Tag Archive | christianity

2016 Reflections

As I sit here on NYE awaiting the arrival of the new year, I realize that much like this year’s presidential election, I may not be exactly “for” 2017 so much as I’m “anti” 2016.  My word, it’s been a rough one in just about every way, shape and form.  The media has focused upon the numerous deaths of celebrities; I admit, it’s been easy as a child of the 80’s to get caught up in the “what the heck?!” feeling that for some reason, 2016 set out to attack my teenage memories.

Celebrities weren’t the only ones who met tragedy over the past year.  2016 was bathed in conflict, controversy, and sadness: racial tension, police officers and criminals, natural disasters, religious doctrines, sex-trafficking, ISIS, battles over human rights.  I couldn’t listen to the radio or check out social media without discovering another tug-of-war within humanity.  Often times, it was too much to stomach.  (We won’t even go into the hatred spewed during this year’s election.)  What was happening to this world?!  Is this how God created people to be?!

Toss into mix my own family trials that knocked the wind right out of us in 2016.  My mother suffered a stroke in late August and is still in rehabilitation.  This prompted an unexpected trip to visit her in September, during which my husband underwent an emergency appendectomy while my daughter and I were traveling back to GA from PA.  (He arrived home with the help from a friend about the time I walked through our kitchen door.)  My husband had other bouts in the ER throughout the year.  My sister-in-law had a cancer scare and thyroid surgery.  And me?  Well, I received the gift of the beginnings of menopause in January and was recently diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.  In March, I had a traumatic flashback from childhood that caused my depression to spiral.  (I am not ready to journey down that blogger’s road by sharing the deep darkness of my past, although I am sure that day is coming.)  As my depression worsened, my physician decided medication was the best route.  It would be easy to bitterly, with tongue in cheek, exclaim a sarcastic, “Thank YOU, 2016!” and insert a few Fred Flintstone grumbles in place of cussing out the whole year.

Yet it will do me no good to yell and scream obscenities as Auld Lang Syne plays somewhere in the distance.  The more I struggled personally, the louder God’s voice became as He guided me to one particular verse: “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and He will stand upon the earth at last” (Job 19:25, New Living Translation).  I had to hold on to His promise in the midst of this tumultuous year.  I’ve learned in my counseling courses that although a complete dichotomy stands between the evil in this world and the goodness that is God, making it impossible at times to believe that there can be one AND the other … both do indeed exist.  God is good, He has always been good, He will always be good.  Satan may have his sway on this earth now, but eternity sees him bound in hell while my God reigns forevermore.  I am reminded that while suffering takes place, it – and all of this life for that matter – is temporary.  My husband and I were discussing getting older and losing loved ones, and he brought up a good point.  When we were very young, we thought that 40 was old.  Now we are in our 40s, and we realize a lifetime has passed in the blink of an eye.  Soon, Lord willing, we will be in our 60s and eventually 80s, and it, too, will fly by just as quickly as this half of our lives.  Thank GOD for eternity, or what would be the point of this short little life?

So goodbye to 2016, a year of painful lessons – some visible, others, not so much.  I have to hold on to my faith in God and His promise that no tears are wasted.  He has a purpose for each and every one, and I praise Him for the day when “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.  All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:4, NLT).

Welcome, 2017.  And come, Lord Jesus, come.

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Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Biblical and Theoretical Examination

Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Biblical and Theoretical Examination

            Childhood sexual abuse is a topic often avoided in social circles due to the discomfort it causes on the one hand, and the absolute outrage it evokes on the other.  It is the topic of inappropriate humor or brushed aside as less than evil.  Comments such as, “Oh, Uncle George is just a dirty old man” are whispered at family reunions, when what “Uncle George” has done to females in the family for generations is not only atrocious but illegal.  It is irresponsible and immoral to turn a blind eye to the devastating crime of CSA.  A voice must be given back to those whose voice – and innocence – have been brutally stolen by those more powerful.  A stand must be taken against CSA, if not to stop it from happening, then in order to assist survivors who are haunted by their experiences.  Evil is overcome by redemption, and redemption can be found if people are willing to look evil in the eye and say, “No more.”  Individuals must study CSA – the causes, the effects, intervention, and treatment – in order to become equipped for the battle against it.

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A Broad Look at Childhood Sexual Abuse

By definition, childhood sexual abuse entails a variety of characteristics.  According to Glicken & Sechrest (2003), “Sexual abuse might be defined as a sexual assault on, or the sexual exploitation of, a minor” (p. 107).  The abuse may take place only once or over an extended period of time.  It may include one or more of the following acts: “rape, incest, sodomy, oral copulation, penetration of genital or anal opening by a foreign object, and child molestation” (Glicken & Sechrest, 2003, p. 107).  CSA can also involve sexual harassment, exposure to pornography or taking pornographic photographs or video of children, and the sexual trafficking of minors.  These acts are done for the sexual gratification of the perpetrator.

