When it comes to college students and their Spring Break plans, I thought Robbie and I had seen it all. Our kids have done missions trips (aren’t we good parents?), the booze cruise (okay, so forget I asked), and pretty much everything in between. And, over the years, we have dished out all the usual pre-travel parental guidance: Don’t go out alone. Don’t forget your sunscreen. Don’t drink the water.
Clearly, though, we forgot one critical piece of advice: Don’t jump out of an airplane.
Especially in a foreign country.
With a man you know only as “Ollie.”
Not that any of these tips would have mattered to Virginia. Maybe it’s a birth-order thing (she’s third in the line-up), but this child has developed a keen sense for how things are apt to go down. If she thinks we’ll be on board with whatever plot she is hatching, she welcomes our input. If not, well, there is always forgiveness.
Like, how sorry was Virginia, really, when she held up her hand (“SORRY MOM + DAD!”) so that her new pal Ollie (the one who strapped her into a backpack without anything remotely close to a signature required) could take a mid-air selfie?
(Seriously. Does she look sorry to you?)
When Robbie saw the Instagram post, his comment was quick and to the point: “You’re dead.”
I refrained from commenting, not because I had nothing to say, but because I had already commented on an earlier post and I know better than to go on record, publicly, with anything that might be mistaken for an excessive interest in my 21-year-old’s life.
But I was eager to hear about the jump, and when I finally got Virginia on the phone, she summed it up perfectly:
“It was John 10:10, Mom. It was amazing!”
Now I’m not sure Jesus had skydiving in mind, but his promise to his followers – “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full” – actually fits. That’s the NIV translation; other popular versions describe a life lived “more abundantly” (KJV), one that is “rich and satisfying” (NLT), and one that is “more and better…than they ever dreamed of” (MSG).
And while I wouldn’t necessarily advocate jumping out of an airplane (even with Ollie, who I am sure is a very safe person), I do think there is a metaphor here. I mean, when we make a decision to trust God – as in, really trust him, with all that we have and all that we are – it can feel a little scary.
A little like losing control.
A little like jumping into the clouds when you can’t see the ground – or even, for that matter, the Person you have decided to strap yourself to.
Trusting God is all of these things, and more. It takes faith (and sometimes even guts), but it opens the door a “rich and satisfying” life, one that is “more and better” than anything we could ever imagine.
And, at the end of the day, it’s amazing.
All week on the blog, we’ve been talking about sexual assault and how to prevent it. I am grateful to author Wendy Blight for her willingness to share her story (which, if you’re just checking in, is the subject of her book, Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner: The Transforming Power of God’s Story).
Today, I want to offer a prayer for anyone who has ever been a victim of sexual violence. Please join me in praying this for yourself, or for someone you love:
Heavenly Father, may your light break forth like the dawn in _____’s life. May her healing quickly appear, and may your glory be her guard. When ____’s calls, answer her. When she cries for help, let her hear you say, “Here am I.” (Isaiah 58:8-9)
This post is the third in a three-part series on sexual assault. Monday’s blog featured a brief review of Wendy Blight’s book, Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner, and yesterday Wendy recapped her story for us (if you missed that post, click here to download a free chapter of the book). I am grateful for Wendy’s perspective, and for her willingness to write these posts. The strategies she offers for staying S.A.F.E. are worth sharing. JB
How I wish someone had shared with me what I’m about to share with you. If they had, perhaps the events of June 7, 1987 would have ended very differently.
A few years ago, Oprah Radio invited me to Chicago to share my story and the facts, statistics, and practical lessons I learned from my experience. I’m sharing that same information with you today. I write this NOT to instill fear but to inform and educate. I invite you to read through to the end…inform and educate yourself… and share what you learn with your friends.
- Did you know that 1 out of 4 college women are sexually assaulted every year?
- Did you know that 1 out of 6 women some time during their lifetime will be the victim of sexual assault?
