Wednesday, May 6, 2015

So Much Silence

I wonder how many people have never told. Have chosen to forget. Have fought to forget.

Sometimes you succeed at forgetting until the evil rises up through your skin like oil on the surface of the water. And people scoff at the oil. And call you dirty.

Maybe they call you weak. Or weird.

And wonder why you haven't cleaned yourself up.

In Christian circles they say you  "just need to trust Jesus."  They think that enough theological knowledge will fill the gaping, bottomless void that is the damaged soul.

The damaged goods become suspect within the community that should be the safest place in the world. Obedience becomes the key. Emotions become the enemy.

There are no victims, they say.
Take responsibility for your own sin, they say.
Sort your own junk, they say.
Get over it, they say.

How? Just how?
When you have been rendered voiceless, personless, powerless.

How do you grab onto bootstraps that are broken with hands that were severed?

Statistics say that at least one in four women have been sexually abused in some way by the time they are 18. At least.

And one in six men.

And yet the silence. So much silence.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

On Grapefruits, Disillusionment, and Seeking the One Thing

Sometimes my purse gets overloaded with stuff. My husband and I have an ongoing joke about it, which started with a funny misunderstanding years and years ago.

I asked my husband to hand me my grapefruit. He asked where it was and I said, "I can't find it. I think it is in my purse." What he heard was, "I think it is in my purse but I can't find it." The image, of course, being that my purse was so full of junk that I couldn't even find a grapefruit in there. To this day, no matter what he needs to dig out of my purse, he will always (and I mean always) say that it was somewhere in there under the grapefruit.

I no longer carry a purse large enough to house a grapefruit (though an orange or apple has been seen bulging out the sides), but my bag can still get chock full of stuff and it gets heavy and burdensome and I can't find anything I need. At that point I really just have to dump it out, sort out the junk, and put back the important stuff. I don't really need the 27 grocery receipts or 9 pens. Nor do I need the half-rotten apple, the baggie of graham cracker pieces, or the melted Hershey's Kiss stuck to a penny. But I do need my wallet. My lockbox key. My allergy and migraine meds. (And perhaps an unmelted Hershey's Kiss, still in its wrapper.)

Sometimes you just need to sort things out. To get down to the basic necessities. That sorting is especially essential when the junk is getting in the way.

That is what I think disillusionment is. Junk getting in the way.

I know many people who are disillusioned right now. And by that I mean disillusioned with the church and with the current expression of Christianity as we know it in our culture. And to be honest, I am one of them.

My disillusionment has been building for years but has now hit critical mass. It is more obvious to me when I am in environments that seem to heap more and more stuff into my already overstuffed bag. The ways we should be and the things we should do. The words we should say, the gifts we should have, the hoops we should all jump through. The ways we should vote. The causes that should garner our attention. The ways we should relate to our children, our friends, our coworkers, our enemies. And just the right doctrine. Always the right doctrine.

I am worn out. I can't carry this bag any more. It is so full of so much stuff that I have lost the ability to find the things I need. So I am dumping. I am dumping it all out and looking through everything and putting back the good stuff. The necessary stuff.

A long, long time ago, way before the grapefruit/purse incident, there were a couple of ladies. They had an important guest in their home and one of the ladies was busy doing all the right things. I am sure she would be praised for her industry and her conscientiousness and her servant's heart. She might even be applauded for her organizational skills and her hospitality and her appreciation of beauty. She might even have killer cooking skills. She was getting things done and grew irritated with her sister, who was not helping at all.

Instead, her sister was sitting with the guest. Soaking up his wisdom. Basking in his presence.

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Luke 10-41-42

"Only one thing is needed."

When my relationship with God, when the life he has called me to live, becomes too burdensome, it might be because I have too much in my bag. It is time to dump things out, sort out what is needed. Lighten the load.

"Only one thing is needed."

Mary sat at Jesus' feet. She was not chastised by Jesus for not jumping through all the right hoops.

"Only one thing is needed."

May God give me wisdom to stick with that one thing.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Unfamiliar Paths

When we lived in town we had a neighbor a few streets away who was legally blind. He could see fuzzy shades of light and dark, but nothing else. He walked by our house every day. A known path.

