the challenge and cost of reconciliation

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“You give him one more chance, just like the time before, but he already knows you’ll give a thousand more.” Alicia Keys, Lesson Learned

For about three years I was offended with a friend of mine who had betrayed me. I carried that knife in my back for such a long time that the wound got infected and began to poison my other relationships. I could feel my heart hardening as time passed. So I decided to forgive.

But we were never ever ever getting back together.

You see, I was willing to let go of what had happened but I wasn’t interested in restoring the friendship. I had some really legitimate reasons for keeping her out of my life, we used to be really close but now our lives would be separate and that was okay.

What about reconciliation?

I know you have some really good reasons why you will not reconcile with __________. I do not doubt that you can justify your decision. But I have some thoughts that will challenge you.

I want to share the stories of three men with you. Each of them lived thousands of years apart from each other, each of them embodied reconciliation.

from prisoner to prime minister.

How did a man born into a wealthy family end up a convicted rapist? You might call Joseph’s life a series of unfortunate events but that would be an understatement.

Firstly, Jo’s brothers took sibling rivalry to another level. Moved by jealousy because Joseph was their father’s favourite (and a little bit of a show off), his brothers sold him into slavery. Read the Bible from Genesis 37 to get the full story.

Joseph went through hell, including being falsely accused of rape by someone’s wife after he refused to sleep with her.  Because of his gift of interpretation of dreams, Joseph was released from prison and became a top Egyptian government official.

But that’s not all. Years later, Jo’s brothers stand before him needing his help. There is a famine in their country and they have come to beg for food aid from Egypt, from this Egyptian official who they do not realise is their brother.

From terrorist to Tata (of a nation).

By now we have all heard the story of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela who, together with others, spoke out against the system of racial segregation called apartheid in South Africa. Arrested and tried for treason, he was released from prison after 27 years in jail.

He spoke out on behalf of justice, a voice for the voiceless, and in return he was deprived of not just his physical freedom but his relationships and he never lived a ‘normal’ life. His marriage was sacrificed and he missed out on fathering his children.

As President of a democratic South Africa, he had more power than he could have ever dreamed. Justice and history were on his side and his enemies, those who had passed an unjust sentence on him and millions of black people, were at his mercy.

What would you do?

No one would have blamed Joseph for sending his brothers away in anger, he owed them nothing and they did not deserve his kindness. But what Joseph did was extraordinary. He revealed his identity to them and agreed to give them the food they asked for. Later, Joseph went even further and said:

“Don’t be afraid, am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20

Mandela is known in South Africa as the “father of the nation” and one of the greatest inheritances he has left for the nation is one of reconciliation. From the first day that he took office until his passing, Mandela lived and breathed reconciliation, going further than forgiving his enemies, he made agreements with them and worked with them.

Reconciliation comes at a great cost but achieves a greater purpose.

Both Joseph and Mandela reconciled with their enemies at great personal cost. Remember, they were never compensated for their lost years.

Reconciliation is always given as a free gift at a great cost to the giver. And the lives of these two men point to one other man, the greatest Man to ever walk the earth, who at the cost of His life reconciled us to God:

“God was reconciling the world to Himself through Christ, not counting men’s sins against them…” 2 Corinthians 5:19

Are you challenged?

Thanks for reading.
shula

dear shula :: is clubbing wrong?

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dear shula

The other day a Facebook friend of mine posted a status asking if it was alright to be a Christian who goes clubbing. She then went on to answer her own question in saying that if it doesn’t glorify God then no. She also said that clubs are just rooms full of temptation, where the devil is waiting to pounce on unsuspecting people.

If a Christian goes to a club, drinks alcohol and gets drunk, are they living up to the standard that God gives us? What about Christian women who go to clubs in shocking outfits and behave disgustingly? Are we selling God short with some of the behaviours that we get involved in and promote?

I am not sure if my question makes sense but I would like to get your thoughts on this topic.

shula’s thoughts:

What a great question! A topic that has come up a lot in late night chats with my friends, thank you for bringing it up. I am going to zone in on the question about clubbing and will hopefully canvass all the issues by doing that. Also, because you ask specifically about Christians and clubbing, I am going to go to the Bible for your answer – this is important!

The first issue is: what kind of attitude should Christians have to clubbing in general? There is a quote that I really enjoy, it goes something like, “Standing in a church does not make you a Christian, any more than standing in a stable makes you a horse.” A club is a building and so is a church and one’s presence in either of those is not necessarily a reflection of the state of a person’s heart. We all have preconceived ideas about things like clubbing, alcohol and smoking but we need to resist the temptation to let those become prejudices through which we make judgments about people. Take a note:

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16: 7 (NIV)

To answer your question, I do not believe that clubbing, dancing or drinking is wrong. But I believe that the crux of the issue is not whether clubbing is right or wrong, but what the state of people’s hearts is. That is what is important to God. Every one of the choices we make flow from our hearts. It makes sense that if your heart is right with God and is anchored in the Father’s love your actions will reflect that in the way that you live your life to love and to obey God. There are two hearts we need to look at here: the heart of the Christian who looks at the clubbers with disgust and the heart of the clubber.

Take note of these passages:

“When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Mark 2: 16 (NIV)

“But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” ” Luke 5: 30 (NIV)

“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”” Matthew 9:10-11 (NIV)

Three characters appear in each of these passages: the Pharisee, the sinner and Jesus.

The Pharisees were the religious gurus in Jesus’s day. They had the Jewish scripture and law on lockdown and knew everything there was to know about their religion. These guys obviously took notice of Jesus because He was making waves in towns and villages, they were keeping an eye on Him. Christians tend to take either a legalistic or licentious view to clubbing. Both of these views are simplistic.

What was the Pharisee in Jesus’s day, is the legalistic Christian today. In each of these cases Jesus responds:

“Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” Matthew 9: 12- 13 (MSG)

I can see Jesus snapping his fingers in a z-formation as He said that.

