Archive for the Contemplation Category

Epiphany #1294

I was thinking about how crowds make me uncomfortable. Going to a party or function where there are a bunch of people I don’t know or don’t know well causes me a great deal of anxiety and has since I was at least a teenager. Now, I could go to a dance in high school, or a football game, and I was fine. I was always at those functions with my gang (as my mom called my friends and I), so it was just like normal hanging out with them. But if it was just one other of my group and we were at a big thing? Oh, man. Anxiety city!

I learned how to get around that anxiety though. One drink would chill me out. Of course, it was rarely just one drink, and if there were 2, well, who stops at 2? Not this girl. Needless to say, going to functions without that liquid courage have been met with all that anxiety. Therefore, the DragonLady does not do them if she doesn’t have to. And this is a problem the drinking was a symptom of.

I told a close friend not too long ago that I am the most arrogant insecure person she will probably ever meet. (Naturally I have to be the best at both. Or is that the worst? – haha!) But self-knowledge only goes so far. I know I’m arrogant and I know I’m just as insecure. What hit me this morning was something that friend tried to tell me a couple years or so ago about the insecurity. I just wasn’t ready to understand it.

One morning a few weeks ago as I was trying to listen to a podcast while my mind was wandering to a conversation some people had a few days ago, I kept coming back to those times when I have to go to an event, but have intense anxiety. I was slowly working through why I get anxious, while knowing it’s insecurity, but I just have to know why. Well, it’s because in my mind, everyone there is looking at me and judging me and confirming all those negative things my mind tells me to fuel the insecurity. Ugly. Fat. Old. Weird. Stupid. Yes, I know I’m not any of those. Ok, I am a little weird, but everyone has quirks. And I am overweight and I’m no spring chicken. Much like a lot of people my age. Hey, I made it to my age! But anyway, those are just variations of baggage I’ve carried since I was a little girl. In the moment, I’m not conscious of the specifics of the shame under the fear.

Then the epiphany happened.

My insecurity is every bit as much a manifestation of self-centeredness as my arrogance. It’s that whole “The world revolves around me” mentality. Most people at those functions aren’t constantly looking at/thinking about me, if we’re not directly interacting. I’m thinking about them thinking about me way more than they are actually thinking about me. Seriously, no one is as focused on me as I am. If they are, well, bless their heart. Haha

And as long as I am looking at me, I’m stuck.

Roughly twice a month I stand on a stage with the worship band at my church and both play guitar and sing. At my former church it was almost every Sunday, and a few times just me and my guitar. Admittedly, I get a little nervous each time, and I do a lot of concentrating on remembering the chord progressions and words. I’m not worried about how I look. I’m not even that concerned about how I sound because I practice the vocals hard during the week prior. I know people are looking at me. I mean, that’s part of it. But once the lights dim, and that click track starts, the fact that there is a sanctuary full of people in front of me takes a back seat to the greater purpose. We are, all of us, worshiping together. Sure, the worship team is leading it, but we’re doing it as a team, with the rest of the congregation to the glory of God.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:15-17, ESV

Anxiety from my insecurity seeks to keep me isolated. When I isolate, I don’t grow. I don’t contribute. Insecurity lies to me about who I am and whose I am.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10, ESV

When I am focused on me, believing myself to be the center of the universe (whether subconsciously or not), I am believing a lie about who I am and whose I am. I’m living life according to “what if” believing that if I do the wrong thing or don’t do the right thing, that catastrophe is sure to follow, and ultimately that it is God’s judgment upon me for not living up to his standard. Granted, I cannot ever live up to his standard. That’s where Jesus comes in.

Jesus is much more than a get out of hell free card. He is life. Not just life after we die. He is life in the here and now. The Pharisees held law in one hand, and nationalism in the other. Their hands were full of self-sufficiency and self-interest, and they were unwilling to let go of self to serve others and too afraid of losing their status in their tiny world that they wouldn’t even listen to Jesus, let alone follow him. Reputation was everything to them because as long as they kept the law better than the common sinners, they would keep their status and privilege. Their earthly treasures (wealth and power) proved, in their minds, that they were accepted by God. But this thinking is contrary to the message of the teaching of the bible, which is what Jesus kept pointing out to them. This has never been the way of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus repeatedly turned everything upside down.

The world values power and wealth. The world cares about self.

Jesus gave up both power and wealth to live among as as one of us to give himself for us. He doesn’t do it by force. He does not play the victim. He simply demonstrates how much we are loved, how much the God who created our universe loves us and is willing to give up to keep us. All we have to do is believe this and that Jesus is enough. Not just enough to get us to heaven, but enough to fill our deepest desires, and to set us free from the bondage of self-interest that causes us to view other people as threats to our security, whether real or imagined. Either Jesus is enough, or we are following the ways of the world and seeking treasure on earth which is temporary.

