Victory

Battle-weary soul come win in Me. 
I vanquish your enemy
Give you victory
Set you free.
RUN!
 
Sin-weary soul, run quickly to Me!
I am your one blood-soaked plea
Give you victory
Set you free.
DONE!
 
Joyless heart, come be undone by Me!
I am Light and clarity
Give you victory
Set you free
WON!  
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Beauty in the Broken

A beauty of incomparable proportions greeted my eyes this morning. The world has become a shimmering icy landscape. The tiny red berries that grace the leafless burning bush outside my window hang heavy with the weight of their crystal covering. The ground shines with the reflection of the light from across the street.

Oh, nature is paying a great price to be arrayed with such beauty. Limbs and twigs lay scattered across the lawn. Trees once holding their hands high now bend and sag under the weight of the ice. Creaking in the wind, they beg for relief from the load they have been forced to bear. With every strong gust of wind, more small limbs become casualties of this storm. How can such beauty be the result of something so destructive? And yet, it is.

As I sit in my quiet time spot, a squirrel hops onto the porch rail and begins a slippery attempt to make it to the feeder. A smile spreads across my face. He pauses, clutching the rail while staring through the window – is he reprimanding me for taking delight in his slippery predicament? He chatters as I chuckle. Eventually, he lets go of the slippery rail and hops to the ground without the seed he was longing for.

Here, in the midst of this beauty, I meet with the Creator of all things good and beautiful. I whisper prayers of worship and of heartache, of joys and of concerns to the One who spoke the world into existence. How I want my life to reflect the beauty, even amidst the destruction, just like the world around me is glittering beauty amidst the destructive ice. I long to proclaim the goodness and mercies of my Savior in the midst of this current trial.

I must confess it is hard on days like today. Last night, the nightmares came to torment me. I want to say that I don’t know what triggered them, but I do. So, I run. I run into the arms of my Savior, crying out to Him to steady the ache in my heart, the pain in my body from having relived the memories in my sleep. Sin is crouching at the door and I know it – I am choosing to run to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ when the ache in my heart and the pain in body are crying to be numbed with the prick of the needle and the rush of poison that will aid forgetfulness.

Sitting in His presence, I read about a man who was instructed to build a tabernacle, a place of meeting, where God would dwell among his people. Moses and all of Israel obeyed. As I read, I am captivated by the God who chose to put the stone tablets where his very hand carved the commandments into the arc of the covenant or testimony. These commandments I have broken – all of them at some point or other, I am sure, if I could see as God sees.

Even while this storm is raging inside of me for poison and its empty promise of peace, God reveals his love. To cover the commandments, the men are instructed to build a covering…the mercy seat. On the mercy seat, blood of the sacrifice will be sprinkled. Tears coursing down my tired cheeks, the realization settles in my aching heart that this God who loves me always planned mercy for me and for you. From the beginning of time, He knew that we feeble humans were incapable of living holy and perfect lives. So, he provided the mercy seat.

Mercy. He chose mercy long ago for the way he would deal with sinful man. Covering the commandments, was the mercy seat, not the judgment seat.

But what is mercy? And how do I receive this mercy? The Mirraim-Webster Dictionary online defines mercy as “compassion or forbearance”; as “a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion.” This is how God covered the commandments he knew we would break. He does not say we were not guilty – that would go against his holiness. Instead, he declares our guilt, but offers His Son Jesus as payment for our sins.

Someone once told me that mercy was God not giving me what I fully deserved. I fully deserve death and hell. I have broken the commandments of a holy and righteous God. “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a) “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Sin is falling short of perfection – and so that makes us all equal in one thing – we are all sinners because not one of us except Jesus Christ has lived a perfect life. Not many people like that word now a days because they find it offensive. But you know what? That doesn’t make it any less true.