Neither Matthew, Mark or Luke say what the Pharisees said in answer to that but I am pretty sure someone in the room must have said, “Oooh SNAP!”. We need to understand Jesus’s statement in light of His whole message. Someone asked Jesus what they need to do to get eternal life and Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good—only God.” In other words what Jesus was saying is that we are all sick: the Pharisee and the sinner are in the same sinking boat! The Christian who looks at the clubber with disgust is also sick because they are blind to what ails them: self righteousness. Self exaltation.

Consider this:

“It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us.” Ephesians 2: 1-6 (MSG)

Each of us at one time was the sinner. People who lived for their own desires and not God’s. Having said that I do not believe that going to club is wrong, is there stuff that goes on there that is wrong? Yes! I think it is wrong that women and men drink themselves into a stupor and forget who they are. I think it is wrong that women (and some men) go to clubs barely dressed and get down and dirty. Over and above all of that though, I think that it is wrong that people do not see themselves the way that God does. I think that it breaks God’s heart that people feel so desperate, depressed or stressed that they have to dull their minds and hearts with alcohol and wild partying. I think that it is sad that women use their sexuality for attention – something that is beautiful and precious that they think is okay to cheapen, for whatever reason.

Do I believe that every person who goes to a club is getting involved in dodgy activity? No.

What I do believe is that Jesus came and died so that we could all have access to God’s grace. Grace for the self righteous churchgoer who thinks that their squeaky clean reputation and ankle length skirt will get them to heaven. Grace for the clubber vomiting on the side of the road as his friend zig-zags down the road.

Grace for this broken road we walk on called life.

I hope this helps you along your journey of discovering and walking out what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

Peace and grace to you (boy do we need it!)

shula.

How to Get The Body You’ve Always Wanted (3 Steps)

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Source: http://www.pixelperfectdigital.com/

I love Sundays. Growing up in a single-parent home my mom always tried to make Sundays special for us. No sleeping in for us though! We had to be up early in the morning, dressed in our Sunday best, ready for the service at the local Anglican church. One of my favourite memories was coming home from church to a mutton stew prepared in the slow cooker.

Are you still trying to figure out what you will be up to this Sunday? Have you considered:

Going to church.

Every Sunday millions of people go to church, for varying reasons. Some out of guilt, others to enjoy the music and even the company. I believe that the church is the place where people are meant to come and learn the truth of who God is and find relationship with Him and other people. The special thing about church is not the building but the fact that these are a group of people who radically love God and people:

“One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.” AW Tozer

For those of who who are already committed to a church, invite a friend. If you would like to join a life-giving church but have no idea where you can find one, check out this church directory and find a church in a city in your city or country!

Opening your heart.

From the time that you enter those doors today, decide that you are going to open your heart to whatever it is that God wants to say to you. This does not mean you have to turn off your mind. Engage with the words of the sermon, think critically, apply the stuff to your own life, today. Do not just go just so that you can tick a box off. And do not let your past bad experiences hinder you from opening your heart today, which is a new day. Talk to someone you have not met, break out of your comfort zone, you might meet someone really cool!

Being real.

A lot of us think that to be accepted by God we need to put on our Sunday best and be something we are not. That simply is not true. Be real today at church. Do not smile when all you want to do is break down and cry, lift up your hands if you feel like it. Clap, jump up and down. Sit down. Talk like you usually talk. Be loud if you want to or be quiet. The church is the place where you should feel free to be yourself, completely. A place where you can be open about all the the things that are great about you and the stuff you are ashamed about. It is time to stop playing church and start being the church, we are not perfect people:

“The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” Tim Keller

Jesus said something about how he came for the sick and not those who are well. We are all in need of spiritual healing, this is what Jesus gives. If you consider yourself to the worst of the worst then when you step into a church you should feel completely at home in a church!

The church is the place you have been looking for if you want real relationship and meaningful growth in your life. The body of Christ is the body you have always wanted!

Happy Sunday!

Thanks for reading.

shula.

#RedOctober :: how I discovered the racist in me

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“I see no changes, all I see is racist faces.” 

Tupac Shakur

This post is unusual because I am sharing my deeply personal thoughts on a topic, I do not usually do that here and tend to focus on the topic rather than my opinion. I am going to be very honest and hopefully say some thought-provoking things. I want to invite you into a conversation, to agree and to disagree with me.

Have you heard about Red October? Here’s an excerpt from their website:

“People all over the World released RED Balloons into the skies, in protest against the inhumane Slaughter and Oppression of the White People of South Africa. This needs to stop and can no longer be ignored.” (Source: http://www.redoctober.co.za/about/)

My first thought was how ridiculous this was – the idea that white people are being ‘slaughtered’ and ‘oppressed’ in South Africa. I also wondered about the use of capitals for those two words as well as ‘World’, ‘White People’ and ‘RED Balloons’. As if that was not weird enough I then heard that Steve Hofmeyr was at the forefront of the protest in Pretoria and it was all I could do to keep my eyes from rolling. Was this a joke? When I eventually accepted that this was for real this thought crossed my mind:

“Who do these people think they are? Don’t they know that black people have a monopoly on words like ‘oppression’, ‘genocide’ and ‘discrimination’?”

This thought of mine disturbed me and made me wonder what was really going on under the hood of my heart. It worried me for three reasons:

 Firstly, in my mind these people referred not just to the founders or participants of Red October specifically, but to white people in general. At the risk of putting my foot in my mouth I am going to say: I am not racist, some of my best friends are white! And they are. So how could I think that way about people that I really love?

 Secondly, I have received almost five years of University education where I have been trained to believe in the equality of all people, every person’s entitlement to certain rights and fair treatment before the law. What kind of law graduate could still believe that ‘unfair discrimination’ was something only black people should be protected from?

Finally, and most importantly, my thoughts and feelings disturbed me because I am a Christian. I struggled to reconcile them with what I have always professed to believe about human beings, justice and Jesus Christ. WWJT-what would Jesus think??

A war of identities.

