What Rob and Harry Taught Me About the Power of my Words

Every relationship I’ve ever been in grew from a seed of curiosity.

An irresistible, dangerous curiosity that calls you to it like siren song. I think too much and often find myself turning past romantic encounters over and over in my mind. Just as river currents smooth out the rough edges of a rock as it turns it in its midst, it’s as if I think that if I reflect on them enough, perhaps the power of my mind can smooth out the unforgiving, snagging edges of my memories and make them into something neat and digestible. I reflect on them and think and think and then think some more, but I rarely speak about them out loud.

My therapist Jill once told me that healthy doesn’t attract unhealthy, only unhealthy does. “Hurting, broken people attract others just like them,” was the way she put it. I saw in my mind a parade of broken, passionate albeit responsible men I’ve loved throughout my story and wondered what it meant.

In the past few weeks, I’ve started to face this reality with a new willingness to ask the difficult questions about what truth might be tangled up in it. “What does it say about me that these are the kinds of men I continue to attract?” The question lingered around me like a haze. I would whisper it to myself when I was scrubbing grease off my stove, tasting the bitter weight of it on my tongue. I voiced the question over the phone to my cousin Neema this past weekend. He mulled it over for a few seconds before thoughtfully listing off a few possibilities but among them all, there was one name that he returned to again and again. “Rob.”*

It’s not often that my people say the name aloud.

The sound of it is sharp. It has the jagged echoes of a slur and refuses to be palatable when it arrives on the tongue. It’s etched itself into my spirit.

Three years ago, I lay with a man on a pile of worn Russian blankets in panels of sunlight that came through a large loft window. The window was open to the crisp, warming sun of an early New England fall. His strong, snow-colored limbs weaved their length around the curves of my frame and he wondered aloud as the sounds of Cambridge hummed five stories below us, “What were you like before it all?” I had no response. The question turned around and around in my head and I became more aware of the humming voices below and less unaware of the tugging warmth of his fingers moving through my hair. I was filled with nothing but emptiness.

What a question. I tried to imagine the girl who was, holding her up next to the one who is, comparing and contrasting the two. The girl from the past felt distant, like a stranger. Who was she? What was she like? It was an uncomfortable thing to reflect on and at the time, the answer was hard to unearth. I’d shrugged it off like an uncomfortable garment and said whatever I needed to in order to move on from it, “I don’t remember.”

Rob. I think it was hard for me to see her in my mind’s eye because the memory of him is so overpowering, occupying all of the space, creeping into all of the corners until there’s no room left for anything else.

I haven’t touched on him in my work too much, or at least not with specifics. I’ve sometimes asked myself why that might be. Maybe it’s because there seemed to be so many grey areas about what occurred in our relationship that I didn’t want to risk being wrong, destroying someone’s life because I paraded a misunderstanding as cold, hard fact. Maybe it’s because he’s still out there and I’m afraid that putting his name down in writing will call him back to me when I want mountains to stand between us, tall and strong and too dangerous for him to scale.

Finn has been encouraging me to write about it. “Being scared to say his name out loud keeps you imprisoned,” he said, “Screw him. Own your story. Say his name so many times that it ceases to have power over you.” Rob Rob Rob. I recently talked to him about how in Harry Potter people called Voldemort, “He Who Must Not Be Named”; their fear was so paralyzing that they couldn’t say his name. At the beginning, Albus Dumbledore is the only one who can and coincidentally, he’s also the one who doesn’t fear him. “Do you think Dumbledore could say Voldemort’s name because he didn’t fear him, or do you think he didn’t fear him because he was willing to say his name aloud?” I wondered.

“The words we speak have power,” was his reply. He told me that it was the reason why, in his mind, my writing was as much of a spiritual vocation as it was a creative one. “You are much more than ‘artist.’ You are also a healer and wise woman and call-up-higher.” Words have power. We see this principle at play in titles. I didn’t think that I was all of those things yet, but I gave myself permission to rest in sacred potential, praying to grow into them, instead of pushing them away and saying, “I’m not enough.”

Rob Rob Rob.

The power that words have can be seen just as much in what we choose to say as what we carefully avoid saying. As Harry’s courage grows against Voldemort, he too starts to choose truth in his words instead of fear. In the last movie, before his final fight against the darkness, he calls it out by name. Not He Who Must Not Be Named. Not even Voldemort, the name he took on after he acquired power. Instead, Harry challenges the enemy by calling him the name he had when he was a boy: “Tom.” With his choice, he strips the enemy of his immortality and turns him into a man. I plan to start doing the same thing to my own nemesis, one word at a time, with each brave decision I make to not avoid his name.

