My address at Zoe’s Journey graduation

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To all the recovering addicts:

We are here tonight to honor all the graduates and also encourage those who are on their way to graduation. Addiction has taken almost everything from you but by the grace of God you are sitting here tonight. Most of you should not even be alive. You have fought hard to get where you are and the fight is far from over. Every day is a battle- I know because you tell me. The struggle to learn to live sober seems virtually impossible some days and far from worth it on others. You are some of the strongest women I have ever met. You have fought in the face of adversity for most of your lives. Most of you did not have an easy life prior to becoming an addict….but you know you cannot stay the victim of your circumstances. You need recovery and we need you to stay clean.

I have told many of you that the world needs you sober. Often I get blank stares. Why would the world need me, you ask. Because your life matters. You are capable of helping someone else change her life because of your sobriety. Look around this room…..who do you see who is affected by you being sober? And are those same people just as affected when you are using? Addiction does not affect just you. It impacts all of us. And most deeply it changes your children.

As I see each of you fight every day to stay clean, it makes me stronger. I have found a deeper part of me by knowing you. You challenge me to keep it real, be on my toes, and realize that my brokenness is just as messed up as yours. I need Jesus just like you. I need to surrender just like you. I need to stay humble just like you. And I need you just as much as you need me. I cannot imagine my life without you. Thank you for being you. Keep fighting. Don’t give in to the enemy of addiction. You have everything to lose. This life is fleeting. Go be awesome. Go impact the world for good. Go love those you have hurt. Make peace with your enemies. Be light.

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To the friends and family of the graduates from Zoes Journey:

I am sure if we added up the hurt in this room it would be overwhelming. Disappointment, frustration, regret, fear, hurt, etc. I can imagine that there are very deep wounds. But what I can tell you is this….today is one more step in the direction of a healthy, productive life for these women. They have worked so hard to get where they are. Some have fallen hard and picked up and carried on. Some have really found themselves through this journey. Others are still seeking but I see great progress.

I know your pain from the past is real but i hope that after tonight you will either start or continue to forgive. Your loved ones need you. You can ask any one of these women- I am all about boundaries….I fully believe that you should use them when you need to…..but to the one sitting here who can’t let the past go and is holding onto the hurt. Maybe today is when you lay it down and move on…..and then you will be able to give second chances and make peace. I pray that for you.

To the family and friends who are here today….you are a testimony to me of your commitment to one or more of these beautiful women. I know their hearts grieve for what you have been through as a result of their actions. They share that part of their heart freely because it is a burden they have carried for a very long time. But you are here today. Maybe fully engaged or maybe as a skeptic. Not knowing if this time it is for good. All I can say is that the one in your life who you are here to support needs you. Needs to hear you say “well done.” Needs you to listen and not judge. Needs you to be present even when you want to be in denial. I pray that there are many years ahead of healthy memories. I pray that you will allow God to mend the broken places. I pray that tonight you can hug your loved one and tell her how proud you are of her. Her recovery has been really difficult. It has meant so much change so fast. She needs you desperately now more than ever. Thank you for being here for her. I know how much she appreciates it.

Maybe you are graduating and your family isn’t here because they could not make it. Call them up and thank them for being there for you. Then some of you don’t have family who is supportive because they have their own issues or the road has been too hard. For you that is where God brings people into your life to be that family. He brings friends, mentors, sponsors, and then people like us sitting here who just want to walk beside you. With no strings attached. No agenda. Just to love you. Because love is an action and love does.

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To the church at large: 

The moms in this room who are graduating need you. And they need you to love them and not judge them. Maybe they don’t have it “all together” and they yell too much or they aren’t “pulling their weight with the PTO”. Maybe they bring their kids to school in the same uniform shirt 3 days in a row and never make it to parent nights with all you “good mommies.”

Well, maybe just maybe those moms you were just judging need someone to show them. Someone to model parenting for them. Someone to be compassionate and understanding.

We take for granted that we have cars. Most moms don’t and the bus stops running at 5:15. No bus to go to the open house.

We take for granted that we have washing machines. Without cars, most moms have to load up the kids and the laundry and get on the bus. Oh that’s right….the bus does not run after 5:15 so she will walk to the laundromat.

