For the Ones Who Can’t See the Light

Dear You,

I know.

I know what it’s like to trudge through knee-high snow, in the woods, at midnight, without a coat, during a blizzard, and squint through those icy bites, looking for that warm candle light that will lead you home, but there is no effing flicker of light out there.

OK. Maybe I don’t actually wander the woods during a blizzard, but I think you understand what I mean. I think you understand what it’s like to be lost. You know what it’s like when you can’t find the light, and no matter which way you turn, you just find more trees blocking your view, and you’re so, so tired of wading through snow banks.

And you get how scary it is to be alone in the woods at night. Monsters live in the woods. Werewolves and demons and child-eating witches. This is no place to be alone.

But you already know that. Because me and you? We know what it’s like to lose. For every forward movement to be a struggle, and you don’t know what’s ahead of you, or even if you’re going the right way.

Every snowflake’s supposed to be unique, right? Maybe your snow looks like your children not having enough food. Or maybe each flake is an image of someone you’ve lost. Or all the mistakes you’ve made. Or all the false faces you’ve worn. Or the memories of a thousand backhands.

Here’s the part where I’m supposed to say something inspirational. But I’m not going to tell you something stupid, like if you just look up you’ll find a star you can follow all the way home. Because I know you can’t see the stars when you’re in the middle of the woods, during a fucking blizzard.

And I can’t tell you things will get easier. That the wind will die down and the snow will let up. I don’t know what’ll happen.

What I can tell you is you aren’t out in the woods on your own. I’m out here with you. A lot of people are. And maybe we aren’t all heading in the same direction, but that doesn’t mean we can’t wade through the snow together for a while. When your fingers go numb, borrow my gloves. When I fall face first into a snow bank (because God knows I fall into a lot of snow banks), maybe you can give me your hand and help me up.

I can’t promise we’ll make our way home, but maybe we can provide a little warmth for one another. And maybe we’ll be a little safer because those monsters would rather pick off lonely travelers.

So, if it’s OK with you, I’d like to walk with you for a while.

Love,

Me

Mandatory Year-end Blog Post 2016

2016 started rough. I was still working on the first draft of my memoir, and writing a book is hard, y’all. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done (and I once managed to get my car out of a snowbank using nothing but McDonald’s bags). I feel like a wizard should show up to tell me I’ve fulfilled my destiny or some shit. Except I’m still revising a little, so the wizard will have to come back sometime in 2017.

Honestly, I haven’t done much this year besides write, read, watch Kimmy Schmidt, and eat insane amounts of wintergreen Life Savers. I have a super glamorous life.

 

Top Five Most Viewed Posts

What Does Being Stalked Look Like? 

Last year, my parents found several rolls of undeveloped film. When they developed them, we found a whole roll of pictures that were taken while I was being stalked. While working on my memoir, I pulled out all the pictures my family has of just before and after this time as well. Seeing a visual timeline spread out like that hit me harder than I thought it would. It was like watching my life fall apart. When I shared some of those pictures, I didn’t think people would be very interested in them. I’m still not sure why this post was so popular. Maybe it helps drive home just how young I was. Maybe people just like seeing me in tie-dye (I know I do).

 

When Supporters Strip Rape Victims

header imageVictims are often stripped of their voice. Because of fear or shame or people who won’t listen. It’s important to allow them to speak about their experiences, on their own terms, without projecting our own assumptions onto them.

Sometimes I write a post because I’m frustrated with a trend. This was one of those times.

 

The God Who Suffers

God knows what it’s like to be abandoned by the people you love. God knows what it’s like to be falsely accused. God knows what it’s like to be humiliated and shamed. God knows what it’s like to suffer.

While I don’t fully understand the Trinity (who does?), I have a much deeper appreciation for it. I’ve grown more attached to the crucified Christ through that.

 

What Does Forgiveness Look Like?

What does forgiveness look like when you’re still broken? When you’ll never not be broken? How do you forgive someone who doesn’t think they did anything wrong?

If you ever get down on yourself for being slow to forgive, just remember it took me 15 years just to get started. (Bonus: Y2K fantasies)

 

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Creeds

Credit: Steve SnodgrassChristians all over the world, in different traditions that wouldn’t normally agree on much, stand up together on Sunday mornings and as one body recite the same words Christians have recited for centuries. And that’s a powerful thing to be a part of.

More evidence that I’m some sort of denominational Frankenstein’s monster. (See? I know the monster’s name isn’t Frankenstein. How impressed are you right now?)