” “Identity” is presently used in two linked senses, which may be termed “social” and “personal.” In the former sense, an “identity” refers simply to a social category, a set of persons marked by a label and distinguished by rules deciding membership and (alleged) characteristic features or attributes. In the second sense of personal identity, an identity is some distinguishing characteristic (or characteristics) that a person takes a special pride in or views as socially consequential but more-or-less unchangeable.” (J Fearon “What is Identity (As We Now Use the Word)”, my emphasis. Available at: http://www.stanford.edu/~jfearon/papers/iden1v2.pdf)

When it comes to controversial issues, l seem to have multiple identities at war within me. On a subconscious level I have internal debates going on, trying to reconcile Me, Myself and I. Black- Intellectual – Christian. But how does one reach a compromise with oneself?

How do I handle my racism?

These issues are not black and white (see what I did there?). But there are answers. The answers are definite but nuanced. Never simple. The truth exists but is always hidden, those who seek it will find it.

Knowledge of the truth brings freedom.

Red October is only one of many news items that brings up issues of race, power and privilege, things that expose where society is at and therefore where our hearts are at. Things that make us feel like we have to choose sides and take it to the streets, or retreat into our gated communities.

What we think, feel and believe is important.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks for reading.

shula.

Gayness, God and Everything In Between :: His story and a candid cafe conversation

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*This is the last of the stories I am going to share on my series about homosexuality. If you would like to know where I stand with this currently, please see the Questions and Answers post which is a good summary of my position.

The first part of this post is the story that my friend *Tertius agreed to share. The second part of it is a follow up conversation I had with him. I have changed a few things to preserve his anonymity but the facts remain substantially the same.

To be honest, I don’t know when exactly I knew I was gay, I think that’s like the same sort of question as “when did you know you were right-handed?”. You start writing, and well, you get comfortable with using one hand or the other. I mean you can use the other hand, but its just not quite as ‘right’ as using your ‘natural’ hand for writing. Growing up I dated many girls, kissed many girls, but it definitely didn’t mean anything to me. I did the things that I was expected to do because well, that’s what boys did. But as you get older, and you gain a more thorough understanding of the world around you; you realize there are “others” in the world: those men that don’t like women. They like other men.

You also immediately pick up on the societal wrongness of this fact; I suppose this is because as a child you a born completely innocent: free from discrimination.

So when you learn that there are men who like other men; because of socialization, you are more easily able to pick up that its socially perceived to be “wrong”. But from your own understanding, free from discrimination and prejudices (not properly institutionalized in you yet), you don’t quite grasp why. But then again, as a child, when something is “wrong”, you don’t interrogate it because it generally leads to a smack or someone shouting at you.

So when you discover the existence of gays, you sense its wrong from the world around you and through institutionalization/socialization you eventually figure out why – but you dare not challenge it. In not challenging it, you go with it. In my encounters with girls not meaning anything and on the other hand, a strange attraction to other boys, coupled with my understanding that the “others” exist, I started to wonder if I maybe was a part of them! For a lot of people, this is an extremely hard realization ~ when you start to think your not “normal” and all the stigma that’s associated with it. That’s why for a lot of people, they can go through denial for many years. For others, well, they come to terms with it.

I don’t ever think I “came to terms with it” per se. I mean, I figured I was gay a very long time ago, I didn’t think about it – similarly to the fact that I don’t think about how I like chocolate ice-cream and you like strawberry. I tried to hide it from other people because they seemed to be the ones which had a problem with it. In hiding it, I continued to try assimilate with the rest of society; so I dated more girls, kissed more girls… and still nothing.

When your older than 16 and you know whats going on, and kissing girls doesn’t mean anything, you kind of figure that you are gay and obviously so do other people, and they keep you at arms length.

I think its really rough for the gays growing up (or at least it was for me) because no one speaks about it. So gays have no one they can talk to about this extremely weird and absolutely awkward experience: its hard for you to fathom and understand this question, but: imagine not being normal?

Normal in the sense that they ‘rest’ of the world behaves one way & you’re the only person that you know who does not. Think of it as being the only green person in the world and then imagine there’s a stigma associated with it. You feel so alone, because who do you speak to; you can’t admit you have the gayness, and yet no one else seems to have this gay-thing! You can’t possibly understand this gay thing, and what makes it worse is, because the non-gays don’t know anything about gayness,

They have all these strange preconceived ideas: like gay boys just want to jump every other male. Not true! Just like a non-gay doesn’t jump anything with a skirt, we don’t want to sex everything with a penis. But of course no one understands this.

I kind of always knew I was gay: but did not come out until I was at University. Even that I didn’t do until half way through first year: a friend of mine who I suspected was gay, almost figured I was gay, and eventually we told each other and well came to the grand idea that we should “come out together”. Which was great. I mean at least we had each other for support. But as we soon found out, nothing much changed. I mean, its not like a heavy weight was lifted off our shoulders; but I would associate that to the fact that our University is a safe space, a lot more ‘safe’ than some parts of the rest of the world.

I suppose in coming out, my friend and I had to figure out what “being out” meant. Does this mean that we must/can be ‘all gay in your face’ because we are out now and we don’t care what other people think? Slowly I figured out that it doesn’t necessarily mean anything at all. It just means that other people can know, and that you’ve come to terms with it.

The funny thing is, I haven’t told my mum or some of my friends outside the University town. My friends who do know that I’m gay often ask why. It is out of a sort of weird respect: I don’t think she’d be comfortable with it. And that’s fine, I accept that. In telling her, what would I be hoping to accomplish, versus what it would achieve? I mean I’m sure it would ruin our relationship (to a certain extent). So why tell her? I mean, I’m happy with her not knowing, and she’s happy not knowing (comparing her now to if she knew), why ruin it? It is twisted, I know.

In terms of my belief in God: well, let me categorically state: Being gay is not a choice! I didn’t wake up one day and think its cool to be gay. I don’t think anyone would. I assure you we’re not “liking things”! Having said this, I would conclude that God doesn’t discriminate against gays. Why would He? The almighty Lord of all the Universe hates gays? Really?! No, sorry, I can’t fathom such.

