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Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here! :: Why Advent Matters

 

Sarah Bessey on Why Advent Matters

Advent has begun. Many of us are already preparing our homes and families to observe this season of the Church calendar.

But how could we possibly celebrate Advent if we are paying attention to this world?

How do we make merry when our hearts are broken by Paris, by Syria, by Kenya, by Beirut, by Japan, by Burundi? When, in response to every crisis, our communities seem splintered and divided in how to respond, and careless words are flung like rocks at our own glass houses? When, closer to home, perhaps we are lonely or bored or tired or sick or broke?

In these days, celebration can seem callous and uncaring, if not outright impossible.

But heres the thing about Advent: we celebrate precisely because we are paying attention.

It’s precisely because everything hurts that we prepare for Advent now.

We dont get to have hope without having grief. Hope dares to admit that not everything is as it should be, and so if we want to be hopeful, first we have to grieve. First we have to see that something is broken and there is a reason for why we need hope to begin with.

Advent matters because it’s our way of keeping our eyes and our hearts and our arms all wide open.

Advent is the Church’s way of observing and remembering, of marking the truth we believe that God came to be with us once, and God is still with us, and God is coming again to set all things right.

It’s holding the truth of what is right now up to the truth of what was and what will be and then responding, like Mary sang to Elizabeth in her Magnificat: blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!

It is declaring that we believe it still: God is redeeming all that is broken in us and curing all that is sick in us and bringing all that is dead in us to life.

 

Read the rest of this post at SheLoves Magazine by clicking here…

The Full Advent Series

Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here! :: Why Advent Matters

First Sunday: Hope

Second Sunday: Peace

Third Sunday: Joy

Fourth Sunday: Love

Christmas Eve: The Christ Candle

Continue Reading · advent, faith, Guest Post, SheLoves · 1

I used to think I wanted peace in faith (a guest post by Rachel Roth Tappling)

Choosing one particular post out of the 133 entries in the Out of Sorts synchroblog to feature as a guest post was nearly impossible. So many of the entries were worthy! (You can read a few of my favourites right here.)

But right from the minute I read Rachel’s post here, I knew this was the one I wanted to feature. Her words are emblematic of so many of the posts in the synchroblog, sure, but it’s also beautifully written, wise, wry, deep, beautiful, and honest about the mess and uncertainty that often accompanies our shifts. Rachel’s words will ring true for so many, I know. I’m thrilled to introduce you to her work – make sure you head over to her blog and check her out.

Here’s her post:


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Addendum, 9:13pm:  Am quitting everything and going into hibernation. Have become dark and cynical despite best efforts and will hand out sandwiches to the homeless or something but only if I don’t have to talk or interact with people. What no one tells you about adulthood is that you rarely know for sure what the best course of action is. It’s all a blessed crapshoot and I need a yellow brick road of obvious.


I wrote this to a friend during Holy Week a few years ago. We’d been following an online Bible study together and were journalling our thoughts in a shared Google doc.

She was an academic-turned stay-at-home-mom writing a dissertation, and I was a full-time teacher-mom driving 45 minutes to and from work with 2 young kids, one who puked regularly out of carsickness.

We saw the online bible study and thought, yeah. Let’s dive in. I had also had an additional motive, to try to gain some peace, some clarity during Lent and emerge at Easter with some sort of renewed vision of faith.

I was disillusioned. Having spent my 20’s in full-time church work, I was feeling less-than-clear. A few years prior I’d had a harrowing experience at another church, wherein I nearly lost my job for reporting a suspected abuse situation to the authorities, rather than hand it off to my boss.

Despite the legal mandate, I was threatened with firing, accused of insubordination and gossip, unprotected when the family in question guessed my name. I was still reeling, though in a new setting.

When the bubble pops, its popped. There’s no un-popping it. And suddenly it seemed the deeper I dove into scripture and prayer for guidance and support, the more questions I had. I’d always been so eager to please, so quick with the answer.

And suddenly, I was uncomfortable, unfamiliar in my surroundings.


What started as a feeling of betrayal by certain authorities within the church, spiralled into deeper and more enduring questions about faith itself. My prayers were not bringing clarity.