Jesus Wept: Mourning With Those Who Mourn

Credit: JOHNNY LAI

Credit: JOHNNY LAI

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12:9-18 (NIV)

 
I’ve been trying to keep this in mind lately. Some people have a gentle spirit. I’m not one of those people. I don’t lack zeal, but I often lack patience, which can come across as dismissiveness.
 
In our zeal, it’s easy to be dismissive. “God’s in control” or “We serve another Kingdom” isn’t a comforting thought to many people right now.
 
Jesus knew he could raise Lazarus from the dead, but still, he wept. “Jesus wept,” are the two most moving words in the whole Bible. God mourned with those who were mourning, even though he knew everything would be fine in the end.
 
I ask Christians to mourn with those who are mourning right now. I’ve seen some of you already doing that. Some of you are the ones mourning right now.
 
If you don’t understand why people are upset or afraid, listen to them. Try to understand. “Do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” Act the way you know you should act. The way Jesus would act.
 
The past several months have been painful and brought some evil things out into the open. People are weeping right now and we need to pay attention to that. We need to honor others above ourselves.

The Pacifist’s Guide to Inflicting Pain

 

Credit: Todd Lappin

Credit: Todd Lappin

Oh, Kristy, you crazy Jezebel. Pacifists don’t inflict pain. How can you inflict pain when you’re standing still, allowing people to punch you in the face?

69559979

I believe that Christians are called to pacifism. And I also believe that sometimes some Christians are called to inflict a little pain.

Woah. Hold the phone. That doesn’t sound like loving our enemies.

Say someone punches me in the face (for being the mouthy person that I am) and scrapes his knuckles on my front teeth.

I could punch him back, which isn’t at all a Christ-like response.

I could walk away without harming him, which would be a more Christ-like response.

Or I could pull out my first aid kit and swab his knuckles with rubbing alcohol, which would be the most Christ-like response.

When the alcohol hits his scrapes and starts stinging, he might pull back and yell, “You’re hurting me!” but am I really? Am I hurting him or am I helping him? Is causing pain always a violent act?

It’s important to remember that in this scenario, I’m showing off my rad first aid skills on someone who initiated contact with me (via a punch to the face, but still). I didn’t go for a walk in my local park and insist everyone I came across show me their scrapes and scratches so I could pour alcohol over them. And we should never just waltz up to people we know nothing about and “speak the truth” at them because, come on, the gospel is pretty clear about how Christians aren’t supposed to be jerks.

Damage or Discomfort

Sometimes we need to speak the truth, and sometimes the truth is painful for people to hear.

For example, being called out by your congregation for abusing people within the church is painful, but necessary. It’s necessary for the people who’ve been abused and it’s necessary for the person who’s committed the abusive acts. Because how is it loving to allow someone to continue hurting others?

What we have to ask ourselves is are we causing damage or discomfort?

We should never damage other people with our words or actions, but discomfort is absolutely on the table. Discomfort doesn’t cause any true damage, but it can prompt positive change. Because people are always looking for that sweet spot in life, and they’ll weave and bob around anything that makes them uncomfortable to get there.

Last summer, I caused some discomfort. My sister and I showed up at our old church. It could have been a spiritually and emotionally violent sort of raid (even though my sister didn’t let me wear my horned helmet which was a huge disappointment). But I wasn’t there to inflict damage.

The main reason I was there was to pray for that congregation because, you know, Jesus and all. When I got home and recounted the visit to my father, I claimed to have “pulled a total Ananias” because I’m obsessed with Ananias’ interaction with Paul (and I’m also kind of lame). I was there in the spirit of peace and reconciliation. I shook hands. I hugged people. I worshiped with them. And, keep in mind, these are the people who weren’t terribly concerned when a stalker wanted to murder me.

The effect of that peaceful entrance was like pouring rubbing alcohol into a festering wound. It was super uncomfortable. I mean, how would you feel if you’d ignored a teenage girl’s pleas for help while an older man threatened to kill her? And then she disappeared off the face of the earth for 16 years until one day she popped back in on her way to the airport?

But did I damage those people? No.

My presence probably reminded them of some unpleasant moments, but that was all old damage. It wasn’t anything new I caused on that Sunday morning. All I did was bring the alcohol with me (rubbing alcohol, not drinking alcohol, but only because my sister was all, “No, Kristy, you can’t drink a 6-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade before church starts).

You know who else used to cause a lot of discomfort? His name starts with a J. He was never cruel or vindictive about it, but he caused discomfort when it was necessary to bring people closer to righteousness.

Jesus didn’t trade physical punches with people, but he didn’t let them off the hook either. If we’re supposed to follow Jesus, and we find our calling to pacifism in his example and instructions, then we should also find our calling to promote peace, reconciliation, and change through nonviolent action. And sometimes that means a little non-retributive pain and discomfort when disinfection and healing is the purpose.

