I was sitting in a counseling session my senior year of college. It was way overdue—for years I had suffered quietly through anxiety and depression because I thought they were normal.
I had a lot of relationships that were dysfunctional with people of both sexes. The counselor was helping me sort them out and understand why I was still attached to these people.
I was afraid.
I knew that friendships and romantic relationships could be hard, and I had always been taught that Christians stick things out…tough friendships, tough marriages, tough situations.
But I didn’t realize that the reason I was sticking with these tough relationships wasn’t because I was trying to love these people like Jesus did, although I thought that’s what I was doing. The more I dug into my motivations, the more I discovered just how much fear governed my decisions.
I was afraid to walk away from a relationship because I might not ever date again.
I was afraid to leave a friend behind because I feared the loneliness that might come and the accusation that I didn’t try hard enough.
I was afraid to leave my house because I didn’t want to encounter someone I might have to share the gospel with.
In the valley of the shadow
The fear and the resulting anxiety overtook me and reduced me to a college student who once loved to be with people but who now just hid in her room and stayed with relationships that she considered safe, even though they were draining more life from her.
Sometime that first semester of senior year, my mom sent me a note, with this verse written in her beautiful handwriting:
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13 NASB
I would lie in my lofted bed in my crummy college apartment, when the anxiety and the fear overwhelmed me, staring at that verse and repeating in the smallest whisper, “You are the God of hope. You are the God of hope.”
Though counseling from professionals and friends more mature than I helped a great deal, what I really needed was time—time to see that not every little decision I made had a huge life-altering effect. Fear slowly faded, replaced by a sense of knowing that I was loved no matter what I did or didn’t do. There was a tremendous freedom.
By the middle of my second semester, I could honestly say that I knew that God was good and that He loved me—a far cry from where I had been only months before.
I will fear no evil
Fast-forward to my first year in grad school. I was engaged in a thriving church, the same one that had given me so many resources and so much wisdom–through staff and through friends who went there–in my journey through depression and anxiety. I had led a small group. I was growing. My heart was alive. I knew deeply that God was good and that He loved me.
But I sat in the service on Sunday morning, unable to connect with God. It wasn’t the first time.
The music, although beautiful and well produced, didn’t touch me. The message didn’t teach me new things.
“What is wrong with me?” I asked myself as I sat in the large auditorium.
Then I heard the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit say, “Nothing is wrong with you, Amanda. It’s time to move on.”
I shook my head a little to shake away that crazy thought. Why would I want to move on from this place where I had received so much healing? I loved this church. I loved this people.
But again I heard the Lord say to me, “It’s time to move on.”
I argued with myself for a while. And then I realized that I was unwilling to follow the voice of the Lord because I was afraid.
I was afraid that if I left this place where I had found so much healing, that I would regress.
I was afraid that if I left this specific church, I would be missing out on the big plans that God had for me in world missions.
I was afraid that if I left this anchoring place, I would walk away from God.
Once I identified the fear that undergirded all my objections—that I would walk away from God if I left this particular church—I heard the Lord speak to me again, through Psalm 23.
I will fear no evil, for You are with me.
The idea of switching churches may seem like a silly one to strike fear into the heart of an adult Christian, but the fear was all too real to me. I had learned a lot on my journey through depression and anxiety, especially about my absolute need for the presence and companionship of God. And here He was, telling me through His word that I didn’t need to fear any evil, even the evil of falling away from faith in God, because He was with me.
I will fear NO evil, because He is with me.
I cling to this verse these days. Being a stay-at-home mom is a daunting thing for me. I’m an extroverted external processor who thrives in the presence of other people (older than 3). My husband and I are keenly aware that I have to be completely honest with how I am feeling and what my needs are, because I sometimes revert to the practice of stuffing my fears and anxieties into the “be more like Jesus” box. It is a daily challenge to be open and honest.
The thing about fear is that it silences me. I fear failing. I fear vulnerability. I fear screwing up or even being perceived as a failure.
I will fear no evil.
I will not fear the risk of failing.
I will not fear the unpleasant consequences of vulnerability.
I will not fear screwing up.
I will not fear going crazy because I stay at home with my kids.
Because He is with me.
If peace is something you’re seeking in the midst of fear and anxiety, you can also read a previous post of mine, Speaking Peace. I’d also love to hear your story if you’re willing to share. You can email me at paintedwithoutmakeup AT gmail DOT com.
I have found myself in the desert more times that I care to remember.
It is an uncomfortable place where everything about my life seems hard, and I always beg for God to take me out of it, to take me back to the civilized world where there is water on tap and food in nice prepackaged containers.
I have to fight too much when I find myself in the desert.
Over the years of desert experiences, I have learned one really important thing:
The desert is where God leads us because He loves us.
This is not an easy thing to embrace. As a parent, I love to do things that delight my children immediately. I love to see the smiles on their faces as I say, “Let’s have ice cream for dinner!” or, “How about we watch an extra episode of the Octonauts today?”
It’s definitely not as fun to say things like, “Let’s go to bed on time because when you’re rested, you enjoy your whole life more!” or, “I know you’re hungry but dinner is in an hour and you need to learn to wait.”
So as much as I’ve fought this lesson, I really believe it.
The desert is where God leads me because He loves me.
Now, there are a few different reasons we might find ourselves in the desert.
Sometimes He leads us out of slavery into the desert.
The Israelites are the prime example of this. They are set free from the bonds of Pharaoh, but on the other side of the Red Sea is the desert. It’s the nearest freedom for them, even though it seems insurmountable and hard. But God promises to be with them, so it is conquerable.
The Apostle Paul is another example. After he is set free from the slavery of pride and self-conceit that had him murdering Christians and persecuting Jesus, God leads him into the wilderness for 3 years.