So here is this hard, ugly, broken, beautiful redemption. Jesus Christ came. He lived a perfect life, was broken and died the death I deserved so that I could experience the mercy and grace of God. Just like the beauty of my ice storm. He ransomed me through His death on a cross – He paid God the price and bore God’s righteous anger so that I could be acceptable to God. My guilt and shame, my sin and failures, my falling to drugs and my unforgiveness. Jesus, in love and mercy, carried the punishment for that to the cross. It is a costly mercy and grace that He offers me, but through Him, God gives me hope of eternity in fellowship with him. My sins broke His body. My addictions and failures and stumblings nailed His hands and feet to the cross.

Jesus paid with His life to redeem my life, but He loved me that much. And here is the beauty of the broken: “Jesus, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.” Hebrews 12:2.

Friend, if you don’t know what it means to be a sinner saved by grace, can I just ask you today to consider the beauty of a love for you that is so grand, so overwhelming, that it showed itself when Jesus spread His arms out willingly on the cross so that you might come to God?

The Sober Life

Six hundred and seventy-four days ago, I took my last hit. That hit is so much more important than the first one. The first one just sort of happened. I don’t think anyone says, “Hey, you know what I am going to do today? I am going to go get high and then in a week or two, hope that I am an addict.” No. Addiction doesn’t happen like that.

For me, it was carbon monoxide seeping into a house, silent, but deadly. I was in pain and the doctor prescribed painkillers. I took them as prescribed the first day or two, but quickly discovered that they helped me sleep. What was an extra painkiller if it meant that I could sleep after six months of night terrors and flashbacks? So, in gratitude, I began swallowing an extra painkiller at night to bring sleep.

Oh, but those painkillers soon proved themselves invaluable in my fight against the flashbacks of being abused … and who would dare tell me not to take them? I was in emotional and physical pain as I relived the many assaults on my body. And swallowing one or two extra pills during the day, what was that really going to hurt? In fact, those little pills actually seemed to help me function.

But just like that, I was hooked. The pills weren’t enough to get me the relief that I needed, so I reached for my old friend vodka whom I hadn’t visited in more than two decades. Truthfully, I would have preferred the burn of whiskey, but vodka is quiet, harder for others to detect. I knew this from past experience. And so, I mixed it with whatever I happened to be drinking. The pseudo-peace that the mixture of painkillers and alcohol delivered I mistakenly thought was a blessing.

When I dumped the pills and alcohol, the withdrawal began within twenty-four hours. And I went back to the pharmacy with a story of having spilled the painkillers down the drain. The pharmacist refilled the prescription for the last time. That is when my life became something out of control, unexpected, so far from what I ever wanted from my suburban, Christian life. I began to venture out to find my hit.

Eventually, my supplier told me he wasn’t going to sell my favored drug anymore, but he would give me a few free hits of something so much better. I knew what I was doing was wrong, so wrong, but I was so desperate not to feel, not to remember, that I let him slide the needle in that first time. And it was so good and so awful. The poison made me so sick and yet, desperate for more at the same time. The guilt and shame of using such awful drugs were all-consuming and required an extra hit to silence. Too easily, poison had captured my heart.

Even now, just remembering it, I want the needle – and yet, I hate the poison. It is awful and controlling, destroying all that is right and good – a thief that steals and lies. The terrible thing is that I knew that the drugs were lying to me, but I didn’t care. The peace the poison delivered was temporary and left me more desperate than the memories of abuse.

The first time I spoke it, I was whispering it to my therapist after months of therapy. Her quiet, sad smile and tear-filled brown eyes were accompanied by the words, “I know. I have been waiting for you to trust me enough to tell me. No one lives through the hell you have been through without something. Most women are dead by your age or so strung out on drugs they are selling themselves on the streets. You are one of the lucky ones.”

Today, as I celebrate sobriety, someone out there is still fighting to find the strength to make it through the withdrawal, detox, whatever you want to call it. It isn’t easy. But here is the good news: it is possible and you are worth the fight. No matter what led you to addiction, the God who made you loves you and sent His Son Jesus to set you free from every chain that binds.

