Monday, April 30, 2012

Project Unbreakable...

Please watch. For me. For the survivors in your life...even though you may not know they exist. They are all around you.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rejoice with me...

Rejoice with me.  Seriously, rejoice *with* me.  For I am not used to rejoicing and struggle with gloriously good things, as strange as that might sound.

Trembling and apprehensive, this morning at the surgeon's office I dared to talk about what happened at the endocrinologist office regarding that blasted test and asked for help.  She asked me what I wanted her to do. I honestly did not know, but I ended up blurting out that I needed someone who would listen to me.  Her face lit up, she said that she sends all her gestational diabetes patients to a particular doctor and then had her staff get me an appointment with the actual doctor!  But this is not even as good as it gets. greater than a mere appointment, a mere chance at help.

The appointment was set for the 2nd, since I scheduled the repeat glucose challenge for next Tuesday, after deciding that I did not want to feel bad any more this week...and the test is a hard one physically for me.  However, his nurse called to reschedule because something came up.  To say I was not  disappointed that I now have to wait until the 16th would be a lie, but after being so daring with the AMAZING Dr. Kennedy, I asked the nurse if I could ask her a question.  She said that was okay.  So, I dared to explain how I am symptomatic as my blood sugar drops below 90, instead of starting at 70 as the charts all state is "low" blood sugar.  I told her that I keep hearing that nothing is wrong with me.  That my blood sugar is normal.  I asked, "Am I going to hear that there?"

She was so warm and so kind and so gentle when she EXCLAIMED, "Absolutely not!  If you are symptomatic at 90, then 90 is your low.  We have patients who are symptomatic at 125 because they have become used to being so high!"

I started weeping, though I did manage to hide much of my abject relief from my voice...for a while.  I quickly told her about the rapid, profound weight loss and being diagnosed with insulin resistance and being on acarbose.  She listened and told me that she understood what I was trying to say and that they *wanted* to help me, they *would* help me. I just needed to wait an additional two weeks, for which they were sorry.

More tears.  My entire body was trembling so hard I could not stand.  I wanted to fling my arms around her immediately and become her servant in whatever way she needed.  But joy...s greater even than assurance of help.  MUCH GREATER.

She told me the first appointment would be long, would take approximately two hours, and then *asked* me if that was okay with me.  She said the doctor's first priority with new patients was making sure he understood their conditions, concerns, and histories.  She said he was gentle and a great listener and would take as long as it takes to be sure he has a good grasp of the situation before deciding what tests to do and such.  

I barely held it together long enough to thank her, four times, for her help, for their willingness to help me.  Then she thanked me, told me that I made her day, because she did what she does to help make sure that people like me get the care they need.  I was astounded at her words.

She assured me that my fears and the tears she could tell were falling were no bother to her and were quite understandable.  She only asked that I try and get my records to them *before* the visit so the doctor can review them in preparation for talking with me and to forgive them for needing to reschedule.

God's provision is remarkable.  He covered me with such mercy and grace and gentleness that Luther's metaphor of an eternal overflowing fountain seems a gross understatement.  Knowing how I would fret, He provided me the words I needed to rest until the 16th rather than worry and despair that I still would not get the help I need before my insurance runs out.

Last June, I was humiliated and dismissed by the first surgeon I saw here.  Not wanting to repeat that, I was brave enough to ask about other options.  I was given the name of a doctor, but when I called the practice, I dared explain my situation to the scheduler and asked her which doctor in the practice would be the most patient with my weaknesses and which was the best listener.  She set me up with a different doctor, Dr. Kennedy. I rescheduled three times, out of fear, before following through with the fourth appointment.  Not once were they anything other than kind about rescheduling.

Being her patient has changed my life.  Literally.  She is teaching me about safety and courage and how to reframe something from drowning in the negative to clinging to the positive.  Her entire staff ALWAYS treat me with gentleness and dignity and shower mercy upon me.  I leave that place always feeling encouraged and even empowered...a true modern day miracle.

I was really, really nervous about asking her for help, not even knowing what I thought she could do, but asked out of the despair I still felt over what happened Monday and *knowing* that something is not right with me.  Today, I did not just receive help. I received showers of mercy, more so than I could possibly imagine, from my Good Shepherd.  More than I can even grasp at this moment.  It is as if the Holy Spirit took my groanings not only to Christ, but also to Dr. Kennedy, so that my needs could be made clear and could be met.

I am in awe.
I am humbled.
I am overwhelmed with joy.

God.  Is.  Good.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Ubiquitous or seemingly ubiquitous...

I have been thinking deeply tonight on my beloved Book of Concord.  Sometimes, I truly wonder if what I am reading within those pages is really what lies in the pure doctrine.  By this I mean, is the concern for the anguished soul woven throughout from cover to cover or does it merely seem that way...because I am so oft anguished?

In pondering the matter, I went to the blog I created to archive the quotes from the Book of Concord.  By week's end, there will be 125 snippets posted.  Of these, 16 are labeled "anxious souls," 7 "comfort," and 11 "consolation."  That is not to say that 34 of the 125 have to do with distress, for there is some overlap in labeling (and I am too weary to create a chart to establish the true number), but surely there still is a statistically significant percentage amongst them, right?  Or is there?

I wonder if I choose Snippets based on my needs, subconsciously, since I have tried to post a representative cross section of our Confessions.  Of late, I have worked harder to have a fair representation from each of the main sections, save the Power and Primacy of the Pope (since I cannot find a small piece that could be pulled out and retain any sort of overall meaning), so that I do not end up simply quote all of my beloved Large Catechism. However, I do wonder if there is something selfish driving my choices. I wonder if I am shouting to the world things I wish were shouted back at me.

