HERspective Part 4 – Cut Into Pieces

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(The Levite’s Concubine – painted by Veronica McDonald)

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 here

Read Part 3 here

 

 

In one of her landmark works, Texts of Terror, Phyllis Trible says this of Judges 19. 

“The betrayal, rape, torture, murder, and dismemberment of an unnamed woman is a story we want to forget but are commanded to speak. It depicts the horrors of male power, brutality, and triumphalism; of female helplessness, abuse, and annihilation. To hear this story is to inhabit a world of unrelenting terror that refuses to let us pass by on the other side.”

Our story begins like many of the other stories we’ve looked at. A man TAKES a woman FOR HIMSELF. She is referred to as a concubine, which would be like a “lesser” wife. Imagine a status lower than a regular wife, but semi higher than a slave. Immediately upon taking her we read,

But his concubine became angry with him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah” – Judges 19:2 NRSV

What upset this woman so much that she had to leave and return to her Father’s home? In this culture, there was not much choice for a woman separated from her husband but to go back to her Father’s house. Was her husband abusing her? Was she suffering neglect?

After about four months pass, the Levite decides to try and win her back. The Hebrew literally says that he went “to speak to her heart.” Have we heard this story before? An abusive husband goes to try and get her back. I promise it will never happen again! I’ve changed!

Apparently, for this Levite, “speaking to her heart” actually means spending several days partying with her dad. The two eat, drink, and are merry while the woman is completely removed from the situation. For anyone wondering why I just keep calling her “the woman” it’s because she is never given a name in the story. Nor does she ever speak. I think it’s pretty indicative of how this Levite views her.

After several days of partying, the Levite is ready to go. Not once did we read about him actually speaking to this woman as he intended. Again, he is just going to TAKE her FOR HIMSELF. It’s starting to get late and the woman’s father pleads with the Levite to stay, and wait to leave until morning. It’s dangerous to be traveling at night. The Levite doesn’t listen of course. He’s ready to leave, so that’s what he does.

The sun goes down and they finally stop in a town called Gibeah. They hang out in the public square because, that’s what you do. Hopefully someone will be nice enough to invite you in for the night. Thankfully, an old man on his way in from work invites them to stay at his house. 

The Levite says to him,

“We your servants have straw and fodder for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and the woman” – Judges 19:19

Basically, the Levite lumps her in with the animals. “Don’t worry nice old man. I’ve got food for my animals, and the woman…”

Inside, the men begin enjoying themselves (presumably without “the woman”) when they hear a pounding on the door. A group from the city saw the Levite, and now they want to have sex with him. The man of the house confronts them and tells them he will not allow this wicked thing to be done. Right about now, we are really starting to like this old man. He took in these strangers when no one else would, and now he’s standing up to these people trying to attack his guests. Then, he suddenly says, 

“Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.” – Judges 19:24

What?! It’s that “Good ole Boys” club. Men will protect other men at whatever cost.

Unfortunately, the angry mob is not pleased with this counter offer, and the Levite’s eyes are probably bugging out of his head about now. So what does he do? Does he stand with the old man in protecting the household? Does he say, “do whatever you want to me, just don’t hurt anyone else”?

The Levite “took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go” – Judges 19:25

Our friends over at the NIV translate this as “sent her outside” as if she went out on her own. The word there literally means “to bring” or “to carry.” He forcibly tossed her out to them and shut the door behind him. They raped and tortured her ALL. NIGHT. LONG.

How terrifying must that have been? How many different people raped her? What sort of abuse was she forced to endure? 

At dawn they let her go, and she crawls back to the porch of the house and collapses. In the morning, we read that the Levite got up to continue on his way. The story reads as if he has just assumed the woman is gone for good and he can’t do anything about it. As he steps outside, he sees her lying there and seems surprised. What does he do? Does he rush to her aid? Does he comfort her? Does he beg for forgiveness? Does he go out to bring justice to the people who harmed her?

