Finding Joy In The Trough

It’s been a tough year in our family. No way around that.

I retreat when I’m in a process. I reflect. I withdraw. But then I let things slowly start to flow out, when I’m ready to say things without becoming a mess of running mascara and quivering lip.

We’ve been faced with some of the toughest moments in our marriage due to health related issues, employement changes and some other tough stuff I never saw coming. My husband has been sober for almost 8 years now and I can only guess it was time. I forget this though. The Lord is always preparing us for what’s next whether we realize it or not and for the last 8 years He has been putting purpose into the small, ordinary and big moments of our lives to prepare us.

I confess that I secretely believed I had “paid my dues” in the early days of this sobriety journey with him. I thought, “Ok, this is it. This the hand I’ve been dealt”. Wrong. SO so wrong. I pridefully sat on top of the mountain and declared we had made it through thinking we could just coast in with medals for overcoming. Oh how misguided Leigh to believe that God was done with you! This confession proves the necessity for spiritual growth in myself.

He’s not done stretching me, our marriage, our parenting and our life as a whole. He will never be done until our last breath so thinkining this can be dangerous for the mind. Your time card getting stamped doesn’t exempt you from heartache, the trenches…the trough. But figuring out how to be joyful in this season has been my greatest challenge.

We are admittedly in a trough and I’ve been chewing and mulling over this post for months now thinking about how to say this, how to bring our current circumstance together into one neat spreadsheet of cause, effect and this is what we’re working on now. I don’t have a spreadsheet or a playbook but I do have scripture and C.S. Lewis. Recently, I picked up the Screwtape Letters again. I realized I picked it up because I needed a new perspective. I needed to not see what was happening in our life daily and what I was laser focused on with health problems we have been navigating. The whole book leaped into my arms like a gift.

If you’ve never read The Screwtape Letters it’s worth the short read. The context is a senior level demon (named Screwtape) writes letters to his newbie demon nephew named Wormwood. Screwtape is giving him tips, insights into how to do this job well, getting these humans off track, distracted, broken down so that there is no way they can truly believe in the enemy (God).

In one single excerpt from Screwtape’s letter I recognized what I was in the process of:

“Now, it may suprise you to learn that in His (Gods) efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, God relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else…It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it (the human) is growing into the sort of creature He (God) wants it to be…He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there, He is pleased even with their stumbles.” 

(Side note: Of course Screwtape goes on to discuss how to exploit these moments of our lives. My answer to this: Dear Screwtape, You lose. Move on. Thanks, Leigh)

I know this. I am aware that with every blow of the chisel He is shaping us. I guess I just wasn’t expecting this blow of the chisel. It came in from the back. What I’ve been getting over and now through are the feelings I can’t avoid and have to process: The why’s, the what’s, the how much longers?

What I’ve determined is this: I don’t know. I don’t know how much longer, I don’t know why and I certainly don’t know what. But I’ve had to shift my focus onto what I do know, the hopes that I can rest in, and the truth that directs my and my husbands life.

Finding Joy in this place, despite the circumstance, has been the greatest challenge. I want to throw the covers over my head and come back out when we are on the other side of this tunnel but my faith, my husband, my children, my coworkers and everyone around me deserves more than that from me. They should be seeing someone who despite the circumstance can laugh, can engage with life, can face the music, puts one foot in front of the other and pushes forward WITH joy.

Heres the thing about deciding to follow Christ: It is not easy. In fact, its really really hard. I know, I know. I am making this real appealing for non believers but I’m not one to paint a false picture. If you come into Faith with knowledge that this going to be hard but incredibly worth it and entirely skip over the “this is going to be hard” part then you won’t have full understanding. You WILL get more than you can handle. You WILL be heartbroken by people of the same Faith who let you down and break your spirit, you WILL have moments that you will think you can’t take anymore, you WILL want to cry in the closet and run away, you WILL be incredibly disappointed by dreams that take new shape. This is the bad news. But the reason for all of these “WILLs” is to show us our lacking, our depravity, our weakness, and reveal areas of self-reliance.

But here’s the good. I always save the good for last because this is why you jump over the fence, put your feet on the ground and then put one foot in front of the other:

In a dirty, lacking, and broken trough many centuries ago a sweet baby boy was born and He changed our outcome forever. 

That’s the JOY in the trough. Jesus is the only reason to keep moving forward. He is hated by the Wormwoods and the Screwtapes. They fear Him because they know the truth and  truth is something Screwtape and Wormwood can never offer. The truth that He can carry us through the valleys, increase our strength (Isaiah 40:31), lead us beside still waters when we walk through the Vally of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23),  and rescue us when our spirits are crushed (Psalm 34:18). All we have to do is just stay on course and keep our eyes on Him. That’s it.

In the movie Chariots of Fire Eric Liddel gives a sermon after winning a race. He uses the race as an analogy of faith much like Apostle Paul does in the New Testament and I love the way that Eric used this analogy to speak to the audience who came to see him run:

“You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape-especially if you’ve got a bet on it. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe your dinner’s burnt. Maybe you haven’t got a job. So who am I to say “Believe, have faith,” in the face of life’s realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within your. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.” If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.” 

I cannot argue with this truth because God has permanent possession of my soul and I believe that we are in the race of our lives. This last year has sidelined us and our commitment to help people going through addiction recovery but I felt like it was time to share the message that you will get sidetracked, sidelined, sideswiped but what’s important is to recognize what’s happening to you.

Keep your eyes on the baby in the trough and somehow, outside of yourself, find TRUE Joy in the midst.

Have a Merry Christmas Friends.

Ok, you’re sober…now what?

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Benjamin Franklin

Maybe because it’s the least touched on topic or because, truly, it is the one subject that is dependent on each person individually, but recovery will be greatest challenge of your life.  Declaring that you have a problem with drugs and alcohol is the easy part. Leaving a program and getting back to life is the hardest part. My husband will have 7 years in February and I can tell you that the biggest battle for us has been navigating life after the rehabilitation. So here’s the big secret to even having a shot at being successful: HAVE A PLAN.

Start creating a plan before you even go to rehabilitation. Start collecting ideas while you are in rehabilitation about next steps. If you are out of rehabilitation and floundering for what to do next, keep reading.

Rehabilitation addresses one part of a multi-faceted problem. It doesn’t fix your life from that point forward. It gets you on your feet but in order to make the transition you have to make a plan for yourself. I have come up with a framework based off of the last 6 years that will at least provide some structure or direction. 

1.Seek counseling: If you are married, if you are single, if you are in the process of divorce, if you are a family member of the recovered then put this at the top of your list. There are plenty of options for counseling whether that’s a church with a counseling component, a referral from a friend or through a local family counseling practice. Find someone. Ask about payment options. My husband and I contend that if we had not gone through intensive counseling after he came out of rehabilitation then we would have never made it. We needed someone to hear us, to be objective, to be a safe place to share our fears and concerns about this transition. If you are a family member then seek counseling for how to handle this transition of your loved one. A counselor can also be a mediator between the family and the addict. After you finally get a loved one into treatment they leave a giant wake of hurt and sadness behind for you to deal with. Deal with it but don’t deal with it alone. You need sound advice on how to proceed. Otherwise, you are left with battle wounds that never heal.

2.Get involved: Find a church, find a program you love, find someway to give back, and find something outside of a job that ignites your passion. You might find yourself with time on your hands if you lost your job so while your searching, volunteer! Idle time and old patterns slip you back into positions that you aren’t ready for and are ill equipped to handle.

3.Be careful about job hunting: For many people who just jump right back into their life they find themselves in situations that they aren’t strong enough to take on yet and wonder why they relapsed so quickly. The family expectation of getting back to work, the need for money, and the skills you are qualified for can be a deadly combination. For instance, if you were an on the road salesperson and you drank alone in your hotel room or found hotel bars to be your second home then perhaps returning to this job is a bad decision for the transition to a new life. You have to look for a job that keeps you out of those pitfalls and accountable. You may take a pay cut or have to change your financial expectations but you now have new goals and priorities in life.

4.Get REALLY comfortable with your story: one of the ways that I truly realized that my husband was going to make it is because he shared his story with anyone who would listen…no really, waitresses, the guy at the body shop, the person who picked up the couch from Craig’s List…everyone. It would make me cringe sometimes but then he would share what the conversation was about and I realized that that person needed to hear his story because, in that moment, they needed HOPE! We are all looking for hope and your story doesn’t matter until you share it. It also helps in changing your identity. You are different now. You have changed. Talking about it makes you comfortable with your new self. Don’t let it be something that sparks shame. Let it be something you overcame and continue to find strength in telling the story. I often wonder if people get tired of hearing my story…I wonder if they think “leigh, aren’t you tired of talking about it?” The answer to that is an emphatic NO. The Lord intervened in our life in a powerful way and not continuing to give Him praise for that would not honor the gift of the redemption story.

