Living Behind the Veil

I'm often asked what I wear in Afghanistan and what it's like to wear a veil. It's freedom. Freedom to have a bad hair day, freedom to arrange my chadar to conceal the curve of my breasts and backside, freedom to not be an expatriate for a little while. It means freedom to hide even on the street from the Afghan men's eyes which seem to strip me naked.
When I relax my shoulders and walk less purposefully, less confidently, my eyes downcast and covered by sunglasses, I pass for an Afghan woman. I hear the men whisper in Dari, "Is she a foreigner or local woman?" I chuckle but am silent. On the street, I'm also a free target....freely exposed to groping, sexual innuendos whispered to me as a man bicycles by, free to have stones thrown at me, freely seen as no one's wife, daughter, sister, mother, friend, or boss. I step inside my gate, and remove my chapan and chadar. Now I'm someone's boss, motherhood returns to me as little steps run to greet me, and I receive a kiss from my adoring husband. Now I'm free to his loving and gentle eyes which know and enjoy my curves, free to once again be under the protective umbrella of being a wife, mother, friend, colleague, boss, niece, sister, daughter, woman.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Pray for Trip

Neal and I leave tomorrow for a 10-day international trip, where we will be speaking to a multi-national group who live and work in the Middle East.

Our theme is "Endurance in the Wilderness While Waiting and Hoping."

Neal is speaking on Endurance and Waiting and I'm speaking on Wilderness and Hoping.

  • Pray God will use our words to soul encourage
  • Pray our 4 talks blend well together
  • Pray for our teens while we are away

We will try to record and eventually post on the blog. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Take Two Verses and Call Me In The Morning

We had taken our three young children to a remote part of the United States called the Boundary Water Canoe Area (BWCA).  No motorized watercraft are allowed in this area.  We set up camp by the side of one of the numerous lakes, and took our children out in our canoe.

They were still young enough to think it fun to be pulled on a air tube behind the canoe. Our oldest, Luke (8), went first. He loved it, and his enjoyment encouraged our middle child (6), to want to jump in the water and give it a try. However, she hesitated, her anxiety consuming her.

I saw her anxiety, and I sternly told her, "Darlin', water and panicking don't mix." And her immediate response which made us all laugh:

"I wish panicking would help!"  It's become a favorite family axiom. She managed to control her anxiety and enjoy being pulled on the inner tube behind the canoe.

For a lot of reasons, she has fought extreme anxiety her whole life, beginning from 4 months in-utero.  (Scientists who are only now "discovering" that the conditions of inutero impact a person should talk to me).

The week of 9/11 was a hellish week for us, and my pregnancy was deeply impacted. I've tried describing that week and remain stuck at 2 of 4 installments - here and here. Perhaps someday I'll have the emotional and physical energy to finish reliving the week in the blog.

At any rate, the stress during that pregnancy meant my daughter never had enough amniotic fluid, and she was born at week 38 at only 4 lbs 4 oz.  She was so tiny she literally slipped out of my body and was rushed to NICU for the next 6 hours.

She struggled with anxiety, deep anxiety, and panic attacks through all her formative years, until finally she began to experience victory over anxiety (minimally the ability to not go into panic) at age 13.

My own experience of anxiety was generally undefined - we didn't talk about it much, because we all struggled with anxiety and fear while living for months and years on end with the threats of kidnapping and murder amongst many other threats.  But in 2010, when going through spiritual healing counseling, I discovered the name for what I had been controlling using a variety of tools extensively over a long period of time:  Panic Attacks.  I began to incorporate additional vocabulary and understanding of anxiety and could better describe it.

Anxiety is a normal human response when in situations of physical danger to oneself or one's loved one.  Contrary to most of the Church's teaching and Christian songs about fear (Risk Myth #14), fear is a normal human response, designed by God to let us know when we are in danger. The challenge is always what to do with the fear.   See the chapters on fear in this book.  

Anxiety is on the fear spectrum. 

Anxiety, when unchecked, moves into panic attacks.

I've parented a daughter through anxiety and I've experienced my own deep level of anxiety, so I feel somewhat of a personal expert on experiencing this, parenting through it, and daily conquering it. It doesn't mean I never experience it - again, it is a normal human emotion that comes to us.

The issue is what we do with it. 