He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home. – Judges 19:28

He just looks at her and says “get up, let’s go.” So much for speaking to her heart…

When she doesn’t respond, he throws her over the side of his donkey and goes on his way. If this story isn’t already awful enough, it straight up turns into a scene from a horror film. This Levite decides he’s really gonna “show them.” 

“When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel.” – Judges 19: 29

Now, there are A LOT of problems with this, but one in particular stands out to me. NOWHERE in the story does it say that the woman was dead. That seems like an important detail to leave out. I’m pretty sure this dude cut his still alive concubine into pieces, and sent them out to people Se7en style.

So what do we do with this story? So many women are caught in the cycle of abuse with men. It could be physical abuse, sexual abuse, harassment, assault, or more. When it comes to protecting others, so many men are quick to throw their victims out to the mob rather than face the music. So many men want to protect themselves at all costs. Their image is more important than anything else. This is the story of the #metoo movement, this is the story of child sex abuse cover ups…the story of the unnamed woman in Judges 19 is told over and over again.

If you have experienced abuse at the hands of a Levite, I’m sorry. I wish our world were not this way. Jesus comes to set the example of what it looks like to be truly human, and he is faced with the angry mob in the same way this Levite was. What does he do? Jesus does not throw the vulnerable to the mob to save himself and his image. Instead, Jesus takes the violence of the angry mob upon himself in order to save all of humanity. This is who we should emulate.

Many people believe that there is no redemption to be found in this story, but I disagree. We still have one verse left to read. When the people see what has happened to this woman, they say,

“Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Just imagine! We must do something! So speak up! – Judges 19:30

The call is the same for us today. Levites still exist. The angry mobs still exist. The powerful still use their power to save themselves and their image at the expense of others. I don’t want to be someone who simply stands by while this happens. I don’t want you to be someone who stands by while this happens. This story ends by showing us that we cannot stay silent.

We must do something…so speak up!

 

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HERspecitve Part 3 – The Drama and Trauma (Hagar)

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“God wants you to be delivered from what you have done and from what has been done to you – Both are equally important to Him.” 

Joyce Meyer

(Hagar and Ishmael – painted by Alan Jones)

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 here

 

In Part 2, we began to look beyond the drama between Sarah and Hagar, and instead, to focus on the trauma. It is so natural for us to focus on the men in a Biblical story, but it can be powerful to read from the perspective of the women. Honestly, when was the last time you heard a sermon on Sarah or Hagar? Sarah’s story is a rough one and, as we’ll see in Hagar’s story, hurt people…hurt people. In Sarah’s story, we get to the point where she is so devastated from an inability to get pregnant, that she tells her husband to sleep with someone else. This is the first time in the story that we meet this someone else.

Genesis 16: 1-2 – Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

If you weren’t quite sure of Hagar’s status, notice Sarah’s words. She doesn’t even use Hagar’s name. She simply says “go sleep with my slave.”

And Abraham agrees. 

There are no justifications for Sarah’s actions here, but is it possible her trauma influences this? Does she so willingly give her slave as a sexual object to Abraham because she was so willingly given as a sex object by her husband to the Pharaoh? But this story is about Hagar.

The story does not try to flower up the language here. We read that Sarah TOOK Hagar, GAVE her to Abraham, he WENT IN TO HER, and she conceived.

Let’s call this what it is. This is a rape. There is no consent. There is no love. There is no dignity or value of humanity. TOOK…GAVE…WENT IN.

It crushes me to know that so many women have had a similar experience. 

How was Hagar taken? Did she try to fight it? At what point was she forced to accept the inevitable? Was she terrified? Did she shut down? How many times did this have to happen to her before she finally conceived? What could she possibly do? She was a slave. Completely powerless, even over her own body. 

It’s no surprise that this story takes us right back to the very beginning. When was the last time we heard that someone TOOK and GAVE to her husband? Human brokenness is on full display here.

If it isn’t bad enough that Hagar is impregnated by her rape, Sarah decides that, now that Hagar is pregnant, (something Sarah has not been able to do for her husband) she wants the slave gone. 

Surely Abraham will step in. We have to believe that Abraham will be a man and protect this pregnant woman (pregnant with his child by the way), who has no status as a slave, and no ability to make it on her own.

