“You Go Girl!” (Another Vote of Confidence from Dad)

b5741-fearless“Marie:

I just last night (7/7/18) finished your frank and fearless book Fractured Covenants. It both compels the reader to look behind the false pretensions of a duplicitous ex-spouse but prompts sympathy for the way you, and others like you, on the part of the reader, for the way you, with your back to the wall, refuse to be cowed or silenced, but instead combat the pious hypocrisy of those pastors, and other patriarchal types whose attitudes, consciously or otherwise, strengthen the walls of the individual prisons in which you, and many others like you have found themselves. Bravo to you, who never quit; but fought and prevailed in your often lonely struggle.

I’d like to recommend most heartily reading something by, or about, two other strong, courageous – yes, even fearless – individuals from long ago.

Mistress Anne Hutchinson, who stood up to the Puritan ministers of 17th Century Boston. She held prayers and theological discussions in her home which contravened the fire-and-brimstone; hell-and-damnation Calvinist diatribes which kept most Massachusetts Bay Puritans, cowed in fear and “in line”. Anne’s “inner light” – the light of grace present in one’s soul was far from a wrathful Jehovah, and much akin to the Quaker view, a group which also aroused to hatred the Puritan theocracy. Not surprisingly, she was a follower of Roger Williams, whom she followed to Rhode Island, when she was exiled there in the late 1630’s.

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William Lloyd Garrison’s preoccupation was with the immediate unconditional and uncompensated emancipation of all enslaved human beings, everywhere. He considered owning, exploiting the labor of, and trafficking in slaves to be the ultimate sin. He was born in Newburyport, MA some years after this state abolished slavery in its 1780 Constitution. His newspaper The Liberator was published from 1820, I believe, right through the end of the Civil War. It was, not surprisingly, banned in the South.

His fiery credo was expressed, as I recall, in the following words:

On this subject [emancipation] I do not propose to speak or write with “moderation”. As well might one expect a mother to “moderately” rush into a burning building, to rescue her precious baby….or a husband to “moderately” rescue his wife from the clutches of a fiendish ravisher.”

“I am in earnest. I will not excuse, I will not equivocate; I will not retreat a single inch….and….I WILL BE HEARD!

And he was heard, and in the fullness of time, with great effusion of blood, in this land at least, human bondage was forever exterminated.

YOU GO, GIRL!!”

 

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The Evangelical Wife by Susanna Krizo – (Review)

wife_imageSeveral weeks ago, while turning my time sheet in at the Interpreters Services office at work, I met a newly-hired Arabic interpreter from Saudi Arabia. My boss introduced me to her while she was in a friendly discussion with the Farsi interpreter, a woman originally from Iran who I know well. The Saudi woman, an artist, was describing her life as a feminist in the Kingdom. “I was forced into an arranged marriage at 20….it destroyed me inside, and my art suffered. I couldn’t create,” she said. From outward appearances – her close-cropped hair and professional pantsuit – I never would have guessed this woman had grown up under a repressive patriarchal regime where she was allowed no voice; no vision; no freedom to dream. We spoke for a few minutes about courageous young women to come out of the Islamic world such as Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who spoke out for girls’ rights to education, and I expressed sympathy that my colleague had been deprived of basic freedoms (such as being able to drive or dress as she wished) in Saudi Arabia. “Well, you experienced half that – it’s not so different,” my boss interjected ironically. I quickly demurred, saying “You can’t really compare American patriarchal oppression of women to Islamic…..and I didn’t really have it so bad compared to some women.”

A week later, Author Susanna Krizo sent me her novel, “The Evangelical Wife”. I had to retract part of that last statement – there is much basis for comparison between the two worldviews, as well as contrast. While we women in America may drive, eschew burqas and have no fear of flogging or stoning, the silencing, relegation to second-class status (on par with children) and denial of equality women in the conservative evangelical world Krizo depicts is the exact same spiritualized misogyny inherent in Sharia law. While more subtle and supported by unwritten rules (as well as application of Scripture from the Pre-Mosaic patriarchal period of the Old Testament to 21st century America), the lives of quiet desperation imposed on many evangelical/fundamentalist women in the United States is not a theme often addressed in either Christian fiction or non-fiction.

A Thoughtful and Sensitive Treatment

While I don’t usually read or review fiction, Krizo’s novel was worthy enough to warrant a thorough analysis. An excellent writer, Krizo brings the reader into the inner world of the fundamentalist American sub-culture by use of descriptive details and thought-provoking soul-searching in the main character’s daily life. What makes this novel so compelling is her insightful portrayal of the unfullfillment, despondency, and ultimately settled resignation that many women in patriarchal authoritarian churches experience (through the eyes of the main character, Hannah) without lapsing into clichés or stereotypes. Krizo effectively brings us into the world of a stay-at-home wife and mother, who is offered no other life choice, through the use of details and unanswered questions – without vilifying anyone. Far from an indictment of evangelicalism, the characters in this novel are sympathetic and likeable – cogs in a system that has reared them to think in absolutes. Krizo neither attacks the Christian faith nor demonizes those in power (read: the men), but as the days wear on and more is justified in the name of “authority”, we see the maxim “absolute power corrupts absolutely” very much at work in the church which dictates every detail of domestic life.

And domestic life can be difficult with multiple children; no reprieve from the demands of child-rearing and cultivating an image of familial perfection; enduring the ever-escalating demands of husbads who demand absolute obedience; and an ecclesiastically enforced single income:

“He worked so very hard to transform her into a godly woman. Too hard, in Hannah’s opinion, especially since he didn’t take care to do the same to himself. It was as if Jesus had thought about evangelical husbands when he talked about the speck and the plank. Sometimes they could be so blind.

No one at church talked about how they were supposed to make it on one income. It all sounded so great when the pastor talked about the life God wanted them to have. They all nodded in unison and smiled. They knew how to please God and it made them special. It was too bad that the power company didn’t think they were special too….. Perhaps if she prayed more their finances would improve. But why was she thinking about any of it? It was Michael’s job to worry about the finances, it was her job to cook and clean. She shouldn’t attempt to meddle in things that were none of her concern.”

Loving, Christian, but Inherently Unbalanced

Refreshingly, “The Evangelical Wife” is not a story of abuse. It is far more nuanced than that, delving into the gray areas between unmet dreams; guilt over having expectations; growing dictatorship at home (which, axiomatically, breaks down marital intimacy); and finally, Hannah’s husband’s increasing defense and justification of men in the congregation who truly are abusing their wives in plain sight. Her own experience is more dichotomous. Michael is a well-intentioned man who loves Hannah and their two sons, four and two, and is thrilled to learn a third is on the way. We see him spontaneously express affection to Hannah and bring their sons to the park – even offering to take them out to play so Hannah can get some rest – but only when the mood strikes. A hard-working provider, Michael is also prone to mood swings that cause him to rage at Hannah for an unwashed coffee cup (which he had left in the garage) after she has spent a day washing, ironing, cooking, and running after two toddlers. Hannah has long since learned not to defend herself when he demands, “What do you do all day?” or is accused of being “selfish”, as it will incite an angry lecture about “wives being submissive to your husbands”. She is usually to exhausted, physically and mentally, to endure his criticism.

The Search for Meaning

We first meet Hannah during a rainy day like any other, staring out the window at the gray drizzle as endless as the mountains of laundry produced by Michael, and her two little boys. Pregnant with her third child, Hannah remembers her childhood dreams of having a career and seeing the world, quashed by her strong Christian parents in the name of “godliness”. She, like many women in her position, years for something more outside the confines of the life dictated to her, but doesn’t know exactly what “something more” is.

“Accordingly, all women were expected to become homemakers as it was considered the godly choice, the only choice. Growing up, little boys were encouraged to play with swords, get dirty and be loud, while little girls were taught to dress their dolls, have tea time with their friends and dream of the day when they themselves would become homemakers. It was a beautiful dream filled with God’s light and pink glitter, but it was a dream that never crossed the border of childhood into adulthood. In the real world all the days began to look the same, the glitter ended up in all the wrong places, and the kitchen that had once appeared so bright and sunny began to feel more like a dungeon where the once hopeful young women tried to create something edible out of the few things they knew how to cook. Despite all of it most women accepted their role without much thought, having listened to stirring sermons on godly womanhood that dazzled them with the promise of romance and happiness. Becoming a wife and mother was the most important thing a woman could do. Only selfish women chose a life outside of the sheltering walls of the home. And as everyone knew, God didn’t approve of selfish women.”

