A Little Context For Me

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Cross, Flat Earth, and Other Foolishness

Disclaimer: I am not a supporter nor do I promote this view. I am merely offering it to you as a thought experiment.

So how many of you have heard the news? Apparently, the government, NASA, even the airlines, have been lying to us about the shape of the planet we live on. According to some,the earth is really not spherical but flat. That’s right, flat.

If you are like me, you probably thought that this argument was over and done with – oh, few hundred or more years ago, but surprise! The debate rages on and the people who promote this idea have been compiling a rather interesting array of proof. So what does this have to do with any of the other topics that I usually write about? Well, I am glad you asked.

I want you to stop for a moment and think about what your reaction was to hearing such news.
Really, dig in and feel it because in all probability it was so quick you did not even register it on a cognitive level. If you did entertain a conscious thought, it was most likely something along the lines of, “What kind of idiot would believe something like that?” I know that was my first thought when I read the headlines, the first twenty times.

However, this morning I stopped and thought about my reaction. Why did I dismiss these people? And why did I do it on such a level that I would not even pause to examine their arguments? That’s not me. I tend to be the type of person who will at least weigh the evidence before I toss a new idea out to the curb. And even then, if I can’t find a solid reason for wholesale dismissal, I will let it sit for a while without passing judgement, waiting to see if I stumble across some new bit of evidence that will confirm or dismantle the idea.

The longer I thought about my reaction, the more it bothered me. Not only had I dismissed the idea as ludicrous, I had determined that the ones defending it were fools and all without a second thought. I realized that everything they were espousing ran so counter to what I have been educated to believe that I didn’t even think it deserved my attention. Their idea upsets my paradigm, the reality that I am content to inhabit, and have never felt a reason to question. Why bother with an idea that so obviously has no foundation in truth, fact, or verifiable scientific data?

And then I realized that I was dealing with two sets of conditions that have been ingrained within my psyche:

1. The earth is spherical.
2. Anyone who dares to question that is a fool.

As a Christian, this is the type of reaction that I am used to receiving, not dishing out. But let’s get real honest, shall we? The ideas and truths of our faith are just as strange as a flat earth to someone on the outside. Every major component of our faith obviously has no foundation in truth, fact, or verifiable scientific data, and anyone who dares to question that is a fool.

And yet, we go around squawking about those who dare to question the validity of the message we are sharing. We get all offended and upset because they just will not concede that we are right. More than a few of us get downright ugly to those who point out how crazy we sound, and we have gotten pretty adept at playing the martyr because our delicate little feelings got bruised when someone was bold enough to tell us that we are being foolish for believing such things.

But, boys and girls, we have got to cut it out. We need to recognize the import of what we are asking others to believe, to accept as truth. We need to think about what it must sound like to their ears and how offensive it must be to their minds as we try to tell them something runs completely counter to everything they have known. To require that anyone would simply accept what we have to say without questioning or challenging our words is an insult to their intelligence, and we need to be fully aware of that fact. We sound just as crazy to them as a flat earth sounds to us, and believe or not, this was an intentional design on the part of God. He wanted it this way, and we need to quit acting as if his design is flawed.

If we think that arguing and logic are the means to demonstrating God’s love to the world then we have missed the point and we are operating in arrogance. It is our pride that tells us the reasons for accepting Jesus as Lord are found in our intellect, because they aren’t. Are there things we can prove about our faith? Absolutely. Should we find delight in the ways the Bible has been demonstrated as trustworthy and accurate in matters of faith and even science? Yes! But what bearing does the Bible have on the lives of those who do not acknowledge as the ultimate authority over their lives? None!

This not a command to turn off your brain. God never required that, only abusive leaders claiming to be Christians demand such an act from their followers, but truths of the Bible only real after our hearts have been transformed and our minds renewed by entering into a relationship with our Creator. Would it be an act of faith otherwise? I don’t think so.

God protected is truth by implementing a brilliant strategy wherein only those who truly desired to know him can embrace the foolishness of our faith to see the truth. He created a system through which only devoted could withstand the challenges to our faith before those who offer more rational options to total dependence on him. And he did so that we might not get caught up in our own vanity over our wisdom and intelligence, because ultimately, it’s not about you or your comfort, your prestige, or even your reputation. And if those are the only things that keep you clinging to this faith, your faith is going to be dismantled, because wounded pride does not communicate or demonstrate love.

