Difficult to watch, difficult to face

I recognize that abortion a difficult, difficult subject…a polarizing one…and a deeply personal one. But I can’t turn the other way and — no matter what your beliefs on the subject — I hope you can’t either.

That’s why I hope, if you haven’t watched this particular video already, that you watch the video I am embedding below.

Yes, I know that the Center for Medical Progress has come under fire from those who disagree with how they have edited the videos they are releasing about Planned Parenthood. But this latest one…is there really a context in which what is depicted and described could be seen as a good thing? Is there a context in which this is something that we as Americans should not even feel the slightest twinge of guilt or unease about? Is this really something we should all support?

If you are pro-choice and you were in the place of the Procurement Technician on the video, would your compassion for women seeking abortions and your desire not to thwart medical research make you react differently? Would you be less willing to walk away from her job? Would you be more comfortable with cutting open the face of a fetus whose heart you had just seen beating — all in the name of medical science, of course? Would you think it all right to be pulling the brains out of babies that might possibly still be alive?

I will be honest. I cannot imagine any context whatsoever that would make what I saw and heard in this video any less hideous or disturbing.

Holly O’Donnell admitted that she started crying when holding the fetus she describes on the video. She said, no matter what benefits there might come from the role she played in procuring the brain from this unborn baby, “I don’t want to be that person”.

Can we honestly say she is wrong, misguided, too sensitive, too sentimental, too squeamish? Is she not advanced enough in her thinking? Are we to conclude that she is anti-woman and anti-science?

Or could the practices these videos are exposing possibly be wrong and barbaric? Are we willing to admit that Planned Parenthood might not be the paragon of virtue, compassion, and morality so many believe this organization to be? Could our culture have gone too far in embracing any and all abortions? Could our medical ethics be flawed? Could it be time for us to face the truth of what we are allowing ourselves to become as a people — no matter how uncomfortable and disturbing that truth might be?

Over the years, I have read and heard many eloquent defenses of the pro-choice position. It is not my intention to turn the his blog post into argument or debate about whether to not abortion should be legal. However, I cannot help but wonder — does being pro-choice require one to embrace everything that is in the above video, and to defend even the most barbaric practices surrounding abortion? Are there no limits to the pro-choice position? Are there no abortions that are morally wrong?

I might as well admit it: I am pro-life. There was a time when, as a rape trauma survivor, I was unsure about whether or not abortion in the case of rape or incest was morally defensible. My position has become more firm as I’ve listened to the stories of those who have been conceived by rape and incest, as well as those who have conceived children under the same conditions. We extinguish the wrong life, in my opinion, when we abort the innocent child resulting from sexual trauma. While I know that nothing can undo the unspeakably damaging and painful trauma of rape or incest, I cannot dismiss the compelling stories of girls and women who view their children as redemptive…even life-saving…after the worst trauma of their lives.

Mine is not a popular position, to say the least. I have been reluctant to state it publicly, not wanting to offend people I care for and respect, some of whom who view the pro-life position as hateful, ignorant, backwards, intolerant, and anti-woman. To be honest, I fear being painted with that same brush by speaking up.

A dear friend of mine, who travels the world over on missions of mercy and compassion –because she has one of the biggest, most loving hearts of anyone I’ve ever met — insists that it is her love for women that has caused her to be even more strongly anti-abortion. Women from vastly different cultures and religious backgrounds have opened up to her when she requests, without a hint of coercion or condemnation, “Tell me about your abortion.” She has heard the stories most of us never hear, because — even if we ask — our agendas and opinions tend to get in the way of our compassion. (I’ve told her my deepest darkest secrets, so I know how gently she receives women’s experiences and truths, receiving them as a sacred trust.) She used to be pro-life because of the babies. Now it is the women, the mothers, who have convinced her even more. She wants to spare women from having to live out the abortion experiences, and their aftermaths, that she keeps hearing about, over and over and over again…

I should not read Christian blogs about marriage

Note to my children: this blog post is about sex which, obviously, I know nothing about. After all, parents don’t do such things, and you were all conceived through the sharing of toothbrushes, which is gross enough to think about. So you can stop reading now.

Note to everyone else: that was a joke.

And now back to my actual post…

I should not read Christian blogs about marriage.

Especially the Protestant ones about sex.

At least not many of the ones that I unfortunately seem to keep encountering — specifically the ones telling me over and over again that I’m all wrong and need to change. My personality is wrong. My thoughts are wrong. My feelings are wrong. My desires are wrong. And I am sinning. Big time. Merely by being me.