Naturally, over the years, I've tried to find helpful teaching from books on this topic, from people who actually know what it is like, not just pompously expounded spiritualizations on it.

I really appreciated Robert Kellemen's book, Anxiety: Anatomy and Cure.  He demonstrates a remarkable depth of insight in what is possibly his shortest book.

Here's part of his intro:
Here's the stereotype: I hope you haven't faced it. You share with a friend, counselor, or pastor that you're struggling with worry, fear, or anxiety. Their response?

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." Phil 4:6.

In that scenarios, it's not even "take two verses and call me in the morning." It's "take one verse and don't call me."  We need a much more robust, relational approach to changing lives with Christ's changeless truth. What would it look like in real life?

Paul, who wrote Philippians 4:6, also said, "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us (I Thess 2:8).

God calls us to share Scripture and soul - truth and love. Facing and fighting anxiety is a relational discipleship process, not an exhortational event. (emphasis mine)
I love what Kelleman teaches here - a conceptual, exhortational response is not what is needed, but that seems to be all the Church offers to those facing real anxiety.

What would it look like to relationally (and situationally) walk with someone facing anxiety in a way that is soul strengthening to them?

Some coaching questions come to mind:
  • What would it look like to trust God in this situation? 
  • Are you aware of your breathing when you feel the feeling of anxiety? 
  • Why would God want you to work through anxiety in this situation? 
  • What does God have for you in this situation? 
  • What does spiritual strength look like in this situation? 
  • What does psychological strength look like in this situation? 
  • What has helped you in the past when you felt this feeling? 
  • What habits are you cultivating to help you in times of anxiety? 
The main point is to not spiritualize and give 1-2 verses and leave a person alone. It takes time, energy, and compassion to walk with someone experiencing anxiety.

It takes personal discipline to not "tell" them what they should think, feel, or do. Don't do this!

They already know His truth.

The challenge is they need to experience His Truth in their lives when Anxiety hits. If we can be safe people to let people work through their anxiety, they will deepen their trust in Him.

Of course, regular debriefings help too.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Narcissistic Family System Patterns and the Individual

It's not uncommon on a mission team to experience "the crazy cycle" with an individual and not know or be able to figure out why that person behaves the way they do. But individuals who come from a narcissistic family system can actually become somewhat understandable and predicable in their patterns of relating.

Family system theory was a required class in my Master's degree, and I never forgot its impact on my interpretation of understanding people.

We are not isolated individuals, but a product of our community, our family systems, our personality, and of our relationship with Christ and the difference He has made (and can make) regenerating us. A family system by definition is a deeply engrained pattern of behavior and viewing of others within the family system.

Thus, when we understand something about a narcissistic family system, and discover that person's role within the system, we'll understand more about their conflict style, relational reactivity, and past wounding. 

Family Systems Theory was developed by Dr. Murray Bowen.

He states: (1)
Family systems theory is a theory of human behavior that views the family as an emotional unit and uses systems thinking to describe the complex interactions in the unit. It is the nature of a family that its members are intensely connected emotionally. Often people feel distant or disconnected from their families, but this is more feeling than fact. A change in one person’s functioning is predictably followed by reciprocal changes in the functioning of others. Families differ somewhat in the degree of interdependence, but it is always present to some degree.

Another website summarizes family systems theory this way:
A family is a system in which each member had a role to play and rules to respect. Members of the system are expected to respond to each other in a certain way according to their role, which is determined by relationship agreements. Within the boundaries of the system, patterns develop as certain family member's behavior is caused by and causes other family member's behaviors in predictable ways. Maintaining the same pattern of behaviors within a system may lead to balance in the family system, but also to dysfunction. For example, if a husband is depressive and cannot pull himself together, the wife may need to take up more responsibilities to pick up the slack. The change in roles may maintain the stability in the relationship, but it may also push the family towards a different equilibrium. This new equilibrium may lead to dysfunction as the wife may not be able to maintain this overachieving role over a long period of time.

