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.

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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?

 

 

What Happens When Fear Wins?

I got to thinking this past week. What would have happened if I allowed my fears to get the best of me. What is at stake if I choose to avoid the things I feel God leading me to do and let them pass me by?

For the last five weeks we have been talking about how to overcome our fears. Doing so is not easy, but hopefully one you feel a bit more equipped to accomplish. I have one more piece of advice for you before we end this series, but before we get to that let’s take a quick walk back through the main points from the last 5 weeks so we can be sure to receive all God taught us during this time.

Let me remind you that this is an on-going process and you are going to need to exhibit patience and perseverance through it. The reality is that we will always have another fear to overcome, another area of our life that God wants us to gain freedom in so that we can live our lives to the full, as He wants us to do according to John 10:10.

So let’s walk through what we learned through this series on overcoming our fears:

First we talked through how we can overcome our fears with peace by praying through Philippians 4:6-7 which says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

It is through this verse that we can know that our God is full of peace and that peace can guard our hearts against worry, anxiety and fear to help us overcome any situation we are walking through.

Second, we learned how to surrender our need for control, which can only intensify our fears. Jeremiah 29:11 was our guide for this post and it reminded us that God is in control and has the very best plans in mind for us, plans not to harm us to give us hope and a future. We learned how to follow a few steps in the process of surrendering by repenting, renewing our mind, releasing, and obeying God.

Next we talked about how important it is to have an on-going relationship with God and to be in the Bible everyday to be able to overcome your fears. Joshua 1:7-9 which reads, “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” reminded us that the only way we were going to be able to be strong and courageous is if we get into God’s word and get it in our mind and in our hearts.

The fourth week we learned how to fight and whom our fight was against. We were reminded that the devil likes to scheme against us as he is constantly plotting and planning his next move. But we are not left without a way to fight back. Ephesians 6:12-17 reminds us who our enemy is, powers and principalities of darkness, and the armor that we need to put on to fight against that enemy. I hope you are now starting to pray that armor on every day, Warrior. If you are going to stand firm, which I know you can, you’re going to need this as a daily habit to withstand whatever it is your enemy throws at you.

Then last week we all got a gut check when we realized we need to quit complaining about our fears over lack of provision. I shared Psalm 116:17 as the antidote “I will sacrifice a thank-offering to you and call on the name of the Lord.” In that we need to give thank offerings. How many found yourself complaining this week and switched to thanks and praise instead? The struggle is real; I know it, my friend.

So now you are armed with five scripture verses that I hope you are starting to outline, study, memorize and get into your heart. That way when the enemy starts coming at you with all the reasons you should be afraid, you have got a contingency plan of scripture verses you can say recite to show how powerful YOU are.

So here is my last bit of advice for you as you seek to overcome your fears. I learned very early on in my process of following God’s vision now called “The Link of Cullman County” that more often than not the only way I was going to overcoming my fear was to do the thing I was most afraid of doing. Which meant, I could not allow the fear to win.

To highlight my point to you today we are going to go into the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a Jewish prophet during a time in which Jerusalem was in ruin. He served as a cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes (Neh 1:11b), in a foreign land. We learn very quickly his heart for his people as his brother shares with him that the city of Jerusalem has been “broken down and its gates have been burned with fire.” (Neh 1:3) Nehemiah’s response is one to be admired.

“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept, for some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (Neh 1:4) See what I mean? When was the last time you wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed for several days over something that God broke your heart over? Yeah. Me too.

Next, he prayed one of the most beautiful prayers in scripture. And then he waited. (If you have not read Nehemiah it is definitely a book in the Bible you want to study.)

The reality was he had no other choice. Nehemiah had no power or authority to do anything about the city that had him heartbroken. He was in service to a king who did not have the same beliefs as him, didn’t care about the things he cared about and did not worship the same God he worshipped. In fact, the only things they had in common was their humanity and the place they lived.

Nehemiah was stuck. He lived in one place and his heart longed to be in another.