My experience with Christians is that I’m yet to be faced with someone who is vehemently publicly anti-gay. It might be because I’m gay that we haven’t bumped into each other. But generally, the people I’m associated with don’t have a problem with it. Those that do have a problem don’t judge and keep that aspect ‘hush-hush’ – we don’t engage. How it affects them, I don’t know. It doesn’t affect me – because I’m not the sort of person to impose my ideologies on to other people: I believe X, you believe Y; You like Coca-Cola, I like Creme-Soda, good for us!

This is my own personal experience of being gay. How other people have experienced it and perceived it will completely different; and by no accounts should I be interpreted as speaking on “behalf” of all gays.

Our cafe conversation:

Shula: Do you think our University is generally accepting of or against homosexuality?

Tertius: The way I look at our university has changed. When I arrived in first year I hadn’t come out yet. At that time I felt like it was a very cool place, you could just be yourself, everybody’s friends with one another, it’s great! Then I started to realise that everyone’s just wearing this nice mask and it’s all fake, superficial, everyone’s “chilled” with everything all the time as long as it doesn’t affect me. If you want to be gay over there, good for you! But if you hit on me I’ll kill you.

Shula: Assuming that you grew up being taught that homosexuality was unacceptable or inappropriate, what brought you to the place of going against what you had been taught?

Tertius: I don’t know. I thought about it earlier today. I can’t say what was the defining moment … This is a very awkward story, but I went on holiday with my cousins and we stayed at a place that was managed by a gay man. That was probably my closest encounter with another homosexual, knowing that I am probably on the same team as him.

And he became an idol because he’s out and he’s gay and he’s old and those that are around him treat him like a human and the world hasn’t come crumbling down. And I became more and more attracted to him. And we eventually hooked up. It was a completely nerve-wracking experience, of course, “What does it mean?” blah blah. But I knew that it felt right. I had had relationships with girls and felt nothing.

But there was something there. Then everyone found out and I was like, “Ok, let’s put that back into the box.”

I came to this University because it had a reputation for being quite liberal and ‘the gays’ are allowed. That was an exciting experience because you see a wide variety… different people associate different things to it. Halfway through my first year I knew different cliques and they all experienced it differently. Eventually, I took the leap of faith and I suppose that was the most traumatic thing because I was just like, What does it mean to me?”  

Shula: Do you feel like being gay is an inseparable part of your identity? Have you thought about that?

Tertius: Personally, I don’t associate myself with any institution. I don’t see myself as South African, white/black, or gay. I don’t necessarily like it when someone says, “Oh, here’s Tertius, he’s gay!” Why must that be the opening line? I think I’m a mixture of many things and it is part of who I am.

I don’t necessarily like the stereotypes that come with it either. I don’t agree with everyone going, “Baby girl, oh baby girl!”, because I’m still a male, I just happen to like other males. I haven’t had a sex change.

Shula: Do you feel like at all ‘activistic’ about homosexuality because you’re gay? I know you don’t define yourself by your gayness but you are a passionate person with convictions, you are a leader. Is this area divorced from that side of you?

Tertius: I can’t say that I necessarily have a passion for gay rights. I would fight for gay rights as much as I would fight for anyone else’s. I don’t put that at the forefront of what I do just because I am gay. Also, how it’s done does not always sit well with me. This [conversation] I feel is a much more effective means of conveying homosexuality not, for example, gay Pride Week where we all fabulously march down the street. We’re now shoving things down people’s throat and antagonising them. I don’t see heterosexuals having a ‘Straight Week’.

Shula: Okay, so what do you think about the stereotypical ‘gay’ lifestyle? The idea that all gay people are artists / fashion designers/ interior decorators and that there is evidence to back up that stereotype?

Tertius: I think it is very misunderstood by non-homosexuals and homosexuals. In it being misunderstood I think it is a kind of ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’.

It is hard to say which came first- the chicken or the egg. I think that gay people are ‘othered’ as being gay so a gay person needs to establish for themselves what that means. It’s not something that you can go and speak to someone else about. Who would you speak to? And so, one needs to pick up on the little hints that they get along the way. One watches Fashion TV and sees: “It’s fabulous DAHLING!” and some people associate it with that and therefore follow that because that’s what they like to see as being gay and that’s what they become. I don’t want to be fabulous nor be a fashion designer or cut hair, you know?

Shula: You describe yourself as an agnostic. What does that mean to you?

Tertius: For me, it means that I don’t necessarily associate with any type of religion. I separate religion from God. Religion is a humanistic political thing. There is a super-being, a God and I dissociate myself from religion.

Shula: My view is that ‘religion’ on the one hand is a set of beliefs, practices and traditions. Then there’s ‘religion’ which entails our understanding of God. Christianity is an example and we believe in things like the supremacy of the Bible, Jesus as God and not just a man. And religion is what we have made of that, the way we choose to live our lives based on what we believe.

What I believe is that there is a God who created everyone. And He is supreme and He is above everyone else, He created everyone for a purpose. It’s kind of like how Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook. He conceived it in his mind and formed it for a purpose. He put in its DNA, how everything is going to work and he put in the formulas.

I think with the issue of sexuality, my view is that, if God created people, sex, reproduction, sexual attraction and desire then the way we understand all of sexuality (not just homosexuality) must be from the point of view of the person who created it. I can explain a painting to you from what I see, but only the Painter can explain to me fully [even truthfully].

Tertius: That’s the thing with art. The way that you explain this picture, the way I explain this picture, and the way that the creator explains this picture could be completely different and I think that that also applies to what we’re speaking about.

Shula: I agree. But the creator is the one who would know the truth right? I know you talked about how each of us have different beliefs and that’s okay. But have you ever thought whether homosexuality is right? Do you ever wonder?

Tertius: I love that question… I’m going to get shot, particularly if people like *Kris ever hear me. My theory on homosexuality is that it is a mental disorder-

Shula: And you’re not joking?

