Aug 102009
 

Evil is like the clown in the “jack in the box.” We know it’s in there, we’ve seen it materialize again and again, we’re even waiting for it…but our hearts still stop every time the music ends and its head pops up. The morning after the Virginia Tech shootings , our hearts hadn’t yet started to beat again.

On the morning of April 17, 2007, the day after the massacre, I was at the gym doing crunches next to two men who were discussing the tragedy. The men stood shoulder to shoulder, eyes on the TV coverage, legs spread wide and muscular arms folded across their chests, like football coaches on the sidelines. One was grey, maybe in his mid-sixties. The other was young and tall, and I recognized him as a gym manager. I heard the older man say:

“Do you believe they all just stood there and let themselves get shot? “

“Yeah, man. It’s nuts.”

“None of them rushed the guy. None of them even tried to get the gun. They just hid under tables. Cowards.”

I don’t remember the thought process that propelled me, but suddenly I was standing face to face with the gray haired man.

“Excuse me, sir. Am I hearing you right? Are you criticizing the victims of the shootings?

He stared in surprise for a moment. Then he sneered and said, “Are you talking to me? Who the hell do you think you are?”

I looked past him through the gym windows and saw Tech flags flying from several cars in the parking lot. “Do you realize that this gym is probably full of people who know the victims?”

“Nobody’s talking to you, little girl …go away.”

“No, thank you. I can’t believe that you are standing here crucifying kids who were ambushed by a man with a gun. But I assume you have been attacked often, which is why you’re able to criticize.”

“I’ve served in the military longer than you’ve been alive little girl. “I’ve been shot at more times than you can imagine.”

“Well, since you actually signed up to be shot at, were waiting to be shot at, and were HEAVILY ARMED in case you were shot at…I’m not sure that your experiences were the same as being ambushed in English class.”

Suddenly the man took an aggressive step towards me and thrust his large palm to within six inches of my face.

“I said get out of my face little girl.”

“Take one step closer and I am walking to that phone to call the police.”

Laughter from the old man. Blank stare from the beefy, vapid gym manager.

“Well…God Bless you sir,” I said, without sincerity, and then I turned away and started walking as steadily as possible to the locker room- where I hoped to start breathing again. But when I had made it to within a few steps from the locker room, a very angry voice boomed across the gym:

“DON’T YOU BRING GOD INTO THIS. DON’T YOU EVEN SAY HIS NAME. YOU DON’T HAVE A CLUE WHO GOD IS.”

Shaking with shock, adrenaline, and self righteous fury, I turned and walked back towards the old man, stopping when we were two feet apart.

“You know, sir, my God said “blessed are the meek and the peacemakers,” and “Judge not lest you be judged.”

I imagined Jesus beaming down at me from heaven and holding a big “THAT’S MY GIRL” sign.

But unfortunately, I continued: “You are right, you bitter, pathetic, old man, I don’t know the first thing about your God.”

 

And then I imagined Jesus hiding his sign and flopping down into his throne with his head in his hands.

As I walked away once more, the manager finally spoke up to say to noone, “What the hell is her problem?”

When I got back to the locker room, I climbed into the shower and started to shake and cry uncontrollably. I laid my cheek on the cold tiles and whispered “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, God. I’m sorry I didn’t turn the other cheek. I’m sorry I made things worse. I’m sorry I yelled at an old man. I’m sorry I made such an ugly day even uglier. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

And then I sensed an invitation to remember the last time I had cried.

Earlier that morning, while it was still dark, I crawled out of bed and turned on the TV to see if there was any new information about the shootings. But since all the networks were running the same pictures and interviews over and over, I felt voyeuristic and hopeless, so I turned it off. I picked up a basket full of dirty clothes and as I carried it down the stairs to the basement I felt a sudden, overwhelming wave of sadness and exhaustion. I sat down on the bottom stair with the basket in my lap and started crying. I just cried, I don’t know, because of the moms and dads and sisters and brothers who were waking up and just because of all of it. And I prayed “Please, God, give me something to do today. I don’t know what, something tiny, just anything. Anything to make me feel less helpless.”