And if I truly believe Jesus is enough, then I have no need to hide out of insecurity because I am no longer the center of the universe. I am free. Free to be salt and light. Free to love as I am loved.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10 ESV

Why do you go to church?

“Why do you go to church? What is your main purpose of showing up? (not collectively, you personally)

I was asked this question sometime before Christmas, and my initial reply was, “Way to ask me a question I’m not sure I want to answer.” This was following a discussion where I vomited out my distrust of Baptist churches, megachurches, and celebrity pastors (and other celebrity Christian leaders ie James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jr, Franklin Graham, Mike Huckabee, etc).

So why do I?

“But I know if I don’t go, I’m going to drift back out into the wilderness riding on my self-righteousness. Still, if I wasn’t serving, I don’t know if I would go. Even though I don’t ever regret going.”

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25 ESV

I went to church during the Christmas season even though I wasn’t serving. But in full disclosure, it was largely because my friend Stacey was singing again and I was NOT going to miss her first Sunday back with the worship team. And our campus pastor was preaching, so it was like a double bonus. And I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience from arrival to departure. Pastor Trent mentioned early in his sermon about our campus feeling like home, which the sermon series wass “Home for Christmas,” so it stands to reason. But as I thought of it, I thought, “Yeah, this church has always felt like coming home.” I have always felt welcomed. I have always felt “a part of.” I have made many friends there, some very close.

Through the course of the sermon on the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, Trent pointed out that we can do all the right things, but if we are doing it for the wrong reasons, it’s just as much of a sin as the “obvious” sins. (I greatly paraphrased that.) I can attest personally to that as the “good little Baptist girl.” Though I was just really good at hiding the “obvious” sins. Anyway, as he wrapped up he said, “If the only place Jesus has led you is to church, you might be following religion and not Jesus.” That didn’t complicate my attempt to answer why I go to church at all. (That was sarcasm which doesn’t always come through in written form.)

When I was a kid, I went to church because I had to. My parents’ rule was, “As long as you live under our roof, you will go to church.” Because they did not further qualify that statement at the time, and because I was already a master at finding loopholes (when I began writing this, I had just had a convo about that with one of my blunt friends), this good little Baptist girl went to Roman Catholic mass with her best friend for several months. Granted, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to church, I just decided I didn’t want to go to the one I thought I wanted to go to when we moved to town. (That’s a whole story in itself that I’ve probably written about before.) But I eventually found a Baptist church where I felt “a part of,” and that’s where my relationship with church started going wonky.

I loved that church. I went on my own without coercion, though a lot of that was because I had a couple of good friends there. But I felt “at home” beyond that. There was no “air” in the air there. Just a bunch of ordinary folks. Until we moved into the new building. I don’t know if there is a correlation. That’s been many years ago, and I was just a teen. But it was after we moved that I heard the thing that caused me to leave. I don’t remember how long it was after we had moved to the new building, but I vividly remember the openly racist sermon. That was the Sunday that church was no longer home because if ALL of my friends were not welcome there – white AND black – then neither was I. I walked away for many years. When I started going back to church it was for a lot of wrong reasons. But I found a church that felt like family, that wasn’t lily-white, and was Baptist. I got burned again because there was so much dysfunction due to factions with control issues. And when a faction tries to control a control freak who hasn’t yet learned that a controlling nature is a character defect, there’s going to be acting out. And I acted out. And then I quit. And I think I have been to a certain degree shunned.

I went into the next church search leery. However, it wasn’t a long search before I found another church that felt like home, and I went all in. I did it because despite all the issues at the previous church, I had a fresh encounter with Jesus, and it changed everything. Slowly though, because I still have a lot of issues.

I still have a lot of religious resentment. I don’t know for sure if that is why I am having such a hard time answering that question. I’m not entirely certain of my motives. I love my church. I love serving there. But sometimes I question if I made the right decision in choosing my church. I know I don’t have to go to church to worship God. I can worship Him anytime because He isn’t confined to a gathering of believers nor a building (and a church is the people, not the building). I have believing friends outside of church who are blunt and have no problem calling me out for my self-righteousness, so I don’t need church for accountability. I can listen to sermon podcasts anytime. Every “good” reason I can think of for why I would go to church can be accomplished outside of church.