 

Listen Up

I used to be a good listener. I’ve sat on a hard bench, listening to a girl recount not just one of her lives, but two. And even though I knew she couldn’t really have been Bloody Mary in a previous life (especially since she’d gotten the details of Queen Mary’s life confused with Elizabeth Báthory), I kept my damn mouth shut and just let her talk.

James 11920

At some point, I turned into a terrible listener. I might take in the words and all, but sometimes I’ll dismiss them without a fair shot because I already know the right answer.

Maybe we get like that when we don’t feel heard. You’d think that when we don’t feel heard we’d have some empathy and listen harder since we know what it feels like to be dismissed. But, nah. We just tend to scream even louder, don’t we?

James 122

Sometimes I talk about being a crappy pacifist. Straight up, y’all. My name is Kristy and I’m a super crappy pacifist.

Oh, I’m not running around getting into drunken bar fights (anymore). But just avoiding violence—which is honestly pretty easy to do—isn’t enough.

Matthew 59

Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are the people who run away from fights” or “Blessed are you when you lay the verbal smackdown on someone instead of socking them in the jaw.”

We’re blessed when we make peace. Not enjoy any peace that may already exist. Make peace.

How do we begin to make peace?

We fucking listen.

Everyone believes they have a damn good reason for doing what they do. I’ve done some crazy shit, but I always had a reason for it.

When we see someone doing or saying the “wrong” thing, instead of saying, “Hey, listen up. Let me tell you all the reasons why you’re dumb and wrong,” we should say, “Hey, I want to understand how you got there. Can you tell me why you think that?”

Maybe that person does have a damn good reason and we’ve just never considered it before. Maybe we’ve been so sheltered from certain experiences that we can’t come to the correct answer because we need firsthand experience to fully understand the implications of those decisions.

James 1:26-27

Being correct doesn’t always give us the right to jump in. Christians should be slow to speak and quick to listen. Slow to give answers and quick to listen to the questions. Slow to impose our ways and quick to listen to others explain why they do what they do.

When we talk to others, are we being patient? Kind?

Are we being proud?

Are we making peace or feeding our ego?

Are we more concerned with being right than with being loving? Are we more worried about proving a point than we are about being the doer James mentioned? Are we so wrapped up in wasting energy on arguments and debates that we’ve defiled our religion and ignored the needs of vulnerable people?

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Sometimes it’s OK to let people say wrong things. It’s OK if someone’s not quite there yet. It’s OK to realize we don’t know all there is to know. It’s OK to listen to ideas we disagree with or don’t like (even ideas that bring on Hulk-like rage).

But it’s never OK to be unloving.

What Does Forgiveness Look Like?

Credit: Ian

Credit: Ian

When someone wrongs us, we tend to get one piece of unsolicited advice over and over again.

You need to forgive.

It’s a phrase we love to throw around, but it’s a bit hollow, isn’t it? People tsk tsk and say, “Forgive” but nobody tells you how to do that.

It’s especially difficult when you’re still dealing with the consequences of what happened.

It’s one thing to forgive someone for crashing into my car and breaking my arm, given that my arm eventually heals. That’s like, beginners level forgiveness.

But, what if a drunk driver killed your spouse, how do you forgive them when you miss your spouse every day?

What if your parent was so cruel to you that it’s colored everything you’ve done as an adult?

What if people who claimed to love Christ hurt you? What if they allowed you to be hurt when they could have intervened? What if something so traumatic happened that there’s no “getting over it”? When there’s no complete healing that can happen this side of the resurrection?

What does forgiveness look like when you’re still broken? When you’ll never not be broken? How do you “let go” of something that shaped you into the person you are?

How do you forgive someone who doesn’t think they did anything wrong?

You do it slowly and carefully and you take as much time as you damn well need.

What It Looks Like For Me

I can’t sit here and type out a play-by-play guide that would work for every situation. It doesn’t work that way. What I can do is share what my process has been like.

On New Year’s Eve 1999, I was sitting on my dad’s friend’s couch, watching the ball drop. We’d been living there for about 3 months, still without any real shot at getting into a house of our own. I turned to my dad and said, “Hey, what if we’re wrong about Y2K and all the lights are about to go out?” He reminded me that most of our neighbors were Amish, so we’d be just fine. (He meant that they’d share with us, but I jumped to the assumption that it’d be pretty easy to pillage farms owned by pacifists.)