Today, I let myself be an outsider, not to my faith but to the ideas of bizarre little community of people who have decided that everything I know is wrong, and in doing I was able to get a glimpse of what it must be like for those who hear the message of our faith. The view was sobering, but good as I was reminded of the words Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Our faith was never meant to be easy to rationalize or defend, it was meant to be lived for only then does it is the wisdom of God’s plan revealed.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Monday, August 17, 2015

Fishing For Hope

My hubs with a bluecat we caught jug fishing.

It is always the stuff I never thought that I would do that teaches me the most. In fact, if I were to be real honest, I would have to admit that it is the stuff I swore I would never do that teaches me the most, and it seems that my life is one episode of doing the things I swore I would never do after another. I blame my husband and God’s quirky sense of humor.

One of those things I swore I would never do was fishing. I simply did not see the appeal in sitting next to the water all day holding a stick, but that changed soon after my hubs talked me into buying boat. Out of sheer boredom, I picked up one of those sticks and caught my first fish. I was hooked.

Since that day, Ty has been teaching me new and creative ways of fishing, and it has become one of our favorite ways to spend time together. This summer the new way has been jug fishing.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this method of fishing, allow me to explain – it is like an Easter egg hunt for adults. How can that not be fun?

Basically, you take any floating object, usually empty jugs but Ty and I use sections of pool noodles, attach a line, a few hooks, some bait, and drop them in the middle of the lake. Then you go do something else for a few hours, like go to bed overnight. When you return that’s when the fun begins.

Yesterday, we woke bright and early and gathered our gear ready to go out find our noodles. (Okay, Ty woke bright and early and coerced me from bed with promises of monster fish that we had surely caught overnight.) The thing is when you leave floating objects in the middle of large bodies of water, they do not tend to stay put, and when we returned to where we had left them the night before we not a single one was in sight. They had followed the dictates of the wind and waves to some unknown new location, and it was now our task to find them.

We quickly found eight of the twelve we had set out the night before, and to the beginner this sounds like a good thing, but I have learned that it typically isn’t. Oh sure, we found them, but we found them where the environment pushed them. What we really wanted were the ones that were in the strange places, the places that wind wouldn’t take them, and places far from where we had left them. Why? Because only big fish have the stamina to pull those noodles against the forces of nature to where they wanted to go.

No longer was our search limited to the following the wind, we had to start searching the expanse of the bay where we had left them. We began zigzagging across the waters. We found two with tangled lines and knots on the other side of the waters, indicating that a fish had been on the hook and managed to free itself. One was bobbing wildly as it ran from the sound of the boat motor and as I got the fish to the surface, he broke free but not before I saw that was largest one we had hooked to date.

Having searched the far perimeter of the waters, we turned back towards the starting pointing hoping that we had not lost the fourth and final noodle, but it didn’t look promising.

Ty conceded that we had probably lost one, even as we continued to retrace our course, when he suddenly shouted, “I think I see it.” I looked but saw nothing. We were heading deep into a cove far away from where from where we had found any of the other noodles and in the opposite direction from where the wind should have taken it. I was not going to bother getting too excited, in the glare, I figured he was probably just seeing things.

“It just went under the water.” He yelled over the wide open boat motor as he raced to the spot he had seen it. Now, he had my full attention.

I watched the spot he indicated waiting for sign when it popped above the waves and danced on the waves. It was a beautiful sight! Even before I could feel the tug on the line, I knew that this was going to be a great fish. I was not disappointed.

The thing about fishing is there is lot of time to think, and while we were scanning the waters looking for that last noodle, I was doing a lot of it. It seems to me that jug fishing is a pretty good example of what a life faith can look like. Most of us are just pushed around by the environment, no purpose or direction for where we end up, just reacting to the forces of nature we call life. We are easy to find, all clumped up together, empty hooks, nothing to add, and no joy for those who discover us.

Then there are the ones who aren’t where you would expect to find us. The ones who are in strange places, far from where we started, and you might even lose sight of us – think we are lost as we sink beneath the waves for a while. We are the unpredictable, the ones who refuse to simply follow the crowd, and the troublemakers. We can cause you some moments of panic, you might even lament us as lost, and want to give up on ever finding us again because the search has taken too long.

