I went to bed last night feeling yucky. I know that’s not a real feeling, but it best describes the mix of emotions that were bubbling up inside of me. I felt restless, irritable, and discontent. I had my reasons. I’d been misunderstood and judged by a friend. My bank account did not promise extra income for Black Friday. I was still nursing my wounds from a battle with Comcast (Comcast won). I could go on . . . .

I woke up this morning remembering a commitment that I have made to myself every year in anticipation of the giving and taking that we call the “happy holidays” — that I would spend an hour each day giving thanks. I decided that it might not be a bad idea to begin this practice since Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and spending my first waking hour feeling a residue of “yuckiness” from the night before was becoming a holiday tradition that I did not want to keep.



As I reached for the light and turned off my alarm clock, I noticed that both worked predictably with little effort from me. 1.6 billion people in this world live without electricity and rely on wood, dung, and agricultural waste (which cause air pollution, one of the world’s top ten causes of premature death). So I gave thanks for electricity and that I don’t ever have to even think about dung when I turn on my light.

I always check my iPhone first thing in the morning. I know it’s a little scary (but not that uncommon) – I love my iPhone. I even have nightmares about losing it. There might be an element of addiction there and life might be less stressful if we weren’t constantly connected to our telephones, but I’m grateful for my iPhone. Most people on earth live more than two hours from a telephone. Most places in the world do not have access to basic Internet, and over one-quarter of the world’s population is without postal service. I scrolled down the screen on my cell phone and noted the number of people I talked to yesterday, the one waiting voice mail, and several new email messages and gave thanks. I read a recent study about loneliness in the United States and remember feeling deep sadness at its finding — that 1/4 of Americans report that they have no one to talk to.

And then I used my bathroom. I remember being in Cambodia several years ago and needing to find a restroom on one of our drives across country. I announced my need to our guide and casually offered, “It will be fine to just stop at a gas station.” She quickly shook her head at my ignorant suggestion and explained, “Oh, no that would not be good. We will stop at a nice house and pay to use their bathroom.” We finally found a house that she thought looked suitable, knocked on the door and offered these strangers $1.00 to use their outhouse with a clean, dirt floor and a hole in the ground surrounded by wooden boards. Until my trip to this country I didn’t know that over half of the world’s population does not have toilets.

Next I start the shower and survey all the shampoos, conditioners, body soaps, body scrubs . . . and I remembered being in China just two years ago and discovering that the shower in my room was part of the bathroom – not just in the bathroom, but part of the bathroom. The first morning there I attempted to use this shower that had a spraying device (much like a car wash), wondering how I would hold it and the shampoo. I experienced something that is still painful to remember. The sprayer had a life of its own and besides whipping around my body, it soaked the entire bathroom. I didn’t use that shower again during the week. I was not surprised to learn that people in China shower far less than Americans. I was surprised, however, to learn that 1.6 million Americans do not have indoor plumbing. I give thanks for a shower enclosed by a glass door, with a shelf for products, and a shower-head that does not require anything from me.

Next, during my hour of gratitude, I turned on the water faucet (one of five in my home) to get a drink of water. For a quarter of the world’s population a glass of clean water is never an option, which is why over 2 million people die every year from diseases they get from simply drinking water. With every sip, I gave thanks.

I laced up my new running shoes (serious running shoes – Hoka’s – purchased on sale at the end of summer for $99.00 and used approximately 9.9 times since purchase) and stepped outside for my morning run/walk. As always, the sun was rising. I thought about some words a dear friend sent me via email (that I read with my laser-corrected vision on my Mac-Pro laptop, gifted to me by another friend): “The world is full of resurrections. Every night that folds us up in darkness is a death, and those of you that have been out early, and have seen the first dawn, will know it — the day rises out of the night like a being that has burst its tomb and escaped into life” (George MacDonald).

I took in the sunrise and prayed, “Thank you, for another resurrection.”

woman on rock

And then I turned on my iPhone to listen to music — music that fills me with joy, anticipation, faith, and hope. I have always been grateful for music. To think that 15 people out of every 1,000 people in the United States have a severe hearing impairment makes me grateful that I can hear the words and the melody coming from a four-inch miraculous device that contains all my favorite songs, contacts, text, emails, and Angry Birds. 

As I run/walk I contemplate the day ahead — a day off from work for me! Because I am a bit prone to workaholism, I say a prayer for the 12% of all Americans who work seven days a week, and I ask for the grace to rest.

When I finish my exercise, I jump in my Mini-Cooper (my dream car that I leased 2 1/2 years ago), and I drive to get a bagel and coffee. There’s so much that I could give thanks for that is crammed into this daily ritual. My heart overflows with gratitude as I savor every bite of a pumpkin bagel, lathered with peanut-butter. I will never forget the pictures I saw of families in Haiti in their daily ritual of making cookies from dirt, salt, and vegetable shortening. The cookies are their entire meal.

It only took the highlights from a single hour in my day to confirm that I have a lot to be grateful for. In fact, my ability to write this post and your ability to read it on a computer or phone with Internet access, confirms that we are in the top 25% richest people in the world!

During this holiday season, may our gratitude create a shelter from the hype and leave an imprint on our hearts of how incomprehensibly blessed we are and enable us to see the things that are really real – not Amazon Prime, turkey and all the fixings, or gift cards to last for a year. The reality that makes stuff, relational stress, and stretched-too-thin credit cards fade into the shadows. The Apostle John writes about the substance that remains when everything else fades:

lightindarkness“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God.” 1 John 3:3


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Everyone is talking about it. Betrayal. Whether it’s a pastor whose name was discovered in the Ashley Madison hack or President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran – that some say is an unforgivable betrayal of Israel – betrayal makes us run for cover in fear that we might be the next to be betrayed or even that we might be the next betrayer.

We were not meant for betrayal.

It opposes something that is core to our being.


The headlines on the glossy covers of the magazines by the checkout counters in grocery stores diminish betrayal with the promise of a story explaining why Miranda Lambert is divorcing Blake Shelton or  how the “ticking time bomb of betrayal” was part of the marriage of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner.

Betrayal is much deeper than most Hollywood stories.

Betrayal has a language of its own. In the Old Testament there is a phrase referenced – cutting a covenant. They would take a lamb and split it in two and say something to the effect, “Let this happen to us if we break our covenant.”

I have a piece of paper in my file cabinet that a lawyer, who I paid $350 per hour, advised me to keep forever. It is a Decree of Betrayal.

divorce degree

Betrayal is less like going to the court house and getting a piece of paper and more like cutting a heart in half, with blood and guts everywhere. Sometimes I wonder if keeping this document is really that important. Long ago I gave up trying to prove that I was the betrayed, because I knew that there was enough blame to go around and that the only thing worse than being betrayed is knowing that I, too, am a traitor.

Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, speaks the language of betrayal far more eloquently than a divorce decree or a breaking news story on Entertainment Tonight.

“Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing    . . .  And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. 

Behind me I heard a man asking: ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ And from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where He is? This is where — hanging here from this gallows.'”

Our betrayals do not compare to the suffering of the Holocaust, but Wiesel wisely reminds us, “Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.” In his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1986 he affirmed the importance of remembering betrayal: “Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.”

With profound humility and peculiar privilege, I hear stories of betrayal almost every day. All of the stories are worth telling, but today I write about a dear friend. She clearly speaks the language. You can tell when someone knows betrayal and isn’t just talking about it.

Three years into an intimate relationship, her world shattered. She learned that the man she loved and hoped to be with for the rest of her life had a secret life – sometimes double or even triple lives. His betrayal was inscrutable for years. He even had engraved an elaborate tattoo on his arm and chest to represent their journey together and his forever commitment.

My friend shared a poem she wrote about her own agonizing experience of betrayal:

iStock_000014857910MediumYou never said ’til death do us part
but you marked your body
with a story of light
while deep inside you held in the dark

if it’s true that with your heart
as your compass
you will always find your True North,
then break free the chains that have bound you
and find your way home

all the way to a Cross
that holds the shame and regret of an entire world

to a God who has set all captives free
(amazing grace how sweet the sound)
who sees each flaw (buried deep beneath the ground)
and says,
I choose you

behind every dark corner
around each turning bend

grace as a tourniquet
for the bleeding heart

love as the key for a buried lock
the treasure of your life laid before you

the story is still being written

heartinhandI love her poem because it does not shrink back from acknowledging the pain in this relationship while it holds on to hope in the One who has engraved his promise to us on the palms of his hands and on his feet. Like Wiesel, my friend communicates that God does not abandon us to betrayal – He experiences it with us.

The New Testament describes the tattoos of betrayal when the doubting disciple Thomas met Jesus after the Crucifixion. Jesus helped the doubter believe by marking his body with His message: “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe” (John 20).

Brennan Manning describes these marks as, “Brilliant wounds of a battle long ago, almost like a signature carved in the flesh.” The signature of Jesus announces, better than any words – to both the betrayed and the betrayer: “I would rather die than live one day without you.”

Elie Wiesel certainly knew betrayal in way that most of us do not, but we cannot ignore his wisdom imploring us to speak about those jagged edges in our stories. “No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.”

“Again Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'” John 8:12


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HOW I FOUND $36,000!


Leather wallet with some dollars inside on white background

I didn’t want to go. I didn’t have time to go. But I remembered what it was like to be confined, unable to even get your own Chapstick. (And in the dry heat of Colorado that can be traumatic.) In fact, as I drove on this reluctant errand, I recalled when my parents discovered that I was an alcoholic. I had hidden it for years. One Mother’s Day many years ago my mom knew – she knew she had to come find me. My marriage had ended. My children were celebrating their father’s birthday, and it was the perfect time for me to drink as much as I could, as fast as I could; curl up in my daughter’s bed (I’m not sure why I did that – maybe I felt like a little girl who desperately needed my mother to come take care of me, because I could not take care of myself any more); and I wanted to check out of a world “where the night felt longer than the day; nothing seemed right, and life seemed barely worth the pain – not worth the fight” (from “I See You,” Poor Wayfaring Stranger, Rachel Cohen).

The only reason I have a hint of the inexplicable lostness my mom felt when she found me is because I have had the privilege of finding my daughter when she lost her way. My parents took me to the hospital, began to grasp the life and death struggle I was caught in, and urged me to take the advice of the hospital staff and check in to West Pines. (It kind of sounds like one of those creepy psychiatric hospitals where the stern, starched white employees lock you up while they play checkers in the hallways). West Pines is a good treatment center and they introduced me to the world of detox. They give you hospital gowns and socks. You cannot wear shoes with shoelaces. You cannot have a phone or a purse or a comb or a tiny little tube of Chapstick. The humiliation is tempered a bit if you are intoxicated (which I was),  until the next morning when you learn that you cannot have soap, a toothbrush, or toothpaste without being supervised by a staff member.

I don’t know why I remember this ridiculous random moment, but when I finally got to the head of the line to get my rationed toiletries I said, “I am a therapist,” and a very kind woman whose job was to hand out soap said, “I’m sure that you are a very good one.” I held on to those words for the next very difficult days.

Back to my errand. A brave friend had been talking to me for weeks via Skype about her problem with alcohol. A little over two weeks ago her young son unexpectedly showed up for his mother’s appointment. He told me that he had come to visit her and that she was much more ill than she had let on (which is not surprising – most of us addicts underestimate use by 65%). We talked about options, and this son who loves his mother so deeply told her that if she did not check in for treatment, he would leave and their relationship would be imperiled.

