How I know I’m saved.

Today, I learned a friend of ours passed way during the week. We also learned he divorced since last we saw him, although we knew he and his wife were having problems, it was a surprise to hear it. What we didn’t know was he died from the results of heavy, long-term alcohol addiction and abuse. He was just a few years older than us.

He died while on the waiting list for the rehab where Ben was able to get well.

Tonight, I lie here in the dark with my husband snoring beside me, and I am grateful. For all of it. All of this. Life is hard and it is beautiful. But it is life. And we have it. I can never take this for granted, what I have. What we are is a miracle.

I did not die of cancer. He did not die of drinking.

People, especially the Christian people we are wont to hang out with, talk a lot about salvation. Some wonder, in their insecurity and their fears, if they are really saved.

I don’t wonder. I know I am.

Love, Jo xxx

The God Shaped Hole – The Myth Of The Problem Free Life

You know, a lot of people think the whole purpose of human existence is to try get rid of all your problems, and a lot of those people are Christians. If this is what you think life is all about, you’re nailed, because you’ll never do it. I think the best we can hope for is to just exchange the problems we don’t like for other problems we can live with. For most people I know, this is what life consists of; the perpetual, sometimes exhausting, often expensive, pursuit of new, more manageable and socially acceptable problems.

I myself have quite a few problems. At the moment, they relate mostly to money, to my need to maintain the aging and quite weathered body I inhabit, and to having four children ranging in age from twenty two to ten years old to mother. Luckily, a lot of my problems aren’t mine to bear alone. I have a husband to share them with, and I’m pleased to say that right now my marriage is probably the least of my problems. It hasn’t always been so, but we’ve been working pretty hard on it and it’s going well. There have been times when the set of problems associated with our marriage seemed insurmountable, and we lost hope that we would ever be able to make it work, but by the grace of God, and because it’s still illegal to kill your spouse, we’ve been able to see it through. I think marriage works best when you both have the same set of problems to work on, and is even better when those problems don’t include each other.

What are problems anyway? I think they are things someone else is able to convince us we have wrong with us. I know I wouldn’t have half my problems if I didn’t have a television. If you ask me, advertising is just one long, steady stream of information designed to undermine all sense of happiness and wellbeing, a constant reminder of what I haven’t accumulated yet, as if I needed reminding. If television is to be believed, things, and perhaps rock hard abs, are what make us happy. I guess if solving the problems that come with owning lots of stuff is what you enjoy doing, then probably having stuff will make you happy. Not me. Call me lazy, but if it were up to me, I’d live in a caravan and never do housework, and just drive my car into the ground. I don’t really want the problems that come with having lots of new things. I have enough trouble trying to stay in one size of pants and remembering the birthdays of everyone in my family. I hate to think what I’ll be like when I’m eighty.

In my twenties, I thought it was possible to eradicate my problems. I thought I could just choose my way through them and out the other side. For example, I cured my issues with body image by keeping myself pregnant for about a decade. I think my becoming a Christian was probably meant to serve the same purpose. Christianity promised me freedom from the burden of past problems, and freedom from the worry of any new ones. I have wondered since then whether all the things that happened between then and now were as a result of a misunderstanding on my part, or a shortcoming on God’s.

One thing I could not have predicted is that my inability to manage any of my problems, my cancer, my marriage collapse, my husbands alcoholism and breakdown, was actually what ended up bringing God and I together after twenty five years of Christianity. I thought that my being imperfect was what kept me from being close to God, that my problems showed how bereft I was and how far I had to go. I thought my crappy life was evidence of my wrongness, of Gods distance, of my un-Christianness. But if I were as fixed up as I wished I was, I’d never have been able to receive the grace that cost God so much to give me.

When I was a little girl, the greatest compliment someone could pay my parents after they had minded me was “Oh, she was no trouble.” And that’s what I still want in my heart so much to be seen as…no trouble. I am not too much. I am not a pest. I can be good and well-behaved and low-maintainance. You don’t need to fix me, keep me, mend me God. I am worth keeping. I’m worth not leaving. But God is not a man that He would leave, or leave me, or lie. He is God, and He knows I can’t do this on my own, that it can’t be done. And doing it right isn’t about doing it right, getting it right, making it all perfect…it’s about doing it together. It’s about needing Him and being able to be content with myself as someone who needs Him. It’s about accepting that problems are part of my life, and because they are, He is.

My self-sufficiency may impress my friends, relieve my parents and irritate my enemies, but it pretty much renders God’s grace toward me void. And it’s not that I make problems in order to validate God’s grace; I don’t need to. Problems are coming whether I want them or not. As my friends and I say, everyone’s got the stuff. But the thing is, if you’ve got the stuff, you’ve also got God’s grace. If you’ve solved all your shortcomings, you don’t need it. And He wants to give it. Two weeks ago, I saw God move to bring two people together with something uncommon in common who needed each other desperately and didn’t know how to find each other…and neither of them are Christians, but everyone who watched it unfold sat back in awe of what was happening. The only other believer in the room and I whispered the same thing in each others ears  – that, right there, is Gods grace…extended to people who don’t even know Him, who don’t even acknowledge He exists. I’ve seen with my own two eyes God reach out to bless a needy sinner, and I’ve also seen Him take a wide berth around a self-sufficient, self-congratulatory Christian.

