What I kind of wish I never learned from Unbelievable: A Netflix series based on a true story about rape

“(We’re) talking about a crime that is absolutely devastating and massively under-addressed. So bringing that issue out of the dark shadows of our culture and pulling it into the light is really important” Showrunner Susannah Grant

{CONTAINS SPOILERS}

Not too long ago my husband and I finished watching the new Netflix series, Unbelievable. It was hauntingly powerful. It had a way of provoking anger and providing deeper understanding in us as the viewers. There was compelling character development amidst a tragically gripping and mesmerizing story line. But the heartbreaking reality behind this eight episode show is that it was much more than a show. It was someone’s (many someone’s) life reality being depicted. It was lived and felt and experienced off the screen.  Watching this part of other people’s lives played out before me in a show felt a little unfathomable.

I kept telling myself this really happened.

 As someone who thinks long and feels deeply about sexual abuse, this show caused a lot of those previous thoughts and feelings to come to a head. It is intrusively teaching me many things about this topic. In fact, these are some of the things I “kind of wish it never taught me.” Because now, I’m held accountable to a new degree. And yet this sort of knowledge-based accountability is the very reason I find these lessons worth sharing with you, too.

Maybe the first step is choosing to enter into the stories

I was hesitant to watch this show. I knew the content would be risky for me to watch on many levels. I knew it would affect me in ways I did not really want to be affected. To be honest, I have a pretty weak stomach when it comes to many of life’s darkest realities. Sometimes it feels as if the darkness swallows me whole. And to be even more honest, that’s part of why I ended up watching it. While I think knowing ourselves (our weaknesses, triggers, and tendencies) provides necessary ground for discerning what kind of content we take in, this time I decided I needed to push myself a little. Or a lot. I landed at the conclusion that for me, this time, it was worth it.

I think in hindsight my choice is teaching me that entering into the story, even of a complete stranger, will not actually lighten the load of what they are already having to carry. But on the other hand, it is teaching me that maybe choosing to carry just an ounce of it by exposure will give greater understanding, deeper compassion, and more fervent outrage for the weight already placed upon them. What we might carry for a week, some will carry for a life time. So we can choose to taste just a portion of the reality that they never got to choose for themselves. Maybe for you that will not mean watching the show. But it probably will mean that you will have to choose to learn something you cannot un-know and feel something you cannot un-feel by the exposure of excruciating stories from those who choose to share them to any degree and for any reason. 

There is no “right” way to respond to trauma 

There was a crucial turning point towards a whole new level of suffering for one of the victims. This turning point happened when Marie Adler, the first accuser, began to be doubted. A seed of doubt was first planted into the case by Marie’s former foster mom. There is a very telling scene where the foster mom is talking to a detective and sharing her suspicions of fabrication. These expressed suspicions depicted the real life foster mom who claimed that Marie’s response was not emotional enough, that she was not making eye contact, and that she found it suspicious that Marie had told several people. This was the sudden gateway to Marie being berated, belittled, and bullied by investigators. Which then led to Marie claiming and being charged for, false reporting.  What this spiraled into can traced back to the assumption that there is a “right” or “normal” way to respond to such experiences.

Scene one of episode two further drives this point home as we are introduced to a bubbly, communicative, warm woman who is sharing her own eerily similar story to that of Marie’s. The stark difference, however, is that she is not curled up in a ball grasping for words to report to the police. She, instead, is delightfully direct and detailed. She is deemed “dependable.” Marie was dismissed as “troubled.” Yet trauma is trauma. And its validity can not be measured systematically. Trauma will inevitably affect the inflicted. No amount of running or hiding or stuffing or shouting will make it disappear. But exactly when and how it will be responded to is not determined by our own prideful scrutiny. 

Rape is a direct act of violence 

For the sake of sensitivity and delicacy I will not delve deeply into this point. But it is utterly impossible to hear even the slightest detail of a rape case and not equate it with a sheer act of harrowing violence. I think our initial response to this statement would be something like “of course it is!” We wholeheartedly agree rape is very very serious, and even violent. Along with any form of sexual assault. Yet our lived response in today’s rape culture can tend more towards language like “being caught in the moment” or a “one time slip up.” But this sort of behavior must be attributed to something much greater than just an unmet sexual desire. It does not take much research, or experience, to discover that this sort of abuse is linked to power, control, and entitlement. Sexual assault can happen in a foreign place or a familiar place. It can come from a person the survivor will never lay eyes on again or from a person they will see every Holiday. Or every day at school. Or every day in their very own home. Regardless of when, who, or where we must talk about and treat such sexual assault for what it is- a pinnacle of violence. It is not only one act of crime (which this alone should ensue just-penalty); it is an act of many crimes coming together as one and culminating itself in the worst kind of survived brutality. 

Christians can, and should, show up for this battle

While most Christian viewers will heartily cheer on detective Duvall and gladly claim her as our own, we at some point will simultaneously shrink back upon the realization that we simply can never be like her. She is this gentle, soft spoken, empathetic, brave, passionate, powerhouse of a woman. And we’d be happy to be a fraction of the person that she is. “Detective Duvall” reminds us in a brilliantly beautiful way that Christians can, and should, fight hard against injustices. Injustices, like this show portrays, that are often dealt with unjustly. We, too, live in a world of injustice stacked upon injustice. And we, too, could learn a few things about how to take up the cause of the violated and the victimized. I believe this can be done without pitting the gospel of grace against the gospel of justice. I believe it can also be done without fear that this kind of darkness will make us forsake the light. It will be scary and hard, but we along with Duvall should say, “Here I am, send me.”

