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Do Christians Need Weed? A Response to the Christian Cannabis Movement.

Do Christians Need Weed? A Response to the Christian Cannabis Movement.

“I miss smoking weed sometimes,” confessed one of my Christian mentors, “but I’m after something deeper with God.” I remembered our past conversation about experiences with marijuana this week as I was processing the news that Christian leader, Craig Gross, has launched a website promoting the benefits of marijuana. What’s more, he intends on selling Christian branded marijuana products on his site.

Gross, someone I’ve long admired, is the founder of XXXchurch.com, a ministry dedicated to educating the church on the ill effects of pornography. Because my ministry is also devoted to promoting sexual wholeness, I’ve followed his ministry for years. His approach to reaching the broken and outcast in and outside the church has always been refreshing. However, Craig has a newly launched outreach that I cannot support, an outreach that aims to destigmatize marijuana use among Christians.

Craig’s new evangelistic endeavor springs from his personal testimony to the benefits of using medical marijuana. He admits that before obtaining a medical marijuana card, he’d never used drugs or even consumed much alcohol. However, when he turned to a low-dose regimen of THC to treat his chronic stress and debilitating headaches he found his pain decreased, and he could think more clearly. Gross admits that during that time his family was under an incredible amount of stress: along with the rigors of managing a non-profit, his father died and his wife’s health was threatened by a serious medical issue. Since stress is a leading cause of illness, it’s not surprising that Craig found relief using weed. But he also testifies that marijuana use improved his relationships and helped him create space to experience God in a deeper way. As a result, he believes God is directing him to begin a movement for others who may also benefit from the use of marijuana.

Gross joins a growing number of voices promoting the social acceptance of weed use as a means to handle stress, manage pain, and heal disease. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, stress-related ailments and complaints are responsible for 75 to 90 percent of all doctors’ office visits; 43 percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress. As a result, weed is emerging as a super drug that will save us from ourselves in the age of anxiety.

Now, I’m no stranger to weed. I grew up in an area christened “the emerald triangle” in the mountains of Northern California because two-thirds of its economy runs on marijuana cultivation. In fact, many of my friends who still reside in that area are second-and third-generation pot farmers, carrying on the family business. I’ve stood in their green glistening pot gardens, stayed in their welcoming homes while they prepared for harvest season, and watched them strenuously work the land to provide for their families. My goal here is not to demonize people for growing or smoking weed. My friends are truly pioneering and ingenious contributors to their communities. However, as much as I value their friendship, I have a different worldview than they do. My perspective on marijuana comes from personal experience and the core values of my faith in Christ. And this is what I want to dialogue about here.

Experiencing God While Smoking Weed

Growing up as a pastor’s kid, I lived in a constant tension: desiring to appease God, yet failing in my attempts to make sense of and manage my mental health issues. As I wrestled to find ways to cope, I assumed that God was constantly disappointed with me. Social anxieties, depression, and phobias controlled my life throughout childhood and into adulthood. My parents even homeschooled me off and on through the years when I couldn’t bear to leave the house.

When I was introduced to weed in high school things changed, and my anxieties seemed to become manageable. Going to school no longer crippled me with anxiety attacks, and I took this new “freedom” as wisdom to continue using it. However, I wrestled with shame on a daily basis. I wanted to be a so-called “good Christian,” but I couldn’t manage the chaos in my mind without smoking.

As time went on, I noticed that even though weed provided a wider space for me to leave the house and interact with society, the bankruptcy of my heart still longed for something better. There was no connection to God’s presence, and the spiritual experiences I did have while on drugs, felt void. I’d left my traditional upbringing of Christianity because I couldn’t reconcile my life choices and my faith. I still believed in God, but believed He didn’t want any part of this life I was living.

Then, one day in my 20s, high in my living room, I had a life-changing experience with God. I’m not sure exactly why, but I decided to humble myself and reach out to my creator. Inexplicably, God’s presence filled the living room, and in that moment my warped theology of a wrathful God unraveled. I was, instead, met by the love of a God who I could run to for comfort instead of avoid for fear of punishment. What would be considered a most unholy and most unworthy moment was my revolutionary introduction to Jesus’ heart for me. Though I can relate to Craig’s testimony of meeting God in his stressful state while using weed, our stories differ greatly in outcomes.

In that moment, when the tangible presence of God surrounded me and permeated my heart, I realized that trying to navigate life by my own means wasn’t working. In fact, my obsession with managing the symptoms of my mental health issues was preventing me from experiencing a trustful and intimate relationship with God. My encounter unlocked something called grace, and grace allowed God to access to my heart and my will. My religious view of a distant, angry God was now replaced by a more accurate view of God, one who was willing and waiting for me to ask for help.

In the days that followed, the rubber met the road. I’d experienced the tangible presence of the love of God, but still didn’t have a grid for what to do when faced with the harsh complexities of life. In order to navigate stress, I naturally went back to get high, except this time I became physically ill and experienced severe panic attacks. Before my encounter with God, this had never happened.  As a result, my marijuana use ended as I yielded to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I no longer could depend on weed to comfort me, to alleviate my mental health issues, or satisfy my need for (counterfeit) spiritual experiences. The Lord made it clear through His guidance and my body’s clear rejection of the drug, that He was leading me to a new place, a better place because of His love for me. So, I yielded to Him and never smoked again.

Since then, God has taken me on a passionate journey in which he has revealed His ability to satisfy and heal much of my mental ill health and emotional pain. Many of my social anxieties, depression, and phobias are miniscule or have altogether disappeared since I stopped smoking.  I’ve had spiritual experiences with the Holy Spirit that are wild, tangible, and unbridled. The adventure of experiencing God’s presence and loving pursuit has displaced the need for so many things I’d previously used to manage life and to meet my own needs.

Is Weed What Christians Need?

In the past few years I’ve grown increasingly concerned as I’ve heard a handful of leaders, including Gross, extol the virtues and sing the praises of marijuana use. Sadly, weed is becoming some believers’ functional savior. If you’re a Christian and believe that smoking weed benefits your health or leads you to better experiences with God, I’m not going to point out your error using scripture references, medical studies, or fear-based shaming tactics. However, I ‘d like to propose to you that there is something better. There is moreavailable in your relationship with Christ and his Kingdom than you ever dreamed.

I believe in our day and age many are yearning for something more, for a deeper spiritual life. This yearning–for better health, peace of mind, and freedom from illness/affliction–is actually a God given desire. Yet, when God meets you in your brokenness and calls you to deeper waters, deciding that you can use a substance to jimmy-rig your mind and body is only a recipe for idolatry.

If you’re longing for something more, then perhaps the question for you is not Is it permissible and beneficial to smoke weed? Rather the question should be Is this longing (for contentment, peace, physical wellness, and more) only satisfied by Christ? Is there more available in my relationship with Jesus than my previous experiences would dictate? My personal experience says the answer is YES.

Stress and mental health are married to our physical wellness. So, will you use a substance to achieve a temporary and inferior fix? Or will you allow the creator of the universe to take you on an adventurous journey in understanding how his Holy Spirit and his word can unlock overall wellness?  As someone who has experienced both ways of life, I urge you not to trade the deep longing for God-given peace for a pharmacological self-improvement plan.

 

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Liz Flaherty lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband Andy. She is the author of two books: The God of My Parents and Discover Eden. She regularly speaks, blogs, and mentors others in the areas of overcoming sexual brokenness, identity, and spiritual formation. Her website is www.lizgflaherty.com.

 

 

Outlawing Options

Outlawing Options

On March 4, I flew to Boston to testify at the Massachusetts’ capital hearing regarding the proposed bills H.140/S.70, which if passed, would ban conversion therapy.  

My reasons for going were very personal and close to my heart. I feel strongly that the ban on conversion therapy for minors would greatly hinder much needed holistic care that health-care professionals can offer to children who question their sexual identity and orientation.  

Many states desire to ban conversion therapy because it has been labeled harmful.And in fact, some of the examples of “conversion therapy” described in the hearings included such harmful practices as electric shock therapy, exposure to pornography, forced separation from loved ones, and extreme public shaming. However, the greater health-care community, including those with faith-based practices, already considers these methods barbaric and unethical. Blasted by the media, this kind of “conversion therapy” has become a straw man, erected with the intent of advocating one sided and biased counseling methods that support an ideology that sexuality is completely fixed.  

