1 Chronicles 28:20

“Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God is with you…”

Another week goes by. Another Sunday I sit and can barely believe the direction we head.  One step, one moment one breath at a time we proceed in spite of fear and fatigue.

Last week was the first of many Tuesdays at Hope Center Indy.  Last Friday we again held chapel service for the women of the Volunteers of America Fresh Start program in downtown Indianapolis.  This week we look to extend yet again.  We work through complicated scheduling and uncertainty.  We wrestle internally with inadequacy and sorrow.  At the end of each day, David and I stare blankly at each other and cannot find the words to define the day.  We simply marvel at a God who allows us to share in the work.

Another week as their stories become a part of ours.  Another door opened, another scale falls from our eyes, another reason we can never turn back.  We hear them sing, we let them cry.  We get to be a part of their recovery and they are among the most refreshing parts of our day.  Gone is pretense. They can’t afford the walls the rest of us have built.  They are raw and they are wonderful.  

A girl asks for prayer,  she just wants her kids to forgive her.  A girl is abused as a pawn in her mother’s Satanic worship.  A girl fears going home knowing her pattern of relapse.  A girl wants her baby back but lives with the shame of the past.  A girl is beaten by someone who should have loved her. A girl has been raped by her father.  A girl has lost her husband to overdose…A girl recoils at kindness when hate is all she knows.

And yet… A girl sings with beauty and boldness, fully alive in her gift.  A girl commits her life to Christ.  A girl is hopeful.  A girl presses in to moving forward.  A girl embraces the God who sustained her.  A girl holds tightly to forgiveness.  A girl is baptized.  A girl releases her past and grins about her future.

Take it in.

These girls are your neighbors. These girls are your sisters.  These girls are in need of more than a government funded detox program or a well-meaning Christian handout.   They need us to get over ourselves.  They need us to stop worrying about things that don’t matter and get to work.  They need to walk out into a community that doesn’t fear them…doesn’t judge them.

So many of you want to help.  So many of you have offered support. We need it.

We need your prayer. We need your encouragement.  We need your talent.  We need your money.  We need your time.

But they need more.  They need foster parents who can weather the demons of addiction. They need a church family that is ferociously devoted to condition-less love.  They need know that they are not alone in their brokenness.  They need to know  that Jesus stands up for us in the midst of an accusing world,  and without flinching says “…Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11)  They need to see that in us.

The work is unfamiliar.  The outcome is uncertain.  The call is unmistakable: Be strong and do the work.  In our case, we just show up and watch God work.  Every time, It is a miraculous exposure of His power perfected in our weakness.   

If I can require anything of you today, it is this:  just show up.

Do the work you are called to do.  Hold comfort and competence lightly in your hands and trust that God is with you.  There is something more for you to do. There is a need.  You have a purpose.  Now you know.

The question came simply enough, “So Amber…how did you stop purging?…”

She sat curled up on a single chair, her entire frame easily fitting its width.  She had maintained that posture for most of the weekend, only briefly allowing herself to participate in the sample fitness classes myself and a few group instructors had designed for the purpose of introduction.

A few weekends ago, I was asked to give a testimony to the women at the Hope Center Indy and to share a little about 148 Ministries and the purpose of its formation.  In that testimony, I happened to share that for 16 years I had struggled with bulimia…I say “struggle” only because it took no small effort to hide my habit, but, in reality, I was really quite surrendered to the obsessive drive to purge what, in shame and excess, I had eaten.

If you yourself have any experience with an eating disorder, then you know the absolute prison it is.  You know the obsessive uncontrollable urge.  You know the absolute hate you have of what you know you will always submit to.  You know the insanely brilliant ways you develop to keep it hidden…to keep it fed.  You also know that it has very little to do with food.  It is a secret relationship you both need and despise.  People are surprised when I tell them.  They expect the bulimic to be skeletal, and I have never been described as anything but “healthy or big boned.”  For me, the binge always offset the purge, and my inability to become rail thin was just another in a long list of failures in my life.  Such was the sick thought cycle that made constant circular trips through my mind.

