Confessions of a “Strong Woman”

The last week has been an emotional roller coaster of sorts. My oldest child attended her last day of high school, so right off the bat this mama is a wreck! However, aside from the normal day to day, a few other things happened to cause me to still be awake at 12:32 AM, because believe me, usually I’d be fast asleep dreaming of puppies and rainbows by now! Let me explain.

A few days ago, I received an incredibly flattering compliment. Someone in complete passing remarked how they viewed me as a “strong woman”. Wow! I was flabbergasted! I always feel like a hot mess, so to hear an actual “strong woman” use these words to describe me, I’m not going to lie, it felt good. It felt more than good, it felt amazing! I have worked very hard to make it to the ranks of women who could be considered “strong”, and although I don’t feel it most of the time, I’ll certainly take the compliment!

The other compliment that was given to me today was that I was considered by this person to be an “authentic Christian woman”. I have to say, it brought tears to my eyes! If this is even half true, I feel so humbled that they would even think to tell me they thought this way about me! That is what life is all about after all right?

Words like these spoken into someone’s life are so encouraging, and I truly did feel encouraged.

Then reality set in.

I’ve said over and over again, I write for me, and the way this blog has grown, has not been from anything I have tried to accomplish that is for certain. And when my book came out, I knew it may ruffle some feathers, but I had zero idea of the ripple effects it would create.

While I use this blog and used Free as my own personal growth and healing outlet, others have been using it as a vendetta to destroy me.

I don’t usually play the victim card, I mean, religion is personal, I get it, I’ve stepped on people’s toes here. However, while I have received the most incredible compliments I have ever received in my entire life this week, I have also been reminded of the ugly extent people will go to protect their religious traditions from anything they view as a threat.

I guess it hasn’t been enough for me to leave out specific names and locations from my story. I suppose it doesn’t matter to people the amount of trauma I have had to overcome and the importance that writing has to my personal growth. I assume people just don’t care that I always make a point to say, I have no hard feelings or anger towards them. I guess instead of actually having a difficult, awkward conversation with me, it is easier to spew out false accusations and lies.

So, here it is guys, my open, honest, vulnerable self, heart still freshly bleeding from the falsehoods you have spoken about me, here is the bottom line, absolute truth:

This is hard.

This is hard! Speaking out against the very religion I grew up in is hard. Knowing that many people whom I loved dearly are lying about me behind closed doors is hard. Looking people in the eye after I know what they have said about me and my family is hard. Loving them as myself in spite of the hurt is hard.

But it’s so worth it.

I will continue to hold my head up high. I will continue to use my voice to be vulnerable and authentic not only for myself, but also for those walking this path of healing behind me. I will continue to open my door to whomever is hurting no matter what they have said to others about me. I will not back down. I am not going away anytime soon. And you can rest assured:

I am a strong woman. Your lies cannot and will not shut me up or shake me.

The Goodness of God

It’s been a while since I have word vomited on you guys! I hate that, I would love to sit down and write all day long, but you know, life.

My daughter and I were talking this evening about learning to hear God. I am so proud of her and her walk with the Lord! She said, “sometimes mom you just know because certain things come alive to you.” She’s right.

Have you ever had a conversation in your head while you’re lying in bed and then bam a deeper meaning hits you? When that happens to me, I like to write about it so I remember later!

Once a month at my church we have a food drive. I am ashamed to say I probably forget half of the time, but this week, while grocery shopping, I actually remembered and bought extra of a few things to donate. It occurred to me in the canned goods aisle of Walmart that what I was buying seemed very insignificant in the scheme of things, but I quickly felt a wave of thankfulness wash over me because I had the means to give, even if it was a little.

I am like most everyone else, I stress about finances. I complain when I don’t have as much money in the bank that I feel I should have. I lose sleep at night figuring out how I am going to come up with money for camps and sports for the kids. We always seem to swing it, but the prospect of not having enough is forever in the back of my mind.

And so tonight, as I was rehashing in my head my little experience in the grocery store, I instinctively thought, “God, you are so good.” Then bam it hit me. How quick I am to tell God he’s good simply because he was gracious enough to supply us jobs to put food on our table. But, let’s be honest here, whether I am the person donating the groceries or if I am the person needing the groceries, God is still good. No matter what my financial situation, God is good. No matter my health situation, God is good.

