Moving Forward: An Adoptive Mom Reflects On Her Empty Nest


My phone says 2:24 a.m. I woke up hungry two hours ago. Quietly devoured half the cantaloupe I bought at the farmer’s market yesterday. Read a bunch of my old blog posts. Cried the ugly cry. Now I have a hangover. A cantaloupe and vulnerability hangover. Why did I write all of that stuff for the world to see?

I’ve been meaning to come back here for years. Yes, I did show up a couple of times in the past 24 months— four, to be exact.

“What happened?” A well-meaning reader recently asked. “Why did you stop writing? It must have been something significant.”

I couldn’t answer at the time. I didn’t have the courage to say the words. But I’ve been thinking about it lately. Why can’t I write for my own blog? Why do I avoid it like nine-year-old boys avoid toothbrushes? Why is this so hard?

It’s hard because I feel embarrassed. Because I feel raw. Because I wore my heart on the outside of me for years and one day it broke and I didn’t want anyone to see that part. So I hid. That’s the truth of it.

But it’s not like I hid on purpose. I didn’t say to myself, “I’m just going to leave my readers hanging. I’m not going to write anymore.” No. It wasn’t like that. It was more like, “Today I am going to breathe. I am going to try to get out of bed. Try to brush my hair and put on clothes and look like the girl My Honey married a decade ago.” Those things took effort. So much effort some days I couldn’t do much else.

I experienced something similar once before. Months of going through motions I have no recollection of. Years of grieving the death of a dream. Grieving so hard I nearly lost myself in the ocean of silent sorrow. I came around, but the grief haunted relentlessly if I was still or quiet for any length of time. Because of that, what happened more recently felt familiar. But familiarity was no comfort. My breaking point came out of nowhere. I don’t remember exactly when. There was no one event that could be called “the catalyst.” I just noticed blood one day. Dried blood and fresh blood oozing from the heart that used to beat so beautifully on my sleeve. I felt protective of it. I couldn’t take any more risks with an organ so raw. It needed time to heal, restore, renew. I didn’t dare write one word. Not one.

After all I’d shared about myself, My Honey, and our precious “Boys of Summer,” I didn’t want anyone to know how hard it really was to become a family. I didn’t want readers who fell in love with my boys when they were sweet and kind and fun and loved me, to see them in any other light.

Oh, there were hints in blogs along the way. The few I posted between 2017 and 2019 were a glimpse into a world where none of us felt comfortable, a world where My Honey and I often sat in our car in the driveway after our Monday Date Night, dreading to go inside the house. Sometimes we didn’t. Sometimes we turned around and drove to the park. We sat on a hard green bench talking about what went so terribly wrong and fighting one another with our words because we couldn’t agree on how to fix it. We felt held hostage by the strangers in our home who looked like the boys we loved and rescued, but who acted like people who hated our guts and only wanted to escape the life we created just for them.

I know it’s crazy, but I felt ashamed that we weren’t doing a good job as parents. (If we were, our kids would love and respect us and follow the rules we live by, right?) If you parent teens, I know you are laughing right now. Even if you birthed them, they don’t always like you or choose to live the way you feel is best. I KNOW this in my head. But after everything everyone did for us, to help us adopt our boys and have a spacious home in which to “live, laugh, love” as the words above our mantle said, I felt ashamed and afraid to let the world see how badly we were failing at “living, laughing, and loving.” I couldn’t see past the pain of the present to give anyone hope in our future as a family. I didn’t want to disappoint, but I couldn’t control the outcome. I couldn’t control anything. My dream world crumbled and I was left with an empty nest, a broken spirit and a marriage in need of repair. Parenting is not for the faint of heart.

Deep grieving that finally led to breakthrough began last August. I remember the season well. My Honey was called to preach in a new district. Circumstances forced us to move from the house God gave us when we adopted our boys. Each room had been packed and emptied. Everyone gone. I stayed behind to paint.

Agreeable Gray. I will forever remember the color of Sherwin Williams’ most popular neutral. Day after day I trimmed and rolled my way through our hollow home. Each room holding stories and memories, joy and pain and secrets only families know. Each room a museum in my mind. I knew where every piece of furniture should be, every picture, every book and knick-knack and treasure. But it was all gone. There was only my ladder, my brush and roller and the tray of gray paint I dragged along the floor on an old sheet.

I love painting. Love the system, the challenges, the transformation—as fresh, clean color covers all the smudges and stains of daily life. I started in one of the boys’ rooms. Just a smallish cube with a closet. It should not have been hard. But it was. Excruciating to be exact. I was alone with all the memories made within those walls. Thankful to be alone as sorrow surfaced and escaped in noisy wails.

 I painted over each memory. Neutralized them all with Agreeable Gray. How many times had I quietly entered this room late at night to pray mama prayers over the sleeping teen on the bed in the corner? How many times had I carefully cleaned up the aftermath of his rage? I’ll never forget the night this room looked like a war zone with broken glass, bloody footprints and an explosion of belongings that took days to repair and reorganize.

As my paint roller glides over the walls, my brain replays the reels of footage stored somewhere inside. Where did things go wrong, Lord? How did we go from back scratches and prayers, laughter and “I love you’s” to satanic symbols and silence and a closed door that couldn’t prevent hatred from seeping underneath and permeating our entire household?

My brain hurts with the memories of those days and nights that blur together in a cocktail of absolute emotional chaos. I shift gears. Try to refocus. Try to find the “happy memories” file. It feels so thin compared to the others. But they are there. The bike rides, camping trips and our Friday “Family Christian Movie Nights.” The happy chatter of Ukrainian voices playing board games or unwrapping Christmas presents. The sparkling eyes when speaking of a certain girl who is now my precious daughter-in-law and the mother of our two beautiful grandbabies.

It all went too fast, Lord. I couldn’t find my feet as a mom before they were gone. Now I’m “Ouma” to a toddler with a contagious smile and a strawberry-haired girl with blue, blue eyes. Help me to get it right. To love them all well. To live in what is “now” and learn from what was “then.”

I dragged my ladder from room to room. Conversations seeped from the walls. My mind heard them all as I rolled gallon after gallon of Agreeable Gray.

