The Power of Love

A few weeks ago, I started to read the book The Power of Attachment. The book by Diane Poole Heller talks about the different ways we connect to one another in relationships, and the importance that our early childhood plays in developing these attachments.

I was born in a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers. My biological mother was raised Catholic. Her parents sent her away to give birth to me. She only held me for a few moments before I was handed over to the State and placed in the home of a foster parent for three months. After three months, I was adopted by my parents. From my baby pictures, I appeared to be a well adjusted and happy child. However, my earliest memories as a child communicate to me that I struggled most of the time with feeling like I belonged. Up until I was in my twenties, I believed that there was something wrong with me. I thought that being adopted and not being a blood relative of my family was what caused me to feel out of place. But then I found both of my biological parents, and realized that I still felt disconnected.

Reading Diane’s book has helped me to see that my lack of connection is about more than being adopted. What it is about is being raised by parents who did not know how to connect with me in a healthy way. Parents who didn’t connect with their parents either. My adopted mother’s mom died when she was just a little girl. She had very few memories of her, and didn’t talk about her father much either. My adopted father’s mother lived until I was in my twenties. He spent a lot of time talking about how she favored his brother over him. His father died when he was a child. His earliest memories were of him shooting up morphine in front of him.

I spent my childhood believing that I was the reason that I couldn’t connect with my parents. Even though they provided for my physical needs, I felt responsible for my own emotional needs and insanely for theirs, too. Sexual abuse taught me that it was my responsibility to meet my father’s emotional needs. It was also up to me to keep this secret from my mother. I had to work really hard to do my part to keep everyone happy. I felt like I lived in a minefield waiting for the next explosion to go off. I thought if I watched my every step I could keep something else bad from happening. Even though it didn’t work, I never stopped trying to make it work. It was the only thing I knew to do to survive.

Diane Heller provides exercises in her book to help people like me who grew up not feeling attached to start a process of feeling more secure. One of the exercises says to imagine having parents who had relationships with others in their lives who met their emotional needs. She said to visualize what it would have been like if our mother had friends she went out with who brought her happiness. As I visualized this, it felt like the knots in my stomach began to relax. Momma did not need me to do everything right to be happy. She was happy all on her own. I wasn’t walking in a mine field where I had to focus on my every step. I could focus on just being myself. I could see clearly through this practice that the reason I felt disconnected as a child was because I never felt the freedom to just be myself.

Other exercises in the book encourage the reader to think about the people in our lives who they felt safe around and remember how these people made them feel. I experienced relief as I thought back to an older couple who were friends with my mom. I stayed with them for a week when my parents went out of town. Their house was in the country. I chased chickens around their back yard. I sat on the porch drinking lemonade and eating homemade goodies. I went to the store and got a brown paper sack full of candy. It felt safe to be myself.

God talks about us coming to Him as little children, but I have so few memories of times when I felt like I could be a little child. I don’t know how to be a child and this has greatly effected my ability to connect with God. I am realizing that I still spend a lot of life feeling like I am walking through a mine field. There has been so much loss in my life that I wonder if I will ever find the freedom to be myself again.

I confess I struggle with feeling angry and cynical about how my life has been. Am I destined to be forever disconnected from God because I do not even know how to come to Him as a little child? I confess it feels impossible to me and with the religious abuse I experienced no where at all feels safe. The only thing I know to do is to continue to be honest about the struggles that I have with God and with others who are safe. In church it has been very challenging to find these people. Too often I hear judgment in their comments or quick fixes that sound more about control than a relationship with God. I cannot continue to sit through conversations like this. I desperately long to connect with God. I want to believe that He is a Father who wants to bring me only good. But these days I’m struggling with this. Even though our relationship with God is based on faith and not by sight, I see how much relationships play a part in revealing the goodness of God to people. Jesus had relationships with people. He didn’t tell them to just believe and walk away. He risked and really cared even though He knew that they would abandon Him when He needed them the most. When I think about this part of the story and Who God is through Jesus, I realize He doesn’t need me to do anything to meet His needs. I can be the kid who chases chickens in the back yard. I can laugh and drink lemonade on the front porch. I can find the relief of just being myself. This is the Gospel. It really is good news. This is the hope that I hold onto even when I feel like I am walking through a mine field. Truly, it’s a miracle that I even believe in Him at all. But faith is a mystery and a gift that we are not responsible for acquiring on our own. I so need God’s help every moment to give me the strength to keep moving forward, but I also need other people who are willing to hang in there in a relationship with me. People who do not need me to meet their emotional needs and keep them happy. People who love me right where I am struggling with all of my doubts and cynicism. I pray that God would help me to be this kind of person to others, too. In a world where half the people do not feel securely attached in their relationships, I believe that this is what Jesus has called us to be to one another. If all we are doing is telling others what to believe and what to do without investing time in relationships, we are missing the life giving portion of the message. I’m tired of cold and empty religion. I’m tired of just surviving. I pray that God would help us to see how desperately we need love and connection to one another. It’s the only way the world can know that we belong to Him. It’s the only way to give each other real hope.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Spotlight on Spiritual Abuse

The question is will we as the church cooperate?

