Wednesday, April 29, 2015

To be 24 again...

Today was my 32nd birthday. I had a wonderful day thanks to all of the fantastic people that I am blessed to have in my life. I was barraged with literally hundreds of happy birthday messages on social media (130 at last count),  I was able to go on a child free date with my husband to dinner followed by ice cream and a walk in the park and sitting at the lake and having conversations like we did when we first met.  To top it off, I was thrown a surprise party by my closest friends- people that I consider family. I am truly blessed and thankful to have such wonderful, beautiful people in my life.

When I woke up this morning to the flurry of "happy birthday" posts on my facebook wall, I posted a status that jokingly said "ahhh... it feels so good to be 24 again! ;) ". It was meant to be a joke, because I honestly feel much younger than my 32 years. However, once I posted it, it got me thinking. I started to reminisce about where I was at in my life in 2007 when I was 24 years old.  I'm sure many people would love to go back and relive their early 20's if they had a chance. For most, it is a time in their life filled with wonderful memories and reflections of better days gone by. However, I am not most people.

Twenty four was an age that you couldn't pay me a million dollars to go back and relieve. Twenty four is usually considered to be the prime of someone's life- when they are adult enough to do what they want, make their own choices, start working towards their goals in life and begin to really form their personal identity and what they stand for - yet young enough to be carefree, have energy to party all night, fit into their skinny jeans, and feel like they are invincible and are capable of conquering the world if they put their mind to it. For me, however, 24 was an age filled with horror, desperation, despair, and sadness. I wasn't living at 24, I was dying.

By the time I hit 24, I had been through my 13th drug and alcohol rehab- a path that I first went down when I was all of 12 years old. With 12 years of very heavy drug and alcohol use under my belt, I was a seasoned addict- someone who had the horrible "privilege" of living through devastating consequences and loss in 12 years that takes most alcoholics and addicts three or four decades of drug use to experience. My "rock bottoms" were not spread out, there was no breathing room for me to have "a few good years" or any "moments of clarity."  It had been 12 years of being stuck in the nightmare cycle of unquenchable drug and alcohol addiction.  At 24, I had been homeless too many times to count, overdosed on heroin over a dozen times, lost custody of both of my children, racked up a plethora of assault and battery and drunk driving charges (among other things) that made quite the impressive of a criminal record, almost been killed due to bar violence or motor vehicle crashes dozens of times, tried (and failed) to go to college four times, lost all of my friends due to my addiction, destroyed my credit, and was a sad, bitter, shell of a person who didn't care if I lived or died. Actually, I welcomed and sought after death. Every night I went to sleep with the hope that I wouldn't wake up in the morning. Death would have been a welcomed escape from my own personal hell that I was living in.

At the age of 24, I entered what would be (little did I know then) my final drug rehab. Court ordered into it (or face a possible 10 year prison sentence), I had no desire to actually stop. I loved my drugs and alcohol, because they were the only thing I had ever known since I was a 12 year old girl. They were my only friend and my only coping mechanism. I had messed my life up so badly that they were the only thing I had left. No way was I giving them up. But, I would go through the motions for court. Prison wasn't exactly where I wanted to be. I was terrified of going through heroin and alcohol withdrawal. So I did what I needed to do to be able to stay in society and  use as much as I wanted to. I went to outpatient rehab 5 days a week, 5 hours a day for a year and a half. I was smart, and learned how to dilute urine drug screens, pass Breathalyzer tests, and only use at home or at the homes of people I trusted instead of going out in public to cut down on the risk of being arrested for something I did while under the influence. I just needed to look clean and sober on paper to the judge. And I succeeded- for awhile.

While in my last rehab at 24, I met a guy who was in rehab for substance abuse issues as well. We hit it off right away, and quickly became friends. He knew about my legal problems and vowed that we would never ever use together. He would never put me in a situation where I could get into trouble. He was an amazing guy with a loving heart, but he was sick just like I was. We hung out for awhile and were able to stay sober, but that quickly took a turn for the worst. There is a reason why they tell you not to date other people in rehab. Before we knew it, our friendship had turned to love, and our days of "hanging out" were nothing more than alcohol drenched, drug fueled craziness. We moved in with each other, and things only got worse We got into violent, drunken fights ( I even pushed him in front of a semi-truck once), and our entire existence was focused on being so out of it that we didn't have to feel, think, or function. We were drinking over the equivalent of 45 beers each a day, and if we went longer than four hours without a drink, we would have alcohol DT's (the shakes) so bad that we couldn't even hold a coffee cup. We popped morphine pills and Oxycontins by the handfuls, I would take up to 30 Vicodin at a time, and when we really needed something to kick the party up a notch, we would spend $800 on crack cocaine- all of which was gone by the morning. We were thrown out of bars for being so obliterated that we fell off of barstools and out of family Holiday gatherings for showing up so drunk that we couldn't walk. We were completely and utterly out of control, two hardcore addicts who were enslaved to the point that we were under the influence of SOMETHING, every second of every day. We  couldn't do anything but do drugs and drink. We tried to quit many times, but our resolve to get sober usually only lasted until noon, sometimes 3 pm if we were really trying. One of us would give in, and the other one went down with them. We were two sick people who fueled each other's insanity, and there was absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel or hope of getting off the nightmare of a ride we were on.

