Even the church has an underbelly.

 

Dear church:

Hi. You may not know me. I am on your leadership team. I coordinate the volunteers who serve your most vulnerable – your babies and toddlers. I love on them, and play with them, and do my best to demonstrate the universal acceptance and love that God would and does bestow upon them. I have coordinated this team for the last year. There are 6 of us that serve in your nursery. We desperately need more.

I am a counselor. As a counselor, I only work with adults—because I like adults. I apologize if this offends. I sometimes offend when I speak truth about myself. I am your nursery coordinator. I do not actually like other people’s children.

Let that sink in for a minute.

I have two of my own that I adore, but others’ kids make me tired. Were it not for the grace of God, and a sense of calling to this for a season, I would find no joy in this service. And I am what you have to offer? I have served in your nursery for years – since I had my own in the nursery. Yeah – my 6-year old toe-head is the one who doesn’t belong to the Crams. There are others here who could joyfully serve, but they can’t because they are men. You, church, have blocked half of our eligible population from serving, and instead called forth leaders who struggle to find joy in their service.

The reason I began with an introduction is this: because of the small number of nursery volunteers, and the need to have two adults in that room on any given Sunday with one on the schedule as a back-up, more Sundays than not, I am in there and not participating in corporate worship. I reserve one weekend every 5-6 weeks to visit family out of town. I have been in church once on the last 6 weeks. Last time I was here, in this room, for worship, I greeted someone that I thought was a newcomer. She wasn’t. She thought I was. I’m not.

Because of my service to your littles, I did not know that today was a semi-annual church meeting. So I didn’t get the opportunity to make it known that your nursery staff is drowning. Your church is suffering.

Our body has a policy that prevents men from serving in the nursery, where there are always 2 unrelated adults and an open door, with a baby gate to prevent adventurous kiddos from wandering out. Yet next door, in the pre-school room, two sometimes-related adults, one of whom can be a man are behind closed doors for 1-2 hours. I recognize, and do not want to dismiss the trauma in a leader’s experience that informs this policy. However – we are too small to keep going in this way.

Last time I was in service – We discussed Daniel chapter 2. I wrote in my margins, “How would we respond if a prophet spoke up in this church?” Today, we discussed chapter 9, and my question still lingers in my head.

As of September, church, I will no longer serve in this manner. I will still be seen in the nursery for a bit, until other volunteers can step in. I beg you, church, allow men who are back-ground cleared, and able to joyfully serve, work in your nursery. Do not prevent 50% of this body from serving. We can’t afford it.

In love,

me

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Hope is God’s Work… and the Work of His People

A friend reminded me of an earlier post that referenced the question, “Why hope?” My friend observed that my current position on hope seems in conflict. I am bothered by this perceived conflict. The reality is, though, that in my experience, God has an uncanny way of showing up, when our hope is on the chopping block.

I watched a couple of films by The Work of the People tonight on hope. And the first, featuring Curtis Paul DeYoung emphasizes that hope is God’s work.

http://view.vzaar.com/7758681/flashplayer

This resonates with me, because I am at a point of exhausted despair in my marriage. I have protected that flame of hope for years now. I have cared for the hope that things will be better. And now, I cannot care well for myself, and continue to carry an uneven burden of caring for that hope. It is my husband’s turn. I offer him the choice. He can either find a way to keep that hope alive – to feed it and nourish it, or he can allow it to burn out. I will no longer single-handedly shelter hope.

It is a comfort to hear reminders that many saints experience Dark Night[s] of the Soul. And, it is hard to be truly present in this space. It is a deeply lonely space. It is a challenge to invite even safe friends in, because I fear burdening them when I am real, honest, raw about this. It is difficult to just be here. It is uncomfortable for them to join me here.

My friend asked today if anyone at my church was aware of the present situation. I answered honestly. Yes, but no. You see, a year ago my husband and I (primarily me) co-led a couple’s group for our church. It was a group that shared in safe authenticity. But the burden of leadership, and not wanting to call out my husband prevented me from sharing the most painful reality of the quality of my marriage until last October, after the group essentially stopped meeting. I disclosed in conversation with our pastor about the church’s need, and my inability to continue to lead in this capacity. I am still in a leadership position. But I believe if I did ask for a separation, I would be removed from that position – despite the fact that I am considering asking for a separation with a hope (there’s that word again!) for reconciliation after demonstrable change and finding common ground within the context of my current marriage.

