Archive for the Life Category

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.

Dreaming #nablopomo

I tend not to put too much stock in dreams. I blame my parents for dismissing relative’s dreams. Plus I have really weird dreams, and they are usually vivid so I often remember them. Back in the spring I had a dream that was so disturbing, I had to call someone about it to stop dwelling on it. Just last week I had one that I had to tell another friend about. I wasn’t so disturbed after waking up, but I was pretty disturbed in the dream.

But then there is the dream Chad had back in May. He said to me, “Hey, I dreamed that Granny died.” I told him that she had been sick and was in the nursing home for rehab, but that she was going home the next day. 2 days later she died.

I have had several dreams about Mom since she died. I dreamed that I was packing up her stuff, and had most of the truck loaded, but then there she was in the kitchen, and I panicked as I thought, “What’s she going to do when I have all of her stuff?” Another dream, I was home for the funeral, and on the way to the funeral home, but she was actually still alive and in the hospital. Still another, I went home for the funeral, and at no point did I find it odd that we were in the house in Morrilton, but then Mom was there, and was asking me where her car was. I remember feeling angry that she couldn’t remember I had the car, and then guilty that I was angry because she couldn’t remember. (I think maybe that’s something I haven’t really worked though yet.)

The other night I had one of my typical “out there” dreams. For some reason I had to fake fight Rachel from Friends in order to fight some dude that I think I know, but all I can think is that he looked like a cross between Danny Bonaduce and Sammy Hagar. Took forever to choke him out, too, but he finally tapped out right before losing consciousness.

Following this, I was feeling like honey badger, and decided to go tell Mom who was on the porch. I walked out and said, “Mother,” in that same way that Jamie says it to me. Mom was sitting in Aunt Becky’s green chair with Aunt Pearl. Aunt Violet was laying on a bed beside them, only that woman looked nothing like Aunt Violet and more like Aunt Dude. Granny was sitting beside the door, and I woke up before I could assess who else was out there. Essentially, I think I was on that porch with a lot of my deceased aunts plus Mom and Granny. Just so odd, but neat.

Here and not #nablopomo

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photo credit: Fundacja Wersja Źródła ciała via photopin (license)

Sometimes I can feel so absolutely alone. Almost disconnected from the rest of the world. Surreal. Like no one else exists even when I can see other people. Almost like I’m invisible.

I wrote that nearly a year ago. I was sitting outside at work, and technically I was alone in that no one else was outside with me. But I knew I wasn’t really alone and there were several people inside, plus people driving by and such.

That was not my first time having an episode like that. It’s just the first I recorded. I had a somewhat similar episode Sunday evening while washing dishes. I was fully aware that I was washing dishes, I mean, I was washing knives so I was very conscious of what I was doing. Yet at the same time, it was as if I was outside of myself observing myself. It wasn’t an out-body-experience, and yes, I have had one. (The DragonLady had a few weird trips on laughing gas at the dentist when she was a kid.)

I shared this with some people in a private Facebook group who have similar backgrounds as I and might relate. Lo and behold, I am not the only one who has this little dissociative bouts.

It’s kind of funny how your childhood coping mechanisms come out at odd times as an adult. These things aren’t frightening typically. Now when I have episodes when I am driving where I cannot remember anything that happened for several miles, that’s a bit disconcerting. But much like that out-of-body experience and hallucination at the dentist as a kid, I find it curious rather than scary.

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.

Sexual abuse is not a joke

I kept sitting and looking at my screen wondering how I was going to start this. There is just no good way to start a post that’s going to expose a family skeleton. But I cannot sit silently by while otherwise good people excuse and normalize Donald Trump’s lewd and crass statements, which weren’t surprising to me given the totality of his reprehensible character which he has displayed since early in the primaries. It is a testimony to the condition of his heart, and not a good testimony.

And for the record, my rejection of Trump is NOT an endorsement of Hillary.

Shortly after I turned 15, my dad was caught engaging in beastiality. He would go to our church on Saturdays and clean the building, and as if it wasn’t bad enough what he did, it happened on church grounds. I heard the original phone call. I heard the plea not to tell anyone. But the membership of our church was told, and that was the end of Daddy’s membership there, and also his service as a deacon. This prompted a hasty move which would have me transfer to a new school and thereby give me some protection from any trickle-down effects of that news reaching the ears of other kids.