And it apparently started to show. About four months later, the king asked him why he looked so sad, as he knew he was not ill. “This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” (v. 2)

And then came the response that we all need to hear. The thing that separates those that do AMAZING and BIG things for God compared to those who completely miss out. This one line changed everything for Nehemiah and it can change everything for you.

I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, ‘May the king live for ever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.” (v. 2b-3)

Did you catch it? Nehemiah said, “I was very much afraid, but…” Oh and don’t leave off the “but.” The “but”, shows he took action. He did it even though he was very afraid. Just like you and me Nehemiah, the man who would go on to rebuild Jerusalem, the prophet who now has his own dedicated book of the bible, was afraid. And not just afraid, he was VERY afraid. Does that not give you comfort?

SO here’s the main point that I want to make sure I get across to you in all of this. If you want to do the thing that God is calling you to do, you are going to have to be willing to do it AFRAID. That’s right.

Do it afraid.

But make sure you follow God’s prescription for Nehemiah with this:

  1. If God lays something on your heart that feels bigger than you you need to repent, pray, fast, and mourn.
  2. Keep praying over it; don’t give up.
  3. Have patience. It was four months before God opened the door for Nehemiah to share with the king.
  4. Do it afraid.

How do I know this works? You only have to look a few lines down in Nehemiah to see. The King responded to him.

“What is it you want?” (v.4)

He did not scold Nehemiah. He didn’t tell him to keep is opinions to himself. He didn’t send him to jail or to his death. He asked him what he needed. And Nehemiah laid it all out for him. “Letters for travel and letters to get timber.” (my paraphrase)

The king not only gave him what he requested but he also gave him army officers and cavalry to ensure his safety. WHAT?! Only God could do something like this for Nehemiah, and only God can do something like this for you.

You see when you pray into that thing that feels bigger than you and do what He is calling you to, even when you are afraid, God does the impossible. (Luke 18:27)

How else do I know this to be true? Because I lived it.

God gave me a vision for my city in December of 2010 that broke my heart and left me wanting more. It wasn’t until October of 2011 that He revealed to me it was time to start the work of bringing the vision into fruition. Day by day I learned to trust and obey him by doing whatever it was He laid on my heart to do…and I did it VERY afraid. Seriously, I was petrified. And little by little God started to open up doors with the people I needed to see and speak with in order to accomplish the thing He had called me to do. I can tell you now that the best thing I ever did, was choose to “do it afraid.” In fact, I would suggest to you today, I don’t have a choice anymore. Now that we are heading to the end of our fourth year as an organization, the only way we continue on is if I continue to do things afraid. There is too much at stake.

But what if I chose to not do the thing I am afraid of? What if I decided to let fear win? Then what?

Well, let’s put this into perspective for a moment in relation to my experience. You may want to consider your own, but what if I didn’t trust God and do the things He called me to do because I was too afraid?

What if I was too afraid to talk to bank presidents, our Wise Up financial literacy program for teens would not be in every school in the Cullman Area. For the past four years, thousands students would not have been equipped to make wise decisions with their money as they moved on from the 9th and 12th grade. Many of them would not be breaking generational poverty in their families as they are doing now.

What if I was too afraid to ask to ask a church council for the use of their building for free we would not been able to minster to thousands of people who were hopeless, helpless, homeless, jobless, illiterate and afraid. And this is a big one, because had I been too afraid to ask once I would never have asked a second time for a building significantly larger than the first. And we would not be renovating a 22,000 sq foot building compared to the 1800 sq feet in the first.

What if I was too afraid to talk to City Council we would not have been able to partner with Cullman Mental Health to receive joint funding to help place homeless men and families into housing for the first few years. And they also would not have been willing to fund us once we received our 501c3.

What if I was too afraid to share the gospel with women in the jail? Someone else would have received the blessing of ushering them into the kingdom of God and I would have missed out.

