relationships

I Need You to Need Me

Actions have consequences. In scientific terms, this is cause and effect. Effects aren’t evil. They don’t have intent. They just are. There are natural consequences to everything. Some are easy to understand. Touch a hot pot, burn your hand. Combine bleach and ammonia, create a noxious gas cloud that could kill you. Throw a ball for the neighbor’s dog, gain a friend for life. Pinch your younger brother, draw the wrath of your mother. Even if he started it.

Sometimes the consequences aren’t what one anticipates. This usually occurs with people. My cousin was often quite mean to me when we would visit. He was only two years older but would act like there was a ten year gap between us. One day he was teasing me, calling me a baby. And then he dropped the gauntlet. There was no way I could complete a “highly” complicated Star Wars Rebel Fighter out of LEGO. I was just a girl. And a baby at that. Really, my friend? You’re going to challenge me to a task that married two of my greatest loves at the time – LEGO and Star Wars? You bet I handed him his ass. I was expecting my cousin to act the way my brother would whenever I bested him: to pout, call me names, and break apart the Lego creation. Instead my cousin looked at my Rebel Fighter with respect and invited me to play with all of his Star Wars Lego sets. We remain friendly to this day.

Sometimes consequences are confusing. They don’t seem to fit the situation, or the consequence comes in two parts that appear to negate each other. I remember one day I stood up to my brother’s bully. Sure, I got punished for punching the girl’s face, but I was also rewarded with praise for standing against those who wished to do harm. The message I learned? Hand someone their ass but don’t get caught doing it. The intended message? I’m fairly certain my parents meant for me to learn that standing against injustice is good, but there are ways to do so that do not involve violence.

I have a friend who loves her boyfriend so much she would do anything for him. She wants to take care of him to the point I start to feel smothered on his behalf. He is very independent and hasn’t had the best luck with girlfriends in the past. It’s not that he isn’t willing to share his life with my friend. He is very open and kind. But he doesn’t want her to take care of him. On a rare occasion where he and I went out for coffee without my friend, he told me his perfect relationship was with someone who wanted to be with him, not someone who wanted to be needed. In his mind, need was a slippery slope to inequity and losing one’s self. Wouldn’t it be better, he argued, to be with someone who doesn’t need you, who chooses to be with you because they love you. They want you. Out of all the people in the world they choose you.

I thought about this as it applies to action and consequences, trying to map out the logic of how this young man felt. There are far more potential consequences when dealing with people. Unlike the science experiments we had in high school, people can be unpredictable and the consequences may not be what we expect, therefore it is almost impossible to create a logic tree that includes all potential outcomes. But I had to give it a try. I wanted to understand.

So I asked him, that if a woman has a strong desire to take care of her boyfriend/spouse and is motivated by a need to be needed, what might be some possible consequences of this action. Together we came up with three:

  1. She could develop a codependent relationship with the boyfriend and be set up to play the role of caregiver throughout the life of their relationship, which could lead to resentment and inequity on both sides
  2. He could push her away or end the relationship because he doesn’t want to be the object of need for another
  3. By doing for him or taking care of him, she could be denying them both opportunities to grow into their human potential

These are by no means the only consequences that could be experienced, but they were the ones that were foremost on this young man’s mind. So why these consequences in this situation? He looked up at me and told me that his mother took care of his father. She anticipated all his needs and desire. Her life was about him. She often said she was nothing without him. And his dad? He once shared with his son that he felt smothered at home, which was why he often had “business trips” out-of-town. He didn’t want to be his wife’s sole focus. He wanted her to have a life that was rich and rounded. He wanted the same for himself. He felt trapped.

So this young man watched and learned and went to therapy to start to figure out what a healthy relationship looked like, because his parents’ relationship seemed to be one of the many opposites of healthy. One of his conclusions was that he didn’t want to be needed and he didn’t want to need. He recognized this as an extreme view and acknowledged that over the lifetime of a relationship there is give and take. But he didn’t want the foundation to because of need. It had to be choice.

