Is It Real?

5355644719_378c5bb59f_o

I was but a tiny girl.
I peered around the corner at my mother, sitting in the kitchen.
The ashtray overflowed with ashes as a pillar of smoke rose from the center.
Beer cans were scattered across the surface of the table.
Her eyes met mine for five seconds – long enough to pierce my soul with fear.
But she said “I love you” last night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

She sat in the rocking chair, tears trickling down her cheeks.
“Mommy?”
I placed my hand on her hand and turned my empathetic face up to hers.
She shoved me, knocking me to the floor.
I knew I must have done something wrong.
It was my job to keep her happy, and she was not happy.
But she said “I love you” last night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Nineteen. An adult.
No job. No college. Just obedient toe kissing.
Baking. Cooking. Cleaning. Teaching. Parenting the young siblings.
Twenty-three.
No job. No college. No dating. No parties. No hanging out with friends.
Just more obedient toe kissing.
Wearing homemade dresses. Dedicating my young years to domestic “ministry”.
“It’s for your protection,” she said. “It’s God’s design for girls.”
And she said “I love you” last night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

“Giving the world a new approach to life!”
Follow these ten steps.
Drink these seven basic principles and drown in them.
They look like Biblical righteousness from where you sit in the stadium, but really they are chains of slavery.
Beat yourself over the head with these 49 character qualities.
And remember that grace is you doing what you’re supposed to be doing… perfectly.
Dating is fornication. Once attracted, you must marry.
Hook, line, and sinker… I swallowed it all.
But God said “I love you” in John 3:16.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Long eyelashes. Hazel eyes. Best friend turned something deeper.
Engaged just 2 weeks after realizing it’s more than friends.
Married 4 months later.
We did it right. We were righteous.
Courtship trumped worldliness.
We waited to say “I love you” until we were promised to each other.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Eleven and a half years of total dedication.
I made myself everything I thought he wanted.
Always quick to forgive. Very slow to judge.
Everyday I strove to trust and give the benefit of the doubt.
Shove the paranoia to the back burner.
Smile.
Hug.
Kiss.
Believe the best.
Ignore the warnings.
Say “I love you” every day and every night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Go to work.
Leave work.
Walk in the door.
Hang up the jacket.
Kiss the wife.
Whisper, “I like us.”
Chat over dinner.
Sit in the living room with the computer, ipad, or phone.
Tuck kids into bed.
Watch TV.
Get intimate in bed.
Fall asleep.
Repeat.
He said “I love you” tonight.

Is this love?
Is it real?

I thought it was all love.
I thought it was all real.

“You mother suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder.”
Reality shattered. There is no fixing it. There is no healthy, loving relationship.

“Your over sheltered life has your thinking and belief system in complete turmoil and bondage.”
Reality shattered. Protection from life is psychologically harmful.

“There is no new approach to life. The greatest approach was given 2,000 years ago through the life and death of Christ.”
Reality shattered. There is no man who has “new revelations” from God.

“All your striving to be perfect has made you resistant to His amazing grace.”
Reality shattered. There is no doing what’s right, because it’s right… perfectly.

“I’ve spent our entire marriage trying to escape you. I don’t think we should have ever married.”
Reality shattered. There was no best friend. There was no “us”.

“Working late again.” Coming home smelling like perfume. Texting pictures back and forth. The list goes on.
Reality shattered. The words “I love you,” “I like your body,” “You’re beautiful”… they mean nothing. Just empty words to hide a lie.

There is no love.
Nothing is real.

But then He whispers.
He shows me that grace is not a list of rules to keep. Grace is Him looking down, loving me just where I am, and wrapping me in Christ’s righteousness.
He shows me that He is a good, good Father. Always providing. Giving good things. Holding. Hugging. Listening. Always patiently listening.
He shows me that His heart knows brokenness. Betrayal, deceit, abuse, devaluation… He’s felt it all.
He shows me that being human means always questioning. It means blood and tears. And He’s ok with that.
He shows me that He is the God who sees me… ME… in the midst of crap I never asked for.

This is love.
This is real. This is the only reality. It will never shatter.

Called to Divorce

freedom

I’ve been tossing around the concept of being called to divorce quite a lot lately. In all my percolating, I’ve managed to pound out these somewhat disconnected thoughts. I’m not sure how much sense they make, but they speak to my heart and whisper His reassuring love in my ears.


What does it mean to be called to divorce?

