Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Pivotal “Good-Friend-Fruit” Moment

Friend is one of the words I think is used too much in society. What I mean is this... I believe its one of those words we use flippantly, like the words ‘love’ and ‘yes’. We have become comfortable using all of these words before we know if we really mean them or not. How many times have you said yes to something then later really wish you hadn’t? I always chuckle when I’m watching some good reality television and two girls that have only known each other for 2 hours say “I love you so much!” Really?

To me, ‘friend’ has always meant someone who cares about me, someone I can talk to, someone I trust and I care for back in the same way. But my understanding of the word ‘friend’ began being misunderstood very early in life. My teachers taught me to call every single one of my classmates my ‘friend’. This is still true today in my son’s class. This led me to think that all of my classmates were people who cared about me, people I could talk to, and people I should trust and give back to in the same way. This misunderstand led me to have zero boundaries in friendship. ZERO.

Later in life, after I learned that not everyone was really my ‘friend’ I found a new meaning of the word. It was this… anyone who I wanted to be my friend was given the title ‘friend’. I had a lot of ‘friends’ that never even spoke to me. Sad…but true.

After that, it was people who worked with me. They were my ‘friends’. I forgot the part about them being at the same place I was to get paid to do a job. We never saw each other outside of the office but we were best ‘friends’.

The word ‘friend’ was constantly being redefined throughout my life. At one point ‘friends’ became the people who drank at the same bar with me. Then came sobriety. ‘Friends’ were the people who got sober with me at meetings. After being in recovery for a while, ‘friend’ changed again… anyone who needed me to help them get sober OR anyone who made confessions to me.

There was a woman by the name of Stephanie Canfield in the Bible Study I joined in 2008. In 2009 we got to know each other a little bit, but not a ton. In 2010 in one of those strange coincident (also known as God-incident) type deals, I ended up agreeing to be the guest speaker at a women's retreat she was heading up. The plan was for me tell the story of my life and teach about boundaries and expectations. It’s funny as I look back; I was probably the least qualified person in the world to do that at the time I was asked. But God said yes, so I said yes. I began working with Stephanie regularly in planning this retreat.

I was in a very lonely place in my life then, June 2010, and had lost nearly all the ‘friends’ who were important to me. I looked at the past carnage of my ‘friend’ relationships and realized something… it was a revolving door. There was only one explanation; there was only one common denominator… Me. I was the problem. I looked at the word ‘friend’ and realized I had no idea what it really meant and I asked God to try and teach me. How does a person take their time and grow a healthy, mature friendship? It didn’t seem possible to me. My ‘friends’ had always been instant friends. In preparation to talk about boundaries and expectations at the retreat, I did all sorts of reading about healthy friendships. I read about the importance of waiting for a person to ‘prove’ their character before you invest in them too deeply. It sounded great in theory but it didn’t sound possible to me. It had never happened in my life and I didn't want anymore pain so I withdrew knowing I had to fix my issues first. My desire to have a real friend and to be a real friend took the back burner.

I had absolutely no interest in adding a new ‘friend’ to my life and my walls were up big time so each time Stephanie and I got together to discuss things, I would get straight to the point and then move on with my day. I didn’t do it on purpose but I invested nothing of myself in her even though she was super nice. As time went on, she continued being nice, even as I gave her nothing in return. She simply kept being herself and never let what I was like affect the outcome. One day I was so upset by something that I excused myself from the Bible study room. She came out to see if I was okay and it was then I had to admit to myself that I liked her, she was nice. It was then I also realized I had been completely un-invested in her and I was scared to death to try. In my fear, I shifted gears from unintentional withdrawal to… complete intentional shut-off. not long after, I became extremely depressed and almost backed out of the retreat all together.

But she called me on one of my really depressed days, just to ask me how I was. My heart led me to tell her in a very simple way that I was struggling. I didn’t give her any details, just told her life was hard for me right then. She didn’t pry, or beg for details. She didn't jump into drama, try to cheer me up or try fix things. She just asked if she could pray for me. And that was it. No drama and no judgment.

My depression passed and I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Because of that phone call and the way she reacted to it, I began to let go just a little bit at a time as I would see her or talk to her. Before long, we were speaking frequently, and laughing together a lot. I had invested some of Wendy, but only some. I wasn’t planning to go any further.

There was a job posting at my church that I was really excited about. I sent my resume in and was all set with an interview. I was sure this was what God was calling me to do. It felt perfect! Stephanie called me to check on something about the retreat and I mentioned to her in passing that I had applied for the job. I told her how excited I was. She was quiet and didn’t say much about it and we got off the phone a little awkwardly. I thought it was odd but didn’t put much thought into it.