I knew enough about computers to know the Y2K scare was overblown. Still, I had this little wish that the lights would go out. And then the government would collapse. And we’d all form independent city-states. And maybe I’d be elected President. And a couple of years from now, this group of refugees from Arkansas would show up, and oh look, they’re people from my old church. And they’re hungry and homeless and want to come live in my super awesome city-state where we eat pie every day. But, “No,” I’d say, “You can’t come in. I guess you should have helped me when you had the chance. It sucks pretty hard now that you’re on the other end, huh?”

But the lights stayed on and nobody ever elected me as the President of anything. And I never had any post-apocalyptic chance to seek revenge on those who’d done me wrong.

Oh, that’s just an 18-year-old me being all homeless and planning how I’d exile my ex-congregation

In those early months, I thought about driving back down there one Sunday. I’d burst through the church doors during service and tell them all exactly where they could go and exactly where they could shove their insane beliefs.

After a while, my dad was called to a new church and we moved into our own home. And I moved on with my life. I got married. I went to school. I had kids. I did all those normal things.

Except it’s not normal to be sitting in your office at work and have a panic attack because some teenage girl was kidnapped by her father’s friend and that hits a little too close to home.

And it’s not normal to jump clear out of your skin any time someone approaches you from behind.

And it’s not normal to obsessively check to make sure all the doors are locked at all times.

And it’s not normal to know that there’s still someone out there who wanted (perhaps, still wants) me dead.

No, my life could never be normal now. The actions (and inaction) from back then had consequences and I will always be dealing with those consequences.

The question was never, should I forgive them? The question is, how do I forgive them when, in many ways, parts of me are still stuck in the middle of that trauma and can never get out? When I’m hurt again and again, every time I’m reminded of what happened? Every time a noise makes me jump. Every time I sit in a pew.

It took a long time. For years, I just had anger. That was all. There wasn’t a speck of compassion in me for that man or for anyone who sat on that church council.

When anyone would tell me to “let go” or that I needed to forgive, all it did was feed that anger and resentment. Why did they deserve my forgiveness when they weren’t even sorry?

I can pinpoint the moment forgiveness became possible. It wasn’t long after I’d started taking some tentative steps back into Christianity. Someone had asked a question on reddit (maybe something along the lines of “What’s something bad that happened to you in your church?”) and I shared a brief summary. Nobody told me to forgive them. I got comments like, “That was so wrong” and “I’m sorry that happened”.

I’ll tell you what. When you’re dealing with a group that’s as dismissive of pain as Christians tend to be, a little validation goes a long way.

I realized that all those other people who were telling me I needed to forgive were actually turning the whole situation around on me. They were making me the bad guy. They were making me responsible for all that pain. if I was stubborn and refused to forgive, then I was being uncharitable, unChristian. If I refused to forgive, it was my own dang fault for being in pain.

“If you forgive, then you can let go…” as if it would make everything all better. But that’s not really how it works. The after-effects of what happened will still be there.

By not telling me to forgive the people who’d wronged me, those anonymous posters on reddit gave me the room I needed to forgive.

I’m not saying I had some huge epiphany while wasting time on reddit (who the heck has epiphanies on reddit?) It was a start, though. It chipped away at some of the defensiveness I had going on. It’s hard to forgive people when you constantly feel like you have to defend yourself.

I started writing about what happened soon after that. Writing helped me process through some of what had happened. I tried to see things from other people’s perspectives. I can’t justify what they did, but it did help me to take a less harsh view of some of them.

One by one, with a few angry rants, and a few crying jags, I did forgive all of those church members.

A while back, my sister and I happened to be in the general area of our old church. We’d been in the area before, while driving back and forth to Texas, but had never felt the urge to stop by the church. This time, we did. (Don’t worry. You-Know-Who doesn’t attend there anymore.)

We walked straight into our old sanctuary and re-introduced ourselves 16 years after vanishing in the middle of all that dramatic stalking stuff. It was uncomfortable and awkward. For all I knew, some of them knew I’d been writing about what had happened. For all I knew, they’d kick me out.

But, a man who’d been on the church council during all the trouble invited us to stay for the service. And we did.

I accidentally sat in the same pew I’d sat in on my last Sunday there. But there weren’t death threats directed at me projected on the overhead this time, so that was nice.

I shook hands and I let them hug me.

…and I also blog about what happened to help myself and to help others who are hurting.

I worshiped with people who allowed a man to threaten my life.

…and I’m working on a memoir which includes the terribly wrong theology that contributed to what happened to me.

I sat in a pew in my old church and prayed for that congregation. I prayed for us all. “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us…”

I think that’s what forgiveness looks like. It doesn’t look like forgetting something ever happened. It doesn’t look like sweeping things under the rug. It’s not being OK with what happened. It’s not staying in a toxic place.

