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When You Just Can’t Deal with the Holidays

The holiday season is upon us. I can hardly stand the excitement of family get-togethers and out-of-town guests.

No, really. I can hardly stand it.

12 Snarky Self-Care Tips for the Holidays

The only thing worse than dry turkey is the runny lemon meringue pie Grandma tries her best to guilt you into eating. But worse than Cousin Martha’s green bean casserole is having to get together with people you only see twice a year and being forced to act like you enjoy their company.

Uncle Jeff is bound to fall asleep in the recliner and snore through the second half of the football game. Little Johnny is going to clog the toilet. He always does. Aunt Louise will catch everyone up on hometown gossip. Grandpa will regale you with stories from his childhood (which you’ve heard at least 174 times). And your mom will continue to shove plates of food in your face for the duration of the afternoon. “Diet?” she’ll say, horrified, “Whoever heard of a diet during the holidays?!”

If you dread the holidays as much as my friends and me, here’s 12 ways to guard yourself from holiday craziness:

  1. If you have unresolved chores, bills, family relationships that are strained or projects that are unfinished, do everything you can to get them managed before the holidays set in.

  2. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Know which topics and people are off-limits. If a conversation comes up that you’re not comfortable having, walk away.

  3. Park on the street so you don’t get blocked in.

  4. Agree on a “code word” prior to the holiday celebration that says, “I’ve had enough of this and I have to get out of here before I throw a rod!” – Kate Pieper, LMFT

  5. Arrive late and leave early.

  6. When hosting the family hellabration, it is important to have hooch somewhere. If you are from a family of teetotalers, make a pot of coffee and keep a bottle of Irish cream under the sink to …errr…sweeten it with. They will be in awe of your endless holiday cheer. – Sasha Maples Johns, True Vine Gifts

  7. Lots of families have a “crazy Uncle Bo.” Be intentional about not leaving any family member alone with “Uncle Bo.” Think of it as ‘leave no family member behind!’ – Kate Pieper, LMFT

  8. Have an “after party” planned so you can only stay with draining people for a set amount of time (i.e, take the kids to see Christmas lights, go to a late movie with a friend, plan on taking goodies to a coworker’s house, etc). Or have someone on standby to send an “emergency” text/phone call when you need to get out. – Lindsey Austin

  9. The bathroom is your safe place. – Teer Hardy, Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast

  10. Set expectations low. Family holidays aren’t times to truly bond or resolve issues. Go in with the expectation of it not being perfect, but “just be kind.” – Kate Pieper, LMFT

  11. Stay in the moment. Remember the reason for your season. Whatever your personal reasons are for celebrating the holidays, remember to be present and enjoy everything you can. This year will never be here again! – Faydra Koenig

  12. If all else fails, it’s perfectly acceptable to come down with a last-minute stomach bug. (Seriously – it is perfectly acceptable to say no to the things that cause more stress than joy.)

While the holidays can be a joyous time, for many, they are stressful and cause anxiety. Whether finances, family dynamics or other worries are at play, not everyone is excited about the added stresses that the holidays can bring.

On December 3rd, I’m launching a free 10-day course, “How to Keep the CrayCray Outta Your Christmas!”

It’s super helpful, loads of fun, and totally free. Click here to sign up before you forget.


Dealing with Holiday Stress? Here’s 3 Tips for Complicated Families

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How Stillness & Gratitude Work Together

“You ever heard of the reticular activator?”

My friend Sue and I are sort of like characters from the 90’s sitcom, Home Improvement. I’m Tim Taylor, and she’s Wilson (the neighbor on the other side of the fence). Sue is used to my confused looks and mile-long stares as she pontificates about profound and mind-boggling truths of the Universe.

I sat across from her at the kitchen table at her house, “The reticular what?!” I asked, my voice an octave higher and full of confusion.

The Encyclopedia of Neuroscience defines the reticular activating system this way:

Humans have three sleep and arousal states: waking, asleep (resting or slow-wave sleep), and asleep and dreaming (paradoxical, active, or rapid eye movement sleep). These states are controlled by the reticular activating system located in the mesopons, which interacts with descending reticulospinal and ascending hypothalamic, basal forebrain, and thalamocortical systems.

