Finding My Voice

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Gentle Reader,

Something has clicked for me.

It began on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, referenced in this post. I certainly don’t think that social media is the place to air each and every thought and emotion. I don’t think blogging is the appropriate place for that, either. Nobody likes a constant stream of word-vomit. Discretion and wisdom are necessary in the online life (not to mention the “real” life). It’s important to consider what and how we share. Some things are great for general discussion. Others should be kept between trusted friends and family. Still others are meant to be hashed out with God alone.

So I’m not about to pontificate on every issue under the sun. But neither am I going to go out of my way to avoid voicing an opinion.

I’ve been doing that. Keeping silent. Honestly, part of that is because I think a lot of what passes for urgent these days is just a waste of time. People need to get off the computer and go do something worthwhile. Volunteering at the shelter has really changed my perspective. There are much bigger things going on in the world than what kind of meat to eat or if meat should even be eaten at all.

But it’s more than that. My friendships span a wide spectrum. Vegans and carnivores. Atheists and Christians. Pro-vax and anti-vax. I’ve often been reluctant to “like” or “share” a post because “what if so-and-so sees I did?” I’ve shied away from leaving comments because “what if so-and-so gets angry?”

And then the clicking.

First, I realized that it made no sense whatsoever that I would allow others the freedom to share their views, even views that I highly disagree with or find offensive, while not allowing myself the same freedom. Second, I realized that if a friendship falls apart because of differing takes on such trivial matters then it wasn’t really a friendship to begin with. Third, and perhaps most crucially, I understand the difference between attacking a person and criticism of a stance. No longer do I tolerate someone who chooses to be insulting on a consistent basis but I don’t at all mind someone who challenges my way of thinking. If I can be challenged, then I can challenge others. That’s healthy discourse.

All of these thoughts were subconscious. I haven’t been able to articulate them until today.

The third point in the above stirs me. We as a society have conflated personal attack and ideological criticism. We assume that anyone who holds a different position is saying something nasty and personal. We don’t know how to handle relationships that aren’t 100% square in all things. All too often we run away from anyone who dares to disagree. That bothers me a great deal. I don’t want to live in a world where everyone thinks exactly the same as I do. Heaven forbid I ever start to think that I can’t learn anything from anyone, that my way is the only right way. (Obviously I’m not talking about Jesus here, so don’t even start to think that I’m saying something about all religions being equal).

Disagreement is normal. It’s fine. It doesn’t have to be vicious.

I’ve chosen to step out and share my thoughts about some controversial things on my Facebook page. I said the Affordable Health Care Act is a joke because it’s not true reform at all, though I hardly place all the blame for that on the shoulders of the President. I said that I’m tired of articles that talk about how much the Church sucks because the people who write them are largely of my whiny, lazy, self-centered, entitled generation; a generation who, as a general rule, refuses to acknowledge its own responsibility in anything. I came out as a pro-vaxxer. (This last one may actually lose me some friends and I seriously don’t get it. I don’t understand why this is such a heated topic. Or even a topic for debate at all. But again, I fully support everyone’s right to think that they want).

You know what?

It felt good.

So, so good.

I didn’t call anyone names. Just said what I thought. It’s fine with me if other people disagree. We can talk. If they don’t want to talk, if they want to walk away, that’s fine, too. Sad, but fine. I have no control over anyone’s response.

Maybe it’s because I’m 30. Maybe it’s because I had a tumor. I don’t know. I’m just done with being scared. I’m so, so, so tired of letting other people have that much influence over me. I’m disgusted with the stupid, ridiculous fights I see over minute, ultimately meaningless details when there’s a lost, broken world dying for truth. I’m over all of it. Sure, I’ll tell you what I think and I find a new sense of freedom in that, but I’m not going to fight about it. I have better things to do.

Frankly, so does everyone else.

My journey to faith. (15)

This Post I Don’t Want to Write

Agony

Gentle Reader,

As with all stories, it’s best to begin at the beginning.

I’ve struggled against anxiety for as long as I can remember, and most of the time anxiety has won. I can remember being six years old and flying into panic at the news of a standardized test all the first graders at my school were required to take. Convinced of failure, I couldn’t sleep the night before and broke out in head-to-toe hives. As I grew older, any conflict with a playmate or a teacher sent me spinning.  In my later teen years, I began to have panic attacks and what one ER doctor referred to as a “seizure-like episode.”

You would never know any of this about me if you weren’t directly exposed to it. Anxiety is an intense feeling, arising out of deep sensitivity – a sensitivity that I’ve achieved a Ph.d in masking. This suppression of emotions feeds into the anxiety, perpetuating the cycle and making it all the more difficult to break. I could be about to hyperventilate in terror, and, unless you knew me very, very well, you’d never even see it on my face.