It looks like humanizing the people who’ve hurt us. Sometimes it looks like walking into a place when you’re sure you aren’t welcome. Sometimes it looks like making them look you in the eye, giving them the chance to ask God for forgiveness, even if you know they’ll never ask you.

It looks like shaking hands while doing what I can to prevent this from happening to the next person. It looks like acknowledging the damage they helped cause and sincerely praying for them at the same time. It looks like allowing myself to be vulnerable in the presence of people who hurt me.

That’s not what forgiveness looks like for everyone or every situation. I certainly wouldn’t walk up to my stalker and shake hands (I sort of enjoy being alive and all). I was in a strong place when I walked into that church. I didn’t feel like it was just me and my sister walking into there. I walked in there carrying everyone who’s been supportive of me or cheered me on as I worked through this mess. I felt very alone when I was 18 and walked out of that church. I didn’t at all feel that way when I went back.

So, if you’re working toward forgiveness, but you’re not in a place like that yet, it’s OK. I was getting down on myself a while back and told a friend I felt pretty crappy because it’d taken me 15 years to learn how to forgive and come in from the wilderness. She reminded me that the Israelites spent 40 years out in the wilderness, so maybe I should cut myself some slack.

Forgiveness doesn’t happen in an instant. It takes time and work and compassion from other people. And it won’t look the same for you as it does for me. That’s OK too.

Faith in the Eye of a Shitstorm

When I was ten, my parents took me to an Anabaptist museum called Menno-Hof. My family had visited a Mennonite church several times and Mom and Dad wanted to learn more about these Anabaptist types (they were a little disappointed to learn they weren’t Anti-Baptists, as they’d originally thought.)

 

As you walk through Menno-Hof, you enter different rooms that immerse you in Anabaptist history. There’s a replica of a ship that Anabaptists sailed on as they escaped persecution in Europe, a plain meeting house with wooden benches you can sit on,a tornado room that simulates the wind and noise of a tornado, and then shows Mennonite Disaster Service crews helping to rebuild.

There’s also a dungeon. You enter a dark room and see torture devices hanging on the stone walls. Someone’s singing a hymn. You peak down into a pit in the floor and see a man crouched down at the bottom. It’s just a mannequin, but you can imagine it’s a real person and it hits 10-year-old you that people really have been tortured and really have died for their beliefs.

In another room, you read the story of Dirk Willems. He was captured and imprisoned, but managed to escape across an ice covered lake. When his jailer ran after him, his pursuer fell through the ice. Dirk could have left him to drown, but he didn’t. He turned back and saved the man that had chased him. His reward was being recaptured and burned alive.

This trip to Menno-Hof was one of my earliest lessons in Christianity. One of my earliest lessons on faith.

 

I always liked to think I’d be brave enough to take a stand for my faith, though I knew it wasn’t  likely I’d ever have to worry about being dragged out of my house and burned at the stake.

For eight years, life was quiet and I was surrounded by people who believed the same way I did. There wasn’t much risk that I’d be thrown into a dungeon or anything.

And then all hell broke loose.

Someone came over to the house to talk to my dad once when I was about 16. He wasn’t very comfortable speaking with a pastor, and my dad told him to just ignore the pastor thing and speak plain. “I feel like I’m God’s shit rod,” he blurted out at our kitchen table, which both shocked me and earned him some massive respect points.

A couple of years later, I knew just how he felt.

I know how the story’s supposed to go.

I’m supposed to say when things were at their worst, I fell to my knees and cried and prayed. I’m supposed to say I felt a wave of peace wash over me and I just knew that God had my back and that everything was going to be okay.

Except I totally didn’t get any heavenly warm fuzzies to help me cope. I actually coped by mooching as much weed off my friends as I could, which doesn’t make such a nice story.

I’m supposed to say those hardships strengthened my faith. That I felt closer to God. That it gave me perspective or I had some sort of epiphany. But none of that happened. I didn’t feel closer to God. I felt ignored by God.

I had another negative experience with Christians right after I moved away from my stalker. God didn’t intervene that time either.

God didn’t seem to be doing much for me at all. After everything that happened, I wasn’t sure what I believed about God.

I emailed a long-time friend and confessed I wasn’t sure if I was a Christian anymore. He emailed back to say he knew for sure God existed. Basically, he’d seen some supernatural shit go down that he couldn’t explain.

That didn’t sound like proof to me.

I quit attending church and I quit bothering with all the rules I’d tried to live by. I felt like I’d wasted a good chunk of my life trying to please a god that might not even exist. And if he did exist, did he even care what I did? He didn’t seem to care about what my stalker did.

I was never really an atheist, but I suppose I flirted with agnosticism. I always believed there was something more than us. I just wasn’t so sure that “something more” deserved my attention.

