But I haven’t spent time IN the word. I haven’t STUDIED the word.
I think I read through the bible all the way because as a new believer, I didn’t know how to approach the Word of God.
I think I’ll start with John. I heard someone say that was a good place to start.
I don’t know about you, but when I first met God I felt totally unqualified to join His organization. I had no experience being a Christian and didn’t know if they took people like me. Aside from the fact that I didn’t look, act or talk like a Christian, I was overwhelmingly underqualified in every way to be part of this spotless team. But I was desperate.
My spiritual bank account was overdrawn. I had quit all my previous positions and was currently self-employed and didn’t like my boss all that much. I was ready for a new employer. However, I didn’t have a clue how to get my foot in the door.
How does one prepare a resume to be a Christian?
Under previous employment do I list all the faiths that I have dabbled in during my lifetime? What work history do I detail? I am not a Sunday school teacher. I have never been on a mission, anywhere. I haven’t led a bible study and can’t quote scripture.
My resume would look something like this:
Name: Jennifer Wilson
Best method of contact: Prayer
Position sought: Christian
Practicing Catholic 1968 –1984
Born to Catholic parents. Fulfilled the responsibilities of Catholic, including, but not limited to, Sunday school and church attendance, confession, genuflecting, standing, sitting. Able to recite the Hail Mary and The Lord’s Prayer. Received communion on a regular basis. Lit an Advent candle or two. Observed Lent, for the most part. Participated in several church functions. Owned a bible, probably.
Non-Practicing Catholic 1990 – 2004
Attended churches of all denominations for acceptance. Married by an Episcopalian minister. Had child baptized by a Catholic priest. Attended Methodist church out of convenience. Enrolled son in the Awana program through the Baptist Church for self-gratification. Participated in regular church service at least twelve times during a 15-year span. Developed the skill of relying only on myself and my abilities alone. When needed, and only when needed, relied on the counsel of friends, family, many antidepressants and paid professional therapists.
Wounded Soul 2004 –2006
After being confronted with circumstances I truly believed were beyond my control, sought refuge in local Christian church. Read bulletin and listened to the music. Expertly ignored the weekly message and diligently relied on guidance from paid professionals and well-meaning friends instead. Began to feel a familiarity with said church, however, made no commitment to it.
Know-It-All 2006 –2009
Performed all tasks required by single mother of three. Worked to support household, barely. Cleaned only when absolutely necessary. Cooked when I had to. Whined, moaned and cried on a consistent basis to any willing and unwilling ear. Developed a finely honed skill for blaming others for my circumstances. Strived to control every event and dilemma in my family’s life. Achieved the all too common status of well-meaning, pity-inducing, self-destructive Know-It-All.
Believer October 2009 – Eternity
Surrendered. Accepted that my ways had failed. Realized that problems in my life were too big for my mortal hands to fix. Turned everything over to an unfamiliar God, unwillingly. Trusted because there was no other option.
Achievements and Awards:
- Baptism, at infancy
- First Communion
- Accepting Jesus Christ as my savior.
Pretty pathetic, huh? If I were applying for any job in today’s market, I don’t think this would make the grade. My qualifications are far too sketchy. My only long-term commitment is not to commit at all. What an asset I would be! Can you imagine a prospective employer perusing this valuable body of work?
“Wow,” they would say. “Here’s just what we’ve been looking for. A person that has years of minimal experience in every area. No real expertise anywhere, except for messing things up.”
The only way my resume would escape the shredder is if the boss needed a good laugh! This shoddy sum of my life’s experience would never land me a job in the real world. But in the spiritual world, that’s a different story. When God got a glimpse of this, what did He do? Did He laugh at my misguided attempts to be a good person? Did He recount the times He presented challenges in my life and I turned away from Him? Did He rub my nose in my many past failures and sins which I conveniently omitted from the resume? Did He chastise me and scold me with an I Told You So attitude? No, He didn’t. Instead, He hired me.
That’s the beauty of God’s grace. Although my qualifications seem underwhelming at best, I am fully qualified to be a Christian. Now, let’s take a step back for a moment. I know, because of what the bible tells me, that I am accepted by God. I know that Jesus Christ died for my sins on the cross. I know that no matter what I do, if I ask for forgiveness, I will receive it. And I know that God loves me. Even though God sees me as fully qualified, based on my lack of experience, I still feel unqualified. And I don’t think I’m alone.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
1 Corinthians 3:16 ESV
My spiritual awakenings don’t always come from recovery meetings. Sometimes they come when I least expect them.
