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Sexual Assault – My Story

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Some of my friends have opened up to share their stories in hopes of helping others. Transparency works. This is my story.

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Trigger Warning: While not overly graphic, there is content that some readers may find upsetting. 

I was sexually assaulted at my school and church for about three years during 7th, 8th, and 9th grade by a classmate one grade lower than me.

We both didn’t fit in at school, so we became friends. I was bullied by other kids at school, so I clung to any friendship I could get. But as time went on, the things he started saying to me got more personal and more sexual. It was at that time that instant messaging became a thing. Unfortunately, cyber bullying was not yet on anyone’s radar.

We both had screen names on AIM, and that was where a lot of his sexual statements started. They were minor – so minor, that I wasn’t even sure if he crossed a line. It escalated over time, slowly – so slowly, that I didn’t notice during it that things were getting worse. They were occasional, insignificant comments that made me uncomfortable. Nothing more.

I didn’t know the term “sexual harassment” when I was 13. I didn’t know a 12 year old boy could be capable of sexual harassment. To this day, I don’t know if he was a lonely boy with a troubled home life who was just experimenting with sexuality or if he knew what he was doing was wrong, if he was purposely manipulating me. As an adult, I look back over the AIM conversations, and I see grooming, whether or not this boy was aware that was what he was doing.

By the time 8th grade came, the sexual harassment changed from solely verbal to also physical. Things like snapping my bra. Again, it was so minor that I didn’t feel it was worth reporting to my parents or teachers. I wish I had. I know they would have taken action. I know what came next would have been prevented.

My entire 8th grade year was a daily experience of sexual harassment, especially at recess and then online at home. His comments changed from general comments to comments specifically about my body.  Sometimes, it was compliments. Sometimes, it was more than that. He followed me around school – even following me into the bathroom when he knew no one else was there. He started buying me gifts, many of which were sexual. Whenever I told him to back off, he always acted hurt, and I was the one who ended up apologizing.

High school finally came. Despite being at different schools, the harassment continued. Whenever I tried to end the friendship, I felt guilty. So our online conversations continued. I knew this boy’s faith in God was nonexistent, and I wanted to encourage him to come to church and youth group. Unfortunately, it was at my church youth group where the sexual assault began.

We were always in public. I was never alone with him. But the assault still happened. Whenever no one was looking, whenever we blended into a crowd, he would grope me – sometimes over my shirt, sometimes putting his hand down my pants, over my underwear. I specifically remember this happening at a bowling alley and at Cedar Point. I remember pushing him away, but then I only received stares from strangers who only witnessed my hands pushing him, who missed seeing where his hands had been. They only saw a young boy on the ground with an angry, goth, teenage girl standing over him.

Our online conversations got more embarrassing. He started asking me for sex. He started detailing what he would do. When I refused, when I said I was waiting for marriage, he said he’d stop talking to me and move on to my younger sister. Terrified for her, I continued communication with him.

He knew my Christian faith was important to me. He knew I strongly believed in Jesus and Satan, in angels and demons. He said he enjoyed communicating with demons. He said he would send one to my room every night to watch me in all I did – undressing, sleeping, etc. He said he would then have his demon report everything back to him. As I lay in my room each night, I was terrified. I hid under my covers and prayed.

One day, he was talking to me online about his depression and loneliness. Once again, my heart hurt for him. But he then brought up sex again. When I told him no, he said he’d kill himself. The conversation ended. He stopped replying. AIM told me his computer had gone idle, so I knew he wasn’t there. I waited. About a half hour or an hour later, a friend of his contacted me and said that he had attempted suicide. I was frantic. I thought that because I had refused sex, he was now dead – and worse, dead before he had faith in God. The friend told me details, and it all sounded so real. Then the friend told me he was still alive, but barely. I was relieved. I knew that no matter how embarrassing it would be to me, I needed to get help for him. I told the friend I was about to call the police to give them the address and send help. Suddenly, they were both online, talking to me, telling me it was all a joke, begging me not to call the police. He called me, and I heard him, alive and well.

I was done. I changed my screen names. I blocked him. He stopped coming to youth group. He never went after my sister. He graduated 8th grade and moved on to a high school different than mine, out of my life, but not out of my memories.

MeToo

Even without him in my life, I suffered. I contemplated and planned suicide. I hated myself. I started self harming and developed an addiction to it throughout my sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school. I got better once I had counseling and once I opened up to people. I gained a support system that helped me enter recovery. (For more on my story of recovery from self harm, click here.)

I have a document saved that chronicles all this. It contains our online conversations, has dates – everything. I thought of sharing it to demonstrate how the harassment increased so slowly, how I didn’t notice until it was too late. The document shows that once it was clear to me, 100%, that this was wrong, that his intentions were not innocent, I was too ashamed and embarrassed to ask for help. I felt like it was my fault that someone could look at me in such a dirty way. I thought there must be something about me, something wrong with me, that caused him to see me in this way. I felt that if I asked for help, those aspects about me would be revealed, and I didn’t want my parents to see me that way. I know so many girls are going through the same manipulation and false guilt right now.

It has been almost 15 years since the assault ended. It has been almost 10 years since I finally shared my story with my college boyfriend (now my husband). It has been almost eight years since I opened up to my parents and told them everything – right before my wedding. I’ve had three years of counseling concerning this topic. Today, as I sit and read the document containing everything, I still feel ashamed. I still feel dirty. I still cannot bring myself to share what he said. I find that his words were actually so much worse than the physical assaults. That’s what still hurts today. I want to share the details to help others, to demonstrate exactly how I was manipulated, how I was drawn in, how I got trapped. But I’m not there yet in the healing process. Maybe one day.

Concerning this boy… I have not had contact with him since my freshman year in high school. I do not want any contact with him. I do forgive him, even if that is something I have to do over and over again when the hurt and anger come back to the surface. I pray that he asks Jesus for forgiveness. I pray he comes to know the God I know.

Please know that if anyone says anything sexual to you that makes you feel even a little uncomfortable, you have every right to tell them to stop – not ask, but tell. If they do not stop, it is sexual harassment, and you need to ask for help, no matter how minor the harassment seems.

If anyone touches you inappropriately or forced you to do any sexual act, that is sexual assault.  This needs to be reported immediately! Don’t wait!

Report this to a parent, a teacher, your boss, a superior, a pastor, a counselor – someone. And if that someone does not give you help, then ask someone else and keep doing so until you are given help. A great resource is RAINN.

Help

Sexual predators groom their victims. They start with minor things and slowly build up so that the boundary line between right and wrong is so blurry, the victim doesn’t even know when it is crossed. Black and white become gray. Then the victim-blaming begins. Once the harassment has gone on long enough, the victim does not feel he/she can ask for help, because the situation feels like it is his/her fault. It continues to escalate, until the emotional wounds are so deep that the scars will never fade.

If you have been a target for sexual harassment or assault – it is not your fault. No matter how minor or how severe, no matter how embarrassing, report it. That person needs consequences. You can save others from being that person’s future victims.

Get counseling. Your wounds may turn into scars that you carry for the rest of your life, but you can heal. You deserve to heal. Let others help you heal, and then use your scars to tell your story. My scars – both the emotional and physical scars – show where I have been, not where I am now. My scars show that there is healing. My scars show that there is hope. My scars show I am no longer a victim, but a survivor.

God made you. He designed you with love. You deserve to be treated with care and respect, even when you don’t feel like you do.

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PARENTS:

  • Talk to your kids about cyber bullying. Teach them how to take screen shots before conversations get deleted. These can be used as legal evidence.
  • If your son or daughter is in 7th grade or older, and you haven’t talked about grooming, sexual harassment, and sexual assault, do so as soon as possible. You can start these conversations younger than 7th grade, but I would not wait longer than that.
  • Sexual harassment and assault can come from strangers or familiar people. It can come from someone older, the same age, or younger. It can come from males; it can come from females. It can happen to females, but it can also happen to males. It can even happen in the best schools with the best teachers. It can happen in Christian churches. Know this and tell your children this.
  • Tell your kids to report anything that may even have the possibility of bullying, harassment, or assault to an adult they trust – even if that isn’t you.
  • Monitor your children’s activities and social lives – their text messages, their online accounts – everything. Yes, this limits their privacy, and they might be angry. I promise that their anger at you will be so much less than the turmoil they’ll feel without your protection. They won’t need counseling because you knew their SnapChat or Twitter or Facebook or Instagram passwords. They will need counseling for sexual harassment.
  • Know whom your kids are with at all times.
  • For those of you with young kids, teach them that no means no. My daughter is only two, but I want her to know that even her no means no. If she doesn’t want a hug, then one is not forced upon her. If she doesn’t want a kiss, then that is okay. If she is feeling shy, I tell her it is okay to be shy. Of course I am the parent, and when I say something like, “It’s time to go to bed,” and she says “No,” I overrule her. But when it comes to physical contact with myself, my husband, relatives, friends, church members, etc. if she said no to a hug or kiss, then no means no. I don’t want to desensitize her to the fact that forced contact is never okay.

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It’s a scary world we live in. It’s a dark world. Be the light. Share your story! My cousin inspired me to share my story by sharing her own story and ghostwriting a story for a friend of hers. Sharing yours may just help someone avoid what you’ve been through. Write your story in a blog or on social media. Tell it in a support group. Tell me your story in a comment below. Your words have value!

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Easter Sunday: Reflections of a Pastor’s Wife

The Sunday after Jesus’ death changed everything. It changed the people who experienced it, and it changes the people who believe it now.

That morning, the tomb was guarded by soldiers. An earthquake shook the land, and an angel appeared, who rolled away the stone, which had been sealed. The guards fled in fear. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James. That evening, He appeared to the disciples. Jesus remained among them, preaching, until 40 days after His resurrection, when He ascended into heaven.

