the love of God

When A Question Broke My Heart

“I’ve already had sex. That means God can’t love me. Right?”

My heart died a little the day the eighth grader asked me that question. It was in an abstinence support group I was leading in one of the local public high schools. No religion allowed. Just the facts, ma’am.

This brave, broken girl was only 14 years old, on that rocky divide between woman and child. And she was already sexually active. She came from a “good” home: two parents, stay-at-home mom, father who brought in the big bucks after working long hours. They lived on an island of privilege in a sea of borderline poverty. They attended a large church. She spent as much time at church functions as she did at school extracurriculars. I share this because I’m shocked by how many christians believe if they the parents do everything right, their children will remain virgins until marriage. Or at least until they are engaged. Because, oh my God, sex! It’s evil, it’s wrong. Avert your eyes, my children, until you say I do, and then through some sort of magic, sex becomes the right thing to do. It’s your duty, don’t you know.

Our group met once a week in the high school, a school she attended because her parents wanted her to be in the world while learning to be not of it. As a facilitator I had gotten to know each girl’s story, teased out what they knew about sex – biology and psychology. Who were their mentors and teachers of all things sexuality. While the majority of girls learned about the birds and the bees from their health class – with a little additional exposition from a parent or older sibling and continued “education” from peers – this girl had learned only about abstinence within the hallowed halls of church purity culture. Don’t do it. Save yourself for marriage. You are your virginity and once that’s gone, well, you will always be a broken doll. Why? Because Jesus and Pastor So-And-So said so.

She was shamed into remaining pure. And that shame, plus lack of knowledge, kept her at her older boyfriend’s beck and call.

She had been pulled from the units in health class that focused on reproduction and sex education. The wisdom of youth leaders and her parents would be enough to keep her pure until she married. She was kept so busy she shouldn’t have time to think about boys. Or dating. Or, God forbid, sex.

But she joined my group. A voluntary group where the focus was on abstinence and how to make good choices, but my focus was on relationships and education. Perhaps some of my experience, some of my hard won wisdom could help even one of these girls. I wasn’t going to preach purity to them. Instead, I helped them understand they had options. And how to weigh the consequences of those options. Some of this was totally outside of where my girls were developmentally, so I tried so hard to have open dialogue and to be a safe person to come to with questions. I was not there to judge. I was not there to parent. My job was to educate.

Since all the girls in my group were sexually active in one way or another, I asked them the question “How does having sex make you feel? Is it like how you thought it would make you feel?” One by one all the girls admitted feelings of shame, confusion, anger. So we talked about that. One girl loudly blamed the boys she had sex with. It was always about them, never her. Maybe she needed a real man. So we talked about what was normal developmentally at various ages. About statutory rape. About consent. We spoke of birth control. Of saying no and what coercion can look like. About the fact that guys get to say no as well. We talked about abstinence and how that may be appropriate developmentally. And how that at any time one could choose to be abstinent, just as one could choose to be sexually active. We spoke about abuse, self-esteem, and how hard it is to be the only one who feels like she isn’t doing it when the rest of the world is. How once we have sex, we will forever carry around something from that person with us. We discussed consequences.

Then one week we talked about how sex made them feel, deep, deep down inside. Ashamed. Scared. Loved but afraid that love will go away if we say no. Powerful, but only for a little while.  Uncertain. Special. Dirty. Confused.

And that was when she raised her hand and whispered her fear that God could no longer love her.

My heart was breaking and I wanted to cry as I asked her why she thought that God couldn’t love her. Not wouldn’t or shouldn’t. Couldn’t. Like if there was one single act a human could perform that would cause God to turn away from us forever, that act would be sex outside of marriage.

She told us all in those quiet words that she was told by her youth pastor that a girl who has sex before marriage is forever damaged. That God prizes our purity above all. She painfully recounted how her parents would speak of the child of another family in church with condemnation. Why? Because this child had gotten pregnant at the age of sixteen. How horrible it was. How the troubles this family was now seeing were due to the sin of the child. And that the sin of the child was likely due to the sin of a parent. The rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the sinful tree. How another family was reeling from the news that their college aged daughter had been raped. Well, you know how those liberal state schools are – a breeding ground for sin and temptation. They should have sent her to a faith-based school. She was probably asking for it, anyway, with her skimpy shirts and short skirts.

