risk…

Last night I sat with a cup of spiced tea in my hands next to my son reading a book.  The pages were lit by only the fading sunlight of dusk and a warm-scented candle.  The soft soundtrack of Pride and Prejudice played over the stereo as we read his library book about…StarWars droids.  Even still it was a lovely setting.  It sounds picture perfect…

Until I tell the rest of the story.

Upstairs a storm was brewing.  Emotions were high and were being unleashed all over the floor.  Literally.  The pads of the feet were not being used to travel the carpet.  An all out rolling and kicking temper-tantrum was underway.

Creating a calm setting amidst the chaos is our new approach.  Giving more credence and attention to the peaceful and quiet rather than turning over the entire state of the house to fits is our current training in Life After Rehab.   We are trying to practically retain sober-mindedness when everything around us seems out of control.  It’s not an effort to just ignore, but to speak calm truth in short increments.  I think it might be working.  The issue is a strong-willed child who will stop just short of every extreme measure imaginable to be in control.  (I don’t know who passed that gene down!)  It’s hard to remain light-hearted and tranquil when your name is repeatedly yelled across the house.  It’s difficult to stay upbeat and truth-filled when someone is telling you over and over that you are wrong and unfair.

All this practice and training in my parenting is forming something else in me as well.  I am learning more about the Holy Spirit in this process.  I am learning that while candle-lit space travel on the pages of a borrowed book takes extreme focus during a spinning child-tornado, it is still possible.  It’s exactly the kind of challenging work the Holy Spirit does.  It’s the precise task the Holy Spirit has been doing since the beginning of time…order in the midst of chaos.

If we truly believe that God is triune–three persons in One–then the Holy Spirit was there at the beginning of creation with God, the Father and Jesus, the Word.  He was the Holy Spirit that traveled across the expanse of the waters, stirring motion into the wind, creating a pattern of currents in otherwise haphazard air.  He was the very breath of God that was blown into the lifeless clay lungs of Adam, triggering inhalation and exhalation, contraction and constriction–a whole organized system of life.  The Spirit is a powerful force.  His movement has not once ceased since that first day of the world’s birth.  If I say I have relationship with Jesus, and acknowledge God as my Father, then what of this Holy Spirit?  If He is an equal part of the Triune, then should not my relationship be equally yoked with Him?  Should I not be conversing with the Spirit just as I commune with Jesus or the Father?

In my weary and parched land of parenting, the Holy Spirit hovers the dusty sand, ready to spill itself over my desert.  He has power to turn my weak, my tired, my poor into churning oceans of bounty and blessing.  There is an oasis to be had, even in the midst of the hot dry sand storm.

I am learning…slowly…but nevertheless, learning how practically to live in the presence of the Spirit even when circumstances seem far from Him.  When I find myself overcome with Him, I am content.  I am peaceful.  I am tranquil.  I am trusting.  And I am entirely without control.  It’s not by my own power or will that I find myself with my cup of tea smiling.  It’s not a vision board or positive thinking ritual that seduces me to happiness.  It truly is the joy of the Lord.  It is His kindness, mercy, and goodness that compels me.  It can seem so trivial…”okay, yeah, yeah, the ‘Holy Spirit’ makes you happy even when kids are throwing fits.”  But until you experience the true satisfaction that comes with calling on the Holy Spirit to overwhelm you with peace, and then you actually sense it, it won’t ever sound legit.

How do I learn this?  What’s my homework?  I take risks.  I am learning to take risks on the Holy Spirit.  I ask and wait…then just hope that He shows up.  I listen and wait…and do whatever I think I might be hearing.  It could merely be a voice in my head…it could.  And I am sure that sometimes it is my own consciousness self-talking myself to do little good deeds.  But there are times I hear a faint urging to do something that would normally be uncomfortable and outside my comfort zone.  So instead of ignoring it, my spiritual science experiment is to take the risk of actually doing it, without hypothesizing.  I do it, then wait and watch for any sign of change.  Little by little the Spirit is revealing to me genuine fruit.  There is a field of little outcroppings springing up as I take these risks.  I am looking into this land and seeing a future harvest rising.  My risks are fruitful, even if I don’t see everyone of them flowering into something.  The more I venture into trusting, the more I am learning to discern His voice from my own.   I am learning what seeds to plant and where.  And I am learning how to sit and quietly watch the grass grow.

