What I Want More Than an End to Porn

A friend told me recently about a kid in third grade who was having behavioral troubles: saying and doing weird stuff, relating oddly to his peers. A little sleuth work from adults who love him revealed why: he’d been exposed to—and nearly devoured by—porn on his phone. He is eight years old.

EIGHT.

This story was shocking because of the age of the person involved, but sadly not because of the content. More and more I hear from pastors and friends and wives-of-husbands and mothers-of-teens about the soul-destroying , imagination-crushing, joy-sapping and trust-smashing effects of pornography. In their homes. Classrooms. Churches.

And, more recently, I’ve had young men (and women, because this is not just a men’s issue) tearfully confess to me how they feel like they’re drowning in this addiction. They know they shouldn’t, but they just don’t know how to stop. They can’t unsee what they’ve seen, and somewhere deep inside them there’s an insatiable visceral growl to see more, and more, and more.

I feel their despair and some of their hopelessness: addictions are so hard to break. Will they ever be able to have healthy sex lives? Is it really that bad? If they’re Christians, will God forgive them? Will they ever be able to go to sleep and not be assaulted by mental images that tantalize and torment them?

Of course, there’s all the research out there that says STOP, JUST STOP using porn. It’s bad for you: it’s rewiring your brain, wrecking adolescentsdestroying your capacity for intimacy in relationships, underpinning human trafficking, and more. Heck, even manly man magazine GQ has a list of reasons why you should stop watching porn, including that it declines arousal rates, increases rates of erectile dysfunction, and leads to all-round lower energy and productivity rates.

Stopping such high-sensory-feedback, addictive habits is notoriously difficult, particularly when there’s the cloak of shame that makes community support and encouragement (often the bedrock of any addiction recovery plan) all the more difficult. But the good advice and necessary steps to stopping remain important and true:

  • find a buddy/community who can help you identify when you feel weakest/most likely to indulge.
  • take practical steps to make access more difficult for you: alcoholics purge their homes of alcohol. Porn addicts  need to get their screens the heck out of their bedrooms and enclosed spaces. Put your phone and laptop in the living room. Keep the office door open. Install software that flags porn and give someone else the passwords to check it.
  • Look for the encouragement from people who’ve walked this road before you, whether in person or online. There are stories of people who’ve come out on the other side. These are important for the wisdom they give as well as for cultivating hope. We *need* to hear stories of people who will say “I used to have these images in my mind ALL the time, but it’s been a year and I’m not so haunted anymore. It gets better.”
  • Celebrate little victories. A year without porn doesn’t happen until you’ve had a day, two days, three days, a week without it. Each of these is worth celebrating.

But the more I listen and read and pray over this situation, the more I realize that I want more for people than for them to stop using pornYes, I want them to be free of the entrapment and shame and damage that it does – but I want more for them than freedom. Just like I want more for a caged animal than for it to be let out of its cage: I want to see it run free in its habitat. I want to see it flourishing in the areas it wasn’t able to before.

This is what I want for a generation trapped in porn addiction: I want them to be free, but I want more:

  • I want for you to have a network of healthy, rich, rewarding relationships with men and women of different ages. I want you to be able to laugh, work, partner, play, and grow with men and women in friendship and companionship, without it being weird or erotic. I want for you, young men, to have female FRIENDS you enjoy and admire and respect. I want for you, young women, to have male FRIENDS you enjoy and admire and respect. I don’t want you to be afraid of your own psyche or taunted imagination: I want you to be able to share a story or a project or a hug or whatever with freedom and joy with men or women around you.
  • I want you to kindle your creative imagination: to use your time and energy to devote to something you love and can do well. Hours of addiction, particularly addiction which rewires our brain with (terrible!) narrative plots, kill our imagination. I want you to invent something, build something, write something, chase after an ambition, run a 10k race, take up rock climbing, adopt a puppy and train it to do amazing tricks. Whatever. I want to see you experience joy and fulfillment in something you put your energy into.
  • I want you to experience your sexuality – your maleness or femaleness – as something good, beautiful, and true – not terrifying or debilitating or depraved. We are not androgynous personalities, we are male and female in all our relationships and endeavors, and I want you to know that being a woman is good and being a man is good and to think and pray and explore what that means. Our sex-crazed society has eroticized all of our gendered conversations and I want us to reclaim that good and holy ground: what does it mean to be a BROTHER and not just a sibling? What does it mean to be a DAUGHTER and not just a child? How is it unique that you are a GUY-friend or a GIRL-friend to your community? How do we experience being sons and daughters of God, and brothers and sisters in the church?
  • I want you to know the powerful and healing good of non-sexual, physical touch. Greet one another with a holy kiss, the Apostle said; and Jesus—while totally able to heal with a word—repeatedly TOUCHED people in his dealings with them. I want you to be able to give and receive hugs, handshakes, and the laying on of hands in prayer in life-affirming ways.
  • I want you to know, both in conviction and hopefully one day in experience, the richness that married sex can bring. It’s so much better, so much more rewarding, so vastly different from the sex that is peddled online. I want you to know that it’s possible and doable, even for broken people. I know, because I’m one of them.

