A Beautiful Morning

SunriseIt’s 6:15am  and having been awake for an hour already, I shuffle back to the bedroom to make the bed. Tom is somewhere zooming down the interstate to work already. It looks like sunshine today according to the forecast.

I pull up the bedding on one side and make my way to the other side. Suddenly,  the comforter is thrown back, startling me. A small, rosy face appears and a girly laugh rings out.

“Surprised you, didn’t I?”

It’s Emmy, my early bird, up already on this Monday school morning. She’s all warm and sweet in her pink penguin nightgown, hair in frowzled disarray.

Our early rising buys us time to  play a bit. We discuss and experiment to find out which toe is most ticklish, which, of course, leads to lots of giggling. Em then talks about her bike and how excited she is to practice after school, so she can ride with her daddy on the bike trail near our house.

Emmy retrieves her navy school tights from the drawer to get dressed and laments the discovery of a small hole in one foot. “It’ll do for today, but who knows what it’ll look like tonight,” she says, rolling her eyes dramatically. For some reason, that makes us both laugh.

Face washed and her hair affixed with a bright pink clip,  we go to see about breakfast. She has recently discovered the delicacy of toast sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, so I assure her that is on the menu.

An egg goes into the pan, a jumbo one, and she comments on the enormous hen that must have laid the egg. She eats a banana and drinks orange juice from a pink straw. Then the much anticipated cinnamon toast.

“This is very RICH,” she says, licking the sweetness from her lips.

She tells me they are learning a song in choir called, “Whistle a Happy Tune” and sings a few snatches for me. She says that she isn’t sure when they’re singing it but promises to tell me when they let her know.

She asks if she could have spaghetti and meatballs in a thermos today instead of a sandwich. I remember we have a can of such and agree that it sounds like a good Monday lunch. Preparations are made.

On this third day of spring, I note that the sun is already coming through my kitchen windows that face to the east.   There’s a feeling of hope in the air. Thanks to my new hearing aids, I hear the birds twittering in the towering pine out the window. They feel it, too.

We head out the door, and it is determined that Em has too much to carry into school by herself today, so I promise to come in with her to carry her heavy backpack. For some reason, this makes her very happy.

We are the first to arrive as we often are.  Both of us are early birds today. Inside the classroom, she shows me her desk which has been moved, I am told. I admire it all and help her get her things hung up.

Finally, I tell her good-bye and start for the door, but she runs and throws her arms around me. My little girl and late in life project, my unexpected blessing and head lifter.  As I leave, one of her friends comes down the hall all smiles. I feel a rush of gratitude for the little Christian school she attends and the excellent people who make the environment such a positive place to learn.

The chilly, fresh air hits my face as I make my way back to the car.

What a beautiful morning, I think. A beautiful, lovely morning.

And I am thankful to God for it.

 

 

 

 

Remembering a Dear Lady

I was up in the wee hours recently and checked my email. My friend Sherry in Des Moines, who is like a second mother/sister to me, said her mother, Frances had passed away. Did you ever love someone you never met in person? I know what that is.

GreatGrandmafranEmmy knew the lady as Great-grandma Fran. (By happy coincidence, Emmy’s middle name is Frances.) Emily was denied grandparents in her life, but this lady and her daughter, Sherry, took over long distance. Packages arrived every so often from Great-grandma Fran and Sherry. When Emmy was a baby, Fran sent two Beatrix Potter prints for her wall and an antique rug with a rabbit on it she had as a child. The framed prints were the first pictures we put up in Em’s room when we moved. She made the rabbit clothes for Peter Rabbit and Flopsy Bunnies that she sent. She made little aprons and things for the bunnies. She and Sherry made little beds with blankets for them—an all day project sitting in the garage. I could go on and on. She had a heart for our little daughter, a child she had never met.

I wanted to post the words from her obituary. This lady died surrounded by the love of her children, great-grandchildren and great-great grands. Hers was a life well lived, and a life that LIVED her love for Jesus. You read the headlines about the counterfeit Christians. Please know that Great-grandma Fran (and her daughter, Sherry) represent the real thing. I want to be like them both. Fran is now with her Savior. As Sherry said, “I believe she made an abundant entrance.” Thank you, Frances. Here are the words from her memorial folder. I have withheld her last name.

Frances
1923 – 2016

Frances was born in Des Moines, IA to
John and Gladys. A graduate of
East High School, she married Verne. From that union four children
were given, followed by eight grandchildren,
13 great-grandchildren and five great-great-
grandchildren.