Sometimes He leads us out of bondage and the best place for us to go is straight to the desert.
He leads us into the desert because He is pleased with us.
This is a little harder to wrap my mind around, because I was raised with such a punishment mentality about God. “Why would God be pleased with me?” I have asked (and still do). But I am convinced now that He indeed is pleased with me and has good plans for me because He loves me and I love Him, even when I screw up over and over again. (Psalm 91:14-16 is one place where I start when I am feeling crappy about myself.)
“Surely the desert is a punishment,” my heart has told me. “Weren’t the Israelites wandering in the desert because they disappointed God? He rescues them, they rebel, and He punishes them to wander for 40 years.”
But when I look more closely at the story of God rescuing His people from Egyptian slavery, that’s not the timeline. It’s more like this: God hears them crying out and is moved to deliver them. They get the heck out of Egypt and pass through the harrowing baptism of the Red Sea. They find themselves in the desert and they do grumble and complain, and they even make a golden calf to worship at the very same time God is giving His beautiful law to Moses for their sake. But they are still headed toward the land He has promised them because He loves them. They make it all the way through the desert, to the edge of the Promised Land, and the spies bring back their report, and it scares the crap out of them. What keeps them wandering in the desert for 40 years is rebellion against God that is driven by fear and hard-heartedness. But the desert was always a part of God’s plan to bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey.
Think about Jesus in Luke 3.
21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (NIV).
Right after that—right after the Father declares how much He loves and how pleased He is with Jesus—the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness (Luke 4:1).
The desert is where God leads us because He loves us.
In our baptism, we die with Christ and are raised to walk with Him. I can guarantee you that at some point, walking with Jesus means walking through the desert.
But we can take heart for these 3 reasons: In our time walking through the desert, God has a purpose, an appointed time, and a promised land waiting for us.
We read the Scripture to learn the character of God, and we see that He is slow to anger and abounding with lovingkindness. We read as God speaks of His people in Hosea chapter 2,
“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.”
Hear this: He leads us into the desert to speak tenderly to us.
“Tenderly” is the word the NIV translators use. “Comfortably” is the word the translators of the King James use. The Hebrew word is transliterated “leb” and you can check out the different meanings of it here at blueletterbible.org.
He leads us into the desert to speak tenderly to us because He loves us. In the desert, we learn to hear His voice more clearly. Distraction is forced to fall away because we are desperate to be met by Him or we will perish. His very words are our food and drink, and our hearts slowly become tuned to hear His still small voice.
An Appointed Time
The path from the Red Sea to the Promised Land was indeed through the desert, but it had a definite beginning and ending. It was not indefinite, even after the Israelites rebelled and were disciplined with 40 years of wandering. Jesus was lead into the wilderness for 40 days. For Paul it was 3 years in the desert.
The Lord sets boundaries on our time in the desert, so even when we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel (or the civilization at the edge of the wasteland), we can trust that He has not abandoned us to wander in this desert forever.
Consider it a pilgrimage, and there are many miles to cross before you reach the goal. But you are ever travelling, one foot in front of the other.
A Promised Land Waiting
When we find ourselves in the desert, we can trust that God has promises waiting for us on the other side. He promised the Israelites a land flowing with milk and honey. He promised Jesus a Bride worthy of Him, who would love, honor, and lay down her life for Him.
But there are still battles to be fought, and that is why it is so valuable to learn to hear the voice of the Lord in our desert time.
The Israelites approached the Promised Land after their short desert time, and the reports they heard of the land were twofold: It is indeed beautiful and flowing with milk and honey, but there are many people who will set themselves against us.
The people of Israel rejected the good report and exhortation of Joshua and Caleb (Yes, the land is full of enemies, but with the Lord’s help, we will prevail!) and they listened to the reports of the 10 other spies. They believed the lie that the desert was all for nothing. They failed to learn to hear the voice of God and to trust Him. So they missed out on His promises and their children inherited the land.
Jesus spent 40 days in the desert being tempted and leaning on the word of His Father. I believe that those 40 days filled Him with the vision and direction for all 3 years of His public ministry, as well as the promise that He would encounter and overcome the Cross. There were still battles left to fight—indeed, the greatest battle of all time, at the Cross—but because Jesus knew the voice of His Father, He was ready.
God leads us into the desert because He loves us, because He is pleased with us, and because He wants to speak tenderly to us.
The desert isn’t a punishment; it’s a time of refining our hearing and learning to lean on our Beloved.
The desert prepares us for our God-given life’s mission, starting with the most important tool of all—teaching us to hear the voice of God, and to follow Him.
Maybe you find yourself in the middle of the desert and it feels unbearable. Friend, if you can still your heart for a few minutes, listen to the voice of Jesus speaking to you. He says that He knows what you have done and what you have left undone, but He loves you nonetheless. He says that He loves you, that He is proud of you, and that He loves spending time with you. He says that He has not forgotten you.
This promise from Psalm 84 is for you, personalized:
Blessed is the one whose strength is in You,
Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
As she passes through the Valley of Baca,
She makes it a spring;
The rain also covers it with pools.
She goes from strength to strength;
She will appear before God in Zion.
As you walk through the desert, you may meet another on her way. When you have learned to hear and respond to the voice of the Lord, you become a spring of life for this other pilgrim. The Lord will rain down on you, refreshing both of you. You will grow in strength and you will reach the Promised Land, to stand before God in Zion.
And the daughters of Jerusalem, when they see you approaching the edge of the desert will say,
“Who is this coming up from the wilderness
leaning on her beloved?”
Song of Solomon 8:5
The alarm went off and I lay in bed, willing myself to get up.
