A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017)

 A collection of essays dealing with pain and lossThis collection of essays from Frederick Buechner delve into the nature of how we deal with pain and loss. Buechner is no stranger to this topic as he has spent much of his life grappling with his father’s suicide when he was a young boy. As an adult, he faced the anguish of his daughter’s anorexia. Even though God may seem silent during  times of crushing grief, Buechner discovered God’s presence and his grace–that he truly is close to the brokenhearted.

The author, an excellent storyteller, tells about an experience at a retreat. Someone commented to Buechner that he had experienced a great deal of pain in his life, but he been a good steward of his pain. That was a new concept to Buechner–and to me as well. I like the idea that we can choose a positive way to manage the sad and puzzling events that happen in our lives. We can be good stewards of our pain.

Buechner says the tendency is to push pain away, to forget what happened, to never speak of a loved one we have lost.  Yet miracles happen when we walk through the gates of pain.

Miracles happen because of the willingness to open the door into your pain. Open your ears and your eyes to the elusive, invisible, silent presence of healing, of the power of God to heal, which moves as quietly, as undramatically, as the wind moves.

The author concludes that joy is at the end. When we enter through the gates of pain, we can encounter joy. Treasure can be found when we are willing to work through our sorrow. Buechner’s gentle, easy style draws readers in and gives hope. His compassionate, authentic wisdom make this book well worth reading.

 

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Finding Life at the End of the Bottle

Cunning…baffling… powerful..The bright side of alcoholism is recovery!. Alcoholics Anonymous uses those words to describe alcoholism. It’s true. I’ve never felt more confused and powerless than when dealing with my husband Randy’s alcoholism. It’s an intense battle—one most of us are ill-equipped to fight. The harder you try to get someone to stop drinking and change their behavior, the more futile your efforts.

During the worst of Randy’s drinking, I had a recurring nightmare. Randy and I were prisoners behind enemy lines in a war-zone. The scene that kept repeating was one in which I had escaped and was trying desperately to pull him to safety. I couldn’t do it. Each time I had to run for my life, leaving him trapped in the line of fire.

That’s an apt metaphor. If your husband or wife has a drinking problem, you’ll understand. No matter what you do, you can’t seem to get through to them.

Why can’t he stop drinking? It seemed easy for me. I could put down a drink after a few sips, and never want more. For Randy, it was impossible to say no to the next drink–even with serious consequences on the line. At first I  thought it was my fault. If only I were the perfect wife, amazingly sexy and beautiful, then Randy would rush home after work to be with me. Wrong! There’s no way to compete with an addiction.

When I finally found Al-Anon, a support group for families and friends of alcoholics, I learned about the 3 C’s.

  1. I didn’t Cause Randy’s alcoholism.  Nothing I did or didn’t do made a difference in him becoming addicted to alcohol.
  2. I couldn’t Control it. I didn’t have any power to keep him from taking another drink.
  3. I could Contribute, though. I could act in ways that perpetuated the unhealthy patterns. Or I could learn some new ways to respond that could possibly help Randy want to get sober. Most of all, these new changes helped me.

Before Al-Anon, I didn’t have any recovery tools. All I could do was obsess on fixing and controlling Randy. I nagged and lectured and scolded. To no avail. I threatened to leave if he didn’t change. Maybe you’ve done the same.

Randy promised to stop drinking. I wanted desperately to believe him. We twirled round and round with the familiar dance. Nothing changed. I retreated into magical thinking, pretending everything was okay. Our problems aren’t that bad, really. Randy said he could stop drinking anytime. He promised to quit tomorrow. Tomorrow never came.

In the meantime, I became the “alcohol police.” I checked liquor bottles in the kitchen cupboard, measuring how much was there, how much Randy had drank the night before. I even checked the garbage cans to see if he was secretly drinking outside and then tossing the evidence. Talk about crazy behavior!

I placed inspirational books in strategic places around the house and refrigerator magnets with Bible verses on the fridge. I just knew when saw those verses, he would be inspired to change. I envisioned the scene…Randy would see the light and drop to his knees in gratitude for my help. Deb, I’m so sorry for not seeing this sooner. Thank you for helping me. I’ll never drink again. Then we would live happily ever after.

