This past week, I spent a marvelous time exploring parts of Oregon and even more of Washington.
Now, as I sit typing in a cozy studio bungalow by myself, I can hear the ocean from Ediz Hook just a few feet away. I can hear a friendly bay horse whinnying for attention not far behind me, and a variety of birds (even an owl!) fussing to their neighbors. I now love the smell of real pine trees (a novelty in Dayton, Ohio), and the Olympic mountains make a fantastic backdrop to this serene setting. I feel at peace. I feel at home.
Yet, my family and most of my friends are back in Dayton, Ohio. My home in Ohio is far from the majestic mountains and relatively peaceful sea of Puget Sound, but it is hardly without charms of its own. The friendly smell of backyard firepits and evening grills, the sound of my children laughing and jumping through a sprinkler, my lovely garden and collection of books, and family and friends who are welcome to stop by any old time (and do!) I have missed while here.
In both Oregon and Washington I have met new friends, visited with family, and enjoyed aspects of nature I’ve not been able to enjoy in a very long time. I feel stronger than I have in years, and I’ve done much, much more than I have in years. I feel more peaceful and adventurous than I have in years. I feel invigorated, renewed. I have changed in subtle but important ways this week, and am excited about those changes.
The sea and the pines call me to stay, but my children and family are calling me back. Which way is home?
5 years ago I started down the long path of chronic illness. Interestingly, I have struggled (and continue to do so) through a series of varying issues, beginning with a little umbilical hernia. Right after that was fixed, I became pregnant with my last child which reopened the hernia and caused significant pain throughout my pregnancy. I had other pregnancy issues during that time too, and began to struggle with deep depression and suicidal thoughts. After the baby was born and my hernias (I developed 2 more!) fixed, I had a year to recover from my c-section and repairs.
Then my uterus went wonky. It had had enough apparently, and after suffering through months of random bouts of extreme pain, it was decided a hysterectomy was in order. After recovering from that, I had major teeth problems, and after getting that finally squared away, my side began to hurt (again). A little at first, then more and more and more. Adhesions (scar tissue) from the hysterectomy is the suspected cause and the only thing to do is chance an ovary removal and hope new adhesions don’t wrap around anything after that-like my bowel. And then last month my back and neck froze up, doctors were again consulted, x-rays were taken, and it was revealed that my two lowest vertebrae had slipped, degenerated, and were covered with arthritis.
Rewind back 8 years or so and I was living the life I mostly wanted. I was in control, I was educated, I had 2 kids, I took great care of them, my house, my husband, our cats, and my friends. I was highly involved in church, volunteered at a crises pregnancy center, homeschooled my kids in reading and numbers, went on regular dates with my husband, and worked a part-time job at a bookstore. I took short and long car trips with nary a care. Life was great!
Now fast-forward again to today. Every other week or so I battle deep depression stemming from the near-constant pain I have to deal with day in and day out. I often ask my poor stumped husband, “Why?” Why me, why this, why now, why won’t it stop, when will it end, will it ever end? When you are in pain, it can quickly become all-consuming. I can fight it, depending on the day, anywhere for 30min up to late afternoon without medication, but if the pain doesn’t stop or ease up (and it rarely does), it is very easy to despair. Fighting pain with or without medication takes a lot of energy. It is extremely frustrating being that out of control of your body.
What is the point of all this pain and suffering? As a Christian, I believe that God can take bad things and turn them for good. How? When? And again, why? “What am I supposed to be learning”, is a frequent, exasperated question of mine. “Just tell me, God!”
Last week was one of those weeks, but Wednesday I was able to go to my gym which has a pool. On my way there, I was grateful to be driving myself, and grateful that I hadn’t had to take any medicine so far that day. I thought about the line from the film The Princess Bride, “Life is pain, Highness! Anyone who says differently is selling something.” While swimming I reflected.
5 years ago, when all this happened I tried to stay strong thinking I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and it would all be over soon, as it often had before. 4 years ago, I was ready to give up, feeling instinctively that the light was a fraud and the tunnel collapsed. 3 years ago, I came to the conclusion that I had overworked my body and it was simply time for my husband to take up the slack for all those years of work I tried not to impose on him. 2 years ago I “knew” all this couldn’t last much longer, this was just a season we had to get through.
I have never believed that a person’s worth is/should be measured by their looks, wealth, or bodily/mental perfection. But last year, I finally let go of my belief that a person’s worth is measured by their rate of production. This year, I finally let go of my belief that a person’s worth is measured by the amount of influence or audience size they have. Last month I was terrified and despaired that I would be doomed to an ever-increasing life of pain until my untimely, early end. Today I am hopeful but not overly so, that my issues will someday soon come to an end and I will regain my body, pain-free. Regardless, this is what I’ve learned this month:
“Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life…” Ecclesiastes 9:7-9
As the pool water ran down my ponytail and the warm evening sunlight made the autumn leaves glow brightly on my drive home; as I stopped at my parents’ home, 8 houses down from mine and chatted pleasantly about nothing of “value”; as I pulled into my garage and saw my daughter pop her head over the fence in the backyard, yell out “Hi mommy!!” with a wave and a big grin; I realized that life was still good, just different. I am trying hard to simply enjoy the little things, doing what I can as I can, savoring each good moment and not worrying overmuch about the future. I don’t know what the next moment or tomorrow will bring, but I will choose to focus on the little things that bring happiness, like my new puppy who is sleeping peacefully in my lap as I type.