Yet when we put this detective on a pedestal (or any great men and women of the faith who have carved paths towards this end), we miss the God on his throne who they are actually representing. The God who told us from long ago that he cared about his people seeking justice, correcting oppression, and defending the rights of those in need. We may never be the modern day William Wilberforce of sexual assault. But, in our own small spheres of influences we can fight with the same sort of anger, plead with the same sort of passion, and care with the same sort of tenderness that these battle-hero’s-for-justice also exemplified.  All the while pointing to the Christ of our Christianity. 

We just never know

One significant scene that stuck out to me in Marie’s story was in the aftermath of her trauma and the backlash of not being believed. This scene takes place in a store that Marie is attempting to work at. She is behind a table with shaking hands that are unable to even successfully squirt ketchup into a cup. The lady waiting on the other side of the table is annoyed that this “incompetent worker” is not even capable of correctly preparing a small sample of dipping sauce for her as the customer to try. She comes across as impatient at best and condescending at worst. And it makes us mad. But let’s face it. We are watching from Marie’s point of view. Too often I am in the shoes of the lady who is only asking for base-line proficiency in customer service. Or basic reciprocation in my relationships.

I want this to serve as a reminder for me that the person in front of me, from my closest friend to a complete stranger, may have just walked away from their very worst nightmare. The kind that they are not able to wake up from. The kind where the invasive flashbacks cannot be ignored and the crippling panic attacks can not be predicted. As the often-spoken-little-applied quote goes “you never know what kind of battle someone is fighting.” So instead of accusing and assuming from the outside of the battle as an attacker, let’s enable and embrace as a defender who goes inside their battle and fights with them and for them. 

Whatever it takes, be a safe place

As this show eludes to multiple times, let’s give pause to these staggering stats from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center: 1) Rape is the most under-reported crime; 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police. 2) Only 12% of child sexual abuse is reported to the authorities 3) The prevalence of false reporting is between 2% and 10%. A study of eight U.S. communities, which included 2,059 cases of sexual assault, found a 7.1% rate of false reports. 

My goal in sharing these numbers is not to spark the newly heated debate about false reporting. It is more to challenge our defaults. Do I believe there can be harm in the rally cry “believe women, every single time, no matter what”? I do. But I also believe there is so much irreversible harm that we inflict when our default towards an accuser is one of doubt. What if instead our instinct was to first assume that another Marie Adler was sitting in front of us. The kind of Marie, who by sharing, was taking the risk to lose more than what had already been taken from her. The kind of Marie who heart crushingly exclaimed that if she had to do it over, she would lie again. Lie better and lie sooner. Why? Because the truth only proved to multiply her sorrow and shame. She came to believe that keeping the truth to herself was less painful than trusting it over to someone else for them to do what they wanted with it. The tragic irony of not being believed was that Marie now felt just as unsafe behind her unlocked door as she did outside of it. No one was safe anymore. Not even the good ones who were supposed to protect her. 

But, I am convinced that even more than the need to change the settings of our default is the need to cultivate the space for safety. May that sacred space be found in us. May we work hard to be the kind of people who are safe before, after, and in the midst of our friend’s and neighbor’s tragedies and traumas. May we be people of solace and solidarity. Marie finally found that place of safety. It was in a therapist. A therapist who welcomed her silence, saw her tears, and listened to her voice when she courageously chose to use it. The therapist’s refreshingly trustworthy approach was not to dissect a story, but rather to really get to know the girl sitting in front of her.  Let us, too, sit on a soft couch to listen from instead of a cold jury seat to dictate from.

** Below are anonymous answers from a diverse group of survivors that I know that were willing to answer the question “what is one thing you want people to know about sexual assault?”

 

   I would say that for me, it feels like everyone’s worlds keep going and mine stays still. I feel stuck and unable to completely move on, specifically because of my current court case. It just feels like a scab that keeps getting involuntarily picked off.

 

 Even though I’ve “moved on” and “forgiven” my abuser (whatever that even looks like) that doesn’t mean that I want to have anything to do with him. 

 

Healing comes in layers.

 

Yes, it was 20 years ago. But yes… I can still recall the fear & self-loathing as if it was yesterday.

 

The one thing I would want others to know about sexual assault is when someone opens up and shares, the most valuable way you can help is by listening and saying, “I believe you.” There is incredible incredible power in those words to break the cycle of fear, denial, isolation, and avoidance to the victim. How someone responses truly will have an effect on the healing process.

 

Those who are victims believe a ton of lies, but the main one is, ” I should have been able to stop it. I should have been able to defend myself. Or “if I had not done ____ he wouldn’t have assaulted me.” I don’t care if you’re 2 or 40. That is a complete utter lie! But with this lie comes the great pain of shame and guilt.