  • In our home school room—the standoff between me and two newly landed foreigners about the importance of enunciating correctly so their English could be understood by the locals. “But I’m Ukrainian. I will always speak like a Ukrainian. You can’t make me speak like an American!”
  • In the kitchen—Boy: “If I drop this glass on the floor and break it, will you ever be able to fix it?”

Me: “Not really.”

Boy: “Exactly. And that is why saying ‘sorry’ doesn’t work. It doesn’t fix anything. Those are just words.”

  • In My Honey’s office—My Honey to two bright-eyed boys: “I’m giving you these i-phones, but you need to know how dangerous they are. They can be used for good, and they can be used for bad. It’s my job to protect you from the bad as much as I can. So, these phones come with rules. With a contract that you will need to sign if you agree to the rules…”
  • In the living room—Me with a pounding heart to a boy and a girl lying on the sofa with a blanket over them: “Please sit up. Put your hands above the blanket. I’m not trying to be awkward, but this is not appropriate.”

Boy in response, “This is why we go to our friends’ houses instead of inviting them here. You make everything awkward with your stupid “rules.” ‘No girls in the bedroom. No blankets. No this. No that.”

  • In the master bedroom—My Honey in an angry whisper from his side of our queen sized bed: “I don’t know how much more stress I can take. Something has to change or I am going to end up in the hospital. (He did. Cardiac ablation.)
  • In our bathroom—Me to God, “Do something! My family is falling apart and I can’t fix it!”

By the time I reached the final bedroom with my last gallon of paint, I’d exhausted my tears. I could only smile to myself as I erased a misspelled song title “Young, Dum and Broke” from the wall behind the spot where my tall boy’s bed used to be. He moved out the year before we did, when I was away on a speaking engagement. Went to spend the night with a friend and never came home. He took nothing with him. I left his room as he left it, always hoping he’d move back again. He never did. It was the last room I packed. The closet jammed full of clothes, shoes of several sizes, RC cars, tools and art supplies in a jumbled floor-to-ceiling mess. I saved a tote with his yearbook, sketchpads, photo albums and a few things I thought he might want someday. Everything else went to the curb.

As Agreeable Gray covered his attempt to chalk a wall portrait of the girl who broke his heart in high school, I prayed for him. Too grown for his own good. Flown too soon. Doing his thing in this hostile world. God, show my boy how much You love him. Pierce that independent façade and heal his heart. Let him know he always has a home and two parents who love him very, very much.

I’m done now. Done with living in those memories. Done beating myself up for whatever I did that seemed so wrong to them at the time. Done hiding from the world because my family wasn’t perfect. And done blogging about it all. I’m sure there will be a book one day. In the meantime, I’m choosing to live in the present. Enjoy my grandbabies. Love on my scattered family as best I can and in whatever ways I’m permitted. And allow Jesus to continue healing me as I refocus on ministry.

You will still be able to find me here. And on my @samedressdifferentday Facebook page. And hopefully soon on YouTube, if I can ever get that vlog thing figured out. Thank you, dear readers, friends and supporters of our family for these past 6 years. Thank you for your financial contributions toward our adoption. Thank you for your prayers. We could NOT have done this without you. And believe it or not, My Honey and I have both said we’d do it all again. Perhaps differently. Perhaps with fewer expectations (for them and us), and much more grace and flexibility. But we would do it. Because it’s what Jesus called us all to do. Love the unlovable. Do good to those who use us. Care for the orphans and widows. Somehow in the doing of that, we become more like Him and less like this self-centered world. And that’s what I want more than anything—to be like Jesus. Don’t you?

Happy Codependent Mother’s Day

“Oh Julie, you have rug burns on your heart.” Eight months after boarding a homebound plane in Ukraine with my Honey and our newly adopted teenagers, I’m crying on the phone to my friend, searching for ways to describe the festering ache in my soul. I wince as her words trigger the memory of oozing rug burns sticking to my pantyhose. I was an athlete thirty years ago, but my knees still carry the scars.

Our high school gymnasium doubled as a multi-purpose building for many student activities, including church services, so the “Lady Tartans” played basketball and volleyball on carpet. Yes, CARPET! Visiting teams eyed our court in disbelief during pre-game warm-ups. I’m certain the Tartans wielded slightly more than a home game advantage. We were used to our unusual turf’s effect on bouncing balls and the teenage knees of scrappy girls who played to win.

Rug burns rake off a person’s protective skin, creating wounds that seep blood or pinkish semi-clear liquid. Time eventually creates a thin crust over each burn’s surface. When my team played two home games in a row, there was no time for our rug burns to heal before we again sacrificed knobby teen knees for rebounds or game points. I learned the hard way what happens when rug burns get layered—yellow white pus forms under the scab and oozes out when pressure is applied to the wound. Double rug burns are painfully slow to heal.

“Yes. Yes, I do have rug burns on my heart,” I reply. My friend understands rug burns. She was a Lady Tartan, too. She’s also lived a life story similar to mine.

After we stop talking, I turn off the bedside lamp and lay awake long into the night. I’m alone. My family is home. I’m traveling—sharing my testimony of redemption and restoration, sowing hope in hearts wounded by addiction.small plane

Do you even believe your own message? I’m stunned by the thought, as it strikes deep in my core.

Of course I do. But, I’m hurting and I don’t know how to fix this, God. How did we get here? What could I have done differently? What do we do now? Why don’t they let me love them anymore?

I toss questions toward heaven with the fervency of a baseball-pitching machine, not expecting Anyone to really answer.

I’m still sore from the sting of the H-word my son spewed just days before I left for this trip. “He doesn’t mean it,” the well-meaning people say. “Don’t take it personally.” Not helpful.

He felt hatred towards me. That’s why he said it. Of course he meant it. He also means it when he says he doesn’t want me to hug him or touch him. When he forbids me to say, “I love you” or to demonstrate any connection or affection at all. He means it. And it’s mean. And it burns my heart raw.

Maybe I could blow it off, recognize that it’s coming from a place of deep pain and trauma-triggered fear. Maybe it wouldn’t fester so bad if that were the only wound. But it’s not. There’s more. There’s my other boy-turned-man-overnight. Trying his wings, testing his limits, telling Honey and me all kinds of things we never wanted to hear. Building a wall a mile high and six feet thick to keep us distanced from his heart.

