Thursday, May 26, 2016

Why Sexual Abuse Harms Us More Than Sexual Impurity Ever Could

Why the obsession with "purity?" 

Why is this when our children are susceptible (and have been subjected to) abuse?

Should we really be worrying (or worse, boasting) about them, say, saving their first kiss for the marriage altar, while a significant number are violated in some way during childhood?

We can talk all we want until the cows come home about "purity," but when it comes down to it, we must realize that many people who are sexually promiscuous, or sexual addicts, have been abused in the past.

We run the risk of being the biggest hypocrites ever, being so obsessed with barring and locking the front door, while leaving the back door wide open to the devil.

People do not become sexually promiscuous because they didn't hear enough sermons about sexual purity. Or because they weren't "vigilant" about their thought life. Or because they were too "unguarded" in the way they interacted with the opposite gender. 

People become sexually promiscuous because they're wounded and broken. And alone.

And no one is more alone than the victim of sexual abuse or harassment. The victim who has no one to stand up for him or her. The victim who's told to shut up, to remain silent, to withdraw blame, because to speak up would be more shameful than to continue to suffer in the dark.

Because to speak up sometimes means to be in a worse state than before.

I'm no longer surprised when yet another spiritual leader falls, uncovered as a predator. Especially not if they were a staunch advocate for the purity movement; they used that thing to cover their prurient interests, and they benefited greatly from it.

What shocks and horrifies and angers me, is how many people rush in to defend them when they're exposed (IF they're even exposed in the first place.) How many people are quick to vilify the victims, who deserve nothing less than the utmost compassion and mercy. 

Why, why in Jesus' name would we ever, ever do this?

(And, yes, there are people who do this in Jesus' name. Taking God's name in vain if there ever was a case of it.)

Such an environment means children grow up in a horrific double-standard: unprotected when young, but expected to conform to a rigid set of rules and behavior once they hit puberty - a rigid series of conduct that would-be predators themselves aren't held to in the least.

Maybe they'll rebel as they grow older, or maybe they'll conform, outwardly. Maybe they'll even create their own rigid structure that they religiously adhere to, in an attempt to deal with the shame, and the self-condemnation - to feel in control again.

I'm not sure if my personal exposure to sexual harassment (from the age of ten) was directly responsible for my adopting a stringent courtship code for myself as a young teenager (there were other influential factors in my life at the time) but it certainly didn't help; it led to a lot of fear, shame and condemnation. Things that feed the whole courtship and purity movement. 

My experiences are, by far, nothing compared to the unaccountable horror that numerous, maybe even countless, individuals have been subjected to. Others who grew up in Christian circles, like I did, and some who have, understandably, turned away from "church," because church was never a safe place, but a place where wolves were allowed to roam and eat freely. (It happens more frequently than you might think.)

It seems so incredible to constantly preach a set of behavior that one should live up to, and place more emphasis and concern on that than whether or not someone has been abused in their past.

There is no freedom in this.

Where is the standard that ought to be in place? Where is accountability for predators, safety for victims, and grace for those of us who aren't "picture perfect?"

The sexual purity movement cannot heal our broken and wounded lives. There is no power in empty, carnal rules that merely mask over the power and destruction of sin. No amount of preaching can save us.

Only Jesus' healing and redemptive work can. 

The only way to be pure, in its truest sense (and by "purity," I'm not referring to an outward behaviors at all) is by being washed in the blood of Jesus.

Jesus washes us in His blood, and empowers us, so that we can stand for truth and righteousness, and stop walking in shame.

So that we can become so much more than what our past wants to define us as.

So we can stop casting blame and start offering healing. 

So we can start protecting the vulnerable and the victimized among us. 

So that everyone knows they are loved and valued, for who they are, and not for how they "measure up" or conform to an impossible standard.

Let us start valuing the least of these. 

Let us let go of this mindset that righteousness and purity can be attained by our efforts. 

Rather than speaking down to those who don't measure up to our standards, let us instead begin speaking out for those who cannot defend themselves.

"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea."

