Does a Radicalized Muslim Deserve Our Love?

While waiting in the airport today, I caught a news story of a woman beheaded by a man in Oklahoma and the reporter emphasized the man who did this as a muslim.

Stories like this stir such deep fear. Fear of the other seems to be the filter for so many of today’s leading headlines, but as Christians we know that “there is no fear in love” and “perfect love casts out fear”. But too often, instead of love freeing our fears, our fear impedes our love. Instead of seeing the world through the lens of Christ’s perfect love, we hide behind our fear and not only fail to love, but hate.

What would it look like to have Christ’s love to dwell so richly in us that fear is driven out and we are therefore able to love our brother, our sister, our neighbor, even our enemy…

Shortly after I saw that news story today, I read these words by Howard Thurman on loving your enemy written in 1956 (Thurman’s work was very influential in shaping the faith of many civil rights leaders). His words raised so many questions for me as I tried to wrap my mind around this kind of love for an enemy. I wonder what Christian love would look like if fear was no longer the lens in which we saw our Muslim neighbor and instead we saw them through the lens of Christ love:

Here are some of the most powerful paragraphs that stood out to me (emphasis mine):

“We remind ourselves that by definition the enemy is one who is ethically out of bounds for us. Let us bring this statement into focus and think about it. Why is it that when a nation goes to war with us, one of the first things that happens is a redefining of the status, character, private life, public life, history, culture, of the people that we are fighting? We redefine them out of the human race. The German become the Huns. The Japanese become those hideous creatures with buck teeth and horrible eyes surrounded by huge glasses. By redefinition we read them out of the human family. Once that is done, it is open season. We can do anything to them without violating the sensitive, ethical awareness that goes with our own sense of self-respect…..

 Jesus, however, approaches life from the point of view of God. The serious problem for him had to be: Is the Roman a child of God? Is my enemy God’s child? If he is, I must work upon myself until I am willing to bring him back into the family. Does God love him? It doesn’t help me any to say, I am not God. That would be convenient but irrelevant. If God loves him, that binds me. Can it be that God does not know how terrible he is? No, God knows him as well as he knows himself and much better than I know him. It must be true, then, that there is something in every man that remains intact, inviolate, regardless of what he does. I wonder! Is this true? Is there an integrity of the person, so intrinsic in its value and significance that no deed, however evil, can ultimately undermine this given thing. If a man is of infinite worth in the sight of God, whether he is a saint or a sinner, whether he is a good man or a bad man, evil or not, if that is true, then I am never relieved of my responsibility for trying to make contact with this worthy thing in him. I must love him because God causes the sun to shine upon him as well as upon me. ….

 What as a human being, can I do about all the pain that I have when armies run over my land, destroy my family, desecrate what is precious to me? What shall I do with that? How can I handle it? I don’t know the whole answer. I must understand that life provides its own restraint; that the relentless logic of the moral order, grounded in the structure of existence, will see to it that every man, every man must sometime sit down and look into the eyes of his evil deed. No man escapes. Life is its own restraint and when I attempt to become the avenger, I am merely crying out my agony in the nighttime. No man can truly take vengeance upon another man. Only God in His intimate involvement in the very heart of life of all of His children can bring to pass the relentless logic of the moral law. It is not whistling in the dark when Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven [with whom vengeance rests].”

  “Vengeance is mine,” says the Book. God is not only the God of Religion, but He is also the God of Life. When I love my enemy, I come closest to the perfection which is God. When I do this, I resist the temptation to act as a member of the human race with special privileges. Love your enemy. Love your enemy. Love our enemy, and so fulfill the Will of God, in you.” (The Growing Edge, ch. 3)

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what marrying a black man has taught me & why Ferguson matters (part 1)

250 years of slavery. 90 years of Jim Crow. 60 years of separate but equal. 35 years of racist housing policies. Does that explain everything? No. Does it mean something? Yes. 

The Backseat Passenger:

A close friend and dear brother of ours, Pat Smith, is a professor at Gordon Conwell. He shared an example with me once that he gives his students to help them understand how to hear from different and diverse world views:

Imagine that you are driving down a busy highway and you put your blinker on and prepare to merge into the left lane. All of a sudden, your friend in the backseat yells, “Stop! You’re going to hit a car!” but you are confident that you checked your rearview mirror and feel almost certain there is no car in the lane next to you. What do you do?

The answer all comes down to how much you trust the person in that seat behind you. Is it a foolish, goofy middle school boy who likes to blurt random things out and startle you? If so, then you will likely ignore the voice and get into the next lane.

… Or is it a trusted friend? Your peer? Your equal? If it is a trusted friend then you will instantly put on your breaks without thinking or question.

Pat goes on to explain that the issues related to understanding the complexities of race is similar.