Here you are, talking on TV about recovery from codependency like you’ve got all the answers, when just yesterday you relapsed into fear-based control and tried to be somebody’s Holy Spirit. Again. Multitude of Counselors

The enemy taunts me with half-truths. Tries to silence me with guilt and shame. I cringe. It’s true. I project my pain from the past onto my kids when their rejection triggers old wounds that still ooze pus and blood. Wounds that stick to my emotional Spanx and rip the skin right off my soul, leaving me tender and vulnerable.

I am not healed yet!

There. I’ve said it. I’m not a perfect pastor’s wife, mother, daughter, friend or person. I’m painfully aware of my shortcomings, especially when pointed out by those who know me best. When I am afraid, I try to control circumstances or people. When angry, I punish with silence. When I am rejected, I tend to withhold affection for fear of further rejection. Sometimes I isolate. Or use guilt to manipulate. When I don’t know what else to do, I work, work, work. I am a mess. I need Jesus. Every moment. Of every day. I cannot do this on my own.

In preparation for taping this televised program, I reviewed the first Step of the Twelve Steps of Codependents Anonymous: “I am powerless over other people.” Once more, I am humbly reminded that I cannot make “minding other people’s business” my way of life, (even if those other people are my own family). I cannot put off my own good by determining to control, advise or guide others. I must surrender my compulsive drive to “fix the unfixable.” I am not anyone’s Jesus. By God’s grace, I will choose (once again) to ask myself two questions before jumping into control or rescue mode:

  1. Did this person ask me for this help?
  2. What does this have to do with God’s will for me?

Father in heaven, I choose to release my sons and the time frame for their emotional healing and spiritual growth to Your care. I choose to focus on my own spiritual progress and maintain healthy boundaries in all my relationships. I will not sacrifice my personal needs to meet the needs of another person, nor will I resort to unhealthy giving or serving from a place of fear or manipulation. I will allow You, God to be God in my life and in the lives of my sons. Thank You for your grace and your mercy, which is beautifully new every morning. Thank you for Your ability to heal the layered rug burns on all of our hearts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

codependency lovingonpurpose

What about you, dear Friend? Are you expending valuable emotional, financial and physical energy rescuing, enabling or persecuting someone whose life is out of control because of a chemical or other addictive dependency? Are you allowing fear to drive your actions as you try to save a drowning loved one? Have you lost your sense of self by allowing your boundaries to be pushed back or knocked down completely? Do you need to take CODA’s Step 1 and admit that you are powerless over another person and that your life has become unmanageable? If so, it’s not too late to come out of denial. Take that Step. Admit it to yourself. Tell Jesus. Confide in a friend. Begin your journey to wholeness today. You are worth it! You are so totally worth it.

Know When To Walk Away

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run…”

Barn & RoadI was eight years old when Kenny Rodgers made those lyrics popular. I heard that song so many times in subsequent growing-up-in-Texas years, I think it’s part of my DNA. Some things are hard to forget.

Unfortunately, as an adult my codependent tendencies overrode my “DNA” when I was married to a chemically dependent spouse. I did not know soon enough when to walk away or when to run. I couldn’t hear the wisdom in other people’s counsel. I was too busy rescuing and enabling someone else. I didn’t care for myself, or even recognize my needs.

A person stuck in codependency will “feel anxiety more consistently than any other emotion in the relationship,” Psychologist Seth Meyers says, “and they’ll spend a great deal of time and energy either trying to change their partner or … trying to conform to their partner’s wishes.”

For the past nine days, I’ve been having a running dialogue with an emotionally abused woman. She has spent seven years stifling herself in order to fit someone else’s mold; tiptoeing through life so as not to set him off, taking neglect, emotional abandonment and verbal abuse because she “made a vow” and doesn’t want to become another statistic. I get that. I’ve done that.

But there comes a time when enough is enough. A light bulb goes on one day and suddenly, we’re done. And when a woman is done she is D-O-N-E. Sometimes it takes years, decades even. Sometimes we wake up in time to exit the relationship and still have time for the abundant life Jesus speaks about in John 10:10.

This D-O-N-E thing doesn’t just happen with women. I bumped into a male friend at the gym last week and asked, “How’s it going?”

Oh, things are okay.” Then, with lowered voice, “I’m going through a divorce.”

I didn’t even know you got married! What happened?”

Pain pills and alcohol. I’ve never been around a person with addiction like that before. I just couldn’t take it. I told her she had to go.”

I’m quite certain they were married for less than a year.

She doesn’t want help. She doesn’t think she has a problem,” he replied after I asked if she was part of a recovery community. “I just woke up and said, ‘I can’t live like this.’” He was done.

Waking up from our codependent slumber requires honesty. In my recovery group yesterday, someone said, “Being honest with ourselves is not a place we arrive – it’s a process we work for.” Wow! Honesty is not an event. It’s a process.

Where are you on the honesty continuum? Are you pretending everything is okay when your gut tells you something is terribly wrong – as the emotionally abused woman I mentioned earlier did on her wedding day? She didn’t listen to the gnawing in her brain as she walked down the aisle – devoid of the joy a bride normally exudes on a day like that.

Are you trying to “make it work” as she’s done for the past seven years, but find yourself exhausted emotionally, physically, or spiritually because YOU seem to be doing all the work?

Are you so numb inside that you’ve forgotten how it feels to be free of the burden of trying to be someone else’s Savior?

It may be time to look yourself in the eye and ask some tough questions. Have you begun the process of being honest with the person looking back at you in the mirror? Taking that honesty step today is better than looking at yourself years down the road and wondering where the best years of your life went. Sadly, I read the pain of that reality between the lines of a brief book review I received today. My heart aches for that reader. She wrote:

“I downloaded this book to my Kindle in the afternoon and did not put it down until 3 am when the last word was read! My own 20 years of marriage with an abusive man was the reason I had to read this book so that I could try and wrap my mind around why some of us go through relationships that crush us but yet we keep going and keep trying to fix it. Thank you Juliet for putting all the ugly down on paper and sharing how you finally, after many years, bounced back.” Sharon S.