My friend wants to take care of her boyfriend because that is the model she learned. You show someone you love them by taking care of them. She didn’t realize her family of origin had some serious codependency and caretaking issues. She didn’t know how dangerous these things could be to one’s health and wellbeing. The good news is that she is open to discussion and willing to see another point of view. She is willing to learn. This may lead her to therapy where she can begin to learn examples of a healthy adult relationship and gain the language and skills she may need to build her own.

Her new actions will have new and fascinating consequences. This is the process of growing toward our better selves. Beliefs lead to choices. Choices lead to behaviors and actions. Actions lead to consequences (or results) that lead back to beliefs and choices. I wish these two the best as they walk their relational journey together.

Human relationships are so messy sometimes. At the end of the day, we have to do the best we can with what we know and be willing to learn and grow. Sometimes growing means saying good-bye to beliefs and behaviors that no longer serve us. Sometimes it means learning that what we think is healthy is actually maladaptive behavior that is hurting instead of helping. Sometimes it means there will be pain in the process. Ultimately it means we become closer to that better version of ourselves we are striving to be.

Advertisements

No Expectations

Several things coalesced to form an insight bomb that exploded within me. My unmet yet unvoiced expectations have been causing me pain.

I spent the last day listening to, thanking and then dismissing the internal voice that wanted to heap on the guilt and shame and self-recriminations. What do I tell the pre-marital couples I work with? That unvoiced expectations become unmet expectations and drive wedges in relationships. How much easier it is to explain these concepts to other people than to live them out in my own life. I’m very good at teaching these concepts to others. I’m not as adept at internalizing them myself. The good news is, eventually I do internalize them. Eventually I get there. This was one of those times.

What led me to this epiphany? It started with finding out on Saturday that my MIL is coming to town and will be staying with use for a few days next week. Any time she comes to town I start to feel a certain level of dread, but I was able to put most of this aside after an insightful email exchange with Claire and a night spent in prayer and, okay, generally bitching at God.

But something was still gnawing at me. I couldn’t put my finger on what.

The weekend came and went. I have a pre-marital couple who are considering coaching so I brushed off my materials and did a quick review of expectations. Nothing new, but I haven’t coached in several months and I wanted to make sure the materials were able to be adapted for a couple who had been living together for a couple of years and were expecting their first child. That gnawing started to get louder, became more of a chewing. Still, I couldn’t identify the source.

Yesterday I read this post by a good friend and fellow blogger and boy did I relate. I was nodding my head as I read and started to see a picture of me looking down on my husband when he told me he talked to his mom and she was coming for a few days next week. I turned to myself and it was as though the conversation was put on pause and the version of me who was interacting with my husband was able to turn and look at the me who was observing. I asked conversation me, ‘Do you know why you’re so upset inside right now?’

She paused for a moment, obviously mulling things over. ‘I’m upset because he doesn’t see what I see, but I can understand that. He’s lived with her, she’s behaving in patterns that are familiar to him. I’m on the outside of that. I see things differently. I have a different relationship with her than he does.

“What’s really eating at me though is this one simple thing. He didn’t even bother to ask. Again. He didn’t bother to see if it was okay with me. Again. I don’t seem to count in the decision-making process.”

Does he know you expect to be a part of this process, rather than just be informed after the face, I asked myself.

“He should. I’ve told him this often enough over the years. How it bothers me. How we’re a team and when it comes to making a commitment or decision that impacts the other person, I want us to be involved each other in the decision-making.”

But does he KNOW this? To which I had to answer, I don’t know. Outside of having a heated discussion after the fact, I don’t know if he knows this is an expectation. Or if he even shares this as an expectation. In fact, I strongly suspect he doesn’t share this expectation at all after he told me that others make decisions that impact him without his input all the time, it’s just the way life is. And that if the situation were reversed and we lived closer to my family, I would likely be making commitments and decisions like he does with his family and tell him after the fact.

