WHO NEEDS CONVERSATION?

Three weeks ago my friend, Nick Richtsmeier and I began The Convos – a conversation on Facebook (about the worst place to have a conversation) based on our belief that conversations make us and break us.

This week we talked about Thanksgiving table talk, gun violence, trolls, the “love zone,” the Orlando nightclub shooting, and changing the conversation to stretch the tent to be wide enough for all of us.

You can listen at http://thirtysixwords.live/convos2

During our conversation I anticipated my family’s Thanksgiving convo.

My daughter would talk about the recent shooting near her neighborhood involving five people and express her exasperation at political gridlock with regard to the growing shameful legacy in our country of one mass shooting after another.

My son would talk about “identity politics,” and how everyone’s need to defend their issue is contributing to the lack of much being accomplished in the halls of our government.

My sweet mom might murmur something like, “We’re not going to like it when we have socialism in this country.”

And my dad would say, “Let’s pray.”

Well, that isn’t what happened at all.

My daughter expressed gratitude to everyone for coming to the hospital after a car accident in March and told us that was the time when she felt the most loved.

My son shared that he is finding peace and respite these days in some good books.

My mom cried a little as she recalled the selfless love of her parents who adopted her as an infant and always made her feel like they had just won the lottery when they got her (they did!)

My dad said that if money wasn’t an issue, he’d travel the world – even though he’s 84 years old. He gave thanks for being cancer-free for three years and his voice wobbled a bit as he read a poem that his mother wrote over thirty years ago about giving thanks for everyday blessings.

I marveled at my privilege to simply be with my people and was reminded that we don’t feel love when we are informed. We feel loved when we are accepted, listened to, vulnerable, and undefended.

I left that evening hungry for more conversation.

How did you leave your Thanksgiving table?

Did you feel like Jesus might love you more if you didn’t have flaws, foibles, or unpopular opinions?

Did you venture out on Black Friday, only to be cut off in traffic, flipped off, and left steeping in shame when you didn’t do anything wrong?

Did you trust and feel trusted by the people you were with?

If we don’t learn to trust anyone (even ourselves), then we will not experience love.

Did you spend the  day wanting to hide from your parents, your children, your spouse, your friends?

Did you wear a pretty great mask, get lots of accolades, and still felt empty because you knew people just loved the mask – not the real you?

Then maybe you need a good conversation.

A conversation where you really talk and really listen.

A conversation that embraces flaws, foibles, and unpopular opinions.

A conversation that breaks the barriers of shame with shared humanness.

A conversation that is unmasked, undefended, and so it’s trustworthy.

“What if there is a [conversation] that is so safe that the worst of me could be known, and I would discover that I would not be loved less but more in the telling of it?” John Lynch, The Cure

Maybe the conversation we are seeking is seeking us . . .

From a friend who has a big mouth and is always spouting their political sound bites to cover their lonely hearts.

From a child who says they are too busy to talk, too cynical to go to church, too consumed with finding the “right” picture to post on social media.

From a parent who is wondering if they have anything relevant to say.

From a co-worker who has $48 in the bank and orthodontics bills and a gas tank on empty.

Be the change in the conversations you have this week.

Don’t expect to be unwaveringly brave or endlessly compassionate or to always have the right response.

Just be with people.

“Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady keep a firm grip on you.” Isaiah 41:10

 

 

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THE CONVOS: SAVING CONVERSATION

If you missed CONVO #1 on SAVING CONVERSATION, you can listen by copying this link and clicking: https://1drv.ms/u/s!Asfc_1Nx41LwgYdffizom47EM7fPHQ or go to www.facebook.com/sharonhersh.

Yes, I introduced myself as an almost 60 year-old woman (holy cow!) who is half Republican, half Democrat; part introvert and part extrovert; a recovering alcoholic; fierce lover of Jesus; and as someone who just voted in my first mid-term election for the first openly gay governor in America. My co-conversationalist didn’t see that one coming! Quite honestly, I was afraid after I said it – afraid that the only thing people would hear during our thirty minute conversation would be my sound bite about this one vote. I was afraid of being judged, misunderstood, and harshly criticized, because that is what happens on social media. In fact, 70% of the content on social media is negative. I found myself wondering what I was doing trying to have a conversation on social media that was honest and vulnerable.

If all you heard is that I voted for Jared Polis for governor of the state of Colorado, then I’m afraid you missed the point – you missed me, because mostly what I wanted to say is that I’m lonely and longing for more. I’m one of those people who goes home at the end of the day and doesn’t have anyone to talk to. I long for meaningful conversations and yet often find myself in a room full of people with no one to talk to – I mean really talk to.

I often feel like I have a heart – with no one to give it to. That is why I invited Nick to join me in The Convos to practice really talking and really listening to one another in hope that we might learn to love each other better and that would ripple into other relationships and conversations.

If you are wondering why I voted for Jared Polis, I will tell you. I am not an issue-driven woman. I am energized by relational realities and that influenced my vote. Someone very dear to me was lost in the loopholes of our healthcare system because she was denied treatment for mental illness and addiction. I heard stories of this candidate teaching in marginalized communities and giving school supplies (in secret) to families that could not buy them for their children. I voted with a heartbroken sense of believing that what doesn’t work for “them” shouldn’t work for me.

I could say some negative things about the other candidate, but the truth we all really know is that every candidate is human, has skeletons in their closets, and looks good in those campaign photos but doesn’t always look so good to the people who know them the best.

