Sundays are good days. Intentionally quite days. Days David and I rest from the endless cycle of production and expectation. This Sunday was not much different with the exception of my breaking one of those quiet moments to be irrational and insecure…Sometimes, I needlessly chase those thoughts other people seem content to ignore…That just how I roll…like one of those obsessive greyhounds…its charming.

I wake up first from a nap and gaze at my husband, still sleeping peacefully.

He is patient. He is kind. He is the human I trust the most and the place where I can rest.

And yet…looking at him in that moment, like many moments since we’ve been married, my sense of calm is disrupted with inaudible tension. When I should be blissfully grateful I am instead uncomfortably fearful. I hate being afraid, so I move into much more manageable emotions…aggression and insecurity.

He wakes… possibly from my blink-less staring and writhing internal energy, and I start up…

“Are you always going to like me?”
“Where’s the anger?… When is that going to show up?”
“Is this the real you?… when are you going to start shutting down? When are you going to flip the switch?”
“…It’s fine…I know it’s my fault… I just need to know when because I’m getting soft…I’m getting too accustomed to this niceness, and it’s making me nervous”….”When is the other shoe gonna drop?!

To which he responded, “Um, what?…”

So yeah.. I begin the kind of cry that is not cute. His initial confusion giving way to concerned listening. He has no choice. I had to exercise that demon at last and he has already learned that it’s best to be still and wait for the end. When at last I look up, He says,

“You are a blessing to me, and never a burden.”
“This is who I am.”
“I love you like crazy. I see your crazy, and I’m not going anywhere.”

I had spent nine years in another marriage. He wasn’t a bad person, but he was a broken person and I wasn’t much better. Nine years living a cycle that continues in my mind three years later and has now poisoned my nap time.

A week maybe two, into that first marriage, depression, anger and anxiety took him over and would be my real spouse for the remainder of that decade. I remember numbly making an internal calendar where I could keep track of the good to bad day ratios. Where I could prepare to wall up against the inevitable hurt. Where I planned for winter.
One day good: One week bad.
One week good: Three weeks bad.
One month good: Four months bad.

It was the cycle I would come to live by and count on. I could hunker down in the bad and wait for the good. I walked on eggshells in the good because I feared triggering the bad. Every moment was edged with tension as I absorbed the next swing, the next week of silent treatment, the next outburst, the next dark cycle. Just before I felt I might break, he broke back into a moment of normal where I could convince myself that everything was fine. It wasn’t. I tried to be perfect. I tried to be strong. I tried to be pretty, and happy, and awesome. I wasn’t. In the end, I failed…hard…and I was really tired. My pride kept me alone. My insecurity kept me quiet. My grief kept me angry.

Here’s the thing…I am not living that life anymore.

So why am I still re-living that cycle?… Why am I still braced for bad? I struggle to rest in the good I now have because I could never trust the good I had before. And yet… if I continue to live an old life, I let the new life die. I give honor to those broken things instead of pouring energy into the future before me and hope within me.

That thing back there. That relationship, that failure, that hurt, that sin, that embarrassment, that anger…they have no power here. That thing happened, but it is no longer happening.

We all do this in one way or another. We all let the memory of an old pattern bind our forward progress. We operate from places of familiarity even when they are wrong or painful. We make excuses for our hesitation in risk and expect nothing to change. We accept poor treatment or bad behavior because we are convinced its all we’ve known and all we deserve. We drag a lifeless past into the places meant only for the living.

I can stop waiting for the shoe to drop because it already did. I endured that thing. I felt that fear. I lost that fight. I had enough. I was enough. I am enough, because I’m still here…that’s enough now. There is enough danger in the present to need my full attention. There are other opportunities to be brave. There is a good life right here if I am willing to let what was bad die. Not because I’m still angry, but because it’s useless and heavy.

You’re not dead yet, but perhaps you keep dragging what needs to die along, for no other reason than the stench is familiar. Acknowledge it, drag it into the light and have a good long look, then pull the life support you supply and walk away. Perhaps it’s a habit. Perhaps it’s a relationship. Perhaps it’s a job. Perhaps it’s a mindset.

For me… perhaps it’s time. It’s time to stop living old lives. It’s time to let them die. It’s time to kill old fear and starve old hate. It’s time to forget what is behind and press into what is ahead… (Philippians 3:13) It’s time to let my husband love me and live the life ahead of me.

