I Won’t Be Silenced

by Deborah Schiefer

The Little Lawyer.

That was one of my nicknames as a child, given proudly by my Dad when he realized that when I know I’m right, no one can convince me otherwise or force me to back down. When I know I’m right, I’ll push until you also know that I know I’m right (whether or not you’re willing to accept that fact). Sometimes now, spoken sarcastically when he and I go toe to toe.

Growing in a home full of abuse and dysfunction, my voice was all I had. I learned to use it and use it well. And because I was the focused target of abuse by my Mom, I also learned to use it to stand for justice. I experienced so much injustice, I couldn’t stand to see others walk the same. I never shied from an opportunity to use my voice to stand up for someone else and each time I did, I knew abusive people weren’t winning because vengeful bitterness wasn’t being given a home in my spirit. The desire to see goodness overcome took up too much space.

Maybe that’s why it’s taken me so long to process what happened in November. My voice wasn’t stolen. It felt like that, but no. Instead, my voice was weaponized against someone I love. If I spoke, if I didn’t, whatever I chose was twisted like a jagged dagger in Jen’s heart. Speculations that I abandoned her turned into using my presence as an excuse to share things without their context to humiliate her.

“If they can get to you, they know they’ll crush her. They’re trying to turn you or shatter you.”

That’s what I was told by someone very close to the sources.

When I realized the only way to end the manipulation of my voice was to leave entirely, I did.

Well, not entirely. You all know that because I’ve been here, finding my fight, all along.

Maybe it took so long for me to find a way to use my voice again because I came closer than I’ve ever been to allowing bitterness the space to take root. I’ve spent so much time finding my way back while also guarding my heart against the anger and self-righteousness that can so easily consume your soul when you’ve experienced or witnessed something so cruel.

That’s what my journey has been since November. People I trusted gave information about me to an abuser, allowing the abuser the knowledge of how to break me and in doing so, break Jen. I’ve been finding my way back.

My fight back has always been my voice. My ability to fight with and advocate for justice, truth, and a world that is better educated on trauma and abuse. I’ve had to find my fight all over again because the very thing that had been my source of safety and security had, without my consent, become a tool for manipulation in others’ perverse drive to break the spirit of a fellow sexual assault survivor. My voice may not have been stolen, but the only way I’ve ever known to fight for what’s right was being manipulated no matter what move I made. In the time since, I’ve had to learn how to process that. I’ve had to address the trauma buttons that were pushed, the activation, and the anger. I’ve had to find my fight again, but I’ve also had to find my way back to me. And to do that, I needed to see that Jen was going to be okay.

(Spoiler alert: She is. She’s not just a survivor, she’s a fighter, a role model, inspiring, and her Christ-centered heart is still so full of love)

I’m not speaking now to convince anyone of the truth. Those of you willing to see a mountain of evidence have already seen it. Those who prefer or find entertainment in the maliciousness and drama of a public attack on a survivor have chosen where you’ll stand. The latter can kindly see themselves out – I have no time for you.

I speak today because I’m finally finding a strong enough place of healing to know that no matter who attempts to use my words or my presence, my voice is still my fight. My voice is still mine and the way I choose to use it is still in my control. I cannot control how others represent or try to use me anymore than I can control a stranger in a grocery store. But my voice is still my fight and I can use it the way I’ve always known how – to educate, to advocate, and to bring light into dark places.

For those wondering, I’m here. I’ve stood beside Jen from the start. Behind the scenes, Jen, Cassi, and I have been working together to strengthen, encourage, and empower each other. I have my tribe and I’m not stepping away. I have my voice and won’t stop using it. When I know I’m right, no one can convince me I’m wrong.

I know I’m right.

I know I’m strong.

And I won’t be silenced.

I won’t go speechless.

Find your fight – D.S.

Hurt People Heal People, Too

by Deborah Schiefer

Hurt people hurt people. And I suppose that’s true, but isn’t it an oversimplification of a bigger issue? Hurt people do hurt people but is it only because they’re hurt or is it really because they won’t do the difficult and often painful work of self-reflection and self-awareness? Growth can be so excruciating.

I’d argue that it isn’t hurt people who hurt people. More deeply and more honestly hurt people who choose to remain in their victimization rather than stepping into their life as a survivor hurt people. The fear of pain from introspection and having to admit that the things that once kept us safe now harm us and those around us can override the need for loving and meaningful human connection.

I am a hurt person. I am a hurt person who has lived multiple traumas (and yes, for those of you who have made it clear you only validate certain definitions, I do mean the PTSD criteria trauma). When I choose anger over healing, when I choose to focus on my victimization over my growth, when I choose to focus on my desire for revenge over my need for healing, when my self-preservation overrides everything else in my life, I easily become a hurt person who sees an enemy in everyone around me. I easily become a hurt person who defensively goes on the offense and finds people to hurt, claiming a role of righteous defender. Not because my true desire is to inflict pain but because it’s a self-protective mechanism. I hurt them before they hurt me or anyone else… sometimes even when they aren’t a dangerous or damaging person.

When I’m a hurt person whose fear of losing my safety and whose need for vengeance outgrows my need for healing and light, innocent bystanders can quickly become the focus of my paranoid anger. Anyone and everyone becomes a dangerous person no matter how dangerous or safe they truly are.

Hurt people hurt people.

But only sometimes. When I’m a hurt person who recognizes that good, light, and love still exist and they can still exist in me no matter what’s been done to me, I’m a hurt person who doesn’t hurt people. In those times, I become a hurt person who fights for my own healing, who chooses to be self-aware, who chooses self-reflection, who thrives in introspection and self-honesty. I become a hurt person who chooses to weigh the balance between my fear and reality. I’m a hurt person who uses wisdom and discernment to evaluate true danger and true threats from the safe people who want to see the world grow in strength and healing.

