Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Things We Hide For Love

Female evangelist Juanita Bynum was interviewed this morning on Good Morning America. She was responding, and sometimes not responding, to questions posed about spousal abuse. Following an attack in a hotel parking lot, Dr. Bynum came out in the open to confess that she had been suffering repeated physical attacks by her husband.

Although I don’t use this blog to focus on sensationalist’s news, it seems important to talk about ministry women and the things they hide for love. When we started our church, FCC, I was very lonely and knew that isolation wasn’t good for emotional health. We had moved away from Florida where I could go to lunch with a writer friend whenever I needed to step out of the role of pastor’s wife and just be myself. I found an online group of pastor’s wives that were posting stories that sent chills as I read. One woman told of how her pastor husband had moved into the basement of their home and moved in a woman from their church to serve him as his lover. He threatened his wife telling her that she had to keep up the front for him or else suffer the humiliation of exposure. Another woman was suffering verbal abuse from her husband’s congregation to which he responded by telling her that she just had to suck it up; don’t rock the boat, he told her. Account after account, I read until I couldn’t read any more. There were thousands of them.

I posted a thought about spiritual abuse and how Satan wants us all timid and cowering. And what kind of model is it for a Christian leader to roll over and play dead to a group of people who obviously are not seekers of sound godly counsel? I was overwhelmed by women who emailing me for advice and asking me what they could do.

Juanita Bynum is being criticized for living a lie. But coming out in the open is not living a lie. That is the kind of response that will send more ministry wives into hiding when what they need to do is to stand up and refuse to be abused any more. Trusting God for outcomes when we choose to do the right yet hard thing is an apostolic practice—meaning that the apostles made it a part of their daily practice. It takes a lot of character to face public ridicule while reaching for the high road.

Randy and I once helped a battered wife pack up and get out of town while the husband was swearing and threatening us as well as the police who stood vigil. It wasn’t something that seminary prepared us for, but there are times when you just have to stand when all else fails; to stand when a controlling power is breathing threats over your life. Just stand.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Last Things

We spend a lot of time thinking about how we should prepare for after college, after our children grow up, and how we should spend retirement. But seldom do we engage in conversations about how we would prefer to live out our last days.

I became hotly aware of a human being’s sacred last seconds only after Jessi died. I interviewed people who had been at her side. I listened to stories and wrote them in a journal. Everything is sacred during that season.

When I was a teenager, evangelists would sensationalize death so much that I think it caused people my age to withdraw from the conversation altogether. If you only had an hour to live, would you say “yes” to Jesus right now? What if you were hit by a train? Then would you be ready for eternity? Making people afraid of the deathbed instead of preparing for it as earnestly as we do other stages of life sells short the opportunity to begin engaging in conversations that openly embrace this stage of life and the hope that can follow it.

To reduce that very important moment to a platitude on a revivalist’s brochure is to extract from it all of its deeper layers. What is more important is how we choose to live day-by-day and then, for the person who is told she doesn’t have long to live, what should be decided about living out the last days. And barring that, are there decisions that we can make now that—pending sudden disaster—that will let our family members know how we would prefer to live out our last hours?

I was born between the Great Depression and the Information Age so I carry memories of a time when a dying family member drew people to the bedside to make wrongs right and to say good-bye. Then came the medical technology that often so disables the dying person leaving the patient unable to speak or be aware of the people gathered around the bedside.

When my own mother died, the physician had increased her morphine so much that by the time I arrived, she could only blink and force a faint smile. Her sister, my Aunt Connie, and I kept a vigil all night next to my mother. Right at dawn, right as the first light was breaking over the Ozark Mountains, my mother lifted right out of that morphine-induced coma, reached out to something she could see at the end of her bed, and then passed on. I would have loved to have known what she was seeing at that moment. The things a dying person can teach are sacred lessons.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Send in the Clowns

I used to believe that when a story was told about someone being raised back to life that the storyteller was either selling something or was some starry-eyed hill sitter lost in a vapor of delusion. God likes to mess with people like me, erode our self-made beliefs and trade them for God-birthed (and scripturally reinforced) realities. Many years ago, God led me to start a clown ministry, one that he promptly pulled me out of as soon as I started writing.

Clowning attracted people like bugs on butter. Every Thursday our troupe visited the children’s wings in Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We performed a routine in every single sick child’s room, songs, comedy, and a light blending of faith and hope. Out of that period, otherwise shy people joined our ranks. Many went on to start their own ministries in other states. We accumulated a long history of stories.

The only days we visited the infant rooms was at the invitation of parents that needed cheering up. As in the cancer and burn wards, we found that adults benefited as much from our little song and dance as children. We tumbled out of the elevator with our usual silliness, ready for Miss Connie to hand us our room list and a few preparatory directives. Instead, we found her crying. An infant had just passed away. One of the corridors was full of family members, mourning, holding one another up for support. Miss Connie asked if we would mind praying for the grieving family. Our troupe joined hands and the staff joined us.