Genesis 16:6 – “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” 

Abraham is completely passive. It’s like we’ve heard this story before. When was the last time a man had the ability to step up and protect, yet stood by and said/did nothing? Oh yeah…Adam.

So Sarah lets loose on Hagar. The story simply says “Sarah mistreated her.” That is a gross underrepresentation of what that Hebrew word means. The Hebrew word used here implies physical and psychological abuse. It’s so bad, that Hagar runs away. She would rather be on her own in the desert, than to stay in her current situation.

At this point, Hagar has been enslaved, raped, abused, and is now on her own. What must she have been feeling? While she is in the desert, the angel of the Lord appears to her and says, “Hagar…

Did you catch that? If you read through chapter 16, the narrator uses Hagar’s name, but Sarah and Abraham never do. They only call her slave. But in her trauma, brokenness, and loneliness, God moves toward Hagar and speaks her name out loud for the first time. How must that have felt? Not only that, but this is the first time in the Bible that God sends his angel to someone. At her lowest point, which is by no fault of her own by the way, God moves toward Hagar and comforts her. God then gives her strength and tells her what I imagine must have been really hard to hear. 

Genesis 16: 9 – “Go back to your mistress”

Hagar must face her trauma head on…and she does. This is a brave woman! She returns, and gives birth to a son, Ishmael.

We don’t hear of Hagar again until Genesis 21. Sarah has finally given birth in her old age. Now that she has a child of her own, she wants nothing to do with Hagar and her son.

There are no justifications for Sarah’s actions here, but is it possible her trauma influences this? Maybe she is desperate for Abraham to show her the love and attention she needs. Maybe she secretly hoped he would never have agreed to her proposal to sleep with Hagar in the first place. Whatever the reason, she approaches Abraham and says,

Genesis 21:10 – “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

Notice, she still won’t say Hagar’s name. 

This time we read that Abraham is concerned about Sarah’s request but, in a strange turn of events, God tells Abraham to do what she says. Why? The story doesn’t say but, maybe God wanted Hagar to get out of this traumatic relationship.

So we read that Abraham TOOK some bread and water, GAVE them to Hagar, and sent Hagar and Ishmael off. There are those words again.

Hagar and Ishmael are completely alone, traveling through the desert, and the little bit of food and water Abraham sends them with run out. She puts her child under a bush so she doesn’t have to watch him die.

Then the most heartbreaking verse …

Genesis 21: 16 – And as she sat there, she began to sob.

What was running through her mind? Had she completely given up? And then…

Genesis 21: 17 – God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? 

Her name is spoken again.

God promises to be with Hagar and her child. God says that Ishmael will be blessed and would become a great nation. Then Hagar opens her eyes and sees a well in front of her. God provides. As Hagar’s story ends, we read that God remained with them as the boy grew up.

There are many women in my life who have experienced some severe trauma. I don’t know why this happens. I wish it didn’t. Like Hagar and Sarah, much of it happens at the hands of men. Most do not choose their trauma. Here’s what I do know. God moves toward you in your trauma and sits with you in the desert. God calls you by name. You may have to face your trauma head on in order to heal. You may have to remove yourself to heal. Throughout Scripture, water is a symbol of life. Hagar opens her eyes to see a well of water provided for her. I don’t know what your experience is, or where you may be in the healing process, but God promises to be with you and I know that in any situation, He can give life. 

 

HERspective Part 1 – What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Mary-Eve-Sr-Grace-Remington-OCSOThis picture is titled “Mary and Eve.” It’s a crayon and pencil drawing created by Sr. Grace Remington, OCSO, of the Cistercian Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey. I often see it shared around Christmas time. The image portrays Eve holding the fruit, the shame of her sin clearly seen on her face, while the serpent is wrapped around her ankle. Lifting up her head is Mary, carrying the Messiah inside her womb, while crushing the head of the serpent. This piece of art is stunning, and the message rings loud and clear.

However, every time I see it, I can’t help but notice that something very important is missing. Did you spot it as well?