- Did you know that approximately 60% of sexual assaults go unreported every year? And 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
Victims of sexual assault are:
- 3 times more likely to suffer from depression.
- 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
- 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
- 26 times more likely to abuse drugs.
- 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.
(Statistics taken from RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.)
Sexual assault is a crime of 0pportunity!!! What do I mean by that? Rarely is a woman assaulted by a stalker. A perpetrator selects his victim because, by her unintentional actions, she has made herself an easy target. By following a few simple steps, you can avoid being an easy target. I learned some of these first-hand. THE KEY TO AVOID BEING A VICTIM IS AWARENESS; please share these “Be S.A.F.E.” strategies with all the women you know!
S – Avoid Compromising Situations
When you go out….
- never leave your drink unattended (alcoholic and non-alcoholic)
- never accept a drink from a stranger and accept drinks only when you see the bartender pour it and hand it directly to you
- never leave the keys to your home with anyone (valet, service station, car wash)
- never be alone with someone you do not know
- always be sure a friend or family member knows who you are with and where you are going
- be conscious of what you post on social media; never announce you will be alone…anytime or anywhere
- use apps that will help contact people when you are in trouble and locate you (for example: Circle of 6 and bSafe)
A – Be Aware of Your Surroundings
- know where you are at all times
- know what is going on around you
- know who is around you
- never have conversations within range of a stranger that reveal you will be home alone, closing a business alone, traveling alone, etc.
F – Trust Your Feelings
- if your intuition tells you something is not right, pay attention and respond (chills down your spine, hair stands on end, knot in your stomach)
- flee if you feel uneasy or uncomfortable
- call 911 if you sense danger
- never ignore your feelings because they may save your life
E – Don’t Be An Easy Target
- secure your home, apartment, and car by locking your doors and windows at ALL times – NO EXCEPTIONS
- carry your cell phone at all times and be sure it is charged
- never walk alone at night ANYWHERE
- never open your door to a stranger and ALWAYS ask for identification when expecting workmen
- don’t leave a friend alone … ever
- watch what you drink and don’t exceed your limit
Some of these sound simple and obvious. But I violated three of these prevention steps. I had a conversation outside at the pool which unintentionally announced to everyone around me that I would be home alone that afternoon. We left our front door unlocked, which allowed the rapist easy access. I had a “strange” sensation when I walked in the apartment and saw our front door locked because we usually left it unlocked for each other. But I didn’t trust that “feeling” and walked up the stairs right into the arms of an armed, masked man.
What to Do If It Happens to You
- Immediately call 911 no matter what your attacker threatens.
- Do not change your clothes.
- Do not shower or bathe.
- Do not brush your teeth.
- Do not move or remove any item from the location of the attack.
- Write down anything you can remember immediately (race, age, height, weight, hair color, hair length, eye color, distinguishing marks, facial hair, clothes, weapon, odors).
- Go to the emergency room.
For help, contact 1-800-656-HOPE, the national hotline for RAINN. Anyone who believes they have been raped or abused in any way can call this number.
This is a message I’ve shared on many college campuses and in radio and television interviews. I invite you to share what you have learned today with those in your sphere of influence…women you care about…it could save a life!
Note to readers: Yesterday’s post featured a review of the book, Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner. (For a free chapter from the book, click here.) Today and tomorrow, I’m turning this space over to the book’s author, Wendy Blight. At a time when sexual violence on college campuses has captured our national attention, Wendy’s story offers understanding, wisdom, and hope. JB
It’s the Saturday after my college graduation. I pull up the covers for a few more moments of sleep. Finally, I slide out of bed, throw on some shorts, and run out the door to meet friends for an afternoon by the pool.
My last day with my best girlfriends. Treasured memories…formals, weekend trips, date nights, spring breaks…so much fun and laughter. How could it be over?
Hours later, I rush back into my apartment, golden brown, smelling like a perfect blend of coconut and the great outdoors. I head upstairs to shower.
