America, Sexual Assault Survivors are Listening. What are We Saying?


One of the blessings of the work I do is that people turn to me when they don’t believe they can turn to anyone else. They allow me close proximity to their pain. It is a holy place, and even though it is a tremendous honor to be allowed into the deepest recesses of people’s hearts and stories, this also means getting a front row seat to the incredible damage so many live with.

Recently I heard from a woman who I’ll call Emily. A few years ago Emily was assaulted by a stranger.

She has shared this information with almost no one close to her because of the trauma and undeserved shame she carries. Emily suffers alone every single day and through many sleepless nights, because someone else saw her as an object and ignored her consent and disregarded her humanity.

And yet as horrific as that day was for her, it was only the beginning of the nightmare she’s had to endure.

There have been more fresh nightmares this past year.

This year she’s had to hear friends and co-workers and family members openly defend the words and behavior of Donald Trump, oblivious to the way these things silently wound her and force her deeper and deeper into isolation and sadness, and how their words assault her all over again.

She’s had to hear people like Rush Limbaugh make the issue of consent the punchline to some twisted joke.

She’s seen an alleged Christian leader like Jerry Falwell Jr. say that he would endorse Trump even if he had a history of sexual assault.

She’s listened to other women defend the President and give guys a pass and blame victims and openly campaign for a confessed sexual predator.

Over and over and over she’s had to hear that she doesn’t matter. Over and over she’s been told that she’s expendable. Over and over she’s been reminded that her pain is inconsequential.

Maybe she’s had to hear this from you too.

Maybe it’s been your Tweets and Facebook tirades and coffee break conversations and flippant comments that she’s had to endure; bleeding internally, suffering in silence, grieving anew.

I suspect this may not matter to many of you, but I hope you’ll think about it.

Emilys are everywhere.

People you know and love and worship and work with have survived sexual assault, whether you know it or not. They are in your kitchen, your staff room, your classroom, your church pew.

They are listening to you and they are being brutalized again, because people they know and love and worship with and work with were okay elevating a sexual predator to the Presidency and dismissing their trauma and excusing away rape culture as just “guys being guys”. I wonder if that’s something you are okay with.

I wonder if Emily matters to you.

I wonder if you knew Emily was listening to you,  if you would have still said what you’ve said or posted what you’ve posted. I wonder if it would make any difference at all.  

This year America, and this Republican Administration specifically, are speaking loudly to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence about their worth, their pain, their importance, their credibility.

And honestly, I shudder to imagine how harmful those words are.

To all the Emily’s out there: You matter. You are beautiful. You are loved. You are not defined by what has been done to you. You are not alone. We see you. We hear you.

Be encouraged today.



If you are the survivor of sexual assault, here are some resources where you can find support, encouragement, and care. You don’t need to carry this alone. 
National Sexual Assault Hotline
EROC (End Rape on Campus)
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Safe Horizon
INCITE (For Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color)
On Eagle’s Wings Ministries
Human Rights Campaign (LGBTQ)
NCLR Nation Center for Lesbian Rights 
Not Alone
Safe Helpline (Victim support for members of Military)


Order John’s book, ‘A Bigger Table’ here.


Life’s Great, Everything’s Wonderful—and I’m lying. (Life With Depression)

Smiley man. Business Mask Face Smiling Holding Hand Paper

Shakespeare said that all the world is a stage—and man he was right.

I know because I’m a master thespian. I am but one in a large company of great actors surrounding you right now.

Every single day we put on the most brilliant performances, and no one watching has any idea that it’s all theatre; an improvised tragic comedy staged in real-time in their midst.

There are plenty of us out there doing this work where you live and work and browse, but you’ll probably never realize it—that’s how good we are.

We don’t do it for the recognition, in fact it’s because of what we so desperately want to hide that we’ve been forced to choose this vocation at all. Our gift is crafted out of necessity; a required skill honed in the crucible of awkward moments and buried sadness.

One of the things you learn when you live with depression, is that everyone has a capacity for compassion, and even the most long-suffering people usually reach theirs well before you stop hurting. At some point your pain eclipses their ability to carry it and you realize that your despair is a problem—for them.

This is where the performance begins. 

