authenticity

Knowing and Believing

For years God has been trying to get my attention regarding some specific weeds that are choking the life out of my spiritual garden. For years I’ve either dismissed Him or haven’t been listening for Him, and the weeds have been allowed to continue to grow and flourish. But God is full of second, third, tenth chances and this time I heard the message loud and clear. Maybe it’s because Claire and I spent some time last year doing some work that humbled me while at the same time preparing the ground. Maybe it’s because I’m not currently working and have nothing but time right now to talk with God. Maybe it’s also because God has a quirky sense of humor and decided to use a deceptively simple line of dialogue from one of my favorite fictional novels to drive His point home. Either way, as I was laying in bed rereading some of my favorite scenes, this line set off a clanging in my head complete with noisemakers and flashing lights.

Knowing isn’t always believing.

Deceptively simple, isn’t it? In the context of the story, the line is meant to point out that knowing something intellectually doesn’t equate believing it, of trusting it to be true. In the case of the book, the heroine knows she wasn’t responsible for the death of her fiancè, even believes it most of the time. She knows she doesn’t have to carry her burden alone, doesn’t need to protect her loved ones and friends from the trauma of her life, but her current actions point to knowledge with a lack of belief. Knowing without believing.

As I was reading this exchange, the proverbial light bulb when on in my head – I know many things about God, about His nature, about what He says He wants for us and His immense love for us. I know about the Holy Spirit, the Trinity. I KNOW and I fully believe this deep love of God, the relationship with the Holy Spirit, the redemptive love of Jesus…for other people. I only believe some of it for me. When I told Claire of my revelation, one I’m sure she had already deduced, she asked me one question that I’m still mulling. Do I know why I don’t have expectation?

What a good question. I’ve been sitting on that question for a long while and all I can think of is that deep down I’m not sure I’m worthy. And deeper down I’m afraid that all this goodness of God will be snatched away and I will be left broken and bleeding, alone and cold and that voice in my head that tells me that people like me, people from my family, good things just don’t happen for us, that this voice will be right. I’m not at the bottom of why I don’t have these expectations. There’s something else there, something that flirts with the edges of my conscious mind and disappears when I try to focus on it. The thing is, now I’m angry. I should be able to expect good things. God didn’t say He loved only some people. He loves the world. Every. Damn. One. Of. Us. Just look at the oft quoted verse that we all love for it’s validation that we are special to God but seem to forget when we interact with Him and with everyone else.

God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.John 3:16, Amplified Bible (AMP)

If this love is mine, why shouldn’t I have expectations of God? Why shouldn’t I want something different, something more from my life? Why should I simply know and not believe? Claire once told me that she holds God to His promises. She actively reminds Him of what He promised and let’s Him know in no uncertain terms that she EXPECTS Him to fulfill them. She may not know what that fulfillment looks like, but God promised and He must follow through.

I admire that in Claire. That chutzpah. I have stood before God and held Him to the promises He has made other people. I haven’t done that for myself. It never felt right before, but lately knowledge and belief have been merging. My husband and I spent a long weekend at a lake a few hours from our home. While he was out chopping firewood,  I stood at the water’s edge and I argued with God. At first, tentatively. Who was I to engage the Creator of the Universe in such an irreverent way? I’m His daughter, that’s who. And daughters argue with fathers, even while they love and adore them. My conversation became more intense. I reminded God of some of the promises He spoke to me. I told Him I didn’t see the outcome of these promises in my life. I demanded He remember these promises, the same way He remembered His promises to Israel. I have been trying to uphold my part, now I need to see Him uphold His. I expect Him to uphold His.

I don’t know what my future will look like. But I know, I believe it has to be better than it is now. I have an expectation.

Advertisements

You’re Never Going to Break My Soul

Days like today I’m glad I’m not a parent. My maternal lioness is pacing and roaring, wanting to slash at something. Someone. It’s a little disturbing just how much my inner lioness wants off her leash.

One of my dearest friends is feeling deep emotional pain. The kind of pain that is born from cutting betrayal. I want to curl myself around her and protect her from her husband’s cold rage and his gaslighting. I want to walk up to him and punch him in the balls, pack his bags, and kick his ass on his way to the curb. My lioness claws as me, begging me to let her out. She will protect to the death. She will deliver swift justice. Then she will lay down at my friend’s feet and purr, letting her know that things will be okay.