Hannah had been allowed to attend Bible College – the only academic option available to women in her branch of Christianity – primarily for the purpose of finding a “godly husband”. An intelligent young women, Hannah met Michael studying Greek syntax and was shortly-after married to him. All of her life she had been taught that marriage was the fulfillment of her purpose as a woman (culminating in childbirth), but the illusion soon began to dissipate:

“Hannah looked at the rain and thought how women were like rain—needed yet despised. Women were at fault if anything went wrong, just as everyone blamed the rain that spoiled the perfect picnic. But if a woman ever tried to leave, suddenly everyone was invested in making sure she stayed. She had to be there, for without a woman there was no family, there was no home. Their pastor had waxed eloquent on more than one occasion about the role the wife played as the foundation of a home. Just as it was impossible to remove the foundation without destroying the whole house, it was equally impossible to have a family without a wife that stayed home. The real question was why everyone blamed the foundation for the poor condition of the rest of the structure.

All their lives they had been told that marriage and children was the “better” they had to look forward to and now suddenly there was another “better” to look forward to, one that didn’t include children and endless housework. What was the next “better”? Death? Without missing a beat their parents nodded and said, ‘yes, it is better to be with the Lord.’ The young people listened silently and wondered why they had been told to marry and have as many children as possible if it was better to be dead than alive. There was something wrong with the picture, but no one dared to say it out loud.”

Within the first chapter, the author takes us into the mundane details of the isolated female evangelical: starved of conversation, Hannah occasionally watches sitcoms just to hear adult voices (a choice Michael piously condemns as “worldly”, after returning from his office job). The women make homemade dish soap from recipes found on homemaking blogs – something, anything to give their daily lives purpose. Completely deprived of intellectual stimulation, Hannah’s soul begins to crumble and atrophy. She notices the lack of exhaustion and happiness apparent on the faces of other mothers she sees at the library’s weekly story-time hour, but quickly dismisses her dormant envy as the women’s skirts don’t go past their knees (making them “unbelievers” and therefore inferior).

Her few friends, all from the insular evangelical church they attend, all face the same struggles and guilt over admitting (even to themselves) that they struggle with the burdens placed on their shoulders. They must all keep their doubts and guilt to themselves – as if speaking it aloud somehow validated it This admission would be tantamount to heresy – because it would demand re-examining the worldview they had been taught all their lives – and threatened with hellfire if they ever dared question it.

“… How many women really wanted a man to boss them around and how many men wanted to get stuck in a dead-end job just to support their families?…. What would have made her happy was help with the housework, time for herself, and a husband who didn’t always silence her, a husband who treated her like—like a person. Why didn’t they talk about that in these glossy marriage publications? But an even better question was why she kept on thinking about these things. Everyone knew men and women were so different that there could never be any hope of equality. Why didn’t motherhood elevate women to the same status men enjoyed instead of lowering them to the ranks of children? Children needed supervision for their own good and women were said to need the same, for the exact same reason. It would have been almost funny if it wasn’t so infuriating. A grown woman who made life possible was treated like a tantrum throwing toddler when she objected to the fact that she was being treated like one. If they said men should treat women with honor, then that’s exactly what they should do. There was no honor in condescension.”

When “Not Depriving” Each Other Becomes Assault

At a baby shower, Hannah learns that she is not alone in viewing marital relations as a chore, which must be done – like ironing – out of a sense of duty to one’s husband, regardless of her own emotional needs (which are to be “crucified” if a woman even acknowledges they exist). Using 1 Corinthians 7:4 as a proof text, evangelical women are universally taught that depriving their husbands of sexual relations is a sin against God and a sign of “unsubmission”, which causes Hannah to feel guilt over her feelings of violation when Michael brutally forces himself on her one night. (While cases of non-consensual relations are likely rare in Christian marriages, the trauma and misguided spiritual guilt Hannah experiences over this action is a painfully accurate portrayal of the conditioned thought process evangelical women go through in this sensitive area). It is a well-known fact than love and mutual respect cannot flourish in any adult relationship based on inequality; the closer a marriage approximates a master-servant dynamic, the less intimacy can exist. For all of the marriage conferences and endless Christian marriage books the devout feed on, this imbalance of power and its destructive influence of the marital relationship is never addressed nor admitted.

While taught to have zero expectations in the marriage relationship, Hannah and her friends – although they dare not discuss it openly and must cultivate an image of family bliss at all costs – notice the double-standard and outright hypocrisy that their husbands practice in family life. Michael plays basketball, socializes with his church friends at will, and regularly leaves town for business or church men’s conferences for days at a time; but Hannah is expected to focus all of her time and energy on “the family” (within the house), unless it means volunteering at the church (with two toddlers in tow).

The one outside social event she might be allowed to enjoy is the two-day church women’s retreat, which Michael grudgingly lets her attend, although it means his missing a basketball game. Hannah has learned that to “ask permission” to socialize (evangelical women are expected to “ask their husband’s permission” for everything) is not worth the price she will pay: days of sulking and moodiness from Michael, and being guilt-tripped for not being “a good wife”. While she does enjoy a two-day reprieve at the retreat, her friend Laura is not so lucky: while there, Laura’s husband angrily telephones her, demanding that she return home immediately and cook him a “real” supper. The casserole she had left “tastes like dogfood” and the children are a nuisance. Laura tearfully leaves, and we later learn, through a conversation overheard by Hannah in the supermarket, that Laura’s husband can cook quite well – he just refuses to, in order to “show Laura who is boss”. We also hear him instructing a single man on the perks of finding a wife from the eager ranks of women within the church – “You don’t even have to worry about keeping your woman in line; the Church does it for you. It’s a win-win situation.”

“It was all about the family, until it wasn’t. But why was it always men who got to choose when it wasn’t?

No one dared to talk about it, for no one wanted to admit that their lives looked more like the evening news than the posters they saw at church; posters that advertised summer camps and short-term mission trips that cost more per person than a regular vacation for an entire family. Neither did anyone talk about the feelings of disappointment, anger, and frustration.

Or the guilt.

The huge amounts of gut-wrenching guilt they all carried around for wanting more out of life than the dead-end drudgery of homemaking…”

Victim-Shaming and Gossip

Later, we learn that Laura’s husband is battering her. Hannah grows suspicious when seeing her friend’s black eye and the obvious shame in her demeanor, and speaks to the pastor’s wife. Already aware of the situation, the pastor’s wife curtly tells Hannah to keep the “secret” quiet and reminds her of the wife’s obligation to “submit” to her husband. After all, of Laura had obeyed her husband and been a more dutiful wife, her husband wouldn’t have had to “discipline” her. When he finally puts her in the hospital,  as “discipline” for breaking his bowling trophy while cleaning, Laura escapes to a woman’s shelter with her two children – but not before suffering a broken arm, and miscarrying her child.

She is shunned by the church; excoriated by the other women. Now a pariah, Laura, a victim of domestic violence, will forever be viewed as a “wayward women”. She is blamed for her husband’s sin, for not “trying hard enough”. The same fate befalls the leader of women’s ministries, whose husband is having an illicit sexual affair with a teenager. The women in the church decide it was the woman’s own fault; after all, if she had just been “more available” to her husband, he wouldn’t have had to seek gratification outside the marriage bed.

Finding the Light

Growing dismay over the hurt she sees inflicted on these women, as well as Michael’s justification of Laura’s husband’s abuse of her, Hannah grows increasingly disillusioned with what is practiced in a church claiming to preach “grace”. When a new woman joins, a biology teacher who – gasp – believes in evolution, she is subtly shunned by the other women who consider her not much more than a heretic. Friendly and very much walking with God, Jessy visits Hannah with a much-needed casserole (for all of her homemaking responsibilities, Hannah cannot cook – unthinkable for an evangelical woman) and we learn that she cannot bear children. This further alienates her in the Church Ladies’ eyes, and Hannah must keep her acquaintanceship with Jessy a secret, lest the holy tongues start wagging about her, as well. Jessy slips Hannah a book in the church ladies’ room about women in the Bible, which Hannah reads in secret. New hope fills her:  God had never dictated that women hide their gifts; be subjugated by the ones entrusted to love them; or to endlessly serve without reciprocity or appreciation. His intention for His daughters was the same as it was for His sons: to find their joy and identity in Him; while using their unique gifts and abilities.

Meanwhile, Jessy suggests Laura report the battering to the police, and ultimately gets her to the women’s shelter. Hannah asks herself, “How was it possible that the only person who cared about what was happening to Laura was the one everyone thought was a blazing heretic? Something was very wrong with the whole picture.”

Hannah’s disillusionment with the dead-end destiny of herself and other fundamentalist women, combined with her growing concern over the way women are treated and blamed for their husband’s sinful misconduct and the increasingly dominant attitude of her husband cause her to question whether this is really “God’s will” as she nurtures her newborn baby daughter.

