On Cancelled Trains and Unanswered Prayers 

 “Our need to be in control, to orchestrate the perfect scenario for every journey of our lives, breeds anxiety in our hearts.” – Emily Ley

“There’s no train at 12:57.” 

“Yes…. Yes there is. I saw it on your website.” 

“Nope. No train at 12:57. There’s a train at 12:44 to London.” 

“But I don’t need to get to London – I need to get to Huntingdon.” 

“ Well… there’s no train from here that will get you there. At least not before 3 o’clock.” 

“Okay…” Deep breaths. Don’t cry. Just take your ticket and go to the information desk. This was the only advice I could give myself as I stood at the counter, frustrated with Trainline and with myself for wholeheartedly believing a website. 

I made the first train. An overly kind assistant at the information desk made up for the experience at the ticket counter. I stepped off the string of carts to make a connection – only to discover this journey was far from simplified. 

“All trains to Peterborough are cancelled.”

“But I need to get on a train in that direction to get off in Huntingdon.”
“All trains to Peterborough are cancelled, please stand with the other stranded travelers.” Only in England would missing your train from one county to the next qualify you as a “stranded.” I took my place amongst my fellow sojourners and we made quiet inquires. “Oh headed there. Very good. Be sure to call ahead.” 

“At least it’s not raining while we’re waiting.” 

I don’t think anything bad happens in England unless it is raining – because if the weather is dry you can always fall back on the cheerful caveat “Well, it’s not raining.” What a sadly optimistic reality. 

For me, I wouldn’t have cared if it had been storming. No ounce of water would have made me grumpier or more stressed. I had perfectly timed this journey to arrive in Huntingdon with 42 minutes to spare before an interview for a master’s programme. If I had 42 minutes to spare I could grab a coffee, find the office, sit down, use the loo, take a calm breath – I could be in control. But, the Great Northern line had other plans for my afternoon.

 We waited on the curb of the train station and watched busy workers in yellow jackets talk to bus drivers and cabbies. They piled people into taxis, pulled some out, rearranged themselves, crossed stuff off a clip board and threw furtive glances to the growing crowd of strays. Eventually, I was also piled into a private taxi with a slightly disgruntled driver. Apparently the rail system was having a week of melt downs that resulted in a high taxi bill for their travelers. At that moment, I honestly did not care about the railroad woes. I was in the taxi with two other ladies and I knew mine was not the first destination. We still had some time though. I could make it with maybe 15 minutes to spare – if there was no traffic. 

There was traffic. There was a lot of traffic. I didn’t know the Fens had the potential for so much congestion. We trucked along at a miserably slow pace. We dropped the first lady off, she gave me a sympathetic look and trotted off to her bus. We turned back onto the motor way. Maybe we weren’t that far off… maybe my stop was just ten minutes or so beyond this one…. As much credit as I give GPS systems they are frightfully brutal in their delivery of bad news. Once we were on the motor way the driver’s phone robotically told us my stop was 47 minutes away. Gutted. That would put me about 35 minutes late for my interview providing there was no traffic and assuming I knew how to get to the office. Fitting with the afternoon, there was plenty more traffic. 

I was losing it. I was sitting in the back of a strange man’s car inching along on the A1, late for an interview, hungry, thirsty, with my well-timed plans in tatters. If I didn’t have tears crawling down my face I would have been laughing. The absurdity of the situation was so thematic with the rest of my life and still so disappointing. I felt sorry for the driver and the other passenger. It wasn’t their fault some poor girl was falling apart in the back seat. It wasn’t the driver’s fault there was traffic. It wasn’t anyone’s fault the trains failed us. I wish I could have explained to them what I was feeling and why but I think I’ll just be an odd story for them to tell now. 

I was so desperate for control. This was the first event in ages I felt I really had well planned. My husband is looking for PhD funding. We don’t have it yet. I have applied for a nursing license and have waited and waited. I don’t have it yet. Neither of us have a job, neither of us have income, and we’re steadily using our savings. Neither of us know what is about to happen. We could stay in England with a fully funded PhD. We could stay in England with my husband working as an engineer and me as a nurse (eventually). We could move back to the states – to California, to Texas, to Arizona, to Washington D.C. – for my husband to work there. We could be stuck paying off student loans for the rest of our lives. We could be given $100,000 tomorrow. My eczema could flare up or it could go away for years. We could live to we’re ninety-nine and never have a cent more than we do now or we could die tomorrow and be in Glory. There has been so much out of our control. There has been so much uncertainty in our lives recently, all I wanted in that moment was to accomplish something according to plan. I had applied for a masters in family health. I had been accepted for an interview. I looked up times and directions, made plans, picked an outfit, practiced questions. I called my oldest sister for advice on the British education system. I read articles on the issues plaguing families across the country. I was prepared. The trains were not. 

So, I was sitting in the back of a very kind man’s car, crying, thinking about all the events I could not control – all the bits of my life that were floating haphazardly around me – and bitter that this was now going their orbit. Then, quite distinctly, the Lord gave me peace. I am not a particularly charismatic person but I do believe the Spirit is ever-present and has great influence on us. Sitting on that vinyl seat, listening to poorly chosen radio music and smelling an overwhelming amount of car freshener I was reminded of how perfectly fine my life truly is. I don’t have a job, but I have a passion and many dreams. We don’t have an income, but we have been blessed by our savings and we have a faith that extends beyond our human need. We’re not always in perfect health but we know these earthly bodies will pass away. We do not have a plan for the future – I don’t even know where we will be three months from now. That could be a terrifying thought – or it could be an exciting one. Let’s make it exciting. We don’t have any idea what tomorrow might hold but we’re fortunate to have one another and two families who love us dearly. I don’t have a career at the moment but I have a wonderful husband, a safe flat, and a faith that is growing daily. I don’t have any control but I have a constant reminder of Who is in control of my life. I have a choice to either be anxious about my lack of control or to surrender to His will. 

Let me tell you – anxiety tries to win 8 times out of 10. It usually has a good head start. Bad dreams, break outs, ulcers, fatigue, anxiety settles its symptoms right into my life and it could easily take over if I were to let it. The daily battle is against anxiety. The struggle every hour is feeling the sense of powerlessness and desperation grip my shoulders yet being able to shrug it off in confidence of my Savior. Whatever the issues is, He is in control. I know my problems seem small to many people. There are far worse issues than debt, unemployment, and loneliness. Many people face homelessness, persecution, terminal illness, loss of loved ones – in comparison what I’m facing at twenty-three is child’s play. Yet, the lesson is universal. The anxiety, the desperation, the need for control is well-known to all of us, and the call to rest in Him is for all of us.  This earth is but a withering field. These troubles are but specks of sand in the scheme of eternity. A father who cares for the sparrows will care for His children too. Regardless of our struggles, our mismatched plans, our failures, our situations, His love is secure. It does not change. It does not relent. His salvation is sure. If I lose all else in this world I can still cling to that truth – and it will be enough. He has a perfect plan and I choose to rest in that truth – even if the perfect plan means sitting in the back of a taxi for two hours, late, laughing, crying, and enjoying unseen English countryside.

