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The Voices Project – Anonymous Girl part 2


We recently received this email from an anonymous girl who wanted to tell her story. These are her words and we are honored to share it on her behalf. Her story is long so we have decided to post it in two parts. This is the second part of her story. You can find part 1 here. We pray for her continued healing and hope that she is surrounded by love, where ever she may be.

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The holding cell was just a big room with a bench along one side and a toilet in the corner behind a half wall. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was get sick and have to use that toilet. Eventually, I did because when you’re dope sick it comes out of both ends. It’s a horrible feeling but you don’t care because you’re miserable. I seriously wanted to die so bad but there was absolutely no way I could make that happen. Not only did I not have anything to do it with there was also a giant one-way mirrored window through which we would be watched. I just laid in the corner under the bench, as far away from the others as I could get.

After five days a mental health therapist came to talk to me. She evaluated my current drug use; how much, how often, and how long. She asked if I wanted to go to treatment and I said I did. Inside, I knew I didn’t really want treatment but I didn’t want to be homeless or hungry. I had already gotten over the worst of my withdrawals so they would be able to get me in relatively quickly. I still had to wait three more days.

Treatment was not new to me. I had watched my mom go in and out most of my life. He NA sponsor would come over from time to time. I saw all the books and stuff lying around the house too. I even learned the things they say, like “Just take it one day at a time”, and “But for the grace of God, go I”. I could recite them like they were a part of the pledge of allegiance at grade school. But, I had no personal experience with those in recovery.

My counselor was a nice woman and was really good at listening to me but I just didn’t connect with her. She had a good heart and all but I never got the sense that she really knew what I had gone through in my life. Now, the people at Sanity (local NA meeting), that was another story. Those people knew their shit. It’s like they knew my every thought before I thought it.

My first meeting I was welcomed and they read something called step one. I don’t remember much of that meeting or what they talked about but what I do remember was this group told me they wanted me to come back. That’s it. No strings attached. They simply wanted me to come back. I can’t tell you how good it felt to hear those words. It’s like all the things I’ve done and were ashamed of kept me from wanting to be around other people but I had a real sense that these people already knew about the crap that had happened in my life and they still wanted me to come back.

I have relapsed on a few occasions. Heroin imprints in your body and brain and because of that my brain has learned about a level of pleasure it was never intended to know. Each time I dragged my sorry ass back through the doors of that meeting room, I was greeted with, “We’re glad you made it back”. It’s like there was a force field at the front door that keeps shame from entering that space. My relapses got shorter each time and my sobriety got longer between relapses.

I am now clean 9 months and I’m working. I don’t know if I’ll use again. I hope not but it’s always there, in the back of my mind. It’s like a bear that’s hibernating. If I just leave the bear alone it will stay asleep. If I poke the bear, it will wake up and start devouring everything around it and I’m afraid I won’t be able to put it back to sleep. For today, I’m sober. I like who I am. I miss my mom and wish she was able to find a community like I did. I still have nightmares about the sexual abuse I’ve experienced but I’m working that out with my therapist. I’m living with people in recovery and go to meetings nearly every night. Sometimes I go and pick up the girls from the local treatment center. It’s cool to see them at the beginning. It reminds me where I came from and how far I’ve come.

You can post this on your blog if you want. I’m not giving my name because I still have a long way to go but if my story will help someone else then please use it. Thanks for making a place for people to share their stories. This was hard for me to write but it feels important for me to do this.

Thanks.

Youth Ministries That Nurture Resiliency In Vulnerable Youth


Young people are living in a world that seems hell-bent on breaking those who try to navigate it successfully. Likewise, the church in America has a tendency to break people as well, especially its young. If our students, children, and community youth are going to move out of adolescence into functional adulthood they will need to be resilient.

So, what exactly is resilience? Resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ after a tough situation or difficult time and then get back to feeling just about as good as you felt before. It’s also the ability to adapt to difficult circumstances that you can’t change, and keep on thriving.

Rick Little and the fine folks over at the Positive Youth Development Movement have identified the 7 Cs: Essential Building Blocks of Resilience. They say “Young people live up or down to expectations we set for them. They need adults who believe in them unconditionally and hold them to the high expectations of being compassionate, generous, and creative.”