At age 17, Fran received Jesus Christ as her
Savior and she was a shining example living
the Christian life by simple faith. She had a
servant’s heart helping, singing, praying and
loving all along those in her family as well as
those she knew. She gave her time and talents
to anyone in need and enjoyed sewing and
was a great sports fan.

She loved animals and birds especially and
appreciated all the things God created including
rocks and gemstones. She collected bunny rabbits,
teddy bears and anything that was miniature.
Tiny things mattered to her.

Frances read her Bible regularly and lived out the
truths she found there until the age of 92 when she
folded her hands and God called her home to heaven,
standing on the promises of God!

It is written: “The prayers of the saints do follow them.”

Sherry wrote this account of her mother’s life and passing, and she has given me permission to share it.

Mom was 92 years old and lived her life for God, her family and anyone else the LORD put in her path to serve. She was a true servant at heart and wise beyond imagination. She would always say she lived her life simply by faith. She read her bible regularly and went to bed right after supper, spending time first singing the old hymns, with many hymn books beside her bed.

Paula Sue’s dog Brody, a huge blonde labradoodle followed her into the bedroom and sat beside her while she sang her songs. Then she would begin her prayers. She had a long list and would pray every night for each member of her family by name and her she was in constant union and communion in prayer with God. The LORD answered so many of Mama’s prayers. I was thinking that day at the graveside service I was looking at the fruit of her prayers as I looked around at the 35+ members of her immediate family. So many answered prayers. . .she lived a fruitful life.

She stitched and sewed and created so many wonderful things. She loved to make quilts and doll clothes and helped whoever was in need. Mom could take the simplest thing and make something useful out of it. She took simple things and made them special. She was a child at heart and interested in anything miniature. . .

The past year she had not been well. She wanted to go to heaven and talked about it a lot. She had a few health problems but could still take care of herself although she was losing weight and frail. She kept up with her doctor appointments but he thought she was in pretty good shape except for her age. She still attended ballgames for her great-granddaughters the summer before she passed but she was fragile.

I visited her at my sister’s home as often as I could get up there, a couple of times a week and we spoke on the phone every day, sometimes more than once a day. We laughed and prayed and talked about everything, especially family and all their activities. Our family is very sports-minded and she loved to watch any kind of ball games on television. She loved basketball, baseball and all sporting events.
She asked me one day why the LORD didn’t take her. . .she was ready to go home. She was praying about it. I told her the LORD would take her when He was ready for her and when her work was finished. She felt her work consisted primarily of prayer and praise the past year of her life. And she was talking about heaven more and more.

My sister called me the Thursday before her passing and said she had fallen by her bed. I told her to call 911, and I knew in my heart God was calling her to go home. They took her to the ER and I met my sister there. They checked her for injuries and did an EKG. Then they x-rayed her in the bed.

The next thing I knew a surgeon came in and said, “Frances, I need to examine your stomach. . .you have air in your x-ray which means there is a hole in your stomach and it shouldn’t be there. He tried to touch her tummy and it was very painful for her. He couldn’t touch her stomach. She had lost so much weight and her clothes were baggy. She probably weighed about 78 lbs. She wouldn’t let him touch her stomach. He went to get his boss, a tall blond lady Dr. H, a lady. She came in and sat down on a stool by Mom and said, “Frances, are you going to let me operate on you and fix whatever is wrong?” Mom looked her in the eye and said, “No. But I thank you for offering to help me. I don’t want that.”
The woman paused and then said, “Frances, we have four cups of Sprite here and we have poured some contrast dye in them. . .would you drink as much as you can so we can get some
pictures to see what is going on?” Mom looked right at her and said, “No. Thank you but I don’t want to do that.”

Dr. H regrouped and began again. . .”Frances, how about if we hang some IV antibiotics and put a couple of tubes in your stomach to relieve the pain for you?” Mother kept her eyes on the surgeon’s face and said, “No, I don’t want to do that but thank you anyway.”

The surgeon looked at my sister and I. She took her time then said, “Frances do you just want comfort care? I could give you some medicine in a drip that would help you sleep and get rid of the pain. . .if you wake up, I will give you more medicine and if you wake up again, I will keep increasing the dose until you stay asleep. Is that what you want?”

