blessings for the broken part four

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. . .
When did we buy the lie that happiness is the means to happiness?
That what feels good is right and what is painful is wrong?
Hungry is not comfort. Thirsty is not pleasure.

We are at a crossroads.

Poor and powerless. Grief-stricken. Broken.

In any direction, as far as we can see, the landscape is exactly the same. Dry, dusty, barren, flat.

Nothing distinguishes one path from another.

Turning around seems like the smartest decision.

Going back by a way we know.

Going back to what? We’ve come too far.

It doesn’t matter which path we choose now.

They are all marked suffering.

* * * * *

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. . .

When did we buy the lie that happiness is the means to happiness?

That what feels good is right and what is painful is wrong?

Hungry is not comfort.

Thirsty is not pleasure.

It’s true in our physical being. And true in our spiritual being as well.

If we fill ourselves with real food, we’ll crave more good and be filled. If we fill ourselves with junk food, we only want more — more junk, more anything — just more.

The bad takes away our appetite for good. The bad takes us on a high and abandons us to crash. Snickers does not satisfy.

But we try.

And we keep trying. Over and over.

The cake when we’re stressed. The gossip when we’re hurt. The computer when we’re lonely. The money when we’re rejected. The applause when we’re insecure. The rage when we have no voice. The drugs when we can’t face the day. The busy so we don’t have time to notice . . .

The goal of all this stuffing life full is to be unconscious of our thirst. Hunger hurts, so we have numbed it. We numb it until we don’t feel longing anymore.

* * * * *

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again.

Jesus at the well. A woman, draws water for herself. Jesus asks for some. She recognizes him as a Jew. She is a Samaritan. Jews do not associate with Samaritans. She objects.

If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. (John 4)

She wants this. Never to thirst again. Never to take a weary walk to a well in the heat. Never to carry heavy jars home and watch them empty fast.

Go, call your husband and come back.

Wait. What? I don’t have a husband, she says.

You are right. He says. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.

Uh. Wow. We were just talking about water.

No. We were talking about what you crave. You thirst for fulfillment. And you haven’t found it. Given up yet?

* * * * *

We have come to this crossroads.

The cake has made us fat. The gossip has gone too far. The busy has given us an ulcer. The virtual relationship led us to unfaithfulness. The money is gone. The applause has faded. In rage we have beaten others, ourselves. The drugs have destroyed our life.

Now it’s no longer possible to numb. To deny. To excuse.

We can go back to numbing.

Or we can choose to feel the pain and hurt and ache and longing and let it be what it is.

We can choose to accept our hunger and thirst.

* * * * *

So what is this righteousness?

What is this thing that I seek first instead of clothes, comfort, food, money, success?

The people gathered around Jesus on the mountain want to know, too.

They are hungry. They are thirsty.

And Jesus tells them their hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied.

They don’t get it either — unless they are the poor in spirit, unless they mourn, unless they are meek.

Righteousness isn’t about not doing or doing. It’s about Jesus Himself.

We will not know how He satisfies until we admit we are not satisfied by anything else.Until we drag our poor, powerless, broken selves through the desert of suffering to the Well instead of going back.

My soul yearns, even faints for the court of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Psalm 84:2

As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after thee. Psalm 42:1

In a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1

“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” Blaise Pascal

“Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” St. Augustine

homesick

My mind replays tapes of failure when I lie in bed too long awake.
Things neglected. Things forgotten. People neglected. People forgotten.
Failure that I’m not really sure is always failure.

 Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection,  LC-USF33-011536-M3
Lee, Russell, 1938, photographer

I was awakened by strange and sad dreams hours ago.

Or aching jaw, clenched undetected in sleep. Or gnawing gut, making me regret roast beef. Or a cat.

And now I need tea. (Horrible stuff, chamomile. But good for healing.)

Because now there are thoughts, tugging at my mind. If I write them, maybe they’ll go away and let me rest.