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On Being Broken

 

We’re all broken. We’ve all been broken. 

You. Me. Him. Her. 

All of us.

We’ve all been crushed, pressed. At some point, we’ve all turned into our dark corners and just cried. We’ve all been hurt, we’ve all been betrayed, disappointed, lost, lonely, isolated. We all know these feelings to some degree. It’s an insult to our own humanity if we say we’ve never felt these things – these terrible destructions. The deformations of happiness, corruptions of our peace, perversions of our true selves. 

And yet, despite being unwanted, brokenness seems to be more human than any other phenomenon. More than happiness, satisfaction, hunger, fear, it seems brokenness is the most universal and the most useful. The realization and acceptance of brokenness is what allows us to come to terms with our own frailty, our own mortality, and our vast capability to care for others. Brokenness forces us to realize there is weakness. There is a problem that needs a solution. It encourages us to turn to He who has been repaired, causes us to hope for our own wounds to heal. It also reveals to us the brokenness in others, which in turn can create compassion, empathy, love, healing, even peace. We cannot solve our own brokenness without also looking around us and seeing the cracks in everyone else. He’s been hurt too. She’s been lied to, she’s been talked about, he’s been hopeless. They’ve been marginalized as well. He knows loneliness. She knows regret. We all know brokenness. 

These are some ill-written observations I’ve made over the past few weeks about my own frailty, how it affects my faith, and how it should inspire my own change. I hope, maybe, this will be an encouragement to someone else who might also be struggling. 

Originally I wanted to speak to the vast amount of brokenness around us – it’s in our food, our bodies, our politics, if you’re in Great Britain right now you can see the brokenness of the National Rail system (Great Rails are coming in 2020!). Oftentimes it seems the world is simply falling apart, but you know that. I know that. So we don’t need to read more about it. Maybe we all just need a reminder to be raw, real and honest with ourselves and our loved ones. No one plans to be broken do they? We all wake up hoping for the best – great successes, noble reputations, immense satisfaction. Yet, some time after that first cup of coffee the reality of living in a fallen world sets in and brokenness emerges. We have to come to terms with it, with an eternal perspective and an immense amount of hope. 

When I was working in a hospital we would have patients who tried to convince the staff they were not ill. “I’m not sick, I’m fine, get me out of here.” “Well, sorry sir but you’re in the hospital, connected to a Pleura-Vac and some very unnatural fluids are coming out of your body – you’re sick.” Why do we try to pretend our bodies are impenetrable? Why do we try to deny that we have aches and pains and in some cases chronic ailments? Who does that benefit? It certainly does not help those who are trying to care for and love us. It does not make the discomfort vanish – it just makes us lonely, tired, and, frankly, liars. Conversely, we cannot depend on our brokenness for our identity. Just as we had patients who were adamant about their health we had others who were convinced they were knocking on death’s door while they had no abnormalities whatsoever. Our ‘malfunctions’ do not have to brand us. We must learn to see all things through the lens of Hope. Paul makes this quite clear in his letter to Corinth, 2 Corinthians 4:16 – 5:1 (NIV) states “ Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” Our physical brokenness is nothing compared to the immense joy we will feel in His presence. Even our earthly homes, everything we put our faith in on this planet – our finances, our degrees, our cars, our success, our power – if we lose it all we can only rejoice for what waits in Heaven is far greater. I say “if we lose it all” but I should say “when” for everything on this earth passes – even the brokenness and the discomfort. 

I have chronic eczema. If you’re unfamiliar with that condition it’s simple. My skin cannot make a complete barrier, the tiny cells cannot build a strong defense against outside particles. This leads to intense dryness, allergic reactions, and many, many moisturizers. My eczema flared when we moved to England, largely due to stress I believe, and it has since become manageable. When I was in the middle of huge flare ups I would return to the passage above and beg for a heavenly body now. The itching, the discomfort, the constant fear of being red or looking ugly were overwhelming for me. I put so much faith in having a working body, in being the whole picture of health – I forgot that this body is on earth for but a second and this spirit is in Heaven for eternity. A rash, however frustrating, is not much compared to endless time with my Creator. Physical illnesses, disabilities, inconveniences are serious and should be treated – but they should not rob us of our joy, our hope, or our identity. 

It’s easy, maybe, to discuss corporeal brokenness, find hope, dismiss the topic and move on. We see the body broken during every communion so we know this is what bodies are made to do – whither, crack, waste away. Looking to heaven we can see the promises of new, perfect bodies and it seems manageable to be content with our malfunctioning ones. I find it’s much more difficult to parse out the brokenness of our minds, our spirits, and our relationships. So many of us are plagued by darkness, anxiety, resentment, or despair and we seem so unwilling to discuss it. Why? Why are we poisoning ourselves by constantly swallowing our words of sorrow, pleas for help, cries of distress? 

Along with eczema I have depression. Have depression? Suffer from depression? Am chronically depressed? I’m not sure what the correct term is, it’s just my reality. Similar to eczema my depression is heightened during periods of great stress, there are good days and terrible days, and it is most likely a life long issue.. Unlike my eczema I have not had depression since I was a child and there is no amount of Aveeno cream I can apply to cheer my thoughts. Also, unlike eczema, depression is difficult to talk about. My eczema is very obvious – most people will kindly ask about the aggravated red rash on my arm. I reply. They’re sympathetic. We move on with our conversation. But we don’t always see depression – I don’t see it when I look in the mirror. I certainly don’t always see it in other people even if I know they are struggling. We are adept at keeping depression stuffed deep inside of us. There it can fester, latch itself onto our organs and begin slowly sucking our liveliness. What happens when it all comes tumbling out? What happens when we’re so desperately broken we can’t breathe? What happens when we’re despairing – and I don’t mean the dinner is burning kind of despairing – I mean the sitting on your bedroom floor with a sharpened knife sobbing and trying to remember how you got there and who you are and why your husband is there kind of despairing. Broken. What do we do then?

We’ve all had bedroom floor moments. We’ve all experienced loss, fear, disappointment, regret. We’ve all tried so hard to hide our own brokenness. We’ve all denied one another compassion, honesty, empathy, companionship. Why? If I had found a cream that really worked for eczema and met someone else who had it I would’t hesitate to give them my cream (or at least tell them about it!). But if I meet someone with depression or anxiety or someone who is just in a particular fragile state, I’m much more cautious about sharing my own story, and much less willing to help. Why? Why are we so afraid to show our brokenness? Why are we so unwilling to help others overcome their own struggles? We see public figures exposed for their sadness and sorrows after they’ve taken their own lives – when it’s too late. Why are we afraid to expose ourselves while we have breath to speak?

