“All for one, and 5 for 2…?”

Sometimes life doesn’t make sense.  In a world and culture that loves rhythms and systems, order and reason, sometimes life runs against the current.  Chaos abounds, and it’s enough to drive us all mad.

So what do we do when the chaos hits the fan?  What do we do when the world’s run amuck and we don’t know up from down?Here’s my laptop confession:  I eat chocolate and TV binge-watch.

We are not promised order, as we define it.  We are not guaranteed to always understand.  However, we are ensured that we don’t have to know the ins and outs of all that lay before us.  That truth is a really hard pill to swallow…chocolate is much easier.

As a parent, much of my “order” is defined by good behavior, and the procedures to get there involve discipline and consequences.  I am learning, however, that grace is chaos compared to behavior charts and house rules.  Grace, as it rubs against the grain of our daily structure, order, and expectations, usually asks us to forgive uncomfortably.  Grace requires understanding, not strict obedience nor lax leniency.  It demands time and action that unquestionably directs others toward Jesus.  This doesn’t always follow the steps and procedures that I have deemed responsible.  Grace-filled parenting erroneously appears irresponsible and “soft.”

How do I reconcile that in my heart?  If we are to live under grace, and extend grace to others, and to live in Gospel-centered community, we must train ourselves to think outside common sense, order, and definitions.

Forcing ourselves outside of common sense is quality practice.  Jesus and His “upside-down” kingdom runs counter to all cultural common sense.  The first shall be last.  Debt is freely cancelled.  Those are not lessons from Kindergarten.  From early on, we are groomed to follow the line leader and to take responsibility for our actions.  We are taught how to fill our sticker-chart of good deeds.

Having a plan, asking questions about the plan, and having a back-up plan feels responsible, and there are times when this is required of us.  So when we are occasionally asked (or forced) to not have a plan, we can feel lazy, dull, and even immoral.  To practice frivolity, at least to some degree, stretches us outside our common sense limits and our desire to control the chaos.  Grace often resides beyond these personal boundaries and the limits we’ve drawn.  Perhaps we should push ourselves outside these cultural guidelines so often, that functioning against the cultural current begins to feel normal–less uncomfortable.

Today the kids have their Valentine’s parties, and so we’ve been getting our “creative” on.  We decided to order cards from the store, so the other night we had a photo shoot.  In an effort to practice frivolity, we threw out common sense.  It seemed more like Halloween than Valentine’s, and I believe we successfully thought outside of the box.  (Pinterest makes it really hard to be truly unique.)   We stepped beyond order and reason, and with a little bit of crazy and a whole lot of laughter, we came up with a plan–a plan of non-sense.

Ava’s favorite candy is Three Musketeers.  I’m sure there is someone smarter than me who could have drawn a connection between the sword-toting trio and Valentine’s Day love, but I had nothing. We bought the candy, a fake mustache, and inverted Gideon’s pirate costume.  Ava, who has an amazing ability to defy inhibitions, slapped on the facial hair and hat, and began hamming it up for the camera.

IMG_1916 IMG_1918 IMG_1923

I love this girl.

This musketeer embraced the utter non-sense of it all…and we laughed.

The lack of meaning and connection became the thrust of our message.

You see, when we cling to reason and order, to practicality and systems, we miss musing in the senseless things of life, or at least the things that seem senseless to us.  I mentally draft connections from one event to another, or apply meaning to a situation that just simply doesn’t exist.  It’s my meager attempt to make sense of life, to organize the chaos.  Meanwhile, I miss the freedom in the chaos, notably that I don’t have to figure it out.  When I don’t know what to do with my kids and their behavior, I find myself holding fast to proper procedures and guidelines.  In turn, I miss the beauty of extending true grace…that which is undeserved.  My rules are all about what is earned and deserved.  Grace doesn’t fit in that box.

The clear message of Scripture is that God has His plan and we are in it…somewhere.  From the first meal in the Garden, mankind has been tempted by “knowing.”

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” Genesis 3: 6-7

….and since the first instruction in the Garden, it hasn’t been humanity’s place to know.  

“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2: 16-17

I desire what isn’t for me (namely, knowing the plan and controlling the situation).  Not much has changed since the Garden.  Eve and I have much in common.  One would think I could learn from her story.  For when her eyes were opened, it didn’t go well.

