Some friends of mine are putting on a great production of “The Vagina Monologues” this weekend, to raise money for My Sister’s House, our local battered women’s shelter. It’s a performance, or a series of performances, that are at times funny and at times tragic….but mostly very raw and truthful. I am sure there are those who attended (and didn’t know what they were getting into!) who were shocked, and embarrassed, and even angry that such a performance was taking place in the pure city of Statesville. Some were a little thrilled, overwhelmed and empowered. I think that is good for us. Because maybe it will get us talking and realizing some simple facts about life. And how we can make it better.
Violence in our society is rampant. We like to turn our heads. We like to pretend it doesn’t exist. Or pretend it does and spread rumors when we have no facts. We like to tear apart the victims in our brains and figure out how they in some way caused it or provoked it. Like that will excuse it. And you know, usually you can find reasons if you look hard enough. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were warned that their offender had issues. Or their friends and family didn’t like them. Certain things happened along the way in their relationship where they should have seen the signs of escalating abuse, but yet they chose to stay. They dressed provocatively. They emasculated, taunted, talked too much, went too far. They drank too much or took drugs and weren’t in control of themselves. They were drunk or stoned or blacked out and unable to consent….so never really said no. They didn’t show them enough attention. Took constantly in the relationship and didn’t give anything in return. They said they forgave them and took them back. They stayed.
None of these behaviors are ever acceptable reasons for an offender to abuse. None of these reasons apply once the word “No” is uttered. None of these reasons are for someone to treat someone unkindly, or without respect, or as less than human.
There’s no denying it is toxic. And complicated. And tragic. And a problem that often is accompanied by layers and layers of dysfunction. One that sometimes perpetuates, as both abusers and those who are abused continue the cycle.
And you know, the violence is not only against women. Many men live or are in relationships with abusers. You may not hear about these as often. You may not have sympathy when you do. It gets confusing….especially when the man does not strike back. Or especially the time he does.
Abuse against both men and women is evil…..be it mental, physical, verbal, sexual. Pure evil. It happens in homes of the rich, the poor and the middle class. It happens in homes that don’t acknowledge God at all, but also in homes where Christ is supposed to be at the center. Some abusers even claim their behavior is condoned by God. They are liars.
Sometimes it is shiny on the outside, but ugly on the inside. You would be shocked. Yet it continues for a lot of reasons….sometimes simply because a victim is embarrassed and unable to talk about it to anyone. Love often gets warped and people start to think that love is a feeling or a relationship (wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, mother, father, sister, brother, friend) instead of a verb – requiring consistent constant actions that show it.
How do we know when it is not love? I like using the definition in I Corinthians 13 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” That should be our checklist for whether love is in a relationship. No excuses. (To those who know me, I will bring this definition up often. Because I think it is important. The word love is too often misunderstood. This list gives my brain something to focus on when my heart gets in the way. I hope it does the same for you.)
I have known friends in violent relationships. I have friends who have been raped. I have worked with both young girls and young boys who had been tortured by those who claimed to love them. Who had been ignored by those who were to protect them. Those whose “home” is a place of belittling, of fear, of unrest, of abuse. You can’t always pick victims or victimizers out on the street. They look like you. They look like me. They seem “normal” and “fine.” Sometimes they are the people we most look up to, because their mask is professionally painted on. We have no clue. But it’s there. The scars are ugly. Often the behaviors are being perpetuated from generation to generation. So much is going on around us. But we don’t want to see. So we choose not to.
The good news is that there is help. There are therapists around to help walk you through it. There are places like My Sister’s House in Statesville who will give you shelter and put their arms around you as you try to break through. There is a 24-hour abuse hotline, 704-872-3403. And http://www.fifthstreetministries.com has a lot of important information on their website that can help, too.
If you are a victim, say the words to someone you trust. Let them lead you to a place where you can find healing. Or if you are not quite ready to trust somebody else, start your research. Prepare a plan to get out. And if you are out, remember to continue to work your plan to heal.
If you are an abuser, or think you may be an abuser but haven’t wanted to face it, you can change. Really. I believe it. But you also need to learn how to speak up and confess to someone you trust. Change always must start with a recognition of the truth. The abuse hotline may be a good place to start. They will help you determine your own truth.
What do women and men deserve? People in their lives who love them. Who honor them. Who aren’t angry with them. Who protect them. Who trust them. Who are kind to them. If your life is less than that, it needs to get better. The Vagina Monologues is much more than vignettes about vaginas. It’s about you deserving a life of love and peace. Whether you live in Statesville, NC or somewhere else in our world.