Words Left Unsaid

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I was so in love with the boy. He was mysterious. He was a surfer. He looked a little bit like Keanu Reeves. He was my temporary salvation. I couldn’t believe I had a long-term boyfriend. Even though I had one or two very brief relationships in high school, something deep inside me told me no guy would ever really want me, would ever really love me, and especially no one as cool as this guy.

It was written all over my dad’s face the moment he met the boy on a trip back home a few months after we started dating – he could see my obsession, and I’m sure he could see that this relationship wasn’t good for me. Partying with the boy and our little circle of friends every night became my way of life. Any goal that I had to finish college and move forward in life was put on the back-burner while I soaked up any morsel of love this boy was willing to throw my way, even if in the form of his jealousy.

After spending the summer working on South Padre Island, I returned to San Antonio and moved in with the boy and his parents for a few months. I had a job as a waitress. I missed the deadline to sign up for Fall classes, and I lied to my parents about this fact. They weren’t paying for it, so they didn’t need to know was my excuse…but I would have moments when the guilt would eat away at me.

Dad called me late one afternoon on the boy’s parent’s phone. This was before cell phones. I walked outside with the cordless phone. The boy was sitting beside me. Dad begged me through tears to come back home, live rent free and go to college there. I thought it was preposterous that he would even think to ask me to leave the boy. He begged me to talk to my mom. My stubborn heart wouldn’t listen to anyone. After a few more moments of begging, I hung up on dad and gave both my parents the silent treatment for several weeks.

The boy and I broke up a few months later. I stayed in San Antonio, but my Dad’s offer to go home loomed over me and I actually considered it a few times. I was so lost, so broken, so afraid that I would never find love, and there was my dad offering me the love of a father, the love of a family, and the promise that I could always go home.

I did go home a few years later…pregnant, alone, afraid. My Dad…well, he was going through treatment for cancer. I had a beautiful baby girl about six months later. Dad died a year after her birth.

Dad and I had a beautiful relationship before he died, but so many of my most painful moments are moments where I am sure I broke his heart. When I went through the horrible depression 2 ½ years ago, thoughts started to take root in my mind that all the heartache I had caused Dad contributed to his cancer (I’ve never shared that with anyone except Jesus, till now). So many regrets piled up in my head. So many amends I could have made to dad before he died that I never took the time to do. I wanted a ticket to Heaven so I could beg for Dad’s forgiveness and mercy.

But God…

I was right on the cliff-edge, ready to fall, when God grabbed and held me. God ’s my strength, he’s also my song, and now he’s my salvation. Hear the shouts, hear the triumph songs in the camp of the saved? “The hand of God has turned the tide! The hand of God is raised in victory! The hand of God has turned the tide!” Psalm 118:13-20 MSG

God’s grace reminds me that Jesus paid it all. I don’t have to live my life buried in regrets and shame for the horrible things I did or the words left unsaid. Dad wouldn’t want me to live that way either. Grace reminds me that the pain of this life will one day be, as St. Teresa of Avila wrote “no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.”

“Grief is a statement of faith that one day things will not be this way.” Tullian Tchividjian

Fall Apart

My friend Jacob (@jacobgoff) posted a cover photo on Facebook last weekend that simply stated…

fall apart

Just seeing those two simple words pierced some tender place deep in my soul. I went for a long walk and thoughts and feelings started flooding in…just because of those two simple words. Tears that I had been holding back for way too long were released and I took a much-needed extended deep soul breath. Side-note (not for sympathy, just info): It was also the 16th anniversary of my dad’s death, and I didn’t give myself permission to grieve the way I needed to grieve when he died.

We are hardly, if ever, given permission to fall apart. The prosperity gospel culture we live in is almost always encouraging us to be strong, fix ourselves, smile more, be more grateful (damn it), put on our big girl panties (or big boy undies), and strive for perfection. We are encouraged to never let em’ see us sweat so we don’t ruin our witness. We hear self-help messages from the pulpit* and leave our churches Sunday after Sunday striving to do better, when all along Jesus is giving us permission to fall apart and rest in him.

My fall-apart moments, though I try to fight them with every self-defense mechanism available to me, are inevitably where I experience the comfort, inexplicable peace, and beautifully unconditional love of Jesus. He doesn’t punch me when I’m down, bully me to work for his love, or ask me to hide my truth.

Luke 12:4-5 MSG “I’m speaking to you as dear friends. Don’t be bluffed into silence or insincerity by the threats of religious bullies. True, they can kill you, but then what can they do? There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands.

