So small…

I went out to a Halloween party several weeks ago. I was dressed like Nicolas Cage from National Treasure, but that’s a story for another day.

At one point we landed at a bar that was packed with people. I was standing next to a bunch of friends at the bar, and behind me was a group of people sitting at tables. It was so tight that a waitress could barely squeeze through. Although I wasn’t the cause of her issue I caught myself saying to the waitress, “I’m so sorry.”

The week prior I had hung out with some of my girlfriends. One friend was telling us that her daughter mentioned that mommy says sorry too much. We made a vow at that hang out to catch ourselves when we were saying sorry for things we didn’t need to. Ever since that vow I have started noticing how small I made myself over the last few years.

We were part of a church where (for some reason) we never talked about anything related to politics. No, I’m not talking about who to vote for, or saying crazy things from the pulpit. I’m talking about blatantly obvious inequalities that people who care about loving others should give some thought to. If you never question your own privilege, and if you never learn to have empathy for others – can you ever really grow as a person? I don’t think you can.

Del was a pastor at a church for a little while. We had a congregant who posted something horrific on social media. It was both inaccurate and inappropriate. Del did what he thought was right and gently corrected the person. That person then proceeded to leave the church. I thought we were somehow keeping ourselves safe by making sure we never upset those around us. If I just stay quiet enough, if I hold in my own truth, I won’t bother others and then I can keep myself safe. It’s a tactic that probably worked for some point in my life.

I gave birth in 2020. Yes, it was a pandemic. Yes, it was a very difficult time for many people. But do you know how many people from our church staff checked on us? It was exactly zero. I had stayed so quiet to keep people around, and no one came anyways.

In 2021 I started getting our tax information together. The day I was doing our taxes I also drove into town and saw a line of homeless people waiting to get food. I pulled up online how much money we had donated to our church over the years. It was a lot. Then I asked myself a very important question. Stephanie, what are you doing to feed people in need? And I answered to myself, “nothing.”

For almost a decade I stayed complacent and gave money to support a building of people. I stayed quiet when I should have spoken up because I thought it would help me build relationships.

I was wrong.

I am working on no longer staying small when I can use my voice to speak up. Science matters. People of color matter. Women are important. We need to support the LGBTQIA+ community. And the model of churches in the United States is not serving people with the greatest need.

We stopped tithing that amount of money. Instead we started giving to others. Organizations that feed people. Missionaries that are doing great work. Places that support the arts. Friends and family in need. And good people we know who are building a new church.

Saying I’m sorry for things that don’t need an apology is a habit I’m trying to break. But I am sorry that I stayed small for so long. Sorry to people that needed a voice. I apologize for supporting organizations that were detrimental to many. I will do the work to be better. But mostly – I’m sorry to myself for not being the truest version of who I am. I am starting to voice my own needs and boundaries.

Staying small stops now.

On what an abusive relationship is like…

How do you tell the world you were in an abusive relationship? It’s easy. You just – don’t.

How do you tell the world you were in an abusive relationship?

It’s easy. You just – don’t.

We don’t fall in love with an abusive person; we fall in love with a person that becomes abusive.

Aaron was the sweetest boyfriend. He introduced me to Coach purses, Kate Spade, and Tiffany’s. He was good with my father and kind to my niece. Before we were dating he bought every girl in my sorority flowers as a kind gesture.

Abuse happens slowly over time. It starts with a question or phrase and then grows into something more.

“Are you happy with how your body looks? I think you’d look better if you lost 10 pounds.”

“I don’t like Brandy. I don’t think you should talk to her.”

“Don’t tell your family about ____________. This is between us.”

People think escape is simple and easy. “Why don’t they just leave? I’d just leave.”

Hahahaha. No you wouldn’t, because I’m supposedly intelligent and I didn’t leave. I stuck around. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. I stuck around because over time you become accustomed to behaviors that weren’t there to start with, and then they grow on you.

It’s normal to turn in your receipts to be checked over, right? It’s normal to have your spouse approve all of your clothing, right? It’s normal to hang up the phone when you’re talking to your friends and your spouse walks in, right? It’s normal not to be able to attend holiday functions with family, right? It’s normal to be scared of the person you’re married to, right?