When it came right down to it, I was no Dirk Willems. My faith wasn’t strong enough to light my path through the dark times. I was walking through the pitch black, during a hurricane, with a freakin’ birthday candle. That’s what my faith was like.

I felt guilty for not having more faith. I felt like I’d failed the first little test of my faith (you can tell how guilty I felt because I thought of that whole stalker-who-wants-me-dead thing as a “little” test.)

The thing is, faith is a spiritual gift.

To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

1 Corinthians 12:8-10

“To one there is given… to another…”

We don’t all have the same gifts. Dirk Willems was gifted with the kind of faith necessary for a martyr. But, I’m not Dirk Willems. I’m just me and I’ve got a wobbly, fragile faith.

I used to really envy people who had an unshakable faith. It took a long time, but I’ve become gentler with myself and I’ve started to appreciate the gifts I do have. I might be running a faith deficit, but I can Christian mime the pants off any audience. (Miming is totally a spiritual gift.)

I’ve come back to Christianity, but I wouldn’t say that I have a lot of faith these days. I’m not sure about much of anything. I do have hope, though, and maybe that’s what faith really is.

 

I wrote this post because I don’t want to misrepresent myself. I’ve heard a lot of testimonies where the speaker claims God swooped in and fixed everything or, if he didn’t, that the person was totally okay with it and their faith in God was strengthened.

That’s not what happened with me at all. That’s not what happens with a lot of people, but we don’t like to admit it, do we?

Bad shit happened to me and my faith took some major hits. I went into full on meltdown mode, y’all. It wasn’t pretty. It took a long time for me to work through that (and I’m still working through some of it.)

Maybe you’ve gone through some bad shit too. Maybe you thought you had all the answers and now you’ve realized you don’t. Maybe your whole worldview has been turned upside down.

It’s okay if you feel like your faith has been shaken. It’s normal and sometimes it’s even healthy. It was hard, but in the end, that shaking loosened up a lot of junk beliefs I’d been carrying around. When your faith is shaken up, you wind up losing some of the toxic bits.

And maybe you’ll learn you’re super good at miming.

The Bravest Statement

Credit: Mike Bitzenhofer

Credit: Mike Bitzenhofer

I’ve known some pretty brave people. In my early 20s, I used to have conversations with a Holocaust survivor if that tells you something about my braveometer.

Yet, the bravest thing I’ve ever seen happened in a tiny church in the middle of nowhere when I was about seventeen.

I was over at the church, cleaning used tissues out of the hymnal slots (why, people?!) and feeling pretty pissy about it. I’d recently had a meeting with the church elders about an unflattering website some friends and I had created about our youth group’s courtship class. It was all supposed to stay private, but when the website leaked I was seriously up Crap Creek (I didn’t have such a potty mouth back then). I was asked to apologize for creating the website, but I refused to offer an empty apology just so everyone else would feel like the situation had been resolved.

If that wasn’t enough, I’d gotten a phone call from a friend that week. She and some of our friends had seen our old youth leader’s car in town. So, of course, they shaving creamed it “for me” even though that just made things worse because who was going to believe I hadn’t had anything to do with that?

On Friday, I’d been walking down the hall toward the parking lot when a girl who barely knew me (but attended my old youth leaders’ new church) stopped me just to tell me what an awful person I was for making that website.

So, I was in a foul mood that Saturday afternoon as I swept through the pews, cleaning up other people’s filth.

I was surprised when the front doors opened. I was even more surprised to see another teenage girl walking down the aisle toward me. “Can I talk to you?” she asked.

“I guess.”

I already knew what it was about, and I could guess what she had to say. She was the leak. She’d shown the website to our former youth leaders. I braced myself to hear more about what a terrible person I was, but that’s not what happened. She’d come to apologize.

I don’t remember exactly what we said to one another while sitting in our separate pews that afternoon. What I do remember is how ornery I could be back then. I’ve never been one to back down easily (which is great when I’m right, but not so great when I’m wrong.)

I’m not sure what she thought I’d say. This was someone who, while not especially close to me, knew me well enough to guess she was walking into a firing squad. She walked into the church anyway.

No, I didn’t eviscerate her (good grief, what do you people think I’m capable of?) We were two teenagers. She cried. I cried. We got over it.

So, what’s so brave about that? Was I really such a scary person when I was a teenager?

Well, I’ll straight up tell you that any person you’re apologizing to is the scariest person alive at that moment.

It’s so much easier to justify the things we do. To pat ourselves on the back and say, “they had it coming”. There’s no strength or bravery there. Those are just the actions of someone who’s too afraid to look in the mirror.

