My dress is too short. God’s grace is not.

Over Labor Day weekend my husband and I decided to plan a trip with our high school aged daughters. Our time with them is quickly slipping by and we wanted to spend some one on one time with them to connect and have fun. The majority of our plans were touring colleges our senior daughter is interested in attending, but we all love shopping so we planned to carve out some time to shop for homecoming dresses.

We had such a great weekend shopping and we were successful in finding our girls dresses.  Both of my girls looked and felt like a million bucks in their new dresses.

As a woman and mental health counselor, I know the importance of validating my girls and letting them know how beautiful, smart, talented, and special they are. My husband and I take every opportunity we can to let them know how loved they are and how much value they have, so we both ooooed and ahhhhed as they modeled their dresses for us in the hotel room.

It was a great night and a special moment. However, the next week I got the email; the email from the school about the dress code for the Homecoming dance. Upon a quick review, I knew my oldest daughter’s dress was not going to qualify. I decided to go ahead and send a picture of my daughter in her dress in the hopes the school would approve it, since it was OK with me and her dad.

I got a very quick response saying it didn’t meet the requirements due to the dress not being knee length, being too tight, having a cut out in the back that showed skin, and for a “plunging” neckline.

Not only was I disappointed for my daughter, I was disappointed for girls everywhere that have to live with the shame, harassment, and erroneous messaging which come in the form of dress codes.

Depending on the study you read, 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused by the time they are 18 years old. If anything should be banned it should be allowing sleepovers to happen, but that is a blog for another time. Around the age girls start developing sexually, is also the time dress codes start popping up. Girls who are sexually abused carry around the shame of “could I have done something to have prevented my abuse?

As they begin to process their abuse and become aware of their sexuality, they receive the subtle message, in the form of dress codes, that tells them “perhaps if you had dressed differently this wouldn’t have happened to you.” The cognitive distortion carried that the sexual abuse they suffered is their fault is reinforced.

The dress code further propagates the idea of rape culture. Rape culture is an environment in which the victim is blamed for their assault because of how they behaved thus provoking the attacker to assault them. The subtle messages dress codes promote is a woman deserves her assault if she dresses in a manner causing the assailant to attack.  The message is that men are not able to control their sexual desires, making it the responsibility of girls to help them not become savage by dressing modestly.

Dress codes also relay the message that boy’s needs are more important than girls; that to not distract the boys, girls should put the needs of boys ahead of their own, creating a whole gender of people pleasers; that girls should dress in ways that make boys feel comfortable, even if it is at the expense of making themselves uncomfortable.

I hate to burst everyone’s bubble, but boys are going to be distracted by girls whether they are in parkas or bikinis, and shockingly girls are attracted to boys. Boys and girls are supposed to be attracted to each other. Human beings are created to be sexual beings. By vilifying sexuality, one is vilifying something by nature we are created to do … procreate. Rather than making sexuality a negative thing, perhaps all children coming into sexual maturity should be allowed the respect to be taught what sexuality is about and the importance of it, rather than trying to pretend it doesn’t exist.

My children go to a Christian school and while I understand the schools intent to look different than the rest of the world, I believe they have utterly missed the point. By having dress codes, the school looks exactly like the rest of the world, because just like the rest of the world, girls are being subjected to shame over how they look.

If we as Christians really want to look different than the rest of the world, perhaps our dress code should say it is our policy not to make girls feel as if their value is in what they do or do not wear.  A person’s value comes from the fact they are a child or God  paid for by the sacrifice of Jesus. Wear what makes you feel comfortable.

I challenge Christian schools to be known for their love and not their rules.  After centuries and centuries of trying to be good enough to earn God’s favor, we should know by now we can never measure up. God doesn’t love us because of how well we behave, He loves us in spite of it.

Works based mentality does not work and is contrary to the Good News of Jesus. We belong to God, and ultimately our hearts are softened towards what breaks his heart. Shaming His daughters for what they wear must break His merciful heart.

It would be so much easier for me to keep my mouth shut on this issue.  Conflict makes me uncomfortable.  It makes my friends uncomfortable.  It makes my family uncomfortable.  It makes our school administrators uncomfortable (or annoyed, or likely both).

