Monday, November 25, 2019

Finding Baby's Name

For now, we have been referring to our baby as "Po," as in Pace-Owen. It's a loving nickname, but we knew we needed to find something else for the baby's given name.

Naming a baby is complicated. There are so many factors, stories, people, and considerations. You want a name that means something, a name that inspires, a name that encourages, a name that will fit the baby at any age, a name that's admissible and employable, a name that's easy to spell and pronounce, and a name that reflects the parents' values but that leaves the baby space to become themselves. Even with these tensions, our initial list was somewhat long.

We did not want to choose our baby's name based on gender, so we only considered gender-neutral names. Whatever the gender of the baby at birth or later, we wanted to choose a name that could bend and flex with the baby as they grow. That shortened the list.

Since we are both teachers, we eliminated the names of students we've had, especially the difficult ones. That significantly shortened the list.

I tend to like names with historical and personal significance, as if naming the baby that name would pass on the legacy of the person for whom they're named. My husband tends to like mythological and medieval names, unique and uncommon. After he nixed some of mine and I nixed some of his, we found ourselves revolving around 3-4 names that we both liked.

But none of them felt right. We liked them as middle names, but none of them felt right as a first name. We narrowed down to one choice for the middle name, and kept searching for baby's first name.

So, we turned to what we have in common. My husband and I grew up in different cities, and to some extent, in different times. But we both are skaters, and in fact, we both trained at Dr. Pepper Stars Centers, the rinks established through the Dallas Stars NHL team throughout the Dallas Fort Worth area. No matter what was going on, the rink was and has been our safe space. This gave us the idea to choose a skating name for our baby. And though this baby's big brother Stanley was named for my maternal grandfather, Stanley is a great skating name, too! #StanleyCup #SkateMance

Skating names gave us a place to explore. We thought of figure skaters and hockey players we admired, names for skating (and ice) in other languages, and names of important competitions/tournaments. What we kept coming back to was Stars Center. It's where we both started skating. It's where we skated together for the first time. It's where Stanley skated for the first time. It was a rink we all had in common. "Star" felt too gendered, so we explored synonyms and translations. And that's when we found baby's name.

Seren is the Welsh word for "star." It's gender-neutral, interesting, unique, easy to spell and pronounce, and the right blend of austere and whimsical. It has medieval flair and twenty-first century innovation. We knew it was right as soon as we found it.

We chose Foster for baby's middle name, in honor of Dr. Ruth Ann Foster, my seminary professor who initiated my feminist awakening and who opened my eyes to new ways to encounter the biblical text. My later research on Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall would shape me as a preacher and scholar, but I would not have been prepared to encounter Hall's prophetic proclamation had Foster not catalyzed me. We also like that the word "foster" signals leadership, insight, hospitality, and relationship. It's a collaborative word, pointing toward building transformation.

Seren Foster Pace-Owen 
is due May 9, 2020. We've got their skates ready.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Boundaries and Families and the Holidays

Families and relationships are complicated organisms. There is a normal give and take in healthy relationships. Sure, there are seasons where the ebb and flow may lean more one way than the other, but over time, there is balance such that both partners feel affirmed, loved, supported, seen, heard, and nurtured.

In unhealthy relationships, however, the give and take is out of balance. One person carries a greater weight, gives more than they receive, and often leaves interactions with emotional bruises. These relationships are often emotionally abusive, such that one partner will utilize language of religion, family obligation, or whatever else aids their cause to further manipulate the other into doing what they want.

Perhaps the other person does not realize that their behavior is harmful. (This is a really generous way to see it because most abusers DO realize their behavior is harmful.) Setting boundaries allows you to share your feelings (to the extent you feel safe), create limits on the relationship to protect yourself, and teach the other person better ways to relate to you.