Finding your Roar is finding the balance between building walls and building boundaries. It’s learning how to embrace your history as a tool to bring light into darkness rather than wielding it as a weapon against the world.

When you Find Your Roar, you learn that hurt people don’t have to hurt people. Sometimes hurt people heal people.

Bind up the Brokenhearted.

Heal the wounded.

Choose Integrity. Dignity. Honor.

You learn that the person or people who hurt you can’t win when you refuse to allow their hatred and wickedness to consume you.

When you choose to be the light, you win.

Find Your Roar.

Find your fight.

And win.

– D.S.

The Phoenix

By: Jennifer Brierly

The Phoenix

A Spoken Word by Jennifer Brierly

My therapist suggested writing a “victim’s impact statement”

“A statement,” she says

As though words exist in dashes and lines

what my life consists of since that day

Passing years. Months. Weeks

where to begin, were I able to speak.

The cold hammer of trauma

tension and drama

has already met the faberge egg of memory

An impact itself may not be what it seems

Here, I’m wiping away the remnants

of last night’s dreams

still stuck to the insides of my eyelids

hazy, chocolate cobwebs

dazed, cold, my peace ebbs

And I have no fight

Not then and not now

But I’m starting to learn how much my voice matters

#Metoo

You too?

Him too?

Her too?

Do the echoes of our stories follow you?

follow you?

Do you pause to listen?

Do we break through?

Or does the beat just go on and you do what you do?

Statistics with faces

It’s uncomfortable, that’s true

Does our presence make a statement?

Does it have an impact?

As far as we’ve come, we still need so much more

We need women not scared to be labeled as “whores”

“Trashy” or “Easy”

I’m still called a liar

Chin up, sisters or brothers

Hold your head higher

Don’t let them see the rain fall.

If I could piece together this fragmented soul

Show tangibly, while incomplete

somehow

I’m still whole

purposed inhalation

a quiet determination

I exhale restoration.

and my pulse is morse code

tapping out the names of my mother. my daughter. my grandsons.

And you.

imagery transcends language

and I see the tiniest stitches deeply embroidered around the edges of my heart

Jewel tones creating the most delicate tapestry of promise.

Ashes buried over feather

lightening flashes in spring weather

Your consent taken

The ugliest violation

for that you grieve. you mourn.

But once evil gripped him, though he left a victim

It’s Then That A Phoenix was born.

Phoenix, RISE.

-Jennifer Brierly

—Keep Still Being Here. JB

It’s a Matter of Pride

by Deborah Schiefer

It’s okay to not be okay.

You’ve got to be familiar with that phrase. It’s all over Pinterest and Instagram. I imagine it hits Facebook and TikTok and other social media platforms regularly, but what exactly does that mean and do any of us really feel okay not being okay?

One of you out there is reading this, thinking, “Yes! I’m at peace with my brokenness. I’m doing the hard work of healing and I’m embracing where I am in every step of the journey.”

Maybe it’s more than one of you, you magical unicorns and mermaids of the mental health world.

And then I realize how unfair it is to say that. The breaking it must take to get to the point where you can embrace every step of your healing journey. The hard and painful work of self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-improvement.

You’re not magical and you’re not mythical. You’re doing the work and I respect you so very much.

Last week, my therapist challenged me to explore the pride involved in trying to control every aspect of my own life and refusing to give myself the space to not be okay. I’ve tumbled this around in my mind for days, now. Pride… there is pride, yes. I *know* this. It’s been uncomfortable to feel – there’s been this concept dancing along the edges of my consciousness, my awareness maybe not quite ready to touch it or not quite able to access it.

It just hit me. The pride.

Oh, I preach it. It’s okay to not be okay. But I don’t live it. Do you relate to me? If yes, this next part might hit your heart like it’s blazing through mine right now.

What makes me think I’m too good to not be okay?

And, ouch. That one hurts.

Because I’m not. I need these moments and seasons of brokenness to be able to recognize my own humanity, my frailty, and fragility. My need for other humans.

The hard work of healing.

When we have trauma histories, we typically don’t want to let others in. We build walls and moats. We construct tall towers and fill them with our internal snipers, ready to shut down any threat to our psyche. We close ourselves off.

But in these seasons of not being okay, that’s not sustainable. We need others and isn’t there so much beauty in allowing someone else to step into your life, create community, and share their strength?

Tearing those walls down, clearing the towers, draining the moats… it’s all terrifying. It’s a painful process. It’s recognizing what saved us once is ending us now. It’s being able to see our flaws and persevering in working against the instincts we created when we weren’t safe. It’s being willing to see that we’re not at fault for what was done to us but we are responsible for our health and healing now.

I am not Super Woman. I don’t have superhuman strength. I cannot be an island. In our world, there are no magical candles bestowing supernatural gifts of self-preservation or living houses that protect us from the bad guys. I cannot save myself from the ugliness in the world, I can only allow myself the space to meet others and be met in those painful places.

I think I’ve just realized why it’s so very much okay to not be okay.

When we truly believe we can control it all, be it all, manage it all, and carry it all, we cut ourselves off from a world of relationships. Some will hurt but the beautiful ones? They’re the cracks of gold running through the splintered and shattered places.

Maybe… just maybe…

The gold is where we find the peace to not be okay.

Find your fight – D.S.

Grief: Love’s Final Act

By: Cassi Cox
A commissioned piece for June by local artist Samantha Cotner- isn’t it beautiful?!

