Conversation with a Sexual Predator

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I had just entered Costco with my husband and kids when I saw you. You are older, heavier, and balder then you were 23 years ago but your features are burned into my memory like a scared wound.  The revulsion I felt in my body was rapid. Just the sight of you made my stomach turn, my fists curl, and my pulse race. The bile that raised up burned my throat as I willed it back in place. 23 years since you robbed me, groomed me and violated me. Do you remember me?

My husband said we could leave the store, that I didn’t have to put myself through this- the seeing of you.  But you see, I am not who I once was and I don’t run away or cower down or submit to evil anymore. I would not be the one to retreat today.

I saw the woman at your side and I wondered if she knew who you really were. Did you tell her you are a sexual predator? Does she have kids? Have you changed? The bile rose in my throat again. I didn’t fight back before, I never stood up for myself, for I was utterly convinced (despite the few who learned of what happened saying otherwise) that I had somehow caused it all.  Me, “a stupid, seductress, teenage slut” was responsible for what you did… I even planned on taking my own life after you attempted to rape me and failed because of the shame that enveloped me, the knowing that I couldn’t wash away your fingerprints on my flesh.

But not today. I am no longer her.

I thought it was time you meet me.

I feared I may have missed my opportunity while I regained myself, so I whispered silently to the God who has redeemed all you stole, “give me another chance…”

I stood in the middle of the aisle as my husband grabbed some butter and you rounded the corner with the woman.  You looked up, you recognized me, and you quickly looked away. I stood there, arms crossed, and invited my children to gather around as I explained that this is what a predator can look like. And then, after what felt like too long, I willed my feet to move. I walked right up to you and leaned in a bit, you turned with a smile. That smile made it clear what I needed to say.

I wonder what you expected.

“Have you told her who you really are T**?” You looked at me with disdain before you looked away.

Again, I grew a bit louder, bolder, and unwavering– with one look I knew you had not changed.

“Does she know you are a sexual predator? Does she, T**? If not, she really deserves to know who you are and what you have done.”

At this, behind you, I heard her asking who I was, and then when my words registered, I saw her eyes grow big and heard her exclaim, “WHAT?” I faintly heard my husband behind me say, “I don’t think she knew.” And as you started to walk silently away I drew one last breath to say, “Who better to know than me, your victim!” And the chain fragments that were still being carried by me, fell. Did you hear them? It sounded like a surge of my power coming home, where it always belonged.

And walking away to a clammer of sounds between you and that poor woman, that my mind just could not be bothered with, I realized that I had finished taking back my power- power you once robbed me of.

Were you surprised to find yourself before one you once overpowered now standing before you fiercely, unflinching, a warrior?

I turned the corner of the aisle and fist pumped the air, then turned to look at my daughters who had watched it all.  And I realized again, it is NEVER too late to take back your power, to fight for your freedom, and to land in the beautiful, bountiful land of victory.

Dear T**, I wish you knew my Jesus.

 

To Be Seen

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I have eyed the medicine sitting in its bright blue plastic bag in my refrigerator door off and on all day; tonight the shots will begin.  It is a 3-pronged approach to hopefully wake up my ovaries and shock them into function–not that I will need the eggs for the transfer we hope to do, but our bodies are picky-down to a cellular level-when it comes to breeding life. I need an egg. Technically, I need 1,000 things to go perfectly; the egg is just one part. My head throbbing, thoughts racing, all the improbability I seem to be facing, and I hear the familiar thought echo through my mind once again. “Now God? Now we are hoping for a child? At our ages? With this body?” My thoughts cascade into a familiar loop of all my fears and I feel the heaviness growing within my chest.  It feels like the choking of impossibility.

Remember the story of Abraham and Sarah?

Not that story again, not now.  How many times have I read through different writings of this familiar story, a seeming favorite to quote to the barren and infertile to remind of God’s ability.  Honestly, I have found it irksome. Our stories could not be more different. Sarah and I are in different worlds, and what could I possibly be reminded of that I haven’t heard a hundred times before?

