“Free of Me”

I read some great books in 2017 and wanted to share about one of them today.

Free of Me by Sharon Hodde Miller is a brilliantly deep yet practical book to read. I’ll be honest, it’s not an easy read because she hits on some hard areas that can sneak up on us if we’re not careful. But exposure to what is keeping us from a closer relationship to Jesus is a good thing.

Sharon talks about how we can make God about us. In ways we don’t even realize. From books and Bible Studies about self esteem to long looks and focus on our identity it’s easy to slip into a fast track of self absorption even when reading our Bible and seeking God. But don’t think this is a book that beats you up. Not so. Grace is laced all through this book as Sharon speaks hard yet beautiful truth which is a true gift.

I want you to hear a bit of Sharon’s voice through one of her chapters: When you Make God about You. 

“What is really interesting about the Christian self-help approach is that it’s markedly different from God’s. Moses felt inhibited by his weaknesses. He didn’t feel capable of speaking to Pharaoh or of leading the Israelites out of Egypt, because he only saw his disqualifications. And how did God respond to Moses’s doubt? Not with a self-help pep talk. He didn’t affirm Moses’s leadership or his talents or gifts. He didn’t hug him and cheer for him and speak encouraging words over him. God didn’t do any of those things, but instead he changed the subject. God affirmed his own strength, his own leadership, has own self, because the outcome never hinged upon Moses. This story was not about Moses’s strengths, and Moses was never meant to be the hero. Only God could deliver the Israelites out of Egypt, so he directed Moses’s focus back to him.” 

Later Sharon speaks of bitterness and defines it this way: “Bitterness is the fruit of believing God owes you. We witness this bitterness in the prodigal son’s brother, who begrudged his father’s mercy. If you believe faith is payment for living a moral life, bitterness will creep in whenever life doesn’t work out. That doesn’t me we can’t feel anger about tragedy – the Psalms gives us plenty of freedom for that!  – but bitterness is an anger we welcome to stay. Bitterness is the anger we nurture and cultivate, until it grows into something toxic and consuming. Rather than making a way for healing, bitterness produces even more woundedness….How you respond to God when your plans don’t work out, or how you respond to Scripture when it challenges your lifestyle – these response are a litmus test of the kind of god you follow.”

I hear Sharon is writing her second book now so I’m super excited about reading that when it comes out. I’m praying for her right now as well and if you happen to think about it pray for her too. She has two little boys and with a baby due in the next few weeks and she’s writing a book. If the thought of that hasn’t sent her into labor yet I’m not sure what will. So yeah, we sisters need to be praying for each other – even if we don’t know each other and will never meet….on earth.

So what’s on your bedside table to read this year? 

God’s provision in unlikely places

My week had been messed with in all kinds of crazy ways and as I sat in my red chair praying to God for a stranger I’d just met I found myself praying for her provision. That he would give her exactly what she needed that day and the days to come.

If you were to turn the pages of my prayer journal back you’d read where I was crying out to God to provide our own specific needs. A washing machine that blew up, a mouth guard, a big car repair, leaking toilet and…..well, you live on this earth so you know all about unexpected expenses and how when it rains it pours sometimes. We just weren’t sure how the month would play out as far as being able to meet our budget. It wasn’t looking promising at all.

But this particular day my focus was on this woman I couldn’t get out of my head and heart. I made an umbrella prayer for her in my journal and decided I would do a deep clean in my kitchen starting with the cabinets. The ones we call the black hole for a reason.

As I was pulling stuff out and organizing something white caught my eye in the waaaay back. It was a bank envelope. As I opened the envelope and started counting out the cash I realized what it was. We had lost an envelope with $575 cash over a year and a half ago. It was money we had stashed away little by little and it was in a drawer and had fallen back into the cabinet below. To be found on a day when I wasn’t sure how our own needs were going to be met but was praying for God to meet a stranger’s needs.

Overwhelmed with God’s perfectly timed provision I sat there and cried.

Then I called Randy and tried to act all nonchalant and said, “Can you meet me for lunch? I have to tell you something in person.”

We meet up for lunch and I hand him the envelope to open. Immediately he knew what it was. And his deep sigh of relief about blew me into the next booth over….which takes a lot of gusto.

I needed to talk some things out with him though. I told him about praying for the woman I had met and for God to provide her needs. I also told him about a struggle I’d had the week before that in giving to a special cause that we really didn’t have the money to give to and I didn’t want to give to. I argued with God about it. Told him we didn’t have the money and our own kids were going to get  jipped so other kids could have something (which was dramatic and not true anyways). I felt like God spoke to me saying, “And that’s okay, Melody. It’s okay to give when you don’t have it yourself. It’s okay when someone else has something you or your kids don’t have.” He settled my heart and I knew it was the right thing for us to do.

So I told Randy – I don’t want to think I had anything to do with this money being found and with an unexpected check that came to us that same day from a speaking engagement. But I can’t help but see a correlation when we give something that is hard to give or pray on someone else’s behalf for something we need it ourselves how God ends up providing in the most unusual and unexpected ways. He’s always so faithful to do this for us. And yet it surprises me every time. I don’t know what to do with it all. I know it’s all from God’s hand and nothing short of his grace. But is it wrong for me to think there’s a connection between praying for and giving to others when it’s a true sacrifice and seeing God’s provision for us? Not like we’re the ones who brought this provision on but somehow the giving, the praying for someone else touched God’s heart maybe?

Randy listend and said, “I don’t think you’re wrong. I hear what you’re saying and it’s okay to recognize when God responds to us and how he responds. It’s the right thing to give him praise for that.”

So it’s out of a full heart that I post these things. It’s out of heart that is learning how to navigate need yet giving generously and the right response to God’s provision. Not saying we get it right even half the time. We don’t. But we desire to honor God with our money and in our giving.

Lord, thank you for being our Provider. You’re so good to us.

