When Your Soul Has a Bad Idea

One day last week I’m struggling through those old kinds of struggles that never seem to fully go away – self-acceptance, over-thinking, fear. My mind cycles through them as they sit on the Lazy Susan of my soul. Pick one up, turn the wheel, put it back again.

When Your Soul Has a Bad Idea - Chatting at the Sky

So the Susan is spinning at the rate of the world and I pick a book from my desk to read a bit before I began my own writing. Just as I do, some powerfully loud thoughts come rushing into my mind – doubt, quitting, unbelief. In the span of one second, I imagine what it would be like to be the kind of writer like the one who wrote the book in my hand. Thoughts of straight up copying her work barrel to the forefront of my mind.

My first response is shock – I would never do that! My second response is shame – How could I even think that?

Shock and shame are my most natural and immediate responses when my soul has a bad idea. But the more I think about it, the more I realize this is not the holy response, but the arrogant one. My shock and shame response is a better indicator of the condition of my own soul than having the bad thought in the first place. This is the response of a woman who generally thinks she can handle life on her own, a woman who doesn’t think she needs redemption. And so when her soul has a bad idea, she can’t believe it.

It’s true, I don’t copy other people’s work. At least, I haven’t yet. But I could. So could you.

What to do when unwelcome thoughts push their way in? Worry about what a terrible person I am? Wring my hands over the terrible thoughts I have?

Please. Thinking about stealing someone else’s work is a glitter rainbow compared to some of the other thoughts that fly through my head. That feels terrifying to admit but also strangely relieving.

Shock and shame keep my head a clean distance from my heart. That is a dangerous place to live. I don’t want this kind of disconnected life.

The answer isn’t to shame myself into better thinking. That never works.

Instead, the answer for me is two-fold. First, stop being shocked by my own capacity for terrible thoughts.

Until I stop being shocked, I will continue to gasp and gawk at every foul thought that comes into my mind. I will constantly point to some imaginary version of myself who never has stupid thoughts and then return back to my real self and the incongruence between the two will bring only dizziness, discouragement and hopelessness. My soul simply can’t survive the whiplash.

So first, refuse to be shocked. And second, turn toward love. Not the kind of self-love that cheers you can do it, you’re amazing! Listen, I’ve seen The Help, I know the quote – You is smart. You is kind. You is important. Yes. You is. We are.

But we also have an insane capacity for crazy, for jealousy, for selfishness, hoarding, back-stabbing, criticism, revenge, and procrastination. The answer to dealing with the shocking thoughts that come into my mind isn’t to try to stop having bad thoughts. The answer for me is to refuse to be shocked in the first place and instead, be loved. Be small. Belong to Christ. 

I want to learn to keep company with my weakness even as I practice walking in the New Way of Christ.

I want to continually accept my capacity for sin, but embrace my potential for health, restoration, love, wonder, and mystery.

I want to remember I am capable of making bad choices while also bearing in mind that the Spirit of God chose to make his home in me.

I want to always see my ability to choose the old, but rejoice in my freedom not to.

I want to be aware of the darkness, but identify with the light.

Refuse to be shocked, but insist upon turning toward grace, forgiveness, renewal, and belief.

Refuse to be shocked, but receive the gift of acceptance.

Refuse to be shocked. And begin again.

Why I Want to Know You and Also Avoid You

“‘You have come from dust, and to dust you will return.’ In other words, ‘You are going to die. And here are some ashes to remind you, just in case you’ve forgotten.’”

- Mark Roberts, on Ash Wednesday for Patheos

ash wednesdayWe got our first desktop computer during my senior year of high school. We were living in Detroit and Dad set the computer up on his brown L-shaped desk in his study. I sat at that computer for hours late into the night, but I wasn’t surfing the web – no, no. In fact, when a guy at my school that year mentioned something about one of our favorite bands having a ‘web page’ I was all, What on earth is that? You can’t have a page on a computer. Duh.

It was 1994.

Instead, what I was doing on the computer was typing all of my thoughts and ideas and dreams into a document I had saved there under the file name “emily.” (Sneaky. And also secure.)

