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

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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.

 

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…

Well, today it’s back to the grind.  We just wrapped up a week and a half of vacation…glorious, glorious vacation.

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There were numerous moments during this furlough that renewed my spirit and challenged my heart.  This was more than a break on the beach with a margarita in hand…although I’m not denying that happened.  This trip will forever stand out in my mind as very transformative.  And, so, in true “life after rehab” fashion, I feel as though I need to intentionally ponder and reflect on the meaningful moments, so that I can treasure them in my heart and share them with you.

However, as I open up the computer today after the long hiatus, I struggle to find my words and my rhythm.  I sat on the beach last week and actually read a book from cover to cover.  It was amazing.  Not only was having the freedom, time, and ability to read a whole book without interruption amazing, but the content of the book I chose has also left me somewhat speechless.  Ann Voskamp’s one thousand gifts has been so enlightening and transforming.  If you haven’t read it, please do.  It is worth every minute of your time.  The combination of her poetic prose and down-to-earth writing is a humbling joy to read.  There is no way I could ever write in such a masterful way.  It is truly amazing.  In her book, she writes of her own revelations on thankfulness and recognizing God’s gifts in the every day.  It has made me realize how much I neglect the sacrament of thanksgiving and how often the Bible speaks of its’ importance.  I feel as though there is a whole undiscovered path to joy whose trail head I have been aimlessly walking past.  I am anxious to unearth more of “eucharisteo”, as I have been inspired by Voskamp’s own hunt.

The “sleuthing” that she refers to–this treasure hunt for the things to be thankful for–urged me to seek God and His blessings during our vacation.  I found myself swooning over tiny sand-dwelling creatures and huge panoramic views of slate blue sky meeting shimmering crystal waves.  I stumbled upon restfulness, with my eyes closed and ears focused on the hush of the waves, the rhythm of their meter, rocking my soul to peacefulness.  I can’t really explain it, but as I sat still and took in some of the amazing sights and sounds around me, I felt as though I was being wooed my the Creator, reminded of His serenading love.  

images images

Voskamp is on to something here…and it’s more than “positive thinking.”  In counting my blessings, I am forced to not merely count, but to consider them, and the Giver who gives them to me.  I am forced to be still and know that He is God.  I see how big He is and how infinitely small I am.  That doesn’t really fit the criteria of American dream setting and the “do what makes you happy” kind of joy in which we are encouraged to partake. Being small–knowing my mortality–these are not “positive” thoughts.  All things will come to an end…including me.  Reminding myself that I don’t have control over anything in my life sounds like depressing pessimistic water-cooler talk.   But in actually seeing the God I believe in, feeling His endless pursuit of me in the form of beauty, and knowing that He is bigger and grander than me, I am fueled by a humble peace, a sure contentment, and a deeper, more satisfying joy than simply seeing the glass half-full.

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This kind of detective work requires sitting at the private investigator desk searching through files of evidence.  It takes time and intentionality, which eerily sounds like the slow process of Family Rehab.  My journey to restore family and home isn’t done.  Jesus is restoring my heart–my joy.  Life After Rehab looks less like returning to normalcy with all the appropriate sobriety tools gained from being secluded in a rehab facility and more like continued study and rehabilitation with the distractions of everyday life now being added into the mix.  I still have so much to learn.  And as Voskamp also mentions, learning takes practice, practice, practice.

In addition to reading books, Paul and I had the opportunity to watch a documentary entitled,  Holy Ghost.  (You can watch the trailer here: http://www.holyghost.wpfilm.com).  The whole movie was guided by the Holy Spirit.  “What the what!?!?!,” you say?  No plans were made, except ones that were the result of ‘inner voice’ urgings or visions.  As a “conservative” Lutheran, some of the conversations recorded in the street scenes, in which the Holy Spirit was called upon to send a physical sensation through a person’s body, were a little wild.  But, honestly, it was no more untamed than what we read about in the book of Acts.  The movie features such celebrities as Lennie Kravitz, Brian Welch, and Fieldy from Korn.  As I watched people step out in faith, taking risks, and even entering into places that are dangerous for Christians, I again was struck by how intentionality and stillness were key in seeing all that God had in store for them.  How can one discern the voice of the Holy Spirit if they are not still enough to focus their hearts and minds to intentionally hear Him?

I think about all the practicing I do.  I consider all the rehearsing that goes on in my mind.  I add up all the time spent mulling over the lies of the world that tell me I’m not enough or of any value without the perfect body, successful children, or tons of money.  I compute all the energy and time I’ve spent repeating the same failures or hurtful behaviors.  What am I learning?  What am I teaching myself?  How much of the life-giving lawn of truth am I repeatedly treading worn down paths of lies over its’ surface?  What opportunities have I lost in the meantime?  What holy risks have I avoided or squashed because I was busy in the practice of listening to another’s voice?  What routines, patterns, and new trails have disabled my senses from hearing God’s audible voice?  What amount of blind ignorance has limited my vision for His kingdom, His glory, and my ultimate joy?

Jesus says in John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

“Life After Rehab” might as well be called “practice”.  I haven’t yet learned.  I need training.  I need the Holy Spirit to teach me.  Sometimes it will be hard.  Sometimes it will bear fruit that I could never have imagined.  My prayer is that I am teachable, moldable, and pliable.  My prayer is that my senses are so overwhelmed with the Spirit that I can’t help but walk in unabashed gratitude and risk.  Life is about to get busy and hectic with school and work.  I pray that I find the words of the Spirit in the midst of the mayhem (that they fill me with truth and with holy pomptings) and the rythym of His grace, blessing, and spontaneity in the mundane (that it moves me into new depths of sobering joy).

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.