But uncomfortable is the example Jesus set for us.

So I’ll follow His example of flipping tables in the temple when he knew conflict was necessary.  I’ll follow the example of Rosa Parks who wouldn’t move to the back of the bus.  I’ll follow the example of MLK who marched from Selma to Montgomery.  I’ll follow the example of the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg who stood up against so many status quos for women so they could have the same rights as men.

I choose to not be quiet, even when it’s uncomfortable, because if I chose to remain quiet about injustice, I have inadvertently become the oppressor.  I refuse to be on that side of history.

As girls and boys are coming into maturity, they are dealing with so much. They have emotions they have never experienced before.  The playful and easy nature of friendships are changing.  School is becoming more vigorous.  Their bodies are changing in ways that can be very strange and scary. These kids are already navigating enough uncertainty about themselves, let’s not add another layer to their insecurity.

Making girls self-conscious about how they look in what they wear is a degrading and humiliating experience. As adults we should be protecting our children from shame and disgrace, not subjecting them to more of it.

I boldly declare with my daughters, with all young girls who have ever felt shamed, and with the entire female gender … enough is enough! My dress is too short. God’s grace is not.

Hi. My name is Karen. I have major depressive disorder.

Hi, my name is Karen and I am the girl who used to have a major depressive disorder.  I’m the girl who lost 20 pounds because I couldn’t eat, who couldn’t sleep at night because I felt so hopeless, who had guilt over the awful life my family must have because they have to live with me, who cried all the time, who couldn’t think of anything else other than how much dread I had for living, and who couldn’t be left alone because of the suicidal ideations.

That was the “old” me.  Now I’m the Karen of all the memes.  I have my crap together, I have a happy family, I am confident, I am smart, I am capable, I don’t cry, I enjoy living, I help other people through mental illness, and I am the girl who will gladly ask for the manager.  This is my persona, the old and new me.

And … this persona is about as arrogant as a person who says “Hi, I’m Joe and I used to be an alcoholic”.

I have been in remission from this disorder for about eight years.  Yes I have sad days, but sad days and depression are about as different as a pond is to an ocean.  There is no comparison to the depth and vastness of depression.

Since I have been symptom free for so long, I thought it might be a good idea to slowly wean off my anti-depressants.  With my doctors approval, over the period of about a year, I slowly and gradually started weaning off of medication.  I was doing well and had dosed down so much that in January I had completely weaned off of them.  Then one day a few weeks after I had completely weaned off of them, I woke up to depression.

It was instantaneous!  This was new for me as my prior episode had been gradual.  I woke up to the feeling in my stomach.  The feeling of darkness, of dread, of the fear that I was always going to feel like this, of hopelessness, of utter despair, of wishing I could just die.  This has to be one of the scariest feelings in the world.

If you or someone you love suffers from a major depressive disorder, here are a few things I want you to know …

Be your own advocate!

I immediately called my doctor when I started feeling symptoms.  I was told they wouldn’t be able to get me in for 3 weeks.  So, I pushed back and told them how serious it was.  Although they did not get me in, they did get me started back on my medication immediately.  When I called in after my initial visit to say my symptoms had surfaced again, I was told to increase my medication and they would see me in about a month.  I expressed it might be hormonal due to some weird changes in cycle etc.  I was basically told to stay in my lane, increase your meds and we will see you in a month.

In my opinion, this is unacceptable.  Depression is not taken seriously enough and it can be fatal.  Everyone is puzzled why suicide rates are so high, yet medical professions aren’t giving it the gravity of seriousness as other illnesses, and insurance is lacking on what they cover.  Since I had done some research and spoke to other professionals about hormone issues, I took a step and ordered my own saliva testing online to test my hormones.  I also did everything I knew to start treating to depression on my own.

Don’t quit!

Brian recently gave a sermon with the topic of “Don’t quit!”  I remember the morning after the service I rolled over and told him as I was sobbing I wanted to quit.  I had forgotten how hard battling it was and how I felt hopeless that I was ever going to feel better again.  He used self-talk on me, reminding me I had fought this battle before and gotten better, that this was a disease and I needed to treat it, and he reminded me that this pain was temporary.

