Those who have followed my blog for the last several years know that I don't spare my readers from the dark moments, and neither do I leave them there. We always find our way out again. Until recently, I couldn't have led anyone very far in this particular darkness, which is why I haven't told this story in the past.
If you choose to read this series, I'm going to take you to some places that may bring you to face your own darkness, but I'm also going to show you where God's light was in mine so maybe you can find him in yours. I'm going to tell you how he healed my deepest wounds in hope that yours might get healed in the process. If you're up for that kind of journey, keep reading. If not, file away the web address for a later time.
Before I begin, I feel it's important to state that my story isn't unique. In fact, it's tragically common. Furthermore, my personal experience isn't even close to the worst version of this story I've heard. I'm friends with people who have experienced much worse. You, reader, may have experienced worse.
But the #MeToo campaign isn't about comparison. It's about awareness, and awareness is about numbers. Before I became a prayer minister with Personal Prayer Ministry, before I became the intercessory team leader for a local sex trafficking ministry, I knew instances of sexual assault and harassment were prevalent because I'd been assaulted and harassed many times over the course of my life.
And I had what most people would call a "sheltered" childhood.
Okay, let's define a few terms. When it comes to words like "harassment," the definition falls somewhere on a spectrum between two extremes. There are people who consider it "harassment" if a man holds open a door for a woman or compliments her dress. This is not how I define harassment. There are others who don't consider suggestive looks and language to be harassment. These people basically believe that anything except assault is reasonable behavior and that assault equals rape, so rape is the only thing that counts. (But who cares, really, because it's her fault anyway.) We all know these people and do our best to love them anyway.
In the context of this blog series, I define sexual harassment as "unwanted sexual advances and obscene remarks" and assault as "any unwanted, uninvited sexual touch".
One more note before I plunge into this topic--I'm not a man-hater. If you read that message into anything I say, you're reading something I didn't write, which makes it your issue and not mine. I was blessed with a phenomenal dad and husband. Those two men have saved my life many times over.
I've also always had great male friends who have honored and stood up for me. I had two managers at the theater I worked at as a teen who let me off work early and walked me to my car several times because a customer had told me he would be waiting for me after I finished my shift. The men I'm friends with now have all been agents of healing in my life, whether they know it or not. I love men, particularly good men.
Now that we've settled all that, here we go down the rabbit hole...
i didn't feel safe
I've always been a pretty girl, and my looks have always attracted attention. Most of that attention was harmless. Some of it wasn't. There have been times people assumed things about me that weren't true because of the way I look.
During the height of my illness with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, I lost a significant measure of my physical beauty. I think it says something rather sobering that while I grieved that loss, I also felt somewhat relieved. For five years, I was safe from suggestive looks. No one made a snide comment that caused me to feel more like a sexual object than a human being. No one touched me in a way I didn't want to be touched.
When the Lord began to heal my disease, I was slow to let go of my sweatpants, wear makeup again, and exchange my glasses for contacts. It feels strange to put this in writing, but my glasses made me feel safe. I felt I could hide behind them. Which, of course, is why I had to ditch them.
Here's the point: I didn't feel safe, and it had nothing to do with my former life-threatening disease.
Why is that? Why is it that fashionable clothing, makeup, and contacts made me feel vulnerable?
Let's start with a few of my high school experiences. They seem the easiest somehow.
One time at youth camp--you know, for Christian kids--we gathered to take a group photo. The guy behind me, who happened to be the quarterback for a local high school, decided to grab a handful of my bottom. When I complained, I was told, "Oh, that's just ----." Everyone laughed it off. Except me.
My sophomore year, I took an honors history class. One day, a popular senior in that class grabbed my wrist to read some writing on my hand. He made a sexual joke about what I had written, which had to do with paying someone money. Without thinking, I slapped the glasses off of his face with the hand he held captive. The next day, he made a big production of leading me into the hall and threatened to sue me for hitting him. Another day, he bragged to a boy in class that he could grab me and snap my neck before anyone could do anything about it. The teacher was in the classroom for all of this. But because this large senior boy was a popular former football player who charmed everyone with smooth talk and humor, nothing was said or done.
That same year, I got a cute new pair of blue jeans that had sparkles in the denim. I loved those jeans. But the boys did too. Many inappropriate comments were made about my backside when I wore those jeans, so I stopped wearing them with anything that didn't cover my bottom.
My junior year, I caught the eye of a boy who decided it would be fun to pretend to be a committed Christian to get me to fall for him. It worked. I was very foolish back then. Had I been any more foolish, he would have succeeded in his scheme to ruin my reputation as a Christian girl who was saving herself for marriage. Fortunately, he became impatient when he'd gotten nowhere after two months and a prom night, and he gave up the charade. I broke things off with him before irreversible damage was done, but my heart was broken. I loved someone who had only wanted to sleep with me--not because I was pretty and not because he loved me back, but because he wanted to destroy me and all I stood for.
This all (and much more) happened to little Betty Bible Drill who carried a freakishly large study bible from class to class all four years of high school and who had decided at age 13 she wouldn't even kiss a boy before marriage because that's what she thought God wanted her to do. (Spoiler alert: I kissed Brandon well before marriage.)
When I became engaged to Brandon at age 19, the ring seemed to help most men behave themselves. But not all.
One guy I considered a friend let me be the butt of a sexual joke to get a laugh from the men in the room. And then there was that professor who invited me to spend the night with him, grabbed me, and rubbed my body against his penis one time we were alone in his office.
I only told Brandon and my parents about that. Brandon wanted me to report it, but by then I had learned how things worked. This professor was well-known and respected. He made the university look good. Had I reported the incident, I would have been brushed aside or made out to be a trouble-maker.
People would have known and done nothing.
How did I know this? It had happened before. It had been happening since I was five years old.
My experiences had taught me well. This was just the way things were. People didn't want to be inconvenienced by my pain. Men were who they were. Their behavior was excusable.
So maybe I was who I was. Maybe I attracted this kind of behavior.
There was something wrong with me.
So I deserved it.
to be continued...