I would imagine that the familiarity brought comfort and certainty in a world where he would otherwise be quite lost. Those bumps in the road and cracks in the sidewalk were his friends, telling him how far he had gone and how far he had to go. He knew what to expect when he got to the top of the hill or when he got closer to the dull roar of traffic on the main road. The familiar path was his lifeline to a safe and secure existence.

I cannot imagine how completely disorienting and even terrifying it would have been for him to be plunked down in a place he that he did not know and told to take a path he had never walked. How every step would be uncertain. How every turn would bring the unknown. How he would have no way of knowing how much longer before he reached his destination or even if he were going the right way at all.

It is hard to lose your beaten path, your known way in the world. It is disorienting. Uncertain.

Sometimes that comes with the loss of a job, a career, a home, a friendship, a marriage, a life.

How do you move forward? Where are you even going?

There were times in this past year that I said that I felt like the Israelites in the desert, but with no pillar of smoke by day or fire by night to guide me. And no parting waters before me.

Yet God says this:

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, 
  along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; 
I will turn the darkness into light before them 
  and make the rough places smooth. 
These are the things I will do; 
  I will not forsake them.     -     Isaiah 42:16

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known.

There are times when I am too blind to see the pillar of smoke by day and fire by night. This is taking utter dependence to an entirely different level.

Along unfamiliar paths I will guide them. 

My blind friend would know the terror of being on that unfamiliar path. Yet I know that terror, too. Many of us do.

How do you move forward when everything in your life has changed, sometimes gradually, sometimes in the blink of an eye?

How do you move forward when you have no idea where your next paycheck is coming from? Or when you have no idea what God wants you to do with your life? How do you move forward when all you worked for is gone? When dreams are crushed and hopes dashed? How do you move forward when your trust has been betrayed? How do you move forward when you have seen your husband snatched from this life before your very eyes?

I would imagine that you must take the hand of one who knows where they are going. Someone that you trust.

Absolute, utter, complete dependence.

Terrifying? Yes.

But he will not forsake you. He says so.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fat As a Bad Witness?

When I was in college I knew a student through one of the campus ministries. This woman was kind and compassionate, with an extensive knowledge of the Bible. She led a weekly Bible study and was diligent in discipling other young women. She seemed to have a real heart for reaching out and loving others. She was everything a fine, upstanding, Christian college student should be. But she was overweight.

When she graduated from college she wanted to go on staff with this particular ministry. Now, I wasn't there in the interview. I didn't hear all that was said. But I remember hearing the upshot. They would accept her as a staff member only if she lost weight because "being overweight is a bad witness."

I still reel when I think about this.

Let's unpack this. "Being overweight is a bad witness." Says who?

Those who have no problem with this statement will usually come up with, "well, gluttony, after all, is a sin." But who says she is a glutton? Unless you get ahold of her medical charts and her personal history and a map of her DNA and a long term calorie count, there is no way for you to truly know the source of her weight problem. And unless you can see to the depths of her heart, there is no way that you can know that she is a glutton. Gluttony, after all, encompasses a heck of a lot more than a passion for Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

People are overweight for all sorts of reasons and sometimes these are reasons beyond their control. Some people are overweight for medical reasons. Some people are overweight due to side effects from a medication they take. Some people are overweight because their body just doesn't burn fuel like thinner people. Some are overweight because their appetite control mechanism seems to have gone wonky. Some people are overweight because they have totally screwed up their metabolism through diet after diet after stinkin' diet, in pursuit of some sort of cultural approval, only to find themselves fatter than ever.

And some people ARE overweight because they eat too much. But we don't always know why. Some, having grown up with deprivation, are terrified of going hungry. Some, having been violated by the opposite sex, are terrified of having an attractive body. Some are using food to fill a hole, a deep longing. And some are eating too much because it just plain tastes good. Perhaps this was the problem the Powers That Be at the campus ministry assumed. That my friend was overweight because she ate too much and that was a bad witness.

Tell me, why can't you be fat and be a good witness? After all, a witness is somebody who shares their side of the story.