I desperately want to see the big picture, the plan that lies ahead…at least how the next few weeks will pan out.  I want to make sure my children respect authority and obey the rules, often at the expense of grace. But it isn’t for me to know and it isn’t for me to withhold that which is so freely given to me.  And if all that I seek to see was indeed revealed to me, I can only assume that the irresistible knowledge I crave now wouldn’t satisfy in the end.  I can only assume that without grace, my children would grow up to be wonderful, respectful citizens, but who sit in constant judgment and have ongoing relationship inadequacies, including relationship with their heavenly Father.

SO…I practice.  While cute on a Valentine’s card, I currently struggle to experience non-sensical joy in the midst of chaos and unknowing.  I’d like to say I could, because after all, that’s what a Proverbs 31 woman would do: “laugh at the days to come.”  But let’s get real…when the chaos hits the fan, trusting God’s plan worry-free is a set of skills most of us lack.

So I practice the skill, even in silly photo shoots, which honestly, takes no risk.  But even that little taste of embracing the self-adhesive mustache makes the crazy around me slightly more palatable. Can you imagine if I practiced this skill with grace? That takes guts!  I can only imagine that the effects on myself and those around me would be astounding.

As I fumble and muddle through all this, here is my hope…it’s for you, too:

“For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I name you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.”

Isaiah 45: 4-6

When we are not trusting, when we do not know or acknowledge Him, He is still faithful.  He still equips us–with peace and with grace.  When we are in the wilderness, He continues to guide, though we whine and complain with every step.  He continues to know us and our cravings to understand and make sense of the desert.  He calls us by name…even when we resist to call on His.  He promises to make at least one thing known to us…Him.

He will supply us with frivolous grace, and even more opportunities to shower others with the same.  He will sustain us in the chaos, when we don’t see a way.

Romans 9:15-17 says,

“For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’  So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.'”

It is because of His faithfulness that I am compelled to respond with trust.  I trust not because I can make sense of the situation, or predict the future.  I can trust that when grace is given, Jesus takes care of the consequences and conviction that my guidelines and sense of justice want to establish.  I will not walk forward in hope because I have a glimpse of what He is doing.  I know it depends on nothing of me, no will or exertion, not even an optimistic outlook, and therefore, I am free to not have one.

(gasp…)

I press on with wishy-washy hope and just try to trust.  I will start with baby steps and simply try to trust Him with the plan, and with the aftermath of His grace.  (Accompanied of course by chocolate and tv drama).

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

Here’s the final Valentine: (completely non-sensical)

IMG_0501 “Roses are red, violets are blue.  All for one…and 5 for 2?”

blog post…check

The rain dances off the shingled roof while shouts of laughter and giggles of delight bounce back and forth.  I sit in the coziness of my kitchen with my smoked berry and incense candle setting the mood.  What a calm Columbus Day home from school.  With the showers and dark clouds comes the dawning of Fall.  (Or at least I hope cooler weather is on the horizon.)

Autumn is my favorite season, with all it’s tastes and scents.  Whether it’s walking into the grocery store and smelling the cinnamon pine cones, or sitting in a Starbucks with a spiced pumpkin latte, once October hits, the aroma and palette of fall is hard to escape.

This morning I thought, I really should write a blog post today.  We are coming off a full and long weekend and though I should write, all I want to do today is sit with my coffee in front of the panes of glass and watch my children soak up the drops of joy falling from the sky…that, or take a nap.  I had to run a quick trip to the store earlier this morning for some basics as I was praying, “What do I even write about today? I got nothin’, Lord.”  Then I realized I completely drove past HEB, as if headed to school on a non-holiday Monday.  I was already sitting at the next stop light.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’ve done this before.  I’ve been deep in thought, distracted by squabbling kids in the back seat, or simply so exhausted that I miss my turn, pass my exit, or even drive past my own house, especially if it is a non-routine stop.  I hope some of you can identify with this…

As I sat at the red left-turn-only light, waiting to make my u-turn back to the store, I prayed again, “What do I even write about today?  I’m too tired to think, too tired to process, too tired to listen.”

Yep, there it is.  A clear word from the Lord.  Here we go:

How many times have I been too tired, too fatigued, too apathetic to listen to God?  (More times than I can count or realize, I suppose.) Our pace of American life lulls us into such monotony of routine that we drive right past the urgings of God.  When His Spirit speaks something that is outside the set boundaries of our schedules or beyond the lists of to-dos, we can sleep-walk ourselves past doors of opportunity.

