Keeping Your Child Safe From Abuse During the Holidays And Throughout the Year

Keeping Your Child Safe From Abuse During the Holidays And Throughout the Year

kid holiday

 

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
    ensure justice for those being crushed.
 Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,
    and see that they get justice.
Proverbs 31:8-9

This will probably be one of the most important, and sensitive, blog posts I will ever write.  I understand that talking about childhood abuse, especially sexual abuse, is difficult. It’s uncomfortable. But, it’s incredibly important. Because Abuse happens, whether we want to talk about it or not, it happens.

1/4 girls and 1/6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. That’s a hard fact to comprehend. (“Child Sex Abuse Fact Sheet”).

Keeping Children Safe

Thankfully, parents, adults, and children can take steps to keep children safe. Equally important, adults can give children the tools they need to get help if abuse occurs. Children can be especially vulnerable to abuse during the holiday season when families visit extended relatives and children are often left alone with adults and other children in unfamiliar situations.

car safety

I often think of abuse prevention policies like car safety: no matter how many safety precautions you take, you cannot guarantee that you will never be in an accident. However, practicing safe driving by using your blinker, stopping at stop signs, and driving the speed limit will significantly reduce the likelihood of being in an accident. And, if an accident does occur, additional safety measures like wearing your seatbelt and using a booster seat, will help ensure that, although you did get hurt, the injuries are not life threatening. Is this an aboslute garauntee? No. But it gives you your best shot.

Abuse prevention practices are similar.

Like safe driving practices that reduce your chance of being in an accident, taking some of the preventative steps outlined below can significantly reduce the chances of your child being in an unsafe situation.

The steps to “give your child a voice” is like the seatbelt. We wear a seatbelt because we know that although we take steps to drive safely, an accident may still occur from circumstances outside of our control. Similarly, even though you take steps to decrease opportunities for abuse, it may still occur. Therefore, it’s imperative that your children know what abuse is and how to report it so that the abuse stops. Although your child may be hurt, early reporting gives your child the best shot at healing.

In this blog post, I will first share my qualifications, talk about specific steps you can take to keep your children safe, how you can give children a voice to report abuse, and what you should do if abuse occurs.

Am I Qualified to Talk About This?

SAAW

Each year, the organization I founded, Students Against Sexual Slavery, hosted a “Sexual Assault Awareness Week” at my university.  To kick off the week, we placed candles on the school’s quad to represent the 1/3 women and 1/6 men who survive a sexual assault during their lifetime, as applied to my university’s student population. This was from the event in 2015.

 

Some of you may wonder if I’m even qualified to talk about such a sensitive and important topic, so I think it’s important that I share my experience (if you’re not interested in these, please skip to “Safety Precautions” below).

I have a B.S. in Child & Family Studies and a B.S. in Family & Human Services from John Brown University. During my studies, I focused my research and studies extensively on child abuse and sexual assault, including a year-long research study on sexual assault within Christian Church settings. For this project, I visited 103 churches in 3 states, representing nearly two dozen different Christian denominations. With the approval of an ethics committee and faculty supervision, I surveyed church leaders on their congregation’s child protection policies and sexual abuse reporting practices/how the church responds when someone informs church leaders that they have been sexually abused (children) or assaulted (adults). I also interviewed adults from these churches who identified as survivors of sexual abuse, including now adults survivors of childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual assault. Specifically, I interviewed the survivors regarding how their church responded when it found out they had been abused, and how they wished their church had responded differently. This experience, coupled with extensive research of peer-reviewed articles, gave me incredible insight on why individuals do not report abuse.

In addition to this project, and completing multiple classes related to child abuse and trauma, I also worked as an intern and volunteer advocate for three years at three different child advocacy centers and a rape crisis center, in three states. I assisted with forensic medical examinations of both adults and children and worked with families and survivors immediately after an assault occurred. I also assisted with the organization of multiple community awareness events and training programs for community organizations such as schools and police departments.

I also founded the organization, Students Against Sex Slavery, which was dedicated to raising awareness about campus sexual assault and human sex trafficking in Arkansas.

With all of that said, let’s get to the point of my post: keeping children safe.

safety

Safety Precautions

In addition to the steps outlined in the next section, there are specific steps you can take (especially during the holiday season) to minimize situations where your child is at risk for abuse.

  1. Abuse Occurs By Relatives and Friends You Trust. 

90% of children are abused by someone they know and trust (“Child Sexual Abuse Statistics”). They are not abused by some creepy guy driving around in an old minivan offering free candy, but by family members and friends they trust and are often trusted by their parents. This is uncomfortable to think about, but is important when taking the following steps to protect your children:

  • Do not leave your child alone with a grown-up or in an isolated place. Especially at holiday parties, make it clear that your child is to stay in open areas with people around. If your child goes into a playroom, for example, make sure that the door stays open at all times and that you frequently peek in.
  • Never, under any circumstances, force your child to hug or kiss someone they don’t want to, or emotionally manipulate them to do so. I get it. We all have an Aunt Dorothy that gives tight hugs and kisses that smell bad, but nevertheless gets upset if your child does not hug her. But, never force your child to touch someone (especially a relative) that they don’t want to. Not only should you never physically force a child to hug someone, but do not say things like, “Come on, Aunt Dorothy would really appreciate it if you hugged her” or “You can play with your friends only if you hug Aunt Dorothy.” To be frank, you do not know if anything has occurred between your child and that relative. Not only that, but children need to learn from a young age that they do not need to touch adults they feel uncomfortable with (it is not uncommon for abusers to tell children that they would engage in sexual acts “if you really loved me.”…the difference between a hug and sexual act may seem quite different to as adults, but children must learn that they do not need to do something physical that they don’t want to do to show an adult that they love them).
  • Adults spend time with other adults, not children.

