GOOD GIRL GONE BAD BOY: Rihanna and Chris Brown perform during a 2008 concert. In 2009 Brown brutally assaulted Rihanna, his then girlfriend, on the eve of the Grammy Awards. (Photo: Lucas Jackson/Newscom).
As a woman who is closer to 40 than to 30, I’m a bit annoyed at myself that I’m writing about R&B and pop sensations Chris Breezy, aka Chris Brown, and his kinda former girlfriend RiRi, aka Rihanna, who just celebrated her 24th birthday.
But as a woman who has loved wrong more than once and has lived to tell about it, I feel I ought to offer my thoughts in the frenzied Internet discourse that has erupted following the recent musical collaborations of the abuser and the victim of his abuse. In case you are not an Internet fiend as I am or don’t have the music of Chris Brown and Rihanna on your iPod playlist, let me update you.
On Monday, Rihanna’s birthday, she, without the official backing of her music label, released via Twitter a remix to her sadomasochistic song “Birthday Cake” which features Chris Brown on the vocals. On the very same day, Chris Brown tweeted his remix to his song “Turn Up the Music,” featuring Rihanna without the official backing of his label. This would be oh-so twenty-something cute if Chris Brown would have not have assaulted Rihanna right around this time of the year three years ago on the eve of the Grammy Awards. And if their music reunion is not enough, it has been reported that the two are seeing secretly seeing each other again and have been for some time.
But for Chris Brown and Rihanna fans, their reunion, whether in public or private or both, is probably not a complete surprise. Although a restraining order was filed against Brown following the assault, last year the restraining order was reduced per her request, and the two began following each other on Twitter as well. And in her 2010 collaboration with rapper Eminem in “Love the Way You Lie” Rihanna co-signs on the dichotomy of pleasure and pain in an abusive relationship.
So what does a woman hopefully old enough to know better make of all us? The sometimes repentant celebrity gossipmonger in me is like, “That’s so juicy!” And to get people talking (and buying) may be their ultimate goal in these collaborations. But I don’t think that is all there is to it.
The woman who knows what is it like to choose someone who is not good for you is dismayed to see a young girl go through this life lesson so very publicly. To be clear, lest my parents read this somehow, no man has never, evah, evah laid his hands on me. But I have dated men that I knew were not the best choices — in spite of what others may have thought.
I’m not a star and so I’m not obligated to spill all of the details of my missteps, but I will reveal this: until the pain is greater than the pleasure of dating the bad boy, there is very little that can be done. I just hope that those who love Rihanna will pray that she be released from the seemingly magnetic force that is attracting her to Chris Brown before he shows his bad side again.
And it is not the first time that Rihanna reunited with Chris Brown. In an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Rihanna revealed why she went back to him AFTER the incident in February 2009. “It’s completely normal to go back. It’s not right. I learned the hard way, but again, this is what I want people to know,” she said. “When I realized that my selfish decision for love could result in some young girl getting killed, I could not be easy with that part. I couldn’t be held responsible for going back.”
And it’s not that I think Chris Brown is the devil or anything, but he was wrong and more plainly horrifically abusive. And while three years have gone by since the altercation, I’m not sufficiently convinced that Brown is truly repentant for his actions or even fully aware of the gravity of those actions. In spite of the incident, I wanted to root for Chris Brown because he’s cute, can sing, and can dance like Michael Jackson. But his meltdown on Good Morning America, where he reportedly broke a window at the television studio, ripped off his shirt and walked the streets of New York like some escaped animal after being asked a question about the Rihanna incident did not convey maturity or anger management. (He was ordered to take anger management classes following the incident.)
The truth of the matter is sometimes it takes a few bumps on the head — literally and figuratively — and counseling before you finally and truly understand that love does not inflict harm. A thorough examination of 1 Corinthians 13 wouldn’t hurt either. Hopefully, Rihanna and other women — both young and old — will learn this lesson soon enough to celebrate more birthdays.
THE LIGHT STILL SHINES: The sun sets over the Murambi Genocide Memorial in Rwanda on July 9, 2011. (HDR photo by Tyler Hutcherson)
Five months after being immersed in the study of the Rwandan genocide, I still don’t know what to say about it.
I went to Rwanda last summer as part of a study abroad program with my university. I visited genocide memorials and saw the remains of victims, heard the testimonies of survivors and watched Rwandans passionately cry out to God in churches.
By the time I got back, my brain was overloaded with stories of genocide — images of machetes, babies slammed against walls, people hiding in cramped spaces praying they wouldn’t be found.
To try to put these stories into words, when I know that any attempt I make could only trivialize what Rwandans experienced, is not possible. It’s a story that cannot be shared lightly, when someone casually asks what Rwanda was like over small talk at lunch. But Rwanda holds a story that must be told—a warning against the dangers of racist stereotypes and propaganda, and proof that a country that has been through devastation can rise again.