The bravest statement in the world is, “I’m sorry.”

That other person you’re talking to might just throw your apology back in your face. They might throw everything you’ve ever done wrong at you.

Or, they might forgive you.

But, you really never know.

I used to get pretty bent out of shape because people don’t apologize to me very often, even when there’s been an obvious error on their part. But, you know, specks and planks.

Apologies from my mouth are so rare I could probably count them on one hand. And the worse my transgression against someone is, the more ashamed I am of what I’ve done, the less likely I am to apologize. (Apologies are some scary shit.)

Isn’t that what we’re really fighting against, though? Shame? Sometimes we know we don’t deserve forgiveness.

I’ve done things I’m ashamed of. (You went straight to sex, didn’t you? Get your mind out of the gutter.)

Most of the time I’ve hurt people by accident. But, sometimes… Sometimes it was on purpose.

If I don’t sit here and come up with excuses and justifications, what kind of a person would that make me? (Hint: Not a good one.) So, I can understand why people don’t apologize very often.

I don’t apologize because I’m afraid to admit that sometimes I can be vindictive and mean-spirited sometimes. I don’t apologize because I’m afraid you’ll just confirm all my worst fears about myself. Maybe that’s why you don’t apologize, too.

So, we leave those unspoken words hanging in the air like a virus.

Oh, we know what happens when we don’t try to make things right. Sin festers. Sin rots.

But, isn’t it enough to just ask God to forgive us?

Um, no. That’s just a cop out and we all know it.

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. – Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)

That doesn’t sound like a get-out-of-apology-free card to me. Most of us are well aware of this scripture. We just handily ignore it.

We’re supposed to reconcile with the person who has something against us. How can we reconcile without taking responsibility for our part in the dispute?

Besides, apologies are kind of obnoxious, right? Once someone’s expressed genuine remorse, I have to stop focusing on getting them to see what they’ve done wrong and I have to start looking at what I’ve done wrong. An apology won’t fix what’s broken, but it can open a door and maybe there’s a path toward reconciliation on the other said.

I’m not saying anyone should follow my example here. This is the #1 thing I’m the most terrible at. I guarantee there are people reading this blog post right now thinking, “Kristy seriously owes me an apology” and I probably do.

I’m going to work on opening those doors.

So, if I come up to you and apologize for some bitchy thing I’ve done, please don’t disembowel me.

And I promise I won’t disembowel you either.

Hi there, I’m the enemy Jesus told you about.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… – Matthew 5:44 (ESV)

The most humbling thing about Matthew 5:44 is knowing that some people see me as their enemy. (Really. There are people who have serious beef with me.)

It might be because we don’t share the exact same beliefs.

It might be because we’ve had a misunderstanding.

It might be because we stood on opposite sides of an issue.

It might be because I’ve done something or said something that caused you pain. (Knowing how impulsive and tactless I can be, this is probably the one.)

Now, I’m not sitting here, rubbing my hands together and cackling or anything. For the most part, I curb my hot-headedness (though, I’m not always successful there) and do what I think is the right thing to do in a situation. Almost everyone does that. The problem is, we don’t all agree what the right thing to do is.

Instead of taking a step back and thinking, “Hey, maybe this other person is sincerely doing what they believe is right,” we jump to all sorts of conclusions about their “true” motives, toss a target on their back, and start firing. That’s what I tend to do, at least.

But, most people aren’t trying to do evil things. Most of us try to be good and principled people. I certainly don’t want to hurt anyone. But, somewhere along the line we all get caught up in something that will get us labelled as the “enemy” of someone else, whether we’ve actually done something wrong or not. (That’s not a cop out, by the way. I’ve definitely done some wrong things.)

But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. – Galatians 5:15 (ESV)

I’m not your enemy. You aren’t my enemy. We do have a mutual enemy, though, and I wish we could see that instead of cannibalizing one other.

We sheep are so busy defending ourselves from one another that we totally ignore the wolf when he shows up.

So, pray for me—your enemy—and I’ll pray for you, and together we’ll strike a blow against our real enemy.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Eight months ago I made a commitment to pray every day for peace. And I’ve technically upheld that commitment. Though I have included unspoken modifiers in that prayer.

God, please bring peace and reconciliation (just don’t bring it here.)

I talk about pacifism a lot. I firmly believe it’s the most consistent way of living out Christ’s example.

But, I’m a really crappy pacifist.

I don’t go around punching people. But, so what? How many Christians go around punching people? That’s not a pacifist thing. That’s just a decent human being thing.

Jesus didn’t say, “Y’all are cool just so long as you don’t actually smack anyone.”