Use the tools that worked in the past.

Immediately when I started feeling the depressive symptoms, I started fighting using every tool in my arsenal.  I started exercising like crazy, I told people who I could trust, I kept myself busy, I contacted my friend who was a counselor and scheduled a time to meet, I started taking my anti-depressants, started getting acupuncture, downloaded apps to listen to when I couldn’t sleep at night, and tried to focus on something other than me.  Trying not to focus on something other than how awful I felt was difficult, so keeping myself occupied was helpful.

Don’t trust yourself.

If you are having suicidal ideations, this is not normal and you probably should not trust yourself to be alone.  I have a team of “babysitters” when I am in a depressive episode (I think they communicate behind my back too), who constantly make sure I am not alone.  They take turns, because being with me I am sure is difficult.  They occupy my time with yoga, walks, exercise, shopping, hikes, or running errands.  These people don’t judge me when I say stuff like “I hope I get the coronavirus and die”, or “I wonder how many of Brian’s blood pressure medicines I could take to end this”.  They hug me, let me cry, tell me it’s going to get better, and remind me that they love me.  I feel safe with these people and I know it is completely OK to tell them the truth.

I wish I could say at this point I am 100% back to the recovered Karen, but I’m not.  I am trying to remain hopeful that I will get there and doing my best every day, but I know it’s a process and I keep reminding myself of this verse “for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians, 4:17).

At this moment that eternal glory can’t come soon enough, so maybe that is the good part of this affliction, that it reminds me how much I need a Savior and makes me yearn for Him more deeply than my non-afflicted self ever does.

Until that day, I will keep pressing on and choosing to see God’s love through all of you.

I Can’t Sleep

The most common frustration I hear from others in conversation is typically surrounding insomnia and trouble sleeping.  I think today alone I’ve seen 10 memes about sleep alluding people.

Why does this problem seem to affect so many people and is there an answer to help you achieve an adequate amount of sleep?  What if I told you … you are most likely the problem.

Do you REALLY want community?

I see so, so, so many articles about people desiring a tribe or a community.  They want to find their people; do life with them

This sentiment is also a regular struggle I hear from people in my role as a counselor and leader within the church. 

With all these people wanting this sort of relationship with others, why do so few have it, or feel like they don’t have it? 

Being in a relationship takes vulnerability

One of the biggest barriers to these types of relationships are that they require us to be vulnerable enough to put ourselves out there.  What we really want is for someone else to approach us first. Or we want someone else to find the relationships for us. 

Common complaints I hear (from a variety of people in a variety of settings): No one approached me. No one acknowledged me. No one made an effort to talk to me. No one was friendly to me.  

We want others to notice us, not realizing that everyone else is waiting for you to notice them. In this waiting game no one gets approached and everyone feels alone because no one had the courage to be vulnerable enough to be the initiator. 

Being vulnerable is hard work. We risk the rejection of someone not really wanting that type of relationship with us.  That can be painful. But it is part of the process of building relationships. 

In order for a relationship to be built, the first brick has to be laid by someone. If you are waiting for someone else to do it you might be waiting forever

Being in a relationship takes tremendous effort

A common theme I see woven through my discussions with people and the articles I read are, it’s all about what you get and nothing about what you have to give.  Receiving the benefits of this kind of relationship is great. Giving of yourself in this kind of relationship is hard work. 

Deep relationships take mountains of work.  They require us to give a piece of our time, our space, and even our hearts. 

Being on the receiving end of a check in text message, getting a meal, or going to someone else’s house to play games and have dinner requires pretty much no effort on our part.  It is easy to be loved and to receive. 

However, doing those things for others takes work and effort.  We have to notice things about others in order to check in with them.  This requires us to be observant of other people’s emotions.  It requires us to be compassionate. It requires us to express empathy.  It requires us not to be self-focused.  That’s hard work! 

