Finding True Justice and True Grace in a #MeToo #ChurchToo Culture

As we enter into this new climate of finding freedom from abuse that happened to us, let us not use this freedom as an opportunity to cause harm to others in the name of seeking justice.

Several times over the last ten years, I found myself in the city where the man who sexually abused me as a child lived. Most of the time I was terrified to accidentally run into him. Sometimes I became full of rage and fantasized seeing him at a gas station and attacking him. And other times I would get caught off guard by my grief and sit in my car weeping outside the hotel where I was staying.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, the myriad of emotions I experienced changed as naturally as the Texas sky in springtime. Sometimes I’d feel guilty about the complexity. Other times I wouldn’t.

I learned that each emotion had its place.

In March of this year, when I found out the man who abused me was never reported to law enforcement, a strong desire for justice gave me the extra courage I needed to walk forward. I felt validated knowing the criminal justice system would handle what the Southern Baptist Convention would not–and could not–handle. I felt a sweeping loss as my mental health suffered. I burned with indignation as this man, who already has taken so much of my life by his actions, consumed more: I lost sleep, I lost time with my daughter and my husband, and lost the easy joy I generally danced in.

There were parts of me that wanted to destroy him. There were parts of me that wanted to destroy myself.

And again, each emotion had its place.

As I worked with law enforcement, my detective encouraged me to not share the name of the man who abused me publicly until they had everything in order for the criminal case they’re working on. They understood this man’s current role and his access to vulnerable people, including children. Yet the benefits of not coming out with his name publicly outweighed the risks in regard to the integrity of the criminal investigation. I respected their wishes then and I respect them now.

Somehow this felt right and good and okay. Even though the only thing that remained between me exposing the man who did this to me was a “publish” button, I never had a total peace about sharing my story in such a public way, most likely because of the condition of my heart. Some people have gone public and done it in a way that glorifies God while respecting the criminal process. I would have shared out of a place of vengeance.

I’m glad I had a little extra space to reconsider going public because, for me, it was not the right choice to make.

have courage and be kind

Since I’ve been offline for most of the last two years, I guess I forgot how ruthless the voices on social media are…myself included. In the last month, since I shared my story online (without identifying my abuser), I’ve clicked on enough hashtags and read enough fodder to lose a little bit of faith in the world (and in myself).

Don’t mishear: there are some pretty awful people who have done some pretty awful things. Many well-respected men and women, especially within the SBC, have had their skeletons come out and be displayed for all the world to see.

In the court of public opinion, most are starting to pay a hefty price for their sins and for their crimes. I want to reiterate that the people who commit these horrid acts–and the ones who cover them up–are ultimately responsible for whatever consequences come their way.

But in all of this, there is something I just can’t get my spirit to shake off:

This court of public opinion–social media, newspapers, blogs–is not and should not be the final destination of justice. However, it seems as if most of us treat it as the highest court of all, damning those who have lied, cheated, stolen, raped, abused, and covered up to a man-made hell of Twitter firestorms, petty insults, unnecessary commentary, and misplaced desires to have the final word.

I understand as survivors of abuse we feel like we have no voice and now we can say whatever we want, when we want, to whomever we want. There is power in rediscovering our voice.

We cannot neglect our responsibility to be like Christ and we cannot evade the call to exercise wisdom with how we discuss these things, especially in public forums.

Justice and grace are not mutually exclusive.

Does the man who abused me, who stole so much of my life from me as a sixteen-year-old and over the last 22 years deserve the justice coming his way? Yes.

Does he deserve grace? No.

But here’s the thing: I don’t deserve that grace either.

I don’t write this in a self-deprecating manner.

I don’t intend to minimize what has happened to me or to the countless number of women and men, boys and girls, who have been abused in the worst possible ways, and in the name of Jesus.

The humbling reality we are faced with in this and in every part of our life is the very basic tenet of the Gospel: God so loved the world that He gave his only son to die for my sins, for your sins, and for the sins of the man who abused me.

This includes his sin of abusing me.