What that woman walking down the street taught me…

My friend and I were on the way to a coffee shop in town to catch up and reconnect. We’d tried several times before and either sickness or schedules prevented us. This particular morning I texted her knowing I didn’t have time for coffee but also trying to practice the discipline of biblical friendship. I texted and she said Yes.

So we’re about 1 mile into our short trip to the coffee shop (hello small town) when we noticed a woman a little younger than us with long blonde hair pulled to the side walking down the street in a bed sheet with very few clothes underneath. She was carrying a white plastic bag and she looked miserable as it was freezing outside. The whole thing just wasn’t right.

We both noticed her immediately and said something like, “She looks like she just left the hospital.”  We drove through several lights both uneasy with what we just saw. At the next light I looked at my friend and said, “We need to go back and see if she needs help, don’t we?” She said, “Yeah, we really do.”

We made a quick turn around and uttered a short prayer out loud of, “Lord, show us if you want to use us to help this woman today. Show us what this looks like.”

We pulled into McDonald’s and saw her walk in while we were parking. As we entered the McDonald’s we didn’t see her and decided she was probably in the bathroom. So we waited for her in the bathroom. Prayer pal stalkers gone wild. I was beginning to feel bad for the hospital escapee because we were about to pounce on her with some Jesus-lovin’ smothering grace. Lord help her.

As the woman came out of the restroom I cut to the chase ever so awkwardly and said, “Hi, we saw you walking and turned around not knowing if you might need a ride.” She seemed grateful and said, “Yes, but can you take me to “said town” about 15 minutes away?” We agreed.

We were all hungry so we all grabbed a bite and sat in a back booth.

As we listened we learned that she was battered by her ex-boyfriend and had a seizure. Stitches from a bite mark and a brace were only the surface problems she had at that moment. Suddenly I was thinking to myself, “Okay, we just committed to take this woman home and we know nothing about her, what’s in her little plastic bag or if “angry ex” is still on the scene.” I prayed silently and continued to assess the situation to decide if we could indeed take her home.

There was no question God was nudging us to take this woman home and so we did.

On our twenty minute ride there we talked about all kinds of things. She randomly brought up prostitution which was really wild because my friend and I are in a Bible study right now about a prostitute. Her name is Gomer and it’s all in the book of Hosea. For real – go read it!  So it was a natural lead in to talk about the things we were learning. How really – we all play the part of unfaithfulness to God. And in his love he is still there for us with the purest love waiting to buy us back.

As we pulled into her poverty stricken neighborhood she said, “Just look around at this mess. How will I ever get out of this?”

We told her she couldn’t do it on her own but with God’s help and practical steps forward she could do it. We told her about resources we knew about in her community that could help her and encouraged her to make one particular phone call.

My friend grabbed the woman’s hand and said, “Baby, I’m gonna pray over you before you leave.” And she prayed the sweetest prayer I’ve ever heard over a sister deep in pain. I’ll never forget it. We gave her one of our phone numbers and she left. This was two weeks ago. We’ve prayed for her ever since.

As I look back on this day a few things have settled in my heart:

  1. When I choose to do things I don’t have time to do (or don’t want to do in some cases) but do them anyway out of obedience God tends to show up in some pretty wild ways.
  2. When I think I’m in the front seat “helping” someone in the back seat the book of Hosea reminds me that we’re all in the same seat before God. We’re all spiritually unfaithful and messed up. Nobody is better or more loved than another.
  3. Although we’re all in the same seat before God sometimes he calls us to drive and take initiative. When we sense that moving from him it’s best we lean in and go with it even if it’s a little scary and uncertain. I think this might be what faith looks like.

Friends, look for God this week. You’ll most definitely find him in his word but sometimes you’ll find him in the lending of a hand to a girl walking down the street in a bed sheet.

A Missionary shares her story of addiction

Laura Andrew is someone I want you to meet. She’s married to Rodney and they have two daughters and a son and they are serving God on the mission field in Costa Rica. I went to the same church with Laura growing up. She was quite a bit younger than me but we knew each other and went on youth group outings, etc. I never knew of her struggle with alcohol until I interviewed another lady about her addiction. Laura shared her story with me and I asked her if I could share it with ya’ll. She agreed to let me interview her as I did Elizabeth a few weeks ago. 

I think this interview and this topic is important because I believe the place of the local church can be a healing tool in the life of an addict. Not a cure all. But a tool. But I think we need to listen to each others stories and ask for God to open our hearts to what he wants us to see. So I pray this interview might help us all in this way.

Do you remember your first drink, how old were you?

Yes – I was a sophomore in high school so probably 15.

If so, where and what was it?

I was at an end of the year party at a friend’s house and an older kid was able to buy beer for us. I remember that I drank until I passed out on my friend’s front lawn. It didn’t take much because I didn’t have much of a tolerance at the time. But my drinking was out of control from the very beginning.

Can you tell us what happened with your drinking after that? (next drink, age, where)

I took a “break” after that first time because I was scared and humiliated. It was later in high school – I think after my junior prom that I drank again. And once again I drank until I blacked out.

Does anyone in your family drink?

I think when you look back at our family tree there were quite a few heavy drinkers especially on my mom’s Irish side. I have a close relative that has struggled for years with alcohol.

Although you take full responsibility for your own choices in your alcohol addiction do you look back on any early contributing factors?

I think one of the biggest contributing factors for me was an overwhelming need for acceptance from my peers. The desire to fit in and be accepted drove me to do whatever everyone else was doing. Although I became a Christian at an early age I lacked the understanding of my identity in Christ.

Were you aware at the time your behavior might have indicated you had a problem?

I think I always knew in the back of my mind that my drinking was not “normal” and that it was problematic. I certainly knew it was a sin issue.

What were your thoughts?

I enjoyed drinking and the partying lifestyle. I liked the feeling of getting that buzz and getting more out-going at parties and places. But always somewhere along the way an imaginary “switch” would be flipped that took me from in-control/having fun drinking to out of control/dangerous drinking. There were very few times in my life that I could “control” my drinking. And once the switch was flipped there was no telling what was going to happen after that. And from there the feelings of shame and guilt overwhelmed me. It was a cycle that I went through week after week after week.