Mark 9:42

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Life of a Nomad

In honor of my last day on the farm, our hosts gave all of us an hour early off work and took us to visit the Kauri trees.

We stopped first at Waipoua Forest to see "Tane Mahuta," supposedly the largest known kauri tree known. It's also very old - about 2,000 years.

We picked up a couple of guys from France who were hitchhiking, and invited them to come home with us. They are backacking their way around New Zealand for a year.  (Now that would be the way to travel!)

They joined us for a walk around the Trounson Kauri park. It's a beautiful, mysterious forest. 

The kauri trees are impressive in size!

I'd decided to leave the farm a few days early, so I could do some sightseeing on the east coast. I might not be in this part of NZ again, so I wanted to make the most of it. 

 I started my holiday-within-a-holiday in Dargaville, Northland, where I had a few hours to kill before the bus came. 

Trusty backpack along, of course. (My backpack is a story in itself - found it randomly several years ago at a thrifstore for $6. Knew it would come in handy someday, and saved in good faith.)

My first destination was Whangerei, where my friends' sister Lea warmly welcomed me and had invited me to stay. I had a few hours to kill, so I walked along the wharf.

I fell into conversation with a German couple freshly arrived to New Zealand and at the start of their hitch-hiking adventure. "I always run into Germans here!" I told them. "And you are the first American we've met here," they told me. I too noticed that I hadn't met too many people from US backpacking around New Zealand.

Next morning was a quick stop at Whangerei Falls, before I had to catch my bus to reach my next destination.


I really had no idea of what to expect except that I'd heard the Bay of Islands was not to be missed. At the bus stop, I chatted with an older lady from England, who had come back to NZ to see all the places she'd missed when she'd hitch-hiked around 30 years prior, and a young man from Korea, who at twenty was just out of high school and taking a tour of NZ before he has to fulfill his mandatory military service. (He seemed impressed that I had some very minimal knowledge of K-pop and that I am a fan of K-Dramas.) 

I checked into my hostel, run by YHA, and slept for the next four hours. (The nice thing about travelling alone: you can do whatever you want, even if that includes taking a long nap.) The season was just starting, so the hostel was relatively quiet, and I had my four-bed hostel room to myself that night. Lovely.

The next morning I took off for the Haruru Falls track, which started a half hour's walk outside of town towards Waitangi. I passed the Waitangi Treaty grounds, a place of historical interest but one I didn't have time for his day. I was on a mission.

The track was amazing, full of ferns and tree ferns and plants I couldn't identify, and even a mangrove swamp.
By the time I'd reached the waterfall at the end of the track, it was raining pretty steadily (which is why one brings a waterproof jacket wherever one goes in New Zealand.)

I walked barefoot along the beach on the way back.  (By this time the rain had cleared away.)
After my four hours walk, I decided it was time to treat myself to a massage. Ahhh... that's my kind of holiday.

That evening, a lot of people had arrived at the hostel, and the kitchen was bustling. Kitchen time is friend-making time at hostels. I met my room-mates (Canadian and German) and the first American  I'd come across at a hostel (a guy from California.) 

Lisa (also from Canada) and I stayed up late, talking and laughing at the kitchen table about books and random Canadian tv shows and American politics and such.

The next morning was time to leave, but I left feeling relaxed and refreshed, thankful for my time there. Paihia is such a quiet, nice little town, I imagine living there would feel like an endless holiday. I'll have to go back someday.
I'll have to go back someday. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Why I Travel

Travel isn't about the destination, it's about the people you meet along the way.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Wherein, I Get to Pretend to Be A Farmer (in Middle Earth, No Less)

First full day on the farm, and I've got my feet wet - as well as the rest of me. While making a (so I thought) clear leap for it across part of the boggy, wet ground by the pond I -splat!- fell right flat on my stomach into the mucky water. Quite a way to make a splash.

I also today had the most shocking experience of my life yet: leaning in too close to the electric fence. Not bad for my first day's work. 

I'm at Clare and Donald's farm in Northland on the west coast (and, yes, you can see the coast from the hill on a clear day.) They raise beef cattle, which in New Zealand are entirely pasture-raised. On this 500 acre farm, the cattle are routinely moved to a new paddock to graze. 