We take for granted that adults in our lives did not introduce us to drugs as children. Most addicts I know were giving drugs at a very young age.  Usually starting at the age of 12. If you don’t believe me, I have many women who can tell you their stories.

We take for granted that we can get jobs. When someone gives a kid a joint at 12, grades probably start to slip so by high school they are dropouts. Ever tried to get a job with a 9th grade education?

When a child gets into cocaine at 14 because it is all over the house, she will probably be a full blown addict by 15 and start to steal to support the habit. Ever tried to get a house or apartment to rent with drug charges?

Many moms like the ones sitting in this room are scared to reach out to you. They feel that their mess is worse than yours. But they need your support. They want someone to share their victories with  (first place of their own, first legitimate driver’s license, first month clean). And to share their heartbreaks (bad news at court, relationship problems, not getting to see their children).

Why is it our nature to judge and reject? Because to have compassion might require something of us. It might make us tender and make us feel….and God will call us to rise up and be THE CHURCH.

A little girl explained to me recently that she worries that her mommy won’t have enough money to take care of them and they will go to foster care. Her eyes widened as I explained to her the early church  in the book of Acts. They sold all their possessions to give to those in need. In that moment, I think she got it. My dining room table could be gone next week to help them pay their rent.

But when are WE going to get it? That our lives are not our own and that there is a desperately dying world out there crying out for help? You might not hear their cries because they are not chatting in the carline (because they don’t have a car) or sitting next to you at Outback (most of them cannot afford it).  Or darkening the door of your churches (they have been led to believe that your sin is much cleaner than theirs and they would not be welcome in your pew or your gym).

We can’t do it all but we can do something. At any season of life and at any level of our own maturity we can make a meal, listen to a discouraged mom, or drive a mom to an appointment so she can get to work on time. We can all do that.

We fear what we don’t know….and we don’t know because we don’t want to.

If we are really honest, we want to shy away from poverty, brokenness, addiction, and prostitution because it is ugly and it messes up our day. It requires us to take our eyes off our dirty clothes piles and our need for order in our lives and forces us to go deep. Who wakes up one day and wishes that upon themselves? Well, if I am reading Jesus the right way….we all should.

We are a generation who has something to offer and it was not intended to be only poured out on our own offspring. We were given this nurturing ability to share it.  To pass it on. To break the cycle of abuse and neglect.

The day we decide to invest our lives in someone else’s  two lives will change and I promise that the first one to change will be yours.

Moms, it is time…..

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As moms, we need each other.

We need each other when our kids are sitting quietly eating their ice cream while we talk to the insurance company for the 20th time in a day. We also need each other when our kids are running the aisles at Marshall’s farting and burping, calling each other butt faces. Either way….we need each other.

Today I watched a phenomenon….a mom giving birth to kittens. A feral mom we picked up last night and delivered her litter this morning. Hmmmm…..talk about not being ready for the delivery. I hadn’t even named her and she had now blessed my favorite blanket with afterbirth. That experience will bond a human and a cat very quickly. I have witnessed my share of kitty births but today’s was a huge awakening for me.

The mama kitty ( who my 5th grade vet techs named Amber)  had her first baby under my bed while I was in the other room drinking my morning coffee this morning. She did not pick the cozy nest I had made for her and she certainly was not deterred by the wads of dust bunnies in her newly made birthing center. As I dragged her out from under the bed with placentas and umbilical cords still hanging on, there was a kitten in a sack that she had not opened.  The kitten was struggling to breathe on his own but Amber was not tending to him. I broke open the sack, called my fellow doula, Kim, and rubbed it vigorously to try to revive him. Meanwhile, Amber was not eating the placentas or licking the other babies the way I know she was supposed to. My other new found doula friend, Mary Lucia, proceeded to suction one of the babies’ mouths because Amber was not able to keep up with the eating, nursing, licking, and birthing. No judgement here- I just pushed mine out and it did not require I eat something that looks like someone’s liver….and do it 4 times. Ewwwww…..

In my panic, I was frustrated with Amber that she was not doing what “all the other kitty moms were doing.” Didn’t she take childbirth classes? Didn’t she know it’s unacceptable to give birth under a dusty bed? Didn’t she know that neglecting the sick baby and not give it a chance was inexcusable?