Read it again. Dig. Look at it as you are, a woman who has long journeyed with barrenness and infertility. 

Sigh.

That was several days ago…and I am still blown away by all I had never seen before about my girl Sarah.  So, I invite you to pull up a proverbial chair and sneak behind the scenes into my favorite chapter of Sarah’s story, the promise, as I unpack what I think the scene may have actually looked like on that day so very long ago.  One infertile woman’s look into the day of another…(Genesis 18)

….

Sarai. She had always heard of her incredible beauty, some even believed she was the most beautiful woman alive.  Even middle aged her body showed all the firmness of never having carried a child, another attribute of her beauty in others eyes, but a searing daily reminder of what had never been.  Her golden skin tones, her symmetrical features, she was a prize for any King, and once already she had been captured by a King because of her looks. Her worth as determined by her beauty fell flat as she considered how time had passed her by. Would she trade it all for a child? The one thing that every woman could do, she could not– she could not bear a child.  There was not a day that had gone by since early in their marriage that she did not hope for a child. As year after year passed, her desperation grew. There was only one thing left in her power to try: to substitute another woman in her place to be her surrogate. The desperate try turned into a cold reality of yet another hope broken when it worked, and Sarai still felt the same inside.  Her womb was still empty as she watched the swelling belly of another offer proof that it was her shame that made a child impossible. Not even Abraham could make her pregnant, though he could her surrogate. The world now knew without doubt it was Sarai who was broken. Her beauty, her freedom, and the wealth she enjoyed would never comfort that deep ache within her for a hope that seemed to be impossible.

Her hands went to work preparing the bread like she had done a thousand times before–the flour, the water, the kneading. She created the bread absentmindedly as her thoughts wandered to the guests her husband had said arrived.  Both culture and status demanded their hospitality today, but this was something more. Something inside her whispered these were no ordinary guests. She remained in the tent, hidden away, unseen, doing as was expected of her. But when the food was done, something drew her to the tent door, to the men that sat just outside of it.  She had to know more. Who were these men? Why were they here?

Then they said to Abraham, “Where is Sarah your wife?”

God shows up with two angels, shares a meal with Abraham and asks where Sarah is.  The omnipotent God knows exactly where she is. He knows she is listening at the tent door; it is His presence that drew her.  He sees her, not for her physical beauty like everyone else, and not for her barrenness. He is not hindered by her hiddenness; He has shown up, and He wants her to know that He sees her, truly sees her.  And he calls her not by the name she had known all her life, but by Sarah, the Mother of Nations. He lets Sarah know with one question that He sees her and exactly how he sees her: not as barren, but as exceedingly fruitful.

Sarah. Sarah? His words touched places deep within her. They held power; they held life.  This is what it feels like to be seen?

He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him.

Sarah couldn’t believe her ears as she laughed to herself.  Her heart raced. Had she heard him correctly? She would have a son next year?  Now, Lord? Now we are hoping for a child? At our ages? With this body? When it has been proven impossible for me by time? When we feel old? Now?

It was the thing she wanted most. This was the promise she had dreamed of having for most of her life.  Just when she surrendered to the reality of never, God spoke of a certainty her mind could not compute easily.

And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old’? Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

Sarah, hidden within the tent, silent, her thoughts completely seen before the One Who Created Her.  Can you hear His tone as He pours His love into her? Sarah, I see you. I know your thoughts. I know you’re struggling to understand. I know it is hard to trust that the day will finally come. I know you don’t want more pain.  However, I am going to blow your mind. I am the God of the impossible. Nothing is too hard for me, and this is for my glory and always has been.

Sarah, shocked and fearful that her thoughts were known, and sad that they showed her vulnerability, her tenderness, and her pain, immediately sought to erase them.

Sarah denied it…

And He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

Seen. No hiding. Jesus is not mad; He is honest. He understands. He isn’t surprised. He wants her to know she never needs to hide from him her innermost thoughts and pain.  He has her. He is the God who sees.