* * * * *

My mind replays tapes of failure when I lie in bed too long awake.

Things neglected. Things forgotten. People neglected. People forgotten.

Failure that I’m not really sure is always failure.

. . . I’ve begun filtering. Taking thoughts captive and filtering them through truth. Sometimes there are lessons mixed in among the mid-night lies.

But so much of what keeps me awake did not keep mankind awake until modern times.

I’m sure 90% of what I feel guilt about never crossed Ma Ingalls’s mind. She would never have beat herself up for having bins of photos instead of completed photo albums gracing her shelves. Or fretted about not getting the oil changed in her car.  Or of posting too much on Facebook. Or of being shy of the phone. Or just being social enough in general . . .

Now and then, when I am overwhelmed by the expectations of this life and its measures of worth, I look back. Far.

To a time when hospitality was giving water to a weary traveler or inviting the circuit riding preacher to Sunday dinner. When life and work were one in the same, blended together. When everyone worked with their hands, busy doing, busy surviving. When relationships were built over building barns. And I wish so much that we still did that. That we still built barns together.

Community is so vast now. So broad, far and forced that it isn’t community.

My town tries.

I see the same people at soccer, at school, at the store.

But not at church because there are so, so many. And I wish there was just one.

So many churches. Rarely a barn.

* * * * *

 . . . I feel so much like I don’t belong.

This is the thought that gets me out of bed tonight.

I reason with myself that that is as it should be.

Because I don’t.

This is a new filter. Old, well-known, but newly, deeply, accepted. A neighbor reminded me recently at a moment I was ready to hear it. She feels it, too.

This emptiness we feel . . . We were created for perfect. The world isn’t and is getting worse. We aren’t and will not be on this earth.

It’s okay. The emptiness is longing for heaven.

Every generation, from Adam, no matter what has kept them awake at night has felt the same ache.

We see through a glass, darkly. We long to see clear. 

They will be his people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away. Revelation 21:3-4

a life as unmanageable as my hair

I will always remember a dear friend’s words. I had three little ones and so did she. Once, when I apologized for not calling her, she said, “That’s okay, Deb. We all know when you have a baby you disappear for about six months.” I loved her so much for knowing me like that. Better than I knew myself.

When I finally saw her again, in the course of our conversation she asked me, “So, Deb, what ARE you doing with your hair these days?” (Only the closest of friends can get away with this stuff.)

Maybe you’ve noticed? I haven’t returned your call or text . . . answered your email.

I’ve dropped off the face of the earth . . . and  let my hair, apparently, go to seed.

* * * * *

I’m not sure I could pinpoint the exact reason for my reclusiveness and coiffure neglect these days. But I know it has to with overwhelmed.

The kids are growing up fast. Our oldest will be a senior in high school this year. Every conversation is tainted with a bit of desperation. What have I missed? What do I need to teach you?

Add up the hours at work, the chores, the activities and appointments that come with four teens and preteens, hitting that age where I must eat right and exercise or I will gain 4 pounds a day, trying to write . . .

* * * * * 

So, I’m reading the Psalms.

I love them because they remind me that the greatest king ever — renowned for being beloved by God — had powerful emotions. He wrote and sang about his misery, his joy, his anger . . . and his overwhelmedness.

Beautiful poetry. The best, really.

Lately I’ve been enamored with the phrase unfailing loveAll the love I can muster is so weak. I fail at love.

Unending mercyLovingkindness. Over and over in the Psalms. A study of verses about God’s unfailing love brought me here:

O my Strength, to you I sing praises,
for you, O God, are my refuge,
the God who shows me unfailing love.
Psalm 59:16-17

O my Strength. A name for God.

Strength. I have none. He is.

* * * * *

I try to avoid the appearance of helplessness. 

I hold my cards close. Measuring each play.

But overwhelmed forces my hand.

The whole mess — thrown down on the table for everyone to see.

And it forces me turn to The One who is Strength itself.