The statistics surrounding childhood sexual abuse are astounding.  It should be noted that according to The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2004), as cited by Hodges & Myers (2010), these statistics are an underestimation of the actual figures because children are often afraid to report abuse and due to the lack of abuse validation.  Hodges & Myers (2010) go on to reference the statistics as reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2000), stating that children make up 67% of all sexual assault victims; out of those children, those younger than 12 make up 34% and those younger than six make up approximately 15%.  Additionally, in 2007 the National Center for Victims of Crime published that females are the victims of CSA three times more frequently than boys, and 25% of juvenile females will be sexually assaulted by time they reach 18 years of age (Hodges & Myers, 2010).  Foster (2014) cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2005), stating that “one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18” (p. 332).  Glicken & Sechrest (2003) report that males make up 23% of total sexual abuse cases.  Facts and figures point to the staggering truth: childhood sexual abuse is rampant in today’s society.

The existence of CSA is not exclusive, however, to modern day culture.  The bible renders accounts of sexual assault, including rape, incest, and CSA.  The book of II Samuel reveals the sexual abuse of King David’s daughter, Tamar, by her older half-brother, Amnon.  Amnon was the oldest child of David; Tamar was approximately 15 or 16 years old at the time of her assault (Smith & Chapman, 2011).  Scripture details the conspiracy between Amnon and his cousin Jonadab, who devised a plan to get Tamar alone with Amnon in his bedroom.  Once they were alone, Amnon demanded that Tamar come to bed with him.  She refused and even offered to marry him, if he would only ask their father’s permission.  Instead, “Amnon wouldn’t listen to her, and since he was stronger than she was, he raped her” (II Samuel 13:14, New Living Translation).  To make matters worse, after he raped his sister, Amnon’s so-called love turned to hate, and he threw Tamar out of his room.  Sadly, the family covered up the scandal: “So Tamar lived as a desolate woman in her brother Absalom’s house” (II Samuel 13:20b, NLT); Amnon went unpunished by their father, and eventually, Absalom ordered the murder of Amnon.  Like many women, Tamar reaped the guilt, shame, and destruction bestowed upon her by the abuser, never receiving the love, kindness, and godly presence it takes to lead a victim to restoration, redemption, and healing.

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The Causes of Childhood Sexual Abuse

There are theories as to why perpetrators feel the need to sexually violate children.  In the cases of incest, attributing factors include “dysfunctional relationships, chemical abuse, sexual problems, and social isolation” (Glicken & Sechrest, 2003, p. 119).  Violators drawn toward children frequently do not tolerate frustration well, have little self-esteem, and need immediate sexual gratification.  Most tend to repeat their mistakes rather than learn from them.  Additionally, perpetrators of CSA have addictive personalities, little remorse for their actions, and excel at lying and manipulation (Glicken & Sechrest, 2003).  There are no age parameters when it comes to child molesters.  Pedophiles are specifically interested in sexually defiling children, believing that sex with children is “appropriate and even beneficial to the child” (Glicken & Sechrest, 2003, p. 120).

Who fits the profile of an abuser?  Men, women, fathers, pastors, brothers, grandfatherly next door neighbors, teenage boys at the park, and older girls on the school playground can all be perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse.  In other words, although it is more common for females to be abused by older males, one should not rule out men abusing boys or females sexually abusing children (Allender, 2008).  Why do offenders sexually abuse children?  Allender (2008) lists “excuses” that he believes should not exempt the individual from accountability for the crimes committed:

  • The abuser was abused as a child.
  • The abuser had a difficult background.
  • The abuser was going through a rough time with his or her spouse and was lonely.
  • The abuser drank so much that he or she was unaware of what he or she was doing.

At the very heart of sexual abuse is evil.  Ephesians 6:12 reads, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (NLT).  The intent of evil is to destroy God’s creation.  In the Old Testament, it is written, “So God created human beings in his own image.  In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27, NLT).  Furthermore, God created intimacy, perfectly reflected and expressed between a husband and wife within the sanctified bonds of marriage.  Evil takes great pleasure in destroying that which reflects God’s image – mankind, and in defiling the most intimate of God’s gifts – sexuality.  The harm done by CSA causes one to despise his or her own gender or to experience gender confusion, much to the satisfaction of darkness (Allender, 2015).  As Allender (2015) describes it, “Evil delights in sexual abuse because the return on investment is maximized.  It takes but seconds to abuse, but the consequences can ruin the glory of a person for a lifetime” (p. 36).

The Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse

The effects of CSA do not diminish simply because the abuse has ended.  In the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, Foster & Hagedorn (2014) explain that “CSA frequently impacts children socially, cognitively, academically, physically, spiritually, and/or emotionally” (p. 538).  Victims of abuse develop coping mechanisms that can come in the form of justifying the abuse, dissociation during abusive incidents, or in extreme cases, developing dissociative identity disorder (Vieth, 2012).  The abuse is bathed in secrecy, and upon disclosure of the abuse, children may experience guilt when threats made by the perpetrator – such as being removed from the home, isolation, or disbelief – come true.  Being taught to obey adults, there is much confusion when obedience puts the child in such a deviant position by the offender.   Children believe that adults, especially those who should love them, can be trusted; CSA breaks that trust in others (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014).