And then I had another thought, in almost every culture fish represent one thing – hope. You see we didn’t wander away from the expected norms because we wanted to upset anyone. We left because something got ahold of us, and it became stronger than the forces of this life. It began to pull us, instead of pushing us, and it began to lead us into places where few dare to go, and it was nothing less than that irresistible force of hope. Hope with enough stamina to fight the wind and waves of life and compel us to take risks, to be okay with sinking beneath the waves for a season, and causes us to dance upon them when we reemerge.

I will not lie. There was a moment of sadness when I thought of all those who have been pushed about by the wind, for how many times are those in search of hope going approach the crowds of believers looking for hope only to find bare hooks? But there is joy too, because I know there are many of you who are out there fighting the winds and waves to be in that place where hope has led you, those of you who are willing to appear lost to the crowds so all so that others can find the hope that you have known.

So to all of you troublemakers, misfits, and rebels of faith, I want you know I see you dancing on the waves and you are a beautiful sight!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What A Way To Start The Day! or "You are blind and have no idea of what you speak of, child of Satan."

Well, you can never say that my life is boring. This morning I was minding my own business, or at least as much as one can while on Facebook, when I get a comment on a previous post. I clicked over and was greeted by these cheerful and heartwarming words, “You are blind and have no idea of what you speak of, child of Satan.”

Immediately, strains of Roger and Hammerstein’s “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” began playing the background of my mind. I know that seems like an odd response, but long ago amusement became my default setting for dealing with situations like this one. As my Mimi used to say, “You can laugh or you can cry.”

Laughing is always the superior choice. If you had been through as many instances of name calling as I have, you would know that to choose otherwise would be to cry all the time. As one of my more fabulous friends said, “I am pretty sure that ‘child of Satan’ was the last slanderous name you needed for blackout bingo!”

Over the years, I have been told that I “reeked of the witchcraft (I) practice”, have the spirit of Jezebel upon me, “am a predator in house cat clothing trying to seduce men away from their ministerial callings”, and so much more. When I released a preview for Scandalous, my very first review said something along the lines that “no true Christian” would read such filth. I have been told that I am damned to hell, leading women into sin, and once I even had a woman show up on my door step to tell me that I was demon possessed – so I invited her in for coffee and cookies. What else are you supposed to do?

I am not sharing all this so that anyone can feel sorry for me. That is the last thing that I want.

I am sharing this for three reasons:

1. Full disclosure. If you follow my blog, Facebook, or Twitter accounts, you should know that I am not the most popular person out there. Many people take issue what I say and what I believe, and there are some think I am nothing short of evil. I know this and you should too.

I want you to think about what I put out there, and I want you to really examine it to see if it is true. You may find out that you completely disagree with me, and that is fine. Feel free to question and to form your own opinion. All I am offering is a chance to consider things from a different perspective than you may have encountered before, and if you learn something new from me – yay! But even if you don’t and you take the time to work through what you believe in light of any new revelations I may have to offer, then you will have learned more about yourself and your faith. And I think that is good thing, even if we can’t agree.

Because here is the thing, we don’t have to agree to love each other and to play nice with one another. We just have to give each other a little respect and kindness, and I don’t think that is too much to ask from my brothers and sisters. I know that it is not too much for me to give.

2. When you take a stand for anything in the public arena, you are going to get hit. I do not care how nice you try to be about it or how respectful you are in presenting your opinion, someone is going to say nasty things about you. I know that many of my friends are also writers who deal with sensitive topics and many of you are just starting to wade into the internet fray, so allow me to offer this word of advice –

Laugh! Take it all as a sign that you have hit a nerve, that you made someone so uncomfortable that they had to either lash out or deal with their garbage. Real thinking, caring people do not call strangers names, they ask questions and they offer counter points, but the name calling is reserved for the individual who has nothing to offer to the conversation other than their sense of outrage. Secure people do not feel threatened by a differing opinion and they do not attack random strangers on the internet, they just scroll right by if they find something they disagree with or offer their opinion on the topic – not attack the character of the person who stated something contrary to their beliefs.