What would have once seemed strange becomes a new normal until you’re controlled to a level you never thought was possible.

In 8th grade Angie Smith told me, “You’ll never have a boyfriend. You’re too independent.” Angie Smith didn’t know Aaron the narcissistic gas lighter.

I’m not sure what paths are “normal.” But in my mind it seems there are two.

You stay because of the power He has. I get it. I totally get it. He has so much power, He is terrifying, He is unpredictable. And although He controls everything, He can have those little moments that only you get to see. He isn’t all bad. I mean, you feel in love with a human, right?

Or there is a snap. A moment. An awakening.

It’s so ridiculous to say, but the movie Country Strong saved my life. I realized that if I stayed I wasn’t going to be around much longer. A small light inside started to flicker, and I started preparing to go.

I made lists of assets. I asked friends, “Would you love me no matter what?” I started building side support structures for the day I would need them.

And then that day came. “I want out.” And I got out.

I wish I could say getting out was the hardest part, but it isn’t.

For me, the hardest part is trying to regain what feels lost. I tried to return back to who I was, but she isn’t there anymore.

I feel stunted. It took years to get out, and it feels like its taking even longer to “get back to normal.” I feel like I lost six years of my life. I see other people who were able to do so much more, and I feel like I’m so far behind. I missed weddings I couldn’t attend, baby showers I couldn’t go to, and friendships I wasn’t allowed to have. How do you tell your cousin, “I’m sorry I missed your wedding. I wasn’t allowed to go”?

Some days I try to speak to a new person, or speak up in a meeting – and that internal fear of saying the wrong thing rises up and crushes my voice. I stay silent. No one can be angry if you’re silent.

I don’t want pity. I want understanding. I want people to see how common this is.

But over time, good days outnumber bad. And over time, forgiveness occurs more frequently. And over time, Christ redeems all wounds. All that is lost can be healed.

It just takes time. It gets better with time.

For my sisters; the brave ones – you know who you are.

On insecurity…

When will I ever believe I am safe?  What will be enough for me to believe I am ok?  Can my husband ever love me enough?  Can we ever have enough money for me to think I’m fine?  Will my friends ever care enough? What will be enough?  This house?  This car? This person?]

I use to work for Nielsen at Kellogg.  Basically, that meant that every day I was surrounded by upper-middle class people who made more than enough money.  However, every day I heard people competing for something.  One day I was invited to a work event at a country club.  At the work event, everything was fully catered and there was an open bar.  In addition to all that I could eat or drink, there was a speed boat ride around a private lake.  I felt like a princess.  Interestingly, as the ten of us drove around the lake all I heard was “I wish my house was like that!” and “Well, we have a membership here” and “We just bought a speed boat.”  I felt super crappy.  I never wanted to live in a huge house.  I never wanted a speed boat.  Then, I felt pity for my co-workers.  Why would you be dumb enough to believe that your security could be found in material things?A

As with most judgments, reality quickly slapped me in the face.  This week, God security checked me as hard as possible.  I deserved every security check I got.

Within the last six weeks, my husband and I literally were blessed enough to receive everything we could dream of.  Six weeks ago we – on a total whim – we decided to look at one house.  At the time, we weren’t even looking at houses.  So at 11am on a Saturday morning we looked at a house.  By Wednesday we were pre-approved for a mortgage.  By Friday we had a signed offer.  God took care of us buying a house in the swiftest way imaginable.  It was a miracle.  Thank you God.

This week my husband was blessed with a different position at work.  He was trying to enjoy the role he had, but he was unhappy.  Thankfully, he got a new boss who saw he was suffering.  In a matter of days my husband’s boss moved him to a new position that my husband is going to love.  There was no change in pay.  There was no change in benefits.  A swift move.

Then, Thursday of this week – I totally blew it.

