Sunday, October 22, 2017

Thoughts on the "Me, Too" Campaign

I participated in the "Me, Too" campaign through Facebook. I chose not to share my story there because some in the past did not respect it. Some even blamed me for my perpetrators' actions, for not telling, and for not stopping the abusers in their tracks. The first Christians I told were visibly uncomfortable and sharply admonished me to forgive. Several years ago, God blessed me with godly counselors and empathetic friends, who gave me safe places to tell my story, validating it with their tears, allowing me to explore the impact it had on me, my life, and my relationships. They also helped me see I was protecting my heart in ways that hindered my relationships and ability to love.  

I wasn't going to blog on this, but I have been reviewing a workshop I took on systemic spiritual abuse and came across this quote and changed my mind, "If no one remembers a misdeed or names it publicly, it remains invisible. To the outside observer, its victim is not a victim and its perpetrator is not a perpetrator; both are misperceived because the suffering of the one and the violence of the other goes unseen. A double injustice occurs--the first when the original deed is done and the second when it disappears." (Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory, p.29) Essentially, both continue to live lies. That is why so many are speaking up now. The burden of the secrets and living a lie are exhausting. This has been going on way too long and we can't change what we don't acknowledge. 

From my experience, sexual harassment looks like the teenage boys lining the hallways in school who, looked girls up and down, making lewd sounds and comments as they passed. It was comments about the size of my breasts and being told it was a way of saying how smart and beautiful I was. It looks like a group of guys coming into the PE office when I was alone, talking crudely about their sexual conquests. It looks like a group of teenage boys in the youth room, congregating so they could ogle girls walking in. It looks like a group of college athletes cat-calling and yelling horrible names, leaving me shaking to the core. It looks like the man my grandfather's age where I worked, whose friendly chatter turned to bedroom talk. It looks like the "friendly greetings," with guys eyes resting on my chest. It's a glance behind me to find a man I considered godly staring at my rear. It looks like the medical professional crudely commenting about my breast and refusing to numb me as he sewed me up after childbirth. Just to head off those questions: Yes, I dress modestly. No, I wasn't in the wrong place at the wrong time. No, I wasn't flirting, I tried hard to be invisible. 

I also experienced sporadic sexual abuse starting when I was four. I didn't have words for it, but knew something inside my spirit shifted and I would never the same. As any preschooler would, I tried to figure out what in me caused the abuse. As an adult, I woke up to find a strange man touching me. My husband chased him away and just like before, I blamed myself. But, as preschooler I had no cleavage and as a woman asleep in my own bed, I wasn't asking for anything. 

I both loved and hated being a female. I loved carrying, giving birth and nursing, but I hated that simply by being a woman I could cause "good men" to stumble. I hated feeling forever unsafe in my body. And when harassment happened within the churches I attended and I addressed it, I was told I must have misunderstood, maybe they just had a bad day, or we women should dress more appropriately. It wasn't me, it was patterns of behavior unchecked and men not being accountable to be the men God has called them to be.  

I can't solve an entire culture's moral problem in this little space. However, I can go out on a limb and be a prophetic voice to the church. We forget local bodies aren't Christ's true church. They are organizations that in the language of parables contain tares mixed with the wheat, goats with sheep, wolves dressed in sheep's clothing, and people who are white washed, spiritually dead beings. So, when someone comes forward with stories of past abuse or current allegations, doesn't this mean we should not dismiss them or silence them with platitudes. Doesn't it mean, we should not ask questions or make statements like, "Are you sure you saw what you said you saw?" "He (or she) is such a good person, they couldn't have." "What did you do to cause him to stumble?" "You want to keep this quiet. We can't hurt his good name, destroy his career, or mess up his family." 

I hope every church gets training in how to prevent and respond to both sexual harassment and sexual abuse. There is a temptation to protect the church over the victim and that is wrong. There is a temptation to twist the Scriptures in an false effort to protect God's name. When I volunteered with youth, I heard accounts of harassment, abuse, and pressure put on girls by "good Christian boys" to "put out." Confronting it only resulted in more lectures on women being modest. In our support groups, I hear stories of women who as kids were abused by dad's who attended church or by Sunday School teachers, deacons, and elders. I also hear stories of gals who were abused by youth pastors or other youth workers. Some told and were silenced either within their own family or within their churches. That is spiritual abuse of the worst kind. 