Once again spiritual, sexual abuse has made the headlines. The Houston Chronicle published an article on Sunday 20 years, 700 victims: Southern Baptist sexual abuse spreads as leaders resist reforms.

I have no doubt that this article just scratches the surface of the sexual abuse that continues to be exposed in churches across America. Every time I read something like this I am reminded of my own story of spiritual abuse and the refusal of the church to address the problem fully. They wanted to call what happened to me sin and just move on protecting the reputation of the church.

The familiar hymn Jesus Paid it All is sung in churches everywhere. Those of us who are Christians go to church feeling the relief of Christ’s promised forgiveness. We will no longer die in our sins. We only need to accept His forgiveness and forgive one another and the tremendous debts on all of our behalves are paid. Sweet relief floods my own heart as I take communion and am reminded that the body and blood of Christ were given for me. I do not take this lightly. I am ever so thankful for what God has saved me from. I am moved to offer this same mercy to others, to not judge harshly and to do unto to others as I would have done unto me. But sadly it is often these beautiful truths that are distorted in spiritual abuse to justify sweeping abuse under the rug.

I was involved in an abusive relationship with a pastor for almost a decade. Sadly, I convinced myself while in this relationship that Christ’s forgiveness meant with repentance the slate would be wiped clean for both of us. However, the reality was I was stuck in abusive relationship that was eating away at my soul.

Thankfully, God was not absent in my story. He continued to speak to my heart about the deception that I was involved in. Finally, it got to the place where I could not sleep at night until I exposed what had been happening.

The church was ill prepared to deal with what I told them. Initially, there was an acknowledgment that an abuse of power had taken place, but then the pastor said he was sorry when he was deposed and things changed. There was a church meeting, I’m sorry letters were read and people in the church just forgave the sin. However, there was also deception that took place in the meeting. My letter was edited to take out the parts that described spiritual abuse and only reflected my sorrow over my sin. The spiritual abuse was swept under the rug. The matter was put to rest, so that the church could move forward.

I really do understand why the church wanted to move forward. I had been wanting to move forward past the reality of spiritual abuse for years. However, the church didn’t see what I was finally able to see after so many years of being trapped, and that was that the roots of spiritual abuse run deep. Much like a cancer, every bit must be dealt with and removed or it will continue to spread. I know because I have spent almost five years in therapy for it.

Please hear me now, I am not limiting God’s forgiveness, nor am I taking away the necessity to forgive, but what I am saying is forgiveness isn’t nearly as easy as we think it is. After all, forgiveness is what put Jesus on the cross.

There’s something about modern American Christianity that can deceptively lead us to thinking that following Christ is like taking a walk through the park on easy street. We forget that Jesus said there would be tribulation and that Paul said when we followed Him we would suffer as He did. Our suffering isn’t just choosing to forgive someone and not dealing with the painful realities that their sin has caused. Sometimes forgiveness can feel like nails being hammered into our hands and feet.

When sexual abuse is exposed in a church often the reputation of the church is at risk. Easy forgiveness of the perpetrators can seem like the best way to move forward. However, recent stories reveal that forgiveness isn’t stopping the abuse. Abusers move onto other churches and continue to abuse. The reputation of the church is protected as victim after victim are sacrificed.

Jesus gave His own life for the church. We can rest assure that He isn’t calling us to cover the sins of abusers in the church. Rather, God is calling us as Christians to be His hands and feet and be proactive in stopping it.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Colossians 3:5‭, ‬7‭-‬10 ESV

Reading these verses this morning, I noticed that God calls us to take an active part in putting to death sexual immorality. Strongs defines to put to death (nekros) as: to view as a corpse, i.e. without life; to regard (but not “make”) as dead, inoperative; to mortify, deprive of life or energizing power; (figuratively) to cut off (sever) everything that energizes (especially sin in Col 3:5).

The words to sever everything that energizes speak volumes about root causes of evil desires. Working at a residential treatment center has taught me that most negative behaviors have a root causes that empower them. Often the work of discovering these root causes is a very painful one. As humans we do everything we can to avoid pain. These verses reveal clearly that putting to death our sins is done through an active painful process on our part. When is death not painful? Only when we have gone to the root causes of what is motivating our behaviors can we actually put it to death.

When the church offers easy forgiveness and chooses to ignore sexual crimes just because someone repented they are continuing to enable a perpetrator to abuse, because he is never forced to look at the damage he has done or do the work that is required to find healing.

Only when we put to death sin, can we actually put on Christ and reveal His love and forgiveness to the world.

I believe God has put a spotlight on spiritual abuse and is providing us an opportunity to truly reveal His righteousness to the world.

The question is will we as the church cooperate?

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Colossians 3:5‭, ‬12‭-‬14 ESV

Real Redemption

In order for something to be redeemed, you have to acknowledge how broken it is. Sharon Hersh

I don’t like to talk about how broken I really am.

I don’t like to think about the damaging effects sexual abuse has had on my life.

I don’t like to acknowledge how dark my thoughts have been.

I’d much rather put on a positive front and pretend I’m much more together than I really am.

I’d much rather you think it’s all in the past and that those things don’t still effect me.