My friend and I talked a few days later after she was beginning to come out of the treacherous fog of denial that is a part of addiction. She agreed to come to Denver in just a few days to check in to one of the best treatment centers in the United States. I picked her up at the airport and asked this brilliant woman – ravaged by the betrayal of a marriage and a relapse in cancer – who had seen no other way to walk upright on the earth than by medicating herself with the traitorous comfort of alcohol if she wanted to get a cup of coffee before she checked in. Trembling, she said, “Let’s just get this over with.”

I visited her the next Sunday and she looked like a different woman. One of the paradoxes of alcoholism is that it can almost kill you, but within a few days of sobriety, life begins to take over and it oozes out of every pore. We visited, we laughed, we cried, and she asked if there was anyway that I could bring her some Chapstick. Her lips were in trauma.

That brings me to my errand. I picked up some Chapstick at Target and drove as fast as I could to the treatment center. I got out of my car and in my hurry, left the Chapstick in the car. There is only one long line of parking spaces for visitors and I was at the end of the line, of course. I hurried back and saw a man sitting in the grass at the edge of the parking spaces. I tried not to look at him because I didn’t want to see his tattered, grease-stained cargo shorts; his Led Zeppelin t-shirt (equally dirty); and his old tennis shoes – barely held together. It really wasn’t the ragged clothes I didn’t want to see – it was the ragged man. He was dirty. I could smell the cheap booze (because I only bought expensive booze, which just makes me a stupid alcoholic). He had a black canvas “fanny-pack” around his waist. For those of you who don’t know what that is. It looks something like this:

Pistol Fanny Pack Leather Roma

only his was not that nice. He caught me glance at him and before I could turn toward my car to get the Chapstick, he said, “I need help.” Well, that was obvious, but I wasn’t the one to help him. He moved toward me and I got out my car keys. I don’t know what I was afraid of – he couldn’t have hurt me. He looked like he weighed about 125 pounds. He had gray hair with strands of white. He looked like he was about 70 years-old, but excessive drinking has a way of stealing years. His eyes were rimmed with the red that only those of us who have drank, because we cannot stop, quickly recognize. My heart softened and I said, “I only have $2, but you can have it.” 

Before I could reach into my purse he shoved his fanny pack at me. He said, “No! Look, I have $36,000! I cashed out the last of my retirement. I’m supposed to go in here,” he pointed to the treatment center. He was yelling and I could hear the affect of the alcohol he had apparently consumed on his way to treatment. (He probably had $35,990.12 – I estimated the cost of cheap booze.) But sure enough, he showed me the wad of cash he had in his bag.

I grabbed his arm, too enthusiastically, and said, “I’m going in there too to leave something for a friend. I will walk in with you.”

He pulled away from me and shook his head. He said, “I can’t go in there. Look at me,” he gestured toward his appearance – the same appearance that I had wanted to look away from as fast as I could.

“You probably won’t believe this,” he slurred, “but I was an investment banker. I had a house, and a car, and a family . . . .” He looked away. And then he looked toward the treatment center –  beautiful cedar buildings, shaded by tall pine trees and surrounded by manicured gardens with benches to sit on and remember how you got there and why you never wanted to go back.

I understand pride. It kept me from being honest with my friends and family. It keeps me from asking for help. It makes me believe that I have a right to be offended when people don’t treat me like I think that I deserve to be treated. It creates a tornado of resentment that blows me straight back to the booze.

I looked at my rich friend and said, “You probably won’t believe this, but I’ve been where you are – isolated from family and friends, locked in my house, trying with all my strength to drink myself to death.” He looked right into my eyes and neither one of us looked away for a minute. Both our eyes filled with tears.

I said, “Why don’t you let me drive you to Walmart and you can use a few of those dollars to buy a new pair of jeans and a shirt. They will help you with the rest when you get into treatment.” 

It felt like the craziest and sanest thing I’d ever done. I drove him to Walmart and waited by the front door. I swear he took an hour, but he came out wearing a new pair of jeans, a Denver Broncos sweatshirt, and although he had on the same tattered tennis shoes, he was wearing socks.

We drove back to the treatment center and I explained that I still needed to go in and drop off a package for my friend. I told him that I would walk in with him. When we got to the door he stopped and muttered, “I think I’ll wait here just a minute before I go in.” My heart dropped. I wasn’t going to rescue him, after all.

I went inside and dropped off the Target bag with the Chapstick in it and briefly told the man at the front desk about the reluctant patient at the door. I explained, “He has $36,000 in his fanny pack. I took him to buy clean clothes. He has everything he needs to check in.”

The man sitting at the front desk didn’t look that wise. He looked like he was in his 20’s, but he turned out to be far wiser than he looked. He told me, “He may have everything he needs, but he has to walk in the door.”

I walked out of the treatment center and told my new friend as I passed by him; “I hope you go in. It’s a wonderful place.” 

When I got in my car at the end of the parking spaces, backed out, and pulled on to the street, I looked in my rearview mirror. The man with $36,000 in his wallet was still standing outside the door.

I wanted this story to end differently, and I am hopeful that when I go to visit my friend this Sunday, I will see him in the treatment center.

I drove away slowly – no longer in a hurry – after my errand turned into a parable. I began to think of all that I possess and how often I clutch to it tightly, afraid to enter into all the Grand Rescuer has to offer.

I check and re-check my bank balance, adding every possible penny I may make and have to spend – filled with fear that I might not have enough. And right inside the door is the One who promises, “I Am your security. Enter your future, with me, with joy.”

I rehearse the hurts and betrayals that I have felt and want to shut down my heart so that I won’t be hurt again. And right inside the door is the One with the wounds still on His hands and feet saying, “I Am your forgiveness. Unclasp your hand and hold mine.”

Oh, and then I really enumerate all the ways that I have failed, feared, and faltered, and I feel the shame slither around my heart. And right inside the door is the One who reminds me that, “It was your pain I carried – your disfigurements, all the things wrong with you. Your sins ripped and tore and crushed me. I took your punishment. My wounds made you whole. My bruises healed yours. I am the Lover of your sinful heart, the Lord of your shame. Now look at me. Come and rest in this great mystery!”

And finally, I start counting my $36,000 – feeling deserving of entering in. I’ve helped people. I’ve confessed my sin. I’ve loved others, tried to forgive, and worked to do my very best. And right inside the door is the One who says, “Leave your $36,000 outside. I don’t want it. Sharon, when will you believe that all I want – all I have ever wanted is you.

“Blessed are the poor . . . for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

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heart and blood on wooden background, medical symbol concept




We met under a street light and started talking about everything . . . the war between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, the Pope, the South (in the 1970’s), boys (in the 1970’s), Jesus, and the strange soup that they served in the Dining Common that married the unlikely flavors of okra, spaghetti, and spam? Holly and I became best friends in less than 10 minutes and just knew that we would be in one another’s lives forever. We graduated from college, got married, had children . . . . and life got in the way and our friendship faded. The fading of intense relationships is inevitable, but maybe that’s why, in our culture today, so many of us have so few friends. A study by the University of Chicago found that most adult women in America have 2 close friends, and most men? 0. Yes, zero.

The words of a song that I love, tell the truth about the confusion and agony of something so deliciously wonderful fading to something so bland with no flavor, or worse – with a toxic taste that makes you gag, choke, and purge – determined to never be tempted by that taste again:

A woman calls my house once a week, she’s always selling things.
Some charity, a phone plan, a subscription to a magazine.
And as I turned her down (I always do), there was something trembling in her voice.
I said, ‘hey what troubles you?’
She said, ‘I’m surprised you noticed.
Well, my husband, he’s leaving, and I can’t convince him to stay.
And he’ll take our daughter with him, she wants to go with him anyway.
I’m sorry I’m hard to live with, but living is the problem for me.
I’m selling people things they don’t want when I don’t know what they need.”

She said, ‘the slow fade of love,
And it’s mist might choke you.
It’s my gradual descent into a life I never meant.
It’s the slow fade of love.’

Some of you might be just about ready to click off this blog. How depressing! . . . but perhaps your finger is lingering a little longer on the delete button because you’ve felt it too – those friendships or marriages or children who fade away, leaving us to wonder if relationships are all that they’re cracked up to be; and maybe we wouldn’t want to see those long-lost friends anyway, because we’re living in a life we never meant to be.

Love Fades In and Out and Back In Again


The friend I met under the street light in college actually faded back into my life about ten years ago. We had travelled very different paths, had different preferences, and quickly learned that we had a few different perspectives. Somehow I choked out part of my story – that I was now divorced, recovering from alcoholism; and as if I hadn’t already felt like I was too much – I showed my college friend one of my

It took more than ten minutes this time, but it wasn’t long before we were once again talking about everything – our marriages, our children, heartaches, Jesus, and whether we colored our hair. We kept in contact from then on and our differences began to stretch our imagination about what God might be up to. Our differences gave us room to change our minds. Our differences ended up revealing that we weren’t so different after all – we still longed for friendships that redeemed the empty places, that offered solace for inexplicable betrayals, that pushed us to be a little more radical in our old age (Holly could get a tattoo and I could consider to possibly think about starting to run again). More than anything we still want to believe in redemption – that the slow fade of love that hurts so many relationships and leaves people so lonely and afraid of love can be redeemed. Radically.

Last week we finished taping 10 video casts of “Conversations” between us about what we’ve learned from our friendship. We are calling these conversations Radically Redemptive Relationships (): Two Women With Different Stories Who Find Common Ground For Love’s Sake.  In a few weeks my friend, Holly Stratton, and I will begin to post these conversations. Conversations that include:
* Radically Redemptive Relationships? You’ve Got to Be Crazy!
*Into Me See – It Takes a Braveheart
*Scandalous Relationships – Do We Need to Breathe Fire or Dare We Breathe Love?
*Stay Skinny or Stay Hungry? (my daughter, who has eight tattoos, joins us for this conversation)
*Married to the Best Man and He Still Ain’t Good Enough
*What’s Wrong With Me if I’m Still Single?
*Why Should I Surrender When I’m Right?
*Life Hurts
*Betrayal – Humble Hearts & High Heels

I’m not going to say anymore about these programs here. We will post them over the new several weeks on our blogs ( and and on Facebook.

The R³ Challenge

I hope that you might start to imagine with us what it could be like to start a movement to redeem love that has faded or is fading . . . . with a friend, spouse, sibling, a child, or the person you used to sit next to every week at church. When we stop focusing on differences, the possibilities are endless!  What if you sent a text or a mailed a card via the US Postal Service with an actual stamp on it to someone, that for some reason, you lost touch with some time ago? Can you think about apologizing or forgiving someone in a broken relationship (do you even remember what actually happened?)? Just think about giving a gift to a completely unexpecting friend who you’ve lost touch with for whatever reason – simply because at one time they were a friend! Email your middle school teacher, your old youth leader, an even older professor, or the person who always smiled at you in the hallway at work and tell them; “Thank you. You made a difference!” Sometimes love fades, because we take our friends and family for granted. What if tomorrow is the last chance you have to tell them something? What would you say? And sometimes love fades because of wounds that are still oozing with pain that feel like they will never heal. What do you think would happen to you if you prayed for these traitor friends/lovers? You don’t have to say words – the best prayer is simply a posture.desperate prayer

I Have Friends in High and Low Places

I don’t think that I’m a very good friend, but I have been blessed with good friends who have prepared my heart, so quick to harden, while I clench my fist and whisper under my breath the favorite Christian female “F” word – “Fine, I don’t need you anyway.” My heart is actually crying out, “Please don’t leave me. I’m scared to need you, but I do.”

