Five Minute Friday: Visit

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Gentle Reader,

Chit-chatting with Kate and the crew about the sacred, the mundane and the in-between. Tonight we: visit.

Go.

I’m fascinated by the Myers-Briggs personality profiles. As an INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging) person (and a female one at that, which is apparently rare), learning about the different types and how everyone navigates the world is right up my alley. I love seeing how things interconnect. I’m fascinated by both patterns and differences.

Yet as much as people intrigue me, they drain me. If you imagine a turtle pulling himself deep inside his shell, that would be me. I like alone time. I cherish alone time. I jealously guard alone time.

And then all of a sudden I pop out and go, “Where’s the party?”

I got to do that this past Saturday. The hubs and I invited a few friends over for a visit, something I haven’t been able to do since before I had surgery. I don’t dive into friendship quickly or easily, so I’ve had the same core group for about 10 years. Three of my dearest relationships stretch back to high school. When we get together, in whatever combination, the banter flies fast and heavy – and then turns abruptly to matters like politics and theology.

There’s such joy in that.

Such sweet comfort in the bouncing from the silly to the serious, knowing that the jests are made with a gentle heart and the thoughts shared have been weighed and considered.

I may not speak to any one of my friends on a daily or even weekly basis, but there is a love that connects us. If one of them needed a kidney and I was a match, there’d be no questions about it.

My heart swelled with warmth as I sat on my little corner of the couch and looked into those dear faces squished into every nook of the tiny living room. I was tired and sore. I’m always tired and sore these days. But I was so very glad to have arranged that visit.

Stop.

Grace and peace along the way.

50 Shades of Something Else Entirely

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Gentle Reader,

I realize that I’m a couple of weeks late to the party, but I do like to make a dramatic entrance.

There is a plethora of articles and information out there that go into great detail as to why 50 Shades of Grey is nothing more than an attempt to glamourize (and thinly at that) an abusive relationship. Some of the loudest voices actually come from within the BDSM community itself, which I find incredibly telling. Priscilla Shirer discussed the series at length with author Dana Gresh and clinical psychologist Dr. Juli Slattery over two episodes on The Chat (you can find part one here). And of course there are quips galore, the best of which has been floating around Twitter (I am unclear as to the original source):

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is romantic only because the guy is a billionaire. If he was living in a trailer it would be a “Criminal Minds” episode.

How true. Although I dispute that it’s romantic at all.

I’m not going to give you an exhaustive list of reasons as to why you should avoid 50 Shades. (Except that it began as Twilight fan-fiction. Please do dwell on that for a bit). It’s been done and by people far better versed on the topic than I. A simple Google search will lead you to that conclusion.

I have something else to tell you.

First, let’s be quite clear about the fact that this is pornography. Women who would (justifiably) flip out if their husbands or boyfriends indulged in the consumption of illicit material are absolutely kidding themselves (or outright lying) if they insist that 50 Shades is “just” a love story. This series has sold well because of the graphic descriptions of sex. (And the descriptions can’t even be that good; more than a few reviewers have said that E.L. James’ writing is awful). If you read the books or see the movie, at least be honest about what it is that you’re putting into your mind.

Second, the major thematic element in the 50 Shades series is control, not love. I have not read the books (nor will I) but I have had enough exposure to them to know. I’ve read plenty of quotes. I’ve cataloged dozens of copies of each one for the library. I know that Mr. Must-be-Ironically-Named Christian Grey stalks, grooms and abuses Anastasia I-Checked-My-Brain-at-the-Door Steele (she has GOT to be the single-dumbest female character ever written). I know that he uses his past as an excuse for his present behavior. I know that he uses power – financial, physical, emotional – to manipulate this woman he so “loves.”

There’s nothing sexy or romantic about it. The fact that anyone thinks otherwise is quite literally beyond my understanding.

But maybe the people who enjoy these books (and the movie that the actors themselves found to be horrid) were never stalked, groomed or abused.

I was.

