End it More


It started yesterday. The #EndItMovement. Americans finally decided to admit that slavery still exists. Social media was inundated with red Xs as a way to be a voice to the voiceless. Christians finally decided to live out the mindset that sin festers in silence. 

I wept over each picture I saw. Tears of acknowledged bitterness now healed. Tears of fear now at peace. Tears which once went unnoticed now being seen by people who don’t even know who I am or why I cry. 

Acknowledging modern day slavery is near and dear to my heart for reasons not fully mine to tell. Regardless of that, I’m reminded of a truth which has haunted my friends for years and so, therefore, haunted me as well. 

You can free them, but it’s not enough to free their bodies. 

I have sat with people who were released from their captivity, but could not be convinced that restoration and redemption was theirs. I heard them explain the power of the gospel and then mutter the heartwrenching words, “…At least, it’s powerful for you.” 

I learned from these small encounters that sex slavery especially, no matter your gender, rips your identity to shreds. I’ve cried over humans who are released –“free”– and yet they long for captivity again. Not because they loved it… their nightmarish screams spoke against that belief… but because it was familiar. 

It’s a beautiful thing to stand up for people caught in slavery. Keep it up. Speak up. Scream, for heaven’s sake! But please, I beg of you, if you must speak up, put actions to your words. 

Don’t be shocked when you discover, as I did, that slavery looks normal when you pass it in the grocery store, parking lot or even church. When you see it, do what it takes to stand by these men, women, and children until they’re free physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 

They need you to do more than write an ‘X’ on your wrist. They need you to believe in the all-encompassing power of the Gospel for them when they can’t. That takes action. That takes mercy.

The #EndItMovement takes time.

I Can’t Pray For You

I have one real enemy in my life. It’s so deep that those who love me best protect me from the mere memory of this person. We use phrases like, “You know who I mean,” or “You know, past experiences.” Even using a name just feels wrong. There’s fear there for everyone because they know the chaos this person can create without much effort.

But then, there’s silence and there’s Jesus. A trusted friend asked me recently if (why) I still loved this person when there were so many aching scars remaining. It’s not easy. Despite the reality that I no longer perfectly remember a menacing voice or mannerisms, there are still the rare nights I’ll wake up in cold sweats because… Well, you get the picture. I have peace, but I still struggle with saying I love my enemy.

Loving an enemy is a choice. It’s a blood-curdling scary one. But there’s Jesus.

Praying for this person used to be a flippant, “Yeah, whatever, Lord. Just… Do something. Amen.” There was no intercession, there were no heartwrenching requests that the Spirit move mountains to get through to a stone cold heart. Jesus commanded me to pray, so I did. But I didn’t do it well.

I had to come to grips with fear, confusion, and love in regards to the punk of my life because I saw what those loose ends did to the people in my life. Fear became pity. Pity became worry. Worry became a very guarded, thin and frustrated love. Love remains obedience. 

When the Bible commands us to, “love our enemies,” don’t ever think that means joyfully mingling your life with theirs. Don’t ever believe it means putting yourself in danger. Please, with all of my heart, I beg you to never allow those memories influence the rest of your life. 

However, do yourself a favor and remember that loving an enemy is a process. Whatever caused the schism in that relationship is something to be pitied. If you believe that Jesus Christ saved you from your sins, rose again on the third day and is the only way to Heaven, you have more power on your side than your enemy could ever have on theirs. The Bible speaks truth saying, “No weapon formed against us shall prosper (Isaiah 54:17).” 

The reality is, no matter how deep the wounds go, Christ is the answer. He might not feel like the answer, but pray anyway. Watch the bitterness morph into pity and the pity turn into a Spirit-deep desire for your enemy to experience the same love of the Father you have experienced. 

Watch God win. 

Silent Screams 

Whether you want to believe I’m an introvert or not, the one thing I’m not is silent. The command to “wait patiently” infers the command to be quiet and not jump ahead of the Lord. I have yet to experience a moment where that was my first choice.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and he heard my cry.” (Psalm 40:1)

The idea that I’ve waited patiently for the Lord is a relative statement. Waited? More like asked God to give me what I want and then clean up whatever mess I leave behind. Patiently? What? That’s a… that’s a thing?

