Ooops…I lost my Tolerant Bumper Sticker

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I haven’t posted much this summer.  I’ve been writing up a storm, but not much has made it past putting down the words.  I keep asking myself why?

Why am I gun-shy?  What’s going on my heart?

After a summer of crazy headlines causing massive polarization in our country, I think I feel a little worn out, frazzled and defeated.

Is anyone with me?

Every day it’s a cacophony of doom and outrage–rainbow flags and Confederate flags, the Charleston Shooting, the warning of impending annihilation to Seattle from a catastrophic earthquake and tidal wave, the Greek banking failure, baby-parts for sale and Iran nuclear deals…and on and on it goes.  Benghazi and terrorism, ISIS and missing airplanes.

More BAD news.

But even worse is having an opinion about the BAD NEWS.

And as a writer it makes me SAD.  I’m grieving.

We are losing the fundamental freedom to express ourselves as extremest minority voices amp up their scare tactics to wipe out ANY voice of dissension.

How dare I disagree with anyone these days because I will be immediately labeled a bigot, a dumb-ass, a racist, anti-Mexican, intolerant, a religious fanatic, old-fashioned, pro-life and a million other slanderous titles.

Since when did everything become so black and white?

Is it possible to love people–all people–gay and straight and different colors AND the un-born?  I think so.

Is it possible to support the tax-paying people of America, the soldiers who fight for our freedom so we can whine like babies on safe soil and the police officers who risks their life on a daily basis without getting slammed?

Why do we need someone as brash as Donald Trump to speak up regarding border protection and scream in frustration because our economy is dangling on a precipice of debt and a falsely inflated dollar?

Why?  I believe it’s fear.

I don’t agree with everything the Donald says(and I sure hope he doesn’t go independent), but at least he has the balls (or enough money) to not care about the aftermath.  At least he’s speaking up about the things many of us are afraid to articulate.

I have never been a conspiracy theorist but it feels like something is about ready to blow…

…and I think it might be us–we, the American people.

I’m a student of history.  While many of you studied business and engineering in school, I buried myself in dusty books of the past.  And while I’m no Nostradamus, the signs are clear–our country has peaked.  We are on the downward slope.  It’s the classic rise and fall of an empire.

The more rights we give (without a moral compass) the more rights we lose. (see Andy Stanley video below)   And sadly, freedom of expression is only allowed if you are TOLERANT.

If you don’t have the TOLERANT bumper sticker, you can’t play the game anymore.

I don’t feel safe to disagree without getting blasted and my web site hacked to kingdom come.  I have spoken out against pornography in the past and how it negatively effects relationships.  Every single day I get hate mail.  My firewall has a firewall to protect it from attackers.

Here is where my so-called radical tendencies lie:  I don’t believe porn is art.  (OOOHHH crazy stuff, I know)  I’ve seen first-hand how the industry chews up women and spits them out.  I abhor the sex-trafficking trade and the violation of women.  I celebrate women who keep their babies and choose not to abort. I volunteer with single teenage moms and speak up for the downtrodden.   I believe the church should step in and care for the widows and the orphans, not the government.  I might even be a rather liberal Christian. No one’s ever accused me of being pharasitical or legalistic.

I’m not politically conservative.  Let’s all digest that for a moment.  When the moderate feels under attack it’s a big red flag that our so-called democratic system is about to implode!

Truthfully, I think I’m numb. 

My cousin-a police officer in California-has to pack a meal or come home to eat on duty because people at restaurants will put stuff in his food.  Huh?

What is this craziness?  We poison the people who are supposed to protect us?  And we aren’t supposed to stick up for cops for fear of being politically incorrect in our “anti-cop” trending culture?

The real persecution is going on right under our noses.  The more we revere celebrity and the socially “loud” the more we drown out the still small voices of our communal integrity.  It’s a subtle censorship based on our fears of being labeled Intolerant.

Today, I’m speaking out against the loss of something I love–my right to feel safe to write whatever I want.  Big Brother has arrived cloaked in social media frenzies, Twitter wars, and catch-phrases taken out of context to destroy people’s character and business.

And I am sad…

Any thoughts?  Join in on the conversation!

When Your Normal is My Crazy

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This is me.  This kid…this is my inner-(mini) me.

And NO, it’s not my mom talking.  It’s my pastor husband.

This picture is HOW I FEEL after church—like I want to bang my head against the wall because my husband won’t stop talking.

Being married to a relationally gifted man of Christ certainly has its perks.

  1. Everyone is a friend
  2. No party is boring
  3. Often we are the party.
  4. (Unless the party is in a foul mood…then we are the party pooper)
  5. We can go to a mall, Starbucks, restaurant, golf course, etc… and come home with five new best friends.
  6. There are no off-topic conversations. EVERYTHING is up for grabs.

But there is a dark side too.

