When It’s the Worst Thanksgiving Ever.

It was a knock-down, drag out fight. And it was happening in our living room on Thanksgiving Day 2011. There was no family gathering of the eat-turkey-and-watch-football variety, but there in our living room, we were gathered around a hospice bed that other people had died in, and now it was mom’s turn, and for shame, we were standing over her and shouting.

We had just brought her home from the hospital. She had been there for weeks, I’ve forgotten how long. I had been camped out in her room of the fifth floor oncology wing of Sparrow Hospital during most of that time, sleeping on a vinyl pull-out couch at night, driving home every couple days to shower and grab clean clothes. A couple of days before the holiday, her doctors sat us down in a half-circle of chairs around her bed to tell us that she only had a six weeks left. I remember that as one of the worst days of my life, perhaps more than the morning of her death. They made arrangements for her to have in-home hospice care, and we brought her home on that Thanksgiving afternoon.

And so there we were, each of us shaken and exhausted. We all wanted every other person in the room to go to the Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents’ house so that we could have time alone with mom. And so, in our attempt to love her well to the end, we argued over her.

It was The Worst Thanksgiving Ever.

It felt like acutely like failure and death, made all the more painful with the knowledge that while we were grieving and fighting, everyone else was cozying up by the big Butterball turkey and toasting to another great year. I felt so utterly bitter and broken.

But after we had each retreated to a small corner of the house for the night, after we had each shed our tears and gotten a little bit of sleep and found some forgiveness, we were able to regroup and say some hard, necessary apologies.

In the weeks that followed, I remember the feeling that Death was right at our doorstep, but Love was just as present, gathering us together by candlelight in the darkness. We survived somehow, although the feelings of thankfulness and peace and joy were slow coming.

There are some seasons of your life when it all just feels like too much, you know?

Instead of counting our blessings, Thanksgiving feels like a cruel cliche rubbed into our pain like salt on a wound. Instead of rearranging furniture for the Christmas tree, we find ourselves making room for a hospice bed. Instead of bringing everyone together for the big feasts of our childhood, we’re planning for a funeral. Instead of greeting the season with glad tidings and great joy, we’re saying goodbye to the life we knew.

It’s enough to make you scream and shout and weep and fall apart, and if you do, I want you to know, it’s okay. Everyone wants to act like the holidays are the time to have our ish together, all charming and cheerful like a freaking Norman Rockwell, but we all know it’s never really like that, even on our best days, right? Everyone will deal with the situation the best they know how, and sometimes that looks like the worst ever. And sometimes, it looks like starting over with an apology and a hug more comforting and life-giving than even mom’s sweet potato casserole.

Give each other space and forgiveness.

Give yourself space and forgiveness to grieve this season.

Grace is the blessing that is always present.

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The Good Things.

Today I’m doing something a bit different on the blog, thanks to Hännah Ettinger over at Wine & Marble, who suggested that we link up and share at least five unidentified thanks to those who have made 2013 a better, more whole, and more healing year for us. Frankly, after the week I’ve had (first car accident, heavy work load, minimal writing productivity, internet crazies) I could do with a bit of gratitude. Also, I’m fiercely protective Thanksgiving season and I refuse to get Christmasy before first giving thanks. So there. Here we go :

1. At the beginning of the year, I got involved in an online discussion regarding a certain post (that shall not be named or linked to for the sake of everyone’s sanity.) One thing led to another, and basically, I had a mini meltdown on twitter, complete with subtweets and a call for Christian unity. #facepalm #NotMyProudestMoment. So this particular note of gratitude is to those that got caught in the crosshairs of my frustration, and I want to start by saying I’m sorry. I really regret it – both my opinions and my behavior. It was coming from a place of ignorance about a lot of different things and since then I’ve tried my damndest to shut up and listen to you. We don’t always agree, and I’m not very vocal either way, but it’s not because I’m not paying attention to you, it’s because I learned my lesson. Thank you for speaking up. Thank you for not letting me silence you. Thank you for not totally writing me off, and in some cases, for befriending me in spite of what happened.

