Josh and Ashley

Allow me to paint a picture for you.

There she is.  A woman, at her most vulnerable, sitting at the feet of Jesus.  There is a large crowd and the people just keep coming.  They are in the temple courts and the crowd is larger than normal.  She won’t look up at Him or make eye contact with anyone in the crowd.  Her family stands in the background, she cannot see them but she knows they are there.  The commotion is hard to overlook.  A woman, naked, in front of the savior of the world.  But this woman did not willingly take a seat at Jesus’ feet.  No, this woman, let’s call her Ashley Madison… this woman was dragged, against her will to the feet of Jesus. 

Minutes prior to this scene, Ashley was in bed.  Was it her bed?  We don’t know, but what we do know is that she was in a bed with a man who was not her husband.  She and this man were involved in something so intimate that God designed it to be shared between only a husband and a wife.  They were involved in something that has the power to heal and the power to destroy lives.  They were having sex.  The man, maybe his name was Joshua, and Ashley were not married to one another but were engaged in sexual intimacy and they’d been caught.  More notably, she’d been caught. 

So many theories as to how and why exactly Ashley got caught, but we know that she found herself at the feet of Jesus, naked, ashamed and prepared to be judged and condemned.  There was no turning back or denying her sin.

The only reason that makes sense in my mind is that God cared so much for Ashley’s heart that he had to sacrifice her reputation and comfort.  He could not allow her to continue walking in sin and away from Him.  He had been calling her name for quite some time.  It started off as just a soft voice, a small twinge of guilt in the quiet. She knew it was there though. She knew and she chose to ignore it.  Then the guilt started to weigh heavily, but Ashley did not listen.  God started calling her name louder.  Maybe there were some close calls prior to really getting caught.  Maybe Joshua wasn’t the only man and the indiscretions with the other man/men had already been made known to a small few.  It isn’t really clear the progression of her sin, but what I do know is that when we are choosing to walk in sin, God is not silent.  He calls out our name day in and day out.  He gives us so many opportunities to turn away from our flesh and walk back into his loving arms.  It is impossible to look back and not see the opportunities.  Ashley likely had been given those opportunities.  Joshua had been given those opportunities.  God was saying, I want you to repent and I want to be able to save you from the destruction that is coming.  I want to give YOU the opportunity to make this right before you are forced into it, because it will be made right.  Ashley didn’t listen.  She didn’t take her chance and that is why she was there in front of the crowd, naked and at the feet of Jesus.

She no longer had a choice in the matter.  Her sin was made public.  She could no longer go to her husband and tell him of her indiscretions and deal with the consequences privately.  It was unfair and the people who brought her in front of Jesus did not have her best interest in mind, but God did.  He allowed Ashley to be used by those men to teach them a lesson and to remind her of His love and grace.  God needed Ashley to understand that his desire is for a relationship with her.  He needed her to know his love and she was not going to be able to fully do that while she continued to sleep with men who were not her husband.  He was willing to sacrifice her reputation, her marriage, her everything in order to get the attention of her heart.
I can only imagine the shame Ashley would have felt while on the ground in front of Jesus.  On display and without any hope of recovering.  The men, attempting to catch Jesus, suggested the punishment Ashley was sure to have known was coming.  Death.  She would have known the consequences for being an adulteress.  She would have been anticipating it from the time the door to the tent flew open and she was caught.

The amazing thing, though, is that Jesus did not condemn her.  Jesus requested that the person in the crowd who had never sinned throw the first stone and not surprisingly, no one was able to throw a stone.  In the end, Ashley stood there alone.  Just her and Jesus and Jesus let her go free.  He rescued her from the punishment that she had surely earned.

That wasn’t the end of the story, either.  Yes, Ashley’s sin was made public and her life was spared, but Jesus sent her away with a command.  He added responsibility to the grace that she had received.  “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  His concern was not for her comfort, her peace of mind or anything else.  He was solely focused on her heart.  To leave a life of sin is not to live a perfect life.  It is to live a life focused on loving Jesus.  A life that reflects God’s love.  A life that has experienced and knows grace abundantly.  It is to know that there is responsibility with grace.  That we are not saved simply so that we can continue to sin but so that we can have eternal life, a relationship with Christ and point others to Him.