Easter

Easter is clearly an important day for Christians. It’s the day Jesus defeated sin, death, and Satan. It’s the day that gives us certain hope that all our wrongdoing is forgiven, that we have been saved from eternal death in hell, and that Satan has no control over us. Easter is the reason for our faith.

Easter is a beautiful celebration in church. In most churches, paraments cover the altar and pulpit. (Paraments are decorative cloths.) Throughout the 40 days of Lent, the paraments are a dark purple. Services are a bit more quiet, and we refrain from saying the word “alleluia.” On Good Friday, the paraments are black. The service on Good Friday feels very much like a funeral. Most churches practice the tradition of walking out in silence after the service ends. It’s a very somber experience.

Then we return to church on Easter Sunday, and the paraments are white. The church is filled with white lilies. The pastor shouts, “He is risen!” and the congregation answers back, “He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!” It feels so good to say that word again. All the songs are joyful, full of praise.

Easter is a taste of what is to come. Easter gives us a glimpse of heaven.

Easter gives me hope.

I look around our world, and my heart just breaks. I log onto Facebook and see posts full of hatred and gossip. I think of the women and children in my life and know many of them have been abused and molested. I see addiction gripping people I love. Family members of mine have been held at knife-point and gunpoint. One friend from college lost her 10 month old baby to a severe heart defect. Another friend from college just had her 2 year old go through a heart transplant. I see posts at least once a week, on average, of women asking for prayers as they suffer a miscarriage. I have lost family and friends to suicide. And these are just the people who are part of my life. I look at the news, and I only see more tragedy.

This world is a dark, painful, broken world.

I am weary. I often feel so very alone in my beliefs. People hate that I base my beliefs on the Bible, that I believe even the parts of the Bible most people would rather ignore.  People hate that I believe hell exists. People hate that I believe Jesus is the only One who can save us from hell.

I am worn. I’m tired of losing friends. I’m not perfect. Sometimes I present my beliefs in an unloving way. Sometimes, I come on too strongly. However, sometimes I state my beliefs in the kindest way possible, and still have people react in anger. I don’t want my beliefs to hurt people. So I stop speaking what I believe. I listen to the beliefs of others, but I am terrified to share my own. And then I feel guilty, because really, my strongest desire is to tell people that Jesus loves them.

It won’t always be like this. There is pain in this world, sometimes unbearable pain, but I know that this is temporary. I know that grief ends. I know we will be resurrected, and we will be reunited with the ones we have lost (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).  Jesus promised us that He is preparing a place for us (John 14:2).

Switchfoot is my favorite band. They express the longing I feel for heaven – for home – better than I can. A few lines from their song “Restless” remind me that our hurts will be healed. We will be reunited with our loved ones, and we will be united with our Savior in a way that was never possible in a sinful world.

Until the sea of glass we meet
Our lives completed and complete
Where tide and tear and pain subside
And laughter drinks them dry
I’ll be waiting
Anticipating
With every heartbeat
All of my blood bleeds
Running inside me
Looking for You

These lines from “Where I Belong” resonate with my feelings of being an outcast as a Christian. I try to live in harmony, but I fail. I often feel like a foreigner, but one day I’ll be home with my Savior, where I belong.

But I’m not sentimental
This skin and bones is a rental
And no one makes it out alive
Until I die I’ll sing these songs
On the shores of Babylon
Still lookin’ for a home
In a world where I belong
And on that final day I die
I want to hold my head up high
And tell You that I tried
To live it like a song
And when I reach the other side
I want to look You in the eye
And know that I’ve arrived
In a world where I belong

Maybe you feel like me. Maybe you feel like you don’t fit in, like you’re not quite whole. Maybe you are so weighed down by the tragedies in your life. Maybe you are grieving.

Dear reader, please consider Jesus. He loves you so much. He sees every tear that falls from your face (Psalm 56:8). Jesus promises to be with you always (Matthew 28:20). Jesus gives us hope for heaven – not a speculative hope, but a certain hope. You are so loved. What are you waiting for?

Good Friday: Reflections of a Pastor’s Wife

Good Friday is a very emotional day for me. It’s a day I learned the truth about myself. It’s a day that gives me purpose. However, it’s a day that makes many people uncomfortable. What happened on that first Good Friday, and how does it apply to us now?

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Maundy Thursday ended with Jesus’ arrest. He was declared guilty of blasphemy by the high priest. The Jews brought Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor, the only person who had the authority to have Jesus executed. Pilate attempted to appease the crowd without condemning a man whom Pilate believed to be innocent, but the crowd shouted, “Crucify Him!” Fearing a riot, Pilate gave the crowd their wish: Jesus would be crucified by Roman soldiers.

Flogging was usually done before a crucifixion. The Gospels do not go into detail about the flogging. We can use first century historians, such as Josephus, to form hypotheses concerning what method was used and to what severity. According to the book, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel by RCH Lenski, pages 1244-1245, Roman soldiers stripped the prisoner, tied the prisoner’s hands so that the back would be stretched out, and then began whipping. The Romans struck the back, buttocks, and thighs. They used a whip with several leather strips, leaving several stripes per hit. Tied to the ends of the leather strips were pieces of lead and bone, which caused deeper bruising and tearing of the skin.  Secular sources say that after a Roman scourging, the prisoner’s bones, veins, arteries, and even organs were exposed.

After the flogging, the soldiers took Jesus and presented Him before the entire battalion. They wrapped Jesus in a robe and placed a crown of thorns on His head. They mocked Him, spit on Him, struck Him on the head, pushing the thorns deeper. Then they stripped Him of the robe. Tearing the robe away from His shredded flesh only reopened the wounds from flogging.

Jesus was led outside of Jerusalem. His hands and feet were nailed to the cross, and He was raised up. Crucifixion caused suffering in many ways… heart failure, pulmonary embolism, hypovolemic shock, and asphyxiation. (This article by National Geographic explains these physical conditions during crucifixion in more detail.)

It’s easy to focus on the the physical aspect of Jesus’ suffering. However, Jesus was experiencing something even worse than crucifixion. He carried the guilt of all people. I think of how I feel when I experience guilt… nausea, sleeplessness, a sensation that almost feels like a physical weight on my chest and shoulders. It’s a terrible burden just to experience guilt over one wrongdoing. Jesus carried the guilt of that one wrongdoing of mine, in addition to all the other things I have done wrong, in addition to all the wrongdoing all people have done – past, present, and future.

It gets worse even still. God cannot tolerate sin. He cannot look at it. God responds to sin with wrath. Jesus took on the sin of the world. He therefore took on the wrath of God. This is why Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus took our sin, and therefore took our place and paid our ransom. Jesus did this willingly and lovingly. He had no bitterness. He even prayed for the soldiers who mocked Him while he hung from the cross, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

I think the spiritual battle involved on the cross is what makes people want to turn away. I think American culture encourages us to do what makes us feel good. It doesn’t feel good to be told that we deserve every bit of suffering that Jesus endured – abandoned and betrayed by friends, beaten, flogged, and crucified. It doesn’t feel good to be told that we’re sinful. It doesn’t feel good to be told we need to change our ways. And we certainly don’t want to think about hell. It feels much better to form our own philosophies and encourage others to do the same, as long as those philosophies don’t tell other people what to do or believe.

When Pilate was first questioning Jesus, looking for a way to avoid condemnation, Jesus told him, “I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth.” Pilate responded by asking, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)

Our culture likes to ask, “What’s your truth?” I see it all over Facebook. If you Google “What’s your truth,” you will find several websites that guide you in finding and living your truth. An article by MindBodyGreen says, “Being true to yourself means your main source of validation is from within.” The more you rely on outside validation, “the more you lower your sense of self. Your value is innately within you. When you are being true to yourself, the externals don’t define you. You realize you are more than what you have. You believe you are whole.”

One article by the Huffington Post says, “When you decide that you are worthy of more, is a form of truth. When you choose to surround yourself with people who are uplifting and inspirational, is a form of truth. The qualities of respect, worth and inspiration are the truths that you begin to embody in the world. Armed with your personal truths you move with more ease in the world. Your life will expand and prosper because of these truths. To identify, to name, to define your personal truths is perhaps the single most important thing you’ll ever do in this life.”

Our culture teaches us that we create our own value. We’re strong. We don’t need anyone.

What happens when we can’t ignore our guilt? What happens when we’re not strong? What happens when validation from within ourselves is nonexistent?

As a teenager, I reached that point. I knew my heart – the hateful and judgmental thoughts, the complete disrespect I had for my parents. When I looked inside myself, I saw guilt. Yes, I saw some good, but even the good in me could not overcome the guilt. I believed I needed punishment. I started self-harming. It didn’t help. I began considering and planning suicide.

That year, the movie The Passion of the Christ came out. It was beyond gory. It was intense. It was exactly what I needed. Jesus did all of that for me. Willingly. Lovingly. I don’t owe God anything because my debt has been paid.

On the radio, I often hear the song You Love Me Anyway by Sidewalk Prophets. There is one part of the song that brings me to tears every time I hear it.

I am the thorn in Your crown
But You love me anyway
I am the sweat from Your brow
But You love me anyway
I am the nail in Your wrist
But You love me anyway
I am Judas’ kiss
But You love me anyway
See now I am the man who called out from the crowd
For Your blood to be spilled on this earth-shaking ground
Yes, then I turned away with a smile on my face
With this sin in my heart, tried to bury Your grace
Then alone in the night, I still call out to You
So ashamed of my life
But You love me anyway

What is the truth? It’s more than a belief; it’s accepting a fact.

What is the fact, the truth, about who I really am?

I am a person who is not perfect.
I am a person who has hurt other people with my words and actions.
I am a person who cannot save herself from sin.
I am a person for whom Jesus died.
I am a person who is forgiven.
I am a person who does not fear death and the devil because of Jesus.