God is God and therefore he is just, gracious, sovereign, good, and merciful simply because he is God. I think the element of associating the goodness of God with tangible things is something us first world Christians have invented. Herein lies the problem of the “prosperity gospel”. We judge how good God is by what he has given to us, but in reality that is not where his majesty lies. By putting God in this type of a box we are limiting his endless power. Some of us have even come to believe that we can demand God to give us stuff. How many times have you ever heard a prosperity gospel minister say something to the effect of, “I command the sky not to rain today so our church BBQ isn’t ruined!”? Or the famous, “if you give your part, God will bless you so much your wallet won’t be able to hold all your hundreds!” But is this what God is really about?

What makes you think God has favored you over someone in a far away country living in a cardboard box? Who do you think you are to tell God he’s good just because you have food on your table?

Ouch!

Now, before you go and say, “but Jen, we should thank God for our material blessings!” Let me just stop you right there. Yes, we should always show gratitude for everything we have in life! We should tell God we are thankful for our blessings every chance we have! However, whether God chooses to bless me with stuff, or whether he doesn’t, he is still good. My situation is a “moo point” to quote Joey from Friends.

As Job said:

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord .”
Job 1:21 ESV

Deconstructing Your Religion, Not Your Faith

“Deconstructing”. This term seems to get thrown around a lot, especially as of late, With the dawn of Covid came the demise of many traditional religious church traditions. Is it because of Covid, or because many people are sick and tired of the pretenses? Are many first world church goers realizing that what they have experienced in church buildings everywhere is more along the lines of heresy than true Christianity? Has this caused many to question their very belief in Christ?

I think the answer to all of these questions is, yes.

Couple all of those thoughts with pure human emotion, and that equals much hurt. Church hurt to be exact. Feelings of betrayal, anger, sadness and confusion just to name a few are the remnants of what some used to call their very identity.

Herein lies the problem.

Our identity.

I have written about this many, many times, but when people get upset with me for speaking out against the UPC, it isn’t because I have said anything about them personally. It is because I have said something against the very religion that they deem apart of themselves. They have invested heart and soul into a church organization and so when one verbalizes distain or disagreement with said organization, they take it very personally. But, our identity isn’t a religious organization. In fact, it isn’t even a religion. As Christ followers, our identity is in Christ alone.

Yet, here we are. Many genuinely hurting people are all around us who used to sit in a pew next to us every week and “feel the presence of God” with us. I speak from a previous religious experience that was based solely off of feelings and emotions. Every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday youth service, we judged how much “God” we experienced off of how many songs were song at a fast beat, how many people could be found shouting at the altar, and how loud the minister yelled into an old church mic. We shook hands with those around us, smiled through our raw feelings of whatever we had endured throughout the week, and “pressed through” in order to obtain the coveted “anointing”.

Week in and week out this was our lives. However, somewhere along the line, whether it be from the break from Covid, or because we just couldn’t take the highs and lows of an emotional religious experience any longer, we broke free.

But, breaking free of a religious experience is not the same of breaking free from Christ. Maybe I need to say that again. When you leave a religion, that does NOT mean you leave Jesus! What you do leave, is the emotionalism, and that can be problematic for many.

We were always taught unless you “felt” something, you weren’t doing it right, Unless you had that spiritual high during every church service, and even at home, your very soul was in danger. That delusion however, has cost many people their walk with God. The idea that living for God is all about a certain feeling is preposterous to say the least.

Let me stop right here and say, I do believe you can feel God.

That being said, humans are emotional. When you don’t have emotions any longer, that is a huge red flag, but to base our standing with God off of our emotions and feelings, we are limiting God to dwell within our finite capabilities, and forcing him into a box of our feelings. Not to mention, when we are feeling down, or just not up to par on a Sunday morning, yet we force ourselves to put on a happy face and pretend that we are, I’m sure that annoys God to no end! He made us for crying out loud! He knows when we are faking it, and don’t you think that is a bit of an insult to him if we can’t just shrug our shoulders and say, “I feel like crap today God. I know you’re real and I am just going to rest in that fact and let you do everything else”?