When I finally give in — admit my overwhelmed, confess my independence — prayer and quiet times grow longer. Morning prayers become vital. I draw my strength from His well. Reluctant to leave.

Lord, You ARE my Strength. I cannot do this thing you’ve set before me. Help me!

* * * * *

Overwhelmed is a feeling I know too well. Babies. A husband who struggled with addiction. Jobless. Homeless. Poor.

If I’m honest, my overwhelmed today doesn’t hold a candle to the past.

This overwhelmed is different.

Alongside the Psalms, I open familiar and well-worn books written by women who poured out their hearts on the page decades ago. Long before blogs made this laying down of our cards a thing.

Their words strengthened me in days of hopelessness and are still comfort today. The quotations are long and full of archaic phrases and words, but if you are overwhelmed, they are so worth the read:

His thoughts said, I can no longer.

His Father said, Thou canst. Thou canst do all things through Christ which strengtheneth thee. Is tribulation a new thing to any child of Mine? Shouldest thou expect to be without pressure, batterings, toil, tears, discouragements, disappointments, ingratitudes, obloquies? All my servants had these in abundant measure. Look and thou wilt see their footsteps in the dust of the road. But they had strong consolation and so hast thou. Not to be pitied, but happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God.

Doth the burning sun distress thee? There shall be a shadow from the heat. Art thou beaten by the storm? There shall be a covert for thee from storm and from rain. Or is it that thou art too weary to know why thou art so weary? Then come to Me and I will refresh thee.

— Amy Carmichael, His Thoughts Said


When I speak of burdens I mean everything that troubles us, whether spiritual or temporal. . . The greatest burden we have to carry in life is self. The most difficult thing we have to manage is self. Our own daily living, our frames and feelings, our especial weaknesses and temptations . . . these are the things that perplex and worry us more than anything else, and that bring us oftenest into bondage and darkness. . . You must hand yourself … over into the care and keeping of your God . . . He made you and therefore He understands you and knows how to manage you, and you must trust Him to do it. Say to Him, “Here Lord, I abandon myself, and to make myself what I know I ought to be, but have always failed. Now I give it up to Thee.”

— Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life

* * * * *

I got a haircut this week. A desperate attempt to manage the unmanageable. A fail. It was much easier to pull it back into a barrette.

I will never have perfect Nancy Drew hair. (You may not have noticed, but in the books, she always threw on her jeans, pulled a sweater over her head, ran a brush through it and was ready to go, looking amazing.) My crazy, out-of-control-in-this-humidity hair will always keep me from vanity.

And I am reminded that my overwhelmed, as much as I dislike it, breaks down my independence and pride.

Ah! This is the place of humility God wants for me.

To fold. To confess I can’t do this life on my own. It’s not in me.

I’m not self-sufficient. He is all-sufficient.

He is strength itself. He will give me strength.

Realize I’m not God. I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable.
“Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor.” Matthew 5:3
— Celebrate Recovery, Principle One

What about you? Are you trying to manage the unmanageable on your own? Have you come to the end of your strength and found His? Leave a comment. Anonymously if you wish. 

Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of  your presence, Lord. You are their glorious strength. It pleases you to make us strong. Psalm 89:15 &17

power in a parking lot

Yesterday, I had a Jesus moment.

That moment when everything around you, all the stuff you are trying to do for Him is stripped away and your eyes are open to what ministry looked like to Jesus.

I’ve seen it before. Many times. On the other side of the world. Healing. Feeding. Preaching to crowds.

And I’ve seen it twice now, in the parking lot of a church.

Twice.

Twice.

And I wonder if you’ve ever seen it. Because we don’t do this.

We make it so complicated. Discuss and let outreach die in committee. Allow naysayers and negativity to squelch the passion for reaching the “marginalized” in our community.

When we finally do set out to reach them, we set up barriers — give them hoops to jump through.

We set the pace of recovery and give up or write off.

