the word of our testimony

Why tell a story like the one Andy and I tell?

A story that's about all the things we did wrong.

A story that highlights our mistakes, our bad motivations, our broken marriage?

Because here's what I think:

If we don't tell the truth about what He redeems us from, we minimize His power, His grace, His love, his capacity to go beyond anything we would ever dare to ask, think, or believe.

If we don't admit and talk about how broken we have been, there is no way we can celebrate HOW GOOD HE IS.  

Because, see, I don't think that only "the heathen" need to be saved.

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i need you

 Y'all know I'm a good girl.  So I don't think we're ever going to have a day here on the blog when I confess something that makes people hyperventilate and pass out.  That cussing thing is about as bad as my behavior ever gets.  Well, and there is that margarita at the Veracruz Cafe.  But really.  That's it.  I am just not all that interesting in the sin department.

But what plagues me is my deep, deep disagreements with God regarding my own value to Him.  I have a hard time being the Beloved.  I grab onto it for a while, and I really get it.  But then something comes up out of the dark and takes a swipe at me, and I'm struggling again.

 

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3 reasons why vulnerability doesn't work

 

I am a huge fan of Brene Brown's work on vulnerability. I've put it up here on the blog, I've recommended it to clients, I've talked about it with friends.

But then sometimes people will come back to me and say things like this:

  • "I tried being vulnerable all week long, and he didn't even notice."
  • "I'm being vulnerable, but nobody else will be vulnerable."
  • "This whole vulnerability thing doesn't work.  Also it hurts.  What's the point?"

And that made me think about why vulnerability doesn't always have the results we hoped for.  Here are three things I can think of.

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the 6 gifts of failure

Ten years ago, our marriage failed.  The way we had designed it was a disaster, and it collapsed.   In the aftermath, we were able to build something completely new together, and that's been amazing and wonderful.  I love the relationship we have now. The happy ending is great, but lately I've been thinking about what God did in the mess itself.   He didn't just wave a magic wand and make it go away.  He used the mess to teach me, and He gave me these gifts through failure.

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excuses for everybody and nobody

I used to think that we all agreed on certain things.

  • If you hit your wife, that's bad.
  • If you sexually molest or verbally abuse or physically neglect your child, that's horrible.
  • If you have a pornography habit, or if you sleep around, then surely surely surely, something is wrong and you have difficult emotional work to do.

But then it turned out that people with patterns of incredibly harmful behaviors toward other people would come in to therapy and say things like this:

Everybody makes mistakes.

Nobody's perfect.

In fact, the more egregious the behavior, the more likely the offender would be to say something like this.  With great conviction.

And I would sit and listen, just struck dumb by the whole thing, because:

  • It's true.  We all do make mistakes, and not one of us is perfect.
  • I'm going to be judgmental if I call bad, bad.  Because I'm not perfect.  I've made mistakes
  • The offender appears to sincerely believe that "nobody's perfect" is an adequate explanation for anything and everything.

For a while now, I've been trying to untangle this whole mess in my head, and here is what I've come up with so far.

1.  There is a difference between mistakes and abuse.  

All of us make mistakes, no doubt about it.  We get mad, we get pushy, we want what we want, and it's not pretty.  We have to apologize and forgive and move forward.

However, in an abusive situation there is a power differential.  The offender is bigger, stronger, the adult, the parent, "the spiritual leader."  And the offender uses that power to hurt another person, in order to meet their own needs, physically, sexually, emotionally.

In the process, the offender creates a mental system that allows the abuse to be acceptable to himself or herself.  (Nobody's perfect.  Everybody makes mistakes.  I was drunk.  She asked for it.  I'm the husband, and she has to submit.)  This set of excuses has been repeated, probably for years.  The offender can deliver the excuses with ease and even sincerity.

Scripture talks about this:  "God gave them over to a reprobate mind" (Romans 1:28).  They've said it so long that they believe the crazy.

But other people's crazy doesn't have to be our crazy.

We own our own stuff, we acknowledge our mistakes.  And we know abuse when we see it.

2.  Knowing where the line is?  That's not judgmental.  

Abusive, addicted people hate it when draw the line, because that stops the gravy train.  Their world depends on having victims to victimize.   And they need for people to be deceived by the crazy, or at least be confused enough not to confront it.  That helps keep their reprobate-mind-mental-system intact.

