banana bread brings life lesson

A couple of months ago, I reorganized my recipe notebook.  It was nothing fancy, just a little spiral-bound notebook that a friend had decorated for me, back in 1995. The thing had survived years on a tropical island and multiple moves around the world and it was a mess.  The batter splatters were deep enough in some spots to bury a mastodon.

I had tried at different times to type the recipes into the computer, but what a pain!  It took forever!

And lately I realized how much I like having my recipes in my handwriting.  I have a few recipes from each of my grandmothers.  Their handwriting.  Their batter splatters.  I love those.

Plus, my recipes are the record of my life.  I have lived a life in which daily cooking is required.  I remember the people and places that inspired me to copy them down and keep them and use them over and over.

I remember having the Chocolate Chip Nut Bars at Mary Lou Walker's house, right after our orientation in Papua New Guinea.  We had just spent 4 weeks in a leaf house on the back side of a tropical swamp, fearing for our lives from the malaria mosquitoes and the giant pig in the village that ate kittens.  Chocolate Chip Nut Bars reminded me that good things could still happen in this world.

And there's the Hunan Beef recipe that always reminds me of the Yacht Club restaurant in Madang, PNG where the menu--for years--listed their version as Beef Human.  We always ordered it, enjoyed it, and hoped it was a typo.

There are the Christmas recipes I made every year in the Solomon Islands.  One year I even made egg nog from scratch.  (Brief bout of insanity.  I'm better now, I swear.)

There are the Fudgy Oatmeal Bars that Beth served us the night I was in labor with Michael.  We were playing Scrabble and Andy laid a seven-letter word on a triple word score.  I have never played Scrabble with my husband again.  But I have made the Fudgy Oatmeal Bars many, many times.

The Coconut Cookies I made all the time.  Once we were having local friends over for dinner in the Solomons, and I forgot the sugar in these cookies.  I thought they were awful, but our friends loved them.  I made hundreds of them for Libby's wedding reception, and I must have remembered the sugar, because Americans ate them, and they all disappeared.

Jenny's PulKoKi recipe, with soy sauce all over the page.

Karen's bagel recipe, which is fabulous and healthful and which I have never made while standing on American soil.  Tortillas, yogurt, donuts, ditto.

So, even though the pages were shredding off the spirals, I couldn't throw the notebook away.  But finally, a  couple months ago, I found a half-size binder.  I cut the pages off the spirals and put them into sheet protectors.

All the archaeological evidence of my life and my handwriting, preserved.  And I can wipe the pages down if I splatter.  Perfect.

Except I edited just a tad.  I threw away a few pages of recipes I had never used.

And one of those pages, apparently, had my banana bread recipe on the back of it.  Which I didn't realize until this morning when I had three bananas in the brown-spotted state of banana bread perfection.  So I'm flipping through my perfect new binder and I can't find my recipe.  I can't find it anywhere.

And I am seriously, not kidding you, starting to experience some anxiety.  Some tension in my shoulders.  The stomach clenching, the breathing a little shallow.

Searching in cupboards, in old recipe boxes.

Nothing.  Nothing.  Not good.  Not good.

Bananas degrading as we speak.  Houston, we have a problem.

I managed to pull out of the death spiral just enough to get out the old red-plaid Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, and attempt a new recipe.  Even though I could tell it wasn't quite right.  It wasn't really normal.  But I did what it said.  (Mostly.  I added chocolate chips.  Because, clearly.)

And the new recipe turned out even better than the old one.  (Except it needs a little salt, IMHO.  And the chocolate chips are staying, for sure.)

Andy and I were watching a movie last night.  An old one (1994) called Before Sunrise.  It's a first-love kind of movie, both main characters in their early 20's.  And all they do, in the whole movie, is talk.  About life and love and growing up.

And at some point, the girl, Celine, says that her parents are wonderful.  But that it's been hard for her to be her own person, to make changes, because they are so nice.  It would be easier, she said, if they were bad.  I could be myself more easily that way.

She's feeling the tension of something comfortable that holds you down, keeps you from moving forward and finding something better.

