Why Don’t We Make It Stop?

Like much of America, I was anticipating James Comey’s testimony. That word holds different connotations depending on church or courtroom settings, one is met with support and compassion, the other the attempt to tear apart and discredit. Still, the expectation is that the teller is sharing their side of important events, their history, their understanding. I expected to hear some details that I hadn’t before, I didn’t expect to feel so deeply for Mr. Comey. After all, with his generally stoic expression and large build, he doesn’t generate a great deal emotion for him personally, maybe just politically. What I heard though in listening to his testimony triggered and surprised me, I wasn’t expecting to feel deep compassion for the former director of the highest cop shop in the land.

I didn’t listen to the hearings in realtime, a forced separation from the news of the day as I attended a conference and couldn’t even check in on twitter until late in the afternoon. I admit I was torn between attending this huge life changing event and gasp… it was #ComeyDay, how could I not be viewing and refreshing my twitter feed every 2 seconds? It felt like getting a mani/pedi on 9/11, how selfish could I be? Still, I knew the hearings would go on without me and I could catch up later. Now I see the wisdom of sitting the hearings out, waiting until I was safely able to absorb the words spoken. Hearing  Diane Fienstien, a woman asking a man, “Why didn’t you just tell him stop?” would push me into memories and hurts that required space for processing and healing all over again.

James Comey stands 6’8 and was the director of the FBI, arguably a position of power in both. He is educated and experienced. He has resources and knows his way out of tight spots. Yet, he found himself in a place of such discomfort that he left and immediately took notes, he asked never to be alone with this man, he leaked important documents to the our free press. He didn’t feel his power when in the room with someone who chose to cross boundaries and not respect his stated position, time after time. Oh James, I feel you.  Still, he is questioned about why he didn’t stop it, why he didn’t tell the other that it was wrong, why did he chose to go outside of his power base to leak his notes. Why? Ask any woman who has ever been harassed, raped, abused. We know. In fact, we have all been asked those very questions and held to those same standards.

If my heart wasn’t aching for him in that place, in that court hearing, I would have maybe celebrated the fact that finally a woman was asking a man the questions we get so very often. There was no party to be had though, not even a tiny bit of revelry as I realized my God, it is just always the same. Those who are victimized by power are to be held accountable, no matter how much power, no matter how much education, no matter how high through the courts we go. Missing the point that power is abused and must be held accountable, power, just power, no one else, well, if we don’t see it with a 6’8 man who couldn’t stand up to the president, no wonder little children will never be able to tell their parents and uncles and neighbors no. Who will ever believe them?

I heard in the testimony Mr. Comey gave that he said things in a cagey way, he tried to avoid answering direct questions, he tried to manage the awkward and potentially illegal position he felt he was being put in. He was startled at this new territory and unsure of his next step, his safe step. He says he sat still, didn’t change his facial expression, he froze. Yes, Mr. Comey, I know those feelings. I get that desire to stop and pretend you aren’t there, to shutdown and hope it will stop. To be in the presence of one who lies and know you are in danger, for your job, your reputation, for all you hold dear.  Regardless of your political leanings, just for a moment, stop and consider that we have an example the difficulty any of us feel in standing up to power, in finding our own voice, in protecting ourselves, when we feel threatened. At any level of a corporate chain or within the family or even seemingly within the highest ranks of government, perceived power is actual power when it is out of balance.

Ultimately, words matter. Words always matter. Certainly Mr. Comey’s testimony will be evaluated by others much smarter than me, those with law degrees and a full understanding of governmental expectations. Esteemed men and women will consider all that he said and didn’t say, looking for clues to fit an agenda. When I listened though, all I heard was a man who now knows what it is to experience fear from someone who he considered an assailant on his career and then in front of America, had to tell why he didn’t make it stop. He had to explain why he with less power didn’t control the situation.  If we hold Mr. Comey to this standard, is there any hope for the rest of us? Is there any chance that an abused wife will be believed, that a date rape survivor is to be believed, that a rape victim is to be believed? Why don’t any of us just make it stop? Surely we can just use our own power and resources and say no. Mr. Comey answered,”Maybe if I were stronger, I would have. …maybe other people would be stronger in that circumstance. I hope I’ll never have another opportunity. Maybe if I did, I’d do it better. ”

I listened in and while it was an official setting, what I heard was church testimony. The story of a man telling how he had been fearful and he shutdown and was now facing the consequences of his inactions. I listened with compassion and my soul responded to this big strong man with power who in the moment, was unable to access his own in a meaningful way, who did the best he could and will forever have to answer the question of why didn’t he make it stop. In church, we would surround the teller, the sharer, with hugs and pats on the back and thanks for sharing and appreciation for being brave. We would acknowledge that we are all broken and searching and that we gain strength from the willingness of others to tell their real stories. Mr. Comey, thank you for your bravery in telling, for being so open, for admitting that you were weak in the face of power. I trust that your story is not over, I believe that your experience will shape a new compassion for women everywhere who live out that very question every day. May God bless you and keep you.