Isn't it time for churches to do some self-reflection? Do men understand God's call on their lives to define what it is to be a man by the Scripture, not by locker room talk, sexual conquests, or how uncomfortable they can make a woman feel when they stand in a pack? It is time for churches to become extremely proactive about protecting the vulnerable and confronting evil when it is presented. Jesus didn't hide the flaws of the religious system of His day. He overturned tables, cracked whips, and cleaned house. Every woman wounded by abuse or harassment longs for a safe church and a safe church isn't a perfect church. It is a church that believes the wounded, protects them, and deals with sin. In today's vernacular, maybe it is time to do some throat punching to protect vulnerable sheep. 

When we refuse to do what Jesus did to protect His flock, we become complicit and have the propensity to become white washed toxic systems filled with spiritual abuse that deeply wounds. Christ didn't protect the system over the sheep, He turned it upside down. The first day the "Me, too" campaign hit Facebook, my friend Katie messaged me and said, "The Lion of Judah is on the move!" I believe she is right. Let's guard our hearts, our minds, and our mouths so God's character is seen in the church. Let's be quick to confess our faults and our tendency towards complicity. I attend a church that provides support and help for those who have been wounded and that is a sacred work of the church. We want to be proactive, letting the Lion of Judah's roar be heard reverberating through the church so God can be seen as He truly is--holy, just, loving, gracious, and good. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

From Mess to Masterpiece

This week my church studied Romans 8:28-30, which contains the popular truth that God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. I had the privilege of writing devotions for the week on this passage. I grew up hearing evangelists claim that problems were solved by coming to Jesus, but I personally didn't find that to be true in my own life. In fact, life got a whole lot more complicated when I did. As I wrote the devotions, I came to the conclusion that God is concerned about the trials people endure. Christ groaned, sighed, wept, and got angry when people were struggling with weaknesses, in bondage to sin, suffering, and being misled or taken advantage of. These verses assure us our suffering doesn't prove God is displeased with us, nor prove God has deserted us in our need. We can trust He has a two-fold plan in our suffering--our good and His glory. By our good, I mean the process of growing in His image. Suffering has a way of exposing hidden sin that needs cleansing, of exposing our deepest heart desires to know Him, and of showing us when our faith is weak or misplaced.

I realized God doesn't author stories of perfect people, He authors redemption stories of imperfect people just like you and me. He is glorified when sinful, dead hearts come alive. when ugly pride melts into humility, and when rebellious spirits give birth to obedient ones. He is glorified when shattered hearts are stitched together by His hands and when broken relationships are restored. He is glorified when doubts are dissipated by faith growing strong, when our weaknesses drive us to our knees so His strength can be manifested in us, and when the strong desire to sin is thwarted by a choice to hang onto Him in our ambivalence until victory is secured. He is glorified when unforgivable things are fully forgiven, when His image in us that is so deeply marred by sin begins to shine through our messiness, and when praise is found on our lips during times of suffering.

The Bible is full of stories of people whose suffering was used by God to both mature and reveal God's glory to them. There was Abraham and Sarah, the infertile couple living in a culture worshiping fertility gods. After years of intense longing and years of living with a dream unfulfilled, they were given a baby in their old age--a baby who allowed them to see God is the God of life, The God who would not share His glory with false idols of stone gave them the baby named "Laughter." Laughter--because their laughter of unbelief was turned into laughter of ecstatic joy!

Then, there was Daniel and his three friends. The first faced a den of lions for his faith and got to see the mouths of hungry lions held shut by God's own hand. The other three were cast into a raging inferno after bravely declaring their faith in the face of great persecution. In their suffering, they got to see God who joined them there, preserving their lives in such a way that when they were taken from the furnace they didn't even smell like smoke. What a beautiful picture of Salvation we were given in their story of hard. God not only worked it for their good, but ours as well. 

There was a man born blind who encountered Jesus, who made mud from dirt and saliva and anointed his eyes, instructing him to washed in the pool of Siloam. He came back seeing, finally free from a sad life of begging. But, instead of rejoicing with him, the religious leaders did all they could to discredit the story he was living. When he should have been rejoicing, he was being harassed. Yet, the more they questioned him, the more he pondered the One responsible for his miracle. He went from understanding Jesus was a good man, to grasping He was a prophet, to fully embracing the truth that He was the Son of God. 

