Leaving Home: New Amazing Awaits!

Starting a new chapter in my life has always been difficult. About twenty-three years aLeaving home is never easy, but a new amazing chapter awaitsgo, we put our house on the market in Auburn, Washington where we’d lived for more than a decade. I remember the ache I felt when I saw the “for sale” sign in our front yard. Two little boys had grown into high school graduates there, I’d pulled off a surprise 40th birthday party for my husband Randy, and we said good-bye to our Okinawan kitty who had adopted us for 16 years. So many memories! How could any other place feel like home? It wasn’t the first time I’d asked that question.

When I was 13, our family moved from Iowa to Pennsylvania. My familiar world ended. My dad, ever an optimist, felt certain I’d love it there. It took a while. By the time I left for college, I felt homesick for the Pennsylvania home where I’d been transplanted.

Home is where you hang your heart

Through the years, I’ve discovered every time we’ve packed up all our belongings and moved, home is the place where you hang your heart. Whether it was Iowa, Pennsylvania, or Okinawa, Japan, I’ve always found “home” in every place we’ve lived.

I’m reminding myself of this (not always successfully) as there’s another “for sale” sign in our front yard. Within two days we had an offer on our house.

“The buyers love your home,” our realtor told us. We love it, too, and that’s what makes leaving so difficult.

The Methow Valley where we relocated 22 years ago, promised an amazing adventure. And yes, it is our home. It’s hard to say good-bye. Once again, I wonder how any other place will ever be home. My head tells me another adventure awaits. As always, my heart is slow to catch on.

Home interprets heaven. Home is heaven for beginners. –Charles Parkhurst

If you’re facing a similar change in your life, here’s a little of what I’ve learned–and need to continue reminding myself!

  • I comfort myself with scriptures that remind me of God’s faithfulness. A few of my favorites:

Jeremiah 29:11– “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Proverbs 3:5-6Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.

Deuteronomy 31:8The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Isaiah 41:10So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

  • There’s something to be said for the perspective that comes with age. I still get a little shaky when facing the unknown, but being this age, and not 13, gives me a huge advantage in believing all will work out for the best. My dad would be proud of the progress I’ve made!
  • You are never alone. Years of experience have taught me God is in every detail. He prepares the way for every step I take.
  • It’s OK to feel sad and accept that part of change involves some feelings of loss. Shedding a few tears is healing.
  • Allow yourself to anticipate something new and amazing!

The day our house went on the market, I posted this real estate picture on Facebook. A friend commented, “New amazing awaits!” I can hardly wait to see.

 

 

 

 

 

Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children: Trusting God with the Ones You Love (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017)

Praying the Scriptures for your Adult ChildrenI’m a mom of two adult sons. I’ve learned no matter what age they are, you never stop worrying or caring about them. That’s why Jodie Berndt’s excellent book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children is so appealing.

Each chapter focuses on some aspect of your adult child’s life. These are what keep moms awake at night as we search for just the right words to pray. Topics include praying for a future spouse, a young marriage, a troubled marriage, finding the right job, and finding friends who are supportive and encouraging. The author has interviewed many other parents and shares their own stories and struggles to let go of their adult children. I love hearing from other parents who have come through challenging times. There’s something powerful  about knowing you’re not alone–and to be reminded that we really can trust God with the ones we love.

What a privilege it is for us, as parents, to be able to slip our hand into the hand of our heavenly Father and join him in the continuing work that he is doing in our adult children’s lives. And what a joy, as we allow the words of Scripture to shape our perspective and transform our prayers, to be given a window into God’s heart. -Jodie Berndt

The author uses “prayer principles” throughout the book to highlight important truths. Each chapter ends with real prayers drawn from scripture that you can use for yourself and for your children.

I now consider this my “go-to” book to help me pray for my sons and my daughter-in-law.  As Jodie Berndt says, “It’s never too late to start praying God’s best for your children.”