We disagree on a point of doctrine and pass up the opportunity to work together and show we are Christians by our love.

We look for an ROI on our community healing investment, forgetting that only 1 in 10 lepers returned to thank Jesus.

And we are missing it.

Imagine a church that looks out at their struggling community — joblessness, broken homes, addiction, hunger — and says, we have the answer.

Not just the words.

I’ve seen it.

I arrive around 4 pm, and see a dozen or more people — men, women and children — setting up canopies and tables in the church parking lot. They haul boxes of food, donations from the community. From dentist’s offices, food distributors. Others from the church were working before them — they’ve sorted and packed the donations into boxes holding a week’s supply of staples for a family.

Nearly 80 boxes are hauled out to the parking lot.

And then people gather. Some look haggard and worn. A mom who doesn’t want me to take her picture, but will talk to me. Telling me about real hunger in her family. Right here. In America.

I talk to a woman who lived in her truck for seven months. She looks lovely. You would never, ever guess if you saw her… I have to ask her questions. It’s my job. And she catches her breath when she tells how she found this church at Thanksgiving. She was hungry. And they do that thing — the making a feast and going out into the highways and biways and inviting in.

Nearly a hundred are gathered in this hot parking lot by the time the preaching begins. And they all sit, quietly listening. Drinking in words of hope and life.

And I talk to the people and am amazed. They are there not just for the food that they could really get from any foodbank.

They want to hear about the God who loves them. Who hasn’t forgotten them. Who sees and cares. They want to be prayed for. To know they aren’t alone.

So Eric preaches. And Estelle translates. And there is nodding of heads because he’s telling them about David, who was type-cast as a shepherd and no one would ever guess he’d defeat a giant. And Eric names the giants in their lives. Alcoholism, abuse, drugs, unemployment, poverty, hunger.

Some of them go to the church now. In fact, since they started this outreach five years ago, more than 200 have joined the congregation.

I watch the scene. And the parking lot looks a whole lot like Galilee.

* * * * *

Eric will be the first to say this is a tough job. That it takes a lot of people. That they are doing this outreach together. Although he is passionate and fiery, he could not do it without the people willing to pack boxes and move them and pray.

It takes a church.

And I think about the bystanders in Jesus’ day. The naysayers. The ones with the theological differences. The questioning of whether this person was in trouble because he sinned or did his parents.

And I wonder where we are. Who we’ve become. And what we’re missing.

the truth heals, part two

Dorthea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress Collection


The blog post today is written by Dave. In the previous post, I wrote about letting go of Dave’s recovery. My prayer in the last few years of his addiction finally became a simple, “If he’s lying, please don’t let him get away with it.” I still pray that prayer — for Dave and even for my kids. Lies destroy relationships. The truth heals.

* * * * *

My addiction to pills caused a lot of damage. Every part of my life was hurt.

Financially I wasted thousands. Physically I was wracked through the withdrawal and detoxification process. Mentally I am not as sharp as I was before I was on Ultram. Spiritually I seared my conscience and distanced myself from God.

The most evident damage, however, was the wreckage I brought on my relationships. My wife. My children. My parents, brothers, sisters, in-laws, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, anyone I met. And almost all that damage was a direct result of lies.

When I was using, I lied about it. Over and over and over.  I lied all the time to hide and minimize my sin. I had an entire life to hide.

I could not sleep.  Guilt and fear that weighed on me and my mind raced from one lie to another and one manipulative scheme to another.  I would lay at night wide awake in the dark, while Deb slept soundly next to me, with pills in my system — afraid I might die. Not because I was afraid of death or even that my family would be left without me. (By that point I had decided they would be sad, but most likely better off without me.)

I was afraid of dying because all my secrets would be laid bare without my constant vigilance to keep them hidden.

It was a full-time job just keeping the lies straight.

Where did I say I was when I was at a doctor? What could I make up to explain the money spent at the pharmacy? Who did I tell what?