His voice tells me, “have some spiced-tea”, even though it’s still a hot and humid September in Houston.  His voice tells me, “light the fall scented candle…in fact, light two of them so that you can’t escape their fragrance, and mine.”  He urges me to sit and breathe deep and marvel at the face of the sweet child by my side, to fluff his hair and tell him he’s dashingly handsome.  His voice tells me to pray for my upstairs child who has gone wild.  He whispers in the quiet of my heart reminders of His truth and His love and His sovereignty.  He hums a sweet melody in my ear that paints a picture of a future adult with a strong-willed passion for Him.  He breathes power into my being…restrained power to be calm, peaceful, and orderly.

He gives me just the right thing to say as I walk up the stairs into the danger zone.

His might overwhelms me.  Emotions dissipate.  I envision Jesus on the rocky sea boat telling the waves and the thunder to stop, and all stood still.  That same other-worldly presence stands on the bow of my stairs, hushing the fury.  The air softens, the dust settles, and I pray over my troubled child.  And then, my sweet confused one asks for forgiveness.

Had I tried to control the situation, the Spirit would have been snuffed out or, at the least, pushed over to the corner.  I am learning.   I am learning Life After Rehab lessons that I thought I knew, but that are gaining depth and circumference.  And these new understandings involve risk and patience.

How do you take risks on the Holy Spirit?  Teach me.  I am eager to learn and am all ears.  I believe the Spirit is at work in all of us.  I believe that in community we gain a richer and more realistic view of the trust seeds the Spirit is sowing.  In taking the risk to share, I believe we encourage each other to invest future risks on the Holy Spirit.  Let’s learn from each other these spiritual fundamentals.

And it truly is risky business.   There is spiritual opposition to the Holy Spirit.  None can overcome the Spirit, but darkness sure tries.  It’s scary to think that stepping out in faith might make us spiritual targets, but isn’t it worth it?  Shouldn’t it be worth it?  I’m in…at least right at this moment I’m in.  I’m learning the value of this risk also.  The fear is not as great when walking with a powerful Spirit.  And He’s there for the taking.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13

I will ask for more of Him, the “Him” who is the neglected person of the Trinity…the Him who dares me to trust…I will dare Him to come…and take a risk on what happens.

 

And the yeast rises…

Yesterday was the first day of school.  The official introductory step over the threshold into Life After Rehab.  We’ve been building up anticipation for this event, buying school uniforms, backpacks, and those coveted new box of crayons.  The night before was full of anxiety and fierce emotion for the kids.  (Some children more contained than others.)  We recognized old patterns return.  We caught sober-mindedness fleeing the building.  We saw lots of kicking…

But somehow, through the insanity, as parents, we remained calm and level-headed.  That’s not to imply that we have mastered anything at all, but it did show some return from our rehab year.  More pointedly, it was the fruit of the Spirit that we witnessed.  Our stretch of Rehab has trained us, if even a little, in allowing the Spirit to assert His temperament over our own.  

So much anticipation…

This past weekend, I made monkey bread in preparation for Sunday morning.  The kids usually request doughnuts, because they know I’m a softy for fried sweetened gluten and special Sunday morning outings, especially when we are running late.  But in an effort to break the habit, I thought that I’d let sugared monkey bread dough rise over night in the oven so that I could quickly bake it in the morning.  I have a poor habit of never reading a recipe more than once.  If I’ve gotten the general idea of the dish from the first go around, I figure I will remember enough for the next time.  This usually works out well for me, except when baking.  You have to be precise and accurate with measurements of flour and yeast.  There’s a good deal of behind-the-scenes science and chemical reactions going on in that kitchen kiln, that I seriously should have learned by now not to leave any of that finite math to estimations. 