I will save the repulsive methods and techniques for another blog with another purpose.  It is important enough to mention that the shame and embarrassment ran deep enough to keep me secretly confined for years.  Friends did not know.  Family did not know.  For 9 years of marriage my ex-husband did not know.  While vulnerability and exposure may be the great healer, the disease is one of general mistrust and self-protection making the very tonic undrinkable.

 I sat across from that lovely girl, only a year and a half from my own last purge, and helplessly searched for her answer in my mind.  I wasn’t sure I really knew… I wasn’t sure I could put into words what finally killed the beast.  I took a deep breath, and said the simplest thing I could to paraphrase almost two decades of war against myself.

“Well, hmmm…I guess I stopped trying to stop”

Brilliant…this poor kid is looking to you for help and you come at her with that psychological oversimplification …why don’t you just read her tee shirt quotes for the next hour.  At least that was my critical internal dialogue at the time.  She and I talked for the next 45 minutes.  In real time, I attempted to build out my answer in such a way that we both gained a clearer understanding of how I may have quit.  Yet she was still hungry for answers and continued to bring questions that would make even a seasoned theologian re-consider their calling.  I am not a seasoned theologian; I am barely an adequate theologian so I prayed desperately in those moments for either wisdom or at least a distracting explosion somewhere.  No such luck.  God calls us to work through our understanding and sometimes that is accomplished through awkward and ungraceful conversations.  Sometimes it’s just being present and listening and recognizing that there are no good answers.

I cannot explain the circumstances of this girl’s life; I cannot even after hearing them myself explain away the brokenness of this ruthless world.  I cannot tell you why she was there and I am here or why the degree of brutality life chose to bring her through made any comparative experience of mine seem pedestrian.

What I can say is that what put us on equal footing was the same struggle to gain freedom from the same prison. By His grace, in that moment, God walked me through an understanding of the healing only He can give.  Healing I was too weak to even ask for, healing I was too helpless to even reach for.

Two years ago I was fatigued, and panicked, and broken by a broken marriage.  I had up to that point, performed so heavily in my own strength, that I found myself completely paralyzed with exhaustion and self-doubt. The casualties of failure left me with nothing left to prove or pretend and I was altogether uninterested in continuing to force myself to be anything other than what, in genuine weakness, I genuinely was.  Whatever hidden system of works I had used to keep a running equation of worth was dismantled.  I was forced to accept that If God really loved me, then He was going to have to love the ugly version.  He was going to have to love the girl curled up on the bathroom floor, crying, covered in her own vomit, and quitting.

I pulled away from that memory, Looked back up at this girl now not so different than myself and just  said,  “He does… he loves us when we are too weak to love ourselves and too hurt to love anyone else… When we are broken.  When we are fearful. When we can no longer cover our flaws with good behavior or self-discipline.  He is there with you on the bathroom floor…so you don’t have to be afraid there anymore.  You have no secrets. You cannot hide. You are not alone.  You can stop fighting and start accepting that he has already won your battle. You can surrender this one and let him love you in the middle of the ugly.”

He loves us perfectly in our imperfection.  Not the future version of ourselves where we have hidden what we hate, but the real one…the one who is addicted, angry, and anxious.  We are told by a man who knew Jesus himself that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:8)  You can choose to recognize this and stop fighting to make yourself worthy of recognition.  You can stop operating out of fear, when you are no longer afraid of losing love.  When you understand that God already knows that you are broken and doesn’t need you to fix yourself. That is when I was able to stop purging, and that is when, regardless of the circumstances, you are free from the prison of your own making.

After what was for me, a fairly brutal week, I am driving downtown to the Volunteers of America building where they house their “Fresh Start Recovery” center.  It is a relatively new and desperately needed program where the mothers of opioid addiction are allowed to keep their children through the grueling process of recovery.  It is a beautiful provision in an ugly situation.  It is by grace alone that I have been allowed to work with these women who are far braver than I will ever be.  It is a sweet breaking of my heart, and a bitter reality to face.

