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How to Love a Drunk: Bits of My Story are published and #FFWgr

invincible summer within

How to Love a Drunk

When you’re an alcoholic you get to tell your story  and admit to your illness at the oddest moments. There is usually no time to prepare emotionally or to get the words just right.  What comes is what comes.  I actually enjoy these unrehearsed moments.  The questions I’m asked push me to think about my sobriety in a new way.

Friday there I was outlining the basics of my recovery to a program director for a youth counselling program we’re looking at for one of the kids.It is completely unemotional task, to tell a doctor the details chronologically. Very unlike the real toll it took to write recently for Today’s Christian Woman. How to Love A Drunk, you probably know, is a story of addiction that includes healing and grace and Tom’s selfless love. This story took weeks to write. I interviewed Tom for the painful and awkward bits that I don’t remember and it was hard.  Really hard! But I’m happy with the outcome.  And I’ve already received feedback that the story is helping others.  That makes the sacrifice as well as the awkward tender feelings worth it.

“An alcoholic is one for the rest of their lives, whether they quit drinking or kill themselves abusing, so love has to prepare for the worst but never give up hope.”

If it requires a subscription to Christianity Today to read it, I apologize.  Their online subscription is $9. (This may not be worth it.)

Festival of Faith & Writing

Next week I head to the Calvin’s Festival of Faith & Writing.  I’m excited and looking forward to the alone time that will inevitably come.  If you’re headed there too feel free to FB message me or text.  There will be time to meet IRL some of the fun people I’ve connected with online.

I’m excited to hear literary heroes speak.  Anne Lamott wrote Bird by Bird and Traveling Mercies among other favorites. I hope she’s as funny IRL.  James McBride’s The Color of Water:A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother is one of my favorite books.  Other speakers I’ll seek out include Scott Cairns, poet, Okey Ndibe and Richard Foster possibly Rachel Held Evans, the popular blogger and Jeff Chu who wrote Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America.  There is always an inspiring line up.

I’m also anticipating that it will be a good experience to be a part of this Festival Circle:

Suffering and Salve: Writing and Believing in Seasons of Illness and Pain. Illness and suffering can provoke powerful questions in the creative spirit, but they can also drain a writer’s physical, emotional, and spiritual resources. This circle will discuss how a writer’s creative process and spiritual state are affected by suffering and how other writers have engaged with, or disengaged from, their craft in times of personal suffering.

I am looking forward to meeting many friends from my writing world.  So much has changed in our lives since Tom and I went together two years ago. And I’m grateful to go all, considering our circumstances. But will you pray that I wouldn’t allow my introvertedness and my current state of mind to be a liability? 

And I’ll be back to writing in a few weeks unless something powerful hits.  Thanks for being such faithful readers and friends.

Melody

{reflecting on the past year and turning 46}

I have come far. I have run hard. I feel strong.

I am proud of my learning to harness perseverance and need. Twenty seven pounds ago, I hated myself and today I feel lithe and strong.  All this, accomplished with an iron will, though a little obsessively neurotic at times.  I know, I am strong. And this is good, this self-love, for one who loathed herself for most of her life.

But I know there is more — to know, to learn, more to my life.  I am always pressing life for more and this dissatisfaction, while frustrating at times,  is  also who I am.  I accept it.  

I have been running, strong.  But perhaps away from or around, not through Jesus and the community of believers I am a part of these days. Even as I join — leaning into community, giving myself away, so that I see pieces and part of me all over the place.  In words and images, in relationships — all good things, still I have held something important back.

“I am not in love with the church” she said. And as I read this offering, words from a deeply thoughtful writer whom I read trembling with her conviction, every time.  Her words, like good writers do, carve into my heart.  I was undone by them, slayed.  Broken by her words, I had to acknowledge its truth.

In me.

For I have tried so hard to love, prayed for it even.  Known how right it is to love the bride of Christ, the church.

But I avoid her, even as I am the butt of pastors jokes about introverts on a Sunday morning. Oh how I hate the “greet perfect strangers” time of the church week.  Yes, I resent it, but really deep down this isn’t about being shy.  I don’t love the Bride of Christ.

I look down, avoid eye contact, trying not to see her.

I am shaken by my stone cold heart.

He said, love others as you love yourself. And these words fell on a heart that was running, afraid to love.

I’ve come far, run hard and strong toward God– I love Him and He fills me.  He gathers up all my fear, the anxious heart that grips me strong, that is not allowing change to come into me.

I am strong but I am weak.  He longs for me to step closer, sit longer, open up, be.  Allow the eucharist to transform me in the quiet of space that I

don’t fill, don’t control, where I don’t speak.

Let God transform.

“You’re running on your own strength,”  the Holy One whispered to me, over and over this week.  And I know that I am.  Admitting it is a small, sweet release of pressure that has built up as I got strong.  I was even frightened by my strength.

