Welcome to Clarksville!

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Hello Lovlies!

Welcome to Clarksville! It’s my plan to be more spontaneous with our posts again here very soon, now that life is settling into its new, “normal”.

As I peeled my heart away from Columbus, GA and the friends I’ve made there and reacquainted with, the hobbies I’ve begun, my chair at church, the park that I frequented on sunny days and the one more conducive to rainy ones–as I gently wiggled my heart like a well-stuck sticker and tried to loosen it’s adhesive, I realized something. I mean no offense to friends, but I think I grieved the loss of routine more than anything. Does that make sense?

Of course, that routine included dear ones. I am sad for the end of weekly coffee visits with Johanna, for true-southern hospitality at Nanny and Katherine’s house. I am sad for Tuesday/Thursday visits on regular floors at TMC–for smiles with Mailey, Shanna, Nancy, Barbara, Megan, Penny, Daisy, Alex and Amy and others.

But here’s what I’m learning:

God has recently been speaking to me of exposure. My favorite therapist of all time (how many people can say that?) once told me that recovery would become easier with time, that walking in freedom would become my “new normal”. Stacy explained, “When water flows down one side of a hill over and over it creates a channel and nothing will divert it, unless the water is forced down the other side of the hill enough times. Then, it will create a deeper, more compelling channel on the other side. Over time, the water will naturally flow down that opposite side.”

Stacy was right about recovery. Today, healthy feels normal and right to me. But her lesson applies to so many other aspects of life, too.

The day after we arrived in Clarksville, Brave and I ventured to the Upland Trail, their version of a riverwalk. My heart sank. The trail is less than two miles long. Our home is lovely, but it’s situated in a neighborhood with no safe places to walk the dog. There’s more traffic than I expected, no Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or farmer’s market.

When our furniture didn’t arrive as early as I hoped, I felt my mood slipping and along with it a half dozen tears down my grimy cheeks. (Did I mention that it’s every bit as humid as Georgia? That leads to grimy cheeks quickly!)

Quietly, my Father started speaking to me about exposure. 

Lord, what can that possibly have to do with me, here, now and this achy sense of loss. I have no routine here, no way to plan or expect what happens next. I have no friends to call for coffee or familiar parks to stroll. What does exposure have to do with it?

One week later, from Thursday, May 29 to Thursday, June 5, I understand. You see, in one week I’ve been exposed to spectacular Tennessee thunder storms, friendly neighbors, a new state park with a few miles of trails that emulate a rain forest. I’ve been exposed to new patterns of streets and today found my way home without the GPS. I’ve been exposed to “camping” with my husband for (too many) nights and the welcome hug of a comfy bed again. I’ve been exposed to
wide—–open—spaces that remind me of Oklahoma–ranches, farms and fields of wildflowers between every building, bridge or street. I’ve been exposed to new accents and a different version of southern hospitality. I’ve been exposed to a new side of the hill.

The course of my life has been redirected. In only seven days I’ve begun to wallow out a different bed for my stream. My life is bubbling over new stones, around mysterious curves and tumbling down unexpected bluffs.

Are you getting this?

Exposure is what makes normal. Exposure is what makes familiar and acceptable and good. How does a child know that the neighbor’s mom can’t make chocolate chip cookies? Because they don’t taste “right” like the ones that Grandma makes.

So, I’m discovering our new town, our new home and forming new habits. They will feel deliciously comfortable and right, until it’s time to move again. Then, with a gentle nudge, God will redirect the course of my life again, expose me to what only He foresees and I’ll fall in love all over again.

7 New Ways to See God, if You Can’t See God as Father

Last week in LASTing Peace we talked about how we see God. So often, in the confidential rooms of counseling and group therapy, I’ve heard people say that they have a hard time seeing God a loving Father because their earthly father was neglectful, abusive, absent, drunk or a myriad of other things.

In the video, I tried to touch those feelings and untie the knots of anxiety that strangle so many people who believe in God and want to know Him but struggle with the truth that He really loves them. There’s only so much you can say in a five minute video, so today I hope to flesh out that concept and offer some more encouragement.

Just the smallest of recaps, and please go listen to this video if you haven’t yet, but I told you there are times in the Bible when God even reveals Himself through mothering characteristics: He is nurturing and protective.

God sometimes uses seemingly contradictory terms to describe Himself in an effort, I believe, to push our minds outside the boundaries of human personality, so that we can imagine a God who contains all qualities. For example, He is both the lion (strong and defensive) and the lamb (gentle and peaceful). He is both the shepherd (guide, protector, nurturer) and the sheep (the sacrifice for our sins). Jesus also calls Himself the Son of man and the Son of God, a door, a vine and the Bread of Life.

