Friday, February 13, 2015

No Fear in Love

"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." - 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

My cousin Tina and I were born on the same day, May 25, three years apart.

Through our childhood, we were frequent companions, sharing birthday parties and being playmates and giggly girls, trying hard to be good for Grandma.
The climbing tree in Grandma's backyard always beckoned us to sit in it's high branches and play 'house'. A trip to the store might mean an ice cold Coca-Cola in the bottle and a box of Barnum's Animal Crackers to share.
All in all a life filled with the innocent fun of girls who were oblivious to ugliness and pain and abuse.

Or so I thought.

It was a visit to Tina's home when I was 13 that opened my eyes to the truth of her world.
Her home was not the safe harbor that I knew and my most distinct memories of that visit are of fear and silence.
She was 10 years old.

Soon after, her sister Leasa was born.
Barely surviving her birth, she was deprived of oxygen during the process, and a victim of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, her precious life was tragic from the start.

Over the next several years Tina and I began to drift apart as we each grew into our own teenage lives. The Summer and Holiday visits were different now - we were different now, each of us shaped by our singular circumstances and personal choices.

My path took me down a road where my heart was yearning to be loved and I lost my innocence in the process.

Her path took her down a road of drugs and alcohol in an effort to escape the actions that were forced upon her. Her innocence long shattered.

After high school, we as individuals seemed to find our inner strength and sense of purpose that compelled us to try and make something of our lives. To walk away from the former and leave the memories behind.
I was entering the police academy as she graduated high school and began work in a dental office, eventually working her way up to a skilled dental hygenist.
She moved away from home and seemed to be building a better life, with different friends and different goals.

But as in so many cases of abuse victims, Tina met the man she would eventually marry and who would eventually be her complete undoing.

April 1990.
I made the two hour drive to Tina and Gregg's small apartment in Richmond, VA.
It was a happy occasion, their wedding was in September and we had dress shopping to do. After spending the day among satin, lace and tulle, reminiscent of our girlhood trips to the dress section of my Grandma's favorite department store, I stayed overnight to extend our visit. It had been too long and I missed the close companionship we'd once had.

The two of us stayed up long past midnight, talking and sharing memories when our conversation turned to her fiancé.
What Tina shared with me that night - trusted me with that night - should have been enough for me to pack her up and get her far away from her nightmare life.
Once again, the lies abuse victims tell themselves in order to survive won out as she assured me that he was different now. He had changed. He promised her that he'd never do those things again.
Lie after lie after lie until she had me convinced to leave it alone. It was her life to live as she chose.

I woke up the next morning to the stench of drug smoke and alcohol in the living room - where he had spent the night - and I cowardly made my exit.

If this story had a happy ending, I'd take you there now.
My heart hurts and my thoughts are dark as I unpack this tale for you here. It's almost too hard to tell it knowing now what I should have known then.

But I never had to worry about having a Father that loved me.
A Father that protected me.
A Father who had control over himself and his actions.
A Father that would have given his life to see mine preserved.
I hadn't yet met my husband, but because my Father was the kind of man he was, he provided the blueprint for the man I needed to marry.

Tina didn't have that privilege and it was never more evident than on her wedding day.
As I look back, I can see her stuffed pain, her hidden tears, her wounded soul, her crushed heart. All pushed aside for her determination to make the most of her fairytale day.
It was to be her only taste of any fairytale.

Years later, Tina's sister Leasa graduated from her special high school.
I drove my Mom and Grandma down for the ceremony and party afterwards.
It was the first time I'd seen Tina face to face since my wedding day in December of 1991.

She was a shell of her former self. Her face and body ravaged by years of alcohol and drug use and the suffering of unspeakable acts of violence.
I couldn't even look at her husband.
It was with a superhuman effort that I'd even agreed to make the trip and stand in their house to celebrate Leasa's accomplishment.

You see, it was only a few years earlier that we learned through my Aunt, Tina's Mother, that Tina's husband was not only a drug abuser, but he was a sexual deviant.
It was discovered that he had sexually abused Leasa multiple times in their home.
Times when she would stay with them overnight to give my Aunt a break from her care.
He was arrested and charged with the crimes, but because of reasons still unknown to me, he wasn't convicted of the crimes that should have put him away for life, but merely placed on short probation and allowed to go home.
Apparently the testimony of a mentally challenged victim isn't enough. And her sister, a victim all her life, was unable to break free of her own cycle of abuse in order to speak out and change the outcome.

So, as victims do, Tina chose to stay with him.
And I couldn't comprehend it.
Couldn't comprehend personally how that kind of fear rules your life and causes you to make choices that are appalling to most.

Her life came to an unimaginably horrific end seven years ago.
Tina's husband had kicked her out of their home and for over two years, she had been living either out of her car, or with another man who was prostituting her for drugs and money.
She was found dead on the side of the road on a cold early spring day.
The physical cause of her death is unknown to me, but in all honesty, I've often wondered if she was dead before she was even given a chance to live.

I write this story today because as many of you know, the highly controversial movie "50 Shades of Grey" premieres this weekend.
Valentine's weekend.
A time when love is celebrated.