Competence: When we notice what young people are doing right and give them opportunities to develop important skills, they feel competent. We undermine competence when we don’t allow young people to recover themselves after a fall.

Confidence: Young people need confidence to be able to navigate the world, think outside the box, and recover from challenges.

Connection: Connections with other people, schools, and communities offer young people the security that allows them to stand on their own and develop creative solutions.

Character: Young people need a clear sense of right and wrong and a commitment to integrity.

Contribution: Young people who contribute to the well-being of others will receive gratitude rather than condemnation. They will learn that contributing feels good and may therefore more easily turn to others, and do so without shame.

Coping: Young people who possess a variety of healthy coping strategies will be less likely to turn to dangerous quick fixes when stressed.

Control: Young people who understand privileges and respect are earned through demonstrated responsibility will learn to make wise choices and feel a sense of control.

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This is a great grid to think through when creating programs, purchasing curriculum, and planning events. Can our efforts increase resilience in the most vulnerable youth? I think they can but it will take thoughtful intentionality.

  • What if our we created more opportunities for students to lead (in big church)? Would that increase their competence to have their leadership validated and nurtured by other leaders?
  • What if we taught a series on confidence (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me)? Sound familiar? Are we driving this truth deep into the hearts of young people? I’m not talking about the notion that I can achieve but more the notion that I can overcome.
  • What if we continued to beat the drum of integrity and character but laced it with grace so when they fail they are able to get back on track without having to avoid the shame monster?
  • What if we did more than just allow our kids to babysit for the Women’s Fellowship Coffee? What if we actually gave our students meaningful work in the church and community? What if they led teams with adults? What if they helped plan services? What if they researched their community needs and church leaders valued their work so much that it might actually alter the organization’s mission?
  • What if we offered more than shallow platitudes to manage the hurt and pain they experience as they navigate life? What if we deliberately included emotional and social intelligence in all our teaching and small group curriculum? What if we actually modeled self-control and appropriate vulnerability of emotions? What if we taught coping skills to kids in our youth group?
  • What if we allowed teens the power of choice? What if we allowed them to make wrong choices and were there to help them process the consequences of those choices? What if we encouraged rebellion (minor rebellion) and autonomy instead of conformity? What if we didn’t overindulge youth so they develop a sense of entitlement and instead taught them the value of work and earning respect?

I wish I had learned many of these lessons growing up. More than that, I wish I had been surrounded by a great herd of adults that walked alongside me while I learned these lessons, encouraging me, walking beside me, challenging me by raising the bar, modeling resilience, and not giving up on me when I screwed up. I imagine that sounds a little like heaven to a vulnerable teenager and that’s the point, isn’t it?

Eroticizing Power


I came across this article about clergy sexual abuse and the concept of eroticized power seemed relevant to the current blog series on sexual abuse in the church.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the following in the comments.

“A power imbalance is easily sexualized or eroticized. Carolyn Holderread Heggen notes that: The imbalance of power between men and women has become eroticized in our culture. Many persons find male power and female powerlessness sexually arousing. In general, men are sexually attracted to females who are younger, smaller, and less powerful than themselves. Women tend to be attracted to males who are older, larger, and more powerful. Male clergy have a great imbalance of power over their congregations, which are often predominately women, therefore, the stage is set for a sexually inappropriate expression of this power differential.
 
In some instances, misuses of power can be sexualized in situations that begin as mentoring. This could happen in the case of an older man or woman taking an interest in a younger person of either gender for the purpose of encouraging that youth’s development. Youth activities that begin as play can become a context of power and authority when youth leaders do not understand the power they possess simply by virtue of their age, authority and gender.
 
Because they have greater power, the leader always bears primary responsibility to protect the boundaries of the relationship. The person with the greater power must act in the best interests of the person with lesser power. This holds true even when the person with less power makes sexualized advances. A leader is the keeper of a trust and, as such, is responsible to ensure that no sexualized behavior occurs, “…no matter what the level of provocation or apparent consent.”

