Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Normal Holiday

       For the holidays Gabriel and I took a 12-day adventure up to Minnesota and back down to Tennessee. We attended the wedding of a dear friend, exchanged gifts with many people we love, drank coffee and got the stomach flu on Christmas day. The trip was long and over stimulating, but wonderful at the same time. One of our 15-hour drives turned into a 17-and-a-half-hour drive when we hit some unfortunate rush hour traffic in St. Louis. There were a few hormonal meltdowns as I officially entered my third trimester of pregnancy, but these were manageable and even expected. No surprises or new obstacles. It felt like we were a normal newly married couple visiting our families for our first Christmas together. Normal stresses and normal joys.

We spent a lot of time getting glammed-up for the wedding we were attending. We don’t dress up often (it’s a good day when I put on a bra and take off my robe). I put on a black, open backed dress I bought before I was pregnant but never got a chance to wear (thankfully it was spandex), and decided to brave the Minnesota ice on 4-inch heels. Gabriel looked dapper in a blue velvet blazer and H&M skinny cords, and he spent extra time in front of the mirror trimming and crafting his beard. Right before we left for the wedding Gabriel surprised me with an early Christmas present—a gorgeous, sparkling pair of snowflake inspired earrings and a fancy bracelet to match. He calls me his Snow Queen sometimes. I felt very glamorous and beautiful. 

On our way to the wedding we realized this was the first big event we were attending that wasn’t about us. When you get married and are having a baby there are many showers, parties and events centered around you. The dawning realization that we were going to this wedding merely to celebrate, witness and enjoy—was bliss to us. We wouldn’t be stared at or expected to speak. We weren’t required meet and greet everyone. It was the best Christmas gift we could have imagined. We were normal bystanders, supporting someone else making a monumental life decision. What a weight off our shoulders. It was so gloriously normal.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


       Gabriel and I decided to skip church this morning and have our own mini church service at home. He had to work at noon, so going to church would mean he’d have to rush off, leaving church early to begin his seven-hour shift, and that’s not a very peaceful morning. We like our mornings together. We made coffee, I toasted a bagel and we got swept up in conversation, forgetting to keep track of the time. Before we knew it, the morning was gone and he had to rush to work. I climbed back in bed, frustrated that our morning plans had slipped away from us. I don’t do well with plans falling through—another PTSD side effect—anything unexpected is tough to adjust to. 

After a few tears I felt the dark storm clouds gathering in my mind. I didn’t want another afternoon to spiral out of my control, so I quickly looked up podcasts from Central Vineyard, the church I attended in high school. I saw that a woman presented the sermon from December 1, 2013, and that was enough of a reason for me to listen to it. Jessie Boettcher, the women speaking, introduced a fancy anthropological term ‘liminality’ to describe the moment when the Angel Gabriel rocked Mary’s world with life changing news. A liminal moment is a moment in a person’s life where they are suddenly between identities. It’s a threshold moment.

“Even though you’re a virgin, you’re going to be the mother of God. His name will be Jesus.”

The ultimate pregnancy announcement/gender reveal. No Pinterest-worthy photo shoot necessary. The previous life Mary knew was shattered in an instant, and she consented in faith, and I can imagine, a fair bit of shock. 

I remember the doctor coming to me in the hospital, looking more nervous and awkward than you’d expect an ER doctor to be. 

“Well…you’re pregnant. So that’s a positive…literally.” Less angelic fanfare, but that was my annunciation moment. 

Being raped has shattered the identity I used to comfortably waltz through life with. Rape survivors often vividly recall the first time looking in a mirror after being raped. It was hours after the attack before I was first allowed to use the restroom in the hospital. They had to complete the rape kit before I could clean myself. When I was finally given the green light, I rushed into the small bathroom across the hall and stopped–horrified–in front of the mirror. There was dried blood surrounding my nose and mouth and scratches running down my neck. My hair was disheveled, my ears swollen, and my left gold leaf earring was missing. But locking eyes with myself was the most jarring. The blue eyes I was staring into were not my own. I’m less shocked when I see the strange blue eyes in the mirror these days, but honestly I hardly look. I don’t recognize myself.  