Well, Amber came from a home of cat hoarders and lived outside in a neighborhood for a long time before a sweet lady decided to feed her and care for her until she found a home. Amber did not have a place to relax until 5:00 yesterday. She probably was plain tired of running from coyotes and male cats trying to hit her up and giving birth to these babies just felt like one more exhausting task. So after she had them all she curled up on the bookshelf and fell asleep. She needed a nap and she needed me to put them on her to nurse because she wasn’t ready for that part quite yet.

And in the 24 hours we have had her, she screeched all last night when she could not see me so I slept on the floor beside her so she felt safe. Since the babies have been born, when I reach out to pet her she puts her paw on top of my hand and falls asleep- she can rest knowing someone is there. She has needy moments of wanting her belly rubbed and head scratched, while my other cats were all too busy being moms to want attention for themselves. She still wants to be held and loved so she knows it is going to be ok.

How many moms do you know like Amber? Maybe they don’t have it “all together” and they yell too much or they aren’t “pulling their weight with the PTO”. Maybe they bring their kids to school in the same uniform shirt 3 days in a row and never make it to parent nights with all you “good mommies.”

Well, maybe just maybe those moms you were just judging need someone to show them. Someone to model parenting for them. Someone to be compassionate and understanding.

We take for granted that we have cars. Most moms don’t and the bus stops running at 5:15. No bus to go to the open house.

We take for granted that we have washing machines. Without cars, most moms have to load up the kids and the laundry and get on the bus. Oh that’s right….the bus does not run after 5:15 so she will walk to the laundromat.

We take for granted that our parents did not introduce us to drugs as children. Most addicts I know were giving drugs BY THEIR PARENTS.  Usually starting at the age of 12. If you don’t believe me, I have many women who can tell you their stories.

We take for granted that we can get jobs. When a mom gives a kid a joint at 12, grades probably start to slip so by high school they are dropouts. Ever tried to get a job with a 9th grade education?

When a child gets into her mom’s cocaine supply at 14 because they are dealers and it is all over the house, she will probably be a full blown addict by 15 and start to steal to support the habit. Ever tried to get a house or apartment to rent with drug charges?

Many moms, like my cat Amber, are children themselves. Desperate for attention and acceptance. They want someone to share their victories with  (first place of their own, first legitimate driver’s license, first month clean). And to share their heartbreaks (bad news at court, relationship problems, not getting to see their children).

Why is it our nature to judge and reject? Because to have compassion might require something of us. It might make us tender and make us feel….and God will call us to rise up and be THE CHURCH.

A little girl explained to me recently that she worries that her mommy won’t have enough money to take care of them and they will go to foster care. Her eyes widened as I explained to her the early church  in the book of Acts. They sold all their possessions to give to those in need. In that moment, I think she got it. My dining room table could be gone next week to help them pay their rent.

But when are WE going to get it? That our lives are not our own and that there is a desperately dying world out there crying out for help? You might not hear their cries because they are not chatting in the carline (because they don’t have a car) or sitting next to you at Outback (most of them have never eaten at a restaurant where the menu is not on the wall).  Or darkening the door of your churches (they have been led to believe that your sin is much cleaner than theirs and they would not be welcome in your pew or your gym). Or at the gym  or Target (no explanation needed).

We can’t do it all but we can do something. At any season of life and at any level of our own maturity we can make a meal, listen to a discouraged mom, or drive a mom to an appointment so she can get to work on time. We can all do that.

We fear what we don’t know….and we don’t know because we don’t want to.

If we are really honest, we want to shy away from poverty, brokenness, addicition, and prostitution because it is ugly and it messes up our day. It requires us to take our eyes off our dirty clothes piles and our need for order in our lives and forces us to go deep. Who wakes up one day and wishes that upon themselves? Well, if I am reading Jesus the right way….we all should.

So many moms out there never had a mom and if they did she sucked really bad. We are a generation of moms who have something to offer and it was not intended to be only poured out on our own offspring. We were given this nurturing ability to share it.  To pass it on. To break the cycle of abuse and neglect.

The day we decide to invest our lives in someone else’s  two lives will change and I promise that the first one to change will be yours.

