Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Five Ways to Protect Abusers & Foster Abuse

I've been out of the blogging world for years. Although I would love to chronicle my adventures from the intervening time, the purpose of this post is to lend my voice to a topic that has become very important to me. So, here you go: how to protect abusers and foster abuse—in five easy steps!

1. Do nothing. Abuse in its many forms—physical, verbal, sexual, emotional, spiritual, etc.—are all around us in our churches, schools, neighborhoods, workplaces, and often our own homes. If you would like to protect abusers and provide a flourishing environment for abuse, your task is very simple: Do nothing. (It's the abuse victims that need friendship, counseling, affirmation, support groups, listening ears, recovery programs, and the like.)

2. Say nothing. To best protect abuse perpetrators, say nothing. That's the easiest thing to do, anyway—especially since abuse is such an awkward, taboo topic in most polite circles. So keep your quiet. After all, it's really the victims of abuse that need courageous pastors to preach, authors to write, neighbors to report, friends to speak out, and teachers to educate on this uncomfortable topic.

If you must speak out for the abusers, be sure you minimize their crimes and exhort all around you to show a spirit of amnesty and acceptance (which you will artfully term "forgiveness") for even the most unrepentant.

3. Stay out of it. Skip the articles in your news feed addressing the issue. Avoid educational programs that alert you to the signs of abuse and give you the tools and information you need to speak out and help. If you hear that someone you know has been abused, shrug and move on. And by all means, if you hear of a potential abuser in your community, ignore the tip-off and ask the informant not to tell you any more about the situation.

4. Don't believe it. If someone who trusts you tells you that they have been or are being abused, the best way to protect the abuser is to doubt the story of the person who has come to you for help—or at least ask them to keep quiet about it. If you hear that someone in your church has been abused, and that the abuser is also a church member, you mustn't believe it. To protect abusers, you need to believe that all innocent-looking people are indeed trustworthy, and you must trust them when they claim to be innocent of the charges. You must never think of upsetting an abuser's peaceful life by breaking the stifling silence they have cast about their victims. Just think about it: All an abuser really needs is silence. All they want is to avoid consequences for their actions. These are easy needs to provide. It's we abuse victims who have many messy needs for shoulders to cry on, friends to lean on, advocates to speak out, counselors and good listeners to help us process, safe places to flee to, tangible help to get us back on our feet, safe churches to grow in, and so on. That takes a lot of effort, and it's detrimental to the protection of abusers. So just don't believe the victims' stories.

5. Be neutral. If you find your church, workplace, circle of friends, family, or any other social group caught in a controversy about an abuse issue, just be neutral. Especially if a specific victim and abuser has been named, by all means be neutral—especially if you know the accused to be guilty. Even if you don't openly support the abuser, you give them all the protection they need by not standing boldly on the side of the victim. Don't get it backwards: It is abuse victims who need you to stand up and support them in times of crisis. Abusers need nothing but your neutrality.

Disclaimer: The author of this blog does not recommend protecting abusers. Instead, the intent is to point out the many ways in which we as church members, neighbors, family members, and citizens of the world do it every day.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


I used to chuckle at people who could remember exactly where they'd had a tick embedded in their skin, and how they were when it happened. Truth is, I stopped counting before I learned to count. Tick bites  were about as common to me as mosquito bites to kids in Alaska. (Remember the postcards showing off their state bird?)

Then I moved to Washington state, and in my 8+ years there I saw about as many ticks as I would have seen in a normal week here in Iowa. I certainly never had a Washintonian tick burrow in. In fact, ticks seemed so rare that sightings almost made me feel nostalgic.

I'll have to admit I enjoyed the reprieve. It spoiled me, though. Compared to my childhood days, I've become downright entonophobic, abhorring the idea of actually being bitten.

The other weekend, while hiking at the local state park, we hiked a trail that appeared to have not been mowed in several weeks. Since I had instigated turning onto the trail, I took the lead—giving me first dibs on the ticks. Thankfully, I had on light-colored pants, making the vermin easier to see; but the quarter-mile jaunt through tall grass took quite a bit longer than it should have, due to numerous stops. Each time I saw something crawling up from my shoes, I halted the procession—and after removing the initial arachnid, I wound up picking off 3-4 more ticks from my pant legs.

Back home, I conducted a thorough search. One attached to the top of my foot through my sock. (That was a first!) Two or three more crawling up my legs and trunk in search of prime sucking spots. And I'd already unattached one from my leg in the park restroom.

