Author Archives: elizabeth

Death of a Cult Leader OR “How are you doing since your grandfather died?”

Grief is weird. Just when you think you’ve got it all washed, dried and neatly tucked away in a little compartmentalized drawer called “The Past,” well, something happens and suddenly, everything is dirty and messy again. I sat down to write yesterday and this came out. So. This is me answering the question: “How are you doing since your grandfather died?” Warning: salty language.


I don’t know how to answer this question out loud. I certainly can’t answer it in the three minutes we have while standing in line at the coffee shop. I mean, I guess I could say: “Do you have four hours?” Because maybe in four hours I could accurately answer the question: “How are you doing since your grandfather THE CULT LEADER died?”

Ok, ok. Nobody asks it like that, really. But that’s how I hear it. That’s the subtext. That’s how I’ll always hear it, I think. Even when people are trying to be kind and polite…..

So I just say: “I’m doing better.” Which is true and also not true. In the immediate aftermath, I mustered something respectable to write. But now, all the impolite feelings are pouring out and I guess that’s how I’m really feeling: messy.

Is it ok for me to admit I’m happy? I mean, I know that sounds horrible. How can I be happy someone is dead? I’m not happy-happy. But I’m happy he can’t hurt us anymore. He caused so much pain. And all those years of silent denial was him hurting us again and again and again. He fucked up every single relationship he ever had. He damaged every single relationship *I* had! He tore apart my family. He destroyed the church he built. And then he strolled away from the nuclear disaster site and lived comfortably for eleven plus years. What a horrible way to end the story. So, yeah. I’m happy he’s gone because he can’t hurt us and I’m unhappy that it ended this way.

Can I admit that I’m worried he’s in Hell? And that gives me nightmares. Despite everything he did, I don’t want him to suffer. He used to love Dante’s works–Inferno, Purgatorio…maybe he’s in Purgatory working things out. Dealing with his shit. I believe God is just. I believe God is merciful. Maybe God gave him diaper duty in Purgatory. Or washing dishes for eleventy-hundred eternities. Whatever. I just hope he’s not in Hell. I know he’s not. Actually, scratch that. I don’t know that for sure. Only God knows for sure…..and even that–the not knowing gives me nightmares. I wish I knew. For sure. But I don’t. And I hate that.

Is it ok for me admit I’m terrified? I’m his flesh and blood. I have nightmares that I’ll turn out like him. That I’ll make mistakes like him. That I’ll fuck up my family and all my relationships. I’m terrified it’s inevitable. I’m terrified I won’t be able to break the cycle. Do you know how much endurance and strength it takes to break the cycle of violence, fundamentalism and terror in a family? It takes so much energy. I’m always exhausted. Sometimes I just want to give up, runaway and start all over. But I know better than that. I know that wherever I go, that’s where I’ll be–and THAT reality? The reality that I’m George Geftakys’ grand-daughter? That reality will never go away.

And that is really hard for me! This whole situation is showing me how desperately alone we all are. This is the human condition that even when surrounded by love and family and children and All the Things–we are still so very, very, VERY alone.

God, relieve me from my alone-ness! God, relieve me from this terrifying loneliness! The only relief I find is gentle, loving service. To be exhausted on behalf of others sometimes blots out the pain of this deep, constant loneliness.

Is it ok for me to admit I’m angry? Outraged, really. My grandfather wouldn’t have been able to do what he did without the help of all his yes-men. And yet, when the shit hit the fan, all these dudes backed away as if they did NOTHING wrong. “Well,” they said, “we didn’t REALLY know what was going on. We were as shocked as everyone else!” Bullshit. They knew what was happening. They chose to ignore it. When everything was imploding, they pretended like they didn’t directly aid and abet his abuse. Like my grandfather, these “leading brothers” walked away totally oblivious to the hurt they caused. Now they have the audacity to leave Facebook posts praising my grandfather and urging the rest of us to “forgive and move on.” To let go of our “bitterness.” What utter bullshit.

Is it ok for me to admit I have unceasing anxiety? People don’t understand that when you’re brainwashed from infancy to age 25, something permanently breaks inside you. I have to work hard every single day to think differently, live differently, BE the me that’s always wanted to be ME. Just managing my emotions and trauma and “moving on” and dealing with ongoing family drama and trying to raise my own kids DIFFERENTLY takes every ounce of energy I have. I am doing OK because I admit there is something horribly wrong. I admit something broke inside of me and I choose to face the wound every single day. I accept it. I surrender to it. But it’s never easy. I don’t know how to explain this to people.