 

One thing I wish people knew about sexual assault is that it is so much more than being physically and sexually taken advantage of. It is certainly nothing LESS than that, but it is much more. It changes the entire trajectory of the survivors life. I truly felt like my soul was affected in this experience. So survivors aren’t being dramatic or emotional, an experience like sexual assault is deep and soul crushing. However, that doesn’t change the reality that we are ALWAYS called to “do the next right thing.” God’s plan is STILL for us to thrive where He puts us and live an abundant life. We don’t have a different measurement or standard for obedience. We don’t get to “opt out” of adding value to those around us, simply because we survived sexual assault. But with that said, I would urge others to simply consider this- being victimized changes everything, but also it changes nothing. Our call, responsibilities, and duties do not change. But we are forever changed. And that is very hard to navigate. 

 

Make America Christian again

If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be nation gone under.” – Ronald Reagan

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”– John Adams

The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”- George Washington

“The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.” John Adams

While there is debate on whether America was truly founded upon the Christian faith it does not take much digging up to find quotes and speeches like this that, at the least, point to the reality that some of our founding fathers and early presidents held to some sort of belief in God, faith, and morality. Many of which explicitly linking those roots in Christianity. Knowing that America, to at least some extent if not great extent, was shaped from Christian principles and standards, where does that leave us as Christians, today? What political party might that put us in? What does this mean for us as another election season approaches? What place do patriotism and nationalism hold in our lives? What kind of America should we be fighting for?

I am in no way equipped to give hard and fast answers to such complex and crucial questions. My hope in this blog is to simply let you in on some of what I continue to wrestle with as an American Christian. An “American Christian” who is seeking to be first a “Christian American”.

These thoughts are what I hope to be both solid and fluid at the same time. Wrought with the sort of conviction and critical thought that ever roots them yet changing with the softness of heart and openness of mind that ever grows them.

Why I fight for a “Christian America”

I think when it comes to laws and regulations those who are not Christians can become annoyed and resistant to Christians who are voting in such a way that “imposes their beliefs on us all.” I get that. It’s a tough balance, not neglecting someone else’s values while voting based off of your own.

In the end though, it seems as if we’re really all claiming that our convictions are what should shape the choices of other fellow citizens. At what point those decisions infringe upon personal freedom is a topic we should give thought to. Because some promotions or prohibitions bring into question rights or equalities or freedoms. But at some level, we are all fighting for our own idea of what is best for society. Derived from somewhere or someone. We are all fighting for the common good, whatever we deem good. Yet in some way or another that good is going to inevitably be at odds with someone else’s definition of good.

It may feel that Christians are just trying to impose onto others a set of regulations based on their own religious rule book that others don’t want play by. But the goal should be something else all together. If Christians believe what God says is genuinely best for not only us but everyone around us too, we must vote and act in a way that is in keeping with that.

We believe that there are general principles established by God, like many laid out in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, that give us rough guidelines for how to live in a way that will “go well” for us. We also believe there are more specific life-changing guidelines, known as commands, that God has laid out that will bring benefits when obeyed and consequences when disobeyed. Lastly, we believe there is a soul-changing gospel that gives us new hearts and is the motivation by which we obey God’s commands and welcome God’s rule in our life and nation.

I believe that the same God who knows how to make a dead heart come alive also knows the way a nation ought to function in order to thrive.

So as a Christian, I will vote as one. Not because of a check mark in a religious affiliation box but because of the deepest convictions that lie in my heart. The ones that have been shaped and informed by God’s Word. Not a Word that creates borders and boundaries for the purpose of withholding and imposing. But a Word that gives life and love for the purpose of protecting and blessing. It is out of both duty and delight I desire a nation that is “under God.”

Therefore we pray in a way that those purposes might be fulfilled and act in a way that those purposes may be accomplished.

While the church I am a part of by no means does this perfectly, I’m thankful that it seeks to do this faithfully in word and deed. One way this is lived out is by my pastor’s weekly prayer. He rotates which government official he is praying for, but there is not a week that goes by that a person placed in office does not get prayed for. It doesn’t matter who they are or what position they hold, he prays that they would realize their authority comes from God alone and that they would act for the good of the American people and not their own selfish gain. The Bible tells us to pray for our political leaders, and so as Christians, we should. And we should be involved in politics in a way that rightly reflects the prayers coming from our pulpits and pews.

Where we got it wrong

The sad reality is that while we trust God’s way is best for us and those around us, somewhere along the way we confused some of our forefathers values that were imparted upon us with God’s promise that was guaranteed to us. We were never promised to live in a comfortable nation, whether here or there, that caters to our Christianity. Maybe we have grown so used to being the majority that we thought anything other than that was a direct violation against our God given rights as Americans.

As an American, I believe it is noble to fight for the country we want to be in. And as a Christian, I believe it is noble to long for the country we know will be.

I think as American Christians we are all too quick to link blessing primarily to freedom of religion and less so to freedom from our sins. One is a beautiful gift we may be given for a time and the other is a powerful promise that can never be taken. We are too quick to seek rest in who we ourselves have seated in congress for a few years rather than who God has seated on the Throne for eternity.

Living life with an “overseas mentality”

If my husband and I moved our family to another country, which we consider doing someday, we would never send our kids to a public school there expecting for them to get a “Christian education.” We would not go with the ultimate aim of seeing a change in the laws of their country but rather to see a change in the hearts of our neighbors.  We would not go expecting for our family to be the majority, in really any sense of the word. We would go in just knowing that our race and our religion would likely not be the norm. The majority. We would be different. And that would be okay. It would be very expected.