An adult should not seek to spend excessive time with your child, especially alone. Yes, it is perfectly okay for Grandpa to take your child fishing every week. But, if you notice an adult seeks to spend all of their time with children, is buying your child a lot of gifts (grooming) or seeks to spend time alone with your child, this must be a red flag. 80% of child abuse occurs in situations where one adult is alone with one child (“Child Sex Abuse Statistics”). Make sure to ask your child how they feel about the adult in question and make sure that these visits occur in public places or with other people present.

2. Children Abuse Children 

As many as 40% of children are abused by older children (“Child Sexual Abuse Statistics”).

  • At holiday parties (and in general) make sure that your child does not play alone in an isolated area with other children. Always make sure that there is a group of children, or that the children are in an open area with other people. If the children are playing in a room, check in often. If your child tells you that they don’t like playing with a certain child, or that a child makes them feel unsafe, respect that.

3. Be alert

Be sure to notice any changes in your child. Bedwetting (when the child did not wet the bed before), reverting to younger child behavior, overall changes in behavior, an embarrassment about their body, physical marks that can’t be explained, or knowledge of sex beyond their age level, may be signs that your child is being abused.

4. Create a safety word for your child.

Create a safety word for your child that, whenever they feel unsafe, they can come to you, say that word, and you leave with them right away. No questions asked.

Family and Acquaintance Sex Abusers Look for Specific Characteristics in Potential Victims

grooming

Researchers have identified common characteristics in children who were abused by a relative or a family friend. These characteristics include children who are: timid, quiet, lonely and trustworthy (“Child Sex Abuse Statistics”).

Abusers don’t want to get caught, so they seek victims that won’t tell. Abusers may believe that children who are naturally quiet or timid will not stand up for themselves and will not tell. Therefore, giving your child a voice, as outlined below, is incredibly important.

Similarly, children who are lonely may not have an adult that will notice changes in their behavior.

Lastly, abusers also seek loyal children. In these situations, an abuser will spend a lot of time “grooming” their victim, and even the child’s family. They will buy the child gifts or do special treats. They may also practice telling the child secrets to see if the child will keep the secret, and then after they know the child will not tell, ease into the abuse. It will often start small, with a slight touch to see if the child will say anything. If not, the abuse will increase, and the abuser will say things like, “If you really loved me you’ll do this.” Additionally, the abuser will build a trusting relationship with the family, so that if the child does say anything to the parents, the parents will not believe the child.

Research Institutions Where Your Child Will Be Alone with Adults

camp

I have worked for many years with the children’s ministry organization, Child Evangelism Fellowship, both in their after-school clubs and overnight camps. I was incredibly impressed, and thankful, for their strict child safety standards, some mentioned below. If your child will be participating in after-school activities, children’s religious programs, or overnight camp, research that organization’s policies and make sure they’re similar.

  1. First, make sure that the organization recognizes that abusers seek organizations where they will have easy access to children, such as religious organizations (where people are often trusting) and overnight camp settings (where children will be spending a lot of time with a few adults). Make sure the organization first recognizes that all organizations, but especially those that work with children, are attractive to abusers and must take extra steps to be safe.
  2. Second, make sure all staff, including volunteers, undergo extensive background checks. Not only criminal but also personal. Are references required? Are references actually called? Does the organization look for “subtle” abuse red flags such as moving frequently (abusers move to keep the abuse secret) or working with many children’s organizations over a short period of time?
  3. Third, ask about the organization’s has child abuse prevention procedures. What steps does the organization take to make sure that situations that put children at risk (like being alone with an adult or another child) are avoided? For example, at CEF, a child must always be in a group of three. Two children can never be alone together and an adult may never be alone with a child under any circumstance. Even when a child wakes a counselor in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, that counselor must wait outside of the bathroom building while the child goes inside (bathrooms are not in cabins). Also, if a child forgets something in the cabin, the counselor must take another child back to the cabin with them. CEF also recognizes that abuse occurs among children, and children are never allowed to be alone together.
  4. Furthermore, Make sure that the staff are trained in these procedures, and ask how the organization ensures staff is following these protocols. Again, with CEF, the leadership staff is constantly walking around the camp. For example, when I was Dean of Women (the leadership member in charge of all female counseling staff) I would visit activities and walk into cabins unannounced. This ensured that (for the most part) if any counselor was struggling to follow the above-mentioned safety procedures it would be quickly spotted.
  5. Lastly, ask how the organization reports abuse and what they do after abuse is reported. Do they know they must report externally as well as internally? What happens when a report is made against a staff member (is the staff member immediately removed from all child-related activities until accusations are verified or dismissed?) It is not enough to have safety procedures in place, but that there must also be clear guidelines on how to report any potential sexual abuse.

Give Your Child A Voice

boy with microphone

It’s equally important for you to give your child a voice, so that, if abuse does occur, they can report.

  1. A Child’s Body is Their Body. 

Make it very clear to your child that their body is theirs, and theirs alone. No one can touch them without their permission, including parents.* Children need to know that it is okay to say no to being touched and that loving adults will respect that decision.

2. Safe Touches v. Unsafe Touches / “Off Limit” Zones

From a young age, children need to know that some touches are “safe” and other touches are “unsafe.” This is the easiest way to talk to your child at an age-appropriate level about touches. Give your child examples. A safe touch includes things like a high five, mommy brushing your hair, or a hug that does not hurt and you don’t fee weird giving. In contrast, an unsafe touch is a touch that hurts*, or a touch someone tells you not to tell anyone about. A good rule of thumb for a child is that a safe touch would be any touch you could tell a non-family member about.