It is a grace none of us deserve but all of us can freely receive.

I’m afraid that the beauty of this grace is being buried alive by the permission we now have to speak freely. Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and in our attempt to bring the light into darkness, we are inadvertently suffocating out the Life the world needs to survive.

As we enter into this new climate of finding freedom from abuse that happened to us, let us not use this freedom as an opportunity to cause harm to others in the name of seeking justice.

Let us recognize the same God who sought us out and asked us, “Where are you?” seeks out all of us, even the criminals hanging on the cross.

When reconciliation plays out here on earth, may we remember the love of God that has reconciled us is also available to those who have hurt us.

May we give thanks that all of our brokenness is healed through the same holy man on the same holy cross. This man is near to us when we are brokenhearted and he is near to those who have hurt us when they are brokenhearted. He grieves for us when we are far from Him and he grieves for the world when they are far from him.

As justice begins to shine like the noon-day sun, may our hearts also shine with hope and grace for ourselves, for others, and for the world to come.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

 

A Letter to My Daughter on My Darkest, Brightest Night

Mama and Charlotte

(Would you consider helping me pay for my hospital stay? You can do that here.)

Dear Baby Girl,

First, you’re not really much of a baby now, are you? I can’t believe you’re almost two years old. So big, yet so small. So fiercely loving even though you don’t even know how big of a heart you have or how much this world needs it.

Even though we’ll talk about it when you’re older, I wanted to write a few things down while I was living them live, in real time.

Last night when I put you down in your bed, prayed our prayer, and stepped out of the room, I started weeping because it was the last time I will get to see your face for the next month. Those closest to me know the heartbreak that comes in saying goodbye, even when it’s for a good thing. I’m afraid my absence will damage your heart or your mind. I’m afraid you will think I am gone forever. Or that I left you and don’t love you. Or that you did something wrong to make me leave.

My girl, none of those things are true.

Ever since the moment I knew you existed inside me, since the day when your dad and I saw your jumping tadpole body on the ultrasound, I have loved you with a love that only grows stronger with each day. The amount of gratitude I have for you feels like taking a deep breath of the purest oxygen and I feel my chest rise with gladness, the molecules of thankfulness penetrating each one of my cells.

It seems you grow up every night we put you to bed and you’re impossibly more beautiful, more lovely, more smart, more curious, and more surprising than the day you were born. I don’t know how this is possible, but with close to 22 months under our belt, it’s safe to say the research has been consistent.

Fear consumes me when I think about what could happen to you out in the world, whether by accident or on purpose. Part of me (most of me) dreams of a world where you do not fight the mental demons your father and I fight. That you trust fully but wisely. That no harm falls on you. That your heart never breaks.

Even if, baby, even if…

  • If your brain tells you lies, you’ll know the truth.
  • If someone breaks your trust, it won’t break you.
  • If harm falls on you, it won’t bury you deep.
  • If your heart breaks, it won’t always bleed.

And should you feel like the lies, the breaking, the burying, and the bleeding become too much, look all around you because you are so loved. Ask for help when you need it and you’ll have an army already by your side.

So, my sweetest girl, I want you to know that it’s all worth fighting for.

That’s why I’m gone for now.

I’m out fighting for me, for you, and in a way, for others so that maybe I can be hope to them too.

  • My brain tells me lies, so I’m fighting for the truth.
  • Someone broke my trust I’m fighting to be made new.
  • Harm fell on me so I’m fighting out of the heap.
  • My heart is broken and I’m fighting to be free.

I love you, baby. I love you.

Mama

(Would you consider helping me pay for my hospital stay? You can do that here.)

Statement on Abuse in the Church

I only break my social media silence for very important things. With the spotlight on the SBC and abuses of all kinds, I can’t stay silent. People within the church and within the SBC have sexually and emotionally abused me and many I love. The cover-ups by the church and the SBC specifically further perpetuate this abuse.

