Friday, November 29, 2013

He Forgets Not His Own

Thanksgiving has been one of my favorite holidays. Even as a child there was something wonderful about it. It meant school was out and the house smelled good. It meant that people all sat around the same table and ate together. It meant that I wasn't alone.

We were never one of those families that had hordes of people over. My parents were both only children so we had no uncles, aunts, or cousins. It was just us, (two parents, four kids, one grandmother), but it was a rare time that everyone was in one place at one time. And I wasn't alone.

It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, 1977, when I came home from school and he was gone. My dad. Now, I didn't have a close relationship with him and, for the most part, he had hardly been a part of our home life for years, but that day was it. He was gone. For good.

Two days later was Thanksgiving. What had been a favorite holiday turned into, from then on, a glaring reminder of what was no longer. Knowing that the marriage she had clung to for almost 32 years was over, my mother collapsed in grief. On the floor. Beating her fists. Screaming out her pain. While the turkey sat and I stared.

Thanksgiving was never the same. The holidays were never the same. Life was never the same. Being the youngest of the four, I was the one left at home. Year after year I would sit alone as my mother sobbed, battling my own demons and with no idea or emotional strength to battle hers as well.

God has been gracious. He has put me in a lovely family with a loving and faithful (and fun) husband and four incredible children of my own. I shouldn't be lonely. But still, sometimes, more often than I care to admit, those waves of grief and isolation wash over me. It still hurts. After thirty-six years, it still hurts so bad.

Yesterday we sang "We Gather Together" in our church's Thanksgiving service. A traditional Thanksgiving hymn that at first glance brings up images of pilgrims and Norman Rockwell (though not necessarily at the same table—that would be a meal to remember!). But right there, at the end of the first verse, God reminded me of what I can be most thankful for:

"Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own."

The God of the universe, in the middle of all the holidays and the hoopla and the turkeys and the trappings and the families and the loneliness, in the middle of all of THAT, does not forget me. I am not alone.

Thank you, Lord Jesus. Thank you.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Abstinence Is Realistic, and So Is Grace

I read Matt Walsh's post about abstinence today and it is wonderful and spot on and totally agree with it. Yes, our culture calls hooking up "freedom" and says it is OK to do it whenever and wherever and with whomever and everybody does it and anything less is repression and you are weird and old-fashioned and unrealistic if you don't give in to your desires and to this I say that is a lie from the pit of hell.

Yes, sex is a very special union to be used as a bonding between a husband and wife, the most ultimate expression of the two becoming one. The ideal is that you will never have intimate relations with anybody but your spouse and that the very act of sexual union will be exactly what God created it to be free of baggage and turmoil and a Pandora's box full of regrets or sickening memories or shame or trauma of any kind.

The problem is that we live in a terribly broken world. When people write on the ideal of abstinence, the ideal of a sexual oneness between a husband and wife, they are describing something that many, many will never experience. It is so all-or-nothing. You are clean or you are crap. For anybody who has a history, whether through their own choices or through no fault of their own (One in four females and one in six males by the age of 18 are abused sexually in some way and therefore, to varying degrees, see themselves as dirty and the whole concept of sex through a distorted lens), this is heartbreaking.

It just seems like there are only two options: There is this wonderful, pure as the driven snow, pinnacle of Christian union or there is this cesspool of human swill. There is a division: Those who have kept themselves pure and those who have not. A heaven and a hell, in some regards.

The truth is, everyone is affected by the fall and, to a certain extent, everyone's idea and experience of sex is affected by the fall. The prostitute, the loose and free groovy twenty-something, the horny high schooler, the broken victim of sexual violence, the confused teenager who gave of her body in exchange for what she hoped upon hope was love. Even, yes EVEN, the pure. The virtuous. The virgins. Those who remain chaste until the day they wed, they, too are affected by the fall.

We are presented with a Biblical ideal but we do not live within a vacuum. Even those who "make it" to marriage without becoming "damaged goods" in the eyes of other believers, can struggle and wrestle and find themselves disillusioned as to what sex means and what sex is. Whether because of what we have seen or what we have heard or what we have imagined, even the abstinent can come to the marriage bed with a certain amount of baggage. There is no area of life, not even the Biblical union of sex, where we do not need the grace of God to cover our fears and ideas and needs and selfish inclinations or the idea that we are entitled to having it really GOOD and really OFTEN because we waited.

But I digress. The truth is that sex is crazy and complicated and messy and the church tends to put things into neat and tidy boxes. In one Boat A you have the erotic heathens of the world and in Boat B, the chaste saints of the church, and everybody who is in the middle is left wondering where they fit and whether or not God has anything to say to them about desires and emptiness and forgiveness and healing, and wondering if maybe they will just drown in the mess of it all. 

Several years ago, after my daughter confessed to me that she had lost her virginity, we talked and talked and then I looked and looked and looked for an article, a book, something somewhere to give her hope. To help her know she wasn't the first, and certainly not the last, young woman to give in in a time of weakness and that there was a kind and gracious and loving God there to forgive her and give her a clean slate and a fresh start. I couldn't find one. Anywhere.

It is like Christians with a sexual history of any kind really (whether by their choice or not) are just plain invisible.

Sometimes I think the church doesn't want to acknowledge that these people exist because if it does, then that somehow gives people permission to cast off all restraint and let the party begin. I don't get that. (Is there a fear that talking about grace for those who have sinned is some sort of Get Out Of Jail Free Card? Well, guess what? We are ALL prisoners and Jesus came to set the captives free.)

This is such a black and white approach. All or nothing. If you can't do it perfectly then there is no use trying at all. It is all well and good to point out the lies of the culture. It is all well and good to explain that God's plan for sex is not only for our good but ultimately for our pleasure. But for so, so many people that offers no hope. One strike and you're out. No second chances. No forgiveness. No redemption.

But last I checked, God was in the business of second chances, forgiveness, and redemption. He is the God who is with us in the struggles, who is not shocked our needs and our desires and our insecurities and our past and even our lusts. He is the God who forgives our sins and heals our diseases and cleanses us white as snow and makes all things new.

It is never a "one strike and you're out" with God.

And for those who do withstand the pressure and, through conviction and prayer, remain celibate until marriage, I respect and admire you. But never forget: Abstinence is good and honorable and even realistic, but even you, the sexually pure, need Jesus, too. We really are all in the same boat after all.