But do not be misinformed. The proposed legislation in Massachusetts (and similar bills being proposed elsewhere) is about much, much more than protecting children from shock therapy and other ill-favored practices. These bills define “conversion therapy” in such a way as to prohibit any health-care professional from therapeutically questioning a minor’s sexual orientation or desire to transition gender.  Under this law, a health-care professional could have their license suspended for doing anything other than affirming a minor’s feelings of same-sex attraction or perceived gender identity. Furthermore, if passed, these laws would threaten parental rights. If a child’s physician prescribes medications, such as non FDA approved hormone blockers, or further suggests surgery to transition a minor, concerned parents could lose their parental rights to do what they think is ultimately in the best interest of their child. Instead, the state would decide what is best under this bill. 

Here is a summary of what I shared and my concerns regarding this growing trend.

“My name is Liz Flaherty. I am 40 years old, and I was born into a Christian family. 

I was sexually abused at the age of six by a trusted older family friend, a fact that I hid from my parents out of fear and shame. Keeping this secret left me feeling tormented, rejected, and alone. I developed very low self-esteem, which was reinforced by massive amounts of bullying and rejection I endured by my male peers growing up. 

I hated myself. I believed I was abnormal. I lived a life of shame. 

No matter how hard I tried to intimately relate and connect with men, I found that those relationships left me feeling shallow, compared to the depth of intimacy and connection I felt with women. 

Because of these feelings,I CAME OUT my senior year of high school as a lesbian, much to the confusion of my parents. Even in their sadness, however, they did not reject me, and I was greatly supported by my highly liberal community in our small town in northern California.

Coinciding with my sexual liberation, in my early twenties, tragedy struck our home, and I lost both my parents in a three-year time period to cancer. I became the legal guardian of my brother, who was 12 years old at the time.

Soon after our loss, I began seeking help for my overwhelming grief, and I went to a faith-based therapist and then later a ministry that offered group therapy for those questioning their sexuality. There I began to unpack many of my life traumas for the first time.  I discovered that I’d emotionally put up barriers to men from a very early age, in order to protect myself. 

My attractions to women began in a legitimate way…from a desire to be safe, to be loved, and to be accepted… but these needs had become sexualized in order to find the security for which I longed. During this process, I allowed myself to question this place of self-protection, because I wanted every part of my heart to be alive. I wish I had been brave and told my parents about the abuse. I wish I had seen a faith-based therapist or had access to this ministry group as a minor. It would have saved years of pain. 

My counselor didn’t promise she could make me straight or take away my deep longings to be with a woman. However, she did assist me through talk therapy, in facing my traumas, which included her directly questioning my same-sex attractions. This therapy, in turn, began to dismantle the barricades I’d created, and my drive for sexual intimacy with women shifted because of the freedom I found.” 

Today, I’m part of a network called The Changed Movement, a faith-based network of individuals (and ministries) from around the world who have come together to share our stories of change in sexual orientation and gender identity. We desire to provide support and hope for those who want to question their sexuality and change their lives.

I was one of five members from the Changed Movement group who traveled to Boston for the hearing because we greatly care about the options LGBTQ youth have when questioning their sexuality as we did. Not everyone who experiences same-sex attraction or has a desire to transition gender has been sexually abused or neglected; however, the effects of trauma, when experienced, need to be addressed and explored. A health-care provider who cannot by law question the minor’s feelings of attraction, lest he or she be deemed non affirming, would be restricted in his or her ability to treat the whole child.

Sharing my testimony at the Boston hearing was the first time that I have shared publically about my sexual abuse as a child. Up until this point, I had chosen not to share for various reasons, one being that I didn’t want to create a greater barrier between the church and the LBGTQ community. I wanted to prevent reinforcing any stereotype that LGBTQ people are somehow sexual perverts or other nonsense. Those who identify as gay are no more likely to sexually abuse a child as those who are not. However, since this bill directly affects the therapy and counseling support that minors will be allowed to access, I chose to disclose this part of my story.

As difficult as it was to open my heart to a group of strangers and share about my abuse, the response by opposing senators was even more disheartening. After a fellow panelist and I shared similar stories, we were met with great hostility from one particular state senator. Offended and disgusted, he considered us to be “flippant” in sharing about our sexual abuse, particularly in light of how our experiences impacted our journey to wholeness.What’s more, he seemed unwilling to acknowledge that sexual abuse can cause great confusion in an adolescent’s sexual development. But statistics suggest many children are facing unreported sexual abuse, as was in my case. 

According to the National Children’s Alliance, one in ten children will be sexually abused before the age of eighteen. Over sixty percent will not report it to an adult.

Sexual abuse absolutely colored my lens as a child. None of us who testified at the hearing desire to limit therapy options and support for LGBTQ youth who seek affirmation for their feelings and expression of their sexual orientation. We do take issue, however, with laws that limit health-care professionals’ abilities to holistically help minors. Nor can we support legislation that would take away a parent’s right to seek care for their questioning youth based on their core values.

Those of us who have experienced change will no longer allow intimidation to silence us. There are a growing number of us who are testifying to the transformational power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our voices will be heard. Our stories matter. 

To read additional stories regarding the Changed Movement please click here: The Changed Movement

lizgflaherty.com

Liz Flaherty lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband Andy. They’ve been married since 2005, and have spent the majority of their marriage ministering to and mentoring people in areas of sexual wholeness and identity. She has written two books, Discover Eden: Empowering Christian Women to Walk in Sexual Libertyand The God of My Parents: The Uncensored Account of My Journey to Find Identity.

Launching Discover Eden

Launching Discover Eden

I’m sitting at a lovely dining room table in a vacation rental in Orlando, Florida. There’s a bowl of fake fruit sitting in front of me as I write, reminding me that upon first arrival, I was fooled once again by realistic apple art. Fake flowers I get, but fake fruit…that’s just cruel.

Since we moved, two big life, hey-did-that-just-happen, thingamajiggers have taken place. I turned forty on November second and I launched my second book. Nevertheless, life doesn’t stop for second books or fortieth birthdays. It doesn’t stop and ask you if you’d like to pause to celebrate goals accomplished, or to pause to celebrate anything for that matter. Life is rolling by like big waves in the sea and doesn’t ask for directions. You have to pick up your boogie board and ride those big, sloppy, wonderful waves.

With that being said, I’m so excited to pause to take note that my second book—Discover Eden: Empowering Christian Women to Walk in Sexual Liberty—is now available!

So, what’s this all about? Well, I’m so glad you asked. You’re so inquisitive. Here’s a piece of fruit as a reward.

I offer information in a way that I wish someone had given it to me—direct, practical, non-sugar-coated, yet a little humorous to make it feel more relatable. I prayerfully speak into the areas in which I was misinformed, delusional, and extremely bound, and I discuss areas where I’ve awakened to a great adventure of life beyond sexual brokenness. My heart is to give glory to the Lord for the liberty I found in my restored sexuality.

More specifically, my primary goal in writing Discover Eden is to address the three main issues I most often encounter when I minister to women: understanding the godly purpose of sexuality, understanding pornography, and understanding homosexuality.

I’m developing a companion workbook that both individuals and small groups will find beneficial. Overall, I believe many people—no matter their marital status, gender, or age—can benefit from reading Discover Eden. And with Christmas around the corner, it would make a fabulous stocking stuffer!

Click here to check out Discover Eden: Empowering Christian Women to Walk in Sexual Liberty and let me know what you think. Please help Discover Eden‘s reach by sharing my Facebook and Instagram posts. And if you have time, writing an Amazon book review is very helpful.

Here’s to BIG, SLOPPY, WONDERFUL WAVES!

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Liz Flaherty lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband Andy. They’ve been married since 2005, and have spent the majority of their marriage ministering to and mentoring people in areas of sexual wholeness and identity. She has written two books, Discover Eden: Empowering Christian Women to Walk in Sexual Liberty, and The God of My Parents: The Uncensored Account of My Journey to Find Identity.

 

 

 

Why I Chose to Stand with Others

Why I Chose to Stand with Others

As soon as we walked out of the hotel’s conference room that was adjacent to the California State Capital, I was immediately intimidated. As someone who prides herself on not cowering to the opinions of others, this surprisingly stretched me. When we walked into the Capitol with black t-shirts on that said in white text “changed” on the front and “oncegay.com” on the back, there was no turning back. We stepped out as a unified team to voice our concerns. Thirty something people, many from California, but also from other states. All different stories and stages of life. All there to say our lives are not fraudulant.

The Capitol was packed with protestors for various bills that would be voted on the following day. It was surreal walking into a government building and being met by many other groups, in their own custom t-shirts and signs, protesting all sorts of things. It was particularly intimidating when those in various groups turned their attentions off of gathering for their cause, and began to jeer at our group that was quietly walking up to the Senator’s offices.

