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.

Hopeful Hopelessness

“If you are in a hole, rule number one is to stop digging. The last thing you need is more of this kind of hope.” Dr. Henry Cloud

So, I was reading on the plane. The book? Dr. Cloud’s Necessary Endings. Yes, endings are a necessary part of life. If it weren’t for endings, many beginnings would never happen. Sometimes it is time to say goodbye.

Dr. Cloud says that when we realize that the time to say goodbye has come, we become faced with a “pruning moment.” We have become hopeless that anything is going to change; we realize that what we have been doing is not working, and never will. He says, “It does not take courage to stop doing what you know is not going to work” (p. 82). The courage comes when we decide to do something differently.

Would you agree with Dr. Cloud that, “It is vital to get hopeless” (p. 86)? Sometimes hope can be false. It can lead us to continue digging that hole, which actually leads us further into the pit, rather than drawing our focus up – toward the light.

I’ve been there: In relationships, in the workplace, even in my current book project. Like a pit bull, I’ve hung on and on and on. Refusing to let go of the person, the position, and now the chapter that is driving my word count up and possibly distracting my potential reader from the main point of the book.

When I finally released my addicted former spouse, who had already chosen someone else to share his life with, God filled my void with a whole new life. When I achingly let go of a teaching position that I loved, but was driving me over the edge, God gave me another purpose and calling. If I will let go of this chapter, and be willing to chop, chop, chop my manuscript down to an acceptable word count, my book may actually be publishable. Only then will my goal, of reaching broken people with the hope that God truly redeems the things we thought were lost, be satisfied.

Shall we ask ourselves some tough questions?

  • Do I want my life to continue as-is? Or do I really want things to be different?
  • Am I holding on to a healthy hope? Or do I need to become hopeless about this situation?
  • Do I want my relationship, my job, my word count…? Or am I willing to open my clenched fist and release those things to the One who knows what’s ahead?  Rainbow of Hope

 The Lord God has beautiful plans and purpose for each of our lives. There is a rainbow at the end of our storm. Are we willing to trust Him to give us the hope and future He longs to give us, or are we going to hold on to our own hopes and plans? Just like the trainer would say to the pit bull, our Father says to us, “Release!” Will you trust Him with me today?

 For I know the plans I have for you. declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. — Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV).

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 Dictionary.com’ed it. Here’s what I got:

ar·tic·u·lat·ed [ahr-tik-yuh-ley-tid]

adjective

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?

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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