A Time to Keep Silence

I’m not sure if the news on racial divides these days is really worse than it was before, or if I’m just paying more attention because it’s happening in my hometown. It’s possible that I just can’t ignore it now because my newsfeed is full of it. I’m ashamed to admit having publicly ignored it before. Beginning with Ferguson, whenever #blacklivesmatter, #bluelivesmatter and #alllivesmatter came across my newsfeed during the last couple of years I just went on a facebook hiding spree of those I found particularly distasteful (sometimes outright racist), hit the “like” button on a few posts or articles I “supported” and moved on. I didn’t want to engage. The thought of posting something of my own and having to talk to someone I disagreed with was too overwhelming. If you are not already aware, this is a prime example of my own white privilege.

But this time… this time it was too close to home. I returned to Baton Rouge after 10 months out of the country on the day Alton Sterling was executed. I sat in front of the television most of the day, tears streaming down my face during every news break. I wept, and I watched as my Facebook newsfeed filled with passion and compassion from friends and writers all over the country… I decided to “like” and “share” without thought to who may disagree. The time for me to keep silent has come to an end. Meanwhile, I couldn’t help noticing that many of my Baton Rouge friends, both black and white, remained silent on the front of racial reconciliation. I engaged with more friends out of state than I did here. And I was so encouraged to see others, like myself, who’d previously been quiet come out in public support of Black Lives. I started a screenshot collection of their posts. I desperately wanted to see a silver lining.

But yesterday morning, something changed. At first, all I saw were postings of news reports on more violence and the deaths of Baton Rouge Police Officers. If I’m being honest, I fought numbness and forced myself to face the sadness of continued loss of life. I’ve grown weary of tragedy. But as the day progressed and I refreshed my newsfeed, I didn’t just feel sad. I started to get angry. People who have been largely silent in the face of tragedies the past few weeks suddenly found their voice, railing against “these people” in all caps. I saw profile pictures light up with blue flames and blue lines, one after another. I was reminded I had facebook connections I’d honestly forgotten were there, it’d been so long since they posted anything. I was annoyed at the convenience of their grief. How is it that they have only just had their hearts broken enough to publicly lament? How have they escaped this tearing, this wound, inflicted by injustice upon injustice, the kind that feels like torture, intended to make you scream?

Rumi-On-Silence

In my disillusionment I briefly entertained the notion of deleting the facebook app from my phone and disengaging, just to curb my growing annoyance at people I otherwise know to be kind and reasonable. But then, among the local support from the silent ones I began to see support and prayers for Baton Rouge from my friends around the country, the same ones who’ve been defending black lives with vigor. I was reminded by them that standing for justice and fighting for love is not something we do only when it is convenient to our pet causes. Lament is worthy of being heard no matter where it’s coming from.

I have to confess that the most telling silence the last few weeks has been that of my black friends here in Baton Rouge. And I know because I’ve checked their pages just to be sure I haven’t missed something. Some of them are people I have had painful, halting conversations with about exactly how it’s different to grow up as a black American – particularly in the South. They are the ones who made my blind eyes see colors as they truly are, not how I wish them to be. And while the rest of the country seems in an uproar over the things taking place in our hometown, they grieve quietly. I know, because I’ve reached out to a few of them. While I want to wail, rend my garments and scream, I watch their eyes fill but refuse to spill, demonstrating a strength that comes from years of practice I have no concept of. I echo their fears. I want to say, “This isn’t my Baton Rouge. This isn’t my city.” But when I listen to them I know that isn’t true. This has been my city for years. I just didn’t want to see it.

I was talking to a black friend last week who said she wants to do something to bring change. Talking doesn’t seem to make enough of a difference. I told her that her story can make a difference. That people like me desperately need to hear voices like hers. I told her about my screenshot collection. I told her that her voice matters. She looked back at my tear filled eyes and said, “Bekah, how are you going to tell me my voice matters when my life doesn’t even matter?”