I recently moved my living room furniture around, again. I am an avid furniture mover. Some would call it an obsession. I prefer to call my need for constant change courageous and bold. So many people are afraid of change, especially people in recovery. They are afraid to change jobs, change hairstyles or change homes. They are petrified to move out of their comfort zones and try something different. Not me. I embrace change. I thrive on it.
Before I got into recovery, I always felt like I needed more. More money, more house, more prestige, more recognition, more love. I filled the sense of lack by changing things outside of myself. I bought new cars, new toys, new clothes. I repainted the rooms of my house every year and moved the furniture almost monthly. Now that I’ve been in recovery for a while I’m better in a lot of ways.
I realize that I will never find the things I was looking for on the outside. I will only find them inside of myself. But I still like to move my furniture.
Shortly after Christmas, I pulled the living room apart again and tried to come up with some new and creative design for our living room furniture. I have lived in the same house for almost six years, so I’ve tried just about every arrangement. Some I’ve liked more than others. But one in particular, the one where the sofa sits tightly against the wall, bugs me. I can’t stand having the furniture against the wall. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I think it has something to do with the fact that every picture I’ve ever seen of high end homes shows spacious living rooms with wide openings and traffic areas around the furniture. These pictures also almost always show the furniture facing fireplaces and never the television. That should have been a clue that this type of set-up was a complete fantasy. Regardless, I always felt better when my furniture was positioned with walking room behind it.
I pulled and pushed the three larger pieces of furniture off my area rug and surveyed the room. The walls were pretty far apart and the bookshelves and fireplace were still sitting where I had left them. The long wall of sliders provided a beautiful view onto our rarely used pool and patio area. I looked at the furniture and began imagining various ways to arrange it so that I could see outside, see the television and still have room to walk through comfortably. The living room sits squarely between the master bedroom and the rest of the house, so the foot traffic is quite heavy.
In the past I have positioned the pieces tightly together, leaving wide walking paths behind the sofa or chairs. I’ve also created narrow walkways beside end tables and between furniture at different times and that worked well for a while. But each of these strategies left me walking behind, around or over obstacles. And although I liked the look of the room each time, I really thought it was the way it should be, each of these arrangements caused me to exert more energy than necessary as I made the countless trips from bedroom to anywhere else in the house, bobbing and weaving around tables and sofas.
I thought about all of this as I pulled the two chairs to one side of the room and left the sofa against the far wall. I had no intention of keeping it there. But as I looked around, I realized that doing so left a wide, clear path through the living room. It opened up so much space and provided direct access to the most utilized rooms in the house. It allowed me to walk to the places I needed to go most, with the least obstruction. I fought the urge to pull the sofa away from the wall and instead went and sat down on it.
Hmmm, I thought as I looked across the wide room and out onto the pool and trees beyond. Not bad. Then I looked at the two chairs cozied up together several feet away. Okay, so the room wasn’t snug and comfy with all the furniture cuddled up together. It wasn’t elegant, with each piece tilted gently toward the other as if waiting for the perfect book club chat. It was, however, perfectly suited for our lifestyle. The chairs were almost like theater seats, aimed directly at the television with perfectly positioned end tables and a big, soft ottoman. The sofa was far enough away to escape from the rest of the family, but close enough to engage with them, too. And the path in between, the wide open space in the middle of the room allowed unobstructed, direct access to all points of the house.
I laughed at the irony of my situation and how similar it was to my recovery journey. I had fought for years to keep the furniture the way I thought it should be.
I had gotten bruised and banged up walking through the room because I had insisted on jamming chairs and sofas together. Corners of tables and edges of ottomans had tripped me up more times than I care to remember, all because I had insisted on doing it my way. And now, even though this set-up wasn’t my first choice, I realized it was the best choice right now. It gave me what I needed – comfort, engagement with others, safety – and most of all, the shortest, easiest, softest path to where I needed to go.
