#metoo

(Disclaimer – this post contains graphic words depicting sexual acts).

Deep breath.

This is the first time I’ve shared my #metoo story publicly. I wrote this post four years ago as the Vanderbilt rape trials were occurring, and it has remained unpublished until now – tucked away in a file called “potential blog posts”.

Why now? You may wonder. I’ve asked myself the same. I don’t have an agenda outside of adding my story to the collective whole which is enough of a reason because attitudes only change when we openly acknowledge the wrongdoing and then move forward through authentic and open dialogue. I hope by adding my story to the conversation, others will also add their stories and as we add, one by one, brick by brick, our voices will begin to echo through the corridors of history, and we who have a story of sexual assault will no longer be mocked or dismissed. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll instead be believed and affirmed in our pain and our stories will lead to our sons and daughters having a different experience than we had. Maybe.

These have been difficult weeks – first with Bill Cosby’s sentencing and then the circus surrounding Judge K and Mrs. Ford. I don’t know the specifics of most of it as I’ve been too busy prepping for The Lucas Project’s first official respite day, but I do know this: I was sexually assaulted years ago, and I probably would not have been believed if I had said something. I don’t know if Mrs. Ford is telling the truth or if Judge K is telling the truth – and that’s beside the point in this post – but God help us all if we don’t stop the whole “this side is right and this side is wrong” argument. It is wrong to sexually assault a person, and it is wrong to lie. Period.

You see, twenty plus years ago, I was a nobody, and my assaulters were somebodies, athletes to be specific – untouchable Christian athletes. They were under the influence. I was not. I was a naïve, homeschooled girl way out of her league and flattered by the attention. I was sexually assaulted. It was wrong. They were wrong.

I wasn’t sure I would ever be brave enough to publicly share – and even as I push publish – my heart is racing. I have no reason to feel shame about what happened, but my fear comes from the world’s reaction. Will I be believed? Or will our culture adamantly defend two predators? Will I be mocked and ridiculed? Admittedly, my story isn’t nearly as horrific as many others; in fact, it’s pretty mild in comparison, but it’s still my truth. I don’t think about the incident often, and I don’t wallow in the pain that occurred. The experience doesn’t own me in any way, but it is a part of who I am, and as with most parts of my story, good and bad, if positive growth occurs from sharing it, then that’s enough for me.

I went there alone that fateful afternoon as a young nineteen year old. I entered the apartment of a man I knew, an athletic star, an untouchable athlete, a man who I was casually seeing, a man who was casually seeing quite a few women unbeknownst to me at the time. I’ll call this man Bob. I naively assumed I would eventually win Bob’s heart through my desperate devotion and desire. He knew how much I wanted him to want me; he preyed on that knowledge and became my teacher as I clumsily navigated my way through a new college environment; an environment so completely different than the innocent, sheltered homeschooled life I had experienced.

I knocked on his door, and he opened it. A cloud of hazy smoke and the smell of marijuana welcomed my arrival – although at the time, I assumed the joint in his hand was a cigar – yes, very naïve. Through the smoky haze I noticed two large men, boy men, sitting on a battered couch with a coffee table littered with empty beer cans in front of them. These were his relatives, also star athletes from a few towns away.

The details leading up to the incident are fuzzy, maybe due to fear or maybe due to the protective nature the brain can often provide, but I remember being summoned into the bedroom by Bob who smirked as he suggested I could help him study for an upcoming test. We sat on the bed together, and the two other men immediately joined us. I was confused. Bob quickly rose from the bed and slammed the door shut — leaving me alone with the two men I had just met. Two huge boy men towered over me while Bob tightly held the door shut. I heard hysterical laughter coming from him and so I assumed it was all a joke. A very bad joke.