So when people ask me how I’m doing, I just say: “I’m doing better.” Because that’s all I can say. Even when things feel stupid and broken and hopeless, I raise my tiny little fist against the inevitable and I live anyway.

“We’ve got to live no matter how many skies have fallen.” –D.H. Lawrence


Epilogue: After I wrote this post, I walked away from it. I slept on it. I read it again briefly this morning and what I realized was that I felt much lighter, much freer for having put these feelings into words. Today, I feel released. What I felt was true and real–and I released it by writing it down. Maybe next week I’ll feel something different. Maybe I’ll feel heavy with grief again. Maybe the words and feelings will build up again. But as long as I put my feelings into words, I’m gonna be a little less broken….

Am I my brother’s gatekeeper?

One afternoon, six years ago, I drove by my local, Catholic Church “just to see.” I didn’t stop. I kept driving. A few days later, I circled the neighborhood several times. Then one day, I daringly pulled into the parking lot. I was terribly curious and terribly terrified.

I remember there was a banner hanging on one of the light poles. Welcome, it said. Still, I wasn’t sure. Did welcome really mean welcome? So, I hunkered deep in my car and Googled the church office phone number. With shaking fingers, I dialed. A wobbly but matter-of-fact old lady voice answered: “Hello! St. Cecilia’s!”

I took a deep breath. “Um. Hi. I was just. Well, I was wondering if non-Catholics can go inside your church?”

“Why, of course, honey! Go right on in and pray!”

“Oh! You mean. RIGHT NOW? Like, the church is open right now?”

She cackled, deliciously. “Why of course it’s open! It’s only 2 o’clock in the afternoon!”

That was my first “real” time inside a Catholic church (read about what I saw that day on page 179 of my book). What I didn’t elaborate on in my book but what I realize now is that this discovery– Catholic churches are open almost all the time–was huge for me.

When I was a Protestant, church doors were locked up Monday-Saturday. We only opened for meetings. But in Catholic churches, the doors were always open. This became so meaningful for me, symbolically and practically.

Practically speaking, as a mother of five young children it was hard for me to get to church. I so appreciated that I could dash in for ten minutes between bottles and naps and laundry. I didn’t have to dress up or put on my Happy Church Lady face (back then, all I had was an Exhausted-Sleep-Deprived-Mommy-Face). Best of all, I didn’t have to wait until Wednesday night Bible Study at 7:30pm. Whether I went at 6:30am or 2:22pm, the Catholic Church was always open.

Symbolically, this openness demonstrated a posture of hospitality. The church didn’t expect me to come to God on its timeline. It just unlocked its doors, held Mass for whoever showed up and then stayed open for prayer and meditation.

This always openness seems like a small thing to me now. Of course the Catholic Church is open! But I need to remind myself that this openness, this posture and practice of generous hospitality was a huge and vital part of my first, real-life encounter with Catholic practice. Without that practice of openness, I might have never stepped foot into a Catholic church because I wasn’t ready to attend an actual Mass. I needed to scope things out first. Feel my way into it. Read my way in. Listen my way in. Watch EWTN my way in. :)

Even the process of entering the church was open, slow and careful. It took a whole year of discerning and inquiry. They called it RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). I never felt like the church was trying to sell me something. Or get something from me. The priest never gave a sales pitch about All The Heavenly Prizes You’ll Win If You Join Our Church! We talked, instead, about suffering. And struggle. And giving to the poor.

For all the horror stories I’d read about the Catholic church and for all the terrible history I knew, the actual practice of ordinary, everyday Catholics was quiet, unassuming and welcoming. Yes, they had dogma but they weren’t dogmatic. Yes, they were welcoming but it wasn’t an Overwhelming-High-Octane-Welcoming-Committee. There weren’t any cheesy little coffee mugs given out to newcomers. Nobody got up in my space, shook my hand and demanded to hear my “testimony.” We were all just humans together. And that was enough.

True hospitality, I’ve learned, seeks only to serve. The spiritual practice of hospitality is kind of about invisibility–getting yourself out of the way so others might encounter God. It’s not about enforcing codes, rules, stipulations and locking the doors of Heaven until everyone has met our requirements. We’re our brother’s keeper, not Heaven’s gatekeepers.

Jesus has already unlocked the door and flung wide the gates of Heaven. All we need to do is welcome people in.

