Monday, November 4, 2013

Songs in the Night: The Untended Garden

Songs in the Night: The Untended Garden:       I started my garden early this year, in spite of my gardening friend's warning never to put out my tomato plants before Easter. S...

The Untended Garden

     I started my garden early this year, in spite of my gardening friend's warning never to put out my tomato plants before Easter. She was right. I lost some pepper, tomato, and eggplant seedlings to late freezes, and my cucumbers were stunted and never quite recovered. However, I persisted in putting out tomatoes and even planted some late peas, which produced abundantly due to our cooler than average spring.
     Because of this cool spring, my tomatoes were just coming into full production as we were leaving for our two-week summer vacation. I had picked a couple of good pots of green beans also. I encouraged friends to come by and pick whatever they wanted while I was away. Perhaps they did, because there were no tomatoes left, other than wormy, rotten ones, and the green beans were all gone when I returned. The squash had succumbed to the squash bugs, the cucumbers had dried up, and weeds had overtaken the dried-up peas. I even had trouble locating my pepper plants amidst the tangle of weeds that had taken over in my absence. Even my herbs had flowered and lost their pungency as a result of neglect. There was little garden left to tend, and the change had taken hold in such a short time!
     Yet, I knew that I had not cared for this year's garden as well as I had others in the past. My time was divided for the first six weeks of summer because we had workmen in our house redoing cabinets and drawers and doing repair work. We also lost two huge trees that fell during one of our spring storms, and I had to tend to their removal. I was distracted from tending my garden and kept up only the minimum care of it before ultimately leaving on a two-week trip to Nova Scotia. What did I expect to happen? Did I think that it would miraculously take care of itself in my absence? That it would set and bear fruit for me?
     My first thought when I returned home and walked out to my overgrown garden was that it  was a picture of a spiritual lesson. That early garden had been a result of my work and care--the preparing of the soil; the planting and watering of seeds; the weed-pulling, pest-preventing,  pinching, and pruning; and even the protection from the elements when the frosts threatened. This late garden was the result of my not working--my neglect.
     I intended for that garden to bear fruit, and lots of it. I had my mouth all ready to enjoy weeks of tangy, sweet, juicy homegrown tomatoes; crispy, cool cucumbers; yellow straight-neck, zucchini, and pattypan squash; and crunchy green beans. Yet, the only fruit left was blighted by disease, stung or infested with insects, or choked by weeds. None was fit to eat.
     With disgust and despair, I walked away from that garden and virtually ignored it for the rest of the summer, occasionally venturing out to see if I could find a few jalapenos or bell peppers that seemed to keep producing even in the massive overgrowth of grass and weeds. But, for the most part, I gave up on this year's garden.
       God created man and woman and put them in a garden. Again and again in scripture God uses agricultural references to teach us about the Christian life. What was He saying to me through the ruin of my garden? What was my take-home lesson? At mid-summer I wasn't even sure I wanted to know. But, now that fall has come, I am ready to learn.

First, gardens are meant to be tended.

" The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it…" Genesis 2:15

     Generally I am a pretty good gardener.I learned at the side of my grandmothers and my mother, and I benefited from the produce of their wonderful gardens. I go out almost daily to check for bugs and weeds and to see if my garden is getting ample water or if it needs to be fertilized.  But, God is a much better gardener than I.
     God tends His garden as He sees fit. Jesus tells us that He is actually the vine, and we are branches of that vine.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”  John 15:1-2 (NKJV)

     When God talks of His garden and His care of it, He is talking about taking care of us, His people. Through His attention to us, we grow and thrive.

  " He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers."
 Psalm 1:3 New American Standard Bible

     God's word is like food and water for the seed, and He will cause His garden to flourish and bear fruit.