There's nothing quite like searching for ticks to get you acquainted with all of your moles. I mean, I'm on familiar terms with the spots on my face and forearms, but I don't know so much about the ones in less-seen locations like my thighs and back. I really don't have a reason to know about those moles...until, of course, I'm on a tick hunt. Then I'm liable to scratch at claw at any innocent mole till I'm fully convinced that it's part of my body. You might say that ticks spur me to greater self-scrutiny.

There's another parasite in our house these days, and it seems our adorable rascal is to blame. We thought the bald spots on his ears came from scratching at his mites—until, behold, a strange little rash appeared on my neck. Circular, flaky, itchy, scaly, red ring around a pale center...yep, matches the description for ringworm. So much for the joy of having the kitten on my shoulder.

A day or so after the initial discovery, I identified a patch on my upper arm. And now, I'm keenly aware of every itch on my body. Have you ever just stopped what you were doing and allowed yourself to feel every little itch? I've discovered that at any given moment, there could be several widely separated patches of skin itching at once—especially during Iowa summer. One might be a chigger, one the chaffing of a waste band or tag, one a bug bite and another a tick bite that's still healing up. And then there are those unidentified itches. Itches that come from nowhere and go away without ever being explained. Except that now, all of those are suspect. I've found myself rushing to the mirror to investigate, only to wonder if the itch is red because I just scratched it, or is it dry and flaky? Is it a red mound, like a bite...or is it  hollow, like ringworm?

If I'm not careful to mingle my paranoia with reason, I could easily develop a somatoform disorder over this. The parasites have me scrutinizing my skin like never before.

Annoyances and trials can have a similar effect. When I realize that life isn't going how I'd like it, or that things are not as they should be, I often find myself becoming extra introspective. What parasites in me are causing this mess? What baggage haven't I dealt with? What flawed perspectives need to be corrected?

Some soul-searching can be very beneficial: the kind that says, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts." When we enlist God's help, He shows us our wrong attitudes and behaviors for the purpose of uprooting them and leading us toward everlasting life (Psalm 139:23, 24). He restores health to us and heals our wounds (Jeremiah 30:17).

When I leave God out of it though, my introspection becomes more like selfish, snobby fretting, and I find myself scratching at the wrong itches—things I can't do anything about. When I find myself clawing at the past, for example, it's often simply time to move on.

After all, benign moles are better left alone.

Friday, May 25, 2012

How to Tame a Kitten (Or, How to Cure a Kitten of Ear Mites...We Hope)

Don't get me wrong. I love our new kitten, and I'm not sure how I got along without him. It's just that this week his predator instinct has kicked in, and naturally, my hands and other appendages make excellent prey. So let's just say that (between cuddling and gushing over his cuteness), we're working on boundaries. Sometimes (when I can't get him distracted with inanimate playthings), catnaps are so welcome. That's why ear mites became a blessing to me.

The book on natural healthcare for pets said that the cure was to smother the microscopic creatures with olive oil. And so, our little patient has been getting daily treatments. Here's the routine.

1. Don leather gloves.

2. Captivate the kitten.

3. Pull back kitten's ear, and keep open.

4. Squirt one eye-dropper of olive oil into kitten's ear.

5. Close ear flap before kitten can shake, and hold.

6. Repeat with second ear.

7. Hold both ears shut for several seconds, allowing oil to soak in.

         7a. Giggle at kitten's silly appearance.

8. Massage kitten's ear canals. Wait, how do you do that? Oh, forget it.

9. Release ears and allow kitten to shake.

10. Hold ears open and swab with q-tips to remove mite debris.

11. Release kitten.

12. Enjoy a peaceful afternoon while the now docile animal obsessively licks himself between naps.

Of course, Riley hasn't exactly been a willing patient. But, since he's just a kitten, we can control him for at least a few minutes (with the help of leather gloves).

What he doesn't know is that we actually have his happiness in mind. He may not enjoy his current greasiness, but he will enjoy his freedom from those itchy mites. If he had logic and rational intelligence, we might not need those leather gloves for the treatments.

He's only a kitten, so I don't expect any more out of him. But I do expect more from myself. When I find myself in the midst of a trying, frustrating experience, I hope I'll remember Riley's ear treatments and thank God for the cure from sin He's working within. Then, instead of attacking my Best Friend, I'll spend the time afterward being a sweet, quiet child...just like my little snoochum after his oil bath.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Persistent Love

After debating in my mind all afternoon, I finally decided: This event was momentous enough to take an evening off from school. After weeks of searching, we had finally located a gray tiger kitten—and he needed somebody to babysit him while Mom went to the church board meeting on the way home. I brought three biology books along to appease my conscience, but I knew I'd hardly read them.