If you are called in to court as a witness to a crime,you are not called in to recount the laws of the land, you are called in to tell what you experienced and what you saw. That is it. This is what you know.

Unless this woman was specifically committing the sin of gluttony (and that is a Pandora's Box if there ever was one), why should she be kept from ministry just because she is overweight?

As I see it, she would be just as, if not better, equipped to minister to others as anyone out there. Not only does her weight in no way hinder God working in her life, she could have a much deeper view into what it means to cling to God when you are scorned by the beauty standards of our world.

I cannot imagine being a college student struggling with my weight or my lack of physical beauty and finding that only thin, fit, pretty, perky people representing Christ on campus. What does that say? That God doesn't care about you if you are fat or homely. I would want to have someone to turn to who knows rejection and shame and heartbreak. Being a fat person in today's world pretty much guarantees you all of those.

I see nowhere in the Bible where we are told that somebody's BMI will limit the working of God in their life or through their life.

Might there be issues in her life that needed to be dealt with? Sure! Might it be good for her to develop, if she already hadn't, a healthy lifestyle? Of course! Could she be a witness, even a GOOD witness, for Christ, even if she was fat? Absolutely!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Dear Young Pastor

Lately I have seen a number of articles where highly respected pastors and Christian leaders give their advice to young pastors. What advice would I give young pastors? Well, it didn't take me long to figure that out. So here goes:

Dear Young Pastor-

I am sure you are on advice overload by now. I am not seminary educated. I am not a pastor myself. I am not a high profile believer of any stripe. I am just a person.

I see a lot of advice to young pastors about knowing theology and about knowing the Word of God. That is good and fine. Theology is important. You don't need to be preaching heresy. The Word of God is important. You have to know the foundation of what you believe.

But who are you preaching the Word of God to? People.

For all the advice to make yourself a student of God's Word, along with that, I would highly recommend you make yourself a student of people.

Because ministry is not just a bunch of impressive sounding words and lofty theologies.
Ministry is people.

Because ministry is not just about checking all the boxes as a good Christian.
Ministry is people.

Because ministry is not just a spiritual stepping stone to a successful career.
Ministry is people.

Knowing people is essential. There is so much variation in how God made us. In our temperament, gifts. Our life experiences. Learn. Learn from people.

It takes humility to learn from others. That may be hard. From what I hear, it is easy to come out of seminary convinced that you have all the answers to life's questions wrapped up in a tidy package. The truth is, we all have more questions than answers.

Ask questions. Listen to people. Listen to their stories. Refrain from wanting to fix them or give quick answers for their questions.

Learn about people. About how God made people. It warmed my heart to see a young pastor friend of mine post an article on Facebook about introverts with the comment, "I am beginning to understand."

Seek out information on things you don't understand. What happens to a woman's heart when her husband is unfaithful? What happens to children whose father walks out the door? Or dies before their eyes? Or spends years in prison? What happens to someone who is physically or emotionally or sexually abused by those he trusts? What happens to a man's sense of worth when he loses his job and can no longer provide for his family? What makes some people seek to lose themselves in a world of drugs or alcohol? What pain do they flee? What is it like to be in rehab? To be at war? To come home from war more wounded inside than out? What do young women go through when faced with an unplanned pregnancy? What does that kind of panic and helplessness really feel like? What is it like to give up the child you grew inside or walk past the protesters and have an abortion? What is it like to keep that baby and raise it on your own? What makes a man abuse the woman he vowed to honor and cherish? What is it like to learn differently from everybody else and to feel like the odd one out...all your life? What is it like to be the last one left when every friend of yours has died? What is it like to be the only single person in your entire group of friends? To always be the last one picked for the team? What is it like to struggle with mental illness? To face racial prejudice? To be beaten while you are down?

Every time you listen, you learn. And every time you learn, you are expanding your ability to care for others.

And people know if you care.