Also (this is the part I tend to forget), don’t argue. Engage in meaningful conversations, conversations with people who disagree with you and challenge you, but don’t argue and don’t get ugly. If you are a Christian on the internet, then try to remember that we are representing a loving and gracious God who is big enough to defend himself. Calling someone else names or attacking another, particularly a non-believer, is misrepresenting our God and King.

3. Finally, I am sharing because I want the world to know that I have the most amazing friends ever! Immediately after the “child of Satan” remark was posted my messenger started going off like a machine gun, and the phone started ringing. A couple of friends jumped in and explained to the individual how he could block me, so as not to be bothered by my posts any longer. (And I know one in particular who showed the utmost constraint and grace, because you don’t mess with her friends – ever!)

The whole event left me feeling encouraged and loved as those of you who know me and know my heart rushed to my side. In a world full of hate-filled people, it was a beautiful demonstration of how my life is filled with people who honor me with their respect and love. People who don’t always agree with me, and people who sometimes take issue with what I say, but who know how to distinguish between an opinion they don’t like and the person they love. I am blessed beyond measure in that department, and today was good reminder to be thankful for each and every one of you.

I am pretty certain that this will not be the last time that I get called such things, (time to start a new bingo card?) but that I am okay with that. I knew going in that this was not going to be an easy road. In fact, it is pretty much the only thing that the Bible guarantees those of us who follow our Lord, and I can take the hits. A part of me will even enjoy them, because they tell me that I am on the right path, headed in the right direction, and surrounded by the right people.

As for Mr. “Child of Satan”, my hope and prayer for you is that God will speak to your heart and open your eyes to the import of what you did today, but most of all, I want to say thank you for the confirmation and the gift of getting to experience the love of those whose opinions matter in my life.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Most Awful Verse In The Bible

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28

Okay, can we just real here for a second?

This verse is awful, and I mean it. Now don’t go acting all spiritual and holy on me now, because you know it is true and I can prove it. Just think back to the time when your life was falling apart, when a loved one was dying, you had lost your job, you were in the middle of divorce, facing financial ruin, or life in general was just kicking you around. Some idiot walked up to you and quoted this verse, and while your brain said, “Oh, yes this is right,” your heart was saying, “Fat lot of good that does me right now.”

They acted like they were curing cancer by slapping on a bandaid, and you were supposed to be grateful when deep down you knew you were still dying. And to make matters worse, they were busy patting themselves on the back being spiritual enough to quote the appropriate verse and you were supposed to join in the party for this little spiritual trick.

Ok, so I guess my problem is less with the verse and more with those of us who act like it is the magic cure for what ails you. It is what we pull out when there is nothing else to say, and we are feeling pretty helpless. We use it like a spell or magic charm against our pain, our discomfort in face of another’s suffering. We have learned that if we say the right words we get bypass all that icky emotion. We can justify our reluctance to get involved in a situation that might cost us something or make something that we don’t want to feel. It is easier to act like a Christian when you aren’t bogged down by all the baggage of human suffering, but is that what being a Christian is all about? Avoiding the pain of another so that we can live an unaffected life?

I don’t believe that is.

When I look back that life Jesus I keep tripping over this phrase, “and he was moved by compassion.” It comes up twelve times in the New Testament and is used solely for describing Jesus response to those in need and in his parable of the Prodigal Son. (Now, stand back, I’m going to break out the Greek.) The word in the Greek text is splagchnizomai, and it is one of those times when we are confronted by the limitations of the English language because compassion is so pale compared to the depth of this word. Splagchnizomai is the gut level, stomach turning, heart ripping yearning for an end to another’s pain because you feel it in the core of who you are.

Splagchnizomai doesn’t leave room for platitudes or clichés. It demands action even if all you can do in the moment is weep with another in their suffering, but there is also something amazing and beautiful about this word. Something awe inspiring and powerful to be found in its usage that should shake us from any desire to live an unaffected life – it is the word of miracles.

Five of the twelve times we find splagchnizomai, it is used as the description of Jesus’ emotions before he heals, before he feeds the masses, and before he stops the power of evil dead in its tracks. Notice Jesus is not removed from the situation, he not above it, or beyond the pain, he steps into the reality of those who are hurting and it is in the moment of unity with humanity that divine love is manifest. He moves from observer to participant, from knowing to experiencing, and in doing so draws the hurting into the experience of the divine.

