The Words I Never Wanted To Hear.

I can’t remember the first time I heard someone tell me I was worthless. Though it was said in many different ways, sometimes without words at all, I heard it a lot growing up.

I can, however, remember the first time I said it to myself–the first time I believed it.

It seems so silly, now, to retell the story. It was a couple weeks into my freshman year of high school. There was a boy (there’s always a boy) who I had a crush on, who, for a while, at least, felt the same way. We never dated, nothing serious ever became of it. It was the awkward transition from middle school to high school, when most relationships lasted a month, at best, and no one could even make eye contact with the person they were supposedly “dating” during school dances.

He told me I wasn’t skinny enough to be with him.

And, while, today, I embrace the healthy curves, strong muscles, and 140 pounds of awesome I possess (well, most of the time, at least), I, at fourteen years old, was not so secure.

I remember, through sobs and tears, staring at myself in the bathroom mirror and saying, “You’re worthless.”

My whole life up to that point, and for far too long after, I had been led to believe that my worth was based on others’ approval  of me. Whether it was my grades, my friends, my chores, my scores in gymnastics, my career goals, anything, really, I had to do well in order to be loved.

The thing is, when you’re taught to believe this, it doesn’t matter how well you do, it will never be enough to really “earn” love.

That moment led to a downward spiral of self-hatred, constant anxiety, an eating disorder that always nagged me, perfectionism, and believing a whole host of lies others told me (and many I told myself).

I made it to a point where I wasn’t willing to accept praise of any kind, to acknowledge anything good about myself, because I didn’t want to (or perhaps couldn’t) believe that there was anything in me worth praising.

I also remember the first time someone told me, “You are good enough.”

It was my freshman/sophomore year of college (things get messed up when you don’t do four full years). I had just gotten in a massive fight with my father, about what, I don’t recall, and (again) there was a boy who, while much kinder than the previous boy, did not reciprocate the feelings I had towards him. I felt so alone and so unloved.

At the time, I was also a part of a prayer ministry on campus. We had an intercessory station outside of a vespers service, where I was pretending to have a handle on things. A dear friend of mine, who I had only known for a few weeks at that point, noticed that something was off and asked if she could pray for me.

Pray for me? No one had ever really prayed for me before. Though all I really wanted to do was keep everything bottled up inside, festering like the gallon of milk you forgot was in the back of the fridge, though I didn’t want to hear what she was about to say, something inside of me wouldn’t let me say no.

She didn’t know what was going on. She just prayed.

And I remember, she looked straight into my eyes, squinted a little bit, and said, “I need you to listen to me. I need you to trust me and believe me, because you’ve been lied to for far too long. You. Are. Good enough.”

I lost it. I just started sobbing. I had never been told that before. And, in that moment, I believed it.

I’ve clung to that since then. In the moments when I feel like all I ever do is screw things up, I repeat that over and over and over, like a worry stone in my mouth.

You. Are. Good enough.

We have this liturgy we say at the beginning of every gathering at my faith community. In it, we say the words, “We tell the story of promises made to those who were too old and too young, too broken and too far outside.” It always resonates with me. We are, without a doubt, the island of misfit toys. Most of us have been through a lot of things that often make us feel worthless.

But we are not.

And you, yes you, you are not worthless.

You, the weary, the depressed, the heavily medicated, the alcoholic, the drug addict, the adulterer, the thief, the single parent, the gay man or lesbian woman, the prostitute, the sex addict, the welfare recipient, the heavily indebted, the lonely, the hungry, the homeless, the heretic, the divorcee, the pregnant teen, the murderer, the whatever-you-are, are good enough.

If you’ve ever believed the lie that you are worthless, listen up.

YOU.

ARE.

GOOD ENOUGH.

Especially you.

Advertisements

Choosing to be Mrs. Anderson

When my husband and I got married (two years ago, now), I took his last name.

I’ve taken a lot of flak for this decision, mostly from fellow feminists. Because taking your husband’s name is a relic of patriarchy (agreed), and because it denotes his ownership of me (disagreed), and because it claims that my life up to that point is worth disregarding (disagreed), I ought not to have done it.

But here’s the thing: I did not take his name because I had to.

I did it because I wanted to.

