jesus

I’m Having Trouble Trying To Sleep

It’s three a.m. and I’m wide awake.again. I have prayed. I have cleaned my kitchen. I have spent some time in the Bible. Lights have been on. Lights have been off. I crawled back into bed only to start waxing poetic about my husband’s snoring. So now I sit in the office, a cup of warm black current and cardamom rooibos tea at the ready, wondering what it is that is keeping me awake this time.

I have theories:

  1. Some say sleep can be hard to come by when your brain is over active. I’ve been thinking about a lot of things lately and maybe my brain is processing so much right now I can’t fall asleep.
  2. My grandmother has entered the process of dying and it is likely she will die within the month. I’m torn between going to Canada to be with my mom during this time and not knowing if my presence will be a help or a hindrance.
  3. On the topic of my grandmother’s imminent passing, there is some spiritual work I am in the process of doing and I’m not getting a clear “this must be finished before she dies” message from God. I worry that timing may be critical but at the same time, I worry that I may rush through the process. It’s my process regardless of whether she is dead or alive, right?
  4. God is revealing generational work that needs to be investigated and completed. I have paternal generational ties to one of Canada’s First Nations and I believe that there is something I will learn about God the Father through these ties that I could not learn any other way, there are also bondage ties that will need to be broken in order for me to fully move forward. There is so much going on right now that this has slipped to a back corner of my mind. Is my subconscious processing what I’ve learned so far? Is my spirit trying to tell me something?
  5. Maybe I’m awake because I should be using this time to do something. Like clean my kitchen or pick apart the office. Perhaps I feel guilty and think I should be doing more right now. Using my time differently. Though why these thoughts can’t come to me during the daylight hours, I don’t know.

These are the things I carry in the wee hours of the morning. That and did I remember to pay the bills or add critical items to my task list. Which I’ve already checked five times and yes, all critical tasks are accounted for.

When I look at the list, I see a lot of worries. A lot of fretting. Little peace. And I recall to mind a verse I memorized eons ago when I was in grade school.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.    ~ John 14:27

It was Passover and Jesus had just predicted his betrayal by Judas and Peter’s denial of him. Dark, heavy stuff. I can’t imagine how Jesus was feeling. He was about to allow himself to be killed through slow torture and watch hope be replaced by disbelief and grief as these same people witness the Messiah do the unbelievable and die.

And then Jesus turns around and says to them, “I know this is hard stuff to grasp and I know the shit is going to hit the fan, but I’m not leaving you high and dry. I’m not leaving you alone, without resources. Without hope. I give you eirḗnē, I give you peace. I give you wholeness. I release to you everything needed to be complete, something you cannot possibly attain through this world alone. And because I will release this to you, your heart, your inner self, your soul does not need to be agitated and stirred up. Neither do you need to live in fearful dread. It doesn’t end here.”

There is so much more to this passage in John and when I try to put myself in the shoes of the disciples who were dining with Jesus, I can’t imagine taking these words in. I would have stopped hearing at betrayal. I mean, shit, one of us is going to turn on our rabbi and messiah? That’s not right. This man is supposed to lead us into greater things. He’s supposed to save us.

I put myself as I am into these verses and I have to say, this is a lot to take in. I know Jesus was preparing for this his entire earthly life, but these men and women weren’t. And what Jesus was laying down, there was going to be a lot of mindsets blown to hell and back. Then later, to watch Jesus die and not know the end of the story – I can only imagine the shattered hope.

Jesus was true to his word. He released this peace into the world for us.

I feel like Thomas with my worry and my doubt, asking for proof. Worrying that I’m not hearing clearly, that I’m not focusing on what I should be right now. I forget that with this peace comes wholeness. I Forget that the three days spent in the depths of Hell and the resurrection meant Jesus completed the sacrifice that was needed for us to walk in grace. I forget that with this grace is a permission to move forward until God tells me to stop. That I don’t need permission to start – it’s already been given. That if I travel down a rabbit trail, the Holy Spirit will direct me back to the main road.

