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Category: Marriage & Family

Nameless

02

I saw my first pornographic image before I was in kindergarten.

We were on the way to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. We’d stopped for gas, and while Dad checked the oil, Mom sent me to use the bathroom.

There was a picture. Torn from a magazine. Taped to the wall. The photo – a woman with hair down to her knees – seemed sad and alone. Silent. Staring out into the space of that darkened stall, the ragged yellow edges of her world.

I washed my hands.

Outside, I told my parents I’d seen something bad. And as we drove away, I wanted to know why. Where were her clothes? Why did someone take that picture? What did it mean? What was her name?

Although most of that conversation has been lost to time, I remember one point that my parents made: the woman in the picture had done what she ought not to have done. She’d taken off her clothes. For attention. For money. To make others think she cared.

That woman was a liar.

I wasn’t old enough to argue. Didn’t know how to put into words what I felt was true. But I did know this: I’d seen the picture. And that woman’s eyes – staring into mine – weren’t full of pride or desire.

They were afraid.

Now, more than 30 years later, I can still see that picture. I carry it around in my head. From time to time, I think about that image – the things we do, the things we do to each other. And the truth is, my parents might have been right. That woman might have been a liar. She may have been greedy, selfish, and shameless. She might not have cared for anybody but herself.

And she might not have really been afraid.

People, after all, are complex.

But if I could go back in time to my five-year-old self, I think I know what I’d ask my parents in the car, on the road to my grandparents’ house: Who took that photo? Who paid the woman? Who printed the picture? Who tore it out and taped it to the wall?

How do you know she’s a liar?

And if my five-year-old self had met the woman instead of her picture.

I think I’d just want to know her name.

But if I could go back in time to my five-year-old self, I think I know what I’d ask my parents in the car, on the road to my grandparents’ house

Talk

02

Sometimes, what we’re talking about isn’t what we’re really talking about.

A high school graduate called to ask if he could meet with me. Just to talk. So we met. And we talked. About his family. About his decision to take a year off from school. About his job. About the work of discerning – during that year – what he might study when he went back to school. After our talk, the student gave me a letter.

In that letter, he wrote of his feelings for a friend, a friend of the same gender.

Sometimes, what we want to talk about isn’t what we get to talk about.

That student and I talked again. For years, we talked. At church. At coffee shops. In my home. In his. I told him to trust his family. I told him to stay as connected as he could to his church. He told me he was convinced that acting on his feelings would harm his friendship and go against scripture. He told me about temptation and the boundaries he’d set in order to avoid it.

I had to reconcile my image of a God who is Love with the reality of a God who doesn’t always play fair. I couldn’t do it. We didn’t talk about that.

It’s been nearly seven years now since the student and I started talking. Celibate all those years, that student has remained active in our denomination. That student is respected. But I wonder what would happen if that student shared his story with his home church. Or with mine.

If he stood on a Sunday morning and shared a story of sexual purity, a story of victory in Jesus, a story of perseverance and of sacrifice, a compelling story – how might the telling of that story affect his future among us?
Would he be allowed to volunteer in the church nursery?
Would he be asked to lead a small group for young men?
Would he be nominated to serve as an elder?
Would we send him to our annual conference as a representative of the local church?
I’d like to think the answer to at least one of those questions might be yes. But I’m not so sure.

I’ve heard the talk.

I wonder what would happen if that student shared his story with his home church. Or with mine.

Giver

09

I asked my dad at Christmas once why other children believed in Santa? The very idea made no sense. The need. After all, it seemed so obvious that no one could love me more than my parents. Why would anyone want a Santa?

My dad tried explaining Santa as a kind of bureaucrat, delegating responsibility to individual parents the same way our heavenly Father gives us earthly fathers (as if I needed to know how gift-giving worked). It was a mistake. But my dad realized it too late. I, in my 4-year-old wisdom, had already countered with a new line of thought. If God was like Santa, then who needed God? What’s the use of a heavenly Father if I already have a real, live, loving and touchable Dad, someone whose lap is always ready, whose hugs are never withheld, whose goodness is apparent even when expressed as discipline?

I remember my parents being concerned. And quiet.

Then my mom told me a story about her dad, a story I hadn’t heard before. The man I knew as Grandpa was her step-dad. Her real father, her “daddy,” had died when she was only 10 years old. I don’t remember why it made sense at the time because it didn’t really answer my question, but my Mom simply said, “Not everyone can have a daddy like yours.”

This, then, is what I learned (or at least what I remember): why God gives as he does and how he does and when may not make sense. Why others try to quantify or control God often doesn’t make sense either. Not everyone can have a daddy like mine. And sometimes, even for me, it’s hard to recognize or understand that, at heart, God is a giver.

at heart, God is a giver

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