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.

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 #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?  

‘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.

 

 

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

My husbands testimony

One of the most sacred things that Christians have is their testimony. We must protect it at all costs. No one can shut it down with their own philosophies. It isn’t a bunch of words you are talking(preaching) about. It is the action of your life. It is your story.  It is the moment when Christ began a good work in you. It is ongoing, it is always changing as seasons of our lives transition from easy “normal” days to the most difficult days we have ever known. Recently, my husband was asked to give his testimony in the newsletter that his ministry sends out. Now that it was in print I thought it was the perfect opportunity to share it on this blog.

On Thanksgiving of 2008 while attending the Hebron program I received an index card that had a simple quote stating: “An extraordinary plan for your life will mean an extraordinary trial to prepare you.” They also referenced James 1:12. It is not signed and I’m not really sure who wrote it, but I have held on to this card for many years. It permanently resides on the front of my refrigerator. James 1:12 (NIV) says: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” This verse (and quote) that we reference daily didn’t have much meaning early on in my new walk with Christ. Later though, it would prove as a daily reminder of God’s grace and mercy upon me and my family all the while giving direct instruction for our new lives in Christ.

My trials with alcohol started at an early age. Fast forward through a “lively” college era and a prosperous professional career and I arrived at 2008 where alcohol had become the center of my life. In 2008 I was coming off some of the most lucrative professional years of my life. I was married to the most beautiful Godly woman and we were expecting our first child. Life was good…Right? Well, despite all of God’s numerous blessings I found myself going into in a very dark place until my entire life became unmanageable due to alcohol. It was nothing short of a miracle that I learned about Hebron Colony Ministries and I began a journey that was no less miraculous.

I have my family to thank for paving a firm foundation in my life. I grew up with positive Christian influences in my life. When I embarked on attending Hebron Colony in 2008, it came with loving support from not only my expecting wife, but also my immediate and extended family. I looked forward to seeing God’s plan for my life unfold like many powerful testimonies I had heard from men who had taken the same journey through the Hebron program. The feelings of anxiety I had when I first arrived at Hebron Colony were quickly replaced with feelings of love and security that I had not experienced in long time. There are still no words to put it into proper perspective.

It was not long after arriving at Hebron Colony that I learned about the power of prayer and what a “relationship” with Christ really looked like. God used these men, the staff and ultimately His word to draw me back to Himself where I eagerly recommitted myself to Him for His purpose during my time at Hebron. While in the 10 week program my wife wrote me a letter. In that letter she spoke to me about what our life might look like given our new life. What I realized is that she was sharing this with me as a hope and a prayer. It was how she envisioned herself standing up and giving a testimony at Hebron for what we would have been through and how the Lord brought us through.

This is an excerpt from her letter:

“This is my husband Kirk and we have now been married for almost 5 years and we’re blessed with two beautiful children. Life wasn’t always so grand though. Our second year of marriage when I was pregnant with our first child his drinking became a severe problem and wreaked havoc on his health, our marriage and our families. There were many sad nights and days that seemed to never end. I cried out to the Lord alone in my room to heal him and protect me. I felt like the hand of God had left our marriage and was in a complete state of despair all the while Kirk slipped deeper into an alcoholic coma – there is no other was to describe it. Finally the Lord brought Hebron Colony Ministries into our lives and not a moment too soon. I was 4 months pregnant and 70 days seemed like a long time but the darker days could be coming to an end. When Kirk came home right before the birth of our baby he was a completely changed man. The Lord had restored peace in his heart, and a commitment to stay clean and sober not by his own strength but by the strength God gives us when we call out to him for help. I am so grateful that he was here for the birth of our first child and could believe that he would be the father he had always wanted to be. Since that time in our own lives the Lord has continued to help us through as a family and we are stronger than we could ever hope for on our own. To this day Kirk has never had a desire to drink again and I have continually supported this by not letting it be a part of my life. So here we are 5 years later and I am so in love with my husband, my children and most importantly my Savior Jesus Christ. He saves us from ourselves and He rescued my husband from himself and gave him back to me as a new man, changed forever by the grace of God.”

This letter had a profound effect on me. I keep it to remind myself of where we are now, how far we have come, and all that God has redeemed in our lives.

