College football season has opened again. The tailgating and driveway parties have started up. People are sporting team colors and hanging out their team’s ribbons. It’s a big deal in the South. Don’t think so? Confuse a Gator fan with a Seminole. Or a Georgia dawg with a yellow jacket. Or a Clemson tiger with a Carolina gamecock.
College rivalries are as much a part of the South as sweet tea, pecan pie, and no-see-ums. The NCAA championship is every SEC and ACC team’s dream. The battle lines of orange and burgundy, red and yellow divide neighbors and even families.
And every year, all teams pray some team will successfully construct a defensive dam to block Bama’s Crimson Tide. Good job, Clemson, who claimed that victory this last year. Will the Tigers be as successful this season? Only time (or fantasy football brackets) will tell.
To every thing there is a season, I guess, as the Bible says:
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”
We enter different seasons in life. Some are winning seasons. Some are losing seasons. Some are championship years. Some are turnover years where we assemble and build new teams. All seasons are important.
In football it’s easy to tell when you’re having a winning season. The score hovers over the field on a big lit-up scoreboard. In life, it’s not always so easy. The yards aren’t measured out so neatly. We’ve shared tough-to-measure gains and losses from our own lives on this blog. That’s how real and messy life can be. Ebbs and flows–in seasons.
This past year we had some brutal “winter” seasons as I’ve been a victim-witness in the criminal justice process. In early 2017, I reported I was abused by someone in my church, someone who was unapologetically allowed to volunteer around my children, around other children. I had gone to my church leaders first (who knew the report was credible and who knew my concern was sincere and reasonable). I didn’t want to have to report to “outsiders” because I knew reporting was going to be costly. Police investigated the report. They found credible evidence. The person I reported admitted some (not all) that he had done. The person had admitted to other persons different accounts of what he had done (different from what he told police). Based on all of the evidence (not just my statements), police issued an arrest warrant (as police should in cases of sexual assault, sexual molestation, and sexual abuse).
Reporting wasn’t easy. But it was right.
Doing the right thing was–is–costly. It set me back in yards on the metaphorical field at a time when I was close to the field goal in my personal life. Some might look at those setbacks and say, “Wow, you sure lost a lot.” Why would anyone put herself through that? It’s not easy.
The worst season was between March and April. During that season, a former student of mine died by suicide. She jumped from our city’s massive eight-lane, 575-feet-high cable bridge. Her writings showed she had recently been sexually assaulted. Another friend of hers and former student of mine also reached out. That student, too, was a victim of abuse and had reported to authorities. That student, too, was seeing first-hand how unkind this process can be to victims. More, my family was suddenly experiencing electronic interference and patent surveillance on our street and behind our home (reports were filed with police by multiple family members and neighbors). We didn’t know whether those incidents were related to the case in which I am victim-witness. Then, two people contacted me and said a private investigator was aggressively “digging for dirt” on me. It was an intense and difficult month.
I resigned everything to follow the good path, the right path, the godly path. God gave me this job. There have been challenges that seemed like statistical impossibilities. I decided if it costs me my livelihood, my reputation, my privacy, my education, my family (most of my family–mother’s, father’s, and in-laws–strongly support me), my home, my health–my very life–I would see this through to the end. That’s when God started making the impossible possible.
That’s how I honor my God, my students, my mother, my children, and the person my God created me to be (God loves her, too).
We survived that winter season. Winter mourning and grief gave way to spring. I overcame some technology obstacles and finished my school semester with solid grades. My oldest son finished the school year with strong SAT and AP exam scores. My daughter danced beautifully in her spring recital. My younger son received special accolades for his good character at a school sports banquet.
Spring birthed a beautiful summer. We rested. Swam. Soaked in sunlight. Played mini-golf. Traveled. Ate German potato-cakes. Went tubing down a river. Rented a party pontoon boat with a water slide. Set off fireworks. Rented a mountain cabin. Took old friends on our travels. Made new friends. Traveled some more. Visited a new, big city. Lodged in a chic, urban apartment with a rooftop deck. Ate Korean food under a street parade of Chinese lanterns. Saw the first Marvel comic book. Visited some historical landmarks. Traveled some more. Watched whales. Had several New England family reunions. Played on a giant duck float in our nana’s pool. Ate amazing roadside seafood. Had backyard barbeques. Traveled some more. Drank frozen butterbeer at Hogsmeade. Rode rollercoasters. Had a close-up encounter with giraffes. Ate French pastries in Epcot. And much, much more.
So summer is ending, and now it’s football season again.
Last week, we were told the man I reported has been indicted and is awaiting trial. We were told there was a pre-trial conference to try to “resolve” matters. And we were told the man has decided to not negotiate and, instead, to plead not guilty (and, I can only assume by logical inference, back-track on his admissions he has made to police and others).
The ball is in his possession, not mine.
