Friday, January 23, 2015

Pushing through...

As I sit here on my couch snuggling my baby boy while watching a movie with him, I am mourning our last homework free weekend before the start of the semester Monday. The past month, I have been able to spend day and night with not only my little guy but my wonderful husband. The family bonding that we have experienced over the past weeks has been wonderful, and I am so grateful for it.

My husband and I's schedules are so crazy and jam packed, that having time off has been a God send. Our schedules are still crazy without school, but having extra bonding time on school breaks sure makes dealing with the craziness and stress easier. It really makes getting through the next semester so much easier.

When I started school 2 1/2 years ago, I was very enthusiastic to be going back. College has always been a lifelong dream of mine, and the excitement of a new chapter in my life beginning fueled me to put my all into school. I have been on the Dean's List and honor society every single semester, yet as life went on our lives quickly became busier and busier. First with the birth of our baby, then the start of our ministry, gaining many wonderful friends, Ben starting school, becoming a puppy parent, and the ministry growing from a once a week meeting into a 24 hour open availability to help drug addicts in crisis- one that is only getting bigger and shows no signs of stopping and is only going to require more of our time as it grows.

I love what we do, and wouldn't change it for anything in the world. Helping addicts truly is my life's passion. I wish I could say the same for my education. The novelty and newness has worn off, and the passion I had for it has been replaced by my passion for my family and ministry. However, I know I must push through. I am finishing my last class for my associates degree as well as starting three of the classes I need for my bachelor's degree this semester. I will graduate with my AAS degree in May, which is a HUGE accomplishment and something I am so proud of myself for. Not only am I the first (and probably only, excluding my kids) person in my immediate family to get a college degree, but I have proven to myself that I can do anything I put my mind to, and I am building a better future for Justin by securing an education which will land me a decent job and enable me to provide for him better than ever- and I am also giving him a great role model to look up to, and a parent to be proud of.

That thought is what keeps me pushing through with all of my might- even when it's hard (that, and I refuse to be a quitter anymore in life!) I have one degree down, I'm starting the second one, and if all goes as planned I will also be doing a third (master's) degree in Drug and Alcohol counseling.  Hopefully now that I am starting classes that I actually enjoy for my bachelor's degree (verses the boring prerequisites for the AAS degree), my enthusiasm will come back. After almost 3 years of being in school full time non-stop, it is starting to wear on me. There is tons of work involved- if it was easy, everyone would do it! Yet, despite the tiredness, I am so thankful for the opportunity to receive an education- an opportunity that not everyone gets.

It has been a long, hard, stressful road, but I am pushing through. Not just half heartedly, but still as an honors student =) I will accept nothing less of myself than honor roll grades and a good GPA. I am a very black or white person- I do things all the way, to the best of my ability, or not at all. I know that God will direct my steps and give me the time that I need to carry out what is important, and make a way for me to continue to do everything that is on my schedule. I am excited to be building a future for my family, yet I mourn the loss of time with them and not being able to always be there for CROSSroads if someone needs me. Our ministry truly is a matter of life or death, and the thought of not being able to help someone who is reaching out because I am in class bothers me. However, I trust God with the situation, and know that if I am supposed to talk to someone, he will make a way- class or no class.

Who knows, though, how this whole thing may go. God may decide that he truly wants me in full time ministry, and I may have to cut back on school and earn my master's degree much slower than expected. Proverbs 16:9 states that "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." So, this is the course I am planning for myself- goals for my future. But I will always, ALWAYS, take the Lord's lead if he wants me to step into a different path. Right now, it seems that that path is doing a million and one things at a time, but if the day ever comes where I am only doing one- a God ordained ONE- I am okay with that too!