The familiar feeling of anxiety began to creep up my spine. “Already 6:30?” it whispered. “Your day is wasted because you didn’t get up at 6.”
In my mind’s eye—or maybe I drifted back to sleep and it was a dream—I saw Anne Shirley’s Lake of the Shining Waters, I heard a chorus of fervent hearts singing a new song, and the hope that I could just be weak today filled me. But it didn’t last long.
The kids were a mess this morning. Snot streaming, tears flowing, contrary to the bone. And because I could not easily control them, I started to despair. “The whole day is shot,” I found myself thinking. “It’s only the second day of this stay-at-home-mom thing and I have screwed it up.” I snapped at my daughter and she in turn cried (she has such a tender heart). I eagerly awaited the time when I could be alone so I could text my husband and tell him what a horrible day it was.
Because I “slept in,” time reading the Bible shifted to the mid-morning hour where my children entertain themselves for an hour in their respective rooms. (Worry not, those of you without children—the rooms are childproofed and the kids are well trained to enjoy this hour, too.)
You know how sometimes you randomly come across a verse or a testimony that meets you right where you are, with exactly what you needed to hear, at the exact right moment?
That was today for me. Long before I became Catholic, I was fascinated by the idea that the Church worldwide could be on the same Scripture schedule. I opened the Laudate app that gives me the daily readings from the Lectionary, the schedule of reading the Bible that the Catholic Church worldwide uses. And today, the readings were just about hand-selected for me.
It is a beautiful thing to find one’s self in the story of God.
Today’s Old Testament reading is Judges 6:11-24a. It’s the story of Gideon—are you familiar with it?
Gideon is hiding in the wine press (a big hole in the ground) to thresh his family’s wheat, probably because he is scared. And all of the sudden, the angel of the LORD appears to him out of nowhere and says, “The LORD is with you, O champion!”
I imagine that Gideon might have done a double take, and then turned his head to both sides to see if there was someone else the angel might be addressing down there in the wine press.
Gideon’s answer sounds like me today. I can almost hear him saying what I’m saying, “Oh yeah? If God is with me, why is all this crap happening? I am anxious and the enemy is oppressing me and this day is terrible.”
But the angel of the LORD (who many think is the LORD himself) says, “There is a war to be fought. I’m sending you.”
Gideon replies, “But I’m weak.”
The LORD doesn’t let up. “But I will be with you.”
So Gideon, in true Gideon fashion, asks for a sign. And the meat and unleavened cakes he brings to set before the LORD are consumed by a fire that springs up from the rock where he laid them.
The angel of the LORD disappears and Gideon thinks, “Oh crap. I have just been visited by God and now I have insulted him. I’m gonna die.”
But the LORD speaks to Gideon and answers his fear: “Be calm, do not fear. You shall not die.”
And the passage tells us that “Gideon built there an altar to the LORD and called it Yahweh-Shalom,” which means “The LORD is peace.”
In the midst of all this anxiety and being 29 weeks pregnant, I desperately need the LORD to be my peace.
As I read the part about the fire, I offered up my own little weak heart to the Lord and asked Him to send His fire to warm my soul. I heard Him say, like He did to Gideon, “Be calm, do not fear. You shall not die.”
What words of peace these are to me. Of course, logically I know that one bad day does not equal dying. But it can feel like it when I’m in the middle of it, right?
Well, if one direct passage of Scripture isn’t enough encouragement, I went on to read the responsorial psalm of the day, taken from Psalm 85. I could hardly believe the kindness of God when I read verse 8…it is the very verse that I have clung to, in the darkest pits of depression caused by anxiety, when I couldn’t even get out of bed for the fear that pressed in on me.
I will hear what God the LORD will speak,
For He will speak peace
To His people and to His saints…
When all the voices in my head are accusing me, asking me to live under shame—the voice of God is speaking peace. I have learned in the past to tune my ear to hear it, but I’ve gotten out of practice.
He is speaking peace to me today.
He says to me, in this pit I am in, “The LORD is with you, O champion! There is a war to fight. I am with you.”
“I’m weak,” I respond.
And He says, “That’s okay. My strength is made perfect in your weakness. It was never about you being strong.”
So I will listen to what He will say, because it is for my good. Psalm 85 continues in its life-giving flow:
Yes, the LORD will give what is good;
And our land will yield its increase.
So I go out today in weakness and confidence, trusting to be led by the One who speaks peace to me.
What is He saying to you?
Today, I share the story of my friend Elisabeth, on her struggle with a failing reproductive system, singleness, and not feeling like she has found a place to fit. She sent it to me after reading To All the Fat Girls, because she knows that there is power in sharing our stories. Last week’s post on vulnerability seems particularly applicable, too. So, listen to her experience and hear what she is learning; maybe it’s just what you need to hear today.
Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD.
My ovaries are failing.
I have an autoimmune condition that’s mild enough not to be anything officially. My God-sent rheumatologist labeled it Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disorder, but that’s an awful mouthful that most people don’t understand. So if I need to specify beyond “joint problems,” I say it’s pre-lupus, since lupus is the closest match for the symptoms I do have. Lord willing, it’ll never become full-blown lupus; the version I have is bad enough. The trouble is, such conditions have a tendency to attack the organs as well as the joints… and premature ovarian failure is more common in women with autoimmune diseases.
The earliest perimenopausal symptoms, I now know, began at least ten years ago, and more cropped up during “The Semester from Angband” when massive stress stirred up the latent lupus tendencies—and my doctors couldn’t see beyond my anxiety and depression, which are co-morbid with both lupus and menopause. It took another two years for blood markers to get far enough out of whack that my most excellent rheumatologist was able to give me a diagnosis and actually start treating the root of the problem. That knocked the lupus symptoms down far enough that even though finances have prevented my ability to keep up with regular treatment, I can manage well enough without it. But even then, ovarian failure was still lurking, just off our radar, until about six years ago when I began to discover that menopause really is a form of organ failure.
