nobody’s cuter than you

Krista’s note: I wrote this post on my birthday and then the video I was going to include with the post was rejected for copyright violation and I was tired and frustrated so I decided to call it quits because your birthday is the absolutely last day you should feel frustrated! But after stuff that’s been going on over the last week, I sure could use a jolt of HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY and this post is all that and a comedy show! So here you go… 42 days late!

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Well. Maybe it’s a little self-promotional or tacky to say this but today is my birthday. And if you know me, I love my birthday. In fact, a little girl recently asked Charisse what the next holiday after Easter is and Charisse replied with “My sister’s birthday!” The little girl said “That’s not a holiday!” and Charisse told her “Well, it should be a national holiday.” Drop-the-mic My work here is done.

In all seriousness, I do love my birthday. And it seems like some of my favorite books come out this time of year which just makes me so very happy. One of my friends texted me today and asked me “Did you buy Shankle’s new book?” I don’t know what about this text is better, the fact that she knows my reading tastes (already read and loved the book!) or the fact that she referred to BigMama as “Shankle.”

I did read Melanie Shankle aka BigMama’s new book, Nobody’s Cuter Than You. And I seriously loved it. I’ve loved all of her books, but perhaps this one felt the most relevant to me because her first two books are about parenthood and marriage, things I’m not in the thick of just yet.

Friends, though. I’m in the thick of it.

BigMama (after knowing her as BigMama for so many years from her blog, I cannot bring myself to call her Melanie… but I might be able to called her Shankle! I should write about the time I had a dream that I was speaking at a big event where Melanie and Angie Smith and Jen Hatmaker were all speaking and I was running late so those three ladies were whispering to me to hurry up and get my butt in the seat they had saved for me — but that would be so creepy to admit to people!) writes all about friendships, from as early as she can remember until today. And I just felt so weepy and emotional reading the book because my middle names are Nostalgia and Reflection.

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I have the deepest kind of love for My People. Maybe it’s because I moved so much as a kid and therefore the relationships I have today are so longed for and prayed for and fought for and sought after, but those pals are the ones I get to do this life with and sometimes I’m just dumbstruck with how much I like them and how much they enrich my life. I mean, can a girl get so lucky?

(This is where the movie of my life would start playing some super-sappy orchestra music. I’m feeling the violins and and maybe a cello for extra bass.)

Old friends and newer friends… I’m not lacking. I was at a barbeque for Memorial Day (in case you haven’t realized, I’m all caught up and have added stuff to my “Hey it’s my birthday” post) with a group of people who are really close-knit and I loved watching them interact. They all know each other so well and open each other’s ‘fridges and know where the wine glasses are and keep their children in line and pet sit sometimes and camp together and know all of the stories, the grief and the inside jokes, and I thought about how much I love that about them.

And then I realized — I’m so full of that, too. God has so graciously given me more close friends than I could ever imagine and we have all of these connections that make it impossible to sever us completely. Even time and space can’t break those bonds when they’re strong enough. When grandparents die and babies are born and weddings happen and frustrations occur and jokes are made these are the women to whom I turn. They laugh with and at me. They call me out on my junk and they pray for me. The send me funny videos and sing me happy birthday and give me book recommendations and watch movies with me even though I’m a terrible person to watch movies with because I talk half the time. They’re the ones who know all my stories that begin “One time I went to Vegas…” or “When I was in college…” I’m here to say that any story that starts this way usually ends in a way that is cringe-worthy! We have serious talks and we have jovial talks and it’s all so, so sweet and good. Bearing each other’s burdens and sharing in each other’s joys is one of the greatest gifts this side of eternity, if you ask me. And this is my blog, so you’re asking me.

That is what friendship is. It’s wrestling with your friend’s kid on the floor of Target while she’s in a fitting room. It’s crying with your friend when her marriage is struggling or when she’s struggling to have a baby. It’s laughing so hard your wheezing laughter comes out. Friendship is group texts that would baffle the unknowing reader. It’s flights to Missouri and 16-hour drives to Idaho. It’s maybe throwing up in a parking lot on your way home from a party and watching Celine Dion documentaries at an over-priced movie theater (and driving to LA and Vegas for one night to see her). It’s holidays with their families, who might as well be your own. It’s letting their daughter call you her California Mom. It’s talking about churches and laughing so hard you cry every time you’re together. Friendship is late-night conversations whispered in doorways, prayers said in darkest of nights, meaningful gifts that only the best can give.

