Aging alone

Back when I was teaching, we took a field trip to The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. There were these cool machines with cameras that would age a photo depending on life choices. Are you a smoker? Do you spend a lot of time in the sun? And so on went the questions.

One of my junior highers got me to pose for the camera. My mistake was not taking over the controls afterwards. Having already gone through the process once, he knew all of the answers to age my photo as much as possible. He ignored my protests as the screen spun out an image of a worn out old lady who eerily resembled me.

Thanks, kid.

I remember that photo sometimes when I find a new gray hair or a neck wrinkle or an age spot I never noticed before. The realization that one is aging is hard for many people; however, as a single, I wonder if aging alone is different. Not harder, but different.

As a single, there is no togetherness in disintegration. It’s just a party of one who watches the body in the mirror stoop and droop a little more each year. A party of one who gets pitied as she grays because there go her chances to snag a husband and, if she doesn’t have children, she can’t even attribute the grays to the honorable occupation of child-rearing.

His eyelids sag and he gets an extra roll of fat at his waistline.

There is no together giggling at age creeping over two bodies become one. It is just her facing irreversible doom as she watches those creeping spider veins.

There is no one to notice that mole on his back slowly changing colors. No one to miss that tooth except him.

Those freckles that once were becoming are overcome by age spots and they’ve scattered farther than she ever imagined. Her body is no longer what it used to be. And sometimes she’s glad she doesn’t have to share it.

I read through 1 Peter recently, about beauty being internal rather than external. Because remember, these bodies were not made to last forever. Whether one is aging together or aging alone, that truth is comforting.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear other perspectives. What has it been like for you to age alone, man or woman, single or widowed? Or what has it been like for you to age beside someone else? Maybe you’ve had both experiences. What are some things you’ve learned over the years?

Made in God’s image: thoughts on sexual harassment- Part 2

Last time, I shared some of my own experience with sexual harassment, including a few of those inner reactions. If you haven’t read part 1, please do so before reading part 2. 


Regardless of how others respond to your experience, it still happened. 

SO NOW WHAT?

Gain control. 
A huge part of the emotional aftermath is due to feeling powerless. I experienced a marked difference in two street harassment encounters. After the first encounter, I didn’t even know if teammates would be on my side. The second encounter ended at the police station. Knowing that the power was indisputably on my side decreased the fear I felt on the street afterwards. 

In a case of street harassment, involve people nearby. Responding in some way as soon as possible helps alleviate the painful emotional aftermath. Don’t argue with the offender, but if you are able to, include bystanders. 

To be honest, although gaining control is one of the most important factors, I am a lame example. Often, I first respond with denial, doubting the experience is real until it is past, thus hindering my opportunity for an appropriate response. I guess I still struggle because I am still learning. 

Even if the incident is already past, take control by setting up precautions for your future self. Being passive means setting yourself up for victimization again.

“If it feels wrong, it probably is,” was some of the best advice I got when I moved to North Africa where some form of harassment was expected every time one left the house. One North African day, a rug vendor wanted to show me more of his wares. He led me to the back of the shop, to a quiet room full of rugs. My gut told me we were too alone, especially when he started making subtle preparations to keep out other customers. I thanked him for showing me his rugs and marched out of the shop, despite his protests. 

Don’t be afraid to be angry…
…but also realize that anger is often, if not always, a secondary emotion. There is still something else underneath. Give yourself time to sort out what you’re feeling and as soon as possible, take those emotions–fear, shame, vengeance or whatever else it may be– to God because He’s not afraid of what you’re feeling, even if you are.

Realize that your emotions are part of the process. 
You will face a lot of emotions, some of them unexpected. If you don’t face them head on, they will gnaw away at your sense of worth as God’s image bearer. 

After harassment incidents, I do a lot of journaling. It helps me honestly examine what I’m feeling. It launches a talk with God and prepares me to talk with a mentor. 

I was in a moderately healthy place when a follow-up incident occurred. Twenty-four hours later, I was still in turmoil when I journaled this: 

     And here I was, wishing I were not. Wishing I had the strength to say, “It is well with my soul” and feeling that anger-turning-shame…
     Shame that in my inner longings for approval, I had stumbled across a sickened version of it and should have I already slain that longing? Shame that now I was the one in the spotlight and how did this happen and could it be my fault? But it wasn’t. It isn’t…
     And where was Jesus in this picture? He was here, wrapping His arms around me when all I could do was swim through memories of past hurts and wish God would just turn men like this one into piles of ashes. I don’t know it because I felt Him there; I know it because I know it. Today that is enough.
     And as for the shame. It has a name now and soon I’ll be ready to confront it rather than live with it.

