Just before Easter, I found out that CrossBooks, the self-publishing arm of Lifeway, is closing it’s doors at the end of the month.  It was a shocker, seeing as I had just arranged with them to have a book-signing at the Southern Baptist Convention later this summer.  Now, that opportunity is cancelled and the printing of my book will be put on hold while all the ins-and-outs are transferred over to another publishing company.

I didn’t see this little bump coming.  In fact, just the week before, I was so encouraged by multiple chance-meetings, conversations, and opportunities, that I felt as though I was reaching the summit of a new peak.  Little did I know, that I was merely rounding the foothills of a great chain of mountains that lie ahead.

What do we do in these moments–when all seems to be rapidly advancing forward, only to abruptly stop at a standstill?  If we are on the highway, we might have a few choice words for the situation.  If we are distracted, maybe texting while driving, we might find ourselves up the rear bumper of those in front of us.  If we are alert and aware that the highway is an unpredictable environment, then we allow time to avoid collision and can bluetooth Siri for an alternate route.

This past week, I was excited about getting to the final destination.  I was looking at the horizon, dreaming of the Dairy Queen that lay just beyond…

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…and I was aggressively driving to get there.  I wasn’t noticing the Bluebonnets or the Indian Paintbrush.  I wasn’t aware of the other drivers or the chance of construction on the future 5-mile stretch.  So when traffic came to a halt, I reacted with a few choice words and a little bit of panic.

Have you ever thought about the highway journeys found in Scripture?  Consider Moses:  From birth, he was removed from the solid arms of his mother and put into a wobbly river-born basket.  He grew up in a palace, rapidly advancing in the Egyptian hierarchy.  He was unaware, however, that the fast-paced, golden overpass he was traveling was about to run out of asphalt.  He ended up in the desert, running as a former adopted child to a king, reeling from the reveal of his true biological make-up and the guilt of his actions.  He was not who he thought he was.  He was taken in by tent-living nomads who tended to sheep.  It would appear Moses was on a completely different route, living a new life, perhaps even happy to seek a new dream.  Then he found himself literally on a mountain.  It was there that a burning bush smart-phone redirected him back to Egypt, back to the palace, but with a completely new role.

How awkward that first reuniting with his adoptive brother, Pharaoh, must have been.   How awkward getting to know his biological brother, Aaron, as they took on a seemingly impossible adventure together.  None of it was the path that Moses envisioned for himself.  He was in an unpredictable environment.  None of it was comfortable or ideal.  His 10-year plan, likely drafted within advanced Egyptian architecture, probably didn’t include a Midian wife, a shepherd’s/farmer’s-tan, and a plague-ridden squabble of “LET GO!” with his older childhood brother.

I am amazed when I think about the lifespan of Moses…all that he went through, all the different roles he filled, and all the things he must have seen.  Even more awe-inspiring to me is how God used a man who lorded over His own people to later free His people.  Just like Saul, God used a man who was an enemy to become the greatest advocate.

My road has been bumpy…and not just with publishers and book stuff.  I’ve been the worst of enemies with those who God is calling me to advocate for–my husband, my children, …my self.  The lies that I believe about my identity tell me that I belong to a worldly dynasty, entitled to riches and authority.  I have lorded over my own people.  I have not been kind.  We all do this, right?  We all believe the lies of entitlement.  We all abuse those closest and dearest.

But we are not destined to this…

There is hope.

God has a plan to remove us off the interstate leading to creamy soft-serve, where we are likely weak to over-indulge and cut in line.  He sits us in a desert and gives us sheep to watch.  He leads us to green pastures.  He calls us by new names and reminds us of our true identity.

Then…

He sends us to a mountain.

He asks us to recall where we’ve been and redirects us to a path that is a divine mashup of all we have ever been with all that we are to become.  He takes the stuff that shames us and pushes us forward with wisdom gained and connections built.  Rather than a fancy headdress and a royal polished crook and flail, He adorns us with humble sandals and a shepherd’s knotty staff in hand.