I can only liken what I experienced at that moment to the bullying I often endured as a kid. Like when I would be bullied as I played sports. When I would walk into the school gym only to be met by guys hurling insults at me about my weight as I walked by in my snug uniform. When I was there to be a part of a team but was assaulted by comments about my appearance. Childish ignorant hateful banter. That’s the best way I could describe first walking into the Capitol.

So, here we were. A group gathered to oppose AB2943. When my friend Ken Williams asked if I would join them just a few weeks before, I didn’t take it lightly. Because you see, I’m most definitely not a political person.

I don’t openly support certain political parties.

I avoid posting on Facebook about politics.

I don’t watch Fox News.

I didn’t vote for Trump (or Hilary).

However, when Ken Williams and Elizabeth Woning (founders of Equipped to Love) invited me to join them on the steps of the Capitol to share my story… I found myself saying yes.

Me.

The one who is not political.

When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending. – Brene Brown.

Why did I go? Well, it’s simple. This bill threatens Californian’s rights to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and their pursuit of happiness. My friend’s live in California. I was born and raised in that beautiful state. I went to support my friends and in the way that California often sets the precedent for the rest of the nation, I went to lend voice in stopping this misguided effort to “protect” citizens that could influence other states.  

The bill AB 2943 bans what it defines as “reparative therapy”. It defines reparative therapy as “engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual,” defined as “any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual, or romantic attractions, or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”

This means that anytime money is exchanged for a service such as counseling, a ministry offering biblical teaching by means of conferences or classes, selling books that suggest sexuality is fluid, and so on, these activities would be considered fraudulent under this bill. So, even those in the LGBTQ community who are questioning (which the Q stands for) are immobilized from seeking anything that does not affirm in one direction. It is one sided.

Our goal in gathering was to personally deliver a book called Changed to all of the Senators and then to be present on the day of the judiciary committee hearing. This book Changed was put together by the ministry Equipped to Love. Without the help of social media and purely by word of mouth, Ken and Elizabeth had gathered about 40 stories, in about four days. They put together the book in about two weeks. A miracle.

We believe there are so many more stories out there that have been silenced by the threat of persecution. With death threats, hate mail, and verbal assaults that our group experienced in the days before, during,  and after this event, it would seem foolish to volunteer your story of change to the world.

All of these stories in the book had one thing in common, these people desired to seek change in their lives regarding their sexuality and found great peace and fulfillment by doing so. These people sought out counseling, therapy, books, life coaches, sermons, etc – all with the shared goal of aligning their personal goals with that of their core values.

The day after we handed out the books and asked many of the Senators and their assistants to please vote no on the bill, we gathered on the steps of the Capitol to tell our stories. For two and half hours, about 30 brave souls poured out their lives in front of hundreds of people and news media cameras. All of us braved the ridicule and embarrassment of baring our souls for all to see. The deep places that once were the greatest source of pain, however, we spoke out because of the transformation we have experienced. What was once an area of shame is now an area that we gladly share about because we have found so much peace, because it goes beyond us. Our sexuality is no longer at the center of who we identify as.

Most of us did not know each other. Even though many of our stories were different they all shared the common theme that seeking counseling, therapy, and resources that supported our personal goals to address sexual desires we did not want to have brought immense freedom from pain and suffering. These resources brought life. Many spoke about being suicidal before finding these resources. This is while they fully embraced their identity as gay, lesbian, trans, etc. Moreover, every one of us that got up there opposing this bill expressed the need to protect EVERYONE’S rights to seek the therapy or counsel that they desired. This was not about denying someone in the LGBTQ community their rights to the therapy they desired that would affirm their sexual orientation. This was about protecting everyone’s rights to seek resolve and to preserve the ability to self identify, their ability to self determine.

The author of the bill, Evan Low, hangs his hat on the notion that research backs up that reparative therapy is harmful. Again, his definition of reparative therapy is SO BROAD that it is impossible to distinguish healthy practices from unhealthy practices. From those who counsel using self-discovery methods that support self-chosen goals in a shame free environment, to ones of the horror stories of counselors using barbaric methods of torment and shock therapy.  And if you follow the money and the politics the research presented was truly one sided. Here’s on article that discusses it further. https://world.wng.org/2018/06/follow_the_assembly_line

Being someone who’s life is heavily involved in what people would consider “reparative therapy” by this bill’s definition (I would never call it that), I and none of my peers have personally encountered these methods of therapy or do we know of anyone who has been tormented by these methods. I have been very vocal and warned in my last book about being cautious about any reparative therapy that makes heterosexuality the goal instead of life sanctified to Jesus.

Anyone in their right mind would consider shock therapy, shaming, exposure to pornography, and these other methods they are describing as barbaric and we ourselves would protest heavily if used in our ministries. And to go on the record, no ministry or counseling that addresses sexual orientation that any of us know of promises an individual that they will go from homosexual to heterosexual. That would be ridiculous. What these ministries, such as mine, offer is help in to those questioning using biblical principles that aren’t just reserved for sexuality, but also apply to every other aspect of our lives as Christians. Transformation happens because of love not shame.

At the end of our day in the Capitol we watched as about 40 people lined up to express their support for the AB2943. It took about fifteen minutes of people lining up to state their name, affiliation, and that they supported the bill. Then those, such as myself, lined up to protest the bill. For an hour over 350 people lined up out the door and into the halls of the Capitol to oppose. Two witness were called for both sides of the bill and spoke for two minutes each. For a complete viewing of the hearing click here. http://senate.ca.gov/media/senate-judiciary-committee-20180612/video

As we suspected, the bill passed onto the next steps in becoming law. Even with amendments to the bill and the promise that no books would be banned (including the Bible), the law still reflects otherwise. Promises in a hearing are not what will stand the test of time when people want to file frivolous lawsuits, what is written is what will be enforced. People want to pay their pastors, counselors, and therapists for services. People want to write and sell books, which exercises their religious freedom. Using the excuse that people can have all the freedom they want but can’t charge anything for services or goods is a direct attempt to dry up the financial life blood of such sexual freedom ministries.

I will never forget those two days in Sacramento. Joining arms with many strangers who shared the common goal, of telling society we are not frauds. I’d like to thank all who called, texted, and emailed me during those days. I’d also like to thank Ken and Elizabeth for the opportunity to join them. I am so honored to call you friends.

Lastly, a huge thank you to the support of my friends who do not share my views. Those of you who do not share in my religious beliefs or even my beliefs that change is possible, however, you supported my right to voice my concerns anyways. My fear in joining this event was that my friends in the LGBTQ community and others, who did not share my beliefs, would feel hurt or betrayed by my protests. That was almost an immobilizing fear… that I would cause pain in your lives. However, when I explained my point of view, there was enough relational equity to know that I was simply fighting for my voice to be heard and valued. I love an highly value you all.

If you would like to read more on the subject or the event, here are some links.

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-gay-conversion-20180507-story.html

https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2018/06/12/us/ap-us-conversion-therapy-ban-california.html

http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2018/06/16/williams-ex-gays-fight-lgbt-power-play-outlaw-conversion-therapy/

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/07/when-a-child-says-shes-trans/561749

Joe Dallas has four video’s on his Facebook page that is a great explanation of the concerns of this bill.

https://www.facebook.com/joedallasonline/videos/1845843708807061/

You can watch the video of our stories here.

https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/ex-gays-and-ex-trans-rally-against-californias-lgbt-therapy-ban

 

Let your voice be heard!

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Liz Flaherty lives in South Carolina with her husband Andy. They’ve been married since 2005, and have spent the majority of their marriage ministering to and mentoring people in areas of sexual wholeness and identity. In her book, The God of My Parents, Liz shares her powerful testimony in which she faced immense grief, rejection, drug abuse, pornography, and homosexuality. Her heart is to inspire the Christian community to address these issues with love, respect, and honesty.

 

 

 

Body Image Series: Blog 3

Body Image Series: Blog 3

Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyways. – Mother Teresa

What you’re about to read are five insights from five friends about body image. In preparing for my last blog in this Body Image series, I was inspired to hear from other women. In opening up the dialog, I realized the entire blog needed to be dedicate to their stories.

I hope you are as moved as I was in reading their struggles and victories.

Thank you five friends.


“Big, fat, yeast roll!” The older girls in my church group cackled as they compared my 8-year old frame to a popular restaurant’s dinner side item.  Church girls can be so nice.

That same year, a boy on the bus pointed out my tummy pooch. In third grade I learned that a tummy “pooch” was bad.

For the next 6 years, I gained weight, even though I played sports and took dance.  I was scared to buy jeans because I didn’t want to know what size I wore. What a sad thing to occupy the mind of a pre-teen, when I could have been thinking about enjoying fun things with my friends.

Then things got serious. High school. Cute guys, dances, football games, cool clothes, the even cooler “cool crowd”, and this Southern Baptist girl didn’t know what to do except take control. Enter anorexia.