In April I had the opportunity to visit Israel. I was able to stand in the Garden of Gethsemane. There I was gently reminded by the Lord how much He understands us. We are not only shown Christ’s victory on Calvary. We don’t skip in the gospels from miracles to resurrection. No, we see Christ’s broken body and hear his desperate prayers. This is part of our salvation story – a Savior who went to great lengths to defeat sin. I think we see all of this plainly written for many reasons. It allows us to grasp the severity of Christ’s sacrifice and the solemnity of his crucifixion. It also allows us to gaze on Christ’s humanity and see how well He can relate to us in our own despair. Christ was in anguish, He was in pain, He was broken and humiliated. Nothing we feel on this earth will compare to the torment He felt on our behalf – but it does mean He understands. He is not lofty when it comes to human pain and suffering. He is the tender father who sits with a tortured child, speaking truth against the lies, bringing healing amidst the darkness. 

So, let us be more like Christ. Let us look at one another with compassion. Let us be the friends who know brokenness, who see it, who vow to help it. Let us not be the ones who say “toughen up” “Have more faith” “Pull yourself together” Let us be the ones who sit on bedroom floors, praying and pleading for peace. Let us be the ones who open our hearts with empathy, the ones who understand that issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc are real and active in people’s lives. If you truly wish to know more about such conditions please read this blog written by a friend, https://noggybloggy.com/2018/02/06/mental-illnesses-suck-so-we-must-talk-about-them/ – he spends a lot of time and effort de-stigmatizing mental illness and offering resources to the public. He does this so that we can be a people who offer help – not condemnation. It’s not a guarantee that we will make it through life without tragedy or ailment but it is certain that we are not without hope. Let us be the ones who know we are broken and are still determined to share our hope with others.  

waiting, again.

Deep within me.

Deep beneath the catatonic

smile.

Depths below the placated 

tone

There, I find them. 

Deep chasms. Great shifts. 

Wells of simply brokenness

Insatiable caverns, hidden within my 

frame. 

Gasping, deflated fleshy lungs flop lifelessly. 

Begging for a breath I cannot give them. 

Desperate for a hope I cannot provide 

Endlessly breaking. Endlessly waiting 

for it all to endlessly carry on. 

– M. I. R.

On Words

Political Flashback: Michelle Wolf. Thoughts? White House Correspondents Dinner. Response? Hopefully your reply is somewhere along the lines of “Yeah, a secular event with secular jokes, all went as expected.” But I have a feeling most people don’t share that sentiment. There has been too much slamming of Michelle Wolf as a comedian on social media for me to believe the general populous really understands what her job was. Personally, I was not surprised by Wolf’s jokes. I admit, I found most of them hilarious. She disarmed the audience, she exposed the truth, and she delivered her witticism in with great timing. What more do you want when you hire a comedian for a politically charged event? It has been difficult for me to reconcile with the outrage of many Christians I know. To what standard were you holding her? She has never proclaimed to be a spokesperson for Christ or the Church. She cannot have disappointed you in that regard. Perhaps you were holding her to the high standard of the American President? If so, Wolf could have gone much farther than she did. We, as a people, allowed a man with brutally vile language to take over a public position. We know what his tweets say. We know what he says behind closed doors. We know what he says to the faces of multiple women. Why do we expect anything more from anyone else? For those who are sharing “Protect Sarah Sanders” posts to your timelines, did you also share “Protect Rosie O’Donnell?” No? Hmm. Why not? Why is one member of the White House administration allocated your undivided protection when many women before her were slandered and disrespected? 

Of course, by the time this is public, Michelle Wolf and her ‘terrible’ speech will be old news. While this piece is not about politics, or about the White House correspondent dinner, it is interesting that now we have moved on from slandering Wolf to someone else. Even in our hate we have difficulty concentrating. Why? Are we so slammed with information that requires outrage we cannot pay attention to one event for longer than 24 hours? Or is our hate and anger so rampant that it requires a new target to devour every second? Are our words so incendiary we cannot keep them in our mouths – instead we have to purge them over coffee or during our daily media update – we must make sure we degrade at least ten people by night! That’s what good, upstanding people do! 

How twisted is that? How wrong is it for us to obsess over the flaws of others? Our mouths are teeming with derogatory vocabulary and we see nothing amiss with this habit? Why not? Why is so indoctrinated into our culture that we can say whatever we want, in whatever tone, to whoever is in earshot? When did it become okay for us to share hateful memes as casually as we say our morning prayers? When did it become habitual for us to demean people who think or act differently than we do – as long as they don’t hear us? Or even worse, when did it become commonplace to gossip, slander, or insult directly and expect the other person to ‘cover it with grace’ or to ‘understand because we’re family.’ If the premise of ‘family’ means you care more deeply than wouldn’t you be even more thoughtful and kind with your words? Perhaps not. Perhaps when we are in comfortable environments – our own home, with good friends, behind computer screens – we forget the need to work on our witness. Perhaps when we are in these closed-door situations we believe we have the freedom to act without consequences. We do not. We know this. We know that even that which we do in private affects our hearts, our minds, and our relationships with others. Words spoken and shared are no different. We should be even more aware of our words than anything else – words shape our image, they change our perceptions, and they create others’ impressions of us. Wouldn’t it be wise to treat words with utmost caution? Are we not warned to do just that in the New Testament? How then do we justify the cruel, inflammatory language spread so vehemently through Facebook, phone calls, group chats, or dinner conversations?

 “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” James 3:1-12 ESV

This theme is repeated. It is evident we are meant to be careful with our words. 1 Peter 2:1 “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Look also at Titus 3:2 and Psalm 34:13. The most convicting for me is always Proverbs 12:18-19 “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.” My words could either heal wounds or pierce someone – why would I ever choose not to heal? 

A few weeks ago I was reminded by an old friend of the weighty power of words. She was writing an account of her own experience – the destruction that words can cause was very evident in that moment. Words are unlike actions in their pervasive and transformational manner. Albus Dumbledore wisely said, through the pen of J.K. Rowling “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” How true that is. Words are heavy, friends. They can either create or they can destroy. Words can either build up or tear down. They can give life to a relationship or they can corrode it. Words can bring healing – yet they can just as easily be the poison that brings death. Words are powerful, and we, for whatever reason, have become too accustomed to wielding power. We have forgotten the strength we possess. We act like children playing ping-pong in a china shop. We know the potential disaster but we’re so used to the crashing plates, the shattering saucers, the ruined cups that one more broken dish doesn’t seem to matter much. One more tasty tidbit of gossip is nothing in a swamp overflowing with it. One more unkind word about that race, that religion, that school, that team is nothing when our world is satiated with hateful slander against groups of people. But, here’s the thing, it really does matter. What you say, what I say, and how we say it really does make a difference. What is the advantage of gossiping about your children, your friends, your siblings and taking the risk of breaking those relationships when instead you could provide direct encouragement to those individuals and make a positive investment? 