Dr. Bowen described Eight Significant and Interconnected Aspects to his theory: (2)
  • Triangles: The smallest stable relationship system. Triangles usually have one side in conflict and two sides in harmony, contributing to the development of clinical problems.
  • Differentiation of self: The variance in individuals in their susceptibility to depend on others for acceptance and approval.
  • Nuclear family emotional system: The four relationship patterns that define where problems may develop in a family.
        - Marital conflict
        - Dysfunction in one spouse
        - Impairment of one or more children
        - Emotional distance
  • Family projection process: The transmission of emotional problems from a parent to a child.
  • Multigenerational transmission process: The transmission of small differences in the levels of differentiation between parents and their children. 
  • Emotional cutoff: The act of reducing or cutting off emotional contact with family as a way managing unresolved emotional issues.
  • Sibling position: The impact of sibling position on development and behavior.
  • Societal emotional process: The emotional system governs behavior on a societal level, promoting both progressive and regressive periods in a society.
The differentiation of individuals is concisely described by Peter Scazzero in his book, "Emotionally Health Spirituality: It's Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature While Remaining Emotionally Immature

Differentiation is a wake-up call to those who are just becoming aware of the Narcissistic Family System.  But also of supreme importance is to overlay the dysfunctional roles delineated by Weischeider (1981) with the roles in a narcissistic family environment with Family Systems Theory and ruthlessly examine the negative and dysfunctional patterns in one's life.

The Enneagram is a very helpful tool to become aware of this - after you've worked through books like Scazzeros and "Emotional Intelligence 2.0" by Travis Bradberry. The entire process should not be hurried, as it takes time to understand all these concepts and become watchful of one's emotions (or lack of them, which is also a problem).

In an Age of Narcissism, (3) increasingly the Narcissistic Family System is the norm rather than the exception.  When the system is found within a religious family system (any religion), the unspoken rules and values governing acceptable behavior are even more complex.

The book by Anisha Durve discusses the impact of Hinduism on her experience of a narcissistic marriage she was finally able to get free from. She also discusses the impact of culture and unspoken religious rules on behavior (termed Religious Behaviorism.)"

So while the family system has a huge impact on how an individual will relate to others, it's important to also apply this information to a narcissist operating within a ministry or missions team situation.

(3) The Rise of Narcissism; Generation Me;
The Narcissism Epidemic

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Job's Wife: Authenticity in Suffering

In all the loss of friends we faced in Afghanistan - over 20 foreigners martyred in a span of about 6 years, and in the extensive pain and loss I've experienced over the last two decades, the continual grief that seems to be never ending in my life with no end in sight, I've also spent the last 10 years meditating specifically on Job's wife.

I'm beginning to believe that she sets a good example of authenticity in suffering. 

In almost 50 years of going to church, I've never heard a single positive sermon on Job's wife.
  • She is held up for the global Church as an example of a woman without faith.
  • She is scorned in all the artists' renderings. 
  • She is called "Devil's Assistant" (Augustine)
  • "Satan's tool" (John Calvin) 
  • "Satan spared her precisely in order to use her against Job." (Thomas Aquinas) (1)
Why did they say this? 

It looks like she told her husband to curse God and die.

Her character has been evaluated and condemned as a failure by one statement she made at the time of the deepest pain of her life. 

Let's first examine the background to that statement before discussing what she said.

She and her husband were apparently at the empty nester stage of life. They could sit back and enjoy their older age because their children were now adults. In a shame and honor culture, they held the highest of all honors. They were like royalty. Her husband was "the greatest of all the men in the East" which meant he held the highest respect of all peoples, and thus she also commanded a sizeable amount of respect.

She was the "First Lady" of the greatest, wealthiest, most respected known man.

People listened to her, peopled wanted her wisdom and her favor. She was never lacking friends. She had reached the pinnacle of what was possible for a woman of her day. She had it all - wonderful adult children whom we can presume were on their way to providing grandchildren, a fabulously godly husband who was the wealthiest in all the land.

But in one horrible day, she and Job lost all of their wealth and almost all of their staff, managers, servants were murdered.  These were people she knew and loved and whose well-being were tied to hers. They were a significant part of her community.

Job and his wife didn't only go bankrupt and lose part of their community.  In that same tragic day, the unthinkable happened.

All of their adult children were killed by a storm.

How would you respond if you lost all your children in one day? Can you imagine the funeral for six adult children?

She and her husband began grieving unimaginable grief, the kind that a parent never totally recovers from.  When a child dies before the parent, the parent is left with the awful imagination at each birthday, each holiday, of what that child would look like, how that child would be in each year of adulthood.