Tertius: I’m not joking. I believe that humans are not necessarily put one way or the other. I think that who you are right now is predominantly by social construct. The clothes you wear, how you wear them, the way you behave – everything that you are. [The world] enforces a system upon each one of us that makes us who we are and everyone around you enforces it because that is the way that everyone is…

Applying that to homosexuality, my idea is that there is a psychological dysfunction somewhere and I think that it has something to do with the relationship between a person’s parents in early childhood… which leads the child to go off the road which the system is supposed to be reaffirming. I’ve engaged with many other gays and everyone seems to have a parental issue and it’s got something to do with the father. It really has something to do with the father. I’ve had it personally and when I start to see it in other people, I recognise it a lot better. There are a couple of people that I know that have daddy issues.

Shula: So you say that you have experienced it personally. What is it about the daddy relationship?

Tertius: I don’t know. I think that there’s a conflict between the two parents and there’s a negative relationship between the father and the son at a particular stage. Between the three parties there is some breakdown.

Shula: Do you think it is possible for someone to make a choice with regards to this? Is it something that one feels compelled to act on? Is it possible to choose?

Tertius: I think that people are not necessarily born homosexual or gay. I think that as a new-born baby, you don’t have any of these things: you’re not homosexual, you’re not racist. Having said that, I do not think that it is a choice, I think it is how you as an individual have developed. Because I find that people don’t choose to be racist either, they just are. And it’s not their fault, it really isn’t, it’s just how they’ve been brought up. I don’t think anyone chooses who they are attracted to. I don’t think that I could choose to be straight. I have tried for many years to be straight, I can fake it but it doesn’t work.

Shula: Thank you Tertius, I appreciate that honest answer.

One of the things that I believe is that we can have a relationship with God. God is not far away. I believe that human beings were created to be in a relationship with God, we understand ourselves by asking God: “Who am I?” I found that I understood who I was when I went to God and decided that I wasn’t going to come with my own ideas about who I am, I am actually going to allow God to show me who I am. I believe that God is loving and He’s not cruel or malevolent. I believe that it is possible for a person to change. I don’t define myself by the struggles I have had in the arena of sexuality and I don’t feel that I have to act on every desire. An extreme example would be, just because I really really feel like killing someone, that doesn’t mean I should go ahead and do it.

Tertius: So, like, we want to steal but we don’t do it.

Shula: Exactly. That has been my personal experience, I have changed, I have seen people change. Do you think that a person can change? Is it possible? Should we be asking that question, is it important? I’m not talking about forced change but a person deciding for themselves.

Tertius: Possibly… Perhaps not. If one were to change it would probably be on the basis of resolving the crux. Remember I talked about the relational breakdown? Whatever that deep underlying thing is… or several things that have led you to feel or believe a particular way, those things would have to be resolved. Maybe then one would be more at liberty with doing that. But I don’t think it’s a case of “One day I’m to wake and I’m going to do this.” because the underlying subconscious thing is still there… I think you can be rehabilitated to a certain degree but that doesn’t mean that the urges have stopped they are just now have been institutionalized such that you don’t act them on them.

                                                                                                                             [Pause]

This conversation is not over, it only just started! Many of you have been reading the posts that make up this series but have not had the chance to share your views on the issue. Please take some time to respond below, your voice is an important part of this conversation. Also, feel free to share this with your friends and start talking about things that matter!

What is your personal position on homosexuality?

What do you think God thinks about homosexuality and homosexuals?

Moving forward, what are some things that you are still grappling with with regards to this topic?

Thanks for reading.

shula.

 

Lesbianism #HerStory :: Q & A

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On Thursday I posted a story about homosexuality that my friend shared with me, you can read it here. If you scroll down to the comments, you will see some honest responses from people who were challenged by the story. To put this follow up post in context, please refer to that post.

There were some important questions raised by you that I want to highlight:

Christians view homosexuality as a sin but what does that mean exactly?

Why is accepting homosexuality so difficult?

When one accepts Christ, is the homosexual attraction taken away and then replaced by heterosexual attraction?

I have a friend who ‘came out’ to me, how do I help her?

Before we go into the answers, let’s all take a deep breath. This is a controversial subject and we all come with our preconceived ideas about what the answer to each question should be. Our answers depend on the lens through which we understand the world. But wouldn’t you agree that, ultimately, what matters is not what we think is the truth (subjectively) but what the Truth actually is (objectively)?

Don’t believe anyone who says that, “There is no such thing as Absolute Truth – there are many truths.” That statement contradicts itself. If there is no such thing as absolute truth then even that statement cannot be absolutely true. You feel me? Every human heart is trying to make sense of life and we are all in search of The Truth of why we are here because that will determine how we are supposed to live.

Let’s lay down our assumptions, preconceptions and even our emotions attached to this. Let’s allow our minds and hearts to be changed if they need to be. The basis of my post today is this:

“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.”

Those were words written by Paul in his letter to the Romans (Romans 12:2, The Message ) and it is such a powerful and relevant warning! Most of us have become so well adjusted to our culture’s way of looking at the issue. We have uncritically and wholeheartedly adopted a certain view of homosexuality – the “Christian”, the leftist, the African, the American, the hip-hop culture view… and we have taken our eyes off God.

Each of these answers needs to be read very carefully, as a whole and cross-checked against the original source. If you stop reading halfway, you might miss out on an important aspect. If you pick and choose, you will miss the whole picture. Here are my thoughts!:

1. Christians view homosexuality as a sin but what does that mean exactly?

The starting point for understanding “sin” is that the Bible describes every human being as being in need of rescue, in need of God. We need to be rescued from the things we have made the centre of our lives: money, power, sex, whatever. A look at human history is enough to prove the destruction comes from the selfish pursuit of these things. Money, power or sex are not inherently evil, they only become dangerous when they are loved and pursued above God, when they take the place of God in our lives. The sin that all human hearts have committed, without exception, is that we have failed to “Love the Lord your God [with everything]”, a command from God that Jesus described as being the first on His list. See Matthew 22.

