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“It don’t matter at all where you played before, California’s a brand new game”

 The camp years are going to be a challenge to write about. Many people reading this blog were a part of our life then and are still today. We still live in the same community and it’s very likely I’ll run into someone in the grocery store and I’ll stand there at the check-out wondering if they read the latest post. And we have family and friends who still work for the organization that Dave worked for. . .

But there are terribly important things that we learned through the years we spent at camp. And some of our former co-workers have become very dear friends. They’ve been through fire with us and we are closer because of it. Good and bad, the camp years changed me.  

* * * * *

There is a season of our life that I look back on with pleasure.

For two wonderful summers, back when we were teachers, we left Southern California and headed for a little camp outside Cascade, Idaho where Dave was the director.

We had about a dozen regular staff, and a new round of volunteers came every week to cook, counsel, do music and speak.

Dave and I and our two little ones at the time lived in a two-room cabin with a half bath. We ate every meal with the campers and staff. Took showers in the staff bathrooms. Played board games late at night in the dining hall.

We have stories of bears, bobcats and moose from those days. Stories of activities that seemed like a good idea at the time, but really were total insanity. Adventures in hiking, swimming in the mountain lake, feeding chipmunks out of our hands.

Of course, Dave’s work was exhausting. Depending on what other staff were around, his job could be anything from chopping wood to running game time to preaching. Sometimes all. And there was plenty of conflict. But nothing that left you scarred.

Many of the people we worked with had known Dave since he was a little boy. They had watched him grow up. Some had driven 700 miles each way to see us get married. They were proud of him.

And I remember feeling so very loved.

* * * * *

I was discouraged that Dave had to give up seminary. But it had to be done.

My mom told me at some point that year that the school of hard knocks is often better preparation for ministry than the classroom.

I knew she was right. But after a decade of dealing with chronic pain and then addiction, I thought we were wrapping up that form of education.

When Dave was told about the director position at a camp an hour away, I was hopeful and yet apprehensive. I wanted to go back to camp ministry. I had some concerns. Dave had some concerns. We prayed, asking God to close the door if it wasn’t for us.

But God kept opening doors and within a couple of months, we were moving. And Dave was now both director and program director at a camp in Poulsbo, Washington.

* * * * *

I have been a frustrated employee many times. Just in the past few weeks, I’ve not exactly been pleasant, or had pleasant words to say about my job — exhausted from long hours and tight deadlines and covering vacations. I’ve been pushed far beyond my regular working hours, and I haven’t been very happy about it.

But at the end of the day, even in the busiest times, we all go home. Hopefully to be rejuvenated. Sometimes not. And I’m sitting down to dinner with my family, not my boss and his family. And I can ignore the phone. And I can take walks freely. And no one in my neighborhood cares about how I spend my time.

I have also had moments of frustration and even anger about things my husband has dealt with as an employee. I’ve crabbed about benefits, raises, promotions, office politics, and anything that just rubbed me the wrong way hearing it second hand.

But I have never had access to the boss’s wife — neither mine, nor his — to vent.

* * * * *

When I was a kid, my family flew around the world to live in a strange country. We had read stories of snakes, and jungles and tropical diseases. In my imagination, we were going to live in grass huts without electricity or running water.

I think that’s why our new life didn’t shock me. It was so much better than I had dreamed.

We lived in a house, with electricity, with ceiling fans. And the food was different, but it was good.

But there was a culture. Not just the native culture — the missionary culture — that we had to learn. There was a way of doing things that had been going on long before we arrived . . .

. . . I used to be jealous of the beautiful hospital compound in the jungle, three hours away from our home in Chittagong. To me, it was a haven, far from the smells, sounds and stares in the city. Acres of tamed jungle where kids rode their bikes and climbed trees and swam, separating only for the forced siesta in the afternoons.

But the “culture” was even stronger there. Where you lived next door to your co-workers in a secluded compound.