I know, it’s an odd notion. Let’s be kind to one another and say nice things – how preschool right? Wrong. How Christlike. How can we justify what we say when we know the words of Christ, Love Incarnate? It is deplorable that Christians cannot set themselves apart from the world by conversation. Yet, we seem to think we don’t need to do this. Too often I have been in a believer’s home and hear them say a terribly hateful thing about democrats, or republicans, or refugees, or their neighbors, or their in-laws, or their co-workers. Too often have I been the one to share my own misguided sentiments without conviction. Too often I find myself feeling entitled to gossip, to slander, to disparage on any one who has irked me – how wrong is that? How warped. Even if I were standing alone in my kitchen it would not be right for me to voice an unkind, hateful word – because even in that moment of solitude I am standing as a representative of Christ’s love. What does it do to our witness, Believer, when we are heard misusing the tongue?

An argument you may have against this is easy to predict. I’ve heard it before – mostly from other Christians. “Oh Iona, how silly and soft you are. This is the real, tough world. Grow a thick skin and move on. People are going to talk about whoever they want however they want and you are wrong to think you can stop them. Just give everyone grace and get over it.” To number the times I’ve heard a variation of this message would be impossible. What is it about us, Christians, that desires to keep our secret vices instead of giving our whole selves to Christ? Is it weakness for me to listen lovingly and diligently to people I do not agree with or understand? Or is it weakness for me to shame those same people on social media – intentionally inciting anger and conflict? Is it weakness for me to know the weight of my words and to be careful with them? Or is it weakness to spout off “You’re stupid and your ideas are stupid” as soon as someone says something I don’t like in my house? I know this is a real and tough world. Most of you readers do not understand how well I know that. Most of you did not grow up hand in hand with impoverished children. Most of you do not remember living without electricity in the 21st century. But it is the coarseness of this world that makes me so grateful we have a tender Father – a Father who drapes us in Loving grace, a Father who does not want us to remain in our sin but wants to see us grow more like Him. How unkind it would be if God never convicted us. Similarly, how unkind we are to one another when we do not recognize sin for what it is and attempt to make a change. I know the hypocrisy of this post all too well. I am a sinner well acquainted with the depths of my sordid actions. I know that for every cruel word I have heard I must have said a thousands others. I know that for every piece of gossip I have heard I must have shared a hundred others. I know that until the day I am taken Home I will struggle to bite my tongue, evaluate my words, and say only that which will edify Christ. But, even as I know this will be a daily battle, I am beyond grateful for the believers I have in my life who hold me to a higher standard. I am thankful for friends who hold me above reproach, friend who call me out when my words are not gentle, not loving, not a reflection of my faith in any way. It is never easy to change our ways – but it is necessary. If Christians are to stand out in this messy, broken world, it must be through our words and actions in every moment. If we are to have any impact for Christ we must be aware of the effect our words can create. We must be attuned to the magic we are wielding – and we must choose to let that magic be good, healing, wholesome. I love you. I am sorry. I forgive you. Powerfully magical words. Transformative words. Words seldom misused or forgotten. Words like those are often replaced with I hate you. I deserve more. You’re not worth this. You’re wrong. You owe me. And countless others…. Friends, we have the capability to create great change within ourselves and within our relationships simply by choosing to be kind with our words, gentle with our tongue, and loving without intentions. For those not convinced, for readers still rolling their eyes and saying “Okay Iona… tell me when the real world hits you. You can’t be a pansy snowflake forever” – I beg to differ. If being a “pansy” in this world means I am sensitive to words, both spoken by me and to me, for the sake of Christ, then I’ll be a whole window box display. Hurting others, hating others, degrading others for the purpose of having the upper hand or the “right” opinion is not worth the cost. How could I, how could we, use our words for ill when they have the potential to do so much good? 

For further reading on this topic please look at these two articles from Desiring God. 

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/know-what-not-to-say

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-should-christians-comment-online 

On Grief Misunderstood – A Poem

You cannot go back. 

Excuse me.

You cannot go back. 

But.

Did you hear that? Did you know? 

Did you know, dear Dad, that when you moved your family there, we would be brutally uprooted?

Did you know, darling Mum, that while you raised us there we were losing a childhood we never really knew? 

Did you know, sweet family, what the coming years would hold? This grief unspoken, this grief unknown, this grief misunderstood?

You cannot go back. 

No. 

You cannot go back.

Please. 

There is no home there anymore. There’s only a house, an empty shell of a life that used to be, a once upon a time of young serenity. A house once filled with naivety and innocence – an illusion now shattered by heartbreaking reality. 

You cannot go back.

Just once.

You cannot go back.

They’ll never see.

No, your friend, your spouse, your dearest love, will know the swells and hollows of your body, the sorrows of your guilty soul but they will never know your home. They will never stand between the walls of your youth, see the making of your being. The foundation of who you are is washed away in a memory of used-to-be’s. 

You cannot go back.

Please.

You cannot go back.

Just me. 

Take a snapshot, write it down, think it through… because you know you’ll never see it again. Quick! where are you from? They mockingly ask you again and again while your mind reels, cartridge from another life, another time. Imported crops, traffic jams, gunshots, walls, barbwire, brancos, municipal de Angola, Boas Novas, aeroports, dripping ceilings, mobile radios, generator fuel, empty taps, visa exile, ballet classes, melted sweets, leaving on a dusty April day, returning indefinitely. 

You cannot go back. 

I know. 

You cannot go back. 

I know.

So, I’ve told you what I recall of a home I’ll never have again. Now I stand – rootless – swaying on a foreign kitchen floor. I live as a shadow, making the motions of my character come to life. Wake up, work, cook, pretend, smile, assimilate, nod, yes, appropriate. All the while, inside someone else is clambering to get out, someone yearning to remember, someone who knows this place is not my home. This place with cold rain and paved roads, working banks and quiet churches, I move as an alien, imposter, Israelite in Egypt. No, this place is not my own…And, yet the only home I’ve had is gone, shrouded in the darkness we call past (move on!)… and my eternal resting place is still many miles ahead. 

You cannot go back. 

No. 

You cannot go back. 

No, I must simply carry on. 

On Some of Those Countries

 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” – Matthew 5:31-40 ESV

Some time ago I moved from boarding school to university. If I had been lost and confused moving to the Middle East from Africa, it was nothing to how I felt moving from over seas to the Bible belt. Jackson was a phenomenon beyond compare. Massive bill boards displayed endless options of fast food, adult stores, and shooting ranges. Slide your pick up truck into the next lane to catch flashing signs pointing toward one of 200 something churches in the city limits. It was loud, bright, and Southern – and everyone seemed to know exactly what to do except for me. And yet – I adapted. Even though it was different and terrifying (and there was a lot of resentment I had to work through) I adapted to my surroundings. Quickly, I learned how to order light ice so I wouldn’t receive an insane quantity of frozen slush. I discovered that denominations are a big deal in the South; Christian doesn’t cover everything for some people and my theology of loving Jesus Christ with all I am was not enough for the pre seminary men in my classes. Pop culture caught up to me very fast – or rather my lack of knowledge did. When I arrived at University my musical repertoire included every Taylor Swift album, ABBA’s Gold Album, an old Celine Dion CD and the sound track to Les Miserables.  Spotify has since changed my life forever.

