faith

“Bring that down to a one.”

After shaking our hands and introducing himself, the surgeon sat down, clipboard in hand and light-heartedly asked, “So how nervous are you right now?”

I ran through a quick self-evaluation. How nervous was I? Up until just a few minutes ago, when I sat down in this cold, hideously yellow exam room, with its thin table/bed that looked like it could have been recovered from the ruins at Chernobyl, I have been surprisingly calm. But now, alert and slightly shaking, I was admittedly anxious.

“Probably like a six, on a scale of one to ten.” I answer.

“Okay, let’s bring that down to about a one,” he jokes. This comment would set the tone for the rest of the appointment: comments that were slightly comedic, mildly dark (“I could have cancer, he could have cancer, but I don’t think that you have breast cancer in that spot.”), and a whole lot of casual C.Y.A. At more than one moment in the appointment, I thought to myself, “Was this a waste of our time and money?” But I never said it out loud, and was able to justify that if I had not come here, I would have worried and wondered for months.

In March, I had to make the call to Massimo that my doctor had found a lump in my breast during my annual exam. Between that day and my appointment with the comedic surgeon, I had gone through a weeks of visits from a series of mental roommates – some welcome, others not.

The first to stop by after we learned that this lump existed was called Faith. She was, as she always is, wise and free-spirited. Faith assured us that all we needed to do was invite her over, and she would happily stay with us. She said we didn’t need anyone else besides her to get through this. I politely declined, assuring her we would get through this.

Next to come over when I said goodbye to Faith was Pride, who introduced himself as Responsibility. Of course, true Responsibility calls himself “Humility,” so I should have known better. Nonetheless, I spent some time at home and at work with Pride, who constantly reminded me that this could cost us a fortune. “You have a high deductible plan,” he said. “And your emergency fund was really not for tests, surgeries, and treatments, was it? You always said that was in case of a ‘car accident,’ Deborah, you didn’t plan for this! What if this is bad?”

Pride was relentless. I admit I should have shooed him away quickly, but he made some excellent points. Massimo and my mom assured me time and again that this is not the time for financial decisions; this is the time for health care decisions – the two should not be mixed. I eventually told Pride to leave, but before he left, he apparently called his friend, Fear, to stop by.

Fear came by for just a little bit at first, but his real power came after the ultrasound, when he teamed up with his sister, Self-Pity, and their friend, Logic. When this mass first came to our attention, I could easily brush it away as “probably nothing.” Logic, at that time, seemed my friend. Logic told me that most of the time, for someone my age, a lump was just a cyst or just plain tissue. “This is more of a hassle than cause for concern,” Logic told me. I let him stay on the couch for a week.

The day of the ultrasound, Logic sent me off on a great foot. The whole thing went very quickly. In fact, maybe too quickly. The tech took her pictures, left to speak to the doctor, and came back with him. He took more pictures, spoke for about 30 seconds, and left. I looked at the technician with confusion, hoping my face would convey my inner voice screaming, “What do I do now?”

She smiled at me and said, “You’re all set.” That’s not really an answer, lady.

The doctor said a few words that stood out to me: “Your age,” “Not a cyst,” and “most likely a fibroadenoma, which is benign.” That’s really all I had. He mentioned something about a surgeon, or biopsy, but it went very quickly. I walked out feeling like a two out of ten on the worry scale: pretty good.

We went home happy, and it wasn’t until a few days later, when my doctor got the report and decided to refer me to a surgeon for a consult that the visitors showed up again.

This time, Logic seemed to get along better with Fear than he had gotten along with me before. Logic explained very clearly the following facts: 25-year-olds, statistically, are just about as low-risk as one can be. But if a 25-year-old did get cancer, it would (statistically) be breast cancer. And if a 25-year-old did get breast cancer, it would be bad (physically and financially), and even if she survived, it may affect the safety of her having children some day.

Then Self-Pity chimed in and expressed her concern that of course I deserve a long, healthy life with my husband, and that I deserve to have children and raise a family and et cetera et cetera. I knew she couldn’t be right, and after a couple days of that malarky, Massimo set her straight and she packed her bags.

Massimo, of course, was amazing through all of this. I don’t know if he didn’t notice our unwelcome guests, or he was just better at ignoring them than I was, but I told him time and again that if there was a description of how I would like my spouse to act in these circumstances, I would base it off of him. He was amazing. His strength and support – both silent and spoken – were amazing.