I don’t know where I am headed, or at what pace I am supposed to walk.  However, I have been reminded of who I am.  I have been retaught of where I have been and where I currently pause.  I stand, waiting in the cleft of a mountain, for the still small voice or the burning bush…whatever He has for me.  And when He says whatever He has to say to me, I pray I move with confident hustle, even though awkwardness and discomfort are inevitable.  I ask that He continue to remind me that every place I’ve been and have yet to  go is preparing and shaping me for one purpose and one goal…to bring news of freedom to those who are enslaved.  He is grooming me with all that I need to reach those to whom He has called me.

Moses didn’t go to Dairy Queen…right away.  He was first diverted off the path, given all that was necessary to get him there for more than just ice-cream…for the milk and honey sweetness of freedom for God’s people.

“Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.”   

Psalm 25:5 

Yesterday was game day: my daughter’s debut on the middle school basketball team.  As most sports enthusiasts know, girls’ 5th-grade basketball is where it’s at.  The NBA has nothin’ on the drama of a 20-minute scrimmage of tweens.  The NCAA can’t compare to the fast pace surprises and amazing display of developing talent.  It truly was a memorable evening.

The three mini-games played last night were purposeful.  Most of the young women participating were only just beginning to learn the rules of the sport.  So, the shortened matches were a chance to learn by doing.  (Sort of a toss the baby in the swimming pool approach)  Dribbling a ball down the court in practice alongside your teammate only requires one set of skills.  However, maintaining control of the ball while a ponytail covered in spirit ribbons whips you in the face is another.  Practicing lay-ups and working on jump shots provides some building blocks of the basics.  But, remembering which basket to aim at in the midst of screaming pre-teens and enthusiastic parents, now that’s an essential lesson all of its own.

A friend and I were laughing as we watched.  Some of the athleticism in unintentional plays was awkwardly unreal.  In the split-second of receiving the ball, the ability to chunk it towards the side wall as if it were a football (or a soggy sock) takes amazing muscle reflexes.  The agility required to scramble on the floor over jump ball after jump ball is not qualitative.  We both agreed that we probably couldn’t imitate was we saw, even if we tried.  And if we were to attempt such feats, there’s no way we’d last a full 20-minutes.

Thankfully, my daughter has wisdom beyond her years.  She was telling us before dinner the night before about this upcoming match.  With great excitement she said, “Ya’ll have to come!…Come watch me fail!  We are horrible!  There’s no way we will win, but you have to come!  It will be great!”  Oh, my sweet, sweet, girl.  I love that she held excitement in the sport, not in the hope of winning.  I love that she didn’t merely want to play the game, but moreover wanted us to enjoy simply watching her play it.

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“Come watch me fail…”  

Wow.  She has more self-confidence and security than most adults, including myself.  I don’t know if I’d invite any of y’all to be spectators at an event in which I was assuredly going to bounce my own ball into my own face.  She could have pouted.  She could have turned red in embarrassment.  She could have cried from the uncomfortableness of her awkwardness.  Her hope, however, was not placed in points or winning.  Her aim was to learn and enjoy the game.

Many of us are in situations or circumstances that likely require us to learn.  I’d argue that none of us is beyond spiritual growth, for sure.  2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  But how do we approach the opportunities to grow set before us?  How do we approach our transformation?  Do we listen to the Spirit to even discover chances to mature?

One tendency is to approach the court in fear.  There was another sweet girl on our team who avoided the ball at all cost.  I don’t think this was intentional, because she was happy to be there, she was glad to be a part of the team, and she had some occasional hustle.  However, at one moment in the game, as she stood next to a fellow teammate, the ball was passed in her general direction.  As it barreled towards her, she dodged to the side, in an instinctual response to avoid fast-flying objects.  The girl next to her reached as best she could to cover for this young lady’s evasiveness, but to no avail, the ball hit her elbow and bounced off.  Like a pinball machine the orange ball of danger was directly boomeranged back into the poor timid girl’s arms.  She caught the ball squarely in front of the chest, as coach had taught. But, as if it were an intense orb of fire, she immediately flung it in the air…into the arms of the opposing team.  Without hesitation, she turned her face to the coach and mouthed with distraught wrinkled brow, “I’m sorry!”

