Unashamed

“Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. Psalm 19:13-14”

That scripture was written by my own hand in my journal. The year was 2007, the year my upside-down life turned inside-out. That was the year the festering boil that was my marriage to a crack-addicted spouse burst and all that internal pain I’d kept bottled up for years oozed out for the world to see. That was the year God desperately sought to rescue me from myself as my own neediness nearly cost me my future.

Last week I went off the grid to work on some of the last chapters in this memoir that has been somewhat like birthing a child – both painful and joyous. I spent the time at my friend Nancy’s house, where she graciously allowed me to keep ungodly hours, typing away on my manuscript as I sat at her table wearing the same comfy sweats night after day. I won’t tell you how many times I didn’t shower, but by Thursday, sweet Nancy was sitting slightly further away when she chatted to me than she had earlier in the week. I thought my husband was being so gracious when he offered to “let me go away so I could write without distraction,” but I wonder if he was secretly saving himself from having to live with me while I was in “writer’s mode.”

It was a tough, yet productive week. I plowed through the events leading up to the ultimate disintegration of my marriage. Those were definitely some painful memories. But the thing that brought me the most distress was recognizing how clearly God spoke to me and how blindly I went in the opposite direction during the months immediately following my divorce. I was almost too afraid to write about it for fear of what people will think of me.

God sought to rein me in so many different ways. One was through a sermon I heard when I visited a distant church one weekend. Here are some of the notes I took in my journal:

  • Everything has its effect. Our own mistakes are the first source of wisdom.
  • “Failure is failure only if we fail to learn” (John Maxwell)
  • Learn from the mistakes (life experiences) of others. Who are the ‘wise’ people in your life? Listen to them.
  • Are you ready to humble your heart enough to trust God?

 As I recently read the thoughts, prayers, and events surrounding those sermon notes in my 2007 journal, I could almost see the pull between who God was calling me to be and the voice of my own selfish desires. Here’s a paragraph from Chapter 13 of my manuscript:

“I honestly thought I was humble and ready to trust God. But early on in life I had developed a dangerous pattern of going from relationship to relationship without any space between. My marriage was simply part of that pattern. Now that it was ended, I defaulted to my faulty wiring, which was a result of deep insecurity and childhood wounding. I was desperately in need of time to heal.”

I did not give myself that much-needed time. Jumping from the proverbial frying pan into the fire, I got burned and hurt on top of the hurt I was already going through. The enemy knew my vulnerabilities and prepared a perfect snare for my wounded heart. I fell right for it.

As I sat at Nancy’s table this week, reading my personal journal from seven years ago, I felt so ashamed that I had missed God’s warnings to me. He really was being the loving heavenly Father He says He is. But I wasn’t allowing Him to be. I was like that headstrong teenaged daughter who slams her bedroom door in her Dad’s face saying, “Leave me alone! You just wouldn’t understand,” as he tries to warn her about the kinds of boys she’s attracted to. “Forgive me, Lord,” I prayed, as hindsight’s understanding flooded my mind, “For not listening to You. Forgive me for numbing my pain with another relationship and causing myself additional heartache, when all You wanted to do was to help me heal.”

What I want to say to each of us is this: When we run to a person, an addiction, or a numbing behavior to satisfy a longing inside of us, rather than running to the One who created us and truly understands what we need, we are only hurting ourselves further and prolonging our ultimate healing.

 In my 12 Step group, we began Step 1 last October by taking a look at the following addiction cycle:

 The Addiction Cycle:

  1. Pain, distress, boredom
  2. Reaching out to an addictive agent, such as work, food, sex, alcohol, or dependent relationships to salve our pain
  3. Temporary anesthesia
  4. Negative consequences
  5. Shame and guilt, which result in more pain or low self-esteem, starting the cycle all over again

We’re now on Step 6, but we are continually reminded to check where the cycle is showing up in our lives. If we see ourselves anywhere in this cycle, there is hope for us. God longs to be the only God in our lives. He’s the Dad, knocking on the door of our hearts saying, “Open up. I see you. I love you. I really do know what’s best for you. Let me show you. Let me help you. Will you trust me?”