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2013


 

Top-10

So 2013 was an amazing year for our ministry.  Some of the highlights we increased speaking and writing opportunities, new partnerships and more importantly, new friends.  Below are the TOP 10 blog posts of 2013.  Thanks so much for support CotF.  We believe in the work we are called to do and hope to continue that work into the new year.

 1.   Engaging Resistant Students in Youth Ministry

 2.   The Importance if the Imago Dei in Youth Ministry

 3.   Sex: A Little Porn Never Hurt Anyone

 4.   Sex: Porn Zombies

 5.   Sex: There’s An App For That

 6.   Youth Ministry and the Glee Effect

 7.   Moral Disengagement: Bombers, School Shooters, and Bullies

 8.   Incarnational Ministry to LGBTQ Students

 9.   Credibility in Youth Ministry

 10. Trauma Stewardship in Youth Ministry

 Honorable Mention:   The Power of Permission in Youth Ministry

 I’ve also been given the honor of blogging on one of the most popular youth ministry blogs morethandodgeball.com on the topic of Soul Care.  This is a recent partnership with Group Publishing (SYMC and KidMin) and part of my new job is to coordinate their ministry to pastors/workers called The Shelter.  I’ll be blogging over there periodically and there are some other really great bloggers there so give it a look.

Sex (A little porn never hurt anyone, right…?)


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As with any behavior we engage in there are payoffs and there are consequences.    This post explores the negative consequences of obsessive and compulsive consumption of pornography.

  1.  Misusing sexuality or unhealthy sexual expression for the gratification of personal lusts and desires rather than the divine purpose if was gifted to use for (pro-creation and monogamous bonding/attachment) creates a host of attachments neuro-chemically and emotionally.  When we complete a sex act (climax) we have engaged a process that includes attaching (oxytocin/vasopressin) to the object of our sexual desire.  If these objects are images on a screen then we form a connection with those objects that was intended for your partner.  Repeated gratification to pornography can lead to difficulty bonding with a loved one in meaningful ways, emotionally and physically.
  2. Because of the impact of porn, our ability to connect with others emotionally is reduced.  The real problem is that our understanding of the true nature of sexual relationships gets polluted with porn consumption (creates fantasy).  Porn creates something less life-giving, commitment-solidifying, joy-producing for transient, sensual, immediate gratification.  As a result we learn that porn consumption, leading to masturbation and climax can be a powerful “mood altering experience” helping us deal with the stress of day-to-day life.
  3. Regular pornography viewing can also create a distorted perspective on reality.  It reinforces body types that are not natural, sexual positions that are only for a good camera angle not a natural position during sex, it creates expectations for our and our partners sexual behaviors and puts pressure on both to perform as what is seen on the screen.  Neural wiring changes occur due to regular porn viewing that reinforces our desires for what we see on the screen.   We begin to crave in real life what we see on screen.  This can also lead to a sense of emotional disconnect in which we are observes of our own sex acts rather than fully present with our partner.
  4. Emotional deregulation can occur when we become dependent on porn to relieve stress or make us feel pleasure.  When we are frustrated with our partner being sexually unavailable we turn to porn out of frustration or to extract secret revenge for their scorn after a fight.
  5. In order to consume porn regularly we must disengage morally.  This is dangerous because if done frequently or repetitively we lose our ability to empathize with others.  Moral disengagement allows us to do that which is socially unacceptable by blaming others, justifying our behavior as deserved or just, or by displacement of responsibility of our choices.
  6. Porn will likely reinforce negative gender stereotypes.  Cultural messages still support traditional gender roles and elevate the notion that women exist for men’s pleasure in a male dominated world.
  7. The shame and guilt that often accompanies pornography related problems is intense.  One the episode is over these feelings rush in and drives the behaviors underground to keep them hidden from others.  This leads to isolation and disconnect from important relationships.  This can lead to depression or hopelessness and helplessness.  The feeling that one is trapped in a shame cycle is often reported.

This list is not exhaustive but is a good gauge of what can happen to an individual that compulsively and/or obsessively consumes pornography.  In the next post we will look at ways to walk alongside someone stuck in the labyrinth of pornography.