This is, of course, a very simple summary of my life thus far. I’d rather not present you with the nitty-gritty, for that would take a book. What I’d really like to tell you about today is the state of my present existence.

On Good Friday of this year, I sat in the back of my church and had a panic attack, the first I’d had in at least three or four years. How on earth could a Good Friday service make me skip into flight-or-fight mode? How could the candles, the music, the Scripture reading make me feel like I was going to have a heart attack? That’s the thing with anxiety. It knows no rhyme or reason.

I was very frightened by the intensity of the attack. That evening, I unloaded on my husband for hours, not in anger, but in desperation. Something in that Good Friday service triggered a flood within me. All of the anger, the fear, the sorrow and the pain that I had tried to push down for so long came bubbling up to the surface without warning. Chris and I decided that it was important for me to see a counselor and work through some of these issues. I knew that I especially needed to learn better coping skills.

It didn’t take long for my counselor to refer me to a psychiatrist for medication. Her theory after a couple of sessions is that I was, in a sense, “born this way.” She believed that there were physical, chemical imbalances in my brain that had worsened with age and conditioning. Like the dutiful person I am, I made the appointment.

And came out with four diagnoses.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Panic Disorder. Major Depressive Disorder. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

That’s a lot to take in, and the only way I could process it was through dark humor. I told my husband, who was diagnosed with Clinical Depression four years ago and takes medication everyday, that I “won” because he’s only got one mental illness and I have four. So I started on the medication and began working through worksheets to help me think about my thoughts (do you ever do that?) and examine them to see if they were truthful or not.

As of this writing, I’ve been in counseling for two months, been on the first round of medication for almost four weeks and will probably be switched to another, have spent hours staring at the wall in a daze and haven’t wanted to do much but sleep. Then, yesterday, came another blow: My psychiatrist suggested I do some blood tests to see if my hormones were in proper balance, as they play a crucial role in anxiety and depression for women. At 4:50 p.m. on August 1, I spoke with my gynecologist by phone and was told that I needed testosterone cream (which I refer to as “man cream” and wonder if it will give me a beard so I can go make some money on the side by joining the circus – again, the dark humor) and that there is a very good chance I will need fertility drugs if I ever want to get pregnant.

I hate to be cliche, but when it rains, it pours.

Here is what I really want you to know in all of this:

1. I do not want your pity.

That is probably the worst and most insulting thing you can possibly give to someone who is walking through a valley, and I regret ever doing it to others. What someone like me needs is genuine friendship and understanding.

2. I do not need you to fix me.

I have Jesus for that. I have professionals who know and love Him. I covet your prayers and your love, but not your designs or plans.

3. Mental illness is not a lack of faith.

Go ahead and write to me about this. Tell me I need to pray more. Tell me I need to exercise more faith. Go ahead. I will then send you my journal, which contains more gut-wrenching and heartfelt prayers over the course of the last two months than in the last ten years. I can say without hesitation that my faith has never been stronger, that I have never been closer to God.

That being said, I do recognize that anxiety and depression can fuel sin or make certain temptations easier to fall to. So while I don’t need your criticism, I do need your loving questions and a community of accountability.

4. Taking medication is not a sin.

If you had diabetes, you’d probably watch your diet and take insulin shots, right? Would that be wrong, or would you justify that decision by saying that God heals in all sorts of ways? I’m so sick of the hypocrisy in the church when it comes to antidepressants. * Insert Sarcastic Tone Here * Oh, yes, not admitting to problems and not taking medication to help with the physical deficiencies in the brain will just make it all go away.

5. Get help. 

If you know that you have a problem with anxiety or depression, get help. You’re not helping yourself or anyone else by refusing to do so. You’re not a special martyr for Christ by “putting the needs of others above your own.” That’s a twisted understanding of Scripture. God never says that you shouldn’t take care of yourself. If you persist in complaining about problems and refusing to do anything about them, I will very lovingly but very firmly tell you to stop talking if you won’t move forward. I stayed stuck for a long, long time. It’s pointless and, frankly, many of us do it for attention.

6. Childlessness is not a sign of rebellion. 

This last one is probably where I get most hot under the collar. I have never had a desire to be pregnant, and I wonder now if that lack has been a blessing from God. I am not devastated by the news that it may be especially difficult for me to get pregnant. I’ve long had a desire to adopt, and hopefully will be able to do so in the future. Barrenness or chosen childlessness is not a sign of a curse or a sin in every case.