I felt my heart crack and later, it shattered. What could I say? I could tell her that her life matters, to me. I could start there. I could use my voice of privilege to try to make others see how much her life matters. But it doesn’t seem like enough. I alone cannot make her believe a truth she has seen disputed in the blood of her brothers all her life. That night, I sobbed in the arms of my father over the injustice. Coming to believe I have a voice worth hearing has been one of the most affirming experiences of my life. Knowing that she is unable to believe the same simply because her skin is a different color, broke me. It isn’t fair. It shouldn’t be that way. I want it to be different.

For my black friends I understand if now is a time to keep silence. I understand if the weight is too much. This is a grief you cannot count on all of humanity to share. I wish you could. Like Job, perhaps you must sit in silence. I want to sit with you. But, I want to learn better from the friends of Job. If you will permit me, I will lament for you… And when your time of silence is past, I will do whatever I can to be sure your voice is heard. Because your life matters.

But so does your voice.

 

Love That Will Not Let Me Go

11254053_10153406434689261_7435853901037485899_nThe view from my balcony at Chalet Bellevue

When you come to L’Abri there are 4 questions you’ll have to answer over and over:

  • Where are you from?
  • How did you hear about L’Abri?
  • How long will you be here?
  • Why are you here?

The first few are fairly innocuous, but you find out very quickly that there is an expectation of honesty if not outright vulnerability in your response to the latter. It’s rarely one-sided, and it feels safer to speak the truth when you’re not the only one doing it.

After 11 weeks here my response to the last question is well rehearsed. I spent nearly 10 years in a christian cult which I left 3 years ago. I may have prettied up my reasons for coming here in previous writing, but the truth is that I came to L’Abri to immerse myself in community after being alienated from it for several years; to intentionally learn to live with people again and prove to myself that they are safe. I wanted to find a sure foundation to stand on. Those goals are being met, but it doesn’t look the way I thought it would.

Sharing my reason for being here dozens of times has made me reflect a lot on my time with Oikos Ministries. I didn’t see it as a cult until my friends started to leave, 6 months after I did. One of them googled the word and the similarities to our church were eerie. No one wants to believe themselves or their friends and family are deluded enough to be in a cult.

It was the habit of the “apostles” to cyber-stalk people who left the church, looking for clues of their demise. The struggles they confessed in pastoral counseling were made public and any misfortune they experienced subsequently was credited to the fact that they walked away from Jesus; walked away from us, because we represented Jesus in the earth. Tongues were clicked when families experienced trial or tragedy, people divorced or jobs were lost. We shook our heads and said, “That’s what happens…” the implication being that your life would implode when you left our church, when you left the truth.

This practice made me supremely uncomfortable and increasingly mistrusting. I knew that my own online presence was under scrutiny. I analyzed everything I posted from 10 different angles before putting it online, so fearful of a confrontation. When the final confrontation came I expressed to the “apostles” my discomfort with how the stories of those who left were handled. I was told, “If they leave the church, they’re fair game*.” When I confessed that I didn’t feel I could trust them I was summarily dismissed and they moved on to address my sister.

I didn’t leave for another 2 months after that. I was so afraid of losing my family, all of my friends, my apartment with my sister. I was afraid of being struck down by the disciplinary hand of God. I’d seen families torn apart because the loyalty in them was split between church leaders and one another. I didn’t want to take anyone down with me and see my own family destroyed. So I walked out as quietly as I could, holding my breath and waiting for things to blow up in my face.

But they didn’t. At least not for several more months and by that time the explosions were controlled and deliberate. I got my own apartment for the first time. I got a promotion and a raise in my job. I was flourishing in every external way. Inside, I was falling apart and having a massive identity crisis. Nevertheless, I did not fulfill all of the prophecies of destruction spoken over dissenters. I still haven’t.

I’m sure my old church members would read this and think I’ve gone soft, cruising my way along the wide path of love and grace. They might have a point, but I don’t take it as an insult. I am softer.

Finding freedom for me was like walking on ice. With each careful step I let go of legalistic rules about daily bible reading, drinking alcohol, cussing, going to church every Sunday, “regular fellowship”. Is it any wonder that as I unburdened myself of these heavy things I found my weight on the ice still supported?