I think of my recovery every time I walk through my living room. I think about how in the beginning, I fought the suggestions. I held on to my beliefs, my thoughts, my ways, sure that I could rearrange the recovery steps and the suggestions to suit my tastes. I wasn’t ready to move the furniture against the wall. It took a lot of scrapes and bruises before I became willing to try that. And sometimes, I still want to position things my way, regardless of how much more work it makes for me in the long run. But when I walk though my living room, I realize that this way, the suggested path of recovery, is not only the shortest distance between two points, it is also the easier, softer way.
The 2007 movie the Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, made it to the Academy Awards because it resonated with millions of people. We could identify with Morgan Freeman’s character, a man who had dreams he wanted to fulfill before he died. For many of us, if we didn’t have a bucket list before that movie, we did after.
My bucket list has several things on it, some of which may be on yours. I want to travel to Egypt and see the pyramids. I want to see the Redwood Forest in California. I want to write a bestselling book. And I want to go to the Academy Awards.
When my husband and I were discussing our bucket lists, this one came as a surprise to him. “Really? The Academy Awards?” he said, a puzzled look on his face. “That would be kind of cool, but I’ve never heard you mention that before.”
Oh yes. I’ve always wanted to go to the Academy Awards.
In my younger year I watched the Academy Awards every year. My girlfriends and I were avid readers of the tabloids and knew all of the actors by name, age and dress size. Many of my early years as a stay-at-home mother were spent flipping through the latest version of US Weekly or People, reading the latest gossip on who was having an affair with whom. And what was the hottest fashion trend that season. My personal favorite was the What Not To Wear section featured in the back of the magazines. In it, expert fashionistas would deftly and comically rip apart the unfortunate ensemble of some pop icon. My friends and I would eat it up, adding our own comments.
I always saw being at the Academy Awards as some great achievement.
Oh, to be in a room with that much fame, fortune and stature. To me, talent took a back seat to the diamonds, good looks and ridiculous amounts of money that would engulf me as I sat among the stars. I never had the desire to be one of them, just rub shoulders with them. I just wanted to inhale their wealth and popularity. I thought that if I got lucky, some of their good fortune would rub off on me.
One year, during the height of my idol worship, I researched the Academy Awards to see if average nobodies like myself could actually buy a ticket. Just as I thought, this was not an option, exactly. Hollywood award ceremonies, like most award ceremonies, are more about illusion than excellence. Oh, don’t get me wrong. There are many worthy works of art and artists that receive well deserved recognition. But to us, the people on the other side of the flat screen, it’s about fantasy and illusion.
We see brightly shining diamonds. They’re on loan from Harry Winston. We see beautifully cut dresses wrapped against flawless bodies. The Spanx never show. We see perfectly straight, brighter than white teeth, smiling into our living rooms. The coffee and cigarette stains were bleached away hours before. And we see joy in the eyes of the happy couple, Hollywood love on the red carpet. The divorce papers were filed the following day.
But to me, being there would have been enough. And I discovered that I could go as a seat filler. That’s right. Because to the viewers at home, the illusion of grandeur and perfection has to be maintained at all times. What would we think if there were empty seats at such a glitzy event as the Academy Awards? I mean, really? If the stars don’t want to attend, then it can’t be that good, right? Why should I watch if they can’t even fill the house? So seats are raffled off for a price.
Would I have done it? You bet! And if I had, I know I would have loved it. I would have sat among Hollywood royalty. I would have dined with kings, laughed with queens and applauded with fame. No one would have ever read my name off of a card, and I certainly wouldn’t be escorted off the stage by a Venus-like model, holding my shiny Oscar. But I would have acted the part. And no one sitting at home would have ever known the difference.
I have long since overcome my adoration of all things Hollywood. But I find that I still only act the part in my faith life.
And I know other people do it, too. Are you a seat filler for God? When you finally attend the greatest award show of all, and we all will, will you be sitting in the audience unnoticed? Or will your name be called? Will the holiest academy of all recognize your contribution?