This past weekend, I hid from the chill of winter’s arrival by curling up underneath the warmth of my favorite throw; it’s all warm yellow and gold threads and makes me feel safe because my friend Nick brought it back for me from an archaeological dig in India. I drank white wine and breathed in the scent of my amber candle and listened to the Ed Sheeran love songs playing on the stereo.

There in that safe place and with a newly heightened awareness of the power of my own words, I thought back on Alexey’s question from three years ago. “What was she like? The woman you were before it all?” Neema is trying to teach me that it’s not healthy for me to dwell constantly on the past so although it’s no longer uncomfortable for me to think on, I also don’t think it’s a question I’m meant to answer. My words are meant for the present.

They’re better suited to speaking truths over and affirming who I am right here and right now, today, as I live in this God-given moment.

Who am I?

I am a dreamer. I am creative. I weave tales in my head and then tell them and I recreate the images I see in my head by taking paint to canvas.

I am extremely passionate and when I love and am loved by someone whose soul is made of the same stuff, the electricity between us can light up a city.

I am strong, stronger than I’ll ever know. I prove this to myself over and over. The intensity of my resilience makes me capable of being someone’s rock and the depth of my Love can make me into his Light because I firmly believe in the words of Abdu’l-Baha when he says, “Where there is love, nothing is too much trouble and there is always time.”

It can take a lot for someone to dive into my depths. I can be emotional and moody and withdrawn but this is not a bad thing; they’re symptoms of the fact that I am all water, and to be honest, I am happy being an ocean, thank you very much.

I have been called “funny” and “vibrant.” An Irish man with eyes like the sky once told me on a date that I was a “total woman” and he added that he meant it in the best of ways.

I stand up for people and against hatred and I try to be a comforter.

I like pie and red wine and books and art galleries.

I am many things, and I am not defined by him.

I am defined by Me. 

Biblical Womanhood: When You Feel Like You Don’t Fit the Mold

A few months ago, I went on a second date with a guy who called me “cool.” We sat in the dim lighting of a local restaurant and he said, “You’re the kind of girl my friends would love. You’re a pretty cool chick.” I smiled and laughed; after all, it was a compliment. Yet, I couldn’t help but mull this compliment over and I found myself obsessively dissecting it in my brain.

Since becoming a Christian, I’ve often found myself struggling with my identity. “Sure, I’m cutting away at sin in my life, but am I biblical?” I ask. “Do I have a good reputation in my church family? Am I perceived as Godly?”

In the world of evangelical Christianity, there is usually a mold. There is a prescription for what it means to be a woman in the church outlined in the biblical womanhood podcasts and Proverb 31 bible study workbooks.

In many ways, I fit it. I’d consider myself to have very traditional values and interests. I love baking, I throw down in the kitchen, I arrange flowers, I lead bible studies and run bake sales, and even though I value my career and my college education, I could never imagine putting my professional goals above a husband or children.

But in many ways, I’m an outcast from stereotypical biblical womanhood.

I have a nose ring. I’m designing a tattoo that I want to get along the spine of my back. (It’s Psalm 23 in Hebrew letters, if that makes a difference.) I drink gin neat and like going to Indie rock clubs on weekends and have a snarky sense of humor. My lips are usually colored red.

With these traits, am I still in the running for a Proverbs 31 medal? Could I make it into the biblical womanhood Hall of Fame for the fruits of the spirit that I sow in my life, or will those other traits disqualify me even though they aren’t anything to repent over?

Christianity can seem like a very restrictive, homogeneous culture, one in which we all have to speak in the exact same way, dress in the exact same way, and have the same cookie cutter hobbies. It can feel like you’ll be shunned as an outcast if you fall outside the typical mold and this is one of the main ways Christian women end up feeling hurt by their church family.

I once read about one such woman. An artist by profession, she was known for her funky, creative style. One Sunday after church, a woman approached her and “warned her” that her style was immodest, even though it wasn’t overly revealing.

There are still times when I’m made to feel ashamed of the ways I don’t fit neatly into an evangelical box. I’ve been told to my face that  I’m too bubbly and talkative and need to tone it down a little. I’ve read tweets on social media that judge women for their makeup choices and make me feel like the fact that I love red lipstick is wrong. I’ve been made to feel like a good Christian girl would never be seen at an Indie rock concert, even when it’s vulgarity-free.

Even to this day, I still sometimes feel uneasy about whether I fit into the mold. However, I’ve come to realize that I don’t have to nor should I want to. God stitched every single one of us together and made us unique. He gave each of us inherent worth and value along with distinct personalities, dreams, passions, and tastes.

I don’t fit the mold because God didn’t use one.

We are not all mass produced copies, nor are we meant to be, and I rise above the voices of those who say otherwise.