There is a developmental impact on children as a result of sexual trauma.  Because trauma impedes a child’s ability to control arousal levels, problems such as learning disabilities and aggression may develop (van der Kolk, Weisaeth, & van der Hart, 2007).  Allender (2015) and van der Kolk, et al. (2007) touch on a similar point: the inability of the abused child to convey affect states in words.  As Allender (2015) describes it, “Literally, during trauma, language goes offline” (p. 58).  When trauma occurs, Broca’s area – that section of the brain where language is processed – stops working or drops in activity, similar to a stroke patient (Allender, 2015).  Unfortunately, when the words cannot be formed, the images attack later in life in the form of flashbacks.

As sexually abused children mature, the damage of that abuse may be witnessed in different areas of that person’s life.  CSA creates within that individual a sense of powerlessness, helplessness, and an undying pain deep within (Allender, 2008).  If that pain is not addressed, the tendency is to adapt self-numbing habits, whether through outside sources such as drugs or alcohol, or simply through the hardening of emotions and isolation.  There is a loss of the sense of self, as well as a loss of the sense of judgment.  “Sexual-abuse victims have learned to doubt their own feelings” (Allender, 2008, p. 126).  The adult victim of CSA often loses any hope for true intimacy, for strength, or for justice.  Life is marked by ambivalence, which can further lead to depression, sexual dysfunction and addiction, compulsive disorders, and physical complaints (Allender, 2008).  Biblically speaking, this makes sense: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12, NLT).

The spiritual effects of CSA vary.  In one study, it was discovered that children were spiritually injured, so to speak, due to the abuse they had experienced (Vieth, 2012).  These children encountered “guilt, anger, grief, despair, doubt, fear of death, and belief that God is unfair” (Vieth, 2012, p. 261).  However, not all spiritual effects were negative following sexual trauma; the same study showed that survivors prayed more often.

The Intervention of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Intervention and possible prevention of CSA begins with educating both children and adults.  CSA education can be shared within schools, churches, and community centers; however, the education is only as effective as the accuracy of the information.  Unfortunately, there are myths regarding CSA that can cause more harm than good.

Although “stranger danger” is an important rule to teach children, the facts show that perpetrators of CSA are more likely to know the child personally than to be a stranger.  In fact, CSA occurs only 3-10% of the time at the hands of a person the child does not know (Foster, 2014).  Programs should teach the pervasiveness of known offenders, as well as explain the warning signs of a possible abuser and the grooming tactics that violators use.  It is crucial to teach that people who commit childhood sexual abuse vary, “in which most are known by their victims, trusted by their family, and do not have a criminal history” (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014, p. 552).

Another falsehood is that most sexual predators are adults.  Studies have revealed that adolescents commit 33% of episodes of CSA (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014).  Adults should be aware of certain characteristics of juvenile offenders, such as delinquency and impulsivity.  In addition, adolescent offenders are often former victims of CSA; therefore, intervention is important for both the victim and the perpetrator.

Correspondingly, there is the myth that children can stop the abuser from attacking by utilizing tactics such as yelling “stop” or running away.  One should never expect a child to be able to impede the plans of an offender bent on molestation (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014).  To put that belief within a child can do more harm than good, especially if he or she is unsuccessful at stopping the abuse.  Self-blame for CSA is already common; to put the expectation within children that they should have been able to avoid or prevent that attack of a pedophile would heap mounds of guilt upon the already existing fear, anger, shame, and grief.

Programs that educate adults and children about CSA can help intervene and prevent childhood sexual abuse.  When taught about safety and healthy sexuality as opposed to victimization, the bonds between parents and children can be strengthened.  This leads to trust, which boosts the chances of disclosure, lowers a child’s self-blame in the case of CSA, and promotes children’s self-efficiency (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014).

Treatment of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Once the safety of the child is established and medical attention has been provided (Glicken & Sechrest, 2003), it is imperative that a victim of CSA is not left untreated for the psychological, emotional, and spiritual ramifications of trauma.  According to Glicken & Sechrest (2003), “Appropriate treatment and careful case management can often lead to successful outcomes and frequently end the multigenerational cycle of abuse” (p. 122).  During crisis intervention, it is critical that the victim be reassured that he or she is not to blame for the abuse.  Because of the complexity of CSA, other members of the family may require counseling as well.  Any fears of disbelief, punishment, or revenge from the abuser must be addressed; as aforementioned, the child’s safety must be of top priority.

Therapists working with children who have been victimized by sexual abuse must remember that trust has been broken; therefore, it may be slow going in gaining that child’s trust (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014).  Empathy toward the child’s worries can help to put the victim at ease.  Counselors may support children to express their hesitancy and anxieties, share information about therapy, and reassure them that what they are feeling is common.  It is important to be proactive when it comes to relieving the fears of the victim.  In addition to educating the child, it is vital to advise the parents or caregivers about the counseling process.  By letting them know the challenges that accompany counseling, it can prevent them from removing a child too soon if symptoms appear to worsen before improving.