In my family, and when I am in settings where I will be working with children for a long period of time (especially in an overnight setting), the conversation often goes like this, and I will tell the child:

 Your body is your body. No one can touch you without permission. When someone touches you it should not hurt. No one should ever touch you in the area covered by your bathing suit. If mommy, daddy, or a doctor (or another safe adult that you trust) needs to help you change or go to the bathroom or bathtime, they should never kiss you in an area covered by your bathing suit or play games with that area of your body. Never, ever, under any circumstance should someone ask you to touch them on an area covered by their bathing suit or show you the parts of their body covered by their bathing suit. An adult should also never ask you to keep a secret. If someone does this, tell a safe adult, right away, and you will never be in trouble.*

*Spanking is legal in every state. Although the definition of “spanking” and what is allowed does vary based on state law. This post is not about whether spanking is good or bad. I am not endorsing or condemning any discipline method in this post. However, if your family does choose to spank, implementing these safety rules may be confusing and difficult for children.

5 fingers

3. Have Five Safe Adults

Parents are responsible for producing 75% of child pornography (“Child Sexual Abuse Statistics”). That means children forced to participate in porn films were forced to do so by their own parents. Therefore, as uncomfortable as it may be, we need to recognize that people we trust, including our spouse, could harm a child. Therefore, it’s incredibly important that children know that mommy and daddy have rules. Your children must know that if mommy or daddy makes them feel unsafe they need to tell someone.* Therefore, it’s important that your children have safe adults. I help the children I work with identify five adults (one for each finger) that they can talk to whenever they feel unsafe. These adults must be people that you know and trust. Before your child identifies this person as one of “their five” talk to this adult, and tell them that is their responsibility to (please note that this person must be someone the child trusts and would want to talk to, not just someone you trust):
             1) believe your child, no matter what;
             2) keep what your child tells them confidential (this is the person your child goes to because they feel unsafe talking to you…and that’s okay)….if this safe adult must tell you something, make sure that they tell the child they are going to tell you;
3) report any abuse that your child tells them, even if the child names you or your spouse as the abuser.

This is a big responsibility, and not everyone is up for it.

secrets

4. No Secrets

An adult should never ask a child to keep a secret, ever. Especially loyal children may feel guilty for breaking a secret. I have worked with multiple children and adults who were abused as children. Many of these individuals did not report their abuse immediately because they didn’t want to break a secret they promised to keep. Therefore, make sure your child knows:

1) An adult should never, under any circumstance, ask your child to keep a secret. Tell your child that if an adult (or any person) asks them to keep a secret, to tell you right away;
2) There is a difference between a secret and a surprise: in a surprise, everyone (except the person being surprised) knows about the surprise. This is unlike a secret, where the person keeping the secret is the only one who knows about it. Also, in a surprise, there is a set and identified time when that surprise will be made known, unlike a secret which is kept indefinitely. Tell your child that if someone tells them something is a surprise, that they can verify this with one of their 5 safe adults. Surprises are happy and are about future events, not events that already occurred.

child words

5. Give Your Child the Words They Need

Talking about sex with kids can be uncomfortable, especially in more conservative environments. All too often, I speak with adults who wrongly believe “talking about sex” with your child means telling your three-year-old everything about sex. No! Absolutely not.

First, I am a firm believer that it is not only appropriate, but best for children, that they do not know everything about sex, but only things things that are presented at an age and developmentally appropriate level (in fact, a child having an advanced knowledge of sexual intercourse and sexual functions is a potential sign of sexual abuse and one of the many ways trained advocates can help confirm that an abuse has occurred….for example, when a trained interviewer speaks with a young child that reported being sexually abused by an adult male, one of the things the interviewer will ask is “did anything change about his body?” An abused child will know that a man’s private parts “change” when touched, while a child who has not been abused will have no idea what the interviewer means…of course, as children have unsupervised access to the internet at younger and younger ages, it is not absolute that children who know these things were in fact abused, but it is something that is looked for).

Giving your child a voice also means giving your child the right words. For example, a child should be able to say “what a doctor would call” their “private parts.” If you want your child to call their vagina or penis a “private part” (that’s a topic for another post)  make sure they know that a doctor would call it a vagina or a penis. I have worked on cases where children tried to report abuse, but were unsuccessful because adults had no idea why Johnny was so upset that Uncle Timmy took him fishing and “played with his fishing pole” (what the abuser called his penis). Abusers will often create games and will call these body parts innocent things so that I child will not be understood when he tries to report.

6. No Shame in Sex

As a Christian, I believe that sex is good, and it was created by God as a good thing. Now for me, there are rules about sex, about who should engage in it and when, but the act of sex itself, is not bad. Regardless of your religious beliefs, I am also confident that you have a moral code regarding sex. Talking to your child about sex in a developmentally appropriate way is not disregarding those morals. 

Unfortunately, sex is silenced in many homes. It is off limits to talk about. All of the survivors I spoke with during my year-long research study (and many I talk to today) said one of the reasons they didn’t report is because they felt shameful, or “weren’t allowed to talk about that stuff.” Yes, your child should not have a potty mouth. But, at an age-appropriate level, your child must know that there is no shame in talking to you about their bodies or what someone did to them.

parent

7. Foster a Relationship Where Your Child Can Talk to You

This is probably the most important step: your child must know that they can trust you, talk to you about anything and that they will be believed.

1. Make sure your child knows they can talk to you about their body and about sex.
This can be uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be. How you react speaks more loudly than what you say. If your child sees you become embarrassed when they ask a question about their body, or you tell them not to ask you questions, or you lie (like you say baby’s come from a stork, and your child later comes out how babies are really born) your child will not be able to trust you if they are ever scared and ashamed about sexual abuse. If your child’s question catches you off guard, or you need a moment, it’s totally okay to tell your child that you will talk to them later about it. Tell them a specific time and then keep your promise! Your child will not forget.

2. Your child needs to be able to trust you.
This means not sharing information they tell you with others, speaking with your child in private if they ask to do so, and telling them that you will tell when you will what they told you with others (including your spouse).