I want to start the R³ Challenge by sharing words that friends and family have said or written to me that have challenged me, humbled and humiliated me, loved me, been honest with me, chosen not to be honest because I was just so broken, said good-bye to me, asked to see me again . . . . all their words reminded me that this longing that God has created in all of us – at a cellular level – to be known, forgiven, loved, and still wanted – it’s holy.  Our human longings may choke us with unbearable pain; they may lead us to glimpses of glory in one another; and they will fade.  But that doesn’t mean that we should forget.

My friend, Jim, with eyes brimming with tears or delight always reminds: ‘It sure doesn’t seem like it; but Sharon, God only writes good stories.”

My dear friend’s son, whose brain is ravaged by schizophrenia, used to see me for counseling. For some reason he became afraid of me and our time together faded. I will never forget the day that this young man sat in my office, tapping his fingers in codes that only made sense to him. I had just received a painful letter and my mouth was parched, my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, and I was biting my lip to hold back the tears. Kyle could tell that I was sad and he said with the most genuine heart, “I’m sorry.” I tried to gather myself and told him that I had just received some very painful words from a friend. He looked at me with his sparkling blue eyes that were as lucent as I’d ever seen them. He said, “It’s okay. Love will win.”

My friend Lori, who has known years of traitor love, concludes her letters with her deepest plea; “God, help me to be loved by you, so that I can truly love others.

Zach texts it, says it, signs his emails with it – and he means it; “It’s sure a good think that it’s all about grace.”

My friends William & Dana are always there. Sometimes they say beautiful, encouraging words. Other times they give me eggs or honey or they ask me if I want to visit with their turkeys. (I think that’s a hint that they don’t need me to say a darn thing.) They just love me – almost as much as their turkeys!turkeys

I am learning that all the faded love that is intended to break our hearts, to announce our differences, to stab daggers in our backs, and make us determined to never want again — not to want anything real. It is safer to talk about Dancing With the Stars, or all of the dogmas of “us” vs. “them,” or listen to those who agree with us – or at the very least are polite enough not to disagree – than to remain humble, needy, vulnerable, and even desperate for those simple, oft-repeated phrases or just an invitation to stay for a while.

Working on this project with my friend of old and of new, Holly, has reminded me of these words and many more from friends who haven’t faded, even when the friendships did. Friendships don’t always fade because of painful realities. It’s inevitable that they may fade as we set off in different directions in life; but I hope that some of these words from my friends will remind you of a few friends that you might want to call and tell them that you still think of them and that you wouldn’t mind the extravagant comfort of just sitting among friends who love you – even while their turkeys wander in and out.

I Have Friends Whose Names I Don’t Know

Not all of the “friends” I remember said things that I loved hearing.

When I was a freshman in college I needed to register for a class and the line was long. Well, I was in a hurry and didn’t think anyone in that long line would mind if I just walked right up to the front to get the attention of the woman behind the counter. This friend, whose name I never knew, said words to me that I have never forgotten, “You aren’t any more important than anyone else in this line. Take your place at the end.” I never barged to the front of a line again (well, maybe once).

Speaking of Holly, when I was in her wedding I met her sister – a beautiful young woman who knew a lot more about fashion than I did. I don’t think I’d even thought of that as a category at that time. She took one look at me and ran to get her makeup magic. She said “Sweetie, you have thin lips. You should always wear lipstick.” And ever since that day, I’ve tried.

I will never forget the summer day that my 18-year-old daughter and I visited one of my famous friends. I had on my lipstick and tried to remember to have a humble heart. My daughter explained to him that she had been trying to get into the college of her dreams and had not yet been accepted. She looked at my famous friend who has written best-selling Christian books and announced, “I think God is a dumb-ass to not let me get into this college.” I wanted to hide. I wanted to pretend I had somehow arrived with some other mother’s daughter. My friend covered his face with his hands and then he looked at us. I was waiting for judgment and I did not understand the sparkle in his eyes as he told us the Good News. He said, “Oh, He must be to have anything to do with any of us!”

When I became more important in life, I was flying to Little Rock, Arkansas to be on a radio program. I needed to be there at 10:00 a.m. sharp! Unfortunately, my connecting flight in Charlotte, North Carolina was delayed and then cancelled due to thunderstorms. There was one more flight scheduled to go out late that night; but there where two plane-loads of people trying to get on that one flight. Those of us who had been cancelled were placed on a waiting list, and my name was at the bottom. I plopped down in the middle of the floor and started to cry. I knew better than to try to get to the front of the line, but I still knew in my heart that I had a more important mission than all those other people. A young woman who looked to be about 18 sat down on the floor across from me with her legs crossed and she looked at me. She had a mission too – the kind that doesn’t fade away. I brushed away my tears and mascara and the lipstick from my thin lips. She handed me her boarding pass. She had a seat on the flight and said to me, “I don’t know why you need to be on this flight, but you can have my boarding pass and I’ll take your’s.” My trembling hands took her pass and I gathered my belongings and limped onto the plane. It wasn’t until I sat down and looked at the boarding pass that I read this friend’s name. It was Grace.

Family Members Are Friends Too

I haven’t been a much better family member than I have been a friend. I am self-centered, my ego barges in at the most inappropriate times, and I have the “gift of guilt.” I don’t want to know the number of times that I have said to my children, “After all I’ve done for you, you do ………!”

Before I talk about my children, who I am so blessed to call friends, I need to talk about my parents whose love for me has never faded.  It’s been a bit tarnished at times – not by their doing, but by mine.

When I was 7 years-old I developed crippling fears about burglars invading our home in the middle of the night or snakes slithering into my bedroom while I slept. My dad travelled a lot during those days and I still have the note he scrawled to me quickly one morning before he left town. He knew how paralyzed I had become by fear. His note said, “‘Cast all your cares on Christ, for He cares for you.’ And so do I.”  There are days, now that I’m all grown up and still afraid, that I put that tattered note in my pocket, and I can feel the love burn against my trembling heart.”

When I was much older and my battle with alcoholism was winning again. In more shame than I know words to describe, I checked into a treatment center. My mom has never understood my addiction, but she sent me a text that first night that I was in the inpatient infirmary. I snuck my smuggled cell phone out of my bathrobe pocket, and in the middle of one of the darkest nights of my soul I read my mom’s text; “Sharon, I have never loved you more.”

My son is not big on texts or cards or flowery notes, but he wrote me a letter last year on Mother’s Day. On a piece of legal paper (he is a lawyer) he wrote these words; “As the winds of change rattle and strain my foundation, you have been a constant . . . a constant source of love, support, and grace; in short, a mother.” Okay, I need to get some kleenex.

And then there is my daughter – my wildly passionate, deeply wounded, and indescribably beautiful daughter. There is no way that I can capture the words that she has said to me – some have been the most painful words spoken to me and others the most blessed. Her words have made me mad and challenged me to change. Her words have threatened that she might fade away, and they have promised with a brilliance that surpasses all of the seven wonders of the world that she will never stop loving me. There are these words that Kristin writes me every day – they are worth all the money of Oprah Winfrey, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Mark Zuckerberg combined.  She quotes to me a line from a children’s book that I read to her again and again when she was growing up; “I love you forever, I like you for always. As long as I’m living, my momma you’ll be.” And then she signs it, Your Partner in Crime and Dreams. There are some words that cannot be explained.

I Have A Friend Who Knows My Name

I do not share these words of friendships, fading in and out, to prove that I am a good friend. I don’t deserve the riches that I possess in all my friends. I am quick to forget their birthdays and I wait way too long to respond to emails. I have betrayed and hurt dear friends in ways that I never thought that I would. I have actually deleted this blog 3 times, because I’m so undeserving of the friendships that continue to fade into my life.

But I have a friend who I have rejected, questioned, embarrassed, and betrayed more than any other friend. There have been times when I even pretended that I didn’t know His name. He is the One – who although He could claim all the rights of Deity – He put aside His privilege to become a slave. In the worst moment of the history of all humanity, He became the One who was too monstrous for anyone to look at; the One, who Frederick Buechner described, with the swollen lip and the cauliflower ear; the One who was spit on and cursed in every language possible; the One who laid down His life for His friends.

Radically redemptive relationships are possible — whether love has faded or is just beginning — only to the degree that we are lost in the inexplicable love of the Friend who while hanging on that tree for the love of us, He could see us competing and comparing, lying and bragging, back-stabbing and gossiping, promising and being promise breakers; and, while He could see us sinning, He pleaded with God on our behalf; “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

When stories and songs of faded love fill my heart and justify my cynicism, instead of brashly dismissing the hope of friendship by saying that “Love is hard;” may I remember the words of C.S. Lewis; “Love is hard. Hard as nails. Nails in hands and feet.” And then, dear wounded Savior friend, kneel me down in awe and gratitude that you surrendered to those coarse nails in your hands and feet; you felt the betraying jolt that broke every bone in your body; you wept tears of blood in response to the mockery of a crown of thorns on your head because, oh because of the joy set before you. And what – or rather who – was the joy set before you, Lord Jesus? The joy set before you was me – that You could call me friend.

“Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility again himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted  . . . . Look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, ignoring the shame . . . . and in resurrecting is sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

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In the wake of yet another scandal we are discovering that all the ways that the Internet allows us to connect are also baffling, cunning, and insidious ways to disconnect. A website that “guarantees” you an affair if you can pay the price, leaves most of shaking our heads at who would think of such a thing, much less who would do something so outrageously wrong.  I may not have ever clicked on Ashley Madison, but when an email shows up in my inbox that says, “Someone has done a background check on you. You won’t believe what they have found!” – I’ve been tempted to pay the $1.95 to make sure my own scandals stay hidden. It seems instead of keeping us connected, the Internet has exposed us and the idols of our hearts that have far more to do with staying disconnected than risking the messy pain of real relationships.

Kale Salad

A few weeks ago I learned about another ingenious connection that can be downloaded in an App called Venmo.  Venmo is a free digital wallet that allows you to pay and request money from your friends. This Internet connection can allow me to go to lunch with a friend and she can pay since I seldom have cash (or credit), and I can then transfer my half of the bill from my Venmo account to her Venmo account. The really cool thing is that this is a social media app – that means it’s about connection, right? Once I sign up for Venmo, all of my friends who have this app show up as well. Just like the ancient, seldom-used by anyone but me, check, Venmo has a memo line that can allow all of us who are connected to see who we share lunch with or who we split the cost of a cab with, the restaurant where we split the bill, and even what we order from the menu. So when I see my friend’s husband paid another man for “kale salad,” I feel connected because I am privy to his dining habits. Only that’s not what “kale salad” means in Venmo language. It is a code alerting me that my friend just purchased some fine petchule (a word that I know because I live in Colorado where it is legal to buy marijuana and for friends to split the cost of a gram, quarter, or ounce.) Oh my! It sounds harmless – a fun way for adults to have a private laugh about their secret connections made possible by Venmo. 

