want a serene spirit and a quiet soul. I want to rest in a prayerful place where my heart can call out to a God that desires for us a world of peace, communities of care, homes that are havens of safety. I want to see God ennoble people of faith to wrap their arms around the hurts, pray for God’s light to dispel the darkness, and live out their sacred calling to be agents of a better, more excellent way. May God make it so.