Dawn Owens | Live Worthy | Do you have a calling?

Calling: How To Know If You Have One?

“Do you have a calling?” Better yet, what is a calling and how do you know if you have one?

When I was a child, I had two dreams: I wanted to be a Mom and a Teacher. I would line up my dolls and my younger sister in our playroom into desk lines and teach them a chosen curriculum for the day

Later, I would feed, bath, and dress the same crew and ready them for bed. The same way any mother would.

And though there is much truth in those early years of who I have become today, does that mean those roles have become my calling?

I’d like to suggest the answer to that is no.

But before I get to the reason why, let me share with you the scripture verse that will guide our conversation.

It is Ephesians 4:1-3 which says, 

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

Dawn M Owens | Live Worthy | Ephesians 4:1-3

The author of Ephesians, Paul, is making a huge statement here to the church at Ephesus and us as believers today.  If you put this verse into the context of defining calling by our dreams or the careers we might someday fulfill, it would be a particular and finite use of the word calling. However, I don’t think Paul was implying a vocation, as much as he was suggesting something much more significant than that.

The Worth of Your Calling

I’d like to offer that the value placed on the word “calling” is much larger than we may realize. Check out the words prior to the word “calling.” Paul says, “live a life worthy of the calling.”  The word “worthy” has a value associated with it that we can skim by if we are not careful.

When translated into Greek, the word “worthy” is axios.  This means weight, assigning a matching value (worth-to worth), and my absolute favorite definition:

as the assessment in keeping with how something “weighs in” on God’s balance –
a scale of truth.

This statement implies that your calling is on a balance of the same equal value or worth to God’s truth.

Worthy Image_FB Cover

I think it is safe to say, though it is important to us to have a vocation, Paul is speaking of calling that has much more worth than a specific job.

Your calling has more worth than a vocation. #calling #purpose #worth

The Blessings of Your Calling

So what is Paul telling us about the calling that we have received?

Let’s go check out that word calling in Greek too. Why not, right?

(And by the way, you can do this on your own. I am using a great website called Bible Hub. I love it for all things translation. Little secret, I get a little geeked out about finding words that have a more substantial meaning in the Hebrew or Greek than what we use in English.)

In the Greek klésis means:

calling; used of God inviting all people to receive His gift of salvation – with all His blessings that go with it

Oh.my.goodness. I love that so much.

Do you hear what God is saying to you and me in the definition of calling? Oh to be able to speak Greek, always.

God is saying to us; I am inviting you to accept my gift of salvation, that one where I sent my Son, Jesus to live a sinless life. He lived fully man and fully God. Then He took on all the suffering and all the sins of the world so you could LIVE. And not just live, but live eternally with me in Heaven.

But that is not all! Oh no, there is MORE.

Not only do you get the gift of salvation which includes eternal life, but He also washed your sins away (you know that gossip you said yesterday, those little lies you told the other week, maybe that big sin you committed in the past). And if we stopped there, that would be more than enough. But He also clothed you in righteousness AND gave you ALL His blessings to go along with it.

Say what?! It’s like winning the 5.3 million dollar jackpot, and then them saying, wait there is more, and more, and more, and…

Because here is the deal, God’s blessings…they are abundant.

Which brings us back to why there is no way that Paul is only suggesting your vocation. You’ll find the same word in several other scripture verses where the use is broader. Here are a few examples:

Romans 11:29, NIV
…for God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable

2 Thessalonians 1:11, NIV
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling, and that by His power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.

Philippians 3:14
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

The Character in Your Calling

Now that we understand there is immense worth in our calling, there is a blessing beyond our calling; we need to know in what ways to live our calling.

This may be the most challenging part.

Because I don’t know about you, but what Paul lays down here are the ways you and I should exhibit, some pretty high standards:

He says in verses 2-3, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Humble, gentle, patient, bearing in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace…goodness, I am out of the game starting at humble.

I mean, I don’t know about you, but these are not natural character traits for me to accomplish every day.

And if you thought you might be able to get away with the “bearing with one another in love” let me just mention in the NLT it says it like this “making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Yeah, I’m out too. 

So what are we to do?

Allow me to offer a few suggestions.

Living Your Calling

First of all, this is not a do-them-all-or-you’re-out deal for you Type-As out there. So take a deep breath.

Second of all, Paul said he is urging us to live a life worthy of the calling. In his urging, he recognizes the struggle. I mean, he is the one who talked about the thorn in the flesh, right?!

Third of all, we can use these as they are needed. The more we recall these words in our mind and speak them out of our mouths, the more they will start to be exhibited in our lives.

Making Your Calling Worthy

My words of the year this year are LIVE WORTHY.

When I felt God leading me to those words, it was out of the verses here in Ephesians. But months before that, I wrote a book, and in the sixth chapter, I talk about how we get stuck in comparison rather than building community. I used Ephesians 4:6 as my scripture of teaching.

God had planted the seeds for this scripture verse and then later was going to hold me to it.

PageHeader_LMONcomingsoon

A few months later, I was struggling with defining who I was as a ministry leader apart from my everyday role as the Founder/Executive Director of The Link of Cullman County. It can be a slippery slope when you lead something and allow your position to define who you are.  And God led me back to these verses yet again, to teach me that my calling has nothing to do with what I do in my vocation. It has everything to do with how I live for Him.

So the way this looks for me: I take one day at a time.

One day at a time where I am learning who I am in Him. In that one day, I can believe for all those blessings that are part of the invitation of the call. Blessings which includes being humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love.

And then how I am seeking unity with others as I serve the world around me.

As I do that I assess if I am doing that with humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with others in love.

Some days I get some of them right, other days not as much.

But tomorrow is another day, and I will try again. And so can you.

Your calling is so much more than your vocation, a dream to be a something or a someone.

Your calling is how God created you to worship Him, serve Him, honor Him, and give glory to Him in everything that you do.

What Will You Do With Your Calling?

How will you start to live out your calling today differently than you did yesterday?

Comment below and let’s talk about how we can all live a life that is worthy of the calling we have received.

Why I am a Professed Approval Addict

I am an approval addict. There, I said it.

“I AM AN APPROVAL ADDICT!!!” Goodness, that feels good. It’s empowering to own up to the things we struggle with, don’t you think?

Being an approval addict began as a child, for me and intensified over the years. Now, in the age of social media, it only exacerbates the problem. I have the constant temptation every time I make a post to see if people “liked” my post, left a comment, or the ultimate compliment, “shared” my content with their followers.