Whether or not you are willing to listen to another voice bring light to an issue that you may have a blind spot on all comes down to how much you trust the other person.

My Story:

Vermon and I instantly connected on every subject under the sun. Our early dates had us up discussing theology, politics, and race in a hot Arizona parking lot til 4 am. We were smitten…. we just clicked. I joke that we started a conversation 8 years ago and it feels like we have never ended it, we just pause throughout the day to get other things done.

But we didn’t (and still don’t) agree on everything. Passionate debates and differing views of a few subjects have only worked to draw us closer and help us both grow in our perspectives and faith (not without a good amount of blood, sweat, and tears though!). But looking back, I can honestly say that I had this pride in the area of race that had me thinking that I “got it.”

Because we agreed on issues related to being black in America and I resonated with Vermon’s feelings, I thought that meant I was in a good place with the issue. It wasn’t until we had our first argument in this area that I realized how much I didn’t understand…

I was 23 and so confident in Every. Single. Opinion. And prideful. We had been married a few months.

I remember brushing our teeth and Vermon mentioning some excited feelings about the thought of Obama becoming our first black president. Vermon’s statement wasn’t about agreeing or disagreeing with political positions. It wasn’t about being a democrat or republican or who he thought would be better for our country. He was simply excited, given the history of our country that America finally had the potential to elect a non-white president.

But I missed the emotion he was expressing and went straight to the “facts.” I didn’t ask questions or trying to understand what he meant… I just got into some logical, factual argument about why I preferred another candidate to with the primary and twenty minutes later my husband was mad at me, we were still holding our tooth brushes, jabbing our opinions back and forth, getting no closer to agree and quickly dividing our hearts while wounding the other.

At some point Vermon got quiet, and I saw a look on his face that I instantly knew I never wanted to cause in my husband again. It was exhaustion, tiredness, and frustration …at trying to explain his 30-years of racial experience to his confident and prideful partner… Who was showing little evidence in that moment of caring much about partnership.

That began a journey of me realizing that I didn’t “get it”… I may have been able to have deep discussions with my husband about race, but I hadn’t lived THAT intimately side by side with someone who was African American and really give them permission to give me all their unfiltered thoughts with no threat of judgment, just a desire to really understand. It occurred to me in that moment that my other black friends around me, likely filtered their experiences and true feelings from me in order to prevent that same “tired” reaction I saw in my husbands face.

That began the greatest gift of my life… After many, many tears and deep broken apology I decided that I just don’t get the emotion Vermon was trying to communicate to me, but I needed to.

Vermon brought me into the inner circles of his dearest friends and let me participate in conversations where I didn’t have to prove I “got it” or that I could relate based on my own experiences of injustice, pain, or suffering. I just got to love and be loved without having to prove my own knowledge on a topic or relate in some way. I got to ask a lot of questions and hear a lot of stories.

I also had the ability to see black men relax and breathe a little lighter because they didn’t have to filter themselves in order to not offend people or get accused of playing the race card. I began to notice that when we leave Phoenix and go spend time with Vermon’s dear brothers who are black that he had the freedom to joke, lament, dream, and discuss life as a black man in America in a way that is different then when he’s here.

Some would say that makes my husband a chameleon. I think it is a beautiful characteristic of his Christ-likeness. When he is in Phoenix, he willingly lays down his preferences in order to build a diverse community that loves God and loves each other. When we are back East and Vermon can have freedom to joke around and talk more freely about certain subjects, he does it in a way that is always seeking to build, always having hope that we are moving forward.

I still don’t and likely will never fully understand the deep hurt and pain that Vermon and his brothers share over different incidents. But now that I am 8 years down the road, have black sons and daughters, have dear friends who have shared their experiences of unspeakable horror and constitutional violations in America’s ghettos, have seen my husband racially profiled & white friends question the reality of his experience…after that, this is now an issue I will forever be passionate about.

Why Ferguson Matters:

Here is what it comes down to for me. We can disagree about facts. I see some people posting articles sharing one view, one perspective, and certain “facts.” Then I see others who are posting different eye witness accounts and different “facts.” I see some feeling more for the police officer and others feeling for Michael Brown’s family.

A healthy discussion allows us to look at it all, read it all, listen to it all and ask, “can this all fit together as one story?” I believe it can. It does not have to be innocent vs. guilty, right vs. wrong, or a self defense killing vs. a murder.

If you took some time to really listen to what many (not all) African American’s are saying you may hear something like this:

Let’s just assume, for argument sake that Michael Brown was guilty & and that was the police officer’s only option…

we are still broken.   (this, friend….is where you ask…why?)

Why?

