talk to your kids about drugs. no, really.

Marion Post Wolcott, 1940, Library of Congress Collection

I hear a lot of jokes about prescription drug abuse. Nearly every day, actually. 

People think it’s funny to tease about being high after a dental visit. Or to jokingly ask if you can “score me some Vicodin.”

I’m not judging. I’ve made plenty of insensitive jokes myself about serious things.

We joke about drugs because of course none of us would really be addicts, would we? . . .  we’re good Christian people . . .

But it’s really not funny at all.

Because I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a recovering addict’s story start with I was raised in a good Christian home. 

* * * * *

School starts next week. 

My four kids are going to four different schools: one will be in 5th grade at an elementary school, one in 7th at a middle school, one a freshman in high school and one a senior in high school taking classes at a junior college.

I pray for God’s protection on them. And for them to choose their friends wisely.

We talk with them. About being kind. About respect. About purity. About watching for cars. About responsibility. About honesty.

And about drugs — street drugs and prescriptions.

Public school, Christian school, home school. Our children are not immune.

Teenagers whose parents talk to them regularly about the dangers of drugs are 42% less likely to use drugs than those whose parents don’t, yet only a quarter of teens report having these conversations. Read More

* * * * *

I know not everyone who takes prescription drugs becomes an addict.

I’ve taken them myself: cough medicine with Codeine so I could sleep when I had bronchitis, Vicodin after surgery, Valium so my ridiculously claustrophobic imagination could endure an MRI, steroids to reduce swelling in my jaw . . .

Sometimes people are compelled remind me of this. That people take drugs for legitimate reasons. I know they do.

Not everyone will be injured or die when they are in a car accident, either. And yet we take precautions: we faithfully buckle up our seat belts, require classes before someone can drive, engineer cars for better safety.

In my opinion, you can’t be too careful about drugs.

And now drug overdose kills more people in this country than car accidents do.

It’s probably time to take some precautions.

* * * * *

Some of us are old enough to remember when a sports injury meant ice, heat and ibuprofen. A broken bone meant just a little more than a normal dose of Tylenol, Benadryl for the itchy cast and rest.

Today it’s common for a teen to be prescribed Vicodin (hydrocodone) and Percocet (oxycontin) for injuries and even dental work.

More and more often, a kid’s first taste of narcotics comes from a legitimate prescription — for them.

No parent I know would hand their teenager heroin and tell them how to use it.

And yet every day good parents give their kids drugs that are just as potent, just as addictive and just as dangerous.

“I don’t need to talk to a gymnasium full of kids,” said Keith Brown, assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement office in Albuquerque. “I need to talk to gymnasiums full of parents. They’re the ones we need to educate.” Read more

How many of us really stop to think about what we’re giving our kids or if it’s even necessary? 

And what about the drugs we’re taking ourselves?

A few years back, Dave had a couple of teeth pulled. Rightly concerned about taking pain pills — too many recovering addicts relapse after a trip to the dentist — Dave asked what he could do instead.

“Oh, just ibuprofen,” said the surgeon. “You’ll be a bit uncomfortable, but ibuprofen manages your pain just fine. I don’t know why we always think people need narcotics.”

I was told the same thing by a different surgeon just a couple of months ago.

We’ve bought a lie.

And are we really willing to risk such a high price for relief from discomfort?

According to the FDA one in seven teenagers admits to abusing prescription drugs to get high in the past year, and prescription painkillers are now teenagers’ top choice after alcohol and pot.  The problem is, teenagers are unlikely to understand how highly addictive these drugs are. After all, if mom takes them for her knee injury, they can’t be that big a deal, right? — Forbes, August 27, 2012

The most commonly abused prescription drugs by teens are the pain reliever Vicodin and the stimulant Adderall. NIDA

* * * * *

Sometimes people get into trouble because they were brought up in it.