I played basketball my freshmen year and we ran. A LOT. I began to lose weight and realized that the more I exercised, the more weight I lost. Then I began to limit the types of food I would eat. No more turkey sandwiches and chips. Only chicken and egg whites from now on.

My junior year, my six-foot frame became a size 4. I lost my menstrual cycle. My hair began to fall out. I blacked out often. My nails were brittle and I developed cystic acne. Goodbye self-confidence. But I’m skinny now! Shouldn’t my self-confidence be soaring now that I’m thin? Here comes Jesus to the rescue… or at least He wanted to.

A good friend gently pointed out my obsession. I began to get healthier as I pursued more of Jesus, hung out with the Holy Spirit, and went off to college on my genuinely merry, size 8 way.

In college I got involved in campus ministry. I stayed up all hours of the night praying with students who were struggling, all the while hiding my own demons. My obsession and need for control reared its ugly head again, this time not as anorexia, but as binge eating disorder.

I clearly remember a night of hanging out with a large group of college students, eating junk food and playing games.  I was so out of touch with who God had made me that I spent the night devouring apple pie, ice cream, and cookies. I remember calling a friend that night crying, not knowing what to do. Many years passed with copious amounts of binging. I was never bulimic, but food was my master. Exercise, my best companion.

Enter Freedom. I went to this crazy ministry school in a tiny town in California that had this WILD concept that God is good. What? Like, ALL the time? Surely my out-of-control, previously anorexic, current binge-eating, shameful self couldn’t serve a good God. He was Judge. Doesn’t He think the same thing about me that I do?

Um. No.

I began to experience His Presence in ways I never had before. He was tangible and His love for me was fun, secure, and so sweet. He LIKED me. He ENJOYED me. If this God likes me, flaws and all, then maybe it’s okay if I like myself.

I was 24 when I finally became free of a giant misunderstanding of who God IS and who I AM in HIM. I still love to exercise, eat healthy, and stay fit. But it has ZERO control over me. That’s 11 years of freedom I’ve been walking in and I’ll be the first to tell you: I like myself, and you should too.

– Candace

 

I have had “write blog for Liz” on my “to do” list for a few weeks now. I seem to find so many other “to do’s” to complete and even just finished up with an epic food prep session. Why has this been so hard for me to sit down and focus and write some words about my body? Oh, that’s why because I’m writing about my body. There’s some laundry that I need to put away, another project I need to complete tonight, and I really need to make my bed. Anything but take a look at what I need to work on…body image.

I have been in the “overweight” category for as long as I can remember. I didn’t have the “I was thin my entire life and during college just ballooned,” or the, “I had a kid and just never got the weight off”… Nope, I was blessed with the “I’m just going to be fat” gene from the get go. That can really contribute to some very poor self-esteem and self-talk.

I would say that a word that really resonates with me when it comes to body image is “journey” or the phrase “work in progress”. I have always dealt with some pretty negative views of my body. It has never measured up to what I think it should be. There are many, many years of scolding myself for eating the wrong food, for not doing the workouts I committed to during the week, or for not starting that diet that I keep saying I’m going to start. A few years ago I was doing some personal training and I remember my trainer saying, “it’s not about the destination it’s about the journey.” I know it wasn’t the first time I’d heard that but for some reason it really stuck with me. Body image really is a process and a journey. Sometimes I feel so great in my skin and other times I 100% wish I was someone else. I constantly struggle with comparison, disappointment, and not feeling like I ever do enough. But I know that it is a journey and each day I’m getting closer to seeing of my goals manifest. Once I reach those goals I will be able to build on them and I’m sure that will feel really good.

Another word that I equate with body image is procrastination. I feel like I am the queen of procrastination when it comes to setting goals for myself and seeing them crossed off the list. About a year ago, I was getting winding down for the night and reviewing my day and realized that I was really proud of my entire day from the projects I completed, the work out I did and the foods I ate. That night I decided that I wanted my days to end with the thought, “I’m really proud of today”, so I review the day and find what I can be proud of each night (well, most nights if I’m being honest). All right, that’s enough focus on body image for now, time to go put that laundry away.

– Sasha

 

Body image is probably one of those things that most women struggle with. As I write this now, it is as a woman who is has struggled and continues to work through this area of my life. I have very high expectations of myself and body image falls into that category. When I was thinking about the issue of body image the first thing that comes to mind is comparison. I know that comparison can be the killer of contentment. Sure, there are some really great things about my body, but when I start comparing myself to others, I see all the other things that are wrong with it. I want to become a woman who can walk away from comparison. Be someone who can appreciate the beauty in someone else without it tearing at the fabric of who I am. To be able to know that the way that I am is the way that God created me to be. I know that I am a work in progress. There are many more times that I see the flaws in my body rather than appreciate the things that are good about it, but I know that the Lord is giving me confidence in who I am in Him and that is how I will continue to overcome my issues with body image. I was reading a book the other day by Ron Mehl and there was a chapter about what we should do in response to knowing that God wants to do something new in our heart. Two of things really stood out to me. The first thing was to say yes. When you know that God wants to do a new thing in your heart, like help you overcome issues with body image, say yes! I know that I have felt the Lord stirring my heart afresh in this area. I need to say yes to the work that the Lord wants to do in my heart. The second thing was to do your part. I recognize about myself that I feel better about my body image when I am taking care of myself. When I am eating well, exercising, growing spiritually and getting rest. We can trust God to makeover our attitudes about our body, AND we can also actively work towards making our bodies the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19-20) that we are encouraged for them to be. As we say yes to God doing a new work in us about our body image and partner that with doing our part, it will increase our faith to see God do something incredible in our hearts and minds that goes beyond the image that we see in the mirror!

– Heather

 

Body Image. Bleh! Those two simple words are enough to make a grown woman cry…although that’s not always difficult. Between hormones and well…holiday weight that’s lasted for several holidays, it’s rather easy to hop on a self deprecating band wagon. Let me tell you, it doesn’t matter your size, there’s always something a girl will complain about.

I’ve been a pretty wide range of sizes. From a 12 to a 4. And every.single.stage. has been hard for a number of reasons. There were things i loved about myself as a 12 and things I loathe about myself as a 4. No, seriously.

What is it that makes living in our own skin a constant struggle?

I know Jesus loves me. I know I was created in His image. But with everything in our culture screaming “GET SKINNIER” and every T.V. or billboard ad vying for my husband’s attention, the noise from everyday gets in the way of me listening to the only 2 men’s voices that matter. 1-Abba and 2-my husband.

I’m not sure there’s a magic way to get over it. But I will say, making a daily decision to trust that what my Jesus says about me is what matters most, and that my husband’s not just trying to appease me by telling me he doesn’t care that my bra size is now a…well, never mind… is a pretty good start. Being happy in our own skin takes work. Every time a lie tries to sneak its way into my mind, I try practicing 2 Cor.10:5 “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Lastly, as a woman, I can say let’s encourage each other! Build each other up. I love complimenting my friends. There’s always a kind word we can speak to build one another up. A simple compliment could just be the one thing we hear that brings us down from the ledge that day…or backs us away from the tub of ice cream.

– Lindsay

 

Growing up I always had the “athletic” body type. I played various sports but soccer was my main focus and because of this, I had “thunder thighs”. To any normal person they would see muscle and be excited their legs were larger, but to me, all I saw was “fat legs”. I grew up with an older sister who was beautiful in every way. She was tall, thin, dark skinned, and had dark eyes. She didn’t have to try hard to look pretty and all of her clothes fit her easily. I couldn’t help but to envy her and want to be more like her. When eighth grade hit I tried not eating and thought that might help me lose weight. Turns out, I love eating and that didn’t last long. I longed for a “perfect” body and would do anything to get it, that’s when throwing up became my new normal. That new normal would last for the next  four years of my teen life. After every meal I would go and purge my body from the calories that flooded it and ask God why I just couldn’t be happy with myself. Every single time I asked he replied, “You are my beloved”. I never really understood the meaning until I began to research what that phrase truly meant. Beloved, a person that is deeply loved. God reminded me every time of how deeply he loved me. Every Time I looked into the mirror and began to belittle myself and hate my body, he reminded me. Every Time I would eat more than I should or compare myself to every other body type, he would remind me. When I was crying in my room, alone, and scared, he reminded me. You are my beloved. Today marks five years of changing my new normal and praising God for the pit he took me out of. I remind myself everyday that I am the King’s beloved and beautifully athletic.