And probably, I will wake him up from many more naps, with many more irrational things to cry about… and he knows that… and he doesn’t ask me to be any other way… I like this life.

As I was preparing to enter 148 Ministries’ first weekend working with the clients at the Hope Center Indy, I had no idea what kind of effect it would have on me personally.  I adhered to my normal sermon prep routine, I prayed for wisdom in an unfamiliar setting, and I stepped out with faith that God would lead.  I had no idea just how unprepared I was for the unsettling reality I would be forced to confront, and that the lesson would be mine to learn.

The Hope Center Indy houses and rehabilitates women of all backgrounds who have been victims of human trafficking.  All through Friday and Saturday we got to know the girls.  I spoke multiple times about the value God places on us, we shared personal testimonies, we shared workouts, and at one point, my wife offered me as a human punching bag.  She has this belief that most women would be better off if they could hit things really hard, so, with my core braced and arms padded, I offered myself up.  And yet for me, one of the most profound things that happened that day was a simple note, casually written on a sticky pad, shoved in an envelope with my name scrawled across it, and handed to me as we were packing to leave.   I had not realized it at the time, but the women and girls had written us each a few sentences anonymously throughout the weekend and it was these that our host had unexpectedly given me as we left.  It wasn’t till I got home that I was able to read them.  They were all unbelievably kind and overwhelmingly precious.

And then I came to the note that changed the way I look at women, the way I see men, and the way I   confront sin.  It revealed to me the true, honest, and very raw perspective these girls have towards the men who should have protected them, but instead, have scarred them.  It read:

“You give me hope that I won’t always feel uncomfortable near men. You seem to be pure in your thoughts and not a predator; which I thought was impossible. I thought all men were perverted. Thank you for not making me feel “looked at.”   I see Christ in you!”

 I finished reading and I froze.  Standing in the kitchen, holding the little sticky note, my stomach turned as my head searched for understanding.  In that moment, just to be honest, I never wanted to look at a woman ever again… ever.  A “predator” can be defined as “an animal that naturally preys on others” or “a person that ruthlessly exploits others.”   So which one of those definitions describes men?  Probably both.

  Satan is also described as a predator…the ultimate predator, a Lion.  In 1 Peter 5:8, the Bible tells us that “Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”  In other words, Satan is a methodical hunter who is intentionally looking for ways to cause Jesus’ followers to stumble and sin.  He is quiet. He is calculating.  He is patient.  He is going about his work as if his life depended on it, and He is hungry.  He does not strike when we are healthy and surrounded with protection; He strikes when we are weak, wounded, and alone.

 Men, do we have the courage to confront that kind of predator …and do we have the self-awareness to recognize when it’s us?  Before you dismiss the ugly possibility, examine your heart, your mind, and your motives.  It doesn’t have to be physical or sexual abuse.  There are many ways to devour.

Ask yourself, as a Christian man, do I do the same thing to women?  As a predator, do I seek women out to exploit them and cause them to sin?

…Too strong?

Ok, how do you think of women? Do you hide your thoughts in the safe stalking ground of your mind, using them secretly and justifying it deliberately?

 …Still too strong?

 Ok then…do you manipulate your wife or girlfriend in a way that is demeaning and devaluing to her as a person, as a wife, as a mother, and as a child of God? Do you use guilt to get your way?  Do you use anger and lack of self-control to intimidate? Do you deny her gifting and purpose to pursue your own?   In the hierarchy of your love, are her needs a priority or a pawn?  Do you protect her heart, or do you prey upon her emotions?

I went last weekend to teach these women about how God sees them…I left questioning how I have viewed women all my life.  Questioning how women must navigate this exhausting narrative all their lives.  I left, analyzing my thoughts and actions, and I left with a mind that is reinforced against the schemes of the predator. 

Check your motives men of God. Take every thought captive.  Where we are called to protect, love and cherish, we have earned the title of predators.  We are called to be providers, leaders, or spiritual examples, and yet, most women have learned that we are not worthy of their trust.  This culture has always been a consumer of women and yet we have not stood up against it as protectors.  We are as guilty as the men who abuse, and sell, and exploit our sisters if we continue to refuse or underestimate our God given roll to reflect the heart of Christ in our relationships toward them.

So, which category do you fit into?  Predator or Protector? And will you choose to see where God is calling us all to examine our hearts as we navigate a broken world.

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.