I thought by coming to L’Abri I would somehow find greater ease in restoring the so-called “Christian disciplines” to my life and thereby experience the love of God to a greater degree, one that is acceptable to all my Christian friends. But love does not come through rules. Love comes from people. The christian cult I was in taught that Gods love is conditional. My experience of His love proved otherwise quite some time ago but it is difficult to make my heart believe.

Here at L’Abri I have encountered love that is not contingent on conditions of success or failure. No one cares what my job was. I can’t earn my way into affections through favors or exchange. This love is not trying to correct my behavior or my theology. It isn’t concerned by the things I believe or scared of the stories I tell. This love sits next to me when I ask pain-filled questions that have no easy answers. It cries the tears I can’t and tells me I am loved until I start to believe it. This love shows me my worth and makes no demands.

Love that does not want to change me, has changed me forever.

In learning to be loved, I am set free to love others in the same way, without condition. My heart is opening up. There’s nothing I can do to stop it, and I don’t want to try.

I plan to spend another term at L’Abri next year. I want to study theodicy and keep asking questions about the nature of God. But when I return home for a few weeks this December, and even when I eventually leave L’Abri on a more permanent basis, it will be with the assurance of a love that has been made real through people – tangibly. Love that isn’t composed of fancy lighting, moving music, an emotional altar call and warm fuzzies. It’s real in shared wine and long conversations, freshly baked bread, kitchen crew choruses, cups of tea and mountain views, touch without fear, tears shed and belly laughs.

This is love that will not let me go. Not ever.

Oh love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe that in thine ocean depths it’s flow, may richer, fuller be.

Oh joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain and feel the promise is not vain that morn shall tearless be.

* I have a witness to this statement.

Skinny Dipping in the Deep

When I said “Yes” to Naked, I didn’t have a clue where it would lead me. I knew there was much that I wanted to explore, uncover and discover. I thought I would capitalize on every form of metaphorical nakedness: emotional, spiritual, relational. Maybe that those areas would somehow leak over into the physical, boosting my confidence. I did learn a lot about nakedness in the intangible sense this year. But from the very onset God surprised me, unmistakingly leading me down avenues I never would’ve imagined for myself. In the last year my mind has been renewed and my life transformed by the truth that God calls the physical body “good.” I am forever changed, so much so that I want to write a book about my experiences, testifying to the healing and freedom that I’ve found. A few blog posts wouldn’t do it justice.

One of the more surprising things I’ve learned this year is that pornography (defined as a depiction of the sex act or obscene drawings or photographs) is not synonymous with nakedness/nudity. After extensive bible study I have found that the Lord only ever calls His created image good. His people ascribe all sorts of slanderous words and deeds to the body. But He, Himself says that it is good, a fact which never changed after the fall. And His is the perspective that I long for and want to live according to.

I think it’s tragic that the image of God has become a villain that we fight against and refuse to see. We need redemption. 

The Lord has brought some incredible people into my life from all different faith backgrounds who have come to see the same truth about the image of God. They love Him with all of their hearts, minds, and bodies, without shame. I am not alone in this, His spirit has been revealing the same truth to many and I’ve had the privilege to meet and talk with a few of them. They have helped me understand that the gospel, the good news, is even in this. We don’t have a list of do’s and don’ts or rules to follow. According to His word we have radical freedom to see His image in one another. And that’s something I can be passionate about.

At the beginning of the year I made a list of goals, things I wanted to do as part of the Year of Naked. I challenged myself to pray naked in front of the mirror, join a small group, answer honestly when someone asks how I’m doing, get a massage, visit an art museum and let the human form awe me instead of looking away. I did all of those things, and more. The list isn’t finished. There’s room for more things to be added and more to be crossed off. The Year of Naked may be over but I’m not sure I’ll ever be finished with the word.

So if you find me changed by this year, you’d be right. If I seem a little bit defensive of these truths, bear with me. Because I’m not just telling you about something I’ve thought a lot about. I’m not just running a theory by you. I’ve learned the truth about the body in the fires of experience, and the healing blood of Jesus has redeemed it all for good.

WaterstoSwim

When I waded into these waters, I swore I’d only get my feet wet. But before I knew it the water was to my knees, to my waist, and then I was skinny dipping in the deep. It wasn’t a river to be crossed once and then left behind. It was a sea, one that I’m meant to live by. And just like the water in Ezekial 47, it brings life to everything it touches.