He is control of the clock. He decides which plays he wants to run. Here’s the thing, though. No matter what, I default win.
When a person has forsaken truth, he has forsaken God.
“Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.” (Proverbs 3)
I can show mercy. I ask him to be truthful, take full responsibility, and put forth reasonable effort (simple safety measures) to show he authentically understands the gravity of his conduct. That’s how restorative justice works–and God’s plan of salvation is one of restorative justice.
From a biblical perspective, as far back as the book of Genesis, no human changes unless he is motivated to change.
Probation may not make this man change. Our church culture is such that probation conditions would be pretty easy for most in my church. Probation monitors external, patent conduct. This very serious crime is latent, committed in darkness. The biblical rule for judging a man’s heart is by his fruits. The litmus test for our church isn’t in the final outcome. This man’s choices through this process reveal his constitution. His choices show his heart.
Likewise, my choices through this process are a test of my constitution. Scroll back up and see what we endured in March–if we maintained sanity, if we made ourselves vulnerable in love when we could have retaliated in hate, if we vented and then exhaled our anger when we could have repaid “eye for an eye,” if we put everything we have on the line (our very lives), refuse to engage in carnal methods of warfare, and keep choosing love, then we’ve proven we’re made of pretty tough stuff.
The man’s lies reveal much. And, while I personally forgive him and release my anger, his decision to lie cannot be good fruit. It’s evil fruit. It cannot come from a “holy,” “sanctified” man of God. This evil fruit continues to disrespect me (and all other victims of abuse), and it refuses to acknowledge me as a human being with a legitimate right to a peaceable existence.
So, sure, people could say that’s a loss. They might ask what I “gained” in exchange for the high cost of reporting truth. They might ask, “What if a jury is sympathetic to him? What if he only gets probation.”
I gain a lot.
My victory isn’t dependent on this man’s choices. Demanding truth in the light grants me peace and confidence to go forth, hold my head high, and move on with my life, free and clear. It’s not cruel. It’s not revenge. It’s simply a matter of public safety and personal dignity. My victory is in my power to say another’s abuse of and coercive control over my person isn’t cool.
Last week I listened to two parents discuss their own experience reporting the crime of their son being molested by a member of their church on a church camping trip. There were many similarities to what my family has–and is–experiencing. The process was tough on that family, too. The defendant in their case–someone who was funny and charming, someone the whole church knew and loved–drew things out to try to wear them down. They remained strong. The mother said the court outcome was disappointing, for the man “only” got probation.
Did that family lose? Have I lost even if there’s “only” probation?
Absolutely not. Those parents and their son claimed victory. Their son had a chance to confront his abuser. And they found peace knowing they protected others from harm. They learned the man had been in the process of grooming at least two persons.
That’s really the bottom line, right? Protecting the lambs from wolves? Shouldn’t we all be stewards of light for the lambs in our communities (i.e., all vulnerable persons–children and teens, sleeping or incapacitated persons, exceptional needs persons, elderly persons, etc.)?
I think we can be both forgiving of others and angry about the things that anger God (i.e., others using children/vulnerable persons as bait, intentionally harming children/vulnerable persons, and targeting children/vulnerable persons for their own selfish gain). Frankly, any who aren’t angry about such cannot have the spirit of God in their hearts. But negativity doesn’t have to touch our soul. We always have the choice to choose light.
Months ago, I said the outcome of any trial is for a jury and judge to decide. Every defendant has a right to a defense and due process. Every victim has a right (in some cases, a state constitutional right) to due process, too. Victims also have a right to be “treated with fairness, respect, and dignity and to be free from harassment, intimidation, and abuse” throughout the criminal justice process. While all persons should be afforded competent defenses, no defendant has a right to lie to the court, make untruthful statements (or encourage others to lie on his behalf), deny previous admissions he made voluntarily and willingly to police, or disrespect the rights of third parties. Such conduct does not serve justice or due process, and these are not requirements of “zealous advocacy” in any defense.
As for me, despite all our family has endured, I harbor no evil intent, and I have no hatred in my heart. I have forgiven a million times. I’ll probably have to forgive many more times before this matter concludes. Thank God for giving me a heart that forgives easily. Thank God for our family, friends, and colleagues who are supporting us. Thank God for helping us to find humor in difficult moments. Thank God for the victory.
Why can I ALREADY claim victory?
- Responsibility for the perpetrator’s crimes is no longer on my shoulders.
- Even without my testimony, when the offender was called to account for his own crimes, he lied. Those lies speak louder to my community than my voice, regardless of what the offender’s supporters want others to believe. He has lost community-wide respect. (It’s really hard for someone to claim he repented and asked for forgiveness “years ago” when he never took responsibility for his actions and when he continues to lie about it.) Those continued lies validate my concerns about the man being a present danger. I can rest easier knowing it was necessary to report to a more objective investigating body.
