A conversation about Purpose in recovery

Restoring a sense of purpose will help a recovering addict stay sober. They need to find where they fit, how they can contribute, and be able to participate in society.

Our third video for National Recovery Month: Purpose. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines purpose as: “Conducting meaningful daily activities such as a job, volunteerism, family caretaking, creative endeavors, and the independence, income, and resources to participate in society.” Here’s what Dave (and I) had to say about that:

Having a regular routine was a priority for Dave in recovery.  Because he lost his job, and because of his struggle with addiction, he had to find a new line of work.

Fortunately, Dave’s new line of work proved to be fairly rewarding and built up his already innate/inherited ability to talk to anyone in the world. Six years of work as a debt counselor and then managing counselors proved excellent training for parenting teenagers/college students!

We talk more in the video about leading a 12 Step recovery group, and I go off on a tangent about Sheryl Sandberg and what is one of my new favorite books: Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. 

Also, if you’re looking for ways to help families in crisis, I’ve got all kinds of ideas for you.

Thanks for watching!

Where you need to be and where you are most needed

We won’t always feel the thrill of this is the thing I was made to do. When it no longer sparks joy, we will wish we could throw away our calling like the jeans we’ve been hanging onto for someday. Just because you are called to something doesn’t mean it will be easy. In fact, I can say with total confidence that it won’t be. If it was, we wouldn’t need a power greater than ourselves. 

We should go with our lives where we most need to go and where we are most needed.

Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark

Sometimes, we wonder what to do with the stuff of our past. The things we did, or we were, or experienced. Sometimes we bury it, sometimes we run from it, sometimes, we let it bury us.

If you are working toward freedom from the past, freedom from shame, freedom from fear, freedom from chains, you will in time come to a crossroads. Call it letting go, call it forgiveness, call it realization that you are no longer bound, but at some point, even if that point seems so far away now, it will become possible for you to forget what lies behind. 

I’ve heard that phrase a lot. Most of the time, the person saying seems to be forgetting that the speaker was speaking of his successes and the laurels he refused to rest on. Because he never forgot that he was the chief of sinners. Are we really ever allowed to forget who we once were? And such were some of you seems to be a cornerstone of grace. Forgetting where we came from tends to make us holier than thou.

So what do we do with it? With the thing we’ve been forgiven for, the thing we’ve been healed from, the thing we’ve gotten through?

Some of us are given rest, I believe that. Quiet healing. Peace at last.

But some of us are called to speak up, to light the path, and let our lives become a means of encouragement. Maybe we’re just a few steps ahead of someone who is desperate to know which way to go. Or maybe we’re in a place of peace someone is doubting even exists — just knowing you were once where they are now will give them hope that their life won’t always be as dark as it is at present.

But I believe this, too, we know when we are called. We don’t have to wonder.

In the stillness when the TV goes off, when the people are asleep, when the phone rests out of reach, you feel it. In the moment when the preacher is preaching and the burn radiates in your chest, it rises up in your mind and you see it. In the task when the Eric Liddell-like rush of When I run, I feel His pleasure overwhelms you, you hear it.

A calling doesn’t let go of you. Oh, you can suppress it for a while, and you will very likely doubt it — maybe even for a long time after you’ve stepped into it. But if you don’t answer it, calling hangs onto you like a blackberry bramble, pricking you every now and then with a spiked thorn. It’ll quit bothering you, of course, if you develop a callus. But if you feel the sharp sting, and you pay attention to it, the poke will lead you to where you are most needed.

How do you know where you are most needed?

Well, honestly, sometimes, you’re asked. But more often, especially if you are the gentle or reticent sort, you have to suck up your fears and raise your hand. And sometimes, the thing you are resisting the most is the very thing you are being called to do.

And for some of us, the stuff of our past is shaping our calling. People going through hardship need to know they aren’t alone. It helps to know there is someone out there who gets it.

That doesn’t mean we have to launch a ministry, though that might be what you are being called to. We don’t have to start a business, though that also could be it. But more than likely, we just need to notice the need around us: the hard place someone is going through that is a place we’ve known well; the thing that almost killed us, but here we are, still breathing; the darkness that consumed us for a time, and no one would know it if we didn’t say a word. Someone is in need of the hope you have to offer them just by your existence.

