Friday, October 21, 2016

It Was Really About Women, not Trump or Clinton

One week ago I wrote an open letter to Dr. James Dobson and posted it on my blog.

Then the next day there was some kind of a rare hunter's super moon, and all the women in my care tried to go into labor at the same time. Off I went to deliver babies for several nights in a row. When I checked back on my blog, I saw it had kind of blown up- 113,000 views and over 100 comments and counting. Certainly a record for my corner of the internet, definitely indicating I hit a nerve or two. The numbers were frankly terrifying. However one thing I noticed is that at least half of the people commenting and probably also reading completely missed my point.

Some people thought I wrote my blog to (just) to rant on Trump. (I didn't.) Some people thought I was saying Clinton isn't as bad as Trump (I wasn't), and was therefore indirectly supporting her (I don't). Some people thought it was hypocritical to point out Trump's ("minor") faults and not mention any of Clinton's ("major") ones. Some people thought I didn't care about unborn babies because I didn't mention them. (I do, deeply.)  That just wasn't what I was blogging about that day.

If I had been writing a political blog about Trump versus Clinton, some of this criticism might have had some merit, but I actually wasn't.  I also wasn't writing to campaign for anyone.

I wrote an open letter and addressed one Christian leader directly. In so doing, I was also attempting to address more broadly Christian leaders and their attitudes toward men's moral behavior, the treatment of women, and issues of abuse and sexual assault. 

Oh, you say, is that all?  Dirty talk versus real politics and the fate of the nation?  Get over it.  Those women are all probably lying anyway.

Except it is hard to get over something all us women live with. Almost every woman alive has a story.  You would be hard pressed to find a single woman on this planet who hasn't been cat-called, addressed disrespectfully, propositioned, stalked, groped, had inappropriate sexual advances made to her, or been sexually assaulted or abused in some way in her lifetime. 

Along with that experience, the majority of those women have a correlating, equally devastating experience.  Their sexual harassment or assault or abuse was minimized or denied. The women were told no one would believe them, or, they were accused of exaggerating, lying, or having less than pure motives in reporting what happened to them.  In extreme cases they were totally shunned or excommunicated from their families as well.

Sadly, the odds of both experiences are exponentially higher if they were Christians or in a religious setting.

My first experience happened at a Christian radio station where I worked when I was 19.  One night when I was by myself recording commercials, the lead Christian DJ (who was married) entered the studio, came up behind me without warning and put his hands on my breasts.  I pushed him away and ran out into the foyer- he followed hastily and apologized before I left.  When I asked my mom and step-dad if I should say anything to the boss, I was told it would be my word against his since there were just the two of us there, and people would probably believe him instead of me, and it would hurt my reputation.  And after all, "nothing really happened," so I was advised not to tell anyone. When I tried to confront the DJ later about his behavior, he became very condescending and said the real issue in the situation seemed to be mine since I couldn't forgive him.

Abusers who know the Bible love to misuse our command from Jesus to forgive and twist it into a manipulation against truth, confrontation and consequences.

So I didn't tell anyone at the station, and put in my resignation. And for a very long time I freaked out when anyone came up behind me. Although I never deliberately tuned into that station again, it was the only Christian station in our area so I would frequently have to hear this man's voice over the air for years to come.

Fast forward many years to my marriage when my husband and I were finally in counselling after several years and I was trying to talk about abuse, my fears, and what was happening to me on a daily basis.  I was told things by pastors like, "You also have issues you need to work on- there are two sides to this you know." "You are over-reacting," and  "You aren't really in danger, he just needs anger management." 

One night I was so scared I ran out of our apartment and went to a co-worker's home to call our pastor.  The co-worker and his wife were home and let me in to use the phone...and then when my husband showed up furious looking for me, they left me there alone with him.  I will never forget what my young co-worker said as he turned around and looked at me before he left.  "Roxanne, I'm sorry, but your husband is my boss.  I'm going to let you guys work this out."  The pastor I called told me to go home and say sorry and make up with him.  I eventually did.  It was very a bad night.

Those are some of my stories of groping and abuse being minimized, but many other people's are much worse.

There have been many high profile sexual scandal and marital abuse issues in the media, but the ones by Christians are particularly painful.  Whether it is Bill Gothard, or Josh Dugger or Doug Philips one thing you will see in common is that some public opinion almost always turns viciously against the women involved. Particularly notable is what happened when Naghmeh the wife of the high profile Iranian Christian pastor Saeed Abedini came forward at the time of his release from prison, seeking protection for herself and her children through legal separation. Under great psychological and emotional distress, Naghmeh made a simple personal statement to supporters by email and said Saeed had a pornography addiction and had abused her for years emotionally, physically and sexually. For her agonizing honesty she got raked over the coals by the Christian community and her abuse dismissed publicly by Franklin Graham:

"Not everything that has been reported in the media is true," Franklin posted on Facebook.  "While we rejoice at his new freedom, we now lift him and his wife Naghmeh to the Lord for healing in their marriage. Other than God, no one knows the details and the truth of what has happened between Saeed and Naghmeh except them. There's an old saying that there are at least two sides to every story." 

This is Christian-speak for "don't believe everything his wife Naghmeh has said." There were, by the way, no other "media reports" being circulated in their case he could have been referring to. 

The attitudes of Christian leaders toward the women who have been assaulted or abused remains largely the same as it does in non-religious settings, if not worse. Women are just as regularly suspected of not telling the truth, of exaggerating, or of having ulterior motives. Their experiences are often minimized and dismissed as inconsequential.  

