Standing Together with Ashes on Our Heads

It’s the season of Lent.

What this means to each of us can be vastly different, but last night when I had the opportunity to serve in our Ash Wednesday service, I saw something.

  • Men,
  • Women,
  • Children,
  • Babies in arms.

We all came and were marked by the black ash. This ash had once been palm leaves, the very same palm leaves that were fans of proclamation of Jesus became the ash that joined us all together.

Lent is not a place, but rather an invitation and process. I admit I have been known to use the 40 day period as a diet program (I mean, giving up sugar probably does more good for my waistline than my soul). Nevertheless, I have often approached Lent with two questions:

  • What can I realistically give up?
  • Can I skip my b-day (since it falls in the middle of the 40 days)?

Thinking of Lent as a process, rather than a place, hit me last night. As I placed black ash on my thumb and pressed it to the foreheads of all the people present, I felt compassion and comradeship…

“Turn from sin and return to the life of God.”

With each stroke of my thumb, I looked deep into eyes of people just like me. We share a commonality – we sin daily, hourly, moment by moment, and while sin marks us, God refuses to use “it” as a definition for our identity.

dear friend says it this way:

“I like the picture of us being a community of people walking around with ashes on our foreheads. For one day, we agree, ‘We’re messed up. We’re not as put together as we seem to be. We need help.’”

We all need help. And last night, as I looked up at the audience and saw a sea of faces all bearing ashen black marks, I felt gratitude and joy. All of us together marked by sin, yet defined by God’s love for us!!

We do need one another, we do need help, and we need love. Above all else, the season of Lent is a process of learning a pattern of turning from sin and returning to the life of God, again and again, and again, and again.

This year, instead of making Lent a definitive place, I am going to work on my pivots, and strengthen my ankle muscles by turning from sin AND
returning to the life of God.

Let’s go together, shall we?

 

Photo credit.

One Piece of the Mosaic

To my friends at Mosaic NEO,

Today, I sit at my desk and gather the bravery I need to tackle the mounds of unopened mail and all the other overwhelming and simple realities of being home. But first, before I move any further, I want to pause and remember some priceless moments from the past few days we shared together.

Feeling thankful.

The moment when I stepped off the plane and out into the sunshine and had someone there waiting to whisk me off to a lunch – complete with hummus and pita bread (something that had been a staple for the past two weeks in Israel) — created a connection between where I had been and where I was going. Thank you for nourishing me.

In the warm afternoon sun, I crawled into a hammock on the edge of the woods and rested my jet-lagged body, until I heard the tender young voices of three children who woke me up and welcomed me to their home. Thank you for a home to stay in.

Arriving at a lodge situated on the edge of Lake Erie, I encountered one of the Great Lakes, I had never seen. The vastness of a moving mass of water, reminded me again of the vastness of the story God is unfolding when we take the time to listen to one another. We walked, talked (and sat on some incredibly sharp rocks); this time marked me. Thank you for sharing time and beauty.

We gathered to celebrate God, to refresh our minds and hearts and focus on community. We learned about “blessing” being more than a passive approach of receiving, but instead of vulnerably bending our knee and choosing to stand up and into the ways God blesses us. Thank you for risking bent knees.

And yes, there were tears when hidden places were gently but firmly shaken to reveal the need for the tender heart of God to heal and bring hope. Thank you for trusting me to join you in that journey.

On Saturday, when we didn’t returned home until close to midnight, I was blurry-eyed with tiredness. As I crawled into the bottom bunk of a child’s bed that I was given to sleep in, I looked up and found this written on the bed slate:

“God love Becky.”

Thank you for the encouragement.

My final night there again we gathered, in a school gym to talk about how Marriage is Messy. I talked about the differences between men and women – how God sees this as good and longs for us to experience more of who God is through valuing these differences. Some held their breath as I talked about the s-word… sex. Others let out a deep sigh of relief. Thank you for sharing this sacred ground.

There are so many moments from the past few days that return to me – so many faces that are piercing my thoughts right now as I write this and I am grateful.

I experienced not just who Mosaic NEO is, but what it means to be a part of a mosaic.  If your vision was to be a place where brokenness, held in the hands of love, creates beauty – you do that well.

Thank you for letting me be just one small piece in your mosaic.

Climbing on the Edge in Israel

photo (30)Climbing to the Edge

“All you need is a mustard seed of faith in order to move mountains,”

No offense to all those Sunday school teachers that tried really hard to explain this to me, but honestly it never made any sense. I mean, come on, have you ever seen a real mustard seed? It’s close to being invisible.