So at this point, I have pretty much talked myself out of going period. I mean, why go at all when I don’t have to go? I occurred to me that there is something that I can only participate in at church. Communion. Generally all Christians believe that there are only 2 sacraments that are instituted by a “local, visible” body of believers, and that is baptism and the Lord’s Supper (communion). I could argue the baptism with the accounts of Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch, but it is not relevant. Besides, I’ve already been baptized – twice. But communion was always done in a context among a group of believers gathered together to commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice as the once for all Passover lamb. Yeah, I could show up at a church just for that (and I’m not going to go into the whole open/closed communion debate), but from Jesus instituting the practice at Passover before his crucifixion to throughout the epistles, communion was done among a group of believers who knew each other. While I just popped off with the argument for closed communion, I don’t think the point of commemorating the Lord’s Supper with a local church you are a member of was to be implemented as a legalistic requirement. Because my dad and I are living proof that you can go to the same church every time the doors open and still be covering up sin. But I digress. I believe the point of doing it local with folks you know is for the community aspect of it. Communing with fellow believers in commemoration of the one thing we all share in common: Jesus, and Him crucified.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 19-20, 24-28

If I make going to church about what I get from it, I make it all about me. This is not what Christ calls us to. Following Him is not a self-centered, self-focused endeavor. If we are to be followers of Christ, if we are being remade into the image of Jesus, then our lives should reflect a desire to serve others. And since I am a member of the body of Christ, it stands to reason that I have a role to play that benefits the entire body. I have been uniquely gifted, just like my brothers and sisters, to serve the body. This is perhaps why I love to serve in the capacity I do. And so I guess ultimately, this is why I go to church.

“…on a break”

I didn’t intend to go on a 3 month hiatus. However, I probably should have started that hiatus intentionally about 3 months or more before I stopped writing. Or I should have just stuck with fiction. Because I was not well.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV

I was in a funk for a while. Okay, to a certain extent I still am, but I am no longer the “batshit crazy” I was. And it was one of those things I saw coming, but not entirely clearly. I let a couple close friends in on what was going on with me to the extent I knew because there was a certain aspect of it that I have been through before. I know that after a period of high stress, when I start coming down, I’m going to have panic attacks followed by depression. I have not ever been through that cycle since getting sober. So when I started having the anxiety, I started reaching out. It didn’t seem as bad as the panic attacks of the past, but I have not forgotten how bad that depressive period I had 5 years ago was. Never before nor since has life been that dark. Thank goodness.

In the meantime, I just wasn’t snapping back. One of my friends told me that we didn’t necessarily have to search real deep to find the cause, and I told her, “I’m not afraid of going deep, but I don’t know where to start digging.” Granted, this was my first holiday season since my mom died. Naturally some of the funk was grief, and I was on a heavy stress cycle for several months following her death. I got emotionally involved in the election, feeding on fear and outrage and what I viewed as hypocrisy that I felt was my duty to expose. (It’s not.) And then the election did not turn out as I expected leaving me to eat a lot of the words I was saying.

I sat down and tried to write just after the New Year. I have no idea what prompted me to write the following, but I am sure it was to point out something I saw in someone else rather than taking care of my own side of the street.

I can abstain from drinking, but if I am miserable, desiring the escape that drinking gave me, I’m not sober. Without the “spiritual awakening,” I am just a dry drunk going through the motions and never finding peace. With that attitude I can never do the 12th step because I can’t carry a message I haven’t really received.

Ironically, I got a call the following day from a friend who was checking on me, and she asked me if I thought I might be on a dry drunk. I answered that the thought had crossed my mind, because that was about the point the light start to flicker as if it was about to come on. After we hung up, I texted one friend and asked for prayer for the digging I was about to do, and another to see if she noticed anything glaring from my behavior that might indicate a blind spot. Within a day or 2, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I was indeed on a dry drunk and had been for quite some time.

Dry drunk is a slang expression infamously known in the sober community. It describes a person who no longer drinks or abuses drugs, but continues to behave in dysfunctional ways.

I’ve been known to spout out the statement, “I’d rather do hard stuff now than to do the work of figuring out why I drank again after the fact.” I still stand by that statement, but I was so far off track with my program that I went right back to Step 1. I looked at what happened, and I had stopped doing most of the things I did at the very beginning. Not all at once, but one thing here, another thing there, until I was barely working a program at all. I went back and started doing the basics again, and it’s getting better. I still backtracked the progression, and identified the first cause: I decided that I got it. I thought I had the program figured out, I had my alcoholism defeated, and I could chill and coast. Well, once I think I’ve got it is when I’ve lost it. And it happened not long after I had a year’s sobriety. It became complicated when life started happening and hitting me with major life changes like a separation and death of a parent. Because I wasn’t doing the everyday basics, I started running out of steam because I was no longer operating on a firm foundation with the help of my Higher Power. I was white-knuckling and had more than once incident where I was just about to drink.