Our fear in situations can cause us to rely on instincts that are better reserved for real-life-danger.  Is it really necessary that I react to my children as if they were an attacker mugging me in the parking lot?  Is it really necessary that when confronted with conflict I hide in a back room as if an axe murderer was hunting me down in my house?  These reactions, while they seem completely rationale in the moment, only deprive us gaining wisdom and strength through trials.  Rather than soaking in and absorbing wisdom, we repel it like water on a duck.

We can also deflect the scary ball of responsibility onto others, but the lesson is for us.  It always ricochets back.  They have their own issues to deal with and their own path of maturity.  Only we can deal with our ‘stuff’.  Do we receive the hard things as opportunities of growth?  Do we instinctually fling them into the air?  Even if our acknowledgment isn’t as quick as the young girl’s, we will eventually feel regret that the opportunity to grow was lost.

Another tendency is to over-analyze the situation and our position.  There were some young athletes who really took to heart their defensive positions, that even after the ball had moved cross-court and was now in their team’s possession, they were still defending their territory.  They got so lost in their assigned job, that they missed the larger lesson and flow of the game.  There was no acknowledgment or rejoicing that their own team had the ball!

Man, I do this every stinkin’ day.  I get lost so easily in my tasks or seemingly designated position (usually self-appointed) that I miss the larger picture and the goal that Jesus is working me towards.  I can over-think what I should be doing and how I should be doing it, that I miss valuable play-time.  I forget that the purpose and plans to which God has called me are also ordained and controlled by him.  I can become very self-focused on what I feel is a valuable priority, that unknowingly I am left standing alone, in a very defensive position, with only my check-list in hand.  Meanwhile, the Spirit is yelling and pointing at me to get down court and help.  Your team has the ball!

Lastly, the tendency I observed in my daughter is the one that I hope to learn from.  This is the tendency to joyfully engage.  She was puzzled most of the time.  She kept up with the team and when the ball came to her, she dribbled a few times and then passed it off to someone who had a little more experience.  Over the course of the three-game evening, I saw great improvement in her understanding and her skills.  She never perfected her skills, nor did she ever fully understand what was swirling on around her.  She did, however, slowly transform from nervous and timid, hands glued to her sides, to quick feet with spurts of trying to steal the ball from the opponent.  I watched as she fervently sought out the coach and his instructions throughout play.  And, thankfully, she has a great coach, who is teaching the girls through encouragement and support.  He could have gotten worked up about the lack of points on the board, the number of turn-overs, or the amount of double-dribbles.  Instead, he guided each player only in a way that resulted in joyful participation.

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We left having lost, won, and tied at least once.  My daughter, though she expected to walk away a “failure”, left with new knowledge, confidence, and deeper joy.  I am thankful that she engaged the challenge of flying balls and twisted feet.  I pray that I learn from her to have the same joy and courage when it comes to potential failure.  I pray that I have the guts to invite others to come alongside me and witness my weakness and inability.  I pray that just like her I find my value in something other than winning, gaining points, or being impressive.  Instead, I hope to score steadfastness and maturity.  James 1:2-3 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”  Every time a hurling challenge flies my direction, I can respond with thankfulness, knowing that the opportunity for joy and a strengthening of faith awaits…I just need to have open hands, elbows out, palms forward to receive it.

After the game, we went to a sandwich shop for dinner as requested by our star-player.  My jersey-wearing-girl ferociously downed her meal.  She said, “Man, playing basketball is a good workout!  I could eat two of these.”  When we also engage with the circumstances laid in front of us–when we don’t run or hide from the difficult and sometimes intimidating things to which God has called us–we get a good workout and a healthy appetite as well.  Our bodies and souls, while fatigued, become stronger and more steadfast.  Our desire for Jesus and His word intensifies.  We look less to unhealthy escapes or quick-fix wisdom because it just doesn’t sound good anymore.  We’d rather be fueled through these hard times by the healthy life-giving and recharging Word of God and His encouraging Spirit.