Reading her words made me weep – tears of joy that a stranger bought my book, Same Dress, Different Day: A Spiritual Memoir of Addiction and Redemption, and could not put it down! Tears of sorrow for those 20 years of heartache she experienced. As I think of her story, and mine, and a dozen others I know of, I can’t help but start singing a Kenny Rodgers song…

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run…”

Dear God, Please reveal, through the power of Your Holy Spirit, the reality of what each reader sees in his/her mirror. Show them the path to freedom from codependency’s destructive grasp. Pull them out of the gutter and plant their feet firmly on the bedrock of TRUTH. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


If you love or know someone who loves a chemically dependent or otherwise addicted person, and you’d like to order your own copy of my eye-opening memoir, here’s the Amazon link:

“No Grits For You” (A Step 6 Story)

Step 6

“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

 I am mean in the mornings. I don’t mean to be mean. I don’t want to be mean. But I am mean. Sometimes just a little mean. Sometimes big mean.

Before we married, I told my husband about it. At first he didn’t believe me. “How can someone so nice be mean?” he innocently inquired. After I explained the problem he said, “That doesn’t make sense. Our bodies store glycogen in the muscles and the liver. We are designed to be able to go without food for two or three days.”

Even after the I Do’s, he remained unconvinced. I think he doubted my experience – perhaps thought I was looking for excuses to be grumpy. It wasn’t long, though, before the cantankerous side of the bride arrived. Think honeymoon. Florida Keys. The morning after we have each devoured giant pieces of the best Key lime cheesecake EVER.

Honey wants to hang out on the porch before breakfast. (He likes to ease into the day, no rushing, no timepiece.) I wake up, down 24 ounces of water and start rummaging for breakfast, knowing my window between bride and bridezilla is fairly small. Honey calls me outside. Wants me to watch the sky with him, chill and chat with him, just BE. With him.

I’m torn. I want to. Really, I do. But I know how I’m feeling. I know that I need to eat food…and fast. I don’t want to ignore my new husband. It’s awesome to be wanted, just for my company. However, I don’t want to ruin the moment by snapping his innocent head off with my two-edged tongue, sharpened by a cheesecake hangover.

I open the refrigerator, already knowing it’s empty. I dig through bare cupboards searching for a jar of peanut butter or a leftover packet of Saltines from prehistoric guests. Nothing. Honey is calling to me. I’m churlish, wanting him to come inside and dress for Denny’s or Cracker Barrel. Even Dairy Queen, I-Don’t-Even-Care-Queen, I’ll eat anything. He doesn’t feel my urgency.

Suddenly I remember the Harry & David gift basket that had been delivered the day before. God bless the friends who sent this! Grabbing a forty-dollar gold-foil-wrapped pear and a handful of mixed nuts, I head outside to the sun-kissed morning and the man who wants to enjoy it with me. Whew, that was close.

Honey escaped my meanness that day, but now, nearly five years later he’s fully convinced that someone “so nice” can be mean. Often, the first thing he says in the morning is, “What can I get you for breakfast?”

Why am I sharing this with you? What does the above anecdote possibly have to do with Step 6? Don’t log off now…here’s the connection:

In Melody Beattie’s book, Codependents’ Guide To The Twelve Steps she says whether we call our issues “character defects,” protective devices or simply a need for healing because of woundedness, the result is the same: we all have SOMETHING WRONG. WITH US. THAT WE NEED TO BE READY TO RELEASE TO GOD.

My morning meanness has authentic roots. I can justify it medically. I can play it off, excuse it, or even ignore it. But that does not negate the fact that I may injure those close to me because I refuse to allow God to remove the character defects that prey on my blood sugar issues.

One of my issues is the codependent tendency to be controlling. It’s something God and I have been working on for some years now, but I often have to be reminded of Step 6 and become, once more, “entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” That controlling thing happened again this morning, before breakfast, when I wanted to control what my husband got to eat.

On Sundays, I like to cook breakfast, not just inhale a bowl of cereal while straightening my hair like “normal” mornings. So, I got up and started preparing a frittata: onion, fresh tomatoes, avocado and kalamata olives. Mmmmm. Just as I popped the accompanying Ezekiel bread into the toaster, I called Honey to the table. He entered the kitchen asking, “Are there grits?”

No, there aren’t grits. I made a frittata.” (I knew I sounded slightly irritated, but I didn’t care. I’d been in the kitchen for 30 minutes and was ravenous and ready to eat. I just wanted him to eat what I’d made and hush.)

Wow! That looks amazing. Can I have some grits to go with it?” Honey asks.

“Why do you need grits? We have toast.”

I’m South African. I like corn grits with my eggs. You know that.”

I don’t care what you are. Just sit down and eat. I did not say that part out loud. What I did say was this: “If you want grits, you can make them.”

Wow. That wasn’t very nice. I regretted it as soon as it came out. Honey silently moved toward the pantry and got the grits. As he came close to me to open the microwave, I said, “I’m not going to say anything else until after I’ve eaten something, okay?” He agreed that that might be a good idea.

After the microwave had dinged, the prayer had been said, and half my frittata had been eaten, I swallowed my pride and asked Honey to pass the grits. He did, gently stating, “Just think of them as polenta. They are quite nice with the frittata.” We made up. And lived happily ever after. (At least until the next time my need to control crops up in a weak moment,Frittata and I allow it to win instead of immediately taking Steps 6 and 7.)

Denial, Baby, Denial (Series #2 of 5)

So on Friday the Honey and I are grocery shopping. A woman with three kids clinging to her cart recognizes him and we stop for introductions. After answering her question about how long we’d been married, I brace myself. It’s coming. I just know it is. Get ready to smile and play it off.

Any kids yet?And…there it is. Sometimes I wish I were a betting woman. The words rolled innocently off her tongue, transforming themselves into daggers that I quickly deflected with humor before they could reach any soft tissue. Whew. That was close. Moving on to the produce section. No pun intended.

On Saturday night a couple of young mothers from church are hosting “Moms’ Night Out,” complete with the movie by the same title. I’m thinking I’m not a mom. I might just skip this one. You know, slide under the radar and stay home with the Honey. Then I get a personal invitation and a little push from the Hon. “Go on. You’ll enjoy hanging out with the girls.” So I go.