But the truth is, I am still very much broken, hurting and needy.

Sometimes I just manage to convince myself I’m a lot better than what I really am.

But then things come up that remind me of my past and I remember.

I’m hit with the cold, stark reality of how broken I really am.

And it’s really messy.

So messy that I throw my decision to eat healthy once again right out the window and pull through the drive in at Dunkin Donuts. Two chocolate cream filled donuts provide two minutes of sweet pleasure and relief, followed by a stomach ache and thoughts that just return.

Why is it so difficult to face the pain of how desperate and needy I really am?

Why do I run to everything else before I run to Jesus?

Because I like to be in control.

But I’m not really in control.

And that’s what terrifies me the most.

People can and will hurt you.

I can and do hurt myself.

My body longs for redemption and relief.

My soul longs for a world where all the wrongs will be made right, where little boys and girls won’t be abused anymore.

Where our perfect Heavenly Father will meet our every need.

The dark, unimaginable horror stories I’ve heard and seen in my own lifetime in even small glimpses cause me to realize why Jesus had to die.

Sin indeed leads to death.

It is horrible. More horrible than our minds want to imagine.

We desperately need redemption.

This truth is never more clear than when things are falling apart.

When we try to cover up our pain what does the rest of the world see?

Do they see broken people made whole?

Or do they see people who manage so well on their own that they don’t need to be redeemed?

In order for something to be redeemed, you have to acknowledge how broken it is.

Jesus, grant us the courage to acknowledge our pain. To cling to your righteousness for our covering alone. The world is desperate and hurting and needs to see your real redemption at work. May our brokenness be the cracks where your light shines through.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
2 Corinthians 4:7 ESV

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life…
2 Corinthians 5:1‭-‬4 ESV

The Megaphone of Pain

He is a good Father who knows just what we need.

Every time I finish a blog and press publish, I wonder if it was the last one written about a very painful chapter of my life. I wonder if I will finally be able to move on past it. But then something else comes up and I write another one.

Maybe we never stop retelling our stories.

Maybe they have to be retold in order for our hearts to acknowledge just how broken we are.

Maybe facing our brokenness and pain is the only way we can know just how much He loves us.

After writing here for four years, I have come to realize that it is the painful parts of our stories that we work so hard to escape that are actually where true relief and healing lie. It is when I distract myself from my pain, that I actually prolong healing.

Yet, I still distract sometimes.

But thank God He doesn’t allow me to do it for long.

He arranges situations, people, places and things together in such a way that I am unable to avoid what it is He wants me to see.

He is a good Father who knows just what we need.

I had never met the couple who sat at the poolside table with me on a church youth trip a couple of days ago. I can’t even explain how our small talk over pasta turned so personal so quick.

She was a pastor’s daughter with her own broken story to tell. Betrayal. Loss. Deception. Lies. Our stories collided as each of us shared. She did not appear bitter. Rather, it was clear she had worked hard to forgive her father for not being who she thought that he was. She did not judge me either. Instead, she and her husband voiced condolences over what I had experienced and prayed for me.

Lately, I have been exhausted and overwhelmed by so many stories of abuse in the church. With every story I read, I am reminded of my own pain again. Sometimes I just cannot go on reading. Sometimes I just want to put the past behind. To move on into what God has in the next chapter of my life. I had hoped this church youth trip would be an opportunity to take a break and maybe even start fresh.

But pain rose to the surface again. A deep sorrow over how my choices had hurt another pastor’s daughter. The overwhelming emotions caused me to a hug the stranger in front of me and tell her how sorry I was for what she had been through. I felt my heart heal a little more. The pain began to fade away. Other emotions followed. Grace. Love. Mercy. Peace. Redemption. Gratitude.

Why does He love us so much?

Why does He keep pursuing us even when run away?

I don’t know.

But He just does.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. C.S. Lewis

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:1‭-‬5 ESV

Legitimate Needs

The crushing weight of our unmet needs that cause us to break are where the light of His love and truth get through.

I, with my eyes wide open, closed my eyes for years to the secret that I was looking to my children to give me more than either they had it in their power to give or could have given without somehow crippling themselves in the process. I thought that what I was afraid of more than anything else was that something awful would happen to them, but the secret I began to glimpse was that I was really less afraid for the children than I was afraid for myself. What dangerous and unknown new role might I fall into if the role of father were taken from me and suddenly the sky was the limit, if instead of trying to take care of my children’s needs, I started taking care of my own needs, some of which were so powerful and long neglected that I was afraid they might overwhelm me?

“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner.

I confess that I have the same secret as Frederick Buechner.

I am afraid of my own legitimate needs.

I fear if I acknowledge that they are there that they will overwhelm me.

For so long I have taken care of everyone else’s needs, and I have neglected my own.

It seems so sacrificial, so loving, so kind.

On the surface…

But beneath all of this outward care and concern for others is a little kid who has not had her own legitimate needs met.

I have begun to realize this recently especially working at a residential treatment program where kids from all walks of life are hospitalized because of losses and unmet needs that manifest themselves in addiction, anger, or self-harm. For these kids, the wheels have run off. They have been caught in their desperation, and because of this they have the perfect opportunity to see what it is they really need and begin to heal. Some will take this opportunity. Others will not.