Okay, that last statement aside because I can only deal with so much insight at a time (and isn’t that last one just loaded?), I realized part of my problem in the drama with my MIL is that my husband and his mother decide when she’s coming and how long she’s staying and I am treated like I have no say. Rather, I feel like I have no say. I feel like an after thought. Maybe I am. I expect to be consulted and to be given the choice. I haven’t voiced it this way to my husband, but it’s what I expect. What I want. And when it doesn’t happen, I feel like I don’t count. I don’t matter. Does he feel that way about me? I don’t think so. Is his intent to hurt me? I don’t think that, either.

He’s operating with a different set of values and expectations. Is my expectation unreasonable? No, but…

What were to happen if I let that go? What if I just let it go and didn’t bring it up ever again? If I were to accept that right now, this expectation doesn’t align with my husband’s expectations? Can I be happy even if I’m not consulted? Does it make me walked on or less valued? Does my worth change if this one thing doesn’t happen?

When I talked it over with the Holy Spirit I ended up apologizing to my husband for holding this against him. I let him know I had an expectation and when it wasn’t met I was hurt and angry. I told him that this expectation had to do with a picture I have of what it means to partner and to ‘leave and cleave’ from our families of origin. That this picture was more about my needs than his. I asked him if he understood my expectation and he told me he didn’t. I wasn’t trying to hurt me, he just didn’t understand why he needed to ask me. He certainly didn’t expect me to ask him if it was okay for my family to visit. Just to inform him of when and how long.

At this point, I told him I was letting it go. We have different values here and I had to be responsible for my expectations, my feelings, myself talk and even my happiness. That wasn’t on him. Do I still want that picture to be reality? Sure. But it’s not. And right now I think I need to accept that. I can be happy and not be asked if my MIL can come stay. I can be happy while she visits. I can choose something different. I don’t need to control the situation. I don’t need to agree with my husband on whether a spouse should be consulted before inviting someone to stay. I can learn to see his perspective.

It’s not perfect. He’s still miffed at me for being upset with him. I’m still adjusting to the concept that I don’t need to have a say, I just want to have a say. Marriage can be messy, but at the end of the day, I’m responsible for my beliefs, my behaviors, my actions, and my happiness. This expectation, it needs examining and maybe I need to trade it in for something else.

These Foolish Games Are Tearing Me Apart

Hearing my parents’ ringtone two days after I had just spoken with them was jarring. We speak once a week and email or text other important – and unimportant – news as we feel led. Additional calls during the week signal BAD NEWS. Family members dying, in the hospital, losing jobs, getting divorced. Crises.

This was the sense of panic I felt as I answered this unexpected call. It was a crisis and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

My grandmother Zelda is in the hospital. She has COPD due to years of heavy smoking and late last week her health care worker found her struggling to breathe. The episode was so intense that an ambulance was called and my grandmother was rushed to the hospital. Tests were run, as the staff at hospitals love to run tests, and it turns out my grandmother has a couple of life threatening issues beyond the COPD.

Apparently Zelda has cancer that started in her colon and is now in her lungs. She also has an extremely large aortic aneurysm located in her abdomen. Doctors are concerned. A vascular surgeon is being consulted regarding the aneurysm. Zelda would not be able to withstand treatment for the cancer so that will not be tested or treated. For now.

I feel as though I should be sad. My grandmother is basically dying. I’m not sad. When I first heard the news my first thought was one of immense relief. Behind it came shame. How could a granddaughter feel relief that her grandmother is dying? Joining shame for a little shindig was anger. When it comes to my grandmother, there’s always a little anger swimming around within my psyche. Why? To explain you need to know that Zelda has an axis-II personality disorder: borderline personality disorder, or BPD. Like many people with BPD, she can be manipulative and she is not a safe person.

For years she has pulled out the Queen/Witch persona and reigned hellfire down on people in her path. She emotionally, verbally, and quite likely physically abused my mother and my two aunts for years. Zelda’s favorite form of abuse is to withhold her favor from one or two of her daughters while singling out the other daughter as the “Favored One”. Her favor is never without strings. You must kowtow, placate, do anything to please her or she will yank her favor out from under you so quickly you won’t see the floor rising up to hit you on the ass.