And the banana bread was kind of the same way this morning.

I have this life that's nice.  It's comfortable.  It works.  It's my normal.  There's no huge reason to change it.  If it were terrible, I might be motivated to make it better.  But, it's pretty good.  It freaks me out if I think I will be forced to change it.

And then the new thing, that I resisted and dreaded and had no reason to embrace, turns out to be better.

So.  Life lesson brought to you this morning by banana bread.  Who knew.

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healing and joy

All week, I've been trying to write a companion piece for my guest post at A Life Overseas. I have three separate pieces in my draft box:

  • a personal memoir of my own Third Culture Kid childhood
  • reflections based around Ruth Van Reken's brave and beautiful memoir of TCK life, Letters Never Sent
  • thoughts I had after my son said that he feels really OK about his TCK experiences

I wasn't totally happy with any of them.  Usually I am not much of a waffler with blog stuff, but waffling I was.

And then I went to Wednesday night worship and during the prayer time, I heard this:  healing and joy.

What I've been thinking and writing about all week is loss and grief.  How those things are real, how they matter, how all our stories count.  How parents can help make things better for their kids, in a life that's inherently full of loss.  Experiences and reflections and to-do lists and resources.

And then I hear this:  healing and joy.

And I realize, AGAIN, that there is no plan for making everything perfect.

I realize, AGAIN, that there are no guarantees.

Except for this one that Jesus gave us:  "In this world you will have trouble, but take courage.  I have overcome the world."

Sunset over Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands

Sometimes things are such a mess, I don't know how they will ever be OK again.

But then people love one another, and God works, and then there's healing and hope and, ultimately, redemption.  I have seen it happen.  I know it is true.

A couple of months ago, one of my friends asked me if I regret this missionary life, in light of all the pain that comes with it.  And I just don't.  Henri Nouwen said, and he's convinced me finallyfinallyfinally, that true gratitude encompasses everything in our lives, good and bad, as God's redemptive path along the road Home.

That doesn't mean our pain doesn't matter.  It doesn't mean it shouldn't bother us.

It doesn't mean that we ignore the needs of our families and just trust God to sort it all out later.

It means that we do our best, today, where we are.

And when we make a mess, and when life happens.  When we find ourselves broken and weeping on the ash heap.

We trust  in grace.  

We let grace move us on.

We keep walking, we keep breathing.

We trust for the healing.  We trust for the joy.

Frederick Buechner said this, and it's what I want to say to my children, to other TCK's, to the parents who love them.

But most especially, this is what I need to hear.  I need to hear it all the time.  Maybe I should get a tattoo.

"Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid."

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Third Culture Kid

On Friday this week, I'll be guest posting over at A Life Overseas.  This happened because I commented on another blogger's post, called "What if my kids start resenting 'the work'?" I guess they could tell from my comments that I have an opinion or two about healthy living for missionary families, and they invited me to expound.  Which I am very happy to do.

Because, if you've been reading here for a while, you've probably picked up on the fact that our family lived overseas for a number of years before getting crazy, getting better, and relocating to Dallas.

Another plane, another country, Solomon Islands, January 2003

So my kids are Third Culture Kids.

"A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture.  The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.  Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background."  (From Third Culture Kids by David C. Pollock and Ruth Van Reken.)

And as if my own four children weren't enough to get me really invested in all things TCK, I am a TCK myself.  I grew up in Brazil, Nigeria, and the wilds of Kentucky.  And my husband is a TCK who spent time in Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and North Carolina.

So we've got TCK issues at our house.

Now.  All God's little children have got their issues.  But TCK's have got particular, prevalent issues.  And there's good research on this (Third Culture Kids is the master work).  I'm not making it up.

My own personal TCK stuff revolves around the two most common issues for TCK's:  personal identity, and loss and grief.

My most prevalent feeling as a child was alienation.  I just had this overwhelming sense of "I am not like you."  I was only 10 when we moved back to the States (but trust me when I tell you, this is plenty old enough for your TCK stuff to stick!).  Developmentally, at that point, I was still pretty narcissistic (totally normal for that age), so my explanation for this feeling of "I am not like you," became "Nobody likes me."  And this feeling of being unlikeable became an entrenched and painful part of my personal identity.