And I’m okay. Really. It was fun! How can you go wrong with popcorn, Twizzlers and theatre-sized boxes of peanut M&Ms in the house? The mommies seemed a little naked without their little ones on their hips, but the dads did great (unlike the movie), and no one had to leave early to relieve them.

Today a friend asked me point blank, no warning, “So how are you doing with the whole kids thing?” Granted, the question was asked in the kindest of tones and by the sweetest of persons, but I wasn’t ready for it. No time to grab my arsenal of codependent denial patterns. All I could blurt was the truth. “I’m in a sad place right now. I feel like I’m giving up on my dream.”Doorway

The truth, God? Seriously? Wow. I wasn’t expecting to blurt the truth. My 12 Step group would be proud. I didn’t hide in denial. I just admitted I am powerless. Step 1. Here I am again.

I was planning to blog a mini-series on denial and Step 1. Did a couple of pieces last week on this topic. I just wasn’t planning to use myself as the guinea pig. Nope. That wasn’t what I had in mind. Guess God had other plans. He does this sometimes – Just keeps repeating Himself until I admit that He’s talking to me. I usually get it on the third time around.

Friday. Saturday. Sunday. Three in a row. If this is a Tic-Tac-Toe game, God, You win!

In my research for this blog series, I discovered these Denial Patterns we may develop in order to survive:

  • I have difficulty identifying what I am feeling.
  • I minimize, alter, or deny how I truly feel.
  • I perceive myself as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others.
  • I lack empathy for the feelings or needs of others.
  • I label others with my negative traits.
  • I can take care of myself without any help from others.
  • I mask my pain in various ways such as anger, humor, or isolation.
  • I express negativity or aggression in indirect and passive ways.
  • I do not recognize the unavailability of those people to whom I am attracted. (Codependency for Dummies p. 73)

(Anyone else see themselves reflected in a bullet point or two?)

Careforce Ministries states this about denial:

Denial can also be cloaked through minimizing (maintaining that although a problem may exist it is not as serious as everyone thinks), and avoidance (changing the subject; burying oneself in other activities).

Denial protects us from situations we may not be psychologically ready to handle. Sometimes that is necessary, but we cannot stay stuck there, continuing to use denial as a coping mechanism.

We must become unstuck and by God’s grace face our issue, our pain… our heartache head on. Sometimes that hurts worse than the dull ache of denial. We’ll need support. Prayer. Courage to grind through the pain with God until He grants us “the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference” (Reinhold Niebuhr). Take heart! He promises us that with Him, all things are possible. Even this.

So, here I am, God. I’m not laughing. Not avoiding. Not hiding in busyness. I refuse to minimize, alter, or hide how I truly feel. I choose to be real through this season. Please show me how to answer those innocent questions with tact and honesty. Give me space to grieve the death of another dream. How you will redeem this thing I feel I have lost? Do not let any root of envy or bitterness grow inside of me. Keep me close as we work this out together. Amen.

P.S. Please use this piece of painful transparency to touch another life and let them know that they, too, can step out of denial into the pain and that You will go with them through the valley.


I’m Not Codependent!…Am I?

I’m one of those strange souls who enjoys taking quizzes and tests. Nothing thrilled me more as a student, than the week of standardized assessments – no homework, extra recess time! My teachers often allowed me to read a book when I “finished early.” As an avid reader, I would race through the test questions so I could get back to Anne of Green Gables.

Decades later, I still like to fill in the blanks and pencil in the bubbles with a sharp no. 2 pencil. Always a sucker for instant gratification, computerized tests with immediate results thrill me even more!

While sitting in church a couple of weeks ago, a friend leaned over and whispered, “What are you on the Meyers-Briggs?” When I told her, she laughed and replied, “Only personalities like us actually remember!” Perhaps she’s right. Those four letters are seared on my brain like a tattoo. (If you’re unfamiliar, you can read about the assessment here:

What about you? Do you like to discover yourself in personality quizzes? If, like me, you have loved someone who is addicted to something, perhaps a little codependency quiz may be a helpful reality check. I think I paid $70.00 for my first reality check – with a therapist. I was so desperate to speak with someone that I didn’t care that it took the electric bill money. I needed to know where I stood on the emotional Richter scale. The minor tremors could no longer be controlled. I was headed for a major seismic meltdown. I needed help.

When I look into eyes that reflect the familiar pain that used to haunt me in the mirror, I cannot walk away. This weekend I sat across from a pair of hopeless eyes and wept the tears she could not yet cry. I know, my friend. I get it. You are too numb to weep, too tired to leave, too angry to stay. You need respite. A place to grieve, to think, to pray…

That conversation reminded me of how it feels to be stuck – unsure whether I’m making a mountain out of the proverbial molehill; unsure whether what I’m seeing and feeling is justified by the on-again-off-again “love” of my significant other. For anyone out there who feels this way or knows someone who does, these, and similar behaviors collectively have a name. Codependency. There are support groups (Al-Anon, Celebrate Recovery, or Codependents Anonymous ( who can help us to see ourselves when the mirror is foggy. Codependency for Dummies

Self Check:

Do I…

  • Assume responsibility for others’ feelings and behaviors?
  • Feel guilty about others’ feelings and behaviors?
  • Minimize, alter, or deny how I truly feel?
  • Compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others’ anger?
  • Put other people’s needs and desires before my own (to the detriment of my own physical, spiritual, emotional or mental health?)
  • Worry about how others may respond to my feelings, opinions and behavior?
  • Value others opinions and feelings more than my own?
  • Judge everything I think, say, or do harshly, as never “good enough?”
  • Spend my energy on someone else’s problem or life?
  • Feel loyal to someone who is hurting me?
  • Fear being left or rejected?
  • Adapt to others’ tastes of point of view?
  • Rescue, enable, or support a “bad habit” in someone I love?

 Am I…

  • Afraid of being hurt and/or rejected by others?
  • Afraid of my own anger, yet sometimes erupt in rage?
  • Afraid to express differing opinions or feelings?
  • A perfectionist?
  • Extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long?
  • Controlling?
  • Lacking boundaries and have difficulty saying, “no?”
  • Continually justifying and explaining myself?
  • Unable to get over losses or break-ups?
  • Staying in a relationship I’m not happy with because “something is better than nothing?”