 (the answer to this why is a long and complex…most especially in the south…so ask the question to multiple people who are wrestling with this right now…)

Or perhaps you would hear this…

We don’t trust the police. The same police force that pepper sprayed our peaceful protest last week, fire hosed my grandfather (who is still alive by the way) and turned a blind eye when his brother was lynched. We repeatedly experience search and seizures without warrants. Our community is 70% African American and yet our police force of 64 only has 3 African Americans on it. It is hard to trust facts when you have directly seen grandmas, sisters, and friends beaten for no reason.

 Or perhaps you would hear…

 I’m tired of never being heard. I’m tired of not being able to share my experience or opinion without being called a race baiter. Or an angry black man. Yes, I’m angry. Angry and tired. I’m broken that the minority that looted take away from the majority that have protested peacefully. I’m broken that death is an everyday occurrence in this community, that our kids aren’t being taught to read in our failing public school systems while the white suburban and country schools are thriving and receiving all the money.

This is what I have heard from my friends who have experienced Ferguson first hand. My backseat voice telling me to break is not the media, CNN, Fox News, Facebook, but trusted friends, brothers, sisters…my husband. When these people yell “brake” I am going to slam on my brakes, regardless of what others say. 

You can “yeah, but” or you can just listen and observe. Observe a community weeping and ask … Why? Observe a community rioting and ask why? Observe people thousands of miles away deeply impacted, maybe even depressed over it and ask why?

I want someone to remind me to think and pray for that police officer and his family. Unless he truly is evil, he is likely broken and afraid. Even if he feels 100% confident and justified in the shooting, he has to live with the reality that he killed someone. That is never easy. Then, on top of that…his actions turned into a huge discussion of race and divided an already struggling city.

But unless we sit down, together, and converse face to face and listen to each other, that perspective won’t get added to the conversation.

I have read all the articles I can find on both sides of the position and I think its ugly, messy, and complex. I am not calling the police officer a murder, but I dare not say Michael Brown deserved death either. Who am I to make that judgment on either person? But what I will do, is stand in solidarity with my African American brothers and sisters who are broken and mourning. I will talk on the phone, pray with, and say, “I’m sorry you are tired.”  

I will always mourn the brokenness of the most marginalized and poor in our community. I will plead with the Lord and seek wisdom for whatever role my family is supposed to play in fighting against systemic injustice. I will lament at watching a city full of impoverished people steal and loot and the complex reasons that happened. I will stand proud of those who protested peacefully and grieve and pray for those who were violent. 

What heals?

Some believe that uncovering the “facts” will heal the wounds. But they aren’t your wounds…so perhaps you should ask instead of tell what will heal those wounds. And dear brother or sister, you have your own wounds…and there will be a time and place to bring those things to the table too, but I assure you the “facts” will not heal them either. I know this because they are emotional wounds. They have context in each person’s own narrative and story. There is no broad, sweeping answer that will heal these wounds. Healing happens as we sit, side by side, and wrestle with each and every individual story and the history that proceeded that incident. And that can only happen through deep relationship. 

Ferguson matters because it has brought up wounds that are deep. Wounds that have never been healed. It is a reminder that this is a topic we cannot ignore. Division does not come because you believe there is a racial divide or systemic injustice. Healing does not come by reporting “facts.” History and the scriptures tell us what heals:

Humility. Listening. Weeping with those who weep. Comforting those who mourn. Humility. Listening. Say, “explain” “tell me your story.” Humility. Making room for different perspectives. Humility. Humility like that of our wonderful Savior: 

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”

Philippians 2: 4-8

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Equal but Different Part Two

Instituting a “don’t be friends” or “don’t be alone with women” policy will not fix the problem of how men and women relate to one another.

That was a statement I made in my last post, but I thought it was worth going a little deeper on that comment.

While “Don’t be alone with a woman” policies will not FIX the problem of infidelity in the church (case in point: pastors fall every year who have that policy), they may still be wise. If you are running a huge church with so much staff, it may be necessary for lots of different reasons. (I still hope if I was broken down on the side of the road you would stop and help me… Especially during the summer :))

And on an individual level, there are certain men and women it would be stupid to be around. For example, a man is a fool to entertain the company of a Proverbs 5 woman. A woman is a fool to entertain the company of a touchy/flirtatious and boyish man. It is wise to think about who and how we relate to one another.

In my last post, I listed how we can stop contributing to this culture of inequality in the gender roles, but I wanted to spend a little more time on the idea of infidelity. How do we really fix that problem that is rampant in our culture?
Some thoughts:

1) Go to the heart.

Men, maybe you can’t be alone with a sister in Christ without having sexual thoughts. Maybe any good and intellectual conversation sparks romantic feeling or interest. This is indicative of a sick heart. Maybe while you see the sickness in your heart you need to avoid that friendship with a brother or sister in Christ, but don’t settle or assume that is the way it has to be. Ask God to really bring to surface the sinful attitudes you hold about the opposite gender so you really can relate to one another biblically.