Personally, I think God gives us so many angles, analogies and perspectives because He knows that one image will not make sense to all people. He so longs for a relationship with each of us on a personal level that He has opened all His heart, displayed the smallest measure of all the aspects of His majesty so that we can each taste of the His goodness and anticipate the wonder of all He is and does for us: More than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

So, if you’ve struggled with the concept of God as your Father. I invite you to let that description go. Here are a few more ways that God refers to Himself throughout His Word. In time, maybe you will be able to see God as the perfect Father you never had, the Father you always longed for. If and until then look to Him as:

Master (Adonai)—This one is actually my favorite and I explain why in the video.

Your Rock (Yahweh Tsuri)—solid, unchanging and reliable

Your Healer (Yahweh Rophe)

The King (Melek)

Your Righteousness (Yahweh Tsidqenu)

Your Husband (Ish)

Your Dwelling Place (Maon)

One week from today, we’ll take a brief look at a very special way that God reveals Himself. Till then, rest in the arms of Yahweh Shalom (He is your peace).

Prove It, God

dried-flower-721462-mI wouldn’t have even seen her, she was so frail, but for the blood curdling scream that rent the air.

My dog and I had just arrived at the pediatrics floor of the local hospital for therapy visits. Ashana, (I don’t know her real name for confidentiality purposes) was just leaving and stood at the elevator with her mother around the corner from me. The doors yawned, they stepped inside and she was gone. I found out later from the nurses that four-year-old Ashana is terrified of dogs, butt as our conversation progressed I learned a little bit more.

Ashana has cancer. They found it when she was two. For the last two years, she has spent ten days a month in the hospital receiving treatments.

“That’s not the first time I’ve heard her cry like that,” one of the nurses said. “It happens almost every time she leaves. She loves it here. But if you think about it, this hospital will probably be most of what she remembers of her early years. It’s like a second home to her.”

I pictured that tiny little girl and her mother. Talk about a trial, a refiner’s fire.

When someone is in the middle of those flames, the worst thing you can say is something like, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or, “God is working in you. You’ll come out of this much stronger on the other side.”

But that’s what we think isn’t it? We imagine that God crafts our personal struggles to test our faith. But maybe, it’s the other way around. Maybe, God allows struggles and pain in our lives to prove HIS faithfulness, not to test ours.

Remember the story of Elijah running for his life in 1 Kings 19? The wicked Queen Jezebel was massacring the Lord’s prophets and was gunning for Elijah. The prophet ran and hid in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. He was so miserable and lonely that he told God he would rather die.  But God sent birds to feed Elijah; He even came personally and allowed Elijah to glimpse His glory.

Elijah’s experience in the wilderness did not prove his faithfulness. In fact, it proved his weakness—He felt hopeless and wanted to die. The experience didn’t make him stronger, Elijah was not suddenly a mightier man of God than he had been before. Instead, those moments in the wilderness proved that God was faithful; in the middle of that trial, God proved that He was strong enough, able enough to care for Elijah when all else seemed lost.

Romans 5:3-5, urges us to find joy even in the middle of our pain: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Did you notice that Paul doesn’t say, “suffering makes you stronger”? Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance means, “determination for a course of action, purpose”. (dictionary.com)

In our pain and suffering God proves His faithfulness; He proves His strength in the midst of our weakness. It is there, we see His faithfulness and understand that He is able to care for us no matter the situation.

Missing Peace, Chapter 10, Admit One (Only)

Susan, a perky Remuda staff member picked us up at the airport. Dad swung both of my suitcases into the back of the van, then climbed into the back seat. Irritated, I sat in the front next to Susan. The thermometer on the dashboard said it was 65 degrees.

It’s the middle of February, I thought absently, at least it’s warmer here. I tried to eavesdrop as she and Dad made small talk on the short drive to The Ranch, but despite valiant efforts I kept dozing off. My chin dropped to my chest and my head lurched violently to the side when a bump in the road jolted me awake.

“I know she’s really excited about the horses. We had a couple at home,” Dad said.

“Well, she won’t be able to go down to the barn for at least the first week,” Susan had explained. “For the first week we restrict all exercise, including walking beyond the yard, just until we have a full medical evaluation and each patient proves compliance with all the rules.”

After we turned off the last road, the gravel drive to the main lodge seemed eternally long. No trees waved, no breeze, just a blinding sun leaning toward the western horizon. Dad unloaded my bags, but Susan took the handles of both as soon as he set them down.

