Step 12 – Something to Crow About

Step 12

“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs”

Rooster Key West He strutted down the sidewalk as if he belonged there. He did. (I was the Key West tourist with the camera.) Paying no mind to taxis, bicycles or pedestrians, he walked his flashy walk – colorful tail feathers lifted high, red wattle swinging from side to side. Life was so good he stopped mid-stride to crow about it.

 When the “good stuff” happens, don’t we want to tell someone, anyone – even strangers on the street?Crowing in Key West

 A proud papa announces to his colleague, “My son scored the winning three-pointer in his JV game last night!” A grandma in the checkout line turns her phone to share a photo of a swaddled newborn with the cashier. Three fingers and a smile instantly pop up when a preschooler is asked his age on his birthday.

When life is good, life is worth sharing.

 But what about the not-so-good stuff? Do we pipe up in an office staff meeting the morning after we bail our kid out of jail? Or discuss our grandson’s disturbing Facebook post? Do we tell anyone that today would have been our spouse’s ninetieth day “clean and sober” – if she’d managed to stay clean and sober? Are we willing to be vulnerable…even when life isn’t picture-perfect?

 We are learning to be, because we’ve discovered the power of being authentic and transparent. We’ve recognized the truth behind Dr. Larry Crabb’s premise that “healing takes place in community,” but those who haven’t been introduced to the 12 Steps may not realize that truth. They may be trying to hide the stench of their suffering.

 Step 12 is about waking up and smelling… not the coffee, not the roses, but the pain of the people around us. It’s about letting God make us so alive in Him that we are finally able to step outside ourselves, and share what He has done and continues to do in our lives as we walk forward and work the Steps with Him. It’s about living what we have learned. It’s about being authentic; about caring when others are hurting and sharing the hope of the 12 Step journey with them.

 Step 12 is the Step where our eyes are finally opened to the abundant life Jesus invites us to live. This Step is when we realize that we’ve got something really, really good and we don’t want to, no, we cannot keep it to ourselves! As we apply the truths of each of the 12 Steps to our daily lives, and our paths cross with others who are traveling the rough roads we’ve already taken, we have something to offer them when they ask, “Which way do I go from here?” Even when their mouths remain silent, we can look into their eyes and recognize the hurt that was once so familiar in our own mirrors. We can smell their pain and offer them healing.

The difference between who we are now and who we were before we began our 12 Step journey is that the pain of others does not revile or overwhelm us. Their story does not send us spiraling back into our own addiction. We no longer long for the numbing effects of whatever we ran to before we learned to run to Jesus. We have compassion for those suffering the effects of their own, or a loved one’s addiction. We recognize the hollowness in their countenances. We know their heartaches. And we are not afraid to share our own experience, strength and hope. In fact, we LIVE to share what God has done for us, believing wholeheartedly that what He’s done for us, He will do for others.

 This IS Step 12:

– Waking up to the fact that these principles draw us close to the heart of God, the HIGHEST Power, and that He will finish the good work He began in us (Philippians 1:6)!

– Carrying this good news to everyone who will listen.

– “Walking the walk,” not just “talking the talk.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

How am I putting all this “preaching” into practice? Well… I’m excited to tell you that I’ve submitted my manuscript for Same Dress, Different Day: A Spiritual Memoir of Addiction and Redemption to the publisher! It’s scary and exhilarating all at the same time. I feel vulnerable and nervous to share my story publicly. But I also feel that what God has done in my life is so incredible, that I’d be doing Him a disservice if I do not share it. I am choosing to carry this message to others, via my book, my blog and my upcoming speaking engagements. I am excited to see what God will do in the hearts and lives of others through this ministry.

I know that you have something to crow about, too! What are you doing to share your story with others? How are you putting Step 12 into practice? Please do write in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you.

Beginning With Amends

Step 9

“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible,

except when to do so would injure them or others”

Happy New Year, dear reader! New Years Day is perfect for starting fresh, perfect for beginning to make our Step 9 amends.