In Christian circles instead of being defended, comforted, supported and protected, if women are actually believed, they are told they "must forgive," and the abuser is often let off the hook as long as he "says sorry". Married women are encouraged to stand by their man and move on for the sake of the larger issues- "not letting the devil destroy their marriage" their children, their witness, or their ministry. Single women who are molested are often shamed and the focus goes to what they were wearing or how they were acting or if they behaved inappropriately.

I will never forget where I was when one of my male relatives asked me, "just what was it" that my husband did that I would divorce him.  When I replied that he was a sexual addict, addicted to pornography, abusive, and had been cheating on me for our whole marriage, his reply was, "That's it?"

This was the attitude I was confronting in James Dobson in his support of Trump. This attitude which is widespread in the church that minimizes the moral character failings of men and the pain of the women who suffer from them.  This is the attitude that looks for ways to dismiss reports of inappropriate sexual behavior by men with statements like,  "It was a long time ago."  "He said sorry." "He has repented." "Judge not lest you be judged."  "Nobody is perfect."  "After all David committed adultery and he was a man after God's own heart." "It was just talk."  "She's probably lying." "You have to forgive." "Two sides to every story." "It's a conspiracy." 

These are not new or unique statements from Trump supporters in this election.  These are statements that Christians and others have been making, and abused and molested women have been hearing over and over for a long, long time. And when they hear those statements now defending Trump, particularly by Christians who say they stand for morals, they are wounded all over again.

This, in spite of how we are supposed to be the "moral majority" and stand up for Biblical values in our culture. But if we can't even stand up for truth and morality among ourselves in our churches, for everyone including women and yes, I haven't forgotten, our precious unborn babies too, but the women are the ones who have the babies so let's start there shall we? then how are we supposed to be the moral compass of our nation?

Standing up for morality isn't sweeping reports of abuse under the carpet, nor is it blaming the victim, nor is it "praying for the marriage" when we should be helping the woman get out of an abusive situation, nor is it ignoring or minimizing reports spousal abuse or sexual misconduct by those who are in leadership in churches.

Or in those who are running for president.

One voice among prominent conservative Christian leaders has notably stood against Trump from the beginning.  Max Lucado, all the way back in February wrote a piece called "Decency for President."  In it he wrote about his test for someone dating his daughter.  He had to be "decent."  He raised concerns about how Trump behaved toward women and made the connection- the way a man treats women says volumes about his character in other areas.  And then he concluded,

"I have no inside track on the intricacies of a presidential campaign. I’m a pastor. I don’t endorse candidates or place bumper stickers on my car. But I am protective of the Christian faith...."

This is where I was coming from with my letter to Dr. Dobson. Like Max Lucado, I have no inside track on the intricacies of politics and my intent last week - believe it or not- actually wasn't to write a political blog.  But I am protective of the Christian faith. I care about what goes on in the church, for we are supposed to represent Jesus. And I believe our values should be consistent with our faith.  If we say we stand for character and morality, (as James Dobson spent a lifetime publicly doing) then let's consistently stand for character and morality and be that moral compass.

Christians, our first citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, and we will have that Kingdom intact in our hearts no matter who becomes president in our country of residence.  So let's see that we reflect the attitudes of our King in the way we are respecting and standing up for people among ourselves first, including women and yes unborn babies, and those who report abuse and sexual assault (who I should add, are not always women).  We can start by taking what they have been through seriously, and by not giving their abusers a free pass.

Let's live the values we say we believe.  We have one vote on one day for this election, but then we will have 1,460 days to live until the next election.  If we were as passionate about living our Christian values every one of those days...

If we love our neighbors as we love ourselves,

If we do unto others as we want them to do to us,

If we treat women - and all people- the way Jesus did, and stand up for victims,

If we stick to all these Biblical values personally and in that way hold up that standard to our culture, we win, no matter who is elected.

As for me personally, I've recently made the decision to vote for Evan McMullin.  I will be posting support for him on my social media, and encouraging others to consider him as a choice.  But at the end of the day, no matter who is voted president, I will commit to pray daily for that individual. Because if I say I stand for Biblical values, I have to live them, not just vote for them, although the goal is to make those two things as consistent as possible.

So the point of my original blog wasn't (only) how evil Trump was, nor was I implying he was necessarily a worse choice for president than Clinton.  I was instead, attempting to be a voice for women who have been abused, and to tell you how they, we, I feel when James Dobson, or any of you defend Trump, a man who reminds many of us of our abuser.

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Letter to Dr. James Dobson

Dear Dr Dobson,

You don’t know me.  But I am one of millions that you have influenced.  I always looked up to you, and you, through your books, gave me advice that may have saved my life.  I’ll tell you more about that later.

My mother read your books too and all your early titles were a part of our family library.  I listened to Focus on the Family growing up.  Your organization was our family's and our faith community’s favorite resource- your voice was trusted and familiar when we heard it on the radio, year after year.  In a way, your strong kind voice was a substitute for the dad I never really had.

Then I got married.  And some things went very wrong, and I didn’t know why, and I couldn’t talk about it to the people around me.  I eventually found out why- my husband was addicted to pornography.  But we were in full time ministry and he was in leadership, and there was no one who would believe me, or be on my side.  So, I turned to who I knew I could trust- Focus on the Family.  You were the only Christian voice I had ever heard that was regularly open and passionate and clear about the dangerous of pornography- so I knew I could turn to your organization for help and I wouldn’t be blown off nor my situation minimized.