The next morning, my phone rang bright and early… 8:00a.m. It was Stephanie. She had something she had to tell me and from the sound of her voice, it was important and she was a little nervous. She proceeded to tell me that she had also applied for the same job and also had an interview. She hadn’t been sure at first what to say when I told her how excited I was about it so she didn’t say anything. But she struggled with it all night not able to sleep. She talked if over with her husband and prayed about it. She knew she should tell me so I could hear it from her and not someone else but was worried about how I might react since I had been so excited about it. She didn’t want me to think she was keeping anything from me or that she was trying to go up against me. I could hear the honesty and sincerity in her voice and it touched me in a way I hadn’t experienced in a long time. We had a good laugh together over the whole thing and both knew that whoever got the job, would be God’s pick. We told each other that no matter what, we wouldn’t let it get in the way of our… friendship. Yes, I actually used that word.

It was after I got off the phone and had time to process it God said, “That is how a person proves to you that you may invest yourself more deeply in them. That is the kind of person who should become your friend, Wendy.”

The Lord Jesus tells us, “Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing… you will know them by their fruit.” I thought about some of my hurts in friendship from the past and realized I’ve invested myself in a lot of wolves, which was easy since I myself have been a wolf at times. And I had a habit of investing all of myself way too fast… certainly before any proof was given about their character. In many cases, I was fully aware of the rotten fruit but went forward anyway (FYI: that is not to say my fruit was any better). Stephanie’s call to me was certainly proof of her character. Her fruit was good; I could see that without doubt. After that, I was able to release more of myself. After that even more… and by the time the retreat came, there wasn’t much left to hold back. We had really become friends, slowly and naturally.

She ended up getting the job instead of me. I was sad about it because I had been so sure God wanted me to have it. I really thought it was “the fit” for me, and not getting it was hard on my ego. Even still, I can honestly say I was totally happy for her though. It was a perfect fit for her life and it was obvious to me, after giving her the congratulations call that God truly wanted it to be hers. God had a different plan for me. And it turned out, yes God had wanted me to apply for that job, but not so I would get it. No, I believe He wanted me to experience that pivotal and necessary moment of true character that allows a person to let go and know… the friend-fruit is good. He was teaching me. And, having a new job was the opposite of His plan for me. I’ll write about that on a later date.

Today, Stephanie and I are even better friends. We do not speak everyday and we don’t know every detail of each others lives but we surely are friends. She is the kind of friend I can call up and ask to challenge my thinking. She is the kind of friend who I know will be honest with me even if it might sting a little bit. She is the kind of friend who reminds me that God doesn’t expect me to be perfect when I am too hard on myself. I only hope I am the same kind of friend back to her! We have shared some struggles and have been able to laugh at ourselves together. We have shared some victories and have rejoiced together. We’ve cried together, been nervous together, poured out awful coffee together, laughed at fake proverbs together, had God’s blinding flash of the obvious hit us together and most importantly… prayed together. I am very thankful for her in my life. I understand what the word ‘friend’ means today because of her. I have been able to build some other amazing friendships in my life because of her example and gifts. My fruit has improved dramatically because of her influence in my life. Thank you God for sending Stephanie my way! Thank you Stephanie for being my friend.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Inspired By a Blurry Picture

The week after Christmas, I was sitting at my kitchen table with my son helping him write thank you notes to everyone for his Christmas presents this year and something happened to me that hadn't happened in awhile. I heard a voice in my head... it was uncomfortable yet tried to sound as though it were confident. It boldly said this to me...

“Wendy... you haven't had a drink in 4 years. You're not really an alcoholic. I mean, if you were an alcoholic, you wouldn't have been able to go 4 years without a drink. It’s okay for you to drink. You can just have one or two... you'd be fine. Go ahead. You deserve it.”

For a nanosecond a little flicker of hope rose in me... maybe I can drink just one or two! But another nanosecond later I laughed at the voice remembering the truth… there is no doubt that I am an alcoholic. A flash of my old life hit me. I drank a lot and had no control. I did horrible embarrassing things that any good and decent person would feel ashamed of. I drank and wasn't able to stop at one or two. I drank to feel better, I drank to hide pain, I drank to celebrate, I drank for no reason, I drank even when I didn't want to... I drank just to breathe. And in the end, my drinking led me to not want to breathe anymore. All of these past memories were blurry, black and white pictures, but their blurriness and blandness didn't hide their truth. I am an alcoholic. As for not drinking for the last 4 years, there is only one reason I have not had a drink and it's not because I am not an alcoholic. It is because God has blessed me with day by day sobriety. God is the only reason my blurry, monochrome past isn't a very vivid full-color HD real-life picture of my present.