Now, back to the deconstructing part. Because so many religious experiences are forced into a tiny box of human emotions, this is now how we now judge our Christianity, by our feelings. See where I am going here? Since we are so used to faking it, so used to putting God in our tidy little box of emotionalism, when we don’t have that “high”, we are programmed to think that God isn’t around. We have been ingrained by religion that if we don’t feel like reading our Bible everyday, if we just can’t bring our minds to get past our ADD and pray 24/7, if we don’t dress perfectly, act perfectly, portray our religion to others perfectly God must not be in us. We must have lost our very faith, if we don’t feel like being religious all of the time. Then we begin to question God. If we can’t feel him, he must not be real. When reality, this is all apart of being human. We don’t have to feel God all of the time, and when we can’t, that does not mean he isn’t around.

It is okay to have our ups and downs as a Christ follower. It is okay to not always feel like taking three hours a day to study the Bible, and it is also okay to admit you are simply needing a break!

Ephesians 1:13 states this:

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.

I did a little research on the word “sealed” in this verse, it means endorsed, like with a king’s signet ring. In other words, God endorsed us when we believed that he sent his son Jesus to die for us. It doesn’t say God only seals us when we feel him around by us going through religious motions, or traditions. It doesn’t say we are only endorsed by God when we have good days and read our Bibles and pray a certain amount of time. We are endorsed by the Holy Spirit when we believed on Christ. That’s it. This is our identity, not a religion.

When we limit God to our own feelings, and make him that small, we are doing ourselves a huge disservice. This belief can cause us to question the very existence of our Creator, and while I truly believe we as humans can feel the presence of God, I think we feel him in everyday subtle ways more genuinely than in shout down church services. I know I’ve experienced God in sitting outside soaking up sunshine, driving in my car just thinking about his grace and mercy, and other mundane day to day activities where God is just as much around me as in a church building.

Just because you may be in a place of your life of deconstructing your religion, you don’t have to deconstruct your very faith in God. He is real and with you even when you don’t feel religious.

Happy.

This was going to start out as a Facebook post, but it got way too long for that, so I’m dropping it here.

I haven’t blogged as much in the last several months and here’s why, I am happy! I can’t believe I am sincerely typing this, but after struggling to find my place for years I feel like I am finally there. Since I have shared all of my personal feelings, emotions and struggles with all of you for nearly three years now, I thought it fitting to share where I am currently on my journey!

I’m sure things will change again at some point, and I will get knocked on my butt once more, but hey, that’s life! And I am better prepared than I ever have been for when that happens!

Before I left the United Pentecostal Church organization in 2016, I would describe myself as unsure, insecure, unhappy, inauthentic, and self aware. I loathed my hair and my clothes and that feeling seeped over into other aspects of my life. I wasn’t strong in my religious beliefs, and I had zero idea of how to explain them when asked. I had no clue about the amazing gift of God’s grace and I felt like life was just passing me by as I was struggling to get out of my own skin and show the world who I truly was behind my religious facade. I had no identity outside of my religious organization and no hope of projecting my uniqueness to the world.

But God.

Ephesians 2:4-5 says:

But God being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us……made us ALIVE together with Christ, by grace you are saved!

God made us ALIVE! And I can honestly say, I have never felt so alive!

Five years and eight months to the day tomorrow God made me alive with Christ. Since that time labeled “Emancipation Day” in my calendar, I have learned to live freely, love freely, and not just survive, but thrive!

I know not everyone will agree with my stance on all things, and when that bothered me before, I’m okay with it now! Why? Because now, I am confident in not only my beliefs about God, but I am confident in myself and how God feels about me. This makes me more confident at my job, at my marriage, and everything else in between!

I am sure of myself, and know that when I walk into a room and people stare, it isn’t because I’ve walked in with my head down projecting insecurity. It is because I am confident as a daughter of Christ. I am secure enough in Him to be secure in myself.

I realize the cards were stacked against me in many ways. I realize I could have furthered my education and made something more of myself. I realize I will never be the most beautiful person in the room, the most intelligent, or the most put together, but I am bringing me into the room, and that is enough.

Despite everything, I have made it. I can say I am happy, strong, beautiful, and confident. There is restoration and life after a cult. I am living proof of it!

Thank you all for your support on my journey! I couldn’t have made it this far without this outlet to heal. ❤

Modernized Christianity? Yes Please.