Also dwelling here are their son Richard, and Monique, who is a WWOOFer from Germany (and my age - most WWOOFers seem to be younger.) She has been in New Zealand for 6 months, twice as long as I'm planning to stay here.

Today, Richard, Monique and I pulled up ragwort and thistles out of one of the lower paddocks, to help control the those weeds and prevent them from overgrowing. 

Then we pitched them in large tanks, where they will decompose and turn into a juice, which is in turn sprayed on the fields to discourage further growth of weeds.  Donald explained a bit about the theory behind why the very juice of weeds would discourage the further growth of weeds. Fascinating. 

(Everything is done as sustainably as possible here, to help promote the health of the soil, which then in turn promotes the health of the cattle, so no synthetic pesticides are used.)

Something I was thrilled to learn about New Zealand: beef and lamb in stores here is pasture raised, without synthetic hormones. So different than the way things are done in the States. Clare and Donald were in shock when I told them a bit about the beef industry, and the CAFOs, back home. 

"Why would they feed them grain?" Clare kept asking me. 

"It's all about the money," I said.

The most incredible part of this farm (besides the fact that I'm going to learn a lot about sustainable agriculture): the views. 

These are million - no, gazillion - dollar views. With every step I take, I am in renewed amazement at what splendor God has created. For miles on end, no matter where you turn, nothing but the green rolling hills and mountains are in sight. 

My camera, of course, failed to adequately capture the majesty. Of course, you can't really imagine how awe-inspiring it all is, until you are actually standing at the top of the hill taking in the valley.

This morning on my walk, as I gazed upon the scene below me, I got the sudden urge to belt out "The Sound of Music." 

I didn't resist.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Inconvenience, Rightly Considered

"An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered." 

I may be favorably biased toward any quote of Chesterton's but this is a statement filled with truth, regardless.

I was reminded of this bit of Chesterton wisdom last week, when I had to navigate the Austin metro bus system. 

Now, that might seem fairly insignificant, but for this country girl, that was an entirely new experience. I have never taken a metro bus anywhere. Ever.

My adventure started out while I waited at the bus stop. The south-bound bus stop. I watched the northbound bus I was supposed to catch as it passed by. 

When the next northbound bus stopped by and, I, safely on the correct side of the street this time and therefore able to board, got on, I had a new revelation: one is supposed to have the exact change to purchase a ticket. Who would've thought? The bus driver patiently waited while I fumbled in my purse for coins, dollar bills flying about out and falling everywhere to the ground.

He kindly took my offering of $1.08, saying it was okay this time (even though I was 16 cents short.) 

I got off at 4th and Lavaca to transfer to my second bus. All I could think of was that I was relieved I was on 4th Street, rather than 6th Street, walking alone downtown in Austin on a Saturday nite.

I realized I still needed change for the next bus. I espied a little coffee shop/bar on the street corner and figured it looked like a promising place to beg for change. 

Once I entered, I recalled how thirsty I was, having waited in the heat earlier. It was a toss-up between it and some of the tantalizing herbal teas they offered, but I finally chose the mango smoothie. Good choice. I paused for a moment, letting my senses savor enjoying my delightful beverage and the place's ambiance. And the music. (I always judge whether a coffee shop is worth a return visit based on its music.)

Then it was off to the next bus stop. Except, it wasn't there. Not at 4th and San Antonio like it was supposed to be. 

I finally decided one of these expert bus-takers would be able to help me, so I walked to the closest crowded bus stop. "I don't live here" and "No hablo Englais" were the commonest responses, but I finally hit on a local. "It should be there," he assured me. "Keep walking and you should see it almost directly across from the eastbound bus stop."

With this encouragement, I was newly determined to find it. And I did... the sign was nicely covered up by construction signs. A kind couple stopped and asked me if I was okay (they'd evidently noticed my confused expression and aimless wandering.)

