Addiction and Grace

I’ve learned that the beauty of setting goals isn’t because there is satisfaction found when they are met, but that they serve as a litmus test to a self-proposed idea.

I set out with a goal to publish two posts a week. In the past, I blogged several times a week with ease so doing so twice truly felt like a reasonable and attainable goal. Boy, was I wrong.

The past two weeks I have had a myriad of posts writing themselves in my head and no chunk of time to bring them to life. Well… let me rephrase that. We make time for what’s important, right? Homeschooling two has felt important. Saying yes to spontaneous travel has felt important. Opening our home to a baby in-between guardians has felt important. Helping my mom and friends design their new or renovated homes has felt important. Finding unexpected quiet and taking naps has felt important.

In the movie, Perks of Being a Wallflower Charlie writes letters which help him navigate his way toward discovery and healing. In the end of the movie he writes, “I don’t know if I will have the time to write any more letters because I might be too busy trying to participate.” I thought of that line this week and on my day’s to-do list I marked out “write blog post” and replaced it with “choose peace.”

Addiction runs in my family. I told a girlfriend four or five years ago that I was grateful addiction hadn’t shown up in my life. She quickly and confidently replied, “Yes it has. You’re addicted to productivity.”

Earlier this year, Corey and I met with a man whooooo… let’s call a prophet. (If you know me you know who I’m talking about because I talk about him so much. He has significantly affected the trajectory of my life and I will forever be grateful for him.) He was sitting juxtaposed in our cushiony swivel chair, dressed in pressed khakis, a collared shirt and sweater when he asked me this: “When did you become addicted to being anxious?”

“When my brother died,” I quickly replied.

When tragedy hits damage is left in its wake. For me, I believed that if I just kept a tight enough grasp on this wild world maybe just maybe nothing bad would have to happen again. Or if it did, nothing bad would happen as a result of something I did or didn’t do.

The thing about thinking you’re in control of something you’re not in control of is that it leaves you feeling really empty. And tired.

I’ve surrendered a lot of things this year in order to focus on my addiction. This week I realized old habits die hard. Here I was again, setting a benchmark and ending each day never quite making it. Lots of people struggle with not feeling as if they are enough. I have a weird abundance of self-confidence so that’s never been an issue for me. Oh no… mine is I’m never doing enough.

It was in the middle of Home Depot, the girls running around all of the Halloween decorations, bringing all the scary mannequins to life, when it hit me like a Mack truck. Everything surrounding me these days are things I love. Why then do I feel so anxious? I would be a perfect candidate for medicine and as I’ve written here before I’m not opposed to it. But, I wonder what would happen if when I felt anxious to instead recognize it, normalize it and choose peace. A simple decision of the mind. With that I knew I needed to make things easier for myself and let a few things go. My goal and desire to write here regularly is on that list.

Grace upon grace upon grace. For you, for me, for all of us.

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To make this the longest post ever written here I wanted to also share (rather timidly) something I wrote last week. The Nashville Statement left me in tears. I imagine there’s nothing that makes the Enemy happier than seeing Christians argue. The Nashville Statement caused an influx of that. The gospel – yet again – lost and forgotten in the chaos.

We’ve done dozens of fertility treatments and have done IVF once. For the first four years of our marriage we used birth control pills. Even with unexplained infertility we have managed to control the growth of our family. If anyone deserves a shiny website with 14 articles about what the Bible says about people who play God in their own lives it’s me.

What I wrote and sent to friends is below. I hope it’s not misunderstood. I just believe with all of my being that when we call out specific sins in a mob-like fashion we are really missing the point.

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I was a sophomore in high school clothed in quintessential teenage angst, both bold and confident and confused and insecure. At night, post-soccer practice and homework, I did one of two things: I talked on the phone until well past midnight about all existing (or manufactured) high school drama or I read my Bible. I did both with precision. If I was going to engulf myself into all that went down that day in the hallways I was going to know every juicy detail. If I was going to read my Bible I was going to do it with highlighters and note-taking. I was determined to find myself in either the world or in God. I hadn’t yet learned they were indivisible. 

Spring break found me and six of my best friends on our way to Florida, our cars loaded with extra-large suitcases, as many bathing suits as there were days, Case Logic cases mixed with Notorious B.I.G., Bruce Springsteen, 311 and Tim McGraw, and hidden packs of cigarettes and fake I.D.s.

One day a few of us went on a mid-day walk on the beach. We were possibly a few beers in and most certainly several cigarettes down. I saw him up ahead and I gasped. Was it possible to quickly turn around without being obvious? Just then he looked up and saw me, too.

Me: “Hi! So good to see you!”
Him: “You, too…. woh…” [dramatic coughing] “Have you been smoking?”
Me: “Oh um, yeah no… no… yeah…”
Him: [eye roll and awkward laugh]
Me: “Well, good to see you!”

I was mortified. Embarrassed. Shamed. 

I first met him in 1993. He was a youth pastor and I was a seventh grader.

After school on Wednesdays, my best friend, Valerie, and I would walk down to the Taco Bell at the bottom of the hill and work on our homework for two hours while we waited for her mom to pick us up. She would take us to youth group at the church down the street. We went for the extra hours of freedom from our parents. What I didn’t expect to find was God.

At the time, church was something my family visited only for weddings and funerals. I spent countless hours staring up at my ceiling asking questions. God, are you really real? I felt a presence outside of myself in those moments. I’ve since experienced multiple crisis of faith, yet when I return to those moments as a tween seeking, I find security again knowing that I wasn’t alone. I know less and less these days it seems, but that I hold close to my heart with the utmost confidence.