One effective method of counseling is Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT).  This is “an evidence-based treatment approach that is structured to include child-only sessions, parent-only sessions, and joint family sessions” (Foster, 2014).  This type of therapy is conducive in meeting the developmental needs of the victimized child.  The focus is on symptoms related to trauma, such as fear, anxiety, and depression, in children ages three through 18, using gradual exposure.  Per Foster (2014), the eight components of TF-CBT are as follows: psychoeducation and parenting skills, relaxation skills, affective regulation skills, cognitive coping skills, trauma narrative and cognitive processing, in vivo mastery of trauma reminders, conjoint child-parent sessions, and enhancing safety and future development trajectory.

From a Christian perspective, Vieth (2012) provides guidelines in ministering to a victim of childhood sexual abuse.  First, if the child is older, or if this is a case where an adult has come for counseling when processing his or her own CSA, put judgment aside and do not focus on the victim’s sins.  It is not uncommon for the lives of abuse survivors to be tainted by drugs, alcohol, divorce, crime, sexual promiscuity, or mental illness (Vieth, 2012).  Quick judgment and harsh rebuke will push the victim away.  Instead, love should be poured upon the survivor of CSA, putting the gospel into action and standing with the broken.  Isaiah 61:1b reads, “He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed” (NLT).  God wants his people to comfort the victims of childhood sexual abuse, releasing them from the fear and captivity of their trauma.

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Survivors of CSA must be shown Christ’s empathy (Vieth, 2012).  Victims may question the goodness of God.  The counselor can explain that the offender disobeyed God’s commandments.  Victims need to know that Jesus understands maltreatment, emotional abuse, and physical abuse, as portrayed by His journey to Calvary.  Sharing scripture about Christ’s love for children may reassure the survivors that God does care about them.  In Mark 9:37, Jesus said, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me” (NLT).  Regarding the harm of children, Jesus said, “It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin” (Luke 17:2, NLT).  Luke 18:16 reads, “Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children’” (NLT).  If the Lord cares so deeply for children, then those in the Christian community should provide the care and protection needed when one of God’s little children has been abused.

References

Allender, D. (2015). Healing the wounded heart: The heartache of sexual abuse and the hope of transformation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Allender, D. (2008). The wounded heart: Hope for adult victims of childhood sexual abuse. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Foster, J.M. (2014). Supporting child victims of sexual abuse: Implementation of a trauma narrative family intervention. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 22(3), 332-338. DOI: 10.1177/1066480714529746

Foster, J.M., Hagedorn, W.B. (2014). Through the eyes of the wounded: A narrative analysis of children’s sexual abuse experiences and recovery process. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 23(5), 538-557. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10538712.2014.918072

Glicken, M.D., & Sechrest, D.K. (2003). The role of the helping professions in treating the victims and perpetrators of violence. Boston, MA: Person Education, Inc.

Hodges, E.A., & Myers, J.E. (2010). Counseling adult women survivors of childhood sexual abuse: Benefits of a wellness approach. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 32(2), 139-154.

Smith, R.P., & Chapman, C. (2011). II Samuel. In Spence, H.M.D., & Exell, J.S. (Eds.), The pulpit commentary: Ruth, I & II Samuel (Vol. 4) (pp. 1-637). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.

van der Kolk, B.A., Weisaeth, L., & van der Hart, O. (2007). History of trauma in psychiatry. In van der Kolk, B.A., McFarlane, C., and Weisaeth, L. (Eds.), Traumatic stress: The effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body and society (pp. 47-74). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Vieth, V.I. (2012). What would Walther do? Applying law and gospel to victims and perpetrators of child sexual abuse. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 40(4), 257-273.

My Theology of Suffering

The following is part of a paper I wrote for one of my crisis counseling courses.  To be honest, God spoke directly to my heart as I penned the words.  I pray that your heart is touched as you read.  Thank you for taking a glimpse into my world today.

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Suffering is rampant throughout the world today.  One cannot turn on the news without witnessing stories of lives torn apart, whether by seemingly small-scale events or national disasters.  Some are “acts of God,” such as Hurricane Katrina.  Others are man-made, such as the attacks on the United States that occurred September 11, 2001.  While there are some who cling to faith in God during traumatic incidents, many – even believers in Christ – question God’s reasoning and possibly His existence.  In spite of the difficulty in comprehending both the presence of pain and the existence of God, both are very real.  It took one act of disobedience in the Garden of Eden for suffering to become reality, yet trials are not without purpose.  Suffering strengthens individuals.  Tribulations point toward the need for redemption.  Pain can draw us closer to God.  Heartache creates compassion for those in need.  Humanity can find hope in that although we suffer now, one day Christ will return to redeem the world and His people, and we can share in His glory forevermore.

The bible teaches that God is good.  There are 61 verses in the bible that reference the goodness of God.  One such verse is Psalm 119:68, “You are good and do only good; teach me your decrees” (New Living Translation).  Christians are fond of proclaiming to one another, “God is good,” which generally evokes the reply, “All the time!”  Yet it is evident that a good God coexists with suffering in this world.  This coexistence forces individuals to develop their own theology of suffering.