2. As the only appropriate follow-up to Thank You No. 1, this is a thank-you to the people in my life who have walked with me through so many personal changes. A lot of what I believe about faith and politics have shifted in the last few years. I am deeply grateful to those of you who never treated me like a lost cause in my ignorance, who graciously offered me a new perspective, who heard out my doubts and frustrations and crazy questions, who continue to show me love and respect. Even if we never agree with each other on certain issues, you’ve taught me Grace.

3. For almost a year now we’ve been chatting to each other back and forth nearly every day about everything from the internets to birth control to career building to relationships, and I have to say it’s been a highlight of this season in my life. Thank you for letting me be vulnerable with you about the best and worst parts of me; thank you for being vulnerable with me about yours. We’re each going through so many personal transitions, but your friendship has been a steadfast place of comfort and encouragement. Whoever said that online friendships are fake is doing it wrong.

4. You’ve had a tough year, friend. But I’ve watched you flourish in it, too. My heart broke for you last fall, and again early this summer. We both know what it feels like to lose faith and trust for this whole hope thing, don’t we? And yet you continue to be brave and take risks and in case you haven’t noticed, you have community of women, a flock of beautiful birds, that have found a haven in your brave mama heart. I just want you to know how thankful I am for you, whom I consider a big sister in both faith and storytelling. Thank you for the moments we’ve shared of leaning into the hard places of our lives, talking about our fears, talking about our plans, talking about our dreams.

5. We don’t see each other or talk to each other every day or even every week, but we’ve been close friends for close to a decade now and your joyfulness, silliness, and go-get-’em attitude inspire me daily. You have always been there for me, even when I’m quiet, even when I’m angry, even when we lived together and I was forever leaving my dirty dishes in the sink without washing them off first. I lovelovelove you. Always.

6. Remember that day when you texted me the words to my favorite Shel Silverstein poem as an apology for that really ugly fight we had the day before? It’s been two years, and I still think about that moment every time I think about you and how much our relationship has changed. Your support means the world to me. I have a lifetime of thank-yous that I can’t list here, but this I can say : thank you for seeing me, for working hard with me to change our relationship, for saying you’re sorry and accepting my apologies too, and for always taking care of me the best that you know how. I love you.

In Which I Learn to Call Myself a Jesus Feminist.

Awhile back Sarah Bessey wrote this post, In Which I am Learning to Own My Authority. It was one of those posts that echoed in my hearts for days and weeks and months afterward. It sprang up in my thoughts whenever I came face-to-face with my self-doubt, calling me toward boldness.

“I’m a woman still learning how to walk in my authority as a daughter of the King. I’m not supposed to apologize for what God has shown me or done in my life. But here I am, dulling my voice, fitting the too-small box of God-breathed womanhood, shrugging off. [...] After all this time, I still minimize the work and goodness and grace of God in my life out of fear. [...] Because I am writing about a thorny issue, and because I am nervous about how it will be received, my fear was coming across in my tone more than I realized. And that tone – apologizing, fearful, ‘hey, here’s an idea…’ – was undermining the very message and intent of my work at its very core, disproving my very thesis.”

Her words resonate so deeply because they are my experience too. Like Sarah, I’ve begun to notice the subtle, deeply engrained habit of doubting God’s work in my life and my own ability to discern it.

Even six months ago, I was not comfortable with calling myself a feminist. I’ve loved the idea of feminism, I’ve loved the idea of women’s equality, I’ve written about it here and there for years as I’ve felt empowered to do so. But I would always shrink back from it, afraid that I would become the caricature of feminism that church and secular culture depict: shrill, man-hating, hell-bent on flipping the gender-hierarchy in women’s favor and destroying the nuclear family.

If I call myself a feminist, am I working against God’s will? Is it really not His desire that all people be treated as fully human, male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free? 