Mother kept a steady gaze on the surgeon’s face and said, “Yes, and I will wake up in heaven!”
Dr. H’s face filled with love and compassion. . .she looked at my mom and she couldn’t sleep. Her eyes were brimming with tears and she couldn’t speak. So she reached over the bed railing and picked up my mother’s tiny hand in her hands. She finally gathered herself and said, “Well, Frances YOU are the boss. . .we will do whatever you say!” My Mama said, “Thank you so much..” She had made her decision. She was homeward bound and we all knew it. . .

The surgeon and my sister and I stepped out in the hall. The surgeon said, “That’s it. She has made here decision. No water, no food and there is already a do not resuscitate DNR in place. She is ready to die. We will admit her and begin the morphine drip.” My sister was distressed about the no water but the doctor said it would be fast. . .she wouldn’t be here long and she would be comfortable. My sister was crying but I was certain God was going to take Mama home soon.

We got her settled in a room and they started the drip. It was nearing evening and my brother was called to come and we sat with her. She was quiet. My siblings were upset and I offered to stay with Mom through the night. I wasn’t leaving her alone. Some of the grandchildren came with their children and talked to Mom. She just listened and she could see. She was not in pain. When everyone left, she looked at me and whispered, “Sissy, do you think we touched anybody today?” “Yes, Mom, the lady surgeon. . .” She smiled. I knew she was praying for Dr. H.

They gave her something to help her sleep and she slept most of the night and I kept vigil. My brother stayed the next night. The following morning she was fast sasleep from the meds. We decided to move to hospice, a really nice facility across town. The ambulance came and we went to the hospice. The room was large and beautiful but Mama was asleep and never saw it. It had a fireplace and all the immediate family came and went during the day with their children in tow. The nurses were so attentive and careful and quiet and took excellent care of Mom. They kept her comfortable, clean and bathed and lotioned. My sister brought her favorite teddy bear and a child’s blanket one of the grandchildren had requested to be taken to Mom. . .it was a blanket Mom had given her when she was born, an ABC blanket. We put the bright squared blanket over her with the teddy bear. She was sleeping quietly. I offered to stay with her that night again. I had a book with me, Apples of Gold which I was reading off and on through the night.

About 4 a.m. a nurse came in and asked if everything was okay. I said yes but she was beginning to groan but she didn’t move. I said I thought she was praying in the Spirit. I had heard her do that many times before. The nurse agreed and said a lot of people did that. He nurse didn’t come back in until about a quarter to 7 and she came directly to where I was sitting and reading. “How are you doing?” she asked. Then the groaning stopped. The nurse looked at Mother and said, “I think she is getting ready to leave. . .” She took my arm and walked me over to the bedside. “It will be easy” she said. Mom sighed a little sigh, very gently and the nurse said, “That’s it. She’s out of here.”

Wow! I couldn’t believe it. NO struggle, no noise, just passing through. . .”Oh, death, where is thy sting?” My mother was safely home with Jesus! How grateful I was. . .it was then that the tears spilled freely, tears of joy! I called my siblings and they came immediately. I felt relieved.

My precious, precious Mama. Finally home with her Savior.

My sister and I made the final arrangements. A blue casket with silver trim. Blue was her favorite color. Pale pink Geraldine roses, four dozen on the spray for the top of the casket. Graveside services for 35+ family members to take home, one or two each. It was truly a celebration of life for Mom. No tears there. We all went to Brick Street Market afterwards near the cemetary for sandwiches and malts. Everyone visited and we were happy for Mom.

There would be time to grieve, plenty of time for tears afterward. We were just happy Mom was in heaven.

Her room is empty now but my heart is full of memories of Mama. So many things to remember. I will write them down one day. I can’t do it right now.

Love, Sherry

Malignant Narcissistic Abuse – Understanding the Enemy’s Devices

narcguiltOne of the few redemptive things to come out of personal struggle and tragedy is the ability to help others going through similar situations. In the last six years, since I began posting articles on dealing with toxic interpersonal situations, family or otherwise, (there have been over half a million hits on those posts), I have heard from many, primarily Christians, who are bewildered, confused, and in great emotional pain about their own situations. There is hope that comes with understanding. That’s what this post is about.