What if I was too afraid to talk in front of large groups of people? I would have never have gone to the jail and shared with the men and women in the dorms our vision for hope and their opportunities for classes. And many inmates would not be equipped to live life differently through the many classes we have taught at the jail. I also would never have shared our vision with churches, civic groups, students, and over 10,000 people at Rock the South!

And the most important of all of these is what if I was too afraid to trust Him at all, then over 7,000 people would not have had the their lives transformed through the vision my team and I steward every day. Including myself.

You see, there is just too much at stake for me and there is too much at stake for you.

So do it afraid, don’t let fear win. No matter what it is. And I promise you, God will bless it and you will see the vision He has laid on your heart come to fruition.You will become a walking example of John 10:10, living the life that Jesus came to give you…to the full.

Which blog post in this “Overcoming Fear” series over the last 6 weeks has meant the most to you? Why?

 

How I Quit Complaining

Over the past few weeks we have been discussing a variety of ways we can overcome our fears. It’s been so exciting for me to see how you have responded to my posts and how many of you have resonated with what I shared. You have no idea how comforting it is to know that what God has taken me through can offer hope to someone else. This journey has not always been an easy one for me and there are days that I still struggle , but I am better equipped now more than ever to deal with the things that can cause me fear.

However, the next thing we are going to talk about may seem a bit counterintuitive to you. If you will stick with me and put what I suggest into practice I promise you it will yield the results that you are looking for. Fair enough? Great.

Let me begin by sharing a little truth about me. I can be a bit of a complainer.

I am the type of complainer though that does most of the grumbling in my head and only sometimes to the people who are closest to me. Can any of you relate? (I am going to assume that you are not an outward complainer, cause who likes to be around someone who complains all the time, right?)

I can make it seem like I have it all together on the outside but inside I am failing apart feeling things like anger, frustration, impatience and sometimes even bitterness. In reality, I can not only fool you but I can also fool  myself into justifying my inward emotions by comparing myself to others. “I’m not as bad as so and so.” “At least, I didn’t say that or do that.” “I am justified in the way I feel, what struggles does that person really have?”

Oh, let’s face it folks. Our insides are full of some pretty dark stuff. Most of us would be mortified if our true thoughts were placed on a movie screen for the world to see. Me included! Gasp!

But what does complaining have to do with fear? Well, at first glance it may seem like two different issues. But to offer a bit of an explanation let’s go into the Bible to the Book of Exodus. The Book of Exodus is one of my favorite books of the Bible because it is the home of a character that I feel like I relate so well to…Moses. Moses and I have so much in common…with the exception of him being a male and me a female, I wasn’t put in a basket to float down a river only to be picked up by a princess, though I would argue my mother is royalty, and I wasn’t a prince. I didn’t kill anyone and I have not been a shepherd to real sheep. But besides that, we actually have a lot in common. HA!

We both messed up big time and was in need of a Savior, we both felt God calling us to do things that were way beyond what we could possibly do on our own or even what we thought we had capabilities to do, we were both called to speak and felt ill-equipped to do so, and we both were given visions that were bigger than our little minds could fathom. But here’s the really big one, we both made excuses as to why we were the last people on planet earth that should do whatever it was God was calling us to. So, yeah…I get Moses.  If you haven’t read Exodus you totally need to because it’s full of adventure, intrigue, drama and excitement.  This is not a book of the Bible that you sleep through, this one will keep you on your toes.

Exodus is the story of how God used Moses and his brother Aaron to set the Israelites free from 400 years of captivity to lead them into the Promise Land that God had promised to Abraham years and years ago. Where I want us to begin for our purposes today is in Chapter 16. So to fast forward you there here is a quick rendition of what happens: Moses grows into a prince, sees injustice and kills a soldier, flees to another land, marries a native becomes a shepherd (this is a riches to rags story), hears God from a burning bush, gives excuses, finally yields, talks to Pharaoh “Let my people go! ” Pharaoh says no way, God puts 10 plagues on the Egyptian people (frogs and bloody rivers and locusts, oh my!), with the last one killing all the first born children and creating the first “Passover.” Israelites are told to get the heck out of dodge and head to the Promise Land taking the longer route (per God’s instructions), Moses splits the Red Sea, Egyptians die, Israelites cheer! And now here we are wandering in the desert in Exodus 16.