 

Where is Adam?

 

One little line from Genesis 3:6 is often overlooked, but it is extremely important. 

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Did you catch that? The whole time the serpent was talking to Eve, Adam was present, and did nothing. Yet, the message that has often been proclaimed is that “this is all Eve’s fault.” One only has to look at a long history of Jewish and Christian interpretation to see this is the case. And of course, when Adam and Eve get busted, what is the first thing out of Adam’s mouth?

Genesis 3:12 – “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

So let me get this straight… The man stands passively aside and does nothing while the serpent speaks to Eve. He takes no ownership whatsoever, completely throws Eve under the bus, and then he lets her take the full blame for thousands of years?

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 Unfortunately, this way of acting (or better said, NOT acting) continued. I could point to many examples, but an obvious one would be the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. In this story, the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law drag a woman out in front of Jesus and say “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t adultery take two people to commit? And if this woman was caught mid-act, wouldn’t the man have had to be present? Yet, only the woman gets dragged out. Only the woman is blamed. Sound familiar?

Now back to Eve. Nevermind that Paul, in Romans 5, places the sin completely on Adam, Eve still gets the reputation as the one who ruined it for all of us, even in the painting above. This view has drastically impacted the ways in which the Church, and men in general, view women. 

I love this painting. I think the message is life changing. I just wish it showed the whole picture. Maybe someone who is much better at drawing than I am can take a crack at it.

So why a series on women? When it comes to women in the Bible, I mostly see people do one of two things happen. Either they completely ignore the women in Scripture, or they make them the antagonist of every story. I think it’s time to reclaim the ways in which the Bible speaks to females. You might call it a “HERspective”.

 

Next week, we’ll talk about Drama and Trauma

 

HERspective Part 2 – The Drama and Trauma (Sarah)

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There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds” – Laurell K. Hamilton

(Sarai and Hagar – painted by Cody F. Miller)

Read Part 1 here

 

When I ask women their common struggles, one word seems to come up all the time: Drama. I’ve been told that it’s impossible to have a group of girlfriends without also having drama. Maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t. 

There’s another word that also seems to come up all the time. Trauma. Whether it’s abuse, harassment, abandonment, neglect…trauma seems to be a shared experience among women as well.

The two clearly go together to some extent. How can trauma not impact relationships? But we often give the most attention to the drama, and little to no attention to the trauma. 

The story of Sarah and Hagar is one of some major drama between two women. This love triangle between Abraham and the two women could easily read as a reality tv script. But I’m less concerned with the drama, and more concerned with the trauma. How did they experience their world?

Let’s start with Sarah

The first time we meet Sarah (at this time called Sarai) we find out that she

“was unable to become pregnant and had no children” – Genesis 11:30

Maybe you know someone who has this same struggle. Maybe you’ve had this struggle in the past. Maybe you are going through this struggle right now. A woman unable to bear children in this time period would have been looked at as virtually worthless within the structure of Ancient Near Eastern society. Maybe you can relate to feelings of shame, hopelessness, or the feelings of worthlessness that I’ve heard many women communicate experiencing during fertility struggles. 

Immediately after we meet Sarai, her husband Abraham gets a call to uproot his entire family and go to the land God will show him. Sarai must leave everything and everyone she has known. But her husband was called by God! What else is she supposed to do?

If this isn’t enough to deal with, famine strikes and Abraham is forced to take his family to Egypt. What does he tell his wife?

Genesis 12: 11-12 – Abram said to his wife, Sarai, “Look, you are a very beautiful woman.12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife. Let’s kill him; then we can have her!’ 13 So please tell them you are my sister. Then they will spare my life and treat me well because of their interest in you.”

Wait! What?! Abraham is convinced that if they go to Egypt, the Egyptians will kill him and take his wife, so he comes up with this plan. Let’s just say you are my sister. They will still take you, but at least I’ll be ok! What choice does Sarai have in the matter? 

So that’s exactly what Abraham does. He tells the Egyptians that Sarai is his sister, and  Pharaoh gives Abraham a bunch of gifts in exchange for taking Sarai to his palace as a wife.