The pragmatist in me recognizes that such a reconciliation is unlikely. Such change is unlikely. And the deck is stacked against us.

He knows that I am considering asking for such a separation. He has agreed to see a counselor. I have been seeing a (different) counselor. We’ll see what happens in the next couple of weeks.

The Great Avoid

When did we last make love?
Or kiss, or make eye contact for than one second?
I’ll own my part: I am afraid I have bad breath.
That’s never bothered you before.
But – this is new:
I’ll not give myself over to you without a sense of safety
To give myself over to you would be to again become vulnerable

– and that –

– not without a fight.

But you do not fight well or fair.
So the making up is less rewarding.

Oh what I would give to never again hear or say, “I’m sorry about last night.”
That’s all well and good, but you seem to think that’s enough.
Is it?

My heart is rended.
And I still hold longing, which you either cannot see, or care not about.
First, it was late nights at work.
Then, exhausted you sleep with children or on the couch
Then, late nights in the flickering blue light.
Nonetheless, I am alone in bed.
Though I wake you, you do not join me.
I cannot compare to that screen, for it asks nothing from you.

You do not care.
We do not talk.
I do not trust.

The chores you said you’d do… again remain.
Ad infinitum.
Your word is paper.
Like those vows so many years ago.

Why Hope?

When I recently posted, I ended with my concern about the choice to continue actively working to preserve and improve my marriage means continuing to put in a lot of effort with no guarantee that my husband would lean in, or grow in empathy.

In my moments of despair, I am reminded of a lecture given a number of years ago by Dr. Dan Allender, founder of The Allender Center. In that lecture, Dan described that he had taken his child fishing. The pair received some recommendations after a few fruitless periods of fishing. With their new plan, Dan and his son went back out, followed the instructions of the seasoned fisherman. After a while, with still no success, Dan informed his son that it was time to go. His son asked for three more casts. Dan granted him five. Dan watched as his son cast, then returned empty hooked, cast, then returned empty hooked, cast, then returned empty hooked, cast, then returned empty hooked. Dan details his experience of seemingly rhythmic hope and disappointment. As his son cast the fifth time, Dan reported that he wondered “Why hope?” And then his son hooked and brought in a northern pike. Dan tells that he was surprised when his son identified his personal name for God: “The God of the Fifth Cast,” (Allender, 2006, personal communication). Another telling of this heard narrative is written here, and better cited, by Pastor Joyce Reed: http://www.crossroadslapaz.org/doc/20070325.pdf. I admit that I did not more specifically cite, in an effort to protect the identity of my husband at this time.

I also have a (not so) secret name for God. I know God as “The God of Both-And.” I have seen God move me through some seemingly double-binding situations, almost always surprising me with a previously unknown path where rejection of one side is not necessarily required. And I am so thankful for the confidence I have in this God.

Recently, I was traveling. I heard a 2 Guys on Your Head podcast that discussed the psychological processes of hope and motivation. They discussed the inverse relationship between motivation and feeling good about the state of your life at this time. “On those days when you need hope, because things are just really bad, thinking positive thoughts is great! But if you’re feeling really lousy, because there’s a lot of work that needs to be done around you, after you snap yourself out of that bad mood a little bit, it’s now time to get to work, which means open your eyes and pay attention to all the things that need to be done. And stop thinking how great everything is” (Duke, 2016)

This stood out to me, because this, I believe has been one of the biggest challenges in my marriage. My husband does not recognize when he’s in emotional distress, until he blows up (verbally). He is incredibly touchy, and does not receive constructive criticism well. I have yet to observe him do this from anyone.

Criticism seems too vulnerable to him. He rejects it outright, claiming that my observations and statements of fact are wrong. These things are indicative of narcissistic traits and a deep insecurity. Instead, he just doesn’t think about how things are. He does not ask if things could be better. I asked him to listen to the podcast, as a jumping off point for communication. He listened, but refused to listen with me. When I asked follow up questions, he offered, “I disagreed with most of what they said.” Note: My husband is a Bachelor’s educated individual. This podcast is a discussion of two PhD’s in Psychology and Human Education! Rather than allow himself to be convicted or moved to even consider and discuss what this means for him, he patently declares them wrong. I was surprised, but only a little. This is a frequent experience of mine.