God just accomplished all this amazing stuff, right? The Israelites just witnessed miracle after miracle you would think they would be floating on cloud 9, singing God’s praises until the day they die. But here is what happens instead: (I am going to paraphrase here for brevity purposes)

Israelites to Moses and Aaron:  (in whiny voices) We are so hungry. Why didn’t you bring us any food?  How could you bring us out here just do die from hunger? Waah, waah, waah. We would rather be back in captivity to the Egyptians than die in the dessert.

God to Moses: I’ll rain down bread from heaven to provide food for them. They are to get what they need each day. Let’s see if they follow my instruction. I hope they listen to me.

Moses to the People: Really? You think you are grumbling to us…but you are really grumbling to God. Who are we? Are we your providers? Of course not, God is.

It continues on giving the account of how God provided manna and quail meeting their every need.

So let’s talk about this a bit.

Here are the Isrealites in the midst of the wilderness not seeing any end in site. Not knowing where the “Promise Land” was or how much longer they were going to have to walk to get there. They saw no food along the way and let’s face it, they were getting hungry but in not seeing a way for their hunger to be satisfied they also were afraid. They were afraid they got duped. They were afraid they made a big mistake in following Moses and God. They were afraid their better chances were back in Egypt. And they were afraid their needs were not going to be met.

How many of us fall into that exact category? You have a need… a job, a car, a spouse, finances, a healing, a decision on which way to go…you name it and instead of praying about it you find yourself grumbling in your head and before you know it out your mouth, to anyone that is willing to hear you.  Your fear of lack of provision is real.

But let me suggest to you another way to respond, that Moses helps make known to us in Exodus 16. Instead of joining on the grumbling, he reminded them who they were actually grumbling too…not them (Moses and Aaron), God. He called them out on it, right there in the middle of the desert. And in doing so he reminded them who their provision comes from.

The same thing happened to me.

Sometimes when you ask people to pray for you God gives them insights into the things you are doing to help you get back on track. You see, I was in a rut just a few months back. I live with a heart infection called pericarditis. I have had it for 2 years now and in June I had my second attack in a two month period with severe discomfort, and when I say discomfort I mean pain, in between. I was tired of living in pain every day. Tired of feeling limited. Tired of the challenge of a chronic illness that should have been acute. I felt very justified in how I felt because of all I had already been through. I wasn’t necessarily making this known to anyone in particular. But God knew.

And in my case, my complaining was made known to dear friend (did you know that God tells secrets on you) and I was called out on it. She not only called me out on my complaining but she also shared this verse in Psalm 116.

“I will sacrifice a thank-offering to you and call on the name of the Lord.” (v.7)

Maybe my mind thinks differently than yours, but my mind went to “what in the world is a sacrificial thank offering and what does it have to do with my complaining.”

So I did what I know do to and I looked up the word sacrifice. Sometimes words that are common to us can become assumed or mundane. When I looked up sacrifice it said this:

” to surrender something as a possession as an offering to God, the act of giving something up, something that you want to keep especially in order to get or to do something else or to help someone.”

Here’s the thing about sacrifices…they hurt. They are typically something we don’t want to give up but the thing that maybe we need to give up in this case it’s giving thanks. Why? Well, to be honest, who feels like giving thanks when you are in the midst of complaining. I certainly don’t. But this verse, compels us to anyway.

What do we give thanks for? Anything really. But you could start with God. Thank Him for who He is. For His sovereignty (2 Sam 7:28). For being on His throne (Rev 4). For listening to your prayers (Num 20:16). For knowing the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). For being your provider (Gen 22:14). For knowing what you need when you need it. (Matt 6:25-26)

Because when I started to do just this thing…my entire perspective changed. Not only did I stop grumbling, I got that perfect peace back again that reminded me of Philippians 4:6-7. And once I really started seeking God for my condition, He showed me all kinds of riches in His word about long-suffering and rejoicing in my circumstances. So instead of being ill and focusing on me, I suddenly started experiencing joy and only seeing Him.