So, for the prayer warriors that read this, pray for me. The semester starts in 2 1/2 days, and I'm tired!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Knowing "lonely"

There is an old adage that says that loneliness is felt the most when you are in a room full of people. Oh, how true that is. If there is one thing that I have learned from being in ministry leadership, it's that it's lonely. There are so few people that you can really let get close to you, because not only do you have to set an example and stay strong for everyone else, but I have seen first hand how people will take your personal information and character defects and use it against you. Satan will attack you with it if the person has an open door in their life in which the enemy has access. Sometimes it isn't even the enemy, but just the fact that people are broken, hurt people hurt people, and sometimes people want to knock others down a peg to make themselves feel better. Or when you have to tell someone "no" and they get angry, suddenly they fling everything you have ever told them in confidence back in your face and tell everyone who will listen just to be vindictive. Another reason that it is lonely is because there is a strong expectation of confidentiality that comes whey you are a minster.  People will pour their heart out to you in confidence- sometimes regarding very disturbing or heartbreaking things- and there is no one that you can talk to about it except God. You deal with a lot of heavy duty stuff, and without taking it to God, the weight of it would be crushing- because you can't "get things off your chest" to a friend the way a non-ministry person could. Yet another reason- and one of the biggest- is that in addiction ministry, you have to keep a certain distance from the people you work with because it can be very disheartening and discouraging sometimes. You invest so much time into people, and hope that they will make it- only for them to turn back to drugs. It can be really heartbreaking if you let yourself get too attached to people- and also dangerous if you get close to someone and they decide to relapse and you aren't strong enough to resist the temptation. The point is, you have to have certain walls up, and be careful who you let those walls all the way down for- not only for your own protection but for the safety of the people you work with and the integrity and confidentiality of your ministry.

Last Tuesday during our spiritual leadership small group, we were discussing how suffering is a leadership quality. Suffering is actually my number two spiritual gift, and while it may not seem like a "gift," I have learned that it in fact is.  Being able to withstand suffering not only allows you to build an endurance and strength that can't be built any other way, but teaches you to rely on God to see you through, and finally allows you to share the hope that you gained through it with others. As Romans chapter 5 states:

3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Part of that suffering for me has come in the form of having to know loneliness in a way that not many people understand. Knowing this, I have been reminiscing about my life and realized that I have always been good at being "lonely" and having walls up. As a young child, I was very intelligent for my age, and did not relate to kids my own age. I was overly intelligent, and because of this I was labeled a "weirdo" and avoided by most kids. It was very hard for me to make friends, because I could not relate to them on their level. I also was very detached from my family- my mom and sister shared a closeness (and still do to this day) that we never had- try as we might- and for many years it led me to feel rejected, unwanted, and alone in my own home. Once I hit my early teens, I used drugs and alcohol as a way to isolate myself even further- because it helped me to justify and feel in control of my loneliness- They weren't rejecting me, but I was using the alcohol to separate myself from them. I wasn't going to allow people to hurt me anymore, so I was making the choice to be alone rather than letting someone make it for me. I wasn't physically alone- in fact by that time I had become quiet popular and had a lot of friends- but I was very much emotionally alone. I could never truly get close to anyone. My walls just got higher and stronger as I continued throughout life, because every time I would let my walls down, I would be hurt horribly. I had some very, very painful experiences and was deeply hurt by people I loved and allowed to get close to me. My loneliness led to deep depression, and feelings of despair. Before I knew God, the loneliness that I had carried with me my entire life and tried to fill with people, substances, and things was so overwhelming that I could never imagine myself not being alone. The silence was deafening, and the hole of loneliness and isolation that I had dug for myself was deep. I had buried myself alive.

The loneliness was actually a blessing in disguise. It drove me to look for God. Once I gave my life to Jesus, I realized that he had been with me all along. God had always been there every step of the way, always beside me- even when no one else was. For many years after I was saved, Jesus was ALL I had. I had no friends, no relationships, and didn't see my family- it was just me and God. While it was still hard to not have people in my life, I learned to lean into him. God being all I had was all I needed. We built a bond that would have never been accomplished if I had the distraction of other people in my life at that time. It was very, very hard to see it then. I didn't understand why God wouldn't bring people into my life, to help my loneliness go away. Surely he didn't want me to be miserable? It's only in retrospect that I can see that he needed me to see that he was the one who would fill me, would sustain me, would comfort me, not people. I needed to learn to depend on him and him only.

2 Timothy 4:16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.” (NIV)

Psalm 27:10 When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.

 Looking back on my life, I can see that God was using my circumstances- my loneliness- to prepare me for the ministry role that I have today. Since I have dealt with loneliness most of my life, it was not a huge culture shock to be in the lonely position of ministry leader. I know how to handle the loneliness, and I also have a deep sympathy for the lonely people in the world- the outcasts- the ones who have no one rallying for them. That is why I have the passion that I do for the people I work with- I have been there, and I know what that all encompassing isolation feels like. I can help comfort people who are in the same spot that I was for years, and still sometimes find myself.