Wake UP!  God is telling us, “WAKE UP!”  I have let my new-found awareness and ear (albeit still being fine-tuned) go…to…sleep.  Are you awake??

I know what it is to be so exhausted that eyelids succumb to the laws of gravity, even in the midst of conversation. I get it. I know it. I am in that very state right now. But I am called to WAKE UP! I either need to make the necessary changes to not be so dang tired or I have to get over the sleepiness and force myself to be aware in the midst of fatigue. Perhaps the solution requires a little of both.

There are values in our culture that oppose rest, that break the 4th commandment.  It’s admirable to work overtime.  We boast of our busyness.  Think about that for a minute.  Our sins are all equal in the sight of God.  Every sin, whether “big” or “small” (as deemed by our society) leads to death.  So are we willing to take murder with the same degree of self-righteous excuse as we do working on the Sabbath?  What if we murdered for the sake of an extra days worth of salary?   What if we murdered for the sake of ministry? Yeah, I went there…  How unsettling if we boasted of our killing?  If we boasted for killing innocent people for the “sake of the Gospel?”

Our disregard for the Sabbath, using the excuse of “ministry” as justification, is no less a sin than the genocide of populations during the crusades.

Jesus healed on the Sabbath, yes.  But Jesus also withdrew from the crowds and rested.  We have to rest.  We have to take rest seriously.  We have to regard the commandment to honor the Sabbath with the same conviction as we do the other 9 on the list.  What good is a half-eyed “christian” zombie who is too tired to hear the Spirit?  It sure doesn’t make the truth of “Jesus in me” very convincing to others, when I am too tired to listen to Him and to bear His fruits of joy, peace, and patience.  Why would anyone want what I have?  It looks and feels miserable.

Jesus, forgive me for not taking rest seriously.  Forgive me for not taking care of the body you have given me.  Forgive me for letting my lack of rest inhibit me from following You.  Forgive me for selfishly pursuing works instead of pursuing You.  Forgive me for misrepresenting the new life and joy you offer in the presence of others who have yet to taste it.

Jesus, thank you for covering me in grace and giving me new life regardless of my performance.  I am made new, daily.

Adequate rest is only half of my issue.  When I am fatigued (and it’s bound to happen regardless of good Sabbath habits, because I’m only human), I am still called to wake up.  In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked his disciples to stay alert and pray…and they couldn’t keep their eyelids peeled.  Twice He pleaded for their attention and twice they fell victim to slumber.   “And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41).  The Spirit is right there, willing to reveal to me all manner of amazing gifts and revelations, but my flesh has been entirely weak.

Jesus pleads for our attention.  He desires our alertness to His words, to His Spirit.  If we are walking through life on auto-pilot, we miss His very voice and all that He has to offer us.  He sings songs over us.  He speaks truth to us.  He reminds us of our beauty, our inheritance, our value, and our worth.  These are reminders I need daily.  I’m so ashamed that I don’t pay attention to these messages that I desperately need.  I can’t believe that I own lies of value and worth that are contrary to what He says about me, yet His sweet words are ever-present for me.  The Spirit’s fragrance and taste is all around me, just like Fall and it’s hard to escape.  Yet, I have found a way to bypass it all.

Jesus, forgive me for falling asleep to Your voice.  Forgive me for coasting through the day to day, unaware of the destinations to which I’ve been blind and the reminders of your truth.

I receive the clean slate you give me and honed-in ears to start afresh.

2 Timothy 2:13 says, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”  For that, I am truly thankful.  My list may not be totally completed at today’s end, but at least I heard Him say, “I will be faithful to you.”

Today I am tired, but not alone.  My list of to-dos fills an entire 8 1/2 x 11 page of lined notebook paper.  About half-way down the list is: write blog post.  Listening to God doesn’t mean I’m irresponsible with my daily duties.  When I listen to Him, He walks alongside me and makes the stuff happen, infusing each task with His fragrance of joy and lightness of heart.  It’s the cinnamon and cardamon added to the everyday cup of joe.  The ordinary becomes enraptured with His presence.  With Him living in me, I can be tired, joyful, productive, and attentive all at the same time.

