Friendship is Complicated: A look at Job

Friendship is so complicated.

All in the course of one situation, a friend can build you up and then also completely let you down. A friend can be everything that you need in one moment, then in the next cut you deeper than you realized you could be cut.

This was Job’s experience…complicated friendship. I feel this in my soul.

Job’s friends catch a lot of flack. And honestly, rightly so. Job was going through the worst experiences a person could go through- the enemy was literally attacking him in hopes of pressuring him into renouncing the Lord. Job’s pain was catastrophic, and these friends responded in a way that was not super loving. They accused, trying to find fault with Job. They believed he must have deserved these awful things that happened to him. He must have had it coming. Ouch.

They got one thing right, though. They showed up.

This is so precious to me.

Have you ever been there, friend?

The world has raged against you, and you are left ragged and alone. Your body is broken. Your heart is broken. Your spirit is broken. You are hanging on by a thread, questioning if God even still sees you.

You feel so alone.

That is where Job was. In Job 10:18-22, he cries out, ” Why then did you bring me out of the womb? I wish I had died before any eye saw me. If only I had never come into being, or had been carried straight from the womb to the grave! Are not my few days almost over? Turn away from me so I can have a moment’s joy before I go to the place of no return, to the land of gloom and deep shadow, to the land of deepest night, of deep shadow and disorder, where even the light is like darkness.”

He was depressed. He had lost everything. Then his three friends showed up.

They got a lot of things wrong, but this is something that they got very right. How easy is it for us to keep our distance, not knowing how to handle our friend’s crisis? It would have been a lot easier for them not to come to Job at all, but they SHOWED UP. They sat with him, and they mourned with him for a week.

Can we just thank the Lord for a moment for friends who show up?

I remember when my daughter, June, died. We were living about an hour away from my hometown, and all of my friends were an hour away. One minute I was a glowing, morning sickness-riddled pregnant woman eagerly anticipating the birth of baby number four. Then, in a whirlwind, the words “I can’t find a heartbeat” changed my life forever.

I was lost. My whole world turned upside down.

Pregnancy loss is hard and complicated. People often don’t know what to say. Often, they say the wrong thing. It would have been easier for people to just leave me be, to let me mourn alone and to pretend that June never happened. That is actually what many women who experience the loss of a child in the womb encounter. They grieve alone and in silence.

I’m so thankful that my tribe did not allow that. Like Job, I had friends that showed up. “We love you. We’re here for you. I’m so sorry. We’re praying for you. I can’t stop crying. My heart is hurting for you.” My phone was so full of those messages I couldn’t even respond to all of them. My eyes are welling up with tears of gratitude as I write these words, thinking of how powerful it was in those moments of deep grief and deep brokenness to know that I was not alone. We had meal trains and baby sitting offers, cards and flowers and sweet thoughtful gifts. I still carry the key chain I was gifted that says, “To think that the first thing she saw when she opened her little eyes was Jesus.”

Showing up is the most important thing that you can do for your friends.

When the storms of life rip the air out of your lungs, friends who show up are like oxygen.

And Job’s friends sat with him, in mourning, for 7 days.

Those were good, committed friends.

But, Friendship is complicated.

When Job finally spoke, giving voice to his torment, his friends didn’t respond with empathy. They accused. Ouch.

What a betrayal.

Have you ever been there? Someone that you really trusted- you really thought you could count on- completely failed you. Your forever friend- the one who showed up, and sat with you in mourning for a week, attacked your character. She wondered aloud what you did, implying that you deserved the abuse. She questioned your integrity, your commitment, your work ethic. She dropped hints. Maybe if you had worked harder, loved better, or done more none of this would have ever happened to you.

Job didn’t need accusations. In fact, the accusations were baseless. God himself declared Job righteous. (Job 1:8) Yet still, his friends persisted, insisting that there must be some reason-some sin- that led to Job’s devastation.

Job felt so betrayed. He must have felt so alone. He said, “He has put my family far from me, and my acquaintances are wholly estranged from me. My relatives and my close friends have failed me; the guests in my house have forgotten me…”

These friends who came to comfort him, who came to sit with him in his mourning then caused more pain and turmoil. As I read some of the things that they said to him, I was horrified. Job lost everything, but I think the most devastating of all was the death of his children. His friends got caught up in their own spirituality, philosophizing, and intellectualizing of holiness, Heaven and Hell. They were so busy pondering the intricacies of God’s righteousness and wrath that they completely lost sight of the fact that their friend, Job, was hurting.

He lost his children, and his friends were saying things like, ” His children are far from safety; they are crushed in the gate, and there is no one to deliver them. (Job 5:4)

Guys, his children were CRUSHED. All of them. (Job 1:18) And his friends were making comments about how if a man is not righteous, then it stands to reason that his children will be crushed.

How incredibly insensitive. How hurtful! How cruel. But these were Job’s friends. His FRIENDS. Good friends. They came to him when he was in deep distress. They sat with him in silent mourning for 7 days. Then, they intellectualized and minimized his pain, saying things like this.

Friendship is so complicated.

They claimed to have insight, even a word from the Lord while continuing to dig their heels in, and this back and forth went on for more than 25 chapters. Job, trying to defend his righteousness, also tried to hear his friends and express his hurt and frustration. His friends were unrelenting.

There are two critical lessons in this for us.

When our friends are hurting, they needs our presence more than our insights. It’s most important that you show up. A crisis calls for compassion, not theories and theology. There is a time and a place for thorough analysis and investigation, but that is not when your friend is in a deeply broken place. We can be better.