Thinking through this list gives me courage, though. Because while there’s not a lot I can do to help people STOP using porn, there’s a lot I can do to help be part of a redeeming and healthy community of men and women. I can invite men and women over and be a healthy female friend to them. I can ask questions about people’s interests and hobbies and encourage them in them in creativity: attend that art exhibition, cheer them on in their first race, post a picture of their cool art on instagram. I can notice and affirm healthy relationships where I see them – for someone who’s internally feeling that they are not a safe or worthwhile person to be in a relationship with the opposite sex because of their internal shame struggle with porn, perhaps it could be life giving to have someone else affirm: “you were a good friend to her when you said/did x,y,z.” And, of course, we can be healthy touchers. I’m a believer in hugs and handshakes and words of affirmation. And, as readers of this blog know, I’m a believer in sharing hopeful, redemptive stories about marriage and sex.

There’s a battle going on for the hearts, minds, and imaginations of this generation. I can’t be the 1am gatekeeper or take down the porn industry; but this much I can do:

I can pray.

I can encourage.

And I can help be part of the forgiven and flourishing community of women and men that God intended for us, and keep inviting people to experience True Life there.

This much, I can do.

 

 

I’m in a Weird Place about The Good Place

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Among the list of exciting new premiere’s that the TV execs would like to introduce us to this year is one from NBC: The Good Place, starring the sloth-loving and most wonderful Kristen Bell and the  hilarious, everybody-knows-his-name Ted Danson. This is how NBC describes it:

The show follows Eleanor Shellstrop, an ordinary woman who enters the afterlife and, thanks to some kind of error, is sent to the Good Place instead of the Bad Place, which is definitely where she belongs. While hiding in plain sight from Michael, the wise architect of the Good Place (who doesn’t know he’s made a mistake), she’s determined to shed her old way of living and discover the awesome (or, at least, the pretty good) person within.

It is, at its core, a show exploring what makes a good person. Or a good enough person, at least. And, true to its billing, it is a comedy. For example, The Good Place (naturally) cannot countenance any swearing, and so Eleanor’s outbursts come out as “that’s so forked up!”, and “bullshirt!”, which are just so obviously not rude I couldn’t help but laugh.

did laugh, but I was also very uneasy watching it – and I’m still processing whether I’ll go back and have Episode 3 keep me company while I scale Mt. Laundry in my living room tonight. I’m thinking probably not. I’m thinking this show may land up in the pile of “I started the series, I saw why people liked it, and I chose not to keep watching”. [For me, this virtual heap of discarded shows includes Breaking Bad (couldn’t stomach it… that bathtub!), New Girl (sex deserves more respect and it wasn’t funny any more), 24 (season 3 broke my heart. I need one redeeming character in a story), House of Cards (again, I need at least one person in the show I can root for). I choose books in lieu of any more hours with these shows.]

So what is it that rankles about The Good Place? It’s that both the premise and point of the show deal with two topics that I care very much about: questions of eternity/the afterlife, and questions on the development of character. What happens after we die? And how do our character choices affect that outcome? On both of these questions, The Good Place posits a theory that is diametrically opposed to what Jesus told us is the truth:

What happens in the afterlife?

The Good Place: If you’ve been a really good person; you get to go to the Good Place. Very few people are good enough to get in.

Jesus: There’s lots of space in my Father’s house; and I’ve gone to prepare a place for you. I’m the way, the truth and the life. Believe in me and I’ll take you there. (John 14:1-6, summarized)

How good do you need to be to get to the good afterlife place (wherever that is)?

The Good Place: Really, really, really good. As in, humanitarian-award-winner good. Better-than-average goodness isn’t good enough. 

