The Birth-day Gift

Birth is messy. I’ve only experienced it from Joseph’s vantage point. (Only he didn’t have a camera to hide behind.) As a photographer, I’ve been invited into the sanctity of the birthing room on occasion. It’s there that I have quietly, breathlessly witnessed those miracle moments, which cannot be recreated. Each time, the experience moves me to tears. The unspoken intimacy between father and mother. The curtain of expectation hovering over every heart. The waiting…waiting…waiting.

And then there’s the breathing; plenty of breathing as Mom remembers how to breathe, and Dad breathes and counts alongside her. I find myself holding my breath as the birth moment finally arrives. It is surreal. Two adult hands reach out to hold a tiny head, support a little neck, and cradle that newborn person as it takes it’s own first breath, exhaling in a cry that means LIFE!BirthCan you imagine Joseph’s joy as he reaches for that fragile newborn exiting the virgin womb of his young wife? Joseph, the chosen human father for the Savior of The World, holding his own breath as he comes face to face with the Son of God for the very first time. Blue collar Joseph supporting the tender neck of the King baby Jesus, handing him to Mary, cutting that umbilical cord with a none-too-sterile tool. Joseph – father in need of his Savior Son’s gift. How must it feel to deliver the child the whole world’s salvation depends upon? Did that tremendous pressure weigh on his trembling heart and hands as he played midwife that starry Bethlehem night? (Who else on Earth has held a divine expectation to be the best father ever?) Or did he simply enjoy the moment – smiling as he inspected God’s Son from head to toe in human flesh? Counting perfect little fingers and toes. Smiling to see that tiny nose so like his mama’s father’s.

God in human flesh. Little manger baby, Jesus.  Can we wrap our minds around this gift today in the midst of the trees and candles and tissue paper? Can we find Jesus woven among the ribbons and wreaths? Is His sweet aroma filling our homes as the pies bake and the gravy boils? Can we, like Joseph take a moment to lift Him up and inspect His beauty? He is just perfect. And because of Him – his lowly birth, sinless life, painful death and glorious resurrection – our Heavenly Father can see us that way, too. Is Jesus’ gift of salvation under your “tree” today? Have you opened it yet? It truly is the greatest gift of all.

“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

Joseph’s eyes met Mary’s over the top of their baby boy’s smooth, round head. The gossip. The rumors. The lies. The fear.  It all disappeared for a moment as they quietly celebrated the humble birth of the ONE who would redeem the things they thought were lost.image

Thank you, Jesus, for becoming one of us so that we can become like YOU!

The Prince of Peace…

“And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Peace BerriesDoes your heart, like mine, long for the Prince of Peace as we scurry through the holiday season? He’s right there, waiting with the promise to give us His soothing peace. I read it just this morning in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

This time of year, our attempts to find peace are often disrupted by frantic attempts to fit events, people and purchases into already overloaded lives. The flurry of activity can feel like a winter blizzard, even for those of us who live in Florida! But in the midst of it all, I can hear His quiet invitation.  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” Matthew 11:28-30.

That yoke part is extremely good news for those of us who have ever been “yoked” to someone who is in bondage to addiction. Or for those who may be yoked to our own addictions or issues.  Or who feel yoked to an unsavory past. It’s hard to move, hard to function, hard to turn around… so hard to find peace when we are yoked to something or someone who is constantly pulling us toward fear and insecurity.

Maybe we cannot even put a name on the “yoke.” Maybe it’s just a holiday thing, something that “comes over us” every year, bringing out emotions and behaviors that don’t quite seem to fit us, like old skins that we used to wear when life was out of control.  These kinds of yokes are triggered in many ways. Melody Beattie calls them “Holiday Triggers” in her book The Language of Letting Go. She says, “We may not understand why we suddenly feel afraid, depressed, anxious. We may not understand what has triggered our codependent coping behaviors – the low self-worth, the need to control, the need to neglect ourselves. When that happens, we need to understand that some innocuous event may be triggering memories recorded deep within us” p. 369. She continues on the following page, “Many of us are torn between what we want to do on the holiday, and what we feel we have to do. We may feel guilty because we don’t want to be with our families. We may feel a sense of loss because we don’t have the kind of family to be with that we want. Many of us, year after year, walk into the same dining room on the same holiday, expecting this year to be different. Then we leave, year after year, feeling let down, disappointed, and confused by it all.”