I am often asked why we don’t see more miracles today, and I think this is the reason. We stopped feeling, we stopped allowing the pain of another to rip at our guts, and we started handing out hallmark greeting cards instead of stepping into the midst of another’s heartache. We hide behind our definition of holiness instead of being conformed to the image of holiness found in our Lord. We tried to make this faith less costly and did so by perverting the Scripture into a message far more comfortable and gentle to our delicate sensibilities.

After all, how often have you heard the rest of that passage in Romans 8, other than in a debate about predestination?

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not to know what to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is in the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be called the first born among many brothers. And for those he predestined he also called, and those he whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

See, the passage isn’t about someone else. It is about you. It is about me. It is about the Spirit groaning on our behalf for our weakness, and I believe one of our greatest weaknesses is the fear of feeling someone else’s suffering as if it were our own.  I believe that if we love God we will walk desire to rise above that fear and in that moment we get to experience and share in the goodness of God. And I believe that we are fulfilling our purpose when we respond, when we allow the pain of another to turn our guts with the power of love. When we trust God enough to go there, to allow ourselves to be conformed to the image of his Son in this way, we are becoming who are supposed to be, and maybe we are opening the door to the miraculous in the life of another.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Shunning Social Media - Why it might not be as holy as you thought

One of the biggest temptations I have to fight is the urge to slink away into my dusty old books and hide among their comforting pages. My life would be simpler if I resign myself to digging through ancient texts, unraveling the Greek and Hebrew of obscure Biblical passages, and drowning in historical documents that you have never heard of – even as I write that the idea pulls at me with an almost irresistible force. No more Facebook squabbles, no more Twitter drama, and no more messages from people I do not know asking me about what the Bible says about their sex lives – but above all, no more finding out just how idiotic my friends can be and my love for them could stay unblemished and unchallenged.

And while it is a grand thought, it is a thought that I cannot surrender to.

Believe it or not, I do have a life off-line, and part of that life is talking to people who are or who will soon be entering into the ministry, and I have found that these friends can be divided into two groups:

1. Those who shun social media.
2. Those who use social media.

And the second group can further be divided into two sub-groups:

1. Those who use social media as a mirror.
2. Those who use social media as a tool.

My friends who shun social media all give me the same reasons: they want to be more focused on the people who are physically present in their lives, they don’t like the drama of it, there is so much garbage out there, it is a waste of their time, it is a distraction from the things that matter, and there is no need to add to the noise. I will admit that these all sound like valid, even holy, reason to stay out of the fray. After all, life is hard enough without inviting a few hundred bickering people into your life, but are they really good reasons not to be involved in what has become an almost universal experience for our culture?

I don’t think so. As social media becomes the most prevalent medium through which ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and even experiences are shared, I believe that if we are to be in touch with our community we need to be going to where the people are and that is social media. For me, social media is the bushes and hedgerows of our day. It can feel as if it is a big impenetrable mass of conflicting and thorny opinions run amuck, but that is where I believe we are called to be. That voice crying in the wilderness, if you will, because let’s be honest, it can get pretty wild.

Another thing about all those reasons, is that if we look closely at them they are focus on one thing – personal comfort. The only possible exception being the first one. However, even that one, to my mind, is suspect, because one of the major problems often discussed among those in ministry is “how do we reach more people.” The answer is pretty obvious, you go to where the people are, and the majority of folk aren’t hanging out in the pastor’s office.  The great, and often ignored, thing about social media is that when someone shows up and you have that chance for a face-to-face encounter, then you have the power to step away. It is a matter of personal discipline, not computer or phone’s fault if you fail to do so.

However, simply being on social media is not enough. Too many good Christians fail to utilize it in an effective way, and I am not just talking about getting your message out, I am talking about using it as a tool to learn about the world we inhabit. Unfortunately, most people fail to do this. Instead, most people use social media as mirror to affirm that the world is filled with people who are just like them or people who hate people just like them.

