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I got my little boy a dog for Christmas and it helped heal my shame. 

I picked up Ben Thomas from daycare with a surprise. Santa wasn’t getting credit for this one. When I opened the door, he squealed with excitement, just like I had hoped. The dog’s tail wagged and her entire body shook as my little boy climbed into his seat.

“Where did this dog come from? Is she coming home with us? Can she sit in my lap? What’s her name?” I adjusted the rearview mirror, not wanting to miss a single detail of his excitement. “Yea buddy, she’s your new dog. Merry Christmas.” For the moment, I was his hero.

But that wasn’t always the case.

Here’s the bad news: shame has a ripple effect. But the good news? Forgiveness does too.

Join me over at Good Men Project for my lastest post. Just click here. 

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Every Storm & Every Furnace: He is There

It’s Wednesday afternoon here in Alabama, which isn’t much different from Wednesdays in any other part of the world in this regard: everyone is happy it’s Hump Day. It’s a natural thing; we all work hard and we’re looking forward to a well-deserved weekend.

And then it hit me: Why are we always looking for the end of a thing?

Sometimes an end is a nice reprieve, but a lot of ends…stink.

Why not revel in the right now and take the hits as they come, being fully convinced that we are loved by God and there is nothing we can do to change that?  When anxiety comes, and in my case, it will come, I want to breathe deeply, knowing that His grace was complete before I ever took my first breath.  Think about that, God never asked my opinion in regards to His all-encompassing, everlasting, grace.  I love that.

He doesn’t need anyone’s permission to forgive me (past, present, and future) and love me  just as I am.

God is a matchless combination of unconditional Love and indisputable Truth: loving me in my present state, and caring so much that He continues to invade my life with Truth to bring me to a new and better place.

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When depression comes, I may not be able to rid myself of it immediately, but I am able to trust in the promise that His joy will come back to me.  When fear strikes and my bones shake, I can close my eyes and hear the Lion roar, shattering my fear.  Doubts come sometimes, too, but God is big enough to handle every question and patient enough to lovingly listen as I spout off all sorts of inconsistencies.

There is no storm that isn’t subject to His whisper and there is no furnace where He will ever fail to join His children. 

I am learning that the miracle of God may not always come in the way I was taught as a child, with a laying on of hands and oil and shouts; the miracle of God, more often than not, may be that He is absolutely willing to walk with me through every Valley.

In His Divine Humanness, Jesus was no stranger to struggle, trial, or temptation, which makes him perfectly qualified to be my Counselor.  He is the Rock: He never falters or fails and though God may not shield me from pain or sickness or anxiety or depression or…or…or…as my Father, He promises to never leave me alone.  I do my best to keep my mind open, my heart humble, and my eyes on the sky, and He promises to take care of the rest.

In the words of Psalm 33:

Watch this: God’s eye is on those who respect him,

the ones who are looking for his love.

He’s ready to come to their rescue in bad times;

in lean times he keeps body and soul together.

We’re depending on God;

he’s everything we need.

What’s more, our hearts brim with joy

since we’ve taken for our own his holy name.

Love us, God, with all you’ve got—

that’s what we’re depending on.

My prayer today for myself and anyone reading that we would be challenged to look at the now and not the next of a situation. I pray for God to help us, step-by-step, take our eyes off of self and constantly keep us focused on Him. In the middle of a stormy, wave-tossed life, the only way we will make it, is to keep Jesus as the very center of our passion, our vision, and our actions (Matthew 14).

Grace is messy,

Steve

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Reflecting on Three Years of Life

September 21st is my Mulligan Day.

I’m not a golfer, but I was given a “do-over” three years ago and I can’t go a year without talking about it.  We definitely talk about it less around our house than we used to, but the fact that I have been given a second chance has not faded in my mind one bit.  As a friend recently said, it will always internally define me, but I am no longer defined by it externally.  Praise be to God.

I don’t want to drag this out with all the details of my suicide attempt.  If you want to read that, click here.

What I want to talk about is the fact that once I truly came to the end of myself, I began to find my true self.  I have found the Love that pushes me to be my truest self, my best reflection of God.  I have found the Love that is a belonging, a safe place, a fierceness that will not let me go.  I have learned to find the beauty in imperfection and revel in it and I have learned to enjoy silence.  I have learned what  a gift my family is and I am fully convinced that God loves me because He gave me Lindsey and Ben Thomas and Caroline.  What more could I possibly ask for?