I’m a slow learner…

Sunday sunup, Ava had generously volunteered to surface early and turn on the oven to bake the monkey bread.  But when she opened the door to take the swelling dough out and let the oven pre-heat, this is what she discovered…

photo 4

Thank you, Daddy for thinking to take a picture. 🙂

The softened butter and crystalized brown sugar slid off off the rounded clouds of dough and sat on the floor of my embarrassingly dirty oven.  All that salty sweet bliss…sigh

Ava and I pulled the mess out and sat it on the counter.  We gently tugged at the gooey-ness and discarded the extra dough into another pan…no way we were wasting all that goodness!  As we nipped and tucked, no matter how gentle our efforts, air escaped from the bottled dough bulges.  

So much anticipation…

for that monkey bread.  Those 8 nighttime hours it sat in wait–rising, multiplying, gaining grandeur and fluff.  We all were looking forward to its butter-soaked delight at dawn.  What we found was not at all what we expected.  It was shocking.  It was profound.  It was super-sized.

Yesterday morning when we woke for school, I fully imagined the worst.  I don’t know if that designates me a horrible mom, or a prepared mom.  But what I observed was not at all what I anticipated.  The kids were all fed, dressed (including socks and shoes, which usually equates minor surgery), and smiling…early.  Yes, early.  We appeared at school and had to actually wait in the hallway because we were too early.  (“Early” happens even less than wearing socks and tennis shoes.)

 

Yeast is a peculiar thing.  This cooking agent that is so small, when given exactly the right ingredients (in the right proportions) develops into the amazing goodness that gives sustenance and satisfies the rawest of needs…hunger.  We had been craving for something in our family.  We had been hankering to taste that which satisfies, that surpasses the expectations of mere bread, that which bounds over the limits of American success.  Rehab taught us that only Jesus satisfies the appetite to live life to the fullest.  And like yeast, He comes in ways that we don’t expect and ways that we can’t prepare for.  He comes in forms that do not simply fill us, but overwhelm our tins with exciting and fantastic satisfaction.  Though we don’t set the menu, we still anticipate the meal He is preparing.  As we wait to encounter what He does for our children and for our family this next year, and the years beyond, we have no idea what He will do, or how He will do it.  But, we get to wait in suspense.  We get to watch the dough rise and fluff.  We get to smell the artisan bread waft through the house.  We don’t know yet what’s to come from this season, but it brings joy to watch the yeast double and swell.  It builds our enthusiasm and anticipation.

It’s difficult to see life’s dough topple over out of our plans and not tug and pull at it’s unexpected bobbles.  We like to control.  We prefer to help out with the plan God has already put into motion.  We love to amend the dimensions of the pan/plan and how long things should have to bake in the uncomfortable fire.  When we get pushy with the strategy of God we can puncture the thin skin on those delicate bubbles of dough.  He desires for us to marvel at the size and magnitude of our anticipation.  He wants us to experience the full goodness of those light and flaky layers once they are perfected in the baking.  When we implement our own program into His sovereign unknown providence, we steal our own glorious anticipation…the anticipation He desires us to marvel in.  We deny ourselves the fine and intricate pastry he’s prepared, and end up with chewy and dense life moments that ferment bitterness at where we’ve been and how we’ve lived…what hardships have been dealt our way.

Oh, I pray that we don’t get anxious for His blessings–that we don’t preemptively pop His bubble–that we don’t steal His thunder–that we don’t scheme to discover the plans for our own surprise party.  Until He serves up the monkey bread on his precise time table, I pray that we hold no expectations, but only hold our breath in joyous anticipation.  

Let the yeast rise…

Life After Rehab: Step 7…

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.

 

Treatment Initiation

Treatment Initiation: the first stage of recovery marked by ambivalence, resistance, and denial. Also one of the most emotionally fragile stages in recovery. Treatment staff concentrate on giving the patient hope, bonding them with the rest of the group, and helping them identify with others.