Jesus: You need to be perfect. And no-one is. But that’s why I came: to live a perfect life and then die the Bad Place’s death; and offer to take your place. I took death so that you could gain entry to the Good Place. So the answer is: no one is good enough for the Good Place. And yet anyone and everyone is welcome through me. (Matthew 5:48, 1 Peter 3:18, John 3:16)

Of course, the plot of the show is about morally-worse-than-average Eleanor, who lands up in the Good Place by accident, and whose eternal soul mate (I’m not even going to comment on this aspect of the plot) is roped into helping her reform her character there. Now the thing is, friends—unlike Firefly or StarWars or The Hunger Games or any other variety of shows where I step into the world of fantasy and suspend disbelief for a while to enjoy the story—this story is just too important, and too close to home for me to ignore the glaring issues and just “escape” mindlessly into it.

Because, despite the show’s claim in Episode 1 that “the Christians only got it about 5% right on the afterlife, as did the Hindus, and the Muslims…”, Jesus was emphatic that he was the only one who had come “from above” and could tell us authoritatively what it was like (John 3:13). And the rest of the Bible is emphatic that Jesus was the only one who experienced death and came back to tell us how to get “through it”. The Christian claim on the afterlife—founded on Jesus’ resurrection—is more than a 5% gamble. It’s what we’ve staked our entire lives on.

Amy Simpson notes*, “many believe God is so impressed with our efforts at the soup kitchen that he could never bear to dish out anything but indulgence and a wink toward “good people” like us.” The Good Place plays headlong into this belief: if you’re good enough, the Powers That Be will be impressed and you will be Eternally Rewarded. The question is: who is good enough? The answer is: only Jesus, a message The Good Place rejects outright.

“But it’s just a show, and a funny one,” – I hear you say. “Why do you have to be all kinds of Christian uptight about it?”

Fair question.

I suppose the answer to this has to do with bananas and tweezers. In particular, the teensy little rubber bananas they sometimes lay out at my son’s preschool, in front of a mini cardboard box with a monkey face on it and a bright yellow pair of plastic tweezers. Next to it is a similar cardboard box with tiny, blue rubber bones and a cardboard box with a doggy’s face and a pair of blue tweezers. These “toys” are laid out as a treat, and the kids can choose which of the animals they’d like to feed today. Of course my son chooses the monkey, and screws up his face in concentration as he feeds the tiny bananas into the hole-that-is-the-monkey’s-mouth and counts the bananas: one. two. three. Afterwards, they sit on the mat and hear a story about llamas and their pajama drama. Hilarious. So fun. So funny.

“Mom! I fed the monkeys!” he says, and from his perspective, he did. But from his teacher’s perspective: he practiced eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills in grasping the tweezers, and worked on numeracy skills. He was also developing social and communicative skills in negotiating with his peers which of the activities they would work on and in which order. And then they listened to stories that weren’t just entertainment about llamas, but share a script on how to handle bedtime without making excuses. How to be patient when your parents can’t respond right away. It’s social scripting, the behavioral therapists tell us. It’s not just entertainment.

He comes home from school thinking he played all day… but his parents and teachers know it wasn’t all mindless fun. He’s been learning-through-play all day. We all do. We absorb lessons through the play we engage in and the stories we expose ourselves to. We learn about life (and the afterlife) and about love and loss and relationships and reality through the play and stories of our lives. None of us are neutral to the stories we surround ourselves with, and so I’m wary of stories like The Good Place which deliver spoonfuls of untruth and mask the taste with comedy. 

But then again, maybe that’s only really dangerous if we’re watching TV mindlessly. Perhaps, for some, The Good Place is exactly the show they need to be watching. Perhaps if it’s more than mindless entertainment, it might cause people to stop and ask themselves how they might fare in the Great Hereafter. If their lives were being assessed, how would they stand? Does that thought make them nervous? If they were Eleanor, and all of a sudden there was a reckoning on their choices – what would they be ashamed of? What would they wish they had oriented their lives around?

Asking those kinds of questions is, I think, a rare and critically important thing. The writer of Ecclesiastes says that one of the excellent reasons people should go to funerals is because it forces them to think about eternity:

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. (Eccl 7:2)

And so maybe there’s an argument to be made that it is better to watch The Good Place than to watch…. So You Think You Can Dance, for example. For death is the destiny of everyone, and there is a real Good Place to come, and we the living, should certainly take this to heart.

The Good Place is not a show I really want to keep watching: I think the answers it gives are wrong. But maybe, just maybe, I should be excited about it because at the very least, it’s asking some of the right questions.