#TreasuryofSmallBlogs, August 2014

I’ve discovered a new passion in life: reading and showcasing other writers. Especially in the era of blogging, there are so many new voices out there–easily accessible by the click of a mouse. Last month I hosted my first ever Treasury of Small Blogs and was overwhelmed by the number of submissions. Yesterday, I called for submissions again and got almost twice the number of entries! I spent several hours reading blogs yesterday. I was SO INSPIRED by all of you. It was so hard to pick the Top Ten. (Don’t worry, if I didn’t pick your post, you can always submit again next month!) Keep writing. At the end of September, I will host another Treasury of Small Blogs. For now, please enjoy these Top Ten posts. Leave an encouraging comment (writers LOVE that!). Follow each other on Twitter. And THANK YOU for participating. xo. EE.



It has been my experience that the people who harbor the most prejudiced and biased views toward another group of people have never spent much time around those people or engaged the story of that group. They exist to them only in the abstract. When we allow ourselves to turn entire people groups into abstract beings it becomes much easier to absorb the negative stereotypes and caricatures that are given to us.” —Ryan Herring @ The Ghetto Monk Twitter: @infiniteideal


When you bury your son, you bury everything. Your ministry, your job, your marriage, your hope, your dreams, your calling, your religion, your faith, and even your god. Everything you thought was real gets buried in a little blue wooden box.” —Juan Lopez @ That Whoever Believes Twitter: @jclopez35 


It’s an agonizing tension—the need for safety and the call to this wild beauty where everything is possible. All the savagery but also all the expansion of my tiny body. My soul screams to experience life to its fullest almost as if it knows this is it’s one chance at adventure. But my body fights because it knows it is so fragile and mortal—torn apart easily by vicious teeth.” —Sarah Drinka @ Twitter: @sdrinka 


As horrific as the news out of Iraq is to our eyes and ears, not one bit of it surprises or shocks our God. It saddens and stirs that great Divine Heart, but in no way does it signal the end of the story. Redemption is still at work.” –Diana Trautwein @ Just Wondering Twitter: @drgtrautwein 


Dear Ferguson, I have been hovering over your hurt these past weeks and I only want to tell you a few important things… I can’t physically get to you, but everytime I love my own afflicted neighbors, I am doing it in your honor and to me these small acts of impassioned love are prayers that will somehow and someway reach through space and distance to be a balm for your painful places.” —Erika Morrison @ The-LifeArtist Twitter: @erikalifeartist


If I’m nice to people, then they will be nice to me. If I pray and go to church regularly, then God will be happy with me. If I work hard, then I will be rewarded. If I’m healthy and hardly drink and take care of myself, then there’s no reason on earthy why I shouldn’t have a perfectly healthy and happy baby from the first moment I ask for one. It’s just not true.” —Carly Hutton @ Growing Butterfly Twitter: @carlymbutton 


Sociologists tell us that conspiracy theories and apocalyptic thinking are deeply intertwined, and that wherever you find one, you’re likely to find the other. It’s a pathology in the American psyche, a sickness, this fascination with the end times. There’s something deeply un-Christian about it. It’s as though Jesus and the Bible have become nothing more than cultural totems with the power to drive us mad.” –Boze Herrington @ Sketches by Boze Twitter: @SketchesbyBoze 


Once upon a time, there was A Really Nice Guy. And all he wanted to do was help people.This Really Nice Guy spent a lot of his time talking about the evils of discriminatory societal infrastructures (that usually didn’t directly affect him). But after all, he wanted to help people, and he saw that these systemic inequalities hurt people, so he had to speak up. And speak up he did.” —Dani Kelley @ Twitter: @danileekelley


The dawn of the new year, the first day of Naked, I dressed in front of my bathroom mirror. I looked up, still leaning over my sink with water droplets running down my face and neck and observed my unclothed body, tracing my reflection to my eyes. They filled with tears, realization dawning that I did not examine myself with the typical repulsion. Rather, I sought out positive features and persuaded myself that I can be beautiful, just as I am.”  –Rebekah Hope @ RebekahHopes Twitter: @BekahHopes


In college, whenever I was walking across campus, knowing I’d be late to class, I’d run through my head plausible excuses: I had a bad fall on my way over. I got a really hard phone call just before class. My last professor dismissed us late. When the truth was, I just didn’t keep track of time. But that wasn’t endearing enough, worthy enough, good enough. So I’d lie.” –Andrea Enright @Honesty With Andrea E. Twitter: @andreacenright


Why do Christian news outlets minimize abuse in Christian homeschooling?

Today, WORLD Magazine published an article tentatively exploring the “question” of whether abuse and neglect is a problem inside Christian homeschooling.