Can we all breathe a collective WTF? Basically, the reticular activator is the part of your brain that notices things.

 

Sue went on to tell me about buying her red convertible a few years before. She had never noticed so many red convertibles on the road until she owned one herself. Her reticular activator had subconsciously been weeding out unnecessary information, allowing Sue to focus on driving and getting to her destination. But now that she owned a red convertible of her own, suddenly, it seemed there were many more!

I don’t notice the hum of my air conditioner the majority of the time. But when it’s time to hit “record” on my next podcast episode, you can bet I know exactly how loud the vent is in my office. Damn reticular activator.

Stillness sharpens the reticular activator of the soul. As you engage your reticular activator through a daily stillness practice, you hone your ability to notice. And the opposite is true, too: you fine-tune your skills at culling distraction. Coming to stillness, you filter through the white noise of busyness and unnecessary bullshit so you can notice what your soul is trying to tell you. It makes space to allow the truth of your being to grow. It is watering the ground of your soul, allowing goodness and truth and light and calm to grow.

Stillness & Gratitude Work Together

Engaging your reticular activator via stillness also has one other significant benefit: it helps you practice gratitude. When you reduce your busyness, cut out the noise, stop engaging in numbing behaviors, and allow yourself come to stillness, you begin to notice the beauty in your everyday life.

When I get quiet enough, I can sit in my brown leather recliner and notice things I might typically miss. I hear the hum of the ceiling fan in my living room, it’s breeze against my skin. I feel my cotton shirt as it brushes against the hairs on my arms. I hear the little bird singing its song outside on the tree branch. I can sense the tightness of my shoes on my feet, and feel the warmth of my coffee cup in my other hand.  Without stillness, I might never recognize these tiny little gifts – the gifts of presence.

Slow Down and Look Around

My challenge for you, right now, if at all possible, is to close your laptop or put down your phone and sit still for five minutes. Do nothing other than getting quiet and observing. What do you notice? Is it sunshine through the window? Your partner snoring in the next room? The buzz of a fluorescent light fixture above you? Your children laughing in the backyard? Or the rump-a-tum-tum of your heartbeat? Note every single thing you observe for five minutes and when you finish, take a moment to write it all down. If you want to cultivate gratitude in your daily life, it starts by getting quiet.

As I sit in silence, more often than not, a smile curls around my lips and I think this is good. All of this may sound silly to you. Maybe you read these words and think, who cares about your recliner and the hum of a ceiling fan? The ceiling fan is not the point. Wax on, wax off. The purpose of this exercise is to realize how many opportunities we have to practice gratitude. We miss them, more often than not, because we’re too damn busy.


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What the Hell is a Christian Agnostic?

Catching Your Breath is the first time I’ve openly described myself as a Christian Agnostic. Of all the stories and tough questions I shared in the book, it’s the one thing everyone seems to want to know more about. So, what the hell is a Christian Agnostic?

Christian Agnostic

The definition I use for “agnostic” in the book is this: a person who holds neither of two opposing positions on a topic.

I guess I also need to define “Christian,” since we all have a different opinion on what that actually means. To me, being a Christian is holding the example of Jesus at the center of your life. And what is that example? To me, it means having Love as the motivation for everything you say and do.

And what is Love? The Bible defines love this way:

Love is patient and kind. It isn’t consumed with jealousy or bloated with ego. Love isn’t disrespectful. It isn’t only out for #1. Love celebrates the dignity of each human being who was made in the image of a God who loves us all without condition. Love is slow to anger and quick to forgive. Love doesn’t rejoice when evil happens, but chooses to celebrate when Truth prevails. Love is a safe place. You can’t love someone you don’t trust. But love believes the best of us, even when we aren’t quite showing our best self. (Obviously, my paraphrase.)

The Bible also says God is Love. So when you begin to see a combination of patience and kindness, respect and forgiveness, safety and dignity, it’s likely you are in the presence of Divine Love.

To me, being a Christian is following the instructions Jesus gave as “the greatest commandment”: loving God, myself, and my neighbor to the best of my ability.