Recognizing the legitimate needs in our lives that have not been met can cause one to feel out of control and weak. Sometimes it feels safer to lock these needs away inside and pretend like we are fine. But we are not fine. Unmet needs can become like the dungeon Little Ease (pictured above) that Buechner describes hidden directly below a beautiful chapel (pictured below) in the Tower of London. It was an incredibly small 4 ft. square space where it was impossible to stand or even lie down. Like this dungeon, our unmet needs can feel like they will suffocate and crush us until we get them met. I know because I managed to make it until I was in my thirties carrying around an overwhelming amount of unmet needs. I had no idea that being given up for adoption caused me to desperately long for connection. My mind had also suppressed the sexual abuse I’d suffered at the hands of my adoptive father, and I had no understanding that my need for healthy love was like a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode. And one day it did explode, unleashing years of pent up anger and hurt that manifested itself in an abusive and addictive relationship with my former pastor, who I believed was the one person who could meet my unmet needs. But as addictions do, it only made things worse and I became just like one of the kids at work. The wheels ran off and I was caught. For the past four years, I’ve had the perfect opportunity to see what it is that I really need and get better. Sometimes I take the opportunity. Sometimes I do not. The hardest thing for me to do these days is recognize my legitimate needs, because I am afraid that they will be like a ticking time bomb that will explode again. A large part of my struggle is truly believing that there isn’t something wrong with me. As I look back on my life, I struggle to see the little kid who just needed to be held and loved. Sometimes all I see is a little kid who could never do anything right and who caused bad things to happen all around her.

It would seem to me after all the writing and processing I have done that I would not still struggle so much, but I do. Healing can be a long process. It’s hard being patient with myself. The other night driving home from a Bible study with my daughter, she began to talk about how difficult it was to trust others at this new church because of memories of the losses in her other church. I felt crushed under the weight of the reality that my choices had contributed to her present struggle. I realized how many times I hadn’t been there for her. These were years I could never get back. All because I was pursuing what I thought I had to have. My unmet legitimate needs had caused me to pursue things that brought me much shame.

I feel much compassion for my daughter. There isn’t much I wouldn’t do to bring her relief. To cause her to be able to feel that she is a part. To help her believe in the goodness of people again and recognize God working in their lives. I know that the lack of trust she struggles with comes from legitimate needs for connection she is afraid to have met. I know it also comes from having her own hope shattered by trusting in the wrong people and having her own innocence stolen. Betrayals that have been totally out of her control and that were never her fault. I have no problem at all loving her and reminding her that she is not alone. I can tell her over and over again that it is not her fault. However, showing myself the same compassion seems impossible at times. Frederick Buechner’s words strike a powerful chord in me:

To love our neighbors as we love ourselves means also to love ourselves as we love our neighbors. It means to treat ourselves with as much kindness and understanding as we would the person next door who is in trouble.

“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner.

I confess I have not loved myself well. My default mode is self-contempt, and only the grace of God can save me from it.

But will I let Him?

Or maybe a better question is can I stop Him?

I have to believe that nothing can stop the truth that sets us free.

The crushing weight of our unmet needs that cause us to break are where the light of His love and truth get through.

The truth is there are no more fathers and mothers. There is no opportunity to live my life over and do it right the next time. The betrayals, the losses and the regret will always be a part of my story. It’s ok to be sad about these losses. To offer myself the same compassion I give my daughter. I can also thank God because of Jesus that these things don’t have to be the way our story ends.

He is a Father to the Fatherless.

He is the Resurrection and the Life.

There is no shame in our legitimate needs.

They are what drive us to Him.

Our hearts cry out to be loved and love in return and for all our fear to be gone.

He answers and this is what ultimately saves our souls.

“ALMIGHTY God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:16‭-‬21 NLT

Overcoming the Spirit of Condemnation

When all is said and done the truth will stand.

Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and declared, “It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles.
Acts of the Apostles 13:46 NLT

Do you ever judge yourself as unworthy?

I surely do.

I get focused on the past.

All the mistakes I’ve made.

All the sins I’ve committed.

All the things I wish I was doing better now.

I am so hard on myself.

I wish I could turn off the self-condemning thoughts when they come, but I find it almost impossible to do at times.

Last week in a conversation with my therapist, she encouraged me to take the time to pray for God to take away the spirit of condemnation when it comes. I’ve made more of an effort to do this this week. Yesterday, as I prayed I noticed that it helped.

The problem with condemning thoughts is they sneak up on me. It’s not like I intentionally decide to believe a lie. It just happens, because the feelings are so overwhelming associated with the lies are so big that it feels like it must be true. I believe this is why we need one another to constantly redirect our thinking to what is true. It’s also why we need communion to remind ourselves that Jesus has forgiven all.

A male nurse at work has a freedom that I wish I had. He just says what he thinks all the time, even if he probably should not sometimes. Yesterday, he made the statement that I was the nicest person at work. I thought, what is he crazy? If he really knew me he wouldn’t say such things. Later, he blurted out something about someone else that wasn’t as kind, but nonetheless true. I looked at him like I couldn’t believe he said that. He said, “My Daddy taught me when all is said and done, the truth will always stand.” I thought about what he said for a moment and realized he was right.