“She knew the real question was why the church had done nothing to stop the violence. How could they defend the destruction of a child of God? The authority men had was supposedly given for the protection of women. That was what they all said. But in reality it was given for the protection of the man’s selfish refusal to regard his wife as a person, a real human being. Only a man who saw his wife as a servant, created to please him, was able to treat his wife with such contempt. The Bible didn’t allow for such a blatant disregard of human life. Love for one’s neighbor extended to one’s spouse as well. In fact, it began with one’s spouse, for who were as close as two people who slept in the same bed and ate from the same table? A deep rage began to build within Hannah. Not only had they lied, they had also refused to help a woman getting hurt because of the lies. They said resisting those set in authority was evil. But how could resisting someone who hurt you be evil? There was nothing godly about beating your wife and there was nothing godly about defending someone who did. It was evil.

Pure evil.”

Hannah realizes she needs to change her life, but knows very well that if she speaks up against the injustice, she will share the same fate as the women whose husbands were adulterers or wife-batterers. Her situation, while bleak, is far less dramatic and in optimistic moments she is conflicted. As a woman who loves her husband, her family, and her God, what should she do? What can she do, without facing dire social consequences, and being made to be an outcast in the only world she has ever known?

Susanna Krizo’s “Hannah’s Choice”, a soon-to-be released sequel to “The Evangelical Wife” promises to answer these questions. Order The Evangelical Wife here, and visit Susanna’s author page here: http://www.susannakrizo.com/ to check out her other excellent books!

Susanna“Patriarchy is as far from benign, as it is from being biblical. Nowhere does the Bible advocate for a model in which men are allowed to elevate themselves above women in the name of “godly leadership.” Either all humans are equal, or human equality doesn’t exist; if human equality doesn’t exist, we are not created in the image of God; if we are not created in the image of God, we can forget about Genesis and seek the truth elsewhere. It is my hope that we can all join hands in this historic moment and bring equality back to where it should always have been found, the church.

Peace and Grace,

Susanna Krizo

Surviving and Thriving – Jen Grice Provides Encouragement for the Journey (Review)

Grice_coverby Marie O’Toole

After turning in the first draft of my own manuscript to the publisher, I was very pleased to review Christian author, speaker and homeschooling mom Jen Grice’s excellent book, “You Can Survive Divorce: Hope, Healing and Encouragement for Your Journey”.

So much of what is offered to abused and/or divorced Christian women is anything but hopeful; impedes healing by fostering shame; and even if well-intentioned, is often discouraging.

Far from accepting labels that divorced Christians are “damaged goods”, like any good Christian counselor, Grice starts off by offering the reader hope. She starts by comparing the pain of a failed marriage to Joseph’s story in Genesis 37. She emphasizes that what was a brutally painful and life-changing ordeal can be used by God for good, and to enable her to not only survive but thrive and minister to others in similar situation

In first chapter, she points out that the platitude “Time heals all wounds” is a fallacy – many women are still holding onto wounds and unable to heal, even years (or decades) after their divorces.

“Where could I turn with all of the hemorrhaging pain? Who would heal me?” was a question she often struggled with herself.

Grice does not deny the unique pain that ending a destructive relationship causes. Insightfully she states:

“We cannot bypass the process by using the world’s comforts. That only delays the process and often sets us back, because we add more pain we have to then face, once we finally deal with it. Grief is just put on hold when trying to “move on” while still healing. Not only does taking baggage into a new relationship hurt the relationship, but after that rebound relationship ends, the already hurting heart is hurting ten times more.”

Going straight to the source of healing and restoration, she compares the visceral pain to the woman with a bleeding disorder in Matthew 9:20-22 who desperately sought out Jesus. Time is not a healer, and healing will not be a “one-time thing”, she cautions the reader.

Grice also gives practical advice regarding new relationships:

“Many jump into dating too quickly without healing and dealing with their own issues first. I’ve seen countless women remarry only to divorce a second time shortly thereafter. This is because unhealthy people are drawn to unhealthy people. If you were in an unhealthy relationship in the past, the chances of getting into another unhealthy relationship are much higher. We gravitate toward what we know to be “normal……and if He allowed you to escape from oppression the first time, He doesn’t want to see you go back to that same situation again. Trust Him to guide you into this new chapter of life.”

Grice candidly shares a little of her own hardship and acknowledges: “I had felt for too long that if my husband was able to reject me in such a cruel way, multiple times, I was just that unlovable. I was tired of feeling worthless and unaccepted.” This is a common emotional struggle women in abusive marriages experience. “While married, I would often feel bad for even breathing, not understanding that my Maker, who saw me as His masterpiece, had loved me since before I even started breathing.”

Grice reminds the reader of the continual, unconditional love God has for His daughters – even when they don’t feel it. He changes the identity we put on ourselves, by making us truly know how accepted in the beloved we are.

Re-iterating the cliché-sounding “God loves you” for a woman going through the pain of divorce is crucial to her healing, because subconsciously the pain and rejection common to our marital experience makes us question (on an emotional if not intellectual level) God’s personal love for us. Trusting God to want to heal us cannot happen without a deep-rooted assurance of His love, which sounds too good to be true during such a brutal season. Grice puts it this way:

“During my lowest points, I understood “God loves you,” but I didn’t feel that in my heart. My heart was filled with words said to me and about me, throughout my entire life, which sought to tear me down. The words left scars that turned into voices that told me I wasn’t worthy. They were words I believed about myself.”

After the crisis she was in made her tell God she was “done” with Christianity, Grice felt the Holy Spirit intercede on her behalf:

“Just then I started feeling a lot of love and compassion I had never felt before. I had been a confessing Christian for over fifteen years, but it was in that moment that I finally felt I was loved and accepted. It felt as if my daddy was looking down on me, chuckling, saying, “I know you didn’t mean that! I still love you so much, my child.”

Beloved Daughters of the King

Emphasizing that God sees past our pain and into our hearts, Grice transitions to what it really means to be daughters of the King and how that should shape our identities, rather than focusing on the hurtful labels others have put on us (and we have come to believe about ourselves) or the hardships of our circumstances. While it is difficult to focus on the Cross when worried about health insurance and paying the bills, remembering that earth is not our home and God has numbered the hairs of our heads should calm our hearts, as it did Grice’s during the early stages of her divorce and subsequent healing.

In Chapter 3, Grice writes about appropriate self-care (and cautions against numbing the pain rather than working on the healing).

“Self-care had never been in my vocabulary. I was told I was selfish for wanting to do things for myself…..But all the psychological abuse I had endured, plus the stress and feeling totally overwhelmed, had taken its toll on my body. Putting everyone else first was killing me from the inside out, and I knew I would die if I didn’t start seeing myself as equally important as everyone else.”

She discusses others’ expectation that we should heal on a certain time-table, and feeling rushed through grief. These expectations often lead to a temptation to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol or food (rather than walk through the grief process with God). Self-care, rather than self-hatred, enables us to love others and to serve God. Drawing these truths together, Grice effectively demonstrates how the reader may walk through a life-altering situation back into an effective life that glorifies God and edifies others (which she refers to as “producing ripe fruit”).

Dealing with toxic people by remaining calm is important way of keeping one’s stress level low, as is spending time with God, which impacts health and other relationships. Self-education on abuse issues or other aspects of healing is another practical suggestion Grice makes, as is setting healthy boundaries and closing social circles to ensure healthy, edifying relationships are in place.

Survival Strategies

The early days after a divorce are mere survival – doing the bare minimum to get by, numb, before crashing into bed to do it all over again the next day. Extreme exhaustion and the pain of grief controls one’s life in this stage. “Now is the time to get your household in order,” Grice advises, “before the kids get used to pushing over mom and manipulating the situation…Be consistent and intentional in how you’re working through the issues and reclaiming your home and your family.”

While not denying your feelings or exhaustion, this is imperative to “making progress each day toward the goals of healing your life and your home, while giving yourself grace as you move from merely surviving to enduring, and then to thriving.” Grice recommends continuing to eat as a family, pray, read the Bible together, and to call family meetings to establish ground rules for the new home situation as ways of maintaining order, normalcy, and continuing to rely on God during this difficult season. Each child should contribute in age-appropriate ways to the smooth running of the new household, which enables them to also feel a sense of responsibility and stability.

Creating (and sticking to) a budget is an important consideration for all single mothers, and as Dave Ramsey suggests, establishing an “emergency fund” should be the first step. Most newly-divorced mothers find that they now have no support system, including from their churches (which they have often had to leave). The Christian support group, DivorceCare (which I was also a part of), is a very helpful resource for newly-single mothers finding their way. Sacrifices, as well as government assistance, may be in order. As fathers will often have more means to provide the children with “treats” during this time, Grice admonishes guilt-plagued mothers to avoid competing for the children’s acceptance but rather to stand their ground on financial matters.

