Hi, My Name is Carla and I’m A Flesh-aholic

I’m no stranger to the Alcoholics Anonymous program. Not because of any struggle of my own, but because of the struggles of some of those whom I love. I went to meetings somewhat frequently as a teenager, to the point where I became comfortable enough to speak up and join the conversation. I used to say, “Hi, I’m Carla, and I’m not an alcoholic.” This always earned a soft tide of laughter.

addictionFor those of us who have never struggled with an addiction to something like drugs, alcohol or sex, it’s really easy to feel—consciously or subconsciously—like we’re a lot better than those who do. For those college students reading this, you look around at your fellow high school graduates and think, “Man, I may not be passing all my classes but at least I’m not passed out drunk every night like Suzy Q.” Any of the moms and dads reading this, you might find that you give yourself a little pat on the back when you find out that Richard has a drinking problem, or Zoe got addicted to the pain meds after her surgery, because at least you and your family don’t struggle with those things. I mean, let’s be honest, we think about alcoholism, drug and sex addiction as the BIG no-no’s, the taboo-iest, the dark alley that WE’D never go down. I’ve had those same thoughts myself, plenty of times. When I first became a Christian and the Holy Spirit would tap me gently on the shoulder to remind me of the guilt I felt over my own sins, I would always tell Him, “No, Spirit, it’s fine. I’m not out drinking every night, I don’t have sex with random guys…we’re good.” I wrote off my own struggles by looking back on those AA meetings and thinking, “At least I’m not that bad.”

Which brings me to my real point in this post. I may not be an alcoholic, but that response—that looking at another person as if I know their very soul and thinking, “Well, at least I’m better than they are,”—proves that I am an addict. I’m a flesh-aholic. Because only someone addicted to pacifying their fleshly desire to feel good about themselves, to feel better than others, would think such things. But we’re all flesh-aholics, aren’t we? fleshweakThe Bible says that our flesh and the Holy Spirit are at odds with one another, because they desire opposite things. Because of this, “you do not do what you want,” (Galatians 5:17). It also says that we are SLAVES to sin, which is the gratification of the flesh. Slavery sounds a lot like addiction, yeah? If you’re still not convinced you’re a flesh-aholic, consider the following verse from Galatians 5:19-21: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar.” Now, most everyone I know has struggled with envy, anger, hatred, selfish ambition, and idolatry (Yeah, dudes, football counts—anything you place above God counts. I’m pretty sure I idolize my cat, actually…I should pray on that), so even if you somehow have managed to stay away from the sexual immorality aspect of the list, you’re still a flesh-aholic.  (The first step, in case you didn’t know, is admitting you’re a flesh-aholic. Some of us may simply need to start there.)

But I’m not saying these things to bring any of us down. Actually, my point flows back to those Alcoholics Anonymous meetings I used to go to. If you don’t know what the program is like, the gist of it is addicts coming together for hour long meetings where they share their struggles, share their lives, and encourage each other to keep fighting the good fight of sobriety. Meetings can be found around town morning, noon, and night, so depending on the difficulty of your day you could go to three or go to one. Most addicts truly dedicated to recovery go at least three times a week, but I’m pretty sure that once a day is the goal for most. The purpose of the meetings is to reset your mind, remind yourself of your goal of continued sobriety, but most importantly to remember that you are not on the journey alone.

But meetings are not where the program ends. Listening to the same people talk about their personal lives and struggles nearly every day creates some pretty significant bonds, and from that most addicts find a community, a family. They find lasting relationships that go beyond the walls of the meeting house and flood into lunches, coffee dates, desperate phone calls for encouragement…someone to sit beside when the shadows roll over and running back to the addiction feels like the best option. You get a sponsor, which is a glorified (and much more dedicated) accountability partner, who is wise in their experience battling the addiction and graciously devotes their time to helping you through the 12 Steps. The 12 Steps are all about facing the obstacles that can stand in the way of sobriety in a practical, introspective way—and, incidentally, they require the help of a Higher Power to get you through each of them. The goal is really to learn how to live your life better, with honesty and truth and freedom. Freedom from the addiction and all the tiny ways it tricked you into slavery.

meetingtogetherSo I was doing the dishes this morning, thinking about all of the different Christian study groups I have the opportunity to be a part of. I’ve just joined one on Mondays, my husband and I are hoping to begin attending one on Tuesday nights, and I have the opportunity to go to another on Thursdays. I was considering how much time this would take up, the many hours I would lose snuggling my husband while dutifully bingeing Parks and Rec, when I considered something. My mom and stepdad go together to AA meetings several nights a week, and it’s not something they consider optional. I’m sure many times they would rather be vegging in front of the TV, but they’ve learned through painful mistakes that the sacrifice is quite worth it. And this made me stop for a moment and think: how much stronger would my faith and my fellowship with other Christians be if we treated our Christianity like an Alcoholics Anonymous community? And how much better at fighting my flesh addiction would I be?