I wanted to take those parents in hand and smack them. I wanted to share some words with that youth pastor. But even more, I wanted to take that girl and wrap my arms around her and tell her God loves her. God believes in her. And that we are not defined solely by our past or present. I shared my story. Molested as a young child by male babysitters. My own acting out and promiscuity. A boyfriend in college who was a predator and decided that broken me was just who he was looking for. Years of shame, anger, pain. Of carrying the guilt that wasn’t mine and acting out in unhealthy ways – not because sex is an unhealthy activity, but because of my motives.  And above all, of learning that God loves me.

He loved me when I was being abused. He loved me when I was the one doing the abusing. He loved me through it all. And that right there – that is humbling, my friends. It didn’t matter what was done to me or what I chose to do, God loved me through it. That didn’t negate the natural consequences of my choices, or the fact that I had to deal with the consequences of the choices and actions of other people. Consequences don’t just go away because God loves us. But that love, that perfect love, that can help us work through and heal from those consequences.

God’s love isn’t something that is relegated only for the pure. And who can judge purity anyway? God’s love is for all of us. God’s forgiveness is for all of us. For all have sinned. All have missed the mark. All have wandered from the law. All. Of. Us. And guess what. God loves us anyway.

This is what I was able to tell this girl. I didn’t tell her she needed to repent – so many in the church have the concept of repentance wrong anyway. I didn’t tell her God would forgive her. I told her what she needed to know. God does love her. God will always love her. That won’t make the physical, emotional and psychological consequences of having sex go away. But it removes the shame. And once the shame is gone, we can have open conversations about those consequences and whether we are willing to continue paying them or whether we want something different. She had been continuing having sex because she felt she was already so broken there were no other choices. It wasn’t the boys she was having sex with telling her this. It was her church. It was her parents. It was a culture that prizes virginity and purity more than it prizes people.

I don’t know where she is now. It’s been fifteen years. I hope she’s found a life she wants to live. I pray she knows God loves her with a fierce and holy love.

Please, dear Christians, think about this girl who was so broken because someone told her that her virginity was valued above all else, that sexual purity was the standard God was holding her to and to step outside of that was to invite the wrath of God. Think about her the next time someone comes to you with questions. Or comes to you broken. What are you going to live out for them? Are you going to condemn? Heap coals upon their already fragile heads? Or are you going to love them as Jesus loved? It’s not our place to judge. It’s not our job to save. It’s ours to love. We got that so mixed up somewhere along the way.

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Only Me, On My Knees…

How many roads did I travel
Before I walked down one that led me to You?
How many dreams did unravel
Before I believed in a hope that was true?
How long? How far?
What was meant to fulfill only emptied me still
And all You ever wanted…

There are turning points in our lives, points in time where there is a quickening spirit and doors are opened if only for a season. Do we walk through those doors? Do we rise to the tasks set before us and grasp ahold of that quickening with both hands and let it fling us forward? Or do we shake our heads and find ourselves focusing too much on the muck and the mire, or the comfort that surrounds us? Focus on the past or seek the future?

When these opportunities have come my way, I’ve been slow to take them. I haven’t seen them for what they were. Or was too engulfed in pain and fear and shame to see the love and desire in God’s eyes. I couldn’t see the kindness motivating the opportunities. I could only see my lack. Or my hubris. So I chose the known over the unknown and my own abilities over God’s and sometimes I missed out. Sometimes God was gracious and showered me with His gifts despite my hesitation, showing me His great kindness even when I couldn’t see it for what it was. Those acts of kindness helped me to trust that God was different.

Isn’t that just like, God, though? He chips away at our reservations and shines the truth on our fears until we start to see God for who He is, not who others say He should be?

How many deaths did I die
Before I was awakened to new life again?
How many half-truths did I bear witness to
‘Til the proof was disproved in the end?
How long? How far?
What was meant to illuminate shadowed me still
And all You ever wanted…

And what does God as in return? To spend time with Him. To engage in relationship with Him. To get to know who He really is. And to accept the gifts He wants to lavish on us.