The other day, during our Israel study trip, our group was out doing a bit of hiking on the Cliffs of Arbel. There we were, standing on the edge of beautiful cliffs with views that reminded me of the Princess Bride and the Cliffs of Insanity. I faithfully followed our guide to the edge of the first downward slope and realized that my heart started to quicken.

Why?

Because lately, I’ve been learning to walk in a new way. Three weeks ago, I was in a walking cast and entertaining ideas of needing to bring the appendage with me on this trip.

Some members of our group were sprinting ahead up and over the rocks, while others were staying behind to bring up the rear. Me and my weak and struggling ankles ended up somewhere in the middle of the pack.

But guess what?

My mustard seed faith seemed really small in this moment and yet, extremely necessary.

I took every step remembering where I had been these past few months and choosing to be present to where I was at – I had to move at an intentional pace.

photo (28)

I felt the mountain with my hands as I secured places to counter my balance. I saw every littered drop of goat dung scattered on the cliffs as a pathway to follow. I heard our guide call out instructions for where a foothold could be found. I smelled the rosemary growing between the rocks as it brushed against my cheek. I tasted the sweet drops of water when I paused to look back at what I had climbed.

I wonder if the disciples were surprised when Jesus told them that they didn’t need more faith that the tiniest seed? Did they too feel that their faith was an almost invisible amount? Yet is faith really faith if it is not put into practice, brought out into the light of day and engaged with?

The Cliffs tutored me that day in something that those dear Sunday school teachers tried really hard to give me all those years ago. I needed to grow into holding my tiny seed of faith and putting it into practice, even with shaking, weak ankles.

Maybe faith is risky because it requires not knowing how the story will end.

Too often I want to exchange my faith for fact and when I do this, I misplace my tiny mustard seed (after all it is rather small and easy to loose). Thankfully God invites us all to cliff hikes in life where we get to put into practice this tiny little seed called faith.

We get to actively be a part of the very vast journey in which our Creator offers us an invitation to discover being created in the image of one who can use even a mustard seed of faith to move mountains.

Ankles are sore, but I found my mustard seed of faith…

~ Becky

 

It’s “True” and “Essence” with one “e”

People often have to ask, “How do you spell Truessence?” and I always respond something like this:

 “It’s the word “true” and “essence” combined together with one “e” in the middle.”

Confusing? Well maybe just a bit, but during these past few months of our rebranding journey, I’ve been continually reminded of the why, where and how for how this name came to be.

Rewind a few years.

The sweet moment when I first heard the name Truessence birthed, came from a dear friend of mine named Emily. And one thing you should know about Emily is that she oozes creativity.

We were a group of women away for a weekend of vulnerably risking to share our dreams, ideas, fears and to listen to one another. Somewhere between a pedicure and a facial (and probably some really good wine), my raw heart was exposed: “I want to see people set free to see their sexuality and spirituality like God sees it.”

And just like that, the wheels were in motion. I had said it out loud and suddenly this desire was moved from a place of “I” to a place of “we”.

We sat there dreaming and wondering together as Emily doodled away on her napkin. And then she spoke it. And we all grew silent.

Truessence Logo_horizontal_color-01

My heart + people’s process + her words + God’s love = creating Truessence.

We began to asking crazy questions like:

  • What would it mean to return  to our truest essence?
  • Could God have created this place within us to long for our essence, in its truest form?

But first, I had a few rules for God.

On this day when the name Truessence found me, I had no idea what all it would involve – in fact I made some very declarative statements to God and to anyone else who would listen. Things mostly like:

“I will only teach women! Married women!”

But God seemed to hold a bigger vision that I was, at that time, unable to see. It’s mildly humorous now how quickly God began using others to stretch me.

  • Can you teach this to singles?
  • Can you teach this to men?
  • Will you risk stepping into marriages that are on the brink of divorce?
  • Will you see my image in the sexual addict?
  • Can you really trust me when you step into the chaos of how sexual disorder is hiding the truest essence of my image?
  • Can you be a resource for those struggling with sexual wounds?

Truth be told, the changes forming in Truessence these past years have been stretching, humbling and rich with learning. Back in 2006, when sweet Emily uttered forth the name Truessence, I could not have imagined all that has come to life or all the messy places where I would be invited. And most remarkably, how we’ve had to grow into our name’s meaning over the years.

You know who you are.

Today, I am a bit misty eyed sitting here and writing this. In reaching this new threshold of change, I am reminded of ALL those who have volunteered their time, energy and talents to help us reach this place.