Here, let me answer that for you definitivelyYes. Yes, there is a problem. This is not a “question.” This is not a “debate.” Some of us have been talking about it for YEARS.

Look, I’m thankful this issue topic is receiving more exposure among large Christian media outlets, but I’m completely frustrated by the unfair slant of these articles. The sub-title of the WORLD magazine article says it all: “How to keep a few bad apples from spoiling the bushel.”

Right. This little “abuse problem” we Christians have? It’s just a few bad apples. It’s not widespread. Look! We have ninety-and-nine awesome homeschooled sheep! Let’s forget about that one lost sheep, k? She was a bad apple, anyway.

That’s totally how the parable goes, amen?

No, no it’s not. Minimizing abuse is NOT a Christian value and major media outlets should know better. Christians do not abandon the one lost sheep. Christians do not turn a blind eye to the “least of these.”

Sadly, WORLD magazine isn’t the only culprit, here.

Last year, Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Service wrote an article dismissing the impact of Mike & Debi Pearl’s To Train up a Child, saying: “while the Pearls may have some amount of influence, it is disproportionate to the amount of space many writers have given them in articles..”

So, once again: abuse within Christian homeschooling isn’t worthy of our attention unless it’s happening on a wide scale. My question is: how many more children must die before we start acknowledging we have a SERIOUS ABUSE PROBLEM within Christianity?

Because even though Merritt went on to agree that the Pearls’ teachings ARE harmful, his general conclusions match Daniel Devine’s dismissive attitude in today’s WORLD article; mainly, yes abuse happens but it’s not a BIG problem. Thank God we’re not like those other bad apple homeschooling parents!

This line of reasoning completely misses the point. By making the focus of their investigation a matter of breadth, the abusive experiences of current and former Christian homeschooled children are erased, minimized and dismissed. This is not OK.

Instead of asking whether abuse in Christian homeschooling is widespread, we should be examining its lifelong impact. 

Instead of asking how MANY are affected, we should be asking HOW DEEPLY.

So, what can we do? Well, for one, we can speak up. If you see or suspect a child is being abused, please don’t look away. Follow your gut instinct and say something! We can also support the good and important work of those trying to make a difference for the future of Christian homeschooling.

I’m so grateful for the hard work of those at Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out and the survey they’ve put together asking adult homeschool alumni to share their experience. If you’re a homeschool alumni aged 18 or older, please go check it out. Your voice is important!

Please also read and share the statement by HARO regarding their response to WORLD Magazine’s “Homeschool Debate” article.


It’s back-to-school for First Lieutenant Room Moms of the New Motherhood Order

Something has radically shifted since I had my first child fifteen years ago. When I was pregnant with my first baby, preschool was a matter of personal preference. Optional. It was like: “You’re keeping her home, that’s cool.” Nowadays, you MUST put your child on a preschool waiting list. While you’re still pregnant. Because don’t you know? Preschool is the new college prep.

These days, if you tell people you’re not putting your kid in preschool they’re like: “YOU’RE KEEPING HER HOME????WHY WOULD YOUR RUIN HER CHANCES OF GETTING INTO HARVARD??” All-cap sentences and lots of question marks are ruining motherhood, I’m telling you.

Mothering is way more intense now than it was when my firstborn was a baby. Back then, I was a Good Mom for taking her to the park. Now, that’s not good enough. Not even close. These days, you’re supposed to play with your kids. And not just play but be totally, completely, utterly enmeshed with them.

Only Bad Moms sit on the bench and watch their kids play. And the WORST MOMS? They sit on the bench and look at their iPhones. In the New Motherhood, iPhones are the new cigarettes.

What baffles me about the New Motherhood is how quickly we’ve invented brand new ways of shaming women. Society now tells mothers that they must be 100% present for their children AND be 100% committed to keeping the ROMANCE ALIVE in their marriages. They must stay OFF their iPhones AND use their iPhones for taking lots of pictures for scrapbooks. Oh, also? Mothers must stay smokin’ hot, 24/7.

I’m sorry, but I am not a 24 hr. drive-thru. You can’t just roll up any ol’ time or day or night and get what you want in five minutes or less.

But still. This is what we ask of mothers today.

I saw this ad just last week that said: “She’s 53 but she looks 23!” I think it was the exclamation point at the end of the sentence that freaked me out the most. I mean, read that sentence without the exclamation point: “She’s 53 but she looks 23.” You read that sentence and you might think: wow, that’s weird. THAT’S not normal. But then you read that sentence WITH the exclamation point and you’re all: “WOW, she’s 53 and she looks 23? THAT’S AWESOME!” Poorly placed exclamation marks are ruining motherhood, I’m telling you.