Naked wasn’t just a word. It was a baptism. 

The Rescuer

The Lord gave me this vision ten years ago. Over time it’s come to have much more meaning than it did when I first saw it, ministering to me in countless ways. Today I share it here, with the prayer that the Rescuer of our souls would visit you with healing in His wings.  

I was kneeling on my bed, my head curled to my knees, trembling. My arms were wrapped tightly across my chest as though that would ease the pain and protect me from further harm. Tears poured down my face while I gently cried from fear I couldn’t explain, and couldn’t get rid of.

Gradually, the room around me faded and I was transported to the edge of a small clearing surrounded by thick, dark woods. There was commotion in the center of the clearing. I heard loud shouting and evil laughter. I crept through the trees, closer to the clearing to get a better view. Creatures I could only describe as demons were huddled around something throwing stones and beating it. I looked closely to see who or what it was, gasping in astonishment when I recognized the object of their torture. It was me. I saw myself there, huddled with my face to the ground in the dirt, weeping. I had chains around my wrists and bloodied dirt all over the rags I wore. The demons surrounded me on every side kicking my figure in the dirt and screaming curses that only made me wither further. Watching from the perimeter, I was paralyzed. I willed my limbs to move. I prayed that the form in the dirt would rise up and fight back. But I didn’t move an inch. And my form in the dirt was nearing unconsciousness.

Suddenly, the sound of a great sword leaving its sheath split the air. The demons looked around for the source of the sound and in that moment a clear domed shield miraculously descended over my form in the dirt, deflecting their weapons and effectively shutting them out.

RohirrimAttackOrcsFangorn

In unison, an army on horseback emerged from the trees completely surrounding the clearing. With a great cry they descended on the camp, swords drawn. The startled demons scrambled for their weapons and began to defend themselves, leaving their prisoner forgotten. While everyone was engaged in combat the commander of the army came riding through the camp on a great horse. The pathway cleared by His warriors, He rode straight towards my limp body. He paused only a moment to secure me onto His horse, held in front of him between  his arms and the reigns. Without crossing swords with a single demon, He rode out of the clearing and back into the shelter of the woods. I was no longer watching from the outside. Somewhere along the way, I became the wounded version of myself. With the change in my surroundings I became more alert, triggering the instinct to fight or fly. I tried to wrench free from him with all the strength I could muster. I pleaded with him, “Please let me go! Where are you taking me? Let me go,” I sobbed, defeated and weak. There was no chance for escape. We rode swiftly through the woods and the noise of the battle quickly faded, but the commander never spoke a word.

He obviously knew the forest well, for it wasn’t long before we reached a well-lit cabin that had no obvious path leading to it. The horse came to a swift halt and my new captor swung from the saddle in one quick, efficient motion. There seemed to be urgency in his movements. The commander reached to lift me off of the horse and carry me inside. But I grew hysterical, screaming and shoving his hands away, “No! NO! Get away from me! Don’t touch me! Let me go! Please!” He simply looked into my eyes, his full of compassion, and held his arms up to me, without touching me. Looking back at his steady gaze, I calmed down. I knew I couldn’t jump from the horse, so I let him lower me from the high saddle.

In silence He carried me inside and lowered my weary body to a small bed in a corner of the warm, one room cabin. The commander seated himself on the edge of the bed. I wedged myself against the pillows in the corner, knowing that attempting to get past him would only cause further damage to the wounds that filled my consciousness with more pain every passing second.

Another man was in the cabin. He was older than the commander with white hair and beard, but the same gentle eyes that spoke to his son upon our entrance. The two obviously had a close bond for they did not seem to need words. I sat there trembling, fearing what they would do to me. The older man left the woodstove where he was pouring hot water into a basin with clean towels. He came to the bed, sat down and looking into my eyes, he pulled away the blood-drenched rags hanging from my frame that covered the deepest cuts. Slowly and gently he washed away the dried blood and dirt that covered my wounds. I cried out in pain and tried to pull free but the commander held me with steadying hands and spoke gently, trying to calm me. I was too weak to fight any longer so I leaned back, spent and exhausted. My tears finally subdued and I slept.

