Saturday, March 5, 2016

It's not usually about me, but this time it's about me.

I continue to stand in awe at the prayer and support that is daily showered on us and the babies from people we know and from those we will likely never meet. If you have read the blog you already know much of our recent journey, but many of you don’t know about the journey before the journey, the one that started long ago with a girl who could not have imagined the beautiful life and blessings that would someday emerge from the ashes of pain. That journey was mine.

There was something wrong for as long as I can remember.  On the surface everything looked like a storybook.  My parents were married and seemingly happy.  Dad worked hard and was successful, while mom was devoted to raising my younger sister and me, serving as Brownie leader and class room mother, and making treats for my school mates for every holiday and birthday. Our home was safe, lovely, and filled with mom’s sense of style and hospitality that made everyone who entered feel at home. I had my own room, and better yet, my own room redecorated every few years to reflect the changing tastes of an adolescent girl, from Holly Hobby to teddy bears, to the eventual covering of every wall in Michael Jackson posters.  We ate dinner nightly as a family around the table, with a home cooked meal in front of us. We worked jigsaw puzzles together and enjoy spirited games of Hungry Hungry Hippos. On Saturdays Dad regularly took me to the donut shop to pick out treats for the family, and later lifted me carefully over the stove to drop blueberries one by one into the pancakes. Each Sunday we went to church, stood, sat, knelt, prayed, sang. From the outside it all looked perfect, idyllic.

On the inside though, everything was wrong. Not with them, but with me. I never felt at home, never felt comfortable in my skin, never felt good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, funny enough, just never felt enough. I spent my childhood and much of adulthood chasing that elusive “something” that was going to make everything okay. It was the Cabbage Patch doll, the Walkman, the ten speed bike, the tent, the new clothes, the new haircut, then the new school, the new relationship, college. They were all only fleetingly satisfying, and the older I got, the more quickly the shine seemed to wear off whatever was to be that next big thing. The thought never came to me then that I was attempting to fill with the worldly a void that could only be filled by God.

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in God. I remember as a very young child laying in my canopy bed under Holly Hobby sheets, surrounded by everything a girl could want, and feeling absolute despair and hopelessness, praying fervently to God that He would offer some relief, repeating the prayer over and over until I fell asleep, “God, please help me, I can't do this anymore, please help me.” I remember waking each morning feeling the same anxiety as the night before, and my mistrust of the God who had once again seemed to ignore my prayer. When, at seventeen, my parents divorced, my mistrust of God deepened into hostility. I never doubted God’s power, but came to believe that, for me, that power was not available.

At sixteen I discovered alcohol for the first time, drank until I was sick, vomited for several hours seemingly everywhere but the toilet, blacked out, and early the next morning reported for work at Mr. Fables restaurant, fighting nausea every time the smell of bacon and eggs hit my nostrils. I had never felt so sick in my life, and I couldn’t wait to do it all again. If you aren’t an alcoholic, that last sentence probably didn’t make sense to you. You might have read it twice to be sure you had read it correctly, or assumed an unfortunate typo. What? Threw up? Blacked out? Hung over? And you wanted to do it again? However, if you are an alcoholic, then there’s a good chance you nodded your head in agreement as you read. The previous night, after a few drinks, things had felt right for the first time in my life. I had felt at home, smart enough, pretty enough, funny enough, all my insecurities forgotten. It was an awakening for me, and from that day on I sought alcohol with the desperation of a drowning man grabbing for a life vest. And in so many ways, alcohol was my life vest. I had no way to know that day at sixteen what my future would hold, that in just a few short years I would start an unremitting period of drunkenness that would last for seven years, that whole months of my life from that point would be lost to blackout, that life could be so dark and lonely. I could not have known that I would lose so much; relationships, family, friends, jobs, myself, my God.

Many years later, in March of 2000, I sat alone in my apartment, as I did most nights, watching the clock, waiting for an appropriate hour to drink, trying to abstain until dark. Eighteen months before, convinced that the people in Michigan, not drinking, were my problem, I had gotten in a car and headed South, driving until I reached Texas, a place I had never been before, a place where my problems surely could not follow. I soon learned that my problem was me, and that problem had followed to Texas, and thus I did not find the relief I had sought there. On that long ago night in March I started as usual, quickly drinking the first few of my eighteen nightly beers as I sat alone in my chair watching TV. After several beers I stood to go to the bathroom and experienced an unsettling event. I was able to walk a straight line, not relying on the walls to steady myself along the way as I had on countless nights before. On this night, for the first time ever, alcohol seemed not to be doing its job. I returned to my chair and redoubled my efforts. After eighteen beers I still felt insecure, uncomfortable in my own skin, angry and afraid, all the feelings that I nightly relied on alcohol to change or at least hide from consciousness. You see, in addition to being my problem, alcohol had long been my solution, and on this night, inexplicably and without warning, my solution had failed. In the kitchen, I reached deep into the back of a cupboard for a bottle of whisky I had hidden there. I lived alone and rarely had visitors, but the nature of the alcoholic is to hide, and so I hid. My fear grew as I continued to drink and seemed to remain sober. My only friend had deserted me.