I know now what I had only the faintest inkling of then, that the jungle compound with its American-style houses, and darwans (unarmed guards) who carried messages to your friends about meeting at the pool at rest-time, and where you played Capture the Flag in the darkest night was not a haven.

Because sometimes the culture is a faulty facade that covers pain: disappointment, anger, loneliness, bitterness and even horrific sin.

* * * * *

I have always envied people who don’t seem to care one bit what others think about them.

People who can deflect criticism because they have so much confidence in themselves . . . or in their calling . . . or in God . . . that words, looks, gossip —  like water off a duck’s back . . .

In 2004, the idea of living on a compound still held some charm for me. But looking back, I have to marvel at my hopes for our life at camp. For our marriage. For Dave.

We had stepped into a refiner’s fire.

“Enduring hardship as a pathway to peace”

When I have the opportunity to talk about our story publicly, I always preface it with a little disclaimer: everyone’s journey through life is different.

I always say that you have to listen to God yourself because everyone you ask will have an opinion. Every specialist. Every preacher. Every friend.

Yes, there are some universal truths. Biblical principles. Some words of wisdom. And yes, we need to talk to someone for support. But ultimately, you have to ask God what to do.

Because sometimes, forgiveness isn’t the thing that is needed.

There are consequences to sin. Sometimes forgiveness removes those consequences. And sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes, even when you forgive, the best place for the man is prison. Sometimes, you have to run away from the addict who beats you, for yourself and for precious children.

But that’s not my story.

God wasn’t telling me to escape.

He was calling me to endure.

* * * * *

It is critical to walk the path God has for you and not someone else’s.

No one who loves you would choose suffering as your path.

Except God.

Because sometimes, when you sing and pray, the water parts and you walk through on dry land and walls fall down and you escape the fiery furnace and chains fall off and you walk out free.

And sometimes, though you sing the same songs and pray the same prayers, your children die and your body is stricken with boils and you marry an unfaithful woman as a lesson for an unfaithful people and you are falsely accused and forgotten in a prison cell for years.

Only God knows which is your path.

And there are times He chooses paths for you that you cannot explain, let alone understand.

* * * * *

That summer was one of the hardest in my life.

In addition to dealing with addiction, rehab and recovery, we went five months without an income. We prayed helpless prayers. Sold things on eBay. Delivered newspapers. Tried commissioned sales. Applied for jobs and had interviews: Not enough experience. Overqualified. Position filled.

Late at night, I would browse the Internet, my searches reaching beyond Tacoma to anywhere.

Anywhere that we could have some sort of life together. Someplace to heal and recover and rebuild our family.

I began to pray for a place like that. Someplace where our living expenses would be low and we could recover financially. Someplace where the kids could enjoy a stress-free childhood. And someplace where Dave and I would be able to work on our relationship and heal from the heartaches of years.

* * * * *

Eighty-some years ago, when the land dried up and dust took over the fields and the banks called in their debts, the broken farmers talked of a place where they could work the land and raise food again, where their children could breathe, where the sun shone brightly in a blue sky and where water ran through valleys that produced fruit like you’ve never seen . . .

I think anyone in crisis who has an ounce of hope has a California.

. . . my California was  a camp.

Seven

I don’t really want to talk about forgiveness. I don’t like to talk about it because I’m not good at it.

And also, I’ve discovered forgiveness is quite controversial.

But before I leave the Year of Oprah for a while, I have to. Because one simple phrase kept me from throwing in the towel.

*****

When someone you love has hidden things from you for a long time, and it’s suddenly exposed, there isn’t just a single moment of pain. It’s more like back labor.

. . .  there is a particular kind of feeling that accompanies “back labor” . . . a pointed cowboy boot that kicks you right in the small of your back. At first it just hurts sharply, for a moment. But as the labor intensifies, the steel-toed kicks send you to the floor. And the time between contractions isn’t enough time to catch your breath.