Riley came from a house with lots of other cats. In fact, when we pulled up, we immediately spotted 4 or 5 of them in the yard. Soon another one ambled across the street, and the owners said Riley's mom was still inside. A member of the oldest litter, Riley had a whole pile of little baby cousins out next to the shed, and he himself had grown up with 5 sibling kittens. Still, his owner cried when we took him away.

We knew he's be lonely in our cat-less house, and we hadn't seen any dogs on the premises. At our place, the only available animal companion would be a black lab—at least until we could find an orange tiger kitten to be his playmate. Till then, Riley would need lots of attention and love: two things I wouldn't have a hard time administering. Riley's cute little face and his tiny voice had already captured my heart.

We spent most of our first evening playing hide-and-seek—except it wasn't really a game. Riley wanted little to do with me, but it seemed he wanted even less to do with his crate. Outside the cat carrier, he ran and hid; inside, he clawed and yowled. In my hands, he kicked and clawed. It proved to be an extra-long board meeting.

At last I decided on a new tactic: I wouldn't let this kitten down no matter how much he protested. When clasping him in my hands grew dangerous, I cornered him in my lap, a hand above him and one in front of him. As he struggled to get free, I stroked him lightly with my free finger.

The fight ended suddenly when Riley fell asleep. He didn't wake up till it was time to leave—and by that time, he was mostly OK with me.

But the victory wasn't really complete. Back home, though he cried with heart-stirring pathos, he made his independence clear by hiding behind the couch and backing away each time I reached for him. Unwilling to let us cuddle him to sleep, he seemed intent on making the couch his kingdom.

And yet, we knew he wanted companions. And so the next day, I kept up my pursuit, catching him whenever I could for a good pet and cuddle. Although my mom did the same, I fully expected this process to take a challenging week.

But (wonder of wonders), it really hasn't. By his second or third day, Riley was about as content a kitten as any I've met. Now, he loves to jump up on my lap, purring loudly while he drifts off to sleep. He gives kittie kisses and invites himself to cuddle up. In between, he explores the house, chases his tail, ambushes his toys, and tries cramming himself into our shoes. He's even getting used to the dog.

Mom says Riley is a spoiled kitten, with two (doting) mamas all too eager to anticipate his wants and  love on him. Still, we know that's why he's adjusted so well. By being intent on loving Riley, we have won his kitten heart. We've become his best friends.

At first I was tempted to be offended at Riley's rejection and repulsion. Tired and busy, I did have fleeting thoughts of "suit yourself, little cat." But if I had acted on those feelings, I wouldn't have my little study-buddy to distract and delight me. I wouldn't get purrs and cuddles and giggles. I'd be missing out big time.

It's often the same way with people. Although they are lonely, people often seem to spurn our efforts to make friends. On the inside, they may be longing for companionship, while outwardly they may seem aloof or even haughty.

I've had more than one deep, special friendship develop with people who at first seemed unreachable. It's always taken perseverance, sometimes hurt feelings, and often creativity. But most important, it's taken relentless, persistent love. Then all of a sudden, we're fast friends.

Today, I'm thankful for the friendships I worked for. Those people have enriched my life so much. I'm so thankful for the bonds we share, thankful I didn't give up and miss out.

But I've been on Riley's side of it, too. I've retreated to my inner kingdom and made it hard for well-meaning friends to draw to me out. I've acted like I didn't want them around. I've played immature games of hide-and-seek. I'm so thankful for the ones that kept seeking me out. I'm thankful that they didn't give up. I'm glad they didn't let me have things my way. I'm glad they loved me even when I was being a pest.

Most of all, I'm thankful for my Jesus. I've hid from Him so many times. I've retreated from His presence, built up walls around my soul. And still, He keeps loving. Still, He keeps seeking. Still, He keeps showing me His relentless, persistent, undying interest. He keeps calming my fears and cuddling my heart.

This week I want to be like Riley. I want to soak in all the persistent love my Jesus can give.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Open Wide

The first time I heard the song, the words gripped me:

They say I am a dreamer, blind and cannot see. . . . 
They say I am an idealist, blind and cannot see 
that the principles I cling to won't stand reality.
Well, if that's what I am, Lord, won't you care for me? . . . 

