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.

/ / /

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.

/ / /

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.

/ / /

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.

/ / /

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.

Weekend at Bernie's and Jesus

I’ve officially decided that I’ve made writing feel like the most impossible task in all the world. Because there’s just too much to write about and when that rare spark hits me and I’m moved to write – in a way that is fueled by clarity and focus – I only have a very short window to get it all out before the kids are up or my brain is too fried from the day. They’re here and they’re young and as much of me that wants long days of quiet to write to my heart’s content I want just as much to be with them in all their loudness and learning. It’s hard to find a balance when you love two competing things -- quiet and chaos. The quiet fills my bucket, but the chaos is significantly more fun. We surpassed our one-year anniversary to our move home to Tennessee this past June. Which means it was just last summer that I never let the girls out of my sight for more than a few minutes to ensure they weren’t doing something that was dangerous or destructive. They still push the envelope every single day, but now – like right this very second as I write this – they can play together upstairs in their bedroom. It is being trashed, I’m sure, and the house is vibrating from their running and jumping, but still… I’m sitting in the living room all by myself while both of my kids are awake and I’m not worried at all that they may die.* This is huge.

We have a list of running jokes about all the ways Corey and I are different. He’s math and science and I’m arts and crafts. He’s data and research and I’m feelings. Lots of complex feelings.

When we were newly married and way less sophisticated we had this joke that if one of us was talking about something the other person didn’t care about (like science to me or art to him) the listener would just go to sleep, looking like Bernie from “Weekend at Bernie’s.” Nowadays, we’re way more mature so we don’t do that anymore. Instead, we only use “Bernie” when signing off on notes to each other and if you’re ever with him and there’s an emergency, call “Bernie” in his phone. You’ll reach me.

After my last post he texted me the following day from work and said, “I read your blog. I wish I understood more of what you go through and feel—it makes me feel like a robot.” And then added this GIF of two robots – one with a heart on its chest filled in with color and the other one with his heart empty of color. The empty hearted robot puts his hand on the girl robot and half of the color drains from her heart while his fills up half way. And then they start fighting unseen bad guys. It is quite possibly the greatest GIF I have ever seen because of its accuracy. I replied, “you’re my favorite robot.”

I’m sure there’s some fancy psychology research report on why it is that us humans tend to fall in love with people who are quite different than ourselves. My one and only theory is that what we lack we look for. And also intrigue… because what intrigues us excites us and what’s different to us intrigues us. And intrigue is fun and exciting. Until, of course, it becomes ordinary. Then you hit a rough patch and you either call it quits or you forge ahead. For us, we forged ahead and I think it’s past the bump-in-the-road-called-ordinary that you truly find extraordinary.

I’ve been writing a lot more in the last few weeks. I’ve got some good stuff to say, but I can’t figure out how to not sound quite so whiny.

A few days ago a girl I haven’t talked to in over a decade sent me a message through Facebook asking me to fill her in on my life because through my pictures it looks so diverse, fun and inspiring. I replied with this: "Wellllll… you have to find it hard to be home and have an insatiable appetite for all things new and open air." I should have also added that I have to work hard to feel happy and non-anxious and being outside in new places is one of the most straightforward ways I know to find it.

My sister and I got in a conversation the other day about women who have affairs. She can’t wrap her mind around how anyone who’s married with kids could possibly find the time. I told her I think that some people wake up to a life that’s the American Dream realized and every day feels a little like groundhog day and they forget that living an adventurous life takes work and so they accidentally fall into adventures that they didn’t mean to. I know that’s not the case for everyone, but for some people I believe it is. “It’s important you know your shortcomings,” I told her. “I mean I know there’s a lot about myself I’m still learning, but one thing I know for sure is that I’m always on the verge of crazy.” She laughed because she’s not literal like my husband. When I told him about our conversation that night he said, “do you really think you’re going crazy!?” He’s a doctor. He was picturing bi-polar or schizophrenia. Different, remember. We’re so very different.