Some sources say there are thirty-four symptoms of menopause, others thirty-five. I have over twenty of them, many of which are the same ones my mother had when she went through menopause at a more normal age. But because I’m one of those rare people who doesn’t have the most common symptom of all, and because my blood markers are still “normal,” there’s nothing my doctor can do.
None of this would be quite so discouraging if I weren’t still single. I’ve certainly made peace with never being able to have children of my own, since it’s not a subject on which I’ve had strong feelings and my health is such that I don’t currently feel capable of keeping up with a child. I have lots of married friends with growing families and am quite happy to silence scolds by saying that my friends are taking up my slack. On the other hand, I trust that the God Whose miracles have kept me on this earth despite the odds can give me a child and the health to be a mother if He chooses. He equips the called, after all, and there’s plenty of Biblical precedent.
Yet here I am, 34 years old, never been kissed, never even been on a genuine date. I would gladly marry, but the single guys of my acquaintance have all known me somewhere between ten and twenty years and never said boo to me. Wherever my future husband is—and I do feel certain that I have one—he hasn’t crossed my path yet.
So here I am, in the desert on a horse with no name, juggling four part-time jobs (translator, editor, author, English professor), none of which pay very well, to try to keep the lights on while my body tears itself apart, getting by on the grace and provision of God and the love and support of my family and friends. I don’t have the wherewithal to go aggressively promote myself or my writing, and when I’ve tried, doors tend to close.
No, but… Not now, but… I’d like to, but…
So my blog doesn’t get many hits. My books don’t sell many copies. My Goodreads page is sadly short of fans.
And the church doesn’t know what to do with me.
That’s not to say I feel unwelcome at church. Even though I can’t always attend regularly, I know my church family loves me. But I’m a single young professional with a Ph.D., no prospects for marriage, and swiftly diminishing chance of becoming a mother. I write Westerns and fantasies (and what’s a good Christian girl doing writing about Nazi necromancers, anyway?). I’m too broke to contribute much monetarily, and having ties to law enforcement limits the options for outreach ministries with which I could assist. Allergies worsened by menopause have stolen my singing voice; everything else has stolen my ability to commit to anything as regular as teaching Sunday school. I’m too young (under 50); I’m too old (out of college); I’m introverted; I’m overeducated and underemployed; I’m sick and in pain… I don’t fit.
And yet… there’s a library in East Texas, in a town where nobody knew me until this spring, where the patrons have worn out my books because they’re constantly in circulation. And there are a handful of students in Florida and Alabama who are thinking more deeply about the things of God for having taken my class. And that’s just what I know about.
More are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife.
I’m not giving up hope of getting married, mind you, or of getting my writing career where I want it to go. But I have to hang on to that promise on the days when, unwillingly like Éowyn, I have to admit the truth to my King:
What do you fear, my lady?
A cage. To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.
Thanks be to God that, like Aragorn, He has the answer:
You are a daughter of kings. I do not think that will be your fate.
In addition to writing beautifully about her experience, Elisabeth is the author of historical fiction (among many other talents). You can check out her latest work at her website, www.https://egwolfephd.wordpress.com, or visit her Facebook author page. Her new book, Loyal Valley: Captives, is the third installment in her fiction series about conspiracy and love in post-Civil War Texas, and comes out next week! You can grab copies of her first two books for only 99 cents with an offer from her website.
If you want to share your story with others, please start with me! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be honored to read it.
What am I ashamed of?
It’s an uncomfortable question, and it’s Brené Brown’s fault that I am asking myself.
If you’ve never heard of Brené Brown, her 2010 Tedx talk on vulnerability went viral (over 20 million views to date), and she has fascinating research on vulnerability, authenticity, courage, and shame.
A lazy Saturday at my parents’ house led me to peruse the TED channel on Apple TV while my kids were napping. I stumbled across another of Brown’s talks, Listening to Shame (2012). In it, she starts to unpack the power that shame has over women and men, and especially how vulnerability can overcome it. Since it reminded me of things I have said myself on this blog (To All the Fat Girls), and since today is the feast of St. Lawrence, AND since yesterday’s lectionary reading featured Psalm 34, I had to write about it.
The Power of Shame
I greeted yesterday morning with delight at starting a new journal, and I definitely didn’t plan on the soul-searching that followed.
But then Psalm 34 was the psalm for the daily reading…
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
…And I wrote in my journal, “What is this shame that has power over me? What is this shame that I carry?”
Three answers came to mind:
The shame of unbelief that says, “You should have believed your friends.”
The shame of ignorance that says, “You should have known better.”
The shame of failure that says, “You should have tried harder.”
Making peace with the girl in the photos
For as long as I can remember, I have carried the shame of being overweight. That applied then, in the picture above, where I was about 180 lbs and happier than I had ever been. I remember seeing that picture of me shortly after it was taken and thinking, “Ugh.”
That same shame still applies now, when I am 28 weeks pregnant and nearly 100 lbs heavier. I look at pictures like the one on the top and think—“WHAT WAS I THINKING?” How did I not see how beautiful I was and how healthy?
Enter the shame of unbelief.
When I would express to my friends and loved ones how unattractive and unappealing I felt, they would immediately contradict me with words like, “You look great! You are doing good!”
I refused to believe them because the voice of condemnation in my head was louder and more believable. For a while, I wondered, “Why didn’t anyone tell me that I could love myself then?” But I know now, after learning a lot about shame and condemnation, that even if someone had said those exact words to me, I would not have believed them. And so, I carry the weight of the shame of my unbelief. The shame of unbelief keeps saying to me, “You should have listened to the voices of those who loved you—so stupid not to! If only you had, life would be better now.”