  1. I rarely leave church without my three kids and I experiencing debilitating hunger pains. It’s usually 2:00pm before we get out of the parking lot.
  2. I’ve heard, “I just have to talk to this one guy” a bazillion times.
  3. There is an unspoken acknowledgement between the kids and I that if Tim forgets something at church and has to “run back in real quick” we will probably wait another 30 minutes with the engine running.
  4. And of course, every conversation is for Jesus, so how can we argue?

 

I adore my husband but sometimes he drives me bazonkers in the best of ways.

And he looks at me, wide eyed in befuddlement?  “Why are you irritated darling?  What’s wrong?”

(Because this is HIS normal)

And I want to scream, “Your normal is my crazy!”

But instead I just pray for patience. And every week I suck it up with a weak smile.

And then God gives me this little gift to tell me he hears my heart.

And I finally feel understood.  Heard.  Affirmed. Validated.

Because God knows, I’m just tryna leave!

And he loves me  anyway…

–Samantha

Is Purity Even Relevant Today?

There are many reasons to wait for sex –good reasons, lame reasons, and even churchy reasons.   But there aren’t many compelling reasons to actually deter most of us from the dirty deed. 

Sex feels good and life is hard enough, so goshdangdarnit, what kind of overbearing big brother meanie wants to take away all our fun any-who?

I never had to deal with all the Christian angst of dating the first time around.  I was just a big old sinner.  After a solid year in a sorority much of my anxiety swirling around sex dissipated.  I determined I was a decent person “morally,” compared to the other slutty coeds, because I reserved sex solely for relationships (which might have included friends with benefits too).

I picked up my ex-husband in a bar when I was twenty-one.  Three and a half years later we married and sometime in between meeting him and saying “I do,” I fell in love again and brought another guy into the relationship.

It was Jesus.

About a year into the whole Christian dealio, I tried to get on board with the fire and brimstone “purity” message I heard preached at my church –apparently to scare all the singles into behavior modification.  So I tentatively asked my (then) fiancé if we could cease having sex and wait until we were married to resume our intimacy. 

He vehemently said “no,” Ummmm.  Ok.

Ten years later when my ex-husband departed into the arms of another woman and left me with two small children I finally got my chance to try dating as a Christian.

But I don’t know if I was in any way more prepared despite the Christian sticker on my bumper.

Yes…I had given my heart and soul to Jesus.  I knew all the Bible verses, taught women’s Bible studies and was even enrolled in seminary.  And yet I still slipped up in the sex area.

I wanted to honor God.  I earnestly tried HARD in my dating relationships to avoid sex.  And it worked –once.  I was in one relationship where we were both committed to purity and didn’t compromise (and then I found out he was still “technically” married and that ended fast).  But the other five relationships, during my time as a single Christian woman were a little murkier.  We might not have had intercourse, but then again President Clinton redefined modern sex anyway, right?

When I met Tim Keller, now my darling hubby, I was living in this wishy-washy land of sexual compromise.  I wanted to be pure but I’m not sure I believed it was even possible.  I didn’t meet many men, even supposed good Christian men, who actually walked the talk. 

Pastor Tim Keller was an anomaly –an attractive single straight man of thirty-six years who didn’t grab my boobs on the second date.  And even though he wasn’t wealthy from a worldly perspective, usually a non-negotiable in my materialistic heart, he was hot, clearly loved Jesus and had CHARACTER (something lacking in most of the men I dated).

When Tim asked me to be his girlfriend, about five weeks after we started dating, he slipped a purity ring on my finger and fell to one knee.  He implored me, “to wait for him, to wait for God to bless our relationship, and to give “us” a chance to build true intimacy without sex complicating things.”

It sounded like a lot of waiting and I’m not that patient.

And so I freaked out (internally of course) and smiled and cried tears of sheer terror, thinking “How in the heck am I going to remain sexually pure when this man is so yummy?”

Tim also told me he had a zero tolerance policy for error.  If we messed this up: (A) he would not marry me, and (B) he would resign from the church for moral failure.

Now I didn’t want the poor man to lose his job, but dangling the condition of “sex=no wedding” really sealed the deal.   I was head over heels in love with Tim by then and I wanted to marry this man so bad I would wear a habit and chastity belt with a big lock impervious to his washboard abs if I had to.

But something drastic happened to me during our fifteen month courtship.  Something so radical it rocked me to the core.

First, I became aware of how often I pushed to be physical because I needed reassurance that Tim cared for me and was committed to the relationship.  I saw how I used my sexuality to manipulate, to hold power over and to get the attention I desperately craved.

Without sex I had to learn how to ask for what I needed.  I was able to see how Tim treated me even when I didn’t meet all his physical needs, what it meant to work out our problems with no “make-up sex” to gloss over the deeper issues, and I had to learn how to compromise –because I couldn’t hold out on the booty to get what I wanted.

Poor Tim!  I tempted him in the beginning.  I was so bad.  I wore a pink string bikini to a singles ski retreat we both attended and had the audacity to rock it at the hot tub –heathen temptress that I am.  But he held fast, kept his hands to himself and didn’t get out of the Jacuzzi for a very long time.