When we finally acknowledged the roommates that we both hated: Fear, Logic, Pride, and Self-Pity, we got on a united front and kicked them out once and for all. With them gone, we had room to invite Faith over to spend the week with use before the surgeon appointment. Faith also brought over her friends Joy and Hope, and we all got along splendidly. Sure, in the back of our minds we were always wondering what would happen, but it was more of an intangible, almost (stress the almost) weightless thought, than an unbearable burden.

The only small frustration in those days shared with Faith, Joy, and Hope was planning. There was always a “what if” factored in to making plans and spending money. “What if I need a biopsy? What if this drains our account?” But Hope would chime in and say, “Even still, it is well.”

The day of my appointment went by in a flash. When the comedic doctor left after a brief exam, we couldn’t stop grinning and holding hands. I felt every breath come in and out of my through with such clarity. Joy rode in the back seat with us on the way home from the surgeon’s office, grinning just as wide.

Now, almost six months later, my follow-up appointment next month is practically routine. I learned a lot from those weeks between discovering the lump and being dismissed from the yellow office. I learned that worrying does one hundred percent nothing. I learned that no matter how much good I think it does, the sick feeling in my stomach, a result of fear and concern over things I can’t control, really sucks the joy out of every day.

I’m extremely thankful for all the Lord did for us in those weeks and since. Even though we got an excellent outcome from out tests and appointments, if it had been less than that, we still would have been safe and secure in our Savior’s arms.

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The State of Things

Just because it’s the loudest, doesn’t mean it’s right.
Most of us agree that it rarely is.
But we can’t decide who is the loudest.
Who is the majority, and who is the minority.
Who is the aggressor, and who is the victim.
Instead of a fighting injustice, we fight that there is a problem.
Victims become aggressors; aggressors become victims,
so anywhere in the circle someone may or may not be is a threat to everyone.
And the cycle, and the circle go on.
Where did it start? Like to go back and find out?
We can’t, and even if we could we wouldn’t,
because our own dirt is too filthy for us to see.
That’s why the Internet is bigger than the universe –
to hide and justify and find some other human who makes you feel less shame.
Connection is good; it’s our deepest need.
You were named by a triune God and community is built in your very existence.
Community, though, can also construct standards and norms,
foster a status quo that is contrary to the Divine Story.
Judging ourselves by others is the fastest way to get out of tune with the Symphony of Salvation.
There is one right. Fifty thousand shades of wrong.
What’s the message today? What’s the latest label for our disease called “human-ness”?
Indulgence. We indulge in things, in nonsense, in luxury, in laziness, in information, in analyzing – whatever makes us happy, whatever feels right.
indiscriminate consumption.
Expose your deepest shames and we’ll celebrate your bravery.
Be totally “true” to your commercialized sense of “You” and accept everyone with open arms and no criticism.
And then peace will be known throughout the land.
I fail to see how indulging our every whim built by self-centeredness will makes us more community-oriented, but that is what we are told.
We’re told to tighten our politics and loosen our morals,
morals are locks kept on our cages, after all: meant to be broken open.
Sex is sold cheaply and free choice is supposedly free.
Addiction is real, and we identify with it’s disease, but we refuse to cut ties with its source.
All of this contradiction should lead us to question, should lead us wonder if we really are in Wonderland.
But we can’t because that would mean accepting responsibility, while we would rather just take the privileges.
It’s a good thing this isn’t it.
This life isn’t my last.
And that’s not because I believe it isn’t, or because that’s the way my parents taught me.
It’s as true as water is wet.
This isn’t it. We’re broken but not beyond repair.
We can be bought and sold so cheaply on this earth, but to our Creator we are priceless.

As Against: Is it really your’s?

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It’s Mine

I’ve read numerous articles lately discussing the very important issues of sexual violence and sexual exploitation. Any act of sexual violence or exploitation is absolutely, 100%, totally, and entirely wrong, and, in my book, anyone who works to combat these serious evils is working towards a very noble cause. However, in several of these pieces I’ve seen a recurring theme: that is, that a woman’s body belongs to HER, and no one should do anything to infringe on her physical autonomy.

Now, there are several reasons the idea of physical autonomy is so central to this cause’s message, one reason among them is the historical and present reality around the globe that in many cases, legally, a woman’s body was and is not her own. There also remains the tragic idea in some people’s minds – especially victims of sexual and other abuse – that they have no physical or psychological autonomy. I certainly don’t want to undermine or belittle that reality, but I do want to merely address the intoxicating idea in our society that what we have – everything from our time to our bodies to our money – is our’s and our’s alone.

