Sunday, August 30, 2009

Our Father

Anyone who knows me knows that I have never had a desire to have children. As a young girl, I credited my (at that time) unheard-of stance to a very pious (and somewhat self-righteous) philosophy that went something like this:

"I cannot think of one UNselfish reason to have children."

And, it was true, I could not. Having grown up in a home full of girls, most of them being much older than I was, I heard much pining for children with little variation in motives. Some girls dreamed of being wives and mothers - practiced and planned for it all of their young lives. It was about the fulfillment of their calling, their aspirations, their life's work. It was all about them. Some girls longed to have "someone who would finally love them." (Eeek! God help the poor child born into such an empty heart and into such unfillable expecations!) I heard women talking about getting pregnant to keep a man or to save a marriage. I also heard the stories of women and men who wanted to give their children "the life they never had" growing up (which, frankly, still sounded very selfish to me).

But in addition to the reasons I could not find for having children, I found a lot of reasons for not having children. Once again, growing up with kids who were in child-protective care for some reason or another gave me PLENTY of reasons. I think we have very little concept as to the prevalence and true depravity of the abuse that is perpetrated on the helpless every single day; I got to hear those stories first-hand. Why would anyone want to bring an innocent into a world so dark, so evil? I could not fathom it.

Furthermore, I knew something very fundamental, even then, about myself. I am human. I could see only too clearly a number of very personal reasons as to why I should not ever be a mother.

I feel the need to offer a disclaimer at this point. I think that motherhood is only ever to be honored as one of the most selfless and thankless jobs in existence. I do not share these things to denegrate motherhood or to belittle women who want children or dream of being wives and mothers (though, of the latter, I have definitely and sadly been guilty). No, I share this because, though I may never change my mind about having children myself, I have come face-to-face with something life-changing...

I grew up without a father. My mother had to be mother and father all by herself - not just to me and to my sisters, but to literally hundreds of children who were raped, beaten, molested, used, exploited, and abused in unfathomable ways. I suppose that she didn't have to. She chose to. She chose to be a mother to me, to her family, and then to further give of herself to care for others that way.

Anyone who knows me knows that I counted myself lucky at not having a dad growing up. There was no one to hurt us, for example, as most perpetrators are men, with a large percentage being fathers, sadly. There was no arguing or marital strife to cope or contend with. Honestly, I looked at other families and I truly thought that I had it made.

But I also thought that I was crazy when, at age 22 or so, I would very nearly burst into tears any time an older man in church looked me in the eye and spoke kindly to me. You see, though I had not experienced hatred, rage, or abuse at the hands of a father, I had also never experienced kindness, comfort, or cherishing either. In fact, I had never even witnessed other women experiencing those things or receiving those things from men.

It was a rude awakening at 25 to discover that I had a very empty, very dark place in my heart where a father was supposed to be - where any kind of positive male role-model or experience was supposed to be, for that matter. The image God gave me was of a neighborhood street, the homes neat and trim, the streetlights stretching on ... until they just stopped. The street continued, but there was only the blackness of night byond. And then ... nothing. Just ... nothing. Where people ought to have images of father, memories and fondness, love or connection or whatever, there was simply emptiness for me.

I began to recognize, to come to grips with and grieve this loss.

And then the strangest thing started to happen.

God started to fill that void.

There is a man that I will never forget who led a worship team at my church. He and his wife advocated for me at one of the darkest times of my life, and I will always remember that he was willing to step into the messiness of real-life and fight, fight for me the best way he knew how. I will never ever forget his words of compassion.

In the last five years there have been men who have spoken affirmation where there was only trauma and unworthiness before. There have been those who have offered a strong arm on which to cry and even a protective presence in questionable circumstances. I don't think any of them will ever know just how valuable these small and precious gifts were and are, like light on a dark street.

I have never been the kind of girl to look for a father. No, I suppose in some ways I tried to be what I lacked. I have always sought to be perfectly logical, for example, rational, and never controlled by emotion. I went for years without crying and then never let anyone see my tears when they came. More than that, I sought to be a woman of character - character that I never saw in men, in a dad. I wanted to be solid, dependable, a woman of integrity, in some ways to fill the void of that type of figure in my life - and, as I saw it, in the world. Everything I wanted in a dad I tried to be.

But as I have slowly released my death-grip on this one-girl attempt to change the world by being the one thing I never had, as I have painfully turned to look at who God created me to be, who I am, I have found that God has had His own agenda. He has wanted to be a father to me.

I was at the gym the other day. It was one of the worst days I have had in my journey of healing and recovery with God. I felt desolate and, I guess, a little lonely. I asked a friend who was on the treadmill next to mine how he recovered from the hurts and betrayals of his past enough to go on, marry, and have a family of his own. Honestly, I don't even know why I asked the question. I suppose I was just looking for a connection with someone and knew from his testimony that he would understand what I was fighting, that he would understand and not try to fix me. But what he said surprised me.

He started talking about being a father. He started to talk about looking down into the face of his little girl, and I saw and heard something I have never heard before.

I heard the heart of a father.

I had to turn away from him to bite back the tears that sprang to my eyes unbidden at his tenderness. I've never had that. I never had a dad to look down into my face and just love and delight at what he sees there.

But at least now I've seen it.

And I have a slightly better glimpse into how God must look at me: I think it looks a little something like the way that man in the gym looked when he talked about the face of his little girl.