And slowly I realized by his not being physical, he was actually showing me he loved me.

Real love.  Not SEX/LOVE…the kind of love that holds your hand when you are losing the fight to cancer.   It’s love that sees beauty under the wrinkles and bald spots. It’s love that protects and heals and cherishes.  It’s the sort of love that doesn’t leave when it gets tough and its old people in the park holding hands kind of love.

And Tim was telling me by his behavior I was worth waiting for.  With every smile he told me I was a beautiful treasure and he would not steal from me until it was time to enjoy this gift from God –within a committed marriage relationship.

And somewhere along the way I started to buy into it.  (Not so easy when you have abandonment issues) And I saw, really saw, for the first time in my life the way God sees me.

Valuable.  Treasured.  Worth dying for.

And I believed it –because someone showed me a glimpse of the divine.

Purity isn’t just about being a good Christian and playing by the rules.  It’s about treating another human being with dignity and respect, even when they don’t deserve it.

Purity restored me. 

I am a different person because of my husband. Tim Keller walked the talk. 

And maybe God tells us to wait for sex not because he’s mean, but because he loves us more than we love ourselves.

Sounds like a compelling reason to me.

Pharisees in Skirts

She caught my eye just as I opened the door to my gym locker fresh out of the shower; there stood Mrs. Pharisee in all her fitness glory with pert blonde hair, a haughty sneer and an agenda written all over her face. I furtively glanced around for a place to hide, but my options were limited by the water dripping from my soaked head and a large towel that was the only thing covering my derriere.

I braced myself for the forthcoming interaction as the woman spotted me, smiled like the big bad wolf about to devour grandma, and catapulted over benches and tennis shoes to reach me.

I remembered our last conversation at the church picnic all too well. I dared to bring a male companion I had recently started dating to the event. Mrs. Pharisee pounced and sweetly commented, like icing on a butcher knife, “Wow, Samantha, you sure got over your divorce fast. How long has it been dear?”

Her glib comment glossed over the last two years of abandonment, betrayal, instant single motherhood and the onslaught of accompanying pain. Her snarky insinuation implied I should still be mourning and wearing widow’s garb for a few more years in reverent obedience to a rule she had clearly made up about appropriate post-divorce behavior. 

“Well, it’s been a long journey from my end,” I replied as I tried to get my horrified date away from the “tsk- tsking,” of her disapproval.

The truth is legalists (or Pharisees in skirts as I like to call the female variety) abound in every church.  Sadly, if you leave one church there will probably be seven more at the next.   My neighbor recently had a run-in with a few lovelies that did some serious damage to her heart.

My neighbor is a seeker and recently began attending a local church.  She tried to connect and make some Christian friends by joining a women’s Bunco group she saw advertised in the church bulletin. After a few weeks of throwing dice, my neighbor volunteered to host the game night at her house and was surprisingly met with veiled hostility by the women in the group.  When she inquired about the tension, the ladies let her know that she was welcome to come to their church, but she was not allowed to host an event at her home until she accepted Jesus as her savior.  In this uncomfortable discourse, it also came out that some of the women didn’t think she should be attending the monthly Bunco game either. 

Now, my neighbor grew up in a strict Jewish home and any decision to follow Christ would affect her entire extended family.  Many of her relationships might suffer and her parents would more than likely be embarrassed.  It wasn’t a decision she took lightly and it wouldn’t be forced into over a Bunko game.

My neighbor confided in me one late summer evening as we were sitting on my porch.  Shocked, I inquired how these ladies extra religious rules made her feel. “Well, I don’t want to go their church anymore,” she said dejectedly. “It’s a complete turn-off. But I’m still curious about Jesus.  Could you,” she stuttered, “explain salvation to me?”

Needless to say, I took a deep breath, opened a bottle of wine and we talked and searched the scriptures together for hours.

I run into this religious spirit all too often at women’s bible studies.   At our growing church, new women join our studies each week.  When an attractive woman shows up for the first time dressed less than modestly, it seems as if a self-protective fog of dissention falls upon the group of women in a shield of exclusion.  And when I sense this gang-mentality resistance drawing me in- to reject instead of lean in and connect with a new, albeit pretty face, I call it out for what it is-fear.

Our female fears and insecurity regarding body image, lack of security and control issues turn us into modern day Pharisees as we bind heavy burdens on women and distort God’s word with a long list of she-made rules.  And I believe when we do this, we open the door for the enemy to create strife and a critical spirit that is detrimental to the church and to the world at large.

We bow our heads each week and sing, “Come just as you are,” and then negate this very invitation with body language that says, “Not so fast sweetie”.  If we were honest, we would post a warning sign at the church entrance reading: “Ladies, you are welcome if: 1. you keep your boobs properly covered 2. no midriff is revealed 3. all tattoos remain covered (unless it’s a trendy cross in an approved location…i.e. ankles are good, tramp stamps are bad) 4. you abstain from inappropriate footwear (six-inchstilettos are highly discouraged). 