Too young and naive to understand, too convinced of my own complete lack of self-worth, I never found the words to discuss what happened to me as it was happening. Not with my parents or other trusted adults, at any rate. My friends were aware of some things, but they were also too young and too naive. Many of these people are still in my life and I love them to pieces, but their advice at the time simply wasn’t helpful. How could it be? We had no experience of these things.

There is nothing but horror to be felt when your boyfriend pretends to shoot himself during a phone conversation because he loves you “so much.” Nothing but confusion when he screams at you in front of others because you achieved something while he wasted his time and somehow that’s your fault. Nothing but pain when he calls you terrible names. Nothing but frustration when he starts dictating your clothing choices. Nothing but an undefinable emotion when you tell him that you’re afraid he’ll hit you – and he does. Nothing but terror after you break up with him and he shows up at your workplace, outside your classroom doors, uninvited at friend’s houses when you’re there, follows you home night after night and sits in the street for long stretches, staring.

And yet you think all of these awful feelings are somehow love, because he’s sunk his hooks so deep into your mind that you no longer know what’s up or down, right or wrong. When you try to confront him about something, he cries. Or refuses to speak. Because you’ve hurt him. Because you don’t understand how deep his devotion to you goes. How dare you question him?

I’m still afraid to run across this guy and it’s been more than 11 years since the last incident. I don’t want to be afraid. I’m a grown woman with a good life and an ever-growing sense of self. By the grace of God, I’m strong. I’ve dealt with some genuinely difficult stuff. Yet the handful of times I’ve run into him… The ice crawls up my spine in the thinking about them.

Real love is not about control, my friend. Relationships are not based in one partner dominating the other. Ladies, there is something fundamentally flawed in your thinking if you are attracted to Mr. Grey, if you think he’s so dreamy and you want a guy just like him. There are plenty of Mr. Grey’s in the world – and they are evil. They will manipulate you. Gaslight you. Abuse you. They will cut you until all of your beautiful sparkle, all of your unique life, is drained out through the veins of identity and value.

That’s not love. That’s not romance.

It’s 50 Shades of something else entirely.

Darling, precious women – you are worth SO MUCH MORE. In fact, the God of all creation has such passionate love for you that He sacrificed His own life so you could be with Him. So you could be made whole. He wants nothing more than to bring you out of darkness and into the light of His wholly perfect love. He wants you to have healthy relationships where you are cherished. Highly esteemed. Where you can grow and flourish. Where your gifts and talents are appreciated, your strengths admired. Where your weaknesses are acknowledged but never used against you.

God will never push you into the dirt and He doesn’t want you to be with anyone who will.

Mr. Grey belongs in the trash.

Don’t climb in there with him.

Grace and peace along the way.

Pray the Sick Away

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* Sorry to include an image of false teacher Benny Hinn. It serves a purpose *

Gentle Reader,

My last post generated some good discussion both here and elsewhere. I appreciate the respect with which these conversations have been conducted. Appreciated even more that a friend pointed out that I failed to touch on something important. Something that honestly deserves its own post.

Chronic illness and prayer.

I’m choosing to address this topic in the form of a letter.

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Dear you,

Thanks for telling me that I should pray and ask God to heal me. For telling me that I don’t need medical treatment. For telling me that I just need greater faith. For telling me that I need to repent of whatever. Maybe this advice comes from a place of genuine concern and love. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. But here’s what you need to understand: Your advice is hurtful and possibly dangerous, not to mention theologically unsound.

Do you honestly think that I don’t pray constantly for God to take this from me? Of course I do! I wouldn’t wish this pain on my worst enemy, and I certainly don’t want it for myself. Do you think that I haven’t asked Him to reveal any sin that might be related to this? Do you think that I wouldn’t do whatever He asked of me if it meant getting rid of this suffering? Do you think that I haven’t spent hours crying, pleading, even shouting?

Don’t make assumptions about my faith. What you may not realize is that people with chronic illness and pain very often have a deep, fierce relationship with Christ. We have to. We are the embodiment of 2 Corinthians 12:9a (NKJV): “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'” We can’t rely on our own bodies. We don’t take a single breath, a day outside of the house, a moment of fun for granted. We know that it is God who holds us up.

