We’re still here. In the long haul.

It is difficult to be somewhere, indefinitely, for the long haul.  When life has taken its toll and it has been too hard, too much, and too long.  The accumulated distress has sunk my spirit, made it  too heavy to keep picking up, keep walking, keep hoping.

I’ve been learning to break things down, small steps, and live in the moment.  It helps my sanity for sure.  It keeps me grounded, helps me focus, and teaches me the concept of one day at a time.  But strangely this day looks much like the one before.

For as much as I’ve tried to rally and keep going, despite our circumstances, there is still apparently more to be learned here.  God hasn’t opened the door yet.  We are 14 months into unemployment, the consequence of my husband’s addiction.

Last year I bought a house plant, with leaves that were full and bushy and abundant.  I was drawn to its life and vitality.  It looked fresh and alive and welcoming.  It seemed like a great thing to nurture and enjoy.

Over the past few months, this beautiful and thriving plant has been thinning out and dropping leaves.   It has gradually gotten far worse.  Pathetic.

I brought it out into the light to see if it could be revived.  Now it sits right there in front of me, and I realize it mirrors how I feel inside.

Drooped.  Depleted.  Worn thin.  Weary deep in my soul.

Like a pile of broken, dried sticks, that you aren’t even sure where to prune.

Little signs of new life, but not really sure if they will hang on and revive.

There are these honest moments, when you know you are doing all you can to live into recovery, but you aren’t sure if it will be enough to take you through to the other side.

When you are in the thick of it, sometimes it is hard to see that you are actually going somewhere.  Especially when you look back and see the toll life has taken and it quite frankly has been far too much.

Bear in mind that I have no clue what I’m doing with these plants, other than enjoying a little bit of nature to care for.  Another plant we had was dying.  (I’m not sure if this is a pattern in my greenhouse skills, or a lesson God intends for me to learn through metaphor.  Most likely both.)  I decided to cut it back and prune off whatever seemed to be holding it back.  It was hardly green at all, mostly just sticks.  You would have thought I could have tossed it to the curb.  And this year, miraculously, it is coming back.

Growth where there could have been death.

I watch these plants, wondering about this mysterious cycle of death and life.  Pruning and transformation.  Cut back to grow further still.

I believe authentic growth goes in cycles.  There are days, seasons even, where God allows us to experience profound pain.  Anguish and despair taunt us.  Silence, waiting, and unanswered prayer.  Days are long, months crash one into the other, and we are still here.

Scripture tells us, Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.

I want to be in a place of thriving — life-giving abundance in my spirit.  Some days I am.  I am pouring all I have into this healing.  I have the eyes to see the hope.  It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going.  Fulfillment is coming.  It’s worth holding on for.

But there are other times that I’m just worn out from hanging on so long.  No direction or clarity.  No end in sight.  No new word to hold onto.

All of this purging, and pruning, and wrenching of spirit WILL birth something NEW.

Therein lies my hope and my peace, even on the days that leaves drop to the floor.

This thing called Recovery

Recovery is an odd term — one that I resisted because it didn’t seem to suit me.  It seemed unfamiliar and abstract, like I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.  As my husband began his journey into recovery seven years ago, I supported him.  But it wasn’t my journey.  He is an addict — and I wasn’t sure that recovery was relevant to me.

Back then we took a mediocre walk in recovery. It was barely beginning, like dipping our toes in the water and calling it a swim.  But it was all we knew at the time.  He went to meetings once a week, unless a family event for one of our kids took priority. As for me, I really had no understanding of what recovery meant.

I tend to think long, deep, and slow.  It takes awhile for something to sink in for me to get it.  It comes in layers.  It starts off in a distant abstract thought, and then it hones in to something I can make sense of.  Recovery for me was like that.

Today I’m drawn to recovery for what it means to me.  Realizing that my old self was unhealthy, it is living into something new. This process of growth takes time.  Often we don’t even know what is unhealthy if it is all we ever knew.  The old ways don’t work and I finally see that.

Recovery is honesty.  It is allowing myself to feel my feelings and embrace my humanity.

Recovery is self awareness.  It is moving away from denial and avoidance, into reality.

Recovery is self affirming instead of self negating.  It is healthy self care and setting boundaries.

Recovery is about connection instead of isolation.  It is cultivating safe and supportive relationships for our growth.

Recovery is one day at a time living.  It is cherishing today and investing my life well.

Recovery gives me a path toward healing and growth.  It gives me steps to take to ground my footing.  It brings me to a new place where I can thrive.  I can flourish.  Fully alive.

Small Steps

I am recovering perfectionist.

I’ve learned enough about myself to know I wasn’t attempting to put on appearances, although I had been raised to do so.  It was more about calming my environment, so that I could ultimately soothe my inner world.  It gave me something to delight in, having things in order and done with gusto and fine attention to detail.

