Light, restoration, the friends

Broken Offering

It’s Sanctity of Life Sunday and I was asked to preach the sermon at my church.  So there at the podium I stood with a large, painful sty forming in my left eye and with a mind so exhausted from grief that it couldn’t hold a thought.

This is what I said:

Last month, down in fellowship hall, Tim asked me a few questions about crisis pregnancies. He was writing a paper for seminary.  He wanted to know who puts the greatest pressure on a woman to abort.

“It’s not always a who,” I said, “sometimes it’s a what, and that person or thing is different for every woman.”

For the recent high school graduate sitting across from me in the counseling room it was her reputation in the eyes of her younger siblings.  She had always been a “good girl” and they had always looked up to her.  She wept at the thought of letting them down.

For the young waitress, who had recently moved to Michigan from Oregon, it was her abusive live-in boyfriend.

For a distraught sixteen year old it was her harsh grandma who said “you can only have the baby it if it is a boy.” An ultrasound revealed she wasn’t.

For the married woman carrying an anencephalic baby it was a team of doctors talking at her around a conference table.  They convinced her that aborting her 7 month fetus would be easier than giving birth and watching him die. It wasn’t. “Why couldn’t he have died in my arms?” she cried in group. Deciding how and when someone will die is a decision way too heavy for us humans.

For a co-worker, back in my social work days, the pressure was a what.  She was booked to go on a party cruise when she found out she was pregnant.  The cruise was already paid for and she wanted to get her money’s worth – and that meant drinking. Fairly heavily.  She was also newly engaged and she wanted to look slim and trim and not-pregnant in her wedding gown.  She thought she’d just get rid of this baby, conceived at an inconvenient time, and have another, later.

Tim also wanted to know what pastors can do to help women in these crisis situations.  What can a pastor do? What can a church do? What can you do?

In the case of the good girl, you can help her re-frame what it means to set a good example.  Instead of modeling perfect behavior, she can model perfect love.  You can help her show her younger siblings what it means to take responsibility for a mistake.  To lay down one’s reputation, one’s immediate plans, one’s life for the good of another. Jesus said greater love has no one than this.

The woman with the abusive boyfriend needs a dose of logic and some practical help.  Logic because her boyfriend threatened to take the baby if she didn’t abort, and keep him from her.  The abused are often so beaten down by their abusers that they believe their ridiculous threats.  “Joni,” I asked, “why would he take the baby when he doesn’t even want the baby?” With that question her sobbing ceased.  Helping her meant teaching her to take abusive thoughts captive to God – and it meant putting her up in a hotel for a couple of nights until she could arrange to get back to her family in Oregon.

I didn’t know how to help the cruise-bound co-worker back then, back before I became involved with the crisis pregnancy ministry. I knew that she had grown up in a Christian home and that she already knew that abortion would harm her spiritually, so I didn’t say anything.

And I didn’t say anything several months later when she plopped down in a chair in my office and asked, “Now what am I supposed to do?”  Three of us in the foster care agency had gotten pregnant since her abortion – two of us were about to go on permanent maternity leave and one, the first of us to deliver, had just visited the agency that day to show off her newly born daughter.

I began volunteering at a pregnancy help center two years later mainly to educate myself so I would know what to say next time.

I became acquainted with the many ways abortion can do harm – spiritually, physically, emotionally and psychologically. I learned things that may or may not have made a difference in that co-worker’s decision. That crafty serpent was promising her that abortion would be no big deal and oh how she wanted to believe him.

I’ve led several groups of women – and even a couple of groups of men – through a post-abortion Bible study, and I’ve witnessed how healing takes place.

So now, if a post-abortive co-worker were to plop down in my office and ask, “Now what am I supposed to do?,”

I would listen to her story with nonjudgmental ears.

I would help her name all the players in her decision to abort and assign an appropriate portion of the blame to each.

I would gently help her put a slice – no matter how big or small – on her own plate.

And if, after all the excuses and justifications, she could recognize that none of them were worth the price of a life – her child’s life – healing would begin.

And if she could name her child, acknowledge his or her existence, claim him or her as her own, her child would finally have a mother.