I walked into church this morning, more accurately, I dragged myself into church this morning, still nursing my morning coffee that I hadn’t hadn’t yet had the time to drink. This has been one crazy week in my house and I am emotionally, mentally, and physically drained. So after I ushered the herd of kids I had with me to their seats, I slid into the very last row of the highest level of the balcony.

The music was already pumping, not exactly the way of the churches I grew up in, but in the beautiful way of pure worship. Not condemning the style of music I grew up with, I still appreciate the occasional choir music, but it is definitely different here.

I have heard and seen a lot of negativity surrounding the idea of the modernized American church, and I agree with some of the criticism. I have heard it preached how we don’t need the fancy lighting, videos, and coffee bar to feel Jesus. And I completely agree with that sentiment. But this morning, it dawned on me, modernized church has gotten a bad rap for things that can be and are good in many ways. The lights, the music, the coffee while worshiping was just what my heart needed today. Today, I was doing my best just to get there. And when I did finally arrive, because the lighting was conducive for worship, the song had lyrics applicable to my life, and I was able to just relax and sip my wakeup caffeine, it was easy to just close my eyes and focus on God. My soul was refreshed. I could stand in the presence of God and just be. No pretenses, no pressure to pretend I have my life together, and no expectations of my “worship” performance. I was able to just stand, take a deep breath and soak in the presence of God.

Did I feel refreshed because of the perfection of the production? Absolutely not. That was from God. Would I have been able to have the same experience without any of it? Of course. But would I have pressed through the mental exhaustion and distractions otherwise? I’m human, so probably not.

Jesus says to go into the world and preach the gospel. In order to be effective to reach people, we have to be willing to meet them where they are. How do we do this? By staying modern and relevant. If we were still exclusively singing songs written in the 1800’s, sitting on hard, backless benches with no heat, and no sound system how can we reach people? I’m not saying we can’t ever sing old hymns, I do love a few rounds of Amazing Grace or How Great Thou Art, but the verbiage of such songs may not always be relevant in a modern, first world America. Nothing against those songs, but life has changed since they were written. Customs have changed, and if we want to reach our fellow Americans we have to be willing to be modern and relevant.

I have heard people lamenting over the lost days of hymns, “old fashioned” preaching, tent revivals and non air conditioned churches. And while these things had an important place in the legacy of Christianity, would they be successful tools in today’s day and age to spread the gospel? Which, is the entire purpose of church to begin with. A church is a place of refuge. And if we can’t be comfortable there, how can it fulfill it’s purpose?

Can you be a Christian and not attend church? Yep. Can you be a Christian and attend a church that doesn’t have modern accommodations? Yep. But for me, today, I am thankful to be able to just drag my hot mess self, coffee in hand, and worship God without distractions. Today I am thankful for modernized Christianity.

The Casualties of Conformity

Use your imagination with me and picture this scenario:

It is a cold night, snow is on the ground and more is on it’s way. A homeless man, has been wandering around the city for hours trying to find a suitable place to sit that would be out of the blistery wind. Suddenly, he stumbles upon a shelter. This shelter is lit up as a lighthouse in a storm. The homeless man’s heart skips a beat as he makes his way to the door. Finally some warmth and maybe some food for his rumbling stomach! He walks up the steps to the door and just as he reaches for the handle, the owner of the shelter opens the door. The homeless man asks him for refuge and the owner tells him he would love to give him the necessities for the evening. But just as the homeless man could feel the warmth of the shelter’s more than adequate heat, the owner tells him in order to enter, he has to prove himself worthy. In order to take advantage of the shelter’s amenities, he must do several tasks. The homeless man, eager to get in, agrees to do whatever the owner tells him to do. The owner than lays out the stipulations, “in order for you to get the reward of the heat and food, you must run around this building thirty times. Then, I must witness you do 200 sit ups. After that, I must hear you read a 500 page novel, and when you are finished, I want you to learn a new foreign language. When you have done all these things and are fluent in a new language, then I will be more than happy to let you in and feed you and let you feel the warmth of my heater!” Discouraged, knowing he didn’t have the physical or mental stamina to accomplish the owner’s demands, the homeless man turns and walks back down the stairs and out into the cold never to be heard from again.