 

– Audrey


Liz Flaherty lives in South Carolina with her husband Andy. They’ve been married since 2005, and have spent the majority of their marriage ministering to and mentoring people in areas of sexual wholeness and identity. In her book, The God of My Parents, Liz shares her powerful testimony in which she faced immense grief, rejection, drug abuse, pornography, and homosexuality. Her heart is to inspire the Christian community to address these issues with love, respect, and honesty.

Body Image Series: Blog 2

Body Image Series: Blog 2

As a child low fat diets were all the craze. My mother would put me on low fat diets featuring slim fast shakes and meal replacement bars. I now know that was the opposite of what my nutritionally depleted, unbalanced hormonal prepubescent body needed. I now know that those slim fast shakes contained so many harmful ingredients, including soy products that were damaging to my estrogen levels. It fought against me, not for me. However, as this was before the internet age there was little knowledge, so we were stuck with Richard Simmons and low fat cottage cheese.

My challenge with weight apparently began in kindergarten. My mother explained to me one day that I was sent home with chickenpox. It took me about 10 days days to recover and in that time I ballooned two clothes sizes. She explained she couldn’t keep weight off of me after that. Who knows what that was about? Maybe I’m an unrealized X-men with the super power of exponentially gaining weight in a short amount of time? I’ve yet to find the purpose of this power but I’m sure it will serve me in the zombie apocalypse.

Because of this superpower, I became aware of being overweight at a very young age.

I played sports all through middle school even though (on average) I was 40 pounds heavier than my peers. I ate what my parents fed me. Being low income it was often high starch boxed foods with meat added. Very limited and small portions of vegetables and carbs were prevalent because they were cheap. As I explained in my previous blog my father and I were obese and my mother and brother were not.

It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I saw any dramatic weight loss. I decided to go out for three sports that year (two of which I’d never played before) and dropped 40 pounds from the conditioning. It was grueling, embarrassing at times, as kids would mock me at other schools, but I kept at it. Then in college I dropped another 40 pounds through conditioning and from observing what my healthy roommate ate.

I was able to keep the 80 pounds off for about 3 to 4 years. After we lost my dad it started to come back on. What I did before didn’t work as well (I was later diagnosed with PCOS) and I faced getting off the weight again in my early 30’s. A couple years after marrying my husband I found myself weighing over 300 pounds.

That day I reached 305 and stared at the scale in complete shock, I knew if I continued I would suffer greatly.  If I wanted to live with any quality of life I was going to need to educated myself and try things in a different way. So I prayed.

At that time, I was introduced to the Schwarzbein Program created by Dr. Diana Schwarzbein. She is an endocrinologist who specializes in nutrition and saw success getting her Type 2 Diabetes patients off of their meds simply through an eating program she developed. Although I didn’t have diabetes, it did run in my family so I decided to adopt the program.

The program was not a fast track diet, it was all about balancing your insulin levels by eating low glycemic foods. Proteins, Carbs, and Fats were a balanced part of your calorie intake at each meal. Some of you may know this as controlling your macronutrient intake while maintaining a caloric deficit (that’s as smart as I will sound in this blog. Just FYI).

This way of eating taught me to eat balanced macros (balanced protein, carbs, with slightly less fat) 3-5 times a day. It was all about eliminating the spikes in blood sugar that can cause fatigue and weight gain. Basically, it encouraged eating REAL food that was not processed, all the while cutting refined sugars, gluten, and lowering my intake of dairy. I tried to stay away from food that came in a package or box. And a huge emphasis was placed on using NO low fat foods because low fat foods usually contain a high amount of sugar. There are other aspects, but those are the ones that stood out to me.

Another thing they emphasized was that you would only lose 1-2 pounds a week. Exercise should be 30 min, 4 to 5 times a week low aerobic impact. This meant a combo of walking, swimming, weight training, yoga, etc. It was about healing your adrenal glands and eating balanced foods with good fats that healed your body. I learned to eat an appropriate portion and stop right before I was full. Not like I always accomplished that but I understood the goal. Also, they explained what true hunger signs were and to identify when I was just eating because of an emotional deficit.

After a few months I dropped 25 pounds and kept it off for a few years. It was the beginning of understanding what role food truly could play in my life. The Lord began to change my mind drastically towards food and healthy eating. Before, food was a dread. I often felt so defeated because of my weight gain that I avoided learning about foods. It became a calculated regimen in which I told myself I was not meant to enjoy. I needed to punish myself through self-denial and this is how I would obtain a perfect body. As ridiculous as that sounds I think that many people would agree. We’ve been fed the mantra that in order to succeed in health you must feel copious amounts of pain and deny thyself. A moment on the lips a lifetime on the hips! Right? No, you need to eat foods that fill and satisfy you in a healthy way. Self-denial in order to obtain anything produces a religious life apart from the one who created you.

After keeping off 25 pounds for a few years I then prepared for our move to the Charlotte area. I felt led to try a juice cleanse. In my mind I thought it was a fast in order to prepare for the move, and even though it was, it became the catalyst to so much more. I successfully completed a nine day juice cleanse twice before moving. And to boil it all down, God rocked my relationship with food. I not only lost weight on the fast but all of my taste buds were reset. Food tasted amazing after that! My horizons broadened as I searched out flavors and healthy foods that I’d never tried. The last time I went on a cleanse was for 13 days and I knew the Lord had broken something in my life. I understood the power of His participation in my health and that His goal was that I had joy in eating. Because of this, I fell in LOVE with food.

Fall in love with food? Isn’t loving food the issue? I began to understand that God truly wanted me to enjoy food, not feel a continual shame from it. I discovered that in order to obtain my weight loss goals I needed to find joy in what I was eating and to have a healthy and creative perspective about foods that I had previously labeled “holy” or “demonized”.

As I studied various trends concerning healthy eating habits (so much easier to do with google but also can be so overwhelming since it’s constantly changing – everyone’s an expert ) I’d developed a mentality that if I ate something on the “demonized” list I felt like I’d failed morally. Here’s where the Lord had to change my perspective. I explained much of this food morality in my last blog. Click here to read.

As I pointed out in the last blog scripture says that it’s not what goes into a man that defiles him but what comes out. This means that if the fruit of the Spirit is not flowing out of your heart, then you can risk going off into unfruitful, immoral living. This results in a life that is dull, negative, and filled with trying to fill legitimate needs in illegitimate ways apart from God. Your relationship with Jesus and how much He can guide you is crucial to experiencing joy. Is He a part of the eating process? Well if you live in a legalistic mindset then when you eat “holy” foods you believe you’re pleasing Him. However, when there is a summer BBQ and you feast on a piece of “demonized” Costco cake, you’ll measure it as immoral and withdrawal from God. I’m oversimplifying but you get the point.

Jesus loves Costco cake. Jesus loves to feast. He’s preparing a pretty spectacular one right now!

Jesus wants us to enjoy our lives and understand how food reacts with our bodies. He desires for us to reach our goals of course, however, I find that when I am slipping back into shameful eating patterns (in other words, when I start to withdraw from talking to God about my food choices because I think I’m not measuring up) I find the best way back is to refocus with Him on the joy of eating. He’s not disappointed. He wants to encourage me about what I can have instead of what I think I will be missing. It’s about refocusing on the solution and not what we think is being taken away from us.

If I need to take a few days and cut sugar I do that because I am not an addict to sugar. I am not a person who does not walk with the Holy Spirit with self-control. This isn’t a prideful statement – it’s my identity in Him. Do I need to go on Pinterest and create a fun paleo eating board to be re-inspired? Do I need to research some healthy keto desserts to fill that need to be fun and creative?

I don’t beat myself up for not reaching my goals fast enough anymore. I invite Him to bring joy back into my eating because life happens and food can get dull and monotonous. When this happens I’m reaching for the foods that are easier to eat but not always the healthiest.

I weigh 224 pounds. I’ve lost 81 pounds from my heaviest point. Yep, drop the mic, I just publically posted my current weight for all to see. Who gives a flying monkey.

Let’s all post in the comments how much we weigh and what we ate for lunch. Maybe we could all just relax and share what works and what doesn’t without all the shame, judgment, and unrealistic expectations. Often, fat people don’t need advice unless they ask for it. My eyes were open the most by simply being around healthy people and asking questions along the way. There is no one method of eating healthy. If there were then there would not be a billion dollar diet industry. What works today may be debunked tomorrow. What works for you may not work for me. Live your life with the support of others who call out the greatness in you. Live together openly and other people’s successes will become yours if you are willing to humble yourself and try something different.

I enjoy the adventure of losing weight and eating healthy now. I have a healthier body image because I’ve allowed God (and continue to allow Him) into those dark places of pain, rejection, lack of knowledge, etc.

