Thursday, May 25, 2017

I Want to Throat Punch Me Some People!

It has been a hard week for me, emotionally and it isn't because of what is going on in my personal life. It is because of what is going on in our world. First, I was invited to host a book table at a Sex Trafficking Symposium at Saddleback Church in Orange County. We've had a few traffic survivors attend our Passionate Heart Ministry support groups and I have worked with a few at the at the rescue mission so I had a good idea of what we would be hearing. However, a couple of the speakers brought video clips with the purpose of helping people see sex trafficking for what it truly is. And believe me, it isn't something done by women voluntarily to make money. Even though they take money from the John, the pimp takes the money from them.   

Just like victims of childhood sexual abuse, victims of trafficking have come to that scene with vulnerabilities that increased the likelihood they would be manipulated into that lifestyle (“the life”). Some of them were vulnerable because they ran away to escape the sexual abuse they experienced at the hands of people who should have nurtured and protected them. Some of them became vulnerable because their parents kicked them out when they got addicted to drugs or alcohol. Some of them became vulnerable when their needs weren't met and they grew up without a sense of belonging to family and a guy or gal from a gang, a bottom, or a pimp befriended and groomed them with the promise of being a part of their family. Sick as that sounds, it fulfills a deep need written on the heart in the womb. I worked with one gal who was a single mom that met a couple at a PTA meeting. They befriended her and she was lonely and began to frequent bars with them. Eventually, drinks were spiked and she was given drugs and became addicted, pimped, and even videotaped without her knowledge. She found out later her videos were posted online.  

What is really scary is that some of the youngest girls were lured into “the life” by men and women pretending to be someone close to the girls' ages on social media pages. They developed an online relationship and soon the kids thought they were in love with the fake person and ran away to be with them. Instead, they ended up in the hands of a pimp, drugged, raped, and trafficked. Some of the videos we saw were posted by the pimps themselves, proudly showing how abusively they treat the women they own. The language, the physical violence, the drugs dispensed, the bragging in the videos - it hurts the heart. I became angry because they seem to think they are so tough, so powerful, and so manly, but all they are is the embodiment of pure evil.  

Sadly, a lot of drug dealers are finding they can make way more money selling humans than drugs. I won't write the words they use in that lifestyle, but believe me they aren't pretty words. Sadly, these women and girls (and men and boys) are stuck because they have no money, are addicted to the drugs provided, desperately want to belong, and rightfully fear for their lives if they run. Some women become bottoms, which is the pimp’s right hand woman, and they become horribly abusive to those under them. They recruit, train, and control through threats and through abuse. They have to do this or be beaten worse than anyone. There is a status in that community that comes with these positions and what they will do to maintain that sickens the heart. 

We are mistaken if we believe they can just leave if they want. It is hard to get out of “the life”, because the conscience becomes seared when one is living only in that setting. To come out of “the life” and return to a more normal, moral setting shines a bright light on what they have done to survive and the shame that rises up within them can be unbearable, causing some to commit suicide. Some of them don't have job or people skills and if they do, they have police records that make it hard to get a job. It is also becoming a generational business as they draw young guys and girls into it. Some are their own children and some are not, but kids that are drawn in know no other life. I came home sad for the victims and the kids being trained, but wanting to throat punch me some pimps. 

Then, on Monday, we heard about the bombing in Manchester that killed and injured young kids, parents, and young adults who were doing nothing but attending a concert. And with the work I do, I know that those not injured will also suffer emotionally from the trauma of having been through. They will never ever be the same again. And these men think they are so powerful, so manly, and even so spiritual because they think they are earning some kind of special reward for carrying out their horrible deeds. Please tell me what is manly about killing a child? It makes me sick to think back on all the terrorist attacks that have been reported. There were the terrorists who carried out the attack out in southern California, who had dropped their baby off at grandmother’s house and went and shot up his co-workers, and then shot it out with the police. And then there is Boston, Florida, and all the European bombings...and it makes me want to throat punch me some terrorists and those who recruit and train them.  

