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

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'Fifty Shades of Grey'

It all began with Fifty Shades of Grey.

I should explain.  As many of you have kindly noted and inquired about, I haven’t written a blog for a long time.  Quite honestly, I didn’t have anything to say.  My own health struggles left me barely able to work and crawl home to sleep.  The heartache of my adult children — who I am powerless to help and who I am more in love with than ever — reminded me of my mistakes and longings for them that can’t be put into words.  And then my parents began to face the excruciating realities of my 81 year-old dad’s diagnosis of Stage 4 Cancer.  I didn’t have anything to say, and I know now that the tender heart of the Father toward those who know they cannot help themselves has been whispering, “Sharon, why don’t you just listen.”  Slowly, almost as if emerging from hibernation, I tentatively and fearfully began to have something to say.

And it all began with Fifty Shades of Grey.

When this book first made headlines, I read a few portions, wondering what 100 million people, in 52 countries were attracted to.  I knew it was not good writing or even believable characters.  It didn’t take me long to realize, though, that reading this book would make me feel much like I do when I go through the drive-thru to pick up “food porn” from Taco Bell.

The movie catapulted this book into the headlines again with over 1 million viewers during the first weekend it was in theatres.  On February 7, I headed to Orlando to teach at one of my favorite places, Reformed Theological Seminary; and at the last minute I was invited to be a part of a radio show — Steve Brown, Etc. — talking about this phenomenon.  The program aired on February 13, 2015 (you can go to to listen to the podcast).  I prepared for the program wondering two things — what are the shades of grey, and why are so many people openly or secretly interested in this story with a language of seduction that no one I know has ever heard or will ever use, like: “I’m a very wealthy man, Miss Steele, and I have expensive hobbies . . .,” to which she replies, “No man has ever affected me the way Christian Grey has, and I cannot fathom why.  Is it his looks?  His civility? Wealth? Power?” (and then she faints and awakens to find her “inner Goddess” who wants to surrender to this man completely, no matter what he asks).

Following the radio interview is a season in which I am teaching about Sex & Sexuality  in the Master’s of Counseling program at RTS, I am also scheduled to:

*speak to over 300 adolescents about What is the Big Deal about Sex?

*to co-lead a class about sex for engaged couples

*to speak to three separate groups of parents about how they can talk to their children about sex.

I have never felt more deeply that I do not have anything to say about this subject.  The Enemy of Truth taunted me: “What do you – a divorced woman – have to say about a subject that you have not had personal experience with in over 17 years!”  Because it’s all about sex, isn’t it?

Shades of Grey

I didn’t really want to show up for these events speechless, and so I took the safest route to confirm what all these shades of gray are about by doing a little research.

In 2014:

*78.9 billion porn videos where viewed, that’s 11 videos viewed by every person on Earth, 2.1 million visits per hour; 35,000 visits per minute; and 5.8 thousand visits per second.

*A 2014 study analyzed this book and reported that, not only is it written porn, but every interaction between the two characters in the book is emotionally abusive.

*The theme of this phenomenon is BDSM – a relationship of bondage, discipline, sadomasochism.  I was quickly gathering enough statistics to prove that 50 Shades isn’t gray.  It’s dark.

Maybe we should boycott it, start a petition, and let everyone know how offended we are.  And then I discovered this final statistic:

*Last year over 1 million people commented on porn websites and the most common word in the comments was Love.

Love?  As Tina Turner crooned, from personal experience: “What’s love got to do with it? What’s love, but a second-hand emotion.  What’s love got to do with?  Who can feel loved when their already broken?”

In the midst of all those awful statistics, I still didn’t feel like I had anything to say — even if it is about love, that would be painful, because love is a painful subject to most of us.  It’s our experiences with love that force us to grapple with inexplicable issues that make us ask, “Where is/was God?” Who is He, anyway?  What is He really about?”  I can’t explain what happened while immersed in statistics about sex, but I began to remember — heart and soul — that the answer, and the only thing I have to say is Jesus.  Fifty 50 Shades of Grey and Jesus?  Thank goodness.

Sex and Jesus?

Contrary to a culture that has told us that sex is just about biology, I know that sex is not about what we do.  It is about who we are.  Sexuality, in and of itself, is the basis by which we have been made in the Image of God – “male and female He created them”(Genesis 1:27).  As I have listened to stories just this past year from teenagers about having sexual intercourse, with their pants pulled down around their ankles, and their private parts hurting and bleeding; about predators who often look like pastors, family members, and strangers – who threaten and demand silence that eats away at their victims from the inside out until they feel like an empty shell; about men and women seduced by something more than their spouse; and about lonely men and women believing they are unworthy of love; I know what they’re looking for is not found in a silly book or movie.