I don’t know what your fear is that you are trying to overcome, but I do know, your Father in Heaven knows your every need. So, maybe you can start today by making a sacrificial thank-offering to God by calling on Him to meet you at your fear and in it’s place you’ll start to experience peace, joy and more of Him.

What else can you give thanks for besides the things that I mentioned above?

Want to Overcome Your Fears? Then You’re Gonna Have to Fight

The other day I was traveling with a friend in the car when she started talking about the reality of her panic attacks. It didn’t take long for another friend to chime and share about hers. They spoke of how it felt so real. Each woman explained how it came on out of no where and was uncontrollable. They spoke of the shame they felt when they were finally able to calm down and gain perspective back again.

I know those feelings. I have had those same experiences and know the weight of the shame that can consume you after the anxiety fog lifts. It’s horrible. Though my times with these panic attacks have been few,  these two ladies have had them for years.

It reminded me how our fears can feel huge to overcome all-consuming. They are very real. And it can be very hard to know what to do.

So what do you do?

We are now on week 4 of our series on overcoming fear with just two weeks left. My goal is to help you tangibly see how pursuing God with everything you have can help you to not only overcome your fears but ultimately live the life that Jesus promises in John 10:10.  We have talked about overcoming fear with peace, with surrender, and with pursuing Him through His word. This week we are going to move a little out of our comfort zones and talk about fighting.

When I was in the 11th grade I was asked to walk home with a girl who hadn’t been particularly nice to me in the past. That day she was scared for her life because apparently she gave some “looks” to the “mean” girls in gym class. When I say mean, what I am getting at is, these are not the girls that you want to pick a fight with unless you are prepared to actually use your fists. She had made them pretty mad that day and they caught her at a time where she was pretty vulnerable. All her friends were off doing other things, and she still needed to walk home. I was the innocent victim she asked to keep her company.

I have to chalk that up to one of the scariest times in my life. I think the hair stood up on my neck nearly the entire walk home, because as we walked the group of “mean” girls walked only feet behind us, taunting her and reminding me to mind my own business. We went a few more blocks and the intensity of their mocking increased. She started to tell them to leave her alone, but her words only spurred them on more.  Before I knew it they were on top of her attacking her and she was trying to fight her way out. A neighbor came out of a nearby house and scared the girls off. I know she felt scared, hurt and ashamed. It was the first time I had ever seen a fight like that and I glad to say it was my last. I will never forget that day.

Our enemy is much the same as those “mean” girls. The Bible says that “the devil schemes”(6:11b). The definition of schemes is a large-scale systematic plan or arrangement for attaining some particular object or putting a particular idea into effect. That means the enemy is devising this incredibly divisive plan using every tactic he knows how to in order to essentially tear you away from God. Fear is just one of his many tools to do that. How do I know that…read Ephesians 6:12-17:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

One of the enemy’s tactics is fear. Fear against anything you will come up against. If it were not, why would Paul urge you to become like a warrior and put on the full armor of God? He knew that equipping you with the tools you need would help you guard against your enemy so that you can stand firm against his schemes. Essentially, you are going to have to learn how to fight. And fight well.

When I got serious about the calling God had on my life, I realized I was going to have to go to battle with all my fears. Which included things like: the fear of telling others about this crazy vision I had, and the fear that they may think I am ridiculous and disapprove. The fear that I could be wrong, or that I would look like a fool. And the worse fear of all, the fear of failure. Oh the enemy knew me and my patterns well.  He knew that I longed for peoples’ approval and people not agreeing with me would slowly defeat me so the first few times I shared the vision that is exactly what happened.