I went to start my car and the check engine light came on.  I should have stayed calm.  I should have thought to myself “God has taken care of us our entire lives – this will be ok.”  I should have reminded myself “God has given us swift kindness with a house and a job – this will be taken care of.”  I didn’t do either of those things.  Instead, I totally freak out.  I yelled at my husband.  I blamed him for the car.  I cried and sobbed about how terrible everything was.  Then, I reluctantly drove the car to the mechanic and waited for terrible news.  After a brief wait the mechanic called me and said “Oh, it was nothing.  Your car is totally fine.  You won’t even have to pay for us to look at it.”

Then, this morning – I totally blew it AGAIN.

My husband and I were sick of car troubles.  So, again, on a whim, we decided to get a different car.  We could no longer afford to pay for my car repairs.  In one day – my husband did all of the work.  He looked up dozens of cars.  He got us pre-approved for a car loan.  He found the perfect car and set up a test drive.  The car drove perfectly.  A friend looked it over and said it was great.  However – we went to get the check from the bank…. And we couldn’t.  I should have stayed calm.  I should have been kind.  Instead… I DID IT AGAIN.  I verbally threw up all over my husband.

I feel so dumb.  Why am I dumb enough to believe that I will find my security in all of these material things?  We have a house.  Our cars are safe.  My husband is the most amazing person I know.  Still, again and again, in moments where I have every chance to realize that I am secure – I lose all control and freak out.

These experiences just make me ask “What is enough?”

I think one great flaw in our society is the belief that someone or something will make you secure.  My old co-workers tried to do it with boats and houses.  I think a lot of people in our society believe that once they acquire a certain number of things then everything will be okay.  We also try to do that with people.  We tell ourselves that if we have the perfect spouse or perfect friends we will suddenly be okay.  I think great spouses and good friends are vital to happiness.  However, believing you will find security in another person is false.  When you lose everything… what happens?  When it all shifts… where will your security be?

I use to read the Old Testament and get ticked at the Israelites.  I would think to myself “Really? You guys saw a sea get split in half!  God lead you out of slavery!  You have seen it rain bread! Why are you not trusting God?  IDIOTS!”  As I get older, I see how many similarities I bear to the Israelites.

This last week God gave me every chance to see that everything will be ok.  Then, in times of stress – I blew it.  I forgot everything I have learned about trust and staying calm.  I freaked out.  I lost my temper.

Thankfully, I have an incredibly forgiving husband.  When I apologized for my mistakes he promptly said “I forgive you.”  That is the glory of God.  Our security lies in the fact that we are forgiven.  When we have failed, which we all do all the time, we are forgiven.  When we lose our tempers, we are forgiven.  When we forget that we have been taken care of, we are forgiven.

Now, that doesn’t mean we get to fly off the handle and be jerkfaces and then just play the “Forgive Me!” card (I, obviously, need to work on controlling my tempter and my tongue .  What it does mean, is that we have the beautiful opportunity to see that in every moment – there can be redemption.  It means that real security lies in trusting God.  It means that when we our terrified and scared and angry, we can turn to God.  It means that in those moments where we have failed, we can turn back and say “I have failed.  Help me heal.”  And God will answer like my husband did and He will say “I forgive you.”

On the greatest sin…

Today, someone I know and love told me they had committed what they felt like was a terrible sin.  My heart cried for that person.  I write this post – for that dear, wonderful person.

We all have crap.  Everyone has sins, everyone has burdens, everyone has made mistakes.  I mess up ALL THE TIME.  What separates us is not the fact that we have sinned, but the fact that some of us deny the sin.

One of my undergraduate sociology professors once told the story about an abortion clinic.  When a new abortion clinic opened in Wisconsin (soon after Roe vs. Wade), protestors soon started to stand outside the clinic.  One protestor was a middle aged woman – let’s call her Kim – that had a 14-year-old daughter.  Kim would stand outside the clinic and yell profanities at the women and workers who entered and exited the clinic.  The woman who ran the clinic – let’s call her Maggie – came into work one day to find Kim sitting in the lobby with her 14-year-old daughter.  Curious about why she was in the lobby instead of protesting outside, Maggie asked Kim why she was at the clinic.  Kim said “Well, my daughter is only 14.  She is too young to have a child.”