I haven't met too many people who can't identify with that. In one way or another, we're all dreaming "impossible" dreams. We're all trying to beat the odds of reality and be or accomplish or feel something exceptional. We're all a little bit blind to the way things are, and trying to live something better—or at least different. And it's a good thing, since those dreams often help us find better realities!

I grappled with dreams and reality this week. Dreams of how fast I'd like to finish college, reality of how fast I can pay for it. Dreams of people and places I want to visit, reality of how that affects school and finances. Dreams of being in a healthy, intimate relationship, reality of being single. Dreams of being like Jesus, reality of being like me. 

I struggled, too, against temptations. Temptations to indulge in passing little pleasures that Jesus didn't endorse. Temptations to covet gifts He hasn't given. Temptations to feel like I'm being cheated if I don't get them.

Finding my resistance mostly ineffective, I prayed and studied the Word. He gave me a verse:

"I am the Lord your God,
    who brought you up out of Egypt. 
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it" (Psalm 81:10).

A wonderful cure-all, diverting my mind, my longings to the truth. Need something? Want something? Feeling empty without something? Open wide! 

One of those too-good-to-be-true-unless-God-is talking (because then it is true) types of claims. And yet, it takes faith, because there's no guarantee that God's going to "fill it" with my felt need. He's going to fill me with my actual need...which is, ultimately, Him.

Hmm. What about what I want? Another verse. "And He gave them their request, But sent leanness into their soul" (Psalm 106:15).

OK, never mind! (What I want is not worth that!Lord, teach me to trust You, that what You fill me with will be best. (Several times during the week, I actually stretched my mouth open in prayer.)

And He did, every time I claimed the verse and chose to trust Him.

Today, a disappointment. Wasn't a big deal, shouldn't have been a big deal. Except that it brought up painful memories from the past. Except that it gave me more to worry about for the future. Except that I'd been looking forward to this all week. Except that it put a cherished dream back in jeopardy. Except that my hurt reaction made me disappointed in myself.

Again, the verse. . . . I am the Lord your God, who helped you with your struggles all week. Open  your mouth wide and I will fill it.

But I'd wanted to talk to somebody else. I'd saved up stories all week to tell. I'd already talked to God about those things. How could God fill this hole?

And then a text from a friend reminded me that God cherishes me and His plan is perfect.

Even His plan for today was perfect.

Even the things I didn't enjoy, He can use.

Any part of me that is empty, He can fill. If I will open wide. If I'll let Him fill the compartment in my heart I was saving for someone else.

This week will be a new journey, because tonight I'm making a choice. No more "compartments" will be saved for something else. My whole heart will be open for God to fill. And if He's the only one that does any filling, I can be sure that my "cup" will still be running over (Psalm 23:5).

I'm stretching my mouth open wide in commitment.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Epic Songs

When did epic come into vogue? I feel like it has been two, maybe three years—but I really wouldn't know, since my family has had our own usage of the word for 15 or 20 years. In Francis language, epic refers to something diverse, long-lived, and extraordinary. (Not so far from the dictionary definition, remarkably: "extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope.") In our family, epic is most often used to describe particularly notable hikes, but not many hikes achieve "epic" status. In fact, when we were kids, my dad had to approve before we could officially say we'd had an epic day. When we hiked from breakfast till nearly dark, covered miles of changing territory, pulled out our rain jackets (only to shed them, later, and roll up our sleeves), saw rare wildlife, and trekked across rough terrain (think swift stream crossings, high mountain passes, and non-traceable trails)—then we'd experienced an epic day. An epic hike was something to brag about.

This week we had an epic thunderstorm. Not the kind that build up, boom enough times to convince me to shut down my computer, rain half an inch, and then roll away and let the sun shine as if nothing happened. No, this storm flashed, rumbled, and poured for a good 3 hours: from 1:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. 

My room has two big windows without any curtains. I don't want curtains, because a) I live in the country, on the second floor, with no tom-peepers within proximity; b) the pine trim around the windows makes perfect frames for the most gorgeous pictures on my wall: the views toward our pond, the back woods, and my parents' lovely orchard and gardens. Curtains would get in the way of my picture frames, and remind me that I'm inside.