If today is day one for you, HOORAY! You have chosen a path that is hard, but oh so worth it. Learning to walk in sobriety is a process that takes time. The very hardest part is the first couple of weeks as your body learns to function without a hit. Could I just encourage you, wherever you are on your journey, to reach out for help? Find a support group that will help you with accountability, will help you learn to walk in the freedom that God created you for.

If you are struggling with life issues, mental illness or in an abusive relationship, reach out for help. If you go to a church where you trust the pastor, reach out to him. I encourage you to find a good therapist, one who understands drug addictions, trauma, and mental illness – and how they are all connected. If you are in active addiction, find a place to go through detox. Don’t try to go it alone! Stepping out of addiction is so crazy hard and you are so brave to take the necessary steps. By God’s grace and with His help, YOU CAN DO THIS!!

For me, having people support me on my journey to wholeness has been so key. I am involved in a 12 step program that has not only helped me overcome my addictions, but has also helped me find healing in Jesus for the harm that was done to me. I have been involved in intense therapy for the trauma that I lived through. My therapist is a Christian who uses Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and other trauma based models of treatment to help me process the abuse I went through.

I wrote this poem a while ago, mostly because I wanted a hit so badly that I did not think I would make it through another hour without one. I was reminding myself of how hard I fought for sobriety, how hard the withdrawal was. Breaking free from slavery isn’t pretty. The Red Sea did not part for me and I did not walk into sobriety on dry land – it involved a lot of sweat, blood, tears and vomit. But the good news is, I still made it to the other side and so can you!! And let me tell you, my life of sobriety is so much better than my life of addiction!

Easy, peasy, she says good-bye
to the prick of the needle, that good high,
confident sobriety will prove worthwhile
so begins day one with hope and a smile.
 
Shivering,  shaking,  body so aching
wishing and begging and wanting a hit
she wonders if her life is worth this s***
day two has begun but will she survive
to learn, to grow, have something  to give?
 
Sweating and steaming, body screaming,
wishing and begging and wanting a hit
how fully did she to sobriety commit?
Day three has begun, but so much worse,
so far beyond the prior day’s curse
 
Nauseous, aching, head must be breaking
one hit…just one…would stop all this shaking.
She confesses her sin, begs some for prayer,
explains she needs heroin more than the air.
Day four she survives, but’s feeling deprived.
 
Heart racing and shaking, her whole world is quaking
wishing and waiting, pleading and praying
for her world to cease spinning, stop swaying.
There is a chance that she might be surviving
hope begins whispering to her on day five.
 
Waking and quiet, body near still
perhaps she’s summitted withdrawal’s hill?
A shiver, a shake, not quite a quake,
she is surviving that ache
without a fix, she realizes day six.
 
Constant  the battle and craving  wear on
praying for the good day to dawn
that puts an end to this consuming  desire
to have the needle quench the dark burning fire.

How Will You Respond?

IMG_20190102_102321-e1546442880137.jpgSome time ago, an invitation to a wedding, beautifully embellished, arrived in the mail. Running my fingers over the shiny raised print with tears leaking, I whispered, “Where has the time gone?” Within the envelope was a smaller stamped envelope with a card that politely stated, “The bride and groom request the honor of your response.”  

This invitation brought the reminder of an invitation written long ago, not on aged parchment with elegant ink, not to be a guest at someone else’s wedding. This invitation came through the womb of a virgin girl named Mary. He was born a babe and laid in a manger. He grew in wisdom and in stature (Luke 2:52), lived the perfect life for the world. His invitation to us is not merely asking us to be guests at His wedding, but to be His bride. He grew to carry our failures and griefs to the cross, willingly holding out His hands and feet to receive the imprint of love.