Step 9 Meme

“Step 9 completes what I started in step 8. I make amends to those that I have harmed. I pay back debts I owe. I apologize. I write letters. I find time to do and say things that would help heal the damage that I have done. I try to bring goodness where previously I had brought discord and destruction. It takes insight, courage and dedication to make such amends, but now I have the help of my God to know what to do and how to do it. I learn to earnestly seek the right way to go about this process from my God. I start to live the kind of life that my God has meant for me to live all along.” 12Step.org (http://12step.org/the-12-steps/step-9.html)

As we think of the list we made in Step 8 and begin to ask God how to go about making amends with those we’ve harmed in our struggle to control our own out of control lives, we may begin to feel overwhelmed. We may have a mountain of amends looming before us. The enemy of our souls will attempt to heap fear, guilt, or shame on us as we prepare to contact those we’ve harmed. We do not need to accept his lies.

Although the New Year is a good place to begin with human beings, we never have to wait a whole year to start fresh with God. The Bible has great news for those of us struggling with addiction in our lives or the lives of our loved ones. It is found in Lamentations 3:22-24: Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I hope in Him!” (NKJV)

With each new morning, God’s “mercy,” “loving-kindness,” and “tender compassions” (see the Amplified Bible) are fresh for each of us. We never have to wallow in yesteryear with God. He does not hold shame over our heads, waiting to douse us in a fresh dose whenever we mess up. God accepts our humble acknowledgement and confession of sin. He moves us forward each day with fresh mercy.

I wish I could say the same for the humans we deal with. Unfortunately, they are a mixed bag. Sometimes we will find mercy and compassion as we navigate Step 9. Sometimes we will run headlong into someone else’s unhealthy rage, retaliation, or indifference.

Claudette Wassil-Grimm says, “We need to be open to any response we get from the people we’ve injured, and be ready to accept their responses without becoming angry. We are not there to manipulate them into forgiving us. In order to have this come off smoothly, we should make every effort to purge our bad feelings toward the person or incident before we meet to speak. This will help us resist the temptation to point out to them what we felt they did to provoke us. We are only there to talk about our own behavior.The Twelve Step Journal, p. 224-225

When I took Step 9 again a few months ago, I experienced a not-so-great response from someone I reached out to. She wasn’t unkind, but her words stung like a slap in the face. It had been more than seven years since my actions had hurt her. She seemed shocked that I would reach so far back to make amends. Then she basically told me that she had forgiven me because that’s what God commands. She said she would say it to me if that’s what I needed to hear from her to make myself feel better. Ouch. Yeah, that’s what can happen when you reach out to make amends.

But you know what? It’s okay. I had deeply wronged her and I needed to let her know that I knew I had and that I am sorry. However she responded was her choice. I’m not sure I would be very gracious, either – to someone who had done to her what I had done. Sometimes we just have to move forward, doing our part and releasing all of the persons we’ve hurt, to our God, who IS merciful, gracious and understanding of why we acted how we acted in our wounded and/or addicted state.Colorful Couple

As we welcome 2015 today, let’s move into it with open hearts, open minds, and courage to make our amends. If you have any amends stories of your own, please feel free to share them in the comments section, or even email me with them at info@julietvanheerden.com. I would love to hear from you and share your stories with others.

Happy New Year!

Oh, Lord – It’s Hard To Be Humble (Step 7)

Step 7: Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings,

I grew up singing two songs about humility. One was a Christian camp song that said, “Humble me, humble me, oh Lord; humble me…humble me, so I can do Thy will…” The other, sung by Mac Davis, went something like this: “Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.”

College Daze

                                              On top of my little world ~ Before the fall

As an ‘80’s teenager, popular music both shaped and reflected the person I was. Sometimes I pretended to be perfect in every way, while refusing to come to Jesus with certain corners of my heart. Other times I truly wanted to follow God’s will and His plan for my life. Living with me was like flipping through every radio station on a long road trip. One day, I was like, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee.” The next, it was more the Def Leppard version, complete with the mentality that “it’s better to burn out, yeah, than fade away.”

I wanted everything life could offer and I wanted it “right now!” I had planned out my future while still in grade school. As a young adult, I refused to wait for life to unfold. I forced it. I forced my way, my will, and my ideas onto other people. I tried to control them through manipulation, guilt, or fear. I tried to force broken boys to love me. I forced myself into relationships where I didn’t belong. I forced myself to reach impossibly high goals, expecting others to work as hard as I did, with little compassion for their shortcomings. I was often full of myself and empty of humility.

