Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Vine...

As I write this today, all I can say about myself is… guilty. But merely saying I am guilty does not exonerate me from it. I do not get to walk away with a smile on my face and say, “Good job, Wendy… you admitted you are guilty. Enough said!” Nope, there is one more thing to be done.

I may not have a real job, but I do definitely have a job. In fact, I have several. The jobs of wife and mother are up towards the top of the list, and they take up quite a bit of my time. Another big job I have is that of the mission God has instilled in me with the life of recovery. It is so very obvious to me that He has given me my issues so that I may help others learn to overcome theirs with the help of God. I take this very seriously, and I believe this to be my God-given purpose in life. I wish I could say I always have my priorities in line but, I don’t. Admittedly, I put my mission in front of my husband and child at times. I am very grateful to have an understanding husband who doesn’t get too upset with me when this happens. He is so incredible… I don’t think God could have done a better job at matching two people together.

But more than being a wife or mother or a missionary for God’s grace… I am called to simply be a daughter of the King. That is my number one job in life. To be an obedient, open, connected and humble daughter. Sometimes, I get so busy talking about the awesomeness of God, sharing His ways with others, talking about how He gives us freedom from the bondage of ourselves that I forget to stay connected to Him. In other words, I get so busy trying to help others build a relationship with God that I neglect to have a relationship with Him myself. I forget to stop and be His daughter.

Recently, someone I love relapsed into their addiction. It is painful to stand by and watch denial and tragedy wreak havoc on their life but that is really all I can do. Apparently there were warning signs that it was coming, but the warnings were not shared with me. I’m not sure if it was hidden from me out of shame or perhaps fear of what I would say… maybe they just didn’t want to have someone tell them no. In the end, I know I can’t take any responsibility for someone else’s step backwards. All I can do is be there for them when they are ready to step forward again. And to this person I say… my arms are open… I love you no matter what. I am angry… but not at you. I am angry at the addiction… at the devil… I am PISSED OFF to see how a beautifully created, incredible person can be turned into a shriveling pile of deceit. I’ve been there, I was that pile (and it was big and heavy)… but hear this… it is NEVER too late to turn around. God will NEVER give up on you. God loves you more than you can fathom. If you can’t believe that yourself, just believe that I believe it… because I do.

Relapse can happen to any of us. It can happen at any time, on any given day. It can happen to the over-eater, the drug addict, the co-dependant, the depressed, those addicted to love and lust, those overcome with grief, the over-spender, the person who just loves to hate themself, the workaholic, the child abuser, the boozer, the worrier, the control freak... any of us, all of us. Relapse is what happens when we don’t put God first on our list and remember to take time to be His son or daughter for too long a period of time. Relapse is what happens when we become disconnected from our life source. It’s so easy to do, so hard to maintain yet so simple… take… a… moment… and… pray.

Back to what I said at the beginning, I am guilty for being disconnected. I haven’t devoted undivided prayer time to my Father in many days but I don’t get to walk away scott-free right now, proud to have admitted a failure to the world. Nope… I must also leap into action to correct the problem. Without action, my confession really doesn’t mean much. Without correction, perhaps a confessed sin loses its redemption. I am going to take a moment and pray… right now… on my knees. I am going to reconnect with my life source so that I may fulfill my number one job in life; to point my undivided attention toward the great, powerful, wonderful, grace-filled, ever-loving, ever-forgiving God who I am thankful calls me daughter. Join me in some time with God and John 15…. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me…”

Monday, November 16, 2009

Choose To Be Awesome

“I didn’t mean for this to happen! It just happened. I am so sorry,” or “I don’t know how this happened… it was totally out of my control.” Ever heard one of those before? Or perhaps you have been the one to say it. In my freshman year of high school, I had this "best" friend who said that to me almost once a week. I remember really liking a boy that my friend also liked. I began dating him but it wasn’t long before she said it to me… “I didn’t mean for this to happen… but it just happened. It was out of my control.” I was crushed. But if I am going to be honest, I’ve been the one to utter a similar phrase as well, many times. Here’s the crazy thing – when I was the one saying it, it seemed so true. But when I was the one hearing it, it sounded like the biggest bunch of bull-caca ever articulated.