To me, though, the talk of anxious souls is ubiquitous, not merely seemingly so.  Over and over and over again, the concern is for those who are terrified, anxious, despairing.  Over and over and over again, the words comfort and console appear. These words are used in the context of the very purpose of speaking the Gospel, teaching the doctrine, and giving of the Sacraments.  It is almost as if our church fathers assumed the masses would be in constant, even dire, need of comfort, of consolation, of the very sustenance of the Gospel, though "sustenance" is not a label I use on the archive of quotes.

I have heard, in Divine Service, the phrase "the comfort of the Gospel."  But I have started to wonder if pastors and parishioners alike ever deeply ponder why that particular phrase is used so often.  By this I mean, consider the nature of comfort and the state of one in need of comfort.  Soothing.  Consoling.  Supporting.  Bringing relief, ease, freedom.  To be in need of those things, one would be anxious, terrified, sorrowing, bound, weary, worried, confused, despairing...all things we do not readily equate with the Christian life.   "The victorious Christian life," as another common phrase notes.

The Living Word is active and powerful.  However, I am beginning to think that, all too often, the action is limited in our minds to salvation.  But just how much the action is centered on the gifts flowing forth from salvation, from forgiveness, rather than salvation itself? Specifically, I mean comfort, consolation, healing, and sustenance.

Of late, I bewail my misery and this plight of mine because I need for my thoughts and feels to be heard and to be accepted, rather than hushed and dismissed or even ignored.  But I also bewail my misery and this plight of mine in the hopes that those listening will fill my ears with the Living Word, so that I am not left with merely my weak and wounded state.

For me, hearing the Living Word is a palpable thing.  I am often physically and visibly affected, even as I am mentally and emotionally.  Hearing the Living Word physically calms and soothes me, as much as it does so mentally and emotionally.  Sometimes I see it happening and other times I am not aware of the work the Holy Spirit has done until later.  But I do believe, with a certitude that is rather profound to me, that the Living Word acts upon my body as much as it does upon my mind and my heart, upon my soul.

Of course, perhaps this is because my physical body is in need of so much healing, bears physical wounds both  apart from and connected to the wounds of my heart and mind.  Perhaps if I were physically stronger, more physically whole, the effect would be different. After all, others have noted the palpable difference, have noticed the effect the Living Word has had one me, but that observation always seems to have a sort of oddity to it.  As if what happens to me is unusual.

Only...what about the real body and real blood in the Lord's Supper?  What about the fact that Christ comes to us bodily even now, not merely when He walked upon the earth as man?  What about the fact that our faith is given through a physical washing of our bodies?  What about the fact that in establishing the Sacraments, Christ gave both of them a tangible element?  What about the fact that He brought the human body to glory, that His dual nature did not divide at His death but remained in His resurrection? It seems to me that there is a whole lot of bodily references and interactions within the practice of our faith publicly.

And privately.

Not only is the Book of Concord, at least in my eyes, filled with references to the suffering soul, so also is the Psalter, the prayer book of the Living Word.  The Psalms are filled with physical and emotional and mental anguish.  Even within a single prayer, one can find the continuum of faith, from certitude to doubt.  The psalmist does proclaim the consolation and comfort given to him, but he also longs for consolation and comfort to come to him.  He begs for healing and for rescue, for rest and freedom from his own doubt and fears.  From a purely statistical point, I wonder just how much of the Psalter is the victorious life and how much is a life in need of the fruits of salvation, of forgiveness bestowed. For while there are clearly Psalms all about suffering, I see suffering laced even amongst the victorious ones.

Or is it that I read the Psalter the same way I do the Book of Concord, filtered subconsciously for the Words I crave?  Do I see acceptance and acknowledgement of my misery because I need to know that I am not alone?  To know that I am not a horrible excuse for a Christian though in this state?  Do I see comfort and consolation, strength and sustenance for me because I am in dire need of such?

My tendency is to doubt and blame.  Blame and doubt.  Only...well...there is the whole theology of the Cross.  I heard once that the theology of the Cross was born from Luther's love of the Psalter.  Truth or fiction I know not.  But I do know that Walther's The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel is also filled with mention of the anguished soul, the despairing Christian.  In fact, he is rather fierce about giving proper spiritual care to the anguished soul, pouring the sweet, sweet Gospel over him, as opposed to deepening her wounds with further application of the Law that has already afflicted her.

All this is to say that in the church and in the Christian world, I hear most about the Christian life being victorious and joyous, as if that victory and joy is marked by wild shouts of exultation, ebullient feelings of happiness and love, and all manner of praise and adulation.  Only, in the Book of Concord, and in the Psalter, I see the Christian life filled with the constant onslaught against our bodies, mind, and spirits by our foe, the world, and our own flesh.  I see the victory and joy more whispers than shouts, more stillness than leaping about, peace based in the soothing, consoling, comforting reception of forgiveness, healing, sustenance, and even faith.

I suppose what I trying to say is that, to me, our doctrine assumes a life of struggle and anguish, a life in need of comfort and consolation.  To me, it does not assume righteousness and sanctity born of pious living, of great service to our neighbor, of loving, obedient, tranquil families.  To me, it does not even assume steady and certain faith.

To me, it assumes, expects, presupposes the brokenness and battle I have faced for a long while now, of the darkness that oft surrounds me and even fills me.  It seems this way because so often I read my own misery and plight within the Words of the Psalter and so often I read within the Book of Concord the very reason to preserve and teach and proclaim the Gospel is because the Church is actually filled with the walking wounded, not the mighty warrior.

We do not come to Divine Service to beat our chests and raise our shields in shouts of exultation and victory, to crow over our defeat of our enemies, or to count up the wreaths of honor we lay at our general's feet.  We come to have our bloody wounds cleansed and bound, our broken bones splinted, and our starving bodies fed.  We come, because, whether or not we know it, whether or not we understand this is what is happening, without the comfort and consolation, without the healing and sustenance, we simply would not survive.