I understand Jesus as the ultimate example of Love. Love makes room for others. The love of Jesus was bold, unafraid to speak truth to power. Jesus showed us a kind of love that consistently drew the circle larger, ever-inclusive of outcasts and misfits. The love of Jesus was never based on labels. Jesus was far more concerned with meeting physical needs, rather than debating matters of theology or man-made religious constructs.

So what does “agnostic” have to do with any of this?

I’m glad you asked.

To me, being a Christian Agnostic means I do my best to follow the loving example of Jesus, but as for the ins and outs of Christian history and theology: I don’t know. (And to be clear: I’m resting in the I-don’t-know-ness of my spiritual journey.) It’s why I love this line by Bob Goff in Everybody Always, “God is less concerned about the people who admit their doubts than the ones who pretend they’re certain.”

I’m more certain than I’ve ever been about this one thing: when it comes to theology, I’m completely uncertain. It’s doctrine and dogma that are my struggle, not Love. It’s all the other stuff that muddies the water for me.

To me, Love is Divine, and God is Love. Where you find one, you find the other. I see Love as Universal. I’ve known Buddhists who embody Love. I have Jewish and Sufi friends who are filled with patience and loving-kindness. I even have Atheist friends who lead their lives with Love far deeper than something mere mortals can cook up.   

A Soulgasm

The first inklings of writing Catching Your Breath began at the home of some friends, where a retired Episcopal priest would be talking about oneness and the 8 Habits of Love. I’d been warned that he was one of those “Oprah people,” so I knew I was in for a treat.

The Reverend who shared his story that evening wore no collar. A son of south Georgia, his drawl was as familiar as the kindness in his eyes. As he spoke, my mind began to fire on all 8 cylinders, and I wondered if my soul might explode from the compassionate sense of belonging that reverberated in every syllable of this conversation.

Much of what I heard from Ed Bacon that night sounded like a combination of Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel, Paul Young’s The Shack, and Rob Bell’s Love Wins. As I sat on the couch, listening to this dynamic storytelling, I could feel myself being held by the Loving One.

I couldn’t get away from the idea that Love is far too great a thing to limit to only one religion or group of people – I had a soulgasm, to put it lightly. Or as Ed says, “a glory attack.”

For so long, I had been desperate to believe in the possibility of a God of love. A God of redemption. A God who is more passionate about reconciliation than anything else.

Love is a Crushing

Last week on social media, I shared these lyrics from Ronnie Freeman, “Love has crushed the prison doors.”

For the first twenty years of my life, I would have heard that a certain way (with language around sin and freedom). These days, I still connect strongly with the imagery, but I think about it in a slightly different way.

And it still gives me chills.

I’m learning that Love does crush whatever prison we find ourselves in. Either prisons of our own doing, or prisons of pain and woundedness others have tried to build around us.

Love crushes prisons of self-preservation.

Love removes masks of shame.

Love shatters walls of fear.

Love destroys certainty.

It’s a paradigm shift for me to think of Love as crushing. I’d much rather think of Love as only kind and comforting, compassionate and tender. And while that is true, Love is also willing to crush anything in its way to get to our hearts and transform our lives.

Daily, consistently, I need Divine Love to come in and crush the fear-based notion that there is anything that could ever separate me from the Love of God. As a Christian Agnostic, I need the crushing weight of Relentless Love to come in and tear down toxic theologies, rooted in fear, shame, guilt, and certainty.

For the first three decades of my life, my hope was built on my ability to out-perform the competition. My constant striving was exhausting, leaving my soul depleted to the point of desperation, resulting in a suicide attempt at the age of 29. In my effort to be perfect in hopes of earning the approval of God and other broken men, I ended up in an ICU hospital room, longing to die.

The truth was staring back at me: the only way I could heal and move forward was for everything to change.

I had to allow the waters of Love to come in and crush my need to perform. Love had to squash my constant striving. I was desperate for Love to wash over my tired soul, pulling the shattered pieces back with the tides.

These days, Love continues to crush me.

Each time I place the unrealistic expectations of others over the truth of my being, I hear the tides drawing closer. Whenever I begin to hustle for my worthiness, I feel the waters lapping against my ankles, begging me to live from my true self, rather than my ego. As my pride swells, Love raises up a mighty roar and brings me back down to earth, back to humility and a place of service.