From early in life, humans discover the existence of suffering in this world.  Whether just or unjust, people experience pain due to their own mistakes, the actions of others, or what some consider to be acts of God.  The reality of evil in this world causes many to question the very existence of an all-knowing, all-loving Creator.  Diane Langberg (2005) states the dilemma of “two irreconcilable realities … what is one to do with the rape of a child and the reality of God?” (p. 419).  Yet ever since Adam and Eve committed the first sin, humanity has suffered – and God still reigns.

However, it is not merely people who suffer.  According to Dan Allender (2001), the earth suffers due to disease, death, and decay.  Additionally, until Christ’s return, humanity aches: “We also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23, New King James Version).  God suffers as well.  Not only did Christ suffer on our behalf, but God feels our every hurt and sees our every tear.  All of this pain is not for loss.  Paul told the Roman church that, “… we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:16b-17, NKJV).  Believers have the hope that although there is suffering now, Christ is with them, and they can look forward to future glory with Him as well.

It is through suffering that God strengthens His children.  Psalm 66:10 reads, “For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined” (NKJV).  The poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes that we must “lose things” before we can know kindness (2016).  Suffering gives us hearts of compassion for others in this world, that we may touch their lives with the love that God has bestowed upon us.  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (NLT).  Humans will never understand this world. The earth will never fit picture-perfect ideals because this world is not heaven. Realistically, man’s ideals do not always honor God.  Man’s ideals often create isolation from those who are viewed as different. If the world were perfect according to people’s ideals, there would be no need for serving others.  There would be no need to reach out to the helpless, the hopeless, the grieving, or the suffering, and without that, how in the world could individuals ever become more Christ-like?  How would mankind ever experience God’s loving mercies?

Jesus Christ is the epitome of God’s goodness and love.  He became God incarnate, that is, God in human form or in the flesh.  Jesus was God’s one and only Son.  His entire life was spent serving God.  Everything He did was for God’s glory, and He gave God that glory.  He was obedient, even to the point of crucifixion upon the cross.  God sent His own Son to be beaten, tortured, mocked, spat upon, degraded, and murdered.  Loving parents would never even consider sending their child into a situation such as that.  Indeed, God is not an ordinary Father, and Jesus was by no means any ordinary Son.  As previously stated, Jesus was God.  John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (New International Version).  When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, fellowship with God was broken.  Humanity could not restore that relationship on its own.  Observing mankind throughout the ages and even today, many believe they do not desire that fellowship.  Still … God wanted it.  God wanted restoration and redemption, and the only way for that to happen was a perfect sacrifice.  The only sacrifice good enough was God Himself.  God chose to send His Son – His perfect, glorious Son – because He loves people.  Mankind is blemished with sin, and yet God believes each person is worth dying for.  The Creator of the universe left the glory of heaven to come to earth in order to not only die and rise again for the redemption of this sin-stained world, but in order to experience the utmost in human suffering so that He knows how human pain feels.  Jesus knows what it is like to cry out to the Father during suffering, as seen in Matthew 27:46, “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” (New American Standard Bible).  He feels the anguish of suffering souls, and He is by their side, crying with them.

It may take an undefined amount of time, but the day can come when those who have suffered loss can look back at their traumatic times and name the beauty that God brought from them.  The bible describes such beauty in Isaiah 61:1-3:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory. (NLT)

Suffering depicts the gospel.  Pain points to Christ’s suffering on the cross.  If He would have only died and not been resurrected, there would be no hope.  However, He did rise again, and when people invite God into their suffering, hope becomes possible.  If people are wounded simply for pain’s sake, it is like leaving Jesus on that cross without completing His purpose.  Yet, if individuals allow others into their redemption stories, hope is offered via the ministry of presence and the relief of not being alone; someone else truly understands.  The empathy that occurs is genuine, and when that authenticity is perceived by another agonized soul, it can bring comfort beyond measure.  The healing God did in the life of one who suffered is witnessed up close, and at that point, survivors of trauma join Christ in stepping on the neck of evil, taking what was meant to harm and using it for something good.

In the end, Jesus promises to put an end to suffering upon His return.  Revelation 21:4 reads, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (NLT).  Suffering, while not enjoyable, serves a purpose today.  Praise God the day will come, though, when all pain, grief, sorrow and tears will be gone forever; Christ will make all things new (Revelation 21:5).

References

Allender, D. (2001). Suffering and glory. In Clinton, T., Hindson, E., & Ohlschlager, G.   (Eds.), The soul care bible (pp. 646-647). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Langberg, D. (2005). Adult survivors of sexual abuse: Trauma, treatment, and living in the truth. In Clinton, T., Hart, A., & Ohlschlager, G. (Eds.), Caring for people God’s way (pp. 409-443). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Nye, N.S. (2016). Kindness. Retrieved from https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/kindness (Original work published 1952)

Struggle

I look back at the old me:

The thinner me,

The filthy-on-the-inside me,

And I don’t want to be her (do I want to be her?).

I don’t miss the way she was (oh, how I miss the way she looked!).

So I keep running away from her,

Protecting myself from her with food and fat.

I see my picture and ugh, I look like that?!

I can’t bear to see what I’ve become!

Different now?  Yes.

Better now? Yes.