“They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise!” Romans 1:25

The Bible tells us that God created all things, including sex and sexual desire : “For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory.” It also makes it clear that in the area of sexual desire we are meant to exercise self-regulation (self control) as opposed to doing with our bodies what we so badly want to do with them *sigh*! 1 Thessalonians 4: 3-5 talks about how God’s will for us is that we would learn how to master our desires so that we are not controlled by our bodies – people who know God ought to live in this way. There are clear guidelines given: if you are single, control yourself by the power of the Holy Spirit; if you cannot control yourself, get married.

In the absence of the guidelines found in the Bible regarding our sexuality (and every other area of our lives) anything is permissible, acceptable and good. The thing is, these guidelines are there and we cannot deny them or “interpret” the Bible as we wish. But we can refuse to acknowledge them and disobey them, God does not keep us from doing that:

“Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done.” Romans 1:28

Greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, gossip and pride are all the result of our abandonment of God and all go against His will for us (Romans 1:29). Along with these, the Bible does not skirt around the issue of “sexual immorality” but refers specifically to people having sex with other people’s husbands/ wives; unmarried people having sex with each other; men having sex with men and women with women; prostitution; even group sex. Some verses that you can consult to confirm this: 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7; 1 Timothy 1:8-10.

The Bible reveals that homosexual desires go against His will for the way that He intended for us to live. In the same way that a woman’s desire to have sex with someone  else’s husband does. But I think there must be a distinction drawn between the desires and the sexual acts- the logic being that if we exercise self control and do not give in to what our bodies desire then we have not sinned.

But we do sin. God’s standards are high and if we are incapable of reaching them anyway, what is the point?

Keep reading.

2. Why is accepting homosexuality so difficult?

I am going to approach this question on the basis that this person is asking why it seems so much easier to talk about adultery, hatred, murder, jealousy, prostitution and racism (all of which the Bible says are against God’s will) but not homosexuality.  It is difficult for someone who has homosexual desires; for those who love someone who has homosexual desires; for theologians, pastors, judges and politicians. Some people propose that the reason is that a relatively small number of people actually have homosexual desires. As opposed to something like say, jealousy, that everyone can identify with. My only problem with that view is that because homosexuality is such a taboo topic in the Church, and even in the world, very few people have the courage to “come out” and be open about what their feeling. My point is that we might be surprised that more people than we think are actually going through this.

I can only guess that it such a difficult topic because of the way that our cultures have developed. But it is time to change that, it is time to start a conversation.

3. When one accepts Christ, is the homosexual attraction taken away and then replaced by heterosexual attraction?

This question is really about what salvation and Lordship means. What does it mean to “accept” Christ and what are the consequences?

“Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us… God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear.”

This passage in Romans 3 answers the problem that I raised in question 1: God’s high standards and our inability to reach them. The life and words of Jesus Christ show us this:

 i) God loves us, created us for relationship with Him, to love Him and to be like Him in all things, including in our desires and behaviour.

ii) God loves us, but we have forgotten God and put other things at the centre of our lives – this is what is at the core of every sin.

iii) God loves us but because of (ii) we are incapable of achieving (i).

iv) God loves us. And Jesus Christ was executed for crimes He did not commit. Christ’s innocence goes beyond what was written on his charge sheet in terms of Jewish/ Roman law. But in the supernatral sense He was punished, willingly, for the crimes that we have committed against God. This was not in vain: it was so that (ii) could be wiped off our record in order for (i) to be restored.

“God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.” Romans 3: 26

With reference to the question, my understanding is that if anyone believes in Jesus Christ and chooses to trust Him, they have become “right” with God and He does not count any thing that they have done wrong against them. This is powerful.  But Christ’s death and resurrection is even more powerful in that it becomes possible to live according to God’s standard for our lives. This fact covers every person- the liar, the murderer, the hater, the cheating wife, and the homosexual.

Do the desires go away? I think that it depends. I have women friends who say that they lost all desire to be with women sexually, usually over time as they spent time with God and grew in relationship with Him. Some of them say that they have never had the desire to be with a man and never will; this woman had lesbian relationships for many years, decided to fight and is now married to man. I also know that for other people, sexual attraction for someone of the same sex is something that they still have to choose not to give into, even after years of being committed to Jesus and having a healthy relationship with Him.

4. I have a friend who ‘came out’ to me, how do I help her?

My first response to this question was: Has your friend asked for your help or are you just pushing your help on to her? I think that one of the more frustrating kinds of friends is that friend who is always trying to ‘fix’ you. You know that friend, I can be that friend sometimes. That aside, my short answer to anyone asking this question is two words: model Christ.

What does this mean? Here are my tips:

#1 Decide that even if your friend decides that she wants to be with women, you will love her and will be her friend. One of the things that I find amazing about Jesus is that He invested in friendships with two people who eventually betrayed Him – Peter and Judas. But He did so anyway. His love for them was unconditional. Conditional love says “I will love you if …” Unconditional love can only come from God because it flows, not from who the person is or what they are doing, but from who we are by the power of the Holy Spirit.

#2 Don’t be an armchair critic, put yourself in your friend’s shoes. Christ is the ultimate model of this! God Himself living on earth as a man – it is crazy! He was tempted by the things we are tempted by, suffered physical and emotional pain, just like we do! Christ had the right to claim His “rights” as the bauss and ruler of errthang but He did not- He humbled Himself. We need to do the same. In this context, humbling ourselves means admitting that we do not have all the answers, confessing that we do not know or fully understand what our friend is going through; wrestling with the issue and walking with our friend through the emotions, the heartbreak and the rejection.

#3 Speak the truth in love. Both truth and love are necessary. Christ was not afraid to give His opinion on any issue. He probably felt confident in doing that because it was actually The Truth, not just an opinion. Some people reacted angrily, others could not help but admit that He was right. But Jesus’s motivation was love and His concern was the people He was speaking to. He never spoke the truth just for the sake of it. We need to be the same: guard your heart, check your motivation and watch your tone.