I know these learning curves are shallow, insignificant even, but they were a vital part of my culture shock and my adaptation to the United States. It’s important to realize that people from different countries or backgrounds have a steep climb when it comes to naturalizing themselves in unfamiliar surroundings. I’m not sure we do any visitor (long-term or short-term) any favors by exonerating derogatory language regarding foreigners – have we forgotten that we all are foreigners in this broken land?

I was acutely aware of being a foreigner when planning a wedding. First, I had no idea what was required and second, I am the only bride I’ve met who’s mother was half way across the world while I was planning. My mother is a saint and used the internet to arrange my wedding with a skill unknown to our modern world. She might not understand emojis yet but my mum is first-rate when it comes to planning any event from a different country. When our wedding came around my mother and mother-in-law had some photos of us as children to display at the rehearsal dinner. I quite strongly opposed to this – probably very rudely as I was a bride, a full-time nurse, and my wisdom teeth had been removed seven days before my rehearsal dinner. Honestly, I was not the most gracious bride and most likely have many grievances to address from that weekend – but that’s not the point just now. I was against parading our childhood photos for several reasons.

I had seen my husbands’ childhood pictures many times. He has some posed, some candid, some hurried, all lovely and clean. He is generally surrounded by his family or his football team. He is almost always surrounded by white people and he has the background of a safe, secure homestead. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with the way he was raised. The Lord has blessed his family immensely. Yet I could not help look at the stark contrast between our childhoods – and I did not want to be reminded of it on my wedding day. My childhood photos consist of me wedged in a group of girls my age, we’re all wearing my sister’s hand-me-downs. My photos consist of me barefoot, blindingly white next to everyone else, with dirty hair and happy eyes. When I look at these photographs I recall the smells, sounds, and tastes of Angola. I also remember every belligerent, insensitive question about growing up in Angola.

“You grew up in Africa? Were you not terrified every day?? How awful – how could your parents take you there?” Terrified? Only when there were gun fights in my street. Oh I don’t know – how could they say no to God? “How many churches did your dad plant in Angola? Was it really worth him going there?” Are numbers the only way to convey worth? What about the friendships he built, the men he trained, the families we met with and share our lives with… what about the love of Christ seen and shared? “You grew up in Angola…. Where is that? Asia? If you grew up there – how do you speak English?” My parents were missionaries, not silent monks…. 

It’s an overwhelming smattering of memories to face the day before your wedding. It was a reminder of how much I had changed to fit into Jackson, TN – and how different I was from my husband. It was a reminder of how little he knew of my life, and how little he would ever experience of my hometown. It was also a deep source of guilt. As I looked at the faces of neighborhood girls I had grown up with I was ashamed knowing my parents were paying for a beautiful wedding, while these girls were on their third or fourth child, some of them already dead. Guilt had an unhealthy hold on my heart. I wish I had been forthcoming in the moment about those photos; it’s given me a lot to think about since. Mostly, I find myself realizing how much I have adapted to my husband’s world and how little he knows of mine.

One Easter, in university, I spent at a friends’ home in Clarksville, TN. She took me on her old running trails, old eateries, and local hangouts. I so desperately wanted to return the hospitality. I wanted to take her to Kenya – where I learned to love running with the Great Rift Valley under my shoes. I wanted to show her the dukas, eat chapatis, drink overly sweet chai at ten in the morning, watch the flying ants drizzle down after a heavy rain. The impossibility of showing any of my American friends my home weighed on me heavily. When my husband and I got married I was nearly obsessed with the reality that he would not see Angola any time soon – he would certainly not see the Angola I grew up in. So while we drove to Mississippi every other month and I experienced more and more of his home and family I realized this was becoming a one-sided adaptation – as it had been for all my relationships in America. I was morphing to their surroundings, their norms, their differences without ever having to express mine. This was highlighted for me at Christmas this past year. It was my first Christmas with my in-laws and it was truly lovely, yet any holiday filled with someone else’s traditions can be particularly lonely. Of course, it would be absurd to ask people to change the way they celebrate, or the way they live or vote or communicate with one another to fit your needs. If I had had a ‘familiar’ Christmas we would all have been sitting in Laurel, opening presents by candle light, waiting for a gingerbread house to melt with humidity, and watching films on a tiny battery-operated DVD player – again, it would have been absurd!

However, it does make one think about all the different experiences found in a large family and how one should respect them, show interest in them, even appreciate them. I have been convicted by that thought in regards to how I relate to my husbands’ family and my own. I also think I’ve failed my friends in many ways because I have been inhospitable in not allowing them to see more of my past.

Perhaps now is a good time, in such a climate, for me to speak about some countries I have called home. Countries I believe are good places, created by the same God who created the United States and filled with people made in the image of that God.

ANGOLA

A sub Saharan country with a land mass twice the size of Texas. Population 24.3 million, major religion Christianity, currency Kwanza, major languages Portuguese, Umbundu, Kimbundu, Kikongo, life expectancy is 50-53 years. It is second to the top for the highest mortality rate of children under five. Angola’s wealth is isolated in the highest government officials’ pockets. The money comes from oil – lots of oil. Many western countries have oil companies with bases in Luanda. There was a 30 year civil war after the Portuguese colonists left the country with no standing government. Cubans and South Africans fought in the war on opposing sides. Human rights have certainly been compromised in its history. All these facts can be found on Wikipedia. I would encourage you to educate yourself – whether you are European or American you glean oil from this country, maybe you should know a little bit about it.

Let me tell some about my corner of Angola – Graffanil, a slum right outside the capital, Luanda. That term President Trump so eloquently used to describe African nations? Well, my neighborhood would have been the literal definition of that term. Sewer ran along the street. Muddy paths eroded into deep pot holes with each rain. Concrete walls stained with urine, burning rubbish, and anti-government graffiti surrounded me. Every morning I woke up to a stale, lifeless ceiling fan – it was useless due to the lack of electricity but it certainly made for nice decor. We ate overly imported breakfast cereal with UHT milk (ultra pasteurized) and started our days in the sweltering tropic heat. Mum and I would walk to the prasa to support local vendors. Wafts of burning charcoal, salted fish, grilled corn all mingled in the dusky air. Some days we went to the Isla – meetings with oil workers, church planters, other missionaries, whatever the occasion it was a chance to see the ocean and breathe fresh air. We would sit on the seaside, salty warm wind caressing our sun burnt faces. On incredibly special days we would eat at one of the local, overpriced restaurants (usually if an oil company worker was present). On such blessed days I would order a prego no pão – French bread stuffed with marinated steak and a side of potato wedges. How delightful, how decadent I felt chewing mouthfuls of simple meat and bread while watching the sun dip dramatically over the Atlantic. I wish I had known in those moments to reel it all in, capture every second, every breath in a slide I could play back in my bleak dorm room. Everyone in Jackson raved about their sunsets – orange skies over grey horizons while I couldn’t help but pine for the magnificent sub Saharan tropical expanses.