Then there was the woman who met Jesus when she came to a well midday to avoid harsh words, judgmental stares, and clicking tongues that came with the scandalous life she lived. He knew she had been publicly declared an unfit wife five times and that it left her brokenhearted, craving to be loved with a love strong enough to stay. Jesus led her through a spiritual discussion, preparing her heart to receive Him by faith. He gave purpose to her suffering by helping her see that it was Him she truly craved and by using her--a scandalous woman--to bring salvation to the community that despised her. Her passion and her willingness to share Him with those who looked down up on her tells us how completely she trusted Him and that Jesus can use this sinner to bring others to Him.

Then, there is Jesus. His darkest days were filled with persecution, betrayal, desertion, illegal trials, and ambivalence that rocked Him to the core. His suffering included being mocked, beaten, stripped, and suffering the cruelest death one could ever suffer. But it was in His suffering when all looked the most hopeless that Hope was bought. For, as He hung on that cross the Enemy was defeated, the wrath of God was satisfied, and a divine exchange occurred--our sin for His righteousness.  

I could tell you many stories of how God worked things to my good. Like the time He had His faithful servant, Reuben, call me to remind me God was greater than the Enemy, not knowing how badly I needed the reminder. Like the time God used a prayer director to defeat a lifelong stronghold of believing I was invisible to Him, and showing me how intimately He was involved in my healing journey. Even the traumas I experienced in childhood have been redeemed by Him, to deal with pain. They have been used in miraculous ways to bring God's truth and love into the lives of hurting women in ways that leave me humbled by His work. 

Finally, verse 30 contains past tense verbs that drive home the truth that God works all things for good. "And those who He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified, He also glorified."  I love the past tense verbs! All the messy we see from this side of heaven is seen so differently by God. He is proclaiming to us that He doesn't just see the messes we are now, He sees us as we will be when He glorifies us. The mess we see from here is Him weaving the clothes of glory that we will wear at the Marriage feast of the Lamb. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Power of a Decision

I recently attended a workshop on marriage taught by Ted Cunningham. He stated that there is power in making a decision. He was talking about unmarried couples who come into his office for counseling. He said they often tell him they never made a specific decision to live together. They just slid into it. They went on a few dates, then began to go back to one of their apartments after their dates. Before long, they began to have sex and for convenience sake, they began to spend the night occasionally. Then, they started bringing over a few things at a time. It happened more and more often until one had completely moved in. Next they bought a dog or had a baby and were in a relationship with joint ownership of a child or a pet with no commitment. These couples then come to see Ted when one feels convicted and wants to marry and one doesn't. He often asks them if they had purposefully made decisions along the way if they think they would still be together. Many of them say, "no."

As I was listening to him talk about the power of a decision, I realized how many areas of life we tend to slide through. When we do that we end up in situations that violate our consciences, which result in our sinning against God, which result in our doing things that are detrimental to our health,  or destroy our  relationships.

The first time I became aware of this concept was when one of our kids was hanging out with some friends whose parents' rules were stricter than ours. We had tried to convey to him to respect all parents' rules. One night I gave my son permission to go with his friends somewhere, not knowing the other parents told their kids, "no." They went, but when the kids dropped off our son, their parents were waiting in their car outside of our house. The next day I could tell our son was struggling and took him to lunch to ask about the night before. He said they went where they had permission to go and ended up through a series of little choices doing things the boys didn't have permission to do. He said they didn't overtly make the decision to disobey, that one thing led to another. He said he had felt convicted at one point and knew they shouldn't be there. He didn't encourage the boys to disobey, but did not say, "no" either. He apologized to the parents, but sadly, they believed our son betrayed their trust and didn't let him hang out with their kids anymore. All of them were great kids and usually responsible and respectful as a group. They just slid, not realizing they needed to be making decisions to do good and right on a daily, hourly, and moment by moment basis.