As an adult, I have stumbled across two people who, when I asked them why they wanted to have children, gave me answers that I couldn't so easily dismiss as merely selfish. The first was a woman who took me in and gave me a place to stay when I didn't have a home anymore. She said something along the lines of, "When you have been filled with such good things as love and life, having children is a natural expression of its overflow." Cheesy, I suppose. But the other woman I asked said this: "God has given us two very unique opportunities to participate in the divine, opportunities that are ours only while we are on this earth, only to be experienced in this life: Marriage and parenthood. I want to take advantage of those opportunities while they are mine." Somehow, I think the two answers are intrinsically linked.

I confess that I am glad I am not faced with any such divine opportunities right now. I do not know if I have the courage that these last two women seemed to demonstrate, the first who is a mother and the second who is not yet married. However, I can attest to the truth in their words, for it is out of the overflow of love and life that God has been filling me, that I might have something to offer others, and it is in the divine participation of others that I have begun to know healing, hope, and fathering.

Our Father which art in heaven
My Father which art in heaven (and on earth in the hearts and hands of men!)
hallowed be thy name.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Time, Love, and Dating (oh my!)

"Love is built through soul-to-soul connection, shared values, commitment, resolving conflicts and hurts, tenderness, sacrifice, forgiveness, giving, displays of character, spiritual compatibility, and sharing - things that all have something important in common: time. Love takes time."


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rewrite the Script

"If your life is no longer a tragedy, you won't need a villain. If it is no longer a comedy, you won't need a flake. If it is no longer a disaster story, you won't need someone who produces crises. If it is no longer a seedy sex thriller, you won't need an addict... A healthy movie always requires good characters! So, as you get healthy, people will audition for those parts in your life that your health requires."

Dr. Henry Cloud

How to Get a Date Worth Keeping

Monday, August 10, 2009

when God lies

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Exodus 5:21-23

"May the Lord look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us!"


Moses returned to the Lord and said, "O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name he has brought trouble upon this people and you have not rescued your people at all."

You have not rescued your people at all...

I am struck by the irony that must have been Moses' life and the lives of the Israelites who, eventually, were -in fact- led out of Egypt ... only to wander and die in the desert.

Is this why you sent me?

When I read the story of the Israelites being led from captivity in Exodus, I cannot help but see it in the light of history, in the scope of a larger, unfolding story. Those people who marched through the Red Sea on dry land all died without seeing the Promise. And when I think of the generation that did arrive on the shores of the Jordan, I know that their trials had only just begun. Where was this milk and honey God talked about? Sounds to me like they got a mouthful of giants and war.

I'm beginning to think that God doesn't just save us from things, like our captivity. He saves us for something, and that something may not be exactly what we signed up for.

I was listening to All Star United the other day. They have a great song called "La La Land." One verse in particular comes to mind as I read the above passage...

Stake your claim on power and wealth
strong healthy teeth
a spot at the beach
and romance that's really swell

All the saints and martyrs alike
well they would have called a national strike
demanded less pain
more personal gain
if only they'd known their rights

Rights. When did we decide as Christians that we have rights? When did we decide that we deserved power and wealth, strong healthy teeth, a spot at the beach, and romance that's really swell? When did we figure out that we deserved a Promised Land? If anyone had the right to a Promise, it was the Israelites who fled Egypt, after all. And what did they get?

I seriously have to wonder if the Promised Land is nothing more or less than ...

Hope.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

I Peter 3:15

I think the point of the Promise, the Promised Land, the Deliverance, the whole nine yards is HOPE.

In the end, it doesn't matter whether we die in the desert or whether we live to face the giants on the far side of the Jordan, what matters is whether or not we have hope. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, the Psalmist said. Hope is what we have to offer others, not land, not strong healthy teeth or romance. Hope.

For me, my hope was awakened one summer afternoon as I walked on the treadmill and prayed through step two:

We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

I didn't even have a concept as to what sanity was when I first read this principle. It's a beautiful promise, though. It means an end to bondage, hopelessness, and despair. It means an end to endless cycles. It promises peace and the sense that all that we have gone through actually serves some sort of purpose and can be used to benefit others.

Sanity, to me, represents something I have never known in my life but that I desperately want to know. It tells me that life is worth living, that God is who He says He is, and that, whatever happens, I can trust Him, I can choose Him and I can serve Him even in the context of my limited understanding.

Oh, I believed that God could restore me to sanity, but would He?

The interesting twist on this question is that if I had decided to answer, "I don't know," then I would have remained in the spiral of insanity. If I don't know, if I can't know, then there is no possibility of hope and moving forward. There is no end to the cycle of doubt and questioning. The only hope for sanity is in believing that God can and will fulfill His promises. That is where hope lives - there, in faith.

Faith creates hope, and hope births sanity, and these things are real regardless as to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. They are the evidence of things not seen.

So, I suppose our passage in Exodus today, and the story of the Israelites in general, tells me that I can't entirely define the Promised Land by physical boundaries or specific signs or landmarks. Even Moses did not get to go in to the land to which he was called to lead his people. Did that make God a liar? Was God made out a liar to every person who died in the wilderness over the course of 40 years?

Interestingly, what Moses had was faith, and the promise he DID get was hope - intimacy with God in the tent of meeting, provision for his day, purpose and direction for his life, and the promise that everything he went through meant something - it was used for the furthering of God's kingdom and for the benefit of all generations to come.

Whatever form God's promise takes in our lives, whether it be literal land as it was for Israel, or a child as it was for Abraham and Sarah, if we hold on too firmly we may find ourselves wondering if God is a liar. It is no wonder, if step two is the embracing of hope in promise, that step three then is the surrender of that promise in hope:

We turned our lives and our wills over to the care of God as we understood Him.

My hope, particularly in those moments when God seems to be a liar, is sanity. What is yours?