Thank you for listening.
Ginny, A Person

The Perk of Failure

Over the years I have moaned on and on and waxed eloquent and sometimes not so eloquent about my failure as a mother. Or at least my failure as a mother in the success-driven, competence-glorifying, "you must do it right or else" culture that is my world. (

Last night, however, I was having a discussion with a friend about a phenomenon that is all too common. The perpetual mother. You know them. Perhaps you have one of them Perhaps you ARE one of them. This is the mom who, regardless of the age of her child, really has trouble letting go and transitioning to that adult to adult relationship.

Her child can be 30 and she is still hovering or chiding. We see it on sitcoms. We hear it from friends. We may say it ourselves. "She treats me like I am 13!" (Insert eye rolling here.)

Well, for once, I am pleased to announce that my pathology has a good side. I don't have that problem. For all my failure as a mom...all those structures I didn't impose, all those homework assignments I didn't assist, all those chores I didn't dish out (the list could go on ad nauseum)...taught me something important. I am no good at managing people. Especially little people. But really any people.

And when you are tired and when you are tired of being a failure (by the standards of the day, anyway), you take the first exit ramp at your disposal. That exit ramp came none too soon. My kids now range from 19-25 and I am oh, so happy. In spite of my feeble efforts, they are fabulous, wonderful young adults. I love being friends with my children.

If by some miracle they come to me and ask for my input, no problem. I am happy to share what limited wisdom I have scared up in 51 years on the planet. But if not? I love them. I am here for them. But I want to treat them like the adults they are. And what a relief that is.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Biggest Heart I've Ever Known

Twenty-four hours ago I answered the phone and heard her voice. Her broken, weary voice. "Matt died. Matt died yesterday. He's gone." Amy proceeded to tell me in shock-induced detail the most heartbreaking story. Of deserted beaches and tides and gasping for air. Of being stranded on the sandbar with her two sons for over an hour, watching as the sea took her husband's body away. Of flagging down help and a ride in an ambulance. Of not needing to identify the body because his was the only one missing in the water.

Over two years ago I got a call. Amy was at the hospital. She was losing her baby. After miscarriage upon miscarriage, she had gotten this baby to 22 weeks. I spent the night with her boys while she and Matt spent the night laboring to bring a not-yet-ready-to-be-born baby into this world.

Two days later Amy poured her heart out in the most beautiful words which many of you read, which I shared in my post "No Words, Just Tears." Because there are times that there are no words, just tears.

There really is no way to fathom this loss. Matt was her stronghold. The love of her life. Her kind, compassionate, strong, wise, gentle, creative, goofy, quirky, hilarious husband of 20 years. And he was the father that every kid would dream of.

Who wouldn't want a father who was part Peter Pan, part Norm Abrams (the This Old House guy)? Who could build your tiny home and expansive lot by Bee Tree Creek into an Appalachian Neverland?

Matt Auten was all heart. The biggest heart I have ever known. All tender, gentle, humble, and often broken heart. He felt deeply and loved deeply. He was a brilliant musician with a voice smooth as butter. He was a witty wordsmith. He saw life the way it was. No delusions. No pretending.

He was the closest thing I have ever had to a little brother. He was a kindred spirit and fellow weather junky. He called me one day, "I am over by Home Depot and the sky is a Kermit Frog green." We shared a dream of storm chasing. We shared a love of severe weather and Diet Dr. Pepper and a hatred for poison ivy.

You could pour your heart out to Matt and know that he not only listened, but he felt it with you. No condescension. No fixes. No heady theological answers. Just compassion and empathy and a mutual need to cling to the grace and mercy of God in a world we don't understand.

On Tuesday that grace and mercy he so clung to was made made fully him. I picture him now, singing praises to Jesus on guitar, maybe those hymns I begged him time and time again to record. I see him there, surrounded by those babies he never touched, and by Baby Christopher, whose tiny finger he held for those few brief moments. I see him there, rejoicing and loving and maybe even building tree houses in heaven, while wearing shorts, no less. With a Diet Dr. Pepper in hand. I see his tears washed away.

But for his dear wife, Amy, who has experienced too much loss already, of babies who just weren't meant for this world, and now of her lover, rock, and best friend, my heart breaks. For his sons, who at ages 9 and 7, have lost their hero, there are no words.

No words. Just tears.