After hearing the podcast, and while still driving, I finished listening to an audiobook I have been consuming slowly for a couple of months: Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why we all Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did, by Derek Flood.

Flood (2014) writes,

“The fruit of unquestioning obedience yields abuse.” “To read Jesus as literally calling us to hate our spouse or our children is to profoundly misread him. In the same way, when Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, this equally cannot be read with a wooden literalism, but instead must be read as a jarring provocation, intended to make us rethink our values and assumptions. In questioning these assumptions, Jesus is calling us to be more loving, not less.” (4:26:00).

Flood argues against readings of scripture that condone or advocate violence or harm. He argues that a better way of reading and understanding Jesus would lead us to consistently strive to reduce suffering.  “Instead, a better way to frame the radical perspective of Jesus is a social focus. In other words, our moving away from a self-focused perspective does not entail becoming anti-self. Rather, it entails adopting a relational perspective, which includes a healthy self-love” (Flood, 4:27:00).

Hearing this, I considered what it would look like to have a healthy self-love, as I realistically wrestle with whether or not my husband will change. I am aware that traits of narcissism and absence of empathy or the willingness to consider another’s perspective frequently set people up to not benefit from or engage therapy. How could he change? I feel that as I continued listening to Flood’s argument for and process of enemy love, I was challenged to love him. Flood makes a comment at one point that the only way to turn a violent heart to a social-focused (empathic and kind) heart is through radical love. I agree with this, but struggle to hold the both-and of self-love and enemy love.

I believe the first step is grieving the fact that I consider enemy-love to be an appropriate term.

 

References:

Duke, R., Markman, A. (McInroy, R.). (2016, July 16. Does Hope Motivate us to Change?[Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from URL.

Flood, D. Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why we all Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did. Retrieved from Audible File.

You and I aren’t friends.

“You and I aren’t friends.”

Those were the ‘fightin’ words’ that signaled the beginning of the end of a cold war that he either didn’t notice, chose to ignore, or grossly misinterpreted tonight.

Sadly, they are true. I cannot imagine a universe that my husband and I would be friends if we were not married. I did follow these words up with, “I still love you, and will continue to be your wife, but right now, we are not friends.” He got up and went to the couch. No questions about what that might mean, or where it came from. No pursuit of my heart, or defining of friendship.

And yet, I will wake up tomorrow with a plan to still be married. I have settled uneasily on that.

Since my last post, we have taken a vacation together that involved only one tense time period. Budgeting has been a mess, and a stressor. And I think it is a passive aggressive way to do conflict on his part. However, the intensity, frequency, and duration of conflict are diminishing. That is progress. He is beginning to apologize for specific things. Progress.

But back to the plan that I almost glazed right over: I have decided for now that I plan to continue in marriage. I am not an inherently decisive person, so this is held with a level of “but…” that some may find disturbing. However, I  will identify below how I landed on that stance.

My relationship with my husband is complicated. Aren’t they all? My relationship with the church is similarly complicated. I have a great relationship with our head pastor, with whom I came clean late 2015 about the abuse in my marriage. I believe he was flabbergasted, but he did not flee.

In an earlier conversation about some other thing I felt a strong need to speak out against, my pastor challenged me. I had identified some things that were said in a Sunday service that concerned me, and confronted him about it, but with loving respect. I expressed my views about something controversial, which highlighted my questioning and sense of belonging in that particular church community. My pastor responded by naming my underlying threat to leave the church. I believe divine insight led me to see in this reluctant commitment a correlation to my relationship with my husband.

Prior to landing on a decision to be married, I felt battered by the waves of relationship. I felt as if I spent a day or week knitting something that I would then take apart, as the tide of my decision turned. Those times when I leaned more towards separation (which is still not entirely off the table) seemed to do more damage to my relationship than they warranted on their own. And it was then that I realized that my potential to leave was powerful. At this point, I feel that power is more dangerous than fruitful and I hold that interpretation loosely.

In the wake of this decision, I am still faced with a longing for something more. I face several times per week a loneliness and alienation from my husband as he seems to have no clue how to engage my heart and deeper thought life and no desire to figure it out. He seems to have lost any sense of intrigue towards me. I am a roommate.