No one outside of my parents ever spoke of that incident around me, so I have no idea who outside of that church and the reporter of the incident knew about it. I’m not entirely sure who in the family knows besides those who also went to church there. To be honest, I could have largely convinced myself that nothing ever happened had my dad not brought it up from time to time. He never truly acknowledged the deviancy of his behavior, but never failed to paint himself as the victim.

Nearly 5 years later, he was arrested for rape of two 12-year-old boys. I was 19. This was not an incident that was covered up. His arrest was announced on the local radio station’s news. It was reported on the front page of the local newspaper. I still remember like it was yesterday when my best friend called me because she had heard about it from someone who heard it on the radio. She could not believe it, and was ready to set the record straight. I had to tell her, “Yes, the report is true.” Meanwhile, my mom was beside me saying “No, it’s not true.” I was confirming that Daddy really had been arrested for rape. She was denying rape had occurred.

But I would later read his written statement. Written by his own hand, he gave his account, and he was guilty. Yet he maintained for years and years that what he did wasn’t wrong. My mom stood beside him and supported him. A friend of theirs came to offer support and called those boys “just trash.”

Daddy plead guilty to avoid what would have been an ugly trial. The judge gave him the minimum sentence, but that was still 7 years. It would be another year after sentencing before there was a bed available in one of the state penitentiaries. He went to prison shortly after I turned 21, and served 5 years before being granted parole.

To give a little more perspective to this, the beastiality event occurred when he was 61 years old. The rape incident shortly before his 66th birthday. He was by no means a young man. We were Landmark Missionary Baptists – a sect that considered (and probably still does, to an extent) Southern Baptists too liberal.

I listened to him as time went on from the arrest, conviction, and incarceration make himself out to be the victim. He claimed he was “set up” because he was speaking out about the drugs in our neighborhood. By “speaking out” I mean talking loudly. He never assumed full responsibility for his actions, and absolutely never repented. Once I had children, especially a son, I had to watch him like a hawk because I knew he could not be trusted not to molest him.

Because I read the statement and listened to him make himself the victim instead of the perpetrator.

I have looked back at his behavior in the years leading up to the rape, and I can see the predatory signs in retrospect. The grooming. I have often wondered how many more victims there are. I carried guilt and shame that I was unable to stop him. Unable to protect those boys. Unable to protect any of them. I didn’t know how to recognize the signs beforehand. But to be honest, at that age, particularly given the fear I had of my dad’s wrath, I was powerless. Because I had been beaten and berated into submission my whole life. “Honor thy father…” And with the skewed view of sex I was raised with, it is no wonder that I have always been able to sexualize anything.

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Aside from being collateral damage from my dad’s sexual deviancy and abuse, I have been the recipient of unwanted and unwelcome lewd comments, touching, kissing, and propositions. As a married woman, I have had married men who not only knew I was married but also knew I knew were married try to pursue sex with me. I remember hearing a group of guys I was stationed with talking about Faith Hill. “She has legs all the way up to her ass!” I knew what that meant. And I also knew that as a tall, slim woman with long legs, that I also had “legs all the way up to my ass.”

“Locker room talk” is demeaning, degrading, and disrespectful. It shows at best a seared conscience and at worst a lack of conscience to treat another human being in this manner. It is not simply a “potty mouth.” I have a potty mouth (which I learned primarily at home growing up), and there is a big difference between dropping the s-bomb, d-bomb, or even f-bomb as an expletive and bragging about or fantasizing aloud about forcing yourself onto another person. Sexual abuse is not a joke. Sexual abuse is evil. To dismiss it as less than that is to condone and enable evil – no matter which wing you identify with.

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. Luke 6:45 NASB

A farewell for now

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I now belong to an “elite club,” as my cousin Carolyn Jo put it. My mom passed away May 4, and I now belong to that “elite club” of having lost both of my parents. As I said when my dad died nearly 9 years ago, you might think you have prepared yourself for that phone call, but when you get that call, you realize that you can’t ever be emotionally prepared. I say that as someone who does not like emotional pain, and whose default response to a negative emotion is to shut down. This becomes particularly true for someone like me who gets that call while I am out with a friend. Despite the fact that my therapist told me (as I melted down multiple times on her in one session) that it is okay to cry in front of Petra.

But I almost cried in front of Petra as she witnessed that phone call I got from Sharon.

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It’s been a whole month now. There is still a lot of emotion. No matter how certain I am of the eternal resting place of her soul, I still miss her. Much. With the Alzheimer’s and it’s associated dementia, I’ve been losing her for a few years. I am grateful that those years were few. When my Aunt Florabel started losing her memory, I remember Mom telling me that she was afraid that would happen to her. And then it did. She never completely lost her memory, and she never lost her core kind and humorous personality. She didn’t suffer from pain, and she considered the complications from the COPD (recurring pneumonia) a mere annoyance.