 "As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:10-11

     When I looked at the neglected shamble of a garden in my back yard this summer, I realized that I had been too preoccupied with the business of life to tend to it and bring about the result I had hoped for. And, I wondered what God, as the Master Gardener, had been hoping for me during this time. He sends me His living water, His word, His spiritual food. I, however, had been neglecting to receive it. The spectacle of my neglected garden was a metaphor for my untended soul. I could feel the dryness, the lack of growth, the spiritual thirst in this branch of the vine.
     Fortunately, the specter of my untended garden was a jolt to my sensibilities. I knew that God was speaking to me. I finally decided to listen. No matter how stressed or busy I am, no matter how many times I am unable to attend my Bible study class or my church worship services, I can still find ways to connect to the Vine, to drink of the Living Water, and to ask for restoration. So, I consciously sought out a Bible study this fall to challenge me to stay in the Word. Even when I haven't been able to attend due to other obligations, I have an assignment to complete. The lessons forced me into the Word.  I have started  listening to digital Christian books  when I travel or to streaming Christian programs on my smart phone, and I found an old box of books by one of my favorite Christian authors of the last century in my mother's barn that I am rereading. I am up to book number 22 by that author now. And, every time that I am able to attend worship services or choir practices, I do. 
     I am now feeling more refreshed and renewed, and, like the leaves of a drooping plant finally given a refreshing drink of cool water, I can feel myself unfurling, stretching, and reaching out for more.
     One of the reasons we plant a garden, I think, is because we have the Spirit of the Living Lord within us. We yearn to be like our Creator. He loves to see us grow, and our own gardens give us pleasure as well. But, at present, it is more important for me to tend to the garden of my soul than to my withered, sun-parched herbs. Thus, I have dug up the dead plants, pulled out the weeds, and prepared the soil for another season. The ground will lie fallow for this fall and winter, but my inward garden will not. I thank God that he doesn't give up on us and that He holds onto our hand even when we get distracted and tend to loosen our grip. And, I can depend on Him because He is the life that is in me. 

"For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and a shield; the Lord gives grace and glory; no good thing does  He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, how blessed is the man who trusts in You!" Psalm 84: 10-12

     God will be both my sun and my protection when I seek him. As long as I stay connected to Him and consistently seek His face, I thrive. I will be like the tree planted by the stream of water. 

     I thank you, God, that even in the autumn, when the season is cooling and the leaves are falling, that you bring new growth to my spirit and pour into my life your grace and love. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Grief Journey

My Grief Journey
Judy C. Googins, M.D.
A Speech Delivered at the Annual Day of Remembrance at the Children’s Park of Tyler, Texas
October 26, 2013

          Normally, when I speak to a group, I say, “I am happy to be here”, but I find it difficult to say that, because my reason for being here is not just because I am a Psychiatrist and familiar with mental health issues and the grief process, but because I am also a member of this group that is here assembled, this group to which none of us would have willingly chosen to belong. For, we are the unwilling members of a temporary foster family made up of those left behind, those left to grieve, and those left to pick up the pieces and go on when a child dies. It’s as if we have been taken from our true, happy, and whole families and thrust into this one, wherein none of us is complete, each missing a part, and that absent part has left a hole in our hearts.
           We are gathered here today to remember and to celebrate those children who passed on, to acknowledge to each other that we understand, to support one another in our grieving and healing process, acknowledging that the loss of a child is something uniquely painful and devastating—in a way described once by a couple further along in their grief journey than I:
“You never get OVER it. You just learn to LIVE WITH it.”
          My particular grief journey began when I received a page while at work during a group therapy session where I was co-therapist, saying that there was an emergency at home. When I called my house, a neighbor handed the phone off to a policeman who told me that my son had been shot. I, in my shock, asked “which one?”,  clueless that my first-born son was depressed and had decided to end his life.  The officer informed me that the paramedics were working on my son Joshua and that he would be transported by helicopter to a hospital in Dallas.
          When I arrived at the hospital, I was met by a chaplain who took me to a private room. There, I was joined by a physician who told me that they had tried to revive my son, but that he had died. Knowing that I, as a physician, would want to know the details, he carefully explained how my son had been found and the various resuscitation efforts the team had tried. I then went to a trauma room where my boy, one month shy of his sixteenth birthday, lay , still warm, on a gurney—with his hands wrapped in plastic and a small bullet hole in his temple.
          I touched his face, stroked his hair, and tried with some fiber of my soul to say goodbye to my boy already in a man’s body, stretched out lifeless in that empty, sterile room.
          My pastor and his wife joined me there, and they prayed with me. I felt a peace that still astounds me, that “peace that passes understanding”, and, as I left the trauma room, the halls were lined with people who had driven from our church in Terrell to Dallas—people who loved our family and were praying.
          Some of those in the church family cleaned our home that evening and specifically the room where my son had shot himself. They even took his blood-stained clothes home  and washed them and steam-cleaned my carpets to get the blood out. Another family took my other two children home with them, and that is where I told Tommy and Jenny that their brother had not made it, and there we wept and held each other through the night.
          We grieved differently. I have found this to be true in the many people that I see who are grieving a terrible loss. Tommy, who found his brother bleeding on the bathroom floor and called 911, kept seeing the event replayed in his mind like an unbidden video recording and was numb. He kept asking if there was anything else he could have done—he at 13 years old feeling he had failed at being his brother’s keeper. Jenny, at only five years old, but having seen her brother bleeding and carried out on a stretcher and put on a helicopter, took the hand of each visitor who came to the house and explained what had happened, where the two of them  had stood, where Joshua was lying, what he looked like, how her brother Tommy had called the ambulance and tried to cover her eyes and protect her. She talked her feelings through over and over. Tommy kept it inside and later developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
          My ex-husband blamed me and responded to my phone call by saying “How could you let this happen?” He delayed coming to be with our other children and wanted to refuse them the right to see their brother at the funeral home after his body was prepared.
          And I—I felt that I was walking around in a war zone after witnessing a blast, where the massive explosion had dulled my hearing so that I couldn’t quite make out what anyone else was saying, and I wondered aimlessly among the bodies, the destruction, and the rubble. Still, I had to tend to the needs of my children and my patients, to continue working so that I could complete my residency that year. Yet, I felt like I was walking around with shrapnel in my heart—like I had an open wound with jagged metal sticking out of it and blood pouring down, and I could literally feel it! Yet, no one else seemed to see it or know that I was in such physical pain that I could hardly breathe. And, that pain was like a burning—burning away the things that no longer mattered and bringing into focus what really did.