What age and situation was your drinking obviously increasing?

When I went away to college is when things started to decline. Being out from under the watchful eye of my parents, church friends, etc. gave me the “freedom” I thought I wanted to do as I pleased. I got a fake I.D. and started going out to bars and clubs with older people and I got very involved in the hippie music scene. At that time, I started experimenting with other drugs but alcohol was always at the center of it all. I all but failed out of college, couldn’t hold a job (because I couldn’t get up in the morning to make it there), alienated friends and increasingly ignored the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

How did your drinking impact your family?

My parents knew that I was struggling but they never knew the full extent. I missed family gatherings, continually broke my promises to “do better next time”, and left my parents in a continual state of fear and worry.

Did anyone ever mention you might be drinking too much?

At one point, after I missed my sister-in-law’s baby shower, my family had enough and they held an intervention. They actually picked me up at a bar took me home and tried to set me straight. They knew I was out of control. The next day they moved me out of my apartment where I was living and moved me back home with my parents. I did well for a while but didn’t really have the desire within me to change. So, after a while I went back to my old ways.

Were there times you ever wished someone had approached you in a loving, grace-filled way about your drinking?

Yes and no. I mean, I’m not sure it would have mattered because I wasn’t ready until I was ready. I like to think that if someone had come alongside of me in a loving grace-filled way, with no shame, no condemnation, and offered me a way out that I would have taken it. But at the time I felt (like any addict would) that the intervention was an attack. I felt like they didn’t understand me and what I was going thru. I had the desire to get rid of all the negative consequences of drinking but I wasn’t ready to give up the drinking. Because I didn’t know who I would be without it. I didn’t know what I would do, who I would hang out with. My identity was wrapped up in my drinking and partying.

Did you hide your drinking?

Absolutely – but only from my parents and people I knew from church because I was ashamed and afraid of “getting in trouble”. And in a certain way I hid the full extent of my drinking from my friends. But I didn’t sit around drinking in private. I thrived on being out and about in “the scene”.

Did you do drugs?

Yes.

Was your family concerned?

Of course – they were agonizing over the choices I was making. They saw me self-destructing.

What was it like just before your quit?

My parents had moved me home and I was doing pretty well with life. I had changed universities and was going to class and doing well. I also picked up a part-time job at a local store. On the outside I was holding it together pretty well but occasionally I would still go out with friends. One evening after my shift was over at work I went out with some co-workers. The night started out under control and we just had a few drinks together. But then someone suggested we go somewhere else and that “switch” was flipped in me. I often thought about what would have happened if I had just gone straight home after work. But we continued drinking into the night. And on the night of January 11, 2002 I was involved in a one -car DUI accident. I am so thankful that I was not injured and I did not injure anyone else. I was arrested that night and put in jail.

What made you quit?

When my dad came to bail me out we rode in silence on the way home. My mom was waiting there for us. My parents gave me two choices – I could either get help our get out. Faced with the possibility of being out on my own with nowhere to go I chose to get help.

How did you quit?

My mom took me to my first AA meeting the following Tuesday night at a local church. At that meeting I picked up my first white chip. It was a symbol of surrender and being ready to make a change. I continued to go to as many AA meetings as I could. I stayed sober by realizing that my higher power – Jesus Christ – was the only one that could restore me to wholeness, in HIM.

Was it difficult and for how long?

Yes, it was difficult – but I was ready and willing to do whatever it took to stay sober.

What did treatment look like for you? As a program how would you describe it to readers?

I was fortunate enough to not have needed a detox program or in-patient care. I focused on going to as many AA meetings as possible. I found a sponsor that was a wonderful Christian woman, who shared my belief that Jesus Christ is our “higher power” as described in the AA program. I also came to realize that I needed to work on my personal spiritual relationship with the Lord so I started to go to church again with my mom. It was so hard and awkward at first. I felt dirty, ashamed, and embarrassed sitting there. I felt like somehow, everyone was going to find out what a horrible person I had been. I felt like a fake and a hypocrite. And I think most of all I felt like a total disappointment to so many people. I had grown up in the church and had always been such a good girl. I was involved in children’s ministry, choir, youth group, etc. So, how had I come so far from all of that. And to be honest it took years after I got sober to deal with all those feelings. I truly had to reconstruct my identity, in Christ. I had to acknowledge that everything bad I had done, every sin I had committed, had already been forgiven the day I accepted Christ. I had to realize that He knew every sin I would ever commit and loved me (despite them) enough to die for me. I had to realize that there was nothing I could ever do to repay God for those wasted years. And that I didn’t need to DO anything to make him love me more.

It has been a very long road, and to be honest, I was in my 30’s before I really became completely “whole” again. It was when I finally put away the whole performance mentality and accepted the finished work of Jesus.

What do you do today to not drink?

Well, first I try not to put myself in situations where it is a temptation. I constantly remind myself that there is not one thing that alcohol will fix and there is not one positive thing that alcohol can add to my life.

How do you handle going out with friends who drink socially? Do you?

Only occasionally am I around people who drink socially. It doesn’t really bother me anymore. Currently, in my circle of friends, no one drinks socially so it’s not an issue.

Would it help if your Christian friends who normally drink socially withheld from drinking when they go out with you?

In my early years of sobriety yes, it would have helped. The longer it has been the easier it has gotten.

What advice would you give to a Christ follower who is still struggling with an alcohol addiction?

First, they need to really decide whether they are willing to do whatever it takes to get sober. If the true heart-felt desire to change is not there it’s never going to work. It also must be something more than just a desire to avoid the negative consequences. Getting sober is not just about behavior modification. It’s about fully surrendering to the will of God, to allow him to change you from the inside out. I would say to look for a Christ-centered recovery program like Celebrate Recovery, but don’t rule out Alcoholics Anonymous. A great deal can be learned from AA. But always remember at the center of it all, there is a loving Savior, who knows you and is waiting with open arms to restore you and redeem your pain and hurt and suffering.