I don’t mean like being called to the mission field or called to preach to the unreached people groups.

I also do not mean that God causes sin or causes suffering. I don’t believe that God calls people to the “dark side”. But I do believe that God is sovereign and that He calls us to specific responses to the sin and suffering in our world. I do believe that He is the defender of the weak, the father to the fatherless, and the provider for our very sustenance. And I absolutely believe that when we are faithful to His calling toward a response, He is faithful to not only care for us but to lift us up to higher places than we had ever dreamed.

While I do not believe that God randomly calls people to divorce their spouse, I do believe that He most definitely calls people to respond to sin that drowns out the divine in the most sacred of human relationships, and sometimes that response is divorce. Not out of hatred or revenge, but out of love for God above all else and love for the spouse as a human being and brother/sister in Christ. Love for God and love for others should be the basis for everything we do, and sometimes love is tough and stern and stands its ground. It says, “You are in sin, and I cannot be a part of that.” It says, “If this is your choice, then I must hand you completely over to God. May He bring you to the end of yourself and grant you mercy and grace.” This is what I’m talking about when I say “called to divorce”.

The church, as an organized institution, has a way of taking all the individual acts in the world and throwing them into one of two columns, “Righteous” or “Evil”, and then they stick to it… you know, like in-concrete, by-the-book rules.

Killing – evil

Bible reading – righteous

Tattoos – evil

Attending church – righteous

Divorce – evil

We do this because we believe that God sees our world in black and white, and while there is some truth to that, there is also a flip side. How many times can you think of that God did something or commanded someone else to do something that we would deem absolutely evil?

God commanded Abraham to kill his son.

God commanded the Israelites to plunder and pillage and kill their way through the land of Canaan.

God commanded Hosea to marry an adulteress.

Jesus Himself broke one of the Ten Commandments when he “worked” on the Sabbath.

God, in fact, pre-ordained the murder of the world’s most innocent man.

God doesn’t  judge a single act as either inherently righteous or evil, because He sees the back story and His supreme, sovereign purpose. He sees the needs of those involved in the act… both the doers and the receivers. He sees the depths of their hearts. He sees the thought patterns in their minds. We humans do not see this so we have set for ourselves sure, hard rules because we cannot act in divine wisdom as God can.

But God has not left us to figure it all out on our own. He gave us the Spirit and His still small voice, if we would just listen. When our eyes are locked on His divine gaze of love, we have a direct connection to His divine wisdom. He gives us a peace that truly surpasses human understanding, and we can confidently act, even if the act is conventionally in the “evil” category.

Erika Morrisson, in her book Bandersnatch, ventures that there are words in our human languages that need to be seen from the divine side or “crossed over”.

“It seems that on the other side of Jesus, so many things and thoughts are the exact opposite of definitions already established…. Crossing over is the antidote to the systems and traditions of humankind and simply means that a word or idea or a value has made the journey from being defined by and rooted in the world to being defined by and rooted in Jesus…. Christ’s flesh is the gateway to understanding how the kingdom defines what it means to be a human living on this earth while bringing divine circumstances into the here and now…. But Jesus is not in competition with the earth’s terms; it’s not necessary for the earth’s terms to be wrong in order for Jesus’ to be right or vise versa. This isn’t an either-or ideological war, but rather a space to breathe in the free air of paradoxical both-and. What the earth offers just isn’t the whole story. The earth only has one-half of the paradox and Jesus has the other, and although they seem to contradict, I believe they are designed to live in tension to one another. Each gives its counterpart the integrity and brimming value of its full definition.”

What would it look like to cross over the word divorce? What if we looked at divorce in that free space of both-and?

God was adamant when he said, “I hate divorce.” He really, truly does HATE divorce. Divorce means that His perfect, beautiful plan, of one man loving his wife in purity and respect and one woman supporting and adoring her husband in love and respect, is completely broken. It means that women and children are abandoned. It means that families are ripped apart, and this completely grieves the heart of the Creator of all things good.

When the Pharisees came to Jesus asking him about divorce, He reminded them of God’s perfect and beautiful plan of a loving and respectful relationship between one man and one woman. Not satisfied, they wanted to know why Moses commanded they use a certificate of divorce. “Because your hearts were hard,” He answered them. Men were kicking out their wives over burnt toast, so God, through Moses, protected the women by requiring the men to make it legal with a certificate of divorce.