Supposedly, if my husband says otherwise, he’s just being nice. Or cowardly. Or he’s lying. Because what he really wants is for me to be his porn star. That’s what all men want, but are too afraid to admit it to their sinfully inhibited wives, who have all sorts of wrong, immature, selfish hang-ups. If he doesn’t want me to be his porn star (perhaps possible if he has spent all his life locked in a room with no access to the outside world and thus has no idea what a porn star is) he does want me to be his fantasy lover. He wants me to blow his mind regularly. So the Christian sex blogs claim.

It’s all about the performance.

If I don’t enjoy sex on those terms, supposedly there is something wrong with me. And I’m in sin. Because God commands us to enjoy sex frequently, and He commands wives to be naked and unashamed, and He commands us to be sexually adventurous, and He commands us to do with wild abandon whatever it is that the blog author manages to conjure up out of Song of Solomon. Despite the sex bloggers’ enthusiasm for finding sex tips in that book of the Bible, I don’t recall it having anything to do with pretending you’re an actress engaging in humiliating and degrading — even violent — sex acts outside of the context of marriage with an actor in a movie that strangers on the internet watch while masturbating…but maybe I didn’t read it carefully enough the last time. Oh, and the “command” to be “naked and unashamed”? I guess I missed the part where God told Eve she was wrong to be ashamed and she didn’t need to wear clothes around Adam. (I don’t remember God saying, “I’m only making you this garment of animal skins for you to wear in the future, when there are other human beings around besides Adam. Because, since you are supposed to be naked and unashamed around him, you won’t be needing clothes for quite some time!”)

If a Christian woman says she wants her husband to act like a romantically suave and debonair movie star, completely out of character with his true nature and personality, people jump all over her for reading too many romance novels, tell her to repent and grow up, insist she adapt herself to her husband’s “love language”, and rebuke her for not appreciating and accepting her husband for who he is. As well they should. After all, if that sort of husband was so important to her, she should have held out for him, and not married the man she did.

And then the same people tell her to act like a prostituted woman providing masturbatory fodder in front of a camera, thus encouraging her husband to treat her in a way devoid of love, affection and respect — because actresses in porn receive nothing of the sort — all so that she can become his fantasy lover and blow his mind in bed. Now. Or she is sinning.

No matter what life is like outside the bedroom, what sort of personality the wife has, what ailments she might suffer from, what sexual trauma may lurk in her past, the worst thing she can possibly do to her husband and to her marriage is to be herself in the bedroom — unless, by nature, she doesn’t have a shy bone in her body, is incapable of embarrassment or humiliation, possesses no sense of boundaries or human dignity, has no desires of her own, needs neither love nor relationship, enjoys being the target of selfishness and disrespect, can put on a show of boundless enthusiasm and exuberance, is brimming with confidence, thinks she is hot and sexy, and is capable of acting like a born performer who loves to show off her body. If she’s not all that, she needs to repent. Now. Even if she is, that’s not enough, because she needs to be constantly eager for sex, skilled at every technique her husband desires, and creative in bed. (No, not procreative! Those little sex-conceived pests tempt us to lose our focus on sex, to use tiredness as an excuse for not being eager sex-performers, and to think our bodies may not be quite as sexy hot as they used to be — and that might interfere with our husband’s enjoyment of sex. Plus, we might worry about silly, inconsequential things like what the children are supposed to do while we keep having all this constant, mind-blowing, uninhibited sex. Because marriage is apparently mostly about sex, which is why I used the word so many times in this parenthetical remark.)

And somehow she is supposed to become this porn star almost immediately upon marriage, abruptly transforming herself from completely inexperienced and innocent young virgin to expertly skilled sex performer. If she is on the other end of the age spectrum, the sex bloggers have even less patience with her and less sympathy — if that is even possible — for the realities of her life.

Oh, the blogs may talk about intimacy (usually as a codeword for sex) and they may give lip service to things like communication and making love, but what they emphasize is that sex is about pleasure. In fact, it’s really all about orgasms, lots and lots of orgasms. As Christian wives, we should be giving and having them regularly, with great frequency and variety — because God invented sex.

He also invented fruit, but no one seems to be urging us to behave unrealistically while eating it. No one is telling us it is our duty to become exuberantly wild about plums, insisting that there is a special and uninhibited grape-eating demeanor that we need to adopt, preaching that we need to gorge ourselves on apples fixed 100 different ways whether we like them or not, or trying to make us feel guilty for not being over-the-top enthusiastic about our husbands’ fruit preferences.

