GRACE UNBOUND

sexuality education rooted in the spirit

Me Too

Kara's Cell phone 001.jpg

#Metoo.  On Facebook women have been posting and sharing this phrase, “If all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”.  My newsfeed is swarmed with “Me too” from so many women I have known throughout my life. I didn’t know of some of their stories, even some of my closest friends, because it’s something we don’t like to share, but now I think I am learning that we do need to give that story a voice.

I shouldn’t be surprised that so many women have said “Me too”, because  1 in 4 women have experienced sexual assault.  So it’s really more surprising to hear of a friend who hasn’t had that experience.  This is sad, more than sad really. I just can’t find the words to describe the emotion that I feel every time I hear that statistic.

For a long time I never wanted to come to terms with what I experienced.  I never believed that I had been abused or assaulted in anyway because there was no intercourse involved.  I had been made to believe that sexual abuse was primarily when you were touched in your genital area as a child or forced to perform sexual acts on another person, or rape.  Rape in my mind was when someone violently stripped your clothes off and inserted themselves inside of you.  So since my experience didn’t match those descriptions I told people that I had been “taken advantage of”.

It really wasn’t until my classes in Sexual Health when I realized that if others were to tell me about what I experienced, I would have told them they were abused/assaulted.  To be sure I did what any person would do.  I asked the sex therapists in the class and said, “So, my friend had this happen to her…” Their response was, “That’s abuse”. Shit.  Another reason  I didn’t want that to be the answer was that I have had cycles of sexual abuse happen throughout my family and my hope was that I wouldn’t be another in that cycle.  That the story would end with me. My abuse was not perpetrated by family, so in that sense that story did stop there, but I was abused and my abusers were friends.

I am not going to go into detail about what I experienced but I will give you an understanding of what happened and why I have decided to write this and share it here

I hope I don’t regret this…

My first experience was being fondled by a family friend.  We would have sleepovers all of us kids together and always spent time together.  During the sleepovers I would wake up to find that my budding breast was being touched.  This person also touched my bare breast while I was in church praying.  I loved being with the other kids in this family group, but I couldn’t nor did I want to be around him.  Eventually I stopped attending the sleepovers or wouldn’t go if I knew he would be there.  However, I never told anyone.  Something inside of me said, ‘don’t ruin the fun of family/friend gatherings for everyone else’.

Another experience was when I was working as a camp counselor.  Most of my summers were spent working for Christian camps. At this particular camp, we had overnights, where the campers would sleep in a field or building and the counselors would sleep in the middle to separate the boys from the girls.   In the pitch black of the night I woke to one of the male counselors with his fingers in my vagina.  I didn’t know what to do.  I laid there frozen and in disbelief.  All I could think was, and pardon my language for a moment,  “What the fuck are you doing to me” and “There are children surrounding us ”! Because there were children around I did nothing. I didn’t want the quiet of the night and their slumber be jarred by this. It was hard for me to process because this person was my friend, who was caring and loving and sang about Jesus all day long. How then was his hands inside of me without consent?  I think at one point I finally tugged at his hand and said stop.  Again, I never said anything or told anyone.  He should have been fired. I went to him the next morning and said he would never ever do that again to me.  I still get upset with myself to this day for not telling anyone, but to be honest I didn’t know I had a voice then, nor did I have much self-worth. That’s something I am still trying to learn; self-worth.

Unfortunately, my stories of abuse and assault don’t end there, but I bring light to these two because they, to me, were unassuming.  They have one major thing in common.  Both times I was asleep.  For many years in my twenties and through my earlier thirties, I was terrified of staying anywhere overnight alone. When I was 23, and my roommates went away, I would have panic attacks at night and suffered from insomnia. When I lived alone for the first time when I was 25, I had a ritual of locking my apartment door,putting a chair up against it, and then shutting my bedroom door and putting a crate of books up against that.  I felt so silly and like I was a big scaredy-cat. I thought so poorly of myself, that I wasn’t mature or independent enough to sleep alone in a space by myself.  Again, my sexual health class was where I put it all together. My terror of sleeping alone was directly related to the abuse. We store trauma when we don’t acknowledge or work through it.  When I finally connected those two things in class, a weight lifted off my body and on the drive home I cried.  Now when I am alone I am able to practice breathing and talk to myself about any paranoid thoughts I might have.   