You don’t need counseling credentials to write about what you have experienced and what you have gleaned in attempting to understand it. In the last few years, similar writing has been a life-saving thing for me. Through Facebook, I have been in touch with various counseling organizations and groups formed to encourage and help others who are losing their minds trying to deal with people who present themselves to others with such greatness and virtue,  but who are systematically destroying those closest to them. For those who are Christians, the toxic combination of “Christianity” , mixed with a behind-the-scenes reality that is at complete odds with the claims, it is especially damaging, because faith itself comes under attack. Why does God allow this lie to continue? Why does God allow families to be destroyed by those claiming to know Jesus? Why are so many fooled by this fraud and refuse to believe those who are being targeted? It can be soul destroying if you let it.

These memes are part of a collection I have that express with laser-like clarity what narcissistic abuse looks like, both in family systems, and elsewhere.  Damage is done not only by the perpetrator, but by his enablers who surround him and prevent accountability or isolation of the abuser from ever taking place. A malignant narcissist is not just a “difficult person.” They do not just cause “tiffs and disagreements.” They are human relationship destruction machines, empty shells without consciences.  They are skilled at manipulation and lie as easily as they breathe, making their targets appear crazy or unbalanced. They are image specialists, knowing how to preserve a squeaky clean appearance, as their enablers (known as flying monkeys – see Wizard of Oz) do their bidding without ever questioning the situation. These are useful tools, unwitting or otherwise, who help in the destruction of innocent people.

As a side note, I would like to add that no amount of public good done can justify the destruction of those closest to you. Many malignant narcissists in ministry (the self-deprecating kind described by Jack Watts) build their public works on the backs of those in their families. If you create a family, that is already your first calling, to nurture, instruct and love them. As parents, we are not accountable for the well-being of strangers’ children or strangers first. Ignoring this fact results in untold personal destruction from those who are often voiceless and helpless, the ones left by the side of the road in the rush to help strangers.

Christians are told to be aware of the enemy’s (Satan’s) devices – to understand his playbook in the destruction of lives and souls.  Well, here is just a glimpse. (Hit the pause button in the middle if you want more time to read.) There are numerous resources online for more information.  I highly recommend this short, seven-minute video, that will further explain. (Also posted below.)

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The Greatest Fear

“The greatest fear in the world is the opinion of others, and the moment you are unafraid of the crowd, you are no longer a sheep. You become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart. The roar of freedom.”

A friend who is older than I am told me a few months ago that one of the advantages of growing older as a woman was a loss of the crippling fear of the opinion of others. “I don’t know exactly why it is,” she said, “But I used to walk into a room of people and worry about whether they liked me. Now, I ask myself if I like them, and why I am in the room in the first place!”

It’s true. Fundamentalist Christian culture, in a very special way, is infected with the disease of image consciousness. There is no gossip heaven like the “born-agains” (mocking the frauds here, not the real deal.)  A few hairs out of place, baby, and you’ve just earned a place on a black list somewhere! Some even read this blog out of some ungodly need to stalk me and find something that can be used as dirt. I am laughing as I type. (Onward, Christian soldiers, Marching as to war. With our latest targets, bleeding on the floor!)

I saw this meme today, and it nails the problem down.

opinion-meme

Those who form negative opinions about our lives, lives that don’t have anything to do with theirs in any way whatsoever, are sad people without adequate productive work to busy themselves. As someone who once was terrorized at the thought of people having false impressions or forming bad opinions of me based on lies, it now has the whiff of comedy about it. Dark comedy, but worthy of a laugh track. Who are these people who have never had the slightest love or concern for me or my family or ever had a personal interaction with us? Who cares what they think?! They are less than nobody to me and my dear loved ones.

What a freeing thing it is when you get out of a closed environment and breathe clean air, and with the clean air, find a surge of strength to speak the truth on your heart. What a freeing thing it is to shut the door on those who taught you how to judge others ruthlessly, to see things with narrow, loveless little eyes. It is true freedom to walk away from those who devalued and discarded you when you were no longer useful to their cause. It is a good thing to see this clearly and understand the cold, hard truth, and then proceed all the wiser.

Some Good News

Everybody has seen the horror on TV of wildfires that clear out entire forests, destroying everything in their path. After the fires are put out, there is a short period of time where all looks wiped out. Completely burned over and dead. But beneath the ruined forest there is life. It takes time, but slowly and surely, nature replaces the dead and the burned over with new life, ironically, fostered in the rich soil created by the fire. This article puts it this way:

But ecologically, fire has its place, and it’s not one of complete destruction. In fact, in ecosystems, fires initiate a process of growth. They destroy and they leave a space, a space that is soon filled with new growth. After the fires, the forest reawakens.