Zechariah 13: 9 says

“And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” 

          Joshua’s absence left a greater hole than the sum of the three of us occupied that were left behind. There was no cutting up and roughhousing with his brother in the den, no predictable sound of his feet hitting the floor every morning at 6:30 followed by the shower being turned on on the floor above me, no drumming on the counter tops and anything else with a surface, no more kidding me and pointing to a spot on my shirt then tweaking my nose, no more Hawaiian blizzards at the Dairy Queen or strawberry jam at breakfast, no more watching his sweet face in the youth choir at church.
          I struggled with what I could have done, what I should have known, what I ought to have seen--as a psychiatrist, of all things! I felt punished for past deeds of disobeying God, yet I know that we do not have a God Who is punitive and bullying.
          I believed that I was the terrible mother that my ex-husband thought  me to be. After all, I was unable to prevent my own son’s suicide.
          And, I questioned God. Why didn’t He in His all powerful state stop my son from pulling that trigger? Yet, I knew that my God would not strip anyone of his right to free-will for even a moment because He created us free to choose. He is not a bullying, arm-twisting God. We live in a fallen world where we suffer the consequences of sin and of our own and others’ choices. However, one day, He, the God of the universe, will redeem it, and I await that day.
Romans 8:21-23
…"the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
          I demanded to understand, indeed prayed and looked for understanding in every little piece of paper, in between the lines of Josh’s suicide note, in every face of the friends that came to the funeral or dropped by our house.  But God showed me that I didn’t have to have understanding as long as I have HIM.
Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us
 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him,  and He will direct your path.”
          I remember saying aloud to God and writing in my journal that I would never be happy again, could never imagine myself ever being happy again—but I underestimated my God and the power of His resurrection. For, He has promised beauty for ashes, a spring in the desert, and he understands our sorrows.
Isaiah 53:3 “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;”
          So, I kept going. Some of my friends and colleagues were not helpful, saying such things as, “At least this loss will make you a better psychiatrist.” Others asked on the sly, with hushed voices and hands shielding their mouths, “What was it? Drugs? Alcohol? Did he get a girl pregnant, or have some sort of breakup?” The audacity. The lack of compassion. Others would say, “Oh, at least you have other children”, assuming that one child can take the place of the other, thereby denying the uniqueness of each one and the depth of my pain.
          My journey included drawing ever closer to my church family, appreciating every chance I have to be with those I love, knowing each visit might be the last one, reading my Bible and writing down scripture promises on post-it notes, then putting those notes on my headboard, on my bathroom mirror, in my car, on my clipboard at work and making them part of my innermost being, reading books about the death of a child-- some of which were not helpful--, and going to counseling and to meetings of Compassionate Friends.
          My first Compassionate Friends meeting was in Houston, months after my son’s death. I could work, see patients who were hurting and suicidal or even hospitalized, and even speak to parents and teens who were considering suicide. Then, at the monthly Compassionate Friends meeting, I would go and cry the whole time. It was as if I was storing up all the sadness and pain and would let it out in that safe place where others understood how I felt and could bear me up. We, in our mutual grief, were not just victims but survivors, and we each dealt differently with our grief. I still see these coping mechanisms in the people I work with in my practice. Some suppress their feelings, like the co leader who could not bear to look at his daughter’s photographs. Some feel they cannot talk about their loss for fear that the grief floodgates, once opened, will allow such a torrent of tears and emotion that the flood will annihilate them, not knowing that the tears will not kill them but will make them more able to handle the next wave of memories and regrets..
          Some talk their feelings through, and some blame others, wanting to be absolved of any guilt or responsibility on their own parts. And, some are just angry—blaming God, the doctors, the other parent. They use the death of a child as an excuse to reject God, Who in reality is the only Being that will never reject or forsake them in their entire lives.
Deuteronomy 31:8
It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