We’re stepping out into the unknown when we agree to open up the past and let it become hope for others. Sure, our discomfort might mean we don’t belong, but it could also mean we’re in the right place.

We won’t always feel the thrill of this is the thing I was made to do. When it no longer sparks joy, we will wish we could throw away our calling like the jeans we’ve been hanging onto for someday. Just because you are called to something doesn’t mean it will be easy. In fact, I can say with total confidence that it won’t be. If it was, we wouldn’t need a power greater than ourselves. 

But sometimes, when you look around you in that space you are compelled to fill, you notice how few are called to it and how much you are depended on in that way no longer makes you want to run away. You are there just exactly because of who you are and what you’ve been through and not in spite of it — you, with all your imperfections, fears, and doubts.

You are the one who is needed and you know beyond reason that you need to be there.

Seven Reasons to Hope- a free ebook for you

Join our subscriber list and get your FREE copy of Seven Reasons to Hope
HEY! I finally finished a book! And to celebrate me actually finishing a book and Dave’s 10th anniversary of freedom, we are giving it away FREE to everyone who subscribes this month.

Join our subscriber list and get your FREE copy of Seven Reasons to Hope

HEY! I finally finished a book! And to celebrate me actually finishing a book and Dave’s 10th anniversary of freedom, we are giving it away FREE to everyone who subscribes this month.

It’s not just a bookmark. Nope. It’s a 59-page ebook.

I know… I’m so excited to share it with you!

This quick read includes seven short chapters, hope-filled quotes, a prayer for you, some questions for reflection, and more.

Please send me Seven Reasons to Hope

Why I wrote Seven Reasons to Hope

More than 2 million people in our country struggle with prescription drug addiction. Chances are, you feel the pain of it — or of some kind of addiction — right in your own family.

I was moved to write Seven Reasons to Hope by the heartache of hopelessness that clings mercilessly to addiction. It grabs onto both the one who is struggling, and the one who watches helplessly as addiction consumes someone they love.

But I absolutely believe that whatever the addiction is, it doesn’t have to be the end of the story. It wasn’t for Dave, and it wasn’t for the dozens of people I’ve interviewed over the years of writing for nonprofits who came out of addiction.

We need stories that give us hope

In every story is that someone held tight to hope that this wasn’t the end for them. A grandma, a parent, a wife — someone never gave up praying and believing. If that’s you, you know it’s a hard place to be. You are the reason I wrote this book. And if you’re struggling with addiction yourself, there’s hope here for you, too.

Here are a few excerpts:

When someone you love makes poor and destructive choices over and over until it becomes the pattern of their life, you run out of energy and patience to deal with them. It’s painful to let yourself stay positive only to be hit hard by disappointment again and again. You begin to really feel foolish and instinctively— even rightfully — you decide to protect yourself from devastating disappointment. It eases the pain to just accept they’ll never change….

*****

The trouble is, we’ve come to believe letting go of pills and alcohol has different rules from letting go of our own stuff. We believe breaking free from addiction and becoming a responsible adult should happen all at once – or at least within a reasonable amount of time….

*****

Dave and I are still together because when everything came crashing down and he hit rock bottom, and he was faced with the choice to either get clean or lose his family, he was willing to do it. And not just the hard work of getting sober, the humbling work of rebuilding his entire life from the ground up. And he wasn’t just willing, but committed to do it.

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There’s more to come…

While I was writing this little book, I realized I love the format so much more than blogging. I’ve been hoarding words for way too long, and it’s time to let them out there where they can maybe do some good.

And so, although I’m continuing to pursue traditional publishing for some other books, I have a series of little books like Seven Reasons to Hope to release this year online. If you’d like to know when they’re coming out, or if you just want to support my writing dreams (thanks mom & dad!) just click  on this big red button…

As a subscriber to my email list, you’ll get:

We promise not to take advantage of our access to your inbox and will only send things we believe you’ll appreciate as an Enduring & After reader.

That means: addiction & recovery resources and encouragement for people who are struggling with addiction, love someone who’s struggling, or want to be a part of the solution for the epidemic invading our communities and devastating people’s lives.

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The power of ‘Me Too’

Millions of people started raising a hand online on Sunday to say they’ve been assaulted, abused, harassed, and it’s still going.

Statistically, 91% are women.