My value does not come from within myself – not even in the least bit. My value comes solely from Jesus. The MindBodyGreen article said that the more I rely on external validation, the more I lower my sense of self, but that is a lie. The opposite is true: the more I rely on Jesus, the higher my sense of self. I am cherished. I was loved by God from the moment of my conception. God has a plan and a purpose for my life. He is so powerful that He can take a terrible, hopeless situation, and bring good out of it – bring good out of me.

Readers, I beg you. Love yourself. Love others. But first and foremost, love God. Love God by confessing what you’ve done wrong. Love God by asking Him to help you do better. Love God by obeying His commands – even if it means changing your lifestyle. Love God by thanking Him. Love God by acknowledging Him. I promise you, it will change your world.

 

Maundy Thursday: Reflections of a Pastor’s Wife

No, it’s not Monday Thursday. It’s Maundy (mawn-dee) Thursday. It’s not really an important day, right? We’re all so busy with our jobs, our families, our lives. We’re getting ready for hosting company on Easter, just days away. Or maybe we’re getting ready to travel and go on vacation for spring break. What makes Maundy Thursday important?

Let’s start by taking a look at the word maundy and its connection to the Bible.

MaundyThursday

The word “maundy”  has its origins from Middle English, Old French, and Latin. It means “mandate” or “commandment.”

What was the mandate to be followed on this day? Passover.

The first Passover happened around 1446 BC, according to page 95 of the Lutheran Study Bible, although some scholars have questioned this date. The first Passover is described in the book of Exodus, chapter 12. To summarize, the Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for 430 years. God called Moses to tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go. When Pharaoh refused, God caused plagues to fall upon Egypt. The tenth plague was the Plague of the Firstborn. Every firstborn would die. God instructed His people to eat unleavened bread (flat, no yeast) for seven days. Then they were to sacrifice a lamb and spread the blood across the doorposts of their homes. The Lord passed over the homes with the lamb’s blood. This was the final plague, and Pharaoh released the Israelites.

The Israelites were commanded by God to celebrate Passover each year, teaching their children how God brought them out of slavery. It had been about 1,476 years since the first Passover in Egypt when Jesus celebrated Passover with His disciples for the last time. (You can read more on dates at Got Questions.)

Jesus and His disciples celebrated that particular Passover in an upper room. A note in the Lutheran Study Bible on John 13:5 explains, “Even if a guest had bathed just before attending a banquet, his feet would still be dirty from the dusty roads.” It was the custom to have a servant wash the feet of all who entered – a job that was saved for the lowest of servants. The upper room had no servants; the only people in the room were Jesus and His 12 disciples. So who took the place of a lowly servant? Jesus did. He washed the feet of each of His disciples. At first Peter protested that he should be washing Jesus’ feet, not the other way around. John 13:8 tells us Jesus’ response: : “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”  Notice that Jesus did not say, “If I do not wash your feet…” Jesus said, “If I do not wash you….” Jesus was more than a servant washing feet, an outward cleansing; He was a sacrifice washing away sin, an inward cleansing. His disciples did not yet understand this. They did not know what was to come… but Jesus knew.

What I find truly amazing about this humble act of service is that not only did Jesus know a terrible, painful death was awaiting Him, but that Judas Iscariot (one of the 12 disciples) would betray Jesus by turning Him over to the authorities. At the time of this meal, Judas had already given into Satan’s temptation to betray Jesus in exchange for 30 silver coins. Jesus knew all of this, but did He skip washing the feet of Judas? No.

Can you imagine knowing a specific person did wrong against you, even purposefully put your life in danger, and yet you decide to serve them? Perhaps someone pulled a gun on you. Perhaps someone raped you. Maybe a spouse cheated on you. I can’t say I would choose to serve that person. I think the majority of people – myself included – would choose revenge, or at the very least, justice. I believe this act of service performed by Jesus for Judas shows us that no matter what guilt we carry, He can forgive. We can confess anything to Him, and He will still love us.

It was time to eat the Passover meal, as was commanded all those years ago in Egypt. Luke 22:7-13 describes the Passover meal that Jesus celebrated with His disciples. As they ate, Jesus said that one of the 12 would betray Him. Judas asks, “Is it I?” Jesus indirectly answers, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:21-25) I often wonder what Judas was thinking at this point. He had already made his decision, and he knew Jesus knew, and he still had time to change his mind. And yet, he carried out his betrayal.

During the meal, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” He then took the cup and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:19-20) Jesus knew His body would be broken. He knew His blood would be spilled. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb saved the Israelites from the slavery of the Egyptians, the blood of the Lamb of God would save all who don’t reject Him from the slavery to sin. A covenant – a promise – that God made to the Israelites to save them, sealed in the blood of a sacrifice, was now replaced with a new covenant – that God offers to everyone – sealed in the blood of The Sacrifice.

Again, I find it interesting that although Jesus knew Judas’ heart, Jesus still offered the bread and wine – His body and blood – to Judas. Jesus still offered Judas forgiveness.

After the meal, they sang a hymn and then went out to the Mount of Olives. Jesus told the disciples that soon, they would all fall away and leave Him. Peter was upset about this, and he insisted that he would never leave Jesus, even if everyone else did, even if it meant he had to die for Jesus. But Jesus told him that he would deny Jesus not once, but three times.

Luke 22:39-46 tells what happened as they continued on and came to the Garden of Gethsemane (geth-sem-ah-nee). Jesus asked His disciples to keep watch and to pray. Jesus moved off by Himself to pray earnestly to God the Father. The amount of stress and fear that Jesus faced was immense. He knew exactly what was coming – not just a painful death but the punishment for the sins of the world. We know that Jesus was truly in anguish because He experienced hematohidrosis – when the blood vessels surrounding sweat glands rupture, blood mixes with sweat. Jesus sweat blood. I cannot imagine the fear, dread, sorrow, and isolation Jesus felt.

Jesus did ask that the Father would remove this cup from Him. (Isaiah 51:17 calls it the cup of God’s wrath.) Jesus’ request that God remove this unbearable task was not His only request. Jesus added, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42) I’ve prayed for some pretty important things – life and death situations. I usually pray for trivial things – the things I want or the things I think I need. A lot of the time, I don’t want to pray for God’s will. What if God’s will conflicts with my own? I am turning 30 in a few months, and it was only within the past year that I have really focused on praying for God’s will. The song “Thy Will” by Hillary Scott was a song I listened to as I prayed for my friend whose infant passed away due several heart defects. It’s a song I listened to less than a month ago, as another friend’s 2 year old received a heart transplant. It’s my prayer for my own 2 year old daughter and my unborn child – that God’s will be done, not mine. It’s taken me 30 years to finally start trusting God’s will more than my own. Yet, here is Jesus, facing things so much worse than I have faced, and He asks for God’s will to be done.

When Jesus had finished praying, He returned to His disciples, who were not praying; they were sleeping! As Jesus was speaking to them, a crowd came, and Judas Iscariot lead them. Judas walked up to Jesus and kissed Him. (A kiss was a normal greeting in that culture.) Jesus’ response blows me away. Jesus said to Judas, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Friend. Even in the moment of betrayal, Jesus calls him “friend.” Judas had given into Satan’s temptation, but Jesus was about to battle Satan on the cross. Is this Jesus’ last reassurance that Judas could reject Satan, repent, and be forgiven?

The soldiers seized Jesus, and Peter struck a soldier with a sword, cutting off his ear (John 18:10). Jesus tells him to put the sword away, and He healed the soldier’s ear (Luke 22:51). Jesus was then taken to Caiaphas, who was the high priest. The Council discussed reasons why Jesus should be put to death. The members of the Council did not agree with Jesus’ teachings; they focused on the Law, not forgiveness. They were not humble, but haughty. However, they could find no fault with Jesus. Finally, the high priest said to Jesus, “Tell us if You are the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “You have said so.” At this, the priest tore his robes and declared blasphemy. Then they spit on Jesus, struck Him, and mocked Him. (Matthew 26:63-64)

Peter had followed Jesus from the Garden at Gethsemane to courtyard where Jesus was. A servant girl saw him and said that she saw him with Jesus. Peter denied having a connection with Jesus. Three times this happened, and on the third denial, a rooster crowed. Peter “wept bitterly.” He had protested Jesus washing his feet, saying he should serve Jesus. He had boasted that he would die for Jesus, and yet, when he was up against all that pressure, he denied even knowing Jesus. (Matthew 26:69-75)

That Thursday ended with Jesus betrayed, arrested, beaten, and alone.

And the worst was yet to come.

Maundy Thursday isn’t just a regular Thursday for Christians. It’s a day that reminds me to look at the people who have hurt me – even the people who have hurt me in tremendously terrible ways – and forgive them. It’s a day that teaches me that no matter what ugly mistake I have made, I can always confess it to Jesus and receive forgiveness and love – and that same gift is extended to the people who have hurt me. Maundy Thursday is a day that shows me how to pray not for the things I want or the things I think are necessities, but to pray for God’s will to be done, whatever His will is, whether I understand it or not.

What is Maundy Thursday to you?

Palm Sunday: Reflections of a Pastor’s Wife

What comes to mind on Palm Sunday? I think of the little crosses made from dried palm branches that my church handed out every year. I think of other church traditions, where green palm branches are handed out, especially to children. Some churches have the children walk around, waving the branches, and shouting “Hosanna!” Palm Sunday seems like a great celebration, yet out of place. It feels like it should come after Easter, not before. However, the fact that Palm Sunday comes before Easter Sunday is very important. Let’s go back to that first Palm Sunday.

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The account of Palm Sunday – the Triumphal Entry – can be found in the four Gospels:
Matthew 21
Mark 11
Luke 19:28-48
John 12:12-19

Jesus and His disciples were traveling to the city of Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, as was required of the Israelites each year.  As Jesus and His disciples drew near to Jerusalem, Jesus asked two of them to go to the village ahead of them, where they would find a donkey and her colt. These were brought back to Jesus. The disciples put their cloaks on the colt, and Jesus road it into Jerusalem. This fulfilled the prophesy found in Zechariah 9:9 which says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you, righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

This is a prophesy with which the Jews were familiar. The people had heard of Jesus and His miracles – healing the sick, the blind, the lame, casting out demons, and even raising the dead. They knew He was powerful. Knowing that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, a crowd had gathered. The people laid their cloaks on the ground before the donkey, and they waved palm branches. They shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9).