50 Shades of Grey is not love.
It portrays an outward personification of hurt and pain and fear.
It is a portrait of dark desires and deviant actions that have been fed by fuel that should burn no one.
It is not a love story.
It is a fear story. It is a pain story. It preys on our emotions and the dark places in our hearts that we more often than not don't choose to explore.
It is a story of desperation and sadness if you but choose to see it.

Those who see Christian Grey as a romantic figure might do well to ask themselves what caused him to discover and then feed the deviance he embraces.
Those who see Ana as the girl who saves him should perhaps ask why she is drawn to him at all.
This is escapism some say. This isn't reality, it's harmless fun between two consenting adults.
But the people who live these lives outside the pages of a book or the scenes in a movie might not be all that they seem. Some may be hiding pain and hurt and anger so deep inside that they either aren't aware of it or are unable to acknowledge it as they pursue anything to fill up the empty void in their lives.

As a police officer I learned the importance of asking why. Of digging deeper into a situation until I found the underlying cause.
Those whys take you to some very dark places.

To this day, I wish I'd asked why more often for Tina's sake. And for Leasa's.
I didn't, but it's made me more determined to pay attention to what's unsaid. To what's observed when it seems out of place. To persist even when assurances that all is well are present.
It's that regret that brings me here today.
To share their story to hopefully make you think about the dark places in our human hearts.

We all have them, and in truth the only thing that can permanently break through that darkness is the One who is Himself light.

There are no shades with Christ, only light.
Truth and light and a love that never causes pain or fear.

If you are reading 50 Shades of Grey, ask yourself why.
If you are planning to view the movie, ask yourself why.
The only path for the temporary high of a dark thrill is another dark thrill.
And another.
And another.
Until you find yourself trapped in a world of darkness that causes pain and more darkness.

I can only urge you to look to the light today. To find a place of freedom from whatever has you in chains today.
Christ waits for you with open arms and a grace that allows no darkness to invade.
No shades, just light.

With a Courageous Heart,

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

I Feel His Pleasure

There's that moment, in the middle of what to some would be a mundane task.
The moment that you know you are right smack dab in the middle of God's purpose for your life.
You know He's working out His plan and you feel His pleasure.

To others it's a motion that deserves no more than a passing thought.
It's a stop in time that could, by many, be done on auto-pilot.

But not you.
Your heart catches in your chest and you feel your eyes become wet with tears of joy and the only thing you can do is stop.
You close your eyes, hold your hands up to the sky and tilt your head back and you can feel your Creator smiling right into your soul.
He's singing His song over you and it rolls in waves over your heart.

And you just whisper "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

The tears roll down your cheeks in the small miracle of that moment.
When everything is at peace in your heart.
When all is as it should be because you know you are where you are supposed to be, doing what you are supposed to do and it is bringing Him glory.

My heart is bursting wide open today.
I was just granted one of those moments of precious, joyful worship of the God who loves me more than anyone deserves to be loved.
Because I know, I know, that I'm right where I'm supposed to be and He's working out His plan for my life.

I am reminded today of the Olympic runner Eric Liddell.
He's probably most well known because of the movie about his life - Chariots of Fire.
He knew he was called to the mission field in China, but God had also made him a gifted runner. And as he worked out his faith publicly - refusing to run the race he had trained for because it fell on the Sabbath - God honored his faithfulness and in an unforeseen turn of events, Eric Liddell ran an entirely different race.
One he had not trained for.
But he won Gold.
And gave the glory to God.
And the whole world witnessed it.

He is often quoted as telling his sister - whom he would eventually join on the mission field in China, "I believe God made me for a purpose - for China. But he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt. You were right, it's not just fun. To win is to honor Him."

Eric Liddell had felt the small miracle of his moment of worship as he used his talent for God's glory and he knew that the world could see Christ in him.
Another quote says this -
"We are all missionaries...Wherever we go, we either bring people nearer to Christ 
or we repel them from Christ."

And that's all I ever want anyone to see in me - Christ Jesus.
Nothing I ever do is for me or my glory or fame or renown - but all to make Jesus famous.

With a Courageous Heart,

Monday, February 2, 2015

How We Live

It's the greatest challenge for us to care more about how God wants us to live, than we do about how the world views us. 
Our lives are not meant to be lived out in a popularity contest, but in following the calling God has given each one of us.

This is how God says we are to live.

The world says it's important to be proud, self-promoting, fame-seeking.
Humility is an invitation to be a doormat.
The world says it's important to speak your mind, be heard, be seen. 
Gentleness is for wimps.
The world says life is short, make things happen now.
Patience is for the un-motivated.
The world says you need to love yourself first.
Loving others is futile.
The world says it's ok to be different unless you are different than they are.
Unity is for those without knowledge.
The world places inner peace above living peaceably with all.
Peace is for fools.

Dear Jesus, if it serves you best; if it allows me to live out the calling You have on my life, allow me to be a doormat, a wimp, un-motivated, futile, un-educated, foolish.
I would rather be a fool in the eyes of the world than to live a life un-worthy of Your call. 

With a Courageous Heart,