Thank you, God, for 5th-grade girls’ basketball.  Thank you for the awkwardness, the confusion, and the spirit to confront fear with the best of friends.  Thank you for my daughters invitation to watch her fail and for the safety she must feel in our relationship to take that risk.  Thank you for coaches that speak words of encouragement and refuse to let us quit.  Thank you, God, for the sovereignty of Your plan and Your testing through any circumstance.  Thank you for opportunities to grow and to enjoy having a position on Your team.  Thank you for gratitude and the joy that quickly follows.

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Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre!
He covers the heavens with clouds;
he prepares rain for the earth;
he makes grass grow on the hills.

Psalm 147:7-8

He prepares all things for our growth.  What wisdom and beauty He is.  To Him be all glory and thanksgiving!

I’ve been focusing a lot of attention and study lately to Isaiah 61:1-3 for the R&R Women’s Retreat in January.  (Which if you haven’t registered yet, get after it.)

It says,

61 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;[a]
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;[b]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.[c]

This passage contains a “beautiful exchange”…in which Isaiah prophesies the replacement of all our mess with something beautiful, something peaceful, and something  purposeful.  As I’ve been meditating and studying on this part of scripture for a while now, I’ve run into a problem.  Evidence of this beautiful exchange is lacking…lacking in the church.

  “If you can’t show the difference between religion and the gospel, people will confuse morality with a changed heart.”-Timothy Keller

My husband advised me that there’s already been a lot of ink spilled over the whole religion vs. gospel argument.  Perhaps, but the very heady conversation has heart level implications of which I am becoming more aware.  When we “confuse morality with a changed heart”, the church cannot function in a way that honors Jesus and the beautiful exchange described in Isaiah 63.  Until one experiences the effects of a religion/gospel discrepancy, the emotional hurt and distrust that follows can’t be fully realized.  Often we don’t even realize our gospel has switched over to religion, it’s a slow slope that we ever-so-slightly slip down.

I believe a vast majority of churches have unknowingly muddied the distinction between religion and the gospel, so much so, that those within confuse authentic transformation in others for self-righteousness.  And conversely, even more confuse working really hard through behavior modification with their own spiritual growth and transformation.  The first example leaves those who are experiencing risky, yet honest, spiritual change discouraged, hurt, and deflated by the church.  The enemy uses this to hinder further spiritual maturity and he attempts to tear down that which Jesus has built up in the person.  The potential blessings this person offers to the church as a whole and to the community around them are derailed.  The latter results in the perceived spiritually mature trying to pour into others, while they are empty from their strivings and performance.  If our church leaders, staff, and volunteers are driven by this, they will burn out trying to maintain their own performance and that of the church.  When we are focused on the perfection of our practices, we are fueled by fleeting successes and extinguished by everyday failures.  Grace goes MIA.  Without grace, we’ve got nothing to give.

We are called as Jesus-followers to let Him live and work through us.  This is the Gospel: that He (who is pure and blameless) has taken my place–the place of death and destruction–and has set me in His place–the place of righteousness and sonship.   His Spirit now lives in me and guides me.  What an exchange!  This absolutely results in personal change, without any effort of my own!  This absolutely means things start to look different.  So where’s the “change” within the church?  How does the church “look different?”

By definition, the church is the bride of Christ, set apart as Holy and blameless, through the blood of Jesus.  Therefore, one can expect that the church and its people should act and look differently than those who have not embraced Christianity.  However, today the church, whether traditional or contemporary, looks more and more like big business, commercialism, and materialism, as well as, biting sarcasm, deception, and lawlessness.  We’ve exchanged-out undeserved grace and favor for the exhausting work of maintaining face and trends at any cost.  We stress making sure our practices look different and appealing, but miss how we as the children of God should look different, and therefore, what we have (Jesus) will naturally become appealing to others.

Religion as defined by Webster’s Dictionary is: “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices; OR scrupulous conformity”.  We have become so tied and conformed to our institutions and what the Sunday morning routines and practices look like, (and how they might look to others), that we have forgotten the lack of “systems” that Jesus had.  We acknowledge the fundamental belief in the Gospel but rarely leave space and time to live it out…through each individual and their personal transformation.

