Friday, August 28, 2015


The fear licks at my stomach, a white hot flame. There is no greeting for me, no smile. Hope leaps that maybe this time she is not angry, but it falters, because she is always angry. I am always wrong. There is no chit chat, no inquiry about my day. Only the granite stare, the tight lips. I go upstairs to my room and shut the door.

I sit in my room, staring around me blankly. In this moment, all I want is to cease to exist. If only I could vanish for a time – if only I didn’t exist when she ignores me. The white spark of fear lands in my gut, a cold congealed lump of heavy grease. The diarrhea will come later.

I do not call a friend. If she hears me talking she might take away my phone. Texting is not an option, locked in the 90’s as I am. How might life be different for me today?

I cannot read; the words swarm my eyes like a cloud of gnats and I read the same paragraph over and over.

I cannot listen to music. Any sound risks confrontation, and though I know it is coming, is unavoidable, I cannot provoke it. I must simply be still and quiet.

I crouch on the floor, between my bed and the wall. How small can 110 pounds get? I focus on breathing, in and out. The breaths are shallow, my heart is racing, and I am frozen. Why can’t I just cease to exist?

And then, footsteps. The door opens and she enters. A lump forms in my throat. I stand up to face her. Rest my fingertips on my bed for support. She begins to speak, to outline my crime. I detach from my body. I feel my spirit tied into my physical form at the throat, almost as though I could use words to escape, but there are no words. My mouth is parched, my breathing minimal. I keep my eyes locked on hers, but there are no tears. Crying makes her angrier. The room around and behind her goes blurry and my eyes focus intently on her face, her flat eyes, her tight mouth.

I have given up deciphering the words. I have given up trying to discover my crime. It seems that simply existing is the trigger. Later on I might realize that there is no pattern because I actually have done nothing wrong: this is not about me. But right now I only know that at any moment, my world will come crashing down, and there is no protection for me. I cannot escape it. I can only survive it, wait it out, take up as little space as possible until the rage has passed. Then I must soak up the sun, must smile and love and appreciate and play act until the next tantrum.

This is what verbal abuse looks like.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Echos of Criticism, Within and Without

I had post partum depression after the birth of my baby. I am not alone, or even unusual in this. It happens to many women.
For me, the worst aspect of my PPD was the inner voice that lied to me. That voice, the voice of my disease, told me that I did not love my child. It told me that I was an unfit mother. It told me that my daughter would always know that I was incapable of loving her healthily and well.
In recent months, I have been criticized as a mother. It wasn't constructive criticism: that is, it wasn't helpful advice that offered practical action steps to correct specific flaws. It was a blanket condemnation of me as a mother.
What makes this so particularly painful for me is the memory of my post partum depression. Although I have fully recovered from PPD, the echoes still sound in my mind. When my child cries, no matter what the reason, my PPD pokes me, wondering if I am capable of responding properly to her tears. And now another voice rears its head, poking me a second time. Perhaps, it whispers, even though you are recovered from PPD, you are still an unfit mother. All the harsh lies that my PPD told me are repeated in this new voice, doubling my efforts to stay sane and centered.
The thing is, I'm not a bad mother. It may not be in good taste to admit it, but I am a good mom. I've spent hours with a family therapist for the last 8 months. She repeatedly affirmed me as a mother. My daughter's godmothers tell me I'm a good mother. My husband believes I am a good mother. And in the final analysis, my daughter believes I am a good mother. She trusts me. She confides in me. She shares her fears and angers and joys with me.
It's so easy to remember the criticisms we hear, both from ourselves and others. And it's so difficult to remember the praise. Mothering is the hardest task in the world, and our tendency to only hear the criticisms makes it even harder.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Don't Forget THIS Clobber Verse...

Have you heard of the so called "clobber" passages in the Bible? These are typically the verses which strongly condemn homosexuality. Lists of these passages generally include Leviticus 18:22, Deuteronomy 23:17-18, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10, and sometimes Jude 1:7. These are used to condemn any kind of sex that doesn’t occur between a married man and woman. I’d like to add another “clobber” verse to this list. 

“Speaking the truth in love.” Ephesians 4:15a

When I talk to other Christians, this verse is commonly cited as their justification for quoting a clobber passage. And when someone tells me they are about to “speak the truth in love” to me, it’s a very clear warning. They are about to attack me, and they are justifying the attack with this Bible verse. Verbal abusers use this verse to keep their victims in line and to camouflage their abuse as moral correction. Anti-LGBTQ people use this verse to justify their bigotry. Sexists use this verse to justify telling women to shut up in church. Some Christians use this verse to keep women trapped in situations of domestic violence by arguing against divorce.

But what does it really mean to speak the truth in love?

I can tell you, I have friends who do this for me. I am blessed to have a husband who speaks the truth in love to me. When you truly speak the truth in love, the person you address feels that love and concern. When you try (and fail) to speak the truth in love, the person you address feels angry, wounded, offended, humiliated, confused, and/or fearful.

If you feel the need to “speak the truth in love” to someone, here are some tips to make sure you are doing it right.
1.     Make sure you have a relationship based in love. Have you made sacrifices for this person? Is there mutual affection and respect? Have you shared a meal, or even just coffee, with this person? If the answers are no, then STOP. There is no love context for the truth to be spoken into.
2.     Get the log out of your own eye. Look, I firmly believe that the point of Jesus’ parable (Matthew 7:1-5) is that we aren’t suppose to judge one another at all: that when we think we see a splinter in someone else’s eye, we probably have a log in our own eye. But some people believe that the point of this parable is that once the log is gone from your own eye, you are free to “help” others with their splinters. OK, fine. Is the log really gone from your own eye? What is driving your desire to speak?
a.     Is it that when you see a gay man, you picture sodomy and are personally disgusted? (Yes, I heard someone use this reason) That, my friend, is a log in your own eye – you are incapable of looking at another human without picturing that human as a sexual object.
b.     Are you personally angered by the other person’s sin? Quite often, the sins we find most upsetting in others are the sins we ourselves commit. That, my friend, is a log in your own eye: you haven’t dealt with your own pride, anger, sloth, sexual sin, gluttony, etc.
c.      Are you afraid? Do you fear that your child will become: feminist, LGBTQ, Democrat, Republican, artistic, sexually active, alcoholic, Muslim, smoker? That, my friend, is your own log. True love drives out fear.
3.     Pray. If you have a love relationship and the issue you “must” speak the truth about isn’t your own log, then pray to the Holy Spirit and ask if YOU are the person who should speak. Just because you recognize a problem doesn't mean you are the best person to speak up.
4.     Put your words to the 1 Corinthians test. Write out what you are going to say and then ask yourself the following questions.
a.     Are these words patient?
b.     Are these words kind?
c.      Are these words jealous? (they shouldn’t be)
d.     Are these words boastful? (they shouldn’t be)
e.     Are these words arrogant? (they shouldn’t be)
f.      Do these words honor the person you are addressing?
g.     Are these words self-seeking? (they shouldn’t be)
h.     Are these words angry? (they shouldn’t be)
i.       Are these words evidence of score-keeping? (they shouldn’t be)
j.       Are these words joyful?
k.     Are these words protective of the person you are addressing?
l.       Do these words trust the person you are addressing?
m.   Do these words show hope for the person you are addressing?
n.     Are these words relevant for the long term?

And in the final analysis: if you speak the truth in love to someone, and that person is wounded or harmed by your words, you failed. You were only a clanging cymbal. I suggest you apologize and tend to your own logs. I make that suggestion in love, of course.