I’m wearing a shirt my husband, in his kindness, had made for me, per my specifications, featuring our logo and the word “FEARLESS” embroidered on the front.  I had wanted our ministry to project boldness in a broken world…at least that was my intent…but, as I drive, I am filled with what I can only describe as fear itself.

As usual, I left the house in a series of random scurrying movements, always underestimating the amount of time it takes me to do basic things. My dog-owner guilt is in the red as I leave Sherman without a walk, suffering from an ear infection and food allergy that is costing me more money than I have.

The week behind has been filled with boxes checked and schedules filled.  I completed a certification exam I had expertly procrastinated and had long been dreading.   We had our very first board meeting as a fledgling non-profit.  Up until this point, I had no idea what “bylaws” even were and, after sitting through a two and a half hour meeting Wednesday night, I am discouraged to think that I still don’t really know…I’m cold, I’m behind at work, I’m tired, discouraged with feelings of inadequacy, and despite my best efforts, crying.  Ah yes…just what everyone wants to see as they roll up alongside someone at a stop light…a messy haired, pasty complexioned, white girl… weeping…claiming to be FEARLESS…inspiring.

148 ministries began as a quietly held breath in my mind over 2 years ago as I sat one morning at 4 am in the middle of reading a book by Christine Caine called “Unashamed.”  I had found myself in a circumstance I never expected to be, in a place I didn’t want to be, and working a job I had told myself I would never again be working.

There I sat, divorced after 9 difficult years, in Michigan, on a horse farm.  In those small morning hours, I would read, or pray, or cry, or do all three at the same time in an unexplainable feat of emotional acrobatics. 

There, for the first time, I became aware of the trafficking exploitation of women and children with all of its global proportions, and its moral implications.  And like waking up to a sharp pain, I adjusted my cramped, narrow position.  I am not formally educated, I am not degreed, I am not even easily focused, and yet in that moment I knew I wanted to use the only thing I knew, as the Lord chose to lead, to serve in the healing of His daughters.  As I turns out, I understood only too well the scars of physical and emotional abuse, about the self-inflicted lies that bind all women in fear, and the healing, proving ground that physical stress and unconditional support could have.  I did not know how or when, but I did know God was speaking there, and admittedly with some fear I trusted that He knew the plan, and that it was to give me a future and a hope. (Jer 29:11)

Still a bit sulky, I haul what feels like 497 pounds of workout equipment onto my person and trudge through sloppy snow to the front door, I’m buzzed in by the always cheery attendant, and without a hesitation force an equally cheery face that must have been on retainer for such occasions as this. 

I rush to clear the all-purpose room of tables, I accidentally set off an alarm that could wake the dead, and follow that up by locking myself out. I am helpless as I wait to be rescued from the hallway…ln defiance, I crank up the grittiest Christian rap I can find on Pandora but get annoyed by it and land on a fairly clean station featuring Jenifer Lopez…whatever…I’m not proud.  

Around 10 minutes past the time I have been scheduled to start, girls uncommittedly filter in.  There are six.  Two are quiet and look like they hate me.  One is pregnant.  Two others are uncontrollably running around and disorienting the equipment I strategically laid out. One leaves because she has reconsidered her choice of pants…she may or may not return. None of them have reasonable shoes.

I don’t know how…every time I’m pretty sure I black out…but the next hour is a mess of introduction, warm-up, explanations, instruction, adaptation, exasperation, laughter, complaining, quitting, explaining again… and again.

They are unconditioned, unmotivated, and pretty unimpressed by my attempt to share my love of fitness.  

Heroine or Meth or some other drug I’ve never even heard of has rung their lives out.  Every day, every moment, for them is suffocated with the overwhelming call of a chemical relationship that can numb their pain and remove their shame.  Every moment they have to fight to love their kids more than they hate themselves.  Every moment they have to be fearless.  

We sit stretching in a circle on the floor.  Some tell their story while I fight for the ability to relate.  I cannot.  I am out of my league here too.  I ask if they want help with workout ideas they can do without equipment, if they have questions about nutrition or weight loss.  Some do.  I ask if they have anything they would like me to pray for or with them.  In doing so, I am asking them to give me the privilege of their trust I don’t yet deserve. Some do, and I pray with and for them.

