Friday, February 19, 2010

The Trouble with Trauma

On Tuesday I found closure. The youth director who served our church when I was in high school was sentenced to 12 years in prison for violating his probation. Finally. I mentioned my high school youth group experience in one of my posts this week and that it has been a huge part of my discernment/processing here at seminary. When the initial trial was going on, I remember hearing a peer say that the only person who should feel traumatized by this situation is the victim. But who was the victim? Yes, there was one person who came forward with testimony of sexual misconduct, but I realize that there were many more victims in this scenario than that peer was acknowledging. My experience on the Gulf Coast after Katrina/Rita taught me that trauma can affect more than the obvious. Of course people who lost their homes were traumatized, but so many others were too. In our orientation to volunteers, we always told them to be aware of their own emotional health during their week in the recovery zone. Trauma affected them too. It affected the people who saw the images on TV. It affected the people who evacuated and came back to their homes untouched by the storm. It isn't fair to categorize trauma or to rank it. Everyone is different. Every experience of the same situation is different. Our youth director was not only guilty of sexual abuse, but was also guilty of emotional abuse. I know I'm not the only one recovering from that. People outside our youth group were affected and hurt by this as well. The church's name was smeared all over the media and of course the community made the same assumptions about the Presbyterian church that they do about the Catholic church with their abuse scandals. Members of our church, including my dad, had devoted countless hours trying to work through the mess that was created. People left the church. People left their faith. I don't think I'll ever fully realize how huge the impact of this situation was.

What I do know is that this experience left me wondering what I was going to do with my life. Growing up I had always thought I would get into some sort of ministry as a career, but I dropped any notion of that plan when this all went down. It didn't matter how many incredible mentors I had in the church or how many incredible experiences I had growing up. This situation erased all of that and in my mind people in the church were the ones who hurt you. Amazing how one experience can change the direction of your entire life. It wasn't until I worked with PDA on the Gulf Coast and saw the amazing love pouring out of the church that I realized how distorted my thinking had become. Thus the healing began and still continues.

This prison sentence isn't going to fix everything, but I am at peace knowing that justice has been served. My heart is filled with relief and the little things that would normally get me frazzled (getting called out in New Testament when I wasn't paying attention, doing poorly on the Hebrew quiz this morning, etc.) don't seem so bad.

"Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God" ~ Isaiah 40:1

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Remember the poor

I have about 3 hours worth of reading to do and my 8am class is quickly approaching. Before I can continue to dive into the books, I need to process something that is heavy on my heart.

At our Ash Wednesday service this morning, the departing charge was to "Go in peace. Remember the poor." I thought this was kind of a funny way to end a very beautiful and restoring worship service. Remember the poor. Is that it? Just remember them? Is that supposed to mean that it is okay that they are poor, as long as we remember them? I don't buy it.

I had the opportunity to fellowship with the poor on Monday night as I helped out at a freeze shelter for women. I was a last minute substitute, so I wasn't fully prepared to spend the night at the church, but they sounded desperate so I said yes. The night went fine, just a few problems but nothing serious. Until 7am. Most women who stay in the shelter understand the rules, including the one about being out of the building by 7am. They are all very grateful for the warm place to stay, even if it is on the hard tile of the church's fellowship hall. They don't want to ruin a good thing by breaking the rules. Evidently one woman was unaware of this rule and decided to hop in the shower at 6:55. At 7:02 I knocked on the door and told her I would give her 5 minutes to wrap up, but that we had to lock up asap. At 7:15 she was still in the shower, door locked. At 7:18 she was out of the shower, but I could hear the washing machine going. I asked if she was doing laundry and she said yes.

This is when crazy Becca emerged. I am beyond ashamed for what transpired next.

I had made it clear that we were now trespassing in the church and that we had to leave right then. She didn't want to listen to me, so the male volunteer who was there yelled at her and threatened to call the police. She then opened the door and let me come into the shower room. All of her clothes were in the middle of wash cycle. All of them. She was completely naked, standing there staring at me and looking for a solution. All I can think about is the fact that I have a quiz in my 8am class that I must be present for, therefore she must leave immediately. So I told her I could offer her some clean clothes from the closet. She declined and instead opened up the washing machine, took out some clothes and put them on. At this point I'm beginning to realize that this woman isn't mentally healthy and if Texas actually had funding for social services, she could be living in an institution that would nourish her. Instead she lives on the streets like trash. My heart sank as we walked out of the building, she dripping wet, me on the verge of tears.