When we are hurting, it’s also important that we remember that friendship is complicated. People will fail us, but God never will. When your friends let you down, remember that they are fallible humans. They cannot be expected to fully understand your circumstance, your situation or your experience. Even good friends fail. They still love you. Job’s friends loved him. They invested in him. They showed up, sat with him, mourned with him and stayed while he wallowed in his depression. Yours love you too, even when it does not feel like it.

Remember that.

And never forget that the God who stays will never leave you, never forsake you and sees the fullness of your circumstances in a way that even your friends cannot. He treasures you beyond measure.

As Job navigated his depression, his loss and his confusion, God stayed. He listened, and He did respond to Job. (Job 38-41) Ultimately, God blessed the last half of Job’s life even more than the first. God saw him, even when his closest friends did not.

God sees you too. Even when you are hurting, even when you are questioning and lashing out at Him, and even when nobody around you seems to understand what you are going through…God does.

You may feel alone, but you truly never are.

Lord, thank you for never leaving me. When I was lost, confused and alone, you never left my side. When I feel misunderstood and misrepresented by the world around me, you see me for who I am. When my heart is broken, you provide me with friendships that give me comfort, peace and healing. Thank you for all that you do, all that you are and for the grace, forgiveness and redemption that I do not deserve. Amen.

“I was Called…” Say What?!

If you have spent any time at all in Christian circles, you have heard the terms “Called” or “Calling.” These phrases are in bold letters in the “Christianese” Dictionary. What do they mean, though? They get thrown around like candy at a Homecoming Parade, but how do we actually define them? How do we know that we know that we know?

What a fascinating topic.

I have been reading this amazing book, “I Am A Leader: When Women Discover the Joy of Their Calling,” By Dr. Angie Ward. It is all about the callings that we experience, how we respond to them and how we practically walk them out in the world in which we live. The very first chapter of this book, titled “What is Calling,” completely captivated me.

I have experienced a calling on more than one occasion, and there are multiple accounts in scripture of people who experienced God’s call. Abraham left his homeland at the call-the command- of God, and later responded to God’s command to sacrifice Issac. Jonah clearly experienced a call when he was told to go to Ninevah. Then we have Peter, Priscilla, Mary, Esther, Job, Deborah, Noah, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David… the list goes on and on. God speaks directly and audibly, through signs and miracles and through other people. In the New Testament, people were often called by the Holy Spirit.

The first time I experienced a call, I pulled a Jonah. If you know me at all, or if you have read my first testimony, (the first post to this blog) then you know that my experiences in my hometown were not awesome. It was the birthplace of my trauma. I couldn’t get away from there fast enough. I graduated from high school at 17, moved to college immediately after my 18th birthday and I was never coming back.

But God.

In 2017, I began to experience that Holy Spirit nudge. We were living about an hour away from my hometown. I had three living children and we had recently experienced the late missed miscarriage of our fourth. I knew with confidence that I was being called to ministry and I was struggling with that call, mostly because I was a woman. My husband and I had been driving back to my hometown to attend MY church-the church of my youth- and this calling was difficult to navigate. We knew that we couldn’t do ministry at that particular church while living an hour away, but there was a solid 0% chance that I was moving back to that town. There was no way I was ever going back home.

But God was convicting me to do just that.

I put on blinders. We started to explore, attending multiple different churches in our community. I looked in different children’s ministry groups online, (children’s ministry being the only form of ministry I believed I was allowed to do as a woman) trying to find open positions that were local to us.

Finally, I told my husband that I thought God was calling me back to my hometown. I admitted that it made no sense to me and that I did not like it at all. He was NOT on board, and said there was NO way we were raising our children near all of that toxicity. I can’t say that I blamed him. In fact, I agreed.

So that was that. My husband did not confirm this particular element of my calling. I found a position as a Director of Children’s Ministry just 20 minutes from our home, and I accepted it. Through that position, I got access to a credentialing program through our denominational organization.

Just like Jonah, I had heard God’s call and willingly accepted…part of it. Jonah was willing to be a prophet. He was willing to step out in service of God. He just was not willing to Go to Ninevah. He did not want to serve those people. He did not want to share God’s message with that particular community.

I was really no different. I did not want to go home. I could not go back there. So, just like Jonah, I went and served somewhere else.

I never got swallowed by a great fish. I did get redirected, though. We tried to buy a house near the church I was serving in and it fell through. Then, just a few months into my new position, I discovered I was pregnant. This baby was our rainbow baby- our child conceived after the loss of our daughter, June. My morning sickness was awful and I ended up being hospitalized multiple times because I was so sick I could not keep anything down. I would get dizzy and faint. I lost weight instead of gaining it and was ultimately diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum- a rare and severe form of morning sickness. I also battled debilitating anxiety. Pregnancy after loss is a unique experience, and I spent the majority of my pregnancy convinced that my unborn daughter was going to die before birth. My last child did. Obviously, so would this one.

All of this ultimately led to me stepping down as the Director of Children’s Ministry. I had been serving for about 6 months. My hope was that I would resume my duties after my daughter was born, but that did not ever happen.

When I was about 6 months pregnant, we went back to my hometown to celebrate some friends of ours. It was “Orphan Sunday” and they were in the middle of an international adoption. We were surrounded by our “church family” and not my biological family, and as we left, someone mentioned what a miracle my life was.

It’s true. The very fact that I live this life is a testimony to the power of God.

As we made the hour long drive home, my husband nonchalantly said, “I do think we are going to have to move here.”

I had to pick my chin up off the floor.