She never had a father. He was abused. His dad went to prison. She was abandoned. She grew up in a gang infested neighborhood. He’s been a Hollywood star since he was a little boy . . .

Of course, we say. How could we expect anything different . . .

So it’s a little terrifying. 

This idea that you can try to do all the right things, raise them in the right neighborhood, give them Truth, pray for them and even talk to them about the dangers of drugs — and alcohol . . . and in the end, they still could become addicts. 

Because you can only shepherd their hearts for so long and then they choose.

Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. James 1:14

Some of you reading this know this too well already.

You know it’s not always about dad or mom or neighborhood or even friends . . .

But you never stop teaching, loving, praying.

Because there is this other thing we know. This promise. Training up your child does matter.

And it’s often the joyous end of the story.

That moment the addict who grew up in a loving Christian home hits rock bottom and cries out to the God who loves him.

Words of Truth from his childhood flood his mind and he reaches out for help.

I hear their stories all the time. Prodigals do come home.

Teach your kids the truth. Not just about theology. About life.

Guide them with wisdom and advice. Start now. Kids are exposed to more than we imagine, earlier than we think.

Listen to them.

Know them.

Love them when they fail.

Seek forgiveness and forgive yourself when you fail.

Pray. Keep praying. And never give up.

My child, don’t lose sight of common sense and discernment.
Hang onto them, for they will refresh your soul.
They are like jewels on a necklace.
They will keep you safe on your way, and your feet will not stumble.
Proverbs 3:21-23

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. James  5:16b

Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. Luke 18:1

* * * * *

Additional Resources:

Join a local Moms in Prayer (formerly Moms in Touch) to pray together for your kids and the kids in your community

More information and links about prescription drug abuse:

Straight from the government:

How to tell if your child is abusing drugs:

 * * * * *

silent alarms

Bank corner. Laurel, Mississippi. Russell Lee 1939,
Library of Congress Collection

I’ve run into our past again.

Not just once, but repeatedly.

I want to write about these meetings, but I wrestle with the words for days and weeks until I choke them out.

It’s funny, isn’t it? How something innocently trips a wire and sets off alarms no one hears but you.

Someone must hear it . . . But no. The world hears nothing. Sees nothing.

* * * * *

The first came up in a meeting at work. I was sure the alarm showed on my face, so I looked down, writing nothing on a creative brief.

Ah, relief! — I didn’t have to write this story that created an instant knot in my throat. And then, weeks later, I did.

Edit this and rewrite it with more emotion. 

The story was about a little girl whose daddy went to prison for credit card fraud he’d committed to support his prescription drug abuse.

The hours I spent in that job were a George Bailey-esque angel journey through what might  have been.

Even now, looking back at an old email exchange with a lawyer, I feel a little faint.

At the time, I didn’t understand. All I could see was a debt that was being repaid by garnishing his wages . . . all of them at once . . . leaving our family in poverty.

Some would say, and did say, he deserved it.

That we, the kids and I, deserved it, they would never say. And yet, our lot was tied together . . .

The debt was paid off by God’s grace and provision within a few months, but we were left to wonder if there was more coming. And to this day, we don’t know.

I wrote. For hours. With a box of kleenex.

* * * * *

Deserving . . . a filter I must constantly apply to my fundraising writing. Will donors see the person as deserving? Of their dollars? Of their sympathy? Of God’s grace?

The wire is tripped in a conference room by someone whose vision and passion for outcasts pierces my heart:

Jesus came to set prisoners free. And all of us have been in a prison of some sort: anger, abuse, greed, discontent, unforgiveness . . .

We nod in response. We believe that not one of us is deserving of God’s grace.

There is a debt hanging over our heads and we are blissfully oblivious. All of us fall short. All. Not just law-violators. Not just cheaters. Not just drunks. All.

. . . but now we’re back to what is marketable. What Christians will respond to.

People respond to transformation, someone says.

* * * * *

Another story comes across my desk.