When you say to an abusive, addicted person, "That is a lie, and here is the truth," you may get a big backlash about how mean and judgmental you are.  That's no fun.

Or, you may say to an abusive, addicted person, "That is a lie, and here is the truth," and the person may be able to hear it and get out of their mess.  This one we like a lot better.

Either way, being able to tell lies from truth is not judgmental. 

Being able to tell truth from lies is a necessary life skill called good judgment.

3.  Excuses appear to be kind, but they are not.

When we make excuses for the offender, then excuses are all she's got.

Under that reprobate mind, desperately chanting "No big deal, no big deal," is a person who needs to lay down the burden of guilt and shame, repent, and receive the relief of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is available for all of us, but only when we stop the excuses and face the truth.

"But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says 'Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology...' But excusing says 'I see that you couldn't help it or didn't mean it; you weren't really to blame.' ...And if we forget this, we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses. They may be very bad excuses; we are all too easily satisfied about ourselves."  C. S. Lewis, "On Forgiveness," The Weight of Glory

I think abusive, addicted people DO know that they're over the line.  They DO know what they've done.  And they have so much guilt and shame that the excuses are about the only thing holding them together.

When we hear those excuses, it can be confusing.

But there is so much more available to us than excuses.

We have repentance.

We have forgiveness.

And, by the gift of God, we have redemption.

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blood on the floor

"If forgiveness is easy, there's not enough blood on the floor."  Brene Brown Wow.

I heard that this morning, and it just resonated with me.

I have always said that the way out of our marriage hell was a long, slow crawl over broken glass.

Before the crawl over broken glass, I was mostly trying to hold things together.

I forgave quick and I forgave easy and I tried to forget about it.

I never admitted how much I hurt, or how bad my marriage made me feel.  That wouldn't be nice.  It wouldn't be sweet.  It wouldn't make any difference anyway.  And maybe if I just submitted more, that would take care of the whole thing.

Looking back, I realize.  Before the crawl over broken glass, there was just never enough blood on the floor.

And a lot of the blood was going to need to be mine.

We lived, at the time, on a little island in the South Pacific.  And since we had medical supplies at our house, I became the de facto clinic in the village, and I dealt with a lot of tropical ulcers.

I found this picture on Wikipedia, and they say it's from 1952, but I think the color is too good, and I swear I could have taken this myself.  I can name the patient.

Tropical_ulcer

OK.  That's nasty.  I know.  I feel a little faint myself right now.  Breathe.  Breathe.  Scroll down.  There's a reason I'm showing you this, so hang with me a minute.

When somebody came with one of these sores, I couldn't put antibiotics on top and hope for the best.  Much as I wanted to, believe me.  I would have to clean it out, down to the bleeding flesh, where the medicine could actually work.   This was absolutely no fun at all.  There would be a lot of blood on the floor.

And here's the thing.

A lot of us have emotional stuff that is just this ugly, just this putrefied, just this life-threatening.

We're taught as little kids to say "I'm sorry" and "I forgive you" as a rote exercise.

And there's nothing wrong with that.  It's a good first step.  It works pretty well when you're dealing with sharing a truck in the sandbox.  It's like learning your ABC's so you can read Plato someday.  You've got to start somewhere.

But as adults, forgiveness becomes complex, difficult, and confusing.

  • What is my responsibility?
  • What is the responsibility of the other person?
  • What about difficult or addicted or abusive people, who never seem to get it?
  • What about all this pain I still have, even when I thought I'd forgiven?

I've written about all this before.  And we can think about it properly, and get all our theological ducks in a row, and go to therapy and whatever.

But eventually, all the gunk has to come out of there.

And the gunk is not just in our heads, in how we think.  It's in our hearts, with all the pain and disappointment and loss and grief that we just don't want to feel.

Everything we use to block the pain.  The work and the ministry and the food and the exercise and the shopping and the admiration and the drama.   It has to go.

God can only work with our living flesh.

Brennan Manning said that we can go into the dark places of our lives with Jesus, knowing that we're safe there with Him.

No matter how dark and ugly our gunk, His love never fails.  He always knows how to heal and redeem.

It's not easy.  It hurts like crazy, down in there where the light don't shine.

The stuff that's down there, down deep, that's the real stuff.  That's where I need to bleed, much as I hate to.

But I want to be healed.  I want to be whole.  I want to walk free.

And this is the way.

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