The Remedy for the Pain is the Pain

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Sadness, Joy, Disgust, Fear, and Jangles the Clown

When I wake up in the morning I feel the consequence of my anger before I even swing my feet to the floor. My teeth ache from nighttime jaw clenching.

Anger is my go-to emotion of late.

Last week my children dressed up as four of the feelings/characters from the Disney movie Inside-Out.  Their choices aligned fairly well with their personalities. Note this: Nobody chose to be anger.

That is what Mom would be if she came to the costume party“, one of them joked.

It has been a week or two since I have owned and confessed to myself that anger is where I have set up camp  — and even though the campsite is hideous and barren, it seems that it is actually where I prefer to stay. I wake up here every day.

Anger is easy for me, I am the offspring of feisty people and I channel the very feistiest ones in my gene pool.

When sorrow or brokenness creeps in, I think of one of the things I am enraged about, one of the things that I do not want to forgive, and push the underlying painful things quickly away.

It has gone on long enough now that a friend and my husband (and apparently even my children) have noticed. They separately suggest there is a better plan, a better way, for me than this.

I believe them but I’m not sure I want to do the work to move to a new campsite.

After all, moving requires I tear all the stuff down piece by piece, pack it all up, move elsewhere, only to unpack it in new light and have to remember and review it all again. I know reviewing it in under new, less angry light, will bring the pain I am working so hard to avoid.

A Persian poet by the name of Rumi wrote, “The remedy for the pain is the pain.”

I read those words of Rumi quoted in Seth Haines’ memoir, Coming Clean.

With a notebook and a fine-point sharpie I list out everything that makes me angry. The list is long. It ranges from the petty and ridiculous, to the deeply disturbing and devastating. While listing it out I notice much of the anger is aimed at God and people who have disappointed me, people I do not wish to forgive.

The short and quick list includes (but is not limited to):

  • An October fourth hurricane hit the island hard, (while we all prayed it would not) people are suffering greatly. It will take years and years to recover. I am angry.
  • Yet another married couple we love has announced their split. This seems to happen every few months lately. I am angry.
  • Every appliance in my kitchen has stopped working properly. I am angry.
  • The mother of one of my best friends  has been diagnosed with a statistically improbable type of Cancer. My friend hurts. I am angry.
  • Yet another person entrusted with dollars and the confidence of many to help in Haiti has turned out to be a crook and an egomaniac. I am so angry.
  • Teams and more teams of matching t-shirts flood this place, they come and visit the ‘orphans’ for a few days. They leave. They come. They leave. Over and over. I am angry.
  • A little girl, age eight, comes to see us at our clinic. She has been sexually assaulted and her Mother doesn’t know what to do because in this place there is little that can be done. I am so angry.
  • A politician says things that are deeply offensive and his words hurt me and people I care about. I am angry.
  • A close friend is attacked viciously by her own faith community on the internet. I am angry.
  • The man in our neighborhood that abuses children continues to walk free. I am angry.

Small things. Big things. It doesn’t really matter.

I.Am.Just.So.Angry.

The anger keeps me from feeling the pain. I have decided I hate pain and my remedy for pain is staying angry.

Rumi can stick-it. I’ve found my own remedy.

~      ~          ~       ~

Over the past couple of months when, by some force greater than myself and my own stubborn rage, I begin to feel the sorrow creeping toward me, I very quickly do one of a few things. I bet you know and employ some of these tricks too.

  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away with two glasses of red wine consumed in quick succession.
  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away with sleep.
  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away with mindless scrolling of social media on the internet.
  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away by cleaning and organizing and obsessing about household projects or chores.
  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away by shopping on-line. (I have virtual carts full of beautiful things at several websites. To the relief of our pocketbook, I am able to stop short of hitting “purchase”. The looking and not buying distracts from pain as well.)
  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away with work work work, and if we call it “ministry”, better yet. Just stay busy busy busy.

Mostly, it can be kept away by doing anything and everything while refusing to sit alone in quietness and begin to feel.

I have refused for a couple of months.
Anger is my go-to emotion.
I am tired of me.
I am tired of the anger.

imagesBecause of this, God feels very distant to me. Unreachable even.

