RADICALLY REDEMPTIVE RELATIONSHIPS


MR3_LOGOThe next videocast in the Radically Redemptive Relationships: 2 Woman Find Common Ground for the Sake of Love is about Scandalous Relationships.

You can watch it at https://youtu.be/ui72Q07ECMY.

HOLLY:SHARON

We all read the headlines:
“8 Church Scandals That May Have Challenged Your Faith;”
“Today it’s Tulian: Will the Scandals Never End;”
“Scandal Rocks biggest Christian Network”
And on, and on, and on.

All these scandals mean something, but I don’t think it’s about how awful Christians are or how hypocrisy is in the church. I think that these scandals are about us. We all suffer from the same condition – we all fall short of the glory of God. You can read my reflections on these scandals: “Inappropriate Relationships,” at:

WHAT IS AN INAPPROPRIATE RELATIONSHIP?

One of my favorite authors and speakers is Steve Brown, and we had an interesting discussion about this topic especially for the “pooped- out” pastor. It was one of the most popular programs last year. You can listen to it at: http://www.keylife.org/articles/key-life-pastors-chat-with-sharon-hersh

I hope you listen and read and talk about this with your spouse, fellow church-goers, or other community. And when you’re done, think – I mean really think about these words from author Robert Farrar Capon. You might now agree with every word, but think about it. Maybe the Gospel is, after all, too-good-to-be-true Good News:

In Jesus, God has put up a “Gone Fishing” sign on the religion shop. He has done the whole job in Jesus once and for all and simply invited us to believe it–to trust the bizarre, unprovable proposition that in him, every last person on earth is already home free without a single religious exertion: no fasting till your knees fold, no prayers you have to get right or else, no standing on your head with your right thumb in your left ear and reciting the correct creed–no nothing… The entire show has been set to rights in the Mystery of Christ–even though nobody can see a single improvement. Yes, it’s crazy. And yes, it’s wild, outrageous, and vulgar. And any God who would do such a thing is a God who has no taste. And worst of all, it doesn’t sell worth beans. But it is Good News–the only permanently good news there is–and therefore I find it absolutely captivating.

“In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

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RADICALLY REDEMPTIVE RELATIONSHIPS

R3_LOGO

Radically Redemptive Relationships? You’ve Got to Be Crazy!
Into Me See – It Takes A Braveheart

The day has finally come when my dear friend since college (dare I say, over thirty years ago!?) Holly Stratton (lifehurts.us) and I share our debut VIDEOCASTS: Radically Redemptive Relationships: Finding Common Ground For Love’s Sake.

The videocasts were filmed by Ben Sullivan and the professionals at Novel Motion Pictures (you should check out their other projects – especially “Muted”)! The music was generously contributed by Sharon Gerber at Celloasis (check out her music too!)

These videocasts have really been a labor of love, as well as an experience of love, between two friends with different stories committed to believing that our small stories are connected to a Larger Story – a story where the Beginning, middle, and Ending is Jesus. We have both been tempted to look at these videocasts and see the flaws (in ourselves – not each other). Let’s just say that men picked out the chairs that we sat in and they are not becoming, but now that I have that out of the way I want to focus on what really matters. We are all pretty good at seeing the things that don’t matter – our imperfections, the realities of growing older, and bulky clothing.

But we are committed to reminding each other and you of the truth that there is More here than meets the eye. And from the wonderful lyrics of Steffanie Gretzinger, “what hindered Love becomes part of The Story.” Out of Hiding

We invite you to start with the first two videocasts this week:
1. Radically Redemptive Relationships? You’ve Got to Be Crazy! – https://youtu.be/Pl7ndH1-qbY
2. Into Me See – It Takes a Braveheart – https://youtu.be/Oct0DzlmjnE

We encourage you to think about using these 10 videocasts for a small group of friends or maybe an even smaller group with your spouse. We trust that even better conversations will come as you ponder what we are talking about.

And as I think about you watching us, my prayer will be that you may know that He watches over you while you sleep; that He listens to you breathe; and that He sings over you: “Beautiful One I love, beautiful One I adore. You make my heart sing.” -Jeremy Camp

“There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.” 2 Corinthians 4:18

 

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BABY, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE

icicles at a roof

It was 25 degrees outside. Windchill of 5. The sun was just rising and the last thing I wanted to do was to put on my layers of running clothes, lace up my rarely-used, but guaranteed to make you want to exercise Hoka’s.

But I did. I was resolute.