Loss and grief are just part of the package when you're a TCK.  You get on a plane, you leave everything behind.  And life goes on without you in that place you left behind.  Especially in the days before social media.  I hardly know anybody in my extended family, and my younger siblings grew up without me.  I have often said in jest, but it's the truth, that my kids know The Gilmore Girls better than they know their own blood kin.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine (who also happens to be a TCK raising her TCK's overseas) wrote and asked me if I regret living life this way.

And the answer is no.  I don't regret it.  

These days, I really like who I am.  And I've learned that other people can like me, too.  Even ones who aren't TCK's.  We're all a little quirky, for whatever reasons, and it's all good.

And I'm coming to terms with the fact that I may never feel completely at home in any particular geographic place on the planet, and that's OK.  It means I can feel at home in lots of different places, which is pretty cool.

Also, we have God's gift of social media and airline reward points these days, which help make the connections easier.

But I'm 47 years old.  I've had a while to work on it.  I've had a while to learn how to be more honest about what I love, and about what still hurts.  And I've had a while to watch God heal and redeem.  And the way that God works with every single thing, along the way that leads Home, is a miracle and a wonder.

When we moved back to Dallas, and planted ourselves for the foreseeable future, I was going through old photos.  I found pictures of each of the places I lived as a child, and put them together in a scrapbook.  And somehow, at that time, I came across Psalm 90:1:

"Lord, through all the generations, you have been our home."

And that's pretty much my lodestone, my True North.

I've lived in a storage shed in the Amazon, a dining room in Nigeria, a leaf hut in the South Pacific, and a suburban brick in Dallas.

In every one of those places, God has been my home, my refuge, my strong tower, my place of safety.  Even when I didn't see it or feel it or know it, it was still true.

Mostly He has been, and always will be, the Lover of my twisted little TCK soul.

And it's good.

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breakfast at mcdonald's

sitag ladies Last Friday I had breakfast at McDonald's with a bunch of my chicas from Solomon Islands days.

And my friend Martha (red shirt, no scarf) had brought along some photos from another breakfast at McDonald's in Cairns, Australia in June 2000.

That particular breakfast at McDonald's came at a difficult time in all our lives.  We had just spent 5 days on HMS Tobruk, an Australian tank transport, after being evacuated from the Solomons with 15 minutes'  notice.  (Seriously.  They called at 4:45 and said we had to be at the wharf at 5:00.  My friend Roxanne said that potential looters would see that her house had been pre-ransacked, and move along.  But all that is a story for another day.  Let me know if you want to hear it.)

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When Martha plunked this picture down on the table the other morning, we talked about the other couple in this picture with Andy and me.  That's us in the front, baby faces and all.  On the other side of the table are Patrick and Sharon Smith, of Perth, Australia.

This photo commemorates the last time I saw them in person.  But three years later, they figured into one of the most profound God-moments of my life.

The geographical place for this God-moment was Papua New Guinea.  The emotional place was major clinical depression, with a side of extreme anxiety and a sprinkle of psychosis every now and again.

Even though I was really in a bad place emotionally, I was getting a lot of good support from friends and I was having this strange experience of feeling horribly depressed but knowing that God was with me anyway.

My friend Pam said, "Honey, that's not weird.  Read the Psalms."  And my friend Karen shared with me that scripture about the Holy Spirit praying for us with groanings too deep for words.

So one morning I was sitting with another friend and I said, "Even though this is really bad, I feel like God is giving me gifts right now that I don't even know to ask for."

And when I said those words--"God is giving me gifts right now"--the phone rang.  A fellow missionary I knew in passing said, "Hey, there's a guy coming to your door in a minute.  He's wearing a blue shirt.  He's got something  for you."

OK.  Weird.

A few minutes later, this guy in the blue shirt knocked on the door and handed me a plastic grocery sack.