In the beginning was the Word, 
and the Word was with God, 
and the Word was God. 
He was in the beginning with God. 
All things came into being 
through Him, 
and apart from Him 
nothing came into being 
that has come into being. 
In Him was life, 
and the life was the Light of men. 
The Light shines in the darkness, 
and the darkness 
did not overcome it.
~John 1:1-5 

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Friday, April 13, 2012

What is polite...

What is polite?  What is rude?  In many ways, I do not believe that I know the answer to either question.

Yesterday, two Mormon men came to my door.  I did not open the door. I did not even go to the door. I sat on the couch in full view of both of them and waited for them to leave...and Amos to stop barking, of course.

I did not want to talk with them. I did not want to hear their pitch.  I did not want to interact with them in any fashion.  And yet I sit here still feeling horribly guilty and rude for ignoring their persistent knocking on my door.

I have also struggled with answering questions that I do not wish to answer, because to not do so seems rude to me.  Perhaps being asked the question was the actual act of rudeness, but to simply not answer never seems to be an option to does any response that is essentially a decline to answer.

For example, a while ago, while sitting for the photographer in charge of a church directory, he asked me question after question about my life.  He tried many topics before alighting on football.  At that point, I found myself talking at length about my favorite sport, even though the man made me uncomfortable, because he kept asking me questions.  I did not want to have a lengthy conversation with him and every question made the process of taking my photo and choosing my shot longer and longer.  Then, before I understood what was happening, he was suggesting that we go to a game together.  In a way, it was as if we were each having a different conversation, his a pursuit of me and mine a failing struggle to flee his intrusiveness because talking to him was the polite thing to do.

Another example was when a technician was doing a carotid doppler test and a cranial ultrasound eighteen months ago.  At first, I assumed his chit chat was to put me at ease, but then his moving my hair around was less about positioning his instrument and more about his fingering the strands as he told me how pretty it was.  My skin was crawling the entire time, and I jerking away as he touched me.

When I am having testing done, I really do not wish to talk with the technicians, in large part because talking extends the process.  For something like an echo cardiogram, where my body is exposed, I do not want that process extended a single second.  But even for tests for which I can remain clothed, I do not care to answer questions about my health, about my life, about my family.  Yet I feel that remaining silent would be rude. So, I find myself giving away bits of myself, revealing things I would rather keep private.

I could imagine that running tests all day or taking photographs all day might be boring and one could be desirous of conversation, but what about my desires, my wishes?

Standing is very hard for me for any length of time.  So, when I walk into a bank or a post office, where sitting is not an option, I would like the transaction completed as quickly as possible.  I do not want to talk about why I moved to Fort Wayne or explain why I am not working or really anything about my life.  I do not want to talk about what is in the package--other then the obligatory dangerous items questions--or why I am sending it or the relationship I have with the recipient.  The weather, well, I suppose I wouldn't mind talking about that, but I would rather there be no talking and just work.

Another example is with wait staff at a restaurant. I do not wish to chit-chat with wait staff.  I wish to come, order food, enjoy the company with whom I chose to eat, have my empty drink glasses filled in a timely manner, pay, and leave.  I do not wish for a commentary on my food choices or the amount of left overs or my clothing or hair or any other topic that arises.  I suppose some talk is polite, but more often than not of late it seems that eating out is a constant interruption of a steady stream of people asking if I cared for my meal or how I was enjoying my stay and such, all the while discomfort and frustration growing within me.  

Is this because I am an introvert?  Is this because I am rude?  Is this because I have no sense of what being polite means?  Because, to me, being polite, or not being rude, is essentially about my having to do things and to say things that I would rather not do or say.

To shake hands with strangers.
To exchange hugs with strangers or acquaintances or even people I regularly meet.
To allow others to touch me, such as squeeze my shoulder, encircle my arm or body, to touch my arm or leg.
To answer personal and, to me, intrusive questions.
To hold eye contact when I would rather not.
To talk at all.

It is as if the needs and desires and demands of others is always more important than my own.  That being polite, or not being rude, means that my own thoughts and feels do not matter at all.

Yes, I was weeping at the time the Mormons came, so I did not wish to explain why my eyes were red and swollen, my cheeks wet, my nose stuffy.  But I also did not wish to give a defense of my own faith as I rejected theirs.  I did not want to talk about Mormonism. I did not want to talk. I wanted to be left alone.

Psychology says that I have the right to be in charge of my own body.  That I have the right to my own opinions, thoughts, and feelings.  That I have the right to set boundaries with others.  That I have the right to choose with whom I interact.  And that exercising these rights is not only not rude, but it is healthy.

In the work place, this primarily holds true, at least with physical boundaries.  However, I have not worked in nearly a year and a half.  Instead, I have been out in society, in medical situations, and at church.  In those places, it seems I have none of those rights.  If I exercise those rights, I am rude or uncooperative or even unhealthy.  In church, especially, it seems as if it is not only politeness but duty that calls for me to allow touches and conversations that are difficult, and even harmful to me, for the sake of community, for the sake of fellowship.

To me, it seems most often that the freedom of the Gospel does not really mean that I have freedom, but that I am free to do as you wish for me to do, physically, communicably, and spiritually.

So, I suppose I am back to my thoughts about those children all those years ago at camp whom we decided it was best for them to face their fear of heights and leaning backwards off a tower edge no matter was best to force them.  Perhaps it is the ubiquity factor, but it seems to me that too much of our interactions with others is more about force, in some fashion, than anything else.

A long time ago, I was staying with my then pastor's family for just a few days.  On the second day, my pastor's wife told me that she was going to the gym.  I asked her not to, to visit with me instead.  Very bluntly, she asked me why I cared more about myself than her health?  I was stunned.  In the lull created by my gaping mouth, she gently pointed out that my wanting her to not go to the gym was all about my own needs and desires rather than hers.  Until recently, I had not remembered that moment.