I was uniquely created by a God who said, “Oh, that’s good,” after He stitched me together.

There is no mold for biblical womanhood. There never was.

Finding Peace Amongst the Chaos

I’ve had the opportunity to visit New York City several times and I am amazed each time. The towering buildings, bustling streets and endless nightlife make the city very unique. I love to watch the people who appear to be locals and wonder what it must be like to live or work in such a busy city. I marvel at the beautiful women walking quickly on 5th Avenue in their high  heels and wonder if their feet hurt. I watch the men in business suits hustling from cabs into buildings and wonder how they keep the pace. The noise and lights of Times Square is exhilarating to the senses. Restaurants, shops and entertainment line the streets of this “city that never sleeps.” It’s full of so many distractions, I wonder how anyone gets anything accomplished!

But nothing amazes me as much as Central Park. An oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle, it offers green grass, water, and peace to those who visit. Each time I visit I wonder how often the people who live in the city visit the beautiful refuge. People jog, walk their dogs and relax in the grass and if you didn’t know it, you could easily forget that you are in New York City.

This sense of tranquility among the chaos of the busy city reminds me of the peace and comfort that the Bible can offer us when life gets crazy. We are faced with tough decisions, demanding schedules and families to provide for and life can be very overwhelming. We need to remember to take advantage of the stories and examples that are offered to us. The Bible should be the first place we turn to when we need help or advice. God sent His only son to be an example for generations to follow. We can look at the stories in the Bible for guidance and direction when life gets as noisy and messy as a crowded city.

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. Joshua 1:8 (NLT).

The Bible answers the questions that we all want to know: What is the purpose to life? Where did I come from? Is there life after death? How do I get to heaven? Why is the world full of evil? Why do I struggle with making good choices?

In addition to these “big” questions, the Bible gives much practical advice in areas such as: How can I have a successful marriage? How can I be a good parent? What is success and how do I achieve it? What really matters in life? How can I live so that I do not look back with regret? How can I handle the unfair circumstances and bad events of life?

Christians are so lucky to have this valuable resource to help us navigate the storms and busy pace of life. The question is this:

Will you remember to use it when everything around us presents a distraction?

I Want To Talk About Mourning Your Story

I cried at work.

The ugly kind of cry that makes it hard to breathe and sends mascara running in black rivers down your face.

 My boss described it as sudden, almost manifesting out of thin air. “I understand you’ve been going through a challenging time,” he said, his green eyes bright and shimmering with concern, “but it’s like it suddenly came to the surface all at once.” He then gave me time to compose myself in the women’s bathroom. “I can’t have you crying all over the Warhol,” he said. He was half-joking, yet entirely serious.

A few weeks ago, Andrew told me he was worried, “You’ve always felt things deeply and had this sense of sadness around you, but I’ve never seen you with this much of it.” He’s known me for almost ten years and within that decade, he’s been witness to all the times I dropped a plate because I was suddenly overtaken by sobbing while doing the dishes. He knows all of the restless nights spent staring at the ceiling; they’re almost as much a part of his story now as mine. Yet even with all of the broken pieces he’s been witness to throughout the past decade, he’s worried because these past few weeks feel different. 

I want to talk about mourning.

I want to talk about mourning because my soul is clothed in gray and my heart is filled with an indescribable grief and it has been for quite some time now. Sadness is my longtime companion; it wafts in the air around me like a familiar scent that lingers in the threads of your clothes no matter how often you put them through the wash.

I want to talk about mourning. But the kind of mourning I speak of isn’t the moment of silence for a horrific event that sends a violent crack through the foundation. It’s not the mourning that occurs when the doctor calls us with bad news. It’s not the mourning that occurs when we have to put someone we love in the ground.

I want to talk about mourning, and the kind of mourning I want to talk about is the mourning of our stories.

Stories are my passion and for the record, every single one of us has one. A past. A film reel of the events in our lives that stand out more significantly than the others. Lyosha once told me that there isn’t a soul in this world who doesn’t have something in their past that changed them forever, an event after which they could never return to the person they were before.

I cried at work a week ago. It seemed to come out of nowhere. It wasn’t comprised of quiet tears at the desk, easily hidden from others. It was the kind that made everyone in the office stop in the middle of their work and stare.

When my boss asked, I’d explained it away as grief over the news I’d heard at the doctor’s office. The kind of news that alters the way you plan your life and what dreams you’re allowed to even have. The truth is that the news was only 5% because I’ve been this way for a few weeks now.

The Thursday before, in the midst of a pitch black night, I was driving Andrew’s black Audi down a long stretch of empty highway when the rage hit me and I slammed on the gas and screamed. I did it because I was annoyed about being led on by a man who used me to figure out his feelings for someone else, I was bitter about finding Great Love only to have the entire Atlantic and all of Western Europe between us, and I was angry about the actions Rob committed against me and how because of them, I’m still scared to be in an elevator with a man I don’t know.