I have tried in the few hours of sitting in front of the screen to listen to God, even through my fatigue, even through trying to complete my writing task, and even with the other 15 things on my list looming in the back of my mind.  This morning, I went on a journey to write a blog post.  But I listened and stopped along the way, guided to pitstops and destinations that were not in my plan.  Here’s what happened:

– I watched the rain fall.

– I closed my eyes and opened my ears to the sounds of my children’s laughter.

– I laughed over the top of the laptop as I witnessed four kids battle one dog to a bath–in the rain.

– I embraced muddy feet.

– I happily scratched off the list…

give the dog a bath

– I stopped typing to take pictures of siblings hugging in the open grass midst a thunderstorm. photo – I savored my creamer-enhanced coffee as I sat waiting for the electricity to come back on.

-I stopped typing again to tickle a half-naked, wet, and muddy toddler boy.

-I pondered my rest and lack thereof…then prayed for forgiveness.

-I meditated on grace.

-I paused to fill a bathtub with soapy warm foam for cold little bodies.

-I tossed soggy clothes into the washing machine, counting the blessings of modern technology.

– I marked off…

do a load of laundry

– I wrapped little boys in fluffy dry towels and kissed their tender noses.

– I happily elongated the chase of a naked bathroom escapee, and marveled at his laughter, picking up random toys on the floor along the way.

– I grabbed the pencil…

bathe kids

pick up clutter

-I returned to the keyboard and gave thanks for fresh ears and propped-open eyes.

– I heated hotdogs for lunch and threw some ingredients into the crockpot.

– I drew a line through:

start dinner

– I snuggled my baby close, singing a lullaby, then laid him sleepy-eyed into his crib for an afternoon respite.

– I sat for a final session at the computer and listened.  I recounted all that Jesus had for my tired soul in one short morning…

write blog-post

photo

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.

 

Life After Rehab: Step 5…

This week  has been a hard one for our family.  After the 4th of July, we crashed and burned from the late night celebrations and firework-interrupted sleep.  Emotions and fits were at an all time high…and I’m not just talking about the kids. 🙂 Yesterday, Gideon in a furious fit of hurt feelings, marched into his bed at 4:30 and slept till 7 this morning.  I don’t really know what or who hurt his feelings, but I know if was a part of some game that was intended to include him.  Whatever it was that offended him wasn’t a part of the plan or design of the game.  If only all of our changes to plans or unintentional incurred hurts were followed by 14 1/2 hours of recovery rest!  This morning he was a new little man, full of politeness and patience.  Because I am not a 5-year old with a still very self-serviced level of responsibilities, I’ve had to find other ways to cope.  Life is full of sin and hurt and emotion and confusion and on and on.  It seems to never stop.  As soon as we recover from one dramatic event (or sometimes not even recover) another something happens to stir up our emotional stew pots.  Maybe I tend to make my life dramatic and experience life with too much emotion.  Even if I that is the case, having healthy ways to cope with my weakness to emotions would be very helpful.  Because I can’t just march to my room and sleep until a new day arrives, I’ve got to figure out how to manage situations and emotions so that I can keep functioning in a way that is pleasing to God–so when I am hurt, I don’t end up emotionally hurting my kids.  When I am sad, I don’t make others sad.  When I am sinning, I don’t cause others to sin.

I am hoping as I write, that I am not the only one who struggles with this need for a 14-hour nap every now and then, or with the desire to find a more reasonable option.  Part of the goal of Family Rehab was to take time out to have an extended period of recovery as we pass from one thing to the next in life.  But, now that rehab is over, the 14-hour nap is not an option.  The new day has come and now we ask the questions that will hopefully lead us to more realistic ways to function and cope.  I do know that it’s nearly impossible to do it alone.  Which leads us to the next step in our 7 step series for Life After Rehab…


 

 

Step 5: Find a Support Group.

“Drug rehab programs often utilize support groups, including Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, as programs like this can boost a feeling of affiliation and help people to achieve and maintain sobriety. When rehab is over, it can be tempting to skip meetings in favor of talking with family and friends on an informal basis, but attending support groups could provide benefits that casual talks cannot. In a support group, people are still learning about addiction and they’re tapping into a network of people who have dealt with their own addiction issues. They have a robust roster of people to talk to, and a goal to work toward. The meetings can be inspirational, and they can allow the person to say things that the family simply might not understand. In other words, meetings shouldn’t be skipped” (http://www.michaelshouse.com).

