Sex and Pornography Are Not the Enemies

Sex and pornography are not the enemies, but we are in a fight.

A quick timeline, for those of you who might be new here.

1996: A youth pastor I trust sexually violates me. Also my first introduction to online pornography, which later becomes a compulsive behavior. (Compulsive sexual behaviors are not classified by the DSM as addictions – at best, they’re hypersexual disorders, which still doesn’t define what I would consider pornography addiction to be. Anyway, carry on.)

2001: A friend opens up to me about her pornography habits, masturbation, and lust. Her choosing to “go first” gave me permission to share with her the shame I carried. Over the course of a couple years, we take a holistic approach to recovery.

2006: I write an article on how girls can be addicted to pornography for Relevant

2007: I speak for the very first time to a youth group and on a radio station in Dallas on how porn’s not just a guy’s problem.

2008: God finds my fear of public speaking humorous as more and more speaking requests come in. I’m now visiting churches, colleges, and conferences with this story while working full time at a church.

2009: My first book comes out and my speaking schedule is enough to keep the bills paid. I’m now a full-time self-employed author and speaker. This continues for the next five years.

2013: After speaking at youth camps over the summer, I write a letter to parents about what they don’t know about their kids and sex based on the experience. By the end of the week, 1.5 million people read the darn thing. I am asked to speak even more about pornography and freedom.

2014: I’ve had six speaking engagements on this topic and five of them I’ve been sick for. I’ve gone to the ER three times the week before these talks. That’s how sick I was. One I was so sick for I had to cancel and reschedule it. The first time, I chalked it up to bad luck. But now…in 83% of my speaking engagements only on this topic I’ve been tempted to cancel because of illness or injury?  I am starting to feel like there’s a target on my back. (It should be noted that I rarely get sick. The last time I got really sick was in 2010.)

Photo Credit: CNN

Photo Credit: CNN

I don’t write this blog post from a state of fear (okay, maybe a little bit…!) But instead, it has only clarified to me the need for discussions to happen. I spoke at a high school night at a church in town last night. I was handed about 10 index cards with questions from the students after I was done speaking and one girl was insightful enough to say, Why are these conversations about lust generally directed toward guys when women struggle with it just as much?”

Good, honest question. I responded with “Yes, girls are frequently left out of this conversation, but most churches don’t even touch this with their guys.” More churches are, and I’m thrilled. But most churches are not.

Here is my challenge to you, my manifesto, the hill I will die on, and also what I instructed the girls to do last night.

Make a ruckus. Make your leaders talk about this. 

We are in a fight. We frequently point blame to the media and to pornography and to sex as the enemy. These things, especially sex, are NOT the enemy. Sex is a beautiful thing that we’ve been given to express love to our spouse. The media and pornography are simply tools the enemy uses to break us down, to addict us, to cause us to carry shame instead of strength and hopelessness instead of hope.

Our enemy is Satan. Plain and simple.

The reason I think we are in the heat of the fight is because I know I’m feeling the heat. And if I’m just one person out of many who are sharing this message that freedom and hope are both possible and necessary, I know there are others who are fighting to speak up, too.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Pray. Pray always. Pray for your family, your church leaders, and the people who are called and committed to sharing the message of God’s grace and hope to those broken by addictive behaviors and our children who are slammed with images and easy access.
  2. Know what your family’s doing. Have conversations that are uncomfortable. Set limits and boundaries on the internet and even how your child will respond to pressure when you’re not there. Have you made a plan with him or her when someone else brings over their phone at school that has an inappropriate image on it? Have that talk.
  3. Fight. Statistics tell me over half the people reading this are in a battle of their own. Please get help. Tell someone. Tell just one person. Do whatever is necessary, even if it’s extreme, to fight for freedom.
  4. Love your enemies. We can’t get angry at the media or the pornography industry. We also need to pray for the people trapped in there. Statistically, a lot of them don’t want to be there. Pray the love of God is so bright that darkness doesn’t exist anymore.
  5. Talk to your church leaders. Whoever is in charge of what is talked about at your church, ask them about this. Heck, relentlessly ask them about addressing this topic with adults, with students, and from a parenting point of view. Engage your church in a prayerful revival expectant on God to deliver those who are trapped and to use others who aren’t to heal. WE NEED EACH OTHER.
  6. Learn. I’ve created two resources pages for you with books I’ve read or trust enough to recommend. First, 20 Resources for Parents (you need to scroll down just a little) and I’m working on a new resource page with some nerdy brain books I love as well as some other books on pornography and women and talking to kids. You can get to that page here.

