Friday, February 24, 2012

Grace - That Is All It Can Be

Again, only if you have been reading my blog for awhile will you grasp the weight of this post.  But even without knowing all, you can enjoy it.

My husband and I, as I said, are from different cultures.  When we married, there were not many of our type of mixed marriage.  It was a difficult engagement for both of us as all our friends warned us about each other.  My friends and extended family said some pretty hurtful things about my husband and what he might do.  My husband's extended family told him it would be better to marry a dog than a foreigner.  Thankfully, both of our immediate families were very supportive - although they both struggled to cope with the cultural issues that we encountered. 

In that setting, one where each of us had to continually defend the choice to marry the other to outsiders, we began to encounter typical marriage problems.  They were perhaps heightened by culture, but not entirely caused by culture.  Yet asking for help was difficult.  Who would we ask - all these people who heatedly told us not to marry each other?  Then they would say, "see, we told you so!"  And they did.  Others we asked only would say, "well, its cultural problems".  So we struggled on much longer alone than we should have.

We hit some pretty rough lows and our family went through a lot because of it.  We are grateful for one couple who decided not to tell us "we told you so" or "it is just culture problems and that is what you get for that type of marriage" and who did not get tired of the simple "being there" that it took to get us healthy again.

We are doing well now.  We still have cultural issues, and recently with some family things going on, they have been interesting, but we know now how to manage as a couple.  Peace, or as much of it as you can have in a house with four teens and preteens, reigns in our house, and we thoroughly enjoy each other.

In the last few years, there have been a few other marriages like ours.  It's fun to see them start out.  It's fun to have someone who thinks our life is completely normal.  Most of these couples are involved in ministry, too, so we have more in common.

Last year, we began talking and praying about an idea.  We wanted to gather these couples together for a retreat - a chance to be together, to develop relationships, to provide a place where we are normal, a safe place to talk, to encourage each other.  To be able to say, "I am here for you".  This year, we are going to do that.  We are meeting with about six other couples.  Some are doing well, I think; others I know are struggling.  I don't think of myself as an expert, but I want to be able to tell them, "hey, we're here, and we get your life.  We're safe to talk to."

If you knew me (or prayed for me!) years ago, this is the last thing you might of dreamed of us doing... but we are!  It is grace.  That is all it can be.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Holding the Pieces

I was just reading the facebook page of a missionary family that recently met with tragedy.  What happened breaks my heart.  There are hundreds of expressions of sympathy on their site.  I hope one day they can wade through them and be comforted with how many people care about them. 

But there was one comment that made me wince.  It meant to be kind, really.... but...

It said something to the effect that they were so sorry for what had happened, but were comforted by knowing that they were missionaries so they were sure that they would get through it fine since they had great faith.

sigh... if there is ever a time you don't want to be put on a pedestal it is when you have just hit tragedy!

We need permission to fall apart.... because sometimes we will.... and then we will beat ourselves up for it..... and then we worry if we say we are falling apart everyone will run from us when they discover we aren't perfect.

 Why can't we say, "If you fall apart, I'll be here to hold the pieces until you heal again."

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Flip Side of Grace

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you will know that I am on a slow walk towards grace and freedom.  My husband calls it "our freedom journey".  We're walking out of a form of legalism, of expectation based religion, out of constant criticisms, out of the "front" that missionaries so often portray, into grace, freedom, truth, transparency.

It's been quite the trip!

We both owe a lot to a few who have chosen to walk alongside of us.  Some have done that just for an afternoon, others for a year or so, and some have stuck with it for the whole ride.  We are indebted to them all, and each holds a special place in our heart; each we love.

If you've been reading for awhile, you will also know some things in our lives:

1. We're in a cross-cultural marriage.
2. We lost a child.
3. We went through a marriage crisis.
4. We went through a sudden work related crisis.

You will also know that I have struggled with each of these things.  I still struggle with some of them at different times.  Each has changed me.

Most recently, I have been struggling with the work-related crisis.  The crisis itself was not the hardest thing.  It was the reactions of others that were so hard.  But that is a story that has already been told as much as it can be told. My blog has been more silent as I walked through this lovely minefield of PTSD.  The horrible disconnect from everything is lifting, like fog as the morning sun travels towards the high point of the sky, and I am able to make out shapes and recognize others.  I'm at least to the point that I can verbalize some of what I am going through, and that is a big step in the right direction!