If the other person cannot hear (and follow) your boundaries, however, or if they respond to your boundaries with additional emotional abuse, the only way to survive this narcissist vortex is to not engage at all. This is particularly difficult with people we love, people we can't imagine not in our lives. We fear hurting them. We fear a future without them. But if their behavior is harmful to us, and if we have tried to communicate this in a constructive way which has been ignored, then the other person is clearly placing their comfort over our well-being. In such situations, it is more important for you to set (and maintain) boundaries to protect yourself than to allow someone to keep hurting you. Your wellness is more important than their comfort.

We must remember, though, that in that case, we are not the ones who closed the door. Their behavior created the dilemma. We are simply responding to their behavior in a responsible way to preserve our health and sanity. Should their behavior improve, we can reexamine the boundaries. Should it not, at least we know we will be okay.

Currently, I am watching several dear souls deal with emotional abusers within their families. I suppose such is the nature of a pastor/professor's life - to know about the deepest traumas of others' lives, and to bear their burdens with them. It is devastating to watch someone you care about be traumatized and retraumatized and retraumatized by someone who is supposed to love them, to hear them recount conversations where words which are supposed to mean "family" and "care" are used to wound.

"I feel like I've just been beat up, but I know they don't mean to hurt me," I hear so often. If you have told them how their behavior affects you, and they will not hear you or change their behavior, then they ARE aware of what they are doing and continue to do it anyway. Shielding them from responsibility by not setting or keeping boundaries will not help them or your relationship, can only lead to your getting more deeply hurt. Neither partner needs to be a doormat in a healthy relationship. There is a natural give and take rooted in deep care and concern for each other. If their needs are of utmost importance, but your needs can be easily dismissed, then the relationship is not healthy.

It is possible to have genuine relationship across differences. I participate in many such relationships, and I have witnessed many such as well. In each case, those involved have committed to loving each other in spite of their differences, to hearing each other as more important than being heard, to celebrating what they share in common, and to learn from and with each other. (If someone's idea of relationship across differences is that you have to agree with them about everything, then they are incapable of healthy relationship. If someone's idea of relationship is to control you, abuse you, dehumanize you, or work for your oppression, then they are incapable of healthy relationship. I'm not suggesting you tolerate such immoral, unethical behavior. Such would be dangerous for you and morally irresponsible.)

To my dear ones who are dealing with

  • emotionally invalidating environments
  • abusive or dysfunctional relational dynamics
  • those they sought for spiritual support blaming and shaming them 
  • communities of faith denying their calling because of their bodies or sexual orientations
  • mental illness
  • any other form of oppression as you pioneer your own path in this world are worthy of love just for being who you are. You deserve love and affirmation and acceptance from your family, with no strings attached.

Friends, it is not selfish to set boundaries. It is REASONABLE to expect your family to love you and accept you for who you are. It is NOT SELFISH to set boundaries from someone who means to harm you, even if that person is in your family.

Take care of yourself this holiday season. Surround yourself with people who will be a family to you, whether the family into which you were born or one of your own making. Many of us feel like we have to spend the holidays with our biological families because that's what we're supposed to do. If your biological family is a supportive community, then celebrate what a beautiful gift this is! But if your biological family does not love you for who you are, if being around them is not emotionally safe for you, then you do not have to be around them. Blood does not obligate you to subject yourself to people who hurt you. There are many kinds of families, and life is too short to live outside of the support of a loving family.

Find the people who love you fiercely, and love them right back. Your love is precious, and you deserve to be part of a family who will cherish you as the child of God that you are. I wish for you joy, happiness, intimate connection, meaningful rituals and traditions, sacred spaces, and memories upon memories with the promise of many years more to come!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Subversive Sisters and High-Heeled Holiness

I have just finished teaching a seminary course on women in Christian tradition, which included a practical ministry component for women in ministry. Whereas most students take an overview of Christian history, which should include women as part of the story and not as an afterthought sprinkled into a male-organized narrative, this course focuses specifically on women. Time periods, ecclesial and devotional patterns, and facets of leadership are organized around women's religious experiences rather than men and the institutions they've built.