Little did I know that the nightmare would come to an end the next year, at the age of 25.  When I came to a point in my addiction where I saw absolutely no hope, and I was afraid to live as much as I was afraid to die, was the point where I became desperate enough to cry out to God for help. That is when I had a head on collision with Jesus, and he rescued me out of me out of my nightmare. The light at the tunnel did exist, and it bore nail marks in its hands and feet.

So, when I say it would feel good to be 24 again, it's a lie. A horrible, nightmare of a lie. Twenty four years old again is the last place I would ever want to be. I As horrible as it was, if I could go back and do it over, I wouldn't change it. The person I was at 24 is exactly who I needed to be for God to change me into who I am now. Their was purpose in my pain- and God has redeemed every hurt, pain, and loss that I went through in the first 2/3 of my life. I have compassion on drug addicts because I was one- compassion that I wouldn't have had if I didn't live through the experiences that I did. However, where I am at in my life right now- thanks to the redemptive and saving power of Jesus Christ- is the best season of my life I have ever experienced. I would not change the life I have now for anything. God has blessed us beyond measure. I have a loving, devoted, caring, handsome, Godly husband, children that mean the absolute world to me, a loving church family that are some of my best friends, relatives who care about and support me, the beginning of a career that gives me purpose and the ability to help other people who have been in my shoes, and a ministry where I get a front row seat every day to the astounding, miraculous power of Jesus Christ to break the chains of addiction and redeem and restore addicts the same way that he has my husband and I. This is what living is really about- living for others, and using the nightmare of my past to give hope to others instead of chalking it all up as wasted years that meant nothing.  Is my life easy now? Not at all. It still has a lot of "hardness" in it. But it's a different hard than the hardness you live through in addiction. The trials I go through now have purpose, and I can prevail through them by relying on Jesus and knowing that he promises me a hope and a future. At the age of 24, I had no hope, no reason to believe anything could ever get better, and no power to change- because I didn't know the one who was able to make all things new. My life is not a bed of roses, but it is wonderful and beautiful and chaotic and purposeful. What more could I ask for? Thirty two is exactly where I want to be. And I can't wait to see what 33 brings!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

It's God's show.

This week brought some huge milestones and steps forward for the planning and building of the CROSSroads Restoration Home. We (minus my husband, whose health doesn't allow him to partake) met with the mayor of the city (who fully supports what we are trying to do and gave us some great contact people) and the recovery community, law enforcement, and Faith communities had a large community heroin education night at a local church.  The official savings account for the non-profit restoration home was opened, and we also had our first steering committee/board meeting comprised of leaders in the community, recovery circles, and churches who share our desire to see the area free from addiction, and we began the process of applying for our 501c non-profit status. There are also many exciting things going on with other members of the community through the Recovery Task Force, The Recovery Ranch, and other recovery resources in the community.  I am in awe of how good God is, and how he is bringing everything together. For so long addiction was such a dirty word- something that  no one talked about, but swept under the rug and denied. That's not the case anymore in Marshfield. The addiction recovery community is speaking out and demanding that this issue- and the people it affects- gets the attention that it deserves.

Seeing so many people band together in unity for a shared cause and common goal is inspiring. It is not something that you always see in ministry.  All too many times in ministry and recovery, there is competition, comparison, and separation. People can get so focused on positions, titles, and "their people". "their group", and "their money",  that instead of the body of Christ actually working and functioning as a whole body, you end up with a bunch of severed individual body parts all trying to do their own thing. The body of Christ only works if everyone works in unison without competition. If everyone wants to be a foot and no one ways to be an eye, the body will be worthless and non-functional. Imagine having a body with 40 feet, yet can't see where it's walking! Talk about going nowhere fast! It's the same thing when everyone wants to be, say, the lead pastor. If everyone is a lead pastor, there will be no congregation to preach to! God has a different purpose for everyone's life. Everyone is not meant to be a lead pastor, or a missionary, or a worship leader, or a Sunday school teacher, or a front line minister.  We need to recognize the giftings that God has bestowed on us and use them to their full potential, not try to be someone else. Because if we knew the hardship and the problems that came with someone else's gifting, we would see very quickly that we are not equipped for it. The eyes of a body are good at their job because they are made to see. Feet are made to walk. Lungs are made to breathe. God knows what he is doing, and he has different people in different areas of ministry for a reason. If we try to force ourselves into a position that we are not equipped for- like a foot trying to be an eye- it will be a disaster.

