I've got enough negative words in my own head about myself. I don't need more. You don't need more. We're stuck in an ugly, losing game sometimes. Heckled by our own hearts.
Posts tagged ‘encouragement’
If anyone anywhere very desperately needed to take her own advice, it would be me.
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.
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.
* * * * *
Jane and I walk the road that leaves our little town and wanders along the shore. Snow-capped mountains to the west shine in the morning sunlight. Sailboats sleep on the glassy bay. We spot a heron, three seals and two coyotes on our walk. We are blessed to live in this place.
I stand in a farm field in the warm afternoon. The fragrance of strawberries rises to entice me. A glistening red catches my eye and I eagerly bend to add another to the heavy bowl.
I wander the beach below my house. At my feet, a thousand sand dollars. I stoop and stare into a tide pool of life: inhabitants blissfully unaware of exposure.
There is beauty in these points of finery. Footnotes of love from the Maker of all things.
On cold, gray Puget Sound days that fill most of the year, we remind ourselves there is a piece of heaven all around us. If only we will wait. We will see this glory.
* * * * *
We moved to Washington in July ten years ago.
The youngest of our four children was just a few weeks old. I spent the weeks before his birth packing our house in California, praying that this was the right thing.
We were leaving my dear family. The close friends with whom we had gone to college and walked together through the first ten years of marriage and parenting. A school and a church (our employers) that loved us. A pediatrician, so important to a young mom of four, who made me laugh and who assured me on what seemed to be a weekly basis that the sicker they are when they’re babies, the healthier they’ll be as children.
I packed in tears. But I also hoped.
The first serious mention of seminary had been on my 32nd birthday. But it was to be a year before we would move. A year we thought the world might end. Terrorist attacks, painful revelations, a surprise baby and awful sickness.
I had been as enthusiastic as Dave. I convinced myself that in the right place, our marriage and his health would be better. We researched schools. I made plans and budgets. We could easily pay off current debts in a year. We could do this.
But headaches and money problems had persisted. And anger crept back in.
After one particularly heated fight (during which I’d thrown an iron pot across the kitchen and dented the wall behind Dave’s head) I wrote in my journal: “Dave is not a fool. There was a reason deeper than just folly with money . . . at last he broke and said he had been running from what he knew God was calling him to do for 10 years . . . we cried and prayed and I knew right away that something had changed. . . he will be a different person from now on, I know.”
Seminary was supposed to be the answer. Dave had simply been running from God’s call. Like Jonah. That’s why the boat of our life was tossed and sinking.
(Years later, I read about how addicts in their downward spiral attempt to end their addiction by “geographical escapes.” But I knew nothing of that then.)
* * * * *
We arrived here in July of 2002. Jobless. Homeless. Optimistic.
Gracious cousins and friends took us in. Dave, me, and the kids who were 7, 4, 2 and a newborn. Six of us. Family and friends sent money to help us stay afloat.
Then came a terrifying car accident with all our little ones on board. Totaled our van. And a new back injury gave Dave an entree into any doctor’s office for pills.
I had picked up the habit for busy seasons of reading through the book of Psalms in a month, five Psalms a day 1, 31, 61, 91, 121 on the first day, etc.
Promises fill my journals:
By awesome deeds Thou dost answer us in righteousness, O God of our salvation. Psalm 65:5
Blessed is the Lord who daily bears our burden. Psalm 68:19
For every beast of the forest is mine. The cattle on a thousand hills. Psalm 50:10
But weeks of homelessness and unemployment turned to months.
The enthusiastic journal entries came to an abrupt end. Despair crept into the pages once again.
* * * * *
I am deep in discouraged thought. As he settles beside me on the back porch in the evening sun, there is a tone of comfort in my teenage son’s deep voice. He puts his arm around me and it takes me back a decade . . .
Three small kids and an unhappy baby, homeless, homeschooling the oldest, jobless, living only off the generosity of friends and family. Exhausted. Hopeless.
I took the kids for a drive in our new-to-us van and turned on the cd I’d picked up at a yard sale.
God will make a way Where there seems to be no way
He works in ways we cannot see, He will make a way for me
He will be my guide, Hold me closely to His side
With love and strength for each new day
He will make a way, He will make a way.
By a roadway in the wilderness You lead me
Rivers in the desert will I see
Heaven and earth will fade, But His word will still remain
And He will do something new today.
A deep little voice from the back seat interrupts my thoughts. He notices my tears.
“We’re in a wilderness, aren’t we Mommy?”
Yes, baby. We are.
He sings. What does he know of wilderness? He is four.
Out of the mouths of babes.
You have taught children and infants to tell of Your strength. Psalm 8:1&2
* * * * *
I think I’m going through a phase.