While I have no doubt this is a frightening time for my grandmother, I can see her using this as a final opportunity to force her children to care for her while she criticizes, manipulates, and spews toxicity upon them. She will want them to suffer as much as she suffers. She will blame her discomfort on them.

I’m not saying this to be mean or to malign my grandmother. She is God’s child. She is also mentally ill and that illness has been untreated all her life. I struggle as I write this. How vulnerable can I be here in this space where I chronicle my journey? What does it help to talk about a woman who has BPD and is so very mean within her mental illness? What point is there to sharing about her repeated abuse of her daughters, her grandchildren? Why write about a woman to whom I haven’t spoken in years?

In some ways, Zelda holds keys to my identity and some of the spiritual issues I have been dealing with as of late. I have very real and twisty feelings toward my grandmother and layers of things to forgive. I have guilt that is displaced and needs to be shed. I have anger, pity, compassion, and shame all having a party within me.

Despite or because of her mental illness, Zelda is a very angry, very bitter woman. When she is not locked up in her apartment avoiding the world, she reigns supreme and demands…everything. Grown men have walked in fear of triggering one of her cold rages. Lesser mortals shrivel and die a bit inside when faced with her displeasure.

And as I write this, flipping through my mental picture album for those few and far between good memories of time with her, I realize that I am also angry and if left unchecked I could become very bitter. There is legitimate anger within me, but very little mercy. At least not toward her. Not toward the woman who spoke curses over me when I was a very young child. Not toward the woman who emotionally eviscerated my mother in front of me every chance she got. Not the woman who, at my high school graduation, told me a looked like a tarted up slut. Who seemed to find pleasure in criticizing a person for dreaming or reaching for something more.

As I type, that anger starts to seethe. And that scares me. Is this the legacy Zelda is leaving me? Anger and bitterness and judgement? Is this who I want to be?

I think there’s a place for anger when there is injustice. I think that mercy must also exist alongside anger. And that anger, it can’t be where a person stops. There will be justice, but that’s in God’s hands. And what does justice look like? Is it suffering due to illness? No, what Zelda is experiencing are the natural consequences of her choices and of a fallen world. That’s not justice. Sure, I could call it that and feel self-righteous that she’s finally getting what’s coming to her. That doesn’t make me any better than she is. It makes me smug and arrogant and hard-hearted.

Maybe justice would be Zelda understanding she can make different choices. Maybe it’s contrition. Maybe justice is her three daughters undergoing therapy to undo the years of abuse and manipulation so they can lead stronger, healthier lives. Maybe it’s coming to Papa and falling into His arms, a broken woman in need of healing. Maybe mercy and justice aren’t too far apart.

My grandmother is dying and I still don’t completely know how I feel. I do know this – it’s more than time to stop living under Zelda’s legacy and instead live the life God wants so dearly for me to live.

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.

Growing Pains

I am feeling somewhat disconcerted at the moment. I think this is in part because I sometimes when I embrace my gifting and live from  this place of favor and relationship, I feel like I’m playing dress-up with my parent’s clothes. It’s not quite my own. So, when I start to see glimpses of how others view their identity in Christ and it differs dramatically from what God is teaching me, I’m not always quite sure I have the authority or the experience to step in and exhort them in who they really are and call out their false thinking.

Recently I heard a sermon on the seventh chapter in the book of Luke. There are so many wonderful pictures within this story. We have a Roman centurion who cares enough about his ailing servant that he seeks out the Jewish Messiah to see if he can garner Jesus’ favor and have his servant healed. He is a man who has apparently honored the Jews in his community for the elders actually sought out Jesus on his behalf, imploring Him to save the soldier’s servant, declaring his worth because he was a friend to Israel and had even gone so far as to build the synagogue for And you see Jesus who openly admires the faith of a man outside the Jewish community, an enemy of Israel.