Reality Check

You know only too well, that never happens. Spouses are rarely the ones who talk their alcoholic partners into seeking sobriety.

After several years, I began to consider that Randy could be an alcoholic. I quickly countered with denial.  No way!  I rationalized. Drinking seemed normal, or so I thought. I looked the other way and pretended everything was fine. If we look at reality, then we’ll be required to do something. That seems so hard, so scary.

Fear looms with its icy fingers threatening to suffocate us. The what-ifs take over our thoughts: what if he has an accident on the way home from the bar; what if she loses her job; what if he kills someone in a car accident… scenarios play ad nauseam in our thoughts. It’s exhausting living on this emotional roller coaster—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I felt alone—even though I had caring friends. I didn’t want to burden them. Besides, what could they do? What I didn’t realize is that you can’t face this battle alone. You can’t be an army of one and expect to survive.

Never Alone

The good news is you are not alone. Others who have been where you are can assure you there is hope! Not merely to survive, but to thrive. You can come out on the other side more whole, more authentically yourself, than you ever thought possible. Addiction has taken a toll, but it doesn’t have to win this battle. There is light and life at the end of the bottle. It takes iron determination to get there, to not give up when things get tough.

You can move forward with your life—no matter what is happening around you. You are not an army of one. You are part of an army of thousands upon thousands who have been where you and I have been and they’ve found a better way to live. As a Christian, I believe we’re serving One who is all-powerful, the God of my understanding, Jesus Christ. A Bible verse says, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) Not simply a few things, but all things. We will have whatever we need, whatever it takes to fight this battle and find healing and hope for ourselves. Maybe in the process, our loved ones will also desire to fight with everything they’ve got to defeat their addiction.

Hope begins when I believe all things are possible with God.

If your spouse has a drinking problem, I have the greatest compassion for both of you. Please let me know how I can pray for you. 

*This is the first in a series of articles about how to cope with your spouse’s alcoholism.

 

Courage to Carry On: Finding Hope When You’ve Lost Everything

Courage to carry onCourage is something I’ve thought about often during the past month–a commodity sorely needed by victims of Hurricane Harvey and Irma. Like many of us, I’ve witnessed the heartbreaking devastation of these storms as news channels have broadcast moment-by-moment updates. At times, I felt like I was watching a natural disaster movie. It all seemed surreal. But to the people of Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and other areas where there’s been massive flooding and wind damage, it’s all too real.

To say I even begin to understand is an understatement. I have no idea what it’s like to lose everything you own. Sure, it’s easy to say material things are just “things” and don’t matter. What’s really important is our loved ones. And that’s true. But putting your life together after such a disaster is painfully difficult.

I’ve experienced the anxiety and terror of wildfires burning close enough to our home that you see flames. Three years ago, a wildfire burned more than 250,000 acres in our beautiful Methow Valley in Washington state, and destroyed more than 300 homes. We watched our friends reel from their losses. We also watched as they courageously began to rebuild their lives. Two years ago, another fire devastated our area and claimed the lives of three brave firefighters. The tragedy shook our entire community. Several hundred friends and neighbors gathered in the community park for a vigil. The stillness of that August night was lit with the glow from flashlights, cell phones, and glow sticks. Suddenly, material possessions seemed insignificant.

The things that matter the most in this world, they can never be held in our hand.
                                                                                                                     -Gloria Gaither

Believe

A few years ago, I did a word study on courage. In these times of unspeakable tragedy, courage is what will carry us forward. For me, courage is built on a foundation of faith. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s looking at your fears full-on and saying, I believe! I believe God is with me through any circumstances I face, no matter how difficult. Whatever situation you’re facing, just breathing the word courage can help you remember God is with you. He is the source of your strength and the reason why you can be courageous.

When I think of courage, people like Corrie ten Boom come to mind. She and her family made the bold decision to hide Jews in their home during World War II. Corrie, her father, and sister were sent to a concentration camp when they were found out. Only Corrie survived to tell the story. She proclaimed God’s faithfulness in the midst of tragedy for the rest of her life. Countless people heard her story–including a former Nazi guard who came forward and asked for her forgiveness. Offering forgiveness to someone who has caused so much pain takes courage to an entirely different level.

