When ‘Me Too’ Doesn’t Apply, But Your Heart is Full of Empathy

When ‘Me Too’ Doesn’t Apply, But Your Heart is Full of Empathy
Photo by Jake Hills. Duke of York’s Picturehouse, Brighton, United Kingdom. Unsplash.com

You’ve seen it this week. The steady stream of women coming forward on social media to say, “Me too. I too was a victim of sexual harassment or assault.”

I can’t say that I was.

I was not raped.

I was not assaulted.

But I can’t think of a single woman who hasn’t felt “objectified” at some point – seen as a thing, rather than as the person she is – beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God.

And so, like you, I sit in the storm and yearn for healing and hope, praying for those who continue to suffer.

I also caught myself thinking back to a time when I felt more vulnerable than I do now.

Twenty-six years ago I was dating a film buff who believed Martin Scorsese’s art should be appreciated at the first available opportunity. So, one Saturday night, we went to see his 1991 remake of Cape Fear. Not far into the film, a young woman named Lori (Illeana Douglas) is brutalized and raped by the ex-con and murderer Max Cady (Robert DeNiro).

By the time we got to the scene, I was already nervous. Scorsese’s cinematic tendency to jerk the camera around gives me headaches, but then, the gratuitous display of violence on a woman completely unraveled me.

I cupped my hands over my ears, bent my head down into my lap, and tried to drown out her screams.

When the scene ended, my body was shaking from head to toe.

With a quavering voice, I said to my boyfriend, “I have to leave. I can’t stay here.”

He said impatiently, “So go out. But I want to see this.”

I want to see this.

FULL STOP.

In that moment, I knew something was wrong.

There was a disconnect between my reality and the fantasy world he was living in, and he wasn’t going to come to my aid.

He stayed.

I left and waited for him in the PG movie next door.

He chose the virtual, horrific storyline over the real woman who needed him.

And me?

I had identified with the woman on the screen.

‘And why?’ I asked myself.

I had not been raped.

I struggled with this issue for years afterward, trying to talk myself out of my body’s response – trying to ‘think’ my way out of it so that I could steel myself for the barrage of visual assaults that were sure to come in the future.

But I never succeeded.

And now I understand.

My discomfort – the way my stomach clenches, adrenaline surges, muscles tighten, and I prepare to run – this surge of physical empathy whenever the topic of rape emerges is a form of crucial wisdom; it is a God-given sensitivity that has heightened my awareness of the preciousness of the gift of Life itself.

Each person on the planet is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26).

Any violation of another human being is the desecration of something holy. And if you’re paying attention to real beauty in the world – if you haven’t lost your natural in-born ability to marvel at the wonder of creation – your own and others’ – you can see that.

Back in the theater, my shaking body was pleading with another soul to walk away with mine from the glorification of rape. To walk away from the depiction of the sacred being violated.

At the time, I didn’t know that’s what the moment was about.

But whenever we stand up and say – “Let’s not make this person an object. Let’s not pretend she (he) doesn’t have thoughts or feelings. Let’s not give this unnecessary and graphic violence a nod. Let’s not portray her (him) as less than,” we are one step closer to clearly seeing the divine in every person. We are one step closer to creating a safer world for women, men, and children alike.

Can you glimpse God’s reflection in the person sitting next to you?

Let’s ask for the eyes to see.

Let’s speak up for what’s good, stand up for what’s holy, and walk away from what’s not.

7 Gifts from My Facebook Fast

7 Gifts from My Facebook Fast

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This past Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, I fasted from Facebook and other media including newspapers, magazines, and TV in order to spend more time in prayer. I broke the fast only to watch a movie with my boys on Saturday night.

My primary motivation was to listen for divine guidance in my role as a voter, and to pray for our nation. This year’s primaries have jostled my nerves like never before, and I wanted to shut off the political loudspeakers and let what I’d already heard digest a bit. I figured that doing so would rid my head of static. I was right. But there were even more gifts from my fast than I’d expected.

Gift 1 – Freedom from the encumbrance of others’ views.
Democracy is based on the idea that every person’s voice matters. But it’s easy to forget that when we’re drowning in the latest sound bites, which fail to convey the totality of the political picture. To make reasonable decisions, we have to weigh facts and presentations against our own experiences and values. Doing that in an echo chamber is nearly impossible. Over the last three days, silence allowed me to hear the voice I should when I enter the voting booth – my own.

Gift 2 – Closeness to the people who really matter.
While being informed and voting is important in a democracy, I need to keep this civic responsibility in proper perspective.

