the final sentence

"The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written." ~Joyce Carol Oates

The Duggars, Sex Abuse and the Church

I have never paid much attention to nor said much about the Duggar family. I have never cared whether they had 2 kids or 20. I’ve never cared about how they dress or what they eat or anything like that. The children seemed healthy and cared for, so there was no reason for me to say anything about about the way they choose to live. I care now, though and I have a lot to say.

First, I am a sinner among the worst of them. I am saved by grace and I cannot boast about being good enough to go to Heaven. In God’s eyes, my prideful heart is no worse than the sins Josh Duggar committed against his sisters. In God’s eyes.

Second, forgiveness is absolutely necessary and mandatory for those claiming the name of Christ. For many of us, Josh’s sins brought up a deep, painful anger that maybe it shouldn’t have. Maybe that’s simply one of the side effects of the hurts we have suffered (because you know, that type of pain never really goes away). Or maybe it’s an indication that we are still struggling to forgive those who hurt us or our loved ones. Either way, prayer, careful study of Scripture and examination of our own hearts are all the prescribed method of healing.

Third, I keep seeing either harsh criticism of the Duggars or deep compassion for the Duggars, and I don’t usually see these things from the same people. As Christians, I believe we are called to both, demonstrate compassion and hold accountable. We are to hold accountable with grace – the same grace and mercy we have been granted. We are called to love and pray for and help our brothers and sisters in Christ. The fact that there is such a divided response within the church over Josh’s actions and his parents’ handling of the situation indicates a deficit in the church.

Sex abuse is a taboo topic. I’ve almost never heard it talked about in church. I understand. It’s a painful topic and it’s disturbing. But folks, if there is one place it should be talked about, it’s the church. There are victims and perpetrators sitting in the pews every Sunday. We have an obligation to talk about sexual abuse. We have an obligation to help the victims. We must help them to safety, to forgiveness, to healing, to peace and to freedom from the shame that such a violation brings to its victims. We have an obligation to the perpetrators. We have an obligation to help them overcome their sin, to help them find forgiveness from Christ, and to hold them accountable for their sins. In order to do any of this, the church must be willing to talk about sexual abuse.

For the victim, simply telling them that they must forgive is not enough. Have you ever been so violated that nothing could make you feel clean? So violated that you just wanted to crawl into a hole and cry for the rest of your days? So violated that you felt deep shame and unworthy of even your mother’s love? Sexual abuse affects a person’s whole being. The sex abuse victim often loses sight of his or her identity in Christ because they feel they’ve committed the unpardonable sin. They may suffer nightmares or cry randomly or live in fear of being attacked again. Merely telling them to forgive will not fix any of that. Is the church prepared to step up and counsel victims of sexual abuse beyond saying, “Forgive your abuser because your sin is just as dirty.” I can tell you that to a sex abuse victim, no sin is as dirty as that which was committed against them.

The church must be prepared to stand with the victim. We need to let the victim know that what happened is not their fault and they are not guilty of any sin. She must be reminded that her identity is in Christ and not in what happened to her. She must be counseled to forgive and she should be reminded that forgiveness doesn’t mean that she won’t ever feel the hurt from this sin or that she won’t feel angry or cry over this again. She will. It will sneak up on her in the middle of one of her college classes or in the middle of church or when some news story breaks and she will cry and get angry all over again. She should be prepared for that to happen and counseled to call someone when that happens. She should be told that it’s okay to hurt and that forgiveness is sometimes a daily act. That means she will have to work hard to be forgiving towards her abuser that day. Other days, she will forget it ever happened and she will laugh and be at peace. That’s okay, too. The victim should be assured that she isn’t dirty or stained because of what happened to her. She should be reminded that forgiveness doesn’t mean she ever has to speak to her attacker or see him again if she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t have to be vulnerable to him. Her family and her church should know that healing from such a violation can take years and they should be prepared to walk with her. Sadly, I think many churches fall short in this regard.

Churches often fall short in regards to the predators as well. This is hard for me to write because like most, I get angry when I think about those who commit sex crimes (probably because of the paragraph above). On some level, anger is the appropriate response. If God gave us our emotions to glorify Him with, then anger can also be glorifying. Often, sex crimes are committed against children – the ones we are charged with protecting, not violating. And more often than not, the child is abused by someone he or she trusts and loves. That should infuriate us. It should move us to protect our children – to stop this from ever happening. We should be vigilant and we should hold people accountable for their actions. We must, however, move beyond anger and towards forgiveness and reconciliation.