Maybe I am the only one to deal with being an approval addict, but my guess is on some level you too are challenged with wanting, really needing the approval of others.

How do I know this?

We were all created with a need for approval. As image bearers of God, He created us with a desire to be fully known, and fully approved by Him. But, here is the good news.

“Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.” (Ecclesiastes 9:7)

Did you catch that last part? Let me repeat it, “God favors what you do.”

He. favors. you. Gosh, I love those three words.

But here is the problem, as much as He has set our hearts to be approved by Him, we get it all mixed up.

We take the desire God gave us for heaven, and we set our sights on earth. #approvaladdict

We warp the pure relationship we could have with Him which is healthy, honorable, and true and exchange it for one that will never be able to fully satisfy our needs.

We seek the approval of those around us. In our homes; at school; in our workplaces and online.

We put more value in what the person on the other side of the screen thinks of us than honoring the God who created us.

In the core of our addiction, we have a slew of challenges wrapped up in packages of people pleasing, insecurity, jealousy, control, and anger, just to name a few. When we let it all pile up we isolate and become depressed. (Fact: People in depression and taking depression related medication have hit epidemic proportions.)

It’s been years since I admitted I had a problem. Since then God has taken me on a journey to learn how to overcome this addiction to approval, and though I am not completely healed, yet…I believe I have some wisdom I can share with you. 

This is why I have written a book called Like Me…or Not: Overcoming the Addiction to Approval which will tentatively be in bookstores this summer (2018).

So why would a self-professed approval addict, ever go through the intense approval-seeking, platform building and editing-process of publishing a book and announcing this inner-struggle to the world?

You.

You are the reason why I am professing I am an approval addict to the world.

You are why I just spent the last year pouring out my heart over what was once 65,000 words, now chopped down to 57,000 words and by the time my editor at Worthy-Inspired gets through with it, it will be less than 50,000 words. (Talk about having to be willing to let go of your need for approval. Ouch.)

You are also why I am subjecting myself to the daily temptation of seeking approval by posting online, writing blogs, finding speaking engagements, and sharing some of my most vulnerable moments with the world.

I am doing all of this because I know there is strength in vulnerability. We can find unity in our weaknesses. And that maybe, just maybe, as I share my struggles you can feel the freedom to share yours.

Why I am a Professed Approval Addict @dawnmarieowens #approvaladdict

Does any of this sound interesting to you? Great! Because now, I am going to need your help. It’s one thing to write the book. It’s another feat to find an agent to represent you, and then to get a publisher that is interested in publishing the book. As if that is not enough, now I have to figure out how to sell the book.

But, that’s where you come in.

So, here is what you can do to help. If you aren’t already, start following me on one of my social media platforms through Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. I also am starting to have a presence on Pinterest.

You will also want to sign up for updates because I know you want to be up-to-date on all the new book information. So stop reading now, and subscribe to my blog emails. You can do that on the right-hand side of the page. That’s all I need you to do for now. (Unless of course, you would like to happen to share some of my blogs, my posts, my tweets, or pin images to your boards.) The key now is for me to start sharing with everyone that I can that I wrote a book and help others know they can find answers if they read it.

The key now is for me to start sharing with everyone I can that I wrote a book about overcoming the addiction to approval and how it can help others know they can find answers if they read it.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to share with you the back story of how God opened up the door for me to get my book published and how I had to battle my approval addiction at every turn.

Even if you don’t ever want to publish a book, I promise you’ll learn a few things from my missteps, which will help you not only understand more about your need approval. But, it will also teach you how to deal with those everyday challenges us approval addicts need to learn how to face head-on.

Let’s start off our journey together nice and easy, shall we? Tell me who you are, where you’re from, and why you feel like approval addiction is an important topic for us to cover in this day and age. Share below so we can all engage together and we’ll know none of us are alone.

Want to check out my last few posts?

Hope: How Badly Do You Want It

5 Ways to Lose Hope

hope that is seen

Hope: How Badly Do You Want It?

Some things in life are just worth the fight. Hope is one of them. But what about when your circumstances dictate the exact opposite? Then what?

How badly do you want it? Would you go to battle to see the very thing you are hoping to come to fruition?

And if you are, what will you sacrifice to get there?

Sometimes, when, our future seems bleak, we need to choose to fight. We’ll need to be ready to get uncomfortable to face our fears, and then we need to dig in deep to decide we are not going to lose hope.

If only it were that easy.

Times when our beliefs and emotions vary, we need to find comfort in the tension. Enter hope.

Lori felt exactly like that when she went off to jail for the first time at age thirty-eight. She never thought her life would land up this way, but it did. All she had in front of her was a pile of her consequences.

Lor's Hope in Family
Lori (middle) with her daughter and husband.

Five years before this time, she had a wonderful husband, two children, and life was good. Despite being brought up by her grandparents as a toddler and then later, by two parents caught in the grips of alcoholism. Lori overcame the odds of what could have been in growing up in that environment, that was until her husband went to jail for a year, on a misdemeanor charge. While her husband sat in jail, Lori’s world turned upside down.

Instead of helping her while her husband was away, people took advantage of her. Within a year she was raped twice, and to numb her pain, she turned to drugs.

When her husband came home from prison he didn’t even recognize her. He said to her, “What happened to my wife?”

Her response was one born out of pain, “She died.”

This lifestyle then extended to her husband as life seemed to get worse and worse for them. As she sat in jail, with her future looking bleak, no family to support them, and little in the way of options. Her and her husband, also in jail at the time, decided that they would pray.

Sometimes when there seems to be no way out, the only place to look is up.

Romans 8:24, NIV says, “But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?”

Lori and her husband soon learned that God could provide a way out. In their desperation, they realized they could not go back to the same place they came from or back to the same friends. They needed hope, and it came in the form of rehab.

God provided through family members who had earlier given up hope, but through their prayers, God changed their hearts.

Now, both Lori and her husband are fighting for what their future in rehab. In the midst of what felt like a hopeless situation, Lori and her husband have learned to put their faith in what God could accomplish, not in what they could.

In doing so, their lives changed significantly.

Lori enrolled in a 9-month residential rehabilitation program through Restoring Women Outreach. She also enrolled in our Pure Joy Goods job-training program. In her job-training program, here at The Community Place, Lori uses her gifts and talents to create beautiful pallet art. She takes classes, attends recovery meetings, and is mentored by one of our staff.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick

You can support Lori on her journey to hope, by purchasing a piece of pallet art. For every $10 you spend, it is the equivalent of one hour of job-training and support services.