I laughed at the lying voice in my head and put its fire out as if I were smashing the butt of the very last cigarette I ever smoked. Secrets give a great foothold to the devil so I immediately stood from my chair and let the battle that had just raged in my head come out of my mouth and become real... I went to my husband and told him the thoughts that had just passed through my head. I then went to the phone and called my sponsor to talk it through. I have many more one-day-at-a-time's tacked onto my sobriety since then. Thank you Jesus!

I’ve done a lot of reflection on myself in the last six months. It turns out I’ve made some mistakes even after getting sober. This was hard for me accept since I thought I was fairly close to perfect just because I quit drinking (ha ha). After working hard to get sober through self-honesty, I got a little lazy. I may not have been drinking, but several of my character defects moved into high gear. Apparently I was highly addicted to drama and didn’t realize it. I had the propensity not to shut my mouth when I should and my boundaries in friendship skills needed a lot of work. The perception I had that I was supposed to be more perfect in life after getting sober coupled with a giant ego made me unable to clearly see these additional defects of character as they were pouring out of me.

Fast forward a few years and the character defeats I listed above mixed with the character defect of some others made for an extremely toxic environment for me, and them. Finally God made me so uncomfortable in my own skin that I broke. Just like with my drinking, He forced me to come back to Him and take a good long look at myself. It was only then I was able to see those defects clearly. I winced and cringed as I faced them and asked the questions… “What do I do about it? How can I move closer to who God means for me to be?”

Another fast forward… with God’s help, I have examined my ways with all the honesty I could muster. With my therapist’s help I have added some tools to my tool box to assist me in changing the yucky stuff. With my sponsors help, I’ve stayed sober through it. With God’s perfect prompting, I have made my amends to the people I hurt along the way which was no easy task. There was (and still is) a lot of pain associated with these events and as we all know, it takes two to tango. Everyone has their own view and their own version of the story based on their perceptions. A little white lie can turn into a giant snowball in which the truth is so deeply hidden even the people involved can’t see it. But God tells me, all I can concern myself with is MY mistakes, MY wrongs and MY failings. Through all this, especially after making the amends, I can say I have found a certain amount of peace about that part of my life. I have also made some major changes by removing myself from involvement in activities out of obedience to God for the purpose of distancing myself from the destruction of the past. My spirit has changed yet again but for the good, even though there was a lot of suffering along the way.

It’s been hard to admit to myself that yes… I have enjoyed drama too much. Yes… my mouth has gotten out of control and yes… I haven’t really known how to build and maintain a healthy friendship. But, admitting these things has allowed me to be more aware of who I was, who I don’t want to be and most importantly, who I hope to be in the future. With God’s help, there has been a lot of progress… and more to come. I’m curious as to what my next set of defects will bring about. I’m hoping it won’t be as painful, but I guess sometimes that’s what it takes. I’m so glad I finally have peace over this part of my past. It is a welcomed relief.

So why then, did my spirit get all discombobulated about all of this same junk again at the mere mention of a person from that past who has made yet another accusation of me? I thought I had worked through all of this… wasn’t my spirit at peace? In an instant it didn’t matter that the accusation was untrue, it didn’t matter that I had already made my amends, it didn’t matter that I knew God had forgiven me for my part and my wrongs. No, these past memories were vivid full-color HD larger than life pictures of ME. Just a glimpse at them and I was right back there in the moment feeding on drama, saying too much and showing the world what a bad friend I was. In short… I was an awful person making terrible mistakes, ruining everything for myself (and if I want to dive even deeper into self pity, I could even say I was ruining everything for everyone else… wahhhh). Ugh, my life and spirit were sucked dry in an instant. The picture was clear…I believed I AM a horrible sinner… I believed I AM a horrible person. And that was my reality. Guilt, shame, and embarrassment surrounded me.

I did the only thing I knew to do, and that was pray. I spent 30 minutes in direct contact with God begging Him to lift this discomfort from me. I apologized to Him yet again for my sins just to clarify that I knew what they were and that I was indeed sorry. Towards the end of my prayer, I prayed for the individual whose mere mention had brought about these awful feelings. I prayed for that person, I asked God to give them everything I was asking for… everything I desired… give it to them. To my amazement, I meant it.