There are strict unwritten rules of hierarchy in our Christian Women’s Social Club; you must act like a Christian, even if you don’t know Christ.  It doesn’t matter what your spiritual condition is as long as you modify your worldly behavior. If you get vulnerable and share something you are struggling with, we’ll pray for you with feigned empathy and talk about you behind your back.  And if it’s really bad, we’ll send your plight out to the prayer chain so the whole church knows what you are struggling with.  This may result in your being blacklisted from future leadership. And, if you don’t except Jesus fast enough we reserve the right to cancel your Bunco privileges.

So when Mrs. Pharisee approached me at the gym, my knees went weak and I prayed for strength. It had been some time since the church picnic; almost a year to be exact and certain events-namely my engagement to a pastor in our church, had increased my Klout for Christian score-keepers.

“So, I hear you are going to marry that pastor you’ve been dating, “Mrs. Pharisee gushed like a little girl wooing a queen bee with honey. “What an honor! How are you going to be able to handle this prestigious spiritual mantle?”

Unsuccessfully struggling to reel in my sarcasm, I replied, “Well I’m trying not to swear so much.”

Mrs. Pharisee’s poppy red mouth made an “Ooohhh” sound and she nodded her head very seriously.

“And,” I decided to take a chance, “I’m working on not being so judgmental.  I’m trying to love people more,” I said. “You know what? Sometimes I struggle with that.”

“Me too,” she whispered, “Me too.”

I guess there is a little Pharisee in all of us.

Plan B

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I love meeting young people who have a plan.  They have known since they were five years old they wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or a mommy or a teacher. 

They are the PLAN A types.

My dad drilled this idea into my head starting in pre-school. 

“Sammy, what does PPMF mean?”

(imagine me as a three year-old with blond pigtails and a seventies smock with knee socks)

“Daddy, it means Piss Poor Planning Means Failure.” 

“That’s right honey, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Big wink and thumbs up dad!

But sometimes our plans and God’s plans collide.

I was the Type A kid on the mommyhood track.  I had a plan to marry, have kids and graduate from college in a certain timeframe.  In fact, I was 8 months pregnant when I graduated from UCLA.  I took my last final, came home and laid out my cap and gown and cute little maternity dress.  Then I worked on decorating my girly nursery.  I gently folded the delicate baby girl clothes I received at my first baby shower and placed them in my new baby chest of drawers. 

But instead of going to my graduation ceremony and party that weekend, I ended up in the hospital with a kidney infection and pre-term labor. 

During my fifth ultrasound of  my stay in the hospital, the tech looks over at me and says, you know what sex baby you are having right? 

I tell him yes, I am having a girl.  And he starts laughing. 

“Lady, I see a penis.” 

“The heck you do, I’m having a girl.” 

And he keeps laughing because the evidence is nonnegotiable

Plan B is my awesome amazing son Kyle Riley who was supposed to be Alexis Whitney.

We like to make plans and we want them to align with God’s plan. 

(It makes things so much easier when we are all on the same page, right?)

But how do we determine God’s will for our life?

How do we know what job we should take or what person we should marry or where we should live?  How do we know what kindergarten to put our kid in or what church to attend?

Questions like these get even harder when we think we are following God’s plan and then everything falls apart.  Maybe we misunderstood God or misinterpreted the signs. 

But it’s never really that simple. 

Knowing God’s will for your life is not a science.  There is no equation. 

No “I do this =and God does this for me.”  It’s often just a matter of trial and error. 

But I’ll let you in on the secret:  The answer to knowing God’s will is to KNOW GOD; because when you know God the questions change.

Chapter 16 of the Book of Acts tells an interesting story about Paul who is preparing to go to Asia to preach. 

He believes its God’s will and we all know Paul to be tight with God.  If anyone is going to get this right it’s going to be Paul.

But something is off.

Think about when you plan a mission trip.  You raise support, send out letters, plan, pray, plan, buy a ticket and get on an airplane.  And that’s modern times.

Paul had to raise support, wait until spring (because traveling in the Mediterranean in the winter is a recipe for death) and find a crew and a boat.  It was complicated and it involves a massive amount of prayer and planning.

Acts 16:6 tells us:

“Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there.  So instead they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. 

So Paul heads for Asia and ends up in Troas?  That’s disheartening.  He thought he heard God but maybe not. 

Was he wrong?

You may remember a time you have hit a roadblock like that.

You got into a great college, but you can’t afford it.  You meet the perfect girl and then right before the wedding the relationship unravels.  You get the job you always wanted and then you hate it.

You were pretty sure you were going in the direction God wanted you to go in and then all of a sudden you are filled with doubt because it didn’t work out the way you expected.

So when the Bible says Paul was stopped by the Holy Spirit, it’s not exactly clear what that means.

We are never told how he was told not to go –was it a storm or a vision or a buddy who said, “Paul, I’m not feeling up to Asia.”