As I hit the top step, I see him. A masked man, wielding a large hunting knife. Behind the mask, two cold, piercing blue eyes staring back at mine. Who are you? Why are you here? Surely this can’t be real.
The cold blade on my neck jolts me back to reality. The intruder shoves me into my room. He commits vile acts against me. When he finishes, he leans in close, “I know where you live. If you tell anyone, I will return, and I will kill you.” He walks out the door never to be seen again.
At age 21. Every dream shattered. Every hope dashed. I feel so very alone.
Not a single soul understood the depths of my pain. I locked myself in a prison of fear. At times, living seems too much to bear. No one knew…my loneliness…my helplessness…my hopelessness.
Thankfully, this is not the end of my story. But my journey to get where I am today was long and hard. That day in June 1986, I had no idea where to turn or what to do. I was thousands of miles from home. School was out. There was not an instruction book for what to do after your raped.
Joining the Conversation…
Jodie, thank you for inviting me to be part of the conversation happening nationally about sexual assault on college campuses…both stranger rape and date rape. Sadly, the statistics have not changed since my attack over 25 years ago. One in four women on college campuses are raped. We don’t report our attacks because someone has stepped into our world and cracked our hearts wide open. We have been violated in a most intimate and personal way.
The words don’t come easily: I’ve been raped.
We believe our attacker’s threats. We fear the administration, the police, our peers will not believe us. We fear the unknown in the investigative and prosecutorial process.
I’m grateful for this conversation. I’m grateful for the proactive stance our government and our universities are beginning to take to protect young women. Victims need a voice. We need an advocate.
I also want to be a voice of hope in the midst of this conversation. God makes amazing promises in His Word.
James 1:2-4 says,
“Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing.” (The Voice)
Romans 8:28 says,
“We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.” (The Voice)
After my attack in 1987, fear held me captive for nearly 15 years. Anger and bitterness consumed my heart. I held daily pity parties for myself. Desperation led me to my Bible. It was in the pages of God’s Word that God healed my gaping wounds. He restored my soul. He took my shattered heart and, piece by piece, created something good and beautiful.
We live in a world where bad people will make bad choices that hurt good people. But God promises that the trials and sufferings that enter into our lives, when surrendered to Him, will be redeemed to bring about our good, His glory, and point others to Him!
Tomorrow on the blog: Oprah Radio asked Wendy to share strategies for staying safe, on campus and elsewhere. Wednesday’s post will feature some of these insights, as well as resources and help for victims.
Note to readers: This post is the first in a three-part series. I met author Wendy Blight last year and, given the national conversation that’s taking place about sexual violence, particularly on college campuses, I found her story both relevant and redemptive. JB
“I hesitated, then spoke three words I never thought I would utter: ‘I was raped.'”
Wendy Blight had a seemingly perfect life. Voted a “Baylor Beauty,” engaged to be married to her college sweetheart, job offer in hand as she graduated – it was all working out exactly as she had planned. But then, after a leisurely afternoon by the pool with her friends on a muggy Texas day, she returned to her apartment and found a masked man waiting for her, wielding a large knife.
What followed was a horrific crime, and then a 15-year journey to find answers: Where was God when I was attacked? How can my rapist go unpunished? Can I ever feel safe? Will I ever just be normal again?
In her compelling book, Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner: The Transforming Power of God’s Story,Wendy tells how, after the assault, fear and doubt became the driving force in her life. I imagine that anyone who has ever been the victim of sexual violence would readily understand Wendy’s torment. For those who have not experienced that pain, the honesty in her story opens the door to a deeper level of empathy, offering valuable insight into how to come alongside those who are hurting.
If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know I love the University of Virginia, and right now I am privileged to be part of a group of students, alumni, and faculty members who are working to assess (and improve) the school’s climate and culture, particularly as it relates to sexual assault. We’ve talked with legal experts, law enforcement officers, bystander education advocates, professional counselors and a host of other brilliant and compassionate people, and I am encouraged by the progress that’s being made. New policies and procedures are taking shape, and more and more students are stepping forward to help one another.