The truest part of Truessence are the people. Yes, the people. You know who you are and if you have any doubt, please call me (once I return from Israel, that is) and let me look you in the eye and remind you. I’ll remind you that because you risked asking me really tough, uncomfortable questions, you’ve  helped me grow in ways that would have never been possible without your voice.

I had a dream that was born from trudging through the pain of the past, but it was within community that this dream was born, breathed to life and expanded. Thank you!!

The “we” of Truessence is continuing to grow through partnership with true, real and raw people like you. People who have requested to have an ancient story retold with new insight.

Here’s to exploring the truessence of being spiritually and sexually created in the image of God, together.

Cheers,

Becky

Finding God’s Image Even in the Dark, Messy Places

“The supreme religious challenge is to see God’s image in one who is not in our image.” – Jonathan Sacks

I found this quote in my inbox the other day and like an itch from a mosquito bite that disrupts  one’s sleep, it continues to follow me.

How do I define the image of God? Am I looking for something I can recognize about God from what I have experienced or from what God is wiling to experience?

The very best of me comes from the image of God. But what about the worst of me, is it separated out away from the image of God?

Does God view me as segregated into good and bad? 

No, God doesn’t.

To clarify – if I view God as outside of the very worst of who I am, I will continue to seek to improve myself for God vs. finding God in all things – even in the deep, ugly, dark wounds. Yes, I do mean that God’s presence is in the dark stuff, even where I least expect to find it.

What I believe and experience about the image of God in me (most days) is that

  • I am loving…
  • I am compassionate…
  • I am grateful…
  • I am sincere…
  • I am non-judgmental,

BUT,

Can I also see the image of God there with me in the ways that I am:

  • seeking approval and wanting to be loved…
  • swearing at the dumb jerk in the fast car who has cut me off in traffic…
  • judging another person…
  • nursing my pride when wounded by another…

If God’s image is only for the places of perfection, of what has been refined, then I make God a god that is absent the trenches of change, the real dirt of life. But when I look at Jesus’ life, Jesus shows me a different way:

  • Jesus ate with people – whom others saw as sinners. 
  • Jesus received gifts from people – whom others saw as prostitutes.
  • Jesus drank with people – whom others saw as betrayers.
  • Jesus carried sins for people – whom others saw as murderers.

Whoa.

The dark, ugly and super messy places.

Jesus saw, engaged, met and loved people where they were in order to bring the very best of God into some really dark and messy places.

I once heard Dallas Willard say, “God did not send Jesus to earth to show us who God was, but to show us who we are capable of being.”

If this is true, then it is during those moments of life when I stop long enough to see people as living, breathing image bearers of God that I will also see the presence of God in motion – in process – moving in and through another person. And then maybe, just maybe, I can treasure the image of God even in the dark and ugly things where absence seems bigger than presence.

I believe that to truly see God’s image in one another we will have to risk seeing all of who we are – not just the very best of who we are – but all of our image, both light and dark.

If God isn’t afraid of the dark, why am I?

~ becky

Numbing the Pain Just Seems Easier

I don’t like pain-killers, but I do confess to having them in my house.

The reason I say this as a confession is that some of my friends, who will remain nameless here – but you know who you are – do not let things like this cross under their doorposts. While I seek to find “natural ways to deal with pain”, the truth is out, I do sometimes reach for a quick fix to my pain. There. I said it. I am not a purist though I talk a good talk.

These ankle stress fractures are teaching me a lot about listening to pain vs. denying pain. I have had to notice where and when I numb pain, which has trickled over into more areas than just my physical pain.*

When I injured my ankle this past March, I was already two and a half miles into my run. But I could NOT ignore the pain any more.

The many levels of pain denial

  1. Ignore – pushing it away because it’s inconvenient
  2. Silence – shhhh, don’t be the needy one
  3. Pretend – this isn’t real pain 

What is pain really? Webster’s defines it as “A discomfort caused by injury…” But do we allow pain to talk to us? And if so, what do we hear?

Well, usually I hear something like, “Get back up, make it happen, are you going to give into this pain?! Come on Becky, be better than that!” Somehow I equate listening to physical pain as a sign of weakness.

While I don’t know where this false message first got started in my life, I have way too many examples of how quickly I have gotten up, ignored discomfort and learned to numb both emotional and physical pain with

  • switching on the TV
  • reading emails
  • one too many glasses of wine
  • surfing the Internet
  • checking my phone

You get the idea…

Numbing the pain seems easier

Daily I work with people looking at stress-fractured sexuality and I know that the quick fix of denial results in wanting to push away real pain:

  • expectations of a marriage partner
  • conversations about sex
  • separation of sexuality and spirituality
  • volatile emotions that seem out of control
  • choices of infidelity
  • impacts of pornography

I get it – ignoring real pain is intoxicatingly tempting, in fact I can see it so clearly maybe because I know how to do it sooooo well.