Last night, I went out running at 11 because I couldn’t sleep. My heart was pounding violently and my breathing was frantic and I ran farther than I’ve ever ran with the fastest average pace I’ve ever held, fueled by adrenaline as I saw nothing but red.

I want to talk about mourning stories because mine are resurfacing, bleeding into my present.

The stories of romances that went wrong and plot lines that unraveled without a conclusion need to be mourned just like any other tragedy or death. We need to heal from the what-could-have-been’s and those who sinned against us. If we don’t, our suffering will move through the rest of our story with us and will bleed into our present. Maybe not right away, but perhaps like mine, you will start to notice it little by little before it suddenly enters your present all at once, all at the same time.

“I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches,” Anne Morrow Lindbergh once said, “If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable.”

Suffering is the common thread that all of humanity shares.

We all know mourning and sadness and longing and rage; none of us are strangers to these experiences. However, when we simply stifle them instead of doing the hard work of healing, when we fail to properly mourn these stories, they will forever rear their ugly head and hinder our ability to live better stories in the present. Mourn your story, Beautiful Human. You were so much stronger than you should have had the necessity to be. Weep over the romances that went wrong and the stories that unraveled. Commit to living a better story in the present.

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.” Rilke.

A Prayer for Orlando

I was on my way to church when I saw the news. My feet pounded the pavement as I weaved through the skyscrapers that surrounded me with their various shades of endless grey. Orlando. The breaking of my heart wasn’t instant; it lingered in the temporary sphere of disbelief and denial, still recovering from the last violent rupture that had occurred too recently, too close to this one. It’s not possible, not again, I’d told myself. My inner dialogue of self-reassurance was frantic, running along before the reality hit me all at once, all at the same time. My soul collapsed under the weight of that instant grief.

On the feed of my Twitter, I saw that the deadliest mass shooting in American history had occurred the night before while I’d rested quietly at home, oblivious. The afternoon before it happened, I’d met up with my friend, Kevin, at a conference for the LGBTQ+ community. “This is just the most accepting and open-minded place,” he’d told me; the excitement he’d felt about the love that flooded the four walls of the convention center was intoxicating.

After I’d heard the news, I walked past the set-up for the Pride Parade. The rainbow colors of hope suddenly felt ironic. “I feel so bad for the people at the Pride Parade,” I told my friend Dominique after church, wiping away tears as we walked together, “Last night has to be weighing on the whole day. It HAS to be.”

What do we do when someone else’s sin destroys the world that much? When the hatred in their heart is so all-encompassing that seeking to annihilate another human being because they exist is the only way it can seek out relief?

What we can do is pray. To pray at our desks, to pray on our walk, to pray when we’re lying in bed and before and after dinner and wherever we are, to just drop down on our knees and pray. Wherever you are sitting with your grief today, pray this prayer for the LGBTQ+ community with me.

Abba God,

Help us to never forget that you are a good, good father, even on the days when our grief is so heavy that our lungs struggle to breathe and our sorrow is so all-encompassing that we can’t even see through our own tears. Let your love and mercy wash down over us and push away our salt water tears with your living water so that we can be cleansed and made new again and again and again.

There are so many things that we need to say to our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters in Christ but cannot find the strength to or the words for. I ask that you strengthen our arms so that we can hold them. I ask that you open our hearts so that those who disagree on an issue can place politics aside and love. I ask that you open my mouth so that I can have the courage to say the words of love and hope and “I don’t even know what to say”s to my LGBTQ+ friends that I feel called to speak but don’t know how to.

I ask that you help us to remove this idolatry of categorization and labelling. Help your children to repent of this view of the LGBTQ+ community as “other.” Help us to repent of the emotional distance we have in our minds between their humanness and their sexual orientation.

Father God, you take brokenness and sin and tragedy and make it new. I hope against all the hopes that you will use this day to help Christians, regardless of their theology, welcome gay people into their family today. To put issues and convictions aside and tell them, “Sweet, beautiful, human. You are stunning. I am in AWE of how fearfully and wonderfully made you are. This is a church. This is a family of Christ. These are children of God. And you are so very welcome here.

The Mess of Healing Work

I love my therapist. On Friday, the close of one of the worst weeks I can remember, I sat across from her and tried to put my feelings into words while my tears mixed with snot and she looked at me with that loving expression she wears. “You’ve had it rough,” she sighs and shakes her head, “You’ve had it rougher than most women.” 