3. Believe Your Child.
Yes, all children can tell creative stories or lie to get out of trouble. However, children cannot lie about something they do not know about. Children do not know about sex unless they are taught, and cannot create situations they have never seen. There is a natural shame around sex that they must overcome to tell you anyways. So, if a child tells you that Uncle Tim forced them to do a sexual act, believe him.

If your child tells you that Cousin Michael touched them, believe them.

4. Do Not Get Mad at Your Child / Make Sure Your Child Knows He Will Not Be In Trouble
Abusers often tell their children, “mommy and daddy will be mad at you if you tell them what we did” or “If you tell mommy or daddy you’ll be in big trouble.” Abusers make the child feel guilty and responsible for the act. And the last thing a child wants is to disappoint his parents! It’s easy for a child to believe they will be in trouble for telling if sex and bodies are “off limits” in your house. For example, if your child has asked you a question about their body or “where babies come from” in the past, and you responded by saying “we don’t talk about that!” your child can reasonably believe that you will be upset/they will be in trouble if they tell you about abuse.
Again, children should not be gross or have a potty mouth. But there is a balance. Make sure you to tell your child, “I will never be mad at you for telling me the truth.” Another good idea is to practice giving your child grace. When you child confesses something they have done wrong, do not yell at them, but love them and tell them, “I’m so happy you told me!” Obviously, like everything in parenting, there has to be a balance in this. But, if children have seen you extend grace, they are more likely to believe you won’t be mad if they tell you they’ve been abused.

Reporting Sexual Abuse

phone

This is probably the most uncomfortable part of this whole blog post so I will start by saying this:

Sexual abuse is a crime, and any investigation and help must be handled by trained, licensed professionals.

  1. It is not your job, nor are you qualified, to investigate abuse allegations. It is your job to believe the child and keep him safe. 

First, I want to clear up a big myth that I encounter a lot, especially in more conservative circles: Social Workers and investigators do not want an abuse report to be true, they want to uncover the truth. This is a big difference. Too many people, especially in conservative circles, think “the liberal government is out to ruin my family.” This is not true. One of the primary goals of social work programs is to keep genetic families together. Social Works and “the government” are not trying to prove that abuse situations occurred when they did not! In fact, organizations are happy to discover that there was a misunderstanding and that no abuse occurred! Everyone working in child advocacy recognizes that abuse is an incredibly serious allegation. Therefore, one of the best things that can happen is to discover there was a miscommunication and that the child is fine and nothing happened!
Social workers, overall, are caring individuals. They are not on a witch hunt to make parents or adults out to be child abusers when they are not. Are there bad social workers? Yes. And these social workers make the news and make people afraid to report. But, as someone who has worked at 3 child advocacy centers, I can say with complete confidence that it is our not our goal to “prove” abuse happened when it didn’t or frame adults as abusers who did not abuse. 

Second, you are ill-equipped to investigate abuse. Child abuse investigators have extensive training in how to identify signs of abuse and ask non-leading questions. If a child tells you an abuse occurred, first make sure they are safe. Then call the police or the reporting hotline below. DO NOT ask your child a lot of details (see point below) and DO NOT contact the abuser. This gives the abuser potential time to flee or craft a story.

Children’s memories are sensitive!!! I cannot stress this enough! If you ask them questions like “Did Uncle Tim touch your private spot?” they could eventually believe this event occurred when it did not. I have seen this multiple times, usually during custody battles, where Part A convinces the child that Part B abused them.

Also, children want to please their parents! If they see that you want them to say something happened, or want them to say did not happen, they could change their memories or stories. Thankfully, due to the interview techniques of child investigators, they can ask non-leading questions that help uncover what really happened. Therefore, leave the questioning up to trained child interviewers.
On that note: if your child is going to be interviewed, make sure they are being interviewed by a trained and licensed Child Forensic Examiner, or whatever your state calls this individual. These individuals are trained specifically to ask non-leading, developmentally appropriate questions to children. Adult investigators, or even worse, police, are not qualified to ask these questions! Tell whomever you are working with that your child must talk to a Child Forensic Examiner or similar professional.

2. “I won’t do it again” is not an acceptable answer. 
It’s scary to admit that someone you love and trust could harm your child. Sexual abusers need help. There is no “stereotypical” sex abuser. Situational abusers abuse during highly stressful situations, while some people abuse to show dominance and power, while others abuse because they are attracted to children (“Child Sexual Abuse Statistics”). Regardless of the reason, these individuals need professional help. Although an apology may be an important part of the healing process, it alone does not correct the situations nor will it make your child safe.

70% of abusers have between 1 and 9 victims, while 30% of abusers have more than 10 (“Child Sexual Abuse Statistics). If someone abuses a child once, they will abuse again. Reach out, get help. Not only for your child’s sake but also to help the abuser. If you love the abuser, the best thing you can do is report and get them help.

3. You Need to Report Suspected Abuse
Again, this can be scary. But Child Advocacy Centers are full of caring, trained individuals who want to help your child. Failing to report even suspected abuse in some states is a crime. Not only that, but your child needs professional help to heal.

4. Reporting Internally is Not Enough

Many institutions have their own “reporting policies.” However, in addition to reporting internally, abuse must also be reported externally:

If you suspect a child is or has been sexually abused, you can anonymously report by calling: 1-800-422-4453.

If you are an adult surivor of childhood sexual abuse or rape, proffessional help is availible 24/7 by calling RAINN 1-800-656-4673 

Keeping children safe is everyone’s responsibility. My responsibility and your responsibility. There is nothing we can do, as professionals and parents, to 100% prevent abuse. However, we can take steps to minimize opportunities for abuse to occur and give children a voice to report abuse if it does happen.

Let’s keep children safe!