All on the inside, all on the inside.

Yet I am unhealthy, inside and out.

Eating my emotions. Sabotaging my health.

Not afraid to die, except for the pain.

Not wanting to die … but is this not a slow form of suicide?

Take another bite.  (Not worth the fight.)

Feeling disgusted.  Feeling defeated.

How ridiculous this must seem, in a world of pain.

No one to blame but myself.

Why can’t I just get this right?

Why do I care so much (but you ARE beautiful … lies, lies!)?

He thinks I’m beautiful (how? why?).

God beautifully wove me, right?

So tired of the struggle.

So tired of the fight.

Not giving up … but can’t seem to find …

Victory tonight.

To Be, Or Not To Be … Transparent.

It seems that lately, more of my friends and acquaintances are sharing their problems with me.  As a psychology/counseling major, this is something that actually makes me feel good; I am happy that others feel safe coming to me to bare their souls, or sometimes just to vent.  Part of me wishes that I had some profound, godly, wonderful advice to give that would help my friends to say, “Yes! That is just what I needed!”  Most often times, though, I am just as perplexed as they are.  Sometimes I just listen, nod, and offer to pray for them (this is not a bad thing, mind you).  And sometimes I feel myself holding back the words that might just help the most … “I understand what you are going through, and this is why.”

Why are we so guarded with our own lives?  I’m not talking about airing your world on social media for everyone to see.  I’m talking about one-on-one, someone needs help, I truly DO understand the situation, but God forbid I allow my vulnerability to show.  Is it a desire to appear perfect?  Is it a mistrust of others?  Is it really just none of your business what I’ve been through?

First and foremost, God has forgiven my past through the blood and mercy of Jesus Christ.  I AM a new creation in Him!  And if you have given your life to Jesus, then YOU are too!  Romans 8:1 (NASB) tells us, “Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Our pasts no longer have reign over us.  If anyone judges us based on our pasts, remember that they are not our final Judge … that would be God, and God has forgiven our sins.

Even so, it can be extremely difficult to rip the band-aid off that old wound, even if that means helping someone who is currently going through that experience.  We never like to portray ourselves in a negative light.  Yet the Bible paints a different picture.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NASB).

Our purpose in life is to glorify God.  God makes all things new – including our messes.  He takes that ugly past and allows it to be used to help someone else.  Maybe it’s to help someone else to break free of that bondage.  Maybe it’s just to let someone know, “Hey! You’re not the only one!”  After all, isn’t that what we really need to hear?  You. Are. Not. Alone.

What about the present?  God doesn’t just use our past experiences to help others; He uses our day-to-day lives.  We are careful to keep our happy faces on when we are around others.  While it is absolutely great to be uplifting and positive, we … Ineed to let people in, so that God can once again let people know they are not the only ones.  The Christian walk isn’t all sunshine and roses.  We still struggle.  Christ struggled all the way to Golgotha and up on to the cross!  Should we expect no pain?  Christ never wavered; He kept His eyes on God.  We are to do the same.  Friend, there truly is a peace in Him that allows me to go through trials in a way I never could when I walked without Him.  There is faith.  There is hope.  To the unbeliever, it may sound crazy – but I know in my heart that even if a bad situation turns out for the worst, it is not the end of the world because this life is just a blip in eternity.  There will come a day with no more tears, no more suffering, and eternal joy in heaven. Matthew 10:28 (NASB) reads, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  The trials of this world are temporary; in the end, Jesus is Lord forever … and I love Him.

I do not need to fear transparency.  God has called me … and all of us … to it.  Yes, there must be discretion.  However, when it comes to ministering to others, some of the best counseling comes from letting our guard down a bit and really showing people they are not alone in their struggles.  My husband preached this morning and admitted to our church that yes, pastors’ lives are messed up too!  Satan isn’t just attacking you … he has his sights set on all of us.  As Christians, we all have a common enemy – but praise God, we all have a common Savior too!

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.  (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NASB)

So to be honest, I struggle.  I struggle with depression.  I struggle financially.  I struggle with not only using food for comfort, but hiding behind being overweight as a barrier to protect myself from being the woman I was in my past.  I struggle with being a wife and a mother and trying to do it all right.  I struggle with witnessing to others about my faith.  I struggle with standing up for what is right when those around me are knee-deep in tearing others down.  I am human.  How about you?

Everything I Learned About Being a Mother-In-Law, I Learned From My Mom.

In the midst of my divorce, I had a conversation with my mother that stuck with me.  She asked, “Are you sure you’re not going to get back together?”  My answer was an emphatic, “no.”  She stressed the point: “Are you POSITIVE?”  Yes, I was positive.  Then she said, “Because you may forgive him for hurting you, but your father and I won’t.”  This was one of the first things I shared with my daughter when she got married: you can talk to me about anything, but remember that if you complain to me about your husband, it will be much easier for you to forgive him than it will be for me to do so.  It’s that whole “mama bear” thing.  Mess with me, fine.  Mess with my child, and it’s on.

