Honesty

I debated about sharing this, because I don’t want people to respond with your beliefs on what is and isn’t sinful,specifically in regards to homosexuality.  I don’t want to start a debate.  I know my friends don’t all agree on this matter.  So there is no need to point that out.  Okay?
Last night I dreamed of myself speaking to a room full of ladies. And this is what I said:

If I start at the end of the story, your reactions will probably be quite different than if I start at the beginning. So I want to do a little experiment. Grab a scrap of paper, a napkin, the inside of your wrist. Take a pen or a pencil and write down your response to the things I am about to say. You might write one word. You might write paragraphs. You might have nothing to say. You might have scripture verses pouring out. You might simply have a prayer to pray. Whatever your initial reaction, write it down. Don’t edit it. Don’t change it. This is just for you. After I give you the prompt, I’ll give you time to write, or go to the bathroom, or refill your coffee. And then I’ll start at the beginning of the story. I’ll end with the same prompt, and repeat the experiment. Then I’ll have you compare your two responses.
Are you ready? Remember, write whatever pops into your head when I say, “A homosexual woman who enjoys pornography.”

I want to ask you a question. How would you feel, how would you react if I told you that I struggle with homosexuality and pornography?
Would your reaction be different if I had struggled with homosexuality or pornography before being saved? Might you not view those sins as a thing of the past, no longer relevant, now that I’ve repented?
But wouldn’t I then feel the need to pretend that those urges were gone now? Because being saved should have erased those sins, right?
When we are saved, God washes away our sin, which means we don’t have those urges any longer. Right? No more temptation to cheat on our schoolwork, no more selfishly taking the better portion at dinner, no harmless flirting with the boss, no lying, no deceit, no arrogance, no hostility- all of it gone permanently.
I hope you see that salvation doesn’t work like that. We still struggle with our flesh, our sinful human nature. It’s something we don’t talk about, but we need to. We are hiding these struggles because we think we are alone in them.
So maybe you’ve decided to cut me a little slack since you assume I fell into homosexuality and pornography before I knew better. But what if I told you that I asked Jesus into my heart at the age of four? Does that mean that my later attraction to females and the lure of pornography was more sinful because I had Christ living in me? Or does this mean that I must not have really been saved, because a true Christian wouldn’t do that?
Would you feel differently about me if I told you that I have always remained faithful to my husband, and only ever thought about homosexual acts? If the extent of my pornographic enjoyment is purely literary, does that make it a better sin?
I want you to think these things through, because most of us have preconceived notions about these things that we don’t even realize. We make assumptions and judgments unconsciously.

I’m going to tell you my story. But before I do, I’d like to pray first. This isn’t easy for me. So please bow your head with me.
Dear God, please give me the courage to speak the words you want me to speak. Please grant me the ears to hear your still small voice. Please grant everyone in this room open eyes to see what you have for us to see. Please help us not be distracted by our thoughts or our past, by our hurt or our shame, but help us instead focus on you. Help us all see that you have created each of us, unique and special, designed in your own image. But we aren’t perfect. Please help us accept that fact and turn to you and each other for the support we need in overcoming our temptations. In your precious name, Amen.

Okay, here goes. I grew up in a Christian home. My parents were saved when I was an infant, and they did everything in their power to show my sister and I God’s grace and goodness. I asked Jesus in my heart at the age of four, and I lived my life for Christ. I had my fair share of growing up challenges- a little bullying, low self esteem, some loneliness- but I always had my family for support. I graduated from High School at the top of my class, and I attended Cedarville. I met a wonderful young man there whom I eventually married. I attended medical school at OSU before deciding to raise a family instead. I now have three beautiful, healthy children. I work at a Christian preschool. I volunteer in the community. I volunteer at church. From the outside, my life has been perfect. I have been lauded for my achievements, praised for my faith and steadfastness, and complimented for my talents. Others have looked to me as an example.
And all the while, I have felt like a liar, a white washed sepulcher filled with rot and decay. If anyone knew the truth, this carefully constructed life would shatter into a million pieces.
So I kept silent. No one else was struggling. I was alone in my battle. I raged against my sin nature, I took a stand in silence. Fighting alone when God had surrounded me with people who could and would help.

Fortunately, God had granted me a husband with whom I could share anything. I shared my struggles with him, and we prayed together and worked things out and he held me accountable to the best of his ability. But I still felt like a fraud. Why was I the only one who struggled like this? Why did everyone else have everything put together so perfectly? Why couldn’t I have their life instead of my own?
What I didn’t realize, was that other women were thinking the same thing. Looking at me and wondering what it would be like to have such a perfect life. A loving husband. Not just one child, but three! If only they could walk in my shoes, everything would be okay.
Obviously something changed, or I wouldn’t be here, sharing with you. It’s the reason I’m here, doing the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Being honest with you.

So what changed? Someone was honest with me.