A family leaves Southern California in search of a new life in Washington. What they find is no work, welfare and rain.

But can you make it compelling? they say.

Easy. . . It’s my story, too . . .

I haven’t been back to Tacoma alone in eight years and it’s only an hour away.

I am surprised, after so many years in the country, to realize we’d been such city-dwellers. Our old house is just blocks from downtown.

Curious, I take a side street and drive to the house.

How many times did I walk up and down these streets, pushing a heavy double stroller, coaxing my older kids and bribing them with a popsicle, worrying about what we would eat, about how we’d pay the rent?

I see myself — she’s so young, so thin (but thinks she’s fat), and has so much hardship to go through still. I feel like she’s not even me. A lifetime ago.

How have you experienced transformation?

The question takes me by surprise. I’m not prepared for this.

And yet I am.

Down the street from the room where we sit is the bank with the great, ornate, old-world hall where I sat small and pleading, weak with misery, eight years ago . . .

The manager places stop payments at no fee. She closes the account and sets up a new one in my name only. She gives me a small line of credit. The kindness I received from a corporation still astounds me.

Up a few blocks is the unemployment office where Dave reported in every week. Where he waited in line with the rest of Tacoma’s poor. Where month after month the job search was fruitless.

The sun pours through the tall windows, and I think how to answer this big question.

Transformation is not just something I market. We have lived it. Dave and I.

We are not the same people who came to this city ten years ago. We are not the same people who thought they were experiencing rock-bottom right here, just blocks away. We are not the same people who left a ministry years now ago, in shame.

I know real transformation is possible. I say. I have seen it in my husband. He is nearly five years sober and a changed man.

Amen, they say. And I am freed by their affirmation.

So I tell them that I am still in the process of transformation. A transformation that began right here in this city when a good little Baptist family in seminary was blindsided by addiction. A transformation that is still going on.

I tell them that I understand now what I didn’t even then — that there is no difference between me and an addict. We are all saved by God’s grace and mercy.

I tell them I’m still discovering that I am a sinner. That though there were times I thought I was better than Dave, I really wasn’t.

I tell them that my sins of attitude, of speech, are “acceptable” ones. The ones we find not as repulsive as dirty-and-sleeping-on-the-streets drunkenness. And yet I know that they are.

We are all addicted to something, says one . . . .

. . . . I’ve read your blog, says the other. It’s why he wanted to meet me.

Keep writing, they say. There is not enough written about addiction.

I am astonished. They do not know I have been overwhelmed with this burden of writing hard things. Pestered with feelings of worthlessness. That I’ve been shrinking from the fight to be heard in a noisy world.

And another wire is tripped.

This time, however, the alarm that sounds is just a still, small voice. A voice I strained to hear in this very city. The voice that told me to stay when I longed to run. The voice that tells me someday this will all work together for your good and for My glory. 

And He says, You see, I told you so.

dreams of gold

Boys’ sack race, Russell Lee, 1940, Library of Congress

Every time the summer Olympics roll around, I’m reminded of what I am not.

I’m fairly certain my parents knew early on that I was not destined to be a great gymnast. I wasn’t graceful, or bouncy or fearless — or athletic — at all.

Like all little girls in 1976, I’d been mesmerized by Nadia Comaneci.

But I must have forgotten my dreams when the Olympics were over . . . because in elementary school, I dabbled in baton twirling, kickball, basketball, swimming and soccer. (In case you were wondering, I was good at none of them.)

For some inexplicable reason I don’t recall, dreams of gymnastics perfection revived in the 6th grade.

Suddenly, I was determined to work very hard and dedicate my life to the sport. (Never mind that I was way too old to be starting the training for Olympic gymnastics.) I began a class with girls half my size and age and practiced every day.

But there was a problem with my plan . . .  My family was moving to the other side of the world.

I was 11 years old. I told my parents they were ruining my life and destroying any chance I had for greatness by carting me off to a gymnastics-less third world country.