I’d like to conclude this post by having you read Ezra 3:8-13, with special emphasis on 12-13:

Now in the second month of the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, Jeshua the son of Jozadak,  and the rest of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all those who had come out of the captivity to Jerusalem, began work and appointed the Levites from twenty years old and above to oversee the work of the house of the LORD. Then Jeshua with his sons and brothers, Kadmiel with his sons, and the sons of Judah, arose as one to oversee those working on the house of God: the sons of Henadad with their sons and their brethren the Levites.

When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD:

‘For He is good,
For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.’

Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard afar off. (NKJV)

The generation coming out of captivity was glad to have a place of worship once again, regardless of its lack of grandeur. The older generation, fewer in number and also coming out of captivity, mourned the lack – but the joy of the larger group drowned out their cries. This is where I stand today. It is plainly and painfully obvious that my life isn’t going to look like any of the lives of the women around me. There might be some who cry out in mourning because I don’t fit the mold – but my joyful embrace of these days that God has so graciously given me will drown them out.

I have surveyed the Valley of the Shadow. I know deep and searing pain. I wear tortuous fear on my back. But I walk, step by slow and deliberate step, with my Savior who lights just enough of the path for this day. I understand what it means to rejoice in suffering, for this intimacy with the King is infinitely precious to me, and I would not have it without this sorrow. He is loosening my chains and teaching me to hold tightly to truth.

And I am unapologetic.

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Woman, Do You Know Who You Are?

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Gentle Reader,

This one’s for the girls, though men would do well to read and understand.

We live in a society that demoralizes and dehumanizes women. In this supposed era of liberation, women are still essentially valued for their physical characteristics. The ideal woman is a Size 2 (or even a 0 – think on that; you are encouraged to literally become nothing), has thick hair, preferably blonde or at least a lighter shade of brown or red, possesses perfectly symmetrical features (and her eyes really should be blue). Her skin never breaks out, her waist is impossibly small, her boobs surgically enhanced, her skin golden. If she is smart, she hides it. She is “sexy,” not feminine, which usually means lots of skin, accompanied by a hard-edged expression that often goes unnoticed. If she has had children, she must not have stretch-marks, sagging breasts or a flabby tummy.

If she is smart, she hides it. Ladies, this is so true. Look at women like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Whether you agree with her politics or not isn’t the point here; she is derided for being successful and intelligent. If her dream is to be a wife and mother, working within the sphere of the home, she is also scoffed at. Essentially, you cannot have a career and you cannot not have a career.

You must work out but you must not sweat. Your home must be neat but nobody should ever see you clean it. Your clothes should be name-brand and you should never wear something more than once. You should cook five-course meals (but you should never really eat). You should have a French manicure. You should wear a bikini.

Is anyone else tired of being a punching bag?

We are bruised, used and abused, often more literally than we’d care to admit.

You who read this, I have no idea where you are in relation to God or what you believe about the supernatural, but let me tell you this: we have a very real Enemy who desires our harm. He doesn’t want us to catch a glimpse of what God longs to do for us. If we have a relationship with God, the Enemy doesn’t want us to understand or accept how God sees us.

Satan gets a great deal of mileage out of poking at women, all in the never-ending quest to believe that we are ugly and worthless.

What dark, candle-snuffing words.

We were created in the imago Dei, the image of God. We, as women, reflect something of the Divine that men do not. (Please don’t get into men-bashing. That isn’t the focus of this post, and degrading men has not and will not ever lead to health and healing for women). When we think of ourselves as trash, we spit in the face of the Creator. We tell Him that He didn’t know what He was doing when He made us. Instead of being blessed by all the different shapes and colors and sizes and varieties, we assume that He only finds one type lovely.

We ascribe to God the work of the Devil.

Think on that a moment.

You will not find a place in Scripture where God calls a woman ugly or worthless. Are women, just like men, made to suffer the consequences of their actions? Yes. Does the Bible even outright say that women can be punished by God for straying from His path? Yes. Yet these things NEVER give us permission to believe that God sees as the world sees.

We do not have to be defined by our society. We do not have to be enslaved to the demands of the scale, the store or the sensual. We don’t have to take a beating, over and over again, in the hopes of one day finally fitting into the mold. You see, it’s a fruitless occupation. The mold is ever-shifting.

Is it wrong to enjoy fashion or make-up? No. On the contrary; God made this world, and so I believe that He greatly appreciates beauty. Is it wrong to work to take care of ourselves, making sure that we do get proper exercise and that we’re eating healthy? No. Our bodies are a blessing and a stewardship. What we must learn is that we are ALREADY lovely. The make-up and the clothes and the exercise are there as tools for us to celebrate our existing beauty, not to drive us in the attempt to manufacture something unattainable.