Love is the great equalizer, reminding us that on our best or worst day, we are all standing on level ground. The ultimate message of Divine Love is this: everyone belongs.

For the longest time, I couldn’t understand how one strain of religion could hold the corner market on Divine Love. I saw how my evangelical Christian friends used divisive language, fear-mongering, and shame-based theology to keep us all separated. It never made sense to me that one religion (supposedly based in Love) could set itself up above another. These days, I’m calling bullshit.

I think Jesus is a most excellent example of Divine Love. But I also find that same balance of Love and Truth in the teachings of the Buddha, Gandhi, Rumi, and Mr. Rogers. The difference is that these days, that no longer confuses me. My faith is more full of holes than ever, but I don’t think that makes me less of a Christian.

I’m fully aware that people will read this kind of confession and commit to pray for me in my “struggle,” but the truth is, there’s no struggle here. I’m perfectly comfortable and confident that Love cannot be labeled as either sacred or secular, “Christian” or not. This is actually the place I’ve been all along, I’m just finally finding the freedom and courage to admit who I am: uncertain of many things, and desperate for Love’s crushing.

So what the hell is a Christian Agnostic? It looks a lot like me.

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Why I Stopped Hating the Church

Anyone who says church hurts are no big deal has no idea what they’re talking about. I was deeply wounded by the church and threw stones at her for a decade.

These days, I am blessed to belong to a church I love. But learning to engage the church again has been a long journey. Here’s why I stopped hating the church…

Have you ever felt wronged by religion? Me too. But here's why I stopped hating the church.

When I was twelve, I fell off my bike and hurt my arm, bad. We didn’t have much money and my dad, an EMT, was from a different generation. You didn’t go to the hospital every time you took a tumble. He wanted to give it time, ice it, and keep an eye on it. “Probably just a bad fall, bud. Take a couple of Tylenol.” He wasn’t being a jerk. He was just calm under pressure, and very practical.

While all of that makes sense now, then, I was pissed.

The next day, when it still hurt, we went for x-rays. “He has a hairline fracture,” the doctor said, pointing to the flimsy film. A few weeks with a cast, names and faces in Sharpie marker, and I could officially say I’d had broken a bone. It was the manliest thing I’d ever done.

♦◊♦

My dad was in the driveway when the pea gravel fooled my bike’s tire. He knew I was hurt, even if he didn’t know to what extent, and he did what he thought was right. It didn’t soften the blow, my arm was still broken, but what if I had taken a baseball bat to his truck in a fit of rage because he didn’t respond in the way I felt most appropriate? What if, upon returning from the orthopedist, my Mom slapped him in the face for not immediately taking me to the ER?

That was my response to the Church for more than a decade. A baseball bat and a slap in the face. I’d been wronged by religion. In my brokenness, I was outraged. I had open sores left by my experiences. Instead of allowing the shepherd of my soul to heal me, for so long, I smeared my pain on the Church’s steeple and dared it to question my response.

A few years ago, my wife and I supported a family trying to start a new Church. Several couples met in our home, determined to be different. Only, we were worse than the places we had left. For weeks, we wallowed in our weariness and confessed all the ways we’d been harmed by religion. Eventually, we left that angry little group, because it’s hard to find healing when all you do is pick at your scabs.

After ten years, I have begun to meditate over past hurts and consider my most faithful response to the Church today. But why did it take me ten years to get to this point? All the thoughts and role-playing we do in our heads before we try and find a solution. I did it for way too long.

♦◊♦

Nearly two months ago, I secretly drove over to my childhood home, a tiny house in rural Alabama. I parked in the chert rock driveway and spotted the Notice of Foreclosure sign taped to the front window. As I stood next to the pink crepe myrtle in the side yard, words wouldn’t come. Yet, none were needed. Thirty years before, I had stood there, a little boy, not yet in school, and lost my innocence to the selfishness of our neighbor. Someone older than me, someone who should have known right from wrong.

For years, I looked back on the days and weeks that followed my childhood sexual abuse with anger. I felt that not nearly enough was done to help me. There was no counseling for me or prosecution over the wrongs done. My parents did what they thought was right, but some wounds require more than prayer and turning the other cheek.