I sat on the bed and waited for the joke to be over, but it didn’t seem to be headed in that direction. The two men each found a seat beside me and formed a tight barrier that would be difficult to escape from. They also seemed to find the situation highly entertaining as they laughed and began discussing random sexual activities and their presumption that I lacked in experience having been homeschooled. They then suggested that I should be tested to see if I knew what I was doing in those areas and if not, it would be a good idea for them to teach me. I nervously laughed and said probably not – still trying to be cool about the uncomfortable situation I was in. I didn’t want to get a reputation as one of those girls who was highly dramatic and couldn’t take a joke. My denial, sadly, was not in being horrified that two men thought they could joke about using me as a sexual pawn but had more to do with how Bob would react if he knew what was going on behind the closed door. At the time, I wasn’t willing to risk losing the precious, non-existent relationship I had with him.

I tried to stand, and one of them immediately grabbed my hair and shoved me back on the bed. He climbed on top of me and began dry humping while the other one unzipped his pants and proceeded to put his penis in my face – rubbing it crassly against my cheeks and mouth. They took turns taunting me in this way, one sitting on top of me, while the other one slapped his genitalia against my face while admonishing me to open wide. Tears streamed from my eyes, and I begged them to stop as laughter loudly resounded from the two of them and from the other side of the door.

I think that’s as far as it went.

I don’t know for sure.

I know it ended in one way or another but past those horrific moments I have no recollection. I don’t know why I can’t think past the point of being held against my will.  At times, I fear that I’ve blocked out something to terrible to recall, and at times, I pray that’s as far as the assault went. I don’t know how I finally left the room. I don’t know if I sat and talked with the three of them after it was finished. I don’t know if they continued laughing. I assume they did. I do know I didn’t blame Bob for what occurred. Somehow my mind was able to separate him from them for years until I just couldn’t anymore.

Back then, I didn’t know I had rights. Rights for what? I put myself in the situation. I chose to associate with Bob which in turn meant I associated with his acquaintances. I didn’t even know at the time what an experience like that would be called. I didn’t know if it was partly my fault because I had gone over there alone. I did know it would be my word against three athletes – three athletes who all stared on their respective teams.

I do know that I was naïve enough to think that’s just how men were, and it was a woman’s responsibility to accept it – “boys will be boys.”

The incident absolutely affected me, but it didn’t break me, no it did quite the opposite actually. A righteous flame flickered and grew intensely strong against the weight of many trials and formed the woman I am today – a woman who has stood firm in her faith against a thousand battles. I do know that if something similar happened today I would be killed before allowing anyone to shove their genitalia in my face. I also know that I would report it immediately. I do know that I’ve forgiven each one of them even though they’ve never asked, and I know that I am extremely grateful that throughout the past few years the law has repeatedly served justice towards men who had the audacity to think that they could treat women in such a horrific, uncaring way. This fact alone will enable my daughters to have a different college experience than I had. They will not be afraid to come forward – God willing.

I do know it’s time for women to stop pointing the finger at one another and saying stupid things like, “she deserved it, she was a slut, she dressed inappropriately, or she drank too much” or whatever it may be. It’s also time for everyone to stop blaming the very small percentage of women who lie about sexual assault and screw the system because for every one lie there are thousands of women who keep their mouths shut. Thousands of woman just like me.

I want to see justice permeate throughout our culture for men and women at every level. There are good men, and I sat beside one of them last night as he wept while reading this. We need more men to weep for us and to speak up for us and to defend our dignity and our honor. It’s time for women to end the silence and the shaming and start raising our voices. It’s time for our collective stories to not only be heard but to also be believed. Be brave. Breathe. Tell your story.

If you have a story you’d like to share, I’d love to publish it in this space. Please message me at jessplusthemess@gmail.com.

Just keep livin!

Can We Truly Forgive and Forget?