I’d read Job and mourn for the children that were killed in the tornado, angry that they were written out and then replaced like possessions. I’d read Joshua and mourn for Jericho, for all the women besides Rahab who were born on the wrong side of the wall and had no red rope to save them. I’d read Romans and mourn the women, the wives submitting as slaves in a culture that ignored them, dismissed their talk as gossip, distrusted their authority. And I prayed for peace.

Plowing ahead as if nothing had happened wasn’t working. I was supposed to be leading. Teaching. Submitting to authority. I led my students in silent Bible reading and reflection to start each day, with little more guidance than passage suggestions. I would sit at my desk and pray for clarity, try to shed my tears silently while I ensured no one was texting or doing their late math homework instead. And I prayed for peace.

So I laid a fleece during that lenten season. I’d grown up learning that testing God isn’t okay, but sometimes it is okay to lay out a fleece, to ask for guidance and certainty, like Gideon when called to battle. I was testing myself.

I prayed that in the 6 weeks of Lent, my friend and I would journal, we’d pray, we’d discuss the devotions and I’d find answers.

I imagined I’d know whether I was foolish and sinful to explore other faith traditions, critically judge my own, consider leaving, let my doubts rule the day, or at least listen to them…and I prayed for peace.


But it didn’t work. The email about my cynicism came right before an Easter service in which I left twice to handle crying and/or child vomit. In which I had more quesitons than answers.

In which the Syrian civil war consumed my thoughts. What if my children had been born there? What if I’d had Muslim parents? What if my authorities kept me from school, raped me, put a veil over my face, sold me as a bride at 12 and kept me in the house?

And I wept for lack of clarity. Because my white, American, 21st century heart was confused. I had nothing like peace.

Where I,

having been born a Christian-

Because history and technology

and lots of blood and colonialism and imperialism,

(and blatant disregard for the environment)

have built for me an empire within which I am fortunate enough to live relatively conflict-free

(and through a series of many wars and mandates and conversions by sword live where the culture is “Christian”)

and thus ride this wave all the way to the pearly gates?

So within this bubble, in this tiny speck that is earth in the ocean of an infinite universe, I have been born into privilege and handed an “ancient” text about faith and so my eternity will not be hellfire?

Some days, I was stuck there. Thomas, demanding proof. I’m not trying to be cynical. But we’re talking about infinity, eternity, and vastness beyond my understanding. And I had religion lessons to teach. Children to raise. Coffee to pour and words to write.

And if He is He, God must be bigger than all of that. As such, I struggle with the preciseness of our faith.


So here I am. Doubt-filled, baptized, wide-open and seeking.

And here was Rahab. Bold, shrewd, outside yet not unwelcome.

And here was Job. Broken, angry, in conversation with the overwhelming forces that harm.

And here was Peter. Feeling betrayed, scared, distrustful of authority, outside the temple walls, loudly in denial.

What I miss when I pull my lens back and zoom out and stay there and refuse to come back because its all too much, is that these stories show the veil pulled back. The heart of God working inside those inside the tragedy. Presence inside the outsider, saving the sinful privileged. Endless chances for the frightened zealot with poor impulse control, warming his own hands.

And what I miss when I am stuck, zoomed-in only on the seeming minutia of toddler vomit, sleepless nights, bad traffic, long work hours and penny-pinching, is that despite this lack of peace, there was presence. We have some of these stories in the text we read, and some of these stories in our memories. Some connect us to the ancient saints and shrewd prostitutes and broken patriarchs of the past, and some connect us to our histories, our lessons, that time we were betrayed and that time we orchestrated the betrayal.

I didn’t get peace. I still don’t have clarity. There has been no yellow brick road of obvious. I didn’t find a way to poetically wrap up my faith crisis. The loose ends are frequently tangled . The bubble is still popped. 70 Syrian children have drowned trying to escape the world they were born into. Michigan has some 70-degree November days and all I can think about is global warming. My children still sometimes puke in the car. I still struggle with which church to join.

But what I’ve had is presence.


When a woman who’s husband passed away during the school year thanked me for the devotional time I’d given her son, unfettered and quiet space and time in the Word each day, reading Job, there was His presence.

She thanked me for giving him time to daily and privately work through angry conversations with God, which I told them was better than no conversation at all,  to wrestle. While I wept quietly into my coffee behind them, God’s presence was with my students.