So how about you? Are you like Lori, recognizing hope exists in the unseen, not in what you currently perceive? Or will you allow your emotions to dictate what you believe your future will hold?

If you want to fight for hope you are going to have to do the following:

  1. Submit your will to God’s, just like Lori did in jail.
  2. You’ll have to believe beyond your circumstance that your future includes hope, and not focus on how today feels. Your emotions do not dictate what God has in store for you.
  3. Cling to the scriptures. You will need them to be armed against the attacks of the enemy as he seeks to deter your faith.

Someday, Lori’s family will be restored, all because she fights daily for the hope of what will be, not what it is today.

Everyone struggles when the situation looks bleak. But we have a choice. How will you arm yourself in battle to obtain the hope you seek? Comment below and let’s encourage each other in our battle for the things we do not see.

 

How to be Patient when you are Impatient

“I never pray for patience,” my husband said matter-of-factly. “For I know if I do, I am going to end up in a traffic jam.”

There is a bit of truth to that statement. I have the feeling, it sums up how many of us feel about the idea of learning patience.

The reality is,

there is only one way to learn patience: having times where you have no other choice but to wait.

And the risk we take is actually admitting we are impatient. I sure don’t like admitting that to anyone, at least not out loud.

Well, here lately, I have been having those “traffic jam” moments. Not just one. But, quite a few of them. Which has caused me to realize that God has been trying to teach me something.

LEARN FROM EXPERIENCE

In the last year, I have embarked on something new to me. I have entered into the world of traditional book publishing.

For years, God has been working on my heart, redeeming my past, and challenging my point of view to help me see how He has gifted me to write. This blog, in fact, became a part of my leap of faith in getting started with a public writing ministry again.

But God, was patient with me in my scooting around His truth, and after a few months of blogging, reminded me how He had laid on my heart to write a book about overcoming the addiction to approval, not start a blog as I had done.

And so I went, rooting out my old book proposal from years ago, reading it again and coming to the realization that it was actually quite good. Which was a totally surprise me.

And so I decided I needed to obey God to obtain an agent to get my book published.

Now in theory, that sounds wonderful. But, in practicality it is a whole different story. You see in the publishing world things can move at a snails pace. A book that you get sold now may not be actually published until two years from now.

But for the sake of my example, and how God taught me how to be patient when I am being impatient, allow me just a moment to share with you how this long, tedious process works.

First you need to send an email to an agent to query them on your book idea. Different agents have different submission guidelines but most of the time they either want an entire book proposal or the first few pages of your book. You can choose to do snail mail if you still live in the dark ages, but really an email works just fine.

Wait.

4-6 weeks later, get an email back that will indicate their interest. Check your email incessantly day after day, hoping, no, WILLING, an email to come back from said agent, all the while being slightly fearful of what their email might say.

Receive email. Hallelujah!!! Hear angels singing, scream at the top of your lungs. (Oh wait, maybe that was just me.) Decide if I you should open email with friends or alone where no one can read the rejection with you.

You will know almost immediately whether or not they are interested. Agents are also writers, and they typically get to the point. Why dilly-dally.

Honestly, I think this process is to really train you for the long haul. I mean, it’s like becoming a runner. You don’t do a marathon before you run a 5k. In the book-publishing world, you need to be ready for the marathon; this is training for the long, hard race.

Back in January was when this all began. It took three different email inquiries to find an agent who showed interested. Hallelujah! I may or may not have screamed out loud in my office by myself, with no one around to say whether or not it happened. I plead the 5th.

But, because I am an unpublished author, the agent requested I write the manuscript before he’d consider signing me. Sigh. Hey if it was easy, everyone would do it.

Wait again. This time you are working frantically while you wait, because now you must produce the very thing you said you could. But nonetheless, it feels like a long drawn out wait because you won’t get an answer on representation until the manuscript is done.

And I don’t know about you, but I can’t produce a 50,000-60,000 word manuscript to perfection overnight.

Now fast forward a few months. Writing. Living. Writing some more.

During that time I decide I am going to attend a writer’s conference where I can pitch my idea to other agents (it’s a free market) and editors from various publishing houses. While also making contacts, learning how to write better and eventually market said book.

Good news! Conference went really well and had lots of interest.

Get home from conference to follow up with everyone I met with to send book proposals and thank you notes.

Email. Email. Email some more. And wait.

A few were quick to return responses within a week.

However, others, well, that is where the waiting patiently muscle has to be flexed.

Week, after week, after week, after week…nothing.

So now it’s been 9 months since I first started sending out the book proposal to agents and I have not signed with an agent, yet still have three I am waiting on response from. And an email inbox just waiting to receive their email.

Sigh. If only we could will an answer.

Oh and prayer? Yes, ma’am, pretty please, and believe me you there has been a lot of that going on.

DO THE OPPOSITE OF PATIENT

But these past few weeks I started to realize something about myself. I no longer having an internal struggle of impatience; it started erupting out of every part of me.

My arms would start flailing as I passionately expressed my challenges with this industry and process. My voice would get louder. I sometimes sounded, angry. Angry? Where did that come from? I mean, the view from the outside may be that of a child, throwing a fit.

Not me! I wouldn’t do that. Sigh. Blush. But I did. Oh yes I did.

So this week I reflected on the feelings being expressed during the wait. First of, I recognized how irritated I had become. Even offended, at times. It didn’t help that I compared their lack of response to other agents I was communicating with recently. Then there was the moaning, complaining and then my moments of venting annoyance.

And here is what the Holy Spirit, in my seeking said to me. Okay, really the Holy Spirit did not speak in an audible voice from heaven. It actually came from a colleague…but oh I knew it was Him as soon as she said it.

Here is what she said, “Do you not trust the Lord to supply the right agent at the right time. I mean, He got you this far. He’s not going to let you down now.”

Ouch. Anyone else have a friend like that? Man are they annoying.

But truly, we all need friends like these who listen to the Lord and are not afraid to share a fresh word of truth to us.

She was right. God was right. I was not trusting. My response was immature and completely impatient.

SURRENDER AND TRUST

The Lord’s intent was to teach me patience, however, I did the exact opposite.

But I learned an important lesson in this and maybe it will help you too.

The only way to learn patience when you are impatient is: surrender control and trust the Lord.
It’s doing the exact opposite of the thing you are doing. You see, I was playing tug-o-war with the Lord. I am a Bible-believing Christian. I do my quiet times in the morning. I spend time praying throughout the day.