They said stuff like:
“Great vision, Dawn…good luck” or
“That may happen but not by a woman, not in this town” or
“That could never happen here”

I felt defeated, confused, and ashamed. It wasn’t until I got into the Word of God and realized all I was feeling was not from God, but rather from the Devil himself. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12)

So with my armor on, and with all the faith I could muster up I put one foot in front of the other and started to pursue the vision God placed on my heart. That vision was to unify our community by loving the poor into life transformation. I had to conquer my fears one at a time. First I shared with one person. Then that one person, had me share it with a few more. Then I was to share it with a few more. Almost every time I shared I had to either fight back or wipe away the tears…that was how scared I was. Next, I acquired a few board members. Then we took steps to seek to become incorporated through the state of Alabama for “The Link of Cullman County, Inc.” Before I knew it I was fundraising and then getting to attend a Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference in Chicago. I was going to be trained on becoming a Christian Community Developer.

The more I watched my Father in Heaven do miraculous things, the bolder I got. The bolder I got, the more I wanted to kick fear in the tail and keep on going. My mantra became “I’d rather stand before man and be deemed a fool for believing God, than stand before God and be deemed a fool before Him.” Yes I was scared, but I did it anyway. Yes, at times it felt like crazy radical faith, but I did it anyway. It didn’t always happen quickly and I learned patience along the way. But the more I believed in Him the more I got to see Him do miraculous things. (One day I may do a post on the miracles He has performed and is still performing.)

So here is what I have to say to you today. If you truly want to overcome your fears you are going to have to learn how to fight like you mean it. The only way to fight like you mean it is to put your armor on and then do whatever it is that gives you fear. I do encourage you to start small. For instance, if you are deathly afraid to speak in front of people…you can start by seeking God for all the strength and courage you need, then you can put on your armor and you begin by speaking in front of some folks at work for the first time. No matter how it turns out…you praise Him. Then maybe the next time you are asked to speak, you say yes…even though it scares you to death. Then you praise Him for the opportunity to gain more freedom. And you do the same steps…. pray, put on the armor of God, and do that thing.

Can you see me giving you a virtual fist pump? I am! I promise you defeating your fears becomes invigorating. Why? It’s taking steps forward towards freedom. You are starting to live what Jesus said in John 10:10, “I came to give life, a life that is full.”

Most of us don’t realize the chains we bear, until we are broken free of them. Choose today to start walking in the freedom that Jesus came to give you. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”(Gal 5:1)

This week I have a challenge for you, I want you to pray the armor of God on every day (Ephesians 6:13-17) and then I want you to come back here and tell me how it went. Did you feel more powerful? Did you defeat any of your fears? Let’s champion each other on in this battle against our enemy to scheme against us. He does not have the last word in this, the Bible tells us that we are over-comers and so as such we will live.

My Plans < His Plans… Confessions of a Control Freak

I have a confession to make, I can be a bit of a control freak.

(I just heard some of you chuckle, you know who you are.)

I have a tendency to like things a certain way. I am a planner and it’s important to me that I know what’s going to happen next and exactly how it’s going to happen. I think I know what is best so, I have a tendency to want to make sure it goes a certain way…my way, to be exact.

If I am in control, I am also able to know what is coming next and how to handle it. Right? It makes sense.

But here is the truth. I am not in control, and either are you. Believing we are is a lie from the enemy.

In my first blog post, I mentioned John 10:10 and how our enemy, the devil wants to kill, steal and destroy everything in our life. He wants us to believe we are in control of our lives because when he achieves that he can steal away all the plans God has for us. He can destroy us from ever experiencing what it says in Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

 But what do God’s plans have to do with fear? Oh my friend, EVERYTHING.

From where I sit, God’s plans have been SO incredibly different than my own and it’s in that place of fear I have learned to surrender my plans for His to do the very thing He has called me to do. To accomplish that calling every day without being overcome by fear, anxiety and worry, I have to be totally surrendered to Him.