In order to understand, we need to go back a few years. Okay, a few decades. I was at that awkward stage between childhood and adulthood, full of innocence and wonder and unaware of the effect my changing body could have on men and boys. My parents naively thought they could protect me, and I blindly assumed modesty would be enough.
I’m not sure why I feel the need to say this, but I don’t want you to make assumptions. When I tell you my story, I want you to know that I wasn’t legally raped. I retained my virginity. And somehow, for years, I thought that meant that nothing had happened.

Anyway, it helps to understand a bit of my family dynamic. My mom was raised out in the country where child rearing pretty much consisted of providing food and hoping they didn’t disappear or die between meals. Her brothers were cruel to her, frequently injuring her badly enough to necessitate medical care and on at least one occasion kidnapping and hiding her so that the cops were called in. It’s hard to fathom such abuse going unchecked.
In spite of the sadistic tendencies of her brothers, my mom loved her family. So every year we would visit them multiple times. In the summer we would spend entire days hanging out in the sun, the kids playing in the lake or the pool and the men drinking themselves silly.
I think at first, my uncles just got stupid when they were drunk. As the oldest of the kids, and being somewhat awkward and shy, I was the easiest to pick on. My parents tried to stop them, and on more than one occasion they managed to redirect their drunken pranks.
But over time, the teasing changed. They would physically grab me. They ignored my screams of protest. They threw me in the water for the sole purpose of getting me wet. It scared me. But they were sneaky. My parents didn’t notice the change, the sexual undertones.
And, to be honest, I didn’t know what was going on, either. I was extremely naïve. I knew that certain things were terribly uncomfortable for me, and they felt wrong but I didn’t have words for what was happening.

It all came to a head one summer when I was once again forced to go inside and change out of my wet clothes. I headed to the bathroom, up this creepy narrow staircase (seriously, the houses out in the country all appeared to have been built by drunken leprechauns, with strange twisting staircases, mismatched windows, rooms jutting off the sides of the buildings, closets that led to secret rooms, hallways that led nowhere…). The bottom of the staircase had a door. My heart was racing because of the mistreatment I had just endured outside, and I was frightened by the prospect of going up the dark staircase. I wanted the door at the bottom to stay open, but it wouldn’t. It insisted on closing and latching behind me.
Since I was alone in the house, and the door behind was latched, I decided to save time and start undressing as I climbed the stairs. I wanted to go back out into the open air as quickly as possible. I wanted to go home.
What I didn’t know was that I wasn’t alone on those stairs. I rounded the corner at the landing and my uncle was there. The look on his face terrified me. He reached out and grabbed me and then…

The next thing I remember was being curled up in the back of my parents’ car driving home. I was wearing my dry clothes. My body ached. My face felt like it had been rubbed in sand paper.
We never went back to visit. I put my foot down and refused. It was probably the only time in my life when I had the courage and strength to do something like that.

But I never told anyone the truth. I even convinced myself that nothing had happened. I couldn’t remember anything, and I had been so terribly frightened to begin with, I was probably just imagining things.
But even when our mind is convinced of one thing, the body knows the truth. Over the following months, the slightest provocation or triggering sensation would cause me to pass out. I would literally shut down, close my eyes, and fall asleep. The doctors called it narcolepsy. It went away as I got older, because I learned to calm my fear response.

But the fear never went away. I denied it. I fell into a deep depression. So deep, in fact, that I felt absolutely nothing. I was disassociated from my body. I watched my life like an outside observer, wondering why I didn’t feel the happiness that I should have felt.
Over and over again I tried to feel something, anything. Fortunately, God had given me a wonderful husband. To this day I have no idea what he saw in me, but from the beginning he has seen and accepted the real me. And I am convinced that he saved my life.

I finally sought medical help six years ago. Within a year I was properly medicated and undergoing talk therapy and surprisingly, I was feeling better. I was feeling. Love. Happiness. Excitement. Enjoyment. These things surprised me.
But even then I never told the whole truth. I considered myself healed and went on with my life. Only my husband knew the scars I carried. But even he didn’t know how deep they went.

I continued to seek fulfillment. My life needed a purpose. I was lacking something, but I didn’t know what it was.
I trained as a citizen volunteer with the local police, and then with the county sheriff. I volunteered at the local hospitals and at my children’s schools. But every step, every action felt fraudulent. I felt like I was faking it. I felt like no on e knew the truth, because if they did, they would shun me.

You see, in my search for something to do with myself, I had stumbled upon erotic fiction. And I liked it. I didn’t just like it, I craved it. I used it to obtain sexual gratification. And I felt dirty. Unlovable. Unloved.
I also discovered that I preferred women to men. I would picture myself with these fictional characters and it felt so good.
And that feeling made me want to shut down. Give up. Throw in the towel. I was hopeless.
Other Christian ladies didn’t struggle like this. No one would DARE be sexually aroused by anyone other than their husband.

My dear husband, while doing some repair work on my computer, discovered my hidden sins. I was so grateful when he asked me about it and we talked honestly about it. Having him to hold me accountable, to pray with has helped me stay clean.
But the urges and desires are still there. They will probably never go away.
And so I feared that I would always be living a lie, pretending to be someone I wasn’t. Because I could never admit the truth.