Please join me in this fight. This is one where denomination doesn’t matter, socioeconomics don’t matter, your age doesn’t matter. We need to link arms as the body of Christ and fight the enemy from stealing so many precious and good things from us.

We got this. And God’s got us.

For When You Feel Far From God

I know I’ve probably said these things a million times before.

I feel so far away from God.

Those were the years where I went far from God.

My friend, he’s just so far from God right now.

Maybe it’s you. Maybe you’re in a season where God feels separate, distant, unreachable.

Maybe your son or your daughter, your sister or you mother or you uncle or your best friend or your spouse has gone off track.

By Holly Marlin

By Holly Marlin

It dawned on me recently that

we can’t be far from God.

I’ve seen it on bumper stickers and t-shirts and heard it in sermons: “If you feel far from God, guess who moved?” as if to imply that we’ve chosen a path that causes God to stand still as we walk away.

God does not do that.

God does not stand still and watch us leave.

It is in our nature to walk away, to run away, to hide.

It is in God’s nature to pursue.

He never leaves.

Romans 8:38-39 says For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing can separate us.

God’s love, His presence, is closer to us than our own skin. Nothing in present or the future (realize it doesn’t say past: that’s because God chose not to remember our past), no person or entity, even our death can separate us from the love of God.

Just try leaving Him behind.

You can’t.

Embrace that truth today. Although in your heart you may feel forgotten, shameful, even convicted,

GOD IS WITH YOU.

And there’s nothing you can do to change that.

Ever.

For When You Want to Feel Like Everyone Else But You Can’t No Matter How Hard You Try

You try.

You try and you try and you try to fit in.

Everywhere you look, something or someone is telling you what you should be doing (so that you fit in).

I say “(so that you fit in)” because it’s not overtly said…

Especially in the church, Christian, faith-based world.

Nobody would ever come right out and say:

 

“You should decorate your house like this.”

“You should do your hair this way.”

“You should use this phone.”

“You should wear this style of jewelry.”

“You should read these authors.”

“You should join this book club.”

“You should be an amazing photographer.”

“You should fully grasp how to pin things on Pinterest.”

 

But that’s what you hear.

At least, that’s what I hear.

It was easy to be off social media while we were in Africa. My phone stayed on airplane mode for two solid weeks. Wifi was spotty. The electricity didn’t even work all the time. My, how those voices in my head were quieted.

Some people do just fine on social media. In my ten years of blogging (yes, it’s been that long), I have learned I do not.

Comparison is one of my many thorns and it pricks at my confidence and security, bleeding them dry tiny drop by tiny drop.

Tonight as I washed my face I looked over at our bathroom mirror where once I planned on hanging Bible verses for Tim and I to memorize.

I wanted to use these cute little templates I found on Pinterest and pen them in with such a bold yet feminine script and somehow these hypothetical perfect little Bible verses with chevron patterns would scream how much I loved Jesus and my family and what a creative and crafty person I was for putting them on the bathroom mirror.

That never happened. Not for lack of trying. Even after my best attempt, I’m fairly certain a second grader could have done better.

pinterest-conspiracy-meme

I scroll through my various social media feeds, now free for my gluttonous consumption now that Lent has come and gone. These friends are at this conference, these people are at this fabulous new restaurant, and my failed Bible verse craft mocks me.

Why can’t I just fit in like everyone else? I asked nobody, staring in the mirror.

When have you ever fit in, Anne? I heard back.

I looked down at my dog, half expecting her to say something else. She didn’t.

It wasn’t your dog, the voice spoke with familiarity into my soul.

You will never fit in. You will never be like anyone else. You should be used to this by now.

I winced, my face offering up some kind of plea for a compromise.

This is the way I made you. You’re different. You’ll always notice it. You’ll never be like everyone else. And that’s for a reason.

Oddly, I felt a bit comforted by the certainty in His voice.

He continued,

And you need to tell others this. Tonight.