I’ve looked at those instances where that obsession to drink returned, and I’ve wondered how I was able to not drink. Like that last Thanksgiving with Mom when she was in the hospital. If I’d had to drive by Petit Jean Liquor one more time, I was going to stop. I had already planned it out and knew I could pull it off without no one knowing. No one would have known. But the thought occurred to me, “I’ll know.” Despite the fact that I called no one under such “noble auspices” as not wanting to interrupt anyone’s Thanksgiving, I didn’t drink. Note: I should have called someone. About a week and a half before this past Christmas, I was on my way to work on a Friday morning when I recognized that feeling I used to get when I was drinking and I knew I was going to drink that day if I didn’t do something. I made a call that day and answered the greeting with “I want to drink.” But I didn’t. I know that may or may not make sense. I didn’t want to drink more than I wanted to drink, but I was craving that escape. That numbness. I didn’t drink, and I made it to my 3 year anniversary a couple of weeks ago, if by the skin of my teeth.

Just this week I was telling a friend about my first drink. How I was given that “way of escape” in the verse I quoted at the beginning. A big, wide door that I could have walked through without drinking, and without losing a friendship. To this day I don’t know why I decided to participate. I don’t know why I kept drinking when that first drink tasted so bad. I eventually came to love the effect of alcohol more that I cared about any moral implication of drinking the way I drank. What I do know, though, is why over those months when I wasn’t putting forth much effort towards working my program is how I kept from drinking in spite of myself.

God’s mercy and grace.

There is no other explanation for why I didn’t drink. Because I was half-assing the program (if that much), I had no mental defense against that first drink. I’m a firm believer in free will. I don’t believe that God forces anyone to do anything against their will even if it is in their best interest. But at the same time, I have no doubt that when I took that 3rd step the first time, surrendering without reservation, turning my will and my life over to the care of God, that even when I tried to take my will back, He kept me sober by doing for me what I could not do for myself. Or perhaps the better way of saying that is that he kept me dry while my life got more and more unmanageable knowing that the unmanageability would eventually hurt enough to take action to get the serenity back.

Prompting the brave #nablopomo

I signed up to blog every day in November with every intention of making myself actually do it. I remember how I did this 2 years ago as well, and I think I wrote maybe the first 4 days. It’s day 2, and I couldn’t come up with a topic, but I joined a Facebook group that promised a writing prompt every weekday.

When was the last time you did something brave? What happened?

I also remember a few years ago when Petra did a writing topic challenge, and we kept getting loaded questions. We made it 3, 4 posts? So here I sit with today’s writing prompt, and it’s a loaded question. Earlier today, it wasn’t quite so loaded and I started to write about seriously entertaining the thought of a career change. Not only thinking on it, but mentioning it to a few close friends.

As I thought about expanding on that, I got very anxious. I’ve also talked about my anxiety with a couple close friends in the last few days. I haven’t had a bout with prolonged anxiety in a while. Not since my first 6 months or so sober. I wasn’t concerned so much about my recent anxiety because I know the pattern of high stress followed by anxiety followed by depression. Since it’s been going on a few weeks, I let my some of my inner circle know because I haven’t gone through the entire cycle completely sober and without an antidepressant. I need other eyes on me so I don’t start isolating.

Well, turns out there was something else behind my recent episodes of anxiety which explained why today nearly turned into a full blown panic attack. I’m not going to go into any detail whatsoever as to what the trigger was. But I just about flipped out initially with the full manifestation of the mental chatter I’d had all afternoon. That chatter is dangerous for me because I know how to silence it. No, I know how to temporarily muzzle it.

I remembered that I have a tool chest. And I used it. I first resolved not to do anything rash, and then I called someone. Ok, I texted her, but she told me to call, and I knew she would. And you know, the mental chatter stopped. The old me would have gotten drunk. Maybe not today, but it would happen soon because it always seemed like the easy way to take care of my issues. Keep the feelings stuffed and suppressed.

Today, I faced my feelings, and I didn’t isolate. For me, that was brave.

What is your motivation? #nablopomo

Several times over the past couple of days I’ve heard someone talking about motives behind our behavior. I know that I have to be on constant guard with regards to my own motives because as a people pleaser and a comfort seeker, I tend towards self-centered actions and self-gratification. I want what I want, I want it now, and I want to feel “good” and “normal.” For the most part, I don’t like change which most recently has manifested itself in my disgruntled attitude with my iPhone after upgrading to iOS 10. I hate it. “Get off my lawn!” But like Windows 10, I will eventually get used to it and gradually forget why I liked Windows 7 so much better. (Though not while I am still using Windows 7 at work.)