During the month I spent in Rwanda and the weeks I struggled to write about it, I wondered how Rwandan Christians could still have such strong faith after surviving genocide, how anyone could believe in God after their family was brutally massacred in a church.
It deeply disturbs me that professing Christians took part in the Rwandan genocide. How could someone who identifies as Christian hate another race or ethnicity so much that they’d think of them as inyenzi (cockroaches) instead of children of God, that they’d believe it was their right to rape and murder them? How could some priests lure people into churches with false promises of sanctuary before opening their doors to murderers—or, in one case, sending in a bulldozer?
I don’t know the answer to that, but to ask this question without considering why the genocide happened in the first place is too simple of an approach. Genocide never would have happened if it hadn’t been for colonialism. The concepts of Hutu and Tutsi as ethnicities didn’t even exist before then; the names originally referred to social class. It was the colonial government that sorted people into ethnic groups, literally measuring Rwandans and issuing them Hutu or Tutsi ID cards.
NEVER FORGET: Pictures of those killed during the 1994 genocide are installed on a wall inside the Gisozi memorial in Kigali. Donated by survivors, the images honor the 800,000 Tutsi and politically moderate Hutus who died. (Photo by RADU SIGHETI/RTR/Newscom)
The colonial government and the Catholic Church favored the Tutsi, turning Rwanda into a breeding ground for ethnic resentment. Decades of tensions eventually grew into a genocidal environment under an extremist Hutu regime. Rampant propaganda portrayed Tutsi as “cockroaches,” or enemies set on destroying the country who had to be crushed.
Genocide doesn’t come from nowhere; it’s foreshadowed by ethnic dehumanization — the kind of ideology that will latch on to anything that could lend it power, especially the most powerful of all, religion.
This history by no means justifies what happened in Rwanda, but it does show us the horrifying consequences when people don’t stand up to racism and injustice.
How can Rwandans trust God after genocide?
When I watched Rwandans worship, I couldn’t help but think that you don’t see this kind of dedication in the United States. Some members of a church I visited prayed there for hours every day. How could people who survived such trauma come to God every day and submit their lives to Him without hesitation? And how could they trust Him enough to forgive the people once bent on eliminating their ethnicity?
In the aftermath of genocide, powerful stories of reconciliation between the perpetrators and their surviving victims have emerged. Not only have many Rwandans forgiven, but some have invited the people who killed their family back into their lives—living as neighbors once again, or even becoming family (one woman adopted her son’s killer).
As Bishop John Rucyahana of Prison Fellowship Rwanda told me over the phone, forgiveness is a crucial part of the healing process. Prison Fellowship Rwanda organizes reconciliation programs and works with perpetrators of the genocide to help them repent and ask for forgiveness.
“Those who are forgiving are not forgiving for the sake of the perpetrators only,” Rucyahana said. “They need to free their own selves. Anger, bitterness, the desire to revenge, it’s like keeping our feelings in a container. When you forgive, you feel whole.”
Being in Rwanda is like living in a world of contradictions. Massacres happened on the ground where I stood, and yet when you’re there, you cannot help but stand in awe of the stunning natural beauty. Rwandan Christians survived horrors beyond any nightmare, and yet they have found the strength to forgive their enemies and passionately worship their Creator.
Before, I asked how Rwandan Christians could possibly trust God, let alone believe in his existence, after surviving genocide. But now, I wonder if they trust because they’ve been through hell and back, and they know Who conquers in the end.
FAREWELL 'DEAR LEADER': Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean dictator who died on Dec. 17 at age 69, will be remembered for turning his impoverished country into a nuclear-weapons player. (Photo: Kcna/ZUMA Press/Newscom)
Since I am the daughter and my children are the grandsons of a North Korean refugee, the plight of North Korea is a frequent topic of discussion in our family. My sons are 9 years old and younger, but they have already formed strong opinions about the leaders of the nation that was once their grandfather’s homeland. Just a week ago, my 6-year-old prayed the following: “God please bless everyone, except Kim Jong-Il.”
When we asked him why he prayed in this particular way, he replied, “He’s a bad, bad man. I don’t love him. I hate him.”
It doesn’t matter how many times we try to tell them that God wants us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48). My kids don’t understand what could possibly motivate a man to ignore the suffering of so many people that he is supposed to be leading and caring about.
When I heard the news on Monday evening about Kim Jong-Il’s passing, I found myself shedding tears not of sadness but of anger toward him, toward his father Kim Il-Sung, and towards all those in power in a nation that invests more in its nuclear and military armament than in feeding its starving population. And I realized that I am much closer to my kids’ sentiments than I might care to admit.