So, we began the process. We spent some time in prayer, and we just told God that we were willing. This thing that had always been a hard “no” had finally become a “Here we are God, send us.” We asked the Lord to make a way, if this was truly his desire for us. It made no sense. We would be moving nearly an hour further from his work. I did not have job in that town, and there was no real need for me in formal ministry at our church.

When we prayed, there was not a lot of specific direction. We were called to the community and to the church.

I was about to have a baby. We still had a house to sell in another state, then we had to find a home that would fit our budget and family size (6 of us), purchase it and relocate before school started. There were so many pieces that had to come together in order for this to happen. Our prayer was for God to make the way so clear that there was no denying the command had come from him.

Our house sold before the baby was born. A friend’s parents were selling their perfect home, right within our price range. We closed on the home at the end of July, just in time for us to get settled in before school started for the big boys. All of the pieces fell together perfectly.

Once we got settled in and school started, I began to volunteer at the local pregnancy resource center. I believed that my unexpected experience with the loss of our June, at just 15 weeks gestation, and the opportunity that we had to see, hold and touch a baby at that developmental age put me in a unique position to serve women having unplanned pregnancies.

Just a few months after I started volunteering, the Director of the center had a very premature baby and went on an extended maternity leave. I was asked to step in as the Assistant Director to cover her duties until she returned to work. She decided not to. Now, less than three years later, I am the Director of three of our 12 pregnancy centers. We are serving more women, in more ways, meeting them right where they are, walking with them as they journey toward grace. God is so much bigger than I ever imagined.

It’s a small town. Many of our clients know my background. They know my family. They know that I grew up in poverty, the daughter of a drug addict, and that builds their trust in the center. I “get it” in a way most “church folks” do not. God is using my trauma to serve the community that birthed it. It’s a beauty from ashes story.

I’m still not completely sure why God called me to this particular church. I am serving in youth ministry now, and the students we serve have expressed the same thing- that I “get it” in a way that many others do not, because of the way I grew up. God is using my story there too, I suppose.

But even more than that, I believe that my time in this church has been, and continues to be about my own internal growth and dependence upon the Lord. It’s an Abraham and Issac story. It’s about obeying, no matter what. Through all of my experiences here over the last few years, my focus on intently listening for God’s voice above the noise of all of the other voices has grown. I have drawn closer to my King. I am dependent on Him.

I have battled, most of my life, a desire to please people. Growing up in the environment that I did, people always expected me to fail. I was determined to prove them wrong. I was determined to make sure that people saw me as a success. My experiences here have taught me that success in the eyes of man is irrelevant. It does not matter how others view my decisions. It only matters that I am obedient to God. My obligation is to obey, and not to concern myself so much with how the chips fall in the aftermath of that obedience.

I’m reminded of Abraham and Issac. Abraham was clearly commanded to sacrifice Issac. God did not tell him to go and look for a substitute. God did not tell him to show up and another way would be revealed. God asked Abraham to be willing to do something, and Abraham showed up, completely willing to honor that call. It was not until he was at the altar that the alternative was revealed.

Sometimes God gives us the command without giving us a full explanation for how it is all going to turn out. Abraham did not end up sacrificing Issac, but he was still originally commanded to do so. He did not change course until God told him to. I think there is a lesson in that. We should honor the last clear call we were given, until God gives us another direction.

For me, calling has been, and continues to be, complex. The Holy Spirit continues to speak to me, and my obligation is to obey. What about you?

What does it look like when the Holy Spirit calls you? Have you ever experienced calling? What about confusion in your calling?

If you are a woman who has experienced a God given calling, or are struggling with the concept of discovering your calling as God-honoring woman, I highly recommend this book. I Am A Leader by Angie Ward releases in March of 2020.

Your Motives Matter: Tamar and Judah

Sex, Scandal and Betrayal: Genesis 38

Okay Friends, This is going to be a wild ride.

Genesis 38 is one of my favorite passages in scripture, because I think we get a much different view of the Lord than we’ve gotten anywhere else. There’s a nuance to what is happening here that is unmatched in other passages, especially Old Testament passages where people are getting themselves smote.

Genesis 38 gives us a bit of an introduction to Judah and his family. He had 3 sons- Er, Onan and Shelah. Tamar was given to Er as a wife. Genesis 38:7 tells us that Er was wicked in the eyes of the Lord, so God put him to death. He got smote. We got a precedent. If you were wicked in the eyes of the Lord, you got smote. Now, Tamar was left as a childless widow.

Going into this chapter, it is really important to understand the historical and cultural context of marriage and womanhood during this time. The patriarch of the family (in this case, Judah) would choose a wife for his son. He chose Tamar for Er. If the son died, leaving his wife a childless widow, as was the case here, that wife would be given to the brother in order to conceive an heir. That meant that Tamar was to be given to Onan for the purpose of procreation.

They were to have sex, for the purpose of procreation.

Now, the heir conceived during this sexual act would not be Onan’s heir, but rather Er’s. Got that? So he was making a child that would NOT BE HIS, because of the way the custom worked. Because Er was the oldest, he was set to have the greatest inheritance. If Onan created an heir for Er, that heir’s very existence would actually impact Onan’s own inheritance.


However, this was a Godly family. They liked to look as though they honored the Lord. They were part of Abraham’s lineage. There were a lot of promises and inheritances that came with being part of Abraham’s lineage, and that was especially true of being the oldest son to give Judah an heir. If Tamar did NOT conceive, that honor would have gone to Onan. In his own selfish ambition and desire, he wanted that for himself. Tamar knew that this right had been given to her, by her marriage covenant.

She also knew the marriage custom that was in place to provide some measure of protection for women like her. In this particular culture, patriarchy ruled and women had very few options. To be without a husband and without children was a disgrace and left a woman with very little protection, provision or legacy. This custom ensured that her position, protection, provision and legacy were preserved.