This is the New Motherhood: you’re not allowed to get old. 40 is the new 20! 53 is the new 23! #StaySexyUntilYouDie

No, stupid world, no. 53 is NOT the new 23. I’ll tell you what the new 23 is: dim lighting. Who needs Botox when you’ve got candlelight? Nobody, that’s who.

Here’s the other thing I don’t understand about the New Motherhood: school is different. Time was, I dropped my kids off at school and yelled: “CATCH YA LATER, YO!” But not anymore. Oh, no. Only Bad Mothers do that.

Nowadays, I have to take out a 2nd mortgage just to pay for the first grade school supply list: 2  boxes Kleenex, 2 pkg. antibacterial wipes, 2 plane tickets to Hawaii…. OK, OK. I’m kidding about the plane tickets to Hawaii. Sort of.

I’m also supposed to be best friends with my kids’ teacher: I have to remember her birthday. Bring presents. Respond to all her emails. Make a scrapbook of all the special times we shared at school this year. Because this is the New Motherhood

Confession: I don’t know how to talk to a Room Mom without having a panic attack. You have not met a true solider until you’ve met a Room Mom with a color-coded spreadsheet. She wields that bad-boy like a weapon against your wallet. Before you know it, you’re drafted into cookie-dough fundraisers and deep inside basic training for the laminating machine.

The hardest part is that I can’t hate the Room Moms. I mean, they’re so nice. And they’re working for freeeeeeee. And they’re typing all these passive-aggressive emails like: “Dear Mrs. Esther, we would LOVE it if you could maybe bring12 mini-sized, gluten-free, peanut-free water bottles to the Jog-a-thon! Thank you sooooooo much. XOXOXOXO. Happy Face. Room Mom 1 and Room Mom 2.

I love these Room Moms, man. There is nothing they love more than the reply-all button. Sometimes I just pop a bowl of popcorn and sit there refreshing my email inbox and making bets with myself about how quickly the Halloween Party job assignments will be taken. I mean, I gotta sign up FAST if I wanna bring paper goods otherwise I’ll be stuck baking gluten-free Paleo cupcakes with sugar-free, hand-woven spiderwebs on top.

Sometimes, if I’m feeling really evil, I’ll type out an email: “Can someone check on whether the bottled waters from Costco are BPA and gluten-free?” Then I sit back and wait because someone WILL check and get back to me in five minutes or less.

Because THIS. This is the New Motherhood.


A time to mourn

Sunday, August 10th was a perfect Southern California day. It was the kind of day you spend driving over the Coronado Bay Bridge—blue water sparkling below and navy warships all lined up in a row. It’s the kind of day you spend browsing quaint shops, walking the beach and later, sipping cool drinks by the pool. And that is what I did.

It wasn’t the kind of day I expected to get a call saying my grandfather, George Geftakys–founder of The Assembly–had died.

How to make sense of a death that left so many things unresolved? How to mourn the loss of flesh and blood–this brilliant yet deeply flawed man who led me to Jesus but also ushered much pain into my life..and the lives of others? How to grapple with the death of a family member while also acknowledging the public legacy of pain he left behind? This past week has been full of conflicting emotions, to say the least.

I knew his death was coming—he’d had a stroke in April, hospice had been called. He was descending quickly, his mind failing him. Still, his death still felt unexpected if only because I told myself he wouldn’t die before making things right with all of us. I’d kept that faint spark of hope alive…

And now, the spark has gone out.

The day he died, I’d felt a growing unease. Despite the beautiful weather, the view from the bridge and the warm sunshine of San Diego a band of pain squeezed my temples and then, just before dinner, I suddenly lost my appetite. Around six o’ clock I needed to lie down.

I wouldn’t know it until later, but at just that moment my grandfather, George Geftakys, was drawing his last breaths.

My grandfather is dead and I am surprised by the intensity of this grief. I weep for all that was good–and yes, there was GOOD. I weep for all that could have been and wasn’t, all that went unresolved and I especially weep for the light that turned to darkness.

I weep because, in the end, he was still my flesh and blood. And I am still, in some ways, the little girl he called “darling”—his eldest grandchild who was able to delight him by quoting poetry or articulating the major points from his sermons.

