I was in the seventh grade when a teacher asked me if I wanted to launch an official complaint of sexual harassment against a classmate.
I was fourteen years old when a stranger stared at me lewdly, when he looked me up and down and offered me free admission to his bar.
I was a freshman in college when a boy didn’t listen when I asked him to stop. I may have been drinking and I may have been lying on the floor next to him, but I still remember how I kept saying “no,” and I still remember how he kept ignoring me when I said “no.”
I was eighteen when a married man asked me out on a date. I was twenty-four when a stranger stuck his tongue into my mouth and attempted to kiss me. I was twenty-six when a co-worker misread my actions and began to grope me in the hallway of our principal’s house, when his attempts left me running into the middle of the street in fear. One hand held a holiday cocktail, the other wiped tears from my eyes.
I remember these things because they happened to me.
I remember these things because you don’t forget when these things happen to you.
I remember these things because some of them happened within the context of Christian community, in a place I so badly wanted to believe immune from “the things of this world” and from treating women with disrespect, because surely these things wouldn’t happen with people and by people and to people who love Jesus.
But mostly, I remember these things because they’re true – and truth, after all, always has a way of lodging itself in your heart, even if you try and shove it into a back corner closet, where you can’t see it or hear it or think about it too much.
Try as I might, I can’t let these memories go for these instances of unwanted intimacy shaped me and will continue to shape me each and every day, as I interact with my husband and with my young sons and with the world around me.
Perhaps like you, I’ve felt like I’ve been wandering through a bit of fog lately. I oftentimes blame it on our recent move, on the many transitions and changes present in our lives: I just need another week or two to rest and sort things out. I just need another couple of months to hunker down and transition into this new-again-to-us place. But when I take one look at the CNN newsreel or pop onto various social media outlets I’m reminded why that fog sometimes overwhelms me, why the memories of my past hold a power to stop me from speaking the only truth I’ve ever known.
I’m reminded how I’ve discounted and even normalized my experiences because culture told me I should, because boys will be boys, because that’s just part of growing up, dear.
And I’m reminded of the shame that stems from something that was not my fault, of the shame that led to believe that I did something wrong, of the shame that made me believe I said something, wore something, drank something or just plain was something wrong.
But today I rebuke that shame, for this shame is not mine now and this shame was never mine to hold.
Our country is a crucial point of decision right now: this is not merely about believing the stories of women, but this is about caring for the dignity of women, period. And sometimes coloring outside the lines means rewriting traditionally defined narratives of the past, including narratives that don’t believe and care about the stories of women in the same way that they care about men.
So, I don’t know about you, but I’m listening to the stories of these truth tellers, of women who are coming forward and taking the stand. I’m listening even though it’s hard, even if it sometimes makes me feel foggy and threatens me with shame. I’m listening because these brave souls are human beings, stamped with the image of God, cloaked in the likeness of love.
But mostly, I’m listening because these stories matter.
And now, the rest of us get to listen too.
Are you ready to listen? #metoo. If you’ve been a victim of sexual assault, you are not alone. Your story matters. Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.