The above lists were gleaned from Celebrate Recovery resources and Codependency for Dummies by Darlene Lancer, MFT. (If you’d like a more “official” online quiz to feed your inner test-taker, you can find one here:

Although these are only partial lists, and behaviors almost everyone exhibits at times, I invite you to prayerfully consider whether they are red flags in your life. If so, don’t wait! Find a trusted person to speak with about your situation. Read further about codependency. Find a counselor. Ask God to deliver you from the bondage of your own lowered expectations for your life and personal relationships.

I claim this promise from God for you today, “…I redeemed you from the house of bondage…” (Micah 6:4). Be redeemed! Be free! Be whole!


Wanna Be Fully Articulated?

I learned a new phrase yesterday while playing Barbies with my niece: “Fully Articulated.” Yeah. I’d never heard that before. I was complaining that my girl’s knees didn’t bend, and her feet were too large for any of the cute stilettos her doll got to wear.Barbie knees

“That’s because she’s not fully articulated,” the eight-year-old said seriously.

“She’s not what?”

“Fully articulated. That means her body parts don’t move at all the joints,” she explained. “Just don’t worry about it. That’s how she’s made.”

Oh, right. I knew that. Not.

I’ve thought about it ever since. Fully Articulated. I even’ed it. Here’s what I got:

ar·tic·u·lat·ed [ahr-tik-yuh-ley-tid]


1. made clear or distinct: articulated sounds.

2. having a joint or joints; jointed: an articulated appendage.

I was familiar with the definition in relation to language, but not the one having to do with joints. Hmmmmm. I wonder if I can stretch the meaning a little further to reach not only speech and body parts, but also mind and emotion. Am I able to bend when the situation requires a smidgeon of flexibility, or am I like Beach Barbie with her stiff knees and wide flat feet, frozen in one position?Barbie Feet

When I began teaching, my mentor warned me that good teachers must be like rubber bands, flexible. That went against my rigid grain. I wasn’t very good at flexible. I struggled with flexible. I liked order, rules, and routine. “Teachable moments” scared me. They weren’t written in my lesson plans.

What was underneath that need for constant control? Insecurity. Fear-of-failure. Low self-esteem masking as people-pleasing and perfectionism. All classic symptoms of a “Codependent.” Those symptoms go way back. They were the same underlying themes that kept me from taking risks in other areas of life and the ones that kept me stuck in unhealthy relationships, particularly one which eventually did end up in divorce.

Dr. Henry Cloud is one of my heroes. Because of him and his work with John Townsend, I am in a much better place than I was as a twenty-three year old rookie teacher, or twenty-four-year-old rookie bride. Just glimpse a few of my favorite book titles:

  • God Will Make a Way: What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do
  • Changes That Heal: How to Understand Your Past to Ensure a Healthier Future
  • Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life

Henry Cloud I had the privilege of hearing him speak at the Celebrate Recovery East Coast Summit last week and promptly purchased his new book, Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give up in Order to Move Forward. On page 67, I found this nugget about enabling, which is what some of us do rather than ending a detrimental relationship: “People enable others because they care. But this kind of caring is not caring at all and is destructive to the person being helped. It is a toxic dependency. It keeps adult kids dependent on parents long after they should have been independent adults. It keeps addicted spouses and friends addicted long after they should have been allowed to hit bottom and wake up… It keeps employers stuck with dead weight and paralyzes the people’s professional growth. It is horrible.”

Yeah, I know. Been there. Done that. He goes on to say, “There is a difference between helping someone who is disabled, incapable, or otherwise infirm versus helping someone who is resisting growing up and taking care of what every adult (or child, for that matter) has to be responsible for: herself or himself. When you find yourself in any way paying for someone else’s responsibilities, not only are you stuck with a delayed ending, but you are probably harming that person” p. 67.

Sometimes we need to be fully articulated – flexible, bendable, movable. We need to become unstuck from our unhealthy ruts. Unfortunately, it often takes a crisis before we launch ourselves from our familiar but toxic routines and embrace the teachable moments of life. I remember one Texas Spring day when I ditched the lesson plans and walked my class to the park next door. They brought their nature journals and we spent hours catching tadpoles, watching bluebirds swoop and swallow insects in mid-air and trying to draw squirrels who wouldn’t be still long enough for portraiture. It was wonderful! Many conversations and future journal entries came from that one bit of teacher-flexibility. It was a rubber band day, one of the best in seventeen years of teaching.

I also recall another Texas Spring day, one that began with indecision and ended with clarity. The realization finally dawned that my marriage was hopeless. We were not going to eternally be “Barbie and Ken.”Ken & Barbie Nothing I could do would change the circumstances. After trying everything, I gave up. I let go. Allowing myself to be “fully articulated,” I loosened my controlling grasp on my addicted spouse and released him to God. I bent my knees and prayed for divine guidance. I turned on my heel and headed for healing. For me, that realization of hopelessness was the beginning of abundant life. Dr. Cloud calls it a “good hopelessness.” Here’s the quote: “Necessary endings happen when you get to a “good hopelessness.” It is that moment when you see reality clearly and know you have to bring “what is” to an end. Unfortunately, sometimes that decision involves people, and deciding when to keep going with someone and when not to is one of the most difficult decisions that we have to make, and we must make it in many contexts, throughout life.” Necessary Endings p. 147

Do you feel stuck, rigid, stiff and inflexible? Is there an area of your life in which you need to become fully articulated? May I pray with you about that?


Jesus, You came that we may have life and life abundantly. You long to set us free from the bondage of shame, fear, control, people-pleasing, guilt, and unhealthy enabling. You showed us how to live our lives, loving and serving, but also dusting your feet and moving on when things became toxic.

 You accomplished the mission you came to complete. You are THE SAVIOR. I do not need to try to be someone’s savior. My job is to point them to You. Please give me the ability to let go of the people and things that are hurting me and my relationship with You. Show me where, and when, and how to create the necessary endings in my life. Amen

Is That Elephant Yours?

I used to write the checks that paid the bills. (That was back in the day before automatic drafts.) I controlled the income and the outgo. I did the shopping. I did the saving. I gave my addicted spouse a weekly allowance, which eventually turned into daily “lunch money” because he blew (or snorted) the weekly dollars with one trip to the dealer.