And then I think about how little I understood what I was putting in my mouth, taking on a caloric debt that I will be repaying for a long time. I’m an emotional eater—I eat when I am happy, when I am sad, when I am frustrated, when I am excited, when I am depressed, and when I am anxious. I didn’t know how much was going in because I wasn’t paying attention.
Enter the shame of ignorance.
Ignorance is not bliss, like some have said. I carry the weight of the shame of not knowing how, in my life situation, to make better food choices. The shame of ignorance tells me all the time, “You should have known better…you’re a doctor’s daughter. You’re smart. You’re good at math. Calories in, calories out—duh!”
And then I look in the mirror and think about the times I have tried to make healthy choices and how, due to so many circumstances, I have not been able to succeed.
Enter the shame of failure.
My inability to believe, my ignorance of the consequences of my choices—they are part of my failure. I have failed to care for this body adequately, and I carry great shame for that.
Some causes of shame are invisible, but mine is very visible. I carry it around with me, because my very body is what causes me shame.
Typing this is almost too much. The weight of this shame has been nearly debilitating. But I know I’m not alone.
Brené Brown says,
“Shame is an epidemic in our culture. And to get out from underneath it — to find our way back to each other, we have to understand how it affects us and how it affects the way we’re parenting, the way we’re working, the way we’re looking at each other. Very quickly, some research by Mahalik at Boston College. He asked, what do women need to do to conform to female norms? The top answers in this country: nice, thin, modest and use all available resources for appearance. When he asked about men, what do men in this country need to do to conform with male norms, the answers were: always show emotional control, work is first, pursue status and violence” (at 18:03 in Listening to Shame).
I’m not alone, right? Does anyone else carry shame for not meeting cultural norms for men and women? Visible or invisible, this shame can be incapacitating to us in relationships, in work, in every aspect of our life. I have missed out on too much life because of this shame. And I refuse to do it anymore.
Brené Brown says that there is power over shame, and it comes in the form of vulnerability.
“If we’re going to find our way back to each other, we have to understand and know empathy, because empathy’s the antidote to shame. If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too” (18:54).
Friends, we have to share our stories. We have to connect with others who are hurting. And the best place to start is with where we have been hurt or are currently hurting.
Remember the story of St. Lawrence (225-258 AD), whose feast the Catholic Church celebrates today. Under the emperor Valerian, Roman authorities demanded that Lawrence, a deacon in the church at Rome, gather all the treasures of the church to hand over to the state. So, obediently, Lawrence went and rounded up all the treasures of the church—the lame, the beggars, the blind, the suffering. The weak ones, he knew, were the true treasure of the Church.
Your wounds, your weaknesses—they are your treasure.
Will you open up your treasure chest and share the riches you have? Sharing my struggle with the shame of being overweight in a world that demands physical perfection is where I am starting today.
Hear this: You are not alone. Shame can be a prison, but you have the keys to freedom, and they rest in your story—that you are loved beyond your wildest imagination by the One who created you, that your wounds are precious, and that there is healing for you, no matter where you are right now.
I’ll leave you with Brené Brown’s words that conclude her talk about listening to shame:
“If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path. And I know it’s seductive to stand outside the arena, because I think I did it my whole life, and think to myself, I’m going to go in there and kick some ass when I’m bulletproof and when I’m perfect. And that is seductive. But the truth is, that never happens. And even if you got as perfect as you could and as bulletproof as you could possibly muster when you got in there, that’s not what we want to see. We want you to go in. We want to be with you and across from you. And we just want, for ourselves and the people we care about and the people we work with, to dare greatly” (19:18).
L’chaim, friends. To life!
“Antigone” by Frederic Leighton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
What to do once confronted with the evils of the abortion industry
Have you ever read the Greek tragedy Antigone? Written by Sophocles around 441 BCE, it is the story of Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus, who defies her king-uncle Creon, who has forbidden anyone in Thebes to bury her brother Polyneices.
Polyneices is fighting to overthrow Creon and in the process kills—and is killed by—his brother Eteocles, who was defending Thebes. Eteocles, considered a hero by his uncle Creon, is given an honorable burial. As an enemy of Thebes, Polyneices’ body is let exposed outside the city gates, without proper burial rites and left to be consumed by wild dogs—the ultimate shame in ancient Greek culture and an utter disgrace to his sister Antigone. She loves both of her brothers and cannot fathom that one should be so shamed.
There are so many parallels in the story of Antigone and the current state of laws governing the treatment of unborn humans in the United States.
There is a war, and the stakes are the lives of two brothers. Eteocles is the hero, the brother who is wanted and celebrated. Polyneices is the other one—the unwanted offspring who is left and abandoned to shame.
But Antigone knows the truth—both are her brothers and both deserve honor. In defiance of Creon’s strict orders, she ventures outside the gates and gives her rebel brother the burial rites he has been denied by the state.
She buries Polyneices under the threat of death. Anyone can see this is a complicated issue: Antigone is engaged to her cousin Haemon, son of Creon, whom she truly loves. But she lays down the promise of a joyful marriage, and indeed, even her life itself, to fulfill her duty toward her fallen brother.
Antigone ventures, not once, but twice to Polyneices’ body to mourn. The first time, she escapes undetected after she has sprinkled his body with dust of the earth and poured out the libations prescribed by the gods. She returns the next day, and dismayed that the soldiers have undone her pious act, proceeds to bury Polyneices again, this time in the midst of a storm.