And then there are heroes of 9/11–too many to write about in this short blog. The courage of people like Welles Crowther, who is known as the man in the red bandana, inspire us. Welles was twenty-four years old when the plane crashed into the World Trade Center where he worked. He managed to get out safely. But then he ran back in numerous times to save others, accompanying them down forty floors to safety. Welles lost his life that day, but his story lives on. Courage has a way of leaving a legacy.

Take Action

The Bible talks a lot about fear. In fact, the words do not fear appear at least 366 times. What that tells me is having courage and not being afraid is important enough that God inspired the repetition of that command. Sometimes we think courage is some kind of bravery we have to muster up in our own strength. Not true! Courage is a by-product of faith. The antidote for fear is faith. 

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying,  I will try again tomorrow. -Mary Anne Rademacher-Hershey

That’s what will make the difference for hurricane survivors. Having the courage to believe they can take the next step, and then the one after that, one-day-at-a-time. They need courage to believe they can walk through this difficult time and come out on the other side–probably with a story to tell and being different from when they began this unwanted journey.

Walk Through

To carry on is the courageous keeping on with whatever is at hand, whatever is next in importance to do. During World War II, when London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 59 straight nights, the city never shut down. The people of London went to work and kept their daily routines. That’s remarkable!

I would have been tempted to stay in bed with the covers pulled up around my head. Courage says to keep going, to walk through those deep valleys.

Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.

-Theodore Roosevelt

That’s the bottom line. From somewhere deep inside, you find strength that you could never have imagined and the courage to carry on.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

We are praying for everyone who has been affected by the hurricanes. May the Lord give you His peace that passes all understanding.

A Spectacle of Glory (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016)

I’m always excited about receiving a new devotional book, and this book by Joni Eareckson Tada is no exception. In my opinion, she is one of the most qualified individuals to write about showcasing God’s glory. Joni Eareckson Tada devotional bookShe has done this beautifully as she has learned, by God’s grace, how to live with the chronic pain and suffering of quadriplegia for nearly 50 years. I can’t imagine…

Her inspiration touched my life profoundly when I read her book, Joni, in the late 1970s. She wrote about the diving accident that left her paralyzed as a teen and how she wrestled to accept that God could use her life more  to impact others from a wheelchair than if she could walk. Her faith and wisdom has only matured through the years. Her latest book, A Spectacle of Glory, is a 365-day devotional that offers comfort and hope to anyone who is struggling with difficult circumstances.

Each devotional focuses on a Bible verse, followed by a short reading that encourages readers to allow God’s light to shine through them, no matter what they’re going through. The daily offering ends with a heartfelt prayer.

In one reading, Joni refers to Psalm 46:1. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” She writes: When you are in trouble, God doesn’t just send help; He is your help. And this help is ever-present.

Joni’s writing is transparent, real, and encouraging. There’s a calmness and simplicity in what she shares, yet a gentle authority. Her daily insights will help you discover how to put God’s glory on display–how to say “no” to complaining and “yes” to following God as you walk the most difficult paths. I like this book because I feel like I have a friend accompanying me on the journey–someone who really knows the ropes when it comes to dealing with pain and suffering.

Handlebar Media provided a free copy of this book for my honest review.

Challenges of the Sandwich Generation: Learning to Celebrate All of Life

It won’t be long ’til we say hello to our baby granddaughter!

I learned today that I’m part of the Club Sandwich generation. According to Wikipedia, we’re typically in our 50’s or 60’s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children, and grandchildren.  I guess they call this a “club” because there are so many of us–7-10 million!

It’s a bittersweet time in my life. In December, my mom and I and my four siblings made the difficult but necessary choice to place my dad in a dementia care facility. We enlisted the help of an excellent aging well consultant, Liz Taylor/Aging Deliberately from the Seattle area.

“There are solutions,” Liz told us. “All of them are difficult. But you can do this!” Her guidance and support steadied Mom and me, giving us courage and strength to do what was best for her and dad. To our surprise, the much-dreaded event of taking Dad to his new home went more smoothly than expected. Mom and I envisioned a tearful, heart-wrenching moment of leaving Dad there. Instead, our hearts were buoyed by the warm welcome Dad received from the staff. When we kissed him good-bye, he held up the Christmas cookie he was munching on and said, “See you soon!”