The carpet was ripped out from under me and I was shoved into a liminal moment. The structure of the world I knew had been destroyed and chaos surrounded me. Jessie classified liminal moments as “uncomfortable.” I have to confirm that, yes, it is a very disturbing thing not to recognize yourself. Personality tests of all sorts are trending on Facebook right now. What Disney Princess are you? Which Doctor from Doctor Who are you? What Love Actually character are you? Talk about a nightmare for the poor souls drifting in liminal moments. 

Trying to settle into a new identity has been impossible with the seemingly never-ending waves of change rushing through my life. I became a fiancĂ©, and now I am a wife. We have moved twice and travelled to different states nearly every month. And as my tummy continues to expand and my clothes grow tighter, I’m reminded every minute that I will soon have another new title—mom.  

Mary understood that unexpected pregnancy announcements are total life changers. She travelled 50 miles to visit her miraculously pregnant cousin Elizabeth, the only solid ground she could find in the angel’s announcement of great change. She stayed with Elizabeth for three months, being encouraged and blessed before returning to her life of uncertainty with Joseph. Mary ran to solidarity and sanctuary, finding rest in her liminal moment. 

       As funny as it sounds, Gabriel is my Elizabeth. His life has been drastically altered along with mine. We go through these changes together.  We are still in a state of flux; our physical location changes nearly as fast as my moods do! But he has stayed by my side, encouraging and blessing me as we teeter on the threshold of yet another major change—parenthood. I’ve been told being a mother changes everything about you. It’s a life shift that I can only try to mentally prepare for, but honestly, I’m still reeling from the last 180° change. 

       Mary took her needed sabbatical with Elizabeth. I am trying to rest with Gabriel through this chaos. Mary had faith in the ever-present nature of God. She believed that he was present with her then and would be present in the future - and he would take care of all the moments in between. Today I was encouraged by the thought that receiving the news of carrying even God’s child, warranted some upset. I’m not the only expecting mama-to-be that finds impending motherhood daunting. 

       Today I have a little more faith that “God is mindful of the state of His humble servant.” God did not abandon Mary to uneasiness and fear in her liminal moment, and He has not left me alone in mine. He has given me Gabriel, and a family that has opened their arms and doors to us. Jessie Boettcher also taught that liminal moments are finite. They end. No matter how lonely being a rape survivor is—or even how isolating being pregnant can feel—today I have more faith that God sees it all, he has a plan to make sense of it and will take care of the in between. 

Here's the link for the sermon by Jessie Boettcher. Listen to it if you can. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Perpetual Summer

       I never liked summer anyway. Now it has another layer of distaste because of July 8, 2013.  I’ve always hated how stagnant the summer months are. The heat is stifling, but the boredom and lack of responsibility make me feel useless. 

       This morning was the first time in 48 hours that I left the house. I had my first counseling appointment since our trip to Minnesota and Chicago. This week has been especially hard. I guess I got pretty spoiled during our 12-day trip because I had Gabriel with me 24/7. When we got back to Nashville he immediately started working 8-hour days again, and I felt lost and alone. Not having a job to go to, any homework to do, rehearsals to attend or script to memorize left me sitting in a perpetual summer of meaningless time fillers. A productive day for me consists of painting my nails or doing a load of laundry. My therapist kindly pointed out today, “But you’re always doing something, even when you just nap! You’re making a baby!”

       Oh yeah, I forgot. I’m making a human, I guess that’s something. In previous months I’ve focused my energies on my healing process by reading articles, going to therapy three times a week, resting and trying to practice positive coping skills. But this week that has just been too hard. My mind has been swirling with fear and anger and insecurity as we try to make a decision about where to live. Unearthing my anger at God has zapped a lot of my strength and resolve, leaving me tired and weepy—struggling to get out of bed. I skipped group therapy this week. I felt too weak and unstable.