But what does listening to this pain look like? Who can we trust when we cease denying what is very real?

Last March, it was an old dear friend of mine that tenderly picked me up off of that floor, ignored my frustrated profanity, drove me to the ER and even laughed at my insistent attempts to prove that I was ok.

She walked along next to me in the pain and chose to calmly and firmly speak the obvious truth:

“Beck you have a stress fracture. So stop it!!

While I would like to say this was when I experienced a profound place of freedom, I can’t. That would be lying. Instead, this was one marker on the road to healing.

So what could it look like to allow pain to tutor us to health? Could pain have something good to teach us about sexual health?

We might need to learn to walk in a new way. What might that look like?

~ becky



God is always about more than just the obvious.

When Healing is a Process Instead of a Destination

Crutches are an aid to my learning to walk, but they cannot walk for me.

When learning to walk in a new way, every step requires that I be present to what is in front of me, not assuming the way is clear, but instead depending on these two (ugly but practical) metal devices to assist me.

As one friend put it, they are my “guard-rails” guiding my recovery.

Healing is a process, not a destination.

Learning how to take it just one step at a time.

In my work with Truessence, one distinct privilege I have is working with men who struggle with pornography. 

I say privileged for three reasons:

  1. For a man to be vulnerable about this topic takes real courage
  2. Struggling with something that cultural deems “normal” is hard work
  3. Shattering the silences changes their intimate relationships

I believe culture, family of origin and stereo-typing of gender can lead to intentional and unintentional lies men believe. Things like:

  • sexual drive is uncontrollable – so why bother
  • a sexual drive = shame – so just keep it hidden
  • entitlement – sex is my right

Are we willing to struggle with the vulnerability of a new goal?

Right now, with these two crutches, I can only take one step at a time. Everything within me wants to run again, but that will never happen unless I engage fully with the process of healing and learn to walk in a new way.

So God being God makes things practical for me – honestly I don’t like all these, but I do have a goal and so I  must submit to:

  • asking for help (a lot), 
  • admitting my weakness (a lot) 
  • discovering I am not alone (a lot)
  • seeing obstacles for what they are, obstacles not failures

Easy to say – harder to walk out (pun totally intended).

Time to start walking in a new way.

What happens when we suddenly realize that we can no longer walk in the way we have been walking and we want to walk in a new way — sexually? Jean Vanier says it this way,

“It is not possible to grow to greater love if there is no space for error.”

Too often it is an illusion of health that robs us from seeing the inclusive nature of God’s love that is always seeking to teach us to walk in a new way towards wholeness.

As I see men struggle to learn to walk in a new way sexually, I find that they have to address the pain that prevents them from seeing their bodies as:

  • crafted by God to experience pleasure
  • designed as a sexual and spiritual being
  • seeing beauty as something to be in communion with, not something to consume

There is no simple solution, no pill that can be taken and white knuckling it out seems like a bizarre form of torture if God is love. What if God wants to meet you IN the dark places in order to teach you to walk in a new way?

What I know about a bone stress-fractures is that in order to heal it takes time and rest from the previous activity that caused the fracture. My slow clumsy cantor is a part of the process of healing. My vulnerability requires an inner strength that is learning to submit in new ways to one who created me to experience wholeness.

Newsflash: we all need help learning to walk away from old unhealthy patterns.

~ becky

What Stress Fractures are Teaching Me about Sexuality

First my left foot…

I have to talk about stress fractures because they are entirely transforming how I walk – literally!

The story goes that I began a training schedule in February with the goal of a half marathon in June. On March 26th, while running on the side of the road, I stress fractured my left ankle. And to be completely honest, I didn’t know what I had done, but the pain prevented basic walking without an extremely exaggerated swagger that resembled the hunchback of Notre Dame.

After a trip to the emergency room, an X-ray, lots of ice, and Advil, I received a less-than-exciting prognosis that ushered me to an uninvited threshold – would I learn to walk again?

Let me be clear, I did not see this as a threshold or an invitation into something new. Nope, instead I took my usual optimistic stance, “It will heal, I will hit the pavement again quite soon and all will be well.” Because isn’t that what typically happens with bones? They break and then they heal?