Women, be sisters to the men in your life. Married or single, young or old… if our biblical view of gender says that there are differences, then there must be something unique and beautiful we can bring out in each other by complimenting the other. Not just in marriage, but in the broader church community. Act like a biological sister to your brothers at the church and you will reap the benefit of brotherhood.

2) Heal your marriage.

I feel more confident each month that Vermon and I won’t cheat on each other. NOT because I’m prideful and think we are above that kind of sin (we are not), but because what God has graciously given us and continues to build gets richer and deeper every day. To even think about messing that up is like imagining squandering a family fortune on one really big night of partying.

Our best protection against infidelity is NOT avoiding the opposite sex, it is getting as much time quality together as possible.

We talk every night until we can’t keep our eyes open, we share each other’s struggles and burdens, we regularly talk about where we see the other person spiritually. When you are best friends and building on that intimacy constantly then nothing is worth taking the risk of damaging that intimacy.

I can say Vermon has really been the one to create and fight for this in our marriage. He’s taught me how to pursue and press into this. He doesn’t settle for tiredness or conflict keeping us apart. He doesn’t chose watching TV at night or gratifying his own desires to “veg” and “check out” without first making sure we’ve connected.

He has also empowered me to lead in our marriage. Vermon has never set the expectation that because he’s the man he is fully responsible for leading. In his mind he is always responsible for everything (that’s just V’s personality), but practically we have built a marriage where I can look at any area of danger or unhealth and lead us back to the cross and visa versa. I don’t have to sit and wait for him to see the problem and lead us. He trusts me to use my strengths to lead in our marriage and I trust him. He truly treats me as an equal in every part of our life and celebrates the difference in a way that makes us stronger. It’s a dance. Because we are friends we make a great team.

One of the saddest things I see is couples settling for an average (or poor) marriage. Life is too short and temptation too great for our marriages to take a back seat in life. Women need to fight more for Christ centered marriage: even if that means taking the lead and bringing church leaders into dealing with habitual sin in your families life.

I hit this harder in part one, but I will say it again because it is such a big deal: we have to deal with pornography and all the ways we have unhealthy sexual practices. If we aren’t being treated as an equal, there are godly ways we can address this and call our spouse to heal our marriage. A spouse addicted to porn can never see you as a true equal.

It will show through their thoughts, attitudes, and actions toward you and other women. And if you are giving a pass at it so you don’t have to worry about the physical aspect of marriage- then you are playing an active part of that sexual sin that dehumanizes women. We have to take this more seriously and do what it takes to bring healing in our marriage.

We don’t do it in a manipulative way or a controlling way… we do it in a God glorifying way. We do it because we long for marriages that reflect the union of Christ to his bride. We do it because we want a relationship so sweet that we will fight til our death to protect it.

Maybe your marriage isn’t worth that kind of tenacious fighting right now, but it can be… Jesus left the glories of heaven and gave his body to restore our relationship with God. If your broken relationship with God Almighty can be healed, certainly your marriage can be.

3) know a proverbs 5 woman from a proverbs 31 woman

One of the problems with rules that don’t deal with the heart behind why sexual sin keeps happening in the church is that it lumps all women in one general category. Like I said earlier, there are some members of the opposite sex you should not be with. Instead of having no co-ed friendships, lets learn to discern proverbs 5 women from proverbs 31.

Men, stay far from the first list and be a brother to the later…women, ask God to make you into the later and to root out any of the first list that you see your heart drawn to.

Proverbs 5:

-her lips drip with honey & her speech is smoother then oil (her words are flattering, stroke your ego, and just what you want to hear to feel like “the man”)
-she does not ponder the path of life, her ways wander and she does not know it (she lacks wisdom, is not concerned about the most essential things that keep us on the path of life)
-your lack of discipline will draw you near to her and it will destroy your life

Proverbs 31:

-her husband trusts her
-she seeks the good of her husband
-she is a hard worker, she isn’t lazy
-she makes wise financial decisions for family and manages money well
-she cares for the poor and needy
-she doesn’t fear the future because she is prepared
-she speaks wisdom
-the teaching of kindness is on her tongue
-she fears the Lord

Re-read that last list. A woman of this category is a safe woman to have a friendship with. You won’t have to worry about “the appearance of evil” because when you talk with one another you talk as a biological brother talks to a biological sister. A woman of this later category is going to have the ability to discern appropriate ways of relating to one another and won’t ask you to have a conversation in a setting that would look in appropriate. But you can catch up at home group, after church, or in the context of a ministry project you are working on  together

Our theology demands that we are on a constant upward progression for relating to one another in the same way we will for all eternity. For us to begin down that path we have to stop having fear drive our decisions and instead allow God to use the opposite gender to sanctify us, grow us, and heal our broken view of sexuality.