While I despaired that my Lenten devotion had not ended in a triumphant Easter of clarity, I’d still been able to dine with the saints.

While carrying a sleeping toddler, while questioning Him in and outside of the church gates, and from inside my privilege of safety, God’s presence insisted that I engage, rather than pull away.

And while I carry doubt with me in-step, while I now work from home, prepare to welcome another son into this world of beauty and conflict, presence draws me into the daily blessings my hands can reach.


So, I messaged my friend. I told her it was all too much and everything is too hard.

And then I had one of those revelations that is in no way new or shocking and is, in fact, the subject of a Michael Jackson song, the AA poem, cheesy motivational office posters, and the like.

Start with yourself, you genius, you.

Express yourself with your hands and feet and debit card.  

What can you touch around you right now? What is within your reach?

So basically,I hummed “Man in the Mirror” a bit and then felt better about what is in my reach.

This could have been a story about Peter being a great witness to those also “on the outside”, but it isn’t. And this could have been a good story about Rachel, bold through doubts and outspoken about the wrestle with faith, but it really isn’t yet.

But “Are you a disciple of Jesus? Do you believe in this big God that you rage against?” The question asked Peter, the assertion of Rahab, the wailing of Job.

Yes, I am. I’m here to learn. I’m here to follow this meandering path. I’m here to find out how wrong I am and be gracefully turned around. And I’m here amidst other people. There’s no peace there, either, but there is presence.


And because I’m never ever dramatic, or throw in the towel and then pick it up again, and because I never ever ever let the minutia get to me, I email friends and declare hibernation.

I complain to my husband that the microwave stresses me out. Because it beeps at me. And coupons because they have expiration dates that I cannot seem to manage. Sometimes it all feels big, or small, and all too much. In those times, what I don’t need is peace. What I need is presence.


There is presence in prayer:

I stand in the courtyard and doubt, in the temple and hide. I wave branches and then drop them in shame, and yet I want to be a rock upon which You can build. Peter’s zeal was redirected and I pray the same for my propensity to stand in the middle, doubt and question and speak.

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild

      At every word,

Methought I heard one calling, Child!

      And I replied My Lord.

-George Herbert

Continue Reading · Guest Post, Out of Sorts · 24

In which the dream has died – now what? :: by Sheridan Voysey

Today, I’m making a bit of room here for Sheridan Voysey. I think his words will strike a cord for many of us who have had to experience loss before we could experience resurrection. When I read his post here, I knew it was for us: those of us who have had to see a dream die before another could take its place. Yesterday, Ray Hollenbach (a spiritual formation director, pastor-heart, and fellow Vineyard-y guy) tweeted this:

I think we often don’t make enough room in our churches and lives and families for the death of something, for the navigating of the loss that accompanies deep change. I’ve been thinking about it more and more with our “Your Turn” series here, as well as a few other situations. So I’m thankful for Sheridan Voysey’s words here and pray that they minister to you. Check out his book on this subject, Resurrection Year.

****

‘I think that’s all of it,’ my wife Merryn said, pushing a play rug into the last available space in the car.

‘Thank you,’ my sister-in-law said, rubbing her hand over her baby bump. ‘This will all be so useful.’

The car now overflowed with all the paraphernalia one needs for the arrival of a baby. There was a baby carriage in the trunk, along with a stroller. A highchair sat on the back seat beneath the children’s books and portable playpen, and a play rug and bags of bibs were pushed into the spaces leftover.

My sister-in-law closed the trunk, gave Merryn a hug, then drove off up the street.

It had taken Merryn and me a decade to accumulate all those baby things.

Preparing for a dream that was never to be.

Christmas 2010 had been shaping up to be a Christmas like no other. After ten years spent trying almost every means possible to start a family—including special diets, courses of fertility-boosting supplements, healing prayer, numerous rounds of IVF treatment, an agonizing two-year wait on the Australian adoption list, followed by more rounds of IVF—we had been told we were pregnant.

Pregnant! After a decade waiting we were going to have a baby.

Then a call came to Merryn’s cell phone on Christmas Eve.