At the time, I thought she was rude. I thought that she was neglecting her visitor. I thought that she should care about spending time with matter that I would still have a chance to visit with her over the next few days.  I thought all these things because she had a household of children and thought it would be better if the two of us grabbed the chance to spend some time alone rather than the time we had together that included her children during the day and her husband in the evening.

But her life, then, was filled with children.  Being with her meant going along for the ride.  My wanting to change her life, change her schedule, change her own desires was all about me.  That was rude.  However, how is my wanting others to allow my life to be what it is, my schedule to be what it is, my desires to be what they are also being rude?

Recently, though I moved my arm out of reach and told an usher at church I did not want his help, twice, just a few minutes after the second time, he reached over and squeezed my shoulder as he told me it was good to have me in church.  I jerked my body away, poorly stifled a scream, burst into tears, and started trembling violently from head to toe.  Horrified at both the PTSD response I was having and that I was having it at church, I stumbled my way to the car where I huddled in misery for a long while before calming down enough to drive.

I have tried to address the matter of being touched by strangers at church, specifically male ushers, without being asked or granted permission.  My attempts to garner help in this area have failed.  When I express my growing frustration over the matter, what I primarily hear is a two-pronged admonishment of a) surely the usher's intentions were good and b) as a part of the community, I should just give it time (meaning get used to it).  While that sounds like taking the polite path, does it not also mean that I am forced to endure something that is hurtful and even harmful to me at this point in my life?  Why must the consideration of person, needs, and desires, always be the other person?  Why is wanting that for myself rude?  For it is noted that I give offense, because I do not want to hug my Christian brothers and sisters, because I do not want for them to touch me as they talk, because not even want to shake their hand.  Noted in speech.  Noted in facial expressions.  Noted in isolation from community activities.

Were I in the work place, the continued unwanted touch could very well be an actionable sexual assault case.  I have stated and written to those in charge that I would like for it to stop.  But in this situation, because I am in church, I have no right over my own body. I have no right to have my thoughts and feelings respected and honored in this matter.

In the medical arena, this is also primarily true.  When I expressed my frustration over the neurological testing experience, I primarily heard, "Just ask for a female technician next time."  However, I have discovered that in the world of neurological testing and radiology, asking for a female technician means a choice between not having a test or having it done by a man.  It also means, since I am not a Muslim woman who would naturally need female staff, that there is something mentally wrong with me because I do not want to be tended to by male medical staff.

The technician who played with the locks of my hair, who tucked my hair behind my ears, who stroked the back of my neck as he moved my hair aside--all the while commenting on the comeliness of body and hair--was completely inappropriate and, in fact, abusive.  But he was the only one available.  I was trapped in a room alone with him.  And I did not have the courage to ask for help.

Mostly, because whenever I ask for female staff or object to how men touch me in their attempts to be friendly or comforting, I am merely either an uncooperative patient or an hysterical female.  Both of these make getting medical care difficult...even later on since your label is charted and passed on.

The latter was noted when I objected to how an anesthesiologist had slid in place his hand on the front curve of my shoulder and began tapping his rather long fingers repeatedly upon the top part of my breast as he explained the type of drugs he would be using.  Since my gown was untied in preparation for being removed, the result of his movement was that his touch was skin to skin. Of course, I was assured, he was only trying to make me feel more comfortable since it was obvious I was nervous about being put to sleep.  But he was not interested in asking me what would make me more comfortable (a warm blanket or two, my gown tied until I was unconscious, a discussion on how I do not wake easily from any anesthetic and need extra time without pressure to get up and get moving).  He had already decided for me what I needed.

Again, psychology would say that I have the right to set boundaries, and to control (outside of emergency situations) who touches my body...the right to choose with whom I want to interact...the right to choose what about my life I wish to reveal.

Truly, that does not seem to be the case.  Reality is that others get to decide for you.  Others get to decide what is comforting, helpful, supportive, friendly, and polite.

Was I rude to the two Mormons?  Was I rude to the usher?  Am I simply, wholly, and utterly rude for wanting to make my own choices over who and when and how anyone touches me, over who and when and how I talk with others?  And, more importantly, am I forcing others to do or say what they would rather not?

Given how I feel, I hope and pray the latter is not the case.  However, given how confusing being around others is these days, I fear all too often it is the case.  I simply do not know what is polite...what is rude.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What would you have us say regarding abuse...

I would have you say many things about abuse.  Truly the root of sexual abuse is because we live in a sinful world, but its prevalence has not been stopped because, in very large part, of silence.

As I have posted before, Tennessee has started a stop the silence campaign across the entire state.  Such campaigns exists elsewhere in smaller efforts, but they need to be in every school, every church, every city, every state.  

The first post I ever made was about the video of those adults who were hurt as children by a priest.  It is hard to watch but as necessary, in my opinion, as watching Schindler's List.  In the video, you see how adults are still impacted, you hear from a pedophile how he excuses his behavior, you learn how easy it was to abuse both child and mother in the same home, you learn how pervasive is the response of learning about such things be to cover it up.  It is not a condemnation of the Catholic church, but an intimate look at sexual abuse from both sides of the equation.

I would like to have people watch and respond to watching it by publicly stating they did, something they learned, reposting the video to their own walls and encouraging others to learn.

There are many ways to discuss sexual abuse, again from both sides of the equation.  For example, the article I posted about Sandusky being labeled as a likely pedophile back in 1998.  That such was ignored all those years is horrible, but the article gave good instruction about the patterns of pedophiles and gave a glimpse of how their own victims will excuse their behavior or defend them.  It is a remarkable article for the opportunity to learn about both sides of the equation.

You can talk about the spiritual care needed for those who are wounded in this manner. You can talk about patterns of behavior of sexual abusers, from pedophiles to spousal abuse.  You can talk about the patterns of response conditioned in those who have survived sexual abuse that can set them up for re-victimization as they age.  You can talk about the long-term physical and mental effects of sexual abuse.  You can talk about the need for education for all adults and children, again on both sides of the equation.  You can even talk about what makes it so darn uncomfortable to talk about as you do so.  