Certainly there is overlap. Certainly to tell the whole story, there must be mention of men and women. But too often in overview courses, the focus remains on the men as if the women weren't and aren't a significant part of the shaping of Christianity. Women's religious practices and leadership tremendously shaped Christianity, and this course brings those women and their activities front and center.

I chose the name "Subversive Sisters and High-Heeled Holiness" for several reasons. One, I've learned that clever, alliterative titles result in higher enrollment. Two, I wanted to honor the spectrum on which women have acted. Some operated via gender norms, and others had to work outside of normal systems in order to follow their call. Either way, women have always found a way, no matter how cloistered or limited they have been, to honor God's call. If the church won't let the called serve, God will work outside of the church to build the Kingdom.

This is a phenomenally rewarding course to teach. The subject matter is inspiring, which makes course preparation feel like a privilege rather than a responsibility. In the classroom, I watch students' eyes be opened to a cloud of witnesses who have paved the way for them to answer God's call on their lives. I get to see their surprise at how much women were able to accomplish with so little. I have a front-row seat to witness them be astonished, inspired, and encouraged by the stories of women with whom they relate and from whom they feel solidarity and support for their work. By the second or third day of the course, I noticed the women standing up a little bit taller. Gumption. Confidence.

In a pleasant surprise, an equal number of male students enrolled in the course as female students. Each said that they enrolled to better understand the challenges women face in ministry and to cultivate their ability to be an ally for women. Some are married to ministers. Others work closely with women ministers. 

Privilege is complex. If you're male, you have it, regardless of race. If you're white, you have it regardless of gender. If you're wealthy, you have it regardless of race or gender. This doesn't even tip the iceberg, though, because privilege also favors the able-bodied, cisgendered, and heterosexual. Thankfully, this class became a safe space to examine our collective privilege, on whose backs it has come, and what responsibility we have to divest ourselves of privilege.

Throughout the course, female students shared stories of sexism they've faced from churches and church leaders. Some have been asked to preach from the floor instead of the pulpit. Some have been stripped of their hard-earned credentials in church bulletins and introductions. Some have been cautioned against preaching when they might be on their periods. Some have been told they are too emotional, too serious, too fashionable, too frumpy, too maternal, too small, or too old to be ministers. Some have to fight for acceptance of their calling at church and at home. The male students listened to these testimonies, and, together, we discussed solutions to cultivate support and public advocacy for women in ministry. One started planning training programs he wants to pitch to his denomination to help prepare rural churches for women pastors. Several students are planning sermon series and articles for denominational publications.

On the last day of the course, students were asked to present their research on a woman with whom they particularly resonated. One chose Elizabeth, the slave preacher, because she said that she had often felt invisible in her ministry and wanted to bring Elizabeth out of invisibility. One chose Matushka Olga in admiration of her care for those who were being abused. One chose Julian of Norwich because she was drawn to imagining her own body as part of the image of God. One chose Teresa of Avila because she, too, accepted the call to ministry later in life. I could go on. One by one, my students excitedly shared their research, reading from worn and well-flagged copies of these women's writings. They found strength and life in those words from the past, as if they could hear these women in the cloud of witnesses cheering them on here and now to follow God's call in spite of whatever obstacles they might face.

For fun, I invited my students to wear the pair of shoes that best characterized their ministry. Male students wore everything from boots to dress shoes to house shoes. Female students wore everything from slip-ons to clogs to stilettos. We are many, yet we are one.

Each student has a unique style, sense of purpose, and preaching voice. Each has been formed by readings, experiences, relationships, and God's call on their lives. As they continue in their ministries after this class, their sisters in the cloud of witnesses will go with them: Perpetua, Marcella, Leoba, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Christina of Markyate, Julian of Norwich, Hildegarde of Bingen, Marguerite Porete, Jane Chantal, Teresa of Avila, Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz, Elizabeth, Susanna Wesley, Jarena Lee, Antionette Brown Blackwell, Matushka Olga, Mother Theresa, Pauli Murray, Fannie Lou Hamer, Vashti McKenzie, and thousands more. 