If we can just choose to rely on Him in our times of suffering, whatever they may be, rather than on ourselves or our self-defeating ways of numbing, He will redeem everything we thought was lost. I had to learn that the hard way. Am still learning that…but I AM learning. And He is redeeming. All of those things I thought were lost.messy tulips

When I came home from Nancy’s on Friday evening, I was greeted by a vase of yellow tulips on my table and a loving husband washing dishes in my kitchen. As he embraced me and told me how proud he was of what I was doing and how excited he will be when my book is published and my story begins to help others, I released the fear of “what will people think” and embraced the truth found in Titus 2:11-14, that says it is God’s amazing grace that teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions.

When we can truly say, “God sees me in my helpless state, hears my deepest heart cries, is able to satisfy my every desire, and His son, my brother, Jesus Christ, is not ashamed of me,” then we can stop the addiction cycles in our lives. Will anyone choose with me to believe that today?

At Nancy's Table

At Nancy’s Table

Titus 2:11-14 (NIV)

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Mustard Seeds & Mountains

Last night I said good-bye to my neighbor for the last time. I hadn’t wanted to go to Haven Hospice. Don’t like the scent of death that lingers there beneath the gorgeous new building with its beautiful furnishings and loving nurses.

Sitting in my driveway, I semi-pleaded with God to let me off the hook. It was past 9:30, I was just arriving home from a season of prayer with my vigilant sisters in the Mercy Support Services Prayer Room, warring sisters on their knees. We had just prayed for my neighbor. Called her name before our loving Heavenly Father. Asked Him to give her comfort and peace as she closes her eyes for the last time on earth. Asking the Holy Spirit to draw her heart to the heart of God so that His goodness would give her the courage to believe that He exists. Begging for her leap of faith. Asking Him to move mountains in the last moments of her life.

I thought about those mountains, believing the Bible that says it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to move them. But what could happen in 51 years that would cause a person to build a mountain of denial toward the existence of a loving God? What layers of pain and hurt can build a barrier between a person and their Creator? What opportunities have I, who call myself “Christian,” had to show Christ to my neighbor? Did she see something, anything, in me that ever made her wonder about the God I serve, as for almost four years now, I’ve dragged my trash to the curb and parked my car across from hers and waved as I chased my daily exercise around the block?

Giving in to God, I backed out of our driveway and headed toward Haven Hospice. It was 9:54 when I arrived to an empty parking lot and a locked front door. Still, I got in. Visiting hours are flexible in hospice, where time seems to stand perfectly still. Pushing open the door to her room, I discovered her loved ones surrounding her there. Four precious women, holding her until the very end. The room was quiet and darkened as my neighbor fought death. “We thought she would let go earlier, but she’s still clinging desperately to life,” one of them said. It made me think, as I watched her lying there, breathing with her whole chest. Am I clinging to LIFE like that? Jesus says that He is The WAY, The TRUTH, and The LIFE. Do I cling to Him with every breath? When everything else is gone and not one thing matters in this life but my relationship with Him, am I willing to hold on to that with every cell in my being?

I held her hand. Told her that I wanted to see her again. Be neighbors in heaven. I shared that God’s love for her is an everlasting love. That He carefully formed her in her mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5), and that He loved her before she ever took her first breath and would continue to love her after she breathed her last. I shared Revelation 3:20 almost as a prayer, “ Behold, I stand at the door, and knock…” I invited her to choose Jesus, the Door of salvation. I kissed her on the forehead. I said, “Goodbye.” Then I got into my car and wept with hope.

Today she may breathe her last breath. She held on through the night. I heard it from her loved ones. I do not know what she decided to do with the mountain of unbelief held up by a lifetime of hurt or ambivalence or oblivion, or whatever. I just pray to my Jesus that He breaks through all barriers, that His love plants just one mustard seed in her heart and that she will choose to water that seed with a drop of faith. That’s all it takes to move a mountain.

Photo Credit: winter_can_wait

Photo Credit: winter_can_wait

Today would have been my cousin Casey’s birthday. He died as the pilot in a small plane crash in 2010, at an age too tender to fathom. No one was prepared for the shock. And every year on the anniversaries of Casey’s birth and death, we who loved him come together on social media and mourn; a little community of hearts with a Casey-shaped hole in them. As I reflect today on death, I remember that my husband calls it the “culmination of our faith.”