“And when, after a long while, this storm had passed, the maid was seen; and she cried aloud with the sharp cry of a bird in its bitterness—even as when, within the empty nest, it sees the bed stripped of its nestlings. So she also, when she saw the corpse bare, lifted up a voice of wailing, and called down curses on the doers of that deed. And straightaway she brought thirsty dust in her hands; and from a shapely ewer of bronze, held high, with thrice-poured drink-offering she crowned the dead” (ll 423-430).
I can imagine the pain of Antigone. It is the pain that I feel when I read or watch of the acts perpetrated by abortion practitioners, callously killing and dismembering unborn children, with no qualm or hesitation.
The guard who drags Antigone to the king tells him this:
“I have come…bringing this maid, who was taken showing grace to the dead” (ll 381-382).
Condemned for showing grace to the dead
Creon asks his neice if she was aware of the prohibition to bury Polyneices. Her response is bold and passionate:
“Yes, for it was not Zeus that had published me that edict; not such are the laws set among men by the Justice who dwells with the gods below; nor deemed I that they decrees were of such force that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven” (ll 450-459).
In simpler words, she tells her uncle-king that his laws had no right to supersede the laws of the gods, and therefore she had to bury her brother against Creon’s will.
Antigone moves, even against the edict of Creon, to honor and to grieve for her brother. We do not have the same value for honoring the dead like the ancient Greeks, but the children slaughtered on the altar of abortion-on-demand still need to be honored and celebrated.
I am reminded of a modern-day Antigone, Bernarda Gallardo, a Chilean woman who has adopted several children found dead in the city dumps of the small town Puerto Montt. She adopts them and gives them Christian funerals, where their short lives are celebrated and honored. Take a minute and read the story of her daughter Aurora and the funeral that inspired her town.
Our modern edict of Creon is that our society and our government tell us that these children—the unborn—are not children at all, and therefore they can be neither protected by law nor mourned once they have been slaughtered in this war.
Having second thoughts, Creon downgrades the decree of death for Antigone to life-long isolation in a ‘living tomb.’ When you choose to celebrate the humanity of unborn children, you will face isolation—social, economic, political, and relational. The White House is calling the Center for Medical Progress, the group of investigative journalists who exposed Planned Parenthood’s actions (not just the selling of baby parts but also furthered the exposure of the gruesome and inhumane practices described by the practitioners), a group of extremists.
I can almost guarantee you that the language against those of us who honor the humanity of the unborn will escalate: fundamentalist, extremist, enemy of women’s health and of the good of the state—it’s only beginning.
But we must refuse to be intimidated by such threats and say with Antigone to the state, “You are not God and His laws are above yours.”
How to respond with grace for the dead
I have wrestled with how to respond with honor and integrity since these Planned Parenthood videos have been released, and my heart has broken and I have wept.
We must mourn.
We mourn for the dead, these children who were taken from life on this earth, with no one to love them in their weakness. We cry; we weep; we wail. We honor them with our grief, saying to them, “You were taken too soon, and we are lesser for the lack of you.”
We mourn for those who have made the wrong decision to end the lives of their babies, either from ignorance or apathy. We mourn with them as they grieve, and we pray for them and walk with them through the healing process. There is grace and love in the heart of God for them.
We mourn for those who have ended these lives, using their skill and expertise to wound and kill rather than to heal and save. We pray that they will see the inhumanity of their actions and repent, turning from death to life and finding healing and forgiveness for what they have done.
We must celebrate.
Like Bernarda Gallardo of Chile, who celebrates the short lives of her adopted babies, we can celebrate the children taken too soon from the earth. We can employ the gifts we have—song, poetry, art—to honor them and to consider how great is the gift of life, inside and outside the womb. (See also Sarah Williams’ Shaming of the Strong: The Challenge of an Unborn Life.)
We celebrate the lives of the pregnant women and the unborn children around us, especially those who have little or no family support as they embark or continue on this journey of parenthood. Volunteer at your local crisis pregnancy center. (Find yours here.) Make friends with single moms and dads in your community. Make parenthood the celebration it is meant to be!
We celebrate with joy and compassion those who have begun the journey of post-abortive healing, as a parent or a practitioner. There is great hope for these men and women. (Some resources: Hope After Abortion, for parents; And Then There Were None, for abortion workers.)
We must act.
We act on behalf of the unborn children of our country by contacting our representatives and senators and the state and federal level, to have laws that protect the most vulnerable members of our society.
We act on behalf of women and men, expectant moms and dads, and all children by being a family to those in our communities in need of support.
We act by using the gifts we have been given—talents, money, time—to make relationships with our neighbors and to love them where they are.
We are with grace and charity with those who disagree with us, seeking peace and unity at the same time that we stand for justice for the unborn and for all children, women, and men.
In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The injustices further exposed in the recent Planned Parenthood videos—the murder and dismemberment of our pre-born brothers and sisters—must stop.
With kindness and compassion, we can show grace to the dead by mourning, celebrating, and acting on their behalf until our laws and our actions protect the unborn, celebrate and provide for the born, and respect the dignity of human life, from birth to natural death.
I am quoting from Sir Richard C. Jebb’s translation of Antigone, found in volume 5 of the Britannica Great Books of the Western World, edited by Robert Maynard Hutchins (1952).
For a modern translation, you can read Antigone here.
As you probably know, today Planned Parenthood faced the latest of 4 videos accusing them of selling body parts of aborted babies.
CNN put out an article on the 4th video, which I read and angrily posted with snarky remarks.
But, then I considered: I don’t want to be written off because I say things in haste or anger and do not think them through.