In the beginning of the world when God had created paradise, placing Adam and Eve into the gorgeous Garden of Eden, His plan was for constant companionship with His creation and for them to have human companionship with each other. But then… sin. That companionship with God and with each other was tainted. The consequence was their removal out of the sacred Garden. I think perhaps marriage is a metaphoric garden, created to be a form of perfect companionship. When that bond is tainted by unrepentant adultery, there is but one consequence… that is to be removed from the garden of marriage.

To allow the unrepentant adulterer to remain in the garden is to communicate that they can mix sin with divine, and that is just not true. Sin and divine are like oil and water. They cannot mix. The more sin in your system, the less room for divine, and if you continue to fill your vessel with sin over and over and over again, you lose your ability to hear the divine voice of the Spirit. Before you know it, you are living the life of an unbeliever, choosing the pleasures of the world over the glories of God.

In a lot of cases, you may not have a choice in the matter of divorce. When your spouse lives in the sin of adultery and chooses to leave you and continue on with someone else, what say do you have? It is that spouse who is separating and choosing to end the marriage. Paul addresses this in I Corinthians 7, and he answers, “Let it be so. You are not enslaved.” These words give me an unexplainable peace. It’s an acceptance of reality mixed with a freedom of permission. “It is what it is. Go. Be free.”

Perhaps in times like these, God wishes to split the one flesh, so that He might deal with the individual fleshes separately. He has discipline and consequences, and hopefully restoration, in line for the adulterer, but protection and provision in mind for the abandoned. This response to sin is a complicated mix of justice and mercy, and in all the aspects of God’s divine character, it is one hundred percent righteous and holy.

And so I proudly brand my forehead with the dreaded capital D for “divorced”. It is a proclamation to the world that I have been set free from a relationship created for divine but drowned by sin and am now infinitely protected and provided for by a God who loves me beyond my wildest imaginations. I am called to that freedom. I am called to that protection. I am called to that provision.

I am called to divorce.

 

 

photo credit

My Broken Hallelujah

lineGod, I’m not even sure where to begin. Do I start at the beginning, in the middle, in the right here and now, or with my hopes for the future?

I have nothing… nothing to hold up for myself to say, “THIS…. This is my good. This is the part of me that got it all right… that knows where it’s going… that knows what to fervently embrace and run with.” Instead, I’m here… wandering in the fog of confusion, surrounded by millions of voices yelling at me, forcefully luring me to come to them and follow their path.

But I’ve tried so many paths. At impressionable ages, I was led down twisting trails, told what to believe and what to strive for. I left these pathways for one of my own. I wasn’t going to let someone else choose my way. I would find it on my way.

Sometimes I was sure I was getting somewhere good, but most times it was just way too foggy to even see where I was going.

You see, I’m broken… so very broken. I’m broken in my mind, in my heart, and in my soul.

I was taught that you wanted me to follow long lists of rules to be holy. I was taught that a position of authority was a free pass to blissful manipulation. I was taught you needed me to meekly submit to this type of authority before you would truly be pleased. Until then, I was rebellious and deserved to be stoned.

I came to see you as a manipulative God, ruling your subjects from your royal throne, laying down law after law and withholding love unless they were followed. I strove everyday to be able to hear you say, “This is my daughter. She is holy because she holds my standards high in her heart.”

Then came the slow realization that these standards I strove for were not even your own. They were standards set forth by a man, claiming to be your favorite minister. They were standards enforced by the authority positions over me. And I could never, absolutely never, uphold these standards perfectly.

Then I did it! I broke away from these chains wrapped around my ankles. I was free… free from the chains of legalism. And you began your work of healing. You showed me that you love me, no matter what.

But as these fallacies and half truths have slowly been picked out of my mind and heart, they’ve left holes… holes that need to be filled with truth. And I don’t know where to get this truth, God. How can I ever trust another teacher? How can I read your word and hear just you and not the words of others?

I need you to take my broken pieces. Sweep them up, every sliver, and piece me back together in the image of Christ.

Sort through the twisted wires of thought patterns in my mind. Untangle them and connect them correctly.

Fill in these holes with you and your truth.

I come to you broken, Father. I love you. I trust you. I know that you are sovereign and full of grace.