Ryan and I recently hosted a Blended Live on Facebook where we revealed that marriage and life in general has been difficult for the past few months.  Part of these difficulties stem from circumstances outside of our control: health, 8 kids, four teenagers, and a special needs son; part of them stem from our reactions to the issues – anger instead of joy – and part of it involves the very simple concept of forgiveness.  Instead of rehashing and focusing on the negative, offering forgiveness to the offender and letting go on the angst that accompanies an unforgiving heart.  I’m excited to have author Gil Mertz sharing on the topic of forgiveness today, AND, I have a copy of his book Forgive Your Way to Freedom: Reconcile Your Past and Reclaim Your Future to send to one reader! Simply comment here on this post or on Facebook for your chance to win.  Contest open until Oct 1st. 

Billy and Ruth Graham were married for almost 64 years and when asked for their secret, Ruth revealed that marriage is the union of two good forgivers. Forgiveness is vital for any successful relationship, marriage and family. One of the biggest challenges of forgiveness is trying to forget the offense and not bring it up over and over again. This not only threatens our peace in the present but our hope for the future. But is it possible to truly forget our past hurts?

We’re told that an elephant never forgets. Frankly, I don’t know where we come up with these funny expressions about animals such as sweating like a pig, eating like a horse, working like a dog or skinning a cat. I’ve never seen a pig sweat, a fat horse, a dog like mine work, and I don’t even want to think about skinning a cat, even those there’s apparently more than one way you can do it! But I know where the expression about elephants comes from.

Unscrupulous circus trainers needed to keep these massive animals stationary and so they would take them very young and tie one of their legs to a stake in the ground with a rope. The tiny elephant would soon learn that it cannot move if it is attached to the stake. A full-grown elephant that has the strength to knock over a tree will not test the stake in the ground because it thinks it cannot move. That’s because, an elephant never forgets.

Many of us are like this helpless elephant. We have total power and freedom to move on with our lives when we forgive, but our past pain is like a stake in the ground. We remain stuck because our memories are telling us that we cannot move forward. If we cannot forget, what if we could learn to remember in a different way so that we can manage our emotions instead of being overwhelmed by them?

The Bible says in Romans 12:2 “Don’t live the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed.” (NIRV) Some translations call this the renewing of your mind, but it basically means to change the way you think. If we can change the way we think, it will change the way we feel and as a result, the way we behave. Advertisers spend billions practicing this biblical principle because they know if they can control your thinking, they can get you to buy their products.

Jesus said in John 8:32 “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So how do we get to the truth so that we can remember in a different way and find the truth we need for our lives? One way is a simple tool known as reframing your picture. All of us see our experiences through a frame of our own choosing. It’s usually limited to our own personal biases and when we’re hurt or angry, the picture can get completely distorted from the actual truth. But if we can reframe our picture by enlarging it to let more truth in, we can remember the past differently.

Recently I was driving in a car with my wife and I was upset because a driver at the intersection pulled right out in front of us. According to the picture in my head, this crazy driver could have gotten us all killed and I was upset. Then my wife gently reminded me that I was intending to turn right at that intersection and actually had my blinker going. At the last second, I changed my mind and decided to go straight. But all the other driver saw was my blinker to turn right and was unable to read my mind. When the frame on that picture got enlarged and I could see the truth, it changed my mind immediately.
Not long ago I counseled with a couple whose marriage appeared doomed. He had a short-term affair which was long over. He knew it was a terrible mistake and had pleaded for forgiveness. His wife didn’t want a divorce but she could not forget the deep pain that had been inflicted. Clearly what he did was wrong and forgiveness doesn’t condone, justify, or rationalize his actions. But as we began to work together to enlarge the frame on this picture, we learned that the wife had been married to her job for years. She was frequently home late and her divided loyalties left a legitimate need in her husband that he tried to fill through other means.

As she could see the bigger picture beyond her own pain, she no longer saw her husband as the 100% villain and herself as the 100% victim. Though she couldn’t change the past, she could remember the past in a different way which gave her peace. This time with empathy, understanding, and love for her husband who also was dealing with a broken heart. Today their marriage is thriving because they become two good forgivers.