Helping the Children

While relying on support and making practical strides towards order and financial independence, Grice spends considerable time considering how to help the children of divorce suffering behind the scenes. This is a very important consideration, often overlooked in resources geared towards struggling women. While acknowledging that parents are not responsible for the choices adult children of divorce make, Grice reminds the reader that God loves our children even more than we do, and to seek Him in the day-to-day parenting choices we make to help our children through their unresolved trauma and pain.

“If you want to heal and grow as a family, and help your children to move on to be healthier adults, then you need to seek God to help you be the best parent you can be while working on your own emotional healing and growth.”

Often unable to identify their own feelings, younger children may regress in their development and older ones act out, unconsciously feeling guilt that they were part of the reason for abuse and/or divorce, or blaming the innocent parent for the separation. (Divorce Care for Kids, offered in many churches, helps provide a safe community for children to identify and articulate their feelings). Creating a safe haven in the new home where children are safe to vent and are protected from “triggers” (including violent media; unhelpful practices or new boyfriends/girlfriends) is part of the healing process for children, and re-building trust through honesty and communication (without tearing down the other parent) is crucial. Teaching our children to have healthy boundaries in all of their own relationships is part of preventing the cycle from replaying out in the next generation.

Accepting the path before her for a newly-single woman means not only embracing God’s future for her, but also trusting that God will “parent” her children in the ways she cannot control even after she has done her best to lead them.

Being Stuck in the Desert

“I heard a pastor once say (paraphrasing), “God closed the Red Sea not only to save the Israelites from the Egyptians who were chasing them, but also so that they had no passage back to their oppressors.” God knew they would think it easier to go back. Many separated or divorced women feel that as well because of guilt and shame. They get stuck in the desert because they’re unable to see God’s plan or purpose, even for their divorce.”

Understanding God’s heart for the oppressed and those cast aside leads to the trust necessary to let Him bring us out of the desert, and into the new life He has prepared for us – not merely to survive; but to thrive in His service. The “Red Sea” door has been closed; notwithstanding the judgement of others, a woman in such circumstances must learn to trust and lean on God alone for her vindication and direction. Wasting nothing, God puts the pieces of shattered lives back together so that His daughters who have been through this painful desert may be a witness and source of strength to their sisters walking the same path. “Giving the past purpose is part of your healing,” Grice writes. “Divorce doesn’t define who you are in Christ. And those who walk in the light will never walk in darkness again.”

Grice’s words to women in destructive marriages or who have been through divorce speak life and healing. It is refreshing to see a Christian author speak so candidly about the raw pain one experiences at the tearing of a “one flesh” union, regardless of circumstances; yet she refuses to leave it there. Drawing on her own experiences and those of other women she has counseled, Grice infuses the reader with hope and an unwavering commitment to the Word of God. She continuously leads the reader back into the arms of the Father she may have felt abandoned her, reminding her that her strength comes from Him alone – not the opinions of others; false identities she has applied to herself; another man; or any other ‘empty cistern’ that may give her temporary relief.

Both in this book and on her blog, jengrice.com, Grice uses Scriptural principles to guide hurting women to re-claim their identity in Christ, no matter how long they have been in the desert. She guides against bitterness, gives helpful practical advice, and gently exhorts the reader with Scripture passages to strengthen her on this hard journey. Renewing an unwavering trust in the God Who loves her is the key to renewing strength, reclaiming joy, and thriving in ministry for a Christian woman post-divorce. This book is a valuable resource not only for these women, but also for counselors and families of divorced women in order to learn better how to love them as Christ does. It is a privilege to review and recommend it.

God’s Protection of Women: When Abuse is Worse than Divorce (Review)

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by Marie Notcheva

For several months now, I have wanted to review Pastor Herb Vander Lugt’s booklet, “God’s Protection of Women: When Abuse is Worse than Divorce”. As the senior research editor for RBC (now Our Daily Bread Ministries), Lugt’s 1982 book is a concise, yet exegetically-rich resource biblically challenging the view that divorce is never justified by abuse. Far from being a plea to reason based on emotionalism (or even pastoral experience), Lugt effectively shows how a faulty hermeneutic has led many conservative pastors and churches to teach that Matthew 5:32 is the final and definitive word on divorce.

As a former pastor of mine used to say, “Be careful about basing a doctrine on one verse.” Nowhere is this more obvious than in the thorny endeavor to unpack all of what Scripture has to say about divorce (as well as abuse of different kinds; abandonment; and re-marriage). Wisely, Lugt begins with the assertion that “Moses, Jesus and Paul all recognized a range of marital conditions that are worse than divorce”. (P. 3). He then re-caps historical anthropology of women being treated as property, pausing on the Puritans who were a notable exception:

“In the spirit of the Reformation, Puritans didn’t see marriage as an indissoluble sacrament but as a civil contract that could be terminated if either party did not fulfill fundamental duties of marriage. Although cruelty was not a recognized ground for divorce in the Puritan era, there are those who thought cruelty to a wife was a type of desertion.” (p. 4).

Lugt then proceeds to demonstrate how, even in modern times, women have been overly-subjugated by a misunderstanding of the word “helper” in Genesis 2:18.

“There is no sense in which this word connotes a position of inferiority or subordinate status. The word “suitable for” literally means “in front of”, signifying one who stands face to face with another, qualitatively the same, his essential equal, and therefore his “correspondent” (“Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 666-7, IVP, Downers Grove, 1996).”

Before delving into the second section of the booklet, “Protection of Women under the Law of Moses,” Lugt then highlights the fallacy that male domination is a “right” inherited from the Fall — consistent with the rest of Genesis 3, it was a “curse” that, like sickness, thorns and discord, should be resisted and fought.

Mosaic Law

Even the most weak and vulnerable women in Hebraic society — daughters sold as slaves, wives or concubines were protected under the Law of Moses. Quite progressive for its time, Exodus 21:7-11 lists the “three foundations of marital duty” — namely, the provision of food, clothing, and ‘marriage rights’ – often interpreted as affection and marital love. (In fact, the Jewish Ketubah lays these out as a contract, not very much unlike Ephesians 4.)

Breaking these conditions is, in fact, a violation of the marriage covenant. But more significantly, it shows the principle of protection that is seen throughout Scripture, from the lesser to the greater: if God would provide protection and care even for a slave, how much more is owed to a free wife? Verse 11 makes it clear that if the husband fails to fulfill this contractual obligation, he is to “let her go free”. This has been proven conclusively by theologians to mean a formal divorce, the get. Of course, neither rabbis nor Lugt in this apologetic argues that this is the ideal; rather, the Mosaic divorce allowance was given by God for humanitarian means – to protect women from cruelty. Deuteronomy 21:10-14 similarly makes provision for the divorce, protection and remarriage of non-Israelite prisoners of war.

A slightly more obscure passage Lugt addresses in the Mosaic code is Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which he points out would cause a man to think twice before deciding to divorce his wife at will (he was now prohibited from re-marrying her). Worthy of note is that the vague term “uncleanness” in verse 1 does not refer to adultery, which would have carried the death penalty. He was, however, precluded from re-marrying her, which underlines the permanence of the divorce and foreshadows Jesus’ warning in Matthew 19:8 against divorcing one’s wife “for any and every reason”. Divorce was a concession; a last-resort, and not something to be carried out lightly.

“The same law that offers penalties for murder, theft, perjury, and adultery also provides consequences when the purpose and covenant of marriage are broken by contempt and abuse.”(p. 12).

Unraveling Malachi 2:16

After demonstrating the similar intent of protection of both Jesus and Moses, (whose Law Jesus upheld completely during His ministry), Lugt turns toward the most oft-misquoted verse in the Bible regarding divorce: Malachi 2:16 (which he quotes from the New King James Version:

“For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce,
For it covers one’s garment with violence,”Says the Lord of hosts.” 

Compare this rendering with the more accurate, word-for-word translation of the English Standard Version:

“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” (ESV).

While Lugt correctly noted that the prophet was dealing with “treacherous” divorces — men who didn’t care about their wives, and abused their power to abandon them to a live of poverty and disgrace — what he failed to do was address the etymology of that verse. As Barbara Roberts (author ofNot Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion”) has pointed out, the verse is often incorrectly and incompletely translated as “I hate divorce” and used as a catch-all conversation stopper to assert that divorce is never permitted biblically. However, this is neither the correct interpretation nor intention of the passage (written during a time period when male casual divorce was rampant). She writes:

“The incorrect translation came about as follows. The word “hates” in Malachi 2:16 is he hates. The Hebrew denotes third person masculine singular = he. The King James version had For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away. Many subsequent translations switched the third person “he” to a first person “I” without any grammatical warrant. For example, the 1984 NIV was “ ‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel.” Possibly translators thought the switch was okay because it retained the sense of the KJV — that God feels the hatred [for divorce]. They did not seem to worry that “I hate divorce” was grammatically inaccurate to the original Hebrew.