Many times I would say to myself “I trust you Lord. Whatever you want Lord, I trust you.”

But I was taking it back. Every time I asked the question, why haven’t I heard yet? Every time I wondered if they had forgotten about me. When someone would ask how the process was going, it felt like salt in the wound, I wanted to be able to say I had an agent, a book contract the whole shebang.

You and I may believe God’s timing is perfect, but are we really surrendering our plans, our dreams, and our goals to allow Him to work them out in His timing. Or are we playing tug-of-war with our emotions, when the reality is we really aren’t in control.

So here is what I did. Maybe it is what you need to do too.

I went home. I picked up my laptop computer and I placed it in my hands. I literally lifted it off the table. You see, most days my hands are typing on the keyboard, holding it into place, keeping it under my control. But that night, I gave it all over to the Lord.

I repeated what Job said after he lost everything, “The Lord gives. The Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

His timing is perfect. His plan is already in place. Do you trust Him?

The only way you are ever going to be able to show patience in the midst of impatience is if you surrender it all and trust Him to do the work He is more than capable of doing. Let Him be your advocate. And lay the rope down.

What are you struggling with right now that is making you extremely impatient? Is there something that represents what are you are struggling with that you can use as you surrender and trust the Lord?

Feeling Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

I cannot stand being uncomfortable.

I don’t like being too hot. I can’t stand it when I am so cold I am shivering.  New places can stretch me when I don’t know anyone because I feel awkward, shy, and vulnerable.

It’s the worst.

But sometimes being uncomfortable can be good for us. In fact, I’ve learned coupling the uncomfortable with obedience to God and found it’s the perfect intersection for God to produce a blessing.

Allow me a moment to tell you a story about a prophet and a woman. You can find these stories in 2 Kings 4:8-37, 8:1-6 .

There was a prophet in Israel named Elisha. He was known to be a man of God who did whatever God told him to do. A well off Shunammite woman (they never mention her name) and her husband, host him at their home for several meals, and then decided to offer him a place to stay. She redid a room in her home specifically for him. Elisha was very touched by the woman and asked if he could bless her for her goodness to him. She waved off his request and told him, she basically had all she needed. Elisha asks his servant to find out how he can bless her and his servant lets him know she wishes to have a son, even though her husband is old. But that is exactly what Elisha does. He tells her she will have a son, by this time next year. (v.16) She objects to his words and gets angry that he would even suggest such a thing.

Nine months later, she gives birth to a son. All is well until the son gets sick and dies in the father’s arms. They lay the son in a bed and she goes to get Elisha, to demand he do something about it, as he had promised her a son. She was quite upset Elisha’s promise did not come with a life-long guarantee. Long story short, (too late) he returns prays, asks God to revive her son, lays on top of him 3 times (okay, lets all admit that is a bit weird), and he lives.

But that is just the back-story. However, you needed to know that part to get to this part.

Years later there is a famine in the land. Elisha returns to warn her and tell her to move. And so, she does. She moves her family to a far off land for 7 years while her people go through the famine. When she is told it is time to return she does so and goes to the king to retrieve her land back. When she returned the King assigns her an official to assist and he blesses her by returning her home and land back to her.

Now if you are starting to scratch your head and think, “Dawn, you have lost it! What does any of this have to do with being uncomfortable?” Stick with me and we’ll get there in a moment.

Check out what this no named, only described by her ethnicity, woman does as we began our story. She opens up her home to a prophet. She does not know him; not really. She and her husband only had a few meals with him. But then she takes her hospitality a step further by setting up a room for him and giving it to him for as long as he needs it.

Is there anything in that scenario that makes you feel uncomfortable? Um…yeah!

Now I am not suggesting to you to bring strange men into your home, but it does beckon us to wonder, if her faithfulness in the uncomfortable here did not bring her the blessing later?

What we must remind ourselves of when we read these stories from the Bible is that the people who were living them out never knew what their outcomes would be. Our Shunammite friend had no idea she was going to receive the blessing of a child, one she never thought she could ever have…in fact, she was so sure of it that she couldn’t even dare to ask for fear for fear of his answer being “No.”

Can you relate to that? Can you relate to the desire of wanting something so bad and for so long you don’t even dare mention it anymore because it brings up all those feelings? All those emotions you may not be able to control should someone mention that “something”? That one thing you can’t have?

I get the sense that is exactly where our Shunammite woman was in this story. Willing to serve her God anyway she could, even to the point of making her home a refuge for a strange, man of God. Even if it meant getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.BluewithWhite Become uncomfortable emotionally

She was willing to become that uncomfortable in the physical…but God wanted to take her a bit further to become uncomfortable emotionally and spiritually with Him.

And when she obeyed look at what it yielded her—blessing—and in the form of a son, an heir, a first-born who not only carries on the name of the family but now will also carry on the testimony of faith in a God who moves us into the uncomfortable.

Then, when she was told to move away for seven years, in the face of famine, she had already learned the blessing of obedience, even when it is uncomfortable. In her case even if it meant moving her family away temporarily to the land of the Philistines. (2 Kings 8:1) In case the name Philistine isn’t familiar to you, the Philistines were the ones the Israelites battled in the famous story of David and Goliath. Goliath was a Philistine.

It doesn’t say why they chose to move to the land of their sworn enemy, but they did.

And God blessed them.

He blessed them with the return of their land and a king who honored them as his people by paying back all that they had lost. You see he did not have to do that. He did not have to return any of it to them. But it just so happens that the king was talking just that day to Elisha’s servant and he was telling him the story about a Shunammite woman whose son was brought back to life by Elisha.

And in walks the woman, seeking her land back.

“Restore all that was hers, together with all the produce of the fields from the day that she left the land until now.” (2 Kings 8:3-6)

And just like that God does yet another miracle in her life. Out of an act of obedience, and an uncomfortable one at that.

I don’t love becoming uncomfortable. But I have learned over time through a seven hour move from Ohio, a house that wouldn’t sell up north for seven years, surgeries that have permanently disabled parts of my body, unemployment, and chronic health issues that regardless of how uncomfortable I am, if I am willing to obey God, I will see blessings. I have learned to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Because I know the blessing will come…sometimes financial, but more often spiritual blessings like new gained freedom, joy that surpasses understanding, learning mercy instead of justice, and being used to steward a vision bigger than I could have dreamed on my own.

Seek God, while you are uncomfortable. You just never know, when He’ll use it for your blessing.