With my first baby, this pain got to be so bad, I couldn’t stand upright. I would rock on my hands and knees, trying to keep the pressure of the baby away from the pain. The few minutes of rest between contractions was no relief. Barely time to cry.

*****

That’s where I was when my friend Laura called to check on me one day while Dave was still in rehab.

Kicked so hard repeatedly by the revelations of debts, doctors and pharmacies, each time worse than the last and building in intensity with no time to breathe — I literally could not stand. I had to talk to her from the floor where I was rocking back and forth.

But my friend Laura was a very, very wise woman. I think she knew that words are not always helpful. That sometimes it’s best to let people cry out their grief to God and just be there and say very little.

This was the only thing she said:

I ran across this verse this morning . . . and I think I should share it with you. If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him. (Luke 17:3-4) . . . that’s all I know, Deb.

By that point in my life, I had probably read through the Bible a dozen times. I grew up in the home of a Bible college professor turned Bible translator and missionary and seminary professor. I had received a Meritorious award for memorizing verses in AWANA. I had a minor in Biblical Studies. I beat my whole family in Bible trivia my freshman year of college — yes, even my Dad! I thought there wasn’t a verse or story in Scripture that I hadn’t heard.

But at that moment, I felt like I had never heard those words before. I actually thought she had it confused with the 70 times 7 passage. Or maybe it was from that part of the Gospels that is always prefaced with “not found in some manuscripts.”

If he sins against you seven times a day . . . forgive him.

*****

There are a lot of books out there about forgiveness. Lots of opinions. Lots of limitations and provisos. 

But I’m inclined to believe Jesus said all there is to be said on forgiveness. He gave us parables and examples. He said forgive as you’ve been forgiven. He said if you don’t, the Father won’t forgive you. And He spelled it out in numbers.

And He knew even being that specific wasn’t going to be enough for us. That we would count up our hurts all the way to seven per day and even to four hundred and ninety as a lifetime limit. That we’d tack on a lot of exceptions and rules. That we’d write books about it because it’s easier to study than to do. Just like the Pharisees, we want to know how far we have to go. . .

Seven times a day . . . seventy times seven . . . as I have forgiven you.

Maybe the problem is that we don’t really see ourselves in need of being forgiven. If we did, we’d know exactly what forgive as I have forgiven you really means. Maybe if we really had that kind of perspective on forgiveness, we’d understand that forgive as I have forgiven you means forgiveness isn’t limited by man-made boundaries.

Maybe that’s why forgiveness without limitations is one of the last things Jesus demonstrated for us as He died on the cross. Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do. 

Forgiveness in the middle of unimaginable, body-breaking, soul-crushing pain.

*****

Addicts relapse. . . more often than not.

Sometimes several times before true recovery.

Seven times. . . that’s what the chemical dependency professionals told Dave that summer. Seven times is average.

* * * * *

In I Corinthians 13, St. Paul finally removes the numbers from the equation:

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Forgiveness without limits.


“All the voices calling out to me”

Moms do a lot of driving.

There’ve been days when I’ve put a hundred miles on the car even though most of my trips are only a few miles. School, the other school, and then the next one, work, the store, the other store that has the thing I couldn’ t find at the first one, rehearsals, practices, back to work for a meeting, church, picking up friends, dropping off the outgrown toys and clothes at Goodwill, running back out to get the poster board for the project . . . hours and hours on the road.

* * * * *

Last year, I got into the habit of listening to Dave Ramsey. He’s on twice out here where I live, and I’d get in nearly all of his show during my after school and evening life route.

Lots of good, sound advice. Practical, common sense “just like Grandma would give.”

But he’s a bit on the cocky side, to put it mildly. And sometimes the tone of his advice is really harsh. Snap judgments about people in a 3 minute conversation.

Every now and then, I’d hear in the voice of a caller a kind of confusion, pain and fear I’ve known myself. But being the tactful bulldozer he often is, Dave would jump on the “he’s an idiot” bandwagon and tell the listener her husband was irresponsible and she’s put up with him long enough. He just needs to stop being stupid.