And I am nothing but honest when I say God gave me the best.

I laugh with these girls and I see the safety in their eyes and I know God has given me a great buoy to hold onto on this Earth, people who just point me right back to Him. Every single day I have opportunities to learn to be a better person, to practice grace and mercy and to celebrate and rejoice and to live real worship with other people.

Oh, Steph and Kim and Hillary and Rachel and Megan and Becca and Jess and Bre and Theresa and Lauren and Vanessa and all those I’ve forgot — for being part of my days, of my moments small and big, all I can say is this: you make these days so much greater than I could ever have dreamed.

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there are no words.

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The first time I was nine years old. The door crept open, slowly, softly against the rough and flat carpet. I was alone in the room. And then there was a hand under my nightgown, the hand of a man. A hand that didn’t belong there. The hand returned, and later it became hands, and soon it became worse than just a hand under my nightgown.

Years after it started, the door to my bedroom opened, and I shut my eyes against the bright light of the hallway. The cruel glare disappeared, and I could hear gentle footsteps come to my bed. A weight settled down next to me. “Hey,” my stepfather breathed, his breath stale and hot with beer and marijuana, “hey babe, your mother told me about you know what.” His hand slid up my leg, and I pulled my body closer to the wall; he just slid himself closer to me. “You’re a woman now, and there are things that women’re supposed to do.” His hands reached the band of my pants, and tugged them down. I clenched my legs together, pressing myself into the wall, willing it to give way. “So now I’m gonna to teach you.” He tore my pants down, and sat up, fumbling with himself, and I knew he was already naked. In the dark, I started to shake, a low “Nononono, please, please, no, please, stop,” coming out of my mouth. Sometimes I wonder if I actually ever said the words out loud, if I really only said them in my mind, because he reached for me and rolled me on my back, my shoulders pinned down by his weight as he pounded into me. I shut my eyes in the dark bedroom, watching stars and sparks of light against the back of my eyelids, flames of pain radiating from my belly to my thighs. Finally, he finished with me, and leaned over so he was level with my ear.

“You’ll never tell anyone ‘bout this ‘cause you’re just some dirty slut now, and no one’ll believe you anyways. And besides, if you tell, I’ll kill you.” The soft steps came again, and the door opened and closed, and I curled against the wall, my teeth chattering with cold, even in the warmth of my blankets, wondering if I had anything good in me left to give, now that he had taken something that you could only lose once.

I stayed awake all night, shaking, and in the morning, I got up and showered, turning the water knob as hot as I could stand it. Then I scrubbed at the blood on my thighs until my skin was raw and raked with fingernail marks. And I knew I was marked, that I had become as unloveable as a girl could get, and there wasn’t a single person I could tell who would be able to save me from the people who were supposed to protect me.

The last time it happened I was 17. I was sleeping on a pile of blankets in hot, stuffy room. His breath smelled like beer and his hair was dirty and I breathed in his tobacco- and sweat-stained skin. For eight years, he forced his want into me, piece by piece, a little bit at a time. For eight years, every time I saw him there was a little bit less of me, less of the joyful girl I had been as a young girl. And finally, I was so broken that I did it. After eight years, I ran away.

It is both the bravest and the stupidest thing I think I have ever done. But all of the risks far outweighed the consequences and I have never once regretted it. Because running away, scary and dramatic and after school special as it was, brought me true safety.

I didn’t tell anyone, not even after I ran away. I waited until I was 19, when I whispered my shame to the ears of a police officer in the family that had unofficially adopted me as a senior in high school. He listened without judgment but the weight and the pain of the words that I was telling him was just so much to say. Running away was terribly hard, but telling the truth was an infinite amount of times more difficult.

The local police were told. They spoke to me at work. They spoke with me on the phone and interviewed me in a room at the police station. The spoke to others in my life who knew me well, who knew this secret. And ultimately, nothing came of it. I do not believe it was because the police didn’t care — no, I believe they did. I spoke specifically with an officer who was assigned to sexual assault cases. He was kind and compassionate and tried to figure out ways to solicit a confession from my perpetrator, but we never were able to do anything, and to be honest I think when it comes down to it, if I’d had the chance to ask him the questions we were going to ask him — I don’t know if I would have been able to do it.