‘I’m afraid,’ the nurse said, ‘your pregnancy hormone levels have dropped significantly…’

‘But,’ Merryn said, ‘you told us we were preg…’

‘I am so sorry.’

Merryn had put down the phone, walked into our bedroom and curled up in a fetal position. Our dream of having a baby was over.

Now the remnants of that decade-long journey were being carried away in my sister-in-law’s car.

A few weeks before that fateful phone call, I had interviewed British author Adrian Plass on my radio show. Chatting after the interview, I told him about the difficult decade Merryn and I’d had, and how we hoped 2011 would be better. He listened intently to my story then said something profound. ‘In the Christian scheme of things,’ he said, ‘new life follows the death of something, just as Jesus’ resurrection followed his crucifixion. After what you’ve been through, I think a Resurrection Year is what you need.’

A Resurrection Year—a year of new life after the death of a dream.

The phrase struck a chord.

Little did we know it then, but in just a few months’ time Merryn and I would be setting off on an adventure we’d never forget—walking the streets of Rome, climbing the Alps of Switzerland, and settling into our new city of Oxford, United Kingdom, where Merryn would get a dream job at the University and I would write a book helping others recover from their broken dreams.

None of this was what we had planned for our lives. God turned our broken dream into a new beginning.

But this new beginning required something of us.

The baby carriage, the stroller, the children’s books and play rug—like burs that cling to your clothes after a forest walk, they were all reminders of our past. And to move on we had to say goodbye to that past.

We had to say farewell the dream that was never to be.

When my sister-in-law announced she was expecting again, Merryn and I were given an opportunity to do that. And as she drove up the street with our baby things in tow, something significant happened in Merryn’s heart:

The forest burs were plucked from her clothes.

The symbols of the past were carried away.

And that meant we could finally grieve, and say farewell to the dream that for a decade had made our hearts sick.

So, perhaps you long to be married but are still single, or your artistic career has never taken off. Maybe a crushing diagnosis has shattered your dreams for your loved one, or the whirlwind romance has ended in divorce. The good news is, you can start again after your broken dream. God may even turn it into a surprising new beginning.

But for that to happen there comes a time to relinquish that dream.

So that God can give you a new one.

___________________

Sheridan Voysey is a UK-based writer, speaker and broadcaster on faith and spirituality. His latest book Resurrection Year: Turning Broken Dreams into New Beginnings chronicles his and his wife’s journey to start life afresh after ten years of infertility. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and catch his podcasts and videos at www.sheridanvoysey.com Sheridan will be touring the US in October 2014.

Continue Reading · Guest Post · 19

21 things that shouldn’t be said to sexual abuse victims :: guest post by Mary DeMuth

I love Mary DeMuth. And I don’t mean that in the lame say-it-but-don’t-mean-it way. She was my roommate when we were in Haiti together in 2012, and she is genuine, whole, brave, loving, funny, and smart. And her morning alarm was a song by Elvis Costello. She has written a very important book and I am so honoured to share my space here with her hard-won wisdom today. 

 

 

As a sexual abuse survivor, I’ve heard my share of insensitive comments. I’ve also talked to enough victims to be able to gather some of the most damaging words here—all for the sake of those who truly, truly want to be loving, sensitive and helpful.

My intention in writing these is not to shame those who want to help, or make them walk on eggshells. Instead it’s to help friends and family members of victims best love and understand the sexual abuse recovery journey.

One. That was so long ago, why can’t you just get over it?

In this case, I simply ask, “How long did it take you to ‘get over’ the death of a loved one?” Sexual abuse involves grief—the loss of innocence, the shame of sexual violation, the removing of living life free. I’m not sure we ever “get over it.” We grow. We heal. We process. But there will always be that grief.

Two. Are you sure it happened?

Telling is the hardest thing to do for a sexual abuse victim. While there are people who make up stories, err on the side of belief. Believe me, none of us wish we had this terrible story to tell. And yes, we’re sure it happened.

Three. If you talk about it so much, you’ll never heal.

Processing is important. There will be times when a victim spends a lot of time talking. This is part of the process. It won’t always be so. Offer your understanding. Listen. Ask questions. Making snap judgments about someone’s healing journey and how long it “should” take only makes them want to quit.

Four. You know that song, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Or it makes you weaker, jumpy, more fearful, less trusting.