Then another thought struck me: I'd gotten quarters at the coffee shop but didn't have any dollar bills left. I still didn't have correct change! At this point, it was close to sunset. I looked up the street. Some sort of boutique grocery seemed to be the only thing open. So I took off for it. The cashier gladly gave me change - not sure if it was because it was the end of day or because my puppy dog eyes had an effect on him, but it worked. 

"Thanks!" I said as I dashed off, and ran the block or two back to my bus stop... just as my bus was about to take off from the stop. I waved and he stopped when he saw me. I got on, breathless. "I'm glad to catch you!" The bus driver seemed non-plussed. Long day I suppose. 

I was his only passenger, and he had just passed the bus stop I needed, when I realized the bus doesn't stop at every stop. Go figure. "Oh, I needed that stop," I told him. "You have to pull the cord," he replied. He probably thought I was crazy, but how was I supposed to know? He let me off at the next stop, which wasn't too much past the other, and I called Nancy to let her know I'd finally arrived (albeit, an hour and half later than she'd originally expected me.)

It seem so often, that when plans get mixed up or things go wrong or differently than I expect they should, I get stressed out or become frustrated. But during this entire scenario, Chesterton's quote kept coming to mind. "This is an adventure," I kept thinking, "and I will make it to my goal eventually, one way or another."  There was nothing lost from the "inconvenience" (if it could be called that) other than time (and that's often over-rated.)

I gained a lot from that Saturday evening bus trip, though. First, how to navigate metro bus systems. And secondly, how to just enjoy the journey - even if it takes a few unexpected turns.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

I've Landed in Texas

Ever since I landed in Austin on July 4th, I seem to have hit the ground running. Non-stop.

My friend Thomas met me (hey, it's not every day a soon-to-be famous author picks you up from the airport!) and over taco salad at Whole Foods (so Austin-y) he told me how the very land the building was standing on used to belong to his family, generations ago. He comes from a long, long lineage of native Texas settlers. 

(If there's one thing I've noticed about true blue Texans, it's the sort of pride that comes with being able to say their family has dwelt here virtually forever.)

Then it was off to a 4th of July party, Texas style, at Thomas' family's ranch, replete with shooting, burgers from the ranch's grass-fed cattle, and lots of big sparkly fireworks. (On the way, I had asked him what sort of family he'd describe his as. "Have you seen the Godfather?" he asked me. "We're that family." I'm sure my face was priceless, especially as we were swinging by his apartment to pick up guns and ammo. :P )

The party was the perfect immersion into my first hours in Texas, meeting lots of lovely people and exchanging phone numbers with the hopes of spending future time with all my new friends.

It was an especial treat to meet Thomas' sister, Cynthia, knowing that she had spent some time living/backpacking in New Zealand. (How wonderfully coincidental can you get, as I am landing there in a few months?) She is an absolute doll - and definitely a kindred spirit. We got to exchange travel stories and I got some helpful tips.

I crashed that night at Thomas and Cynthia's, followed by a morning of a peaceful contemplation watching birds and squirrels on their back deck and then a beautiful walk on a nearby hiking trail that Cynthia led me to. (This is what I love about Austin most - even in the heart of the city, trees and nature flourish abundantly everywhere you turn.)

After the walk, we were greeted to a yummy Paleo (aka Abigail-friendly) breakfast of grass fed beef stir-fried with all kinds of veggies, specially made thanks to Chef Thomas. Now that's what I call hospitality.

Sunday afternoon brought me to the place I will largely be calling "home" for the next few months. My friend Erin and her family, her sister and sister's family, and the grandparents all live on the property here. I was greeted by a pool full of children - after changing into my swimsuit and jumping in, the number had swelled to eleven kids, all of them showing me their tricks and asking me to watch them do their breast strokes and back strokes. It feels like a continual resort here, with the pool just a step away, and the gorgeous eight acres of land surrounding the families' homes.

I love my little room sequestered off the garage, that I have been given in exchange for a few hours' childcare each week. It's like tiny house living. In the mornings I get to enjoy my breakfasts al fresco, cooking on the patio kitchen, and I have a little creature living just outside my doorstep - an adorable, fat toad, whom I've christened "Toady" (original, I know.)

