Taking back Eden.

When I was a teenager, people often told me I looked a few years older than I was. At 14, I passed for 16. At 16, I passed for 20. At 17, I got pregnant, and all of a sudden I looked young again. Too young. Oh-but-she's-so-young young.

My adolescence had been interrupted by scandal, and scandal has a sneaky way of drawing out the painful truth. It made grocery store checkers and bank tellers look twice, from my drivers license to my swollen belly and back to the year I was born. Seven months prior they would have remarked about my maturity, maybe even made a pass at me, but now they remind me that I am so young. As if I hadn't noticed.

Scandal made them shake their heads and mutter, “What a shame.”

What a damn shame.

I had eaten from the tree of knowledge, and now I was reaping the consequences.

Baby-faced and burning with love for the child within, I carried a scarlet letter in front of me like an overblown beach ball. My joy and my shame were right there for everyone to look at and talk about and touch without permission. It's not uncommon for complete strangers to say rude things to pregnant women (You're huge! Are you carrying twins?), but the things they say to unwed pregnant teens are downright assholey. (Have you thought about adoption? Do you know who the father is? You know how those things get out, right?) And don't get me started on the “well-meaning” Christians. The things they said were awful. And embarrassing. For Jesus.

Some people believe they have the right, no, the responsibility to decide who is broken and then to tell them loudly and often. They call it “speaking the truth in love”, but what they really mean is “playing the gatekeeper to heaven”. These are the people who believe that shame is the pathway to righteousness. They think shame is the thing that drives one toward obedience to God. These are the folks who, in your darkest moment and when you are the most fragile, will shove your face to the ground and demand that you “REPENT!”. Or suffer the consequences.

It was a Christian who told me that I deserved what I'd gotten. I deserved to be stared at and embarrassed and judged. I should be ashamed. Shame is from God, they said, and God was trying to get me to obey His rules by punishing me. I mean, I should consider myself lucky that He waived the pregnancy wand and not the herpes wand. Lucky. They tried to use shame to draw me to Jesus, telling me that I was so young and so pregnant because I was a sinner.

And then my sin baby slipped into this hard world, soaking wet and shamelessly naked, carrying the fresh scent of new life and the very breath of God in him. 

A bastard, the good Christian would say. Damn shame, too, such a young and tiny sinner.

We had been cast out of Eden, mother and infant, unworthy of the God who created us. So the Christians, in their kindness, dragged us before Jesus and threw us at his feet. “Shame!”, they cried, “Shame on her!”

 They shouted the truth in love, with scorn on their faces and stones in their clenched fists.

                    Until Jesus knelt down…

...and drew a line in the sand.

_________________________________ _ _ _

And then He stood by my side

Jesus stands on the side of the broken, the outcast, the scandalous. He sees us at the very core of creation, naked and unashamed, meant to walk in a garden now locked to humanity. He sees us, hungry for knowledge and starved for love, eating from the first tree in front of our faces, plucking the fruits of deceit and selfish ambition, snacking on lust, stuffing ourselves with greed, sucking away at vanity. And still He comes to us without condemnation - without shame.

Shame is a byproduct of a dying world. It's a shackle that binds us to our brokenness. It is Shame who first points a finger and cries out, “Look at you! You're NAKED!”, and tells you to run and hide. Shame warns you to cover up, hide your junk, don't get caught. Shame clothed us in fig leaves and nestled us in the bushes; shame led the way right out of Eden, and still it barricades the door.

If you believe shame is the pathway to obedience, I'm sorry, but your gospel is twisted. Shame is no friend of Jesus. 

Jesus knelt down and drew a line in the sand, and then He stood at my side. Lifting my burden of shame, Jesus carried it off to the cross. When He returned, He was without it. He clothed me in Grace and Freedom and unleashed me to Love with reckless abandon. 

Gratitude is my pathway to obedience, through a soul filled with thanks for the God who Redeems all things.