We just don’t know.  But then he ends up in Troas and he doesn’t know where to go next.

This comforts me.  I’ve been in that Troas place lots of times.  I thought I knew where God wanted me and then all of a sudden it’s Troas time.

Sometimes our God plan doesn’t work out.  Sometimes we end up with a blue nursery with circus animals instead of a pink one with daisy’s.

And then we hit Plan B and it’s hard and awkward and we are uncomfortable.

But if we sit around, complaining and second guessing Plan B, we miss something important along the way. 

Erwin McManus, one of my favorite authors and the pastor of Mosaic Church says when Plan B hits; part of the problem is that we ask the wrong question.

Paul doesn’t know the what, when and the where of his circumstances. He doesn’t know what he is supposed to be doing or if and when it will happen. 

But he does know the most important thing, he knows the why.

His purpose and his mission are to bring glory to God with his life.

Most of us though freak out about the other questions…

  • Where am I going to live?
  • Will this relationship work out?
  • Is this the right job for me?

We are so focused on the what, when, where and how that we forget about the “why”.

Pastor Pete Wilson suggests…”Often in life, the what, when and where are not going to turn out the way you want them to.  You don’t always get to choose, but you do get to choose the why.  You may not get to choose where you work, but you do get to choose why you work.    You may not get to choose what your future is going to be, but you do get to choose how you live.”

If you can keep your focus on the why, the other questions tend to sort themselves out.

Proverbs 16:9 reminds us:

In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the LORD establishes their steps.

In this life, many of your questions will remain unanswered.  But through it all, God will never change.  This is why our faith must remain on his identity and not his activity.

Our task then is to do what we would do if we were confident God was with us.

Once we know our purpose and our mission, “who, what, when and where” become less important.

We become people who care more about the why.

Is there a situation in your life right now where understanding the why might change your perspective?

 

Cross references:

  1. Proverbs 16:9 : S ver 1; S Job 33:29; S Ps 90:12

 

Bad at Goodbyes

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I’m not good at goodbyes.

Sometimes God has to light a fire under my butt to get me to move on.

The moment of truth hit me hard as I prayed and reflected at Catalyst ( a leadership conference) this week. 

I kept picturing a donkey with my face on it.  Over and over I heard references to Balaam’s Ass.

Could God be talking to me?  Was I the ass?

I knew, if I was brutally honest, I was operating like a stubborn mule about leaving our church to follow my husband to his new assignment.

For the last month, I have justified staying at the church we started in Mission Viejo instead of transitioning gracefully to my husband’s current position as singles and young couple’s pastor on the Irvine campus.

“It’s because of the kids.” I tell people (and lie to myself). 

But my last stand was starting to feel yucky.  Once the church in Mission Viejo announced Tim’s departure (four weeks ago) I should have packed my bags, followed my man and waved goodbye.

Instead, I stuck my heels in the sand.

And it’s confused people.  For the last few weeks, parishioners at MV have approached me quizzically, “I thought you left?” they ask.

And I answer sheepishly, “Well, uhhhh….(stutter more and stammer), you know, my husband did, but I’m staying with the kids who are sooooo connected.”

Blank stare.

I’m like the poster child for Sarah NOT following Abraham.

But this has nothing to do with Tim, who is my HERO, it’s about ME letting go of something I love.

Even though it couldn’t be clearer it’s time to move on.

This MV campus, the one we discovered after driving around every Saturday for six months in a car with two kids is doing just fine without us. 

It’s vibrant and sustainable and our part is over. 

But walking away from the church we have poured our lives and the deepest recesses of our hearts into isn’t easy. 

For two years my entire family lived and breathed this church.  From early morning until late at night our home became the church walls.  I labored 14 hours with Kolby at the church.  My kids did their homework and explored every nook and cranny of the cavernous building.  The church building was their playground, home base and their life. 

Five nights a week and six days, the five of us (along with the Alexander’s and the Ramsey’s) built a community of believers and volunteers.  We were the spiritual version of “SEAL Team 6”  fighting to build the walls of Jerusalem in Ladera Ranch. 

About one day a week, usually interrupted by a leaky church roof or some other crisis, we collapsed comatose on the sofa exhausted and ate pizza again–the diet of a church planter.

I worked three jobs during that time –thirty hours a week as an account manager for an IT company, twenty hours a week freelancing as a writer and another 20 hours at the church as the women’s pastor and assistant to my hubs. 

And as exhausting as that sounds, it was AWESOME.

We had a clearly defined mission and purpose that made every task worthwhile and a joy. 

I cleaned almost thirty toilets each week the first few months until we had budget for facilities. 

And I loved it –every stinky, challenging, conflict-ridden second.

Eventually the church stabilized, lead teachers were brought in and we were allowed to pull back and resume normal life.

But it’s never really normal after an experience like that. 

And maybe that’s what I miss the most and ultimately what I yearn for.

Adventure.  Purpose.  Meaning.

A journey so grand it’s IRRESTIBLE.