I don’t know about you, but I have never been good at grief. 

But then losing my daughter changed me. 

Grief has always been one of those things I never quite embraced or understood. I didn’t have the time or space for it. I lived my life in a constant state of fight or flight. I never had time to slow down and FEEL… and on the occasions that I did pause long enough to feel, that experience was terrifying. I responded to those experiences with different defense mechanisms… Usually, I fled instead of fighting. 

I didn’t grieve the whole “lost childhood” thing. Why get lost in that? I had siblings that needed me and there was so much that needed done. I just kept going. 

My first boyfriend died in a car accident a year after we broke up. He was 19, I was just shy of 17 and we’d been friends since I was in 8th grade. I let myself cry a few times, when the pain was too much to bear, but I didn’t allow myself to grieve. He was gone. There was nothing I could do about it. 

Breakups were…weird for me. Because my default to grief was always to get stuck in the denial phase, by putting the loss in a box and refusing to deal with it, breakups were odd. I either acted as if the relationship never happened OR that the breakup was just a pause. Confessions of a serial monogamist, amirite?! 

And then June happened. 

My fourth child. 

That day changed my life. The date? January…12th? 13th? Something like that. I’m sure I could find it if I went digging, but frankly, I don’t want to. My daughter is gone, and that is all the knowledge I need. 

I’d had three babies already so I didn’t think anything would go wrong. I actually went to my appointment alone because having a baby appointment was just business as usual for me. My 16 week appointment. Past the “danger zone.” 

Except when I laid down and he put the monitor on my swollen belly, all we heard was me. My body. No baby heartbeat. 

And in that moment, I knew. I knew she was gone. 

He had me get up and walk around, saying that this early in the pregnancy, sometimes we just need to reposition. I drank some water. Tried again. 

Still nothing. He scheduled an ultrasound, saying that we’d just check that way. 

I knew. 

I went home and I told Brad. He reassured me, jumping onto google. Sometimes the placenta grows up in the front of the uterus, he explained. But I knew she was gone. 

My cousin came over to stay with the boys while we went to the hospital for the ultrasound. Brad’s anxiety was palpable but I knew. And then, there she was on the screen, curled up into a little ball. No movement. No heartbeat. 

I have had enough ultrasounds to know what I was seeing. That was not an alive baby. Brad knew too. His hand squeezed mine as the tech silently got whatever photos she needed. “Your doctor will be in touch,” She said. 

He didn’t need to. 

We got in the car and headed home. “You saw that, right? That baby is gone. No heartbeat,” I said. 

“Yeah. I think you’re right.” 

The call from the doctor came later. We went in and he gently explained  that we had two options. We couldn’t wait. I was too far along- I was actually past the 17 week mark in the pregnancy, but June only measured a little over 15 weeks. She had already been gone for nearly 2 weeks. I was at risk for sepsis. We could schedule a D & E- the procedure used in an abortion at this stage of pregnancy. I would be sedated and a doctor would dilate my cervix and then “evacuate” my uterus. My child would not be removed intact. The evacuation procedure involved the dismemberment of the fetal body, so I wouldn’t see her, hold her, etc. The other option was to schedule an induction. I’d have to go to the hospital, where I would be given medication to dilate my cervix and induce my labor. I would go through the entire labor process, although I wouldn’t have to dilate as far or push as hard because she was so little. Then, I would give birth to a dead baby. I would be awake the entire time and feel it all although I would have access to pain management. 

We chose induction without hesitation. I needed to see my child. 

Our doctor cautioned us that because she had been gone for nearly two weeks, she may have already begun to deteriorate. He said that if she wasn’t born completely intact, I may still have to be transferred for an emergency D & E in order to ensure that my uterus was clear. It was a risk we were all willing to take. 

For five days, we waited for the appointment. For five days, I laid in my bed with my hands on my swollen belly, mourning the dead baby inside of me. The waves crashed over me. For five days, my phone blew up with texts and calls, flowers and food delivered from well wishers and I could barely bring myself to move from the bed to the couch. 

I begged God. I cried. I called my doctor and had numerous additional ultrasounds just to make sure. I begged my baby to kick me. I bargained with God. “You are a God who raises the dead, I know you are!” I remember crying out, “So why not now? Why not my baby?” 

January 18th. 6am. 

We pulled into the parking garage at St. John’s hospital in Springfield, Brad’s hand firmly holding onto mine, an anchor in the storm. 

And I froze. 

I couldn’t get out of the car. 

I looked at Brad and I told him, “I’m going into the hospital pregnant and I am going to leave without a baby in the backseat.” 

I just sat there, absorbing this truth. 

“Babe, we’ve got to go inside now.” 

Another ultrasound (still dead) and an attempted amniocentesis (my uterus contracted and they couldn’t get it) later and my induction began. 

For 12 hours I laid in the hospital bed, waiting for June’s entrance…and exit from the world. 

Brad never left my side. 

My dad came. Then my Pastor. Small talk. I don’t remember any of it. 

Contractions, a morphine drip. 

Brad’s fear. “I don’t know if I can see her. Hold her. Cass, what if she doesn’t look like a baby?” 

“I’ll hold her. I’ll tell you how she looks. Then you can decide.” 

The urge to push. Dad and Pastor ushered out of the room. 

And then it was over. 

Born in caul, amniotic sac intact, no need for a D & E, my baby girl. The sac was no longer clear, but a deep red. There was no denying that she was gone. The doctor slowly cut the sac open and there was my June. My perfect girl. Discolored, yes, but perfect. They brought her tiny body to me in their gloved hands- her skin was too fragile to be touched without protection. He legs with their knobby joints, long fingers and tiny, tiny fingernails. Wide set eyes, a perfect little nose. 