~       ~          ~       ~

I am reading Seth’s book again. It says, “Remember, Jesus abides with those in pain.” I stop and write that down. I wonder if I am alienated from God due in part to my anger and my refusal to feel anything more.

Seth’s words again, “I know it’s time to begin turning in to the pain, headlong, rather than numbing it away. It’s time to go back. How? Simple practice. Begin with the last hurt and ask myself, What emotions do I feel? Are the emotions chaotic, disorganized? Are they like a tempestuous sea or a burning atmospheric reentry? Can I sit in those emotions and write them down? I’ll consider the emotions, confess them, find the truth in the moment. And then maybe I’ll move into the practice of forgiveness. Maybe. In the forgiveness, I wonder, will I find myself being made more like the Jesus I claim to follow? Is such a thing possible?”

Later, further into his memoir Seth says, “To pray through the pain, to live in it instead of numbing yourself to it, to subjugate your will to the will of God, even in the face of potential suffering — this is what it means to be like Jesus. This is what it means to yield to the mystery.”

~       ~          ~        ~

Reading these words I lament that if I choose to believe this is true and put it into practice, I have so much work to do. I have this huge campsite set up and I have gotten quite comfortable here. I am even a little smug about how well I function in my anger. Most people around me don’t even know I am this way. Only I know how bad my teeth hurt every morning. Only I know what I do to numb myself and keep from feeling pain.

I am writing this today as I consider the first steps I will choose if I want to change campsites, stop numbing and running.

If the remedy for the pain is the pain, I need to choose wisely. If Jesus abides with those in pain, I need to choose wisely.

If forgiveness and redemption are what I seek, they will also have to be what I offer.

What about you? Are you running to other things to avoid your pain? Are you stuck at some hideous campsite, your tent affixed permanently to that ground?

I leave you with a condensed and paraphrased version of one of the last chapters in Seth’s book. I leave you with this because it spoke to my anger, my refusal to allow the pain.

“We are an odd company, I don’t suppose I’m special among you, that I’m the only one who confesses the power of a risen Christ and drinks himself into the icy numbness. I don’t suppose I’m the only one who hoards hurts until well after the accusers have disappeared or passed on. I don’t suppose I’m the only one who has let the perception that God is dormant burn and burn.”

“You know this pain, yes? For some perhaps it’s the itinerant preacher, but for others, maybe it’s the runaway father, the dead mother, or the friend who’s disappeared. For some it’s a minor pain that’s allowed to fester — mine was — but for others it’s the unfathomable, unthinkable pain of abuse, rape, prejudice, or murder.”

“You feel it, don’t you? Has it upended your faith in God, in yourself? Has it driven you to self-soothing, to the icy numbness of sex or materialism or even theology? Has it created in you an agnostic heart, an agoraphobic heart, an alcoholic heart?”

“Perhaps this is all too mystical for you; perhaps you are uncomfortable with the simplicity of a Jesus who abides with the simplest faith-bearers — with the children and the forgivers. Maybe you’d rather find comfort in the cold adult numbness, the coping mechanisms: the booze, the sex, the chocolate, the systematized theologies that reduce God to a proper but cold equation. Maybe you’d rather build structures around your pain, tuck them behind protected and thorny hedgerows, hold them in a safe place of your making.”

“But I see through your drinking, your affair, your theological systems. I know all addiction is undergirded with pain, and when you strip the addiction away, all questions, doubts, and accusations are sure to come screaming to the surface.”

“Be honest: in moments of clarity, of stone-cold sobriety, do you ask how a good God could allow so much pain? Do you wonder whether Jesus is a figment of your imagination, whether God is real? Do you have fond dreams of dying — not of suicide but of dying? Do you see the prospect of death as release?”

“Perhaps you love your spouse, perhaps you don’t, but do you love yourself and do you forgive yourself the way God loves and forgives you? Do you wonder whether God will ever speak again, and whether he ever spoke in the first place? Do you wonder whether it’s just your noggin talking to you? Do you wonder whether God likes you? I know you ask these questions, that you hear these accusations and feel the pain. How do I know this? You are my brothers and sisters. We’re all human, aren’t we?”