But I’ve learned so much about feminism from people like Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans and Dianna Anderson and Hila Sachar and Danielle Vermeer and Emily Maynard, who have introduced me to other voices that have changed my understanding of both feminism and my faith. And the more I’ve learned about feminism, the more I’ve learned that my longing to see men and women work together, is God at work in my life. And I had been letting the fear and sexism of my culture (Christian and secular alike) tell me that I was not capable of discerning God’s work in my own heart.

My fear and doubt and insecurity over calling myself a feminist is symptomatic of patriarchy at work in my own life. Questioning my own authority is a product of abusive power dynamics. And it occurred to me, even amidst my wavering hope in the Church, that Jesus was never the one to silence or shame people for asking questions, male or female.

My conservative, evangelical upbringing did not give me a theological framework for engaging feminism, but that didn’t mean the theological framework didn’t exist.

The door has been flung wide open to express the doubt and hurt and frustration that I had been trying to hide away for so long. And I’ve found hope and joy for what my faith, my work, my relationships and my politics could be if I just stepped into my identity as God’s daughter, as equal and capable as His sons. There is so much I still don’t understand, so much I still don’t know about living this out in my life, but I believe that even learning to voice our questions in safe community with one another is an important part of debunking the false authority of patriarchal power structures. Those power structures tell us that asking questions is a form of weakness, but it is a form of strength. I don’t need to have it all figured out in order to call myself a feminist. I don’t need to have it all figured out to call myself a Christian.

Jesus Feminism is where I’ve found my voice to articulate my faith and my feminism in a new way, to engage them together, rather than holding them at odds.

So I am my mother’s daughter : I am the daughter of strong female leadership. I am the daughter of a mother who worked a full time job, lived with breast cancer for 14 years, and was one of the first women to serve on the board of her American Baptist Church.*

I am married to a musician : I am the wife of a husband who is kind and creative in a time when our culture doesn’t value those qualities in men. I believe that patriarchal power structures hurt all of society, men and women alike, and my husband and I are working together to overcome that.

I am baptist born-and-raised : I am the child of a church that was very conservative and very evangelical, but also very loving and *willing to change when they felt God moving.

I am a millennial writer : I am a member of an “entitled” generation, who earned my degree and entered the job market in the middle of a recession, who has struggled through my fair share of cynicism toward the Church, and I am living out my calling as a writer both in my full-time job and in my creative endeavors.

And I am a Jesus Feminist. I am learning to be a feminist the way that Jesus is a feminist. Because I follow Jesus, I want to see God’s redemptive movement for women arch towards justice. And I am not afraid to say that this is how God is at work in my life.

This post is in conjunction with Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist synchroblog to celebrate the launch of her book. I received my copy in the mail this weekend and I’m already loving it. Wherever you are in your beliefs about gender roles or Christianity or both, I highly recommend it.  

The Nature of Things.

It is the great echoing of the universe that comes back to you, in your loneliness, to remind you that this vast, complex longing is what gives you belonging to this world. The ocean ebbs and flows, the weather rages and quiets, the day rises and falls to the light and darkness, with you. The trees burst and lose their leaves in a pattern of life and death as a reminder : this mournful, barren winter is real; this small bud of hope called spring is real. This substance of your self, skin and blood and bone and water, is the universe in and outside of you, too. It is your companion, the honest one that does not ask you to keep shining brightly when your day has ended and it is time to rest. When the tide is out, the slender white heron lands gracefully in the twilight, in the soft sponge of the bay to eat; everything at home in its time. Nature is an invitation: the world is yours, and all the seasons in it, you.

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From Ashes : When We Were On Fire Syncroblog

The morning after my 26th birthday, I am standing at the bathroom sink washing my face. I pat my cheeks dry with the towel and examine my reflection in the mirror, the corners of my eyes and the color of my hair. It’s weird to think that ten years ago, I was just sixteen. Who was I then? Am I so different now? What would she think of me? What do I think of her?

I leave the bathroom, but instead of going to my laptop to write I wander over to my closet, where I grab a dusty stack of Mead journals off the shelf. I climb back into bed with them, pulling the bottom from the stack, and open to the first pages.