Nail scars and the spilling of blood for you and for me is how God wrote the invitation to be his Son’s bride so many centuries ago. His love is one that overcomes our failures and shortcomings, our sins. Jesus’s death was not the final word. Three days after He was laid in the tomb, Jesus rose again – He defeated death and sin for the world. And yet, He carries those scars as a reminder and promise to love us in our every failure and every success, through every heartache and every joy.  

Just as I filled out the elegant response card to the wedding and slipped it in an envelope to confirm my attendance, Jesus is asking you to respond to His invitation. He is inviting you to not only attend His wedding, but to be His bride. When you accept Jesus’s invitation, He washes you and makes you clean of all your failures, sins, and stumblings.  He carries the weight of your guilt and shame to the cross and sets you free. He makes you white as snow and promises to never leave you. The debt you owe for your sins has been fully paid by the Groom who longs for you to be His bride. (For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23) 

Jesus is waiting for you at the alter, to take you in His arms and call you His beloved, to carry you through every heartache and to be with you through every joy. Once you call His name, no matter what the future has, joys or sorrows, victories or defeats, He promises to always be with you. How will you respond? 

“If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’; and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved; for in the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” Romans 10:9-11

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:7

The Anguish of Addiction

“Therefore, I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 7:11 NAS Bible)

Two days from a new year and it seems the same old me just won’t die. I thought by now God would have won all the battles, settled all the pain, and enabled me to forget the past. He hasn’t, but I still know that He is good. He loves me and He has been gracious! He has healed so much of my past and put to death so many of the ghosts that once haunted me. Most days I don’t crave poison.

Even so, I still get stuck sometimes … I have been sober 663 days and my body still craves the biggest mistake that I have ever made. And some days, days like today, are SO hard that the tears of hopelessness burn my eyes. Permitting them to fall causes just as much shame as the craving. They would require an explanation to the family and a confession of how awful the battle is in this moment. Thankfully, the battle is dead in me most days – just days like today, I struggle to think straight.

Some days, the body remembers what it was like to shoot poison and it wants it. I usually know what triggers it, but not this time. This time it came like an unexpected punch in the gut and jolted me from sleep. I woke in the darkest hours of the night, my body begging the poison that promises forgetfulness, promises peace and life, but delivers darkness and death. I cried out to this God who loves me to help me. I cried out to those who have braved this storm with me, but in shame, withdrew my plea. In the end, I woke the man who walks this broken road with me. He held me while my body rebelled against sobriety. I laid there after he fell back to sleep, filled with self-hatred, regretting having fallen into this addiction.

I didn’t sleep until after 7 this morning, and then only for an hour. The tired from lack of sleep adds to the hopelessness of the craving. I have tried to take every thought captive, to speak truth to my heart, no matter what my body has been telling me.

God is good. He has carried me this far. He is not suddenly going to fail me or abandon me.

For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5, NAS Bible)

“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17, NAS Bible)

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”” (Joshua 1:9, NAS Bible)

“It is for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, NAS Bible)

And the good news for today, if you are struggling like I am, is that He is still good! He is not going to turn His back on you or deny you. He loves you so much and is willing to go into the miry pit of whatever struggle you are facing to walk with you. You can not escape Him! How do I know? Because He tells us that repeatedly in His Word. Try reading Psalm 139 (especially verses 7-12) and notice how far His presence extends. There is absolutely nowhere you can go to run away or hide from Him! Nowhere!

Oh, Lord God, thank you that Your lovingkindness is everlasting. Thank You, that in the midst of our battles, we can know that you are faithful! Heavenly Father, when our bodies, minds or emotions are crying out for lies, sins, or poison that lead to death, I am asking, according to the words of Your Son, Jesus, to sanctify us in truth. Please, Father, wash our aching hearts in the truth of your word. Strengthen us through the promise of your presence and grant us the courage and strength that come from knowing you are with us…you will never leave nor forsake us. Thank You that in a world that is constantly changing, You are sure and Your ways are right! Help us each to walk in Your truth. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.