Too many of us are seat fillers. I have been one. Who knows? Maybe I still am. I know I’m not alone. I go to church and see the same people in regular attendance every week. But when they leave, do they discard their Vera Wangs and don their Dockers, back to normal life? Do they look like a star one hour a week, only to be unrecognizable the rest of the seven days? Or after the show, do they get into character, their true character, and risk embarrassment at the expense of great achievement? Do they try to hone their God-given talents and bring joy to the audience of mankind regardless of whether they ever get an Academy Award or not? All true stars do. They strive to be the best at what they do. Have you ever cried at a movie? Have you laughed so hard you almost peed during a great comedy? The artists responsible have touched millions and their works have moved us. Some have even changed our lives.
For all of us seat fillers out there, when’s the last time we’ve touched someone else’s life? When have we chosen, rather than sitting idly by as others take the risks, to actively strive to use the gifts God gave us to make a difference?When have we made the conscious decision, after the sermon and snacks, to be a star for God? And whether we feel qualified or not, God made us to shine for him. No raffles here folks. There’s only one way to get to the ultimate award show – we must use the talents he blessed us with to bless others. Taking what we do and using it to impact others for God guarantees us not only an invitation, but also a pretty good shot at getting the greatest award of all.
– from Confessions of a Clumsy Christian – Unqualified (get more information here)
My friend’s husband has this very annoying habit of interrupting people when they speak. I’ve known this man for decades and he has always done this. Sometimes it bothers me more than other times. It also seems to really aggravate his wife and close friends. I assume they are aggravated because they roll their eyes when he starts a conversation over theirs. They’ve also come right out and said his behavior pisses them off. His wife has expressed enormous amounts of frustration at being ignored by him.
“I’ll be talking to him and it’s as if I’m not even speaking. His eyes will just glaze over and then he’ll start a completely different conversation, right over mine.”
When she talks about his behavior I can see the anger and hurt in her eyes. I’ve seen him do it to her and to others and have kind of just come to accept it as arrogance. I mean, he must think everyone around him is just trivial and their words are uninteresting. Why else would he steam roll them with complete disregard for their feelings?
It’s such a part of his character that when I see him at social gatherings, I can count the seconds from when someone begins a conversation with him to when he checks out. It’s usually about fifteen seconds. Then there is a vacant, faraway look in his eyes for about another five to ten seconds. Then – bam! He strikes a brand new conversation up with someone else entirely. It would actually be comical if it weren’t so rude. His wife has learned to develop a thick skin about it in recent years. Well, actually they are callouses from years of being verbally driven over by him.
Then recently, his wife had an epiphany. She and I were having lunch with another friend who has been having some emotional problems. Her moods have been swinging violently from kind and gentle to dark and gothic. One day she’ll be on fire, ready to conquer the world, her exercise program and her children’s attitudes with finesse and determination. The next she will find herself in a pit of quicksand, unable to move her feet even an inch. She finally got an appointment with her psychiatrist and in preparation, spent weeks on Google in order to be able to present her case to the doctor and fully diagnose herself.
We joked about this because we have all done this. I have found myself spending many late nights with Dr. Google, certain I have every ailment under the sun. I carefully document my moods, mysterious rashes and spots that I’m certain are lupus or cancer. Then, when I finally get to the psychiatrist and lay all the facts on the table, she has the audacity to misdiagnose me and charge me $200. The gall.
My friend told us about her symptoms as we picked at our salads, hoping the greens would balance out our overindulgence during the holidays. She described the mood swings, the headaches, the voices in her head. And then she began talking about the focus issues.
“I know I’m ADD. I start projects all the time and never finish any of them. I can’t remember anything from one day to the next. And when people talk to me, I can’t focus on what they’re saying. It’s like I just space out. I can see their lips moving, but after a few seconds of listening, my mind just goes AWOL and I’m completely lost. I feel like an idiot so I don’t say anything. Then, rather than sitting their feeling stupid, I just start another conversation because I can’t remember what they were talking about.”
Wow. Her behavior was identical to that of my other friend’s husband. I looked at my thick skinned friend and could tell that she got it, too.
“That’s exactly what my husband does!” she squealed. “I mean, that’s exactly what he does!” She went on to explain that even though one of their children has ADD, she never really noticed the same behaviors in her husband. But after listening to our friend, she was certain that her husband’s rudeness, his disinterest, were merely symptoms of his ADD.
After that lunch, my friend grew a new empathy for her husband. Rather than rolling her eyes and getting annoyed at his behavior, she simply kept her words brief and to the point. She chose to accommodate his limitations rather than chastise his shortcomings. She chose to understand rather than reprimand. She took a long, hard look at herself and her reactions to his conversational abilities and realized she had been casting stones rather than digging through them for the facts.