It’s possible that it’s just taking time for the cold and gray to unfetter me and allow me to enjoy the sun.
But I’m inclined to think it’s my age. And the number of and ages of our children. There is much about having teenagers that resembles the toddler years, I am sorry to say.
Constant activity. Difficulty making time for my friends. Peacemaking. Falling into bed exhausted at the end of the day. Unknowns that must be released to God. Soon I will be launching them into the world.
And then there are these words. I don’t have the time. Work. Responsibilities. Self-consciousness. But they press on me . . .
The Psalms are once again my daily food.
* * * * *
Morning sun warms the new chair I placed next to my bed (another blessed yard sale find). I stop what I am hurrying about and sit down. Reveling in light, pleased by the unexpected.
God, help me to notice. These details remind me of Your love.
This morning, words from Psalm 71 are a message of encouragement:
My life is an example to many, because you have been my strength and protection. That is why I can never stop praising You; I declare Your glory all day long. vs. 7-8
“I will tell everyone about your righteousness. All day long I will proclaim your saving power, though I am not skilled with words.” vs. 15
“You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth.” vs. 20
It is a Psalm of telling. Even if it takes a thousand words.
* * * * *
God speaks in the details.
It is the way He spoke His encouragement to the patriarchs and prophets. In the water and wind, in the storm, the stars, the grains of sand. And to His disciples. Consider the lilies of the field. Are you not of more value than they? And it is the way He speaks to us now.
Images and words He writes on my heart. The still small, but deep, voice. A ray of sunshine, a lifting of my eyes to the mountains, a sweet fragrance, a child’s voice, a song, a verse.
He is whispering His love.
How did you rebuild trust? someone recently asked me.
How did you make it from the lies to now.
I thought I could give a one post answer. But it’s not that simple.
So I write. And I think. And I pray.
And I ask God to give me words to say to people who feel as though their hearts have been ripped from their bodies. Who are hollow and broken, limping cautiously across a minefield knowing that no matter how lightly they step, eventually there will be an explosion.
I remember how it was to plead with God for an answer.
Should I stay, God? Should I leave? Should I trust him? Should I make rules?
* * * * *
It took me a long time to really understand that Dave had to own his recovery.
As much as I wanted to help, as much as our future was dependent on the outcome and as much as I felt like I deserved to have answers, ultimately my determination had nothing to do with it.
I had to let go of this. This control.
Every time Dave was caught in lies, I had a meltdown. And then I made a plan. Steps Dave could follow to regain my trust.
He’d do them for a while. But too often he was doing it just to please me.
And he really needed to be doing it for himself.
There was nothing. Nothing I could do to fix Dave. Nothing.
No agreement. No counseling. No contracts. No threats. No intervention. No violence.
God had to get ME to a place where I would let HIM work on Dave.
I had to decide if I was willing for God to do the fixing.
* * * * *
I heard it on the radio yesterday — this dilemma.
“You can’t fix someone who doesn’t want to be fixed,” I heard one preacher say yesterday. And I know it’s true.
Addicts have to get to that horrible place we try so hard to shield them from. For them, but mostly for us.
And you can’t rebuild trust with someone who doesn’t really intend to be honest.
Then another preacher says, “The love that forgives and restores . . . there is something precious in that Christ-like love.”
And I know this hard, hard thing is true.
That a love that endures involves suffering.
False starts. Relapse. Repentance. Fights. Being lied to.
So my answer to the hard questions is a thing I don’t want to say.
* * * * *
We won’t know, until we look back, where the healing really began.
From the day Dave first confessed his addiction to the day he really did hit “rock bottom” more than three and a half years passed.
It took years for God to pry my fingers off Dave’s recovery. And God did not always do things the way I wanted Him to do them.
If you are married to an addict, ask yourself these questions:
Do I really want restoration? Or do I just want out?
Listen to what God is telling you about your marriage.
It is not for me to say if you should walk away. I can only say what we did.
* * * * *
For us, restoring trust took time. Years.
I haven’t just been learning to trust Dave. I am learning to trust God.
Over the next posts Dave is going to join me. Because he had to earn trust from everyone in his life — not just me — and only he can tell you how hard that was.
Because when he looks back, he sees the day he began telling me the truth. Being accountable. Living honestly.
But it was a very long time before I really did trust him.
And even now, I am reminded that it isn’t about me trusting Dave. Because in moments of weakness, the years come back.
And I’m reminded: It’s about me trusting God to make Dave the man He wants him to be. With or without my trust.
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; Yes, our God is compassionate.
The Lord preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me.
Return to your rest, O my soul, For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For You have rescued my soul from death,
My eyes from tears, My feet from stumbling.
I shall walk before the Lord In the land of the living.
I believed when I said, “I am greatly afflicted.”
I said in my alarm, “ All men are liars.”