And then I put the laundry in the washer, and went back upstairs to pack my gym bag.

Aug 062009
 


Recently I was at a Bible study listening to a discussion about recent archeological digs and how they prove that the Old Testament stories were real. It may have been suggested that Christians who believe that these stories could be figurative are not as Christiany as fundamentalists. I was uncomfortable. So when I got home that night, I wrote this and sent it to some members of my Bible group, who I love.

Dear Friends,

Okay, I admit it: I don’t know if the Old Testament Stories are literal or figurative. I know that they could be literal since God can do anything, but I think it’s okay to be uncertain. Here’s what I’m not afraid to say: it doesn’t matter to me. If one day an archaeologist discovers that Noah’s ark was really a row boat, it won’t shake my faith. Regardless of whether those stories HAPPENED, I know that that those stories are the TRUTH. I know that the fall is the truth because I live it. Every day I am Eve, as I assert my independence from God and decide to go it on my own. Every time God calls, I am Jonah, running away from Him and then begging for help when I get stuck. My entire life I have been Paul, persecuting God and then begging Him to transform my weakness into something worthy. When faced with any big decision, I am Samuel, asking God for sign after sign while knowing in my heart exactly what He has told me to do. For decades, I was Esau, trading my divine inheritance for fleeting worldly pleasure. Daily, I am Sarah, praising God one minute, and then laughing in the face of His promises the next. And far too often I am Peter, losing my faith when the waves arise, and denying my savior. I believe the scriptures because they are the true story of my soul, the truth of me. And I know, since I have never revealed the truth of my soul to anyone, including myself, that this story could only have been written by my creator. Every time I read the Bible an alarm goes off in my soul because I am being confronted with myself, with my sin, and that’s hard, but it’s also a relief. At least I am known. At least my deepest darkest secrets aren’t actually secrets at all, but simply the painful truth of the human condition. I am not alone, I am just a sinner, like everyone else. And so the alarm is loud, and jarring, and makes me uncomfortable, but it’s sounding off to save me, like alarms do . And as it’s sounding, I am reading on, and I learn that a hero is coming to rescue me. And when He arrives, He picks me up and reveals the unbelievable news that I am not going to get what I deserve, after all, because He already has. And then He silences the alarm in my soul, leaving stillness and peace. The scriptures are a love story between my creator and me…the perfect love that I’ve been yearning for my entire life. He created that yearning in me, and He fulfilled it.

So why don’t we just tell our stories? Why are we worried about “proving” something we can’t see, touch, hear, taste, or understand? We can’t prove anything that’s not observable and repeatable, but we do have the capacity to believe, love, and share. And this must be God’s purposeful design. If he created us to seek him and love him and put our trust and faith in Him by our own free will, how could he possibly allow us to PROVE, beyond a shadow of a doubt, His existence? If God’s existence were proven, love as we know it would cease to exist. Because at love’s core is faith, and choice, and risk. Love’s beauty lies in the fact that we chose it, without demanding proof. But just for the sake of argument, if I’m ever on a witness stand and required to prove my God’s existence, I’m not going to start by reviewing the latest archeological dig. I’ll say something like this:

Twelve years ago I was so strung out on booze and drugs that my hands weren’t steady enough to hold a book…and a few years ago I published one. Eleven years ago I was a cheater about to be expelled from school, and last year I opened one. Ten years ago I was sitting in a jail cell, drunk and doomed…and today I’m sober and free. Nine years ago I was lying in an abortion clinic, and this morning I am waiting for my three precious, perfect babies to awake. Eight years ago I was struggling to get out of a toxic relationship with a man I might have married, and this morning I’m watching the most generous, kind, selfless man I’ve ever known prepare breakfast for my children. Less than a decade ago I sat in a basement believing I could do nothing to escape other than end my life, and today I believe I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Today I can’t keep up with my list of dreams because they keep coming true so fast. And I know, like I know I love my kids, that the trajectory of my life was altered the night I fell to the bathroom floor and whispered: HELP JESUS, IM SCREWED. AND EXHAUSTED AND SCARED. YOU ARE MY LAST RESORT, SO IM GONNA GIVE YOU A SHOT. That’s all, I think.