We need to be educating everyone that any touch, any words used to violate or demean, any forced action, or disregard towards your body without your permission is abuse.  Those actions whether considered big or small in society’s standards hurt and affect a person to their core.  Our sexual bodies and beings are so incredibly personal and when you hurt that, you hurt the soul of a person because those two things are the same thing.  To me, it’s one of the biggest violations to a person and it fills me with fury faster than most anything else.  It is not okay that the statistic is 1 in 4 women.  It is also not okay that 1 in 71 men will experience sexual assault at some point in their lives.  What is even more upsetting is that 1 in 2 people who identify as Trans will experience sexual assault.  We have a problem.  

I went into sexual health education for a number of reasons and this is one of them.  When I was figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, a friend asked me, “What gets you angry”?  This. This makes me angry.  The fact that so many people are violated in their lifetime sexually and we can’t have these conversations about sex and consent in our schools?  Stupid.  That is what that is.  We are being plain ignorant by not providing comprehensive sexual health education for our children.  If we educated more, than maybe a child/teenager/college student would know and understand that if, like me, they were fondled while asleep they could, with confidence, tell someone they were just abused and understand that it was indeed abuse. And that they would be believed without hesitation.  We also should be having these conversations so we can change the statistics.  If people learn about healthy sexuality, self-worth, how to stay safe, that having thoughts about sex is normal, that they deserve to know a partner’s STI status, and learn how to communicate to get consent, well then maybe we would begin to see a change to the statistics.

There is also something behind assault that we need to understand. It’s not always about sex, but power.  What is making so many men of all ages need to feel a sense of power or unhealthy dominance over another human being? I had experienced a male exposing himself to me, when I, his supervisor in a former job didn’t give him his paycheck which was in a sealed envelope in my boss’s mailbox. He got so angry with me, he pulled his penis out. As if his penis was his source of power.  That because he showed me his penis he was saying, “You may be the one in charge, but this has more control and significance than you.” When anger takes you to that place, that sort of acting out goes deeper. The questions are how and why?

This is what we as a human race need to stop, understand, and address. We need more education and more chances to hear each other’s stories. With the changing of gender roles and expectations we especially need more conversations. We should address how young men of this world still need tender loving touch from caregivers.  We need to hug and comfort our young men like we do our young women.  Just because you’re a “man” doesn’t mean that you don’t want to feel cared for or protected.

All of us who have written, “Me too” won’t tolerate it any more. It’s alarming to me that this world seems to be going backwards when it comes to protecting the human right of not having your body violated or feel threatened because you happen to have breasts or may not fit a certain image. This all needs to stop.  My prayer is that our children will be confused at the notion of #Metoo.

How Once Upon a Time and Happily Ever After Killed The Fairy Tale

 

My eight year old daughter just finished second grade.  Throughout the year I heard her tell stories of the boy she had a crush on.  She liked him all year and documented this by drawing little hearts around his picture in her yearbook.  She and her friends would spend their time at recess chasing the boys they liked and planning their weddings.  My daughter would often say, “I wonder if we will get married? Or, maybe we will go to prom! Then I will know how he feels about me”.

Isn’t that the way? Isn’t that how the majority of us women and girls in this American culture have been brought up? I remember in fourth grade I too had weddings. I spent a good majority of my day daydreaming about PJ or Jeff, the two boys I liked. Anytime I had a relationship, I was the girl who would write my first name with their last name, just to see what it looked like.  Why?  Because I was taught that finding a man and getting married and having children was my role.  This was the expectation that was set up for me.  Find something you like to do, be happy, but find a good man.  Women are subtly told throughout their existence that their worth is found in the man they are with.  It breaks my heart to know that my daughter has already fallen into this trap even though I have spent a lot of time telling her that what is important is her heart, soul, and mind and that no boy makes up her worth.  But stories are persuasive; especially when told in the popular culture through movies, books, clothing, and toys.