What is left of my tea is now cold and I feel the light buzzing in my head that signals sleep may be just around the corner. I may never pin down exactly what was keeping me awake tonight, but something good came out of it. I was reminded that if the timing of any of the things that are worrying me matters, God will let me know. And He likely won’t be subtle about it because He knows me. He’s not going to let me wander around in the weeds for too long before He guides me back to where I need to be. So I can just choose one thing from my list and continue on. In peace.

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Identity Crisis

There is something that has been gnawing away at me for some time. It claws at me when I read articles about Christian ministries taunting atheists with billboards. It infuriates me when I become aware of teachings in the church that create more shame-filled rules we can’t live up to. It slaps at me when friends jokingly ask for permission to skip church for reasons other than illness. It breaks my heart when I hear it subtly wend its way into sermons and bible studies at church.

What is it? Identity. Or rather a lack of understanding who Jesus is and what that means for a Christian’s identity. I am still learning about my identity in Christ and some days I feel as though I’m on shaky ground. But I know enough to know this:

  1. God is amazing and we are made in His image so that must make us pretty amazing, too
  2. Failure is not a bad word. We learn as much if not more through failure as we do through success
  3. Asking questions about our faith and what we believe about God is okay
  4. There is a lot of fear out there in the Church, a fear of change, a fear of not being right, fear of not being good enough, fear of what others think
  5. When we are touched by the astounding love of God, fear starts to take a backseat to joy
  6. What the Church needs, what the world needs, what you and I need is not another set of rules we can never live up to or shame when we fail to meet expectations

What we need is a lot more Jesus and a lot less religion, fear, shame and condemnation. We need compassion and kindness and acceptance. We need God, not some bull shit that’s passed around as The Way. This got me thinking, as I do, about who God really is and who His bride is really supposed to be. I have to say, I don’t think we have it right most of the time.

Think for a moment. What if the Church were to shed its rules and religion? What would happen if we no longer had to sit in a pew on Sunday and attend programming during the week to be considered a person of faith?

What would the Church and Christian ministry look like if we stopped wasting time shaming people and started loving people? Not for who they are, but for who God says they are? What if we took Jesus’ teachings to heart and instead of debasing and degrading our enemies, we prayed for them and loved them ans showed them compassion?

What if we stopped preaching and started listening? Not just with our ears but with our hearts? What if we allowed our hearts to break for the broken? What if we cared for the widows and the orphans instead of leaving that for the government? What if we stopped judging and started seeking to understand?

What if we were unafraid of change in the culture around us? What if we stopped digging in our heels when it comes to belief systems that just don’t work and embrace seeking the truth?

What if instead of trying to isolate our youth and children from the world around us we taught them that critical thinking and faith can go hand in hand and that loving God does not mean hiding away from the world? What if we started talking to our youth and children about what is happening in our world with regard to sex and consumerism and lifestyle choices and talked about what Jesus did with the tax collectors and the prostitutes and the forgotten. What if we showed them that instead of condemning others for harmful choices, we teach them to have compassion? And help them understand that love is stronger than hate?

What if we stopped pitting creationism against evolution and admitted that science and faith both have a place in the world and at the end fo the day we don’t really know how the earth was formed, just that God was behind it all? What if we stopped being afraid that science could really one day debunk God as a myth and start embracing science for what it is, a tool to help us understand the world in which we live?

What if we stopped being gnostics and stopped treating the flesh as evil? What if we admitted that God loves sex and sex is a wonderful thing and God wants us to enjoy it? What if we stopped trying to hijack marriage as a Christian institution and treat it as the civil contract it really is? What if we talked of healthy boundaries and loving others as we love ourselves instead of talking against dating and sex before marriage and abortion? What if we did away with all shame language when it comes to people and their choices?

What if we let go of our fear of failure and embraced the messiness of life and the gift of second chances? What if we were the first to extend the hand of hope and healing instead of slapping down with shame and fear? What if we started to see ourselves as new creations instead of sinners saved by grace who still battle a sinful nature? What if sin wasn’t the issue anymore?

What if we finally stood up for who we really are in Christ instead of standing against all the things we think are wrong with the world?