I broke that day in the side yard. I broke because of an injustice like those that occur in too many congregations by too many people who should know better. I broke like so many of God’s people do. I’m thankful to have foreclosed on that victimhood. Bad things happened, but I don’t have to live inside the identity of a person who was wronged forever.

That day I shed my tears, got back in the car, and drove away from the scene of that long-ago crime. I am now learning to do the same with other Church hurts. It takes time to get to the place where we can accept that moving forward is not saying nothing bad happened. Many people have been hurt by Church leaders, either by action or inaction.

But hating the church is not the answer.

People pursuing God have been ignored, harmed, or pushed away by Church leadership. Yes, what happened was wrong. But setting up camp and dwelling on these wrongs only compounds the problem. I have decided I want to live as one who acknowledges the pain of being done wrong, who has the courage to return and call my pain what it was, and then can pick up and move on.

♦◊♦

There are a few writers who have found how lucrative it can be to throw stones at the Church. I don’t want to do that. I am determined that my children will not know me as a bitter former Churchgoer. They will know me as a vulnerable man who has learned the importance of boundaries and who is willing to keep loving.

Often, I write about being broken yet faithful, but can I apply the same concept to Church leaders? Yes, those who accept the call to shepherd should know better, but they are people too. Church leaders  deserve (and need) as much grace as anyone else.

I am thankful that grace extends to the preacher as well as to me, the man sitting in the pew. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life blaming the Church for not doing more. I want to be defined by more than the kid who once fell off his bike, and was broken in the side yard.

*Also featured on The Good Men Project.


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The What, Why, How, and Who of Messy Grace

Have you ever wondered how to live a more grace-filled life? If so, you’ve come to the right place.

What is messy grace?

 

God loves you just as you are, and not as you should be, because you will never be as you should be.

~Brennan Manning

What is messy grace?

People ask me that all the time.

Most people understand and agree that life is messy, but to project our messiness onto a beautiful concept like grace sometimes makes some people squirm.

Have you ever felt hopeless? In quiet moments, have you ever believed that all the bad things you have done in life were beyond redemption? Have you ever found yourself at the end of your rope or struggled as shame whispered in your ear that you are only the sum of all the miserable mistakes you’ve made?

I am Steve Austin and I’ve had bruises on my knees and left the carpet at the altar well-worn from hours of begging God to save my wretched soul. The sad thing is, every time I stood up, I fastened my mask of performance, picked up that load of shame again, and carried it right back down the center aisle of the church, believing I was beyond all hope and unworthy of God’s perfect love.

I lived that life for thirty years. Shame tried to choke the life out of me and I believed my only escape was suicide.

But I am still here, living proof that no matter how hard life gets, no matter how much you feel like an outcast, we always have a path to Grace. If you are anything like me, that path is often winding and unpredictable, but it’s worth the fight.

This is what messy grace looks like in all our lives.

“Grace is messy” has transformed in the past six years, from a slogan, to a concept, to an online community that goes much deeper than the blog.

Why messy grace?

Our mission is to love beyond the labels. To love God and everyone we come in contact with, no matter their race, color, religion, creed, disability, or sexual orientation.

Who makes up this grace is messy community?

People often ask if we are a Christian community? Sure. And we’re also atheists, agnostics, Protestants, Catholics, non-religious Jews, mystics, blacks, whites, straights, gays, transgendered, and everyone in-between. We’re not here to argue sacred vs. secular or Sunday vs. Monday. We’re less concerned with theological rightness and far more passionate about kindness. We’re here to encourage everyone who shows up, from all walks of life, to keep on keepin’ on in the constant push and pull of a life that is rarely ever easy.

Jesus commanded universal love. Period. Not just to those we love and respect and agree with. Not even just to those we don’t quite see eye-to-eye with. But, even to our enemies. The love Jesus talked about is transformational, experiential, and often mind-boggling. He hung out with sexual outcasts (the woman at the well) and criminals (Matthew, the tax collector), and Jesus even made room for the religious elite when their hearts were open (Nicodemus).

We find the love of Jesus on the other side of the tracks.

How do we do this?

By sharing our stories.