On my sixteenth birthday my boyfriend made me a cake and wrote me a love poem and gave me a picture in a black frame, of us on a missions trip in South Dakota earlier that summer. In the photo I am sunburnt and smiling; his hand cups my chin possessively and he’s sporting eyeliner and my pink bandana.

We were on again/off again in a pattern that exactly mirrored his relationship status with Jesus. When he was on fire for God again, it rekindled our romance too, it seemed. I thought I could pull him back from the darkness. I thought I was safe as long as he went to church and said he believed like me.

But a week after my birthday, a week after he lit candles on my cake while we stood by his locker at school, our relationship was snuffed out once more and so was his relationship with God, and I was in the dark about all of it.

I’m sitting in my favorite spot on the couch, watching reruns after dinner and homework, when the phone rings.

“Hey, would you mind if I picked you up for a drive?” says a familiar voice. I’m surprised to hear it, and I hesitate. It’s late and cold and I don’t feel like leaving the house, and I also have a sinking feeling that I know what I’m in for. But my house is small and the walls are thin and we have things to say to each other that don’t need to be overheard, so I say yes and wait by the window for the swoop of his headlights to appear in our driveway.

I walk out to meet him and slide into the seat of his parents’ old Buick and he hugs me. I feel the cool leather of his letter jacket against my cheek and I shouldn’t feel this apprehensive but I do. Soon we are driving down back country roads, a mile or two from my house. The stars glimmer and the moon shines mutely over bare corn fields in the November night. The car glides along in silence.

I have been dreading this moment. It’s been weeks since we hung out, let alone since we took a drive to talk. Our late night drives were sacred, filled with big ideas about faith and church and school and friends and family and leadership and God. It felt like the deepest kind of friendship, we were brother and sister in Christ, we could tell each other anything. But he’s been freezing me out lately, probably in hopes that I’ll come to my senses and break up with my boyfriend, with whom I am still on again/off again. We are two children playing with a light switch, and I know it’s driving all of our friends crazy.

Now the moment has come when all the pent up frustration between my friend and I will come tumbling out in the name of “holding one another accountable.” We’re leaders in our youth group at church, this is what we do.

Finally, he sighs and pulls off to the shoulder and cuts the engine. The quiet is deafening. I brace myself.

“I’m worried about you, Bethany,” he begins. “I’m worried about our group and what all of this is doing to our leadership. You’re hurting our cause.”

As iron sharpens iron, so one opinion sparks the reaction of another. We argue, our angry words exploding between us in the darkness. We are shouting and crying and finally I stop cold.

“Take me home,” I demand. He doesn’t move and for a moment I’m scared that he will actually refuse me. “Take me home or I’ll walk there myself.” Finally he turns the key to start the engine again.

Once we’re home I slam the car door and don’t really speak to him again for months. It is the last time we go for a late night drive. It is the first time that I look at him and see him for the teenage boy that he is, human and imperfect and struggling to understand love and relationships and God and faith, just like I am. It is the first time I really understand that neither of us know what these things mean. It is the first time I realize that it is okay that we don’t know what these things mean. I’m beginning to wonder if our belief that we did know was what sent things up in flames in the first place.

Several months later, I break up with my boyfriend over the phone on a hot, lonely summer day when everything we had left to say to each other is gone. But this time, it’s different. I don’t hole up in my room, listening to music and crying. I don’t call up my friends to tell them what happened and repent of this ridiculous relationship yet again.

Instead, I march out to the shed behind our garage and wrangle my old, rusty bicycle from its hanging rack and pedal myself down the driveway. The sun blazes against my bare shoulders but the wind feels nice and I glide down the back roads behind my house alone, and I feel something entirely new. I think it is delight. I think it is God’s love.