The problem was, it was killing me.

I have come to realize that I had an enormous pile up of pressure.  Decades of demands I have pushed on myself.  Endlessly, tirelessly, expecting more from myself.  Until I couldn’t do anymore.

Suddenly what my soul hungered for was Grace.  Humanity.  Limits.  Recovery.

When you are that desperate, that starved, something has got to change.  And praise God, it has.  An entire shift in my thinking.  A welcome embrace of my own humanity.  Learning less pressure and more grace.  And moving into this new reality, this recovery, I just might be able to live and not die.

I’ve learned it comes in small steps.  One decision, one moment at a time.  A shift in thinking that I don’t have to push harder.  If I kept up the pressure, I’d either explode or collapse.  No longer.  Instead, every small thing I do helps.

Out with the old, in with the new.  We took some Christmas money and I redecorated our kitchen with the smallest touches.

This isn’t where I hung them, but these are the simple daily affirmations that greet me.  I have a few fresh containers for napkins and cooking utensils, a new five dollar rug for under the kitchen sink, a place for fresh fruit.  You would think I have a whole new house, it  feels so good.

Sometimes we feel bound up in fear.  Things feel so desperately hopeless that we get stuck.  If you have battled depression, as I have, it can be empowering to hear how much a small step can help forward motion.

“Over time these small steps lead toward recovery.”

No matter how hard the task may seem, no matter how much you hope to accomplish….or for me — how many books I hope to read and study and sit with (for more hours in the day than what I’m given)….you can do something.

As Jon Allen writes, “You still have some energy and some motivation — at least some of the time.  

We must distinguish between difficult and impossible.  Hope lies in the difference.”

I learned many powerful things through The Meadows this past year.  My husband spent ten weeks in rehab there, and I was deeply blessed to support him through family week.  I spent an additional week working on trauma at Survivors Week.  I highly recommend this place.  God has profoundly used The Meadows to change our lives.

One thing that my therapist at The Meadows taught me was about moderation.  Recovery is a life of balance and moderation.  To be healthy, to have balance, to live in moderation, you often only need to take a few steps toward the middle.  Maybe your life has been out of kilter, on some unhealthy extreme.  Healing is not in moving completely in the opposite direction, or you would be off balance again.

Just take a few steps towards health.

It dawned on me in a life changing way.  Even a few steps of redirection can be the moderation and adjustment I need.  Reflecting on each adjustment, each step, I realized the power it holds.  This very process will lead to transformation.
Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying: Progress not perfection.  Take the next right step.  (Ahhh.  I sit back and smile.)  And to think we don’t have to kill ourselves with the pressure, and our life can really change.
Progress.  That’s something I can live into.

First Things

2011 began with my husband losing his second job to his addiction.  I quickly became numb, as the nightmare that I thought I would never have to live through again suddenly became our reality.

It was six years prior that we had hit rock bottom, or so I thought.  Never again would I ever want to relive that torment.  And yet here we were.  Like beating cancer, pulling yourself up to live again, believing for something more, something new.  And then being told by the doctors that the cancer is back.  The addiction has reared its ugly head like a demon’s most vicious attack.  Unrelenting.  Inescapable.

Initially we were so disoriented, so whipped with the attack of the enemy, that it was hard to get our footing.  While I attempted sleep, I would toss and turn restlessly, ever aware that this nightmare was not going away.

Yet having walked this hell before, I knew how to hold onto the glory of God.  To look for Him everywhere.  To collect every word, every breath, every sign of life, every song, every verse.  His glory — the very essence of who He is — is revealed in times like these.  God is seen, made known, and revealed in the darkness.  If only we will tune our hearts to Him.

This is how we glorify God.  This is how we experience who He is and what He does.  Willing to walk where He allows us to go, for more of Himself.

Ever faithful, ever true, God gave me a vision of what He was doing.

Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn even more.    Proverbs 9:9

Relapse in recovery is about going deeper.  A new and greater level of healing.  Revealing areas that we missed before that need our attention.  (I say “we” because all of us need to do this kind of personal work.  Recovery and healing and growth has to be claimed by the individual.)

God made it clear to me that this relapse was not about failure.  It did not mean that all of the work up to this point was null and void.  Instead, He was teaching us even more.  He was taking us further still.

We prayed two things: for wisdom and provision.  God, we have no idea how to walk this.  No idea how to survive but to hold onto You.  We need Your wisdom and direction; we need You to provide the way.  Lead us through.

That is when He revealed first things first.  While the crisis at hand clearly involved the loss of a job, God prioritized healing.  The job has to wait.  You have to walk deep healing.

Healing would take everything we had.  Emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally, and financially.  And in that, I found the wisdom of praying specifically for provision.  Because God, we don’t have it.  On our own, we can’t make it.  We are spent.  We’ve been knocked over too many times.