Hosanna means “save.” The Israelites praised Jesus and believed He had come to save them. They believed He had come to establish His kingdom. However, they believed Jesus had come to establish an earthly kingdom.

At that point in history, the Jews were ruled by the Romans. They had to pay taxes to Rome. They were not a sovereign nation, and the Jews believed a messiah would come to make them a sovereign nation once again.

The Jews were allowed to govern under their own traditions and values for the most part. They had the Sanhedrin, which was the high court, run by their own people. But even within the Sanhedrin, there was political turmoil.

The Sadducees made up a great portion of the high court. They had largely departed from the truth of God’s Word. They only accepted the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Jesus quoted Scripture (the Torah plus Joshua through Malachi). The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection or afterlife. Jesus taught of resurrection and heaven. Jesus’ teachings conflicted with the teachings of this influential group. In addition, the Sadducees were wealthy and unliked by the common people who struggled to pay temple taxes (in addition to Roman taxes). Jesus’ growing popularity alarmed the Sadducees, and they looked for fault, plotting to condemn Jesus to death.

Also part of the high court were the Pharisees.  They were mostly middle-class and were well-liked by the people. The Pharisees accepted all the Scriptures, and they believed in an afterlife. They believed that their keeping of the Law made them right with God. Therefore, they looked down on sinners, people boldly living a sinful lifestyle – tax collectors (who often took more than needed) and prostitutes for example. Jesus reached out to sinners, and forgave those who believed in Him. At the same time, Jesus told the Pharisees their good works would not save them. This outraged the Pharisees. Although the Pharisees were often in conflict with the Sadducees, they had one thing in common: they wanted to get rid of Jesus.

On this Sunday, as Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people praised Him. Within that same week, other people would turn against Jesus. (The crowd on Palm Sunday was probably not the same crowd that would condemn Jesus in a few days.) What really amazes me, though, is that Jesus came into the city knowing that the shout would change from, “Hosanna!” to “Crucify Him!” What did He do with that knowledge? He rode on into Jerusalem – on toward the cross to do exactly what the people were asking Him to do – save them. He would not save them from Rome; He would save them from sin, Satan, and eternal death in hell. And He wasn’t saving only the Jews, but all people who call on His Name. His love is a sacrificial love, a selfless love.

I sometimes act like a Sadducee. I sometimes act like a Pharisee. I often act like the Israelites, praising God one day and then silencing my faith the next. I’m a hypocrite. Just as Jesus knew He would be betrayed and condemned to death, Jesus knows my sinful actions. Even worse, He knows my sinful thoughts. Just as Jesus did not turn away, but continued onward to save His people, Jesus continues to love me. Every day, He forgives me, guides me, and comforts me. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness.”

There is a song by Josh Wilson with a line that says, “Savior, please. Keep saving me.”

And that is my prayer, this Palm Sunday and every day…. Jesus, keep saving me.

Is it your prayer, too?

 

 

Thoughts and Prayers

I’ve been quiet on the topic of school shootings… silently reading others’ posts and comments. There are so many opinions and these get mixed with the feelings one naturally feels after such a devastating event: anger, grief, outrage, fear.

Blame, also a valid reaction, is all over social media. Who do we blame? I’ve seen some comments putting the blame on all of us in such a way that it is seen that each of us pulled that trigger.

Let me be clear: you did not pull that trigger. I did not pull that trigger. Maybe we haven’t done anything drastic on a large-scale to prevent that shooting, but you don’t need to do something big. Model kindness to people you come across on a daily basis…. The girl who serves your morning coffee, your boss who drives you insane, the employee at the retail store ringing up your purchase, the person who parked their car crooked. Smile at people. Offer help when you see them struggling. Tell that teenager who is working at McDonald’s that you hope he has a great day. And as you do these acts of kindness, know that the eyes and ears of children who observe these actions are taking in your behavior, and they will learn from you.

I am seeing so many people posting about how useless “thoughts and prayers” are. This breaks my heart. Thoughtfulness after a school shooting is important. The problem is, that thoughtfulness needs to continue afterwards. As a Christian, I believe God has power to help. I believe He loves us. I can’t imagine His heartache in situations like this, watching as our sinful world brings pain and death and grief. I have personally seen miracles. I have seen someone pronounced dead live again. I have seen someone who should have been killed or greatly injured come out from an accident with only a minor injury. God does not always do miracles. God does not always stop something terrible from happening. I have people I deeply love who have gone through unspeakable tragedies. When it comes down to it, God saved us from eternal death and hell, which is worse than anything in this world. Jesus’ sacrificial love paid our ransom. So yes, I will be praying for all the students and families involved in a school shooting. Yes, I am going to pray for our nation. Yes, I am going to pray for the shooter. Because prayer is powerful. God promises us this in the Bible, and I believe it with all my heart. 

 “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
Matthew 5:44

“Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will hear you.”
Jeremiah 29:12

“The Lord is near to all who call on Him.”
Psalm 145:18

“He regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer.”
Psalm 102:17

“For where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I with them.”
Matthew 18:20

“Pray continually.”
1 Thessalonians 5:17

However, let’s not forget that according to James chapter 2 verse 17, “Faith without works is dead.” If you look up that verse, you will see that it says it is pointless to say to someone who is hungry that you hope they will be fed and then do nothing to feed them. Your faith is useless then. Christianity is not about praying to God and then going on our way. We need to be God’s hands and feet. We need to reflect and model that sacrificial love that Jesus shows to us.  

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There is a song by Matthew West called “Do Something.” Here are a few lines:
“Well, I couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought just disgusted me
So I shook my fist at Heaven and said,
‘God, why don’t You do something?’
He said, ‘I did. I created you!”

You can watch the full lyric video here

Let’s look at what actions we can do in addition to prayer. One of my college professors posted this video. I think it has some great ideas, no matter what your opinion is on arming teachers. Here are some ideas for taking action:

  • Provide schools with school psychologists, social workers, counselors, school nurses,  who have time to listen to students.
  • Fewer standardized tests
  • Smaller class sizes

If we helped our school districts achieve these things, our schools would be changed. Write to your school boards. Write to your state reps. We need our kids to feel like they are more than a number in the enrollment list – because they are.

Other ideas for action:

  • Donate requested items.
  • Donate money to an organization you trust, such as Teen Challenge.
  • Donate blood regularly (if you’re healthy).
  • Don’t ignore racism.
  • Defend people who are bullied.
  • Reach out to kids and teens in juvenile detention centers – write letters, visit the ones who have no family, hold a weekly Bible study with them, love them.
  • Improve rehabilitation in our jails and prisons.
  • Join a local Big Brothers Big Sisters program or donate.
  • Share ideas with others; spread the word!

What other acts of love can we do? Feel free to leave a comment!

Hyperemesis Gravidarum is…

In mid-December 2017, I discovered I was pregnant with my second child. I was very sick during my first pregnancy; I had trouble eating and staying hydrated. This time, the nausea and vomiting were so much worse. I started getting sick the day after Christmas, when I was six weeks. By the end of January, at 10 weeks, I was dangerously ill. I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). I ended up in the hospital twice to receive IV fluids and also to monitor my heart, which had begun to struggle due to the imbalance of electrolytes. My midwife was very close to signing me up for home health – where a nurse would come and give me IV fluids and vitamins on a daily basis. I had tried three anti-nausea medications without improvement. Thankfully, the fourth medication I tried worked, and I have been able to avoid home health and more hospital visits.

The four weeks between late December and late January were absolutely terrible. If I moved, the nausea became debilitating. I was confined to the couch. I had reached the point where I couldn’t swallow my own saliva. One day, while my husband took our two year old to swim, I broke down. I was sobbing uncontrollably and fighting a panic attack. I needed to calm down, so I decided to make a list describing HG. Forcing myself to concentrate and giving all my feelings a name ended up calming me down and building motivation to fight HG. Here is that list:

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HG is…

  • Bruised knees from kneeling to throw up
  • A thousand reps worth of situps
  • Chapped lips
  • Having no control over your body
  • Trying every home remedy until you can’t think of anything else to try
  • Having your husband wash your hair and give you a sponge bath
  • Watching your toddler play without you
  • Relying on others for groceries and cooking (especially difficult for me, as my daughter has 10 food allergies)
  • Fighting tears whenever a comment is made on your weight loss
  • Having people suspect you are choosing not to eat
  • Totally breaking down when someone tells you that you will miscarry unless you force yourself to stop throwing up
  • Trusting in God to get you through every week… day… hour… minute.
  • Watching the world go by without you
  • Seeing the laundry, dishes, and trash pile up
  • Wishing you could wear a diaper because getting up to pee means moving, and moving means throwing up
  • Wearing the same clothes for days and days
  • Wearing sea bands on your wrists until your skin is dying to breathe
  • Letting library books go months overdue
  • Wanting your mommy
  • Force feeding yourself
  • Constantly debating going to the hospital, if only to have someone take care of you and tell you that you will be okay
  • Questioning God
  • Being so thankful for this baby but also so angry, and then feeling so guilty for being mad at your innocent, unborn child
  • Lying in bed, unable to do much, so you research the development of an unborn baby and try to picture what your baby is doing at that moment
  • Praying for your unborn child – for health, for a good life, for faith, for a good spouse – for everything and anything you can think to pray for
  • Gagging on foaming toothpaste
  • Gagging on a toothbrush
  • Wondering how many cavities you will have at the end of the pregnancy
  • Feeling hungry yet repulsed by food at the same time
  • Throwing up after seeing a picture of someone’s perfectly cooked dinner on FB
  • Throwing up when someone recommends you try to eat or drink something
  • Throwing up at the sight of a crumb on the table
  • Craving a cheeseburger and then throwing up thinking about it
  • Dreaming that you are healthy, only to wake up and vomit
  • Feeling like you will be pregnant eternally
  • Spending hours wondering what your baby will be like, look like, sound like
  • Desperately wanting to spend time with your husband
  • Feeling like your toddler is growing up without you
  • Being exhausted, yet unable to sleep because your stomach is an angry ocean
  • Feeling like someone is choking you 24-7
  • Passing out when you are home alone with your toddler, then crying uncontrollably when you realize what happened
  • Feeling like an unfit mother
  • Resting your neck, which is aching from constantly bending over a bucket
  • Bringing a bucket with you into every room, because you can’t live in the bathroom
  • Wondering why the first trimester is so long
  • Looking up what animals have gestations longer than humans, and thanking God you only have 9 months.
  • Looking up what animals have the shortest gestations and feeling jealous
  • Choking down a prenatal vitamin
  • Feeling guilty for the days you couldn’t manage to choke down a prenatal vitamin
  • Fighting panic attacks
  • Dry heaving when you feel like your body couldn’t possibly heave one more time
  • Hating your pregnancy app for talking about first trimester cravings and weight gain
  • Wanting to help your husband, who is struggling with keeping up with his job, keeping  up on household chores that can’t be ignored, spending time with your daughter all while he is missing and worrying about his wife
  • Feeling completely isolated
  • Wishing your husband could take turns carrying this unborn baby
  • Wanting company but not while your house is filthy and when you haven’t showered in a week or changed your clothes for 4 days
  • Holding on for dear life to your toddler’s love and excitement for her unborn sibling
  • Having your toddler get excited when you vomit, because she thinks the baby is coming out
  • Thinking of all your many friends who have miscarried and reminding yourself that HG is better than miscarriage, so be thankful
  • Meeting another HG momma and recognizing her as a superhero (especially those who have had HG through multiple pregnancies)
  • Letting your child eat whatever she can find in her special cupboard because you cannot physically make her a meal
  • Seeing your child’s hair turn into a rat’s nest because you haven’t brushed it in days
  • Wondering if you could start dreadlocks for your hair, since it’s impossible to wash it
  • Realizing the month changed without your knowing
  • Missing important birthdays, funerals, and other events
  • Missing church for weeks
  • Taking comfort in the company of your pet
  • Watching your husband put your child in a horribly mismatched outfit

HG is a terrible, debilitating disease. But through it, you learn that you are so much stronger than you know. HG gave me a lot of time to sit and talk to God. (Well… sometimes scream more than talk.) I am reminded that God listens. He not only listens to eloquent prayers of praise, but He listens when we cry out and act like a toddler throwing a tantrum. He does not always answer prayers with a “yes.” It might be a “no” or “wait.” Sometimes, life does give us more than we can handle. (Those who say the Bible says we are never given more than we can handle are misinformed; there is no verse that says that.) But when life gives us more than we can handle, God is right there, holding our hands, carrying us, sustaining us. Lean on Him.

God gave me an amazing man as my husband, who basically became a sole parent. When I was too sick to get up and change our toddler’s diaper or make her a meal, my husband did all the childcare during that time. (The church office is in our home, so my husband could usually work from home.) My husband listened to me while I cried. He cleaned the bucket after I threw up. My husband is such a blessing.

God gave me an amazing 2 year old daughter. She took care of me – truly. She rubbed my back, brought me something to eat or drink, ran and got a bucket whenever I said, “I feel sick.” She never acted afraid. She never acted frustrated that her mom no longer chased and tickled her. She sat in the ER for hours and was perfectly patient. She absolutely amazes me. I am so blessed.

God gave me an amazing church family. So many people were praying for me. A handful members of our congregation babysat our daughter a few times, brought me broth, brought my husband dinner, sent me cards, and let our daughter sit next to them in church while my husband preached and I stayed home. When I was finally well enough to return to church, so many people hugged me and showed genuine love and concern.

My family and friends are long-distance, but they talked to me frequently over the phone or through Skype. Most importantly, they prayed for me. One friend in particular texted me frequently, and she often typed out her prayers for me. It was extremely comforting to me that someone was praying for me when I was too sick to think of praying for myself.

I usually could not recognize these blessings while I was at my worst. It’s hard to see all the little things when you have a giant problem. But don’t stop looking. Don’t stop praying.

“I can do all things through Him, who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:13

“But those who hope in the Lord will will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

“So do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Reviewing the Reasons, Revising the Message: 13 Reasons Why

The show most tweeted about, 13 Reasons Why, was made to spread awareness that bullying in schools is a major problem, sometimes resulting in suicide. This is such an important message, but I believe it is a message that was poorly – and dangerously – delivered. I implore Selena Gomez, Brian Yorkey, and the other producers to make changes in order to deliver an accurate message with a realistic solution.

Warning: This blog article contains adult content and spoilers.

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13 Reasons Why was too graphic.

The show was based off a young adult novel by Jay Asher; the target audience was teenagers. However, the show included too much adult content for it to be appropriate to the target audience. In fact, the show is rated TV-MA. According to TV Parental Guidelines (1), the rating TV-MA means, “This program is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17.”  Why create a show for teens with a rating that excludes teens? This defies common sense.

Had 13 Reasons Why taken out some of the cussing, drug and alcohol prevalence, sex, and toned down the graphicness of the rape and suicide scenes, the show would have reached its target audience appropriately and still maintained authenticity.

The crude language and alcohol use is in-your-face in the Netflix show. Someone please give the writers a thesaurus. The amount of cussing, especially “f*ck,” is repetitive and accomplishes nothing other than assisting in a TV-MA rating. Why can’t we see an example of what happens when a teen makes good decisions? Even the book doesn’t have half as much cussing as the show. The excessive alcohol use is shown as a normal, accepted, expected part of high school, when that is simply not true (nor legal, nor healthy). There was only one instance in all of Season 1 where a character turned down an offer for alcohol. The show could have offered examples that show teens don’t have to give into peer pressure, they don’t have to break the law to have fun, and life is smoother when we don’t make drunken mistakes.

The sexual content in 13 Reasons Why goes above and beyond what is necessary to get the message across. For the moment, let’s save the two rape scenes for later and discuss some other scenes. A sex scene is included in Episode 8 between Jessica and Justin that is unnecessarily graphic – a scene that never happened in the book, as Jessica and Justin weren’t even dating in the book. In another episode, we see Clay masturbating to a picture of Hannah and Courtney kissing – neither of which happened in the book. In Episode 11, Hannah and Clay’s first kiss quickly goes from sweet and hesitant to stripping and groping and only stops from progressing when Hannah has flashbacks – and again, in the book, all that happened was kissing. It’s honestly awkward for an adult to watch a sex scene between two teenage characters. It feels like watching child porn (albeit soft porn), and it technically would be, except that the actors are all adults. The actors have to be adults for this reason. If the show cannot use teenage actors for teenage characters, it’s probably a good idea to tone it down a notch. The movie To Save A Life, has a scene where sex was simply implied, but nothing sexually graphic was shown. The two teens go into a bedroom, but what happens in the bedroom is left unseen. Using creative means to allude to sexual activity rather than bluntly showing it would also help bring the rating to TV-14.

I was curious to see the portrayal of high school parties in the media is accurate, especially concerning alcohol, drugs, and sex, so I took a poll in a group on Facebook. The group consists of people I have never met who come from all over the USA and also from other countries. These people come from different backgrounds and beliefs. I asked 235 people “Were high school parties sometimes, always, or never as wild as those portrayed in the media?” The results:
Always: 7%
Sometimes: 68%
Never: 25%
These numbers show that while some parties really are as wild in reality as shown in the media, not every high school student goes to crazy parties, and not every party or get-together involves drugs, sex, and alcohol. Therefore, it is unnecessary for a show (or young adult literature) to constantly include such wild parties with graphic scenes.

The rape scenes are extremely graphic. I like what one blogger (2) had to say about the rape scene, “They did a good job of showing Hannah (the girl who committed suicide) and how she felt during the rape, but watching her body writhe with each thrust was completely unnecessary and not something we needed to watch in order to understand the gravity of the situation. When you read something, your mind is only going to let it go as far as your mind can handle but when you watch it, you are at the mercy of someone else’s mind, and this time 13 Reasons Why did a poor job of understanding how much high school and middle school aged kids can handle.” 

Katherine Langford (Hannah) did a fantastic job of having her face go blank. Her eyes seemed lifeless. Many survivors of rape disconnect from themselves to cope with the rape both during and after the crime. I thought it was important to show that she tried to get away but never said, “No.” Sometimes, rape survivors do not scream for help or say no. Sometimes they shut down. That does not equal consent, and I think this scene was a terrific example. Unfortunately, due to the vividness of this scene, the message gets lost. Even if only the thrusts had been left out, it would have been more appropriate – yet just as meaningful – for teens.

Hannah’s suicide scene was also extremely graphic. This is a problem that is important to recognize. Guidelines exist in how the media should portray and report suicide. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (3), “Suicide contagion is the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors within one’s family, one’s peer group, or through media reports of suicide and can result in an increase in suicide and suicidal behaviors. Reports of suicide should not be repetitive, as prolonged exposure can increase the likelihood of suicide contagion. Reports should not divulge detailed descriptions of the method used to avoid possible duplication. Reports should not glorify the victim and should not imply that suicide was effective in achieving a personal goal.”  An article by First Things (4) does a great job going into greater detail on how the show went against each guideline.  