Inside, there were three small gifts, wrapped in orange paper with purple ribbon.  (It was perfume and chocolate.  Just in case you ever wonder what God would send you in a care package.)

So I said to this guy, "Who are you?  And why are you giving me this stuff?  Are you sure it's for me?"

Turns out, he was the youth pastor at Patrick and Sharon Smith's church in Perth, Australia.  He had come to speak at an event for the missionary youth group.  And when the Smiths heard he was coming to PNG, they decided to send some gifts along for us.

Now, since we had left the Smiths at McDonald's in Cairns, Australia, we had been in Tennessee for six months, then on the PNG coast for a year, then in the Solomons for a year, and then in the PNG highlands for about three months.

That's four international moves in three years.  I had trouble keeping track of myself.  How the Smiths had kept track of me, I do not know.

And how these gifts managed to arrive on my doorstep at THE EXACT MOMENT when I was horribly depressed but saying, I have this weird feeling that God was giving me gifts I didn't know to ask for?

Glory.

That's what our pastor said this morning.  That the glory of God is His "manifest presence, undoubtedly known in a particular place."

It's intimidating to think of how we can glorify God.  We are just normal people.  How could we possibly ever make God's present manifest and undoubtedly known in a particular place?

All I know is how other people have done it for me:  with simple acts of love and care.

In orange paper with purple ribbons.

In the long dark nights of my soul, over cups of chai, over lunch, with phone calls and emails, and breakfast at McDonald's.

So, this Holy Week, when I think about how to glorify God, this is what I know to do:  love and care for the people in front of me.

And when God is glorified, I might not even know it.  But that's OK, because I am not the star of this rodeo anyway.

In all our simple, normal, loving lives, Lord, be glorified today.

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Pornography Saved My Marriage

Pornography Saved My Marriage. I've been wanting to use that title for years.  Imagine how it would just fly off the shelves of the Christian book store.

Companion volume:  Martinis for Missionaries.

(I'll be here all week, folks.)

But seriously.  Really.

God can use anything.  Balaam's donkey, Jonah's whale, you name it.  Nothing is outside the realm of redemption when God gets a hold of it.  Not even a pornography addiction.

Romans 5:20-21 says this:  "But as people sinned more and more, God's wonderful kindness became more abundant.  So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, so now God's wonderful kindness rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  (New Living Translation)

The  more sin there is, the more grace we find.

But "should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more kindness and forgiveness?  Of course not!"  (Romans 6:1-2, NLT)

I can't help it y'all.  I live in south Dallas.  This is the picture that comes into my mind:

The sin is not good.  But the grace of God and His power to redeem is awesome indeed.

This little chapter of my story has a happy ending.  Our marriage is exponentially better than it was before.

I realize that many, many people don't get that particular happy ending.  And maybe it seems like the story just gets worse and worse.

I don't know how God is going to redeem in all those other stories, but I believe with all my heart that He will.  I believe that He is alive and well and at work.

And our job is to keep pressing on, toward That Day, believing that God can use anything and everything to bring us Home together.

***

So.  I think I've said what I wanted to say in this series.  This has been a challenging enterprise for yours truly.  I'm grateful to my nearest and dearest, who held my hand through the anxiety-laden days leading up to publication.  You know who you are.  Thanks for loving me through it.

I'm especially grateful to Andy, for his vulnerability, unwavering support, and encouragement.  I love you more.

If you've picked up partway through the series, and want to read the whole thing, it starts here.

And up next, here on the blog, I'm going to indulge  my passion for Handel's Messiah during the holiday season.  I haven't written anything yet, but I already cried while listening to the overture this morning.  So I'm off to a good start.

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An Anatomy of Redemption: Poking Around

"What difference does it really make, all this poking around in your childhood?  What good does it do?"  A friend of mine asked me this the other night. Well, since you asked...

The truth sets you free.

Jesus said it, we believe it, that settles it.

And when we try it out, we find it actually works, even when you're poking around in your childhood.

I can't tell you how many times somebody comes  into therapy saying, "My childhood was pretty good.  In fact, my parents were in ministry.  Nobody abused me.  Why am I so depressed/anxious/addicted?"