Maybe you’re like me, at least in this one tiny little way. You don’t feel comfortable in your own skin because you’ve covered it up with so many subtle expectations you think others place on you. You so desperately long to be like everyone else you see, even just a little bit, just so you can pretend to fit in.

You think when you finally feel like you fit in, you won’t have to be afraid to be you anymore.

You’ll be loved and accepted and your chevron-patterned Bible verse cards on your bathroom mirrors will look just like everybody else’s. You can’t compare yourself to anyone anymore because you look just like them.

This breaks your Father’s heart.

Sweet friend, I don’t tell you this to judge you. I’m preaching to myself and those were the words I heard – not of condemnation, but of love. Be different. Embrace who you are, even if it seems like you feel left behind or that there’s something wrong with you because you aren’t getting sucked into a vortex of cultural monotony.

The truth is even the people with the perfect chevron-patterned Bible verse cards and the girls who know how to layer all those necklaces and look awesome and who can paint their fingernails without them ever getting smudged feel the exact same way you do.

This is the way I made you. You’re different. You’ll always notice it. You’ll never be like everyone else.

And that’s for a reason.

glass

I’d place my money that the reason is because we’re all like little pieces in a stained glass window, with different colors and thicknesses and flaws and bubbles.

The only place we fit in is when our edges touch each others.

Then we are strong.

We’re hues and textures and boldness and softness and broken and smooth and cloudy and clear.

The light hits us all in different ways and hits us in both our pretty and our broken places, but we’re all used to shine the same light in to the same darkness that longs for it and for the hope it brings.

 

 

 

 

 

We Saw Them Become Orphans

It was our fourth time to Africa, but our first time to go as a pair.

Tim was hired by The Alliance for Children Everywhere to write some scripts, shoot some video, and edit it for a curriculum churches and schools will use back in the states that will help raise awareness and funds for their work in Zambia.

What does ACE do? Rescue children who would otherwise die. That’s what their website says, point-blank. They do a lot more than that, but that’s a pretty big first step.

About a week before the trip, I learned we’d be staying in The House of Moses, the rescue center for babies who’ve been orphaned or abandoned. I knew instantly I would fight the duality between loving that we got to stay there (because who doesn’t like to play with a room full of babies and toddlers?) and the reality that I would want to do so much more than stay there and play. I’d battle that instinct most of us have to want to make everything right, even things that are well beyond our grasp.

House of Moses

We were told it was likely we would see people dropping off abandoned babies. The house was small. We could be having dinner at the table (which is right next to the front door) and someone could come in with a baby that was found in a latrine. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened there.

For the most part, our time there was pretty low-key. Some babies got dropped off, and one who was adopted went home. A mother who was in the process of adopting one of the children would come at dinner time most nights. It was clear these babies had hope and a future.

Our last week, The House of Moses received 3 siblings. A toddler and newborn twins – a boy and a girl. The twins were only 3 weeks old and were only slightly larger than my hand. We learned their father died of HIV and their mother was in the hospital sick, likely because of HIV too. The twins stayed in the intake room, a quieter space with three cribs and 24/7 care.

Once they were sure the twins were healthy, we were welcome to hold them any time we wanted. Now, I’m one of those people who have an irrational fear of dropping newborns, but after a day or two, I pushed through and picked up the little boy. His name? Gift.

House of Moses

Days went by and I found myself in the intake room with the twins more and more. If I was sitting in the front room reading and one started crying, I could look down at my watch and see it was time for them to be fed. Some kind of maternal instincts of mine were awakened. I was no longer afraid. I could comfort them if they cried or get a nurse if they needed milk…all while praying their mother survived.

One morning, I went into the room and rubbed on their thin hands in just before we left. We returned from a full day of filming and we were told the mother passed away. In just a few short hours, these babies lost their mamma.

I went in to the intake room fighting tears, and one of the caregivers was feeding the little girl.

“The mother died,” she told me.

I reached down to put my finger in Gift’s small hand. “I heard.”

It was a raw and surreal moment, looking down at Gift and knowing he won’t remember his mother. I wondered what would happen to him, his twin sister, and their older sibling.  I started to cry.

I moved down and knelt on the floor in front of the caregiver and gently rubbed the back of Gift’s sister’s leg. “How do you do it?” I asked the caregiver. “How do you work all the hours you work and see so many babies lose their parents. The parents die. Sometimes even the babies die. But you’re here and you have so much peace and hope in your eyes.