“I’ll help her carry them inside,” she said. “We ask that the parents say goodbye outside instead of coming into the treatment center.”

“Why?” My hope that Dad would change his mind and take me home with him was slipping away.

“It’s easier actually,” Susan said. “When we get inside we need to start the admissions process right away, let the doctor see her, check Abby into her room and dinner is in less that two hours. It’s less emotional if you can say goodbye out here.”

Five wide, sandstone steps led toward the lodge. I took the first one and turned so that I was closer to eye level with Daddy. But I couldn’t look at him. Instead, I scanned the yard. It was mostly lava rock. I recalled Daddy saying once that he wouldn’t mind having a rock yard, less maintenance. One or two cacti looked as lonely, bleak and barren as I felt.

Fear rushed into my heart, overflowing its banks and pushing the anger aside. “Daddy, don’t leave me. Please, please don’t leave.”

My usually sympathetic father kissed my forehead, drew me into his chest, whispered, “I love you,” and walked away. I watched him fold his long frame back into the van where another staff member waited to drive him to Holiday Inn for the night before he caught a 9 a.m. flight back to Oklahoma tomorrow.

“Come on, Sweetheart.” Business taken care of, a motherly side of Susan emerged. “Chad will come get your bags, let’s take you inside and get you settled in.”

Comatose, I followed her.

An eternity passed in those twenty feet to the double wooden doors that opened into the lodge. We stepped into a long, rustically decorated hallway. Along the right wall, a full length entry table held stacks of mail, each pile with a different girl’s name on it. At the far end, the entryway T’d below a waist-high window. Black, wood-burned letters above the window designated it as the nurse’s station.

A small figure leaned into the window from the outside.

“Hey! Come on it’s time for evening meds! Dani, I didn’t get my Citrucel at lunch.”

The little one had a big voice for someone so small. Lavender sweats hung from her shoulders, pooled at her ankles. I thought perhaps she was five years old. But this was an adolescent unit. No one under 12 was admitted. With a huff, the child turned around and leaned back against the window, arms crossed.

“Oh, hi!” Her friendly tone was a full octave higher than her demanding one. Chestnut colored hair swung scraggly around her face, less than half of it remaining dutifully in her ponytail.

“I’m Alicia. Are you new here?”

She moved toward me and only then did I notice the five foot metal pole that she clutched like an oversized staff in her right hand. Dangling 10 inches above her head was a large plastic bag with a tube, like an IV. It was filled with a clear fluid. The tube snaking down the pole was taped to her cheek just below her nose, then turned sharply upward and disappeared into her right nostril. I’d been threatened about feeding tubes.

Alicia rolled the rest of the way toward me and addressed Susan.

“Where are the nurses? I want my Citrucel or I’m not eating dinner. I haven’t crapped in two days.”

“I’m sure Dani will be there soon,” Susan promised. “You’re still 30 minutes too early.”

“Whatever.” Alicia turned to me. “Hi again.” She smiled a cherub smile, like the kind my youngest sister, Rachelle, gives. They light up a room and tell you that you’re the only person that matters in the whole wide world.

I wondered how on earth she could seem so instantly genuine to me, a stranger. The new girl. For a year now, I had been given sideways glances by those who first met me. A walking skeleton, everyone gawked as if I was a piece of angular modern art. Oh God, don’t let me get a feeding tube.


Flushable Fun, Missing Peace, Chapter 6

It was more than a threat.

My daily diet of peaches, rice and Snackwell’s cookies was not good enough for my mom. Neither were my promises to, “eat better tomorrow.” At their wits’ end, and the extent of their knowledge of anorexia, my parents called a counselor who specialized in treating eating disorders.

I wasn’t quite kicking and screaming as we pulled into the sparse parking lot. Kathy Hoppe’s pracitice was one of many unrelated business housed in a dime-a-dozen office buildings in the heart of downtown Tulsa. An indoor marquee directed us straight ahead to the reception area. The common area had all the foreboding of a dentist’s office, the antiseptic smell and placating posters of puppies and little girls smiling in fields of daisies. I wondered at the young model’s chubby cheeks, sucked mine in a bit.

“Hi, can you sign in please? Who are you hear to see?” The receptionist might have been anorexic herself, or just a starving college student putting herself through school working part-time in a random office building, answering random phones with a plastic smile and voice to match.

“We’re here to see Kathy Hoppe,” my mom said. “My daughter’s name is Abby Blades.”