If your heart resonates with anything of this blog my greatest advice would be to go on an adventure with God! Religion wants to tell you that its all about suffering and self denial, when the Creator of the universe says, “nope…let me show you the wonders of how you are made.”

  • Take risks.
  • Be radically honest with yourself and others.
  • Go on a food adventure.
  • Try the weird looking kombucha.
  • Track your eating on an app like MyFitnessPal or use a Fitbit to be present with what you’re eating/moving.
  • Drink more water.
  • Go to the health food store.
  • Read success stories from people who eat real food.
  • Lighten up.
  • Go outside, even if people have made fun of you in the past.
  • Receive the Lord’s love you so you can love yourself.
  • Be around others who enjoy you even at your grumpiest or most vulnerable.
  • Be intolerant to your own hopelessness.
  • Get back up and try again.
  • Put on a bathing suit and shake what the good Lord gave you! Or better yet…go skinny dip in the dark with some friends…

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Liz Flaherty lives in South Carolina with her husband Andy. They’ve been married since 2005, and have spent the majority of their marriage ministering to and mentoring people in areas of sexual wholeness and identity. In her book, The God of My Parents, Liz shares her powerful testimony in which she faced immense grief, rejection, drug abuse, pornography, and homosexuality. Her heart is to inspire the Christian community to address these issues with love, respect, and honesty.

Body Image Series

Body Image Series

As the plane took off I was comforted by the fact that I had plenty of music, things to read, and a few movies on my iPad to keep myself occupied for the long flight. After about an hour of staring at the back of the seat in front of me I settled in to watch a documentary called Embrace, all about women and body image. This documentary appealed to me since it wasn’t the average “healthy eating” documentary I’d been watching lately.

Embrace is a film created by Taryn Brumfitt who posted a before and after photo online which went viral and created a huge stir. Her before photo was taken after a bodybuilding competition in “ideal shape” and her after photo was taken several months later when she decided to ditch the intensive workouts. The muscular photo was the “before” and the fuller mom body was the “after” which isn’t the norm in our society.

I was moved as she explained that after working so hard (hours a day to achieve the perfect body) to be in the body building competition she had a revelation that this was not leading to a fulfilled life. She found herself unhappy along with all the women backstage who were horribly critical of what they wished they could change about their bodies. These women who were supposed to be the “ideal” but were miserable. It was then that she decided it was too costly to her family to continue. Her goals then shifted to being active and eating well. With that mindset, if her kids wanted to make cookies, they would make cookies. However, she started to receive negative comments that she’d let herself go and that questioned why she was now promoting an “unhealthy lifestyle.” This is hilarious since the woman runs marathons and has great lab work from the doctor, however because she has some fat on her body, she’s considered unhealthy by judging observers.

At one point, she begins to interview plastic surgeons and the extreme lengths women go to augment their bodies, all in the name of “health.” And that point, when bare breasts and vaginas popped on the screen I took it as a good place to stop the documentary. Oh dear, I was not expecting that and I wonder what the people around me who caught a glimpse of it. Dear American Airlines passengers I apologize for the tee tee’s and vag’s. I was trying to empower myself as a woman, not expose the plane to nudity.

I had watched enough to get the message and with that, I turned the documentary off and sat there talking with the Lord, realizing how much of the church has adopted seriously unhealthy mindsets about body image.

Many in the modern church are equating “being fit” to “being Godly”. And when we conflate temporary things (our body shapes) with eternal values (holiness) we have an issue. We become a legalistic bunch of hootanannies that become wrapped up in a different pharisaical nonsense, but is legalism all the same. Food becomes demonized as idolatry and people who are not considered ideal are labeled gluttonous.

Most of my life I’ve battled with my body image. I suspect I’m not alone. The average size in America is 16 and the average model in media is not.

As I’ve written about hard to talk about subjects in the church such as sexuality, pornography, isolation, etc I’ve hesitated to start the conversation about body image. Why? Even though I feel God has taken (and continues to take) me through an incredible healing journey with health there are still remnants of pain from years of dealing with this issue. Moreover, as I have watched the health food movement overtake the church in a pendulum of ways, (not all negative mind you) I do see the degree in which people create false ideology around eating and being healthy. This ideology creates the notion of being spiritually elevated when you are eating certain foods or looking in a certain shape. With goals being primarily concerned with our external appearance with a secondary emphasis placed on the internal mark of the Holy Spirit’s work, the truth is that these goals should be the other way around.

Here is what I am not saying. I am not saying that God does not care about your health. My next blog will be about my own process of growing in health and overcoming years of self-hatred of my own body. With this growth and breakthrough I have lost 80 pounds and understand more about my femininity than ever before. So please hear that I understand the importance of running the race well – that we are called to influence and treat ourselves with respect.

However, I do feel that church culture tends to gather around and worship an idea of youth and health that heaps weights on believers rather than liberates them with the gospel. In other words, our achievement driven culture can become very unbalanced with its obsession of the “ideal image of health”. This matches our world’s culture and does not transform it.

Gluttony seems to be one of the buzzwords Christians are throwing around now a days as the “unaddressed sin” or the “permissible sin”. Fat pastors are often the example of being hypocrites while preaching against sexual sin, all the while overweight and not addressing their own sin of gluttony. A similar example being Christian leaders who preach on healing but are overweight.

With this, I’d first like to look at what gluttony is and what it isn’t.

Gluttony comes from the Latin word “gluttire” meaning to gulp down or swallow and is understood to mean over- indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink, or wealth to the point of extravagance or waste. In other words, Gluttony is habitual greed of things or excess in eating without sharing with others.

Gluttony, like Greed or Lust, stems from a self centeredness that leads to sin. It’s all about self and not love. It takes natural things that are to be within God’s healthy boundaries and are twisted into self serving the individual.

With this in mind, we know from scripture that it’s not what a man eats that defiles him, but what come out of a man. All this to say any person can operate in their old nature and adopt a mindset or stronghold of gluttony if they persist in self-centeredness. I’ve seen many women become overwhelmed with the image of what they desire to be of health to the point of gluttony. They become so self consumed with obtaining the perfect organic, gluten free, paleo, whole 30, keto, yoga pants woman who feeds her family perfectly and is able to climb Everest after the kids are asleep – image. I’ve mentored girls who plaster their facebook with weight loss photo’s or healthy achievements receiving much praise, all the while coming to me for help because they are bulimic.

So if we are really going to talk about gluttony it seems that it is a word that can be used to describe a very image conscious culture. One that is obsessed with self. Fat or thin you can become a self-centered gluttonous person. One who is obsessed with eating junk food or health food.

Both fasting and feasting are in the Bible in the Old and New Testament. Jesus wants us to feast. Jesus wants us to live in abundance of health and freedom when it comes to food.

My father was an overweight pastor who battled with his weight and eventually lost his life to cancer when he was in his 40’s. He was overweight and still preached a life of holiness to the Lord. We were dirt poor and often lived off bologna sandwiches and spaghetti. My parents fed transient homeless men and women who would show up at the parsonage door day and night. My father battled obesity. My father was not a glutton. He gave away everything he had.

My dad and I were overweight and my mother and brother were not. We all ate the same food. The point I’m getting at is be careful how you judge others or think you have all the answers when you don’t understand where people come from or what they have as resources. There are so many factors that play into someone’s appearance.

Let’s be a people who want God’s best but uphold each other in love, not scrutinize their appearances. This starts by understanding that we first seek the kingdom of God in everything that we believe or do. This doesn’t start with our achievements of health as a baseline.

Don’t miss my next blog! I’m going to talk about my own process and how God has taught me to take care of my temple:) What you read may surprise you…

 

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Liz Flaherty lives in South Carolina with her husband Andy. They’ve been married since 2005, and have spent the majority of their marriage ministering to and mentoring people in areas of sexual wholeness and identity. In her book, The God of My Parents, Liz shares her powerful testimony in which she faced immense grief, rejection, drug abuse, pornography, and homosexuality. Her heart is to inspire the Christian community to address these issues with love, respect, and honesty.

 

Mother’s Day (the infertility blog)

Mother’s Day (the infertility blog)

The planets aligned this year for 2017, Mother’s Day falls on our twelfth wedding anniversary (insert slow golf clap).

I’ve not taken a poll, but I can imagine that what Valentine’s Day is to singles, Mother’s Day is to those struggling with infertility (or those without the presence of a biological mother). I currently have a punch card for both.

Twelve years of marriage Sunday, and with that, twelve years of infertility for my husband and myself.

This won’t be one of the those blogs that’s titled “Things Not to Say to People with Infertility” or “10 Things I Wish My Friends Knew About My Infertility”.  As great as those articles are, I’m a firm believer that if I have information that I wish my friends knew…drum roll please…I tell them. Also, if you’re curious about the infertility journey ask a friend who faces it. It’s uncomfortable, but your friend will value the attempt to build empathy. Facts don’t build connection, hard conversations do.