But modern translations are starting to correct this mistake. The construction in Hebrew (“he hates… he covers”) shows that the one who feels the hatred is not God, but the divorcing husband. To be faithful to the Hebrew, the verse could be rendered, “If he hates and divorces,” says the Lord God of Israel, “he covers his garment with violence.” It is talking about a husband who hates his wife and divorces her because of his aversion for her. Therefore, Malachi 2:16 is only referring to a specific type of divorce: divorce for aversion, which could be dubbed “hatred divorce”. Divorce for hatred is treacherous divorce: if a man hates his wife and dismisses, he “covers his garment with violence” — his conduct is reprehensible, he has blood on his hands.[1]

Apart from this omission, Lugt’s treatment of Old Testament divorce laws’ protection and provision for women was solid. He correctly points out (quoting biblical scholar Joe Sprinkle) that the context of Malachi 2:16 is a limited one: taken in accordance with the allowances for divorce made elsewhere in Scripture, it is clearly only certain divorces in certain circumstances to which God is opposed. While upholding the sanctity of marriage, Lugt next turns to the New Testament teaching on divorce to demonstrate how Christ, Moses and Paul’s teachings complement one another.

New Testament Application

The reader doesn’t need to be convinced that Jesus demonstrated a concern and caring for women that went beyond the social mores of the First Century. Nor is it hard to see that the God of Scripture is a Protector and Defender of the weak and downtrodden.  Lugt asks then the rhetorical questions, “Does Matthew 5:31-32 over-ride the provision offered divorced women in Deuteronomy? Was Jesus, by this one statement, disagreeing with Moses?

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32, ESV)

Of course not. Just as with all of Scripture, a correct hermeneutic demands we examine context (Literal-Historical and Synthetic Principle of Scriptural interpretation.) Jesus was, in the Sermon on the Mount, addressing the Pharisees’ specific excesses and “stretches” in interpreting and teaching the Law of Moses. They had added hundreds of laws onto the original Levitical code, and the abuse of the divorce clause in Deuteronomy 24 was no exception. In reality, divorced women of the First Century were disgraced and had few career prospects outside of prostitution. It is not biblically consistent to say that He was contradicting the conditions Moses had set, but is more consistent with the passage that He was forcing the Pharisees to focus on the condition of their own hearts. Relational sin was the point; the one statement was clearly not intended to be the single and final word on divorce (as Paul later demonstrates).

Later in Matthew 19:3-9, Lugt notes, we in fact see the Pharisees trying to entrap Jesus by confronting Him with the Law of Moses on the same subject. While upholding the sacred ideal of the permanence of marriage, Jesus did not disagree with Moses in allowing divorce.

“Commenting on the allowance made for hardness of heart, Dr. Willard notes: ‘No doubt what was foremost in His [Jesus’] mind was the fact that the woman could quite well wind up dead, or brutally abused, if the man could not “dump” her. It is still so today, of course. Such is our “hardness of heart”. Better, then, that a divorce occur than a life be made unbearable. Jesus does nothing to retract this principle….no one regards a divorce as something to be chosen for its own sake…but of course a brutal marriage is not a good thing either, and we must resist any attempt to classify divorce as a special, irredeemable form of wickedness. It is not. It is sometimes the right thing to do, everything considered.” Professor Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, HarperCollins, 1997. pp. 169-70.

Lugt begins his conclusion by demonstrating again how the Mosaic Code and the teachings of Christ on divorce complemented each other. He argues that Jesus was forcing the hypocritical religious leaders of the time to examine their own hard hearts in putting women in danger           (both by abuse and neglect, and unrighteous divorce), as they were actually ignoring Moses’ rabbinical provision for women. Moses had given the Elders of Israel “a legal basis to free a woman from the neglect, contempt, and abuse of a cruel husband” (p. 21). There was no need for Jesus to cite all of these scripturally-valid grounds for divorce, any more than He explained the full Gospel of salvation by faith alone when speaking to the Rich Young Ruler. As Lugt points out, context is crucial. He was not addressing women in distress; He was addressing the self-righteous men who did as they pleased in “putting away” their wives.

Of course, Jesus also didn’t mention the additional circumstances meriting divorce later cited by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11:

“To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.”

 

Giving these instructions on the basis of Christ’s authority, why is there no mention of the fornication clause? It is evident here that the woman can obtain a divorce (under civil law; for unspecified reasons). And why the no-remarriage clause, Lugt asks, when Paul would have been well-acquainted with Mosaic teaching on remarriage? Lugt argues that the context of chapter 7 suggests Paul was answering specific questions raised by the Corinthian believers about celibacy (advocated by some even within marriage), and about marriage itself. He urges wives not to leave, but as a concession states that they are then to remain unmarried (which brings up another set of questions about divorced Christians re-marrying within the Church, which Lugt doesn’t address). Nor does Lugt address the fact that the New Testament uses the same word for “divorce” as for “separation” – the distinction made by the modern-day church is absent in the pages of Scripture. Nowhere do we see the Early Church pressuring divorced women to “reconcile” with their husbands, under any circumstances.

Conclusion

Lugt’s short book is a helpful resource for pastors, counselors and Christians in abusive or contentious marriages in order to understand God’s original design for marriage; as well as His protection in certain circumstances where divorce is allowed as a concession. Abuse is unequivocally one of these conditions. Actually examining the context and hermeneutic in which certain passages were written is illuminating in dispelling the “abuse is not biblical grounds for divorce” fallacy that exists in some churches, and serves to keep women in bondage. Lugt writes:

“Many…in trying to return to the ideal of marital love and permanence have not seen the wisdom God Himself showed in circumstances of marital abuse….divorce reflects a serious and costly departure from God’s original design. But the solution to the problem is not found in misrepresenting the heart of the law or in ignoring the plight of abused or unloved wives. Neither can we rightly maintain that sexual unfaithfulness or the desertion of an unbelieving mate are the only grounds for a divorce.”  (p. 26).

The brevity of Lugt’s book did not address every possible question that arises from the question of Christian divorce (such as remarriage), and while his exposition of Malachi 2:16 was somewhat lacking, overall “God’s Protection of Women” is an excellently-written and much-needed treatment of an issue that has caused much confusion and additional pain to abused women. It deserves a place in every biblical counselor’s library.

[1] https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2013/10/24/god-hates-divorce-not-always/ Barbara’s book can be purchased at notunderbondage.com or from any book retailer.

Review: David Powlinson’s “Life Beyond Your Parents’ Mistakes”

by Marie Notcheva ©

David Powlinson is a well-known CCEF counselor, writer and speaker at biblical counseling conferences. Also a member of the Board of ACBC (formerly NANC), he has produced many books, presentations and mini-books on a variety of practical topics. Along with Ed Welch’s writing, I find Powlinson’s material to be extremely helpful…not just as a biblical counselor in training, but for my own personal edification.

CCEF’s publishing arm, New Growth Press, made a download available of Powlinson’s “Life Beyond Your Parents’ Mistakes: The Transforming Power of God’s Love“. In the 32-page booklet, Powlinson deconstructs the Freudian myth that human beings cannot experience God as Father without having had a loving, nurturing father figure. It is just such reasoning that has led to unhealthy dependency on the counselor, which often accompanies psychology-based therapy. This view also promotes the myth that“re-parenting or corrective emotional experience” is needed in order to know God as He is. It also begs the questions Powlinson raises:

“Are there any people with bad parents who have a great relationship with God? Are there any people with good parents who have a rotten view of God?”

Powlinson uses Scripture to counter this man-centric reasoning, which distorts the nature of the human heart and the reasons why people believe lies about God. Seeing God through the lens of an abusive, remote, or disinterested parent denies the power and truth of how God actually works through His Word and Spirit. Axiomatically, insisting that one must first experience a corrective human relationship to believe the reality of God’s fatherly love is essentially to turn Almighty God into an almighty psychotherapist.

It is a sad fact that those of us who had abusive parents (especially of the “religious” variety) often project those images onto the true God. There is a hurt and a betrayal that doesn’t just go away the moment we became Christians, and Powlinson acknowledges this. However, having sinful (or even evil) parents, of course, does not mean God is that way, so why do we often twist our view of God? Powlinson doesn’t let us off so easily – and his clear, compassionate but uncompromisingly biblical angle makes us sit up and listen.