And Focus on the Family had resources for me.  Referrals to counselors and support groups to help me know what to do now that I had found out my husband had been viewing pornography.   Books to read to help me understand, like, An Affair of the Mind.  And one very important one, written by you personally –Love Must be Tough. I ordered them and read them through my tears.

Due to a horrible coincidence of my dad dying unexpectedly, I had a few days away from my husband soon after I found out the truth that he was a sexual addict.  I took a week to cry, read books,find out as much as I could, pray, get advice, and try to figure out what to do.  In your book Love Must Be Tough, I found many of the answers I needed.  It was the first place I read such clear advice such as, if you husband has an affair and you want to forgive him and stay in the marriage, tell him you will only do it once, and if he ever does it again, you are getting a divorce.  And then be willing to do it.  You made it clear that he couldn’t be given a free pass to keep cheating with no consequences.  Your book also said it was always okay to leave if I wasn't safe.

I desperately needed to hear that. Your book may have actually saved my life, because it helped me see right and wrong more clearly and not compromise so I was eventually able to get out of a dangerous situation.

You see, Dr. Dobson, no one else at the time in the Christian community was speaking out that strongly against pornography, or discussing affairs and abuse and how to handle these things.  All the Christian around me were minimizing what my husband had done, and emphasizing that I must forgive him.  Everyone was saying it was in the past, and I should think of the future of our marriage and our kids.  Everyone but you. You didn’t pull any punches.  Your writings and advice were pro-marriage, but not at any cost, and you did not advocate wives staying in abusive relationships- a radical deviation from the advice I got from most Christians.

You didn’t over spiritualize the way many Christians did.  You were the one who interviewed the serial murderer and rapist Ted Bundy on death row who said that looking at pornography was the gateway to all of his violent crimes.  It was this interview that fueled your crusade against pornography and you called it what it was- dangerous.  Not something all men looked at in locker rooms and kept under their beds.  No boys will be boys or men will be men excuses from you.  Your uncompromising stand gave both me and women like me hope and strength to stand up as well.

Dr. Dobson, after battling all your life against the evil of pornography, after your clarion call to America that pornography destroys intimacy, marriages, families and souls, are you going to vote for a man who (among many other moral failures) has a lifetime of openly participating in this kind evil and promoting it? 

You, who were on the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography in the 1980s and were part of publishing a 1,960 page report on every aspect of this evil and its effect on our culture?

Trump opened the country's first in-casino strip club inside Trump Taj Mahal (where no doubt many things happened that destroyed many families). Trump gave interviews for Playboy magazine and actually stared as himself in a porn film. Trump said of the owner of Playboy: “Hugh Hefner really understood the art of using mass media, better than anybody else of his generation. He did something that really has been done very rarely — he made himself the company, in terms of his image. And it's been a huge asset for Playboy. It's really become such an amazing brand."

This is not the kind of man you usually support. 

In 2008 you went on record and said you wouldn’t vote for Republican John McCain as a matter of conscious. Your reasons?  Among others you said adultery, ethics, violent temper, profane behavior, and his acceptance of gambling and alcohol money.

Here is what you said then, “The Senator is being touted by the media as a man of principle, yet he was involved with other women while married to his first wife, and was implicated in the so-called Keating scandal with four other senators.  He was eventually reprimanded by the Congress for the ‘appearance of impropriety.’ The Senator reportedly has a violent temper and can be extremely confrontational and profane when angry.  These red flags about Senator McCain’s character are reminiscent of the man who now occupies the White House.”

Dr. Dobson, you felt pretty strongly about McCain’s character and you weren’t afraid to say so and apparently to abstain from voting even though he was the Republican Party candidate. There were some similarities to the current election. In spite of his short comings, McCain was pro-life, and Obama wasn’t.  But in that election you didn’t say of McCain, “these are misdeeds in his past” or “let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” You didn’t suggest we should forgive McCain for the sake of our party getting into the White House and for the sake of our important pro-life cause, or the future of our country.

(Actually, I find out, you more or less did.  Other readers, see correction footnote at the end of the blog.)

So let’s hold Trump up to this same standard you held McCain. Trump also committed adultery with other women while married to his previous two wives. Trump also “reportedly has a violent temper and can be extremely confrontational and profane when angry” – we have seen many examples of this during his campaign alone, not even counting previous to that.  You said just a couple of days ago, "To my knowledge, Donald Trump has never abused women physically or had oral sex in the Oval Office with a vulnerable intern.”

Well, he hasn’t gotten to the oval office yet, but he’s obviously exactly the kind of man would who abuse women physically and have oral sex or some other kind of sex with a vulnerable intern when he does get there- or maybe he would “just” grab her genitals and try to kiss her.  This is a man who has publicly bragged about his sex life for years on the radio with air trash talk with radio shock jock Howard Stern:

“You could’ve gotten her, right?” Stern asked Trump on-air shortly after Princess Diana’s death in 1997. “You could’ve nailed her.”
“I think I could have,” Trump said.
How about singer Mariah Carey? “Would you bang her?” Stern asked. Trump replied, “I would do it without hesitation.”

Or maybe you prefer to believe what Trump said that time when Stern asked him,

“Is oral sex important to you? Man to man, and I’ve had this discussion with many men.”
Trump: “No, it’s not important to me.”

We have on tape evidence that he is a sexual predator and that he forces unwilling women to accept his advances. And many women continue to come forward confirming this is a regular pattern, and behavior not just talk. 