- I was told the man had two other victims. I refuse to “investigate” to substantiate those claims because I don’t want anyone to claim my memories were tainted or clouded by others’ experiences. That said, given the red flags of intimidating behavior I witnessed around me and my own daughter, I feel confident I protected others by reporting. (And I do know a friend of mine described an incident eerily similar that was circumvented without knowing details about my own experience–that should be a HUGE red flag to others. Parents in our church community should be seriously discussing this with any relatives who ever traveled with or slept anywhere proximate this person.)
- When others would disapprove of my speaking about the details (e.g., react with disgust), I used to think that disapproval meant there was something “wrong” with me. I now realize such disapproval is a symptom of something horribly broken or repressed in them. (That disapproval and disgust toward victims of crime is incredibly dangerous and leaves other vulnerable persons in jeopardy.)
- I learned it’s healthier to have one friend who doesn’t tolerate the sexual abuse of or coercive control over my person than one hundred so-called friends who do tolerate such abuse and control.
- I can now speak light to truth matter-of-factly, without fear. There’s unbelievable power in that.
- I was believed, and my reasonable concerns were validated (even when some church members who knew the truth refused to listen).
- Never again will church “authority,” “majority,” or “hierarchy” coerce my silence. That hold of making me believe my salvation depended on silence is forever broken. (Hallelujah! This was a MAJOR win.)
- To my knowledge, I am the first in my community to openly report to our entire church leadership and police. To my church, my “sin” was going to outsiders (there aren’t many churches today that discourage reporting crimes to authorities, so any church member being default defensive is default suspicious to me). The first stone in the pond makes a lot of ripples, but regardless, my reporting will make it safer for other victims in my church community to come forward, be believed, and find support.
- Whether the church takes steps to safeguard congregants or not, my reporting will likely deter some others from repeating similar activity. (That said, it would be reckless and foolish for my church not to put safeguards in place to protect vulnerable persons from known offenders. I had no desire to sue them; however, someone someday will. They might have a tough time explaining to a jury why they have strict golf-cart operation rules but no sexual-abuse reporting measures or safeguards.)
- While this will not guarantee the man who harmed me won’t offend again, more eyes will be watching now and taking matters seriously (perhaps, statistically, the most significant deterent for this man).
- I speak for other victims who cannot. My mother was raped at age three. She was again sexually harassed as a young woman when she was a part of my church community. She never had the freedom or the support to do what I am doing, and being chained to the silence of abuse has caused her a lifetime of pain (this is why she never forced me to report when I, as a fearful teen, begged her not to–she understood my fear and she knew disclosures were costly). My voice, strength, and determination honor my mother, my students (including the one who died by suicide this past March), and all other victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual molestation, sexual abuse, and rape.
- I could not control the abuser’s conduct. Again. And again. And again. However, I can control me. Because I have set reasonable boundaries and said it is not okay for my abuser to continue lying and denigrating my person, I send the message that sexual abuse is the abuser’s crime to account AND sin to repent–NOT the victim’s.
- My children respect me more because I risked much to do the right thing and protect others.
- My sons and my daughter know that, should anyone–even a trusted family friend–deliberately abuse them, they will be believed. They have a safe space to disclose, and they will be supported in the disclosure process.
- My children watched their mom take hard hits and grow stronger. As someone recently told me, resilient moms raise resilient kids.
- I’ve leveled up–I’ve given up “control” to God, gained the freedom to live as He created me, and cast off concern for what others think. From here until I die, I will walk as a Proverbs 31 woman. Think that’s arrogant? Don’t care. 🙂 (That should make the enemy tremble.)
- I like me more now.
- More importantly, God likes me more.
- Finally, if I died tonight, I would die in peace knowing it was right and reasonable to warn others about someone I 100% knew to be capable of very dangerous, very secretive, very coercive, and very harmful conduct.
So I repeat this: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
As a professor told me, “Is this going to cost you? Yes. But will you look back one day and know you did the right thing? Yes.”
In these seasons, we’ve wept, but we’ve laughed more. We’ve broken down, but we’ve built up better and stronger. We’ve lost, but we’ve gained greater. We’ve spoken when it was hard, and we’ve kept silent when it was even harder. We’ve had reason to hate, but we’ve prayed through, read through, and continuously released our anger. We’ve chosen to forgive. We’ve deliberately, intentionally loved. We’ve upheld truth, even if truth hurt us. Even if truth hurt others. And we’ve healed hurts. We refrained from embracing when embracing wasn’t in God’s time. And we’ve looked into the face of those who deliberately, intentionally harmed and embraced them anyway. We’ve mourned in the winter, and we’ve danced in the summer.
We’ve survived war. We’ve found peace. We may not be NCAA champions like Clemson, but we are the victors because after every season of loss came a season of gain. Greater was the gain.