This theme of independence and autonomy is seen throughout our culture in various ways; we see it every time an advertiser tells you, “It’s your money, do what you want with it,” or “It’s your life, fill it as you wish.” These messages are everywhere, and while it is incredibly important to impart self-worth in vulnerable or victimized people, such autonomy can only go so far before it is harmful and just plain false.

As Against

In law we learn that rights are not absolutes: it’s not a simple case of “Do you have this right, or don’t you?” Rather, we speak of rights in terms of “as against,” as in, “As against whom would you win in a fight for this right?” To understand this, imagine when you were a kid, and would race your sibling to the car in order to get the front seat. If you get there first, or call “shot gun” at the right moment, you could win the right to that front seat as against your sibling. However, if you pick up Grandpa on the way, mom is going to insist you give the front seat to him, and you lose the right the seat as against Grandpa. Grandpa has a superior right than you to that front seat, and he wins.

A community

What does this all have to do with autonomy? First, when we take the idea of individual autonomy too far, and assume all our rights are absolute, we can lose the very real fact that we are a part of a community.  While we certainly do have certain rights over our bodies, our minds, our money, and our lives, sometimes those rights become subject to another individual’s similar rights. We cannot forget that our actions are not our own. Collectively, we have to give up this idea that everything is just for ourselves, that it doesn’t matter to anyone else, and that no one else has a right to even ask you to change your behavior or heart. Because they DO affect other people: your racism, your love of debt, your sexuality, your addictions, your hatred, your struggles, your gluttony, your self-indulgence. Your actions, even behind closed doors, have far-reaching consequences, beyond what we can even imagine.

A creator

The second reason we cannot take the idea of autonomy too far is that we are also subject to our Creator. Fair market value is defined by the IRS as the price paid by a willing buyer to a willing seller, under no compulsion to buy, with adequate knowledge of material facts. Your value is defined as what someone would pay for you. Jesus, with full knowledge and without any compulsion to buy, paid his life for me. I am worth his life, and therefore I owe him mine. (His purchase, by the way, comes with privileges and protection beyond your wildest dreams.) I don’t get to do whatever I want, I have been bought and paid for and therefore my rights are not absolute as against my Father: He wins, always.

As one final thought, I leave you with this scene from the TV show Parenthood. This is my favorite scene in the entire series, and illustrates both that our actions have a very real affect on those around us, and that we owe everything we have to someone else. In this scene, Amber, a recent high school graduate struggling with finding her direction as a young adult, has recently gotten into a serious car accident while driving recklessly under the influence. She is taken to see her car with her very loving grandfather, who gives her a speech a lot of people should hear.

In case that doesn’t work, you can watch the clip on Hulu here: http://www.hulu.com/watch/233852

debarbibee

Tithing, Teething, Trying

Tithing

As long as I made a steady income, I was tithing. There were probably some random baby-sitting gigs where I was paid in cash and failed to give 10%, but for the most part, it was always something I tried to do.

I was fortunate enough to grow up with the example of my parents writing that check on Sunday morning and tossing it in the offering, or giving it to one of us to offer. When my father’s parents were in town, my grandfather would give us each a dollar or quarter or whatever he had so we had something to put in the offering, too. Tithing was normal to us.

Although some may look at my husband’s and my current financial situation and assume it would be crazy to give away 10% of our small weekly checks without even so much as a tax deduction in return (We don’t make enough for it to make financial sense to take the deduction), but it was something we were each committed to before we met and knew it would remain a priority after we were married.

Why do we tithe? To put it simply: because the Bible is clear that we ought to, and that it is Good to do it. Although we can debate all day long about gross income vs. net income, passive vs. active income, and whether we should tithe from our tax refund checks, there are a myriad of examples (in both the Old and New Testaments) that all clearly say that we should give some of what God has given us back to him, to be multiplied by Him for His glory, of which I am a fan.

And this command my husband and I have been following as faithfully as we could. Until July.

Teething

This summer we had a clear financial goal: to re-fill our savings account to where it should be. Ever since our season of unemployment this winter, we haven’t been able to quite refill the tank. We had a number, we did the math: we could do it.

But about 6 weeks into the summer, things weren’t going as planned. I wasn’t making as much as I had planned, and we were spending a more than we should have. Blame it on increasing gas and food prices, summer dates, or vacations and staycations, but we (well, more I) panicked.

I wanted to save like mad. I wanted to eat like we were on food stamps, and I wanted to hoard as much much as we could until we hit that number. Like a teething toddler puts everything she can find into her mouth, I put all the money I could find into our savings, whether it was good for me or not.

And in addition to my temporary fear of spending money unnecessarily, I stopped writing tithe checks to our church.