Without hesitation and without a single tone of harshness or pride, she simply said, “Obedience and sacrifice. That is what God has told me to do and so I do it.”

I literally couldn’t say anything back; my throat swelled and closed like I was allergic to the emotion that was filling it. Instinctually, the caregiver knew and said, “They will have a good family one day. It’s hard now, but God promises to take care of them.”

I know she’s right and ultimately God will take care of them. But what do I do? What do we do? Where is our sacrifice and obedience?

IMG_2567

I’m tempted to think big acts equal big sacrifice, but I’m beginning to believe that – except for the one big sacrifice that was truly the greatest – the opposite is true. What if it’s the everyday things that are hidden that are the greatest sacrifices of all? Making sure people have love, food, and that they know Jesus.

Maybe it’s as simple – and as unglamorous – as that.

And even though may be unglamorous, it doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful.

In fact, I’d dare to say the things we don’t see are the most beautiful things of all.

 

Friday Prayer – Let’s Pray for Each Other

Friday Prayer Anne Mil

 

It’s Friday! Another week! We made it!

Have any prayer requests or things you want to share about where you’ve seen God work in your life?

For us, could you pray for me as I am still sick. It’s on and off now, but every few days the flu symptoms come back for a couple of days. Then I’m fine for a while.

Tim and I are going to Zambia to work with The Alliance for Children everywhere March 26-April 8. Please pray we raise the funds we need to raise ($1700) and for our health and hearts as we prepare to head over there.

How can we pray for you?

Friday Prayer: How Can We Pray for You?

I am consistent with being inconsistent.

This week, I turned 34. Which means I’ve been blogging (officially) for TEN years. Yikes.

A few months ago, I said I wanted to make Friday all about prayer. I’ve done that now…three times.

Sorry.

With my imperfections/busyness/laziness/etc., I am really trying to get back into this rhythm.

A birthday is just a good excuse to reinstitute your New Years resolutions, right?

So, with that said, it’s Friday.

How can we pray for you? Celebrate with you?

Dear Sexual Abuse Survivor

marydemuth-headshot-squareToday, I am so thrilled to share a guest post from my friend Mary DeMuth. Mary and I met when I worked at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas. People knew I was writing and thought it’d be cool for me to meet a real author, so Mary came in and we chatted. She sent me a copy of her book and told me one day, maybe I’d have my book contract. Two years later, I did.

Beyond writing, Mary and I share a common thread that’s a little more faded, a little thinner. We were both sexually abused. Though our stories differ, our hearts beat the same for helping others know there is hope beyond abuse. We have survived, and you can too.

Here’s a letter from her to you. Or maybe to someone you know.

Love, Anne

(Get Mary’s Book Not Marked as an eBook here and a paperback here.).

***

Dear Sexual Abuse Survivor,

I don’t really like the word victim. Even survivor has a strange connotation. And I’m not too keen on victor. None of those words encapsulate what happened to you, the devastation sexual abuse enacted on your heart. But we’re strangled by language sometimes–even writers can’t adequately express horror.

I much like the word BRAVE. Because it’s so darn brave to walk away from something like that. It’s brave to forgive. Brave to live your life in the wake of sexual trauma. Brave to hold your head high.

First let me say I am sorry. I’m so terribly sad that sexual abuse is part of your story. It’s not right. Someone chose to take something from you–your volition and your body. That person (or people) violated you. They used their power and bully persuasion to overwhelm you with their sinful desires. And now you’re the one left feeling dirty and used–while so many perpetrators walk this earth free. 

It’s not fair.

Some of you feel shame and guilt in gigantic measure, heaped upon you. Some of you feel that you invited the abuse. The way you dressed. The hole in your heart that longed for attention. The equating of sex with love and affection. You feel you wooed the perpetrator somehow. Let me say this: A person who adores and loves you would NEVER EVER violate you. Never. Instead of violation, they would protect. They would pray for you. They would honor your boundaries.

Someone’s selfish gratification is not your fault. Don’t own that. Dare to believe your worth, and allow yourself the feel the grace that God grants you. Forgive yourself. Let yourself off the hook. You were abused. You didn’t want it. Someone took from you–like a thief. They may have used slick words, threatened you, persuaded you that you wanted it, but it’s not true. Thieves are often liars.