Perhaps nowhere, though, have I seen the path to hope and healing charted so clearly as it is in Hidden Joy. Because she has “been there,” and because she doesn’t try to gloss over her anger or her confusion, Wendy’s story resonates with truth. And when she begins to trust God – to see his hand in her life, working for good purposes, even in the midst of her pain – it makes you want to stand up and cheer. It’s like watching a prisoner step out into the light.
I wish I could put a copy of Hidden Joy into the hands of everyone who has ever been a victim, or who has ever wanted to help a friend find hope amid the ashes of suffering. I can’t do that, but sweet Wendy has offered to send a free, signed copy of her book to someone who posts a comment on this blog – we’ll pick a giveaway winner at random and announce that on Wednesday.
I’m also turning this space over to Wendy for the next two days. Tomorrow, she’ll recap her story and offer a free chapter of the book to anyone who would like to read more. And Wednesday’s post will feature strategies for staying safe, insights Wendy first shared on Oprah Radio and now offers to us. They’re commonsense tips, but important ones – and, if you’re like me, you’ll want to forward them to your children, your friends, and anyone else who will listen.
(3.18.15 – Congratulations to Helen Roberts of Virginia Beach, who will soon be receiving her complimentary copy of Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner – and thank you, Wendy!)
Add a bunch of grocery-store tulips and a breath of a prayer, and hang in there. I promise: We’re gonna make it!
Pray this one for yourself, or for someone you know who may need God’s help to move from weariness and defeat to a place of joy and strength:
Refresh my weary heart, O Lord. Satisfy me when I am faint. (Jeremiah 31:25)
You know how you run into people at a party or wherever and they try to regale you with some story about how they accidentally bought a three-legged dog (which actually happened to Robbie’s aunt) or how they tried to use a cherry bomb to unclog a toilet (his uncle, who stood on the lid), and they wrap it all up and say, “My life should be a book!”?
For most people, that’s not true. Trust me. Partial dogs and imploded commodes will get you through the appetizer course, sure, but that’s about it.
For Dee Oliver, though, her life was a memoir screaming to be written. And, thanks be to God, it has been! The Undertaker’s Wife: A True Story of Love Loss, and Laughter in the Unlikeliest of Places, releases this month. If you’ve ever seen The Blindside or The Help or even a rerun of The Addams Family, you will read Dee’s story and think, “Can the movie be far behind?”
Okay, okay. So I’m a little biased. In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote the book with Dee. But even our minister liked it: “Southern women have found their Mark Twain in Dee Oliver!” is what he had to say. (Even before he got his free copy.)
Here’s a little excerpt from the back jacket, just to whet your appetite:
On Dee Branch’s first date with Johnnie Oliver, a fourth-generation funeral director, she knew she was in for a unique relationship when he had to leave “for just a minute” – and came back to the car with a corpse.
You can’t make this stuff up.
It’s not really a spoiler to let you know that Johnnie dies (you pick that up in the first chapter), or that Dee winds up working in an African American funeral home (which you can read for yourself on the back cover). I’d tell more (and believe me, there’s plenty, from the time Johnnie nearly choked to death on her engagement ring, to the funeral homily about the man who had been “drinkin’ and chasin’ women and never bein’ much of a daddy to his kids” and still got into heaven) but I’d rather you read the book for yourself. Part memoir, part how-to book, The Undertaker’s Wife is probably the best book I’ve ever read (and certainly the best one I’ve ever had a hand in writing) about the common ground of grief, the practicalities of death, and the ever-present faithfulness of God.
And here’s a nifty treat: By posting a comment on this blog, you’ll be entered for a chance to win a free copy of The Undertaker’s Wife. Check back on Friday to see who won – I’ll reveal the “super lucky” winner (have you noticed that “super” is, like, the most popular blog word ever? Super cute shoes! Super easy dinner recipe! Super helpful tip for stain removal!) at the end of this post.