How do I know?  I’m just like those over 100 million readers.  I have looked for love in all the wrong places and ended up feeling loverless, rejected, and unworthy.  In thinking about what to say about this cultural runaway train, I knew I might not have gotten on the “train” at the 50 Shades stop, but I’ve gotten on at others — looking for love in a bottle; in another flawed, lonely person; in performance and people-pleasing; and I know where the trains ends — in shame and self-hatred, in hiding and trying to prove myself, until hibernating makes more sense than anything else.

50 Shades of Grey is just another story that lies about ourselves; that perpetuates the most insidious of all lies — that we will never be loved like we really desire and so we should harden our hearts and consider that the best “lover” we will ever get is some version of a Hollywood movie.  Quite simply we do not believe that our “private parts” are connected to our hearts, and when we engage in sex functionally — even within a marriage — our hearts are fused to another’s heart, and then when that physical reality is over, a piece of our hearts is torn asunder.  Fuse and tear.  Fuse and tear.  It’s just quite possible that when we believe that all those dark shades of gray are the best we can imagine, we rape our hearts over and over until they are numb — hidden in scars, independent, and alone.

Paul, the Apostle, writes that when, ” . . . two become one flesh, it is a profound mystery that refers to Jesus and our oneness with Him” (Ephesians 5:32).  Jesus is truly the Ultimate Man — the spotless, unconditional Lover.  And all those statistics reveal that we do long for Him, don’t we?  We long for Him to touch us in our places of shame . . . and yet our hearts are too frightened to believe it’s true and surrender.

Somebody is Knocking at the Door

It didn’t really all begin for me with 50 Shades of Grey.  During my “hibernation,” there was seldom a day that I did not know Jesus was standing at the door of my heart and knocking.  Occasionally I peaked through a crack at the door and slammed it shut.  “Where is this Lover in the midst of divorce, addiction, failed relationships, cancer, and bone-chilling loneliness?”

He never stopped knocking and waiting.  I wanted Him to either leave me alone or barge through the closed door and take me out of a world with so many dark shades of gray.  But He is a Lover that won’t dominate me, won’t violate me . . . and won’t leave me.  He just kept knocking . . . for 1,500 days of hibernating behind a closed door He waited, knocked, and kindly reminded me that He would wait for me until the end of the world.  Whatever shade of gray my unbelief took, He continued to say, “Sharon, I’d like to be your Lover.  I want us to be one.  I hung on a tree, stripped naked, bleeding for the Love of you.  You are bone of my bones.  Flesh of my flesh.  I will never be unfaithful to you.  I will never leave or forsake you.  I will descend into Hell itself to bring you Home.”

His message was not new to me.  I have heard it before.  I have spoken about it.  But I got tired of truths that still left me feeling loverless, empty, and alone.  And then along came 50 Shades of Grey and all this talk about sex.  We may think those 100 million readers are at least getting a good story about adventure, power, and sex; and after all, God has not sent down lightening bolts from Heaven to destroy the movie theaters, burn up the bookstores, or even dismantle the Internet. The humility of Jesus is that He will write Himself into all our stories, romance us through this world and even our bodies, so that we can feel all that we’re without and will invite Him into our emptiness.

A Larger Story

Thinking about this story reminds me of something my pastor said in the best sermon on marriage I have ever heard, “The marriage covenant and the intimacy in that covenant takes two different, incomplete, sinful people and binds them together in nakedness, despite the shame, as a picture of Jesus and His union with us.”  He longs to enter us, implant the Seed of His Word, so that we might bear the fruit of love, patience, joy, gentleness, hope . . .  (Galatians 5:22,23).  However, humanly most of us would agree that, in theory, it is sheer and absolute insanity to join ourselves to another needy, sinful person.  Nonetheless, we can become desperately willing to consider or enter into porn love — to make up for the inevitable unmet needs we all experience in human relationships.

While the books and theatre tickets are selling by the millions, Jesus waits for us – with the scars of all of our sin, woundedness, and confusion still on His hands and feet – so that we might know heart and soul, that there is only one shade of grace and it is blood red.  With body broken, and blood shed He invites us into the communion of His strength and mercy simply because He is madly in love with us and He is bound and determined to show it.