But what I didn’t realize is that subtle fractures can also injure the other bones around the fracture which makes the healing different when it’s not a clean break.

…And then my right foot.

Well mid-summer hit, my left ankle had healed, and I began running again and three weeks later, out of no where, I stress fractured my right ankle.

Great.

As one of my friends said, “Get really mad at God – this sucks.”

Ok, maybe I did get mad, but when you have two major stress fractures within 5 months of each other, a whirlpool of fear opened up for me. Will I ever be able to run again? Or even walk without pain?

Vanity and my deep love for shoes even led me to mournful thoughts for the cute shoes that I might never again be able to wear.

What does this have to do with sexuality? Great question – I thought nothing, until the other day while in the pool doing some swimming therapy exercises, the only thing running through my head was:

 “This is not where I want to be, nor where I thought I would be.”

I mean here I am in the water, and this familiar realization, “Wait, I have been here before, I KNOW this feeling of wanting to ignore pain or even to deny there is any pain.”  And I knew, just knew, deep inside that one of the reasons there is so much disordered sexuality is that we have experienced a stress-fracture to our truest identity as men and women.

When God made man and woman it was with intention, with purpose – the genders hold a glimpse of who God is and our differences are not something we need to “fix” but some we desperately need to explore.

Inadvertently, we take something that God designed as good, our sexuality, and often innocently and unknowingly our sexuality gets a “stress-fracture.” But we keep limping, changing relationships, partners and family structures trying to find a way to make the “pain” normal.

What does a sexuality “stress-fracture” look like?

  • defining our identity through how much sex we get…
  • crude jokes that devalue men or women…
  • physical or emotional use of someone as a sexual object…
  • entitlement to sex in marriage…
  • entitlement to sex outside of marriage…
  • using pornography as a form of intimacy…

Pain, what pain? I am not in any pain. The list could go on and on.

Healing from our stress-fractured sexuality

So how do we heal our stress-fractured sexuality?

Our God will use everything we experience in our life for one purpose – to draw us closer towards seeing fully our Creator.

My ankles are healing (at least now I have calcium deposits that show up on the MRI – they tell me that’s good). I cannot see the healing, it’s a process. And I must experience it.

~ becky

Next blog let’s talk about what it look like to numb the pain and keep going. No really, I do this. Does anyone else?

Earthly experiences | Dallas Willard

 “We are spiritual beings having an earthly experience.”

Years ago, to a crowd of people in a large auditorium, Dallas Willard spoke these words and they pierced my heart, changing my perspective on life and death. His words took root in the soil of truth that was buried deep inside of me and every time I returned to remember these words, they grew…

Dallas Willard’s earthly experience is now complete. I found this out when opening my inbox this morning and now I sit here with a lump in my throat and tears on my cheeks. I truly loved this man and am grateful for how his words continue to tutor my heart.

While many will write eloquent words of eulogy for a life well lived, I merely want to offer up a small thank you to this man and how his words have carved hope into my life:

  • Challenging my legalistic view of the disciplines, calling me to come home to God’s heart
  • Comforting my father on his death bed, calling him to trust as he journeyed home, returning to God’s heart
  • In seeing my father comforted by your words, I was invited me to stay present in death to God’s heart
  • Crafting your language to reveal intimate truth in Scripture, familiar words now caress my heart by God.

Yes Dallas, your spiritual journey goes on and though your physical experience is now complete.

The words you spoke in love, the ones we heard and let penetrate, they are still very much alive, moving among us and will continue to do so for generations to come.

And now, even in your death, dear friend, you tutor me. I feel deeply aware that much of what I am planting right now in my physical experience will live beyond me…

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.”

I will continue to meet you at the heart of God.

With gratitude,

Becky

Prayers for Boston

It came across an update

Bombing at Boston Marathon.

Men and women who had been anticipating and training to cross this finish line with exhaustion and complete exhilaration are now crossing the line scarred and full of fear.

 

  • How does this happen?
  • Who would do this?
  • Why? Why? Why??

 

As I was out this afternoon, I heard a little girl ask her Daddy, “does this cancel our life?” Oh the innocent question that is marked with great wisdom.

 

To the runners, the friends and family, the volunteers, the eager on-lookers and everyone in between – may you feel hope and comfort. I pray also for all of us that we would stand face to face with our own fears and its claws of temptation to retaliate. Only love can heal fear.

 

There is no reason for something like this to happen. As a dear friend of mine said in response to these horrible explosions, “I know we can do better than this”.

 

Me too.

 

#prayingforboston

 

~ becky