I worked very hard to keep us out of debt and in the black. Sometimes we still received the dreaded NSF (non-sufficient funds) on our bank statement, with overdraft fees attached. Those three letters (NSF) made me crazy! I would clamp down even tighter on a husband who could figure out a way to buy drugs no matter how hard I controlled the cash. I was like Wile E. Coyote, scrimping and scheming to keep my husband from killing himself. Rationalizing insanely like this: If he only gets a few dollars, then he can’t overdose or disappear for days. We can handle a high; we just can’t handle a binge.

The addicted “Road Runner,” on the other hand, figured out myriad ways to outsmart me, from pawning his own stuff to beating in his truck with a sledge hammer and collecting the insurance money. Can’t you just hear him saying, “Beep beep!” on his way to the dealer…again? And can you picture me, ultra control-freak freaking out…again?

Remember that childhood cartoon (I know, I’m dating myself here) where Wile E. Coyote is chasing after Road Runner and ends up going off a cliff? That was me. Eventually, I ended up just going off the deep end because trying to outsmart and out-chase and out-control an out-of-control person is exhausting… and damaging; especially to the ones who are trying to fix everything.

In her best-selling book Codependent No More, Melody Beattie says, “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.”

Following are some quotes that came from spouses of alcoholics when their husbands were in treatment and when they got honest about who they really were and how they really felt:

  • “The bondage of codependency made me so crazy that all those around me suffered greatly.”
  • “I caught myself answering for my spouse in Family Program. I started to realize that I was a big part of the problem.”
  • “I wanted to be a victim. I continued to act like I did not have choices and that it was always everyone else’s fault in the family for how I felt and reacted.”
  • “I realized that although I was saying I wanted my spouse to get better, I was really afraid of getting better and looking at my own stuff. I kept adding pressure as a way of sabotaging.”
  • “I still wanted to control things while my spouse was in treatment, because, after all, I had always taken care of everything.” Codependent No More Workbook, p. 83

 I recently read this quote on Ann Voskamp’s blog:

“Unless you walk with Jesus every day will be driven hard by pride or fear.”

 My thoughts keep returning to those words like a tongue returns to that empty place where a tooth used to be. It’s so true.” Every day will be driven hard by pride or fear.” And that pride and fear drive us to control.

Why did I try to control every penny when I was married to a cocaine user? Because I was prideful. I wanted to make sure that everything about our lives continued to appear normal, even though normal was often far from our reality.

And what was I so afraid of anyway? Why was fear a driving force in my life? Well, I was afraid that he would kill himself or someone else. I was afraid he would go to jail, and at the same time afraid he wouldn’t go to jail. Afraid of what the good people in church would think if they knew what was really going on in our lives. Afraid that we would lose our home, our vehicles, our jobs. Afraid that I might lose my mind. Just afraid. Of lots of things.

I was so prideful and fearful and controlling that I was blinded to the “elephant in the room.” Oh, I kind of knew there was a large mammal with a long trunk that had taken up residency in our lives, but I thought it belonged to the real addict, surely not to me!

Upon closer inspection, one that required a good Christian counselor and some Al-anon principles, I realized that the elephant had my name on it. It was my pet. No one ever spoke of it. We all ignored it. But there it was, one day, bigger than life. Its name was Control. It stood firmly on four legs: pride, fear, shame, and secrecy.

Only when those legs began to buckle under the powerful daily application of God’s Word, did that beast begin to fall to its knees.

Is that your elephant?

Is that your elephant?

I dove into scriptures like Isaiah 41:10, which says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (NIV) Proverbs 16:5, in the King James version reminded me that pride is an “abomination” to the Lord. The Living Bible puts it this way,“Pride disgusts the Lord. Take my word for it—proud men [and women] shall be punished.”

This week, I came across a great little magnifying glass that might be used to check for elephants. You may want to prayerfully read it and begin turning some of those burdens you’ve been carrying over to the One who can truly handle them. It’s written by Cherilynn Veland:

Five Major Ways Addictions Can Affect Your Life, Even If You Are Not The Addict

If you are in a relationship with a problem drinker or problem substance abuser, or if you have a family member who is an addict, there are five major ways that this disease may affect you.

1. You can become more controlling.
It is normal for this disease to make a person feel anxious or overwhelmed. Because of this, the family member usually becomes more controlling of their environment. For example, if you are a boss at a company, and your spouse has a drinking problem, you might over-manage your employees. You could channel that control need into making  more and more rules and restrictions for your employees. If you are a parent, you may do this with your kids, managing their relationships or being overly restrictive.

2. You can become anxious and more easily overwhelmed.
You will worry more in general about everyone you care about. If you are a mom or a dad, you may be overly-focused on your child. You want to make them happy at all costs, and you become overly worried if something goes wrong for them at school. Work is more difficult. Everything gets harder.

3. You might think you can help when you can’t.
People who are in relationships with substance abusers will often try harder and harder to “make” the addict/alcoholic happy. They will work hard to do whatever it takes to “make them OK” so the drinker or user won’t need to drink. Sadly, this will not help. Addiction has nothing to do with someone’s environment. Even if a substance abuser likes to blame their difficult work or the messy house, these are just excuses.

4. You can become fixated on the other person’s behavior.
Wondering and worrying about things like, “Will ____ drink tonight?” or “What if they drive?” or “How will it be at home if ____happens?” These worries can become a fixation in your mind, leading to self-neglect. This cycle repeats over and over.

5. You can get blinded by denial.
If your loved one is a substance abuser, it is normal to go into denial. Remember the woman who killed her children and several other people after driving with 10 drinks in her system? Her family says they knew nothing about it. Denial is a powerful partner to the disease of substance abuse. Even loving parents will turn a blind eye. I see it all the time.

The takeaway: Even if you are just the friend of an addict, or you grew up with an addict who is in recovery, alcoholism and drug addiction have tentacles with deep impact. Anyone in any kind of a relationship with someone who is addicted has to be touched by this disease. Contact a counselor or a 12-step program such as Al-Anon if you are in this situation. Learn about codependency. Help is out there. (

My students used to tell elephant jokes: Q: “What time is it when an elephant sits in a chair?” A: “Time to get a new chair.” Q: “What is the same size as an elephant, but weighs nothing?” A: “An elephant’s shadow.” Q: “How do you eat an elephant?” A: One bite at a time.” I guess that’s what I want to leave with you – the way to conquer the elephants in our lives is to first acknowledge that they actually might be ours. Then we make them disappear one bite at a time. And those bites are found in the first part of Ann’s quote, “Unless you walk with Jesus every day…”

Jesus, help me to walk with You, humbly, fearlessly, day by day, until every single bite of that elephant is swallowed up by Your grace and mercy. Amen.