Why is it important to follow these guidelines? A quote from the organization Reporting on Suicide (5) says, “More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration, and prominence of coverage. Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.”  While it may sound strange that suicide is contagious, think about all the other emotions and behaviors that are contagious. How do you feel when you’ve been around someone who is high-strung? Do you feel anxious? Some people follow fashion trends without even realizing they are doing it. (Skinny jeans and leggings, anyone?) Do you find yourself yawning when someone else yawns? The fact is, many behaviors, including suicidal thoughts, can be contagious. Because studies have proven this, it is important to be proactive in discussions and education about suicide, but to follow the guidelines created by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

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13 Reasons Why sends the message that suicide is a solution, self harm is an acceptable coping skill, and seeking help is useless.

Knowing about suicide contagion, it is likely that 13 Reasons Why could easily trigger someone to choose suicide. Not only that, but the suicide scene was a graphic tutorial in how to kill oneself. This contrasts with the novel, in which we know Hannah used pills to kill herself, but we never had a suicide scene. Clay speculates how it happened, but we never know what pills she took, how many, where she was, how she was found, etc. The Netflix show had Hannah use a different method of suicide – cutting the arteries in her arms – and included a graphic scene showing every detail. Brian Yorkey said in Beyond the Reasons that the decision to make the suicide scene so graphic in the Netflix show was to make it uncomfortable to watch, to dissuade anyone from doing it. Unfortunately, I think their method did the exact opposite of what they wanted. It made the perfect how-to guide, complete with longitudinal incisions  – a detail I desperately wish 13 Reasons Why had left out.

I have come close to attempting suicide twice. When I watched the suicide scene, my first thought was, “That was easy.” Hannah definitely seemed scared while doing it. She did act like it was physically difficult to do and like it hurt. But after those few seconds of difficulty, she sat back and relaxed. Her lips trembled slightly for a moment, and then she looked sleepy and peaceful. She didn’t cry. She didn’t seem to regret her decision. Her breathing, which had quickened during the act, slowed in the aftermath. I wish the writers had done the opposite. I wish the easy part was the act of cutting. I wish Hannah had cried, had asked herself, “What have I done?” I wish she had shown what happens to your body when you bleed to death… that you shiver and become incredibly cold. You become gray. Honestly, I thought the blank look in her eyes during the rape scene was more haunting than the peaceful expression during her death. Thank God I did not see this episode as a teen considering suicide, because it might have convinced me to go through with my plan.

It is already too late to hope that no one who watches this show follows through with suicide. Two teen girls, who did not know each other, committed suicide shortly after watching the show 13 Reasons Why, according to a KTVU news report (6). Whether or not the show was a trigger, it is clear the show did not offer them hope. It did not give them advice. It did not offer answers – except for the suggestion that suicide is the answer. 

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The Netflix show and the book portray Hannah was successful in her goal. She couldn’t get her message across while she was alive… that she felt unsafe, that she felt alone, that she saw no purpose, that she wanted justice. But she achieved sending that message through her death. Not only did she send her message, but she got revenge through her death. We all have wanted revenge on people who have hurt us, or at the very least, justice. In the show, all the characters are indebted to Hannah because of her death. These misleading aspects provide great incentive for viewers to copy Hannah.

Dear readers, getting a message across is not worth ending your life.

Another message the novel, but especially the show, sends is that asking for help only makes things worse. The characterization of the teachers, school counselor, principal, vice principal, and parents offer not a single example of someone a teenager can go to for help. In fact, adults in this show are totally oblivious. None of the parents knew when their teens were sneaking in or out of bedroom windows. In Episode 1, the communications teacher was lecturing on nonverbal communication. Meanwhile, all the students are texting each other an innocent, yet unflattering, picture of Hannah going down a slide. The teacher tells students to put away cell phones, but they ignore her; she has no control, and she is completely unaware that something is going on. She fails again in Episode 7, where she receives an anonymous note about suicide, but she did not do much to discourage anyone from suicide, aside from provide hotline numbers. She barely attempted to moderate the discussion.

The character who gives the strongest message that teens should not seek help is the school counselor, Mr. Porter. He had zero control over the Honor Board students in Episode 6. When Tyler came to him in Episode 5 for help because he was pantsed, Mr. Porter essentially asks Tyler what he did to provoke the boys. And while that is a question that needs to be considered, it was not the proper time to ask. But worst of all is the scene between Mr. Porter and Hannah in Episode 13. Hannah tries to tell Mr. Porter about her encounter with Bryce. Mr. Porter cannot be blamed for not knowing what exactly happened to Hannah at the party, but he should have asked about rape using the word “rape,” and he should have reported to Hannah’s parents immediately that she said she saw no reason to life and he suspected rape or assault.

Readers, please let me tell you, you do not have to die to make people listen to you.

So where should someone turn if they are struggling? According to Skye in Episode 11, cutting is a coping strategy. She says, “It’s what you do instead of killing yourself. Suicide is for the weak.” As someone who struggled for three years with a cutting addiction and has been in recovery for 11 years, this line ripped my heart out. Let’s be extremely clear about this:
Self harm is a coping strategy, but not a healthy coping strategy.
Self harm does not mean you are strong.
Self harm is dangerous and can result in disfigurement, infection, and death.
Self harm does not mean someone is not suicidal.

While I self harmed, I struggled with suicidal thoughts. I took a poll in a self injury awareness group to see if I was in the minority. I wasn’t. Out of 154 people polled, 88% said they have contemplated or attempted suicide. Only 12% said they had never considered suicide. Parents, teachers, and counselors – I beg you to know that if someone is practicing self harm, they are likely considering suicide. Please consider self harm a red flag – not a trend.

Readers, please know that you do not have to punish yourself. You do not have to feel pain to feel alive. You are worth so much more than you know, and you deserve better than self injury.

Perhaps the second season of 13 Reasons Why will address some of these issues. Perhaps the adults that finally became involved in the last episode of Season 1 will redeem the show. Perhaps some good examples of what a person should do will be shown instead of only what not to do. I understand that the show needed to generate suspense and curiosity to keep the show going, to cover the costs, but that should never be done at the expense of someone’s health – or life – and that is what happened with Season 1.

When I was in college to earn a degree in secondary education, one of the teaching techniques that was repeated constantly was, “Don’t just tell students what not to do. Redirect them. Show them what they can do.” In my teaching career and as a parent, I have learned the value of positive examples.

What 13 Reasons Why can do to improve their message:

  • Really focus on the ways Hannah’s suicide had side effects she never wanted (such as her parents’ emotional and financial state, Clay’s false-guilt and suicidal thoughts, Alex’s suicide attempt, the lawsuit, and the unbearable guilt many of the characters feel).
  • Talk about PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Giving names to these conditions helps people to know that these feelings can be identified, they can be given help, and healing can happen.
  • Create several adult characters that are good for teens to confide in. A competent teacher, counselor, parent.
  • Show what could have happened had Hannah talked to her parents.
  • Provide an example of a student who is open with his or her parents, and show the good results of such a relationship.
  • Give reasons why someone is too valuable to have their life stolen by suicide.
  • Send the message that surviving friends and family of a suicide victim are not to blame for a decision that was ultimately up to the victim.
  • Continue all the things that have been done well: the scene transitions, the music, the casting, the acting. All of these were powerful.
  • Continue showing how hurt and lost Clay and Hannah’s parents feel.

 

What parents can do:

  • Watch out for red flags but also be aware red flags don’t need to exist for someone to be struggling with a mental health issue. (secretive behavior, excessive arguing, a drop in grades, drug and alcohol use, disinterest in hobbies, too tired to eat or shower, etc.)
  • Do not supply alcohol and drugs for minors.
  • Provide and require adult supervision at parties.
  • Make your home a fun (safe) place for your teen to have friends over.
  • Set curfews and rules.
  • Enforce consequences and offer positive reinforcement.
  • Be aware of what goes on in your teen’s life on social media.
  • Be open and real with your teens; tell them about your years as a teenager, your regrets and your proud moments.
  • If your teen is going to watch 13 Reasons Why, watch it with them.

 

What teens can do:

  • Report bullying. If the person you reported to fails to address the situation, report it to someone else.
  • Stand up for classmates who are being bullied.
  • Don’t give into peer pressure when it comes to drinking, drugs, and sex.
  • Find a responsible adult you trust and confide in him or her often.
  • Know that the rules your teachers and parents enforce exist because you are loved.
  • Know your worth is not based on other people.
  • Know that what you are going through will not last forever, even though it feels that way. Each day is a success.
  • If you think someone is dealing with depression, self harm, addiction, or contemplating suicide, tell a trusted adult immediately. Your friend may not appreciate it at the time, but you might save a life.

 

If you are struggling, please contact a professional. You don’t have to do this battle alone. Your journey can start with some of the resources I’ll list below. In addition, while I am not a professional, I’ve been in dark places, and I’ve come out of them. If you need someone to listen to you, if you need to talk to someone who has survived and healed, leave a comment, and I’ll be there. I don’t know you, but I love you.

As a Christian, I feel compelled to add that you are so incredibly valued, that Someone gave His life for You. He bled so you don’t have to. He conquered death so you can have heaven. He has a purpose for you in this world. You are so loved, more than you can ever possibly know or even imagine. Jesus knows you, and He loves you.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Focus on the Family counselors: 1-855-771-HELP (4357)
M-F 6am-8pm (Mountain Time Zone).

13 Reasons Why Not to Commit Suicide: http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/teens/13-reasons-why-not?_ga=2.147574068.2048394733.1501526918-1820413583.1501526918

Suicide Lifelines by State and by Topic:
http://suicidehotlines.com/3_colortext/index.html

Christian Lifelines for suicide, addiction, abortion, homosexuality, and more:
https://brokenbelievers.com/2011/01/23/247-crisis-lines/

To Write Love On Her Arms: resources for suicide prevention, self harm, and addiction:
http://www.twloha.com

Discussion Guide for 13 Reasons Why:
https://www.jedfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/13RW-Talking-Points-JED-SAVE-Netflix.pdf

 

Works Cited:
1. “The TV Parental Guidelines.” The TV Parental Guidelines, http://www.tvguidelines.org/ratings.htm. Accessed 28 Aug. 2017.