The Church has been having an identity crisis, it seems, ever since the first century. I’m not telling you to throw the baby out with the bath water because the Church is the Bride of Christ and before we decide we love her or hate her we have to remember one thing. We are her.

Every single one of us is part of the Bride. If Jesus loves us in the way a good and caring and compassionate man loves his wife, then we need to start looking at ourselves differently. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about because you haven’t experienced that kind of love, I suggest you look at some very well written romance novels, especially those written by Nora Roberts. The love between a man and a woman is an epic thing that is never taken lightly in a solid romance novel. I should know, I read a lot of them.

Jesus looks at us not as we are or as we think we are. He sees us for who we really are. Who God created us to be. I know it’s radical, but God looks at everyone this way. Everyone. God created everyone in His image, not just a chosen few. If we start here to really look at who we are, think of everything that changes. For those of us who live in relationship with God we can let go of all the false beliefs that hold us hostage to fear and shame. We can start to love ourselves and know ourselves anew. And we start to look at everyone around us the same way.

Our identity, it starts with Jesus and with compassion and truth.If any one tells you anything different, thank them for their opinion and love them. They may not understand they have an identity crisis.

I Want Your Sex – Sexual Identity and the Church

I have had many things on my mind lately. I’m a thinker. I like to sit and ponder things, churning them over and over again in my brain until I either come to some sort of conclusion or I realize I need to put this line of thinking aside for the time being.

I read a very interesting post on a friend’s blog, one that got me thinking about the deeper levels of identity and ignited within me, again, the question of why the faith community in general is afraid to “go there” with certain topics. Specifically, why do we avoid the subject of sex and healthy sexual identity? Especially with those who have been sexually abused, enslaved, or otherwise mistreated?

I’m not going to blast anyone for their sexual orientation or their kinks. Jesus never did, why should I? I am going to state right off the bat, this post is not about whether being homosexual is right or wrong. It shouldn’t be an issue. We are to love everyone, right? And under the law of the land, everyone has rights, correct? And whether you are gay or straight or something in between, you have the right to be treated with compassion and to be seen as God’s creation, correct? Then let’s agree on what we can and move forward. Okay with you? Good.

When I was a child, I was sexually abused by babysitters. I was exposed to inappropriate sexual material, I was encouraged to touch the genitals of at least one babysitter, and I was fondled by yet another. In my teens, it was an old and infirm grandfather who sexualized me and my developing body. And that’s just what I feel open to sharing on this blog. There was more, much more. Why do I share this? Because the statistics share a horrific story:

Women

1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape).1

17.7 million American women have been victims of attempted or completed rape.1
9 of every 10 rape victims were female in 2003.2

Lifetime rate of rape /attempted rape for women by race:1
  • All women: 17.6%
  • White women: 17.7%
  • Black women: 18.8%
  • Asian Pacific Islander women: 6.8%
  • American Indian/Alaskan women: 34.1%
  • Mixed race women: 24.4%

Men

About 3% of American men — or 1 in 33 — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.1

  • In 2003, 1 in every ten rape victims were male.2
  • 2.78 million men in the U.S. have been victims of sexual assault or rape.1

Children

15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12.3

  • 29% are age 12-17.
  • 44% are under age 18.3
  • 80% are under age 30.3
  • 12-34 are the highest risk years.
  • Girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.

7% of girls in grades 5-8 and 12% of girls in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused.4

  • 3% of boys grades 5-8 and 5% of boys in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused.

In 1995, local child protection service agencies identified 126,000 children who were victims of either substantiated or indicated sexual abuse.5

  • Of these, 75% were girls.
  • Nearly 30% of child victims were between the age of 4 and 7.

93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker.6

  • 34.2% of attackers were family members.
  • 58.7% were acquaintances.
  • Only 7% of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim. [online source]

I never reported my abuse. I didn’t realized anything was wrong enough to report. I thought the lack was in me. Not in the ones abusing and misusing me. Instead, I internalized what these abusers, the church community, and others were telling me about sexuality in general and my sexuality specifically, letting it become a twisted and raw mess.