If you have been abused by anyone, report it to authorities in law enforcement. Do NOT go to your church to report abuse in an effort to “keep the peace.” Go to the authorities. It is not the church’s job to investigate and penalize criminals. It is not man’s duty to protect the church. God can do that just fine on his own. He has his work cut out for him and it could only take God to bring good out of the egocentric tarnishing that continues to happen as people use his name for their own advances and to cover up their fears of being found out for what we all are—human—and for what some are—criminal. Being human is not a mistake.

Being a criminal is and criminals need to be held accountable for their crimes.

How Do You Begin the End?

This is my final post.

It’s been a year or so since I took a break from the Interwebs–away from writing online, from traveling and speaking, from Tweeting and Facebooking and Snapchatting and the like. Pregnancy was such a lovely season, and truly a miracle. Our baby girl was born perfectly happy and healthy in July 2016. She’s almost 10 months old now, trying to scoot around the house on her bottom (unsuccessfully), with 8 teeth she definitely earned the right to show off. She’s coming into her own, a little drama queen human who I can’t believe just a year ago was the size of a cantaloupe, tucked away in utero, kicking my bladder, my kidneys, and everything in between.

When I was in high school, I wanted to get a Ph.D. in psychology and become a doctor of sorts, a clinical psychologist. Life didn’t head down that road like I expected, and instead, I ended up working at churches, writing a few books, and traveling all over the world to share stories. In 2010, after my divorce, I considered going to medical school but knew I would likely have to sacrifice having a family to start a career in medicine at the age of 30. Three years later, I met and married my dear husband Tim. Medicine as a career was still ever on my mind, but there were books to write and events to speak at. Then sweet baby girl came along.

When my most recent book released a year ago, I had a feeling it would be the last. I was still under contract to write another one with Baker, but nothing surfaced in my heart that I had to write about. I waited, they waited, and still, nothing came.

Why put more words out into the world that’s overwhelmed by words, when nothing needs to be said?

I graciously asked if I could exit my contract and they graciously agreed.

The season of life when I am an author, a speaker, a blogger–the season when I knew something needed to be said and I was sure I was the one to say it–is over. There have been moments of grief, of saying goodbye, but overall, it has been the most peaceful, sure, and easiest transition I’ve ever made.

I’m heading into a new season now, and have been for a while. I’m back in school working toward a B.S. degree in Health Sciences, either to become a Registered Dietitian or Diabetes Educator. I hope to focus on pediatric nutrition and family education. I realize that’s pretty far off from where I started ten years ago, but I think I needed to learn more about God, about people, and about myself to end up here. We’re back in Dallas, surrounded by family. Tim’s working in videography and I split my time between school and serving in patient care at a hospital as a technician, and as a nutrition consultant/Associate Certified Diabetes Educator.

I’m thrilled. It’s not perfect, but it’s bliss. And I have to say: there is a freedom in ending a career in professional Christendom.

Thank you.

Thank you for allowing me to speak into your life over the last twelve (!!) years of blogging. Thank you for encouraging me, supporting me, buying books, giving literally millions of dollars to very worthy organizations. Thank you for sponsoring Compassion kids, for praying for me, for us, and sharing your stories.

There’s a commonly asked question: If you had to say one thing, to leave people with one thought, what would it be? 

I’d have to say this:

  • It’s okay to not be okay.
  • It’s okay to be different, to not fit in.
  • It’s okay to quit and begin again (and again and again and again).
  • You are worth so much more than you could ever imagine in your wildest dreams.
  • Sometimes the quietest lives love the loudest.

I guess that’s five things, so I’ll ask for your forgiveness and thank you for humoring me one last time.

It’s been a gift. You’ve been a gift. You are a gift.

With love,
Anne Marie Miller

May It Be Light and Only Light

light

It has been three months since I said farewell to social media, sans a quick break to introduce our daughter to you.

Those three months-they have been enough. They have been enough to show me that I need more, which by writing you in simple words sounds selfish.