 Look at every Disney Princess movie apart from the recent, Moana. The princess finds herself in some sort of distress or trouble where she is the victim and it is a man who rescues her.  He is the hero and her life is once again happy, but silent. As much as I do love Ariel, she literally loses her voice and transforms her body to be with a man she admires from afar.  Yes, she did rescue him and saves his life, but she also gives up a whole heck of a lot of herself to be with him.  How often do women do that? Look at old cartoons where the villain ties the woman to the railroad tracks and she cries out because a train is coming, and then right before danger strikes a hero on a horse comes to save her.  The motif here is that of a persecutor, a victim, and then a rescuer.  All of these stories affect how we enter into relationship.  They have been a part of the collective story for a long time in our culture.  It’s clear to me that when the girl becomes a woman, she has this need for a man to like her, then love her, then rescue her.  It is also clear that in our culture there is an underlying connotation that if a woman is not married, then there is something wrong with her.

However, my question is, if there was no wedding, no huge party, would people get married as often or as quickly? The wedding is primarily focused on the bride.  She gets to be the princess for the day.  All eyes are on her, quite like Cinderella at the ball. But that day - one of great bliss where we act like royalty - is just a day. Yes a magical day, but in the great scheme of marriage, it’s just one day.   Marriage involves all the days after that; marriage involves the mundane, the hard, the sticky, the life transitions, the sick, the annoyances, the beauty, you know…. the good, the bad, and the ugly.  The truth is, is that sometimes we are all victims in relationships and we all need another to rescue us from time to time.  But another person cannot fully save us or provide us with the fantasy we thought, as children, we would one day get.  The truth is, is that in order to have a fairytale of some sort, we need to find our own worth and a way of rescuing ourselves.  So much of marriage and love are set up on these false expectations we develop as children.  They become our template of how relationships should be.  The problemis that it’s rarely like that and we find ourselves hoodwinked.

As young women in college sit around the television watching wedding shows like, Say Yes to The Dress, they dream about what that day will be like. I would even go so far asto say that it becomes the primary focus of many.  I remember my friends and I would ask, “What colors would you have?  What setting would it be? What kind of dress do you want? How will you wear your hair?” We never ask questions like, “What do you think marriage would be like? How do you handle conflict in your relationship? How are you going to feel when you find another person attractive?  How will the two families get along?  How will you figure out whose family to visit for which holiday? What if sex isn’t good?  What do you think it will be like managing finances?” These are the questions we should be asking and these are the sorts of conversations we need to have in pre-marital counseling.  If I may say, I do think that the purity culture within the Christian community has made this emphasis on weddings even worse.  There is such a strong focus on staying a virgin until you are married that so many people I knew, and later heard stories of, entered into a marriage very quickly in part so that they could have sex without the guilt and shame.  But as they dreamt of the wedding, they weren’t prepared for the marriage or their sexual relationship beyond the wedding night.

I know that this doesn’t hold true for everyone, but I have seen it in so many relationships and have found so many of my fellow mom friends saying that maybe we had the wool pulled over our eyes. I want everyone to have a healthy and loving relationship experience of some kind whether it be marriage or not. To do so, we need to step out of the fairy tale a bit and into a more realistic story.

My daughter loves a great fairytale story and anything involving fantasy, so I know I need to be careful and loving in my conversations with her, but this is what I hope I can teach her: 

“No matter what the world is telling you, your worth does not revolve around whether or not you are in a relationship or not.   That you are worthy because you exist and because you are trying every day in this journey we are on together.  What is important is to find your voice and to make it strong.  Work hard to learn your own heart.  What makes your heart hurt? What makes it love?  What makes it jump for joy?  What makes it crumble into your stomach? Where do you feel whole as a person?  Where do you feel the most like yourself?  How do you like to serve and love others, because it’s important to be kind and good to our fellow humans?”

If she gets in a relationship, I would say:

“Learn how to communicate even if it makes you ache.  Find someone who makes you want to create and makes you want to try harder to be better than you already are.  Make sure you can laugh with this person.  The world is full of muck; laughter makes the muck bearable.  Be kind to your person and pay attention to how they are kind to you.  Remember the word grace.  Be equal in your give and take.  Don’t give more than the other and don’t take more.  Find something outside of your relationship that you do just for you, that the other person is not a part of, but hears about.  Think about your identity and how you can nurture it as you share a life with another person and become a couple”.