A year ago, five years ago, I would have said I was there in that place where God and I were encountering each other. But after this last year? I realize what I’ve had and experienced is merely a taste of who God wants to be for me. I’ve made God too small and I’ve believed His love for me wasn’t deep and abiding. I haven’t truly believed that my worth is not based on works or contribution or accomplishment. My faith walk has been burdened with works and lies and living in shadows.

For me to experience more requires some work on my part. Not work so God will find me worthy. More ridding the garden of the weeds that want to grow up and choke out the fruit God has started to grow in my life. In this season of my life I’m weeding and pruning and healing the soil. Only this time, I’m not doing it alone. The Holy Spirit is right there with me, digging in the dirt with a trowel and sometimes with His bare hands. He’s pointing out which plants are the tender shoots that will bear fruit with a little care, and which plants, no matter how pretty, will choke out that young life if left to grow. He’s ruthless but tempers that with a sense of humor. And compassion.

Some of the roots are deep and require strong hands to yank them loose from the soil. These hurt initially. There’s a visceral rending within my soul and a moment of shocked silence as together we yank the weeds free. This is where the compassion comes in. While it may take time for the wound left by the evicted weeds, God is currently quick to reveal what can grow in its place. This isn’t to say He heals everything quickly. I’m still smarting from some fairly invasive species of cursed weeds we identified and removed a few weeks ago. But I can see how the lack of this wicked flora has opened up space for blessing. And renewal.

I think this is part of the process of sanctification. I used to know all these huge concepts around sanctification. Theologies by great men who studied the Bible and proposed doctrines on what it all means. I am in no way dissing these minds, nor I am putting myself up there with them. I’m not a great thinker. Not in that way. What I am is a woman on a journey to know God and to know who I am in Christ. To really know. Deep down in my bones, branded in my mind and heart knowing.

If sanctification is the process of being made holy, of embracing that image of God that has been part of our DNA since Adam and Eve, then isn’t partnering with God to remove the weeds, the roadblocks, the generational curses, the agreements we have wittingly or unwittingly made that pull us away from a relationship with the Trinity part of that process? And isn’t the journey of sanctification being able to see God for who God truly is and wanting to sit at His feet and commune with Him, worship Him, rest in Him?

There are turning points and seasons in which we are offered the path of God’s quickening spirit. If we choose to trust the hand God is holding out and walk into that choice, things will move quickly. Those weeds, God will be very quick to point them out. Never with shame. Never to make us feel guilty. Always to say ‘Do you see that there? If we plucked that out, if we ripped it away and mended the soil, this fruit, this gift will have room to grow. What do you say? Should we do that? Should we get our hands dirty and play in the soil? When this season is over, think of the glorious garden there will be.’

I’m so glad God is patient. I’m glad He has offered me the gift of this season in so many different ways, always prodding just a little deeper until I was able to say yes. And I’m glad He redeems the time. For this, for that patience and those gifts and that steadfast love, I’m truly grateful. What has God wanted? Me. Only me.

Only me on my knees
Singing holy, holy
And somehow
All that matters now is
You are holy, holy

(Nichole Nordeman. Holy. Sparrow, 2002. CD.)

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.

Who Needs Sleep?

I can’t sleep. I would love to blame this on my husband’s propensity to snore, but alas, this is not the case for tonight. My mind is full of other things. Not spinning out of control in a spiral of self-doubt as I am wont to do. No, I’m reflecting on my experiences over the last few weeks, encounters I have had with a woman who is called to spiritual warfare. Marji is a spiritual counselor, one whom I had heard of prior to last month, but not someone I thought I would ever see in a professional capacity.

Each of us is the product of two people joining their DNA. Within that genetic mapping are things such as eye color, bone structure, body type. Personality traits are in there somewhere, though personality is also molded by environment and experience. I believe we are also given familial curses and blessings of a spiritual nature. These can pass through to us from generations of ancestors past or from the very people who donated chromosomes for our own development. Ever wonder why tragedy befalls certain families generation after generation? Could it be that they are just unlucky? Perhaps. Or perhaps there is a curse on their family line, some agreement an ancestor made with a demon, wittingly or unwittingly. Legal ground is given and passes through the family for generations. A spiritual entailment, if you will.