Of course, this has been a time of mixed emotions…grief in facing the loss of the dad I’ve known as he slowly slips into the fog of dementia. But also relief as we acknowledge the reality of his condition. This is without a doubt the very best for Dad–and Mom, who was exhausted by her heroic caregiving efforts.

On the other side of this long good-bye is a much-anticipated hello to a sweet grandbaby girl (our first grandchild!) who is due to arrive any day now. In January, I had the wonderful privilege of being with Jeremy and Jen for the baby ultrasound, a wow experience! The tech showed us some 4-D images of this tiny baby who weighed in at less than a pound. I uttered an audible gasp when the ultrasound wand brought her face into view, showing her features and perfectly formed hands with two fingers in her miniature nostrils. We all chuckled as I reached for the Kleenex–strategically placed for emotional parents and grandparents. What a moment…love at first sight! I can hardly wait to cradle her in my arms. These are the miracles of life, the comings and the goings, all in God’s perfect timing…all to be cherished.

So instead of bemoaning the fact that I’m part of Club Sandwich–I want to focus instead on celebrating all of life.

How are you coping with being a member of this not-so-elite “club?”

Let Compassion Guide Your Social Media Conversations

Heart of compassionMaybe it’s just me, but it seems like social media conversations are often lacking in compassion. There doesn’t seem to be much restraint as people are quick to vent their emotions online.  The result is a nasty, mean comment that hurts!

I recently read a troubling conversation thread on Facebook. My friend had posted a picture of her son who would have turned 34 that day. The photo showed him on an earlier birthday, blowing out candles on a cake. My friend simply wanted to remember him in better times. Last fall,  he was killed in a tragic series of events. Sadly, he had suffered from mental illness. One day he snapped and killed three people on a random shooting spree near his apartment. Then police shot and killed him. There’s no way to understand the intensity of pain and anguish felt by each person affected by this tragedy. This would be any parent’s worst nightmare.

Most people who commented on my friend’s Facebook post had only words of compassion and support. Really, it’s impossible to find the right words. Then as I scrolled down the page, the mother of one of the victims weighed in expressing her raw anger and bitterness. The conversation that ensued seemed like a posting free-for-all. My heart ached for my friend and for this mom who are both dealing with an enormous burden of grief. I was thankful for a few voices who brought some reason and compassion into this volatile exchange of words.

Social media has brought many positive changes–the ability to communicate with a large audience, to keep in touch with friends by simply sending out a short update. Text messaging makes it possible to contact people quickly and efficiently. But lately, I’ve been more aware of the downside. Maybe it’s because you don’t look into the eyes of the person you’re communicating with, that makes it easier to send out brutal comments and criticism. People are quick to judge the mother whose child climbed into the gorilla habitat at the Cincinnati Zoo or the parents of the toddler who was attacked and killed by the alligator at Disney World. You just write whatever is on your mind and then hit send. There’s no compassion or even an attempt to understand what the people involved are experiencing. The biggest problem with social media communication? Once those words are hurled into cyberspace, there’s no way to retrieve them. The sting of negativity is there forever. It used to be that when you had a verbal confrontation with another person, there might only be a few witnesses, if any. Now, a Facebook or Twitter post can be viewed by hundreds if not thousands or even more.

Last Sunday, my pastor talked about how damaging words can be. He referenced James 3:1-12, a scripture passage that tells about how something as small as our tongues can be so destructive–just as a small spark can start a huge firestorm. (Something we’re painfully aware of here in central Washington as another fire season begins). The same guidance for speaking can be applied to our social media conversations. Instead of rushing to comment and pass judgment on others, maybe we should pause and ask ourselves the three questions Pastor Jeff mentioned in his sermon:

1. Is it true?
Do we know the facts about what’s being said–or is it hearsay?

2. Is it helpful?

Is what we’re considering passing along something that will have a positive impact?

3. Is it necessary?

How important is it that we share this information?

Maybe when we feel strongly about joining a social media conversation, we need to put love and compassion first and leave judgment and criticism behind. Most of us are struggling through life to do the best we can. And if there’s a need to confront or express our opinion, we can consider how to communicate this in the most loving way possible.

How do you respond to negative comments on social media?

