Lack of real Spiritual Leaders

“Spiritual leaders influence more than they direct, and they inspire more than they instruct.”

Why, in all my years growing up in the Christian church, going to, and being involved in many Christian ministries, have I come across so few true Spiritual Leaders, as defined by this article?  I am becoming increasingly convinced that it is because I have been following a religious system called Christianity, rather than the actual person of Jesus.   I attended a retreat with Bob Hamp at the beginning of this year.  He beautifully modeled the type of Spiritual Leader he outlines in the post referenced.  He led me into my own spiritual experience. Leaders, don’t fool yourself into thinking merely instruction is enough to lead someone spiritually.  We need to be led to the ONE who is Spirit and Truth.

Why I love #twitter

TwitterI have a blog, but I don’t fancy myself a writer, it just seems to be a good way to get out all those words that like to swirl around my head from time to time.  I’m not working on my platform or counting new followers, but I have found Twitter to be a fantastic medium to connect with like-minded people.  It has also reveled to me a world of wonderful people who think differently than I had previously been taught to think.  This was fascinating for me, and has caused me to gain a whole new perspective on my life, God, the Bible and our world.

The best part of Twitter is the interaction.  Twitter essentially levels the playing field of social interaction with those beautiful 140 characters.  It is enough to get your point across, but succinct enough not to scare away the people you are trying to connect with.  Twitter simultaneously makes the world larger, opening a whole plethora of topics and ideas, and smaller, creating access to people who otherwise would seem distant and unreachable. I can “talk” to the writer of the book I’m reading, and sometimes, they talk back!  I “meet” people who like the same books, blogs, and podcasts I do.

In this relatively new frontier of the online world, it feels a bit sheepish to say I talked to someone, or met someone on the internet.  Online is not real, we say, and while that may be true in certain instances, I find that interactions on Twitter can be quite real.  There are real people interacting and conversing, and for my part it’s as real as I want to make it.  It’s as real as I push back my fears and write that reply, or tweet that question I have been dying to ask.  For a shy extrovert like myself, Twitter is a unique channel that lets me interact with people thoughtfully and without feeling rushed to just say something, which in a typical social setting usually turns into saying nothing at all, and that is simply no fun.

Fun is tweeting a line from a book, article or blog post and having the person who wrote it re-tweet it!  Fun is getting a book recommendation for a book that blows your mind!  Fun is giving someone specific feedback and then they hit like and you know they actually got the message!

Unlike with Facebook friends sharing things with me, on Twitter I control the content I see. I decide who I want to follow.  I can search by hashtag or topic. When I’m looking for a certain writer, teacher or preacher I always check twitter first.  When I find someone on Twitter, I hope they are there looking for honest feedback.  People putting content on Twitter would do well to heed this advice.  You would be surprised how many well-known people will take the time to read something you have to say and respond in gracious and thoughtful ways.

Because of Twitter I have attended a spiritual retreat, received mentoring, read more books this year than I have read in the last 10 years combined, and found a community of people that never would have been possible in any other setting.  As I scour around, looking for the truth I believe lies somewhere in the center of all the various factions and divisions that have arisen, I have found the platform that is Twitter to be an invaluable resource in that endeavor.

My Girl

These last few summer mornings, while my teacher-husband and the boys are still sleeping, my vigilant daughter wakes and comes to find me. My spunky daughter, my sometimes muse, sometimes nemesis, she came into the world two weeks late, wide awake, and hasn’t slowed down since.

On these summer mornings I start a show for her, prep some breakfast and then we have a few minutes to sit together.

She peppers me with questions,

“Mommy, can you get doughnuts for breakfast tomorrow?”

“It’s NEXT Friday you will leave work early so we can go on our trip?”

“Who is coming to watch us when Daddy goes golfing today?”

She wants to know the PLAN.

I tell people she got the brain parts I lost during pregnancy and childbirth.  Her fresh little mind seem to remember so many things much more easily than I do.  I frequently use that ability to my advantage, she’s like my own little organic day-planner.

She is a mysterious blend of confidence and anxiety, care-giver and egocentric, go-getter and un-cooperative.  As an unfiltered little girl, she just happens to put far more on display than I generally do. It is both unsettling and sobering to see this mini-reflection of my own assets and faults on fully exposed right before my eyes.

As our morning minutes come to a close it has been harder and harder to pull myself out the door to make my way to work.  Working mom, working mom, the words repeat in my head like a chant. I balance the tension and hold onto God’s promises: Psalm 138:8 “The Lord will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness O LORD, is everlasting; Do not forsake the works of your hands.”