I didn’t go back to MV this weekend; I attended our new (old) church in Irvine and opened my heart and arms up for the next season.  I might have cried a little too and mourned the past as I simultaneously embraced the future.

And Like Isaiah I cried out, “Here I am God, use me (again).”

Because the crazy wild life of following God is worth every heartache and tear and even though I left a little part of my heart in MV, I can’t wait for the next mission impossible.

Have you ever struggled to let go of something you loved as God moves you into the next season? 

An Encounter With Racism in Ladera

As the steaming hot and gooey pizza was placed on the table, five hands shot out to grab a piece in unison

We were celebrating my son’s fourteenth birthday before I dropped off his posse of freshmen football buddies at their first high school dance. The boys were giddy and amped up as only a potent mix of soda, pepperoni and hormones can do.

They chatted about hot cheerleaders, grueling practices and loads of homework while I secretly listened and delighted in their jibes and roasting.

“Hey mom, can we run over to the mini-mart to get some gum?” my son Kyle asked.

I snorted, “Sure boys, better pick up the minty fresh one for the ladies.” Kyle grinned and took off running with his friends at his heels.

As the boys hustled off, my husband and I smiled weakly at each other from across the table. It had been a big week for our son who started high school and suited up for his first varsity game. Kyle was now playing with athletes of an elite caliber and the stakes were getting higher and higher.

One of the boy’s was a new friend from LA , commuting to play football for J Serra High School. He was a shy kid, a phenomenal athlete and determined to carve out a different path than his gang-banger brothers. I admired the kid’s tenacity and dry sense of humor.

As they walked back in the door, I knew something was wrong.

Kyle burst out, “Mom, a group of older teenagers pulled up in their car next to us, pointed their finger at his friend and screamed, ‘I hate n—ers.’”

(You know, the worst word an African-American can be called)

My heart broke. I looked at the boy’s face as he shrugged it off, pretending not to care. Kyle and Nate didn’t press their friend, although I knew they were concerned and were struggling with how to respond and encourage him.

The awkward space between shock and discomfort hung in the air like the ashes of a wildfire lingering in the haze. We sat in the unease. There wasn’t much to say in the face of such ugliness.

The boy stood proud, not allowing himself to be sucked in by a group of racist white boys trying to intimidate and belittle. I struggled to hold back tears seeing his strength of character.

We changed the subject and moved on, but it affected each and every one of us.

There’s very little I dislike about Ladera Ranch, EXCEPT for the eerily skewed white-bread demographics. Few would deny that Ladera Ranch is a homogeneous Disneyland suburb with white picket fences and Stepford-wives abounding. And if there was a breeding ground for racism in southern California this might be it.

I don’t hate much, but I despise racism…

I hate that we took our young friend out and he was exposed to bigots. I hate that this young man –who is overcoming obstacles right and left to get an education and make a decent life for himself is subjected to idiots running around in daddy’s Mercedes with nothing better to do than make mischief and torment younger kids.

The next morning the boy and another friend from LA came to visit our church. I gulped and prayed they would feel accepted and loved by our congregation. Fortunately my husband, whom they smiled at and recognized, was on stage doing announcements.

A few minutes later a video played with a beautiful young lady from Kenya talking about getting connected and finding relationships here in our community. I turned and saw the boys relax and settle in.

And I knew God heard my heart’s cry to find a middle ground, even if it was just for a brief moment-where black and white didn’t matter and we all stood together side by side worshipping as one.

The Stigma of “Single” in the American Church

I was thirty-two when a frog kissed me and I magically turned into a single person.  All of a sudden the veil of married person apathy lifted and I saw all the stuff that whizzed past me before –namely how church wasn’t all that much fun when you’re flying solo.

It really hit me the first time I had to go church all by myself.  With my new single vision goggles I realized how intimidating it is to even walk in the worship center a la carte.  If you stand at the door for more than a minute it becomes apparent you are missing half of your species.  It reminds me of Noah’s Ark.  In the couples go, two by two, a pair of every kind. 

And there you stand, all awkward with a cup of coffee grasped like a lifeline, so you have something cool to do –like sip, pretending that being alone is a choice and not a condition.

Once in the sanctuary I would sit and listen to a sermon geared towards a nuclear family –now it might be a dysfunctional nuclear family, but spiritual metaphors were generally culled from a conflict with a spouse, teen angst or making amends with a cranky neighbor. As a single mom in a condo, just trying to survive and get my kids to school on time without losing my marbles…it was a little tough to relate.

The pastor would generally poke at the singles over thirty.  He would remind us we were too picky, not that awesome of a catch anyway, and urge us to get our “sparkly act” together (i.e. get in shape, smile more, and stop being weird).

Strangely enough, church wasn’t a safe place when I was single.  It made me feel even more lonely and sad.  And single is such a strange description these days for an unmarried person because people under thirty do not consider themselves single –they identify themselves as young with options.  It’s the over thirty folks who wake up one day and says “Jinkies, I’m starting to get old and I’m still alone.”