I’m alive.

I typed that last sentence and smiled.  Really, that’s the point.  I could make this blog extremely short.

I am ALIVE!  What else matters?  Maybe other things matter to other folks, but when it all boils down to it, I have breath in my lungs and another chance today.  I may not get tomorrow for a vast multitude of reasons, but I have today, so I am going to live.  Somebody said the devil is in the details, and they’re right.  Life has plenty of lemons to throw our way, but I AM ALIVE!

Are you?

What about more than just inhaling and exhaling?  Are you living?  I wasn’t.  I had hurts and fears and bitterness and resentment and mess and it nearly killed me.  I have said it countless times before: there is no medical reason for me to be here.  BUT I AM!  Not because I’m so great, but because God is.  His grace is so much greater than our wildest imaginations.

He let me live and find the life I didn’t even know I had.

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, my eyes weren’t empty, they were just forgetful.  They had forgotten to look for the joyful things in life.  Remind yourself to look for the good in every person and situation and if you absolutely cannot find it, move on.

  
Another thing I have learned in the past three years is to own it.  Own your mistakes and the fact that they affect other people.  We all mess up: some of us more than others and some of us make mistakes that seem “bigger” than others, but we all make mistakes.  We can’t blame family history or former friends or employers or the government or God on the choices we make.  We all make choices and sometimes we make the wrong ones.  The best thing any of us can do is focus on today and the people who love us: those who push us to be our best and love us even at our worst.  I think about my sweet Lindsey: she sat with me in the ashes, when some would have preferred that she stoke the coals.  She is the true picture of God’s grace to me.

A final note: life is worth living. It’s worth fighting through all the hard times and the dry times and the lean times and the mean times.  Fight for love.  Fight through the distractions and against the detractors that try to put your focus on anything that doesn’t support you and make you better.  Cut through the busyness and bullshit and figure out what on earth you’re doing here and what your reason is for getting out of bed each morning…and then do that with all your heart.  If you don’t know what you’re doing here, ask.  Ask God, ask a friend who knows God.  Find a counselor or therapist or get alone and get quiet and figure out what it is that makes your heart beat.

What makes your heart smile?  Do that.  

I’m thankful for His wonderful grace that has gotten messy with me countless times.

–Steve

  

#graceismessy

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Is it possible to live again? Life after PPD.

“Is it possible to live again?”

That question was asked to a crowd that I happened to be a part of on Easter this year. It may have seemed like a religious question to most of the crowd, provoking thoughts of biblical characters with the foremost being Jesus. But for me it was deeply personal.

If that same pastor would have asked me that question two and a half years ago my answer would have been “heck no!”

After Ben’s birth in September 2011, I suffered from severe sleep deprivation, psychosis, and postpartum depression.

It was the darkest time in my life. I was hospitalized for nearly 2 weeks and separated from my newborn for most of that time. The situation was completely beyond my control but I felt so much shame over it. With the help of good doctors and my amazing family I began to recover and finally feel like myself again.

A couple of doctors strongly suggested that I never become pregnant again, but at my last psychiatric appointment, when Ben was about six months old, the doctor told me that he really believed it was an isolated incident and I would be fine to have children in the future.

So, in August 2013, when four pregnancy tests showed positive, I had mixed emotions. I was happy to have another child, a sibling for Ben and a chance for me to savor those newborn days and wash away a tarnished portion of my heart. However, I still felt so much shame. I felt like some family members, friends and medical staff would be extremely judgmental.

Throughout the pregnancy I often asked God to ease my fears and replace them with His dreams for my family. I remember one particular night when I was in the third trimester of my pregnancy with Caroline and was begging God to spare me from postpartum depression this time around. I suddenly felt great peace as He reminded me that I was the only one who could undo the marvelous works that He had already done in me.

Romans 8:35 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

Those words spoke deep to my soul and reminded me that if I chose to cling tight to Jesus and refuse to listen to distracting and depressing thoughts then I’d be just fine.

The peace that surrounded me during labor and delivery was astounding. I literally had a smile on my face the majority of the day.

There was such joy in knowing that God was redeeming my past in such a beautiful way.

Little miss Caroline Grace came into this world after only 3 pushes and on that last push I was just beaming. In the hospital and during the first few days at home I never even experienced a hint of sadness.