“Lay down ego and pride and the feelings of being not good enough.

Lay down your mind that swirls, a windstorm of thoughts that never stop, making you feel slightly crazy all the time. 

Lay down the hopes, the dreams, the plans.

Lay down control, learn from me. 

Lay down desire for powerful influence.

Lay down comparison that kills joy and everything good, that makes your mouth taste bitter.

Lay down fear that frequently cripples.

Lay down the need to be seen as smart.

Lay down,

kneel

acknowledge the ugliness inside you.”

Hear me: YOU ARE PERFECT.

Stop

running on your own strength.  

Let me be your refuge and strength.

Surrender to the Cross

ever and always being in a state of

becoming.”

And so, I am learning this.  I’ll admit the thought of letting go frightens me but I long to truly love God, myself and my neighbor, as we’re commanded, so much so that this becomes a sweet surrender.

And it is to be daily.

Not everyone is a white male, with all access!

A friend sent me this article in Christianity Today, because of what I wrote yesterday, mentioning Rob Bell.  Upfront, it asked:

“Do you think it is wrong for Rob Bell to question traditional views of heaven and hell? Answer: I don’t care. Do you think it is wrong for traditionalist writers to label Rob Bell a universalist? Answer: I don’t care.
Do you think it is wrong for every Christian with an iPhone to tweet their answers to the above questions from restaurant bathrooms and then go home and blog about it? Answer: Now there’s an interesting question.

Of course, we care about the doctrines of heaven and hell.  As Bell reminds when I heard him interviewed on Good Morning America what we think about heaven and hell informs what we believe about God and how we understand what it means to respond to the suffering around us, here and now.  Informs how we live out heaven and hell right now.  And it informs what to think about injustice here and now.  And that I agree with.

Oh, a controversy was stirred and it will sell a bunch of books and Rob Bell will survive to preach another Sunday.  But I don’t really care.  In How social media changed theological debate, the author John Dyer goes on to say something MORE IMPORTANT.   In fact the more I think about it, it is critical to this conversation.

But my response is different than Dyer’s.

Dyer says:

“Throughout the history of public theological debate, there was one constant—those debates only took place between a few select people—Moses, Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, and so on—who gained respect through a lifetime of scholarship….In pre-2004 Christianity (that is, Christianity before Facebook was invented), only a small group of Christian leaders and teachers had access to the printing press—but today everyone has WordPress. In pre-2004 Christianity it was difficult to become a published author, but today everyone is surrounded by dozens of “Publish” buttons.”

He is gravely concerned with the quality of the debate.  The quality of the conversation, teaching and writing on-line because with the advent of WordPress any ol’ person can express themselves.  And I would never argue against a need for quality conversation or scholarship! But that doesn’t answer a more important question of who is writing and teaching?

The culture is changing rapidly.  Books are becoming less relevant, though I for one will always buy and read books printed on paper.  Even so, yesterday I found myself longing for a Kindle because there was a book I wanted to read immediately!  The church needs to catch up to the immediacy of our culture and how it communicates.

Many pastors still do not Tweet or have a Facebook account.  Mine does not and I am sure it is not just because it is too hot — unpredictable — with much opportunity for people to misinterpret.  It’s also time consuming.  And mentally degrading to clarity of thought. If you are working all week to compose your thoughts on a particular topic for a sermon, it can’t be helpful to constantly be distracted by multiple media.  And yet, hipster pastors are online frequently and do these things.  As do many of the younger pastors in my church.  I am sure they spend much more time and energy than they would like thinking about what’s wise to say or not say.

The fact is one thing hasn’t changed, even as the culture does, our need to use restraint, to respond with maturity and self-control .  These are things that one would wish Piper and others had, even when tweeting.  Our words still matter!  Our heart, mind and soul — even more so than in the pre-Facebook age — is out there for the world to scour over!

Here’s what is most important to me about this conversation.

This new social media gives power to people of color and women — to those that have traditionally had less access to theological education, opportunities for preaching, teaching, and writing and getting published. (Even the homeless.)

So while I applaud Dyer’s thoughts about who should speak, teach and write in the specific situation, one must remember that not everyone is a white, male with all access to publishers, to power and to influence.  Yes, everyone needs to exercise restraint when it comes to social media.  But the new social frontier gives a voice to those of us who have traditionally been kept out of the conversation, the board room, seminaries, and these voices and viewpoints need to be heard in these critical times.

Why is it that each book suggested at church for extra reading in the last year was written by a white man?  Or that almost every song sung on Christian radio, and thus in churches, has a man singing or writing it?  Or that all the elders at my church are men?  And the teaching team is all men? Why are conferences full of Godly Christian men, with perhaps one female or person of color, MAYBE?  Why?