 


 

So there isn’t a Family Rehab Anonymous support group that meets on a weekly basis.  (I checked.)   However, there is a weekly gathering of people who are dealing with a myriad of their own weaknesses and issues. It’s called the church. A Sunday morning gathering of believers provides everything that the above secular resource describes in a support group.  At a high school reunion (an undisclosed number of years ago), this similarity was pointed out to me by a friend.  When she heard that my husband was a pastor, she went on to say that church is just like her running club, a group centralized around a common interest.  Yes, it’s true, being a part of the Body of Christ gives a feeling of affiliation. We are all sons and daughters of the King, right? But it is much deeper than mere affiliation or interest.  We’ve all been purchased by the same blood. On a Sunday morning we go beyond a social gathering with family and friends and learn together about our addictions to sin and the constant battle against our flesh. There is a “robust roster” of fellow strugglers, fellow sinners, and fellow saved. Our goal and struggle as believers is to actually receive the grace that is offered to us so freely.  Church is not just a social club, or at least it shouldn’t be.

Worship obviously can be inspirational and being in the safety of others can allow us to say things about our struggles and talk about grace in a way that the rest of the world seems to avoid or redefine. The benefits of being a part of a church community are deep and plentiful.  “In other words, meetings [Sunday worship] shouldn’t be skipped.” As we continue to make the transition out of a year of rehab, we will commit to being in a community of fellow Jesus believers. For us, this goes beyond Sunday morning worship and our commitment is to also be a part of a missional community or house church, or whatever you want to call it. We plan on being a part of a smaller group of believers who do life together and share in the daily struggle to live in honesty and under grace.  This smaller group can provide connection with others and the time to be truly known that is sometimes missed in a larger group setting like Sunday morning worship.

Simply going to church on a Sunday morning isn’t the end-all-be-all.  Just like Alcoholics Anonymous, there might be a period of time when new attendees just sit and observe in those church pews–and that’s okay.  But eventually, you are going to be asked to say your name and tell the rest of the group your story.  The same should be true of our churches.  I wish I could say that all churches do this as well as AA, but unfortunately, most churches leave visitors feeling awkward, out of the loop, or unwanted.  I’ve been privileged to be a part of both small and large churches and the issue shows no bias to numbers or size.  In order to be family, as the church should be, we all need to be fully known by the those around us.  We have to struggle together verses struggling alone on the side lines as we watch others seem to walk through life unscathed.  (Trust me, all of those perfect looking families and people are just as wounded as the rest of us.)   AA acts more like the church than most churches.  Upon arrival, everyone admits that they struggle and need help.  The culture facilitates honesty and vulnerability and the sharing of the deep and dirty.

Below are some of the FAQs from the AA website about their meetings.  These questions are probably very similar to the questions asked about a Sunday morning church service.  If you are a Christian, please read the answers AA provides to these questions and think about your church…can it answer the same way?

 


 

Here are some issues a lot of us worried about before coming to our first AA meeting:
Will I be asked a lot of questions?

No, it’s not like going to a doctor or a health clinic. AA meetings are very informal. Just take a seat and listen to the stories members will tell about their drinking and their recovery. You can talk to people if you want to or just keep to yourself until you feel more comfortable.

Do I have to “sign up”?
No. There’s nothing to sign. If, at some stage you want to join a particular group you just say so. If you don’t want to join any group, that’s okay too.

How much will it cost?
There is no charge for attending an AA meeting. Usually a collection is taken at the end of each meeting to cover the costs of renting the hall and providing refreshments. Only AA members can contribute. There’s no obligation but most people put in a dollar or two.

Do I have to get up and speak in front of people?
The meeting will consist of members telling their stories but if anyone isn’t in the mood to talk, it’s fine to decline. You may be invited to speak but it’s quite okay if you don’t want to.

What type of meetings are there?
By far the most common type of AA meeting is called an ID meeting. Members just tell their stories of what they were like, what happened and what life is like for them now. There are also Steps meetings where AA’s 12-Step program of recovery is discussed in detail. There are also various other types of discussion meetings.

Who goes to AA meetings?
You’ll find all sorts of people at AA meetings. Men, women, young, old, well off and not well off.