I went about my day not even realizing… I hadn’t thought about it again after that. My peace resumed that quickly, and I didn’t even notice. I should have said thank you but didn’t so I will say it now. Thank you God. You are a miracle worker!

I recalled the voice that entered my head as I wrote thanks you’s with my son, the one that told me I wasn’t an alcoholic… the one that tried to convince me I could drink. I wondered why that hadn’t brought me back to a place of shame, guilt and embarrassment like this other thing had. I mean by all means, it should have, but it didn’t. What was the difference?

The pictures of the past I saw when looking at alcoholic Wendy were blurry, black and white pictures of a person who ceased to exist. Their blurriness and blandness didn't hide the specifics of who this person used to be. Yes, I’m well aware of who I was then and I remember the things I did. What the blurriness did though was keep me from becoming absorbed in the past… it blocked the shame, guilt and embarrassment and allowed me to jump to the truth immediately. Yes, I am an alcoholic and I wasn’t a very nice person back then… but I’m not that same person anymore. God is with me and has forgiven me. I need not go back there… all I need to do is live in today and who I am now. Truth: I am a new creation now.

The pictures I saw when reminded of the other situation were different. They were vivid, full-color, pictures of ME… not former me… but me. And that was when I realized what the difference was…

TRUTH.

I was buying into a lie. The devil was selling me a colorful lie about myself and I was falling for it because I myself wasn’t standing firm on the truth of God’s forgiveness of my former sins. The devil wanted me to believe I was still back there in the midst of those defects, an unforgiven wretch. He wanted me to relive it and beat myself up… to be ashamed and embarrassed. He wanted me to keep asking God to forgive me over and over and over… even though I didn’t need to. AH HA… the difference was the TRUTH.

The more I embrace God’s truth, the more the color in those pictures will fade and the clarity will have no choice but to blur. Truth: I am forgiven. Truth: I am not who I used to be. Truth: God has changed me. Truth: I am a new creation. The truth is, that version of Wendy doesn’t exist anymore… she is hanging out with alcoholic Wendy somewhere in never-never land.

I’ve been sober for 4 years and yes I have worked through the majority of my drinking issues and have found peace. Since I will always be susceptible to relapse, I can and should expect the voice of the devil to try and sell me a lie. And just the same, even though I have worked through the majority of issues surrounding those defects which wrecked havoc on my life not so long ago and have found peace, I can and should expect the voice of the devil to try and drag me back into shame, guilt and embarrassment.

I think it’s kind of funny that the devil’s scheme to try and get me to drink totally backfired on him. The blurry picture from my drinking days inspired me to make sure all the pictures of things that have been handled appropriately by my Heavenly Father also got blurred. God is amazing.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6: 10-18

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

35 Minutes with Satan

I like to have a warm drink in the morning, it sort of sets my day right. It’s probably because I used to be an obsessive coffee drinker but ever since I began taking ADD medication, caffeine and I don’t get along at all. I’ve switched to decaf mostly, or warm apple cider or teas. Sunday mornings, I usually take my warm drink with me to Sunday school in a travel mug. This passed Sunday, it was warm decaf tea.

We go to a relatively large church, not a huge “mega-church” but a church that fills 4 services each weekend without problem. I’d say our sanctuary can easily hold about 350 people comfortably at one time. We attend the 11:00 service which is a “blended” service, meaning it is a good mix of traditional and contemporary styles blended together. It’s casual and I enjoy it, even though I am a very contemporary worship kinda girl.

By the time 11:00 worship began this passed Sunday, I had not finished my tea. It’s a casual environment so I took my travel mug into worship with me instead of taking it out to the car. I wasn’t interested in drinking the rest, I was just being lazy – plus it was cold outside. We sat in one of the back sections. That is where we are most comfortable although unlike a typical Lutheran we move around to difference spots all the time (that’s a joke). Variety is good.

When we sat down I purposely placed my half empty travel mug on the floor to my left away from where my son was sitting on my right. I could just see him knocking it over and it making a loud noise. I wanted to avoid that. I placed it by the leg of the pew in front of us, nestling it under far enough so it would be difficult to bump over.

After the Pastor opened up worship, he invited us to greet those around us…a pass the peace and meet your neighbor kind of thing. I went down the aisle to my right to say hellos to a few people while my husband, who was on my left, greeted some people in front of us who had turned around.

When I turned back to my spot I saw something horrible… and it happened in slow motion. My dear husband, who I love and adore, stepped forward slightly and kicked my travel mug. The mug flopped over sideways crashing to the floor… the crash of it falling over was not audible since people were greeting one another… but what I saw next mortified me.