What about you? Can you relate to the Shunammite woman in your desires? Have you seen times your willingness to be uncomfortable made it possible to see the blessing?

Want to hear more of Leslie’s story? Listen to her podcast. 

Share below and let’s talk more about getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.

How to Reduce Recidivism One Heart at a Time

When I was 26 years old I had an encounter with God like I had never experienced before.  In fact, up until that point, I wasn’t even sure He existed.

At the time I was extremely depressed. Still trying to work through the pain and  guilt of a recent divorce and subsequent bad decisions. You would have never known it as I was able to put on a pretty good show. The mask I wore made me look put together, put underneath I was falling apart.

God knew it and made it very clear how badly I needed Him.

On June 23, 2001 I surrendered my life to Him and everything changed. At the time I was living in Ohio and knew very few Christians.

Once I got connected to a local church. At my baptism I shared my testimony and it was not long after I was asked to go into the local jail to share with the female inmates. At the time, this felt like one of the strangest requests I think I ever received.

I had nothing in common with anyone in jail. (Well, except for that one night in college I spent in the drunk tank) I was different than then as I wasn’t strung out on drugs, I wasn’t a thief, I wasn’t a violent person and I had never killed anyone. So why in the world, would my testimony be of any help to a female inmate?

Nonetheless, I was asked three times to go into the jail.
And three times I turned them down.

Fast forward to 2013. I was now leading this new ministry and about to open up The Link Center in my now hometown of Cullman, AL. The first couple who comes to visit with me were “ex-felons.” They shared that they were homeless, they were in need of jobs, and really just some help/encouragement in moving forward. Even though they shared their story with me, which included Jesus and some pretty horrible charges, I still fell in love with them. It was exhilarating to consider what God could do with their lives now that they wished to live for Him.

At the time, we (The Link of Cullman County) were partnered with our local mental health organization to help homeless individuals get into an apartment. But in order for them to receive the funding, they had to give me permission to speak with local agencies in the community. One of them was DHR.exhilaratingpink

DHR shared the details of their case and I felt like I was punched in the gut.

I went home that night questioning everything. How in the world was I supposed to lead a ministry that ministered to the poor, which would also include those who had been engaged in criminal activity, if I was struggling to love this couple.  I was not the least bit equipped to love these two and help them be restored to God.

At home that night, I started searching the internet for prison ministry information. I don’t know what I thought I was going to find. Google had a lot of information but all it did was remind me how ill-equipped I was for this new role.

As I asked God, “What do I do? How do I love someone who has done these things?”

I felt like God was impressing on my heart, “You love your neighbor as yourself. Nothing changes.They are no different than Paul (murder), David (murderer and adulterer), Moses (murder), or the thief on the cross.” I think sometimes God likes to talk to me in extremes, so I don’t miss his meaning.

From that day forward everything changed. It became blatantly apparent to me at that point that their sin was no different than my own. I was called to love them, just as much as God had loved me in the pit of my sin.
equalatthefootofthecross

From that point on it was like the Holy Spirit put out an “APB” into our community. Every where I turned someone was asking me if we would help ex-felons, if we would give them a second chance. I got Facebook messages, phone calls, and one by one they started coming in.

About 3 months later I was setting up a meeting with the Warden of our local jail to teach a bible-based jobs preparedness program to the inmates. And that is when my calling became more real than ever before.

In August of 2013, we launched Jobs for Life(TM) class. The class started with around 30 women and by the time we ended the 16-week class, we had 3 women left.

During that time, I learned more about me and the things inside my heart than they ever could have taken away from that class.

One of the verses that God used to get Chris (my husband) and I to move to Alabama in the first place (you can read more about that here) was Isaiah 61:1-3.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me
 because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
 to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,”

It was at the end of that first class that I read those verses inside the jail.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you can feel the intensity of it. Like you know for sure this is where you are supposed to be, at this moment in time, for such a reason as this? When I have those moments the hair on my arms will often stand up.You too? I knew you would understand.

As I read those scripture verses, it was like everything I had done, everything that God had called me to, everything I thought this ministry was going to be came to a halt. And things got real.

Never before in my life did I realize the significance of me choosing to love my neighbor beyond their choices. It was never more real than standing in the jail that day with those women.

I became committed, sold-out, extremely passionate about understanding the plight of the prisoner and the ex-felon. I wanted to understand everything about their situation. How they got there, what their story was. I asked lots of questions, listened as much as I could, and started watching documentary after documentary on prison and drugs.  But none of it prepared me like actually walking with someone through it.

In that very first class was a woman named Peggy. I connected with Peggy because of her eagerness to learn. I am a teacher, what can I say…I tend to be drawn to the eager ones. At the start of the class she spoke of being tired of going in and out of jail. Peggy had a drug problem and an abusive husband. She needed a GED and was on disability. She had lost her kids years ago due to the drugs and her poor choices. She had landed up homeless and reminded me at one point when she had come to The Link Center to get help with a hotel room.

Peggy, Tutwiler Prison ID

Peggy was taking the Jobs for Life(TM) class because she knew she needed something to be different. Being on disability had held her back from working, but it had also gotten her to where she was, as a repeat offender. Peggy looked like she was in her mid-40s with her mouth drawn in from lack of teeth and her sun-worn skin.

Peggy wasn’t much different than a lot of the other women in there, as she was awaiting her fate in court. But, over time, Peggy started to desire more and more of her life to change. She started to seek God to change her, her circumstances, and her future.

She was inspiring others with big prayers that stretched her faith. And before we knew it, we started to see God move. But, not everything happened the way Peggy had hoped. It wasn’t long after the class was finished, in November of that year, that Peggy was sentenced to Tutwiler.  If you live in Alabama, you know what that means. If you don’t live in Alabama, you can learn more about the all-women’s prison here. Tutwiler is hell-on-earth. It took everthying in me, of hearing of her fate, to not want to burst out crying.

Sure Peggy had some issues with drugs and in her desperation she not only became a user but a seller. But in my mind none of that deserved the fate of Tutwiler.

But God had another plan for Peggy and so off to Tutwiler she went. While she was there we corresponded frequently through mail and phone. Tutwiler offered her a few class options and she was court-ordered to take the SAP (Substance Abuse Program). I often recall Peggy calling me in tears because God had opened up another wound to help her work through the healing. The more I spoke with Peggy, the more I heard her life stories and the more my heart was opened to loving her.

When Peggy secured a bed at a local rehab, I picked her up and dropped her off at her new home. It was a far cry from a mother picking up her child from college to bring them home, but for some reason it felt familiar. I realized then Peggy and I were in this for the long haul, this story was not going to end any time soon.