I went through some old pictures this week and remembered his great, booming PRAISE THE LORDs as he barreled into a crowded room. I remembered the uproarious laughter, the way he would throw his head back, sweep off his glasses and howl with abandon. I remember feeling awestruck in his presence and trembling with a kind of frightened inspiration. He had such an oversized personality and such a grand vision for God’s work in the world. He was intense and charismatic. From him I developed a love of books and learning, a passion for the written word.

But I also remember the creeping darkness, the web of lies, the compartmentalization, the way he could deny, deny, deny no matter what facts stated otherwise. This is the paradox of my grief: to untangle the good from the bad.

In viewing my grandfather’s legacy, it is difficult to refrain from defining him by his failures. There was much good in The Assembly. God’s Word was clearly preached. Many were saved. We learned and studied our Bibles. We experienced deep friendships. Do mistakes and failures erase the good? I hope not. But when those mistakes are never accounted for, when open wounds are never bound up–well, that unresolved pain is part of his legacy and I suppose that’s what grieves me most. It didn’t have to end this way.

Ultimately, I believe God is both just and merciful. This faith allows me to rest my grief and unresolved pain at the foot of the Cross and to place my trust in the merciful love of God, believing that one day He will wipe away our tears and make all things work together for good. Until then…

Requiescat en pace, Papa.


How to transform your pain without transmitting it

photoI have a high tolerance for crazy. Also, for pain. A big part of my recovery has been allowing myself to enjoy the good things in my life–despite the pain of my past.

Recently, I realized I have passed on my high pain tolerance to my ballerina–she’s danced on a strained hamstring for three months. Just danced through the pain because she wasn’t going to miss a competition or a recital, wasn’t going to let anyone down.

Well, that all caught up to her two weeks ago.

“No dancing for four weeks,” the doctor said. Jewel winced. That hurt more than dancing through the pain. And now begins a series of visits with a physical therapist, a referral to orthopedics…repairing and restoring before the serious YAGP training begins.

Today, the physical therapist kneaded and massaged and pushed and pulled and Jewel’s face was calm, implacable. I could only tell she was in pain by the slight flare of her nostrils.

“I didn’t know I was supposed to tell her when it hurt,” she explained when we left. “But I’m learning to tell the difference between good pain and bad pain.”

I nodded. Yes, I know this–this sifting the good pain from the bad.

Good pain leads to growth and new life. Bad pain leads to injury and death.

The only way to tell the difference is to be honest with ourselves. There is a discomfort in sitting with our real feelings. It’s never convenient to stop doing what you love and take time to rest, recover, repair. 

I would so much rather distract, escape or numb myself…anything other than sitting still with my uncomfortable feelings.

But daydreaming, disassociating, indulging wishful thinking and fantasies only makes me more unsettled and restless, unable to enjoy my good life right now. In the end, these coping mechanisms bring about longterm pain in the form of discontent.

One of the lingering effects of living in an abusive church for 25 years is that I wake up every single morning discouraged and anxious. My default setting is to believe the world is ending and the temptation is to yield to despair. This is “bad” pain.

I’ve learned that just because I wake up discouraged doesn’t mean I have to stay discouraged. I can get myself up and start stretching my “joy muscle” by choosing gratitude, telling myself what is TRUE about myself and my life. And then I make myself of loving service toward others.

A joyful life is an intentionally reparative life. It doesn’t deny that bad things happen, but it seeks to repair the wounds by choosing joy each day.

It’s annoying, this “joy workout.” It requires effort on my part–every.single.morning. I mean, I’d rather sit on the couch eating metaphorical cookie butter; ie. daydreaming my problems away. But once I’m up and moving, once I’m actively seeking gratitude and joy, once I’m focused on loving service–well, these “good pain” practices crowd out the bad pain–the negativity–and eventually, if I just hang on long enough, I can feel joy seeping into the deep places of my heart and life. I have a good life now. And I’m learning to enjoy it.

This past week my ballerina spent a lot of time in physical therapy. We got through it by talking, cracking jokes and at one point, just being quiet while the therapist massaged out her hamstring and IT band. It was good pain. It was reparative pain.

The good news is that after two weeks of no dancing and 4 physical therapy visits, her hamstring is already improving. The other day she tested out her leg and was able to turn a few exquisite pirouettes. The therapy is working.

Sometimes you learn that not all pain is bad. With God’s grace–and a little bit of reparative joy therapy–pain can be transformed into something beautiful.


