Tag Archives: legalism

Gulps of Grace

I just clicked off on the cordless phone, thoughts churning. My friend is an abuse survivor, no longer a victim, a woman of great integrity and strength. One of my heroes. I’m reminded of her journey forward, of how her abuser kept her in a stranglehold of condemnation and low self-esteem for far too long. How even survivors, victors who’ve long overcome have to keep fighting to maintain their freedom, especially when people who don’t understand knock them down again.

On the radio yesterday a woman called a talk show for advice. Her “husband” was clearly destroying her emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, but still she argued that she “should” stay to do the “right” thing.

If you know me well, you know I am not easily angered. But this. This makes me want to fight hard against the lies, against the boxes, for FREEDOM!

challah bread 9This morning’s phone call from my victorious friend who’d once again endured a senseless assault by a clueless do-gooder left me reeling, as did that lady on the talk show.

I reached for Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts Devotional in an attempt to right the churning inside of me. Ann reminded me that giving thanks is declaring my trust in God and that without the ability to trust God there is no joy.

For years I begged God for joy. Instead His offering was to allow seven years of grueling circumstances far beyond my control. I’m beginning to understand Ann’s words, that giving thanks is about joy and about trust and about choosing. It is curling up with the Bread that nourishes my soul.

So I today I wrote little notes of gratitude instead of dwelling on all that angers me. And what came out surprised me.

I thank Him for: freedom air gulped and eventually breathed in natural rhythm. 

When I first stepped out of my own crap, of walls self-imposed and imposed by others, of boxes of perfectionism and guilt and performance, I couldn’t breathe freedom every day, every minute, like life. I grasped for it. Looked for it. Begged for it. Gorged on it when I found it.

I found it in grace.

I gulped grace. Sucking it in for survival. Guzzling it. Only pure grace, the truth of it, fed me. The gulps pounded into my malnourished system, setting it free, a little at a time.

I sucked in the grace air as I could understand it, when I could appropriate it.

Grace.

God’s complete unconditional love and acceptance. The favor He offered even though I didn’t deserve it.

Wiki says it this way: . .  grace has been defined, not as a created substance of any kind, but as “the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it”,[1] “the condescension or benevolence shown by God toward the human race”.[2] It is understood by Christians to be a spontaneous gift from God to man – “generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved”[3] – that takes the form of divine favor, love, clemency, and a share in the divine life of God.

For years I lived without freedom. I didn’t know it. But I was controlled by the self-condescension of one who could never live up to her own ideals and of one who tried so hard to please others that I lived in a straight-jacket of effort and failure.

I didn’t understand grace saturated the very air I breathed. That I didn’t have to chase after it or fight for it, grabbing and suffocating.

I didn’t get that always, always, always my Creator surrounds me with loving acceptance, cheering me on in my victories, helping me to my feet in my failures, never condemning, only offering Himself and His grace, longing to love me and remake me into one who could love Him, myself, and others.

I had heard about God’s love, about grace, all my life, but I didn’t appropriate it to myself–thus the gulping when I happened upon grace. The gorging on it when I began to understand.

But over time–years, not weeks–I began to feel less desperate. My soul began to know grace would never run out, never be beyond my reach, never disappear.

And I began to breathe normally. Rhythmically.

In freedom.

Once in a while something happens. My throat constricts once again, and I struggle. I am hurt or I hurt others. My imperfections are glaring. And my breathing gets erratic as I take huge, gulping, heaving breaths.

Grace. My lifeline.

As I inhale I stabilize. My breathing becomes natural. Saturated with freedom.

As I type right now I finally understand how all of this comes together. Why in my need to reach for hope, for peace, I seek to offer thanks, to trust God, to hold onto joy. Why in the midst of this churning I wrote those words: freedom air gulped and eventually breathed in natural rhythm. 

It’s because of the process of freedom. It’s because when my friend first fought out of an abusive situation she, like me, had to gulp grace bubbles. She couldn’t yet understand the air was saturated, and grace was always there, free.