Dr. Dobson, you are the one who taught me through your radio shows and writings on marriage not to naively believe empty words, nor promises, but to look for changed behavior before trust is given.  

I don’t see the changed behavior.  I see no evidence that Trump is any different than the man who did all these things consistently for most of his life.  And isn’t it pretty logical to look carefully at the whole history of a person before electing them?  Why does Trump get the “forgive and forget” pass when it has never been issued before by us conservatives?  What else can we use to make a determination on what a person will do in the future, except his personal history?
If you could abstain from voting in a previous election because you felt there were no good choices, it seems to me you could do it again, and I would be so bold as to suggest it is even truer now than it was then.

(Or you could flip-flop, see update.)

And Dr. Dobson, with all due respect, you did take the Bible out of context.  You said, "I do not condone nor defend Donald Trump's terrible comments made 11 years ago. They are indefensible and awful. I'm sure there are other misdeeds in his past, although as Jesus said, 'Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.' "

In the scripture you referenced, (John 8) Jesus was not defending from stones a man like Trump who had forced himself upon women and made statements just one year ago that he had never asked God for forgiveness.  He was defending a woman on her face in the dirt in shame and repentance before Him, who was a victim OF men like Trump who had thrown her there and were attacking her out of their own self-righteousness and political agendas.

And once more for the record, Dr. Dobson, they are not just comments. They represent a lifetime of behavior.  

You used to be a defender, Dr. Dobson. You defended women like me and families like mine and said that pornography and immorality would destroy us, and we could take a stand against it, and not tolerate it in any form.  You defended women like me and said we deserved to be treated with respect and dignity.

But now you are willing to put a man in the White House who has spent a lifetime not just looking at pornography and practicing immorality but promoting it, who repeatedly brags about “banging women”, repeatedly brags about how many women he has slept with, repeatedly brags about sex outside of marriage, and even brags about being a sexual predator.  He rates women’s value by the size of their body parts. He says pumping breastmilk is disgusting and pregnancy is inconvenient to employers.   

In short, he has spent his entire lifetime trampling on the family values you have fought for Dr. Dobson, and he has done it consistently, openly and unapologetically.

Dr. Dobson, you are now aligning yourself with a man who victimizes instead speaking up for his victims.  By your vote, you are supporting the very behaviors that caused me immeasurable pain and ultimately, the destruction of my family.  It feels to me like you have switched sides, and now are part of a political system that considers women and their pain collateral damage to a bigger agenda.

Dr. Dobson, I’m challenging you- would you trust your daughter Danae in an elevator alone with Mr. Trump?  If not, then how can you send him to the White House where he will have that kind of access and power over many, many women in that situation?  Can you look them in the eye?

How about you, Dr. Dobson?  Can you vote for Trump and look your wife and daughter and all of us in the eye?  How about the victims of sexual violence?  And the victims of pornography?

I can’t tell you how disappointed many of us are that you didn’t stand up for women this time. You threw us all under the bus for the sake of a candidate who pays lip service to being pro-life (though he was pro-choice not long ago) and might possibly make better nominations to the Supreme Court. His lack of morals and any victims of that immorality are just collateral damage to a more important agenda - "the future of this nation."

It’s as if you personally are standing there, watching Trump grope all of us and grab our body parts and try to force himself on us and you turn a blind eye and pretend you don’t see because what really matters is that he agreed to vote pro-life and appoint a conservative Supreme Court justice and because Hillary is evil.

That’s how it feels as a woman to hear men say after we are humiliated, assaulted, raped or cheated on, “Sure that was awful what he did, but there are worse things, and anyway we should forgive because we are Christians,” (And I’m not the only one to feel that way, apparently Beth Moore does too.)

This is the message you personally are sending the every single victim of sexual violence when as a Christian leader you support Trump instead of condemning him- that what happened to them isn’t that bad.  We don’t hear you sending the message that Hillary is worse and the future of our country is at stake.  We hear the message that being a sexual predator doesn’t disqualify a man from being president… that what happened to us isn’t criminal, just “terrible.”  

What about being “pro-life” for our lives?  What about justice for us?  What about the evil of minimizing this kind of treatment of women?  What about our future and the future of our daughters in a country where the president has set an example that insulting, exploiting, harassing and assaulting women is okay?  Isn't that a threat to the future of this nation as well?

Because make no mistake, Dr. Dobson, when you can listen to that tape that was released, when you can read all these things I’ve mentioned about the way Trump treats women, talks about women, disrespects women, and sexually assaults women, and say you will still vote for him, you ARE minimizing and condoning this behavior.   You can say all you like that his comments are “indefensible and awful”, but apparently they- and the behavior they described- aren’t bad enough to withhold a vote when something “bigger” is at stake.

Furthermore the way a man treats women says a lot about his character in other areas Dr. Dobson, and I think you know that.  The editorial in the Deseret newspaper said it well.  “What oozes from this audio is evil. We hear a married man give smooth, smug and self-congratulatory permission to his intense impulses, allowing them to outweigh the most modest sense of decency, fidelity and commitment. And although it speaks volumes about sexual morality, it goes to the heart of all ethical behavior. Trump’s banter belies a willingness to use and discard other human beings at will. That characteristic is the essence of a despot.”

I suspect you may find what you lost with this endorsement is much greater than what you gained, for you have lost your reputation as a man of discernment and character and consistency who champions family values without agenda and who stands up against injustice.