 

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Equal but Different?! Mark Discoll, Pornography, and Co-Ed Friendship

A few years back I was pumping gas at my car on the way home from a meeting. As I waited for gas to fill the tank, I opened up a link on my phone to a popular Christian blogger’s post.

I was trying to find something to take my mind off a coffee date I had just had with a woman who had been sexually assaulted. Her story was like many others I had heard from my Christian sisters. A young girl raped by a man who was surprised she considered it rape. Rape? She wanted it. He knew she wanted it. How could she not want him? Her “no” was a “please.” Her lifeless body that resulted from the drug he slipped in her drink was her permission.

“Boys will be boys” is what many would say, but the driving force behind that violent act was this man’s view of women. He saw this woman as a sexual object he could use for his pleasure and purpose.

I remember still replaying our conversation in my mind while the link loaded on my phone. It was another story of a pastor who had an affair and lost his ministry as a result. I read along listening to good warnings by the blogging author when I came to a sentence that stopped me…

The author mentioned, to avoid sexual sin, that if his very own secretary was on the side of the road in a broken down vehicle he would drive past her, go to the church, pick up another person, and go back to help.

I couldn’t believe it. Do Christian men really view women this way? Are we really nothing more then sexual objects to the point that you can’t be alone with us without being “tempted” to seduce us? Are women really so sexualized that they can’t receive godly encouragement from a man without being tempted to seduce them?

While infidelity is much different than sexual assault, the attitude that the pastor held about woman had some similar connections to the young man who raped the girl. Both scenarios fit into a broader culture that objectifies, sexualizes, and dehumanizes women.

Instituting a “don’t be friends” or “don’t be alone with women” policy will not fix the problem of how men and women relate to one another. The problem here is a broken view of sexuality. Women, even women in the church, are viewed as sexual objects to be used for man’s pleasure and purposes. It is why women use their sexuality to gain power and why men exploit it for their pleasure.

There has been much ink spilled on “biblical manhood and womanhood” but what is getting lost in the discussion is not that women are acting masculine or men are acting feminine. The problem is that women are considered nothing more than sexual objects created for the pleasure and purposes of men. We are far from men’s equal.

Its time to practice what we preach.

One of the most often repeated phrases I hear in complementarian argument is: “equal, but different.”

But are women really considered equal to men, even in our differences? This is a clever way to sum up the argument of complementariansim, but I don’t see this really playing out practically.

I think it is time to put that statement to the test.

If complementarians really believe women are equal but different then the stream of Christian community I swim in needs to speak more boldly on issues related to women and gender. If they don’t, not only do they contribute to the brokenness of sexuality in our culture, but a generation from now they will find educated passionate young people struggle to find a place in a community of Christians 80 years behind their times when it comes to gender.

We can stay true to our convictions on how we believe Scripture speaks to gender roles without resembling a 1920s approach to femininity. It’s time we start being known for how we equip, empower, and champion women.

Here are three ways I think the current culture of whatever you want to label the group I’m talking about (A29/TGC/ Reformed) could improve and really live out the “equal” part of their argument:

1) Stop promoting men in your tribe that are sexists just because their ministry is growing

Why did millions of Christians give leaders like Mark Driscoll a “pass” for being horrifically sexist. Because they are in theological alignment with us? Because they are in our “tribe”? Because they make us laugh in sermons? Because something they said convicted and challenged us?

Its ironic and sad that what really amped up the criticism of Mark Driscoll was plagiarism and not his sexism. I guess that speaks to what this stream of Christianity finds most valuable.

Mark Driscoll annoyed me. What saddened and frustrated me was the decade of near silence that came from the rest of the A29/TGC world on how his beliefs about gender are directly tied to a culture that subjugates women and objectifies them.

2) Stop looking at porn

I read this recently in Orphan Justice:

“In 2012 there were 20.9 million people forced into sex labor worldwide, 26% children…. In 2007 slave traders brought in more money then Starbucks, Google, and Nike combined”

Those above statistics are the consequences of our culture’s objectification of women. When you look at pornography, you are more likely then not watching the tormenting sexual abuse of a child trafficked. What if it was your daughter? Pornography is more then sexual sin against just your own body.

It’s sexual assault against a vulnerable child.

Leave it to the enemy to trick Christians into thinking that their sinful habits are only hurting themselves or their households.

The reality is pornography is far from a private sin. It is public. You turn your computer on and give the funds necessary for 20.9 million people, many of which are children, to be sexually trafficked. You are funding a public sexual slave trade.