       I talked today with my therapist about how angry I am that God seems to be silent as we’re begging for direction. 

       “This seems like a really shitty time to be silent. After what we’ve been through, this doesn’t seem like the time to abandon us.” 
       “It’s okay to be angry. No matter what theology is offered to explain away this pain, you will still feel it. Do you think you’re projecting your anger at God for being silent during your attack onto this situation?” 

       Talking with my therapist always makes me feel more normal. The past few days my mind has been a murky, helpless fog at best. Having someone validate my anger and explain the frustration I have in the face of a silent God, brought some calm. 

       The decision of where to move, is the first decision Gabriel and I have made in the last five months that wasn’t prompted by survival instincts. This one is for us as a family. Where do we want to begin our new family? In Chicago—a place we used to love, but now is overcast with the memory of past darkness? Or in a new city—a place with more family—and freedom from past demons—but less of the excitement we used to know?  Making this decision without feeling the peace or presence of God is terrifying to me. Right now, in the middle of this decision, when we need God the most; I am skeptical and distrusting of his support. 

       I don’t know where we will end up. I don’t have peace about making this decision, but I do have more peace about being angry. I am not by nature an angry person, and in fact I haven’t yet encountered much anger towards my assailant or the legal system, like many survivors do. I am angry with God. But no matter how draining it may be, allowing those waves of anger to pass over me is a part of this healing process. They will pass, but I can’t suppress them. Many rape survivors do not seek healing after their assaults for many years and manage to stifle the pain they’re experiencing to get through the day. I’ve realized that humans are incredibly good at numbing and locking away true emotions. The problem is, we cannot selectively numb. When I numb my anger, I also numb my ability to feel gratitude, or forgiveness or joy. 

       This perpetual summer I’m in may be precisely what I need to simply allow myself to feel what I need to feel. I can’t imagine how women who have been violently raped get up and go to work every morning, care for children, or attend to life as usual. As frustrating as my seemingly meaningless existence is right now, it really is a luxury to be able to cry in bed all day if I need to. Without  any major obligations I can practice not choking out painful emotions. 

       One of my favorite quotes that was shared in group therapy is: 

Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling, with the mistaken 
belief that you cannot bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain, 
What you have not done is feel all you are beyond that pain.
-Kahlil Gibran

       Feeling betrayed and abandoned by the God I always called Father, is a wound I don’t know how to heal, but I have survived the worst of it. I survived the assault, and now I feel this great array of emotions is a part of my healing. ‘I have borne the pain.’ The worst is behind me.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

God With Us

       Last Sunday was the five-month anniversary of the hellish morning that destroyed the life I used to know. Gabriel and I visited a church we plan to attend if we officially move to Chicago. I realized during the service that it was Advent season. I have been excited about the holidays for months, and I usually love Advent. So I was surprised to find it had started without my notice. Advent has always been an exciting season, full of amazing sermons, praying for newness and waiting to celebrate Jesus’ birth. People use the phrase ‘pregnant with expectation’ to describe the church during Advent season, but I am opposed on principle to using the word ‘pregnant’ to describe anything but a woman carrying a child. 

       The pastor preached on ‘singing like Mary did’ in hard times. He talked about everyone being ‘pregnant with glory’ (I assure you—that’s not how pregnancy feels), and many inspiring Nelson Mandela references were made about achieving the impossible when God is with us. 

       Emmanuel. God with us. We sing that word during the Christmas season and Christians believe that God is always with us. He sees us always. He hears us always. Emmanuel. God is with us. It’s what Christmas is about. As I listened to this wonderfully hopeful sermon about being with God in unbelievable circumstances, I kept thinking Man, that really applies to me…I’m even pregnant like Mary...but I felt numb. It was as if my body was in that sanctuary, drinking that subpar church coffee, hearing those words, while I was really a million miles away. The memory of my own voice echoed through my mind. I screamed for God on July 8 when I was grabbed, hit, thrown to the ground and torn apart. I screamed His name. Begged to be saved. 