Lives are changed by stories. So we tell ours boldly. Our goal is to be respectfully raw. To never shy away from hard conversations, but to connect with others in their brokenness. Because we’re all just that. Broken. And we’re all in this together.

We tell true stories about imperfect parenting, abuse, our struggles with mental illness, recovery from addiction, and the all-too-common struggle with church.

We want people to know it’s ok to have a meltdown. We have found ourselves in desperate times and places where we needed something other than Jesus. Like a nap. And strong medicine. And a good hard cry. And a friend who will just listen.

Just to be clear: The Grace is Messy Community is completely inclusive of the LGBT+ community. As a result, we’ve gained many new friends and lost a few in recent months. We hope they’ll join us soon enough. But while we’re sad to see some go, we press on, believing that our highest calling is to tell anyone who will listen that there’s room at God’s table for them, too.

We’re not looking to win any popularity contests. We just want to sit with people who are longing for love and acceptance. For a place to rest their weary souls and a friend to lighten their load for a while.

Grace isn’t limited to gold cross necklaces that hang on the necks of little old ladies. Grace doesn’t only dwell in the multicolored glow of stained glass windows and creaky wooden pews. Grace is available every second of every minute for every human being who will ever live. To bind our wounds, heal our hearts, and accept us just as we are.

I’ve heard the argument, “But Jesus wasn’t just a grace guy! He was the perfect balance of grace and truth and those two things are at the opposite ends of the spectrum!” I disagree. As a dear friend of mine says: Grace is Truth. The two are not mutually exclusive.

That’s the whole premise of the Grace is Messy Community. It’s a safe place for you to come and share your story of a messy life: past, present, and future. A messy life, redeemed by radical, messy, unconditional Grace.

Join us and let’s learn how to live a more grace-filled life together.

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To My Grandfather. The One with Alzheimer’s.

My Grandfather has Alzheimer's.

I’ve never had a bad meal at your house. Ever.

Until today.

You’ve never forgotten a character in the stories you’ve recounted from your childhood at least a thousand times.

Until this year.

You were the one, just ten years ago, who drove us all over the backwoods of Alabama and Georgia, introducing me to all your old friends, showing me family graves, and letting me experience the wonder of your old stomping grounds through your eyes.

Banana pancakes and sausage are my favorite thing, but only when you cook them. “You know I stick strictly to a recipe” has always been your joke. And we all know it’s the furthest thing from the truth.

I never knew about scratch cookin’ until you.

But this morning when I arrived to spend time with you and Nanny, you didn’t even remember you were supposed to cook us breakfast until she came downstairs half an hour later and mentioned it. I couldn’t find the nerve to tell you again.

Oh, the countless hours we have spent on the phone at night since I was a senior in high school. I wonder if my teachers ever figured out the night editor for The Birmingham News had written half my papers.

And when I was in college, you and Nanny would hop in the car and drive to Tennessee for the weekend. What a blast!

These days, things are a little different.

You–the great conversationalist–the greatest storyteller I have ever known. You, who never forgot a name, or a detail, or a story…it seems we’ll be the ones telling the stories from now on.

This morning, as we sat, mostly quiet, I thought back on all our heated discussions of theology. Everything I’ve ever learned about Calvinism and the restoration of all things came from you.

You were the one I could always talk to about the things no one is ever supposed to discuss: religion, politics, and a myriad of current affairs. For years, you’ve been far more than just a Grandfather. You’ve been my teacher. My mentor. My friend.

Oh, how I wish we’d written that novel I’d always secretly wanted to co-author. And finished the family video project. And made that book of all your “isms”.

But we didn’t. And you are fading. And my heart breaks with every single visit.

As I ease down that long chert drive, winding along through the trees, tears splash down on my shirt as the truck bumps along. And I feel like the heavens should cry too, just to adequately set the scene.

You were a news correspondent during Vietnam, seeing all sorts of untold trials. I’ll never forget the stories you told me about the Montagnards and the way they took you in as one of their own. Lately, the old war correspondent seems to be fighting a war of his own, one we can’t truly understand. But just like Vietnam marked so many, we all see the effects of this miserable disease.

Alzheimer’s. I hate every syllable.

But even though things are difficult now, I won’t stop showing up. I’m not letting go that easily.