Krista

References: 
“Child Sexual Abuse Fact Sheet”
http://nctsn.org/nctsn_assets/pdfs/caring/ChildSexualAbuseFactSheet.pdf

“Child Sexual Abuse Statistics”
https://www.d2l.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/all_statistics_20150619.pdf

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When God Slaps You in the Face

I feel so angry. Disappointed. Let down by God. I debated sharing this because I knew other Christians, or just people in general, would compare my pain to others. Tell me to get over it. But, I quickly realized that I shouldn’t care too much about people who try to minimize one person’s pain by comparing it to another. And, I should care more about authenticity and be honest about the real disappointments, and questions, of my faith than with keeping up with a “my life is perfect” image that everyone tries to paint on social media. So, here it goes.

I feel like God slapped me in my face and just left me this week. I know those are big words, but that’s exactly how I feel right now. Every time I’ve thought about God in the past week I’ve become angry and pushed any thought of Him from my mind. My Bible has remained closed and my Bible app has remained unopened. Because I feel mad and I feel hurt. And if God is as big as I think He is, He can take it.

My entire life I have desired financial security (I see your eye rolls now). I grew up around really poor people. People who had to work three jobs to make ends meet; women who bounced around from boyfriend to boyfriend just to have a place to stay; people’s whose trailers were literally falling apart but they couldn’t afford to get it fixed. The desire for financial security has consumed me. Just about every choice I’ve made since I was sixteen years old was governed by the desire to never experience poverty again. I went to college, I got four degrees, I worked five jobs during my senior year of college, I chose a law school that I thought could get me a big job. And now I feel like all of my planning, all of my work, was for absolutely nothing.

This summer I worked as a summer associate at one of the largest firms in the country. I loved my work. I loved the challenge of my assignments. I loved my co-workers. And I loved the financial security that came with the job. I thought I was set. When I found out the firm wouldn’t be able to hire me, I didn’t worry. I had done everything right during law school: I got decent grades (not the top, but above average) and I joined all of the clubs and honor societies I was supposed to. 400 job applications and hundreds of rejection letters later I was feeling hopeless. Then, I got an interview for my dream job. Literally, my exact dream job. I went through three rounds of interviews and fell more in love with the firm. Thank you, God…I thought…this is perfect, now I see why I didn’t get those other jobs.  Everyone I knew thought I had the job in the bag. Needless to say, I was shocked when I got the unpersonalized rejection letter. How could you do this to me? I prayed. Because that’s the tough thing: I believe God can do absolutely anything. So He chose not to open this door. He heard me beg, and He closed it anyway. He chose to hurt me and to rip away a dream I had been chasing my whole life.

I know the verses about God’s provision. I know the verses about God being a good God and Him only desiring good things. I have seen things that I thought were awful work for my good. But, I don’t see this one getting fixed. And y’all, I am just so angry with Him. I had been working towards this for YEARS, ya-ears. And now all of my dreams (at least for the next five years) look radically different. Things I wanted to do, ministries I wanted to support, are no longer possible. And now, the fear of living in poverty is consuming my almost every waking moment.

So, I had this weird thing happen. On Thursday night after Bible study, one of my friends took me out for dinner. On our walk back to the subway station from the group he asked me how my week was. I started crying, then sobbing, as I told him about the job. I knew my friend was facing big, life-altering challenges of his own and I wrongly assumed he would tell me, “It’s just a job” and compare my struggle to what he was going through. But he didn’t. Instead, he listened. And he brought me into this subway shop, bought me a panini, and told me, “Tell me how you feel.” I started off slow telling him I was angry, and he kept saying, “but is that really how you feel?” And each time he asked that, and listened, I took off the protective shield and the rule you have “growing up Christian” that you don’t complain about your own problems because there is “some starving child in Africa who has it worse.” Amiright? This guy sat there for two hours and let me cry and tell him how mad at God I was, how let down I was, and all of the big fears of my life. Did I feel better after the two hours? Honestly, not really. My problems weren’t fixed. No divine lightning bolt was sent. But, in those two hours, I felt known. I felt heard. I felt listened to in my worst moment. And y’all, that’s powerful.

This isn’t meant to be some happy, warm and fuzzy, post. It’s supposed to be real. I hope you’ve never had your life’s dream crushed. I hope you’ve never felt utterly let down by God. But I know you have. To you, me not getting this job (or any job) may not seem like a big deal to you. But it’s a huge deal to me. It’s my life’s dream. Just like you’ve had big let downs, whether that be a failed relationship, infertility, infidelity, or an unexpected death of a loved one.

But, what I had hoped to share, and encourage you to do, is not to compare your pain to that of another. Your pain is real. It’s valid. It’s painful. Everyone hurts for different things. When someone trusts us with their hurt, we should never, ever compare it to someone else. Ever. Hurt cries out to hurt. And we are told to weep with those who weep.

So, I’m not concluding by saying God did some miracle. To be brutally honest, I’m still very angry. I know my God is a big God, and I know he can take my anger. I’m not a theologian or a minister, but I wanted to let you know, that if you’re angry, if you’ve been let down like I have, you’re not alone.

xoxo
Krista

Why Would You Live Like That?

I consider myself a feminist. To me, that means trusting women to make their own choices and believing that women should have equal opportunities as men. That’s it, plain and simple.

I grew up in a Conservative Christian community. Although I went to public school and was raised by my grandparents (definitely not the “conservative” norm) I was still raised in a Conservative church with Conservative values.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve changed, just like we all do. During my four years at an inter-denominational Christian college, I was forced to figure out what I believe and why. During this time I went through this strange process where I politically became more moderate (some would even say liberal…but I would never call myself that) but became more Conservative in my beliefs about how I live my own life, and once again, got involved in a Conservative Christian community. Why would I, an educated woman, do this? Why would I choose a more conservative lifestyle? Those are questions I honestly, truly, wish people would ask. What was it like growing up during the purity movement? What were your actual rules? Again, questions I would like people to ask. Many think Conservative children grow up similar to Amish children, which simply is not true.