Then I fell. I not only physically fell from the roof of a barn, shattering several vertebrae; I also crumbled emotionally. The road to recovery was excruciating. My physical body healed more rapidly than my psyche. All pride had been crushed. I had to learn to walk in humility, just as I had to learn to walk with my new crutches – one step at a time, one day at a time.

Decades later, as I take a close look here at Step 7, I’m wondering if the Mac Davis song still sometimes describes my stance toward humility. Do I ask God to remove my shortcomings, while clinging to the falsehood that I am somehow perfect in every way (or at least in some little way)? I’ve been down this road countless times! Why does pride still rear its ugly ugly head in my life?

Isn’t it PRIDE that keeps me from going to God the minute something goes wrong on the inside of me? Oh, it’s not a big deal. I can handle it. I lie to myself, while ignoring the Spirit’s “still small voice.”

The book of James holds a promise for people like me in chapter 4, verse 10. James says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” If I humbly ask God to remove my shortcomings, He promises to lift me up. When I am puffed up with pride, full of hot air or a hot temper, God cannot lift me up. He can barely wrap His arms around me when I’m so full of my “my way or the highway” attitude.

In 2004, I was twenty years from being a headstrong teenager, trying desperately to control my tiny world after it came apart at the seams with my mom’s divorce. By then, I’d been married for ten years to a chemically dependent spouse and I carried a ton of guilt, anger and anguish around inside my head. My own thoughts of divorce crept across the borders of my mind as I struggled to find feelings to match my marital vows after addiction’s roller coaster had robbed me of so much. When I flipped through the radio and found Norah Jones singing, “No matter how hard you resist it, it never rains when you want it to…You humble me Lord… I’m on my knees empty…” I identified with that humility. Although God hadn’t handed me an addict on a silver platter, He definitely used being married to one to teach me to walk in humility.

Today, I live in a different world – far removed from the chaos of cocaine addiction. But I don’t want to forget the lessons learned in that valley. Forgiveness. Humility. Patience. Courage. Honesty. Surrender. The valley of the shadow of addiction is a deep one. It will mold a character. It can make us or break us, maybe both. I think the brokenness is what calls me back to my knees when I get too big for my britches.Step 7 Meme

I need Step 7 every day of my life. It’s an exercise that transforms me from the me-I-don’t-want-to-be to the me-the-looks-like-Him. When l admit my shortcomings and humbly ask God to immediately remove them before they embarrass or humiliate me, or misrepresent Him, my life flows so much smoother – fewer regrets, fewer do-overs. Why I so easily forget that, I do not know. But, tonight, I just want to make that little camp song my bedtime prayer, “Humble me so I can do Thy will.” Will you make it yours, too?

You humble me Lord
You humble me Lord
I’m on my knees empty
You humble me Lord
You humble me Lord
So, please, please, forgive me
You humble me

Kevin Breit/Norah Jones

 

 

Step 2 – My Redeemer Lives!

Step 2“Well I knoooooow my Redeemer lives!” I inhale the stale air in my Pontiac Fiero so I can bellow the next lines along with Nicole C. Mullen as she blows my tiny speakers with her powerhouse lyrics. “I know my Redeemer lives. All of creation testifies…This life within me cries. I know….my Redeemer lives.”

It’s 2001. I believe my life is calming down and things will be “normal” again. School is over. My students have disappeared and I am pulling out of the parking lot. Leaving early for a change. The afternoon is too perfect to stay indoors, grading papers. Texas weather will surprise you like that. Even in wintertime.

This song has become my personal anthem after surviving the shock of discovering my spouse’s life-threatening chemical dependency and subsequent stint in a rehabilitation center. I sing it LOUD, lifting both hands to heaven in an unrehearsed act of worship… “I know that, I know that, I know that, I know that, I know…I know my Redeemer lives…Because He lives I can face tomorrow. He lives, I know, I know, I know. He lives…I spoke with Him this morning.”