I am Grateful or I am nothing, for it is Jesus who stood me on my feet again. It is Jesus who tended my wounds. It is Jesus who lifted my chin and gently pushed back my hair to look upon my face, like a Father to His child, whispering, “I'm here. And I'm taking back Eden.”

Welcome home.

....          .....          .....

Jesus has drawn a line in the sand... Where do you stand? 


The Perfect Shade of Greige

I like it here.

I like my boxy little house and my teeny tiny yard, and I like that all of the grass on my block gets cut on the same day. It does good things for my chaotic mess of a mind. I thrive by way of order, and if you can say one thing about the suburbs it's that they're very, very orderly. I feel sane here, making my way along the pedicured sidewalks and smooth, wide roads. I feel competent. I feel independent. I feel free.

In our bid to be good suburban neighbors (and also because our nazi HOA is going to fine us if we don't), we are having our house painted this summer. This has led us on a search for the perfect shade of greige. If you don't know what color greige is (I'm guessing you're not on Pinterest? Or you're a dude?), it falls somewhere in between grey and beige. Perfectly embodying both and neither, it's easy on the eyes, completely neutral, and totally boring... Y'know, kinda like the suburbs.

In the months after our return from Costa Rica, I felt the muscles in my back uncurling like clenched hands, releasing the fingers of tension they'd collected from living in a foreign culture, speaking a foreign language, learning the lay of a foreign land. I felt lighter by the day, knowing that in the U.S. I could deal with whatever random thing life wanted to throw at me. I know how to call a tow-truck, because I know what a tow-truck is called. I could get from here to, like, Alabama, if I had to. I know all the words I need to discuss a good meal, or make small talk with a stranger, or describe... oh, I don't know, a rash or something. My life here doesn't feel like it's on the brink of an emergency every minute of every day. (But if there is an emergency, bring it on, because I totally dominate emergencies in English. Totally.)

But the last month or so has been different. The wave of relief I experienced upon our return is making way for something new. I'm comfortable. Life is easy. This world is familiar, and oh so predictable. I can practically feel Suburban Greige settling into my bones.

I am bored.

There. I said it.

I love my life here. Truly, I do. But I'm cruising along on autopilot. And seriously? My brain doesn't even have to think anymore. It's probably all shriveled and atrophied from lack of use; a pruney walnut floating around in my head, telling me I should be happy because it can describe the hell out of a rash.

With my brain turned off, it feels like suburban greige is creeping in like a disease. It whispers lies about where God resides and who God loves. There's no God here, only greed and vanity. And the sprawling suburb that is my home, this community that has welcomed me, nurtured me, and cared for me, begins to feel like a desolate place, dark and devoid of color.

It's a rookie mistake, and I'm kind of embarrassed to admit it, but I think I have managed to translate my cross-cultural experience into something holier and more important than my life in the U.S. I almost convinced myself that God was more present there than he is here. Which is, of course, ridiculous.

The truth is, I lived in the suburbs in Costa Rica. Yup, in a plain old middle class suburban neighborhood. To me, it was amazing, but to my neighbors, it was boring. True, there was no greige - the houses were all different colors and shapes and sizes, but they still managed to blur together until everything looked the same, just like here. Life was monotonous, but it felt special because it wasn't my normal. I was living in a heightened state of awareness, constantly delighted by new sights, and sounds, and smells. Ok, the smells were not always delightful, but you know what I mean.

Honestly, I think I did feel God's presence more clearly in Costa Rica. But it's not because He was more present, it's because I was paying more attention. I was lonely, scared, and anxious, and totally dependent on God to sustain me. So I looked for Him everywhere.

In California, I think I'm confident, and capable, and kind of awesome – so I stopped seeking a place of rest and reassurance. And then I stupidly let the curse of the cross-cultural experience taint my vision, forgetting to find that which is vibrant and good and right in front of my face. 

I have failed to see God where He dwells, among us, even in the suburbs... 

...where He has come to coax us out of the boring greige and draw us into the Light. 

.....          .....          .....

Are you blind to God in the easy, everyday places? Does your world feel kind of greige? 


Sex, part 2: Why Wait?

Sometimes I hate having teenage boys. 

