Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Truth is Never Grey

"And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." - John 8:32

Right this minute, in the living room of a suburban home somewhere in America, a family is falling apart.
And they aren't even aware.

There's a fit for prime-time show on the flat-screen tv, but no one in this family is paying any attention to it.
Because even though they are all together in one room, they are each wrapped up in their own private entertainment choices.

The husband is sitting in his chair in the corner, viewing a movie on his laptop. He has his ear buds in place, preventing anyone from hearing the sound but himself.
The wife is curled up on her end of the couch reading a popular paperback novel and their 15 year old daughter is on the other end of the couch, smartphone in hand, reading fan-fiction she's found on the internet.

A typical, modern day family, right?
Spending a quiet evening at home together.
Quality time, some would say.
But it's the secrets this family is keeping that are tearing it apart.

You see, this husband is cheating on his wife.
The wife is cheating on her husband and their daughter is damaging her future marriage before she's even thought about saying "I do".

What's even more concerning is that this could be any family, in any home, in any neighborhood, anywhere in America today.

It could even be yours.

How do I know?

Because at different times, the parts of this scenario have taken place in my home.
In my family.
In my life.

And if you think it can't or won't happen in your family, then you're kidding yourself.

It's time we had a talk.
And it's time we stopped believing the lies being fed to us by a culture that has chosen to ignore truth. Lies that convince us that wrong is right and cause us to stubbornly defend our poor choices.
Choices that don't honor the God of the universe who created us to be so much more than what we have become.

Yesterday I posted a blog link on my personal Facebook page that got a bit of attention.
It was a commentary written by popular conservative blogger Matt Walsh and addressed the latest darling pet of the entertainment world - the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon. (Click HERE to view his commentary.)

If you've been alive and over the age of 7 since the initial book was released, my guess is that you've at least heard of this book, it's two sequels and now, predictably, the upcoming Hollywood movie.
But in case you've been living under a rock over the past several years - allow me to enlighten you.
It's not a decorating book, or design publication extolling the virtues of the color Grey.

It's a book about sado-masochistic sex between two unmarried people; an 'experienced' dominating male figure and a young female college graduate.
And that's probably the least offensive way to describe it.
According to a February 16, 2014 article in the Hollywood Reporter, the sales of the trilogy have topped 100 million dollars worldwide. In addition, the original book was listed at #18 in the Nielsen Book Scan Top 20 for 2013.
That's 2 years after it's initial print publication.
I'd say that it's pretty popular, wouldn't you?
However, as we all know, being popular doesn't mean it has redeeming value.

I'm not writing today to debate the merits, or lack thereof, of this particular book.
In fact, I haven't read the book.
However, I have read many 'romance novels' over the course of my lifetime, many of which dipped their 'literary' toes into these waters.
Starting with Harlequin Romance novels when I was 13.

That may seem awfully young to some of you, but consider this - today's children are being exposed to hard-core pornography as early as age 7. Any child who has access to the internet in any form is likely to have been exposed to some type of pornographic image or writing. And sadly, for many of our children, this initial exposure is leading to addictions and behaviors that are damaging their moral compass and leading to a lifestyle that can only bring regret and shame.

If you've read my own story (click HERE if you have not), then you know how my poor choices affected me and my loved ones. And truly, it's only by the awesome grace of our loving God that I am still here to write this today.
But as I've looked back, I realize that it was the unrealistic expectations that those 'romance' novels created in my mind that caused me to look for similar ideals in my own relationships.
The mystery of tall, dark and handsome coming to sweep me off my feet and make me feel like the woman I was meant to be was seductive to an awkward and unpopular teenage girl.
In truth, not so much.
For me that led to losing my innocence at the age of 14 and an unexpected pregnancy and my first abortion at the age of 17.
Not so romantic after all. 

Let's fast forward to what is happening today.
When our young daughters - and I say WHEN because it is happening, don't be fooled - when our daughters read the material in 50 Shades of Grey, and books like it, what ideals are being planted in their impressionable minds?
Minds that are already being told by the media that they are not pretty enough, not skinny enough, not sexy enough unless they meet an unrealistic standard set by a culture that has no moral standard.
Is Christian Grey this generation's mystery man?
Is sado-masochistic sex this generation's romance?
God have mercy on our children if that's true.