Weary from the Battle

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Writing has been too difficult lately. How much do I tell? I am a transparent person but lately I have wanted to hide….hide from myself, hard truths, life, and everyone else. Why? Disappointment, shame, depression, fear. Some days the weight has felt unbearable like shackles around my ankles and others it has lifted like the early morning fog. Some days I have gone between the two extremes all day long depending on the circumstances. To say that it has been confusing and exhausting would not begin to define this state of struggle. Even as I write this, I want to quit. Walk away from the computer and yell, “F*** you!” But I need to push through for me and for you. For me to work on healing and for you to know you are not alone.

We have raised our children the best we know how. Mistakes along the way. Never believing that a formula would produce godly children- I think we have been pretty realistic and held our children loosely knowing God’s plan is ultimate…..but deep down we thought our children would be leaders in their faith and stand for righteousness no matter the cost. It has not happened.  Nothing prepared us for the struggles of watching our teenagers waver and fall. Curfews, apps to know where they are, becoming semi-professional investigators, and regular confrontations has left me tired. Tired from the worry. The unknown. And tired from the self-condemnation that I don’t trust God enough to know that each of my children must walk out this journey and find his own faith.

I am a self-blamer every time. Did we make a mistake with their schooling? Their friend choices? Were we too sheltering? Not enough? Did we bombard them with faith so now they resent it? As my mind reels from this self-talk insanity, I just want to go to sleep. And when I put my head on the pillow sleep hardly ever comes. I toss and turn, get up, lay down….the ritual of my nights. And when I sleep I often have those anxiety dreams where I am watching someone’s child and go out to lunch forgetting that he is asleep in the crib. I wake up believing the voice in my head that says I am not a good enough mom to be trusted with someone’s child. Not the brightest way to start the day, I guess,  but it happens.

Every day I get the privilege to take medication to my friend who is dying. She was an addict for 35 years and cannot keep the morphine or anxiety medications in her house so I take them every day to her. Because of her lifestyle, she did not raise any of her children. Living on the streets, doing drugs and prostituting did not make her a suitable mom. Oh- except the one that she had after her father impregnated her when she was 12 years old who was automatically adopted by a relative.  She has never even seen that child. She was sold  for sex to support her parents’  drug habit starting at five years old while they gave her cocaine and heroin to numb her pain. When her parents were having sex with her, she developed multiple personality disorder because the emotional trauma was so intense she had to leave her own body. Today she told me she is just too tired to keep fighting and she knows death is imminent. We cried together and then I went home to unload my groceries. Somehow the sadness does not leave me when I walk out the door. I grieve what was stolen from her by selfish, sick people but I know she has faith in Christ and she knows that she will see Jesus face to face soon. I do take rest in knowing this but I also cry heavy tears for the life she did not have.

Relationships. They are so hard. Family ones, friend ones, ministry ones….none are easy……and not because I am perfect and no one else is. Because I am imperfect and struggle with being a good friend. Lately I have not had much to invest. My hollowness has given me the sense that I don’t have much to give away. Everywhere I look I see parents who are not struggling like I am…people not burdened by the depravity of the world and carrying that weight…..peers who seem to be able to maintain friendships for decades…women who have the best dads while I have none…..and I wonder what is wrong with me. Why is life so hard for me? Am I jealous? No, just confused. Trying to figure out why I can’t turn off my emotions and my heart ache for the world’s suffering. Sometimes I just want to be able to go to the gym for a few hours with my personal trainer, eat at Crispers, go shopping, get a weekly pedicure while someone else cleans my house and picks up my kids…..because it seems to be working for A LOT of people. I wish that shoe fit me.

Churches and nonprofits are full of imperfect people and some of them are desperately broken. I don’t know why this catches me off guard sometimes because I know it is true….but it creeps up on me and it feels like a punch right to the face. Pastors (not mine) who are not fully disclosing of the truth and sit in their private quarters untouched by human brokenness…..ministry leaders who fall, remain unrepentant and take others down with them. Meanwhile, others are left to clean up the big, sloppy mess. Blows my mind.

Loving addicts and strippers is always life changing because I learn so much about myself from people who have overcome so much. But it can also be disappointing, lonely, and heartbreaking.  Having an 18 year old come into our home, we adopt her like a daughter, and months later she returns to the drugs, stripping and abusive relationships that she was escaping when she came to us in the first place.  Other women who have worked so hard to get sober find themselves relapsing and losing their children to the child welfare system forever. The addiction is greater than any other love and I have to see it, accept it, and continue to pray for a breakthrough that can only come from a life of surrender.

