Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sunburn on Sunday

Last week my kids spent 8 hours on a pontoon boat. It was hot as snot and on the river it's easy to get sunburn. My daughter has red hair and very fair skin and she got the worst burn of everyone. She was fine with it and never really noticed it, or that it had started peeling, until she went to church that Sunday.

When I picked her up after Sunday School she was quiet and sad. "Mom," she said, "the kids were making fun of my sunburn. It really made me feel bad." Then she started to cry. "I have to go to school on Tuesday. If they made fun of me here, what will they say at school?"

Oh crap. CRAP! For so many reasons...C.R.A.P.!

So many lessons learned in one hour of Sunday school that weren't even part of the curriculum:

1) People at church can be no different that people in the world. They can say mean things, make you cry, and make you scared to face "the real world". (Suckfest Lesson I.)

2) Appearance is more important than what's inside. Yes, I know that part of growing up entails grappling with personal appearance. Kids make fun of noses, ears, freckles, zits, bad hair, braces.... But still. (Suckfest Lesson II)

3) People can turn on you. No matter how nice you have been in the past, no matter if you've been friends before, kids (even adults at times) can be fickle. (Suckfest Lesson III)

Did I have an awesome opportunity to teach her about how God sees us from the inside? Yes. Would this have been a good time to suggest that we pray for the (ingrate, evil, hell bound, unsanctified, idiotic) kids (raised by rabid wolves) in her class? Yes. I could have talked to her about how we all sin, that we have to choose our words carefully, that God still wants us to love others (even if they are voluntarily retarded) no matter how they treat us. Of course I could have done all of those things, because all of those things are core truths.

But in those moments, with the facts of what happened to her swirling around me, I was confronted with all the times I stood in her shoes.

The truth is, I have often found myself being treated worse inside the church building than anywhere else. Am I suggesting that the church has never been a safe haven for me? No, not at all. Rather, what I'm saying is that Christians can be just plain mean, under the guise of "in Christian love".

After the birth of my son I dealt with severe post partum depression. It was the darkest, scariest, most vacant feeling I had ever known. Life was all around me, but I was living death. Like the victim of a horrific calamity whose arms are severed, I lost touch with any of the vitality around me.

It was impossible for those around not to notice the crisis. Women in my Sunday School class certainly noticed, both by observing me and hearing our cries for help. My husband became my advocate, asking women in our church to help me in any way they could. We were dignified, not begging or demanding, just asking for relationships, really. Unfortunately that backfired.

One of my husband's friends called him later the same Sunday that we had asked for help. Apparently a good size group of women clustered together were heard to be saying the following, "I am not going to help her in any way." and "Well of course not, that would only be enabling her laziness." and "It's surely a spiritual problem." Needless to say, any depression I had felt up to that point paled in comparison to the abandonment and isolation that descended upon me. Not to mention the embarrassment. Oh, the embarrassment. So in those moments I reacted. I seared my heart closed. I threw up walls made of steel and concrete and vowed never, never to make myself vulnerable again. Of course that backfired, too. Long after the post partum depression went away, situational depression stepped in. I continued my resolve to keep people out. I refused to invest myself in anyone, ever, out of fear, and sometimes out of sheer hatefulness. Essentially, I was stuck in Suckville for over 3 years.

Am I blaming the situation on everyone else? Absolutely not. I surely had a hand in my own demise. Unforgiveness made a monster out of me. What I am saying is a truth we all know too well: It's not impossible to be hurt by the church. By the same token, it is entirely possible to marinate in unforgiveness until we're so soured by it we lose all perspective. That is what I didn't want to happen to my daughter.

So in those moments when she felt so bad about being teased in Sunday School, I said nothing. I held her while my heart cried along with hers. Over the course of the rest of the day we talked about being careful about how we treat other people. About forgiveness. About the possibility that maybe some kids were just curious about what happened to her. About how to respond if she were made fun of again. Then, we made fun of sunburns and called each other "lizard skin" as we pulled molting skin from her face. Sick, I know, but she laughed. Somehow, it made everything okay.