I typed out all of my innermost and then printed out each entry, slid the page into a plastic protector, and collected them all in a white two-inch binder with a cool title page I made from super rad clip art.binderThat next year I took the binder to college with me, continuing to add to it as well as read from it when I wanted to remember. My roommate, Faith, asked me about the binder one day, wondering if I ever expected or wanted someone else to read the words I wrote in it. Maybe she thought the only reason why her quiet-ish roommate would have a diary the size of our Western Civ. textbook is if she intended on sharing the words with the world one day.

Her question surprised me. I didn’t write to be read, I wrote because writing helped me know what I thought about things. But her asking made me think about it and a small part of me, secret and hidden, liked the idea of sharing what I wrote with someone.

It felt like somewhere deep within, sharing the writing would be the most honest thing I could do. It represented what was most alive within me, and to imagine sharing that with someone else was a compelling thought. Risky, impossible, crazy. But compelling.

My desire to be known was stirred.

“Much of our isolation is self-chosen . . . This self-reliance has many attractions. It gives us a sense of power, it allows us to move quickly, it offers us the satisfaction of being our own boss, and it praises many rewards and prizes. However, the underside of this self-reliance is loneliness, isolation and a constant fear of not making it in life.”

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now

On the right-hand corner of my desk, right next to the books I’m currently reading, sits a small envelope holder. This is where I keep notes friends have written. I didn’t plan for it to become a prominent place, but every time I’ve received a note from someone in the actual mail, there it goes, right on my desk where I can see it everyday, a reminder of my inability to do this on my own – this living and working and moving through life.

on my deskFor the past several months I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s autobiography of faith, The Seven Storey Mountain. (It’s a long book, but I’m also a slow reader.) He writes in fascinating detail of the time he spent as a student at Columbia in New York, indulging in all of the things young students in the late 1930s could indulge in, resulting in “confusion and misery.”

“Yet, strangely enough, it was on this big factory of a campus that the Holy Ghost was waiting to show me the light, in His own light. And one of the chief means He used, and through which he operated, was human friendship.” – Thomas Merton

Sharing life and friendship with a few peers at Columbia was in important part of a long journey Merton was on toward finding faith. When I read those words, I thought of the role human friendship has played in my own life, how I have both craved and feared vulnerability, how I have sought connection but also denied my need for it.

Nothing causes me to face my own humanity, frailty, and weakness than when I am in communion with others. Nothing causes me to see myself as I really am, to admit I’m not as great as I think, or to face my perceived entitlements than when I am in the midst of other people.

I am easy to live with in a room by myself. Lord, I don’t want to live in a room by myself. Except for when I do.

To know and be known is both compelling and repulsive to me. Do I even know what that means? Truly? I don’t know if I do.

Today on Ash Wednesday, I acknowledge my hopelessness apart from Christ, my anxiety outside of his presence, my certain death if not for his sacrifice.

I acknowledge I have come from dust and will return to dust again. But more than dying one day in the future, I have already died with Christ. I acknowledge my need to de-tatch from the obsessions and addictions that convince me my old man is still alive and re-attach to Christ as my only hope.

I also acknowledge that the way God moves on earth is through the hands and eyes and feet of people – both the ones I’m naturally drawn to and the ones who get on my nerves.

I am hopeless without Him.

I am hopeless without them.

“No matter how sad, wounded, neurotic, or needy we are, that may be exactly what some other person needs us to be at that time. We don’t know the ways we comfort and save each other, not only in spite of our wounds, but also in some cases, because of them.”

-Heather King, Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Therese of Lisieux

I did not grow up in a church that observed Ash Wednesday. In the past few years, I’ve started to learn a little more and have found the Lenten season of deeper reflection to lead into an even more meaningful celebration of the resurrection at Easter.

For further reading:

One Truth I Believe But Am Slow to Practice

They say it’s supposed to reach a balmy sixty-five degrees later this week. It’s hard to believe since this time last week we were counting down the hours to The Biggest Snowfall in Ten Years here in North Carolina. photo 1-2But I do believe them because that tends to be how it is here which is why it’s such a nice place to live. Winter comes long enough to make a snowman but doesn’t stay long enough for you to turn into one.

I need the winter, the blanket of cold, the hush of nature. I need the reminder that new life comes when the old life dies.