1 Corinthians 12: 21- 26: The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are and indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.,, But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

 As someone who has been in ministry leadership for a long time, I can't tell you how important having people there to support me is. My entire ministry career, God has always supplied me with an armor bearer. Someone who was there to help me with the weight of ministry, so I wasn't crushed under the pressure of it. A confidant. Someone who had my back, and someone who knew me well enough to know what kind of decisions I would make in a given situation- so that they were able to make the same decision if I was off doing something else. Basically, I had a duplicate of myself- because there was no way that I could carry the burden alone. These women who have been my armor bearers have kept me going when I thought I couldn't, encouraged me on when I wanted to quit, and reminded me that God would  never call me to do something that I wasn't equipped for. They have each been huge blessings to my life and some of the closest friends I have ever had. These women embraced their role in being my "right hand man." There was no jealousy, no wondering why they couldn't be in charge, no underlying ulterior motive where they were hoping to overthrow me and take my "position." (For some reason, in every ministry I have been in- people want the "position" of being the leader and the boss and it can cause division. I personally have never understood this, because anyone who has been a leader will tell you that it is not easy or something we would have ever volunteered to do!) It was just true, genuine, love, and the desire to walk out what God had called them to in life. If they hadn't obeyed God, I am not sure I would have made it, and my ministry definitely wouldn't have made it. If they had all decided that they weren't going to be a foot- because they felt they were above being a foot- the entire thing would have crumbled. If they would have decided to leave and do their "own thing", they would have missed what God had placed right in front of them, and the souls that were changed through their obedience could have would up with a very different ending. They realized that the call on their life was just as- if not more so- important as mine, and they allowed God to work through them instead of making their own plans on what their role should have been.

That is how the body of Christ is supposed to work. The thing is, the illusion that any of this is "ours" is just that- an illusion. There is absolutely no need for competition or wanting to do your own thing when you understand that ALL OF THIS IS GOD'S, and we are called to be stewards over it. Your ministry, your spouse, your family, your money, your business, your home, your children- it's all God's. He entrusted you with it. I was asked this week if I would be ok with not being on the executive board for CROSSroad's Restoration Home if Ben was on it, so that we wouldn't dominate the board as a spouse team. Without a doubt, I said there would be no problem. CROSSroads was never meant to be mine and Ben's "thing." It has always been God's "thing", and we were just obedient in doing the work he told us to do. When CROSSroads was started, the intention was for it to be a community ministry. We had meetings out on the street instead of in a church with the sole intention of being an outreach ministry, where the souls coming in were what mattered.  We never wanted it to be our church's "group" -  it was never meant to be a Faith Fellowship "thing." It is for the addicts- the hardcore addicts- the lost and hurting, the ones who feel so far gone that they don't even feel comfortable walking into a church. THAT is what it is about. They are GOD'S people. It is their group. We just have the awesome privilege of playing a tiny part in God's story and  get to watch these amazing people's lives change and  transform into what  God has always called them to be. We are not foolish enough to believe that any of the miraculous things that have taken place in this ministry are due to us. We are just trying to walk obediently and sacrificially to let God use us to HIS full extent.
Pastor Cano from Milwaukee used to always tell me that it was "God's show," and that we are just in it. We don't run anything, none of us do. None of what happens in life is about us. God is directing the show, and it's up to us if we heed his direction or not.  There is a much bigger picture. When we can come together as a body in unison, the picture is so much easier to see. Working towards a common goal opens up possibilities in the spiritual realm. When you have people that want to take their piece in the show and run off into solitude with it- the picture starts to skew. We must never fall into the trap that this is about us, or that we are in competition with one another. The lie that we need to do our own thing- our own ministry, our own mission, our own lifepath- when God has called us to be part of a bigger story. We need each other- each part of the body- for God's purposes to prevail. We all play a part, and none of us can play the show alone. It is just so beautiful when we all start to  work together, and we can start to see the picture crystal clearly. The director  knows what he's doing. God wants an army, not a bunch of solo acts.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Blessed are those who mourn.