Thanks be to God that feminist and womanist scholars are restoring these women to our history narratives because we cannot tell the real story without them. Thanks be to God that for centuries, women have made a way out of no way to follow God's call in spite of the obstacles that societies, and yes, churches, have put in their way. And thanks be to God for these students, who are making their way into the world to be prophets for equality and justice.

"How beautiful upon the mountains
   are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,

who brings good news,

   who announces salvation,

   who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’" 
Isaiah 52:7

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Hidden Figures and the Light

Part of being divorced is that your child(ren) cannot share every holiday with you. This year, I enjoyed Thanksgiving with my son, but it was not my turn for Christmas. So, when you cannot celebrate Christmas with your whole family, you do what you can. For me, this year, that has meant focusing on my writing. I did come up for air today, however, to worship, fellowship, and remember.

In worship this morning, I was reluctant at first. It's hard to be without your child on a holiday, especially Christmas. My church family was loving and understanding, and after a few minutes of feeling the care of this family of faith, I was singing, joyfully. Every element reminded me that no matter how dark things feel, the light will always shine brighter. Always.

After church, I was delighted to share a Christmas feast with dear friends from church who welcomed me and several other friends to their home. This couple is so full of love, in a way that brings people together. We shared conversation. We were honest, in ways rarely done among people who have just met. It was beautiful. Lunch felt like communion, like the Kingdom of God breaking forth among us.

After lunch, I saw Hidden Figures. This is a must see. I laughed. I cried. I remembered. I dreamed. I hoped.

Though I am now a historian and minister, in a previous life, I was an engineer. I lived, breathed, ate, and slept mathematics. I used to do extra self-assigned math homework for fun. While other kids were at football games or sleepovers, I was reviewing Trigonometry or practicing my Differential Equations. I carried engineering paper like most people carry chapstick. I still do extra math homework for fun, because I enjoy it.

Hidden Figures tells the story of Katherine Goble Johnson, one of the finest mathematicians (called "computers") in the history of NASA. Her parents advocated for her to have appropriate education for her mathematical brilliance. Through hard work and a supportive family, Katherine belonged to a team of Black female computers, resourcing the space program. 

As a former engineer, I savored the chalkboards filled with equations, the pencils always in hand, the constant desire to fix things yourself because you can. It took me back to late nights in the study lounge of my college dorm, frantically trying to solve my Physics homework. Did you know that throughout my undergraduate degree, I created a poster of math formulas? As I completed each class, I'd add "must know" formulas such that by the time I graduated, that poster was a gal's best friend. People would want to study in my room just so they could be near the poster. I am so disappointed that I did not keep it. 

As one of the only women in a large engineering program, I appreciated the way the movie depicted women's second class citizenship. I remember professors addressing "gentlemen" or "you guys" even though there were women in the room. I remember people assuming I was incompetent at programming and computer hardware, just because I was female. I remember the satisfaction of finishing my lab project first, and correctly. 

There were two white women on faculty in my department, but they primarily focused on their research labs. The professors who were taking initiative to encourage minority students were Black faculty, and that's where I found my home.

Dr. Kendall Harris coordinated summer engineering camps for teenagers, which I attended twice. Once I was a college student, Dr. Harris, whom I now affectionately call "Uncle Doc," hired me as a camp counselor for four years. Engineering camp is one of my fondest memories of college. These camps were particularly designed to promote minority interest in STEM programs. The kids visited research labs, worked on team projects, and even visited companies to see real-life applications of what they had been learning. My favorite was the tour of Six Flags, where we learned from the engineers who designed the rides. We walked the track, and they taught us about electromagnetic propulsion and how to calculate which seat on the ride would feel the most Gs. For that week of camp, everyone was a future engineer. Everyone's ideas were important and encouraged. There was no place for "but I'm ___" because we were too busy designing the future.