If I’m trying to live in accordance with the plan I believe God has for me, I need to consider at all times my sphere of influence. Some people may connect with thousands. Me? So far in my life, I’m called to serve only a few. My position as a wife, mother, or community member may seem small on an average day, but what I do is critical and irreplaceable. It deserves my full attention.

So, liberated from distractions, I was free to love the people entrusted to my care better. I studied their eyes. Listened – to what they weren’t saying in words. Touched them. Gave and received hugs. Held hands.

Physical closeness matters – to them, and to me. When I think of who is really “there” for me – in the flesh with me, in good times and in bad – it’s these people. And they won’t be with me forever. Best to wrap my arms around them now.

Gift 3 – An increased sensitivity to my own emotions.
My daughter is an Irish dancer, and she and her school were invited to perform multiple times over the weekend at Irish Fests and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. I’m usually rushing to get her to these events, and then feeling a bit anxious when she heads out on stage, thinking about details such as whether her wig will stay put, shoes stay tied, and smile stay fixed if she slips on an unfamiliar floor. None of this has happened to her yet. But still – I worry.

On Sunday, I had a perfect seat to stage left and because of my fasting, noticed that I was able to focus on her dancing. I saw the muscles in her legs working in time to the Celtic beats, the sparkle in her eyes as she surveyed the room. Dancing gives my daughter joy. And without the extra noise in my head, I could share that joy with her. I could feel it in my gut.

Gift 4 – A deeper understanding of the value of time.
Truly, only God knows how much time I have. And how much I’ve wasted scrolling through photos of cute babies and puppies I’ll never meet in person. Or reading articles that just made me angry or sad. Countless hours. It’s silly, even stupid, when I consider that there’s no way of knowing if today is the last day of my life.

Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.

-Psalm 90:12

I learned to change this verse to a prayer.

Help me to live as if each day is numbered, so that I can gain wisdom as to how to spend my time.

A few hours into my fast, I knew that if I were given just a handful of days, I sure wouldn’t spend them on Facebook.

Gift 5 – More laughter.
I’m not an overly serious person, but no one would call me jocular. What I find funny often depends on my frame of mind. For example, when our family is eating out, I expect the kids to behave. Tableside antics need to be kept to a minimum. But Sunday night, we were sitting in Jack’s Fortune chinese restaurant when my 6-year old draped a napkin across his head and deadpanned, “Here comes the bride.”

I laughed right along with everyone else. He’s developing his own sense of humor, test driving punchlines to check our reactions. I might have missed out if my mind had been on its usual wander.

Gift 6 – A reawakening to my own interests.
In the quiet of the past few days, I finished a novel, worked on a couple sewing projects, and made a Norwegian dish that I’d never cooked before. With a clear mind, I was savoring each activity, appreciating it for the satisfaction it brings. Sweet moments like these give life color, and they filled my heart with a sense of gratitude.

Gift 7 – A reminder to ‘take the long view.’
My oldest is 13 – a challenging age. My husband and I are seeking ways to understand the pressures our son is facing, and also to help him identify his strengths and weaknesses.

The three of us had a couple rich discussions this weekend, talks that I know will affect the man he’s to become. What we do and say today changes tomorrow’s picture, for better and for worse. I don’t want to waste precious opportunities to give my son a faith foundation for this life, and guidance on how he’s to prepare for the next.

In the silence of media-free days, I can hear the whisper of the One who helps me lead my children and explore the abundant life intended for us. I gain confidence that my voice really does count – with Him who reigns supreme.

And as for the candidates I’ve been ignoring temporarily, I will pray they receive the same gifts given to me. Because a deep, strong understanding of our proper and humble size compared to Him, is valuable in a public servant.

To the King!

Princess_2008

In 2008, a week before she turned 3, my daughter was a princess for Halloween. Naturally, she was outfitted with sparkly jewels, a crown, and a stunning (albeit a tad overdone) dress. She was ecstatic to be a royal – waving her scepter (or magic wand) all over the place. The line between fairy and princess was delightfully fuzzy in this glorious “little-girly-girl” time.

But there are only a handful of real princesses on earth, right? And when you consider their lives – endless public events, lack of privacy, the potential for constant criticism, paparazzi – would you really want to be one? Me neither.

In the Old Testament, we read of one sovereign who suddenly found herself with tremendous responsibility. And her story is a fascinating one.