. This past weekend my husband, one of our ministry partners and I embarked on a very sad journey to a tiny Wisconsin town to offer what support we could to a family suffering unfathomable amounts of pain and confusion. They had lost their 5 year old little girl, Angela, when she fell into the Wisconsin River on April 6th. As of today- April 16th- they still have not found her. The family held a candle light vigil to honor the little girl, and to pray for her to be found and for them to be granted some sort of closure.
Candle light memorial
The entire thing was heartbreaking at a level that is incomprehensible. My heart broke for the family of this beautiful little girl. My husband's heart broke for them as well. My husband was the one who felt led by the Holy Spirit to make the 2 hour drive and spend the weekend walking up and down the banks of the Wisconsin River praying for this little girl to be found. My husband lost a child 20 years ago, and he understands the heartbreak that this family is going through. Looking at the face of my gorgeous 2 year old little boy, I felt overwrought with emotion at what devastation losing him would bring to my life. I couldn't imagine being these parents. One day you have a perfectly healthy, happy child, and then the next day they are gone. No one can understand- REALLY understand- unless they have been through the same pain themselves. I think that's what prompted my husband's urgency to go to this family. He understood the pain. 2 Corintians 1:4 says that "God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us."
Balloons that were released along with lanterns into the sky.
You know who does understands the loss of a child the most, though? God. He lost a child once. And I'm sure it was heartbreaking for him as a father to see his beloved son die such a painful, terrible, shameful death. He knows. He feels. He is looking down with love and compassion wanting to take the hurt away. Psalms 56:8 says that God keeps track of all of your sorrows, and bottles all of your tears. He hates seeing his children in pain.  He is right beside Angela's mourning family, holding them up with his right hand. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted (Psalms 34:14), and even if it feels like God is a million miles away and that he doesn't care about your pain, I promise you, he's there. I know firsthand.
The large group of people from the community who came to show their support.

I have never lost a child, but I have experienced a death of a loved one so devastating that I thought my life would end. Before I met my husband (and before I became a Christian), I was engaged to a wonderful man- Dave. He asked me to marry him, we moved in together, and we started planning our life together- until death do us part. One day, on an ordinary morning just like any other morning, I woke up and found him dead. He had died in one of the most gory, gruesome ways possible. At 38, his life was over. And mine was too. I remember sitting at his wake, knowing that all of my hopes, dreams, and plans were laying in that coffin. I stepped outside to smoke a cigarette (thank God that's a habit I kicked!), and while I was standing outside the funeral home, my phone rang. It was the jewelry store- telling me that my engagement rings that Dave had ordered were in, and that I could come and pick them up any time I wanted. I lost it. Why, WHY would God do this to me? We were supposed to spend our lives together! Why would he take away the only person that had ever truly love me! I wasn't even really sure if I believed in God, but if he existed- I'm sure he had to hate me! Why else would this be happening?
When I went back into the funeral home, I stared blankly at his body in the casket, trying to savor every last second that I could to remember what he looked like- because it was the last time I would ever get to see him. I very vividly remember thinking that my life was over. My desire to live was gone. I had tried to build a life, and this was the outcome that I got. I was done trying. I wanted to curl up and die. Then I distinctly heard a voice. A voice as real as yours or mine. A voice that said "It will be okay." I felt a sense of peace wash over me, and I remember being so confused. How would this ever be okay? I was staring at the love of my life in a casket? That was about as far away from okay as it could get. There was no coming back from this, no fixing it. And whose voice was that? Was I really losing it?
Prayer for a lost angel.

That was in May of 2008. As I would find out, that voice was God's. And that moment in the funeral home was a turning point in my life. God used his death to break me enough to where I was at a point to surrender to him and cry out for him to help me. I had no other choice, the pain was too unbearable. The drugs couldn't even take it away anymore. I was desperate. So I cried out to God and begged him to help me if he was real. Little did I know then what a life changing prayer that would be. God led me to a Christian Restoration home in Milwaukee that dealt specifically with drug addicts. It was basically a hospital for the spiritually sick and wounded, and it's where I learned how to live, drug free, and build a relationship with God. And it changed my entire life. I saw God do miraculous things there, and change me into a person that I didn't recognize- a much better version of me that I never knew existed under all the drugs and alcohol. And God used Dave's death to get me there. If it hadn't been for that horrible time in my life, I would have never been desperate enough to really, truly surrender. I leaned on God in a way I didn't even know was possible, because it was the only tiny glimmer of hope I could hang onto. He was the only one who had the power to heal me, to take away the pain, and I needed him. I truly believe that I wouldn't have made it through that time in my life if it wasn't for God. I would have died with a noose around my neck or drank myself to death. But God carried me through.
My husband Ben and our son Justin
It was also the place that I met my Husband. I didn't know it at the time- because not only was a relationship the furthest thing on my mind for over 3 years due to my grief, but I was not very fond of Ben when I first met him (but... that's a story for later!). My belief that I would never truly love again was proven false when I was finally in a healthy place, and  God brought Ben into my life. A man that I never could have imagined. A Godly man, who would protect me, lead me, and treasure me. A man who had lived through a similar hell as I, we were perfectly matched, and understood each other like no one else ever could. We had both seen God's redemptive power at work in awesome ways in our lives, both clawed our way back from the brink of hell in our drug addiction, and both walked away from our children (as hard as it was) because they were better off- and safer- without us. We had parallel lives both in addiction and out. We both had a calling on our lives to minister to drug addicts- which is not an occupation that anyone would ever understand or support without having been through the Christian restoration ministry that we both ended up being leaders in.  Our "perfectly matched" relationship was much deeper than the shallowness of enjoying the same food or drinks or music that many people base their relationships on. We had the same testimonies and had experienced the same power of God in our lives- and were both working towards the common cause of devoting our lives to helping other addicts find God and be freed from their addictions the same way we had. We understand each other in a way that no one else possibly could, because we have lived almost the same life. It was truly a God ordained relationship, and one that never would have happened if Dave hadn't died and caused me to seek God with all my strength.