The first century Christians, I think, knew that we are all flesh-aholics. In Acts 2 we’re told that “all believers were together and held all things in common (v. 44).” In fact, “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people (v. 46).” They met together daily? And had all things in common? They went to each other’s homes and ate together? That sounds a lot like a community of addicts who know that they need constant encouragement, honesty, and togetherness to be able to fight against their addiction.

I’m picturing the church. It’s not a building where people come once a week to hear one person give a speech, ignore one another, and then leave and pretend it never happened (that’s called a college lecture, people). It’s individuals who know each other intimately, who are humbled by their mistakes and share everything with one another, including their struggles. It’s people who know that if they don’t sacrifice things like personal free time or personal privacy, that their addictions will win and they will lose it all—people who have the proper perspective of what is most important, because they remember their life before this change, they remember who they were and they never want to be that person again. It’s people who, when their friend starts to forget who they once were and begins giving into it again, are unafraid to step in and remind them; unselfish enough to sit beside them and fight the battle together. People that will give a huge piece of their life to a stranger who needs their help, who will choose to mentor that person through healing, understanding, and growth that only comes from God. It’s individuals who meet together often, even daily, to share life together and build each other up because they know what it looks like when they try to do it alone. And in this Godly community, the fight for sobriety somehow gets easier.

It’s a punch to the gut when you realize that the people you used to look at and say, “At least I’m not that bad,” have a more Christ-like community than your own Christian church does.

So here, allow me to start the meeting: “Hi, I’m Carla, and I’m a flesh-aholic.”

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How To Make Lemonade

I realize it’s been months and months and months since I last posted on here. I’m not going to make excuses, but I will say that the devil has been throwing everything he’s got at me and my marriage. It’s been a fun time. (Note: sarcasm.) But now I’m back and ready to share all my newfound wisdom with you guys, because what are you supposed to do when life gives you lemons? Make lemonadeand share the recipe.

So here is what I’ve learned in the past five months, in chronological order, so you can see precisely how I got the lemons and what I God did to make a thirst-quenching beverage out of them.

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The first, and possibly hardest, truth that I’ve learned is one that God gave us thousands of years ago. Psalm 118:8 says, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.” I always loved this verse because it validated my “I keep everyone at arms’ length” attitude, but I know now that I didn’t fully understand it. Because despite being apprehensive to trust people, I still chose them over God all the time. I chose to confide my feelings in my husband, to go to him with my hopes, dreams, joys, sorrows, and rely on him for comfort, peace, and love. I relied on everyone but God, and wanted to say that God was the only one I trusted. 1378381411-trustimagesmallWell, I’ll tell you what. At some point in your adult life (for me, just a few months in) everyone you think you can rely on and trust is going to let you down. You’re going to get smacked with the reality that humans suck and it isn’t better to trust them. This will likely crush you. This is a lemon (though a rather large one). It is the horrible truth that we all have to learn if we’re going to yearn for something greater than this world, if we’re going to truly want more than faulty human love. The good news is the first part of Psalm 118: we have a Lord to take refuge in when all the relationships we once trusted have become tornadoes.

My next lemon came alongside the first (it was a storm of lemons), but through sorrow and sweat was accompanied by the first piece of the recipe. To make a very long story impossibly short, my first “big girl” job out of college did not go as planned. The organization was in deep financial peril before I was even hired, and things quickly spiraled out of control shortly thereafter. I was not being paid for the work I was doing, and soon the love of money began to consume me. In a recent Bible class, the speaker brought up the prophet Jonah, and how he’d become outrageously angry and morose when God took away a plant whose shade he’d been resting in. Jonah loved this plant, which God had graciously given to him, more than the people he’d been called to prophesy to. And he felt indignant, justified in his anger when the plant was taken from him. in_greed_we_trustI did this with money. I cared more about getting what I “deserved” than paying attention to my marriage, and I let this need for success and monetary security drive me into a depression. In the aftermath of my mistakes, while standing in a pile of my regretful decisions, I found the first ingredient for lemonade: do not chase after worldly success. As college students and recent graduates, it is so easy to be swept up in the notion that we must go to school. We must do internships. We must build the perfect resume. We must find the perfect job. We must rise and create a life for ourselves, a career, a foundation. This is a trap, my friends. Life has no guarantees and we are not owed anything, and thinking that we are only leads to eventual hurt. There is a reason that Paul advises, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2) and why the wise Solomon says, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). If you want to find happiness and contentment in all things, don’t put your desires in a career and money. Don’t make that your first priority, and don’t let worry about it creep to the front of your mind. Is it going to get you to Heaven? Can you take it with you when you go? No? Then don’t put it in front of the God who died so you could have eternity.