With regard to the recent revelation that a lay minister in the LCMS was hurting parishioners, so much of the discussion was about background checks.  But we do not background check parishioners and abusers exists in that segment of the church probably more so than staff.  And even if a background check process has failed, perpetrators could be caught by an education campaign, by those who learn to actively look for the signs of sexual abuse...on both side of the equation...and those who talk about it.  On one discussion thread about the matter, when someone who had been sexually abused tried to refocus the discussion/blame not on a failure of administrative processes but rather on the perpetrator, one responder basically accused his experience of being raped as clouding his thinking on the matter.  When you peel back the words, the man was dismissed because of his experience when his experience gave him greater insight as to the heart of the problem at hand.

In a sense, it is an easy matter to solve in part.  Having the topic no longer be uncomfortable, having it be regularly discussed openly and honestly, can made a tremendous difference.  These are not just my thoughts.  They are the thoughts of those who have been on the battle front for decades.  Evil really does flourish when good men/women remain silent.

Children whose parents/relatives/teachers/pastors hurt them often do not understand that adults can be wrong. They do not know they have the right to say they do not want such things to happen to their bodies, to question adult behavior, and that telling is a good thing.  Pedophiles often use that ignorance against them.  So, again, talking is a way to fight and reduce such evil. 

But we do not talk about such things in our society or in our churches.  I know from experience. I also know from research.  At best, the topic is discussed in part if it is in the news, but only distantly so, kept at arms length, and not brought into our homes, our schools, our organizations, our churches.

I guarantee the Catholic church is not the only church on earth where this problem has been and still is rampant.  It takes places in schools, too.  And homeschooling is no real protection because it takes place in homes as well.  Many, many, many homes.  Homes filled with, as Pastor Riley would say, Good Christian People.

And example I have given before is something I personally witnessed.  There was a foster child who raped his foster sister, the daughter of his foster parts.  It took the girl a year to speak about what happened.  Then, in the weekly staff meeting, the boy's social worker spoke about what happened.  She was silent about the girl. I was horrified the girl was still having to live with her perpetrator.  Yet when I said so, I was lambasted for having termed the boy such.  He was no rapist.  All the effort was to keep private what had happened.  Even the mother did not want to have the boy removed from her home.  When I asked how the girl was doing, the social worker replied that she did not know, that she had not talked to the girl yet...and this had happened some days before.  Another social worker actually said that since the girl waited a year to tell, the rape obviously had not bothered her much.

I was horrified.  Grown women rarely find the courage to tell.  After all, look what happens when you do.  You are blamed.  You are hushed.  You are ignored.  The room was filled with people supposedly trained in dealing with this problem, but the go-to response was to blame, to hush, to ignore.

At the staff meeting the following week, when hearing the boy was still in the home and the girl still had not received any help, I announced to no one in particular that if the incident was not reported immediately, I would do so myself.  I was the only person in the room who was not a mandatory reporter.

It was reported.  The county removed the boy from the home immediately.  A couple of weeks later, the boy felt safe enough to finally tell that he had been raped repeatedly by the foster mom.  In his words, she had been having a relationship with him.  It was no relationship. It was rape.  It was abuse.  While it is no excuse for his choice, the boy was simply doing to the foster sister was was being done to him.

All the while in the home he where he was placed to be safe.
All the while being visited regularly by a social worker who was there to keep him safe.

Another way to look at this is to consider heart disease in women.  Heart disease is the number one killer of women, more than all the cancers combined.  The signs of heart disease in women are most often very different than the signs of heart disease in men.  So, even those who do know the most commonly known symptoms (pain in the chest that radiates down the left arm) would not be of help with women, whose symptoms are more often fatigue, indigestion, nausea, back ache or pain in the jaw.  

There is all this education about cancer in women, especially breast cancer. There are buddy check programs and plastic guides you can hang on your shower, but there is a virtual silence about the warning signs of heart disease in women.  Even in the hospitals, often women in heart failure are misdiagnosed because the prevailing discussion and education is about the signs of heart disease in men.  So, silence on the matter has allowed this result of sin in our world to be worse than it is.  Discussion and education, having the signs and symptoms and the problem on every tongue would greatly reduce the number of deaths of women from heart disease because it can be treated, catching it early can have a profound impact on prevention, mitigating damage, and fostering healing.

So it is with sexual abuse.  Discussion and education can have a profound impact on preventing sexual abuse in the first place, mitigating damage, and fostering healing in those bearing such wounds.

But what do such wounded people find?  Silence.  Blame.  And the most prevalent excuse being that hearing about sexual abuse, talking about sexual abuse, watching videos like the one I posted...all of those things are too uncomfortable, too difficult.

Well, be that the case, imagine, then, what it is like to live with sexual abuse in your life, in your past...knowing that no one wants to see, no one wants to hear, no one wants to be burdened with facing a difficult, uncomfortable thing?

It is a convenience of society to say that such wounded people need counselors.  This is most certainly true.  But not only can many not afford counseling, nor are there enough counselors trained specifically to deal with the aftermath of sexual abuse, but psychological healing lies in being able to speak about your experiences with friends and family and having your feelings and thoughts be accepted and heard.  And, more importantly, psychology cannot heal the spiritual wounds of sexual abuse.  Only the sweet, sweet Gospel can do so.  Not law. Not what you should be doing, how you should be thinking, how you should be feeling, how you should be responding in faith.  But Gospel.  Gospel given not merely in Divine Service, but also given specifically through pastoral care and through the care and support of members of the body of Christ. Gospel given even more freely and fully than the prevalent lies and assaults of the relentless foe who widens and deepens the wounds of sexual abuse through doubt and despair and shame and silence.