“Perhaps many of us need to move from a place of addiction (any old addiction) to freedom. The process hurts, there is no doubt, and I know I’m not yet done. There is more pain to explore and more accusers to forgive. But if we are going to practice the forgiveness taught by Jesus, if we are going to find the freedom of reconciliation with our enemies, and in that find reconciliation with God, perhaps it’s time for a serious exploration of our pains and anxieties.”

~        ~          ~        ~

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I have five copies of Seth’s book to share.

If you are like me, stuck in a angry (or insert your word) place but feeling the nagging need to move, please email me your name and mailing address at Livesayfamily@gmail.com and we will send you a copy in the month of November.

If you miss out on one of the gift copies, you can also buy it here.

MONDAY MID- MORNING UPDATE:  ALL Five books have been snapped up, hoping for all of us to keep figuring out how to work through anger and pain.

An Open Letter to Parents of Missionary Kids

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By Danica Newton

Dear Parents of MKs,

Hello. It’s me, an MK. I write this on behalf of other MKs who haven’t found their voices yet, who are still in the midst of constant transition, who haven’t sorted through the confusing and complex joys and sorrows that come with growing up MK. I write this on behalf of my own MK self, to say the things I didn’t know to say, things that were buried deep down and that, as a kid, I could only access through intuition, through approaching carefully sideways in order not to stir up the vortex of emotions. I speak as an adult MK, raised with one foot in Polynesia, another in Melanesia, and a hand straddled all the way over the Pacific, planted firmly in Texas. If the world were a Twister mat, we MKs would be pros at maneuvering ourselves into epic contortions as we shift right-foot-yellow to left-hand-blue.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Transition causes trauma. We know this from academic research across fields. Transition because of divorce causes trauma. Transition because of health diagnoses causes trauma. Transition because of death causes trauma. Transitions from village to town every six months, and then to the States every few years, definitely causes trauma.

During the London Blitz, children were trundled off to the English countryside for their own safety. The philosophy of the time dictated that children were better off not knowing what was happening, that more information would be detrimental to them psychologically. In fact, some of the advice to parents was to tell their children that they were going on holiday to the country, or even, not to tell their children anything about what was to occur. This may have helped the adults not have to struggle to find explanations for the changes their children were experiencing, but it wasn’t helpful for the children experiencing the change. The problem with this way of approaching necessary transition, in short, is that it stems from the perspective and needs of the adults, the ones who already have power and control in the situation, the ones who already have a voice.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Your children are not experiencing the transitions you take them through in a vacuum. Just because they may not be verbalizing the trauma, or expressing it in ways that are easily understandable, does not mean they are not experiencing trauma from the transition. When I was sixteen, I stayed behind in Texas while my parents and younger siblings went back overseas. I remember that time as confusing and dark.  But years later, adults who were close to me at the time have told me things like: “You seemed so mature,”  “You handled it so well,”  and “We had no idea it was so hard for you, you seemed fine.”

I seemed fine because at that point I had spent the majority of my childhood in transition. Moving from village to town and back again. Moving from town to America. Moving from America back to town, back to village. Every transition required that I assume the cultural mores, dress, language, and customs of the place I was moving to. By the age of sixteen, I was an adept cultural chameleon. But how was I able to put on a new skin for each new place? I became an expert at compartmentalization. I carefully packed each place, with its friendships, food, smells, sights and sounds, into its own suitcase in my mind. Into the suitcases also went my feelings connected to the place. My love for the people. My pain at the heart bonds being broken. My anger at having no control. The compartmentalization is why I presented as so mature and well-adjusted to the adults around me.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Your MK may look like they are doing well.  Your MK may even say they are doing well. Please consider that your MK may be very adeptly doing just what MKs do best – assimilating the culture they are in. The culture that says all things happen for the good of those called according to His purpose. The culture that counts it joy when hardships are faced. The culture that counts everything as loss for the sake of following Christ. The culture that celebrates the leaving of father and mother, the leaving of brother and sister, to follow the Call.