Judah was a God-honoring man. He gave Tamar to Onan, as was the custom, to conceive an heir for Er.

Onan, caught in his own selfish attitude and mindset, used Tamar sexually, likely more than once, and rather than honoring the custom to provide Tamar the offspring she was promised, he spilled his semen on the ground. Verse 9 says, “But since Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, he spilled his semen on the ground whenever he went in to his brother’s wife…”

I bet you’re also wondering, “Why is this in the Bible?!”

Sex Ed 101: Semen needs to get inside of a woman. That’s pretty important for conception to occur because semen contains sperm, and sperm need to swim up the vagina, through the cervix, the uterus and into the Fallopian tube, where it meets with the egg, creating new life. Spilling on the ground was a pretty good way to avoid conception. It’s not 100% foolproof, (please don’t count on this to avoid pregnancy) but clearly it worked, because Tamar did not get pregnant. There was no heir from Onan.

Now, not only did Onan not give Tamar the heir that was due to her, but he was also repeatedly using her sexually. He was exploiting her body over and over again, under the guise of attempting to impregnate her on his brother’s behalf, while not actually trying to do so at all. It’s repulsive. And he was doing all of this under this guise of righteousness, with all of the people around him believing that he was trying to selflessly give his brother a son; an heir, even though it would negatively affect his own inheritance.

So what did God think of this? Did he think that Tamar was gross, repeatedly having sex with her husband’s brother? We get no indication of that. She was honoring the custom that was in place, that had likely occurred many times, with many women before her. This may sound really gross to us in our society today, because if our husbands died we could just get a job and take care of ourselves. Pay the mortgage. We could remarry, and we would still be considered desirable as a spouse despite our previous sexual encounters. None of that was true or accessible for Tamar. This was her only real option.

God was displeased with Onan, though. So much so, that He put him to death. Onan got himself smote too. So now we have three people- Er, Tamar and Onan. Of the three, two have been smote. Tamar was not one of them.

Now, Judah saw this and he was really reluctant to give her to his third son, Shelah. Verse 11 says that he was afraid Shelah would die too.

I don’t really blame the guy. If two of my boys died surfing, you better believe my youngest would never go surfing, if I could control it. Judah didn’t see the full picture, he only knew that the two sons who had sex with Tamar were now dead.

So Judah sent Tamar back to her father’s house until Shelah could grow up, and basically forgot about her. Shelah got married off to someone else and Tamar was left as a childless widow. In the meantime, Judah’s wife died.

When the time of mourning was over, Judah decided to head to his friend’s house, and Tamar heard about it. You know how small town gossip works.

Now, here’s where it gets super crazy. The custom was that if there were no brothers left to produce offspring, that responsibility then fell to the father-in-law. Judah had withheld Shelah from her, so Tamar had decided that she was going to take it upon herself to get offspring directly from Judah.

She dressed herself as a prostitute and positioned herself along his path and waited. How did she know that he would decide to solicit a prostitute? I have no idea. But sure enough, he came walking along and solicited her services, as one does, when one is in mourning. *sarcasm* Since he had no immediate means to pay her, he left his staff and signet as a pledge that he would send payment.

I feel so uncomfortable right now.

And FINALLY, Tamar conceives.

Now, a few months pass by. Judah has attempted to pay the prostitute but could not find her, so he stopped looking, letting her keep his pledge rather than payment. Would you really want to wander around searching for a prostitute so that you could make sure you paid her fairly?

Then the gossip train got back to Judah, and he discovered that Tamar was pregnant. He declared that SHE SHOULD BE BURNED.

Wait, HOLD UP. Say WHAT?!?!?!?

Now, Judah solicited sex from a prostitute.

His daughter in law got pregnant out of wedlock and he declared she should be BURNED?!?! Hypocrisy, much?

But Tamar was ready for this. She simply showed the staff and signet, declaring that the man who got her pregnant owned these items.

Judah realized that her conception was righteous. She should have been given offspring of his lineage. He should have given her to Shelah, and when he did not, he should have went to her himself. He never did. He had failed in his own duties, according to the custom of the time. She took it upon herself to ensure that they were honored. When he realized this, he declared, “She is more in the right than I am, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.”

And I would argue that God agrees.


Because all through this story, God was in the business of smiting the ones who were evil, who were making decisions out of selfish ambition and who were not righteous in his sight. Tamar did not get smote.

Not only did God not smite her, but God blessed her richly. She gave birth to twins. Her son, Perez, is part of the lineage of Christ.

Did you catch that?

This offspring, this son, That Tamar dressed as a prostitute to conceive, is part of the lineage of Jesus. God was putting the evil ones in this story to death, but with Tamar, he gave her a son who ultimately helped bring Christ into the world, giving us the New Covenant.

That’s huge.

Tamar’s motives mattered. Judah’s motives mattered. Onan’s motives mattered.

To God, your motives matter.

The “why” behind the decisions that we make is often just as, if not more important than the actual decision itself.

If we JUST talk about dressing up as a prostitute to trick her father in law into sex, versus spilling semen on the ground, it’s really hard to understand why Onan ended up smote but Tamar did not. But motive matters.

The heart, the intention and the motive behind why you do what you do matters to God. It matters so much.

I encourage you to take a moment and prayerfully analyze your motives- for all of your decisions, both righteous and not-so-righteous. Why do you do what you do? Offer your heart up to the Lord.