At that time, I knew nothing about the Bible. I could not have even shared common stories like Noah’s Ark or David and Goliath with any amount of accuracy. I once had a neighbor who asked me if I was saved and I replied, “Uhhhh… yeah. Duh.” I had no idea what she was talking about.

Wednesday night church gave me a launch pad to start reading my Bible on my own at home. I had a quick and easy belief in God. But my understanding of my role in all of the details left me overwhelmed and confused. I kept asking Him questions and I kept reading and then Valerie and I spent the night with a friend whose mom left us for the night so she could spend the night with her boyfriend. Valerie’s moral compass was significantly larger than ours so she sat and watched while we sipped liquor and used matches to light-up half smoked cigarettes left in the ashtray.

Wednesday night youth group turned into multiple nights a week at the church playing basketball, working out, scouting out new boyfriends. And on the weekends, I would sneak out and light up half smoked cigarettes with all of my other rowdy friends. We were so rebellious. And cool. Obviously. 

High school arrived and with it liquor and cigarettes presented themselves around every corner. I liked all that came with it before and during. The after, however, would inevitably arrive on Sunday nights to find me and guilt staring up at the ceiling asking God questions. God, are you really real?

I had what was in front of me and I had what was inside of me and I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile the two.

By tenth grade my curiosity of God paired with my natural tilt to chase after all that was opposite of Him reached its breaking point. Like a clumsy and passive break-up, I decided church was stupid. I slid my Bible under my bed and I chose to distract myself from my decision with any and everything that was in front of me.

I never could talk myself into believing that God wasn’t real. His presence felt like an overwhelming force many days. I simply knew I couldn’t reconcile a relationship with him when I was so unworthy. I knew he must have been so disappointed in me. I knew I wasn’t invited.

My fears were affirmed that day, post-beers shot gunned and cigarettes smoked. His judgmental cough and laugh was all I needed to know for sure that I didn’t belong in church. God loves good people. And I was not good.

The summer before my senior year church snuck back in, this time dressed in grace.

Me and my friends shared packing lists and anxieties for our 10-day trip to Colorado. We were on our way to Frontier Ranch, a Young Life camp. I no longer cared what others thought about me and my smoking. I had built up a wall of indifference. This is who I am, take me or leave me.

It wasn’t the fact that this Christian camp allowed smoking that surprised me, it was the fact that our leader sat in the smoking pit with us. She didn’t smoke herself, but she certainly gave no indication she cared we did. Her presence didn’t condone it or condemn it. Her presence simply said, these cigarettes don’t define you, I just want to be with you and a little smoke isn’t going to deter me.

My wall of protection – the one that I began to build years before and that was sealed that day on the beach – began to look and feel different. Paradoxically, her sitting in the pit with me, smoke circling her head, gave me permission to take a deep breath. I felt God again.

A few days later, under a blanket of the brightest stars I had ever seen I asked God again: God, are you really real? That moment defined the rest of my life. Every act before that moment flooded my memory and I felt an overwhelming amount of love. LOVE. Unconditional, unequivocal, unmistakable love. Boys, liquor, lying or the pack of cigarettes in my back pocket didn’t define me. I was His. Made with love by love to love.

It was then I realized I had a choice. (and it’s a choice I’ve recommitted to a thousand times since then.) Choosing love and freedom over guilt and shame did not come easy. It is in our nature to want to work for gifts. But Grace demands that we just receive. That is not easy to do. But man, how that love has transformed my life.

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The girls went to their co-op today and the baby went to daycare. It started to rain so I decided to come home. I opened my Bible and read the intro to Galatians.

Occasion and Purpose:

Judaizers were Jewish Christians who believed, among other things that a number of the ceremonial practices of the Old Testament were still binding on the New Testament church. Following Paul’s successful campaign in Galatia, they insisted that Gentile converts to Christianity abide by certain Old Testament rites, especially circumcision. They may have been motivated by a desire to avoid the persecution of Zealot Jews who objected to their mingling with Gentiles. The Judaizers argued that Paul was not an authentic apostle and that out of a desire to make the message more appealing to Gentiles had removed from the gospel certain legal requirements.

            Paul responded by clearly establishing his apostolic authority and thereby substantiating the gospel he preached. By introducing additional requirements for justification (i.e. works for the law) his adversaries had perverted the gospel of grace and, unless prevented, would bring Paul’s converts into the bondage of legalism. It is by grace through faith alone that people are justified, and it is by faith alone that they are to live out their new life in the freedom of the Spirit.

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Paul, motivated by the way Jesus lived, did not write off the law. He called it holy, righteous and good in Romans. He was simply fired up because the Judaizers were hell-bent (literally) on pushing people to abide by ancient customs and Paul didn’t want them burdened by the law. Grace through faith alone. Not grace through works or rites or being good. The latter would only divide, frustrate and most damagingly, in my opinion, distract.

What is occurring today – hate and racism, a leader lacking in integrity, and a religious group who wishes to define a people group by their sexual identity – is not new. Similar stories are all over the Bible. This is why a Breath of Fresh Air came in the form of a baby. He came to show everyone that it’s not about who you are or aren’t. It’s about who He is.

Love made us with love and called us to love.

I feel confident that if Jesus were walking this earth today he would not have been sitting in a temperature controlled conference room creating a statement that would come across like a closed door. I believe He would have been riding around in a boat rescuing people from roofs in Houston.

p.s. Thank you, James Martin.