In Colorado Springs, there’s an ecological flip side to the fire. The forests were full of White and Douglas Fir, Ponderosa Pine, and Aspen trees.  This ecology is adapted to the changes that fire brings. It knows what to do.

After a fire, aspen trees grow. Even if the tree itself has been decimated by fire, this fast-growing tree can easily sprout from the roots that have been left behind. The sunny spaces left behind by the fire give life to the new aspen trees. In turn, the trees’ roots hold the soil in place, and their leaves slow down the rainfall, reducing the danger of flash floods.

With the return of the aspen, comes the revival of the slower-growing Ponderosa Pine. This tree loves the sunshine. Its thick bark can protect the tree from small fires, allowing it to thrive in the more open ecology after a fire moves through. If the tree did not survive, new trees will grow in amongst the baby aspens, rebuilding the local ecology from the ground up. (Read more here.)

What is true of forest fires can also be true for people. The consuming fires in our lives seem to destroy everything worthwhile. But God, in his mercy, often allows the fires to remove what needs removing from our lives that something new and healthy can grow. It’s not all destruction. What’s been consumed is what needed consuming. A lot of what we considered good, is sometimes very bad for us, including some people who have harmed us terribly. The beautiful regrowth of things begins, and you realize that much dead wood, much that was unhealthy is now gone. That’s a beautiful thing for those who can see it.

If you’re seeing the flames at the moment, hang on. If you’re patient and don’t give up, God will show you new growth soon, and it will be something new and healthy and vibrant. Don’t give up!

seeds

The Story – Great Is Thy Faithfulness

GreatisthyfaithfulnessThe greatest testimonies of God’s faithfulness that are written in song have come from those in difficult circumstances. How would we know of God’s faithfulness if not pressed far beyond our own strength and resources?

I posted a video today on another site of a hymn arrangement I want my son, Will, the resident organist, to play for me. My friend, Bethany Lewis, responded with a link which shares the beautiful story of how the hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness, came to be.

How many millions has this hymn blessed down through the years? The suffering man who penned it could still look to the goodness of God and His loving care in the middle of trouble. If you are suffering today, worried about how to pay bills, struggling with untold and seemingly intolerable burdens, look to the One who has not forgotten you. He is faithful, a loving Father who has engraved you on the palms of his hands. (Isaiah 49:16.)

Here is the link to the hymn story. (Thank you Bethany!) And below is the beautiful hymn played by the young man who is the senior organist at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. The text of the hymn is below the video.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Refrain
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Refrain
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Being is Better Than Seeming

maskI knew a pastor once whose church had “full altars.” (Baptist churches aren’t supposed to have altars, but that’s the terminology.)  That meant that every time he gave an “altar call”, people would walk down the aisle to “get right with God.” He preached ceaselessly against moral sin and held his congregation to an unwavering standard of clean living. Pants weren’t allowed on women. Rock music wasn’t allowed. A glass of wine was never allowed. Card playing wasn’t allowed. Movies weren’t allowed. These were things of the flesh that must be expunged to live right and do right.

The problem was, the preacher had a waist high stash of porn in the closet of his “pastor’s study” (pre-internet porno fans had to actually get the mags) and was having an affair with one of the teachers in his Christian school. She didn’t wear pants, but adultery with the preacher man was OK if she wore culottes for the photos he kept in his desk.

The pastor was a serial adulterer who had women all over from the churches he had destroyed, it later came out. But a more grandfatherly appearance would be hard to find. White shirt and tie and big Bible in hand, he ascended the platform Sunday after Sunday to play the weeping Jeremiah, appealing to his erring flock to turn off the TV’s and rock stations and turn to Jesus.

The nausea of discovering that someone I looked up to was, in fact, a fraud and a scumbag, remains to this day. I had once talked with this pastor, in my youth and  naivete believing he had something to offer in the way of good counsel. Frauds are disillusioning. Spiritual frauds are the worst.

There is an old poem that beings with these words:

“True worth is in being, not seeming…”

I know another man. He’s never had a radio show or a pulpit or a blog or anything else. He quietly  lives his integrity day in and day out. He is a good man, but would quickly admit that he has his flaws. I know of his integrity not because of the great moral lessons that he gives with his mouth or his grand spiritual proclamations. I know he’s a good man, because I’ve seen how he’s lived and how he treats others for the last 20 years. For him, it has been about being, not seeming to be something he is not. He’s my husband. What a difference.