I will admit there is something about politics and about this mid-term election that breaks my heart, and that is what I want to talk about. In his beautiful essay, “The Politics of the Brokenhearted,” Parker Palmer acknowledges that politicians are adept at “using” issues that break people’s hearts – abortion, gay rights, marriage and family, faith, terrorism, gun violence, patriotism.  Nick and I are going to begin a series of conversations about politics and these topics in the next Convo (Tuesday, November 20 7:30 p.m. MST at www.facebook.com/thirtysixwords LIVE and reposted on my Facebook page). I want to approach that conversation as well as reflect on our current political realities with a broken heart.

A broken-open heart.

Palmer writes: “Broken-open hearts are in short supply these days, at least in politics. Formed – or deformed – by an impatient and control-obsessed culture, many of us do not hold social and political tensions in ways that open us to the world. Instead, we shut our hearts down, either withdrawing into fearful isolation or angrily lashing out at the alien “other”: the alien at home becomes unpatriotic, the alien abroad, an enemy. Heartbroken and heavily armed, we act in ways that diminish democracy and make the world an even more dangerous place.”

Our commitment, in The Convos, is to hold our hearts open in hope that we will love better and that perhaps the world will be a little bit better, even as we know that love can break out hearts.

Last week I was talking to a 16 year-old girl about politics (did you know teenagers like to talk about politics?). She was lamenting that she couldn’t talk about politics with her parents because they disagree with her perspectives and even think she is dangerously close to not being a Christian because of her beliefs. My heart broke wide open for this beautiful young woman when she told me why she even bothered trying to discuss the president and Brett Kavanaugh and immigrant rights and health care with her parents. She said, “I know it won’t really change anything, because I can’t even vote, but I keep hoping it will change us, and my parents and I will know each other better and feel more like a family than a group of individuals.”

And a child can lead us.

What if talking and listening to each other about the most contentious topics could break our hearts wide open and change us so that we know each other better and feel more like a family?

I am willing to give it a try.

I hope you will join us in THE CONVO on politics and that “holy cow!” will shift to holy ground.

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other” (John 13:35).

 

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The Convos

Do you want to have a conversation after the election? A conversation that’s not about “them?” This is about us. It’s a conversation about listening. It’s about speaking without resorting to the intellectual gymnastics of trying to be in control. It’s about the making and unmaking of the human soul.

Out of deep passion for the power of transformative conversation, Nick Richtsmeier and I are setting out on an experiment.   We come from different genders, different ages, different parts of the country, different life experiences, and different perspectives,  and yet we love to listen to each other.  So much of what happens today in conversation is chatter, defensive pontification, and propping up our fragile egos. We end up divided, disconnected, defensive, and more lonely than ever.

 What if we tried to really hear each other? Learn from each other?  And what if we did it on social media –  one of the least conversational places on earth. We have this theory that we might just learned to love each other.   The Convos  is a place for us all to be inspired to do just that.  We won’t always talk about politics, but we imagine we will be talking about it when we begin THIS THURSDAY, November 8 at 7:30 pm MST LIVE.  We are going to go live, but the program will be recorded and posted later on Facebook and Instagram.

 You can get notifications and be connected by following http://www.facebook.com/thirtysixword

You’ll also see updates on my Facebook page and Instagram.

Join  us as we discuss our experiences with the loss of conversation in our lives and some actionable tools on how to bring it back.

We need to talk. Join us.

#theconvos #thisisaboutus #lovelistens #lovetalks #holycow! #hokyground

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HOW THE BACHELOR SCHOOLED STANFORD WITH WINE & KISSES

The-Bachelor-The-BacheloretteI kissed watching The Bachelor goodbye. Yes, I have joined millions in watching many episodes over the seasons of the wildly popular show. Overall, 8.33 million viewers tune into The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, and the programs pull their highest rating share in the 18-49 year-old demographic. I laughed at the ridiculous antics of contestants to win the rose. I cringed at the lengths that some would go to in order to gain attention or a promise of affection. I hated all of the sexual innuendo and casual kisses with multiples partners in one day. I must admit I viewed the stories in this show in the same way I can’t look away from a traffic accident on the highway.

Until another story made the headlines this week – the story of an unconscious young woman raped and assaulted on the Stanford campus by a drunk 20-year-old boy after a night of participation in what his father described as “20 minutes of action” in the drinking and hookup culture of college campuses. This is a story I cannot look away from, and after listening to so many women and men in my counseling office – already in this short week – whisper terrible stories with way too many similarities, I cannot remain silent.

I am going to write some things that may cause confusion or anger, so let me preface what I write by saying that in a world that has not gone mad with substance abuse and objectified, distorted sexuality, a woman or man ought to be able to lay naked in the middle of a room of partiers and be covered and cared for.

heart and blood on wooden background, medical symbol concept

But we don’t live in that world.

Rape and sexual assault are heinous crimes that come out of a complex mosaic of patterns and experiences that extend way beyond the boundaries of what I am concerned with as I write this post. Brock Turner is a convicted sex offender who lied about his past history of substance abuse and bad choices, and he should be sentenced to the maximum amount of time allotted for the crimes he has been convicted of. I am angry that cronyism and coverup, once again, shroud victims of sexual abuse in shame, disgrace, and secrecy.

I applaud this young woman’s bravery in telling her story unflinchingly, and I pray that in the telling she will find healing.

