My Love Louder Journey

Working with Jennifer Christie, the Pro Life Movement and Sexual Assault Survivors: A Testimony

Hi Friends, 

Wow. What a few weeks it has been.

I’d like to share my Love Louder story with all of you. 

I know that I don’t have much of a platform. I’ve never been in this to have a platform.  I have always been in this to walk alongside fellow survivors, reminding them that they aren’t alone and to encourage women and families to choose life for themselves and their children even when the odds seem stacked against them. I want to see women thrive and NOT put into positions where they truly believe that they NEED abortion in order to do so. 

That is what drew me to Jennifer Christie. (Brierly) 

Jen and I met when we were moderating another PL group together. We became fast friends and when I was in need of booking a speaker for my banquets as a PRC director, I was strongly considering Jennifer. You see, it is easy when you are trying to raise money for a PRC to bring in a “name” that people follow and utilize their platform to generate money for your nonprofit. We see it all the time- that is why speaker bureaus exist. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted the people who were interested in supporting our centers to understand that I wasn’t just here to satiate their political desires, to fuel their zealousness for a cause and to generate a politicized frenzy in order to generate finances from it. NO. My goal was to truly get people invested in the work of the PRC, which involved providing support and resources to women and families. It was about parents being confident that they COULD get through a pregnancy and they did not NEED abortion and the encouragement that they were capable, supported, competent and that hope existed. Jennifer’s story was so much of that- despite the horror that she’d endured, her testimony was one of hope, healing and restoration. She talked about how the ugliest and most desperate moments in our lives do not have to define us and that God can bring beauty from the rubble and the ashes. As I reflected on the women I encountered every day across three centers, I knew that this was the story our communities needed to hear. 

Jennifer was an incredible speaker for our events, despite the chaos of Covid-19 and all of the disruptions that came with it. Despite the gossip being circulated otherwise, Jennifer did not share graphic, horrific details of her assault story. She shared very little of the actual assault and the bulk of her testimony focused on healing and hope.

I joined the Love Louder team in the Spring of 2021, after a year of close friendship and year(s) of acquaintanceship. I initially came aboard to volunteer on the hotline- which I did. Two days a week. I also began to contribute content for our social media and donor base. We met our clients where they were and did not demand they follow a prescribed format in order to receive our services. We saw each client as an individual, assessed her situation and needs and moved forward from there. We matched clients with volunteers as best we could, and ultimately Jennifer ended up working with a significant number of clients who are deaf while myself and two other volunteers took the bulk of the rest of the clients. It is important to note here that we had another team member for a time- Pro-Love had two individuals on the LL board due to their affiliation. One, the ED of ProLove, was supposed to be helping the new startup set up for success. The other was specifically supposed to be serving in a volunteer capacity as treasurer and on the hotline. In my time with love louder I did not experience any team interactions with the ED of pro love and Love Louder that offered any element of support to Love Louder to set the organization up for success. In fact, when I joined the team there were numerous aspects of nonprofit operations that the Love Louder team was not aware of. The ED of prolove would obviously be aware of all things required for nonprofit success and was specifically on the board to help serve those purposes, but the only real guidance she had given the Love Louder board was to ensure that Love Louder had an identity apart from Jennifer- which we were pursuing in having multiple members of the team present on Social Media and in communications. Some of the most basic information had not been communicated to the team. 

While these pro love representatives were still on the team, I demonstrated to the chairman of the board (SF) how to create a budget, how to use google docs, google sheets and how to scan and track receipts. She had been in and out of the team since I had joined due to things going on in her personal life, which I will not disclose here because I highly value confidentiality, and the entire team- especially Jennifer- was trying to be supportive and extend grace to her as she navigated these difficult circumstances.  

When the pro love representative who was supposed to be serving as a treasurer was approached about her difficulty keeping up with her responsibilities, she agreed that she could not keep up and was in over her head. She willingly stepped down. From there, the Chairman of the Board stated that she was going to use the budget spreadsheet and reconcile the accounts. Over the course of months, that did not happen. I have seen the budget spreadsheet that she attempted to make and it is a jumbled, disorganized mess. 

During this time, Jennifer’s speakers bureau was approached by someone claiming to believe that Jennifer was untrustworthy and therefore must be lying. This woman claimed to have known Jennifer for “over 25 years.” In fact, this was someone that Jennifer knew 25 years AGO. There is a significant difference between knowing someone FOR 25 years and knowing someone 25 years ago. The difference is like my best friend- we’ve known each other FOR 15+ years and know the core of one another’s souls and my ex’s sister. We knew each other 15+ years AGO and I’m sure she would tell dramatically different stories about my trustworthiness than my bestie would. We began, as a team, to discuss how best to handle these allegations. 

Jennifer’s previous boss posting to social media that someone claiming to have known Jen for decades claims she is mentally ill, etc. Jen has no current relationship with this individual.

Jennifer’s speakers bureau spoke directly to me. Jennifer’s representative stated that on the 10th there was no snow, but she did not want me to tell Jennifer that “because then she will change her story.” She then told me that there WAS snow on the 28th, not the 10th, but she didn’t want Jennifer to have those dates. She repeatedly reiterated her desire that Jennifer not know about the weather reports, lest she “change her story.” She also said that she had spent hours reading Jennifer’s blogs and testimonies all over the internet and her actual story had remained consistent for years, but this “didn’t add up.” She lamented the history of speakers within her bureau lying and exaggerating their stories in order to get more attention and told me of times they have had to cancel speakers or ask them to edit their testimonies in order to stay on the speaking circuit. At least one of those speakers is still working with that bureau. 

This was my first big red flag. This Christ-centered speaker’s bureau had made up their minds that she was lying simply due to a 2 week date discrepancy and a weather report. This indicated a significant lack of understanding of trauma from the very beginning of all of this. 

It is well known to anyone who has any background in trauma- or even a basic understanding of trauma (which anyone representing speakers who talk about abortion, rape, surviving abortion, surviving abuse, etc. SHOULD understand) that memory in survivors is fragmented. The memory of a survivor encodes whatever had the individual’s attention at the time. Obviously, for someone experiencing a rape that led to the creation of a child as well as a plethora of medical conditions the attention would not be focused on creating a linear calendar of events. The attention would be focused on sensations- experiences like wind, for example. Or snow. The feeling of a big coat wrapped around her, fumbling with her bags, the confusion about his face- how he looked so innocent. Fear affects the way that time sequencing is encoded into the brain. This is why, when we experience traumatic events, it feels like time slows down or speeds up. It feels like 2 weeks last a month, 2 hours of waiting for test results feel like a day and why a survivor may genuinely believe that she spent months locked up in a dark room when it was really only a week. Time doesn’t make sense when the brain is working through fear- and this affects not just short term memory, but also long term memory. 

That’s why I was not surprised at all by my call with Jen after I spoke with her speaker’s bureau. Her response was EXACTLY what one would expect of someone whose memory had been affected by trauma. She didn’t immediately go into problem solving mode. She didn’t start trying to “find a way out of the lie.” No. She began to psychologically tailspin. I’ll never forget that phone call. It is seared into my memory forever. 

“What do you mean there was no snow?” She asked.

“It didn’t snow on January 10th,” I said. 

“Yes it did snow. There was snow. If I remember anything, I remember the snow,” She replied. 

“The weather reports confirm there was no snow on the 10th, babe.” I told her. 

“There was snow though. I know there was snow. I KNOW there was snow. Call the weatherman. Tell him he’s a fucking liar, because I know it was snowing. Cass. It was snowing. Don’t tell me it wasn’t snowing. Please, Cass,” and she began to cry. 

“I know I remember the snow. It’s the clearest part. I know there was snow. Nooooo.” She began to sob.

I cannot write this without crying. 

Jen,” I said. “I believe you. You remember the snow and that is important. Our brains are funny things and they do all sorts of confusing stuff in the moment during trauma. We just have to figure this out, because we need to decide how to handle *NAME REDACTED*” 

“But it was snowing, Cass,” she sobbed 

“I know,” I whispered. 

“I can’t do this. I can’t go back there. I can’t… It was so cold. It was snowing.” 

I know, love. We’ll get through this. Okay? Talk to Jeff.” 

She did not immediately backtrack. She immediately spiraled. She did not immediately try to “preserve her story by changing details.” She got stuck in the sensations of those awful moments- something completely reasonable and expected if someone was, in fact, assaulted. It was not until later, when the team began to put together pieces of what happened, that the date of the 28th came up. I didn’t initially bring it up, either. I didn’t tell her to “change the date to the 28th to coincide with the snowstorm.” That date came up a few days later, after Jennifer recovered and was in a psychological place where she could begin to look at some of the information from that time in her life. 