In an early-morning thunderstorm, of course, it's hard to keep the light out without windows. But who wants to sleep through a show like that? The flashes came so often I couldn't even count seconds between them and the thunder. Which flash went with which boom? More than that, the thunder blended together for minutes at a time, like the continuous roar of a freight train. The clouds shone so brightly I could see the skeletons of the trees out back, their branches careening in the raging wind. 

I lay awake, watching, reveling, smiling, basking, thanking God for the spectacular display and praying that the rain wouldn't flood our gardens and wash away all the topsoil. 

And then I heard them. The frogs in our pond!

When I'd gone to bed, the frogs had been singing for the joy of a warm, summery night. Their choir could have drowned out an interstate highway (although, fortunately, the nearest one is 90-some miles away). 

The choir had quit performing, now. Instead, two or three lone frogs sang cheerful solos.


How could a frog sing through this storm? Shouldn't all animals be seeking shelter (even if they do like to be wet)?

But nothing could stop those courageous, happy little amphibians. Lightning, thunder, wind, pouring rain—these little critters would keep right on singing.

My prayers morphed into gratitude for the frogs. I giggled as I did it, but I asked Him to make me more like those slimy little singers. Would He please teach me to keep singing through the most fearsome storms? Could I learn that joy is not only for the warm and balmy, carefree times—but also for trials, uncertainty, and heartaches? When the rest of choir quits singing, would He give me the joy and courage to keep peeping?

I think He will. And it's going to be epic.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Laughter's Return

Last week I was naughty. Did you notice?

I know one person noticed, because he told me. Actually, two. But one was my mom, and moms always notice naughtiness, whether or not they comment on it. This time, though, she gave me license for it.

You see, last week I preached the sermon at church, and when I was done with that, I spent a big chunk of time catching up with a couple of friends with whom I'd fallen out of touch. By the end of the weekend, I felt like I'd "used up" my blogging energy. And I didn't post. (It's a sorry excuse, I know. But it's all I've got.)

And so I went on with my study-filled week, with Midwest spring daily offering me contentment and satisfaction. Gone are the lonely brown days that drive wistfulness and repining into the soul. Here, instead, are blooming flowers, leafy trees, growing garden shoots, flitting songbirds, and peeping frogs. I putter through busy days with a smile, and go to bed feeling that all is well.

Still, I've been missing something. Yet, until Monday morning, I wasn't even quite sure what it was.

Monday morning, when my nieces woke me up via pre-recorded cell phone alarm, I began my day with a grateful prayer. I thanked the Lover of my soul for contentment, quietness, and inner peace. "But Lord, there's something missing," I said.

Then I knew what it was.


Not just chuckles. I mean laughing hard. Irrepressible laughter. Contagious laughter. Convulsions. (You know: Cheyenne laughter.)

"To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven. . . . A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance" (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4).

Yes Lord, that's it! I've enjoyed the time of contemplation and quietness; introspection is refreshing. But could You maybe send me back my spirit of laughter, and let me giggle my way through life again? Or is that not who You are calling me to be? 

I wasn't sure how God would answer. Maybe He wanted to teach me to be the sober, quiet type, like the picture-perfect model of a good-old fashioned, feminine woman. Still, I could hope. Maybe He would swirl the two: regal femininity with spunk and humor.

A few hours later, at lunch, my dad teased my mom about her comment that the leftovers had come back to "haunt" us. I giggled.

As the meal continued, we got into a conversation about potatoes. The potato plants in our garden had been frosted on, and they'd been looking a little sick. Still, my parents were confident they would recover.

"Yeah, I guess they are a cold-weather crop," I said. (I'm definitely not a potato expert, but I think Northerners and mountain tribes depend on them.)

"I think it gets pretty hot in the Boise valley," Papa remarked.

"Well, I'm talking about Russia," I blurted.

My dad's eyes twinkled and teased as he replied: "Well, I'm talking about Idaho."

That did it. Mom and I burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of my Russia comment. I laughed so hard I had to put down my fork as my nose dove for my plate.

And then it hit me: God had answered my prayer, and fast. I laughed even harder, reveling in my Master's goodness.

That wasn't even the end of it. The incident tickled me all day. I kept convulsing with giggles I couldn't keep down. I even giggled myself to sleep. And I found plenty more things to laugh at throughout the week.

Can you really beat a God who cares so much He even answers prayers about details such as laughter? Can you really do better seeking fun in the world? Can you doubt that His plans for you will be fun and rewarding—not just in a sober, religious way, but even humanly, in a deeply satisfying, personal way?

I can't. My God is so awesome, He makes me laugh.