I have posted on my Facebook page two wonderful blogs about this subject – one from the perspective of a father (johnpavlovitz.com) who rightly replies to Brock Turner’s father’s obnoxious plea for leniency for his son by writing:

Brock is not the victim here.
His victim is the victim.
She is the wounded one.
He is the damager.

barbwiredheart

Sadly, every son does not have a father like John, willing to hold his sons accountable and model to them how to live decently in the world.

 

I have also posted Ann Voskamp’s blog (aholyexperience.com) on my Facebook page, and was inspired by her poignant plea to teach our sons to honor the beauty and dignity of women. I could not agree with her more:

The Stanford rape case is about having a conversation with sons about hard things and asking sons to do holy things.

ambivalentheart

Sadly, not every son or daughter has a mother like Ann to herald the truth about beauty and integrity.

This crime has a context. It is a cautionary tale about a culture that contributes to the rape culture with ideas, images, and television programs like a steady IV-drip. I am compelled to write about The Bachelor – not because I believe this show caused this horrible crime – but because I believe it represents some cultural realities that play a role in the terrible stories of sexual abuse, assault, and woundedness. I know too much to remain silent about these categories.

The Culture of Substance Abuse

On The Bachelor, young people (not much older than Brock) dress in expensive, sophisticated clothing and it is hard to find a scene where someone does not have a drink in his or her hand. There are too many scenes when the drinking gets out of control and mayhem ensues. Chad (from this season) punches his hand through a door and threatens to beat up everyone. Kaitlyn (from a past season) has sex with Nick after one date – before she’s given the other disappointed suitors a chance. The response of the cast the next morning is usually to survey the bottle-strewn “mansion” with shrugged shoulders, or to promise that everyone will get a chance to spend time with The Bachelor or Bachelorette.

This is not a judgment on drinking. Scripture says that drunkenness is a sin, but does not specifically forbid enjoying a glass of wine in the hot tub while you wear your bikini and are surrounded by shirtless men who are imbibing their favorite beverages. I’m simply suggesting that might not be safe.

  • By the time adolescents reach college 1 out of 5 students is already an alcoholic.
  • Young people who are under the influence are seven times more likely to have sex and twice as likely to have sex with four or more partners during a party experience.
  • Almost half of 14-24 year-old victims of crime said they were drinking and/or using a substance at the time they were victimized.
  • One of my clients who attended a prestigious college with an active Greek life, told me that by the end of her freshman year she and all of her friends had been raped.
  • I’ve heard too many stories in my counseling office – from a young woman who drank a six-pack and had sex with a guy she didn’t even know; a young man who had “a few shots and a couple of beers” and walked around his college campus breaking windows and destroying school property; a young woman so desperate to be loved that she deliberately drank at the frat parties so she wouldn’t mind if a few of the guys fondled her. I have my own stories that still cower in the corners of my life because I should have known better, I shouldn’t have been drinking, and I should have never let a stranger get that close (those are the lies that keep the whole truth in the dark).

A culture that glamorizes substance abuse by putting cocktail glasses in the hands of designer-dressed young men and women lies about the dangers that lurk in this lubricated world. When we use drugs and alcohol to slip in and out of relationships, we actually become imprisoned in an experience of false intimacy, and may experience far worse.

Every time I see the antics of the men and women on The Bachelor or Bachelorette I think of a phrase I said 10,000 times to my children when they were navigating adolescence:

We need to teach our children, “You were made for more than this.”

The Culture of Objectification

Ben, a popular former contestant on The Bachelor, was recently asked how many women were vying for his affection. He proudly answered, “Twenty-eight.” I cringed at the narcissism that inevitably grows in experiences like this. It is almost a given that you don’t have to play by the same rules as others who are dating and want to find love (much like star athletes or sorority queens on college campuses):

  • It’s okay to kiss and make out with someone you’ve known for a few hours, and then again with someone else.
  • Sexual content is the glue in the relationship. In the most recent season of The Bachelorette the young men were asked to talk about an embarrassing sexual experience. The stories of threesomes, using the alphabet for a guide to oral sex, and forcing themselves to have sex “just to get it over with,” broke my heart. And they provide a context for the perverted, criminal actions of a young man who fingers a girl, inserts objects into her vagina, and believes she likes it.
  • And then there is the fantasy suite – the night when the final four each get to spend the entire night, off camera, with The Bachelor or Bachelorette. Is their sex consensual? Absolutely. It is nothing like the young woman in this rape case experienced. However, there is a hint of similarity in the aftermath. In her letter to the Court about her experience, the young woman who was brutally raped, wrote a lot about what she didn’t know, didn’t see, couldn’t remember, and the horror of trying to make sense of it. I have watched episodes of this silly reality show where the newly engaged winner watches the season in shock as she sees her betrothed passionately kiss other women, declare his love for them, and have sex with them – all in the same days that he is doing this with her. Did she consent to that? Probably. I’m certain these contestants sign all kinds of legal waivers giving up their rights, but I’m not sure they are aware they may be giving up their hearts. They don’t consent to that.

on the kitchen table

I agree with Wendell Berry that desensitization to the human realities of intimacy, the thrill of attraction, the pursuit of knowing each other, the power of a kiss is “part of the disintegration of sex into a cold-blooded abstract procedure.”

When pornography is easily accessible on the 275 million pages online (that’s a separate page for each person in the United States), the objectification of the other is inevitable. One study found that almost 1/3 of users becomes hooked on cybersex (the act of having sex between two or more people in a chatroom or in emails, without ever hearing the voice of the other, but by simply viewing words typed on a screen).

When a young man or woman is immersed in pornography or the gaming world where you can do anything to gain an advantage and take out any threats to your glory, that world often becomes more real than the mundane world of work, school, or family.