We assembled as a team to figure out how to proceed. The speaker’s bureau was asking for Jennifer’s police report and medical records and the entire team was uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. We discussed the reality that most survivors of sexual trauma don’t have reports and Love Louder existed to support all survivors as well as bringing to light the difficult realities surrounding surviving assault. There were also very personal reasons why we did not believe this was wise- namely that just going back to the details of that time was extremely traumatic. Police Reports and Medical documents from rape intakes are extremely detailed and invasive- I know- I have been in the room when a rape kit was performed. These reports would outline- in a very detailed way- exactly what had been done to Jennifer’s body. Every scratch, every bruise would be described and likely photographed. That would also include descriptions and photos of her breasts, anus, vulva and even the parts of her vagina that are able to be seen via speculum exam. At least, this is what I experienced when I was a part of a rape kit examination here in IL. This is NOT information that ANYONE is entitled to. Providing this information to anyone- even her closest inner circle- would have been yet another violation of Jennifer’s privacy and her body. There is a reason that this information is considered closed and confidential and at Love Louder it was very important to us to prioritize the confidentiality of survivors- to communicate and set the example that survivors are not- should not- be expected to allow their bodies to be violated yet again in order to be believed. There was only one member of the team who expressed hesitation regarding this approach, and she still ultimately agreed that this was the best approach. This member of the team was also the least active, the most uninformed and untrained regarding trauma and the most inexperienced when it came to sexual assault and trauma. 

While we were in the middle of a Zoom meeting discussing this exact thing, Abby Johnson showed up. She popped in, interrupted everyone else and declared that she can shut this down quickly. She reminded us that she IS ABBY JOHNSON and all she needed to do was call the pregnancy resource center that the accuser volunteered for and served on the board for. She stated that she’d just go to them, tell them she had all of Jennifer’s reports and tell them they’d better rein her in or else she’d be speaking out publicly against the PRC. Please note that Abby did not have any reports. She was just going to threaten them and use public defamation as her weapon of choice in order to demand her way. She encouraged Jennifer to do nothing and let her handle it by throwing her name around, due to our affiliation with Pro Love. 

This made the call that they were un-affilating with Love Louder even more shocking. Jennifer believed that Abby was going to fight for her- that they were friends and she was supporting her. In private conversations Abby had begun to pressure Jennifer to go ahead and just release the reports. She was saying that she wished she had a police report or records to “prove” her story is true. She pushed and pressured Jennifer repeatedly to make the reports public- to send them not only to the organization that was accusing her of lying, but also to her accuser. 

Please note that Abby’s testimony has been under scrutiny for years. It is well documented that she was a disgruntled employee immediately prior to becoming a pro-life advocate and speaking out against planned parenthood. There is no evidence of the ultrasound guided abortion that is the crux of her testimony. She can prove nothing except that she once worked for planned parenthood and quit in the midst of disciplinary action. Yet the organizations and folks coming after Jennifer with pitchforks? None of them are demanding that Abby “prove” that her story is truthful or she be excommunicated, have all of her materials pulled and have her children publicly ridiculed. Why? Could it be because Abby gets paid approximately $20,000 per speaking engagement because she generates a significant amount of money for the events she speaks at? In fact, if you google “Ambassador Speakers Bureau,” Abby’s name pops up immediately. The reviews on Ambassador state, “This banquet was the largest attended and that reflected in giving…” 

Abby proving herself would not involve re-traumatizing her, making her relive the greatest violation of her body. It would not put countless other rape and SA survivors into a tailspin, believing that their stories cannot be shared and are not safe because they do not have reports to back them up. No, Abby’s “proof” would not violate confidentiality or harm countless other survivors but it isn’t demanded because ABBY brings in the money. While she is busy accusing Jennifer of fraud, she is raking in tens of thousands of dollars for organizations based on a testimony that she, herself, has never “proven.” She brings in more money in one event based on her unproven testimony than Love Louder brought in during its entire existence. Literally. 

I am so grateful now that we not only did not obtain Jennifer’s reports, but they were never shared in the Love Louder team discussions. It hurts my heart to see how much confidentiality has been abused in the last few months. It is devastating and truly demonstrates a deviation for God’s heart for his people. I don’t know when Abby began to communicate with others about Jen, spreading gossipy speculation. I do know that is what is happening. Had we obtained these extremely sensitive documents, there is no way to know that their confidentiality would have been preserved. There are members of the previous board that are actively breaching confidentiality, sharing voice and text messages that have all context removed from within those discussions. They are also sharing private information publicly about Jennifer’s medical conditions, her family life and her assault experiences- her memory, her mental health, etc. Her previous boss- who is an attorney- is sharing video of her prior to a suicide attempt in a very clear cry for help. All of this is in an effort to not only try to discredit Jennifer (as if proving that a survivor of significant trauma has mental health difficulties somehow proves she is lying about the assault) but also in an effort to harm her close relationships. Audio and text clips are being sent to people to try to alienate Jennifer’s relationships- audio and text clips that Jennifer believed she was sharing in a closed, confidential space. 

Please note that venting can be healthy, when done appropriately in a space that is confidential, full of empathy and safety. Many of the texts and voice clips being sent around to people in an effort to undermine her relationships were shared in a space comparable to that of a Bible Study group or a Recovery group. She believed that she was in a safe, confidential space where she could process what she was experiencing and thinking regarding a variety of things happening- including her relationships. These previous board members are taking these confidential messages outside of the original context and sharing them. Not only is this inappropriate and violating to Jennifer, it also needlessly harms others for the sake of furthering a slander campaign. They have shared her medical conditions, her children’s medical conditions, gossip and slander about her marriage and now her actual license plates. 

When Jen refused to do as Abby said and make her confidential legal and medical information public, all hell broke loose. First, Pro Love cut their affiliation with Love Louder. The entire board was in an uproar over it because just weeks prior Abby had been saying she was going to leverage her clout to lie about having Jennifer’s records to protect her. Both Ambassador Speaker’s Bureau and Focus on the Family spoke of someone “well respected within the movement” who was questioning the veracity of Jennifer’s story and making accusations. Could this “well respected person within the movement” be the same one generating thousands of dollars in revenue FOR the movement? The one Jennifer said “No,” to and held her boundary? 

Focus on the Family did ask for a packet for verification. One of their representatives was aware that we had made a decision that her police report and hospital record from the day of her assault would not be included. We have correspondence from their representative stating that this should be adequate for them. They only changed their minds AFTER speaking with this “well respected member of the pro-life community.” The information that we included in this packet is the type of information that one would present to a court of law. Since then, the medical professionals who included information in this packet have been harassed by those involved in the smear campaign. Jennifer even asked if this (the book deal) would change if the police report was sent with significant redaction OR a police report number was sent. She was not sure she’d want to do that, but she wanted to know. When this happened, they began to reference a deadline that had never existed. When all of this happened, we discussed it as a team and Jennifer decided not to fight for the book deal. She knew that with the previous documentation, the lack of an actual deadline given etc. that she probably could fight, but she decided she didn’t WANT to publish with them. She concluded that this platform was not the ideal platform to use when discussing trauma and rape if this was how these conversations were going to be handled. We, as her team, supported this decision.

Email from Jen’s book rep. referencing that Focus was not going to accept a police report now due to a deadline that the board knew nothing about.

There has been a lot of discussion surrounding a “falsified ultrasound.” This is because there is an ultrasound where a date in one spot was changed from 2/15 to 2/25. I don’t know, nor care how or why this was changed because the ultrasound clearly shows what Jennifer’s testimony has stated all along- a tiny little pea- most likely a gestational sac. The top right corner shows the ultrasound date as 2/15. The ultrasound was done on February 15- the day after valentine’s day-Consistent with her story of discovering that she was pregnant ON Valentine’s day. The pregnancy also shows to be approximately 5 weeks and 3 days along, per the ultrasound. The due date in the upper right hand corner states that the due date was 10/15/2014. These dates are clearly unaltered. Using a basic pregnancy and conception calculator, one can conclude that the possible dates of sexual intercourse (in this case, assault)  that led to pregnancy are January 14-January 29th. These dates are consistent with the snow storm that struck in Wilmington. It is completely reasonable that there are not a bunch of news reports, etc. In fact, sexual assault and rape survivors rarely get news coverage. 

This is an image of me logged into Jennifer’s medical portal. I have blacked out all of her confidential information but you can clearly see her name and her face. In her records I can see her assault, PTSD, numerous bowel surgeries and breast issues as well as medications and diagnoses consistent with seizure disorders- consistent with the medical history she has shared publicly.
While I am not going to share Jennifer’s entire medical history here in order to preserve some confidentiality, this piece of her medical history is very important to share. In her surgical history there is a note that a subdural hematoma was evacuated on 1/28/2014. This is consistent with Jennifer’s testimony that she experienced a brain bleed as a result of head trauma from her sexual assault on the night of the big snowstorm in Wilmington- 1/28/2014. You can also see numerous ongoing bowel issues in this image.