This story would sound a little far fetched and ridiculous to most people. The majority of us would be angry at the owner of the shelter. He has more than enough to share with the homeless man, yet he made this man jump through hoops just to get to enjoy the basic necessities. But isn’t this how churches treat people looking in on them sometimes? They have the promise of life everlasting, the beautiful gift of God’s undeserving, unmerited favor, yet some still tend to make people prove themselves worthy in order to obtain it.

It’s like they hold God’s grace as a carrot on a stick, and only by following their rules are you able to achieve it.

How many people have been turned away from God because of this?

I was at a gathering this weekend that included many UPC members and ministers and many, many ex-UPC members. As I looked around it made me sad. There were so many good people who want to do right, and I’m sure if you asked them, they want to make it to heaven, but they have been taught that the only way to get there is to live a lifestyle that seems so out of reach for them, How many people have been turned away from Christ altogether, because they are taught that the only way to please God is to jump through so many unnecessary hoops?

How many times have you witnessed someone leave a legalistic religion just to end up wandering by themselves in the cold? They don’t even try to seek God because they only way they know how is to prove to God they are worthy of his grace by living a life following a list of rules, and they know they can’t live up to that kind of perfection.

If we were honest with ourselves, nobody can.

But imagine the story above ending with the owner of the shelter putting his arm around the homeless man, giving him a warm meal, a soft bed, and resources to help him in the future. It would have made for a much better story. Isn’t that what Jesus did for us? Jesus made grace and mercy free for us by dying on the cross! He gave us a new commandment for this dispensation, love.

If we take Jesus upon ourselves and accept his gift of grace and mercy, we in turn will strive to be more like him. Not because we want to show him we are worthy of the beautiful life he has promised us, but because we love him and others so much we want to share our gift! Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” By stacking on unnecessary stipulations, we are making his yoke heavy and unobtainable to us as humans.

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment. Not one person in a legalistic church can actual live up to those standards one hundred percent of the time. If we could, there was no reason for Christ to die.

Acts 15:10-11 states this:

Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.

Peter was saying to the Jewish Christian converts, don’t make living for God harder than what God intended it to be. We are saved through grace. The end. No additional ands, buts, or ors about it. And I think those who make people believe that in order to obtain eternal life you have to follow additional rules will be held accountable for that one day. They are limiting the power of God’s grace, and turning away many people from the shelter of God.

Death on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice. What more could we do?

Grace is underserved, unmerited favor. We didn’t deserve it, but we get to partake in it anyway. By placing stipulations on God’s grace we are grieving him greatly and telling him, he isn’t enough for us, we want more.

How many people have we lost along the way due to a legalistic mindset?

The definition of legalistic is this: strict conformity to the letter of the law rather than its spirit.

Chew on that for a moment.

How many souls have been cast aside as casualties of conformity?

I’m sure it grieves God.

Reflections on 2020

Happy New Year!

What a crazy year 2020 has been! I don’t think I need to recap for you all the crazy that has taken place in the last 365 days! As I write this, my New Year’s Eve, probably as most of yours, looks a bit different as it has in years past. Normally, around this time we would be with friends celebrating and ringing in the new year together. Instead, here I sit, alone in my office, in my pajamas.

To be honest, I’m not all that sad about it, but, that thought scares me a little.

By nature we are meant to be social. Humans are designed to be around other humans. Yes, that includes us introverts as well!

As 2020 progressed, and the “new normal” has included less and less people around us, I find myself almost forgetting what my 2019 normal was like. Large birthday parties have been replaced with birthday “parades”. Face to face in home small group has been replaced with Zoom meetings. Church has been online nearly as much as in person, and when we do get to go in person, we are separated by pews and masks. Going out with friends has been replaced with intimate dinner and drinks if we are lucky, if not, more Zoom and or Houseparty it is.

I am thankful for all of the technology in this day and age that does keep us somewhat connected, but the more I think about how much I have missed out on this year, it does make me sad. I miss my friends’ laughter, a house full of kids sleeping over, my extended family lunches on Sundays. I miss shaking hands, giving hugs, and seeing smiles. I can only hope and pray 2021 will bring back these things, because I am not okay with being okay to sit here alone.

On a more positive note, I can say that being home more has given me time I wouldn’t have had otherwise to get to know other people who aren’t so local. Because of all of the restraints, I have had many more opportunities to participate in Facebook groups, and online Bible Studies. It really is amazing that I can now say I am friends with people who live many, many miles away. I am thankful for the technology that brings us together! (That unintentionally sounded a little like an AT&T commercial).