I chose to be Mrs. Anderson for a lot of reasons. First, my maiden name was an eastern European jumble of consonants that made no sense at all and no one (myself included) could ever seem to pronounce it right. Combined with my seemingly unpronouncable first name…let’s just say introducing myself to anyone was a nightmare. In college (and currently), I would frequently just go by my first initial, which is a lot easier, but it didn’t solve the problem. Anderson is a much easier name (especially in Minnesota), so I decided to change to that.

Second, and more importantly, when we got married I was going through the process of leaving a family in which nothing good could come of my continued presence, on either side. Significant damage had been done and it was time to move on. This change of my name was a marker for me, that I was moving on to something new, that I now had the chance to redefine family and create one that was going to function like a family should. Not normal, not sane, but loving, real, and other-oriented.

I am still a feminist, and I was then too. Having the same last name as my husband does not prevent me from this belief and practice. I am not his property, I am his companion, his co-leader, his faithful supporter, and his best friend.

If you meet a woman who bears the last name of the man she loves, think, just for a second, before you judge her, that she might have a better reason than cultural expectation for doing so. Ask for the story first.

Proud Mama

Life without parents is strange. More strange than most people can imagine.

I haven’t seen either of my biological parents in almost a year. I haven’t spoken to my mother since Christmas and, despite his attending our wedding, I haven’t spoken to my father since the March before that.

And, honestly, I’m happy about that. I’m happy to no longer be a part of an abusive non-family, I’m happy to not have to fit into someone else’s highly restrictive mold, I’m happy to finally be free from the constant anger and fear and dread that came with being involved in that mess.

I do not miss them.

But I kind of wish I had parents.

My biological parents were never really parents for me. Not in the way that most parents are. They filled a functional role, but there was no real parent-child relationship there. So it isn’t that I wish I had my biological parents in my life.

I just want parents. I always have.

I graduated last weekend. A year early. Cum laude. And I’m only 19. I’m proud of myself. My husband is too, and my in-laws (who flew up from TX for the weekend, which still blows my mind) are even more proud. I had friends, professors, pastors, and many other people express the same pride.

But I didn’t have parents to be proud of me. Even my inexplicably gratuitous in-laws don’t really fill that role because my husband and I haven’t been married long enough for me to really feel like a part of the family yet.

There’s something about parents–that they’ve raised you, watched you grow up, seen you become your own person–that makes them unlike anyone else.

And, despite all the people I had cheering me on this weekend, I didn’t have parents.

I used to always wish that someone would adopt me when I was little. Even as a teenager, I envied my friends who had great relationships with their parents, wishing I could just switch places with them.

And I know that there are plenty of people in my life who are “parents” to me. I have an awesome family in Christ, including several moms and dads. But I met all of them within the last three years. None of them have been there in the same way that actual parents who raise a child are there.

I know that, eventually, I won’t want this as much. And even right now I’m only a little bitter and jealous.

More than anything, I’m afraid for my future children.

Will I be a good mother? Will I be able to love them enough that they don’t wish they had different parents? Will I be more than a financial provider–will we have a real relationship, one that lasts after they leave the nest?

Will I, in all my infinite ineptitude, and despite all of my misconceptions and my scars, be able to be anything better than my biological parents were?

I suppose we won’t know until we have children. That doesn’t do anything to curb my fear.

But I do know that, if they’re ever doing this:

I’ll be the proudest mama ever.

Let Justice Roll On Like A River

Today was rough.

I’ll explain why in a second. First, some background information.

I’m taking a class on the Prophets of Israel this semester. I didn’t really want to take it, per se, but I needed the credit to graduate. It’s not that it’s a bad class, it’s that the professor has a reputation of being a very tough grader, and getting a poor grade in this class could keep me from graduating with honors.

The professor himself is a wonderful man. He led the trip I and 25 or so other students went on to Israel/Palestine last year, so I know him in a much more familial sense than many other students do. He’s open and honest, kind, brilliant, hilarious, and a great teacher. Really, I don’t know why I was so apprehensive about this class.

He lived in Jerusalem for five years in the nineties. He witnessed, firsthand, the awful effects of the Israel-Palestine conflict. In his classes, he tries to inform his students of what the conflict is really like, which is very different from what many of us hear from pastors, politicians, and even other professors. While I cannot say for certain, I can infer from context that he aligns himself with Palestine.