You are unable to view women as your equal while you participate in the public sexual slave trade that is the pornography industry. As long as our naked bodies are purchased through your bandwidth for whatever your imagination wants to do with them, we cannot be your equals. You will have power over us and you will enjoy that power. It will inform your attitude about us. It will inform your wives’ and daughters’ attitudes about themselves. It is a sin that brings out the ugliness of manhood in a time when the world needs Christian men to be showing Christ’s beauty.

3) Be friends with us & do ministry with us

I have read too many stories of advice on why Christian men and women cannot be friends with each other. The reason why men and women can’t be friends is because of the inability for men and women to relate to each other biblically.

This is why there are stories of pastors leaving their secretary on the side of the road in a broken down car.

It is biblical for men and women to have friendship. Instead of creating rules and regulations to keep men and women at a distance from one another, teach them to relate biblically to one another.

Scripture calls us to relate to one another as brothers and sisters.

Would you be tempted to hook up with your biological sister because you spent too much time talking to her after church? Would you be tempted to seduce your biological brother because he stopped to help you when your car was broken down on the side of the road? If we truly related to each other in biblical terms, there would be no safer place in the world to have co-ed friendships then the church. But because women are sexual objects… there is fear.

If you cannot have a friendship with a member of the opposite sex without thinking sexual thoughts then repent. Repent of your broken view of gender and sexuality. Repent and ask Jesus to biblically inform your view of gender and teach you how to be a brother or a sister.

Conclusion

I can honestly say that I have approached the gender debate with cynicism and at times a chip on my shoulder, but I am thankful for a marriage and a Christian community where I have been able to work through all this and can practice: “equal, but different” in every sense of the word. I am thankful to participate in a church community where women’s intelligence, spiritual gifting, and strengths are not an assault to men’s ability to lead and serve. I pray and hope to see Christians on the cutting edge of influencing our culture to stop objectifying women and instead to value the deep worth in women. 

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Delighting in our (screaming?!) Children

 Eight weeks into Jovanna Truth’s life and I am enjoying every second.

I love watching her sleep peacefully knowing she is only able to have that experience because she is safe and having her most basic needs met.

I love seeing her giant smile when she sees my face or hears my voice, realizing that she is connecting to the reality that I am her mother.

I love when she falls asleep on our chest and we can examine her tiny feet, toes, hands, and fingers.

I love seeing the other children dote on her and kiss every inch of her face as they giggle and talk to her.

I love seeing her curious big brown eyes curiously examine her environment.

I realize as I spend these first precious weeks with Jovanna that I am finding great pleasure by simply enjoying her. I am delighting in her. I am pouring out my love on her without any reserve or holding back. If I step back and think about it from a utilitarian perspective, there is little Jovanna has done to deserve my love. She has little to offer me at this stage in life…

I do not know yet if she will be at the top of her class or struggle immensely with school. Maybe she will be a wonderful musician, or maybe she will not have a single rhythmic bone in her body. Maybe she will be a wonderful athlete or maybe she will be tripping over her feet.

It is interesting that at some point as parents our language changes. We delight in our children’s achievements. We delight in their accomplishments. But in this first part of our child’s life we take great joy and pleasure simply in enjoying them. Not because of what they have done, but just because they are ours….

This is the love God has for us. He delights in us, not because of who we are or what we have done. He delights in us because we are his children. We do not deserve this kind of love, we cannot earn it, and we cannot lose it. It is a free, generous, and gracious gift that is lavished upon us.

I remember early in fostering my daughter, she would sit on the toilet and scream at the top of her lungs for hours (not exaggerating…hours). There was one day that I was walking down the hall, my ears burning from the sound, my heart heavy that maybe I was doing something wrong, my body tired and frustrated, when the Lord prompted me to go look at my daughter again. 

I felt God press on my heart… Do you love her? Do you love her with the same love I have poured out on you? In that moment, I began to smile (yes, the blood curdling screaming was still continuing) because I was able to pause, breath, and delight in her.

 I can see eyebrows raise as I type that. How do you delight in a 4 year old screaming at the top of her lungs? Are you crazy?

I found delight not in her behavior, but simply in the fact that she was my daughter. What my heart needed in that moment to be able to pause and just enjoy this little girl that God had given me. That is what I needed to be able to walk back in that bathroom and lovingly engage in disciplining her heart. I needed to pause and watch her… to think about the strength of soul it takes to spend that long screaming. To think about the survivor I have in my daughter and to imagine/day dream how that screaming…when transformed by Christ…will grow her up to be a woman with great tenacity. 

My children transformed in the first year I had them. I am convinced that it was not any great skill Vermon and I had as parents, nor was it any secret bag of parenting tricks, but what transformed them was the fact that they were deeply loved, enjoyed, and delighted in.