I still can’t explain why I said what I said next. It isn’t like me to blurt out things, especially knowing my pastor husband is about to lead us in prayer. But it was a sense of urgency that came over me at that moment. I said loudly, “Father, in the name of Jesus, we ask you to raise this infant back to life!”

An awkward silence followed. My next prayer was that the floor would open up and swallow me. Some of the staff members went back to their posts. Miss Connie got us our list and we headed down the hall to visit patients. She headed back to the mourning family along with her assistant.

My husband kicked off a riff and we sang to the first patient on our list. Then we heard screaming outside. Miss Connie’s assistant ran into the room to grab us and drag us back out into the hallway. She shouted, “The baby that you prayed for just came back to life! He’s alive, he’s alive!” In plain sight of the nurses attending the body, the baby turned pink, took a breath, and opened his gorgeous eyes. The child had been dead about a half hour. We followed Connie’s assistant back to the infant’s room. The morgue attendant came wheeling the empty gurney down the hall, grinning, and said to us, “This is the kind of trip I love to make!” The infant’s family members hugged and cried for joy. My husband approached the father and said, “You’ve been given a gift from God, you realize.”
I'd like to say that I started a resurrection ministry from that point on, people gathering in large coliseums to see their loved ones raised back to life. I needed it very badly the afternoon three Huntersville policemen showed up on our doorstep to tell us that our daughter had been killed in an accident.

(Our story of loss will be shared from my current WIP, Our Horn of Plenty--A Thankful Life; WaterBrook/Random House)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Keeping it on the Down Low

I was recently engaged in an online conversation about celebrity and the Body of Christ. I thought about Paul and Barnabus in Lystra and how when they were worshipped by the Lycaonians for the healing of a crippled man, they stopped the people in their tracks. When Paul and Barnabus heard them praising them like gods, they tore their clothes, grieving.It reminded me of the Christian artist and song writer Keith Greene who, when fans applauded him wildly, he crawled under his piano, ashamed.
We can become ashamed of the wrong things in American culture while at the same time applauding men and institutions instead of God. A friend recently sang at a crisis pregnancy center banquet, sharing her story of restoration. She was given a standing ovation and also kudos from a well known Christian communicator. When I told her how proud we were of her and how that she had received such high validation, she said meekly, “Jesus is all the validation I need.”

I don’t know how we got so far away from sharing faith in love, telling our stories one to another, and helping others see Christ for what He is, the Light of the World with us as merely the witnesses of that light.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Making Room For the Things I Need

Timid (tim’id), adm., -er, -est. 1.lacking in self-assurance, courage, or bravery; easily alarmed; timorous; shy. 2.characterized by or indicating fear; a timid approach to a problem.—Syn. 1. fearful, fainthearted.

If God didn’t give me timidity, what is that switch that goes off inside that makes me cower, withdraw, hide? I see it in people’s eyes, how we avoid the topic in our conversations calling it other things, hiding it with busy work. We make it look pretty, calling it meekness. We use it as a false covering. I’ve prayed asking God to take problems out of my life, to fix my troubles when my motive was to hide in my Elijah-cave.

Timidity is a horrible monster that masks itself like a mouse. But once it takes up residence in me, it grows, demanding more and more space. The louder it gets, the more silent I grow. I tell myself that silence is golden to appease timidity. It tells me, like a little god, “Don’t hang out with people. They’ll only hurt you, or they won’t like you, or they’ll criticize you, or they’ll use you. Let me be your guide; I’m all you need.” If people are exactly what I do need, then what voice is telling me otherwise?

I need the difficult person in my life to tell me the truth about myself just like she needs me to reciprocate. When I listen, humility crowds out timidity. I need the unlovely and the prickly so that they can teach me patience. I need for others to need me so that I can get outside of myself because when I’m not full of myself but another, then my emotions mature. If I didn’t have conflict, I wouldn’t know the sweet oil of learning to apologize or forgive. If I don’t help someone who is having trouble seeing the forest for the trees, I’ll never learn how to gently, diplomatically confront. If I embrace troubles, turning them over, opening them up, and finding inside my own frail humanity, then I’ll learn how to solve.

People need us, our solutions, confrontation, embrace, gentle encouragement, laughter, wisdom, and touch. And we need to hear from God. Timidity needs to be crowded out until there is only room inside of us for God’s voice.

