telling the truth, with blades and words

My tattoo placement is intentional. For example, the word enough on my wrist is placed just below the scar from my middle school suicide attempt. My forearms are covered with other meaningful art, tattooed atop shiny lines from other self-inflicted wounds.

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Today marks one year since the last time I made one of those cuts.

It also marks the longest period of time since I was 11 that I’ve gone without carving into my skin.

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I’m fine, I would have told you if you noticed fresh red stripes. But you wouldn’t have. A few decades of hiding self-injurious behaviors meant my habit wasn’t on your radar. It wasn’t on anyone’s radar. My husband didn’t even know. My therapist didn’t know until I told her. If I ever did talk about cutting – like I did in this article and this one, both more than a year ago, both published before my last cut – it was always in the past tense, even as my forearms or upper thighs told a different story.

Why didn’t I tell the truth with my words then? Well, I had two reasons. First, I have a personal rule to only write from scars and not wounds. The wounds need to be addressed, but that work is private and sacred. To heal open cuts from the inside out, I needed to limit this truth to those who had earned the right to hear it. Now that all I have is scars, I’m sharing from a place of healing.

And second, I was telling the truth. I was. I was telling the truth in the only way I knew how. In the words of Glennon Doyle in her TEDx talk about life in the mental hospital,

I remember this sandy-haired girl who was so beautiful, and she told the truth on her arms. And I held her hand one day while she was crying, and I saw that her arms were just sliced up like pre-cut hams. In there, people wore their scars on the outside, so you knew where they stood. And they told the truth, so you knew why they stood there.

When I was 11, I was too familiar with pain for a girl my age. That’s why I tried to end it, with a deep cut to my wrist. I couldn’t cut deeply enough with the blade I had, though, so I lived. I didn’t want to, but I lived nonetheless. (And I’m deeply thankful that I did.)

In that moment, though, I found a power I had never known before. As an abused little girl, I was the object to be hurt with no ability to do anything else. When I opened my skin, I got to cause the pain. I controlled it. And unlike the abuse I never deserved or understood, this pain made sense. You cut, you bleed, it hurts. For the first time in my life, something that hurt also made sense.

Over the years, the reasons changed. Sometimes I cut because I thought I deserved it. Sometimes I cut because I found the action and release to be calming. Sometimes I cut to stop feeling. Sometimes I cut to feel something. Sometimes, after I stopped drinking, I cut because I wanted alcohol. Sometimes I cut because cutting became familiar. Sometimes I cut because I hated myself.

As Demi Lovato put it in a 20/20 interview with Robin Roberts,

It was a way of expressing my own shame of myself on my own body. I was matching the inside to the outside. And there were sometimes where my emotions were just so built up, I didn’t know what to do, and the only way that I could get instant gratification was through an immediate release on myself.

I don’t regret cutting. I don’t judge the scars. They are each evidence of my survival. When I wasn’t safe enough to tell the truth with my words, I survived by telling the truth with a blade. Every shiny white line is a stone of remembrance of where I’ve been and how God has transformed me since then.

Now, I’m safe. Cutting was a tool I used until a year ago, but my toolbox has been updated. Self injury doesn’t serve me or my healing anymore. In intensive therapy, I’ve learned to tell the truth in ways that do no harm to my body.

And now I think it’s time to tell the truth with my words. I hope self harm is in my past. I pray it stays that way. I’d love for this to be the first year of many with more scars than wounds. Only time will tell.

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But I know this one thing for sure: my hope that cutting is in my past is uncertain, but my hope in Christ is steady. Each stripe on my skin is evidence of the tension in which we live, a world in which God has declared his forever promises but hasn’t yet fulfilled them all. And each shiny white line glorifies my Creator, because it’s not just the healing that declares his goodness but also the choice to keep showing up in a world that isn’t always good.

This is a world that tells us to hide our scars. Jesus is a God who readily showed his, which he bore even after his resurrection. May we, as his people, be willing to share the truth of our own scars, of our own resurrection, of our own humanity. Yes, the scars and wounds are part of our stories, but so is the rising.

Why are we talking about rape as a preexisting condition?

Rape is a preexisting condition under the AHCA. Or is it?

Those two sentences sum up the most flashy coverage about what the US House of Representatives did yesterday. Both inaccurately oversimplify the issue, though. This is an important conversation, and we deserve more nuance than soundbites in our discussions of this (and every other policy issue, for that matter). 