Peggy grew while she was at the rehab and I would go and visit her frequently as I was the only “family” close by at that time in her life. It was often a tough burden to bare, knowing she may not have someone come see her as she watched the other residents with their family and friends. My only consolation was knowing she had other friends from Cullman who were there for her when I could not be.

About 6 months into her stay there was an incident at the rehab that became a red-flag to the courts. Long story short, the judge released Peggy to come back to Cullman and finish out her recovery through an out-patient recovery program. Peggy had nothing. No home, no car, no job, barely any clothes, no family close by and she was needing to make all new friends.

Thankfully a safe and welcoming family from her past opened up their home to her and gave her a place to stay.

Peggy is one of a handful of women I have walked with in their transition back into society as “returning citizens” (we don’t call them ex-felons, as we tend to live out the labels that are placed on us) that I have seen God do a transformative work in.

You can watch more of Peggy’s story here:

Peggy, along with the others, have taught me so much about what it truly means to love and walk with our neighbors behind bars and then beyond.

Here are 5 ways to cut down on recidivism one heart at a time, starting with yours.

1.Jail is Different Than You Think
When I went into the Cullman County Detention Center for the first time, I experienced something I never expected, acceptance.

After I met with the Warden he asked me to share what the Jobs for Life class would entail  with the female inmates. I was so emotional, filled with fear and excitement, that it overwhelmed me. When I asked them if they had ever heard about The Link of Cullman County before, hands went up. They started telling me, “My Momma told me to come.” “My aunt told me to come.” “I was going to come, before I landed up here.” The tears  just started rolling down my cheeks. I was so overwhelmed I could barely hold it together.

I heard from the crowd,” Its okay, baby girl, we’ll wait on you.”

That was the last thing I expected to hear. It ripped open my heart and allowed me to see, these ladies, well, they were the same as me. Vulnerable and needing acceptance.

2.Loving a prisoner is a heart-issue
We have the tendency to want to put sin on levels. It is understandable. If I am honest, I don’t want my “little white lie” to be as bad as someone else abusing their child. I don’t want my jealous issues to be viewed the same way as someone who sells drugs. It’s not the same, right? Well, yes and no. One is not treated the same as the other, but they all lead to separation from God and eternal hell.

pslam103finalBut the issue here is not their sin, it’s our hearts.

To love our neighbors behind bars or walking on the streets, we must ask God to reveal our hearts. The reality of it is, we never want to see our own sin on the same level as their sin. However, God’s word does not discriminate. The words He speaks to you is the same as He speaks to them. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Ps 013:12, NIV)

This may be the area that we need to be aware of most. If you are going to love someone behind or beyond the bars, you are going to have to be willing for God to do the work in you first.

3.Just because they are in jail does not mean they don’t know Jesus
I went into jail believing that NONE of them knew Jesus and it was our job to get them all saved. HA! Not true. In fact, churches had been sharing the gospel with them for years before our team showed up on the scene. Many of them experience “jailhouse Jesus.” What I have learned is that at times it’s actually easier for them to follow Jesus in jail than it is when they get out. Why? Because the jail is filled with broken people. And more often than not, broken people realize they can no longer do life as they were doing it and they need a Savior to help them. So Jesus is more tangible in the jail then when they are released.

What became apparent to me is that many of them need to be equipped with how to live like Jesus, rather than being introduced to Him. Now, I will put a caveat on this. I live in the South, where its been said ‘We first have to convince people they are lost, before we can help them accept Jesus.’ On the other side of that coin, there are also people getting “saved” in the jail all the time. This is a good thing. But we need to understand is not all of them need to be saved. What they need to learn is how to live like Jesus.

4.The real test of your character is not loving them in the jail, it’s sticking with them when they get out
In our local Detention Center, there are close to 30 churches/organizations that go in to teach and share the gospel. Thirty. Do you know how many of them stay with them on the outside? About a handful. That makes me sick to my stomach. We are willing to go in and share our “love” when they are in a contained space, but when they are released and most vulnerable we turn our backs on them. Come on Church! We can do better than that.

If I have heard it once I have heard it a thousand times. “Those church ladies/men come in here and minister to us, and they are really nice, but where are they when I need them on the outside? Their churches don’t accept us. They say one thing but their church does something different.” UGH!

We all need a heart-check on this. If we are going to be apart of God’s desire to transform our communities by loving our neighbors, we are going to have to get over ourselves and start changing our ways.

getoverourselves

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”  (Luke 5:31, NIV) Our churches and our ministries should be like hospitals set up to receive the sick, not a sanctuary for the healed.

5. Loving the prisoner means believing beyond their circumstances
Remember, every person in jail has a story to tell. They too were once children and their stories can break your heart. In order for them to overcome their circumstances, sometimes you need to see what they cannot and start speaking those things over them, praying it for them, and loving them as if they are such. We have the power to speak life and death through  our tongue. If we choose words that speak encouragement, love, and respect it is only time before they start to believe them. Here’s the bottom line.We can choose to focus in on their sins and therefore perpetuating the problem, only reinforcing what they already believe: they are nothing, can do nothing, and therefore should just continue down the path they are already on.

Or, we can choose to love them as we are commanded to do because it was shown to us in our pit of sin. In doing so giving them the opportunity to be restored back to their God, to themselves, to their relationships, and to the world around them.

We  who call ourselves Christians, Christ-followers, and the body of Christ, we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus. He came to set the prisoner free both behind the bars and beyond. In order for us to do as He has done, we are going to have to start with our own hearts. As we are transformed, God will use us to go and transform others.

What is it about ministering to someone beyond bars that scares you the most?

 

 

9 Ways to Love an Addict Even When It Hurts

Trying to love someone in active addiction is hard. Frustrating. It can be downright heart-wrenching.

In fact, apart from God, it is impossible. 

Because here’s the deal, the person you once knew (the sober person) they are gone. You are dealing with someone completely different. Someone who has now decided to partner with darkness and who is in bondage to an ugly, flesh-eating, family-destroying, brain deteriorating drug. That drug has now consumed them, every bit of them: mind, body, and soul. The only thing they now care about is getting their next high, their next fix, their next drunken stupor and who you are and what you meant to them no longer matters.

Trying to love someone in addiction feels about the same as picking a rose from a bush. You know there is beauty at the end of it, but your going to have to go through a whole lot of pain to get there.