You didn’t let me go when I was a kid and took your pocket knife and cut up the tan interior of your blue Ford truck. You didn’t let me go when I was a pre-teen, playing in the old junk cars down by the barn and forgot and left the dog locked in there in the heat of the Alabama Summer. It’s a miracle the old dog made it.

Even though I gave you reasons, you didn’t let me go.

And I won’t let you go either. Even when it is frustrating as hell. Even when I sob my eyes out on the way home. Even when I am angry at the disease and want to avoid this foggy misrepresentation of such a sharp and brilliant man, I refuse.

Because you have never walked out on me. Never been too busy for me. Always taught me with such patience and were willing to do anything I wanted to do, just to spend time with me.

So maybe it isn’t theological discussions any more. Maybe we don’t rant and rave about the plight of American politics. You just want me to find you pictures of blue jays and cats on the iPad.

And that is perfectly fine with me.

Even if I have to write down your Facebook password a hundred times. Even if I have to make the long drive a million more times, just to turn your computer on (when you are convinced there’s something wrong with it). Even if I have to hear you tell me the same story three times in the same conversation, I’ll keep showing up. I promise to keep cherishing the good times. And celebrating the moments when you surprise us all and appear fresh and sharp for a few brief moments.

For as long as that remains, I’m not letting go.

Maybe we’ll cook banana pancakes together next time.

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I Cheated: Overcoming the Pain of Infidelity.

Overcoming infidelity is a difficult and messy task, but it is possible. Here’s how.

This is my story. I had an affair. Grace is messy.

You come to love, not by finding the perfect person, but by seeing an imperfect person perfectly.

-Sam Keen

We met when I was 18 years old. I was a baby! We became very good friends, and I thought the world of him. He just had all his ducks in a row and he loved Jesus and he played guitar. Who could resist? It wasn’t until about a year later that our friendship morphed into something more. I knew after one month that I would marry him.

2 years and 2 months later, we were husband and wife. Brent and I were married on September 22, 2007, surrounded by friends and family, and rooted in a very naïve and shallow faith in God. I mean…we both thought we were strong in our faith, but it’s really easy to be all about Jesus when everything is rainbows and roses, right?

Our first year was bliss. So of course it was time to get pregnant, and we did. Seven weeks later, I lost that tiny baby. It hurt so deep. A few months later, we were pregnant again. And, 8 weeks later, I lost that tiny baby, too. My heart was shattered.  I was so angry and hurt with God. I did not understand why I was going through this.

We had grown up in church and been youth group leaders and I HAD BEEN TO FREAKING AFRICA for Jesus. Everybody continued to ask when we were going to have babies and it was a constant reminder of these deep losses. My heart grew bitter, and I shut down. I did not want anything to do with a God who would turn His back on me.

[clickToTweet tweet=”How do you reconcile loving a God who seems to have turned his back on you? #graceismessy #thisismystory #marriage” quote=”How do you reconcile loving a God who seems to have turned his back on you? ” theme=”style3″]

My husband had no idea how angry I was. He would gently ask me if I wanted to try again and I would say, “I don’t care.” But I was terrified. I didn’t want to experience the heartbreak again. Several months later, I got pregnant for a third time. I ignored it. I did not want to let myself believe that this baby would live. Yet he did. Levi came into our lives on December 6th, 2009 and made me a mama. I loved him more than I could have imagined loving anyone in this world.

During my pregnancy with Levi, I let myself bask in the anger and resentment. I decided I wanted nothing to do with God. It didn’t make sense in my head or my heart how He could let ME go through losing 2 babies. So, I did things my way. I was going out with old friends and partying like I was not about to become a mother…like I was not someone’s wife. Naturally I ran into an ex-boyfriend, and we were still attracted to one another, and his marriage was “just ok”, and we began a very flirtatious relationship.

I still loved Brent. I did not intend for things to happen the way they did. But they did. We began our affair and I became that person I used to judge.