I returned once more to Hebron in 2010 broken beyond measure having turned away from God’s plan and will for my life and not understanding why. By God’s grace I was allowed to return and experienced radical transformation. By this time I was on the verge of losing everything. My wife, my child, my family, my friends, my job. What I came to realize this time is that I had only surrendered 99% of my troubles, burdens and self at the foot of the cross. It was out beside the Hebron Chapel that I fell to my knees. I said a simple prayer asking God to reveal to me “the known and unknown” that was deep seeded in my heart. Instantaneously, God revealed to me what it was that was fueling my drunkenness and pain: feelings of abandonment, resentment, shame, guilt, etc… It was that remaining 1% that I was finally able to turn over to Him. When I came to I saw one of my Hebron brothers passing by and for a moment I looked at that man with eyes of Christ. He allowed me to experience for a moment the outpouring of love Christ has for us. I believe God showed this to me for a reason and placed a calling on my life to serve Him. This was April of 2010 and I was a new creation saved by God’s grace.

In April of 2015 it will be five years since that calling.
We shall always remain amazed at His love for us and how He graciously answered that single prayer and hope that my wife wrote so many years ago. My wife and I now have a beautiful 5 year old daughter and a one year old son. God continues to provide for our family and we thank Him each day for allowing us to serve Him in the very ministry that provided an opportunity to change our lives forever. We thank God for our “extraordinary” lives and even the trials we’ve endured not our own strength but His alone.
In His Service,

Kirk M. Hamilton, Jr. Graduate 2010
Administrative Staff, Hebron Colony Ministries

Hamilton Family Final (46)

The Root

Have you ever looked up the definition of the word “root” ? Most people wouldn’t because they know the answer. The title of this blog sent me to find the definition and I was amazed at how this one word is used in our language. It’s a noun with multiple meanings and a verb with multiple meanings. The root is the most important part of a plant. The health of a root determines how well a plant grows. And so I think with addiction. The root of the issue is deep. It requires light to be shed on it so the issue is revealed. If the roots rot then the plant or flowers die. And so it is with us. If the root of the addiction goes unacknowledged then nothing ever gets resolved and it infects every part of your being. The addiction to substance is just a signal that you have underlying issues. Much like a plant turns brown or wilts. We can see what is happening on the outside but we don’t know how to deal with whats on the inside.

And there’s one simple reason: It goes down deep…like into the soul, deep.

For some, the thought of digging the past up is not appealing. They buried it a long time ago and are content to let it stay buried. But if we bury our shame, guilt, hurt, and pain does it go away? No. It still exists. It’s rooted remember? The problem with addiction is that we have reduced it to a substance problem. The death of Robin Williams triggered this because he had said in a recent article that he was going back to rehab because he had never dealt with the root of the issue. He was sober for 20 years and the root was never dealt with. I read an article recently written by the the editor of the Good News website. In it he references the book Out of the Shadows (2001) by Dr. Patrick Carnes who identified 4 underlying issues in addiction. These are:

• I am, at the core, an unworthy person.

• Nobody could ever love me if they truly knew who I am.

• No one will ever be able to meet my needs; therefore, I must meet my own needs.

• The addictive agent is my greatest need.

The first issue is often caused by childhood trauma in a dysfunctional family and includes either emotional or physical abuse. The child can either be a witness to the abuse between the parents or become the victim themselves. The child can identify themselves with shame and unworthiness.

The second issue is feelings of rejection and part of the fall out of the first issue. They begin to feel like no one can love them if their own parents can’t and this feeds the behavior and anticipation of rejection. And the substance unconsciously masks the rejection that no one can love them if they new who they really were or how bad the addiction really is.

The third follows with no one ever being able to meet their needs. The first two have created a void in their life so the third naturally follows. “Relying on self prevents seeking help.” This also affects their view of a need for God and they remain trapped in their belief that they don’t need anyone…especially not God.

And then comes the most devastating issue. The addictive agent. It comes as a relief because it is identified with the greatest moments of pleasure and distraction. And just like a vacuum waiting to be filled by something…ANYthing, a person will find a substance to fill that void. It doesn’t matter if it’s dangerous. As it calls it in the article, “the agent” will be identified at an early age. Some try alcohol and then progress to harder drugs because the void isn’t filled. And some are just fine with alcohol because it numbs what needs to be numbed and then it becomes the obligatory crutch.

So you see what I mean when I say deep. Layers and layers. It starts somewhere. It doesn’t just happen. It has a root. Addiction is a band aid. It masks. It hides. It….buries.