Having said that, I love my son-in-law like he’s one of my own kids.  We can talk, we can joke, and we can praise Jesus together.  He works hard to support his precious little (growing) family; he loves my daughter and their children deeply.  Key point: it is their family.  Although my daughter will always be my daughter, and although their household is part of my family, they are now husband and wife.  Their own unit.  Their own entity.  The Bible teaches us in Genesis 2:22-24, “The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called ‘Woman’ because she was taken out of Man.’  For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (New American Standard Bible).

My son-in-law and me.

My son-in-law and me.

When it comes to my own marriage (and the marriages of my siblings), my mother has followed a few guidelines, and I follow her example.  Hopefully, this will make me the kind of mother and MIL that is honored as much as I honor my mom.  Read on …

  1. Let them be their own family.  This encompasses so many areas!  Holidays immediately come to mind.  It is OKAY for your child and his/her spouse to start their own traditions, to visit other family members, and to not spend every waking moment with you.  Yes, this is hard, especially if you grew up in a family as close-knit as mine who had die-hard traditions when it came to the holidays.  Please remember that your child married someone who has a family too.  Please remember how hard it was when you got married and tried to lug the kids to several different homes (possibly while bundled up for the winter weather) in order to make everyone happy.  Please remember that your child and in-law may create beautiful new traditions that your grandchildren will remember fondly one day.  It doesn’t mean not seeing them, but please be flexible.  The day after Christmas can be just as special – it’s about the memories, not the exact day.  “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18, NASB).
  2. Let their business be their business.  Praying for your adult children and their spouses is absolutely appropriate.  Sharing their confidences with anyone else is not.  Be trustworthy.  “Keep sound wisdom and discretion, so they will be life to your soul and adornment to your neck” (Proverbs 3:21b-22, NASB).
  3. Let them come to you for advice.  This means don’t butt in with your opinions.  Ever.  I mean it.  Just don’t.  Unless you were blessed with a wonderful MIL, you remember what it was (or is!) like to have advice, opinions, and judgment pressed upon you when it wasn’t wanted.  Oh, this includes your ideas on child rearing.  Ouch.  Let them be parents, and trust that yes, they will make mistakes.  We did.  We still do.  But also trust that they love their children and are raising them the way they feel is best.  That is their job, not yours. Now, if they ask for your advice, give it in a gentle and loving manner.  “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:3, NASB).
  4. Let them struggle.  You may be thinking that is just cruel.  No, it’s not.  I do not mean you should abandon them, cut off all support, and hang them out to dry.  However, I do mean that if you pay their way throughout their lives, they will never learn to stand on their own.  Marriage is about struggles.  Sometimes those struggles are financial, sometimes they are emotional, but without pain, we do not learn life’s lessons – and we most certainly do not grow or mature.  There will be occasions when lending a helping hand (or dollar) will be appropriate.  Do not let it become a crutch they depend upon every time they get into trouble.  “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NASB).
  5. Let them think for themselves.  In the end, the struggles with “letting go” of our children comes from our inherent need to be in control.  Face it, they are not small children anymore.  They have thoughts and ideas and dreams and goals.  They may not agree with you (gasp!) – and that means their spouses may not agree with you.  Do not assume that every decision made in their home that you don’t like was made by the spouse.  It doesn’t matter – they are now one flesh, united in God and in love, and they need to be allowed to make their own decisions as their own precious family.  Love them.  Encourage them.  Emotionally support them.  Above all, pray for them.  “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’  Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:6-8, NASB).

Women never stop being mothers.  We will love our children until there is no breath left within us.  We need to honor our God and our grown children by showing love, respect, courtesy, privacy, and encouragement.  You are already an example – be a good one.  “Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored” (Titus 2:3-5, NASB).

The Negative Effects of Sensual Advertisements

In today’s society, advertisements are seen on TV, on the Internet, on billboards, in catalogs, and outside retail stores. Advertisers are trying to grab our attention, and one method they use is sensuality. Because teenagers are a target market for certain companies, such as clothing stores, some ads are designed to reach the teenage desire to be good-looking and popular. Images used in advertisements for companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister Co. are specifically targeting the sexual side of adolescents, creating the idea that in order to be attractive, one must be thin, beautiful, and sexy. The American Psychological Association created a task force to study the effects of sexualization, specifically of girls, in the media and advertising. This task force discovered that sexualization is rampant in the media, that it has increased over the past 40 years, and that there are a variety of negative consequences that can result from exposure to this sexualization. In addition, the Bible warns humanity against sexual immorality. It is unlikely that companies will change their methods of advertising; it is up to parents and other responsible adults to guide teenagers toward healthy standards and godly morals.

Cute, but fun!

Teenage fashion should be fun, yet modest.

Walk through a typical shopping mall, and you will see droves of them: teenagers. The mall is the teenager’s place to socialize, eat, and, of course, shop. Teens spend the biggest part of their budget, approximately 21 percent, on clothing (Reagan, 2013). It stands to reason that clothing retailers use their advertisements to grab the attention of our youth. Unfortunately, the message that some popular companies are sending is a negative one, promoting “sexualization,” in particular, of girls (Zurbriggen et al., 2007). The notion is that in order to be considered beautiful, one must be sexy; in order to be considered sexy, one must be sexual. When this idea is embraced by adolescents, it lays the foundation for harmful consequences.