  • Amy Simpson, “Doing Good for All the Right Reasons”, devotional on Isaiah 64:6 in NIV Bible for Women (p 1024.)

 

Voting for Nero

Emperor Nero

I don’t envy American voters right now. As much as I covet the perks of citizenship, the responsibilities of having to choose a President in this years’ election feel a bit like a bad meal on the show Survivor: a choice between roasted scorpion and BBQ’d slug for dinner… awful, but a girl’s gotta eat.

That the presidency has been so closely tied to identifying as Christian in the past makes things that much more complex. Certainly, at this stage I’m not persuaded that any of the leading candidates for either party have anything close to an authentic faith (not that I think being a Christian is necessary for public office. Character and competence? Yes. Christ-follower? Not necessary. Church and state are separate, after all.)

My heart goes out to Christian voters who are grieving their choices. These are less-than-ideal options, and as someone who will live under the reign of one of these officials, I know that I will also experience the effects of their policies in a tangible way. I’m more than a little concerned about what the future may hold for me as an immigrant, and a tax payer, and as a parent of American citizens.

But I can’t help feeling, too, that while this election spells trouble for the America, maybe it will also be really good for American believers. This election no longer allows us to draw a line in the sand and say “my faith says I should vote this way”, because the issues are so complex. Our faith says we should vote (be an engaged citizen, do our civic duty), but exactly HOW to vote is far more nuanced.

I think (I hope! I pray!) that this political climate could have some really healthy spiritual consequences. I just finished reading Mark Labberton’s short-but-powerful book Called, in which he explores the crisis and calling of Christians in our world today. What does God want from us? Why is our faith often so ineffective? How do we figure out what our priorities are, or should be?

Labberton argues that part of the reason the church is in crisis is that, in America, we have positioned ourselves in the wrong place theologically: we live and teach and pray as if we are living in the Promised Land (A place of blessing! We’ve arrived! We have been faithful and rewarded, and if “my people would just humble themselves and pray” He will pour out His blessing!) Consequently, we expect this country to be one with Christian institutions, Christian laws, and Christian leaders: a whole gamut of Promised Land blessings. I’ve seen more than one article comparing Trump to King Saul, and while the similarities are fascinating, it is also fascinating that the position of President of the USA is being compared to the role of King of God’s Kingdom.

Labberton says (and I agree) that we’re not in the Promised Land. Not yet, anyway. A better way for us to situate ourselves theologically is to see ourselves as believers in exile: we are Daniel in Babylon – honoring God, and serving within a system that is not our own, and seeking to exert godly influence there. We are the exiles, seeking the peace of the city we are in – for we will be here a while yet before we finally make it home to the place He has prepared for us. So settle down: plant a vegetable garden, figure out how to be faithful to God in a land-not-yet-your-own, seek your neighbors’ welfare and trust that here and now is not the end of God’s story.

I found reading Called to be surprisingly comforting. The absence of a godly leader does not mean that God’s plan is thwarted: we are not Israel living under a King. We are Kingdom exiles living under a foreign ruler, and while believers may occupy positions of influence and power in that realm– the fate of God’s promises doesn’t depend on these institutions.

The words of the New Testament are all the more salient to believers in these days when it feels like governments are populated by people like the Emperor Nero was: self-serving politicians with significant mean streaks. Nero famously “fiddled while Rome fell”: his cruelty and indifference to people’s suffering so pointedly demonstrating the moral decrepitude which characterized his reign.

This years’ election lineup looks like a bunch of Nero’s (or Nera’s?) to me. The South African government looks much the same, and it is disheartening sometimes to think that behind them are a long, long line of Nero-wannabes waiting to take their place should the head honcho tumble.

But we know that God’s purposes never depended on godly leaders being at the helm. It was to people under a hostile and indifferent government that the apostles wrote their letters about citizenship: honor the leader. Obey the laws. Pay your taxes. Show love to your neighbor. Pray for peace that you may live a quiet life and get on with what God has called you to do.

For it’s not as if we need a new Messiah to come and fix the mess of a system we’re in. We have a perfect King, already installed on the throne, and one day His Kingdom will be revealed. But for now? We live in exile, and no matter who is in power – NO ONE is stopping us from doing the work we were called to do right now: loving God, loving our neighbor. This post is not saying “our hope is not in politics, so withdraw withdraw withdraw!” This post is saying “our hope is not in politics, so engage engage engage… in the Kingdom work right in front of you.” 