When I was in high school I started to learn to use my sexuality to get my way. I learned to target the boys who were not popular, the smart geeks who either faded into the background or who were favorite targets of the jocks for ridicule. And I used my sexuality to gain their adoration. I was a vampire feeding on their adolescent lust, using the fact I had breasts and curves to toy with their affection. I was a young woman who knew far more than she should about the power of sex but didn’t know enough about the links between shame and guilt and the cycles of abuse.

I didn’t realize I was harming others while I was punishing myself for being a sexual being. I was just doing what the other girls were doing – flirting. Only I wasn’t trying to land the popular and hot guys. I was aiming low because I didn’t feel I deserved anything better. And it made me feel good to know there were guys out there who would do things for me for the price of my smile. That’s heady, heady stuff for a teenager. especially for a teenager who had no idea what it really meant to be a sexual being who is beloved by God. And my lack of that knowledge and my shame laced confusion led me to some very risky behavior, including a night of sexual experimentation with another woman. After which I can conclusively say I am not a lesbian. However, would I have even gone down that road if I had known what God really thinks about our sexuality. And what God really thinks about the person who has been sexually victimized.

I have had therapy. I have worked through many of my issues and I’ve been married for 19 years to a man with whom I have a good sexual life. God has been healing my identity, and this includes my sexual identity. We are whole people to God. We aren’t sacred and secular. He’s not just in love with our hearts and our spirits. He loves all of us. Our entire being. Our intellect, our hearts, our bodies, our souls, our sexuality. He really does. I’ve believed this for well over 20 years. Ever since that night of experimentation when I heard God tell me He loved me far more than I loved myself at that moment and He was going to do whatever it took to help me love my entire being. He knew that I had issues with my sexuality, that I loathed it. That I had been shamed into thinking I had to suppress this side of myself in order to fit in at church and youth group even as I used it to my advantage elsewhere. That sex was dirty, wrong. That I was dirty and wrong. I believed that I could either be sexual or I could be moral, but I couldn’t be both.

This is the lie I want to address, and this is the lie that I see taught over and over again in the church. Please know, I realize not every believer lives with this dichotomy. If you are one of these people, I thank God you exist and please continue to speak God’s truth. For everyone else, I have a question – Why do you believe we can either be moral/spiritual people or sexual people but not both?

Over the last 20 years, I have seen men and women struggle with their sexual identity. I have seen both genders succumb to porn addictions, seek out affairs (sexual and emotional), engage in destructive sexual practices time and time again. And this is what I’ve seen when abuse hasn’t been a root cause. I have also heard women proclaim that they wish they enjoyed sex. That they didn’t feel they had a voice during sex, that it was all about their partner, that to voice a need or a want was somehow wrong. I’ve heard men complain that they don’t know what their women want and why couldn’t there be a magic pill to allow their wives to have a higher sex drive, and really, what do they need to do to ensure their wives feel pleasure during sex.

I have heard men and women miss the mark when it comes to sex and sexuality. They treat it as an act to be performed or desired. They don’t seem to understand that it is part of who they are and there is so much more to sexuality than intercourse.

I have heard stories of women who have no idea what is normal and who are either afraid to ask or are unable to find someone who will talk to them freely and without judgement.

I have seen teens dress and act provocatively without understanding the message about themselves they are broadcasting, confused because the message they receive from the world around them is the more provocative and blatant the better. And not knowing why they aren’t fulfilled if they do engage in some form of sexual activity.

I have seen people throw themselves into sexual relationships without understanding the natural consequences that exist beyond STDs and pregnancy. That they are forever going to carry around with them a part of each partner they have sex with, and that they are chasing an adrenaline high rather than true intimacy. That their behavior may become more extreme or more risky so they can continue to feel…something.

All I hear from the church is “wait until you are married and then be faithful” or ” you’re married now, your body is not your own so when he/she wants it, you have to give it” or ” Homosexuality is bad, the end.”

I’m sorry, but this is not helpful. Shaming someone for their behavior does not help that person develop a healthy sexual identity. All it does is push them further away from realizing who God made them to be.