If you find yourself struggling to forget your painful past, try to enlarge the frame on that picture by talking to people you love and trust who can help you see things more objectively. Here are some good questions to get you started:

• Are there any details I may be leaving out because of my hurt and anger?
• How might another person’s account of the experience differ from mine?
• Did this person specifically set out to hurt me on purpose?
• Is there any way that I could have misunderstood what was said or done?
• Have I made any attempt to reach out to this person for clarification?
• Do I consider myself more worthy of forgiveness than this person?
Don’t keep rehashing a painful memory and feeling that pain repeatedly. You’ll never learn anything new, it will never help you grow, and it won’t help you change. Besides, didn’t it hurt enough the first time? Holding a grudge is a lot harder than forgiving. Take it easy on yourself and forgive your way to freedom!

Gil Mertz is Assistant to the President at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. He has been involved with full-time Christian service for nearly forty years and draws from a vast background of ministry with international missions, humanitarian causes, public policy, and consulting. Article is adapted from his book Forgive Your Way to Freedom: Reconcile Your Past and Reclaim Your Future (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Permission given.

Adapted from Forgive Your Way to Freedom: Reconcile Your Past and Reclaim Your Future by Gil Mertz (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

 

Unleash Sheets: The Soul Care Tool Born Out of Adversity

I’m so honored to have Jolene Underwood as a guest author on the blog today.  Jolene is the creative force behind a healing tool called the Unleash Sheets that Ryan and I have found extremely beneficial over the difficult summer months. These sheets helped to unpack what exactly we were feeling, why we were feeling it and how to begin to heal from the trauma and pain.  These sheets can be as simple or as complicated as you want to be.  We’ve even found them useful when addressing conflict with some of our children as they assist them in getting to the heart of the matter – their feelings – and how to process them in the light of God’s word. 

Ryan and I also did a Blended Live session on Saturday where we offered a giveaway to one lucky listener for an Unleash package valued at $35.00.  Make sure you check out that video to enter because we’ll be drawing a winner next Tuesday (9/18).  

Alrighty, here’s Jolene. 

I couldn’t write anymore.

Words wouldn’t form. Thoughts wouldn’t connect. Everything I said and did came out jumbled with confused purpose when stress took over my brain again. It had been two years since coming home from the place that sparked intense trauma. Two years of fighting for healing while our marriage struggled.

In 2012, we moved to a ranch owned by a foster agency where we would care for many hurting children. We had up to twelve in our home and endured more stress than I thought was possible in a lifetime. When our time was done, and we returned in 2013, reading and writing became part of my healing process. These steps were hard to take but they kept my brain moving. It gave me something to enjoy.

Eventually, my husband and I were in our second separation and we would spend Christmas apart. In my sister’s home, I couldn’t write anything worthwhile. Creativity welled up inside of me without a way to express it. I surmised it would be easier to create a planner. Because running a business while healing from PTSD is an obvious choice. Or not.

As I thought about the kind of planner I would want, I kept writing down questions for soul exploration. These were essential components of what I wanted to create. Eventually, those questions became something else entirely.

A tool for dealing with life’s challenges and connecting with God was created out of heartache, pain, and an inability to handle overwhelming thoughts and feelings.

When it began, I had no idea what was being shaped or how God would use this new thing. Not just for me, but for hundreds of others as well. I didn’t realize that some of the concepts in this tool align with teachings from numerous other psychologists, Christian counselors, and pastors.

God always knows the things we don’t, and He invites us to partake with Him in the journey.

That’s what Unleash: Heart & Soul Care Sheets have been from the inception and it’s how they are used by participants. They are a guided way of partaking with God in our unique journeys. By sitting down to work out the events of our lives, getting honest about our thoughts, and identifying our feelings, we bring awareness to what the Lord wants to touch.

He wants to be involved in helping us renew our minds.

‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. ‘ ~ Romans 12:2 ESV

He never left us to do this on our own strength.
‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. ‘ ~ John 14:16-18 ESV

He wants to help us live with redemptive purpose where thoughts, emotions, and choices are concerned.