I’ve heard another statistic, and I’m not sure I ever fully believed it until today when so many people noted their age at the time of assault.

It’s 1 in 4. Do you know it?

One in four women was sexually abused before age 18. 

Beyond the “Me Too’s” today there are people who cannot or will not step forward to be counted. Sometimes, as many have pointed out, they live with the abuser or will have to see them at work tomorrow.

Here are some other stats:

  • 90% of assaults that occur on college campuses are not reported
  • Only 12% of child sexual abuse cases are reported to authorities

Why? Why don’t the majority of survivors report the crime?

In the comments section of any article or post about someone stepping forward years after abuse or assault, you’ll read the same questions over and over and over. Why didn’t you step forward? What took you so long? Why now? These are the “nice” questions. (Really, if you spend 5 minutes perusing the comments sections of these articles you’ll get a good grasp of why. People say absolutely horrible things to and about survivors.)

I think for most women I know who stepped forward later in life there are three major reasons they didn’t do so before: context, confidence, and consequence.

  1. Context: when your own children reach the age you were when you were abused, you realize exactly how young you were, how innocent, and how absolutely not at fault you were. Up to that point, you probably told yourself — or were told — a lot of lies.
  2. Confidence: when you reach a point of security or have enough support to step forward with your story you get braver. I know a whole group of women who finally stepped forward in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. It’s a thing.
  3. Consequence: survivors weigh the personal cost of reporting. Investigations, interviews, new investigators, more interviews, testifying in court, being questioned — graphically, media interviews, public hostility, family hostility, shunning. The idea of devoting years of your life to something you wish you could forget but the wheels of justice are slow requires intensity and courage. Especially if you’re fighting a powerful perpetrator or institution.

Somewhere between 85-90% survivors of sexual assault/abuse knew the attacker*. 

It takes serious guts to raise your hand — especially if the perpetrator is well-liked, well-known, and/or well-connected. When a young woman no one’s ever heard of takes on the likes of Mr. Powerful and Charming, his defenders come out in droves, with pitchforks, to verbally assault a woman whose only “offense” is that she finally spoke up. Or she spoke with a tone. Or named people who were complicit. Or made people uncomfortable with her justifiable wrath.

It’s what happens.

Whether it’s Hollywood or a Baptist missionary agency, a massive east coast public university or a private southern California Christian college. Same, same, same.

She kept quiet to protect her career. 

Did you read that one? God knows how many people have kept quiet to protect someone else’s. The doctor’s, the pastor’s, the teacher’s, the mission’s, the team’s? God’s? No really. As if God needed anyone to protect Him at her expense.

Why didn’t she speak up often has an easy answer: She did.

And someone told her it wasn’t what she thought it was, she should keep it to herself, she should forgive him, she should get over it, it’s just how it is, it happens to everyone, he’s just like that, boys will be boys, he’s really a good person, he’s done so much for Jesus, he’s so powerful you’ll never win, he didn’t mean anything by it, worse happened to me and I got over it, be thankful it wasn’t worse, what did you do, what were you wearing, you shouldn’t have gone, you’ll ruin his life.

Silence and shame.

Some survivors throw off that shame and just tell it like it is. And some have said their piece and that’s it. And some will go to the grave never having told a soul. But I’ll bet you every single one wants to be in charge of their own voice.

#MeToo is showing the world how common sexual assault, harassment, and abuse are — every generation. Incredible, isn’t it, that people can be bound together by a simple phrase. I hope we treat each other with a little more kindness and compassion because of it.

But I also hope we see the strength in numbers. The power of one really, crazy-strong person who has found her voice and braved the onslaught of nasty words and criticism and threats and loss to make a way for a few more courageous ones to stand beside her and pursue justice in the face of so much resistance and hate. (You know who you are, dear ones.)

And now Harvey Weinstein is finished. And he won’t be the last.

______________________

*85% of college women, 90% of children

Photo credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, [LC-USF33-020207-M1-9058-C]

dear mom who feels the darkness

May Your unfailing love be with us Lord, even as we put our hope in You. Psalm 33:22

***originally posted October 31, 2014***

It has not been a quiet week in our town.

Poulsbo, Washington sits on Liberty Bay 18 miles across the Puget Sound from Seattle. Our “Little Norway”is full of Scandinavian charm and actual Scandinavians.