“Just a moment. I’ll buzz her.” The receptionist slashed my name off a list in front of her, punched a four digit extension and waited.

Mom ushered me to a couple of chairs in the corner.

“I don’t want to sit,” I told her and leaned back against the wall near her. I braced my right foot against the wall, locked my left knee and shook my right heel. Burn, burn, burn. Calories accumulate at lightening speed when I sit, I’m sure.

“Hi! Abby Blades?” An amazon women appeared in doorway across the room. “I’m Kathy Hoppe, nice to meet you. Would you like to come on back to my office?”

Kathy had chin length blond hair, unmemorable hazel eyes and a warm smile. She wasn’t overweight, but she wasn’t tiny either. Anorexics notice things like that. If she had been chubby, I would have negated everything she told me on the spot. I might anyway.

“So, can you tell me a little bit about why you’re here?” Kathy motioned Mom and me to a full-sized, tan leather couch, then sat across from us in a cheap, plush chair. She crossed her legs and took up a notebook.

“Actually, first, let me clarify a few ground rules. Mom, you’ll be here with us today, but I’d like to speak to each of you individually at the end of our session for just about five minutes. Abby, because you’re a minor, I am obligated to share with your parents any information that I believe is important for your wellbeing. However, I guard your privacy with the utmost discretion. I won’t be calling your mom after every session.The first meeting went moderately well. Kathy sketched our family dynamics on a large sheet of butcher paper, noting my role as the oldest child. “Abby, you’re typical of an oldest child. You have very high performance standards for yourself. So you set rigid rule and imagine that everyone is watching you constantly, expecting you to fail. Does that sound right?”

It sounded familiar, so over the course of several months, Kathy pushed me break a few rules, loosen up and play more. On one memorable visit, Kathy instructed me to go down the hall to the main bathroom in the office building.

“I want you to unroll all the toilet paper. Spread it everywhere, have fun! Just do something crazy!”

It felt so stupid, so contrived, but I did it. I don’t recall any huge sense of expansion or relief. I merely had to do what she said to be a good patient.

The Old has Gone, The New has Come

A misconception about abusive relationships is that the person in the relationship is the only one who suffers. Sometimes, that’s where conventional therapy and intervention fail, addressing one person, searching for one cause, praying for one solution. For me, lasting peace did not come until I admitted the impact that my relationship with Ed had on my whole family. I had to listen to their hearts, absorb their pain and practice giving and receiving forgiveness.

To read more of this story, find me here: at Haven Journal. This is a series of three pieces, all of them have been published by Haven. I hope they encourage you.

Book Review: Brave Girl Eating

This book wrung my heart, because I was Kitty. I drug my family along in the wake of my anorexia. Until I read this book, I had no real perspective of how my family felt. I didn’t understand the bruises and burdens on my mother’s heart anymore than she understood why I refused to eat. Harriet Brown does an outstanding job of conveying the family’s hurt without demonizing the anorexic teen. So many times, I wondered why my parents and sisters did not give up and abandon me, this book gives that explanation.

I also find Brown’s ability to express her daughter’s emotions amazing. When in the midst of my eating disorder, I was sure that no one understood me. Perhaps they cannot put on the anorexic’s shoes and walk a mile, but this book proves that empathy and compassion are possible. While I did go inpatient, unlike Kitty, I spent many years of my struggle at home, and my own family played much the same roles that this book describes. Finding even a glimmer of understanding in a parent’s eyes is life to the struggling teen.

Harriet Brown has authored another book, Feed Me. I highly recommend that book to any woman living in this race-paced, media saturated, perfectionistic culture.

Reviewed for: Amazon

My other Amazon book reviews

Counterfeit Gospels Day 1

How did we get here? Are people basically good or evil? Is there hope in this world? What happens when someone dies? What does the future hold? Pg. 40

Those are the daunting questions posited by Trevin Wax near the beginning of his book, Counterfeit Gospels.  They are the questions considered by every individual, every age, every race…every man at one time or another. Thankfully, Wax doesn’t propose to answer them himself. In fact, that’s where he starts, the fact that no person, promise, system or story can definitively, answer these questions, except for Jesus Christ. The church holds the the answers to these questions in the pages of the Bible. Now, her responsibility is to truthfully, faithfully, boldly declare the wonderful answers to these questions.

Here Wax introduces the dilemma, the crisis in his words.

“First, we have lost our faith in the power of the gospel to change a life…We are told we need a new gospel for a new day. Bigger. Better. Improved…our churches have begun to lose their distinctiveness.”