The thing is social media is what you make and if you want to be self-affirming, personally validating experience, it can be. It is all up to you. For instance, Facebook operates on algorithms that dictate what appears in your newsfeed. If you are only reading conservative Christian news, then eventually that will be all you see. If you only follow pages that share ideas that affirm your own, then you will never be confronted by those who hold idea counter to yours, and consequently will continue to be isolated from events and ideas that are impacting your church and community.

This is why I follow a number of pages whose agenda and bias I disagree with and sometimes even find offensive. My newsfeed run the gamut from reactionary Christian sites that almost make ashamed to be affiliated with the title Christian to ultra-leftist sites that bash my faith with glee. Facebook is so confused by me that in one day suggested posts ranged from where to buy a burqa to pole dancing classes to an article on Atonement Theology, and that is the way I like it. But even more importantly, this is what I have designed it to be through intentional engagement with a world beyond my ideas and beliefs.

For me, social media is a tool, not just a mirror. I use it to know what is going on in the lives of people I love. I am able to be a part, even if it is just virtual presence, in the lives, births, illness, deaths, loves found and lost of those who would never pick up the phone to call.  I get to connect with friends who live down the road, but are too busy to tell me that their kid is excelling at karate, and I get to engage in meaningful conversations with friends from around the globe who share my faith or challenge it. Consequently, I have the opportunity to grow as a person and believer as I share my faith, explore ideas, and hopefully help others do the same.

Not everyone will use social media to the extent that I do, and I am not advocating that you do. I was intentional in building a network that would allow me to reach past my little corner of the world and move into global arena for a reason, but not everyone is called to this level of participation in our electronic world. I can respect that, but limited engagement is not no engagement. And we have been called to be engaged, to be a part of our culture so that we can impact it in meaningful ways, so that we can be wise and aware of the world around us. We can’t do that if we block out the single greatest means of communication available to us today, and that is why I believe everyone who is involved in ministry – at any level – should be part utilizing this as strategic resource.

Now, I know that in many ways this post is preaching to the choir and you, my reader, are probably already using social media as tool I described. So share this with someone who could be benefit from considering what I have shared, and when you do ask them this one question – can you imagine what Paul would have done if Facebook was available to him?

Monday, August 3, 2015

I have tried three different days and dozens of different ways to write this post, and I have decided there is just no graceful way to jump in – so here I go!

Yes, Christianity states that you are a sinner. Is that a pleasant thought? No. Is it a comforting and beautiful thought? Nope, not at all. Is it offensive and detrimental to your sense of self-worth? Oh, yeah. Could it be damaging to your self-esteem? Could it possible sink you into depths of depression and wreak havoc on you delusions of grandeur? You better bet it can.

And you know what? That is precisely what it was designed to do.

I know, I know, precious, you want to think that this whole religion thing was meant to be comforting and sweet – something to help you sleep better when the monsters under your bed threatened to eat you alive. You want to believe that faith is meant to be affirming and uplifting, and all these horrible people are using it to beat you down when you just wanted be loved for who you are.

Well, get over it.

Real Christianity is a religion of death and bloody wounds. We serve a God who was nailed naked to a cross and then commanded us to follow his example. It is not pretty picture. I don’t care how nicely you try to paint it.

The image was never meant to be comforting. It was never supposed to a pretty idea to soothe your frazzled nerves. Everything about it was meant to disturb your senses, to shred your ideas of propriety and dismantle any thoughts of self-worth you might be tempted to entertain. The cross is a mirror held up to the soul, showing us what true love looks like and exposing our selfish attempts at self-preservation for what they are - greed, pride, and selfishness. Who among us would endure such a tragedy for the sake of another? Who among us has the courage to be laid bare before the world? To remain still as our lungs filled with fluid and our hearts shredded in an attempt to keep beating?

Not I, and probably not you either, but our Lord, Saviour, and our Redeemer did. When freedom from suffering was a mere thought away, when an end to the agony required but whisper to be made real, and when the excruciation could have been stopped simply because he desired comfort above our redemption.

I know, I know. Even to call him by those titles – Lord, Saviour, and Redeemer – is an affront! For in declaring him to be those things would be to acknowledge that you need him to be all of those things and more. It is saying that you need someone to rule in your life who is greater than you because you are not enough. It proclaiming that you were lost, in need of saving, because you were incapable of saving yourself. It is saying that you are of no value outside his redeeming love, and that is blow that stings our pride.