Our new beginning- Justin
Through God bringing Ben into my life Ben, I received one of the greatest blessings of my life- My son Justin. A child that neither one of us ever imagined being in our life- but God had plans for all along. We had to have our lives totally shaken up, rearranged, and utterly destroyed in order for this beautiful child to be made manifest. What looked like our total destruction was really the beginning of God turning us into the people we were meant to be all along. I know for me, God used Dave's death to protect me from myself. If he wouldn't have died, I would be dead right now. We were both really severe alcoholics, and neither one of were able to stop while we were together. What seemed at the time to be the darkest moment of my life, was actually the beginning of Dawn. God is merciful and just and will never do anything to be cruel or vicious. Whatever you are going through, hang onto the promise that there is a reason for it somewhere, no matter how unfathomable that may seem. His ways are not our ways, and somehow it will fit into the master plan. We may not be able to see it in retrospect, or we may never know why until we are in heaven and God tells us face to face. But God is aware that it is happening, and knew it would happen before he did. You are not alone and you are not forgotten, and years from now you will be able to look back and see that you survived the un-survivable, and see that God had his hand on you during the entire time. He will walk you through the valley, and somewhere down the road there will be another mountain top.

In Joshua 1:5, God promises that he will never leave us or forsake us, and Romans 8:28 talks about how everything works for the good of those that love God. This is not to j y that all things are going to be good, or that everything that happens in our lives are going to feel nice. It means that God will take all of the pieces- the devastating ones, the confusing ones, the bitter ones, the unimaginable ones- and interweave them into your story to bring you to exactly where you are supposed to be. The pieces never make sense alone. It is only in retrospect that we can look back in awe on how God was able to work something straight out of a nightmare into something beautiful. We will see that those who mourn are truly blessed- because God will walk with you through your hurts, and when you come out the other side, not only will you be stronger, but your relationship with God will be strengthened in a way it never could have been otherwise, and you will be a testimony to others who walk your same path. The pain will not last forever.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Rooting for the underdog.

I have always had a soft spot for the underdog. I can remember being six years old and feeling bad for a piece of carrot cake in a bakery window because I knew it wouldn't be desired and chosen like the frosted brownies sitting next to it would be. I was the kid that defended the kids who were picked on in school and would fight the bullies for them. I'm the person who wants to take home the ugly kitten that no one else will want, the person who sits next to the outcast in the cafeteria, who embraces the unkempt,  the person who believes in those that other people don't. Oh- and I'm a Cubs fan (if that's not true underdog devotion, nothing is!) I think that I root for the underdog because there have been so many times in my life where I have felt like the underdog myself. Rejected, told that I wasn't capable, that I wasn't worth anything, that my mistakes were too many, and my chances too few. Outcasted, talked about, constantly reminded of my failures and how I didn't measure up to what I should be. Labeled as an addict who would never amount to anything in life- who was incapable of change.

Through the experience of being a former drug addict myself, being married to a former drug addict, and working daily with recovering drug addicts for years, I have come to recognize that drug addicts truly are the underdogs of society. They wear a scarlet letter that conveys the message that they are low life, unethical, untrustworthy people with no self control- Alchy, junkie, crackhead, doper, lush, addict.  People justify throwing their past mistakes in their faces constantly, making it impossible for them to move on. They are told that they have gone to far and done too much wrong to ever change. The high rates of relapse that comes with addiction just reinforces this societal ideal. People remember the million and one other times they "quit",  just to end up relapsing again and messing things up even more, causing more chaos and heartache, and making themselves out to be a liar yet again. People start to look at the as lost causes- as people who can't change. There is no rooting them on, no encouraging their success, no vote of confidence that maybe this time they will be successful. After so many failed attempts, people lose hope that they can win the battle (much like people doubting the Cubs since they haven't won a world series since 1908).


Drug addiction doesn't elicit sympathy the way that other social underdogs do. Abandoned children, battered women, the kid that is bullied in school, the sports team that can't get it together enough to win a game- are all looked at as victims of their circumstances. They are pitied, and people rally around them to encourage, support, and help them. They are told that what has happened to them was unfair, and that they don't deserve to be treated so horribly. People stand up for them, fight for them, rally for them. They have someone in their corner supporting them, even if the rest of the world might not. They have advocates, people who want to right all the wrongs done to them in their lives. People who fight for them to have the best life possible, and to include them back in with the folds of society.