“I can’t help but feel like even when nothing bad is happening, there’s always SOMETHING — some sort of pain or sadness,” my words lingered in the air between us. “You are healing and overcoming a lot,” she stated, “It stings to clean and heal wounds that are cut that deep.”

Healing is often viewed as gentle and therapy as therapeutic.

The image we see in our minds is a process that lessens the pain more and more or a journey that gets easier and easier, but I’ve found that this isn’t really the case. I used to think that when I did everything by the book, showing up for therapy once a week and reading the books and completing the workbook exercises and putting the advice into practice, I’d start to see the results of my healing process. What if healing is less of a consistent upward trend and looks more like a doodling full of circles and squiggles that once in awhile plummet to rock-bottom where you have to start all over? And what if sometimes, the healing process seems to hurt even more than whatever it is that messed us up this badly in the first place?

I started this process two years ago and I still can’t forget the way he felt. Rough hands, aggressive mouth. A wall with a green coat of peeling paint that I was shoved up against; the canvas I stared at for five minutes. I was convinced that if I were to just do everything “right” — therapy once a week, reading the books, completing the workbook exercises, putting into action the tips — I’d be healed. Yet, two years later, I still feel his hands on me when I’m lying alone at night, and in my dreams, I still see that stupid wall.  

When we truly own our stories, they lose their power over us. However, it sometimes feels less painful to just pretend they don’t exist.

Healing IS painful. And it’s messy, too.

It doesn’t often come with the closure we crave for a situation and will instead require us to become okay with not having everything wrapped up tidily with a neat, grosgrain ribbon.

I recently wrote that healing, “requires us to lean in. To lean into the discomfort and the pain and the vulnerability. It requires allowing ourselves to get uncomfortable.” Healing is messy because it’s never clean-cut and ending with a perfect Hollywood fadeout. It involves reaching and climbing and stumbling. It means receiving the fact that God sees all of it — our striving and our failing — and He chooses us anyway.

During one of my recent therapy sessions, I told her my realization about the entire process. “I feel like I might never be truly healed because perhaps healing is a lifelong journey more than it is a goal or a destination,” I said to her, “I think I can consider myself healed right now just because I am okay with that fact. I am okay with who I am and where I am. I am okay with healing being hard, lifelong work that I have to practice over and over.

A man I dated, Lyosha, once told me, “You’re not supposed to have it all figured out. I’m seven years older than you are and I still don’t have my life totally figured out. Life is meant to be a messy, ongoing project. Be brave with your wild, work-in-progress life.

Healing is supposed to be messy. Who cares if it looks more like squiggles and doodles than a steady upward trend make through Microsoft Excel?

Healing is supposed to be an ongoing project. Maybe you’ll have to forgive the person who hurt you over and over again.

Healing is supposed to be wild. It should surprise you with its sharp turns and take your breath away with its spontaneous detours.

Take heart when I say to you that your healing was never meant to be straightforward and pain-free like driving down a long, stretch of highway. It was meant to be a road trip over desert plains and on roads hugging mountain tops and through thick forests. It was meant to be difficult and challenging. It was meant to be painful and uncomfortable.

Anything that changes you and heals you will sting and cause some bruises. But take heart and look into my eyes when I say this: It will be worth it.

My story’s proof.

When the Past Is Holding Onto You

It’s me Lord. I’ve been hurt.

This sincere, six-worded phrase is one that I find myself speaking in prayer over and over again. I have learned over the course of my life that in order to get through a situation, I must confront it. By confronting my situation, I mean bringing it to the feet of Jesus and letting Him take care of it. It’s not because I am easily offended, but this prayer is an overflow of feelings that emerge due to my past. Growing up, we experience situations and learn many lessons that cultivate us into the adults that we are. However, one very important lesson that we miss is the one about forgiving the past and letting go. We are frail human beings compelled by circumstances we have no control over and cannot change. Sadly, our future actions are governed by the hurts of our past, and we miss out on growing to the potential God has set for us. God never intended for us to be burdened by the things of the past because his blood covered that debt.

Often, consuming feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, disappointment, and hurt overcome me. At times, I must seek out the promise of a quiet room to let God help me through those emotions. These feelings have not arrayed from my own doings necessarily, but they are components of my past. More importantly, these feelings are chains that keep me bound to the past. Whether in church, or simply convincing yourselves, I am sure you have heard the phrase to, “let go and let God have control.” This is obviously the right concept, and one that is most effective in dealing with situations because we know that God will take care of everything. However, my imperfections wonder, “How can I let go of something that is holding on to me?” I do not ask for those feelings of hurt to arise, but they do. The feelings are as if I have been hit to unconsciousness and I am no longer in control. So, how do we let go?

Before moving on to the “letting go” phase, we must understand some truths that God fulfilled in our lives when He gave himself on the cross.