Why is it that as Christians we can go overseas with the expectation of religious adversity and opposition, and we might even go there for that very reason; yet we can’t stand living with it when we’re in America.

 

Exiles and sojourners

While the majority of Christians will never experience the expectation that comes along with living overseas and being “foreigners,” is that not who we were told we would be? Even right here in the United States. Were we not told, along with our brothers and sisters around the rest of the world, that we were exiles and foreigners and sojourners? That we were only passing through?

There were many parts that I left out of my pastors weekly prayer mentioned above. One of them, following the request for America’s good as defined by God, is for America’s salvation as found in Jesus. He prays that our nation’s ultimate good would come not primarily by a Christian president enacting Christian laws but rather the Christian church proclaiming the Christian gospel. The gospel that brings hope as we walk through this foreign land and brings peace as we await our heavenly home. The gospel that glorifies the blood on a cross more than it glorifies the blood on a battle field.

America has never been our true home. Our final destination. But maybe part of the problem is that it has felt a little too much like what we thought of home and of heaven, that we have settled in here. That we are no longer pitching our tents on the portion of land that we are passing through but rather building our houses on the lot that we are devoting our lives to. What if we could still fight for justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God by the way we vote as Christians? What if we longed for society around us to get a better taste of what we believe eternity will be, and enacted policies that would promote that? But what if we continue to stand firm in these things while also finally knowing what it feels like to fall under the weight of a nation that is not ultimately our own. That doesn’t cater to us and comfort us in the same ways it used to.

What if we are at a unique, and needed, time in American Christian history where we get to say along with men and women of our faith “for here we have no lasting city, but we seek that city that is to come.” And what if we get to better identify with the man who is our faith who said, “my kingdom is not an earthly kingdom.”

Christian, let us fight for a good America while we long for better Jerusalem.

Adult friendships: are they worth the work and the weirdness?

Have you ever walked away feeling awkward and off after an oddly flowing conversation, even with someone you’ve known for a long time?

Have you ever laid in bed at night mulling over the same words that someone said that maybe you were reading too much into… or just maybe they meant something by? Or worrying about the words you said that someone else might have misunderstood?

Have you ever left a crowded event still feeling unknown and alone?

Have you ever felt like it’s high school all over again as you longingly watch the cool posse laugh and walk by?

Have you ever been nervous to put yourself out there and initiate a friendship, only to find that when you finally reach out you were met with rejection?

Have you ever felt yourself resenting the person who “just got to town” and already has more friends than you have made in the past 2 years since arriving?

Have you ever missed what you used to have with the same person you still see all the time and wonder why things had to change?

Have you ever spent years getting close to someone and in the end had to tell them good bye? And then you were left feeling like you had to start all over again with someone new?

Then you’ve made it.

We’ve made it.

Made it to the place they used to always talk about. The place where “life gets more complicated and relationships don’t come easy.” So here we are. Adult friendships.

These relationships that can be so noticeably clunky and complex. Full of tendencies that can annoy us. Personalities that can confuse us. Sins that can hurt us. Plans get cancelled. You always show up late. They always leave early. They expect too much. You give too little. They always forget what you said. You always make the drive. Work is busy. That struggle is isolating. Schedules don’t line up. The kids will have melt downs and they interrupt grown up conversation every other sentence. Actually, forget it, you’re just going to spend the majority of the time chasing them around anyway.

It can be plain hard.

And as a 27 year old mom of 2 my friendship challenges may look different than your friendship challenges. But at the end of the day we’re pretty much all out here saying that friendship is harder and weirder than we thought it might be. Even more so though, we’re all still saying that we want it. And need it. And it’s worth it.

We were made for relationships.

We become our stronger and softer selves, because of them. Community life, filled with sometimes funny-feeling friendships, has a way of growing us into our fuller potential. Of chipping away at our edges and filling in some of our gaps. Of teaching us a new kind of resilience and endurance. Of giving us greater understanding and deeper compassion. Of simply bringing us enjoyment and laughter.

So how do we fight for it? How can we dig deep roots of friendship that will eventually produce some of the sweetest and rarest of fruits?

I do not have all the answers. Obviously. But, I have studied the way other’s around me live life with one another. I have leaned an ear into the voice of those who do it well and sought to follow in their footsteps. I have taken tidbits (or ton-bits) of practical application from podcasts and nuggets of wisdom from break out sessions and books.

In my own words I’ve compiled (that’s a nicer word than stolen) a list. It’s been spoken and lived out mostly by others first.

7 ways to approach and walk in healthy adult friendships:

1. Keep pressing on

I’ve heard the phrase “failing forward.” I like it. To me it is paints an accurate picture of what real life relationships look like. While it might sometimes feel like friendships are a constant dance of 1 step forward and 2 steps back, the good news is, you’re still going in the right direction.  Just because you’re stumbling, it doesn’t mean you’re not moving. One day we might just look a few steps ahead of our stumbling-selves and find that something pretty cool has been, and is being, built. So keep doing it. Keep texting first. Keep asking the questions. Keep pressing through uncomfortable pauses. Keep inviting them over even when your house isn’t perfect. Keep giving the benefit of the doubt. Keep accepting that you’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. And keep showing up as you. Where ever you said you would be, whenever you said you would be there. In all your Monday-morning messiness. Again and again and again.