It has taken me years to fully understand that for the most part the phrase, “I didn’t mean for it to happen, it just happened” is in fact a bunch of crap. Nearly everything we do in life happens as a result of multiple tiny decisions. Some times the decisions are so small that we don’t even see them as decisions at all. Take for example an affair, you don’t just wake up one morning and BAM! find yourself in an affair you weren’t in the day before. It’s a series of small decisions that lead you there. First it’s to talk to someone. Then it’s the decision to continue talking to them knowing you are attracted to them. Then it’s to think about the person in a way you know you shouldn’t think about them. Then it’s to continue both, talking and thinking, even though you know better. Next it’s to rationalize “we’re just going to coffee as friends, what could happen?” Then the decision to keep a secret… then another. Phone calls, texts, perhaps a secret meeting in a closet or hotel room… before you know it, “I didn’t mean for this to happen, it just happened! I am so sorry!” comes rushing out of your mouth. LIAR!!!! The truth is you had choices and you chose badly. I’m not saying it’s easy to reject these things, I’m just saying that we need to call a spade a spade and say… bad choices…. period. Of course this isn’t true for everything, some things in life do just happen… but an awful lot of them don’t. It takes intentional thought way in advance to prevent these things from cropping up in our lives. We really have to be on our toes since the devil loves to keep us blinded to all our minuscule decisions. But an affair always begins with an innocent, “Hello.” A decision doesn’t get smaller than that.

I was discussing this very thing with a friend and she said something I really loved… she told me that just like small decisions lead us to make big mistakes… small decisions are also what lead us to wonderful victories. I had never ever thought of it that way before. I remember back when I was beginning to repair my life after coming to terms with my alcoholism. I wanted to change… overnight! I wanted people to see me differently just because I had made the big decision to be sober. Well, it didn’t work that way and there were times I got really bummed out. I couldn’t understand why some people just saw me as a screw up no matter what I did. I really thought I could do one really awesome thing and all of a sudden become an awesome person. I’m sure that works for some people in ways, they can be seen as an awesome person for a few hours by doing something big, but the question is, is it real??? I think the best way to awesomeness is to make a bunch of really awesome small decisions over time. The choice to smile… the choice to be kind… the choice to help the old lady at the grocery store… the choice to listen to a friend even though you don’t have time… the choice to pick up a piece of trash… the choice to give your extra dollar away instead of buying a pack of gum… the choice to give your sandwich to a homeless man at the park and stay hungry for a few more hours… the choice to not yell at the annoying dog… the choice of patience when you have none left… the choice to commit 5 minutes to God instead of doing the dishes. Eventually these small choices will become who you are and lets be honest… what could be more awesome than being that person? Now that is the person I really want to be and I am happy to say, with the knowledge that it’s the small decisions that really matter… I realize I have begun to truly transform. I don’t need to give a million dollars to a university… I just want to be nice.

So, I'm not gonna lie to my friends, family and acquaintances anymore. I'm not gonna lie to myself by saying “I didn’t mean for this to happen… it just happened” or “I don’t know how this happened… it was totally out of my control.” I'm facing the truth, I'm going to be aware of my small decisions… and I'm going to choose to be awesome.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Pink Flag

There are lots of different types of flags in the world: city, state, country, nautical, religious, swimming, railway, decorative, racing. Personally I use a mental warning flag system. I think most of us can all agree that a red flag, means STOP! Don’t go any further!!!! Danger ahead!!! You stop at a truck stop at midnight to visit the facilities. There are 5 “MISSING” signs on the front door. The store clerk looks a little crazy and there is a chainsaw on the floor right across the hallway from the bathroom… RED FLAG!! Get back in car and find a different place to stop (sound familiar Dustin). Or how about this… you are a beautiful female looking for a new job and apply for one online. They request a picture of you and then without having an interview or even a phone conversation, the guy emails you at 7:00 on a Friday evening asking if you can come to his office and do some emergency “filing” that night... RED FLAG! Delete email and quickly block this man of questionable intelligence (that one is for Kristin). I’m sure you can think of many red flags you have gotten in your lifetime. You gotta love those red flags… they keep us out of heaps of trouble!

But what about the pink flag? How many of you have seen one of those pink flags waving around in your subconscious mind? Oh come on… you know it… it’s when the red flag is waving – flapping with loud and bright obviousness but our desire to get what we want is so strong that we somehow convince ourselves that the flag we are seeing isn’t really red… it’s just a little pink. That’s right… the pink flag is the red flag we consciously choose to ignore. I think it’s fair to say, we have ALL done it.