This is what I’m trying to remember as I read all the heartbroken and angry reactions on my social media feed. We are in exile, living in the times of Nero. But Jesus is still on his throne, and he says that Greatness is about service and love to the least of these:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your servant— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28)

If nothing else, maybe this year’s elections will remind the church which leader we’re ultimately putting our confidence in. Come what may, my vote’s on Him.

That’s Not My Name

Please welcome Bobbie Schaeperkoetter to the blog!

Maybe I’ve let myself be defined by the wrong names for long enough. And maybe you have too.

Unworthy.  Unloveable.  Unattractive.  Selfish.  Spoiled.  Out of touch with reality.  Irresponsible.  Snob.  Untalented.  Liar.  Cheater.  Judgmental.  Failure.  I’ve been called these names and many more.  These, and others, are words that I’ve heard spoken about me nearly all of my life.  They are words of hurt and pain.  They are words that cut deep.  They are words that I’ve felt have left a scar on my poor tender heart.  Sometimes those words were spoken by others.  Sometimes I just felt them because of a person’s attitude of actions.  Most often though, the words that have cut me the deepest, are the words that I’ve spoken to myself.  The worst names are the ones I gave myself.

This isn’t the regular state of my heart, but I have been my own worst enemy at times.  I’ve doubted my heart, my worth, my skills, my actions, my looks, my motives, and my talents.  I’ve focused on my negative qualities far more than my positives.  I have let fear and doubt rule me for so much of my life.  I have I’ve stood in my own way far more than anyone else ever has.  I’ve let my past, my failures, my mistakes, and especially my sins define me for far too long.  I’ve been a slave to the names.  I’ve often felt locked in the prison of these words.  I’ve let myself believe them.  I have believed that I am unworthy and unloveable.  I have believed that I am a cheat and a liar and a failure. 

And for some reason, I’ve never fought back against those names.  Maybe I kept letting myself be defined by those names because a small part of me believed each one of them for one reason or another.  Maybe it is because no one knows me like I know myself.  No one knows every detail of my past and every struggle that I have walked through or every mistake that I have made.  But just maybe,  I have listened to the lies that the enemy has whispered into my ear for far too long.

Maybe I’ve let myself be defined by the wrong names for long enough.  And maybe you have too.

This morning, I woke up to a text from a dear friend who is in the middle of a very difficult situation.  She is feeling defeated.  She is feeling defined by her circumstances and her situation.  She is believing the names.  She is believing the names that others have called her, but most often, she is believing the names that she has called herself.  

And my heart broke for her.  And it broke a little for myself because I have done the same thing so often.

I have so many friends and family members who are in the middle of very difficult situations.  Some are there as a result of their own choices but some are just a victim of circumstance.  Regardless of how they got to where they are, many of them have one common bond.  They’ve let the names they have been called define them.  

They have believed the lies too.  They’ve believed the lies that they are their circumstances or their situation or their mistakes.  They’ve believed the lies that they are their sin or their faults or their failures.  They’ve believed the lies that they are what other people have said that they are.  They have let those names define them just like I have.

That is not the case for them, it is not the case for me, and it is not the case for you sweet friend. 

                I am not unworthy, unloveable, unattractive, or untalented.  That is not my name.  I am fearfully and wonderfully made by a Heavenly Father who specifically designed me for a purpose and with a plan.   (Psalm 139:13-14)

I am not a cheater, a liar, or a failure.  That’s not my name.  I am redeemed and forgiven.  I am a child of my Heavenly Father and I am loved beyond measure.  He has taken my past and nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 1:14, Colossians 2:13-14, John 3:16)

 I am not selfish, judgmental, out of touch with reality, spoiled, or a snob. That’s not my name.   I am learning to walk in newness of life.  I’ve laid aside my old self and have been given a new heart.  The road may be a little bumpy and I may fail sometimes, but my Father is patient and loving.  (Ephesians 4:20-32, Ezekiel 36:26)

I am not those names that others have called me.  I am not those names that I have called myself.  I am not those names that the enemy has whispered in my ear.  I am not defined by my past or even my current situation.  And neither are you.  If we are a follower of Jesus, then those names do not define us.  His name does.

We are defined by a God who loves us more than we can even begin to fathom.   We are named by the one who calls us chosen, loved, redeemed, beautiful, precious, forgiven, and new.  Let go of those old names and embrace the name that Jesus has given you.