Some days I dream of slapping people like Kim in the face. Who are those people?  They are the people that stand outside of where everyone is at, and just yell and scream.  They are the people that pass judgment upon everyone else, and never turn inward to try to improve themselves.  They are the first people to ask for forgiveness, and the last people to grant it.  They are the people that will yell at women who have abortions, and then be the first in line when their teenage daughter gets pregnant.  What holds me back from slapping people like Kim is an honest confession. The confession is, if we are being truthful to ourselves, we realize that we are all like Kim at one point or another.

For some reason, we like to dream that perfection is attainable.  For example, whenever I hear people talk about Moses they usually discuss how he was a great leader that helped to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land.  Interestingly, when people talk about Moses they tend to leave out a few key things.  Like…. the fact that Moses killed a guy.  Oh, and the fact that after he killed a guy he ran away.  Oh, yes, and the fact that when God asked Moses to confront Pharaoh, Moses was pretty much like “Nope!”

When I was in my earlier twenties, I got to counsel women who had abortions.  I got to ask them about the experience, ask if they were okay, and ask how they were feeling.  The most common thing I heard was “I never thought I would have an abortion.”

If we remove the “abortion” part of the sentence, I think we have a common experience.  There are many times in my life where I can say “I never thought I would….”  For example, I never thought I would be divorced by age 25.  However, at a very young age I found myself on the inside of a very difficult experience.  I felt unloved.  I felt judged.  I felt like a sinner.  I felt like the world – and God – were so disappointed in me.

When we are young, we are blank slates.  We are perfect, unblemished, and clean.  We look around at everyone else and tell ourselves “I will never do this” and “No, that will never be me.”  Despite our best efforts, sometimes, we mess up.  We do something we never thought we would do.   We thought we might always be perfect.

Moses was imperfect.  Despite his imperfections, God loves him and called him to greatness.  Despite killing a man, which is a really crappy thing to do, God planned for Moses to do something incredible.

There will be days and times when we find that we have erred terribly.  On those days, the only thing we can do is ask for forgiveness.  Ask for forgiveness from God.  Ask for forgiveness from anyone we have wronged.  Ask for forgiveness for ourselves.

Then, we must make right what we have wronged.  We must recognize where we screwed up, and try not to screw that up any more.
Next, we must move on.  We cannot go back to the way things are, because things have changed.  All we can do is move forward.
The greatest sin is not murder, or divorce, or abortion.  The greatest sin is pride.  The greatest sin is the day where we stand outside yelling, and never try to come in.  The greatest sin is where we turn to our neighbor in a time of need and say “You are terrible and I am better than you” instead of saying “I too have sinned, but we are loved by God – and we are forgiven.”

On forgiveness…

Task one: housekeeping.  I am going to be honest here – I started this blog for self-affirmation.  I started when I was in a transitional period in my life, and I needed something to make me feel good.  Almost a year later, I am at a different place and the blog has morphed into something else.  Our church talks a lot about doing things to glorify God – and not yourself.  I feel as if this blog has morped into that.  I am not saying “Listen to me because I have all of the answers from God” because I DO NOT.  I am not saying “I know how to do everything – follow me!” because in the context of an entire life I know very little.  What I am trying to say, is that lately I feel called/forced to write about topics that do not really benefit me.  I feel a different urge to write about topics that can help other people.  I feel like what I am supposed to write about is topics where I have struggled and/or failed, and the lesson I learned.

Task two: blog.

This is about to get real personal.  If you don’t like heavy topics click to something else (click here for happy kittens).  It will also end on a positive note.  So – heavy then positive.

Perhaps the greatest failure in my first marriage (I’m divorced and now remarried) is that I was not very forgiving.  My ex-husband would fail me in some way, and I would not forgive him.  This led to anger and resentment – and obviously – a marriage that did not work.  In my defense, the marriage needed to end (more on that some other day).

Ok – deeper story.

When I was about six years old, I was molested by my babysitters.  The babysitters were about twelve and ten.  Eventually, my parents found out.  The police were involved.  The court system was involved.  Lots of counseling was involved.  Our entire family was hurt.