The ACA - aka Obamacare - let me breathe deeply, knowing that my odd collection of health conditions no longer made me uninsurable, either because companies would reject me or because they would price me out of coverage. The AHCA - aka Trumpcare - weakens those Obamacare protections. This is all true.

Neither bill includes a list of preexisting conditions, though. Neither says, for example, rheumatoid arthritis - which I have - is a red flag. Obamacare, however, guaranteed that it wouldn't be. No insurance company could reject me or increase my rates for that sort of diagnosis. Meanwhile, Trumpcare would let states make their own decisions on hiking up costs for those people who already have the highest medical costs. 

And rape survivors? Well, here's what I tweeted about that earlier today...

Deep breaths. That was a lot to tweet before my morning coffee, and it's a lot to re-read now.

But why are we focusing on rape as a preexisting condition anyway? 

The honest answer? This whole topic is theater. It had to be. Somewhere along the way, we stopped reacting with dismay that we might be a country that denies affordable healthcare to a mom with rheumatoid arthritis or children with epilepsy, cerebral palsy, HIV, anxiety, ADHD, asthma, autism, or congenital heart defects, all conditions represented in our family picture. 

Quite frankly, hearing about another sick kid needing a GoFundMe to live is too common of a story to move our hearts if it's not our kid. (But maybe, just maybe, we will care when it's Jimmy Kimmel's kid.)

So we have to go to the extreme. We have to perform a new pain. We have to dig up Boston Globe stories from the healthcare reform days back in the 1990s about domestic abuse victims being denied health insurance. (While this is theater, it isn't fiction; more on this is documented in a book from the Department of Justice.) 

Is the concern about insurance coverage for rape survivors real? Yes.

But I'd say the greater concern is for our collective humanity, when the most extreme examples are the only ones that compel us to care anymore. 

do it scared

"You raised your son, black and autistic, in a time when autism was pretty new and ..." I paused. She waited. "Well, how did you do it without being scared all the time?"

She looked at me with compassion, set her hand on mine, and said, "I did it scared. Every day, whenever someone leaves the house, we pray together, because we know it might be the last time."

This older, wiser black friend's words spoke both truth and heartbreak to my soul that morning. Through tears I told her, "It's just so hard." She nodded. We hugged. I went home and cried some more.

when you are
no longer surprised
that your black son –
only seven years old –
is labeled thug
(the modern-day replacement
for yesteryear’s “nigger”)
for the same behavior
that your white son –
also seven years old –
isn’t criticized for,
because he’s just
being a boy
after all

you are reminded
that the privilege
of being a boy
is part of white privilege too

I grew up the daughter of a Vietnam veteran who returned from the war to devote his career to law enforcement, first in Georgia and then in Florida. I knew how families like ours then prayed for protection for their loved ones, whose lives were at risk for the uniforms they chose, the blue ones they wear every shift.

I didn't know, not until much later, how families like ours now pray for protection for their loved ones, whose lives are at risk for nothing they chose, just the beautiful dark skin they wear every moment of every day.

I still only know any of that to a degree, because when I step out in the world, I'm wearing white skin.

I am white

I might be
raising children
who are not

but the reality remains that
I am white

I am a better mom
when I stay in my lane
and listen well
to those who have lived
in my children’s skins
because they are the experts

I am mom
but I am still white
and my whiteness
means I can love
their blackness
but not that I can
fully relate to
the experience
of living in skin
that is anything but

Jordan Edwards died this past weekend. Alton Sterling's murderers will not be charged for their crimes, the news just reported. Walter Scott's killer told the truth in court today, which was a spot of bright news except that murder charges were replaced with one federal charge of deprivation of rights under the color of law. 

The hashtags keep coming. So does the injustice. 

Lord, have mercy.

my beautiful black babies
your skin, hair, lips, noses
are priceless adornments
to your invaluable souls

if the world tells you otherwise
(and they will)
they are the liars

you are the light
and their eyes
are too damn weak
to see all of your radiance

and you
you matter
your beautiful black lives matter
no matter what lies
the world whispers

White friends, please. Listen. Learn. Feel. Break your silence. 

Declare with us that this. is. not. okay.

Yes, praying together before leaving home seems like a quaint and admirable practice. But when black families institute this practice because they know any one of them could be a hashtag, white neighbors need to pay attention and then act.

And if you're worried you'll do it wrong, follow the model of my wise black girlfriend and do it scared. (I promise, your fear is nothing compared to hers.)