In one day, she and Job had to begin accepting they would never see their daughters marry, they would never hold grandchildren in their arms.

Wealth is one can be replaced.

But a child? It's too unfathomable to imagine her pain losing all her children in one day.

In all that catastrophic loss, she and her husband did not sin, did not complain.

But it got worse. 

Her beloved husband was stricken with a disease for which there was no known cure and made him unclean. Law required him to go and live where the lepers lived, where he could scrape his skin with broken pottery.

For all practical daily life, she lost the last person she loved, who loved her.  She lost her protector and provider.  His was a living death, from which recovery was most likely not possible. Not only that, but in a shame and honor culture, all who once courted her favor now viewed her with "guilt by association." Clearly, Job had done something wrong, some sin, and she was implicated.

They lost not just wealth, not just children, not just the joy and intimacy of married life living together, but all social standing, and what's more, public shame of what was interpreted as religious hypocrisy due to all the disaster that had befallen him.

Furthermore, in the Ancient Near East (ANE), a women's ability to earn a living was non-existent, so she had no way or at most limited (righteous) ways of providing for herself.

Where's the compassion for this woman?  Where's the pastoral heart reaching out to care for this woman, grieve with her, listen to her anger at God, her husband, life, death?

I've listened to Member Care Leaders use Job's wife as an example of how not to respond to one suffering (i.e. Job), as if SHE wasn't suffering.

I'm aghast at the callousness of those who so glibly condemn her without a thought to her pain and loss.

She watched her beloved suffer, and her heart cried out, "God, let him die."  It's too awful. Anyone who has seen a loved one live or die through the horror of radiation and chemotherapy understands this request.

She didn't spiritualize. She didn't pretend to be happy. The Bible records an authentic, pain-filled response. She spoke what was in her heart-filled-with-pain, and she told Job either to "curse God and die" or to "bless God and die." 

Which did she say? In Hebrew, there is only one word for bless (brk), but two words for curse (arr and kllh). (2)

In verse 2:5, Satan uses the Hebrew word brk but there's a "not" right in front of it.  He literally says in Hebrew that Job "won't bless you face to face." But he really speaks with an idiomatic manner here, meaning that "Job will curse you face to face."

In Job 3, Job uses the two different Hebrew words for "curse", one more stronger than another, as he clearly wishes the day of his birth was cursed. (3)  

So how can we translate this difficult phrase correctly? Did she tell Job to "bless God" or to "curse God and die?" And why is it interpreted as "curse" when she speaks?

Translators assume that because of Job's response to her, that she used the word "curse." The Rabbis didn't believe she said "bless God" in light of all the pain she had gone through, so even though it's the Hebrew word "bless", they interpreted her words to Job as "curse God."

This Hebrew word brk also has an idiomatic useage meaning "to curse." In only a few other places of the Bible, the clear context and useage carries the meaning idiomatically of cursing God. So the weight of scholarly opinion of both the Rabbis and Church interpreters seems to side with the idiomatic useage of the word to bless, brk, in Job's wife's situation as "curse God and die." 

What if she did speak, momentarily like a foolish woman, momentarily forgetting who she was - a daughter of the King, and actually said, "Curse God and die?"  What if she really said that? If we are really honest, haven't we all had those moments when life is raw and we cry out from the depths of our heart?

We should not condemn those whom God has NOT condemned. 

In Job 42:7, the Lord spoke directly to Job's friends:

"My anger burns against you and against your two friends for you have not spoke of me what is right, as my servant has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant has."

Where's Job's wife in that text? 

Malachi 2:2 tells us that cursing God is sin - God will not bless those who curse him.
“If you do not listen, and if you do not take it to heart to give honor to My name,” says the LORD of hosts, “then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings; and indeed, I have cursed them already, because you are not taking it to heart.

Job didn't condemn her, he merely reminded her of who she was, and to remember the perspective of who God is. I wonder if he was responding not just to her words as much as her pain of following God and wanting to die when things get hard?  In her one statement to Job, we hear her "sacred questions" of God.

  • How can God let this evil happen to us? 
  • How can I serve Him still?
  • Why does He ask this of me?

These are not dissimilar to the questions we ask when in risk or suffering.

The last thing we learn in the book of Job is that he was healed of disease, his fortunes were restored to him double, and he had 7 more sons and 3 more daughters.