Sex (Porn Zombies)


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There is a hypnotic effect of porn that is all consuming, turning consumers into Porn Zombies.  Sex and the human body was meant to captivate our attention and it is good.  God created sex to be shared within the boundaries He laid out but there is a level of moral disengagement via objectification that one must accept if they are to habitually consume pornography.  The male brain is predisposed for this type of objectification. 

A recent study found that showing men pictures of sexualized women evokes less activity in areas of the brain responsible for mental state attribution—that is, the area of the brain that becomes active when we think we are looking at an entity capable of thought and planned action.  When consumed too frequently, for increasing lengths of time, compulsive pornography viewing has the potential to rewire the neural circuitry of the brain.  Viewing pornography creates a superhighway to climax (dopamine reward) that was intended to be a long journey through the back roads leading to intimacy.  Sex and the climax were simply meant to be the end result of that intimate journey.

Through studies, men who watch porn have shown that they are visually aroused not just by images of the human bodies they desire but also by the facial expression of pleasure shown.  This is cause by mirror neurons that are cells in the brain that activate when you simply see another behavior.  Have you ever watched an UFC fight where one opponent lands a giant knee to the face?  What do we do in response to seeing that?  We all collectively gasp and oooohh and aaaahh and wince in pain.  Why?  Because the mirror neurons in our brains are active, sending out signals that are similar to what the individual being punched is experiencing.  As we watch porn our brains neurologically experience what we’re seeing on the screen, increasing our desire for the same experience.

Your Brain on Porn

In order to understand the effects of porn we must first explore certain parts of the brain that are in play.  The following is just an overview.

Limbic System:

The Limbic System is home to many things.  First and foremost, it is responsible for rewarding behaviors the brain and body deem “good”.  The word “good” is in quotes because “good” is subjective when left up to man’s definition.  “Good” according to God is not defined the same way man defines it.  Man defines “good” as anything that delivers pleasure or removes displeasure.  Pretty simple.  It’s hedonic in nature and self-serving. 

Two parts of the Limbic System that are responsible for pleasure and feelings of pleasure are the amygdala and the hippocampus.  The amygdala allows us to express emotions and reward behaviors that make us “feel good” so we increase the likelihood of doing them again.  The hippocampus stores and retrieves memories associated with those feelings and behaviors. 

It works like this; I’m driving in my car and Never Say Goodbye by Bon Jovi comes on the radio.  When my senses take those sounds in the brain begins the process of retrieving memories attached to the song.  It immediately presents the memories of a high school dance.  I remember all the details with vivid clarity.  I remember slow dancing with Angie, the lighting in the gym, the feelings that accompanied that nervous dance and other sights and sounds that were present (this is important to remember).  Those memories trigger an emotional response in my brain and send signals to the prefrontal cortex (the smart part of my brain behind my forehead that makes sense of things and add meaning to memories and events) and if the pre-frontal cortex determines that this event was good I will then feel good as I think about it.

Take a moment and just contemplate how the regular viewing of sexual material can have a similar impact on how the brain responds to porn.  Here’s an example of how this plays out: You’re at home alone while the family is at the grocery store.  You’re alone (crime of opportunity) and you’re on your iPad (accessibility).  Before you even begin surfing porn sites (most viewers have their personal favorites and can quickly navigate right to it) we have to resolve any cognitive dissonance (moral objections) and we use a myriad of techniques to do that.  After we begin viewing the porn your mirror neurons cause you to become aroused based on what you’re seeing on your screen.  This arousal builds until you have to release the tension your body is experiencing and you masturbate.  This results in a climax and you experience the rush of natural endorphins such as dopamine (neural rewiring is occurring during the entire process) and the body begins to return to a normal state.  It is typically at this point the we re-engage our moral compass and for some a flood of emotions rush in; guilt, fear, remorse, shame, etc., all set us up for “needing” to view porn again because of powerful pleasure reward makes those negative emotions disappear for a while (it’s hard to feel bad about yourself while having an orgasm while being caught up in a fantasy).