I hope that these answers are helpful. Look out for more stories on homosexuality later this week. Let’s continue the conversation!

 

Thanks for reading.

shula.

Trench Coat Thursday (TCT) :: Lesbianism // Her Story

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*Some weeks ago I decided that I wanted to do a series on sexual orientation for TCT. A few friends kindly agreed to share their stories and thoughts on the topic on this blog, this is the first of four that I will share. I have spent many weeks asking myself what my aim is and I have decided that the point is to start a conversation. Please don’t get bogged down on terminology and technical definitions about things like “gender”, “same-sex attraction”, etc let’s focus on the main issue.

Please engage: I have some questions at the bottom that I would love for you to respond to, feel free to share your thoughts. Most of all, please respect this person’s story, their experience and their views but feel free to challenge them, or disagree.

I’m going to write a follow up post to this and it will be based on your responses to this post- happy TCT!

“I’ll never forget the day – I was 11 or 12 years old when I read an article about a woman who said she was gay. She wrote about her childhood, how she had been raised by her single-parent mother and preferred spending time with boys more than she did with girls. I could relate to that. Further on, she explained how she began developing crushes on girls, in the say way as boys would. I didn’t finish reading the article as it began to make me feel uncomfortable. I knew what the end result would be and I was afraid I was heading in the same direction. I kept it to myself for a few days, but my mother could sense that something was bothering me. After endless hours of probing and interrogating, I broke down in tears and showed her the magazine article.

Sometime prior to that experience I remember my mom lamenting on how deranged and twisted homosexuals are.

I was going through puberty – apparently it was normal to be feel this way at that particular age. My mother convinced me that I was simply going through a phase. Life went on. Instead of confronting my emotions, I suppressed them.

Tertiary is where everything intensified. I entered into an environment where it was generally acceptable and encouraged to be openly gay. Once again I was plagued with feelings I had tried so long to avoid and this time they were stronger than ever. After another brief emotional breakdown, I confessed to my mom that I was attracted to women. I have always admired her for her strong faith and wisdom, but this time she looked so helpless and disappointed. I knew that she was partly blaming herself. She’d ask questions like: “If you think you’re gay, why were you in a relationship with a boy?” and “Are you saying these things to punish me for not giving you the life that you wanted?” It was an issue that would gradually cause us to drift apart.

I was raised a Christian and had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour, yet there was still an emotional barrier between me and Him.

Like my earthly father I perceived God to be emotionally distant (and only willing to participate when it suited Him). Since my own mother had trouble accepting me unconditionally I had little faith in anyone else. The genuine prayers I prayed to God were for Him to either remove my attraction towards women, or to end my life. The last thing I wanted to be was gay (especially if it would bring shame to my family). Ironically, this experience eventually drew me closer to God. There were no pretenses – I was angry because I felt that He wasn’t answering my prayer.

My most severe breakdown was a turning point in my relationship with Him. Over time I was led to the right counsellors and friends who displayed compassion and unconditional love, especially when I struggled to love myself. God had kept His promise – He had been with me all along, I was just too blind to see it. As the walls of pride and distrust slowly broke down, my desire for Christ grew stronger. When I asked for my sins to be forgiven I could forgive myself for the wrong choices I had made. My relationship with my mom also improved.

Many Christians I know don’t experience same-sex attraction (I have met very few who honestly do), so they cannot relate to a gay person’s plight. Like the world, I have seen Christians fall into two extremes: they will either be liberal towards homosexuality (these tend to be young Christians), while some may hide their apparent prejudices behind Bible scriptures. Other Christians genuinely love their gay friends because they see more to them then their sexual orientation. They try to be an example of Christ and not base their acceptance on their own preferences or feelings.

I find that there appears to be too many assumptions: Christians have many preconceived ideas about gays and lesbians, and vice versa.

I have learned that when a man says he is gay, it does not necessarily mean that he is engaging in sexual activity. To him the term “being gay” is a noun as opposed to an adjective. He does not view women the same way a man with heterosexual desires would, nor does he want to be sexually intimate with her. He doesn’t believe that there is anything wrong with feeling this way, until people convince him otherwise. Perhaps then there’s also an issue with definitions?

“The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality, it is holiness.”

I believe that until biblical singleness is revived, the Church will not be ready to address homosexuality. Singles fall into a wide spectrum and also have their own unique challenges and temptations. Their voices deserve to be heard, and they need to be utilised more efficiently in the body of Christ. Marriage is good and it certainly needs all the support it can get from the Church, but it has been idolised in so many respects. For this reason, it comes as no surprise that many gay people now view marriage as a right. We live in a sex saturated culture and it is therefore imperative that the Church does not shy away from the topic of sex and sexuality.

Ultimately our goal is to be Christ orientated, not fall into the traps the enemy has laid out.

I am not saying that we should wait until biblical singleness is addressed until we speak about homosexuality. It is a current topic that should be openly spoken about just like everything else. A Christian who experiences same-sex attraction should be comfortable in openly expressing the challenges that he/has faced among fellow Christians without feeling as though they are being patronised.”

Questions:

What kinds of assumptions do people have about homosexuality?

In what ways does her story challenge your views?

Do you think the issue of sexual orientation, particularly issues to do with lesbianism, gayness, bisexuality should be talked about more? Why/ why not?


Please comment, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading.

shula.

Trench Coat Thursday (TCT) :: Dirty Little Secrets and Their Hidden Power

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*This is a post that was supposed to go up on Thursday. Better late than never!