 

bobbie schaeBobbie Schaeperkoetter makes her home in Jefferson City, Missouri, with her high school sweetheart-turned hubby and her two handsome boys. She is a wife, mom, homeschooler, the Director of Ministry and Creative Branding for The Women In My World, and a part of the The Genesis Project Development Group’s production team. Bobbie blogs at bobbieschae.com.  Her writing can also be found at Grace Centered at http://www.gracecentered.com/.  and at Faith Filled Family magazine  www.faithfilledfamily.com .  She would love you to stop by for a virtual cup of coffee and a chat.

The Problem of Invisible Resistance

The Problem of Invisible Resistance

A few years ago, I started cycling.

And by cycling, I don’t mean the I-need-to-commute kind of cycling I’d done at school and doing college ministry, but the Now-I-will-wear-lycra-pants-and-shoes-that-clip-in type of cycling. To say that the learning curve was steep was putting it mildly. I still blush a little when I think of how many times I came to a stop and, having forgotten to unclip my shoes from my fancy pedals, realized too late I had no free feet to put down and so just keeled over onto the sidewalk. (It’s okay if you laugh. We all did.)

I remember taking my first longer ride out into the country: a 25 mile round trip, with a half-way stop at a cute coffee shop which was welcoming to smelly lycra-clad cyclists. The first two or three miles was gorgeous: an encouraging warm sun just rising, the breeze in my hair, the regular breathing that felt like life in my lungs. But a few miles in, I was suffering. I couldn’t figure out why: the terrain was flat, and I’d gone so much further than that on the stationary bikes in the gym before. Could I really be this unfit? Had my hours of training until now been so ineffective?

I nursed my disappointment quietly over my coffee while my riding pals chattered on, not sure whether I had the stamina to make it back. I gathered up my shards of courage and mounted my bike, prepared to make my excuses about why I couldn’t keep up with the others on the long ride home… but a few miles in was stunned to find that the trip home was going so much better than the way out had gone.

Really? Why? Why had it been so hard, and now it was going more smoothly? If anything, I’d expected the second half to be harder as the sun was higher and I was that much more tired.

I muttered to the much-more-experienced cyclist next to me: “the way home is going a little easier than I expected.” She laughed: “yup. that’s the difference a tail wind will make.”

A wind? I couldn’t feel it. I hadn’t felt it on the way there, and I couldn’t feel it on the way back… all I was aware of was the feel of the breeze as I biked… but as it turned out cycling directly into a 5mph headwind and then cycling back aided by a 5mph makes a huge difference to how much work it takes to bike. In fact, the difference isn’t even linear: it’s an exponential function (here’s a graph if you have a geeky itch that needs scratching). It requires DOUBLE the amount of power to bike at 20mph as it does at 15mph, just with regular wind resistance caused by the fact that we’re moving through air. If you have a 5mph wind against you at 15mph… well, you do the math.

As it turned out, the struggle was that much worse not because I was failing my training in ways I hadn’t even accounted for, but because I was meeting with real, albeit invisible, resistance.

I was chatting with a friend recently who has been feeling deeply discouraged in some areas of her life where she wishes she were just doing better/being stronger. She sounded exhausted, and was filled with self-reproach that the struggle she was going through was just further evidence of spiritual failure: “If I weren’t so evil, this wouldn’t be so hard to overcome,” she lamented.

But as she described her journey, I became more and more convinced that there was something spiritual going on, too. Christian theologians have long described the enemies of the soul as consisting of the world, the flesh and the devil. My friend was accounting for the world and the flesh in her struggle (and those are real), but it had not crossed her mind that there might be more at work there than she was giving it credit for.

The western church, for all its love of CS Lewis, does not have nearly a robust awareness of the spiritual realities of a dark and evil opponent in the life of faith as our older brother in the faith did. The Screwtape Letters are worth revisiting regularly not only for their written genius, but for the stark reminder that there are evil, personal powers at work to distract and discourage us. “We are not unaware of his schemes,” wrote the Apostle Paul. Sadly, that can often not be said of us.

The image of me, discouraged and beating myself up for my weakness on that first long bike ride, came to mind as I talked with her. Just like I sometimes do not take the invisible-but-real resistance of the wind into account when biking, so too we do not take the invisible-but-real resistance of the enemy into account, as he blows straight into our faces to slow us down and impede our progress.

And exhausted, we collapse and say to ourselves the words the Accuser (that’s what His name means, anyway) hurls at us: failure. weak. evil. quitter. laughable. why do you even bother?

But it helps to know that there is an enemy. It helps to know that the resistance we are feeling is real, and not imagined, and that the fight we are fighting is not just because our faith-muscles are weak but also because we are wrestling against a skilled opponent. Satan is the invisible headwind on our course, and he delights to remain unnamed and unnoticed so that we will lose heart.