A whole city believed because of the personal interaction between Jesus and a single woman.

We have become consumed with our overall performance and growth as a church instead of simply sharing our individual stories of redemption.  In an effort to put on the best show, we’ve spent less time letting the love of Jesus transform our hearts and minds, conforming us into His image, and more time trying to conform those around us into our image and preferences.  What we really need is a Gospel transformation of our own hearts.  If we are losing our voices of intellect to sarcasm, bitterness, crudeness, and apathy towards our sin,  what really needs to happen is a change in us.  Jesus cares about the way we treat each other, speak to each other, and represent Him.  Thankfully, He has a beautiful exchange for all of our misgivings and disgrace.  He offers something better, richer, and more satisfying.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen church communities thrive on grace alone.

When churches focus on statistics, numbers, and performance, we slowly morph the good news into an alternative works/righteousness slant.  (This is not a traditional vs. contemporary argument.  Both styles of worship fall victim to trying to impress their guests.  Both manner of churches have taken on a “if you build it, they will come” philosophy.)  When churches aim to look more like the world to “reach the lost”, we end up stifling genuine and true transformation in our congregations.  If we started to look more like Jesus, maybe we’d look less like the world…and then we wouldn’t be “edgy” or “attractive” anymore.  We’ve arrogantly got this beautiful exchange all twisted and backwards:  we’ve secularized the spiritual, rather than spiritualize the secular…as if any of it was in our control or power to begin with.  Our presence in the community shouldn’t cause churches to act more like the world, rather we can expect to see the world start to act more like the body of Christ because of the presence of Jesus in us.

Can we please give people who don’t believe in Jesus more credit?  They see through our efforts to be trendy and cool.  If they wanted to be entertained, they’d go to a show, or a movie, or go play putt-putt.  If they are walking through the doors of your church, they are hungry for something different–not hungry to see a church that looks different…but rather for something that could make them different.  They are craving something that could rid them of their broken hearts, their feelings of entrapment, their mourning, their shame, and their faint spirits.  That kind of exchange is the lasting living water that truly satisfies, while a favorable Sunday morning experience will only last 1 hour and 15 minutes.  When the people sitting in the pews have undergone this beautiful exchange, and share their personal stories of beauty from ashes, that’s what draws others to Jesus…that’s Gospel-centered ministry…and lasting church growth.  Church growth is in the hands of the people who fill the seats.  The function of leadership is to encourage and remind their people that they are empowered by the Holy Spirit to share God’s love through their stories.

Jesus is more than enough on His own.  He doesn’t need us to make Him “more seeker friendly”, “more palatable”, or “less intimidatingly righteous”.  Did Jesus hang out with prostitutes? Yes, but He didn’t start dressing like them.  When we focus all efforts into how we practice our religion in one building, and ignore how we are to live out the Gospel with each other outside our four walls, we inhibit spiritual growth.  We might be sweetly desiring our church to grow, but the spirituality of the people within will die when church growth and/or sustaining tradition becomes the end goal.  If the goal becomes developing the best model, we’ve bypassed the fact that the Gospel most assuredly is messy and unpredictable, and personal transformation isn’t on a timed schedule.  It’s can’t fit into a model.

In the beautiful exchange that Jesus offers, the s*** of life happens…and then Jesus happens.  He takes away the crap and replaces it.  Things will get messy, because acknowledging our sin is messy.  But getting it out there, so it can be wiped away, is necessary.  Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  We WILL naturally look different.  We WILL inherently be more joyful.  We WILL unknowingly start to care less about what the Sunday service looks like, and more about what Jesus looks like.  We WILL effortlessly start to discern that which pleases God from that which does not.  Those who follow Jesus will be known by the fruit that they bear, not how cool they are…because He will be daily extracting the nasty flesh out and injecting much, much better.  And when we see that in ourselves and in others, we can praise God that He is at work.

