how do I envy? let me count the ways . . .

Raindrops trace paths down my car window.  Robins, undaunted, dot the lawn. I count six – their red vests striking against the mossy green.

Now is when dull gray skies are hard. I want the sun to beat too hot on this hillside. I want to need water, and sunglasses, and shade.

I suppose that comes from living three quarters of my life in places where March meant something.

Here, March is just more of the same.

Interminable ashen dripping skies.

* * * * *

I wonder how much of my life I’ve wasted on jealousy.

Wishing I had, wishing I could, wishing I was . . . envious of people who had, did and were.

Even now I think I’m a little jealous of people who have backyard chickens . . . or a well-trained Jack Russell terrier, or a 4 wheel drive, or lovely, manageable hair . . . or people who can dance well, or have a faster metabolism than mine, or write whatever they want all day, or have a house with new bathrooms, or travel abroad, or live on a large sunny lot . . . or on a farm with a view of the water . . .

I have to dismiss jealous thoughts.

And sometimes, I have to fight them hard.

Jealous thoughts, unchecked, deepen into gnawing envy.

There’s always something.

Someone’s looks.

Someone’s talent.

Someone’s stuff.

Someone’s place in life.

Someone’s success.

Someone’s marriage.

Someone’s blessing.

Someone’s answered prayer.

* * * * *

Envy slips into loneliness and quietly plants daydreams: a different home, a different job, a different husband, a different life.

Envy stretches out evil roots to trip me as I walk. Envy distracts, divides, depresses.

Envy forces a wedge between and saws furiously at ties that bind hearts.

Envy is hardest when all is wrong. When all the world has spring and you have winter. Endless, endless winter.

* * * * * *

Ah, but this is the spring.

Beneath the gray, green unfurls greener. Beneath the mud, color pushes against soil.

Long before sun brings warmth and light, the growing begins.

Joy appears. Dotting landscapes. Filling fields.

Promises . . . under still dreary skies.

Signs of love, of hope, of new life. Signs I miss if I am constantly cursing the sky for what it is not.

Robins, daffodils, tulips, camellias — why should they care about the color of the sky?

* * * * *

I am thankful for robins.

I am thankful to breathe wet air instead of icy.

I am thankful for wild, waxy green evergreen bushes loaded with fat, pink-tinged assurances of beauty.

I am thankful for writers and books to help pass gray days and point me toward the smallest gifts of life — planting gratitude to choke out envy, cultivating thankfulness for what I have, for how God made me, for the life I live, for the gift of years, days, for house, for minivan, for naturally curly hair. Gratitude for children, for husband . . . all of us growing every day — all of us becoming.

This gratitude turns to contentment — the most powerful antidote I know for the rotting disease of envy.

* * * * *

The rain has had its say this morning. The sun is out now, demanding my attention. And I will love this day for the gift it is.

Love is . . . never jealous or envious . . .

— St. Paul

* * * * Spring 2
*

The unending paradox is that we do learn through pain . . . I look back at my mother’s life and I see suffering deepening and strengthening it. In some people, I have also seen it destroy. Pain is not always creative; received wrongly, it can lead to alcoholism and madness and suicide. Nevertheless, without it we do not grow.

— Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

* * * * *

How do I give up resentment for gratitude, gnawing anger for spilling joy? Self-focus for God-communion.
To fully live — to live full of grace and joy and all that is beauty eternal. It is possible, wildly.
I now see and testify.
So this story — my story.
A dare to an emptier, fuller life.

— Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: a dare to live fully right where you are

* * * * *

It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

— Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

* * * * *

On rainy days Beatrix painted the everyday things around her: flowerpots, antique furniture, the interior halls and staircases. She once used the inclement weather as the backdrop for an unconventional view of Lingholm; with one side and the roof line of the grey stone house cast up dramatically against the opaque, rainy sky with the distant mountains shrouded in mist. She called it simply Rain.

— Linda Lear, Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature

* * * * *

Keep a gratitude notebook and write down what happens during the week. During this experiment, determine not to ask for anything, not to gripe, grumble, or complain about what you wish you had. While you’re experimenting, share with the people in your house why you’re thankful for them . . .

Remember, if you’re upset by what you don’t have, you waste what you do have.

–Linda Dillow, Calm My Anxious Heart

blessings for healing: mercy

Camellia buds.

I noticed them yesterday, and I can’t wait for them to open. But I won’t be able to see them out my bedroom window like I almost could last year.

Because Dave thought the camellia was the bush I was referring to when I said, “That bush is ugly, and now I can see it through the bedroom window.”

Unfortunately, we have three bedroom windows . . .

He was so pleased to surprise me with cutting back the offensive bush — and then so crushed by his terrible mistake. Camellias remind me it’s actually spring when for all the world there is no difference in the weather here from winter to July.  I had waited three years for the rosy red flowers to grow that last foot to the window so I could see them from inside the house. I cried — a little.

But the sudden flash of memory of To Kill a Mockingbird and Jem with Scout’s baton whacking away at budding camellias in a blind fury made me laugh. For some reason, I had always pictured a hydrangea as the recipient of rage.  But hydrangeas grow back to their full height, even if you cut them all the way to the ground. Camellias do not. They are slow. And I suddenly understood how Jem whacking the tops off the camellias really was “getting back” at Mrs. Dubose.

So, I point out the camellia buds and Dave apologizes again and we laugh and I remember how I accidentally broke the top of his convertible when we were dating . . .

We’re celebrating our 21st anniversary. And we’ve been through so much worse than these mistakes.

