It’s ironic to me that in the months leading up to the Church’s celebration of one of the greatest gifts known to all of mankind, I’ve been witness and victim to the bullying, harassment, and judgment from the very people who claim the name of the One who saved them out of their spiritual poverty and despair.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Youch. This isn’t the hopeful Advent blog I was looking forward to reading.”
If you are, you’re right, but you’re also wrong. Bear with me? Because there is hope. And there will be. But first, I’m asking you to reflect this Christmas season. It’s already a reflective season, yes? We look back to the birth of the Messiah. The One who came to Earth purely to live a spotless life and sacrifice Himself in the most brutal murder just to wash us like snow.
Wash us. While we were still His enemy, He died for us. Knowing that the majority would reject His offer and spurn His sacrifice, He went to the cross.
Okay, so technically, it started that day in the Garden of Eden, but I digress. Just follow me. Reflect with me but reflect within.
Because in His coming, there were five women mentioned in the genealogy given in the Gospel of Matthew. In a hugely patriarchal society, women were mentioned. If these last several months are any indicator, most of you would have called for the stoning of several of these women. Definitely Tamar. Quite possibly Rahab. Bathsheba, for sure. And almost undoubtedly… I think most of you would have called for the stoning of Mary.
There’s the woman who seduced her father-in-law. The one who was a prostitute. The one who was an adulterer… or so we assume if we were raised in the Church where we ignore the imbalance of power and the victimization through voyeurism (that’s a discussion for another day). The one who miraculously became pregnant and even her betrothed initially assumed an affair.
So many of you would definitely have called for their stoning.
Ironically… or maybe not… one of the key players in this event of tearing down one of our own on baseless accusations has a really great article linking each of these women to a specific theme in the story of redemption (https://www.focusonthefamily.ca/content/the-women-in-jesus-genealogy-an-advent-reflection). They somehow managed to connect God’s desire to use all of us despite ourselves here but entirely missed it in the life of one of their own who experienced God in a powerful way, was changed, and become a new creation.
Again, I’m sidetracking.
But also, I’m not. That’s the exact point I want to make. That’s the exact reflection I hope I inspire each of us to do within ourselves. Are we so willing to grant God’s goodness, forgiveness, and redemptive power to those in the Bible and deny His power in our modern evangelists? We accept that before Saul became Paul on the Road to Damascus, he was one of the most ruthless hunters of Christians. We accept that David was a murderer, Noah was a drunk, Moses had a massive temper, Abraham lacked faith, Tamar committed incest, Rahab sold her body, Bathsheba possibly had an affair (and if not, then David was also a rapist), Peter denied Christ, Thomas refused to believe He had risen… I could go on, but the point is that we accept these things and also accept that God used these very same people despite themselves. God redeemed them.
Yet, when faced with the marred past of one of our peers who has already been open about her repentance and redemption, we refuse to believe that God may have held the same transformative power in her life that He’s granted to so many before.
That He’s granted to you.
If we dig deep within ourselves, I think we’d find that the reason we refuse to give the same grace to our cohorts that we give to Biblical historical figures might be something sinister and sinful. It’s a means of self-elevation but it’s deceptive. In our attempt to elevate self by focusing on the sins of others, we not only spit on the Cross but we also lower ourselves to a position of pride, arrogance, and gossip.
And so I’m here, reflecting on self. Recognizing my own anger which, though righteous, most definitely borders and falls into sin a lot lately. Asking you to join me in self-reflection.
The Advent season is a time to honor God, honor His gift, and honor the Son with memories and traditions that point to Christ. Perhaps this year, we should learn a lesson from the pain experienced by so many of us who are in or have recently left the evangelical Pro-Life Movement. Perhaps this lesson might lead us to a new tradition.
While we reflect on all God accomplished between Bethlehem and Golgotha, might we reflect on what He’s done for each of us.
While I was His enemy, He created an elaborate plan of redemption to save me.
While I was His enemy, He suffered and died for me.
While I was His enemy, He sought me, met me, and called me to be His own.
I am no longer stained. My past does not define me and it will not negate God’s ability to use my present or my future.
And in light of the knowledge that Christ’s sacrifice was enough to close the chasm between my wickedness and His holiness, I know He transforms the worst of these…
Because I am the worst of these.
And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing because not a single one of us is beyond His love, His forgiveness, His care, or His healing.
I am a trauma survivor and I hate the word “triggered.” See, social media and politics have taken a word that’s very real to me and turned it into something that paints me into a tantrum-throwing child.
But, friend, triggers are real and sometimes those of us with trauma histories really experience them. Some of us like to call it being “activated”* because “triggered” has been used in a way that does so much damage to the PTSD and cPTSD communities that it invalidates our experiences.