Drug addicts, on the other hand, don't elicit sympathy. People don't think they deserve sympathy. Didn't they do this to themselves, after all? Why should we help them fix consequences of actions that they brought on themselves? Why should they be shown mercy when they have done such horrific things in their lives and never given a thought to how they hurt other people? They are seen as worthless, cancers on society. They destroy their families and commit crimes and cost the taxpayers money and endanger public safety. People don't want them to be "integrated" into their communities. There are "not in my backyard" protests and rallies against facilities aimed to help these people being built. People want them to get help- as long as they get it somewhere else. They are looked at with scorn and contempt when they desperately try to seek medical help to get off the drugs that have ravaged their bodies. Insurance refuses to cover residential treatment because they don't want to stick money into a lost cause- an addict who will never recover. Society's answer isn't to try to build them up and encourage them to change, but to turn a blind eye and hope they go away.  I can't count how many times I have heard people say "just let them kill themselves off- good riddance," or "lock them up and throw away the key."

 People don't recognize them as victims. But let me tell you, they are. Sure, we all have free will and choices that we make in life. They made the choice to do drugs. To take that first drink, do that first line, pop that first pill, and shoot up for the first time. But, if you really understood addiction, you would realize that after that first initial time that they used, their choice was gone. Addiction is a cunning, baffling, and powerful brain disease which takes over an addict's entire life. The craving for drug's in an addicts brain is in the same area of the brain that tells you to breathe. Addicts literally feel like if they don't have drugs, they will die. The cravings are so strong that no amount of self-control, of will power, of trying to make "the right choice" will be able to stop it once the addiction is activated. If you truly knew the suffering and the horror that an addict lives through, your heart would break. Imagine doing horrible things that you never imagined yourself doing for drugs- robbing, lying, prostitution, cheating, killing, losing your kids, your job, your sanity, your self respect, your friends, your marriage, your health, your freedom, your free will, YOUR LIFE- and being powerless to stop it. Wanting desperately to be normal, to have what everyone else has, to be loved- but your brain not allowing you to. ALL you can do- despite the horrors you face day in and day out as a result- is continue to be dependent on the one thing that has destroyed your entire life.
Then imagine being mocked, ridiculed, persecuted, slandered, and judged on top of it. Being told that your life is worthless, and that you have only yourself to blame for it. You did, after all- use that first time before you realized it would destroy everything you ever loved. People who incur the kind of horrors and losses that a drug addict does as  result of , say, a brain tumor- would be met with compassion, support, and empathy. People would feel badly for what they went through. Sol, why is drug addiction any different? Not only is it a brain disease, but a spiritual sickness. No one, NO ONE dreams of growing up to be a drug addict as a little kid. No one sets out to destroy their own life. Our greatest natural, primal instinct as humans is for survival and self-preservation, and addiction over rides that.  If that doesn't show you how powerful addiction is, nothing will. If you could really see inside the soul of an addict- the hell that they are trapped in- your heart would break. They are tormented, desperately hurting souls tirelessly searching for something to ease their tremendous pain. The devastation, depression, and hopelessness is so strong that many pray for death to come as a way out of it. If you understood the underlying issues of what usually prompts addiction to begin with- child abuse, molestation, anxiety disorders, depression, the pain of having a spouse walk out or a child die, and being told that the world is better off without you- you couldn't help but have compassion on the underdog of society.
Maybe you don't agree with me. Maybe you don't see them as people who deserve to have an advocate. Maybe you think they "get what they deserve" for partaking in the lifestyle that they have. All I can say to you, is that I pray that you never have to go through witnessing your child, or grandchild, or parent, or spouse go through the hell of addiction, because then your eyes will truly be opened. You will realize that they are truly good people, but the drugs have turned them into monsters. It's easy to judge something that you haven't been through. I pray that you are never put in the position of having to understand. Even if you don't root for them (and everyone isn't going to- if they did, they wouldn't be underdogs),  understand that  Jesus loves them, and he is their advocate. He forgives ALL sins- you sins, the sins of the drug addict down the road, the sins of your pastor- and sees them all the same. He desires to give them a new life, a new hope, and a new future. He can redeem, restore, and renew them as easily as he can anyone else- regardless of what society thinks. And his blood makes them valuable. Something is made valuable based on how much you are willing to pay for it, and Jesus paid for them with his life.