When the first wife of the Persian King Xerxes (Ahasuerus) refused one of the king’s outlandish orders, he decided to replace her with a new queen. To do so, he proclaimed a contest akin to today’s TV show ‘The Bachelor,’ in which pretty women were screened, selected, and quarantined together until one was proclaimed the most worthy by the king himself.

Esther won the contest and was crowned. During the process, she kept secret the fact that she was Jewish. Then she learned of King Xerxes’ horrifying decree to kill all of the Jewish people in the Persian territories.

The young queen’s heart was filled with fear, but her cousin Mordecai reminded her that by virtue of her crown, she was in a perfect position to act. “Who knows but that it was for a time like this that you obtained the royal dignity?” (Esther 4:14)

The state’s law held that no one – not even the queen – could approach the king unless summoned. But Esther knew she needed to find a way.

Esther sent back to Mordecai the response: “Go and assemble all the Jews who are in Susa; fast on my behalf, all of you, not eating or drinking, night or day, for three days. I and my maids will also fast in the same way. Thus prepared, I will go to the king, contrary to the law. If I perish, I perish!” (Esther 4:15-15)

While fasting, Esther spent her time deep in prayer. She took her concerns straight to the real Source of Power – straight to the real King. God Almighty.

With all her heart, strength, soul, and mind she praised God for his sovereignty and his goodness to Israel, begged forgiveness for the sins of her people, and asked for divine help, saying, “Be mindful of us, O Lord. Manifest yourself in the time of our distress and give me courage, King of gods and Ruler of every power….Save us from the power of the wicked, and deliver me from my fear.” (Chapter C: 23, 30 NAB)

After the three days, faint with hunger and with full confidence in God’s plan – whatever it might be – Queen Esther approached King Xerxes. When his eyes were opened to the evil he’d decreed, he called off the slaughter and the Jewish people were saved.

Now – what made the difference? Is there one thing that affected God? Was it Esther’s fasting? Was it her prayer?

We’ll never know that. And it’s no use guessing, because we’ve been told (and have witnessed) that His ways are higher than our ways, and we could never get our earthly minds around His process anyway.

But, there is one truth we know – what Esther did was point the way to many others, and together they made the same appeal. Which others? All the Jews in Susa. They also fasted. They also prayed. Esther’s example was crucial, but their faith mattered just as much. Their lives were also made “for a time like this.”

All around the world today, groups of people are threatened. Threatened by violence, hatred, poverty, strife. The list goes on and on.   There is nothing new under the sun.

And in our country, groups are singled out by politicians who feed on fear to collect votes. You’ve heard me say before that I am disheartened by this election cycle. I don’t like the choices. At all.

And what’s even more upsetting is that the candidates reflect our nation’s thinking. And the current state of its heart. Which frankly seems cold and hard.

So, as I think about Esther’s story, I would ask you to consider this with me. My birth and your birth – they were not accidents. We were placed here in this time and in this place for a reason. “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe!” This is a ‘you’ writ large and small. It is a divine message, carried by the prophet Jeremiah to exiles in Babylon, to nations throughout time, and directly to you individually, reading the words on a screen today. “When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me….you will find me with you, says the Lord, and I will change your lot.” (Jeremiah 29: 11, 12-14)

It’s easy to throw up our hands and say that the nation’s problems are just too overwhelming, or that others can deal with them. But you and I have been created here and now for a reason. Our voices matter. To God. And perhaps he meant for them to influence the future of our nation.

There are 5 primaries coming up in the next several days and more in the weeks ahead. Would you fast and pray with me for God’s wisdom and guidance before we cast our votes?

Why fast? Because in abstaining from things that we consume without thought, we become more conscious of our actual needs – among them, our need for God. He is the King. He is sovereign. He is the One who actually holds the power over the future of our world, and He wants us to turn to Him so he can comfort us, guide us, and embolden us to proclaim the truth of His love.

I would propose a fast from Facebook and other media. To hear God’s voice we need to quiet. We need to turn off the noise.

I will start Saturday, March 12 and go until Tuesday, March 15. If you can do it for three days, great. If you only have time for one before you go to the polls, then do it for one. But free yourself from the worldly distractions and pray.

It’s true that no fairy princess is going to wave her wand and make everything beautiful overnight.

But it’s also true that there are more than a handful of princesses around. As believers – beloved children of the Lord – the Risen King Jesus Christ – we are princesses and princes. Yes – we are royals. And the head of our royal family wants us to come close.

So let’s do that.

Let’s be like Esther and take our appeals straight to the King.