But we will not lose heart. Forgetting what is behind, we press on; fueled by faith and reaching forward—ever onward and upward—to complete the race. We learn, as skilled cyclists do, how to keep your head down and cycle close behind others: for these things do a lot to decrease that relentless invisible resistance.

And so, together, we will go the distance. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

Three Words To Sum It All Up: Lessons from a 3000 Mile Roadtrip

We took a 3,000 mile road-trip this summer. We packed camping gear and snacks and clothes and kids into the back of our minivan, and headed towards Yellowstone: the oldest and most prestigious of America’s National Parks.

We saw dinosaur bones, and glaciers, and sharp jagged teeth of mountains jutting into the air.

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We saw sulphuric pits spewing dragon’s breath, and colossal geysers.

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We skipped stones and paddled canoes, we huddled against each other as it hailed. We took photos of all things brights and beautiful, all creatures great and small.

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We paddled on the most tranquil of waters, and picked our way through intricate subterranean lava caverns.

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We laughed with friends old and new, and collected family stories which we will tell, and retell, and retell.

At the end of our trip, I collated our photos and uploaded some of them onto Facebook so our far-flung family could share in the sights of a land they’ve not seen. And of course: put like that, in a photo album, it looks like the trip of a lifetime. And, perhaps it was.

But really, that’s not the whole story. I joked with a friend a while ago that if I were to start this blog again, perhaps I would call it “Not Pictured”. Because not pictured in that photo album were the many hours we spent driving. And driving. And driving. And how we had to stop every thirty minutes because Mommy, I need to pee.

Not pictured were the tantrums. Or the whining faces of Are we there yet? Not pictured was the sweat of pitching and striking a tent every one to two days, while we swatted away kids and mosquitos to get the work done faster. Not pictured were the potty accidents. Or the hours we spent in dingy laundromats on the road, having rooted around in our bags to find the least stinky items of clothing to wear during the wash.

Not pictured were the bouts of anxiety our eldest struggled with as we moved through campsites with bears and thunderstorms and hail, culminating in her asking one morning with tears brimming: “Mommy, did you know there would be storms out here?” I told her we didn’t know exactly what the weather would be like, but that we had prepared for a number of possibilities. She was having none of it. “Didn’t you think of the children at all when you planned this trip?” she accused. Also not pictured: me sniggering instead of comforting my tearful daughter.

And so, when we returned home, people said: “How was your trip? Your pictures were amazing!”

And truthfully, I had to answer: “It was great. Except for the parts that were boring or terrible.”

In the weeks since we returned home, our days have fallen the routine of the school year. We have sourced shoes one size bigger, figured out the car pool, and developed a rhythm for the various activities that have been dropped into our calendar like tetris time capsules. We have first-day-of-school pictures and slowly-growing art folders to prove it. And now that we are settling in, people are asking: “How are you guys doing? How’s the school year?”

And truthfully, the answer is the same: “It’s great. Except for the parts that are boring or terrible.”

I’m thinking that maybe these are the three words that are true for all of life, pictured or not. The blessed life is one which is “great, except for the parts that are boring or terrible.” For none of us, no matter what story that pictures tell us, are exempt from suffering, and none of us lives a life which doesn’t have stretches of the just-plain-boring. There is nothing exciting about loading and unloading a dishwasher. Or learning your times tables. Or flossing your teeth. But that doesn’t mean life isn’t as great as it can be.

One day, of course, our firm hope is that we will be with God, and the “boring parts” will all be rest, and the “terrible parts”  will all have been wiped away as tears from our eyes. When we see him face to face, it will be great all the time.

But until then: this is how it is, and really this is the most this one blessed life could hope to be: Great, except for the parts that are boring or terrible.

Liz’s Story (#ACourageousOne)

Allow me to introduce you to Liz Williamson. Liz is a survivor of child sex trafficking but more importantly, she knows she is madly loved.  Liz is the adopted daughter of Jenny Williamson, founder of Courage Worldwide. Hers is an incredible story with an incredible ending…

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Liz’s Words:

Did you know?  Did you know how old I was, maybe not how old I was presented to be?  Did you care?  Did you think about my heart or my mind or only about your desires?

Writing this, I want you to know my heart.

I longed for a family.  I longed for a home.  I longed for a room that was a safe, for a room that
was mine, for a room that opened from the inside.  I longed for sleep.  I longed for safety.