2. Let go of your idealized version of friendship

Remember when you were a kid on the playground and making a friend meant swinging next to someone and saying hi? Or when you joined that club or team in High School and quickly found your niche? Or when you got to college and instantly became friends with a handful of people who were coming in and out of your dorm room on the daily?

Maybe your experiences of friendship haven’t been quite that easy or simple. But most likely we all have had at least one period of time in our lives that friendships were fluid and fun. Where they were just a given. And they lightened our load and rarely seemed to add to it. Or maybe your idealized version is something you’ve seen in a movie or read in a book or seen in other’s lives, but never quite experienced it yourself. Whatever your version may be, I believe it’s something we have to let go of. We have to realize 2:00 AM study dates are a season and a sort of friendship. They aren’t the prototype. And if we’re too busy waiting around for friendships to look that way or another, we may miss the unique ones that are right in front of us. In the words of Meg Tietz, stop waiting around for your best friend soulmate.

3. Allow friendships to be what they are

This is an idea that I heard recently shared in a podcast and I thought it was so enlightening and freeing. Don’t force something out of a friendship that it just isn’t going to give. Let it morph and grow and don’t box it in, but also just let it be. Don’t expect someone who never knows where their phone is to text you every day. Don’t expect someone who is quiet to shower you with all the words that you want to hear. Don’t go on a play date “for” your kids and expect it to actually be a mom date “for” you. We don’t have to put all of our friendship eggs in one basket. Actually, we shouldn’t. Because no one person can be everything we need them to be. They can not meet all of our friendship needs. And that’s a good thing. It allows us to have various friends who fill us in various ways and not have one friend who fulfills us in all the ways. Because they just can’t. This approach creates the room for us to make more friends and for those that are already our friends to make more of their own, too.

If you found your up-for-anything friend, have fun with them. If you found your honest friend, ask them the hard things you need to know the truth about. If you found your empathizing friend, cry to them. If you found your group friend, one on one time might not be your best bet with them. If you found your fix-it friend, call them when your pipe is leaking. Appreciate your friends for who they are and what they uniquely bring. And when maybe you get the chance to find a “freezer friend” (again shout out to Meg Tietz with Sorta Awesome) who knows every single thing in your freezer; aka knows every detail of your day and wants to… rejoice in the rarity and hold on tight to them. But acknowledge that this type of friendship is simply not everyone’s norm.

4. Share experiences

I recently heard someone say (once again, my written words and someone else’s ideas) that they realized about themselves that they rarely ever sat across the table with someone and felt an instant friendship-connection. They rarely “hit it off” with people. Rather they kept gathering around the same things at the same times, and formed something sweet. This can look like weekly coffee shop meets or biweekly play dates or monthly pizza nights or annual camping trips. Friendships can be forged and kept by the very things we mark on our calendars again and again. The routines that we build into our rhythms of life. Friendship isn’t confined to the spoken word only. It can be cultivated and kept by common interests and shared experiences. Turn up the music and make pizza together. Sit on the couch and cry at This Is Us together. Pant and sweat while you hike together. Be captivated by the flames of the campfire together.

Create together. Rest together. Play together. Watch together. Cheer together. Find the things that unite you, and keep capitalizing on those things and gathering around those things. They will be the very things you tell past stories about and create current memories in.

5. Sit in the sadness

I have found that, at least from my own personal experience, something that keeps me running from relationships is the fear of not knowing what to say. I’m afraid of walking through a situation with someone that I know absolutely nothing about. I’m afraid to say too much, offer too little, or flat out say the wrong thing. I’m afraid of the things that feel foreign to me and then I write myself off as having nothing to offer. Yet because we’re all human, pain and sorrow and suffering are no strangers to any of us. They may come in varying forms and degrees, but we are all acquainted with them. And so we can choose to be human with our friends. We can acknowledge that we have no idea what to say or no advice to give. But we can offer ourselves. We can give our quiet and caring and un-rushed presence. We can give the sacrificial gift of bearing one another’s burdens by simply sitting in them. We can take some of the tears by crying them too. We can take some of the sting by letting it pierce us too. Hearing the silence and feeling the pain might be all we have to offer, and it may be all they ever actually wanted us to give.

6. Have hands that help

I have never seen such a raw and beautiful picture of helping hands as when I joined a local church. This came to life to me when I covenanted to a body of believers. A group of people who saw themselves not only theologically but also practically as just that- a body. A body with moving and functioning and active parts. Doing their job. Imperfectly but faithfully. While my taste of this “hands on” friendship has been primarily in the context of my church, what new mom in your play group would pass up a meal being brought to her door? What car-less coworker wouldn’t want a ride to the office? What new house owner wouldn’t welcome able-bodies to help move some boxes? What single parent wouldn’t take you up on a night of free childcare?

Sometimes we can’t come up with the words to say. And sometimes we don’t have the chance to just sit and feel with them. But we can always say “I’m ordering” or “I’m doing” or “I’m bringing.” These soothing words and these kind actions have made me feel known and cared for in a way that almost nothing else ever has. Maybe it’s because we’re adults and we have so much on our plates that lightening our load is our new love language. Or maybe it’s because we’re human and we desperately need each other to make it through this thing that we’re all in together called life.