My resolve for this coming year, as hopefully the vaccine will be effective, is to cherish my time with those I love. I am going to be intentional about making plans with family and friends both local and far away.

As this year comes to an end, I also want to thank each and every one of you. You have shared in my journey and I have enjoyed hearing from many of you. So, thank you, from the bottom of my heart!

Here’s to your 2021 being the best year you’ve ever had!

A Lesson About the Past

When I first started this blog, it took me a while to come up with a fitting name for it. After entertaining several equally cheesy ideas, I landed on the current tag line: Finding my Freedom, Doing my Life. The title, albeit a little cheesy, encompasses the entire point, discovering more and more freedom from spiritual trauma everyday while just carrying on with my day to day life, then writing about it. I know other people have experienced similar feelings and situations, and sometimes it is just nice to know you really aren’t crazy, others have walked the same path. Or, maybe we are all crazy and normal is just a mirage we all foolishly continue striving for. Who knows? In any case, I pledged to be open and honest about sharing experiences whether they be uncomfortable or silly because it seems I find freedom and learn things about myself while doing the mundane all of the time.

But the name of the blogsite really hit home for me this past week. If you have followed me for any length of time, read my book, or know me personally, you know my family is big on yearly vacations. Particularly vacations to any Disney destination. We have so many special family memories there, it is difficult for us to vacation anywhere else! My kids have practically grown up doing Disney “right” and aren’t shy about sharing their knowledge with others. Just today, my son spent almost an entire hour advising an adult on how to plan their upcoming trip! And let me tell you, at thirteen, the kid knows his stuff!

With all of the mess of 2020, vacationing was a huge deal for us this year. We all needed the mental break, and believe me when I say we did our research, took precautions, and weighed out the best options to take our trip as responsibly as possible. Sometimes, for your mental health, you just have to get away! And this trip did not disappoint, it was glorious! We spent Thanksgiving on a beach and cyber Monday at a Disney park. Just the reset my brain needed!

I say all of this to get to my point: sometimes while simply “doing my life” I still come across things that may trigger me or sometimes blow my mind at the grace of God. Being incredibly transparent right now, the former is exactly what happened on vacation.

Everyone in my family (except for me) are Star Wars fans, so you can imagine the excitement level when we were lucky enough to get to ride the new Star Wars ride at Disney! I was excited too, but let’s be honest, probably not as much as my husband or my kids. Anyway, I was mindlessly walking through the attraction taking notice of all of the intricate details Disney, as always, puts into their shows and rides and then bam! I suddenly found myself utilizing grounding techniques I have learned from different therapists throughout the years. I was triggered by a Star Wars ride! Insert hand to head slap!

If you read my book, Free, you may remember me mentioning a recurring dream I had as a child and even into my adult years. In this dream I am standing in a room in the middle of a crowd of stick figure people. I am screaming at them to talk to me or pay attention in the slightest and they are all ignoring me, standing with their arms folded over their chests and noses in the air. I am a believer in dreams, and this one haunted me so much, I still get goose bumps thinking about it. I think it accurately represents my childhood and even church life; always feeling like the outsider, and always super insecure. Feelings of loneliness and isolation flood back to my body when I think about this.

So, as I was nonchalantly walking through a room with several storm trooper animatronics looking at me, I suddenly got a rush of anxiety. Here I was, literally standing in my dream in real life. I started to panic. Do you have any idea how hard it is to use grounding techniques in such an immersive ride experience? Let me tell you, it is difficult! I could feel a panic attack coming on and I had no where to go. I was able to calm myself after taking deep breaths, closing my eyes and using my other senses, and eventually leaving that room, but I learned something about myself. I was strong enough to get past those intense feelings, yet still vulnerable enough to have the experience in the first place.

Sometimes, I like to lie to myself and pretend my past is no longer a part of me. But guess what? It is always there. In many ways, I have found freedom from it while doing my life, yet at the same time, it is still there, lurking in the crevices of my inner being and occasionally it likes to rear it’s head at the most inopportune times. This is part of the learning experience, being prepared to handle these feelings. I have to learn to embrace my past, learn to be thankful for it. I mean honestly, my past is what made me who I am today. While I am far from perfect, I am growing and learning, and that is the important part.