It’s like my friend and I spent years under putrid water, pressed down by the voices that said we would never be good enough to deserve such freedom as normal breaths. But eventually we had to breathe, to lift our heads out of the water before we drowned. At first we could only raise our head on occasion, could only allow ourselves stolen gulps because we thought we deserved no more. Didn’t even deserve those gulps, really, just needed them so much we had to take them.

Over time we began to understand that the air was ours, given freely by a loving God, and that we didn’t have to earn it with good behavior. We bobbed for a while at the surface where the air was  tainted by the smell of stinking water. But it was better. At least we were breathing more often, even with the times we were pulled back under. Then came the day we slowly swam toward shore. Swimmers still get their face wet, but they also have air. And they are moving forward

It was a while before we climbed out, touched the shore, realized how good and pure the air could be and that we were given the right to breathe it.

And sometimes, on bad days, we still forget. That cesspool of unworthiness and condemnation is always there, waiting for us to climb back in.

But we’re getting better, my friend and me. We’re choosing to stay away from the stinky water.

We’ve gulped freedom and are learning to breathe it in natural rhythm.

Breathing with you today, my friend.

Until next time,

moldenhauer signature3

Tension Tummy

I’ve had this in my drafts folder for a while. Wondering if I am ready to speak out so directly on this topic. As one who has been wounded by a judgmental circle, I do not want to come off as judgmental in my post. I am also concerned about hurting those who are fighting their way out, as well as realizing that some of my comments will likely intersect with venues who have published my work in the past. I don’t know if my words will be acceptable, if my thoughts here will close doors or open them. In the past I have been very careful to write FOR grace, FOR freedom rather than speak out AGAINST the legalism. I hoped my caution would allow me a voice, even in the places where legalism seemed to be a stronghold. So it is with concern I share this post, though I have worked hard to offer it in grace.

As a child I often had tension stomachaches. I rarely get them as an adult, but the last few weeks I’ve had several. Every time the ache grew out of brushing up against legalism once again.

Legalism:

Legalism happens in religion, but it also happens in society in general. We label based on our own box and our preconceived notions (correct or not) of how another person fits into our structure of “right.”

A couple of quick examples: One of my sons wore a thick, cross necklace and chain (he made it himself of chainmail) and a red, white, and blue T-shirt that said something like, “One nation under God,” to the first day at a public high school. He found out later that one of his (now) best friends thought he was “scary!”

Huh? Because of a cross and a patriotic T-shirt? Really? My gentle giant?

I start with this example because most of the following examples are religious–Christians who judge others based on personal boxes of religion, and rather than focus only on that sect of belief, I want to show that all of us, religious or not, tend to have our boxes.

I suspect even those of us who don’t want to have a box have one, maybe a little bigger or differently shaped than the next, but a box that could use some expansion. (I keep stepping out of mine only to discover that while the box has expanded or changed shape, there’s yet another one I’m in!) Often the boxes are built because we are afraid.

I’ve seen great destruction from religious legalism, not only in community and personal relationships, but in my own heart. My own efforts to live up to the religious box I bought into as a young women grew into intense feelings of failure when I couldn’t be perfect. Inadequacy grew into self-hatred. The grace of a Loving God rescued me from a self-devised path to devastation.

The recent stomachaches come because I know this pain of the boxes, the unnecessary burdens box-dwellers carry in themselves and put on others. Often those hardest on others are also hard on themselves, so caught up in their need to perform perfectly that they can’t see their own faults or can’t accept it when they do. Sometimes legalists become so convinced they are right that their rightness somehow justifies acting outside of Jesus’s greatest commandment to love.

There is a lot of negative press lately about the extreme circles of patriarchy in homeschooling. Some of the leaders of this movement have recently been accused of everything from molestation of underage women to affairs. What makes this especially crazy is these are the same men who wrote and spoke (and made their income) from teaching on the “godly” family. (Ugh. Stomachache happening again.)

As I homeschooled my daughter we brushed against a lot of judgement in the extended homeschool community from people who bought into this ideology at differing levels.The fact we believed in higher education for our daughter was enough to bring judgement from some. Others wrote her off because she wore makeup and talked to boys. Based on factors such as theses people assumed they knew her, and put her on their bad list without taking the time to see her heart.