That was thirteen years ago. Almost everything in my life has changed. New work (I’m no longer queen of my own classroom, but flit from school to school in our county as a substitute teacher), new husband (God redeemed the things I thought were lost after my first husband chose a path that led him away from our marriage), and a new passion for sharing hope with hearts wounded by addiction. Yes. A lot has changed, but there is one constant. One never ending consistent, prevailing thing that I KNOW today, knew yesterday and will firmly believe until I see Him face-to-face: My Redeemer lives!

After years of riding shotgun on the insane train of cocaine addiction, I felt a little crazy myself. The patterns of hiding, covering, enabling, and codependent-controlling left me in need of my own recovery program. That’s when I began consciously applying Step 2 to my own life, rather than simply pointing the finger of blame at the “addict” in the family.

It goes like this: “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

God, are You able to restore me in the midst of this crazy? Can I truly be sane, regardless of the choices he makes? I prayed and plead with the Jesus I’d known since childhood as season after season, hope after hope came and went.

“Yes.” His answer came quietly. “I can. Are you willing to let go of control and let me?”

It took a long time. And some cash I didn’t really have. But, God used a kind Christian counselor to hold up the mirror and invite me to take an unflinching look at myself. I got it. I learned how to hold the hand of the One who would walk me through the minefield that is living with an addicted person. I learned to trust Him more than I ever had. I learned to release the shame that accompanies the fear of exposure when a Christian family suffers a secret like that.

Today, I search the faces of people in pews and I see that once-familiar pain. They come to church, week after week, longing for some kind of relief from the hell they are suffering. I want to take them by the hand, tilt their chins upward and say, “Lift up thine eyes to the Fall Mums 2hills, from whence cometh thy help. Your help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth” (see Psalm 121:1 KJV). I long for them, for you, for all of us, to know – beyond every shadow of doubt, “Our Redeemer lives!” He only is the Power greater than ourselves who can restore us to sanity. Whether we are the addicted person, or the person who loves the addicted person, it is only our Redeemer who can give us HOPE and the tools to walk through this valley that feels like the shadow of death. May I invite you sing along with me?

 

He lives…to take away my shame

And He lives…forever I’ll proclaim

That the payment for my sin

Was the precious life He gave

But now He’s alive and there’s an empty grave!

And I know – My Redeemer lives!

Here are two links to this song on You tube.

The first is Nicole C. Mullen’s official video. It is beautiful. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj-pZQ_XjyU

The second is my favorite because it demonstrates so beautifully the Father’s love for His children. We are as weak and helpless as that well-loved son. Our Father carries us. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rF7Bv9Rjl0E

Why Fight Addiction With Addiction? (Denial Series #4 of 5)

Where does it hurt?” I knelt before a pensive five-year-old, trying to discover the source of his pain. As a substitute Kindergarten teacher, I was unfamiliar with the child’s history. He couldn’t find words to describe the hurt, but his little face spoke volumes. I sent him to the school nurse. After she hooked him up with a frozen sponge in a baggie, he was again able to happily participate in class activities. If only it were that easy to fix our inner boo-boos!

I am that child – at times unable to function in life because something hurts, and I cannot find the words to describe my pain. I need something that no substitute can give. I need to go to the Great Healer so that He can hook me up with His treatment plan for my life.Staring out the window

In my last post, “Yoga Pants, You Are Not My BFF” (https://julietvanheerden.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/yoga-pants-you-are-not-my-bff/), I mentioned that symptoms of DENIAL can be rooted in the abuse or neglect we’ve suffered, or in our own sin. I shared that I was “sinning in my yoga pants.” Let me explain: I’ve historically used food both to celebrate life and to numb or comfort myself from the pain of life. I don’t know how or when that habit began, probably sometime during childhood. All I know is that when something is hurting me, ice cream makes me feel better. If I’m stressed, chocolate is my friend. If I’m nervous or scared, I tend to find myself standing in front of the fridge. What is that?

What it is, is sin. Why? Because I’m turning to something other than Jesus, expecting it to bring peace, comfort, and order to the chaos of life. It’s idol worship. Ouch. Yeah, I said that.