If you’re like me, and you get lost sometimes in all those shades of gray, open the door of your heart just a little, and look at Him.  If 50 Shades of Grey made you long for More, look at Him.  If your “sex life” is filled with brokenness and darkness, look at Him who for the love of you submitted to the dark dominance of those who wanted to kill Him; who was stripped naked and experienced a level of sadomasochism that left Him, alone, mocked, and even sweating blood from every cell in His body; so that we could surrender our nakedness, self-hatred, and loneliness to Him.

The real issue here is not a book or a movie.  The real issue is that we were made for Love, by Love and when we get lost along the way, God will use our heartache, our silence, and our schemes to find love in all the wrong places, so that eventually all we have is Jesus.  If that makes you mad or sounds like a platitude, that’s ok.  If you loved this book and can’t wait to see the movie, that’s ok.  Somewhere in all those shades of gray, I feel confident that you will hear a still, small knocking at the door of your heart.  If you are deeply offended by this book, that’s ok.  Because once we go the Cross and we really see that it was our sin, woundedness, and confusion that nailed the Son of God to that tree where He bore hell for us; once we’ve really seen that, it’s hard to be offended with someone else; but when we see Him, we will have something to say or rather Someone to say.  Jesus.

“So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to levee me also?’ They answered Him, “Lord, to whom else shall we go?  You alone have the Words of Life” (John 6:68).


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Botox, Brokenness, and the Smell of Booze – Salvation Story #31

We are almost there.  In a little over twenty-four hours we get to start a new year.  A new year.  In the past, I have anticipated the beginning of a new year with resolve to . . .

* lose weight — become a new me in a smaller size with new habits that include new routines of exercise and new foods that are not carbohydrates or peanut M&M’s

* get organized — arrange my closet with new, neat rows of clothes that are hung according to color and not thrown in piles, line up my shoes instead of throwing them in piles, and even organize the multitude of vitamins, face creams, nail polishes, and lotions so that they are easily accessible and not lost in piles.

* to try new things — salsa dance lessons, throwing pottery, cooking . . . any kind of food would be new, Zumba classes, the singles group at a nearby church, bowling, learning a new language

And I should do all of the above.  I want to do all of the above.  But as 2013 draws closer, I know what I really want for this new year.  I want something more new than becoming a size 6 (or 8 or 10).  I need to get rid of something much, much more life-draining than my “organize by piles” system; and I long for  something much, much more life-giving than dancing or learning to speak French.

I want to begin 2013 free of resentment.  

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous mentions resentment 17 times, warning: “Resentment is the number one offender . . . it is a deadly hazard . . . it is infinitely grave . . it leads only to futility and unhappiness.”  And perhaps most ominous, “Resentment grows.”

I’m not writing about the “paper cuts” of life that provoke anger or hurt for a short period of time . . . the slow driver in the left lane . . . the one clerk at the DMV who can only process two people every thirty minutes . . . the computer technician on the telephone who I cannot understand for a number of reasons, but is my only hope to solve the maddening mysteries of technology.

The resentment I’m writing about is deeper.  This resentment infects a wound of rejection, betrayal, or misunderstanding until it gets into your bones.  There may be days and even weeks when you forget that it’s there; and then a memory from the past, an empty space in the present, or overwhelming thoughts of no resolution in the future remind you that this is something that you just can’t shake.

You can’t let go and let God.
You can’t turn lemons into lemonade.
You can’t do it for yourself, even though you know that holding on to is like drinking rat poison.  You’ve tasted it.
You can’t will yourself to do seven steps, twelve steps, or even 600 steps to find a sense of relief from and control over the pain.

Anyway, that’s where I find myself as 2012 is quickly coming to an end and I am becoming more desperate to figure out forgiveness.  There was another time in my life years ago when I felt this bone-chilling resentment, and I know that the mysterious process of being set free back then began in a dark movie theatre that smelled of stale popcorn, while watching a scene from the movie, Bruce Almighty.  Something . . . or Someone compelled me to whisper, “God, I want to forgive.”   And God really did take from there.  He set me free.