2. Harrington, Jamie. “WARNING: DO NOT LET YOUR KIDS WATCH 13 REASONS WHY.” Totally The Bomb.Com, 9 May 2017, totallythebomb.com/do-not-let-your-kids-watch-13-reasons-why. Accessed 28 Aug. 2017.

3. “What does ‘suicide contagion’ mean, and what can be done to prevent it?” HHS.gov, 21 Aug. 2015, http://www.hhs.gov/answers/mental-health-and-substance-abuse/what-does-suicide-contagion-mean/index.html. Accessed 28 Aug. 2017.

4. Kheriaty, Aaron. “Killer Show: ’13 Reasons Why’ Romanticizes Suicide.” First Things, http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2017/05/killer-show. Accessed 28 Aug. 2017.

5. “Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide.” Reporting on Suicide, reportingonsuicide.org/recommendations/. Accessed 28 Aug. 2017.

6. “Two families endure suicides, blame popular Netflix show.” KTVU, 22 June 2017, http://www.ktvu.com/news/263334963-story. Accessed 28 Aug. 2017.

 

 

Eclipse Experience

I was fortunate to be in the “path of totality” for the 2017 solar eclipse. (Basically, I was able to see the full eclipse for a few minutes.) The experience was much more than I had expected.

My husband and I grew up in Michigan (MI), and our family is there. My husband, myself, and our toddler daughter now live in Missouri, which put us in one of the best places in the country to view this eclipse. My husband’s family came down from MI for the event. My mother-in-law has some relatives who live near us, although my husband doesn’t know them very well. This was the perfect event for a family reunion!

2017eclipse

Photo credit: AccuWeather
https://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/eclipse-day-timeline-from-coast-to-coast-when-will-you-see-the-total-solar-eclipse/70002446

We drove out to a farm that had this big field with hills on either side. It was the perfect setting for the eclipse, a natural auditorium.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had never seen a solar eclipse before, and the news was constantly stressing that a person can go blind from seeing an eclipse. Schools were closing because it wasn’t right to put that kind of stress on teachers. The teachers would need to keep each of their students from looking at the sun without special solar glasses and to keep them from scratching or denting the glasses, which are basically a blindfold; the glasses allow you to see absolutely nothing but the sun. Police were going to be busy with all the added traffic in our little rural area, and car accidents by distracted drivers were expected. Banks feared that police would be too busy to help them if there was a robbery, and so banks closed. I even saw reports that zoos were bringing animals inside. All this chaos made me a little unsure of what was actually going to happen. All the reports said that the safest way to view an eclipse is online or on TV, but I wanted to see it in person, without our cumbersome technology.

In the quiet of this rural farm, we ate a picnic lunch in the shade of the trees. The humid Missouri heat was oppressive. I felt sticky, heavy, and tired. The thermometer read somewhere around 95°F (35°C), but the humidity made it feel worse. The sun was extremely bright, and I wore sunglasses when I wasn’t wearing the solar glasses.

My father-in-law downloaded an app on his phone that announced updates on the eclipse. “Eclipse begins. Glasses on.” I put on the glasses, which were like the paper glasses you get for 3D movies. I could see nothing. I looked up at the sky and saw a small, orange ball. The top right section had just a tiny crescent blacked out… the beginning of the eclipse. I took my glasses off and was blinded by the light. Oops… next time, look away before taking off the glasses. However, my eyes were fine.

Screenshot_20170824-193056

Several minutes later, it seemed as though nothing had changed. Yet, when I put on the glasses and looked at the sun, the black crescent had taken over more of the orange ball. And then we all realized how much cooler it was. Although nothing looked different without the glasses, the heat was simply warm. It no longer felt like the sun was cooking your skin the moment you stepped out from the shade.

With about 15 minutes to go until totality, I took off my regular sunglasses, no longer needing them. Although the sun seemed to be shining like normal to the naked eye, the light seemed to be that of a cloudy day. Yet, there was not a cloud in the sky.

My father-in-law’s app chimed a five minute warning. After that, things changed quickly. We could watch the light around us grow dimmer with every moment. It was strange and eerie. The light was similar to what you see at sunrise or sunset… kind of a yellow hue, like a sepia photo. However, the light from a sunrise or sunset comes from the side, from one direction, casting long shadows. It was 1:15 in the afternoon, and the sun was directly overhead. The light came straight down, and there were no long shadows like at dawn or dusk. It was extremely disorienting. It gave me a feeling like something was “off.”

Within moments, it was as dark as a night with a full moon. With the solar glasses, I watched until there was just a sliver of orange left, and then it was gone. The eclipse app announced, “Total eclipse. Glasses off.” Everything was still. Even the birds were quiet. The temperature dropped. My almost-two-year-old ran around curiously, asking, “Moon? Sun? Moon? Stars?”

EclipseCollage

We looked up into the sky, no longer blinded by solar glasses, and we saw a spectacular sight. There was a dark circle in the sky, completely encircled by a thin ring of white light. It didn’t make me squint. Surrounding this were stars, which were actually planets. I believe we could see Jupiter, if I was told correctly.

For a few minutes, we stood in the dark, and we stared at the light.

Before I was ready for this experience to be over, the app announced, “Glasses on! Glasses on!” I hadn’t yet looked away when the tiniest sliver of light burst past the moon, and I involuntarily squinted and looked away, unable to handle the extreme light of direct sunlight. I put on my solar glasses, and through them, I could only see a thin line of sunlight peeking out from behind the moon. How amazing that such a small section of sun can be so incredibly intense! Without the solar glasses, it was already impossible to look straight at the sun.

Now everything happened in reverse. The birds resumed their songs, and the light dramatically increased with each moment. It was like a sunrise, but from straight above.

Unfortunately, my toddler did not understand that we could no longer look at the sun. She kept trying, and I had to shield her eyes and carry her to the car, where I distracted her until she forgot all about the strange phenomenon that had just occurred.

It had only been 10 minutes or so, but the heat had returned in full force. My daughter had missed her nap and was getting tired, and we were all hot. We packed up and said our goodbyes. By the time we got in the car, we had regular sunglasses back on to shade our eyes from the summer sun and were thankful for the air conditioning blasting in the car.

It was over.

I sat in the car for the ride home and reflected on all I had just witnessed. At home, all my Michigan friends and family were saying that it was noticeably dimmer, and the temperature had dropped slightly, but other than that, it was just another day. I was so thankful I was blessed to see this.

The day after the eclipse, my husband, who is a pastor, received a phone call that a church member in a nursing home was not responsive. The three of us drove out there, and we sang hymns for the man, who was a retired pastor. He lay in bed, cancer ravaging his body, sucking in ragged breaths that seemed to take so much energy for each repetition. We were confident he could hear us, and he seemed to be more relaxed while we sang with his family. My husband read him the commendation, and then he said, “You can go to God.” My husband left the building so the family could have some time alone with him, but the man took his last breath and left.

As I rode along for the drive home, I thought, “He didn’t even get to see the eclipse yesterday.” And then I realized how silly that thought was. Our world is like a perpetual eclipse. We can see around us in the dim light. We can know God is with us, that He loves us, just like we can see the sunlight behind the moon during an eclipse. But when this life – this eclipse – is over, the sun we see will be Jesus, the Son of God. Even the smallest sliver will be more than we can imagine or behold. Just as the birds sang at the end of the eclipse, the angels will sing when we enter heaven. Our sepia world will be in full color.

I was excited about the 2017 solar eclipse, and I’m excited to once again be in the path of totality for the 2024 solar eclipse, but above all, I am excited for our figurative “eclipse” to be over. I am excited to no longer deal with pain, sadness, hatred, war, sickness, and death. I am living for the day I will meet Jesus face-to-face and live in a perfect world like God first intended.

20170821_131827 (1)

My photo of the eclipse. It didn’t photograph the way it looked in real life. There was more black in the center, and the ring of light was thinner, but the light was white like in this photo.

 

Total-solar-eclipse-from-001-538x218
I found this photo that was a little closer to the real thing, but still not quite the same. The sun still looked far away, and the ring of light was more white.
Photo credit: http://keizerfire.com/2017/07/26/solar-eclipse-information/

 

 

One-Year Anniversary of our Call

Today, July 3, 2017, makes one year since my husband was ordained as a pastor after graduating from seminary and being installed at the church where he has been Called. Time flies!

For those who don’t know from my past entry on Call Night, a graduating seminarian who will be a first-time pastor gets a Call. This is something the seminary professors do with churches requesting a pastor. They prayerfully consider where each seminarian should go. They try to take into consideration if the seminarian is married, has kids, wants to be near family, wants to be rural or urban, or has any health issues. However, nothing is guaranteed. Ultimately, you go where God puts you.

Both my husband and I grew up in south-east Michigan, although we had lived for four years in Indiana for the seminary and one year in Illinois for vicarage (internship). My husband grew up in a rural town with a population of about 5,000. I grew up in the suburbs with a population of about 31,000. We requested that we be within a day’s drive of family – the closer the better – but no more than 8 hours. We said we wanted our daughter to grow up knowing her relatives. We also had some health concerns that definitely ruled out three states. We requested no inner-city church, because the traffic and the crime would really cause me health problems concerning my anxiety disorder. We had no idea where we were going to go; we only knew it would be in America.

The way seminarians in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod learn of their first call is very… dramatic. The seminarians all sit up front as a class, just like graduation. Meanwhile, the wives, kids, family, and friends sit in the back. (Thankfully, my parents, sister, and parents-in-law were there to support me so I didn’t have to go through this alone.) We go through a very long church service, which is both aggravating and wonderful at the same time. Aggravating, because you just want to know where you are going to live. Wonderful, because the hymns, Bible verses, and sermon have such a beautiful peace that strengthens and encourages you.