At one point I was asked to do a consistent column for a homeschooling magazine. As I was considering the offer, my daughter, then grown and out of the homeschool environment, told some specific stories of how the adults in that culture treated her. I had known she was hurt. I had not heard the specifics, which were outrageous. Furious, I went outside to do yard work, hoping the physical effort would calm me. I fumed at God as I work, “You want me to write for THOSE people?”

His response? “Who do you think needs grace more?”

I remembered how legalism nearly destroyed me. I told them I would write.

In reflection of that time I’m sad my girl had to endure this extreme culture, but I like how it shaped her into a stronger woman who goes to battle for the hearts of others, begging the world to stop judging from the outside. She champions the misunderstood, the held down, the ostracized, whether pierced and tattooed or wearing jumper dress, skirt to the ankles.

To be fair, the public school world also put her in a box she didn’t belong in. There was a lot of hurt from that side, too, but it didn’t dig as deeply, damage as hard. Maybe because we expect to be loved by those who claim to be in God’s family more than by those who don’t think much about it.

One of the influencers in the patriarchy world who recently came under fire was popular in conservative Christian circles when I was a teen. It was his ministry I had to forgive in my 30s when I realized how much of my personal pain and dysfunction was related to his teaching and to the idea that following his prescribed religion had been equated in my mind with following God.  Thankfully, our Loving Father called me away from all that. Showed me that the very things/people I sought to honor in order to please Him were idols. That the ideals I strove to live up to weren’t even HIS. That this stuff actually held me BACK from a full and beautiful experience of His heart, of walking in relationship with Him, and serving in the ways He called.

Stomachaches over legalism boxes come in the macro and micro places of my life. I recently posted a tribute on facebook to some friends I admire. Right on my page, an old friend from another state posted a negative comment based on the particular rules this person adheres to. I was sickened. This person didn’t know the people or the situation but felt so “right” it justified in plopping an unkind, negative opinion right onto that page to educate the rest of us. I doubt there was an ounce of thought given to the pain that comment had the power to inflict.

I deleted the comment, but did not “unfriend” my friend. I still believe in my friend and seek to stay in relationship because I believe my friend to be trapped in a religious box, not to be an innately bad person.

And you know what? Once I was trapped.

And that box almost destroyed me.

So shouldn’t I have compassion and not only anger?

We humans like to tout our lists of appropriate behaviors. In the conservative homeschooling world the purity movement and its prescribed behaviors, ranging from ridiculous to wise, topped the list to set a standard of judgement. Different movements whether political or religious, have their own favorite standards of behavior.

Which is one reason this old world is so in need of a Savior who levels the playing field and says gossip and judgement are just as bad as adultery and fornication, which is just as bad as whatever “no-no” tops your list or mine.

We all blow it somewhere.

And when we do, there is grace, not only in forgiveness, but also in empowerment to change to become more wise and loving the next time.

The problems start when we think our form of blowing it isn’t as bad as someone else’s.

I’ve had ample opportunity to process legalism and judgment lately. Long hours of writing in my journal has tempered reactions that would only cause more hurt. My human self comes up with all kinds of wonderful ways to fight.

And while those scenarios roll around in my head, conviction hits. Some of those tit-for-tat responses I fantasize about are legalism at its best.

So I pray for guidance, and until He directs, stay off the public forums centering around the homeschooling movement crap and resist the temptation to send ugly emails or make “well-placed” phone calls.

Instead I ask God to shed Truth and Grace where it is needed.

Including in the ugly remnants of legalism and religiosity in me.

Fighting for Grace

Can I let it all hang out?

My fight to breathe in grace?

Some people are recovering alcoholics; I’m a recovering perfectionist. Which means, at its root, I’m a recovering religious legalist.

My desperate desire is to please and follow God. I want to be sweet and love Him and be loved by Him.

But as much as I long for perfection in this, I just can’t be perfect.

Sometimes I’m salty, not sweet.

20140526_133259My kitchen floor issue is still not resolved. We’re pulling up boards trying to find all the water, trying to let things dry out. I’m struggling to manage kitchen duty (and we’re one of those families that rarely eat out, don’t use pre-packaged food, and consume LOTS, so kitchen duty is a big deal) in a difficult situation.