I once tried to sleep with sneakers on in case I was able to run away.  But, I promise you, I was defeated.

Trying to fight was maddening because I lost every time.  So, I learned not to fight with my body.  I learned to fight in my mind.  I learned to blankly smile and nod and participate but to keep my heart far from it all.  I learned how to not cringe on the outside.  I learned how to be numb.  Maybe worst of all, I learned how to lie to myself.  All of the anger that should have been directed to those that hurt me, to those that designed the plans, to those that should have done something, I turned on myself.

I was still a child desperately trying to make sense of my world.

I believed the only people that cared about me were those that paid money to be with me.  They were the ones who helped me with my Math homework or explained the silent “a” sound in the word was when I got embarrassed in school for saying it wrong. Being hurt was my only constant truth.

As a child, I believed when someone took pictures of my body, they also took my heart.  No one could explain to me anything different.  I knew they were stealing everything and I owned nothing.

The anger I felt was overwhelming.  I want to tell you this not to hurt you but because I believe now if you knew the truth, you would see life differently.  Every Tuesday night for a few years of my life, I went to the local Holiday Inn to spend the night with one particular man.  I would grab every green Starlite mint off the receptionist counter before walking into the elevator. That was my routine. He would eat at the buffet and I would sit in the hotel room eating every mint pretending to be anywhere but there.  I would open the wrapper and focus on crunching on that mint so I didn’t hear how loudly my heart was beating or how scared I felt.

I seethed in anger, but eventually, it felt pointless.

There was no man or woman on my side.  What didn’t they see? What couldn’t they see?  The bruises and scars were obvious.  My absences from school were notable.  Eventually all of the anger settled into one lie, I am invisible, and I deserve this.

Birthdays and years confirmed this.  I believed this for too long.  Running away in the dark at 23, I remember every time my feet pounded the pavement and pain shot through my whole body.

Not one car stopped to help.

Years later, I can see these same memories, this same pain, and the anger I feel fuels a different fight.

Yes, I know what it feels like to be locked in a room and have no control.  But, I want to break down that door for another child, for another human, for someone who also believes they are invisible.

I am on the side of the invisible, of the forgotten, of the ignored.

*******

Liz’s Story: A Song of Redemption

In 2008, when Jenny Williamson was in the early days of working with girls who had been trafficked, she met Stephanie Midthun. Jenny had recently met three women that identified themselves as prostitutes who had all told her the same thing: “Please, build this home and help these girls – they just need someone to believe in them so they don’t turn out like me.”

Telling Stephanie this, Jenny was brainstorming on how they could get the message out: they needed a song to tell the story of the girls, she said, a song to say ‘Believe in Me’. Jenny had no idea that Stephanie was, in fact, a song writer. Stephanie wrote the song a few days later and had a 15-year old with a powerful voice record it. A film maker did a video and it was launched on Facebook in 2009.

(Disclaimer: this music video is tastefully done but does contain themes of violence and sex. While not explicit, is not recommended  for children under the age of 13 without parental supervision)

Half way across the country, Liz saw the music video through Facebook, and emailed Jenny saying she didn’t know anyone else knew about girls like her. The song haunted Liz and eventually propelled her to run away in the middle of the night with no shoes. She fled to a homeless shelter. Soon after that, Jenny invited her to come to Courage House and be her daughter…

And the rest is history….

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Liz is one of the Courageous Ones. And there are thousands more like her, who don’t know that we are there to help. The #ACourageousOne project is one, tangible you can make a difference RIGHT NOW AS YOU ARE READING THIS. We can help more Courageous Ones like Liz by giving our own courageous one:

  • Donate ONE DOLLAR towards rescuing trafficked women and girls. There are many great organizations working on this, but I have personal relationships with Courage Worldwide and International Justice Mission. Would you send #ACourageousOne DOLLAR and raise money?
  • Pray for ONE MINUTE for the rescue and restoration of trafficking victims? Just one minute. Pray for girls like Liz to hear the message of hope. Pray that they would find safe places to go. Would you spend #ACourageousOne MINUTE in prayer and raise hope?
  • Share ONE POST about sex trafficking on social media. Share yesterday’s post about the A Courageous One project. Share Liz’s story to inspire others. Share Believe in Me, or either of the video clips from yesterday. You never know what other Courageous Ones might be listening. Would you share #ACourageousOne POST ON SOCIAL MEDIA and raise awareness?

Thanks for reading and sharing, friends.