And this leaves me really sad. And I wonder, is making marriage work worth it? Will I lose myself? Will I fail to meet my potential for impact in this world, because I am tied to a person who may be a sociopath?

When things are going well

Sometimes I find myself hesitant to relax, even when things are going well.

The last few weeks have been notably better. There have been minor arguments, but I can see that my husband is working on his part in our relationship. The notable improvements include:

  • Good partnership at home
  • Increased communication about mundane things.
  • When we have argued, he has initiated a specific apology about his part in it – before more than 24 hours have passed.

We still argue. Please know – normal couples argue. In a class I took once, I was informed that they argue weekly. So with that as my gauge of “normal,” my marriage has been very normal as of late.

So why don’t I let it go, and enjoy the normalcy? Because in abusive relationships, the normalcy doesn’t stick.

“Eventually there will be another blow-up,” says my wisdom and experience. At the same time, I am trying not to kill that still small voice of hope that sometimes whispers – sometimes shouts – “No one is incapable of changing.” Perhaps hope will prevail.

During our last blow-up, I told my husband that marriage therapy is a non-negotiable. Behind the scenes, I had spoken with a support person for our marriage who encouraged me to do so — told me I needed to do so. Otherwise, said support, I have not adequately communicated how dire the situation is, and cannot expect that it will happen. Fair. Not the best or wisest advice, but I concede to the possibility that I am not communicating to my husband how close I am to asking for a separation.

I told my husband that failure to arrange and participate in marriage counseling would be indicative that he did not care about the future of our marriage.

Problem # 1: I married an abusive man.

Problem #2: I am not a woman who makes threats, or gives ultimatums. I hate binary choices, preferring middle ground. I prefer to leave things open-ended. I have trouble committing to taking my kids to a birthday party! Yet, there I was, being accused of giving an ultimatum.

Third problem: Marriage counseling is impractical due to certain logistical and financial barriers.

So, my husband made what I will kindly call a good-faith effort to contact a single marriage counselor who would not take us on due to her policy that she had to see us weekly for at least 6 weeks — however, she did not have a weekly availability during a time-frame that we could both be present, and we have a vacation planned during the next 6 weeks.

My husband communicated this to me, then said, “I (He) could go to counseling by myself.” He hasn’t. Nor has there been any movement toward seeking out another counselor who might be able to see us when we are both in the same zip-code.

The support who encouraged the demand for counseling has followed up, to ask if we are going a number of times. Last time, Support asked why I had not made it happen. Sigh.

So – What do I do when that next big blow-up happens?

Ambivalence: the Unfinished Story

I do not know whether my marriage will survive, thrive, or end. I struggle with disappointment.

I have been married for long enough to be comfortable in marriage. Today is not a conflict day. We have not argued or fought. We have actually partnered well. It has been comfortable. But not all days are like this. Some are downright painful. Some feel hopeless.

Within the last year, my husband has finally acknowledged something I have known for years. He is abusive. Even though he has not been physically violent, psychological abuse, verbal abuse, and neglect have plagued my years of marriage. This year I have committed to not allowing it to live in hidden spaces.

I stay because I meant it when I said ‘I do.’ I think he did too, but had no idea what it would call him to. I stay because I have a long family history of rampant divorce, and I want to be the one to break that generational curse. I stay because I don’t want our kids to be parented by him without my watchful eyes, and voice to name where his behavior/words/tone, etc. are not okay. I stay because, for some reason, I still have just enough hope that things will get better for good.

But I am missed so often. I am so frequently mis-heard, mis-understood, mis-represented.

After more than a decade of marriage, I feel like my husband does not even know me. He doesn’t treat me as if he recognizes my insight or intuitive gifts. He demonstrates almost no curiosity about me or my thoughts. I wonder who he sees when he looks at me.  I wonder how we got to this point.

Last night, I yielded to my muse. My story is not known because I have chosen not to tell it. No longer will I hold my story alone. Here, I bring the truth of my not-known story to the light of day. I am not alone in this experience.

If you choose to join me in this journey, I will be honest about the ups and downs of marriage. I will engage the ambiguity of this not-yet-finished story. I do not yet know how it ends, but I welcome you on the journey.