Thanks to Handlebar Publishing for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Boot Camp Basics

Prayer is the number 1 way to combat alcoholism. Photo by Ben WhiteIn my previous article about surviving your spouse’s alcoholism, I compared the struggle with alcoholism to an intense battle. It certainly is a battle on multiple levels: spiritual, physical, emotional. At first, I didn’t have a clue how to “fight” this battle. I needed basic training. I had to admit there was a problem before I could reach out for help. That’s a huge first step!

When I discovered Al-Anon, a support group for family members and friends of alcoholics, I felt elated. Now I could  find out how to fix my husband’s drinking problem. I looked at the people sitting around the table in the church fellowship hall. I knew they had the answers. When I poured out my pain, everyone listened with compassion. Then one older woman said, “I used to think if my husband stopped drinking, if only he would change, then our lives would be great. What I’ve learned is I can’t do anything about my husband. The only person I can help is myself!”

What? You’ve got to be kidding. You mean there’s nothing I can do to change Randy? And you can’t be serious that it’s partly my problem. My problem is him! If only he’d stop drinking, then our lives could be normal. I wanted to  blame Randy for everything that was wrong in our world. At that first Al-Anon meeting, I had no idea I had embarked on a boot camp of personal growth and discovery that ultimately changed my life.

Have you ever felt that way? You see your husband or wife as the problem. If only she would stop drinking, then you could be happy. It takes a lot of courage to evaluate our own behavior, the ways we’ve contributed to our problems. When we stop trying to control our spouse and stop playing into negative behaviors (such as arguing with someone who’s drunk and irrational), then the familiar, unhealthy cycle is interrupted. A counselor once told me alcoholism is like gears moving in sync with predictable behaviors. When the non-alcoholic spouse stops doing what is familiar, then the gears don’t move so well and may eventually come to a halt.

If any of this were easy, we’d figure it out quickly and then go on happily about our lives. Healing is a process and unlearning years of learned behaviors takes time and more time. But it’s so worth it! And sometimes, changing our behaviors can motivate our loved ones to want to change, also. There are no guarantees, but the good news is that we will change. We will be different if we go through the “recovery” boot camp.

I used to lament to a friend that I felt stuck. Nothing seemed to be changing in my life. I was worried that I’d be in the same place several years in the future. My wise friend said, “No, you won’t. As long as you’re taking steps toward growth and change, there’s no way you’ll be in the same place because you’re moving forward!”

Moving Forward

So how do we start the process?

  • Tell yourself the truth.  I found it impossibly difficult to finally say the words, “My husband is an alcoholic. Our marriage is in shambles. My life is a mess. And the most important words…I need help!”
  • Stop pretending. Yes, there’s an “elephant” in our homes wreaking havoc and destruction. We have to acknowledge that truth. I remember keeping a smile plastered on my face and telling people I was fine—when in reality, I felt broken. I barely kept myself afloat emotionally, physically and spiritually. It’s okay not to be fine.
  • Find supportive people. We have to be willing to take off our masks and trust a friend, a counselor, or a support group with our truth. Not everyone will understand, so it’s important to find people who are trustworthy of helping you carry your pain.
  • Believe in a Power greater than yourself. I came into Al-Anon believing in a Higher Power, Jesus Christ. The challenge for me was to deepen my faith. I admitted I couldn’t handle Randy’s alcoholism. I surrendered.

Surrender

In a battle, surrender is seen as a position of weakness. You call it quits, wave the white flag, and put yourself in the enemy’s hands. When we surrender in the battle that is alcoholism, we take a position of strength. We admit I can’t do it. But there is One who can. I will let Him. I have been relieved of trying to do it all, to make someone change, believing it’s my responsibility when it isn’t. Only God can change a person’s heart.

Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. -John 8:32.

Truth gives us the ability to walk into the light instead of staying forever hidden in the darkness. Truth brings freedom and relief. Some days it will feel like boot camp. I didn’t sign up for this. How come I have to do all this recovery stuff when he isn’t doing anything? That’s how I felt at times. The hope is that we are growing into the men and women God created us to be. We’re not stuck any longer.