My heart aches at the news of Josh Dugger and his unfaithfulness to his wife Anna.  Based on what we have learned about Josh in the last couple of months, it is clear to me that he fell into sexual sin at a very young age and never fully dealt with it.  I’m not him, but I am willing to guess at what his life has been like, because I have lived it.  I still live it.  The guilt is overwhelming.  The safeguards work but are not foolproof.  Purity of heart and body is something that is easy to champion because it is something you want so badly for yourself, even in the midst of your own failure.  I can almost guarantee that he had chance after chance to repent and make things right.  He could have told Anna every single day and I doubt there was a day that went by that he was not prompted to do so.  There were probably days where the prompting was so strong that his body was physically rejecting the idea of coming clean.  I remember the last time I had to admit to one of my BIG lies.  For weeks, I was sick to my stomach.  My skin crawled.  I broke out into sweats.  I knew what I had to do, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I would bet money that Josh experienced these things too.  That he had set his mind to confessing several times, that he heard the cry of the Lord in his heart and then eventually backed down before actually telling his secrets.  The opportunities were there.  He didn’t take them.  And now, he is sitting at the feet of Jesus in the temple courts, naked and ashamed.  His wife and family are in the background, heartbroken, stunned and wondering how they could have been so blind.  Josh, like Ashley, knows what he deserves.  Also like Ashley, though, Jesus has offered him grace and the responsibility of “go now and leave your life of sin.”

So here is to you, my friends who are naked and ashamed.  My friends whose sin has been made public and you are terrified of what will happen next. Know that Jesus offers you the same grace he offered the adulteress woman, the same grace he has offered me and has offered Josh Dugger.  My friends who have been caught, know that it is not too late to go and leave your life of sin.  And to you, my friends who are ignoring the whisperings, or maybe the shouts, of the holy spirit, please follow His prompting before you end up naked in front of the crowd.  It will happen.  He loves you too much to let you settle in where you are.  You will not be able to keep up the charade.  Find someone you trust and begin the process of coming clean because that sweet, unending grace is for you too.  As someone who daily struggles with these exact things but has been redeemed and saved, my heart longs for the same for you.  Every day, I am critically aware of the fact that I am just one bad decision away from my own scandal. My friends, His grace is enough! 

The Struggle

“Worn”– Tenth Avenue North

I’m tired I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world

And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

I know I need to lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

My prayers are wearing thin
Yeah, I’m worn
Even before the day begins
Yeah, I’m worn
I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn
So, heaven come and flood my eyes

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause all that’s dead inside will be reborn

Though I’m worn
Yeah I’m worn

To caution all drivers on the road in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington, if this song comes on when I am driving I simply cannot control my reaction, which I am sure causes me to be one of the most unsafe drivers on the north coast.  I can do nothing but cry, lift my hands in surrender and thank Jesus that someone else gets it; that someone put words to the state of my heart and therefore I can express my heart through my favorite art form.  I didn’t have the words before hearing this song to express the tiredness of my heart.  I bought the lie again that I was alone and that no one could possibly understand what is like to walk around feeling like the life has been sucked right out of you and feeling like you should be able to fix it.