Generational curses on a family line. I buy that. I struggled with this concept several years ago. Why would God punish me for something one of my great-great-great relative did so very long ago? But what if it isn’t God punishing us as proxies for another’s sin? What if generational curses are something else entirely?  What if one of those greats gave consent for evil and made agreements that allowed for legal access to all those who came after? What if God wants to do a good work in us but until we recognize the generational issues and break those agreements, we have reached a plateau in our growth?

I had reached a plateau. My mind knows so many truths about God, about my identity, about what a relationship with God can really look like. Yet I was stuck, unable to move past the knowing to the being. Nothing I tried worked. And I continued to feel as though I was living under a fog. Something wasn’t right. When somethings isn’t right with our bodies we see the doctor. When something is wrong with us spiritually, who do we call? I called Marji.

After two sessions with Marji I know something has shifted. I’m thankful for Marji’s part in starting me on the process. But I am in no way carrying around the illusion that after some prayers and renunciations I am finished the work. Life is a process. There are going to be seasons of growth and seasons of rest. I am in a season of growth.

I’m not sure how I feel about everything Marji said or did during our time together. I don’t think anyone person has an absolute picture of God and the grand scheme of His plans, so I try not to discount others when they say or do something that feels contrary to my experience of God. There is this one thing that is niggling at me, and it doesn’t feel quite right. I don’t know if it’s because Marji’s knowledge is a bit more expanded than my own, but when we spoke of chronic illness I was taken aback with her view.

If I understand Marji correctly, her view of illness chronic illness and disease is that it is a physical manifestation of a spiritual issue. Not necessarily sin per se, but oppression of our spiritual nature. I walked away from our sessions feeling like she believed that my chronic illness should now be healed because I have taken back legal ground in my spirituality and that part of my being is no longer being influenced by negative agreements.

I’m not sure where I stand on healing. I know people who have been healed of epilepsy, fibromyalgia, chronic pain. And not through medical intervention. So I believe there can be complete and total healing of the body. I also know people who have prayed for physical healing and their cancer was not put in remission, but their inner lives were strengthened and emotional wounding was healed in astonishing ways. Do I believe in healing? Yes, absolutely. Do I believe that illness in the body is a manifestation of what we believe or of our spiritual health? I’m not going to say no to this. I’ve seen too many things to say no. Read too much on epigenetics to say no. However, I do not believe that our physical afflictions are so easily addressed through spiritual means.

In a perfect world, in Eden, there would not be sickness, mental illness, relational dysfunction, poor self-esteem, abuse, greed…any of the things that impact and afflict us today. We do not live in a perfect world. Our bodies degrade as we age. Our genetic stew can predispose us to certain ailments and issues. And some of these may follow us to the grave. Does this mean we have done something wrong, made a misstep somewhere in our spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental journeys? I don’t think so. If that were the case, then the small child who has cerebral palsy has done something wrong to deserve such an affliction and God is a capricious God who doesn’t look at us with love and care, but with judgement.

I feel like I’m speaking out of both sides of my mouth with this. What I can say is I don’t have the answers and I am not comfortable with a world view where sickness and suffering is always because something is wrong in the spiritual. I feel like that world view doesn’t look at people as holistic beings, but wants to separate out the spiritual and the physical. Wants to always look for cause and effect.

I’m the first to admit it’s nice to be able to put things in neat little boxes, label them, tape them up, and put them on a shelf. I don’t know that life can be reasoned through this way. I wish it was that easy. Good and bad. Black and white. The world is full of shades of grey. Mystery. Unknown. It’s the human struggle to bring meaning to our world. To struggle through the unknown and explain it. Many good things have come from this. And I know in this period of growth that’s part of the process – the struggle. And admitting what I thought I knew and believed, well, maybe I didn’t have the full picture and need more information. And maybe I need to let some things go and have faith that if it’s really important for my salvation, for my health and wellbeing, the answers will be there. Eventually.

These are the thoughts that can keep me up at night.