I didn't realize at the time what an impression engineering camp had made on my life. 

Watching Hidden Figures brought back these memories in a wonderful way, reminding me of my past, and connecting it with my future.

The movie honestly depicts the third and fourth class citizenship of Black women. Though they have the same credentials as other employees, they were relegated to a satellite campus with substandard facilities and inferior compensation. Throughout the movie, there are opportunities to better understand how systemic prejudice, not just individual acts of bigotry, operate. There are scenes of dialogue that expose stereotyping, entire story lines necessary to convey the extent of prejudice against people of color, and witty one-liners that resist oppression. My favorite at the moment is one by Katherine herself, in conversation with a man who doubted her employment with NASA: "Yes, they let women do some things at NASA, Mr. Johnson. And it's not because we wear's because we wear glasses."

Throughout the movie, there are women who resist oppression in search of true equality and freedom. They know what they are made of. They know what they are capable of. They know what they deserve. And not only are they excellent on the job day in and day out, but they are even preparing for the future from their own vision and insight, proving that they were brighter than the leading minds at NASA. Bricks without straw, and they kept on building, higher and better.

My engineering days are behind me, and I am now a professional historian of race and gender. I think that my engineering background, particularly my experiences being mentored by Dr. Harris, has a lot to do with why my historical interests center around the Civil Rights Movement and the religious leadership of women.

In my line of work, I often have conversations with well-meaning people who believe that because they do not commit personal acts of bigotry, that those prejudices no longer operate in our society. The fact that you can opt out of awareness of prejudice demonstrates your privilege. If you are in the groups against which prejudice is directed, you cannot opt out. You have to navigate the system and somehow find ways to still be true to yourself. Sometimes that means that you take the risk of speaking truth to power. 

I am white, and I grew up in a middle-class family in which both parents earned graduate-level degrees. I have privilege. I am also a woman who has experienced marginalization in both the engineering and religious fields. I am also a divorced mother. I experience prejudice against me fairly regularly. As a white person, I could isolate myself in white circles and turn a blind eye to what the rest of the world faces. As a woman, I have realized that I will never be equal until all other forms of prejudice are eradicated: racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, xenophobia, ageism, etc. Unless we are all free, none of us are free.

Hidden Figures beautifully painted the complex landscape of prejudice in America, a land which prides itself on freedom but does not deliver. Certainly it did not address everything, but if you're watching carefully, you can learn a lot more than you might think. These women had to be excellent to be taken seriously, in a way men do not experience. As parents and spouses, these women relied on supportive families to share in household responsibilities, which continues to be a difficult balance for working mothers. As people of color, they had to fight for their right to education and necessary resources to do their jobs, including things most white people would take for granted. 

Prejudice is not just committed person-to-person. It is also, and mostly, committed by systems. It is deeply enmeshed in our cultures, our language, and our traditions. It is so present that we do not realize how much we engage in prejudicial acts.

Stereotypes thrive unless personal experience exposes the inaccuracy of our prejudices. Reconciliation cannot happen until we see and treat every single person as made just as much in the image of God as we are. It means change, especially for the comfortable, but it is necessary and righteous.

I have been feeling the weight of this present darkness, and Hidden Figures reminded me of the light, which is always brighter. Always.

This Christmas, give your family the gift of seeing Hidden Figures. Talk about it together. Reflect on ways that you may be complicit with prejudice against women and people of color, and talk about what changes you will make to see and treat each person as made in the image of God. 

Lord, in your mercy, may there be peace on earth, and may we love each other as you love us.

[Uncle Doc and Me, 1998]   [Uncle Doc and Me, 2015]

Monday, August 29, 2016


I realize that Amy Schumer is a problematic figure. I am not endorsing her or relating to her uncritically. Rather, I am saying that in the course of reading her book, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, I figured out how to tell a piece of my story. 