And this whole idea that sickness is always associated with sin? Well, you’re partly right. We live in a broken, fallen, sinful world. Things aren’t as they are supposed to be. So, in a general way, this connection is sound. But I direct you to John 9:1-3:

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.'” (NKJV)

Did you catch that? Neither the blind man nor his parents had done anything to cause the problem. There was no personal sin at play. There was no repentance needed. His blindness just…was. It was just a result of living in a world where genetic mutations are basically never good. Furthermore, Jesus chose this man as an avenue for His glory. 

Now, of course, sometimes people make stupid decisions. Drug or alcohol abuse, eating poorly all the time. Sometimes illness flows out of the wrong choices we make. But did you catch that? Sometimes. People who are stricken with migraines, Autism, cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, Cystic Fibrosis…well, you tell me what whopper of thing they must’ve done. I doubt you can come up with one. If you can, then I want to come live in your world where things are so perfect and shiny and you never have any problems or issues.

Oh, wait…

So, if you’ve given this advice of “pray the sick away” to me and it really does come from love, here’s what you should know:

You are ignorant. We are never guaranteed perfect health in this life. Never. In fact, we’re guaranteed to have trouble (John 16:33). Happily that same verse also guarantees the peace of Christ as we walk through trouble. He never promises to take that trouble away, though. Look at the Apostle Paul. Let’s place the words from the 2 Corinthians passage I referenced above in context:

“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 12:7-10 (NKJV)

We don’t know if this affliction ever left Paul, or what the affliction was, but we do know that at the point this was written healing was denied. God said no.

God can do that. God can say no. It doesn’t matter how sincere the prayer or how righteous the person praying. God can say no.

I don’t have space in this letter to get into the full scope of God, faith and illness. Suffice it to say that you need to do some study.

If you’ve given this advice of “pray the sick away” to me and it comes from a place other than real concern, here’s what you should know:

You are arrogant, and possibly more theologically unsound than the ignorant person. Take a look at your own life, buddy. Are you going to honestly tell me that you have no problems? You may not be sick, but is your marriage perfect? Do you never have issues with your kids? Is your job just fantastic? Are all of your relationships in harmony?

Actually, I hope that your life is good. I hope that it is wonderful. But I’m scared for you if you think that smooth sailing is directly connected to your faith in God. I’m scared of what will happen to you when the day comes (and it will come) when something doesn’t go your way. Is your faith strong enough to stand testing? Do you have eyes to see the Lord in the midst of the storm?

To both the ignorant and the arrogant: Stop shaming the ill. We didn’t ask for this. God isn’t punishing us. More often than not we didn’t do anything to bring it on. And even if we did, do you really think you’ve got the right to comment on it? Do you really think that you’ve got the right to assume that we never repented? And do you realize that in heaping condemnation upon a person, you’re actually doing the work of Satan, for there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1)?

Now, at this point you’re probably thinking that I don’t believe in divine healing. Oh, I do. God can do whatever He wants. Just recently He lifted breast cancer off of a woman I go to church with. But He would have been no less God, and she no less a true Christian, if she’d had to go through a mastectomy and chemotherapy.

All of us, the ignorant, the arrogant and the sick, we would do well to mediate on these words from James:

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” – 1:2-4 (MSG)

The sick need your support. We need you to pray with and for us; for strength, for peace, for wisdom in making treatment decisions. We need you to check in on us. We need you to take us to appointments, hold our hands. We need you to bring over a silly movie. In short, we need you to be a friend.

If you can’t be a friend, if you absolutely must air your views on how horrible we are because we’re sick, do us this favor: Don’t talk to us. Find someone else who agrees with you and go hang out in an echo chamber so your awesomeness will surround you all the days of your life.

Sincerely,

Me

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Yes, yes. This piece contains a good deal of snark. I really don’t know any other way to say it, though. The health-and-wealth, God-as-vending-machine, put-positive-energy-out-there garbage that passes for the Gospel these days is absolutely revolting. It’s not the truth and it helps no one, especially those who suffer.

Grace and peace along the way.