Last week in church, we prayed a prayer during our time of corporate confession of sin. I apologize I don’t have the reference to tell you who wrote it – when I get it, I’ll let you know. Here is the last part of that prayer:

“Empty us of the disguises and lies in which we hide ourselves from other people and from our responsibility for our neighbors and the world.

Hollow out in us a space that you can fill with our transformed selves: peace, a whole heart, a forgiving spirit, holiness, and laughter.

Fill us with Yourself, we pray, for your sake, and the sake of the world.”

Guess what doesn’t happen fast? The hollowing out.

Following this corporate confession, we sit for a time of silent confession, not a begging of forgiveness but a time to embrace the forgiveness that is already ours in Christ. I look forward to these few moments every week, moments of personal reflection in the midst of a room filled with people. And after the silence, we stand to move towards others for a few moments, a passing of the peace.

Every week without fail, I have to gather myself before meeting those around me. To turn from facing my sin to facing my neighbor is a difficult transition and I always wish they would give us more time between silent confession and communing with others.

homeBut that’s the point, isn’t it? Move toward others even as Christ moves within you I am asked, invited really, to move toward others in my weakness, not in my strength. Though I’ve always believed this to be true, it is not easy or comfortable to practice. These few moments in church are a whisper compared to living it out in my life. But it’s a rhythm I am beginning to embrace more now than ever before.

On this February Monday, I’m thinking of us, the Church. As we face those places in our souls that are frozen, I pray those hard spots would begin to thaw in the presence of Christ. May we not try to mop up the water that comes from the melting but may we offer it to somehow quench the thirst of those around us.

As I reflect on offering my weakness as a gift, I also consider what it looks like to do the same with my work. This week I’m sharing a couple of daily reflections for The High Calling. The first is called The Art of Your Work and the second will be published at the end of the week.

What is something you believe to be true and right but have difficulty practicing in your daily life?

the kind of movement that makes a difference

On a whim last Saturday, we decided to move the furniture around in our living room. This is a fairly familiar event in our house but the difference this time was John. Normally when I move furniture I wait until he’s gone, mainly because I work well with deadlines and I know I have to be finished before he gets home.

by the fireplace

But having him there meant I could bark orders instead of doing all the work myself. I found out I get really bossy and know-it-all-y when I’m moving furniture.

The thing about moving the TV to a less important wall is you also have to move the sofa.

When you move the sofa, you have to move the rug.

greensboro

Then the chairs need to go somewhere else and now there’s a big blank wall you need to fill and before you realize what you’ve gotten yourself into, three rooms of your house are completely different. (Cue mouse holding a cookie.)

living room

It feels just about right, now – an appropriate way to usher in a new season of change. I like how it fits.

My sunroom office is a little more full but I like it that way. It’s just the right space to settle in with Brennan Manning’s Souvenirs of Solitude in the mornings. His chapter called Really Human, Really Poor has been my morning reading for several days just because I can’t get over how true it is. He speaks of being poor in spirit but of resisting self-hatred, something I have struggled with understanding.

He tells this story and had me laughing outloud:

Distracted after a disturbing phone call, I left the monastery to give a talk to the inmates of Trenton State Prison and began with the outrageous greeting, “Well, it’s nice to see so many of you here!” And so it goes.

Frequently not in form, on top, or in control. That is part of my poverty as a human being, and self-acceptance without self-concern simply expresses a reality. An impoverished spirit prevents the poor man from being a tyrant to himself.

-Souvenirs of Solitude, page 92

His reaction to himself in that awkward moment caught my attention. There was no wringing of hands or heavy anxiety for having mis-spoken. There was only an acceptance of the reality of his own frailty accompanied by his refusal to hate himself for it.

And so I recognize a longing in my soul for this kind of lightheartedness. It helps to listen to Ellie Holcomb and Jillian Edwards sing With You Now. As I do, I take a few deep breaths in. It is in the delicate place of embracing my humanity without despising it – there is union with Christ in this space.

My to-do list is bulging, each task more time-consuming than the one I just finished. I have work to complete and a mounting sense of shame that the reason I’m unable to finish is not because it’s too much work but because I am lacking something vital to continue – organization, creativity, skill, the ability to focus.

All of those may actually be true.