Trying

The guilt over not tithing, though almost constant, like a thorn in my flesh, was not as bad as our financial state. Although I stopped writing those checks and did everything I could, we still didn’t reach our goal. If anything, we had less money than at the beginning of the summer. Something had to change.

I am a planner, and as all my family knows, a control freak. But no matter how much planning and stress I put into this savings project, I yielded no results

Finally, I confessed to my husband that the stress we’d both been feeling over this savings goal had also lead me to stop tithing. I said that I just wanted to store everything up that I could find until we hit our mark, and then we could start tithing again.

But this was totally the wrong attitude. God doesn’t want a piece of our extras, he wants our first fruits. God doesn’t just want us to be faithful when we have much, but also when we have little. I felt like an Israelite, when they were wandering in the desert after they left Egypt. God provided manna and quail for them, and told them to take exactly what they needed only. He said if they took too much, out of fear, there would be none the next day; it would be full of maggots by morning. I was storing up too much manna in my tent, out of fear I would be soon cut off, left out in the desert alone by my Father. I was wrong.

Massimo didn’t know we weren’t tithing for a month, and said that of course we needed to give what we’ve been holding back. “I like tithing because it’s like the blind bet in Texas hold ‘em: you don’t have to think about it, you just put it in,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what your cards are, you just do it.”

I didn’t think that a poker analogy would work, but he was absolutely right: it doesn’t matter about the math. When we’ve been given something from God, our automatic response should be to return a portion to him.

And of course, the next day God reassured me that everything would be fine when I went to the mailbox and got a significant refund check from the electric company and our rebate card from my contacts purchase months earlier. I also got to work an extra few days this month, out of the blue, and after I wrote our over-due tithe checks, we had hit our savings goal!

I can’t control everything, and everything we have is a gift to be given again. It seems counter-intuitive, but by giving more you actually find you have more. Investing in the Kingdom of God is always a sound idea. Keeping it for myself will give me nothing but maggots in my cupboard and a stressful summer. So even though it’s difficult, we have to try.

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce…” Proverbs 3:9

-debarbibee

How Not to Talk about Purity and Modesty

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I’ve been reading a lot the last couple of years about how emphasizing purity can actually be a problem. Listen, I’m one of those crazy people who thinks that sex should be saved for marriage, but I also empathize with those who heard some weird stuff about purity, modesty, and sexuality growing up in the church. (But the problems are not just in the church; public schools across the continent have been called out lately for “slut shaming” and being unequally harsh towards girls for breaching dress codes.)

I’m not a parent. I’m not a youth leader, a church leader, or anyone with formal training in theology or any other -ology. However, I am a girl, who grew up in the church, and I call myself a Christ-follower. These are my only credentials to give a heads-up to those leaders and parents out there who do get to teach young-ens about purity, modesty, and sexuality. And thus here, in the same vein as How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, I’m hoping we can learn what to do by talking about what not to do.

1. Do not assume modesty is just about hemlines and strap thicknesses.

Modesty has a lot more to with your attitude than it does with the length of your dress. As one blogger pointed out recently on “Bunkers Down”, modesty with your clothes is great, but we also should be modest in how we talk, in how we spend our money, and in how we act. Narrowing this fabulous virtue down to a few numbers in a rule book do nothing for the other areas we need to address (like bragging and narcissism on *ahem* social media).

However, I do totally respect church and other leaders’ need to lay down rules. Don’t get me wrong. I’m going to be a lawyer, so I absolutely appreciate the value of a written code. Just don’t forget to mention that just because your shorts are long enough doesn’t mean you’re nailing the whole “modesty” thing. There are other battles to be won.

2. Do not tell girls they have to be modest for the purpose of protecting their Christian brothers.

Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. This was probably the worst one for me growing up. This is bad for boys and for girls. It’s bad for girls because we feel guilty about finally being confident as who God made us because some creepy guy can’t take his eyes off of us. It’s creepy and gross and does not help our self-esteem. At all. I was literally told once that I needed to stop shaking my hips because some guys were uncomfortable with it. I have curves. That’s just the way my body moves. You boys prefer me to be a slender double-zero with a run-way look (aka lack of any curves at all)? Me too. I”m fourteen, we all prefer that. But this is who I am. (I’m not kidding. That happened.)

And it’s also bad for boys because it’s a cop-out. We don’t give thieves an excuse when they steal, saying that the stolen goods were left unattended, so what do they expect?! How about instead of telling girls that it is our responsibility to keep boy’s minds pure, we teach boys that they need to keep their thoughts pure. Philippians 4:8 says”Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” It doesn’t say, “Take away every distraction, ladies, so the guys can think about pure things.” Lust is a sin, and I am not responsible for your individual sins.