There is so much more I could say, but mainly I want her to know that the Once Upon a Time and the Happily Ever After comes when she lives her life followingthe rules of what feels right for her; not the expectations the world has created for her, because she is a woman.  I want her to know that she can break the glass slipper, pretend to keep sleeping after the kiss from a prince (which is a whole other conversation about what consent looks like), and that she can climb down the damn tower herself.

Virginity...Let's Talk About It

 

 The concept of virginity has been a topic of conversation lately in the groups I have been talking with, in podcasts I have been listening to, and articles I have read.   From the stories I have heard, it has made me think differently about virginity.  In this new learning and understanding, I find myself getting more and more irritated.  This might throw some of you off when I say this, especially since I am a Christian woman, but the more I think about how virginity is talked about and taught, the less I like it.  In fact I am going to say that the entire topic needs a makeover.

 Growing up Christian what I thought about virginity was that it was the mode of conduct.  Virginity was the rule I needed to follow to be a “good” girl. As a girl I was taught that being a virgin was the “ideal” for me; to retain a sense of purity before marriage.  I was to save myself for that one person.  So, whenever I had sexual urges or desires, I felt shame.  I thought, “Oh this isn’t right.  I need to not think this way.  God will be mad at me.”  As a grown woman and mother this makes me so very very angry.  I want so badly to go back to that girl and tell her that her thoughts are normal and okay.  That God loves her and she is not bad.  Emphasizing virginity like this, is based out of fear, guilt, and shame and let’s be honest, it’s sexist.  My brothers did not receive the same message as I did. The quest to remain a virgin is primarily focused on girls and not boys.

The sexism around virginity is my first problem with the approach society and/or church takes on the subject.   In the Bible there was a high priority for a woman to be a virgin to get married. We have turned that notion of virginity into, “because it is for love and saving yourself for that one person.”  In reality, that virginity clause was so that the father could receive a bigger dowry from the groom’s parents.  In biblical times there was no birth control, so if the woman had sex with a man there was a higher chance for pregnancy.  Whoever the father was, the descendants of the father received the land rights.  If the woman had had sex before the marriage ceremony and became pregnant shortly after, then who is the father and who does the land go to?  If the bride was a virgin then there was no confusion.  There was one owner; it was about property: a business arrangement.

 What is interesting about this scenario is that there is no talk of the same expectation for the man or groom to remain a virgin. Since that was the case, then, with whom could this man have relations with? The man still wants sex; they want the play, and the satisfaction of pleasure.  However, they also want the woman to be their “pure” shiny new wife. See the double standard?

This expectation on girls to uphold their virginity is a lot of pressure.  Some communities have purity balls for girls, but again, I rarely hear of any for boys.  What is this saying? It implies like how I felt, that if a girl experiences sexual thoughts or desires, then she is ‘dirty’ and ‘unclean.’ Her wiles are to blame for tempting and seducing the young boy or man. So as a culture we have this notion of the girl to remain a virgin but in complete conflict with that, are quick to over sexualize girls in the media. "Be pure young women, but in the same breath it is important for you to show a lot of skin so we can sell a hamburger."  Fascinating, isn’t it? 

The other issues I have with the discussion around virginity are the phrases: “I lost my virginity.” “I gave myself to him.”  What was lost? What was given away? The way I view sexual intimate relationships is how I believe God intended them to be and so with that, nothing is lost or given away, but something is shared and gained.  Having sex with another person should be a time of great vulnerability by both parties.  It is a place of great sharing where we care for the other with great intention.  It is my hope that what is experienced in the sexual act is laughter, passion, intimacy, and a sense of safety where we can share and experience a sense of communion.  Sex should be a place of taking in the other where we are gaining great intimacy, pleasure and spiritual connection.  This is achieved when sex is consensual, the partners know and appreciate the other, and there is a level of safety and reverence.  When we talk about “virginity being lost” then we are talking about sex with opposition. Indirectly we are indicating that someone has less power or say then the other.  With that however, I will say when sex is non-consensual, then yes, I do believe something is lost.  Nothing is gained when another is violated sexually.