Keeping those lies up and my sin in the dark was draining, exhausting and terrifying. I was terrified of discovery.

Earning trust

When I was asked to resign from my ministry job it all came out. The lies were laid bare. My nightmare came true. And it was the beginning of freedom.

The problem was, even if I told the truth now, no one trusted me. I had lied for so long and so well that all the words and all the tears and all the declarations of innocence had been heard before and were eventually proven false.

At times in those first months I nearly despaired that I could ever rebuild trust with my wife, my family and anyone who knew me.

I quickly learned that I needed to be OK with suspicion.

Deb wanted to believe I had changed and was clean and willing to truly walk with God, but she had been to that place over and over and had been hurt. Not just hurt, but violated to her core.

Today we have rebuilt most of that trust. Not completely healed. There are still scars that will always linger. She still needs to be able to ask me if I am taking drugs, if I am hiding anything.

Rebuilding trust was painfully obvious but painfully slow.

The best and only way to earn trust is to have nothing to hide. Just as the damage was caused by lies over and over, I needed to be honest and clean for a long time. Over and over.

Rather than trying to convince Deb that I was being good, I needed to just let the evidence of my recovery and changed life be enough.

I needed to stop manipulating. Stop minimizing. Stop deflecting. Stop seeking instant and controllable pleasure.

I needed to stop trying and hoping and wishing it was different and realize I was powerless over my addiction and needed to turn my will and life over to the care of God. Rock bottom propelled me. But at some point, I had to actually stop and surrender myself to God.

And then I could start… start. Start to seek God and simple pleasures of a real life. Start honesty. Start trusting. Start loving. Start accepting responsibility.

I love that I have earned some trust back from my wife. That we can grow together. I love that honesty and a clean conscience means I can speak and lead and help without the nagging doubts of a blatant fraud.

Another thing has changed . . .

Tonight I will lie down to go to sleep and I will… sleep. I will be OUT in a few minutes. I sleep like a baby, or a log . . . Honesty and a clean conscience have given me peace and rest like I had not known for years.

— Dave

* * * * *

If you are a recovering addict, you need to realize that restoring the trust you’ve broken takes time — there will have to be a lot of truth-telling before you see signs of hope. For Dave, it has been a long and humbling road.  Are you committed to being truthful even if you are not believed? Can you tell the truth longer than you lied? There is hope. 

If you’re married to someone who has started on this “road to recovery,” your journey will also be long. Remember that the habit of lies doesn’t die quickly.  If your goal and hope is restoration, give them time to tell you the truth. Pray that God will catch them when they lie and convict them. He knows and He sees. Encourage honesty. Pray for wisdom. There is hope.

. . . So justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not reach us.
We look for light, but all is darkness;
for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.
Like the blind we grope along the wall,
feeling our way like people without eyes . . .

For our offenses are many in your sight,
and our sins testify against us.
Our offenses are ever with us,
and we acknowledge our iniquities:
rebellion and treachery against the Lord,
turning our backs on our God,
inciting revolt and oppression,
uttering lies our hearts have conceived.
So justice is driven back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.
Truth is nowhere to be found . . . .

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

 . . . I am the Lord;
in its time I will do this swiftly.”

Isaiah 59-60

there’s something I have to tell you

Russell Lee, photographer, 1937
Library of Congress Collection

I’ve been doing this blog for almost a year now . . .

and I still haven’t told our whole story.

If I’m ever going to get it all out there, I’m going to have to be more consistent.

More organized.

More brave.

* * * * *

The writer Anne Lamott tweeted this the other day:

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories.

If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.

So, I’ve been thinking about it . . .

And I think I might be able to get away with that in twenty years.

Because I think that there are people who behaved badly in our story who might take offense . . . or worse . . .

But I need to tell you that there is a better way to deal with prescription drug addiction than what we experienced.

And I think that’s really what has to be told in our story.  

Because the more I read about prescription drug addiction, the more I believe that it’s a silent epidemic creeping into our church pews.

