Conglomeration of life

Below is a conglomeration of life I either noticed or experienced in recent weeks. The thoughts are scattered and unpolished (like everything else on my blog, except maybe just a bit more). But I hope you enjoy a peek into life here.


“Hola, American.” A sub-Saharan man said the words almost under his breath as we passed on the street.

I didn’t think much about it until I was a few steps beyond him. How did he know I was American? Someone must have told him.

Due to the abundance of Russian immigrants and the lack of North American ones, my community assumes I’m Russian. In fact, when I started Spanish class, my Russian classmate told me that she’s seen me around and always thought I was a Russian.

Last night in class, she worked on forming a sentence with the imperfect subjunctive: “Trish has a face as if she were Russian.” After various corrections and alterations, we all were very familiar with the idea that Trish looks Russian.


“I thought to myself: I hope she makes brownies. And you did!” My student pulled the brownie plate closer to her and grinned at me with shining eyes. And she didn’t protest when I sent the leftovers home with her after class.


Little arms thrown wide with delight in overhead bubbles.


Four neighbors were on the front stoop when I stepped out the front door of the apartment building.

“Are you having a meeting?” I asked with a laugh.

No, two were just out for a smoke and had collected the others coming in or out the door. Like me.

“Sit down here. Join us.” Demanded the middle-aged man from the second floor. We hadn’t seen each other for a while so maybe he thought he needed the latest scoop on my life.
Not really wanting to wedge myself between two people with lit cigarettes, I stood back just enough to enjoy the breeze that waltzed down the street.

“You don’t smoke, do you?” The second floor neighbor asked.

“No.”

“Do you drink?”

“Not that either.”

“What about the other thing?”

Was this a morality test? I hesitated, not knowing for sure what he meant. “Marijuana?” I asked hopefully. “No, not that either.”

“No. Making love.” He tinged a bit with this. I suppose you could say I had forced him to say it.

The lady on the other side of the stoop eyed me. “It’s not worth it. Men are too complicated.”

“You say men are too complicated!” He was indignant. “It’s the women who are too complicated.”

It was a good time to leave. So I made a light, overgeneralized comment. They laughed. I told them goodbye and continued on my way.


I had almost reached the language school when I noticed a woman was getting out of her car. She was a bleached blonde with dark eye makeup. The combination made her seem sad somehow. Behind her was a mural of a woman with streaking mascara.

Two sad ladies on the corner, almost like a piece of visual poetry, I thought, and continued walking.

I was in the middle of the crosswalk when muffins, donuts, and bread came skidding across the road toward me. I hesitated mid-stride. Was I hallucinating, my subconscious pulling up cravings for foods I rarely ate?

But no. A delivery van’s door had slid open as the van bumbled through the roundabout. The goodies inside had tumbled onto the street with enough momentum to shoot them in my direction.

I helped gather the packages littered across the roundabout and toss them into crates. The poetic sad lady from the corner helped too.

“Gracias!” the man told Sad Lady. “Chokran!” he told me.

I paused and looked down. Sometimes when I wear a dress, people ignore my fair coloring and assume I’m North African. Not that it matters, I suppose. Russian. North African.

Why not?


I trailed Sad Lady into the language school–who knew she was going there too?!–and when I couldn’t get my questions answered at the front desk as I had hoped, I began to chat with her.

She was planning to test for English; I for Spanish. “Let’s meet for coffee to practice!” she said and we exchanged phone numbers.


The next evening, my neighbor and I were only a couple of blocks from home when we saw the drunkest person I have ever seen in Spain. He stumbled out of a salón de juegos and clambered on his bike. Both he and the bike splattered onto the sidewalk. He gave an unintelligible monologue at high decibels but appeared relatively undamaged.

Just a block later, a man bumped into my neighbor. “I’m sorry! I was looking over there while I was walking and didn’t see you!” he said while his arm gave an exaggerated swing in the direction of the park.

“No problem,” my neighbor said graciously. “It happens.”

“I’m sorry. I’m not a racist. And I’m not a thief. You have to be careful on the street. Hold your bag like this!” He tugged the strap of his man purse. Then he clasped his hands together, and gave a wobbly bow in mid-stride and began the same speech again.

And again.

And so we continued several blocks with his cycle of effervescent apologies and wobbly bowing.

My neighbor and I finally stopped at a store to let him get ahead of us.

“Well,” I sighed. “We’re only a few blocks from home. What else is going to happen? Should we go back?”


Hopscotch boxes drawn all of the way to 85, progressively lopsided from weary little hands.


I fell out of bed the other morning. I was freshly awake and rolled over, only to realize that during the night, I had perched myself on the edge of the bed. Fortunately, I caught myself with flailing limbs before I made a resounding boom on the downstairs neighbors’ ceiling.

Who needs caffeine? There’s nothing quite like tumbling out of bed for a delightful adrenaline rush.


A friend cried when I brought her a gift. We sat on the floor together just inside her front door while she fingered every item in the gift bag with grateful tears. Someone cared.


The safety of Grandma’s hand holding fast.


A house with crumbs and sticky that remind me that someone has honored me with their presence in my home.

I wish I knew you

Maybe you think I don’t notice that bruise on half your face. You light the room with a smile and a dignified calm.

But I wish I could grab him by the throat and not let go until I know that he will never touch you again.

Except with love.

But how can I know unless you tell me? And how can you tell me unless you trust me? And how can you trust me when you just met me and he calls your phone and you need to go before we even know each other?

We say goodbye with an embrace, two kisses, and a few besides.

Then I stand and watch you walk away, wishing I knew the you behind that sparkling smile. 

And that black eye.


Photo by mostafa meraji on Unsplash

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