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.”
2 Timothy 1:7

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Friendship with God

“In all places and at all times, we can have that familiar friendship, we can have Him with us;
and there may be through the day a constant interchange of private words, of little offerings,
too small to have any name attached to them—by which the bonds of that familiar friendship
grow closer and more real, until it comes to that special personal intimacy, which we call sanctity.”
Janet Erskine Stuart, 1857-1914

When I was a girl, about age seven, I prayed to God from a berry patch under my mother’s clothesline. I felt so awkward talking to the air and hoping for something back. I told myself how silly I was to talk to nothing. But there was enough faith attached to it, I imagined, to ring a bell in eternity. When I think about that moment, my heart nearly bursts open knowing that even in my clumsy state of reaching out to God that He heard me and reached back. If I had understood the brevity of God’s timeline, I would have probably exercised more patience. I imagine now that just about the time I looked up at him from my mother’s strawberry patch that he looked down on me and then I was sixteen, and then twenty, and thirty and all along he was slowly taking me into his confidence, a relationship that eventually translated into an intimacy between us, and now friendship.

It’s not easy to explain the intimacy you feel with God to someone who hasn’t experienced Him. I know that intellectuals and others demand a clear and tangible explanation before embracing a belief. I understand pragmatism and truth and clarity and specificity because I need those things to create intelligent thought on paper. But even imagining how I might explain God’s presence to one of the teeming thousands who visit my blog, words fail me.

I don’t mean to sound mystical. I’m not even trying to rouse an argument. But the fact in my life is that if I don’t walk every second in this intimacy I now know as God’s presence, I flounder. Does that make me a weakling, or am I just being honest about my need for God? If I learn to lean on another human for support, don’t the two of us make a stronger cord, a better team? That’s how it is when I lean on God. He supports me in a way that is beyond words. God doesn’t stumble and he doesn’t miss anything. Not a falling bird feather or a girl sitting in a berry patch beneath a clothesline.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Forgiving the Hard Offense

Forgiveness is a purposeful act. Self-help gurus will tell you that you need to forgive someone because it will help you feel better. It does help you feel better to forgive, but a good feeling may not be the best motivation for the long-term practice of forgiveness.

Because memory is hardwired to our brain and emotions, so are the negative emotions that form unforgiveness. It may seem is easier to maintain, but over time, a burden to manage. So to practice forgiveness is paramount to good emotional health.

There are practices that we can put into play to help us along the road to forgiveness. First off, we can know that when we forgive someone, we’re not agreeing that they did not hurt us or that what they did was acceptable. To absolve a person of all responsibility will be left to a higher power or a Higher Power. But you can forgive without trying to take on the burden of proclaiming their innocence. We’re not responsible for wiping a person’s slate clean of their sins—that work was taken on by Christ on the cross. So laying that burden aside, we can begin the simple process of forgiveness as nothing more than a gift that we are passing along. It may or may not cause that person to change toward us, but that is not our worry either. If they are a danger to themselves and others, we don’t even have to make contact with them and tell them they are forgiven. There are other ways to express forgiveness.

One way is to journal out a letter to that person expressing how you’ve chosen to forgive them. Write out what you know about that person’s past—was he abused as a child? Does he have a mental illness? Is she eaten up with anxiety or compulsions? Is he blind to his own ambitions? Do insecurities hamstring her choices? Write out what you know of his or her past and then attach their bad behavior to their past so that you are connecting the dots of their failure, showing how when their path collided with yours, it was doomed to fail.

Next imagine what they did in relation to mistakes that are similar to mistakes you’ve made. Have you ever gotten angry and abused a relationship? Did you need to ask forgiveness for your actions? When you compare sin to sin, it helps you realize that just as God forgave you or a friend forgave you that this person who has harmed you needs the same forgiveness.

Forgiveness is more than a good feeling. It is like removing a millstone from around your own neck.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately. I think about heaven often and its contents, the people we love who have beaten us to the place we long to see. I shouldn’t assume everyone thinks about heaven all the time. But if you’ve lost someone you love and miss them then perhaps you’ve caught yourself thinking about where they are and what their eyes are seeing right at that moment.I didn’t realize until now that when my sights are truly fixed on heaven, it causes everything in me to shift. I have grown so uncomfortable with accumulating things. It all seems so cumbersome. No,I’m not going to make my hubby and seventeen-year-old move into a refrigerator box. But I have grown weary of filling up rooms with furniture that often sit empty, closets with clothes that hang for weeks and months unworn. It is as though this mental window into heaven has given me a glimpse into the pain of humanity. So how can I sit comfortably when others have no place to sleep?
In his book The Treasure Principle, Randy Alcorn talks about the Macedonian believers who “gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.” (2 Cor. 8:3), a people who became so zealous in their generosity, they had to be compelled to stop.Compelled to stop. So I’m not just talking about the surrender of one's own pocketbook but the transformation that God does in us to bring us to this point. Generous giving can become an addictive compulsion. We become like Scrooge having awakened to find that we can celebrate Christmas every day of the year. “I’m as giddy as a schoolboy!”
Randy Alcorn says “Giving is the only antidote to materialism.”