And how about you Mom?
And you Wife?
Have you read this book, or others like it?
Can you honestly say that the scenes you have created in your mind out of what you've read haven't appeared again when you are spending time with your husband in the confines of your bedroom?
Because that's what 'literature' of this type is intended to do - or so the authors tell us.
As my daughter's boyfriend commented on my Facebook post yesterday - "It's porn aimed at girls. It's the same thing as videos and images aimed at guys." "Girls function a different way than guys, therefore porn is going to look different."
If a 17 year old young man understands this, why ladies, can't we?

Let's take a look at what Ms. E.L. James herself says about her books.
In an article published in the Daily Mail newspaper in Britain - 4/18/12, quoting Ms. James:
"[she] describes her novel as a ‘romantic fantasy story’, which offers women a ‘holiday' from their husbands."

Listen up Christian women - I'm talking to YOU here.  
Is this what we are about? 
Taking a 'holiday' from our husbands?  
If that's the case then it's no surprise to me that the divorce rate within the church is higher than that of the unchurched.
Why do we believe that what we do in secret won't eventually come out in the light of day? 
Do you want to destroy your marriages? 
Go for it. 
For the cost of a Chick-Fil-A combo meal, you can download this 'romantic' drivel onto your e-reader and start the process. 

No one will suspect a thing until one day your sex life with your husband is no longer satisfying enough. 
One day you'll wonder what's wrong with him. 
And the next day you might start looking twice at the fellow in the cubicle next to you at work. 
And how many days will pass before you pick up the phone and make an appointment with your attorney?
You want a 'holiday' from your husband? 
Well, according to Ms. James, you can have it by reading her book.
It's just entertainment, right? 
You should be able to read what you want without being shamed for it, right?

Let's consider something else ladies, why are we hurt and disappointed when our husbands look at pornographic videos and images when we ourselves are reading pornographic stories? 
Is there really a difference in the result?
The medium is different certainly - images versus words - but as my daughter's boyfriend so accurately pointed out, "Girls function differently..."
We know this, it's nothing new; men are visually stimulated by what they see; women are emotionally stimulated by what they read. 
Quoting my Pastor: "When men are addicted to sex, they are scum bags, adulterers and perverts. When women are addicted to sexual content, it's art, women's rights, and love. I'm not shouting double standard, I just see a need for ladies to protect their hearts." 

"Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." - Proverbs 4:23

What Ms. James and other authors of her ilk have done is simply wrapped up deviant sex acts in a pretty 'romance' story that captures our hearts and sadly, we take the bait.
Hook, line and sinker. 
Problem is, we get caught on that fish hook, find that we can't wriggle away so easily and then spend a lot of time and energy convincing ourselves that being there isn't so bad after all as we get reeled in towards a certain demise. 

You know, because it's your life, right? 
It's not illegal, is it? 
It doesn't hurt anyone, does it? 
It's just entertainment, right?  

Hmm, isn't that the same justification husbands use when they are watching that movie on their laptop in the corner of the living room? 
"No one can see what I'm watching." 
"I'm not hurting anyone."
"I still love my wife."

Do you honestly believe that when you are enjoying intimacy with your husband that the images he's ingested don't come flashing across the flat screen in his mind? 
Because they do. 
And because of the magic of photoshop, the more visual stimulation they ingest, the more you come up lacking. 

You won't suspect a thing until he stops desiring those intimate moments with you. 
Because he's wondering what's wrong with you
He's finding the new intern at the office very attractive. 
And one day, he's picking up the phone to call his attorney. 

But, it's just entertainment, right?

There was another quote by Ms. James in the same article that really captured my attention. Let's take a look: 
"The only two people she has refused to share the book with are her sons. ‘Thank God, they don’t want to read it,’ she says. ‘They’re very proud of my success, but it’s not for them to read.’