You said in 2010, “We are in a moral decline of shocking dimensions. I have asked myself how I can I sit and watch the world go by without trying to help if I can. That is what motivates me at this time.”

I wish you had just watched; it would have been better than this.
We are indeed in a moral decline when you, James Dobson, the champion of family values are voting for a candidate who has no family values or morals at all. For me, this is one of the greatest losses of the election so far.  I expected nothing from Trump, but that he would be who he has always been. 

But I expected that you would do the same, Dr. Dobson- that you would be who you had always been- a man who stands up for values- and stands up for us. 

I was wrong.

10/15/16 Update:

One of my more politically astute friends pointed something out to me that bears updating.

The quote I posted about Dr. Dobson not voting for John McCain was originally spoken early in 2000 and he stuck to that for quite a while saying he would not vote for McCain under any circumstances. But in August of 2006 Dr. Dobson actually changed his mind and decided to come out in support of McCain  “If flip-flopping is a sin, then I am a sinner," he said.

On the one hand, it now makes sense why it was easier for Dr. Dobson to support Trump in this election, another immoral man he doesn't approve of. On the other hand, it gives me real hope that once again, Dr. Dobson might consider "flip-flopping", only this time the other way.  He is obviously willing to change a public position when convicted to do so.

What about it, Dr. Dobson?  How about flip-flopping on your support of Trump and sending a message that you do care about how women are treated?  You wouldn't be the only Christian leader to honorably flip-flop. Wayne Grudem, prominent evangelical theologian, recently did just that.  

Your position in supporting Trump has added much ammunition to the lie that Christians don't really care about values or women, just power.

Would you like to prove them wrong?  

Sunday, September 25, 2016

You are here, Emmanuel

You are here in the hurricane, You carry me through the driving rain
All I need to know is You are with me.
You are here in the desert sun, And in Your shadows where I belong
All I need to know, is You are with me.
We will never walk alone, Emmanuel, You abide with us, Emmanuel
You were there when the battle raged, Now these scars are a song of praise
All I've ever known is You beside me
You were there in the lions' den, You keep me safe til I'm home again
All I've ever known is You beside me

We believe that our God will keep us, Til the very end
You are here, You are here, Emmanuel, You are here, in the fire, Emmanuel

(Emmanuel by Martin Smith, from the album God’s Great Dance Floor)

Today in a church, one of many I have attended in my life, I sang this song.  As I did, I pondered the significance in God being there, and His tangible presence being with me, in that particular local church.

His Spirit was definitely there today, in spite of the fact that there has been quite a mixture coming from the pulpit of this church in the past year- everything from bizarre manifest destiny revisionist history lessons by a nationally discredited guest speaker, to amazing sermons on prayer and the Holy Spirit from the senior pastor that contributed to my spiritual growth, to patriarchal marriage teaching on Valentine’s Day from a church elder that insensitively ignored the existence of singles, possibility of spousal abuse or the daily realities of single parents in the congregation.

You are here, you are here, Emmanuel.

I reflected again.  It is really no less amazing that God showed up in an imperfect church where there is a mixture of good and bad, truth and lies today with His Holy Spirit than it is that He has done it many other times for me throughout my life, and throughout history for all His people.

He was there with me when, at the age of 20, I reluctantly left my non-demoninational church of choice to attend a traditional Baptist church.  My mother had remarried a narcissist posing as a Baptist preacher and I was told that I needed to attend church with them in order to be right with God.  I did, but continued to raise my hands and use sign language while singing traditional hymns, much to the alarm of the elders. Eventually I found I could close my eyes, shut them out, and still have my worship time with Jesus in that church too.

You are here in the fire, Emmanuel.

He was there with me when a few years later I was worshipping Him in the weekly services of a cult that I unwittingly joined.  His presence remained with me there in a setting where I was almost completely controlled and deceived by a number of dangerous false teachings; where for almost two years I was told I had a spirit of Jezebel and was unable to hear from God or even pray apart from the direction and covering of male leadership, and where all of the congregation was taught that to go to a doctor for medical help for even a life threatening condition was lack of faith that would open us up to demons.

You kept me safe in the lion’s den.

He was there with me a couple of years later when I was praising Him weekly in one of the biggest Cantonese Christian churches in Hong Kong. I was surrounded by strangers who didn’t speak English, didn’t know me, and didn’t know that I was trapped in an abusive marriage and singing and weeping my heart out every week not out of joy, or from a burden for the lost, but out of desperation to enter God’s presence for a few minutes to get what I needed to survive one more week of hell on earth. 

You kept me safe til I’m home again.

He was there with me in the church in Nepal, a foreigner singing in an unfamiliar language, struggling to understand the words of the sermon, swathed in local clothing and sitting at the back of the church on the floor nursing my baby under my scarf.  He whispered to me there in the wind that came in the back door and reminded me that He spoke my language and  fully understood what I could not clearly express to those around me.

All I’ve ever known is You beside me.

He was there with me in the California mega-church where I attended while I was fighting to hold my marriage together though my heart was broken in a million pieces by unfaithfulness, lies and betrayal.  I offered up my praise and worship in tightly scheduled services and His Spirit slipped through the spaces in the script to comfort my heart. I heard God speak to me directly on grace and deliver me from a lifetime of legalism through a pastor who didn’t even know my name.

Now these scars are a song of praise.

He was there with me in the small Texas church where after my divorce I finally found the joy and freedom to dance in praise again. I encountered God and His anointing and provision multiple times in multiple ways in the seven years we attended and thought I had found my permanent safe place, totally unaware of the lack of ethics in the leadership. I would eventually be attacked and turned against and leave so disillusioned and deeply wounded that my children and I are still recovering several years later.

