“But God…” Words of Hope

31 07 2013

A cloud of pot smoke engulfed me as I stepped out of my bedroom. I rose late that morning, and missed the first “high” of the day.

Several people were on the couches, legs sprawled before them, heads leaned against the back of couches and recliners. Some of their heads lolled in my direction and they looked at me through puffy, barely focused eyes.

Slurred voices said, “Wow, man, that was awesome.” “This is so cool.” “Oh, baby, you missed some good weed.”

For the first time in a few months, I saw them…really saw them. The scene before me was pathetic.

What am I doing here? I asked myself. I’m more intelligent than this.

I returned to my room, gathered my few belongings, and left the house – for good.

How I came to live with that couple, I cannot say. I was eighteen years old; my marriage blown apart after just a few months. I didn’t want to go back to my parents’ home, and had nowhere to go.

I don’t know that I was invited. I just showed up with a friend to get high, and decided to stay.

I had no job, no car, no money, and (obviously) no sense.

The couple I dumped myself upon were drug dealers, so getting high was a several times per day event. The wife worked, and they had a two-year-old daughter. I assigned myself the job of “nanny,” and justified my presence in their home by saying that I was taking care of their kid, even though I didn’t do anything with or for her.

During my high school years, I had been a “good” kid. I was the vice president of our youth group, taught Bible studies in the library at my school during lunchtime, sang in the choir, read my Bible on a regular basis, and behaved myself.

I met my husband at a Bible college, and eagerly anticipated that we would live happily ever after…even though it had been less than three months between when we met and when we got married. Why my parents thought this was a good idea, I’ll never know.

Disillusionment set in when I discovered that he was not my savior – he wasn’t Prince Charming, either. The few months we were together were painful for us both. This was not the first time we separated, and wouldn’t be the last.

Suitcase in hand, I returned to our apartment. Having realized how stupid I looked when I was high or stoned, I gave up drugs and pot. (I didn’t know that I needed a recovery program to do so.)

When I turned twenty-one, I was excited. I could finally buy alcohol for myself. I was on my second marriage. That one turned out to be a real doozie, and I coped with it by drinking. Rum was cheap at that time – two dollars per bottle, making it an affordable habit. I would begin to drink at eight a.m. every day, and would polish off at least one “fifth” of rum – sometimes two. It was the only way I knew to cope with the pain in my life.

I had periods of being “dry,” and then go back to drinking every day again. This went on until I was in my late 20s. There were several times when the pain would become so overwhelming that I would drink to the point of blacking out. I didn’t know about alcohol poisoning then. Apparently those around me didn’t either. They’d just go behind me and clean up the messes I made, pour me into bed and leave me to sleep it off.

Sadly, I am a mean-mouthed drunk, and can verbally dismantle a human being in less than three minutes. I later found out that I did this whenever I was in the “black out” phase of a drinking bout. How I wish I could take back every word.

But God…

(How I love those words. They show up many times in my story. He relentlessly pursued me into some of the darkest and ugliest places you could imagine.)

…God was not content to leave me there. For whatever reason, I began to take my kids to Sunday School. I felt guilty when I dropped them off, so I began to attend as well.

One Sunday, I heard an announcement about a Christian recovery program they offered. There was a group for the addict, and for their co-dependents. The latter group seemed a little less threatening, so I began to attend their weekly meetings.

On a Thursday night, it was my turn to tell my story. I began to talk about my marriage and the abuse I endured. I excused it all, stating, “If I’d stayed in my first marriage, I wouldn’t have this bed to lie in.” I believed what I was enduring was my “punishment” for walking away from God, and that I just had to learn to endure with patience.

The women of the group were horrified by the things I told them, and pointed out that if we didn’t get away, someone was going to end up seriously hurt or dead.

I didn’t believe them for a long time, but would go home certain that this marriage was “my cross to bear.”

Thankfully, those sweet women weren’t willing to let me stay in denial, nor to believe such mean lies about God. They helped me plan a way of escape.

It was during our exodus that God showed up in a powerful way. You can read about it in Fearful Flight. I had no idea that God ministers to us personally. I am still humbled by His gracious closeness during the next couple of years.

Not knowing that I needed a recovery program for my alcoholism, I trusted the Lord to lead me out of that trap. He did indeed set me free from my addictions.

That’s twice I’ve said that I didn’t go through recovery – either for my drug addiction or for alcoholism. That doesn’t mean that they don’t work, or aren’t necessary. Recovery programs offer something that I had to pick up on my own…and took twenty years to learn. I needed to be transformed by the renewing of my mind, and to learn healthy ways to cope with life’s stressors.

Although I was too proud to sign up for an 18 month recovery program, God has patiently and lovingly led me to counselors and reading material that helped me stay clean and sober. In fact, just this morning I giggled as I realized that He has me recording audio books for the mission’s recovery program. Some of the folks in recovery can’t read. Now they can listen and focus on the content instead of struggling to sound out the words – then try to remember what each sentence was about.

In the process, I’m getting the education I needed twenty plus years ago through books like, Staying Sober, The Genesis Process, and Boundaries. I can see that by avoiding classes I short-changed myself, and a transformed life took much longer. Jesus healed me from the need to default to drugs and alcohol; however, my thought processes still needed to be corrected. Too bad I was “too smart” to need anyone’s help to figure things out. 😦

But God…

…who loved me and gave His Son for me…

…loved me too much to let me continue in ignorance –

– He arranged for me to record the books as a “charitable act” so I could be transformed by the renewing of my mind.