“Brad,” I whispered. “It’s okay. Come see her. She’s fine, really.” He was so afraid that all he would see was a mass of cells, a glob of tissue, but our baby girl was a baby girl. He watched as they put her in a tiny, tiny little swaddle wrap that looked like a child’s slipper and handed her to me. She fit in one hand.  

I stared at her in awe. How many people in the world have the opportunity to see a human at this level of development? To see the beauty and perfection of humanity this close? 

And then my heart broke into a million pieces as I was flooded with everything I would never do. I would never hear her cry. My mind went back to my first born. He didn’t cry when he was born- he was silent for the first few minutes and it terrified me. I remember asking, “Why isn’t he crying? Isn’t he supposed to be crying,” desperate to hear that wail. 

I would never hear June wail. I would never soothe her cries. I would never nurse her, snuggle her, swaddle her. I’d never hear her little voice say “mama” or hear her laugh. I would never see her reach for me, or see her cuddle with her daddy. I’d never get to see her brothers hold her, feed her, play with her. 

These “nevers” flooded me as I looked down at my still daughter. 

The “nevers” still flood me today, as I play with my 4 year old rainbow and teach her letter sounds. As I laugh with my 14 year old at internet memes. As I teach our 12 year old about periods and dating, boundaries and consent.  

All things I will never do with June. 

And yet I have had no choice but to go through the grief process with her. I continue to cycle through the process. I cannot deny her any more than I can deny my own existence. I cannot default to the way I have always handled grief. I cannot put my daughter in a box and pretend that she didn’t exist and she didn’t die. 

She was here. She mattered. She still does. 

And that forces me to approach this differently than I have approached anything in my entire life. It’s been hard. 

The guilt. The bargaining. The anger.

The depression. The what ifs. 

The desire, some days, just to die already so I can be with her. 

The healing and celebrating of the impact this little life had, and still has. 

Honoring her, loving her, missing her. 

The depth of connection with my husband that this unique grief has forged. 

The nuance and empathy it has given my children

And my rainbow baby. We were going to be done after June, but our doctor advised us not to make a permanent decision in the midst of grief. My four year old is such a light. I am so glad I have her. 

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. 

Every day I am learning to live within this cycle. I am learning to grieve other losses, too. 

June changed me. 

I am better because June existed. 

For 15 short weeks June was here and she changed everyone she touched. 

Grief, I think, is just love. Being afraid to grieve was just another way I ran from vulnerability…the Vulnerability of Love.

My sweet girl, who would I be without you? 

Be Bold, Live Out Loud

-CC

Finding The Roar

What a wild ride the last few months have been. Our little team has been working hard- together and individually to reclaim what we lost, to heal, to grow and figure out who and what we are truly called to be. We’d like to use this space to share our journeys- collective and respective- with you. xoxo

When we first re-launched this blog as a collective and launched a new page together, we were all reeling. We’d lost our tribe. Our trust had been damaged, we didn’t really know who our “community” consisted of and we were clinging to the Lord, one another and to every flicker of hope that came our way. We were fully comfortable letting go of a platform of over 50k because we knew that the pro-life community was no longer a space we believed we were at home in. We didn’t belong there anymore. We had no idea what was in store for us. I have never believed that God causes us trauma, but I am confident that when we experience awful things, God allows them to be used to make the world a better place; to bring Heaven to Earth.

I watched as someone I loved dearly was berated, defamed, de-platformed and ripped apart. Brutally revictimized by people who claimed they were acting under the authority of the Lord, one of my own was pulled under because she had responded to significant trauma in the most natural, normal and reasonable ways. Every single attack hurled at her was consistent with research on trauma memory, PTSD and the other diagnoses that she had and yet like a dog with a bone, they wouldn’t let go. They tore into her, over and over again. They refused to see reason, they ignored research, claimed expertise and some even impersonated mental health professionals and harassed medical professionals in their harassment. It was relentless.

In the midst of trauma, we all have a tendency to react a certain way. Our nonprofit was thriving, despite what you may hear. While survivors were not commonly reaching out via the hotline, they WERE reaching out. Constantly. We were talking to survivors and their significant others via all sorts of platforms- tiktok, instagram, and FB messenger being the most common. I was personally carrying multiple clients. We were actually in a position where we really needed to bring on additional volunteers. We were in the early stages of building a few special programs, including an educational track and an intensive track. I was so excited about where we were going. Deb and I were both looking into furthering our education to build out the ministry.

And then, out of seemingly nowhere, a bomb dropped. I won’t recap everything that happened- you can read through my previous account and check out the social media to see how it all went down, but it ripped through our team. And I watched, in real time, as each member of our little team engaged in our reactions to trauma- patterns our brains had adopted years before…patterns we had even discussed as a team.

Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn.

We had two team members who fawned. They defaulted to people-pleasing, turning all of their negative emotions away from the abuser and inward- on themselves for being “so stupid” and “so naive” and on the team. This response is one that develops after having been chronically exposed to controlling, withholding and even abusive behaviors. Perhaps the way fundamentalism treats women? When fawning, people will shapeshift in order to appease the abuser- who likely offers both care/opportunity AND a threat. They bypass their own identity, their own needs and often, disregard their own experiences in an effort to validate others.

Deb fled.

Don’t get it twisted. She didn’t abandon US. She never left our side. But as soon as she realized that she was being attacked AND that she was being used as a weapon to attack others, she got out of dodge. QUICK. She retreated to a place where she felt safe and she cut off every line that she could that would allow an abuser to reach her.