Other titles by which God identifies Himself include King, Shepherd, Master, and Savior. If human equivalents of these descriptions are corrupt, does that influence the way we see God? Not usually. Powlinson writes:

“Clearly, our fallen experience need not control us. Yet for many, the truth that “God is Father” seems to be the exception. They do feel that their knowledge of God the Father is controlled by the earthly parallel. So we turn to the second question: Must your own father dictate the meaning of that phrase until a substitute human father puts a new spin on it?”

This backwards, create-your-own-god philosophy comes from Freud and Erikson, not the Bible, and caters to our sinful tendency to find excuses and reasons for unbelief. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are prone to look for excuses and blame outside ourselves for our false beliefs and sinful behavior.

As with any false belief or assumption, this view of God as remote, severe or capricious must be countered with Scripture itself – the living and active Sword of the Spirit, and the only way God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. Powlinson points out that we change when we see what God tells us about Himself, as portrayed in Isaiah 49:13-16 (a nurturing Comforter); Psalm 103:10-13 (compassionate Father); and 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 (gentle, encouraging and comforting Father). Ultimately, the sacrificial love of Christ in coming to die for rebellious children displays the pinnacle of what God’s fatherly love is – an historical fact from which counselees often feel disconnected.

Of course, these are only a very small sample of all the Scriptures revealing God as the perfect Father; one of the specific steps Powlinson recommends the reader take is to go through the Bible, finding specific truths that contend with the lies and cravings he identifies in his thinking about God. “There ought to be a battle going on within you daily as God’s light and love battle your darkness,” he advises.

This booklet is extremely helpful not only in defining the problem, but also in countering it on biblical terms and pointing the reader back towards the only source of truth and help – the Word of God – for the solution. Additionally, in true biblical counselor form, Powlinson leaves the reader with nine well-thought-out, probing questions to work through in order to identify and change warped thinking about God, due to parental abuse or poor relationship. I plan to tackle them myself, and expect it will take me at least three months to fully explore and resolve them. God desires His children to know Him as He is, not to view Him through the warped lens of fallen humanity! This little book is a helpful, convicting resource to help Christians struggling with a “dysfunctional” past not to use that as an excuse to keep God at arm’s length. I highly recommend it for counselors and counselees alike.

“Plugged In” Makes Top 15 Biblical Counseling Books of 2015 List

I was extremely happy and honored this week to make the list of “Top 15 Biblical Counseling Books of 2015”, published by Rpm Ministries. With other authors including Tim Keller, Kevin DeYoung and Paul Tripp, my little book was in very exalted company! See the full list and reviews here.

Plugged In: Proclaiming Christ in the Internet Age, by Marie Notcheva, Pure Water Press

Plugged In

The Internet, like anything and everything that is of human origin, can be a blessing or a curse. In Plugged In, Marie Notcheva outlines how we can use the Internet as a blessing in evangelism and in biblical counseling. She addresses practical and profound issues like, “Is virtual counseling a good idea?” “Can we effectively disciple someone through the Internet?” “How do we share the gospel and encourage believers in cyber-space?” In answering these questions and many more, Notcheva demonstrates how to use technology wisely to God’s glory.

In other news this week, my article “A Grief Like No Other: When a Friend Loses a Child” was published in the Bulgarian Christian women’s magazine, “Списание Лия”. It makes me feel great knowing that my words are being read around the world, in multiple languages, and hopefully blessing someone!

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Review of “Redeemed from the Pit” by Julie Ganschow

This review of my book, “Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders” was written by author and biblical counselor Julie Ganschow. It originally appeared on The Biblical Counseling Coalition website on January 29, 2014. 

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Redeemed from the Pit is a solid read for the biblical counselor who is looking to expand their understanding on this important topic and for anyone seeking to overcome an eating disorder or is ministering to someone who is enslaved to the lifestyle. The personal story victory and practical application of Gospel truth makes this a great resource.

In the Pit of Despair

As a biblical counselor and as a person who was once diagnosed with bulimorexia, I took on the challenge of reading Marie Notcheva’s book, Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders book for both personal and professional reasons. I have had a love/hate relationship with food all my life. Like Marie, I once struggled with binging and purging and I alternated those behaviors with starvation.

From the introduction to the end of the book, Marie makes it clear to the reader that eating disorders are not a physical disease from which a person recovers but a spiritual disease from which a person must repent.

Marie’s personal story is weaved throughout this great book. She gives vivid details of how her early years provided the perfect mental and emotional set up for the development of her eating disorder. The culture of the late 1960’s and early 70’s that subjected women to consistent expectations of thinness and beauty fueled the fires of shame ignited by her family’s careless words about her weight and appearance. Her mother in particular (who appeared to struggle with her own food issues) was exceedingly fearful Marie would be overweight and suffer consequences to her health. She enrolled Marie in a toddler dance class to slim her down and restricted her access to sugar and starches.

At age 11, Marie began taking gymnastics. By 14, with gymnast Nadia Comaneci as her idol, she began a lifestyle of severe calorie restriction and over exercise. The highly competitive worlds of gymnastics and dance fueled her desire to become sylphlike. While she got the desired results through constant exercise and living on Slim-Fast and vegetables, the following year she determined to eat as much as she wanted, eliminating the food binge through vomiting.

In a very short amount of time, Marie’s binge/purge lifestyle was out of control. It was clear to everyone around her she needed help. Her health was in serious jeopardy. While referred to psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists, they were unable to breach the concrete protecting her heart.

A Way Out

In her sophomore year at college, she joined Campus Crusade and put her faith in Christ. She continued her secret lifestyle while active in Cru, Bible study, and discipleship. A job abroad followed college and her slavery to bulimia remained an active part of everyday life. She also began to drink heavily as a way to medicate the constant guilt and shame she lived with.

Marriage and children did not expose or alter her bulimia, although her husband did express concern about her drinking.

Marie writes at length about the self-disgust she experienced. It caused her to question her salvation and consider herself a hypocrite. She felt hopeless and at times she feared God had rejected her. However, she had such a desire to return to Him that she continuously tried to turn away from her sin. In desperation, she met with a small group of Christian women who prayed over her. It was then that she began to find freedom from alcohol and bulimia.

From this point forward in the book, Marie develops the inward battle of change at the heart level. She describes her battle with overcoming her eating disorder both on the physical and spiritual level and does not shrink away from describing the difficulties she faced or her failures in overcoming the desire to binge and purge. She notes, “Overcoming an eating disorder requires our constant, active commitment to inward change” (7).

Living Free

She urges the reader to “be one who believes” in the power of the Gospel as the means to transform life from victimhood to victorious in Christ, rightly emphasizing the critical need for repentance in overcoming an eating disorder.

“Forgiven, cleansed, and given a new start, He expects you to get up off your knees and get started—walking in repentance” (6).

Marie carefully breaks down the numerous issues of the heart that a person with eating disorder behaviors must repent of to overcome this sin and live victoriously. There is an entire chapter devoted to the believers position in Christ, which is very important for a woman with an eating disorder to understand since so much of her thinking is performance oriented. Marie brings forth the truth about the role emotions play in how a person thinks about food. This is vital since those with unhealthy eating habits believe many lies about food.
Throughout the book, there are application steps that make use of charts and Scripture memorization. There is also an entire chapter on practical issues that a person with disordered eating faces. Marie highlights the refining benefits of a biblical counseling relationship and involvement in a local church.
This book is a solid read for the biblical counselor who is looking to expand their understanding on this important topic and for anyone seeking to overcome an eating disorder or is ministering to someone who is enslaved to the lifestyle. The personal story victory and practical application of Gospel truth makes this a great resource.
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Olympic Champion Scott Hamilton is Not First (and why we love him for it)

by Marie Notcheva

Scott-Hamilton-Gold-Medal-Win
Sarajevo Olympics, 1984. With Canada’s Brian Orser (left) and Czechoslovakia’s Jozef Sabovcik 

Two-time Olympian and 1984 gold medalist Scott Hamilton is happy being in second place, and he delights in sharing the secret of his contentment. The semi-retired figure skater has a vibrant faith in Christ, Whom he credits for sustaining him not only on the heights of the medal podium, but in the depths of cancer treatments; failed relationships; and self-doubt.

As hard as it is for me to believe, it was 31 years ago that I watched Scott take the gold medal in Sarajevo. As a wide-eyed middle school kid, I was fascinated by the Cold War drama of East German Katerina Witt vs. American Rosalynn Sumners; the impossible heights of Scott’s and Canadian Brian Orser’s triple jumps and Russian splits; and the incredible beauty and pageantry of the sport of figure skating. I was hooked.