These are the truths that so many find distasteful and offensive. Who is this God who would dare imply that we are nothing apart from his love? What kind of love would demand that we acknowledge such painful ideas about ourselves before allowing us to experience his presence?
Surely, he is a monster who does not deserve our love if these are his demands.

And if we stopped the story of his love right there, he would indeed be such a monster, but this is the beauty of the Christian faith – it never ends in death.

On the contrary, death is but the beginning the necessary prelude so that richness of the symphony mercy might be appreciated. For what is the glory of resurrection without the gory death? Where is the beauty of rebirth without the terror of mortification? What victory is there if there is no grave?

We have grown soft and selfish, wanting the beauties of our faith while never submitting to the demands that we pick up our cross and follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We try to claim the prize but refuse to run the race.

Is it any wonder that we face a world who denies the validity of our faith? That is disgusted by the very tenants of what we believe because the revelations of the Bible are too cruel to be embraced, to be lived, or to be honored as true? When we claim to have known the beauty of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, but deny that his death and suffering has any bearing on this reality? We cannot blame the world for pointing at the ugliness we reject as reason to reject our faith. We cannot hold them accountable for failing to see past the blood and cruelty when we have never embraced it as the means of our salvation.

We are the ones who told the lie, who softened our message so that we could live at ease with the horror of it all. We are the ones who never looked into the mirror of the cross and saw our own corruption and begged for it to be removed from us so that we could walk in fellowship with our King. Instead, we said, he loves us – just as I am, he loves me, and that is all I need to know. We reached out for the grace and spurned the holiness as too demanding and cruel to be encompassed in the love he offered. And in doing so mocked his divinity, elevated our humanity, and worshipped a god we have created in our image.

It is time to get real. We were sinners, born in sin, downing in the ever encroaching tide of death, weighted down with our pride and self-justification. Embracing his holiness is the beginning of death for all these things, and death hurts, it terrifies, and leaves us empty of all that we were before. And if you have embraced a god who does not burn these things from your being then you have not embraced the God of love who is never content to leave us as he found us but rather died so that we might become a new creation, free from the damaging effects of former selves. For it is only in the death of who we were that we are empowered to become who might be in his presence.

A Dark Part Of My Life - Freedom to Grieve the End of Abuse

I never knew what was going to set him off. One day it might be that I stepped on the white tiles of the floor, the next it would be because I stepped on the black. Maybe dinner was not to his liking, although he had proclaimed this dish to be his favorite last week. Perhaps I failed to hang his shirts in the particular order that he had decreed proper, or I had left my room before receiving permission.

Tonight it was the evening news.

Somewhere in the broadcast, I had gone from casual viewer to responsible for a story’s content. Exactly when that occurred, I could not say. I had been too busy nursing our less than six week old baby to spare much attention to anything else around me, but his rising voice and angry pacing now commanded my full attention. We exchanged some words, words I cannot recall to this day.

There are really on three other things I remember about that night. The first is none of our neighbors were home, and I was aware of how alone I was as I faced him. The second is that when I rose to turn off the TV he pounced, wrapping his arm around my neck in a headlock – there were two distinct thoughts that filled my head, don’t drop the baby and don’t let him break your neck. I held my daughter with one arm and gripped his forearm with my other, trying to take the strain from neck as he lifted my feet from the floor and shook me like a ragdoll.

I managed to absorb the force of the fall in my shoulder and hip when he threw me away from him, and avoided crushing the baby still in my arms. He never stopped screaming his rage at the television. Blood dripped from my lips onto the pastel baby blanket, causing me to freeze but simultaneously causing my mind to race. I rose to my feet and faced him. I reached out and turned the TV off. I can still remember the coldness in my voice as I said, “If you are going to act like that you need to leave.”

It was the first time that he attacked me in such a manner. The abuse until that moment had been of other kinds. The kinds that he believed would not injure his unborn child, but now, I was fair game to his rage.