20 years of sobriety and then it rears its head. I don’t know Robin Williams story. I don’t know what lead to issues with depression. I don’t know what his root was. But even he knew he had one. Something made him lose hope. This void that can’t be filled? It’s God. Simple right? What addiction and depression point to is our need to be saved from ourselves. That we cannot do this life by our own willpower. A lot of people have tried. There are even people who have created a successful life but without God what is the point of that? You are successful and live well and are nice to people and do good…but then what? God has created us for a purpose. When our identity is created by the world then we can’t get mad at God for the path we have chosen. For the addict, the challenge is to unravel this identity. They have to learn how to lean into God. To rely on Him again. To feel safe in giving up our strongholds. To trust again. To go back to that childhood moment. To see that child you were…sitting there as a victim or witness and instead, now you see Jesus wrap his mighty arms around this child and say, “It is over. I am here and have been since the beginning.”

 

 

What Addiction Has Taught Me So Far

I am thankful for what addiction has taught me. It sounds weird to say and even stranger to type but I really consider our experience a blessing. Today I am looking back at the road we have traveled down and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Yesterday my husband and I had one of those moments where you look at each other,  nod and say “we really have it good “. That doesn’t mean its perfect or what I imagined. It just means that we aren’t in control and it is well with our soul.

Addiction has been an good teacher. It has taught me how much we need God. I am a weak person without the Holy Spirit to guide and convict. With addiction you learn to be radically dependent on God and the strength He provides us to endure and battle through.

Addiction has taught me to be empathetic to people who struggle with dependence. I use to look at people and think “just stop doing it.” But now I realize that it is a matter of the heart and not willpower. The substance abuse is just a band aid to cover what is really ailing underneath.  Abuse is a mask to hide what you don’t want to go through.

Addiction has taught me that I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know why alcohol is so accessible and acceptable and why other drugs are illegal and frowned upon. I don’t know why people who drink in moderation look down on alcoholics. I don’t understand why the face of alcoholism is a homeless person living under a bridge.  I want to know how Doctors, who consistently prescribe drugs to people and don’t give alternative options, live with themselves?

Addiction has taught me to be honest with myself. I use to be really good at saying I was fine. I use to be great at highlighting the good and stuffing the bad. Well, I’m not good at it anymore and I’m glad. Hiding the bad is exhausting. I never realized how tired I was until I just stopped being “fine”. Its liberating to be honest with yourself about who you are, who you are married to, and that bad things (addiction especially) happen to good people.

Addiction has taught me to how to be strong. You think your a strong person. You think you can handle anything. You think you have control of your life. And then it all goes away. Your willpower, the control, the love, the empathy. Then you have to pick yourself up off the floor, dust yourself off, and learn how to let go. When you learn how to let go, you learn how to be strong. Being co-dependent was my addiction. When I finally let go of what I thought I needed to do for my husband, he got sober…and I was free, strong, and a new creation.  Amazing.

Addiction has taught me to ask for help.  I was a pretty independent person. I always have been. But people who are this independent don’t like asking for help. Its in their nature. Asking for help makes you appear weak, dependent, and shamed. The most humble day was calling my parents to ask for help. It was the hardest phone call I have ever made. It was admitting that our life was wreak. I was admitting that I didn’t have it all put together. I was at the end of the rope. But I did it. And we are here. A living testimony to Jesus, that you can be healed. The greatest moment of courage was picking up the phone and its a decision I have never regretted. I learned to ask for help.

It will be 4 years on February 22, 2014 (1,460 days!!!) and in those 4 years I have learned more from addiction about myself than any class could ever teach. You can learn plenty from books, but that’s just head knowledge. You can walk around with pretty quotes and sound intellectual. You can talk about your philosophies of life and what you say you believe. But go through the fire, come out the other side, and people will actually start believing in the Faith and philosophies you have proclaimed. Addiction has taught me about what it really means to have Faith because I didn’t know what the outcome would be of going through this, but I finally believed that I wasn’t writing the story anymore. It was a leap of Faith to give it all up. The Great Author has the pen now and I look forward to each chapter ahead.