Somehow in this huge, sticky, messy life there is hope. Why? Because God is still good and I am still loved by Him. Even when I am untrusting, arrogant, self-dependent, and live like He never existed at all.  Some days there is only a speck of hope in me because I cannot look past my failures, disappointments and the hard road in front of me. In those moments I am trying to turn to prayer and devotion to my Creator instead of giving into the voices in my head screaming, “You are not enough.” I don’t do that most of the time but I have hope that I will get better and that I will once again find that peace that passes understanding that I once knew.

I am praying that Light will break through my hurting heart and my grieving spirit. I know the beauty of God’s light and I talk about it all the time. It just seems lately that the world is darker and my light is dimmer. I am praying for a breakthrough.

Entering into the darkness….

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We spend a lot of our lives thriving for “success.”  We brag about successful children. Successful husbands. Successful businesses. But what is success really?

Many Americans have sold out to the idea of “success” as looking a certain way on the outside, regardless of how it looks on the inside. Monetary and superficial standards dictate where someone or something falls on our “success continuum.”

Successful=========================Unsuccessful                pretty, rich, follows social rules            unattractive, poor, outsider

We gravitate toward the successful and try to emulate them for many reasons. To make ourselves look better by association. To gain something. To feel acceptable.

What if we were drawn less to the powerful and more to the powerless? Isn’t that what Jesus did?

We like to watch shows that depict darkness- don’t all the Disney movies have some sort of dark side? What about CSI? Batman? Very few forms of entertainment lack a good/evil theme. And we pay to see it. But then we look at Scripture and realize that God calls us to live in a way that shines a light in the REAL darkness and what do we do? Flip on the TV, grab a bag of chips, and watch another episode of Criminal Minds.

I challenge you with this idea……you will find more “success” in the seemingly “unsuccessful” than anywhere in the Fortune 500s or the beautiful people on Wall Street.

But first we have to define “success” in a true and authentic way.  I believe that where we have gone wrong is to think that “success” is ever really achieved. In the world of ministry where seemingly spiritual people enter into the lives of people who have been broken by drugs and domestic violence, we count them a success when we can parade them around cleaned up, oh-so-spiritual and what appears to be a life void of problems. That is not success- that is a lie. Life is messy and every day brings challenges and temptations. I know it does for me and for the mom who has years of prostitution, drugs, and domestic violence.

If we judge people as acceptable when they “get it all together” we give them no room to fall. As a result, they prop themselves up to please us and not themselves or they lie to us so that the image we have of them is not shattered and they have to face FAILURE. I have seen many churches parade around their new Christian as some kind of poster child of spiritual perfection- like a before and after that leaves no room for failure.  At times, the church has prostituted people the way pimps do on the streets.

The reason I know? I struggle with it. I want to believe if I offer and addict or a stripper or a foster child a beautiful home, a family, and a stable life that they will fall down in gratitude and realize what they had been missing all their lives. Unfortunately that does not happen. Why? Because change is slow and difficult.

So what do I think the answer is?

I have learned to cherish the small wins. The daily victories.

In the past 3 days, two people who were both in my life for different reasons went back to a way of life that is familiar- drug use, abuse, and all that comes with that lifestyle. Am I discouraged? No. Am I hopeful?Yes. Is it well with my soul? Absolutely. Why? Because I know that a person’s choices are not a reflection of how “good” I was at loving that person. I know people go back to what they know until they are ready. And I definitely know that a childhood full of egregious abuse causes a person to struggle to cope with life’s challenges.

In the last three days,  I have also met with women who are being reunited with their children after really hard work, dedication, and grit when it all seemed impossible. They live day to day knowing that life is fragile and temptati
on is real. I know to embrace them during their victories and embrace them during their struggles.  I cannot have a barometer of “success” and “failure” because all of us face daily doses of both…..at least if we are honest with ourselves and others.

DSC_1317To say I am proud of the overcomers is an understatement. To say I deeply love the ones who have fallen is more than the truth.

Love does.