Ahhh…I’ve got the first day back to school under my belt.  (Technically, half a day, but I’m counting every minute of it.)  And lucky me, my husband was out of town for all the craziness.  Lucky YOU…because as I finally sit down after yesterday’s long and monumental hours, I’ve no adult with whom to process except those of you on the other side of my computer screen.

After the kids were dropped off with all their school supplies (and I ran the trips back to the car for miscellaneous things left behind), I had quite a productive morning.  I cleaned up the house a bit and then set to work putting crock-pot meals together.

The beginning of the school year makes me leap into hibernation mode–not necessarily that I desire to sleep all the time, though those days do come every once in awhile.  It’s more that when school starts, I act like I will be trapped in a cave for the next 9 months of the year.  I prepare and gather as if winter were about to hit hard and cover the streets with snow until spring.  (I remind you, I live in Houston, TX.)

After yesterday morning, my freezer looks as if it’s been stocked my an Alaskan Bushman.  I’ve got fillets of salmon, beef stew, marinated chicken, pounds of pork tenderloin, roasts, even sausage, all Ziplock-bagged and Sharpie labeled.  If only I could get into pickling and making my own jam, we’d be completely set.  The snow ain’t comin’… but the blizzard of life is fixin’ to hit. (Again, I’m Texan.)

Two years ago, we took our kids out of the school system and embarked on our year of “Family Rehab”.  We had been caught in a snowstorm of flurried chaos and busyness, giving the best of our days to others and losing sight of our children’s hearts in the black-out condition of our calendars.  We were tired.  Burned out.  Undone.  Rehab was a necessary and defining decision for our family.  It didn’t go quite as we had planned, but that’s usually how God works.  We had no idea what would ultimately bring about our healing.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:9-11).

Now here we are two years later, figuratively gathering wood and counting our jars of pickled herring.  I find myself asking, “Has anything changed?”  “Did we rehabilitate?”  “Have we relapsed?”

When we started Family Rehab, we intended to pull away, hunker down, get healthy, and push the reset button.  We built our cabin and boarded up the doors for a bit.  We lit some candles, grabbed some blankets, held each other tight, and tried to hear the faintest sound of falling snow outside the frosted windows as we shivered inside.  We desperately trained our ears to hear the Spirit.  We twitched from our selfishness-withdrawl.  We hadn’t been discipled in how to properly cope with the American rat-race–relying on His truths and directed thankfulness.   We were not prepared either for the craziness that is marriage, family, ministry, etc. and we needed to learn the art of being still, listening to His voice.  During that year, we didn’t stumble across a trendy new way of organizing school papers, or spend time researching the best meal plans for busy families.

The healing for our addiction was found in storing up truth, then resting in the still, whispered, and very powerful presence of God.

As I mentally review, I think I can safely determine that we are, and have been, transitioning out of recovery into long-term sobriety.  We’ve learned the necessity of gathering spiritual fuel and provisions.  We’ve walked with mentors and guides who have taught us valuable lessons for the harsh environment we all live in.  We are still in our “Life After Rehab” season, putting His truths to the test and practicing the slowness of mind and spirit needed to daily and deeply commune with Him.  This beginning of the school year marks our 1-yr chip of sobriety, so to speak.  It hasn’t been a prefect year, by any means, but we continue to learn in fuller ways what it means to sit still in the presence of the Lord.  And honestly, He’s done way more in the past year than we ever did in all our years before Rehab.

“You can do more in my waiting, than in my doing I could do.”

– To Those Who Wait by Bethany Dillion

This year, with snow showers in the distance and busy thunder rolling, I find myself eager to sit still in the presence of God, snuggling under protective blankets of His Word, my stocked and loaded freezer sitting in anticipation.

So, here’s to slow-cooked cream of mushroom and chicken!  “Cheers!”, to a warm cup of cocoa in the middle of the blizzard, listening to the sound of wind’s howl.  “Woo-hoo!”,  to walking with children down a snowy path until their eyelashes droop with icy dust.  “Amen!”, to heavy quilts of His truth!  And a prayer to remaining sober-minded, full of gratitude, brimming with joy for all that He has done, in the midst of impending winter.

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).

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.  

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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.