Ya just gotta’ love a God who loves like that!

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Help for the Hurting

8 05 2013

Life is often hard to handle. Pain is inevitable. When you’re up to your eyes in a struggle, what do you do? What can you do?

Many years ago I had kids who needed a godly man to come alongside them – take my boys under their wings and show them what Christianity-in-action looked like. I approached several men in my church and asked for their help. To a man, every one said, “I’ll pray about it.” That was the end of the conversation.

Years passed, and there was no one to help. I cried out to the Lord and asked Him to send someone to speak life into my sons. The ceiling seemed to be solid steel, my prayers going nowhere.

This seemed to be a repeat of what I’d experienced myself since childhood. Christian folks knew there were problems, knew I needed someone to show me the way. Time and time again I was advised, “Pray about it. Give it to God.” or my personal favorite, “Read your Bible more.”

This goes back to the post I wrote on Standardized Christianity. We seem to think, “What I believe about God is what everyone else believes.” Wrong!  Each person is a unique individual, and at a different place in their understanding of God and the Bible. Life experiences and role models affect how we perceive Biblical truths. Further, a young (in their faith) believer hasn’t learned how to find what they need from their Bible.

As a teen, I read my Bible every day – all the way through two or three times per year. Even though I went to Sunday School, Sunday service, Sunday night service, a Tuesday morning prayer breakfast, the Wednesday night prayer meeting, and a Thursday night Word of Life Club, I had no one in my immediate circle of acquaintances to help me sort it all out. I knew the Word, but did not know the God of the Word. There is a very big difference between the two.

Lacking understanding, I thought God was like my earthly father. Because I believed this, I read the Scriptures through the lens of “God is like my dad.” You’d be shocked if I shared some of the conclusions I arrived at due to my erroneous concepts.

When I spoke with one of my leaders about the problems I was having at home, they gave me the advice I stated above. In recent years, I’ve come to understand that what they said was shorthand for, “You’re a mess. I don’t want to get involved. Go away.”

**********

In February of this year, I went to Nicaragua with a medical team. It was a wonder-filled trip (as usual). The surgeons who accompany us repair cleft lips – a very big deal there. Countless people were served medically. Lives were radically changed (a person with a cleft lip is outcast and abused by nearly everyone).

The Sunday we were leaving, we attended the worship service at Verbo . The faces of some of the children who’d received treatment came to mind. I began to ask the Lord,

Why this child and not that one. Why him, her…and not him, or him, or her? I know that You are good, I’m not questioning that. I just want to understand how you choose who will be reached and who will not.

I sensed the Lord say, “Dig deeper.”

Why do you reach out to the kids who live in the orphanage, and give them people who can teach them about Your love, yet my prayers for my own children went unanswered? They desperately needed a mentor. Again, Lord, I know that You are good and that You will bring good out of this. I just want to understand.

“Deeper.”

I began to weep, then sob uncontrollably.

Why not ME? You knew that I wanted to love You and serve You with all my heart. You knew that I believed terrible things about You – believed that You were cruel, uncaring, unloving, and unpredictable. If You had given me someone to teach me what You were really like, I would have represented You better and never walked away from You.  You’ve brought so much that is truly good from all I’ve been through, but I don’t understand why I had to wait so long. I trust You. I know You are for me, and not against me. I just want to know why You chose this way.

My question hung heavy in the air as I left the church, and loaded my belongings into the back of the pickup so we could leave for home.

On the way to the airport, raindrops began to fall. At first there were just a few. All at once, torrents of water were pouring out of the sky. We could barely see the road before us.

The Lord spoke:

Tami, I am Spirit and cannot be physically present with every person. This is why I sent my Spirit to live in my children. They are my representatives. When they allow my Spirit to work through them, I can minister to people “with skin on.” I have empowered my children to bring life, love and comfort to those around them.  My desire is for them to strengthen one another, to build one another up, to be there when they need help. The problem is that I ask them to get involved and they either do not hear My request – or they ignore Me altogether.

Drawing my eyes to the cascading rain all around us, He said:

These are my tears for the lost, the hurting, the abused, the unloved. I care far more than You will ever know. 

Wow.

Whenever I have asked God “Why?” – not as in “How dare You?” – but because I don’t understand Him, He graciously responds. His desire is that we come to know Him better, that we see His heart, and that we know truth. He doesn’t hold out on us. He is indeed for us, not against us.

God’s revelation that Sunday healed some very deep places in my heart – things that stood between the two of us for decades.

If you are in a tough spot, keep asking God for His truth, keep seeking out godly people, keep knocking on others’ hearts until someone answers. Don’t give up hope, and please don’t walk away believing the lie that God does not care. The tears God showed me in Nicaragua were for you, too. He loves you with an everlasting love.

Dearest Abba, There are so many hurting people around us. Please give us Your heart for them. Help us to set aside our personal agendas, roll up our sleeves, and wade into the muck and mire that is the life of humanity. Teach us how to be You with skin on; how to love, nurture, support, and patiently minister to those in need. Help us to hear Your voice whenever You are inviting us to join You in the work You are doing, and to surrender our lives to You – whatever the cost. This is our desperate hour, and You are needed more than ever. Give us the courage to be Your ambassadors – to do what You would do if You were here in human form.

Because this is Your will for us, I can confidently ask this…

…in Jesus’ name.

Amen! 

NOTE: This post by J. S. Park was my inspiration for today’s message: http://jsparkblog.com/2013/05/07/question-im-struggling-but-church-keeps-saying-just-read-your-bible/