That gave me pause, and it should you as well. 
If she doesn't want her teenage sons to read her book, then why would we want to read it? 
If it's too much for her teenagers in a world where sex sells and morals and truth have taken a back seat to personal gratification with no limits, shouldn't it be too much for adults? 
Those of us who are purportedly raising the next generation of leaders?

Sadly, if you aren't aware already, I need to enlighten you - our teenagers are already reading it. 
Not only are they reading this book and books like it, they are reading hard-core porn on the internet everyday. 
How do I know? 
Because my own beautiful daughter was caught in that trap - at the age of 15. 

And if you think it can't or won't happen to your daughter, or your son, think again.
In a home where both parents have a law enforcement background; where the tightest controls possible were on our internet; where our rules for her smartphone included random checks of content and messaging, our daughter was able to read hard-core pornographic fan-fiction on her phone and completely hide it from us for months.
And if that doesn't break your heart, then you don't have one.

Listen, Christian ladies, and yes, this post is for YOU because as Christians, we are held up to a Holy standard. A standard we can't expect the world around us to understand or uphold until their lives are invaded by the same Jesus who bled and died for each of us.

As Christians, we claim to believe the Bible. We claim to believe that it is God's Holy word, his love letter to us. His sacred text that is just as true and relevant as it was when he breathed it into life through his scribes.
So if we as Christian women believe in Jesus, believe that we are held to a Holy standard and believe that God's word is true, then why do we choose to ignore the parts of it that so clearly define God's perfect design for our homes, our marriages, our families and our standards.

In the article I shared yesterday, Matt Walsh quoted several passages of scripture that cannot be mistaken in their intent. Yet many of the commenters on his article chose to not defend and uphold the scripture, but instead chose to defend the book and it's contents and someone's right to read it.
Call it what you will, but I call it justification and it has no place in the Christian life.

Ya' know, I'm not pointing fingers at you without pointing one back at myself - none of us are innocent of sin, the least of all me.
But when we as Christian women chose to follow Jesus, we also made a choice to follow his teachings and his word.
Even though I fail him every day, I don't ever want to thumb my nose at his holiness or make a conscious choice to live in and defend the very sin that put him on the cross to die for me.
To do that is so much more than an insult, it's blasphemy and it's tragic and you can't call yourself a Christ follower if this is the way you choose to live.

To some of you, that may be harsh, it may sound judgmental (but please remember that I'm putting myself in this mix too - I'm forgiven, not innocent).
But there are no Grey areas in scripture.

The truth is there to see in Black and White.
The question is, what do you choose to see?

With a Courageous Heart,

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How Much?

 "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens" 
- Ecclesiastes 3:1

There's a lot on my "to do" list today.
Too much.
Way more than I'll ever get done today.
I stare at that piece of paper and practically burn a hole through it with my gaze. It's almost paralyzing because there is no clear starting point in the chaos.
That "to do" list is like an annoying splinter in my finger - painful with no relief until it's gone.

And yet, could it also be like a badge of honor I'm carrying around?
Don't we spend copious amounts of time comparing our busy-ness with others?
"Wow, you're so busy, but you'll never believe what I have to get done...."

Yes, it's the game of one-up between Moms and Wives and Friends the world over. 
I think we secretly love our "to do" lists. 
Love the rush we get when we compare notes and realize that we are WAY busier that our friends. 

We love the fact that we are obviously needed more, we can accomplish more - since we have SO much to do, and we are way more important because of it. 


You know, that's a lie. 
A big, fat, juicy, throw it on the grill, cook it and eat it kind of lie.
And we fall for it. 
Every. Single. Time.

Want to know why? 
Because we are filling up the empty space that pride has left behind with busy-ness. 
Busy work to distract us from what's really important. 
Stuff that we think if we don't get a jump-start on will overtake us and overwhelm us. 
Tasks that if we can manage to complete them will finally give us the super-woman cape we've secretly been craving. 

We idolize that "to do" list because it makes us feel important and needed and special. And if ours is longer or more complex - we idolize it more. 

On Sunday, the guest pastor at our church was speaking about how God hears our prayers in spite of the sin issues in our life. 
His last point was "in spite of - Service to Idols". 
He asked, "Do you know what your idols are?"
"Do you recognize them?"