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. James 4:1-3 ESV

It’s a scary thing to question one’s own motives with the willingness to see where they are self-centered. It’s easy to look at someone else and question their motives because that does not involve looking in the mirror and taking the necessary steps to clean up your own side of the street. If I focus on you, I don’t have to work on me.

gqmotivation

I look at my motivation for my actions from a Christian perspective. I’m not just talking about looking at my motives when I do something wrong. Most of the time when I do something wrong, my motive is self-centered. Sometimes it’s just not being attentive, but even that is just an excuse for not taking the time to be intentional about thinking through my actions. Of course, it is impossible in this life for me to be 100% attentive to others and to always do the right thing. Still, it is my responsibility to own it and make appropriate amends.

I also have to look at my motives for doing the right thing. That reveals where I am putting my faith and my trust. Am I acting out of fear or out of love? If I am acting out of fear of judgement, then my actions – even if good and beneficial to others – are self-centered. If I am doing something out of fear of God’s wrath, then I am effectually living out a belief in works-based salvation regardless of whether I profess to believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. I’m trying to earn God’s favor, and that is anti-Christ.

However, if I am absolutely certain that my salvation is secure in Christ, I am free to do good works from a motive of love due to gratitude for the mercy and grace I have been shown. Not for my security, not for my comfort, but because I have been given an opportunity to give aid or comfort to someone else just as I have been given aid and comfort from others. And I can do it without expecting a reward because Jesus is my reward.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:8-11 ESV

So I want to say to my fellow Christians, why do you fear? What do you fear? Where is your faith? We live in a fallen world as all of humanity since the Fall. If we are followers of Jesus, then we are first of all citizens in His kingdom, His kingdom is not of this world, and he won the battle on the Cross. We don’t have to act out of fear.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:18-19 ESV

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2 ESV

“Fear is the enemy of spiritual progress.” – Kerry Egan, NPR, Fresh Air. “Hospice chaplain reflects on life, death and the ‘Strength of the human soul'”

The edge of insanity

“Very few people could stay sane in your home. You are not a failure.”

Drews, Toby Rice (2011-03-30). “Getting Them Sober, volume one — You CAN help!” (“Getting Them Sober” Book 1) (Kindle Location 1445). Recovery Communications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

CapeFearOverlook-WM-Smaller

“I was standing on the precipice. Something had to give or else I was going to have to numb more often.” I was standing in a friend’s kitchen when I had that epiphany. Granted she had said something that flipped the switch so that light could come on. But at that moment, I realized just how close I came to losing it – completely.

Truth is, I had already lost it. It just hadn’t become apparent to anyone else. My bubble of control of my carefully crafted public persona had burst and I couldn’t get it back together. It’s probably safe to say that bubble was cracked and extremely fragile from the get-go. Lord knows I was sick before I ever took that first drink.

Lately I’ve been pondering why. Why when I hit that wall and fell apart did I reach out for help instead of turning to my old standby of numbing and escaping? I mean, I did, but not what I would have done had I not sought out therapy and group support. Why was I able to get that honest with my doctor?

I think back a few years to a periodic reinvestigation I went through for work. It was by far the worst one I’ve gone through. It occurred to me during that process just how isolated I was. I didn’t look at it that way exactly. I just looked at it as a red flag that I didn’t have any kind of a social life outside of work. And since I had been considering going back to church anyway, I decided that going to church would keep me from looking so isolated. Because I had an appearance to maintain. We found a church we liked, and I was able to make enough friends that I could list a few for my next reinvestigation and wouldn’t look like such a loner.

I always laugh when I think about that one. I listed Petra as a reference, and then I turned around and told her my junk. Of course at that point in time, I didn’t dare tell her everything, but a lot. I hadn’t set out to make “real” friends. My goal was my typical not-too-deep friends. (Which I differentiate from shallow.) Molly and Karyn got all up in that inner circle too. Actually, Molly is the root of that whole circle. She is the one who wouldn’t let me sit quietly on the sidelines observing. This might seem like I am digressing, but those ladies, Sarah, and Jessica (whom I don’t know quite as well as the others) played a key role in the beginning of my journey back to sanity.

Although I still had to hit bottom.

But it became real easy to get real with Petra and Karyn. Not surface-level, but “Hey guys, here’s my junk! I’m depressed and my marriage is a wreck!” I couldn’t train for 2 half marathons with Karyn and not end up in some deep conversation. I still say it was all Molly’s doing. She “forced” me to help set up for VBS with Petra and Brittany. Heck, she somehow managed to talk me into being the music leader for that VBS. She got me running by talking me into joining a newly formed local running club. She wouldn’t have asked me to lead the music if I hadn’t managed to become one of the worship leaders on Sundays. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t joined the worship team due to an intense prodding in my gut. The girl who quit the youth choir in high school because she wasn’t going to do a solo ending up leading worship? That’s doesn’t compute.