5.Educate yourself: I am not the most avid reader but when its a subject I am passionate about I will read whatever I can. If you are the spouse or the loved one of an addict then read books that apply to co-dependency and the enabling relationship. I encourage parents and spouses to really understand their role in recovery. If you aren’t aware of your role in recovery then you can actually increase their time in the cycle as opposed to helping. We naturally believe ourselves to be helpers and then end up interfering with a downward spiral that needs to occur. If you yourself are transitioning into a life after rehabilitation then find books on brain chemistry, addictive behavior, family genetics and addiction. It’s amazing how much easier it is to be in this process of recovery when you understand your bodies response to addictive behavior and how this happens. (We have several book recommendations located on the lifeonthewagon.com website.)

6.Open your Bible: Every day the Lord reminds us of being prepared, planning and putting on the armor. When you come out of rehabilitation you will be a prime target for temptation. The enemy does not want you to succeed. They delight in our failure and dance on our weakness. Prepare yourself for it. It may not be obvious, it may come from the doubts of your family and friends, it may arrive in a pretty package or a relationship that you think you are ready for but the Holy Spirit is telling you no. You need to navigate through this with your spiritual armor or you will fall. The arrows, the road blocks, the open doors that aren’t meant for us. It’s all very confusing if you do not know how to differentiate between where you should and shouldn’t go and the enemy loves to keep you confused. (Ephesians 6:10-18)

“The prudent sees danger and hides himself,  but the simple go on and suffer for it.” Proverbs 27:12

7. Understanding that consequences linger: you went down a dark road, you hurt people, you made some really bad decisions. Look, no ones perfect and I have made my own horrible decisions but one of the realities of this is consequences from the aftermath will continue to exist. People will see you differently. You will have to explain gaps in resumes. Trust isn’t automatic. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Some things that have been broken will never be the same. I don’t say all of this to shame anyone. I am proud of those who take recovery seriously and realize that this is going to be A LOT OF WORK. But the work is worth it. Family will begin to trust you again. You will become an encouragement to others but you have to be proactive in your own recovery. An attitude of passivity  lets things happen without creating opposition to it.  The Lord wants us to be prepared for the pitfalls. He wants us to get involved with life so that His plan can take shape.

8. Find someone to be accountable to: Your spouse and family are not your accountability group: I have seen it happen too often (specifically, with spouses leaning on their husband or wife as their accountability group) and this you need to hear. Do NOT place the burden of accountability with your family or spouse. They have been through too much to now have another role. Keep in mind they are in the process of healing, too. Look for someone older and wiser. Find someone who has been in recovery for at least 5 years. Find someone that had a similar path (i.e. children, spouse, single, divorced etc…) Call  your church and ask one of the leaders to help identify someone they know in the church. Go to your local AA meetings and be paired up with a sponsor. This is a person that will not judge you, that you can call when you feel weak or beat down. Your wife or your husband cannot do this objectively without slipping back into their own patterns of co-dependency. I wanted to drive my husband back and forth to Celebrate Recovery under the guise of us being a team however what I was really doing was controlling the situation and making sure he went. You can see why this is a conflict for both.

9. Old Friends and New Friends: You may also find a new circle of friends that think as you do now. If you aren’t strong enough to be around old friends then perhaps you can politely excuse yourself from their company for a while. You may become distant and that’s ok. If they are truly worth your continued friendship then they will be there when you are ready. Be honest with them though. Talk with them about your new life. They might understand. They might not.

10. Look for opportunities to build trust. I think I said it before but this new life will be a challenge!  If you are seeking opportunities to build back trust then you get to were you would like to be at a steadier pace. Show up when you say you will show up. Do what you said you were going to do…consistently. Call when you said you would call (don’t text… call…because if someone can hear you speak soberly then they won’t doubt you). Go above and beyond without expectation of anyone noticing. You might have moments when you want to rebel or give up. Don’t give into that. This was self inflicted chaos and the outcome of giving up is returning to a lonely life. In fact, it’s not living at all.

Remember your rock bottom moment? Don’t forget that moment. Remember what you told yourself then: “never again”? Remember how dark and alone you felt? Keep pushing forward, run the race, and stick to the plan. Good days will start to outnumber the bad. Thank God for normal everyday days. Those are the days and moments I treasured.

I still love ordinary days because I remember I prayed for ordinary days. Pray for those kind of days again. You worked hard for those days and when they start to come again be thankful that God ushered you through.

The Best News!

We are eternal. Isn’t that the best news?

I buckle the kids in the minivan. I worry if I have enough snacks. I check to make sure I packed the pull-up. Then I remember. I am eternal. EEEEK. In all of these day to day tasks, I stop myself and remember this. Wow. Eternal! 

I have written this post about 3 times now and the one thing that kept circling in my mind was this: we are eternal. I started to focus on this fact and here is what I came to realize: if we truly believe that we are eternal then won’t that change the way we live our lives? Truly believe it. After chewing on it for a while I started to think about how our perspective on life would change if we began to fully believe it. We would start to respect our bodies and our lives as something sacred. We would respect people’s lives and see value in them because we would remember: they are eternal too. Your outlook, as a whole, changes. You don’t get caught up in the temporary thoughts, frustrations and desires of the world. Things that might trip you up or aggravate you get washed out by the focus on eternity. Paul wrote in the book of Colossians (3:2) “Set your mind things above, not on earthly things”. Paul understood this kind of thinking. He was fully focused on the eternal and not the finite. It helped him escape traps of this world that bind us up and keep us from the doing the work that God has to do.

I get caught up in the finite. A lot. There…I said it! But in order to make this post authentic I challenged myself to really put the focus on the infinite. You start reminding yourself about what will truly last, what will end and you see your life focus change. I don’t think we realize how often we are seeking eternity. We try to create it here on earth. We seek the things that give us joy, pleasure, excitement but they aren’t sustainable. The high will always have low. The fun of the party will always have a next day hangover. The trip to the exotic will always come back to reality. The awards you sought after now sit on the shelf collecting dust. The thrill of the gift will end up in a thrift store. The bank account gets larger and so do the problems. You build the big house then have to downsize. But we keep seeking to sustain something that is not sustainable. Eternity is inside all us and that is why we crave it. We want the joy to never end here on earth but it always does. The only way to truly experience the never-ending joy is to know Jesus and what He came to do for us. On that good Friday the curtain was ripped in half and heaven was opened to us…to ALL of us. All we have to do is accept that He did that for us. To acknowledge that we are finite minded, messed up, broken people who get caught up in this world and that Jesus is so much bigger and better than all that we create or mess up.

After we acknowledge that gift of atonement for our lives,  we must start thinking eternally about what we will do with what we know. Will we start living our lives with an eternal purpose or finite purpose? Everything on earth has a beginning and end. I am beginning to think that we are ok with that. That we like there to be an end. Maybe it’s because our finite brain can wrap itself around “the end” but we have a problem wrapping around “the eternal” because it’s impossible to wrap.  It has no end. But that makes us uncomfortable. Oddly, the end is comforting. But once life is begun, it will have no end. Once life is created , eternity starts. Death is not the end nor does it have the final say.  Jesus conquered death for us! He came to give us hope beyond ourselves. Because of Him we will be able to call Heaven our forever home. Forever home. I find it interesting that people build what they call their “forever home” on earth. We can’t call it the forever though because it is like everything else in life: temporary. Seasons change, we grow old, and the house gets sold to someone else. But the one that remains constant is “I Am”. Our God. He is the past, the present, and the future.  He was here before time and He will continue to be throughout all of eternity. Today, and for whatever remainder we have here on earth, I challenge you to start turning your focus to eternity. Decisions that we make, things that we get hung up on, start holding them up to the light of eternity and see what holds water. Will it last? Does it matter in the light of eternity?You were made for a greater purpose and if we start respecting that in ourselves in others, I really believe life as we know it would start to radically change for the best. God’s best.

The I AM knew you before time began and knows what comes next. The I AM created you for eternity. Yes, that person who is getting into the minivan and worried about losing the baby weight 3 years later. YOU are eternal.  And the great I AM stands at the door waiting for us to answer. John 14:6: Jesus said to him, “I AM the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” The Eternal Present.

This Easter, as you are putting on the pearls and ironing the Sunday clothes remember: you are eternal. As you plan the meal and dye the eggs remember: You will be forever. If you find yourself worried about buying things for the Easter baskets remember: Christ paved the way for our eternal destiny. Change your mind to focus on the eternal and see how your perspective on life changes. When the end of your time on earth comes, you will not be disappointed. This is a forever promise. 

 

 

 

 

photo courtesy of Jonathan Burton Photography

 

Testimony #4: The “Good” Christian

 Hello, my name is Mike – a thankful follower of my Lord Jesus Christ, and celebrating freedom from alcohol, tobacco, depression, pornography, and a host of other issues.