1 Corinthians 1: 4 The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. 6 But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer;…

I would be lying if I were to say that I don't still get lonely- even though I have Jesus, and God has brought AMAZING people into my life. I have an incredible husband, a beautiful little boy who is the absolute light of my life, a close and caring church family, fabulous friends that I adore, and my relationship with my parents is at one of the best points it has ever been. I am blessed beyond belief with the wonderful people God has given me- and I am not complaining. I love each and every one of them and am lucky to have such great people in my life. Sometimes though, even with all that, loneliness creeps in. My husband is constantly on the go helping people, and I am selfish in the fact that I would like more uninterrupted time with him. Having an actual weekend to spend together like other couples would be nice- but we all know that addiction doesn't keep business hours and people's needs aren't restricted to Monday through Friday. In fact, when we renewed our wedding vows last month, as we were walking out the door we got an emergency ministry call and we had to make a detour to go help someone on our way to saying "I Do" (again). Sometimes I yearn for a friend who understands what I go through in being a recovered addict, working hands on in a frontline 24 hour a day ministry, raising a little boy, going to school full time, dealing with the craziness that comes with working with drug addicts, the insane demands on our time, and having a minister for a husband. I have friends who understand parts of my life- sometimes even multiple parts, but not the whole. It is easy to throw a pity party for myself and whine about how no one understands. I Still have family members that reject me, and people who say cruel things about me. It's easy to yearn for things to be easier, to yearn for relationships that "normal" people have.

But then I realize that I do not need to yearn for anything. I have everything I need in Jesus. I just need to remind myself of that. When loneliness creeps in, God is there. We are doing God's business, and we are living sacrifices. When we told God that we gave him our lives, we meant it. And this is what he chose to do with them. I can't complain, because my life is great- BEYOND great. The devil would like nothing better than to convince me that I am alone or that no one understands me, or that my life is somehow lacking. An attitude of gratitude and gratefulness is a must in my life. I may not have tons of people who understand everything I go through, or people I can disclose everything to, or uninterrupted bonding time with my husband- BUT I HAVE GOD- who knows exactly what I am feeling, and is with me always. The Isrealites spent 40 years in the desert because they were focused on the few things that they perceived as God not providing for them the way that they thought he should have- murmuring and complaining about insignificant things- instead of focusing on the great miracles, provision, freedom and love that God had shown them- and the fact that he was in their midst, leading and guiding them the entire time. I do not want to be like them, but sadly I am- more often than I care to admit. It is important for me to realize, however, that people were never meant to fill the "God shaped hole" in me that only God was meant to fill. Relationships are not meant to sit on the throne of my heart, but Jesus is. Focusing on what is lacking in your life only serves to make you miserable. Knowing that God is more than enough keeps you content- a lesson that the Israelites learned far too late. Despite what they were "lacking", Never once did they ever walk alone, and when it comes down to it, I know that neither have I. God knows exactly where I am in this season of my life, and he has equipped me for it. My "loneliness", past and present, serves a purpose. HE is with me.

Friday, January 2, 2015

It's a new year!

I am so excited that it is 2015. Last year was amazing, and I am expecting God to do even bigger things this year in both our personal lives and our ministry. Things have steadily improved from the time I got saved in 2008 until now. Each year is better than the last, and God never ceases to amaze me with how much better his plans are than my own! I am not really a "resolutions" person, but there are some things I really want to work on this year. I try and take a daily inventory, and pray about things in my life that God wouldn't be happy with and would want me to change. I am a flawed person to say the least, and I am not afraid to admit it. I embrace the fact that I know I am messed up, because realizing I need to change things is the first step to actually changing them. God has been convicting me of some things ("character defects" if you will), and I hope I can make progress in these areas this year:

1) Letting God have COMPLETE control.
Bless my husband's heart, he has the most positive outlook on life of any one I know. His answer to everything is "don't worry about it, God has it under control", "trust God", or "it will be okay no matter what." He trusts God with his entire being, regardless of how crazy the circumstances may be. I, on the other hand, am a freaker-outer and a bit of a control freak. I feel like I need to take action and try and control the situation in order for it to work out. I NEED to DO SOMETHING! But when I look at it, this attitude shows a lack of faith in God. Who am I to think that I can somehow "fix" the situation better than God? Does he really need my help? Of course not. And I know this. I have seen God do miraculous, unbelievable things and turn situations around in seconds. He has always provided, and never failed me. I know that he will come through for me.  I do trust that he is in control when it comes to the big stuff. So why do I freak out? I think sometimes that I believe the lie that my everyday life stuff is too insignificant for God to care about, and I let my emotions get in the way. I let fear, or anxiety, or worry creep in, and it slowly pushes my faith out. This is a hard one for me, because for so many years I drowned my emotions in booze of numbed them with drugs, and I didn't really feel. When I got saved, all of those emotions came flooding back. The first few years I was saved I was a complete wreck, and cried at the drop of a hat. I was learning coping skills and how to manage emotions that I hadn't felt in a long time. Now, I am still very emotional. I view it as a gift in regards to the fact that it allows me to have crazy levels of empathy for people, but it is a burden when I let negative emotions hinder my walk with God. There really is no middle ground with me- I'm extremist, and I feel that I either have tons of emotions or no emotions at all.  I am trying to find middle ground. Emotions are good, and healthy, but not when they cause you to act in ways you don't want to. I know God cares about EVERY aspect of my life, but sometimes the world can drown that out. I am planning this year to really truly fix my eyes on Jesus, and not look to the left or to the right. I am saturating my mind with bible verses about fear, anxiety, and God's plans for my life. So when thoughts of worry or fear or doubt do come, I am equipped to battle them with God's word- I will fight lies from the enemy with the truth of scripture. I will continue to focus on my identity in Christ, and what HE says about me. And instead of acting on emotions,I will pray and wait for God to direct my steps (another thing my husband is awesome at- his faith is something I truly admire!).

2) Letting go of perfectionism.
Again, this is a hard one for me. It goes along with the control freak thing. And it drives my husband absolutely bonkers. I know that nothing will ever be perfect. I know that I may get a less than stellar grade on a test once in awhile. I know that I can clean the house a million times and put things in their place, but with a two year old they won't stay that way for long. And I know that I am very flawed human being and that no one is perfect except for Jesus Christ himself. But something in me strives for that perfectionism anyway. I think, subconsciously, that I want my environment to be controlled because for 2/3 of my life I had absolutely no control over anything. My life was a chaotic, unstable, drug fueled disaster. Now that it's not, I want to keep it that way, and I think I feel that somehow I will help accomplish that by having everything in my environment kept in strict order. Logically I know this isn't true, but sub-consciously I believe it. The problem is, nothing will ever be perfect. Not my house and surely not me! I give grace so freely to others, and Jesus gives me such grace, yet I have such a hard time giving grace to myself. I think this is true of most wives and mothers. We are so hard on ourselves. We are told that we need to be Super Woman, and if we fail at some aspect of it, we feel like we have failed in the role that God has entrusted us with. The media tells us we should be able to work full time, have a spotless house, perfectly well behaved kids, and keep our husbands happy every second of the day- all while looking flawless (and I won't even get into the consumerism push to "keep us with the Jonses"- that's a whole other post!). God knows we are not perfect, and he loves us for it anyway. My husband and my children know I am not perfect, but they love me anyway. I just need to learn to love myself anyway! One thing I have realized is that my perfectionism has shown me just how desperately I need Jesus. It points out how UNperfect I am, and points me to the one who is.   I am not going to worry or stress out about my house being messy anymore. It accomplishes nothing besides putting the hold household in a bad mood with my complaining. My husband is happy-go-lucky, and my complaining about the house not being in order can suck the joy right out of him. I don't want to be THAT wife.  I am done with that bondage! I plan on doing a daily gratitude list, so I can remind myself how truly blessed I am, and that in the grand scheme of things, my kitchen being a little messy is not a huge deal. There is so much more to life. I am going to walk in the freedom that Jesus gave me, focus on what is important, have an attitude of gratitude, and enjoy my precious 2 year old little boy- mess and all!

Most importantly, I am going to give myself permission to mess up. I am sure that I will fail at both of these "resolutions" numerous times. I will still freak out from time to time, and still long for the house to be in perfect order once in awhile. But as long as I keep striving to live better- the way Jesus would want me to- I am making progress. I will prayfully keep trying, and I will do what I can do- and God will do the rest.