When the wind blasted my face, I almost turned around and climbed the heated staircase up to my heated apartment to make a cup of coffee and start again tomorrow.

But I didn’t.

The first song that played from my IPhone cheered me on to run into the cold. It was a song my daughter gave me for Christmas. It’s a song that means a lot to me, because I know how hard my daughter has fought to live a life of service and intentionality and forgiveness and sobriety and compassion.

This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song . . . .

Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if anyone else believes
Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me

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 The picture is of Kristin “playing” her fight song!

I was starting to warm up and feel a little bit like Rocky running up those steps to victory (only I had just three stairs to climb to continue on the running path).

And then the next song hit me like a blizzard. It wasn’t so much the song that took the wind out of my run, it was the memory the song evoked.

It took me back to a very cold January morning in 2009. A few days earlier my friends had delivered me to treatment, because I relapsed in my alcoholism. I was mad and ashamed and hopeless. It was cold both inside and out.

My counselor asked me to think if there was any secret I was holding on to that might be keeping me from lasting in recovery.

I couldn’t think of any.
And then I remembered.
The secret I had never told anyone.
I hated myself.

I got up that January morning as the sun was rising to run in the little circle they allowed for exercise, jammed my headphones into my ears, and heard this song about being loved, forgiven . . . again, and still wanted. I didn’t even notice that the tears streaming down my face on that unforgettably cold morning were starting to freeze.

It was cold outside.

The next morning I awoke at 3 a.m.
We weren’t allowed to leave our rooms before 6:00.
I stared out at another freezing morning and God played me a song.
I mean He wrote a song just for me.
On my heart.

You are not alone. I delight to call you “daughter.” I am proud of who you are, not what you do. Yes, even when you are wandering in hopelessness and cannot find your way to your seat, I am proud to put my arm around you, gently lead you to your seat, sit beside you, and tell everyone,
“This is my daughter!”

You are not hopeless. I know that your heart is cold and you believe that your story is too much for anyone.
The truth is that I am too much for your story. I forgive you, heal you, renew you every day, and in the times when that is hardest to believe, my warmth will reach every nook and cranny of your cold heart.

You are not loverless. When you feel unwanted, instead of working so hard, will you seek my affection? When you are exhausted, can you lay down your head? And when you feel unworthy, oh, Sharon, will you believe you are my bride. Please look at me. Just look at me.
Bone of my bones.
Flesh of my flesh.
I will never be unfaithful to you.
I will never divorce you.
You are mine.
I have engraved your name on the palm of my hand.

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Remembering that resurrection morning when the warmth of the love of Jesus melted my heart allowed me to forget the present wind chill for a moment.

But, baby, it was cold outside.

I ran to the other side of the street to try to at least get some heat from the shining sun, but I feared my lips were turning blue and I might lose feelings in my feet and fingers and maybe I should start my resolute running when it warmed up.

That brought back 1000 memories of promises made, broken, re-made, re-broken.

I just completed a wonderful week of teaching about addiction, and the intensity and fierce engagement with students is invigorating.

But, honestly, it always leaves me feeling left out in the cold.  I imagine them going back to their spouses, families, and roommates, as I pack up my bags to fly home, call an Uber, and let myself into my cold, empty apartment. I know that it’s an illusion that everyone goes home to warm families, food, and fellowship.

I think the illusion is why I break so many of those darn resolutions. In fact, I keep a list handy just to remind me why it makes sense to break those promises – even if they are just promises to myself.

I feel justified.
I feel lonely.
I feel resentful.
I feel like I don’t matter.

There are many more times when it’s cold inside of me than it’s cold outside.

I was just about to turn into the door to the warm staircase leading to my warm apartment when another song began to play. I don’t think I ever listened to this song before.

I probably could have written this song, if I could write songs.
It’s a hymn about how unfair life and love are.
How cold and foolish love leaves us feeling.

I’ve sung these lyrics in different forms a thousand times.

I woke up singing them this morning.

It’s cold outside.
What difference will one day of exercise really make anyway?
I’m tired and have so much to do.
All by myself.
And, baby, it’s too cold outside.

And right through the magic chip in my iPhone came the answer.

Tell me now, where was my fault
In loving you with my whole heart
Oh tell me now, where was my fault
In loving you with my whole heart?
You did not think when you took me to the brink
You deserved my attention but denied my affections . . . .*

I turned back to finish my run.
I re-remembered what I learned that January years ago:

All my rage, doubts, cold indifference . . . all of me
that took all of Him to the brink,
the God who became man
the rich Son who became poor
the fiery Holy Spirit poured out in a cold world

came for the Love of me.