As I work with families who struggle with connecting to or attaching to their child they have adopted I can say it is extremely important to find ways to simply enjoy their children (even while they are screaming at the top of their lungs :)). If you can release expectation and detach from taking pleasure in “good” days, but take moments everyday to deeply enjoy the fact that they are lovable just because you say so then your heart begins to open and deep connection begins to happen.

I am so thankful that this is the love God has generously poured into my life and it is the only reason I can so freely give it away.

 “See how great a love the Father has lavished on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when he appears, we will be like him, because we see him just as he is.”

1 John 3:2-3

 

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When a Child Cannot Accept Your Love

As foster parents we get questions that are sometimes hard to answer. One of the hardest for me to give a simple answer to comes from people who ask: “You know it is going to be challenging and very difficult. Why do it?”

Here is my non-simple answer and imperfect analogy.

Choosing to welcome a child into your family who has had their most basic needs go unmet is choosing to welcome hardship and suffering into your life. Imagine what your toddler would be like had they never had their basic needs met? They needed food, diaper changes, and a lot of holding that first year of life. But all of that served the purpose of them being able to learn something vital to their survival- that they can trust you. What would your three year old be like had they never learned to trust you completely?

Now imagine a lifetime… 8 years, 12 years, 15 years of not experiencing unconditional love, acceptance, belonging… even their most basic need of shelter has not been met. A foster kid in a non-adoptive home has constant fear they will have no where to go once that “placement” runs its course. This means they must always wonder where they will land.

All that pain and suffering this child or teen has experienced will now make it difficult for them to accept your love. Not because they don’t want to, but because they can’t. Unconditional love and acceptance won’t feel normal to them.  It will scare them. They want a family more than anything else, but as you wrap around them they will instantly be filled with great fear that it will not last or cannot be real.

So why do it? Why love someone you know will reject that love?

Here is my best (and imperfect) analogy…

Why choose to get pregnant when you know it is going to cost you? Labor is a painful, hard, and long process. Women got pregnant for millenniums before modern medicine where childbirth also meant a strong possibility of death. Why then risk your life? Why endure the pain?

Women often endure the pain because of the joy that comes when new life emerges. Something that was once seen as meaningless tissue by the world is now deeply loved and cherished. How does that newborn babe develop into a 3 year old you can absolutely delight in? I hate to break it to you, but it isn’t because your DNA is just THAT awesome; it is because you loved and cherished that child and in doing so that child became an amazing and beautiful human being.

One day of love did not turn your newborn into a healthy adorable child. Responding to their needs once, twice, or even a thousand times did not create this bond that allowed them to trust you forever. They blossomed and kept blossoming because you loved them over and over and over. Thousand upon thousands of times, year after year after year.

Humans flourish with consistent love.

The same goes with welcoming a child into your family who has been so hurt by others. They are also seen as worthless by the world, but they are deeply loved by God. That deep, infinite, and abundant love God has for this abandoned & lonely child somehow penetrates your heart. Not because you are a saint or some great person, but because God just chose to work a miracle in your heart and infuse you with his love for that child.

When you know and believe in a God like this, then all the pain and suffering in the world becomes worth loving that child. This “childbirth pain” will go through unfortunately will not last for only a few hours. Because of all that has happened to this young person it will take months, years, maybe even decades of you enduring the “childbirth pain” to be able to see this loved child emerge as an adult who flourishes.

And so again, why do you do it? Because you know you are not loving this child so you can get results today, or tomorrow, or next month, or next year. You are loving this child because God has loved you in such a deep way that it will take you an eternity to comprehend. If it will take you an eternity to comprehend the depths and heights and widths of God’s love, then it becomes okay that it may take years or decades for a child or teen to understand the depths of your love for them.

The pain inflicted on foster children does not happen overnight. It is a lifetime of hurt, loss, and pain. Thousands of rejections, thousands of broken promises, and thousands of fears torment the same soul that longs to be accepted and loved. So when they reject the love you give them, it is not because they reject you, but because their brain is at war with itself. Because the pain inflicted did not happen overnight, foster/adoptive parents do not expect the healing to happen overnight.

Foster/adoptive parents cannot be motivated solely by short-term goals like providing housing for a homeless kid or making an “orphan” a “non-orphan.” If that is the goal flowing out of your heart strings being pulled then you will never endure the long painful road.

The goal is a long term goal: that this young person can really drink from the deep wonderful well of intimate love. We take that ability for granted. We waste our opportunities to experience it. But for these kiddos it is truly an impossibility until their fears can be killed and love can triumph.

I use the childbirth analogy fully aware that Paul was first to explain how Christians endure suffering in Romans 8: “But I am convinced that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory to be revealed to us…” That beautiful verses is sandwiched between imagery of childbirth and it is beautiful that God’s word gives us everything necessary to allow us to endure the pain, suffering, and exhaustion that comes with loving a hurting child.