We will never walk alone, Emmanuel.

He was there with me where we visited more than one church, for seasons of each, looking for a good fit.  No matter where we were, God’s presence found a way through whatever style of worship was there, and whatever type of message was preached. In each place God and His Spirit would always find its way through the imperfect form to our hearts with conviction, instruction and encouragement.

You are here with us, Emmanuel.

My mind traveled back over all these seasons today, and I again marveled at how God is not limited by the century, the environment, the culture, the script, man’s agendas, less than pure motives in leadership, church trends, size, politics, legalism or even false doctrine.  He can and He will break through all of it to the hungry heart seeking Him and reach and them with His anointing, His Word and His truth.

I am not alone in my experiences.  There are centuries of church history full of such stories. But He is faithful even when we get it wrong, or when the church we are worshipping in gets it wrong.

If it were not so, He would not be anywhere.

But He is here,

He is here,


Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Raft instead of a Village

“Are you CRYING?!”

My 15 year old son reacted in alarm as he happened to glance over at my face as I was driving. 

(The very fact that this is an unusual occurrence these days says a lot.)



I struggled to put it into words.  I had randomly thought of a couple who had lived on a street we had just passed, a young couple we were friends with, no children, who had been on staff and in church with me at a very difficult time in my life when I was becoming single and going back to work with three young children.  Based on the relationship we had, I had specifically reached out to them and asked if they could be a temporary part of my support team in the absence of family to help me with my kids.

They had politely declined, citing busy work, school and life schedules.

And I felt embarrassed for asking, and went on without their help.

And now, I had made it, without them, and didn’t need that kind of help anymore.

Weird reason to cry, I know.  But suddenly it had all come flooding back, the memory of my desperate day-to-day struggle to find child care and help ten years ago, when my kids were too young to be left alone, when they couldn’t drive themselves places, when every day was cobbling together tiny pieces of life and support wherever I could find it.

Memories also, of another young couple from our church, also on staff and working in the same department and living very close to me.  More than once they walked right past me making endless phone calls seeking childcare, or struggling with small children and bags of groceries, or needing other practical assistance with my house, without offering to step in, and making it abundantly clear with specific statements and deliberate behavior that they did not want to get involved in helping me unless it involved pay.  I’m pretty sure they weren’t trying to be mean, but rather thought they were doing the right thing establishing healthy boundaries for their personal lives.

So I redefined what “friendship” with them meant, and went on without their help.

I went on, without parents, without other family, and without much practical help from a church “family” who saw me every Sunday teaching children’s church or in the nursery and never really ever got what I was going through the other six days a week.

‘Cause I put a brave face on it, as best I could.  And somehow, there was always just enough help to get by on.  Not comfortably.   Not consistently.  But enough to keep from going under.

And eventually, there were others.  A sweet lady in my church who babysat for a living and watched all three of my kids come for the price of what she usually charged for one.  Another acquaintance, not in my church, who had taught my daughter sewing class, and watched my kids a few times for free.  A boss that let me bring my kids with me to work.  One family who sometimes picked up my son from Royal Rangers and took him home afterwards. And eventually, a children’s pastor and his wife who were at our church for a brief year and truly lived and understood what the words “church family” and “community” and “relationship” were supposed to mean- after years of emptiness there was actually someone at my church who would regularly offer to come pick up my kids for events and either bring them home or have them spend the night at their home afterwards. They were also the first ones in my own actual church to make me feel like they saw me as real family, and liked to be a part of my life instead of performing a reluctant Christian service when I asked for help. 

This meant a lot because I spent so much of my time agonizing over asking for the simplest “favors”- like once or twice a year asking another family with kids in an event with mine to pick them up or bring them home when I was working.  And when they did, but didn’t say, “sure, no trouble,” or act positive, or offer to do it again, I would obsess over whether they thought I was needy or taking advantage or asking too much, or if I should have offered them more gas money. Even when people were nice, I was always worried that I had asked one too many times.

(I since have realized that if this kind of relational and practical support isn’t a personal value of the pastors in the church, you aren’t likely to find it consistently functioning through the rest of people there, or in the church structure.  It has to be built in by the leaders as an intentional value.)

I felt like I had to profusely apologize for every time I asked a person not related to me for even the smallest bit of help, whether it was kid related, car related, or home maintenance related.  I would offer to pay people, and then when they would sometimes take it, I would realize that indeed, they didn’t feel any obligation to me as a friend or a sister in Christ or a fellow church member or whatever, and I was expected to stand on my own two feet.

And so I did, though it cost me a great deal.

The struggle was real.  But now, a big part of that was over.  The reason I was crying was that I suddenly realized with relief that I had made it to a new stage of life, and had actually been experiencing and enjoying it for while without realizing I had arrived.

The random acts of kindness from scattered individuals and friends at inconsistent times had gotten me through.  God in His goodness made sure I never went under the choppy waves of life and single parenthood.  I never got a cruise ship to rescue me, but there was always a raft or a life preserver – or I was given the strength to dog paddle.

(Lots of dog-paddling.)

And now.  Now my kids are 15, 17, and 18.  The need for child care and transportation help is totally past. Two are graduated from high school. The oldest two drive and I own two vehicles.  They are all supportive and helpful when I need it. 

The tears my son asked about were those of a mama had been paddling her little raft through the storm for years, and suddenly realized the waves had subsided and she had come into port.