There are numerous accusations surrounding fraud. I have gone through the Love Louder bank account as well as Jennifer’s personal paypal account. There is no record of Jennifer scamming her nonprofit out of thousands of dollars. The love louder account shows what you would expect from a nonprofit startup. Costs for office expenses, travel expenses, marketing expenses. Jennifer’s personal Paypal shows numerous outgoing payments directly to survivors of sexual assault as well as outgoing payments that were used to finish off registries and pay for supplies for survivors. Note that these were NOT Love Louder funds. They were not donated to Love Louder. These were registries, financial assistance, etc. that Jennifer did on her own, through her public figure page for survivors in addition to the work she was doing through Love Louder. Some of these transfers go directly to the survivors’ Paypal accounts, others go directly to amazon, where the registries were being fulfilled. It is clear that Jennifer is not “getting rich” off of her story or off of donations from people who also want to support survivors. Instead, she is investing into survivors. She was using her voice and her story to impact other people who were hurting and struggling. Comments from survivors that Jennifer and Love Louder supported have been deleted from the platforms. This cultivates a narrative that everyone believes these allegations and that there is no defense to be had on Jennifer’s behalf. That is false. 

Since this all began, the accusations and gossip have snowballed. This tends to happen when we are dealing in gossip. Jennifer has been accused of faking her post-assault injuries and using them to profit. Comments from people who have seen her have seizures have been deleted. Comments from those who knew her immediately after the assault have also been deleted. Other board members and I have seen portal reports detailing her medical chart. I have seen the charges regarding her surgeries in the last year. There are accusations that she couldn’t have had a partial mastectomy because the charges in her bank account reflect that she saw a surgeon who does cosmetic procedures. This is absurd and a cursory amount of research regarding mastectomy treatment will show the need for cosmetic treatment as well. This is not a “boob job” and calling it one is a slap in the face to every person who has experienced treatment for breast lumps. 

Jeff’s ownership of the car in the car accident. From Geico claim.
Car Accident Initial Report
Police Details from Car Accident

The story continues to evolve, because apparently people are desperate to live inside of a Lifetime movie. Now it includes rumors that Jeff, Jennifer’s husband is abusive, Jennifer is having an affair, Jennifer is making up car accidents, and apparently is such an expert at faking injury makeup that I didn’t realize that her injuries were not real when my face was literally pressed against hers taking photos at the Pro-Life Women’s Conference. That since she had seizures when she was younger and battling an eating disorder, she must not have experienced a TBI after the assault. She must have been faking ALL of it. 

Me (Cassi) and Jennifer. I’m just a few inches away from the injuries that are being claimed to be falsified with expert injury makeup. Think I would have noticed?

It’s absurd. 

The board members who exited Love Louder have their own stuff going on that played a factor in their decisions regarding all of this. Unlike them, I am going to choose not to air the personal information that they discussed and shared in our Love Louder team discussions publicly. Their decisions have probably been the most devastating of all for me in all of this because Jennifer was not the only one who trusted them with the deepest parts of her self. I did too. I believe that these individuals were overwhelmed with the disorganization of the finances (left a mess by none other than Abby’s own staff member, unsupported by Abby’s own executive director) and then were thrown off by the ultrasound. Because they were already vulnerable due to confidential factors I will not discuss, this sent them into a tailspin and these vulnerabilities were exploited. They didn’t wait to have any discussions or to try to navigate through it. They jumped at the worst-case-scenario…betrayal. From there? Confirmation bias is a real thing. And in this case it has led to gossip and slander that is so extensive it is now involving minor children and explicit photos. 

I have my personal views on what happened that led to Abby’s decisions regarding Love Louder. None of these are fact, all of it is speculation and I will not try to present it as anything other than that. However, here is what I experienced: 

  • Love Louder created a platform that was reaching and interacting with survivors regularly. While Abby has quite a reach with donors, she does not have a significant reach with actual clients and relies on referrals from supporters to generate her clientele. 
  • Love Louder began to speak about things that did not align with Abby, and because of that, ProLove’s point of view. We spoke at length about believing survivors, supporting women, victim blaming, the dangers of purity culture and how that impacted sexual assault in faith based spaces, sexuality and sexual behaviors in survivors and appropriate responses to these behaviors that are not rooted in shame, etc. My own content on Love Louder’s platform included writing about the dangers of closed systems, the reality that sexual assault and rape do not look the way people who haven’t experienced it expect it to and a focus on helping survivors find hope rather than forcing survivors into behavior modificiation style approaches. 
  • Love Louder truly focused on empowering women and survivors. While Abby and ProLove claim to be pro-woman, a cursory glance over Abby’s own social media demonstrates a lack of respect for women as autonomous beings as well as a lack of understanding and acceptance of groups that have been “othered.” Love Louder embraced those who were on the margins. We worked graciously and empathically with women and survivors whose experiences are the very things Abby spent much of her time trying to refute even exist. Oppression. Marginalization. These are not experiences that Abby and ProLove set out to help people navigate, they are experiences that they denounce the existence of. It is my belief that Abby did not want to continue to be aligned with an organization that spoke hope and encouragement into those spaces rather than jumping on board her beliefs. She was already growing concerned about our deviation from her platform, as well as our rising interactions with prospective clients as opposed to just other pro-life personalities when all of this kicked off. 
  • Jennifer not taking Abby’s suggestion to make the police and medical reports public enraged Abby. She wanted to control Jennifer’s narrative and when Jennifer placed boundaries around what Abby could and could not dictate, Abby couldn’t tolerate it. This is consistent with Abby’s long history of public defamation when she doesn’t get her way, her weaponization of her followers and most notably, her response to Planned Parenthood. Her carefully cultivated comments section further confirms that Abby is not interested in the truth, she is interested in a narrative. 
  • Jennifer continued to not release the police report, so Abby continues to try to create situations that will force her hand. First by using her name to get organizations to try to force her to do so. Jennifer held her boundary. Then, when none of that worked and Jennifer agreed to leave the movement entirely, Abby lost all power over her. Jennifer’s page and Love Louder’s page had been down for quite awhile before Abby made her public post and Love Louder had already begun to dissolve. By creating a public scene, she hoped to force Jennifer’s hand. When that didn’t work she continued to spread what is CLEARLY libel in an effort to rope Jennifer into suing her. If she were to end up suing Abby, Abby’s lawyer’s could demand just about anything for discovery- including the police reports and medical records. There have been numerous claims that all of these investigations are happening- the FBI, the state, the fed, etc. Nobody on our team has been contacted regarding anything. IF there was an investigation and any wrongdoing was determined to have occurred then any board members that were on the board at the time of the wrongdoing could be on the line- including Abby’s own Executive Director and staff member who was supposed to be functioning as the Love Louder treasurer when all of this alleged fraud was happening. I do not believe Abby’s intention is to “bring the truth to light.” I believe it is to try to force Jennifer’s hand, to violate her consent and to force her to lose her ability to say “No.” To put her in an impossible situation where Jennifer believes she has no other choice but to give her most vulnerable information over to someone who is actively hurting her.
    • That, my friends, is abuse. 

References: 

https://time.com/3625414/rape-trauma-brain-memory/

​​https://www.texasmonthly.com/news-politics/fact-fiction-pro-life-celebrity-abby-johnson-unplanned/

https://www.salon.com/2009/11/03/planned_parenthood_2/

https://www.sagu.edu/thoughthub/the-psychology-of-venting

Pregnancy Calculator 

https://www.healthline.com/health/mastectomy-reconstruction

Your Perfectly Imperfect Memory

A Guest Post By Deborah Schiefer

BS, Psychology, Focus on Crisis and Trauma Response Counseling

Did you have birthday parties as a kid? They’re fun, right? Where was your 10th party? What time of day was it? What was the weather like? Can you tell me everyone who was invited? I need a list of all the gifts you were given. What was the flavor of cake and what did it look like?

Wait… you can’t tell me all of that? Perhaps you never really had that party after all. How could you not remember every person in attendance, what the weather was like, and all of the gifts you were given? That was a good day! Your memory should have been working perfectly to capture everything!

Have you had a child? What time did you go into labor? What time did you leave for the hospital? What were your nurses names in L&D and then later in the maternal fetal ward? What color hair did each of them have? What was the weather like that day? What was your baby’s initial APGAR score? What color was your hospital gown? Don’t look at pictures to figure this out! Just use your memory. That was the happiest day, how could you forget anything?

You may remember the day, possibly even the time that labor began, but I’m guessing you don’t remember all of those details. But your child is proof it happened. You didn’t steal your baby… But that was such a monumental day!

The truth is, memory isn’t perfect. Not on the best days of our lives. Not on days when our bodies experience physical trauma, like the birth of a baby. Most definitely not during an unwanted, unsolicited, traumatic event.

We look to trauma survivors to remember every fine detail, in perfect sequence with absolute certainty, and without any mistake to corroborate their history, but we don’t hold ourselves accountable by the same standards to remember everyday events in our lives. And the truth is, when trauma occurs, our brain splits functioning. The logic of your left brain is overridden by the need for survival in the amygdala and hippocampus, resulting in fight or flight. Chunks of memories may be entirely lost. When facing immediate or chronic danger, your brain doesn’t need logic and rationality to survive. You need to jump. Run. Fight. Retreat. Freeze. You need immediate action and your brain is designed to allow that to happen by overriding the logic and language of left hemisphere function in favor of the imagery, impulsivity, and emotion of right hemisphere function.