We’ve walked decades with God and learned that though His way is often harder, it is best.  He has shown us where to go, and we have been blessed to walk faithfully and obediently, even in our human failings and frailty.  Strangely, mysteriously, He finds incredible beauty in humanity.

As we close a year unparalleled in our story thus far, God brought another verse that rings again the echoes of where this year began.  It is the bookends holding us up, holding us together, giving us vision.

In the same way, wisdom is sweet to your soul.
If you find it, you will have a bright future,
and your hopes will not be cut short.  Proverbs 24:14

God is growing us in wisdom.  Because first things of healing are prioritized, our future can be bright.  Our hope is not cut short.

Praise God for healing and growth in 2011.  Praise God for redeeming us and making us new.  Praise God for His wisdom and provision in incredible abundance.  Praise God that He knows the better path for us to walk, and sustains us by walking it with us.

May His first things ever become my first things.

Recalling Faithfulness

It was ironically similar to this month — this season of waiting, anticipation, and desperation before God.  It was December 2004 and strangely enough, my husband had just lost his job to his addiction.  At the time, we didn’t really understand it was an addiction.

We were just beginning to learn about how incredibly entangling his bondage was.  We learned of new hope with therapy, a daily sponsor, and recovery in a twelve step group.  All of that was new lingo to us.  I remember it being shocking to embrace and accept, but I hoped to God it would bring help for Todd.  My heart broke for him and our family felt deeply torn by the heartache.

Something else, though…something extremely significant in our world was being birthed.  I honestly believe God gave me our calling to adoption, at this very time specifically, to give me something huge to trust God for — to watch Him move mountains and grow my faith, and nurture our little ones to follow hard after God.

God began our call to adoption with three words — surrender, obedience, and provision.  Surrender because we thought we were done having children. We didn’t have room or money.  Obedience because He called us to bring a little girl from China into our family.  He had a bigger plan, a greater purpose, and He wanted us to align with Him.  And provision because it would take the miraculous to accomplish such a thing.

We had many hurdles to trip us up that year, but losing a job in this particular timing trumped it all.  Our months of waiting for our referral ended for the other families in December.  They all received beautiful precious pictures of their babies waiting for them to come bring them home.  Joy overflowed for them.  We had to hold our breath and wonder.  Fear intertwined with pain and faith.  Our referral was unable to be received, because no job according to China means no adoption.

I was utterly confused before God.  I grieved a stillborn adoption, asking God if this was only meant to be an illustration, a metaphor, or a test of our faith.  Was God just giving us His Word for now, and fruition would be at another time, another baby, or did we just miss it?  I sobbed on my knees in prayer.  I so wanted to understand what God was teaching us, how we could survive it, and if God would come through.

The short story for now is that He did.  In the very final hour that we could receive this precious little girl, God made the way.  God opened the door for exactly what was needed.  And on her first birthday, we were able to see her face.

The Jews, God’s people in Old Testament history,  have a tradition of retelling the stories to recall God’s faithfulness.  At the same time every year, they have festivals called feasts that bring back to mind who God is, what He has done, and to remember they are His.  It is worship, relationship, connection.

I believe I’m in one of those months right now.  There are again mountains needing to be moved, and I know the God that can move them.  How do I know?  Because He has done it before, and He can do it again.  Remember that time seven years ago when we had no job?  Remember that anguish of soul that God touched with the miraculous?

As I sit in awe of Him, I feel like Mary, pondering things in her heart.  Go back a little further.  My heart swells with joy as I recall December 2001.  Ten years ago this month, Todd graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary with two masters degrees: a masters of divinity and masters in counseling.

God’s provision outpoured once again, as I was able to stay at home to have babies and raise our little ones.  Todd went to school full time, and worked odd jobs like bus driving, a coffee shop, a school janitor, landscaping, and with that there were others who came alongside us and supported us.

In the end, we had survived countless miracles…sometimes barely getting by, or praying our hearts out, but we graduated debt free.  Glory to God!!!!!  And to think that when we started I thought I would need to work full time and not be able to stay home to nurture my babies.  God gave my prayer partner, Denise, the scripture that the oil will not run out, and He fulfilled it!!!  That’s my God!!!

Incredible joy outshines my weary soul this morning.  I am so tired of walking this road that has devastated me in so many ways.  I have had many moments of wondering how I could take another step.  But God!  I don’t want to miss out on what God is going to do!!!  Have mercy!!  Help me get there, God!!

We can’t see it yet, but I am assured that this God who brought us through seminary debt free, this God that brought our daughter home and provided every penny, is also the God that will carry us through unemployment, recovery from addiction, and restoration of our hearts.  How big is your God?