7.  Have lips that celebrate

Be a friend that mourns quietly and helps practically and cheers loudly. Throw their party. Buy their ice cream. Watch their kids. Send the text that says “good job!” Make the call that says “you did it!” True friends challenge us but they also cheer for us. See the good. Call out the growth. Emphasize the victories. Choose to be a friend that is quick to honor and root and uphold. The joy in your life will multiply as their celebrations become your celebrations, their wins become your wins, and their happy days become your happy days. Even in the midst of your own complaints and loses and sad days. Sometimes friendship is letting someone else ignore the brightness of their own day to sit in the darkness your hard day. And other times friendship is choking back your sad tears to rejoice in someone else’s happy tears.

There are enough hard days and harsh voices. We all could use that friend, and be that friend, that celebrates proudly and embarrassingly and often. It’s not an expensive gift to give but it’s a priceless one to receive.

Take heart and keep fighting the friendship fight.

Embrace it in all of its weirdness and wonder and work. Oh, and don’t forget to look around and see that you’re among the 99% of people who are wanting the exact same thing as you.

A friend.

 

 

 

 

 

The secret to contentment

A couple months ago my kids and I were taking a morning walk around our neighborhood. It was the same usual route full of the same usual houses. But for some reason, on this particular walk, I really saw these houses. What size they were. How well-kept their yards were. How pretty their flowers were. What color their front doors were.

This noticing struck me.

Initially I think it was because I am not typically observant about things like this. At all. My husband could probably recall how many windows are on each of the houses around the loop we take. Me, I couldn’t even tell you if a single house had windows. But the thing that really struck me was the reason I was noticing. I would love to say that it was out of appreciation or admiration that I was taking note of such things. It wasn’t. What my heart was doing that day was making a subtle list of what we didn’t have. Or of what we did have, that wasn’t quite as big or as pretty or as fancy or as appealing, as theirs.

Of course this was nowhere near the first time I had caught myself playing the comparison game. But honestly, on the list of recurring struggles I’ve had in my life, this hadn’t ever made the top of the list for me. My eyes were not usually prone to wandering to other peoples lives, relationships, or things. So when mine did in a very obvious way, it took me off guard.

And it caused me to realize, on much more serious and deep levels, the kind of hold this thing we call the “comparison trap” had actually started to have in my life. It had taken on many ugly forms for many ugly reasons, and I’m painfully thankful this little walk around the block opened up my eyes to this reality.

I started to wonder “is this just part of being an adult?” or “maybe this is what it feels like to settle into an area for more than 5 years? I’m not just passing through. So it makes sense to now look around me at others who have done some part of staking their life here, and what their life looks like compared to mine, right?” Maybe there is some truth there. But as I have been reflecting on (or more aptly put- wrestling though) what contentment is all about and why it really matters for a Christ follower, I realized I couldn’t let myself settle for the answer that I was just “adulting.”

To the Christian, contentment is both necessary and possible. We have a reason to be as well as the means to be. Therefore, like most things in the Christian life, I am able to both rest in what has been won for me (the power to be content) and also fight hard for it at the same exact time.

And I promise you this, as I promise it to my own forgetful heart, it will always be worth both the resting and the fighting, because we are called to it. And whatever we are called to in Christ, is worth it. Every time.

How I am learning to fight for contentment

  1. Call it what it is

    One of those spiritual “hurts so good” moments was when I heard someone say that essentially believers should stop using coddling words and phrases to make us feel better about what the Bible calls, well, sin. For example, she said, stop saying that we are just “comparing.” Comparison, used culturally, insinuates a sense of dreaming. Maybe it is a little misdirected but it’s really just wishful thinking that means no harm. It’s normal. It’s to be expected. We’re only human. It helps us push for greater. It allows us to achieve our #goals. But the Bible calls it something quite different. It changes a vague and harmless habit into a directed and soul depleting sin. And calls it coveting. In Romans this word coveting is pitted against love itself. It is antithetical to it. If you love your neighbor you will not murder, commit adultery, steal, or covet. This is not a picture of simply striving after greatness but rather it is a picture of wanting what does not belong to us. Of not loving but rather sinning.

    So the first self-denying yet life giving way I have found to fight the fight of a contended heart is to call my coveting what it is. And then to see what God has to say about it. And me. And Him.
     
  2. Pray for those I am envying

    I have always heard that it’s hard to hate someone you are praying for. In the same way I have come to find that it is hard to want a part of someone else’s life for myself when I am praying it becomes even more theirs. When I not only thank God for what they have, but also ask that he bless them even more.  I can’t put into words the beauty that takes place deep within when a prayer is choked out for the flourishing of another’s friendship that we wanted for ourselves. Or the raw request for someone else’s continued success, that magnifies our own failure. God does a sanctifying work in those moments. It is a hard moment. But it has the ability to become a holy one. One that turns a harsh shout of envy into a soft whisper of celebration.