I remember all of it so vividly – the missions trips and retreats and romances, the concerts and core groups, the worship sets and weekend bonfires. We had so much zeal. We had so much passion and fire for our faith that at times we were consumed by it, we raged out of control, we hurt each other deeply. Our relationships burned brightly and then faded and when the smoke was gone we wandered in the darkness, wondering where exactly we went wrong.

We didn’t understand then that “Christian” relationships don’t necessarily mean healthy or safe relationships.

We didn’t understand that our attempts to save each other’s souls were destroying our friendships.

We didn’t understand grace.

I really want to forget that girl. I really want to take this whole stack of Mead journals and all the angst and anxiety inside them and toss it in the trash. But oh, a piece of my heart is in there. The girl I was is wrapped up inside of the woman I am. So I keep them as a way of remembering that from the ashes of every burnt out belief rises grace and love and a new way of understanding God.

This post is written in conjunction with the When We Were On Fire Syncroblog for Addie Zierman. I have been following Addie’s blog for a couple of years now and she’s one of my favorite writers. Her book, When We Were On Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over, just came out this week and I can’t wait to finally get it in the mail in the next couple of days. I haven’t even read it yet, but I can tell you with confidence : Go buy it NOW. You won’t regret it!

On Grief and Friendship and Asking for What You Need.

My friend’s dad died last weekend. He had cancer. She and I were texting back and forth a few days after, about how to cope with it, about how to tell people. I found myself imparting the same advice that others gave to me when mom died, almost two years ago now. Enough time has passed that I can see with clarity the relationships and words of wisdom that helped me, and the ones that didn’t. It felt so healing and sacred to be able to offer that to someone else after all of the love and wisdom I have received. So I thought I’d share some of it with you today in honor of my friend who is burying her father today, and just beginning this journey of grief.

First of all, ask for what you need. It sounds simple, but it’s often the hardest part of grieving, or at least it was for me. I had been seeing my therapist for about three years before mom died, and she gave me this advice fairly early on. It took me a long time, even with my very best friends, to articulate what I needed, in part because I didn’t know what I needed, and in part because I was terrified of uttering those needs aloud. I think I was scared that by talking about it and asking for help, it meant somehow that I was giving up on mom, and giving up on myself. I would be admitting that we were not going to be okay, at least in the everyone’s healthy/no one’s dead or heartbroken kind of way. But there came a point, between all the hospital visits and emotional meltdowns, when I couldn’t hide the not-okayness anymore.

Usually, these conversations happened after we had just finished watching a really sad movie and were already crying, and then I’d be like “umm, yeah, so … things are really bad right now and I’m not just crying over the movie … I think my mom is dying, and umm, can you like, make sure I get out of bed and live my life after she dies, please? Can you make sure that I go places and do things and eat good food? Can you tell all of our friends for me that my mom died?”

I am profoundly blessed to have the kind of friends that wrapped me in their arms, cried with me, gave of themselves in ways beyond what I could even ask.

So remember that grief is the time to lean into your friendships, because the good ones can take it.

You will have friends that get squirmy when you start to talk about the hospital visits and test results or hospice care and funeral arrangements and grief. You will have friends that don’t call or write or show up for the wake. You will have friends that promise to be there and then just aren’t. You will have friends that want to be there to offer you comfort and support, but for some reason, it always seems that you wind up comforting them instead. No matter how hard I tried to be honest and gracious and patient and forgiving with those friends, some of them just couldn’t handle it. It was one of my worst fears, and it came true. And you know what I realized? It’s okay to let go of those relationships, or at least hold them much more loosely. Because there will be friends that never leave your side, friends that surprise you with their nearness, friendships that are forged through your loss, and those are the ones that will help you survive.

The morning that my mom died I called my husband and texted my three closest friends. I didn’t have to take on the daunting task of telling everyone I knew; they did it for me.

A couple of days later, my best friend called me on her way to the shopping mall. She was going to buy something to wear to the funeral service.

“Do you need anything? A dress to wear tomorrow? Tights? Waterproof mascara? Anything?” she asked me.

I didn’t need any of that stuff, I told her. But that gesture, small and practical as it was, filled another ineffable need : to know that I was thought of and cared for and loved.