The fun came to an abrupt end for my friend who learned that her husband had a Venmo account and not only documented purchasing “kale salad” but dutifully filled in the memo line with the secret code words for purchasing sex from a man who also enjoyed “kale salad.” As my friend’s world crashed before her eyes while viewing this social media app and she saw all of the connections that her husband had made, she didn’t just feel disconnected. She felt destroyed. I don’t think I’ll download this free digital wallet. But I have searched the Internet in days gone by looking for ways to purchase prescription drugs because I didn’t have time to see a doctor and didn’t want to be accountable for my habit of killing desire for honest, vulnerable, and intimate connections with dishonest, criminal, heart-numbing substances.


I can imagine my mother reading this right now and wondering, as she often has, “Sharon, why do you have to air all your dirty laundry?” It would be easier to be outraged by a Christian man who paid for a guaranteed affair or a guilty husband who medicated his intimacy disorder with “kale salad.” In fact, one response to the Ashley Madison scandal blamed Christian families who protect their daughters from the Internet and exhort them to kiss dating goodbye as they become “suitable helpers” to serve their husbands and stand by their man. This worthy author’s final sentence in her remarks about the scandal of the day went viral. She said, “Teach your daughters to breathe fire.” That sounded good to me. I “tagged” my own fire-breathing daughter who I so admire for speaking the truth – sometimes fiercely – with the fumes filling the room. I don’t disagree with this sentiment. I believe we should teach young women to use their voices, to stand up against injustice, and to never, never remain silent about relational violence. But I have discovered that breathing fire isn’t that hard. I can breathe fire about Internet darkness as quickly as I can spit flames at the driver who cuts me off in traffic. I have always loved the movie scenes when the mistreated woman finally stands up and breathes fire.

There’s an old television show that most people don’t remember or have never heard of because it was on before they were born. It was popular before there was Facebook or Snapchat or Venmo. The leading actor was a fire-breathing woman. The show I’m referring to is Designing Women and the show’s character, Julia Sugarbaker, had fiery dialogue in every episode. In one of my favorites she said: “In general it has been the men who have done the raping and the robbing and the killing and the war-mongering for the last 2,000 years. It has been the men who have done the pillaging and beheading and subjugating of whole races into slavery. It has been the men who have done the lawmaking and the moneymaking and most of the mischief-making! So if the world isn’t quite what you had in mind, you have only [the men] to blame!” Sometimes I wonder what Julia would have had to say about Ashley Madison, but every time I play that television clip when I speak at women’s retreats, the applause is deafening. Breathing fire sounds good! It feels good! And I don’t think that’s what we really need to teach our daughters. We come into this world knowing how to set others on fire. Even if we don’t do it with fiery speeches, most women I know can cross their arms – protecting themselves from the world – and simply say the favorite Christian woman’s “F” word – “Fine.” Translation: you may embarrass me or push me to do something I don’t want to do, but you won’t get to my heart.

That’s what all these connections that create distance, disconnection, and disaster have taught us. Close your heart tightly. Let the fire rage in your heart – which is the most damaging place for it to be sparked. And if you really want to throw caution to the wind, breathe fire against all that would betray you, humiliate you, and break you. C. S. Lewis describes the ruins of the fire-breathing heart: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one . . . . Lock it up safe in the casket of your own [fire breathing] . . . in that safe, dark, motionless, airless casket, it will not be broken. It will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”


That’s what we need to teach our daughters and our sons and ourselves. To be vulnerable, even when it feels like there are snipers on every rooftop just waiting to shoot you down, reject you again, break another promise, and forget your birthday. You see God foresaw all these disconnections that would come with cyber-connections and in His very first story about us He said, “It is not good for you to be alone.” He told single Adam, “I will make a suitable helper for you.” Before you start breathing fire about the woman being the helper to serve the man, take a sip of water and hear what God was really saying. The word “helper” in Hebrew is “ezer” – a word that is only used to refer to that match God made for Adam, and it is also used 21 times to refer to God, who in the midst of heart shattering times, promises to be our helper. And how does He help us? He could have and still could descend from heaven, clothed in the garments of a warrior (another definition for “ezer”) and shut down Ashley Madison, expose every kale salad eating impostor, conquer every sex addict, alcoholic, adulterous sinner, and reign as King from a throne of power and control.

But He became vulnerable. The warrior helper wore the shame of the man killing his desire for love by paying for an affair. This helper paid the debt for the woman searching for drugs on the Internet to numb her heart. Every bone in His body was broken so that He could heal our brokenness. He shed tears of blood to wash away our weary waywardness. He became the humiliated King. Why? Because His longing to be connected to me is so great that He faced the fires of hell to be a friend, lover, and savior of a woman who has looked for connection in all the wrong places. He breathes mercy, grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Oh God, teach us to breathe love.

“Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation garden of your life.” James 1:19-21 The Message

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ALONEAlone.  Several weeks ago the History Channel began to chronicle the fascinating and sometimes bone-chilling stories of, “Ten men who enter the Vancouver Island wilderness carrying only what they can fit in a small backpack. They are alone in harsh, unforgiving terrain with a single mission–stay alive as long as they can. These men must hunt, build shelters and fend off predators. They will endure extreme isolation and psychological distress as they plunge into the unknown and document the experience themselves. No camera crew. No producers. It is the ultimate test of man’s will.” The man who lasts the longest wins $500,000. After the first few weeks, the number of men surviving Alone dropped to only four men remaining to take on this challenge . . . alone.

This program is one that I do not want to miss! The dangers and challenges are so outside of my own experience that I am captivated. I did sleep in a tent in the “forest” once. After about 5 hours of listening to what I was sure were bears rustling through our campground and enduring a thunderstorm with lightening I knew would strike our tent, I retreated to the car and dreamed of morning, a drive to the nearest Starbucks, and a nap in my own bed at home, safe from wild animals and lightning strikes. One of the first quotations on the screen at the beginning of the program is from Henry David Thoreau:

I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately and see if I could not learn what it had to teach.

Watching this program has made me think a lot about the perils of being alone and what it has to teach us. Most of us will not end up alone to survive on a remote island with bears, cougars, and relentless rain, but . . .

We have our own survival series:
* The least annoying wins.  We determine that we don’t want to burden anyone, especially with our long-term pain and problems, and so quickly we leave the pity party as we take on the challenge to deal with life . . . alone.
Never let them see you sweat. Vulnerability is a sign of weakness, failure, and lack of moral fiber. We live with our shame, addictions, stress, faulty coping strategies, failures, dreams, desires, and desperation for relationships . . . alone.
* Don’t you dare question God! Whether it’s a broken marriage or the unthinkable horror of losing a child, the insecurity of unemployment, or the powerlessness over cancer, arthritis, or diabetes, we may wonder what in the world God is doing, but we don’t dare express our doubt and anger about God. We press all those questions down into the basement of our lives where the part of us that is scared, angry, ashamed, sick, and powerless survives . . . alone.
I don’t really have time for friends anyway. Our calendar days become filled with busyness, tasks, obligations, service, and achievements that can leave us feeling alienated from others who just don’t “get” how busy we are and don’t seem to even want to compete to win the title of the most competent, successful Christian. We have no other choice but to press on . . . alone.
I won’t be hurt again. C.S. Lewis describes this survival strategy:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.

Maybe you won’t get hurt, but you will be . . . alone.

I have been a lone ranger for much of my life. I have justified being alone as necessary to get my work done, to not burden others, to hide my flaws and failures, and to find some sense of control in a world that so often does not make sense. But these hard-core survivalists in Alone have given me pause to consider the significant perils of being alone . . . even if we’re just living in the suburbs trying to survive our daily lives.

1.  Control is a dangerous illusion. One survivalist on the program celebrated finding some control in this way out-of-control environment. Admirably, he built the frame of a boat and lined it with a thick tarp. It worked! He had taken back some control from the overwhelming challenges of finding food on the island. The first day that he took the boat out, he found a rich source of food on a clam beach. He expressed the rest he felt in knowing that he would always have food. He filled his bucket with 15 pounds of clams, climbed into his boat anticipating arriving back at camp having conquered one of the most difficult elements of survival on this island. This illusion quickly vanished as he got caught in currents that made it impossible for him to get back to his camp in his boat. He stowed his boat, walked the two miles back to his camp, and still celebrated his victory over starvation. unfortunately, only a few hours after feasting on boiled clams, his body jolted him into a painful intestinal reality, overriding any sense of control. He was sick for hours and pretty close to calling it quits. One of the survivalists spoke into his own camera, “You can’t control nature. You have to learn to be part of it.”

There’s a lesson here. When we fight to control our children, our flaws and imperfections, our friendships, not only do we lose control, but we lose our true selves. Control is an illusion. Surrender is the scary alternative. One of my favorite artists, Kirsten Jongen, wrote:

You can’t fake authentic surrender, for it is the moment you unclench your hands . . . and accept what is and finally let go, that the fertile space is provided for Divine intervention and unimaginable possibilities.

How do we move from control to surrender?
* One day at a time.
* Risking to want to be known, accepted, forgiven, and still wanted by others.
* Looking for similarities in others and not differences.
* Honoring differences with curiosity and an authentic desire to learn from others, even and especially from others who make us feel out of control.
* Wanting grace more than justice, possibilities more than safety, and the chance to love and be loved more than not wanting to be hurt.

Donald Miller says it this way in his book Scary Close:

I had to trust that my flaws were the way through which I would receive grace. We don’t think of our flaws as the glue that binds us to the people we love, but they are. Grace only stick to our imperfections.

2.  We are all vulnerable to predators.  One of the first survivalists to send the signal that he was ready to leave was a man who quickly went to work and built a shelter (it rains 220 days a year on this island). It wasn’t until after he completed his shelter in the wilds, that he discovered the evidence that he had built it very near a bear trail. I guess bears are predictable and frequent trails to hunt, eat their prey, defecate and return to their hibernation hotels. The first night, as the rain whipped this man’s tent, his camera caught sight of bears – adult bears and baby bears sniffing at his shelter. He kept yelling, “Hey, bear,” which I guess is the universal language to tell bears that they are not welcome. I could barely fall asleep that night after watching the show and I actually felt relief when this survivalist set off his flare, signaling the desire to be rescued. He spoke into his camera, “I didn’t come here to be eaten by bears!”

Whether we live in a well-decorated house in the suburbs with a manicured lawn and two-car garage or we live in the city (like my daughter does – with bars on the windows, graffiti on the fences, and a bullet hole in her window), we are all vulnerable to predators. We are reminded in the Scriptures that we have an enemy who carves out trails that intersect with different parts of all of our lives – he is crouching at every corner, wanting to devour us. We can be devoured by trauma, addiction, heartache, poverty, wealth, divorce, loneliness – the possibilities are dishearteningly limitless. And never ever more so than when we are alone.

Several years ago I went away for a month to join a bunch of other addicts and alcoholics to be strengthened and encouraged in our recovery. I sized up my comrades and quickly assessed that I knew more than they did, my recovery was further along than their’s, and I would spend more of my time alone – praying, reading, and shaping my recovery in my own image.

The first week that I was there I got up early in the morning to run on the trails in the beautiful tree-lined woods. I ran alone. On the third day I came to a spot on the trail that was being guarded by a deer. I’m a little afraid of wildlife and so I tried to shoo it away. It stood steadfast, and so I ran back to our lodging, and I swear – I looked over my shoulder and that deer was chasing me. The next morning I asked my roommate to come with me (fear of animals quickly compels me to turn in my lone ranger badge!). We came to the same place on the trail, and there we found a half-eaten baby deer. Sadly, even though that baby deer’s mama was standing guard, a predator snuck in and did what predators do – maim and kill.