I think of my father, who was 13 years old when he left his home country on foot, traveling with his own father and his brother in order to avoid being conscripted into the escalating conflict between the Communist-leaning north and democratic-leaning south halves of Korea. Their trip took 15 days and included a 40-minute harrowing venture across chest-high, freezing water to cross the Taedong River in Pyongyang at night. (You can view an amazing Pulitzer Prize-winning photo here of Korean refugees trying to climb across the remains of the main bridge over the Taedong. This was taken on the same exact day that my father left North Korea: December 4, 1950.)
When he departed from home that frigid December night, 61 years ago, my dad said goodbye to his mother who’d stayed behind to try to convince her brothers to also head south, and assumed he’d be back home in a week or two. But he never saw his mother again. Theirs is a story all too common amongst Koreans in my father’s generation; countless numbers of Korean families were personally affected or were close to someone devastated by the effects of the Korean War, which left behind a tragic legacy of separated or permanently altered families. Officially, the Korean War is actually still ongoing; certainly in the minds and hearts of the Korean people, this conflict and its far-reaching personal consequences have remained far from forgotten.
My dad, who just turned 74 years old, is pessimistic about the prospect of any type of positive change in North Korea. He tells me, “My main worry is for the people who are innocent victims, all those people who just happened to be born in North Korea and who live there. No other country wishes to unify Korea or engage in any risky attempts to overthrow the regime. This all means I won’t be able to see any bright future in North Korea in my lifetime. It’s so, so sad!”
I will be honest: I cannot conjure even a shred of remorse or sadness about Kim Jong-Il’s passing. Although he personally had nothing to do with the circumstances leading to my dad’s family story, in my mind he represents the very worst of mankind, and how its evils can deliver countless decades of misery into the lives of ordinary human beings.
There is a part of me that is even glad for Kim’s passing, if only because it brings the tragic story of the Korean peninsula back into present-day focus. Regardless of what we may think of North Korea’s past and present leaders, regardless of whether we are of Korean descent or not, we all need to be aware that the North Korean story is not just one of a seemingly endless reign of despotic rulers, but also of countless numbers of families experiencing decades upon decades of grief and sadness.
I am grateful for organizations such as Crossing Borders and LiNK, which are both involved in the dangerous and critical work of assisting and advocating for North Koreans refugees, and The Saemsori Project, which is helping to reunite long-separated Korean families. (You can see Saemsori’s interview with my father on YouTube here.) These organizations may not be able to do anything to ensure humane leadership in the post-Kim Jong-Il era. But the work they are doing has eternal value as they strive for North Korean refugees and immigrants to experience both freedom and family anew.
Meanwhile, I will strive to teach my sons that the best way to “love the enemy” in North Korea is not to embrace hatred, but to support organizations such as these, and to continue to pray and press toward a future in which the North Koreans there and abroad experience no more dying, no more crying, no more hurting. It may not happen in my father’s lifetime, or in my lifetime, or even in my kids’ lifetime. But one day, hopefully sooner than later, we know that the old order will pass away, in North Korea and anyplace else where tyranny currently reigns over liberty.
And as we pray for justice to roll down, may we never forget the millions upon millions who have suffered, lost, and perished along the way.
Helen is currently editing her father’s memoir about his life as a North Korean refugee living in the U.S.
With such a passionate response to my last article,“10 Ways to Recognize a Good Guy,” I felt the need to do a followup that addressed the other side of the coin. Many women may have read the “Good Guy” list and thought, “Well, I guess it’s time I admit my man is no good.” I’d hate to leave that reader hanging, since I believe firmly in presenting solutions and not just pointing out problems.
Toxic relationships inhibit peace, destroy self-confidence, and hinder your ability to make wise choices. In extreme cases, these relationships can include emotional or physical abuse. But, wherever they fall on the spectrum, all toxic relationships lead to unhappiness — and they are difficult to leave. There comes a point, however, where you have to decide that your happiness is more important than the irrational security of a dysfunctional situation. I’m here to tell you how I ditched my own toxic relationship. Before I could move on, I had to accept the fact that despite my positive self-image, I had allowed myself to plunge deep into a place where I did not belong. I’ve been there, so I share this list with the utmost sincerity and sensitivity.
1. Seek God!
When you are in a toxic relationship, you usually have begun ignoring God altogether. You figure you already know what He thinks about your situation while in reality God is not burdening you or even making you feel guilty. You know all He wants to say to you right now? I LOVE YOU! That’s it. Stop beating yourself up. Get in the Word and see what He really thinks about you. Remind yourself that you are beautifully and wonderfully made! It won’t feel right at first, but if you meditate on that thing, it will grow and develop. I remember what God told me when I was really in deep: “I will restore you to a point even better than you ever once were.” And He did! I would have never believed that in the thick of it, but God WILL hear your cry and He will always give you a fresh start, if you REALLY want it.