It is very important to her to get kisses and hugs before I go. I squeeze her tighter and slowly scoot off the couch, kissing the top of her head.  I pick up my purse, give another kiss and hug, and slowly open the front door.

Today she grinned at me as I walked out the door.  Love and relief wash over me.  At least this morning she seems to understand.  She knows Mommy goes to work and I’ll be back.  At least in this moment there is peace behind her twinkling eyes.

As I’m backing out I realize I forgot my smoothie.  I pull back into the driveway and rush back through the door.  Grab smoothie, another kiss, another grin, another day with my girl

 

Hard earned, Well fought

Subtitle:  What my brain thinks about when I don’t have kids to take care of.

Driving away the opposite direction of my children I immediately begin to feel my body decompress. They are off to Grandma’s. I, and my dedicated husband, are going on a plane then a boat, in the hot, hot sun, far, far away. I love my life! This really is a seminal moment in my life, 5 days 3000 miles away from my kids with my husband, this is it! This is the moment I’ve been waiting for since my daughter made her way into the world, eyes wide open, almost 6 years ago.

Hard earned and well fought for, I’m ready for this next chapter!

Forgive me if this post bucks the current trend of *sigh “life’s hard, but God is good!” type blogs.

Life is hard, it’s a lot hard, but for me, right now, I’m good. I’m thrilled, and yes happy.  Is it ok to be happy?

I just moved into a new house and I love it! I mean, I might actually cry when I see the kitchen done, like those people on HGTV.

We are a solidly middle class, two income family.  My husband is a teacher,  which has some definite perks of its own. Can you say Daddy daycare?

Another thing going right? We made a killing on the house we just sold, which is why we get the new kitchen and carpet in the new house.

Did I mention I love this house. We’ve lived here a week and last night I was able to sweep the living areas without having to pick up 10,000 toys. Vacuuming the bedrooms might be another story, but my plan of no food in the bedrooms, no toys or clothes in the living areas and kitchen, actually seems to be working!

It feels like “the plan” actually worked and we really made it!

Oh yeah, the hard won, we’ll fought part. Two babies in two years,  full time working, special needs mom. Crazy yelling sad crying exhausted frustrated,  yep I was there, if I’m honest, I’m not so far removed from these things as I’d like to be.  So  I guess this is a “life’s hard, but God is good” post after all.  This is also, “hang in there, it get’s better.”  No, my exhausted, baby toting self wouldn’t have believed it, nor did I want to hear it either.  Nevertheless, it did, it got better.

There is a balancing act I find I have to perform though.  With all the “good” news, and living the “American dream” I ended up having an Ecclesiastes moment.  With a little bit of extra money I pretended for 2 hours that I was independently wealthy. I got beauty treatments, had my groceries delivered to my car, and went through a drive through on my way back to my kid-less house.  As much as I complain, a kid-less house is pretty boring, and while the treatments were nice, I knew I was just pretending and in the end “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 1:14 NIV  So what do we do then?

I think, if I’m learning anything “through it all” that it’s people who really matter: our kids, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and even enemies.  I’m looking forward to this next chapter of my life to really be more about the people around me. I know this is the purpose God has for me and I’m so excited to see it play out.

2 Corinthians 1: 3-4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” Who would God have me comfort?

The Moment

I saw a tweet with this article a couple of days ago.

It reminded me there was a story I wanted to share.

This is adapted from a speech I gave at an event for Napa Emergency Women’s Services back in 2007.

I remember “the moment”, he and I were attending the same Christian college.  He had just returned from a weekend out of town.  Upon picking up his car that I had been using he as me if I had missed him.  Quite innocently and honestly I answered, “Well no, not really.”

His response shocked me.  “How could you say such a thing!” He shot back at me. “How could you just crush me like that? How could you be so mean?”

No one had ever called me mean before, I was immediately on the defense.  I couldn’t bear that someone thought I wasn’t a nice person.  From that moment on it was my goal to make sure he knew I was his friend.

The fact that I cared so much was the main reason I was so vulnerable to an abusive person.

We were soon more than friends.  He found subtle ways to control and isolate me.  Always appealing to they ways I could “prove” my affection for him.  I even broke up with him once, but a well meaning professor informed me he was saddened by our break up and thought we “made each other better.”  I decided the relationship must be part of God’s plan.  I went back to him, declared my determination to love and stay with him, and we were married within 6 months.