How do we learn to respond differently? Prayer, practice and time. Three steps forward, two steps back. But always moving forward. Being open and teachable. Recognizing what we’re doing that isn’t working or helping us or our spouse get well.

Hope begins when I tell myself the truth.

 

When Did Everybody Else Get So Old? Indignities, Compromises, and the Unexpected Grace of Midlife (Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2017)

A transparent, honest, humorous memoir that looks at the challenges of midlifeAging well is a topic I’m always interested in–and Jennifer Grant’s memoir about her forties is an  honest, transparent, and humorous look at midlife. She’s an excellent story-teller and I enjoyed hearing about her aging experiences–wearing what she thought were “cool” Elton John-like glasses–only to have her teenage daughter weigh in with her more- than- honest assessment. “You look old and weird in those glasses, Mom.”

The author poignantly describes the transitions we go through with our children. Would we want to go back to those sweet early years when they willingly place their little hands in ours when we cross the street, or get excited about something as simple as finger-painting?   Grant says no, she wants to look forward to who those children will become. She doesn’t want to get stuck looking back at those “good, old days”–even though letting go isn’t easy. It seems that one day our children are sweet and innocent and the next you’re looking at college applications with them. I can relate! Even though I’m well past the middle-age years Jennifer Grant writes about, I can still remember the ache I felt when I walked past my oldest son’s empty bedroom after he left for college. Yet this book offers hope of moving past these empty-nest feelings.

The author writes wisely about the physical, emotional and spiritual challenges of aging and the changes we face throughout our lives–celebrations, sorrows, and joys. She concludes with the wisdom of Solomon from the book of Ecclesiastes: There is a time for everything.

I enjoyed this book, but I am disappointed by the author’s interpretation of the parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matthew 25) in her book’s final chapter. As a Christian, I believe it’s important to consider the full counsel of Scripture when interpreting passages such as this one.

 

I received 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.

 

To receive peace, you must change your grasping, controlling stance to one of openness and trust. The only thing you can grasp without damaging your soul is My hand. -Sarah Young

Jesus Calling (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004)

Letting Go: A Refresher Course

This post seems like deja vu. I’ve written about my “little” brother several times. Yesterday was his birthday. I called him to tell him I was thinking about him. His mental confusion seemed more pronounced. He admitted to using meth “so he could have some fun on his birthday.” Calling him is difficult. It brings his dire circumstances into focus. Somehow it’s easier when you don’t have to deal with someone up close and personal.

My brother has been homeless for many years. He’s addicted to alcohol and meth. Whether he had mental illness and self-treated with substances or has brain damage because of his drug use, doesn’t really matter at this point. It’s heart-wrenching and frustrating because there isn’t anything we as a family can do to help him. He’s reluctant to sign up for the now-mandatory health insurance. His pride gets in the way. Because he’s so emotionally volatile, he has difficulty working, so he doesn’t have any regular income.

After talking with him, I realized I need a refresher course in letting go. The “Letting Go” poem I received at one of the treatment centers my husband Randy went to is a good reminder.

Here are a few thoughts I had as I worked through letting go (once again) of my brother.

  •  To “let go” does not mean to stop caring, it means I can’t do it for someone else.

         I will always love my brother. I can’t make him want to make healthy choices, though.

  • To “let go” is not to cut myself off, it’s the realization I can’t control another. 

        I can reach out to my brother without any expectations or demands that he change. 

  • To “let go” is not to fix, but to be supportive. 

       I was able to talk with him without offering advice.

  • To “let go” is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.

      I didn’t scold him for doing drugs.

  • To “let go” is not to be in the middle arranging the outcomes, but to allow others to affect their own destinies.  

       I will never stop praying for my brother. I am powerless, but there is One who has all power. I pray  for him to find God in his life.                  