But I’m learning my relief will neither be found in continuing to chase an ideal of my productive self, nor in hating myself for my inability to get everything done.

Rather than resenting my weakness, I believe Jesus is asking me to embrace my weakness. Being poor in spirit doesn’t mean despising self but releasing self from the expectation of being anything but poor. Small. Helpless. Worn.

My soul needs to remember the kind of movement that will make a difference:

Don’t try to handle your anxiety. Bring your anxiety into the presence of Christ.

Don’t try to fix your loneliness. Bring your loneliness into the presence of Christ.

Don’t try to hide your addiction. Bring your addiction into the presence of Christ.

Don’t try to change your attitude. Bring your attitude into the presence of Christ.

Don’t despise your humanity. Bring your humanity into the presence of Christ.

There is still responsibility, there is still action that comes from me. But my action is not to make right, to make whole, or to make better. My action is to usher my abilities, inabilities, failures and successes all into the presence of Christ.

Lord Jesus, remind us of your presence with us as we do the next right thing that makes sense. And may you keep our hearts light along the way.

what you can find in the ordinary moments

“The discovery of God lies in the daily and the ordinary, not in the spectacular and the heroic. If we cannot find God in the routines of home and shop, then we will not find him at all. Ours is to be a symphonic piety in which all the activities of work and play and family and worship and sex and sleep are the holy habitats of the eternal.”

Richard Foster, Prayer

These words of Richard Foster’s in his chapter called Praying the Ordinary resonated with me this morning so I thought I would share them with you. You’re welcome.

june

His words also remind me to remind you to come back here tomorrow to share some of the ordinary (and perhaps not so ordinary) things you have learned during the month of June. Here are some tips to write your post if you need them. I plan to have the linky up by around 10 am EST. Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

12 things your daughter needs you to say

In high school, I loved all those little sayings I heard Christians say. You know the ones – When God closes a door, he opens a window. Or Don’t put God in a box! My personal favorite was when one of my friends in my small group went through a break up with a boy, our small group leader proudly announced: Rejection is protection! And we all promptly dove for our journals to write that one in big, bold letters.

12 things

I tried to use that one once  on my current small group to see what they would do. They just stared at me and rolled their eyes. Then they laughed because they knew I was joking.

Maybe teenagers in 1995 were a lot more corny than teenagers in 2013. Or maybe it was just me.

There are things our daughters (and sons, too!) need to hear us say. And even though the clichés may encourage some of them and may look cute on a poster, they will most likely fall flat on young ears. Here is my best attempt to come up with 12 non-cliché things our daughters need to hear us say.

12 Things Your Daughter Needs You to Say - by emily p. freeman1. I have hope.

could tell her “Have hope.” But, I speak as a daughter here, it means more to me to see my parents have hope than for them to tell me to have hope. My hope (or lack thereof) speaks louder to her than my words about hope.

Show her you have hope – you trust God with your family, you have hope for her future, you see light in dark places.

2. Live with God rather than for God.

It is common to tell young people to live their lives for God. And though I get the sentiment, I have seen how telling her to live for God can be confusing. The truth is the life she now lives, she lives by faith in Jesus. To tell her to live for God could lead her to try to perform for acceptance rather than living from the acceptance that is already hers in Christ.

God isn’t sitting out in the audience of her life, waiting for her to get things in order. No, he’s standing with her on stage. Even better, he stands within her. Remind her of her kind, compassionate, powerful companion who goes with her wherever she goes.

3. I’m sorry.

Of all the words I’ve ever spoken to my children, these two seem to have had the most powerful impact. Admit you are wrong when you are wrong and own the consequences.

12 things 1

4. Be who you already are.

She needs to be reminded of who she is, not who she is expected to be. In Christ, she is loving, even if she is acting unloving. In Christ, she is patient, even if she is acting impatient. Appeal to her new creation identity rather than simply shaming her for her wrong behavior.

Tell her she is beloved. Tell her she is beautiful. Remind her what is already true. Invite her to live into the truth of who Christ is forming her to be.

5.You can’t save people.

Only God can do that. I grew up with a mom who knew Jesus and a dad who didn’t. So I spent four years of my young life carrying the weight of my dad’s salvation on my shoulders. The story ends well as he accepted Jesus when I was 11. But looking back I realize what a ridiculous expectation I put on myself. Remind her to pray for those who don’t believe, but to never carry the weight of trying to save them on her own.