As I wandered back to the lodge, I heard God’s Spirit speak to mine, “Sharon, don’t you see, I am trying to keep you from ending up half-eaten, in the middle of the road, but you have to trust and rely on me and others.” Before I could say the next sentence that would acknowledge God’s message, but make me still feel like I was a little bit in control, His Spirit reminded me, “If you are going it alone with God, you are going it alone.”

How do we move from the danger of predators to safety?
* Believe the Irish proverb, “In the shelter of each other we were meant to live.”
Invite people into your life at every intersection – whether it’s your marriage, singleness, parenting, addiction, financial stress – we cannot find emotional wholeness outside of community.
* Expect your community to be filled with people like you. Don’t be surprised when they are thoughtless, hurtful, judgmental – because they are like you. Allow yourself to be surprised when they generous, encouraging, and affirming – because they are like you.
* Be more afraid of your vulnerability to predators in isolation than your vulnerability to one another in community. We will all get it wrong sometimes and we’ll get hurt and we will hurt others, but community is the best chance we have for our vulnerabilities to be seen, loved, and coaxed out of that room in the basement where we hide some of the best parts of ourselves from others.

Sociologist, Brene Brown poignantly writes about the power of vulnerability:

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.

3.  When you’re alone, you can starve to death. One of the most angst-filled scenes in the History Channel program, Alone, is when my favorite survivalist, Alan, confronts the reality that he may starve to death. He has had some success in eating limpets and seaweed, catching some crabs and fish – but the relentless weather limits his abilities to hunt, fish, and cook. He stays in his tent reciting lines from the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe and worries about starving his body and his mind.

I never fear starving to death. There are restaurants within walking distance of my home. I go to the grocery about every other day (even though I don’t cook). I don’t anticipate getting so hungry that chomping on a piece of seaweed will not only feel necessary, but satisfying. The starvation I know about, when I am isolated and hiding from others, is a different hunger.  It is hunger that arises from our design to be in mutual, authentic, vulnerable relationships. When was the last time you acknowledged your hunger to be seen? I fear that we grow accustomed to rushing through the hours of the day, often invisible – partly because we hide beneath competence and workload – and others do the same. We are not only often invisible in plain sight, but we feel slightly ashamed of our appetite to be affirmed. Without the affirmation of others, we don’t know fully who we are. Invisible, unaffirmed . . . and starved by cynicism, we start to believe that we have to feed ourselves and don’t experience the extravagant feast that comes from entrusting ourselves – body, soul, and spirit – to others.  We guarantee we won’t get the nourishment we are most hungry for – love. Author John Lynch in his book The Cure, describes this starvation: “No one told me that when I wear a mask, only my mask receives love.”

How do we move from starvation toward nourishment?
* Gratefully acknowledge the “manna” of enough money, time, purpose, love – for today. We starve when we bemoan today’s manna and start worrying about tomorrow’s, concocting some scheme to get things under control by ourselves.
* Tell someone that you’re hungry – for affirmation, for a listening ear, for consolation, or for acceptance.
* Offer sustenance to others. We cannot find nourishment in isolation, and we can become glutenous in searching only for our own sustenance.
* God allows hunger to awaken our hearts. All masks are a way to pretend that we aren’t hungry.
* Keep a journal noting all of the ways you are fed – in the laughter with friends, in the opportunity to bear another’s burden, in telling the truth about your life, and in listening to the truth about another’s with compassionate curiosity. The words of Frederick Buechner echo in my hungry heart:

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

4.  You can never be sure of what’s in the water. The first task for the survivalists was to secure water. For some the first attempt disappointedly turned out to be sea water, unfit for consumption and dangerous for the body and the mind’s well-being. After finding what they hoped was a source of fresh water, they had to lug containers to their camp to boil for further safety. And even then . . . they had no guarantee of what was in the water. As I watch some of their mental toughness start to unravel, I go back and forth between wanting to yell at the TV (I realize this might reflect on my own mental well-being), “Boil your water twice,” or “Don’t drink that water polluted with dead fish and animal feces.”

We pretty much completely take for granted that we don’t have to boil our water or worry that it is salt water from a stinky pond filled with decay. But what do you drink when you’re alone? For years, I drank alcohol. Only alcoholics believe that a good reward for a long day is partaking of a toxic substance in isolation. Some days, though, I drink in the beauty of the world around me. I think often of the words of Jon Krakauer who wrote Into the Wild about his own survival in surveying some of the wildest and most beautiful places on earth. It was only as he was dying, suffering from mental anguish, that he acknowledged, “Happiness is only real when shared.”

I have often wondered about the Living Water that Jesus promised to the woman in the New Testament story who came to the well . . . alone. He promised if she drank His water, she would never be thirsty again. That sounds good to me, but elusive. I have come to believe that the water Jesus was talking about was about drinking in His words of life and sharing that “drink” with others. Maybe you recall the unexpected ending to this story. After the lonely woman’s encounter with Jesus, she ran into town to the very people she had taken great care to isolate from, and invited them to the Living Water. She said, “Come, meet the Man who told me everything I did.”  The tenderness of Jesus and His words of life compelled her to take those words to others – to not live alone.

How do we know what’s in the water?
* The only source of Living Water is Jesus. His words, stories, and love quench our thirst just enough to make us want to tell other thirsty people about this water, but even this water does not satiate us while we are here on this dusty planet. God intends to be investigated for eternity, and that means we have to return to the Source of living water over and over and over again. Theologian AB Simpson explains, “Christ is not a reservoir but a spring. His life is continual, active and ever passing on with an outflow as necessary as its inflow. If we do not perpetually draw the fresh supply from the Living Fountain, we shall either grow stagnant or empty, It is, therefore, not so much a perpetual fullness as a perpetual filling.”
* We need to be wary of any other “water” that promises life. It just might contain elements that will begin to disintegrate our well-being.
* Don’t drink alone.

5. When we are barricaded in isolation, we don’t see our next-door neighbors.  One of my greatest frustrations while watching this show is that the narrator and graphics of the program reveal that at times these survivalists are only 3-4 miles apart. Once again, talking to my television, I shout, “Find each other and it will be so much easier!” Of course, that would probably eliminate them from eligibility for the $500,000, but it sure would make it easier to build shelter, boil water, find food, and survive the elements . . . if they weren’t so alone.

On the website for the History Channel program, there is an opportunity to take a personality test to see what kind of a survivalist you would be.  My scores indicated that I have an adventurous personality and could find myself in some unusual and highly challenging situations (obviously it didn’t ask questions about my camping experience or any encounters that I have had with wildlife). The scoring could be accurate if the accommodations meet my 5-star standards! $500,000 is a lot of money and I might consider eating limpets and seaweed and sleeping in a rain-soaked tent for one week. The more realistic “challenging” situation that I could find myself in, though, is trying to do life on my own, determined to save myself with myself, and wearing a mask that conveys that everything is okay – I have shelter, food, water and I’m just fine – with my own company.

How do we move from isolation to relationship with our neighbors?
* Jesus said that we can’t love our neighbors unless we love ourselves. I can’t love myself unless I really believe I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ, loved when I am good for nothing, and that God’s entire story is about wanting to be in a relationship with me. That means when I’m good, bad, and ugly. St. Francis of Assisi said, “We can’t love the lepers without, unless we love the leper within.” I can’t love that vulnerable, scared, failing and flawed Sharon who I keep locked up alone in the basement of my life unless I let her out.
* I have to take off my mask of performance, because it is only then that I can see the grace that God’s face of love wears. And we can love others when they take off their masks, because He loved us first!

Watching this program on the History channel has reminded me that the perils of being alone are real, convicted me that I need to permanently resign from being a Lone Rangers or a pursuing a perfectible life, and step into the wild possibilities of love. I love the words of the poet, Ellen Bass:

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
you hold your life and others like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

You can tune into the History Channel on Thursday nights and see how the four remaining survivalists are doing. Don’t watch it alone!

“In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around . . . . So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we are made to be . . .” (Romans 12:5).


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The following stories are true. The scam is real, but names and inconsequential details have been changed to protect those involved.

Okay, Cupid. My friend, Sara logged on to the dating website, Ok Cupid, with reluctance and the tiniest bit of hope. Almost immediately she was messaged by a handsome man, with a job, who lived within an hour of her home. Sara’s heart did a few somersaults during their brief communication. Could it be? I mean really? Sara told me that she could hardly believe this man might be really interested. Sara is not a loser and she’s no dummy, but she has navigated the inexplicable maze of singleness for years. She cautiously continued communication with Clark, a self-described entrepreneur with a son, an unfaithful ex-wife, and an almost intoxicating determination to find the woman of his dreams. He asked the questions that Sara longed to answer about herself, her interests, and her hopes for the future. He pursued her faithfully – messaging and then calling with all the right words — to “hook” the most beautiful parts of Sara’s heart. He really saw her – not just her intelligence and competence – but he saw her vulnerability, compassion, generosity, faith . . . and deep, deep loneliness.

It was inevitable. The fairy-tale took an expected turn for Sara. Clark called her and with resignation told her that he had been summoned by one of his wealthiest clients out of the country for business. He might be gone for weeks. So before they even met in person, Sara’s hope plummeted. Clark, however, was not going to let this get in the way of their growing relationship. He promised that he would remain in touch daily, that he was going to request a return to the States as soon as possible, and then . . . and then he promised that they would meet face-to-face, go to an extravagant restaurant for a wonderful dinner, and start to make plans to create a life together. Sara could hardly believe it – Clark remained faithful to his promise to stay in touch, and for weeks continued to pursue her in ways that made it feel like they had actually met, fallen in love, and were waiting for an amazing life together.

Before you stop reading this because you don’t use dating websites, you’re not looking for romance, and you don’t trust the Internet anyway, consider the commonalities in Sara’s story that we all share: themes of finding something that is too-good-to-be true (or it finding you), being pursued and affirmed, finding something that is trustworthy and reliable, and imagining what if all the promises are true? Have you ever:

*  invested in a financial deal that promised a significant increased return on your investment?
*  purchased face cream that guaranteed you would look 5 years younger in a month?
*  clicked on a warning for a virus that appeared on your computer, only to discover that you’d just let the virus in by trusting the warning?
*  opened an email from Outback Steak House, Target, or Barnes & Noble offering a gift card and then learned that some nefarious group was “fhishing” for your financial information. (“Fhishing is a fraudulent scheme, especially for making a quick profit.)

If you or someone you know has been hooked by any false promise, you need to keep reading.

Sara was overjoyed when Clint messaged her that he was going to be able to return to the States in a week. He asked her to pick her favorite restaurant and make reservations. He told her that he kept one of the pictures of her that he’d gotten on the Internet with him all the time, but had taken it out of his wallet and looked at it so often that it was starting to fall apart. Sara promised him a new picture. Clark told her to wait – they’d get a picture of the two of them together. With Sara’s heart full of hope and her head swimming with promises of love . . . of finally being loved in a way that she’d always longed for, but had just about decided that it wasn’t possible until Clark came along, she believed his promises. And so when he asked her for money to pay for his plane ticket because his credit card had been stolen and he had no access to his funds overseas, Sara drove straight to the grocery store and wired Clark the money with hardly a second thought. He promised that he’d pay her back and pay for everything they had talked of doing together in the future.