And I didn’t wind up needing my husband and friends to drag me out of my bed or make me eat or make me live my life, but they did something equally important : they reminded me that it was okay not to be okay.

Instead of not being able to get out of bed in the morning or turning into a catatonic vegetable, I kicked into hyperdrive. After being so close to death’s presence, I suddenly had a tremendous energy for life. I poured myself into my art and my writing and my work, and for a while that was good. But what goes up must come down, and my friends were there to help me slow my pace and admit that I wasn’t okay.

Do the thing you feel strong enough to do, and we’ll help you with the rest,” they told me.

Almost two years later, I’m still learning to practice that profound vulnerability of asking for help, of admitting when I’m not strong or okay enough to handle things. Sometimes, all I feel strong enough to do is watch Harry Potter and eat my weight in ice cream. I feel way less pathetic when my husband and bffs are sitting there with me.

Grief comes in waves, usually prompted by the ebb and flow of life experiences. All of those firsts without the one you love. All of those moments when someone unwittingly makes a comment about cancer or death. Ride it out. Let it take you deep, and let it pull you to the surface again. Don’t fight it. Someday, you’ll find yourself on the shore. Someday, you’ll find yourself reaching in to help someone else out of the water.

Explicit Realities, Explicit Language

Today my friend Grace Biskie and I are doing a co-blog about using strong language to tell authentic stories. A full explanation of why we’re co-blogging this is in the post itself, but I just want to tell you before you keep reading that Grace Biskie is one of my favorite storytellers. She tells it true and she tells it hard and she tells it good, and every time, it wakes me up to something I didn’t understand before. We found each other online about a year ago, but of course, the world is so much smaller than that – we realized not long after we connected online that her husband was raised in the same Baptist church as me, and that I had seen Dave and Grace speak at my church about a decade ago! It’s been an incredible blessing to get to know her through her writing. Click here to read her post of for this co-blog.

Okay so, a little backstory to get us started : Grace wrote a post a couple of weeks ago for A Deeper Story, “Come Hither Young Men for I Have Sex Demons.” Catchy title, eh? Her post chronicles her experience as an abused young girl growing up in Detroit, and how it influenced the ways that she expressed herself sexually. Grace also references this post by a now infamous Mrs. Hall which shames teenage girls for posting “sexy” selfies on social media.

I love this part of Grace’s post,

“Love us, Mrs. Halls. Love us at 8 yrs. old. Love us at 11. Love us at 26. Love us at 36. Give us second, third, fourth, fifth chances. Teach your boys to love us too. Light switch theology doesn’t work here. If I could have flipped the magic switch to un-confuse myself, I would have done it eons ago.”

Like the powerful writer that she is, Grace’s post invites me into her reality. She helps me, a white girl that grew up in a rural Michigan farmtown, better understand what it’s like to be a prematurely sexualized young black girl in Detroit. She invites well-meaning but conservative, naive Christian women like the Mrs. Halls (and Bethany Suckrows) of the world to step outside our privilege long enough to understand why young girls sexualize themselves. And in that context, we no longer have the right to shame young girls for their behavior. The only right response is to love and affirm their inherent worth.

So I share Grace’s post on Facebook, and not long after, I get a private message from a friend from my hometown in Michigan, questioning the language that Grace uses to tell her story of sexual abuse.

“That’s not how A Good Christian Girl talks,” my friend tells me, and I think she means it both in terms of Grace using the explicit language and in terms of my willingness to share it. This isn’t the first time that I’ve been confronted about the language in the posts I’ve shared on social media. In fact, it’s not even the first time someone has confronted me about sharing one of Grace’s posts. Go read her guest blog for Micah Murray and you’ll understand why.

In her piece for A Deeper Story, Grace uses explicit language to describe the extreme sexualization and abuse that she experienced. It is as painfully honest as you would expect a post on childhood sexual abuse to be.

