50 Shades of Something Else Entirely

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Gentle Reader,

I realize that I’m a couple of weeks late to the party, but I do like to make a dramatic entrance.

There is a plethora of articles and information out there that go into great detail as to why 50 Shades of Grey is nothing more than an attempt to glamourize (and thinly at that) an abusive relationship. Some of the loudest voices actually come from within the BDSM community itself, which I find incredibly telling. Priscilla Shirer discussed the series at length with author Dana Gresh and clinical psychologist Dr. Juli Slattery over two episodes on The Chat (you can find part one here). And of course there are quips galore, the best of which has been floating around Twitter (I am unclear as to the original source):

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is romantic only because the guy is a billionaire. If he was living in a trailer it would be a “Criminal Minds” episode.

How true. Although I dispute that it’s romantic at all.

I’m not going to give you an exhaustive list of reasons as to why you should avoid 50 Shades. (Except that it began as Twilight fan-fiction. Please do dwell on that for a bit). It’s been done and by people far better versed on the topic than I. A simple Google search will lead you to that conclusion.

I have something else to tell you.

First, let’s be quite clear about the fact that this is pornography. Women who would (justifiably) flip out if their husbands or boyfriends indulged in the consumption of illicit material are absolutely kidding themselves (or outright lying) if they insist that 50 Shades is “just” a love story. This series has sold well because of the graphic descriptions of sex. (And the descriptions can’t even be that good; more than a few reviewers have said that E.L. James’ writing is awful). If you read the books or see the movie, at least be honest about what it is that you’re putting into your mind.

Second, the major thematic element in the 50 Shades series is control, not love. I have not read the books (nor will I) but I have had enough exposure to them to know. I’ve read plenty of quotes. I’ve cataloged dozens of copies of each one for the library. I know that Mr. Must-be-Ironically-Named Christian Grey stalks, grooms and abuses Anastasia I-Checked-My-Brain-at-the-Door Steele (she has GOT to be the single-dumbest female character ever written). I know that he uses his past as an excuse for his present behavior. I know that he uses power – financial, physical, emotional – to manipulate this woman he so “loves.”

There’s nothing sexy or romantic about it. The fact that anyone thinks otherwise is quite literally beyond my understanding.

But maybe the people who enjoy these books (and the movie that the actors themselves found to be horrid) were never stalked, groomed or abused.

I was.

Too young and naive to understand, too convinced of my own complete lack of self-worth, I never found the words to discuss what happened to me as it was happening. Not with my parents or other trusted adults, at any rate. My friends were aware of some things, but they were also too young and too naive. Many of these people are still in my life and I love them to pieces, but their advice at the time simply wasn’t helpful. How could it be? We had no experience of these things.

There is nothing but horror to be felt when your boyfriend pretends to shoot himself during a phone conversation because he loves you “so much.” Nothing but confusion when he screams at you in front of others because you achieved something while he wasted his time and somehow that’s your fault. Nothing but pain when he calls you terrible names. Nothing but frustration when he starts dictating your clothing choices. Nothing but an undefinable emotion when you tell him that you’re afraid he’ll hit you – and he does. Nothing but terror after you break up with him and he shows up at your workplace, outside your classroom doors, uninvited at friend’s houses when you’re there, follows you home night after night and sits in the street for long stretches, staring.

And yet you think all of these awful feelings are somehow love, because he’s sunk his hooks so deep into your mind that you no longer know what’s up or down, right or wrong. When you try to confront him about something, he cries. Or refuses to speak. Because you’ve hurt him. Because you don’t understand how deep his devotion to you goes. How dare you question him?

I’m still afraid to run across this guy and it’s been more than 11 years since the last incident. I don’t want to be afraid. I’m a grown woman with a good life and an ever-growing sense of self. By the grace of God, I’m strong. I’ve dealt with some genuinely difficult stuff. Yet the handful of times I’ve run into him… The ice crawls up my spine in the thinking about them.