We all were rooting for Scott to win – not because his long program was the best (by his own admission, it wasn’t a clean skate); but partly because he was just so darn likeable. That shouldn’t be a factor in determining athletic championships, but in figure skating – the most subjective sport there is – we fans cheer hardest for the most authentic-seeming competitors.

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Scott in the 1980’s

As an aside, one podium moment that made a great impression on my 12-year-old self was Rosalynn’s graceful demeanor taking the silver medal next to Katerina Witt. It is hard for today’s generation to understand the pressure and tension of certain sports during the Cold War, and how much was at stake. As disappointed as she had to be, Ros smiled sweetly and was very gracious during the post-medal ceremony press conference towards her arch rival – no hint of the diva-like behavior that often characterizes high-level skating.

But I digress. The fact of the matter is, Scott Hamilton was, and is, a Really Cool Guy© – before, during and after his National, Olympic and World Championship wins. However, that fact completely misses the point and he would probably find it patronizing – because Scott wants the world to know that he is Second – second to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Recently, friends of mine in Albania translated and subtitled Scott’s “I Am Second” video for use in a Christian students’ meeting….a fact Scott himself found so cool he sent a personal video message. He seemed as tickled to know he has friends in Albania as a student was to know they have “a brother who is an Olympic champion”. It was an extremely thoughtful and much-appreciated gesture.

The Backstory – and New Life

One lesson I learned as a student was never to “idolize” sports stars or other celebrities, even “Christian celebrities”. More than elsewhere, we Americans do tend to put our “sports darlings” on pedestals; granting them near saint-like status. This is particularly true of female figure skaters and gymnasts. Then, when the tabloids report unflattering news about them, we have the nerve to be collectively surprised. Our idols have “fallen”, because we forget that sports stars, (while exceptionally talented), are still flawed human beings with clay feet like the rest of us. Many athletes are, indeed, truly good role models and have given back; helped others; and deserve personal respect and accolades – including Scott Hamilton. But they all have had personal journeys and setbacks. Scott is transparent enough to share these with his fans, and point them to the lessons he’s learned along the way.

In 1999, Scott published his autobiography, “Landing It: My Life On and Off the Ice” (Kensington; 340 pgs.) I read this at the time, and it was a wonderful, in-depth and personal look at his rise as a figure skater; the details of touring and competitive skating, and his relationships with other champion skaters. The reader really got to know Scott personally, as he transparently shared about even highly personal details of his life. Diagnosed with cancer the previous year (while on tour with Stars on Ice), he included details about his treatment, and the support of other skaters. One line in particular stands out from “Landing It” – Scott mentioned fellow champion skater, Paul Wylie, “who is very religious, asking how he could pray for [him]”. Scott described himself as not being particularly religious, but was touched by Paul’s concern.  “Landing It” was a very enjoyable memoir which any skating fan would enjoy.

And then……Scott became a believer; met and married the love of his life Tracie; and a benign brain tumor was discovered. With his trademark self-deprecating humor, he added this to what he calls his “personal collection of life-threatening illnesses”. And then, he wrote another book: “The Great Eight: How to Be Happy (When You Have Every Reason to be Miserable)”. In this second book, targeted to a more mainstream-audience, Scott illustrates through anecdotal experiences and biblical principles, what helps to keep his mind and emotions on an even keel – and live a satisfying, successful life of joy, no matter the circumstances.

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Biblical yet Relatable

What makes “The Great Eight” so good is that Scott’s writing is personable, down-to-earth and relatable, but not too heavily “doctrinal” which might put off some readers. Released by Christian publisher Tommy Nelson, Scott’s message remains faithful to Scripture; yet the reader never feels “preached to”. As a biblical counselor, I am used to reading tomes that connect “orthodoxy” with “orthopraxy” (doctrine with practice), and subconsciously screen all books for how true they are to Scripture. While the title has a “positive thinking” connotation, Scott demonstrates throughout his “eight principles” how correct and positive thinking is, indeed, the fruit of a renewed mind.

Scott does not write like John Macarthur, or Charles Spurgeon. He writes like a friendly figure skater who really loves his family, God, and fans – and we appreciate him for it. And he is thoroughly biblical, without being overtly theological. In Chapter Two, “Trust Your Almighty Coach”, he makes a strong case for the sovereignty of God – although he never uses the term. He shows, through his own difficult life experiences (including childhood illness, failed relationships, and even a growth-inhibiting brain tumor he was born with) how nothing is coincidence in God’s grand plan.

“The divinely-scripted pattern goes back to the very beginning of my life when I was an unwanted pregnancy and was adopted by my parents. I went from being somebody’s unwanted orphan to being a prized child who couldn’t have had more love showered upon him……Trust your Almighty Coach, and beautiful things can happen.”

In subsequent chapters, he exhorts the reader to embraces losses and failure as opportunities for growth.

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Touring in the late ’90’s, before his cancer diagnosis

I especially enjoyed Chapter Four, “Keep the Ice Clear”. In it, Scott warns the reader against his lifelong Achilles heel – people pleasing (what the Bible calls “fear of man”). “Pleasing others may seem like a noble, selfless pursuit, but when taken to an extreme, it is a recipe for unhappiness,” he writes. As transparent as he is a polished performer, Scott tells us about the strain his unwillingness to confront others in love has put on some of his most treasured relationships. He then goes on to demonstrate the connection between positivity, happiness and smiling throughout trials – and being happy. James 4:7-8 reminds us to “resist the devil”, he writes; and reminds us that God gave us the gift of humor to ward off avoid negativity. A healthy dose of humor, and being able to laugh at yourself is also key:

“In 1978, I put together a routine to the tune “Short People,” by Randy Newman. There I was, nineteen years old and all of five-foot-nothing, skating around the rink to this song that proclaimed “short people got no reason to live.” The crowd just ate it up. …..If you are the kind of person who takes yourself too seriously, then pray that you are never the subject of a parody sketch on Saturday Night Live.” P. 113

Nature abhors a vacuum, and happiness doesn’t germinate simply by refusing to give in to negativity. Scott rightly points out that practicing one’s true passion – regardless of setbacks – increases day-to-day satisfaction. Of course, for him this meant ice skating – including in middle age, following his cancer treatment. As much as I love skating, his advice resonated with me as a writer. Whether a book contract or a blog post well-written and published, I enjoy the same deep satisfaction from writing as he does from landing triple axels. It was sage advice to anyone – don’t just sit there; do something to hone your craft. The satisfaction of a job well done after investing hard work is part of cultivating positivity.

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Scott and son Maxx at 2015 show

Putting Yourself Last

Fatherhood was one way Scott learned the value of putting others and their needs above his own, and the example of his mother Dorothy’s selflessness was a model he learned early on. Again, while Scott doesn’t quote Scripture to illustrate this beautiful principle, he gets the message across by sharing self-deprecating anecdotes from his youth. After “The Great Eight” was published, Scott and his wife Tracie adopted two Haitian children. Tormented by the plight of children orphaned by the earthquake in 2010, they became parents of four (the Hamiltons already had two biological sons, Aidan and Maxx).

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The Hamilton family in 2014. L to R: Aidan, Jean-Paul, Tracie, Scott, Evelyne and Maxx

Scott has also given back by establishing his own foundation, the Scott Hamilton C.A.R.E.S. Initiative (Cancer Alliance for Research, Education and Survivorship). Scott has spoken at and done a tremendous amount of charity work to help cancer sufferers, and radiates caring – even for people he’s never met. An empathetic friend to family, fans and strangers alike, he himself recognizes the importance of compassion and empathy:

“I firmly believe that God made us in His image, and that is a perfect one….One of the biggest barriers to people feeling happy about themselves is that they feel inferior, or shameful and bad about their looks or something in their past. But once you see yourself as a truly perfect creature created in God’s image who only needs to get in touch with that, the pressure of all those negative feelings lifts and you can move on. It is life changing.” (p. 176)

This is not some vapid “self-affirmation” nor a denial of our sinful condition – Scott deals with how he handled guilt over past sins earlier in the book. It is an embrace of grace, and a realization of our identity in Christ – the One to Whom Scott joyfully points. Scott Hamilton was the most enjoyable male figure skater ever to grace the ice, and he is a truly inspiring brother in Christ. His book, as well as his personal gesture to my friends and me, is a true encouragement.