I’d help her ask forgiveness – of her child, of God, of herself.  Forgiving one’s self is always the hardest.

A young girl was walking through the woods on a glorious early spring day.  Suddenly a snake appeared in her path…

Forgiving ourselves means recognizing that we’ve been duped by the enemy of our souls; betrayed by the faux friend who offered us a way out and then slithered away hissing “Sucker.”

Men suffer in the aftermath of abortion, too.  Sometimes it’s the father who failed to protect, or who was lied to or who wasn’t given any say in the matter.  Sometimes it’s the man who drove his friend to the clinic, thinking he was doing the helpful thing, only to be smacked in the face by the full realization of what it was he helped her to do.

The pressure to abort almost always involves some sort of fear.  But as long as we have a powerful God to help us, the right solution to a fearful situation is never the taking of an innocent life. Perfect love drives out fear.

Mother Teresa said, “There is no love in abortion.” She was right.  I’ve looked at abortion from every angle and I’ve yet to find any love.

The solution to any crisis pregnancy is Love.

When a woman comes into your pastoral office or your living room or your cubicle contemplating abortion, help her look for the love in it, and when she can’t find any, help her find another solution.  Inspire her towards love.

And when a woman plops down in your office and says, “The serpent deceived me and I ate,” lead her back to love.  Because that’s what God does.

All life is sacred.  The sanctity of life doesn’t only apply to humans.  God is the Good Shepherd of all of His creation.  Jesus told us that not a sparrow falls to the ground outside our Father’s care.

I’ve encountered Christians recently who scoff at praying for a pet. They seem to think having dominion over animals means it’s okay to treat them harshly or callously.  But that’s not how God exercises His dominion over us.   He came into our doghouse and camped out with us for thirty-three years.

As I cared for my dying little beagle these past 3 months, I saw up-close what a Good Shepherd He is.  As I carried her home from a walk too long, holding her little heart to mine, as I cooked for her and prayed for her, anointed her soft little head with oil and measured out medications,  as I showered her with a depth of love I hadn’t previously known, I realized that I am not kinder or more loving or more compassionate than God. As deep as my love for the Be, His was deeper.

Upholding the sanctity of life is not about judgment, upholding the sanctity of life is about Love.

After the Be died on Wednesday I had nothing for today.  I knew I should sit down and gather my thoughts but my mind was numb.  I just needed to grieve.

I tried again on Thursday but to absolutely no avail.  I just needed to be quiet all day.

All of Friday was spent preparing for a Saturday morning deadline.

And then, after an early morning meeting yesterday, the words finally came.  I knew they would be delivered in weakness today, but at least I had them to deliver.

And I think perhaps that was God’s exquisite desire all along – that today’s message be written and delivered from a place of deep grief.

#exquisite

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restoration

Redemption

I have a tough assignment on Monday nights this year. I am teaching a fairly large class of 3rd and 4th graders, some of whom are challenging.

Very challenging.

And exhausting.

I was tired going in last night, but I rallied.

Midway through the evening a boy approached me.

“Did you give the Bible Lesson last week?,” he asked.

“Yes, I did,” I replied.

“Well I just want to thank you. It really spoke to me. I had a really weird week and it spoke to me.”

Bless his heart.

Bless his studious little heart.

Sweet moments like that make the challenges worth it.

Last night we talked about redemption.

Today, as I began to prepare next week’s lesson, I boiled it down.

redemption

Interesting stuff in this new lesson. I’ll probably have something to say about it tomorrow.

But for now, there are towels that need folding.

Happy Tuesday night. (This is Us is on in the U.S.)

 

 

 

 

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pornography, restoration

Productive Things

If I had to say there’s a beginning to this story, it stemmed from the TV.  I’ve been exposed to plenty of sex, promiscuity and adult content on TV since I was a little kid, probably mid-late elementary school age.  Not all of it was that bad, but just about all of it drew up the same excitement and curiosity that would follow me through adolescence.