Run to your Ultimate Protector. 
After a recent incident, I was able to gain control of the situation, which ended in the man jumping off at the next bus stop, presumably in an effort to get away. I like to think so, at least. 

The next evening, I was praying about an unrelated topic when God said, “You know that man who touched you last night? I was there.” And I knew He was telling the truth. No, He hadn’t smote the offender–not then anyway. But He is the God who sees and will deal with sin in His perfect timing. 

(This is not a statement that higher earthly authorities should never be involved. In passing incidents, use discernment. In repeated or ongoing incidents, those higher earthly authorities should definitely be involved! Read Romans 13.)

Find out who you really are. 
Ask yourself: “Who am I in the eyes of God?” If you don’t strip away your pretenses before a loving and perfect Father, you most certainly will feel the additional pain as you face a world of opinions about the incident. 

After a particularly frustrating day of feeling unprotected by someone I thought should have protected me, I cried out to God in the middle of that shame and heartache. “Just tell me what to do!” I wailed. 

And He said, “You are my child.” He offered no solution to the events, but spoke to the bigger problem. I had lost grip on my intrinsic worth and instead was clinging to the lie that I wasn’t worth protecting. But He reminded me that I belonged to Him and that was enough.

Find someone who will hear without judgment. 
Find someone who will listen to your muddled thoughts and feelings and hear what’s behind all of that. If you don’t take it somewhere, it will come out, often in unexpected and uncontrolled settings. 

Make sure it is someone with whom you can be completely honest about the situation. (Note that multiple debriefings could be helpful as your emotional waves ebb and flow.) Don’t lie about your role if you had one; that doesn’t make the offender innocent. Admitting the whole truth will help you get to the root of your shame. 

Allow for repentance. 
Is the offender truly sorry and truly repentant? I’m not talking about an “I’m sorry” to please authorities, but a humble apology and a true life change. Forgive. Don’t hold on to it. You will probably have to do this many times. But do it. Don’t let his or her power hover over you when you can be free.

However, there is no biblical basis that forgiveness looks like trust. Trust must be earned, not offered indiscriminately. If you have been sexually harassed by this person, in most cases, it’s okay to stay away or make them stay away from you, even if you have forgiven. 

Let God be Lord of your sexuality. 
You are a sexual being. God created you that way. And remember, He said “very good.” But in my experience as a single (especially in a culture where women are particularly vulnerable), sexuality feels more like a burden than a blessing. Something I need to hide and control rather than a gift to express. 

There was a moment after many of the aforementioned incidents that I felt the invitation to surrender my sexuality and I saw the outstretched arms of Jesus, glad to embrace me. There was instant relief when I thought of Him piloting my sexuality. I felt safe. Like that part of me was no longer my enemy. 

This has not been a once-and-done surrender, but no longer do I fight the enemy alone in this area of my life. 

In surrender, there is freedom. Surrendering your sexuality might feel restrictive, but true freedom is being restricted in certain areas to enjoy fullness in others. Rather than being a slave, it is being a child of God and living in the fullness of that relationship. As a child, you give up the right to govern your own life or “call the shots.” Yet, the richness of sonship is so much better than living in the “freedom” of going your own way and finding you are a slave after all. 

CONCLUSION

I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about this topic. I write from my limited experience. I don’t respond well each time. Sometimes, it’s hard to forgive. Sometimes, I’m still surprised by the spectrum of emotions an incident will elicit– all of the way from pleasure to disgust. 

Yet, I can cling to the truth that I am “very good” and when someone tries to diminish that value in the form of sexual harassment, it is not okay with me because it’s not okay with God. 

May you cling to that truth as well. God made you in His image. That heavy load of shame you’ve been carrying? That isn’t yours to carry anymore. Unpack it, hurt through it, but ultimately leave at the feet of the One who has already carried it for you. And He did because you, His child, are worth that much.


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Made in God’s image: thoughts on sexual harassment- Part 1

I hesitate to approach this topic because I have so much to learn. Yet, my silence isn’t much use to anyone. So, I’m lunging forward, hoping that victims of sexual harassment will grasp the power of knowing that harassment cannot touch their intrinsic worth. 