The money really didn’t matter. It seemed like a small price to pay for someone Sara cared about deeply . . . for someone who she’d been hoping for all her life.

And then Clark’s return to the States was delayed due to some complications in his business. He remained stedfast in calling Sara – even in the midst of such important business matters. Of course, she paid the fee to change the airline tickets.

And then Clark’s return was delayed again due to an injury he suffered when he slipped and fell in his hotel. He needed medical attention, and Sara’s compassion and care for him surpassed most doubts when he asked for a few more hundred dollars to make it possible for him to return to the States . . . and to her.

My heart had been on this roller coaster ride with Sara. I rejoiced with her, prayed with her, hoped with her, but I was starting to feel uneasy. I plugged in a few pertinent words in an Internet “search app,” and as I read the pages and pages and pages of stories similar to Sara’s I felt heartsick. It was a scam! And then I felt enraged. I was ready to get on a plane to find “Clark”and key his car or put banners outside his house telling the world that he is a monster.

When I showed Sara what I found, she went into shock. She couldn’t believe it. She didn’t know what to do. She was waiting for Clark to call at the appointed time. He did call and she barely mumbled out something like, “I can’t talk now.” We contacted a private investigator who told us that “Clark” had a thick file with the FTC and the Attorney General’s office.  He is part of a group in Nigeria that is equivalent to organized crime in the United States. They are ruthless, hardened criminals who have scammed unsuspecting victims out of millions of dollars.  Once you are on their “list,” you could be contacted over and over again, either with threatening phone calls or attempts at further scams.  It seems that these Nigerian thugs have learned the western adage, “Once a fool, always a fool.” That is certainly how Sara felt, even though I reminded her that the shame was not her’s, but theirs.

The true confession of a scam victim that everyone should read.

Sara wrote these words shortly after her world seemed to shatter into a million pieces:

My scarlet letter, my letter of shame, is “S” for “single.” It is bright and red and angry like a new scar. It throbs and pulses. It hurts. I feel as though others can see my letter, and it colors their vision of me. I am somehow less because of it.

Sara’s story is heartbreaking and a warning that she is courageously allowing me to share.

But we haven’t gotten to the great scam yet – the one that may affect you and everyone you know.

As I thought about Sara’s story, and was plotting to take on the Nigerian mob, the Spirit gently tugged at my own heart and reminded me of a scam I have played again and again:

*  I recalled being thirteen years-old, on my knees of the hard cement floor in a cabin where I was staying during a Bible camp. I prayed with all the heart a 13 year-old can muster, “Jesus, I don’t know why you want me, but I want you.” But within a few months of my “mountain top experience” at camp, I was immersed in an adolescent world that didn’t have room for promises to Jesus.
*  I remembered standing in a wedding gown beside my groom, facing a beloved pastor and promising that “in sickness and health, poverty and wealth, good days and bad,” that nothing would make me break the promise of the eternal covenant of marriage. It only took a few months before alcohol slithered into our lives and over time began to choke my marriage while my sweet innocent children were upstairs sleeping.
*  And I could not forget the day I was in the middle of nowhere, confronting my alcoholism – again, and promising God that, “If you will clean up the mess of my life, I will never drink again.” That promise didn’t last either.
*  I cannot count the days that aren’t marked by any great sin or shameful behavior, but every minute of that day is filled with my attempts to make life work on my terms, to look good to everyone else by going through some motions of faith, all the while muttering under my breath, “I’ve got this, God. I don’t really need you right now.”

I think that we are all scam artists. Sometimes we are faithful for years. We read our Bibles and meditate on God’s word and pray. And then something good or something bad or maybe nothing at all makes us forget our promise to be in daily contact, to nurture a relationship, to want Him and look forward to spending all of eternity with Him. Every con artist guards their secrets, but you know what I mean – when what you proclaim on the outside just doesn’t match up to what is going on inside. The New Testament describes what this scam, that can affect us and almost everyone we know, looks like:

“People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives . . . . They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can by at any roadside stand” (Romans 1:20-23).

It is almost as if we are like the Nigerian scam artists who can say the right words of love and promise, go through all the right motions, and certainly talk about being in Heaven one day. We can do this again and again in many variations, but we don’t treat God like He is God, we don’t live a life of worship; and when we get lost, we reach for our addictions and achievements instead of clinging to the Creator of the whole world! It is a marvel to me, as I reflect on my rage at those worthless, insidious, Nigerian mobsters, that God doesn’t just shut the whole thing down, reveal us all for the scam artists we are, and put up a sign that says, “Closed due to fraudulent scheming.

As my friend Sara battles shame and feeling pitiful and fights to not harden her heart because of what now feel like foolish choices, I remind her that she is like God. Can you imagine Jesus showing up in person to greet those Nigerian criminals? He could do far more than key their cars. But the truth is that He is showing up for them and for the rest of us scammers. To some He looks pitiful, as Frederick Buechner describes, “the One with the swollen lip and the cauliflower ear;” the One who risked it all as He hung stripped and naked to the shameful Cross and even then, He could see us sinning. We are His scarlet letter. He knew we’d make promises we couldn’t keep, that we’d pledge love that we would quickly forget, and that we’d bargain a hundred times that if He would just get us out of the mess we were in, we’d never wander again.

But we are prone to wander and yet, again and again and again He waits for us, sees our scamming hearts, and says, “Here I am, I stand at the door and knock . . . if you will open the door, I will come in again and again and again and be with you.” You see, that is what is more unfathomable to me than any scam those Nigerians can come up with – in His humility, Jesus allows us to “hook” the best parts of His heart – His vulnerability, compassion, generosity, and deep, deep longing for us – so much so that He became willing, in what could look like the greatest scam in history, to give His own life for us, a bunch of scammers,  as He hung on the tree, so grotesquely pitiful that God the Father had to turn away. He knew the extreme lengths that He had to go to so that He could say, “It is finished. I’ve paid for every scam. Come home, come home.”

If you have moments like I do, and like my friend Sara, when you feel that scarlet letter pressing into your forehead: the letter S. It really stands for “Sinners Saved by Grace.” I am coming to believe that Jesus looks at us — in our best and worst moments – again and again and again, and He wants us to cling to the promise that is far greater than any scheme found in all the cracks of cyberspace: “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am for Eternity” (John 14:2-3).

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I scrolled through a lot of Blogs and Facebook posts reading about Friday’s Supreme Court ruling acknowledging same-sex marriage. I think everyone who posts something about this subject is brave (or crazy), because it has been “the issue” that has polarized our country. After about an hour I couldn’t read anymore. I was dizzy with trying to sift through the anger and celebration; the Biblical dogma as well as the Biblical rationale; and the legal concern about this ruling abolishing the autonomy of each state to make their own laws as well as the urgent plea to create a law that unites all states. Let me go ahead and warn you: I’m not going to write about any of those things. I am going to summarize what most of those posts are saying (to me, anyway), but not really saying; and I’m going to admit that I don’t really know what to say, but there are commonalities in both sides of this issue that compel me to say something.  For me, this post begins with the lyrics of a popular song stuck in my heart and brain:

And I . . . I’m feeling so small
It was over my head.
I know nothing at all
And I . . . will stumble and fall
I’m just starting to love
Just starting to crawl
But say something . . . I’m giving up on you.
(“Say Something by A Great Big World)

1.  We want a microphone, not a cup of coffee.  From both extremes there is anger, but I don’t think I can say that it’s righteous anger.  Unrighteous anger refuses to wait, is frantic, and boasts its own rightness with fervent intentionality to change things now.  There is no need for dialogue when you know that you are right. The pain of exclusion to some is justified by the comfort of being included in the group that is right.

Righteous anger is motivated by sorrow. Contrary to what many profess, righteous anger is not motivated by justice, but far more quiet consideration of what might happen if we really wanted to talk about this — not to prove who is right — but to hear what others are really saying. Righteous anger does not withdraw or demand that a person change in order for us to be in relationship with them. Righteous anger is never rash, but has a heart to do good to others by demonstrating the words of the New Testament attorney, the Apostle Paul – who certainly had experience in the way of unrighteous anger. At one time he was so sure that he was right, that he murdered those who did not share his beliefs until one day something or Someone happened that dispelled all his self-righteousness. This is his testimony about a new approach to those who he didn’t agree with: “In kindness God takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change” (Romans 2:4).

Kindness doesn’t reach for a microphone.  It invites someone for a cup of coffee.

2.  It’s easier to dehumanize than hear someone’s story.  Sigmund Freud wrote (long before same-sex marriage was the issue 0f the day), “The delight in perversion is caused by the destruction, humiliation, desecration, and deformation of relationship.” Dehumanization cannot see another’s soul and its inherent and potentially redemptive beauty. All hyperbole, grand-standing, accusative language of exclusion dehumanizes the soul, and in so doing eradicates the possibility of seeing beauty in another. When we use the word perversion, we define it by behavior that we believe is wrong. I agree with Dr. Freud that perversion seeks to destroy the beauty in another.  And that’s important, because when we want to destroy, humiliate, or desecrate another person that we choose to exclude from relationship, we are assaulting the very image of God.  I wonder how many Facebook posts there are about gossip? We pick and choose our perversions. We don’t mind so much participating in gossip, although it certainly destroys that which is lovely in the gossiper, the person being talked about, and the person who is listening.

I believe that sexuality is not what we do, it is who we are. Before we take sides about someone’s sex life, we need to look at our own relationally destructive behaviors.  What do our words about same-sex relationships reveal about who we are? What does another’s commitment to a same-sex relationship reveal about who they are? It is easier to hurl insults and retreat to our own “safe group,” than to sit down with someone and hear their story – the story of who they truly are. I do believe in Biblical imperatives, but I am afraid these truths are often seen as isolated instructions, rather than as part of the larger Biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption; that we all suffer from the same condition; that we all fall short of the glory of God; that we all cannot free ourselves – we must be set free.  When we cling to only black and white imperatives, we miss the larger story – in high definition technicolor.

Walt Whitman wrote, “It is a luxury to be understood.”  Before we make judgments and write speeches, the kindest thing we can do is to invite another to tell his/her story. Maybe the single most important question to ask ourselves with regard to this subject is do we react to the “press” about this issue, or do we respond to a redemptive Presence, that will answer everything that we don’t know how to answer by ourselves, with Love?

One of the most convicting stories that I’ve heard about perversions was told by Brennan Manning.  He wrote about being in the Rescue Mission on Christmas Eve, bringing drunks in from the streets (take it from me, alcoholism is a perversion that destroys, humiliates, desecrates and deforms relationships). In a grimy doorway the stench of one alcoholic was so vile that Brennan asked his partner, an agnostic social worker, if he would handle that one.  “No trouble,” he answered.  Whispering words of tenderness, he gently lifted the drunk into the van.  Manning writes, “I decided to wait a while before telling my partner about the power of the Holy Spirit in my life; about seeing Christ in the least and lowliest.”

Love doesn’t invite a debate.  It listens to a story.