In my own life I identify "the sliding" in all sorts of areas. My husband and I can slide into laziness in our marriage. We can fail to be proactive about loving each other well and fail to nurture our marriage. We never decide to not express love, nor do we make a conscience decision to neglect our marriage; we just slide into patterns during busy seasons and don't regroup. When we do that we hurt each other and fail to love the way God wants us to love. We don't intentionally decide to neglect our marriage, we just skip doing those little things and big things that strengthen our marriage and make it one that reflects Christ's love for His church. We have to decide daily to be proactive, not just slide along. We must choose to love well, to pray for one another, to be fully committed to each other, to guard our hearts and our minds, and to seek counseling when we get stuck. Even more importantly, in the process of conflict resolution, we must continuously decide to not fight each other, but to passionately fight for our marriage.

I have also seen the sliding pattern in my struggle with a long term eating disorder. I never made the decision to have an eating disorder, it started in high school with a fad diet when I wanted to lose a few pounds. Then after a traumatic event, it slid slowly into unhealthy compulsions to over-exercise and not heed my body's signals of hunger. It grew worse as I found I could avoid emotional pain by focusing on the numbers on the scale or the numbers on a dress label. It continued for some time because I felt powerful and a false sense of being spiritual as I didn't "need" food and had such great self-control. Then periods of dieting followed by periods of binge eating, both of which became a way of coping were so automatic, that if I was making decisions, they were at a subconscious level. When I entered counseling, I had to work hard to relearn to make those daily, hourly, and even moment-by-moment choices to feel, to choose health over starving, compulsive eating, and exercise. I had to consciously acknowledge God by eating what He provided. I still choose to decide to guard my heart by not reading about diets and weight management and refuse to look at magazines with airbrushed photo's that trigger my unhealthy thinking. I decide to process feelings that trigger the desire to starve or binge. I decide to proactively take every thought captive to Christ's truth or this hot mess will be sliding back into self-contemptuous thoughts and self destructive behaviors.

It is also easy for us all to slide in our commitment to the church. Some slide into the habit of not attending church regularly. It begins with one Sunday and then it becomes a couple of weeks in a row and then before we know it, we haven't been in months. Then pride sometimes makes it difficult for us to go back. Some slide into the habit of not using their gifts to serve the body. It could be a busy season in life or just that they took a needed break and just never made the decision to plug back in. Some slide into holding grudges by not working quickly through conflicts that happen when believers rub shoulders. Maybe someone got angry and wanted to process it before they dealt with it and before they knew it, so much time passed, it seemed inappropriate to resolve it. Sometimes churches let overt sin slide, causing many to get wounded. Some slide into disconnected states in which they do not care for or receive care from others in the body. It can start with business. We may even think about calling someone and just let it slide. We may be disconnected because we are going through difficult times emotionally and just let it slide instead of resolving pain that keeps us from wanting to attend church.

I had five children in eight years and I look back and realize we often slid into business. In retrospect, had we not slid through much of life, we could have made conscious decisions that would have been better for my kids, us as a couple, and helped us to really use the gifts God gave us, rather than living a frantic pace to which God never called us. We slid into business to the point we didn't see and attend to some of the needs our growing family had. As a Christian woman, that business kept me from things I needed to be a healthy mom--things like building relationships with other moms who loved the Lord and desired to grow as believers, as wives, as moms, and as daughters trying to navigate complicated extended family relationships.

We can all slip into sinful patterns. Seldom do we choose to become addicted to porn, alcohol, and drugs. Seldom do we wake up first thing in the morning and plan to destroy another's heart with gossip. Seldom do we wake up and plan to destroy our family through adultery, through drug addictions, or through illegal activity. The list could go on and on.

I had a friend who was encouraging me to make a needed change and I was being very indecisive about it. The friend gently pointed out that no decision was in itself a decision and that there was more power in making an actual decision. I thought about it and realized they were right. Living with lots of indecision was a way that I could avoid taking responsibility for my choices. The avoidance came out of fear--fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of hurting others, the fear of disappointing someone, and the fear of God being unhappy with me. I have since learned a lot about living in grace and truth and am realizing that I can live life honoring God when I choose to make daily, hourly, and moment by moment decisions to honor Him. When I put on the armor of God daily and ask God to mold me and to live through me and trust Him to do so. When I make and own my choices, I know I sin less, manage the eating disorder better, have more joy, and give more attention to my relationships. My relationships are more godly when I consciously make decisions daily to honor Jesus, to live out of self respect, and love others well. Finally, powerlessness--that emotion that can so easily trip me up is minimized when I am proactively making decisions to honor God.


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!