But this time watching Bruce Almighty did nothing for me. I actually felt a little bored while watching one of my favorite movies. I talked to my sponsor and wrote out a Fourth Step, but as the truth of this resentment stared at me from the written pages — my failures, deception, and hiding — I just didn’t want to go on further to the next step.  This time working the steps was a good plan to give me a clearer perspective about the battle, but it didn’t empower me to deal with the battle.  I talked to my mother and her wise, kind words helped, but as soon as I felt a single second of surrender, this resentment squeezed harder and reminded me again of the betrayal, the gossip, the cruel handling of a friendship that I believed I had nurtured, given to sacrificially, and fiercely believed in.  I felt stuck in my own hell of Groundhog Day.

Now that I look back over the past weeks of my thinking and trying and praying and talking and thinking and trying to get out of this morass, I see that God was creating a mosaic to show the way of healing for this particular cancer in my life.


The week before Christmas a dear friend and physician who is exceedingly overqualified to inject Botox, offered to give me this skin-tightening poison as a gift for Christmas.  I was so excited!  I imagined my new face.  I told everyone in my family that I was getting this gift so that they would be prepared to see the new me on Christmas.

It was a gift and it really did erase most of the wrinkles on my forehead and those crows’ feet by the eyes.  I waited through our family Christmas celebration for someone to notice or at least say, “Sharon, you look rested,” or something that might acknowledge the new me.  When I couldn’t wait any longer and reminded everyone, most responded with lackluster comments like, “I thought I saw that something was different but wasn’t sure,” or “Oh, I thought you were getting that after Christmas!”

The truth is, Botox didn’t take away the dark circles under my eyes, or the age spot on my upper right check, or the scar on my neck from thyroid surgery, or a multitude of other flaws I could recount to you.   It didn’t fix everything, but it made me realize that’s what I want.  I want something that will fix everything.  I want something that will erase the scars and flaws and memories of hurt and make it look and/or feel like everything is new.  I want to wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and everything will be fixed.

My experience with Botox reminded me of how different God is from me.  He wants to get closer and closer to me because He wants to see every scar and every flaw — not so He can fix me, but because He wants to love me.  Think about that.  I mean really think about it.  Go ahead and find one of those mirrors (like the one I have in one pile under the sink in my bathroom) that magnifies everything.  (Why do women use those??)  When I get that close to me, I see all the places Botox did not make new and I see my pettiness, my selfishness, my unforgiving heart.   There is a crazy paradox about getting closer to God (which ironically happened as I thought and tried and prayed and worked to forgive) — I realize my old face is not the issue.  My unforgiving heart is not the issue.  The good news of the Gospel is issue — the good, good news of this old year and the new year to come is the fact that God wildly pursues me, and the closer we get, the more He sees me – the real me.  And it just makes Him love me more.


Still feeling the grip of resentment (but wondering now if it was gripping me or I was gripping it?), I had dinner with my friends, William and Dana.  I recounted my struggle and with tears streaming down my face I said, “I just feel so broken in this, and I can’t even find the will to want to forgive.”  William pointed to his hand.  He has rheumatoid arthritis, and in fact, the very next day he was going into surgery for a shoulder replacement.  Two months ago, he had his hip replaced.  While pointing at his hand — his hand clenched shut — a visible sign of the unrelenting disease, he said, “Sharon, this is broken.  And even if I could fix it, then I’d need to fix the other hip, and then both knees, and then my elbow . . . I am broken and I can’t fix me.”  I have heard William rage about his overwhelming sense of powerlessness.  I have seen him in understandable despair.  But today he is in that unique place that very few people get to — fully aware of his own brokenness that he cannot control.

Betrayal and failure in relationships breaks us, and as the broken, brilliant writer Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks us all.”  Talking with William and Dana.  Looking at William . . . I know the only choice any of us have is whether we will be an unforgiving broken man or woman.  God knows that our hearts — my heart — is far more attuned to Him in the context of brokenness.  When I cling to resentment, I am an unforgiving broken woman.  When I let go of resentment, I am a forgiving broken woman.  Those are my choices.  Think about that.  Really, think about that.  No wonder we get stuck.

My friend Dan Allender says it this way, “And so God is gracious to give us [rat] poisoning and to bring us to our knees vomiting for a day and a half straight until you have nothing left in your stomach and you feel like you’re going to die, and yet now there is a new hunger that the food you’ve been eating can never satisfy again.”  Allender goes on to say that the new food God wants to feed us is dignity, strength, and humor.  Sounds a heck of a lot better than rat poison.