You also see that how emotional thinking can potentially get in our way. The centurion did not approach Jesus himself. Perhaps he knew he was asking a lot from a man whose people he was helping to subjugate. Perhaps he felt that as a Gentile, he didn’t have the right to ask this Messiah anything, let alone the healing of a servant. But he was worthy. He had faith and with that faith he stepped out and asked something of Jesus. Emotional thinking tells us what we feel. It does not tell us the truth. Emotional thinking told the centurion that he was not worthy to have Jesus enter his home, or perhaps to meet him face to face. So he sent Jewish leaders to implore Jesus, and friends to on one hand apologize for his impudence and on the other explain his case.

Jesus’ response to this man was wonder. Awe perhaps. Here was a man who had absolute faith that Jesus could heal at a command. He declared as much and, according to the passage, the servant was healed without fanfare.

I’m sure there are a lot of lessons to obtain through this passage alone, but what got me thinking about my lack of confidence in my calling is what I heard during the sermon. I heard this verse called out as our experience. That we are not worthy to stand before God. Now, I’ll admit I wasn’t paying full attention at the beginning of the sermon and perhaps more was said that explained what I am about to exhort.

Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house,
the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself
further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof        Luke 7:6

What I heard during the sermon was that we are like the centurion. We are not worthy to stand in the presence of God. Perhaps the man who gave this sermon was trying to say that except for the work of Christ on the cross, we would have been like the centurion. We would have been under the law and may have been unworthy to have God enter in with us. But because of the work of the cross, we are worthy. Jesus took our sin and made it His. He did this to reconcile the people of the earth to God, to himself. We are worthy. There is nothing between us and God’s love and God wants us to enter in.

But that is not what I heard. I heard we were unworthy but God wants us anyway. Oh, it’s a slight difference in phrasing but so huge a gap in meaning. If we go around believing we are unworthy, how are we going to view God? Faith? The gospel? More than likely, we are going to strive to be worthy and in the back of our minds are always going to wonder if we failed. We will be attempting to please and placate God with our actions rather than entering into a relationship with Him. Why? Because like the centurion we feel we are unworthy and will speak to God only from afar or through the voices of other people. But if we see ourselves of worthy of God’s love, there can be relationship and healing and we don’t have to strive for something we have been freely given.

One turn of the phrase and we are either living outside the Gospel message or embracing it.

What does this have to do with my lack of confidence in my gifting? The man who preached the sermon referenced above is a pastor at my church. And I have heard similar teachings from him in the past. He’s a good man trying to live out his faith. But I get this sense that he is dealing with an identity issue and is perhaps living under the bondage of the law rather than freedom in Christ. And I feel like I should, no that I must say something to him about his true identity. Yet I’m unsure how to initiate such a conversation. Then doubt creeps in; maybe I’m not hearing his sermons correctly. Maybe I’m being trigger happy and latching on to key phrases and tuning out the rest. Maybe he’s not preaching works and the law. Maybe he is teaching the Gospel.

Then I pray and know there are things God wants me to know about this man, things that are rooted in identity and I know I need to speak to him. But I drag my feet because, well, because I feel insecure in proclaiming the truth. I don’t feel bold or compassionate. I feel insecure. It’s so much easier to say things on blog where no one knows me than it is to confront someone face to face with the truth. The truth can be uncomfortable, messy. And life changing.

I think I need to take this man out for lunch or coffee and just talk to him about how God sees him. Ask him about his struggles. Let him know God has great things in store for him. Being a prophet isn’t about holding people accountable or proclaiming the problem. No, it’s about reminding people of who they are in Christ and who God wants to be for them. It’s lifting them up, not tearing them down. And now I have an opportunity to practice this, not just because God wants me to, but because this man is a friend and a leader in a community that looks up to him.

Growing and maturing is hard sometimes. The growing pains, no matter how painful or inconvenient, I think they will be worth it in the end.