Her pain was never without purpose. In her season of waiting, she may never have imagined the plans God had for her.  The waiting was not by accident but by design. In a time where the only certainty of barrenness, of impossibility, would be time, he allowed the time to pass so he could perform his miracle.  God wanted to give her a front row seat to see that He is the God of the impossible. The one who the world thought was barren would become the Mother of Nations.

The tears keep filling my eyes.  He is the God who sees, not just Sarah, but me and you.  In our heartache, in the deserts, in the brokenness, in the waiting, He sees us.  He is the God of the impossible, and He always has a plan. And He is inviting us to have a front row seat to watch Him do immeasurably more than we could ever comprehend. Whatever OUR impossible, He repeats, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Walking in that truth changes everything.

 

The Death of a Son

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Jesus on the cross.

A few years ago I was asked to contemplate and create a piece of art through photography that spoke to that scene.  At first, I was overwhelmed. What could I possibly do with photography that could speak to this profound moment?

As I prayed, I looked down at my sleeping 8 month old baby whose fingers curled tightly around mine and thought, “What about Mary?”

The one who carried Jesus in her womb, the one who nursed Him at her breast, the one who did all the late night feedings after birthing Him into the world–she was there.  She was at the cross as He died. He was first the son of God, but He was also her son, and she held all the memories of raising Him while He hung dying on that cross.

Jesus was fully God and fully man, but I would pose that Mary was simply fully human and fully a mom.  And as a mom, I sought to ponder what it might have been like for her during those hours…

She knew it was coming, but nothing could have truly prepared her for the scene, the feelings, the smells, the sounds, the helplessness she felt.  Even if she was able to grasp the importance of the sacrifice completely, it had to war with her instincts as a mother, powerful instincts to protect and defend her child, her son.

As she watched Him die, did she flash back to that baby she held in the humble manager? To the fingers that once curled around her own in total dependance on her care, now being drained of their life while He hung on the cross?  Did she think back over the thousands of memories she held of watching Him grow into a man? Did she weep bitterly knowing that while this incredibly hard thing was God’s will, it felt like it was impossible for her to bear?

Mary, you didn’t run from the hard of any of those moments.  You stayed present. You stayed steadfast even as your knees dropped to the ground, and you wept and your heart broke into what seemed like possibly irreparable pieces. We know God had you even then, especially then, because through incredible pain and with extraordinary effort Jesus spoke from the cross about you:

“‘When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!’” John 19:26-27

Ordinary Mary. God used her to do an extraordinary thing. He chose her, He loved her, He had her…even and especially in the shadow of the cross.

He has you today too. From the cradle to the crosses in your life, He has you. He loves you. In the pain he promises to bring forth great purpose. Even when we feel crushed, He has a plan. He is never surprised, and He always gets the victory.  Like Mary, may we draw near to Jesus and not only find the resurrection power but also find the power that only comes at the foot of the cross.

 

A Bartender and a Carrot Cake

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I sat in the hotel lobby area sipping on my morning coffee, watching the beautiful, golden, early morning light pour in through the glass doors just a half dozen yards in front of me when I noticed him slowly shuffling into the lobby with his walker in the lead. The white hair left on his head trimmed short, once tall, he was now slightly hunched over, the crease from his oxygen line permanently imprinting his face during his sleep, he moved slowly forward. Carefully, he grabbed a complimentary newspaper from the front desk, and setting it on the seat of his walker, for what I assumed was easy transport, he began heading over to sit at the table in front of me.  Sitting carefully down, he opened the newspaper and began to read it.

Newspaper. “Huh, those still exist?” I thought to myself as I tried to focus on my plans for the day. It was my vacation and the possibilities were endless. It was all going to be about me for the first time in a very long time. So, God, what should I do today?

My eyes focused on the man in front of me again and the thought pressed in, why don’t you offer to serve him?

“Seriously?” I mouthed silently. Slowly, carefully, not unlike the older man in front of me, I got up and walked over to him.

“May I get you a cup of coffee?” I asked.

Looking up at me, a small smile on his face, he said, “Oh, I don’t drink coffee anymore. I gave it up when my wife got sick 6 years ago and couldn’t drink it anymore. Don’t get me wrong though, I like the taste of the stuff.”