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“My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations…“‘Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. 12 When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, “Where is the whitewash you covered it with?” ~Ezekiel 13:9-12
Appearances are everything in American culture in general, and the Christian church in America (and perhaps world-wide) is no exception. It is high-time we admit what everyone else has seen for a long while: We have an image problem. That is, most churches are very careful about how they appear to the world of believers and unbelievers alike. Now this article could delve into the way some churches try to market themselves and essentially sell Jesus (or at least their version of Him which you can learn all about from some Christian author’s latest book on the subject), but I’m going to take another route.
“Man looks at the outward appearance…” 1 Sam. 16:7
What does the Bible say “peace” looks like? Isaiah 32:1-5 describes “The Kingdom of Righteousness” saying, “See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice…Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed, and the ears of those who hear will listen. The fearful heart will know and understand, and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear. No longer will the fool be called noble nor the scoundrel be highly respected.”
In other words when the righteous (note, not self-righteous) lead with justice and truth, then wisdom, peace, and understanding will also reign. (…Maybe not like that)
The Bible speaks much on freedom and how people were originally created equal. But over time elitism, and therefore oppression, entered the Church as it had for every culture before and after. Abuse, even abuse in the Church, is sadly a huge topic, but for the purposes of this article, I want to address the enablers of spiritual abuse, who, make no mistake, are every bit as abusive as their more overt counterparts.
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” James 3:17-18
Recently, I had a fascinating discussion with several people on a Christian news site that I help moderate. Fascinating not because of the content, but because of the responses from some of the Christians on there. The person I was initially debating with has a reputation of being…well, not very kind, although they have a display name that proudly indicates their Christianity. Normally I try not “to cast my pearls before swine” (Matt. 7:6), but I had had enough of this person’s unkindness towards others and told them so. They came back with something snarky and demeaning, and before I knew it, I had delved into a very interesting psychological experiment.
Emotional manipulation in the church for the sake of “peace”
“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” Luke 17:3
Denial, anger, name-calling/demeaning, bargaining, suppressing and shunning; these are the tools of abusers, and it was fascinating to see how quickly this person riffled through each one. I was kind but firm, I (surprisingly) did not lose my cool, and let the person know that I was not afraid of them. They would not succeed in shaming me, in wearing me down, in being allowed to abuse me and others on the site verbally. They would not make me lose control and cry or get angry, they would not succeed in shutting me up. I have dealt with emotionally abusive people like him in real life, and if there are two things I can be thankful for, they are that my backbone is a bit straighter and stronger than it used to be, and my discernment is a bit sharper. To my amazement, this generally very mouthy person actually backed off. And then his buddies came.
“Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” Proverbs 25:26
Accusations went flying: I was not showing kindness, I was not showing humility, I was not being Christ-like, I needed to back down, I was setting a bad example, we were both in the wrong (for arguing, I suppose), we both needed to apologize, and my personal favorite…seeing two Christians arguing made the atheists laugh with derision. Even people who were usually my supporters came out and told me we were both in the wrong for arguing. They all knew the person with whom I was debating, to be intentionally and highly hurtful and rude to anyone who disagreed with him on anything. His sympathizers didn’t necessarily like him or his doings, but none were willing to call him out and all were afraid of me doing so.
“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:17
I continued to stand my ground, and reiterate that while I understood the concerns of other Christian commenters, there was no room for compromise, and there was no need for an apology on my part; I had only pointed out what was wrong and what everyone already knew. It finally ended with a sizzle rather than a bang, and I was left to ponder the situation. This was, as I have said, not the first time I have dealt with very emotionally abusive “Christian” people before, and the tricks were all the same. The people from my past situations and the people in this online case all were motivated by one thing: The preservation of image.
“The foolish man built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” ~Matt. 7:26-27
I’ve written before about churches trying desperately to “look pretty”, churches using melodramatic publicity stunts, and churches using business marketing tactics to draw people in. The preservation of image is another well-known marketing strategy, but one that can be used by individuals, families, small groups, and large groups to help convince outsiders that the practitioner of image preservation is “the best”. Enablers come into play by helping to protect (even viciously) the image of their group, be it large or small. Why are they so hung up on image when Jesus blasted the Pharisees for doing the same in Matthew 23? My guess is because they know that their facade covers up an empty shell, and they just don’t want to deal with cleaning and fixing it up.
But here’s the thing: Who do they think they are really kidding? They deceive only themselves because everyone else sees it or will come to see it for the falseness it is. The Bible tells people to strive to actually live righteously, not pretend to with airs of false piety.
“Why does Jerusalem always turn away? They cling to deceit; they refuse to return. I have listened attentively but they do not say what is right. None of them repent of their wickedness, saying, “What have I done?”…From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.* Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when they are punished, says the Lord.”~Jeremiah 8:5-12
*My emphasis added
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