Good questions. 
Very good questions.
So, I asked God about that yesterday. 

Is my "to do" list my idol? 
Having too much to do?

How often am I too busy for you?
How many times do I say "I'll pray later?"
How often do I read a devotion or listen to music and call that my "quiet time"? 

I push you away God - YOU. The most important presence in my life. 
The One I claim holds my life together. 

Reality is an embarassing truth - I fit in time with you and in your word when I can manage it
When I have time
When the conditions are perfect

This is so humbling. 

You managed to find time to DIE for me. 
You had time to reach out to me and offer me new life.
And considering how messed up my life was - the conditions were less than perfect. 

But you did it anyway - 
because YOU love me. 

So the question becomes, "How much do I love you, God?"
More than my "to do" list?

With a Courageous Heart,

Monday, June 9, 2014

Even Me

"I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people..." - 1 Timothy 2:1

God, you want us to pray. 
To pray for and about everything. 
You expect us to pray 
for everyone.

Even the unlovely.
Even the prideful.
Even the hateful.

For the liars and the control-freaks, 
for the thieves and the bullies
for the gossips and the murderers.

In other words, 
you want us to pray for others
you want us to pray
for ourselves.

Change me O God. 
Align my heart with yours. 
Fix my eyes on you and help me see,
with your eyes,
through your heart. 

Grace, mercy, compassion and healing
are what you offer. 
To all. 


Even the ones we hate. 
Even the ones we fear. 
Even the ones we don't understand. 

Even ME
Even me.  

With a Courageous Heart, 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Is It Really Just Stuff?

"Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you." Deuteronomy 5:16

As I walked into the shop at the antique center today, I saw a stranger sitting in my Dad's chair. 

It was a fine, deep blue leather, wing-back recliner.
Wing-back to suit Mom's decor, recliner to suit my Dad's need for comfort in his castle.

That chair had been Dad's spot in the family room for as long as I could remember.
In every family room of every home we'd inhabited.
It was the last in a long line of recliners in our homes. Each of them giving their all in service to one of the hardest working men I knew. Giving comfort after long days, working sometimes three jobs to keep our family afloat.

And now it was being usurped by a stranger who knew nothing of my sweet memories.
Knew nothing of the raw emotion his presence there stirred in me.

The night my Dad died, I remember curling up in that chair, comforted by the smooth, cool leather, the faint smell of my Dad's shampoo and the sense that he was holding me still. 
My Dad's hugs were always the best.
For a few brief moments, his arms wrapped around me, I was his little girl again, no matter how much I had grown up.

And today the little girl in me wanted to scream at that stranger to get up from my Dad's chair. Wanted to shout at him that he didn't belong there.
That he hadn't earned the right to sit in that place.

But the practical adult in me won out.
The practical adult with a furnished home of her own with no place for a chair whose memories were worth far more than the value of the chair itself.

And so went the minutes of my day.

Watching as strange hands unpacked carefully wrapped glassware and framed artwork and family heirlooms passed down from my Great-Grandmother.

Observing as strange eyes evaluated the worth of precious pieces not judging them by the rich memories each held, but by how much money could be earned by offering it up to someone willing to pay the right price.

It has been what seems a lifetime since I saw my Dad's cufflinks.
And my Mother's beautiful Japanese treasures sent to her from my then soldier Father. 

I've never seen them being examined by a strangers hands.

It's just "stuff", a few of my friends said to me today.
Yes, yes it is.

The memories are what count, a few more said.
Yes, that is true.
And on a day like today, I'm glad I have the memories to strengthen my resolve.
To remind my heart that it is still beating.
That I will survive this chapter in the story.

Because today I felt violated.
Robbed of the intimacy of the connection I feel to my parents through the evidence of their life together. The proof of their existence displayed in every photograph that was uncovered.

I am an orphan now.
There is no one living anymore that completely shares my history.

No one but me who can recount the story of my Mom's white oval platter. The platter that held every batch of homemade fudge she lovingly cooked for me and my Dad.
No one is left that remembers how we would giggle together and share the pan scrapings and the fudge covered wooden spoon as my Dad sat in his recliner wondering what was taking us so long in the kitchen.