6. I’m trusting Jesus. Want to join me?

John says this one a lot to our kids (our twin girls are 9 and our son is 6) when our family is in the midst of a transition or facing something potentially scary. It may seem a little corny for older ones, but the message it sends is this – I am trusting God and am okay whether you join me or not. I invite you to join me and would love for you to join me, but the choice is entirely yours. 

I’ve heard it said you can’t make a kid eat, sleep, or use the bathroom. And I’m going to add this: you can’t make a kid trust God. Remind her that your faith is your own and so is hers.

7. You have something to offer the world.

I realize this dances dangerously close to You are a unique snowflake. But it’s kind of true, isn’t it? She is the only one of her there has ever or will ever be. She is made in the image of God and has the distinct privilege of carrying that unique image around in the world. Christ lives within her and will come out of her through the filter of her unique personality. Remind her she has something (lots of somethings, actually) to offer the world. Walk with her as she experiments with what those things might be.

8. I trust Christ in you.

When I was in high school and would have a problem I was trying to work through, my dad would listen and offer advice, but he would often end our talks with this statement: “You know where to go.” He never freaked out, never tried to push me into a decision. He could have said “I trust you” and that would have built my confidence some. But what I knew was that he actually trusted Christ in me – and that is where the mystery Paul speaks about in Colossians 1:27 comes in – Christ is in me. So it’s me, but it’s him, but it’s me, but it’s him – what a beautiful mystery indeed.

For me, knowing my parents trusted me built my confidence – but knowing they trusted Christ in me took the pressure off.

9. You are deeply loved.

Or, to put it a little differently, I like to use these words from Andrew Murray:

why does God love us?

10. You are not alone.

This could be one of the most heartbreaking realities I see among girls – they feel so desperately alone. Remind her you are with her, Christ is with her, and be careful not to try to fix her loneliness. This may be the very intimate place where Jesus could show her his companionship as he never has before.

11. Want to go get some FroYo?

She might roll her eyes. She might say no thanks, Mom. She might rather spend time with her friends. Keep asking. When and if she finally says yes and you have the chance to sit across from her with a cup full of cake-batter flavored frozen yogurt with strawberries and gummy worms on top, look into her eyes and release your own agenda. If she wants to talk about the weather, let her talk about the weather. Be curious. Be open. Be available to her even if it seems like she doesn’t care if you’re available or not.

She does care. She absolutely cares.

12. ________

No, that’s not a typo. Sometimes the one thing our girls need to hear us say is nothing at all. Words mean nothing if our lives don’t speak for us. I am personally aware of how I sometimes use words of belief to cover up for my lack of real belief in my daily life. It’s easier to tell my kids a bunch of things that are true than it is to live as though I believe those things are true.

12 things to tell our daughters

I’m reminded of a story Brennan Manning shared in The Wisdom of Tenderness of the elderly Uncle Seamus who joyfully skipped along the Irish shoreline. And when his nephew asked him, “Uncle Seamus, you look so very happy. Do you want to tell me why?”

And he responded, “Yes, lad. You see, the Father is very fond of me. Ah, me Father is so very fond of me.”

May we be able to speak love into the lives of our girls only and always because our Father speaks love into us – and may we say with Uncle Seamus, the Father is very fond of me.

As I said before, this list is by no means exhaustive. I’m sure tomorrow I could come up with 12 more. But since I shared earlier this week one thing your daughter doesn’t need you to say, I thought it only appropriate to offer some things she might need to hear. And if I’m very honest, I need to hear them, too.

12 things your daughter needs you to say

What would you add to the list?

Want a resource to read with the teen girl in your life? I wrote a book called Graceful just for her. Read the first chapter here for free or watch the 3-minute mini-movie

for when you’re taking your work too seriously

While I appreciate reviews as a reader, I have learned to read them in moderation when they are about my own books. Whether the reviews are positive or negative, I’m always aware of the emotional potential for cans to open up revealing worms I would rather avoid.

april

While honest feedback on a work in progress is vital, a critique from a stranger on the internet once the work is finished doesn’t tend to help me as a writer. Still, sometimes I read them.