I was born into one of the most normal, functional American families that anyone could have asked for.  I was the first born child to a Christian Mother and Father, where my father worked hard to provide for his family and worked at the same company for 30+ years.My mother stayed at home with my brother and I.  She cooked and cleaned every day; We were always taken care of.  We had – and have – a very stable and happy family.We always attended church every week.  In fact, most of the time, it was 2-3 times per week.  I was always involved at church.  I was active in the choir and youth group. My Aunt was a missionary in India for 20+ years so I was exposed at an early age to missions, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and a variety of cultures and foods.  I saw the faith that my family had in God…and I saw that faith lived out on a daily basis. After graduating High School, I felt mission work might actually be in my future.  Instead of going to college like all my friends, I went to a Bible school where we heard the Word preached and taught every day.  It was a very legalistic environment where women were not allowed to wear pants and hell, fire and damnation were preached regularly. I stayed at this school for 3 years and made my best attempts to be “good”.  I went to “alter calls” and sought after what I believed were God’s requirements; Somehow, I always felt inadequate, depressed, not good enough, and ultimately a failure at being “a good Christian”.  I imagined God having a gavel in His Hand, ready to strike me down when I failed or stumbled in my thoughts and deeds.  I was in the prison of self-righteousness. I needed distraction from my own failure so I began to judge other  Christians as simply “Sunday Christians” – going to church on Sunday and then living the rest of their lives however they wanted.  They didn’t really know Jesus.  Church was just a glorified social club where you went to meet the right people and look like a good citizen.

I began to become disillusioned with church and the whole concept of God.  I had tried.  I had called out to God: and while I would experience some brief emotional relief, the self-criticism and guilt would inevitably creep back in, leaving me more depressed and discouraged than ever. You see – I realized I had been experiencing God through someone else’s faith….not my own.  So I began to doubt….to question….to use my own logic.  And, despite the internal fear of being struck dead by God, I turned away from the church.  I mean, I would still “talk the talk” to keep peace with my family, but I was in the process of seeking a way out. I left the Bible College, got a job in my hometown, got my first apartment. I began living a fairly normal life.  In fact, over the next several years I tried out several different “careers” – and while I did OK, I still never thought that I had found my true “calling”. I began serious dating around this time and fell into my first codependent relationship.  I didn’t know what it was at the time, but it was painful.

Eventually, I made the decision to go back to school.  I went to Clemson University, where I majored in Chemistry.  I was an older student at this time, but I still looked really young, so I got away with not really telling anyone how old I was.  All they knew was that I was old enough to buy beer and to get into a bar.   I was in a fraternity.  I became very active in the theater. I began to experiment with marijuana and various other drugs that were popular.  The guard rails came off….and it felt good.  God didn’t strike me down, so He must either approve or not care.  I could party and still succeed with my school work – so I did it all guilt free.  I was successful at Clemson.  Not only did I succeed in my school work, but I succeeded in the theater and was nominated for acting awards.  I was cast in multiple musicals.  Acting was natural for me.  At this point, I had become good at “playing a part” in life.  I could lie and get away with it (for a while).  I could carry out relationships without letting the “real” me out of the box.  I had no fear of being on stage.  I ate up the attention and learned that being someone else could actually be a relief (for a while).

Now, in the realm of religion, I still felt a strong pull to the spiritual realm.  But this time it was in a different direction.  In my vast wisdom, I thought that organized religion as a whole was simply an old man made structure to keep the masses from disobeying.  You just threaten them with eternal damnation if they go outside of societal norms – and it will keep most of the people in line.  Otherwise, there would simply be chaos. That was my wisdom.  And, in my search for real religious fulfillment, I began my initial dabbling in the occult.  I had friends that read palms, read tarot cards, told fortunes – and they were good at it.  I was intrigued, but this was simply a seed planted that would take root later.

At Clemson, I met my future wife.  We dated through graduation – and were still a couple when I left for graduate school in Washington, DC.  She still had one year left at Clemson, so I would make frequent trips.  Like I said, this wasn’t my first codependent relationship. I didn’t realize my happiness was bound to hers.  I made every sacrifice possible in an attempt to keep her happy.  But it was simply selfishness in disguise.  We were married in 2001 and eventually moved back to SC where both of our parents lived and were both able to find great jobs. We settled into our married life. We looked like the typical young married couple – doing what young married couples are supposed to do.  We didn’t have children yet but we did get a cat and a dog…and another dog….and another dog.  We bought a new house at the end of a cul-de-sac in a new neighborhood.  We had the great jobs, good friends, nice cars…Basically everything a young married couple could want. 

But…internally, we were both miserable.  We were both struggling to make ourselves stay happy; and in her struggle to be happy, my codependency was in overdrive.  I was straining with everything in me to do the right things to keep her happy.  In a way, it was similar to my initial attempts at a personal relationship with God.  You see – I thought I had to do things to make Him happy – and when I did not sense God’s approval on my life, I would nose dive into depression…then eventually, apathy.  “If I can’t make God happy, why even try anymore?”  This type of apathy began to creep into my marriage slowly…until, after 3 years of marriage; my wife had an affair with a coworker.  She wasn’t getting the affection or appreciation she wanted at home, so she went outside the marriage to get it.  Discovering this was emotionally devastating, but I was determined to work through it.  Sacrifice in the name of serenity or keeping the peace.

We made it through that episode; but essentially nothing changed.  We got along and moved forward in our search for happiness.  We didn’t desire to be involved in a church.  We simply ran on the wheel of trying to make our possessions or our friends or our hobbies the only source of happiness.  I can tell you this never works.  It’s like riding a stationary bike – there’s plenty of movement, but you are not going anywhere.  Both of us were still suffering from emptiness and searching for something to fill that void. My wife increasingly turned to her career.  She was good at what she did.  She was smart and advanced quickly.  I, on the other hand, was still feeling the spiritual void. This is when the seed that was planted began to sprout.  I made the decision to research Wicca (Witchcraft).  I started out reading books, but quickly found myself reading Tarot cards.

In 2008, my wife approached me about a (what was supposed to be) a short term separation.  I was not for it. My parents were my marraige role model and had been committed to each other through good and bad so I, naturally, was against any separation.  Never the less, I gave in and made the sacrifice to keep the peace.  I moved out into a small apartment and here my life began to unravel. I found that I did NOT like being alone. I always had an easy time making friends and meeting new people so I decided to go to the bar. What had been “Social” drinking now became an everyday thing .  It helped to get my mind off my failing marriage and unfulfilling career. It drove the pain away for periods of time.

Another thing that I turned to occupy my mind was theater.  I was active in College Theater, but hadn’t performed in years.  Now being alone, I decided to go to an audition. I was cast in the first show at our local community theater “The Odd Couple”.  I had a blast doing it! It took up a lot of possible alone time where so I didn’t have to be by myself.  I could maintain denial that anything was wrong at least for a little while. One Sunday I was in the car just driving around and decided to call my wife. To my complete shock, a man picked up. Too stunned to say anything,  I quickly hung up. In that moment all hope for reconcillation with her was over.  I then decided I was going to find out what was going on use it all against her.  The bitterness of revenge.  I was in so much pain that I wanted her to feel it too.  The opposite of love.

A few days after that phone call I decided to break into our house when she wasn’t there. I found her personal journal where she written down everything. I discovered she had met a guy named Greg and started a relationship with him while on a Cruise I bought her and her friends to celebrate her 30th birthday.  The journal contained all the evidence I needed. I quickly made copies of everything, returning it so it looked like nothing had happened. I took the copies to an attorney where I filed for divorce. While the divorce was proceeding, I continued to search for ways to cover the pain and the fear of being by myself.  I continued drinking.  I continued in theater.  Eventually landed a role at the local college, where I met a girl and began a relationship with her.  This was a continuation of my attempt at pain relief/pain avoidance.

I was still working at the time, but that was about to come to an abrupt end.  One Monday after at evening at the bar, I decided I would call in sick to work and go to the bar when it opened at 11:00 am.  Not a problem, but this carried into the next day and the next, and the next until one whole week went by.  I cleaned myself up and decided I should probably go into work the next week.  I tried to claim stress from home and the ongoing divorce, but after a few days they eventually called me to human resource where I was shown the door.

I now had a severance package and am unemployment check and plenty of free time.  So I became a regular at the local bar.  I would frequent the bars and strip clubs.  But the party money started dwindled.  Soon I was simply down to an unemployment check and that didn’t last long at the bar.  Food and rent became less important.  I spent all money on alcohol and my codependent relationship the latest girlfriend. This cycle continued until I could carry on no longer.  My relationship fell apart and I ended up living with my parents. It was embarrassing but it did force me to curb behaviors.  My parents didn’t tolerate drinking. They tried to influence me to attend church but I wasn’t interested. The divorce was finalized. Somehow I was able to find a job through a friend of the family in Orlando.  It basically fell in into my lap and just what I needed: A fresh start. I moved in spring of 2010.  But I continued to drink. It was still a daily thing, but I was able to work and function.  I became increasingly involved in the Wiccan community and explore the beliefs.  In fact, I used this belief system as something to bring my addictive behavior under control.  I tried to use self-discipline. It worked for a little while but slowly things began to unravel again.