And you lose logic, linear, language, and perfection with it because the hippocampus and amygdala – the right brain and the Central Nervous System response – do not function in logic, linear, language, and perfection.

Much like the memories of your 10th birthday or the day you had your firstborn child, a survivor might remember snapshots. The weeks following may not be perfectly linear. Unfortunately, the weeks prior may not be remembered with perfect accuracy either.

But is that truly unfortunate? I’d argue not.

Because this person lived to become a survivor. He or she is still fighting with whatever they have left after trauma. His or her brain has done precisely what it was designed to do to make it through this event and the aftermath.

I can’t truly call that unfortunate.

It’s strength.

https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/trauma/p4.html

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/expert-answers/trauma-memory/faq-20448198

It’s Not So Clear

We like to put things into nice, neat, clearly defined little boxes. 

The Bible is “clear” 

People are “saved” or “unsaved” 

People are going to Heaven or to Hell

People are sinners, totally depraved unless they are regenerated by Christ.

All sin is equal. 

If you believe the way that I do, you are “of God.” If you don’t believe the way I do, you are “under the influence of the enemy.” 

Ever heard these before? These are examples of black and white- or dichotomous- thinking that we encounter in evangelical churches every day.  It has become a part of the common language of the evangelical church.

 Us vs. them. Good vs. evil. Right vs. Wrong. Good and Bad. Sinful or Holy. 

Black and white thinking involves viewing the world in extremes- also called splitting. This happens when we “split” the world into extremes- good and bad. While we all do this on occasion, when it becomes a routine way of life it can cause significant disruption in a person’s health, relationships and career. It can affect mental health, and is linked to multiple different mental health challenges.  (Healthline: How Black and White Thinking Hurts You (And What You Can Do to Change It) 

However when we truly look at the fullness of scripture, is that how we are encouraged to interact with one another? With the world? 

The world isn’t dichotomous.

Jesus consistently demonstrated that our interactions with the world should not be “black and white,” reflecting extremes, but rather in the nuanced, messy middle. 

His disciples weren’t “good guys.” 

He hung out with tax collectors and sinners. 

He was willing to drink from an unclean cup in order to fellowship with a Samaritan woman, leading to the evangelizing of an entire community. 

He touched the dead, which would have been considered “bad” under Jewish custom, making him ceremonially unclean. 

He healed on the sabbath

He called out the religious elite 

His teaching and fellowship elevated women, which was counter-cultural and nuanced in that time period

He healed a woman who had been bleeding for years (so she was also unclean,) rather than rushing to the aid of a reputable man whose child was dying. 

He brought us peace with God, but did not hesitate when it came to necessary conflict with people, even to the point of division. (Luke 12:51-53)

“The Word” demonstrated as he walked and taught, that the law doesn’t always get it right and that the world is more complicated than black and white thinking treats it.

Jesus embraced the messy nuance, calling us to a new commandment, stating that all of the law and the prophets can be summed up in this: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. 

There is plenty of nuance in that.

A Broken Rage Psalm

You are not obligated to put on a happy face for the Lord. 

A fake smile is transparent. 

You don’t have to smile through your tears and exhaustion here

Not in the dwelling place of the Almighty

Yahweh, El Roi

A God of presence. A God who is here, now. 

A God of seeing. 

A God of intimacy. 

And yet. 

Here we sit in our perfectly designed buildings with our perfectly orchestrated appearances, behaving as if rising to our feet to declare that we are joyful when we are tired, that we are full of praise when we are full of rage and that we are celebrating when in fact we are lamenting pleases the Lord. 

We declare that we are rising out of the ashes when the truth is that we are still dwelling in the fire. We’re still breathing in the smoke and overwhelmed by the heat while smiling for the crowds as if all is well while internally wanting to scream. 

“God where are you?! Won’t you sit with me in this fiery furnace? Won’t you join me in the Lion’s den? Why have you left me here?” 

“Take up shield and armor; arise and come to my aid. Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me. Say to me, I am your salvation.” Psalm 35:2-3

Our hearts scream these rage-psalm words, but our lips drip inauthentic honey. 

“If our God is for us, then who could ever stop us-and if our God is with us, then what could stand against?” We sing, lifting our voices as if declaring this to be true will make it so. 

Yet we wonder, deep within us…

If this is so, is God for me? Where are you, God? 

‘How long, Lord, will you look on?Rescue me from their ravages, my precious life from these lions….Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent. Awake, rise to my defense!” Psalm 35:22-23

But still we sing. We declare. “God will be blessed when you rise to your feet even if you’re too tired to do so. Too burned. Too beat. This is what God needs from you. He needs you to ACT like everything is good…even when it’s not. Rise, church. Lift your praises! Lift your voices! Even if your throat is raw and your lips are chapped, this is what the Lord demands of you.”

We claim that this is what God wants. That this is what love looks like. 

A transaction. 

I sit here pondering the reality of intimacy, and the depth of love, and I realize how false this is. How performative it is. How little it is about true relationship with the God of Creation and how much we’ve made it about us. 

I don’t want performative religion.

A Rage Psalm

What have we become

A people after ourselves

In the name of you 

I can no longer stand aside watching people be further victimized 

Hurt, cast aside, and dismissed 

In the name of you 

You came with a message: Love God and Love your Neighbor as Yourself

You said that all of the law and the prophets hinged upon this one statement

This one declaration

This one law

This one truth

And yet we’ve become so consumed with furthering our own agendas

Our own images

Our own perspectives

Validating our own views of truth 

That we have forgotten that you lived and you died with these two statements bleeding from your hands and your brow

What have we become

A people after image

In the name of you 

I sit in awe and rage as our neighbors declare their pain and trauma

Abused, manipulated and oppressed 

In the name of you

And God’s people gently pat their hands, declaring: Cast your cares on Him

Neglecting the reality that they created the systems that hurt their neighbors

offering catch phrases

No support

No intervention

No solutions

And I am part of this they, Lord, and I cannot abide in this any longer. 

Rescue me

Redeem me

Set us free from this false representation of you and all that you are and all that you stand for.

Help us become

A people after your image

In the name of you 

Cassi Cox

I went Looking for Jesus Today

“I need some more Jesus in my Bible time…”

That’s what I was thinking as I jumped ahead to Matthew 1 on my Bible app. I’ve been going through a chronological Bible reading plan, so I am still in the part of scripture that deals with the wars, bloodshed and kingdoms of the Israelite people.

I find a lot of hope in the Old Testament stories- where God saw. I find encouragement when I read about God seeing people– the hurting, the disenfranchised, the neglected and the abused even when people, society and culture looked the other way. Even when they participated in the harm.

Hear me when I say I FEEL that. Sometimes though, a girl just needs Jesus.

That’s the state my heart was in when I flipped to Matthew 1 this morning. I was thirsty for Jesus. I was desperate to NOT read about war and bloodshed in God’s Holy Word. I figured Matthew 1 was the best place to start. It’s the beginning of the New Testament after all, so I thought I would read the story of Jesus, start to finish.

I started reading and thought, “REALLY!?”

I just left the Old Testament, the home of genealogies, to encounter YET ANOTHER genealogy story?

I was tempted to just jump ahead. Verse 18 picks up the story of Joseph accepting Jesus as his son…that sounds a lot more like what I wanted to read about today.

Conviction prevented me from skipping ahead. I had made a decision to start at the beginning of Matthew, so start at the beginning of Matthew I would.

Have you ever done this? Fought an internal battle with yourself over scripture? Have you shouted, “But I don’t wanna!” at God as you read your way through his word?

No? Just me?

Oh Cool Cool Cool Cool Cool Cool Cool No Doubt No Doubt No Doubt ...
Jake Peralta, Brooklyn Nine-Nine

But as I began reading, the Holy Spirit spoke directly to my heart. I was reminded of so many of the people in the Old Testament that have given me hope, faith and encouragement through the last few months. It’s been a hard few months.

It didn’t take long, either. “Judah, the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. Perez…” (Matthew 1:3)

Tamar and Judah. One of my favorite stories in scripture.

A woman who did everything in her power to claim the one thing her culture promised her- offspring in the line of Judah. I wrote about Tamar and Judah here: https://cassicox.blog/2020/01/31/your-motives-matter-tamar-and-judah/

Her son, Perez, was part of the lineage of Jesus. A child created when a woman had to resort to dressing as a prostitute to get her father in law to honor his commitment to her. While the men around her were being put to death for their sinful hearts, Tamar was rewarded with two sons. One who was part of the lineage of Jesus.

Thank you, Lord, for this reminder.

“Salmon, the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab…” (Matthew 1:5)

Rahab. The same Rahab found in the book of Joshua? Perhaps.

Rahab was likely a prostitute, whose entire community was destroyed by Joshua and the Hebrews as they set out to claim the promised land. She was only spared because of the kindness she showed to Joshua’s spies when soldiers came to capture them in her home. He spared Rahab, along with her family. She was a Canaanite.

So much trauma.

Could a traumatized Canaanite prostitute be part of the lineage of Jesus?

Thank you Lord, for this.

“Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth…”

Oh, Ruth.

A woman who lost both her husband and her father-in-law. She chose to sacrifice her own comfort to honor and remain with her mother-in-law.

Loss. Grief. Upheaval. Trauma. All represented in the lineage of Jesus.

Thank you, Lord.

“…David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife...” (Matthew 1:6)

Bathsheba.

Oh, Bathsheba. Her story always rips at me. Bathing on the rooftop after her menstrual cycle as was Jewish religious custom, she was spotted by the King. He decided he must have her, so he took her. A king using his power to get what he wanted- to possess a woman’s body. Today we call that sexual misconduct. Sexual exploitation. Sexual assault.

When she became pregnant, King David, attempting to keep his own image intact, had her husband Uriah killed. More trauma. Loss. Grief.

When King David married Bathsheba, claiming her as his, pridefully declaring through his actions that he had found a loophole, his child dies.

Her child dies. Not for any fault of hers, according to the prophet Nathan, but because of David’s sin. More Loss. The grief of losing a child is unimaginable.

Grief, trauma. betrayal. exploitation. All part of the lineage of Jesus.

Thank you Lord, for reminding me.

“and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called Messiah.” (Matthew 1:14)

And then there’s Mary.

Mary the mother of Jesus. A woman facing a young, unwed, unplanned pregnancy. A woman’s whose betrothed could have had her put to death for her pregnancy.

Mary, a woman who ultimately watched her son, the Messiah, be tortured and killed. I cannot imagine that a resurrection erased those images from her memory.

More Trauma.

I went looking for Jesus this morning and I found him. I found his story woven through the Old Testament texts I’ve been wrestling with these last six months. I found him in the violence, the trauma, the heartbreak. I found him in his own lineage.

@thecassicox

Five Women. Five stories, full of pain. Five complicated stories of trauma and triumph, heartbreak and healing, betrayal, brokenness and ultimately freedom.

Their stories end with Jesus. Salvation, yes, but so much more. Freedom. Restoration. Hope.

The BIG story culminates with God becoming man to meet us right where we are- in all of our broken, sinful glory, and modeling a better way.

A better way to live. A better way to love. A calling to a better way of carrying the image of God within us.

@thecassicox

Now we get to carry out that calling.

Thank you, Lord. Thank you.

Uzzah, The Ark and Us

Loving God Who Dwells Within Your Neighbor

2 Samuel 6:1-7

Maybe you have been there. You open up your Bible, welcoming the Holy Spirit, dwelling within you, to speak to you through it’s pages.

Then the story you encounter stops you in your tracks. It’s hard. It’s messy. It’s not perfectly tied up with a bow and an absolute moral truth.

You find yourself asking, “What, God? What are you saying to me in this moment?”

That is where I found myself, as I read the account of Uzzah and the Ark of the Covenant.

Seeking the Ark

2 Samuel 6 is the story of David’s mission to bring the Ark of the Covenant (Ark of God) back to glory. The Ark was extremely important to the Israelite people- the presence of the Lord dwelled within it. God cannot be constrained to a box, and yet, for the benefit of His people, He intentionally put Himself there. The Ark of the Covenant was created to be an object where the presence and power of the Lord would dwell, and this gave the Israelite people comfort, peace and assurance. They KNEW that if they had the Ark, they had God’s presence. They knew being near the Ark meant they could be near the Lord.

There were very specific instructions given regarding the care and handling of the Ark. Following and honoring these instructions allowed the Israelites to honor and respect the presence of God within the Ark. It wasn’t about “following the rules,” so much as displaying honor and respect for God’s presence.

For a long time, the Israelites honored the presence of God within the Ark…until they didn’t. When David set out to recover it, it had been tucked away in the home of a priest, Abinadab, for thirty years. As a priest, he would have been a Levite- one of those tasked with, and fully informed regarding the care and handling instructions for the Ark. As his son, Uzzah would have also been a Levite. He would have been held accountable by God for honoring and respecting these instructions. He’d have been expected to honor God’s presence within the Ark.

Those instructions included the Ark being covered prior to transport, being transported by certain people using poles (not on a cart pulled by oxen) and it not be touched.

None of these instructions were honored. The presence of God was not treated with deference and respect that day. The men were in a rush to get the Ark relocated, and they did not give the presence of God the level of reverence that was due. The Ark went uncovered. It was loaded onto a cart and pulled by oxen- not carried by the correct men using the correct poles to its new location.

“David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God, and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

When they came to threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he had reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God.” (2 Samuel 6: 1-7)

All of this seems very procedural to us. It seems like elevating the importance of an object- the Ark- above the importance of a person- Uzzah. But as I processed the passage, I realized that it was never about the object. It was about “Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

The object was the earthly vessel carrying God’s presence and power. Uzzah treated it with disrespect, disregard and dishonor.

In Light of the New Covenant

What does this mean for us, today?

How do we “honor and respect the presence of God” when God no longer dwells in the Ark? The presence and power of God is not found in objects. There is no “Ark”. God does not dwell in the church building, nor is his presence bound up in the pages of our Bibles. God dwells within us. He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, which dwells within US. WE are His temple. WE are his Ark.

When Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit, he said, “… You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (John 14:17b NRSV)

“…love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

You see, these two commandments are intrinsically linked, because the Spirit no longer dwells within the Ark. The Spirit dwells within us- God dwells within your neighbor.

Because of this, and because of the example of Uzzah, we also see how seriously God takes injustice. When we harm our neighbors- when we hurt, disrespect and dishonor our neighbors, God takes this affront very seriously. When we disrespect our neighbors, we, like Uzzah, disrespect the Ark. When we dishonor people in whom the presence of God dwells, like Uzzah, we dishonor the presence of God himself.

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The way we treat one another matters significantly. God does not take this lightly.

Repenting of Ignorance

As a white woman, I have not always seen the dishonor, disrespect and pain that has been inflicted upon my brothers and sisters of color. I have lived in a bubble, where I have not seen or experienced the things they have. My experiences with race have rarely, if ever, been harmful.

In my quest to be “colorblind,” I have invalidated the experiences of my brothers and sisters. In my efforts to pursue equality, I have inadvertently dismissed or minimized the experiences of those not-like me. I have not “loved my neighbor as myself,” well. You see, I would not have considered it loving if my life-shaping, adversity-overcoming experiences had been dismissed because “we shouldn’t see poverty” and “we are all the same.”

Honoring God within me means honoring all that poverty, for example, contributed to the reflection of God I carry today. The same is true of my brothers and sisters of color. They are unique reflections of God, and the experiences they have had because of their skin color are a part of that reflection. The Holy Spirit does not dwell in them in spite of those experiences, but rather shines through them. They reflect the presence of God. We cannot ignore. We must give honor.

I was in a hurry to “solve the problem” and I missed the opportunity to honor the presence of God.

David did the same thing. He just wanted to GET THE ARK RELOCATED. He didn’t pause to go about it the right way. He didn’t take the time, or the effort, or the investment to learn what was required to honor the presence of God within the Ark. It cost Uzzah his life.

How many lives will it cost before we put in the time, effort and investment to honor the presence of God in those who are different from us? Even if it makes us uncomfortable, or makes the journey longer, or more intensive?

After Uzzah’s death, David was angry. He was afraid. It didn’t make sense to him. How could God respond this way? He was trying to restore the Ark, after all.

David was trying to make it right, but he went about it all wrong. In the aftermath of Uzzah’s death, David had to press pause. Something went horribly wrong.

Something has gone horribly wrong.

Let’s learn together

For three months, the ark stayed put in the home of Obed-Edom. (2 Samuel 6:10, NRSV)

After three months, David returned. He had recognized the lack of respect and honor he had displayed the first time around, and he set it right. He utilized priests, sacrifice, special poles and Levites. He took his time. He learned and he changed his approach to ensure the Ark was treated with the reverence it was due. This time? No death.

Instead there was dancing. Celebration.

Can we take the time to learn? Are we willing to, like David, drop our pride and take the position of the learner? To recognize the presence of God within our brothers and sisters, listening as they instruct us on what THEY need in order to experience honor and respect? Are we willing to “love our neighbor as ourselves” while also “loving the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind,” knowing that the Lord dwells within our neighbor?

This applies to so many areas of life. It applies to the racial tension that exists as we reflect on the unjust deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. It applies to our church families, our families of origin, our marriages and parenting relationships. It applies to friendship and employment policies; to politics and social justice.

When we recognize the presence of God in our neighbor, and we love our neighbor as ourselves… when we love the Lord (dwelling within our neighbor) with all our hearts, all our souls and all our minds… THEN we bring Heaven to Earth.

And then, there will be dancing. Celebration.

Lord, help me be more aware of your presence within the people around me. Help me remember that I give you honor and respect when I treat your image bearers with respect. Remind me that when your Spirit dwells within someone, you take disrespect and dishonor very seriously. Whenever I am tempted to respond without thinking, to take the quick and easy route, and to disrespect those in whom you dwell…remind me of Uzzah. Help me see you in the people around me. Give me your eyes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

A Survivor

It’s Complicated: Abigail and David

Have you ever had to live with a bully?