* * * * *

A picture of mercy rests comfortably in my mind.

A man, beaten by robbers, lays by the side of the road . . .  a foreign stranger rescues him while the poor man’s own countrymen pass him by. I feel compassion toward the wounded, desperate man. After all, he was a victim. It was nothing he did. He was attacked.

I would like mercy to stay there. To be that. I can muster that sort of mercy.

But there are other pictures of mercy. . .

A servant, deep in a debt he can’t repay begs mercy of his master, and the master graciously forgives every penny. But when a fellow servant owes the newly-debt-free servant a small amount of money, instead of forgiving (as he has been forgiven), he throws the man in prison.

This is harder. As much as I don’t want to be the wicked servant in theory, I am, too often, in practice . . . but I can follow this, too.  Do unto others . . .

* * * * *

Sometimes, I think it is a miracle that he is still married to me.

I have been so exacting. So critical. So judgmental. So reminding. So merciless. And so very, very right.

I have wanted to draw a line in the sand and make my case. To say, Teacher, did you not see what he did?  He’s an addict. He lied. He stole. He broke my heart.

But I can’t draw that line. Because Jesus already did.

There was a woman, caught in the act of a sin — punishable by death by stoning, according to the laws given by God to Moses. And the people came to Jesus, ready, with the stones in their hands.

We don’t know what Jesus wrote in the sand. But when he finally looked up, everyone was gone except the woman.

. . . He never told them they were wrong. How did I miss that? What He said was, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

I read this story in a book at a time when I needed very much to hear it:

I wonder whether, when these teachers of the law first signed up as young men to devote themselves to a life of service, they had warm hearts for God and for others. Weren’t they in fact motivated by love? But over time, something had happened. All their learning about Scripture filled them with pride. All their efforts at obedience filled them with disdain for the less devout. All their giftedness filled them with impatience toward those who were weaker. . . and they became as enslaved by a cold heart as an addict can become enslaved by crack cocaine… at least with the sins of the flesh, you find out you have messed up. With the sins of the spirit, you may not even know. You just walk through life with a stone in your hand: judgmental thoughts, a superior attitude, impatient words, bitter resentments. — John Ortberg

They were right, you know. The people. Right about the rules.

And there is the awfulness of it all. Letting go of rightness for mercy.

Has God punished you to the fullest extent of the law for your sins? Well, then . . . mercy can’t be about what we deserve.

Dave knew he was a sinner in need of mercy, but I had seen myself as a martyr and saint. I didn’t really, really believe I was in need of mercy, too. At least not to that extent. And that was the turning point.

Mercy is forgiveness. Mercy is restraint. Mercy is risk.

And mercy is also love.

It isn’t love to allow someone to destroy themselves or to abuse. It isn’t love to cover an addiction or crime. I have been there, too. When I dropped the rock I held against my husband, God, in His mercy, kept Dave there.

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us,
not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  Titus 3:4-5

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-13

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

“Mercy and forgiveness must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer. If the wrongdoer has to do something to merit it, then it isn’t mercy, but forgiveness always comes at a cost to the one granting the forgiveness.” Tim Keller

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Matthew 5:7

* * * * *

I would like to write more about mercy. All day long. But today I want to spend time with the man who loves me.

If you want to read more about mercy, here are two wonderful links I came across. The beauty of mercy is almost too much here: http://www.taize.fr/en_article6825.html and here: http://www.studylight.org/dic/hbd/view.cgi?number=T4234 And of course, I highly recommend Everybody’s Normal Til You Get to Know Them by John Ortberg.camellias

 

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

Redemption is real

I was in prison and you came to visit me.
http://www.chuckcolson.org

“His life is a testament to how redemption, so often debased and abused in a 24/7 news cycle obsessed with celebrity and scandal, can be astonishingly powerful and real.” — Rich Lowry on Charles W. Colson

I was writing an article recently for work and had to read some sections of Chuck Colson’s book, “Born Again.”

Some of it is just too painful, hits too close to home in some ways. Granted, the nation wasn’t watching when Dave lost his ministry because of his prescription drug abuse and all the destructive side-effects.

Because of his Watergate crimes, Chuck Colson went to prison. He served just enough time to see the hopelessness of condemned men and the failure of a system that sent them back to the streets to re-offend. He used his notoriety to found Prison Fellowship sharing his testimony of transformation to give hope to millions.

Granted, it would be hard to hide from your past if your sins, crimes, shame were as famous as Watergate. It would follow you your whole life, just as it did Chuck Colson. Just look at the headlines and the articles detailing his crimes from nearly 40 years ago.

The thing that inspires me about Chuck Colson is that he repented, acknowledged his shame and let God turn it into a platform to speak to criminals and kings. It takes a great deal of humility to have your flaws chronicled for all time and still face the world.

How have you failed? What has God healed you from? And why do you hide it?

People don’t want to hear how great we are or how perfect we’ve become. There’s no real hope for perfection in this life. So give it up! What are you going to let God do with your shame?

People want to know that no matter how badly they’ve failed and no matter how much they’ve scoffed at and rejected the God who loves them, that He still stands there with open arms ready to embrace them and forgive.

It may be in a prison yard speaking to 600 convicts or it might be a small recovery group in your church. All around us men and women are living in their past or present bondage to shame.

Let God use your story. They need to know redemption is real.

 “If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody.” 

Boston Globe in 1973

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.  

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners,

Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example

for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

Saint Paul, I Timothy 1:14-15