I recently read a review of Grace for the Good Girl where the reviewer basically said she wanted to shake me during the first half of the book. Another said she felt like the book was redundant. As if I said things over and over again, things that didn’t need repeating.

(See what I did there?)

Even though I still don’t think it’s the best idea for me to read a lot of reviews of my own work, I’m glad I did this time. Because something happened when I read them that wouldn’t have happened 18 months ago.

I laughed. I laughed because I kind of agree with them. Sometimes I read some of my own words and I want to shake me, too.

It’s easy to say you would do things differently if you had the chance, but life (and our unfortunate lack of time traveling machines) doesn’t give us the chance to do the same things differently.

We only have the chance to do the next thing now.

I hope my next book isn’t redundant. But you know, it might be.

Either way, one person’s redundancy is another person’s needed reminder.

What one person may call Christianese is another person’s lifeline.

What one person may call an unnecessary story might change another person’s life.

You can’t control the outcomes of your work. But if you read too many reviews (or ask for too many opinions) you might start to try. This is bad for everyone involved. Meaningful work flows out of an artist working from acceptance, not a technician working for acceptance.

You can only do the best with what you’ve been given and what you know at the time. Accept your truest identity from the hand of God. And then be honest, remain open, and keep a light heart along the way.

“For the most part wisdom comes in chips rather than blocks. You have to be willing to gather them constantly, and from sources you never imagined to be probable. No one chip gives you the answer for everything. No one chip stays in the same place throughout your entire life. The secret is to keep adding voices, adding ideas, and moving things around as you put together your life. If you’re lucky, putting together your life is a process that will last through every single day you’re alive.”

Ann Patchett, What Now?

What are some ways you keep a light heart about your work?

for alcoholics and the people who love them :: hope on Good Friday

This is not a post about whether or not it matters if you have a glass of wine with dinner. I’m not writing about how to help a loved one who is an alcoholic or how to get help for yourself or how to anything, really.

This is a post about hope. And for alcoholics and the people who love them, hope can be a hard sell.

***

Beer was as much a part of my family growing up as stockings at Christmas, white cake on our birthday, and the kittens living in our shed. I didn’t question it, didn’t wonder about it, and didn’t know to blame it for any of my insecurities.

with dad

My dad drank beer everyday until I was 10 years old.

I didn’t have to go to college to learn what ‘passed out drunk’ looked like.

He snored on the floor in the early evenings while we watched TV. We tossed a shoe or twenty in his direction during Little House on the Prairie because his snoring was so loud we couldn’t hear the details of what was happening in Walnut Grove.

I thought all the worlds dads came home and fell asleep on the floor.

***

There are a lot of stories I could share about those early years growing up so I’m surprised at what I’m about to share with you. Instead of something from those early days, it was this – from years after he stopped drinking.

***

By the time I went to college, my dad had been sober for over 10 years. He was a believer in Jesus by now and our family dynamic had changed from dysfunctional to slightly less dysfunctional. Everyone has their role and it seems like in families with addiction, the roles have a stronger hold and are more deeply rooted in insecurity.

I could be wrong about that.

But my role was to be the good girl and I carried on that way for many years.

A month before I was married, I went with my girlfriends to the beach, a sort of bachelorette weekend, I guess. They made me a veil to wear to dinner and we sang karaoke – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, of course – at a little restaurant with palm trees in the front.

beach

It was the best kind of Cameron-Diaz-romantic-comedy cliche.

But we weren’t drinking. I remember the waiter gave me a hard time about that, pushed and teased. It’s your bachelorette party! Live it up a little! I laughed it off the first few times he said it, but by the fourth time he came to our table and teased, I was done.

Looking back on that night at the restaurant, I wish more than anything to have been confident, breezy, and lighthearted with that waiter.

Instead, I pushed back, defended myself, told him if his dad was an alcoholic, maybe he would have made the same choice for his bachelorette party.

And besides all that, some people don’t need beer to have fun.

It was all very high-horse of me. Lord have mercy on my bratty soul.

We all come from the same mound of dust and here I was, being snippy with a flirty waiter, dirt all up in my teeth.

I went on for a while that way. My friends weren’t quite sure what to say and when I was finished I desperately wanted to sink into a hole beneath the table.