However, the text does not mention Job's wife again, so the simple reading of Scripture means we need to presume God blessed her physically with the ability to have ten more children with Job. He blessed her, and God certainly did not tell her that Job had to make sacrifices to atone for her speech like he did for the 3 friends.

Her statement to her husband is a woman wanting her husband released from the pain. All Job did was reframe her understanding of how we are to view the goodness and pains of life and what it means to serve God.

The ANE held the view that when good things happened to you, the gods or God was favoring you.  When bad thing happened to you, the gods were angry at you and you had sinned.

Job was telling her that the prevailing cultural view was wrong.  We accept all things - good and bad - from God, a God who loves us, and we serve Him faithfully, no matter what happens. God gave Job the grace in all of his physical, emotional, and spiritual pain to still encourage his wife to persevere in faithfulness to God. 

Who cared for Job in his sickness? There was no hospital kitchen.  We can reasonably assume that Job's wife, in all of her pain and deepest grief, helped keep him alive by cooking for her husband (something she didn't have to do before all her servants were killed).

She probably brought him food, then went back to lay on her bed all alone in a home now empty of family and friends, and cry herself to exhausted sleep, night after night, as she fought the battle to keep on trusting God in her deepest pain when all of life had just become a living nightmare.

Anyone who has experienced deep loss like hers knows it's common to wish to die and no longer keep living, to keep breathing, to keep eating. I'm sure food tasted like sawdust to her. Her eyes were swollen with unending tears. Her grief was all consuming, horrifying. 

Yet day after day, she learned to trust Him, as she watched her husband being spiritually abused by "friends" until the day God spoke to Job and took him to a deeper level of understanding his own humanity and God's sovereign power.

No, she wasn't a tool used by Satan to discourage Job.

She was simply a normal woman with a normal human response to deep pain, and she stayed faithful. Job was a good friend, a good husband to her, and recognized her pain and gave her the little he could out of his own pain and confusion of who God is to help her stay the course.

(1) Word Commentary Job
(2) Jastrow and Nowack
(3) John Walton
(4) Learn about Suzie Kidnap here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

What Will Cause You to Panic?

  • What will cause you to quiver in the face of danger for the cause of Christ?
  • What threat, when you receive it purely in your human strength, makes you want to turn tail and run?
  • What causes the feelings of anxiety to turn to panic?

I've only in the last month realized what one of my initial instinctive mental coping mechanisms I've developed over the last two decades in Afghanistan and Turkey was, and I've been doing it without real awareness but seen it in my writing in the past month. It helps my brain to calm itself so it can begin to think and not move into fear or paralysis.

I've developed this mind response to the constant verbal threat of "we will kill the infidels and anyone who converts" yada yada yada.   That's it, that's the response. I mentally find myself saying, "yada yada yada." It means, "Yawn! What else is new?...It's the same threat said in these situations."

It's culturally appropriate when a Muslim is put under pressure and threatened with total shame to his or her family that this is what must be said in response to Christians.  In other words, we can have grace and patience towards a person who threatens to kill Christians.  They are afraid for any of a huge number of reasons so they say this. 

It's their predictable response.

I realize it may be hard to understand a shame/honor culture, but if someone comes into my home and puts a knife to my child's neck unless I do what I'm told, there's a strong possibility there will be some level of compliance in order to save my child. We're not that dissimilar in that regard.

So this leads us to ask, "When should we pay close attention to this type of threat? When is that threat serious?"   

I've addressed discernment in risk and evaluating threats in other blog posts, and right after I (mentally) yawn when hearing this threat, of course my mind goes into immediate risk assessment to evaluate how real it is.  We don't dismiss the threat of someone trying to kill us because we are Christians.

However, my main point with this post is to ask you to ask yourself, "What will cause you to panic?" 

If your calling is to tell people who are unreached or least reached about the Good News of Jesus Christ, what will cause you to panic in the face of the threat of danger or in the face of real danger?

If a simple, understandable threat causes panicky feelings to arise inside you, recognize it as a growth area of learning resilience in the face of the threat of danger.

What do you need in your relationship with God and others to not panic?
What do you need to do in your mental resiliency to hold steady and endure well?

This is where life gets real and raw in facing danger.  Panicking never helps.