As time went on, I simply couldn’t understand what was happening.  The constant manipulation and mind games left me immobilized.  I knew something wasn’t right but for the life of me I couldn’t put my finger on the problem.

Life became a day to day struggle to survive.  I was walking on eggshells, trying so hard not to do something wrong, yet inevitably dealing with the next “blow up.”  Power, control, and intimidation are powerful tools.  When what you are being told defies your own logic, you begin to think you must be going crazy.

Very little of the abuse I suffered was actually physical, but rather it was the complete bit by bit dismantling of all life outside of that relationship.  It is this methodical way of taking control that is so hard to identify.  I suppose I had heard of domestic violence, but I was raised in a very sheltered conservative Christian environment.  Being a submissive wife was part of the standard protocol for a “good marriage.”

Unfortunately it took a traumatic even in order for the realities of the situation to come to light.

My son was born June 14, 2003.  We had been married almost 2 years at that time.  My son was born perfectly healthy and was a good baby.  On August 31st, the three of us had just returned from a little road trip.  There was a good deal of tension from the fairly long car ride and I was dutifully vacuuming as I had been instructed to.  Minutes later he brought the baby out of a back bedroom – he was limp and not breathing, he told me the baby had choked.

I called 911…

After initial evaluation at the local ER, they flew the baby to a children’s hospital where he spent 11 days in the pediatric ICU.  He had been able to be revived but had begun to have seizures.

At that time the doctors went through a series of test to determine what had happened.

The last test was dilating the baby’s eyes.  What was discovered was retinal hemorrhages.  Blood was completely filling the back of his eyes.  The diagnosis was Shaken Baby Syndrome.

CPS and law enforcement were called.  We were questioned separately.  I recounted the events of the weekend.  I had no idea what could have happened, was it the bumpy road we had been on?

After his interview he came out and told his parents and I that he had indeed shaken the baby. As more details surfaced I found out this was not the first time he had done it.

This is fairly typical of an SBS case.  Prior shakings produce very little, very subtle effects.  The child quiets, producing the desired effect and the perpetrator is actually positively reinforced in their behavior.  Crying however was not his excuse.  During a later conversation, while trying to maintain control and manipulate me into believing I as part of the cause, he actually came out and said he was jealous of the baby, as if I somehow caused it.

On Sept 5 he was arrested on charges of injury to a child.

On Sept 11 the baby was released from the hospital in to CPS custody.  CPS retained physical custody for 2 weeks and legal custody for another 2 months while our case was investigated.

In the meantime, I was referred to a battered women’s support group where I saw for the first time a sheet entitled “Signs of an Abuser.”

He fit 15 of the 17 characteristics! I wasn’t going crazy!  This roller coaster I had been enduring was not unique, but rather a well-defined abusive pattern.

He spent two weeks in jail and was sentenced to 8 years of probation through a deferred sentence plea deal.  In our case the DA failed. He asked no medical professionals about my son’s medical condition.  The only thing the judge heard was, “the baby is ok.”

My baby, Stephen, is now 11.  He deals daily with visual impairment, cognitive delays, mild cerebral palsy, and behavioral difficulties.  However he also has also fought hard and never gives up.  He runs, walks, talks, and this year even learned to ride a bike independently!  He does well in school with the help of special education specialists and countless amazing teachers, therapists and aids.

I am particularly thankful that in the aftermath of such a horrible incident, I was directed to the right resources.  I want to stress that for women who find themselves in fear and isolation within a relationship, walking on eggshells and always afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing, you are not going crazy!  You are not alone!

Shelters and abuse support organizations are available to help.

For more information on the signs of domestic abuse you can visit www.thehotline.org, or you can call The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

You can also search “domestic violence” with a city name, and will almost always come up with a local resource organization.

I also wish I had seen this article before I got married: http://www.drjoecarver.com/clients/49355/File/IdentifyingLosers.html

Courage for Community

There’s a show my husband and I watch called Forever. It’s about a guy who’s been alive for about 200 years after being shot on a slave trade ship, falling in the water, and somehow, coming back to life, healed. Now it happens that every time he dies, he comes back to life in a nearby body of water, naked, but healed. It’s kind of interesting thinking about the ramifications of an immortality such as this.