The abuser absolutely must be held accountable for his actions. He must be turned into the authorities, if for no other reason than to display the church’s support for the victim. The church’s job isn’t finished once the abuser is turned in though. We must continue to pray for and minister to the abuser. Lead him or her to Christ. Pray that they can find forgiveness and healing. Visit them in prison (using wisdom and caution, of course) and let them know there is hope for even the vilest of offenders. Once they are released, protect your church’s children and the abuser by never allowing them to be alone with children or to work with children. If necessary, assign a “buddy” to walk with him any time he is on church property. Establish an accountability group for him to be a part of and ask the HARD, UGLY questions. If his victim is a member of your church, help him to find another church body where he can be ministered to. Meet with him and the elders of the new church and help them to establish safeguards to protect their children and the abuser We must be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves. We cannot afford to not exercise caution in this regard.

I’ve said a lot and not really addressed the Duggars. I think part of that is because I am still working on not being angry. that doesn’t make me less holy, it simply means that I have painful scars. I will say that my heart breaks for Josh’s victims. I cannot imagine how difficult this must have been as parents for the Duggars. At the same time, there is absolutely no excuse for Josh not being turned into the proper authorities (as opposed to talking to a friend of the family). That sends a terrible message to victims of sexual abuse – it says that we shouldn’t speak out and that our hurts don’t matter. I have absolutely no problem with the idea of Josh being forgiven. I think that is the Gospel message and is a wonderful thing. I do think this was not handled well and I believe their handling of the problem is indicative of a larger problem within the church. The church, in general, doesn’t handle the topic of sexual abuse well.


Thanksgiving Salve

Tomorrow Americans will gather around crowded tables and indulge in a gluttonous feast of Thanksgiving. There will be laughter and hugs, perhaps some football, and maybe some naps for us older folk. We may or may not think about that for which we are thankful. Truthfully, some of us may feel like we have little to be thankful for; 2014 has been a difficult year burdened with heartache and loss and those losses cut so deeply that it’s tempting to be anything but grateful. Ironically, when my heart is filled with the heaviest of dark burdens, it is thanksgiving (the very thing I am most resistant to) that soothes my soul.

It’s easy for me to camp in the ungrateful camp. I look around and I see people I love struggling. Two friends and a family member all lost children in the past year; one just three days ago – right before Thanksgiving. At least three other people I love are battling cancer. We’ve had some difficult struggles in regards to our church home that resulted in what felt like what I imagine a painful divorce would feel like. And I don’t understand any of that; not the loss of a child, cancer, or churches being broken and divided. Those things cut me to my core. And no amount of crying or talking or hugging will bring back a child or cure cancer. There’s just nothing to be done. It just is what it is.

But now, it’s Thanksgiving and I am supposed to put on my happy face and share all that I am thankful for – even in the midst of deep, abiding sadness. Admittedly, there is a part of me that just wants to wallow. I mean, wallowing is easy; I can blame everyone else for everything that has gone wrong. I can get mad and throw a big pity party. And none of that takes much effort. Thankfully, God’s Word is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). It also cuts to the core. So when I read Psalm 100 the other day, I had no choice but to give thanks. It was right there in black and white:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100

Making a joyful noise may not mend broken friendships. My singing surely won’t bring back a child. But knowing that the LORD is God and that I am his child makes all of that bearable. And that alone is something for which to be grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Behold Our God

I was sitting in Sunday School a few Sundays back, listening to our teacher speak on the exchange between Jesus and Pilate (found in John 18). I suppose it was a good discussion, but I really can’t attest to that. That’s not a reflection on my teacher’s abilities at all; I was distracted.

As we began the discussion regarding the question Pilate posed, “Are you King of the Jews?” I heard the praise band rehearsing “Behold Our God.” As I listened, I contemplated the irony of the fact that the Israelites were delivering up the Messiah they had prayed for for so long. Here was their God and they wanted nothing to do with Him. They offered Him up to be crucified at the hands of Pilate. They were, in essence, saying, “Behold our God” except they were mocking the very One who was sent to save them. They rejected their Messiah.

There have been many times when I’ve questioned the mental capacity of the Israelites. How could they not see that God had chosen them? How could they not see that Christ was the Messiah? Each time I’ve been critical of the Israelites, I’ve been startled with the recognition that I have been just as blind. This particular Sunday, as I listened to “Behold Our God,” I thought about Pilate questioning Jesus and the Israelites standing outside and I was once again startled by my own unbelief. There have been times, even recent times, when I have questioned the work of His hands when things haven’t gone my way or when what I saw coming didn’t seem to make sense. I have read His Word and believed, but walked away and forgotten the great truths found in His Word. I have, in my own way, scoffed and said, “Are you King of the Jews?” Really, I should have been saying, “Behold my God!!”

Verse 1
Who has held the oceans in His hands?
Who has numbered every grain of sand?
Kings and nations tremble at His voice
All creation rises to rejoice

Behold our God seated on His throne
Come, let us adore Him
Behold our King—nothing can compare
Come, let us adore Him

Verse 2
Who has given counsel to the Lord?
Who can question any of His words?
Who can teach the One who knows all things?
Who can fathom all His wondrous deeds?