Real love is not about control, my friend. Relationships are not based in one partner dominating the other. Ladies, there is something fundamentally flawed in your thinking if you are attracted to Mr. Grey, if you think he’s so dreamy and you want a guy just like him. There are plenty of Mr. Grey’s in the world – and they are evil. They will manipulate you. Gaslight you. Abuse you. They will cut you until all of your beautiful sparkle, all of your unique life, is drained out through the veins of identity and value.

That’s not love. That’s not romance.

It’s 50 Shades of something else entirely.

Darling, precious women – you are worth SO MUCH MORE. In fact, the God of all creation has such passionate love for you that He sacrificed His own life so you could be with Him. So you could be made whole. He wants nothing more than to bring you out of darkness and into the light of His wholly perfect love. He wants you to have healthy relationships where you are cherished. Highly esteemed. Where you can grow and flourish. Where your gifts and talents are appreciated, your strengths admired. Where your weaknesses are acknowledged but never used against you.

God will never push you into the dirt and He doesn’t want you to be with anyone who will.

Mr. Grey belongs in the trash.

Don’t climb in there with him.

Grace and peace along the way.

Finding My Voice

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Gentle Reader,

Something has clicked for me.

It began on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, referenced in this post. I certainly don’t think that social media is the place to air each and every thought and emotion. I don’t think blogging is the appropriate place for that, either. Nobody likes a constant stream of word-vomit. Discretion and wisdom are necessary in the online life (not to mention the “real” life). It’s important to consider what and how we share. Some things are great for general discussion. Others should be kept between trusted friends and family. Still others are meant to be hashed out with God alone.

So I’m not about to pontificate on every issue under the sun. But neither am I going to go out of my way to avoid voicing an opinion.

I’ve been doing that. Keeping silent. Honestly, part of that is because I think a lot of what passes for urgent these days is just a waste of time. People need to get off the computer and go do something worthwhile. Volunteering at the shelter has really changed my perspective. There are much bigger things going on in the world than what kind of meat to eat or if meat should even be eaten at all.

But it’s more than that. My friendships span a wide spectrum. Vegans and carnivores. Atheists and Christians. Pro-vax and anti-vax. I’ve often been reluctant to “like” or “share” a post because “what if so-and-so sees I did?” I’ve shied away from leaving comments because “what if so-and-so gets angry?”

And then the clicking.

First, I realized that it made no sense whatsoever that I would allow others the freedom to share their views, even views that I highly disagree with or find offensive, while not allowing myself the same freedom. Second, I realized that if a friendship falls apart because of differing takes on such trivial matters then it wasn’t really a friendship to begin with. Third, and perhaps most crucially, I understand the difference between attacking a person and criticism of a stance. No longer do I tolerate someone who chooses to be insulting on a consistent basis but I don’t at all mind someone who challenges my way of thinking. If I can be challenged, then I can challenge others. That’s healthy discourse.

All of these thoughts were subconscious. I haven’t been able to articulate them until today.

The third point in the above stirs me. We as a society have conflated personal attack and ideological criticism. We assume that anyone who holds a different position is saying something nasty and personal. We don’t know how to handle relationships that aren’t 100% square in all things. All too often we run away from anyone who dares to disagree. That bothers me a great deal. I don’t want to live in a world where everyone thinks exactly the same as I do. Heaven forbid I ever start to think that I can’t learn anything from anyone, that my way is the only right way. (Obviously I’m not talking about Jesus here, so don’t even start to think that I’m saying something about all religions being equal).

Disagreement is normal. It’s fine. It doesn’t have to be vicious.

I’ve chosen to step out and share my thoughts about some controversial things on my Facebook page. I said the Affordable Health Care Act is a joke because it’s not true reform at all, though I hardly place all the blame for that on the shoulders of the President. I said that I’m tired of articles that talk about how much the Church sucks because the people who write them are largely of my whiny, lazy, self-centered, entitled generation; a generation who, as a general rule, refuses to acknowledge its own responsibility in anything. I came out as a pro-vaxxer. (This last one may actually lose me some friends and I seriously don’t get it. I don’t understand why this is such a heated topic. Or even a topic for debate at all. But again, I fully support everyone’s right to think that they want).