Like Amy, I often find myself lying awake at night thinking about things from twenty or twenty-five years ago, wondering why did I say that to him, why did I buckle under that pressure, why didn’t I trust that good advice? For example, there was a friend I had in elementary school who was only ever super nice to me. He wasn’t popular, but he didn’t care. He was his own person, and he was wonderful. Every day during reading time, he would get to class early so he could put my book on my desk before I got to the room. He made me a lanyard one summer and mailed it to me (getting mail was a big deal). And even after we went to different junior high schools, any time I needed to talk, he would stop what he was doing and take my call. And I was not kind to him most of the time. I said mean things so the popular kids would notice me. Why did I do that? Why couldn’t I see through those dynamics and value real friendship where I found it? I never really got to apologize to him, even though we reconnected briefly in college. In sixth grade, we won the most likely to succeed award, and we both have PhDs and families now. I was foolish not to maintain that friendship. Stephen, I’m deeply sorry, I’m so glad that you’re happy, and I hope you can forgive me for not being the kind of friend to you that you always were to me.

And like Amy, my childhood was somewhat interrupted. My parents are happily married, but there were some rough years when I was younger. When we’re little, we think of our parents as infallible. When we learn that they aren’t, it’s disillusioning. My aunt recently said that I never really saw myself as a kid, even when I was one. To some extent she’s right. Yes, I played with dolls, and I rode my bike around the block. But I also trained as a figure skater, which gets really serious really fast. I did extra math homework over holiday breaks. And I started taking college classes when I was 12, enrolling in college at 14. That aged me.

And because of that, and because of the habits that I had to develop to get there, I was always a little different from my peers. I starred in musicals at church. I was in honors math and language arts classes. I won Bible Drill competitions (Google it). I earned dozens of skating medals. But I was also hella insecure. I was desperate to fit in, to belong. The kids at church had stay-at-home moms who drove them to play dates. The kids at skating lived near each other, across town from me. The kids at school lived near each other, across town the other way.

I remember spending a lot of my childhood alone. I was a latchkey kid. I’ve been responsible for my own rides, schedule, meals, and homework since I was 12. At the time, I felt very sophisticated, like I was ahead of the curve. But now, I realize there was so much more childhood to be had, that I never got to have.

And like many young women, I was just different enough to become prey. I was so blinded by desperation that I allowed dangerous people into my life. Predators look for people who are insecure and lonely. I also think some predators look for women who are driven and capable, and then try to conquer them, like some weird kind of trophy. They lure you into a false sense of security and dependency on them, and then they use it to control you and hurt you. And you don’t have a point of reference to realize that it’s not okay.

Amy has a chapter called “The Worst Night of My Life” that hit a little too close to home for me. She tells about her relationship with Dan, how she got suckered into a relationship with him, even thinking she was the one taking the lead, how even in the worst of it, she made excuses and thought that it would get better, and how it’s so hard to see a way out.

I have wanted to write about those times in my life, but I haven’t known how.

If you went to high school, college, seminary, or graduate school with me, then you know I’ve faced more than my fair share of abuse. A preschool teacher. A junior high boyfriend. A security guard at the skating rink. A high school teacher. My college boyfriend. My seminary relationship.

I’ve been spit on, shoved into walls, yelled at, trapped in rooms, targeted online by older men, stalked, threatened, molested in my sleep (twice), and raped. All by people I knew and thought I could trust.

I changed all of the names, but here are some stories.

Karl used to instant message me, especially later in the evening. He’d be that caring adult who was always there to listen, but then he’d say things that felt inappropriate. He’d say I shouldn’t come to school looking so cute. He’d tell sexual jokes. He’d want me to meet him after school after everyone else had gone home.