So the reason I believe in Scripture and in Jesus is not because of historical accuracy or archaeological finds or this sermon or that dissertation. I believe because I was BLIND and now I SEE. Because I was a PRISONER and now I’m FREE. And if I can feel the wind blowing on my skin while you are proving that the same wind doesn’t exist, then I guess all we can do is shrug, for now, and keep on walking, together.

Love, G

Aug 052009
 

This is the testimony I gave to my church congregation last year. It was scary.

God said “”My power is made perfect in your weakness.” I’m speaking today because I think that a surefire way to unleash the perfect power of God is to put aside our pride, fear, and shame and do the hard, uncomfortable work of getting naked with ourselves and each other. When God created Eden, His dream for humanity, the people he put there were naked and felt no shame. And they were happy and whole and perfectly connected with each other and God, and God declared this good. Then Satan convinced them that they were not good enough, and Adam and Eve became ashamed of their nakedness, and they covered up and they hid. And this covering and hiding separated them from each other and from God. And now we live in a fallen world and we repeat Adam and Eve’s pattern of covering and hiding everyday in countless ways. And just like in Eden, this covering and hiding causes us to become more and more alienated from God, each other, and the people we were created us to be.

I believe that intertwined through each person’s life story is a message from God to His world. Just as God uses the stories of his people in the Bible to relay messages about his character and his dreams for us, he also uses our life stories today. And here’s what I have come to believe that my message is: “You are forgiven. So get naked and feel no shame. Get back to the way I created you.”

So this is me, naked:

The first time I remember hating myself was in second grade. I remember feeling left out and ugly and alone. I decided that the reason I was lonely was because I was fat. I believed that if I got skinny, my life would get better and people would like me more, but I couldn’t lose weight because the way I numbed myself from my sadness was with food. One night I saw a movie on TV about a woman with bulimia, and I knew I’d found the solution to all of my problems. That evening, at the age of nine, I made myself throw up for the first time. I spent the next two decades with my head in a toilet. Much of my childhood and adolescence are a blur because my bulimia took over my entire life and became my comfort and my identity. For twenty years, I threw up 5-10 times per day. I was finally hospitalized my senior year in high school. They didn’t have many eating disorder hospitals back then so I was placed in a mental hospital instead. I don’t remember much about that time except for fear, embarrassment and throwing up into cups and hiding them around my room. I do remember leaving the hospital worse off than when I’d arrived and thinking that there was officially no hope for me, and that I’d probably die of my bulimia, but I don’t remember caring much. I went back to school and on the outside maintained all of the appropriate roles. I was an athlete and a student government officer. I was also mean. I spent a lot of time making sure that anyone who looked on the outside like I felt on the inside (lonely, unattractive, lost) stayed far away from me. I hurt a lot of people because of my own deep insecurity. That pain I caused to others so much like me is one of my deepest regrets.

After high school I went off to college and found an even more powerful way to numb myself-alcohol. I got drunk the first night at college and every single night (and sometimes day) until I graduated six years later. Most nights I blacked out completely. When I drank I got mean and wild and ended up in fights and in jail three separate times. Like most addicts, I trashed most of my relationships with my family and friends. I hurt people, stole from people, and lied constantly. At this point I had completely lost my relationships with my parents and sister. We had once been an incredibly close family, but my alcoholism had tormented them so much that they had to distance themselves from me physically and emotionally.