Jen froze. To me, this just underscored the veracity of her testimony of horrific abuse, as freeze is the most common response to horrific trauma- like torture and rape. She was… immobile. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t think. She couldn’t process. Nothing made sense. How was this even happening? Even when it looked like she “fled,” (as the accusations claimed) she did not. She was not in a position to flee because she was frozen. The re-traumatization was too great. WE got her out. Her husband, her family and her friends. WE shut down the pages, WE got her away, WE checked on her night and day. She was frozen. It took weeks for the fog to lift. For months, she fought to “just keep being here.” After months, she is finally finding her fight again. Reclaiming her roar.

And me? I fought. Why? Because that’s my trauma response. It always has been.

I’m the oldest child and I grew up in a house full of violence. I routinely shut other kids in bedrooms and took the hits.I jumped between my parent and abusive partners.

I fight because long ago I came to believe that the lives of myself and others depended upon my ability to do so.

Over the course of the last few months, we threw a page together because we realized that survivors were still reaching out. You still needed the community too. We gave it the first name that came to mind just so we could do SOMETHING, but over the last month or so we have realized some things.

Jen kept being here. Deb found her fight. I have never stopped being bold.

And now here we are. This is it. It’s time to draw a boundary. There is no FBI investigation. There have been no calls from the CIA. The non-profit is being closed, and there has been no fraud investigation. CPS essentially laughed at the anonymous call. They knew a harrassment call when they saw it, thank God. We will no longer be entertaining the conversation discussing these absurd accusations. The questions have been asked and answered. We refuse to entertain the threats. We’re moving forward. We hope you can too.

If you can’t? Well, that’s no longer our problem.

We are not one another’s voices. And we don’t want to remain yours.

We want to walk with you while you reclaim it.

We want you to find yours, and then use it.

We aren’t the heroes. We aren’t the saviors.

You, my dear, are a badass. And we will rally with you, We will stand beside you and we will not stop until you are ready.

Find your Roar.

Be Bold. Live out Loud.

CC

References

https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/trauma/p3.html

Katz, C., & Nicolet, R. (2020). “If Only I Could Have Stopped It”: Reflections of Adult Child Sexual Abuse Survivors on Their Responses During the Abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1. https://doi-org.proxy1.library.eiu.edu/10.1177/0886260520935485

Own It 

Letting Go of the Temptation to Dismiss, Blame and Minimize the Harm We Cause 
By: Cassi Cox

I will never forget the moment I truly came face to face with the impact of the worst decision that I ever made. 

It was YEARS after. More than a decade after I had selfishly acted out of my own trauma, chosen the defense mechanisms I had built out of a desperate attempt at self-preservation- THAT was when reality hit me like a ton of bricks. 

I hurt someone that I loved. 

I know that we throw around the phrase “I hurt you,” pretty easily these days. We use the wrong tone of voice, choose the wrong words, misspeak, miscommunicate and wholeheartedly admit, “I hurt you.” 

But I HURT someone. I hurt them in a way that changed them. I hurt them in a way that created defense mechanisms of their own; a catalyst, a ripple, a snowball. 

At the time I didn’t even say, “I’m sorry.” 

I made excuses. I justified myself. I had EVERY reason to make the decision that I made, after all. I was young. I was unsure. I was confused. I was scared. I was…..

I was focused on myself. 

And that is the whole damn truth. 

For YEARS, I made excuses. They were fine, it wasn’t that big of a deal. God removed them from my life for a reason. I was on a different path. This was “God’s will.” God knew what he was doing when “He made this happen for a reason.” 

“We all sin,” I said. “We all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” I chanted it to myself. I’m forgiven. Christ’s blood covers me. It. Is. Finished. 

How inexcusably selfish of me, to use God to justify my hurting of one of his children! To take the gift of Christ and use it to excuse the very thing he came to earth to eradicate. Jesus died to bring Heaven to Earth and here I was, using that very sacrifice to justify acting out of my own self-preservation. I used the selflessness of Christ to minimize my own selfishness. To allow myself the comfort of closing my eyes to the devastation I had left in my wake. 

More than a decade later I sat at a kitchen table listening to a recollection of years gone by. Conviction gripped my soul as I heard anecdotes that clearly traced back to my sin. My harm. They weren’t saying it. They weren’t blaming me, but I saw the thread woven throughout the stories of fear, pain and loss; the evidence of wall built and trust damaged, the remnants of my choices lingering. 

Forgiveness. It’s such a complicated concept. 

There is a song that I used to love. 

“I’m forgiven because you were forsaken. I’m accepted, you were condemned…” 

Now, I don’t love it so much. 

Why should I be accepted? I am the one that caused the harm. I need to own it, not pass the buck to Christ. 

To simply say that Jesus forgives, allowing that to cover our interpersonal sin is NOT to love our neighbor. We have to own it. The only real way to love our neighbor as ourself is to be willing to OWN our shit. 

To truly love our neighbors, we MUST be willing to look them in the eye and say, “What I did to you was not okay. There is no excuse, and it IS that big of a deal. I am sorry- with everything in me.” Then, expect nothing. You aren’t owed anything by those you have hurt. 

You aren’t owed forgiveness. 

You  aren’t owed a relationship. 

You aren’t owed a celebration of the good times and a minimizing of the bad. 

You did the thing. 

I did the thing. 

Own it. 

Be Bold. Live Out Loud.