Five. I could never go through what you went through.

What this communicates is that, in a way, you’re glad it didn’t happen to you. Which is completely natural to feel. But it also makes us feel like we’re marked somehow, and we’re left with the very real truth that it did happen to us.

Six. That perpetrator must live with such awful regret.

Maybe. Maybe not. Sociopaths and psychopaths don’t process regret or shame like others. They tend to blame society, their upbringing, and even the victim for their violations. A sexual predator is redeemable, but their pathway to health is long and excruciating. One article that truly helped me understand how many predators process “getting caught” was a recent one by Boz Tchividjian.

Seven. That’s how men act. It’s normal.

This is one of the most demeaning things anyone can say about a man. Men aren’t enslaved to sexual desire unless they choose to be. Men can act nobly, honoring the women in their lives. They will not die without sexual release.

Eight. So and so forgave her abuser; it was easy.

While forgiveness is an important part of the healing process, it is not simple or easy. And it can take years to get to a place where you choose to forgive. Telling us how easy it was for someone else makes us feel like the path of healing we’re on is the wrong one.

Nine. It’s just sex.

Unwanted sexual touch is violation. It’s not just sex. That’s why there’s a difference between consensual and non-consensual sex. One is an act of choice and love. The other is predatory and criminal.

Ten. But was it full sexual abuse? He just leered? That’s it?

Dan Allender in his book The Wounded Heart shares that healing from sexual abuse is difficult no matter what form it takes. Don’t minimize someone’s journey just because it doesn’t fit with your idea of violaton.

Eleven. Was the perpetrator drunk? Were you?

The fact is this: one person chose to violate the will and dishonor the NO of another. This is a criminal act, regardless of the state of inebriation. If someone murdered another while drunk, that state of drunkenness does not excuse the crime.

Twelve. Well, what were you wearing?

Sexual predators prey on people, regardless of what they are wearing. I have not had this question leveled at me because it would be ridiculous. I was five years old when I was assaulted. I wore a kindergartener’s dress, corduroy, with pants underneath and patent leather shoes.

Thirteen. Did you flirt? What did you expect?

Flirting is different than asking to be violated. In the case of date rape, it makes sense that flirting went on because it was a DATE. But a date is not a precursor to unwanted sexual touch.

Fourteen. Why didn’t you tell me before?

This is not about you. It’s about the victim. Don’t place a guilt trip on someone if it’s taken her a long time to tell you. Telling is a HUGE risk. Many people are violated a second time because the people they tell don’t believe them, blame them, or flat out walk away.

Fifteen. Hmmm, but you look normal.

Looks can be deceiving. Inside the mind of a sexual abuse victim is all sorts of chaos, shame and worry that the secret will define them the rest of their lives. We may look “normal,” but we struggle to heal, to believe we are worthy to take up space on this earth.

Sixteen. Just stop thinking about it.

Flashbacks and triggers happen when we least expect it. Many victims suffer from PTSD and cannot control the sudden thoughts that invade.

Seventeen. It could have been worse. (Insert worse sexual abuse story here).

This is not helpful. Everyone has a unique story, and no matter what level the sexual abuse, it is very real and hurtful to each individual. Don’t minimize one person’s story by sharing another.

Eighteen. Oh, I understand totally. (No, you don’t).

Unless you’ve walked the sexual abuse path, don’t say this. And even if you have, no two people will process their abuse or heal in the same way.

Nineteen. You sure you didn’t make this up to get attention?

This is demeaning and utterly dismissive. Err on the side of belief and empathy rather than misinformed judgment.

Twenty. Well, why didn’t you (insert thing you should have done here)?

No one can walk in the abuse victim’s shoes. No one knows exactly what could or could not have been done. Looking back, I did everything I knew how to escape those neighborhood teens who sexually assaulted me for a year. Some of those things worked; most didn’t. And in the middle of violation, most victims are so typically shocked and taken off guard that there’s really no way to have a “right” reaction. Besides, the abuse happened, and saying there had been a way for the victim to escape is just heaping further shame.

Twenty-One. This was part of God’s plan, so you’ll have to make your peace with it.