Jesus didn’t even stop at turning the other cheek. Jesus told us to go the second mile. Jesus told us to love and pray for our enemies. That’s Christian pacifism. And that’s exactly what I resist.

Because I know what happens when you start praying for someone. Prayer humanizes. It strips away all the caked on layers of stage make-up and suddenly you’re staring at a person who isn’t much different than you. That’s when empathy kicks in. And empathy is a real bitch. Because empathy doesn’t let you stew in self-righteous anger.

I thought being angry gave me strength. But, I didn’t Hulk out on evil and injustice. I mostly just stood still because anger is paralyzing.

But, I was afraid to give that up. I fooled myself into believe anger was a shield instead of a cage. Because, really, at the root of it all wasn’t anger. It was fear.

And hadn’t that been the problem to start with?

That’s what I remember most from that time. We were all so very afraid.

I’m not just talking about the few months I was getting death threats. Fear was there from the very beginning. The church was impregnated with fear.

The world is becoming more and more secularized.

If this person isn’t healed by our prayers, does that mean we don’t have enough faith?

The evolutionists are influencing our children.

Our children might not stay pure.

What if I lose some of my political pull in this church?

What if these are the end times?

If she wears that skirt, it might cause a boy to stumble.

What if they all find out what I really do when I’m not sitting in a pew?

Is there anything in the gospel message that could possibly justify fear? Because I sure haven’t come across anything like that.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:18-21

The only antidote for fear is love. That’s why we’re supposed to love and pray for our enemies.

Does doing that somehow take away the possibility that we’ll be hurt? Of course not. Look at all the martyred apostles.

But, if we want even the slimmest chance that reconciliation might be possible we have to be willing to put down the shield, step out of the cage and speak the truth.

My truth is that I don’t hate any of them. I never stopped caring for them and that’s why it hurt so much. I thought being angry could somehow inoculate me against that pain. It worked more like an addictive drug—it was never enough and I’d wind up with awful rebound heartaches if I didn’t keep taking it. But, I was afraid to let it go because I was even more afraid of the sorrow it covered.

So, instead of grieving I got angry. And then I got bitter. And cynical. And spiteful.

I didn’t want to pray for those people. Praying for them felt like saying what they did was OK. Like approval. Besides, part of me wanted them to feel just as much pain as I’ve felt.

Eventually, I just tried not to think about any of them at all. I gave them up. I gave the church up. I gave Christianity up because I couldn’t be involved with it without resurfacing those old hurts.

A couple of years ago, I started taking some tentative steps back into religion. A little while after that I had to stop working and move back across the country with no idea what I was going to do for myself. The life path I’d worked so hard on had been a dead end. Just like when I was 18.

That combination brought all those old memories back full force. (It’s not like I sit around 24/7 playing mental reels of these events.) A lot of anger and resentment came bubbling up at that time. That’s when I started writing about some of it on the blog. And I wasn’t exactly charitable about it.

A couple of months ago, I was bitching about how hard it was for me to rebuild my life and how it was all their fault that I hadn’t graduated college when I should have with the degree I was supposed to get among all the friends I should be seeing all the time in the church I was supposed to be a part of. I wished they could understand how difficult it’d been for me. How much they’d permanently damaged me. But, they’re all just down there living their lives and probably never gave me a second thought after I left. And their lives are probably just perfect.

It struck me how ridiculous that was.

Because I know that all of our decisions have consequences. We can’t escape that. It occurred to me that—consciously or not—they’ve suffered as well. I didn’t escape that situation without suffering some spiritual blows and I can’t imagine the same isn’t true for all of them.

That thought stopped my tirade. I don’t really want any of them to suffer and suffering spiritually is the worst kind of suffering I can imagine.

Being the impulsive person that I am, I said a prayer for them before I could talk myself out of it. It wasn’t long. Just a sentence asking God to bring healing to all of us. What that healing looks like is up to God I suppose. I don’t think I’m unbiased enough to ask for anything specific there.

I’ve prayed for all of us every night for the past two months.

The more I pray, the more that old anger is replaced with empathy. Now, I’m not saying I don’t still feel hurt over the whole thing. That hasn’t changed one bit. Praying doesn’t rewrite history to take away the pain of what happened. If anything, setting down this anger makes me even more vulnerable. There’s no barrier between me and them now. Between me and what happened.

Still, praying seems to have given me some perspective that I lacked before. I can see that most of them believed they were doing the right thing. I can see that a lot of what happened was fear-based. And, oh can I ever understand fear.

Who knows. I’ve changed a lot in the past 15+ years. It’s possible some of them have too. Maybe some of them feel bad about how it all ended up. Maybe that doesn’t even matter.

Maybe we can find some kind of peace anyway.