Standing in the Tension

After months of therapy, the first time I talked with a professional and began spilling the horrible secrets of the sexual abuse that lasted throughout my childhood, I returned home to have a conversation with my mother. My therapist and I had practiced this, considered what my goals were, what the possible outcomes could be. Still, in my heart I just knew my mom loved me enough to wrap me in her arms and try her best to wash away the hurt. That is really all I wanted. What I got was almost as damaging as the abuse. She told me that because my father was already dead, she couldn’t ask him about it. Conversation done. As if there needed to be two sides, as if I might not be telling the truth. As if my voice didn’t count. I learned then that speaking up was a dangerous risk, one that could damage any relationship, I learned to weigh my need to speak up with the need to be loved. I learned I can’t have both. It took many years to understand that she was not just my mom in this scenario, she played a role in the years of abuse, surely she was feeling her own guilt and to accept my truth meant her complicity was clear. Her feelings must have overwhelmed her ability to be my mom in that moment. Sadly, had she just wrapped me up, I would have forgiven, at least I believe so, all of it. Instead, it laid there between us, my truth and her inaction, to the day she died.

I was 22 when I had that talk with my mother, I still struggle with sharing my truth. Will I be believed? Is sharing it worth risking the relationship I have? What is the point? Yet my soul suffers, I carry the burden of silence. Relationships that aren’t authentic or are based on my participation in wearing a mask are no longer ones I value. I avoid them. So when I am confronted with a situation that violates my own standards of acceptable behavior where I am forced to choose, like everyone, speak up or back away, I hear my mother’s voice and mostly back away.  I have been so blessed to have a husband who hears my truth. As opposite as we are, we have many many opportunities for real talks. We have countless chances for talks that allow me to practice sharing my truth in a safe environment and still come away loved. But what about my wider circle? Outside of my home and into my world?

I have some tough choices to make, I am waffling with each passing hour. I know I need to have a hard conversation and yet the risk just feels too great. Backing away doesn’t feel acceptable either. I imagine someone without my history would charge right in and spill it all, a resolution would be found. I imagine so many things would be different without a history of distrusting myself, believing I have to have the perfect words to convince my audience I am telling the truth. Steve Wiens talks about Monsters in his book “Beginnings” in such a beautiful, transformative way.  My friend Janet with her so talented artsy self created a drawing that I stare at every day using words from the book. It says, “Facing your Monster requires you to stand in an in between place where you abandon your turf and your rules in order to create new space for yourself and others. You need to go where your dragon lives, on the border of its land and yours. You need to remain on that border and do battle. You need to face and hold the tension of that space until your Monster goes down.”  I see my answer in this quote, I see the nudge to stand my ground. Standing there in that tension is better than cowering in a quivering mess, waffling in indecision.

Standing, yes, that seems to be a good first step. Deciding to stand up and be heard, to take the risk, I can hear it in this book that has brought me back into my life, my faith, myself, a better self, the one God has waited for me to become. Do I dare really fight the monster, though? I think if I really trust Steve, and I actually do, and I really trust Janet and I absolutely do, I can hold on to that trust until I fully trust myself. They both have been instrumental in directing my trust unto God. I have to be willing to abandon what I have always known, my rules, that I will not be believed, to create a new space. What would it look like to be a person others trusted? I think I might be already, I certainly have evidence to support that if I truly look. So maybe this is really an opportunity to again quiet those mom memories, the ugly rumor voices, that say I have lied. Maybe it is a chance to free those sounds from my heart and write my own song that will sing louder louder louder as the notes shine light on my 22 year old heart and wrap it in love.

Remaining, that too calls for sticking to my truth, my reality, not giving up when it gets a bit hard or worrying that it may get ugly. Fighting monsters in every story or movie requires some thrashing about, some wreckage. There is in fact some drama. I only like my drama in a good book that I can close if need be. To fight my own personal monster, I can’t dog-ear the page and come back later. Committing to the battle is key. I am growing more so now by the minute. Whisperings of encouragement fill my soul. Is that me or you, God? My friend at church gave me a new mug yesterday, a surprise gift with these words imprinted, “God loves you most” on one side and “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love” from Romans 8:38 on the other. She had no idea that I needed to fill that up with my coffee, hold the warmth in my hands and be encouraged as I drink, letting  truth replace the chill,  filling with hope and love.  Or maybe she did. She is like that. Still, the timing was all God.

I am preparing for battle with my monster but what I know deep down is that my monster isn’t anyone else. It resides solely within me. Slaying it requires that I have this really hard conversation but the monster isn’t the other. The other isn’t inherently bad and I am good. I don’t believe that. Just as bleach and ammonia each have their own strengths alone, mixed together something really toxic is created. This other and I seem to be in a chemical mess where words just wound me so deeply and every attempt to address them is met with more hurt. Still, I see that the this other is not the issue. I can back away from the other but not from not being heard. That is breaking my soul,  that monster is welling up with a ferocity that only with God as my guide, can I slay it.

Today I am facing my monster. I think. If all goes according to plan. It will surely be messy and uncomfortable and most definitely painful. I may even get a few scraps and scratches in the battle. I am beginning though to wonder what it will feel like not to carry this horrid thing around with me anymore. That means I am getting closer to the light.  Are you avoiding that big conversation, that major decision, that change you want to make, out of fear or worry or self-doubt? I have praised Steve’s book over and over and I will only say, if you find yourself in that place, please pick up a copy and know that monster slaying will be possible for you too. I am standing in the tension today.  Warning shot fired, monster, here I come. Can you hear me?

Communion in St. Paul