Anyone who has ever dealt with addictive sin knows what I am talking about.  You know that feeling of hopelessness.  That feeling that you are the one to blame and that if only you were better at controlling yourself, life would be perfect.  You know how the cycle goes.  Things are great for a while; you are succeeding in your battle and life feels good.  Things begin to fall into place and you start to believe that maybe this is the time that you will completely overcome.  Then life happens.  You get arrogant or stressed or whatever is your trigger and you say, “just this once” except just this once turns into one more time and one more time and before you know it, you are completely out of control and right back where you said you would never be again.  For some people their addiction is obvious to those around them and the impact of the sin is not at all subtle.  For others like myself, addiction is easily hidden and the impact, while present and painful, isn’t quite as obvious.  It takes months and months for me to begin to connect the dots between just how out of control my sin is with my tired heart, tired relationships and general dissatisfaction with life.  Im-So-Tired

You would think that connecting the dots would be enough to stop, but it isn’t.  Justification, by this point is so deep in my veins that my heart is hardened to the idea of stopping.  I begin to ask God why He doesn’t just take it from me.  He knows how hard I’ve tried in the past.  He knows how tired I am.  He knows how much I desire to be used by Him but feel held back by my inability to stop.  One of my dreams is to speak on the Women of Faith stage someday, but I can’t even begin to fathom working toward that when I feel like a hypocrite and don’t have anything redeeming to share.  I hear the stories of other survivors, of people who have overcome their battle and they get to stand there and talk about the goodness of God and how there is this HUGE change in their life because of Jesus’ saving grace… that isn’t my life.  It is exhausting.  It hurts and is devastating to try and understand how God could put this desire in my heart and not free me from my addiction.  I want to know that what has died in me, because of my own choices, can be revived.  I want so desperately to be who God created me to be, yet I know that I’m holding myself back.  I don’t understand how the passions, gifts and dreams God has given me can be fulfilled when I keep giving into sin.  I want to see redemption win and I want others to see it in me, but it hasn’t happened and it doesn’t feel like it ever will.

This is typically when I begin to doubt my own salvation.  My heart is burdened with the idea of not being good enough, of not really repenting.  True repentance is followed by change.  That is what I’ve always known and believed.  I’ve heard it in a thousand sermons… in fact, I just heard it again a couple of weeks ago.  Godly sorrow doesn’t leave you in mourning but spurs you toward change.  If these things are true, then clearly I haven’t repented.  Clearly I’m not sorry and I probably never will be.  These are the lies that invade my heart and build even more walls between myself and my God.  I stop talking to Him at all because I am so ashamed, so frustrated and frankly, mad.  I’ve said I was sorry so many times and failed to change.  I’ve asked for help and begged Him to free me from it.  I’ve asked why and I’ve, at times, asked for help from other people.  It never works and it hurts.  I feel abandoned by a God that I profess to love and follow and at the same time, I desperately worry that I’ve allowed my heart to harden so far that even if He was trying to help, I’d wouldn’t know it.  Someone once told me that the fact that I question these things and fret about them are proof that my heart isn’t as hardened as I assume, but even this doesn’t take away my doubt.

There is another song on the radio right now that completely makes my heart ache.  If I didn’t already hate myself for not being able to overcome, even with the help of a God who, deep down, I know loves me, the first two lines just pour on the guilt even more.  The song says, “Who can stand apart from your presence? Once we have tasted, the goodness of Your love.”  My sin, my decision to partake in sin requires that I stand apart from the presence of God.  The more I give in, the further I get from Him.  According to this song, I wouldn’t be able to make that decision if I had truthfully tasted the goodness of God.  I HAVE tasted to goodness of His love.  I have experienced His love and lived sweetly in it.  But I’m still human and this thorn in my flesh has not come out despite my best efforts.  photolibrary_rf_photo_of_exhausted_man

I heard, on the radio, the lead singer from Tenth Avenue North explaining why he wrote this song and while his feelings of being worn are so far from my feelings of being worn, he said something that really resonated with me.  He said that “sometimes God redeems us from the struggle and sometimes God redeems us through the struggle.”  I’ve heard something like this before.  Someone I know who struggles with addiction as well once told a sanctuary full of people that once while she was begging God to take her struggle from her, He asked if she believed He could.  She said yes and His response was, “would you still trust me knowing I could take it, even if I didn’t take it from you?’  She had to really wrestle with this idea that maybe God’s plan for her life was for her to struggle and that he might not ever fully redeem her FROM the struggle.  As someone who is tired and worn, these are not encouraging words to me.  I want to be redeemed FROM the struggle.  I want to be able to share my redemption story and have it be meaningful and encouraging.  I am TIRED of being redeemed through the struggle; it doesn’t feel redeeming.