There are words for what she is going through. The words are dark and are spoken in hushed tones, if spoken of at all. Abuse. My friend is being abused by her husband. Why? From what I am aware, because he doesn’t like himself and he doesn’t like his life. He’s likely jealous of the relationship my friend has with her daughters. He’s tired of being asked to step up and be a good father, a good husband. He earns a very good living and is very good at his job. Brilliant, in fact. He’s been courted by companies who are willing to pay him extremely well to do what he does.

When he comes home, it’s like he regresses to a teenager. He plops down on the couch and wants to play with his iPad or play video games. Or sleep. He doesn’t help with the house. He doesn’t clean. He doesn’t take care of the house or the yard. He ignores his children at best and gaslights them at worst. My friend carries the heavy load of maintaining the house, raising and loving her children. If she doesn’t do it, things don’t get done. Does he help? Only when it is asked or demanded of him, and even then begrudgingly. I’ve seen this in action. If he is asked to step out of his comfort, he lashes out and punishes. It’s insidious. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you just think something is off. I know what to look for. I worked with abuse victims for a few years. I was one.

There is a death occurring. My friend has lost her hopes in what her marriage could be. She’s lost who she thought her husband was and the potential of their partnership. She’s lost feeling safe in her own home. These deaths cut like knives into wounds that haven’t been allowed to heal. The emotional and psychological hits keep coming.

Abuse is never okay. NEVER. It doesn’t matter if a person has a deep well of self-loathing or if a person feels trapped in a life they didn’t sign up for. No matter how angry, how desparate, how hurt a person is, it’s never okay to lash out at others. It’s really not okay to play games, fuck with another person’s perception of reality. Crazy making is a special hell. A former boyfriend was a master at this. He lied with such sincerity everyone around him thought he was broken and vulnerable. When someone came too close to seeing his true self, he started in with comments designed to make a person doubt themselves. Doubt the truth. With emotional emotional manipulation meant to shut the person down.

I questioned my sanity for almost two years. I started to believe that I had a problem. I took responsibility for the sexual abuse he dished out and for the emotional manipulation. For making him so angry he wrestled me to the ground and used brute force to subdue me and degrade me. Most of the time he didn’t even need to touch me. A well placed comment sent me to my metaphorical knees begging him to love me, trying to convince him I was sorry for whatever imagined slight I had undertaken. I was putty in his hands.

It took therapy with a highly qualified therapist and a year in prayer demanding God show me what was real before I felt any sort of balance. By the time I met my husband, I had a firm grasp on what had occurred. And yet it wasn’t until I was working with victims of abuse that I was able to apply that word to my own experience. I had been abused. I didn’t deserve any of what he had dished out. I wasn’t broken or crazy. It took me longer to realize that the church generally has very naive views about abuse. Many men and women are encouraged to stay in an abusive marriage. The abuser is believed over the victim because most abusers are cunning and master manipulators. Wives are banged over the head with the call to submit. Where is the call to love? Abuse is not love. It never was. It never will be. So women, and men, stay, believing if they just love their spouse more purely, if they can fix themselves (lose themselves) to become better christians, better spouses, better at anticipating behavior and adapting their own, the abuse will stop. Spouting bible verses and higher standards to this type of situation does not work. It reinforces the abuse. It leaves a person not only abused by their partner but by the very faith community that should be holding people accountable and a safe haven for the vulnerable.

Love does not fix abuse. You cannot love the abusive behavior out of someone. Therapy, the willingness to see the self clearly, learning new skills such as anger management, and remorse can help an abusive person. It may not be enough to restore a relationship, however. You know what? That’s okay. There is no guarantee that any relationship that has been systematically destroyed can be restored. God doesn’t promise this.

Knowing what I know about spousal/partner abuse, knowing my friend, I have a hard time leashing my inner lioness. I need to. She doesn’t need me to slay her dragon. She needs my love and compassion and unwavering support. She needs me to speak the truth, but to also speak love and hope. When she is unable to see a future where she is free to be herself in all her beautiful glory, I can hold that future for her. And I demand that God take note and hold her husband to account. Abuse, no matter whether it is intentional, premeditated, or not, is never okay. NEVER. I believe God will step in and provide restitution for those who suffer at the hand of someone else. God is so much bigger, so much kinder, so much more than we can imagine. I’m not naive enough to believe that everyone in an abusive situation will be able to leave it. Or have the resources to heal on the most foundational of levels. But God sees all the suffering.