(If giveaways aren’t your thing, or if you’re like me and you aren’t really sure how to post a comment on someone’s blog, you can click here and buy the book for yourself.)
And, if you happen to be in or around Virginia Beach, Virginia, on March 25, please join us for a special book launch with Changing Seasons. I’ll be interviewing Dee and, even though she doesn’t know it yet, we’re going to take questions from the audience. Last time I heard Dee speak, a 76-year-old woman wanted to know “where you put the Botox.”
(If possible, please come up with a new question this time.)
(Although that was a good one.)
(I mean, people want to know.)
Hope to see you on March 25th…or on the blog!
BOOK GIVEAWAY UPDATE: Congratulations to Nancy Keshian of Winston-Salem, NC. She was the 7th person to comment on this post, and will soon be receiving her free copy of The Undertaker’s Wife. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it, Nancy!
So a few weeks ago, I got an email from my rocket scientist of a daughter, the one who just got engaged. (Whoop! Whoop!) To those who caught the reference in last week’s blog and then called or emailed to say, “Why didn’t you tell me?”, I’m so sorry. I thought I was the only person who stunk at social media; I figured if I knew the big news, everyone did.
Look. I’ll make it up to you. Here’s the photo Hillary’s beloved posted to announce the news:
(I know that’s not the world’s best shot of Charlie, but trust me: He’s adorable.)
Anyhow, Hillary has never been the most tidy or organized person, and she was writing to crow about new scientific evidence to indicate that the most creative people actually flourish amid clutter.
I read the article and then, curious, I asked Hillary to send me a snap of her desk at NASA:
So what’s with the hubcap on the left? I wanted to know.
“That’s not a hubcap,” she told me. “It’s part of a heat shield.” (Of course. I knew that.)
And, um, the tiara?
“My thinking cap.”
I was afraid to ask about the screwdriver. I mean, if NASA is letting kids who are just two years out of engineering school tighten their nuts and bolts, do we really want to know about it?
I couldn’t live like that. Heck, I couldn’t last five minutes with that desk. But Hillary is thriving, and as I studied the photo (longing, I will confess, to get in there with a Hefty Cinch Sak, even if it meant setting the whole “Let’s go to Mars” thing back by a few thousand light years), I was reminded of Psalm 139. God knows how each one of us is made – messy or clean, wavy or straight, relaxed or uptight – and, in his eyes, we are all wonderful!
So here’s the thing: If you look at your desk, your house, or your life today and you feel like you just can’t get it together, don’t despair. God loves you, just the way you are.
Likewise, if you look at your children and you feel like they can’t get it together (not that I know anyone who would worry about their kids’ domestic standards or anything), don’t worry about that, either. God loves them just the way they are.
Instead of fretting, take a deep breath. Take a gander at Psalm 139, and let these words permeate your soul:
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
I praise you because my kids/my spouse/my mother/my friend is fearfully and wonderfully made.
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:14)
Isn’t that, I don’t know…refreshing?
(And P.S.: Even without the hubcap and the tiara, I know that God made Hillary fearfully and wonderfully creative, and I am grateful. I’m just hoping, as they celebrate Week Two of their blessed engagement, that he made Charlie fearfully and wonderfully good with a vacuum cleaner.)
Earlier this week, I wrote about giving up worry. I’m trying to give it up for Lent; I’d like to get rid of it forever.
Philippians 4:6 is, perhaps, the Bible’s best-known “anti-worry” verse. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Then comes the promise: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (v. 7)
That’s all good – great, even. But how do we do that, really? How do we stop being anxious?
I think the answer comes in the very next verse, and it’s what I was trying to get at in my blog as I blathered on about cows in cornfields. We train our minds to move along familiar pathways. If we truly want to move from a place of worry to a place of peace, we need to heed Paul’s advice to the Philippians and focus on those things that enable peace to thrive:
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
(Now there’s a little Bible Xanax to get you pointed in the right direction!)