I think there is a certain balance of not living in the past, but acknowledging the wisdom gained from your experiences. I don’t think I’m there yet. Experiences like the “Star Wars incident of 2020” (that is what I am calling it) tell me I have not mastered this skill. It also makes me wonder if one can ever completely master it. Maybe this is part of the mirage of normalcy I mentioned earlier. It is definitely a tight rope walk, but I guess that’s the beauty of it. Falling off the tight rope every once in a while sure does keep me humble, and soon this experience will be in my past as well, and I will be able to remember it less painfully.

As Rafiki in the Lion King says, “The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.”

He makes a wise point. And I mean, who can argue with a monkey from a classic Disney movie?

Flawless

First off, I am excited to say, this is my first blog I am writing from MY office! It’s not really all mine at the moment, I am having to share it with my online learning children, but, it is slowly but surely becoming my own! I even have a white, fluffy chair! (Thank you mom) I have never had a space to get away from the crazy that is the other four people and two dogs that I live with, but Covid did have some positives! A finished office space was one of them! Sometimes it’s the little things in life!

The holidays are once again upon us! It hardly seems possible we are halfway through November already! I have been a bit of a slacker recently as far as writing goes. I think it is simply because I am just struggling to stay afloat right now! 2020 has brought many challenges, and I feel like I am barely treading water between trying to socially distance while still staying connected, my kids learning online some days and in person some days, and all the while trying to keep up with normal day to day life at work and at home! I am emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. I am sure most everyone can relate.

I don’t know about you all, but for me, I feel ill-equipped and under qualified to navigate such a crazy time, and I can be pretty hard on myself about it. Thankfully, my husband is such an amazing guy, he keeps me sane (most days).

As someone who struggles with self-esteem, I have a tendency to constantly look at all of my imperfections, and somehow Jereme can always seem to see past them. When I think I am a hot mess, when I burn dinner, or sleep through my alarm, he is there to reassure me I am doing a good job. When I am down on myself because I have love handles and (a few) gray hairs, he is there to put his arms around me and let me know he doesn’t care a bit about those things. When I struggle with what to wear or how my makeup looks, here comes my husband to let me know, in his eyes, I am beautiful no matter what I am wearing or how dark the circles under my eyes are.

I was pondering this thought earlier and it occurred to me, this is how our heavenly Father views us. The Bible refers to God’s people as the Bride of Christ, and because of the perfect sacrifice found in Jesus, in His eyes, we are flawless. Jesus lived a life of blameless perfection in order to be the spotless lamb needed to wash our hearts clean from our blemishes. When we accept His sacrifice, the Bible says we can be presented before our Bridegroom as holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5)

Are there times I mess up? Of course! But I can rest in the assurance that just as my husband thinks of me as beautiful and capable even when I am falling apart in my own eyes, my heavenly Father sees me as chosen, and a royal priesthood. Thankfully, because of grace, I don’t have to depend on myself to be perfect, I can put my faith in the finish work of the cross and sleep soundly knowing I am in God’s hands.

Ironically, when I was first discovering God’s grace, someone who felt I was slipping away from God altogether said to me, “I hope you never sleep at night.” This was their way of asking God to bring me back to the hamster wheel of legalism. When in actuality, knowing that God loves me enough to send his Son to be the perfect sacrifice, allows me to sleep like a baby! No, seriously, I have never slept so well in my life! I can lay my head on my pillow and realize that even if I blew it hardcore that day, it doesn’t change how God views me.

So, while 2020 has brought out the best and also the worst in many of us, try not to be so hard on yourself. Keep your chin up, you are doing the best you can and God sees you.

In His eyes you are flawless.

Men, The Monsters of Modesty Culture

When writing blogs containing this sensitive of a topic, I have a hard time figuring out where to begin.  What actually is a good intro sentence to what I am researching today. Yeah, I got nothing. 

So here it goes.

Women’s modesty and men.

“Men are visual creatures.”

Now, since I am not a man, obviously I have no first hand knowledge on the subject. However, as a woman, I have heard this argument to support the idea of women dressing in a particular kind of way in the spirit of not “causing our brothers to stumble”. So let me just begin by describing how that comes across to a young girl.

We will get to the men in a bit.