We also have to be present and available in order to nurture the relationship.  This requires planning an event or having people to your home which likely requires cooking, cleaning, and preparation. That’s hard work! 

It requires vulnerability in the relationship and letting people really see you through the lens of reality rather than through the lens of how you want to be perceived.  This is the hardest work. 

I see over and over again people expecting loyalty and effort and vulnerability from friends, family, church, work … but not giving loyalty and effort and vulnerability.  We desire to receive these things from our friends, our family, our church, our co-workers, our employer … without grasping their desire of reciprocation. 

And if it isn’t given, the relationship will dwindle and quickly fade away.    

Lasting relationships require grit

Life is HARD!  Your friends are going to experience pain: divorce, loss of a child, death of a spouse, loss of a job, mental illness, cancer, car wrecks.  Going through this type of pain is awful, and being the friend of someone going through this type of pain can be nearly as excruciating. 

Loving a friend and their family deeply requires giving them your heart.  This makes their pain your pain; their loss your loss.  Not only will their pain break your heart, it is going to require great effort on your part as you help carry the other person’s burden. 

Walking with a friend through a crisis requires time, attention, and effort (to someone else besides yourself). 

You are going to lose sleep so they can sleep. 

You are going to go hungry so you can make sure they are fed.  

You are going to shelter them from burdens they don’t have the strength to bear. 

You are going to be loyal to them and their struggle until the day you die. 

That is what real community looks like.

Relationships require saying no

To be in this type of relationship you’re going to have to say no to a lot of things.  There is only so much of your heart, your time, and your life you can give.  Our lives are already “full” of work, kid’s activities, girl’s/guy’s nights out, volunteer opportunities, birthday parties, bible studies, and programming ……..

There are many good opportunities available for us to be part of. There are many needs in the community that surround us.  However, not every opportunity is meant for you to be a part of, and not every need is meant for you to address.  Sometimes you have to just say no!  I can’t do XYZ and still continue to be the type of spouse, parent, friend, child of God that I am called to be because there are other things I am committed to that require my attention. 

You can’t be all things to all people, but you can give yourself wholeheartedly to a few people. 

I encourage you, be brave!  Get out of your comfort zone. Initiate a relationship with someone else.  Put in the hard work that is required of this commitment.  Share the burdens of the hard times.  Say no when the opportunity and need doesn’t match the values you have predetermined.  In doing so, you will reap a rich reward … you will have the community you desire. 

Not What I Expected

A common reason people come to counseling is “relationship distress.”  Relationship distress is the grief that accompanies a relationship that doesn’t meet your personal expectations.

The types of relationship can vary, but usually they surround one’s parents, siblings, children, or in-laws; someone through either birth or marriage you did not get to choose. 

Since I am a human, and live on the same planet as my clients, I am not immune to relationship distress.  This is actually helpful because it allows me to empathize, and more importantly, it gives me the opportunity to practice the same skills I give my clients on a daily basis. 

Recently, I encountered a situation in which a relationship was (once again) just not what I hoped it to be.  I spent the day after the encounter completely consumed by the grief of what I wished the relationship would have been.  I was grieving the closeness I desired in that particular relationship. I was jealous of other people who enjoy what I feel I’m missing out on. 

In mulling through this situation, I wanted to share some insight regarding navigating relationship distress.

Practice Acceptance

When a relationship doesn’t meet your expectations, rather than continually becoming upset; practice acceptance.  We have little control over the actions of others.  When a person behaves a way that is consistent with their behavior over a long period of time, it is unreasonable to expect that behavior to change and unfair for you to expect that person’s behavior to change. 

If you do not accept the behavior, then you will find yourself continually grieving the loss of something that will never be, which creates an internal angst that can come to control you.  While it is important to grieve the loss, it is unhealthy to grieve it over and over again. 

Don’t Compare

Through social media, a conversation, or an observation, we often see others enjoying a relationship with a significant person in their life and become jealous or sad. 

When you find yourself comparing your relationship with your mom/dad/in-law/sibling/child:

  • Catch yourself in the act.
  • Acknowledge the futility of the thought.
  • Redirect your thinking. 
  • Lastly, think about the great relationships you do have. And/or say a prayer, and move on. 