We want God to speak to us, so we become quiet. We wait until we hear whatever words we are supposed to hear. Sometimes those words are revealed quickly; often, they are shown to us letter by letter. And other times, the thing we hear is that we are to remain listening.

I returned to one of my favorite reads recently, Echoing Silence, by Merton. In this collection of letters and pages from his journals and books (collected and published posthumously), he walks through the tension of writing, his spirituality, suffering, ego, and vocation. Two passages in particular struck me:

“If the inspiration is helpless without a correspondingly effective technique, technique is barren without inspiration.” (October 24, 1958)

…and

“The best thing for me is a lucid silence that does not even imagine it speaks to anybody. A silence which I see no interlocutor, frame no message for anyone, formulate no word either for man or paper. There will still be plenty to say when the time comes to write, and what is written will be simpler and more fruitful.” (December 14, 1949)

I am grateful for Merton’s removing himself from distractions and entering into a time of soul-silence. I doubt he knew or even wished that within his silence, he was communicating a message stronger than the power any written word could possibly create: an example.

(To note: most of his writings about entering into silence were in autumn and winter; perhaps it is designed in our warm blood to hibernate for a while.)

A scattered few friends of mine are taking brief vows of Internet silence. For some, it is the first time. For many, it won’t be the last. I have debated if these seasons of silence are a giving into self-indulgent isolation. After time and examination, please believe me that is not the case.

During his time at the monastery in Kentucky, Merton wrote letters to friends and spiritual counselors, politicians, and artists near and far. He went to Mass, he worked alongside fellow monks, took Eucharist, and kept mostly to the hours.

In the same manner, I tend to my private world of family and friends and community. Letters are shared between kindred spirits, encouraging one another in good works and glory. My days disappear into nights–and back again to dawn…to dusk…and so on–as I feel the grit in my spirit searching for an unfamiliar worship in the quotidian mysteries that occupy my time as of late.

It is hard. It is good.

I will not renounce ever returning to this space, just as Merton “refused and had practically ceased to desire” writing again, God “gave [him] back the vocation that [he] had half-consciously given up, and He opened to [him] again the doors that had fallen shut.” (1976)

But for now, may the only message I give you be one that I cannot speak or write.

May it be light, and only light.

Silentium coelorum sit mihi lex: et vita mea imago luminis.
(Let the silence of heaven be my law: and my life an image of light. – Merton, 1952)

Seasons

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 7.47.54 AM
Pregnancy has been one of the most beautiful, difficult, spiritually growing, ego-shrinking seasons. With only three weeks left, give or take, I’ve been caught in the tension of grief – missing the secret kicks and rolls – and of anticipation, waiting to meet this baby and put it to my chest, to see Tim hold this fatty blob of wrinkles and cries. I’m also looking forward to being able to get out of bed without the effort of a crane helping me.

All this to say, in the recent quiet moments of introspection, my heart needs rest and reconnection to my own Father. It’s been too easy for me to spend insomnia-filled nights on digital rabbit trails and now, like eating too many cupcakes, I am stuffed with emotions my own insecurities let in and thinking, “Oh, no. That was way too much,” Slightly regretful yet with the knowledge that it’s temporary and I need to put the cupcakes down.

This year, I took a speaking hiatus for most of the time, and now the quiet, small voice has been telling me to leave much of the Internet alone for a bit. I don’t know how long, and we will post when our child enters this glorious world because he or she is a part of your prayers and we are ever-so-thankful that you have walked the roads of loss and celebration with us. Until then, and probably after then, too, I will be off of social media and writing online. Just in case you wonder.


Until next time, much love~
Anne

It’s Never Too Late to Begin!

5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids & Sex is Here!

5-things-every-parent-anne-miller

Yesterday was a big day. 5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex is finally here! Yes, talking to your kids about sex and porn and social media can be awkward, but it is SO necessary.

5ThingsMed

While we’re waiting, our kids are getting their questions answered and their perceptions of sex and sexuality formed elsewhere–through online searches and a daily diet of mainstream and social media that may shock you. With 5 Things, it’s my goal to educate, encourage and equip parents (and youth leaders, friends, family, anyone, really!) to have these meaningful conversations that will forever change the landscape of the messed up messages the media communicates to us.