Do you see the mosaic God is putting together just for me?  He feeds me dignity as I come closer and closer to Him — not hiding my petty flaws and ugly, unforgiving heart — because when He sees me, the real me; He only loves me more.  That taste of dignity makes the rat poison of resentment even less appealing.

He feeds me strength when I see my brokenness — my utter powerlessness to even want to forgive.

Even with these two pieces, I still can’t decide to set down the rat poison and will the good foods of dignity and strength to fill me so I can elegantly and graciously forgive.


So here’s the final piece (for now) in this mosaic . . .

Months ago I drove home during a break from work to grab a bite to eat.  I was in a hurry.  My parking spot in my apartment parking garage is on the top level, and I began to speed up the levels and whip around the corners with confidence.  On the second level I came headlights to headlight in a standoff with another car at one corner.  I swerved around the other car and continued on to my level.  The driver of the other car turned around and followed me up to the fifth level, blocked me in with his car, and angrily rushed over to me and harshly lectured me (with a lot of four letter words) about my driving.  He was right, and probably because I was in a hurry, I was able to simply say, “Thank you for pointing that out to me.  I will do better in the future.”  He wasn’t satisfied with my promise.  He asked for my name, and I reluctantly gave him my business card.  I don’t know whether I was reluctant because I didn’t want him to have my name or because my card says something about helping others and God’s love.

This morning I was driving into the parking garage again, and when I reached the 2nd level I saw a man crawling on his hands and knees just to the right of the driving lane.  I stopped, rolled down my window, and asked if he was okay.  Another driver stopped as well and we both got out of our cars and could see that the man on the ground was vomiting.  The other driver explained to me that he was trying to get to the Bronco’s game and wondered if I could “handle” this.  I parked my car and walked closer to the man.  The smell of alcohol overwhelmed me.  I knelt down, just as he vomited again, and asked if he had been drinking or was ill.  He explained that he hadn’t been drinking, didn’t know what was happening, and that he was so embarrassed.  I helped him stand up and told him, “You don’t need to feel embarrassed with me.  I’ve been in situations like this before.”  A hint of surprise showed through his distress and he said, “You have?”  I asked where his car was and he pointed to a car a few spaces down.  He was the man who chased after me to yell at me for my unsafe driving.

I let him hold onto my arm as I walked him to his apartment.  All the way he continued to mumble that he didn’t know what had happened and how sorry he was.  When we got to his door he said, “My name is ____.  What’s your name?”  I answered, “I’m Sharon Hersh,” and he looked at me for the first time.  A flash of recognition went across his face, and he quietly mumbled, “I’m sorry I yelled at you.”

And, of course, I forgave him.  I got in my car and I laughed out loud — not at this man’s plight.  I empathize with him.  I laughed at my own plight.  How many thousands of times have I seen this in my life?  In one moment I’m the righteous one, the older brother watchful of all those who aren’t doing what they should be doing.  And in a split-second, I am the prodigal — smelling of vomit, on my hands and knees trying to find my way home.  How can I even pretend to think I know who is the Prodigal and who is the Pharisee in my own tale of hurt, because I am surely both!

The book of Proverbs describes the woman who can laugh at tomorrow.  I feel the grip on resentment loosening.  I can afford to laugh at tomorrow because whether I’m keeping every new year’s resolution perfectly or I’m lost in woundedness and confusion — God has paid every debt.  I owe nothing.  Think about that.  Really, think about it.  Consider your stack of bills at the beginning of each month.  What would it be like to get the good news that you owed nothing for the month, the year, a lifetime?


Will I be free of resentment as we ring in 2013?  Not fully.  But God has crafted a wonderful mosaic for me to understand forgiveness a tiny bit better.  Botox, Brokenness, and the Smell of Booze transformed into Dignity, Strength, and Laughter.

* I can go ahead and come closer and closer to Him, hiding nothing — not even my unforgiving heart — and He won’t want to fix me, because He doesn’t just forgive me for my resentful heart, He sees me as if I have never been resentful for a single second in my life!   He feeds me with dignity.  God, I don’t want to taste rat poison again and I don’t want anyone else to taste it either.

* Hemingway was right, “The world breaks us all.”  No one escapes brokenness.  I have believed that, written about it, and spoken about it, but I need to remind myself over and over and over and over again, “I am powerless to fix the brokenness.”  And if I’m powerless . . . it only makes sense others are powerless too; so I can go ahead and let the person who hurt me off the hook.  They are powerless to fix their brokenness.  God, I want to be a forgiving broken person rather than a resentful broken person.