The purpose of this post is not to detail all of the dangers of online activities, but to suggest that maybe a culture that encourages the “meat model” of sexuality, with millions of viewers watching a handsome, nice man choose his wife-to-be on the basis of externals and sexual arousal might make sense of someone treating another man or woman as if they are just a body. It doesn’t matter whether they are conscious or not. Wendell Berry describes the sexual consequences of the objectification of men and women in our culture as “a dispirited working of a sort of anatomical machinery.”

We need to teach our children that it might not be a safe community to pursue a relationship in when the goal is to act like a man or woman without having to really be one or truly get to know one.

The Culture of Distorted Sexuality

C. S. Lewis wrote this:

You can get a large audience together for a strip tease act – that is to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill the theatre by simply bringing a covered plate onto the stage and then slowing lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained bacon. Would you think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? We might conclude that the people in that country were either 1)starving, or 2) the natural appetite had been perverted.

When over 8 million viewers tune in for 2-4 hours every week to watch men or women compete for “love” by using sex as the means to win their future spouse, I think we might conclude that we live in a country where people are either 1)starving, or 2) our natural appetite for intimacy has been perverted.

We need to teach our children that our private parts are connected to our hearts.

When we engage in “casual sex,” we fuse our hearts to the other’s heart, and then when that hookup is over, we tear off a piece of our hearts. Fuse and tear. Fuse and tear. Over time or sometimes just with one experience of our bodies being sexually aroused or violated, we can decide to harden our hearts so we don’t feel the connection between the two. The result is the more we get naked physically, the less we are emotionally. And that is tragic.

Sexual intimacy is intended for the covenant of marriage where we surrender our nakedness, our differences, and our humanness to another. Unlike the carefully scripted and rehearsed scenes on television, real sex is full of human mistakes, smells, and sounds. God did not intend sex to be the perfect passionate moment, complete with a bed of rose petals. He intended sex to be the place where we lovingly cover one another. Sex becomes a way for two people to not only engage and honor one another’s strengths, but one another’s weaknesses. Sexual intimacy is meant to represent a daily intimacy that forgives, accepts, and offers grace to each other. That kind of intimacy is a bit different from competing for a kiss by having the sexiest body or being willing to surrender your nakedness and differences to someone you barely know in front of 8 million people.

SEXUALITY IS NOT WHAT WE DO. IT IS WHO WE ARE.

oldercoupletrust

What does The Bachelor or The Bachelorette say about who we are? What does the Stanford tragedy say about who we are? They certainly reveal some troubling realities that cannot be labeled cause and effect, but they are related. And that is why I cannot watch The Bachelor anymore.

I do not need to watch this reality show to know that there is no other reality that reveals our failures and foibles, our goodness and our brokenness, our passion and our self-interest, our vulnerability and our capacity to become a predator like intimacy. I think we’ve all been so deeply affected by the Stanford story because we know – at a cellular level – we have our own stories when our bodies were at times out of control, when we entered into relationships foolishly and got out of them foolishly as well. We hurt people and we have been hurt. We have been naked when we shouldn’t be, and we hide when we shouldn’t.

And we desperately long for someone to heal us from all this sexual brokenness.  Healing does not come from getting a rose. Sex is a deeply spiritual issue. It is a joining of our private parts, connected to our hearts to another’s private parts connected to their hearts. It is an expression of our deep desire to be known, accepted, and loved forever. Sex is a taste in human relationships of a banquet we will eat in Heaven with the perfect Lover of our souls – the One who knows us fully, accepts us unconditionally, and loves us eternally. Scripture calls this banquet a marriage supper when we will be joined to our Groom, Jesus.

I am sorry, so sorry for the young woman brutally raped on the Stanford campus. There was no banquet of being known, accepted, and loved. And I am sad, so sad for Brock Turner and all of the lies that continue to tell him that his 20 minutes of action was no big deal.

Do you see why God is so continually concerned with sexuality? And do you see why Satan continually tries to desecrate it? Because it is God’s premier reference to His relationship with us – His delight in us, how He enters us, gives us the seed of His Word, bears fruit through us, and has communion with us in the sanctuary of the eternal covenant of grace.

The Enemy has been brilliant at using the culture to distort this reference point so that if we think sex and sexual behavior is no big deal, then maybe we’ll think that an intimate, passionate relationship with Jesus is no big deal either. Satan wants to take our broken, difficult, disappointing, even abusive relationships and turn them into the reference point so that we may believe our relationship with God will be broken, difficult, disappointing, and even abusive.

Reorienting the Categories

We have to look at the context of this tragic crime on the Stanford campus and take substance abuse, objectification of others, and distorted sexuality seriously. We have seen how much is at stake. When we reorient our hearts and minds in these categories we will want to develop intimate relationships that reflect passionate physical, emotional, and spiritual connection, and the way we do that is by developing an intimate relationship with Jesus – so that He becomes more real than the disappointment, sadness, fear, and heartache that we experience in relationships.

Reorientation, for me, means there will be no more rose ceremonies.

 

 

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REMEMBERING COLUMBINE AND 4/20

Huge wave over old lighthouse of Porto, Portugal Continue Reading »

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THE TERRIBLE, BEAUTIFUL WASTE

Water drop falling on parched, cracked ground. Concept for importance of water resources, breaking the drought.