MADE IN GOD’S IMAGE

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them… And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:27&31a)

God made man and woman–He made you— in His image. And He called you “very good.” Although “very good” included the human body, God wasn’t just talking about the shape of your nose or how pleasing your figure might be.

At a deeper level, God’s image on your being–the rational, moral, and spiritual–is what gives you beauty and worth. You are “very good” because you were created in God’s image. It’s integral; you cannot be separated from it.

But you can choose not to believe it. 

When someone’s value as an image bearer is undercut, there is pain. It’s the sort of pain that no amount of “I must have done something to deserve this” can take away. We can bury it, but we can’t really hide it. And after a while, we start to believe that we are no longer worthy of God’s image. 

Today, the discussion focuses on sexual abuse, a much more intricate and painful topic. But sometimes in our haste to address the big issues, we skim over the lingering pain of those who have been harassed but not abused. 

“Harassment is normal,” we think. Indeed, we have normalized harassment to the degree that we don’t bother addressing it. Even as a victim, this was my approach… until recently. 

IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT OKAY?

Harassment is common, not normal, and the more we normalize it, the more we give the message that it’s acceptable to harass and to be harassed. 

During my first experience with harassment, I thought I was overreacting because everyone else ignored it. So, after a few fumbled attempts at addressing it, I accepted it as par for the course in my work environment. 

Only recently have I been able to say, “This is not okay.” Why not? Because someone is trying to cheapen the image of God in me. God’s image is being objectified for the sake of someone’s pleasure or lust for power.

Clearly, harassment isn’t something we should dwell on; but, until we find healing, we will dwell on it, like it or not. By “dwell,” I don’t mean in conscious thought only; much of our “dwelling” can happen in the subconscious realm. My first incident was set aside and rarely thought of. Yet, inside of me there was a simultaneous shrinking from and hunger for the positive attention of men. 

MY EXPERIENCE

I didn’t know how much my first experience with sexual harassment had affected me until another incident occurred. Suddenly, I was dealing with the emotional aftermath of two incidents instead of one. 

But the emotions didn’t come from the incidents themselves as much as from the shame that wound its way through the memories. 

  • It is my fault. Someone implied that I had been too friendly, too familiar. 
  • I have to get over it. It wasn’t a big deal. Nobody else thought I was worth standing up for. Nobody seemed to think he should get into trouble. I tried to ignore it, but week after week of the same issue left my defenses ragged. (Sometimes I felt like I could just give in.)
  • Maybe I haven’t forgiven. Surely, if I just forgave, all of the pain and shame would vanish. 

Along with sexual harassment, there is often a sense of pleasure that comes with being noticed and desirable. That sense of pleasure is God-given (read Song of Solomon!), but in cases of sexual harassment, it typically serves to deepen the shame. We think to be a “real” victim, we must never feel anything except disgust. 

Sexual harassment attacks a vulnerable spot; therefore calling the pain to light also calls our vulnerability to light. So we hide behind masks of disgust, anger, or indifference, to name a few.

The offender is not the only victimizer. Many of us have also experienced a level of rejection from those looking on. “Get over it,” is a common sentiment from those who acknowledge what happened but don’t believe in the emotional aftermath. And there are always people who are skeptical, downplay the incident, or even defend the offender. 

Regardless of how others respond to your experience, it still happened. 

Next week, I’ll share a few ways to respond during and after an incident. In the meantime, I would be glad to hear your advice and wisdom as well. 🙂 See you next time. 


Photo by Shoeib Abolhassani on Unsplash

Who are these people really?

Do you ever look at someone and marvel that they are just as real to themselves as you are to yourself? Sometimes that thought startles me; perhaps I subconsciously believe that I am the only real person in the world, or at least the only person with real thoughts and desires.

But sometimes I look at someone and realize that to them, they are “me” just like I am “me” to myself.

Sometimes, I wonder about their past. What happened that the shriveled lady in the worn burqa sits on the same corner to beg day after day? Why does that man call out inappropriate comments to women as they walk by? Why does this well-dressed father spend more time in cafés and on the street than at home with his family?

Often, people are merely splotches strewn upon the canvas of my momentary perception of life. Other times, I realize that the Artist painted them there for a reason. Those are the times that I look around, aghast: Who are these people really?