You know what?

It felt good.

So, so good.

I didn’t call anyone names. Just said what I thought. It’s fine with me if other people disagree. We can talk. If they don’t want to talk, if they want to walk away, that’s fine, too. Sad, but fine. I have no control over anyone’s response.

Maybe it’s because I’m 30. Maybe it’s because I had a tumor. I don’t know. I’m just done with being scared. I’m so, so, so tired of letting other people have that much influence over me. I’m disgusted with the stupid, ridiculous fights I see over minute, ultimately meaningless details when there’s a lost, broken world dying for truth. I’m over all of it. Sure, I’ll tell you what I think and I find a new sense of freedom in that, but I’m not going to fight about it. I have better things to do.

Frankly, so does everyone else.

Grace and peace along the way.

When Nothing Else Could Help

Gentle Reader,

My mind can’t make anything compute right now. It’s totally, completely bizarre to me that normal life continues on when I’ve got this major thing happening. I wake up, I go to work, I spend time with friends and family. On Saturday, I got to go shopping with my mom and I got to see a play. I plan menus and make grocery lists. (Well, okay, I assist Chris in those tasks). I empty the dishwasher and fold laundry.

And all the while I’m thinking about the thing.

My surgeon called Friday afternoon and told me that no biopsy is necessary. He is confident that the tumor is benign and wants to proceed with removal. One of the schedulers from his office is supposed to call me this afternoon or tomorrow. I’ll have dates and timelines. It’ll be 3-5 days in December. Days of pain pumps and refusing to eat Jell-O.

The tumor – a dear friend and her daughters helped me name it: Skolops (the Greek for “thorn in the flesh” as found in 2 Corinthians 12:7) “Boobies” McFartstein; we were feeling silly that day – is hanging out way up high, near my right lung, so it’s a challenging procedure. They’ll slice me open and use this spatula-like thing to hoist my ribs out of the way. They’ll take out some healthy liver along with Skolops and the area he’s affected. Then they’ll sew me back together, wrap me up tightly and send me off to a room reeking of disinfectant.

The freaking out began Saturday night.

I started dwelling. This is rarely a good thing, especially in the wee, dark hours. Everything seems bleak and hopeless.

What if it turns out to be cancer after all? What if I have to have a second surgery? What if something goes wrong and I die on the operating table? What if I can’t handle the pain? What if I’m in the hospital longer than expected? What if we can’t pay our bills? What if we lose the house? What if I’m not up to going back to work when I’m supposed to? What if I fall when I’m at home by myself and can’t get to the phone?

Even after examining all the questions rationally, I still feel scared. And sad. Being scared makes sense to me because we’re all scared of the unknown and of things we can’t control. But I don’t understand the sad. I don’t understand why I want to cry. Why I am crying as I write this.

So when we sang these words at church yesterday, my conviction that God is intimately involved in our lives deepened, because they were words I desperately needed to hear. He soothes us in our wailing before we even know to ask for it:

“Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me!
Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me!” – James Rowe & Howard Smith

The hymn is centered on salvation, how it is Jesus alone who can make us right. That is so beautifully true, but, right now, the words bring something else to my mind:

“…the Master of the sea, heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.”

Like Peter, I chose to step out of the boat. I chose to trust rather than fear those long six months ago. I have struggled to keep my eyes on Christ. The waves have grown higher and the sky darker. The lightning flashes and the thunder rolls. Everything is amplified and so frightening. I take in the surroundings and lose sight of His face.

I slip beneath the water.

He is there immediately. He lifts me with complete ease.

He asks me the same question He asked the apostle: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

There is no anger in His voice. The question is not meant to push me toward self-loathing. It is a reminder. Jesus has never failed me. Not once. He is with me now. He will be with me in the operating room. He will hold my head in His lap and speak peace into the secret places of my heart, the places only He and I know about. He will be there when the anesthesia wears off and I’m hit with the first, intense, vomit-inducing wave of pain. As the lines of the children’s prayer affirm, He will “watch and keep me.”

Whatever comes, Love will lift me.

Grace and peace along the way.