3.  We would rather attack an issue than lift up a Person.  In the New Testament Jesus did not seem that concerned with pointing out people’s sins; He always offered choice, never violated it.  When he turned the water into wine at the wedding feast, where people were already drunk, it was as if He said, “Here I am, here is the wine: choose me.” (John 2:1-11)  When Jesus attended the Pharisee’s dinner party and the most sinful woman in town showed up (who knows all the perverted things she did?) and even His disciples wanted to kick her out, Jesus responded by allowing her to wipe His feet with her tears. He reminded his followers that the most compelling voice in the face of sin, woundedness, and confusion is not the loudest voice – it is Love. As we talk and write about this Supreme Court decision, we would do well to consider the after-dinner speech from Jesus, “There, I tell you, the woman who has sinned extravagantly, loves extravagantly. But whoever has been forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47).

The Kingdom of Love does not filter down from the Supreme Court. It arises from something much more powerful. I am grateful on those occasions when I don’t know what to say, I know Who to say. Jesus. He showed us the way in every story He told, and He did not show the way by hanging out with the powerful, popular, and even emotionally stable people. By living and loving among the most sexually broken people, Jesus compels us to ask if what we write and say is from unforgiveness or the hatred of certain people? Certainly, His way is to do everything from love. He conquered us with Love by being lifted up on a cross. The cross was intended by those who hated to destroy, humiliate, desecrate; but Jesus used it to display His love. He was nailed to the cross to bear all of our hell that results from being destroyed, humiliated, and desecrated. The cross left wounds, because wounds are where the love gets in. The cross revealed God’s plan for winning hearts (not sides). Jesus said, “If I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself”  (John 12:32).

It is always easier to be offended, than to love.
kristin & megan


This is a picture of my daughter and her roommate. When Kristin posted it on Friday, I immediately responded with love (not really – with fear). I texted her and asked her why she posted this and what was she trying to say? She responded that she got home after a day of work and her roommate was crying after hearing about the Supreme Court ruling. I didn’t even know that her roommate’s mother was gay. My daughter didn’t respond out of an agenda. She wanted to show her roommate that she loved her, and so she joined her on the state capitol’s steps for a rally in support of the Court’s decision.

Immediately I remembered our trip together to Cambodia. We arrived after a long journey to the guest house where we’d be staying to “minister” to girls who were near Kristin’s age at time – 19-years old. As soon as we got there the girls gathered around us and wanted to hear about us. We had a translator and I immediately took on my role as “teacher,” and started to speak at them. Kristin pulled me aside and said, “Mom, you don’t have to yell. They are not deaf; they just speak a different language.” I was exhausted with my determination to speak truth, and so I told Kristin she could be in charge for a while. Within minutes the group formed a circle as Kristin led them in a game of “duck, duck, goose.” The girls squealed in delight as Kristin ran around the circle to pick the next girl to be “it.” 'If you've ever heard me talk about traveling and adventure, then you've heard me talk about Cambodia and my time there - and how there is "this one photo" that I felt truly showed the beauty, resilience and hope of the Cambodian people and of the human spirit in general - I am so excited to have found it. This picture makes me so happy - to know someone who has known so much strife, yet finds the strength and ability to laugh and smile with such abandon while watching something as simple as a group of women playing "duck, duck, goose!" <3 @[544251821:2048:Sharon Hersh]'

The joy reflected on the women’s faces had nothing to do with attacking the issues of poverty, sex-slavery, or Buddhism.  It had everything to do with my daughter “checking her ego” at the door while being willing to join them.

I have spent a few hours thinking through this blog and I still don’t know what to say.  But I know what I want to do.  I want to be willing to invite someone I don’t understand for a cup of coffee.  I want to invite someone I don’t know to tell me their story – and I want to listen to understand, not to get ready for my “speech.” And I want to lift up Jesus. I am aware it’s always easier to attack an issue, defend a position, or just be offended than it is to join others in the dust to play “duck, duck, goose.” I’m not sure how playing this children’s game translates to these grown-up issues, but I can’t get the beautiful lines of Henry Vaughan out of my head:
“And here in dust and dirt, O here
the lilies of His love appear.”


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The headlines crush us again with stories of inappropriate relationships that result in severe consequences — the loss of job, reputation, and trust. I’m afraid we read the headlines and fill in the story with images from terrible television shows like Mistresses or country western songs that tell stories of lost lovers or lost dogs or whatever loss makes our own too often betrayed hearts want to sing along with gusto, “That I dug my key into the side of his pretty little suped up 4 wheel drive, carved my name into his leather seats . . . Maybe next time he’ll think before he cheats.”

I was so heartsick to hear of another story today that would be reduced to the shallow cultural norms and devoured gleefully by those who take pleasure in seeing the failure of another — especially a Christian leader. The jackhammer reverberations in my own story of an “inappropriate relationship” started over 15 years ago. My husband told me that he was lonely (I was busy writing books on relationships), had found his soulmate and wanted a divorce. We had stood on the Christian platform of marriage conferences talking about communication and intimacy, while our marriage choked on horrible conversations laced with words that could not be erased and an ugly chasm that grew between us – slowly at first – and then with the speed of an eroding canyon wall that could no longer hold all the rocks and vegetation as it spit out boulders that landed on others who were a part of the collateral damage of our relationship.

In Old Testament Scripture, forming a covenant is referred to as “cutting a covenant,” because ancient people would form a covenant by taking an animal, like a lamb, cut the lamb in half, lay the two halves on the ground, and then walk between the halves saying, “May it be done to me as it was done to this animal, if I break the covenant.” Scripture also refers to marriage as a covenant. Having been through a divorce, I can tell you that breaking the covenant feels less like acknowledging an “inappropriate relationship” or going down to the County Courthouse to get a certificate of divorce, and more like taking a live animal and ripping it in half.

Shortly after the broken covenant in my marriage, I started to receive inquiries from the Christian organizations that I had been involved with asking who was at fault for the divorce. I learned that if I quickly stated that my husband had an “inappropriate relationship,” he became the scapegoat for a complex web of mutual betrayal and careless or destructive behaviors that resulted in the erosion of our marriage. All I had to do was mention the “inappropriate relationship,” and I was the good one and he was the bad. Over the years, I have come to see that although a sexual or emotional affair is an inappropriate relationship, there are many other inappropriate relationships that threaten the covenant of marriage:

*Controlling or “managing” others by offering tangible gifts like a clean house, a hefty paycheck, or sexual “intimacy” while withholding our hearts — that is an inappropriate relationship.
*Warm, welcoming friendships that affirm us and make us feel important while we criticize and minimize those who know us best can create a network of inappropriate relationships.
*Investing time in working out, a book club, or a “girl’s night out,” while investing less and less time in our primary relationships — that is inappropriate.
*It does not take too long to learn that to love is to open ourselves to pain. Being faithful makes us feel dependent and vulnerable — being unfaithful (emotionally or sexually) makes us feel invincible, but it’s inappropriate.
*Sneaking down to the computer and clicking on an image or a chat room that promises intimacy without requiring anything from us is an inappropriate relationship.
*Being deeply hurt by another’s harsh words or careless actions and saying we forgive them, while vowing in our hearts that we will never trust them or put ourselves in a position to be hurt again is a dishonest and inappropriate relationship.
*Finding someone who understands because they have a difficult relationship too, and so we discover a shared enemy (our spouses), and it feels so good to begin to express feelings and needs with someone who gets it, while our spouse gets only the remnants of our hearts, if that. It feels good, makes us start to feel alive, and it is inappropriate.
*Feeling so lonely that when we get some attention, we begin assigning more positive attributes to that person than they could possibly possess. Unlike our boring spouses or lonely singleness, we find someone who is beautiful, brilliant, stimulating, and sensitive. By exaggerating and selectively focusing on the positive, we attach to this person in inappropriate ways that our very human spouses can never compete with.
*Sometimes we latch on to someone who we know is going to betray us or berate us, and as a victim we feel justified in shutting down or provoking them to leave. We don’t consciously seek out pain and abandonment; but the relationship replicates an earlier experience in our lives and being a victim is strangely empowering, because a victim can justify anything — even if its inappropriate.

I will go ahead and admit it. I have had “inappropriate relationships” — maybe not relationships that can be categorized as an emotional or sexual affair, but relationships that I’ve harmed by my selfishness, neglected because of a busy schedule filled with teaching and speaking about relationships, and abandoned when they became difficult, boring, or did not affirm me as much as I thought they should. Jesus taught in the New Testament that if we look longingly at someone who is not our spouse, want a life with someone who is better than our spouse, imagine intimacy with someone more exciting than a spouse, we have committed to an inappropriate relationships in our hearts, which seems to me to be the most dangerous and damaging place to be inappropriate.

Inappropriate relationships are far more common that we want to believe. An inappropriate relationship is not motivated by love. An act of love doesn’t cause lives to be torn apart, people to be thrown into pain, and children to be emotionally burdened for life. We may think it’s love or that our careless, destructive behaviors are justified, but what passes for “love” in most inappropriate relationships is a combination of hormones and a desperate need for our egos to be validated. I have learned — from my own inappropriate relationships — that I can easily become “heart-blind” to any warning signs that my relationships might be veering toward the inappropriate when four realities take over my heart and cut me off from the Light of the Spirit.

1.  When I’m naive.  To the degree that I am naive is to the degree that I will not address the terrible cancer in my relationships. This type of naiveté can make us feel “safe” when we face the crumbling of some of our most cherished illusions. Those illusions might be an equation that because we love and serve God, our marriages and children will be good; or that we deserve to feel self-righteous in the aftermath of betrayal; or that we can control and manage our relationships into a place that looks good. The terrible cancer that we don’t want to acknowledge or address is that we believe that somehow we can make things work, we can protect our families and ourselves from harm, and that we will find life somewhere, damn it! “Our unacknowledged and undealt-with commitment to find life apart from dependence on God, blocks our desire and commitment to love others.” (Dan Allender, Bold Love).

2.  When I’m presumptuous.  Presumption is arrogance. We presume in our arrogance that if we feel good in our relationships, then everyone else should be okay as well. I cannot even estimate the number of times I have heard someone in my counseling office express: “I just want to be loved as I am.  I don’t need someone to judge me and try to change me all the time!” Presumption blinds us from looking at the way relationships unnerve, disappoint, grieve, shame, scare, and infuriate us. Most of us start out in an intimate relationship presuming that love will naturally spring from our passionate hearts and that we will know how to love well and be loved well. And when that doesn’t happen, we feel justified in finding love in “inappropriate” places. Presumption convinces us that we deserve better and if we don’t get what we deserve from our relationships, we are justified to wallow in our pain and shame. For 2 years and 137 days after my marriage fell apart, I sat in church convicted about the cancer in my own life and then presumption quickly took over, compelling me to announce every Sunday, “I am not going to forgive him.” You see, my presumption was that I had been hurt the most and that I’d have to be crazy to forgive him. My friends and parents didn’t want me to forgive him, my lawyer certainly didn’t want me to forgive him; and so I would arrogantly announce, “I am not going to forgive him.” I know now that God, in his inestimable humility and patience, answered me every Sunday: “Okay.  You don’t have to forgive him.” Ultimately it was God’s kindness that took me by the hand and led me to watch a movie called Bruce Almighty, that radically changed me and brought me to my knees praying, “I want to forgive him.” And once again, I think God responded, “Okay.”