I am NOT the problem when I point out a problem

“Excuse me, sir,” I interrupted, doing both of my least favorite activities: talking to strangers and bothering anyone for help. “Can you point us to the wheelchair accessible entrance?”

“Um, well, I don’t think… um, let me, um, check… I, um, just don’t, um, know…” he stammered as he picked up his walkie talkie. I stepped back a bit, knowing I probably didn’t want to hear whatever he was saying to the other person.

After a wait – short yet long enough for my children to lose any chill they had – a man escorted us all around the building to a doorway next to the dumpsters, where he had to move a table blocking the only ramp so we could enter the Chinese New Year celebration. I smiled and thanked him. I knew I would make the kids angsty if I showed my real emotions, plus it wasn’t that poor guy’s fault. But make no mistake: I was both blinking back tears and desperately wanting to tell someone off.

We enjoyed the event, and we’re used to this. But it stings a little each time.

When I pointed out the lack of accessible entrance, was I the problem? Was that divisive? Did I undermine the unity of this cultural event? No. That’s obvious, right?

The problem was that we couldn’t get inside. The problem was the lack of a ramp. The problem was all the barriers to Zoe and me – her in a wheelchair and me with a cane – being full participants in an event for which we already had tickets.

I was not the problem. I simply pointed out the problem.

Like a thermometer measures temperature, I measured the situation at hand. Like a weatherman uses observation to forecast the chance of precipitation, I did the same to judge the chance that Zoe and I could enter the space. Like a windsock shows the direction of the breeze, I showed the event staff the absence of accessibility.

The thermometer does not make a fever. The weatherman does not summon the storm. The windsock does not direct the gusts. I did not position the ramp or block the door.

The thermometer, the weatherman, and the windsock simply reveal what’s already happening. So did I.

So it is with those speaking out about police brutality. So it is with those tweeting #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear or #ThingsOnlyBLACKChristianWomenHear or #ThingsOnlyChristianWOCHear or #disabilityinchurch. So it is when any of us is brave enough to say “this hurt me.” So it is when we reveal effects of abuse, only to be called wolves for it.

When we reveal what’s already happening, we do not divide. We do not create disunity. We are not the problems.

We are simply pointing them all out.

Once upon a time, the Pharisees took issue with Jesus healing the sick on the Sabbath, saying “aha!” to any violation of the letter of the law as they interpreted it. Meanwhile, Jesus – the author of the law – modeled that the spirit of the law trumped the gnat strainers. He healed the man, pointed to the problem, and challenged those who cried foul.

You can nit pick all you want. That’s your choice. You can emulate the Pharisees if that’s your thing.

I’m going to choose to follow the example of Christ. I’m going to do the work of healing, which begins with a naming and acknowledgment of the hurts. I’m going to pay attention because I know God doesn’t plug his ears and sing lalalalalalalala in response to the cry of the needy. I won’t ignore the walls and unbiblical structures and unjust realities, even the ones that don’t hold me back personally. I’m going to declare that if our gospel isn’t good news for everyone, then it’s not really the gospel.

Basically, I’m going to love my neighbor, for the good of all and the glory of God.

How about you?

the opposite of chaos

I've never liked silence.

I've never liked stillness.

I've never liked staying.

“You need to learn to be comfortable with the ordinary,” my therapist said. “You’re addicted to chaos.” As much as I hated to admit it, she was right.

I think you’re a little addicted to chaos too. How do I know? Because we all are. We’re all rushing and looking and longing for the next thing, refreshing our social media feeds for new posts, checking the news to see what scandal deserves today’s outrage.

I used to think the opposite of chaos was calm. As I write this, I’m sitting at my desk on Easter Saturday, surrounded by messes of papers to be sorted, looking out upon a backyard that needs to be mowed, seeing in front of the windows a Christmas tree that’s still up, hearing small noises of our many pets (currently two dogs, one cat, a chinchilla, and a bearded dragon), and waiting for my husband and six children to return from a camping trip that I couldn’t join because I’m recovering from a major knee surgery. If calm is the opposite of chaos, I’m doomed.

Thankfully, the opposite of chaos isn’t calm; it’s being centered. When the cacophony of chaos clamors all around and coaxes us to join in the noise, being able to reject that call used to feel impossible. I didn’t bother. Lean in was my motto. Join the chaos. Shout for your voice to be heard. Light more fires, bang more drums, get yo’self a megaphone and rain down snark and sarcasm and all the other currencies of an uncentered world.