His smile, big and warm, and inviting.

“Oh, wow. I wish I could give it up, but this mama needs caffeine. Can I do anything else for you?” I asked, trying to avoid thinking about how awkward I felt.

While looking down absently at the paper, smoothing it unconsciously with his hand, he softly replied, “Oh, you are sweet. No, I am good. My daughter will be here soon to have a cup of tea with me. You see, today is my birthday, I am 84… (deep breath and sigh) Yeah, my wife and I used to come here together you know, before she died in November.  We were married for 65 years. Now when I come some things bug me a bit.”

As his eyes grew misty, so did mine.

“65 years? That is incredible. I am so sorry to hear of her passing.” (I briefly pause, quickly searching for some words that might be ok in this moment…) ”That is wonderful that your daughter is coming! Are you going to celebrate?”

Still lost in thought as he looked passed me, my question seemed to awaken him again to the present as he responded, “Oh, yes. Have you met the bartender that is here in the evenings? Well, she is baking me a cake for my birthday today! Yes, do you like cake? She is making me my favorite–carrot cake with cream cheese frosting! You need to come back today at 5 o’clock and have a piece of cake with us!”

Seriously?

I promised I would while wondering if this bartender was really going to bake this guy a cake. What sort of bartender does that anyway?

That evening I was there at 5, waiting and watching, unable to shake this conversation from the forefront of my thoughts. The bartender appeared, a 60ish lady with a warm smile and short curly hair that was covered with a sparkly green St. Patty’s Day hat. As she poured my drink I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Are you REALLY giving a cake to one of the patrons today for his birthday?”

With a chuckle she looked at me and said, “Oh! You mean Sam. Yeah, great guy! He loves carrot cake with cream cheese icing so I baked one up for him last night. Today is his birthday!” My shoulders sagged as I realized she even knew his name and it hadn’t even crossed my mind to ask.

I had no words, so I sat and sipped on my beverage and waited. A few minutes later here came Sam rounding the corner into the lobby area and heading straight to the bar.  I didn’t hear their words, but I watched. After greeting him and pouring him a drink she left to head into the kitchen area. A few moments later she came out with a humble, but delicious looking carrot cake covered with a liberal amount of cream cheese frosting.  As she set it before him with a huge smile on her face I watched as his face lit up too.

I was watching a scene I knew Heaven was applauding.

Humbled, I walked over and asked if I could take a photo for them to remember the moment, and carefully he handed me his cell phone.

Later, the next day, as she hurriedly passed through the area trying to attend to her duties, I put out my hand to stop her. “Thank you for the lesson yesterday on what love looks like.”  And with a knowing smile she looked right into my eyes and remarked, “You are very welcome.”

It was the best sermon I have seen in a long time.

 

A Lesson From My 9 Year Old

I had been running all day and had just realized that I had zero plans for dinner.  Once again all my good intentions of planning everything out had dissolved along with my give-a-crap button.  Cereal? Nah, it just didn’t sound like it would work for dinner, not long term, the girls would be hungry again in an hour.  So, on day 5 of solo parenting, in the heat, with a mouth still on fire from having surgery on my tongue, I loaded up kids and headed to the grocery store.

As we pulled into the Raley’s parking lot we saw him.  A skinny, middle-aged man, deeply tanned with a medium length white beard, holding up his sign that read, “Just hungry and ugly.”  I sighed and did my best to avoid eye contact. I didn’t have the time or energy to help, plus he was probably just scamming. I wasn’t ignorant on how things could work.

Just buy him some food.  It is hot, he is saying he is hungry, you can, so you should.  But I really don’t feel like it at all right now and there was always someone in need…

“Hey mom, did you see that guy?  Did you read his sign?” asked my 9 year old in the backseat.

“Yes baby.”

“Mom, did you see his eyes?  They look sad. You say to always look at the eyes.”

I had purposefully not looked at his eyes actually…

Just buy him some food

“Baby, will you help me pick out some food to buy him?”