John was so nice to me when we started dating. He made an effort, made me feel really special. And then there was so much arguing. Somehow he’d always blame me for whatever the issue was. He got mean, and the dynamic turned to what I would do to deserve him. It was all about him, and my needs didn’t matter. During a mission trip, I told him that his interactions with another girl were making me uncomfortable, and he screamed at me as he shoved me into a wall because I couldn’t get it through my head how much he loved me. He raped me not long after that. Then it got to where he had time for me to make dinner and clean his apartment, but not time to actually spend together. He wouldn’t let me go into his closet at all, which I now realize was because it was full of porn. He hid his drinking from me, too. There was a point where he had dodged my calls for so long that I had to call him at work to get a hold of him at all, and he broke up with me over the phone. After being together for three years, most of which he treated me like crap, he dumped me over the phone. I later found out he'd been cheating during the last six months of our relationship.

Roy was supposed to be different. He’d had a troubled childhood, so he was misunderstood and recovering just like me. He would take calls from his parents for hours during our time together and tell me I wasn't good at being in a family if I couldn't understand that. If I wanted time to work on my projects, he’d call me a selfish bitch, yell at me, refuse to let me have privacy, spit on me, push me into walls, and throw things at me (just next to me to create terror but no bruises). If I locked myself in a room to get away from him, he would break in. He checked up on every little thing I did and everyone I talked to. He followed me around, even when I went to work. He put down the things that I was interested in, insulted my skills at my job, and held me hostage in angry silence, refusing to talk but not letting me leave the room. He yelled at me about how much he loved and supported me, and how lucky I was that he believed in me even though I wasn't very good at much. He'd spend all night in a drunken porn binge and then blame me for not being available to him. His pornography addiction was so severe that he was using on every single media device available to him, even at church. I thought we could work together to help his addiction, but he kept relapsing, worse every time. I thought we could talk it out, but argument after argument left me weary, exhausted, and content with survival. I learned to live in the box that he made for me, because life was hell if I didn’t. If I stood up for myself, he would quote scripture at me, like a weapon. When I would contest what he said, he would yell over me, repeating the same phrases over and over, even threatening to kill himself if I left him. Then one night, he tried to force himself on me, so I locked myself in another room to get away from him, after which he beat down the door and chased me around the house with scissors until the police arrived.

How could this happen? How could it happen so much? I’m smart. Really smart. I’m observant. I’m strong. Why did I fall for it time and again? Or, as my dad once asked me, “How did he trick you?”

I was so lonely, so afraid that I wouldn’t find where I belonged, that I tolerated destructive partners, just to have one. And they knew that and used it against me. They studied my weaknesses and insecurities, and when I started to think for myself or stand up for myself, they knew just how to strike. Amy said it well: “When you are an abuse victim, your logic and instinct can become warped. [After I was raped], I ended up comforting him for hurting me, even though it should have been the other way around…..I wanted to comfort him and make him feel like we were in this together.”

In those moments, I sensed things were more painful than other people’s lives seemed to be, but we could get through it, right? We can give and take. God wants us to forgive each other. It’s probably my fault, anyway. I absorbed it, all of it, in my Type A quest for growth and wisdom. I had no idea until much later that it was abuse. I still can’t point to the moment when it clicked for me. I remember friends trying to help me see the abuse. I remember knowing I needed to call the police. I remembering being scared. And I remember being determined to break free.

Getting out was a matter of survival. It really was that bad.

I have been to hell and back, and I’m still here, standing stronger than ever. I know who I am, and I am proud to be me. I am not afraid to be alone, so I don’t tolerate toxic people. And that makes me lousy prey. As Amy says: “He said he loved me, but every step of the way he’d hurt and sabotage me. I realized later he put me down so much because he was probably terrified that I’d realize he was nothing and leave him. Which is exactly what I did.”

Thirty damn years. Please don’t wait as long as I did to get out. Trust your gut. If you sense that things are toxic or unsafe, you're probably right. Get somewhere safe. Get help. Surround yourself with affirming people. It will be hard but not impossible, and I promise you'll find yourself again. And you will love yourself fiercely.