Yesterday was her first day of school. She was peeling worse yesterday than she was on Sunday...but no one at school said a thing, which is good. But somehow bittersweet.

This is a really heavy post for me. Maybe it strikes a cord for you, too. Of course you're always welcomed to comment but if I might suggest something it would be this. The worst thing we can do is dwell on the past - it's okay to acknowledge past hurts, but setting up camp there will do us in every time. I would hate for this to turn into a bash the church session. Instead, supporting each other is what it's all about, for me at least. I would like to know how you have handled your disappointments, good and bad.

p.s. This MUST be said: God loves us no matter how beat up we are, or even if we're the ones doing the bullying. Truthfully, I've been both people, and I'm not proud of that. Jesus will never smack you sideways, be unloving, or make fun of your sunburn. Don't let the ruin of others ruin you. Forgiveness - and maybe moving on - is key.

p.p.s. "Suckville" and "Suckfest" aren't in the spellcheck. Who knew?


Dog snob said...

Stacy..have you been reading SCL this morning? Yours and Jon's post are right there along the same lines. I Love it!! There's nothing like 2 perspectives of a similar subject to get a person thinking. How have I handled things? I haven't. I tend to bury things and pretend they don't exist until God goes and unburys them, (a lot of that's been happening lately too, and, being the overly stubborn person I am, I don't seem to figure out that's how it's going to go and just save Him the trouble). I create my own suckfest, (who needs someone else to do it for you right ;) ) Anyway, I think you handled things with your daughter wonderfully and thanks for being real :)

Kate said...

Wow. I was one of those people who thought PPD was fake and a "spiritual" problem. When I had my second child a year after my first I went into major depression. No one was there. It was supposed to be such a joyful time and it was hell. Now I have the grace and tools to extend to others who are experiencing that. If we lived in the same town, I would totally follow you around until you agreed to be my friend =)

Princess Bride said...

I will stick to the assignment and not dredge up old bitterness, I promise. :) Great post! When God has taken away (through church upheavals and rejection by Christian friends) He has always given back more than seemed to be lost at the time. It's so hard to walk through, but God is faithful. You did a great job with your daughter. I hope she's doing ok.

Christianne Squires said...

Wow, Stacy. This post really moved me. First, I felt my own heart breaking as I identified all to well with what your daughter faced in other people's meanness. When you said you understood it, I knew what you meant: I understood it, too. That really sucks. Suckfest, for sure.

But then your story about postpartum depression gripped me. I love how honest you are about what you were going through, and I love that you saw the need for relationships in that place and reached out.

I hate what happened instead.

That really sucks.

Suckfest, indeed.

For a while now, I've been turning over the idea in my mind that people are always doing the best they know how to do in any situation. When people hurt us, it's not necessarily that they mean to hurt us but that they are only responding out of what they have. They can't give what they don't have. So if they have fear of the unknown, they respond in fear. Probably those ladies just didn't know what to make of what you were going through. Probably they'd never experienced it themselves. Probably they feared their own real, raw feelings and judge those feelings in themselves, so they judged you. Probably those kids in your daughter's Sunday school class fear anything "other," so they feared what was "other" in her.

Unfortunately, what is "the best we can do" in any circumstance still inflicts pain upon others. That, perhaps, is Suckfest #4. But at least it helps with the forgiveness and understanding we can offer in return.

Stacy from Louisville said...

Excellent prespective that makes sense. It's true - what we see in other people makes us insecure because instinctively we know we can only hold up our mask for so long. My experience taught me to accept people for who they are, good and bad. But, that's another post for another time...

(Look on SCL, Christian Emoticons for interpretation...)

Kemma said...