I can’t do it on my own anymore. I give up. I’m tired of pretending. I’m tired of playing this game I can’t win. I’m tired of the fake version of me receiving love while the little girl screaming out inside of me rots away in a dungeon of shame. I’d rather risk rejection and be loved by the only one (Jesus) who knows me completely and loves me in my messy state than be surrounded by a company of friends who are not okay with my fall-apart moments.

I fell apart in a big way a little over 2 years ago. I found myself in a place where I became well aware of my broken, sinful state and my need for a savior every second of every day was blaring like a neon sign on the Vegas strip. Sidenote: I’ve never been to Vegas, but I did see the movie Leaving Las Vegas. Yes, I am a sinner who saw a movie about fellow sinners. You have permission to be shocked, but as Steve Brown says “I’m a lot worse than you think I am.”

I have been hearing and reading messages for so long telling me that I need to buck up, be RADICAL, stop being “just a fan”, and get serious about my faith. Those same messages encouraged me to put aside my emotions (replace them with scriptures and positive thoughts), and get busy working for God (making sure never to leave home without my mask).

Jesus became the springboard for my self-salvation projects and somewhere along the way I developed a decade’s long case of spiritual amnesia that made me forget that he is my rescuer, comforter, wonderful counselor and best friend. I lost the proclamation that IT IS FINISHED in the sea of confusing, legalistic, “just do it” messages.

If you have never been given permission to fall apart, don’t listen to me, listen to Jesus…

Matthew 11:28 NIV  Come to meall you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.

2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

If “they” are not okay with your fall apart moments, remember that Jesus always is.

*with the exception of those pastors/churches that do preach law and gospel (I’ll be posting a list of those soon)

Gratitude, Platitudes, Bad Advice and the Suffering Soul

IMG_2004853993094When I was suffering through the deepest darkest depression I was encouraged to make a gratitude list.  A few people asked me if I was counting my blessings and if I was even grateful for the gifts God has given me. So, in an effort to “do more, try harder” to end my depression, I made a gratitude list and counted my blessings. The depression did not cease.

I was also prodded to look around and see others whose suffering was way worse than my own. I looked around and saw that there were people struggling with visible physical ailments, family issues, unemployment, and financial crises. The depression and insomnia I was going through, other than the sunken eyes surrounded by black circles, the extreme weight loss, the constant panic attacks, dry skin and graying hair, all joy and laughter erased from my countenance, manifested in ways people could not see. No, what I was going through, as evidenced by the platitudes and advice I received, was seen by people both inside and outside the church as something that I could snap my way out of, pray my way out of, count blessings out of, medicate my way out of, exercise my way out of, therapy my way out of, confess every sin I ever committed my way out of, de-clutter my way out of, “church” my way out of, positive think my way out of, and the list goes on and on.

Just to set the record straight, I have been guilty of delving out platitudes, untimely scriptures, bad advice, and to-do lists when really what the hurting person needed was a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and the good news.

My friend Christyn, whose family has suffered in ways I could not imagine, taught a wonderful Bible study on the Book of Job in 2013. She shared her journal pages with the class and on the class website. Here is one of her lessons that profoundly spoke to me:

What Not To Say

Audio: What Not to Say 

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”  Henri Nouwen

When I grow up I want to write a book – and that book will be titled, “What Not to Say.”  The purpose for the book would not be to shame any unwilling characters from its pages, but rather to give clarifications of words which are most helpful and most harmful during our intimate struggles.  I am ashamed to admit that in my pre-trial, unempathetic life, I was the number one offender in my actions toward those in crises.  I desperately needed a guide to provide insight into this mine-filled path.  I would regularly repeat the dreaded phrases those in pain hope to never hear such as, “Don’t worry, you will be just fine, God will provide”, or “God won’t give you anything more than you can handle”.  I wish I could go back in time and glue my mouth shut – especially now that I realize first-hand the hurt my well-intended words caused those I loved.

Job’s friends were well-intended as well, they “met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him” (Job2:11).  At least they showed up.  Notice, during all of Job’s afflictions, this well-respected government official was visited by only four friends.  Only four.  While most of his friends bailed – these four cared enough to be there when Job’s world fell apart.

As the friends saw the virtually unrecognizable Job, they were kind and compassionate as “they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.  Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights.  No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:12-13).  They saw their friend in pain and they suffered with him.  There is a lot to be said about friends who “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).   Good friends, right?  And they were – attentive, thoughtful, empathetic, and dedicated……until they opened their mouths.

The old adage ‘stop while you are ahead’ would have applied perfectly to this group of holier-than-thou men.  Upon opening their mouths they unleashed a flurry of insults toward the character of Job, hurtful lies about the Lord’s will for his life, and accusation upon accusation which included Job being the cause of his ten children’s deaths.  Wow – with such fine friends, who needs enemies?  Job was already battered and beaten before his friends’ entrance and yet somehow their plan of comforting him turned into an even worse nightmare.  No wonder Job responded to their diatribe with, “If only you would be altogether silent!  For you, that would be wisdom” (Job 13:5).