Unfortunately the booths at the restaurant we chose did not come supplied with trap doors.

I can still feel the anger of that night and it wasn’t simply about the waiter teasing us for not drinking at my bachelorette party. I just hated it was an issue at all.

I hated that a big amber colored arrow pointed to my history – my father, my grandfather before him – a genealogy of addiction.

I hated how beer made me afraid.

***

Dad stopped drinking when he was thirty-five. That’s how old I am now.

He didn’t stop because someone said the right thing, lectured the right way, loved him enough. He didn’t stop because I was a good girl or because mom made his favorite breakfast or because any of us asked him to.

He made the choice to stop drinking because he wanted to stop. I see it as a miracle.

Even though addiction is part of our family story, it isn’t the whole story. And it isn’t the finished story.

Addiction didn’t win.

But for years, it seemed like it would.

Good Friday promises otherwise. Good Friday promises that nothing can separate us from the love of God because love chose to be separated from Himself instead.

God turned on himself for our sakes. He tore himself apart so that our brokenness, our betrayal and our addictions wouldn’t be the end of our stories.

Jesus was separated so you will never have to be separate again. Even when it seems like you’re fighting a losing battle. Even when it seems like hope is dead.

Hope did die. But Hope didn’t stay dead.

hope

My parents have been married for 40 years. We look to them for wisdom and for counsel. We consider them friends.

We laugh together. We plan together. We have a dream together.

The same God who turned water into wine turns alcoholics into dreamers.

It doesn’t make sense and those two things don’t seem to go together, but they do somehow. And I don’t have to understand it for it to change my life.

***

Maybe your story is dark, scary, and fierce. Maybe life feels like one long good Friday – the death part. Maybe it would help to hear about hope from someone who was hopeless and then lived to tell about it – from an alcoholic himself.

My dad has had a blog longer than I have. He writes about hope, about change, about how life is better when you see how things fit. That’s meaningful all by itself, but it’s more meaningful when you know where he’s come from.

How does a history of addiction fit? He’s starting a series on Monday called Everything Fits: The struggler’s guide to confusion, waiting, regret, and hopelessness. You can learn more about that series on his blog. (and a little fun fact, those dots in his header are clickable, which to me feels like a cool secret).

But he’s also sharing his two e-books for free until Easter Sunday.

From Beer to Eternity: A little story of addiction and beyond :: “This is a story of impossibilities: an addict who couldn’t quit but did; a marriage that could have ended but didn’t; a man who seemed dead, but lived.” It’s available for FREE through Sunday at midnight, March 31.

Scary Hope: Courage and a kick to hug hope, face fear, and get going :: This one is FREE through March 31, too. You don’t have to own a Kindle to get the books; you can download a Kindle app for free at Amazon.

“Hope, wonderful hope! The bright sun in the morning, the ring of twelve-string guitars, fresh red strawberries, sleeping puppies, giggling babies, inspiring choruses that never end, and the way the air smells giddy on a surprising warm afternoon in March after a long frozen winter. That’s how your dream of fulfilled hope feels, only better. But first, the scary. Do you really want change? You know you have a longing, a hope. Maybe you don’t even know exactly what it looks like. But you yearn and you dream for something beyond your reach. You have the hope, but do you want the change?”

Gary Morland, Scary Hope

And one last thing: If you have a teenage girl in your life who considers her role in the family to be the good girl like I did, my book Graceful could be an appropriate read for her. It is on sale for only $5 at LifeWay through Easter Sunday, March 31.

don’t hate me because I’m dutiful

I talk a lot about my own personal struggle with the perfect invisible version of myself. Through books and blog posts, I’ve documented my journey of understanding that my identity and security are not based on my performance but are in Christ.

Because for so long I misunderstood the role of discipline and work in the life of the believer, I write as one wounded by impossible expectation. And so my story is laced with warning to the list-makers, rule-keepers and high-achievers, reminders that God is not looking for products, he longs for people.

One of my great fears in writing these things out is that I’ve somehow communicated that discipline, work, excellence, and determination are negative things.

They aren’t negative unless they become your god.

Discipline became god without my realizing it. It took years to tease out the truth, like Peeta after the Capital brainwashed him, I had to constantly weigh my own perception of God against scripture and ask, real or not real? 