How often do we do that? How often do we cast rather than catch the stones that build walls of resentment? If we would just take a moment to open our hands and sift through the soil and brush away the debris of annoyance and hurt to see what lies beneath, perhaps we would find treasure. Maybe we would find a diagnosis, an answer, empathy, patience, diamonds. We might find those special river rocks that when placed gently on the hearts of others, when positioned just right in our relationships, can soften and heal. We might choose to catch the smoothest of those stones before they slip through our fingers and get lost in the choppy water below.
I’ve been told a grateful heart is a happy, sober, serene heart. So today, I want to share 25 things that I’m thankful for.
1. Patience – the patience my family has for me when I’m short-tempered, moody and generally ugly.
2. That feeling you get when you open your house windows for the first time after a long hot Florida summer or a cold, icy, northern winter.
3. That I don’t want to kill myself today.
4. That he had the affair.
5. Fingers that allow me to write the thoughts in my head.
6. Google and how it has expanded my knowledge on all things and how it has informed me of all the illnesses I wasn’t aware I had.
7. John Baker and Celebrate Recovery.
8. That I don’t apologize for things I’ve already apologized for.
9. That God does for me what I can’t and won’t do for myself.
10. Jeggings because they always fit.
11. That I don’t stop doing all the right things just because I did one wrong thing.
12. For a husband who is willing to do anything I ask of him and who loves me enough not to.
13. That my dogs are relatively housebroken.
14. That I can have adult conversations with my adult sons.
15. That I can honestly say, turning into my mother is not a bad thing after-all.
16. For the fact that on most days, I don’t hate myself.
17. Tile floors (see 13.)
18. That my daughter trusts me with her secrets.
19. That every day, I have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of other people, and sometimes I actually use that opportunity for good.
20. Mint-chocolate chip ice cream.
21. My sobriety
22. That someone might read this and feel better as a result.
23. For God reminding me that as long as I feel better as a result of writing this, it doesn’t matter if anyone ever reads it.
24. Hope and all the people that give me little pieces of it every day.
25. Friends who hold me accountable and believe in me more than I believe in myself.
Halloween has always been one of my favorite times of the year. When my boys were little we used to make killer jack-o-lanterns and do the holiday up like nobody’s business. We camped every October and would decorate our site like a haunted house. The kids would enter costume parades at the campground and the smell of campfires and fresh crisp apples still linger in my mind a decade after moving away from New England and the cool autumn weather. A lot has changed since then. Fall in Florida is quite different from chilly northern nights. My boys are grown and we don’t camp on Halloween anymore.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is my love of homemade costumes. My daughter and I discussed several costume ideas before she broke the news to me in the car the other day, the news I dreaded and hoped I would never hear from one of my children. “I don’t really like homemade costumes, mom.”
I almost drove off the road but managed to keep it together while saying the Serenity Prayer in my head. I couldn’t believe I gave birth to a child who didn’t want a homemade costume. After years of successes with Batmans, or would that be Batmen? Woody’s, Buzzes, Legoles – again, would that be Legoli? I even made my oldest a Captain Underpants costume one year. And the mailbox. That was truly spectacular. Jackson wanted to be a big blue postal mailbox when he was about nine. And he wanted his best friend to be a mailman. They won the town’s costume parade and I couldn’t have been prouder. Really, I’m a master at costumes.
When my daughter broke the news, I was quite shocked. Zoe let me make costumes for her when she was little. But over the years she had begun to insist on store bought numbers and has only let me add my own personal touches to them. However, the news of not liking homemade hit me like a ton of bricks. I managed to get over it about as quickly as someone finding out they’re adopted. I sucked it up and decided to let her have her way. I knew that at 11 she was gonna win this battle and I would hold out for a future victory on something more important like the length of her prom dress.
So off we went to various stores. After nearly an hour of incredibly draining shopping we were both quite irritable and hangry. The last words Zoe uttered as we left the store on the way to get food were, “We could have made half of those ourselves, and probably better.” I grabbed that window of opportunity and yanked it open. With full bellies, Zoe and I huddled up the way people do nowadays, with Netflix and laptops and began scouring the internet for good costume ideas. We settled on a simple design that was comfortable, cheap and easy to remove – the Naked Sim.