They didn’t give in . . . apparently the need for a Bible in the common language of a billion people outweighed my dreams of acrobatic stardom . . .

But while I was mourning the loss of the gold medal I would never win, God was shaping my life, directing my steps.

In Bangladesh, that regretfully gymnastics free country, my brothers became athletes and military geniuses. And my sister and I began to make up stories. And act. And sing. And play the piano just enough to call ourselves musical.

I attended my first writers’ master class when I was in the 8th grade. High school was by correspondence from a stateside university. I wrote and wrote and wrote.

There was literally one program a day to watch on TV, no computer, and not much for an American teen girl in an Islamic country to do. So I read — everything my Canadian-missionary-auntie-teacher-nurse-writer handed to me. Dickens. Lots and lots of Dickens.

By the time I was 15, I was “well-traveled.” I had a context for history and a compassion for poverty. And I began a lifetime habit of journaling my thoughts and prayers.

I was in training. Intensive training for what I would become. I’m not a retired gymnast. I’m a writer. My parents’ decision, it turns out, did not ruin my potential for success.

I honestly have no idea how long I harbored small regrets about the-Mary-Lou-Retton-I-could-have-been.  Possibly until my daughter came along. I did everything I could to make her a gymnast: starting with tumbling and ballet in preschool . . . And she would have none of it. All she wanted to do was sing and act out stories for our cat.

* * * * *

I’m thankful, now, that my life-long dreams didn’t rest on my sense of spatial relations. I will never step foot out of bounds and lose my shot at a piece of the glory.

No one will ever announce to the world that my performance was “Disastrous! There goes the gold!”

Better still, I will never age out.

I may never top the bestseller charts or even gather much of a tribe, but I am a writer. And God has directed my path in such a way that I’ve become one.

* * * * *

I’ve been pondering these things . . . watching the Games.

It isn’t gymnastics this year, but distance running that captivates me.

Athletes from the poorest nations on earth, disadvantaged to our Western eye, compete side by side with our highly trained athletes on a level playing field. 

They may not have had a gym, or a pool, or a tennis court, but they had fields and paths and deserts and jungles in which to run.

Who would have dreamed that something so terrible as fleeing for your life from danger as a little boy in Sudan would prepare you to be a marathon runner?

A simple footrace grips my heart, and gives me so much hope.

Sometimes, when your family has struggled through the mess of addiction or divorce or some other life trauma that earns your family the label “dysfunctional,” you worry about your children. How they will turn out.

You beat yourself up about the life they didn’t have. You were an addict. You lost your job. You were homeless. You had to work and give up homeschooling. You made too many promises. You stifled their noisy, childish play. You snapped and scolded when you should have embraced and applauded. You were preoccupied with your own troubles. Not all the time. But enough to leave a weight of guilt . . .

. . . we talk, my friend and I. She feels this weight, too.

And she reminds me of terribly dysfunctional families whose children turned out not only great, but epic. Like Joseph who was sold by his jealous brothers into slavery.

She reminds me that God needs people who have been wounded. People who understand deep hurt because they’ve been there. People who aren’t afraid of messy lives others would avoid.

I believe that.

I want my kids to be moved with compassion for outcasts the way Jesus was.

I want them to be a testimony that God redeems the past no matter how ugly it’s been.

I want them to understand that forgiveness is as much a real and healing choice as it is a point of theology — because they have witnessed it in their own home.

I want them to have love that suffers long, hopes and believes.

After all, we are not training them for a moment in the spotlight, but for endurance.

We cannot change what life has been for our children. And we do not know how the past will shape their future. But we can pray that God will refine the adversity of their lives, both imagined and real, into gold.

* * * * *

. . . endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us . . . Romans 5:4-5

We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.
Proverbs 16:9

I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race . . .the wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. Ecclesiastes 9:11

But he knows where I am going.
And when he tests me,
I will come out as pure as gold.
Job 23:10

* * * * *