Then, this morning I read a response Leslie Vernick, a godly author and counselor, wrote to a pastor who had given some pretty bad advice to a woman who was dealing with an abusive spouse. The woman’s marriage had started out great and then over time her husband disengaged, withdrew to his basement, and become a very angry man. He started blowing up at her and the kids and verbally assaulting them. Though it hadn't escalated to physical violence, his tongue was extremely caustic and he had thrown both words and objects in anger. I have heard similar stories like hers, and in many cases the husband was battling a sex addition and viewing pornography. The woman sought advice from her pastor who didn't point out the Biblical steps in handling his sin. Instead, he told her she should try harder to be a good support to him and that her emotional pain had at its root pride. That is spiritual abuse at its worst. No one in the church should be silenced when they are being mistreated and abused. The sin needs to be dealt with. It is time for churches to quit blaming victims and deal with the sin in the body.   

It reminded me of the number of women in our sexual abuse support groups. Some of them were abused by parents who were involved in the church or by youth pastors, pastors, or other leadership in the church. Those brave enough to speak out when they were young were often told not to say those kinds of things, or dad would go to jail, the pastor's family would break up, or the reputation of the church would be ruined. It always hurts my heart to think of those little girls too ashamed or too afraid to tell. But, it hurts my heart even more that those who did tell were silenced--literally sacrificed for the false reputation of their families and their churches. It makes me want to throat punch me some abusers, some pastors and some parents who would rather sacrifice kids than deal with sin in a Biblical way. 

I could go on and on with the things that make me want to throat punch. I want to throat punch me some men and boys who think it is manly to objectify women and who think it is manly to look women up and down as they walk down the street or the hallway. I want to throat punch me some guys that think it is okay to grope women in the work place or in a public line. I want to throat punch me some men who think it is manly to intimidate women or withdraw affection if they don't put out. I want to throat punch me some men who think it is okay to drug women and rape them when they can't resist or say no and I want to throat punch me some judges who let them off. I want to throat punch me some parents who are neglecting their responsibilities of loving, nurturing, teaching, and disciplining their children and leaving them to raise themselves, making them vulnerable to abuse, addictions, and trafficking. I want to throat punch me some people behind the abortion industry who make their money performing abortions on women they have deceived into believing abortion doesn't hurt the mom or the child and that the best way to handle one sin is to perpetrate another against an unborn baby.  

But as I have been processing these feelings, I came to realize there is an enemy that is bigger than the pimp, bigger than the John, bigger than the bottom, bigger than the terrorist, bigger than the misguided misogynistic pastor, bigger than the men caught in sexual addiction, and bigger than doctors performing abortions, and bigger than neglectful parents. All of these people have been deceived by the Enemy who is prowling around seeking to devour and to destroy those created in God's image. Every one of these people doing such tremendous harm to others was formed in the womb by God's own hands just as their victims were. They have made choices to harm others partly because the enemy deceived them so they would be in the business of destroying other image bearers and in that process of believing and obeying the lies they themselves seem to have lost the ability to bear the image of God they were created to bear, that is unless God steps in and redeems. 

The Enemy is the one that has deceived men into thinking it is more manly to pimp and create porn, to be aggressive and abusive, and to control wives and children through manipulation and intimidation. It is the enemy telling parents it is okay to ignore their family and parental responsibilities to work and to socialize. It is the enemy telling girls it is okay to rectify one sin with another. It is the enemy telling them “the life” will fill the need of family. It is the enemy that causes people to become so entrenched that it seems normal to live a life of degradation and defilement. It is the enemy telling terrorists that their salvation comes through murder. And it is the enemy that is telling us in our churches that these things don't have anything to do with us.  

We have got to remember the truth. A man is never manlier than when he loves well, respects women, provides for his family, is in involved in his kids’ lives, models morals he doesn't have to hide, and bears the image of His Savior by loving well. There is never a more manly man than the one who controls lustful appetites, wandering eyes, and his temper. There is never a more manly man than a father who teaches his sons to love and respect their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, and spouses. and who protects his daughters, loving them well and teaching them to let the Savior be enthralled with their beauty. They are manly when they guard their hearts both as a single and a married man and fight with all of their might to preserve purity and their marriages. 

And women--they are more beautiful when they get their love needs met by God and find a sense of purpose fulfilled as they engage with their kids, taking the time to show them how to love God, themselves, and others. Women are never more beautiful than when they walk in truth and model a modest heart and empower their daughter to choose wisely who and when to date. And they are even more beautiful if they have blown it and own a mistake made, and recognize that grace and community can help them navigate the consequences of their sin, allowing God to redeem even the sinful choices they made. 