Sometimes, I experience this activation. When I do, it’s like the world or circumstances around me threw me back into the immediate moments surrounding my trauma or the secondary trauma** that came from it. I can’t think clearly. I need to survive.
I might freeze. If I do, you’ll think you see a mess. A mental breakdown. I can’t act. I’m not an unstable person, I’m just paralyzed by fear of what consequences my actions will bring.
I might run. If I do, you might feel like I’m pushing you away. You might feel unappreciated or like I blame you. I’m not truly running from you, I’m just terrified of what I can’t anticipate.
I might fight. If I do, you might think I’m aggressive and unfairly angry. You might think I’m taking things too personally or that my response is unwarranted for the circumstances. I don’t truly want to hurt you, I’m just scared about being violated or attacked by an unknown predator.
Friend, I love you and appreciate our relationship, so much. Your support means the world to me. When I’m activated – when I’m re-experiencing my past trauma – it might scare you, too. It might make you feel so many things. But will you honor me by helping to fight for me?
These moments when I’m activated will always pass. They won’t ever last forever and as I learn how to navigate them with the loving help and support of friends and family, like you, these moments will become less intense. I’ll grow in my ability to trust the people around me, in my ability to recognize my emotions for what they are, and my ability to manage the onslaught of physical, mental, and emotional sensations that come with activation and flashbacks.
The way I respond when I’m activated will sometimes be unacceptable. There are times I might lash out. I promise I’m working on this. I didn’t choose this but now I have to live it. I’m working so hard to be aware so I don’t continue a cycle of bleeding on those who never cut me. Friend, I need your patience, so much. Once the moment of activation is over, if I’ve hurt you, will you tell me?
If I don’t apologize because I don’t realize what I’ve done, can we talk about it? I don’t always recognize when I’m activated. I don’t always piece together that what I feel in the moment is actually related to trauma I’ve lived in the past. Sometimes, I don’t even realize I’ve behaved in a damaging or unacceptable way because I’m so activated and in so deep, my mind doesn’t connect what my body feels. While I can’t be responsible for the trauma others have inflicted on me, I can and must take charge of my healing. I want to become more self-aware. I want to heal. I don’t want my trauma to rule my life and relationships. Friend, I promise I won’t stop working on my healing, but sometimes, I might need guidance to see where I need to heal.
In that way, you can become a piece of my healing. Will you do that for me?
When I am activated, when I experience a flashback of any kind***, can you help ground me? Bring me back to the present. Help me see that the danger I anticipate is behind me or that the red flag my body is recognizing in the present is something I can navigate. I am safe. I am protected. I am loved.
Friend, will you support me, trauma, brokenness, and all? Will you stay with me? I promise I’m healing. This won’t be forever.
Love, Your Survivor
* “Activated” is a term used by one of our team member’s therapists. I’m adopting it because I feel it honors us and our experiences better than the word “triggered” due to the social and political implications now given to that word.
** Secondary trauma can refer to the trauma that follows the precipitating event. For example, the primary trauma for a sexual assault survivor is the assault itself. Secondary trauma can include the process of reporting, being disbelieved, and/or any medical help that may be needed in the aftermath of the assault
*** Most people think of flashbacks as visual. The person experiencing the flashback is suddenly transported back to the time of the trauma and is seeing and experiencing it again. This is how they’re often portrayed on screen. However, flashbacks can include any situation that makes you feel like you’re in that place again. The person experiencing the flashback may not see their surroundings from the moment of their trauma but instead may experience intense smells, physical sensations, audio sensations, tastes, or emotions.
Inspired by a post written by Whitney Goldman, LMFT. You can follow Whitney on Instagram via the handle @sitwithwhit or on Facebook @sitwithwhitney
Maybe it’s just me, but I am going to venture a guess that it’s not.
Watching the Josh Duggar saga continue to evolve over the last year has been incredibly difficult for me as someone who has experienced abuse within a closed system; A system that “handles everything internally,” assuming that those outside of it are villains, out to get us; A system that believes that those outside it can’t be trusted and would never understand “how we do things.”
What about you?
Has this been as difficult for you as it has been for me?
I lived this reality. It wasn’t an extreme religious branch like the Duggars for me, it was a closed family system. I grew up in a family system affected by generational trauma, generational abuse, neglect and exploitation, wrought with fear of being “found out.” What would happen if the world knew about “us?” How would they judge us? Who would be punished?
Because of the generational nature of the behaviors, adults looked the other way. Cognitive dissonance is real and for us, created an environment where it was much easier to pretend that these awful things couldn’t be happening, couldn’t be as bad as we claimed they were, and were “being handled.”
