Monday, September 23, 2013

God Meets us With His Truth

Christian therapist and author, Leslie Vernick, recently gave me the opportunity to read her latest book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. It was a privilege to do so and I found the book a fascinating read, especially since I serve women who've been victimized at some point in their lives. The author defines emotionally destructive relationships, clarifying the difference between being in a marriage that is destructive and one that is disappointing. She also gives excellent advice on how to confront a destructive relationship and steps that one can do to bring healing to it.

I believe the church has needed this book for a long time. I have seen too many women shamed for seeking counseling about their destructive relationships. They were told to try harder, to submit more, to just forgive and trust God more. I have talked privately to some women who were afraid to get help, for fear that things would get worse, fear that they would lose their kids, or fear things might escalate and promises of personal harm or death would be carried out. I have talked to women who went through divorces, because they could not bring themselves to do the perverted things being required of them by their spouses and they were abandoned by their churches because they were too ashamed to tell anyone. Could it be that the church has at times failed to help women who needed help? Could it be that the church has neglected to confront sin and taken the easy way out by rushing to the forgiveness issues? Leslie does point out the necessity of those being abused of taking responsibility to bring evidence when they seek help. Evidence can include recording angry tirades and name calling, receipts of expenditures on pornography and prostitutes, or pictures of wounds or personal property that has been destroyed.

A chapter that I found especially interesting is "What's Wrong with Me?" This is because women who have been victimized as children or women who've been beaten down in destructive relationships often blame themselves for the behavior of others. Most, if not all, ask the question that is proposed by the title of the chapter. The question may come out of a tendency towards perfectionism that they developed to try to get love and approval or to stay safe. The more they measure themselves by perfectionistic standards, the more their shame grows and the bigger the question becomes. The more love is withheld, the deeper the questions burns. The question may come out of being repeatedly told that they aren't enough or that they  are responsible for causing an abuser's maltreatment. The question may have come out of misunderstanding God's Word and Biblical concepts like submission and headship. I remember reading a book early in my marriage that said if a woman had enough faith she could always obey her husband, because God would take her out of situations that would cause her to compromise His word. Just think of the shame evoked when he asks her to do something wrong and she does it in faith, believing God will rescue her out, and He doesn't. She is left believing her faith must not have been strong enough, that God didn't value her enough to rescue her, or she must have some secret sin that kept God from answering. This whole concept enrages me! The person who wrote the book must have been totally na├»ve about the evil that resides in the hearts of people as well as theologically inept. I loved Leslie's presentation of submission. (I am going to leave you hanging so you will get the book and read it :-)

One thing Vernick makes clear in the book is that very often the victim plays a huge part in the development of a destructive relationship. She points out that one of the big problems for those who struggle as victims is that they often give other people the power to define them. Leslie, points out that Christ Himself did not let others define who He was and if we read the gospels we can find a lot of opinions about who Jesus was and what He was like. In Mark 3:21-22 it says that Jesus' family came to take Him away because they believed He was out of His mind. The religious leaders thought that He was possessed by Satan. Other's thought He was a wonderful teacher, some thought He was a good man, some thought He was the Messiah, and some declared He was the Son of the Living God. The important thing is that Jesus, believed what God said about Him and didn't let man define who He was and He didn't lose joy over what others thought about Him.

As believers, we have got to be sure we are not letting our parents, our children, our spouses, our friends, our church leaders, government leaders, culture, our experiences or our bosses define us. Humans fallible. People are broken and they sometimes lie when it serves them best. Their perceptions are often greatly distorted by their experiences, their own wounds, their own shame, and their own childhood messages. They also have the propensity to change their minds when they experience discomfort or strong emotions like anger and rage. They have the propensity to project blame and shame like their fleshly parents Adam and Eve. Therefore their opinions aren't always reliable and are not always true.

As someone who ministers to survivors of childhood abuse, I also want to suggest that we don't want to let our experiences define us either. How many times I have heard women say that they are unworthy, unlovable, a victim, trash, too much, or too little. So many of the women have assumed a identity of depression and shame because they accepted the blame for another's sin.