But I still hurt from what happened.  The surprising and difficult thing for me is "why did the hurt come from people who should have been the ones who most supported us?"  That question is hard.

I went to church last week tired.  I debated about just staying home, but instead I told God that I was too tired to listen or care, but if He wanted to speak to me, He could try. (Really, reading my blog will totally blow away the idea that missionaries are anywhere remotely close to perfect!)

Our pastor was talking about the idea that we think we deserve something to happen or not to happen based on how we have acted, and that God is not operating in the sphere of thought.

I listened!  And I began to think.

What if it is not me getting or receiving good things?  Me being rewarded with rewards.  Not resting or deserving good.  Not saying, "I've been through this or that, suffered that, done well, so I need a rest, a this, a that... to be protected, to be honored, to be.... "; but it is not our rewards that God is interested in - it is us God is interested in.  Us as His trophies.  Not as His things - as in a used thing uncared for; but as His show-off valuables, a thing delighted in, as in a work of art, a detailed delight.  "See what a good job I did on that one!" 

Stepping out of the works cycle means stepping out of both boundaries.  "I did bad - I will be punished" - yes, but also "I did good, I deserve good - to be protected, to be loved."  It would be an awful reality to live in that (out of that cycle).  Totally unfair - nothing I can do can help or hurt  - and my treatment is dependent on the capricious whims of someone else - except for this one fact: the character of the God we deal with.  That He is good and loving is the only thing that makes this whole crazy system work.

It is so outside of our way of thinking - so totally unfair.  Which is funny, because we will happily take the "bank error in your favor" unfairness, but aren't so thrilled about the "hey, but I was good!" type of unfairness.  The pain and unfair things coming in times it shouldn't from people it shouldn't.

Freedom from the "do this, do that" mentality means freedom from both ends of the spectrum.  One we greet with delight; one is harder to shake free from.  But there is only so much freedom in having one wrist unmanacled.

God is the same - trustable, good.  He is operating outside of our "fair" cycle because He is interested in us as trophies of His work, not as people who "finally get what we deserve" - either good or bad.  Some how that makes dealing with the pain caused by people who should have supported us easier to handle.

I think what hit me that Sunday was that I can't take grace as the freedom from the "you get what you deserve" and not take it as also freedom from "you don't get what you deserve".  What happens to us is not related in either way to what we deserve.  What happens to me is a result of a God who is trustable and who cares about me working to make me His master-piece.
(There is caution in how I say that.  Because of my past, I react very strongly to the thought of being used.  If you say, "God let you go through this so He could use you", you had better stand far away as I am liable to punch you.  God "getting anything" out of me sickens me.  I don't want to be a property, a used thing.  But put in the context of God is creating something beautiful that He will delight in - like a painting, and I can handle it.  I quilt, and I like nothing better than when someone takes time to stop and admire the quilt and see the stitches and design and hear the struggles and how I overcame them with this quilt.  I am not "using" my material, I am creating something that is both praised and gives me praise.)

A P.S. to Walking In

A post script to the questioning if we should be walking out or walking in....

It was something my husband and I discussed as we sat working on our puzzle after or team leader walked out of the room.  We wondered about something.

If there is such a reaction by christians at even the mention of the word "gay" or at anything having to do with it, what are we setting ourselves up for?  We are now the parents of teens - good teens for the most part.  We're proud of them.  When we were parents of toddlers, we pondered issues of toddlers.  We even thought over the "working mom/being at home mom" debate.  We had already made our decision on it, so we didn't need to think about it, but we did.  It was an issue that affected kids in the age our kids were.  I think we are now looking at teen issues in the same way... it is time to think about them and develop our thoughts because our teens are in this age - they will encounter these subjects, and we had better have thought about them, too.

What concerned us with the common reaction to anything "gay" by Christians was this:  What then happens when a teen has a question, a feeling, a anything?  What if a kid has a thought pass through his head.... who does he talk to?  If he or she can't talk to his parents or his youth leader or anyone at all in the Christian circles about this thought, "Why did I think that?  Why did I react like that?", who will he go to?  He will go to someone that is "safe".  Someone who doesn't react with horror and disgust.  That person will be someone he knows at school or on the internet.  That person will tell him, "well, maybe you are gay.  Gay people are born this way." 