Two clothing stores that top the teenage shopping list are Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister Co. Ironically, both companies promote advertisements that feature minimal clothing and maximum sexuality, as seen in this Abercrombie & Fitch ad (Levinson, 2013).

abercrombieAbercrombie & Fitch is not only known for displaying images of scantily clad young adults in sensual poses, but they embrace the fact that their models are the epitome of what society considers good-looking. In a 2006 interview, the company’s CEO Michael Jeffries confirmed that his main marketing tactic is to focus on “hot people” (Levinson, 2013). Jeffries was quoted as saying, “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” (Levinson, 2013). Abercrombie & Fitch does not carry extra-large sizes in female apparel in order to limit their clientele to only thin individuals (Levinson, 2013). There is a specific image Jeffries wants displayed in his advertisements and in his stores. He made the statement that, “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids.” (Levinson, 2013).

Hollister Co., a subsidiary of Abercrombie & Fitch that features “SoCal” styles imprinted with the Hollister logo, is also popular with the youth of today (Abercrombie, n.d.). It is no surprise that the same advertising method is utilized by both companies. While the models in this Hollister image are wearing a bit more clothing than the Abercrombie & Fitch photo referenced above, the theme still runs true: thin, beautiful, sexy people displaying sensuality (Mulkeen, 2010). Even if this were an advertisement for swimwear, there is barely any swimsuit to be seen.

hollisterHow do advertisements such as these affect the youth of today? “Journalists, child advocacy organizations, parents and psychologists have argued that the sexualization of girls is a broad and increasing problem and is harmful to girls” (Zurbriggen et al., 2007). Although the American Psychological Association (APA) has studied the impact media and advertising have on children for years, these studies were focused on violence and not on sexualization. Because of this, the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls was formed (Zurbriggen et al., 2007).

Sexualization occurs when a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or
behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics; a person is held to a standard that equates
physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy; a person is sexually objectified –
that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity
for independent action and decision making; and/or sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon
a person. (Zurbriggen et al., 2007)

The task force discovered that sexualization of women was found in practically all media forms, “including television, music videos, music lyrics, movies, magazines, sports media, video games, the Internet and advertising” (Zurbriggen et al., 2007). Examples of advertisements sexualizing females were not hard to find; sexualization was seen in ads for tennis shoes, dolls, and even thongs specifically sized for pre-teen girls (Zurbriggen et al., 2007). Sexualization is not limited to only females; however, men are less likely overall to be displayed in a sexual light. As witnessed in the Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister Co. advertisements, there is a “narrow and unrealistic standard of physical beauty heavily emphasized” (Zurbriggen et al., 2007). In addition, research has shown that over a 40-year period, the number of ads promoting sexualization has increased (Zurbriggen et al., 2007). As a result, society sexualizes females. Not only do girls have a narrow view of beauty to emulate, but males may have decreased interest in ladies who do not meet the unrealistic standards set by the media (Zurbriggen et al., 2007).

There are other negative effects of sexualization and objectification of women in advertising. Cognitive consequences can occur, such as the inability to focus on anything other than physical appearance. Emotional results include low self-esteem and anxiety. Mental and physical health problems may arise in the forms of depression and eating disorders (Zurbriggen et al., 2007).

From a Biblical perspective, there is nothing positive about sex in advertising. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5a reads, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion” (NASB). Advertisers using sex in an attempt to sell a product are not adhering to the commandments of God, but rather, are seeking the almighty dollar. Matthew 18:7 warns, “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes” (NASB).

In a society full of visual imagery, it is difficult to turn a blind eye to every negative influence. Advertisers want our business, and they are willing to use powerful displays to get our attention. Teenagers form a target market; unfortunately, companies prey upon their heightened hormones and sexual curiosity to lure them into buying their merchandise. The sensual images and objectification of females and males can lead to negative consequences in the emotional, physical, social, and spiritual lives of adolescents submerged in today’s media. We may not be able to control the advertisers, but we can reinforce healthy, positive standards and Biblical morals to fight against the sexualization that surrounds us through advertising.


References

Abercrombie & Fitch. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.abercrombie.com.

Levinson, S. (2013, May 3). Abercrombie & fitch ceo explains why he hates fat chicks. Retrieved from http://elitedaily.com/news/world/abercrombie-fitch-ceo-explains-why-he- hates-fat-chicks/.

Mulkeen, M. (2010, September 2). Hollister’s immersive retail experience. Retrieved from http://www.postadvertising.com/2010/09/hollisters-immersive-retail-experience/.

New American Standard Bible. Ultrathin Reference Edition. The Lockman Foundation. La Habra, CA: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998. Print.

Reagan, C. (2013, May 30). Teen angst: Retailers fight for relevance. Retrieved from http://www.cnbc.com/id/100774191.

Zurbriggen, E.L., Collins, R.L., Lamb, S., Roberts, T., Tolman, D.L., Ward, L.M., & Blake, J. (2007). Report of the apa task force on the sexualization of girls. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report.aspx.