Forgiveness doesn’t always mean Reconciliation

Forgiveness is intentionally changing your negative feelings towards a person and not seeking revenge. One common cognitive distortion people carry, especially Christians, is that forgiving someone for their behavior equates with reconciliation.   

Reconciliation is the act of restoring a relationship. As Christians, we are absolutely to practice forgiveness. Two of the ways we can express relational forgiveness are through acceptance and releasing comparisons.

In some cases, reconciliation is viable. But if after 25 years you are still trying to reconcile a relationship, it might be time to stop in order to protect yourself from future hurts.   

Don’t Personalize

Take an inventory. See what role you might have played. Acknowledge when necessary. Apologize if necessary. Move on. 

Allowing anyone to make you feel as though you are not good enough is not OK and can make you vulnerable to manipulation by a person who likely is not concerned for your well-being. 

Most of the time their behavior has nothing to do with you. The behavior causing you relationship distress can be caused by past hurts and insecurities that are beyond your control.  Stepping out of the situation (and your feelings surrounding the situation) will allow you to recognize the behavior isn’t about you. 

Not personalizing also has a side benefit of creating compassion and empathy. It’s hard to be angry at or hurt by a person for whom you feel compassion.

Your Expectations are not their Responsibility 

Up until this point, perhaps you were on board with the steps for eliminating relationship distress. I’m going to lose a lot of people here because this step requires personal accountability. I know all too well how hard that can be. 

Perhaps your expectations are too much. Perhaps your expectations are unrealistic. Perhaps your expectations are impossible to achieve because of how God uniquely created both you and the other person. 

Expecting another person to fulfill your expectations in order to make you happy or content in a relationship is unrealistic and you are setting yourself up for failure. 

Just as it is unrealistic for others to expect more of us than we are capable, it is equally unrealistic for us to do the same to others. 

Will practicing these habits make the hurt completely go away? 

Unfortunately no; it still isn’t fair that the relationship isn’t how it is supposed to be.  However, practicing these habits will over time ease the pain of the hurt and create some empathy and compassion for the other person. 

It is a practice, and with any new behavior it will take time and repetition. 

Accept. Don’t compare. Forgive. Don’t personalize. Then move on with the humility of knowing that you too might not be meeting someone’s expectations and causing them relationship distress.

4 Sexual Injustices for Women in the Church

My husband recently asked me to write down some examples of injustices woman face in relation to sexuality in preparation for a sermon he was going to give on John 8.  The chapter is titled The Woman Caught in Adultery.

The woman in this story was found to be having an affair.  As the law at that time dictated, she was to be brought to temple and stoned by the people.  Jesus happened to be in the crowd and the religious leaders saw this as an opportune time to trap him into saying something they could use against him later, but Jesus turned them all on their heels when he said the famous verse  “Let ye who is without sin cast the first stone.” 

My husband, for the first time in his life, noticed that the man she had an affair with, also making him an adulterer, was not present to be punished for his crime.  As a woman, this is an injustice that I notice every single time I read this story.  It’s something that I understand and know to be true in regards to injustices woman faced then and continue to face now regarding their sexuality.  

As I was taking the kids to school this morning, I was trying to compile all the injustices in my head so I could send my husband some examples.  I was thinking about all of the messages I heard when I was younger and still continue to hear to this day not only from the church but from my friend’s moms, friends, and the culture in general.  I found my stomach getting very tense and started getting really irritable with everyone in the car.  It’s crazy how those messages affected me then and still affect me now.  

I can remember in my youth that virginity was very important to me.   It wasn’t necessarily important to me because I valued myself as it should have been. It was important to me because if I ever wanted to land a suitable mate I must remain pure for that person.  Plus girls who had sex, even once, were called whores, hoes, sluts etc. I’m not sure what the boy name equivalent to that is, oh yes, that’s right, I don’t know one because there isn’t one, which leads to the first injustice …  

Girls who have sex are demonized.  Boys who have sex are glorified.  