But sometimes the truth is hard to find, especially when the lies bombard our minds in a cacophony of screaming accusations.

Sometimes truth is hidden behind a mountain of shame.

I have realized lately that one of the most difficult things for me to do is to ask for help.

I’ve done it on my own for so long, that it feels normal.

As long as I don’t ask for help, I don’t have to worry about someone else hurting me.

I may act kind, together, and ok, but I don’t feel that way at all.

The truth is, I need help, because most of the time I’m my own worst enemy.

A cacophony of voices shouted at Jesus, too.

The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him! He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.
Matthew 27:39‭-‬44 NLT

When we struggle with condemnation, it’s important to remind ourselves that Jesus did, too.

We do not suffer alone.

When all is said and done the truth will stand.

I am His child.

Condemnation will not stop happening until I breathe my last breath.

The Christian life is not easy.

We follow in His steps.

In the world we will have tribulation.

Shame will come.

But in Jesus we have peace.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
Hebrews 12:1‭-‬2‭, ‬11 NLT

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Jesus Wept

Jesus weeps for us.

When Jesus saw her sobbing, and the Jews who had come with her also sobbing, He was deeply moved in spirit [to the point of anger at the sorrow caused by death] and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.
JOHN 11:33‭-‬35 AMP

I heard Brene Brown say in a video clip recently, in order for forgiveness to happen something has to die.

Death brings much sorrow. Whether it be the death of a dream, the expectations we had, a person we loved, or our hope of receiving what we needed from a caregiver in our lives. All death is incredibly painful.

In John Chapter 11, we see Jesus in the middle of the great sorrow that death brings when he arrives at the home of Lazarus and sees Mary weeping. Even though Jesus knows that He is going to bring Lazarus back to life, He does not avoid the sorrow. He embraces it fully, to the point He feels anger over it.

I don’t know about you, but at first glance this story confuses me. Jesus, Who is the Resurrection and the Life, weeps to the point of being angry over death. Maybe I struggle with the this so much, because I work so hard to avoid any kind of pain.

I don’t realize most of the time how many times in a day I am reassuring myself that I am fine when I really am not. I stuff a piece of chocolate in my mouth enjoying the temporary boost I receive from a sugar high. I open up my Facebook app and notice the little red notification that someone liked or shared what I posted. I cram handfuls of popcorn in my mouth and numb out the week’s frustrations with a new series on Netflix or Hulu. I consume ravenously the moments when I feel excitement or pleasure, but resist the ones where I experience boredom or pain. And it’s all because I know deep down, that I really am not ok.

Sooner or later sorrow always catches up with us. Our brains notice reminders of past events and bring them to our attention. As Bessel Van Der Kolk book title communicates our Body Keeps the Score.

Summers are an especially difficult time for me. This pain began when as a young girl I was so excited to get to go meet with my father who was separated from my mother at the time. He promised to take me out to eat and shopping for a new swimsuit. He said I’d get to see a new liter of puppies his neighbors dog had just had. After consuming a large hot dog covered in cheese at a nice restaurant, we wandered across the mall to the pet store. I had to go see Arthur, the mynah bird, who talked to everyone who passed by. I could have spent all day talking to him and dreaming of the day that I could have a bird like him of my own. But it wasn’t long before it was time to go to my father’s trailer that I’d never been to before before. It was easier to leave Arthur because I was going to get to see the puppies! Anticipation filled my heart as we drove that way. My parents had been separated for a period of time. My father was an alcoholic who I thought was trying to stop. I didn’t understand much about addiction at the time, but I knew that when he turned up a glass with that dark brown pungent liquid that really bad things could occur. Once the police even came. Another time, my mom and I snuck out during the night. I was so relieved he’d stopped drinking. I was so excited about a new start. But then on this day that was supposed to be the start of a new beginning for us, my father turned into the package store. Even though he promised he was just going to have one drink and asked me not to tell my mother, I knew when he walked out with the tall paper sack that things were not at all as I thought they were going to be. Deep disappointment and sadness filled my heart. And a weekend that was supposed to be a good time spent with my father, became very, very dark.

As I have mentioned before, I work in a residential treatment program for teenagers who are dealing with all sorts of addiction, trauma and losses. It’s an environment that brings hope and healing to so many, but it’s also an environment filled with much sorrow and pain. The other day I passed a kid who was just finishing up his lunch. My eyes met his for a brief moment and he smiled at me. The look of hope mingled with pain I saw in his eyes changed something inside of me. I was no longer focused on getting through the day and just going home. I got stuck in that two second glance, because I saw in his eyes a clear reflection of my own pain that I try so hard to avoid. He’s a kid like so many others there who’ve made some bad choices, because of tremendous lossese they have suffered in their lives. The program teaches these teenagers how to make better choices despite the fact that sometimes the caregivers in their lives continue to make the wrong ones. As these kids allow themselves to face the pain they have been trying to avoid, they begin to process it and grieve. There are no unhealthy snacks to consume to bring temporary relief. There are no TV and cellphones to distract them from their pain. Only the harsh cold reality of the pain they have worked so hard to avoid. However, once they face this pain hope begins to break through. I saw it in this teenager’s eyes that day, and I felt it in my own heart.