Yes, it's all just "stuff".
But its the stuff that was part of the life that made the memories that blessedly will never leave me.
Even if I am the only one left who remembers them.

With a Courageous Heart,

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hold On to What You Know

"...everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  
But evil people and impostors will flourish. 
They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived.  
But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. 
You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you." 
- 2 Timothy 3:12-14 (NLT)

There are days when I don't feel equipped to be the encourager. 
Days when the weight and heaviness of circumstances around me consume me because of a heart broken out of love for those involved.  

I wonder, how I can give godly advice and share wisdom when I too am in pain because of a situation. Where do I begin? And in some cases, what can I even say when I have zero ability to change anything?

Yesterday was one of those days. 
So, I turned to God's word, looking for something, anything to help me make sense of it all. Something to help them make sense of it all.  
As is his way, I didn't have to look too far. 

Our Pastor had spoken from 2 Timothy 3 on Sunday. While he focused on the final verses of that chapter, my reading drew me up the page to verses 12 - 14.  
The Apostle Paul had written this book to Timothy from prison. 
And not the cushy house prison he'd been held in before. 
No, this was Emperor Nero's prison. Dark. Smelly. Cold. Raw.
Not the place you want to find yourself anytime, much less the end of your life. But that's exactly where Paul was. And he knew he was going to die soon. 

Paul didn't waste his last words on lament and regret. Didn't focus on his situation or circumstances - even though he could have.
He chose instead to pour out his heart and soul in a loving torrent of words to the young man he considered his son in the faith. This final letter of Paul's was full of encouragement, instruction and hope. Hope even when things seemed bleakest. 

And what does he write?

We will suffer persecution.
Evil people will flourish.
They will deceive others.
Check. Check. Check.
My situation had all that and then some.

But it's what Paul says next that grabbed my heart and would not let go.
"But you must remain FAITHFUL to the things you have been taught." 

God whispered, "Hold on to what you know.
You know my words are true. 
I was with Paul in the dungeon and I am with you and your loved ones even now." 

So even though we are persecuted. 
Even though we see evil and false people flourish. 
Even though they attempt to deceive us. 
God is still greater than all of that. 
He is faithful and so I, we, must remain faithful. 

And hold on to what we know. 

With a Courageous Heart, 

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Mystery We Can Trust

"Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things." 
- Ecclesiastes 11:5

I love how no matter where we read in the Bible, it's consistent. 
Both Old and New Testament tell us that God is unknowable, a mystery, and it's impossible for us to understand his ways. 
Romans 11:33 says: "Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!" 

Isaiah 55:8 says: "“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine."" 

Honestly, I wouldn't want to serve a God who claimed to be our Creator, our Savior and the King of us all if I could understand him. 
Where is the awe and wonder and mystery in that? 
Makes him kinda ordinary, right? 

So, even though at times it's hard to figure out what he's up to in our lives, we can trust that his word is true. 
We can trust that he knows better than we do what it is that we need. 
And we can trust that he knows where he's taking us. 

He's already written our future and he knows the end of our story. 

That's the God I want to put my trust in, one who will walk with me through the pages of my life as the story unfolds. We may not like the twists and turns at times, the story will cause questions and doubts and fear, but since he knows how it ends, it's all good. 
He's got this, we don't need to worry.
We can trust his word.

"Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." - 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Obedient, or Overwhelmed?

"If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do." James 1:5-8 (NLT)

We ask God to reveal his will in our lives.
He responds with his "go and do" mission tailored just for us.

But, we don't like it.

Or it's not what we thought it would be.

Or we are afraid.

So, do we choose obedience and trust him?
Or do we waver?
Is our faith in God alone, or is our loyalty divided between God and the world?

If your life seems overwhelming, out of control, then perhaps you are being "blown and tossed by the wind" of disobedience.

His purpose will not be ignored.
His plans will not go unfulfilled.

But you will live in uncertainty and misery until you choose to act on his call.

Hard? Yes.
Truth? Yes.

With a (not so) Courageous Heart,