  •  To “let go” is to fear less, and love more.

What have you learned about “letting go?” How is this making a difference in your relationships? 

Raise the White Flag!

I called my homeless brother yesterday. I only wanted to say that I love him. He couldn’t hear that. He thought I was trying to intervene, judging him. He told me his life is miserable, the party’s over–not that there ever was a party, I thought. I tried to interject hope into his hopeless comments.

You don’t have to do this alone, I said. But he couldn’t hear me in his deafness to allow anyone to help him. I’m going to recover on my own, he insisted. I don’t need anyone to help me.

My heart aches for him. I’ve walked this road before with my husband, Randy, as he struggled to find freedom from his addiction to alcohol. And as I struggled to let go, to finally admit there wasn’t anything I could do to fix or change him. 

It’s funny how we think we have the power to help someone else choose life over an addiction or other destructive behaviors. Fear got in the way of my ability to surrender my husband. I believed I had the power to decide for him. I thought if I let go of Randy, he would die. That’s a scary place to put ourselves in–and rather presumptuous. Do I really think I have that kind of power? Hm…I don’t think so. I am thankful there is One who has all power–and that one isn’t me!

Surrender!

There comes a time when we need to raise the white flag. We not only surrender our loved ones, but we also surrender ourselves to the Lord. We let go so God can work in our lives and theirs. We let go so we can be free from the anxiety that is destroying us. By surrendering, we choose a way that brings life to us–and possibly to our loved ones as well.

There are no pretenses or illusions about any noble efforts to save someone you love. This is rock-bottom where the rubber sole meets the road. You admit that what you’ve been doing isn’t working. You don’t have what it takes to motivate another person  to change their behavior. Only God can do that. Finally you give your impossible situation to God.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they describe surrender in three steps:

  1. I can’t do it.
  2. God can.
  3. I will let Him.

There’s something powerful about recognizing we can’t do what needs to be done in our own strength. This might sound depressing. If we can’t do anything…who can? Ah…that’s the very place God wants us to be. He doesn’t need us, really. He has access to infinite resources. Sometimes the most we can do is simply get out of the way. We intentionally let go of our loved ones. This doesn’t mean we abandon them or stop loving them. Instead, we lovingly entrust them to Jesus. He loves them more than we can imagine. What better place for them to be! The Lord knows every detail about them. He even knows every hair on their heads. He loves them with an everlasting love. Our love pales in comparison.

Author Jan Johnson says it well: 

Letting go is both too simple and too difficult. It looks like weakness instead of strength, like losing instead of gaining, and it is. As we relinquish control and admit weaknesses, we remember who we are and why we’re here…This need to control is rooted in fear, but I need to do the thing that is rooted in faith–surrender.  

Once again, I find myself in a place of letting go. This time I know it’s the very best for me and for the brother I love so dearly. 

Is there a situation in your life where you need to surrender?

 

In God’s Care

Last Sunday I had nursery duty at our church. I always enjoy taking my turn, because I remember how challenging it was trying to keep wriggling toddlers still for the duration of the service. Moms and dads really deserve a break on Sunday mornings. How much easier it is to throw in the towel and stay home rather than getting everyone dressed, fed, and out the door–an exhausting and nerve-wracking experience for many of us moms. I recall arriving at church feeling way-less-than spiritual after using my outdoor voice to communicate with our sons during the ten-minute drive to church.

Since I now attend a small church, we usually have only one or two toddlers in our nursery on a Sunday morning. I put out a bucket of crayons, every color of the rainbow and more, so they can color their weekly Sunday school pictures. Then we read stories–Bob the Builder is a favorite, and eat snacks, usually Cheerios or Goldfish crackers. But this past Sunday, the usual crew had graduated to the preschool group, so I just had one infant to care for. I spent the entire hour cuddling baby Brandon. He snuggled into the curve of my neck, making sweet cooing sounds. His silky hair and soft skin still had that fresh newborn fragrance.

