This is my no. You don’t have to like it. You might not be used to it. I’m not very good at it. But it’s way past time.
This is the “No” I wish I would have been strong enough to say when I was 3, 5, 12, 16, 24, 32…
I’m ok that this is the time when I finally have enough courage to speak up and speak out.
To that girl who did things to me when I was 3, I didn’t want that. I was scared of you. That was cruel.
The preacher’s kid I met when I was five and you were 15. I didn’t want to kiss you behind the barn. I didn’t like you. You smelled funny. You were mean.
At church camp, I was 12 and you were 18. I didn’t want to hold your hand but you wouldn’t let go. I didn’t want your sloppy kisses and fumbling fingers on my body. I was disgusted by you and frozen in fear by your aggressive behavior. I didn’t like you. I didn’t want you.
The man, in a place supposed to be sacred and safe, grabbed my butt so hard you left a mark and scared me so badly I cried for an hour. I was 16. You had children older and younger than me. I never wanted to see you again. But I had to. Over and over. You never apologized. And no one ever believed me.
At that one Christmas party, when I wore the purple dress, you whispered in my ear so close your lips were kissing me under the pretense of a secret while you flattered me with words of hollow praise. You disgusted me. I hated being silent while you said those things and you invaded my space. You stole something precious from me. And I let you do it. Why I hid your actions from my husband for so many years I’ll never know. No more.
You were my friend. We were close. Real. I felt I had a sister who understood me. I had always struggled to be friends with other women and you were a rarity that I treasured. I didn’t want to hear you fantasized about us together. You broke us.
Oh, hell no.
You called me and wanted to talk for hours. I spent more time with you at coffee houses than I spent with my husband. You obsessed about my writing, my moods, my feelings, and my aspirations. You flattered me about my appearance, compared me to other women, and even asked me to teach your wife how to dress like me. One of many ways you violated my trust and my boundaries were the night you pursued me out of a crowded house, down a dark street, after a dinner party for a brief exchange of forced intimacy and dialogue. You insinuated yourself into every single event of my life for nearly 3 years and I didn’t want you. I never wanted you. But I thought I had to be nice. I thought I had to be courteous.
You were the pastor.
After my last close sister-friendship had been broken so badly I felt there was only one person I could really trust. We had such a good time. Until we didn’t. I trusted you.
When I wore my hair straight you would caress my shoulders, run your hand down my back from shoulder to waist, and tell me how beautiful you thought I was. I would smile and nod and cringe and panic on the inside, but I felt dirty every time I talked to you. I had to be nice. I had to be courteous.
You were the pastor.
“Have you ever kissed a man with a goatee?” you asked. Old enough to be my grandfather, you still made sure to ask me, knowing my own husband was clean-shaven. Leaning in with a conspiratorial chuckle, as though that would lessen the inappropriateness of a suggestive wink and the smirk on your goateed face. I was repulsed.
You were supposed to be respectable. Everyone said so. A man of godly integrity, they said.
There are more stories about when I was subjected to the whims and impulses of careless and self-indulgent men and women. Boundaries crossed, my friendliness twisted into something for their personal consumption. Eventually, I learned to stay distant. But it wasn’t because I was playing “hard to get”. You were terrifying, obscene, and untrustworthy. To varying degrees, you decided that I didn’t have the right to establish the terms by which I could be approached. I couldn’t be your friend. I was a means to an end. An item on a menu.
I found all of them where I should have been safest: my local church.
Yes, you read that right.
Every single person mentioned here was at a church I was currently deeply involved with, serving them in one capacity or another.
My home church.
Oh, they came from different churches, in different states, and in different decades. I found them in big churches, little churches, new churches, and old churches. Some were my age, sometimes older. Some were married while others were not. It didn’t matter if I was a child, a new mom, a married woman, or in leadership myself. I became a commodity, a means to an end, a tool to satisfy a hidden desire for an inappropriate intimacy.
They taught me lessons that superimposed themselves over thousands of hours of sermons, bible studies, prayer meetings, and worship events. They taught me how to survive in the church by keeping myself as far from the Body of Christ as possible.