Sadly, though, with sexual abuse, for the most part, the only words spoken on the matter are the words of the world.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

The words of the world...

Another day where I cannot escape the words of the world.  Another day where I cannot escape my own weakness.  Another day bathed in shame.

Hours and hours passed as I tried to do the English and Finnish PDF versions of the latest eBlast from Lutherans in Africa.  Hours and hours passed and all that happened was the creation of an InDesign file and a single photo set in place.  Fatigue pulling at me and thoughts confusing me, I could not gather the scattered pieces of my mind together enough to do the work.  Hours and hours later, frustrated and seeking some sort of accomplishment, I set out to take Amos on another walk.

W.A.L.K is Amos' four-letter word.  No matter how excited I try to sound, no matter how positive I try to be about the leash and walking, Amos wants no part of it.  Being that I was also rather discouraged, I simply carried him out of the house, rather than tried to drag him outside and down the steps.  It is my new goal that we walk twice a week.  For if we only go here and there, with as much time as I can manage without feeling too guilty in between attempts, neither one of us will ever learn to go for walks again.

Only, just a single block into our walk, the words of the world crushed me, frightened me, and seared my mind in a way I find difficult to forget.

After passing the first intersection, a little red sport car pulled to the opposite side of the street.  For the briefest of moments, I rejoiced that neither Amos or I startled at that event.  Then the driver rolled down his window and began speaking.

Given that the Spring weather has decided to revisit the Winter weather that was primarily skipped, I was dressed from head to toe in warm, shapeless clothing.  Well, everything I wear these days hides the form of my body in some fashion, but since I was in my one true outdoor sporting outfit, there was little indication of my gender from neck down.  And having battled a migraine much of the early morning...after daring to broadcast that it had been 15 days since the last one...I had no make-up on and had not even pulled a comb through my hair after getting out of the shower the night before.  No part of me was comely.  No part of me was compelling.

Yet the driver began to speak the words of the world in rather vulgar, vile form, telling me just how he might satisfy the needs of my detail that I cannot even speak...and wish fervently not to remember.  But I do.

He followed me for three blocks, rather relentless and inventive about just how we could be together.  For three blocks, I ignored him, trying to move forward instead of turning back in his direction to race back to the haven of my home.  I wanted to try and finish the walk.  And I wished not to give any indication that I heard him, other than the tears rolling down my cheeks and my quivering body.

I called every single person I knew.  But no one was home.  No one answered the phone.  Finally, though her wedding is just around the corner and she is working full time and sewing her own dress, I called Sunshine.  Thankfully she answered and I asked her to keep me company.  She did.  Amos and I finished the walk.  The driver gave up his...pursuit.

All ended well, then, right?  For me, it did not.

The shame of his words still fills me.  The shame of my fear still fills me.  The shame of my weakness that his words would remain fills me.  All I have right now are the words of the world.

I did try reading aloud my beloved Psalter. I even tried reading the first part of John that has become so dear to me.  However, I only became more anguished and more despairing.  For should not my own reading be enough?  Why should it make such a profound difference when the Living Word is being read to me, given to me, than when I read it myself, when I take it myself?

Earlier in the day, I had posted on Facebook the same article and thoughts I posted here, regarding the law officials forcing a young rape survivor to testify against her attacker.  Part of that force includes essentially jailing her in a juvenile facility.  Such thoughtless, cruel treatment of a young woman brave enough to admit what happened to her.  The attackers DNA was found on her body.  Physical evidence should be enough.  NEVER should someone who has been sexually assaulted be forced to do anything against her will, even if his testimony might help others.  Her duty is not to help others in this moment.  His is merely to rest and heal, to find peace and forgiveness.

Of course, given the topic, it was another post ignored.  Another time when I dare raise this issue in public and receive back silence.  I talked to Sunshine about that and she logged on to Facebook to link to the article.  Her post was greeted with silence, too.  Is it any wonder sexual abuse survivors oft prefer to remain hidden, to keep what happened secret?

I was a bloody fool to ever think that the Lutheran church would be a safe place to speak of such things.  I will stand on a mountain top and proclaim with every ounce of my being that Lutheran doctrine is where those so deeply wounded can find peace and rest, refuge and healing.  But I would not say the same of the church.  For it is comprised of the same people in society who prefer to remain silent...who find the topic too distressing.  Imagine, for a single moment, how distressing living the topic is.

So, my mind was discouraged both from the cognitive failure to get work done and the silence with which my post was greeted when I set out to try and have the smallest of successes by at least finishing a walk with Amos.  To have those words fill my mind then, to have them written upon my heart, was devastating.

I admit I was a poor listener to Sunshine as I asked her about her wedding plans and how she was doing.  I did try to think of her, but mostly I could not set aside the specificity with which the driver described what we could do together.  Those words clung to me.  And the shame engendered by the silence on Facebook.

They are the ones clinging to me now.

Why do men do such things?  Why do they call out such vile words to a stranger, a rather unattractive one at that?  Why do they feel the freedom to objectify women that way?  Why do they see no harm in their words?

Sticks and stones will break your bones,
but words will never hurt you.

One of the greatest lies of childhood.

Words can wound.  Words can bind.  Words can kill.  Oh, how hurtful words can be.  Why is it then that I could not grasp, could not take hold of any bit of Living Word tonight?

I am just that weak.  I am just that broken.  So fragile am I that the only things that speak to me, that break through the darkness, are things that are outside of me.  The Living Word...the Lord's Supper...The cross on my forehead.  Would that it were I were stronger and in no need of such external things.  Would that it were just speaking I am baptized! would be enough for this mess of creation.

I can hear the lecture now:  You are giving the driver all the power.  You are giving him the victory.  You are not looking in the right place.

His words are the ones that filled my evening, my late night, and now my early morn.  I can still hear him...his suggestions...his observations...his invitation...his proclamation of who I am.