One-by-one, the seminarians are called by name and then told the name of the church, city, state, and district they are Called to. Some seminarians get more than one church, which is happening more and more, especially in rural churches, as Christianity weakens in America.

This is how the seminarians, their wives, and their kids learn where they will live. After the service, a seminarian can quietly refuse his Call, but this is rare, and to do so means you may never get another Call. It’s not good for one’s career. However, when one accepts a Call, one does so assuming that this could be the only Call one ever receives and/or accepts, and it could be where he stays until retirement. Of course, many pastors do receive other Calls during their careers (in a much less dramatic way), which they prayerfully consider and then either accept or deny. A pastor will usually stay at his first Call for three-to-five years to get a foundation under his career and not cause too much change at once for that congregation.

Nervous
(A nervous wife waiting for the service to begin)

Frank and I had been receiving hints that we were getting a Call to Michigan, and we were delighted that we would be by family. When I heard my husband’s name called, followed by Missouri, I was in shock. Absolute shock. I had never heard of the town. I had never even been in the state of Missouri. Not only was it not Michigan; it was a drive even further than 8 hours away. I suddenly felt like there was this gaping chasm between my family and me. I looked down at my baby, and I couldn’t imagine her growing up without her aunts, uncles, and grandparents. My heart just hurt. I said, “I have to go. I have to leave.” And I walked out of the church and went to the basement where the bathrooms are. My mom and sister followed. When they caught up to me, my mom said, “It’ll be okay.” And then my sister – who is so strong, rarely emotional, so level-headed – burst into tears and grabbed me up into a hug. And then all three of us stood in the basement, sobbing.

After the service, during pictures, I was just numb. I was relieved to finally no longer be wondering where we were going. We weren’t being sent off to Alaska or some other terrible cold state; so that burden had been lifted. Everyone kept coming up to us and saying, “Perry county! You’re going to Perry county!” I wanted to scream, “WHAT IS PERRY COUNTY!?” (I had forgotten my Lutheran history lessons… it’s where Lutheranism was brought to America!)

Call Night
(After the Call Service with our announcement poster)

Although it was getting late in the evening, the seminarians and their wives meet with their new district president. We found the room where we were assigned and met the Missouri District President. I liked him immediately. He put me at ease. He described our town, and he made it sound charming. The one thing that concerned me was how rural it was… a town with less than 500 people. This was more rural even than the town my husband grew up in. The Missouri DP said the one thing he could say about our congregation is that they need a pastor who will connect with them and just love them. We can do that, I thought to myself. I have a passion for loving people who have been through difficult times.

Graduation
(Graduation)

The next few months were spent with Frank finishing up his classes, graduating, receiving an academic award, and packing, packing, packing. All with a baby. When our daughter was 9 months old, we locked up our tiny apartment for the last time. I got in our car with my mom. My dad got in his car. Frank got in the Uhaul, and we were off for a long, long day of driving. Thankfully, our daughter was so well-behaved in the car and never fussed… until the last two hours. Then she made up for it by crying the entire two hours.

Moving Day

(Moving Day)

We pulled into town just after it got dark. We weren’t sure where the house was, so we pulled into the church parking lot. We got out and were greeted by 10-20 people who had come to meet us and help us unload. They pointed out the driveway, which was hidden in the rural darkness. We asked if we could walk through the house once before everything was brought in, just so I could plan what went where. (I had all my boxes color-coded with post-its according to what room they belonged in.)

I remember walking into the living room through the front door. I was overwhelmed. This was my home… for at least the next 3-5 years, if not more. I hadn’t lived anywhere for longer than a year since we were married. I walked into the kitchen and came to a stop. It was all brand new. The cabinets were a light-wood color. The backsplash was a brownish-copperish color. All the appliances matched in color. And so much counter space! So many cabinets! After having teeny, tiny apartment kitchens, I was thrilled. It even had a double sink with a window over it. And a tile floor, which made me so very happy after having a dining room in the apartment that was carpeted, which does not mix with a baby.

 

There were so many things I loved about the house… a huge basement, windows in every direction (unlike our apartment that had windows only on the north wall), a huge yard, three bedrooms and three bathrooms. But I was also overwhelmed. Everyone started unloading the truck, and really all I could do was make sure my crawling baby was happy and out of the way. I didn’t know anyone, and in the flurry of activity, I was struggling to remember names. Most of the boxes got unloaded, and we called it a night. Everyone left, and we started getting the beds set up, figuring out where to sleep and how.

The next few days were a struggle for me. Members of church dropped by to donate food, do some last minute repairs on the house (they had remodeled the kitchen and basement before our arrival), or just to say hello. I couldn’t eat any of the food, due to breastfeeding a baby with food allergies. It did help feed my hungry husband and parents, though! My baby, although breastfed, did not latch. This meant I had to pump for 20 minutes every three hours in order to feed her and keep up my milk production. That, in turn, meant that I had to constantly close myself off from everyone and hide away while I pumped. It seemed like every time someone dropped by, I was pumping. I could hear voices I didn’t recognize talking with my family, and I didn’t get to join in the process of getting to know our visitors. I knew my family was  unpacking things without me helping them decide where to put it. I love help packing, but I actually enjoy unpacking and organizing everything myself.

I also struggled with being so rural. A drive to the grocery store meant 30-40 minutes. So if we went to the store, that was 40 minutes, plus, say, 40 minutes to shop, and then 40 minutes to get home. That’s two hours. That meant, if I pumped at 1pm, we could leave at 1:30 when I was done pumping and put everything away. Two hours for the store got me home at 3:30, and I needed to pump again at 4. There was no time for anything more than a quick lap around the store to get what was needed. In addition to this, I needed to coordinate my daughter’s feeding and nap times and proper storage for breastmilk. Due to the food allergies, I sometimes couldn’t find what I needed at one store, so I would need to go to another, but I didn’t have time.

I was tired, overstimulated, and so unsure of the future.

Sunday finally came, and we went to church. We got to meet the congregation. Another pastor preached for the last time. Later that afternoon, Frank was ordained and installed in a special church service, and then there was a meal with everyone afterwards. Again, I couldn’t eat much due to food allergies, so I nibbled on a few things and spent most of my time making rounds so I could meet everyone and try to memorize names. One thing I knew immediately – we were blessed with a congregation who was inviting, warm, and just so excited to have a pastor. Everyone loved our daughter, and I knew that although she was going to grow up without her relatives, she would have plenty of church family.

Ordination Day

(Ordination and Installation Day)

The first few months were difficult for me, which was no one’s fault. My clinical depression, anxiety, and post-partum depression were kicking my butt, along with all the new changes – a baby, a career change, and a big move. The depression got so bad, I even became suicidal, and I had to start seeing a doctor and get counseling. Depression is a disease that has a terrible way of lying to you, convincing you that you are worthless and your family is better off without you. We also discovered the house was full of brown recluse spiders, which are pretty common in most older houses in Missouri and very, very difficult to get rid of. I’m not afraid of bugs, but I was TERRIFIED of my baby getting bit by these venomous spiders, especially since we were finding them in her toys, by her crib, etc. It really triggered my anxiety and OCD.

I share all these trials for the sake of other seminary wives and wives of pastors. You can be Called to the best congregation possible, but still deal with debilitating depression simply because it is a huge change, and it’s one you have absolutely no control over. If you need to do counseling, do it. There is no shame in asking for support during such a huge transition.

Slowly, as I learned more about my surroundings, met more people, got to know our congregation, I settled down. I learned our church and small town are very active. They have all these traditions that we experienced for the first time: the first funeral, first wedding, first baptism, the church carnival, the county fair, the Christmas country church tour, the children’s Christmas program, Christmas Day, Holy Week, Confirmation, Easter Sunday, the church chicken dinner, Vacation Bible School, the church softball team, the parking lot 4th of July party. We are always busy doing something with people from church and the people of the town. We’re never lonely. We feel so welcomed.

I also experienced my first Missouri winter. The winter of 2016-2017 was mild in the midwest, even in Michigan, it was still even more mild in Missouri than in Michigan. My family kept sending me pictures of all their snow and gray and slush. I kept an eye on the temperatures in Michigan. Meanwhile, although cold, it was nothing like Michigan in Missouri. We had two dustings of snow and one ice storm. The weather was mild enough for me to go for a walk. I didn’t hate being outside in winter like I did in Michigan and Indiana. Autumn stayed much later, and spring started much earlier. All of that meant that my seasonal depression was very, very mild. I had a few rough days, but not rough weeks or rough months. This alone makes me want to stay in Missouri forever.

We also experienced our first tornado in February. We only had hail damage that resulted in a new roof. The next town over was struck by an EF-4 tornado, tragically causing one death. The way the towns and churches pulled together to help those who lost their homes was inspiring. All the grocery stores had food drives. The community groups on Facebook organized donations. Churches raised thousands of dollars at door-offerings. It was a type of neighborly love I rarely saw in the city.

And that neighborly attitude is always present. Whenever one person drives or walks past another person, he waves a hand. Whenever I am out for a walk with my daughter, people stop to say hello, offer us fresh vegetables, talk about the calves being born. It’s this little town that time forgot.

One year ago, as I sat in this house, wondering what the future held, I felt so unsure, unsteady. I knew God’s plan for my husband, but what was my calling? What was my purpose? Today, as I sit here typing this, aside from missing my family, I never want to leave this town. The people here are important to me. I have fallen in love with the rolling fields and the country sky. I have adapted to the culture here and decided I was meant for this way of living my entire life. It’s a good place to raise a family. It’s a good place to make friends. It’s a good place to grow in faith and knowledge of Jesus. God knew what He was doing when He Called us here, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be scared, as long as I still trust in Him. I don’t know if it is God’s plan to keep us here until my husband retires, but if it is, that would make me happy. I don’t know if it is God’s plan to move us to another Call or Calls in the future, but if it is, I will trust in Him.