When we talk about virginity it’s also important to define what we mean when we say “virgin.” Primarily the conversation has focused around intercourse between a man and woman.  So the question begs: “Are you a virgin if you have oral sex?”  “What if you have anal sex?” “What if we just rub our genitals together?” This leads into being able to define the term “sex” altogether.  We have too many different categories that we fit different sexual experiences into, without being very clear about how they really are defined or interpreted.  This can cause great confusion.

If virginity is important to you, then I encourage you to have it clearly defined.  When do you consider someone no longer a virgin? I also encourage you to have the same conversation with your children regardless of gender, gender identity, or orientation.  Instead of making virginity a “stamp of approval,” make it a conversation about how you want your child or loved one to experience sexual pleasure.  Sexual intimacy is about equality; sharing a part of yourself you want the other to know personally, an expression of love and care, and a place where both people should be able to experience amazing pleasure.

 

Realationships

Lately, as I have been writing ideas for talks, I have been continually misspelling the word relationship.  Spelling incorrectly is common for me, but how I have been misspelling relationship made me stop to think.  As if second nature, I have been writing the word as this: Realationship.  Real.  I thought, “Huh…it should be spelled that way, because we can’t have healthy, good relationships unless we really get real with ourselves.”

I have spent the last few years getting “real” with myself and I am going to be honest with you, it’s not pretty and truthfully it hurts a bit.  We don’t like pain: it’s uncomfortable, so naturally we try and avoid it, even if we know in the end it will be good for us.  When we decide to ignore the hard or “real” stuff, it gets stuck in our bodies— trapped.  The tough stuff gets masked as headaches, back pain, upset stomachs, weight gain or loss; in other words, we are stuck with it, just not in the way we expected.  When we aren’t real with ourselves our pain can also prohibit our ability to feel physical pleasure in sex and impede on intimacy. 

There is a great book I have been reading called Women, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth.  The book, as the title suggests, focuses on food as a way to avoid paying attention to our feelings, though really her message can translate across anything we numb ourselves with.  In the book she says, “…. because unmet feelings obscure our ability to know ourselves.”  She continues with, “Our minds are masters at blame, but our bodies…our bodies don’t lie.  Which, is of course, why so many of us learned to zip out of them at the first sight of trouble.” This could be why when you are intimate with someone you may not like being touched in certain areas of your body.  Maybe you experienced a trauma there, maybe you suffered an injury and it brings back that memory of pain. Our minds bury the emotion but like she said, our bodies speak what we are avoiding to feel.

I was a dancer growing up through my twenties.  Dancing was my way of being in check with my emotion. It was how I allowed my body to speak.  When I was 25 I suffered from a bad knee injury and it took me years to recover.  In that time, I wasn’t as connected to my body and I can tell it inhibited my growth as a person.  It made me depressed not to dance and sadly I turned to food to avoid what I was feeling.  I denied myself to really access any real pain, grief, or shame that I was feeling.  Because I did this, I disconnected from my core and what my body was trying to tell me what I needed. 

When we allow ourselves to feel we discover more of what we are actually capable of.  We can discover hidden strength and a sense of worth.  We also start realizing that we deserve to be treated with respect and care.  We are able to seek out what we need through relationship and are able to give more openly.  We are also able to communicate more clearly with our partners or friends.  Relationships are how we function in this world.  To make them the best they can be we need to understand that being real helps us heal and invites us into a more intimate space with ourselves and others.

What do you need to do to get real? What are you avoiding that sits in the back of your mind that makes an appearance when you least like it to?  Whatever it is, recruit a trusted friend who loves you no matter what and let them know that you are about to get ‘real’ so that they can be a safety net of sorts.  Have a list of counselors in hand, journal, incorporate meditation, exercise, find a cozy blanket, and some grace.  When you get real, account for that grace and breathe.  It will hurt a bit, hell it could hurt a lot, but the teachings and discoveries will be a gift.  Whatever it has been that has been hurting, will start to heal.

 

Psalm 139

Psalm 139:13-15 NIV

    “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the Earth.”

Psalm 139 is one of my favorite Psalms.  For me it illustrates the relationship God has with us, a relationship built on intimacy.  The phrase of being created and knitted together in the mother’s womb is body, is touch, is love and tenderness.  Knitting takes time, energy, attention to detail, and care.  It is a craft, an art.  It explains the way that God was intentional with creation:  intentional with all of us on race, gender, identity, body, given gifts, orientation—all of this.  