  • order-nowEquips parents to take control of the narrative their children are receiving about sex.
  • Shows how to have meaningful and age-appropriate conversations about sex, pornography, and sexual abuse.
  • Helps parents how to keep the lines of communication open so kids will trust their parents with their fears, struggles and questions.

It’s never too late to begin. You can purchase 5 Things today –paperback or eBook–from the following bookstores:

In my online webstore: $11.25*
*Use the code “HELP” when you check out and the book will cost $11.25

Amazon.com: Currently $12.50

Baker Books: Currently $15.99

Books-A-Million: Currently $15.99

Barnes & Noble: Currently 12.37

Family Christian: Currently $15.99

Overstock.com: Currently $12.41

Walmart.com: Currently $12.63

Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About: Whisper

Anonymous Sharing, Chatting and Location-Based Feeds

5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids & Sex Ships Next Week!

Get it in your mailbox (or on your e-reading device) next Tuesday, May 17!

Pre-order my book Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex

pre-order-freebie-5-things-every-parent-needs-to-know

Don’t forget to grab your copy before the release date (May 17!), and get some great freebies that will help you talk to your kids about sex.


Today’s App Every Parent Needs to Know About (full series here) is Whisper. It’s made the rounds in media and has received some bad press–maybe rightfully so, as it’s another app that allows users to anonymously post pictures, secrets, confessions, questions, and chat privately with others and share their location or only look at Whispers that are nearby.


parents-apps-whisper

Whisper’s Purpose (according to their app store description):

“Ever wondered what the people around you are really thinking? Whisper is an online community where millions of people around the world share real thoughts, trade advice, and get the inside scoop. See what people are thinking at the places you visit, like your school. Chat directly with other Whisper users – it’s a great way to meet new people. Join the 30 million+ people who use Whisper every month; it will change the way you see the world.”


Terms of Service/App Rating: Whisper is rated 17+ in the app store for:

  • Frequent/Intense Mature/Suggestive Themes
  • Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humor
  • Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References

In the Terms of Service, Whisper is very clear that the intended audience is 17+. Even still, their messaging is confusing as they say in the fine print, “If you are between 13 and 18 years of age, you may use the services provided with the consent and under the supervision of a parent or guardian, who are obliged to abide by these terms,” and the age you can claim within the app begins at the age of 15.

So, I’m guessing they really don’t care how old you are. Parents, it’s your responsibility to limit which apps your kids download (or have access to download). On that note, Whisper offers parents advice on how to enable restrictions on their kid’s phones and tablets.

They lay out their community guidelines simply:

Do not be Mean, Do not be Gross, and Do Not Use Whisper to Break the Law: Do not defame, impersonate or abuse another person. Do not share personal information of another person, including address or telephone number. Hate speech directed at any group of people will be removed from our services. This includes hate speech on gender, sexuality, race, religion and ethnicity. You can use your own photos on Whisper, but do not allow images that are filthy, violent or pornographic. Do not use Whisper to promote illegal behavior like selling controlled substances or solicitations. If you solicit minors for any reason or post sexually explicit images of minors, we will suspend your account and report it to the National Center for Missing Children. Do not make threats of violence. We may share your IP, location and other information with the police if we think you are a threat to the safety of others. We are required by law to disclose your information if we receive a subpoena, court order or warrant.”


Privacy & Parental Controls: Whisper keeps the standard amount of information that other apps keep: cookies and pixels (that track your use), geolocation (if location services are on) and does provide that information to advertisers and some third parties.