After about 3 years of my own control methods, I added more liquor to the mix.  The chains started to get heavier and before too long I found that I needed a drink before I could go to sleep.  When you add stress of everyday life to this mix, the alcohol becomes necessary to cope. You can’t physically function without.  During this time, I received a diagnosis of testicular cancer.  This allowed me to take time off work but the treatment plan was just a quick surgical procedure.  With this extra time off, I quickly spiraled.  I was staying with a friend, and we would drink ourselves in and out of consciousness.  I would wake up to my body craving another drink.

Thankfully, a friend realized I was in trouble and helped to pick me up.  On the way to the hospital, she asked if I wanted her to call my folks.  I was so sick at this moment that I didn’t care.  I knew I needed help.” Yes, call my Mom.”  My parents came and after the hospital stay I stayed in a hotel with them for almost a month.  I sobered up but I was so physically spent that I literally had trouble walking. Gradually, my health recovered. While my parents were with me, they opened a door that I would later walk through. They began sharing messages from Pastor Perry Noble at Newspring Church, SC.  What I heard – although I did not want to admit it at the time – was new.  It wasn’t the message of condemnation or damnation. It was a message of grace and mercy.  I began to really see Jesus. A man that could make men drop stones from their hands and walk away. Deep inside I began to feel the need for Him in my life.   

I was hard headed though. 

My parents eventually returned home. I returned to work. I felt better. Stayed sober for a while.  At least a few months. I was able to go to the bar with friends and just have water or tea, but soon I started to just have”a couple of beers”… then more beer….then some liquor until I was heading right back into the same pit. The break finally came when I started dating someone who was also a heavy drinker.  We drank heavily every night until I started to miss work again.  You see – I could not sleep without the alcohol, so when I would wake up, I will simply have to get a drink to fall asleep again.  This short term romance ended, but the chains stayed on this time and they were heavier than before.  My place of employment had no choice but to let me go.  I found myself without hope, without money, without friends, broken and at the end of myself.  I could not do it anymore.  I cried out for help, but this time I cried out to the God of Grace.  I finally saw my need and realized only Jesus could meet it.

I contacted my family and told them my situation.  My aunt told me about a Christ centered recovery program in Boone, NC.  I would have to contact them directly and request an application, but it was faith based and amazingly didn’t cost anything to go.  I returned to my parents home in SC and began preparing for recovery. The recovery program said I needed to bring a Bible.  In my broken state, I remember taking a Bible off the shelf of my parent’s home.  I sat down and placed the Bible in my lap. I opened the first page where I read, “For Mike, from Nita May 2005” God had been pursuing me for longer than I knew.  With my interest increasing, I opened the Bible and a small piece of paper fell into my lap.  On this paper, one verse was highlighted:  II Kings 20: 5 “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears.  Behold I will heal you.” The healing had begun.  I started attending Newspring Church on a regular basis while I waited for my time to check in at the recovery program. Soon, the wait was over and I checked in. I was blessed every moment I was there.  I found that I was not alone, that Jesus truly loves us. He pursues us. And He has a plan for each of us!  

My 10 weeks came and went quickly.  I returned home where I immediately began volunteering at Newspring Church and attending Celebrate Recovery on a weekly basis. I wondered whether I would be able to find work again in my field.  Within weeks I was getting numerous calls and interviews. In just a few weeks time, I had a job with a great company in NC.  God continued to pour blessings on me! I worked during the week in NC and would return home on the weekends to work with the CARE Team at my church. Inevitably, I would find myself praying with someone who was bound up in addiction. I really understood where they were coming from but I also knew what Jesus could do with their brokenness.

After several months at my job in NC, I began to get persistent calls from a company in St. Petersburg, FL.  They contacted me about an immediate position – and I felt God pulling me in that direction so I responded.  They flew me down for the interview, but I was confident that the job was mine.  I knew God wanted me here for a reason, so I leaned in – they offered me the job. Back in NC, I gave my notice but God was not done with me there.  On my next to last day, I had a co-worker come up to me.  We were making some small talk and then, he said, “Hey! Have you ever seen the pictures of Greg (our co-worker) when he was working as an entertainer on a cruise ship?” It was that Greg. The Greg that my wife had an affair with had been my co-worker this whole time.  It was as if God slowed time down. I had become friends with him! God’s message to me in that moment was simple: Even in the worst moments of your life, I am still in control. I am in control of all things.  Who else could take that chapter of my life and redeem it?  He is in control.  He is good and He is the one who heals us. When Jesus brought me to himself I knew that my days on the sideline were over.  I knew I had to continue to grow in my new life with Him.  I had to become – and stay – actively involved in a church and a continual recovery program.  

To anyone here reading this that believes they have gone too far for Jesus to reach, let me tell you, You Haven’t!  Jesus doesn’t ask or expect us to clean up before you come to him.  Just come.  Just as you are right now. Jesus said in Luke 5:31-32 “Healthy people do not need a doctor – sick people do.  I have come to call not those who think they are righteous (or the “good” Christians),  but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”

 

Testimony #3: In The Darkness

“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Addiction is a dark time. It is a joy stealer. The story doesn’t always end with their recovery.  I was prepared for my story to sound like my friends you are about to read. I always knew it was a real possibility. Recovery is not for those who need it, but for those who want it. Some absolutely do not want it. But in this darkness, you must find the light of hope. Just like the stars where used by navigators to find their way home, we seek the path God gives us so we can find our way out. This isn’t the end of her story! Her story will end in victory because she has chosen to seek the Lord through it. She is in the thick of it and this is the hurtful truth…

My marriage started off very exciting! We met, fell in love, and married very quickly. We bought land and started building our new home together before we were even married. Everything was a whirlwind of good feelings and anticipation to the perfect life. Very shortly after our week long honeymoon in the Caribbean real life hit me. We were living together, mixing our lives completely, figuring our roles and responsibilities all which were still exciting to me. Once we were settled in as a married couple and home owners I started to see a new side to my husband.

 At first he started going to friends’ houses during the week and coming home drunk. Then he started drinking at home…every night. Every night it seemed like the drinking would start earlier and earlier and sometimes I would come home from my job as a teacher at 3 in the afternoon to him drinking. I didn’t have the husband and man I fell in love with and married.  I now had the drunk version of him to handle day to day life. We have 2 children and soon I felt like my nights consisted of herding him away from the kids. I was miserable. I didn’t want to go home. We argued all the time and arguing with a drunk is pointless and very hurtful. The arguing and insults became worse and worse and yes, I participated. Eventually his anger turned physical. I began taking the kids in the middle of the night and driving to my grandmother’s house.  The next morning he was always very apologetic and I would forgive him. He would promise it would never happen again and it wouldn’t for a while but the cycle would inevitably start again. His parents lived down the street from us and sometimes I would call them and they would come over but of course this just made things worse.  They figured that out and stopped coming. The funny thing to me is if I did call his parents the next day we would all be together and everyone would act “normal”…like nothing ever happened. I left 3 times and finally got an apartment with the kids. Two of the three times he talked me back into coming back swearing the drinking would stop. It would for a while and then the cycle would start again. This last time I didn’t come back. I still love him and I think I always will.

This last separation he started seeing another woman who condones the drinking. He moved her into our rental house without consulting me and then went into debt by taking her on expensive trips and buying a sports car. The whole time this was going on, he was not seeing our son. Now he has pretty much lost his business, got a DUI, about to sell or rent our marital home, tells me he is completely financially supported by his parents, and still not seeing our son. I would think this is rock bottom but you never know.

Since then I have joined a church and become active. I now know I was not fighting him but the devil himself. I realize now I should have been praying more for him. Not just praying but really becoming a prayer warrior for my family. If I could go back to the one thing I would have done differently, it would be to recognize who I was really fighting. This wasn’t my husband I was fighting and I didn’t need to be fighting with words but fighting with prayer. I think that living my life as a quiet example of peace, being his “Ezer” (Hebrew word meaning Helper), and being a true prayer warrior could have saved my family from divorce. I do still pray for him and I pray for myself to be that quiet example of peace and not to get caught up in the deep hurt that only someone you truly love can bestow on you. 

I want to thank my friend for sharing this raw story. Would you please pray for her and her family?  

A Structured Life: Courtney’s Testimony

Structure is comfort. We know what to expect and there is no parting from it. I remember being conscious of my need for structure when I had my first born. You did not divert from the plan. Our lives do not work out how we planned. I recall the Jewish saying: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” Here is my friend Courtney’s story…

I have always preferred structure to chaos, predictability to adventure. I prefer implementing a well thought out plan versus a go-with-the-flow and see where it takes me way of thinking. I can see now why God chose to match me with a husband who is my polar opposite in this way. Perhaps this is why I was attracted to him in the first place, because God saw that my inclination toward desire for structure and predictability needed to be balanced.