Your MK may look like they are doing well. They may even say that they are doing well. But please consider how long they have been in transition. Consider that it’s only when we feel safe, when we have been stable and settled for an extended amount of time (for some, it takes years) before we can begin unpacking the suitcases and examining the emotions that were previously too difficult to process. If your MK moves every few months or years, they may still be in self-preservation mode. Like it was with me, they may not be able to examine the trauma of transition except by carefully looking sideways at it, from an emotional distance.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Your child needs you. They need you to listen, with no judgement or defensiveness, to their feelings. They need you to lay yourself low, to make yourself nothing for their sake, to humble yourself even to the point of death of self. They need you, as the person with all the power and voice, to create space for their fledgling voices. They need to be able to say, “This hurts me.” They need to be able to say, “I don’t want to leave.” They need to be able to say, “I miss _____.” They need to be able to mourn, to be angry, to rage against the dying of the light.

I’m going to say something now, Parents of MKs, that you probably don’t want to hear. But what I share with you, I share from my own experience, and from that experience I can reassure you that although this will be difficult to hear, there is hope for redemption.

My parents’ choices brought me pain. I didn’t know how much pain until I found myself, sobbing and unable to breathe, in the grips of powerful flashbacks that hit me out of nowhere and threw me in a little ball onto my bedroom floor. All of the goodbyes and hellos, the shifting and the changing, all of the transitions and the leavings, finally caught up with me.  This breakdown precipitated some conversations with my mom and dad, who are still on the mission field.  Conversations that had to wait until they could get to me. But once they got to me, my mom and dad presented me with the greatest gift they could give.

That gift was listening.  They listened to me, with a complete abandonment of self and agenda. I had years of loss to deal with, and my mom sat with me on my front porch, twin cups of coffee steaming in our hands, as I cried and talked and she cried and listened. She never once tried to justify her choices. She simply acknowledged my pain, and acknowledged that it was caused by the life she had chosen for me. My dad listened, too. We took long, cool walks through the expectant predawn stillness, him quietly receptive by my side as I poured out the pain in my heart. He apologized for the pain his choices had caused me.

I talked to God, too. My parents’ empathetic response to my pain opened space for me to be able to voice the very scariest thoughts that I kept buried deep, deep down. One day, heartsick and angry and alone, I looked up to God and shook my fist in his face. “Why, God?” I asked, tears sticky on my cheeks. “Why did my family have to suffer? Why did you make MY family suffer for YOUR gospel? Couldn’t it have been some other family? Why, God? Why MY family?”

As I sat, raw and trembling, I felt his warm, gentle touch. I heard him whisper so sadly and kindly to me, “I know. I’m sorry. I hear you. I’m here.” And that was enough.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know. 

You need to check your defensiveness at the door. You need to acknowledge that your choices brought pain to your child.

When my parents came to me, and acknowledged the trauma my siblings and I had experienced, when they apologized for the pain they had caused, they did not negate the Good Work they have done. They did not negate a lifetime of service for the Kingdom of God.  They did not negate the fruit they had harvested for the King. Instead, they further confirmed Christ to us. The humble Man of Sorrows. The One who laid down His life. The One who sought out the voiceless, the weak, and lifted them up.

Even though your choices to answer the Call of Christ have caused trauma for your children, and believe me when I say that they have, your choices to give space for their pain can make way for their healing. I ask you, on behalf of my fellow MKs both grown and still growing, to give this gift to your child.

Sincerely,

Danica Newton

(an MK)

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13161296_10156874097135022_561442390_oDanica is an MK from the Solomon Islands, who now has found her own little village in the mountains of New Mexico. She lives there with her husband and three children, three goats, two dogs, and an assortment of chickens. Danica has a degree in special education, and is currently working on a master’s degree. When she’s not writing papers for school, she enjoys playing mad scientist in her kitchen, rereading her collection of LM Montgomery books, and working on her yoga moves. Danica sometimes finds time to write about her experiences and feelings, at www.ramblingsofanundercovertck.blogspot.com.

When You Have to Wash Seven Times

By Erin Duplechin

I was a city girl dropped suddenly into the jungle. It was 2013, the hardest year of my life. Our family of four had packed up and moved to Papua New Guinea and the transition hadn’t gone smoothly.