Thankyou for writing this. You know, I think the PPD is more widespread than any of us think. I had it with both my boys (but not my daughter? I guess girl babies save their 'let's make mom crazy' for when they want to get their belly buttons pierced in high school). I never really thought "hmm, God can use my PPD for His purposes in my later life" until I read how nasty the Church Ladies were to you, and it made me realize that because I have BEEN where you were, Satan will be skating to work before I'd treat a new mom like that.
Now I feel kind of buoyed with new purpose. (but I won't be having any more babies, just to 'test the theory' or anything).

Miss Hannah said...

When I was in high school, I didn't really fit in. I dated a boy from our biggest football rivalry, I wore dark lipstick and heavy eyeliner and dressed like a punk rocker, and I was mercilessly mocked by many of my classmates for everything from my boyfriend's Polish (i.e. hard-to-spell-and-pronounce) last name to the fact that I got really good grades (because obviously I must have been sleeping with the teachers). My husband's sister recently got married, so we were back home for the wedding. Her new husband is good friends with some of the people who were cruelest to me in high school, and the whole five days we were home, I kept running into them at wedding-preparation events, local hangouts, and the wedding reception itself. I allowed being at the same bar, in the same room, and under the same canopy as them to dig up those memories and that old hatred, and I wallowed in it. Every time I would see one of them, I would seethe with anger, thinking of things that happened literally six or more years ago. I allowed those feelings to come back to Virginia with me, and even now, when I see one of them comment on my brother-in-law's facebook page, I stop for a second and have a little pity party. Reading this post, something suddenly dawned on me: I am in Christ. I am a new creation. The old me has passed away, and the new me has come to life. I got saved at the tail end of high school. I am a completely different person now than I was then. They don't even know who I am now, and if I have changed so much, what's to say they haven't too? What's to say they weren't reminded of those same encounters when they looked at me and felt loads of regret and remorse? What if they saw me dancing with my husband and our friends, and heaved a sigh of relief that I was able to overcome their taunts and insults, to go on and live a normal, and even happy, life? I'll never know how they feel about me now or what they think about their former actions. For all I know, they could be eaten up with guilt, or they could be jealous and bitter because no matter how hard they tried to break me, I, not they, actually got out of our small town, got married, finished college, etc. I don't know. What I do know is that it's stupid for me to continue to allow them to affect me. I am made whole in Christ. I do have friends and family who love and care for me very much. I have a great job and a wonderful husband. There is so much about my life that is different now. I wouldn't carry around my dead grandmother's suitcase, so why am I carrying my dead self's baggage? Thanks for encouraging me to put it down, Stacy. This was a timely lesson, and I appreciate it.

Stacy from Louisville said...

Congratulations on your decision to move on. Even more congratulations on your revelations about people in your past. Forgiveness is freedom. It feels good to know God is at work, doesn't it?


katdish said...

Okay, so I know you wrote this post months ago, but I'm just now reading it. I wish I could say I was shocked by your church ladies story, but I'm not. I'm sorry you had to go through that on top of everything else you were going through. That really, really sucks.

Griffith Family said...

I've only recently discovered your blog and I'm reading some of the older blogs that caught my eye. I too had PPD but had no idea what it was. My mind was my worse enemy and I assumed everyone else had it after delivery but just kept it inside- like me. Only until a friend got me to open up and share did I fully understand how serious it was. It was like a horror movie staring my child going on in my head all the time. I couldn't control it and it was awful, awful, awful. As the hormones returned to normal so did I. Fortunately, I didn't have it with my son and got to experience that first year as it should be experienced. I'm not surprised by the ladies at church. Often things like this happen because we are people caught up in the trappings of this world and lose focus on what Christ told us to do- love one another. That whole "daily renewal of the mind" is critical to keep focused on Him and not us. I'm not where I should be on the daily-ness of it, but I try to talk with God often. My favorite and most frequent prayer is asking (begging) Him to pour me out and fill me up with Him and to see all these people in my life with His eyes and not my own. Sometimes, that means forgiving the people that hurt you most even when they don't ask or want your forgiveness. Forgiving keeps you whole instead of letting it rip apart the person God is refining you to be. Life isn't easy but the payoff is beautiful and eternal if you know the Maker.