I don’t just mean your older brother, who sometimes tormented you a bit, but also would have had your back the second someone else said a word to you.

I mean a bully. The kind of person who turned your world upside down. A person who changed the way you lived in and interacted with the world around you. Who tortured, tormented, and hurt you in ways that left scars lasting a lifetime?

I have lived with a bully. I know what it is like to live on high alert, tiptoeing around someone, learning their rhythms and finding ways to accommodate. When your life revolves around a bully, you learn how to breathe the same oxygen that they breathe. You speak their language. You learn how to cut them off at the pass, meeting their unmet needs in other ways to reduce the damage that they cause.

It’s not an uncommon story. Listen to survivors and you’ll hear the same thread- survivors of domestic violence, of childhood abuse and neglect, and even childhood sexual assault. Many will tell you that they survived by learning to read their abuser. They learned cues, triggers or even the needs of their abuser. In doing so, they found ways to survive within the environment. Survival is instinctual.

Abigail was a survivor. (1 Samuel: 25, NSRV)

She was married to a man named Nabal. He was extremely wealthy, owning both sheep and cattle. He’s described as a Calebite who was surly and mean with his dealings. Other translations use words like “harsh, badly behaved, and crude.” One of the servants even said to Abigail, “He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.”

We’re given two adjectives to describe Abigail: beautiful and clever (intelligent in other translations).

This was a man whose world revolved around himself. He treated others poorly, as we see in his exchange with David, and he demonstrated no regard for others.

Can you imagine what life must have been like for Abigail? She was tied to this awful, bully of a man. She likely spent a large portion of her time cleaning up his messes- in fact, when Nabal deeply offended David, the servant went to Abigail. Why? Why would the servant do that? I would venture a guess… He’d probably seen Abigail clean up Nabal’s messes before. Likely many times before.

Abigail was a survivor. She knew how to adapt. She had learned, because she had no choice but to learn, how to interact with people her husband had offended. She learned how to mend broken relationships. She also likely had ample experience soothing the wounded ego of a prideful man. After all, her husband certainly fit the bill.

Abigail’s intelligence became critical when her husband offended another man with an enormous ego. In 1 Samuel 25, David and Nabal’s egos collided in what could have become a bloody, pride-filled disaster. But, Abigail.

David and his men had been in the countryside protecting farmers and shepherds. Nabal’s shepherds had benefited from David’s protection, and as a result, Nabal enjoyed the fruits of that labor. He threw a celebration in honor of the successful season, and David wanted an invite. When he sent messengers to Nabal requesting kindness and food for his men, Nabal dismissed them, scoffing, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants today who are breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and the meat I have butchered for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?”

He pretended to have no idea who David was. He compared David to a servant who ran away from his master. Such pride. Such arrogance. Such selfishness.

And David had his own egotistical response. He couldn’t handle being dismissed like that- not after he and his men worked so hard. All they had asked for was kindness and food. Who did this guy think he was, anyway? David was the future KING. Nobody treated him like that and got away with it. So he, and four hundred men, strapped on their swords. They headed for Nabal’s community. David declared that by morning there would not even be ONE MALE left alive.

He was not just out to kill Nabal. He was going to kill all of the men. Every last one. Prideful, arrogant vengeance.

Two prideful, arrogant bull-headed men, about to cost countless people their lives.

When the servant reported all of this back to Abigail, she moved quickly. She was a survivor, after all.

She immediately prepared all of the food David and his men should have been given in the first place and headed out to cut David off before he reached their camp…without telling her husband.

She reached David before he could attack and fell down before him. She knew what it takes to soothe a man’s bruised ego.

How many times before had she taken the violence intended for someone else, sparing them? How many times before had she offered herself up as a sacrifice, in order to keep the peace? She was clever. Intelligent. She knew what to do.

“Upon me alone, my lord, be the guilt; please let your servant speak in your ears and hear the words of your servant. My lord, do not take seriously this ill-natured fellow, Nabal; for as his name is, so is he, Nabal is his name, and folly is with him, but I, your servant, did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent” (1 Samuel 25:23b-25)

“Please, sir,” she begged, “My husband is a fool. I’m responsible. I should have seen your men and handled this myself.”

Isn’t this what survivors learn to do? Take on blame that is not theirs, in order to survive or keep other people safe?

Abigail then sang David’s praises. She reminded him that he was good and powerful and strong. She reminded him that he was the Lord’s chosen and offered him gifts. She encouraged him not to carry the weight of having sought vengeance. Instead, she insisted, leave vengeance to the Lord.

And David bought it, hook, line and sinker. He accepted the food, and turned away. Neither he, nor his men killed anybody, even though they set out to massacre every man at that camp.

A Different Perspective

I’ve seen this taught many times as I’ve participated in Sunday School and Bible Studies, especially women’s Bible studies.

Abigail was humble, beautiful and gentle, the church teaches. References to Proverbs 15:1, “a gentle answer turns away wrath,” abound. Extend the olive branch, be humble and kind, respond gently to aggression, soft speech can crush opposition. (Proverbs 25:15, NLT) Abigail is often upheld as an ideal of womanhood. She was beautiful, and smart enough to know what David needed in order to not kill people. She was humble, soft spoken, meek and gentle in her words.

I want to challenge that.

Abigail was brave. She was courageous. She was a survivor. She walked up to an army with nothing but food in her arms. She was willing to sacrifice herself to save every man in her community from the violence caused by two men’s egos.

Her gentleness and soft spoken response are not an ideal we should all seek to emulate. They are a response to toxic masculinity. They are the SURVIVOR in her. They are a reflection of her intelligence bubbling to the surface.

Abigail wasn’t being humble or meek. She was being smart. She read the situation, recognized it for what it was, and coddled David’s ego, just like she had likely done countless times with Nabal. She had survived marriage to a brute. She used the skills she’d fostered through that survival to save all of the men that day.

This story is not prescriptive. Is not an example for us to follow. It’s descriptive. It’s a cautionary tale of what can happen when egos run unchecked.

Rather than encouraging people to be like Abigail in the face of adversity and aggression, let’s discourage people from allowing their egos to run unchecked, like David and Nabal.

If Abigail is a Survivor, and her”gentle response” is conditioned from years of trauma, living with a bully, then what are we saying if we encourage people to respond to aggression like Abigail did?

Why are we encouraging conditioned responses rather than addressing the bully? The aggressor? Let’s flip that.

Hot Take

Abigail should not have had to meekly approach an army armed with nothing but food, offer herself as a sacrifice to save the men of her community, and stroke David’s ego in order to prevent a massacre. The two men in this story should have been able to self-regulate their own egos.

Conclusion

We shouldn’t strive to be like Abigail, although we should respect her for being a survivor and saving her community.

Instead, we should recognize the systems that put Abigail in a position that required survival in the first place, and dismantle them.

Abigail’s intervention was brilliant and heroic. It saved lives. But while Nabal died in the end (of Natural causes, brought on by God), David walked away as if nothing happened. His ego continued to be an issue, all throughout his life. As we read the account of David, we see over and over again that his ego ran unchecked, damaging the people around him. Pride and Power. Power and Pride.

Let’s stop trying to turn people into Abigails and instead hold our Davids more accountable.

We can do better. We should do better.

Lord, Thank you for revealing yourself to me when I open up your Word, even when the lesson I get is different from what has been taught to me for years. I am so thankful for your Holy Spirit, dwelling inside of me. God, help me be humble. Don’t let me be like David, charging ahead in a quest for vengeance, or like Nabal, selfishly putting my own desires above the safety or the needs of those around me. When I start to become like Abigail, remind me that Yes- I am a survivor. You have walked with me through some very tumultuous waters, and I am thankful for that. However, when I am tempted to apply my conditioned responses to any Davids I encounter today, remind me that you loathe injustice. Remind me that I am not representing you well, nor am I doing anyone- including my Davids- any favors, when I coddle them so that their egos are left to run unchecked, damaging everything in their paths. Help me be better than I was yesterday. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Knowing and Sharing Yourself

Self Discovery Through the Enneagram: The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

Have you ever looked at someone you loved, in the middle of a crisis and thought, “If you just realized that what you are experiencing is different from what other people are experiencing, it would change everything…”

Yeah. Me too.

Here’s the problem. I’m really good at reaching for that speck in someone else’s eye while neglecting the plank in my own. Maybe you are too.

I’m good at seeing everyone else’s shortcomings…their “areas for growth.” I can look at a situation and see the alternate perspective relatively easily, as long as I am not directly involved. I can be a good friend, an advocate, a support person and a great listener. But, put me in the middle of the conflict and somehow I transform. I’m no longer mediator extraordinaire, justice-seeker, and a friend. Suddenly I am IN, and when I am in, I am ON. I have two speeds- stop or go. There is no in between.

Lately, I have been doing a lot of self-reflection. I have come to realize that people around me don’t always experience me in the same way that I experience myself. I’ve been hearing that I have too much energy, I’m WAY intense and that I’m “kind of a lot” my entire life. Until recently, I rolled my eyes at this feedback. I thought, “They just can’t handle a strong woman.”