And the church--it is never more godly than when it acknowledges sin in the body and deals with it adequately. That means dealing graciously with unwanted pregnancies in a way that maintains the dignity of the mother and preserves the life of the baby while at the same time dealing with the root causes of the sin. That means being willing to deal with pornography, sexual addictions, and calling on men to openly take a stand against sex trafficking and porn use. It means being willing to deal with perpetrators of domestic violence, misogynistic attitudes of men, and teaching young men to respect women and to appreciate God's plan for sex inside of a covenant marriage. It means loving well and teaching our young people to be fulfilled in Christ so that they don't look for love in sinful ways. 

I believe we all have the potential to be deceived and to sin so that God's image in us is no longer visible. That should terrify us. That should humble us. That should bother us enough to want to catch our own sin in its earliest stages and nip it in the bud. It should bother us enough to drive us to the Word to see what God's plan for His people is. It should bother us enough to fall down and worship the one who can preserve His image in us. 

As I contemplate how big God is, the desire to throat punch dissipates. I know the Enemy was defeated at the cross, his time is short, and he is angry and writhing like a snake dying. And I want to be found consistently worshiping God, remembering He is more powerful than he who is in this world. I want to pray against the Enemy's schemes and boldly proclaim God's truth to counter the Enemy's lies. I want to get out of my comfort zone and challenge the church to consider if we are doing all that God has called us to do. Are we doing church God's way or guilty of hiding and perpetuating sin? Are we going where sinners live with the gospel, or hiding behind the comfort of the church walls? Are we willing to be around people with "rough edges" to share the gospel and to disciple or are we reaching out only to those resembling us most? Isn't it true that we can render the Enemy powerless by living as God has called us to live? Every prayer spoken, every act of worship, every demonstration of love, every testimony spoken aloud, every heart healed, every knee bowed in repentance, and every relationship healed through forgiveness, and every godly choice made are things that silence and render the Enemy powerless. Could it be that those are the spiritual throat punches God has called us to throw?     


Saturday, May 13, 2017

When Mother's Day is Hard

Over the years I have come to realize holidays can be emotionally hard for people. I remember the sadness I felt on my first Mother's Day after we had moved across the country. I was used to spending it with Mom and found myself overwhelmed and lonely in a new place. I felt a sense of loss even though she was still alive. I had become a mom and my husband did his best to make it special, so I hid the sadness I felt. It was years later I faced the holiday with Mom truly gone, leaving me unable to hear her voice, buy her a card, or send her flowers. I was a bit more prepared as I've had friends over the years who grieved Mother's  Day because they lost their mothers at an early age. Some of them so young they remembered having to tell their teachers they did not have a Mom and didn't need to make a card. They felt different and hated it. Every year when this holidays rolls around I still feel a sense of loss. But more than that my heart feels burdened because I've heard many painful stories and God seems to remind me of them during this holiday. It is a good burden because it causes me to pray.

I pray for those whom this holiday stirs up longings for a relationship with their mom that can never be fulfilled. It doesn't matter if mom has died, if mom has physically left, if mom is too dysfunctional to relate in a healthy way, or if mom has betrayed them, the pain of longing is a pain that runs deep. They might be longing to simply hear her familiar voice speak words or they might be longing to hear her speak words of affirmation that in reality they know will never be spoken because of a sinful or wounded heart. They might be longing to hear an apology for harsh words spoken in haste or a fit of anger or for loving so poorly or failing to return or failing to protect. They might be the longing for one more bear hug or a maybe a warm hug never once experienced. It might be the longing for another conversation or longing for a conversation they know will never be had. They might be longing to hear her laugh one more time or the wondering what her laugh would have sounded like had depression not robbed her of it. They might be longing to hear her say she understands, but realizing their Mom can't hear their words and respect their thoughts. They might be longing to having a mom who could have lived brave enough to have protected them from her perpetrating husband instead of protecting the family reputation, the church they attended, or the delusion that the family was healthy and happy. They might be longing for a Mom who was mentally stable enough to calm fears instead of triggering them.