Reporting an assault of any kind is petrifying but it is especially scary and traumatic when you are reporting a crime of a sexual nature and even more devastating when you are a child reporting the crime or an adult reporting a crime that happened to you as a child. It is a crime that is filed with an overabundance of shame. It is a crime that makes you feel vile and dirty. It is a crime where all too often adults don’t believe you because they think you’re acting out somehow, that you’re mad at the person you’re accusing.

I can tell you that at 19, I was mad. I was mad because I had been assaulted and later raped by someone who was supposed to care for me. I was mad because the other adults in my life who were supposed to also care for me and protect me didn’t see what was happening, or (as I strongly suspect), they knew and for various reasons turned their eyes away from the clear and obvious signs in front of them.

I was raging mad because I felt so unloved.

You might be thinking: what in the world is this girl’s point? Tonight I am taken back to that place where I was so very afraid for what would happen to me each night. For years here and there, I lived with other people, but those moments where I wasn’t safe? Tonight I am remembering them all too clearly. The radiance of summer-hot skin. The coppery smell of sweat that builds up on your arms and neck and chest after a heated day. Flecks of spit hitting my face. And it makes my stomach churn.  I have felt so much of that same anger simmering in my heart and soul today because of what has been in the news about the Duggar family. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, my first reaction, my gut instinct, is to always believe a child, and even an adult, when they say that has happened to them — I believe until I have reason not to, and it makes me sad to say that I always always believe.

My perpetrator was never punished and he died when I was in college so he will never face punishment for what he did to me. Nothing can change that. I waited until many years had passed to speak up. But the Duggar in question molested several different girls in the same way, and when the parents were told, they parents waited an entire year to report their son’s crimes against four of their daughters (and one other survivor).

If I had told someone, maybe a teacher or a yard duty, what was happening in my bedroom several nights a week, I would have been believed and I would have been protected right away. I didn’t speak up, but those girls did. They knew it wasn’t right when the police questioned them. And the travesty, the true and sickening travesty, is that they were not protected.

What makes this even more awful and painful for me is the way so many Christians are dismissing these crimes by saying “God has forgiven him, so it’s time to let something that happened 12 years ago go.” Or (and this is a true quote to my question “Are you really going to write it off simply because they’re Christians? Even Christians are governed by the law.”) “No, I’m not. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel bad he has to go through ridicule/shame for something he did 12 years ago.”

You want to feel ridicule and shame? Write a blog post 23 years after it started that details the way that someone touched your genitals and forcibly raped you and tell me what shame is. Go report into detail, excruciating detail, to not one but two or more police officers ten years after it started the way someone put his hand in your nightgown, what he did to you after that, how he used his flesh to defile your flesh.

That is shame.

But I should not feel shame. I didn’t do anything wrong. I was a young girl. I was a child. I didn’t know. I didn’t understand.

Forgive me if I don’t feel bad for an admitted child molester 12 years later. Forgive me if I don’t feel bad that he was never punished, that he never spent a second in jail and never received offender counseling, and forgive me for being enraged that he never will because the statue of limitations has passed.

We live in a world with a state of limitations on the sexual abuse of children.

We live in a world that breaks my freaking heart.

We live in a world that won’t punish this man for the things he took away from those girls. Even with the forgiveness of a great and glorious and beautiful Savior, they are changed because of what that man did to them.

We live in a world where Christians are trying to say because God forgave him, he doesn’t need to be punished. We live in a world where we are not holding him accountable to the law. I am wrestling with God tonight because this is hard, almost unbearably hard, for me. So many in the Church are defending him, excusing his actions as teenage curiosity, or excusing him because it’s been long enough and we shouldn’t hold it over him. God is my rock right now because I know He doesn’t change and I know that the Church is just a group of equally messed up people trying to figure this life thing out.

But still.

We live in a world where we are telling precious hearts that it doesn’t matter if someone hurt them because we won’t punish them.

I am sad tonight. I’m sad for that nine-year-old girl wearing a thin nightgown in a dark bedroom who felt that hand on her leg. I am sad for that thirteen-year-old who pressed her bloody legs to the wall after it was done. I am sad for the 32-year-old who finds herself aghast at the women who will defend a child molester because time has passed and it shouldn’t be held over his head forever. I am sad for every girl and woman living in her same because we live in a world that won’t protect her.

But in my sadness, I will not be silent. I will not let the world thing this is ok. This is a hill worth dying on. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” And this matters. All of those girls, little and big, whether it’s been months or decades since they were abused — those beautiful faces, those wrecked hearts — those girls matter.