On Facebook recently, there was a discussion about the importance of shutting off the Big Media voices and getting back to basics in our lives. We don’t need Big People to tell us how to be. The hypocrisy in Christian media land  is breathtaking. I would add that God is exposing it all over the place. We don’t need people with failed private lives lecturing us on how to live, what to do and how to please God. The good thing is, we have the treasure of the Word of God for each of us, available 24/7. There is truth. There is what we need to know.  At a time of growing darkness and spiritual fraud, the simplicity and concept of being, rather than seeming, needs a comeback.

Love God, love your neighbor, mow your grass, take care of your family, help someone in need. These are the details that need attending to. Have a spiritual calling? That’s great.  Do you have a spouse and children? Choose to make a family?  That’s your first calling and it’s far more important than any Big Important Thing you do on the side. The sheep running after this Big Voice and that one over there aren’t being helped .Putting people on pedestals who have their own personal rot behind the scenes adds nothing to our own spiritual lives, and sets us up for a crash when the truth comes out.

Our children will thank us for being real, rather than seeming to be something we are not. They spot fakes a mile off, don’t kid yourself. What’s needed is everyday faithfulness, everyday forgiveness when we blow it, everyday humility to admit when we’re wrong and lots and lots of love to cover it all.

That’s what being a real Christian in a fake-o world  is all about.

 

When the Show Must Not Go On

canceledHaving witnessed and experienced a great deal over my lifetime in parachurch ministry, I have come to the conclusion that the most important question we can ask ourselves in ministry work is this: Why am I doing what I am doing and at what cost to my health, spiritually and otherwise,  and the most important people in my life?

Those who are single must also ask these questions, but those who choose to create families and then go out and work in additional ministry are the ones who need to ask this question frequently and allow themselves to give honest answers.

There is a wrong-headed view that we are ultimately responsible for carrying forward God’s work. While it is true God works through humans, I don’t believe that abandoning our first responsibilities to our families to reach strangers is OK with God. The human toll on families can be horrific.  Ask some of the children of foreign missionaries who were left at boarding schools most of the year to be raised by strangers how that worked out for them, as some of the tragic stories have made recent headlines. God didn’t give you children to outsource their upbringing to hirelings so you could minister to others. He didn’t give you a spouse for you to be AWOL. The unreached tribes are not more important than your own children. The unreached of America are not more important than your own families. No, they are not.

A mindless obsession with busyness for Jesus ends up being counterproductive. Ministries that insist on growth at the expense of the humans running the machine will ultimately crash or at the very least, lose what impact they might have had. Also, the business that creates the busyness often becomes the subconscious focus. Keeping the gears turning becomes more interesting and compelling than the spiritual and physical realities on staff. Workaholism (even when called ‘sacrifice for Jesus’) creates burnout, burnout can maim and kill, literally and metaphorically.

A friend of mine who lived nearly exclusively for his work ended his own life last fall. He did great work, and he did it all hours of the day and night, but in the end, he died by his own hand, the same way his non-Christian brother had. It is a tragedy I am still getting over. Every life needs balance. Without even a little counterbalance to work, we are doomed.

God never calls us to do personal kamikazes for Jesus on the deck of ministry. If we’re personally self-destructing to keep gears moving in ministry, we are doing more than we are called to do. If we are imploding because of someone else’s vision and wrong priorities, we are called to say no. A sanctified, holy, NO.

God is gracious and merciful. He frequently allows wake-up calls. He allowed me a wake-up call, thankfully.  But the sobering reality is that the damage to spiritual lives, physical lives, and relationships is sometimes not easily repaired. It can be permanent and life-altering.

The “show” must not go on as usual when it is harming others. That is not the work of God. That is the work of flesh and it will fail. No person, single or married, can withstand years of burnout and be OK. Those with family responsibilities have their first calling, and any job that requires more than a decent work schedule is asking you to go out of God’s parameters in terms of priorities. Any leader or leadership structure that requires or allows you to go outside a work schedule that respects your spiritual and physical and family needs is outside of God’s parameters. Idolatry of someone in ministry doesn’t end well. And when we listen to someone else’s voice over the loving voice of our Shepherd, we are asking for trouble.