No, this won’t be a passive aggressive attempt to right my friends thinking either. I have amazing friends who bring strength and much prayer to this area in my life.

My purpose of this blog is to open up about some mindsets that I believe hinders believers from entering into a deeper sense of community in regards to infertility, but could also be applied to many other situations.

So let’s start by talking about children and the Old Testament! Whoohoo!

In the Law of the Old Testament, we see that God gives clear direction to a nation who follows or disobeys His commandments. If you obey God, the results are prosperity, and if you disobey God then you will fall under a curse of unfruitfulness. Children were part of this explanation of blessings or curses. In other words, children were a sign that God was rewarding His people because of their obedience. There’s many scriptures pertaining to barren women in the Old Testament. Many scriptures where God intervenes and brings a “blessing” to their home where there was shame and a “curse”.

There was not the guidance of the Holy Spirit in each individual person as there is today, because Jesus had not fulfilled the law by coming to die and rise again. Then Jesus comes on the scene and changes everything. Not only does He fulfil the Law, but He sends the Holy Spirit to live in us, not just visit us! Awesome sauce. In this manner, our identity and relationship as humanity changes with God because He changes it through this radical love. We are now joined to Him.

For this reason, we have no additional examples of “barren women” after Jesus’ resurrection. Why? Surely there were barren women in Jesus’ day? What about the woman with the issue of blood? Well, scripture doesn’t tell us if she had children or not when she is healed. The context of her healing is that her bleeding stops, not the presence of conception afterward. Why is this important?

Children are no longer a reward from God or a sign of obedience. If you don’t believe this, you are living under the old covenant.

Yes, I’m sorry Duggar family, but it’s true.

This New Covenant identity in Christ (the gospel) supersedes any role we can carry out on this big blue planet. The role of a believer is not based on Earthly roles but in a Kingdom role.

This is why I take exception when people say their children are a sign that the Lord is blessing them. A sign that they’ve found favor in His eyes. This is error and a false application of scripture. Don’t get me wrong. I understand that they’re trying to express gratitude.

BUT…God’s favor now rests inside every believer. Mr Favor Himself lives in you. He is now the reward. No role or possession now signifies if we are in right standing with God. Jesus loves and blesses me with a $14 bank account balance as He does when I’m rollin in the dough. If you are using outward outcomes to validate external obedience to the word, you are living under the law.

We are now born again into a Kingdom family and no longer defined by marriage, children, what our ancestors did, etc. We individually have a relationship with the Lord. We are able to move in and out of roles as vehicles to serve, no longer are we locked into them in order to be considered Godly. So if you’re single, you can have a fulfilling life serving Jesus while expanding the Kingdom of God. We say this, but we don’t really mirror this as a church culture. When all of our efforts are solely put into strengthening natural families in our churches, we create an atmosphere where success is measured in terms of familiar role status. It can happen with anything really, any external circumstance, that we build the gospel around instead of seeing them as a means to carry the gospel.

Jesus was single and so was Paul. We have other examples in the NT of singles or couples without children rockin it for Jesus. Paul stated he resolved to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified; He was completely consumed with this new reality that God was in Christ reconciling the world back to Himself. Paul was obsessed, out of his mind, to naïve observers, with the new freedom that was available to humanity through Christ. The person of Christ was Paul’s reward, not external circumstances. So Paul was considered insane in the membrane because of His passion to see the Kingdom of God manifested, which was to proclaim and build the family of God.

Like my friend Pastor Dan Farrelly once said in a training about finding “the one in marriage”,  “Marriage is not a destiny or reward but a choice.” He goes on by explaining that some leaders have used their own experience of finding “the one” instead of looking at scripture’s explanation. He believes that there are many possible “ones”. He explains that he had many people in his church who proclaimed they married “the one”, only to find them asking for an annulment shortly after. His point being that people can just look at one set of results that may have worked for one leader and use it as a general measurement for all. This is why it’s important to come back to scripture. Scripture speaks to the choice of marriage. And with that, there is the choice to pursue childbearing. And when you’ve done all you know to do and your results don’t match up with many of your peers, we look to the scripture. The scripture that says all barrenness (the Law’s definition) is taken care of by the cross.

Barrenness is no longer a sign of disapproval by God, as much as the presence of children is not a sign of approval by God.

Unbelieving Meth heads have babies all the time. Is God rewarding and blessing them? Nope. Humankind procreates. Some of us have a harder time than others.

As I care for a friend’s child I believe the Lord honors the sacrificial love I’m showing as much as if it were my own child. I’m not saying the load of responsibility is the same, but the heart to serve, which results in a heavenly reward is. Also, as I honor spiritual parents in my life there is a blessing that comes from that. I can be present and celebrate with my community. I’m not negating the fact that God’s blessing flows in families but if flows just as much in spiritual families. Those we choose to love out of no obligation is as meaningful and fulfilling in the Lord’s eye’s as to love our own family. One is not more important that the other.

If I have children in the natural, it will be because God healed our bodies through the work of Jesus’ death on the cross. My blessing will be the fruit of healing, nevertheless, if you view children as a reward for diligence, faith, righteousness, etc then you carry an old testament mindset of works. The risk in this mindset is that if something goes wrong in your marriage or family, you can falsely believe God is punishing you. A loss of a child is not because God is punishing you but because we are born into a fallen world. God will be with you in that loss but He did not ordain it.

God does have a timing for all of His promises. I believe we will have children but I understand that it may not occur through natural means. I’ve walked in the role of Mother for many years in many different circumstances. Why? Because the attributes that the Holy Spirit carries are those that He works through me.

I wish we could celebrate and speak about these attributes with each other more.

I’d say the past five years my trust and peace regarding children has grown even though we still are without children. I don’t agonize like I used to. I’ve learned that as I pour my life into loving whoever Jesus brings into my path and delve deeper into His love for me, I don’t feel this pressure to figure things out. Adoption in the future is a possibility but not an option for us now. Infertility treatments are a possibility but also not an option now because of finances.

So we wait with expectation of His guidance.

With all this being said, the most difficult part of being infertile for twelve years are not the many moments of crying over negative pregnancy tests, planning friend’s baby showers, watching another friend have their fifth baby, as gut wrenching as those things have been at times. The most difficult part of walking this road is that tension of living among Christians who believe they’ve been rewarded by God, when in actuality, they were born without barriers in a specific area. It then feels like a curse. Shame really wants to rear it’s head when an old testament mindset is present.

We stand believing God will fulfil our roles as parents in whatever way He wants to, however, it will not be as a reward for obedience. This will be because of His Grace. He paid the price for healing and provision. These are free gifts.

By grace through faith, not by works.

 

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Liz Flaherty lives in South Carolina with her husband Andy. They’ve been married since 2005, and have spent the majority of their marriage ministering to and mentoring people in areas of sexual wholeness and identity. In her book, The God of My Parents, Liz shares her powerful testimony in which she faced immense grief, rejection, drug abuse, pornography, and homosexuality. Her heart is to inspire the Christian community to address these issues with love, respect, and honesty.

 

Don’t Feed the Bears

Don’t Feed the Bears

My husband and I settled in on the couch and began to search for something interesting to watch together as we ate dinner (on TV trays).

Yes, we are those people.

Andy’s notorious for picking obscure historic films about sports or even conspiracy theory documentaries about Big Foot, all the while acting shocked when I’m not interested. Side note: we had to put the kibosh on watching conspiracy theory documentaries because I began to tell people that the moon landing was staged, but I digress.

Nowadays we usually park the remote around outdoor survival or clean comedy.

Landing on one of the four thousand programs about surviving in the Alaskan wilderness, I took a bite of my grocery store bought chicken leg, and gave the new program a go. The camera followed a few individuals as they hunted, gathered, and conquered the untamed land. We debated if it was “dinner worthy” entertainment, when a woman began to describe her life in the bush. She was recovering from surgery in a local hotel before heading back onto her remote property. My stomach began to turn and then my heart grew heavy as she described surviving bear attacks and falls on her property, only to lay there hoping she would live. She fought back tears as she explained what it was like to wonder if she was going to die alone before anyone could find you.

This woman lives on her own in the Alaskan wilderness. Her closest neighbors are 300 miles away. A mix of emotions washed over her as she told her story of independence and fear of death. There’s no one to harm you except yourself, and ravenous flesh eating beasts. When questioned why the risk, she explained that she attempted to live in the community, only to find, she returned to the remoteness of her property because of the gossip and disunity. “At least I know what to expect out here. Animals want to eat me and I want to live. It’s a simple life”

We grew tired of the somber tone and switched to another program.