Jesus loves the underdog. The very ones that society outcasts, are the ones that God will use to do miraculous things in and through. He redeems their irredeemable past to give glory to his name, He changes the unchangeable, and elevates the lowly so that his power is displayed. He will be their defender when satan tries to use their pasts against them or whispers lies that they aren't worthy or that no one is on their side. The King of King and the Lord of lords- maker of heaven and earth- is rooting for them and believes they are valuable. Oh, how great it would be if we mere humans could do the same, and root on the outcasts like Jesus. To be able to give the grace, mercy, and forgiveness that has so freely been given to us. Instead of condemning and judging, maybe we should take the time to realize that "there but for the grace of God go I", and to know that anything is possible with Jesus' power- even the underdog coming out on top. I know, I have seen it with my own eyes. Those least likely to succeed in life are radically transformed through the power of God, and the support of people who believe in them. I am a vehement advocate for the underdog. I will do everything within my power to defend someone who is met with opposition while trying to get their lives on track and are in the process of change. I have been there, and I no what it feels like to have someone in your corner for the first time in your life.

1 Corinthians 1:27: "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong."

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Tattoos For Recovery

Our ministry teamed up with an amazing local tattoo shop- New Life Ink- who is holding a fundraiser this weekend where their tattoos are drastically reduced in price, and half of what they earn is given to our ministry. Today was the first day, and it was an amazing experience. 

So many people came within the first hour and a half that we had to put a cap on the list and tell them to come back tomorrow, because the artists were booked through the entire night! We had close to 40 people today, and there will be many more than that tomorrow. The outpouring of support from the community in regards to our ministry was very humbling

We heard some great testimonies, met dozens of new friends, and succeeded in putting our name out there to let people know that there is help for addiction in the Marshfield area. I am so honored to be a part of a community of people who are banding together and demanding change.

Step by Step, day by day, choice by choice, and moment by moment- We KNOW that we can make a difference- that GOD can make a difference through us- and that as long as we stick together, WE WILL WIN THE WAR ON ADDICTION!

I just want to thank NEW LIFE INK in Schofield, Wisconsin for hosting this benefit and donating their time and incredible talent through their amazing artists, Jeff and Dustin. We are so grateful that you believe our cause is worthy enough to rally behind us to raise community awareness.  

I also want to thank our leadership team (who none of this would be possible without), and all of the people from the community who came out to show their love. I am so grateful for ALL of these wonderful people, and I can't wait and see what the benefit brings tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

When people throw rocks...

2 Samuel 16:

As King David came to Bahurim, a man came out of the village cursing them. It was Shimei son of Gera, from the same clan as Saul’s family. He threw stones at the king and the king’s officers and all the mighty warriors who surrounded him. “Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!” he shouted at David. “The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!”“Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king?” Abishai son of Zeruiah demanded. “Let me go over and cut off his head!”10 “No!” the king said. “Who asked your opinion, you sons of Zeruiah! If the Lord has told him to curse me, who are you to stop him?”11 Then David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul[b] have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. 12 And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged[c] and will bless me because of these curses today.” 13 So David and his men continued down the road, and Shimei kept pace with them on a nearby hillside, cursing and throwing stones and dirt at David.
14 The king and all who were with him grew weary along the way, so they rested when they reached the Jordan River.[d]

This passage of the bible has always meant so much to me. God showed me it when I became the women's home director in Milwaukee. I was under a lot of spiritual attacks by other women in the home, and I couldn't figure out why it was going on or why God was allowing it to happen. I was doing the right things, yet I was being bombarded everyday by people who for whatever reason had it out for me. I wondered why God didn't prevent them from attacking me, why he didn't silence them.  I was innocent. Why wasn't he defending me? Doesn't the bible say that nothing can touch me without God's permission? He could stop them if he wanted to. Why in the world did he want me to go through these attacks? Then he showed me this passage.

If you have spent any time in the old testament, you are probably familiar with the story of King David. The David who fought Goliath, the David who was an adulterer, the David that God called a "man after my own heart", the David who wrote the book of Psalms, the David who Jesus was a descendant of. David was chosen to be the future king of Isreal while the current, wicked king- Saul- was still in place. David entered Saul's service, and was a great help to him. Saul knew that the spirit of God had left him and rested on David, and that David would take his place. Saul was consumed with jealousy and tried to murder David numerous times. David, however, submitted to Saul and was loyal to him even though he knew Saul was seeking his life. Eventually David had to flee from Saul because Saul was actively trying to kill him. David had a chance to murder Saul, and he would have not only stopped Saul from hunting him, but he would have become the next king. He could have easily killed him, and his life would have been easier if he would have. However, David knew not to touch God's anointed. He refused to retaliate against Saul. He was loyal to him until Saul's death- even though Saul treated him horribly. 1 Chronicles 16:22 was his life motto: "Touch not my anointed, and do my prophets no harm."

So loyal, In fact, that David had the man who murdered Saul killed (2 Samuel chapter 1). David was completely innocent in regards to ever coming again Saul. So when this man Shimei- in the passage above- started accusing David of murdering Saul, his accusations were not only totally untrue, but incredibly slanderous. David had suffered much under Saul, and had done the Godly thing anyway.It was a blatant attack on David's character- which is why his men wanted so badly to cut off his head. David was a great man who had taken care of them- as well as Saul- and they loved him so much that their natural reaction was to defend him against this man's unfounded accusations and character assassination.