Oh, if we could just believe that! If we could see ourselves as God sees us!

Those of us who know Christ, we are royalty. Princess brides. Pure and spotless.

I sincerely hope you understand. We are beautiful, created to be filled with grace and dignity. If we know Christ, this is our status – we must take it. If we don’t know Christ – we must reach out to Him, because being a princess bride has got to be better than anything the world has to offer.

My journey to faith. (15)

Is it Possible?

Gentle Reader,

One of the hot topics emerging within the last decade or so has been the Church’s response to and engagement of a “postmodern” culture. This is an interesting discussion, for it is largely limited to a Western, and specifically American, context. The Church is, without a doubt, shrinking, and many blame the relativism and “anything goes” attitude promulgated by society at large.

This may well be true, and so I wonder at the church’s desire to “speak to” postmodernism. The following is a response I composed today for a class on biblical archaeology:

Before discussing postmodern interpretive systems and their relevance in the field of biblical archaeology, it is important to first define what postmodernism is. Unfortunately, no solid or universally agreed upon definition is forthcoming – and this is a prime example of postmodern thought in action. Some common elements of the worldview are “fragments, hybridity, relativism, play, parody, pastiche, an ironic anti-ideological stance, an ethos bordering on kitsch and camp. . .postmodernism is long on attitude and short on argument.” 1 The hallmark of postmodern thinking, then, is a rejection of metanarrative, meaning that “no story can have any more credibility than any other.” 2 Language itself, rather than the story, becomes the center of focus.

This flies directly in the face of what the Apostle Paul wrote: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of Godmay be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 3 Orthodox Christians believe the Bible to be inspired, accurate and entirely truthful – metanarrative is thus a hallmark of faith. The story matters a great deal.

Postmodern interpretive structures undermine the efforts in the field of biblical archaeology as well, namely in their “determined ‘anti-historical’ stance.” 4 As language is fluid and meaning always debatable, records of cities or conflicts cannot be trusted. This makes archaeology impossible, for it is fundamentally linked to history, and biblical archaeology cannot be divorced from the history of or the story contained within the Bible.

History and archaeology both are dependent upon texts, and these texts must be seen as “a product of a particular time, place, culture, language and. . .must be placed back in that context to be understood at all.” 5 Without this understanding, a historian or archaeologist must “deny the existence of. . .fundamental data;” 6 indeed, it would not even be possible to define any such data, for the text would exist in a vacuum, independent of all else. How then could biblical archaeology focus on the “Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman periods,” 7 if those periods have no meaning, no impact upon the text?

“In biblical faith, everything depends upon whether the central events actually occurred.” 8 This does not mean that military numbers or dates must be precise in every instance; this does not tear apart faith nor does it tear apart the Bible. What matters is that God is real and that He acts within humanity’s timeline, as the biblical record – and archaeological findings – attest to again and again. “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead,” 9 Paul wrote. Postmodernists would insist that it is impossible to validate such a claim. Orthodox Christians must insist that, without this claim’s historical validity, faith is a sham.

The only conclusion that I am able to draw, based not only on this week’s reading but on several years of study, is that it is impossible for the Church to engage a postmodern culture. This culture rejects the ultimate truth and overarching story that the Church claims as bedrock. Culture and Church are diametrically opposed. No favors have been done by the “seeker-sensitive” movement, and attempting to read the Bible through the “deconstruction” lenses of postmodernism results in no faith at all.

This does not mean that the Church abandons culture, for that would result in those who are saved hiding from those who are not. A sorry state of affairs indeed. Instead, this means that the Church should stop obsessing about speaking the language of relativism and instant gratification. There is one God. There is one way. That is the message of Christianity, and it cannot be shaped to fit the postmodern mold.

What is the Church to do in a world that rejects ultimate truth? The Church is to continue to offer that truth to the world. It is to speak differently, live differently and think differently. It is to bear the marks of the transformation wrought by Christ.

There is nothing postmodern about the Church, nor should there be.

The Church, instead, should be timeless and transcendent, devoted to the God who is both.

References:

1 James W. Sire. The Universe Next Door. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 213.

2 Ibid., 214.

3 2 Tim. 3:16-17.

4 William G. Dever. What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did They Know It? (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), 15.

5 Ibid., 16.

6 Ibid., 17.

7 John D. Currid. Doing Archaeology in the Land of the Bible. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 20.

8 Dever, 21.

9 1 Cor. 15:20.