          Yes, God surprised me. He showed me that He could take my anger and still love me. He could tolerate my constant questioning of why and gently point me to Proverbs 3:5-6 as His answer. He brought those Christian friends around, and they allowed Jesus to minister through them to me and my family. God brought into my life another man, a—Godly, delightful, loving man of integrity from my youth that I knew and trusted, who loves the Lord and my children, who delights in making me happy and bringing me joy—including an unexpected surprise—a daughter born to us when we were forty who has been a delight and refreshment to our souls.

Psalm 127:3 New Living Translation (NLT) 

 Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from Him." 

     Now, years later, I am happy. I have joy again. I have never gotten over the loss of my son, but I have learned to live with it. I miss the graduations, the friendships, the marriage, and the grandchildren that will never be. I am sorry that our nineteen-year-old will never know the older brother until she gets to heaven. And, I still visit the cemetery and have talks with the wind, sing to the Lord, pull the weeds, and pray to my God Who has never failed me yet.

Isaiah 53:4
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Songs in the Night: You Called Me By My Name

Songs in the Night: You Called Me By My Name:      This is Easter, Resurrection Sunday, when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who was crucified on a cross, died a ...

You Called Me By My Name

     This is Easter, Resurrection Sunday, when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who was crucified on a cross, died a cruel, painful death, and was buried in a borrowed tomb. Then, on the third day, in the morning, He came alive again.We say He rose from the dead, but we don't know if He rose or just got up and walked out of that tomb, but He was alive, healed of his wounds (though the scars were still there), and He showed Himself to many of His friends and followers in the days that followed before He went back to Heaven to be with His Father.
     What we don't mention enough on this day are the victories that He gave us on that day. Because He conquered death, we who believe in Him will also conquer it---not just when we die, but right now in our lives as we live them!! Every day is different for us because of our Lord and Savior, Jesus, Who taught us how to live in a way that brings victory over our day-to day problems. Because He lived, we are never the same again!
     I want to illustrate my point with a song I wrote several years ago when I played Mary Magdalene in one of our Easter Passion Plays at my former church, First Baptist Church, Midland, Texas. When I was given the part, I read and researched all I could about Mary Magdalene and tried to get inside the character by imagining what it must have been like to be she. In the play I accompanied Mary, the mother of Jesus to the cross and witnessed the crucifixion, as the original Mary Magdalene did. Then, as Jesus' body was removed from the cross and carried off the stage, I sang "Pour my Love on You" and wept, knowing that I (Mary) had lost my dearest friend and Savior, because He had saved me from so much and given me joy and victory in my life. I had become a completely new and different person from the one I had been because of Jesus.

Luke 8:1-3: "[Jesus] journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources."

     I could weep in that scene where Jesus died and Mary grieved, not only because I have lost a son as well and empathize with Mary the Mother of Jesus, bur because I also identify with Mary of Magdalene, who was delivered from seven demons by Jesus and  whose life was forever changed.  Because of what Jesus did for me, I will never be the same again. She became a follower, and so did I. I will never turn back from following Jesus, and there is nothing more important in my life than my relationship with Him and trying to help others find that peace and joy that a relationship with Jesus will give them. Thus, at Easter I picture myself at the cross also. I know that He died for my sins personally and for everyone.

Mark 15:40: There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joseph, and Salome.
Matthew 27:56: Among them was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
John 19:25: But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

     Mary was among the women who cared enough about Jesus that they wanted to prepare His body for burial.