-CC

One of the best songs from my youth about refusing to accept responsibility

But What About Bathsheba?

by Deborah Schiefer

I recently wrote a blog for Christmas1 and in it, I referenced the women named in the lineage of the Messiah and their broken histories. When it came to Bathsheba, I debated whether or not to mention the idea that perhaps she wasn’t an enthusiastic participant in the relationship with King David, before the death of her husband. Ultimately, I opted to bring it up because it’s important, especially in a world where 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men are the victim of attempted or completed rape in the United States alone.2

https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence

I’m not sure about the corners of evangelical Christianity that others have been raised in but where I was raised, Bathsheba had always been painted as an active and enthusiastic participant in the affair initiated by David. More than that, most of teachings I’d received centered on the idea that Bathsheba went out of her way to seduce David and was accountable for his stumbling. Ah, good old purity culture! If you’re at all familiar with fundamental Christianity, you also probably understand that questioning this “reality” is a giant no-no. And so, like the good little girl I was, I swallowed that narrative until I left my conservative corner of the Midwest to join the military.

My faith has never been shaken but I did often find myself questioning these “truths” I’d been told. After the loss of my first three babies, I found myself scouring the Bible for women who also lost children, needing their hope. I found Bathsheba. As I read, my heart ached for this woman whose story I’d never truly known. I had always blamed her but as I studied her story for my own comfort, I found I believe the Bible makes it clear that she couldn’t say no.

After writing the Christmas blog, I really debated if this is a path I want to journey down publicly. I know how strongly we cling to the Biblical narratives we’ve been taught and I know how quickly we can open a controversial can of worms by going against the grain. But as a sexual assault survivor, I couldn’t not address it. Especially because I did choose to leave that possibility open-ended in the original blog for the sake of not losing the evangelical target base I was hoping to reach and convict. However, now?

Now, I’m not trying to reach an evangelical base and create change. Today, I’m purely here to stand arm in arm with a likely survivor of old, maybe bringing new light to her story, sharing reality with other survivors, and lending my strength to those living a modern-version of Bathsheba’s violation.

Last night, I poured over article after article and blog after blog from the most conservative sources, discussing David and Bathsheba. I found something that gave me a little more hope – that many conservative Christians today (compared to the conservative Church of 20 years ago) have no issue recognizing that it’s highly unlikely that Bathsheba chose to and wanted to participate in a sexual relationship with David. Much of that position comes from the same verses that keyed me into the reality of Bathsheba’s history:

  • 2 Samuel 11:4 mentions that she was in her period of monthly purification when David sent for her and slept with her. Sleeping with David would have broken the Law in more than one way and Bathsheba was clearly a Law-following woman
  • The assumption is always that Bathsheba was on her rooftop, bathing in clear sight and “being a tease.” This is because it’s mentioned that David was on his roof. The truth is Bathsheba’s location is undisclosed. Furthermore, in places where indoor plumbing is not a thing, outdoor bathing has always been fairly common. As recent as 12 years ago, when I lived in Hawaii, there were homes that lacked indoor showers. Those dwelling in those homes had outdoor showers where they bathed. If someone had lived at a geographically higher vantage point (as King David did in relation to Uriah and Bathsheba’s home), those with outdoor showers would need to trust those people to offer discretion and respect for privacy. Using their outdoor shower would not make them a tease. But I’ll get off my soapbox on this one, now
  • After returning home, she had no contact with David until sending a message to him to inform him she was pregnant (v. 5)
  • Bathsheba is never once mentioned scheming alongside David to cover her pregnancy
  • The Bible specifically states that the thing David did displeased the Lord (v. 27)
  • Chapter 12 opens with a message from God through the prophet, Nathan, in which Bathsheba is likened to a lamb, and not just any lamb. This particular lamb was so fond of and bonded to his master. This lamb was taken against its will and led to slaughter. Do we catch a parallel here?
  • The punishment given from Nathan was handed solely to David and solely mentioned David as the sinning party
  • A piece of this punishment included the fact that all things David had done in secret would be done through and in his household in broad daylight for all of Israel to see
  • In 2 Samuel 13, we find that David’s son, Amnon, brazenly and brutally raped his half-sister, Tamar, even sharing his plan with a friend. Tamar’s full-brother, Absalom, plotted against Amnon and later murdered him for the violation of his sister. The sin David committed in secret was carried out by his son, publicly
  • Coercion, power imbalances, and an inability to deny consent were not taken into account in the Law as documented in Deuteronomy 22:22-29. Essentially, because Bathsheba was not a virgin and because she was married, the definition for rape at the time the Bible was written would not have applied to her situation. Today, however, we legally recognize rape as “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”3

Unfortunately, far too many conservative sources still describe Bathsheba as a temptress and continue the narrative that she intentionally seduced David. Even among the countless blogs and articles I read that acknowledged how grievously unlikely it is that Bathsheba truly consented and enthusiastically participated in a sexual relationship with David, the majority refuse to acknowledge that what David did would be considered rape or assault, today. The argument? That rape means physical force with the survivor physically fighting for their life and calling it anything else is redefining it. That’s not even remotely accurate. The quote shared in the last bullet point above proves that.

I’d say I have no words, but uh…. I think this blog is proof that I have plenty of words on the topic

In our modern world, if a person is incapable of saying no or fighting off an offender because of threat against themself or their family/friends, the assailant can still be charged with rape. As David was king, even if it wasn’t a spoken threat, Bathsheba would have faced a threat against herself and, as we saw in David’s response to her pregnancy, against her husband had she fought back or said no.

Do you see how different that lands when we recognize that David was king? That he held ultimate human power in this situation? Can we see how unfairly balanced Bathsheba’s plight stood when we strip away the names and use “the king” and the “citizen”?