Lord, thank you for being a God who sees ME, who knows ME, who understands everything about me. Thank you for Tamar’s story, for the nuance of this Old Testament story of motive, history and culture. Thank you for Judah, and the testimony of swift repentance and recognition of his own failures. Thank you for demonstrating, time and time again, that you use people from all circumstances to do great things. Perez, the son of a woman who was pushed to such desperate measures, part of the lineage of Christ. Thank you for what that means to this not-quite, never-get-it-right, nobody like me. Amen.

God Sees You- Even When Nobody Else Does: Genesis 15-17, 21

Abraham, Sarah and Hagar

My husband, Brad, and I have been reading through a “Bible in a year” plan. It’s a Chronological study of the Bible, so we just finished Genesis, and I am always in awe of how God reveals more and more of himself to us as we spend time in his word- even when we are reading things that we have read many times before!

That was my experience reading the story of Abraham and Sarah this time around. I have spent the last year studying scripture and seeking the Lord, as he has been calling me to do more difficult, scary things that the culture around me doesn’t always want to accept. I am a woman in ministerial leadership, and unfortunately, the church as a whole, has not always been the kindest and most receptive to women stepping into the same callings that they encourage men to embrace.

It’s probably not a shock to hear that the culture that existed during Old Testament times was not super friendly to women. A woman’s value was found in sex. Coming to the marriage union as a virgin and then producing offspring- specifically sons- were the primary contributions that women made to society. This is a bit ironic to me, as someone who works in the world of pregnancy, because a mother always contributes an X chromosome during conception. It is the man who gives the second chromosome- either an X or a Y, determining the biological sex of a child. Of course, Abraham and his generations did not understand this, so this was a woman’s primary function. That brings us to “Father Abraham.”

Look, I know that Abraham is the father of Judaism. We call him, “Father Abraham,” and everyone sings his praises, but as I read through Genesis this year, I must confess: I wasn’t a fan. I know, I’m always the button-pusher, that’s probably going to get me burned at the stake, but this whole thing made me very uneasy.

So, we have Abraham, who is God’s chosen one, and he is interacting with God. God tells him that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars. Abraham is confused. I would be too- he has no children and he and Sarah are not exactly of reproductive age. God is telling him he’s going to have this extensive genealogy, but Abraham is thinking…my heir is currently one of my workers. This makes no sense, right? But God makes a covenant with him, and this is a huge deal. This is not just God telling Abraham that he will do something, he is sealing this commitment in blood. Abraham should have the full assurance that God will deliver.

But, here’s where it gets messy. Sometimes God gives us just enough information to make us antsy. That’s what happens here. Abraham now has this covenant with God, and he knows that he is to be this patriarch of many, but he also has one wife, and she is not young and she is not fertile. Sarah, his wife, is VERY aware of both of things. Can you imagine the level of insecurity, indignity, and discouragement she must have been experiencing? The one thing that her culture told her made her valuable was the one thing that she could not do. She had not, and there was no evidence that she could ever, produce offspring. I imagine she so desperately wanted this to be true for her husband, but the world around her had told her that she was less than. She had failed him. God had promised her husband this thing that SHE could not deliver on.

So rather than wait on the Lord, they took matters into their own hands. Hagar was Sarah’s servant, and she was essentially sex trafficked for the purpose of forced procreation. Yes, I know that sounds extreme. I know that is a pretty heavy accusation to levy against Father Abraham, but the reality is that if the exact same thing happened today, that is what we would call it. The difference is that this was not an unheard of practice in that day and age simply because women were seen as valuable mostly in terms of their sexual and reproductive contributions for the men around them. However, if we had a woman today, who was in a foreign place with no support system, completely dependent upon a couple with whom she lived, and that woman was told by the couple that she had to have sex with the man so that he could create a child, would we really consider that consensual sex and willing reproduction? Now let’s add into that equation that in Hagar’s case, she is not just a dependent woman, she is a servant- a slave. Let’s just get real here: There is no option to say no. On top of this, Sarah intends to CLAIM THIS CHILD AS HER OWN. In Genesis 16:2, Sarah tells Abraham, “Go in to my servant, it may be that I obtain children by her.” Guys. “I obtain children by her.”

So the plan here is quite literally to use Hagar sexually, then use her womb, then take possession of her baby and steal her motherhood as well.

This is FATHER ABRAHAM and his beloved wife SARAH, the mother and father of the Old Covenant. We put these two on such a pedestal, talking about their faithfulness and relentless pursuit of the Lord, and that is not wrong, but so many churches, teachers and pastors just completely overlook this part of the story. Or maybe they mention it, but they gloss over it as Abraham and Sarah not having enough faith. This is so much more than not having enough faith, though. Not only did they not have enough faith to wait on the Lord, but they were willing to exploit a woman- they were willing to exploit one created in the image of God himself, in order to pursue having “offspring that number the stars.”

It gets worse though.

So they do. Abraham has (non-consensual) sex with Hagar, and they produce a child- Ishmael. And Hagar is not stoked. It doesn’t seem like she WANTED to bear a child for her mistress…in fact the text says that she “looked at her with contempt” (Gen 16:4). Sarah doesn’t like this attitude- she wants Hagar to be celebrating this and she isn’t- so Sarah approaches Abraham about it. He tells her that since Hagar is her servant, she can deal with her as she sees fit. He’s done his duty. He had sex with her, he conceived the child, and now it is no longer his problem to deal with. And scripture tells us that she dealt so harshly with Hagar that this pregnant woman tried to flee, until an Angel of the Lord spoke to her and sent her back.

Here’s what I love though.

Even though Abraham and Sarah- God’s earthly representation- had mistreated Hagar, God SAW her. He heard her. In fact, In Genesis 16, after the Angel of the Lord tells Hagar to return to Abraham and Sarah, he assures her that she will have a son named Ishmael, because “the Lord has listened to your affliction.”