We’ve been studying Amos for the past few days in this class. Today, this professor spent the entire class time telling us about the conflict, and charged us at the end of class to interpret Amos in light of this present issue. The stories he told were gut-wrenching. They were both from his own experience and from the experiences of others throughout the past seventy years or so. It took everything I had not to break down right there in class.

Because I feel for these people. As an advocate for social justice, I align myself with Palestine. I stand on the side of the oppressed and the hated, the poor and the homeless, the violated, mistreated, and abused. I’ve been unashamedly pro-Palestine ever since I went there and saw just a little of it for myself. My husband, who has a degree in Reconciliation Studies and thus studied this at length while he was in school, has aided me in my learning about the conflict and has walked with me as I’ve come to see things this way. We plan on moving to Palestine sometime within the next decade or so to do humanitarian work because we’re both convicted in such a way and are not content to sit back and allow this to continue.

My heart breaks for the Palestinians. You see, prior to WWII, they had been the nation of power in the region that Israel now dominates. Jews who were now homeless after the war were relocated to Palestine as part of the Zionist movement. The Palestinians welcomed the soldiers who came to scope things out as guests. The Zionist soldiers returned the favor by destroying their cities, killing many of their people, raping their women and stealing whatever they could from them.

It’s a great track record for the so-called people of God. It’s also not surprising, then, that some Palestinians have chosen to respond with violence. What they have done is so minimal in comparison to what the Israelis have done to them.

This conflict has continued since then. It is still just as awful. Palestinians are not even considered citizens, or even people, in their own land. They often cannot travel into non-occupied Israel, thus limiting their options in terms of jobs, education, healthcare, and nourishment. Their cities are taken over by Israeli soldiers, and with very little effort they can be determined “illegal” and be bulldozed.

Yet, so many evangelicals think that they deserve this. They think that Israel ought to have dominance simply because God promised them that they could live there. They think that, because they assume all Arabs are Muslim, and all Muslims are evil, that they ought not to be treated as humans.

Nevermind the fact that many Palestinians are Christians.

Also, and I’m embarrassed that I even have to say this, nevermind that ISLAM IS A RELIGION THAT HOLDS PEACEMAKING EVEN HIGHER THAN CHRISTIANITY DOES. Islam is not evil. Its followers are not evil. They are people. They are created in God’s image just like anyone else. If you disagree with them, fine. But you’re still called to love them.

I am so, so, so sickened by the Church these days. I cannot see how Christians, who claim to follow Jesus, who made company of the “least of these,” can say that the Palestinians deserve death. I also cannot see how Jews, who are held to the Mosaic Law, can do the same either. Let’s do a little comparison here to demonstrate:

  1. “Love your neighbor as yourself;” “Love your enemies.” (Luke 10:27, cf. Leviticus 19:18; Luke 6:27) Many Christians and Jews express hatred towards the Palestinians.
  2. “When foreigners reside among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34) I don’t think this gets any clearer. Rape, stealing, destruction of homes, denying human rights, and murdering would all fall under the banner of “mistreating,” and claiming oneself as a superior race and ethnically cleansing out another “foreigner” does not mesh with treating foreigners “as your native born.” Side note: it’s interesting that the Jews, fresh from their own ethnic cleansing during the Holocaust, would turn around and do the same damn thing to the Palestinians.
  3. “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:13-15) The Zionist soldiers killed, raped, and stole from the Palestinians whose villages they destroyed.
  4. “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4) In this psalm, Israel is calling on YHWH to do these things. Yet, they refuse to do the same towards the weak, fatherless, poor, oppressed, and needy in their midst.
  5. “You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe foreigners reside, there you are to give them their inheritance,” declares the Sovereign LORD;” “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.” (Ezekiel 47:21-23; Leviticus 25:23) It is clear here that “inheritance” does not mean “ownership,” as the land is God’s. It also says that foreigners are to be treated as equals. Israel claims the land is their possession, and doesn’t even treat the Palestinians as humans, let alone equals.

These are only a small handful of the verses that could be used to indict the nation of Israel and evangelical Christians who support it. I encourage you to check this out for more.