Growing up, I had the sense of predictability and structure, which I craved. Though the day in day out routine tended to bore me on occasion, it more often brought me comfort. My parents had clearly articulated expectations, rules and guidelines. We went to church every Sunday and I was involved in youth group as I became older. I am thankful for the background in faith, which helped build a foundation of knowledge, growing still today. I knew what to expect and what was expected of me. I had grounding and a sense of safety, an understanding of commitment and fortitude. Because my life was predictable I assumed the whole of my life would be as well. I was going to do all the things right I had observed others doing right, and was going to avoid making poor choices which would lead me to a broken marriage, kids that are unruly and a job I clock in hours at miserably so. I was good at seeing the pitfalls others had experienced and avoiding them – or so I thought.

It’s not surprising that at 23, soon after our marriage began, life started to unravel. The comfort I craved in predictability was not present. I chose a profession that was stable, with predictable hours and weekends off. My husband chose one with irregular hours and an irregular schedule, which often stretched into the late evenings and weekends. This did not innately provide regular time for us to connect. We created unhealthy patterns related to communication, and were both very self-centered in our approach to life together. This drove us apart at a time in our marriage when we should have been building healthy patterns and a strong foundation. We were floundering. Because of my insecurity in the unknown, the unpredictable nature of our relationship and my inability to control my husband and his actions toward me, my need to control began to creep in. My husband grew distant and apathetic. The more he fought against me, the more I tried to reign him in. I spoon fed him every bit of what I needed – to the extent that he would patronize me, do the bare minimum to keep me “happy” momentarily until the next thing came up and the cycle continued. My need to control grew out of my fear that I would not have the life I had planned. I wanted God to work in my life, but I wanted him to work things out the way I wanted them to go.

Added to the cycle of control and apathy, my husband and I both have a strong sense of independence. We both tried to do it all ourselves –  whatever that was, without seeking much if any wise counsel. Our independence grew into isolation. I, being the planner, thought I could plan my way out of the mess we had created single handedly. If I just figured out what steps 1, 2 and 3 were, and my husband went along with my plan, we would be fixed. I did not need anyone else to teach me the way to go, I would get myself (and my husband) out of this mess. He on the other hand was seemingly fine going about his day-to-day doing what he wanted, when he wanted.

On the rare occasion I shared the truth of our lives and the poor state of our marriage, the advice I received though well intentioned, was from others who had not travelled a similar path and who had not lived much more life than me. It offered little perspective. I was accustomed to going to God with my weakness, but avoided sharing my struggles with his body of believers. I knew that God knew everything about me, so there was no use in lying to Him about anything, but was afraid if I shared with others they would blame me. And my biggest fear, that they would be right in thinking I was the cause of my husbands distance.

As this unhealthy pattern continued, I had no idea that my husband’s coping mechanism relied on numbing his discomfort. The more discomfort he felt regarding life, including my efforts to control him and his choices, the deeper he went into addiction— though it would be several years before either of us realized addiction was a part of our lives. I remember sitting at lunch with my co-workers after a major argument with my husband the night before – as they chatted about their pets and what they had cooked for dinner the night before thinking, they have no idea regarding the reality of my life. What would they say if they knew? What would they think about me? About him if they knew the truth? The reality was, my husband and I were always either fighting, or he was ignoring me. He was staying out drinking, or not coming home at all. When he was home, I was miserable toward him, and he ignored me. I nagged and cajoled to no avail. How did we get to this place? How could we get out of this pattern? How could this be fixed? The truth is, we got there slowly, and we couldn’t get out of the mess we had made. The only one who has the power to fix the mess we created is Christ.

While I had maintained a steady relationship with Christ through most of my life, I wasn’t willing to give up control. I was desperate, but wasn’t willing to trade what I knew, for the unknown even if it could have been better – much better. Fear and control wanted to hold onto what I knew. What if God decided to fix this? But what if He didn’t? What if – what God had for me was worse than my current reality? This was a bold lie I believed for far too long before learning more about His nature and what He is really all about. Because I had nowhere else to go, I began to seek. I was anxious, weak, tired, broken, and confused. I slowly began to surrender. I began reading my bible regularly and searching God’s word for truth. The word and the Spirit worked together to replace the mountains of lies I had accumulated for mountains of truth.

I can cast all my anxiety on him because he cares for me1 Peter 5:7.

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously. Joshua 1:5

My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

People who know their God will display strength. Daniel 11:32

Where the spirit of the lord is, there is freedom. 1 Corinthians 3:17

If God is for us, who can be against us. Romans 8:31

God is not the author of confusion, but of peace. 1 Corinthians 14:33

In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world. John 16:33

I meditated on his word. I sought Christ in my life as I never had before. During the most unpredictable time in my life, He brought me peace. I saturated myself in His Word, on His promises and in prayer. He began to put people in my life that had been where I was. I found a Christ centered counselor who had experience in addiction and mature Christians to serve as a sounding board for me. He began to build community for me. We are intended to be each a part of the body of Christ, not lone soldiers out there fighting a battle alone, in vein. I began to give up control and realize that my sense of control was a fallacy. Christ’s control (guidance and direction) over our lives is enduring. I began to intentionally seek community in Christ followers and build relationships with mature believers in Christ.

While all this was going on, my husband remained in his addiction, and it became worse than it had ever been. I had to learn how to stand for God’s truth over the noise of the world’s. How to make hard choices – telling my husband our marriage was not healthy, and was not functioning as God intended and that he needed to leave.  I did not and could not have known which direction my husband would choose to go – toward Him, or away from Him and from us.

For a while, my husband chose to run, to fall, and I had to learn that it was not my responsibility to save him. That was in God’s hands, and in a choice that my husband (like all of us) has. The changes I could affect were in me, through Christ. I had to get to a place where I was confident that I responded to my husband in a way that honored God and in a place where I could sift the truth from the lies. God gave me the wisdom to be able to recognize them clearly.

My husband decided to surrender some of his independence and pride, and take his first real step in seeking help; his first step in admitting his brokenness and addiction and God began rebuilding. He began to form a firm foundation. But my husband was not ready to give up the battle with self and pride. As he acclimated to his new life, I did not know that he was still holding onto his addiction. His patterns at home had changed significantly, but there was something that was still off. After a year into his road to recovery he confessed to me that he had been holding onto a piece of his addiction, and had been lying to me about it for almost a year. That whole year I had been patient, continuing to seek Christ and apply his truth to my life. I knew that I could not continue through another unhealthy pattern in our marriage. I did not know what God’s plan was, but I knew that whatever it was – it was good. And I stepped back.

I initiated a separation, knowing how severely what little trust had started to rebuild was in shambles. We were separated for 2 ½ months. 2 ½ months of not knowing what would become of our marriage, but knowing that God is good all the time. You see – we make mistakes, big ones, and a lot of poor choices. But God had been teaching me. He can make beauty of our messes. He can restore the years the locust hath eaten. Joel 2:25. I believed that He could, and He would.

I didn’t know what my husband would choose….Christ, or not (Christ), and all that comes with that. I knew that one day I would have to answer for myself, and my husband would have to do the same, and completely released control to the one who saves. And save he did.

I am not sure why God chose to speak to my husband in such a clear way and call him back home during our separation or why my husband chose to listen to that calling, but I am so glad he did. There are not words (in the English language anyway) to describe how grateful I am for what God has done in my heart and in my husband’s.  It is truly amazing what an awesome God we serve. He is a very real God who is alive in us, and who loves us in spite of ourselves. In spite of our running and control and selfishness and all the things we hold onto. He loves us, has forgiven us, and seeks after us. 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” I believe this verse should be followed by a few exclamation points! Even better, the Amplified version which I love because of the elaboration, so descriptive in articulating what we have both experienced first hand: 2 Corinthians 5:17 AMP “Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, new things have come [because spiritual awakening brings a new life].” Amen!

So here we are. Not a year into our new life together, and married for 13 years. I thought it would take years to rebuild. I’ve learned that the walls we build, brick-by-painstaking brick, God can smash down in an instant. I love the visual that creates. In less than a year since the lowest point in our lives thus far, I have experienced forgiveness, hope, joy that is not from man. Christ has given me a heart for others, and perspective regarding our short time here on earth.  He has taught me that my planning nature is not a pitfall, but something He has created in me intended to glorify Him. My husband’s sense of adventure balances my need for predictability and pulls me out of my comfort zone and into the arms of Christ. Our marriage is a beautiful dance as Christ intended it, with Him at the center. The process, this life, was never comfortable- in fact painful. Those moments when I was weakest He stepped in. I learned He can use me even in the midst of my imperfection. Look at Abraham! Gideon! Duh! Right?! He has taught me the importance of community and forming relationships with others who have walked some of the same paths and are through them. They are the body of Christ. All parts of the same body, designed to work best as they were designed, but together. I look forward to the many adventures ahead; both the mountain top experiences and the valleys which draw me into sweet communion with Him.