I’m an extrovert, obviously. One of my dearest friends – as introverted as I am extroverted - feels none of the draw I described above. But still, the chaos beckons her to draw closer, with demands to say yes when she wants to say no and to say no when she needs to say yes. It lures her to define herself in terms of others, rather than being centered in her own unique calling despite feeling like it – and she – is not enough.

I’ve considered myself to be centered for most of my life. But I never, not until recently, understood what it meant to be steady at the core of who I am. My core terrified me. I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to examine that. I put it in a box and wrapped it up with pretty paper and a tidy bow, scared to let anyone – including myself – know what was inside.

“Can you recommend a therapist?” I found myself texting my friend Sam a year and a half ago. Half out of confusion about what I felt inside me and half out of fear that I would never recover from my bestie’s suicide six months earlier, I knew I needed to find words for the chaos in my soul. I didn’t know if therapy would help, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.

I wanted a quick oil change and go on your way sort of fix. I walked out of the intake session realizing we needed to take apart the whole damn car and rebuild her. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that the car was on fumes, leaving a trail of parts behind, battered and off balance and dented all over, and barely yet miraculously still avoiding the scrapyard. Therapy didn’t break me; I showed up barely holding anything together.

Brene Brown describes her first appointment with a therapist after her breakdown/spiritual awakening of 2005 in her book The Gifts of Imperfection. (Side note: this is a must read. Seriously.) Her therapist started with “so what’s going on?" Brene shared the reason she was there and followed with, “Some specific tips and tools would be helpful. Nothing deep. No childhood crap or anything.” 

That was me. I was going to therapy because I knew something was off with me. I figured it was all the change in recent years: a few recent deaths. friends who abandoned us because of HIV. the adoption of a sibling group of three in 2013. the diagnosis of epilepsy for one of our children less than a year prior. our first adoption in 2012. births in 2009 and 2007, with chronic disabling illnesses diagnosed for me in 2008. all the growing up that brought for me and my husband, having met with young love at 18 and married at newly 23. I wanted to talk through all of that. Nothing deep. No childhood crap or anything.

I tease my therapist now that she clearly hasn’t addressed the life change issues I came there to sort out. Instead, since I met her, more has changed than stayed the same. I set healthy boundaries with some loved ones that they rejected, and now we’ve been estranged for more than a year. I drew closer to another family member as she decided to join me in not allowing abuse - worse in our childhood but continued through adulthood - to continue unchecked. We changed churches. I ventured into political writing I thought no one would read, yet my pro-life piece about the 2016 election has been read by more than a million people now. I became the subject of news stories instead of the writer. I found myself kicked out of my old familiar Christian spaces for being too liberal (and this was before I voiced my affirmation of the LGBTQ+ community), and I lost my job. I got some piercing and tattoos and a new haircut. I had a major knee surgery.

Some judged all this new change as new chaos. That wasn’t it, though. Having lived life uncentered for so long and tossed about by chaos, stepping back into who I am and what really matters – the very acts of centering, as I finally unwrapped the core of myself I’d kept hidden so long – brought definite changes. Those changes, though, were the result of stripping away chaos’s shame and dressing myself in healthy vulnerability.

I know this re-centering in Christ has disappointed some people. They were comfortable with my contortion to fit the chaos. Having only met that side of me, when I unfurled my origami girl self, they experienced my new shape and size and voice as a personal loss. I have no plans to change to fit back in their boxes of who they imagined me to be, but I get that it can be hard to see someone else change from who you thought they were. If that’s where you stand, I won’t apologize for letting you down because that would have required letting myself down and rejecting God’s calling for my life; I will, however, say your feelings are valid. Whether or not I share those emotions, I acknowledge that am different outwardly than I used to be, so I hope you give yourself permission to feel whatever you need to feel as you decide if the value of our relationship to you is conditional on my remaining in the chaos place. I'm not going back, so the choice is yours.

When I lived in the throes of chaos, I was chasing after Jesus and feeling like he would round the corner just as I was getting close. When I stepped away, I realized I was pursuing an idol of Christ fabricated by what my friend Jen Hatmaker recently called “the Christian machine.” While the false god of American Christianity drew me deeper into unrest, the true God embraced me with real rest as I centered myself in him.

I’m staying here.

I’m savoring stillness.

I’m lulled into peace with silence.

And I’m praying you’ll find your center someday soon, if you haven’t already.