You’d think I’d get it someday.
Because of that coldest, darkest night in history that took Him to the brink,
my sin invites one response
my broken promises get one response
my justifications and rationalizations get one response
my cold heart gets one response

Because He is not like us
List-makers
Scorekeepers
Pharisees
Perpetual prodigals
Freezing people

He presents the same response

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A white blank page

 “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” Isaiah 1:18

*”White Blank Page,” Mumford & Sons.

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CHRISTMAS AMBIGUITY

 

 

 

 

Lonely women looking at snowfall through big glass window

I really don’t know why I like the commercial of Lady Gaga singing, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” with Tony Bennett in Barnes & Noble, but I do.

I can’t explain why I won’t go to church on Christmas Eve to watch the church children follow the donkey with the specially-picked child who gets to play Mary – great with child – riding on the donkey, with the second specially-picked child – Joseph, proudly walking along side – but I won’t.

I don’t know why I will spend hours on the Internet trying to find gifts for my mom and dad, daughter and son that will rock their worlds with meaning – knowing that they will probably return the gifts for cash or re-gift at a holiday party, but I will.

I don’t think one of my clients notices the Christmas wreath on my counseling door or the few, tasteful decorations I’ve carefully placed in my office. Why would they notice when they are talking about husbands who cheat, mothers who neglect, or parents who don’t remember their life stories anymore? I don’t know why I place reminders of a holiday when most who visit my office are grieving every day, but I do.

I don’t know why I pulled a tag from the Giving Tree at church this year. I don’t have any extra money, and I pulled a tag for a ten-year-old girl who wants a Disney Party Enchanted Christmas Game for $25.00. It just so happened that the woman in front of me in the unreasonably slow line at Target was buying a Giving Tree gift too – a Barbie as Rock ‘n Royal Princess Doll. We commiserated about the long lines and she confided that we couldn’t really trust a young clerk with a tongue piercing.  I told her, “I think it’s the ones without piercings we should worry about.” I don’t know why I said that, but I did.

I don’t even know why I celebrate Christmas. I seldom buy the right gifts for the people I love or get the ones I really want. I’m resentful when I’m still paying my credit cards off in March. I have not watched a Christmas television special I have ever liked. And those Hallmark Christmas Movies? I think we all feel ambiguous about them.

And then somehow in the midst of long lines and cheesy movies and expensive, ridiculous presents I remember . . . that Jesus chose, without a single ounce of ambiguity, to be born in a stable, smelling of unambiguous dung. He knew that in His first Christmas he would be cradled in a trough, wrapped in rags that no Barbie would ever wear. From the moment He was born, conspiracies grew into plots to kill this Christmas babe.  No ambiguity there.

His birth was heralded without ambiguity to drunken shepherds stumbling after a Star, who somehow knew in the midst of their inebriated ambiguity that it was true – this birth was good news in a world filled with prejudice, conspiracy, murder, war, hate, and inevitable doom.

The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born . . .

And so if your heart is filled with ambiguity about this crazy Christmas season, join me in:

*Renouncing the prejudice that Jesus just came for those who look like us.
*Laughing at the grandest conspiracy of all – the conspiracy to love us even when we do everything possible to prove we are not lovable.
*Birthing life – whether it’s to the woman complaining about the pierced, inept clerk at Target or the tired, dedicated receptionist at Planned Parenthood.
*
Waging peace by finding ten minutes – just ten minutes – to remember that Christmas baby born into the middle of wars that do not seem will ever end – was called the Prince of Peace. What if He is? Then I am willing to exchange every ounce of my war-torn heart for ten minutes flung into His arms. Ten minutes of unambiguous peace can carry me a long way.
*Breathing love. I don’t really need to explain that. You know when your heart is bent toward love in the presence of an obnoxious know-it-all, a materialistic narcissist, a self-important Christmas spirit hurrying to get to the front of the line . . . . or a weary, idealist who really wants to believe in Christmas.
*
And going after hope as if our lives depended on it – because they do. In the middle of the dark of night, stand in your driveway or apartment parking lot or sidewalk spot in line for the Rescue Mission, and look for that Star – that Star that does not just shine, but it sings: “God is not dead, not does He sleep. Peace on earth. Good will to men.”

There is nothing ambiguous about that.