The promise that my God has heard my cry has been overwhelmingly seen in my life. He holds the definition of my tears even when I do not. The fact that he inclined to me is proof that he understands that, sometimes, he has to fix the small, inconsequential things within my mind before I’m ever willing (or even able) to wait and be patient.

I put the cart before the horse again recently. I asked God to show up. He took too long. I panicked. I’m not very likable when I panic, by the way. {Insert horribly indecent joke about being female here.} When I went about fixing what I was fairly certain was broken, I could almost hear God mutter, No, Baby Girl. You don’t want to fix that. Stop it. Hold on. You’re heart wants more than your actions will get you. Hold onto Me. Wait for Me. Be silent and wait.

Yesterday as I watched God answer my heart’s cry before I could even understand its need, I almost laughed at the beauty. Despite my shortsighted assumptions, He stepped over what I thought I wanted and gave me what I needed. It hurt like nothing I’ve ever experienced, but within the pain lies the glory of God’s faithfulness.

When Psalms 40 is quoted, often time it is only quoted as an encouragement that God will hear us and we “simply” need to wait patiently. The reality is, that’s not where the Psalms’ deepest beauty is found. The deepest beauty is found when we come to terms with the fact that God inclines to us and hears more than just our prayers. 

He hears our hearts no matter how silently our hearts may be despite the words we shield it with.

Being Like Christ is Enough?

I’m so done pursuing them. After being brushed off  for the third time, that was my only angrily hurt thought. Who needs friendships? I’m just.. Done. D-O-N-E, Lord. Ya hear me? Done! It gets old when you’re friendship is only observed when they need something from you. Telling God I was done felt justifiably good.

Inevitably, God brought two things to mind. The first being a story near to my heart of a man who pursued a woman for over a year with no apparent understanding that his pursuit wasn’t appreciated nor reciprocated. When the woman stepped away, he stepped closer in friendship anyway. He knew what God was calling him to do. It never seemed as if much else mattered; he was on a mission. The man still acts as if he won’t give up until God tells him his mission is complete.

Though the couples’ story still brings a smile to my face, God’s second reminder sent a chill up my spine. God’s pursuit of me. I was reminded of God’s beautiful pursuit of the risk-taking, independant, don’t-need-anyone girl. I was the girl who, even when she had nothing, swore she’d never come back to Christianity. Yet little by little, God proved he could run faster than me. He never stopped giving me reasons to look for him.

What if He had given up? What if he had felt my cold responses one too many times and stopped being available? 

There are times where backing away from a friendship is beneficially the right choice. I’m not a stranger to that need. However, I think we as humans make that call too often; maybe even too quickly. The second we face friction, we decide we’re done. No one would really blame us anyway, right?

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I am called to so much more, though. I’m not merely called to being a poster-child for Christ’s mercy. I’m called to be Christ-like and Christ-filled. 

Even when Christ feels the sting of rejection, he continues to pursue with love in undeniable ways. When was the last time I chose love over anger? When was the last time I chose to answer in love rather than making promises to never try again? When was the last time I was satisfied looking a friend in the eye and telling them they knew where to find me when they wanted actual friendship?

With that, I can only choose to let God pick up my bruised heart and whisper, “Teach me how to love even when I don’t get loved in return.” After all, being Christ-like will never mean I’m ultimately liked.

Ashamed to be Seen

It was cold outside. Her little nose was bright red, her ears already white with frostbite. As I carried her down the Shelter hallway to the room she would share with her parents, I bit back angry,  uncompassionate words at her parents. I didn’t know their story. I didn’t need to know their story.

All I knew was it was cold outside. We had an open bed. The three-year-old in my arms needed sleep.

As I sat my youngest charge on the bed, her parents unpacked their daughter’s small plastic bag filled with 2 shirts and a pair of pants. Thank you, Lord, for somehow at least providing this kiddo with a coat, I thought.

I shifted the girl from my lap to the bed and stood up to find the remaining paperwork for the adults in the room.

“That’s our bed, Sweetheart. Bed.. Yeah, you like it don’t you?” I heard the dad choke back tears as he paid attention to his little girl.

I made eye contact with the mom, trying to smile but positive my 22-year-old attempts at not being offensive failed miserably. Her mom answered the unspoken question with tears in her eyes.