And this is where I was, stagnated in a state of denial. Nothing had happened twenty years ago, and I didn’t struggle with pornography.

I could stop the story right here. Indeed, it would have stayed here if it weren’t for someone else stepping up and being honest. So I am here today, being honest with you, telling you truths that I would very much rather keep silent, in the hopes that through my honesty God might work in your hearts to provide the healing that you need.

God directed my steps into a women’s self defense class. I started this class completely entrenched in my house of lies.
But the instructor, a wonderful woman, a mother, someone who could very easily have been me, sat down, and with tears in her eyes told us her story of betrayal and pain. Her heartache was vastly different from mine (it involved her husband, a knife, and a gun, and had no sexual components) but the end result was the same.

She was a hurting woman. But she didn’t wallow in that pain. She didn’t deny that pain. She stood up and used that pain to teach other women how to defend themselves. And without even meaning to, I admitted the truth to her.

And she held my hand (literally, there were times where she had to hold onto me and remind me to breath) while I faced my past and took steps toward healing. I opened up a can of worms that I would have preferred to remain buried. It hurt. I was feeling things that I didn’t want to feel. But I was honest. And suddenly I acknowledged the real me. The truth. And I felt complete.

It’s funny how something so terrible could make me feel complete. But it wasn’t the pain that did it, it was the honesty. Hiding something, anything, can make you feel like you are only going through the motions. You can’t be real if parts of you are still in shadow.

And God took things a step further. She and another deputy confessed how their faith had gotten them through, and I realized that I had, even now, even after admitting the truth, been trying to do it on my own steam.

So I turned to Jesus. I know, I know. It’s a cliché within the church. “Turn to Jesus” Like we can just do an about face and “Oh my goodness, there He is. How silly of me not to notice.”

And yet…

That is exactly what I did. Suddenly, the Bible was full of the very things I was seeking. Hope. Confidence. Optimism. Happiness. They really HAD been there along, complete with instructions on how to achieve them.

And I was overflowing with this newfound joy, this excitement, this realization that I wasn’t alone. So I began posting and sharing everything on every social media platform, at work, at home, at church. God’s truth bubbled out of me everywhere as I drank it in like a thirsty camel.

And before I knew it, women after women were messaging me, telling me their stories of heartache and pain. I was overwhelmed with the number of women who have suffered physical or sexual abuse in childhood, or a single sexual assault, or an abusive relationship in adulthood, or mind numbing depression, or struggles with sin.

They were overjoyed by the prospect that they weren’t alone in their struggle. So I offered them my hand and agreed to be their healing sponsor, while simultaneously begging God for help, because this task is insurmountable.

There is only one source of healing.

We often need help along our journey.  God didn’t create us to stand alone. We are to be a body. Those who aren’t tempted toward sexual sin can support and encourage those who are. Those who don’t struggle with anger issues can help calm and encourage those who do. But in order for all of this to happen, we have to be honest.

So I am being honest with you. I was taken advantage of as a teenager. I lived in fear and shame. I sought solace in sexual things outside of my very wonderful loving marriage. I still struggle with all of these truths.

Will you stand alongside me and help me in my walk with Christ?
Will you have the courage to speak your honest truths so that I may help you as well?

Okay, I’d like you to pull out another piece of paper and go back to the beginning of my story. I asked you to write your thoughts on “a homosexual woman who enjoys pornography.” Please repeat this exercise. Write whatever comes to your mind. Don’t edit. This is only for you.

Now I want you to compare your two sets of notes. Are they the same? Are they different? What changed? What stayed the same?

I hope that your responses reflect that fact that I didn’t ask you to respond to the sin- I asked you for your thoughts on the woman. It is a crucial distinction that we often miss.

I also want to draw your attention to the fact that there are 3 types of ladies in this room.
The ones whose response changed from judgment to compassion.
The ones who started out compassionate and didn’t need to change.
And the ones who started out and ended in the same place of judgment.
My final question is this:
Which group are you in?

Now I know some of you are thinking that homosexuality and pornography are and always will be sinful. The problem comes when you use that awareness of what sin is to look at me differently because you view my sin as worse than your own.

That’s just not true. We are ALL sinners, in need of a savior. And even after turning to Christ, we ALL still struggle. Pretending that this is not the case is only a detriment to our growth as a body. It only hinders our ability to draw together and work as a unit if we can’t be honest with each other.
By creating a “hierarchy” of sinfulness, we can use it to view ourselves as superior, when in actuality, not a single one of us is righteous.
So I hope that each and every one of you will walk out of here today with a new understanding of what it means to encourage each other to all good works. We shouldn’t be ashamed or afraid to share our struggles with our sisters. And we shouldn’t be appalled at the truth that so many women are hiding.
We should be standing together, encouraging our sisters to avoid the things that trigger their temptations. But how do we do that if we aren’t honest with each other?
Don’t be afraid to tell the truth. We are all sinners.
But be careful not to judge. We are all sinners.
We are all sinners.
But, Praise the Lord, we are redeemed!

I literally woke up saying that aloud.

Praise the Lord, we are redeemed!

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