What advice would you give a Christ follower who does not struggle with an alcohol addiction but wants to help those who do?

Wow. First, pray for the addict as often as you think of them. True change will come from a spiritual awakening so we must invoke the power of the Holy Spirit. I know that sounds a little mystical but I don’t know any other way to put it. The battle over addiction is won in the spiritual realm. Also, I would say be loving and withhold any shame or judgement in your dealing with an addict. Don’t pretend to know what they are going thru. Don’t pretend that you have the answers or solutions for that person. Build them up, love them, speak the truth (in love). And above all, don’t enable them. If you are really interested in helping an addict read up on co-dependency so you can learn what NOT to do as well!

Enabling is the number one enemy of an addict. Loved ones often continue to help (or repeatedly bail out) the addict. My husband and I often describe it as the addict falling towards a bottom (consequences) and the enabler provides a trap door that opens at the bottom. Thus, allowing the addict to escape a consequence that very well could have been a turning point in their lives. Every addict must reach the point where they acknowledge their addiction and realize they, in their own power, are powerless to overcome their addiction. In that moment they have to reach out to a higher Power, in my case, Jesus. If we never feel the full weight of pain and consequences we never reach that point of desperation and brokenness. It sounds awful but people who want to help addicts should pray for them to be broken. That’s where the good stuff begins.

Will you talk about the role of your church in your healing once you shared about your addiction?

I never really revealed anything about my addiction to anyone in the church I attended when I first got sober. The only people that knew were my mom and a couple of the pastors. However, the head pastor of that church supported me and even took me to an AA meeting one night (since I’d lost my license after the DUI). It was a special night and I felt very loved and supported.

However, after I met my husband, we started going to a church that offered a Christ-centered recovery program called Celebrate Recovery. And that was a total game-changer. Celebrate Recovery was a tremendous ministry offered by the church and we were never treated as outsiders or kept hidden. That group became our closest friends and were like family. I learned more in those years participating in and leading small groups, than I have at any other time in my Christian walk.

What advice would you give someone who has a friend or loved one who they believe is drinking to a degree that is impacting their life and family negatively?

Confront them in a loving way and offer help. But know when to back off. Just like the old saying goes “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”.

Do you find it hard to attend social gatherings where alcohol is served?

No

How long has it been since you had a drink?

After a short relapse in 2011, it’s been 6 years since I’ve had a drink. Before that it had been almost 10 years.

What do you attribute most of this to?

Understanding who I am in Christ and realizing that I have no need for alcohol in my life.

How do you see God using your past addictions in your life today?

We are currently serving as missionaries in Playa Jaco, Costa Rica. Among our many other ministry responsibilities we offer Celebrate Recovery in a one-on-one format. Our town is FULL of addicts – to alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, you name it. We are constantly crossing paths with hopeless, desperate people. To those who are truly ready for a change we offer Celebrate Recovery.

Any other thoughts or input for Christians who are struggling with an addiction?

To that person sitting in the pew (or chair) who is silently suffering…It doesn’t have to be that way forever. There are resources out there to help walk with you through recovery. But at some point you are going to have to acknowledge your need for help and take the first step in surrendering YOUR will to the will of God. It is a scary and painful road at times. However, remaining in addiction will destroy your life: physically, emotionally and spiritually. The God of the universe created you and knows every inch of you. He knows your secrets, your flaws, your addictions and he LOVES you anyways. He loves you so much he died for you. And there is nothing you could have ever done that He can’t forgive if you ask. And I think equally as important, there is nothing you can ever do in the future that could ever separate you from that love. The road to recovery is hard and most addicts will relapse at some point. It’s part of the journey. But we have a loving savior who will carry us through it all!

Thank you so much Laura for sharing with us. The depth of God’s love is evident in your life and in your message. May he keep using you and Rodney to show and speak of his love to others. 

 

Alcohol addiction is no respecter of persons.

She stood up on the last day of the Christian women’s retreat I was attending and shared with us how she was celebrating two years of sobriety. Up until then she shared her struggle only with her husband and a few close friends who, thank God, gave her the support and encouragement she needed. She has a relationship with God who was her main help through her struggle with alcohol. In this interview you’ll meet Elizabeth Overman, Christ-follower, wife, and Mom to three boys. She has been gracious enough to answer some very direct and raw questions about her struggle with alcoholism. She shares for the purpose of bringing glory to God and helping others. May we read with a humility of spirit and a willingness to see ourselves in her story even though our struggle may look completely different. Even greater than this will be our ability to see the grace of God in her story. And may this lead us to look for his grace in our own lives. 

Do you remember your first drink, how old were you?

My junior year in highschool

If so, where and what was it?

A friend of mine’s family had a lake house, so we went up there for the weekend with the specific plan to drink.  For a couple of us it was the first time.  We had jello shots and beer.  I didn’t drink too much because I was just kind of scared of what it meant to be “drunk.”

Can you tell us what happened with your drinking after that? (next drink, age, where)

I drank a couple more times in highschool but I was always the “responsible one,”  even when drinking.  I was always more worried about watching out for my drunk friends than I was about getting drunk myself.  Once I got to college, I drank more frequently but I still always felt liable for my friends I was out drinking with.

Does anyone in your family drink?

I remember my dad drinking beer when I was little because sometimes he would have me throw his beer can away and as soon as I rounded the corner to the trash can I would take a sip of flat backwash beer.  I think I just wanted to see what this “adult drink” was like.  I don’t remember him ever drinking to excess.  I accepted Jesus into my heart at age 9 and when I walked down the aisle to talk the pastor, my dad was right behind me, also having asked Jesus into his heart.  I don’t remember him ever drinking after that.  I’m told that I have uncles and great grandfathers who struggled with alcohol, but no one that I knew personally growing up.