You Are Not a Victim

I know this sounds a little harsh. I am not in any way disguising or relegating your pain when I say that you are not a victim. However, we must stop victimizing ourselves. When we play the role that we cannot have a normal life because of what we’ve been through, we are putting the chains back on ourselves when God has freed us. It’s like picking an old wound that has healed. When we continue with the mindset that we are victims to hurt and pain, we are letting things that are not of God control us. We may have been victims to life at one point and time, but God has paid a price so that we don’t have to live in fear. A war is already waged. You are victorious in Jesus because he already fought your battle and won. You are not a victim anymore.

(Deuteronomy 20:4) For the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.

Your Thoughts Are Not Your Own

We must take every thought captive. Many times, my mind unremittingly reminds me of where I use to be. Your mind will remind you of who you use to be and where you have come from, but that is when we take those thoughts and give them over to God right then. We must control our thoughts and fill our minds with the things of God. Reforming our mindsets when we have already been molded by life is a process that only God can completely alter, and that is why we must trust him with our past. We cannot change our past, but we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It is perfectly okay to give God the same hurts over and over. He knows that we are weak at times; and the more we give our hurts to him, the faster we can relinquish our pain. You don’t have to live in subjection to shame and hurt.

2 Corinthians 10:5 — Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

(Philippians 2:5) Let this mind be in you, which is also in Christ.

(Isaiah 55:8–9) For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

(Romans 12:2) And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Forgiving means forgiving yourself, too!

I am changed. As circumstances happened in my life, I felt my heart harden and form like concrete. I felt myself building walls to protect my vulnerability. Emotions were passive, and life was only black and white for me. I went from compassionate to cold and was led by my brokenness. The most destructive mindset I took on was blaming myself and others. Then, I isolated myself from those who truly cared for me. Forgiveness is an enormous process in letting go. In fact, forgiveness is letting go. Remember that you are a child of the king, and anything is possible with God. Pray every day for God to give you the strength to forgive and let go, and trust him to take care of it. If you are led by God, you will be a new creature and everything in the past will no longer matter; all things will become new.

2 Corinthians 5:17 — Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Paul says it perfectly in Philippians 3:12–16

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, a let us be of the same mind.

What My Ex Taught Me About Confronting My Source

I think I fell for Andy because of his energy.

My spiritual mentor Jacklyn once said that I have a flow energy. This was confirmed by Finn, the adorable British guy I went on a date with last week, who told me that my energy moves in an undulating motion, unfurling what he called its “controlled wildness” in deep, purple colors.

I once wrote that the one for me would be a forest, deep and mysterious. My first love, Andy, was that forest, but not the calm and quiet one I imagined. He was ablaze and I could hear the roar, feel the heat on my skin. I lived in that tense moment listening to the crackle of the dry wood, waiting for my skin to be marked by its overwhelming glory. His energy roared and climbed and darted. He was intense and competitive, smirked at challenges, and just couldn’t care less about what anyone else thought.

Together, we weren’t a slow melting of complementary elements that molded together into something shiny or new, but a wildfire coming into contact with a river. There’s something beautiful about that image and there’s nothing less sacred about it.

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When I found out that he’d moved to Philly, there was a sense that the entire facade of, “I’M OK AND TOTALLY UNAFFECTED BY ANDY-J,” was starting to come apart at the seams I’d frantically stitched together back when I was nineteen. While standing near the stairs at the Suzanne Roberts Theater, Lisa told me that maybe when he was in California, I never had to come into contact with my feelings and how perhaps this was God forcing me to finally face them and heal for real.

I’d imagined that he and I would have to move through this stage of relearning one another. That we’d retrace the steps we’d taken before so that he could remember how to make my dimples appear and I’d relearn what the skin on his jawline feels like on the palm of my hand. I soon discovered that there was no learning curve.

We stepped right back into an intimacy we’d never lost.

He told me that it all felt as natural as breathing. “Nothing can be truly purified of its source,” was my reply. Our stories can be redeemed when we choose to call ourselves up higher, but no one on this earth is unbroken. We each come with the past we carry into our present and I’ve written over and over that I believe there’s an automatic tragedy that comes with simply being alive.

As we move through life, we collect these heartbreaks and setbacks and bruises and we carry them into the rest of our lives. We each have something in our past which has made it impossible to return to the person we were before it happened.

Being willing to face Andy meant finally facing all of the doubts, fears, and questions he brought to the surface. Many of us never face the music; we just move through life with it all buried somewhere we don’t have to see it.

When we don’t confront our source, it will continue to own us.

We will find ourselves punishing our new boyfriend or girlfriend for the ways an abusive ex demolished us or how an alcoholic relative continued to let us down, leaving behind a trail of broken, empty promises. We will find ourselves being reactionary or defensive because of past wounds.