They filter out. I pick up the 497 estimated pounds of crap I hauled in there…somehow its lighter…and leave the building without setting off an alarm this time. 

I sit in my car and exhale that quietly held breath.  

I am not without fear.  I am not without anxiety, sadness, anger, or complete disorientation.  Somehow I thought this would be easier, but I had no idea just how perfect.  No idea how an incomprehensibly good God could use my clumsy effort to show a few women on a Friday afternoon that hears them when they pray.  148 Ministries was a thought placed by God, a path provided for by God, with a human effort protected by God.  I know for sure just how insufficient I am, but I also know just how sufficient He is. 

Driving home, I know there is infinite work to be done, plans to move forward and expand and to step into a mess I don’t even understand.  Tears start to fill my eyes again, but this time with the overwhelming recognition that I just got schooled in His undeserved faithfulness.  God provided a way for the last thing and He will provide a way through the next thing.  I can step forward, not without fear, but in spite of it.  Not because I am good, but because He is.  Not because I am strong, or smart, or steady under pressure, but because He is steadfast, and patient, and He works all things according to his purpose and timing.  In that promise I can rest fearlessly.

I write it at the top of a new entry, 1/1/18.  This is the first time I have written it out and acknowledged the existence of a new year.  I am sitting comfortably in an over sized  chair,  wrapped in a ridiculously, large blanket, in a cozy room decorated with my particular style of “random things I like”.   I am married to a man who knows me fully and still loves me…even likes me, have a job that is a blessing to me, and a ministry in the hopeful stages of beginning before me.

I am overwhelmed.  I am weary.  I am speechless. I am unworthy. I am fearful, grateful, peaceful, purposeful and just plain in awe of what the turning of 365 days can do.  The last 3 years…arguably the last 10 years, perhaps even 20 if you’ll allow me to dig that deep have been a constant cycle of nomadic, restlessness, lonely, and without grounding or purpose.  Held captive by wandering, discontent with contentment, limited by my own arguments, and arguing for my own freedom.

I have landed, it seems by grace, for a moment, in a place where I feel loved, where I feel my home is.  I am where I feel that illusive lightness of knowing that I am cared for, protected, and safe.  I am shocked by the power in such simplicity and am led to consider that once we leave home for the first time under the pretense of autonomy, we are from that point forward working to re-create those feelings we once knew as unconditional love and unchallenged safety.  No matter what we end up doing in the world of adulthood, we are nevertheless only doing it so that (If we had a good childhood) we can reestablish the feelings of a safe family unit, and (if we had a bad childhood) we work to create what we think that may be.  In opposition and far more destructive, are those who passively attempt to forever remain children or passively slide into further dysfunction.  Neither is desirable but are nonetheless working from a frame of reference that they believe will bring comfort.

As I see it, we long for peace, community and everlasting acceptance.  The moment we realize that these are not the characteristics of this present world, we are forever straining consciously or unconsciously to create at least a pocket-sized version of protection.  

So, yes, after 20 years I feel at home, and yet, I am not.  If I see myself rightly, I see a nomad.  Walking the earth for a breath and then gone.  Our lives are short.  I am perhaps half way through my own if I allow natural decay to run its course and avoid stepping in front of a bus.  When I consider its brevity, I become sometimes painfully aware that if there is a point, I am missing most of it when I settle for what makes me comfortable and safe.

1 Chronicles 29:15 states “For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were.  Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding…”

I still sit here, comfortably in my chair, grateful for a moment of rest but mindful that I am transient.  This life I take hold of, and all of its pitfalls, glory, disappointments, and joy, cannot be taken lightly.  I tumble through it like so many bulls in so many china shops. I fail.  I fall.  I break things.  I learn.  I rest.  I move again.  All the time I recognize that fearing the journey is a waste of time, and falling hard is a result of running hard.

