My New Memoir: RUINED

"You are more than what happened to you."

RUINED_SC_FinalA night of trauma ruined my life — at least that was the lie I believed.

The publisher, Tyndale, says this about my memoir: Told with candor and unflinching honesty, RUINED is an extraordinary emotional and spiritual journey that begins with an unspeakable act of violence but ends with tremendous healing and profound spiritual insights about faith, forgiveness, and the will of God.

Trauma is no trivial matter, and it ripples for years.

But I firmly believe that we are all more than what happened to us.

Do you connect with my story, or know someone who might? Reading my story will address questions like these:

  • Can a person recover from sexual trauma, or are they forever haunted?
  • When your life is derailed by events you can’t control, must you live forever furious?
  • How does a culture of sexual purity affect girls and women?

Sample the first three chapters for free here.

Listen to radio and podcast interviews here.

Scroll through guest blogposts and early reviews here.

My speaking engagements are listed in the sidebar. Please come by and say hello — I love meeting my readers! If you’re in the DC area, I hope you’ll pop over some Sunday at 11:00 and visit my little church!

I’m on Facebook, TwitterGoodreads. I’m trying to master Instagram. So far I’m a Pinterest failure.

If you’re in a book club or small group, notice the free online discussion guide. I’ll be happy to Skype or FaceTime into your meeting if my schedule permits.

You can order RUINED from an online retailer or local bookstore, or request it from your local library. Thanks for reading!

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A Strange Elation

Justice, Faith, and Sexual Assault

Ever since the tape of Donald Trump and Billy Bush surfaced on Oct 7, the media has been saturated with news about sexual assault. Like many other women, I have often felt jangled during the past ten days. But I have also felt a strange elation. At last we’re talking openly about the prevalence of sexual assault. At last a powerful man has to face consequences. At last women can speak their truth and be heard on social media.

Have you felt emboldened to speak out? Many of us have stories to tell because, let’s face it, when a person grows up in a female body in a misogynist culture, she’s bound to experience assault — whether it’s unwanted words, looks, touching — or it escalates to physical violence.

The assault that ruined my life — the one I wrote a book about — includes horrific details that make my story unusual: two strangers and two guns and multiple victims over five hours. But besides those details, my story is unusual because we victims testified in court and one of the rapists was convicted. In other words, we got justice!

I’ve come to see that my experience of justice is one thing that underlies my strange elation. The possibility of justice is thrilling. Justice is restorative. Justice makes God smile. Justice is an antidote to assault because it rebalances the scales of worth.

After my assault, I felt ruined. My worth had been stripped away and my future derailed. But why? Why should an assault affect a person’s sense of worthiness? It’s not even logical. Why should a victim suffer a stain from someone else’s action?

But I know why it did in my case. My complicating factor was that I was raised in a conservative religious subculture, and inundated with specific messages about what women were worth. I believed those messages — that women were worth less than men — and that women needed to be sexually pure or they would displease God. When I was raped (and secretly knew I wasn’t entirely pure) I understood that the rape was a punishment from God. That’s how I put it together. That’s how my faith increased my suffering.

I am still a person of faith, but of a re-invented faith. Because when belief causes intolerable suffering, a person has to let go of something. What could I let go of? That became my question and my quest. I couldn’t let go of my belief in God. I needed God. I loved God. Besides, it wasn’t God who stained me, put me in a double-bind and abandoned me. It was a specific belief system that did that. It was the church, at least the one that told me how little females were worth.

Over a period of years, I formed a new faith, and found a new church. My God-given intelligence and God-given desire for God drove me to do that. I discovered that God is not just a punishment-dispensing machine for ruined girls. I discovered that God loves justice and mercy, and that God created all humans with dignity and worth. Eventually I was even able to flaunt the rules I’d learned about what women are good for. I entered forbidden waters and became a Presbyterian pastor. I’ve been in ordained ministry for decades.

There are many flavors of Christianity, and as a progressive, I feel little connection to the evangelical world. Still, I notice what evangelicals say and don’t say, mainly because it gets the lion’s share of media attention — the evangelical faith is what people picture when they hear the word “Christian.”