Hamilton Family Final (81)

Grand Canyons

It’s been a long time since I have posted. I will blame it on having a newborn. I can blame a lot on that. I will probably use that excuse until he is one or ten years old. Our son was born on April 19th. We were so excited to meet him. He doesn’t do much at the moment but I can tell he is starting to really take things in, learning and observing his little world. We are now the parent of 2. It’s exciting and scary. It has its moments…and those “moments” sometimes happen in the middle of the night. Like last night. It was a full on parenting middle of the night moment and what struck me in the middle of the night was how life (and any semblance of the old before he came) gets pushed aside. I think what bothered me the most was how my spiritual life has taken a hit. I haven’t spent any time with God and it has started to show. I am going through the motions of getting adjusted, trying to stay sane. All the while that part of my life, which is the foundation, is crumbling…so being up in the middle of the night with the baby and his congested nose was my wake up call. Its sounds silly but the Lord knows how to get our attention. Just let anything happen to one of my kids and I am on my knees praying.

Isn’t it funny how well He knows us?                                                                                   grand_canyon_scenery-12355
Isn’t it great how much He cares about spending time with us?

So my son could barely breath, much less take a bottle with all of his congestion. He even sounded like he was choking at one point. I was terrified. There isn’t any medicine to give a two month old and they cant blow their nose so all you have is saline and a horrible aspirator which makes him scream. It was 2:30 in the morning and I hadn’t even dozed off yet for fear of this happening. I was scared and felt completely alone in my own house. When it started to work and he got quiet I prayed. And then  I heard a song in my mind. It’s an older song but one of my favorites by Susan Ashton called Grand Canyon. (She is a great songwriter…where are you Susan Ashton?? Come back and write more songs!!) The lyrics have resonated with me at different times of my life. One line in particular is:

“Sometimes I feel like I’m as close as your shadow and
Sometimes I feel like I’m looking up at You from the bottom of the Grand Canyon.”

In the quiet as I fed my son I felt like I was at the bottom of that Grand Canyon again. I hadn’t been in real prayer for a while and God felt far away. But the truth is I moved, not Him.

Lord, I am sorry for putting everything else first. I am sorry that you have to go to such great lengths to get my attention. I am sorry that I have neglected the most important relationship in my life.

It always seems that I must be in some sort of crisis to be on my knees. When I was going through the battle with my husband and his addiction I was keenly aware of the Lords presence in my life. I spoke to Him all day long, prayed all day long…and now? Well, my husband and I switched roles. He is closer than ever and I am at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Another line of the song is “And I’m a long way from where I know I need to be
When there’s a Grand Canyon between You and me”

This is part of the process of moving on in life when you aren’t in crisis mode. You learn to live again but you need to learn how to keep God first now that the storm has passed. I am A LONG way from where I know I need to be and things will keep coming into my life like waves (good and bad). I need to keep afloat or I will drown. I won’t go overboard with the analogy but it really works in this case. Keeping afloat means you must keep learning, keep praying, keep diligently seeking truth and putting on the armor.  I have to learn this or I won’t grow spiritually. I will be stuck in “for emergencies only” mode and that’s not what my faith is about. God isn’t to be compartmentalized or kept in our back pocket. He should be daily…like my commitment to feed my son on a schedule. I have to actively schedule my priority with God. Having a newborn, a job, a 4 year old, and my life in general are secondary. I am sure I will have many more Grand Canyon moments in my life. But I think last night I realized that I was stuck in a pattern. If I am going to live this life on the wagon, then all of me needs to get on board. If we as Christians don’t grow and attempt to face each seasons of our life as if its our last then we will miss out on what we can learn when the storms are calmed. The storms are just temporary but we have to use what we learn from them. I learned some big lessons in my storms but the most important one is that Jesus held me up through them all and will continue to do so. I just think I would rather know Him better when the next round comes as it inevitably will.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

Here are the lyrics to Grand Canyon…check out the song if you get a chance!

I’ve seen You calm the waters raging
in the rivers of my mind
Your spirit blows a breeze into my soul
And I’ve felt the fire that warms the heart
Knowing that it comes from You
Then I’ve let it turn as cold as a stone
Sometimes I feel like I’m as close as your shadow and
Sometimes I feel like I’m looking up
at You from the bottom of the

Grand Canyon, so small and so far
From the Grand Canyon, with a hole in my heart
And I’m a long way from where I know I need to be
When there’s a Grand Canyon between You and me

I’ve had the faith that gave me strength
for moving any mountainside
I’ve felt the solid ground beneath my feet
But I’ve had the bread of idleness while
drinking from a well of doubt
And it shakes the core of all I believe
Sometimes I feel like I’m as close as your shadow and
Sometimes I feel like I’m looking up
at you from the bottom of the