Verse 3
Who has felt the nails upon His hands?
Bearing all the guilt of sinful man
God eternal, humbled to the grave
Jesus, Savior, risen now to reign

You will reign forever
Let Your glory fill the earth

Silent Night

Nearly 200 years ago, Father Joseph Mohr, a priest at a small church in Mariapfarr, Austria, penned the lyrics to the carol, Silent Night. There is much controversy regarding the context during which Mohr penned these lyrics, but we do know that he wrote the words on the heels of the Napoleonic Wars, which had been the source of great suffering in all of Europe. Mohr had born witness to the brutality and pain of war and he had seen the calm restored. Perhaps it was those things that inspired him to write the words, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.”

Franz Xaver Gruber set the lyrics to music at Mohr’s request and the song was performed for the first time at a small church in Oberndorf, Austria in 1818. Within just a few years, his song had spread across Austria, into Germany and the rest of Europe and eventually into America.

Mohr couldn’t have known that his lyrics would become some of the most well-known lyrics sung during Christmas for centuries to come or that they would be translated into 300 languages around the world. He couldn’t have known that his words would be credited with fostering a spirit of peace between German and British soldiers during WWI. Or that children some 200 years later in a little church in Charlotte, NC would offer up his lyrics in praise to the Wonderful Counselor. He did, however, know of the Prince of Peace – the one who could and can calm any storm. He knew the baby whose birth we celebrate still 2000 years after the fact, was indeed the Messiah and was worthy to be praised. He knew that the baby was God Incarnate and that the Christ child had come to save that which was lost. He knew where true peace came from.

You’ll find the translation of the original lyrics below.

1. Silent night! Holy night!
All are sleeping, alone and awake
Only the intimate holy pair,
Lovely boy with curly hair,
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!
2. Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, O how he laughs
Love from your divine mouth,
Then it hits us – the hour of salvation.
Jesus at your birth!
Jesus at your birth!
3. Silent night! Holy night!
Which brought salvation to the world,
From Heaven’s golden heights,
Mercy’s abundance was made visible to us:
Jesus in human form,
Jesus in human form.
4. Silent night! Holy night!
Where on this day all power
of fatherly love poured forth
And like a brother lovingly embraced
Jesus the peoples of the world,
Jesus the peoples of the world.
5. Silent night! Holy night!
Already long ago planned for us,
When the Lord frees from wrath
Since the beginning of ancient times
A salvation promised for the whole world.
A salvation promised for the whole world.
6. Silent night! Holy night!
To shepherds it was first made known
By the angel, Alleluia;
Sounding forth loudly far and near:
Jesus the Savior is here!
Jesus the Savior is here!

My Words

Words have always served as an escape for me, whether they were words someone else had written or words I penned myself. As a child, I read incessantly and when I wasn’t reading I was writing. That didn’t change as I got older. The only homework I ever completed in high school was my reading and writing assignments. It’s a wonder I graduated considering that I spent my entire 10th grade year in Ms. McQuade’s Geometry class writing poetry.

Words provided a place for me to hide from reality. I could dive into any book and be carried off to an island with a bunch of misfit adolescents or I could travel to the farm with Avery and play with Charlotte. There were no limitations to what I could do or where I could go. The only limitations I faced were the close of another book or the lack of a ride to the library.

When I wrote, I could create my own safe place. I could share my heart and not worry about ridicule or misunderstanding. I didn’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing or about people looking at me when I spoke. I was free to think and feel whatever I wanted. Words were my safe place.

Writing came naturally to me. It was just something I did. I used to think that when I grew up I’d move to the mountains of NC and write my days away. That was always my plan. Somewhere along the way, I got lost. Maybe not lost – that’s the wrong word. I ended up on a different road; a road that included diapers, night-wakings, a traveling husband and no time. Life dragged me out of my safe place and into a world full of terrifying and wonderful things.

This new world was a world I needed to see and to experience fully, without the safety of the written word. I’ve laughed and cried and been frustrated and loved more than I ever would have thought possible. My heart has been broken in two and it’s been healed with a tender kiss. I’ve met people whose gentle kindness has restored my hope. I’ve traveled to places more beautiful than words can describe or than a camera could capture. I’ve lived without my safety net.

Words are something different to me now. They are no longer my shield from harm or from pain. They are, rather, my freedom. My words allow me to share all that is in my heart; real and imagined. At one time, my words were used as a sword to slice through those who had hurt me. Now, they are a salve to apply to my wounds, as well as the wounds of those around me. My words, I pray, will be a safety net for some other scared, timid little girl. May they provide her with a glorious place in the sun, out of harm’s way.