I’ve heard a lot recently of the church being compared to a sausage factory.  The analogy suggests that churches put out a product, and if you knew what went into it, you’d never take part in it.  Imagine the Oscar-Meyer sausage factory, beautifully exchanged for a tiny home filled with homemade family-recipe apple pies made alongside great-Grandma.  The goal is not a product, but a family.  It’s not very impressive, hip, tidy, or efficient.  The kitchen’s small with out-of-date beaters and hand towels, your borrowed apron is awkwardly too big, there’s flour all over the place, and you’ve likely invested hours for one delicate pastry.  But there’s nothing that compares to the sweet satisfaction and aroma of love that fills the air.

Let’s not get stuck–simply complaining behind the doors of a sausage factory.  Our stories don’t end there.  A beautiful exchange has been promised to us.   Let’s hold on to the hope that times of refreshing are coming.   Acts 3:19-20 says, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus.”  Believe the LORD God when He says in Ezekiel 36:36, “Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”  He is in the business of bringing back to life that which we think is beyond repair.  He has perfected taking our mess and making it beautiful.  Will we allow Him?  Will we humble ourselves and repent?

Let’s give Him our hearts.  Let’s let Him draw out our sin, our death, and our destruction.  Let’s let Him cover all our shame and brokenness with His perfection and grace.  Let’s let Him take root in our hearts and exchange the bad for good.  Let’s daily resolve to let Him continually transform us and those around us.  Let’s get messy together and be comforted by all that Jesus has for us.  Let’s encourage each other, pray for one another, forgive one another…and taste sweet grace.

Well, we have finally made it to step 7 of our seven-step Life After Rehab series.  Thanks for stickin’ through it. 🙂


 

Step 7: Stay Alert for Signs of Relapse.

“According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a chronic illness, and as a result, 40 to 60 percent of people who have an addiction relapse at least once. This doesn’t mean that addiction treatment isn’t effective, but it does mean that people with addictions will need to amend their lives and be on alert if they’d like to keep the problem from coming back full force. For starters, they might need to know where a relapse, for them, begins. For some, it’s a feeling of sadness or loss. For others, it’s a sensation of happiness or invincibility. These thoughts swirl and swirl, growing stronger and stronger, until a relapse takes place. Capturing and identifying the thought is the key to stopping the relapse. When those thoughts are in place, the person can go back to therapy, visit a sober friend, catch a meeting, or otherwise deal with the issue and stop the cycle. Friends and family members might also be helpful here, as they might also know what a relapse looks like and how it typically starts. They can’t be expected to step in and stop a relapse from taking place, but they can speak up and speak out when they sense trouble, and this might be the prompt that pushes the person to find more intensive treatment” (http://www.michaelshouse.com).

 


 

Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus came to set us free from the bondage of our sin. Our chronic condition has been completely healed on the cross. We have that freedom at our fingertips but we so often, like the addict, don’t amend our lives to the entirety of His teachings and His grace, nor faithfully remain on alert for attacks on our freedom. The enemy wants us to think we are still enslaved to sin–that what Jesus did on the cross wasn’t enough or didn’t take. We, like the addict, often don’t catch the little things that lead us to a relapse of the flesh–those things that lead us to strap ourselves back to the chains of bondage.

Feelings of sadness, loss, and invincibility can lead even the most “put-together” Christians down a path of destruction. “Capturing and identifying” as mentioned above for the addict are also key to resisting sin and it’s hold on us.  In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul instructs fellow believers in Jesus that the battle we fight is not of the flesh but of a divine nature. He tells us to “hold captive every thought.” This means that with every feeling and thought we have, we need to take hold of it, identify it, and then use Christ’s standards to evaluate it. Without this process, our emotions and thoughts can become a swirling river of untamed beliefs and assumptions that guide our behavior and decisions in a destructive way. It’s Satan’s last ditch effort to pull us away from the freedom we have in Christ. Again, this is where a community of Christ-followers and sober-minded friends and mentors is key to survival. There will be times when we are so far gone down the river of frustration, guilt, fear, self-righteousness, doubt, and selfishness that we need others to recognize and identify for us what’s going on. We will need others to pull us out, dry us off, and call us out on our erroneous thinking or behaving. We will need others to speak gentle truths to us in love, reminding us of our freedom and security in Christ.