OK, I might be exaggerating, but only a bit. And not every Christian sex blog places such demands on wives, but far too many do — and I’ve read enough to make me want to scream:

Inhibited women of the world, unite!!
(Quietly, in the privacy of your own homes. Don’t worry, no one is watching.)

I’m so sick of this bashing of shy, inhibited women, and this ridiculous notion that we need a personality transplant during sex. In fact, I’m weary of introvert-bashing and shy-bashing in general, but that’s a bigger rant.

Plus, I’m tired of the ridiculous advice uninhibited women give us to help us overcome our “hang-ups”, which usually boils down to attempting to have sex in the most anxiety-producing, nerve-wracking, and embarrassing way possible for people with inhibitions. If you feel self-conscious about your body, the sex bloggers insist that you should allow your husband to undress you with all the lights on, so that he cannot help but scrutinize your every flaw up close. Supposedly that will make you less inhibited! (It might very well make some trauma victims dissociate, but the sex bloggers have very little patience with us. We need to get therapy and get over ourselves ASAP. So do shy women. I don’t know what wives are supposed to do if their husbands would rather not have to confront the sight of their wives’ very un-porn-star-like, scarred and aging bodies up close under bright lights.)

The real problem goes much deeper and can’t be solved by certain wives getting personality transplants while shedding their inhibitions and senses of identity. It can’t be solved by certain husbands repenting of their longing for sexual experiences with the fantasy sex partners they wish their wives were, and instead learning to desire making love to their real-life wives. The problem goes even deeper than the shocking fact that most men — even in the church — get their sex education from porn, training themselves to desire, find erotic, and derive sexual pleasure from the filmed prostitution, abuse, and humiliation of women. The problem is much more serious than disappointment, unrealistic expectations, or even sinful desires.

The problem is that our theology of marriage and sex is extremely lacking, and falls so very, very short. You can’t baptize our porn-ified culture’s view of sex by slapping a “for married people only” sign on it and preaching sermons. Thinking you’ve gone the extra mile by carelessly throwing a few Bible verses around only makes things worse, not better.

No doubt at least a few readers will assume I’m some tight-lipped prude who is anti-pleasure. Whether I am or not is hardly the point, and such an assumption would only underscore what is really at issue: our view of sex is way too small. This amazing thing God designed is a grand mystery and, like all of His creation, it has His fingerprints all over it. Sin may dim our eyes to its beauty; it may even make sex appear so tawdry and ugly that we are incapable of seeing any evidence of God’s handiwork. But I believe there are profound truths in God’s plan, and I believe that there is no other act besides sex that has the potential to connect a married couple in such a deeply intimate way — physically, mentally, and spiritually. (I also believe the opposite is true: there is no other act besides sex that has the potential to divide and harm the marriage relationship in as deeply a wounding, destructive way.) The Biblical euphemism for making love — describing a husband as “knowing” his wife — is only rich with meaning when we discover that sex itself can be indescribably rich with meaning.

Sex is not a performance. It is about far more than pleasure. It is about intimacy, unity and life….and even more. It is a profound, beautiful mystery. Or at least it should be. And the true intimacy and oneness of sex is only possible if we cease to play a role, cease to put on a performance — and cease to demand that our spouses do so. Until we are willing to be our authentic selves with all the vulnerability and humanity that entails — and until we learn to fully love and fully embrace our spouse’s very real and authentic selves — we are incapable of true intimacy and unity. That is because true intimacy requires giving up our unrealistic expectations and fantasies. It requires creating a safe place, a haven, in which we and our spouses can receive encouragement to become more of who we truly are — not less — a safe place in which there is never a need to take on a role or to perform.

Within such a magnificent view of sex, there is no room for pretending to be a porn star, because that would only degrade sex and miss the point entirely. But there is room — there is in fact a grand and welcome invitation — for ordinary, shy, even supposedly inhibited, people like me.  What should be more important to those who claim to be Christians is that there is plenty of room for Jesus…and for holiness.

Holiness? Coming into agreement with God’s standards for purity? Yes, I know. Holiness and sex don’t seem to go together much these days, do they? (Holiness and porn certainly don’t, and never will.) But if we are uncomfortable with the idea of linking holiness and sex, it is probably because our ideas of both are terribly, terribly flawed.

And, in that case, we probably shouldn’t be writing supposedly Christian marriage blogs. At the very least, we should stop trying to baptize porn culture, stop trying to pretend that is what sex is supposed to be about, and stop trying to claim our misguided ideas are Christian.