Be mindful of what you are searching and longing for, but know that you won’t find it here.  We are created for relationship with God, for work in His kingdom, and for resting in His presence.  Regardless of where your journey takes you, that is where you are home.

You don’t get a divorce because you’re emotionally healthy, flourishing, content, or strong.

You don’t leave your home because you feel safe and loved.

You don’t walk away from everything because you are whole and confident and rational.

You don’t hear logic when you feel shame. You don’t seek community when you crave isolation. You can’t take the advice given in truth when you don’t trust their love.

You don’t seek approval, or grasp for identity, or turn your life inside out…you just don’t.

But when you do all of those things and you are also a Christian you are left on the periphery of a moral question.  You are both shunned and pitied. You are a demonstration of grace and an example of destruction. You are a subject of what I like to call prayer request gossip and you are seen through a filter of fear and confusion. 

Christians know what to do with Unbelievers; they know how to treat the poor and the disenfranchised.  They are filled with love enough for the whole heathen world, and yet when it comes to their own, panic sets in.  What do you do with a girl who’s just a bad Christian?…what do you do with the bad girl?   How can she really be a Christian and fail to keep her list of sins within the “acceptable” range…like gluttony, or hatred?… How did she miss behavior modification at the moment of conversion?

I learned more about grace going through a divorce than I ever did sitting quietly through a sermon.  I learned about a God who walked with me moment by moment through loneliness, bitterness, fear, and self-loathing.  I learned that there were limits to my goodness, kindness, self-control, and long suffering and I learned that when I could do nothing but fail, He loved me still.  My faith stands in spite of my circumstances. The fact that I could do nothing other than what I did and that it cannot be undone only serves as a continual reminder of what Christ does for me daily. Only when I could no longer make anybody believe I was good, did I learn that we walk well only as we understand we are loved without deserving it.   We lose the ability to stand on our own self-righteousness but we find instead we are covered in His obedience.  Behavior modification alone is merely a parlor trick creating false comfort for distant judges and a paralyzing fear within the offender.  

Humans have a very finite threshold for experiences they do not understand.  I lost friends…mostly strong Christian friends.  Through no fault of their own, I simply became too much of an inconsistency.  These are strong girls… good girls…girls with a healthy fear of consequences and perhaps a stronger faith.  Our sins and failures often cast a shadow and sometimes that is in the love we lose.   I cannot and I would not change the path I chose or the place I now am.  I crawled through a pit to discover a God who is worth my faith no matter what my circumstance.  My repentance is in a life lived forward for His glory.  Because He first loved me and always loved me, I can operate from a position reflecting that love.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” – Ephesians 2:8-9.

When you are a Christian woman and you find yourself at the end of yourself, you make decisions with the knowledge you have and the will you have left, and you fall at the feet of a God who still calls you daughter.

I have an ugly past with men, and I react with venom to anyone who has the potential to hurt me.

I have a somewhat sordid relationship with my own self-worth.  I can be a man hater, a victim, a workaholic, and a people pleaser…and after a time of self-reliance in these areas, I wind up not only exhausted but seething with anger. 

I have used exercise in unhealthy ways to escape and I have used it in healthy ways to find strength, ability, and control where I thought there was none. There is no straight forward formula here.  Exercise and nutrition can help heal your broken parts but it is only a band aid to your brokenness.

I have used food and fitness both to punish myself and as an outlet for extreme hurt and frustration… and I am not alone in this.

I  know countless women who abuse their bodies in the name of gaining or keeping love or power. I know just as many women who abuse food as a means of controlling one variable in their seemingly out of control lives. I know women who starve, I know women who binge in secret, I know women who workout for hours to punish themselves for binging, I know women who refuse to workout with any real effort because they fear failure….and at different times; I have been all of these women.

 I can tell you from experience that our failures and hurts run deeper than the last cookie we ate or workout we skipped.  The symptom is revealed by the disease and I have experienced enough to know that an obsession with our bodies is often the result of a deeper sickness.

Some of you are in the middle of an affair and others of have been cheated on…

Some of you are still married or single but you are desperately lonely.

Some of you have perhaps lost control with your children using your force or your words, and some of you come from a background of abuse.