    As we pray for the thriving of others we ourselves begin to sense this mysterious settledness seep into the once hidden and envious crevasses of our hearts.  Prayer opens these dark places up and allows the light to come in. The light of contentment which in and of itself, paired with godliness, is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6)
     
  3. Count what I have

    I can hear generation after generation of the sweetest voices in my family singing “count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings, see what God has done. Count your blessings. Count your many blessings.” And they would all attest that these are more than words of a song to them. That there was never a time in their life that they did not have more to be thankful for than they even knew to count. And when I start to “name mine one by one” I find that the same is true. I find that I have so much to be thankful for that if I spent my whole life rehearsing the list, I wouldn’t have enough time to think about what I do not have. Or what others have. Counting my blessings tunes my heart to the contented rest I should continually be at. But it’s not only a catchy little timeless song. It is something we are told to do over and over again in scripture. Giving thanks softens and enlightens and cultivates. It opens its hands to receive and keeps them opened to praise.
     
  4. Name who I am

    While I have found the power of a good bullet-journaling session to name all I have to be grateful for, I have found that even this, as effective as it might be, is not the true secret to contentment. While rehearsing blessings certainly puts things into perspective it can not truly anchor a soul down in contentment. While envying is wanting what we don’t have and thankfulness is remembering what we do have, the focus is still the same. Our happiness, or lack of, is still tied to what we do or do not have.

    It is only when I, along with Paul, can say that I know how to be brought low and how to abound and in every circumstance have learned the secret of facing hunger, abundance, and need: I can do all things though Him who strengthens me. Strength when I look across the yard at my neighbor and want what I do not have. Strength when I do have it. Strength when I never get it. Contentment is not dependent on what is outside of me but rather who is inside of me.

    Our heart’s are only ever fully, completely, satisfyingly content because of Christ. Christ in us.

  5. Claim who He is

“Just as a cup of tea gets stronger when we give it time to steep, so we become more content when we spend time in God’s Word and allow it to steep into our lives, transforming us to be like Him.”

“Lord, you have assigned me my portion

and my cup; you have made my lot secure.” Psalm 16:5

“I know of no greater simplifier for all of life. Whatever happens is assigned. Can we say that there are things that happen to us that do not belong to our lovingly assigned “portion.” Are some things, then, out of the control of the Almighty? Every assignment is measured and controlled for my eternal good. As I accept the given portion other options are cancelled. Decisions become much easier, directions clearer, and hence my heart becomes inexpressibly quieter. A quiet heart is content with what God gives” Elisabeth Elliot on Psalm 16:5

 

A quiet heart is content with what God gives.

Because it knows who God is.

Mother’s Day 2019: 31 things my mom has taught me

1. There’s always room at our table.

2. Pot Roast tastes the best on Sundays.

3. Give yourself the treat of coming home to a clean house after vacation.

4. No question is a stupid question when it’s genuine. Never stop learning and growing.

5. All human life is valuable and is always a hill worth dying on. Every single time.

6. The gospel gives us reason to sing, even when our voice is shaking.

7. It’s a fact of life that not everyone is going to like you.

8. A Chick-fil-A sandwich is heavenly, even when it’s smooshed in a bag and flown to you from thousands of miles away.

9. Cities have their own personalities, explore them.

10. Sometimes the best answer to life’s problems is just a good night of sleep.

11. The small family feast around the Reeves table in this life is worth giving up for the blood bought family feast around the King’s table in eternity.

12. Different colors look good on different people.

13. You can be both honest and gracious.

14. There’s no such thing as talking anything to death.

15. It’s okay to parent your kids differently, they’re all different.

16. Sweet tea goes with breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. Oh, and bedtime snacks.

17. We all see things through different lenses. Try to put someone else’s on sometimes.

18. A happy-hearted mama makes for a happy home.

19. You’re not going to get what you want if you don’t ask for it… like for people not to cut your drink lemon with the onion knife.

20. Proper punctuation, really! matters. And get your apostrophes’es right, people.

21. Respect your own kids in the ways you relate to their own kids.

22. God’s Word informs us, we do not inform it.

23. The art of making a house a home.

24. The beauty of confidence and contentedness.

25. The wisdom of listening.

26. The kindness of buying someone else’s coffee.

27. There’s no such thing as an “original family.” When someone else joins in, they’re the original family now.

28. Some things you just have to accept, not master. Like never remembering where you parked your car after coming out of the store.

29. Cheer on the next generation.

30. Own the things that make you who you are, even your ticks and quirks. And love people for who they are, even with their ticks and quirks.

31. IT’S ALL GRACE.

From one mom to another

I have seen a picture of the well known Katniss-Everdeen-salute floating around with the caption, “this is me when I see another mom with her screaming toddler in the store.”  Well, I am here to tell you that I am currently her.  I am another mom navigating the same store aisles as you while our toddlers attempt to completely unravel us in front of other, once peaceful, shoppers.