Some notable comments, mostly in regard to Whisper’s location services–as you can see from my screenshots, it tells the user approximately how far another user is away in distance. If kids use the service and reveal any personal information (name, a photo of something outside that’s identifiable), they can be easily found.


whisper-8The Good:

  • Compared to other apps, Whisper had the least amount of sexually explicit content. It’s not void of it completely, but there was a considerable difference.
  • You can turn location services off, but it limits how the app functions.
  • If someone is mature enough and knows how to process the mature topics or photos that do populate feeds, it could be a great place to encourage people who are going through tough times.
  • Reporting posts, users, and blocking chats is quick and easy.
  • Users can enable a NSFW (Not Safe For Work) filter which filters out some mature content.
  • Within the app settings, users can visit “Your Voice” which shares videos from users who struggle with various issues, sorted by issue (mental health, sexuality, suicide, etc.). Users can also share their own stories, which are moderated before being shared.

The Bad: 

  • Content is user-generated, which means even if something is reported, users can view inappropriate content simply by using the app.
  • After you type in your Whisper, based on what words you use, the app suggests “related” photos to accompany it. Some of these photos are hard PG13 or rated R.
  • Location features allow for users to be easily identified if not cautious.whisper-11
  • The “My School” section is has only basic protection: anyone on campus (even across the street) from a school can log in to that school’s feed and communicate with minors.
  • Although the TOS says feeds are actively monitored for suicidal/self-harming/eating disorders/threatening posts, it’s easy to find and suggested images from the app support inappropriate messages.
  • One report I read online said users who post suicidal/self-harming/eating disordered posts are directed to help. I posted about “wishing to be dead” and “starving myself” and was not redirected to help. Instead, I was shown similar confessions from others. (see side photo)
  • Users can also add a personal PIN so that if the app is accessed, the feeds remain but personal chats and Whispers are not shown unless the PIN is entered, which can prevent parents from checking the app.
  • In my experience, as a 15-17 year old female persona in the app, in less than 24 hours, I was by a male adult in my city where I live and what school I go to.


What you need to know: 

One of the most concerning features of Whisper is the location-sharing element, and within that, the ease in which one can sign into a local school’s “private” feed. Unlike After School, where your ID has to be verified through Facebook and/or a state-issued ID, anyone can get on or really close to a school campus and have access to that feed without having to do anything else. 

Like I did in After School, I chose a nearby school. To verify myself, I drove to the parking lot of the school and logged in. I pretended to be a 15-17 year old high school student and easily started chatting with other high school students, both receiving chats and sending them (I sent mine as anonymous encouragements, the ones I received were a mix of positive and sexual).

Because there can be such a high emotional element to sharing secrets or confessions, predators can engage in conversations under the guise of being a peer and in worst-case situations, can schedule a meet up  to “help” their new friend out.


Conversation Starter:

I have to admit: Whisper was not as “bad” as I’ve heard. Maybe people in Iowa don’t post a lot of explicit content (or maybe users of the Whisper app compared to the After School app are toned down.) While it wasn’t completely teen-friendly, more mature teens could use this app with extreme caution and could be a source of encouragement for others.

Chances are, if you have a junior high or high school student, they know about the Whisper app. What are your child’s app settings? Are they restricted from downloading certain content (like 12+ or 17+)?

  • Have you heard of the app Whisper? Tell me about it.
  • Have you ever shared something on Whisper or read someone else’s secret?
  • Has someone you don’t know tried to start a private chat with you? What did/would you do?
  • What would you do if you saw on Whisper that someone wanted to hurt themselves or others?
  • What are some ways you might accidentally share your location? (i.e., geographically identifying pictures, using photos in public places that other can see)

5ThingsMedEducating, Encouraging and Equipping Parents

Nervous about talking to your kids about sex? Anxiety over having “the talk” often means we avoid it as long as we can. While we’re waiting, our kids are getting their questions answered and their perceptions of sex and sexuality formed elsewhere–through online searches and a daily diet of mainstream and social media that may shock you. In this immensely practical and well-researched book, Anne Marie Miller:

  • Equips parents to take control of the narrative their children are receiving about sex.order-now
  • Shows how to have meaningful and age-appropriate conversations about sex, pornography, and sexual abuse.
  • Helps parents keep the lines of communication open so kids will trust them with fears, struggles and questions.