I lost my only sibling, my younger sister, to cancer a little over a month ago. It was a 7 year long journey of hospitals, waiting rooms, remissions, and growth.
Living and loving immensely. Losing and grieving immensely.
My sister loved Jesus. Her love for Jesus, along with some of her own quirks, helped her love others like Jesus did. She was kind, warm, and funny. She was quick to listen and always gave others the benefit of the doubt. She was welcoming in her approach, always meeting you with a smile and never in a hurry if you wanted to talk. She loved the outcast, the misfits, the forgotten. And somehow, anyone who fell into that category knew it. She was swarmed with people looking for love, asking for acceptance, hoping for friendship. From the youngest of ages, I remember the friends she had. They were always the ones that were made fun of at school or considered “different.”
At her service, the chapel was standing room only. Most of the faces I knew, or remembered from years ago. Some of those faces were the outcasts from our past. Those whose lives had gone different directions but brought them back to my family in this moment. With tears in their eyes and fond memories of the Mary they loved. The Mary who loved them.
After it was over and I was talking to the many people who came to say goodbye, I felt a large hand start at the small of my back and wrap its way around my hip and up to my ribcage, right underneath my bra. For a split second I thought it might be my husband, but also knew in that exact moment it wasn’t.
I looked away from whoever I was talking to to see a man I’ve never laid eyes on before. I took my elbow and shoved his hand away from my waist and looked at him.
He began to talk to me about who he was and how he knew Mary. My heart was immediately racing and I was putting distance between us. I began to sweat and my chest and face were getting hot. He went on and on and on.
He began to cry. He began to talk more about how loving Mary was and what a gift she was to all who knew her. “I am a pastor and I counsel people all the time. She was such a picture of grace.” I know I must have been smiling and nodding because I went into autopilot mode. And that’s what I do. My heart just kept sinking. A pastor?
Then he told me he knew Mary from her old job. He was a client and she was the medical assistant at this particular office. “She always met me with a smile and was nice to me. She was so patient, even when she was sick.”
I felt sick.
Then he stepped closer to me, dropped his voice an octave, squinted his eyes in a way that clued me into what was about to happen next and he said “you know what? I always thought your sister was really hot.”
Both Mary and I were raised in a Southern Baptist church. We were taught to comply, to serve, and to smile. I went to many weekend conferences about the importance of purity, servitude and submission. And while I can’t say it necessarily felt oppressive at the time, I walked away feeling as though women were less than. Created to serve, cook, cover themselves and make babies. It deeply affected any semblance of a relationship I had with God, and I figured if He truly saw me as less, I wasn’t interested.
Mary and I didn’t talk about these issues until much later in life. In fact, it wasn’t until the last year of her life. She told me she had walked away from church feeling the same way.
God was a distant being who met us with silence and her job was to submit, serve, and have a family.
She found no freedom or joy from what we were raised to believe Christianity was. Instead, she learned to suffer in silence, to never complain and to not use her voice in defense of herself, especially with men.
Her constant trust of others burnt her badly many times. Her sweet approach made her an easy target to be taken advantage of. Her ready smile was preyed on.
When she first got sick and told the different doctors her symptoms, she was dismissed as a girl with bad PMS. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Maybe some cysts. Two months later and truly almost dying they finally took her seriously and found a seven pound mass on her ovary. There it was. Stage 3C Ovarian cancer.
I understand she was 40 years younger than the average woman to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. But she was not heard and was dismissed. She didn’t have a voice to speak up for herself. She smiled, swallowed their condescending tone and more ibuprofen.
The church was so focused on making a “good woman and wife” that they took part in stomping out the part of her that could have saved her life.
This isn’t just a problem within the church, though. It’s worldwide. The fact that it exists within the church is more heartbreaking to me than the truth that it’s global, though. No where in the Bible did Jesus show us that women were less. No where did he ever shush her or not listen. No where did he not reach out, even when it was perceived as scandalous.