Did you catch that? God HEARD HER, when Nobody else heard her. God SAW HER, even when nobody else saw her. When his own beloved one, Abraham acted against her, GOD did not leave her, he did not forsake her and he never abandoned her. In fact, He promised her that her offspring would also be so numerous they could not be numbered. Ishmael was HERS. Not Sarah’s, but hers, and her offspring were to be so many that they could not be numbered.

God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who had chosen and made a covenant with Abraham, was assuring Hagar, the lowly, sex-trafficked, pregnant slave girl of this. I love it so much. So does Hagar. Can you imagine how validated she felt in that moment? The relief, the peace, the acceptance of just being seen and heard must have been overwhelming.

Sarah gave Hagar’s body away to be used.

Abraham used her.

Sarah rejected and mistreated her.

Abraham never defended her.

She was completely alone, and pregnant.

BUT GOD. He is the one who stays. He will never leave us, never forsake us, never abandon us.

Hagar goes back, and Sarah conceives Issac- a miraculous conception in and of itself. Evidence of God’s supernatural ability to deliver on his promises- a redeeming and validation of Sarah’s value. We learn that the covenant is meant to be carried by Issac, not Ishmael, as God’s promise was designed to exist within the context of His miraculous intervention and not of the exploitation of Hagar.

And Still yet, God never forgot Ishmael.

The story picks back up in Genesis 21, with Issac being weaned. Sarah is still bitter and unkind regarding Ishmael. I wonder, sometimes, what life must have been like for these two women trying to coexist, raising these boys with such contempt between them? It must have been so difficult to live in circumstances like that. The environment must have been fraught with tension because Sarah reaches her boiling point because the little boy, Ishmael, is laughing.

Y’all. That’s it. A little boy was laughing. And he was LITTLE. We’re later told that he was small enough that he was strapped to Hagar’s back. I’ve got three boys of my own at home- ages 12, 7 and 6. I could MAYBE handle having one of the little two strapped to my back for a short period of time. Maybe. Possibly. My 12 year old is taller and stronger than I am. A LITTLE BOY WAS LAUGHING.

And Sarah demands that they be cast out. CAST OUT INTO THE DESERT WILDERNESS. Can you imagine this situation? The incredulity? The helplessness of Hagar, when Abraham hands her some bread, a skin of water, her son and just sends her on her way out into the wilderness?

Genesis 21:13-16 is one of the most heart-wrenching texts for me to read in all of scripture. There are a few that really hit home for me, as a mother, and this is one of them. “When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, “Let me not look on the death of the child” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.”

Put yourself in Hagar’s shoes for a moment. Everyone has abandoned her. Everyone has betrayed both her and her son. She has been used, exploited, abused, mistreated, cast aside and now, cast out. She believes that they are both about to die, and she cannot bear the idea of watching her son die. Can you blame her? Abraham and Sarah forced her to create this child, whom she now dearly loves. A child she has raised, who has also been cast aside because now the favorite, the chosen one, Issac, has been born. She is so alone. She is so broken.

Genesis 21:17-20 goes on, “And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from Heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? (Seriously? Do you not see this hot mess?!) Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow…”

WOW. God heard the boy. What was the boy saying? He must have been praying for his mama. Children are so smart. He had to have known, seen and observed what was happening around him. This “wild boy,” with a tender heart, bending the ear of the Lord on behalf of his mama, changes the story.

And God is with them. God never leaves them. He walks right with them, hand in hand, step in step when the whole world and the entire culture was walking away, turning their backs on and exploiting them.

Abraham and Sarah failed Hagar and Ishmael. But God never did.

As I was reading, studying, praying over and processing this, I was reminded that the fullness of scripture is one big rescue story. It is the story of how God rescues us, bringing us from separation into relationship with him for all eternity. It’s the story of how much God loves us, and his long-term process of bringing us back to him.

So how does this particular story fit into the greater rescue story that IS scripture? Even God’s chosen ones are imperfect. Even Father Abraham failed in a huge, epic, awful way. Righteous, Faithful, Committed Father Abraham with his Old Covenant STILL needed saving. He was still fraught with sin, even though he did not recognize it- even though he stood for and represented God here on earth in his time. He was still FAR from the perfect example that is Christ. He was still a fallible, sinful man. Sarah was still a fallible, sinful woman.

We are all in need of a Savior. None of us- not even Abraham with his faithfulness, commitment and willingness to sacrifice it all could earn through behavior, work, sacrifice or act his way into a perfect representation of what God calls us to be. There is no other solution but the blood of Christ Jesus.

We desperately need his example.

We desperately need his sacrifice.

We desperately need Him to save us- whether we are Hagar, Ishmael, Sarah or Abraham.

“None is righteous, no, not one”- Romans 3:10

** I chose to use the names “Abraham and Sarah throughout this text, even though in the beginning they are known as Abram and Sarai for the sake of consistency. Partway through the story, God gives them new names!

A Personal Testimony

“Story…I could have had a really different Story…”

All my life I’ve been told I belong at the end of the line with all the other not-quites…all the never it rights, but it turns out they’re the ones you were looking for all this time.

— Nobody, by Casting Crowns .

I was never supposed to amount to anything. That’s what society said. That’s what culture said. That’s what every sociological study indicated… the cards were stacked against me. Fortunately, God is bigger than society, culture or sociological influence.

Nobody, by Casting Crowns –

I want to utilize this first blog post to introduce myself to all of you; to help you understand who I am and what has brought me to the place where I was called to write. I hope that the things I share are helpful to all of you. I hope you are drawn closer to the Lord. My heart is that you see with new, fresh eyes.