Silence – the key to all comfort.  So many times we fill moments of solitude with words in order to make ourselves more comfortable in an uncomfortable situation, or to make sense of a nonsensical trial.  Yet those in pain do not need words of advice – they need the touch of a tender hand, the warmth of a cup of tea, or the tears of a compassionate heart.  Such simple gestures illicit powerful gratefulness from the victim of a bleeding heart.

When my husband and I lost our baby, Annabelle, I realized how unprepared I was for the onslaught of painful statements I endured from those I loved.  With my reserves down and my sensitivities up, I felt like a continual punching bag for those well-meaning friends who were just ‘trying to help.’  The irony was, my Christian friends seemed to cause the worst infractions.  So many presumed to know God’s plan for my damaged life and used that ‘knowledge’ to help reform me.  My agnostic friends never assumed God’s role because, to them, there was no God.  In order to cope, as statements were made, I journaled an on-going list of ‘What Not to Say to Someone Whose Baby Has Died.’  After each statement, I wrote down my immediate, inner response in parenthesis.  Here are a few, tame examples:

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“It is all in God’s plan.”

(I don’t want to hear that my baby dying is a part of God’s plan)

“Just remember – God’s timing is perfect.”

(No time will ever feel perfect for my daughter to die)

“You are going to be fine – don’t worry, you are just fine.”

(I don’t feel fine and, for once, why can’t I feel really sad – my child just died)

“There was probably something wrong with your baby anyway.”

(Regardless of whether my baby was sick or not, I still loved her and wanted her.  Did I want Rebecca any less because she was sick?)

“You already have such a great family.”

(Yes, but wouldn’t our family be even better to have the little girl we prayed for and loved?  And wouldn’t I still be sad if one of my other three children were missing from this family?)

“Looking back and seeing how hard your year was going to be, aren’t you thankful for God’s grace in taking your child?”

(Never under any circumstances, no matter how hard my family’s life became, would I be thankful my child was dead.  And don’t you think the God of all creation has the strength to empower me to take care of my children through allcircumstances?)

“Have you considered the fact your family may be under a generational curse?”

(Are you kidding me? Now I have to worry about being punished for my great-great-grandfather’s sins on top of everything else?)

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I was able to learn from these statements by writing them down and studying how these words made me feel.  I, like Job, needed silence and quiet service, not rationalizing and justifications.  If I was unable to make sense of God’s plan in the middle of my circumstances, what made someone else feel they could presume from the outside?

A grief counselor gave me my best piece of advice on how to respond to what can be sheer nonsense.  She said, “View unwanted statements from loved ones as an awkward gift – their intentions were kind yet the gift itself, entirely unwanted and altogether unhelpful.”  So, what do you do when Aunt Betsy gives you that ridiculous looking reindeer sweater that is three sizes too big?  Do you yell at her?  Do you lose your temper?  Do you tell sweet Aunt Betsy to jump off a bridge?  No, you smile and say thank you while thinking of a way to get rid of this never-to-be-worn garment.

Although there were many times I wanted to lose my temper, yell, and tell my friend to jump off a bridge, I knew they were attempting (in their own misguided way) to show compassion.  Thinking of the awkward gift analogy, I learned to smile and nod my head as they dispensed their faulty advice.  And the second they left, I ran as fast as I could to my journal to write another entry that will one day be included in my bestselling ‘What Not to Say’ book! Christyn Taylor (website coming soon)

The False Idol of the Super-Christian (Quote by Steve Brown)

“Every time God destroyed the pedestals I had placed other people on, I hated it. But, unbeknownst to me, God was teaching me something very important, the same thing I want to teach you: There are no super-Christians, and if you have found one, you have diminished yourself.

It gets worse. When you have demeaned yourself that way, you will find yourself in a prison of shame, guilt, and impossible expectations. The false idol of super-Christians has destroyed the freedom of those who aren’t.” Steve Brown, A Scandalous Freedom

Single Mom in Church

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Warning: this post contains sensitive material that may be a trigger to some. My intent is just to share my story in hopes that church leaders might learn to be more sensitive in their dealings with single parents in the church.

It was my very first visit to the singles group at the mega-church. As a single mom of a toddler, I wondered if I should even be going. I was still locked in a cage of shame and guilt over having a child out of wedlock, even though God used my sweet girl as the catalyst for saving my life and I adore her beyond measure.