There really is only One Person who has the right to define us and that is our creator. His Words are true and they never change with His mood or with what is going on in the world.

     To the sister, who believes she is unlovable...Christ died to demonstrate His love to you!

     To the young woman who believes she is an accident that shouldn't have been born...Christ created you in your mother's womb. He knew you before you were born and crafted you in love at just the right time.
     
     To the wife who is lonely and believes she isn't worthy of love...Christ proved your worth when He died for you and He loves you with a love that is radically passionate.

     To the woman who believes she is dirty and unclean...Christ has made you holy and blameless.

     To the dear one who believes she is shrouded in darkness as a result of her past...Christ has already translated you into His Kingdom of light.

     To the young lady who was abandoned...you have been adopted into the family of God and given an inheritance with the Saints.

     To the woman who was victimized who trembles as the thought of conflict...God has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control.

     To the sister who believes you are nothing more than a victim...you were victimized, but your true identity isn't victim, it includes being the daughter of the King of kings, His ambassador, and His friend!

It is important for us to realize that unbelief is not just not believing what God says about Himself, it is also not believing what He says about us. This battle to believe the truth is life long. We will occasionally bump into people who have negative things to say to us or about us. The enemy will sometimes try to remind us of what we used to be or we will have old tapes in our minds that sometimes begin to replay of their own accord. But we can choose to believe what God says about us  instead of accepting the lies and old tapes. I know I am also fortunate to have some Godly women in my life who remind be often what God has said about me! I hope that is true of you.

I hope that you will get Leslie's book. It is a labor of love and it is full of wisdom. Even if you have a healthy marriage, you more than likely know someone in a destructive marriage and the book can teach you to respond in a more compassionate and helpful way.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

God Meets us in our Needs

As for me, I am poor and needy, but the LORD takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay O my God!
Psalm 40:17
 