I kicked a gas pump last week and shouted a word I hardly ever use. The gas pump gave me 1-2 gallons of gas and then shut down, and I had to cancel the transaction and start the process all over again. And then I took my car through the car wash, which trapped it between its brushes and took small chips of paint hostage. And then I waited for two hours while the clerk waited on everyone else before he could file my incident report. What a waste!

We don’t like waste and we go to great lengths in this country to conserve and compress and dispose of our waste wisely.

I’m not writing about plastic bottles and gas-guzzling cars. I’m writing about a deeper waste that we all feel somewhere in our stories.

  •  There is the waste of a marriage – whether it be two years or twenty – that ends with words of heart shattering squander: “We’ve been together all this time and have nothing to show for it,” or “I never loved you. I just wanted to get away from you.” The judge validates the waste by proclaiming the marriage is irretrievably broken – wasted. There’s even the intact marriage where there is no trust, no friendship, no connection or communion. A waste of a marriage.
  • I’m sure you know the waste of painful relationship – a relationship that you’ve trusted, poured your heart into, and relied on; until one day for no reason, good, or bad reasons, the relationship withers away like droplets of water poured into the desert.
  • There is nothing like the pain of seeing our children seemingly throw their lives to the wind. We’ve prayed for them, nurtured their gifts, and anticipated deepening relationships; and then substance abuse, mental illness, bad choices, a cancer diagnosis, not meant for a child, makes us shake our heads at the inexplicable waste.
  • I have friend who started a booming business before the crash of 2008. He travelled the world and accumulated successes until the locusts of failure and bankruptcy ate everything. He sat in the ruins of the waste, certain he could never show his face to people again.
  • I think often about those bright and shiny gifted people we put on pedestals who fall into waste. We shake our heads at their wasted giftedness, and quickly pull all their books and sermons from the shelves, so we don’t have to be reminded that believing in them was a waste.
  • I have another friend who was sexually abused by her pastor for ten years – trapped in the cycle of shame, despair, and hopelessness. A lot goes to waste in ten years.
  • I listen (for only a few minutes) to the political candidates, turn off the television, and think, “Really, is this the best the most powerful nation on earth can do. What a waste!”
  • Of course, I feel most deeply my own waste – waste of money, relationships, time, grace – in the black hole of addiction.

I suspect your own stories are flooding your brain with painful memories you’ve tried to forget, cover, and compensate for by trying harder, doing better, making it count.

heart and blood on wooden background, medical symbol concept

It’s not that we have so little time but that we lose so much . . . The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.
-Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

The Terrible Waste

Most of us store this waste up like we might need it someday. We become exhausted holding down the pain, keeping in the toxins, and building up resistance to ever being vulnerable to feel wasted again. Because of my recent brush with acute renal failure, I’ve learned a little about what happens when you hold on to waste. When our kidneys fail to filter waste from our blood sufficiently we are at risk for:

  •  toxic exposure to environmental pollutants
  • acute and chronic disease
  • severe thirst
  • trauma

water jet filling a glass on white background

If you take a teaspoon of salt, stir it into a glass of water, and take a sip of the water from the glass – Ich! The water is too salty to drink. If you take a teaspoon of salt and stir it into a lake, then take a glass of water from the lake and take a sip of water from the glass, the salt is completely dissolved in the vastness of the lake.
-Linda Graham, The Power to Heal Toxic Shame

The Beautiful Waste

The Bible is filled with strange stories, and there are two stories about waste that are compelling, and yet, so foreign to our natural tendencies to not waste, to hide waste, and to be ashamed of waste.

One story is in the Old Testament. David, the pride of Israel who led armies to slay thousands of enemies is on the run – hiding in dark caves, paranoid about his enemies, and plotting to become great again. He had lost so much – the pride of his countrymen, his integrity, and his family. I think maybe he was feeling the parched waste of a life when he said to his raggedy band of soldiers, “Oh, that one would give a drink of the water of Bethlehem . . .” I think David was thinking of his hometown, of a time of innocence, of a tenacious faith that fueled him to fight wild beasts and slay a giant. Maybe he was remembering that unfathomable day when the prophet Samuel showed up to anoint the next king of the nation. After surveying all of Jesse’s fine, qualified sons, he asked, “Are all your sons here?” You can almost hear Jesse scoff, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is just a shepherd.” To everyone’s surprise Samuel looked at this handsome young man with beautiful eyes and said the words no one expected, least of all David, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.”

David’s soldiers weren’t thinking metaphorically, and so they risked their lives to sneak through enemy lines to bring a pitcher of water to David from the well in Bethlehem. I imagine their anticipation of his delight and satisfied quenched thirst; but this is where the story gets strange.

David refused to drink; instead, he poured it out to the Lord.
-1 Chronicles 11:18

Can you imagine all that stirred in the hearts of his soldiers – confusion, anger, hopelessness. What a waste.

The Waste of Strange Women

This story might become obscure if not for some stories in the New Testament about strange women. All of them pour their tears or expensive perfume to wash the feet of Jesus. One woman, who crashed the Pharisee’s dinner party, used her tears (she must have been weeping like I do when I watch one of those emotional episodes of Grey’s Anatomy) and expensive perfume (perhaps the proceeds of her prostitution) to wash Jesus’ feet. The outraged hosts of the party wondered what she was even doing there, and then in seeing her action, they exclaimed, “What a waste!”

BANSKA STIAVNICA, SLOVAKIA - FEBRUARY 5, 2015: The detail of carved statue of Pieta (Mary of Magdala) as the part of baroque Calvary from years 1744 - 1751 by Dionyz Stanetti.

Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing . . . but she has soothed my feet with perfume. She has done a beautiful thing!
– Matthew 26:6-10

Waste and Worship

Waste strangely can be a path to life. The source of hope for our desire to love and be loved; to have mutual, authentic relationships; to find meaning in this disintegrating world is is to let go (pour it all out) and let God transform what seems like waste into worship.

The only ones who can accept the path of Jesus are those who have nothing to protect, not their own self-image or their reputation, their possessions, their theology, their principles of their certitude.
– Richard Rohr, Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go

How do we “pour out” all that has seemed like such a waste? I am grateful to the storyteller, Rod Bell, for his thoughts on these stories in “What to do With Waste.” He suggests a ritual or a ceremony where we pour out something to symbolize that we are not holding that waste within us any more. I love that idea, and I’m thinking of all the pouring I need to do.

I am also thinking of a daily ritual – when my heart and mind swirl with anger, fear, doubt (and a desire to kick a gas pump) – that I need a moment (okay, many moments) of saying, “I surrender. I’m pouring, laying, throwing this at your feet.”

And He calls that beautiful.

Of course He does, because in that seemingly greatest waste of history when the God of Glory became the King of our waste. He knew all that waste would be so painful. He prayed to His Father, “If there’s anyway this cup can be taken from me, please take it.” He knew all that He was to pour out. He hung stripped and naked to that tree pouring out His tears, sweat, and even blood. I imagine all those droplets falling into the dry earth. I suspect His followers who peered out from their hiding places, and especially His mother who saw her child – who could out-think and out-talk religious scholars grow into a man who healed the sick, fed the hungry, and encouraged the desperate – she must have agonized, “What a waste.”

It was not until all our waste was poured out through Him, that He said, “It is finished.” He died, and those strange women sat vigil at his tomb surely wondering what was happening in this seemingly God-damned world. They looked like lonely, foolish women who had squandered their outpourings on the wrong man.

But then . . . but then the earth reeled and rocked as the stone fell from the tomb’s opening. An angel  – a messenger of Good News – said, “Go tell everyone that He is risen from the dead.” They went to find Jesus, and once again covered his feet with their tears . . . and worshipped Him.

Maybe the best we can do is to take all those confusing, painful stories of such prodigal waste and not try harder, do better, or never let anything slip from our grasp – but to limp Home with dusty feet and all our losses and hand them to Him, saying, “Here. They are all yours.” Despite our fiercest attempts at conservation, we don’t eliminate the waste, God does.

As Rich Mullins sang, “Surender don’t come natural to me . . . .”  I tend to take surrendered things back, and so if you hear me muttering, “Here,” a lot, you’ll know why.

“I am already being poured out as a drink offering.” 2 Timothy 4:6

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WHY ME? WHY AM I STILL SINGLE? RADICALLY REDEMPTIVE RELATIONSHIPS

R3_LOGOThe next videocast is about one of the most confusing, painful realities that I face and hear about from others. Singleness.

It taunts you in a house full of people. It greets you at the end of a day, after you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do. It walks with you through the aisles of the grocery store. It sits with you in church. It will join you at the table for Thanksgiving dinner. It has been waiting for me when I have stepped off airplanes in the some of the most interesting cities in the world. It has wrapped itself around my heart and mind after I have finished speaking, sharing intimate details about my life. It’s there on amazing days. It is a constant companion during challenging days. I have willed it to go away, but it returns, proving it is stronger than my will. I have tried to numb myself to it with food, alcohol, shopping, work, and people-pleasing – only to find that it is strengthened by my attempted to escape. I have prayed for it to go away, and it becomes part of my prayer.

The unique loneliness of being single.

lonely man

The dread of loneliness is greater than the fear of bondage.
-Germaine Greer, The Madwoman’s Underclothes

For the first time in America’s history, there are more single adults than married adults, and so I know that there are a lot of people asking this question – “What wrong with me? If I’m so great, why am I still single?”

Holly Stratton and I talk about singleness in this videocast. I’d love to hear what you think.
What’s Wrong With Me if I’m Still Single – https://youtu.be/Kn1t7l8brWo

I had an unique encounter with marriage and singleness last week in the most unlikely place – the hospital. Due to complications from illness, I spent a week in the hospital with some scary moments. Because we live in a privileged country and because of HIPPA rules and regulations, most hospital rooms are single rooms. As I was being wheeled up to my room, I anticipated the almost hotel-like quality of the room, complete with room-service and cable. I was surprised to find myself wheeled into a room with another patient – only a few feet from my bed with a 60-inch panel of thin cloth separating us.

My roommate was eighty-year-old Vianetta. I could hear everything she said – from the details of her illness to her speaking commands into her phone: “Google, play my music!” Vianetta’s husband came every day – morning, noon, and night. He would greet her and then say, ““Oh, I don’t think you’re going home today. You don’t look better.” She would quickly rebuff his observations and then start to tell him what she needed: “Move my tray over there, take home those two chicken fingers for lunch, get me some coffee, ice chips, the paper with my crossword puzzle. Now you go home.” About an hour later he would call her, and she would answer, “Why don’t you come on over, and bring me a milk shake.” In one more tender moment, she sighed and said, “I have to get a bath as soon as I get home,” and he kindly answered, “We’ll take care of that on Saturday.”

oldercoupletrust

Love makes your soul crawl out from it’s hiding place.
-Zora Neal Hurston, I Love Myself When I am Laughing . . . and Then Again

Their intimate, intertwined lives made my singleness look harsh and grim in the light and warmth of their interdependence. In a moment of self-pity I cried, “I want someone to move my tray and get me ice chips.” In an instant I heard my companion that is more intimate and intertwined with my life than a human could ever be. I heard Jesus say, “Sharon, don’t you see why you are here – in this room? I am giving you a picture of how intimately I know you, and I am trying to get your attention, to take care of you, to plead with you to take care of yourself – my Bride, who I loved before you even knew what love was.”