Repeated cycles of this and its accompanying behaviors can and most certainly will lead to neural rewiring that is habitual.  If the porn was heroin (a comparable experience to orgasm) this is what we would call addiction or drug dependency.  The craving for the payoff of watching pornography is compelling enough to alter our lifestyle and behaviors.  We may become deceitful, coming up with ways to be alone, to cover our tracks, socially isolate, or other intimacy retarding behaviors and a host of other consequences we may not even be aware of.  In our next post we will look at some of those consequences.

Sex (There’s An App For That)


3xgalleryiphonepicIf you’re a youth worker then you already know about the abundance of pornography due to modern technology. If you don’t, you should pay attention. Due to new technology porn has never been more accessible, affordable, or anonymous than it is today. At the same time, sale of Smart phones to adolescents is driving the mobile phone industry. Add these two factors together and you have a new way to engage in an old struggle.

Young people are historically impulsive and vulnerable to addictive behaviors. This is not a revelation to anyone but the temptations and opportunities to act on those impulses have increased significantly in recent years. Viewing pornography almost seems like a rite of passage and current research tells us that first exposure to pornography is occurring at an average age of 11-years-old. The natural but curious nature of sex often makes it hard for even the most convicted teenager to resist the compulsion to revisit these sites again and again.

Accessible – Youth have unlimited means of accessing outlets to pornographic material today; smart phones, apps, tablets, gaming systems, the internet, television, pay-per-view, and peer-to-peer sexting. There are a myriad of ways that kids can intentionally or unintentionally view material that captivate their bodies and brains in a powerful way.

Affordable – Access to porn has typically come with a price tag that served as a barrier for most young people accessing such material. Today, much like a drug dealer that fronts you a sample to “hook” you, porn website offer free samples in short increments with the same intention.

Anonymous – Because much of this is done of personal i-Devices the stigma typically associated with these behaviors is diminished. One can privately browse content for hours and easily delete any browsing record of such indiscretions. Instead of going to the seedy gas station to buy a magazine, or to the backroom of the video store to find the adult movie selection, technology allows those outlets to come directly to the consumer.

I do not want to demonize the adolescent’s desire for sexual expression. God gave us a sexual desire and it is good. It is important to distinguish between normal sexual curiosity and unhealthy/unsafe sexual practices. Nevertheless, we know that when anyone engages in a behaviors repeatedly neurological changes can occur, rewiring our brains to a “new” norm. Compulsive pornography consumption will fundamentally change the way we, especially our youth, will experience sex. Everything from expectations about sex to the physical experience of sex to our ability to attach to others in an intimate fashion will be impacted.

All is not hopeless. In this blog series we will continue to unpack to the problems associated with sex, as experienced as the norm today, and how we might have better conversations with our youth, their parents, and ourselves about sex and sexual behaviors.

The Functionality of Sin


ducttapeTraditional youth ministry training didn’t really prepare me for the acute problems my kids were showing up with at our youth ministry. I got into to youth ministry because the first time I walked into a youth ministry gathering I felt a connection, a calling to speak into their lives. I wanted desperately to impact their lives for the Kindgom. The typical fare in most youth ministry training programs is maybe a psych 110 class or an adolescent development overview but very little in the way of preparing me to minister effectively to them. Take Whitney, a 15 year old high school sophomore who had recently been hospitalized for depression, self-injury and suicidal ideation. When she was brought to our youth group by one of our “professional evangelism daters” we just weren’t sure what to do in order to walk with her and her family through the next couple of years. This started us on a journey of seeking to understand these fringe issues (which really aren’t fringe any longer), to be better equipped to love these kids that God was sending us. We believed we were called to be good stewards of the kids He sent us and that meant pulling our head out of the sand, rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty.
Sin is such a complex issue, everything from understanding what it is to what it isn’t, to what are the systemic causes of it, to how we deal with the fallout of sin, to how we put programs in place to create an environment that not only discourages sin but fosters the belief that everyone, EVERYONE, is a child of God and treated accordingly.