The story does not tell us how much time passes. How long did Sarai live with the Pharaoh? Was she forced to have sex with him? How terrifying must it have been to be handed over by your husband and forced to sleep with a stranger? How would it feel to know you were exchanged for some sheep, goats, cattle, and donkeys?

Eventually, Pharoah finds out what Abraham has done thanks to some plagues, and he sends Sarai and Abraham on their way. The next time we hear of Sarai again, she is completely devastated by not being able to have children. She makes a suggestion to her husband,

Genesis 16: 2 – “The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.”

Sarai is hurting. Think of all she has been through. Think of the pain of her barrenness. Think of her husband who gave her away to another man to save his own skin. In her hopelessness, she tells her husband that he should sleep with someone else. Maybe that way he can have a child.

Men, here’s some advice. If you and your wife are struggling to have kids and she says “maybe you should just go be with someone else.” Don’t take her up on that offer! That would be a terrible move. Surely Abraham is smart enough to take this advice as well right?

Genesis 16:2 – “And Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal.”

How must Sarai have felt when her husband agreed?

To make things worse, the woman her husband has sex with….gets pregnant. 

Fast forward. Sarai has now had her name changed to Sarah. God has promised her that she will conceive, but she is old, and it still hasn’t happened. Abraham decides to move again. When they arrive, what’s the first thing Abraham does?

Genesis 20: 2 – Abraham introduced his wife, Sarah, by saying, “She is my sister.” So King Abimelech of Gerar sent for Sarah and had her brought to him at his palace.

Are you kidding me?!!!

This time, God has apparently had enough too. He comes to the king in a dream and lets him in on what’s happening. The story makes sure to let us know the king did not sleep with Sarah yet. As if that is supposed to make it all better. How must Sarah have felt being handed over by her husband…again? Was she terrified sleeping in the palace that first night wondering how long it would last this time?

After this, a miracle happens. Sarah does give birth in her old age. It’s a son. She names him Isaac. He is her pride and joy. It lasts for all of one page…

God tests Abraham’s faith by telling him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. So Abraham says, ok. There’s much to be said about that, but this story is about Sarah.

The next day, we read that Abraham got up really early, took Isaac with him, and set out. Why did he wake up so early? The story doesn’t say, but I have a hunch. Who would probably still be sleeping? That’s right. Sarah. Nowhere in the story does Abraham tell her what he is going to do.

How did Sarah feel waking up and seeing her husband and son gone? Was she panicked? Was she completely unaware? How would she have responded if Abraham had told her? 

Most people know the rest of the story. Abraham takes Isaac to the place he is to be sacrificed and, at the last minute, God intervenes. Abraham does not sacrifice Isaac. But few people know the end of the story. After this incident, we read,

Genesis 22:19 – Then they (Abraham and Isaac) returned to the servants and traveled back to Beersheba, where Abraham continued to live.

There’s just one problem. Abraham doesn’t live in Beersheba. Abraham lives in Hebron. Why doesn’t Abraham go back home? Why does he decide to live in a completely different town? Is it possible he does not want to face his wife and tell her where he went? By my count, this is now the third time he has abandoned her. He gave her away to the Pharaoh. He gave her away to Abimelech. Now he just isn’t going to come home. How long does he decide to wait it out? Turn the page and…

Genesis 23:1-2 – Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. 2 She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.

Abraham left her alone until she died. Abraham was not even there for her in the final days. He waits until she dies, and only then does he travel back to Hebron to “mourn” for her.

This is the story of Sarai/Sarah

She was forced to move around. She was abandoned by men in her life. She was treated as a possession. She was forced to have sex with strange men. Her husband took her son without telling her, and then left her alone. How must she have experienced her world? I imagine she experienced it in much the same way that many of my female friends, family members, and my adopted daughter have. 

I’ll be honest, I don’t know what to do with Sarah. I don’t know what to do for Sarah. I don’t know how to respond to her trauma. All I can do is sit with her story. Likewise, I don’t know what to do with and for the trauma so many of the women I care about have experienced. Sometimes all we can do is sit with their stories. 