The word thankful does not do justice for the gratitude I feel for the work He has done in my life and in the life of my husband. We have an AWESOME, loving God. He desires you dear brother and sister and wants you to experience abundance and fullness of life in Him. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9. Rest on His word, and seek Him. Surrender and He will do miraculous things in your life and give you not just goodness, but abundance. John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. (Jesus) came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

ABUNDANTLY.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or imagine. Ephesians 3:20.

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. Isaiah 43:19.

tes•ti•mo•ny: Kevin’s Story

Lifeonthewagon has turned 3 years old! In celebration, I decided to freshen the look of lifeonthewagon.com (when you have a chance, look around and see what’s new), but more importantly, I decided to do a series called: testimony. I asked several friends to share their stories. I am praying you will be inspired by their courage to share. I will be posting their testimonies over the next few days, so be on the lookout for each one. You will not want to miss the blessing of hearing their stories! To God Be The Glory!

The first testimony comes from Kevin, a graduate of the same ministry program my husband attended. You can leave comments on this post for Kevin if you feel led. I am thankful for his honesty and willingness to share….

Kevin’s Story 

I am honored to share with you my testimony and story of how God has saved me and restored my family. I am a native of Boone, born and raised by hard working parents.

 My battle with addiction began in my teenage years, though I did not see the signs early on. A verse comes immediately to mind in John 10:10, “The thief comes not but to steal, kill, and destroy.” It all started with alcohol, but quickly moved on to methamphetamine abuse shortly after high school.  My father owned several tractor trailers, so the natural progression was to follow in his footsteps and become a driver as well. Being a long haul truck driver for many years really enabled me to be someone else while on the road. Those years took a huge toll on my wife and children. The physical and mental abuse that I bestowed on them was completely out of control.  I would frequently have thoughts of suicide, becoming so fed up with the direction my life was heading, and I blamed everyone except myself.

I attended my first 28 day secular rehab program in 2001; and sobriety lasted for a short time before returning to the hog pen, as I call it, again. During those years of sobriety, Tracie and I built a new home; and we were blessed with a third daughter. Of course, these blessings came with their own set of stressors which led me back to drugs again, because I didn’t possess the tools I needed to deal with the problems that arise every day. 

In 2010, I attended Hebron Colony Ministry for the first time. Life returned to normal again for a short time, but I decided that my family needed more money to live; and I found myself missing the road. The opportunity presented itself to buy another tractor trailer and I jumped at it feeling this was the right move for our family.  All along I believed this was Satan’s plan to pull me and our family back into his grip, like the thief he presented himself again. 

Things went fine in the beginning of my newest venture, but then I became tired from the high expectations and long hours that are required to be successful in the logistics business.  I began using drugs again to enable my body to stay awake and deliver the loads in a timely manner.  I justified my drug use by comparing myself to King David, telling myself I was making money for my family. Brothers and sisters, was I wrong!  Over a short six month period, I was deeper in that hog pen than I had ever been.  Our home that we had worked so hard to build ten years earlier was foreclosed on, my wife and children left me and moved to a small apartment while I was left living in my car.  One day, driving into Boone, God saw His opportunity and took it. He had brought me to my lowest point in order to save me from myself.  I cried, begging God to help me and fix the mess I had made of the life He had given me.  I knew it was time to go back to the Mountain of Miracles, Hebron.

I made my way to RD Hodges’ office, a man who now I am proud to call my friend and brother in Christ. I was ready for a lasting change in my life and the staff welcomed me with open arms. They had prayed that I would find my way back and those prayers did not go unheard.  Though my wife had left me and was so fearful of me that she had a restraining order in place, she agreed to be my sponsor and drove me to Hebron that Saturday morning.  She knew the man I could be and longed to have that godly man back in their lives. The last portion of John 10:10 “I have come that you may have life abundantly” rings true and I have not looked back. I graduated on August 18, 2012, and then God blessed me again, allowing me to extend for an additional 12 weeks and then 6 more months as volunteer staff assisting Gene Dooley in the kitchen. The pastors laughed, telling me I was the first student to actually request to be assigned in the kitchen and I was blessed to have godly men like Gene in my life.    

Our lives are now full of happiness and joy.  My wife and I have a closer relationship than ever before, and although two of our daughters now have homes of their own, we have an exceptional relationship with each other.  Our youngest daughter Maggie is now 9; and she trusts me and my decisions. I still go to Hebron every Saturday where I enjoy helping the ladies in the office and meeting the new men.  I also enjoy doing the sound for each Saturday graduation service.  Maggie goes with me and enjoys the services as much as I do. 

I have said all this to say that when I truly surrendered everything in my life to God, He gave me an abundant life right here on earth and the tools I need to maintain this life, being in His Word. God gave my family back to me, a nice home to live in, a great job that I like and a heart to help other men who are just like me.  I praise God for the life he has given me because without Him my life means nothing. God can take a mountain of mess and turn it into a mountain of miracles like me.

Yours truly,

Kevin 

Graduate 8/18/12

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Phil. 4:13

 

2,190 Days

Like turtles on a fencepost. You see them sitting on top of one and you know someone had to put them there.

“There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’, and those to whom God says, ‘all right, then, have it your way.” C.S. Lewis

For the majority of my twenties and early thirties I was the second person. I wanted my belief in God on my terms. I believed he should fit into what I wanted for my life and I called out to Him on a need basis only. When I needed Him I prayed. When I felt I was ready to steer, He let me. Everytime I steered on my own, I ended up needing Him again. It’s regretful that it took me until I walked through addiction with my husband that I realized that this cycle doesn’t have to exist. I know that we can’t live in past but I do mourn the time in my life that has been lost that I could have been focused on a true eternal purpose.

2,190 days of sobriety for my husband. Amazing. To God Be The Glory.

Every February my husband and I get excited because we know that we have made it through another year where alcohol has become a part of our past. Every February we reflect on what we have learned and how different our lives have become…for the best. As the gap widens from where we were to where we are now, I am more at ease with who I am and who God made me to be as a wife, mother, friend, daughter and sister.  The idenity crisis of my twenties and early thirties is gone. I understand now that , as my mother says, “real learning is a change in behavior” and that “what you do tells people what you really believe in”. For the last 2,190 days our lives are a day to day battle ground for what surrendering means. It isn’t always easy, but I exhausted my own way. Now I say “Thy Will Be Done” and the outcome is ALWAYS above and beyond my own ideas or plans.

I remember feeling incredibly anxious when my husband first became sober. There were so many unknowns and I knew our lives where about to radically change. I believed I was giving up things I enjoyed. I wasn’t ready for it. It was all about me and my hang ups. I was afraid of superficial things like:

What would my friends think of us?

Will we lose friends? (Yes you probably will)

Can we have fun sober or will we be the wet blanket that everyone has to be careful what they say or do in our presence?

Will I resent him because alcohol won’t be part of our lives anymore?

I wrestled with all of this for the first sober 365 days.

And then in a moment of clarity I realized one thing. All of these things I was worried about had nothing to do with my marriage. I wasn’t married to these people or friends I was worrying about.  I was married to a man that needed me to be on his team. I wasn’t being a team player by getting caught up in these social issues. He needed me to be on his side. Since that moment of laying it all down, I have never once resented him or this choice. In fact, it has become a blessing to me and our children. On this earth I will never understand the depth of Gods knowledge of our lives but somehow He went before us and laid out His plan. He redeemed the wreckage and showed me that this life isn’t a dress rehearsal. We get one chance to live it FOR Him. And that’s it. So these things I was worrying about where 1. all about me and 2. have no place in His plan for my life. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have moments when we wrestle with these things. Like I said, it took me almost a whole year to get over myself and get on board with my teamate. But we do need a white flag moment because everything has a beginning date and an end date. It’s just easier to take my word on this and start living your life for Jesus and ask your spouse to forgive your self-centered motives.

There are many verses in scripture that have carried my husband and I through these last 6 years. It has been part of the learning process and letting the words marinate in our hearts. These 3 in particular speak to our new life.

2 Corinthians 5:17  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creature. The old things have passed away. Behold, new things have come.”

Deuteronomy 31:8 “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

James 1:12 “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

What riches in these verses!

So here we are. 2,190 days of walking with the Father and now we go confidently into the next day and then the next because He goes before us. He comes running to us like the prodigals father. He sees our baggage, carries it for us and then leads us through it. We just keep living in our amazement of HOW we got here. Like turtles on a fencepost. You see them sitting on top of one and you know someone had to help them up there.

‘Tis The Season To Come Back To Life

We weren’t happy. I was miserable and this time of year, more than any other, made me really feel it.