As we discussed in last week’s post, you need to be emotionally and spiritually healthy…full of compassion, love, and forgiveness if you are going to have a chance at loving them well. The only way to do that is through the Spirit of God, because it is God who taught us to love in the first place.we-love-because-he-first-loved-usIn Galatians 5, Paul is sharing with the church in Galatia about their freedom and how through their freedom they can either choose to walk by the Spirit or by their flesh. In 5:13 14 he says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

What does it mean to live by the flesh?

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

Now before we start judging those around us let’s take a look at some of these that related to us loving our neighbors in addiction. Last week we talked about forgiveness because we were angry at the people who are in addiction…that can easily be also viewed as hatred, discord, fits of rage, dissensions, or factions. We also may had to confess our anger with God for what has happened. When we put up anything before our worship of God, we are in the sin of idolatry. Idolizing “little gods” that we put in the place of our Almighty God is truly not hard to do. I know this because I do it. It is also why God made sure to make it second of the 10 Commandments.

So now that we can see that we all fall into one of these categories of walking in the flesh .(I didn’t even get into the other ones…that is another post in and of itself, just remember there are no rankings there. Witchcraft was right next to hatred, and factions came right before drunkenness and orgies. Hello!) Let’s be reminded why it is of utmost importance to have the Spirit of God as we seek to love those in addiction.

The very next verse explains it all:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Gal 5:22-23)

Because the fruit we need to bear is from the Spirit of God there is no way to truly love someone unless His Spirit is in us.

In the Galatians 5:22 verse, it says “fruit of the Spirit,” not fruits of the Spirit.

One of the things I love about God is He is can be very mysterious.

When we think of a fruit we think of a singular item. But when He defines “fruit of the Spirit” He multiplies it. So instead of us bearing only one kind of fruit we bear nine.

Because of this I don’t believe the fruit of the Spirit has a specific order to them, one is not greater than another, they are all equal. However, for the purposes of this post, I am going to pull them out one-by-one in a way that will help us all learn how to love our neighbors in addiction.

FIRST FRUIT: SELF-CONTROL

If you are going to love, nah, scratch that, when you are loving someone in active addiction, you are going to have to learn the word, “No.”

So, let’s start there. Repeat after me, “No.” Good, say it again. “No.” One more time like you really mean it. “No.”

Yeah! High-five! How did that feel?

In order for you to love someone in active addiction you will have to set boundaries. And the best way for you to start that is realizing you will have to say, “No.”

Boundaries are good and healthy. God sets up boundaries for us in order to help us, guide us, and set us free. It is just like how we set up boundaries for our children…go to bed by 8, up by 6, don’t eat too much sugar, save your money, don’t touch the hot stove…these are all boundaries we set for our children to help them stay healthy and not endanger themselves…right? Most of the time it’s because Mom/Dad needs rest and a sugar-high kid can drive you nuts , and who needs more Legos to step on, and the stove just hurts, right? You get me? Ok, good.

Boundaries are a form of self-control. By setting up boundaries around us, we are telling others what they can and cannot do. By saying “no” to the person who has chosen alcohol/drugs over your relationship you are communicating to them, “Your destructive choices are not going to determine how I live my life.” When we respond this way we are exhibiting self-control. And in doing so, we are also loving them. We are loving them because we are also no longer enabling them by giving into their every need. When we enable an addict, we can basically start digging thelatishaeditedir grave. The last thing an addict needs is for you to give into everything they ask for because once they know you’ll give it to them, they’ll just keep coming back. if they know you’ll give them money, they will give you every excuse in the book to get more. if you will continuously get them out of jail, not only will you chance losing everything, they’ll continue to make the same poor choices, cause they know someone will always bail them out.

You want to know why addicts continue to cycle in and out of their addiction, in and out of homelessness, in and out of jail? Enabling is a big part of that equation. Exhibiting self-control on your part can help them to hit their rock bottom. From there they can start healing. That in essences, is one of the most loving things you can do.


Enabling = death. Boundaries =life.


SECOND FRUIT: GENTLENESS

How about gentleness?

The definition of gentleness is: Sensitivity of disposition and kindness of behavior, founded on strength and prompted by love.

When an addict is spinning out of control and they are angry at you and the world around them your response in gentleness can disarm them. It gives them less reason to keep responding to you in that manner. It can also restore them and keep them from continuing to sin.

Galatians 6:1 says, ” Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”

And no one needs you too falling into temptation cause then things just go from bad to worse. In this case, you may not be tempted to use drugs or alcohol, but you may be tempted to get angry right back at them. You may want to use your own set of manipulative techniques to try and get them to stop using. Either way, responding with gentleness is yet another way you can show love to your neighbor in addiction.

THIRD FRUIT: PATIENCE

We live in a society of now. Of have it your way, when you want it, how you want it. And nothing will teach you patience like addiction, I can promise you that. I have driven in snowstorms that should have been a 30 minute trip that took 7 hours and honey, that is NOTHING compared to the patience you’ll need to love someone in active addiction. I can’t tell you anything more than the straight out truth…this is your reality. There are no silver bullets, there is no perfect prayer to pray, fasamberting will change you but I cannot promise it will do anything for them. The only healer I can point you to is Jesus and His timing on this is often way different than ours.

But to exhibit patience you will have to stop trying to control the person and the situation. Trying to control them may even make it worse. You have to let them go. As scary as I know that sounds you have to them let go because the only way for them to ever get clean is if they hit their rock bottom. You don’t know where that bottom is. I don’t know where that bottom is. Only God knows. We need to trust Him with their deliverance. Patience speaks love to an addict because they know loving them can be hard. But when you respond to them with patience, you are saying, “I love you even in the midst of what you are going through and being here for you is more important than what I want for you.”

FOURTH FRUIT: PEACE

Which is why you are also going to have to ask God to give you supernatural peace. A few weeks ago, I talked about how important it is to have peace and suggested how you can obtain it. But here is the gist of it…you don’t have peace because your worry, anxiety and fear are ruling you. And listen sweet Mama, I am talking to you again, with my tender eyes looking at yours, and my hand on your hand…I know why. I know why you worry. It’s because that is your baby and you still see that sweet baby insides the drug that has consumed your child.

But you must remember that sweet baby grew up and starting making their own decisions and forgot all the things you taught them. All they care about right now is them. So just as I explained in my last post that no matter who we are, we are going to have to forgive them, God and yourself, now we need to take care of our hearts and give over that anxiety, worry and fear to God.