So, here’s what happened over the past two years as I wore my yoga pants to “work” every day. (Well, not every day, but most days.) Writing a book is hard work. Especially when it’s a book that bares your soul to the world and exposes the inner turmoil of living with a chemically dependent person. In order to write well, one must place one’s self in the scene. Basically, I re-lived several hells as I wrote the story of how God redeemed the things I once thought were lost in my life.

When I lived my story the first time, I often numbed my pain with food. As I wrote my story, Candy Cornreliving those losses, I found myself reverting to the old patterns of running to the cupboard in search of something to relieve the emotional turmoil of remembering the accidents, the poor choices, the betrayals and the darkness of dealing with addiction. In essence, I numbed myself from the pain of the consequences of addiction with addiction.

Often, just like the Kindergartener, I couldn’t even name the pain. I just knew that something hurt. Rather than run to the kitchen, I needed to run to Jesus. He could have helped me figure it out.

Jeremiah 6:14 reads this way in The Living Bible: “You can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there!” God knows what He’s talking about. If we’ll just own the issue, He’ll give us so much more than a sponge in a baggie. He’ll give us the inner healing that we need. He will help us recover from the cycle of addiction.

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

(http://www.recoveryconnection.org/cycle-of-addiction/)

Admitting powerlessness is absolutely essential to breaking the addiction cycle. We have to take Step 1 if we want to get off the crazy merry-go-round.

Step 1: “We admitted we were powerless over our compulsions, obsessions and addictions, and that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Where is your life unmanageable? Where are you compulsive, obsessed or addicted? Own it. Name it. Take it to the Great Physician. Don’t wait another minute. Get on with your abundant life!

Father, forgive me for allowing myself to revert to old coping patterns. I admit my powerlessness over using food to numb or reward myself. I ask for Your power and Your Spirit to give me self-control and the ability to run to You when something is hurting and I cannot name it. I choose to trust You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. If you enjoy this blog, please…Subscribe, Comment, Share! That will help me to find a just-right audience for my book. Thank you!

Stepping Out of Denial (Series #1 of 5)

In two weeks, our 12 Step group will begin again at Step 1. This time around, I’m praying for God to continue to peel the layers of the onion that is my life. May I invite you to take a peek at Step 1 with me?

Step 1: “We admitted we were powerless over our compulsions, obsessions    and addictions, and that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Are we so busy controlling the lives of everyone around us that we forget there are areas of our own lives that are unmanageable? It’s time to come out of the dark. Time to take Step 1. Time to face the truth about ourselves.

 Here’s a short list of symptoms in our lives that there is possibly something deeper going on. We often look at the symptoms and stop right there, never getting to the root of the problem. Do you see yourself or someone you love anywhere on this list?

  • Shame-filled
  • Addicted
  • Depressed
  • Angry
  • Exhibiting poor self-esteem
  • Feeling powerless
  • Dealing with unexplained physical issues/illness
  • Battling suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Continually dealing with damaged relationships
  • Having a tendency to isolate

If you see yourself here, you are not alone. Many of us get stuck in a cycles like this. It’s like a roller coaster ride that never ends. We feel like throwing up. Life is no longer fun. We scream, but no one seems to care.

The first key to getting off the ride is coming out of denial. There are many ways to deny the truth about our issues. Denial is basically refusing to acknowledge that a problem exists, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

One way we do this is by intellectualizing. The creators of The Door of Hope program  (http://www.careforcelifekeys.org/pages.asp?id=53) define intellectualizing like this:

Intellectualizing – “When recalling the abuse, denying that the abuse had any emotional effect on them. We can think about it, talk about it, analyze it – but never take a step forward in the healing process. We can think we have dealt with it, but all we have done is thought about it.”

Consider this an official invitation to come out of denial today. We can prayerfully ask God for insight as to why we behave in certain unhealthy ways. He will reveal the root to us. Only then can He begin to truly heal.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14 (NIV)

Step 1 Meme

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Father in heaven, please open my eyes today. Show me the areas of my life where I am in need of Your healing touch. Reveal the truth about why I behave the way I behave and feel the way I feel. Please forgive me for intellectualizing my pain. I am ready to allow You to heal me. I choose to trust You. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Crosses & Changes

Yesterday would have been my twentieth wedding anniversary. Yeah, if I had stayed married to the first man I vowed to love, honor and cherish until death. I sat on the front pew of our church and thought about that as my husband of four years preached his guts out.