The travel mug hit the floor so hard that the lid popped off. The half empty mug became completely empty in a matter of seconds. My heart skipped a beat as one of my worst nightmares became a reality.

It’s just a spill, no big deal, right? Just wipe it up and move on with life… hmmmm… not so easy. You can only wipe up the spill if it stays in one spot, and since our church has stadium style seating… translation: slanted floor… the spill fell victim to the laws of gravity and very quickly (although I saw it in slow motion) began to flow forward. Forward from the back of the church where we sat… all the way to the front. One by one, pew by pew, the people began to turn back and look to see where this mysterious liquid was coming from. One lady’s purse got dowsed… and all I could do it stand there mortified with my hand over my mouth. I felt the weight of eyes on me… I can’t remember being this embarrassed in forever. My husband ran to get some paper towels, as did I. We wiped up what we could then I went down the aisle on the side during the next hymn and offered paper towels to everyone who had endured the tea river.

Back at my seat I knew I had done all I could do. A mistake had been made and we did what we could to resolve it but my heart and mind were spinning in anxiety. The sound of my heart beating in my chest was so loud that I couldn’t hear a word that was being said in the service. Pastor had just done confession and absolution and we were about the sing the next song.

I was absorbed in my own emotions in those moments. My light-hearted mood had quickly turned to… heavy and unhappy. Thoughts swarmed at me… “Should I leave? Should I run? Should I never show my face again in the place? Is this what I’m going to be remembered for, the tea spiller? I imagined the pastor wagging his finger at me saying, “that’s why you shouldn’t have drinks in the sanctuary.” Oh and that lady’s purse, was it leather? Should I offer to replace it? Should I mop the floor after church? Will the Pastor slip and fall in front of everyone because of me?”

I looked up as first lesson was being read. It was then that I realized I had not heard a word that had been said in church so far. I became completely aware I was focusing on the wrong thing in that moment. I knew I could make a decision… to let the slow motion memory of the “great spill of 2011” go and focus on what God had to give me –OR- I could choose to stay in my current state of mind of worry and negativity and give myself over to Satan for a bit longer. I’d like to tell you I chose wisely, but I didn’t. I chose to give some more energy to Satan… and I sat there unable to listen, focus or think of anything other than “the Spill.” I continued torturing myself for another 15 minutes.

The sermon was now over and the choice was offered to me again… let it go so I can focus on God –OR- let Satan continue his party dance on my self-esteem. I am glad to say that I was able, with God’s help, to get myself back on track at that point. I asked God to remove the things blocking me from Him and allow me to move on productively. God is so good, He came through and the devil was squashed yet again. I was able to participate with all my heart in the last 15 minutes of the service, which I was glad for. I still have our final song in my head… and it was a good one.

After service, I went to the church kitchen and got some rags to clean up my mess. When I returned to the sanctuary I realized, there really wasn’t that much to clean up. The spill had looked far worse to me than it really was. In my mind I saw a giant river… but in reality it was a little trickle. And that is how Satan gets me. He makes me perceive reality much differently than it really is so he can help my mind over-react and make bad choices. Oh how I wish I could get rid of that piece of my human nature that likes to torture itself.

Today, I can choose to sit back and beat myself up for falling victim to the father of lies because I didn’t hear much of what was said at service; I can choose to allow myself to feel guilty for spending 35 minutes of my Sunday with Satan or I can choose to simply accept what happened and thank God for His grace. I may not have heard the Pastor’s message but God certainly taught me a lesson. There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t have allowed God to “snap” me away from Satan’s lies that quickly. Five years ago, I may have run away that very moment and never returned to the church again. Three years ago I may have just stayed away a few weeks. Two years ago, I may have just let the junk rule and ruin my thoughts for an entire week. Instead of feeling badly, I chose to see God’s victory over the devil in the fact that Satan only got 35 minutes from me this time. And because of those 35 minutes, I praise God all the more. In a sense, Satan’s temporary “hold” only brought me closer to understanding God’s never-ending love for me. Next time, and there will be a next time no doubt, I’m hoping to shorten it to 15 minutes.

I am getting closer and closer every day to understanding more of how God’s love works. I didn't get it before and now I am. I am getting closer to understanding that I’m never going to get it right, and that is okay only because of Jesus. The words actually make sense. I’m really starting to grasp that His grace is sufficient for all my sin. Grace ... is something I am embracing, finally. So what if Satan had me for 35 minutes this Sunday… in the end the joke is really on him. After all, having me in his hands was merely a perception on his part because reality is clear… I am God’s and God’s alone… for eternity. John 10:27-28 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”