I hate the looks they give. I hate the smells they make. I hate the skeezy little 'stache that creeps up, slow and sparse, on their upper lip. But most of all, I hate the autonomy they have.

I hate that my baby boys have grown beyond arms reach and can now wander freely in this little corner of the world. I hate that they get to choose what they're going to do and say, and that I don't get to hover over them, correcting them and coddling them and giving them the WTF-are-you-thinking-?!-eyebrow every so often to keep them in line. Hate it.

Ugh! They're independent. They are young men, responsible for their own actions. That is so scary it makes me want to barf. 

And, perhaps it's because I got knocked up at 17, but, of all the choices my kids are faced with and all the opportunities in front of them, I feel especially preoccupied with their choices regarding sex. Naturally, they love this. I mean, what teenager doesn't want their Mom constantly reminding them that it's gross and creepy to engage in sexual activity in public parks, behind strip malls, or in the recessed corner of the movie theatre?! What high schooler would hate it if their Mom sang, "Please do not have sex todaaaaay!" every time they walked out the door?! Surely not mine

...Yeah. The eye rolling gets pretty intense around here...

But I want my kids to be armed with the truth (and maybe with condoms, but mostly with the truth), and the truth is that they should wait to have sex.

There are obvious reasons why:

1. You could accidentally create another human being (like I did, oops).  
2. You could cause yourself or someone else emotional harm by sharing intimate behavior in an irresponsibly casual way.  
3. Most compelling, you could contract a horrible, painful, itchy, burning, smelly STD, and your penis could fall right off.

But I believe there's another really good reason to put sex on hold. 

It's that when you wait to have sex, you are creating an important connection between the very powerful urges to do things that feel really good and the ability to control those urges. Otherwise known as self-control. This practice of self-denial and delayed gratification makes you a healthier, more poised, and better moderated person (who definitely still has a penis, phew!). Ultimately, self- control is a character trait ~or *ahem*, fruit of the spirit, for the Christian folk~ that will help you be a better long-term partner in your 'til-death-do-we-part relationship. 

Listen. I don't want to kill anyone's romantic ideas about marriage, I really don't - but it's not like you get married and then you're unfailingly super stoked to have sex with the same person three times a week for the rest of your God given life. I mean, married sex can be amazing - the longer I've been married, the better it gets (19 years, Suckas!!). But it really shouldn't shock anyone to hear that married, monogamous people still have sexual thoughts, desires, and impulses which do not include their spouses. Porn happens. Crushes happen. (Seriously, everybody has crushes. Even Christianbodies have crushes.) The problem is that, in a culture that demands instant gratification and consumes sex like a drug, a quick brush with porn or a simple crush on a coworker can quickly spiral into something devastating. 

To top it off, we've done a really bad job of teaching about sex in the Church. Our approach has been to shame girls for having it, and shame boys for wanting it. And when the smart kids ask, "Why wait?", we shrug our shoulders like a hillbilly and say, "Because the Bible says." Then we give the girls a purity ring and we give the boys nothing and we cross our fingers and hope they'll cross their legs. So dumb.

We've made virginity the goal, when it is purity that we should be aiming for; They're not the same thing. Sexual purity is a life long spiritual practice that doesn't begin or end with a single sex act, just as it doesn't begin or end on a wedding night. So when we are asked, "Why wait?", we should have an answer that empowers and prepares people to choose wisely for a lifetime. We should be teaching people something they can carry with them beyond their first roll in the hay. 

Why wait? Um. Because you need to learn some freaking self-control. That's why.

No kidding, the person who is a slave to their sexual desires will have a difficult row to hoe. ←Heh. See what I did there? ;) But the man or woman who has a sense of mastery over their own sexual appetite will be far less likely to fall into the easy traps of addiction and infidelity that plague marriages today. I don't mean to imply that postponing sex guarantees fidelity – it certainly doesn't. And I don't think this is a fail safe for a long and happy marriage, but I think delaying sex is a pretty solid beginning.