I was born to a teenage mother. My mom graduated high school pregnant with me- she married my father shortly after discovering she was pregnant and graduated high school with a new last name and baby on board. I was born a month after her 18th birthday. Next came two more babies, rapid fire, C2 was born 11 months after my birthday and C3 was born just 15 months after that. I cannot even imagine how stressful it must have been to be that young with three kids so small- for her or for my dad. He tried hard to provide and care for us, starting work at a local factory. He still works there today, over 30 years later.

My parents divorced when I was 5. I don’t even remember a time when they were together. My dad settled into his life, working at the factory. He eventually met my stepmom, and they were together all through my childhood and teen years. My mom got primary custody of us, and remarried- my first stepdad. From this marriage, my next sister, C4, was born. She was the tiniest little thing. I was old enough to understand that she was born too early, although I didn’t understand the word “premature.” I did know that she was little, fragile, and she needed to be protected.

There we were, this little ragtag bunch of C’s. My memories of the domestic violence began around this time. I also think that this may have been when the alcohol and drug use started, but I am honestly not entirely sure. I was so young, I just know that there was a lot of screaming, a lot of things breaking, and my mom crying a lot. I often felt scared, wondering why nobody was coming to help. I remember thinking, “Why doesn’t Papa (my grandpa) come make it stop?” but that never happened. It escalated, and at just 6-7 years old, I was on constant alert. When it got bad, I would herd everyone into the bedroom and lock the door. I learned to read at a very young age, and I would read to the little Cs, trying to keep them distracted from the violence and mayhem happening just outside the door.

I was always worried about my mom. I was afraid that she was going to get hurt, that something really awful was going to happen to her, but over time, I discovered that I had to protect the other children. They were little and they needed someone to look out for them. My first vivid memory is of an incident when I couldn’t have been older than 7, when my stepdad chased our car with a baseball bat. When he caught up to us, my mom was inside a gas station calling for help. He started hitting the car with the bat, so I pulled C2 and C3 into the floorboard. Then he started hitting the back windshield. I threw my little 7 year old body across my premature sister’s car seat just before it shattered. I reached down and pushed my brother and sister’s head low, trying to cover them with my arms while covering the baby with my own body. My mom and stepdad had completely forgotten that we were in the car, I think. They just kept fighting outside.

My identity was shaped from a young age. I was created to be a protector, to keep those who can’t keep themselves safe and give voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.

This trend continued all through my childhood. That relationship ended, but another one took it’s place. With each change of relationship came more heartbreak and trauma for her and more dysfunction and trauma for us. The violence increased and was often directed at us. I did all that I could to shelter the other children from the storm. When we moved locations and didn’t have bedroom doors with locks, I would shut the three little ones in the bedroom and stand guard outside of the door, trying to keep the storm from bursting through and touching them. That cost me dearly. I encountered a significant amount of violence myself because I did things like this.

The addiction issues increased over time as well. The first time I remember being alone, without an adult, for a prolonged period of time I was 11. I did the best that I could to take care of the kids and the house while she was gone, but we hit a point where I was digging in the couch cushions and hoping someone would drop a quarter at school so that we could get the food that we needed at home. DCFS and law enforcement were in and out of our home frequently, but we had learned that to say anything meant that we would be split up. I was constantly reminded that us older three may go to my dad (whom we still spent time with and visited with, but didn’t know the extent of the situation and had little power to address it due to the custodial situation) but the youngest, C4, would not. I knew that this sweet little girl needed me, and I could not abandon her- not even to protect myself. I said nothing. I lied, and I just did the best that I could within the circumstances.

My next sister, Baby D, was born when I was 14 years old. My mom had relocated to another community near us, and I had made the choice to continue living with my dad so that I wouldn’t have to leave my high school. I was active in athletics and it was important to me to stay with my team. It was probably half way through the school year before my mom was saying that she needed me. Her health had declined dramatically and she had an infant to care for. I made arrangements with my school, and I moved away to help my mother with the baby. Because of the circumstances, I was not actually attending school. I was taking classes via correspondence. My school was sending all of my work for the week to the local school, where I picked it up. I returned it by Thursday. This allowed me to stay at home with the baby and take care of the children while mom was not able. I was a sophomore in High School.

Shortly before moving to be with my mom, I had an experience that changed my life forever. I had gone through a bad breakup and was struggling with depression when a friend began to invite me to her church. She invited me to the youth group and all of their activities, over and over and over again. I said “no” so many times, until finally I said, “Yes.” I attended a Christian concert with her- a local band was performing and some of the members were from her youth group. I was in a dark place, and I figured that if I just went once she’d probably stop asking. I obviously hadn’t gotten to know her very well yet!

When I got there, everyone was so nice. Nobody saw me as the girl from the other side of the tracks, the drug addict’s daughter or as “trouble.” Nobody saw my mess. The people around me treated me like I was wonderful, and valuable. They were so happy that I was there with them. I remember looking around that group of people and thinking, “This is what love is supposed to look like. I want this. This is what I want my life to be like.”

I said “Yes” to Jesus that night. My friend…the persistent one…she made sure that I didn’t leave until I had heard the gospel. (Which I did. In the back of a minivan at 2:00 AM)

I didn’t really fully understand what I was saying “Yes” to. I knew that I was a sinner; that was a no-brainer. I knew I was lost. I knew I needed saving. I could see that I had spent my entire life trying to save other people, and I hadn’t ever given anyone an opportunity to save me. When she told me about Jesus, this wasn’t new. I had been in and out of church events my whole life-lots of church folks reach out to the poor kids- but I had never really understood what it all meant. Yes, I believed in Jesus…so what? Yes, I knew he died on the cross, and he rose again….but what did any of that have to do with me?