Since we’re on the topic of medical conditions, earlier today I Googled “do I need an anti-depressant quiz.” If you’re curious to know of the results I scored a 35-52 which equaled yes, you absolutely do.

I told my girlfriends about this discovery tonight over dinner and wine and they said, “What!? You don’t look very depressed!” If any of us learn anything out of this ridiculous rant of a blog post let us learn that some of the most put together people parading through life are the most in need of help. That girl over there with her perfectly dressed self and kids and manicured nails and curled hair with a smile across her face? She’s at her lowest point. Be kind to her.

Listen, I’ve experienced being situationally depressed (new city in the winter with no friends and a husband that worked all the time and a sad sad case of unexplained infertility) so I know what it feels like to feel completely unable to get out of bed until well past lunchtime. And, I know what it feels like to have to muster up all the energy I had to smile at the girl that bagged my groceries at Kroger. I went home and unloaded said groceries and then laid down on the couch out of sheer exhaustion. I had to make eye contact and smile. More than once.

In high school I struggled with motivation and healthy sleep patterns and anxiety and low energy and being overweight and then I left for college and all of the above went with me. One day I had the same conversation I had had with my mother a hundred times before except for this time it made her wonder if we should talk to my OB about all the above things. And, so we did and he suggested I go on a low dose of Prozac and to sum up a very long story it changed my life entirely. The following year everything felt easier and I slept better and I lost nearly twenty pounds.

In short, I am a big big fan of anti-depressants.

If you need them, of course. Which I don’t believe any of us want to go on anti-depressants if we don’t think we need them. But, I really do think that people who are able to say out loud, “I think I need some help” are some of the bravest people in all the world.

The idea of being done with the baby stage has me torn right up the middle. (Time out: Remember how I said in paragraph #1 that I find it impossible to write these days because of my lack of big blocks of quiet time? These choppy rants are how I think I will write now because they’re the only way I can make it work. I hope you don’t judge me too much. I’m not on anything. Yet.) Because other people’s babies terrify me, but I LOVED having babies of my own. I was made to be an attachment parent, carrying them 75% of the day and sleeping right next to them at night. But, the lack of sleep and the crying and the spit-up and the being stuck at home for naps part is not a stage I miss. And, we’re leaving for Iceland next week for our family vacation and the girls are old enough to really enjoy it. But, there’s a baby missing from our family. A boy. I can practically see him. But, I’m obnoxiously unable to get pregnant. Like it just doesn’t happen. Ever.

Last week, I had an exceptionally emotional week about it all and one night after Corey and the girls were sleeping I felt so inside my head that I felt like I was going to explode. So, I wrote this super long, dramatic letter to my girlfriend living on the complete other side of the country. Here’s an excerpt for you:

"What a funny stage of life this is… the one where what I wanted when playing MASH in middle school is right here in real life sharing the same roof as me. Yet, I still find myself feeling so conflicted. Because I believe the Lord has more in store for me. And, one might say, 'well pray and journal and find scriptural confirmation and seek what it is He has in store for you,' but I find that impossible to do. So, instead I flounder and I look at everyone else and I write and study other people’s reactions and I drink too much and I stay up too late and I sleep in too long and I over-think pretty much everything and I feel way too much for pretty much everything. In a nutshell, I’ve pretty much grown into a narcissistic, emotional asshole.

Part of it is because infertility has made me slightly crazy. Unexplained infertility, mind you. The type where when you go – even 5 years after your last visit – you are told, yet again, that all of your $1,000 worth of blood work shows that you are perfectly healthy. So, you know what that means: more book reading and temperature taking and vitamins and acupuncturist and the newest, chiropractics. But, in the back of my mind constantly (constantly!) is this: where is Jesus in all of this?! Because I don’t believe that Jesus is formulaic. And, I don’t believe that Jesus has made us unable to conceive because he was waiting on us to hear that ONE podcast that wasn’t set to air until April 2015. I just can’t believe that any one thing is going to fix the problem."