In short, there was no way for Bathsheba to have been able to consent. The only answer available to her was to comply. The Bible doesn’t even state how she responded to David’s lusts, just that he succeeded in sleeping with her. And given the way Nathan paralleled Bathsheba in his narrative, the way the punishment for the sin was dictated, and the way Bathsheba was given back her honor in the lineage of the Messiah, there seems to be strong support for the stance that Bathsheba was not a truly willing participant in this affair.

As Christians, we often try to connect a biblical passage with an application for our own lives today. This one seems so clear and simple to me, but maybe not so to others. What I see…

We so easily place our own expectations onto survivors.

Yeah, just not buying it
  • Expectations for how they should have behaved before the assault
    • How could she bathe on the roof?! Surely, she was asking for it.
    • Did you know she cheated on her boyfriend? She was a flirt and a tease. She had it coming.
  • Expectations for how they should have handled the attack
    • She could have said no. The Bible never said she fought back.
    • Men love when a girl comes on to them. Plus, he orgasmed. It couldn’t have been rape.
  • Expectations for how they should have behaved after the assault
    • She just went back home and acted like nothing happened until she found out she was pregnant.
    • She went right back to work. If she had really been raped, she would have been too traumatized to function
  • Expectations for how the survivor tries to find accountability and safety
    • She didn’t even try to tell her husband. She was just going to let the king pretend the baby was Uriah’s.
    • He never reported or even sought medical help. Why wouldn’t you at least get an STD test?

And in doing so, in both cases in history and current events, we miss the opportunity to meet survivors where they are, to empathize with the struggles and battles they face, and to extend God’s love and be His hands and feet to a marginalized and battle-worn community.

Christians, we should be in the trenches with survivors. All of us should be in the trenches with survivors, not just those Believers who have walked a mile in those shoes or love someone who has, but every single one of us, as the Body of Christ. We need to be willing to step into the crossfire, to lift them up, to fight for them, until they’ve found their fight and gained their voice. Until every survivor is empowered to command their own army in their own battle, we, fellow Christians, should be battling for them.

We should be the consistent safe place.

So why not start with our own history? Bathsheba. See her. Feel her grief and her loss. Her body. Her husband. Her child. And see how God restored her. Named in the line of the Messiah. Chosen for His holy purpose. Redeemed in the most glorified way possible.

If part of what makes the Bible so relatable and believable is that God never hid the dirty laundry of those, like David, whom He chose to use for His glory, then why do we try to wash their laundry for Him?

Be the safe place.

Find your fight – D.S.

[1] https://cassicox.blog/2021/12/22/come-to-the-stable/
[2] https://www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem
[3] https://www.justice.gov/archives/opa/blog/updated-definition-rape

Your Defenses don’t Define You

By Cassi Cox

I keep seeing these trends of millennials like me making tiktoks or writing letters to their younger selves. I see the appeal, but what is done is done, ya know? 

Instead, I thought I’d write for those coming after me. Those carrying the torch. The ones that I can already tell will make this world better. A more apt reflection of Jesus, a more loving, less self-centered place that truly embraces the greatest commandments of loving God and neighbor as oneself. 

A few weeks ago, my sister made a TikTok. She was essentially dedicating the song “Surface Pressure” from Encanto to me. Some of the lyrics include:

 “Pressure like a drip, drip, drip that’ll never stop, whoa

Pressure that’ll tip, tip, tip ’til you just go pop, whoa-oh-oh

Give it to your sister, it doesn’t hurt

And see if she can handle every family burden

Watch as she buckles and bends but never breaks”

You see, we have quite the dysfunctional family system. It’s become a multi-generational cycle and at this point the number of child protection investigations that my family unit has experienced has reached multi-dozen numbers. Addiction, abuse and exploitation have devastated our family. I currently have custody of 4 children that are part of my family unit but not mine by birth in addition to the 4 children I have given birth to. We were approached by another case manager about taking 3 more, but the Department of Child and Family Services said “No, you can’t. You are beyond your limit.” 

There were…like…a lot of stocking for Christmas. Ours, plus our four, plus our baby girl we lost in a late missed miscarriage, plus our four bonus kids.

My husband agreed. 11 children would have been too many. We can’t care for any of them well if WE are overwhelmed and overrun. But you see, there are so many children in this family. They are bright, incredible children who didn’t sign up for this. They didn’t ask for addiction, abuse and neglect. They didn’t ask to be in the midst of domestic violence, to know how meth is consumed and to have a better understanding of sexual expression than is appropriate of for any pre-pubescent child. 

Despite the awful circumstances they have lived in the midst of, they shine. They have developed numerous defense mechanisms that have served them as they navigated all of this. 

It’s taken me a very long time to learn though, that the skills we develop to keep us safe and thriving in toxic and dysfunctional environments don’t help us so much once we escape. We learn to steal because our parents sell their food stamps for drug money and our siblings need to eat, but once we are older, stealing leads to broken relationships and jail time. We learn to lie because we are told we must protect our abusive adults at all times, but when we escape, lying only serves to break healthy relationships and enable those relationships that mimic the ones we grew up in. We dissociated to escape violence, sexual assault and abuse but once we escape dissociation can continue. When we keep dissociating, we don’t thrive in work, in school or in relationships because the second we experience any trigger we retreat. 

I have discovered that escape was the easy part. It was easy to get out, to walk away, to say “NO MORE!” What was hard- really hard- was unlearning every skill that I used to survive the ongoing, every day trauma of survival. This unlearning is an every day, uphill climb. 

Recognizing that I refuse to be vulnerable. 

Realizing how few people have ever seen me break. 