This wasn’t a one-time, bright-light conversion moment. It was gradual, is gradual. I still ask those questions a lot.

Over the past several years, I have been walking up to discipline with cautious steps and loose grips, with the timidity of an addict approaching the street where she took her first drink. The old patterns whisper, habits circle around and nudge my hands to pick them up and wield them as weapons as I once did – to protect myself from other people, God, myself.

But grace speaks louder, is a solid place to lean.

I am becoming reacquainted with the spiritual disciplines and the meeting is sweet. Practices that I once saw as scorecards are now becoming to me sacred. There is sometimes a sense of confusion and questioning. Other times, there is peace and assurance. Christ brings answers but also mystery. We don’t get to know everything.

Once, that was terrifying. Now, it mostly brings comfort.

There is a certain beauty in repetition, in the breathing prayer, in the memorization of scripture. Maybe I’m just getting old, or maybe I’m experiencing more freedom. Probably both.

Two weeks from today, the book I wrote for high school girls will officially release. It’s leaking out in bookstores and there may even be some in stock already on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites (What?! I know.) Graceful was hard to write, mainly because of who it’s for. I sense the weight of responsibility to walk beside the next generation. I also sense all the ways I fall short in being able to do that well.

But there’s a whole book of my attempts and it’s coming to a bookstore near you. I hope it will be a good resource for you as you walk beside young women in your life. And if you haven’t yet read my first book, Grace for the Good Girl, it’s still half-off at LifeWay.

when full rooms make your knees shake

The room is packed to the corners with women, every round table nearly full with familiar faces. She introduces me quickly and I stand at the microphone, perusing the room.

Those girls were at our wedding. That one back there volunteers in our youth group. This one works at my kid’s school. There’s our pastor’s wife, my mother-in-law, the women who drove from Raleigh. There’s some friends who go to a different church, some girls I went to college with, a few women who work at LifeWay, college students home for summer. Surely they can’t be ready to graduate? Aren’t they still 16?

I begin to talk the way I do, hands moving too much, eyebrows raised to the ceiling, open. I am nothing if not open. And that is why I will later come home and close up in a ball, tightly sealed, quiet.

My hands shake remembering. I knew it would be a bit more difficult to speak in a room full of women I know. But I wasn’t prepared for the emotion of it. I didn’t cry, although a few times I felt like I might. It was a little like heaven, all those women gathered in one place, women I knew or used to know. Women I wished I knew better.

It also felt like something else, something of fear and self-awareness, of hiding under a big round table. Something of running away.

Three weeks ago I stood in front of a room filled with writers and speakers and strangers. I had fun there, felt sure of my calling there, spoke words and didn’t replay them.

But last week when I shared stories with a room made up of friends at my very own church in my very own neighborhood, well. I haven’t yet recovered. Being in the right place doesn’t always feel that great. Sometimes it feels terrifying, unsure, small. But small is a gift I haven’t stopped giving thanks for. I have tasted the miracles that come from weakness, from inadequacy, from a hard leaning into a source outside of myself.

This morning I read in the book of John, right there in the beginning, how the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. I know this Word is Jesus, that the Father was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him and through Him. And then John 1:16 sings truth in black and white, lifts off the page and colors my whole kitchen with light.

“For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.”

We aren’t the only ones who lean. This word grace means favor. A kindness. God, freely extending Himself to us, giving Himself away, leaning toward us. He leans toward us. 

I would still prefer to speak to a room filled with strangers. Isn’t it obvious why? It is easier to manage their opinions, to control what they see, to stay distant. To speak among friends is to risk rejection, fingers pointing, exposure. But this risk is worth it if we want to grow in community and be challenged to live what we say we believe. Is Christ really sufficient? Have you really received His fullness? Does grace really multiply?

My earthly eyes see full rooms that push me to my introverted knees. The Spirit begs me to see a different kind of full — fullness of heart, fullness of spirits made one with God, fullness of Emmanuel. We are not alone. Grace upon grace.

I close my Bible, consider the gifts, stare out the window three minutes too long. The words fullness and lean are still on my mind. I don’t have neat conclusions. I will carry these words with me into the day.