It’s the second problem that Wax address first. New gospel, bigger, better, improved. Wax calls it the Therapeutic Gospel. How many maladies are diagnosed as symptoms of low self-esteem? Modern Americans crowd the counselor’s office in hopes of leaving feeling better about themselves. Practically everything we do is designed to answer our question, “What am I here for?” The resounding answer, proclaimed by our behavior is, “To be happy, of course!”

Think of it…why do you do the job you do? Undoubtedly, it’s either because it makes you happy, or because you hope the income it provides will bring you happiness.

Why does the average family utilize family planning? To ensure they have the financial capacity to keep themselves and their children happy.

Why do even unbelievers fill the pews on Christmas and Easter? To feel better about themselves. In fact, I wager that many rears in the pews every Sunday are capped by minds quickly salved by their compulsory Sunday attendance. Is that the gospel: Jesus came so that I could live happily ever after?

The ultimate failure of the Therapeutic Gospel is that it makes the sin (we didn’t live up to our potential), Christ (who came to rescue us because of our inherent value) and eternity (I’ll believe or do the “right” things so that I can live happily ever after) all about us. And the church kneels to accommodate  the self-centered mindset, “promising to help us along in our quest for personal happiness and vocational fulfillment.” pg. 52

How do you know if you’ve fallen for the Therapeutic Gospel? Wax says to examine your prayer life. Do you come to the Father at customary times with a list of needs and desires? Even needs presented as, “make me a better person,” fail to recognize that we will never be good enough apart from Christ’s righteousness. Or do you come in humble, Christ-centered adoration, accepting His pardon, His completion, His sufficiency, exchanging all your desires for His glory?

Ironically, I read in a separate devotional this morning…

Christians who believe what Jesus said about being the sole Mediator of redemption are often seen as narrow-minded, bigoted, and mean-spririted. Even professing evangelicals are increasingly apt to deny this foundational Christian claim: “There is salvation in no one else [besides Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts. 4:11-12)

NEVER dilute the raw truth of: JESUS ONLY FOR SALVATION, FOR HIS GLORY ONLY, for the sake of anyone’s fuzzy feelings.

Using A Broken Body and Bloody Heart

I am so broken. In many ways, I feel like I need to set myself on a shelf somewhere in the corner of life and wait until I’ve healed. Once my cracks are glued together, my bruises faded and I look presentable again – then, then I can serve. Surely God has no use for a weepy, tattered Christian. Surely God has more dynamic, charismatic individuals who can make a deeper, splashier, more memorable impact on the world.

My marriage stings, my ego smarts. I wrestle with compulsions, pride, addictions, envy, loneliness, fear and a myriad other maladies that may not be obvious this very minute. Due to my foibles, I was stunned and not a little nervous when God began calling me.

Recently, I finished a round of group therapy for wounded spouses. It was a conference call setting. I have only met one of the three women that I shared with over those 12 weeks. Each one of us has similar stories. We have each experienced similar offenses. Each one of us felt impotent, needy and unqualified to handle our own pain, much less minister to the needs of anyone else. That’s where God surprised us.

The group moderator wisely guided our conversations using provocative questions and homework. Then, she used us to teach each other.

“D,” how would you advise Abby in this situation?

Quite honestly, when the group began, I listed to D and J tell the summary of their stories. Not in a million years did I think I would learn from them – they were just as broken as I was!

At the same time, I began taking a Bible study at church called, Enhancing Your Marriage. My first impulse was to keep my head down and avoid having to admit the fragility of my marriage. Two days after our first class, the group leader called me and asked if I would facilitate a small group. The Holy Spirit insisted that I should accept the responsibility.

I met the six other women the following week, and discovered that their individual relationships were thriving compared to my own. Then the Holy Spirit began to insist that I share my vulnerabilities, my weaknesses, my pain and His sustaining grace in the midst of it all. I hope that I have been of some encouragement to the other girls, but certainly their responses to my role as small group leader have challenged and graced me.

That’s what God does. He pares us down, whittles us and refines us until we feel like there is nothing left. When we are at our weakest, then He places us in the most strategic places.

Remember the simplest definition of a mentor is “advisor.” Verbally, I am in no place to offer advise to any other broken human being. But perhaps, when I am weakest – willing to shut my own mouth – God admonishes and encourages His people through me. Praise the Lord!

P.S. If your own marriage is struggling due to the offense of a spouse, there is hope. There is tomorrow, there is grace and a future and a hope. If you need help, please consider this resource: A Woman’s Healing Journey.