We've reacted to the point that we are not safe to go to.  Instead of that teen being told truth in a loving way, "Thoughts come and go.  Having a thought pass through your head is not who you are, but it is something that happens.... thoughts come from things we've heard, seen, felt... and the devil would like to use them to tangle us up and get us off track.  I'm glad you shared that thought, because bringing them in the light takes the power away from them.  Let's pray, and then let's talk about how to counter those thoughts.  And let's talk again so you don't go through this alone."

Instead of that, we are pushing them away with our paranoia.

It is not that I believe these things, like homosexuality and other things aren't wrong, it is that I believe we need to be safe enough to talk to.  We will not ever communicate safety with hate and disgust.  Perhaps better with sadness and love.

It is similar to something we were all taught growing up.  Sex before marriage is wrong.  I still firmly believe that.  But it is more in how we were taught it.  Save yourself for marriage.  Be pure.  Don't be defiled.  There is a ton of words and phrases I could write out that would convey the messages that were common in the church as I was growing up, but those messages are painful, so I won't.

I was challenged and encouraged once by a man who sat at our breakfast table (after the kids left for school) discussing how he wanted to communicate this message that he still firmly believed in to his kids.  He said, "I don't want to communicate to them that a sexual sin puts them outside the grace of God or that they are damaged forever from one sin, while I still want to communicate sexual purity.  I just want to do it without fear and condemnation that leads them to hide their struggles from us and feel like their spiritual life is over if they fail in this area."

I sat stunned.  I had never heard this from a Christian before, but I needed to.  What healing is in those words!  We do need to communicate clearly and with conviction to our children, but it has to be more than the "stay pure, that is what God wants, and no one wants something second hand".  It has to be more than that.  We have to be able to communicate with our kids that it is ok to talk to us, that even their struggles and failures are ok to bring to us.  I honestly hope with all my heart that my kids stay sexually pure, but even a deeper desire than that they don't sleep with someone, is the desire that if they do, they come back to God and be forgiven and go on.  I would rather that than the fear and shame of a sin being so great that they walk away from God because they think He will never forgive them or see them as having the same worth.  We have to stop making some sins the unforgivable sins.

I am sure I could be accused of not caring or not placing enough worth on purity.  If I am, so be it.  Just because I care about one thing more than another thing does not mean I do not care about the first.  It just means the other is more worth to me.  I care about my kid's purity.  I care even more deeply about their relationship to God. 

Now I will tell you where my personal story interacts with these thoughts and why I value what this man said so much.  I grew up in the "stay pure, don't be defiled" environment as a child who had already been defiled.  Before I even understood what sex was, I was abused by some men who saw an opportunity to use a defenseless child.  The constant teaching of the church - which was well meant - was a constant reminder that I was not good enough.  I was defiled, and there was no getting that back.  "If people knew....."  (Which, by the way, was the same thing my abuser had said to keep me quiet, "don't tell, if people know, they won't like you.")   The very teaching that was to help us ended up hurting me.  When purity is valued so highly that there is never talk of grace, of forgiveness, of restoration,... this hurts children who have already been hurt.  When sexual sins are made so much of that they are taboo... much, much worse in comparison to other sins (how about greed, hate, backbiting, gossip, violence, stealing...) it says that these are only sort of forgivable.  You can be forgiven, but you will never be the same.

I think as a church we have to wake up and stand staring at statistics for a minute.  When I was growing up, it was said one in every four girls in America were abused.  Now they are thinking one in every three.  We can't just preach to the 2/3s.  We have to rethink our approach to this whole area of homosexuality and sexual purity so that we can teach it without damaging the already wounded.  We have to be able to tell kids that when they struggle and fail, we will welcome them with the same love and acceptance as Jesus does.  That there is sadness and grief in failure, but not a shunning.  Their value is in being children of God.

And honestly, I think when they grasp that, they will be less likely to sin, not more likely.

We can not hurt our wounded.  We can not push away our struggling.  And we can not hate our fallen.

Jesus never did.