All week, however, as I went about my daily routines I couldn’t shake her. Why was this woman’s story still popping up in my mind?

As I prayed I realized that, this woman represents what so often occurs when believers become wounded in relationships and isolate. The deception that you can create your own protected kingdom when others fail you is a growing error seen in our generation. This is a growing independence from any type of gathering of believers (or simply going to church) in the name of freedom from pharisaical thinking, when in actuality; you are trying to protect yourself from pain.

This woman continually lived armed with weapons and alone. Even while sleeping in her artic home, a bear managed to cut through the thin tin of a home and attack her. She had convinced herself that the payoff of isolation was better than living in a community. She was convinced that her identity was one “tough chick” who took on the elements to live. It’s what woke her up in the morning. It’s basic survival, nevertheless, not thriving.

This picture parallels the wounded believer so accurately. It could represent those who are trapped in the shame of sexual brokenness, those who believe that any type of authority equals oppression, those who hide behind ministry as identity, and the list goes on and on. We all have these tendencies to isolate and compartmentalize our lives to build a false sense of safety. Our own attempt of creating a safe kingdom; a kingdom that protects us from the pain of relationships whether we are on an Alaskan wilderness compound or sitting surrounded on a Sunday morning in church. The kingdom we build that isolates is not a reflection of the kingdom of God.

“Jesus is all I need. It’s just me and Jesus. Me and Jesus alone in this compound with guns and potential bear attacks…”

Well. Yes. Jesus is the only God that you are to worship with all of your being, but living a spirit filled life that reflects His nature is to fully engage with others. Without a spirit filled community there is no place to demonstrate the sacrificial love that Christ became for us. Without joining in there is no place to sharpen love in the growing pains of relationships.

Love Jesus then you love the church and are willing participate in a unity of believers. Jesus loved the Pharisees. Jesus died for the prostitute and Pharisee. Be a part of the solution or hide behind criticizing the weaknesses of believers in your caves. I certainly can identify seasons in my life where I slept alone with a gun by my pillow, but the more I have chosen to forgiven and taken the plank out of my own eye, I’ve grown more in love with the church as a whole. This is because most of what I know or have experienced is often the result of someone else’s breakthrough. Someone else paid a price or took a risk so I could know what was available.

I continually choose to come back to this place…that there is no honoring Christ without valuing other believers…as painful as it can be. There are those who have gone before and those who will come up after me. If I live in an individualistic mindset then I’m robbed from enjoying family that is promised to me in Matthew 19:29.

Want to reflect Jesus then love the church.

Love believers.

There’s no opting out if you want to truly carry the heart of God.

Forgive, repent, and repeat.

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Liz Flaherty lives in South Carolina with her husband Andy. They’ve been married since 2005, and have spent the majority of their marriage ministering to and mentoring people in areas of sexual wholeness and identity. In her book, The God of My Parents, Liz shares her powerful testimony in which she faced immense grief, rejection, drug abuse, pornography, and homosexuality. Her heart is to inspire the Christian community to address these issues with love, respect, and honesty.

THE CURSE HAS BEEN LIFTED

THE CURSE HAS BEEN LIFTED

Six months. Oy vey.

It’s been six months since I’ve written a blog.

Many excuses come to mind for my not taking the time to post, however I won’t bore you with those. My commitment to post is back in full force.

Here we go. Are you ready?

Let’s talk about Beauty and the Beast (Insert awkward clapping)!

Fuzzy wuzzy, popcorn, candy coma induced thoughts come to mind when I go way back to 1991. This was my first introduction to Beauty and the Beast. I was thirteen and my brother was five. Many lazy days with this VHS on loop as background noise in our home. A staple, if you will, in the Disney library that remains embedded in my childhood memories.

When I heard of a remake involving a live production musical it was everything in me too…well…I actually have no desire to see it. Where’s your inner princess Liz? Where has she gone? This princess doesn’t like live musicals and actually get’s very oddly embarrassed when (in a small setting especially) people start singing. For example, a coffee shop or hotel lobby. Or that friend who wants you to know they can sing. For some reason, “I’d rather not thank you.” In larger settings I’m fine. I’m odd, yes we all know this. Nevertheless, this has nothing to do with my blog today, just a few random Liz factoids.

Back to hoopla over this movie. Just some thoughts for my Christian friends to consider.

If you aren’t familiar with the controversy swirling around this movie, in a nutshell, the 2017’s Disney live action musical will feature an “openly” gay character for the first time. Although a first for a gay character, not so that the story has ties to the gay community. Lyricist for the 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast, Howard Ashman, drew symbolism for the curse of the rose through the “curse” he felt “put” on him after contracting AIDS while composing for the animated film. A curse for which there was no cure, which ultimately took his life shortly after the release of the film. Now with the second movie being directed by Bill Condon, an openly gay man who added the element of an “openly” gay character, is not surprising that dialogue around the connection between homosexuality and these movies continues.

Condon explained his reasons for this in his interview with the British magazine Attitude. He explains that the character LeFou, played by Josh Gad, will explore his sexuality in what Attitude calls a “small but significant subplot.” LeFou is the sidekick of the film’s villain Gaston. “LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston,” Condon goes on to explain, “He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”

“Fyodor Dostoevsky predicted that at first art would imitate life, then life would imitate art, and finally, that life would draw the very reason for its existence from art.”

~ Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God

So here we have art imitating life. A life with a worldview that is not Christian. This is not surprising because, drumroll please…we live in a post Christian culture.

Gone are the days of mindlessly watching entertainment with your family to soothe the soul. Side note, how on Earth did the whole of American Christian culture adopt media as one of the best ways to connect as a family? Gone are the days where you can avoid talking about the deep and ever present idolatry in our culture while binge watching on your couch.

I appreciate the honesty of this character LeFou because it is a classic example of man’s attempt to find meaning and identity in another human. My default mindset was identical to LeFou for many years, even as I served God to the best of my abilities. It wasn’t until I learned the truth of who I was in Christ that those beliefs changed. Yes, I was a “new creation” as the word says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, but my mind needed to be renewed by truth.

However, Christians have become reactionary and expect non-Christian entertainment companies to reflect a distinctly Christian worldview, then uproar ensues when they don’t think their children are being protected. A drive in theater in Alabama made it known that they banned the movie. The owner explaining, “If we can not take our 11-year-old granddaughter and 8-year-old grandson to see a movie we have no business watching it”. He goes onto say, “If I can’t sit through a movie with God or Jesus sitting by me then we have no business showing it. We are first and foremost Christians.”

Understanding that children are at all different stages of development of understanding more complex issues, I support any family who feels it is necessary to avoid subjects of sexuality. Nevertheless, the issue I have with a quote like the one above is that when you have the truth of the person of Jesus then you view the world through a lens of looking for opportunities for redemption. This movie is a great opportunity to teach a child or young adult about why the world yearns for more and how we have truth in our identity in Him. Then art is no longer a means to escape, to “soothe your soul” if you will, but a window into your mission to the world.

We don’t look to the world to satisfy our own needs of comfort. We are not called to be comfortable, we are born again into a new missional existence. We are called to equip and empower our children to handle the hard questions posed by a culture where Christ is not the center. We are called to face things with the empowered truth of the gospel and not retreat into some sort of idea that this pagan world is supposed to supply us with satisfaction.

Paul addresses these things in his epistle to the church of Ephesus. In Ephesians 5 Paul gives the church several key instructions for living life in the midst of a fallen world. He instructs the Ephesians that they once were in darkness, by emphasizing that now you are in the light of the Lord. Paul explains to the Ephesians in chapter 5 that they should live in wisdom and to be continually filled by God’s Spirit rather than having their senses dulled by wine, foolishness, ignorance and idolatry now the “light of the Lord” is illuminating their existence.

Of course you know your children well and what they can understand. Just remember that they are meant to be light. Jesus has seen Beauty and the Beast. Jesus is actively pursuing the gay community. Jesus wanted Howard Ashman to know that there was a cure for the curse of the rose. Jesus didn’t desire for Howard to die a horrible death. Jesus did not punish Howard with AIDS because he was in a homosexual relationship. Jesus’ deepest desire is that no one should perish…

 

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Liz Flaherty lives in South Carolina with her husband Andy. They’ve been married since 2005, and have spent the majority of their marriage ministering to and mentoring people in areas of sexual wholeness and identity. In her book, The God of My Parents, Liz shares her powerful testimony in which she faced immense grief, rejection, drug abuse, pornography, and homosexuality. Her heart is to inspire the Christian community to address these issues with love, respect, and honesty.