Can you identify with these words? Do the holidays throw you together with people who are not a part of your regular life, but who try to put you in a “box” that you no longer (or never did) fit into? I encourage you to refuse to wear that yoke this year.  Whether from certain smells, locations, traditions or people – if negative emotions are triggered by this season, there is ONE who offers one of the greatest gifts of all, PEACE. Take a moment to be kind to yourself today. Spend time reading the peace promises in God’s word. Remember the Christ Child. Embrace the angels’ words as they sang over the hills of Bethlehem so long ago, “Let there be peace on earth.” The Prince of Peace longs to go with us to every holiday party, every family gathering, every store, every moment of every day. We never need to feel alone in any situation where we would normally feel alone in a crowded room.

One final thought from Melody Beattie, “One of the greatest gifts of recovery is learning that we are not alone. There are probably as many of us in conflict during the holidays than there are those who feel at peace. We’re learning, through trial and error, how to take care of ourselves a little better each holiday season” The Language of Letting Go, p. 370. In my humble opinion, the best way we can take care of ourselves this holiday season is to let The Prince of Peace reign in our hearts! Happy, Peace-filled Holidays!

*Thank you Ami Novak for the beautiful photography to accompany this post.

Life Is Fragile…But Hold On To Hope

Personal testimony is mighty. No one can take our story away from us. It’s ours. When we share what is ours with others, we hand them hope. And hope is a powerful thing when life feels particularly fragile. Hope keeps people alive. Today I’d like to share the testimony of my friend and prayer partner, Candace Kohler. It was her Facebook post a couple of days ago. Candace’s words struck a chord with me, so I asked her permission to share it on my blog.

“Almost 10 years clean from Cocaine, I am humbly thankful for the powerful name of Jesus – Can I get an Amen? I don’t post this stuff on FB, but look, do you know someone on drugs or alcohol? Do you judge them? Make no mistake, no one ever says they want to grow up and be addicted. It’s a powerful stronghold from the devil that can be broken through intercessional prayer and fasting. Be encouraged today, God has a plan for their life too. A good plan, with a good end. Just look at how my life has totally made a 180 degree turn – glory be to God.” Candace Kohler

If you love someone who is addicted, I just want to encourage you with my friend’s words. I know it is difficult to hold on to hope, because you’ve been “burned” so many times and believed so many lies. But I want to encourage not to let go of hope. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” We become heartsick when our hopes are dashed time and time again, especially if we are the spouse of an addicted person. I well remember that sickening, sinking feeling of realizing once again, that I had been “duped.” That I had believed the lies. That I had been gullible and had enabled the user to sink further into the pit of self-destructive behavior because I had misplaced my hope to the point of blindness.

I’m not talking about placing hope on the shoulders of a human being. I am speaking about hoping, believing… trusting in the Life..ability of almighty God to transform the life of our addicted loved one. Candace’s testimony is powerful because it demonstrates the potential of God in a surrendered life. His word says that with Him nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1:37).

The key words there are with Him. When we ally ourselves with the King of the Universe, NOTHING is impossible. And when we surrender our lives completely to Him, He will finish the work He began in us. When we surrender our addicted loved one to Him, we can trust that our prayers for that precious soul are being heard. God loves them more than we do. He has wonderful plans for their lives. Don’t give up on them. He’s not finished. Relinquish them to Him. And allow Jesus to be their Savior. We cannot take that role upon ourselves.

But we can pray. Candace’s words of hope are these, addiction is “ a powerful stronghold from the devil that can be broken through intercessional prayer and fasting.” Dear friend, let me encourage you to find a prayer partner and begin interceding and fasting for your addicted loved one. Hold on to hope. Be encouraged today…Candace is living proof that God’s tools work.