I rarely claim that any biblical passage that was directed to a specific group of people in a specific place at a specific time has the same force and meaning as it does for us today, primarily because I’m about as far from fundamentalism as one can possibly get. But, in cases like these, I make an exception for Amos. Read it. It sounds an awful lot like today, doesn’t it? And it seems pretty clear, if we are to read it as a message to us in light of the Israel-Palestine conflict, that we’re supposed to stand on the side of the poor, the needy, the oppressed, otherwise known as PALESTINE.

Consider these things. If you support Israel, can you truly continue to do so when confronted with this? Can you really write off such horrible injustice as the will of God? If yes, I suggest you leave this blog immediately, because you and I do not believe in the same God.

However, if you are of the same mind as me, please do not be complacent. Do not simply align yourself with Palestine and leave it there. Justice requires action. There may be precious little we can do from here, but at the very least, listen to the stories of the Palestinians. Books like Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour and The Palestinian Catastrophe by Michael Palumbo are great places to start. Tell these stories. Pass them along. Show your brothers and sisters in Christ this side of the story. Ask them to consider these things too.

Do not remain silent for any longer.

Stronger than your Strength.

I’ve debated telling this story for months now. I had decided not to until Sarah Moon’s post here prompted me to do so in the name of feminism (and you all had better know by now that I can’t resist that).

It’s a hard one. One that, of all the people in my kome, only one other person knows, and that’s because I married him. And he doesn’t even know the whole story because I can never tell the whole thing at once. Even here, it will not be complete, or even close to it.

This story is my story.

I haven’t always followed Jesus. That was a recent development, somewhere in late 2008-early 2009. I grew up in the shadow of the church, though, perhaps because my middle and high school shared a parking lot with a Lutheran megachurch. My mother and I went there occasionally throughout my youth, and I went through confirmation there, though it meant very little to me at the time. I sang in the senior high choir at this church as well, but my doing so wasn’t out of desire to praise Jesus or even to make beautiful music for him, but because I loved to sing and didn’t have time to be involved in my school’s choir.

All of that changed during my junior year of high school. But before we get into that, a much more painful story needs to be told.

Remember how I said that my mother and I would attend church? Notice that my father is nowhere in that statement? This is not because my parents are divorced or even that my father is dead, but simply because he had no desire to be a part of a church, or even a part of my or my mother’s lives.

I say this as one convicted of how wrong it is of me to judge him: my father is an awful man. This may not really be true, I don’t know, but every experience I had while forced to live in close proximity to him makes it seem pretty accurate.

In his (not our, his) household, he was the king, and my mother and I were his servants. Everything had to be done his way, and he was never wrong nor could he ever be wrong. His authority was not questioned, and should anyone attempt to do so, they would hear it (as I would quickly learn in high school). If we did something wrong, he would yell at us, degrade us, tell us we were worthless and that we couldn’t survive without him. This started with my mother before I could remember, and with me when I was six years old, if not earlier (I can’t fully remember).

My mother, born in the late 50’s and an ardent feminist in high school and after, did not know what to do. She ended up in a constant state of chaos, smiling one minute and crying the next, and furious the minute after that. She became very controlling over me, as I was the only person over whom she could have any authority. She would often chastise me for not meeting my father’s expectations, blaming me for his rampages, and then come into my bedroom late at night, weeping, saying she wasn’t sure if she loved my father anymore and that she wanted out.

For this reason, I had a suitcase packed in my closet from the time I was twelve or so until I went away to college. I was always ready to get out of that hellhole. But where would we go? My father was right in one thing, we couldn’t really survive without him. My mother worked full time, but her highest level of education was an Associate’s degree, and thus she didn’t make nearly as much money as my father did (especially after the company for which she worked 25 years shut down, leaving her in a very difficult place for finding a new job). She paid the bills with her income, leaving her with not a whole lot to spare. We would have had nowhere to stay if we had left, since her family lived far away, as does my father’s, not that they would have taken her side. We both wanted to leave, but we had nowhere to go. We were stuck.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit rebellious. I’m also very hotheaded. In high school, I decided not to be like my mother, that I would be strong, and I started standing up to my father, though not always in the best manner or in the most profitable situations. This went swimmingly, as you can assume, and I made things a hell of a lot worse. I ended up running away to friends’ houses for the night on occasion, simply because I thought that if I stayed in that house, I would not see the next morning.