She reconstructs the eleven year old girl she used to be,

“This is the one Mrs. Hall would have blocked. This is the little girl who knew how to give a damn good blow job. This is the little girl that says, ‘Come hither boys, because I know what I’m doing.’”

She repeats the things that men have said in their pursuit of her,

“They look with greed and edge and a face that reads, ‘I want to fuck you,’ with an anger that’s frightening and disconcerting.”

But my friends want to know why Grace isn’t using polite language of a “Good Christian Girl.”

They want to know why she’s not using euphemisms to talk about her sexual abuse.

I’ll be honest, I cringed when I read those posts and I cringed when I shared them. True to my white, Baptist background, I’m shocked that young girls just like Grace live this reality every day. I’m uncomfortable because her language has snapped me awake to my own privilege. There’s no question that the language in that post is terrible, but it serves a very important purpose of clarifying what our culture wants to obscure. This is what language is for. This is what a good writer does.

And this is exactly what Grace is calling out in her post:

“The first time a boy came out directly to ask for sex, I was 8. He was 14ish. I believe my face went red and my cheeks hot with embarrassment [...] Truth is, I’d already had a lot of sex by then. My Dad and I had not called it ‘sex,’ and given my age it was not consensual, though – at the time – I believed it was.” (Emphasis mine.)

Euphemisms have no place in telling stories of abuse. Talking about it openly and honestly is what helps many victims heal from the shame and secrecy that kept them captive to their abusers. Not talking about abuse in a realistic way only perpetuates further abuse. My friend Dani Kelley explains this perfectly in her comment on Grace’s post today,

“There simply weren’t Christian words to describe the horror & rage & confusion I felt over so many betrayals, big and small. Profanity gave me the force of language I needed to name the evil, shine light in the darkness that seemed like it was going to devour me whole.” (Emphasis mine.)

This is why I asked, after responding privately to my friend’s questioning, if Grace wanted to co-blog about this with me. I wanted to her to talk about why using explicit language matters to her story, and I want to talk about why readers, no matter their opinion of swearing, should respect stories’ like Grace’s and Dani’s, raw and true and redemptive and messy as they are.

We in evangelical culture were raised to believe that there was such a thing as a “Good Christian Girl” and that we achieved this characterization by avoiding certain topics and certain language for discussing those topics. Explicit language was a sin. Politeness was prized, as was our modest dress and demure countenance. We do this because we think this will protect us from sin. But often times, the things that we believe will protect us are the very things that harm others. We create a culture in which it’s not safe for girls like Grace who don’t fit our mold to tell her story without being criticized for how she tells it.

It’s not bad enough that she lived through hell? Now she has to be polite and make everyone comfortable with her story as she talks about it? We get to criticize how people cope with and heal from abuse? Are we really not smart or wise enough to take language in its context? Can we not really discern the difference between using explicit language to accurately describe stories of abuse and using explicit language to abuse? Is our ability to respect others’ stories really contingent on how they tell them?

The reality is that abuse isn’t polite. It’s not a euphemism. It’s as ugly and filthy and scary as life gets. Explicit language keeps us awake to these explicit realities. Polite language, then, is a tool of the privileged.

Sometimes our discomfort over language use is a signal that the book we’re reading or the movie we’re watching is garbage. But sometimes, our discomfort over language is a signal that our “Good Christian” lives are being wrecked for a radical story of redemption. We need to have better discernment for this, because stories of abuse and sexism (and all the other awful isms) should make us uncomfortable. If our knee-jerk reaction is to clean up someone’s language before they tell us their story, if our goal is to keep ourselves comfortable in the face of childhood sexual abuse, we’re not honoring God.

Our polite language is a means of obscuring our hard-heartedness and apathy towards justice, and God isn’t fooled by it.

The fact that we’re more concerned with someone’s language than their story of sexual abuse should be a signal to us that we have completely missed the point.