This past week we went on a much needed and long awaited vacation. With all the curriculum research and TEKS reading I have been doing in preparation for our year of rehab, I thought it would be plain irresponsible to take a week at the beach and not study the different ecosystem, the physics of waves, and the salinity of salt water. Okay, it’s obvious that I need help defining the word ‘vacation’. Needless to say, my academic plans for vacation time didn’t result in little geniuses who eagerly traded in boogie boards for a magnifying glass and science composition book. Instead, we talked about my cool experiments I prepared and immediately dismissed them for the pool or a Tinkerbell movie.

I found myself so discouraged. “Some teacher, I am…”, I mumbled under my breath one night about the middle of our trip. Paul reminded me that it was vacation and to give myself a break! But I couldn’t help but doubt our rehab ambitions. I was letting fear of failure blind my previous convictions of obedience. A friend reminded me in a text that “You’re being obedient and God is going to bless that. I’m sure it won’t always be easy, but there is peace in obedience.”. Thank God for godly friends. And for husbands who remind you that it is vacation after all.

I think my little trial run of rehab was alot like the first stage of a drug or alcohol recovery program. First of all, I think I was in denial that we really need family rehab. I think if I really search my heart there is a little voice in there that thinks, “We aren’t really that bad. This is more of a little experiment or just a special opportunity for us.” Let me put it this way: when I envisioned my lesson plan involving carrots and seawater, I pictured my glowing children enamored with my wisdom saying, “You are the coolest mom and the best teacher!”. Then they were supposed to turn to eachother and encourage one another with compliments and hugs, only to yawn and suggest that they all go to bed early so that Mommy and Daddy can rest and have an evening alone to talk. I tend to romanticize everything! Needless to say, that was not their reaction to my lesson, in fact, we didn’t even do that experiment!
Enter resistance. “This was a stupid plan if ever I’ve had one!”. My feelings of discouragement were very much marked with a resistance to comply with what was being asked of me- which very simply is to intentionally love my kids and teach them about Jesus. In all my prep and worry, I had forgotten that it is that command that I am called to obey. God said nothing about carrots and best teacher of the year award. And meanwhile, as I am working on being cool, my kids are getting in the way of my ambitious walk towards awesomeness. Man, do I need rehab, or what. I don’t want to look over their hearts in another selfish campaign.

Well, after resistance came the ambivalence. “Well, whatever…”. Maybe that’s not too bad of a place to be, as long as it’s a surrender to Jesus and his plan, and not laziness and slothfulness. And again, if I’m honest, I probably hung out in slothful for at least a couple days. All the work that I had been pouring into “family rehab” had been tiring and all the work yet to do seemed overwhelming. So I just sat still for a couple days. “Whatever…”

But, just like Treatment Initiation, my therapist (Jesus), surrounded me in my fragile emotional state with love and support. He gave me hope, bonded me with others, and helped me to identify with others. Through texts, messages and phone calls from friends who can relate to skimming the surface of their kids’ hearts, Jesus gently reminded me that, yes, there is work to be done in our family. He reminded me that the need for rehab is there and valid. He reminded me that I am not alone, that He does provide, that He is so faithful.

I’ve got to be honest that there is still a lot of fear of failure and anxiousness thinking about this next year. It was a crazy idea to hold myself accountable through a blog…because it’s working. Knowing that I let all of FaceBook in on this next year is holding me to it! But as the first day of school approaches and Jesus keeps reminding me through His Word and His people that this is a good thing, I am reassured and comforted.

God calls His people to some crazy things. I think if we assume that He wants us to only do the mundane and normal, we haven’t searched through His Word. In the bible, time and time again, He asks much from His people and asks them to do things and go places that seem downright outlandish to us today. But He is the same unchanging God. As scripture also points out, at the end of everyone of those crazy request or adventures, God is glorified. Do those who follow ALWAYS end up with what they originally wanted? No. But God is ALWAYS glorified in the end. My desire is that He be glorified. I’ve just got to remember that!