If you wrestle with worry (whether it’s once in awhile, all the time, or as part of your Lenten fast), turn Philippians 4:6-8 into a prayer and get started on retraining your mind:
Heavenly Father, don’t let me be anxious about anything. Send your peace to guard my heart and mind. Help me think about that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. (Philippians 4:6-8)
Here we are, marking the end of Lent: Week 2. I know people who have given up all sorts of things, from the usual (sweets, which Annesley’s roommate Kate has sworn off for the season) to the interesting (cussing, offered up by my favorite local columnist, Kerry Dougherty.)
(How’s that working for you, Kerry?)
Me, I gave up worrying.
I don’t always give something up, but this year, when the minister said that Lent “reveals where your heart is” and that it serves as a call to draw closer to God and give up anything that gets in the way of that relationship, I knew what I had to do. My heart, old and gnarly stump that it is, can get bound up in worry – and sometimes, the forest grows so thick that I can hardly see the Light.
Worry can make a person do funny things. When Robbie was in high school and the time came for him to take the SATs, it hit me that I wasn’t entirely sure he knew how to read. I mean, I assumed he could, but I had never actually seen it. Eager to help him nail at least a few words on the vocab test, I bought a case of lacrosse balls and personalized them as his Valentine’s present:
Robbie was kind enough not to complain that I’d ruined a perfectly good case of balls, but when he actually used them (that’s my boy!), things got a wee bit ugly. Turns out, red Sharpie marker isn’t really “permanent,” and Robbie ended up with pink string – I think the technical term is “mesh” – in his lacrosse stick.
Needless to say, that provoked a few caustic comments. Irascible, even.
As with sweets and cussing, I am sure there are all sorts of strategies one could employ to get rid of worry, but for me, the only tactic that has shown any promise is the same one Paul used, back when he was pumping up the Corinthians: “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)
Medical research (and buckle up, because I am heading way out of my strike zone here) reveals that the neural pathways in our brains work kind of like a cow going through a cornfield. The first time a thought goes through the path, it doesn’t leave much of a trace. But keep on treading the same ground, and pretty soon the stalks begin to separate, the corn gets trampled, and the path becomes so familiar and well worn that it might as well be a highway.
If I am building a highway for my thoughts (and aren’t we all?), I want it to be one that is paved with good things. The only way I know how to replace worry with peace and trust – to take anxious thoughts “captive,” if you will – is to send the cows through my cornfield armed with God’s promises.
And believe it or not, this plan really works.
Back when my worries about Robbie’s academic prowess conspired to keep me awake at night, I clung to verses like Isaiah 54:13, “All your sons will be taught by the Lord, and great will be your children’s peace.” (I know more modern Bible translations have gone gender-neutral and that this passage clearly covers “daughters,” too…but I’m kind of tied to my old 1984 NIV, especially when it comes to picking prayer promises for my boy.)
Now that I am an official Mother of the Bride, with not just one by TWO daughters getting married within a few months of each other, I have a whole new set of worries: What if it rains? What if I forget to order the cake? What if I never find an MOB dress? (If you saw my Christmas Sweater blog, you know why this is a legitimate concern.)
To all of these fears, and to countless more of the nasties that try to steal my joy, Jesus says this: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8)
And then, as if he’s had some experience with the whole wedding planning thing, he gets even more specific: “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
If you’re looking for a good memory verse, try that one. It pretty much covers everything, from the willpower it takes to watch your roommate scarf up a cinnamon bun (sorry, Kate), to the mental gymnastics required to excise those dagnabbits from your vocabulary (you can do it, Kerry!), to a good night’s sleep with two weddings coming straight at you on the calendar, like a pair of billowing freight trains.
I’m not sure I’ll ever banish worry entirely, but as long as I keep piling the promises onto my cows (Philippians 4:8, 4:13, and 4:19 are all running loose in my cornfield right now), I know that everything will be okay.