None of it computes.

I was just thinking the other day about how several people I know who grew up in similar legalistic Baptist environments as I, and walked away wanting nothing to do with Christianity. Sure, I walked away, too, but I always felt called back.

I’ve been through a lot of doubt and blaming God, and the doubts and blame have always boiled down to wrong beliefs about His character based on wrong teaching. I’m even no longer willing to go so far as to call it false teaching because I am less inclined to attribute malicious intent and instead give the benefit of the doubt that it’s just lack of discernment because we naturally expect our pastors and teachers to be humbly teaching us truth.

So why was I drawn back? Why didn’t I lose faith and hope? Why, when my carefully constructed and controlled world fell apart, did I not give up, give in, and self-medicate myself into oblivion?

Grace.

Grace blows my mind. There is no reason whatsoever I should have been delivered from my self-destructive attitude and behaviors. Nothing I did to deserve deliverance.

Just grace.

Laws do no transform hearts. Legalism doesn’t provide any protection from temptation. Rules don’t heal broken hearts nor do they sooth deep crushing pain.

Oh, but grace.

Grace will turn a heart of stone into living flesh. Grace will turn self-centeredness into love – genuine love – for “the least of these,” and not because of what the “least” can give them.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

And grace will restore you to sanity even when you are sure you have passed the point of no return.

No magic formulas

When I have a problem, I want a simple, clear-cut solution. I want it fixed, and I want a simple plan to do so. I also want immediate results, but that’s another matter.

Being the self-sufficient perfectionist I am, I am all about some self-help. Ah, yes, give me a blog post with 3-10 steps on how to fix what’s wrong. Give me a book that explains the real reason that whatever it is is broken, along with the steps I need to take to fix them. Oh, it’s a Christian blog or book? Score! It’s gonna do the trick!

That is, as long as I believe that God moves according to the works I do or behaviors I do not do. Which is to say, I have to do certain things and avoid other things in order to earn God’s favor.

Book-WM

What I found from the vast majority of the Christian “self-help” books is that they are largely written as prescriptive when they are actually experiential. They also tend to be upper-middle class, suburbanites who have “traditional households” where the husband works as the breadwinner, and the wife is a stay-at-home mom. Sure, the wife might write and speak at conferences, but the entire family dynamic is still “traditional.” (And I’m not saying nor wish to imply that there is anything wrong with the “traditional” family model.)

I fully believed that if I did the things in those books, that things would get better. Our marriage would be better. Our finances would be better. Our kids would be model students. Yet, the harder I worked, the worse things got. “I’m doing all the right things! Why isn’t this working?!”

The number one reason following the directions/suggestions in those books and blogs doesn’t work is this:

All that crap falls apart when active alcoholism, drug addiction, and/or abuse are involved.

And that’s when you are left with “you reap what you sow.”

You made the choice to take that first drink.

You made the choice to marry an alcoholic/addict.

“Submit to your husband and pray for him.”

Guess what? That doesn’t necessarily work. Especially if you both came from dysfunctional families and neither of you have dealt with those issues. Though you absolutely should be praying for him, and he for you.

I want to make perfectly clear that I am not saying the typical Christian self-help book is not useful or helpful. Like any other type of non-fiction, some are great, some are fluff, and some just stink to high heaven. Often even the fluff has really good nuggets.

What I am saying is that there is no quick-fix, easy step-by-step method – Christian or otherwise – that is a magic formula for fixing a marriage or getting out of debt or beating an addiction. There is no “Do this and everything is going to turn out great just the way you want it” system that can guarantee you are going to get what you want (or more honestly, what you think you want).

A marriage doesn’t get fixed by one spouse doing all of (or even most of) the work.

You don’t get out of debt by subscribing to a get-rich-quick scheme, and this includes the “magic tithe.” (Malachi 3:10)

Repercussions from abuse do not go away by submitting to the abuse nor by forgiving (voluntarily and certainly not coercively) the abuser.

Children raised in a dysfunctional home are not necessarily going to be model students no matter how intelligent they are.

Life is hard and takes a lot of work. Don’t let anyone sell you an easy path to happiness. There isn’t one, and this is particularly true for followers of Jesus. Odd are, when things get particularly rough, you will find yourself screaming at God, “I did all the right things! Why am I the one being punished?!?!” And you know what? He won’t strike you down. But in that moment, you will be left with a choice.

“Do I really believe?”

My answer to that question became the guide to how I look at my circumstances. Because ultimately that determines whether I will be grateful for what I have, or bitter at what I don’t have.

It is always possible to be thankful for what is given rather than resentful over what is withheld–one attitude or the other becomes a way of life. – Elisabeth Elliot

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV

When Christmas isn’t so merry

LinusTree

How does one get through the holidays with so much broken in the world?