Yesterday I chose to bake banana cake, Seth’s favorite. He’s home from college and well, it’s one of our love languages. And there is never a reason around here to do a single recipe, so of course I doubled it.

I’m leaning over floor boards that have been pulled up and stepping into cracks of sub-floor to try to work without further damaging my beautiful boards. (There’s a point.)

I’m ready to put the bananas in the batter, but Stephen pulls out a spoon and has a taste, one of his favorite things since childhood. His face scrunches up in distaste. I scoop a little into my mouth. It’s terrible. We add more sugar. No improvement. I taste the sugar. It’s bitter. Salty. I have no idea what 20140526_134405happened, but it was good for nothing but to be thrown away.

And I can’t help but think of myself like that canister of sugar. I want to be sweet. I’m supposed to be sweet. But I’ve been salty.

And something as non-life-changing as a dishwasher leaking under my favorite floor is what is tipping me over the edge. (There’s plenty of more important stuff I’m navigating, and I seem to handle that. But my floor! My beautiful floor!!)

I was mostly salty at God. I said some nasty stuff about Him to a friend. I don’t like to talk bad about those I love, and it hurts that I did.

And sometimes when I’m a jerk I think I should be thrown out like I threw out that salt. If I’m not sweet, I’m not doing my job, so just toss me in the trash.

But I KNOW that is my old mindset creeping in. Legalism. Pride. I’ve never been sweet all through every moment, and I never will be. It’s not my goodness that makes me close to God, it’s HIS.

My behavior is not going to separate me from God because Jesus’s behavior when He offered Himself on the cross is what connected God and me in the first place. It’s what keeps me connected long-term.

But I felt that old self-censure creeping in. That inability to believe I was worthy of His love when I was so nasty. That secretly He was a God who would withhold His gifts because I wasn’t being a good daughter.

So I typed a plea to a safe circle of friends asking them to pray, to help me hold onto Truth and not give into the old thought patterns. I wrote, “I know know know that God’s blessings are not dependent upon my perfection. I know that He forgives freely . . . I have been really angry with Him and acting like an entitled jerk. I’m struggling to get over my anger and to also to believe what my head knows, that I was forgiven for the awful things I said to and about Him even as I said them.

I know if one of my kids talked that way to/about me I would have been really hurt, yet I expect God to just take it from me and still open the floodgates of heaven and help me. It seems wrong.

Then I wonder about grace and unconditional love, and I suspect the root of my struggle is actually about not opening my heart to this grace, to this forgiveness, that my self-censure is returning to old crap . . .”

And one of my friends replied with the Truth and grace I already knew but struggled to receive, “There is NOTHING you can say to Him that hasn’t already been said. NOTHING you can do that hasn’t already been done. Peter argued with the LORD all the time. Paul was a murderer. David was an adulterous AND murderer. Abraham was a coward. Moses had no faith. Joseph was prideful. Jacob wrestled with the LORD to the point he had to have his hip dislocated.

“Paula, there is NOTHING God sees but your heart. It is a human heart that struggles with everyday life, yet when push comes to shove still leans on its Creator. Your relationship is so close that you can be honest with your God. DO NOT look at the Father-child relationship you have in human terms. God’s love is NEVER performance driven. Think of all the heroes we read about in the Bible and they all messed up big time. But they had one thing that the LORD loved more than anything–honesty before their King. That, my dear, sweet Paula, is what you have. Don’t let the enemy tell you otherwise.”

And so for the past two days I’ve told myself what I already know: God’s love is never performance-driven.

God’s love is never performance-driven.

God’s love is never performance-driven.

Always God’s love is mine, given freely, spilling all over me without measure. I don’t have to be a perfect child to access it. Even when I blow it He loves me.

He loves me.

He loves me.

He loves me.

And instead of casting me aside when I’m salty, he patiently remakes me into His image.

20140526_134248I baked those cakes over again, using good, sweet sugar. And they were the blessing I hoped they would be.

The blessing I want to be and often fall short of.

But GLORY-BE (southern roots showing here) like cakes I, too, can be remade.

Say a prayer for me, my friends . . .

Until next time,

paula cropped