In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die.

Why did Lazarus have to die?

Why did Mary and Martha have to suffer the confusion of loving someone whom they loved so very much?

Why do parents choose addictions over their children?

Why must a child’s hope of a parent who is present and loves them be totally crushed?

Why doesn’t Jesus just avoid the pain of sorrow when He knows that life is coming again?

Others among them said, “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.” Then Jesus, the anger again welling up within him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” The sister of the dead man, Martha, said, “Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days!” Jesus looked her in the eye. “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
John 11:37‭-‬40 MSG

After tremendous suffering and pain, Jesus breathed His last breath as a human being. Death had finally come.

It is finished, He said.

That day in the car as I watched my father walk out with a bag of whiskey in his hand, all hope seemed lost of ever having a father who would love me.

He (Jesus) was deeply moved in spirit [to the point of anger at the sorrow caused by death] and was troubled.

Jesus wept.

My eyes met his for a brief moment and he smiled at me. The look of hope mingled with pain I saw in his eyes changed something inside of me. I was no longer focused on getting through the day and just going home. I got stuck in that two second glance, because I saw in his eyes a clear reflection of my own pain that I try so hard to avoid.

Jesus weeps for us.

In our suffering we experience connection with Him.

We find forgiveness.

By His wounds we are healed.

I don’t know why it has to happen the way that it does.

But I know that on the other side of death, life will come.

Sing to the Lord , all you godly ones! Praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Psalms 30:4‭-‬5 NLT

Healing Connections

His statement shook me to the core.  I realized it hasn’t been the memories of abuse that have been the most difficult thing to overcome; it’s been dealing with them alone.

I’ve been on a writing streak lately. I keep thinking when I write one of these posts, it’s gonna be the last one for a while. But stuff just keeps coming to my mind and I need to get it out somehow, so here it is. Thanks for bearing with me, readers. This one is going to be a little rough.

Today, a familiar song was played at church. It was a song that my former abusive pastor used to sing sometimes in the sanctuary alone on a weekday about God’s love. A vivid memory flashed into my mind’s eye of him singing with tears in his eyes. I tried not to think about it. Tried to think of the words of the song and separate it from the memory of him, but I couldn’t. So I did the only thing I knew to do, I prayed that wherever he was that God would heal his heart even though the thoughts of him intruding my mind made me angry. How dare he invade my space again! Why can’t I just heal and move forward leaving the past in the past?

Memories of him also invaded my mind last night. At an after wedding party, a pastor in the family gently rubbed his hand up and down my back as he was leaving. It wasn’t inappropriate, but I was very aware it was happening. I don’t know why it bothered me so much. Maybe it’s because he speaks the same language my former pastor did about grace and forgiveness and excusing pastors when they fall because they are imperfect. I tossed and tumbled when I got home in bed. My head ached from the glass of champagne I’d had. I got up to take ibuprofen. I drank a glass of milk and took a Melatonin and got back in bed. I tried to take deep breathes and focus on God, but the memory of this pastor’s hand on my back and our conversation shook me to the core. Why didn’t I speak up more for abused women while I was talking to him?! Why did I agree and say that if God could use a jackass he could use imperfect men? Why can’t I just speak instead of smile and nod and politely keep the peace? Why did I feel like others might be watching me talking alone to him and think the worst about me? My heart cried out to God, Will I carry this shame for the rest of my life?!

I felt a deep desire for my Heavenly Father to just come and let me crawl up in His arms and cry. I was so exhausted from the memories and the questions swirling in my head. Amazingly after a few moments, I sensed His presence there. I was finally able to go to sleep.

I’m overwhelmed with emotions in this season of my life. I question and I doubt and I struggle with shame. But then I feel more alive than I have felt in a long time. Yesterday morning, I woke up hopeful and ecstatic that God was healing my heart. I actually felt it. Driving down the interstate home from work the day before I shouted out loud because I felt so alive. Woo! What in the world is happening to me? Am I losing my mind?

My therapist explained to me last week that what I am experiencing is part of the healing process. She said that joy will come in spurts. I was relieved to know that at least it was normal, because it feels a little like I’m going off the deep end!

I usually spend a lot more time fine tuning my blog posts to make them flow better, but not this one it’s raw like my feelings are and kinda of crazy and all over the place. Somehow by writing it all down, I am trying to make sense of it all.

What is bringing about this change?

Why is God more real than He has been before?

Yesterday, I read the blog post Today’s Problem with Masculinity isn’t What You Think. It’s one of the best articles I’ve ever read, because it’s so insightful of not only the problem with masculinity, but the problem with so many of us; loneliness.

The author describes his experience serving in Iraq. He talks about the men serving alongside him giving him the strength to make it. He explained that often people think of those in the military as being a lot tougher than we think, but he went on to explain how serving together was really how they survived. He says:

Of the men I served with I can tell you about their life stories, fears, victories, relationships, and struggles. We’ve cried, hugged, laughed, and shared some of our deepest secrets with one another.