So love the storytellers. Love us at 8 years. old. Love us at 11. Love us at 26. Love us at 36. Give us second, third, fourth, fifth chances. Love us when we tell it messy. Love us when we tell it clean. Love us when we’re cynical. Love us when we’re filled with hope. Love us when we’re hurting and when we’re healing. Tell our stories with us, too. Polite language doesn’t work here. If we could have picked peaceful, safe stories, we would have done it eons ago.

Please be respectful in the comments. You can have all the opinions you want about explicit language, but any comments that veer into victim-blaming or personal attacks will be moderated. I’ve never had to do that before here, but I’m not afraid to start. This is an invitation to listen to each others’ stories. Thank you.

My First Speaking Gig (!)

Yes, you read that right. I’ve been asked to speak at a friend’s cafe in Norwalk, Ohio this Saturday, September 28. Our friends from college, Dave and Tiffany Lamb, invited my husband and his band and me to share our talents with their community and we’re so thrilled and honored to make it happen. The show has been in the works for a few months, but the details just fell into place. Matt and my younger brother Adam will be playing music, and afterward I’ll give a talk about my (work in progress) book.

It feels kinda crazy because my book is still in submitting proposals-to-publishers stage, but I think it’s a good opportunity to get my feet wet in this business of sharing my story. Specifically, I’ll be talking about Healing and the Church, about how evangelical culture talks about terminal illness, grief, prayer and healing. I’m nervous and excited and all points in between, but I know it will be good. If you’re in the area that weekend, you are welcome to join us!

W H E N : Saturday, September 28 at 6:30 p.m.

W H E R E : Haven Acoustic Cafe (67 E. Main St. Norwalk, Ohio 44857)

R S V P : at the event on Facebook or here in the comments (do I have any readers in Ohio?! *waves*)

Prodigal : “It is Good : An Ode to My Body”

Hey, friends. I’m over at Prodigal Mag today writing about dancing and yoga and learning to love my body. This is a topic I’ve kind of avoided in my writing, so publishing this kind of feels like a big deal to me. I’m not one to call myself fat or lazy, but I do struggle to love myself the way I was made. In the next few months, I hope to explore more issues around my body image and getting rid of my fear. If you can relate, I’d love for you to join the conversation and share your story.

The instructor at the front of the room arches her hands high above her head and jumps up and down in time to the music, some Top 40s hit I don’t recognize. The class dances along in pace before me while I’m hoofing it at the back, missing half the moves despite how hard I’m concentrating. I’m a mess of sweat and wheezy breaths and heavy limbs and I’m a full measure offbeat, swinging my arms left when I should be going right.

My feet hit the wooden floor, stumbling into rhythm again just in time for our dance instructor, a tiny Asian woman with the energy of a rabbit and the voice of a drill sergeant, to yell,

“Follow my turn!”

We hop around at 90 degree increments and suddenly I find myself leading the whole class, flailing wildly out of sync as I crane my neck backward to keep my eyes on the instructor.

My plan to be invisible has failed miserably, not having accounted for the dance turns when I chose my spot at the back of the room. (Read the full story here.)

On Being Found.

My brother found this sweet boy abandoned on a country road last weekend. He was scraped up and filthy, no collar or microchip to guide him “home.” The vet told Jacob that from the looks of his wounds that he had been tossed out of a speeding vehicle. He’s only a few months old. Isn’t that sad?

But Jacob decided to keep him and we all got to meet him this weekend at the lake house. His name is Gunner, which seems fitting for his rambunctious personality.

A friend commented that Gunner may have been abandoned, but being on the side of the road like that when Jacob drove by was like winning the lottery. Watching the two of them go out on the lake in Jacob’s kayak this weekend, Gunner sitting peacefully between his legs, I couldn’t agree more.

Sometimes life is surprising that way, cruel and wonderful all in the same moment. We find ourselves at the intersection of the worst and best moments of our lives. Down on our luck, beat up, starved, abandoned, lost, and then we are found, swept up by unconditional kindness, healing hands, a place and people to call home.

-

P.S. I think I have a thing for writing about dogs. Look at that puppy face! Can you blame me?

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