So, I want to welcome you to ask questions. I’ve realized through recent interactions on my Instagram, and messages that I’ve received, that people (especially other women) have many misconceptions about what it’s like to grow up Conservative and why women would choose this. I’ve rounded up some friends who also grew up Conservative and chose to remain in this community, and we really hope to dispel many of the myths we’ve heard that simply are not true. I’ve created a google poll for people to anonymously submit questions. Next week we’ll review them, and post a blog answering your questions. We can only answer questions about ourselves and our own experiences, but we really hope to use this to break down myths that Conservative women are “suppressed” or “X” or “Y” by sharing our stories.

Ask your questions here: https://goo.gl/forms/Fvk9WH5mJbKtnDbQ2

When You’re the Bully

I felt so dirty. Ashamed. Embarrassed. Not myself. “You have no idea how you may have just affected that man,” a voice in my head whispered. “Now go back there and apologize.”

I was in Wal-Mart quickly pushing my cart filled with overpriced school supplies trying to keep up with the Olympic speed walking pace of my Gramma. I had been up for nearly 40 hours and just looked and felt gross. To top it off, my stress and anxiety levels were so high that my resting heart rate had elevated to 112bpm, close to where it sat during finals week the previous spring.

I had just arrived back from Finland and had planned to spend the week before law school classes resumed focusing on my small business. I had seriously under estimated the time it would take to complete my pre-class reading and was frantically trying to figure out how to complete my first Moot Court and Journal assignments. To top it off, I was a nervous wreck because I had yet to secure a summer associate position for next summer and was worrying all of my career dreams had crashed and burned. I. Was. A. Complete. Mess.

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Literally how I looked. But with less cute clothes. And blond hair. 

 

A thumb drive pushed me over the edge and the bubbly red head Wal-Mart associate became the unlucky soul to absorb the wrath of my anger. All I wanted was a thumb drive. I thought that was a simple request. But I was wrong. When the thumb drive wouldn’t slide off the hanger, I realized it had one of those anti-left protections that required associate help. After glancing at the length of the line, I tried to rip the cardboard box to slide it off but was met with the “don’t you dare do that, Krista Ann (middle-name-you’re-in-trouble-level)” glare from my grandmother. I rolled my eyes and waited five minutes while the associate asked every customer in front of me for what seemed like their life story. So when it was my turn, and he asked me how my day was, I snapped. I became grouchy. The associate was taken back by my tone. And, I continued to snap at him the entire time he tried to assist me, before finally yelling, “This is completely ridiculous!” When he told me I had to pay for the thumb drive at the counter but could not pay for any of my other items.

As I walked away, the dirty feeling set in. I worked for almost three years as a cashier, and I knew how mean customers could be. I was just the rude customer I had always vowed I would never be. Immediately the shame began to set in. I wanted to check out and leave and not have to face the way I had made the man feel. But I couldn’t do it, I knew God wanted more from me.

“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”~ James 1:19

So, I went back. I stared at the floor as I waited in line, embarrassed to have the associate look at me. When it was finally my turn, I took in a deep breath and said, “I am so very sorry for the way I just treated you. It was unacceptable. I took out my anger and stress on you when you were just trying to do your job and help me. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” I felt the eyes of the customers behind me burn against the back of my head. The man’s mouth opened in surprise.

“You’re only the second customer to ever apologize to me in my ten years here,” he said solemnly. “I appreciate it. Thank you.” And with a smile and nod, I walked away feeling a little less dirty but relieved that I had done the right thing.

“Ain’t that somethin’?”

“Well ain’t that somethin’?” I heard the customer behind me say as I walked by. I was reminded that our interactions don’t only affect the person we interact with, but also those who watch. I know as a society we often view those in service careers as “below us,” but I had always been taught that any job done with integrity was an honorable job worthy of respect. That man was my equal, and I had treated him harshly, and I needed to apologize.

“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” Ephesians 4:29

Our Words Are Powerful

Our words are powerful. We need to use our words to encourage one another, and I had used my words to belittle a man who was probably looked down upon by others all the time. It was important that I go back and apologize to him, and replace the words that I had wrongly used in my own selfish fit of frustration and anger to hurt him, to instead restore some of that dignity. And who knows? Maybe the customers watching behind me thought of individuals they need to apologize to, too.

words have power

Words Are A Reflection of the Heart

“Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45. Our words reflect what’s on our insides. By being mean to that man, I was dumping the anger and frustration from my inside, regarding the craziness of my life, onto him. This was unacceptable. It’s important that we realize our words don’t just happen. They come from somewhere. They come from our heart. If we’re being nasty, it’s because we have something going on on the inside that needs to be addressed.

Who have you been short with today? Rude? Belittled? Bullied? Gossiped about? Our words have the power to build up and destroy, and if we’re being mean, it’s the result of something not-too-beautiful going on on the inside. We need to recognize that, apologize, and fix it. Not only does this force us to fix the root cause of our hurtful words, it restores dignity to those we belittled, and shines as a light for others.

As always, if I can encourage or pray for you in any way, let me know.

xoxo

Krista

For They Will Be Satisfied

 

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Me working as the Dean of Women at Camp Good News.

A thick knot formed in my stomach and I felt like I was going to throw up. I began shaking, was unable to focus, and knew without looking that the annoying rash that formed on my neck when I was nervous was in full flare. I was working as the Dean of Women at one of my favorite places in the world, Camp Good News. I was essentially the counselor to the women counselors and loved every second of my job. I was helping with the midweek water games and I had been told by one of the staff directors that I was needed at an emergency meeting. Immediately my mind began to twist. From leadership training, I knew an emergency meeting would be called if there was a world event they needed to inform of us. Had there been a nuclear attack? An outbreak of war?