I’ll share one of mine with you. I was 23 and had just met a guy. We were on our second date, sitting at a bar getting loaded (that’s what we did on our first date too). My prior relationship was with a guy who I thought drank too much, he was abusive to me in many ways and had a history of not treating women very well. I wanted to change my luck in the worst way and I was hoping this new guy was it. That night, on our second date, he decided he needed to come clean with me about a few things. I sat listening to him explain … he didn’t have a driver's license because he had gotten several DUI's. If he got another one he was going to do time in the slammer. Hmmm… he was drinking heavily with me, and he had illegally driven us there in his truck without a license... RED FLAG… oh but wait, there was more. He went on to tell me he was in the process of defending himself in court… against a rape charge. He promised me the charges were bogus (and in his defense, he was later cleared). He had consensual sex with this young lady then her boyfriend found out so instead of admitting she had cheated, she cried rape. He continued on by telling me this was the reason he was single. Apparently he had also cheated that night and when he was officially charged he couldn’t hide it from his own girlfriend any longer. She broke up with him promptly after uncovering his unfaithfulness (smart girl). Can you say ginormous, humungoid, too big to even fit on the planet earth sized RED FLAG!!!!!! I remember sitting there looking at him completely freaked out. I thought, “Run!!! Run fast!! Run faster than fast!!!” but I sat contemplating for a moment on what to do next. All of the sudden, this flag – the biggest, reddest flag that had ever been waived in my direction began to slowly change colors. My gut reaction to run made me feel guilty... like I was being judgmental and it wasn't fair to judge him for his past mistakes. Then I thought to myself, “That sure must have been difficult for him to tell me all of that. Wow, that takes a lot of guts and honesty. Yes… what an honest guy! I like honesty. Honesty is a great trait for a boyfriend to have.” BAM! The flag had turned a beautiful shade of PINK!!!! You won’t be shocked to hear that my almost 3 year relationship with this guy was filled with drunken stupors, violent arguments, dishonesty, unfaithfulness and alcohol related vehicle issues… and not all of that was him - I was very guilty too. Now, I want to say this clearly, I think we Christians have this judgment thing kind of backwards sometimes. We think that we aren't supposed to judge people at all... but the truth is that we make judgments everyday. The act of judgment isn't wrong... it's what we do with the judgment in our heart and the way we treat people as a result of the judgment that becomes the issue. I would have been better served to have judged him at that time as a man that drank a bit too much, was confused about faithfulness and sexuality and just said a prayer for God to help him work that out... as I walked away. God's plan is inevitable... and if I were to walk away from someone He really wanted me to be with... He would bring him back around when the timing was better. I have full faith in that.

Red flags are red for a reason. Think about what would have happened the night of the first Passover if one of the Israelites decided to dilute the blood he brushed on the doorway for protection. Death, that’s what would have happened. So why then do I choose to ignore the red flags God gifts me with in my life? Do I really think I have a better plan? Do I really think I have the power to make a situation turn out differently? Back then I knew that guy was not going to be the good guy I needed. All the signs were there, but I thought I could be awesome enough to make him love me enough to change and be different. So, from the very beginning, the relationship was about ME…that’s how selfish and arrogant I was, and that’s just crazy!!! I have a hard enough time trying to change myself, why the heck would I be able to change someone else? This changing stuff is for God alone. He is the only one who can change others, He is the only one who can change me and He should be the only one in charge of the flag colors. The bible says, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” I’m not always good at that… but I’m gonna try my hardest to let my green flags be green and red flags be red; to judge appropriately without guilt... no more pink.

(special thanks to Jennie Carlson ... you rock sweetie - I love ya!!!)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Following From In Front

I have a dog, she is 17 years old – yes that’s right… seventeen. She is an American Eskimo Spitz and to say she is a little annoying would be like saying God is a little awesome. Don’t get me wrong, I love her but she is blind, deaf, has major arthritis, snaps at my child quite often and have I mentioned that she barks… A LOT. And it’s not just a regular bark, it’s this piercing extra-loud, super-annoying bark (if you know Carly Arnold, ask her, she’ll tell you). I wish I could say her annoying behaviors started at her geriatric onset but that’s not true… she has always been annoying. But like I said, I love her anyway.

One of the things she does that really drives me extra insane is this phenomenon I call “following from in front.” This is when she really wants to be with me and go where I go but instead of following from behind, she walks in front of me… slowing me down… turning her head back to try and figure out where I am heading so she can stay in front. She does it ALL the time!!!! It usually results in me tripping on her, her yipping in pain at me stepping on one of her little paws and then me yelling at her, “Will you get outta my way, you dumb dog!!!!” You’d think she would have learned that following from in front doesn’t really work. I mean she has had seventeen years to figure it out… but… nope… she still does it. I still trip on her, she still yips and I still yell at her to “get outta my way, you dumb dog!”

I have recently been given the honor to work closely with a new lady in the area of recovery. She isn’t an alcoholic though, her area of addiction is food. And just so you know, she gave me permission to share this with you. So fear not, if you and I are talking about recovery, you need not worry about seeing your story here in writing without your permission because I take anonymity very seriously. At first she and I weren’t sure if working together would work out since we have such different issues but we have both come to find out, we are not all that different, and one thing is for sure the same… the answer.