Dr. Brene` Brown, in her book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power explains her research on the subject of shame as a study on the power of connection and the dangers of disconnection. When one considers the process to the product that is a sinful individual we must first understand that our primary drive is to be connected. God first existed in community and we are created in Their image, aren’t we? The longing to belong serves many purposes; survival, fulfillment, success, and procreation. Growing up as blank slates our families, environments, and culture shape how we “learn” to connect. We are taught skills and styles of connecting to others. Sometimes these means are healthy and affirming, and God honoring, placing God at the helm and others accordingly. Other times we are not taught healthy ways of connecting. We are taught that violence, aggression, manipulation and other illegitimate means are what are necessary to get what you need and want.

When we are not affirmed as worthy of being connected to others we learn to see ourselves as deficient, broken, not valuable, insignificant, etc., but our need for connection doesn’t leave us, we simply learn other ways to get what we need.

If this is done well, as God first intended, then it significantly increases the likelihood of having generations of people who choose to enter into a relationship with Him, just as He ordained from the beginning of time.
When this doesn’t go as God intended the opposite result is the outcome. Brokenness in God’s creation exists. God’s children all fighting and pining instead of cooperating to satisfy the deepest longings of their heart. Longings placed in them to direct them to God and each other, in that order. We experience sin and its collateral damage when we invert that order, placing me and others before our relationship with God the Father.

This is where sin becomes functional. Sin becomes a means to an end. For a long time we have demonized our sinful youth as just giving in to their hedonic nature. What if there was more going on than just simple pleasure seeking? What is we began to ask the question, “What purpose does sin have?”. Would this change the way we approach our youth and their sinful behaviors? What if we started having conversations about other ways, more God-honoring ways, to meet the deepest longings of their hearts? What if we spoke the language of their heart and longings? What if we told them of a God who can satisfy these longings in real ways, so that it is God’s love that draws them not the fear of Him. What if we created space in our homes and gathering places where youth felt they belonged and mattered? If we could do this, with the help of the Spirit, would they drop their cheap substitute (sin) for the real deal (God)? What do we have to lose?

Sex and Violence in Youth Ministry


In today’s urban dating culture many express how frustrating and unsatisfied they are because dating patterns encourage young men to be aggressive and young women to be accommodating.

Unfortunately, sex and violence are so intertwined for men that an easy separation is impossible.  Violence is constantly glamorized and sexualized in the urban culture.  The multibillion-dollar pornography industry is the clearest example of how we learn that power and control are tied to sexual arousal.  Even in children’s comic books, popular music and videos, and magazine advertisements, we are constantly reminded that dominating and subduing women is sexy and arousing.  The primary message young men receive is that having sexual access to women and having someone sexually vulnerable to you are the quintessential signs of male power, the epitome of success.  Women are constantly shown accompanying other signs of male power and success, such as fast cars, fancy stereos, money, and guns.

Some of these images portray the women as protesting vigorously at first, then finally giving up and enjoying sex.  In this way young men are taught that women are somehow turned on by the aggression displayed by men.  They may protest or say no at first to protect their reputation, but when they relax and enjoy it, they will grow aroused by the man’s aggression.  If they don’t, then there is something wrong with them.

The result of this training is that men are given permission to use sexual aggression to control women, to deny what they’re doing and then assert that it’s no big deal anyway.  If this goes on long enough it soon becomes the norm.  Young men assume this is the way relations between men and women are naturally.  If there is any guilt or remorse, the young women gets the blame.

  • She’s a tease
  • She’s frigid
  • She’s too emotional
  • She shouldn’t have said that
  • She knew that would make me angry
  • She asked for it
  • She said no but she meant yes
  • If she didn’t want it she wouldn’t dress like that

There are so many layers of aggression, blame, and denial that there is no way for young men to see the impact their thoughts and behaviors have on the women around them.  We can even use the Scriptures to reinforce these ideas that women are inferior, further damaging the inherent dignity and value each young woman has, leading to a fractured image of who she was created to be by God.

  • What role does the church/your ministry have in (inadvertently) reinforcing these false beliefs?
  • When was the last time you had a conversation about male gender training with the young men in your ministry?
  • What are new values/beliefs that need to be taught from Scripture to replace old, harmful beliefs?
  • How can we affirm young males without encouraging male privilege?

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