I finally reached a point where I would do anything to not go back to that house. I stayed out as long as I could. Remember the bit earlier about my school sharing a parking lot with a church?

That church became my new home.

One of the youth pastors there who I knew well invited me to come to their youth group. This happened near the beginning of my pivotal junior year. It was a few hours after school got out, so I would hang out at school, or the coffee shop near my school, and do homework until group started. Eventually, I just started going straight over to church after school and either doing homework or volunteering there. I became a permanent fixture in the youth department and ended up being the worship coordinator for the young adult service they held on Sunday nights. I also started dating a guy from that church who had a great Christian family that took me in. It was a pretty sweet deal.

Until I became so consumed with the love of Christ, though I didn’t know it at the time, that he started changing my life.

I was all set up to do exactly what my father wanted me to do. I was going to go to the University of MN-Duluth for my senior year of high school (MN has a program where high school juniors and seniors can do college classes for both high school and college credit, and the state pays for it, which I did do both years), and then I was going to go to Purdue University and study neuropharmacology, become a doctor, and make lots of money. That was how he had planned things. That was what I was going to do.

But, after all of my involvement in the church, I felt pulled towards–today I call this “called by Jesus”–to vocational ministry. I started looking at other colleges, Christian colleges, to attend. I talked to my pastors about seminary and ministry and everything else related to that. I eventually settled on the school I now go to, partially because my boyfriend was going there.

I had finally found someone who loved me and loved Jesus, and I didn’t want to let him go.

There’s this thing with abuse victims that makes them people pleasers, which was the only way I knew how to relate to anyone, and so I just started doing whatever this boyfriend wanted. He loved Jesus, but he was still a teenage boy, and it wasn’t long until he started pressuring me to have sex with him. We never did, thank God, but that led me on a slippery slope that would end literally with me choosing life or death for myself.

But we’ll get back to that in a minute.

My choice to go to a Christian school and do vocational ministry did not sit well with either of my parents, especially my father. He now had two faces, one full of rage, the other of disengagement. He either hated me or I simply did not exist. My mother became very frustrated, probably because she didn’t understand my decisions. This pushed me further and further out of their house and into the church and the arms of my boyfriend.

He was a normal teenage boy. He wasn’t looking for a long-term relationship. I was not a normal teenage girl. I was looking for someone to promise to love me, to really love me, forever. I looked for this in him. In the same way that he pressured me into physical commitment, I pressured him into emotional commitment. This cracked the summer after my junior year of high school. He tried to break up with me, I was devastated, and convinced him to stick around. This lasted for two and a half weeks. He finally had enough and broke up with me.

I didn’t know what to do. I felt like the only person who ever loved me had just left me in the dust. I came dangerously close to committing suicide.

I still thank Jesus for that church. Three different girls who had become very close friends of mine came and visited me after all of this went down (my parents were out of town), as did two of my pastors. They brought me food and gifts and gave me rides to church. I was there every day, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and they never let me be alone.

At the same time as all of this, I had been reading The Shack by William Paul Young. I will not argue over its merits here, that is not the point. The picture of God in that book showed me that the unconditional, forever-love I had been seeking was only available from one Source. I committed myself to Jesus, to loving and following him, on July 5th, 2009.

Since then I have grown and struggled with this Jesus in remarkable ways. I married an amazing man of God who knows that the best way to cultivate a marriage and a family is to do as Paul said, to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). My faith life has not been easy in this time, and there have been many seasons of doubt, but the beautiful Love that first called me has captivated me ever since.

Here I stand. Breaking the cycle of abuse. Refusing to be an angry dictator or a passive subject. Stronger than my father ever was, not by my own strength, but through Jesus.

I said I was doing this in the name of feminism, so I figure I ought to address it. Piper, Driscoll, and anyone else out there who wants to tell me I am not strong enough, let this story be a message to you. Neither I nor you nor anyone else is strong enough on their own. Jesus, the great Love, is the only one who can provide us with the strength to overcome anything that we may endure. You say I am weak, you say I need a man to lead me. I say to hell with that. I am strong. I overcame. I needed no man, no leader, solely Love.

I dare you, tell me I am not enough.