 

 

New Hope for Marriage Retreat

If you or someone you know is struggling in her marriage, I’d like to invite you to consider New Hope for Marriage, a small group retreat to help wives find hope for their hurting and conflicted marriages.

We’re now taking reservations for the Spring Retreat which will be held at Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center, just outside of Bellingham, Washington, April 29-May 1, 2016.

Christie Miller, my co-facilitator, and I are passionate about helping other women come to the Lord for a transformation and healing of their marriages. We know–we’ve been there!

For more information, visit: www.nwspeakers.com

 

Unassuming Heroes: Wildland Firefighters

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Firefighters kept the blaze from reaching the town of Twisp. Community Covenant Church, pictured here, is safe thanks to their efforts. (photo, courtesy of The Seattle Times)

When we moved to the Methow Valley in North Central Washington almost 20 years ago, my husband Randy and I were naive about the risks of wildfires. We purchased some property in a high risk fire area, not thinking about the implications of building a home in the forest. We later sold that property so we could be located closer to town–in retrospect, a wise decision from a fire safety perspective.

In the years since we came here, we’ve experienced a number of wildfires. Usually, fires have burned in the wilderness, miles away from residences. We’ve witnessed spectacular mushroom-cloud smoke plumes and have been inconvenienced by smoky air. In 2001 the Thirtymile Fire impacted our community when four young wildland firefighters lost their lives. The reality of how dangerous these fires can be and how quickly they can explode hit us hard. Then last summer, we experienced the Carlton Complex Fire, the largest in Washington state history until this year. The fire decimated 250,000 acres and burned more than 350 homes. Our friends and neighbors are still recovering from that trauma.

We’ve all been on edge this summer with the extreme drought conditions and high temperatures we’ve had since June. A few weeks ago, fires erupted in the resort community of Chelan, an hour away from the Methow Valley.  Many homes were lost. Then last week, on what seemed like a normal Wednesday, sirens sounded about 12:30 p.m. The radio reported a fire had broken out a few miles outside of Twisp, a town 10 miles south of where we live. My heart froze. No longer could we be in denial about the destructive potential of these fires.

By 5 o’clock, both towns of Twisp and Winthrop had received evacuation orders. A line of cars traveled the only road out of the valley. A large fire-filled cloud grew to enormous proportions on a nearby ridge. I raced home from work, wishing I’d packed our evacuation box the night before like I’d told myself to. I should be ready, just in case…

The “just in case” was happening. Fortunately, I’d made a detailed evacuation checklist last year. It was helpful and calming to refer to it as I ran around the house gathering important papers, photo albums, pictures off walls, clothes, toiletries, Kosmo’s dog food and supplies–and Kosmo! When you survey the contents of your home, you realize you can’t take much–only a few things. Plus you don’t know if you have much time. Do you have the luxury of deciding should I take the jeans or shorts? What jacket should I take? And shoes? Don’t forget to wear them out the door! Looking back now from a safer perspective, I can better evaluate our evacuation process. I realize I forgot important things and took others that didn’t even make sense.

In the end, you realize the stuff doesn’t matter. Of course, it’s a huge loss for those whose homes have burned, a loss that shouldn’t be minimized. But the unfathomable pain that overshadows any material loss is the deaths of three young firefighters who became trapped on Wednesday afternoon in the extreme fire conditions. A fourth firefighter remains in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. We heard the tragic news as we evacuated. We are heartbroken with the rest of our community. And grateful beyond words for the bravery of firefighters, thousands of them, who put their lives on the line to protect us, our homes, and communities. As a group, they’re quite unassuming. They don’t think of themselves as heroes. One firefighter told me he was just doing his job, it wasn’t a big deal.

Oh, but it’s a very big deal for us. Without the vigilance and expertise of those who know how to fight these massive fires from the air and on the ground, our towns could have burned. Whether or not they realize it, these men and women are our heroes. A huge thank you hardly seems enough to express the gratitude that overflows in our hearts.

 

I’m looking forward to being the Keynote speaker at this event!

Date: March 14, 2015
Time: 09:00 a.m.-02:00 p.m.
Event: Olympic Cluster Spring Celebration
Topic: "Bear One Another's Burdens"
Venue: Christ Lutheran Church
Location: Belfair, WA
Public: Private