That said, we should dress modestly for our own good and the good of our brothers and sisters. If you dress in a distracting way, you are going to cause a distraction. If you would like to be ogled and objectified, you can easily accomplish that with your outfits (men AND women). While you are not responsible for another’s ultimate actions and thoughts, what you do or don’t do can have an effect on others. And out of respect for yourself and others, it is best to be dress appropriately.

3. Do not use creepy analogies that equate virginity with value.

Chewed up gum? A ripped-open package? A torn up paper heart? Not only are these graphically violent, but they also tend to equate value with virginity, which is just not true. My value comes from my being created in God’s image. And while I do agree that sex should be saved for marriage, these analogies just don’t hold up after the wedding night. Nor do they help any victim of sexual assault.

How about instead of telling our teens they are only good if they are virgins, we let them know that while mistakes we’ve made (just like any) can be forgiven and we may be made pure in His sight, we will always have to live with the consequences of our actions.

4. Do not assume that men are the only ones who struggle with lust and porn.

The sin of lust is not gender-specific, and the number of women who are addicted to porn is on the rise. Could we just put aside stereotypes and talk about the real issues: that porn is harmful to everyone (the viewer, the family, the church, the company, the community, and the nation), and that lust is not something we can blame on low-cut shirts, it’s a sin. If we take away distracting stereo types, we can have a  much more constructive dialogue and, hopefully, actual progress towards a pron-free society.

I’ve heard so often that “men are more visual than women,” Please don’t say that. I don’t even know what this means, really, but I do know that lust plagues both sexes, and that both men and women can be negatively affected by visual images. (That’s why we talk about the negative body image problem being caused, in part, by models and magazine covers.)

5. Do not quote the old “men think about sex every seven seconds,” “fact.”

How would you even know that? I just refuse to believe this is true, and while quoting it is more or less a joke now, the message is that men like/think about/need sex more than women. And that’s just a lie! Please don’t use lies in your presentation on the “Truth about Modesty and Purity”. Thank you.

6. Do not under any circumstances say that a man will “go as far as you let him, ladies.”

Women are not the gatekeepers to sexual impurity. And men are not speeding trains that will only stop at any time if the women pulls the brakes. Men need to take responsibility for their own actions, and blaming it on her for,”Not saying anything,” is just a cop-out. A healthy physical relationship involves communication, trust, respect, and self-control; not locks and keys.

Somehow we got into this pattern of talking about sex as male-centered, which is harmful to men and women. As Kat on the blog “culture war reporters” wrote, “I’ve read many a Christian marriage book that primarily focused on the husband’s sexuality vs. the wife’s emotionality. While you can maybe argue that men lean more towards the physical and women towards the emotional, by reducing men and women to one characteristic we limit both genders. It tells men they aren’t allowed to be emotional, but it also tells the woman that sex is for the man. This male-centric aspect of purity culture automatically bases sex around a man’s pleasure. It also tells women their sexuality doesn’t matter as much as their husbands’.”

And once again – this does nothing to help relieve the guilt and shame for victims of sexual assault. (Are we sensing a theme here?)

7. Do not assume purity is just a physical line.

Jesus was very clear that both impure thoughts and impure actions violate God’s law. Similarly, purity is not accomplished by being able to say, “I didn’t do this or that.”  Purity is a state of your heart, which manifests itself in your physical actions. And don’t forget that God knows the deeper condition of your heart. You may be able to keep the rules that you’ve laid down, but your heart is what matters to God. “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.” Proverbs 16:2.

8. Do not give girls thirty-seven rules for “modesty,” while giving the guys none.

If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a thousand times: in handbooks, lessons, devotionals, and rules, girls have a list as long as their shorts ought to be about what they can’t wear, while men may not have any rules at all. And it’s not just in Christian circles.

And while I understand that girl’s clothes in our society tend to be tighter and show off more skin than guy’s clothes, it can feel like being handed a straightjacket to try to conform to all those rules, especially when the guys have none. Go ahead, make rules, but please make them fair, and at least put some boundaries on the men. (For example, I don’t want to see your underwear under any circumstances, guys, and I don’t need to see inappropriate or sexist messages on your t-shirts. But no matter how hot it is, please keep your shirt on, as we are not at the beach, and do remember to take a shower, and keep the Axe to a minimum. Thank you.)

-debarbibee