I am proud of you, Candace Kohler. Keep the faith, sister. Your story gives hope to many who  may just feel like giving up.

Photo Credit for “Life Is Fragile” goes to my sister and iphonographer Ami Novak. More of her beautiful work can be found at www.twenty20.com/winter_can_wait

More Questions Than Answers

IMG_0381“It was SHE. Whoever has loved knows all the radiant meaning contained in the three letters of this word ‘she.”
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

I cried in front of the 2% milk at Walmart on Tuesday. I live a vegan lifestyle, but was trying to locate the evil buttermilk among shelves of other milks and milk-wannabes, when my phone rang and I it was she. She whose name I cannot say aloud without strange constrictions in my throat. She whose voice is changed with the passing of too much time since we last spoke. She who is now in the sixth grade and who I have not held since she was three. It was SHE.

There in the milk aisle, while looking for soured milk (which I only purchase at holiday time because my once-a-year Texas Pecan Praline recipe calls for it) my heart did that funny little skip thing that it does whenever she calls. Should I take this, or let it go to voice mail? Swallowing hard I stopped right there in front of twenty kinds of milk behind a glass door and answered my phone, “Hello Sweet Girl! How are you?” in my cheeriest godmommy voice.

Eight and a half minutes later, after talk of school and new ipads, Thanksgiving and “yam pies,” we said goodbye. I asked her what she needed, how I could bless her with a gift, but she didn’t know. She couldn’t think of anything. Nothing at all. So we ended with, “I love you,” and “Call me again when you think of something.”

And then I cried. Just a little. It gets easier each year. She was almost mine once. And I’ve never forgotten how I loved her. Still love her. But she has a different family, a big happy family who lets me love her from afar. Who allows me to be “godmom” and “Mrs. Clause,” (when she can think of something for me to give). It’s a long, long story. A chapter I haven’t quite finished writing because it’s just too hard to find the words, or the answers. But, like my sister Ami said in one of her Facebook posts this week:

“Sometimes life is more questions than answers. And that’s okay. Sometimes the answers are in the silence. And that’s okay. Sometimes you need to be told that everything will be okay, even when that okay just means things will be different… Sometimes you just need a hug or another cup of coffee…morning ramblings from the cornfield.”

I guess that’s it. Sometimes life is just more questions than answers. And there is only ONE who holds all of those answers in His nail-scarred hands. I know that one day, He will tell me why. For now, I choose to trust Him, believing that He redeems the things I thought were lost. For now I choose to “hang on loose” to this girl I love too much to let go of completely.

In her book The Language of Letting Go ( p. 94-95), Melody Beattie, attaches the name detachment to this loose kind of hanging on. Here’s what she says: “Detachment is a key to recovery from codependency. It strengthens our healthy relationships – the ones that we want to grow and flourish. It benefits our difficult relationships – the ones that are teaching us to cope. It helps us!

Detachment is not something we do once. It’s a daily behavior in recovery. We learn it when we’re beginning our recovery from codependency and adult children issues. And we continue to practice it along the way as we grow and change, and as our relationships grow and change.

We learn to let go of people we love, people we like, and those we don’t particularly care for. We separate ourselves, and our process, from others and their process.

We relinquish our tight hold and our need to control in our relationships. We take responsibility for ourselves; we allow others to do the same. We detach with the understanding that life is unfolding exactly as it needs to, for others and ourselves. The way life unfolds is good, even when it hurts. And ultimately, we can benefit from even the most difficult situations. We do this with the understanding that a Power greater than ourselves is in charge, and all is well.

Today, I will apply the concept of detachment, to the best of my ability, in my relationships. If I can’t let go completely, I’ll try to ‘hang on loose.’”

What about you? Would you like to choose trust today? Ask Him to show you how to hang on loosely when you really just want to weep, right there in the grocery aisle.

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.” Proverbs 3:5-6 The Message

Ever Feel Deflated?

IMG_0373Flattened, deflated, defeated. There they are again. I haven’t seen them for almost a year. But my morning neighborhood run revealed lawn after lawn strewn with these sad collapsed creatures. Most have been reduced to barely recognizable shells of their pretentious puffed-up selves.