While post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) gets lobbed around like a grenade in a china store as an explanation for why soldiers are killing themselves at an endemic rate, I believe the answer is much simpler. We’re lonely and lack the emotional intimacy we once had with our brothers in arms.

His statement shook me to the core. I realized it hasn’t been the memories of abuse that have been the most difficult thing to overcome; it’s been dealing with them alone.

Today, I wondered as the memory flashed in my mind of a man who caused me so much pain singing about God’s love how lonely he must have been been. I’m not excusing his behavior. I’m not saying it should have been covered up. I’m certainly not saying he should ever be given the opportunity to abuse again. But what I am saying, is I believe loneliness and lack of connection can drive us to do terrible things. I know because I did terrible things. Standing in church, feeling like people actually care has given me a taste of something that has helped my own heart to realize that Jesus is indeed alive. This taste of life has also helped me to see how lonely I have really been. It’s overwhelming, but it’s also very, very good.

I think in our efforts to miminize abuse in the church, not only are we harming victims but victimizers as well. Grace is a free gift, but it’s not a cheap gift that merely covers our sins in denial or makes statements that excuse sin easily. Sin is costly, destroys, and leads to death. How can we ever take something so deadly lightly? I never ever want to live that life again. How can we think that the very grace that sets us free would allow us to stay in sin that holds us captive by minimizing it? It was this lie that kept me imprisoned. Grace indeed sets us free. It indeed covers all sin. But it never enables us to sin. That’s a huge lie. If we want to deal with abuse we must bring it into the light, and look at it and all the damage it’s done. As we see the damage, as we grieve the losses, then can we go to the root causes of why it happened and allow God to heal it. As God has done this work in my life, I’m realizing loneliness and lack of connection were the driving forces behind so many of my choices. And it’s possible it was the driving force behind my former pastor’s abuse. It’s not for me to judge his heart. It’s not for me to wonder about or try to fix, but I can pray that God would give him what he needs.

I don’t know what the future holds for our family. I’m hopeful that we have finally found somewhere we belong. But even if it’s not where we think it is, this journey is causing me to realize the importance of doing my part in caring about others around me and being kind because we all are all fighting difficult battles. And we fight them much better together than alone.

Jesus, help us to love one another.

What Love Really Means

Jesus, Make us One

Only when our hearts are able to connect again, do we begin to feel it heal.

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
John 17:20‭-‬21 NLT

In a world that is divided over just about everything, true connection stands out. But scrolling through my social media most days, I am disappointed and disheartened. It seems that we are more likely to unite over the things that we are against than the things that we are for. Even in the church, there is division over just about everything.

Where is the oneness Jesus prayed that we would have?

Where are the people who belong to God and each other?

From my earliest memory, I have always felt a sense of disconnection and a desire to belong. I have not felt comfortable in my own skin. I have especially not felt comfortable around other people. In the residential treatment center where I work, I have learned that these feelings are an outward symptom that are signaling me to pay attention to a deeper issue, a core issue of loss that resulted from being given up for adoption by my biological mother. The mother who carried me around in her womb for nine months, the person whose heart beat soothed me, delivered me out of the comfort of her womb and into a strange place where I’d never hear her heartbeat again. And then after spending a few moments in her arms, a nurse took me away from her to be raised by a stranger. What goes through a child’s mind when a loss like this occurs? Somewhere deep inside I developed a belief that there must have been something wrong with me for my own mother not to want me. To soothe this deep wound of rejection, I have searched desperately for somewhere to belong; someone or something to fill loss inside.

At this same treatment center where I work, I see the same desire in the eyes of kids who have been abandoned by their parents. They have no place to call home. Some of them are so kind it will cause your heart to melt. They are eager to please, because they think if they just do everything right somehow they will be loved. Some of them fight tooth and nail to keep people from getting close. They’ve experienced loss and they have decided it’s best to keep others out.

God created humanity with a deep need for connection and belonging. Our hearts cannot feel whole until they have experienced the love of another. Left alone our hearts become cold, hard and lifeless. When we suffer betrayal and losses of those in our lives we believe that we belonged to, there is a bloody and painful separation that we must grieve. Only when our hearts are able to connect again, do we begin to feel it heal. I believe Jesus prayed for His disciples to belong to one another, because not only do we need these connections for survival, but also when we belong to one another we send out a strong message to the world that Jesus is alive and there is real hope, belonging and connection in Him. We also invite others in to be a part.

If you have read any of my blogs, you know that I am a survivor of sexual abuse from my former pastor. My need for belonging caused me to give away my heart to someone who was not capable of loving me and give me what I really needed. All he could do was take what he thought he needed for himself. All I could do was the same. What I believed was love caused me to do things I promised I never would. I lost myself completely and forgot who God told me I was. For the past four years, I’ve been healing from this abuse. I’ve spent much time writing about what happened in an effort to understand how everything went so wrong.