Although you take full responsibility for your own choices in your alcohol addiction do you look back on any early contributing factors?

I struggled a lot with social anxiety.  I’m very tall and always felt uncomfortable in social situations.  I recognized that a few drinks helped me relax and be more “fun” when I was around others.  I think it was an early indicator of using to alcohol to self-medicate for my anxiety.

Were you aware at the time your behavior might have indicated you had a problem?

My drinking appeared to be “normal drinking” to me throughout my 20s.  I had 3 children in 4 years and in between the pregnancies, the drinking seemed to increase after each pregnancy ended.  My first son had colic and I remember the pediatrician telling me to pour myself a glass of wine to drink during my son’s last feeding of the evening to calm myself.  I just remember feeling like that gave me permission to use alcohol to handle my nerves.  By the time I was pregnant with my 3rd child, I kept telling myself that since I could go the whole pregnancy without drinking, I just wouldn’t start up again after I had him.  I think the mere fact that I was negotiating this with myself meant that on some level I was beginning to recognize that it was a problem.

What were your thoughts?

There was definitely a time in the last few years of my drinking that I just couldn’t fathom going a night without alcohol. And while I knew that wasn’t normal, I told myself that I wasn’t hurting anyone.

What age and situation was your drinking obviously increasing?

By the time I had my 3rd child my drinking really began to pick up. I would set rules for myself. For example I wouldn’t drink until after the boys were in bed. And then it became I wouldn’t drink until 5pm. Occasionally I would try to only drink on weekend nights, but that wouldn’t last past Tuesday. And plenty of times I didn’t even make it through Monday.

How did your drinking impact your family?

It made me emotionally cut off. Even though I could talk and “act” sober in the evenings with my husband, we would get into a lot of little arguments. When I went to bed I was basically passing out (Whereas now we lay in bed for a while and watch a show together or talk) When I started drinking in the evenings to “calm myself” I would ironically notice that it just made me more irritable with my kids. And even though I recognized that, it didn’t stop me. Thankfully I never hurt my kids, physically or emotionally, but having a mother who was trying to numb her life meant that I wasn’t the best mom that could be for them. You can’t numb the bad things in life without numbing the good.

Did anyone ever mention you might be drinking too much?

My husband would say things like “why don’t we just drink on the weekends.”  (he said “we” instead of “you” just to be kind.  He rarely drank)  Every now and then he would start a conversation about it and I would immediately get defensive and storm out.

Were there times you ever wished someone had approached you in a loving, grace-filled way about your drinking?

I honestly think that anyone who would have talked to me about it would have just pissed me off.  That’s just the place I was in.  I was full of so much shame myself that if anyone else had brought it up to me, my armor would have been immediately thrown on and defenses up.

Did you hide your drinking?

Absolutely.  I had a cooler in my closet, extra beer and wine hidden in the back of a kitchen cabinet.

Did you do drugs?

Honestly, not even once.

Was your family concerned?

My husband was, but I think he felt like his hands were tied as far as expressing his concern.

What was it like just before your quit?

I quit in September of 2014 and the summer leading up to that date I had begun to drink during the day.  (Up until then I had only drank at night)  I was no longer able to fool myself into thinking I didn’t really have a problem.

What made you quit?

I had wrestled with the idea of quitting for a long time, but one Sunday my pastor was preaching on “slaying your giant” and in the middle of that sermon I just broke.  I began crying and I knew without a doubt that I HAD to stop.  Everybody’s rock bottom is different and I am so thankful that mine was more shallow than so many others who struggle with alcohol addiction.  I didn’t lose a spouse or my kids or get a DUI, but emotionally, I was absolutely bottomed out.  My shame and self-loathing was a weight I could no longer bear.

How did you quit?

After that sermon, I went home and looked up a local AA meeting for that night.  From then I just had to take it one day at a time.  Some days it was one minute at a time.

Was it difficult and for how long?

It wasn’t easy, but it was simple.  My only focus for a while was to simply not drink.  Everything else came second.  I took a lot of walks and started taking yoga classes.  My husband and a few close friends who I had shared this with were instrumental in helping me stay sober.  They were all so supportive.

What did treatment look like for you? As a program how would you describe it to readers?

I attended AA religiously for the first 6 months, going to 3-4 meetings a week.  After about 6 months I was only going to 1 a week and it eventually got to where I only attended about once a month.  I never felt like I needed to jump all into AA like others may need to.  I had my husband and friends supporting me, I felt strong in my own God-given power to stay sober.  I think AA, and many other recovery programs, are extremely helpful, and AA kept me sober those first few months, I have no doubt.  I will be forever grateful for that, but I don’t feel the need to attend meetings any more.  I know it’s there if I ever need it again though.

What do you do today to not drink?

At 3 years sober now, it’s just not something I think about much anymore.  At times I’ll think “oh, it would be nice to have a glass of wine right now” but it’s so immediately followed by the thought that one glass of wine would turn into two would turn into 6 and I just know I can’t go there.  I don’t want to go there.  It’s taken a while, but I have learned how to lean into my feelings of anxiety and depression and other feelings that used to trigger me wanting to drink.  I had to learn how to feel those feelings and deal with them in a healthy way.  That’s something that I’m still learning how to do better every single day.

How do you handle going out with friends who drink socially? Do you?

Thankfully none of my friends are really people who drink a lot, but it wouldn’t have been uncommon for them to get a glass of wine at dinner.  First the first several month, my friends just wouldn’t drink when we were together, which I appreciated more than they’ll ever know.  I eventually assured them that I was totally ok with them drinking around me.  In the rare cases that I’m in a social situation where people are drinking a lot, it honestly just makes me thankful that I don’t drink anymore.  I just know I will wake up feeling a lot better than they will!

Would it help if your Christian friends who normally drink socially withheld from drinking when they go out with you?