Mark 15:47: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph were looking on to see where He was laid.
Matthew 27:61: And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave.
Matthew 28:1: Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.
Mark 16:1: When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him.

     Mary Magdalene was not only at the crucifixion; she was also at the resurrection. It was she who went to the tomb that first Easter morning. Each gospel records that Mary was there; she was the first to see Jesus alive again, she heard Him call her by her name, and she went to tell the other apostles that she had seen Him --Jesus--Alive! What a remarkable story! What an amazing truth!!

John 20:1: Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.
Mark 16:9: Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons.
John 20:18: Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord," and that He had said these things to her.
Luke 24: But at daybreak on the first day of the week [the women] took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were puzzling over this, behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to them. They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. They said to them, "Why do you seek the living one among the dead?
He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day." And they remembered his words.
Then they returned from the tomb and announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others.
The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles, but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them.
Here's a wonderful explanation of what Mary might have felt from the website, Living Bulwark:
"The first witness to the risen Christ
Mary Magdalene is the only woman named in all four gospel accounts of the resurrection. However, in John’s Gospel, Mary is the first witness to the risen Christ, and her moving encounter with Jesus conveys the pure joy she must have felt as she recognized her master. 
Mary came to the tomb early on the first day of the week, as soon as the sabbath had ended. Distressed at not finding Jesus’ body there as expected, she ran to tell Simon Peter that it had been removed (John 20:1-2). On her return to the empty tomb, two angels questioned why she was weeping. However, consumed by grief, she persisted in her assumption that the body had been taken away—perhaps stolen by grave robbers (20:11-13). When Jesus himself stood near her, Mary even mistook him for the caretaker of the garden where the tomb was located (20:14-15).
How is it that Mary—who knew the one who had freed her from her demonic affliction so well—failed to recognize her beloved Lord? Perhaps her tears blinded her. She may have been so overwhelmed by sorrow that she was deceived by her own expectations, with no room in her heart to comprehend any other possibility than that of finding his corpse. Or maybe Jesus’ resurrected body was so totally and gloriously transformed that he was unrecognizable. 
As if to probe Mary’s desire for him, Jesus asked, “Whom do you seek?” (John 20:15). Was she searching for the Lord or, with her limited understanding, for her preconceived image of him as she assumed him to be? When he said “Mary,” it was to his voice speaking her name that she finally responded with joyful recognition (20:16). The noted French writer Henri Daniel-Rops described this meeting vividly:
Then the unknown man spoke one word, “Mary,” and she looked at him, transfixed. . . . This one word sufficed to reawaken in the Magdalene the ardor and certainty of her faith. What Christian has not dreamed of hearing it, the word with which, from all eternity, God calls each one of us, but which the deaf do not hear. (Jesus and His Times)
With this single word, Jesus freed Mary again, this time from the hopelessness that had taken hold of her when she watched him die on the cross. The liturgical  prayer known as the sequence, recited at Mass on Easter Monday, poetically imagines Mary’s early morning visit to the garden where Jesus was buried: “‘Tell us, Mary, what did you see on the way?’ ‘I saw the tomb of the now living Christ. I saw the glory of Christ, now risen. Christ my hope has risen!’”
When Mary heard her name, she turned and saw the Lord. In a surge of joy and relief she exclaimed, “Rabboni!”—an ecstatic pledge of her faith in Jesus and in his resurrection. "

     Mary Magdalene's life and playing her in the Easter Passion Play inspired me to write a song about her and her relationship with Jesus. It is entitled "You Called Me By My Name". In the song, Mary describes meeting Jesus and finding that He changes her life. She bemoans that He, who is innocent, is the One Who is killed, yet she, who was guilty of so many sins, is given freedom and life. In the first two verses, she thinks her life is over because Jesus has been killed. However, she goes to the tomb on the third day, and her life truly is never the same again. Ideally, the singer would present this song in Biblical dress with dramatic movement and interpretation. I could picture someone singing this at an Easter sunrise service!!

(Verse 1)
You knew everything about me, yet You loved me just the same.
When no one else would have me, You called me by my name.
And the best thing that ever happened in my life was when You came.
For I heard You call, and now my life has changed.

You drew me from darkness into Your light.
Though demons enslaved me, You put them to flight.
And though I was guilty, You set me free.
And, when I deserved to die, You gave a new life to me.