As a teenage girl growing up in a religious environment where the idea of modesty included skirts and dresses exclusively, the above statement was quoted frequently as a deterrent from dressing “inappropriately”. We were taught men can’t help but lust after us if we showed too much skin, wore something too tight, or wore pants. (I never really understood the logic behind the last one). Hearing this statement as a girl developing into a woman it caused me to be ashamed of my body. It also made me very afraid of men, and acutely aware if a man even so much as looked in my direction.  I came to assume all men were just sex monsters waiting for any opportunity to take advantage of viewing my body whether they acted on their lust physically towards me or in their own minds. 

What a sad little box to put men in.

Having mentioned briefly what this teaching taught me as a woman, let’s go into the man’s side of this. I have done some research, so I think I have an idea of what I am about to say. If you’re a man and disagree, please feel free to correct any misunderstandings I may have.

Yes, men indeed are visual creatures by nature. Men do tend to get aroused by visual cues more than women.  This is a scientifically proven fact.

But, does this mean all men are walking sex robots? Or unable to control their urges? Absolutely not.

There is a gigantic difference between noticing and lusting.

We can notice and even admire our friend’s new car. What becomes a problem is when we allow that admiration to turn into coveting. Same idea applies.

It is completely normal for a man to notice an attractive woman walking by. There is nothing wrong with that.  It does NOT mean the man is lusting.  Noticing only turns into a problem when that man continues to look and allows his mind to run away with impure thoughts. And clearly, if a man allows those thoughts to progress into actions there is an issue for certain.

Sexual attraction is natural and designed by God, to imply that it is sinful is misrepresenting God’s intent.

I read an article in the Huffington Post, about a woman recounting an experience she had while wearing a pencil skirt to work. Something that should have been deemed “modest” by most church standards right? She said she received unanticipated sexual comments and several looks from her male coworkers.  Was their behavior her fault for wearing a pencil skirt? Absolutely not!  It is the men’s fault for not controlling their thoughts or actions. To suggest otherwise is offensive to men and women everywhere!

So where does this leave us? Should a woman dress modestly for the reason as to not cause a man to stumble? First, I think, we need to evaluate what modesty actually is. I wrote an entire blog on this subject you can find it here, https://findingmyfreedomdoingmylife.com/2020/02/07/the-oxymoron-of-modesty/. So I won’t go into this too much again, but being modest means: not to stick out in a crowd, not to wear anything too noticeable, expensive, or over the top, to dress appropriately for whatever the situation.

Outside of those guidelines, I say, “you do you boo”.

One might wonder why a woman would choose to wear something revealing or sexy knowing that it may cause a man to notice. I can’t speak for all women, but I can tell you as a wife, I feel like I am doing my husband a favor by dressing in a way he will be visibly attracted to.  I couldn’t care less what other men think of me. There are also times when a woman just wants to look pretty, and show off what God gave her. And I see nothing wrong with that motive either.

In conclusion, the premise that men cannot control their sexual urges while being visually stimulated is ludicrous.

All this teaching accomplishes is cause women to be afraid of men and makes men to feel as if they have every right to lust because they can’t help it, they are just wired that way. It lets the men off the hook for their actions while putting the blame on someone else. It makes men feel like their brains are by nature animalistic and if a woman dresses a certain way, she must be asking for it. (I keep thinking of an image of a bongo monkey hopping around in a male brain).

It is easy to see how this type of thinking would easily bleed into viewing sexual assault as being brought on somehow by the victim. After being taught this mindset, the question automatically becomes, “what was she wearing or doing to provoke him?” This is just wrong.

It is not my job to police anyone else’s mind or heart. And I am sorry men, but if you allow your admiration to turn into sinful lust, that’s on you. Put your big boy pants on and take responsibility for your own actions.

Jesus said in Matthew 5, if a man looks at a woman in an inappropriate manner, it would be better for him to pluck his own eye out. I don’t see any mention of blaming the woman he was looking at. Was God angry at Bathsheba for bathing, or at David for lusting and sleeping with her?

I often wonder what Jesus would say concerning this argument. Would he agree with the idea men just can’t help themselves? Or would he tell them to suck it up buttercup and get their own thoughts under subjection?

From everything I have read about Jesus, I’m pretty certain his answer would be the second one, and it would be insulting to him to assume otherwise.

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