What I learned about my sexual identity I learned through the Holy Spirit and through non-Christian friends and resources. God protected me and helped me to draw out the truth from these resources so I didn’t end up falling down the rabbit hole of misinformation. When I asked other newly married women in my church about whether their husbands wanted sex far more often than they did, they shut me down. Didn’t want to talk about it. That was private and taboo. When I talked to my other friends, they were more than willing to talk about the subject, and how difficult it was to be in the mood all the time, helpful ways they found for speaking with their spouses, and how intimacy and sexuality were interlinked.

It took me going elsewhere to learn about my sexual identity. The church offered me nothing helpful. When I needed to talk about what was normal and healthy when it came to expressing my sexuality, I didn’t find help in the church. I found that elsewhere as well. Those candid conversations that helped me to see that instead of connecting with men on a real level, I was using my sexuality to basically enthrall them, I didn’t get that from my youth group leaders. I got that from a group of women who were in the S&M community. They were the ones who helped me to see that I was abusing those men by alluding to promises I never intended to keep and using their vulnerability against them.

When it came to integrating my sexuality into my full identity, well that came from the Holy Spirit. I was in college and dating the man who would become my husband. I was tired of people – Christians –  telling me I was too sexual, or that I was going to lead this man astray. They had no idea what was going on in our relationship. They didn’t know the discussions we had, the honest communication about my past history or his. All they knew was they perceived me of being this siren who was going to lead good men astray. Imagine carrying that burden with you. Basically, they were telling me I wasn’t worthy of the love of a good man because I was a sinful creature. I was a succubus who was going to bleed him dry.

Then one day what was happening became clear. A prior boyfriend was watching the music video for Amy Grant’s hit Baby Baby. He made a point of taping the video and bringing it, a television and a VCR to my dorm and “forced” me to watch the video. His intent was to shame me by drawing parallels between Amy’s flirtatious behavior in the video, behavior that had men watching her instead of their own girlfriends. If you have ever seen Amy Grant, sure she exudes this earthy and lovely sexuality but it’s wholesome, not lewd.

And this is what was finally clear that day – what others were seeing wasn’t a woman who was highly sexualized and perhaps even a predator. They were seeing someone who was becoming comfortable with her sexuality and didn’t shove it in a closet. I would be kind and gentle and match the energy of those I was talking to, giving them my full attention. And my facial expressions, my body language, that was a part of that. Was I still using my body to garner the wrong kind of attention? No. Was I attempting to turn men’s heads so they would notice my body and fall in deep lust with me? No, I was not.

What was I doing? What I do today. I was being myself. I was being open and friendly. I was being comfortable in my own skin. I was feeling the joy of being in a new relationship and letting that joy be present on my face and in the movements of my body. I was learning that I am a woman who is loved by God. I would walk and move as one who was comfortable with her body and when I danced, I would move as a woman worshipping God with her body. People were noticing. And that was mistaken for being a temptress. I have to laugh now because I didn’t dress provocatively in college. I went to a Christian college with a dress code and I wasn’t one to attempt to push the boundaries of said code. Breasts were never bared, my midriff was always covered, nothing was too tight or too short. But something about my demeanor was obviously offending people.

I was being punished for their discomfort. Women, it seems, are always being punished when their very presence make someone uncomfortable. We are too loud, too brash, too meek, too pretty, too sexy, too much. Is that really how God sees us? Look at the Song of Solomon. If you need any further proof that God is in love with our sexuality, it’s there in the beautiful and haunting descriptions of two lovers and how they feel about each other’s hearts and bodies.

God loves us. And that includes our sexuality. God wants us to live fulfilled lives. That includes our sex lives. Now, before you go out and take this as permission to engage in risky behavior, a fulfilled life doesn’t mean doing what feels good. It means a life rich in relationship with God. God is present with us all the time. Did you read that? All. The. Time. In and out of the bedroom. During times of abuse and times of deep healing. When we turn our back on others and when others turn their backs on us. God is with us. As with everything we do, what we do and how we embrace our sexuality, it first and foremost is to be honoring to God.