This was a bit hard to put in words for my 15 year old.  But I tried.

He was silent a minute and then said, “Wow, okay.  That’s deep.”

Yeah, it was.  Thank God He brought us through the deep waters, and used those willing to be used.

Just want to shout out to those of you still in the choppy water of single parenting or isolated parenting with littles.  Hang in there.  God is good.  You will make it. Keep reaching out.  Some people will be there for you when others aren’t.  Forgive those who aren’t- it may seem like they are selfish (and maybe they are) or maybe they are just oblivious, or have their own private crisis you are unaware of.  And move on. Do your best alone when you have to. Keep looking for your tribe. If one person or one group of people lets you down, I promise, ask God and He will make it up to you, somehow, even if it is giving you the strength to dog paddle for a little while until you get to the next raft of support.

It does eventually get easier.  And on that note, another BIG shout out to the good people who were/are there for me- you know who you are.  I love you deeply and this blog is not in any way meant to minimize the help you gave and still give.

Beyond this, I have been interested to gradually realize that I am not the only one to experience the isolation and challenge of raising kids without a family, a tribe, or a village.  (In the Absence of a Village, Mothers Suffer Most.) It is an American phenomenon, affecting all demographics, and both two parent and one parent families. Most of us don’t live near extended families, don’t live in small close knit communities, and don’t interact much with our actual neighbors.  Most of us pay through the nose for decent childcare from people not related to us. Most churches don’t address or provide for this need for community and practical support.

Although I survived with sporadic support, and lived to tell about it, I am aware of how desperate it can get in the trenches. I don’t have any mind-blowing solutions except that as best we can in our fragmented culture we need to try to lend one another a hand.  Even if you can’t be someone’s everything long term, you can probably offer a ride or two, or take someone’s kids to the park once a month, or bring a sick family a meal or help someone move, or offer to help a single mom friend with car maintenance.  Whatever your thing is, someone would probably very much appreciate it. If you notice another family going to all the same events you do, offer to car-pool or ride share.  Moms with littles are desperate for household help they probably can’t afford- consider sending your tween or young teenage girls to be helpers for a day.  Or how about calling another mother with small children for a “mom date” at Chick-Fil-A while your kids all play?

Because even a little bit of help can be someone’s life preserver or raft when they are tired of dog-paddling.

It made all the difference in the world to me.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A Good Mom

Mother’s Day has been a difficult day for me for many years.  That’s why I’m especially pleased to redeem it this year… with a story.

The fourth book in the Fiction Lover’s Devotional series includes one short story by yours truly called, “A Good Mom”. Of all the stories I’ve published in this series, this one is especially close to my heart.  Writing from the point of view of a single mother, I was able to pour in some of the emotion of my own experience.

When you are a single mom, you often find yourself in awkward situations.  Like suggesting a family your kids made friends with come over to dinner sometime, and getting a laugh from the wife as if you made a joke and the comment, “But who would my husband have to talk to?”  Or meeting new people at a homeschool social event and getting along great until the question comes up, “What does your husband do?”

The thing is, I’m pretty contented being a single mom until these weird moments pop up.  Like, I practically forget I’m different, because single parenthood has become my normal. My comfortable normal, in fact, like a comfy sweater that I wear every day and forget that it has unusual patchwork colors until someone stares or comments.  My kids and I have good relationships, finances are stable, and I have a solid circle of friends who know my back-story.

And actually, I’m not so different.  When I get into heart to heart talks with other mothers, whether they are married, divorced and remarried, or single, if I get past their facades, I often find someone who shares my values and feelings.  I find that we all worry about our kids, and we all want what is best for them.  I find we all think we fall short.  I find we all get tired. 

And most of all, we all love our kids.

I’d like to think that what we have in common is much greater than our differences.  

When I see other mothers, I don’t think of them as different from me, I think of them as the same.  When I am with mothers in labor as their midwife, I remember my labors.  When I see other mothers struggling to get their crying children into their car seats, I remember that struggle all too well.  When I see moms cheering for their kids, or hugging their kids, or praying for their kids- I identify.  I do all those things too.

And so, here is my request to the mothers who are married- don’t see single mothers as different.  They are no less than you.  They are doing their best, just like you are.  They love their children. And they are broken, just like you are.  Their brokenness just shows in a more visible way.

To the other single moms this Mother’s Day, I want to tell you something too.  You are no less able to parent your children than someone who is married.  You have everything you need inside of you.

And God is for you. You are a good mom.

And by God’s grace and with His help, so am I.

You can read my story and many others in 21 Days of Joy - now available from and

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Relationship Status with Church: It's complicated

Last weekend I had a friend spend the weekend with me.  She mentioned she wasn’t sure about Sunday morning plans because she had read my last blog, Valentine's Day Lies in Church and didn’t know where I "stood with church" at the moment.

Another cue that I need to do some clarifying came a couple of weeks ago when I was dropping my kids off at our homeschool co-op play practice, giving me a rare opportunity to interact with some of the other mothers I don’t see very often.   One gal I hadn’t seen in a while hugged me, and then we sat and chatted while our kids figured out where to stand on the stage.

“I just love seeing everything you post on Facebook.  Except the stuff about church, that just breaks my heart.”

So, yeah, need to clarify. Here’s the bottom line (as of today).  Church is hard.  I still go.  I’m a Christian (trying).  It’s what I (mostly) do.  I have yet to ditch church attendance for any length of time since I was carried in as a baby.  Probably has mostly to do with my long history/habit of being and doing everything in church that one possibly can do.