Last week I talked about overcoming fear with peace and how Philippians 4:6-7 became my mantra through some really challenging experiences. If you have not read that post, you may want to go check it out here. The enemy would love nothing more than to keep you paralyzed in your fear than have you walking in perfect peace.

But fear is just the emotional reaction to the real root of the issue. If we dig deeper we’ll see the true root of all of this is not fear…it’s a lack of trust or to put it bluntly, a need for control.

Our fear is based in our need for control because when we are in a place where we cannot physically see or know our outcome it produces fear.

For years, people spoke Jeremiah 29:11 over my life. It was said with such frequency to my husband and I it almost became our running joke. When and who would say it to us next.

Well, the joke was on us.

Because we had it all wrong when it came to this verse. We had totally twisted this verse to sound more like this:

“For I know the plans I have for me”, says Dawn/Chris, “plans to prosper me (the way I want to prosper, especially as it pertains to finances and work) not to harm me (no physical harm will ever come to me because this would mean God really doesn’t love, care, or have concern for me), plans to bring you hope (everything I ever hoped for will be mine, no matter the cost…my relationship with God or others) and a future (the one I have already designed in my mind that seems perfect to me.)

How’s that for a dish of truth? Anyone find themselves in the same spot?

We don’t mean to do this; some of us really do want to allow God to give us His good plans. But somewhere along the lines of life we began to believe our plans were better. But at some point we started to believe He stopped listening or He didn’t really care. Or maybe it was, whatever we wanted our plans to be didn’t work out the way we thought they should have, even though we prayed and asked Him to be in the midst of them. So we took the reigns and got back in the drivers seat.

I have been there with you in those. Believing for a certain job, in the desire for children and having a miscarriage, after miscarriage and infertility in the midst of it. In praying for someone’s behavior to change and they never did, or a circumstance to be different than it was and it felt as if I my prayers were reaching the ceiling and falling back to the ground. It was hard, really hard.

Honestly, I would still probably be thinking the same things if God hadn’t stopped me in my tracks and taught me the truth. And here it is…

We are not in control.

We like to think we are, but we are not and the tighter we clinch our fists around it the harder we make it for ourselves and for God to do what He needs to do in our lives. So how did I learn this truth, you ask? Well, I am glad you did. I learned it the hard way of course, as if any other way would have truly gotten my attention.

If you recall from last week, I was learning about overcoming my fear through a carotid body tumor. In doing so, He taught me to trade my anxiety for peace. When I had my surgery, He had a new lesson for me.

My surgery was scheduled for June 1, 2011. We showed up very early in the morning at the Vanderbilt Clinic in Nashville, TN. While I was being prepped for surgery, the doctor reassured us this would be cut and dry.

“The surgery should be no longer than 3 hours. We are going to go in and take out the tumor, use a vein from your thigh to graph the artery back together into your neck. There is nothing to worry about, we’ll be in and out in no time,” he assured us.

My mom had come in from Virginia for the surgery, so she, my husband, and my in-laws sat in the waiting room. Three hours past. Then four. And five. At about the sixth hour mark the doctors came out and told us the team was almost done and shared how things were a little different when they got into my neck then what they had thought.

“The tumor was alive and sticky,” my doctor told my family, “we couldn’t see that from the CT scan. We had to give her 4.5 units of blood and it took us a bit longer to peel the tumor from her arteries. She now has one artery instead of two and we’ll need to check in with her to make sure it stays clear. She’s also going to have quite a bit of nerve damage as we had to severe a few, but they should grow back over time.”

My stay in the hospital was originally scheduled for three days, one in the ICU and then two on the step down floor. I spent three days in the ICU and then ten more on the step down floor. Those first few days of recovery were hard. It didn’t take long for us and the doctor’s to realize the damage done from the removal could be life threatening. I could not consume food or liquid, unless the liquid had a thickening agent in it and even then it was in small doses. My voice was badly damaged, my leg on the mend. I was on a regular diet of pain meds and nutrients from an IV. Things seemed to go from bad to worse, as the doctor’s concerns grew over my inability to consume food. The talk of a feeding tube became a daily conversation and it was the very last thing I wanted, but I could not get myself to be able to eat.