Because you don’t particularly enjoy being you, you can empathize with those who seem to grow weary of being around you. You learn to read people’s body language, to recognize their ambivalence, to sense their impatience, and you endeavor to play the part of someone else: someone who isn’t depressed.

And when you do, you don’t even need to be all that convincing to sell it. People are usually more than happy to suspend disbelief in order to keep you in character. They’ll play along because that storyline is far preferable to the one where someone around them is perpetually miserable without good reason.

Often people around you will be willingly complicit in the charade; choosing not to look too hard, not to notice the cracks in your facade, not to catch you breaking character in the shadows. 

I’m asking you to not be one of those people.

I’m asking you to choose to really see us. 

When you ask us how we are and we tell you we’re fine—pause to make sure we really are.

Refuse to be fooled by our best, most believable efforts to fool you.

The word hypocrite originally meant “actor”. It once denoted a person who played a part; someone who wore an actual mask upon a stage for the entertainment of others. It wasn’t as derogatory a word as it is today, alluding now to some intentional moral duplicity; the act of showing one person and being another.

And though our deception is not sinister but survival in nature, it is heavy and hurtful and it is never far from our minds. We feel the crushing weight of our duplicity every day. It sits there on top of the already present sadness, compounding it all; adding to the depression the guilt of trying to pretend we aren’t depressed.

And here’s the deal: we probably aren’t going to call “cut” and let you see the real us at this point. We’ve long ago realized the consequences of that kind of authenticity and so you’re going to need to do it for us.

You’re going to have to be the one who sees through the mask, who steps into our space, who looks us in the eyes, and who tells us we can stop acting. You’ll have to be the one to assure us that life doesn’t have to be great and everything doesn’t have to be wonderful and we don’t need to be fine for us to be close to you or welcome in your presence.

The question, is whether or not you believe that:

Are those who are deeply hurting allowed to hurt deeply around you?

Do other’s wounds need to make sense to you in order for you to validate them?

Is there a place in your midst for honest casualties, even when smiling liars would be easier to bear and more fun to be around?

After you’re exhausted by someone’s sadness can you find a deeper reservoir of compassion to draw from?

Because trust me: as tired as you are of our depression, we’re far more tired of being depressed and pretending we’re not depressed.

This performance is exhausting.

We’re ready to retire from acting—for good.

Help us exit the stage.




The Privilege of Mental Health


Take a second and think about your day…

How did you feel?

Were you relatively comfortable within your skin?

As you made your way out of bed did you do so without a struggle?

Did the simple tasks in front of you fail to overwhelm you?

Did you keep your fears at bay?

Were you able to quiet the voices of insecurity and anxiety when they began to whisper?

Did you interact with people without fighting back a hot rush of panic?

Did you find joy in the simple act of living?

Did breathing come easily.

If so, then give thanks.

You’re fortunate.

And as with all privilege it’s probably not something you’re normally aware of.

You may not realize that your default brain setting isn’t something all people have access to.

Some sharing this space and time with you aren’t so lucky.

For some the monsters are real and close.

Some people live always outnumbered.

With everything they have to battle in this life; all the wounds and trials and failures common to everyone—many people also have to battle themselves.

They have to overcome their minds acting as their own prosecuting attorney, always making the iron-clad case why they should be without hope, why they aren’t worth loving, why they should give up, why they deserve to feel this way.

Mental illness isn’t a fair fight, because no matter what you do it’s impossible to escape you.

In every season and every circumstance and in every instance, you are the constant. And that means sabotage is never far away, betrayal is always close by, peace is always precarious.

Depression has been a companion for much of my adult life. For decades I’ve struggled with those self-contained demons and I know the specific hell they bring and how persistent they are.

I understand the duplicity of everyday existence.

I know what it is to have a really good life and to still be miserable,

to have the markers of success yet be certain I am failing,

to be surrounded and feel alone,

to be well-loved and deem myself unlovable,

to have abundance and feel desperation,

to be suffocating right there out in the open,

to have every reason to have hope and yet still be hopeless.

And as a believer I understand the guilt for not being thankful for what I have and the shame of feeling that if I really believed in God, that if my faith was strong enough—I would just snap out of it.