So I tell my kids, much to their horrified chagrin;

"I know it's hard to be near the person you're aching to touch and kiss and do... um... other... like naked things with. I know! I get it. We all get it. But the person you're with right now? That person is not the last person you will have those feelings toward, and you need to know what it feels like to not act on those feelings, because a day will come when you will have to exercise self-control for the sake of the relationship you've given your life to - and, trust me, you will want to know how to do that. Do not relinquish that power without a fight. So, really, consider the wait. There's value in waiting. (But if you don't wait? Condom. Please. Because babies. And emotional wounds. And your penis will rot off...)

Waiting is an act of maturity and discipline that can help refine your humanity, and that of your mate. And while I still don't think sex before marriage is the biggest deal of all the deals ever, I do think waiting is a good start toward a long and healthy life with the person you've chosen to love. Plus, statistically, married people have WAY more sex than single people. So exercise self-control while you're waiting to get married, then use that well honed skill to help you stay married and – BOOM – buckets of sex for a lifetime! ...That's bad math, but still.

So, Why wait? 

Wait because self-control is a virtue necessary to living a life of purity, and waiting is just good practice. 

That's it. That's all.

....        ....        ....

Here's a link to part 1, if you missed it: Sex. 



The Taco is Amazing.

My husband is born a multi-tasker. Back in the day, when he was a cop, I liked to call him at night before I went to sleep. I'd ask him what he was doing and the answer was always something like, “Oh, I'm just driving 110 in a high-speed chase, PMing a knock-knock joke to my partner, and eating a taco.” Then I'd be like, “AND YOU ANSWERED YOUR PHONE?!” And he'd say, “Yup. Hold on a sec.”, and I'd hear him cue his radio, muttering cross streets to dispatch in his deep, serious cop-voice, and then he'd be back, “This taco is AMAZING...”

How I envy him.

Whatever the opposite of a multi-tasker is? I'm that. I'm a barely-do-a-single-thing-at-once-er. If have tons of crap to get done, I have to make a list on a piece of paper, and then I have to carry that piece of paper around with me, checking things off as I go. Sometimes I have to refer to the list when, in the middle of a task, I have completely forgotten what I'm doing and find myself standing in my bedroom, or the kitchen, or Target, or a parking garage in midtown with my face all scrunched up, like, “Wait. What was I doing?”

It's kind of a problem.

The thing is? Life doesn't give a fat turd about my to-do list. It just piles stuff on, all willy-nilly, without an ounce of consideration for my lack of capacity to get stuff done. Life is so rude. Since I know this about life, you'd think I could plan for it by putting things like “dead car battery” and “broken incisor” and “unexpected guests” on the list. You'd think I would just build in time for “stitches”and “stepping in dog poop”, but I don't. Then, when things start to pile up, I feel like I'm in the drivers seat of El Chupacabra's patrol car, racing too fast, typing a blog post, yelling at my kids, and not even remotely enjoying the taco. Because, unlike my multi-tasking hulk of a husband, I don't feel like I'm in control when there's so much going on. In fact, the complete opposite is true; I feel like I'm a split second away from crashing and burning.

And that makes me cranky.

And then nobody likes me.

You know why? Because nobody wants to hang out with the chick who's white-knuckling life. Nobody. She's no fun. And her face always looks like she just smelled a fart.

I tried to be pissy about my cop-husband's habit of doing too much at once. I told him it was irresponsible and foolish and dangerous. “You're too casual about it all!”, I fumed.

He looked back at me and said, “Um. You know I'm a trained professional, right?”

I didn't really get his point, but that statement lingered in my head for years. Until the other day - When I was going a million miles an hour in no less than 37 directions, wrangling kids and running errands, texting through hard times with a friend who needed good words, researching sex-trafficking and slavery, squealing into the phone at my sister's big news, planning an upcoming talk in my head, digging through the tangle of receipts and gum wrappers in my purse to find my 3 foot list of things yet to-do... and it felt crazy, but it also felt good. And then it hit me: The taco is amazing.

When you're smack in the middle of the space you were designed for, life is easy to savor.