It definitely did help in the beginning!  Now I’m completely ok with it.  In the beginning, the fact that they wouldn’t drink around me just showed me that they respected and loved me.  It represented that I was more important to them than a glass of wine.  It may sound silly, but at the time it meant everything to me.

What advice would you give to a Christ follower who is still struggling with an alcohol addiction?

Find someone you trust, someone who has earned the right to hold your secret with you and confess to them that you are struggling.  Don’t make any promised to them that you are going to quit, just let them know it’s a struggle for you and ask them to pray for you.  To check up on you from time to time to see if you need to talk anymore.  Don’t be scared to ask a friend for something that you need from them.  If this person is a true friend, he or she will value being “your person” for this and want to help you in whatever capacity you need.  If you don’t feel like you have someone like this in your life, tell a pastor or email me!  You’d be amazed at how much just saying the words out loud can lighten your heart.

What advice would you give a Christ follower who does not struggle with an alcohol addiction but wants to help those who do?

Just be there for them.  Love and encourage them with words and actions.  Shaming someone for their addiction rarely works.  Help that person feel loved and worthy of recovery.  Lift them up, point out their beautiful qualities, help them know they are worth treating themselves better than they do.  And let them know they are not alone in struggling in this life.  Compassion is the biggest word I can think of for this question.  So many of us have addictions, it just might not be alcohol.  It may be watching the scale or numbing with food.  It may be excess exercising or over working.  It may be people pleasing or purposely pushing people away.   So many of us have feelings we want to avoid and numb and alcohol is just one way to do that.  Unfortunately it’s a coping mechanism that can come with more dire consequences that others, but at the root, the pain is the same.

Do you find it hard to attend social gatherings where alcohol is served?

I did for a while.  My husband would always be with me though and he wouldn’t drink, which helped me tremendously.  Now it doesn’t bother me at all.

How long has it been since you had a drink?

September 8th was my 3 year sobriety date.

What do you attribute most of this to?

God, my husband, my friends and yoga.  And believing that I’m strong enough to do it and worthy enough to do it.   Letting go of the shame of drinking for years and now turning my mess into my message.  A message of God’s grace and love, power and strength that he gives to us freely.  We are so dearly loved and cherished by our Father.

Elizabeth, thank you for sharing so candidly with us. I appreciate the courage and humility it took to do so. It’s a gift to us. 

You can hear more from Elizabeth’s heart on her blog Simply Grace. You’ll laugh and come away encouraged and inspired by her wisdom. She has a little something for everyone.

Also, if you are in the middle of an addiction struggle and want to reach out to someone you heard Elizabeth say you can email her. She means that. If you have trouble finding her email on her blog email me and I’ll give it to you. I’m also available if you just need someone to pray with. If you need help to the tune of a program I want you to look at a ministry in my town in NC. I know the Director personally. She’s “been there, done that, has the tshirt” and has now opened a facility to help women in the midst of their addiction. You can see more about this ministry at Genesis Ministry. It’s never too late to get help. 

 

Finding comfort when suicide has touched your family

My friend, Dr. Natalie Flake Ford, a faculty member in the School of Psychology and Biblical Counseling at Truett McConnell University, has experienced heartache in her life that has led to struggles with self-worth. In this written piece she shares her heart of what she went through when when her Christ-following (missionary at the time) husband committed suicide. 

“Can you imagine what it must have been like to live with her?”

“I can’t imagine how bad things must have been at home to drive him to take his own life.”

“Poor girl. I can’t imagine the guilt she must carry.”

These are just a few of the reoccurring thoughts I had in the wake of my husband’s suicide. I felt like others blamed me for his death. If I had been a better wife then…well, suffice it to say, I definitely played the “if only” and “what if” game.

For months, I dreaded going out in public. I was constantly trying to interpret various glances from others. Did they know about Michael’s death? Was that pity or was that blame I saw in their faces? I’d look away and pray that they wouldn’t come over and speak to me.

Today I know that I am not to blame for my husband’s suicide, but those early years wreaked of guilt, shame, and blame (both self-blame and perceived blame). Whenever someone would hear of Michael’s death, the first question was inevitably, “How did he die?” Man, why do people ask that? Saying he died by suicide was just too painful to say out loud for a long time. I would tell people he struggled with depression and it ultimately killed him…that was true, right?

Stigma can be a beast. It often hinders healing. I had friends who didn’t call after Michael’s death, and I convinced myself that the reason for their silence was because they blamed me for his death. Why would they want to call me? Wasn’t I the reason he was gone?

The lies I believed threatened to consume me. I had a choice to either wallow in self-blame and guilt (even though there was no evidence whatsoever that I was to blame for the suicide) or I could determine to overcome this devastating loss and not let it steal anything else from me. I resolved to chart out a new life, one where my joy would not only be restored, but multiplied.

God heard my cries and answered my prayers. Healing did not occur overnight, but slowly my emotional wounds began to heal and I felt compelled to share my story with others. We don’t have to live as slaves to guilt and shame. Christ offers a life of freedom from these chains. The book of Psalms became a life line for me during this dark season of life. I could relate to the anguish of David, and yet a part of me longed for intimacy with the Father in the midst of my pain.

Psalm 42 became a balm to my dry soul. “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.” Three things I learned in my despair.

1.    God is a good God.

2.    God is still on the throne.

3.    I can trust Him.

Clinging to these truths gave me hope for tomorrow and helped me to release the stigma of being a widow from suicide and to exchange it for the title “Daughter of the King.” No matter what happens, no one can steal this from me!

Get Natalie’s book Tears to Joy.

Also visit her website Tears to Joy for more encouragement and resources on mental health issues.

 

Table Mentoring – a must read book!

Sue Donaldson, author of Table Mentoring, is the kind of woman that I’d venture to say many younger women call a “second Mom”. She’s the kind of woman you see Jesus in and the kind of woman you can call on at the last second….like when you think your chicken dish isn’t going to turn out in time for company.  (Don’t ask me how I know that). She’ll pull you out of a culinary bind from thousands of miles away and put your heart at ease. Sue’s passion is mentoring but she makes a strong case that mentoring should be a part of every believer’s life. And I can’t help but agree with her when I read scripture. This little treasure of a book opens my eyes even more to this fact.