In the beginning of Psalm 139 it talks about how God knows us, that wherever we may be in life or spirit or location, God knows and God still cares.  We carry lots of guilt and shame around especially related to our sexual identities. By this I mean, who we are, what we do, think, act out or on.  In short our sexual identities are how we are in relationship to one another and to this world.  God knows of our shame and guilt and we are still claimed by God.  I recently got a tattoo with the phrase, “Fearfully and wonderfully made,” written around it.  I did this because this is how I want to live my life, how I want to see myself.  It serves as a reminder for me when the guilt and shame that we have been trained to feel daily gets too much.  I need a reminder that the core of me is how God envisioned; it’s just that life around us can get a little messy.

I often think of the phrase, “secret place and being woven together in the depths of the Earth.”  What was this secret place and what did God tell me that I have not yet learned?  Was it a time where God showed me what love feels like so when I encounter it I would know instantly?  Was it the secret whisperings we get when we know our own truth of who we are even though others aren’t on board yet?  And this Earth, the damp rich soil where our flesh comes from, it’s organic, full of nutrients, and sexy.  Dipping your hands into the kind of soil that when you clench it, it holds on to you right back before releasing it between your fingers.  You can tell something good will come from this kind of soil when you plant with it in your garden.  We are connected through this rich soil and through the secrets we hold.  All of us feel unsure, all of us wonder, “Am I okay?”

It’s incredibly important for all of us to recognize our worth.  We are worthy to be loved, to love, and to repeat the process over and over again until we can truly recognize it ourselves.  This takes time for many of us.  However, that is what living and relationships are.  We work through what we might not have received initially.  We learn where we can trust, where our strengths and weaknesses are, we recognize where our walls go up, and what we need to bring them down.  In our journey of understanding that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” we need to remember our connectedness to one another.  We share a lot more similarities than differences. The main similarity is just this: finding our worth, wanting to know that we belong to someone or something—that our existence matters.  

We are entering a new time where our leadership has already told many of us that we are not worthy.    Skin color, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, abilities, and age have all been referred to as less than.  This message affects us and cuts to our core, and consequently affects how we function in relationship to one another and with our partners.  I just finished reading Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton.  In one of her essays she wrote about how most people believe the opposite of love is hate, but what she has come to learn is the opposite of love is fear.  I do believe many people operate out of fear of what they can’t understand and sometimes that fear can be because it   resembles what they are not able to accept in themselves.  We need to fight through fear for others and ourselves to give us the best chance of loving and being who we are.

Each of you is fearfully and wonderfully made.  You were knitted together with great care and intention. Please don’t let someone else make you feel that you aren’t.  There was no mistake in the creation of you and don’t ever apologize to anyone for who you love, are attracted to, what color your skin is, or who or what you believe in.  

 

The Stanford Trial...

Reading about the recent trial on the Stanford rape case, my heart and soul hurt again. The pain is a familiar feeling because it is felt every time the justice system re-traumatizes the rape victim. It is hard for me to understand why the victim needs to be harassed with ridiculous questions about their current or past relationships. How much alcohol was consumed? What they ate for dinner that day? None of those questions have anything to do with rape. Rape is rape; and no one by any means should have their body violated. Even if the sexual activity is at first consensual, a person has a right to change their mind if something doesn’t feel right.

What hurts the most about this trial is that I believe it makes every woman feel again that we are only worth our body. We are just a vessel for a man to have for his own use. It also reminds us that our voice often doesn’t matter. We are criticized when we can’t use it during an attack, and when we decide to speak out, we are questioned in a way that is offensive and intrusive. This woman was unconscious. She was not cognizant and couldn’t use her voice. She had no say. That makes it impossible for there to be consent. When she used her voice to stand up for her well-being and quite frankly all rape victims, it was insulted by the lenient sentencing of her perpetrator.

There is great damage when we take the soul away from the body of another. This is what this man did. He rendered this woman as soul less. For him she was flesh. She was disposable. That is one of the worst things you can do to another human being. Because, we are spiritual and sexual beings and when you wound and harm one of those beings, you wound and harm both. They are one in the same. When our sexual beings are stripped down, battered, torn, and seen as flesh with the absence of soul, we then feel hollow. Our bodies become a foreign land, one where we wish not to have a part of any longer. One we wish we could exchange. Our worth has been stripped away; our connection to the Divine has also been stripped away. It can take years to rebuild that and it can take just as long not to feel a sense of shame and disgust every day.