About 8 years ago I dreaded Christmas. Really it was the whole season. I sound like the Grinch. I related to him I guess. Christmas represented dread, work, putting up a front, manufacturing joy and deception on another level. When you have someone in your life that is working on becoming an addict or right in the thick of full blown addiction, you understand what I am talking about. You are surrounded by delusions of perfect family life when in reality you are at home plotting how NO ONE can discover your secret or how bad it’s starting to get at home behind closed doors. There is a twisted sense of relief that when you go to a Christmas party you can feel normal and no one really notices because others are just as drunk as your husband or wife. But then the cruel dawn of morning comes. I remember some of our most heated arguments usually came at this time of year.  Did I mention how much I dreaded Christmas? It only shined a spotlight on my deep sense of hopelessness. The belief that I would never be able to send out that Christmas card with a family photo and feel like it was authentic. Like we had true Joy.  We took the photo and sent out the card but I knew in my heart the photo was such a lie.We weren’t happy. I was miserable and this time of year, more than any other, made me really feel it.  I looked at pictures from other people and envied the life I was seeing. One that I believed I was never going to have. I felt alone, desperate and empty.

Last night my husband and I were talking about this time of year and why the ministry is suddenly bombarded with phone calls from family who need help for their addicted son or husband.  I immediately knew what he was talking about because I was that woman. I was reminded about the feelings that this season brought with it many years ago. It all came flooding back and I realized I needed to sit down and write about this time in my life because right about now if this is you, YOU need hope.

The only hope on this earth where we are surrounded by darkness is Jesus. He was brought to earth to be a light in the darkness (Advent!). He brought with Him eternal Comfort (Matthew 11:28-30), inexpressable Joy (I Peter 1:8,9) , and never ending Peace (Philippians 4:7).  We can seek the whole world to find or manufacture what He brought for us but we will always come up short and be left with a lie whispered to us by an enemy that seeks to destroy any chance of finding these things authentically. This is why we are so incredibly distracted this time of year by everything that has nothing to do with what the season is truly about. Just one of the many reasons why addictions seem to grow exponentially during this time of year: The stress from a million little things that don’t matter, the reminders of imperfect families, the need to portray life as it isn’t, the constant stuffing of the holes in hearts with material gifts, the feelings of sadness or guilt over broken family relationships. We want relief from it all! We don’t want to stop and think about our true reality or the poor condition of our broken heart. Instead of “Just Keep Swimming” you find yourself saying “Just Keep Stuffing”.  It all comes at us in a very short window of time and it is ALL CAPPED OFF by the reminder of yearly failures as we celebrate New Years Eve. Then we wake up the next morning with guilt, shame or fear of what’s coming in the new year and a bucket full of horrible resolutions. Not to mention that New Years is a goal for many addicts “to make it to” and then quit and get help.  You might hear this: “I will stop after the holidays”. I can’t even begin to count how many times I heard this lie. For me, all of it was a haunting lie. Incredibly empty with a side of deep disappointment.

If all of this sounds like what you are going through right now let me speak directly to you. I know that you are feeling desperate. I know you are losing hope. I know that you want to run away. I know you want to stand at the edge of the cliff and scream into the abyss. I know you are so tired of holding this life together so your children will have little memory of this time in your marriage or family. For you, in this time, I want you to stop talking at them and start praying for them. The talking is done. You can’t say anymore and I can guarantee they won’t listen so just PRAY. Pray like you have never prayed before. Pray in the car. Pray at that party. Pray beside your bed. Pray in the closet. Pray through tears. Pray for God to intervene in their life in a mighty way. Pray that it will happen during this season. Pray like your life depends on it. Stop intervening in the spiral. You cannot control it. Just pray for God to open their eyes so they can see themselves. So that they really see that they need help. Real help. Not just a meeting. He can do it but He needs you to get out of the way.

Whatever that means.

The safety net needs to be removed and you have to let them fall. I know you are scared by what that means, but trust when I say that it is far more hurtful to see an addict continue down this path without fear because they know you will rescue them. Just pray.

Pray this prayer with me:

Heavenly Father, I am broken. I feel alone. I feel desperate. I need you. I need you to intervene in my life and the life of this person in a mighty way. In a way that only you can do. I acknowledge that I need to get out of the way of the work you are going to do in their life. I give them over to you and fully trust that you are going to handle this. I can’t handle this anymore. I have tried to fix and save but failed. I know they might not choose you Lord, but today I choose you. I need you to work on my own heart as it broken into a thousand pieces because of all they have done to our famly. They have hurt and abandoned me, our children, our family. Only you can heal that hurt in my heart and I ask you put balm in that wound. Keep us protected from the chaos while you intervene. Keep them protected while you intervene. I trust you Lord. I trust you know what’s best. Thank you for your promise of an eternity with you. Thank you for your Son who came to the world to give us Your peace, Your comfort and Your joy. I rejoice in that promise this Christmas. You are my hope. In Jesus holy name I pray this. Amen. 

He loves you beloved and He won’t leave you. Keep Hope. The Redeemer will redeem as He has done in my life and can in yours IF you let him. He calls out to dry bones Come Alive. He calls out to dead hearts Come Alive! “Tis The Season” to come back to this life of Faith we are called into. For you, for your loved one, for your whole family. The Light in your darkness calls out for you to Come Alive.

Skip the ad and listen to this song for a moment.

 

 

to the wife of an addict

We end up needing to needed. This became my normal. We aren’t the rescuers.

My husband recently shared my blog with a few wives of the men that he works with at the ministry. I was encouraged to hear that something I wrote here resonated with them. Maybe they saw themselves in what I wrote. Maybe they felt less alone and realized that what they are going through isn’t new and has been going down from generation to generation. As women we are faced with a challenging role as “helper” and not confusing that role by becoming a Co-Dependent. When the Lord created women as the “helper” He didn’t mean to help protect your husband from consequences. We start to believe that we were sent to help them through this and while there is an element of truth to it, we can easily slip into a very toxic cycle of helping. We end up needing to be needed. We have no sense of healthy boundaries anymore and what really happens is we end up standing in the way of God doing something amazing in their life.

I was scared of the bottom. I was scared of what that meant for myself and my daughter. Looking back on it now I realize that that was incredibly selfish of me. I didn’t want to say goodbye to my dreams for our family and our future. I thought if I kept helping, controlling, intervening, protecting, serving, covering, fixing and all the other action verbs with “ing” that I could control the outcome and somehow go back to normal and being a family again. What is normal anyway when you are married to an addict? I had a dependency on what he was feeling, how he was doing, how he would react to things, making sure I said the right thing so he wouldn’t spiral. This became my normal. I had more anxiety than peace but I felt it was “my cross to bear”. To the wife, this is NOT our cross to bear. This is NOT what Gods asks us to do. Denying ourselves in this circumstance is NOT showing someone Love. It is perputating a cycle and increasing their journey time to hit bottom. If you have children, do they learn better when you rescue them or when they actually (safely) do something to hurt themselves. My daughter was tempted to touch the curling iron I was using on her hair. I kept telling her No don’t do that, you will hurt yourself. She kept getting close, getting tempted. So finally I stopped saying no and of course she touched it! She quickly jerked her hand back in pain and cried her little eyes out. I didn’t want to see her do that but I knew she needed to do that in order to trust me I when I said “it will hurt”. Inexplicably (wink wink) she wont get close to anything I say is hot because I remind her of the curling iron incident and she immediately gets it. I had to stop controlling what she was doing so she could learn the hard lesson. And with my husband, it wasn’t easy to watch. In fact, it was darn right frustrating because I knew the man he could be and he continually made horrible choices. He chose a liquid over his family!?  But when I finally lifted my hands up to the Lord and said “here…he’s yours. I can’t help him anymore. I won’t stand in the way Lord but I can’t stand by to watch” and did what I had to do: I left. That’s when the Lord got to work on him. I prayed for him daily but I had to distance myself from him and the situation. I had no idea what the outcome would be but you have to come to terms with the fact that this could end in badly. All the worst case scenarios. Whether it be him or him grabbing the keys and driving and taking a life. That will be his decision to make and his burden to bear. This is why I had to leave because I knew I would keep trying to control. I couldn’t be responsible for hiding the keys, I couldn’t stash the bank card, I wouldn’t be tempted to search the house for the bottles to dump out and throw away. You can’t stand in between the addict and what they want to do because they will always choose the pill, the bottle or the drug. And it hurts. It hurts so bad that they are rejecting us so blatantly. But until that moment of clarity happens (and I hope you aren’t there when it does) then this cycle of dependency will never end.

We aren’t the rescuers. Only God can rescue us from ourselves. Your spouse has to make his own decision to get well again. If you want to really love your husbands, let them fall on their face. Put your dreams for your future in God’s hands. He has done exceedingly and abundantly more for my marriage when I entrusted Him with my dreams for our future. We hold onto our dreams of the future with white knuckles and when we release them we have to mourn them. You will be sad because it is the death of dream you have in your heart. But the Lord promises to redeem these years of the locust (Joel 2:25).

And the Lord promises that any anger that your husband may inflict will be dealt with because if we are honest, most of us can agree that these men who are going through this are just plain ole pains in the ……neck. They say horrible things, they lash out, they deflect to your perceived faults and chip away at your self- esteem.