I heard someone say once “my moment of clarity came when God paralyzed the liar in me long enough for me to see the truth.” I saw the truth that night, saw what my life had become, what I had become, saw for the first time the pathetic state in which I lived, the filthy apartment with shades always drawn, the increasingly infrequent showers, the silent phone. I saw that the problem was, and had always been, me. Not my home state, parents or schools. Not the wrong car, boyfriend or job, but me. At that moment I fell to my knees and uttered the first sincere prayer of my adulthood, returning inadvertently to the desperate repetitive prayer of the child in her canopy bed. “God, please help me. I can’t do this anymore. God, please help me. Please help me.”

The next morning, sixteen years ago today, I woke up to a different world, to a world in which God had performed a miracle in my heart.  I don’t know how else to describe it. I felt different. My apartment looked different. I opened the blinds in my apartment for the first time ever. I saw trees and flowers that I had not seen before. I could breathe. That night I waited for the fear to grip me, the terror that nightly would grow and grow inside until I knew that if I didn’t get a drink I would claw through the walls. It didn’t come. I thanked God that night for the miracle He had performed and marked the day on my calendar with a big black “X” to mark the first night in over seven years that I had gone to bed sober. I marked those “X’s” each night for the rest of that year, amazed and awed that God had accomplished in one night what I had been unable to do with years of self-help books and writing.

On my third day sober, I sought out a spiritually based recovery group, a fellowship in which I still take part today, and whose members, I believe, God used to save my life in those early days. The group however, in an effort to be inclusive, encouraged talk of God in general terms, of a “higher power”, a “god as you understand him”. That last made me realize how little I really knew God, except in terms of what I now realized was the drastically flawed concept of my childhood.  I wanted to know more about this God who had saved my life. As I sought God and grew in my faith I saw clearly how He had been with me all along, that it was not He, but I who had created the distance between us. I had been baptised as a child, but gave my life to Christ that year as an adult.

For the last sixteen years I have worked to rebuild my relationship with my family and with my God. I have had to unlearn a lot of wrong information I believed to be truth. I have had to face the difficult but ultimately freeing realization that a life with me in the center will always be a sad, ego driven existence, but a life dependent on my Loving Creator will never fail. It has been slow progress at times, but there has been progress. The patience that I have been shown by my family and by God awes and humbles me. I know I have a long way to go but I am amazed at how far I have come. My favorite Bible verse is Philippians 1:6, which reads in part “He who began a good work in you will see it to completion”. The four beautiful miracles I was blessed to welcome last September are a beautiful and tangible daily reminder of God's good works and of His extravagant grace. 

I don't know what your struggle is, but I know that we all have have them. More importantly, I know that for all of us there is forgiveness, there is grace, and there is redemption. There is always more progress to be made on this journey, and that progress will continue until our last breath. I had believed before that I had to achieve a certain level of spiritual fitness, and at that point I would be worthily to reach out to God. How happy I am to have been wrong, to know that God meets each of us exactly where we are. In the midst of pain and brokenness, His loving hand is there to guide us to Him. As my wonderful Pastor and friend Jeff Manion says, "God loves us not because we are so good, but because He is." 

Andy and I attended a conference last weekend, and one of the speakers said something that was a fabulous reminder to me of the constant work and progress of life. "Good, better, best, never let it rest, until your good is better, and your better is best." And so the work continues for me, and for you.

I am encouraged often by the simple and beautiful words on the tombstone of Ruth Graham, the late wife of the Reverend Billy Graham,

“End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”

Love and blessings,


  1. Thank you for sharing Jen, what a great post! I am so happy quads connected us, just one of the awesome ways God weaves stories and friendships together!

  2. Not ashamed to admit I read that with tears rolling down my cheeks. We had a few discussions and I knew you were an alcoholic.....but I certainly had NO IDEA what that struggle had been. God is SOOO good and you are such a great ambassador for HIM! Your friend in DFW - Chad