* Finally, even though it’s almost a new year, I’m still on the same old journey.  Whatever 2013 brings, by the grace of God I can afford to laugh at the future.  Take my money — there’s not too much in the bank.  Take my reputation — it’s not too much to begin with.  Even if something were to take my life, that would ultimately be good for me!  This truth remains solid — I am without debt.  I owe nothing for anything that has happened in the past years of my life and I owe nothing for the future years.  My debts have been settled.  In fact, in God’s eyes, I never had any debt to begin with!  God, how dare I believe anyone owes me anything when you have so fully and freely paid for everything for me.  

Happy New Year!

“She is clothed in strength and dignity and she can afford to laugh at tomorrow.”  Proverbs 31:20



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Wow!  It has been a long time since I’ve written — not because there have been no salvation stories, but perhaps because there have been so many of them.  Salvation Stories beginning, unfolding, confusing, challenging, terrifying, encouraging, emerging, disentangling, releasing, unravelling, confounding, baffling, arousing, exacting, imposing, heartbreaking, and continuing  . . . .

If I used a thesaurus I could find more synonyms for the language of salvation stories, but I suspect you can identify with at least one word in the list above.  I know these past few months of being immersed in salvation stories has been thrilling, disappointing, exhausting, breathtaking (literally), overwhelming, upsetting, depressing, exciting, bewildering, relieving, amazing, devastating, heartbreaking, and continuing . . . .

And then comes December 1 — the month of Advent — when everything is decorated with brights lights and smiling Santas, and my children (though adults) send me their “wish lists” just in case I am wondering what to get them for Christmas, and  I buy Christmas cards (again), fully intending to send them (again).

Today, in fact, is the first Sunday of Advent.  We tend to think of Advent as the season for the beginning of the salvation story — of a pregnant teenage mom who travelled on a donkey with her confused fiancé to pay taxes with money they didn’t have to a reckless, heartbreaking government. They ended up with no reservations, and  no vacancies, and so this baby was born to homeless teenagers with no health care in a barn, with a cradle that smelled like the animals and with stars twinkling through the cracks in the ceiling.  I’ve experienced bits and pieces of that story this year.  I suspect you have too.

And then half-drunken shepards come — just as this exhausted couple is getting their baby to sleep– to announce that this baby has been born to be with us to redeem all of our stories – to rescue us.  Talk about a story that is confusing, breathtaking, exciting, bewildering, relieving, continuing . . . . like bits and pieces of all our stories.

Advent is not built around shopping and wrapping presents and kissing Santa under the mistletoe.  It is built around the petition, “save us from the time of trial . . . and faced with this prospect [of a coming Savior], the children of God cling not to their own strength, but place their confidence fully in the One who comes to save”  (Malachi 3:1).

Just typing that sentence I breathed a sigh of relief.   The Advent story is about the salvation baby born in a dirty, smelly stable with stars twinkling through the cracks in the ceiling.  A baby named Emmanuel, which means God with us.  A baby born to  be with us so that He could rescue us.

GOD . . . WITH US.  I forget that sometimes when I’m in the midst of the story that most of us live.  My favorite poet and memoirist, Mary Carr, describes the human story:

The most privileged, comfortable person . . . from the best family, has already suffered
the torments of the damned.  I don’t think any of us get off this planet without
suffering enormously.  And one of the chief ways we suffer is by loving people who
are incredibly limited by the fact that they’re human beings, and they’re going to
disappoint us and break out hearts. . . We are all heartbroken. 

Sometimes I have trouble believing God is with us when I am heartbroken by stories of sexual slavery happening here, in the suburbs – with us; by stories of long-term marriages ripped apart by us; by stories of girls without mothers and boys without fathers who sit by us in the pews of our churches; by stories of lonely men and women who work, go to church, or volunteer for the After Prom committee with us — but have no reservations for this holiday season.  Mostly, I forget that a rescuing God is with us when we or those we love struggle with painful, heartbreaking, continuing trials of disease, addiction, or other chronic suffering.