“The only bed she’s had was a basinet when she was a baby. She’s always slept on me or a foam pad next to me. She’s… Yeah, you wouldn’t understand. Thanks for letting us spend the Christmas season here. At least she has a bed.”

I cried then. Not because their plight overwhelmed me, in all honesty, they were in pretty good shape compared to the others we had housed in the last weeks. I cried because she was the first client to bravely point out my judgmental spirit. Is that how she sees me, Lord? I cried out silently. Isn’t my purpose here to show love no matter the circumstances? She’s scared of me. What have I done? 

“You’re right, Ma’am, I don’t understand. I don’t have a toddler, but I’m sure she’s what has kept you going this far. We’ll talk more about what got you here when you’re ready. Let’s get you guys some food first.” I learned that day what it meant to take care of the small things God allows me to provide and to let Him handle the rest… void of judgment.

I was reminded of my winter at the shelter the other day as friends and I drove through a city in Ohio. As is typical for busy Ohio, homeless men speckled the highway. One man in particular broke my heart. His sign was nothing spectacular. The scrawled words Will Accept Anything Please Help were haphazardly placed on a cardboard sign. 

What hurt my heart was the fact that he didn’t dare look up at the faces passing by in the vehicles rushing down the highway. As the cars whooshed by, I saw his jaw tighten. I had seen that look of anger a thousand times before. As a man, there was no lower place to find yourself. I knew the lies he was feeding himself as one by one, my car included, no one sought him out.

Whatever your view is on panhandlers, I challenge you to change things up this Christmas season. I am not an advocate for giving cash simply because I don’t know the temptations that loom in that 10 dollar bill. I am, however, an advocate for reminding these men and women they are still a valuable part of the human race. Make eye contact with them. 

No matter how needy people may find themselves this Christmas season, no one deserves to feel shame for being seen.

Who knows, eye contact could lead to a meal for a hungry person. You may become the hands and feet of Jesus.

Not a Laughing Matter

Death really isn’t funny. I’ve tried to create pithy, truthful – yet slightly sarcastic – thoughts on death. But, I… I just can’t. I’m processing the 5th death among my friends in the last 3 weeks. My humor quota is not prepared for that.

Granted, some of these individuals I know their story and their struggle more than I know them. I was brought onto the scene when death wasn’t a “someday” but a slightly certain “soon.” In some ways, my prayers and tears touched them more than my arms ever did.

The most recent heartbreak was the father of a student I had only met recently, yet somehow, myself and several others within the church felt a responsibility toward the family. As I walked home after hearing the news last night, I had to face the terror of uncertainty.

Uncertainty changes your emotions in a heartbeat. In view of this father’s death especially, there are a drastic amount of unknowns on the table. Instead of glorying in the certainty of Heaven, we’re left with a question mark. Instead of knowing we can still love on the family left here for a time, we have no idea what God has planned. 

Like many other times in the past, I could barely hear God’s Truth in the midst of my processing. I wanted answers… The question was, could I shut my mouth long enough to hear them?

Remember My Truth, Beloved. I’ve already told you, but I can tell you again. I (the Lord) will wipe every tear from your eyes. (In God’s time) there will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain… (Revelation 21:4)

Oh, Death, where is your victory? Oh, Death where is your sting? … But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

Often, my heart is only focused on the here and now. Right now, my heart is mourning the loss of 5 people. But God is bigger than Death. God is bigger than sorrow. God is bigger than my uncertainties.

In that, I can laugh… Death has not won.

Silencing the Parents

I was always that kid who moved mountains to keep things level.

I’d love to say my fear of disrupting the peace was something I sculpted into my pint-size personality over time, but that’d probably be a lie. As a 6 or 7-year-old, I heard my parents discussing finances (not arguing, fighting or crying… discussing) after they’d sent me to bed. I heard the phrase “we can’t do that right now” and took matters into my own hands.

From then on, I struggled to tell my parents what I wanted (Suzy Home Bake, anyone?) or what I needed ($15 for band supplies or fail the class…?). Now that I’ve been ‘adulting’ for a few years, I understand what my parents were doing that night. Their hesitation over the checkbook didn’t mean I was a burden as another mouth to feed. It didn’t mean I wasn’t wanted. It just meant budgeting would be a good idea for the next 15 days.

Sidenote: For all I know, they could have been talking about putting money towards a road trip, not some desperate necessity.