On a clear day from various hills around town you can see the Olympic Mountains to the west and Mt. Ranier to the southeast. Woods hide flaws here. And tides mark time.

But this week, our hearts are raw from shock, fear, alarm, and now grief over yet another young person in our little town overcome by darkness.

As parents, we are shaken, and moved to pray deeply, from broken hearts, for our kids. To love them more clearly, more vocally. To give them hope that darkness passes.

Honestly, sometimes, it feels like it never will. The world outside is war, and disease, and death. And school is fear. And tragedy hits home.

Sometimes, it feels foolish to hope. Every day the headlines are worse.

They see it, too. They know. They can count. One every year, my son said.

* * * * *

Dear mom who feels the darkness,

I feel it, too. So heavy. A darkness consuming days, raining sorrow.

Inescapable dread, eclipsing joy.

It’s so hard to see in the dark. My eyes are old. And tired of seeing pain. I bet yours are, too.

But night does not last forever.

This is a promise we can trust. We have evidence every day as night passes into dawn.

Tell your children you love them and pray they will hear and embrace the truth that God loves them and has a purpose for their lives.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord . . . Jeremiah 29:11-14

And tell stories of when you were nearly overcome by darkness, but you reached out to God for help and he helped you even when the situation looked impossible.

“Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful . . . . the only kind of hope that is of any use in a battle is a hope that denies arithmetic.” G.K. Chesterton

And pray always, dear mom who feels the darkness, because you are fighting a spiritual battle for your children’s lives.

* * * * *

The silver rectangle in my hand with the cut out flower was a gift from a teacher for working in my

youngest son’s kindergarten classroom. She gave it to me for Christmas just weeks after my husband lost his job and we lost our home. It was the darkest time of my life.

 

Hope was the thing I needed most desperately. I needed to believe God had a future for me, for Dave, and for our family.

And He did.

But I could not see any of it for a very long time. Not just days, but weeks and months.

The walk through darkness does not have to end in despair. Cling to hope and pray through til the light dawns again.

May Your unfailing love be with us Lord, even as we put our hope in You. Psalm 33:22

* * * * *

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dear mom who wishes she could home school

Still, the beautiful ideal to me is a hard but simple farm life and a dining room table school. But that’s not my life at all . . .

I home schooled for a while.

While I did, we lived on one income. And my life was consumed with caring for four small children and making everything, including pudding, from scratch because it was cheaper. This family has eaten their fill of ham-less split pea soup and depression-era bread.

I know many families who choose to home school make sacrifices to make it happen.  I know it annoys them when people with professionally kept hair and nails who drive reliable and fairly nice cars and go out to movies and out to eat a lot comment, “It must be nice to be able to stay home.” Whether you home school or not, for any mom who makes financial sacrifices to stay at home the comment is equally grating. (Friends, if you home school or home schooled, please scroll down to the bottom of this letter past my signature right now and read a special note to you before you read any further.)**

And then again, mom who wishes she could home school, you know that it really must be nice. Because in spite of your home-schooling friends’ protestations that you can make it work you know there are reasons you cannot. Some are fairly obvious, and you wish your friends would just stop talking about how great home school is and how they’d never put their kids in school in a sort of way that makes you feel like somehow you’ve chosen a lower road and there is no hope for you ever of being a mom anyone would want to be like because not only are you not home-schooling but you put your kids in public school.

I know those reasons.

Because I home schooled for a while . . . and then I couldn’t.

And it wasn’t until I could and then I couldn’t that I noticed how much the Christian community often glorifies home schooling to a level of spirituality unattainable for a whole lot of women.

Dear mom who wishes she could home school and absolutely cannot, I know you’ve noticed this.

And I’m sorry if I ever made you feel like you were less than a wise, spiritual and sacrificial and mom. You are doing it all alone. All of it. With no one to earn even a small income to let you stay at home and spend exhausting days teaching little ones to read while feeding a baby, staying up late to prepare science experiments, learning advanced math to keep up with your high schooler, scrounging car change to buy a bag of split peas. Shame on us if we ever gracelessly rubbed home school in your face.

My reasons for not home schooling are different from yours. But we made a choice and you never had one.

Maybe you are like me. Maybe it’s not that you have no husband. Maybe at some point you had to choose between your marriage or home schooling.