When our parents were asleep or out of the house, my brother and I had control of the TV.  We ended up on the E! channel a lot, where we could watch anything they happened to feature about celebrities, swimsuit models, fashion shows, whatever.  Women are the reason that channel existed and we were definitely too young to watch stuff like that.  We often saw Howard Stern at night, where his radio show was rehearsed.  They either invited really weird people or slutty porn stars or nude models to guest on the show.  They got nude most of the time and censored only a little.

To a fifth grader that stuff was awesome.  You got this feeling of attraction and arousal that you didn’t really understand, and you had the ability to access stuff that your parents would have had a fit about.  Score!    I would tune in whenever I was up late enough.  I always craved a little bit more – you never get to see women naked in real life.

That was before we had internet.  It took maybe only a couple months of having internet in our house before I started looking at pornography.  Damn, It was easy.  Still is.  But I was well aware of what pornography was.  The first nude magazine I saw was hidden away in an old-school military ambulance at Selfridge Air Base.  A bunch of my friends and I were on a Cub Scout campout and found a 1940’s era gentleman’s magazine in the back of the vehicle, and it was awesome.  Fold-out centerfold and everything.  I knew how pornography made me feel, and I liked it.  So when I found out how easy it was to find it, I started looking for more.

I was 13, it was summer and I was looking up pornography on the internet whenever I had the chance.  I was ashamed of it until I learned that most of my friends were doing the exact same thing, and they often talked about it in a very proud way.  I don’t think most people – older generations and females – understand how big of a problem this is.  I know many people aren’t even aware of it.

Pornography is the ultimate distraction.  I am ashamed of my addiction because of my Christian ideals, but I am also ashamed of it because it takes my mind off what is important – LIFE.  I don’t think it makes me disrespect women, even though people claim that as pornography’s effect.  Pornography actors and actresses are already disrespecting themselves.  To say that pornography has had that great of an effect on my view of the opposite sex is to say I believe everything I see on TV.  Guys don’t watch pornography to seek relationship advice, they do it to watch girls, have sex, get aroused and jack off.  Sex feels good.  It gets those brain chemicals pumping, and is pretty comparable to a high.  Like a drug addict, a pornography addict can relapse at any time.  I’ve done it a few times after being clean.  Christianity and good mentors and friends blocked it out for a few weeks.  After that, I fell right back in.

Most guys – Christian or not – struggle with this to some degree.  Sure, some guys are proud of it, but they’re idiots.  It’s so false, so wrong, and such a waste of time.  I’ve lived with it and sadly still do.

The way out?  Keep yourself busy with productive things.  Find supportive friends and keep them close.  Don’t use the internet – separate yourself from the root.  Evaluate what’s important to you.  Being a Christian and a Bible reader alone won’t solve it (you can get aroused to stuff in the Bible).  You need support – whenever I’ve had others care for me, I’ve been able to feel BE clean.

Women need to help guys, too.  They’re the source – the “object” – of male lust after all.  Most girls – and many “Christian” girls at that – have no idea what they are doing when they make themselves look cute/hot/insert word here _______.  I heard a lot about this when I was an adolescent at [Bible camp].  My counselor had talked with his older sister about his struggles with lust, and she had no idea how greatly her appearance could affect a Christian guy.  It’s stunning how much time some Christian girls spend on their outer appearance after the Bible states that looks/clothes/makeup and all that shit is clearly unimportant in the whole scheme of things.  If the Bible holds the Word, why do so few listen?  Who is really a Christian? That’s another story – but describes quite well where I stand.

I’m searching, and maybe one day I will figure it out.  I know right from wrong, and I attribute that to a Christian upbringing.  These paragraphs alone describe only an episode in my life that will hopefully come to an end…but life goes on.

The story you just read was handed to me by a young friend on the last day of a four day retreat, as I was loading my car to leave.  The way it was folded let me know that he didn’t want me to read it until I got home.  And when I did get home and read it, I wept.  Because I love that kid and I had no idea he was struggling.  I hadn’t seen him in a few years – since he went off to college – and when he walked into the retreat center on that first day, I gasped.  The bright, sparkling eyes that I remembered and loved were dead.  Dead.  No life in them whatsoever.  I knew something was wrong.

If my friend had been in front of me when I read his story, I would have told him two things:

First, friend, I have to disagree with you when you said. “I don’t think it makes me disrespect women, even though people claim that as porn’s effect.  Porn actors and actresses are already disrespecting themselves.”