I’m an avid note taker. Usually I can be found with composition book and pen during any sermon or lecture. Yesterday was no exception. I flipped the page and wrote the date just as my Honey started preaching. “August 9, 2014.” My brain did a double take. August nine? Wow! Has it really been twenty years?

Memory carried me to another time and place, causing me to miss the sermon’s opening lines. “Twenty years ago today,” I wrote in purple ink, “I stood on a sunny beach in Costa Rica making promises I could not keep…”

“And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:22 NKJV) The words came loud and clear through our church’s sound system, pulling me back to the sermon. For several minutes my thoughts hopscotched between present and past.

  • Lord, I did bear the cross for a long, long time: willow tree couple polaroid
  • I bore the cross of confusion when my innocent dreams were shattered.
  • I bore the cross of shame when I thought ours was the only family in church suffering the effects of drug addiction.
  • I bore the cross of guilt when I enabled and rescued my spouse.
  • I bore the cross of sorrow when he chose a different kind of life with a different kind of wife.

“How many of us have, as our primary focus, the desire to live in the spiritual world? – To dwell in the secret place of the Most High? To abide under the shadow of the Almighty?” My handsome Honey asked the congregation. Asked me. (He and I have been speaking about that a lot lately. How do we live Psalm 91 when the world around us is falling apart?)

We’re expecting supernatural results from physical investments,” he continued.

It’s true, Lord. We often are. I used to think if I loved harder, my addicted husband would change. I thought that counseling, Narcotics Anonymous, and church would heal him. Nothing worked. Moving to a new city didn’t work. Controlling every penny failed. Screaming never solved anything. Neither did threatening, crying or cajoling.

Two days ago I posted this on my Facebook page: “…the best predictor of the future is the past. What he has done in the past will be what he does in the future, unless there has been some big change. You can bet on it… Promises by someone who has a history of letting you down in a relationship mean nothing certain in terms of the future.” Dr. Henry Cloud in Necessary Endings, Chp 6.                                     (https://www.facebook.com/SameDressDifferentDay)

A reader named Emily responded with a question. “…unless there has been some big change…” like being born again?” She continued, “The Holy Spirit is amazing! But I agree with this quote; I have seen its sad truth in my own life and others’. We must pray for each other…and sometimes set more boundaries until those prayers are answered in a way that means it’s safe to open the gate in those areas.”

Spot on Emily! The key words are “born again.” I needed to be born again. Again and again. Still do. Every single day, I needed to follow the insight I’ve discovered under Vincent’s Word Studies on Bible Hub:                                                                            Luke 14:27 http://biblehub.com/commentaries/vws/luke/14.htm                                   “And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

His cross

More correctly, his own. An important charge. All must bear the cross, but not all the same cross: each one his own.”

 That cross-bearing is the secret to dwelling in the secret place of the Most High. See, I was all the time busy trying to bear someone else’s cross. I wanted so badly to fix my ex I was even standing in the way of God sometimes.

He also needed to be born again. Again and again. I could not do that for him. Only Jesus could.

All these years later, those tendencies still tend to crop up in my life. My sinful default? I want to fix, help, do, rather than bring a person before the throne of grace in prayer, rather than battle for them on my knees in the spiritual realm. I talk too much. I pray too little.

So, going back to Dr. Henry Cloud’s premise that the best predictor of the future is the past, I want to say this; if I had taken time to thoroughly review the past of the person I married twenty years ago, I may not have taken those vows.

Yes, people can do better than their pasts. Yes, God redeems, restores and heals. Yes, there is hope for brighter futures.

“But the key is this:” Dr. Cloud says on p. 95, “There had better be a good reason to believe that someone is going to do better. Without any new information or actions, though, the past is the best predictor of the future. You can bet on it.”