Grasping the depth of my difficulty trusting people

 Looking back at past romantic relationships and realizing that I thought love was the “good parts” of the toxic relationships that I witnessed growing up. Now I have come to understand that those relationships were never healthy. Those relationships were always toxic and mostly abusive, and I was just seeking to emulate the “love bombing” stage. I actively ran away from what was healthy and loving. It terrified me. 

Recognizing that I protect and fight for others to the detriment of myself. I have actively placed myself in the path of harm my entire life to try to protect others with no regard for myself. This is not sustainable. It is dangerous and harmful. When channeled and used appropriately, this drive can make me a very effective advocate. Without boundaries and awareness, it can make me a martyr. I am still working to recognize that I MATTER TOO. 

I am writing this now because I hope that our next generation finds it. I hope that other survivors see this. 

If you haven’t escaped yet, but you see yourself in some of these defense mechanisms, I see you. I see you doing things you don’t want others to know about because you have to survive…but look at you. YOU ARE SURVIVING. 

If you have escaped, and you still see these defense mechanisms in your life, congrats! I am so glad you got away from that abusive, toxic situation. It takes a long time to sort out how these things that helped you survive aren’t serving you well anymore. Keep going, and remember- you developed these things because you were surviving. That’s no reason to get lost in shame. There is no shame in survival. 

If you are like me and you have recognized how so much of who you are grew out of your responses to your toxic and dysfunctional environment, please don’t lose hope. WHO YOU ARE IS GOOD. You were created in the image of GOD, beloved and chosen, called by name. Work with your therapist, your counselor, your people. Take a step back and look at the skills you used and draw some boundaries around them- that is the process I am still involved in. Is it bad to be strong and to “never break?” well, maybe never. However, there is nothing wrong with being someone who can handle a crisis, who is strong and capable, and who is selective regarding those getting to see the vulnerability. Is it wrong to fight for others? Of course not! But don’t lose sight of yourself. Remember that you matter too. Take the time to look at the defense mechanisms that you have used and draw some boundaries. 

You, friend, are good. You are capable. You are stronger than you know. 

Be Bold. Live Out Loud.

CC

You’ve got this. Find your Roar.

A Messy Masterpiece

By Deb Schiefer

The end of the year brings a cascade of memories for so many people. With the accessibility and connection social media provides, we often find ourselves digitally surrounded by a waterfall of snapshots from seemingly picture-perfect lives.  
 
For so many, that perfection passes by mostly unregistered as we celebrate the closing of a beautiful year. I’ll readily admit that most years, I’m that person. Most years, I love this season when friends and family share the highs and best memories. There’s warmth and togetherness. Most years, it feels like sharing the joy.  
 
Oh, but those other years. The desert years in the middle of lush rain forest. It’s been a hard year to feel the Christmas spirit, let alone prepare myself for what feels like an onslaught of everyone else’s perfection.  

 
This year, I’ve felt myself drowning. This year, I’ve found myself grasping at any lifeline far more often than I care to admit. I’ve survived so much in my life. I thought I’d healed so much. How can I be back here, again, after so long? 
 
I started to type it all out. Share it all. But here I am, just not ready to talk. I’m not there, yet. Trusting the world isn’t my strength. It never has been. I’ll share this corner, that bit, a scrap here, and a piece there, but to share it all? To share the rawest wounds? Trust can be so, so difficult.  
 
That isn’t the point, though.  
 
What I really want to say? We’re at the end of the year and so many of our friends and family will share their best moments. They’ll rehash the highest of highs to commemorate the most beautiful parts of 2021. We all want to end the year strong and well.  
 
But that isn’t always reality and I cannot be the only one staring down the highlight reels of the people I love while wondering when or if I’ll ever be able to share my highlights without struggling to remember if I even had enough of them to merit celebrating. 

At the end of a year of crisis, difficulties, trauma, and hurt, the last thing we need is to layer on shame and self-loathing because our year end doesn’t look like the snapshots our loved ones are sharing. What we do need is to remember that these snapshots being shared everywhere we turn are just that – snapshots.  
 
No one has lived a perfect year. Those posts filling each social media newsfeed are the shiniest, happiest, best moments each person lived in 2021. Maybe they’re sharing their best moments to hold dear their favorite memories. But maybe? Just maybe… Some of the people sharing are sharing from a place of desperation. Desperation to be like everyone else. Desperation to feel normal. Desperation to feel happy. Desperation to just feel.  
 
And for those of you who, like me, have given up trying to piece together a memory reel from the less-than-handful of highlights we’ve been given and are ready to just close the door on 2021, hesitant to hope for a better year in 2022? Friends, we’re normal, too. It is okay to not be okay.  
 
And eventually… Eventually, we’ll look back on this shattered year and remember that broken crayons still create beautiful works of art.  

We’ll easily remember that a lump of clay must be worked and smashed and worked and smashed before it can be molded into something unique.  
 
We’ll see the parallels between our own life and the piece of coal that’s been pressed on all sides into the strongest diamond.  
 
We’ll embrace the fire that purified our spirits like refined gold.   
 
Today… Today, we survive. Today, we keep breathing. Today, we find our way to continue and we cling to that hesitant hope that it will get better because it always does.  

Today, we don’t have to find the silver lining or bury ourselves in toxic positivity. Today, we close the door on a difficult year.  
 
And if we need to? We unplug from social media for a few days while the rest of the world gets the highlight reels out of their system, knowing we really aren’t alone. On the other side of this screen, there’s a woman just like you and her main focus is surviving.  
 
And that’s okay.  
 
We’re okay. 
 
Find your fight – DS