Singleness is hard. Marriage is hard. Not having children is painful. Having children brings more pain than we can possibly anticipate. But marriage and children are not the pinnacle of arrival into the good life. These flesh and blood relationships seem so real that it is easy to forget that they are merely signs foreshadowing the substance of what we were really made for.

ultrasound

All these things are mere shadows cast before what is to come –
the substance is Christ.
Colossians 2:17

When I was pregnant with my daughter, Kristin, the doctor called for an ultrasound. As I lay in the doctor’s office and gazed at the shadowy image on the monitor, I was in awe and wonderment at who I saw. I could not believe that this living, breathing human being with fingernails was growing inside of me! If I understand it right, an ultrasound is a fancy echo. When it’s sonic waves hit something solid, something real, they are reflected back to a sensor that creates the image we see on the screen.

Our experiences in human relationships are like an ultrasound echo. They often hit and reflect something real – longing at a cellular level to love and be loved for the pure joy of love. Wonderful marriages and beautiful children or painful singleness and barren childlessness are echoes returning to us from the solid, true, intimate realities God intends for us to experience in relationship with Him. He is the More we’re looking for.

How silly and sad it would have been if I had held on to the picture of Kristin’s ultrasound and treated it as if it were the real thing. I could have gone on and on about this incredible picture and showed it to everyone for years. When the labor pains came, I could have refused to go to the hospital because I already had the picture. But once Kristin came into the world, I didn’t even think about the picture. It’s place on the refrigerator was crowded out with other pictures of the substance of living.

When you are lonely, are you willing to believe that your loneliness is intended to remind you of a lonely God who wanders through the garden asking, “Where are you?”

When you feel shame because of your failure in relationships, will you let it lead you to the One who allows failure – not so we can hide but so He can be our covering?

When all of the yearnings and desires for relationship rise up within you, are you willing to let those longings lead you to the Author of desire?

When we miss all that we long for in relationships, the terrible beautiful ache that we feel comes from the hands of a Designer who longs for relationship with us more than we can possibly imagine. He is committed to relationship with us above anything else. His entire story is about His design for relationship with us. This is the original purpose of our life. The terrible beautiful ache is an echo of a relationship that God is actively forming with us in the midst of human relational difficulties.

In fact, those of us who are single or in painful relationships just might long for a divine relationship more than those who get to stop along the journey and enjoy “the pictures.”

The One we long for is Jesus.
Human relationships were intended to nurture our deepest longing for Him.
Human relationships are merely an echo of what is to come.

calm woman meditating reciving power by light

Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding Something to live for, great enough to die for.
Dag Hammarskjold, Markings

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the hope of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:25-26

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BETRAYAL – RADICALLY REDEMPTIVE RELATIONSHIPS

R3_LOGO

This is the next videocast in the Radically Redemptive Relationships series. We talk about betrayal, but the truth is that we can’t put words to it.  We were made to never be betrayed, and so we don’t manage it well. We rage at God, we hurt others, and ourselves.  Betrayal is the exact opposite of what we were created to do, “Love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves.”

I just got out of the hospital today, after being there since Tuesday (which is 3 months in hospital time).  Nothing happen quickly there. My body betrayed me as I became severely dehydrated after a bout with the flu and ended up putting a lot of significant organs at risk. Such a little thing – a few days of vomiting, and my body betrayed me. But really, I betrayed it. That’s the way it is with most of us – when the pain, confusion, and woundedness becomes unbearable, we answer betrayal with betrayal. As my friend Erik Guzman writes in his new book, Abusing Alcohol . . . and Grace:”

“True spirituality is simply desperation. We are all desperate to experience the transcendent, and when we don’t find that experience in dirt-under-our-fingernails reality, we look for it elsewhere.”

tattoobetrayal

We are so bad a managing betrayal that we cannot see that we are the greatest betrayers of all. When I fib a little, don’t respond to a friend’s need, don’t give my children “space,” or gossip about the latest evangelical leader who has fallen from grace – I am the betrayer.When I cry out for justice or to not be hurt so much, I have to remember the line from that old song:

Justice is a barren place, and I’m a traitor-friend.

I often write and think about that darkest moment in history when Jesus was betrayed by everyone, and yet for the joy (me) set before Him he experienced inexplicable betrayal, leaving Him, as Frederich Buechner writes, “the God with the cauliflower ear and split lip” who exchanged His life with Barrabbas (a guilty man) because of what he wanted for me.

It is inexplicable to me that in the pain of betrayal He was thinking of what he wanted for me. On that cross, He whispered,

No condemnation,
I thirst for you.
It is finished.
Come home.

So today if you are feeling the heartache of betrayal or you feel the shame of being the betrayal, I hope this will encourage you:
Betrayal – When Nothing Makes Sense – https://youtu.be/hFoDB_aBjZY

And then listen to the words of Steffany Gretzinger in her song, “Come out of Hiding,”

“I loved you before you knew it was love
And I saw it all, still I chose the cross
And you were the one that i was thinking of
When I rose from the grave . . . .