I don’t believe we can ever be truly purified from our source. I do, however, think that we can be redeemed from it, but only if we are willing to do the hard, healing work.

I’m honoring our past while pursuing wholeness in the present.

We’ve uncorked bottles of wine and said prayers over the things we shared while burgundy rivers flowed beneath our words. We’ve fought over the last slice of berry-lavender pie and fought about the past before blessing and releasing it all. We’ve watched the faces of couple’s counselors morph as we explained to them that we are not a couple and are not pursuing romance, but are simply seeking to do good, hard healing work together. I’ve shown up to his office with his favorite chicken salad because he forgot his lunch and he’s driven around the area of my new apartment building to make sure it’s a safe area. Most importantly, we’ve also both sought the other’s forgiveness for the things we shouldn’t have done and the things we could have done more of.

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Leaning Into the Triggers

I outlined the Girl Code for Rachel over white hot cocoa and a slice of berry-lavender pie, “FYI, my most-trusted girlfriends don’t talk to him. So, since you are one of them, you should follow suit.” In her complete lack of tolerance for stupidity, she smirked. “I can’t talk to him?” she clarified. I knew how it sounded, but my conviction was stubborn and unwavering, “Of course not. That’d be awkward. And he never cared much about bothering to remember my friends anyway, so whatever.”

I guess you could say that I haven’t exactly been killing it in the emotional maturity thing in this particular area.

I’ve recently started to feel like my broken pieces from last summer are starting to fit back together. There’s still a lot of tender spots felt around the parts of my heart and ego that got hit the hardest, but I’m starting to move into a quiet resignation. A few days ago I told Lyosha, “Now that I’m past the situation and examining it from the outside-in, I can see all the ways in which I was wrong. The blame can’t be shoved all in one direction and remain Fair Play.” He seized the opportunity to get on my good side, “However, if you WANTED to shove all of the blame in his direction, I would support you.” I replied by letting him know that although he couldn’t see me, I was totally sticking my tongue out at him through the receiver.

I’m healing by ignoring. By writing it all off and pretending it never happened and acting as if the proverbial stink never hit the fan. This is 100% counterintuitive to what we’re asked to do in therapy. Talk about it, they say. Leave no detail untold.

Exposure Therapy comprises of telling a triggering story over and over again through multiple angles. The first session I told the one that gave me Post-Traumatic Stress, I cried so hard that snot mixed with my tears; I was no one’s Woman Crush Wednesday at that moment. My therapist told me that this exercise was slowly but surely taking away the shame that heightened my sensitivity to anything and everything that reminds me of what gave me PTS in the first place.

“Exposure therapy calls you to lean into your triggers,” I explained to Lyosha, “To lean into the vulnerability instead of fleeing for the safety. It calls you to look your triggers in the face and say, ‘Hey, I’m ready. Hit me with what you’ve got.’ Slowly but surely, the triggers lose their power over you.” “It sounds empowering,” was his response. I promptly retorted, “Actually, it’s torture. Imagine being forced to confront your darkest trauma and not being allowed to push all of it out of your thoughts or go do something else.”

The Girl Code was built carefully, brick by brick.

I used to think that it was purely out of stubbornness and resentment. That this wall exists because he was unworthy to cross back over to where I would rest amongst my most trusted friends. But I’m starting to realize that this fortress was erected to hold onto whatever bits of safety was leftover from last summer.

“If I don’t talk to him and if my friends follow suit, I can pretend I no longer care,” I told Rachel last night over messenger, “I can play it off and be cool about it. But if he gets to remain a part of my life and a part of my friends’ life, then I have to face my feelings. And I’m not sure if I’m ready for that yet.

For almost a year, I’ve been trying to heal by avoidance. If I don’t look at it, maybe it will go away, I think. If I don’t think about it or talk to it or let my FRIENDS talk to it, then I’m OK. It wasn’t a big deal.

“Nina, I adhere to the Girl Code because you’re inviting me into your spiritual home, your safe place” my friend Ivy said to me after I invited her one Sunday, “And it would be disgusting for me to come into YOUR home, which you invited me into, and make it less of a home for you by making it less emotionally safe. But this Girl Code means you are NOT ok and you have NOT healed.”


I regularly feel like all the oxygen has left my body, even when I’m standing right underneath a lovely tree. I regularly write in my journal in all caps, “HOW COULD THIS BE A THING.” I regularly slap a dirty bacteria-infested bandage on the infected wound on the side of my ego by drinking red wine that’s so bad it makes my French heritage pass out, and drinking it with men who are really not the kind of men I should be going out with. So I make a toast with cheap wine to his future and seal it with a bit of name-calling and an “Amen” all because I AM NOT FINE.