I pray for those ladies whose hearts feel empty on this holiday, because they can't remember a time that they didn't long for a child and they live with the realization they will never be able to conceive. Their hearts hurt every month, but they hurt even more on this day. They hurt not only for the unfulfilled longing, but because of the lack of empathy and the people who clamor for them to get over their grief and move on or admonish them to simply trust God more, believing their pain is a result of not trusting God. What do they do with the longing written on their hearts?

I pray for the ladies who were able to conceive but lost children before they could breath their first breath. They grieve the loss of the babe they were excited to meet, but will never get to hold. They also grieve the loss of the hopes and expectations they had for their children and themselves. Many of them have suffered in silence because those around them didn't recognize their loss as a valid loss and even those that recognized the loss, but want them to be over it.

I pray for the moms whose memories include abortion. No matter what the reasons were, they were deceived into believing it would be easier, only to find every year they remember and feel the loss with deep shame. They find themselves wondering about the child whose life was ended. I am thankful for those who have experienced God's grace and have been able to grieve and repent. I also pray for those who haven't, always hoping they will and at last be able to grieve their child and the decision they made as they cling to the assurance of a heavenly reunion.

I pray for the moms who were fortunate enough to birth children and enjoy them for a season only to lose them way too soon. They have walked a grieving journey many of us will never walk. When this day rolls around their hearts are both heavy and thankful as they remember past Mother's Days filled with cheer and hand made cards expressing childish sentiments so sweet. Even those with other children remember who celebrate them remember the place setting no longer set at the table.

I pray for the moms who have children incarcerated or who have run away. The shame of wondering where they went wrong is sometimes too much to bear. The worry of wondering if children are alive and safe or cold, and hungry, or in harm's way is constant, never fully going away. As they grieve the choices made by their children, they also grieve their place at the table and the dashed hopes they had for their kids.

I also pray for the moms and the children who lost their relationship through suicide. That death is a hard one to grieve because of all the unasked and unanswered questions--"Was it my fault?" "Could i have done anything to prevent it?" "Why did they want to die?" "Why did they prefer death over life and over me?"

My purpose in sharing this post is not to guilt those who love to celebrate this holiday. It is a relationship that deserves to be recognized, honored, and celebrated! I just want to remind us that it is not always easy for others. I do hope we can be empathetic and gracious as we cross paths with those whose experience is not one of joy. It might mean writing a sweet note to a friend who struggles with infertility. It might mean planting a rose bush with someone who has lost either a child or their mom. It might mean having coffee with a friend and allowing her to talk openly about her loss again without admonishing her to move on. It might mean doing something creative with a friend who has suffered a loss with the intention of blessing another. It might mean having lunch with someone who is spending their first Mother's Day alone, reminding them through the ministry of presence that you have remembered them in their grief.  It might mean asking them if there is something you can do to commemorate the person they grieve. It might mean being willing to listen to a process letter written to a mother who was absent, distracted, or or unloving and the helping them figure out ways to release the pain they feel and to forgive at an even deeper level than they had before. It might mean helping someone put in place some kind of action plan to serve another or connect with someone else who, too, has suffered loss. The truth is that when Mother's Day is hard, it offers us opportunities to love those that hurt well.



Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Mommy has a Potty Mouth

When my children were small they were outside with my husband who was working in the garden. After setting the food I had prepared for lunch on the table, I opened the door and hollered to let them all know lunch was ready. I then turned around and grabbed the pitcher of ice tea and set it on the table, somehow setting it on the edge of the table. It was like a slow-motion video. I saw it go over and as it hit the floor the pitcher shattered and ice tea spattered up the wall and all over the newly mopped floor. "Oh crap!" slipped from my mouth just as my young sons got to the screen door. One of them quickly turned to their daddy and yelled at the top of his lungs, "Daddy, Mommy just cussed!" Technically I didn't believe I used curse words--slang yes, and maybe even a bit vulgar. When I said that to my husband, he laughed and pointed out two possible reasons the kids thought I cussed. First, it wasn't a word we allowed them to use so they assumed I was cussing if I used a forbidden word. Second, the emotional and impulsive way I spoke the word made it feel like a curse word to the kids.