It’s so completely true that I want to etch it into my desk. When I am blinded by materialism, my soul becomes sick and my eyes grow dim. I can no longer see out that spiritual window into my brother’s pain. Please, God, let my prayer be that I will give until I’m in a race to try and out give You! Let me run that race free of the weights that would tie me down. Make my life a clearing house for your wealth of righteousness, but let it not linger for even a day, not as long as a child is in need of bread or a world in need of compassion.
“I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.” --Martin Luther

Rising Above the Big Divide

We’re told in church growth circles and books that we first need to realize that there’s not only a sin divide but a cultural divide. The cultural divide gets talked about as though it’s something new.

Paul, Peter, Timothy, all of those guys waded in dripping wet with culture; but then following their respective transformations, were nudged by God right back into the cultural pool. But what they came out of culture possessing, and what they returned newly containing, had to be subjected to Christ’s scrutiny and infused with the Spirit’s Power. Without that, when they begin to organize the Church into groups that did everything from waiting tables, to sewing clothes for the needy, to feeding the poor, and then training those who would teach others about Christ, the works could have become what I guess we mean by a social gospel. But they didn’t, and from that point forward the message of Jesus Christ literally infected the globe. The difference was the Big Invisible that infused the visible.

Without the Power of the Spirit steering and transforming me, I might naturally embrace helping the poor and lending grace because I sincerely leaned toward those things early on; but pursuing that work without God’s Spirit is shy of transformative power. I can’t transform a soul, especially my own. While helping the poor and the sick and the displaced with God’s Power on my life “ministers grace” through the delivery system of works, it’s the Spirit that causes a life to turn around and go a different direction. While the Spirit inscribes the good work, he also identifies me to others as genuinely His. People can sense/feel the Spirit’s presence (or whatever you want to call that identification with God that people detect in us) and that’s what draws them, that courting thing that God does that is personal and often unseen by us. But while the avenue of good works compels people, we still must consider motives and we can use those who were first drawn to Jesus as a model. Some came out of curiosity, some desperate but all gathered around Jesus waiting to see if he might perform a miracle. Humans may be drawn to our works out of a care for that work or a need for it; it could be that their interest is piqued by our good works and that’s not a bad thing. But we can easily take credit for good works. We can’t take the credit for God’s power and Spirit performing human transformation through the ridiculous conduit of bones and flesh.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Wilderness Knees

I believed for much of my Christian life that in order to be able to pray effectively, that I had to follow the guiding principles of Mark 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Jesus was giving the believers an assurance knowing they would eventually gather fearfully at times after He had ascended to heaven. But it was an erroneous assumption on my part that my prayers alone were not potent enough. . . that I had to have a partner or a group of people to reach the ears of God.
That was until the year I discovered the power of wilderness knees. I use this term to describe the times of hard-fought spiritual battles, the ones that are fought invisibly in the heavens on our behalf because we have spent some knee time before God and often in isolation. I think of John the Baptist crying in the desert and his words falling on only the sand and the wind. But it was in the isolated wilderness that God lifted him up and used him like a town crier. . . Make way! Make Way! God is come to earth!
And so it happened that I had read an article one year in a local newspaper about a mother who was asking a librarian to remove a pornographic magazine from the eye level of her young child. She wasn’t trying to be prudish or fracture anyone else’s rights but was asking that the magazine be removed from plain sight of her young child as they entered the library door. Emotional intelligence ought to prevail. But instead the librarian refused to move the magazine out of sight claiming First Amendment rights. The story was buried on the back page of the local newspaper. I bowed my head at my desk at the office where I worked and prayed. I asked God what he thought ought to be done about it. I then quietly picked up the telephone and called the local mayor’s office. I asked him about the article and if he had gotten any complaints from parents. “No, none at all,” said the mayor. He seemed sympathetic but told me that without a consensus, he had no call to act. “Would you respond if it seemed that more parents cared?” I asked. “Of course. But no one cares. You’re the only one who’s called,” he told me.

I got off the phone and studied the matter thoughtfully. I took some time during my lunch hour to pray some more and called church offices around our town. I summarized the article to each secretary and told them what the mayor had said, that no one seemed to care.
After an hour, I went back to work. By the end of the day, I wondered if my quiet prayer and the hour spent in phone calls could have possibly done any good. After all, I was a nameless mom. Out of curiosity, I called the mayor’s office before the close of office hours. I was surprised to find his office in a frenzy. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Little woman, I don’t know who you are but we have been getting phone calls not only from local parents but from all over the country. Even the ACLU is calling and a TV news magazine. What kind of strings did you pull? You must have a lot of clout,” he told me. “No,” I told him quietly. “I prayed and made a few phone calls. “Are you pulling the porn out the library?” I asked. “It’s gone,” he told me. He never gave out my name to any of the media. I was glad. I liked the solitude of wilderness knees.