Healing, TRUE healing, is hard, painful, and dirty work.

It’s all of these things because it requires us to lean in. To lean into the discomfort and the pain and the vulnerability. It requires allowing ourselves to get uncomfortable.

I told Rachel last night that I’m admitting I am not fine, but that I WANT to be fine. I’m ready to start the hard work of being healed, one weighted step at a time.

I’m not there yet. I’m not ready to give up the emotionally immature habits that make me feel safe. I’m not ready to take a wrecking ball to the wall that just feels so safe and demolish the Girl Code where it stands. But I want to get there, somehow, someday.

I’m leaning into the triggers.

Forgiving Yourself for the Silence

TRIGGER WARNING: This piece deals with non-explicit themes of domestic violence and assault. 

“You know how we each have something that keeps us up at night?” The hum of the voices in the coffee shop whirled around me as I typed out the words to my friend from undergrad, Rachel. I paused and looked out the window into the depths of a late-February nighttime. The dark road of my city shimmered under the lamplights, moist from the afternoon’s rain shower. After the pause that all confessions require, I told her what kept my eyes open at 2 am, what tossed me around in my bed when I fell asleep, what moved through my dream state and lived as a permanent squatter in my subconscious. “For me, it’s the fact that I stayed silent.”

As I hit “send,” I was transported away from the small table with my headphones and half-finished packet of organic fruit snacks and back into 2011. “I regret that I never reported it. That I just let him graduate magna cum laude and go off to Europe on his fancy Rhoad’s Scholarship and continue presenting his pristine Golden Boy facade,” words tumbled out of my fingers while Kristine DiMarco’s “It Is Well” played through my earbuds. And then, I revealed the truth:

“What if he does the same thing to another woman? Would I blame myself a little bit? I don’t know. I probably would, at least a little.” Of all the regrets in my past that I relive over and over at night, I once wrote in my mint green journal, the silence is my Big Regret. The unspoken truth that lurked underneath the surface, the true cause of my restless insomnia, whispered just loud enough for both pairs of ears to hear its voice. If it’s your Big Regret now, it sneered, imagine how you’ll feel when he does it to another woman and then to another. It’ll be your fault because you were a coward. How WEAK you were. How SELFISH.

Darkness, the scavenger that takes no prisoners and feeds off the decayed, licked its lips in greedy anticipation. How weak. Anytime I read a story of a woman fighting to bring her abuser to justice, my eyes move through the words, anxiety flailing beneath the surface, holding its breath. I fear hearing her say the words I wish I would have, “I’m doing this so that he never does to another woman what he did to me.” I’ve become braver. I’ve become bolder. I’ve started to own the spilled ink in my story and I’ve become a fighter, but I can’t help but wish I would have become all these things a few years earlier. The changes I’ve made sometimes reek of Too-Little-Too-Late.

I’ve been almost five years since October of 2011. For almost five years, I’ve been ashamed of my silence.


“There’s no point in regretting it now,” truth and grace show up in the small chat box of Facebook messenger. Rachel is my accountability partner and I tell her everything; I regularly push my mess towards her with both hands and she removes it from the table to put down grace in its place. The cycle then repeats with our roles reversed. In Ephesians 4:32, the Word tells us to forgive others, “as God in Christ forgave [us].” A pastor’s wife once told me that God often shows His love for us through other people; I think that’s part of why we give grace away and love others and try to forgive those who hurt us. The Christian corners of the Internet are filled with articles and blog posts about how challenging it can be to forgive someone, especially when they truly break you, but what they don’t always mention is how much harder it can be to forgive yourself. I have forgiven that man for the ways he demolished me. I forgive him for how he drew blood and took what he believed was his to take. I forgive him for making me a statistic. I pray about him and even tell God that I worry I won’t see him in heaven. But even with all of this, I still have yet to forgive myself.

“I need to finally give grace,” I write. It’s something I should have given myself almost five years ago, but certain things in life are better late than never.

Grace. Grace for the things I wish I’d done. Grace to no longer go back and tell myself I should have done this differently. The grace to have been scared. The grace to have survived in the only way I knew how.

Will I ever manage to wash down the taste of regret? I’m not sure. A part of me thinks that it’ll always be there, sometimes a subtle aftertaste and sometimes the only thing I notice. But I can’t continue to look back. Instead, I’m choosing to face the future, to ask myself what I can do differently to atone for my silence tomorrow. I can’t change the past, but I can be a defender who walks alongside the hurting of the present and of the future. No matter what, the sun will rise tomorrow. Light will hit the earth and chase away the Darkness of regret and fear and that same grace will come about the next day and the next.