Boys are called “studs” and are taught to be proud of their conquests, meanwhile girls are taught they are damaged goods after one sexual encounter.  I heard from countless friend’s moms that boys like to have fun with the promiscuous girls, but like to settle down with virgins.  How messed up is that?  Not only am I supposed to remain a virgin, but I am supposed to be totally cool with my husband not being one.  

Girls bear the responsibility for whether or not sex occurs.  

We are taught we must be modest in all appearances because it is our responsibility not to tempt the boys.  We are in essence teaching our girls that men are wild beasts that can’t control their sexual desires and shouldn’t be required to, therefore we must cover ourselves, not flirt, and repress any sexuality because it is solely our responsibility to keep the boys from looking.  Meanwhile boys get to stroll around shirtless when they are hot because woman should have self-control over their sexual desires. I heard countless times that the girl was ultimately responsible in a relationship for saying no to sex before marriage because it is physically impossible for a boy to resist that urge.

Boys will be boys.  

Meaning, it is totally socially acceptable for boys to talk about woman, what they look like, what they have done with them, and how they grabbed a person’s genitalia.  It’s just what guys do, how can you expect anything different.  There is no accountability from men in respecting a woman through their long inappropriate up and down stares at us, when they say things like “you’d look great in a Hooters outfit” to us, or in what they say to each other about us in the locker room.  

Once you are a married woman, it is your sole responsibility to keep your husband “satisfied”.  

If you aren’t capable of doing this, then don’t let it surprise you when they look at pornography or have affairs, because men have needs and if you aren’t going to meet them, well, that is just the consequence of how you lack as a wife.  

I could go on and on and on, but again, I’m feeling my blood pressure rise and not feeling well just thinking about it. I will end with this.  The thing that infuriates me the most about the injustice in all of this is that culture has robbed woman of something that is supposed to be a gift from God.  My guess is you will be hard pressed to find a woman who doesn’t associate sex with guilt and shame.  We have been taught that sex and sexual desires are unnatural and something to be avoided and the pleasure in it is reserved for men.  When we finally get married and are allowed to do it, we are taught that we have to do it in order to protect our marriage.  

This message is a recipe for disaster. Repress, repress, repress, (SHAME). Meet someone else’s needs in order to not lose them (GUILT).

None of this is what God intended when he gave us the gift of sexuality.  The gift was to be a physical, mutually satisfying expression of love between a husband and wife,  yet once again, we humans went and messed it up.  

I Have Very Little Hope in the Red or the Blue

I just finished reading “Becoming” by Michelle Obama and was so inspired by her humble beginnings, hard work, values of education and family, and drive to help other people who were from meager beginnings have tools so that they too could have the hope of a better future.  

Michelle Obama went on to go to undergraduate at Princeton and then law school at Harvard.  Michelle was recruited by a prestigious law firm where she worked and eventually met her husband Barack, whom the firm was trying to recruit.  

The Major Thing

The death of George HW Bush has caused me to reflect on what really matters to my children and others at the end of life.  As I was watching the eulogy given by his son George W Bush, I made a mental note of what actually mattered to George W at the end of his father’s life and what things had made him a better, well-adjusted adult.  

Mental Health and Facebook

Today as I (Karen) opened my Facebook account, the first thing I saw were memories.  Everyday Facebook recaps things posted in years past on this same day.  Often times for me, it is fun reflection of our kids’ lives, fun vacations, and memories of the past.  Today I was reminded of how well I was able to hid a serious struggle I was going through and how that lie might have negatively impacted those around me.

Tactics I’ve Used in Battling Depression

My battle with depressionIt has been about two weeks since I wrote my blog about my latest struggle with depression. The texts, private messages, calls, emails, etc … received from people struggling with this same issue have been overwhelming. My heart breaks for those who have to suffer with this. While I was in the shower this morning, I was praying for each and every individual who has reached out to me and the thought came to me to share some of the tactics I have used in this battle. They might be helpful, they might not, every person is different, but I pray everyone who struggles with this finds solace in the fact that YOU ARE NOT ALONE! You never were, but our enemy is a trickster and tries to convince us otherwise.