The Truth About Love

There’s been a lot of thinking and pondering going on since God’s revelation two weeks ago. It’s not that what He told me was anything new. It was that He took the time to tell me at a time when I truly needed to know how He sees me.

According to the word I received, God sees me as talented, intelligent, beautiful, capable, and gifted. Creative even. I have not been seeing those things within myself. Creative? I can’t seem to write a word in the two novels I started this year. I don’t feel intelligent or capable half the time. Beautiful? I often feel anything but and I often don’t even believe my husband when he comments on how much he loves the way I look. What I see is almost the exact opposite of how God sees me.

Belief is an interesting thing. It doesn’t matter what is true if we choose to not believe it. So what if God sees me as this amazing woman? If I don’t see it then I’m not living in the truth. Worse than that, I’m making agreements and aligning with forces outside of Heaven.

I had to really think about that concept. If I’m not agreeing with God I’m agreeing with someone or something else. And those agreements I make are for things that are less than God’s best for my life. They are in essence keeping me away from God’s favor and bounty through the use of subtle and slick lies. God isn’t withholding HIs favor. In fact, He’s holding it out to me, waiting for me to grasp onto it.

Instead, I’ve listened to seductive and destructive voices play off situations and emotions while they tell me things about myself or others. Things that are not meant to grow the fruit of the spirit, but things that are meant to choke out any and all spiritual and personal growth.

How many times do we do that? How many times do we step out of our first love with the Trinity and into lesser agreements? How many times have we believed we are less than, worthless? How many times have we compared ourselves to others and felt jealousy and wished for something different? How many times have we wanted more and turned not to God but to the world and the powers of this world?

I am not too proud to say that while I love my Heavenly Father, I have succumbed to these agreements more often than not. Some of these have been with me a long, long time. for me, it started with one belief, one misconception that occurred at a young age where I agreed with a curse that was spoken over me by my grandmother and possibly other family members. This curse has been with my family  line for a while. It was birthed in jealousy and a desire for power by someone in the past and it has followed us around ever since. My grandmother is the most blatant example of living out life under this curse, but it impacts my entire extended family. Such is the nature of generational curses.

Belief births more beliefs and if what we believe isn’t in alignment with God’s truth, these beliefs become a fun house maze of mirrors, distorting how we see the world, our relationships, ourselves. They warp how we see God.

And isn’t that the point? The smoke and mirrors illusionists use are to distract us long enough that our attention is pulled away from the truth toward the illusion, tricking our minds into believing the illusion truly happened. The enemy wants us to be distracted long enough that we listen to the lies and agree with them. If we allow distraction to focus us on the lies long enough, we begin to believe them and eventually it becomes so very difficult to believe God when He embraces us with the truth.

God has been telling me the truth about who I am for years. I have been shrugging it off because the lies had such a foothold in my belief system I couldn’t see anything else. Until now. Until I started praying for the truth. Until I asked God to reveal the truth to me, to help me be a lover of truth and to be a voice for truth.

Because that’s what it means to be a prophet. You speak the truth. God’s truth. You remind people of who they really are in Heaven. You reveal love and joy and peace. The truth isn’t ugly. The truth doesn’t require penance. It’s isn’t about pointing fingers at the areas in life where we fall short. It isn’t about shame and blame and it definitely isn’t about turn or burn.

The truth, God’s truth, is all about setting people free. Isn’t that one fo the foundational messages in the Gospel? If you know God’s truth, it will set you free. (John 8:36).

Something shifted inside me after this latest word from God, like all the Tetris pieces falling neatly into place. There is work ahead of me and a lot more truth for me to face and be embraced by, but I’m no longer on auto-pilot following the illusions. I continue to pray for God’s truth to be revealed around me and for wisdom in what needs to be changed in my own beliefs and behaviors. And I’m ever so grateful that God doesn’t give up on us, didn’t give up on me. I can’t imagine getting to this place on my own.

I’m no expert on this, I’m still learning, but I need to ask for those of you who have read this far, where do you believe in lies spoken to you or over you and does God’s great love for you have any place within those beliefs? If not, maybe it’s time to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s truth to you.