As I held him, I couldn’t help but think of our own grown sons who once spent Sunday mornings being held by faithful nursery workers. I thought of the promise of holding grandchildren some day and the privilege of sowing love and other Christian virtues into their lives. I remembered being 10-years-old and holding my newborn baby brother with my mom’s watchful guidance.

Babies bring a sense of wonder, tiny packages of life-time potential. I prayed for baby Brandon, entrusted to my care for an hour on a Sunday morning. For only a few short years, our children are in our care, subject to our influence. Then they become more independent, venturing off on their own to after-school events or to a friend’s house to play. Soon they’re applying for drivers licenses, colleges, and jobs in far away places. Finally, we simply have to entrust them to God’s care and pray that He will guide them in making wise life choices.

There’s a time when we realize we no longer have control, a time to let go and let God work in their lives. I pray that God will do what I don’t have the power to do in my sons’ lives, or in my homeless baby brother’s life, or for our precious nursery babies.  Dear Lord, please bless them and keep them always in Your care.

Are you struggling to let go of someone you love? 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SCOTT

Today is my baby brother’s birthday. I say baby lightly because Scott turns 48 today. But as his sister, ten years his senior, I’ll always have that special little brother place in my heart for him.
I vividly remember the spring morning when Scott came into the world. In 1961, visiting privileges at our small Midwest hospital’s maternity ward were limited to adults. So my older brother and I and my younger brother stood below the second floor window and watched with awe as Dad proudly held up the small, blanketed bundle for us to see.

When Dad and Mom brought this tiny baby home to live with us, we were enthralled by the new addition to our family. This was a dream come true for me– my own baby brother to help care for. I learned to change diapers, take him for walks in the baby buggy, and feed him oatmeal and mashed bananas, making sure more of the mash got into his mouth than on his face and clothes.

Scott was adorable. His bright brown eyes sparkled with a bit of mischief and he smiled readily when we cooed or tickled him. He delighted us with his child-like wonder and curiosity about everything.

Time has a way of slipping by at almost lightning speed. I married Randy, my high school sweetheart, (who also shares Scott’s birthday) when I was nineteen, and we moved several hundred miles away. Of course there were vacations and homecomings when we spent time together, but our ten year age difference made it more difficult to stay in touch. When Scott had his tenth birthday, Randy and I had our own baby. When he entered his teens, I lived halfway around the world where Randy was stationed on Okinawa with the Air Force.

It’s hard to know what went wrong, and the questions gnaw at my parents and us siblings as we look back. Scott chose a path all too common for many adolescents. He bucked our parents’ authority and experimented with alcohol and drugs. Somehow you think, this too shall pass. He’ll find his way. He’s still so young. A lot of guys his age are doing this.

But years pass and choices inevitably bring consequences. Heartbreaking ones. Repeated drug use damages the brain and renders a person disabled, unable to earn a living. Homelessness results and my parents and I and other siblings have agonized over how to help. Could we have done something different? Was there an undetected mental illness? If only we had tried harder to find help or not tried so hard to force Scott to get help. The possibilities are endless and exhausting to consider.

One by one we’ve come to the conclusion that we must let go. None of us has the power to change Scott. As I’ve learned through my own painful experience in dealing with a loved one’s addiction, that though I can’t make someone desire to change, God can. I will step out of the way and allow him to do what is necessary.

Letting go doesn’t mean we stop loving Scott with callous indifference to his circumstances. Instead, letting go is rooted in faith. Surrendering my precious brother means trusting God enough to believe that the One who created him loves him more than I could even imagine. Letting go feels risky, but it is the path to finding acceptance and peace in uncertain circumstances.

On this beautiful May morning with lilacs bursting into bloom and our native balsam root “sunflowers” dotting the green hillsides, I pause to thank God for the gift of life for Scott. Even though I’m not able to call him and tell him, I pray that the Lord, our mighty God, will whisper his love to Scott more profoundly than I ever could.