It didn’t matter what the scenario was, though. I wasn’t going to be a burden on my parents… 

Anytime I talk to my mom about my annoying people-pleaser skills (I mean ‘tendencies’) as a child, the reaction is always the same — utter frustration, heartbreak and an explanation of reality. It’s all stuff I’m completely aware of now, but the underlying question is still there: Why was letting your dad and I provide for you so hard for you to do?

I, unfortunately, don’t have an answer for her. All I know is I was fairly positive I understood life and could help my parents survive it by knowing more than they did. It’s sad. It’s unfortunate. Honestly, the idea of my future child doing that makes my blood boil.

But the reality is, no matter how much logic I can pour into that misconception to make it disappear, I’m still in danger of doing it. Only now, I’m the adult-child kneeling before my Heavenly Father uttering the words, “I don’t think I should bother you with this heartache…” 

Without hesitation, I hear Him chuckle as He replies, “You know better than to think that, but since you do, come sit with Me anyway. I just want time with you.

And, just like my earthly parents, as I sit with my Father God, I start to understand He understands me better than I understand myself. He knows what I need and, though it feels life-threateningly large to me, He handles it because He can.

Wait, what was I worried about, again?

             

Too Much Fleece

Gideon of the Bible (Judges 6) was a coward whom God chose to use as a hero. Seriously, the man had no backbone. None. I picture the pre-battle Gideon on the same caliber as a 16-year-old nerd trying to work up enough of his own value to convince himself he’s good enough to strike up a mere “hi” to a cheerleader. Gideon had no heart, no personal understanding of his value… nothin’. Nada. Zilch.

But God wanted him. And Gideon tested God’s voice. Gideon didn’t test it once, (a wee bit of backbone) but twice (the man was an idiot). I read that passage and I often times freak out at my Biblical pencil-necked moron who randomly had the guts to throw out a fleece twice and test God’s will for his immediate future. And then, just as quickly, a smile creeps onto my synical lips.

I’m not only just as bad as Gideon… I make him look like a born-leader and pious saint.

God calls me to step up to a blessing, challenge and title He’s ordained and I do the stupid, “‘Kay, great! I’ll believe you if you…” And God answers.

Three days go by and I turn very female and start wondering if I dreamed up the wet fleece moment, so I reinact the whole thing. “Great, God! I love what you’re up to here. Really, I do. But I just don’t know if I heard you right the first 2 times. So, sorry, Lord, but I’ll believe you if you…” And God answers.

I’ve done so many “For your glory, Lord, prove yourself” prayers in the last 6 months I’m quite certain the next fleece-wetting prayer I throw up will be met with a neon sign from Heaven that says: 

Heavenly Fleece Storehouse Out of Stock    Must Act on Faith Until Further Notice 

(No. God does not work like that.)

Here’s the thing: There came a point where I stopped “throwing out a fleece” to ask for a more intimate look at God’s heart and reality for my life. After the 30th “give me a sign” prayer, I was only praying those “Test God Prayers” to push off the opportunity to trust Him within the orderly chaos of change. 

I enjoyed the fact that I could scream at the heaven’s that the ball was in God’s court, not mine. He needed to  answer my prayer before I took  a leap of faith. If I’m always waiting on God, I don’t have to admit that I have no courage. If I’m always waiting on affirmation, I never have to move away from my comfort zone.

Gideon stepped up to God’s call on his life and saved his people in the most unusual circumstances (Read the story, it’s awesome). But what would have happened if Gideon stayed in his home, crouched in fear and with no courage or ability to trust Yahweh?

At some point, we have to stop asking God to speak and go off of what He has said before. He does, after all, promise us He’ll never change.

What Is It?

Every time I feel the chains of bondage wrap around my struggling heart, I fight equally as hard against the urge to sadistically chuckle and mutter in Heaven’s direction, “This sin isn’t my fault. Fix it yourself, Jehovah. If you can… I dare you.”

We live in a fallen world. Because of that, there are multiple sins that are results of something done to us. One phrase heartbreakingly comes to mind: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have encountered multiple loved ones with PTSD who hopelessly reminisce about actions which go against the Word of God, but they feel like they “have to” do them. They can’t remember what survival without the action in question looks like.