You taught me to avoid any physical contact if I could. You taught me to remain aloof and isolated from any kind of friendship beyond the public and, even then, to only share so much. You taught me I couldn’t be trusted to know when someone was a foe or a friend because you were always so friendly and nice. Right up until you decided what you wanted from me was more than I could give. Then you got pushy. Or sly. Or sneaky.
Where in the Body of Christ are we allowed to let natural or unnatural impulses carry us into a position of using another person for our personal gratification? Where is it ok to do whatever it is you were doing in your minds long enough to become numb to what your hands and voice and face were doing?
You were deceived enough to believe your actions were acceptable. Justifiable. Perhaps you were being “affectionate”? I would like to believe you were naïve and innocent of compromised intent.
Honestly, believing them ignorant would be easier than seeing them as they were. But to be free of them I have to remember that I knew each of these people long enough to know there was no one else they treated as they treated me. I also knew them long enough to know that, if married, spouses were, surprisingly, never near by when they would act on their impulses.
As incomprehensible as it seems, I know that somehow, they believed their inner dialogue wasn’t hurting anyone. No one could really tell what they were thinking. All the things kept tidy and hidden behind good intentions and explanations.
I want to ask them now, “Did you know your thoughts and urges were leaking out through your actions?”
You hurt me. I have no idea how many others you hurt as well.
Somehow, in your mind, I only existed for your gratification. We weren’t really friends. Not then. Maybe not ever. I wasn’t allowed to put up boundaries. I wasn’t permitted to walk the way I chose. Not without consequences. Not without punishment.
On the few occasions I dared to speak up or pull away from you.
Isolation. Gossip. Slander. Rejection.
There is a place in the Church for kindness, compassion, close relationship, and openness. We should be able to hug each other. Cry on each other’s shoulders. High Fives for Jesus. Good grief. Holy kisses, right?
I should be able to hold your hand in the service and not cringe at any physical proximity because I have been trained all these years to believe no one is who he or she appears to be. We should be able to laugh and be honest and wrestle through the insanity of life wholeheartedly, yet with integrity.
I’m not expecting people to be all crazy Puritanical here. Don’t misread me.
Horrifically, the men and women in the circumstances listed here would have considered themselves reasonable and upstanding people. They would have justified their behavior and downplayed the events. I am being “dramatic”. I take things too seriously. I am being egotistical and arrogant by thinking I was so irresistible. So noteworthy.
I mean, I’m cool, I know it. But I’m not THAT cool.
Seriously, though I’m not. I promise. Having spent much of my adult life doing public service, I have trembled at the thought of being the focal point of anything. Ask my husband, who has held my shaking hands and heard me talk myself into standing up front again. Week after week, in the same public role, I would push through being overwhelmed being the center of anyone’s attention.
I’ve tried to be invisible by being fat, or quiet, or frumpy. I cringe at the time I have spent apologizing for looking nice, or having pretty hair, or wearing nice shoes. There were entire seasons I tried to avoid notice by demeaning myself or being silent when I should have spoken up. I quit writing. As my closest friend, Brian has seen me sit in the very back and head for the doors as soon as I possibly could because the risk of being known could lead me to the ones who don’t respect that I belong to a Holy God and am committed to the man I love more than any other.
This has been me for most of the past 10 years.
I have shoved natural friendliness, normal affection, compassion, and openness into a rigid, self-imposed prison of solitude lifted rarely and reserved for only a very tiny group: my sons and one or two others who have stood the test of time. But even then, even in those moments, I have been cynical and jaded.
There have been many times I have thought there was something wrong with me. It isn’t stretching the truth to say I have spent most of my life believing I must have deserved to be treated as less than respectable. Or, perhaps, I should just be thankful it’s happening to me and not someone else. I can handle it because I’m used to it. Maybe the others will be spared.
No. Never again.
I’m done. When I see the red flags, which by now I can see coming from a mile away, I reserve the right and the freedom to let you walk on by. I don’t need you. You don’t need me. This isn’t my problem anymore. I won’t carry this plague of self-indulgence any more and I refuse to make excuses for your awkward advances any longer.
Why should you?
For those who have stood with me, I love you. I’m crazy about you. You have reminded me why it’s worth it to say no so I can say yes to all the amazing things out here, in the real world. You are worth it.