It is hard for some to understand why I can honestly say that this moment was a relief, why the tangible violence was so much easier to bear than the mental, emotional, and even the sexual attacks that had gone before. I think we both always knew it was a matter of time, and we were just waiting for him to have the guts to do what he really wanted to do to me. It was the explosion after months of watching a slow burning fuse. Finally, I could breathe again instead of holding my breath in dread.

After years of study and close to two decades of reflection, I now know why I did not call the authorities. That night I believed myself to be completely alone and I was acting on the instinct to survive. There was no room for a misstep and to stumble would cause him to pounce with renewed vengeance. A glimmer of fear would be the only excuse he needed.

In the end, it was my knowledge of the danger that bought him the time he required to plant the seeds of doubt that would keep me there for another two years. For as I waited for the moment when I could escape or make a call, he was there full of contrition and affirmations of his love. The excuses for his anger and why I had to help him overcome this ugly part of who he was. He loved me, he adored me, but most of all, he needed me. Tears poured down his face as he wept at my feet, begging for my forgiveness and promising me that he would never hurt me again. This became our dance – dread and fear, ideal circumstances of isolation, violence, contrition, appeals for grace and affirmations of love, a few days of peace and hope, and then a return to dread.

When I share my story today, someone always asks the question, “Why did you stay?” The answer is not simple, for the threads that bind an abuser to their victim are so thin that they are invisible to the eyes of those not ensnared by them, but their strength is in numbers. I could say that I stayed for the children, and for a time, I believed that was true. I could say I stayed because I loved him, and I also believed that was true. I could say that I stayed because I believed that I could help him get better and we could move beyond the rage that filled his heart and mind, and this, too, I believed was true. But even all of these things do not begin to encompass the reasons I stayed, for as these threads were shredded under the weight of reality, others took their place binding me with equal efficiency.

But perhaps the biggest factor in keeping me there as long as I was, was nothing more than the idea that I should feel good about walking away from my abuser, that there would be a sense of joy and vindication at leaving such an evil situation and person. It was the response that those who loved me wished for me, encouraged me to reach for, and to embrace as my right. So I waited, hoping that I could find a sliver of the right feeling to propel me forward.

It never came.

I cried the day I packed up mine and my children’s meager belongings. I wept as I loaded my friend and brother’s trucks with the odds and ends of furniture while I prayed that my husband would not return. I did not leave a triumphant victor, but slunk away a broken and defeated shell of a woman.

It took me a long time to realize that I was not grieving the loss of my abuser, my emotional captor. It took me a long to stop feel shame for missing him and wanting to find a way back in hopes of repairing our broken marriage. It took a long time to unweave the threads that bound me, and I learned the truth that had been so carefully hidden from me – I was not grieving the loss of the man who left bruises on my ribs or bloodied my lips. I was not aching to return to marriage wrecked with violence. I was not grieving for the reality lost.

I was grieving for the death of a dream, the hope and promise of what should been, of who he claimed to be. I was crying for the person I loved, not the person he was. I was missing the man he had promised to be and had never become. My heart ached for the dream that would never be, and the person that I would never be because I dared to place my faith in lie.

Who can feel joy, or even vindication, at such truth? For even if my head could not understand it in those moments, my heart did. I will forever be the divorcee, the single mom, the abuse victim, and the woman I never intended to be. Picket fences and daisies edging the yard were ripped from my future. Happily ever after was consigned once again to fairy tales, when I had been promised it could be mine.

Grief was and is the proper response.

It was only when the pain of reality became bigger than the fear of losing a dream that was already dead that I could leave. And it was only when I could find the strength to face the truth that the dream had died a long time ago that I could turn loose of the man who killed it.

Why do I share this dark part of my life? Why when I have moved on, found new dreams and new visions for my future that have exceeded anything that I may have clung to before? Because there is a woman out there, right now, who believed the lie I once did. She is working so hard not to make him mad, and she dancing a dance I know all too well, but sister, it is time to realize that dream is dead and it is not coming back. Walking away means you will have to accept that cold hard truth, and you will grieve. Friends and family will not understand why it fills you with sadness, and they won’t get the tears or why you are not happy about reclaiming your life and freedom, but that doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that you do.

Healing will come. New dreams will be found, and life will change if you have the courage to walk away. It will not be as you envisioned it before, but it can be greater than you dare hope for now. I promise, because I have lived it and I am here to tell my tale.