I’m done being embarrassed about my problems. I often make errors of judgement that take me places I don’t want to be, and I’m working on that. But I don’t care what people think as much as I once did. Everyone’s got the stuff, you know? If it’s a toss up between keeping up appearances, pretending I don’t need God’s grace because I’m so worked out, and looking like a loser because I need his grace like I need oxygen, it’s the latter I choose. With the problems, comes the grace. With the grace comes Him. With me, I just get…me. The problem free life is a myth, and can’t be organised or even purchased. What you really need the most has already been paid for.

From Burial to Banqueting Table.

I want to tell those of you who don’t believe a person can be transformed, or that people don’t or can’t change, you need to come and see what God has done at my house.

Point in case; on Tuesday night, we had six adults besides ourselves, two teenagers and four children at our house for dinner, and my husband Ben was there the whole time. You would have to know what life was like before to understand how this is different. We didn’t have folks to our house for dinner before, because Ben would be present with us for about one minute and forty five seconds total. He would be a no show at his own dinner party.

As we were getting ready for bed after Tuesdays dinner, Ben congratulated me on successfully cooking a lamb roast for fourteen people, saying, “Well, that was a success!” I froze. A success? Since when did you consider having a dozen people in the house would constitute success? Who are you? And what have you done with my husband?

You see, Ben once was a master of the duck and weave. He was, as we used to joke, a professional skulker. He was in hiding. God was looking around, calling out to Ben for a long time, just like He did Adam in the Garden, “Where are you?” Ben, like Adam, did not want to be found.

Adam hid because he was ashamed. Shame will drive a sane person underground, and have him behave like a mad recluse. The shameful hide from any situation where they are forced to pretend to be anything better than the filthy, helpless sinner they know themselves to be. The will sabotaged by secret sins, they know their facade will not hold up under the scrutiny of accountability, or friendship. Those filled with shame avoid relationship, for fear they will fail others the way they have failed themselves.

What cured my husbands’ debilitating shame? He stopped hiding and allowed God to find him. I know it was frightening for him. Ben was trained to believe that God is an iron-fisted Father quick to anger and slow to forgive. Ben knew He could not pay the price he believed God would exact for his wrongdoings.

The thing is that Ben is not a bad guy. He never robbed a bank, or killed a man. He has been a faithful husband and gentle father. Ben’s wrongdoings were no worse than any mans; merely springing from an inability to deal with his own weaknesses and shortcomings, and which brought him undone.

When I became ill with cancer, Ben suffered terribly with anxiety and guilt because of what our family went through. He hurt. And he had no way to get God into that hurting part, or draw on God’s strength to get him through it. He believed God was waggling his head, telling him to smarten up and get a backbone. He was ashamed of his own weakness, and he hid. God said “Where are you, Ben?” and Ben couldn’t hear Him, because he was down the back yard with a cigarette and a six pack of beer, medicating his shame.

In rehab, Ben learned to hear God’s voice. He learned to put out a hand and draw on God’s strength when his own failed. He learned to stay in the room, even with the shame, until he was loved enough to know it was okay, God wasn’t going anywhere. When Ben finally peered out from between his fingers he found God waiting for him. Here, Ben, this is some righteousness Jesus organised earlier, I think this will fit you fine.

I have seen my husband rise up from a long sleep of self-hate and humiliation, and sit up to God’s banqueting table. He is making a pig of himself I can tell you. The empathy I see in my husbands’ eyes as he tells me about the people God brings across his path makes me fall back in wonder. How God can take a man who emptied himself out in self-disgust, and fill him with such goodness and compassion is beyond my comprehension.

A pastor once told me, “People change, but not that much.” Sorry, I don’t believe that. Fear and guilt stunt the soul – but mercy draws the withered ones stumbling forth for their healing. The enemy wants us bound in the dark, but God wants us free in the light.

Change is possible. It can happen. A man can come back to life. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Don’t give up hope. I thought Ben was gone forever, but I was wrong. The good thing about this was that I truly let him go to God. I was prepared to be an Abigail before Him. Ben was lost, but was also beyond the reach of my rejection, hurt and demands for restitution. But he came back. He was truly raised from the dead.

Ben doesn’t like it when I brag about him, but I can’t help myself. Those friends and family who saw me last year will understand how what we now call normal around here is such a miracle. I doubt that anyone present for dinner on Tuesday night would have any idea why I was staring at Ben in wonder as he carved the lamb and cracked the jokes. There, thanks to the grace of God, goes my husband.

You can read Ben’s own account of his journey through alcoholism and recovery here.