I had been attending the single mom support group at church and I was v e r y  s l o w l y coming out of my shell. Over a matter of several months I built up the courage to dip my toes into a singles bible study.

I tentatively walked into the room that Sunday morning alone, ready to turn around the moment I felt unsafe. I saw two acquaintances from single mom group, and resolved that I would be okay. I was greeted kindly with big smiles but I didn’t say much. The pastor introduced himself and asked me my name and a few small-talk questions. He seemed laid-back and humorous. I perceived that maybe he was the class clown in high school.

The other singles mingled as if they were at a cocktail party, while I sat there, in near-panic mode with my heart thumping out of my chest.

Everyone began to take their seats as the pastor called the class to attention. He introduced me as the “newbie” in class and asked the crowd to make me feel welcome. He said a few jokes and a prayer and began his lesson. I don’t recall the scriptures his lesson was based on, but I remember the premise of his lesson was loving “those” people – people who are not seen as the “normal” church clientele. I gathered that he meant people who weren’t “good”. He shared a few scriptures and jokes (again), and proceeded to ask a question of the crowd. As soon as the question escaped his lips, I wanted to gag and run far away. He asked “What assumptions would you make of a woman who walked into this class who was a single mom who had a child out of wedlock?” Immediately I thought “Who told him about me?” “What in the world kind of question is that?”

The men in the class were more than willing to dive right into the discussion and share their assumptions about this woman:

“She’s promiscuous.”

Gulp

“She’s a slut.”

Double-gulp

“She’s filled with shame.” (yes, very true)

The pastor repeated their words after each statement.

The other women in the class seemed a bit disturbed too, but shared.

“She’s scared.”

“She’s looking for friendship.”

“She may have been raped.”

Mr. Pastor-man’s reply to that one “Well, yes, she could have been raped, but that is extremely rare.”

I briefly reflected and answered in my mind… “I was raped…not by my daughter’s father, but yes, it could happen and it’s less rare than you might think, unfortunately.”

The woman who provided that answer blushed and seemed to fill with rage but didn’t say another word. I didn’t say a word either (I could kick myself for that).

“What am I still doing here?” I thought.

The men seemed intent on continuing to share their thoughts:

“She has a shady past.”

“She is stressed out.” (Well, yes)

“She’s a party girl.”

Mr. Pastor-man continued to repeat every. single. word.

Finally, it all got to be too much and the tears started streaming down my face. I gathered up my things, shot the pastor and the rest of the class the dirtiest look ever (I felt like Carrie at the prom), ran out, slammed the door, and never went back to his class.

I shared with a few friends what had occurred. Some were outraged. Others were defensive of the pastor. They said they knew him well and he would never deliberately desire to hurt anyone. Others completely discounted my feelings and made me start to believe I was just overly-sensitive. One friend, a single mom, approached him about the lesson the following week at church. She was a member of the singles group, but had missed class that morning. We had lunch after church, and she told me he said he was very sorry and that if I had stuck around that I would have seen where he was going with it. I already knew what the people, at least the men in that class, thought of me. I wasn’t about to stick around. Besides, I would have barfed all over my table-mates.

Mr. Pastor quite possibly could have had a wonderful lesson after I left that room, but those words were branded on the chalkboard of my mind. Any shame I had walking into that room intensified beyond belief after that event.

The story doesn’t end there, thank God. For more about this, please read my post Religious Masquerade

 

I am very grateful to Pastor John Pavlovitz for this post, that gave me courage to share my story: A Pastor’s Apology to the Single Community

I am also very thankful to Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson who reminded me recently that I am a complete person and fiercely loved by my Creator.

My gospel friends on Twitter: I am brave enough to share because you are brave enough to share.

*Please note: Though their answers hurt me (and maybe others), the men in the class were honestly sharing their responses to the question. I know who the real enemy is. It was not the pastor or those men. So, the intent of this post was not to man-bash, but to exhibit the power of words.

A Pastor’s Apology To The Single Community

Christina:

I just had to share this…

Originally posted on john pavlovitz:

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This is a message to all those who are single or who have spent any years in the Church as a single person.

As a pastor who has served in local church ministry for the past 17 years, I wanted to apologize to you on behalf of so many of us who minister and who too often have failed you.

I am deeply sorry.

I’m sorry for the ways we unintentionally distanced you from community; the times that we overlooked your deep needs and your unique challenges as we planned and prepared.

I’m sorry for the times we relegated you to the segregated ghettos of Singles Ministry, making you feel that was enough to hold you over until you eventually graduated from your relational purgatory.

I’m sorry for the times you felt like an afterthought in our worship services. 

I’m sorry for the times you felt unwelcome or extraneous in our small groups.

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