Some of you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, and some of you have been the victims of an addicted person.

Some of you are so consumed with maintaining the façade of perfection and comparing yourself to other women, that you haven’t experienced real peace since childhood.

The question is this, how will you move forward? 

Are you stagnating in guilt or are you stagnating in fear?  Either way there is only rot and waste.

My heart breaks for women who have been hurt, physically, or emotionally. My purpose in fitness is  to strengthen women where they have been damaged.  I am not however, interested in investing  in an attitude where we are forever victims  either at the hands of someone  whose love we are desperately trying keep, or by our own hands, as we claw desperately for love, attention, and control in a broken world.

So what has broken the stronghold of an eating disorder, compulsive working out, insecurity and fear in my life? 

It wasn’t standing in front of a mirror shouting affirmations… not that there is anything wrong with practicing a positive declaration of self… it’s just that I could never fully buy into It… I know the truth about myself and that while I am loved and created for purpose; I am also capable of self-destruction.

 It is not that I needed to think more of myself. In fact, I already thought of myself too much…In every phase of life,  in different ways I was obsessed with myself…with my  inadequacy…I was obsessed with changing myself physically for all the wrong reasons…my eyes were constantly on every flaw,  and those to whom I compared.

I had to stop allowing the pain in the past to drive my reactions.

I had to discover the beauty of my own purpose outside of anyone else’s opinions

I had to seek the one who created me to discover the value He placed on me.

We move forward when we stop wallowing and start looking forward. 

 My relationship with Jesus Christ grew out of the complete implosion of my marriage and personal life. Loneliness, exhaustion, and desperation allowed me to see for once that all my efforts were not only vanity but wasted in light of eternity.

It is not that I need to think more about what I am or am not.

It is that I need to think more of who He Is. 

Hebrews 12 tells us to “lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the author and perfector of our faith.”

It is to this passage I turn when my heart is weary or my head is swirling with rage. 

If you are frozen by failures, and in bondage to your past…stop looking at yourself and stop looking at others. and fix your eyes ahead.

Are you good looking? Is that the limit of your self-definition? …fix your eyes

Are you popular, admired, even envied? …are you working constantly to keep that idol fed?

Are you consumed by your flaws,  do you wake up daily hating your body?…fix your eyes forward.

Have you been hurt, beaten, insulted, and marginalized? … fix your eyes

Are you fearful, prideful, independent, or codependent?…fix your eyes

Do you want to break the cycle of strongholds in your life? Whatever they are, Stop looking behind you or around you, and fix your eyes on Jesus the author of your life and the creator of your purpose.

I’m sure not everyone reading this is a Christian and this may seem like pointless advice.  But it has been the only thing that has broken the cycle of obsession and eating disorder in my life and I would be a liar to pretend it were anything else.

When you dwell on being hurt you only condition yourself to be hurt and to hurt others.  When you obsess about your inadequacy, your inadequacy will be your only expertise.  When you continually work to build a veneer of perfection, reality will outlast the fantasy every time.

When you focus on Jesus, you are reliant on HIS perfection, who he created you to be, and what he created you for…

Working is replaced with resting,

Frustration is replaced with peace,

Hurt is replaced with healing.

You cannot force a false self-worth, you will always fail to measure up to the perfect standard in your head,  your value system has to  change. Physical beauty, male attention, failure, addiction, and every manner of thing that can weigh us down become dim in the periphery of your obsession when you realize you are fearfully and wonderfully made, loved with and everlasting love, forgiven without boundary or hesitation, and created for purpose.

We know its a time suck. We know it is a filter of flaws, a posed perfection, and a poor excuse for interaction. 

Still… social media is embedded in our culture like so many leeches in 19th century medicine.  Life-sucking and ugly but nevertheless, the acceptable methods of the day.  Every one is equally subject to the subtle parasite. 
Some of us are consumed by it, Some of us are forced into it, and some of us are big, fat hypocrites who make a big freaking deal about not being on it when the rest of us totally know you are…Some of us have been all three. 