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THE GRACE OF GRATITUDE

turkeys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

woman on rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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TATTOO OF BETRAYAL

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

We were not meant for betrayal.

It opposes something that is core to our being.

barbwiredheart

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

Betrayal is much deeper than most Hollywood stories.

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

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

divorce degree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

behind every dark corner
around each turning bend

grace as a tourniquet
for the bleeding heart

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

the story is still being written

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

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

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

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

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

 

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HOW I FOUND $36,000!

 

Leather wallet with some dollars inside on white background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pistol Fanny Pack Leather Roma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filed in Addiction,Addiction Treatment,Alcholism,COURAGE TO CHANGE,Dehumanizing Behiavor,Detox,Disappointment,Failure,Finding $36000,Freedom,Giving to Others,God's Mercy,Grace,Gratitude,Healing,Isolation,Living Water,Loneliness,Loving our neighbors,Mental Illness,Mother's Day,Powerlessness,Pride,Radically Redemptive Relationships,Redemption,Relationship with Jesus,Relationships,Salvation Story,Sorrow,Surrender,Telling the Truth,The Humble King,Thirst,Vulnerability 2 Comments so far

THE SLOW FADE OF LOVE – RADICALLY REDEEMING RELATIONSHIPS

 

heart and blood on wooden background, medical symbol concept

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Love Fades In and Out and Back In Again

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

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

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

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

The R³ Challenge

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

I Have Friends in High and Low Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Have Friends Whose Names I Don’t Know

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

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

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

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

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

Family Members Are Friends Too

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Have A Friend Who Knows My Name

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

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

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

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

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

Filed in 2 Women Finding Common Ground for Love's Sake,Addiction,Addiction Treatment,Affairs,Alcholism,Ashley Madison,Begin Again Believe Again,Bob Jones University,Bravehearts,C.S. Lewis,Change,Confession,COURAGE TO CHANGE,Desire,Disappointment,Divorce,Eat Disorders,God Only Writes Good Stories,God's Mercy,Grace,Healing,Holly Stratton,Home,Inappropriate Relationship,Is God a Dumb-Ass?,Isolation,Jim Coffield,Josh Duggar,Less Close Friends Than Ever,lifehurts.us,Lipstick for Thin Lips,Loneliness,Love Story,Mental Illness,Mother's Day,Passion,Radically Redemptive Relationships,Redemption,Relationship with Jesus,Relationships,Salvation Story,Scandal,Singleness,Social Media,Starvation,Stay Skinny or Stay Hungry?,Success,Surrender,Teach Our Daughters to Breathe Fire,The R cubed Challenge,The Slow Fade of Love,Vulnerability 2 Comments so far

ASHLEY MADISON, KALE SALAD & BREATHING FIRE

newbattlingthebeast

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.

BREATHING FIRE

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.”

TEACH OUR DAUGHTERS AND OUR SONS AND OURSELVES . . . TO BREATHE LOVE

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

Filed in Addiction,Affairs,Alcholism,Ashley Madison,C.S. Lewis,Dehumanizing Behiavor,Designing Women,Desire,Disappointment,Ezer,Failure,Fraud,Giving to Others,God's Mercy,Grace,Imposter,Inappropriate Relationship,Josh Duggar,Julia Sugarbaker,Kale Salad,Killing Desire,Living Water,Love Story,Perversions,Redemption,Relationship with Jesus,Relationships,Salvation Story,Scandal,Sexual Addiction,Singleness,Social Media,Suitable Helper,Surrender,Teach Our Daughters to Breathe Fire,The Humble King,Thirst,Venmo,Vulnerability One Response so far

ALONE: CAN YOU SURVIVE IN THE WILD ALONE?

 

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?
NOT ALONE
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).

 

Filed in Addiction,Alcholism,Busyness,C.S. Lewis,Confession,Desire,Disappointment,Donald Miller - Scary Close,Failure,Fraud,Freedom,God's Mercy,Grace,Gratitude,History Channel - Alone,Home,Illusion of control,Imposter,Isolation,Living Water,Loneliness,Love Story,Loving our neighbors,Masks,Passion,Perfectionism,Powerlessness,Predators,Reality Television,Redemption,Relationship with Jesus,Relationships,Sexual Abuse,Singleness,Sorrow,Starvation,Success,Surrender,Survivalists,Telling the Truth,The Last Addiction,Thirst Comments Off on ALONE: CAN YOU SURVIVE IN THE WILD ALONE?

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