And we start exploring the tender places, the hurts.  And I'll ask about when they first remember feeling that way, and they'll tell me a story about something that happened when they were little.  Many times they've never talked about it before, and the shame or guilt or hurt or anger has stayed pretty much the same since it happened.

(And if you don't think that little kids can feel things deeply and strongly, go hang out near the church nursery on Sunday morning.  Let me know if you observe any intense emotion.)

One of my clients experienced extreme shame as a young adult.  So we talked about important emotional experiences early in life, and she told about a household accident in which her younger sister was quite seriously injured.  And as she told the story, it was clear that she absolutely believed that the accident was completely and solely her fault.  She felt incredible shame over what she had done.

My client was four years old at the time of the accident.   

Finally I said to her, "Where were your parents when all this happened?"

And she said, "Huh.  I don't know.  I never thought about that before."

We started wondering why a four year old was in charge, and how these events could have occurred without adult intervention.  It was a pretty big aha moment.  And an opportunity to let go of something that could not possibly have been her fault.

When something happens to you as a child, you understand and process it as a child.  And if you never get a chance to think about it as an adult, and process the emotions as an adult, you're stuck with your childish understanding and your childish emotions about it.

Here's another thing.  When we poke around in our childhood and bring the truth to it, we can let go of the burden of fixing our families.

Our families are all composed of human beings.  Our parents are human beings.  Our grandparents are human beings.  Our aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, and in-laws are all human beings.

None of them were perfect.  Some of them were significantly less than perfect.  Some of them were neglectful.  Some of them were actively harmful.

It is sometimes hard to tell the truth--even to ourselves--about the hurtful choices and actions of our beloved family members.

Here's the thing, though.  When we can't face the fact that Daddy or Mama or Grandpa Joe are making bad choices, and have been making bad choices, and look to be making bad choices til the cows come home--most of the time we will find ourselves engaged in all kinds of crazy behavior in an attempt to prevent and conceal and fluff their bad choices.

When that's an entrenched way of life, we call it codependency.   I've written about it before.

Maybe, as I face things honestly, and let go of having to fix everything, I can trust God for THEM, and let Him deal with ME, too.

(You can see how this starts to expand past your childhood and get all up in your present, with the other people who need to love and approve and attend.)

When we face up to reality, it's hard and it hurts.  But it's also very freeing to get off the crazy train.  A little disorienting, for sure.

But when the dizziness wears off, and you find yourself unshackled and running in the open air--that's a good, good day.

Trust me, it's a good thing to get free and breathe.

Here's one more thing.

Your life is God's gift to you.

And, potentially, your life is God's gift to those around you.

When we live our lives small and afraid, Satan wins.  And when we live our lives out of lies, Satan wins.

But when we are willing to face the truth, and let it set us free, we're asking God to redeem.  We're saying no to bondage and yes to freedom.

We trust God with everything that weighs us down and holds us back.  All our hurts, all our shame, all our anger and grief.

And ultimately, that's why we poke around in the past.  So we can lay it down and press on to all the promises before us.

What does "poking around in the past" bring up for you?  

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An Anatomy of Redemption: The Baby Bears

"You're like a momma bear with her cubs." The person who said this to me (right in the middle of the worst year of my life) was, I think, attempting to admonish me.

But all I could say in reply was, "Well, yes.  Yes, I am like a momma bear with her cubs.  That is my job."

I have four children.  I love them fiercely.  If you try to hurt one of them, you will run off with claw marks down your back.

(I can't figure out a way to feel bad about that.  Although I must admit that I haven't tried real hard, either.)

That was one of the hardest things for me about the whole pornography mess in our family:  how it impacted our children.

Maybe you're a fairly perfect parent.  If so, you can spend the next few minutes reading a post you don't need.  Or go back to the football game.  Whatever.

But maybe you're a human being.  And you've screwed up.  Or you're married to a human being who has screwed up.  And you're worried about how your baby bears are going to survive the mess.

Let me tell you some things about our experience.  I hope they'll give you hope.