I woke to find all my wounds cleaned and bandaged. The chains were removed from my wrists. My rags were gone and I wore a clean, white robe. The old man approached the bed where his son supported my beaten body. He instructed that my wounds would have to be kept clean and re-bandaged. But this time there was no protest. I knew that I was safe. Safe in the arms of my rescuer.

Anxiety crept up on me

Anxiety crept up on me.

When I experienced the first symptoms I was in a season where everything was unsteady. My job was in transition, and I was considering some major life and career changes that would take me far away from my family and everything familiar. My church was a constant source of unpredictable drama. But despite all of this, I didn’t “feel” upset. I wasn’t worried. I had “peace.” I made myself peaceful. I made myself completely numb, without realizing what I was doing.

So, when I started having episodes of my heart racing out of control, and the breath being sucked from my lungs… I concluded it was purely physiological…
I am grateful to my Story Sister, Kate Herrell for the opportunity to write for The Honest Brain about my experience with anxiety. She’s holding an honest conversation about living with anxiety, and it’s been so good to know I am not alone. 

The Girl I Once Was

The girls we once were are coming back to us now…

The girl I once was is coming back to me and she’s not who I expected her to be.

Prior to this year most of my childhood memories were sweet and carefree. My sisters and I love to linger around the dinner table recounting the mischief we got into and the fun we had. We laugh with new friends over old family stories and our parents smile a benediction over us. Despite the fact that we didn’t always have much, we had vivid imaginations and we used them well.

I used my imagination to distance myself from trauma. I know now that this is called dissociation. I was often in a dream world and felt like I was floating outside of my body without any ability to bring myself back to earth. Teachers called me a daydreamer. They said I never stayed focused. In the fourth grade I was diagnosed with attention-deficit-disorder. But the medicine didn’t work, because the deficit wasn’t in my attention; it was in my emotions.

I am well practiced at numbing myself, like making an arm or leg fall asleep. When it tries to come back to life it’s all kinds of prickly painful, so I adjust the tourniquet and deaden it again. But the girl I once was is insisting that I wake up. She won’t take no for an answer; she is coming back to me, unbidden. She’s making her voice heard in spite of my attempts to keep her quiet. She visits me in my dreams. I feel her presence when I wake, re-living her experiences in flashes. For the first time, I am feeling what she never allowed herself to feel.

Run Free

The little girl I once was came to me in a dream last night. She’d escaped from her family, away from everything and everyone that hurt her, and she was looking for love. She was orphaned and came to me for help. But rather than embrace her, I have turned on her. I have thought her a liar, refused to listen and ignored her pain because it is inconvenient to me.

She wears a mask of well practiced sweetness and perfection that does not betray her wounds.  I want to love her, it’s not hard to love her. But a child who runs away so young must have baggage, and I know it will take time to reveal and process all the pain. She will not trust easily. But she is mine. She is me. I can’t help it, I want her.

If she is going to be healed I must create a safe place for her to speak. She needs to know that her story is heard and believed. She must be assured that she can speak at any time without restriction. She has to believe that she will not be rejected for the truths that she tells. She must feel that she belongs.

So I hold my arms out to her. When no one else will listen to her, I will make space for her words. When she feels no one will believe her, I will accept her truths. When she is drowning in turmoil, I will pray peace over her. I will cry with her, grieve with her, embrace her.

The girl I once was is coming back to me now. It’s time I paid attention.

 

I am coming late to this link up with Story Sessions. I am inspired by these brave souls and honored to be counted among them. Read their stories, won’t you? And share your own? You deserve to be heard. 

Going Bare: Uncovering

My friends know that my word for the year is “Naked.” Consequently, I have gotten several text messages, emails, pins, and tweets sent to me with things that relate to it. (I welcome these!) It’s been interesting to receive them because I’m getting a wide perspective of how my friends see nakedness. “Naked” can be funny, or beautiful, or poignant and vulnerable. It can cause us to hide, or draw us out of the darkness. Nakedness can be literal or figurative or both. And sometimes the intangible forms of it feel more real than what we see and touch.