The first time that someone I loved and trusted gently told me that I came across as intimidating, domineering and even insensitive at times, I was floored. I am the most sensitive person I have ever met. I cry at car commercials. I read the most intense books, and I feel things at the very core of my being. My empathy levels are high. When someone I love experiences joy, I am joyful. When they experience loss, I grieve deeply. I mourn fictional characters, for crying out loud! How can it possibly be, that people would find me insensitive?!

Last summer, I attended a conference for work, where I was introduced to the DISC assessment. Before that, I had taken the (free version of) Myers-Briggs and learned a bit about my personality type. The DISC assessment was helpful for me at work because I was able to identify what matters most and least to me at work, helping me delegate tasks that I’m less efficient with. It also sent me exploring the world of personality assessments, and that is where I discovered the Enneagram. The Enneagram assigns you a number, identifying your personality type, 1-9, along with a “wing” number.

When I took the Enneagram assessment- for free, online, at first I was confused. I got multiple high scores. As in, inconclusively high. Here’s what the breakdown looked like:

  • 2- 98%
  • 3-93%
  • 4-89%
  • 5-93%
  • 7-93%
  • 8-97.5%

Ummmmm… WHAT?

I am the kind of person who needs all of the information. Information is power. Information gives me an element of control. So, I set out to research each of these numbers on the Enneagram to discover which was the best fit for me.

I ruled out the three and four pretty quickly. While elements of these personality types fit (I want to be seen as a success and I can be a bit…theatrical) as a whole, it didn’t all work.

I really thought I was a 2, The Helper. This was my highest score, after all, and I liked the way it sounded. Mother Teresa was a 2. I liked being compared to Mother Teresa. Twos are caregivers who put their own needs on hold, meeting everyone else’s needs. They make others feel safe and comfortable. They need to feel needed.

All of this hit home. I almost claimed the two and called it…but something wasn’t sitting right. You see, “Two” felt more like who I WANTED to be, and not who I actually am. The sweet, thoughtful, selfless two didn’t seem consistent with the person my friend described as “insensitive, domineering, and intimidating.” In my quest for due diligence, I kept researching.

I went to the next-highest score. The eight is known as “The Challenger,” and as I read about this personality type, I cried. It felt as if someone was looking directly into my soul. “Eights lust after intensity-they are high intensity dynamos who want to be wherever the action and energy are, and if they can’t find any, they’ll cook it up. Eights have more energy than any other number on the Enneagram. They are fiery, zestful, earthy, full throttle people who drink life down to the dregs and then slam their glasses down and order a second round for everyone else at the bar.” (The Road Back to You, 44)

Wow. I went on to read that Eights can be compared to Martin Luther King Jr. when healthy, or Joseph Stalin, if unhealthy. These are people who care deeply about justice and are passionate and intense- so much so that it can come across as intimidating or be overwhelming for people who aren’t eights. Many eights experienced powerlessness in some form as children, which shaped a deep desire for justice and advocacy in them. They value truth and information, because information is power, and the one (and only) thing that eights fear is being controlled. Withholding information or truth is a form of control, and it destroys trust in eights. Because of this, they are frank, no nonsense people who do not shy away from conflict. In fact, conflict can create intimacy for an eight, because it leads to the discovery of truth and information. They fiercely protect their small circle of people with all of that intensity and ferocity.

In health, eights use all of this pent up intense energy and desire for justice, channeling it for people. In doing so, they become more like healthy twos. This explains why I had tested high as a two- because when I am healthy, this is how I behave, and I want to see myself as healthy.

In stress, eights retreat into their minds and become observers and analyzers. They can forget to take care of themselves, and take on negative characteristics of a five. That explains why I tested so high as a five.

Every number has a wing- this is the number on either side of it- in this case 7 or 9, whichever has the highest score. For me, that was a 7. This means that I take on some characteristics of a 7 as well, explaining that high score. Sevens are constantly avoiding pain by living life to the fullest. They re-frame negatives and turn them into positives. They’re impulsive, adventurous spin doctors. I’ve got a bit of this in me.

So, what I experience as passion, others experience as intimidation. What I experience as connecting, others experience as divisive. What I experience as stimulating, others experience as exhausting. When other people are experiencing a negative, I turn it around and make it something to celebrate. I tell the truth, and sometimes that is too much for people, because they don’t view information the same way that I do.

Suddenly, the scales fell off of my eyes and so many experiences in my past made sense. My friend’s statements made sense. All of the things I thought I had communicated, but had come across all wrong fell into place.

When we learn about ourselves, there is power. When we share ourselves, there is even more.

Grace Upon Grace

Forgiveness is a complex beast. Scripture tells us that we should forgive one another 70×7 times, which I think is just a euphemism for over and over and over again. We should do this for one another, as well as for ourselves.

It’s hard to forgive when we are only interpreting each other’s actions through our own lens.

For a Six, like my husband, my blunt, honest, straight shooting, give-you-the complete and total-unabashed truth is not as loving as it is for me. To me, telling him the truth is loving. I’m giving him all of the information, which gives him power and control. Withholding control from him is the most unloving thing I could do, from my perspective.

So, if he asks, “Have you ever wondered what would have happened if you’d never married me?” and I say “Yes. Of course.” and then move on with my life, that FEELS loving to me. I told him the truth, and gave him the information he requested.

BUT, to him, a fear-based, safety-seeking six, I have now sent him spiraling. “Is she thinking that now? Who does she wish she’d married? Clearly our marriage is over. Has she already gotten a lawyer? I’m going to be paying so much child support. I’m going to be poor. I’m never going to see my kids. Oh, I will FIGHT her for the kids! She won’t take my kids from me…”

I know, that may be a bit excessive, but you get the point. For him, safety, security and assurance mean love. For me, truth, information sharing and never being controlled mean love. Knowing and understanding this about one another helps us love each other well.

So now, instead of saying, “Yes, of course” and leaving it there for him to dwell on, I can say, “Sure. I’ve thought about it. But ultimately, I’m really happy with where I ended up, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

When he goes down what I call “crazy town road,” I can stop calling it crazy town road. This is NOT crazy, it is who he is. When I recognize him, instead of being quick to be offended (How in all that is good and holy, did you conclude that I am taking your children away from my, “yes, of course?!” What kind of person do you think I am?!) I can, instead, extend grace. I can see the love, commitment, and attachment to me that exists within his response. A response I previously believed was crazy. Likewise, he can see that I am being loving when I tell him the truth, because he knows that my truthfulness is my way of communicating love, even when it isn’t what he wants to hear.

However, the complexity of forgiveness is even more true of ourselves. I am the most guilty of beating myself up and not extending grace to myself. I bet you are too. This is universal. We are much more willing to forgive others than we are to forgive ourselves.

Well over a decade ago, I wronged and hurt someone that I loved. I have carried guilt and shame over this for such a long time. Other people have come and gone in my life, and I have been hurt in significant ways, yet I managed to forgive and move past those offenses. My own wrongdoings over a decade ago still haunt me. They follow me.

The person that I hurt harbors less anger and bitterness toward me over it than I do toward myself. I guarantee it.

Forgiving ourselves is HARD. But knowing ourselves makes it a little easier. As I have learned more and more about myself, I’ve begun to understand my own motives in the decisions that I have made. I don’t want to be controlled. I have a deep need to right wrongs. I am compelled to do what other people say can’t be done. I have to prove that I am strong, and fight back against bullies. Because I never do anything partway, doing these things can monopolize all of me, and if I am not careful, I can get lost in it.

Knowing this about myself, makes it a little easier to give myself grace.

Being Like Jesus

If we are called to be like Jesus, then we are called to extend grace. To one another, but also to ourselves. After all, Jesus didn’t just come to reconcile my husband and God. He came for me too.

What about you? Have you ever taken the time to truly get to know yourself? I don’t mean what you like, what you dislike and where your politics lie, but who you are, really. What motivates you? What energizes you?

Have you taken any of these personality assessments? What has God revealed to you through them? Has it helped you be more grace-filled?

If you’d like more information about the Enneagram, check out “The Road Back to You,” by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. I just devoured it in two days.

Lord, Thank you so much for the gift of self-discovery. Thank you for helping me be more aware of how I impact the people around me. Please continue to open my eyes. Help me walk the line of never letting go of the unique person you created me to be, while remaining cognizant of the needs of those around me. Thank you for grace, and for helping me extend grace to others and to myself. Make me more like you. Amen.

I love this; I hear a little of each of the 9 types in this song!

Discovering God in People

The Impact of Social Distancing

I was created for community. I find God in people.

Maybe you don’t. Maybe you find God in the silence. Maybe you need quiet and peace; nature and serenity in order to commune with God. Maybe you’re the kind of person who finds God in the stillness of the night sky, or in the colors of the sunrise or in the melodies of music.

I find God in people. We are his image-bearers, so this shouldn’t be the shock that it is. We were created in His image, to do His work, to be His representation here in creation. And yet, the more I realize that I find the Lord most in people, the more shocked I have been.