Updated to add:

Whether you are are a man or a women, before defending or justifying your use of porn (as in, “It was only a few times”, “I didn’t watch any of the bad stuff”, “It was harmless”, “I think it helped my marriage”, “The stuff I watched was really loving and respectful to women”, “Don’t be such a prude”, “You Christians all hate sex”, or whatever) read this report from a researcher who is not a Christian.

Sexual abusers as “ambassadors”

Redemption is not just one of my life themes; it’s something I consider the greatest theme through all of the Bible and all of history. It’s huge and sweeping…and deeply, intimately personal.  That’s why this article caught me eye in a sea of articles about the Duggar mess: Finding Redemption in the Josh Duggar StoryUp until now, I’ve avoided the temptation to add a blog post to the many words already out there on the internet about this tragic situation. But then this troubling statement in Michael Brown’s article popped out at me:

“Josh can be an ambassador on behalf of the abused…”

Here is the context:

Josh can be an ambassador on behalf of the abused, even helping the abusers as well. While it can feel like your life is over when your past, largely private sins become public (how many of us would like for that to happen?), the fact is that Josh’s future can be bright in the Lord.

He can call on others who are sinning to come clean and get help, using his own example redemptively. And he can encourage those who have been abused to realize that they are not guilty and should not feel shame, also encouraging churches to embrace those who come for help rather than making them feel as if there is something wrong with them.

Why should those who have suffered abuse be stigmatized? They should be our priority for healing and restoration.

I’m all for redemption, and I’m sure the author of this article means well, but this is not what redemption looks like. It does not consist of sexual abusers, no matter how repentant, being allowed to do anything that might even remotely further traumatize victims of abuse.

Just to be sure, I looked up definitions for “ambassador”. Let’s all assume Michael Brown means “unofficial representative” and not “a person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specified activity”. Even so, his word choice, and the idea behind it, is both troubling and problematic.

As a victim of rape and multiple instances of sexual abuse ranging in severity, I would like to emphasize the following:

  1. Sexual abusers do not and cannot represent me. I do not want them speaking on my behalf. The audacity behind such a statement is appalling to me. We don’t need people speaking for us or usurping our voice and our agency. We need people to encourage and empower us to speak for ourselves. Sexual abusers — no matter how repentant — are not the people to take on that role. They have not earned that right; in fact, they have disqualified themselves completely. Even if it turns out that a sexual abuser was previously victimized himself, he still does not speak for me, nor for most sexual trauma survivors, nor should he attempt to act as my “ally”.
  2. I don’t need sexual abusers telling me what I should or should not feel. The sexual abusers and rapists in my life already did exactly that. I don’t want or need another one presuming to tell me, yet again, how I should react to the crimes and sins perpetrated against me by people like him.
  3. I have no interest in anything an ambassador from the “sexual abuser community” might have to say to me as a sexual trauma survivor. By the grace of God, I have done the near impossible and have forgiven those who have perpetrated sexual sins and crimes against me. I do not want to hear any more excuses, justifications, pity parties, blame-shifting, minimizing, denial, or explanations. I’ve already heard far more than I ever wanted to hear. If you are a sexual abuser, I don’t want to understand how or why you did what you did. I’m sorry if that hurts anyone’s feelings, but I really do not want to comprehend the thinking and attitudes of the men who raped me, or the males who have wounded me sexually. There are things I never want to understand. I refuse to be dragged into such cesspools of evil thoughts and selfish, twisted desires. A truly repentant sexual abuser would not want to inflict that on survivors. We already had to deal with the abuse and trauma; don’t make things worse.
  4. Sexual abusers and sexual abuse survivors are not two “communities” that need to make peace with each other or bridge some gap of misunderstanding. Anyone who thinks that there is even a role for “ambassadors” is woefully ignorant of the very nature of sexual trauma. This isn’t a “but can’t we all just get along?” situation. As individual survivors, we may choose to forgive our abusers, but that doesn’t mean it would necessarily be wise to reconcile with them or to enter into relationships with other abusers, no matter how wholesome or contrite their “ambassadors” might appear to be.

Josh Duggar and others like him have nothing to say on my behalf, and little or nothing that I need to hear. They should never attempt to be ambassadors to or from survivors. Sexual abusers like him do not possess wonderful, compassionate insights that would aid me in walking out my healing. At this point, there is no need for apologies or forgiveness, because his sins and crimes were against his sisters and another unnamed victim, not me. However, should he take Michael Brown’s article to heart and try to usurp some sort of “ambassador” role that is not his to take, I think he will owe a major apology to many, if not all, survivors.