P.S. Here’s the link to Ann Voskamp’s blog where I got the quote:

Fight or Flight? Negotiating Conflict

I have a slow processer. Not in my computer, but my brain. My “fight or flight” signals don’t work. When badly spooked, I just stand there – frozen to the floor, unable to move at all. The same thing happens when I’m struck with emotional turmoil. My brain turns into a frozen gel pack. My tongue forgets what to say, and days can go by before my thoughts thaw out enough to process the problem.


My New Running Shoes

For as long as I can remember, that’s how I’ve been. When kids were unkind at school, I’d be on the bus, hours later, trying to think of a “good comeback” to their comments. When my high school boyfriend cheated on me, I could not believe the evidence and went through weeks of trying to figure out what to say before confronting him with the truth. When “well-meaning” church members say something rude, I mindlessly shake their hands and draw a blank as to how to respond. By Wednesday or Thursday, I might come up with something. Maybe. When I feel backed into a corner, I tend to just camp there for a while.

As the former spouse of an addict, I remember often crunching through life on those proverbial egg shells as I tried to process the constant lies and slights and think of ways to confront without being confrontational. More often than not, I would stay silent, since by the time I was ready to speak about an issue, several more incidents had happened and the first one seemed moot by that time. It was frustrating to live like that.

I always wanted to be one of those people who could just say everything that needed to be said, right when it needed to be said, with no regrets. I’ve always wanted to be someone who knows when it is okay to walk away and when it is time to stay and deal with something head-on. But I never have been. Those lines are frustratingly gray for me.

As I’ve continued to attend my 12 Step group and to learn about how to deal with my codependent tendencies, I thought I was getting better. But some things have happened in the past week, which have revealed my need for greater growth in that area. God is not finished with me, yet.

Melody Beattie’s book, The Language of Letting Go, says this in the reading for April 4 entitled, Negotiating Conflicts: “Recovery is about more than walking away. Sometimes it means learning to stay and deal. It’s about building and maintaining relationships that work.

Problems and conflicts are part of life and relationships – with friends, family, loved ones, and at work. Problem solving and conflict negotiation are skills we can acquire and improve with time.”

She goes on to say, “Not being willing to tackle and solve problems in relationships leads to unresolved feelings of anger and victimization, terminated relationships, unresolved problems and power plays that intensify the problem and waste time and energy.” Those words exactly describe the past few days of my life. It’s not that I was “unwilling” to tackle and solve the problems, it’s that my slow processor could not do it fast enough to keep up with the pendulum that swung from hate to love to dismissal within a matter of hours.

I wanted to say the right words. They came out wrong. I wanted to fix it, but I was, too late. I wanted to explain myself, but I had missed the boat of the friendship in question. By Tuesday, it had pulled out of the harbor and was well on its way to another continent by the time I was ready to speak about what had happened in the first place. Talk about missing the boat! I was left with my head spinning and my heart hurting, wondering what had really happened and why my emotional feet were still frozen to the floor.

Melody continues, “Some problems with people cannot be worked out in mutually satisfactory ways. Sometimes the problem is a boundary issue we have, and there is not room to negotiate. In that case, we need to clearly understand what we want and need and what our bottom line is.” I guess that’s what happened. It took me a while to figure out exactly what my “bottom line” was, and by the time I was ready to explain that, it was too late for explanations. The relationship was over. It stung. Still does. Mostly because I know where my heart is. But it doesn’t matter. My slowness to act was interpreted as a lack of caring. And “who needs friends who don’t care”, right? Ouch.

So, where does one go from here? Well, I think I found the answer today, in the book of Philippians. The Apostle Paul says, 12 I don’t mean to say I am perfect. I haven’t learned all I should even yet, but I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be.

13 No, dear brothers, I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us. Philippians 3:12-14 The Living Bible

I guess that’s what I’m going to say too, “I’m not perfect. I still have a lot to learn, but I will put on my brand new running shoes keep moving toward that day when I will fully be like Jesus. I’m not going to get stuck in trying to reconstruct conversations that will never take place or explain things to deafened ears. Instead, I will continue to run this race toward the finish line. No detours. Just a continual pressing on toward the prize of a Christlike character.”

Father, please help me to learn the lessons that You would have me to learn from this experience. I did my very best. It wasn’t good enough. That hurts. I spoke without thinking first. I’m sorry. I moved too slowly. That’s what I do in times of conflict. Please fix the broken thing inside of me that doesn’t allow me to “fight or flight,” but keeps me stuck motionless for too long. Please help me grow through this and to process the loss in healthy ways. You know how I am about losing people. I’d almost rather lose a limb than lose a person, especially if it’s by their choice. But I know that a friend who wants to be lost cannot be easily found. Teach me, Father. I’m willing to learn…

Beattie ends her April 4th reading like this, “To negotiate problems, we must be willing to identify the problem, let go of the blame and shame, and focus on possible creative solutions. To successfully negotiate and solve problems in relationships, we must have a sense of our bottom line and our boundary issues, so we don’t waste time trying to negotiate non-negotiable issues.

We need to learn to identify what both people really want and need and the different possibilities for working that out. We can learn to be flexible without being too flexible. Committed, intimate relationships mean two people are learning to work together through their problems and conflicts in ways that work in both people’s best interest.”

Today, I will be open to negotiating conflicts I have with people. I will strive for balance without being too submissive or too demanding. I will strive for appropriate flexibility in my problem-solving efforts.” The Language of Letting Go p. 94

Are you stuck in conflict? Do you need to walk away? Or is it time to stay and deal? Our heavenly Father understands exactly why we respond or react the way we do. He will reveal the path ahead to us if we ask Him to. He will direct us toward the finish line. He will help us to run our race. One step at a time. Have you asked Him, yet?


“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.