Suddenly, this one night, full of these loving people who embraced me for who I was, who didn’t condemn me or pass judgment on me, made it relevant. It did matter to me…because this was what Jesus gave people. I didn’t “get saved” because I wanted to avoid Hell. I wasn’t even thinking about Hell when I said “Yes.” I was thinking about love, acceptance and being truly seen for me and not for someone else’s choices, not as a product of my environment and not as trash. I was thinking about being adopted as a daughter of the King…me. This cast off. This not-quite. This barely-getting by, constantly striving, pasting on the smile and thinking of everyone else all the time young woman was a daughter of the King. That was baffling, and I wanted it. I wanted a family like THIS.

So I said “yes” to Jesus, and I became a part of that little youth group. Many of those young people are still integral parts of my tribe today. That young, persistent lady is now in ministry at a church, and she is on my volunteer team at the pregnancy center. The lead singer of the band is one of the people I trust most in leadership. When I am struggling to lead well, I can always count on him for wise counsel. That church is still my church and the pastor there is still my pastor. The couple who led the youth group are still my mentors, but they are also peers and friends. They became my family in a way that can only happen through Holy Adoption.

When I ended up moving in with my mom, I had my church family in my corner. I thank God for that all the time. They drove 1 hour round trip to make sure that I made it to both Youth Group and Sunday Service every week. That was an incredibly difficult season. I was caring for these little ones essentially on my own. C2 and C3 were preteens, C4 was in elementary school and Baby D was so little. The people in Mom’s community did not know us, so most assumed I was a teen mom and she was mine. Even when Mom’s health improved, the circumstances did not. The drugs in the home were stifling, it was difficult to navigate and function. There was constant pressure to become a part of that lifestyle, but by the grace of God, I refrained. I had already experienced sexual assault in these drug riddled situations, so my anxieties were high and I was firing on all cylinders.

One night, my mom was at work. Her boyfriend, who was only 6-7 years older than me, was at the house. He was high on who knows what and causing all sorts of chaos. He started slamming things, putting holes in the walls and the kids were all scared. I’d had enough, so I told him that if he was going to act like that he needed to leave. He laughed at me, then he shoved me into the wall. This wasn’t new; I was used to violence, but I asked him to come outside and talk to me since he was scaring the kids and he did. Once outside, I told him again that he needed to leave, stating this time that he was to “never touch me like that again.” I will never forget his response. He looked me up and down, like a sexual object to be used as he pleased, his eyes lingering on my hips and my chest, before responding, “I will touch you ANY TIME and ANY PLACE that I want to.” I was shocked. I remember stumbling over some version of “leave now before I call the cops” and he walked off, laughing. I was 15.

I moved out of my mother’s home for good that day. I called one of my church friends. I told him what happened, and bless his heart, he did not hesitate. He did not stutter. He never once made me feel like I could possibly be making the wrong choice. He never made me feel selfish or like I was abandoning my siblings- a guilt that has haunted me my entire adult life. He said, “That’s it. This has gone on long enough. Get the important things together, I will be there in an hour.” And he was. He picked me up that night and not only did he deliver me safely to my dad’s home, he stayed to help explain to my dad what had happened. His support may well have saved my life, changing the entire trajectory of it forever.

I never lived with my mom again after that. It was not only her choices that impacted my siblings and I, but also the choices of those around her that created the storm that was our upbringing. All of my adult siblings have struggled in some way with drugs. I am so thankful that God has protected me from that. My life has been, and continues to be, a giant, grace-filled journey back to the one who has never left me, never abandoned me and loved me when I was unlovable- because there have been seasons of my life where my own choices led me down paths I’m not proud of. I sometimes sit and reflect, and I am reminded of what my story could have been. My life has gone a much different direction because of Jesus. Because I said “yes” to Jesus, I gained more family, more love, more grace and such freedom.

I am no longer trash. I never really was. I am, and always have been, a daughter of the King. I just had to realize that.

My mother has her own story, and it is not my story to tell. I want to do my very best to honor her as I’m sharing my own story with all of you, but it is important for me to share that she has experienced trauma of her own. Her journey has not been an easy one, and hurting people hurt people. She began the process of pursuing health and healing in Christ almost 5 years ago, but anyone who has walked with an addict pursuing health and healing can tell you that the journey is a roller coaster. There are a lot of ups and downs, twists and turns. She takes 3 steps forward and then 2 steps back…but then 3 forward again. Progress is progress, healing is healing and it’s often not as neatly packaged and wrapped in a bow as we would like it to be. I ask you all to extend grace to her. Please remember that she is a daughter of the King, beloved by the Creator of Heaven and Earth. She too, was perfectly knit together in her mother’s womb. God has a design for her life, and even when she is outside of that, He is always reaching, always seeking, and always pursuing her broken heart. Love her, in her brokenness, the same way that Christ loves you in yours.

There is so much more to share with all of you about my adult life, but this is titled “my first testimony” for a reason. The truth is that Jesus set me free- free from a life that culture assumed I was doomed to. So many people thought that my life was set to just be a repeat of these same cycles, and I completely understand why they thought that..all the evidence points to that. But God. BUT GOD. He is SO much bigger than your circumstance. He’s bigger than your obstacle, your roadblock, your diagnosis. He didn’t just come to earth to save you from Hell.

Salvation is just the tip of the iceberg.

No Matter What, by Ryan Stevenson