My "adopted family" (Peter and Alisa) live upstairs, and I've bonded with their four children already - six year old Haddie who is my little helper, three year old Asa who can melt my heart with his constant sunny smile, two year old Alma who wants to do everything her brother does and keeps up pretty well, and five month old Beth, who is the chunkiest baby I 've ever seen (like a mini Sumo wrestler.) Many of my weekdays (and the past couple days already) will be spent watching and playing with them for a few hours, so their mama can have a break and run errands. Precious.

Monday I met with a friend from Guatemala, who happened to be visiting Austin for a few days. As I was telling him about my adventures for the next five months, how I will be living out of a backpack both here and in New Zealand, not knowing what will come about one day from the next, he smiled and said, " God will provide for you, Abigail." He knows about God's provision, his full-time job taking him to mountain villages in Guatemala, where they reach out to street children, providing food, education, and medical care. He himself, living a similar lifestyle I now am, had so many stories of God's unexpected provision.

Since I got here, I've been continuously introduced to others as a "missionary." At first I tried to counter that, but you know what? I like that term, I really do. Too often we think of a "missionary" as someone who fulfills a specific task in a specific place under the auspices of an organization. But really, we all are called to be Salt and Light, aren't we? I have always considered myself a missionary wherever I find myself, whether travelling abroad or at home. Wherever I go, I bring Jesus - and I offer Him to all who are open.

The journey has just begun.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Church, It’s Time to Separate From the State

Given a lot of the more conservative media outcry against the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, it would seem the institute of marriage, as well as the Church’s well-being itself, is completely at the mercy of whatever the US government decides it believes.

The problem is, by launching into such an outcry, we are actually agreeing with the government, not dissenting.

By giving such credence to what the Supreme Court decides, we ally ourselves with the government’s assertion that it has a right to all the power it claims.

In order to think that the government has the ultimate power or authority to define marriage or anything else, we must first necessarily believe that it is the ultimate authority and power on Earth.

Reality check: who is in charge here?

The apostle Paul describes government as having a responsibility to reward good and punish evil.

We’ve confused the issue here – we’ve gone beyond that, and are saying, essentially, that government has a recognizable right to determine what is evil, and to decide what is good.

Sorry, they don’t get to make the rules.

They only get to enforce them.

By ceding so much power and authority to a human-made, self-seeking government, we run the risk of replacing God and His rightful role with a carnal, human, transitory power.

God’s Kingdom and the kingdom of the world are two entirely separate entities.

While the kingdoms of the world can’t exist without God’s permission, the Kingdom of God exists outside and above any human power or authority. His Kingdom does not require permission from human kingdoms to flourish.

Too often, we sadly seem to confuse the two.

The US government is not an agent of God’s Kingdom.

Nor can it be expected to be so.

Sure, it can act as an agent of God’s judgment, if God wills.

But it can never oversee the sacred things of God, nor can it be expected to. Nor should it be allowed to. That would be handing it over power that it cannot rightfully wield.

It is carnal and earthly. The flesh cannot comprehend the Spirit, nor such mystical things as the union of a man and his wife.

The Church, however, is born of the Spirit.

It exists outside of the realm of earthly kingdoms.

It exists without governments’ permission or control.

It is an entity entirely separate from the State.

We, as God’s people, are not defined by the State.

We do not exist with permission from the State.

We do not have our well-being from the State.

We do not find our identity in the State.

We do not look to the State to teach us right from wrong.

No matter what the State does or says.

We are aliens and strangers.

We aren’t citizens of this world.

We are citizens of the Kingdom.

God’s Kingdom.

Not the United States.

This is just a temporary kingdom.

When God establishes His rule and reign on Earth, we will all know it.

And He won’t use human governments to take over.

He will just TAKE OVER.

The power and authority called “The United States of America” will eventually fade.

To derive any of our value from it is fleeting.

Let us therefore put our trust in God, the true Source of life, and not governments. 

Regardless of anything that the kingdoms of the world may do, they aren't omnipotent.

He is.

"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."

John 16:33