We are so close to the finish line when it comes to my new book. So close. My editor and I are deep in the mire of detailed edits (our 2nd or 3rd round, I’ve lost count). I spent the day yesterday looking at the number of time I used such words as “think,” “night,” and “seep” – let’s just say it’s a lot – and coming up with synonyms. I’ve rewritten the Leader’s Guide a few times. I’ve read through the entire manuscript so often I can recite portions of it in my sleep. We are so close. By the end of November or early December, it will be out of our hands and in the production process. We should see signs of the earliest copies by February. We are so close.
Much of my time in this edit phase is ensuring the book provides a safe space: for trauma survivors, for people who have experienced pain, for those who have tough questions for God. That’s the whole purpose of it: to offer safe space in which we can bring our pain to God and begin to experience profound healing. Prayer beads will be our comfy cushions, the soft blankets, the cozy fireplace, the fragrant cinnamon buns – the accessories to help us create and hold this safe space in which to rest, finally, and bask in the warmth of God’s deep love.
Recently, three different events have reinforced the need for safe space in healing. First, several weeks ago a video was released showing a conversation between Donald Trump and Billy Bush. The language they used regarding women was horrendous, resulting in widespread public dialogue on the nature and incidence of sexual assault. Amidst the discussion, Kelly Oxford, a Canadian writer and social media personality, shared her personal stories of sexual assault on Twitter and invited other women to do the same. They did. For fourteen straight hours, women responded with their stories of rape, molestation, harassment, incest, and other forms of sexual violence. At one point, Oxford was getting an average of 50 stories per minute, and in the end, received more than one million testimonies. The response not only underscored the prevalence of sexual assault, but also the power of creating safe space.
A week later, my mom attended a volunteer training with Houston reVision, an organization that offers mentors and other support to kids “on the edge” of gang activity, incarceration, etc. I’m proud to say my parents are both long-time volunteers. In the training, a staff member of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas spoke on the subject of trauma. The goal was to help volunteers recognize how many of the reVision kids had been traumatized, understand the effects it had on their behavior and decisions, and help them create – wait for it – safe space for the kids to share their stories. During the Q&A, my mom shared how several of our family members are sexual assault survivors (in unrelated events), and how shame kept us from sharing our stories. She explained that it was years before we were able to speak our truth. Afterwards, my mom was surprised when a number of people came up to her to share their own stories of trauma and shame. In speaking up and sharing her story, my mom had created safe space for them to share theirs.
Last week, I went to my monthly meeting with soldiers with PTSD. The group had seven men and one woman. As always, I shared my story of trauma, including how the perpetrator threatened me into silence. As I spoke, I noticed the woman – I’ll call her Lisa – leave the room. I worried my story had triggered a memory for her. Indeed, when Lisa returned it was clear she had been crying. After the workshop, she asked to meet with me, where she shared her story of deep childhood trauma. As an adult, Lisa was finally beginning to speak her truth. I said I hoped my story had not caused her too much pain; instead, she explained that it inspired her to continue to share her story and seek healing. I had been able to create safe space for Lisa, and was deeply grateful.
Safe space. If you build it, they will come; if you create it, they will speak their truths. That’s the power and the miracle. Safe space is holy ground, the place where we shed the stories the world has told us and encounter the truth of who God created us to be. And it is desperately needed; almost all of us have need of it at some point or other.
The beauty is that all of us have the power to create safe space: by being open and non-threatening, by setting aside judgement, by listening, by validating.
So my question to you is, what can you do to create safe space for someone?