 

A Spiritual Practice To Begin 2019

FACE

In the Spring of 2016, I went to visit what has now become one of my favorite places in the Houston area, The Villa de Matel. This is a convent on a large area of land downtown that specializes in spiritual retreat. My mind was feeling very cluttered and I needed some time for silence and reflection. I started off by meeting with the spiritual advisor, and she handed me several pieces of paper with some different exercises and practices that she thought may be helpful for me. As I walked around, I found a rocking chair on a balcony overlooking the prayer garden and sat down. I wasn’t really sure how to start. I had so many goals for what I wanted to get out of this experience. I picked up my stack of papers and selected one at random. It was an examen, called saving F.A.C.E. (Fears, Attachments, Control, Entitlement)

If you’re not familiar, examen is a very old Christian practice that comes from the Latin word meaning “review.” We get so caught up in the rush of life, that we forget to be present and to sense that God is present. This exercise is meant to review our day (or a recent time period) and notice the ways God was moving and speaking. We ask God to give us clarity, we begin to reflect on ourselves and our day, we see the thoughts and feelings that arise in us, we talk to God about those, and we end by looking toward the future.

This particular examen, saving FACE, is a challenging one. It forces us to recognize the areas in which we have been trying to save face. This phrase, saving face, refers to the strategies that we all employ as humans to avoid humiliation or embarrassment, to preserve our reputation at all costs. This is why the exercise is so hard. It forces us to confront the things we have been avoiding.

When it comes to saving FACE, most people fall into one of two traps. Either they deny that they have anything to confront, or they have already condemned themselves so much that they refuse to accept the love and grace Christ has for them.

Here’s how the exercise works:

First, find somewhere comfortable and distraction free. Relax. Slow down. Take deep breaths. Ask God to make his presence known around you. Feel this presence and just be.

Now, we examine ourselves

Fears: Ask God to show you what fears are dominant in your heart. Don’t stop at the surface level answer. Our truest fears are often hidden beneath. Once you are able to name the fear, take note of it.

Attachments: What have you been clinging to lately? You could be overly attached to a person, an idea, a result, or a behavior. Especially pay attention to emotional attachments. Once you’ve identified attachments, take note of them.

Control: In what areas are you trying too hard to have control? Are you trying to control people? Situations? Your future? It’s difficult for us to admit that we are controlling, so ask God for the courage to be honest. Once you identify spaces where you are seeking control, ask yourself why you feel the need for control in this area. Once you’ve recognized these, simply acknowledge them.

Entitlement: Where did you see entitlement recently? “I worked hard today, I deserve to…” “I’m an important person, I should not have to…” “Well, did you see what they did to me? I had the right to…” Where you find a false sense of entitlement, name it before God.

Trying to save FACE is exhausting. I know. I do it all the time. That’s why, ever since first learning this exercise, I go back to it regularly. Once you take the time to name your Fears, Attachments, Controls, and Entitlement, look toward the future. Here is a powerful question.

 

What would tomorrow look like if I didn’t allow these fears, attachments, need for control, and entitlements to rule me?

 

Then pray the sentence prayer that has been completely life changing for me…

 

“Lord, help me to live in the freedom of your mercy.”

 

We often get crushed by our tendencies to save FACE

Jesus says:

The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free.

and

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.”

That Spring day, in 2016, I came to the Villa with so many goals of what I needed to accomplish. Those got ditched after this exercise. Instead, I spent the time walking around, practicing what it means to live in the freedom of mercy.

You may have a lot of goals for 2019. That’s great! I have some goals too. But the truth is, we can’t do anything to move forward, if we don’t acknowledge where we are currently at. We can’t set the right goals, if we don’t realize where we are trying to save FACE. Chances are, many of us made goals out of fear, attachment, control, and entitlement.

Although this exercise is hard, it has been completely transformational for me. My prayer is that it will be transforming for you as well, and that 2019 will be a year that you experience the freedom of Christ’s mercy.