Who am I that you should seek and find me?
Now you're gone, and missing you reminds me
Of all that You gave me,
The way Your love saved me,
And I'll never be the same again.

(Verse 2)
I knew nothing much about You, but I loved you just the same.
Though the throngs were gathered round you, You still called me by my name.
And the best thing that ever happened in my life was when You came.
Oh, I knew you then, but now my life has changed.

They took You in darkness, denying Your light.
While demons were raging, Your friends all took flight.
And, though You were innocent, they condemned You to death.
I heard You say, "Forgive them." I watched you take Your last breath.

Who are You that they would seize and slay You?
Oh, dearest Lord, it seems we all betray You.
And Who are we that You would suffer for us?
Your body bruised, Your blood poured out before us?

Oh, I feel like a Barabbas, Lord. It should have been me!
But, somehow I know that You planned this to be.
And we'll never be the same again.

(musical interlude, during which scripture concerning Jesus' burial and the women visiting the tomb is read.)

(Verse 3)
So I went to tend Your body on the dawn of the third day.
But I found the tomb was empty, and the stone was rolled away.
Then I saw You in the garden, and, then, You said my name!
Oh, I knew You then, and now my life has changed!
Yes, You called my name! Now the whole world's changed!

I've seen the Lord!
He knows my name!
I've seen the Lord!
I know He lives again!
And we'll never be the same; we'll never be the same again.
Because He lives, our lives will never be the same!!

Judy Googins

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Songs in the Night: "True Love Waits". Why?

Songs in the Night: "True Love Waits". Why?:      I keep getting asked when I am going to publish a new blog entry. I keep jotting down ideas and then abandoning them. Sometimes I wake...

"True Love Waits". Why?

     I keep getting asked when I am going to publish a new blog entry. I keep jotting down ideas and then abandoning them. Sometimes I wake up during the night with what I imagine to be a great idea, but that inspiration seems to fade away like a passing dream upon awakening the next morning. Then there is the problem of my reading others' blogs and seeing how creative and visually pleasing they are and feeling that what I have to say is uninteresting and certainly not visually exciting or cute. Or, maybe I just don't have anything to say? No. That's not it.
     Hardly. I always have plenty to say. Just ask my kids, my husband, my relatives, and even my patients. Keeping my silence is often quite difficult for me--especially if I know I am RIGHT, But, being right isn't always the point of writing or speaking. Sometimes, my husband tells me, having to be right on an issue results in being dead right. Winning the argument has the potential to do more harm than good. Today, however, there will be a winner and a loser. It is election day. And thus, today, I want to broach a subject about which there is a definite "right", an issue which involves real losers and winners.
     However, I have no intention of writing about politics as we await the election results. People have voted, many of them early, and those who are voting later today have made up their minds. The evening news will tell us the results of our choices. We will then have to live with the consequences of our choices. Consequences of choices, then, is the topic of today's blog-- specifically, the consequences of our sexual choices.
     I have been thinking about the slogan "True Love Waits" that I see emblazoned on many rings and t-shirts worn by young people who have taken a vow of chastity until marriage:  These teenagers and college students have made a commitment to God, to their families, to their peers, to those they date, and to their future spouses that they will abstain from intercourse and sexual conduct until they enter into marriage. God asks Christians to conduct themselves by His principles, and saving sex for marriage is His ideal for our lives.
    "True Love Waits" is a movement that began twenty years ago as part of a plan to promote Christian sex education. A youth group at Tulip Grove Baptist Church, Hermitage, Tennessee, was first to sign True Love Waits commitment cards" in February 1993. 

"True Love Waits is an international campaign that challenges teenagers and college students to remain sexually abstinent until marriage. To date, over a million young people have signed covenant cards stating
"Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship."