As much as you or I may want it to, this Pandora’s box is never closing.  The world will never return to a place where your dinner isn’t something I have to know about, and you will never be free from experiencing my internal journey played out in real time… Filter-less, Awkward, and sometimes inappropriate…

Yet, the insidiousness of social media is in the brave new world of social etiquette.  It is in the nuance of offence and the fantasy of false community.  Its crazy, and its making us even crazier.

Many times, sometimes daily, I hear normal people, well adjusted, college educated people fuss over the invisible social snub of an “unliked” post.  
I, myself, often find myself casually scrolling and subtly thinking hateful, judgmental, hypocritical things… things like;

“…you’re an idiot…”
“No one cares about your workout… put a shirt on”
“No one cares about your cat…why is it wearing a shirt?!”

It turns me into a person I’m not entirely proud of and it turns you into someone I am also not entirely proud of.  So lets all just take a long sober look at the Frankenstein of human interaction we have created and perhaps consider that we have all in fact, gone insane.  

We may not have seen or spoken to them for 27 years but we’ve wished them a Happy Birthday for every one of them.  The guilt of neglecting this obligatory post is almost overwhelming and at times causes us to offer a belated birthday wish with apology…and then we ask how they’ve been when we clearly don’t care.  The only thing left to do is offer the sacrificial smiling face emoji and pray for next year.

Go ahead, this is a safe space… admit that you know exactly how many “likes” that post got and from whom. 
Admit that you were offended when so and so didn’t “like” your vacation update but “liked” whats his names post about whatever…
Admit that you know who failed to  “like” something and then assumed a hidden agenda that has no basis in reality. 
Just admit that, and bask in the freedom of the self aware.

We all know you are there…  Judging,  studying, condemning every Facebook  regular and yet, never getting into the mess yourself.  You never make your presence known, most people have forgotten they befriended you, and yet…you know and see all.  
Its just weird.  Stop it. 

You may be siblings. You may be childhood friends. You may have “liked” and interacted with everything they’ve ever done, but the moment they piss you off…nothing…not one encouraging “like.”
It is the social media equivalent of religious shunning.  Your interwoven friendships and connections are abuzz with activity, but to you, they are dead…even really funny stuff… you don’t respond…you withhold your “likes” and  “lol”s from them.
Stand your ground.  Make your point.  Above all, don’t attempt a real conversation.

I see you attended a parade for human rights, or the humane society, or  sponsored a polar bear…whatever… you’re not better than me….

Honestly, I can go on and on.  From your emotional manifesto we don’t know how to respond to, the wedding anniversary ballad that rivals Beowulf,  to the lunatic asylum that is the comments section of any article or blog post…we are a culture adjusting to the new normal of faceless interactions.  

Its not pretty.  It leaves me to deeply consider who I am apart from the veil that it provides me.  It reveals the petty, the small, the dark, of my character and the abrupt limit of my “goodness”  I frequently have to force myself to pull back and measure  my motivations. I frequently become disgusted with its ability to bring out my worst while simultaneously exhibiting my prettiest and best. 

We hide our pain, our flaws, our struggles, and our ugly. We control our image in the very real hope of finding connection at the very deliberate sacrifice of intimacy.  We argue with phantoms and develop a genuine hatred of people we’ve never met.  Left unchecked, It empties us of empathy, fills us with bitterness, and exposes our crazy. 

So, maybe go check your Facebook…and then go have an actual human interaction.

Plenty of us are ready to champion a cause for victim hood.  We are armed with our pain.  We are poised to tell our story.  We are unlikely heroes waiting to sympathize with fellow sufferers and march down streets with paper signs.

I get it….I not only get it, I am driven by a desire to uplift downtrodden women.  I am driven because I no longer want to feel that pain anymore.  I have seen the devastation of emotional and physical abuse played out on my character and I am desperate to step in the gap between and scream directions to others who feel just as helpless…just as hopeless.