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There’s a story behind this next picture. One year just before Christmas, Mom asked me more than once if I had gotten a Christmas card from Carolyn Jo. I thought it odd that she asked me more than once, but didn’t dwell on it. Then I got the card, and died laughing! A couple months prior my cousin Jill (Carolyn’s daughter) had gotten married. Mom got picked on over all the beer (which she didn’t partake of because she didn’t drink), and someone made the remark to her that she couldn’t even bring herself to pick up a bottle. So, Mom being Mom, showed them, and picked up and empty bottle and posed. Carolyn took the photo and made Christmas cards. Of course, Mom about died, but the entire rest of the family LOVED it! I framed mine, and Mom gave me the stink eye over it.

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Not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. Her wisdom, her laughter, and her love. It’s farewell for now, but I know one day I will see her again.

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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.

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“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

What I read this week – 1/22/16

Bookstore-WM

I do a lot of reading, and when an article resonates with me or is interesting (or funny or weird), I will post it to Facebook. I posted an article recently in a private group along with a plain statement about who the article reminded me of. One of the members thought I had posted that comment on my personal wall, which would have been a bold move, but a jerk move. And that’s when she called me out for how I post articles clearly (from our perspective) directed at certain groups passive aggressively. #truth Anyway, same person made the statement that she sees articles I post and makes a mental note to read them later, but then doesn’t. So I offered to send her an email compilation. Instead, I’m going to do a blog post so that I am actually posting. And perhaps adding some commentary.

10 Things That Scare Me About the “Purity” Culture

The “Purity” Culture came along after I was a teen, so I missed out on the purity rings and dating my dad stuff. Which, I didn’t want to go anywhere with my dad anyway. However, I was still taught much of the legalism behind the Purity Culture, and bore the weight of not measuring up alone and also got some added shame piled on me from not being “good” enough.

Sheila also wrote a great follow up to that one:

A Letter To All Those Who Feel They Have Lost Their Purity

Why You Should Tell Your Story, Even if It’s Messy

I have learned in the last few years that while my story is unique, it’s also not. There are loads of people who have gone through similar things and are struggling with similar stuff, and we need to know that we are not alone and someone else understands. Which isn’t to say that I’m not freaking out a little bit about speaking this weekend and telling my story. Even though I’ve done it before.

because this is the year you’re facing your demons & fears

“Have you ever had to face a monster? What did it look like? Where was it lurking when you found it? What did it take to face it without getting taken under?” I am actually in the process of facing a “monster” that’s been with me my whole life.

To You who Shames Yourself

I think those of us who grew up in an abusive environment are especially susceptible to self-shaming. Part of my “monster.”

What Have I to Fear

Petra and I had a really good discussion over this one even though she didn’t read the article. But I quoted the money quote with the article, so she got the gist of it. And I made this comment: “You know this is my “passive-aggressive” means of calling out all my uber-conservative christian fb friends who think the sun rises and sets on Franklin Graham and Fox News quoting 2 Chronicles 7:14 as if it’s even applicable because they have their flags so tightly wrapped around their bibles they can’t see that they really worship at the alter of American prosperity rather than following Jesus and enduring the suffering that he told us would come with truly following him.” And that was when she told me to drop my shoulders and breathe. Haha!

You’re All One Team

Good stuff from Joseph. I don’t care where you are working, or whether it’s volunteer or paid, when your teams are not working together, it hurts everybody.

Biblical Womanhood … Not What Many Think (RJS)

I’ve had to say this before, and I will say it again. I am not a “man-hating feminist.” I don’t believe that women AS A WHOLE should rule. But, neither do I believe exclusive male-rule is what God planned for mankind. I believe patriarchy is a result of the fall and male headship is part of the curse. Men and women are each uniquely gifted, but not according to gender. Men and women were created to lead together. To have dominion over the earth together. To have one gender asserting complete control over the other will always end up resulting in oppression, abuse, and blame shifting.

Rather than end on a contentious note, I will share a bit of a conversation I had with Petra yesterday via FB messenger. The whole thing was made funnier by the fact that I didn’t have my glasses with me at the start of it and couldn’t read it properly on my phone. But she told me that we should have gone to Fayetteville last night to see Peter Cetera. Not that she was really up for it, but I have my own reasons not to go to, well, most concerts.

PeterCetera-WM

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