When we started this “Family Rehab” journey last year, we committed to a year of homeschool in an effort to slow our pace of living down and to reestablish our home during that time.  While during the past year we have seen remarkable change in our relationships with our children and have seen them blossom in certain areas, it has not gone as expected. With our relocation, we lost at least half the school year to the mayhem of boxes and house projects.  However, we have seen during a less than perfect attempt at homeschooling, positive and fruitful growth in our family, which only shows God’s faithfulness and mercy.

I have wrestled with what lies ahead for us and school.  I see the great benefits of homeschool and being with my kids every moment of the day, learning with them along the way.  The flexibility of setting our own schedule has been a healing balm for  our souls and our home life.  There are many reasons to do homeschool again next year.  However, I realize that most Americans feel that they cannot afford homeschool or that it isn’t a realistic option for them.  So because the majority of the culture around me is facing the realties of parenting in the midst of our crazy fast-paced American goal-setting and success-getting culture, I find myself searching for the answers to some questions:

With the early hours, the days apart from each other, the homework, our own job-stress and expectations, and the bulging schedule, how do we still remain intentionally engaged with the hearts of our children and each other?

How do we live in our American culture, yet not submit to it–without completely pulling out of its systems?  

How do we resist finding our value and worth in our success and performance when the culture around us measures us (and everything else–even our churches) by those same weighted standards?  

How do we gospel-thrive in a gospel-deficiant culture?

I feel that our year of rehab helped us to rest and hit the reset button.  While nowhere near completion, I believe that I have grown in my trust of Jesus and am merely starting to learn what it means to unabashedly move to the gentle whispers of His Spirit, even if He leads me to do something a little bit crazy.   I hope that my family is also learning this kind of discernment.  I think our freshly rested souls and our post-rehab perspectives encourage us to engage in these kinds of cultural questions.  Because of this, (along with some other reasons I can discuss later), we are looking at putting the kids in school next year.  Having said that, we are waiting for clear direction from the Lord as to where and if this is truly what is best for our family in this season.  There might be a chance that God says we are not ready and need another year of rehab.  We might see that we need to “go back to therapy” because we are closer to relapse than we realize.  There is a chance that we enter the school system only to pull out again in a year or two.  As counter-culture and as counter-Angie as it is, I am trying not to set a 5-year plan and outline the future.  We have seen God work in ways that go beyond our plans and, in fact, frustrate our plans.  So, we are intentionally not setting any or forming strong biases in the area of education.  So many benefits lie in all forms of education, and I believe those differing benefits can be taken advantage of for different seasons.

No matter where our children’s education takes place, this next year will look different. Instead of focusing on a year of rehabilitation, we will focus on applying the things we have learned to our new and crazy fast-paced life. I am sure we will struggle to stay grounded and will have to resist getting swept up in the things of this world. But we will use these helpful steps and trust in Jesus to be sovereign and carry us through.  We will rely on those sober-minded friends and family members to pull us from paths or cycles leading to relapse.

We will continue to share our story with you (see blog posts on steps 5 and 6) as we enter Life After Rehab. I invite you to share your stories with me. My prayer is that we will remind each other over the next year that we have all been rehabilitated, restored, renewed and revived in Jesus. His work is complete in us. Let us hold fast to His word and cling to His promises–who He is and who we are in Him. When things start to look more like the world and less like Jesus, let’s hold each other up to the truths found in His deep relentless love. Our performance doesn’t change the work He did on the cross. Our falling off the wagon doesn’t change or take away His victory over sin and eternal death. We get to continue in the joy and freedom found in what He has rehabilitated–what He has restored. We all have new health and life in Him.  We all are in life after rehab…let’s support one another and live it together.


We are working on a better format for the sharing of your stories.  In the meantime, please share in the comment section.  We’d love to be encouraged by what God is doing in your life and support you where you are struggling to see His presence.