I’m not good at remembering God with us, because I get lost in these human stories — in my own story.  Just a few weeks ago I was hospitalized because my body was not absorbing any of my thyroid medication.  This had probably been going on for months; and the fatigue, shortness of breath, mood swings, etc. crept up on me until I felt like I could barely survive another day of listening to stories and living in my own story.   I guess I was like the frog in the story who is placed in a pan of water, and as someone turns the heat up, the frog slowly boils to death without recognizing the heat and urgent need to jump to salvation.  I think I heard this gruesome story in youth group a few times as a cautionary tale to recognize worldly temptations and jump to safety before I boiled to death.  I”m not sure it was a good story to keep me from sneaking into temptation occasionally as a teenager, but it is an appropriate story for me right now.  The problem is, I don’t know when or how to jump.  I’ve never boiled to death . . . but I’ve come close.

Wow!  That kind of seems like a crazy story to include in a blog about Advent, but it’s true — I get immersed in all of the adjectives of my story and the stories of those I love and I can’t find God with us.

Thank God, He finds us – usually through bits of light twinkling through the cracks of our lives.

My gifts of light so far this Advent season have been:

**A dear friend whose life demonstrates the words of that old hymn . . . “then sings my soul, my Savior God — to thee.  How great thou art!  How great thou art!”  She not only sings, but she pesters me to walk, to take care of myself, to check with my doctor about the symptoms that show up when I’m living in boiling water.  Sharla, is a twinkling star that will not go away and reminds me that one of the best gifts we can give  is faithfulness.  God with us.**  “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not [boiled to death] . . . great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

**This morning I awoke to snow.  Snow!  In Colorado you would think that is not so uncommon in December, but we have been in a drought, and even if it is just a few inches — it is a reminder of a thousand mornings when God did not forget to remember me, and He showed me through His glorious creation that He is with us.  An undeniable gift greets us new every morning in creation.  God with us.**  Poet, Mary Oliver, writes about how we might greet this gift:

Of course I have to give up  . . . half crazy with the wonder of it —
the abundance . . . the quietness, [and] the hopelessness of my
effort.  And I am in that delicious and important place . . .
full of earth-praise.  Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings

**There is a man who I do not really know.  I’ve never met him.  He emails me occasionally.  He doesn’t know anything about me, but he calls me often.  Just yesterday he called and left a message that begins with the greeting he always uses, “Hey, my friend, this is Terry Rush, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I’m just calling to encourage you . . .”  I have learned a significant life lesson from this pastor of many years — ( who has given me a priceless gift — encouragement.  God with us.**  “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

**My friend, Rachel, was in one of those stories that ripped her heart out (and mine too — for her).  The person she trusted most on this earth was unfaithful, betrayed her, and then as often happens in modern day love stories — they split their possessions as well as time with their children — and a decree went out from what seems like a heartless government  that their love story was over.   Rachel raged, cursed, and wondered how in the world God could let this happen.  And then something out of this world happened.  Rachel and her two daughters walked into the grocery story and her five-year-old looked at the Christmas poinsettias and said, “Those are pretty.  We should get one for daddy.”  And the gift of forgiveness took Rachel’s breath away as she said, “Yes!  How kind that you want to get something for your daddy.  Let’s find a really nice one!”  And she meant it.  Forgiveness — God with us.**  As Rachel wrote, “It gave me a glimpse, a tiny one albeit, of what Jesus extends towards me every moment of the day, an extravagant love and a perfect life exchanged for my own tattered one.”

Faithfulness.  Encouragement. Forgiveness.  These are three Advent gifts that have twinkled through the cracks of my life.  In my new favorite book by Anne Lamott, “Help, Thanks, Wow,” she uses a different metaphor than the frog boiling in the water.  It’s a less frightful metaphor.  It’s the metaphor I choose for this Advent season and for the year to come:

Light [those twinkling stars through the cracks of our lives] reveals us to ourselves, which
is not always so great if you find yourself in a big disgusting mess, possibly of your own
creation.  But like sunflowers we turn towards light.  Light warms, and in most cases
it draws us to itself.  And in this light, we can see beyond shadow and illusion to
something beyond our modest receptors, to what is way beyond us, and deep inside.
This is all so hard to articulate, because it is so real, so huge, beyond mystery . . .[but]
bits of this deeper reality are perceivable, and little bits of it will have to do . . .That’s
all I ever need, besides the silence, the pain, and the pause sufficient for me to stop,
close my eyes . . . and pray Help, Thanks, Wow.

And so my Christmas wish is that we won’t be frogs simmering in our stories of heartbreak, but that the Advent story will remind us that the baby in the manger is called Emmanuel because He is God with us – the God who came to be with us to draw us, like sunflowers, to the Light.  This would be a nice place to end this meandering mess of a blog, but . . .