Acts 29 Network removes co-founder Mark Driscoll from membership, asks him to step down citing “ungodly and disqualifying behavior”

In a stunning move, Christianity Today is reporting that The Acts 29 Network, the very church-planting network Mark Driscoll co-founded, has removed Mars Hill Church from membership and asked him to step down from ministry and seek help. I am grateful that those close to Mark are finally taking action. Let’s hope and pray for true repentance, restoration and healing. May Christ have mercy on us all.

Does Jesus ask us to accept empty apologies? Some thoughts on what it means to forgive our abusers.

There’s been some talk about what it means for Christians to forgive our abusers–particularly those who abuse us in the name of God. Yesterday, Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Service wrote an article called “I accept Mark Driscoll’s apology..and you should, too.” In it he encouraged everyone to accept Mark’s most recent public apology because:

When Christians have grown so bitter toward someone that we can’t even accept their apologies, something has gone seriously wrong. If Driscoll had ignored these comments, his critics would have excoriated him for his silence. But when he says he is sorry, they criticize him still. We must refuse to create lose-lose situations for each other where one is damned if they apologize and damned if they don’t.

Let me be clear: Accepting Driscoll’s apology does not mean we excuse his reprehensible actions in the past, fail to call him to better behavior in the present, or ignore future abuses if (or when) they occur.

I absolutely agree that Jesus calls us to forgive. Indeed, as Merritt states, Jesus was “obliterating the ceiling on Christian forgiveness.” Merritt’s message urges us toward a posture of openheartedness and to refrain from becoming abusive toward abusers. I fully support this. I know how easy it is for my sense of “righteous indignation” to morph into full-blown rage. There really is no justification for me to indulge in vicious, snide or vitriolic attacks–especially against other Christians.

That said, as someone who experienced decades of spiritual abuse, I really think it’s important for the broader Christian community to actively stand up for those being harmed by religious authorities. To this end, there are a couple of things that trouble me about Jonathan Merritt’s piece:

  1. It isn’t our place, as outsiders, to accept apologies on behalf of those who are being directly harmed by Driscoll. That’s like an outsider coming to me and saying, “Hey, I forgive your grandfather for abusing you in his cult! You should, too!” Wait. What?! Outsiders have no place accepting apologies or forgiving an abuser on my behalf. That’s MY job. Outsiders do have jobs to perform; ie. provide support and safe places, help spread awareness–but telling everyone to “accept apologies” is not one of those jobs.
  2. By urging people to “accept” Driscoll’s apology, Merritt places the onus on the victim instead of on the abuser. The underlying idea, here, is that victims of abuse are supposed to Keeping Doing Things; ie. accept apologies, be supportive, not get angry, remain positive…and furthermore, do all this before the abuser stops the abuse. Is this what Jesus meant when He told us to forgive? I don’t think so. Forgiveness means I hold no resentment toward the person who hurt me. Forgiveness means I have no more desire for revenge. It DOESN’T mean I tolerate more abuse. It DOESN’T mean I must “accept” empty apologies. Accepting an apology is predicated upon the recognition that something has CHANGED. In Driscoll’s case, the apologies seem empty because he says he’s sorry and then proceeds to behave in the exact same way.

Forgiveness means I have no more resentment or the desire for revenge. It DOESN’T mean I tolerate more abuse. It DOESN’T mean I must “accept” empty apologies.

If this were the first time Driscoll had apologized, I’d be all on board with “accepting” apologies and giving him time to demonstrate changed behavior.

However, Driscoll has apologized multiple times and then proceeded to engage in the exact same abusive behavior.

So, just as it is not our place to tell insiders of Mars Hill Church what to do about their pastor, it is not our place to tell them to “accept” this latest apology.

Indeed, to insist they “should” accept this latest apology is to ask they participate in a false repentance.

True repentance is an expression of verbal regret coupled with matching actions. Saying “I’m sorry” when there is no fruit of repentance is an empty apology. It is a lie. A true apology must have matching behavior to back it up, to make it real.

Yes, members of Mars Hill Church can forgive Mark–within their own hearts. They can let go of resentment and the desire for revenge. They can pray for his repentance. They can advocate change and call for accountability. And from what I can tell, that is happening.

But outsiders like Merritt and I ought not accept apologies on their behalf. And we ought not insist they accept apologies that are empty. 

Let me provide an example of what forgiving my abusers looked like for me.

I forgave my cult-founding grandparents for the many ways in which they abused me. I let go of resentment and the desire for revenge. I committed them to God and prayed for their repentance.

I did NOT, however, continue a relationship with them. I did not DO anything else–accept apologies, continue conversations or otherwise tolerate their continued abuses. Why? Because there was no repentance. There was no changed behavior.