Maybe you had to choose between health or home schooling. Maybe you had to choose between a healthy relationship with your child or home schooling. And maybe you will never, ever tell any of these reasons to anyone, so I will tell you mine just so you know you are not alone.

In my house, a raging battle with addiction elevated the stress level during the home school years to extremely unhealthy.

Our kids needed a break. I was unable to focus on anything but how on earth this marriage was going to make it. My strength was sapped by late nights arguing and worrying over how another unexpected debt would be resolved, and why I didn’t know about it yet again. My temper was short with the 5 year old who knew how to read and could not be taught the purpose of silent e because he already knew far better than me. Trying to teach math concepts to a variety of cognitive levels strained my patience and my brain to the point where there was no capacity to be both mom and teacher at the same time. No one learns math from a yeller. Or maybe they learn to hate math. We didn’t need the added stress of private school tuition — we couldn’t afford it. No. Really could not.

The answer for us was public school. And the school our boys landed in turned out to be the most amazing blessing we could ever have imagined. Sure, we had a couple of teacher struggles. Sure, as a former teacher, there were things I thought could have been done better. But our boys got the stability they did not have at home. Through losing a job, an amazing camp home, they went to a public school that wrapped their arms around our family in a way we never knew could come from anywhere but a community of believers.

For our oldest the transition from home school was harder. Middle school was not great time to jump into the system at all. But with the help and support of the district’s home school program for secondary students, some classes at the high school and some at a local community college, a very dear friend who generously folded her into her own daughter’s home school days to learn Latin and life, a few fantastic music teachers and a great base of support in local theatre, she managed to piece together a pretty incredible high school education.

Hear me, mom who wishes she could home school and cannot, God knows.

* * * * *

You would think that a person who had wanted to home school so badly would be really involved in their kids’ schools.

For a while I was. I was an art docent. I went on field trips. But I had to work, too (which is a topic for another post). I tried to get a job with the district, but there were no job openings for part-time English teachers (I will never teach high school English full time again — it’s actually TWO full time jobs), and the job I chose to stick with was consuming and not a good fit for moms trying to do it all who are not very adept at trying to do it all.

It wasn’t that I didn’t volunteer or go to my kids’ things. Just not a lot of school day things. I was at the theatre or soccer games or meets after school/after work. But it was hard to be at school. Hard because for a lot of years, being in a school reminded me of all I had given up.

And then I got to know you better, moms who wished they could and moms who home schooled until they couldn’tAnd moms who never did and never wanted to.  And I didn’t feel so bad anymore. In high school, there is a comfortable blend of all sorts of moms. As so many women around me who once home schooled are going to work, I’ve noticed that our lives are becoming more alike even as they have drifted away from the days of home school co-op.

* * * * *

I would be lying if I told you I don’t wish any more.

Still, the beautiful ideal to me is a hard but simple farm life and a dining room table school. But that’s not my life at all, and I think after kicking against the goads and wishing my life was something it wasn’t for too many years, I’ve finally accepted that it is what it is.

For the first time maybe ever, I waltzed in to the parent teacher conference arena last week in confidence that my parent/work/life/educator world was exactly what it should be. And I looked teachers in the eye as they told me some things I didn’t know about my kids, and I wasn’t ashamed that I didn’t know. I know plenty of good moms of teenagers — home-schooled or not — who don’t know them either.

* * * * *

If you made it this far in this very long letter, I’m guessing it’s because you’ve felt the same as me. Your wishes have been on my heart for so long, I just had to blurt it out all at once, as though you asked and I answered over coffee. I don’t want to go back and cut out words that might be important to you.

Dear mom who wishes, keep living the life you’ve been given and not the one you wish you had.

And please never feel like you’ve missed it all when you can’t do the thing you really cannot do. You know those things. You talk with God about them — a lot. And maybe you sometimes you yell at Him. Or maybe you yell at your husband. Or maybe you yell at the collection agent harassing you over your medical bills . . . . because it hurts.

God knows.

Give your wishes to God and pick up the now and embrace it. I wish I had done that a long time ago.