Can we let these topics be safe to talk about in the church, in our families, in our friendships?  Love is still more powerful than hate or shame.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Walking Out or Walking In

We sat in my living room the other day along with our team leader and another friend watching the late night news after a day of meetings.  A news article came on about gay marriage and the fight for gay rights.  Our team leader huffed and said that this needs to be banned, and no one can define a gay couple as a "family" since the very definition of a family is a unit to procreate, and gays cannot produce children.

I don't know what got into me, but I said it.  I am not pro-gay... honestly.  But then again, I am rethinking... maybe I am not either anti-gay...

I said, "Not all hetero-sexual couples can reproduce either."  Our team leader and his wife adopted due to infertility.  "You wouldn't classify you as not a family just because you couldn't have children.  The definition of a family has to be more than that."

He just said, "oh, so now you are using our adoptions as an argument for gays!" and got up and left the room.

I don't know if the man was offended or simply disgusted with gays or what.  He does abruptly leave conversations at times for reasons that are not always clear to others, so an abrupt departure was not too abnormal for him.  I asked my husband if he thought he was offended, and my husband sad he didn't think so.  I don't know.

My husband and I talked it over as we watched the rest of the news and worked on a puzzle spread out on our coffee table.  There is such an animosity to gay people, gay marriage, gay parenting and all.  Let me get it clear (I almost said let me get it straight, but that ended up looking funny in this sentence.)  I strongly believe that choosing a gay lifestyle is wrong.  I believe that it is not right at all.  But that is not the point here.

Why do Christians react so strongly and so negatively?  We wondered about that.  What point does that serve?  We wondered if the strength of the gay movement is fed partly in response to the heated animosity of Christians.  We wondered how our hate, disgust, and vehement fighting against their desire to have the right to marry, to have children, to.... whatever.... is leading at all to them learning of the love of Christ.  Has anyone been won to Christ by hate?

We work among a people in a religion that is not well loved.  People also fear and can easily hate people of this belief.  We believe and teach Christians not to hate - to befriend, to show love, to be kind, to see people.  We believe that if we hate and fight against these people, we will never win them for Christ.  It is in our love, in our acceptance, in our kindness, in our care that we are able to speak with our lives.

Didn't God says the world will know us by our love?

Then why do we hate?

I grew up in the church.  I know the answer to that question.  "We hate the sin, but we love the sinner."


Then why do we spit out the words when we talk about gays and lesbians?  Why do we fight so hard against them.

What would happen if we showed love?  I don't know what that would look like, but what would happen?  If we stopped trying to restrict their rights, if we stopped giving those looks, if we stopped whispering about them... if....

What if we invited their kids over, babysat for them, or simply started by smiling at the next gay couple we saw?  What if we handed out cool water or hot chocolate at one of their events - without having slogans or tracts or anything.  What if we just showed love?

And - even though many Christians will be scandalized at the thought - what if we stopped fighting their attempts to be able to be married?  Are we so insecure that we think marriage can be threatened by that?  Do we define ourselves only by our gender or our ability to produce children?

I personally think that marriage is something greater and bigger than the definitions I've heard given in support of opposing gay marriage.  I've heard that it is "one woman/one man" or this recent one "family is designed to procreate".  I personally believe that marriage is intended to be a demonstration of Christ and the church - of that unity, that love that is above and beyond all else.  We are a living example of Christ's love.  Marriage is a example of how Christ loves us.  There is nothing a gay couple can do which can threaten or destroy that.  We have nothing to fear....  nothing, perhaps, other than that existence of our own hate and fear destroying the image of Christ's love in us.

It's true that we have no example of how Jesus treated gays.  None.  It would have been easier for us, maybe, if we did.  But we don't.  What we have is only the example of how He treated the two most hated groups in His society - the prostitutes (and the woman at the well who wasn't even getting paid for her "services") and the tax collectors.  Both groups where the religious society drew up their robes tighter around them in horror.

But Jesus didn't.

I'm re-thinking my religion.  I'm not re-thinking my stand on homosexuality.  But I am  re-thinking the whole "hate the sin and love the sinner" idea.  I'm thinking we too often say that, but clearly communicate "hate the sin and the sinner" idea.  Like when we walk out in disgust at the very mention of a gay person.

Who's going to share the good news with them if we walk out?  Maybe we need to be walking in to their lives instead?