 

Sometimes I don’t know what God is doing.  I was talking with Paul the other night and recalled with him that I would have never imagined in a hundred years that I would ever find myself doing what I am doing.  Before we even got married I had told him that I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom.  Now, here I am, a mother of FOUR… and I am not only staying at home, but I am attempting to HOMESCHOOL?  What happened!?!?  I had rather lofty goals completely unrelated to my current calling.  Now I find myself walking around the house constantly saying, “Something smells…”

God has done a lot to get me here and has been transforming me in all kinds of ways over all those years.  I am thankful that He continues to work on me, creating this person who at times I don’t even recognize in the mirror… but I am kind of growing to like her. I thank God, too, that what God wants me to look like is different than His plans and desires for everyone else.  He loves us individually and doesn’t want a cookie-cutter people.  He is a God of variety and creativity.  I like that.

The other night I sat outside and waited for a thunderstorm to roll in.  It wasn’t the first time I’ve had the pleasure of sitting still and experiencing the sudden change in weather, yet each time I am always amazed.  Like so many times before, the air was thick and still.  The lightening could be seen across the horizon in the dark and rolling thunderclouds.  With each lightening strike the ominous clouds would glow for a split second, revealing their massive size.  The trees stood still in silence…waiting.  There was an anxiousness in the calm air as the birds seemed to frantically prepare for the rain.  I felt my own heart start to pound a little faster…something was about to happen and all creation seemed to know it.

FIrst I heard the faint rustling of leaves.  The birds started to scatter.  The cat backed up from the edge of the porch.  Then I felt the cool breeze across my face.  The tension of the air was suddenly released and all that pent up energy was dispersed through the street.  Then I saw it.  The clouds filled up the whole sky above me and what was once on the horizon was now towering over me.  The huge thunder heads were swirling while brewing up a firestorm of light within.  Then I could even smell the musk of dirt and rain being mixed together by the beginning drops and twisting wind.

I had the thought:  “Who the heck am I, compared to this storm?”  To think what power was contained in this storm above me-  all the molecules of water collecting up there, all the electricity generated in the atmosphere, to eventually rush down on me, or electrocute me!  To think how small I was, sitting there under the covering of my little porch compared to those huge powerful dark clouds.  To think what that storm looked like from outer-space… like a few fluffy clouds on the dimly lit back-side of the Earth.  Who am I?  More like…”Who do you think you are, Angie?”

I may be small, insignificant, and scared compared to the vastness of the storm, but when I think about who set that storm into motion, I know that my value is not limited to just that.  God, who set the Earth into motion long before I was even a mere thought, is an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving god.  He has the power to strike me down with a lighting bolt on my front porch.  But He doesn’t.  He has deep storehouses of mercy and everlasting love… for little ‘ol me.

It is this same God who I trust with my porch safety, that I can trust with the hearts of my children, my finances, my marriage, my stress, my laundry even.  If He is that big, and I am that small, and He loves me…wow.  I have no reason to question His faithfulness and providence, or His plan.

As the thunder rolled, both Gideon and Helen crawled out of their beds at different times, finding me on the porch.  They both wanted the thunder to stop.  They both wanted me to pray for them, asking God to quiet the storm and cease the rain.  I could understand why.  The whole house shook in fear and with trembling.

But after I walked them back to their perspective rooms and began to tuck them in and pray over them, I thanked God for the rain.  I asked that it continue, not cease.  We desperately need rain, after all.  I prayed that the noise and the fear cease, that His protection and provision remain, and that our trust in Him grow.

It made me think about all the seasons of my life when I have prayed for the thunderstorm to cease, not taking into account the rain that was falling and quenching my thirsty heart and soul.  It made me think of all the times that I have let fear and the noise of this world mask the power and provision of the Lord.

As we learn our rhythms and flow of family rehab, I pray that I be reminded amidst the noise and anxiety-filled thick air, that God has something in store for us that we desperately need.  It will satisfy and quench like nothing else.  The anticipation of what is coming is almost unbearably thick.  What He has in store is roaring in the distance and gaining momentum.

I pray that I can sit still long enough to listen for the signs of it coming.  I pray that I can close my eyes long enough to feel the atmosphere around me change and feel God blow across my heart.  I pray that I can see it in the faces of my children and spouse, in big ways, and seemingly insignificant ways. I pray that I am so in tune with what God is doing that I can even smell it.