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** Dear mom who home schools her children, I respect so much what you do, and I know it isn’t easy. And I know some of you who keep on and kept on in spite of incredibly difficult things in your home. But this post is for women who sincerely wishes she could home school, but for one reason or other cannot. And by that I mean a mom who is a single mom who has to work outside her home to provide for her children. Or maybe there is someone in their home battling addiction to alcohol or drugs and school offers stability they don’t have at home. Or she has health issues or one of her children has issues that make it impossible to give them both love and an education. Or her husband lost his job and they are struggling to make it financially. Or her husband is not supportive of home schooling at all. So please, I admire you so much and would be grieved if you took offense at my post. It’s meant to encourage women like me.

 

dear mama who worries

I think every mama on this Monday morning will say a prayer. Whether she believes in God or not. Because someone has to watch them. Someone, please.

Dear mama who worries,

I will admit it. I worry all year long. September to June. You, too?

I schooled, and home schooled and schooled again through various moves in the early days of my children’s education. But in the summer of 2006, I was too overwhelmed by all that was going on in our home to take on another year. My boys had so much energy. And I was struggling to get myself out of the house, let alone out of bed.

I needed help. So we sent our middle boys to school.

Just four weeks later, on October 2, I wanted to pull them out forever.

My heart has never stopped aching since that day. Maybe yours hasn’t either.

On that day, I learned that if evil can find it’s way into an Amish school, evil can find children anywhere. And the ache deepens day after day as I understand more fully, over years and releasing just  what that means.

No matter how hard I try to protect my child from harm, I can’t be there every moment. And even if I was? I am not a super hero. I’m not even an armed guard.

The ache is a longing now. A longing for things to be set to right. For wickedness to end.

* * * * *

It is an act of faith to let our children out the door every morning.

And every morning, we commit our precious children here and far into God’s care. Whether they are 5 or 11 or 14 or 20 or . . .

And after every tragedy, whether in a school, a theater, or mall, or car, there is a time of fear and we face the temptation to pull them in close and never let them leave our side ever again. Not ever.

I think every mama on this Monday morning will say a prayer. Whether she believes in God or not. Because someone has to watch them. Someone, please.

Watch over my babies. Keep them safe. Protect them from evil. 

Oh Lord, hear our prayer.

* * * * *

I happened on a word of comfort tonight . . .

from a woman who reminded me that we begin to worry for our children before they ever leave our body.

I am a woman of prayer. It sounds bold-faced to write it down, but there it is. I write it anyway. Prayer comes easily to my spirit – perhaps it is because a former pastor of ours once told us that the same part of us that worries is the part of us that prays. I knew I could worry constantly, so that meant I could pray constantly. — Sarah Bessey

We carry our babies next to our hearts. We love them deep inside before we ever see them.

* * * * *

The world is broken, but evil is no part of God. And He sends His angels to protect. At every moment, they fight. And we pray

a Psalm of protection for our children . . .

Long ago, my favorite writer wrote a song for the children in his care:

This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
He is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday . . . .
For he will order his angels
to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras;
you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!
The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer;
I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honor them.
I will reward them with a long life
and give them my salvation.

Psalm 91, a song of Moses

Oh Lord, hear our prayer.

* * * * *

Dear mama who worries, I do, too.

But today can we breathe those worries into prayers? All day long.

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a season of sharing the work

What is it about sitting in the presence of someone cooking a fresh meal that soothes?

I spent this rainy afternoon with women gathered around a table.

We watched and listened as our hostess demonstrated chopping and cooking techniques to create a soup meant to feed a crowd.

What is it about sitting in the presence of someone cooking a fresh meal that soothes? The steady rhythm of chopping, the steam from the pot, the aroma of onions and spices sauteed in butter? Is it that the cook does not skip a beat as she makes the meal just for you? While you watch. While you wait and listen. Comfort. This is comfort.

Thou preparest a table before me . . .

A hot bowl of red savory soup in the grayness of a stormy day, in a weekend of sadness. The world around is chaos. But here, in the corner of a dim sanctuary, we are breaking bread.

A scattered hum of words is spoken.

Just the sorts of conversations women who are grandmothers, great aunties, daughters, mothers of grown children have when they sit separated only by a full bowl, a full cup, a full plate. The stuff of life that fills novels and movies. Only real. Real people. Real tears. Real joys. Real life.

When the meal has ended and we prepare to go to our homes, we work together: washing dishes, collapsing and hauling away tables, setting the church to rights, loading the car with all the preparations and leftover food.