I’m in these trenches with you. I do not have much to look back on and I do not really know where I’m headed. I’m just right beside you speaking solidarity. And it is from here that I am going to share a short list of life-giving phrases that have been infused into my mama-brain by many others that have gone before me. These aren’t deep theological truths or even necessarily practical to-do’s. I’m not trying to give a pep talk or ensue a guilt trip. Rather, I wanted to share some simple sayings that continue to free me up when I’m tempted to cower in fear and shame or puff up in pride and judgement. I hope they give some life and liberation to you as well:

Breathe it in

I know this is the most cliche one in the book and border line obnoxious. I know it can tend to have a reverse effect and bring about similar negative feelings (like guilt) I just mentioned above. At times though, these words have been spoken into my situation in such a tender and timely way. I’ve realized those times are not typically an antidote to long days- and certainly not long nights- but rather as a sweet reminder in the still moments. I now try to whisper this kind cliche to my own still moments. Moments where my legs are tingling from both my kids dozing off on them. All squished on the same sofa. All feeling the same sunshine beating through the big window. There won’t be very many more moments where I’m wrapped in the same fuzzy blanket as my Buddha-belly baby wearing only his diaper and my pig-tailed toddler wearing every color and pattern imaginable. And I tell myself to breath this very moment in. Every little bit of it.

This too shall pass

While I have found it freeing to speak over these moments with words about one day missing things like this, I’ve also found very different words necessary in the moments that I need to just be, well, kept alive. I’ve found that it’s not only about kindly whispering to myself, but sometimes assertively shouting at myself, “this is not forever!” Because if it were, I’d be done. Gone. Count me out. Mom fail, at life. But seriously. Some parenting days are really really hard. And I’ve had to give myself permission to say that and to stop there. I think it’s okay to admit if we don’t drool over the smell of our new born baby or jump for joy over our toddler’s first real birthday party.  We like some phases more, or less, than others. Certain milestones have more, or less, significance to us than others. No one says to enjoy every single moment of anything else in life. Some minutes we are just trying to make turn into hours. Some days we are just aiming to get through. And even some seasons, we are literally just surviving. Don’t worry mama, there will be more than enough good to remember.

Everyone is different

I know this sounds both vague and obvious, but it’s been crucial to me in so many ways; particularly in times of grasping for easy answers. I think one messy thing about parenting, like all relationships, is that as human beings we have a hard time heeding godly wisdom and accepting general life principles that produce likely consequences or benefits. Yet we want seamless formulas and seek after quick solutions where there are no text book answers. There are no textbook answers because there are no textbook kids. There is no magic number for an amount of sleep a child must get or an amount of veggies a child must eat. No doubt our impact is significant on our kids’ well being. But our gauge should be our own kid and not everyone else’s. This frees us up to love and parent our kids for who they are: with their very own tendencies and idiosyncrasies and struggles and strengths. We don’t always have to make sure our kids are “on par” with everyone else’s. Kids develop at different paces and need different things. And that’s really okay.

You have nothing to prove

A competitive nature mixed with an insecure spirit is breeding ground for performance driven parenting. Don’t ask me how I know. But the life-injecting reality is that there is no other human being, not even that mom that we most want to esteem us or simply accept us, that we have to give an account to. We do not have to have the approval of anyone. We do not have to live up to their standards or do things their ways. We can promote other’s from the crowd without needing to step on stage and be recognized with them. Our worth as a mom is not measured by other people’s perceptions and opinions of us. We can be free to lean on and learn from each other, without competing and comparing with one another. We can be both teachable in who we’re becoming and stable in who we already are.

There’s grace for that

Honestly this phrase is just my whole life theme. But it has guided and guarded me as a mama, too. For all my worst mom-fears, there’s grace for that. When I’m in a season of survival, there’s grace for that. When I fail my kids. Again and again and again. There’s grace for that. Grace for winning and grace for losing. Grace for learning and grace for longing. Grace for striving and grace for resting.

So much grace.

Anxiety

Anxiety: intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Fast heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, and feeling tired may occur.

 

Anxiety cannot fully embrace the good in front because it is too busy bracing for the bad that must be lurking behind

Anxiety is sinking into the waters while driving over a bridge

Anxiety hears the mocking whispers of others who are not even talking

Anxiety quickly locks the door to keep things out and slowly turns around to ensure nothing got locked inside

Anxiety hides in the bathroom

Anxiety locks all the windows, and locks them again

Anxiety goes to sleep exhausted from the mental worse-case-scenario game it’s been playing all day

Anxiety wakes up exhausted from nightmares

Anxiety sighs and shrinks and shakes and sweats

It consumes

It suffocates

It paralyzes

It steals

It taunts

It lies

But the terrifying thing is it also tells the truth

The truth?

The truth is we are capable of being harmed

We do not know what is going to happen to us

Our worst fears may come to pass

And ultimately, we have no control over what happens to us 

Anxiety does what anxiety can’t have

The very control it desperately chases ends up enslaving

Yet it is here, in the admitting of our limitations, that we are freed from its shackles

We find freedom, not in tackling control to the ground, but in releasing it

It is here, in the battle ground of anxiety, that we fight its own truths with its own lies

Dear brother, sister, bought by the blood of Jesus,

Anxiety is lying to you:

It does not give the protection it offers

Someone better than itself is in control

He is the one who gives peace in relentless storms

He is the one who gives joy in the deepest of sorrows

He is the one who gives light in the darkest of places

He is the one who gives strength in the weakest of moments

He does not promise us protection from all our fears,
but He promises His presence as we walk through them

His presence is the best place to be; To dwell and to land
And to launch headfirst into the unknown

The release is worth the risk when His arms are the place we get to fall

Let’s spend our time getting to know our God better than we know our anxieties.
Even if they never fully flee.