The program is now a huge movement that promotes sexual purity in churches, in schools, and on college campuses around the world.  Here are some of the FAQs excerpted from the True Love Waits website:

'What does sexual purity mean exactly?
Sexual purity includes abstaining from intercourse until marriage, but that is not all it means. Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28). By Jesus' definition, being sexually pure means not even dwelling on thoughts of sex with someone other than a spouse.
Until you are married, sexual purity means saying no to sexual intercourse, oral sex, and even sexual touching. It means saying no to a physical relationship that causes you to be "turned on" sexually. It means not looking at pornography or pictures that feed sexual thoughts.
Sexual purity does not end with marriage. Marriage partners are supposed to experience sexual love with each other in a way that is fulfilling to both. However, purity means being completely faithful to your spouse in thought and deed. "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral" (Heb. 13:4).
Is sex a bad thing?
No. God designed us as sexual beings. He invented sex! He also made a place for it: marriage. In Genesis 2:24 God tells of His plan for marriage, that "a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." The sexual relationship makes the two become one flesh. The Bible speaks of sexual immorality, so there must also be such a thing as sexual morality, right? That morality is based on God's plan for sex.
If we're in love, isn't it OK?                                                                                                                   God created sex for a lifetime commitment between one woman and one man. Sex outside of a committed marriage relationship violates God's standards. When you are wearing a wedding ring, you won't have to hope your partner loves you; you will have heard your spouse pledge to you in front of God, your families, and your friends. Anything less cheapens sex.
What if things just happen?
Sex is not an accident. Sex is progressive, meaning one act leads to another. Things won't "just happen" if you set boundaries and stick to them. If you make the decision now to abstain from sex and to live a pure life, then you will already know the answer before you encounter any compromising situation. Plus, the Holy Spirit gives us self-control to use when we are tempted."
      I am grateful for the True Love Waits movement and for the education they have provided to young people for over twenty years.  I am thankful for their efforts in promoting abstinence as part of sex education. But, the information from the True Love Waits website is not enough for me. I have more questions. They might not fit into the FAQs, but to me they are important to answer. So here are my questions for those who choose to take the True Love Waits vow, those who wear the ring, or those who might be considering it, or those who are curious about the consequences of young people engaging in sexual behavior.
1. Why is waiting important? It is important because not waiting causes big problems.
     As a Psychiatrist I see the fallout in the lives of those who have chosen to have sex or indulge in sexual behavior before marriage. The outcomes of those choices are usually not happy ones and include the following (though this is certainly not an exhaustive list):
Unwanted pregnancy, abortion, infertility, infection, sexually transmitted diseases, self esteem problems, multiple sexual partners, inability to bond well once one is married, sexual problems in marriage, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, loss of self-respect,  endometriosis or other medical problems, inability to accomplish personal goals, early drop-out from school or college, trouble attaining career goals,  poor choice of spouse, and higher divorce rates.
2. Who am I hurting if I don't wait?  Many people
     You are hurting your family and your relationship with them. Your secrets, lies, and deceptive behavior drives a wedge between you and your parents. You damage their faith and trust in you. Trust once lost is difficult to regain. As adults familiar with what a sexual relationship means, they know that once you become involved with someone sexually you will not have good judgement or objectivity about making important life decisions. 
     You are hurting the child you might conceive. If you get pregnant or cause a pregnancy and elect to have an abortion, you are destroying a life--a life given by God. You become guilty of murder. If that child is born, he is more likely to have problems because of the probability of less prenatal care and poorer nutrition of the mother. The security of his future is threatened. Will he be given up for adoption? Given to a family member to rear? Kept by a single mom struggling to make it on her own? Be thrust into the midst of a hurried up marriage between two people who were not really ready to commit to such? Be abused or neglected because he really wasn't wanted? Be reared in the absence of a father? Absence of fathers in the lives of their children causes even more problems for that child and for other generations.
     You are hurting the person with whom you are involved. You are showing him or her a lack of respect, a disregard for her health, and disdain for her future happiness. You care nothing for her future spouse and children. You care not for the health of her body, spirit, or soul. You increase the likelihood that your partner will have psychiatric problems, infections, and infertility. You interfere with her ability to make wise decisions about her education and her life goals. You serve to potentially derail her life. You wedge yourself between her and her God; you impose yourself between her and her parents. You may say that you love her, but you are lowering her, isolating her, and demeaning her.
     You are hurting yourself. Sex and sexual behavior results in much more that the pleasure of the moment and release of sexual tension. The sex act, including oral sex or masturbation, affects the brain and does so in a negative way in teens and young adults. In a new book, Hooked, Dr.Joe McIlhaney and Freda McKissic Bush describe how hormones and neurotransmitters in both the male and female are released in response to sexual activity--hormones that are designed to cause bonding and permanent attachment. When sex is misused, damage results. 