(http://www.aa.org.au)


 

Are visitors at your church bombarded with lots of questions?  Are visitors at your church hounded to “sign-up” and hand over their contact information?  Are visitors at your church asked to open their wallets before they are asked their name?  Are visitors at your church asked to talk or do something that they might not be comfortable with or ready for?  Does your church only have one method or meeting for connecting and teaching?  Does your church give opportunities to ask deeper questions and  for deeper sharing?  Does your church provide opportunities for people to share their stories, or are they only coming as observers of a show or ritual?  Does anyone even know your story?  Do you know the story of the people sitting in the pew next to you?  Who goes to your church?  Do you all look the same?  Do you all fit in the same age-group?  Do you all fit in the same socio-economic  circle?

Hopefully, this challenges how we “do” church and what we think about the church if we’ve never been.  I recently read an article written by a man who reflected on his first visit to AA and the way his visit challenged his preconceived notions about the organization and its gatherings.  He was met with friendly people who were interested in his story.  He was met by a man who naturally and unobtrusively shared his story with raw honesty.  He expected to see either drunks who were slipping out of their chairs onto the floor, or recovering alcoholics who were better and stronger than him.  What he found were people who all knew and publicly acknowledged that they were weak and powerless to save themselves, that they needed someone bigger than themselves.  They shared their weaknesses and the victories in the continued struggle.

Does your church publicly show its weakness?  Do the people in the pews hide their struggles, or come together as a people who are all willing to publicly admit their need for someone larger than themselves.  Do visitors at your church see fellow imperfect strugglers or merely people of perfection?

These AA questions lead me to ask another set of questions:  What is the intended goal of your church?  Is that obvious to the outside world?  The intended goal of AA members is to help lead others to a life of sobriety as they have done themselves.  Alcoholics Anonymous states on it’s website that it  “is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.”  It’s out of love that we want others to know what we know and experience what we have experienced.  It has to  be both of those, by the way.  If our desire to share Jesus comes only from a place of “knowing” then we are self-righteous know-it-alls.  If we only share Jesus’ love because we have only experienced it, then we are seen as brain-washed, uninformed, and unintellectual nitwits who don’t know any better.  It doesn’t matter what order we do it in.  Saul knew a whole lot before he experienced Jesus and his grace first hand.  The disciples experienced Jesus first and didn’t understand anything he said until after his resurrection.

We have to understand that our goal is to reach the ends of the earth with the Gospel and this is because we believe in and have experienced the freedom and relief that comes by receiving His unmerited grace.  If our goal is to gain numbers for global domination, we’ve got it all wrong.  Like the AA member, we gather and don’t skip our meetings because we know what it feels like to be addicted, to struggle, and to be in need.  We know what it’s like to feel lost, hopeless, and overwhelmed.  We know what it’s like to feel guilt and shame over our failures and the hurts we have caused others.  And we know what it’s like to be freed from all that.  We know what it’s like to be loved despite our worst.  We know what it’s like to be accepted and valued, despite the deepest transgression.  We know what it’s like to be challenged through trials and temptation, but to come out on the other side full of hope and peace.  We know what it’s like to walk in sobriety.  It is because of that freedom and the knowledge and wisdom that comes by the Holy Spirit, that we desire all those hurting and struggling around us to join us.  We seek to support, love, and encourage one another.  It’s important to stay connected and involved in this supportive group called “the church” and to increasingly challenge each other to hold fast to the goals and reasons for it’s existence.  We can’t do it alone.

The Apostle Paul writes in Colossians about his role within his “AA support group”, the church.  Let it be an encouragement and an example for those of us who are seeking to walk a life of sobriety.

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” ( 1 Colossians 1:24-29).

Jesus is at work in us.  The mystery of Christ in you delivers great riches and amazing strength.  Don’t skip your meetings with Him and with others who He is working in.  Be an encouragement to the Body of Christ, and let the body encourage you.  If you are a Christian, remember how you have been rescued by His love and grace.  Remember to share that and extend the same love to others.  (It might be their first time to see if Christians really mean what they say, or if they are hypocrites.)  Be fully known and vulnerable and see the love of Jesus cover over any weakness or failure.  His support, love, and acceptance will only encourage your walk in sobriety.  When suffering or trial comes, know that there are likely others going through the same difficulties.  Find them, seek them out, and be honest.  Put aside all preconceived notions and test the waters of vulnerability and community.  It’s not a 14 1/2 hour nap, but it can be just as restful, refreshing, and reassuring.