And in order for me to “accept” an apology–it needs to be real. A real apology is backed up by amending action. Yes, I can forgive–for the sake of my own soul. But a restored relationship can only happen when amending action has been taken by those who hurt me.

Yes, an apology is a good start. But it is only a start. More action is needed if the apology is to be true repentance.

Falling in love with all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons; aka Breaking Up With Cookie Butter Is Hard to Do

I have a tendency for falling in love. Take Cookie Butter, for instance. Just writing the word cookie butter makes the back of my throat ache. We had such a love affair, me and cookie butter. I thought we’d last forever. Alas, cookie butter was the slippery slope that led me into overeating for a whole year. I guess you could say it was a one-sided love affair. I loved Cookie Butter but I didn’t love what Cookie Butter did to my hips and thighs.

This is my problem, see. I don’t just fall in love with things. I fall HEAD OVER HEELS in love with things.

Something sparks my intrigue and suddenly, I’m gripped by the illusion that This New Manifestation of Love is going to be My Everything (it never, never, never is). I’ve chased everything from friendships to scrapbooking to sewing to margaritas. And also, Cookie Butter.

Still, the only way I can quit my obsession is seeing it for what it is. Then, I don’t want it anymore. I mean, I want it. But I don’t waaaaaant it. With Cookie Butter, I finally stepped on the scale and Shakira is right: hips don’t lie. I broke up with Cookie Butter that very day.

I wonder if this is how sin works, too. As one of the old saints once said: When sin ceases being pleasurable, people stop sinning.

I love this perspective because so often I forget why I sin in the first place: not because I’m a bad, horrible, inherently evil person. I sin because sin is pleasurable. Because sin feels good.

Sin is pleasurable in the way Cookie Butter is pleasurable. It is instant gratification. By contrast, virtue looks like a plate of raw kale.

Which is to say, all the abstract threats of Hell and judgment dim in comparison to the immediate rush of pleasure from a very real, very now sin.

I think this is why parents seek to scare their kids away from sin by talking about how IT WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE FOREVER. We use these hyper-scary threats in an attempt to protect them from certain heartbreak, destroyed health or financial ruin. And, I mean, these scary things are often true. Drugs can ruin your life. Promiscuous sex can permanently damage relationships. Gambling can result in bankruptcy. Overeating can result in ruined health.

But even when we know the right thing to do, why don’t we do it? I think it’s because shame is not a longterm catalyst for change. We can shame and threaten people but that will only result in possible short term, behavioral modification.

We forget that fear and shame do not effect longterm positive change.

We forget the importance of beauty and inspiration. We forget that falling in love is good–we just need to fall in love with the right things. We forget–or perhaps have never tasted–the true joys of Heaven.

When the joys of Heaven seem far removed, not real and not here–sin only grows in its appeal. When we haven’t tasted of Heaven while here on earth–sin is more appetizing.

The key to breaking free of sin is not more self-denial, more shame and more thou shalt-nots but rather an experience of Heaven while here on earth.

Scripture tells us, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.” Surely, we aren’t supposed to wait until we’re dead to taste and see! No, tasting and seeing is for the living. It’s for us mortals. It’s for now.

The prophet Jeremiah says: “Thy words were found and I did eat them and they were to me the joy and rejoicing of my soul.”

Once we taste real food–The Word–we no longer crave leftovers. Once we’ve dined on a home-cooked meal, drive-thru food is suddenly second-best. Once we’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good, our desires change. We want Him more than we want our sin.

The key to breaking free from sin is not fasting from pleasure but rather feasting on better pleasure.

And what is the best pleasure?

Jesus, in love poured out for us. Jesus, in the delighted laughter of children. Jesus, in the brilliant colors of a summer sunset. Jesus in the shared community of friends. Jesus very real, very present and very NOW in the Eucharist.

But if I’ve never tasted that pleasure, if I’ve never tasted and seen that the Lord is good and if I still believe that I’m a bad, horrible person undeserving of love–then I will always grab comfort from whatever is closest: a fast food restaurant, a local dive bar, online porn, the 24 hr. donut shop, Internet gambling, compulsive shopping, casual sex…

Sin will always hold allure as long as I live from a place of scarcity. Sin will always grip me in its vice-hold when I have never “tasted and seen” that the Lord is good.

It’s only when I am captured by a more beautiful vision and filled with the true food from Heaven that I will easily lay aside my cheap thrills and comforts.

It’s only when I’ve been fully sated by the love of Jesus that I will desire nothing else but more of Him.