I meet with people daily who have been wronged, deeply and legitimately.  I have met so many hurt people, so many who are scared and limping.  I have seen the injustice of poverty, the heartbreak of rejection, the manipulation of the powerful, and the emotional scars of physical abuse.  If you give anyone time enough to talk they will tell you of someone who has hurt them by one means or another.

…and yet, I have never met a villain.

Wounded lay everywhere and yet no trace of the weapon can be found.

Where are the villains? Where are the vindictive, the vengeful, the hateful, and the heartless?
We can think of a million ways we have been wronged but when we turn to see carnage in our wake,  a  sanctimonious amnesia sets in. If we do own any of our sins publicly, it is only from the safety of a historical setting… With the persuasion of our redemption, with an eye on our goodness…with the memory of a victim.  I’m gonna be honest here, I am tired of hearing from saints who have been wronged; when I feel so fully the weight of being wrong and when I know the damage I’m capable of and the circumstantial sainthood of us all.

We never heal the superficial wounds because the deeper we carve, the more we discover that our villain was once a victim and you are now holding their knife.  The simplicity of hatred has to evolve into all kinds of empathy and grace and we are forced to own a measure of the damage.

We’ve all heard it said “hurt people, hurt people,” But its so much easier to proclaim the hurt than to admit the hurting.  I am the hero of my own story but when I look closely enough I am also the villain.  I can show you my scars and justify my stabbing. I can tell you a story that would bring you to pity my misfortune and explain away all of my actions.  In the next moment, if I am brave enough to stay in it, I can see the pain I caused, the people I failed, and the trust I broke.  It is a humbling moment, nauseating and intensly uncomfortable.

That is where I meet the villain.

That is were I am compelled to fall down; exhausted from the pretense and the battle to maintain my veneer of innocence. That is where is see that I am both the adulterous woman and the pharisee poised to cast a stone…  Guilty. Shamed. Defensive. Angry. Vengeful. Accusing.  Desperately needing grace, but caught between fighting for self righteousness and falling on my face to beg for mercy.
(John 8:10-11 – “Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”)

When we are brave enough face it, and tired enough of pretending, God gives us grace enough to know ourselves.  If we are honest enough, we will have grace enough for others because we know the villain we are capable of being and the mercy we are so desperately in need of.

When the victim acknowledges the villain we are compelled to forgive much as we have been forgiven of so much…
.(Luke 7:47-48 – “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”)

We are blessed to know a God who knows our heart and blesses us with unmerited favor.
We serve a God who has subjected Himself to our weakness and sin.
We love a God who by grace love us infinitely more.
Remember that when you are exhausted with the fight. Remember When you are failing, When you are discouraged, when you are ashamed, when you lack confidence or courage or conviction…
He sees your heart. He has felt the pain of rejection and even hatred to the point of death. He knows your weakness. Your thoughts and struggles and exhaustion are not unfamiliar to Him. 
I love the image of being able to come before God boldly regardless of the temperature of our heart … That he knows us intimately and only waits for us to approach and ask for help. It seems so beautifully simple…help in time of need… But there it is…
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” – Hebrews 4:15-16

“I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 


We all know the end of this verse, but we seldom see the introduction.  
I, myself like to pretend the prelude is a weak option.
“To be content in whatever circumstance I am in…humble means and hunger…”
We live in America, we don’t know what humble means and hunger even look like. 
We wake up, get into expensive cars, drive to fairly safe places to earn money so we can buy too much food and things to fill our big bellies and ridiculously large houses…And if we can’t do these things for whatever reason, we pray for the right to them…for the fulfillment of our entitlement to them…
If we are unhappy, unloved, or under appreciated we find distraction by any means necessary and pray for relief as soon as yesterday.  We stare at screens and say ” i can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. But we don’t accept that those things may never me comfortable or glorious. 
I am thinking about contentment today. I am considering what it looks like over the course of a lifetime.  I don’t think it means I have all the money I need, the clothes I want, or the love I feel l deserve.  I think it looks like emptying myself of my reliance on these things and finding that I am helpless before a God who wants more for and from me. 
Who wants me poured out in the field of service to others. 
So that it can be said, 
“I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith…” – 2 Timothy 4:6-7