As I reread this I realize that it is filled with so many adjectives, metaphors, references to heartbreaking experiences of boiling to death in our own stories and to heartwarming experiences of sunflower stories that draw us to the Light and make us grow; with the twinkling bits of faithfulness, encouragement, and forgiveness thrown in to make even a careful reader wonder what I’m trying to say . . .

So here it is:  My true Christmas wish is that, in moments, I will be that bit of light to you, if you are in the dark and can’t believe that God is with us; and to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who have been light to me, when I have been in the dark.

“When Jesus spoke to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life'” (John 8:12).


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OCTOBER 1, 2012 begins the testing period for the Mobile Phone Apps I’ve been working on to bring Therapy to the IPhone; to bring what is not seen (true reality – that require faith to see there’s more than meets the eye; an opportunity to look at incredibly private and personal issues like body image or trauma or sexual dysfunction, etc.) on the phone.  

Two years ago I would have said, “Less phone, more face-time.”  Well, now we can face-time on the phone with people we might never talk to.  I might have said “No texting.  Talk.”  Today’s generation says the most authentic realities of their souls through texting.    77% of those aged 18-24 feel anxious if they are separated from their mobile phones. 

I’m ready to wave the white flag of being too old, too relational, too technologically illiterate to use the phone to connect with the world.  I imagine Jesus walking around with an Iphone5 tied to His toga, pulling up the phone, talking into it to say, “Spirit, will you tell SIRI to send a text to everyone in Galilee to meet me for an important message on the Mount.”  

Theologian Helmut Thielicke wrote, “The Gospel must repeatedly be forwarded to a new address because the recipient is repeatedly changing places of residence.” Today’s  culture is like a “Change of Address” form screaming out: “Please take note!” We are on our phones!!”  

The GLOO PROJECT is one effort to forward The Good News to a new address — the address where most of us will live (like it or not) in the next 100 years — the address of Mobility.  YOU CAN REGISTER NOW AT HTTP://

And so, are you ready for a Brave Change?  Here’s an invitation:

Many of you know that I have been immersed in a world I would had never chosen for myself for the past few months. (Please forgive me for not returning phone calls, showing up, or for being tired — I’ve been working 24/7 with a team of others who are so excited for you to “test” what we are doing.)

Did you know the number of people seeking therapy has decreased 15% last year! People are ready for a different forum for help (they can be “in touch” while out of town, in between meetings, daily, if necessary without having to spend $3.89 a gallon on gas)  DO WE HAVE AN APP FOR THAT? YES!! WE ARE GETTING CLOSE . . . .

I NEED YOUR HELP: (did you know only 12% of people believe they can do anything to change the world??)
According to predictors of the future: What we have been doing so far in the context of therapy and coaching is hoping to turn mobile devices into “identity accessories” to be tools to sculpt behavior and identity. Using mobile devices for self-discovery and self-realization could make the phone take on a role of companion, confidant, and therapist. I passionately want to be a part of this to incorporate the only true Change Agent in life as an integral part of this new field, because mobile or not, only God can transform — but I think He’d use an App if He would use me!



COURAGE TO CHANGE APP that includes:
(in small or big ways)
*”BAD TIMING” — If the time is not right to jump right into the Journey to Change (through stories, encouragement, ideas, etc., you     stay in the process of change until  you’re ready)anyway!)


The second major app is JOURNEY TO CHANGE (this is a portal that the client enters to choose several paths of change that include information, quizzes, opportunities to journal, make creative projects, and gain self, marriage, and parenting awareness. If you were kind enough to participate during our last testing you will see many, many new functionalities and more will be coming during October – this testing period!!!





 ON MONDAY OR TUESDAY (OCTOBER 1-2) YOU WILL BE EMAILED DIRECTIONS TO DOWNLOAD GLOO ON TO YOUR PHONE OR IPAD AND WILL BE INSTRUCTED TO START IN JOURNEY TO CHANGE MARKETPLACE, so that you can go through these therapy apps first. I am humbly asking you to go through them at least FIVE TIMES to give encouragement (rate them high if you can please — 5 stars! on each page, applet, app), but seriously give ideas and suggestions to make this a viable resource. (I am actually begging for your help — I have spent a few all-nighters, and my old body and brain are feeling pretty darn vulnerable right now!)






“His names shall be Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness . . . GOD WITH US.” (Isaiah 9:6, The Message)




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