The motions are second nature. Each of us does exactly what we would alone, only there in harmony, in God’s house, working side by side.

We have been bonding over the work since time began.

Gathered at wells drawing water, gathered in fields harvesting grain, gathered at wine presses trampling grapes, gathered around rivers washing clothes.

In the common work of living and surviving we have always leaned on each other even as we do in this hour: Carrying heavy pots, folded tables, boxes of kitchen tools side by side by side. Wiping counter tops. Covering leftover food.

We are comforted, refreshed, encouraged. Ready to face the storm again.

Because of a simple bowl of soup, shared work, and living this season together.

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hope from a season of despair

On Thursday night I sat at a round table with co-workers and friends in an enormous room, dining on filet mignon and jumbo prawns, and witnessed contagious, hilarious generosity. Just the sort of evening to breathe new life into a tired writer.

I’ve been a writer at a marketing agency raising money for nonprofit organizations for the past six years. I’ve written for prison ministries, for family ministries for humanitarian aid, justice ministries, rescue missions. The stories entrusted to me help spread the word about what our clients do and raise money so they can keep doing what they’re doing.

Several years ago, on my first interview trip, it struck me that even though my life had been Sunday school, Church, mission field, Christian family, and I had had zero exposure to illegal drugs, when these men and women talked about coming to the end of themselves, I got it. Though our lives couldn’t be more opposite, the end result was the same.

The devastation that drugs and addiction bring to a person and a home are universal. Neither Dave nor I went to prison, we didn’t get a divorce, our kids weren’t taken away, and yet we came to the same breaking point as an addict on the street: God, I need help now.

As wonderfully fitting as my work is, I confess that I get discouraged. I feel like I’m writing everyone’s words but my own. My name doesn’t go on anything I pour myself into. The fruits of my creative labors are for somebody else’s benefit.

But on Thursday night I sat at a round table with co-workers and friends in an enormous room, dining on filet mignon and jumbo prawns, and witnessed contagious, hilarious generosity.  Just the sort of evening to breathe new life into a tired writer.

Items up for bid at this included float plane excursions, U.S. Open tickets, and time doing various things with people like the Seahawks’ Kam Chancellor, the Sounders soccer team, and Macklemore.

And they didn’t go cheap. The minimum bid for anything in the live auction, hosted and called by local television personalities was $1,000. A night on the Mission’s Search & Rescue Van with Macklemore sold for $25,000. A donor called in from his hospital bed to pledge $100,000.

I don’t know who these people are, but I know they believe strongly enough that broken people can be renewed to open up their wallets and give $1.5 Million to help heal them.

A man named Richard told his story. He’d been homeless and a meth addict for years, and he laid on a park bench for five days and asked God to take his life. Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission’s Search and Rescue Van found him there and when they asked if he’d like to spend the night in the mission instead of on the streets, he said yes.

A year later he’s standing up on stage at this event telling 500 people that God did take away his life. He took away the life of addiction and drugs and hopelessness and gave him a new life in Christ.

I also witnessed the very thing I wrote about two days ago. That thing about monks and how we defeat discouragement and depression and acedia with serving and working with our hands.

The keynote speaker, with a net worth of $100 Million, famous for his role on a successful TV series surprises us, “Tonight, I’m going to tell you my story.”

And his voice breaks and he says, “I’m not afraid of anything, I’m known for being a shark, I don’t have weaknesses. Except . . .” And he weeps out words of devastation, of losing his kids in a divorce.

And he says all the money and fame and prestige could not heal the most painful hurt in his life. He was in such deep despair he went to the balcony and contemplated ending his life.

Afraid of himself, he called a friend and said, “I need to help someone else right now, or I’m going to die.”

That friend sent him to Seattle where he labored at the Men’s Shelter, alongside men like Richard. Through choking tears, he tells about going out on the Search and Rescue Van with Richard and how they found a man who was crying in a park and the two of them prayed over him and served him, millionaire on one side, homeless meth addict on the other.

And in the end of his story, this broken mega millionaire says: simple acts of service fixed me.

Stories of hope and revival lead to other stories of hope and revival.

No way in my life did I ever dream that our worst season of despair would turn into a season of philanthropy. Impossible that I would heal while writing words that help raise millions of dollars to help hurting people. I suppose about as impossible as a grateful meth addict reviving a billionaire.

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