For years I was embarrassed by the event.  I felt like it was my fault.  I felt sad.  I also felt a lot of anger towards the babysitters.  When I was sixteen years-old I was sitting in a counselor’s office telling her about the event.  The counselor said to me “I would bet anything that those girls were being molested in their own home – probably by their mother or father.”

That day, I began to forgive the people that had molested me.  There are lots of terrible things in this world.  Being molested by your babysitters is a terrible thing.  However, I can imagine very few things that are worse than being molested by your parents.  That day, I saw that the people that hurt me did so because they had been hurt too.  That day, I realized that the people that hurt the most people……… are usually the ones that have been hurt the most by others.

Forgiving others does not mean that we condone their behavior or continue to endure it.  It means that we choose to let go of the pain a certain behavior has had on our lives.

When I scroll through Facebook or when I talk to people I know, I hear from lots of people that have been hurt.  I know they have been hurt, because they write about being angry and post pictures about how they will never trust anyone.  I know they are feeling pain because they tell me they are bitter and angry.  I listen to this pain, and I literally cry.  I cry because I imagine that the pain they are feeling is crushing their lives.

For years, I held onto the painful things my ex-husband did to me.  Lately, I have started to forgive and let that go.  I let it go, because if I do not it will kill me.  It will turn me into someone who is angry and bitter.  It will kill my new marriage.

The Bible tells us that we are to treat others as we want to be treated.  If I never err or fail, than I never need to forgive.  However, I am human and I mess up A LOT.  If I am ever going to have any type of enduring relationship I will need to be forgiving, so that the other person can (hopefully) forgive me when I fail (which I will).

The Bible also tells us that we do not forgive others – we will not be forgiven by God.  I am not saying “Forgive others or you don’t get the ticket to heaven,” because I don’t think that is what that passage is saying.  I am saying that if you do not forgive others you will never have an understanding of Grace, and what it is like to be forgiven.  And if you never know Grace… well… then what is the point?

I cannot make someone else forgive what another person has done to them.  But I can promise you that if you do not practice the act of forgiveness, it kills you from the inside out.  When we hold onto pain, it crushes us.  When we choose to feel pain instead of forgive, it kills us from the inside out.

For me, forgiveness also takes time.  When I was sixteen, I started forgiving the people that molested me.  But to this day, I continue to say to myself “God, I forgive them.  God, help me forgive them.”  But a lot of the pain has passed, and now I wish the girls and their family well.  I hope they are happy.  I hope they find love and peace.

I have started to forgive my ex-husband.  He hurt me terribly.  But if I want to move on in my life, I have to let go.  So I pray “God, help me be forgiving.  Help me let go of this pain.”  The pain has started to pass.  I wish my ex-husband well.  I hope he is happy.

And I pray, God – let me see where I am holding onto pain.  Let me see where I have not been forgiving.  Help me to let go of the things that bind me – so I can move forward.  So I can live.

It takes time.  It takes patience.  It takes LOTS of effort.  But, for me, it has been worth it.  There are still days I struggle with what happened to me when I was a child.  There are movies I can never watch and news stories that shut me down.  There are days I cannot stop crying, and days where my husband cannot touch me.  But if I can forgive people the hurt me so deeply – I can forgive anything…………. and you can too.

On Blue Like Jazz…

My fiance calls my debate and speaking style “laser-like.” I am not much for rambling, and I am quickly annoyed by people that blabber on unnecessarily.  However, for whatever reason, I saw a movie this past week-end and my mind cannot form one concise thought or argument on how the movie impacted me.  Thus, I shall do the unthinkable, and attempt to ramble.

Blue Like Jazz.  A tiny movie about a Texas boy with divorced parents who was active in a Baptist church.  After the boy discovers that his mother is having an affair with the church youth pastor, he abandons his plan to attend a Christian college and opts instead for a crazy hippy liberal college on the West coast.  While there, he questions his faith, doubts his beliefs, throws down God and Christ and everything Christian.  By the end, of course, he somehow manages to balance the bad things Christians have done to him and the people he loves with his love of God.  Yes, it is a feel good movie.