I don’t even know how to respond to this. I have a strong belief in the sovereignty of God, but I must be honest: I still wrestle with why He didn’t protect me as a small child. I know as a parent, that if I knew my child was being exploited, I would have stepped in. So I still wrestle with God’s ways, and I think I always will. I still love Him. I’m utterly grateful for the healing He has wrought. But I don’t really understand why I wasn’t protected.

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I’m humbled and grateful to be here today. A huge thank you to Sarah for allowing me to share my heart. A little background. I’ve shared my sexual abuse story in the last few years, but I haven’t always been so open. Initially I kept it silent for a decade, then over-shared, then went silent another decade. The healing journey hasn’t been easy, but it has been good.

About a year ago, I sensed God wanted me to be bold in sharing about sexual abuse. I wrote “The Sexy Wife I Cannot Be” on Deeper Story, which went crazy (so many comments), followed by “I’m Sick of Hearing About Your Smoking Hot Wife” on Christianity Today. The overwhelming response to those two posts prompted me to write Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing after Sexual Abuse.

The book proved too risky for publishers, so I decided to crowdfund it, which turned out to be an amazing success. I cannot believe that now I can hold Not Marked in my hands, and also offer it to you. What’s unique about it: It’s written from the perspective of a survivor. It doesn’t offer cliche answers. It’s honest. And my husband shared his unique journey of how to walk a loved one through their sexual abuse.

Continue Reading · Guest Post · 88

In which I’m practicing

I have practiced cynicism, like a pianist practices scales, over and over.  I have practiced being defensive – about my choices and my mothering, my theology and my politics – until I was on the offense. I performed, with repetition, outrage and anger, the victim of someone else’s god, I jumped, Pavlovian, to right every wrong and defend every truth, refute every blog post, pontificate to every question. I called it critical thinking to hide my bitter and critical heart, and I wondered why I had no real joy.

It didn’t take long for my proficiency in cynicism to become obvious to others. My aptitude didn’t take a lot of work, I’ll be honest, it seemed to come rather naturally to me, maybe I was a prodigy. I practiced poking holes, deflating arguments, identifying the pill in all of the jam. My response to it all was, “yeah, but…” and I set up my piano on the border between Funny and Mean, playing sarcastic scales in the name of wit, you might be surprised by how much snark you can fit into 140 characters. And over and over and over again, I practiced and practiced, but no one liked to hear me play.

Give me just a moment here, follow me outside. I’m done with this grand piano, with this glossy stage. I’m done with the concert proficiency at Being Right, I’m ready to be Beloved instead. Here, now, let’s head for the Canadian wilderness together, I’ve got just the spot in mind, and wouldn’t you know it, out here, in the sunshine, there’s a battered old thrift store piano, just for me.

Look at me, clumsy, and learning to practice goodness and truth, like scales all over again, it’s like I’m born again. I want to practice gentleness and beauty, over and over again, until my fingers find the keys without thought. I am performing the bare basics, once more and then one more time and then again, boldness, discipline, silence, prayer, community, again and again.

I want to practice faithfulness, and practice kindness, I want to fill my ears with the repetitions of wide-eyes and open hands, and innocent fun, holy laughter. I want to practice, with intention, joy. I won’t desecrate beauty with cynicism any more, I won’t confuse critical thinking with a critical spirit, and I will practice, painfully, over and over, patience and peace until my gentle answers turn away even my own wrath. I will check the notes, ask for help, and I’ll relax my shoulders, straighten my spine, and breathe fresh air while I learn, all over again, the gift of grace freely given and wisdom honoured, and healing, and when my fingers fumble, when I sound flat or sharp, I’ll simply try again.

I’ll practice the ways of Jesus, over and over, until the scales fall from my eyes, and my ears begin to hear, and soon, my fingers will be flying over the keys, in old hymns and new songs, and on that day, when I look up, I bet there will be a field full of people dancing, beside the water, whirling, stomping their feet and laughing, and babies will be bouncing, and I’ll be singing and singing and singing the song I was always and ever meant to sing, the rocks will be crying out, and the trees will be clapping their hands, and the banquet table will be groaning with the weight of apples and wine and bread, and we’ll sing until the stars come down.

image source

 

Continue Reading · A Deeper Story, abundant life, community, faith, Guest Post, journey, music · 4