What if it were your mother?  Would you want people looking at her if she was disrespecting herself?

Not all porn actors and actresses are participating willingly.  The federal government estimates that 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked in the United States each year. The Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children both recognize that pornography is an element that adds to the serious problem of sex trafficking. Many traffickers are found with filming equipment and cameras to create and sell pornography. (E. McGinnis, The Horrifying Reality of Sex Trafficking)

By viewing pornography you are supporting sex trafficking.

Then there’s this:  http://donnypauling.net/2014/07/02/the-story-of-a-girl-whose-life-i-ruined/  I almost hate to share this link with you because the article itself reads as exploitation to me. You can read why in Spare Me the Details.

One more thing, friend, with regard to “an episode in my life that will hopefully come to an end…”, I just want to say that passive hope isn’t going to cut it.  Only God has scissors that are strong enough.

And to you, dear Readers, I’ll say it again:

Mamas, protect your babies.

I know this young man’s parents.  They are a fine Christian couple and they have no clue as to the clutches their son has fallen into.  In fact, they’d probably say that church kids don’t need to be talked to.  But, Oh, I’m sure they suspect something is wrong….

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restoration

Don’t Know if I Want a Relationship

Many of the 7th graders I spoke to yesterday told me that their parents set 18 or after-high-school as the dating standard for them.

And I said, “Wow, your parents REALLY love you!”

And they’re really wise.  Because studies show that those who start dating prior to age 16 are much more likely to become sexually active by the time they graduate from high school than those who start dating after age 16.

I shared that I didn’t set a minimum age for dating, I set a minimum maturity level.  My daughter was allowed to date when she could hold another human being’s heart in her hands without wrecking it.

Then I showed them a clip from the retreat:

I met T when I was the speaker for middle school week at a Bible camp in the mountains of Virginia one summer.  He was one of the campers.  I returned to that camp for the next three summers as the speaker for high school week.  T was there each year.  So I got to know him pretty well over those four weeks in four years.  And I really liked him.  He was polite, soft spoken, a deep thinker, kind and helpful.

So when I invited a bunch of young people to a retreat center to pilot my study, I included T and his sister.  T was in college in South Carolina at the time.  He picked up his newly-high-school-graduated sister from their home in Tennessee and the two of them drove many, many hours north to the retreat.  God bless him for that.

After the clip I asked the 7th grade boys to articulate what happened to T.  They got it.  Then I told the girls to be very careful with a boy’s heart.  Don’t be the girl who crushes a boy.

It would be such a waste of a very kind heart if T never marries.

I showed the clip when I spoke to a gathering of teens and their parents at a church in Ohio a couple of years ago.  At the break the pastor came up to me and said he totally identified with T.  That was his story, too.  And although he did marry, the experience led him into pornography.  Which became an addiction.  And a long battle.

So, parents of youngsters out there, when you teach your children to guard their hearts, don’t forget to teach them to guard the hearts of others, too.

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pornography, restoration

I Still Break Her Heart

This Friday afternoon I will spend close to two hours speaking to an assembly of 7th graders.  I will be showing them why it is important to guard their hearts and I will be giving them practical suggestions on how to keep them sticky – for a marriage bond that will last.

After a short break the youngsters will learn to discern media messages.  And in the process I will warn them to steer clear of pornography. I’ll tell them that pornography is especially dangerous for kids their age and I’ll tell them why:

When you are young – a toddler, a pre-schooler, an elementary school kid – your brain is like a sponge.  It continually soaks up all kinds of information.  Every piece of new information that comes at you gets attached to existing information and synapses (connections) are formed.

Then, when you become around 11 for girls and 12 for boys, your brain starts to prune itself.   It’s like little scissors start to snip some of the connections.  Random info that you don’t really need gets snipped away.  But the connections that are reinforced – like by practicing the piano; adding, subtracting, multiplying every day; listening to the same song over and over until you have the lyrics memorized – those connections become really strong and tough.  They are too thick for the scissors to snip.

scissors.001

So if you are a 10, 11, 12 year old kid looking at pornography on your computer, smart phone, whatever, your brain will make a connection between inappropriate images and sexual arousal.  And if you reinforce that connection by looking at it again and again, the connection will become strong.  Very strong.  Too strong to be snipped.