My junior year I discovered drugs. Since I was still severely bulimic, I spent my nights drinking and drugging and then when I sobered up each morning and started thinking clearly enough to get depressed about my life, I would start eating and throwing up till I could drink again. I never went to class and never bought a book. I remember one night learning that I had a final the next day in a class that I’d never been to and a friend gave me the book to try to cram. I crawled into bed and tried to read but my hands were shaking so badly from all the booze that I couldn’t even hold the book. That night I remember considering again that I was completely hopeless and that maybe the only way out was to kill myself. I never actually tried, though…I think I decided to let the food, booze, and drugs take care of that for me.

I somehow graduated from college after six years and moved in with friends to keep partying. I met my husband Craig in 2001, we started dating, and six months later we found out we were pregnant. We decided to end the pregnancy, and my drinking got even worse after that. I started to black out on weeknights, just drinking in my living room.

A few months after the abortion, I woke up one morning feeling sick, which of course was not unusual for me, but the sick feeling stayed all day. I took a pregnancy test and it was positive again. I remember staring at my bloodshot eyes in the mirror and thinking how weird it was that it was Mother’s Day that day. Then I remember falling to the floor of the bathroom and bawling and telling God that I couldn’t survive on my own any longer, and that He was going to have to take it from there. And the next thing I remember is feeling strong and peaceful. And those were two feelings that I hadn’t experienced since kindergarten. I also remember coming to believe, that day, that God wanted me to have this baby and that although being a mother looked like an impossibility for me since I was completely non functional, that He was going to take care of everything if I stayed out of the way.And I also remember knowing on the bathroom floor that I would never drink again, and that I would start using food to grow my baby instead of to kill myself. And then I stood up and walked out of the bathroom holding God’s hand.

God worked some miracles for Craig and me over the next few months… and we needed them. His powerhelped me get sober and quit binging and purging. He worked in Craig so powerfully that He somehow convinced an otherwise sane and wonderful man to marry ME. Or maybe it was my dad who did the convincing. Either way, in my vows to Craig in his parent’s backyard I said to him: “You are my living proof that God knows me and loves me,” which is the truest thing I know. Chase was born and I became a mother, and a pretty good one, and that was a miracle in itself. The most significant miracle of our lives though, was that over the next three years God used our son to lead us to His son.

When Chase was 2, Craig and I decided that if we were going to raise him right and ask him to follow us, we needed something bigger than ourselves to follow. We had no clue where to start, but one day we got a postcard saying there was a church down the street that let people eat and drink coffee through the whole service. Of course the eating and drinking part was what got me in the door. We showed up one Sunday morning and the ladies in the nursery welcomed Chase with such love and the coffee was good and the music made me cry, and the people were real and accepting and we were hooked, and a few months later, we decided we wanted to be baptized. We approached the minister after service and told him excitedly that we were ready for baptism. He asked us why, which I thought was weird. So I said something about how great the nursery was and the coffee and donuts and music and I remember him looking at us with kindness and amusement and saying “That’s great guys, and I need to mention that we believe that baptism should also have something to do with your desire to follow Jesus.” He asked us to think about that and get back in touch with him. After he walked away I looked at Craig and said “What did he say?” and Craig said, “I don’t know…something about Jesus.” So we decided we better learn about this Jesus so they’d let us stay.

And that’s when I took a Bible home and started reading. And I learned that I was forgiven and loved and accepted and that was really, really great news to me. And as I continued to read this book that was becoming my lifeblood and refuge…I met Paul. Paul was this guy that lived right after Jesus’s time and was leading a pretty heinous life. He had made it his mission to go around killing as many Christians as possible. And one day Jesus appeared to Paul on a dirt road and told him that he was forgiven for what he had been doing so far with his life, but he needed to turn things around because God had chosen him to do some serious work on Earth for his kingdom. And Paul immediately responded by giving his life to Jesus and ended up writing most of the New Testament. So here was this murderer that God chose as His representative to write history. And I kept thinking …why would He choose Paul among all of the respectable people walking around? And when I figured out why God chose Paul, it changed my life: God chose Paul because He knew I’d be sitting in my living room one night and I’d turn to Corinthians and read that I was forgiven, and I’d think that this forgiveness was a nice idea for most people, but certainly couldn’t be for me, not with the mistakes I’d made. And God knew I’d come to this scripture in a letter Paul wrote to his friend Timothy:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.. Amen.”