What about the military members who are spending the holiday season in inhospitable parts of the world rather than with their families? What about their families who acutely feel their absence?

What about the prisoner? And his or her family?

What about the elderly in the nursing homes?

What about the disabled in group care homes?

What about the fathers who will not be spending Christmas with their children because of separation or divorce?

What about the mothers who will not be spending Christmas with their children because of separation or divorce?

What about the children who can’t be with both of their parents at the same time because of separation or divorce?

What about the parents who can’t afford to buy their kids the gifts they want for Christmas?

What about the parents who can’t even afford to feed their children?

What about the families that will be together, but the holidays will be miserable because of addiction or alcoholism or straight up abuse?

What about the families who lost love ones during this or past holiday season who are dealing with the 1st or 3rd or 14th Christmas without?

What do you do with broken people at Christmas?

What do you do when you can’t fix what’s broken?

What do you do with the broken-hearted?

What do you do with your own broken heart?

How do you make a difference?

There is so much pain and suffering in so many people’s lives right now. Broken people who cannot be fixed by slogans and cliche. People who need more than a trite saying or Bible verse no matter how much truth is in it. It’s in these times of pain that we need our pain acknowledged as being real and complicated, and that someone is there with us. Not to try and fix us. Not to tell us we made our own bed even if our pain is due to our own making.

We need someone there to remind us that we are not alone in those dark moments where we feel utterly alone. Even if it is to just sit with us silently while we weep.

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In the mud

JeepMud-WM

When I was in Kindergarten, I remember one day standing on the sidewalk, and it had been raining. Someone ran up to me right in front of me kind of in my face, and it surprised me so much that I stumbled back, and fell off the sidewalk onto my butt right in a puddle. I got significantly wet enough that a change of clothes was required.

When I got home wearing different clothes and carrying the ones I had worn to school in a bag, my dad questioned me as to what happened. I told him, and then proceeded to get a dressing down for falling down.

Naturally I fell into that puddle on purpose.

Because I was berated for falling, I began to develop a fear of accidents. That fear was reinforced over and over again throughout my childhood because I had a lot of accidents. You know, like kids do. The constant fear, however, led to a compulsive need to control my environment in order to prevent accidents and extraordinary efforts to cover up any that happened in spite of all of my careful prevention.

A life lived in constant fear is not a life lived well.

A life lived trying to anticipate what ifs is a life devoid of peace.

Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Psalm 118:5-6 ESV)

As a child, I lived in constant fear that was reinforced by an emotionally and mentally unsafe environment. I was always on guard because I never knew when an attack was coming nor what might precipitate one. Thus I became unwittingly and unwillingly addicted to excitement and therefore sought out ways to feed that need my body had for adrenaline.

Fear-based perpetual outrage.

Our news media makes huge profits off our need to feed our fear and anger. Social media provides us the means to instantly share and thereby stoke the anger and fears of our hundreds of friends and followers. We square off into our various tribes demonizing and dehumanizing whoever doesn’t agree with us. Because, after all, we are the enlightened ones and are therefore better than them. So we seek out more like us, and more information to back up our beliefs.

We are obsessed with being right instead of desiring to be at peace with and/or understand our neighbors.

We have convinced ourselves that we must be in absolute control of the world around us so that we can feel safe.

All the while the media profits from turning left and right against one another – brother against brother, sister against sister. So divided are we that we are losing cohesion and ultimately destroying the security we crave.

And while we are trying to control our surroundings to keep from falling in the mud, we fail to realize we are flailing around in the puddle that we fell in a long time ago.

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Onions and old wounds

“I’m so afraid of the way I feel.” – Lindsey Buckingham

StairsToNothing-WM

Some days are rough. When they string together into a season, it really sucks. Some days I just want to stop feeling. Except I don’t. Lord knows I’ve done enough numbing.

I know that healing is painful, and slow. I know that sometimes you have to push yourself through the pain because that is part of the healing process too. Like when I had my appendix taken out. I was sick as a dog for a week prior to the surgery. I mean, it ruptured, so, yeah. I was BAD sick by the time I had emergency surgery. It is a miracle that I wasn’t sicker. I was exhausted, hungry, and sore after the surgery. I didn’t want to do a thing except lay there drugged up wishing someone would leave a donut close enough for me to reach even though I wasn’t allowed to eat. But my mom made the nurses make me get up out of bed and walk no matter how much I complained about the pain. Not because she wanted me to hurt, but because that was just part of the healing process – getting up and moving forward.