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The closing thoughts of Romans chapter 8 say:

No, in all things we are more than conquers through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angles nor demons, neither present nor future,nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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So, is it possible to live again?

Yes.

But not in your own strength.

You have to be convinced of the power of the love that Christ has for you and in His wonderfully messy grace.

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Second chances are for everyone.

–Lindsey

#GraceIsMessy

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Our Daughter’s Birth: A Lesson in Grace

Standing in the ultrasound room recently with my bride, my little boy, my mother-in-law, and our precious friends Zane and Hannah was (as Zane put it) “surreal”.
Our Daughter's Birth: A Lesson in Grace

Toes, fingers, ears, eyes, lips, so many details…Ribs were clearly seen and I was fascinated with the baby’s spine.

The anticipation was high, waiting to hear if it was pink or blue, but we were also very thankful for all the other measurements they were doing, to make sure our baby is as healthy as possible.

“See that right there?  It’s a girl!”

Total elation.  Of course I cried. I saw bows and frillies and pinks and purples and yellows and polka dots and explosions of lace and Minnie Mouse and oh my gosh I am going to have a daughter!!!

In the moment, I completely forgot about our experience with Ben’s birth. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced.  Doctors and nurses in space suits.  A big plastic mat on the floor, the size of a whitewater raft, tools and lines and needles and tears and “OH MY GOSH….you want me to do what?  Look where?  Do you KNOW what’s going on down there? No thanks, I’m fine right here.  I’m a good hand holder.”

Talk about a mess!

It was overwhelming and there was this SMELL I will never forget. The whole thing was enough to make a dude lose his appetite for days.

But then…

Then I saw a head, then a shoulder, arms and in the blink of an eye the doctor was holding a perfect, crying, baby boy. Still messy, but perfect in my eyes.

When they laid him in my arms, I immediately knew I would run in front of a train for him. I’d never met him, but I knew I would kill or be killed for him. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for this tiny baby boy. I didn’t even realize that I had quickly and completely forgotten the mess he was and the mess he made.

Isn’t that just like Grace? Grace hears our cries of desperation, wraps comforts us, and forgets everything else. It’s as if it never happened. I pray that Grace captures you and bulldozes the walls you have built today.

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Anxiety: Not Your Grandma’s Kind of Worry

This is a guest post by someone I think the world of.  The author asked to remain anonymous for now, and I completely respect that decision.  We are all at different points in our journey. –Steve

I am a perfect person. Well, if you ask just about anyone. I was the kid that teachers adored and other kids hated. I always made the highest grades, I always joined the most clubs, and I never broke any of the rules. This was not the result of having helicopter parents or a tiger mom – I was, and still am, my own toughest critic. As an adult, I continue this rigorous self-evaluation. Even though I have a wonderful job that many people would give up so much to have, on a small level it still bothers me that it doesn’t require the college degree that I worked myself to the bone to acquire. I strive to be perfect.

That’s probably why it took me so long to admit that I have a problem.

I worry too much.

It sounds like a fake problem, right? Like something that only a middle-class young woman who has had a pretty comfortable life could concoct. That’s what I always assumed before, too.

Suppressing my stressful and worrisome thoughts began causing even more problems. It started a few years ago, a string of isolated incidents that slowly but surely grew closer and closer together: the panic attacks.

Sleepless nights filled with unnecessary calls to 911 and/or reckless sobbing because I was sure, absolutely sure, that I was dying. It feels like a blood clot was breaking loose in my veins, like my arms are going to fall off, like someone is sitting on my chest and strangling me at the same time. The two times that paramedics actually inspected me, they said the only thing that was wrong with me was high blood pressure, and that I was likely from hyperventilating.

It got to the point where I felt like I was going insane. I was plagued by worry and panic at all times. If my husband was five or ten minutes later getting home than I expected, I would practically be in tears, just knowing that he was dead somewhere on the side of the road. I would stop several times on my way home from work to check under my seat to make sure that a snake hadn’t managed to sneak into my car during the day. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even know what I was worried about. I would just be mentally paralyzed by terror.

It was awful.