“Do you need a table to Table Mentor? No. But a table imbues intimacy – an elbow-touching-grab-a-hand-in-prayer type of closeness. Table, bench, back steps, dorm hallway, coffee house – choose whichever promotes the progress of a hearty sharing. The place or porch doesn’t matter. Taking the time to listen does. Tell a story, gently nudge, cry some. laugh a lot, and give all to the Mighty Counselor before an after and maybe in the middle. Coming together until the misery is out of the commiserate, as you both sit at Jesus’ feet.” 

Sue goes on to say that in order to mentor we don’t have to have a Bible degree under our belt or a table or tons of time.

So what does one need in mentoring?

“You need an ongoing relationship with the Ultimate Mentor, and a bold desire to get close to someone who needs to hear what you’ve learned” 

I love how Sue points out that really anyone at any age can mentor because we all know someone older than us and someone younger than us. Finding the person to mentor is not the issue because God will lead us to that person. Sue also talks about this more in her book – how to approach finding and being a mentor. What to do once you start mentoring someone. There are wonderful resources in her book and on her website that help you get started. And her recipes are to die for. Sophie and I have already tried a few out and if I can do them then we all know you can do them!

Sue also has a book and a Bible Study out all centered on hospitality and mentoring. I only wish CA was a little closer to NC or she’d be speaking to our ladies at church in a  New York minute!

I hope you’ll check out Table Mentoring on amazon! It’s a quick easy read. For a deeper approach to the topic you’ll want to check out her book Come to My Table: God’s Hospitality & Yours.

So what about you?

Do you have a mentor in your life right now?

If so – what do you find most helpful in this relationship? What works for you and your mentor in terms of meeting and getting together?

Are you mentoring someone in your life right now? 

If so – what are you seeing God do in this relationship? What’s working well?

 

 

What New Zealand Taught Me

Randy and I just got back from a trip of a life time to Napier, New Zealand. Napier is a small little town on the North Island that is charming, quaint and nothing short of splendipitous. I think that means very very spectacular.

We stayed with missionaries who pastor a church in Napier and who work a lot with youth/teens. Our nearly two weeks in New Zealand was spent speaking in a variety of platforms. Randy preached at church twice and spoke to a group of teens for a three day retreat. I spoke with the teen girls and led Umbrella Prayers at a women’s conference. And we had a lot of table time discussing missions, culture, God and lots of other stuff.

The sights were amazing. Sheep everywhere and fantail birds were our favorite. We never saw a Kiwi bird and from what we understand you don’t see a lot of them. Magpies were these black and white birds that are beautiful and just when I was getting all excited about them being pretty and having an adorable name I learned that they are mean birds that pluck the eyeballs out of sheep. Yep. So that was disappointing. Somebody needs to tell those birds about Jesus.

Through this trip I learned how much comfort I find in the prayers of believers. I knew traveling to NZ might be hard for me with some of the various health issues I have but after 48 hours of travel/waiting and still not being there I knew we would need the prayers of believers to sustain me/us. So I blew up Facebook with updates and requests for prayer. And so many of you supported us through prayer and God heard you.

God gave me a strength and energy I know I don’t possess to speak on Friday night. We had been traveling since Tuesday afternoon in Atlanta and we finally arrived on Friday afternoon around 3:00pm. I spoke that night at 6:30pm. Our luggage hadn’t arrived and I was wearing the same outfit I had been wearing since Tuesday. Ewwwww. I spoke in the same outfit but thankfully had time to get a quick shower (yay) and put back on the same clothes. I was speaking on very little sleep and major jet lag but God empowered me and I felt confident His Spirit spoke through me that night.  I learned to always, no matter what, pack an extra pair of clothes when you fly out of the country. 

I learned that even though prayer is HUGE it’s not prayer that gives us the strength. It’s our God. And if it was just you and God alone He would be enough. Even without the prayers of others. This might sound confusing with my previous paragraph on the desperate call for prayer from others. But let me explain more…..

It was that first Friday night in NZ  after I had spoken and I was so tired. When I went to sleep I knew I had two more speaking sessions the next morning. I was going to bed with still no luggage therefore my travel outfit, speaking outfit and pajama’s all in one were still clinging to my body begging to be changed. I desperately grabbed my phone to text a prayer request for energy for the next day and luggage to arrive. And that’s when I realized that the time zone was totally off. I’d be texting in the middle of the morning and I didn’t want to wake anyone up. (Randy had gone to bed early while I was at my session and was in a deep sleep or he would’ve been my prayer partner.) It was such a surreal moment for me. I was almost discouraged at the thought of not having anyone to pray for me in that moment and that’s when I felt God putting inside of me the truth that He alone is enough and able to hear. It’s HE who we pray to. It’s HE who hears our every cry. He alone is my Rock. I would even be teaching on these things the very next day and yet here I was about to freak out at the thought that I had nobody to intercede for me when I felt I needed it so badly. I laid my head on that pillow and said, “Lord, it’s just me and you and I know you will be my help in my time of need. Please give me the strength for tomorrow. And clean underwear!!”