At the end of the movie, the boy apologizes.  He apologizes to his friend who was raped by a priest.  He apologies to everyone who has ever been hurt by a Christian in the name of their God.  For whatever reason, I want to do that too.

If for some reason, a Christian has hurt you – I apologize.  I apologize if you have been raped, or hurt, or beaten down or degraded or made to feel less than.  I apologize for the churches you have attended that have told you God will not love you because you are X or Y or Z or have done A or B or C.  I apologize for the kids that picked on you when you just wanted to be left alone.  I apologize for the priest or pastor that told you that you could not be a priest or pastor.  I apologize for the pain, the hurt, the grief, the agony.  I apologize for all of that.   It is ignorant to think that I have never caused anyone pain – so I apologize for myself.  I have messed up a lot.  I have hurt people.  For that, I am sorry.

Not too long ago, I lost all of my faith.  For a long list of reasons, I lost all hope I ever had in God or Christ.  I cursed everything religious and any person who practiced a religion.  I thought they were dumb, naïve, stupid and condescending.  I hated God.  I hated Jesus.  Most of all – I hated everyone who called themselves a Christian, but actively practiced hate (yes, I see that irony now).

One day I woke up, and everything I loved felt like it was gone.  On that day, I felt like I had no friends, no family, no job, no education – and no God.  My options, frankly, were suicide or to find everything I thought I had lost.  Obviously, I did not choose the former.  Instead, I walked into a Lutheran church in a Polish part of Milwaukee.  I don’t know why (grace, most likely), but that day – everything started coming back to me.  An old man who was greeting in the church said hello to me.  He invited me to coffee after the service.  I did not stay.  I came.  I attended service.  I left.

I left, and then… I started going back to church.  However, I did something different this time.  I hated going to church growing up.  I thought it was boring, dumb and I remember leaving feeling like I loathed myself.  Ick.  So instead, I came back on my own terms.  I went to dozens of churches and dozens of denominations.  I listened to some Catholics, a Unitarian, a few Lutherans, a crazy Charismatic guy – and a TON of other people.  I did what very few seem to do… I was lost, and I searched until I felt found.

Along the way, I realized what I think the main character in the movie realized. I realized that God does not hurt people and that religion does not hurt people.  I realized – that people hurt people.  Some of those people call themselves Christians or call themselves Muslims or Atheist or…..  At a Christian place where I use to work I once had a lady tell me, “We are all Christian here, but we are all humans first.”

That is the simple truth of the movie.  We are all human first.  And, frankly, some humans REALLY suck.  They hurt a lot of people.  And I am not sure if there is anything worse than someone saying “It is okay I am hurting you because God said so.”  People do that so they do not have to take accountability for their own actions.  People do that so they can give themselves more power to be hateful and cruel.

For what do I hope?

I hope for honest and respectful discourse about the insanely diverse beliefs that we all have about God.  Or about a lack of God, or the existence of multiple gods,  and everything in between.  I have had dozens of conversations with people regarding their religious beliefs – and not one person shared all the beliefs of another.

I hope that people admit that they are humans first.  We mess up.  We are not perfect.  I know of a college professor who tells he students that he has not sinned in years.  Pft, yeah right dude!  Giving off the impression you are perfect does not make me envy you, it makes me feel inferior to you and thus fear you.  We question God, we question the world, we question people, we questions our faith, we question lots of things.  It is human to think.  It is human to err.

I hope we can forgive.  Confession time.  I was once soooo bitter about things that had happened to me that when I would say the Lord’s prayer I would say “And forgive us our trespasses” but would leave out the “as we forgive those that trespass against us.”  That is right, I was asking people to forgive me but doing nothing to forgive others – not my best moment.  I cannot say I have forgiven everything in the world and should be a keynote speaker at a forgiveness convention (for that – call my fiance – dude is a pro!).  I can say that I have learned to forgive and move along. I can say that it always gets better.

I hope that we can just get better.  Starting… right…….now.