One Friday, after spending three nights up worriedly Googling the symptoms of heart attacks and blood clots, I had the worst panic attack of my life. It was there, early morning, on the side of the road, surrounded by sirens and emergency responders with a portable EKG machine hooked up to me and a blood pressure cuff around my arm once more, that I realized I could not take it anymore. I scheduled an appointment with an internal medicine doctor, and he diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder and asked me if I’d like a prescription for Klonopin.

Ashamed, I said yes.

I was ashamed because I’d always thought that people who depended on medicine to help them deal with their anxiety or depression were weak, that they just couldn’t get it together, that they were – dare I say – not all there. I didn’t need medicine to help me. I just needed to buck up and stop worrying so much. And then when I realized deep down that I did need medicine to help with my worrying problem, I started worrying even more about the stigma attached to it. Worrying about what my husband would think. What my friends would think.

About a month later, all I have to say is that I didn’t realize how unhappy my anxiety made me until it was gone. So many fears are just…gone. I sleep at night. My husband is in awe of how much I don’t worry about one or the other of us dying. I have never felt so free.

If this is you, don’t tell yourself it is just a funk, or that you need to “just stop worrying.” Get the help that you need and deserve. You are destined for greater things than this. Make no mistake: accepting anxiety as your fate, or as a personality quirk, can only harm you. It is nothing but a hindrance between you and the ones that love you, and most importantly, our magnificent Creator. Banish it from your mind, from your soul, from your life. You won’t be sorry.

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Adam Lanza Was Not a Freak

I am sitting in the lobby of the Hampton Inn this morning and listening to the replay of President Obama’s touching speech from the school grounds. He quoted Jesus as saying, “Suffer the children to come unto me” and proceeded to name each child, each victim of this horrendous tragedy. Across the room, the cleaning lady and I shared a knowing glance. “That is just so sad,” she said.
It is so sad.

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And equally as sad is the star of the story, Adam Lanza, the shooter. He will go down in history books as the mastermind behind the second deadliest school shooting in American history. He has been labeled a “loon”, a “murderer”, and a “psycho”. He was called, “the quiet, friendless boy whom no one knew”.

He was only twenty. This young man is ten years my junior. What caused this? Investigators are still working through that question. What would cause a human being to cause harm to another human being? What would send a guy into such a rampage that he would murder harmless people, including his own mother? I cannot put myself in his shoes, because I cannot imagine slapping my own mother, much less murdering her.

And what about his family: the brother he hadn’t spoken to in two years, the father who is left behind, and all those connected to the family in some way? How do you begin to pick up those pieces? Can you imagine the level of guilt, shame, and total humiliation they all must be experiencing? The “what ifs” must be driving them to their own level of insanity. Was there something they could have done? Could they have helped Adam weeks, months, or years ago?

Two words that hit close to home have been tossed around connected to this story: mental illness. He’s been called crazy and unstable. I had an aunt who was diagnosed, and I take my own little white pills for anxiety and depression. I understand the stigma attached to a mental illness diagnosis; it is no fun. You walk around all day, feeling like you have a big sign on your forehead, that people know you are “crazy”, and that you’re being judged 24/7 for being weak enough to give into a mood stabilizer and the like.

Mental illness is no small matter and it is certainly no laughing matter. What Adam did is inexcusable, but let us all be wise with our words. Labels lie: don’t use them, don’t accept them.

I also think of many customers I see on a regular basis. I see people from all walks of life, but I find myself giving a second glance to those teens and young adults, dressed in all black, piercings covering their faces, and the boys with eyeliner. Nameless weirdos. Freaks. Crazies.

“Mr. Messy Grace” catches himself judging them on a regular basis. I wonder why they dress the way they do, why they cover their heads in metal, and why they never make eye contact or respond when I say, “Welcome to Starbucks, how are you today”? How rude!

This story has broken me for those we so often and easily overlook. I want to say, “the Church must do something to reach out” or “the government must do something to help the mentally ill”, but I realize that I must do something. Grace has beckoned me.

There must be a change and it must begin with me. Mother Teresa said, “Do not wait for leaders, do it alone, person to person.” So that is my challenge to myself today. There are hurting people in this world, bruised reeds (just like Jesus). It has been said that hurting people hurt people, but as one of the healed, I want to help. I want to love my neighbor: the weirdo, the loon, and the freak.

If you have a suggestion on what to do, where to get plugged in, and how to help, please leave a comment. I don’t know where to begin, but I am ready to do something.

 

Grace is calling each of us to do something.