And He knew that I’d consider the possibility that maybe I was like Paul. Maybe God wanted to save me and use me not DESPITE the fact that I’m a serious sinner but BECAUSE I’m a serious sinner. For that very reason. Just maybe it’s true that it’s not important how bad my sins are, all that matters is how good Jesus is. And maybe none of the pain in my past was to be wasted. As a matter of fact, maybe it made me uniquely qualified for a special place in God’s kingdom. Maybe the fire that started burning inside of me in my living room that night, and burns even stronger as I stand here before you today, is God’s passionate desire to use me and my story to share His love and hope with people who mistakenly believe themselves unlovable and hopeless. Maybe God loved me back to life for a serious purpose. Maybe I am Paul. And this was my amazing Grace moment, and this revelation and commission from God changed my life and my world.

Craig and I went back to our minister and told him that we finally got the whole Jesus deal and we knew it wasn’t about the coffee and we had decided we were really ready to get baptized. One Sunday Craig, Chase, and I went to a church and nervously sat down in a circle with some other people while the minister talked to us about what was about to happen. The whole time, Chase, who was three, was humming this song over and over again and I was jabbing him with my pen because I was worried he was bothering the other people. After the minister had been talking for some time, he stopped and turned to me and Craig with teary eyes and said “Do you guys know what song your son is humming?”We didn’t. He said, “It’s a children’s song called “The wise man built his house upon the Rock.” We looked at Chase and he said “Yep, I learned it at church.” I will never forget that moment as long as I live.

A few minutes later, as Chase looked on, Craig and I were baptized and promised God and each other that we’d spend the rest of our lives building our house upon the Rock. As we drove home we marveled that it was Mother’s day, three years to the date that I turned to God on my bathroom floor.

Since our baptism, nothing has changed and everything has changed.

When I say that nothing has changed, I mean that my struggles and pain haven’t vanished. I still fight feelings of inadequacy and isolation. I live knowing that for the rest of my life I’ll be one binge or beer away from throwing everything away, and even though I know that, I’m still tempted. I don’t walk around singing God’s praises all day. I get irritated with my kids a lot and my husband told me recently that the scripture that made him feel most understood by God was “It is better to live on a roof than with a quarrelsome wife.” I drive too fast and rudely, and I’m judgmental and prideful and ungrateful and jealous and chronically impatient. I still struggle with body image, and I think I may have transferred some of my addictive behaviors to exercising and shopping. A lot of the time I still feel like that lonely second grader, sitting in a corner, wondering if people like me. Also,most of the time I believe that God has forgiven me for my past, but sometimes guilt and shame about the abortion, or about someone else I hurt, creeps in, and that’s when I breathe deeply and pray “God, I believe you forgive me, help me with my unbelief.” And by His grace He does. And so while nothing has changed, this grace of God’s has changed everything.

Everything has changed because God has put some things into place for me that allow me to live my life to the fullest in the midst of my pain and struggles. Instead of holding on desperately until the storm stops, which it never does, He has given me something to hold on to during the storms. He has restored my relationships with Him and with my family and friends. The Bible says that God “places the lonely in families.” He has given me a husband and children of my own to love and be loved by and he has given me my parents and my best friend, my sister, back. His power has helped me stay sober and learn to eat healthfully, one day at a time. He has also given me the Bible, my all time favorite addiction, where I can find all kinds of messed up people like me and read about the amazing things God did with their lives. And in the Bible I’ve learned that Christianity is not about all of my pain disappearing because I’m following Jesus, it’s just that now I have a friend who loves me and understands my pain perfectly, and who reminds me every day that my pain isn’t pointless, it has a purpose.

“To keep me from becoming conceited…there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it from me. But He said to me: “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in your weakness, Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties, For when I am weak, then I am strong.”