Once upon a time, I broke my wrist. I was in 5th or 6th grade. It was a playground accident, and it was a complete accident. I would even go so far as to call it a freak accident on a seesaw. I told no one because I knew that if my dad caught wind, I would be held solely responsible for both cause and effect. Obviously it wasn’t a bad break, but I found it really hard to get through basketball practice with minimal use of my left hand. The physical pain was mild compared to the emotional pain I expected to receive. It’s probably why I have such a high tolerance for physical pain now.

Hiding an injury from a parent out of fear of punishment for getting hurt in an accident is not normal.

The kids and I were heading home from the dentist last week, and I had some road rage going on. Big surprise to anyone who’s ever had to ride in the car with me. Anyway, Jamie says, “I don’t think I have ever experienced road rage.” I said, “Good. I hope you don’t.” After a bit more discussion she said, “Well, it is a lot easier to be mad and yell at someone when you aren’t face to face with them.” Could it be that a childhood of helplessness and unresolved anger is behind my road rage?

I had to get the pimp car fixed last week. It was something I didn’t think I could fix, but the tow truck driver was confident I could have done it myself. Anyway, after fixing the harmonic balancer (fancy name for crankshaft pulley), they recommended an oil change (it was really low), and coolant flush (coolant was really dirty). I declined having them do it because 1) I already had the oil and filter purchased to change the oil, 2) I’ve flushed coolant before and can do it myself, and 3) I look for any ways I can to save some cash. Well #2 was a huge mistake. I managed to break the petcock. Not so bad that I can’t work around it, and it still works, but still. It was frustrating and I bitched to Petra who proceeded to tell me that I don’t have to do everything myself even though I am capable because I don’t have anything to prove. Um, yes, I do. It’s irrational and insane, but yes, it is almost a compulsive need to prove that I am capable of doing it all and am not “stupid” and “irresponsible.”

I’ve reached a point where I have gained back all the weight I had lost and now need to either lose some weight or buy bigger clothes. I am opting for the former. I went to the doctor Monday because I had some paperwork for him to fill out for my insurance, and I needed a couple of prescriptions redone. Especially when the nurse reminded me I have asthma and I looked at my inhaler that expired over a year ago. My doc told me not to beat myself up over the weight gain as it is a normal reaction (physically and mentally) to what has gone on over the past few months. And now I can rein myself back in and “eat an apple and go for a walk” instead of binging on carbs and sugar.

4 years ago, he suggested a 30 day no-starch diet to break my addiction to carbs. Of course, I was also running regularly then too. So I decided to put myself back on a healthy diet high in vegetables and fruits. And running when the weather is nice enough. Twice in the past week I have gotten a bunch of veggies to roast. (Fiber is my friend. Seriously.) But my veggie prep time is slow. I am clumsy with a knife, so I can’t rush. My left hand has enough scars. But, I digress. Jamie decides she is hungry whenever I am doing this slow prep work and gets in the way while bitching about how slow I am and how I’m doing it wrong, and blah blah. And it really, really pisses me off.

It’s a trigger.

Once upon a time, I decided to make a bologna sandwich. I was maybe 12 or 13. Old enough to do it myself. It was during summertime so we had fresh tomatoes, and I was going to slice a tomato for my sandwich. Well, Daddy peeled everything, including tomatoes, so I proceeded to peel the tomato as that is what you do when it’s all you know. He walked in as I was doing it and had a conniption over how much of the tomato I was taking off with the peel. He went on and on and on until I melted down and just grabbed my sandwich and ran out to the barn sobbing with the sandwich I no longer wanted.

I vowed to never ever peel another tomato again.

And when Jamie starts bitching while I’m prepping, I relive that tomato incident all over again, which of course means I am very snippy with her.

Sometimes I wonder if I am ever going to heal from all those old wounds, not to mention how on earth do you?

You may believe that if you begin to cry you will never stop.1

I remember wondering “How broken do I have to be?” Now I am wondering just how broken I really am. I like fixing things. When I fix a light, a car, mower, or appliance, I feel empowered as if I do have some semblance of control over the world around me. There has been so much helplessness that fixing material things makes the broken parts of me not seem so terrifying. I can look at myself and say, “You know what? You’re not stupid. You can fix stuff. Not everything, but a lot of things. You pay your bills on time, and when you don’t, it’s not intentional. You’re not a failure.” And that works until I get tired from going wide open like I’m Superwoman.

That’s when I feel the wounds of that broken little girl.

That’s when the that old familiar voice starts in. “You’re in over your head. You’re a fraud. You’re about to fail big in front of everyone and they are going to point and jeer.”

I know it’s a lie. It’s just hard to fight your mind when you’re already tired and worn down – when you’re still hurt.

Psalm 13 New International Version (NIV)

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

1 Woititz, Janet G. (1983). Adult Children of Alcoholics. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc p198