I first took notice of them last year around holiday time. Something new for consumers and chronic yard decorators to spend their dollars on. Personally, I’m not a fan. But, I can identify with the poor things because they look like I sometimes feel. Maybe you know what I’m talking about; completely spent, exhausted and empty. That’s when I know that I am falling back into old patterns of codependency, and my brain’s caution light begins blinking yellow!

Back in the thick middle of my former marriage to a chemically dependent person, more days than I can count, I felt like that deflated reindeer on my neighbor’s lawn! My entire life, at times, revolved around trying desperately to control our cash so he wouldn’t go on a binge and kill himself or someone else, or trying to catch him in a lie so I wouldn’t feel so crazy when he tried to convince me that IIMG_0370 hadn’t seen, heard, or smelled the evidence of something that I was positive I DID see, hear, or smell. It was exhausting! Add that to hysterically clinging to routines and facades so that no one would know how bad things really were. All the while choosing to love, give and serve someone who was too broken to reciprocate. No wonder I often felt like that wilted Saint Nick I passed on my run this morning. I knew what it was like to control, fix, and give, give, give until there was nothing left but a thin shell of my once buoyant, joyful self.

In 1986, Melody Beattie wrote Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself. It has sold more than 5 million copies and Amazon is still stocking it.  If you find yourself, like I did, flat on your face from caring for and trying to control everyone but you, please do yourself a favor and buy this book! Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Codependent-No-More-Controlling-Yourself/dp/0894864025

Currently, (just to keep on top of my game, so I don’t relapse into crazy control-freak-save-the-world-itis), I’m reading Darlene Lancer’s Codependency for Dummies. In it, she describes those of us with these tendencies this way: “A codependent is a person who can’t function from his or her innate self, and instead, organizes thinking and behavior around a substance, process, or other person(s)”. She says that codependency is, “A lost Self, which includes addicts as well as many of those who love them.” Codependency for Dummies, p. 30. For the longest time, I thought that the drug addict in our household was the only one with problems. It wasn’t until my life became consumed with trying to save him, that I realized the significance of my own problems. In my struggle to rescue my lost spouse, I had lost myself. My needs were not being met. The following definition of addiction and codependency fit me as perfectly as an Asics running shoe: “Codependency is an unhealthy reliance on the control of exterior things in order to fill interior needs.”

I can sure identify with this quote from Melody Beattie, can you? “Codependency can be absolutely and totally exhausting. It drains and depletes people, puts a blindfold on them, spins them around in circles until they’re dizzy. Then people try to go on with their lives and wonder why they can’t.” Codependent No More Workbook p. 14.  She goes on to say that, “Most of us have been so busy responding to other people’s problems that we haven’t had time to identify, much less take care of, our own problems.”

That was once my entire life. Now I have a new life. But, as you know, we usually bring our old selves into our new relationships. Where I once was run ragged trying to be the savior of one, now I am tempted to rescue the many, at the expense of the relationships I most value. For, you see, God redeemed the things that I thought were lost. And now I am married to a precious, God-loving, people serving husband who ministers to a whole congregation and an entire county. As his wife, I embrace his heart for the lost and suffering and work right alongside him. Together we are BUSY! Sometimes so busy in doing “good things” that we look and feel like those deflated lawn ornaments in our neighborhood. We both must be cautious of never trying to be God in anyone’s life. We continually strive for a healthy balance, as we live lives of service to God and people. It’s only through much prayer and the daily invitation of God’s Holy Spirit to live inside of us that any of us can do the work He’s called us to do. He doesn’t ask us to be God to anyone. He asks us to show God to everyone. There is a difference.

So, as we enter this season of frantic busyness, Philippians 1:11 is my prayer for us all: may we never be depleted and deflated from carrying burdens that do not belong to us, butMay you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation–the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ–for this will bring much glory and praise to God.” Doing “good” and helping others is never about praise and glory for me. It’s about living a balanced, healthy life of service that will bring glory to our one and only Savior, Jesus Christ.