And I’d yell at the radio, Dave! Get off your soapbox. Her husband is hiding something major — like an addiction — and she doesn’t know it yet and you can’t see it, but show a little compassion, please!

After a few of those, I couldn’t listen anymore.

Now, I’m not anti-Dave Ramsey (I live with my own financial counselor husband Dave, which means we’ve had no credit cards for 3.5 years. We drive cars that scream “this is what No Car Payment looks like.” And we have been chipping away at our debt snowball.) . . .

. . . it’s just that massive and destructive irresponsibility in a person who was once reasonably responsible is a major indicator that something is wrong. It’s not about the budget.  It’s not about responsibility.

I tried the just be more responsible method of “encouragement” for many, many years. It never worked. Because stupid wasn’t the problem.

* * * * *

I didn’t know about Dave Ramsey when the kids were little and I was doing my life route. School, the YMCA, AWANA, the park, the store with the unwieldy shopping cart that seats four, the bank with a drive thru, the doctor, the pharmacy with a drive thru, the coffee place with a drive thru, McDonald’s . . . with a drive thru. . .

What I tuned the radio to in those days was music to soothe the chaos in the car.

Radio Disney for the kids when the sun was shining and all seemed right with the world.

Christian radio when my heart was so full of pain that I needed constant bolstering just to make it through the day.

So many drives through tears.

A miracle I never had an accident . . .

. . . the Voice of Truth  still makes me drive around the block again, just so I can hear it all.

The first time I ever heard it was when Dave was in rehab. I was sitting somewhere near the front of the church. It was the special music by our worship team. I’ve never fought so hard against weeping in my life.

It was a song about my Dave.

About so many discouraging voices, primarily his own, telling him he was a loser and would never be the man he’s supposed to be. And some days when I felt like I just couldn’t stand it anymore, my voice was right there, too. Another voice reminding him of all the times he’d tried before and failed.

At that moment (and every time I’ve heard the song since) I knew it was God telling me “Deb, you don’t know the plans I have for Dave. This is for My glory.”

* * * * *

We’re so quick to give up on people. To see only failure. To peg them as a loser in a 3 minute conversation.

But sometimes there’s a story God is writing. A story that’s kind of hard to believe.

Sometimes it takes patience we don’t have.  Endurance we don’t feel . . .

* * * * *

John Ortberg calls this kind of end-of-your-rope despair a “God-sized” challenge — something we can’t do without God’s help — in a book he wrote called If You Want to Walk On Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.

I’ve been reading it this week . . . before my mom-taxi shift begins. And it reminded me.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Oh,what I would do to have
the kind of faith it takes
To climb out of this boat I’m in
Onto the crashing waves
To step out of my comfort zone
Into the realm of the unknown
Where Jesus is,
And he’s holding out his hand

But the waves are calling out my name
and they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times
I’ve tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me
time and time again
“Boy, you’ll never win,
You you’ll never win

But the Voice of truth tells me a different story
the Voice of truth says “do not be afraid!”
and the Voice of truth says “this is for My glory”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of truth

Oh, what I would do
to have the kind of strength it takes
To stand before a giant
with just a sling and a stone
Surrounded by the sound
of a thousand warriors
shaking in their armor
Wishing they’d have had the strength to stand

But the giant’s calling out
my name and he laughs at me
Reminding me of all the times
I’ve tried before and failed
The giant keeps on telling me
time and time again
“Boy you’ll never win,
you’ll never win.”

But the voice of truth tells me a different story
the Voice of truth says “do not be afraid!”
and the Voice of truth says “this is for My glory”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of truth

But the stone was just the right size
to put the giant on the ground
and the waves they don’t seem so high
from on top of them looking down
I will soar with the wings of eagles
when I stop and listen to the sound of Jesus
singing over me

“Voice of Truth” — Casting Crowns

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