So, my response to John Dyer is “You may knock blogs because the level of thinking isn’t on the level of Moses and Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, and so on … well, have patience!

  • Until the brick and mortar institutions change for women and people of color, we need places like the internet in order to be heard.
  • Until you or I can name a Latino or Latina or African-American or female theologian or two, as quickly as you can think of NT Wright or J.I. Packer or John Piper we need the internet in order to be heard.
  • Until my pastor can name an up and coming female pastor or theologian, as readily as whatever man is on the tip of his lips, we still need this medium to bring change
  • I believe until it is just as commonplace to hear the perspective of a woman or a person of color in your life we need the internet in order to bring change. It is messy, and imperfect, but it gives access. 
I would not have my story published if it were not for connections made on-line. 

Shalom!

Melody

Here’s what I said yesterday.

—————–

In Defense of Women.  This was interesting and not just because he mentioned me.  It relates to not having women’s voices as a part of “the conversation.

Aging, Legacies and more Time with our Family

my parents did as well as they could

I often wonder if I am too hard on the memory of my father.  As the years go by the memories fade good and bad ones.   A couple of things happened this weekend that made me think of my father.  He died in his early sixties.  He should have had another thirty years.

92-year old Billy Graham was interviewed recently.   He has come to the time of his life when he spends a lot of time alone, requiring the care of others.  I suppose that stage of things makes one reflective.

When asked to give advice to those who are aging he said “Accept itAnd thank God every day for the gift of that day.”

I do dread getting old.  And yet I have this idea that I will just sort of live on in perpetuity with my body and mind falling apart.  I have joked that I want to be euthanized to save everyone the misery of my madness gone out of control.

My father wouldn’t accept that he was sick or was going to die, so much so that he refused to talk about when he was gone.   Even when he was diagnosed with brain tumors in regions of his brain that would leave him without speech and would impact his ability to sort out emotion.  And yet as he slowly left us, his body breaking down from the chemotherapy and his mind  slowly slipping away from us, he became meaner. And more confused about reality.  And eventually he couldn’t form words.  One or two here and there in the week that he died were like small gifts to those who received them.

His very last words to me, when I told him I loved him, were “I love you more.”

When he was still cognizant and before the surgery he did to his credit want to clear the air. Those last conversations differed for each of us daughters.  In mine, I spoke more than he did.  Fearful, I told him his anger and disappointment with me over the years had shaped my life.  He listened and accepted.  He spoke the words of apology.  It would have been miraculous and life changing had he not then gone on to spend an hour with my sister berating and criticizing her for how she managed money.  He wanted some money my parents had loaned her.

I felt responsible for that.  My conversation had been unexpectedly positive and though a lifetime of experiences told her not to she trusted him and met with him.  He crushed her as he had each of us so many times over the years.

That’s what he left us.  He left no letters for us.  He left without any parting advice or even the last word.  Ironically, the man who always had the last word in life refused to believe he was going to die.  He was going to get back out there to continue God’s work.  He believed he had time.

When asked of his regrets Graham said “he would spend more time at home with his family, study more and preach less.”  Wow! I think every MK and PK alive today longs to hear those words from their parents.  He wished he had spent more time with his family.  My dad prayed for healing to get back out there, not a few more months of life so that he could treasure his family and say his goodbyes.  He wanted to get back out there and reach our world for Christ. (At that time it was his work in China.)

Graham continued:

“God has a reason for keeping us here (even if we don’t always understand it), and we need to recover the Bible’s understanding of life and longevity as gifts from God—and therefore as something good. Several times the Bible mentions people who died “at a good old age”—an interesting phrase (emphasis added). So part of my advice is to learn to be content, and that only comes as we accept each day as a gift from God and commit it into his hands. Paul’s words are true at every stage of life, but especially as we grow older: “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6).

I miss my dad.  He was never content.  And I’ve concluded that he had to die for the rest of us to live.  I know those are harsh thoughts.  Do I really believe that God “took him” or did his life finally just end?  I will never know and it doesn’t really matter does it?  What I do know is the result of his death.  I could not break free from the chains of my experiences with him and my mother.  I did not have the strength or the knowledge of how to do that.   In the end, he left and I became free.

Could I have experienced the growth of the last eight years with him still alive?  Not so quickly.  Or intentionally.  Or in the same way.  He was such a force.  He was IRON in my life, but as iron sharpens iron, iron on something weak shapes it in the ways it wants.

So why so much talk of legacy and more time and regrets?  Because it is a bittersweet thing to lose a parent when they were a coercive fury in your life.  Choking.  Compelling.  And yet all that you knew of love.

Yeah, it’s mixed up.

MH

PK: Preacher’s Kid and MK: Missionary’s Kid

Good Dad, Bad Dad (A poem I wrote in 2004)