Men and women alike who have been sexually assaulted or abused cringe when well-intentioned people speak boldly against sexual acts as sins when the victim has a brain programmed to think those acts are needed for physical survival. 

So, the question gets posed: Is it sin? When a person’s outburst of anger is because of a flashback they could not control… Is it sin? 

There are 2 types of people reading this: 

1) Someone who has no idea what I’m talking about… sin has almost always been circumstancial rather than positional. Praise God for that. I can only imagine the rest of this post won’t make sense.  

2) Someone who knows all too well what I mean and you’ve made a game out of hiding your struggle because good sane Christians don’t have problems or dilemmas like this. 

If you come from that second group hear me say first and foremost I’m so sorry for the pain you’ve suffered. I’m so sorry you’ve been told openly fighting against yourself for the glory of God should be easy… or atleast get easier over time. I’m so sorry if you’ve been told you’re just weak and should give up trying to reach sanctification. All of those things are well-veiled half truths.

Hear this warning come from someone who has lost almost everything by coming from the position of thinking my actions aren’t my fault. “Not my circus, not my monkey” has entered my “forgive me, Lord” prayers on more than one occasion. I can look back on my past and see the exact moment when my brain changed from human being to threatened victim… so blame shifting is d**** easy.

You may be able to blame-shift. You may be able to call yourself a survivor only when you do certain things that make other Christians cringe. When that happens, you are in danger of secretly breeding a level of pride that shuts the door of your heart off from anyone else getting in to possibly help you heal. That pride can get so thick you stop hearing God simply because you’re wallowing in your own self-pity and self-righteousness. 

The “prayer” I mentioned earlier? When I’m honest with myself, my heart is actually saying this: “You may be the Creator of the Universe, but I’m the one person you can’t touch and who can’t be affected by your love, redemption and mercy. I only need you for the attributes I can comprehend. You’re too weak to love me into changing.”

Be careful of hiding your pride behind the pain of your past. You may not see the root of your sin simply because it’s easiest to focus on your pain. My friend, that is the Enemy’s greatest ploy. 

Let God fight your battles, even if it’s not the battle you expected.

Powerful Questions

We are no longer in a generation where being confronted by “Churchy people” on Sundays is attractive, convicting or a game-changer for someone outside the Body of Christ. 

Once upon a time, you still came to church if you had tattoos, but you covered them up.

If you were simply 3 days clean off a drug, you kept your mouth shut, your eyes down and you collected the atta-boys of people who were perceived as holier and cleaner than you.

Technically, it was equally the shame of the action (the desire to cover things up) and the desire to change (if you ignore your past long enough, it’ll disappear and you can have a fresh start, right?).
Recently, I struck up a conversation with a single father in town. We talked all things parenting (Praise ya, Jesus, for the gift of insightful yet ignorant empathy…) and all things trial. He laughed about no longer going out with the guys at night and I chided him that sleeping in was probably no longer in his vocabulary, either. He made it clear he could be a better dad. I reminded him his daughter was beautiful.

Then the enchantment ended as soon as I brought up God.

“You? Really? But…”

His eyes spoke the volumes his lips refused to mutter. You’re too nice to me to be a Christian.

The conversation quickly died down from there, but I was reminded of a Truth that broke my heart.

The days of opening the Church doors and ringing the steeple bell to strike curiousity in a person’s heart no longer exists. We’re no longer seen as a loving place to try out. We are us and they are them. End of discussion. Though that’s not necessarily accurate across the board… it’s a reality that’s getting harder to deny. 

We’re playing our own game of ignore it and it will disappear. 

So, I simply challenge those of you that claim Christ as your savior and Lord to own up to your redemption in every way. Whether your sin struggles are in the “acceptable” sins (gluttony, lying, gossiping) or the life-style temptations, be willing to let God use your experiences to reach out to someone who thinks they can’t come through those church doors without cleaning up first. Because that is quite simply a lie from the pit of hell.

They need to know it’s possible to be seen right where they’re at. Though that’s been a concept ever since Billy Graham was first given a podium, it’s becoming more urgent… and more an issue for the Church to address than it ever was for an independant evangelist. Outside of the comfortably-Christian communities, we are losing our impact on those who believe differently because we’re not willing to get down in the mud of life next to them and ask one simple thing:

I’ve been where you’re at. Wanna talk about it?