And this is when you realize you are single.

Ironically over half the church population is unmarried and I would reckon many of these people feel like the unwanted step-children at their church.  This isn’t a blanket statement and I know there are vibrant, single people who flourish at church, but I hear the hearts of many more singles that are floundering and can’t comprehend why the church seems to turn its back on this group.

I have a few theories –though I imagine there are a multitude of reasons. 

Most Sr. Pastor’s Can’t Relate

First, most Sr. Pastors and pastors in general marry young.  And even though I agree with the theology of marrying young and growing old together, it doesn’t happen for everyone.  People make mistakes, we have broken “pickers” and divorce happens, even to good Christians.

Our culture has deceived us into believing we need to postpone marriage until we have our lives figured out –money in the bank, a big house, and a great job. But when the lure of having it all together evades us due to job loss, college debt and a bad economy, we are left with shattered dreams and without the proper tools to move dating relationships towards marriage.

Most Sr. Pastor’s  do not understand what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a thirty something perched on a stool at Starbucks waiting for their thirty-fourth date from E-Harmony and hoping…praying, maybe, just maybe this is the one. 

Preaching to the Bread and Butter

This one might bite but I’m going to say it anyway.  Generally speaking, singles do not have a reputation for tithing as much as married people do.  The Barna Group in a recent study on Trends in Tithing and Donating revealed only 1% of single unmarried adults give money to the church.  So, if I’m a Sr. Pastor trying to keep the doors open, I would probably direct my time, resources and metaphors to the married couples.  Sad but true.

The Church is Aging

There is a new initiative in church circles to go after the younger twenty-something generation because the church population at large is aging, waning and turning grayer by the minute.  But this younger generation does not consider themselves to be “single,” –remember?  So, the thirties and forties “Singles” groups are being discarded to make way for this “attract the Christian youth movement.” 

It doesn’t help that young people are turned off by single references, they perceive singles ministry to be lame, and despise any reference to the fact that they are alone (because they are young with options).  And the savvy churches who don’t want to go extinct are going after this younger group with a passion.  Which unfortunately…leaves the single thirties and forties high and dry.  

The Lost Generation

Singles Gen-X’ers somehow got lost in the middle.  It’s a sandwich demographic that has been usurped by aging baby boomers and a push to be relevant to the hipster post-post modern generation.  Many churches are getting rid of their single ministries for the very reasons I stated above.  In the “Simple Church” model we are all one church ministering to each other as a community and I believe this to be true in parts –through Sunday worship, volunteer service and outreach to the poor and needy.

And while we don’t want to recreate life stage ministries that take away from this united church community, it still doesn’t take away the desire for new mommies to want to connect with new mommies and not talk about menopause with the hot flashers, and couples who want to engage with other couples, and most importantly –the unmarried population, whether they recognize they are “single” or not who want to meet and connect with other people in their life-stage.

Combating these issues isn’t boiled down into one easy fix; it’s a battle we all must engage in.  First –the church is responsible for speaking and ministering to the needs of the single person (51% of the population) and moving towards them with care and compassion, second –singles need to recognize the lure of the world doesn’t lead to “happily ever after,” and third, we as a community of Christ followers need to encourage, embrace and stand up for marriage –and give singles a reason to even want to move towards this relationship.

Side Effects, Katy Perry, and the Forbidden Fruit

My last post “Talk about Sex” generated some tremendous dialogue and initiated more questions than I have answers for.  Clearly I hit on a hot button by openly discussing why I talk about sex within the church community. 

What I hear people saying loud and clear is “we need this conversation and we need more of it.”

I hear you.

And since I’m not one to shy away from a tough debate, giddy up, let’s talk about this, in-depth and with radical honesty.

Before we begin though, I want to lay some ground rules.  There are many points I want to address on this “oh so sensitive topic” and I won’t be able to do it all within one post.  I would be glad to oblige if I didn’t have three kids, two jobs, ministry and a husband. 

I know.  I know.  I need some cheese and crackers with my whine, but please be patient with me.

I also want this to be a two-way conversation, not a diatribe.  So play along.  Feel free to engage and comment.  I feel vaguely safe from all the haters out there who violently disagree with me, mainly because we are online and you can’t yell at me, but take it easy on the punctuation marks and the name-calling.  I have a list of alternative bad words if you need to be creative.

Ok…now we have some ground rules.  Here are some of the topics I want to cover.  If you have suggestions too, I am wide open.

  1. Waiting is HARD to do.  (Give me a REASON to be pure)
  2. How far is too far?
  3. Why does the church ignore singles?
  4. Why is sex important to God but not Sr. Pastor’s?
  5. The bumbling buffoon and the media (Counteracting the stereotype of the incompetent male)
  6. Wives –the ministry of intimacy.
  7. Talking about sex with our kids

 

Shall we begin?  Let’s start with “Waiting is HARD to do”…  And we’ll begin tomorrow. 