In my heart, I choose to believe in a loving God who knows our mustard seeds. Who has witnessed the tragedies of our lives. Who has loved us since before time began. Who paid the price for our foolishness with the blood of His own Son, and who gives each person every opportunity to choose Him. Whether it’s choosing Him daily for a lifetime, or choosing Him in the last seconds before our plane hits the unforgiving Texas soil or in our last moments of coherency before Cancer and the medication that fights it causes us to succumb to the thing we’ve been fighting for years, that ONE choice stands for eternity. It counts. Believe that with me tonight and regardless of the ache that death has created in our souls, together we can shout, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”1 Corinthians 15:55-56 (KJV). Rest in peace, my neighbor. Rest in peace, my cousin. Your Savior saw your mustard seed.

Redeeming The Past

With the pure innocence of a sleeping child, she lay at his feet…waiting. Her life’s journey to that dark place on the threshing floor had been exhausting and overflowing with loss. She had lost her husband, and with his death, her dreams of becoming a mother. Her family, friends and culture had all been lost when her love for her mother-in-law and the God she served called her to another country. But Ruth chose not to allow what was lost to consume her. She chose hope. She chose to believe in a God who redeemed the things she thought were lost.

Innocence

Innocence

I was just reading from Isaiah 54 in the Life Recovery Bible (New Living Translation). The chapter begins:

“Sing, O childless woman,
you who have never given birth!
Break into loud and joyful song, O Jerusalem,
you who have never been in labor.
For the desolate woman now has more children
than the woman who lives with her husband,”
says the Lord.
“Enlarge your house; build an addition.
Spread out your home, and spare no expense!
For you will soon be bursting at the seams.

The commentary on this passage is incredibly beautiful. It says, “Each one of us comes to God with a past. In turning our life over to Him, we give Him our entire self, including our past losses and shame. We hand over to Him every moment of disgrace, every tear we have ever cried, every word we wish we could take back, all the broken promises, the loneliness, all the dreams that died, the dashed hopes, the broken relationships, our successes and failures – all of our yesterdays and the scars they have left in our life.

Under Old Testament laws, if someone lost freedom, property, or spouse because of a disaster or a debt, the next of kin was looked to as “redeemer.” If property had been lost because of inability to pay, the redeemer would pay for it and return it to the original owner. If a woman lost her husband, the redeemer would marry her, providing her with protection and love. God tells us:

4Fear not; you will no longer live in shame.
Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you.
You will no longer remember the shame of your youth
and the sorrows of widowhood.
For your Creator will be your husband;
the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name!
He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,
the God of all the earth.
For the Lord has called you back from your grief—
as though you were a young wife abandoned by her husband,”
says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with great compassion I will take you back.
In a burst of anger I turned my face away for a little while.
But with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer. NLT

 God is our Redeemer, the restorer of our losses. He is Lord of all, even of our days and dreams in the past. When we give God the past, he can make up for all we have lost. He can rid us of the shame and fill the empty places in our heart.” (Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop, The Life Recovery Bible, Colorado Springs, CO: Alive Communications, 1998 p. 861.)

Ruth chose to follow her mother-in-law Naomi’s suggestion to humbly present herself to Boaz, a close relative who had the means to provide for their future.  As Boaz lay down beside a heap of grain on the threshing floor and went to sleep, he had no idea that he would awake during the night to find Ruth innocently curled at his feet.

Ruth 3:7-10 says, “Then Ruth came quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. Around midnight Boaz suddenly woke up and turned over. He was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet! “Who are you?” he asked.

“I am your servant Ruth,” she replied. “Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer.”

10 “The Lord bless you, my daughter!” Boaz exclaimed. “You are showing even more family loyalty now than you did before, for you have not gone after a younger man, whether rich or poor.” NLT

Taking godly risks with our pain can feel terrifying at times. But when we are obedient to His call, He pulls us from our pasts and redeems us with a future more fulfilling than we could ever imagine. Through the lineage of Boaz and Ruth came King David and Jesus Christ. We can never underestimate the power of God to redeem the things we thought were lost!