A woman or man should not have to feel afraid to report abuse. We should not live in a society where when abuse and rape are reported and clearly has happened that the victim gets shamed. That is repulsive. It is never the victims fault. A victim did not ask to be violated no matter what clothes they wore, how much they had to drink, or if they were in a fight with a significant other. I am tired of that mentality. Our bodies are ours. They are the reflection of the Divine.

We need to figure out a way to offer comfort for the victim. Forensic questioning should only happen once. We also should not tell the victim to just, “go about your day and get back to life as it was before.” Those words are like knives. The victim is no longer the same person, so it is impossible to “get back to life.” They need care, therapy, a space to grieve, a space to cry and spit with holy anger. They need space to rebuild.

My prayer is that we start having more education around this topic, around sexuality. A lot of times rape and abuse isn’t always about the sexual act, but about power. How can we help others feel like that have worth and agency over their own lives, where they don’t have to strip others of theirs?

Body Image... And Acceptance

After returning home from picking my 7 year old daughter up from school one day I found her in our front yard standing on a rock flipping her hair from side to side looking, I may say a bit ridiculous.  I asked her what she was doing.  Her response: “Practicing on how to get a boy to like me.”  My initial external response was, “Alright, okay, let’s talk more about that.”  My internal response was, “AHHHH!!!! No!!!!! You’re only seven….dear God!”  I quickly told her that the only thing she needs to worry about is being herself:  being brave, courageous, fun, smart, and compassionate like she is.  Those are the important qualities for a person to like another person.  If they don’t, then they are not someone you want in your life.  

We all have this deep seated need to feel accepted and cared for and sometimes go to great lengths to achieve that.  Due to the emphasis today on the woman’s body as a sexual object through advertising and social media outlets, women of all ages are altering and ruining their bodies to fit what they think is the ultimate and most beautiful look.  Girls today are getting labiaplasty, a surgery to have their labia resemble that of a porn star.  Because porn is becoming so highly accessible, it is becoming how youth get their sexual education.  But it is skewed.  Young men and women think that the images they see are what are real.  So when they enter into a sexual experience together and the labia do not look like that of a porn star, then the young men get confused and the young ladies are shamed.  The truth is all labia look different and girls shouldn’t feel like they need to alter such an intimate part of their body to fit an unrealistic and false model of beauty.  They shouldn’t feel that they need to change so they don’t experience shame. 

Besides this, girls are plumping their lips to look like Kylie Jenner, wrapping their legs with saran wrap and working out endlessly to achieve a thigh gap, or using A4 8 inch printer paper to measure what they believe is the perfect waist size.  I remember in high school I had grown men and boys tell me that I had thunder thighs. So, of course I hated my legs.  In high school I was a size three and when I looked back at my pictures, my legs looked like bean poles.  They were muscular.  But I allowed that false pretense to shape how I felt about myself every day.  Body image isn’t a new topic, but it should be a dying one.  Sadly, however I believe it is getting worse from the impact of social media and the obsession to be looked at and noticed.  Our self-worth is now linked to how many likes, comments, or re-tweets we have.

I believe as a society we are failing our young and it is being highlighted every day.  There are too many violations of our bodies such as: kids sharing nude pictures taken on cell phones, sexual assaults on college campuses, posting acts of lewd behavior and victimization during drunken acts on the internet, sex trafficking and abuse.  As a parent, to see my seven year old already processing how to ‘act’ for a boy to like her and already having conversations with her about what ‘sexy’ means at age five because a boy pulled her shirt down past her shoulder…is upsetting and scary. 

From my understanding, this behavior are kids and young adults acting out while trying to process all the images and messages they are given but are rarely spoken to about.  I think as a society we are lacking in intimacy and compassion.  Because we are stressed and overworked we start to disengage from our loved ones and our children feel the effects of that.  If we actively seek and pay attention to what our own needs are and work to get those met through self-care, open communication, and putting away our work and smart phones for a bit, then real engagement can happen.  We then can enter into dialogue with our young that our cultures’ so called measurements of beauty and acceptance are false.  