Years from now, when you marry the beautiful, godly woman of your dreams, you’ll have a difficult time being aroused by her – especially after the newness of your marriage wears off – because you have trained your brain to be aroused by lust, exploitation and flesh rather than by love and intimacy with a beautiful soul.

There was an article in Time magazine several years ago that said pornography is as addictive as heroin when it comes to the effect it has on the brain.  When I was a social worker, I often saw moms choose heroin over their children.  Not because they didn’t love their children, but because heroin is so powerfully addictive.  So is pornography.

Five years ago I took a group of young people on a retreat to pilot a Bible study I was writing.  On the morning of the final day I asked them to share their stories.   Here’s RJ’s story:

I first met RJ and Beth when they came to lead worship at the retreat.  I hired RJ over the phone, sight unseen. It was clearly a divine appointment.  I still keep somewhat in touch with them through Facebook.  They now have a band, a precious little boy and another baby on the way.  They are a darling couple and their lives are good, and hard.  Sometimes REALLY hard for Beth.  Every time her husband chooses to indulge his addiction he is choosing to break her heart. When his lifeless eyes reveal that he has fallen off the wagon, when their browser history reveals that he has been googling “how to get around Covenant Eyes” at 2 am, he breaks her heart again.  REALLY breaks it.

And though she forgives him, that forgiveness costs her a lot.  And he keeps letting her pay.

Which breaks MY heart.

I asked my retreat guests to work through portions of the Bible study and give me feedback.  I collected them at the end.

In the chapter entitled “Know Your Enemy” I asked:

Is the enemy trying to rob you of the glory of your future marriage by appealing to your physical need?  Is he trying to get you to prove your desirability?  Is he offering you immediate gratification with a cheap imitation of the “naked and unashamed” marriage God has planned for you?  Couples who are living together and sleeping together are being tricked out of it and it’s a darn shame.

Beth highlighted those questions and wrote:

This kind of trickery does not stop once you get married.  It just begins to happen in new ways.  Also, Satan does what he can to get people to have sex outside of marriage & he does what he can to keep you from having sex when you are married, unless it is w/ someone other than your spouse.  We need to fight this tactic!

I wonder how many young wives, whose husbands are addicted to pornography – whether through actively partaking or through revisiting the images that they cannot snip from their brains – are tempted to prove their desirability elsewhere.  To somebody.  To anybody.

Mamas, watch your babies.  Talk to them, explain things to them.  And when you have a minute, read this:

Jamie is 13 and hasn’t even kissed a girl.  But he’s now on the Sex Offender Register after online pornography warped his mind.

© 2015, The Reluctant Baptist

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faith, restoration

Read the Beautiful Love Letters Sexual Assault Survivors Are Writing to Themselves

Bringing pain into the embrace of compassion… Bless these sweet hearts for sharing their stories and giving hope and fellowship to others.

Kindness Blog

There are many misconceptions about what it’s like to be a sexual assault survivor. One particularly harmful assumption is that survivors are affected by their experience only in the immediate wake of trauma.

Every survivor’s experience is different, but many will agree that healing is an ongoing process. Media justice organizer and filmmaker Tani Ikeda is addressing this reality with her powerful new project, Survivor Love Letter.

Love Letters Sexual Assault Survivors Are Writing to Themselves

Started on Valentine’s Day, “#Survivorloveletter was an act of defiance, a declaration of self love and a call to allies to honor the survivors in their lives,” Ikeda told Mic via email.

“I imagined what it would mean for my younger self to wake up on Valentine’s Day and read message after message of public support for surviving. That’s when I knew I wanted to create #survivorloveletter.” 