So two minutes after posting it, I deleted it, because being civil in public discourse is really important to me. I try very hard not to vilify my interlocutors and I weigh their points. I have actually been convinced of my opponent’s point in a few Facebook conversations! I truly value the dialogue we can have when we treat each other fairly and have open discussion. Many of my Facebook friends engage me on different points, from political nuance and policy to religious specifics.
So I am curious why so many of my friends, those who are normally so outspoken about justice and righteousness, have been quiet about the goings-on revealed by the videos of Planned Parenthood doctors.
Are you cautious about saying something hastily and alienating friends who hold staunch views about abortion rights?
Are you afraid that whatever you say will be misconstrued as ignorance or closed-mindedness?
I have had these fears, too.
But when we fail to speak out against injustice, we are guilty of being accomplices. Sometimes, when we say nothing, it matters more than if we say something poorly.
Everyone who knows me is clear that I am no fan of Planned Parenthood. When I post things about abortion or PP, I try to use reputable news sources and not pro-life sites alone. I try to be responsible in fact-checking. I hope that others do the same.
My thoughtful, freedom-loving liberal friends, there are suggestions (and possibly evidence?) that Planned Parenthood is trying to suppress the release of the investigative journalism that has yielded the videos. This is not responsible citizenship. Censorship is never okay. But I am not hearing you speak out against it like you normally do!
Social and cultural critic Camille Paglia nails the problem in an interview for Salon:
“When the first secret Planned Parenthood video was released in mid-July, anyone who looks only at liberal media was kept totally in the dark about it, even after the second video was released. But the videos were being run nonstop all over conservative talk shows on radio and television. It was a huge and disturbing story, but there was total silence in the liberal media. That kind of censorship was shockingly unprofessional. The liberal major media were trying to bury the story by ignoring it. Now I am a former member of Planned Parenthood and a strong supporter of unconstrained reproductive rights. But I was horrified and disgusted by those videos and immediately felt there were serious breaches of medical ethics in the conduct of Planned Parenthood officials. But here’s my point: it is everyone’s obligation, whatever your political views, to look at both liberal and conservative news sources every single day. You need a full range of viewpoints to understand what is going on in the world.”
Conservative or liberal, we cannot ignore these videos and the accusations they bring.
Speak out. Call for an investigation of these practices. Don’t let fear cage you in and make you be inconsistent with your vision of truth for the world.
Hostess with the Mostest, circa 1993
Today, I am awaiting the dreaded phone call: the results of the glucose test that will reveal if I have gestational diabetes.
I am 26 weeks pregnant with baby 3, a little girl named Lucy.
She is a kicker, and I am her home for the next 13 weeks.
Today, in addition to being the big diabetes reveal day, the Catholic Church is celebrating the feast of St. Martha, the sister of Lazarus and Mary of Bethany.
As I read the passages about Martha, in Luke 10:38-42 and John 11:17-27, I am struck with a new image of this beloved friend of Jesus. For a long time, I have longed to be like Mary of Bethany, sitting at Jesus’ feet and soaking up His presence. Indeed, doesn’t Jesus commend Mary for choosing ‘the good part’? I love Jesus so much and enjoy sitting in His presence that I am rarely wont to leave and get back to ‘the real world’ of running a home and caring for my 3-year-old and 20-month-old.
I have always seen Mary and Martha contrasted in this passage, and I read it like this: “Mary good, Martha bad.”
But today for the first time, I realized that is not what is happening.
Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.
Martha welcomes Jesus into her home, this wandering teacher with dirty feet and a cadre of unkempt accomplices.
And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.
That ‘also’ is important, because by her actions, we can see that Martha greatly values what Jesus is saying and doing. She values it so much that she opens up her home, the intimate details of her daily life, to this man Jesus.
Martha makes it possible for Mary to sit at Jesus’ feet.
Martha runs the home; she fixes the meals; she coordinates the sleeping arrangements; she cleans up after everyone. I think I can hear the joking in her voice when she finally approaches Jesus after days of all of this.
Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me!
Martha knows that Mary doesn’t listen to her sister as eagerly as she will listen to the traveling rabbi. I hear Jesus answer her, not as a public rebuke, but with a laugh in His voice as well.
Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.
Busy? Sure. Being a hostess for any length of time requires attention and energy. But distracted? What was Martha distracted by? Maybe it wasn’t just all the serving. Maybe she was concerned about other things. Being a single woman in a man’s world? Feelings of responsibility for her sister? The cost of perpetually opening her home to those in need? We don’t know specifically, but we do know that Jesus knew. And He caught her attention.
But one thing is needed…
She is a hostess. She runs her house well. She opens her doors to those in need. She creates a place for Mary to receive the one thing of which Jesus speaks.
Maybe I’m way off, but I hear Jesus saying this to Martha underneath the words on the page: “Martha, don’t take away the good thing Mary has right now. Let her soak in what she is needing. Take care of the details so that she can enjoy the necessary. You love her too much to take that away from her. Peace. Be still.”
And on this day, awaiting the diabetes test results, I hear Jesus saying this to me:
Amanda, peace. Be still. Fretting and worrying about so many things- – -like what you could have done differently to avoid an unwanted diagnosis- – -takes you away from the task at hand, to provide a home for your little girl where she can sit and soak up My presence as I knit her together in your womb. Like Martha, you have provided a home for Me and a home for this little Mary. I receive the gift of your hospitality, and I will bless you for it. Thank you for your willingness to host those in need of shelter. Don’t be afraid, and let not your heart be troubled.”
Will I receive those words today, as the anxiety builds and the dread of the unwanted diagnosis hangs over me?
Martha chose to receive Jesus’ words. We can see this clearly in her beauty and faith after she has lost Lazarus and she faces Jesus in the midst of her pain.
Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.
She knows she has to be with Jesus, to see Him, to talk to Him.
Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”
She is raw and open, but she affirms what she has learned in the secret place. Listen to those words! What a sound they must be to Jesus, who has been rejected and spat upon throughout Judea…”Whatever you ask of God, God will give you!” She has come to know Jesus in a deep way and has seen, somehow, the depths of intimacy that He has with the Father.
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
I am struck by the intimacy that Jesus uses with Martha in the next thing He says:
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Her brother is dead. 3 days gone. And Jesus risks being a little pushy with this grieving woman.
But Martha, the hostess with the sense of humor and the willingness to open herself, her home, her life, to others in need, declares who Jesus is. She receives His words and proclaims the truth, in her broken estate.
She said to Him, “Yes, Lord. I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”(John 11:17-27 NKJV)
May we all provide a place for others to be loved by Jesus and to be safe to worship Him with authenticity and integrity. May we all have the faith and the joy of Martha today, no matter the circumstances we face. And most of all, may we all press deeply in to intimate relationship with Jesus, so that He can meet us and feed us where we are. He is the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world to save us and who is coming again.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
It is one of the hardest things I have ever set my mind to do. I have been struggling over the last month or so with how to treat Lily with the kindness and firmness appropriate to her position as my daughter in the flesh and as my sister in the family of God. My natural responses are strict and have a way of coming off as harsh, which gives me great pain as I see her little face respond to me. She is very sensitive to how Zachary and I speak to her, and I can crumple her little spirit with a few words spoken without grace.
I have been repenting a lot lately, to her, to my husband, and to the Lord.
A few days ago, the Lord dropped a passage of Scripture into my heart as I was praying through how to love and discipline Lily better: Colossians 3:12-17. It is something that I had printed out on my wall as a freshman in college, and I honestly haven’t thought of it much sense the 2002-3 school year. But how fitting it is for my season of life right now!
The Lord spoke so gently to my heart: “Amanda, be kind and gentle with her, like you have not been with your own self. Learn to love yourself as I teach you how to love her.”
So, when my three-year-old drives me crazy, I am choosing to remember this:
Lily is the elect of God, holy, and beloved.
And so am I.
Because Jesus has chosen me, loved me, and is making me holy, I can clothe myself with
I have the power,
through the Cross and Resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit,
to bear with her,
to forgive her whenever I have a complaint against her,
because Jesus has forgiven me.
And above all these things, I choose to put on love,
the bond of perfection.
I choose to let the peace of God rule in my heart,
because this is what Jesus is calling me to.
I choose to be thankful for my daughter–
She is so fun to be with!
She is funny!
She is sensitive!
She is kind!
She is beautiful!
She is smart!
She is delightful!
For her sake, I will let God’s word—both Scripture and specific words He has spoken to me about her—
dwell in me richly. I will set these words and promises before me often so that I can learn wisdom as a mother.
I will teach her,
with silly songs,
and spiritual songs,
letting my voice be filled with grace and not harshness,
as I mother her.
And whatever I do,
as her mother,
as her father’s wife,
as her siblings’ mom,
as her sister in Christ,
I will do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
You’ve probably seen something about Planned Parenthood selling baby parts on your Facebook feed today. There is so much to say and so little at the same time. Some are questioning the validity of the video, which is purportedly of Dr. Deborah Nucatola, the Senior Director of Medical Services for Planned Parenthood Federation for America.
Planned Parenthood has responded to the allegations brought forth by this video. Gawker responds to the accusations laid against Planned Parenthood today, saying that there is no money unethically changing hands in regards to fetal tissue donation. Even if the accusations of selling fetal remains is unsubstantiated, the attitude of both the Planned Parenthood response and the Gawker article reveals the inhumanity that is engrained in the abortion lobby and industry:
“In reality, the donation of fetal tissue is no different than any other situation in which a patient might donate tissue to scientific research. No money changes hands, and the donation could help pave the way to any number of medical breakthroughs” (Gawker article).
Let’s be clear: there is a huge difference for someone–of their own free will–to donate their own remains for science or for the preservation of another’s life and donation of the body of a baby human dismembered in the womb.
Planned Parenthood’s president Gloria Feldt, quoted in the Gawker article, said this in an interview several years ago, concerning the ethics and practice of using fetal remains for research:
“Planned Parenthood supports research using fetal tissue in accordance with legal and ethical guidelines and are deeply concerned about the attempt by some to profit from the humanitarian contributions of courageous women.”
There are two major issues in Feldt’s statement: that fetal remains from abortions are being used for research, and that abortion is portrayed as something courageous.
There is so much to be said today on the first issue, but while everyone else is debating the ethics of that, I am choosing to focus on the second issue tonight: the idea that abortion is courageous.
I know that many women who consider and opt for abortion have a huge struggle. It is a HUGE deal, not a decision to be entertained lightly. Abortion is not a light subject. Anyone who tells you so is either lying or deceived.
Women faced with unexpected pregnancies are often scared. We need to tell them to have courage, yes–but it is not courageous to have an abortion. It is a quick medical procedure with longterm emotional and possible health consequences.
Planned Parenthood, you have to change your definition of courage.
It is courageous to find out you’re pregnant and carry your baby to term.
It is courageous to be a home for this little one inside you for 9 months and to care for it, even when it is scary.
It is courageous to give birth to your baby.
It is courageous to raise your baby in this crazy world,
and it is just as courageous to give your baby to another family through adoption when you are unable to care for it.
There is help for you when you face an unexpected pregnancy. Consider contacting Care-Net (www.care-net.org), a network of pregnancy centers all over the US that are staffed by caring people whose full-time job it is to get help for women in your situation.
And know that you’re not alone. http://paintedwithoutmakeup.com/songs-for-the-unborn/