       When I recall the exact events of what happened on July 8, people remark that I’m lucky to be alive. I know I could have died in that gangway. Maybe I would have, without God intervening. But I don’t feel like I was rescued. It doesn’t feel like I was saved. The life I knew and the world I knew were killed that morning, and I’m left feeling abandoned by a God who promised to be with me always. 

       It has been hard to pray. Gabriel prays for me at night before we sleep when I ask him too, because I can’t. We felt encouraged by friends in Chicago, but the last two nights we were there ended with panic, sadness and a warm bath to calm down. There was an uneasiness that kept me glued to Gabriel’s side, afraid to be alone. Is this uneasiness to be expected? Or does it mean we shouldn’t move back right away? So we prayed. We prayed and asked God what we should do. I cried. Gabriel held me. We called my sister Becca and prayed with she and her husband, Teddy, and still we don’t know. We prayed some more and waited and listened, hoping for an answer. 

       The promises that God can heal anything, and that he has good plans for my life have kept me from breaking when darkness threatens. But the continual silence and fear is cracking through what faith I’ve held onto. I have to trust in God, because without him this is hopeless. But when I try to pray, I remembering screaming for him and getting no reply. Was this part of the plan? If I’m really his daughter, then why did he let this happen? Did he hear me? See me? I cannot move forward without faith that he will heal this and he has good for me. But it is nearly impossible to trust, when I already feel forgotten.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Back to Chicago

       Yesterday we packed up our things (again) and left cozy Minnesota for Chicago. I could feel the anxiety building in me as we gathered our things that had quickly spread themselves throughout the house. We tried to keep our environment calm and relaxed as we prepared to leave. Gabriel made some coffee, I took a bath, and right before we left his family gathered around us in prayer. 

The only time I had been back to Chicago since July 8 was when my father and I flew back when they caught the man who raped me. I had to do a police line up. That whole experience had been a nightmare. I had to see him again. I had to talk to countless attorneys and police officers repeating every detail of the experience over and over again. My loving father helped me through all of the painful legal hoops—while all I could do was cry and beg to go home. 

       I was afraid that being in Chicago would be too hard, too triggering, too scary. I was afraid to see a bus stop. I know he’s locked away for now, but I was still irrationally afraid I would see him. I didn’t know how walking down a Chicago street would feel. 

       One of my best friends from University grew up in a nice suburb just north of Chicago. A few months ago her parents graciously and generously offered to host us if we wanted to transition back to living in Chicago. The idea of living in Chicago conjures up a mixture of excitement, terror, hope and insecurity. Moving to a city with so much pain and no family to help when the baby arrives sounds crazy, but we did love Chicago. The life, culture and opportunity always felt exciting. And becoming our own independent family, no matter how young and poor, is empowering. As hard as it would be, we want to be in Chicago. This weekend was a mini test run to see if I can handle it. 

       When we arrived late last night to our hosts’ beautiful Victorian home, excitement bubbled. Friends were here. They had set up and decorated a nursery for our little babe. The closet space in our room is amazing and the room is cold, like I love it. And there is a beautiful piano for Gabriel to play (he’s been playing it all evening). I felt immediately that this was a safe, comfortable, welcoming place. 

       Now we just had to see how Chicago felt. Gabriel and I had an easy morning today. He played some piano while I drank coffee and cuddled with Hank, the cat I’m swiftly becoming buddies with. I picked out my favorite warm Nordic sweater and we bundled up for our first venture into the city we used to know so well. It felt like the pressure before a big date. I wore lipstick and Gabriel kept self consciously flattening his hair. 

       “I feel like I have to impress Chicago! I want Chicago to realize how much it missed me and compliment my new beard.” Gabriel joked as I applied another layer of blush. We were just going to our old campus. As we approached the campus in our little stick shift, we saw our first bus stop. I caught my breath and Gabriel grabbed my hand. 