Observing my preacher man on the platform yesterday, I thought about our history together. I’ve known my husband for six years. I really, really know him. I trust him. Before I married him, I did my homework. He had a pretty rotten past, with a long, long history of broken hearts in his wake. I should have been terrified. But I wasn’t. Know why? He had experienced the big change. The Holy Spirit, born again change. There was evidence of that in his life. I trusted that evidence. I’ve never looked back. God redeems the things we thought were lost.

So, Dr. Cloud leaves us with this: “…here are the first questions to ask yourself about the anatomy of hope, no matter whether you are assessing a person or some aspect of business:

  • What has the performance been so far?
  • Is it good enough?
  • Is there anything in place that would make it different?
  • If not, am I willing to sign up for more of the same?

Those four questions may get you to see reality clearly and, if answered truthfully, could keep you from going down a road of certain failure – the failure of the past.” (ibid. p. 96)

I don’t know where you are today, but I wonder:

  • Are you that young woman about to make some big promises without having done your homework?
  • Are you feeling stuck in a relationship that keeps giving you more of the wrong kind of same?
  • Are you on the other side of failed vows, trying to figure out what went wrong and promising not to make the same mistakes again?

Wherever you are, may I pray for you?

Father in heaven, thank You for redeeming the things I thought were lost in my life. Thank You for giving me hope that I can share with others.

I pray for the readers of this post. They are here for a reason. Please send Your Spirit to reveal to them how to take the next step of life in a way that doesn’t bring them more of the same pain. Reveal the truth of their past and heal their present situation.

Show them how to bear their cross with humility and a teachable spirit. May they learn to dwell in the secret place of the Most High, to abide under the shadow of the Almighty, and to say of You Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2)

Thank You for truth that we can trust. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Hitchhikers and Headgames

I turned 44 last week. It kind of hurt. When I was a kid, I used to lay underneath my yellow and white tulip-covered comforter playing a game in my head that went something like this: I’m 10, my sister is 6. In four years, I’ll be 14, and she’ll be ten. When she’s 14, I’ll be ready to graduate from high school. And when she’s 18, I’ll be 22! I’d continue on until I reached about 30. Then my mind would go blank, because I could not even begin to fathom what my life would be like at 30! That was the age of my mother, whom I believed to be ancient!

Looking in the rearview mirror of the 34 years that have passed since I began playing that childhood head game, I can see how the enemy of my soul has been like a hitchhiker, always on the side of life’s road, trying to thumb a ride. Sometimes I’ve maintained a steady pace and ignored him completely as I kept my eye on the “prize.” Sometimes I’ve slowed down to get a better look, and somehow ended up in the opposite lane facing oncoming traffic. Unfortunately, there have also been times when I’ve stopped to pick him up and ended up on a wild goose chase as I followed his misguided directions.

After those awful detours, I’ve had to call upon my Jesus to remove the enemy from my life’s vehicle. After closing the door in his face I continued on my journey, more cautious than before. Watchful.

This past week, that hitchhiker has shown up several times. He isn’t always dressed the same, so I wondered if it really was him. He wore the cloak of Confusion one day. And then masqueraded as Fear of Failure the next, whispering, “Don’t bother trying. You will never get this book published anyway. It’s way too long. And who really cares? Lots of people live lives way more dramatic than yours. Blah. Blah. Blah.” Once or twice (or sadly more) he boldly stood in the middle of my road as Pride. The swerve I had to make to avoid him almost ended me up in the ditch. “Just leave that part of the story out. It isn’t very flattering, you know. You say you’re protecting someone else, but you really want to protect yourself.”

I’ve had to draw my Sword on him a few times lately, claiming scriptures like Psalm 40:11, “ Do not withhold your mercy from me, O Lord; may your love and your truth always protect me.” God, your love and truth will protect me, right? The truth sets people free. Those guys in the Bible didn’t always make perfect choices. Still, you used them. I just want You to use me. “Teach me Your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth. Give me an undivided heart, that I may bless Your name.” (Psalm 86:11)

Today I had lunch with three beautiful ladies. We laughed and talked and shared stories of our lives. One of them asked me afterward, “So, why are you writing this book anyway?”