Thankfully, the meeting was just about some water testing and how we were going to fix it. That’s it. It took nearly an hour for my nerves to calm down. When I spoke to one of the staff directors after she smiled and said, “Kris, the Lord has really gifted you with a global focus.” I had thought she would have called me a worry-wart or told me to calm down, but instead, she addressed my first response to think about a global event as a gift. I’m sure my face twisted in response to my confusion. No one had ever told me that before. Yes, I think about most things from a global perspective. However, I’d always had my thought process shushed and told I worry or think too much. But now, for the first time in my life, it was addressed as a gift.

Global Focus: When Policies Become People

 

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Niger 2015. Disclaimer: I have come to be opposed to “Missionary Tourism.” During this trip, I was working with an organization in Western Africa that was beginning an anti-trafficking department. I founded a grassroots ministry in Arkansas focused on utilizing college students to fight human trafficking and done extensive research on how to begin a successful anti-trafficking organization in a foreign office, and was asked by the organization to go and help them plan the beginning of their department. Pretty cool and not missionary tourism. But, I also got to hang out with these kids who were pretty cool.

 

I have had the privilege of traveling the world. I’ve been to 19 countries and 5 continents. I’ve traveled for school, pleasure, and work focusing on anti-human trafficking. I have seen a lot. I’ve seen children who have had their fingers chopped off from working in factories, I’ve watched a young boy be sold for sex, I’ve watched a mother sob as she held her child as he died from a disease perfectly curable in the United States, I’ve seen children locked up in a quasi-prison as a form of foster care, and I have seen the wealthy get Westernized medical services while their neighbors die of malnutrition. I’ve watched American foreign policy become people. I’ve seen how Americans can take the wealth we’ve been entrusted with and do great good or great evil. I’ve seen how our military can pursue justice or open the floodgates to unthinkable horrors. Perhaps I care about these topics more than most because God has given me a global perspective.

Justice

To the dismay of many, I’ve become obsessed with justice. If you follow me on FB, I share dozens of articles on foreign events and America’s response, specifically the response of American Christians. My heart is heavy. When I read the news I see evil winning, Christians fighting back, God restoring, and God opening doors for us to become part of His redemptive work. I often then become quickly discouraged as I realize I don’t know many Christians who share this zeal for justice. In fact, this past week, I was told by a Christian that I’m too ambitious and am wasting my potential because the world will remain broken and I shouldn’t expect anything more…meaning, I should setlle for injustice to persist because well, people are broken and this world is decaying. But I won’t settle because I believe God calls us as Christians to join in his redemptive work.

Syria

 

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Individuals killed in the most recent Syrian gas attack

 

My heart has been troubled as news reports have spread of yet another horrific gas attack in Syria as the global community sits back and continues to do nothing. I’ve watched dozens of videos of people dying, because, in a weird sense, I felt like I owed them that honor. How unfair is it that I can close my screen to their suffering? A comfort Americans have enjoyed for too long.

Today I found myself crying out to God, “God I know you hate this. Where are you angelic armies? Where are you amongst this suffering?” And then I remembered Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel:

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,[a]
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
 God blesses those who are humble,
    for they will inherit the whole earth.
 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,[b]
    for they will be satisfied.
 God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
    for they will see God.
 God blesses those who work for peace,
    for they will be called the children of God.
 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.~ Jesus in Matthew 5:3-10

Verse 6 stood out to me: “God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” Wow. I had to read it several times, and it still gives me chills. This is a promise, a guarantee: I will be satisfied. Not okay, but satisfied.

And in this, I find hope: although evil rages right now, evil will end. Although weeping is rampant right now, sorrow will end. In fact, it will be forgotten. Erased. Eradicated. Nada. No more.

You and I, as Christians, have the privilege of joining God in his redemptive work here on Earth, while clinging to our confident hope that God will ultimately restore his creation, bring justice, and Believers in Him will enjoy eternity with God in a place that is so just and pure and perfect that our thirst for justice will be satisfied. Woah. Praise Jesus.

But, until then, as Paul reminds us:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.~ Gal. 6:9

xoxo

Krista

Hope Amid Grief

 

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Me and my beloved Great-Gramma, Jon-Jont, at my 80’s themed 18th Birthday Party in 2012

 

 

It has been 10 months and 27 days since my great-grandma passed away. I’ve been waiting for the day to come when I don’t think about her or the pain ends, and it has not come. Each night I sleep under a blanket she made me, Timehop brings up her picture weekly, and I drive by her house when I go to Vermont on weekends. This grief is suffocating and unrelenting. But in this grief, I am able to cling to hope.

Grief Should Not Be Ignored

“That’s the thing about pain, it demands to be felt.” This is one of my favorite quotes from John Green’s novel “A Fault in Our Stars.” The main character, Hazel, is dying from complications of cancer and has fallen in love with another cancer-stricken teen. People try to tiptoe around their grief, around their impending death. But that pain that they’re feeling and living demands to be felt. So does mine, so does yours.

I wrote in an earlier blog post about the frustrations of tip-toeing around grief. People fear pain, I get it, and so instead of validating the pain they attempt to offer comfort, “She lived a great life,” “at least you had someone to love you that much.” These are both true, but they make me feel as if my pain is invalid. That I should feel guilty for not “getting over it” by now, 10 months and 27 days later. If you have ever experienced a deep loss, I’m sure you feel the same way. Grief should be embraced. You should yell. And cry. And break mugs. Yes, you must pick up the pieces and continue living the next day, but pain. Must. Be. Felt. Not ignored. And this is tough.