I pray that for my friend, God will recompense her for more than what her husband has taken away. That God will hold her husband to account for his beliefs and actions. And that she will be free. She is strong enough. She is resilient and resourceful. She is not afraid of the truth. Not afraid of entering into the often difficult work of healing and skill building. She is, quite honestly, amazing.

If you know someone who is being abused, please do more than pray. Educate yourself. Speak with compassion. Find resources so when your loved one/friend is ready s/he can take the steps to move forward. Love them. Always love them. Don’t judge the decisions they make out of self-preservation. Cry with them. Laugh with them. Walk beside them. Enter in. Hold a better future for them. Be patient. Be kind. Be honest and compassionate. Speaking as one who was abused and had no one who believed me while I was in it, believe them. Stand witness to their stories. Be willing to walk alongside them for as long as they need you to. Be a safe place. If you need to do your own work in order to be that safe place, do so. The world is a messy place. Relationships can be messy. Don’t be afraid to love someone in all their messy glory.

Of Plants and Personalities

I have am the caretaker of four plants: three orchids and one geranium. It surprises me that the orchids in my care have survived this long, especially the one that I’ve had for almost four years. They have thrived when other plants have given up the ghost and they continue to delight me with gifts of new growth and periodically, of those wonderful flowers orchids are known for. All they require of me is water, some humidity, a little food once a month, and that I pay attention to the amount of direct sunlight they get per day. Orchids, I have learned, far prefer indirect sunlight.

The geranium, she is another story. This particular plant was purchased on a whim when the neighbor boy down the street came door to door selling plants to earn money for his band trip. The plant arrived in full bloom, healthy and happy in an outdoor hanging basket. She was hung on our deck where she would receive the right amount of light and, when it rained, a lovely soaking of water. I deadheaded her over the summer months, watered her when the rain was stingy, and enjoyed the riot of pink and white flowers she offered me for my trouble.

When summer came to a close and Jack Frost started drawing on the roof tops and windows and icing the trees with hoarfrost it was time to make a decision about the geranium. I could let her die, as I have for so many other annuals in the past. Or, I could bring her inside and nurture her through the winter. My husband convinced me to take door number two and I have been caring for this finicky plant ever since.

People are as diverse as plants. Perhaps even more so. In these last few months as I’ve had time to reflect and ponder (not always a good thing, let me tell you), I’ve learned a thing or two. Or perhaps it’s not that I’ve learned them, it’s that I’ve remembered them.

I have a dear friend who I love like a sister. I admire the hell out of her, I really do. She is tenacious and stubborn and sensitive and insightful and compassionate and seeks to understand. She is a warrior when it comes to her children and her marriage. She is not only willing to walk the hard road if it is the better path in the long run, she walks that path with her head high and thinks nothing of reminding God of what He has promised her.  She is beautiful inside and out and one of the strongest women I know.

It is her tenacity I have been observing in the last few months, her unwillingness to succumb to melancholy or self pity. Her drive to resolve and/or fix and issue. She is always pushing forward, always creating momentum. In this way, she is much like my husband. He’s a fixer. There is an issue, he has this internal drive to fix it. He’s not as gentle about it as my friend is, especially when the issue that has been observed is something I need to seriously address.

And this is where I differ from both of them. Yes, I want to resolve things as well, but I don’t have that strong internal drive to be tenacious. Or if I do, it’s on vacation and has been so for some time. I admire that drive while at the same time feel exhausted thinking about the energy and focus needed to stay the course. Next to my dear friend (and my husband) I feel like a sloth. I don’t attack issues. I come up to them as though they are a skittish horse, slowly and almost as though I’m not paying attention to it. I know it’s there, oh I’m constantly aware it’s there, but I tend to wind my way toward the issue, stepping toward it, acknowledging it, then stepping away to ponder what I learned in that encounter. I don’t have that singular focus, and have wondered for years if I have some form of ADD. It’s not that I’m distractible, though I am. It’s more that I need to give my subconscious time to work out parts of the issue without my conscious self getting in the way.

It seems to take forever for there to be progress when I look at myself and compare that to my friend’s journey. Sigh. I said it. Compare. I so admire my friend and her approach to life that when I look at my own I feel like something is wanting. I cry tears of frustration when I ask God why it seems to take so long for me to get to a new level of relationship with Him, why insights that appear to come to others so quickly take me forever to obtain. Why I hear Him tell me to rest when what I really want is to stop going around and around the same issue time and time again.