If one were to do a tour of your mind what would they find there? I imagine that you might have some nicely arranged streets where you one can find all the important stuff you’re responsible for and maybe a flower garden blooming with conversations with people you love. A walk down a footpath might take me to a nostalgic place where I will find your memories, things you want to remember and stuff you can never forget. I might also take a sharp turn into the road where your hopes and dreams live – skyscrapers and stadiums; a house made of face-brick and a manicured lawn; a man on a Daddy date with his daughter; a cure for cancer. As I skip down the road, fascinated, I might bump into pink unicorns and hitch a ride on a flying saucer. You could let me in on some of your conspiracy theories and strange phobias and how you think the world might end. I will take a quick look at the guest list at Heartbreak Hotel and be surprised at the names I see and maybe tease you about it later.

I’ll nervously walk towards The Bad Side of town where there are more potholes than road and there is a brownish glow to the light. Where the air is uncomfortably hot and wet, humid, and there is sickly sweet smell in the air.

At that point, my tour would come to an abrupt end because no one except you can go there.

When I was in junior school my friends and I would gather and share our deepest, darkest secrets, we’d cross our hearts and hope to die if anything left the circle of secrecy. Back then it was stuff like “I steal coins out of my mom’s purse when she’s not looking.” and “I saw my sister kissing a boy at the corner.” We shared freely then but as we got older our secrets began to lose their innocence and we learned how to hide them with silence or big words that skirted the issue.

The older we get the better we become at keeping secrets. The secrets that we keep about ourselves might be more powerful than we think and their power is in the fact that they are hidden. What’s your dirty little secret? We all have stuff that we tactfully avoid talking about and secrets that we’ve hidden for so long that they have faded out of our memory. There’s a wide spectrum of them and they include stuff that we have done wrong and wrongs committed against us.

This does not hold true for everyone but I think secrets of a sexual nature are the ones we guard jealously. Because sex is so personal and powerful and still a mostly taboo topic.

Here are my thoughts on some of the power that your secret(s) may have over you:

1. Your secret(s) might be hindering your healing.
Some of us are people who suffered a gunshot wound to the leg and because we didn’t want anyone to know about it, we did not go to the hospital, quickly wiped the blood off with some tissue, popped a painkiller and carried on as usual. Our wounds have festered and become infected, even infecting different parts of our lives, slowly eating away at us. We might have hidden a secret because we thought the best way to deal with the pain or the shame would be to just move on and get over it. But the wound remains.

2. Your secret(s) might be ruining your relationships.
A part of the reason why we keep our secrets hidden is that we fear that revealing them will lead to us being rejected. But have you noticed how your secret keeps you from truly connecting with people because there is a wall of protection that you have put up around certain parts of your heart and life? It’s ironic. When a person gets close to uncovering your secret you become defensive or weird or you just withdraw. Some of us develop cover up strategies – we are very quiet, shy and avoid spending extended time with people. Others have developed larger than life personas – the loud one, the life of the party, shallow and gregarious. If we never open to those who want to love us, we might never discover the beauty of being truly known and yet loved.

3. Your secret(s) might be stealing your freedom.
One of the most common examples of this is when we share a secret with another person. Think of the little boy or girl who saw something he should not have seen and was sworn to secrecy in exchange for a reward. Or the abuse, rape or molestation that was coupled with a threat if anyone found out. These secrets are painful and real. And they also have a way of bonding one to the other secret-keeper. We are bonded by our fear, shame or guilt and even by our anger. That person may have some strange power over us. Some of us have paid the price of our freedom without even realising it.

There are numerous stories in the Bible of Jesus’s encounters with people who must have had many dirty little secrets. The book of John tells such a story:

The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?”…

[Jesus ] said, “The sinless among you, go first : Throw the first stone.”…

Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”

“No one, Master.”

“Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”

Something powerful happens when we push through our pain and our fear of condemnation and open up our lives to someone who is trustworthy. Whatever your dirty little secret may be, whether it be your own wrongdoing or a terrible wrongdoing done against you, I’d like to encourage you, come out of hiding and bring them under the Light of the One who heals all wounds, who loves unconditionally and gives freedom to captives.

What are your thoughts? I would love to know!

Thanks for reading.
shula

Femme Fridays:: Three “You are…” Truths That You Need To Pass On To Your Little Sister

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The Bible says that there is the power of life and death in the tongue. By the words we speak we can build or destroy.

Our words are especially powerful when spoken to people we have an influence over. By virtue of you being an older brother or sister, you automatically have an influence over your little sister. You even have an influence over that eye-rolling, gum popping girl who on occasion channels Miley Cyrus or Nicki Minaj. Today I want to encourage you to use your words to encourage the younger woman in your life – she needs to know the truth about who she really is.

Here are my thoughts on three truths that you need to pass on to your sister:

#1 You are beautiful.
Every woman or little girl needs to know that there can never be a more beautiful version of her. My sisters taught me everything I know about beauty and fashion – they taught how to dress so that I don’t look like a Christmas tree (although that’s apparently in fashion now?) and when they told me I was pretty, I believed them. They called out the woman in me and constantly affirmed my beauty even when all I wanted to be was a tomboy.

#2 You are wanted.
Over and above being loved, every woman needs to know that she is desirable, that she is wanted. When you want something you pursue it and you channel your energy towards obtaining that thing. Your little sister needs to know that she is worthy of being wanted and pursued because in her life she will often face the pain of rejection. Tell her the story of the Gospel, of the God-man who voluntarily humbled Himself and suffered death because God valued relationship with us that much. Be the voice that tells her that her experiences do not have to define her because the truth is that she is desired, longed for and pursued by God.

#3 You are great.
Within the heart of every little girl or woman is a seed of greatness. This seed will only germinate and flourish if cultivated. The first step in the process is you recognizing that in your little sister and telling her, over and over again. Encourage her to seek out what her purpose is, speak of her significance in the world and her capacity for greatness. Teach her that her passions are important, celebrate her in public. Tell her what you see in her. Don’t assume that she knows.

These truths need to be passed on to your little sister because her understanding of them will have a bearing on how she makes the big decisions in her life like whether to pursue an education, who to marry and what vocation to follow.

And to those of us who don’t have an older sister to tell them, hear it from me:

You are beautiful.
You are wanted.
You are great.

Thank you for reading.
shula