He’s a doctor, and in this particular episode he was doing an appendectomy on a boy of royal descent. Before putting him under he told him, “Courage! You are the son of a King.” Years later while tending to this same boy’s granddaughter, he recalls this scene and tells her, “Courage! You are the daughter of a King.”

Thanks to the influence of John Van Sloten on my thinking, it was easy to see the spiritual application here. Romans 8:16 says, “The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children.” HCSB

I was always taught that when God repeats something it means to pay attention. It seems like many blog posts and scripture passages I have come across since I watched that show have referenced COURAGE. So, I did a little scripture search.

A huge part of Moses’ and God’s message to Israel and Joshua had to do with courage.

Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. 7 Moses then summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you will go with this people into the land the Lord swore to give to their fathers. You will enable them to take possession of it. 8 The Lord is the One who will go before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid or discouraged.” HCSB

I really like the parallel shown here:

Be strong and courageous : Do not be afraid or discouraged.

Strength vs. fear, courage vs. discouragement.

I don’t feel afraid as much as paralyzed, maybe that’s just the result of being afraid for a very long time. I feel so stuck in this place and can’t quite see where God is leading me. However, I know very well that I am discouraged. I’ve spent about 6 months reading more than I have in the past 6 years. I’ve been reading and studying and learning about all manner of biblical and theological ideas that I never knew about before.

My mind feels like it’s going to explode and I am here wondering, God, what do you want me to do? If I am indeed a “daughter of a king,” what does that mean for my courage, and my ability to “do” this life?

Then I started reading and hearing, “DO.” Articles and blog posts all pointed to the necessity of action in the Christian life. The ACT of following Jesus is something I DO not just something I believe. I tweeted recently, “It doesn’t matter what I believe in my head if it doesn’t change what I do. Lord, what do you want me to do?”

For me, that is going to take COURAGE.

It’s now taken me nearly a month to piece together these thoughts. So the next thought in this slowly unfolding sentence has been “community.” I am currently suffocating under the isolation of suburban sprawl.

It doesn’t bother my husband that much. He goes to work as a Christian school teacher. He teaches kids and talks to co-workers. Sometimes he might even talk to kids and teach co-workers. Either way, he’s having personal interaction throughout his day. He comes home and he wants to watch a game. He’ll play with the kids and sometimes help with the dishes. He’s hates small talk. He is a true introvert. He’s content, and really feels no significant lack in his life. I envy him.

I meanwhile sit in an office. I stare at spreadsheets, deposit other people’s money and pay other people’s bills. These are people I know nothing about except what they charge on their “business” credit cards. I don’t talk to them or spend time with them. At the end of the day it’s time for our commute home, everyone headed in different directions.

On my drive home I read books about guys in Portland and their “community.” They live life meeting in local coffee shops and bars. They live together and serve each other and their neighborhoods. They love each other and “do” life together. I just listened to Shane Blackshear’s interview with David Janzen. He wrote a book called “The Intentional Christian Community Handbook.” He stated, “The gospel is uniquely at home in community.” Experiencing life with other people is fundamental to experiencing all God made us for. When God said it is not good for man to be alone, there wasn’t even sin yet, being alone was the only thing that was not good.

In another interview by Shane Blackshear, Bruxy Cavey really says some other really interesting things about community. In the context of church, and working with a group to make decisions, he says, “God sacrifices efficiency for relationship.”   When speaking of spiritual growth, Bruxy highlighted the idea that the kinds of personal Biblical study we tout as so important today, has simply not been possible for the majority of the existence of the Church. Yet, the timing of Christ coming is described as “the fullness of time.” He says:

For hundreds of years people would have to come together in order to learn anything and be able to grow. God’s primary mechanism of spiritual growth has actually nothing to do with me and my Bible in print, being by myself, growing. We are designed to grow most when we are listening to the voices of each other in dialog. God still has an agenda for the Word to be en-fleshed in the church. It’s no accident that we are called the body of Christ.

It turns out the body of Christ actually functions best with multiple bodies working together. Honestly, living in community, doing life together with other people sounds like something that would be the coolest thing ever, crazy hard, but very cool. It makes me think of how I’ve always been so charged up by being at camp or a retreat and so incredibly discouraged when it was over and there was NO one to continue on with. Maybe it’s possible the desire for this kind of community is actually from God. Something I’ve always craved, yet never knew was a real possibility. Now all I need now is to discover what God has in mind for my family! I know he is with us, even if it takes a good bit of courage to do it.

Note: If you haven’t been listening to Seminary Dropout, you should! Listen, it WILL be good!