What has this to do with my orchids and my geranium? In addition to plants be so varied and different, with different needs and different optimal growing conditions, plants also accept what they are. My geranium doesn’t appear to want to be an orchid. My orchids seem genuinely pleased to be what they are and as long as I provide them with the right amounts of light, water, humidity and plant food, they flourish. I had to learn new ways to care for my geranium. I’m still learning it’s idiosyncrasies and needs. And am learning to not despair when leaves yellow and die. For every leaf and ever stem I need to cut back, a proliferation of new leaves appear to grow to recover the space. I’m awed with the tenacity of my geranium. It wants to thrive despite my often inadequate care.

I am not my friend. Or my husband. They have their strengths and their journeys. I can admire them. I can learn from them. But I should not try to be them. Maybe that’s why God tells me to rest, so I can give myself a break from, well, me and my desire to be someone I’m not. What I can take away from my friend’s journey is that her relationship with God is authentic and a living thing. Maybe I’m never going to have her level of tenacity or her ability to create forward momentum. Maybe what I can learn from her is to be real with God and to expect and anticipate Him being real with me. Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions when I ask God why or why not. Maybe instead I should ask what now. What does He want to give me now. Who does He want to be for me so I can grow, so I can overcome. So I can be more the person He created me to be. Maybe, instead of striving to embody what I admire in my friend, I should find those things God has placed within me so I can admire His handiwork. Just like I admire the nuances and complexities He created within the plants in my care.

Am I Standing Still?

As I write this, we are 36 days into a new year. I used to love New Year’s Day. There was this bright promise of a fresh start. The sort of fresh start that came with the beginning of summer and the end of a school year with nothing but freedom ahead until September. And reprised again with a new school year, new teachers, new things to learn. New beginnings. Yet, when New Year’s spun around, it didn’t seem to spin with it any new beginnings. It seems to…stand still.

I look around me and I see the same things I see every day. Home renovations that drag on and on. Assignments at work that I feel woefully unequipped to fulfill. Snow. Bitter cold. A Father who seems rather silent.

Winter is a time for the land to lay fallow, dormant. The land is allowed to replenish nutrients and, in some cases, heal. Sometimes healing takes more than a season. Sometimes it can take years. Land that has been deeply saturated with toxins takes decades to rejuvenate and become fertile once again. Much activity takes place beneath the surface and what looks still is full of unseen activity.

I feel like that land. Tired and battered and barely gasping with life, now lying dormant. That new beginning? It feels so far off in the future that it might as well not exist right now. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe I need to stand still in order to grow.

I didn’t realize just how scared I was until last year. I’ve been through therapy. I’ve been a therapist. I’ve worked as a life coach and have worked with a life coach. All of this is to say, I’m no stranger to doing the work. I am responsible for my happiness; that task doesn’t fall to anyone else. So, when a mirror was held up to me I had to take a long, hard look. Sure, work had been done and I had grown and become a stronger person. Stronger for what?

This last year has taught me, or rather reinforced for me, the truth that God will give us what we need to become a little stronger, a little more who He knows we are. He wants to provide for us, to be for us what we need in this moment. And when this moment is finished, He wants to be what we need next. To think that we’re finished, that the overcoming and growing and healing is finished is perhaps arrogant. Phew, I dealt with my borderline grandmother. That was hard work. But, hey, I’m finished now. I’m complete. Right.

I’m a trained therapist, you would think I would know better. Life is a process. A journey. We have victories along the way and God does indeed provide what we need in this moment. And a little more because He knows what’s ahead. There’s another beginning somewhere ahead of me. There’s another story to write, another passion to pursue, another layer to my purpose. But right now, it’s time to lay fallow. To renew. To grow. And perhaps to learn anew who God is for me. To spend time in a word that is near and dear to my heart and rely upon the Holy Spirit to write it upon my heart. And give it meaning in a new way.

In a sense, isn’t that a new beginning? It’s not the lush growth of spring or the wildness of summer. It’s not the loamy richness of autumn. It’s the rest of winter. Resting is not standing still. It’s allowing for rejuvenation and healing. It’s finding that secret sacred space in the Holy Spirit where our wells are filled to overflowing within the empty and broken places inside us. It’s a quiet revolution that yields a quiet strength.

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.