In addition to the two little people who depended on me for everything, culture shock had hit me hard. We lived in a house with a dirt floor for five weeks. I washed clothes and bathed in the river and cooked our meals over a fire.

I found myself in a culture that celebrated men and extroverts, of which I am neither. And my husband excelled in language and culture learning, while I was much slower.

The whole year was spent largely focusing on my children, their health, and their adjustment. They faced countless ailments as their bodies tried to ward off new and unfamiliar sicknesses.

Nine months in, we found ourselves in the hospital with our then two year old who had to have surgery in a place where the nurses didn’t wear rubber gloves and the floors were coated in the dust; this undid me.

When 2014 came though, it appeared as though we’d had some breakthrough and my kids seemed to have fully transitioned to life in Papua New Guinea. We were finally hopeful.

But, while my kids were doing well, I came to see that I was not. My energy had largely been focused on caring for my children, and I realized rather quickly that I had failed to take care of myself. Shortly after the new year, I had what I would later learn was a panic attack.

I had been in the middle of a conversation when my breathing suddenly quickened and I struggled to catch my breath. I lay down with silent tears streaming down my cheeks, waiting for my breathing to normalize and the chest pain to subside.

My eyes found my husband while he stroked my head and told me — and my two small children watching — that I was okay, that Mommy was going to be okay.

My body had had enough stress. I was like a bucket of water, full to the brim, and finally a small drop had caused the water to spill over. And it scared me.

I had never struggled with anxiety like this before. It made me feel more vulnerable than ever.

I wondered whether I’d continue to have panic attacks for the rest of my life? Would I need medication? What did these episodes say about me, my mental health, and my spiritual maturity?

Was I the girl that just couldn’t hack missionary life? Would I be one of those missionaries that left the States a spiritual giant, but came back a complete wreck?

Regardless of all these unanswered questions, I knew my body was trying to tell me that it couldn’t be strong anymore; it needed help, it needed to be cared for. And my heart and my soul needed rest too.

But I felt like a failure. I felt like Papua New Guinea had taken so much from me: my children’s safety, my comfort, my identity, and in return had given only malaria and heartache.

And I was in the company of other missionaries who had gone through harder things than I had, and some of them let me know it. I felt so indescribably weak and insufficient. I believed I was a failure and that everybody knew it.

I remember one day reading a dear friend’s text message: “You are being healed.”

“I don’t feel healed,” I responded.

There were days when I felt light and whole and days that were dark with the reality of my humanity, the knowledge that I was damaged and fragmented and that only God could repair the broken places.

She and I dialogued a bit about healing, and she reminded me of this story from II Kings 5:8-14:

“And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.’ But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?’ So he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, ‘My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, “Wash, and be clean”?’ So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”

My western mind is trained to want things fast and easy. How like Naaman I am; how I wish God would wave His hand and boom, Alakazam! — I’m fixed.

But the reality is that, more often than not, healing is slow, measured. It takes effort; you have to make a choice to get into the waters.

And sometimes you have to wash in the waters more than once.

There will be always be another area that needs healing. Always.

Because we are human and frail and because this isn’t our final destination, the road will always meet us with obstacles. People will disappoint us and hurt us. Circumstances will fail to meet our expectations. Our bodies will give out.

I was faced with a decision: go to the waters or stay where I was.

I remember closing my eyes and asking Jesus where He was. The picture immediately came to my mind: He was in the water. Not outside it, not waiting on the edge. No, He was in the water, beckoning me to come and join Him, a smile spread wide across His face.

And then came my revelation: Jesus wasn’t afraid of getting my dirt on Him.

When He heals, He is close and He doesn’t care if the water gets murky. He is the God-Man who wasn’t afraid of spit and a little dirt. He didn’t mind the bleeding woman grabbing his garment. His hands freely and willingly touched lepers. And when the harlot washed his feet He’d said it was beautiful.

He’ll touch you and me too. Because our issues and ailments are no match for His compassion and mercy. For it is His delight to heal, His utter joy to make things right.

So I went to the waters and said yes to the healing, with Jesus by my side. And I continue to go there with Him; I continue to give Him access to the broken places in me.