Lines in the Sand

People who love addicts learn to draw lines in the sand. Christians who love addicts may have a difficult time knowing whether their “line” is godly “tough love” or sheer anger and self-protection. We reason, “God loves us unconditionally, shouldn’t I love others that way, too?” Yes. But unconditionally sometimes mean taking a difficult stance in order to truly do the right thing. It also means loving and caring for ourselves.

I’m still reading David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy. I have to take it in small doses. It’s painfully reminiscent of the life I used to live loving an addicted spouse. Although David’s story is from a parent’s perspective, anyone who has lived the hell of waiting for a loved one who has disappeared on a binge to resurface can connect. Here’s what he realizes in chapter 17:

“I have learned to live with tormenting contradictions, such as the knowledge that an addict may not be responsible for his condition and yet he is the only one responsible. I also have accepted that I have a problem for which there is no cure and there may be no resolution. I know that I must draw a line in the sand – what I will take, what I will do, what I can’t take, what I can no longer do – and yet I must also be flexible enough to erase it and draw a new line. And now, with Nic in the hospital, I learn that I love him more, and more compassionately, than ever.”

Later, on p. 228 he writes, “Through Al-Anon…we understand the ways that our lives have become unmanageable, too. Mine has. My well-being has become dependent on Nic’s. When he us using, I’m in turmoil; when he’s not, I’m OK, but the relief is tenuous. The therapist says that parents of kids on drugs often get a form of posttraumatic stress syndrome made worse by the recurring nature of the addiction. For soldiers back from battle, the sniper fire and bombs are in their heads. For parents [or spouses] of an addict, a new barrage can come at any moment We try to guard against it. We pretend that everything is all right. But we live with a time bomb. It is debilitating to be dependent on another’s moods and decisions and actions. I bristle when I hear the word codependent, because it’s such a cliché of self-help books, but I have become codependent with Nic – codependent on his well-being for mine. How can a parent not be codependent on a child’s health or lack of it? But there must be an alternative, because this is no way to live. I have come to learn that my worry about Nic doesn’t help him, and it harms…me.”

I can completely relate. I became codependent with my addicted spouse. I built my life around his binges, his relapses, his lies. My emotions were constantly on a yo-yo as we lived the shame of being a Christian family with a double life. I hid in busyness and work. I smiled when I was crushed on the inside. I felt guilty that our money was supporting the illegal drug trade rather than advancing the kingdom of God. I fell into patterns of sin and hiding in order to cope with his sin and hiding. Ours was far from the abundant life that God longs for His children to live.

When I read the following selection from Touchstones Daily Meditations for Men, Aug. 13 in preparation for our church’s 12 Step group, the part about believing our shame is greater than that of others resonated with me. That’s what I used to believe. I thought ours was the only marriage in church being destroyed by addiction. For a long time I was too ashamed to talk about it, even with close family and friends. Especially with close family and friends. Statistics have proved me wrong. There are nearly as many Christians dealing with an addicted loved one or suffering from addiction themselves as those who are in the world. Here’s the whole quote:

“We cannot hang on to feelings of shame and guilt and still hope to become better people. How did these feelings begin? If we were treated badly by people, we need to be honest about what happened so we can resolve it and move on. Have we perpetuated our feelings by acting disrespectfully ourselves? Then we need to take a thorough inventory of our wrongdoings, admit them, make repairs, and let them go.

We may wallow in shame because facing it feels too frightening. Often, we believe our shame is greater than that of others. This belief is usually untrue and grandiose. It’s part of how we isolate ourselves. We don’t have to face it alone. We have the help of other men and women who can listen to our pain and tell us about their experiences.”

If you are wearing a cloak of shame for any reason, let me encourage you today to throw it off. Speak the truth in love to yourself or your addicted loved one. Set healthy boundaries. Find a healthy supportive group/place where you can be real – I recommend Al-Anon or Celebrate Recovery for starters. You are not alone in your suffering. It really helps to know that. When we hear the stories of others,  they begin to sound so familiar, so similar to our own. We can find solace in the experience of others and be encouraged by their journey to wholeness. Addiction breaks people. God heals the broken. And He does that, accNo Shameording to Dr. Larry Crabb, in community. Not in isolation. Finding a community for our own healing and growth is an important way that we can care for ourselves so that we can care for our loved ones. Within the context of that community, we can learn to draw healthy lines in the sand.