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.

‘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.

2015/01/img_1127.jpg

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