Ironically, I had grown up in a family where some of grownups cursed when they got angry and some simply cursed in social settings as they told stories. When I became a believer, I tried really hard not to curse. And, as a teen, I even became a somewhat obnoxious, self-appointed chief of the speech police force for our family. 

In college, I had a Christian English major as a roommate who was both intelligent and quick witted. I asked her one time if she ever cursed because I had never heard her do so. She said she didn't curse since she believed most people cursed because they had a limited vocabulary. And believe me, she could express herself and her emotions quite well without ever using a curse word. She could even verbalize something deep and significant in a humorous way that would make me smile, only to realize later how important what she had said was. I also had another dear friend who, in the eight years I was around her, never once cursed in front of me. I didn't realize it until one day we were in the middle of doing something and something happened that would have made cursing a real temptation for anyone, but all she said was, "Oh, my soul!" And it didn't even sound like a curse word, just a calm acceptance of a problem we would have to work through to proceed. I loved that one chose to educate herself with a vocabulary to give herself the ability to fully communicate the emotions that were aroused in difficult situations, and the other communicated a humble acceptance of circumstances that were less that favorable, frustrating, or infuriating to us humans. For the most part, I tried to emulate the speech of these ladies and many other godly women I knew.   

A few years ago, I decided to work through past trauma and in that work I found a host of emotions including rage with in me that I didn't know existed. And along with those emotions, curse words I had heard early on, but never thought I would say again, rose to the surface. For a couple of years those words showed up a lot in my journal, which was written in the format of letters to God. I was a bit uncomfortable doing that, until one day I watched my young grandson ask his mom to give him back an object she had taken away from him. Because He was around 18 months old, he had a limited vocabulary and he kept reaching out with his hands indicating he wanted it. She shook her head no and then he began to throw a little fit without any tears. She told him no again and then he began to cry great big crocodile tears. When she still said no, he began to desperately point to the tears as if they could indicate to her how much he wanted the object she had taken from him. In seeing him, I realized that because I had a hard time getting to my tears, I had been using curse words to try to convey to God how angry and how hurt I was.  

Then, one day I was discussing something painful with my counselor. She asked me if I had journaled about it. I told her that I had tried to journal several times, but I couldn't find words to express the depths of hurt and anger I was experiencing and I had just cried an ugly cry--you know the cry where shoulders shake, and groans surface, and snot runs as fast as the tears. I told her that in my mind all I could do was picture myself standing on a tall mountain, screaming in anguish, wanting to be sure God could hear and see me and know the pain I felt. She took me to another counselor's office and showed me a beautiful picture of a lady sitting on a garden bench crying and catching her tears in a vile. The artist had painted it to depict Psalm 56:8, "You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?" To know that God saw my tears and cares was a soothing balm to my pained soul.  

I had gone from living numb, to getting angry about the ugly, hurtful things I had experienced, to acknowledging the deep pain and the grief caused by what had occurred and, believe me, that grief ran deep. During that time of facing the past wounds and laying them at the cross, Romans 8:26 took on new meaning to me, "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." When I couldn't find the words to express the anguish I experienced the Spirit could intercede for me. How awesome is that?

I hope that every person who faces deep pain, loss, and confusion find the truth of these verses. God hears the pain and the anger we experience and express through words. And, when there are not words strong enough to express the level of pain in our hearts, He sees the tears and hears the groans of our hearts and the Spirit's prayers being poured out on our behalf. 

Sometimes in our culture we want to play down the emotions people have, but I believe God is every bit as concerned about our hearts and the emotions we are experiencing as He is about the thoughts we are thinking and the words we are speaking. The cries of the cross are proof of that. I believe our God is big enough to handle the emotions we feel and loving enough to help us manage them with His truth. Maybe that is why Paul wrote, "That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death." 

I am at a different place in my life and still striving to use godly speech, trusting that if I can't find a word powerful enough to convey my fear, sorrow, grief, or anger, that I can trust that God sees how deep those things run in me. And, at the times I feel alone and desperate to be heard, I can still draw on that mountaintop dream in which I cry out to Him with my heart and let the Spirit intercede for me. He knows my heart and He knows what I need even more than I do. I don't want my grandkids to think of me as a potty mouth grandma, I want them to remember me as a "Jam" who spoke words that blessed and drew their hearts toward God in every situation. 

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!