In sexual abuse’s aftermath, you’ve possibly thought of suicide. You’ve cut your skin until the blood came. You over-ate. You spent years hard as rock, bitter as horseradish, always vigilant–ready to fight. You’ve protected your heart with ironclad resolve. No one will EVER hurt you that way again. Not on your watch.

All these coping strategies had good purpose a long time ago. They protected you. But now they’re strangling the life out of you. I only say that because I’ve walked the path of isolation and withdrawal. Actually, I spent about a decade of my life keeping the sexual abuse secret. And once I let the secret out, I decided I’d been healed, so I tucked it back away for another decade and lived inside myself–not daring to deeply engage my heart.

An untold story never heals, friend. Isolation only masks the problem.

That’s not living. It’s existing. It’s pushing stuff down that you hope stays submerged forever.

Unfortunately, our stories have a way of coming out–almost always in our actions. We end up hurting those we love. Some people become perpetrators because they never deal with getting better.

I know there are questions. I have them too. 

  • Why did God allow this to happen?
  • Why didn’t He step in and rescue?
  • Why do I have to suffer seemingly forever for something someone else did to me?
  • Why can’t I ever feel normal?
  • Will I ever be able to enjoy sex?
  • Why does my spouse have to suffer for something someone else did to me?
  • What’s wrong with me that I kept being violated?
  • Was I put on this earth to be stolen from?
  • Why am I here?
  • What was it about me that perpetrators found irresistible?
  • Why do other people keep telling me it was a long time ago and I should be over this?

I want to assure you that these questions are entirely, utterly normal. And you should ask them. You should wrestle with them. Some of them will not be answered this side of eternity.

When I feel overwhelmed by the whys and the whats, I stop a moment and consider Jesus. This may not resonate with you because you might be mad at Him. That’s okay. I hear you. But there is comfort in knowing Jesus understands.

He took on the sins of everyone, including sexual sin, upon His holy, undeserving shoulders. He suffered for everyone’s wicked crookedness. And when He hung on a cross, He did so naked. Exposed. Shamed. Humiliated. Bleeding.

NOT MARKED - FOR AMAZON 3DThat’s why, when I write about sexual abuse recovery, I have to involve Jesus. He has been the single best healer in my journey. He understands. He comes alongside. He “gets” violation.

Sexual abuse is devastating. It pulls the rug out from under your worth. It keeps you scared. It infiltrates nearly every area of your life, consciously and subconsciously.

But I am here to let you know there is hope. Though the healing journey is long, it is possible. When I tell my story now, it feels like I’m sharing about another person’s sexual abuse. I’ve experienced profound healing. It didn’t happen passively or quickly. I had to WANT it, pursue it. I had to stop shoving it down and bringing my story into the light–with praying friends, with counselors, with my husband.

Today I enjoy sex. I can share my story without getting that vomit-y feeling in my stomach. The flashbacks are less and less. I still have moments, of course. But I am so much farther along than I had been.

I want to end this letter with this truth: You are amazing. You survived something traumatic and horrific. You are reading this letter blessedly alive, connected to others. Your story absolutely matters. Don’t let the trauma steal your story of hope today.

Joyfully free,

Mary

***

I’m humbled and grateful to be here today. A huge thank you to Anne for allowing me to share my heart. A little background. I’ve shared my sexual abuse story in the last few years, but I haven’t always been so open. Initially I kept it silent for a decade, then over-shared, then went silent another decade. The healing journey hasn’t been easy, but it has been good.

About a year ago, I sensed God wanted me to be bold in sharing about sexual abuse. I wrote “The Sexy Wife I Cannot Be” on Deeper Story, which went crazy (so many comments), followed by “I’m Sick of Hearing About Your Smoking Hot Wife” on Christianity Today. The overwhelming response to those two posts prompted me to write Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing after Sexual Abuse.

The book proved too risky for publishers, so I decided to crowdfund it, which turned out to be an amazing success. I cannot believe that now I can hold Not Marked in my hands, and also offer it to you. What’s unique about it: It’s written from the perspective of a survivor. It doesn’t offer cliche answers. It’s honest. And my husband shared his unique journey of how to walk a loved one through their sexual abuse.