Here’s my broken hallelujah.
Your Daughter

Your Story: A Girl’s Just Gotta Twirl

twirl
 

Ginger is a dear friend of mine. She has walked the journey through the shadowy darkness and broke through the other side. She blogs of her experiences, as well as many other things, over at Just One of the Boys. Today, she shares with us a glimpse into her journey…

I remember twirling in my fancy dress as a little girl. Time seemed to pause just for me as I spun around and around on my tip-toes. My ruffled dress and I whirled about the room so fast that everything around me simply faded away. That dress transported me to my own little world where I could be a ballerina, a fairy princess, or Cinderella at the Ball. I wanted to dance in my special little place forever…

But what happened to the imaginative little girl that I used to be? Her heart had been bursting with endless hopes. The dreams that she held so dearly knew nothing of limits. Her little world was full of light – a beautifully magical place where good always prevailed over evil, no real harm could befall her, and where Prince Charming was coming to rescue her, dressed in his shining armor.

Dark shadows crept toward her, and she gradually stopped twirling. As she was confronted by these ghosts, she let her dreamland slip away. Over time she sadly gave into the idea that she would never be a fairy princess. When she stood still, darkness crept in to surround her.

Amy's flower girl

Other girls laughed at her. She buried her desire to once more twirl around and around. She tried to fit in…and failed miserably. “You’ll never be good enough,” the Shadow of Inferiority hissed.

“I’m not hungry.” The lies that she told herself over and over again were so ardent that she actually started to believe them. The lower the number fell on the scale, the closer she thought that she would be to perfection. She thought that she was almost there, but perfection never came. “Just a few more pounds. Just a few more inches,” lied the voice of Self-hate.

She felt in her heart that something was not perfectly right, but he seemed like such a nice guy. He sought her out. No one had ever paid her this much attention. He said that he couldn’t imagine life without her. Surely, this had to be her long-awaited Prince. The Shadow of Deception felt too good to be true.

“It’s your fault. You made him angry,” the Shadow of Abuse deflected the blame at her.

Crashing through her little home, The Storm of Infidelity left a trail of devastation in its wake. Once more she allowed her heart to listen to the vicious lies in her head. If only she had been prettier. Maybe then he wouldn’t have betrayed her trust. Maybe then she would have been good enough. If only…

As the shadows of Divorce and Loneliness threatened to surround her, she realized that she no longer had to be frightened by the ghosts of the past.  Wondering why she had ever stopped dancing through life, she worked to slowly unravel the darkness that had been her constant companion all of these years. She found courage that had sparked deep within her. She could now face the darkest of shadows without allowing them to overtake her. She gave herself the freedom to cautiously begin to twirl once more.

Days turned into weeks, weeks eased into months, and the months flowed into years. She gathered a strength and assuredness that can only come from staring down the darkness. With a new radiance, a smile graced her face for the first time in years. A deep and meaningful happiness welled up in her soul. She learned more about her true self as she grew as a woman, and she found that her real life journey far exceeded anything in a fairytale.

When the wounds of the past had started to heal, someone new entered her life. More than just a brave prince, he was a kind and selfless spirit. As their friendship developed, and then grew into something deeper, she found that she did not have to stop twirling for him, or anyone, ever again. He, too, was on a path of healing, and their separate lives began to mesh into one beautiful dance. She now had a partner, a friend, a Beloved – and the ability to keep twirling as life moves forward. Shadows will come and go over time, but she now felt confident that they no longer had the power to hold her back from pirouetting joyfully through life.

The little girl grew up, and as she fought, lost, blossomed, and triumphed, she began to twirl once more – and she vowed to never stop.

I vowed to never stop…

“Those who look to Him are radiant, 

and their faces shall never be ashamed. ~ Psalm 34:5

35862_411540727018_629197018_5131152_4424234_n

 

*Photo credit: Top photo – by Joanne Funk. Post Header & Bottom photo – by John Zimmerman

10 Ways to Beat the Depression Spiral

depressedDepression can swallow you up before you realize it. Here are ten ways you can nip it in the bud or pry your soul from its grip.

1. Recognize patterns. Does depression rear its ugly head at certain times of the month or year? Do certain people or memory triggers bring it on? Knowing the things and times in your life that make you more prone to depression gives you the advantage. There’s no surprise, and you can fortify yourself.

2. Avoid depression triggers when possible. If you know that driving past the theater triggers painful memories and sends you spiraling into dark sadness, do not drive past it. Obviously, if its gloomy weather that trips you up, its a little hard to avoid those cloudy days, but you can turn on as many lights as possible to try to counter the darkness.