Totally lame right?  I lead you to begin a great conversation, and then I leave you hanging.  It’s sort of like what we do with our kids.  Every day they are bombarded with images of blatant sexuality.  The world says it looks good, feels good and it’s so easy to get.   

But then we –as good Christian church people tell our kids, “oh by the wait, just wait another twenty years for it.”

Your boner is bad.  Sex is wrong.  And for God’s sake, “do not touch yourself.”

And then my Jr. High kid turns on the radio and Katy Perry says, “Forget that nonsense. You won’t die if you take a bite of this yummy sexy hot red apple.”

Of course we might think twice if they showed us all the side effects of pre-marital sex… you know, like the disclaimers on the pharmaceutical ads?  “This drug will help you with your depression… could cause dementia, diarrhea, increased sensitivity to noise and loss of desire to do anything fun…” sounds awesome!  I’d rather be depressed.  (See 10 Worst Prescription Drug Side Effects to laugh your butt off)

Actual Side effects of sex before marriage include: Unwanted pregnancy, emotional scarring, abortion, HIV, HPV…which leads to ovarian cancer, genital warts, STD’s and the slow but gradual ripping apart of your soul, so that one day when you do find “the one,” you won’t actually be capable of emotionally connecting with a human anymore and porn on the internet and masturbation will be your “go to gal” instead of a real live complicated woman. 

Wow…that sounds appealing.

But what if I told you there was a good reason to wait?  And it was a compelling reason that doesn’t suck?

Would you wait for dinner if you knew you were having a filet mignon and sushi or would you go ahead and feast on Cheetos every night?  And never, ever be really satiated?

What about waiting for ten million dollars?  Would you work for five or ten years to collect a fortune or would you settle for a thousand bucks today?

But we’ll get to that tomorrow.  And maybe it will be worth the wait ♥

 

 

Talk About Sex

Yesterday, someone in my writing group suggested I write a lot about sex. 
 
Ummmmm guilty.  I actually mention sex in my blog posts six percent of the time.  I calculated this number for personal clarification or possibly because I was a tad bit defensive.
 
So, I think this “sex talk allegation” deserves a proper response.
 
I don’t talk about sex simply for shock value, because I want you to think my husband is a voracious horn-dog, or because I am a secret sex addict -as a woman in my group suggested.
 .

I talk about sex because I believe the church has done a really bad job in not talking about it. 

 

There.  I said it.  I think the church has screwed this one up (no pun intended).
 
We (the church) have let the world define sexuality and allowed it to be removed from its very creator.
 
We have let the world define sex in marriage as a chore and adultery as an epic romance.
 
We have let the world  polarize “sexy” into something perverted, unchristian and sinful. 
 
We have allowed marriage to become a business deal and sex to become a hobby.
 
There is a an epidemic of married women who are so exhausted from working full-time, raising kids and trying to be superwoman they are neglecting their husband’s sexual needs and justifying it all in the name of feminism. 
 
There is an alarming trend of married men who are so resentful of women emasculating them, they have turned to porn, football and work addictions to cope (only further isolating their wives by disengaging their hearts even more).
 
And the mere fact that a pastor’s wife openly discusses sex and (gasp) encourages it in marriage makes some people uncomfortable.
 
Just to be clear, my husband has a perfectly normal desire for intimacy.  He is a healthy male who loves and desires his wife.  And I am not always frisky.  In fact, I am usually exhausted, overwhelmed and sometimes play dead to get some sleep.
 
But when I let God whisper into my marriage…I am reminded that I chose this man and made a committment to care for his needs, not justify my own.  And I try to find, deep within me -in the dregs of my crusty heart, the extra effort to love my husband in a way he feels loved. 
 
I talk about sex because someone in the church needs to. 
 
So when a fellow writer insinuated I might be a sex addict yesterday because  I blogged about how my husband and I take vacations or “sexcations” without our children I just about fell over. 
 
Not everyone get’s my humor.  And not everyone has the luxury (or the misery) of knowing my heart behind the words I pen.  I write satire.  It’s supposed to make you laugh not analyze my neurosis.  And for the record, I’m pretty open about those too.
 
In all honesty, my husband and I didn’t have sex before we were married.  Maybe that’s why we like it now.  We have the security of knowing, without a doubt, we love each other for more than how we make each other feel.  I practically skipped down the aisle when I married this man because I knew he loved me for me and not for sex. 
 
I actually went to an SA (Sex and Love Addicts) meeting once.  My friend dragged me there because I was struggling to end a bad relationship.  After one very poignant and humiliating meeting, where I thought I was going to die, I drove home and broke up with the jack waggon.  Thank you SA for empowering me!
 
I make jokes about sex.  This is true.  And it’s possible it might be on my mind more than usual right now because I’m trying to get knocked up.  But the deeper message I want to communicate is we as the church need to reclaim sexuality as a good thing within the relationship of a committed marriage. 
 
And that’s why I talk about sex. 
 
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