The Worst Week That Turned Out To Be The Best Week

worst best week

There’s an indie, sci-fi film that I love called Ink. It’s extremely artistic and oozing with gospel themes. If you’re interested, you can watch it on amazon prime here  (WARNING: It does contain some 4 letter words, especially in the opening scene)

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The movie takes place within multiple timelines that are all working together to reunite a father with his daughter in order to save her life. The plan? Get the father knocked out of his routine and set a chain reaction of events that will hopefully lead to a reunification. The method used to begin this chain reaction? A car crash.

Saturday, April 28, 2018, started off like any other day. My wife and I, along with the baby, got in the car to run an errand. As I was getting ready to turn left, I’m not really sure what happened. Did I not see it? Did I not look? Was I too distracted looking at the GPS? Either way, I went, looked up, and saw another car coming right at me. It was too late for either of us to react.

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Fast forward to an emergency room. My wife is told that she has 3 breaks in her hand. The good news? The ER doctor says that they will be able to heal fine on their own, no surgery needed. What a relief right? Because ER doctors are NEVER wrong…

ER

Endless calls. Car insurance. Collision Center. Health Insurance. Orthopedic doctors.

Our stress level was at its max. My wife was in lots of pain. I was trying to figure out how to balance a full time job, take care of an injured spouse, keep up the house, and do all the things for our baby that were impossible for my wife to do one handed.

Diaper changes. Bath times. Getting dressed. Feedings. Picking up.

Wednesday, May 2, four days after the car accident, we sat in the office of an orthopedic doctor. She walked into the room after looking at Natalie’s x-rays and said “You need surgery. There are four bones that hold your hand together and you broke three of them.”

Anesthesia. Surgery. Plates. Screws. Physical therapy. Multiple months of recovery.

My wife sobbed.

The. Worst. Week. EVER!

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017 started off like any other day, until there was a knock on our door. A shy 5-year-old girl walked into our home. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Does any first time parent? Natalie and I had finished our Foster care certification earlier that month and our first placement had arrived. Everything changed.

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Laughter. Tears. Exhaustion. Frustration. SO MUCH JOY.

A few months later we received an email. Yes, I typed that correctly…AN EMAIL. A relative had been found, they were moving her to a different home. We knew this was the most likely outcome. We knew this was only supposed to be temporary. But it happened so much sooner than we were anticipating. And just like that, this sweet little girl we had fallen in love with, that made us first time parents, brought so much joy and laughter into our home, and changed our lives forever, was gone.

Quiet. Stillness. Down time. Empty.

We lost contact. We thought of her often. We missed her. We got another foster placement…a newborn!

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Things changed again, but we didn’t forget. A year passed. My wife wrote a letter to “little miss” on the 1 year anniversary. (We call her that on social media because we can’t post names or pictures of her face). You can read it here. We cried as she read it to me.

Then, exactly 1 month after the one year date…CAR CRASH!

Back to Wednesday, May 2, 2018. This the day Natalie finds out she needs surgery. The capper to the worst week ever.

The phone rings. As I answer, I’m told that they are looking for a new place for little miss and want to know if we can take her. I call Natalie…she sobbed. Seriously, this is a lot to take in for one day. We can’t say yes fast enough.

June 7, 2018 there was another knock on the door. The same girl walked in. Now almost 7, and much less shy this time around. Just like that we became a family of 4.

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Chaos. Exhaustion. Frustration. Constant running around. Making it up as we go. Lots of laughter. SO MUCH JOY.

Life feeling complete, even if it’s only temporary.

Who knows…maybe there are unseen forces at work, existing in multiple timelines, all working together to reunite a father and his daughter. Maybe a chain of events that are impossible for any one person to see had to be started to accomplish this end goal. Maybe the method chosen to start this chain of events was a car crash. Maybe I just desperately want my life to be an indie sci-fi film and it’s all random coincidence.

Either way, all I know is that the worst week turned out to be the

Best. Week. EVER!