When we returned to Dallas in April 2003, it was our 5th international move in 3 years.  It was also our kids' third school situation--and third country--in one school year.  They had been home schooled in the Solomon Islands, attended a small mission school in Papua New Guinea, and then went into huge public schools in suburban Dallas county in April.

They were at four different ages and four different stages of life and the multiple moves and family upheaval impacted each of them differently.

To say that it was an emotional disaster zone is not an exaggeration.  And there was not much we could do about it, except cry through it with them.  And wait for the healing.  There was a lot of pain and I think some of the healing is still happening.

But Andy made a really good choice, back in 2003, that I think has made healing and redemption possible.

He told our kids the truth.  He told the older two at the time, and then waited to tell the younger two when they got a bit older.

I will admit that I was opposed.  I thought it would just hurt them more, at a time when it seemed to me that they'd had way more than enough.

But he felt strongly that he should tell them.

And he was right.  Genius, in fact.

It was difficult.  Painful.  But absolutely the best thing he could have done.

Telling the kids means that we're not hiding things from them.  

They know what's going on.  They don't have to make up stuff to explain the emotions in the house.

And that's what kids do when they don't have the facts.  They create a story that explains the emotions.  And usually that story involves self-blame, because every child believes that the world revolves around them.

Our kids are free to be angry with us, but they don't have to blame themselves.

Telling the kids means that they aren't responsible to fix the family.

This is an adult problem, the adults are taking responsibility, and the adults are doing what needs to be done to fix it.

When the adults aren't honest and when the adults aren't taking responsibility, the kids will do their best to fix their family.

Some will turn to perfectionism.  They'll try hard to make their parents feel better by being perfect or funny or beautiful or care-taking.  Others will become the black sheep.  They'll try hard to fix the family by creating problems that bring everyone together to work on solutions.

Our kids can be mad at us, but they don't have to fix the family.

Telling the kids means that we admit that we are human and imperfect.

It would be nice if we were perfect, and they never had to deal with this.  Because at some level, kids want their parents to be perfect.  So when we give them hurtful evidence of our imperfection, it's painful for them.

But the perfect ship has sailed.

So we tell the truth and we deal.

Telling the kids means that when they're struggling, they know it's OK to tell the truth and ask for help.

Our kids are having to learn how to cope with the internet in a healthy way, and it's tough!  Accidental exposure to pornography is almost a given at some point.  (Unless you're Amish.  And if you're reading this post, you aren't.)  Because our kids know what Andy's dealt with, they can come to him and say, "Dad, you need to block this one website, cuz it's giving me grief."

Most of all, what I've learned is this:  when we are not perfect, God can still take care of our kids.

I Corinthians 12:9 says this:  "My gracious favor is all you need.  My power works best in your weakness."  (New Living Translation)

God's power works best in our weakness.  His grace is all we need.  Even for the baby bears.

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An Anatomy of Redemption: The Lesson

On Easter Sunday morning 2001, we got up early to watch the sunrise over the coast of Papua New Guinea. We went out in the dark and we sang songs and read Scriptures.  But as the sky got lighter, we saw that it was completely overcast with clouds.  Everything was kind of gloomy and gray.  As million-dollar-view ocean sunrises went, it was pretty disappointing.

So I stood there.  Pouting on the hill because the sun wasn't shining.

And then I started to realize that the sun IS shining.  What I see is clouds all over.  Dark and disappointing.  But the sun is still doing its thing, even though I can't see it.

(They called me Einstein in school.)

But here's what I've been pondering recently.

I don't have to "have faith" or "trust and obey" about the sun still shining.

I KNOW THE SUN IS SHINING.

And it would be completely crazy to think otherwise.

The sun is totally predictable.  It comes up every morning and goes down every night.  I, and billions of others, have experienced this without fail and know that it is true.

So.  The incredible value of experience.

People say to me, "What am I supposed to be learning in this mess?  I wish I could figure it out and get it over with!"

And I've learned all kinds of things in my messes.  Things I know God wanted me to learn.  I've had truths to face about myself and my motivations.  Forgiveness to extend to those who hurt me.  Abundance to offer out of what I have received.