But they weren’t. We were scared. We were taught to believe that any outside supports were unsafe. The police were not to be trusted- they were out to get us and destroy our family. The Department of Child and Family Services certainly couldn’t be trusted. They were looking for a reason to “take us away,” and if they did then we’d never see our brothers and sisters again. Our teachers couldn’t be trusted either- they were in league with DCFS and the police. The only people we were taught to trust were our own.
Watching what has happened with the Duggars has been so real for me. When the news of Josh’s actions toward his sisters/babysitter as a teenager came out, I wasn’t surprised. I have seen many theories regarding where Josh’s behavior came from, and while it is possible that Josh was molested himself, that isn’t what jumps out at me. Josh was a teenager in a closed system that taught him that his sexual urges were evil-that any thought, urge or physical response that indicated his sexuality was emerging was impure and sinful. This closed system also taught him that these thoughts, urges and physical responses were of equal sinfulness to any other sin- including acting upon them without the other party’s consent. Once Josh had experienced the naturally evolving sexual curiosity of puberty, he was already sexually impure by his system’s standards. He had no healthy outlets for his naturally emerging sexuality and he had no opportunity to discuss his emerging sexuality with anyone who wouldn’t shame him for its mere existence. He was on his own.
Josh was never taught consent, because in this closed system there was no such thing as consent. You were to be asexual until you were married. Anything else was sinful. Then you were to marry and to engage in sex with your spouse upon demand. There was no such thing as consent because once married your body belonged to your spouse. As a man in this particular system, Josh would have been taught that once married his wife’s body was his to possess.
And Josh played out that fantasy on female children without their consent.
That abuse alone is horrific enough, but what came after makes it even worse. Because Josh never had to face real accountability. Yes- the Duggars attempted to “handle it,” but they did so within their closed system. They built their house in a way that forced the boys away from the girls and implemented a plethora of rules that in essence, blamed the victims. They made sure that the girls’ bodies were covered at all times, the girls were separated from the boys at all…vulnerable times, like night time, swimming, etc. They made rules like “boys can’t baby sit,” and “girls can’t sit on boys’ laps.”
Their attempts to “handle it themselves” sent the clear message that boys cannot control their desire to possess and consume female bodies like objects and girls-no matter the age- are responsible for protecting them from acting on that desire. After Josh’s violations, every female in that house was treated like a temptress and every male was treated like a predator.
And Josh? He was given a stern talking to by a police officer- one who was a part of the closed system and turned out to be a predator himself, and then Josh was sent “away” for awhile.
Any of us watching that had experienced abuse in a closed system saw the enabling in this. We knew what was coming. We just sat here, watching from the sidelines waiting for the ball to drop. First the Ashley Madison scandal came, but we knew. We knew that it was much, much worse. Josh’s first sexual experiences were of violating the consent those not young enough to even know what sexuality was, and that behavior had never been directly addressed- just redirected at his wife. Sure enough, the most recent charges were brought, and a conviction regarding CSAM.
Josh never faced accountability. Instead of holding him accountable, his closed system created rules and systems that policed the behavior of others within the community…particularly the potential victims.
We still see this today. We see this in closed systems all over the place. I still see it in my family system, although I am doing my best to break open the closets and shovel out the skeletons.
I imagine, though, that you might be tempted to think that you are safe from these experiences- safe from being a part of a system that looks the other way while someone is abusive and then skates past accountability for the sake of the community rather than the safety of the vulnerable. It’s a common phenomenon, believing “this will never happen to me.” If you are thinking that, let me give you a few more examples I have personally experienced or watched play out over the last few years.
Hollywood, prior to the #metoo movement
The Catholic church’s decision to move priests who were abusing children to new locations rather than addressing the pervasive issue of child sex abusive happening at the hands of Catholic priests.
My recent experience in a small, rural church. After an interaction with the worship leader discussing what defines lust- and me arguing a position oppositional to theirs- They approached me alone in the church building, in front of my children to discuss “not having a threesome.” I had never propositioned them for sex of any kind, nor indicated a desire to engage in sexual activity with them. This would be considered sexual harassment in any other setting, and yet that individual is still on the stage as a worship leader. They have never even taken a break from that position despite church leadership being made fully aware of the situation.