I wish that I could not.  I wish the words of the world were not ringing so loudly in my ears, reverberating throughout my entire being.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

At what expense...

So, forcing a teenager to help law enforcement prosecute a criminal is more important than her own health and well-being. On every front, our society fails first to protect youth from sexual abusers and second to support the survivors in such a way as to not add to their burden. 

That little ground has been gained since the subject came out of the closet decades ago is our shame as a nation. We avoid the topic. We do not train adults to recognize both the signs of abuse and the patterns of abusive behavior. We do not teach children what they should know to help protect themselves and provide a safe and supportive environment so that they can ask for help when needed. Even our churches most often confuse vocations, sending those seeking spiritual care away or trying to hand out to them psychological "helps." 

Across the board, our continued silence protects the abusers and further harms the survivors. And then, such as in this case, we all too often allow "authorities" to run rough-shod over the survivor, ultimately caring more about the abuser than the one who was wounded. It is an enormous act of courage to report sexual abuse. Look how she was "rewarded."

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Shadow Children...

Shadow Children

the children 
we bore in our wombs 
but never our arms 
the children with whom we never share 
milestones, birthdays, photos 
sweaty heads resting on a pillow 
faces covered with chocolate ice cream 
racing to beat a player to the ball 
firsts of school, dances, kisses 
walks down aisles of graduations, of weddings 
no pictures, parties, ceremonies
no baptism, confirmation, communion 
they live with us, beside us 
we watch their shadow lives unfold 
God knitted them in our womb 
fearfully and wonderfully made 
but the stain of sin 
the corruption of creation 
kept them from the life they could have had 
they are our children 
every bit as much as the ones 
you place to your breast 
send off to school 
bandage knees and cool fevered brows 
cheer wildly at games 
console in your arms 
send off into the world 
they are our children 
living in the shadows of our lives 
where we cannot help but imagine 
their lives
where we cannot help but store 
their hopes and dreams 
where we cannot help but mark 
their milestones
their photos, their memories, 
a scrapbook we can never share 
the pages of which we flip through

Friday, April 06, 2012

A little like Goldilocks...

There is a pair of blue socks I have, that when I wear them to bed, I have the best sleep possible...for me.  And I do not even care for the color blue!  I do not remember where I bought them or what brand they are.  There was a time in my life where all my crew socks had to match my pants, my outfits, so I have a range of blues, browns, greens, and tans.  Some of my socks are two decades old, so I cannot tell you even when I purchased them.  But this particular pair are perfect.

You see, I am a little like Goldilocks.  When I sleep, my feet are almost either always a little too hot or a little too cold.  Either way, I struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep, and fall back asleep when I am up in the night.

When I wear this particular pair, my feet are never cold and never hot.  In fact, I am not even aware of my feet.  You might laugh at that, but one thing that wearies me greatly is how aware I am of my body, of processes that are automatic and ought to be taking place unnoticed.

I am aware of my breathing.
I am aware of my heart beat.
I am aware of my blood pressure.
I am aware of my blood sugar.
I am aware of my skin.
I am aware of my bowels.
I am aware of my eye movement.

In many ways, this is the devil's greatest weapon against me, the constant, never ending reminder of my body...a body I struggle to accept on so many levels and a body I all too often fail to stop hating.

When you are trying to shed the shame that fills every thought of your body, it is a misery then to have so very many physical reminders of that which you would rather forget.  It isn't just having to battle catching sight of yourself in the mirror or changing your clothes or being touched by others.  It is walking, standing, sitting, lying, talking, eating, playing, resting, reading, watching television.  Every day, all day long, in some fashion or another, being reminded of your physical form and facing again the thoughts and feelings associated with the violations committed against it.

So what seems like a truly insignificant thing becomes monumental.  Bliss for me would be a couple dozen pair of those socks...even if not a one of them were GREEN.  One less battle. One less reminder.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Forgiveness without bondage (cont'd)...

‎"If you will listen, the lacerated and despairing heart will tell you that we doubt Godʼs goodness and power; we doubt Godʼs justice. We doubt Godʼs promises. We doubt Godʼs love. We live in fear and self-loathing. We live as captives to idolatry, misbelief, unbelief and despair and are routinely propelled towards other great shame and vice. Great hope and healing are given if you donʼt regard the individualʼs story as a sad autobiography, but instead, hear it for what it really is: a confession. Seize the opportunity to respond to a genuine and repentant heart by acknowledging that they are right to speak of such things for they are speaking the truth about sin. Speak a Word of absolution; give Christʼs own life and hope and holiness to the suffering soul before you. In a world seeking transcendence and transformation, the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ is unparalleled. In the Word of absolution we are given new life, our baptismal identity is renewed and we are mindful anew of what it is that God has done for us in our Lord, Jesus Christ."  (p. 15)

This is what Dr. Beverly Yahnke wrote in her paper I mentioned in the previous post on forgiveness without bondage. In this quote from  When Death Seduces the Living, she is speaking to pastors regarding those regarding parishioners with melancholy.

As I stated before, her words, her explanation of what lies beneath the confession of emotions and thus the need for the Word of Absolution to be applicable to all deeply wounded parishioners. The point of her paper is that those struggling with darkness are in need of spiritual care, in addition to psychological care. It is not up to the pastor to decided what the parishioner needs to heal psychologically, but to focus on what the parishioner needs to heal spiritually. It is not up to ANYONE to understand why forgiveness is asked for, either directly or indirectly, but instead to give it.

So much of a discussion on Facebook (beginning yesterday and crossing over into today) regarding giving absolution to someone who confesses struggling with sexual abuse became focused on what possible sin could there to forgive. However, by denying that person forgiveness because you believe he or she does not need it or because you think hearing they are forgiven might harm her or him down the road is harming the person right then. And you are standing in a vocation that is not yours.
Trying to assign sin to one of the Ten Commandments before giving absolution is really placing law upon forgiveness, placing bondage on forgiveness.  So also is bondage in trying to explain to a parishioner which part of his or her confession is "absolvable" because it is his or her sin and which part is not "absolvable" because it is the fruit of the sin of others against the person.  That is confusing vocations of psychology and spiritual care. The point is that if someone asks for forgiveness, you should not place conditions upon that forgiveness or withhold it because you do not understand his  need, her anguish.