He’ll stay there with me until it’s finished, until all of me is restored.

Come everyone, come to the waters… Wash and be healed.

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Erin Duplechin is a missionary wife and mama of two living in Papua New Guinea. Before moving overseas, she served as a worship leader and continues singing and writing songs abroad. She writes regularly about God and jungle life at erinduplechin.com

 

Out of Darkness into Glorious Light

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Every day I ride the subway line into the city of Boston. It’s a short ride, going from Central Square in Cambridge to the busy Park Street stop just off the Boston Commons. At one segment in that short ride we come out from the deep underground of the city and we are above ground overlooking the Charles River, the city of Cambridge on one side, the city of Boston on the other. It is glorious to come out of darkness into the light of the day. It never gets old.

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In the quiet night the girl lies alone. She can hear the breathing of five others in the boarding school dormitory room where she lies. All of her roommates have been asleep for a long time.

They don’t know she is awake. They don’t know that every night she wakes in a panic, a scream just ready to break the silence. That it takes her a moment to calm, to realize she is not being attacked – she is safe with 5 other girls, all of them young teens. She cries out to a far away God, desperate to reclaim the innocence of her faith from before the attack, desperate for some measure of comfort.

The man who violated her is a respected member of the missionary community in the city where her parents work. He is a household name; a frequent household guest.

No one would ever believe her — a 14-year-old teen who is known for her sparkling personality; her love for the dramatic. She physically wards off the panic and the tears by folding her arms tightly across her chest, feeling the warm flannel of her pajamas. It’s in the early hours of dawn when she finally falls back into a dreamless sleep.

In another room and building a little boy has just woken up in tears. He has wet the bed. He cannot let the other know. The other missionary kids are white – and he is not. He is subject to sometimes merciless bullying – and no one stops it.

He curls into a ball. How can he change his sheets so no one will know? He cries out to an absent mom, longing for the comfort that would come from her presence, knowing he will never tell her.

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It’s dark and it’s painful – but abuse of missionary kids is rightly being brought into the light. The loyalty code that makes people hesitant to confront is being replaced by a Godly recognition of sin and the need for confrontation and repentance, the need for justice.

There are some horrific stories – and there are some just plain sad stories, but they can’t heal until they are brought to the light. It’s a warped sense of honor, a twisted allegiance that tells us we need to forgive without confronting and bringing to light that which has wronged or destroyed.

And the thing with light is this: Even a bit can dispel darkness, even a candle illuminates and makes room for us to see more clearly; even a little light can comfort. And God who sees into the silent, sleepy dormitory asks us to speak into the dark, speak truth where lies were planted, offer hope where despair has been rooted, offer comfort in the face of torment.

Because these ones who were hurt have been called out of darkness into His glorious light; a light that dispels darkness and blinds us with its beauty and power. It is glorious to come out of darkness into the light. It never gets old.

Blogger’s note: I wrote this as I do all my posts – with a deep breath and a prayer. The post is not intended to hurt further – rather to offer a word of hope. If you know or suspect that a missionary kid around you is being abused – please in prayer speak up, bring it into the light. We must be people who protect and nurture, who call others into accountability.

Picture Credit: Stefanie Sevim Gardner 2011 Cairo, Egypt

Resources:

  • MK Safety Net – Goal is to be an encouragement and promote healing for current and former MKs (Missionary Kids) and TCKs (Third Culture Kids) and their families who have been hurt or wounded by their experiences of abuse within the missionary environment.
  • Child Safety & Protection – The Alliance Mission is committed to promptly address every reported allegation of child abuse that may arise in association with our work overseas and to provide helpful resources to churches and districts that may deal with such allegations in the United States.
  • International Therapists Directory – provides an increasingly comprehensive online global listing of professional mental health therapists who are familiar with the TCK and international expatriate experiences.
  • Missionary Kids – silent no more on abuse. – An article written in 2011 by the Christian Broadcasting Network
  • Ministry Safe – a site dedicated to sexual abuse awareness and prevention
  • Dear Missionary Parents – While not on abuse, this is an excellent article just published by Michelle Phoenix.