     About twelve years ago I was sitting in the office of a man who was a pastor turned therapist. I had come to him struggling with depression and an eating disorder. After a rough week I came in and told him I was struggling with really strong self-contempt  and hated myself. He asked me what I hated about myself and I said the first thing that popped into my head, "I hate it that I am so needy." He whipped out his Bible and flipped it to Psalm 40:17 and had me read it out loud. Then he said, you know this was penned by King David, who was called by God, "The man His own heart." Then he posed the question to me, "If David had needs and God called him that, why is it not okay for you to have needs." I had a really hard time answering that question then.
     Since that time, I have pondered my needs, how I think we as believers view needs, and sometimes how the church responds to needs. Let me say up front that my church and several other churches in my community have done a lot to meet the special needs of people by forming ministries designed specifically to meet those needs. One church opened its doors to the deaf community and allow a small church of deaf people to meet there. I believe one hearing couple who loved deaf people helped to bring that about and they still serve there. My own church asked for volunteers to work with special needs kids. One of my friends whose daughter has severe problems because of cerebral palsy has benefited from the ministry of very loving people. These are just two examples. I think education has helped the church desire to meet the special needs of very precious people. It hasn't always been that way. I have heard horror stories of people who were told not to bring their special needs kids back to church. The problem was that they probably weren't equipped to handle the needs, but the way it was said left the parents feeling their children was not loved or wanted.  
     I was faced with some interesting dilemmas last year tat reminded me of neediness. Our church does outreach in a poverty stricken, drug entrenched, educationally starved area of town. I lead a ministry designed to help women find healing from past sexual abuse. A couple of those ladies asked to be in a group. We put them in and some of them did very well. Some of them really struggled, because their needs of food, shelter, and safety made it difficult for them to do the work we were doing. To be honest it complicated the group process and I had to let go of the goals and desires I had for these ladies and meet them right where they were at, while at the same time continuing to lead the group in the group process. It would have been easier to tell them they weren't ready, but I knew that God called me to love these ladies just like the others from more affluent backgrounds. We, as leaders, did try to recognize their more imminent needs, while giving them an exposure to the healing work of our groups. Some nights they needed to learn about boundaries. Some nights they needed to have physical needs provided. Some nights they needed to know how to handle domestic violence and a host of other things before they could look at the emotional impact of their past abuse. Ultimately, they needed most to begin to understand that God loves them, desires to heal them, and is fully capable of redeeming their stories. They needed to understand more about God's grace and His forgiveness to begin to understand how to give both grace and forgiveness to those who wounded them so deeply. Their healing journey may have looked different, but in all honesty it hit me that the deepest need of each woman in the group was the same, no matter what side of town they were from.
     About the time I entered counseling, there was a new term, "EGR," being used in the church in reference to people we find a bit more difficult to love or to relate to or who may require extra time and energy in our home Bible group. EGR stands for Extra Grace Required. In our home group, there was a young guy who said up front that he knew that he was the ERG for our group. I laughed along with everyone else. But, I was convicted in my spirit that night, that those of us using the EGR term were being prideful. I pushed the conviction to the back of my mind. I continued in counseling and over the course of a few years learned a lot about my own dysfunctions and at times was overwhelmed with shame because of them. Then one of my best friends died and I went to a community I had lived in as a young bride and mother. The man who was like a spiritual dad to my friend and I, sat by me at the visitation and I was so overwhelmed with shame of how needy I was during the time I had lived there. I was hungry for all of God's word and called numerous times to ask Bible questions. My husband was in school and I was having babies and had some post partum depression and severe loneliness and I called to talk about that. I personalized everything at the time so I talked to him for hours about relationships and how to get along with people. But at the core of that, neither he or I knew was that I was struggling with some unbelief. I believed the things that had hurt me at the very core of my being made me a second class citizen in the family of God. I knew I was saved. I knew God loved me because I was His creation. But my ability to relate and trust God was broken by things in my past. I was hating my needs because I knew that there was nothing that filled them. As much as I was loved at church, in my home, by my spouse...I felt so empty, so needy, and I hated that feeling.
     As I began to find healing for the things in my past, I began to realize, God had created me in love with needs that drive me to Him. I began recognize the lies I believe and to accept that I wasn't loved in a second class way. He died and took my sin in His body....it wasn't just hammered to a cross...it was etched into His body as He hung between heaven and earth and in turn for my sin He imputed his righteousness to me. The suffering He bore was proof that He cares about sin and that He understands what it is like to live with the consequences of another's sin.
     It hit me recently that in God's eyes, we are all ERG'S! Just as children or adults with handicaps have special needs that can be best met by someone with training, we all have needs that only Christ can meet. The rub is that sometimes to learn how to let God meet the needs we have we have to have the freedom to wrestle with the needs in light of God's sovereignty with out being shamed for it. I am so thankful that my spiritual dad listened, answered questions, and reassured me over and over. I am so thankful that he didn't push me away and act like I was too needy even for God and the church. The last time he saw me he hugged me and held both my husband and I tight for the longest time. He grinned from ear to ear conveying that he was glad to see us...no attempt to hide from us, just joy from seeing us.
     I have had the privilege of seeing and hearing the deaf pastor preach and seeing an interpreter sign the words of favorite songs. It is just so beautiful. My friend showed me pictures of her daughter being in the wedding of a very gorgeous couple. There was great joy, love, and acceptance of her daughter and her special needs that day...she was give honor by being in the wedding party. She was given the chance of experiencing what "normal" people experience. It was beautiful. I experienced Jesus in the core of soul because no matter how needy I was, a godly man showed me He in his words, actions, care, and patience what Jesus was like. Where there is great needs there is a great opportunity to experience love and to give love. Maybe, just maybe a good adjective for needs is "beautiful." Beautiful needs strips me of the pride of trying to meet needs apart from God. Beautiful needs that are not met fester and cause such pain inside that I went to all of the wrong places to have them met...but all I need to do is fall at the feet of Jesus in honest transparency. He is the one and only One who can heal my pain and meet my needs.Beautiful needs give me the opportunity to love as He loves--with patience, kindness, grace, and truth.  Beautiful needs give me the opportunity to be His hands and feet to a World desperately needy world. There is now no shame in needs for as I live I see my neediness gives me the understanding I need to quit looking at others as ERG's to be tolerated and see them as people with needs as beautiful as mine.  

Introduction

Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!