You see, this is not a typical Christian-ese thing. We aren’t taught that we will discover God in people. In fact, that is something we’re discouraged from doing. We’re told that people will let you down- and that’s true. We’re told people are fallible and sinful…also true.

But. BUT.

Shelter in place. Quarantine. Covid-19. Social Distancing. These things have taken away one of my lifelines, and as I have reflected upon why this has been so difficult for me, I have realized a truth about myself. It’s because I find God in people. So when you take PEOPLE away from me, it is much more difficult for me to commune with God. I feel further from the Lord because I am further removed from his image-bearers.

A Story full of People

When I look back on my journey of faith, it is FULL of people who loved unconditionally. It is full of experiences with PEOPLE who reflected God back to me. People taught me about God’s love. Silence didn’t do that. The still night sky, reflective periods at sunrise, and even sweet moments of worship music did not do that for me. People did.

When I was 15 years old and I accepted Christ for the first time, I didn’t do so after quietly contemplating atonement. I wasn’t seeking forgiveness as much as I was seeking acceptance, love and community. PEOPLE demonstrated that to me. A friend, inviting me to a concert. A band, welcoming me in as if I was one of their own. A community of believers taught me what love looked like, what unconditional acceptance looked like, and I learned about God through them. People. Human beings. Teenagers, even.

When I experienced abuse later that year, it was a person who showed up at that house to pick me up and take me to a safe place. God was at work, surely, but he was working through that young friend to remind that I was worthy of being rescued.

The summer after I graduated from High School, I experienced depression and anxiety in a very real and profound way. It was a person, a young man, who showed up at my home repeatedly. In that period of time, stillness, silence, quiet, the dark night sky, the colors of the sunrise- these things were my enemy. These things did not draw me closer to the Lord. They did not rescue me. They did not save. They were not healing. Do you know what was? That young man, who never let me feel alone. That young man, who pulled me out of isolation, and when I couldn’t bear to go, sat with me in my brokenness. In those moments, God was present for me. He never left me, He never abandoned me. He showed up through a person. He loved me tangibly, as this person loved me tangibly. That is what my love language needed, and He created me. He knows, more than anyone else, how to love me best.

When I went through a divorce and my best friend, who is an atheist/agnostic, showed up for me and never left my side, I experienced God’s love for me through her. When she knows me, my thoughts and my motives even better than I do…that’s God too. God’s image bleeds through her, even when she doesn’t claim His name. God gave me her.

When my daughter, June, died in a late missed miscarriage and my people rallied around me, that was God showing up for me. When I took my broken heart to the alter and felt a soft hand on my shoulder…yes. It was a person. A young woman who has become a dear friend… But it was also God. Because God is in people. When she touched me, I saw and experienced God’s love for me. His heart beat in time with mine and He was distraught at my pain. I saw that reflected back at me through her.

You see, these were people supporting me. I won’t discount that. Every person represented in these paragraphs is incredible. They are complicated, imperfect, fallible people whom I dearly love. But God was in them. God was working through them, whether they realized it or not because God breathed himself into us, as humankind, back at the dawn of creation. We are his. We bear his image. He dwells within us. Within people.

A Significant Impact

That is why, when a crisis strikes and people are taken away from me, I feel further removed from God. This is how God created me- to see His image reflected in people. In this moment in history, I cannot have these experiences. At this point in time, I have the stillness of the night sky, the beauty of the sunrise every morning and melodies of worship music. I can find silence and stillness, if I look hard enough, although that is not as easy in a household of seven. I have God’s Word, which I treasure. I thank the Lord for things like Social Media, Zoom, FaceTime and Marco Polo, which give me some hint of interaction with God’s image bearers.

But I don’t have people. Technology gives a cheap imitation when compared to the beauty and majesty of God’s creation- of us, of people, of the power and impact of the image bearers of God.

There is light, though. Today, our friends parked their car in front of our home to pray over us. This is the second time we’ve had friends do this for us during the shelter in place order. An Instagram girl-vent session led to a donation to our nonprofit, because it, “felt like a God wink.” I am seeing the strength of our team at the Pregnancy Resource Center, as they step up and do incredible things and make adjustments to keep serving while also keeping our community safe. I am so impressed by these people I get to serve with.

I long for the days when we can reach out to one another. Where we can invite one another in and rescue each other, like those teenagers did for me. I am eagerly anticipating a day when we can we can hold our loved ones who are broken. We will sit, side by side, wrapped up in each other, present in one another’s brokenness, the way that young man was for me when I first battled depression and anxiety.

I look forward to rallying around people. Together. Arm in Arm. Hand in hand. The way my people rallied around me when June died.

I am hopefully believing in a day when I can lay my hand on the broken-hearted again, and allow God’s face to be reflected in mine. When someone can once again see the Lord’s love reflected in my eyes, and feel his presence in my touch, like I experienced at the alter years ago…that will be a beautiful day, indeed.

Until then, Friends, We’re all in this together.

Come on, You’re dancing a little, right??

Worship Where You Are

I can’t carry a tune in a basket.

It’s true. I wasn’t blessed with a singing voice. That is not my contribution to the body of Christ. I’m not someone that the whole world WANTS to listen to sing.

Add to that the fact that we have been spoiled here in the American church with praise and worship that mimics a concert. Instruments and amps, cords and connections and sound professionals all come together every week to make sure that our worship experience smoothly ushers us into the presence of the Lord.

Many churches have entire teams of people whose responsibilities on Sunday morning include creating the ideal worship environment. There’s nothing wrong with that, either. One of the church’s roles is to help us walk in our relationships with the Lord.

Then Covid-19 came and turned our traditional American church experience upside down.

Suddenly we’ve all become a little like David. We’re in hiding, seeking refuge, looking to the Lord for deliverance, refuge and strength. But are we running to Him, singing his praises in authentic adoration and dependence?

It’s so easy, when things get hard and the world seems like an inhospitable place, to retreat. We aren’t used to worshiping when the kids are running wild, in our dirty, messy houses, with dogs barking and a million tasks pulling us in a million directions. Usually we set aside a time for worship. We say “On Sunday, I’m leaving my home and going to church, where I will silence my phone, check my children into the nursery/send them off to Kids’ Ministry and spend some time in worship.” Now, suddenly, that has been taken away from us.

Like David, we’re in a dirty cave, wondering what the future looks like. We’re hunkered down, but have we cast aside all of our pride? Have we set aside our desires to perform? To be the best, to have it all together, to look great to those watching? Are we still caught up in “Sunday Morning Best” attitudes?

We are called to worship the Lord right here, right now. In the middle of this chaos. In the middle of our messes. With kids climbing on us and bosses breathing down our necks as we attempt to work from home while homeschooling our kids and social distancing. We’re called, as sons and daughters of the King, to pause in Holy Devotion to the Lord in the midst of our messy living rooms, with kids asking us questions and dogs in our faces. In those moments, we’re called to lift our voices to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

I was reminded of this today, when my dear friend and our church’s worship leader, Amber, posted a video she made for our little small town church community. Because of the shelter in place order, our church service on Youtube is not a full, live service. We are not getting our worship band all together in one place right now. Our Sunday morning church message is just our beloved Pastor sharing the message God has placed on his heart.

Amber created a worship set for us in her kitchen. She set a chair in front of her kitchen door, and there, with her Kindergartner asking her questions and her dog trying to get all up in her business, she offered her praise and worship to the Lord. A Capella- no background instruments. Alone. On Camera. For all of us to see.

It was one of the most beautiful, humbling things I have ever seen. I sat on my couch, in my pajamas, singing my soul to the Lord with tears streaming down my face. Turning on praise music while I clean my kitchen is not the same as pausing my life, and offering myself wholly before the Lord in worship.

We are called to worship where we are, all the time. Our souls long to connect with the God who traded Himself for us. We are created to press pause in the chaos that has become our lives and sit before the throne in humble adoration of the one who was and is and will always be.

Take a moment today, and stop.

The world isn’t going to stop making noise around us. We have to be the ones to stop, right in the middle of the chaos and sing our souls before the King. Let your joy shine through. Let your gratitude show. Let the Lord see your hurting, humble, redeemed spirit. You are His and He is yours and nothing will ever change that.

Life is beautiful, even in the midst of chaos, because he is the giver of life. He is healer, redeemer. He is a chain breaker. He is restoration, freedom and all that is good and right in the world.

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness, come in to his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.  For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100, NRSV)

Lord, Thank you for this reminder today. Thank you for the beautiful moments of worship. Thank you for Amber and for all that she gives to me as a friend and to our church as a worship leader. She is such a blessing. I needed to be reminded that worship goes beyond just playing praise music and singing along. It’s pausing my life in a moment of adoration. I do adore you, Lord. You are my everything, and all that I have is yours. All that I have comes from you. Where would I be without you? I can only imagine. Help me continue to draw closer to your presence in authentic worship. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Amber’s Home Worship Set, for Shelbyville’s First Assembly of God
I hope it moves your spirit like it did mine.