Accepting that God may redeem me THROUGH the struggle seems like a risky decision.  It feels like an open door to give up… to stop trying… to simply give into to every whim and desire associated with sex and justify it to myself.  If God is redeeming me through the struggle, do I really have a responsibility to fight against the addiction?  Does it matter whether or not I try to rid my life of this destructive and painful sin if I know I’m never going to overcome it?  Of course it matters; I know this (Romans 6:1).  However, my fear is that accepting that I, like Paul, must maintain the thorn in my flesh for a lifetime, feels like an easy justification when I am tired of the fight.  I don’t even want to begin to imagine what my life will be like if I stop fighting to get better… fighting to recover.

If you’ve read any of my other  blogs, you know that one of my favorite artists is JJ Heller.  Her music resonates with my heart in deep, powerful ways that I cannot put words to.  Her newest single, Who You Are, is no exception.  In this song, JJ sings about dreams not met.  She sings of a woman who has begged for a child of her own but has not been given a child.  She sings of a father who loses a child unexpectedly.  She sings of hurt and pain and unmet expectations.  JJ also sings of the Father’s love, though.  She sings of His love that is found in these unmet expectations.  She says, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but I know who you are.”  I actually was typing those words right as I was listening to them be sung and it brought tears to my eyes.  What an amazingly bold statement of faith.

I have spoken in the past about learning to be okay with living in the tension.  The idea of living in the tension deals with accepting the mystery of God as something that is beautiful and romantic, not something that turns us away from Him.  I think this is exactly what JJ’s new song is saying; just because I don’t know everything that is happening, everything about You, the one I love and follow, doesn’t mean that I don’t KNOW you or KNOW your character and what you have promised me.

I have absolutely NO idea what God is doing in my life when it comes to this struggle.  I don’t know how it will be used or if my dreams will ever be fulfilled.  I don’t know if I will ever be able to say “I used to struggle” instead of “I do struggle.”  I don’t know if a song will rise out of these ashes or if my tired heart will be restored.  What I do know is that my God loves me.  I know that He is love.  I know that there is purpose.  I know that He will not give me anything I cannot handle (1 Corinthians 10:13).  I know that redemption has ultimately won and that one day, this too shall pass.  I know that my God hears and cares for my aching heart and that He has not left my side.  I know WHO my God is and just because I don’t know what He is doing doesn’t make Him any less loving, compassionate or tender.  Because I know who my God is, I have hope.

Stereotypes

Stereotypes are terrible.  I have lived my life knowing that I am NOT a stereotype, which has been liberating at times, but more often than not, it is an incredibly lonely place to be.  Not fitting into a stereotype inherently means that you are different.  A stereotype is a generalization based on what is thought to be true for most of people within a group.  If one does not fit that generalization, that means they are on the outside of the expected norm and it has been a very tumultuous experience to live on the outside of the stereotypes.

In junior high and high school, it became VERY clear to me that I was not a typical female (of course, I internalized this as not being “normal” and that there was something wrong with me).  Unfortunately, growing up in the church only intensified this feeling.  In youth group, all I ever heard was that girls had different struggles than girls in terms of sexuality and sex.  Girls, I was taught, wanted love.  Boys, wanted sex.  All sitcoms and movies also portrayed these stereotypes.  The men all griped about not getting enough sex and the women all griped about not getting enough love.  Don’t get me wrong, I do long to be love.  I have a deep, sometimes unhealthy, desire to know that I am “worth something” and to feel cherished.  My heart dances when someone finds me captivating because it makes me feel that they see depth in me and depth that can never be fully discovered.  Love is high on my list of needs.  However, I am NOT the girl who dreads sex, who isn’t visually stimulated or who has a lower sex drive than a typical man.  I have been this way for as far as I can remember and it has always haunted me.