3. Take your vitamins. Your body actually needs nutrients to be happy. Your emotions are physical triggers that need vitamins D and B to keep you smiling. If you’re feeling continually sad and fatigued, it’s a good sign you may need some happy pills. A good multivitamin should give you what you need if your levels are normal. But you may need to visit your doctor and get some blood work done. He will be able to tell you if you need an extra vitamin D boost.

4. Fall in love with sunshine. Sunshine is the happiest medicine in the world. It’s bright and cheery and full of vitamin D. Spend at least 20 minutes in it every day that it’s not hiding from you. Hang up photos of sunshine streaming through the trees or playfully sparkling across a stream in your home or office for those cloudy days.

5. Get dressed. I mean like really dressed. Hide the sweatpants and baggy sweatshirts. Save them for camping. Put on your cute jeans, a nice (but practical) shirt, and some cute shoes. Put on some masacara and cute earrings. When you look in the mirror or catch a glimpse of your sleeves, pant legs, or shoes, you send electric pulses to your brain… “See me. I’m cute today. I feel good.”

6. Put your earbuds in. Music is pure medicine. Well, so long as it’s cheery music that strengthens your heart. “Lost my truck, lost my dog, lost my wife” music doesn’t count. Nor does break-up music. Listen to music that makes you feel happy and that inspires you to hold on to hope. For me, it’s contemporary Christian music, but it may be different for you.

7. Use your imagination. Our imaginations are powerful, powerful things. Think of the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or experienced. Does it make you nearly tear up? That’s the magic. But we need to use it in reverse. Think happy thoughts. I’m not talking positive thinking here. I’m talking about not letting your mind wallow in the sad. Think of the things that make you happy. If you’re having a hard time thinking of any, make up happy stories. Watch happy movies in your own head. Read inspiring, happy books. Whatever you do, don’t let your brain wallow in the darkness. Do not watch depressing movies or read depressing news or stories. You don’t need to carry the weight of the world’s depression. Your own is enough.

8. Surround yourself with liberating words. Scripture or inspiring quotes trigger a psychological response. It sends the brain to the happy place and signals the emotions to follow. They inspire us to action and give us a resolve to reach beyond the blackness. Scribble them on post it notes and stick them everywhere. Scrawl them across the windows and mirrors with dry erase markers. Put them where you will see them frequently. Let them inspire you.

9. Talk. Find a friend or counselor that you can meet with on a regular basis. Let them hold your hand through this long, hard trek. Talk about the things that bother you. Talk about your resolve to move past the pain and sadness. Talk about your progress and your failures. Keep your appointments with them. Do not play hermit. This is not the time to wallow in loneliness.

10. Smile. Sounds simple and yet incredibly impossible. When you’re fighting depression, the last thing you want to do is smile. But sometimes our actions need to lead our emotions. Smile at strangers, at your co-workers, your family, your friends… at every human in the world. Smile at yourself in the mirror. Soon the forced smile on your lips will find its way into your eyes as smiling releases endorphins, natural pain killers, and serotonin.

 

*photo credit

Snatch Up the Nuggets

goldnuggetMoving on… As if we simply turn our back on it and walk away. And yet that’s impossible.

The hurts, the mistakes, the wrongs, the struggles… We strive to move on and get past them in an effort to keep them from defining who we are.

But what if we’re going about it all wrong? What if, instead of trying to forget it and erase it’s effects, we embrace it… the pain and the mistakes… the tragedies we face in life?

It’s in the midst of hardship that we find the sweetness of life. It’s then that we dig the deepest, search the hardest, and rejoice the loudest over the tiniest glimmer of hope. These are precious, precious things. It’s this digging, searching, and finding that chisels away the “un-us” to reveal more of our true selves.

This reminds me of something I heard once. I don’t remember who said it. Probably someone from my ATI days that I’d rather not quote, but it’s true, none the less.

“Good and bad run on parallel tracks, and they often arrive at the same time.”

I’m not talking about a Pollyanna theology here, where if you just find the silver lining, the sadness will just go away. I’m talking about letting the hurt sink in. Letting the struggle take its course. And finding the good in the midst of it.

I read an excellent article this week over at Grace for Moms that speaks of this very thing. Donald Miller shares a very practical way of digging for the good in the midst of tragedy. I highly recommend reading what he has to say about finding a redemptive perspective.

So, don’t try to run away. Don’t waste your time with the giant eraser. It doesn’t work anyway. Embrace the tragedy. Find the gold nugget buried inside and let it bring out the best of who you really are.

 

*photo credit