I am a trained professional. I am uniquely equipped to handle my bizzness.

Yes, I have to make lists (and take medication) to function like a human being, but I have been entrusted with this job. I've been groomed to parent these boys and comfort that friend, and I've been prepped to write and speak and share stuff on the internet. I can do all of those things - I can even do them all at once - because that's what I was made for.

When I loosen my grip, my sweet skills take over, and I don't feel like I'm fighting to stay on the road. It just happens. Kinda naturally. So, even in the chaos of Crazytown, I can relax. I can take a breath. I can enjoy the taco.

And the taco is pretty much amazing. 

....        ....        ....

Do you need to loosen your grip? Maybe pick up a taco?


Where's the Sanctuary?

I was alone in the church lobby the morning she walked in.

Scummy, in sweats and a tank and a barely held together bun, my plan was to just run in and run out without crossing paths with anyone. I may have been barefoot, I honestly don't remember. What I do remember is how very much I did not want to be seen. I was just running a quick errand, so I had taken the long way through the lobby, up the stairs, and into the offices through the back door. (Fine. It's the really long way.) I was already on my way out, skittering across the wide open space like an antelope (if an antelope was slow, and derpy, and out of breath from running down stairs), and that's when I saw her. She had her hands cupped between her face and the glass door... She was searching for signs of life. And there I was. Just me. A fat clumsy antelope, trying to hide from the world.

Not gonna lie, ignoring her crossed my mind. “If you don't make eye contact, she'll never even know you saw her.” But that seemed mean, even for me, so I took the high road and let her in. 

This girl was so, so beautiful. All black hair and dark eyes, brooding and broken. She had the freshly inked outline of lilies and leaves tumbling over one shoulder and down her arm, still waiting for color, which on this day would have seemed out of place for there was no color left in her - she was all grey, from the inside out.

She told me she didn't know why she was there, she'd never stepped foot in a church before, she didn't know where else to go. She was lost, she said. Tears began to well in her dazed eyes, and the purpose of her visit came with them. “I got hammered last night... and I f*cked my husband's best friend.” Those terrible words were holding in so much, and that's all it took for the flood gates to open and a tormented soul to pour out on the floor, right there in front of me.

She cried. I cried. We cried... together... which sounds kinda weird, but it wasn't.

She talked. I listened.

And I totally want to tell you how I gave her some brilliant words of wisdom, or some bit of truth to hold on to. But I. Did. Not. Know. What. To. Say. I mean, jeez, I'm not a counselor. I don't even know what to say to my own children when they screw the pooch, y'know? Ugh! The pressure!!

So I just sat there, feeling inadequate. And scummy.

And she sat there, feeling inadequate. And probably super scummy.

We met each other where we were at in the most primal way because there was nothing false between us. No pretense, no makeup, no shoes. …Ok. She had shoes... But what more could we have done than sit and cry and talk and listen?

We stayed there for awhile and I did the things I thought a good Christian would do; I gave her my number, I prayed with her, I invited her back. Finally, she took a deep breath and stood to leave, and then she paused, “...Where's the Sanctuary?”

I motioned toward the double-doors separating the lobby from our big, boxy auditorium, and I said, “You found it.”

But I knew we weren't really talking about the same thing...

Because, in that moment, I remembered so vividly being the girl with her face pressed against the glass, broken and hurting, crushed by the weight of a world I couldn't seem to navigate. It was desperation that sent me out in search of a place of Rest and Peace and Nourishment. I was hopeless and shameful. I was starving for Love. I was lost and wandering. 

The first time I walked into a church, I wasn't looking for salvation.  

                 I was looking for Sanctuary. 

                               And she met me at the door. 

....     ....    ....

If the Church is to be the last bastion of light and hope for the world, we must open our big glass doors. To everyone

If the Church is to be a stronghold for the weak, the starved, the sick and dying, we must invite them in. And welcome them. 

If the Church is to lead people to the foot of the Cross, then we better have a damn good answer when the world asks, "Um, excuse me. Where is the Sanctuary?