This concept of being a female has been the most troublesome concept in my life.  I grew up feeling like God had made a mistake; he made me with girl parts, but everything else about me was boy.  I thought like a boy, I played like a boy, I was built like a boy and I even had the sex drive of a boy.  As I entered junior high and on into high school, I became VERY aware of just how different I was.  My girlfriends talked about how cute a boy was and how they hoped that one day they would get to hold hands or cuddle and I thought about how cute a boy was and how amazing it would be to enter into some kind of sexual relationship with him.

In the height of my questioning whether or not God had made a mistake, I distinctly remember a conversation I had with my dad.  I was sitting on the couch and said, “Dad, I hate my legs; they are so big!”  My dad said, “Don’t hate your legs; you have your dad’s legs sweetie!  You are muscular.”  This pretty much solidified it all for me; I was supposed to be a boy.

However, none of this ever prevented me from dating or getting into sexual relationships.  Before I met my husband at age 19, I had had eleven boyfriends and seven or eight sexual partners.  You would think that because I felt so much like a boy, I would have a hard time entering into these kinds of relationships, but I think that these kinds of relationships made me feel alive.  These relationships were the only reassurance I had that I was, in fact, a girl and that I was a ” normal” girl, because guys wanted me.  I lied to myself and made myself feel better by pointing out that what made me different also proved that I was in fact a female.

Growing up in the church made this all the more difficult for me.  Not only did I have this exaggerated awareness that I was not “normal” and that God had most likely made a mistake in creating me, but I also lived in the bondage of my sin because I didn’t understand the freedom that comes through Christ.  Church was not an ideal environment for me.  While I accepted Christ at a young age, I also accepted guilt and judgment at a young age.  The church taught me all about sin (murder, sex outside of marriage, cursing, etc) and taught me all about guilt.  Every time I learned of a new sin, I took on a new layer of guilt, as I was guilty of it all.  The church told me that God loved me, but I lived my life wondering if He would take that love back because I was REALLY bad!

As I mentioned, my core sin was sex.  As a VERY young child, I began dealing with this sin.  I specifically remember being as young as seven years old and masturbating (although I am sure I masturbated long before that, seven is just my earliest memory of it).  The sight of someone giving or receiving a kiss on television would send me into a frenzy and I would do whatever I could to get to a place by myself and relive that moment in my mind while releasing the tension that had risen within me like an all consuming fire.  My life revolved around when I could be alone in my room, the bathroom, or anywhere else in my house or a friend’s house so that I could masturbate.  I specifically remember thinking one time, “if watching someone kiss practically brings me to orgasm, what will I do when I am actually kissing someone?”

Assuredly, I do not have to explain in depth the amount of guilt with which this provided me as a child in the Christian church.  I prayed every night for forgiveness and prayed with fervor that God would make me stop “having sex with myself” (it wasn’t until seventh grade when I learned the term “masturbate” and that it was a fairly normal pubescent occurrence for boys).  Yet, the next day, it would be the same thing.

As I got older, masturbating stopped being enough for me.  My fantasies grew and grew and eventually started to become reality.  I entered into several sexual relationships, some of them at the same time, and became addicted to the high I got from such sexual pleasure (as well as the feeling of being wanted or desired by another human being).  I would participate in some sordid sexual act, which did not usually involve any reciprocation from the male counterpart and then go home and masturbate while reliving the experience in my head.  Kissing on television no longer got me excited, but the second someone discussed or alluded to sex, I was back to the little girl who could not contain her desire to be alone and release the tension.

In high school, I had a phenomenal Youth Pastor and mentor who both allowed me to be very honest about my struggle and constantly challenged my beliefs about what it meant to be a female.  Honesty helped a little bit, but after a while, it only added to my guilt.  I knew that admitting to another person that I had failed yet again would only make me feel worse, so I began lying about it, which as you can imagine added to the guilt.  There was no guilt free selection in my life.  Grace was discussed but for some reason, it never applied to me and I could never figure out why.