But look at verses 11 and 12. David told them to  Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. 12 And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged[c] and will bless me because of these curses today.” Did you catch that? He is saying to rejoice when people persecute, slander, accuse, attack, and throw rocks at you, because God will pay back the distress that they have caused you with a blessing. You will end up more blessed after they are done attacking you than you were before. Because God will make up for the unfounded hurt that they have caused you. He will pay back the wrongs that people have done to you with a blessing.

My husband has had a Shimei for a good portion of his life. Someone who goes out of their way to attack, accuse, condemn, and slander him. Someone who is a rock thrower. But my husband has always maintained the attitude that David has in verses 11 and 12. He knows that if he is being attacked, it's because God is going to bless him on the other end of it. This person has spent years attacking him, only for it to backfire. She called his parole officer 15 years ago when he first got saved, and wanted them to revoke his parole, and instead they completely let him off of parole so they didn't have to deal with her phone calls anymore. She has called to report that he owns a gun (which he doesn't), and instead of him getting in trouble, the police took it upon themselves to get his gun rights reinstated. She has called to complain that she wasn't being paid enough back child support, and her doing so made her child support amount be reduced. She has called to complain about his child support for a child who isn't  even hers, and in turn they set his repayment amount to $0. She has filed court papers making false accusations and trying to have him put in jail, and instead she has upset the judges to the point that  she has had injunctions put on her so that she can't ever file again. She has spoken curses on him, and instead God has turned them into blessings. Every war that has ever been waged on him, has ended up for his good and helping him in the end. She, in fact, has a lot to do with why he is as blessed as he is today- not realizing that when you wage war with God and his chosen people, you will always lose, and they will be elevated.

The funny thing is, the more blessed you are, the more the Shimeis in your life will throw rocks , which in turn blesses you more. They get so angry that their attacks aren't working that they try harder and harder, throw more and more rocks, and God blesses you more and more because of the undue distress that they are causing you. They become hard hearted and obsessed with trying to form an attack that will "work." They slip farther away from God, and he draws you nearer. He sees that you are being wronged, and He goes above and beyond to make it right. They can't figure out why the harder they try to make it worse for you, the better it gets for you. The thing is, God weighs the motives of the heart (Proverbs 16:2). If you are doing things out of a pure heart and good intentions like David was with obeying Saul, God sees that. If the person that is attacking you is doing it out of motives of vengeance, hatred, and vindictiveness- he sees that as well. And that is something that he will never honor. Even if their reasoning or excuse for why they are attacking you may be true or valid, if the motives of their heart is evil intent towards you, it will never prosper. God is Holy and Loving and Righteous and Good, and he will never get behind a motive which is hateful, prideful, deceitful, or unforgiving. Even if they have a case against you, He will not honor motives that go against his word, his character, and his commands.

So, that is why God allows rock throwing. Because in the end, we will be better for being attacked. The bible is full of mighty men of God who were viciously attacked, and those attacks made it possible for them to fulfill their destinies. If Joseph wasn't hatefully sold into slavery by his brothers, millions of people would have died because he wouldn't have ever been in his position to store food for Egypt before the famine (Genesis 50).  God allowed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to be thrown into the fire in order to show his glory and saving power. All of the old testament prophets were attacked and persecuted, as well as most of the disciples in the new testament. And, of course, Jesus had unspeakable persecution put on him. But God allowed all of these attacks, and he allows them in our lives too. God uses them to bless us, to strengthen us, to increase our faith, and to get us to our destinies. James 1:2-4 says to "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing", and Job 23:10 says that " he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold"

So, God uses the Shimeis in your life for your benefit, to strengthen your spiritually, and to bless you.  He also uses it for His glory.   Psalms 23: 5 says that God prepares a table for you in the presence of your enemies, where he will anoint you with oil and overflow your cup. You will be blessed abundantly right in front of them, while they are left confused and wondering how things worked out for you the way that they did. God will defend you in a way that you could never defend yourself, and in a way that will make you realize exactly how much God loves you, has your back, and will never forsake you. God may even use it as a way to show himself real to them, because they will know that only God could have made things work out for you the way that they did. Attacks are never fun in the moment, but try to remember that in the end, God is working it out for your good (Romans 8:28). Pray for your enemies, so you guard your heart against becoming bitter and vengeful like theirs Ask God to reveal himself to them, because they don't realize what they're doing- if they did, they would stop. And always remember that once you belong to God- no matter who you were in the past- he has your back. The God who shuts the mouths of lions will shut the mouths of your accusers. 

Psalms 25-
In you, Lord my God,
    I put my trust.
I trust in you;
    do not let me be put to shame,
    nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you
    will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
    who are treacherous without cause.
Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
    for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
    and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
    for you, Lord, are good.