Here is what I wrote on June 11, 2011 in a blog post about the experience:

“God has been teaching me a lot over the last 6 months about what it means to fully trust Him.

Before going through this surgery, I sensed Him saying to me, “Are you going to trust me in any circumstance?”

Because of that I had a feeling I’d be thrown some loops in this process. Just wasn’t sure what.

This past Wednesday, after a secondary surgery, I was having a rough morning. Swallowing was more difficult than before and my voice was in worse shape. I had a swallow study scheduled and I knew my outcome. A feeding tube was going to be in my near future. Unfortunately, I was right. The speech pathologist put me on a strict liquid diet and was recommending a feeding tube. My mom and I were devastated. We cried all the way back to my room and then sat and cried while we prayed in my room listening to some Christian worship music.

Mom had left me for a few minutes and I just felt God saying to me, “Do you still trust me Dawn?”

I did. I still do. I surrendered my plans over to him yet again and I felt a peace come over me. The same peace I spoke of before the surgery. I knew in my heart whether or not I got the feeding tube, God loved me just as much. In fact, I had came to the conclusion getting the feeding tube may be the most loving act He could do on my behalf right now.

After a few hours visiting with a friend, I tried to eat my lunch. Before I knew it I had finished my strained chicken vegetable soup and drank down a whole bottle of ensure. It was a breakthrough I know many had been praying for. It was my first full meal in a week.

The doctor came up to see me that evening to insert my tube and to his surprise, and ours, he left the bag and tubing on my tray table. There would be no tube inserted that day. He left the bag for my motivation, as long as I ate my dinner there would be no tube and I could go home the next day.”

And I did.

It wasn’t until I surrendered my plans and trusted in Him that I received peace. He is in control and His plans are to prosper me and not to harm me, to give me a better hope for the future, the one He has planned for me.

Here’s one other interesting fact about Jeremiah 29:11. God is speaking to the Isrealites through the prophet Jeremiah in the middle of the Isrealites going into captivity…again. God is saying to them…”If you will trust me, do what I say, stay true to my word, I am going to bless you, even while you are in bondage for the next 70 years.” If you don’t remember this, go back and read Jeremiah 29, it’s really eye-opening. I believe God is saying the same to us today. If you trust me (aka give me control), no matter what your in the midst of right now, I am going to bless you.”

So now when I find myself wanting to control things, I stop myself and walk through these steps:

  1. Repent – I repent of believing the lie that I am in control. I am not and to be honest, I don’t want to be. Not anymore. I know His plans are good and I can trust Him. So I want to get out of the way. The only way to do that is to repent and get aligned with Him.
  2. Renew my mind – I need His Word to do this. I will use a scripture verse to remind me of His will, whether it’s Jeremiah 29:11 or Proverbs 3:5-6 which says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
  3. Release – Sometimes we need a physical example of our loss of surrender and so what I often will do is think about the thing that I can’t seem to let go of and mentally put that thing in my hand and the clinch my fist around it. Once I have it there, I’ll start praying to God asking Him to take it from me and helping me to release my control over it. When I get to a point in my mind where I can start to let go, I literally start letting go, releasing my fingers from my clinched fist until I find my hand or hands completely open and then I worship Him.
  4. Obey – You have to put action to this, it can never be just a change in your heart. To truly overcome fear, you have to practice the act of obedience because this is us not just saying we are going to do what He says, it’s showing it too. Sometimes this can be really scary and I have to repeat this process, but eventually I get to the place where I know Jeremiah 29:11 is truth and by obeying Him and taking Him at His word, I gain one up on the enemy. And instead of him stealing my future, I get one up on him and in doing so experience more of the abundant life that Jesus told us about in John 10:10.

How have you struggled with control before? And what have you learned from your experience that could help others?

Photocredit: @wisdomfeed