The Survivor Love Letter Tumblr catalogs survivors’ declarations of self love and allows others to honor survivors in…

View original post 418 more words

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faith, restoration, Stories from the Island

Misguided Commitments

city rail

Creative Commons: Stefano Campolo

The small woman
Builds cages for everyone
She knows.
While the sage,
Who has to duck her head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the beautiful, rowdy prisoners.
-Hafiz

I stood behind Betty in the bustling lunch line.   It was our first opportunity to become acquainted.  She told me that she is retired from social work, spent most of her career in protective services.  “That’s a really tough job,” I acknowledged.  “It’s not the job I wanted,” she confessed, “but it is where God wanted me.  He held me there.”  Had the setting been less chaotic, had her turn to order not been quickly approaching, had I understood that she was trying to tell me something, I would have asked her to explain.  Instead I switched the conversation onto a shallow track and merely shared that I had been a social worker in an adjacent county.

Betty is a key dropper, one of the volunteers who drives into the city to reach out to prostitutes.  I thought that, plus the fact that she is a retired social worker, was the whole story.  But then she took her turn in the share chair Sunday evening:

I grew up a child of the sixties – very shy, lonely, naive, never dated anyone in high school, never went to the prom or any dance like that.  One night, between my junior and senior year, a friend of a friend came over and crashed our girls get together.  He was the first guy to think I was worth attention.  And so we went out.   He wasn’t like anyone I had ever known before.  He was a bad boy.  I looked up to some of the things he did that I didn’t have the nerve to do – to get angry, to show emotions of any kind.  So in a strange way I kind of respected him, but not in a good way.

We went out for awhile and then I went off to school and he went off to Vietnam.  I had made a commitment to him.  I was going to wait for him and I sincerely meant that, because I was grateful for his attention to me.

I got done with school and he got done with the army about the same time.  But along the way, the few times I had seen him I realized that we were going in different directions.  But I made that commitment and to me that was big.  Misguided but big.  So he asked me to marry him after he got home and I said yes.  I knew there were red flags, I wasn’t totally sure this was a good decision, in fact a lot of me said it’s not a good decision.  But I went ahead and married him, then realized how much Vietnam had changed him.  He came back angry with God, addicted, a womanizer.   All Bad traits.  So our marriage went from bad to worse.

Then our daughter was born.  He was not a good father, he was emotionally abusive to her, to me, it just kept getting progressively worse.

Finally I realized I had to get away from him.  I knew… I didn’t want to get a divorce… I was committed to “’til death do us part”, but I didn’t think God would want me to stay in an abusive relationship.  So I finally got up the nerve to say I wanted a divorce.  Then the threats started getting very desperate.  He threatened to kill me.  He said, “I’ve killed people before, they’ll never find your body.”  We had a submachine gun under the bed.  I lived like a prisoner in the house for several years.

Finally I contemplated suicide, but then that would leave my daughter with him so I ruled that out.  I thought I would end up in a mental institution, it was getting so bad, he was so controlling.  He put tape recorders in the house and he would stalk me when I went off to work.  It was unreal, but it still looked good on the surface.  He had a position of authority and he had to make it look good.

So finally, you know, when God is all you have left, then He is all you need.  So I started praying, “Lord, please create a distraction where I can get away from him.  Please create a distraction.  He won’t let me go voluntarily.  Please.”  Five nights in a row I prayed.  On the sixth day we were out of town and he said, “You know, there are people jealous of me.  You’re going to hear some things and it’s all lies.  They’re just jealous of me.”  I said, “What are you talking about?”  He wouldn’t explain.

We got back home and in the newspaper there was a story about people in his office who had been involved in a gang rape.  He was one of them.  This was why he was becoming so much more desperate in his behavior, so much more abusive.  He was looking to stay out of prison, looking to control me, looking to not lose what he had, not lose his image.

That was all I needed.  I said, “Thank you, Lord.”  It took two years, but I got away from him with my daughter.  I swore to God that I wouldn’t forget it and that I would help other people get away from situations like that.  My career was social work and I was involved with women in the same situation.  They would say to me, “You just don’t understand,”  and I would whisper, “Oh yes, I do.”  I worked for the state so I couldn’t talk about God but I would wear a cross and let them bring Him up to me.  Then I could tell them, “A commitment to no man comes near to your commitment to God.  He will see you through.”

Life is too short for misguided commitments.
Life is too short to take the shallow track.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/no-time-to-waste/

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