"The authors put it this way: “Our decision-making ability, coming from the highest centers of the brain, can guide an individual to the most rewarding sexual behavior—unless bad programming from premature and unwise sexual behavior during the adolescent years has occurred, causing the brain formation for healthy decision making to be damaged.”
As the book explains it, sexual activity triggers chemical reactions in the brain that help shape how we think and feel—in fact, they help shape the very development of our brains, especially in adolescents.
This makes teens susceptible to getting “hooked” on “unwise sexual behavior.” Their brains actually can come to perceive dangerous and unhealthy behavior—like sleeping with one partner after another—as normal. And this can damage the brain’s emotional bonding mechanism, making it difficult for a teenager to form healthy, long-term relationships in the future."
Sex becomes more like a drug, an addiction that serves to control and destroy those involved, a destructive drive that pushes other, more essential things out of their lives. Sexually transmitted diseases? Yes. But, brain damage? Absolutely.
You are hurting your future spouse and putting the success of that marriage in jeopardy. Your ability to conceive and bear children may be impaired as a result of abortion, infection, or scarring of Fallopian tubes. You may be a carrier of a sexually transmitted disease and expose your spouse  and your unborn children to that disease. You are risking having trouble bonding with that spouse. You create doubt in the mind of your spouse that you will be able to be faithful to him or her. You introduce the possibility that you might become bored and leave the relationship. You didn't  love the promise of that spouse enough to wait, to save yourself as a gift to him or her.
You are hurting your relationship with God. God asks you to have no other gods before Him. He asks you to save sexual activity for marriage. When you defy Him and willfully disobey Him, you are essentially putting someone else in the place of God. You are saying that your opinions and preferences are more important than what God has to say. You put yourself on the throne of your life. Your life becomes self-centered, rather than God-centered. You are saying that a relationship with a person is more important than your relationship with God. You are making your sexual partner an idol, and you are guilty of idolatry before God.
If you are a Christian, you are hurting your witness and influence with other people. They are less likely to trust or respect you or your opinions and are more likely to mistrust God and dislike church and Christians because of your behavior. You reinforce their opinion that Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites.
3. Why is your slogan "True Love Waits'?
     If it doesn't wait, it is not love. It is the opposite. True lust hates. A person who demands or expects sex or any type of sexual favor from you without a commitment of marriage loathes rather than loves you. He is selfish rather than self-sacrificing. He loves himself more than he loves you or others. He has no regard or respect for you. He has no respect for God. He puts you, his partner, under his influence and control, impairing your judgement, making you so myopic that you cannot see your way clearly. Sex becomes your master. The drug determines your destiny. He is not a person under authority. He is not the one that you want to stake your life on. He is playing God in his own life and in yours,  instead of stepping aside and letting God be God. In simple terms, he is committing the same sin of rebellion that Satan did which resulted in his being thrown out of heaven. He wanted to be equal with God. He wanted to be worshiped. Your sexual partner is coming between you and God; he is trying to take you away from your first love, Who is God. True love waits on God's timing and God's choice. True love waits. Though I am not a Mormon, a Mormon website states "True love is built on the foundation of trust, sacrifice, loyalty, and patience." On this we agree. If your boyfriend or girlfriend does not want to wait, he or she does not love you and, indeed, does not even understand the definition of love.
     So, what to do if you are already involved in sexual behavior outside marriage? Stop now. Get out of the relationship. Delete that person from your contact list. Use caller ID. Don't answer his calls or respond to his text messages. Delete him from your Facebook friends. Don't delude yourself into believing that you can still be friends. The alcoholic doesn't keep beer in the refrigerator if he wants to stay in recovery. See a Christian counselor for help sorting out your emotions, conflicts  and issues. Realize that it will be difficult but doable. See a physician if you are depressed, suicidal, or think you may be pregnant or might have been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease. Abstain. Call on God to help you with your struggle. Ask His forgiveness and tell Him you want Him to be first in your life and that you want His will for your present and your future. Like an addict or alcoholic, surround yourself with people who share your convictions and your new or renewed commitment to purity from now until marriage. Realize that your appetite for sex doesn't just go away. You must be involved actively in recovery by filling your life with other things that honor God and build you up and help you heal.
    God is bigger than your bad relationship. God is stronger than your obsession. He is the Great Physician, and His promises are always true. He is love, He is truth, He is light.
Click this link to hear Christy Nockles sing "Healing Is In Your Hand"
26 Bible verses about true love waits:
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Why should I save sex for marriage? :
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