When there’s a Grand Canyon between You and me

Sometimes I feel like I’m as close as your shadow and
Sometimes I feel like I’m looking up
at you from the bottom of the

When there’s a Grand, Grand Canyon between You and me

Square-Shaped Peg, Round Hole

You know these people. People who have to constantly keep putting things on the calendar. Planning more trips because there can’t be any gaps on the calendar. Buying different cars. Loading the kids up with activities. Making big life changes like moving on a consistent basis. Planning more. Changing more stuff. Buying more stuff. Getting rid of stuff to make room for new stuff. Constant home improvement projects when nothing was really wrong with what it looked like before but they just weren’t happy with it. Electronic upgrading every couple of months. I am exhausted just thinking about it. They exhaust themselves and wonder why they are so exhausted all the time. I think about a Hamster on a wheel. The Hamster never gets anywhere, right? I think I can safely say that many of us suffer from chronic unsatisfaction with our lives. Why do we need to change everything all the time? Why do we need to constantly be going somewhere or doing something entertaining? I feel like I am on to something with this answer: because we are afraid if we have too much time to think about our lives and how we are spending it then we will actually have to face the black hole that exists inside us. SO we fill it. We keep filling it. More stuff! But what we find is that nothing will ever fit into the hole permanently. Nothing will ever give us that sense of peace we desire. Addiction is something else that gets put into that hole…more and more gets dumped in there but there’s not enough drugs or alcohol to fill it either.

When you finally stop running, filling, stuffing, pouring, dumping, buying, planning, drinking, pill taking, shopping, and trying to educate yourself on how to make God not exist, all we are left with is a square-shaped peg for a round God shaped hole. I did all of this. I filled, bought, drank, planned, and just HOPED that someday I would find contentment. But what I realized is that all we get is the day after Christmas feeling. Do you know what feeling I am talking about? We build up Christmas all month (or in the case of Americanized Christmas, 2 months) long. Then the day is finally here and it is filled with joy, happiness and love…temporarily. The next morning we wake up and there is a lack of joy. It is a deep nagging emptiness that we must acknowledge although we tend to cover it up by planning a trip, shopping, getting back to work, or creating some other illusion of happiness. And what I have found is that we will never be satisfied. Our nature is to continue to externally search for something beyond ourselves to find it. But we want to see it, touch it, experience it in order for it to be real. Faith is belief in what is unknown, the unseen, and being ok with not knowing the outcome. And to believe in God we have to understand that God is immaterial not material. He is spirit. My pastor made this point on Sunday that God is spirit and we must accept Him as that. The Israelites kept trying to look for a material God…something they could see and worship, statues that would satisfy that need and God, on purpose, is not those things. He is not a material being so we will learn not to make idols on earth and take the place of faith. You have to fight for Faith. You have to go against what we, in our sinful nature, want to do: to create something tangible that we can focus on. The thing about God and filling this hole with Him, is that what we finally experience the fullness that this new life in Christ gives us. We experience REAL peace. And it is permanent. Not manufactured, material, earthly, temporary peace. The search is over. Our purpose is found. And a whole new life, a new journey begins and we can face it all because we have a hope of eternity in our soul. There is no greater experience on earth than the transformation of belief. It doesn’t make you a perfect person and in fact, the Christian life is not for the weak. C.S. Lewis said, “If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity”. If one of the greatest theologians in recent times made that statement, then that says it all. And if it is really comfortable, if you never seem to go through anything, if nothing is getting thrown at you, if no challenges are in your way, if you are in a constant state of “smooth sailing” then you might want to question what you actually believe.

Every once in a while I hear people talking about losing their religion. I always find the circumstances of what led them to that point to be interesting. It is usually the same answer: “I stopped believing in God because He didn’t answer my prayer” or the answer came but not in the way that they wanted it. If the expectation is to get what you ask for, then you have signed on for the wrong belief and you probably will leave your “religion”. Because it’s not about what we want, when we want it, and on our terms. I didn’t ask for a husband with alcohol dependency. But that is what I got and now that I have been down this road of sobriety with Him for 3 years I can’t imagine my life being fuller or richer now because of my belief that God had a greater purpose for all of this heartache. He absolutely knows what He is doing and faith is saying that you fully surrender to the journey.