That, mind you, was just a very small bit of a very long rant. And, I can tell you that it felt incredibly therapeutic to write that out to someone whom I trust deeply. To someone whom I know will get it and resonate with it and not judge me for any one thing and reply with understanding and hope. I think everyone needs someone like that in their life. Actually, I think everyone has that person in their life, they just have to be brave enough to be naked in front of them.

An excerpt from her reply which she addressed “To my favorite Narcissistic Emotional Asshole:”

"I had a moment of clarity the other day (like literally the first moment I've had like that in a couple years) where I was able to de-clutter my mind for just a few minutes, and it struck me how truly flaky EVERYTHING in this world is except for Jesus. Like even when I have a pretty good hold on reality (kids taking a sh#* on the carpet in the living room, two screaming babies, a sink overflowing with dirty dishes, 8 loads of laundry piled on the floor, etc.) even my reality is warped by a lack of clarity that comes from living in a sinful fallen world (and being the sinner I am). And man--as if Jesus wasn't refreshing enough in and of himself, when you put him up against the "reality" of this world, ahhhhhhhhh. It made me thirsty for him. Wonderful, perfect and true him. And lucky me.

I hear you saying you aren’t finding fulfillment in him and I’m right there with you. So I’m tempted to give you (and me) what we want and say something like “To be honest, most days, the bible is just too damn boring. And I have like a 30-second attention span, and there are no pictures” (truth). But we have to go somewhere from there. We can’t let ourselves off the hook that easily. We have to do something with the cross. Everything we feel or do or say or know relates back to the cross, and we have to keep taking this life up the ass to find that (Jesus hanging lifeless and bloodied, as you said awhile back in reference to my beer-in-the-teepee rant) in everything. Otherwise we’re just like everybody else. And we’ll never be satisfied. So here’s what I’ve been doing lately: envisioning Jesus’ arms held out in front of him like a cradle. And I crawl up into them and nuzzle my face against his broad chest and let him squeeze me tightly and listen to his lungs breathing air in and out and he runs his fingers through my hair and says to me “you are my beloved, woman. You are that because I made you, and not because of anything you can make or do in your life. You are beloved because of me, not because of you. You have nothing to offer me but your broken body and still I ask for it. If you will sit here with me like this always, I will be glorified by my enjoyment of you. You cannot be glorified until you are with me in heaven, so for now the closest you can get to that, the most genuine act you can perform (for all else you try to do is "filthy rags" to me), is this. Be still and know that I am God.

And half the time I can’t get to that point, but sometimes, I do. And he is warm, and beautiful, and strong, and he wants ME. I’m like that dorky band girl with glasses and he’s the star athlete and he looks into the crowd and points at me and says “I choose you. You’re the one I want.” 

I think one of the very smartest and conniving things Satan does is make us believe that we are alone in our struggles. Because there’s nothing more dangerous than believing that what we’re experiencing no one else will understand. Or even worse is experiencing fear or pain or heartache that we believe is so embarrassing because we shouldn’t have let ourselves get there in the first place that we make sure we never let anyone know.

I told my girlfriend while out on the lake last week that this world is overwhelming beautiful (“I mean look at this night… this weather… this water… it’s all so sacred.”), yet this world is overwhelmingly hard. And, we should never ever let ourselves believe that our pain is something no one else will understand. Doing so robs those around us the chance to say, “Yes… yes… me, too.”

So, I’m happy to announce that I think I’ve found a new way of writing. It will be in the form of super choppy, super tangled posts that are far more in a “dear diary” style than a typical blog post style. (as if this blog is even remotely typical – ha!)

Signing off with love…vulnerability and nakedness and so much love...

xoxo,

jc

*p.s. about half way through this post Charley came out of her room to tell me that Lola was “pouring water into the nightlight.” The nightlight is plugged into the wall. The nightlight was soaked with water and incredibly hot and the room smelled of smoke. I take back the line that I no longer have to worry that they’re going to kill themselves. In the future you can assume that all posts were written with my children duct taped to their beds. It's the only way, people.