2. Reconnect with People Who Have Known You Longer
It wasn’t until I started spending more time with family, that I realized something had really happened to me and the change wasn’t positive. Being around people that knew me before my corrupt relationship not only put into perspective how much I had changed, but also how awesomely happy I used to be. This was a crucial part of my process because one of the first changes that usually happens in a toxic relationship is you begin to distance yourself from friends and family. Call up an old friend, spend a day shopping with a family member you haven’t spent time with in a while. This will provide healing, although it may be uncomfortable because this is likely to bring conviction.
3. Stop Making Excuses
This may be the hardest one to do. By now you’ve probably been told by a few people that your relationship is having a negative impact on your life, and you’ve probably told a few, if not all, of those people off. So, it’s certainly not going to be easy for you to swallow a few of those statements and digest them. The next time you catch yourself defending your relationship or your man, don’t! Ask yourself, if this person NEVER changes a single thing about himself, the way he treats you, or the way he treats others, will you be able to be at peace? If the answer is no, start accepting that you have to leave.
4. Have a “Me Day”
In a toxic relationship, you feel completely consumed with making things better. You absolutely never consider yourself, and the guy always takes priority. Take a day to do all the things you never do for yourself. Go out with your girlfriends, go to the spa, or spend some time relaxing without him!
5. Get in Shape!
This may seem like an odd suggestion, but you will be surprised how disciplined you can become in other areas of your life when you discipline yourself to workout. Getting in shape will also boost your self-confidence and help relieve stress. This is not superficial at all; you’ve spent enough time taking care of “project relationship,” next goal = project me!
6. Make a List of Pros and Cons
In Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?, Janet Jackson’s character dropped some good advice when she told her girlfriend to write a list of reasons to stay and reasons to leave. I took that advice! By the time I got done with the list, I had three pages of cons and a pitiful half-page list of pros. Man, was that mind blowing! How on earth did I even want to stay? I learned that the main reason was because I felt leaving was losing rather than gaining “me” back. I put a lot of time and effort into that relationship, I wasn’t about to give up now! Obviously, my perspective was WAY off. Thank God for grace!
7. Tell Him NO! Rinse. Repeat.
At this point, your man is so used to getting his way, he doesn’t even think he has to ask for it! I think Beyoncé said it best in her lyrics, “The first time I said no, it’s like I never said yes.” He throws tantrums when he doesn’t get his way and spends a great deal of his time trying to tell you what to do with every aspect of your life. Decide today to stop letting him act out. You have a good head on your shoulders and you have the Holy Spirit inside of you, desperately trying to get your attention. You’ve changed a lot of your normal activities to cater to his mood swings and you tell him what he needs to hear. Here’s a revelation: Tell him NO! And then do it again, and again. You will see just how little he loves you, and how much he loves himself!
8. Take Inventory of Your “Friend Zone”
I consider myself a pretty confident person, but after a few consecutive failed relationships even I had begun to lose faith that an “ideal” man existed. Looking back, ironically enough I had several examples of good men close to me, and chances are you do too. The funny thing is that those men cared very deeply for me. I called them when things went wrong, and they were always there with a listening ear. (Don’t go jumping into their arms, carelessly thinking you’ve fallen in love because you’re wounded, but do take inventory of all the good men around you — friends and family — to remind yourself that your high standard does exist.)
9. Reject Guilt
Guilt is a dangerously powerful emotion. It’s absolutely imperative that you forgive yourself for falling in love with that fool in the first place. Depending on how toxic your toxic relationship was, this step can take years. Unfortunately, even though you may have taken a huge step towards your future by leaving the relationship, the people around you may not be as supportive and sensitive as you need them to be. It amazed me how vocal people were in support of me leaving him, but how unhelpful they were when I needed to talk. You may be the only one to forgive you for your past, so make sure you do it!
10. NEVER LOOK BACK!
Say this out loud: “We can never be friends!” Keep practicing it until you can say it to him. Don’t fool yourself into believing your situation is different. No, it’s not! Never looking back was the best thing I ever did. Despite all of my regrets and embarrassments over my past, never looking back is one thing I can actually be proud of. Going cold turkey is like an honor badge that anyone that’s ever kicked an addiction can understand. Somehow it restores some of your pride. It’s like all of the sudden, the lights turned on and I could finally see the door! I just walked out; and it was the best feeling I’ve ever had. I knew it was the right thing to do, although I had tried to leave before and had quite a different experience. I was miserable and depressed. You know what made the difference? God! I tried to do it on my own the first time and failed. The second time, it was like the welcome-back party for the prodigal son. It was beautiful.
I say this with love in my heart. This is for all of the women I have known in toxic situations, and for the ones that I know right now who are struggling. That toxic situation is trying its best to take you out, but it’s not too late. God’s power to transform and redeem is so amazing that you’ll hardly recognize your old self once you allow Him to work in you. Forgive yourself and move on; there’s more living for you to do.