It had been going on for about a year and I felt stuck. I was between a rock and a hard place, and had to tell Brent about this other relationship. He was so mad and hurt and so heartbroken. But, he was so full of grace for me and chose to love me through my shitty choices. It was hard for us to move forward, mainly because of me. I still didn’t want anything to do with God. And I really wasn’t over this other guy either. I felt I had fallen out of love with my husband and fallen in love with this other man. In reality, we were addicted to each other.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Messy grace chooses to love in spite of someone else’s shitty choices. #graceismessy #thisismystory #marriage” quote=”Messy grace chooses to love in spite of someone else’s shitty choices.” theme=”style3″]

Another year went by, and I was deeper into this mess. Living two lives. I was selfish and manipulative. And the day finally came when Brent found out, again. All of my lies were revealed. I was buried in my own web. There was no other way out of this but to begin to tell the truth.

So I opened my life up to him again. He would ask a question, and I would answer it. Every answer broke his heart. I had broken this man I had promised to love and cherish for the rest of my life. But with every truth that came out, I felt more and more free. It was horrible and wonderful at the same time.

I knew that my marriage could very well be over, but I felt God saying “I love you. You are mine. I am redeeming you…” It was fresh air. It was me drowning and Him rescuing me. It was the first time in a long time that I was open to God. I needed Him at that moment. I had nobody else. It took me a very long time to actually believe Him.  I still have to make the choice to believe His words over the lies that are in my head. But over in over, for many months, in my spirit I heard, “I love you. You are mine. I am redeeming you…”

[clickToTweet tweet=”Even in the midst of failure, messy grace says, “I love you. You are mine. I am redeeming you…” #graceismessy” quote=”Even in the midst of failure, messy grace says, “I love you. You are mine. I am redeeming you…”” theme=”style3″]

That was May of 2011. Less than three months later, I received a phone call at work from my dad. It was the call you pray you never have to get. My only brother had been killed in an accident at work. Brent stood by me and loved me and held me. And when I dealt with the indescribable feelings of guilt and shame that my brother’s death was my fault, he would tell me he loved me and that we would make it. I didn’t know why he was still there. But he never gave up on us, even though I had broken his heart. You don’t find this kind of love unless Jesus is at the center. It’s impossible.

I realized that Brent meant everything he said on our wedding day. He promised to love me for worse, in sickness, for poorer, through depression, through miscarriage, and even when I chose to love someone else. He said he would always point me to Jesus, that he would love me despite my faults, that he would never give up on us. It took that kind of love for me to become soft again.

I made the choice to just try to save my marriage. We were so, so far from the “better” part of our vows. We had a long road ahead of us.

I read a blog recently where the writer said, “One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat.” In Christian circles, adultery is taboo. No one talks about having feelings for someone other than your spouse. But it is happening everywhere. I have felt the shame, guilt, and unworthiness of adultery. I still deal with it. But God reminds me that he makes all things new. His mercies are new every morning, and His grace covers my sins just as His grace covers yours.

[clickToTweet tweet=”I have felt the shame, guilt, & unworthiness of adultery. But God reminds me that he makes all things new. #marriage” quote=”I have felt the shame, guilt, and unworthiness of adultery. But God reminds me that he makes all things new. ” theme=”style3″]

I started to listen to the promises God had been whispering to me throughout the time I was away from Him. I learned through counseling and community to use truth to  combat the lies. Who does God say I am? Because that is truly all that matters. I forgave myself and let my husband forgive me. It was not easy. I felt like I was supposed to hold onto the guilt and the shame for an “appropriate” amount of time. But that is not at all how God’s grace works. Our burden is so light! We have the choice to carry it all in our own strength, or release it to The One who makes every single thing (even an affair) work together for our good.

[clickToTweet tweet=”It is a beautiful thing when a marriage survives the “worse” to get to the “better”. #graceismessy #thisismystory” quote=”It is a beautiful thing when a marriage survives the “worse” to get to the “better”.” theme=”style3″]

My prayer and hope for sharing our story is that we can offer hope over doubt. When you feel as though your marriage is too far gone to rebuild it, you can start with one step, one brick on a new foundation. It’s a choice. Some days it’s a struggle. Some days you go backwards instead of going forwards. And it really sucks sometimes. But, one day, you look back and those baby steps have grown into miles of growth in your relationship. It is a beautiful thing when a marriage survives the “worse” to get to the “better”.

-Loriahn Harden

*This is part of the “This is My Story” series. Click here for more.

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