There are still birds singing, flowers growing, blue skies and love in this world, and how easily we forget that in the race. We are also doing God’s work by loving and laughing and caring for those in our families first. Everything else must come a distant second in our hearts and thinking. The payoff for right priorities is without price.  And the price for wrong priorities is too high.

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. ~ Mark 6:31

A Good Name in Ministry

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

Othello Act 3, scene 3, 155–161

In the fantasy world of corrupt spiritual leaders, and by corrupt, I mean far more than the Creflo Dollar types, a “good name” is highly valued. After all, these leaders have built impressive organizations with a wide outreach and many expensive assets.

As the injured limp or crawl away from these ministries and word begins to circulate about what happened to innocent people, the common strategy from organizational leaders is to run smear campaigns for cover.

There is so much literature written on this behavior the web is choked with it. At stake is the “good name” of the leader and ministry. It must be preserved. The terrible “slander” of the “good name” must be stopped, even if it means lawsuits, behind the scenes threats and outrageous lies.

But a good name is far more than a public image solid enough to keep donations rolling in. A good name is far more than the holographic image projected by media, an image untarnished by any financial impropriety, DUI arrests or lurid sexploits.

A good name is supposed to represent an entire person, not just an image. In the minds of malignant narcissist leaders, including the self-deprecating variety found so often in fundamentalist Christian circles, anyone who dents that image, questions something or holds up a mirror to them about the harm they are doing behind the scenes is the one who must be destroyed, threatened, intimidated into silence. Their name must be mud-spattered.

The rationale for a leader’s legal threats, for example, is the protection of their “good name.” The fact that their own malicious and ungodly behavior has generated the cries of pain heard by the public is neatly covered over. The simpletons who listen to these leaders cluck and shake their heads. “Such a shame, so terrible.” In the distorted thinking of these useful tools of the narcissist, it is impossible that their beloved hologram could possibly engage in harm to innocent people or family members. It’s easier to believe the narrative cleverly spun by the Good Name. It requires no moral courage, no discernment, no critical thinking or godly analysis if fans just go with the legend instead.

In this way, enablers and sycophants help fuel the destruction machine for innocent people and their names. When evidence and testimony of witnesses is ignored in favor of the hologram’s teary-eyed stories, you have a cult mentality, not a Christian organization.

It is ironic, and sadly so, that as judgment descends on this country, the true state of the hearts in many evangelical and conservative ministries today is one of the reasons for it. The idea that Scriptural instructions are for everyone else but leaders is an entrenched one. It isn’t said or thought outright. It simply is the operating principle for many. Of course, this never ends well.

The good name of a manual laborer matters as much as that of someone in the public eye. And the name is only as “good” as the character behind it. When there is no transparency in donor-supported ministries (i.e.the names of those on boards of donor supported ministries should be public), no responsible and professional boards of directors who actually “direct” rather than serve as human rubber stamps, the good names of those departing these dysfunctional ministries get harmed. They are labeled as malcontents, slanderers, rebels, divas, nutcases, and so forth and so on.

I have news for anyone harmed by these outfits. The word ICHABOD is written over the door frames of the facilities. Any glory has departed. Whether it is ten months or ten years, any organization claiming to be Christian where there is no compassion, no heart for truth (that means listening to more than one party involved), and no concern for the souls on staff, has a bleak future.

What an avoidable tragedy it is. I believe that God honors repentance in individuals and by leaders of organizations. It is so rare, however, that I cannot name a single case of it.

There has never been more of a need for light in the darkness of our times. Sadly, neglect of first things, ambition, idolatry and opportunism in the name of ministry have weakened the underpinnings of Christian organizations all over. Like the bridge in Minneapolis a few years ago that came crashing down from bolts that quietly rusted away, ministries risk a similar demise.

At stake is more than the “good name” of temporal leaders. It’s the good Name of our Savior and his Gospel that hangs in the balance. Those who are harmed are not to blame for crying out and supposedly besmirching the Name of Above All Names. The squelching of  the victims of spiritual abuse to avoid public scrutiny is not the solution. Addressing abuse and making amends (and restituion, if necessary) to those harmed is the answer. When this does not happen, the bolts on the bridge continue to deteriorate. Tick tock.

P.S. A pastor was once asked by a journalist to explain an unsavory situation he was involved with. “We are Christians, we don’t air our dirty laundry,” he said pompously. No, sir, instead we fail to wash the laundry until the stench is so bad the wider world takes note. Something to think about.

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