God has a plan for our sexuality. He made us in His image, after all. Do I know what that is? No, not entirely. But I know this – there is a way to be sexual and to honor God. And repressing our sexuality is just as dishonoring to God as flaunting it or using it to harm others.

Just how different people of faith would be if we could understand how God sees our sexuality and if we were willing to openly discuss this within our communities of faith and with the world in general. Not pointing fingers or hawking chastity rings or burying our heads in the sand. If we want to be a culture that’s different, let’s take a cue from Jesus and get out there and love people and be honest with them. Let’s make sure we know what the God’s truth is about sex. Let’s remove the language of shame from our discussions. Let’s be willing to be gritty and honest and in the trenches with people. And, please oh please, let’s be honest with ourselves. Let’s deal with our hangups and misconceptions and guilt and shame. Let’s finally see ourselves and our sexuality as God does. Amen.

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up

Jesus, I ask you for you. For the real you.

Those are the words I pray every day. I have been praying them since the beginning of December when I read the beginning of John Eldredge’s latest book Beautiful Outlaw. It took me a long time to pick up this book. Why? Because I didn’t want my image of Jesus to be challenged. Lame excuse, I know. But true.

I’m reading the book very slowly. I’m only into chapter three. I’m compelled to read each sentence over and over again, as though by doing so I will somehow imbue these words, this true image of Christ into the very fabric of my being. Who I thought Jesus was, what I have learned Christianity to be is not accurate. My vision is off. Or the picture I’m looking at is sadly out of focus.

I had this dream in September or October. So did Claire. In this dream, there was Jesus looking at the temple. Calmly watching the money changers and the swindlers who were preying upon the devote poor, the afraid, the weak. They were showing doves without blemish, pocketing the coin and marking an inferior beast for the sacrifice. The  doves on display were promised over and over again to the trusting public who never realized they were the victims of a bait and switch scam.

There was Jesus, watching. Waiting. Calculating. And while the scene that had been playing itself out for centuries continued on, he started slowly, calmly weaving a whip out of several thin strips of leather.

Jesus was, and is, deliberate. He didn’t react out pure passion and righteous indignation at the temple that day. He watched. He likely prayed. And he fashioned a plan. I can’t speak for what went on in his mind as he went postal on the money changers. I don’t know if he acted out of rage or if he deliberately walked in and calmly upended the entire enterprise. But he was outraged. And in his way he was taking care of his people by confronting the issue  and shining light on the truth so people could see they were following a false and errant practice, not what God intended.

The Jesus I met  growing up is a savior of works. If you do good, you know you are saved. But you must continue to do good works or your salvation may be in question. Do, do, do and don’t worry about burn out. You’re doing for the Lord! He will sustain you and if you aren’t sustained, search your soul because there must be something unconfessed blocking your spiritual life. You know, like a lack of fiber can block the elimination of waste from the body.

Oh, and he was a Lord of rules. Always with the rules. Don’t listen to rock music. Don’t date. Don’t read about or think about sex. Ever. Don’t see movies with violence or sex. Don’t swear. Don’t indulge. Don’t put yourself first. Be mindful of pride. Don’t drink. Don’t dance. Real Christians live clean and pure lives. They are set apart by this completely unattainable goal. By trying to live by these rules, we remove ourselves so thoroughly for the world and God we are in danger of becoming the Pharisees. Caught up in outward expressions of devotion and in bondage to these rules.

I have been stifling and slowly dying under this yoke. And this is not Jesus. Not the true Jesus. This is a false Jesus pulling the wool over my eyes and hoping I toe the line and not question. For the moment I do I will see the false for what it is and will run.

But without the True Jesus, I leave myself open to be seduced by false representations of him. This is where Beautiful Outlaw is as healing as it is scary for me. It’s showing me a picture of God who became flesh and shining the light of truth on this picture so I cannot help but see the false images I’ve been worshipping. There can be shame in that. God is not a god of shame, however, so as I read the Holy Spirit whispers in my ear that Jesus loves me. Wholly. Completely. All he wants is for me to know him in all his glory and truth.

The shame, it’s all mine. The love, that’s all God. Jesus I ask you for you. The REAL you.