As a brief clarification, Biblically and theologically the Church (with a capital C) is people, not a building.  Biblically, church is supposed to be Jesus followers, doing life together, and showing and telling everyone else around them the good news of Jesus.   But they/we don’t do that very well.  That simple concept of church is as messed up as anything else is in our messed up broken world.  And so, as part of the brokenness, when most people speak of “going to church” (with a small c) they are referring to a specific group or sub-division of Christians that meet in a building or place, under the signboard of a denomination or name. 

As far as my involvement with the Church, I’ve pretty much done it all- from full time ministry/missions overseas for six continuous years where I did everything from teaching in indigenous Bible schools, to evangelizing unreached areas, to smuggling Bibles to the underground church, to discipling new believers to helping plant churches, to preaching on Sunday, to organizing conferences, to participating in giant crusades, to writing newsletters, to itinerating and fund raising – and, I must not forget to mention, that I was pregnant and delivering and raising my kids during this time.  This isn’t counting various stateside church roles I’ve filled both before and since then: home group leader, lead children’s church teacher, VBS volunteer, mission director, altar prayer team member, women’s conference speaker, and church janitor. I’ve done everything from preaching behind the pulpit to vacuuming under it.  And I’m really familiar with church toilets.  

(You could definitely say I know all about the Church excrement, both literal and figurative kinds.)

As a child and a teenager raised in Church, I was taught to expect that the greatest attacks on my faith and the hardest things that would come my way in life would come from “the world”- the secular community outside of the church.  However, this was not where any of my hardest trials of life actually came from.  The greatest temptation to “quit” my faith did not come from the evil government, from the secular community, or from non-Christians from any sector.

My greatest trials and personal attacks have all very much come from within and from the place that was supposed to be safe and where I was supposed to find support. The church. Christians.  People who say they follow Jesus.   And especially the leaders of this group of folks, and those in ministry.

While I have found and kept many good and loyal friends within the Church who have stood by me through thick and thin (including pastors), I have found that the Church as a group doesn’t handle certain things very well, nor do many of its individual members. 

The Church doesn’t handle marriage problems between its members well.  Church leaders are not trained to know how to discern the difference between a couple needing counselling, and an abusive or unsafe situation, nor what to do about it when they do figure it out. The Church doesn’t know what to do when its leaders start sinning or getting out of line.  The Church often doesn’t know what to do with singles, either before marriage or after a divorce.  The Church clings desperately to rules and legalism, no matter how much they profess grace and freedom in Christ, and often default to applying these arbitrarily to anyone and everyone.  The Church gets really hung up on external appearances and behavior and status and has trouble valuing everyone equally.  The Church has big issues with both race and gender. The Church does not understand grief nor is it comfortable with brokenness, messy circumstances,  pain or depression- therefore it often minimizes, rejects or ignores its members who have these things. The Church is more comfortable with a “top down” business model of organization than servant leadership and relationships. 

And sadly, the Church is not exempt from corruption. Some people are attracted to church leadership and Christian ministry precisely because they have narcissism and control issues, and the church is a good place to act those out. In other situations when sincere church leaders gain status and influence and fame, they are just as likely to be corrupted by them as their secular counterparts in business, entertainment and politics.

And, as a Jesus-follower who has drunk of many bitter waters of life, I found my church tribe as a whole hasn’t always done so well by me.  In some cases they flat out abandoned me and failed me.  In other cases they were just at a loss.  In other cases I got in the way of their carefully planned agendas.  In a few situations, they totally screwed me, and, I have also been burned.

But at other times, at so many other times, the Church has been my place of comfort.  It is where I have gone- and still go- to find strength to face the coming week.  It is where I go to worship corporately.  It is where I go to take communion.  It is where I go to hear the Word of God taught and proclaimed publicly. It is where I go because I have freedom of religion and I can, at a time when many Christians in other countries do not have that privilege.

And it is where I take my kids to do all these things too.  You see, it isn’t just about me and how I struggle with feeling jaded about church as I approach half a century of life on the twisted planet. It is about my teenagers who are only at the beginning of their journey.  There have been times I “got nothing” out of a church service and one of my kids might say, “That was the best sermon I ever heard.”   And I would think, okay, that’s why I went today. 

Because, I am the church, my kids are the church, and in participating and attending, we are also a part of making it better.  My blogging about my negative experiences and frustrations with church are nothing more than a chapter in my own journey of short-comings and pain, and how sometimes that intersected with the short-comings of the body of Christ as a whole.  It is not a deserter’s diatribe, nor the railings of a bitter backslider.

It is me telling the truth about how we - us- the church- need to change.  It is me saying, hey, how about we stop hurting broken people, because that is actually most of us.  It is me saying, how about we admit most of the people here are struggling with everything everyone else in the world struggles with, and start helping them instead of ignoring it.  It is me saying, how about we be less about programs and doctrines and politics and more about support and love and honesty and relationships?  

So as we say on Facebook, yes, I’m "in a relationship" with a local church.   Yes, I “attend” a specific sub-group of the body of Christ.  No, I am not always happy with things that are said and done there- sometimes they are hurtful and damaging to me and many others.   And so, yes, I will speak up, for how else will there be change?  

And is it only the church I attend or the church at large that needs to change?  Of course not.  And that’s another reason I keep going. I know I need to be there for me, for my own spiritual growth.

Yes.  It’s complicated.  

But most relationships are- at least, ones worth having.