A good friend of mine was a part of a church that had the following policy. Men could not be alone in a room with women because they could either be tempted or she could accuse him of sexual misconduct. The policy existed specifically to protect men from accusations and from temptation. Implicit in this policy is the assumption that accusations are JUST accusations, and that false accusations of misconduct are so pervasive that a church needed a policy to protect men from women making them. *NOTE* This is not an uncommon policy in evangelical churches
Abby Johnson, who runs And Then There Were None and is a well known Pro-Life speaker bringing in millions of dollars for pro-life causes recently publicly attacked a rape survivor. She accused her of fabricating her entire story, stated she had evidence and then failed to produce any evidence. She has made all sorts of demands on the survivor that violate her confidentiality and safety, participated in gossip and slander and allowed videos of psychological breakdowns and attacks on the survivors minor children to thrive on her social media while deleting all comments supporting the survivor and correcting Abby’s misinformation. I wrote about this in my previous piece, My Love Louder Journey. She is still actively threatening to share nude photos of the rape survivor’s body after her partial mastectomy publicly. Abby has expressed concern about her sons being falsely accused of rape and referenced that part of the problem is that “women aren’t acting respectable.” Abby has a history of making racially charged comments, including “Ok K-pop,” stating that police should racially profile her son because he is black and called a black minister a “thug,” a stain on the black community as well as the name “Tyrone” (that is not his name) after getting into an online altercation with him regarding abortion. Her own testimony may or may not be stolen (see the book Redeemed by Grace by Ramona Travino) and her fame-making story begins as a disgruntled employee that may or may not be seeking revenge. In all of this, Abby ends her abuse by stating that she is going to pray for the people that she is abusing.
The pro-life community has continued to look the other way as she has engaged in these behaviors. Even recently, when the rape survivor she attacked was one of their own, the movement made excuses for Abby, justified her behavior and hid behind the “the accusations must be true if Abby is saying it,” approach. Many pro-life platforms removed all content created by the survivor without discussing it with her and those who have not loudly supported Abby in the midst of all of it continue to platform her, have not removed her content and have openly expressed anxiety regarding no longer working with her. Why? Money and the Movement.
The system, the movement, the cause… all more valuable than the survivors and those who are vulnerable.
These are not all that different from the Duggars. Predators being protected. The survivors and the vulnerable being trampled and cast aside in the name of preserving a closed system.
Until predators are held accountable- truly accountable- there will be no safety in any system. The pro-life movement will not thrive. The name of Christ will taste sour in the mouths of those desperately in need of his touch. Churches will not feel safe and families will not produce children that value human dignity and thriving over reputation and image management.
When my Mom was first diagnosed with early-onset dementia and I became a part-time caregiver for her, I thought I was alone. During my late childhood years, she became increasingly abusive toward me, peaking in my adolescence. The abuse became so severe, I ended up moving in with another family for my own safety and healing.
These were the first people who ever spoke the words, “you were abused” to me and validated my experience in my home and with my family.
Things between she and I did improve. She eventually sought counseling and healed to a point where she could understand the gravity of what she had done. She apologized and never laid a hand (fist or foot) on me again. But the emotional and verbal abuse never fully ended until after dementia took over her mind. It came in cycles between rage and depression with lulls of peace scattered throughout. If it’s not clear that my Mom suffered with mental illness, I’ll say it now.
When I stepped up to fill a gap in her care, I didn’t know there were others like me. No one talks about it. We choose a life that society uses to invalidate our trauma so most of us stay quiet and try to cope alone. But when faced with one of life’s curveballs, we’ve chosen to lay aside the bitterness, hurt, and anger that we rightfully feel for the wrong done to us. Instead, we pick up love, healing, grief… Which is not to say we don’t also feel the bitterness, hurt, and anger. We do. We’ve chosen to give our abuser the life, dignity, and respect they did not give us when we needed someone to care for us.
What I’ve learned? I’m far from alone. In the last year of this caregiver journey, I’ve met so many others like me.
“I know it seems backward, but she’s still my Mom.” “I know everyone expects me to send him off to a home, but he’s the father of my children.” “I have to give him what he never gave me. I can’t live with myself if I didn’t.”
For me, personally, caring for her is almost redeeming what she didn’t give me as a child. It’s knowing the abuse didn’t win. It’s embracing that there can be so much evil and hate in the world, but only I get to choose if that will change who I am.
Trauma and the reactions to it are not one size fits all.
There are those who could never step into this role for their abuser. They deserve only love, respect, and support. There are those who freeze and those who run. In different areas of my life, I might be any of those personalities, too. Because trauma is conflicting and confusing. Because each human is as unique as their fingerprint. Experiences shape each of us and we shape them. Our minds are designed with a unique capacity. What breaks me may not break you and vice versa. Where I might fight back, you might retreat. Where I freeze, you might brawl.
The sooner we come to recognize that there is no right or wrong way to respond to trauma – whether it be a terminal diagnosis, witnessing a fatal crime, experiencing assault, living in a domestic violence situation – the sooner we’ll be able to become a safe place for all trauma survivors.
Your trauma response does not need to match mine or my expectations for your experience to be valid, for you to be believed, and for others to give you respect and treat you with dignity.
You do not get to invalidate another’s trauma because their reaction did not meet your expectation.
Survivors will survive by whatever means their unique mind and body need to use.
Working with Jennifer Christie, the Pro Life Movement and Sexual Assault Survivors: A Testimony
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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…”
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.