3.  When I’m confused.   Most books on marriage and relationships are confusing — filled with simple answers to complex patterns of behavior and equations for how to make things work. Confusion keeps us from seeing a larger story because we tend to focus on our own small but terribly important stories of “papercut wounds” in everyday relationships or even gaping wounds like affairs that keep us bound to unforgiveness, bitterness, injustice, and resentment. Confusion keeps us from seeing the inappropriateness of our own behaviors. Confusion makes us want to pick out who is good and who is bad, so that we know what side to take. I love the stories that Anne Lamott tells about confusing realities in her relationships without trying to clean them up into neat and tidy stories, tied with a big bow. She writes, “It’s so confusing . . . One of my best friends, the gentlest person I know, once tore the head off his daughter’s doll.  And then threw it to her, like a baseball . . . . I’m not sure what the solution is [to difficult relationships], I know what doesn’t help is the terrible feeling of isolation, the fear that everyone is doing better than you.”  (Anne Lamott, Plan B)

4.  When I forget. When I begin to rest on my laurels or relational bliss (because I’m not married and my children are adults now), and I start to judge the stories in the headlines about another “inappropriate relationship,” I forget the most inappropriate relationship of all. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus is married — that He is our Groom. And even though I’ve been faithless and refused to forgive, He’s faithfully forgiven me, even when I whimper a half-prayer like, “I know I really blew it this time, and so I’ll forgive others if you forgive me.” God is certainly never naive in relationships.He knows us so thoroughly that He not only sees our hearts when they’re prone to wander, He knows how many hairs we have in our heads. Have you ever thought about that verse in the New Testament (Luke 12:7)? What a strange thing to say. But it doesn’t seem so strange when you fall in love and you have stars in your eyes and romance in your heart and you want to know everything about your lover — but even then I don’t know anyone who would have the patience to count and know every piece of hair on another’s head. I forget that this strange verse of crazy intimacy is because God is not bound to us by a covenant of obligation in which He presumes that we will love Him back. He is bound to us by His eternal nature. He is bound to us by grace — unrelenting love.

Former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger — a mediator of whole countries once said, “No one will win the war between the sexes, because there is too much fraternizing with the enemy.” Exactly!  Everybody has inappropriate relationships.  My pastor says, “It is sheer and absolute insanity to vow yourself unconditionally to another fallen, sinful, needy person.  You could get crucified that way.” My pastor calls marriage “a sneaky way to get a person crucified.” I know that divorce is a not-so-sneaky way to get crucified. A few painful moments in parenting feel like getting crucified too. Certainly, “inappropriate relationships” inevitably result in feeling like we are getting crucified.  But before we jump on the bandwagon of judgment, I pray that we don’t forget that the pain and heartache of relationships — especially marriage relationships — that make us want to scream, “Don’t do it.  You could get hurt!  You have to be crazy to get married,” is intended by God to reveal all that is inappropriate in all of our hearts. And then at the most inappropriate moments, Jesus tenderly reveals the most inappropriate love of all and what we seek to possess, begins to possess us. That I am bone of His bones. Flesh of his flesh. That even when I deny Him and nail Him to a cross, He descends into the pit of Hell to free me to be loved by Him – the One who wants such scary intimacy that He counts every hair in my head.

I hope that when we read and talk about the headlines of inappropriate relationships, that we will think about the Lover who is most inappropriate — so much so that when we stumble through the unworthiness and unloveliness of our lives, Jesus meets us there, offering us Grace that we might believe – heart and soul – that God is absolutely captivated by us!

“Behold, what great love God has lavished on us.” (1 John 3:1)

Filed in Affairs,All is Grace,Breaking the Curse,Change,Confession,COURAGE TO CHANGE,Desire,Disappointment,Divorce,Failure,Freedom,God's Mercy,Grace,Imposter,Inappropriate Relationship,Loneliness,Love Story,Relationship with Jesus,Relationships,Salvation Story,Sorrow,Telling the Truth,TulianTchividjian 2 Comments so far



foundchangeA stately Norwegian man with white hair and sparkling blue eyes stood before a bunch of beat-up, bedraggled, brave women.  He was giving us some final words before we left the place-of-no-other-choice to join a world filled with too many choices.  We were at Haselden – a treatment center hidden in the tall Minnesota pines –  for drug and alcohol addicts.  I was there almost ten years ago for a “care-giver’s retreat,” which was another way of saying that I was really struggling to find the will not to drink, but I didn’t want to look like all those other alcoholics.  Our speaker’s parting words were, “Don’t forget to polish your pearls.”  We knew what he meant.  In fact, I had a pearl he had given me in my pocket.  “Polishing pearls” was his metaphor for telling our stories of addiction — our stories of experience, strength, and hope — over and over again to remind us of what it had been like when we were in the abyss of addiction and what it is like now to join the ranks of those in recovery.  Quite honestly, I was already contemplating telling my story — the revised version that sounded good and hopeful, with any real struggles way behind me.  (In the Christian world, we don’t really have a story to tell unless the sin, struggle, woundedness and confusion are at least five years earlier.)  How could I tell? Why would I tell stories that were still in me — written and unwritten — that were still filled with fear, guilt, and shame?

The thought of telling my stories sounded about as fun as nature’s way of polishing pearls — an irritating foreign substance slips into the oyster — kind of like giving the oyster a splinter.  The oyster’s natural reaction is to cover up that irritant (the pearl) to protect itself.  Somehow in this process, the oyster covers the pearl with layers of something called nacre to create the shell that eventually forms a pearl.  As I contemplated telling my stories of failure and strength, profound weakness and anxiety, I felt covered in shame (which must be something like being covered in nacre.)  I wanted to protect myself, save my family and friends from further pain and embarrassment, and hide under a shell.  But I knew my Norwegian friend was right.  The only way to live in the light of recovery from the messes we get ourselves into is to stay out of the dark — to “polish our pearls” and tell our stories.  But what stories are really worth telling in this tell-all era with reality television that reveals jolting stories about someone’s 600 pound life, or sexual behavior that led them to the ER, or finding love in a strange game of pin the rose on the bachelor?

What stories are worth telling?  I think the answer is all real-life stories (not the scripted reality television version), because God has written Himself into all our stories.  He is the Plot, and that makes our stories worth telling.  While I sat in the airport to return home from the place-of-no-other-choice, I started to feel anxious and tempted to run from the truth to all of the other choices I knew could numb the pain and/or distract me from the vulnerability I knew would be life-saving, but I also knew it could feel like getting a splinter that gets irritated and infected and I wouldn’t look good or feel like the confident, put-together stories I most like to tell.  Sitting on the plane to head home, after being reminded to put on our own oxygen masks first, I thought about the story that God is telling in every story and that we must tell in our own stories in order to have authentic life to sustain us in this breathless world and to offer to others.

1.  We get in trouble.  We drink too much, gossip just one more time, or outright lie about our lives to make others think we’re not in trouble.

2.  God offers us rescue.

3.  We get to choose to accept His rescue or continue to try to get ourselves out of trouble with the same selves that got us into trouble in the first place.

We recognize this story in all the music that we love.  Even when Taylor Swift sings an unbelievably popular song called, “Shake It Off,” we identify with “haters gonna hate,” and “heartbreakers gonna break.”  There’s the problem, but “I got this music in my mind, saying it’s gonna be alright.”  A hint of rescue.  And Taylor’s choice is to dance to the rhythm of this music, “Baby, I’m gonna shake it off.”  

If you’re not a Taylor Swift fan, maybe that’s too shallow.  How about another popular song by Mumford & Sons?  “It’s empty in the valley of your heart. . .”  That’s the struggle that begins the song, “The Cave.”  But I will hold on hope . . . .”  Beautiful lyrics of rescue with a choice, “Now let me at the truth which will refresh my broken mind.”

And then perhaps more obvious — in my favorite hymn.  “There in the ground His body lay; Light of the world by darkness slain; Then bursting forth in glorious day, Up from the grave He rose again!  And as He stands in victory, Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me; For I am His and He is mine — bought with the precious blood of Christ.”  (In Christ Alone, by Keith Getty & Stuart Townsend.)

It dawned on me, as I flew home from Minnesota, that Jesus had a story he really didn’t want to tell.  As He knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane, with tears of blood streaming down His face, He asked his father, “Is there any way this story can be taken from me?  He knew how the story began — that he would become sin.  I can barely comprehend that when I think of all my own sin, much less the sin of an entire world teeming with murder, lust, abuse, lying, and theft.  Just watching one news cycle leaves me overwhelmed with all that is wrong in the world and in us.   Jesus knew he would become sin, and he asked His father if He could find any other story.   Jesus must have been anticipating the moment he knew was to come — when the story would be so dark His own Father would turn away, and the fatherless son, would scream, “My God, my God!  Why have you forsaken me?”  I am humbled and grateful that while anticipating this most dark moment in history, Jesus also anticipated “the joy set before Him” — our rescue!  When Jesus surrendered to His Father’s story by praying, “Not mine, but Thy will be done,” he knew in ways we cannot know on our own, that God only writes good stories.  And He rewrites them in all of our stories over and over again in hope that we will choose Him.

So, here’s my “pearl.”  When I was in the hell of addiction, I would drain my bottle before passing out in bed.  The bottle may have been 12 miniatures, or a pint, or a Big Gulp cup, but sometime in the dark night of the soul for alcoholics — when my liver would wake me up at two or three in the morning — I would desperately dig through the trash for those bottles to make sure I had drained every drop.  That describes the desperate problem for every addict — scrambling in an abyss of never enough and always too much.  How humiliating to be so dependent on a substance that I would tip the bottle and lick the sides to make sure I drank it all.  Perhaps that’s what songwriter Beth Hart means when she sings, “I drank so hard the bottle ached.”   Although I am grateful that those years are at least five years behind me, the desperate desire for More still haunts me.  Is it possible to know rescue from that?

I am learning that this rescue comes in the form of a relationship with the One who inexplicably promises that He will keep every tear drop we cry in the midst of desire, defeat, disappointment, and longing for More.  The rescue God offers is a relationship with Someone who is so desperate for me that He collects my tears like they are pearls of great price.  Can I dare to believe that God loves me so much that He is keeping every last drop of my tears until we can be together in the land of More for eternity?  When I tell the truth of my stories — the unedited desperate versions — I have no other choice but to believe His story; and when He tells his story, He always chooses me.  In one of the stories that Jesus told, he said, “God’s kingdom is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”  Maybe this parable means that we need to be willing to exchange all of our stories of self-help and self-reliance and self-destruction for one story of great cost — that we cannot rescue ourselves.  We need to be rescued.  Or perhaps this parable means that God sees through all the sin and necare covering us, and He gives all that he has — Jesus, who knew no sin, but became sin for us that we might be rescued — because our stories are pearls of great price, purchased with the blood of God’s Son.  I think it is about both, because God is the Grand Storyteller of our lives and that makes all our stories most telling.

“And God did all this so we could seek after Him, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find Him.  He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us.  He’s not remote; he’s near.”  Acts 17:27

Filed in Addiction,Addiction Treatment,Alcholism,All is Grace,Begin Again Believe Again,Breaking the Curse,Breathe,Change,Confession,Desire,Disappointment,Failure,Freedom,God's Mercy,Grace,Gratitude,Haselden,Mumford & Sons,Passion,Powerlessness,Reality Television,Redemption,Relationship with Jesus,Relationships,Salvation Story,Surrender,Taylor Swift,Telling the Truth 2 Comments so far

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