I knew that if people knew who I really was, they would be disgusted by me.  I knew this by the way sexual sin was discussed among my conservative friends and family.  I knew that I was a hypocrite.  I knew that every Sunday I got on stage and helped lead my fellow high school students in worship and that I would most likely go home and before falling asleep that night, fantasize about someone in that group while masturbating.

While all of this is something that I still struggle with, it is on a much smaller scale and often in very different forms.  Late in high school and early in college, I had incredible people (personal and professional) who allowed me to work through my thoughts and feelings on the issues and it was a very necessary step for me.  However, regardless of how much I worked through my issues, sometimes it feels like nothing will ever fully shake the loneliness that comes from not fitting into the stereotype of a female.

Another stereotype that I just do not fit is the stereotype of being a pastor’s wife.  I am not quiet and sweet and I do not want to get to know every person who walks through the door.  I have no desire to run the women’s ministry, or even be a part of it currently.  I am not soft spoken and standing at the door to greet people sounds like the most painful thing in the world to me.  And, to top it off, I am not a stereotypical female, which is one of the main components to being a wife.  Now, I know a few other pastor’s wives who do not fit into those stereotypes, but they are few and far between.

I have had countless people make some sort of comment to me about not being a “good” pastor’s wife, which is very hard on me.  I understand that I have been provided with a wonderful opportunity to grow and I am not backing down from that opportunity, but I also think that I have to learn to be okay with who I am, as hard as that it.  If I listened to every person who has an opinion on how I should be doing my job as a pastor’s wife, I would hate myself.  I would never get a break from stereotypes.  I know that I don’t fit the mold, which is hard, but I have to learn to be okay with it, because, yet again, this is a really lonely place in which to live.

I have a personality disorder, called Avoidant Personality Disorder.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avoidant_personality_disorder (I know wikipedia isn’t always the most reliable, but this is accurate and in layman’s terms)  Living with this has been very difficult, but as a pastor’s wife, it seems impossible.  I think the loneliness that comes from not fitting into the stereotype is intensified by the fact that even when I want to change, it seems impossible to do so.  It isn’t simply a matter of getting over it and changing, which I think most people assume it is, which is hard.

Luckily, in this current place, God has been so faithful and has blessed my husband and I with a staff that doesn’t expect anything of me.  We can’t control what the congregation expects, but we can work together to help them to have realistic expectations.  I am who I am; I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  God has made me who I am and has put me in the positions and places that he has for a reason.  I am stronger because of all of the stereotypes that I do not fit.  There is freedom in Christ.  Having a relationship with Christ is what frees me to be me, regardless of stereotype.  I don’t have to worry (although, sometimes I do) about not fitting the mold.  I can take refuge in my God who loves me and made me perfectly.  He did not make a mistake and he is growing me through my flaws.  God’s grace applies to me every day.  The loneliness is not from God, it is a trick of the great deceiver who longs to keep me away from my loving Father.

So, this blog is to those of you who don’t fit the mold.  Be strong.  Be brave.  Be you.  Please know that there is a God who loves you, who created you and who longs to allow you to be the best you as possible.  Know that in Him, there is peace.  Know that in Him, there are no stereotypes; You ARE the mold.

True Things- JJ Heller
I’m not the clothes I’m wearing
I’m not a photograph
I’m not the car I driveI’m not the money I make
I’m not the things I lack
I’m not the songs that I writeI am I am who I am
I am who I am

There are true things inside of me
I have been afraid to see
I believe, help my unbelief
Would you say again what you said to me
I am loved and I am free
I believe, help my unbelief

I’m not the house I live in
I’m not the man I love
I’m not the mistakes that I carry

I’m not the food that I don’t eat
I’m not what I’m above
I’m not my scars and my history

There are true things inside of me
I have been afraid to see
I believe, help my unbelief
Would you say again what you said to me
I am loved and I am free
I believe, help my unbelief

To your love I’m waking up
In your love I’m waking up