Our church was as vibrant as the scenery. Praises, songs, proclamations of truth – for good news is to be truly proclaimed not simply announced, no? Dancing in the aisles, wailing during the grace offering, testimonies of remarkable experiences during the war and God’s sovereignty throughout every life. I cringe when I remember all the Sundays I didn’t want to go – because it was hot, the sermons were long, and I was the only white person in the service. If I could travel back in time I would tell myself to linger every Sunday, cherishing the swell of each note as angelic voices raised their accolades to the heavens.

That is my Angola. That is my childhood. It is a third world country. It’s government is corrupt, its infrastructure is pitiful and its people need prayer. Yet, broken as it is, I would board a plane bound for Luanda before heading to the first world country I’m supposed to call home.

KENYA 

Located on the eastern coast of Africa, Kenya holds part of the Great Rift Valley. Population 48.5 million, major languages include Swahili and English, Major religion Christianity, life expectancy 63-69 years, currency Kenya shilling. This country is NOT the birth place of former president Barack Obama. I only lived in Kenya for four years while I was attending high school so I cannot speak to its intricate political history or current climate with accuracy. I do know in 2009 there was a massive food shortage related to wide-spread drought. There was a camp for internally displaced people who had been relocated due to resources and safety. The high school I attended would arrange trips for us to minister to families living in tents in the valley. In 2011, when Al-Shabab began encroaching on the Somali/Kenyan border my boarding school tightened security and held frequent lock down drills to prepare for any political unrest that might affect us. This terrorist group led an attack in 2013 – targeting shoppers at Westgate shopping centre where many students spent their weekends.

These events are the reality of Kenya – they are not just headlines. And yet, Kenya is much, much more.

I know I’ve written plenty about the aggravations faced in high school – I can blame Kenya for none of those. It is an ideal country. The loping hills are adorned with graceful tea leaves barely seen in the morning due to rising mists. It’s mysterious and welcoming, even-tempered and still passionate.  From our boarding school my friends and I could run along old railroads, past tropical water falls, with mountains on one side and expansive valley on the other. For one of my interim trips I chose to go on a six-day cycle ride. We cycled through plains alongside zebra and giraffe. The most exciting creatures I cycle past in Cambridge are groups of Freshmen gaping at their calendars. During those six days we spent one night in a Massaii village. We experienced a hospitality I have never felt in the South, a genuine welcoming, happiness beyond compare. We spent our nights gazing into the never-ending sky of stars, drinking in every moment of the quiet wildlife around us. This is the Kenya everyone should experience. The Kenya I know includes warm beaches, cool mountain evenings, spectacular sunrises over far off ridges. It involves eating ughali on Thursdays, buying warm, greasy chapatis from the dukas on the weekends and washing them down with spicy, bitter Stoney. The Kenya I know means visiting IDP camps, playing with indescribably hopeful children on Sunday, eating smoky corn, and taking three-minute showers because of the drought. No, it was not always an easy country to live in – but it is the most beautiful.

I encourage you to look up your own country, learn about it, find pride in it, and appreciate it. These are only two out of the seven countries I’ve lived in but they were most impactful. If you’re from the United States may I suggest you read If You Can Keep It by Eric Metaxas. It’s a helpful look at the States’ history and the values its citizens need to uphold. If you want to know more about African nations’ attitudes read this article shared by my own father: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/the-story-of-optimistic-happy-africans-is-more-complex-than-we-think/ar-BBI9dXM?li=AA4Zpp&ocid=spartanntp

I cannot convince you that any of these countries are first-rate. I cannot tell you that you should move your family there immediately. All I can say is this: there is not an inch on this planet not created by God. There is no tribe, sect, family, or bloodline not created in His image. There is not a single one of us who is superior to judge the others. Not. A. Single. One.

We are all created equal for we have all been made in His image. So meet them – all the others made in that same image! Meet your neighbor, meet someone from a different background, a different religion, a different country. Appreciate their life, all they’ve been through, and where they’re going. Hold an honest, compassionate conversation with them – don’t we all deserve to be honest and compassionate with one another? Share your life with them. Display the photographs I was so afraid to share with wedding guests. I was so afraid of being honest about my life with my friends, my family, and my husband’s family. Don’t miss an opportunity to be understanding towards someone who is different from you.

We gain nothing by demeaning people we have never met. Perhaps it is time for us, believers, to put to rest the inflammatory language and pick up words of love, compassion, and hospitality. How much more would we further the kingdom of God by opening our doors to people of all nations instead of standing behind people who wish to lock them out? I am not going to pretend I understand the economics of certain policies – but I do try to understand people. I understand that people want to be loved, they want to belong, they want to feel secure. I understand that as a Christian I am called to love people, all people, and I am called to let them enter my home as Christ has let me enter His. I don’t need any more convincing than that. Do you?

On Losing Control

I close my eyes. Water surges up to the doorstep. Wind howls outside, trees are ripped up from the ground. Branches beat brutally on the weak frame. The waves outside push against the window, glass shatters. I run up to it and press my bare hands over the broken glass. Stay put, please stay put, don’t break, don’t break. I plead with the forces of nature. Too late. I blink and water is flooding in, rising past my ankles, knees, waist. I blink. My family is floating all around me, rushing past, pulled by the uncontrollable water. Stop! I scream and scream for the water to stop. I blink. I’m crashing into the walls myself. The water carries me onto the freeway, lorries and cars race past me, skidding on the massive puddles. They all collide, cars topple, bodies fall out, people scream and cry and beg. I’m swept away, unable to help anyone, unable to even help myself. I open my eyes. The living room is in one piece. My husband is reading in a chair. Rain falls ever so gently on our windows, drops racing one another down the glass. No flood. No crash. No need to be afraid.

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” – 2 Cor 1:8-10 (NIV)

At times anxiety can be crippling. It often creeps into my life just like the above story, I’m unassumingly going about my day and suddenly scenarios beyond my control (and at times beyond possibility) grip my mind. As a child, a vivid imagination was my best friend – now it’s a haunting picture book of horror. Slowly, with God’s immeasurable grace, I’m learning how to come to terms with anxiety – but when you prefer to be in control any thought or situation that boots you out of the drivers’ seat is unwelcome.

Recently, we’ve been through a long, difficult, exhausting season of uncontrollable circumstances. My husband, Jeremiah, was accepted into a graduate program for Edinburgh University in January last year. We were preparing ourselves for one year in Scotland. I have a sister and brother-in-law in the same city and was looking forward to spending some time near my family. Come early May, Jeremiah, received an offer for a four-year program in Cambridge. After some consideration he chose to take the offer from Cambridge. We were then preparing ourselves to move to a city to which neither of us had been and in which we knew no one. To say I was disappointed about the change is an understatement. My home town is only an hour and a half from Edinburgh – I was relishing the dream of being so close. I would be able to train up for a weekend to run familiar trails, have dinner with family friends, and be surrounded by a recognizable place. It would be vastly different from the past four years of making the unknown city of Jackson, TN into a home filled with friends. I was gutted at the thought of moving to England instead but what was there to say? No loving wife is going to tell her husband to turn down a PhD from Cambridge University?