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Foster Care: The Worst Responses We’ve Heard so Far

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Over the holiday season we had the opportunity to attend a Christmas party held by our fostering agency. We are blessed to do life with friends who are also part of foster care, but this was the first time we were surrounded solely by people who just get it. It was a breath of fresh air. On the drive home, we were commenting on how nice it was to go somewhere and not get all the weird, borderline offensive, responses.

Now, to be fair, we recognize that people have good intentions and sometimes just don’t know what to say and what not to say. We totally get that. We were in the same boat before we began the process as well. So to help out, we compiled a list of the worst questions and responses we’ve gotten so far in the foster care process.

1. Well do they pay for that?!

This question gets asked in response to all the typical expenses that come with kids: medical care, food, diapers, formula, school supplies, clothes, etc…And to be clear, yes, the state does pay for many of these things. This is yet another reason why finances are not an excuse to not do foster care. However, this question is mostly asked with a tone that communicates not only an expectation of compensation but also a refusal to foster unless the costs were covered. Last time I checked, kids cost money, families figure it out, and parents always think it’s worth it.

2. Are you going to have your own children?

There are two main things wrong with this question. First, they are our own children. We do not view them as some “other thing”. These kids are fully and 100% part of our family as long as we have them. Second, so many people we know struggle with infertility and/or have had miscarriages. We may too. We don’t know. These friends have tried everything to have kids of their own,are not able to, and are devastated by this. Considering that you may be talking to a person who has been through this, this is probably a question you should just erase from your vocabulary.

3. That takes a really special person/I could never do that.

We are not special. If anything, we are the exact opposite. We were 26 years old with exactly ZERO parenting experience when we began this process. If we can do it, so can you. If you have an extra bedroom in your house, you can do foster care. There is nothing “special” required. When you read scripture, God is actually quite fond of using seemingly unqualified people to expand the Kingdom.

4. I would just get too attached!

This response always bewilders us. Do we give off a cold-hearted vibe? It sounds like people are saying “I would just get too attached to the child, but you guys are rigid and distant enough to pull it off.” Guess what, we get attached to all the kids that come into our home too. When people say “I just don’t think I could handle them being taken away” we typically say “We don’t know that we can either, but we don’t have a choice.” Everyone who does foster care gets too attached, including us. We just don’t see that as a reason to not give a child in need a safe and loving place to stay.

5. I know someone who fostered, and they (insert horrific story here)

Imagine you or your wife were pregnant and someone came up to you and said “Oh, you’re having a baby. Well, I know someone who had a baby once, and that kid got older and was emotionally disturbed and they physically harmed the parents. I’m not trying to scare you, I just want you to know what you’re getting yourselves into.” No one would do that! But people have done this to us. Foster care can be scary enough, don’t be discouraging!

6. What’s their story?

Let’s be honest, what people really mean by this question is “give me the juicy gossip on what their parents did in order to have their child removed.” When phrased like that, maybe you can see why this is a pretty inappropriate question to ask. For privacy reasons, we are not really supposed to share the details of the child’s case with others. However, beyond that, we don’t want any of these kids to be defined by their past. If we have the opportunity to adopt any of the children we foster, we don’t want everyone to know the details about their background or to think negatively about their biological parents. Besides, that’s their story to tell how, when, and to whom they choose. Some aspects of their story may lend toward prayer. For example, a baby that is suffering really bad withdrawals or physical injuries that need to be healed. However, knowing all of the details of the situation is not necessary unless you are someone who is directly involved with the child’s case.

Now, if you are someone who has said or asked some of these, we are not trying to guilt you. You don’t need to come up to us and address it. It’s cool! We just wanted to help out as you encounter more people who foster. Also, we didn’t want this entire thing to be negative and, after reading this, you may be wondering how you COULD respond. Here are some things we love when people ask

  1. What made you decide to foster?
  2. What can we do to get involved with foster care?
  3. What needs can still be met?
  4. How can we pray for you?
  5. What is God teaching you in this process?
  6. Can we give you free babysitting so you can enjoy a date together? Wink_Emoji

As always, if you want to get involved with foster care in any way, come talk to us. We would love to point you in the right direction. We are always open and willing to answer questions, just think about how they might come off before you ask them.