And I am convinced that the Church is completely ignorant about the danger and commonality of prescription drug addiction. And completely unprepared to deal with it.

If I never get the chance to write another word on this blog, I have to tell you some things. You just need to know.

I was listening to a popular Christian counseling show on the radio a month or so ago and heard the counselor (a very, very well-known author) actually say that anti-anxiety medications were NOT addictive.

I nearly crashed my car.

Where would he get that kind of mis-information?

It’s taking forever for the medical world to catch up with classifying drugs.

Warnings have just been sounded about Tramadol, the drug Dave was addicted to.

Only the ones that are flat-out addictive: morphine, etc — drugs most of my readers aren’t likely to have laying around the house — are strictly monitored. Most of the time, when people refer to addictive drugs, they mean these.

Meth and heroin are Schedule I drugs — illegal drugs, with no medical purpose.

Aderall and Ritalin are Schedule II drugs, right alongside Morphine and Oxycontin. Highly addictive drugs, referred to as controlled substances.

Some of the most commonly prescribed drugs on the market are NOT controlled substances, but have the potential to be addictive:

Valium

Xanax

Ambien

Tramadol

and

Vicodin — the number one prescribed drug in America —  131.2 million prescriptions in 2010.

An estimated 7 million Americans abuse pharmaceutical drugs. Prescription drugs account for about 75 percent of all drug-related U.S. overdose deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And three of every four deaths from pills involve opioid pain relievers including oxycodone. — Reuters

We are the most medicated country in the world.

There has been a lot of talk in the news lately about Shutting down pharmacies that made the naughty list with NIDA, and drug take back campaigns to get unused prescriptions out of homes.

“Most of us can’t go to our grandmother’s house and find cocaine, marijuana or methamphetamine, but we can find prescription painkillers.” Gil Kerlikowske

But it was a series of legitimate prescriptions that set Dave on the path of addiction.

What about doctors who prescribe and over prescribe?

What about pharmaceutical companies making a killing off our pains?

Is it necessary to prescribe Vicodin to a teenager with a cough?

Anti-anxiety medication — without any real evaluation –to someone who really just needs counseling?

Narcotics to someone who broke a finger? (Need more convincing? Read this.)

I’ve personally experienced this. This jump to prescribe after a five-minute conversation.

And one of these days, I’m going to lose it Erin Brokovich style.

Maybe I already have.

How many times have I had to write “prescription drug addiction” on the children’s family medical history before someone actually refers to that information? Do I have to tattoo it on their foreheads?

DO NOT make the mistake of thinking you and yours could never get addicted to prescription drugs.

**A WORD OF WARNING: If you or anyone you are concerned about is taking a potentially addictive drug, don’t go cold turkey.

You could die. You could become suicidal. 

Get medical help before ditching your legitimately prescribed pills.

I cannot emphasize this enough.

If you don’t believe me, read the fine print on the insert that comes with your medication.

If that doesn’t tell you these drugs are dangerous, I don’t know what would.

Make your voice heard until you find someone who cares.

Dump your doctor for one who will really test you and your kids before prescribing potentially addictive drugs.

And for goodness sake, check your work and medical benefits. 

We found out after Dave was asked to resign that his Christian employer’s benefits included 30 days of leave for rehab.

No one told us.

And there I go.

But these things have to be said.

No matter how sorry anyone is. No matter how much hindsight anyone has now.

You need to know.

We were good people. Seriously. If I told you how good, you would think I was lying.

Let’s just say this: great kids, leaders in high school — at school and at church, leaders in college, leaders in church, leaders in ministry. Not Party-ers. Not drinkers. And chaste. (Yep. There, I said it. Mock away or shake your head in disbelief.)

And yet. And YET. Prescription drug addiction nearly destroyed us.

Take a good, hard look.

This is what’s coming.

Christians have got to be ready

They weren’t ready for us.

And some of them should have behaved better.