We rallied after the change of plans were set. We spent several weeks having friends over, sharing last meals and final glasses of wine. Boxes were bought and filled, then unpacked and repacked, time and time again. Jeremiah spent hours working on his visa, only to find out we had the wrong paper work several times. There was no way to expedite the process – visas are objectively sticky. I worked on switching my U.S. nursing license for a U.K. one but soon found that it was nearly impossible to work, pack, say good-bye and plan for nursing exams. We moved all our belongings from Jackson, TN to Laurel, MS in a last-minute UHAUL. Jeremiah’s younger brothers helped arrange everything we own into a neat corner in his parents’ basement. We waited for the visa. Grandparents were visited, aunts and uncles were seen, siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins – all hugged goodbye. We waited for the visa. My father took Jeremiah to a consulate in Houston for a meeting. They returned just hours before Hurricane Harvey hit. We were in my grandmother’s Huntsville home – no electricity, no open roads, and no visa. We waited.

In that suburban home, nestled next to a golf course, I was struck with the reality of how little control either of us had. We could not even turn on the lights, much less produce a visa for Jeremiah, money for tickets, or a job for me. While I wanted to hold every task in my hand, line them up in neat little rows and knock each one down as we completed it – I could not. Not only was it nigh impossible to complete our tasks, at that moment I did not know the extent of our to-do list.

I did not know that when we finally arrived in Cambridge, after receiving the visa on a Thursday, flying on Sunday, quick good byes to siblings, and a long drive from Scotland, it would be lonelier than any other experience. I could not have prepared my heart, with all the task lists or post-its in the world for the sense of total loss, confusion, and despair that were to come.

Pridefully, wrongfully, I had believed being an MK would have prepared me for another move. I thought I would excel at transition by now, my adaptation would be stellar and I would be able to comfort Jeremiah in all his inexperienced despondency. I was incredibly wrong. Rather than enforcing my ability to accept change, this move illuminated all the changes I have not embraced. Through it Angola resurfaced, the move to the Middle East, each good-bye from boarding school, each good bye from university, each manipulation, however slight, to my life over the past 23 years was brought to the surface with overwhelming force. England is lovely. A bit dark but charming nonetheless. I have no reason to fear this change other than the fact I haven’t dealt with the previous ones. Why?

I want to be in control.

I want to be the one calling the shots, cueing the lights, writing the lines. I want to be the one in the know – and I’m not.

And what a relief it has been, after sleepless nights and anxious days, to finally realize this truth. I am not in control – but I believe in the One who is. I am not privy to tomorrow’s realities – but I pray each morning to the One who’s mercies are new, the One who holds my path, the One who has ordained my days. So often we find ourselves trying to over prepare our earthly lives for the next great change instead of preparing our hearts to serve Him fully. I could wear a bullet proof vest, carry two hand guns, own a garage of dry goods, and wear a N95 mask and still I would not govern my next breath.

He does. He always has and He always will. The moment I stumbled on that blessed reality the clearer my life became. Once I can let go of my pride, I can enter more fully into His grace. Once I can relinquish my selfish desire to be in control I can enter more fully into His sovereignty – what a blessed, lovely thought.

C.S. Lewis writes in The Weight of Glory “The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.” On reading those words I palpably felt my heart ease, my very spirit relaxed. Far too often I spend my days thinking how I will accomplish something – whether it is motherhood, a career, continuing education – whatever it may be, when I should spend my time praising the Lord for the trials He has already brought me through. So much of my day is spent begging for grace for tomorrow instead of looking at today and seeing that He has already provided for me, why would I doubt His provision for tomorrow?

As we find in 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 times of uncertainty or troubles, are brought upon us so that we may rely fully on the Lord’s provision – nothing else (Paul was speaking of troubles much greater than moving to England). In these months of change I have had everything I relied on stripped away. I no longer have a steady job, my friends are in a different country, the pastor who married us is in Tennessee, and though this is trivial, I really miss having my own car. These cornerstones of my life in Jackson have been removed, leaving me with my husband and my faith. The past few months have pushed me to the brink of loneliness and anxiety – requiring me to seek solace in Christ with a fervor I never had before. It has been wondrously frightening to feel my faith in the Lord strengthen with each day I spend in His word. I shudder to think what would have become of me if I had carried on as before – never allowing the Lord to shake me, move me, deliberately force me into His Presence so He could work on the very intricacies of my heart. He has been gracious to me and allowed me an opportunity to develop faith I did not know I lacked. I can only imagine the amount of growth in store for the years to come.

And you? You also could carry all the guns in the world and never be safe from violence – or death. You also could take all the vaccines (or take none!), follow all the right diets, always wash your hands and still you will not be free from your broken, fallen body on this earth. Only death, the death which leads to life, will draw us into a perfect eternity. Until then, we can only live our lives day by day – in faith that He who is the God of Jacob is also the Lord of our lives now. And isn’t it much better to live resting in His hands than fearfully fighting with our own?

On Praying for Change – Me Too

As I sat in my new flat in Cambridge, scrolling through Facebook, I was struck by the overwhelming amount of “Me Too’s” from my friends. If you’re not familiar with the movement women across the world have been posting “Me Too” as their status if they have experienced sexual assault or harassment. It is a movement of solidarity – an effort to not only show women they are not alone in their experiences but to raise awareness on a global level of the immense impact this problem has. I see sisters and friends sharing and it is heartbreaking. And what is there to do? It seems there are innumerable blogs, articles, studies, courses, or sermons on sexual assault & harassment, its causes and its perpetrators. Yet we, as women, are still swimming through an epidemic of fear and vulnerability.

I did not realize how specific this fear was to women until a few days ago. I walked home at night from the town centre, when I was back inside our flat I told my husband “I made it through the dark part just fine, I wasn’t even too scared.” He looked at me blankly, “What dark part?”

“The dark part… in the park… where they only have those little lights on the pavement and you can’t really see where you’re going? There’s always a food truck near by…?” I replied, a little taken aback.

“ Oh, yeah. Why would you be scared? It’s a safe town.”

It was in that moment that I realized how different we were – not because of background or experience or religious beliefs – but simply because my husband is a man and I am a woman. He grew up in a safe town, a safe school, a safe church, because he was a boy. He went to a safe university, to a safe job, and continues to cycle around a safe town, because he is a man. He could not understand the fear women know all too well. He could not understand that I walk with my hand around my keys in my purse because someone from some seminar told me if I didn’t I would be raped and I would have no excuse. He could not understand the fear I felt walking home in the dark – because he has never been painted as a victim in this world, no he has never been told he will be attacked, pursued, abused, and it will be his fault for walking home at night. In that moment I also realized I was ashamed to explain all of this to him. I was actually ashamed to tell my husband that I was afraid of men and what they might do to me, my friends, my sisters, my mother, and someday my daughters.