Again, Dr. Yahnke talks about how the struggling person speaking of emotions and such is really speaking of the struggle of unbelief.  But if you must have more specific examples before you would grant forgiveness, someone who has been sexually abused might be struggling not merely of the weight of the sin committed against her, against him, but also the sin of:
  • hating your body
  • not believing God's word about your body
  • keeping secret (lying by omission) about what happened
  • hating your abuser; wishing him ill
  • not forgiving your abuser
  • struggling to believe the promise of being made clean/pure
  • wanting to harm yourself over what happened; harming yourself in response to what happened
  • struggling with anger at yourself, your abuser, those who failed to protect you, God...
Or as Pastor Lehmann put it:

If a rape victim confessed guilt and shame over being raped to me, I wouldn't interrogate them so that I could force them to tell me all the salacious details. I don't necessarily need to know whether they're confessing their feeling of sexual arousal, hatred of the rapist, or inclination to suicide or anything else. I need to know that they are burdened and tell them that Jesus has taken those burdens to the cross and destroyed them there.

Dr. Yahnke also added to the discussion the following, which confirms the need for forgiveness without any type of bondage to laws about what should or should not be confessed, what is or is not sin:  

Daily we sin much and guilt is a horrible burden to bear. I have observed individuals who suffer greatly because they've been told that their thought or choice or behavior wasn't "really" a sin...and that no absolution was required. When a pastor disputes one's reason for guilt or shame, there is no comfort, there is no proclamation of the Gospel and the soul seeking care departs with sadness and shame. The forgiveness of sins is the centerpiece of individual care for the soul; the pastor hears one's confession and one's repentant heart and he speaks the Holy Word of absolution. Misbelief, unbelief and despair as well as other great shame and vice saturate many personal narratives shared in pastoral care conversations. A pastor listens carefully, explains that speaking such truth repentantly before God is, indeed, a confession and speaks the Word of forgiveness. Unabsolved sin - real or imagined is cause for despair.

All throughout our Confessions, the authors speak of the anguish soul, the sinner struggling with doubt and despair and confusion and guilt and unbelief.  Always, mention of the anguished soul is accompanied by the need to give them the Gospel, the forgiveness and healing of the sweet, sweet Gospel...whether that comes in speaking the Living Word, washing them in the waters of Holy Baptism, placing Jesus' very body and blood into their body, and/or speaking the Word of Absolution.  With the latter, in our Confessions and in Luther's Exhortation to Confession, there is a clear refrain that speaking forgiveness soothes, comforts, assuages, heals, and brings peace to the anguished soul.  

This is exactly why the Church retains Absolution and places no need to even list the sins that are felling the parishioner seeking forgiveness.  As Luther explains...the point of absolution is not what you speak to the pastor, but what the pastor speaks to you.  He is not granting you his understanding, his forgiveness.  The pastor is speaking, is granting, the very forgiveness of Jesus Christ, the one who understands you fully for through Him you came into being and in Him you are forgiven.  He is merely serving as the hands and mouth of your savior.

In the beginning was the Word, 
and the Word was with God, 
and the Word was God. 
He was in the beginning with God. 
All things came into being 
through Him, 
and apart from Him 
nothing came into being 
that has come into being. 
In Him was life, 
and the life was the Light of men. 
The Light shines in the darkness, 
and the darkness 
did not overcome it.
 ~John 1:1-5 

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Some ideas need to percolate...

On one of my posts about the cold spells, Bettina queried if an electric blanket would help.  I dismissed that suggestion because I had to give them up years ago for getting too hot with them.  When I get too hot, I become very ill.  That is one of the main problems with the cold spells.  Sometimes, I will be so desperate that I crank up the heat to 80 or 85.  Doing so will break through my arctic state, but will also tip me over to illness on the other end of the spectrum because you cannot just cool off a house immediately.  Falling asleep beneath an electric blanket could help, but then it would roast me into illness.

However...I have been using an ancient heating pad all day long in the GREEN chair, since sometimes my layers of clothing and the two throws I have downstairs is not enough.  It really needs to be replaced.  Being so miserable with cold at night lately, I revisited Bettina's idea several times, wishing I could just do some bedtime roasting.  Then...I got to thinking about the new heating pad I bought for my neck and shoulders to help with pain from muscles tense from enduring severe headaches and migraines. One of its features that many did not like is that it automatically shuts off after two hours.

So, I tried putting it beneath the blankets in bed to see what would happen.  Sure enough, basically, the heating pad provided spots of warmth to my cold body and heated the air trapped beneath the blankets that my body was failing to warm.  For four nights, I have not been miserable in least for very long!

Today, the UPS man brought me a new heating pad (I hope to get another one for downstairs).  It is twice as long and drapes across my torso well, which the neck and shoulders one does not quite do given its very specific cape-like shape.  It also has the two-hour shut-off feature.  As with the cape one, if I awake cold or, as is wont to happen, get too cold when fetching a fresh ice-pack in the middle of the night or my medication early morn, I can merely turn it on for another two hours.

So, the condition is no better and the battle still fierce and rather miserable at times, but at least I have a small victory over being so cold that I cannot sleep.  I suppose, too, if I cannot bear it during the day, I could hide in bed for a while.

Thank you, Bettina, for thinking about something to help me and offering your idea.  Several people have posted comments that have been rather helpful to me when I wail about the things I am facing.  This is an example where a bit of percolating can turn a seemingly inapplicable idea into a most blessed and welcome solution.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!