Almost every definition of the word “naked” speaks of being without a covering in some form. I think this is telling. What is it about nakedness that makes us want to cover up? Is it an instinctual reflex? There are few among us who would not immediately reach for something with which to cover ourselves if we were happened upon in our nakedness, even by those whom we most love and trust. Why do we do this? Is it actually instinct, or is this learned behavior? How do our coverings serve us? What are they protecting? And why?

mychainsaregone.orgCertainly coverings serve a purpose to protect us from harsh elements and from those with intent to harm us. But I am questioning the widely accepted axiom that lacking a covering – whether it is emotional, physical, or spiritual  – is anything short of immoral.  This was my starting point.  Equating nakedness with immorality, I  learned to judge harshly those who did not share my view of “modesty.” I condescended people who wore their hearts on their sleeves, showed a little too much skin, or claimed to follow Christ while unattached to a tangible authority. If you were “uncovered” in any way, you lost credibility in my eyes.  Not any longer. I am learning to recognize this view for the judgment that it is instead of the foundational truth I once thought it to be.

This year, I’ve spent quite a bit of time contemplating nakedness and all the forms it takes. I am coming to see that there are contexts in which being uncovered is appropriate and even necessary: in friendship, for intimacy (emotional, physical and spiritual), or even for the simple sake of beauty.

Uncovering is often necessary for healing to take place. Sunshine, it is said, is the best disinfectant. But many, myself included, find this quite difficult.  We have learned to associate uncovering with shame and contempt. Abuse damages the purity of exposure. It teaches us that to be uncovered is to be violated, to be judged as we have judged. For many, the beauty of uncovering is marred when we are robbed of the choice to reveal.

///

I recently got this text from a dear friend who was thinking about my word:

“I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.”  Psalm 32:5 …

‘I did not cover my iniquity’ = being naked and raw before God.

Selah.

I let the words sink into me and spent the afternoon pondering how confession is related to uncovering. Having grown up in the church, I understand that God is omniscient; He sees it all. Fulfilling the law of unintended consequences, this has always been a great source of fear for me.  I came to expect His punishment around every corner. But David the Psalmist doesn’t seem to share that fear. In his prayer, he was compelled to uncover. To be naked and raw, and this wasn’t the first time.

There is something significant in uncovering; becoming naked in confession before the God who created us. But it’s hard, isn’t it? I often hesitate because I have carried the same judgments I held about uncovering in every other part of life into my relationship with Him. I would dare say that the shame, contempt, and fear of exposure is even greater with God than it is with humans. Cognitively, I know that He has no unforeseen revelation in my nakedness, but that does little to reassure me. So, patiently and knowingly, He waits until I know that I am safe.  He does this for all of us.  He does not violate us by forcefully removing our covering. He wants to be invited into our trust.

A few nights ago, He asked me to talk to Him. Somehow, I’d forgotten that I had a choice to do that. Desperately, but willingly I opened my mouth and the words came pouring out, speaking into existence everything He already knew. I bared myself, confessing the worst of my judgments, the fears and lies I have believed. God did not shy away from me. He who formed me told me that He has redeemed me, called me by name, and I am His. He reminded me that I am precious in His eyes, and that He loves me. Nothing that I uncovered caused Him to turn away.

There’s something beautiful in knowing that we can bare ourselves before Him without shame. It is like a little taste of the intimacy of Eden. I am learning that the uncovering of nakedness is not a consequence or a punishment. We are invited to approach the Throne of Grace with confidence, completely without shame. It is not an obligation or requirement. We will not be rejected. He is waiting to embrace us, with open arms. We are invited to join Him in the garden, but to do so requires us to be vulnerable.

This kind of vulnerability reveals beauty, fosters intimacy, and brings healing through uncovering. It’s not something to be afraid of. And it’s worth it.

{The image above came from MyChainsAreGone.org – a website that has been integral in the transformation of my thinking as I’ve examined my theology on nakedness and the body. If I haven’t already linked you to the site through a conversation we’ve had, I encourage you to read it and prayerfully consider what it has to say. These truths are changing my life!}

Read the rest of the “Going Bare” series here