He valued women. listened to them. healed them. taught them. This was, and is, revolutionary.Jesus valued women. listened to them. healed them. taught them. This was, and is, revolutionary. Click To Tweet
We have come a long way, but women finding their way through this world is pretty sketchy. Women have come before me and made it better for me, and I hope to make it better for my daughters and my son, but:
We are surrounded by other women in church, in our office, in our gym, on our TV, and at the park that were never taught to speak up for themselves or others…or, even more damaging, learned that speaking up was wrong. How do we begin to advocate? protect? love?
This culture and habit of oppressing women absolutely contributed to my sister’s journey. Dramatic. Dismissed. Now dead.
Over the weeks and days since her service I have thought a lot about that man and what he did. If he did that to me, and thought that way of my sister, and was disgusting enough to say it to me at her funeral, who else has he acted so grossly towards?
Who else has he touched? What kind of “pastorly” advice has he given? What has he gotten away with under the ruse of being a “spiritual leader”?
It’s sickening. And there isn’t anything I could do, except tell him off or warn others to stay away. Because what he did, it wasn’t enough to matter, and there was nothing I could do. What he said, there is absolutely nothing except him hearing a “shame on you”.
But I can guarantee you, if he did that to me, he has done it to someone else. Next time he’ll take it even further, if he hasn’t already.
This man took advantage of my lack of fight and touched me in an intimate way. He blabbed on inappropriately, shedding tears which seemed false and then shared with me that he was a pastor, as if telling me to let my guard down. Then he spoke of my sister in such an objectifying way. It was repulsive. I recoiled both emotionally and physically.
To add insult to injury, I immediately went to my phone because I wanted to text my sister about this pervy guy I just met that she used to work with and tell her the whole terrible story. Steps into that thought process I stopped in my tracks. There her body was in the beautiful casket with spring flowers sitting on top, right in front of me.
I wish I could ask her if he ever did this to her, too.
I already know the answer though.
And just like the cancer grew in her body with no one to listen, she suffered this man, too. I know it. The way he spoke of her. The way he touched me. I know he did.
So, what can the church do to protect us all from men from like this, men who are worse, men who prey and violate and do it all in the name of God? How on earth does he have that job?
Yes, the problem is too long and deep to fix it all. It doesn’t mean I don’t start in the places I walk, with the women I meet, here and now.
I will have my eyes open to the girls and women around me, noticing pleading eyes, uncomfortable body language, maybe I can go stand next to her, so she can stand taller and raise that whisper a few levels. And I will teach my husband, daughters and son to do the same.
So in the meantime,
I’ll speak to the men and women in my life who squashed me down and told me I couldn’t because I’m a girl.
To all the individuals who talked down to me with a toxic smile and said “at least you’re pretty” or “ladies shouldn’t get so angry, calm down.”
I’ll speak to the church who wanted to raise a sweet wife and thought they were doing good.
I’ll speak to the boys and men who thought I was there to be consumed and acted on it.
I’ll speak to that man at my sister’s service who violated me and her and then walked away, happy with what he said and what he felt.
I’ll speak to the doctors ignoring Mary’s symptoms and heartfelt concern with what was going on in her body.
You didn’t listen. You wouldn’t listen. Look around at what you reaped in your refusal to just stop and listen. It costs you so little. And gives us so much. Is it that hard? That demeaning? That scary to empower a young girl who will one day be a woman?
As long as I live, my broken heart will never stop beating for my sister and what it cost her. Yep, I get it. Cancer killed her. It knows no bounds and isn’t prejudiced. But if she would have had the voice and someone to listen, maybe things could have been different. And if not, it would be awesome to not have to live with the fact that she was shut up, told to deal with it and “eat better”.
For as long as I live my broken heart will never stop beating for my worldwide sisters whose stories I will hear with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. Stories so demeaning, painful and horrendous, I could drown under the weight of it all.Please listen. Don’t contribute to this oppression and dismissiveness. Click To Tweet
You. You who I’m talking to. Please listen. Don’t contribute to this oppression and dismissiveness. Wherever you interact with women in your daily life, please don’t take part in it. And can I add one more request? When you see it around you, stand for her. It might cost you. Not as much as it will cost her if you don’t, though.
Listen. Listen some more.
You can read more about the #metoo and #churchtoo movements in Beth Moore’s story.
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