I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and as I walked down the hall there I saw our luggage lined up against the wall. I went to bed at 10:30pm and our luggage hadn’t arrived. But at 3:00am it was there. The airport had delivered our luggage around 11:00pm that night. Ahhh yes, this is our God. Even cooler than clean underwear arriving is this Facebook message I received Saturday morning from a friend in the States who said this:

Hi Melody! I’m not sure what time you are speaking but I checked the time in NZ and it is 6:45 there so I’m guess you could be speaking now or anytime soon. And I woke up at 2:45 a.m for no apparent reason or maybe for the apparent reason to pray for you. Father, thank you for bringing Melody and Pastor Randy to New Zealand safely. I pray that You would renew Melody’s strength and keep her mind in perfect peace as she speaks this evening. I have no doubt that You have some awesome things planned including lives changed by Your power. Please prepare the hearts of the ladies Melody is speaking to tonight. May their hearts and minds be open and ready to receive what You want to speak to them through Melody tonight. Lord, I give You all the glory for the great things You are going to do. I ask these things according to Your will and in Your name. Amen.
And this is our God.
Her prayers were going on for me while I spoke on Friday night and God in his grace allowed me to read this on Saturday morning as a fresh reminder that yes God is the One who gives the strength but he uses his people to intercede for that strength and to encourage others.
More lessons learned from New Zealand to come because I learned some incredible cooking tips and we all know I need some of those. I can’t wait to share with you how to cook ground beef fast and healthy.

 

5 ways to survive Mother’s Day when you want to be a Mom but aren’t.

Mother’s Day is a sweet day of honoring our Moms and our children. Flowers, dressing up, pictures, cards that share our heart’s message and on and on the celebrating goes.

But there are women most likely in your midst who are having a hard time celebrating because of an ache inside. A deep ache that can’t always be explained. She might be the woman who is barren and longs to have a child. She is the woman who has lost her Mother. She could be the woman who never knew her Mother or was abandoned by her. I know women in all categories. I was that woman in one of the categories for years. And she’s the one I want to address today on this blog. The woman who longs to have a child but can’t or hasn’t.

So to the woman who understands this ache within her soul,  I want to give you five things to hold on to this Mother’s Day season.

  1. Remind yourself that God knows and sees your situation. He is sovereign and in complete control of your/your husband’s body and it’s ability to reproduce. He can change your situation with his voice. He is this powerful. And because our Creator God is a good and loving God you can trust that his ability to do all things or reverse anything is good news. Trust him with your infertility. Don’t refuse to be comforted by God.
  2. Don’t stop praying for your baby to come unless God leads you to stop. Pray specifically. Write your prayers down and date them because I promise you God is at work in ways you can’t see or fathom. As you look back on your prayers you will be able to trace the fingerprints of God during this incredibly slow, painful wait. I say don’t stop praying for your baby because, for us, we had prayed for God to change the desires of our heart if he didn’t want us to have children. We earnestly prayed and felt a confidence and a peace from God that he wanted us to have a family so we continued in praying for a baby. But God does shut this door for some in various ways. But until he clearly shuts that door I would say pray and don’t stop.
  3.  Ask people to pray for you.  It’s not always easy to share our personal stuff with people and especially when it relates to infertility. I totally get this! Like who wants to add their ovaries to the church prayer list. And who wants to raise their hand at church and say, “Ya’ll pray real good for us because my man’s gotta give a sperm sample tomorrow.” Sheesh that’s just creepy uncomfortable to type let alone say out loud. If you’re going through IF you understand this is base line IF lingo. Even though it might be slightly uncomfortable I’d encourage you to ask God to give you a small circle of trusted friends and family who will commit to praying for you specifically. A prayer “task force” if you will. I still have a prayer team that I call on periodically during the year. And guess what? Many of them were a part of this prayer team when we went through infertility. Prayer is your lifeline. It’s worth talking about the uncomfortable for the peace that comes with entrusting our womb to God. And may I say that if you are reading this and you want me to pray for you I would love to. I have a heart for praying for women struggling in this area and I’d be honored to pray on your behalf. Email me and tell me how I can pray for you.
  4. Ask God to help you know and rejoice in the fact that He alone is enough. This is one of the main lessons I learned through infertility. God alone is my salvation and if he never provided children I would still have the greatest gift I could ever have and that’s my relationship with Jesus. It didn’t make the pain or the desire for children go away but it gave me a comfort and a security in what I already was given.
  5. Ask God to help you see what nugget of truth he has for you through infertility. Because he has something. Sometimes it takes hindsight to see that nugget of truth but the power of God’s word along with his Spirit many times reveals powerful truths to us in the moment of reading scripture and praying. I encourage you to ask God to show you unique treasures in his word during your baby wait. They will be life lessons that will carry you all through life. Psalms is a great place to read. Psalm 77. Psalm 63 and the book of Job are great sets of scripture.

Friends, I am here to tell you that you can survive Mother’s Day this year even though you’re walking through infertility. If you are overcome with emotion on Sunday morning and can’t sit through another Mother’s Day sermon then sit it out and don’t be hard on yourself. But don’t allow yourself to wallow in self-pity either. Be honest with friends and let them pray for you. And can I tell you that there is another chapter to this story being written. You can’t see it. I know it feels like a blank page that won’t ever turn. I don’t know you but I know my God and He will not leave you hanging. It might feel like things will never change right now but the fact is God is working out a plan and already knows the ending. For us his plan included bringing two amazing children to us through adoption. We had no idea all that was unfolding during the days that felt silent and still. It was nothing short of a miracle. Be encouraged. Our God is working in the silence.

I am praying for you friends.

 

When Mama’s Pray

I remember praying with a group of Moms years ago when one of the teenage sons of a Mom was in a deep funk. He was glued to his computer screen hooked on a game that kept him up for hours on end. We asked God to release the control of this addiction and to help him break free. Little did we know the very next day the boy would spill a drink all over the keyboard preventing him from playing his game. We didn’t want to exactly “celebrate” this huge disappointment to the teenage son but we did thank God for intervening in a way we never saw coming! We know God answered this prayer of ours and it encouraged our faith and made us lol a little bit too. This boy eventually pulled out of this extreme stronghold and we can’t help but know God used the effectual fervent prayers of a group of Moms gathering together in His name.

Prayer is a powerful tool God has gifted us with. Let’s view for what it is – a life changing piece of our faith and daily walk.

I’m praying for some big things right now. Things only God can do. But things God can do. I don’t know that God will answer these requests in the way I’m asking but it won’t stop me from praying or believing that my God is through and through Good.