With incredible excitement and a sparkle in her eyes, she sat up straight and said, “Really mom?  Can I hand it to him? Can I be the one to give it to him after we get it?”

He is filthy, she is a child, the germs, the what if’s, all the reasons that immediately flew into my head to be solid reasons to say “NO! Baby I will do this.”

What are you teaching her?

Mic drop.

What was I teaching her?  Was I being wise or just afraid?  Why was I even thinking the thoughts I was?  But more importantly, was I teaching her to love others like Jesus did and does?

But Jesus knows about boundaries!  

Wait, DID Jesus have boundaries?  If he did, would they have really walked through this filter I have in my head that screams of preserving and protecting at all costs, always, especially regarding my children!

Oh.

What am I teaching my children?  To be bold and brave or just afraid?  To be generous and kind or guarded and cold?  

Maybe my children are teaching me. Oh Lord, forgive me.  I have so much to learn.

We quickly walked through the grocery store and bought a modest bag full of imperishable items for the stranger begging outside.  All the while, I was explaining to my daughter why we were buying certain things (thinking about his possible needs and the heat), and not just throwing in cartons of ice cream.

Can it ever be a waste to give food?  Really?

I don’t know his story, but I do know I can buy some food.  Does it matter if he is scamming somehow? Nope. Because in that moment I realized that there was so much more happening than just buying food for him and hopefully helping meet his need.  Our sight was changing, my children were learning, and I was learning most of all. Because if someone has to beg, regardless of their intentions, then they are indeed in need. Full stop.

So, with an excitement that left all her limbs jittery, my girlie carefully placed the items into the bag, buckled her belt and sat beaming with readiness to hand over the groceries to the man.

Am I ever this excited to serve another?  Such expectancy. No fear. Just wonder.

After a bit of searching, we found him leaving the parking lot on his bike, seemingly empty handed.  I pulled up, rolled down the windows and looked into his eyes for the first time. Need. My beautiful, brown skinned baby looked the middle aged white man right in the eyes as she smiled and said, “We got you some food.”  Her eyes…love.

As we drove away, I took a deep breath, and looked back at my girl who represented Jesus– to both the beggar and me– as she sat beaming.

“Mom!  That was awesome (her limbs all jittery with excitement again), it is just so amazing to get to help another, right?”

Yes baby.  Thanks for teaching mama today…

 

Love Wins

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I don’t remember the first person who told me about God.  I was invited to many churches and heard many things during the first 12 years of my life.  I didn’t doubt there was a God because I knew there was evil. For some, that is a stumbling block–the problem of evil–for me, it was proof.  If there was evil, but not ALL was evil then there MUST be the opposite and that opposite was God. He was just an idea until junior high; an idea that I wrestled with often.

My first memory of evil was when I was 4.  He was 15 years old and promised it would be “fun” but that I would get into big trouble if I told.  I would ride to school with that evil for years. There were so many moments of evil in that first decade of my life that I could never doubt its existence.  It crossed gender lines and age limits; it knew no bounds.

But God?  What about him?

If you had come to me and told me I was going to hell, I would have laughed and told you I was already there.  If you would have tried to explain to me that I was a sinner, I would have shaken my head and asked you to tell me something I didn’t already know.

When you live in the darkness you need not be reminded of its presence….you need to know that there is light.

Love.  Just as I was, right where I was, I needed love to wrap around me and promise to walk with me as it changed me.  And it DID change me…one bit at a time.

That is the Jesus I know–he meets you where you are, as you are, and calls you to himself.  People can represent him imperfectly, but they will never replace him. And so, my 7th grade year, several circled ‘round me -for a time- to represent him, his love.  Their love was beyond my understanding. Yet, I was SO hungry for it.

Love won me.

True love always wins, in the end–not the love offered by the world, that is temporary and conditional– but true love.  Love that gets down in the gutter where you live and raises you up, and then holds on, without end– THAT is the good news. That he loves us, and took it all upon himself to save us and he never, ever let’s go.

What are you known for?

The truth and love are not enemies, you don’t have to trade one for another, in my experience they go hand in hand.  After-all, wasn’t that what Jesus modeled?