Now, my husband is a patient, understanding, and safe man. Of course he listened to my fears without condemning me. But why was I ashamed of being afraid in the first place? I can easily answer that – from the time I was a child people in authority around me have said if anything happens it is my fault. People have told us, women, if we are afraid it is because we put ourselves in a bad situation and we should have known better. I have never heard from anyone in authority, outside of my own parents, that men are culpable for their actions against women. I have never heard someone claim that there is a dire issue with the hearts of men in this world, and it is women who are victims of their sin.

An article my sister shared explains this phenomenon expertly. It was written in response to the Weinstein investigations. The author explores the causes of abuse in the workplace while exposing that this is not a new problem at all. This is an issue women have been dealing with long before Weinstein was ever born.

All women know this. Early lessons about the abuse of male power are stitched on our minds like aphorisms on a Victorian sampler. If, by our early 20s, we haven’t personally experienced it, then we have held the hand of someone who has. So many shared confidences: of eyes on cleavages, hands up skirts and tongues down throats; of being forced into corners or trapped in lifts; of the shame and the fear and the not-knowing- what-to-do. And the laughing it off too. After all, it happens to so many of us, it must be the norm: an inconvenience of biology, like menstruation; not something to get het up about.  – Garavelli, Dani

When I was in high school we had to take a Sunday school class each semester. Sophomore year all the girls took a class on being godly women while the guys learned how to be godly men. They went camping, they played games, they pulled broken down cars to test their strength and were allowed to come to church in dirty t shirts. The girls sat in the library, we were taught to not date, to not kiss, to not wear short skirts. We were taught that men are the rulers of relationships and if a man is tempted to have sex with us, we are to blame. It is our fault, it is our body that led that man into sin and we should be ashamed for letting our shoulders ever see the sunlight. You might laugh at the absurdity of these lessons but I’ve learned it’s not so uncommon. The church has a massive lack of instruction and love when it comes to teaching women to value their bodies rather than fear them. Evangelical Christians need to stop telling high school boys to see girls as their weaker sisters and needs to teach them to see girls as individuals made in the image of Christ – people to be respected, valued, and loved – not diminished, objectified, or abused.

Of course, these Sunday school classes were not useless. Girls do need to learn how to carry themselves in a godly manner. However, there are other ways to instill these lessons.

This goes back to the differences between myself and my husband. He grew up watching guys harassing girls in school. I grew up listening to my friends cry in the bathroom because of something a guy had said. My husband never feared his teachers being inappropriate. One of my bible teachers told my friend her shirt had been too distracting for him to teach his lesson properly, she should never wear it again unless she wanted to keep tempting men. When a 40 something husband says that to a 15 year old girl (who was wearing a shirt that passed an insane dress code) he walks away feeling no guilt, while my friend sits in our room, ashamed, embarrassed, sobbing. We felt helpless. My husband did not grow up being afraid adults would not believe him. I had five girls convince me to call the dean after a boy in my class made a pornographic comment to me. My husband did not grow up listening to his friends talk about how guys took advantage of them “but it wasn’t sex so it wasn’t that bad…” He didn’t listen to his dorm sisters, best friends, or roommates make excuse after excuse for guys who touched them, hit them, told them they “would be more f**kable if they were skinnier.” But we did. We, women, we’ve listened to it all. We’ve heard all the stories – from “he pulled all her clothes off and raped her”  to “he told everyone I gave him a hand job when we just kissed” and all of the in between. We make sure we give our friends a safe word before going on a date. We’re certain our clothes are not lewd. We sit in our rooms and talk about the things men said that destroyed us and instead of telling someone, we punish ourselves. We have convinced ourselves we deserve this. Why?

I certainly do not believe all men are evil. I don’t believe every woman is innocent. But I do believe the culture surrounding assault and harassment is twisted against the victims. An older brother figure at university gave me pepper spray when he graduated. Though I was grateful for the gift we’ve both talked about how sad it is that he knew, even at a Christian University, I was prey – and I would have to fend for myself because there’s often no one to tell during those situations. And so I want to make a plea with Christians around the globe. We cannot keep the evil from this earth. We cannot eradicate the Evil One, but we can learn to better love and protect one another.

My oldest sister shared another fantastic piece about the patriarchal theology in churches and how it promotes the idea that women cannot be in authority of anything, not even their own bodies. Please, read it here https://www.cbeinternational.org/blogs/breaking-silence-implications-rape-culture-body-christ?platform=hootsuite. As Christians we are held accountable to the Lord of Heaven for our actions, our words, and our silence. We are the ambassadors of His Kingdom and yet we are the ones who fail to love women, fail to protect them, and fail miserably at counting them as equal and valuable beings.

Jesus, Our Lord, explicitly tells us the world will know we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). These words are a piece of his parting to the twelve apostles, a new and final command we continue to break. Are we loving our men by not addressing the issue of pornography in Christian circles? Are we loving our brothers and sons by not teaching them how to value women as individuals – with opinions, feelings, and worth? Are we loving anyone by judging victims of rape? Are we loving anyone when we hold bitterness and anger against those who have abused us? Are we loving our sisters and daughters when we tell them they are outspoken and brash instead of saying they are strong? Are we really loving each other when we justify a politician’s sexual assault because of his conservative assets? Are we loving our daughters and sisters when we’re too afraid or too proud to call men like Donald Trump what they are?

Or are we showing love when we forgive and repair. Are we showing love when we behold each body and each life as a manifestation of the Lord’s making? Yes, men and women have said hurtful things. Both have made me doubt the worth of my body and my being. Yet, I ask them to see me as the Lord’s creation. And that is how I choose to see them. To hold onto the anger of injustice is too much when I can instead hold onto the hope of the Lord’s healing. The hope that this generation will pray to be different. The hope that we, men and women alike, will not let our sons and daughters experience what we have. The hope that Christians will address this problem head on, fearlessly fighting against this sin and its extensive reaches. I gain nothing from being angry, bitter, or upset at men. Instead I choose to spend my energy praying for change.

Since getting married I have six sisters and one niece, all women I love and respect fiercely. I pray for them, for their daughters, for their friends, for their coworkers. I pray we will no longer let this be the norm, especially in Christian circles. I pray we will have heard the last of these confessions. I pray that any daughter I have never listens to her friends’ stories of assault. And I pray we will continue to persist. I pray we, as women, will never quit loving one another, protecting one another, or believing there is a better future for us and our daughters.

 

Works

Asproth, Rachel. “Breaking the Silence: The Implications of Rape Culture for the Body of Christ.” CBE International. CBE, 07 June 2016. Web.

Garavelli, Dani. “Dani Garavelli: Faux Outrage Adds to Agony of Weinstein Revelations.” The Scotsman – Scottish News. The Scotsman, 14 Oct. 2017. Web.