I said something like, “Because I want to help other Christian people who live with an addict in their family.” Then I started singing a childhood church song with the words slightly changed, “With an addict in the family, not-so-happy-home, not-so-happy-home, not-so-happy-home…”

She cracked up laughing then said, “It’s so true, isn’t it?”

Most of us in pews have someone in our inner circle who is addicted. Not all of it is drugs. Sometimes it’s food. Or media. Or porn. Whatever it is, it hurts us. It hurts our families. Hurts our relationship with God. Everything suffers.

When we’re ten years old, dreaming in our beds of what our lives will be like when we’re 20 or 30, we do not imagine that we’ll ever be married to an addict. We never fathom that we could become the addicted one. We only dream those “happily-ever-after” bedtime story dreams.

By the time we’re 40 or 50, we realize that the choices we made in our 20’s are affecting not only us, but also our children and even their children. Who we slept with, who we married, what habits we developed, our career choices – all of these decisions have had a trickle-down effect. Our families now reap what we’ve sown. We keep reaping what we’ve sown.

Sitting at a cozy café table with those three precious women today, I listened to their chit-chat, smiled at their stories of adult kids and grandbabies as they passed around their cell phone snapshots vying for the “whose got the cutest grandson” title. As I observed them, the realization dawned on me that they have each been long-married to the same “good man” they originally started with. No divorces. No regrets.

Now that they are all retired, they happily enjoy life with their husbands, kids and grandkids. It was a rare treat to lunch with them. Even rarer to observe their shared dynamic of longevity and security in their marriages. I wondered how they had done it. But I didn’t ask.

Instead I played that old game in my head, except this time it went something like this: “I’m 44. My husband is 56. We don’t have kids. When I’m 56, he’ll be 68. That’s about the same age as my friend’s husband. And he’s retired. In twelve years, my husband might be retired. And we won’t have any grandkids to brag about or show pictures of… Right there, I knew I needed to take those thoughts into captivity before that hitchhiker hijacked a wonderful luncheon with my friends. I recognized him in the nick of time, slinking up on me in the guise of Regret.

I know my friends’ lives aren’t perfect. We’ve shed some tears together over the years as they’ve also suffered the heartache of watching loved ones make poor choices. But I admire whatever it was that they did right in their pasts so they can be in a place to truly enjoy their present.

As my sister, Ami likes to say, “Life is all about choices.” I suppose it’s really true. We reap what we sow. We get out what we put in. We choose whom we serve. Are you living today in such a way that your family will benefit from your choices for generations to come? Am I?

Joshua in the Bible says it this way, “…choose you this day whom you will serve…As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)Choose you this day

Father God, I choose You today. I’m sorry for allowing my own willfulness to get in the way of Your plans for my life in the past. I know that 44 years is but a grain of sand in Your hourglass. Thank you for redeeming the things I thought were lost. Thank you for my kind and gentle husband. Although we may never celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, please help me to treasure each day we have together and to celebrate what you have given to me, rather than lament the things I don’t have. Give me the grace to live my life in such a way that Your Name is glorified. Protect me from the hitchhiker. I don’t want to give him any more rides. Help me to live in the grateful present, not the regrets of the past, or the unforeseen future. Just right here and right now. One moment at a time. One godly choice at a time. In the name of Jesus, amen.

p.s. Matthew West wrote a song that resonates with me & couples very well with this post. Maybe you’ve heard it on your Christian radio station. Here are the lyrics & the You Tube link:

Hello, my name is regret
I’m pretty sure we have met
Every single day of your life
I’m the whisper inside
That won’t let you forget
Hello, my name is defeat
I know you recognize me
Just when you think you can win
I’ll drag you right back down again
‘Til you’ve lost all belief
These are the voices, these are the lies
And I have believed them, for the very last time
Hello, my name is child of the one true King
I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, and I have been set free
“Amazing Grace” is the song I sing
Hello, my name is child of the one true King
I am no longer defined
By all the wreckage behind
The one who makes all things new
Has proven it’s true
Just take a look at my life
What love the Father has lavished upon us
That we should be called His children
I am a child of the one true King
~Matthew West

http://youtu.be/ZuJWQzjfU3o

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.

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.