Scott’s website is here: http://www.scotthamilton1984.com/

 

Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ (Review)

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Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ
By Bob Kellemen
Zondervan, 2015
400 Pages
ISBN-10: 0310516153
ISBN-13: 978-0310516156
Publisher’s Price: $18.99

Review by Marie Notcheva

“Gospel Conversations” is the second in Zondervan’s Equipping Biblical Counselors Series, following “Gospel-Centered Counseling” (which I reviewed here). This project came out of a seminar author Bob Kellemen gave for decades in local churches, “What to Do After the Hug”. Kellemen noted that attendees certainly didn’t lack a heart to care for the hurting, but that “they often feel ill equipped to know how to care in a Christ-like way”.

Kellemen caught my attention in the Introduction: “Through [Gospel Conversations] you will develop twenty-one biblical counseling relational skills so you can care like Christ.” Terrific! I like to give hugs. I often feel inept to help my friends in their struggles; let alone formulate an agenda for a formal counseling session. So reading not only about our end goal (helping counselees apply the whole Gospel narrative to their whole lives) but also organized, nuts-and-bolts advice on relational skills promised to make me a better counselor.

In all of his writing, Kellemen’s emphasis on personal involvement and caring for the counselee comes through, and “Gospel Conversations” is no exception. We are not, as he says, like the “UPS deliveryman”, simply delivering the hope of the Gospel and leaving fellow believers there. Detachment is not a biblical principle – like the author of Hebrews, we exhort, encourage and point one another back to Christ with our whole lives. Each chapter is concluded with probing questions for counselors in training, designed for use in a small-group setting. Kellemen also includes his trademark “Tweet-sized summaries” of each chapter’s main theme.

To Give Biblical Answers, We Must Ask Biblical Questions

In the earlier book, “Gospel-Centered Counseling”, Kellemen outlines eight questions to answer the biblical counselor’s foundational question: “What would a model of biblical counseling and discipleship look like that was built solely upon Christ’s gospel of grace?” The starting point is, of course, the Word of God – the end goal, progressive sanctification. Sandwiched between these “bookends”, we need to examine our view of the Triune God; who we are in the grand narrative of Scripture; the root source of our sin problem; how redemption changes us; the role of the Church community; and how our future hope of glory changes how we struggle with suffering and sin.

Once we have the foundational questions in mind and understand that our role is to be “dispensers of Christ’s grace”, we can turn our attention to developing “Biblical Counseling Relational Competencies”.

“Relational competence is our ability – given by grace and cultivated by our dependence on the Spirit – to express the character of Christ in our relationships with people so they experience our love as a small taste of Christ’s grace and are changed by His grace.”(p. 129).

Kellemen then devotes a full section to each of the following: sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding.

“Competent to begin counseling, we now have someone sitting in front of us whose world has caved in on them. In their suffering, how do we help? What do we do after the hug? How do we care like Christ?” (p. 120).

Sustaining – Meeting Counselees on Their Road to Retreat

Counsel that is biblical sustains people by encouraging them to face suffering face to face with Christ and His Body. It doesn’t deny doubts (about God’s personal interest; His goodness) but rather “climbs into the casket” with the counselee and confronts their doubts. It embraces the sufferer and reminds them of God’s ever-present care, even in the midst of their fears. To help counselors sustain their fellow believers, Kellemen uses the acronym “GRACE”. Over the course of two chapters, he lays out the importance of Grace Connecting; Rich Soul Empathizing; Attuned Gospel Listening; Comforting Spiritual Conversations, and Empathetic Scriptural Explorations. Listening well to both Scripture and our counselee’s story enables the heart attitude that sustaining another’s face demands. As Kellemen explains, connecting with our counselees graciously is not a counseling intervention; it is a mind-set of personal involvement with deep commitment to their maturity.

Healing – Where is Jesus in Our Faith Story?

In several of his books, Kellemen discusses the need to “crop Christ back into the picture” of a counselee’s devastated life. In “Gospel Conversations”, he explores ways to help believers find Christ’s healing hope: Redemptive, Relational Mind and Soul Renewal; Encouraging Communication; Scriptural Treatment Planning; Theo-Dramatic Spiritual Conversations (how we interact in the “drama of redemption”); and Stretching Scriptural Explorations (RESTS). Spiritual healing “involves journeying with people back to the heart of God”, and enabling them to understand anew, through the Gospel narrative, that His heart is good.

“Rather than going astray, and thus moving far from God and becoming less like Christ, Christ’s prayer for us in our suffering is that we would conform to His image. As His suffering in the garden led Him to cling to His Father, so our suffering can lead us to abide in Christ. Our suffering can bring us to the humble realization that without Christ we can do nothing (15:5). As we abide in Christ, we become like Christ, and we produce much fruit through Christ for the glory of the Father.

Jesus models in His life and ministry that suffering well involves honestly facing, and deeply feeling the pain of life in a fallen world, which drives us to cling desperately to the Father of all compassion and the God of all comfort…” (pp. 186-7).

In this section, Kellemen effectively paints a portrait of the God Who truly understands, is ever-present, and fully empathizes with us in our sufferings. As in his previous books, we come to see the God of All Comfort so intimately that we want to make others know His healing love as well. (True story: while reading this chapter, I typed several pages-worth of his discussion of John 10, and sent it to a struggling friend through Facebook Messenger.) His reflections are just that moving.

Reconciling: Facing Sin Head-on; Being Changed by Grace

As we move forward through the counseling process, sin is exposed. Repentance and the familiar “put off/put on” practical exhortation of Ephesians 4 becomes part of the counselees’ homework. The need for grace becomes apparent, and we counselors, as Kellemen writes, have the privilege of being “dispensers of grace”. True to form, he gives us a helpful acronym to outline the relational competencies needed for reconciling: Probing Theologically; Exposing Heart Sins; Applying Truth Relationally; Calming the Conscience with Grace; Enlightening Spiritual Conversations; Empowering Scriptural Explorations (PEACEE).

Correct theology is crucial to understanding the heart-motives behind our behavior, and every social or relational problem ultimately points back to our relationship with God (p. 247). Before we diagnose or correct issues that arise, we need to probe the root cause of “spiritual adultery”. There are a number of reasons one may be “drinking from broken cisterns” to replace fellowship with God, and these are the points Kellemen explores – with the end goal of reconciliation between Christ and counselee.

A very important point is that repentance is between the counselee and God – “our job is to care-front” (p. 261). This is a crucial distinction in understanding biblical confrontation correctly, and Kellemen spends several pages on the goal and spirit in addressing sin in another. Our role is to assist the counselee to put on the armor of God and attack Satan him or herself; not to attack the counselee. We are not able or called to “play Holy Spirit” to another; but rather, as Kellemen points out, to “leave the conviction to God”. In this way, our counselees can ultimately receive the message that they are forgiven, welcomed home, renewed and empowered to live holy lives.

Guidance that Fans Struggling Faith into Flame

In the final section, Kellemen cautions counselors against seeing reconciliation (dispensing grace; seeing change) as the end of counseling, or viewing counseling itself as a “problem-centered reactive response to trouble”. He characterizes biblical counseling as a form of discipleship, which I thoroughly agree with. Therefore, ongoing discipleship which focuses on progressive sanctification (guidance) is the ideal model for the local church. His acronym for guidance entails: Fanning into Flame the Gift of God; Authoring Empowering Narratives; Insight-Based Action Plans; Target-Focused Spiritual Conversations; and Heroic Scriptural Explorations (FAITH). This is not “Take-Two-Scriptures-and-Call-Me-In-the-Morning” biblical counseling; it is shepherding a fellow sojourner on to vibrant, life-long, Christ-following.

“To grow in Christ, we must understand and apply who we are in Christ,” Kellemen states at the outset. Underlying any real soul-transformation is a deep recognition of our identity and position in Christ, whether the struggle is adultery, social anxiety, or addiction. Remembering who we are (and Whose we are) is the cornerstone of ongoing guidance. Kellemen also cites the distinction between Christians’ “universal” identity in Christ, and their “unique identity in Christ. A large part of offering guidance – the “one-anothering” work of discipleship – is affirming both types of biblical identity.

Throughout Gospel Conversations, Kellemen focuses on maturing as counselors before and while providing Christlike soul-care to fellow believers. Far from listing a litany of “principles and practices”, he skillfully demonstrates, through historical anecdotes and case studies, how to expose the heart issues present in different scenarios, and how to empathize fully and presently. Knowing how to listen well; see how the whole Gospel narrative relates to the counselee’s whole life, and ‘crop Christ back into the picture’ lays the groundwork for ongoing discipleship that is truly biblical.

By working the “relational competencies” Kellemen discusses into all encounters, biblical counselors will be more effective ministers of the Gospel in all of their relationships – both inside the counseling office and out. Gospel Conversations is a comprehensive and much-needed book that addresses the whole person – empathetically; compassionately; and perceptively – just as Christ would.

The reviewer hard at work.
The reviewer hard at work.