So another part of my “strange elation” this past week has come from watching evangelical leaders abandon Trump. No surprise that it’s the women leading the way there. Many evangelical men are hold-outs of support for this admitted abuser of women. Apparently, in the evangelical world, women still have their place, which allows them to have their “pussy” groped when it suits a powerful man, especially one who has money or celebrity, or the illusion of these.

Perhaps this debacle will prove to be a turning point, not only for the election, but also for how women see themselves. Perhaps we will all tell our stories and push back. Perhaps we won’t feel ruined by sexual assault any longer. That’s my hope. Because it’s beyond ridiculous that women should feel ruined by what men brag about doing to them. We are all worth more than that. Thank God that church leaders are finally speaking up! Our faith in God should help us measure our worth, rather than measure our ruin.

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I Believe You from Diva Communications on Vimeo.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Faith communities should be a primary resource for fighting the scourge of sexual violence, but too often they have been complicit, advancing messages of purity, obedience, and gender-based hierarchies. Often times this is unconscious, and could be stopped. You can help break the silence. The trailer above is for “I Believe You,” a video resource. Click on “more” to learn about this interfaith project.


Re-engaging the World that Shaped Me

and an article in Spark, the Calvin Alumni magazine

I chose not to disguise the identity of my college in my memoir, so I was curious as to how the Calvin College community would react.

In 1983 I intentionally stepped out of the (Dutch) Christian Reformed world and entered a different one. My new tent was Presbyterian, and it was bigger. I got used to feeling anonymous, and a bit like an outsider. This was strangely comforting. Now that the memoir is out, I’ve shed my anonymity! As more than one person has told me: “I know a lot more about you than you know about me!” It’s quite an adjustment.

As I launch the book, I’ve been re-engaging my old world. I sense that some things have changed in the past 30+ years. For instance, I’ve heard people voice words like “rape” and acknowledge that sexual violence does happen. And there’s been some movement regarding the role of women in church leadership. On the other hand, that movement is certainly not shared across the denomination. Some aspects of church life seem rather stuck and fearful. The word “feminism,” for instance, seems to easily open a can of worms, a debate, an argument.

Maybe you’re thinking that the “women’s issue” (i.e. the church leadership debate) is entirely different from how a church responds to violence against women. But I believe there are connecting ligaments. Both issues are deeply concerned with the role and worth of females, and what it means to live in a woman’s body.

It’s been good for me to reclaim my heritage. I still live in the same skin I was born in. And I like to think that I have something to offer the community that formed me.

I look forward to speaking at the “Safe Church Ministry” Conference on November 4, an arm of the church that has been wide open and generous to me and my story. Check the sidebar for more info if you’re in the Grand Rapids area — I would love to connect with you there! The event is free and open to the public.

I was also pleased to be interviewed by Lynn Rosendale for an article in the September issue of Spark, the magazine for Calvin alums. There’s an accompanying article with input from Jane Hendriksma, who coordinates “Safer Spaces” on campus and Rev. Mary Hulst, the Chaplain.

Do you know what it’s like to be born into one world, and choose to live in another?

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“A Story Is a Country Where We Can Both Stand For A While”

Why We Read (& Write) Memoir

The title of this post is a quote from Brian Doyle, editor of Portland Magazine. I heard him speak at Festival of Faith & Writing in April 2012. I wrote down this comment because it struck me as expansive enough to fit memoir-writing and memoir-reading: A story is a country where we can both stand for a while.

When you read my memoir, you were willing to stand in my country for a long while — for the span of 300 pages — and I am so grateful! Maybe the acreage seemed large — or maybe it cramped you a bit. Maybe the landscape seemed familiar — or maybe it was strange and terrifying. Still, you managed to be in that new country with me, and we’ve both been changed because of it. It took time and effort to be there together. I’m still getting used to the idea that so many people — perfect strangers! — have inhabited the country of my life.

Here’s another quote that fits memoir-readers: You can no longer hate someone once you know their story. I don’t know who said that first, but isn’t it God’s truth? Every time we enter into someone’s story, we learn to love humans a little bit better. Our lens shifts. Our perspective enlarges. Our souls widen.