Hope Amongst Grief

I’ve been very open about my ups, downs, and doubts with my Christian faith. I left church for about a year when I was 18 due to deep pains I had suffered at the hands of fellow Christians that made me seriously wonder if I wanted to worship the same God they claimed to worship. I never stopped believing in God but I had serious doubts. I then got involved in a home church and came back to my faith. Then, during my junior year of college, I had doubts about the goodness of God. Maybe one day I’ll share that story here. Once again, I got involved with a pretty incredible prayer group, who listened to my pain, and, get this, told me it was okay to question God and His goodness because there is no question too big for God. God proved himself faithful. But, in both of these situations, I was pretty dependent upon the Church and not God alone.

When Jon-Jont died I clung to my faith, specifically the promises of my faith, in a way I had never had to before. After Jon-Jont’s death I woke up crying and went to be crying. But it was different. Despite my grief I had hope. I miss her deeply. I miss her smile, her witty humor, her laugh, and the safety and confidence in her love that I felt when I was with her. But after her death I never wished she was back here, because if being with the Creator of the Universe, the lover of my soul, is so awesome as I believe it to be, I could never want her to come back to this broken, faded world.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”~Jesus, John 14:2-4

In the above passage, Jesus is attempting to comfort his friends before he dies. The KJV text and other’s use the word “mansion” instead of rooms. However, scholarship suggests that this does not mean a literal mansion, but was instead used to indicate the availability of room and space available where God is, commonly referred to people as “Heaven.” The chapter goes on to explain that to know Jesus is to know God, and that God’s Holy Spirit is with believers here on Earth.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. 2 Cor. 5:1-8

If you believe Christ Jesus is the Son of God and his death served as the atonement for our sins, when we die our soul is with God. What exactly does this look like, I’m not sure. Since God is outside of time and space do we go there immediately? Or does it just feel like we go there immediately? I don’t know. There are so many questions. But, as Christians, we can be confident that if we know Christ we will be with him, in a perfect place. And this gives us hope.

These deep pains we feel, this brokenness, this weight of sin and evil that we carry around, will dissolve. When I get to where I’m going, I’ll be honest, will I even seek out Jon-Jont? I kind of hope not. Here me out! I hope being with the Creator of the universe is so perfect, so complete, that I don’t see out anything other than Him. Will we recognize each other? Yes. Will we rejoice together? Yes. But reconnecting with loved ones will not be our main focus when we’re with God. In an odd way, the hope that this grief that I’m feeling will be so resolved, and I will be so completely satisfied, that I won’t seek out my love ones, but instead will bask in the glory and worship of God, brings me hope. Because this is what Jon-Jont is doing now. And, if she is doing this, how could I want her to come back here? To this broken place, where age was rotting her body and Alzheimer’s stealing her mind? I can’t. Instead, I can look forward with hope and expectation to the place where “everything sad becomes untrue.” 

Dear Christians: Muslim Refugees Are Coming, Get Excited!

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Dear Christian:

Are you excited about the refugees entering our country? Specifically, the Muslim refugees from countries such as Somalia and Yemen (where President Trump’s executive order to block migrants from these countries was just overturned)? If you say “no,” I understand. I do. Even though Christ promised His followers they would be persecuted and suffer for Him, we still want to be comfortable. I want to be comfortable, too. But our job as Christians is not to be comfortable, it’s to spread the Gospel: that Jesus Christ, God incarnate, looked upon our broken and pitiful state, lived a perfect human life, was tortured upon a cross bearing our sins, so that anyone, anyone who calls upon Him will be saved from eternal separation from him.

We’re told to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel” (Mark 16:15). But, modern politics has made this difficult. As missionaries from the United States, it is difficult for us to enter some of the most unreached and desperate countries, such as Somalia and Yemen. So, you know what God is doing? God is bringing them here. How flipping cool is that?

Now, I’m not saying God caused the wars or the famines that are causing one of the greatest migration of people ever, but God is good. He is redemptive. He pursues. Although the sinfulness of corrupt leaders may be causing millions to be displaced, God is working for redemption. One of the ways, I believe, He is working to redeem and restore is bringing refugees and Muslims to the United States. Although missionaries may be barred from entering Yemen, for example, we are now living literally right next door to these individuals. It saddens me that churches would be eager and willing to spend thousands of dollars and risk their lives to reach a family in Yemen, but when that same family comes to the United States, these same churches protest and close their doors. We must not do this, friends. These individuals have had their spirits broken (we know God is close to the broken-hearted). They are desperate for the Gospel and we can share it with them.

Crazy Love

To me, one of the craziest things about Jesus is that he understands. He can empathize. The King of the Universe was born in a filthy and disgusting stable in poverty and fled his home country as a refugee. Jesus can empathize with the refugees because He was one. Jesus loves refugees, and, throughout the Old Testament, God commands Isreal to love the foreigners living among them. In the New Testament, Jesus demands we love our neighbors AND our enemies as ourselves. Do you want to be hungry? Do you want to be cold? Do you want to watch your children be murdered in front of you? NO! Loving our neighbors and enemies as ourselves, then, means ensuring they are not treated a way we would not want to be treated.

Now, I get it. Meeting people who are “different” than us is difficult. They look different, they may speak a different language, we may have no idea what they’re eating. It sounds silly, but these things can be terrifying. I’ve been to nearly 20 countries and have had the privilege of visiting many homes abroad. It feels really, really awkward because we naturally notice the differences instead of the similarities. But we as humans have so much more in common than we do different. Although we don’t speak the same language we all feel joy, we all feel sorrow, we all want a safe world for our children to grow up in. Your new refugee neighbors will need help assimilating to our culture, and you can befriend and help them, and build a friendship along the way.

So, fellow Christians, get excited! Let’s welcome these new neighbors of ours with the same enthusiasm as we would have sending missionaries to their countries. I’m excited to welcome my new neighbors, and am seeking ways to know and support them. I would be more than happy to help you find resources in your community where you could donate time or money to help welcome these refugees.

xoxo

Krista