As Amy says, “I’m telling this story because I’m a strong-ass woman, not someone most people picture when they think ‘abused woman.’ But it can happen to anyone. When you’re in love with a man who hurts you, it’s a special kind of hell, yet one that so many women have experienced. You’re not alone if it’s happening to you, and you’re not exempt if it hasn’t happened to you yet. I found my way out and will never be back there again. I got out. Get out.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


I taught at Baylor for three years before coming to MTS, and I have had the privilege of teaching thousands of students. My last year at Baylor, I had a very special class. Rather than the usual 60, my class had 21. These students were pursuing various majors, but they were in a leadership residential community, meaning they lived in the same residence hall and participated in many events and classes together. And, because of this, they would be in my Scriptures course in the Fall AND my Church History course in the Spring. We would be together all year.

Our section of Scriptures and History focused on social justice issues, and I arranged the course to encourage the students to think critically about social justice and religion, to begin to find their voices around issues that are important to them, and to integrate these with what they were learning in their other courses, particularly the courses in their majors. This means that we talked about difficult things most of the time. This means that we were vulnerable often. This means that we engaged disagreement with a shared commitment to learning. We got tight, and fast.

Telling them that I was leaving Baylor to move to Memphis was incredibly difficult, even though it was the right move for me.

Before I left, they planned a beautiful surprise for me. They gave me a box filled with letters they had written about our year together, about what they had learned about themselves, and about how much we mean to each other.

I didn't read the letters then, because it was so precious, so wonderful, so loving that I felt like I needed more time to be ready for such a gift.

I read the letters today, upon finishing my first year at MTS. Some were long, while others were brief. Some were funny, and some made me cry. One did both (you know who you are, dear one!). I could hear my students' voices as I read their letters, and my heart filled with joy. I just sat there for a while, reading and rereading, thanking God for the opportunity to be a teacher, thanking God for my students and for their big dreams, and treasuring memories of conversations and cupcakes. (If part of my spirit remains in Waco, it lives at The Olive Branch.)

With more than ten years in ministry and almost five as a professor, I have been blessed beyond measure to walk with students, parishioners, and families, to hear their stories and dreams, and to play a small part in helping them get to where they are going. I love when they stay in touch, when they invite me to celebrate in their accomplishments and share in their sorrows just because we know we love each other.

Dear ones, I am always here for you. And I am always proud of you.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Deep Edges

My Papa Stanley has bought me every pair of skates I have ever owned. Until now.

I have been wearing the same pair of skates since 2005. When Papa bought me those, he got me top of the line custom Harlicks, so that as I moved into upper level double and possibly triple jumps, my skates would carry me through. After he passed away in June, 2009, my skates became a way to still be with him, to still feel his love for me.

But now those skates are worn down. They are held together in duct tape in some places.

So this year, I ordered new skates. On the one hand, I am eager to skate in them. I can't wait to see where my skating can go with the right gear to support me. I've been teetering on the brink of several jumps, and I feel like my body is ready to progress. On the other hand, it feels like burying Papa all over again.

I am keeping the last pair of skates he bought me, the skates that have carried me these past eleven years. I will always keep them. Wearing them as I coach my little students, they will be cozy and familiar. And as I help little skaters find their feet underneath them, my Papa will be helping me find mine.

There's something beautiful about being the first one on the ice, making that first mark across the surface, especially early in the morning when inches of fog rise from the ice surface. There's something hauntingly precious about holding your edge right before a take-off, that moment that feels like an eternity of remembering your greatest falls and your most triumphant landings. And the solace of being in a spin, of letting go of your thoughts and just enjoying the air against your skin and the power of your body to create momentum.

And now a new chapter is starting. Maybe a new pair of skates doesn't seem like enough to mark a new chapter, but skaters will understand.

I imagine that the first time I take the ice in my new skates will be emotional in many ways. I imagine it will take me longer to break them in than I realize, that it will hurt more than I remember, and that I will feel more vulnerable than is comfortable.

But I can't move forward unless I take that first step. And as we coaches tell all of our students who are scared to take their first can do it, one step at a time.