But more than anything, my experience teaches me that this is true:

Lo, I am with you always.  Even to the end of the world.

Many, many of us have had our worlds end.

I have dear, darling friends who have been called upon to deal with way more than any human being should have to cope with.

Disease and death and abuse that results in overwhelming loss and grief.

But the Shepherd of my soul doesn't chuck a huge load on me and walk off to let me handle it until I learn my lesson.

He says:  This world is full of trouble.  Don't be ignorant about that.  But take courage.  I have overcome the world.

He says:  Come to me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

For all of us who wander, afraid and alone, and wish for home, he says:  I have prepared a place.  And I will come, and I will take you there, and you will be perfectly at home with Me.

However our world has ended, Jesus is there.

And those of us who have walked through the dark places?  We know.  We know that we know that we know.

Job, the innocent sufferer, said this, "I had heard about you before.  But now I have seen you with my own eyes."  (Job 42:5)

The story is not over.  He has loved us with an everlasting love.  Our names are written on the palms of His hands.  Just like a nursing mother cannot forget her child, He cannot forget us.

And whatever else you might be learning in your valley, know this for sure:

"You are precious to me.  You are honored, and I love you."  (Isaiah 43: 4)

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An Anatomy of Redemption: Deal With It

I have been reading romance novels most of my life. And it started way before I discovered the Harlequin romances in the high school library.

I was in love with Gilbert Blythe in junior high.

Almanzo Wilder before that.

And the movie version of Prince Caspian just confirmed what I knew at age 10:  I want to be a princess!  Pick me!  Pick me!

But there's a reason this stuff is called fiction.  (Spoiler alert.)

IT'S NOT REAL.

We might wish, that in some perfect world, our knight in shining armor would come riding up and sweep us away from "all this."  But in reality, he just pulled into the driveway in a dinged-up Honda that has 225,000 miles on it.  People have been after him for computer support all day, somebody in  Singapore is still not able to upload their files, the boss is back in town with a long list of what went wrong, there were no good snacks in the break room, and he just wants to sit down, watch the ball game and not talk to anybody for a while.

He might come into the house wishing to find Angelina Jolie, wearing a low-cut ball gown and having the kids singing a ballad in 6-part harmony.  But he's going to find the dogs barking, homework all over the kitchen table, the kids needing a ride into Oak Cliff 10 minutes ago, the computer with the blue screen of death, and me in my sweats.

Reality bites.  Pretty hard sometimes.

But underneath the surface stresses we can slap up for a Facebook status, the deep questions remain:

  • Am I an OK person?  Am I normal?  Does anybody else understand how I feel?  Or care?
  • Am I worthy of love?  If you really, really knew me, would you still love me?
  • If I'm not perfectly beautiful/perfectly strong every day, will you still love me?
  • If I told you the truth, could we still be OK together?

I think, in particular, when we start talking about sexual issues in marriage, a lot of us women would rather not go there.

But we are fighting a war for healthy sexuality.  Let me remind you of the statistics:

  • 67% of children admit to clearing their Internet history to hide their online activity
  • 79% of accidental exposures to Internet porn among kids take place in the home
  • 56% of divorce cases involve one party having an obsessive interest in online porn
  • 29% of working adults accessed explicit websites on work computers  (Source:  covenant eyes.com)

If we're going to help, we need to stop being Rapunzel in the tower, and start being Rosie the Riveter, building bombs in the factory.

One of the first books I read, after finding out about Andy's pornography use, was The Sexual Man by Dr. Archibald Hart.  I wish he would write another book, now that the internet is such a part of our lives.  But his research is incredibly valuable.  Dr. Hart has worked for many years, both as a clinical psychotherapist, and as a seminary professor.  For this book, he surveyed over 600 men:  Christians, seminary students, clergy.  The good guys, y'all.  He was trying to determine what's normal for men who are trying hard to do the right thing.  The subtitle is "Masculinity without guilt."

So I would read passages out loud to Andy, and say (possibly in an accusing tone), "Is this true?"  And he would sheepishly say, "Well, yeah..."