This is why I’m a sucker for back stories. I watch Orange is the New Black so I can fall in love with the most unlikely of characters. You too? I love living more lives than just my own. I love getting beyond my own skin. In my better moments, I even believe that inhabiting other people’s stories helps me see the world with the eyes of Christ.

What do YOU love about reading (and writing) memoir?

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Thanks for Your Prayers!

Update on the Kidney Transplant

I posted about my sister Susan offering to donate her kidney to a woman named Buddi, a refugee from Nepal who attends her church. I thought you’d enjoy this picture — both women are still recovering in hospital. Thanks for surrounding the procedure with your prayers! Join me in offering up prayers of thanksgiving, and continued prayers for the blessing of complete recovery and full health.

Buddi Suppa, recipient, and Susan Huizenga Cleveland, donor.

Buddi Suppa, recipient, and Susan Huizenga Cleveland, donor.

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ ~ Matthew 25:37-40

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In Honor of 9/11: The Flight 93 Memorial

Shanksville, PA

My husband I frequently drive between the midwest (our parents live in Michigan/Ohio) and our home on the east coast (Virginia). For years we’ve been promising ourselves we’d stop along the way in Shanksville, Pennsylvania at the Flight 93 Memorial. But by the time we get close we are invariably tired of driving and don’t want to make the detour. We just push the last three hours home.

This August we spent an extra night on the road, so we visited the memorial on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I was so glad we did. Today seemed like the right day to tell you about it. Maybe you will feel inspired to make the detour some time if you can. At least you can enjoy the pictures.

The assortment of visitors was what you might see strolling the National Mall in Washington DC on any sunny afternoon: retired couples in golf visors, parents with school-aged children plus a stroller, a throng of boy scouts in khaki uniform, men and women sporting Harley Davidson logos, a woman or two in hijab, a large Amish family in their distinctive white caps and straw hats. In other words: a cross section of America.


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Please Pray for a Kidney Transplant

my sister Susan is the donor

Susan speaking at Dad's Memorial Service. 6/22/16.

Susan speaking at Dad’s Memorial Service. 6/22/16.

You know how some people would “do anything for you”?

My sister Susan is making that phrase real. She is donating her kidney to a woman who attends her church.

That’s right — one Sunday during Announcements, it was reported that Buddi, a refugee whom the church was assisting, needed a kidney. Without a transplant, she would not be able to have her young daughter join her in this country.

Susan thought — Wow, I could help Buddi AND her daughter, and what could be cooler than that? So she had the test done and the match was made.

Susan told me about her plans a few days after we had the memorial service for our Dad. We were sitting together in church — she attends the same one as my parents — and she elbowed me and said, “Look at that woman in the communion circle, wearing that purple outfit — I’ll tell you something about her later. Her name is Buddi.”

kidney prayer stone

I will resist calling this a “kidney stone.”

What she told me was rather shocking, and to be honest, I wasn’t ready to hear it, not right after we buried our father.

A few weeks later I was in Michigan’s upper peninsula, walking along the shore of Lake Superior, when it struck me that the rocks were as smooth as I imagine an organ to be. I searched for two rocks that seemed the right size to be a kidney. I left one with my mother, and brought the other one home to keep on my desk. I hold it as I pray for my sister. Sometimes when you don’t know what words to use, it’s good to hold something and be silent.

The surgery is scheduled for Monday, September 12, at 7:30 a.m. at Mercy Health St. Mary’s in Grand Rapids, MI.

Please join me in lifting up prayers for a successful outcome for both donor and recipient! Pray as you will. My prayer will go something like this . . . .

Gracious God, watch over Susan and Buddi during their kidney transplant. Be with the surgeons, that they may be skillful and precise and effective in their work. Be with the nurses and all medical personnel, that Buddi and Susan may be surrounded by competence and care. Alleviate their pain. Grant them safety under anesthesia, and successful surgeries. May they each make a full recovery. May Susan’s left kidney begin the work of filtering Buddi’s blood, to restore her body to well being. May Susan’s right kidney take up the work of its sister organ, and be adequate to its task. Please Lord, grant successful surgery for both of them, and full recovery for both of them. Be with the loved ones who wait for news, especially Susan’s husband, and our dear mother. We pray this knowing that you are the Great Healer. We commit Susan and Buddi to you. Amen.

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