 “Do not worry about anything but in everything with prayer and petition, give thanks to God. And the God of peace who surpasses all understanding will guard your heart in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Because when you are trying so hard to love someone who can no longer conceivably love you back, you need your heart guarded by the only one that can truly protect it. Can I get an Amen?

Guarding your heart with peace is yet another way to love a person in addiction because your peace overflows into their lives. When you are feeling peace, you speak peace into them, you pray peace over them, you respond to them with peace and in doing so, they will start to experience that peace and want it for their own life.

FIFTH FRUIT: FAITHFULNESS

Next up, is faithfulness. You be faithful to that person. You be faithful in prayer. And when you pray you pray for big things, believing big things knowing that you serve a God who is BIG. Ephesians 3:20 speaks so well to this…for He can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine. Circle that person up in this scripture verse. You dream up who that person will become and you start speaking that over their life. You don’t focus on where they are now but rather where they will be when they are fully restored.

” For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 3:20)

I speak this to the girls we minster to in the jail whenever I get the chance to. You know why? It speaks hope. It reminds them that God already knows what their good works will be, He already prepared them. And I challenge them with this…

“Will you dare to walk in those good works you were already purposed for or will you continue in the lifestyle you are in? Will you choose to allow the devil to continue to steal, kill and destroy (as he has already done so well) or will you choose a life of abundance.”

patienceBut here’s the deal. I have said those words to hundreds of women. But only a few have actually take me up on it. The rest, I am still waiting on. Because being faithful means never giving up on them, it means loving them, even if its from a distance. Faithful means  believing God for their healing,  pursuing them letting them know you are there when they are ready, and most importantly praying for them daily.

Prayer is one of the most powerful tools you have. Do not downplay its effectiveness in this situation. I have pleaded on the behalf of women who relapsed that the Lord would spare her life and if she would not get clean, that she would be placed back in jail. I would beg God to keep her from the grave.

Jail may not be the place that you would want to be, but I can promise you this, when you are stuck in addiction and spiraling out of control, it can feel like the hand of God pulling you out of your pit and saving you from destruction.

We must choose to be faithful through the Spirit as it does not come naturally to us. And as we do, we will show those in active addiction our love for them.

SIXTH FRUIT: KINDNESS

Which brings me to kindness. The Bible says, it’s by His kindness that He calls us to repentance.

Job 6:14 says,  “Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty. We are to show kindness as He has shown us kindness.

Our kindness, when faced with adversity, draws people to God. Cause it begs the question, “Why?” Why would you show me kindness when I have done these things to you? You cannot show kindness to someone you are angry at. You can’t show kindness to the person who frustrates you. It’s only through the Spirit that you can show kindness to those who are difficult to love. Don’t forget that Job, the author of our verse above was being mocked by his friends for the trials he was going through. This is Job’s response in the midst of that. Can you show kindness in the midst of your trial? Is there someone you can show kindness to who is trying to overcome their addiction?

SEVENTH FRUIT: GOODNESS

And we must point them to the goodness of God. If all you ever do is remind them of His wrath, His discipline, of Hell, you mind as well say your final goodbyes. They will run to the hills and they may never look back. More than anything they need to know that they have a God who loves them regardless of what they have done. One of the ways they can know that is how you show them.

stfrancisassisi

 

EIGHTH FRUIT: JOY

Of all the fruit of the Spirit, this one may be the hardest one to exhibit when you are trying to love someone in active addiction. There is absolutely nothing joyful or joy-filled about this situation for anyone involved. In fact, its the exact opposite. It can be down-right heart wrenching to watch someone you love destroy themselves. So why in the world, would I even consider using the fruit of the Spirit with this included in it to explain how we can love people in addiction?

Because you can’t love someone in active addiction in your own strength. It is absolutely physically impossible. In our own strength we will become exhausted, frustrated, angry, depressed, bitter, enraged, lonely, or just completely complacent. I have heard people say that it feels like torture to not know whether or not their loved one is alive or dead.

That is why we need to rely on God. When we do He reveals to us how we are to respond to challenges such as these.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3, NIV)

Consider it pure joy?! Really?! Why in the world would we want to consider trials, such as trying to love our neighbors in addiction, as pure joy. Has James lost his mind? I actually think James actually learned a huge spiritual secret in how to live. It’s in the next few verses we see that not only can we learn perseverance (also known as patience…I think we talked about that one already) but James says that we can also become mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James knows something, we can all learn from and that is if we focus in on our situation we’ll find nothing but grief and despair. But if we look beyond it, realizing that it’s not going to change anytime soon, but instead we can change…well, then mayyoull-need-to-choose
be then there is something to this. You and I have to choose to go on, even as our neighbors stay stuck in their addictions. Even as they become more and more destructive. And with those choices, we can choose joy or we can choose sorrow or anger or defeat. But know this: your choice either way will not change their sobriety, but it will determine how you live and whether or not you are capable of truly loving them.

Consider it pure joy….because you will persevere, you will be mature and complete, lacking nothing. Including with it the ability to love.

NINTH FRUIT: LOVE

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I like to save the best things for last. And this piece of our fruit is most certainly the juiciest of all. I know, I know I am contradicting myself. But I can do that, it’s my blog. Here is the proof in the pudding. We cannot love our neighbors in addiction without the Spirit because the Spirit produces love. It’s plain as it can be.

And this love is the greek word “agape” which is a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love.

Paul could have used one of the other four versions of this word, but he chose the one that he knew spoke of the love of the Father. And that is exactly the kind of love we are to have as well.

Selfless.
Sacrificial.
Unconditional.

This means listening to them, taking time to hear their struggles and empathizing with them, offering them a shoulder to cry on, allowing them to share their hurts, apologizing even when you may not have done anything (not to encourage their behaviors but to let them know you see their pain), apologizing when you have done something.

What if you said, “I am so sorry i have been enabling you all this time, I didn’t realize how hurtful that has been for you to be able to heal and stop using. I am going to do my best to help you make your own decisions and not do things that you can do on your own.”

Loving is putting their emotions before yours, even when you are hurting. Loving is sacrificial in that you would choose to love, over choosing to judge. This does not mean sacrificing EVERYTHING you have to try and save them. Remember there is only ONE SAVIOR and His name is Jesus.

These are the nine fruit of the Spirit and it is with this fruit that we can fully, completely, selflessly, sacrificially, and unconditional love our neighbors in addiction as ourself.

Sometimes when you are too close to the situation, trying to love your neighbor in active addiction can feel like you are inflicting more pain on yourself. What do you do to self-care when loving them gets too hard?