That lyric!  I’d never thought of that before . . . that He wasn’t just thinking of me when He died, He was thinking of me when He arose again! It clear that God never indended any of us to be known as alcoholics, addicts, divorced, really good, poor, liars, really rich, sinner, or saint. He arose from the dead to say, “Sharon, for all of your life I only see who you have become in Christ – beloved.”

Although we weren’t made for betrayal, God is. Listen for His promise and plea today,

No need to be frightened
By intimacy, No just throw out your fear
And come running to me . . .

And all that hindered love will become part of  the story.”

A good story. Because God only writes good stories and He’s the One who knows what to do with betrayal.

We have all betrayed the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

 

 

 

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MARRIED TO THE ULTIMATE MAN – RADICALLY REDEMPTIVE RELATIONSHIPS

R3_LOGO

Today we show the videocast you’ve all been waiting for.  Holly shares that she is married to the best man (and I know him and he seems pretty great), but that still isn’t good enough.

When I was in middle school I wrote an essay called, “Mr. Right.” I described my dream man as a combination of Robert Redford, Howard Hughes and Bruce Jenner.  Don’t know how I can up with that!

caitlin-jenner-media-strategy

When I wrote those lines, I was surrendered to a story of a romance that would sweep me off my feet.  There is nothing like the papercuts in marriage, the violence of not speaking to each other even though you’re married, and the heart-shattering news of discovering that you’re just part of the statistics – that marriage fails, or at the very least fizzles.

I hope that you listen to this conversation – whether you’re married or not.  You know, God told us from the beginning that it was His desire to make us into the image of dear Son.  How did we think that would happen? Well, as my pastor said in the best sermon on marriage I’ve ever heard, “Marriage is pretty sneaking way to get crucified.” (Peter Hiett)

That makes this the perfect topic for the week of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. This is the perfect week to fall in love with the Ultimate Man. The first Adam. The One who is the Way, Truth, and Life. The one who hung stripped and naked to a tree for the love of us, and He says, “You are bone of my bone.  Flesh of my flesh. I will never be unfaithful to you. I will never divorce you.”

My favorite quotation about marriage is that, “We all marry the wrong people. We all marry the person we, at times, end up wanting to cut into little pieces and put in the freezer. That’s because we marry for salvation love, and salvation never comes from the side. It only comes from above.” (Gina Bria)

I invite you to listen to our conversation at: Married to the Best and He Still Ain’t Good Enough – https://youtu.be/5TSSzspurDg.

And while you do, consider these words from Sebastian Moore, “”Only to your lover do you expose your worst. Understanding the Gospel results in the most generous, secure, adventurous expression of the human heart. It risks the certainty of being acceptable and accepted.”

So how is your romance going with the Lover of your soul? I believe that marriage is a shadow that points to the substance. Jesus says that we are His bride, and that He longs to enter us, implant the seed of His word, so that we might bear fruit. Marriage is just a reference point – a pretty powerful one.  Probably the most powerful one – to the Gospel.

May His inexplicable love for us – the ones with the raggedy faith, or the perfect marriage, or no marriage – no prospects – may His love make us Easter men and women.

iStock_000012285352XSmall

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved’s is mine.” Song of Songs 6:3

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PARENTHOOD

R3_LOGOToday is our fifth videocast in our series about Radically Redemptive Relationships.  There is probably no other area in life where we experience more pain, hope, heartache, and desire . . . and I think God intended it to be that way. My prayer is that we will not be afraid to look a little crazy in love with them this week.  How else will they know that Jesus is wilder than they can imagine, and He loves them more than we can imagine.

Today my children are 28 and 29. My son, who from the age of 2, let me know he was only going to wear cowboy boots and denim shorts is a lawyer (he’s had to change his dress code), and that’s something to be proud about. But I love him for who he is – he is funny, he is courageous, he is the most honest person I know, and he introduces me to all the great movies and music I would never know about without him.

My daughter is 29 and the head of marketing for a really yummy product that’s called barkTHINS (it’s chocolate that’s good for you and we have a few hundred packages of it, if you want a sample!). She is going to change the world. I just know it. She is passionate, brave, humble, and can recognize a good sale a mile away.

It’s been hard for me to learn that these two people are not mine. They were magnificent loans – for a season. Today they are God’s. All His. And if that makes you sad, because your children feel like they are all yours with their constant demand for your attention, take heart. There will come a day when the words of the ancient King Jehoshaphat’s words will bring peace to your soul. He was “parenting” a group of bedraggled, confused, scared people (our children get that way sometimes, but mostly we do!) He saw the enemy approaching and said what every parent I know has said at one time: “This enemy is greater than we are, and we don’t know what to do.”

In 2 Chronicles he shares what God told him in that dark night of the soul – you know when you wake up at 2:00 in the morning and just know there’s something “off” with your child.  He heard from God, “Don’t be afraid or discouraged. This battle is not your’s.  It’s mine.” 

heartinhand

Nobody tells you that the most terrifying battles of parenthood are nothing when they are learning to sleep through the night or to do their homework. Those are battles, but they pale in compare to battles about life choices and struggles that can last a lifetime. I remind myself when I gather my sanity that, “These children are not mine. They are His.”

I will leave you with this prayer from Walter Bruggeman as you watch the videocast at: https://youtu.be/thiRB6EjKVc.

I am a parent dear Lord,
I ask nothing from you for me.
I pray only that in your mercy
you would grant my children their needs.
May their lives be long and healthy.
May they achieve all their dreams.
May they always live in a world that is free.
May they be who they were born to be.
And may they know to their last days
that they were deeply loved by me.
Amen

 

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