I became a Christian in my 20’s. I experienced God in a powerful way right after my adopted father died. Suppressed memories of sexual abuse from this same man caused me to have so much anxiety I could barely sit still. My insides felt like they would shake apart until I talked to the doctor I worked for about it. He was a man who loved God and who cared about me in the right way. He prescribed medication for the anxiety and also shared with me about his own struggles. He encouraged me to read a few chapters in the book of Romans. That day after I went home and started to read, I met my Father who loved me, assured me that He always had. I felt like I belonged for the first time in my life. I could not get enough of God in the months that followed. I felt alive for the first time ever.

But then life began to happen. My husband’s family that I believed was stable began to fall apart. Secrets came to light and masks began to fall off. I began to question everything, even my faith in God. The church we were apart of was in the middle of the mess. The young adult Sunday school class we had started even began to fall apart. I discovered much of my life had been built on the sinking sand of false hope in people who were not who I thought they were. We left the church seeking refuge, but what we found in another church was even worse.

One might wonder why in the world I have not given up on the church after all I have seen happen? Many who have experienced abuse in the church have turned tail and run away in an effort to to keep themselves safe. No one can blame them either. Safety is another core human need. God calls us to protect ourselves and one another.

I suppose my need for belonging outweighs my need for safety. Maybe it’s irrational, but it’s true nonetheless. God placed in my heart a desire to pray for the church to experience oneness early on in my Christian walk. I don’t understand it, but I love the church deeply. I want to see her thrive and grow and reveal the love of Jesus. But I have seen it fail at this more than succeed. I don’t know why I haven’t given up.

Maybe it’s because in the most desperate moments of my life I’ve experienced this belonging through the love of others who have held onto the same hope. On the darkest of days, we’ve held hands and prayed and wept together. We’ve reminded one another that we are not alone. In a world that is divided over just about everything, true connection stands out.

I have not given up on the church. Jesus hasn’t either. Now more than ever the world needs to see our love for one another. In a divided world where the love of so many has grown cold, even in the church, true connection and love stands out.

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.
Isaiah 9:2 NLT

Recently, I watched this talk given by Lisa Bevere on men and women serving together in the church. I was greatly encouraged by what she had to say. I believe the church desperately needs to listen, especially with so much sexual abuse being exposed in the church. I believe if we as a church want to truly reveal the love of Jesus to the world, we will stop running from abuse and trying to deny it is happening. We will work together as men and women to find solutions of how to protect one another. We will stop adding more rules that keep men and women more disconnected and stop assuming that all men are after sex and all women are after men to seduce them and steal their positions. I’m so very tired of the blaming. I’m so longing for restoration, unity, and peace.

Jesus, make us one.

I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began! “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”
John 17:22‭-‬26 NLT

Joy

Demons love to be analyzed…

Someone coined the phrase a long time ago, Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.

For the past four years, I have learned to accept that most of my days will be spent getting by, sometimes wondering if I will make it and other days thinking I might not; every day asking God to help me get through to the other side of this grief.

I did not realize until recently how very accustomed I have become to just the struggle of getting through. It has become the devil that I know. It has become in many ways what is comfortable to me.

But recently I started to experience something that has been almost foreign to me. Something that is almost impossible to experience when one’s heart has been numbed by grief. Joy.

Much more than happiness. It does not flee as fast. It takes root in one’s heart and begins to grow ever so slowly as one begins to hope.

Yesterday, after a conversation with my daughter I realized she felt it, too. And she was scared to death of losing it. Scared to death that it would slip through her fingers like so many things have.

How can one wait patiently for joy to grow? My heart cries out, Please God do not let me be disappointed again! I’d rather stay here with the devil I know than have to deal with one that I don’t. I’d rather be numb than to experience life only to have it squashed out again by death.

The doubts begin to bombard me as soon as joy breaks through.

What if it’s all a lie?

What if you are being deceived again?

A fellow blogger shared a quote yesterday. Her blog is called The Holy Absurd. I highly recommend it for anyone who’s struggling and needs to find hope and know they are not alone. The quote was from Henri Nouwen’s book Love, Henri. He said, We’ll never overcome the demons by analyzing them, but only by forgetting them in an all-consuming love for God. Demons love to be analyzed because it keeps our attention directed to them.

Demons love to be analyzed…

I analyze what I know and what I don’t know. I have indeed been wrong before. Once I believed I found joy, but it was a mirage in the desert. It only appeared to be the real thing to my dry and thirsty soul. But the pursuit of it almost killed me. The devil will not let me forget. Ambivalence sets in as doubts arise begging to be analyzed.

God, please help me!

Stop fighting.

Stop analyzing.

Be still.

Trust.

He promises living water.

Faith is the evidence of things unseen.

The devil I don’t know isn’t a devil at all.

It’s merely hope unseen.

Joy growing just beneath the surface of a heart that’s felt dead for too long.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

CS Lewis, The Four Loves

Joy comes when desire breaks through the hardened surface of a grieving heart. To care again is a huge risk. It’s more terrifying than anything I know. My daughter’s tears caused me to see this. To love is to at all is to risk losing it all again. It is not safe. But to not love is worse than death.

God, help us to not be afraid to love again.

I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.
John 15:11‭-‬15 MSG

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