God’s way is a way of transforming and it doesn’t all happen at the point of salvation. It’s a process that occurs over time and it requires surrender and active steps with Him regularly.

I believe Unleash Sheets are an effective tool for facilitating spiritual growth, emotional health, and soul-level transformation. Not because the tool is all that great in and of itself, but because of how God works through an intentional process when we make ourselves available to Him then respond to what He has to say.

We all need help when it comes to hearing from God and then choosing what to put into practice.

I sure do.

God has used this tool over the last few years to help me hear His voice, receive His healing touch, and to take tough steps when faced with intense opposition and spiritual battles.

It has been used by teens as well as adults and men as well as women. It’s fostered awareness for hidden feelings which opened the door to receiving greater peace, joy, and freedom. It’s also helped many know God’s presence in powerful ways.

The work happens between you and God. The tool provides a way to experience it.

There are many ways this can happen, but I’m grateful for the ways it happens through regular time with God and intentionally pursuing His heart and revelation for me.

Today, I still use the tool regularly. It’s been helpful for enhancing work done with my counselor and for continuing my healing journey too.

I am also working on future courses and content that will take expand the work done through this tool. These will help users identify unhealthy beliefs, face unexpressed emotions, deal with unhealed hurts, and repent from unconfessed sins. Other topics may include: codependency, anxiety, feelings and emotions, and more.
In addition, my YouTube channel includes a growing playlist to help users benefit from this versatile tool. It also includes curated playlists from various experts that touch on the topics above and other content related to emotional health and spiritual growth.

Got questions? Let me know!

To order your own set of Unleash Sheets, check out the favorites tab on my home page or click on this link.

https://go.ahtrack.com/?pid=f033ab37c30201f73f142449d037028d&aid=11738

 

(Disclaimer, this is an affiliate link and I will be paid a commission if you choose to purchase through this link)

 

Jolene Underwood is an emotional health warrior and soul care mentor. She draws upon her personal journey towards emotional health, her psychology background, and passion for counseling to help others cultivate a life well-lived no matter the circumstance. She also leads a community called Rise Up Writers where she helps to equip and encourage Christian communicators.

Connect with her online via YouTube/Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest at @theJoleneU or via the Cultivated Life Newsletter.

When the Almighty Flips Your Page – Holding on During Difficult Times

Last night I rummaged through our attic and came across this old calendar from 2010. Flipping through its pages I paused when I arrived at August – August 2010 – the most difficult month of my life, a tumultuous month full of overwhelming obligations and demands: work, Luke’s birthday, family pictures, doctors appointments, four children farmed out on a daily basis to anyone and everyone, the arrival of hospice equipment, nursing staff in and out, important phone calls determining life or death decisions, and ultimately goodbyes whispered and a funeral prepared for a young husband and father.

This morning, eight years later, I bask in the warmth of the Tennessee sun, a beautiful fall day spent watching my rambunctious one year old daughter fill her little, red wagon with dry, autumn leaves as I hang freshly laundered clothing on the line. A day I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams in August of 2010. A day seeping with redemption, warmth, and joy.

The moral of the story? Circumstances can change in an instant. You may currently find yourself in the midst of an unimaginable hell, but hear me with this truth, hold on with every ounce of your being, hold on to him who is greater than he who is in the world, hold on to that last shred of faith in your soul no matter how unraveled or mangled or beat to crap it may seem, HOLD ON for goodness sake and for every other sake in the world for you have absolutely no idea what’s around the bend. You have no idea what may be in store for you when the Almighty flips your page, and you have no idea the blessing he may bestow when you “fight the good fight and finish the race.” You will have your peace again, you will have your joy; you will rise and have the crown of life bestowed upon your weary head, and you will hear those coveted words, “Well done good and faithful servant.” I promise – your faithfulness will win in this life or the next.

Just keep livin!