And above all, I know the silence that you can imprison yourself in because you’re sure you’d be a burden to people around you.

Depression and anxiety and the other dark spaces our minds manufacture do their worst damage by putting distance between us and the world; keeping us sequestered in the despair where the only voice we can hear clearly is our own.

If this is your story, I know that I can’t speak any words to magically change any of this for you, but just know that I understand. Know that many people walk this road with you in silent solidarity. You are far more normal than you believe yourself to be. 

And though there are all sorts of tools to help you carry this incredible burden; counseling, meditation, prayer, exercise, medication, life coping skills (and I encourage you to use as many as you can), the fact is that this will simply always be part of your journey, part of our journey. And like any other illness, it isn’t your fault and it doesn’t define you even though it my feel that way at times. 

You are bigger than your demons.

And for those who rarely experience this kind of counterintuitive despair, this all may be difficult to wrap your head around. But I need you to try.

Because here’s the thing: Your mental health is a privilege. It’s gives you an advantage that many do not have. This isn’t your fault and it’s not something to feel guilty about, but as with all privilege it does come with responsibility. 

Look for those of us who are hurting and move toward us. Even if we tell you we’re fine, look deeply enough to really see us. Many times you will have to overcome us just to get to us.

Don’t mistake our silence for wellness. That may just be the dark corner our minds have forced us into. 

We may be difficult to reach and we need you to be as relentless in your compassion as we can be in our rejection of it. Though it may sometimes seem as though you aren’t getting through, know that no kindness is ever wasted; that deep within us in the places where words fail, it matters.

The privilege of mental health isn’t something you’ll ever be able to fully share with those of us who struggle, but every loving moment tips the scales just a little bit.

And for some of us, that may be enough. 

Order John’s book, ‘A Bigger Table’ here.











The Shoulder (For Those Who Want to Give Up)


Live at a little and you’ll surely come to learn something: living hurts.

There is collateral damage that comes just from showing up. The simple act of breathing and stepping into each day brings things that will and do wound you.

Little by little we all collect the painful marks of time. We acquire the gradual scars of our participation here.

And the cumulative effect of it all; the adding up of all the defeats and disappointments, and the unexpected land mine disasters our feet land upon can sometimes bring us to the point of exhaustion, right up to the very precipice of desperation.

They can leave you just wanting to stop; stop working on that relationship, stop pursuing that dream, stop seeking justice, stop caring so deeply, stop breathing altogether.

And in those moments, sometimes the only thing you need is to feel a shoulder pressed up against your own.

Some days all you need, is to reminded that someone stands alongside you and in the closest of proximities is present; hurting with you, rooting for you, waiting with you.

Sometimes it is simply that gentle pressure against your upper arm that saves you.

It turns out misery doesn’t really love company. Misery flees from it.

The myth of our own isolation is always our greatest adversary here. It is the mortal enemy of Hope. We can sustain all manner of horrible things as long as we feel we are sustaining them with help.

When we feel truly alone, giving up always becomes easier, almost better. It often feels like the only option.

This is a reminder that you are not alone in this.

These words are a shoulder pressing firmly up against your own, to let you know that you do not face what you face by yourself, even if it feels that way.

There are people who hurt and strive and weep and sweat and bleed right along with you. You may be temporally unable to see them or they may be less obvious from where you are standing, but they are there.

There are those whose names and faces you know well, whose lives are intertwined with yours and who are right beside you (or would gladly be if you were to invite them).

And there is a massive army of those whose names and faces you’ll never know, who in this very moment stand in silent solidarity with you from their own place of great hurting.

There is a strange comfort to be found in the realization that all of us feel alone; an odd community of imagined orphans.

You are one among many, even in your profound loneliness.

Yes, there is great pain to be found here, and yes you may be right to be discouraged and angry and frustrated to the point of collapse right now.

But you would not be right to be hopeless.

To be that, would be to believe the lie that you are alone, that you always will be alone.

To be that, would be to allow yourself to be fooled by your pain into thinking it is your only companion.

To be that, would be to ignore the truth that there is a shoulder pressed firmly against your own.

See it.

Feel it.

Lean into it, and keep going.