My House Shall Be Called

Photographing weddings got me through college. It also taught me about the Church. Sometimes, your day is spent with really happy people. Sometimes, it’s spent with really stressed out people. Sometimes, the really stressed out people turn into the really happy people.

You get to be around radiant brides, people who dance but really shouldn’t, and people who sing but really can’t. And you get to photograph all.of.it.

You and your camera are invited behind the scenes. You’re paid to capture the excitement, the preparation, the emotion, in pixels and jpegs.

Oh, and there’s usually good food.

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I really like weddings, and I think God does too. In fact, I think God’s planning one.

In his book, The Prodigal God, Tim Keller says, “The climax of history is not a higher form of disembodied consciousness but a feast.” He’s talking, of course, about the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, vividly described in Revelation 19:6-8. The Church is the Beloved, the Bride.

During the Last Supper, Jesus pointed to the Great Supper and said, “I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29) Mere hours before his crucifixion, Jesus points us towards that day, the day of his Wedding.

How we think about that day greatly impacts how we live this one. And what we talk about when we talk about the Church (the Bride) has tremendous bearing on missions. If we’re embarrassed by the Church, it’s sure going to be hard to plant it. If we see the Church as optional and only vaguely connected with the Gospel, we’re neglecting something that is very close to the heart of the Father. We’re also ignoring something that enthralls the heart of the Son.

What do we think of when we think of Church? Are we a group of people longing for a party? Are we longing to see our Beloved, face to face?

When we speak of the Church, do we speak of beauty and mystery and the Bride of Christ? Do we speak about God’s Kingdom, here, now, as a great force for good in a desperate world? Or do we speak of something else entirely?

The truth is that the Church is a gloriously magnificent idea straight from the heart of the Father.

The Church is a strong entity that will not lose, even against the full forces of hell itself.

The Church is the Bride of Jesus, stunningly radiant.

The Church carries the priceless message of salvation in Jesus alone, proclaiming that everyone’s invited to the imminent feast.

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But if you’ve been hurt by the Church, by people in the Church, those last few sentences were hard to stomach.

I’m convinced that one of our main obstacles to loving the Church like Jesus loves the Church is that we’ve been hurt within the Church. (And for the record, we’ve probably hurt people too.) Pain from within the Church sours the whole idea and tempts us to run away. It makes us angry at the Church. It makes us ashamed of the Church.

Sometimes the pain comes from rude comments and mean spirits. Sometimes it comes from rejection. Sometimes the pain comes from outright abuse.

This should NOT BE.

If you’ve experienced pain from within the Church, I.Am.So.Sorry.

Please, hear the voice of Jesus, clearly, and with great compassion, as he says, “My House shall be called a house of PRAYER, not a house of PAIN. Those people did NOT represent me. They were thieves and robbers.”

Look at this picture of a loving Bridegroom defending his Bride, and may it be to you a source of solace and comfort and healing. After showing up in Jerusalem to die, “Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the merchants and their customers. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the stalls of those selling doves. He said, ‘The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a place of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.’” (Matthew 21:12-13)

People are still thieving and robbing in the House of God. They turn a place of prayer into a place of pain. They’re messing with the Bride and ticking off the Groom.

But here’s the thing, Jesus doesn’t just kick out the bad guys and tell everyone to stay away from the Temple. He shows up in the place of pain and turns it into a place of peace and healing.  Right after he expels the “thieves,” we’re told that “The blind and the lame came to him, and he healed them there in the Temple. (Matthew 21:14)

Right there in the Temple! Why would he do that? Because he is passionate about His people, His Bride.

If you’ve been hurt in the Church, may you also find healing in the Church.

May our churches and teams, mission orgs and NGOs, be full of healed people who heal people. May they be full of loved people who love people. May we be so satisfied in Him, so amazed by Him, so filled with joy because of Him, that we are longing for that day as much as He is.

The day of our Wedding is coming, made possible by the passionate pursuit of a dying Savior who didn’t stay dead. Alleluia. Come Lord Jesus. Come for your Bride. 

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What does the idea of the Church as the Bride of Christ mean for you? What do you do with negative experiences within the Church?

College was a long time ago, so these photos are by my friend  Cherish Andrea and used with permission.