Loving foster kids can be like hugging shards of glass. You get cut and bruised as you embrace, but it is only in embracing that you are able to feel that stiff broken glass soften and flourish and over time the beautiful soul that is hiding behind fear comes out from the shadows and begins to love being loved.

And if that never happens…if they are never transformed… if they cannot overcome all that has happened to them? At least they aren’t alone.

Following a God who died bloody, beaten, and broken on a cross to infuse YOU with his great love frees us to endure much to love others.

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Thoughts on Miscarriage…

Anyone who has been involved in a local church family knows that miscarriage happens often. I have hugged and prayed with many women who suffered from miscarriage. I knew from my friends’ experiences that miscarriage was painful and I was aware of the reality that one fourth of all first trimester pregnancies ended in miscarriage. It is behind this backdrop that when Vermon and I found out we were expecting our 4th child that we thought we were intellectually and emotionally prepared for the very real possibility of a miscarriage.

But two months into celebrating this new life that would be joining our family we miscarried. Even though we thought we were prepared for this possibility, we quickly realized we were ignorant of the deep physical and emotional pain that would follow. Often when couples experience the loss of their unborn child they grieve silently. Perhaps it is embarrassment, shame, or culturally a taboo topic to talk about. Maybe we enjoy working through difficult situations in the privacy of our own home. Regardless of the reason, miscarriage happens too often in church life to not explain what the experience is like and encourage the body to weep with those who weep.

Because few couples share the pain of their miscarriage, those of us who have not experienced one are often ignorant of the depths of pain and grief involved. I am confident that our capacity to truly shepherd and love couples in our church who had miscarried was handicapped by a lack of understanding of all that went into a miscarriage.

Medically or scientifically understanding that a miscarriage is a natural way God designed our bodies to expel a fetus that is not “viable” does not come close to comforting you in the midst of realizing you will not be carrying your child to term. To fully appreciate this, think about all the excitement that goes into rejoicing over the new life that is growing in your womb from the moment you realize you are pregnant.

For us, when we found out we were pregnant we stayed up late discussing possible names and began praying for this child’s future. I remember experiencing pure delight as I watched each of our children share in our excitement. For over nine weeks, we celebrated this life. When we went in for our first ultrasound and there was no heartbeat we were crushed. The joy that we had just experienced as a family quickly turned to incredible sorrow.

I have been told that this is a loss that mothers carry with them for their entire life and I believe that. It is difficult to imagine having a child that I will never hold, that I do not know the gender of, and that I never gave a name to. In the weeks that followed my mind was full of theological, philosophical, and medical questions.

As I struggled through the grief, it was God’s comforting word that assured me that this child was sovereignly allowed to form briefly in my womb for his purpose and his glory. My darkness and sorrow was pierced by beginning to reflect on the reality that God knows my child and that GOD had beautiful thoughts about them before time itself began.

I found deep comfort in knowing that God is this child’s eternal father and gave up everything for this child to be his own. The Lord knows this child’s name, even if I do not. Our baby was welcomed into God’s home by their creator and will spend eternity in awe of God’s splendor & glory, surrounded by God’s perfect love, majesty, and holiness. They will spend eternity with a new body and a perfect mind.

I was also comforted in realizing the grief I experienced was but a small taste of what God experienced at the loss of his own Son.

Often when we experience suffering we find ourselves asking God why he has allowed it. Those questions were not helpful for me. How could I ask God why he has taken me down this path when he has personally known the grief of a Son’s death that he loved for all eternity? The last thing my heart needed at that time was to stand as my Lord’s accuser. What it needed most was to find refuge in a Father who knows my pain personally and well. My Lord has already been accused by all my sin and found guilty; I do not want my grief to accuse him as well. The only solace my grief could find was by leaning into my gracious and precious Lord.

When you hear that someone in your church community had a miscarriage it is important to understand the many layers of loss they experience. Since many in our church family knew we were pregnant, we were forced to push through the cultural norm of suffering silently through our miscarriage and had to accept the gracious love of our church. There was nothing quite like experiencing support, encouragement, meals, and prayers from the saints. If I have ever doubted my need for our church family, the abundant and gracious love that was showered on my family during the most difficult weeks of our loss cemented in my heart and mind forever that I will not survive this Christian walk alone. I will never forget the small acts of kindness; the encouraging Scripture sent, and the hours (yes-hours) that people prayed over us. “Weep with those who weep” is now something we have experienced very tangibly from our church family. It was deeply humbling to be on the receiving end and to see families wrap themselves around us and weep with us. I hope and pray that the church can be a safe place for families to openly suffer, because it is only when our suffering is known that we can be deeply blessed by the love and care of others.

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