A man of great anger will bear the penalty, for if you rescue him, you will only have to do it again. Proverbs 19:19

So to the wife, if you are staying because you are embarrassed and fearful, I encourage you to consider the end result. This will get more embarrassing, more exhausting and more frustrating. They might clean up for a few weeks but the cycle will start again. Another trigger, more pain, an accident, an argument.  It will always be something. You are dealing with darkness. It will be the hardest day of your life to have the courage to do this. Friends and family who have NEVER been on your side of it will have their own opinions. But they don’t understand the heartache, the exhaustion, the pain, the anger that you are experiencing. Your decision will not be popular with many people in church. But I have heard it on good authority that you have the right to leave when you believe that you can no longer be responsible for their actions and they have made every effort to choose the drug over the family. If you are at this point, then quietly and discreetly make your move. When I was going through this time in my life, I stayed away from going to church and participating in anything much really because I hated the questions. “Where is your husband?” I tried to make it sound good. “He went to go see his grandmother” or “he is sick today”…(I think overused the sick excuse a few too many times because it felt less like lying….in my mind, he WAS sick). It’s ok to retreat and become somewhat reclusive during this time. It’s ok if you aren’t up for meeting friends out or going out into public situations. You are in a process. You will have to figure out who you really are WITHOUT your spouse. But this time away gives you the freedom to figure that out without the worry and distraction their chaos brings. In time, you will start to admit your feelings and what you have been through to people. You are in a raw and vunerable place. It’s ok to not be ok.

Lastly, hold onto Faith. My love for my daughter and my faith. That’s what got me through. I finally stepped out of the darkness with an overwhelming sense of peace. I realized I was going to be Ok because the God of Abraham, the God of David and the God of the Apostles cared about me and my well being. If He was for me, then who could be against me? I wasn’t scared anymore. I was still sad but I wasn’t scared. My fear of loss was replaced with His all sufficient love. That was enough for me. I didn’t know the end of the story but I knew He held me through the storm and He would continue to lead me out. He has promised the same for you, my friend. Sometimes leaving is loving. It goes against your nature but its time to start thinking about your own future and not their bad choices. You have your own recovering to do. Put the oxygen mask on yourself first. No more selfless martyr roles. We don’t love them less, we just love them differently…and from a distance until they make some real strides in the right direction. AND that my friends is a letter for another time. I am willing to say I have rambled through this one, but hopefully you might hear something that gives you the resolve you needed.

I will pray for you. Hold on. Hang in there.

hands praying

Potemkin Village

In 1787 while on a journey through newly acquired territory in Crimea, Catherine the Great toured a section along the Dnieper River with Grigory Potemkin, one of Russia’s highest military officials. Catherine was unaware that Grigory had set up fake villages along the River to fool her into believing that this section of Crimea was prospering.

While having a discussion with my husband about putting up facades, my husband recounted his time going to Pigeon Forge on weekends when he lived in Knoxville (almost a decade ago). He said he would pass by these large ornate theaters which always seemed out of place or too much for their surroundings. Curious to see what was inside and expecting the grand exterior to be reflected on the interior, he was surprised to find a small metal warehouse like building behind the large facade.

People are good at creating facades. All you need to do is go on Facebook and you will get the best version of everyone. You can untag yourself from less than attractive angles of yourself (I am totally guilty of this!) but you can’t untag yourself from realities of life. We are stuck with ourselves and our situations however not appealing or attractive that may be.  I was an expert at hiding my husbands addiction and pretending everything was ok. I realize now I wasn’t just fearful of people’s perceptions but I was also in denial of the horrible situation created by his addiction.

You can only keep the facade up for so long before people start knocking on the door. Then they find the exterior isn’t aligning with the scary interior.

I have spoken about transparency before but I feel more urgency now with our need to reach out and be honest about our struggles. We are worried about what people might think if we confess what’s happening in our lives but even more worrisome is coming face to face with the problem and what the fallout will look like. You ask yourself questions like “will my friends think less of me if they knew? What will this mean for our family and what will have to change? Will we have to get counseling? Will my spouse have to quit their job and go into treatment? Should I consider Divorce? What do I do?” Its a very helpless feeling. I have been through the seasons of denial but then it all started to unravel. I couldn’t control it anymore. I couldn’t control his drinking anymore. I couldn’t take the keys away again or worry about being out in public and feeling the embarressment. I couldn’t do IT ANYMORE. I was exhausted. I was running out of clever excuses and ready for him to deal with this addiction and frankly didn’t care what anyone thought or what might have to change in our family. I WAS DONE. I called my family and close friends. You see, when you give it up to the Lord you find out what true surrender means.

I’ve given my testimony a few times in the last few months and each time I am reminded about what the Lord did for us in that horrible time of our lives. How gently He guided us out of this facade we had created and gave us a new life. A fresh start. Free from the bondage of this delusional control. Light was now on the lies.

God knows whether we drink everyday or drink too much too often, or sneak that pain pill, or creep onto the computer for pornography. He knows when we tell people for the 10th time that our spouse isn’t feeling good when in reality they are hung over and laying on the couch again. He hears the excuses we give and the things we are afraid to admit. But He patiently waits on us to come face to face with our truth. He is ready to hold us through it. I have lived with secrets. I have held up the appearance. I have told myself the lies: “it’s not that bad” or “it could be worse.” The lies will consume you.

Your truth is this: It is that bad. It is a facade and it will get worse.

It will be painful to be honest about it. It will hurt your family. You may have to go through treatment or therapy. You may have to confront your spouse or family member. But taking that risk of the outcome is far better than continuing to live in this facade and believing this isn’t your life and this will never happen to you. I can easily say that when I stopped worrying about what others thought and started focusing on what I needed to face, I felt an amazing sense of strength. A willingness to be vulnerable is far easier than the exhaustion from hiding a secret life. Be authentic, face it, and knock down the facade. You might be surprised by how people respond to your honesty but more importantly you will get to know God through these circumstances and see Him do all that He has promised.

2 Corinthians 12:9-11

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

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I dare you Ragamuffin

Ragamuffins are:

[an] unsung assembly of saved sinners, who are little in their own sight, aware of their brokenness, and powerlessness before God. They know they are only a beggar at the door of Gods mercy.

This weekend I watched the movie “Ragamuffin”. I found it randomly on Netflix (I say random even though I know Netflix knows ALL about me). When I find a movie I believe is worth it, I like to let people know and this is a good one. But it’s a good idea to let you know that it isn’t your typical Christian film. There is still some B level acting but that’s not what I focused on. It is actually an incredibly honest movie. The title got my attention since I am a fan of Brennan Manning who wrote Ragamuffin Gospel. A book on my top 10 books on faith. It’s a challenging read but worth every second of your time. (YES, READ THAT BOOK!)

The movie is the biopic of Rich Mullins, a contemporary Christian singer from the late 80’s to early 90’s. I didn’t know much about Rich Mullins. I knew his most famous song was “Awesome God” which I always liked but my favorite song of his was “Hold Me Jesus”. I knew he had died in a tragic car accident in the mid 90’s. He was an incredibly gifted song writer who wrote many of Amy Grants songs and some other famous Christian artists but also had his own singing career for a short period. That was the extent of what I knew about him. I didn’t realize how painfully at odds Rich was with the box he was supposed to fit in to be in that genre of music at the time. He drank. He smoked. He wore t-shirts and ripped jeans.He played in front of churches with his bare feet and all of that is in the movie. I am sure he made a lot of Christians uncomfortable. But Rich really didn’t care about that too much. He was who he was. Broken.  The movie does a great job of putting it all out there. The honest picture of a Christian who didn’t have it all together. Who didn’t have it all figured out. Who wasn’t good at playing this church thing.

There are several points in the movie that spoke to me like when his friend popped in the tape (yes, it’s the early 90’s) of Brennan Manning speaking live at Woodcrest in Columbia, Missouri. It was a powerful moment. When Brennan asked the one question Jesus will ask “Did you believe I loved you?” I had to take a deep breath. My chest actually tightened up. This speech moved Rich Mullins to pull the car over. His soul was stirred to the point he couldn’t do anything but cry. Have you ever had a moment like that? A moment that you realize how much Jesus loves you? When you hear Him say I love you for who you are, not who you should be, because no one is who they should be.

There are many moments in the movie when I understood him. When I have felt that loneliness, the anger, that longing. I think a lot of people who see this movie will say it is “dark”. And I agree, it is. But I also believe there are a lot of put together Christians out there, walking around with scars that are afraid to shed light on their stories for fear of what would happen. They think “what would happen if people knew who I really am?” and they are overdue to see a movie like this. The good news about this movie is that it portrays the mess as much as the message as we are all messed up, unworthy, and broken. I don’t want to give too much of the movie away because I think it will speak to a lot people who are due to hear the truth in it but I do want to leave you with this brief video of Brennan Manning at Woodcrest. (Also, if you do watch the movie, the guy who plays Rich is a good actor but the wig he wears is terrible…sorry, had to say that. My only negative!)

Rent it. I dare you.

Love,

This Ragamuffin Named Leigh