In the midst of all of these difficult lessons, I’ll admit I lost my way. And not only that, I lost my identity. 00025400-drowningThe waves had caught me in their current and were pounding me so continuously that I forgot my own name, or why I mattered as a person. I forgot how to do anything but look inward, at my own pain, and because of that many things in my life suffered. The turning point came when the storm turned into a hurricane, and I was finally shaken awake. I looked around and saw only darkness. It was then that I finally cried out. I was the Israelites, who turned away from God, were conquered and made slaves, and waited until the last possible moment to cry out for their Lord. But oh, when I finally cried out… The God that answered was Power. He showed me only love, and gave me all the help I asked for. He gave me rest. He delivered answers to all my begging and showed me that He can heal anything. I finally understood prayer, and why we’re told to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and to “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6) The answer to most questions in any given Bible class is usually, “Pray more,” but the Bible says, “When you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6). prayer-on-my-knees42We can’t pray halfheartedly for God to help just to turn around and keep trying to fix it ourselves. That’s not prayer. It wasn’t until I was on my knees, out of options, out of tricks or plans or hope, pleading for God to take it all out of my hands that He did. I had to believe. I had to need Him more than anything else; I had to trust Him more than myself. I finally saw that I’m destructive, too, and my plans only turn to ruin, and finally when I truly wanted God to be in control of my life, He was. This is the best part of the recipe, because it gives so much freedom. Let the Creator be in control of your life, and suddenly you will feel light. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Once I started letting God take care of things, the storm quickly began to die down. And it wasn’t so much that my problems went away, but more so that I knew the Creator of the Universe was taking care of them (and me) and He would see me through. Now, this is where the first lemon, the big, juicy one, got put to good use. With my newly realized outlook on the world (people bad; God good) I stopped taking my problems to man. When my husband and I fought, I didn’t immediately run to my friends for solace. I begged God to intervene, to soften our hearts. When my fears crept up my chest, threatening to boil over, I didn’t call my mother for advice or turn to my husband for reassurance. I climbed into the lap of my Heavenly Father and let him soothe me and make me safe again. I started running to my Dad, my Savior, my King whenever I needed anything, becoming acquainted with His throne and comfortable in His arms. 12And before I knew it, something previously unimaginable to me occurred. The God of the Universe became my best friend. And trust me, I know that sounds cliché and super cheesy. I hear how it sounds when I say it. But I really don’t care, because my BFF can stop the rain for four years, hold the earth still, part seas and raise the dead. If your BFF can’t do those things, you should really consider who you’re taking your problems to first. Because take it from me, the results are much more life-giving when I seek help from the Lord of Heaven than anyone on the earth.

Ultimately, my last lesson is a summation of the whole journey. The apostle Paul, who had been beaten with rods, pelted with stones, shipwrecked three times, and imprisoned, boldly said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:11-12) and I think I may finally understand the secret. Through everything Paul was put through, somehow, amazingly, he survived it all. I can imagine him in prison, looking back on his life and thinking…how did I live through it all? How am I still here? contentment-1Surely Paul realized that he couldn’t have made it through so many trials and storms on his own. So it must have been God who carried him through floggings and beatings and shipwrecks, and if the Lord can do all of that, of course He’ll get Paul through prison, too. Of course He’s going to feed him, and make sure he has money and clothes and companionship. So what does Paul have to fear? What can mere man do to him? That was my ultimate lesson. God does provide. He carried me through the roughest storm, pulled me from the current, kept me breathing when I thought I had no breath left in my lungs. He protects me and cares for me through everything, and so why worry? Why fear? I am content no matter what life brings me, because I know the power of my Best Friend and the love He has for me. He is a God who saves and makes all things work for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28). That is why Paul explains, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) “For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Matthew 6:8) and the beautiful truth is that He’s taking care of it all. And I am content knowing that.

As painful as the last half a year has been, I am so grateful for the storm. God made so much beauty from so much pain, and I can only hope and pray that I will be able to help someone else by sharing the recipe for God-made lemonade. If you don’t know God yet but would like to, please feel free to ask me any questions you may have. I promise, He’s been carrying you through your storms too.

“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.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:4-5

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6

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Dawn is coming, open your eyes.