Several weeks ago, she was at her breaking point. Of course, she has been struggling with her eating issues for years but for some reason here she was at the threshold of the recovery doorway trying to decide if she was ready to really, truly walk though it this time. She reached out to me saying “I can’t do it!!!! I can’t!!!!” She was furious, she was depressed, she was extremely disappointed, she was petrified… she was almost broken in half. As painful as I knew it was for her in those moments… I found myself excited for her. I knew this was the moment she had been waiting for, for YEARS. It was a make it or break it moment. We began to talk through her feelings and thoughts. I asked her questions and listened to her answers. When she told me that she was in a hurry to kick her problem in the butt because she knew there were a ton of people out there who were suffering and needed her help… it became obvious to me that she needed to take a deep breath and slow down. I was quickly reminded of myself and told her a story.

It was my very first day at AA. It was my very first meeting. I sat listening to the people around me and realized quickly that I understood them. I realized they understood me… and I just knew I had something incredible to share that would be a healing force in many people’s lives. I was ready to stand up in front of everyone in that very moment to tell my story of alcoholism and heal the world!!! I seriously thought I was ready in that very moment to help others. I knew God wanted me to make something good out of my hell and I knew I was up to the challenge. What I didn’t know was that I was not yet equipped. That may seem like common sense to most people, but me… nope.

While that was an extremely noble (and perhaps slightly egotistical) feeling, I am glad that I was too nervous to actually do it that day. I probably would have sounded ridiculous… “Hi my name is Wendy and I’m an alcoholic… I’ve been sober (pause to look at watch) exactly 2 hours and I’d like to tell of you how I did it…” In addition I am glad I picked a sponsor who was able to tell me time and time again that I needed to slow down and stop rushing the recovery process. I really hated hearing it, but instead of firing her, I made myself teachable and decided to listen. I admit it, I have always been the type of person who wanted to teach everyone else how to drive a stick shift before actually learning how to do it myself. I’d tell a mother of 8 how to have painless childbirth before I had ever been pregnant. My most common response to my father was, “Yes Dad, I know.” I would load up an awesomely amazing hay ride with lazy boy recliners for comfort, enough pumpkin pie for all the passengers, and a hot apple cider machine but then sit there and wonder why the horse couldn’t get us on our way. Well, he was hitched to the back just standing there looking at me like, “stupid lady.” I’d go back there and try to push it myself… push with all my might and just end up looking like a giant donkey as everyone would jump off my ride to go find a more productive one. I guess you could say I was the type of person, who just like my dog, liked to follow from in front. Through a Christian non-AA sponsorship, I realized that I had to learn to give my problem to Jesus before I could teach someone else how to give their problem to Jesus. I learned it is necessary to step out of God’s way, and allow Him to lead.

Back to my new friend who was standing at the recovery welcome mat; it was amazing what happened that day. God gave me this mental image to plant in her head of her problem being a kite and how she needed to stop hanging on to it, running, stumbling, out of breath, beside it and just let go of the string and let God take it up to heaven. I truly had never thought of recovery that way before… but those were the words that I spoke… they were His words, I have no doubt. Something about that image stuck with her and I am proud to say that she walked through the recovery doorway that day, even though it would have felt easier to keep saying “I can’t do it.” Today she is basking in the continued glory of how God allows her humble success with her eating issue. She looks beautiful, she is literally glowing and I know each day that passes, she is one step closer to being able to help those people out there who need her help and understanding. She has even passed on the kite imagery to someone else who was struggling… and that is how it works. One little step at a time, we pass it off to God and then we pass it off to others. Before we know it He is using us in amazing ways we never dreamed of… and instead of being boastful we are so very humbled by the opportunities He gives us to help change one life at a time.

As I’m writing this I can’t believe how much like my annoying dog I really am. So many times I am blind to God’s presence, I’m deaf to His calling, the aches and pains of this life make me snappy to those around me and my mouth… well it gets pretty loud, repetitive and annoying I’m sure. I always have something to say… I get those looks from people, those “will you just sit down and shut up” looks. I’m aware of them and I’m working on it. I’m trying to learn how to just be “the girl in the room” instead of always “the girl with the mission.” I pray about that daily and I know God will show me and teach me how to accomplish it. But I wonder if, in the process, God ever looks down at me like I’m the annoying American Eskimo Spitz who’s trying to follow Him from in front? Am I slowing Him down, causing Him to trip? I’ll bet so… but one thing I’m sure of is that He isn’t up there yelling, “Get outta my way, you dumb human!” Instead, I envision Him gladly stopping what He is doing to gently pick me up and dust me off. Once He knows I’m okay and back on my feet, He kisses my forehead sweetly and says, “Now, go child … do the best you can and I’ll be here to pick you back up later.” It’s about progress…. not perfection.