There are those not strong enough to partner fully with us | Trauma Tuesday

We see it in your eyes: pity, sorrow, pain, cluelessness. You mean well, but you have no idea.

We feel for you, really we do — far more than you realize — but we struggle with impatience at your naïvety and ignorance. We do not have the luxury of burying our heads in the sand. While you may succeed at silencing us because our truth is too inconvenient and too painful for your sensitive ears, you cannot silence the painful screams deep in our souls. You can plug those sensitive ears of yours; we cannot plug ours. You can drown us out or refuse to hear our stories; we cannot escape our pasts.

PTSD brings the past to the present. It makes you indignant. “I am not your rapist!” you protest self-righteously with the same mouth that we have heard make rape jokes and defend those who would hand women over to rapists, the same mouth that has spoken words proving how little our consent means to you, the same mouth that has defended your body’s right to test and push against our boundaries. You expect us to forget your careless words, words that you consider trivial and light-hearted, words you pretend are not damaging or betraying…and you cannot understand why we are so uptight, so unyielding, so humorless. I mean, why is rape such a big deal to us, just because we have been raped? Why are we so weak that we can’t get over it already?

You expect us to pat you on the back, perhaps even applaud you, because you announce, almost as if it were a grand gesture on your part, that you do not blame us for being raped. You act as if this is a great and selfless act on your part, to absolve us from the guilt of causing our rapes. You act as if you cannot understand why we do not fall all over ourselves with gratitude and why we are not overcome with relief that you do not hold us accountable for our rapist’s actions.

You tell us that we are weak and broken. You say this with great patience, as if you are doing us a favor by letting us know that, despite looking down at us from your position of superiority, you nonetheless still choose to grace our wounded lives with your presence. You are the strong, the un-raped, the unbroken, the undefiled. You remind us of this continually.

However, you have no idea that, the further we go on our healing journey, the more we view you as being the broken one, the more we pity you.

You have no idea.

We used to envy your innocence. We may have remembered when we were in your shoes, full of ignorance and clinging to myths. Or maybe we were robbed of innocence so early in our lives that we cannot even identify with you. At any rate, whether we remember it or not, we were once you. You have never been us.

You are weak and untested. We recognize that now, and we no longer envy you, no longer wish to return to your state of denial and cluelessness, no longer wish to be the type of person who prefers personal comfort and fantasy over truth and justice.

We no longer want your life of ease and privilege. It is a jail worse than the one we have broken out of and triumphed over. You find your chains comforting and familiar, even while pretending you are not bound; we have conquered ours, seen them smashed and broken, and have tasted the exhilaration of running into freedom, of dancing upon injustice.

We know victory; you know avoidance and hiding. We wouldn’t trade places with you for anything in the world, not anymore.

We protect you from the truth, knowing you are the weak one, the broken one, the incomplete one.

We pity you…far more than you pity us. You have no idea — and you prefer it that way. We are your shield and your safe haven in the storm. We treat you gently and cautiously. After all, unlike us, you are fragile and weak, and cannot quite handle the real world.

Over the past few years, I have talked with other survivors about our husbands, boyfriends, friends, and family members. Some of these handle our trauma history better than others. What I wrote here is compiled from what I have heard as well as experienced firsthand. This is not about abusive relationships. This is about mostly well-meaning but flawed and clueless people who just don’t know enough, aren’t sensitive enough, and aren’t strong enough. This is about trying to navigate relationships with partners who grew up in rape culture. This is about people who don’t want to face the truth. This is about people who may want to come alongside us, but only as long as it doesn’t force them to be less selfish or step outside their comfort zones. Often, in the beginning of our healing journey, we may have tried to lean on them. As time progresses, we begin to realize that we are much stronger than we had realized, and they don’t really have what it takes to be our allies. We don’t pity these partners and friends for not having experienced trauma. We pity them for not having healed from their own issues — everyone has them — and for not having seized their own opportunities to wake up, learn, grow and flourish. 

When God was a victim

Yes, I know…Good Friday is past. But I just found this today and think that it is a profound message for the church — on every Sunday. In fact, it’s important to reflect on every day of the week.

“How can we worship a God who was a victim of abuse,” she asked me, “if we can’t love the victims of abuse sitting in the pews with us?”

Read the rest here: What a child abuse survivor taught me about Good Friday