We spent Sunday cutting, measuring and burning our fingers on hot glue. Josh came home and helped us finish up the green diamond on Sunday night and we added the finishing touches on Monday. It was a two day family project and I loved every second of it. Zoe did most of the work because I let her. I’m making progress with my control issue and only corrected her about a dozen times instead of a thousand.
When the costume was complete Zoe ran off to her room to put it on. Josh and I sat in the kitchen nibbling on homemade pizza as we waited. I looked at the man who, after two very long days at work, came home to two crazy girls who wanted him to work even more. I looked at him and was grateful that he was my husband, that he was Zoe’s dad, that he never ran out of givingness. I was grateful that he was there to remind me of how I want to be when I grow up.
“Are you ready?” Zoe asked from her dark doorway? We waited in anticipation as she made her grand entrance. The green diamond held together by electrical tape, a headband and a coat hanger floated magically above her head as the foam board she cut, measured and glued flanked her front and back. She smiled as the light inside her diamond faded on and off just like it did in the video game.
She loved the costume but I think I loved it more. I loved it because she had made it. I loved it because Josh had helped. I loved it because we laughed, giggled and worked as a team, as a family, putting it together. I loved it because even though it might be the last year any of my children let me help them make a homemade costume, it won’t be the last one I ever make.
As my children get older I am reminded that many of the things they are experiencing will be lasts for me as a parent. That used to be hard to deal with and sometimes it still is. But it is also beautiful. Because every last, every closed door, every discarded Halloween costume has a story that led up to it. It has a past of its own that can be told and shared around campfires on cool autumn nights or on sweaty tropical ones. Every last is a reason to celebrate and be grateful. This Halloween as my daughter blinks her way down the busy streets of suburbia, I will smile a bittersweet smile and I will be thankful. And then I will steel all her Reese’s.
“If I hadn’t heeded the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I too would still be blind to the crazy contradictions between my beliefs and my behaviors.” – from the Celebrate Recovery Bible, Janet’s Story
I had been taking a Celebrate Recovery Step Study class at my church and was four months in when I heard that line. As I had been strengthening my faith and was believing more and more in God and His love for me, I was also slipping further into a the guilty cycle of alcoholism and denial. Then, one day in class, we read Janet’s story out of the Celebrate Recovery bible. That last line was what did me in.
“The crazy contradictions between my beliefs and my behaviors.”
I had been living those crazy contradictions forever. I had been spending months in the class strengthening my faith. That alone alone was weakening my ability to live a double life. It was that line that described the insanity of my alcoholism. It was that line that saved my life. It was that line that took the tiny sliver of willingness in my heart and ripped it wide open. A week later I admitted my powerlessness over alcohol.
Since then I’ve recognized many more contradictions in my life. I can tell you I’m compassionate but I really have a hard time tolerating annoying family members. I want you to think that I’m full of humility but on the inside I want you to know I’m a bad ass writer, super proud of my accomplishments and will gladly accept any and all forms of flattery. I want you to think I’m secure in my sense of self and don’t care what you think about me when in reality, your opinion does affect me. I want to be physically fit but still binge on Peanut M&Ms.
Crazy contradictions still exist in my life and probably always will. But today I know how to spot them. And more importantly, I know what to do about them. I know that I can turn to God, to my awesome higher power and say, “Hey Big Daddy, I’m kind of faking it here, feeling a little like a fraud. I could really use your gentle guidance, or, if you see fit, a good, hard shove to get me closer to reconciling my behaviors with my beliefs.”
Yeah, I could say that. Or, I could just say, “God, please help me be more like the person I know you want me to be.” And that’s enough. Because as long as I have willingness, even just a teeny, tiny, sliver of willingness, God can get in there and do His thing.
Yesterday was one of those “really glad to be a mom” days. My hubby and I were at a technical college with our son Jackson. We had been there for awhile and were listening to the orientation specialist tell us all about the college. She also told us all about herself, her daughter and other irrelevant things. I understand sales. She was trying to connect. But she was trying too hard. And she was interrupting me every time I tried to ask a question or explain Jack’s academic history to her.