Another great book on marriage is The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman.  He's done a truly ridiculous amount of research, and he can tell within 5 minutes of meeting with a couple whether they will divorce or not.  You'll have to read the book for his seven principles--and also for his Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  Fascinating stuff.

Here's one thing Gottman found:

"The determining factor in whether wives feel satisfied with the sex, romance, and passion in their marriage is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple's friendship.  For men, the factor is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple's friendship."

Many of us are saying to our husbands, "There's this whole part of you that I don't want to know anything about.  If you told me the truth, I couldn't handle it.  So let's just pretend it doesn't exist."

He asks, "Could you love me if you knew?"

And we say, "No way.  Keep it to yourself."

In our quest for comfort, we reject our husbands at a deep level.

What quality of friendship can we expect when we do that?  Not a good one.

What impact will that have on our marriages?  Not a good one.

Here's what I know.  Prince Gilmanzo can take a hike into the sunset.

I just want my BFF.

And I want him, being who he is, not feeling like he has to hide stuff about himself and protect me from reality.

I'm a big girl now.  I can deal with it.

So here's what I would say to other big girls.

  • Read The Sexual Man.  Learn, grow, accept.
  • Read The Seven Principles.  It's really positive and empowering for marriages.
  • Get your shields up and your internet filtered.  Covenant Eyes is our friend.
  • If you need counseling, go!  Even if you have to go alone.
  • You might be scared, but you can still be strong.
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An Anatomy of Redemption: Interview Postscript

After hitting the publish button on Andy's interview the other night, we were talking about how maybe his recovery experience doesn't look very spiritual.  Yes, he had a very important experience of repentance and healing in his relationship with God, back in Papua New Guinea. But from our perspective, that was the doorway that he walked through, in order to begin the journey to recovery.  The long and winding road encompasses a bunch of other stuff.

Honesty.

Accountability.

Owning the junk as it comes up, still to this day, and on until the day we die.

Staying engaged in the marriage and keeping it a place that we love to be in.

And probably a bunch of other stuff that you can't always put a Bible verse next to.

Andy was initially given a program for treatment that was basically a Bible study.  It wasn't all that helpful, to be honest.  Because he already knew all those verses.   He'd translated every single one of them into another language over a ten-year period, and he was addicted to pornography half the time.

Information about God's word was not the issue.

The issue was letting God loose to change and heal deep down inside.  And until the owning and the working, at a deep level, you could quote scripture, or you could say "abracadara, bibbidi, bobbidi, boo."  And either way, you'd have wasted your breath.

For Andy, and I bet a whole lot of other guys (and us girls too), the real deal was owning his stuff, and working on it in a bunch of different ways.  All of those ways, I believe, are under the mercy and grace of a loving God.

I do believe in the power of the Word of God.  Living and active and able to slice us right open.

A sword.

Not a magic wand.  And not a band-aid.

Our God is a consuming fire.  

Not a tame lion, as C. S. Lewis would say.

He wants more from us than memorizing the right verses and acting the right way.  We can do a bunch of stuff right, on our own, with our hearts of stone.  He wants to give us a heart of flesh.

Your heart of flesh is going to be open and vulnerable and able to let love in.  If you have trouble with that--if you have to be always perfect, smart, funny, well-coiffed, perfectly employed, or in full-time ministry in order to deserve love--I will double-dog guarantee you that your problems are rooted in your childhood.

I'm sorry, but you're gonna have to go there.

The purpose of going there is not to blame the people who hurt you back then.  The purpose is to get honest about the pain that shapes your life today.  And to go with Jesus into that pain for the purpose of forgiveness and healing.

Here's what Andy said last night, which I love.

"I used to try hard when I was younger, to read my Bible and pray the right way.  If anybody asked me, I could say that my spiritual life was good.  But if I look at the fruit of the Spirit in my life then, compared to now, it's a whole different thing.  The love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and faithfulness that I have now, I never had back then."

So, did I just make a bunch of ya'll really, really crazy with this post?

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