I try to think about what it was like to be in her shoes. Humiliating. I kicked her out of the church with her ziplock baggie with toothpaste and a toothbrush, and an HEB bag full of her soaking wet clothes. Her sole possessions. I can imagine it was brutally cold to walk outside in wet clothes, with wet hair.

All because I had to make it class on time for a quiz that I later found out is only worth 2.5% of our overall grade. Shame on me.

My friend Brenna who attends Princeton Seminary and who is a brilliant theologian, once remarked how difficult it can be to sit in the classroom learning theory when we could be out in the world feeding the hungry. I struggled through three classes on Tuesday, thinking about that soaking wet woman. Wondering why I was in seminary. In my heart I know that I'm called to be here, but there are moments like Tuesday morning when I question that call. This uneasy feeling will likely linger for the remainder of my time here. I shall persevere and hold on to the faith that in the end it will be worth it. And I will remember the poor.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

Not going to make any promises about writing frequently on this here blog, but for some reason I feel inspired to share some stuff with you out there in the internets. This may become a routine end of day deal, or maybe this will be the only post for three months. Keep coming back to check, I love leaving you in suspense.

For the past five months I haven't known what to write on here. I also haven't known what to say in real life off the internets, as I've had one existential crisis after another. This is a normal symptom of seminary. Pretty sure I've cried more in the past 4 months than I have in the past 24 years, which is a good thing. Progress.

So today I had a bit of a breakthrough. As I was organizing the Valentine's aisle (I work at a drug store now, more on that later), amidst the stuffed animals and pounds of chocolate, I was thinking back to the past few Valentine's Days. I like to do this on every holiday, even quirky ones like Groundhogs day. So what did I do on Valentine's Day...

...2006...last year of college but I don't remember what I did that day. Probably watched Pride and Prejudice (BBC version of course) and hosted a pity party for Single's Awareness Day. Gotta love mopey Becca.

...2007...was in Mississippi enjoying a week without volunteers in the camp. I think we were in the midst of moving from the community center site to the post office site. I remember being very tired that month. I also remember finding out that my grandpa was sick and unlikely to recover. He died 10 days later on his 91st birthday. That night I was treated to a Chinese Buffet with Big John, Jan and Graham. It was awkward.

...2008...was at the low point of my quarter life crisis. I think I was working at the library that night. This was before my substitute license had been processed, so I was working 12 hours a week shelving books, living with my parents, feeling very down.

...2009...was in DC for an AmeriCorps conference. I was in the midst of processing some major life decisions. I remember walking over to a basilica or cathedral across from the school where were were staying, and sat in their prayer garden. Appropriately enough I started praying and asking myself some tough questions. I had just submitted my applications to four graduate schools and was discerning which route to take: Social Work or Seminary. I don't know how much time passed, but I remember crying a lot and trying to figure out what to do with all the snot running down my face as I didn't have any tissues. After a while I was at peace with the plan to go to seminary. As I walked back toward the campus a maintenance worker stopped me to ask if I was okay. He must have thought I was broken hearted or lonely on Valentine's Day because he told me that whoever he was, he didn't deserve me. I laughed and kept on walking.

...2010...attending Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and finally loving it. Last semester was iffy. There was way too much discernment and assessing our lives - where we've been and where we're going. It was uncomfortable and frightening, but I've finally dealt with some stuff I had let get covered in dust. Started acknowledging some childhood trauma. Admitted that my experience in high school youth group hurt me more than I allowed myself to admit before. Began to think about the future and what it might look like after seminary. So, I guess you could say I've been a bit busy. I can only guess it will be more of the same for the next 2.5.

As I look at this time line, I'm amazed at how much progress I've made and am overwhelmed by the notion that I'm in a really healthy place for the first time in a long time. What a relief!

That's all for now.