That the process of finding out who we are and what makes our soul laugh and our mind soar is the real beauty.  When we engage in those, then human connection and acceptance is inevitable. We give things power by paying attention to them and letting them take control over and affect our lives.  Let’s stop this madness with body image and the roles of advertising. Let’s stand up to violence and teach our children about compassion.  Let’s be willing to talk about what our kids are seeing and let’s care enough to show them what truth is when it comes to love, acceptance, and intimacy.

December

I am writing this in light of another mass shooting in our country. I have been drawn to the field of sexual education in large part because of the profound way our understanding of our own sexuality shapes most of our lives.  You may think that what I am about to propose is crazy:  I believe that if we as a human race started communicating, learning and understanding more about sex and our sexual nature there would be less violence.  Hear me out.

Often when we are not truly heard; when we don’t feel valued; when we are criticized, misunderstood, forgotten, or shamed…we become angry.  And if that anger resides within us and remains trapped for a long time, it can turn into rage.  People filled with rage run the risk of lashing out. But what that anger and rage really is, is sadness.

How often in our lives have we had an experience involving our sexuality in which we experienced shame, or hurt, or confusion?  And what if there was no one available with whom we could talk through that experience?  Wouldn’t we feel lost... less than? Wouldn’t we be likely to hide and pack our feelings away in our bodies... and try to forget them, or pretend these feelings aren’t real or valid?  When we do this those feelings become trapped in our midbrains.  Down the road we might experience something as simple as a smell that could trigger that memory or emotion and we act out in whatever way we have learned to cope. Whether it is fight or flight, we respond and it usually is negative.

Through no fault of our own we might have had some unfortunate experiences as a child. Sometimes those experiences as children can shape us and help form a portion of our erotic template.  Often we can turn our trauma into erotic fantasy.  So what does this mean?  Why am I writing this in light of shootings?

Many of us have gone lifetimes without unpacking our sexual stories or understanding them.  What if someone who acted out in violence one day was holding onto the fact that they had a strange attraction only to teenage girls? Given the reality that this is socially unacceptable, this becomes a source of shame and stress.   However, what if that person was able to acknowledge that they had been abused by their 17 year old babysitter? Now, that erotic template starts to make sense.  If that person was able to talk about this experience with someone they trusted, they could begin to understand what they are feeling and be able to work through those feelings.   Or what if a woman could never orgasm?  She might feel inadequate, causing her to be bitter and feeling shame.  Again, what if she was able to explore safely all the ways she felt out of control in her own childhood. Perhaps, because her parents were unreliable, she had to be the responsible one for her and her siblings. Letting go for her would feel scary.  Through education she could process this information including that 1 in 10 women don’t orgasm or that only 30% of women orgasm through intercourse alone.  

Our experiences need not to be as severe as those described in the last two examples for our lives to feel a lasting impact.  Maybe one day you were teased about your body in a locker room, or were told you were a bad kisser, or didn’t know what a sexual term meant and everyone laughed at you.  All of these things affect how we enter into relationships.  But if we don’t engage them, then how would we know?

We see sexual images and experience feelings every day that are difficult to process.  If we are too uncomfortable to talk about these things: if they make us feel too vulnerable, or grotesque; if we feel the subject of sexuality is private, or unbiblical, then we run the risk of missing out on significant  relationships, important healing, and transformation.  When we are able to talk with one another; when safe space is created for education; and when we give each other permission to be vulnerable as we process our stories, we can save lives.  We are living into the potential God had/has for each person.  Hurt and silence is paralyzing.  They morph into deep wounds where anger grows and violence can be created. Right now, I believe that God is telling us to listen. “Sit children, sit, and hear the stories of your heart.  Hear the tears flowing from your soul.  Hear me crying out, you are loved, every last bit of you.  Use the intellect I gave you to learn about your life and the journey you are taking. And use your heart to care for those alongside of you.” 

Jesus experienced great pain and cried out in hurt, anger, fear, and frustration.  He didn’t hide, he didn’t run away…and he was transformed.  We too can learn, cry out, and live through our pain.  Then transformation is made possible. 

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