       “How are you doing?” He asked. My heart rate quickened and I squeezed his hand, but I was okay. We drove right past and soon arrived at North Park University. Surrounded by all of the coffee shops, restaurants and stores that are so familiar to us, we walked through Chicago for the first time as husband and wife. We walked across our campus where we shared so many good, light hearted and transformative memories. We slipped into one of the school buildings and with bated breath visited the theatre where we spent countless hours on the stage rehearsing for shows. Walking around that familiar, safe place where I had been so brave and loved, tears filled my eyes. Gabriel immediately filled the huge theatre with song, while I simply sat on the stage soaking in the energy from past shows and personal triumphs. This was a home for me. 

       We later met a dear friend for lunch and soon warm conversation and lots of laughter mixed over cups of Swedish coffee. We took tours of friend’s new homes and discussed future plans. So many faces that we had seen daily were once again surrounding us, and I wasn’t afraid, ashamed or intimidated. It was tempting to feel sad about what we were missing, but soon the hope of what is too come for us overwhelmed me. My life does look remarkably different, and getting my college degree with a husband and young son will be difficult and trying I’m sure, but there is still a place for me there. I am still supported and loved, and now I have a wonderful man by my side that lovingly walks through life with me. 

       Moving back to Chicago after the holidays will be hard, and adding even more transition for our transitive lives isn’t ideal, but today I could picture it. I won’t always have the safety and security of Gabriel’s hand in mine, but I am getting stronger and the many things I loved about Chicago are still here. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

The First Snow

        I woke up early this morning and rolled over to the window. I sat up quickly, wide eyed. 

“Gabriel! It’s snowing!” I pushed him awake and flattened my nose and hands against the frosty glass. He chuckled groggily and pulled me back into bed. I drifted in and out of sleep, warm under the covers in my husband’s arms; occasionally peeking to see the small snowflakes cheerily dancing passed the window. 

I felt warm, safe and normal. 

        With three older, talented and beautiful sisters “growing up” was of high importance to me. I always acted old for my age and matured very quickly. But every year, snow changes that. With the first snowfall I am childlike with wonder. Gabriel and I were in bed last night when I saw the first few flakes fall. I was out of bed and pulling on socks and shoes in seconds. We ran outside and caught snowflakes on our tongues and made silly footprint patterns on the fresh white street. I giggled, ran, shuffled my feet and kissed my husband as our curly hair dampened under the fall. I felt like a child, but not in the scared, small way that I have felt since being raped. Snow makes me feel innocent. For the few minutes we played outside, I felt normal and more whole than I have felt in months. 

        Gabriel and I have been traveling for the holidays and will continue to do so for the next month. We were in Northern Tennessee for Thanksgiving, now we’re in his hometown in Minnesota and next weekend we will be in Chicago for the first time since I was raped. The holiday’s have always produced a fair amount of anxiety for me—family time, traveling, expectations…I usually escaped into a book when I needed a breather. This year is different. This is Gabriel and I’s first holiday season together and there have been sweeter, more intimate and beautiful moments than ever before. But the more “normal”, or sweet or kind the moment is, the more distant I feel from it. Flashbacks distract my mind as we are sitting around the Christmas tree with family, drinking coffee. How can my life be so simple and peaceful when I now know how evil and dark life can be? 

        But the snow. The snow is simple, unassuming, quiet and beautiful. The snow is fresh and still as it tumbles passed windows, through the trees and settles amongst its brothers, making everything new. I’m giving myself permission to feel normal. I’m allowing myself to feel as innocent as I can, and as childlike as I want to. I don’t know how to reconcile the horror of my memories with the potential of my present, but I am learning to breathe through the paradox. I’m afraid to trust the joy that this morning has brought me, but I will at least sit in it while it’s here. I will sit and write, drinking hot coffee by a frosted window while Gabriel plays piano and sings Christmas music and I will be grateful.