Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Through His Eyes

 She rides a motorcycle and sports a garden tattoo that sprouts and blossoms down her arm. "Laura" tosses her head back and laughs about the old days of smuggling drugs across the border. "We'd ride all night and pray we wouldn't get pulled over. My prayers sure are different nowadays. Wanna see pictures of my grandkids?"



"Tammy" grew up in an abusive home. Her father disappeared and her alcoholic mom brought home a succession of violent men. She dropped out of school at 15 and ran off with the first man that smiled at her. Tammy drank and drugged her way through five husbands and countless dysfunctional relationships. "I was a manipulator who'd steal your wallet, steal your boyfriend, and whatever else I could get my hands on." Today Tammy has an advanced degree and she counsels other women.

"People saw me coming and they crossed to the other side of the street." "Rae" said, "I stunk of booze and I was homeless. Today I pay rent, utilities; I own a car, and I am a productive member of society."

And there are so many more of them! They are women of dignity and grace who have walked through fire and been reborn. Former hookers, former inmates, former children who hid in dark closets fearing for their lives—they all gather now to support each other, and to celebrate in the rooms of recovery.

This past weekend I attended a women's recovery conference and was honored to hear their stories, and to share in their laughter and tears. As I listened to the women talk about how blessed they were it occurred to me that I had been given the opportunity to see them through the eyes of Jesus!

 Luke 15:1-2 "Now all the tax-gatherers and sinners were coming near to Him to listen to Him. And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."

Jesus saw something in these folks that no one else did. He saw in them their true divine value. In John 4:7-9 Jesus asked for water from the woman that no one else would speak to. In Luke 7 Jesus hung out with an "immoral" woman. There are many other examples in the bible. Jesus didn't just forgive them he loved them! He didn't just save them, he appreciated them, he cherished them!

That is what we in recovery get to do. Because we have opened ourselves up to each other, and to God, we get a loving Christ-like insight.

Jesus doesn't need to wait for the story to unfold. He sees it before it happens. He sees it when we can't.

I have to remember that when I struggle with that selfish family member who just doesn't get it or when I walk by that hard-scrabble pan handler. I don't see what God sees in them.



But because I have met the "Lauras, the "Tammys", the "Raes, and because I have been transformed myself, I have been given a precious new vantage point, through the eyes of Jesus.

The twelfth step reminds us that we have had a spiritual awakening as the result of the steps. For Christians that means we get to see each other like Jesus does. How cool is that? The love and the fellowship we enjoy is beyond anything we could have imagined in our drinking and drugging days. I think that is why some folks at meetings identify as "grateful" alcoholics.

Step 12 also instructs us to "...practice these principals in all of our affairs." For me that is the hardest part. It means I have to focus my new Christ-like eyes outside of the meetings towards my family, my workplace, in traffic, and yes, even behind the lady in the ten items or less line who has 19 things in her cart! I know because I counted them.

There is a saying for people like me, "Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly."  While it is still easier for me to feel love and empathy for those in the fellowship of recovery I have a responsibility as a sober Christian to strive to gaze at all folks through His eyes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Journey Through Time

"Timing is Everything", "Time flies when you're having fun", "Time is money." What a perplexing thing time is! When we are stuck in traffic or sitting through a boring lecture it crawls, but then, POOF our kids are all grown up and we wonder where all of those years went. We measure our hours and days in increments of time; we mark our achievements in time with trophies and plaques. Just ask Usain Bolt how important time is. The difference between his gold medal 100 meter time and Justin Gatlin's silver medal performance was a mere 0.08 of a second!





What does it all mean? What does the bible say about time?

2 Peter 3:8: "But do not forget dear friends; with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day."

Does that mean what I think it means? Time, as far as God is concerned, doesn't mean squat. He isn't limited by it or defined by it. I need to remember this when time frustrates me.

When I first graduated from college there was a hiring freeze and I was only able to work part time. When I finally did get a full time job it was better than the one I had originally hoped for. 

When my husband and I were younger, and our family was growing we were in the process of selling our house and purchasing a larger one in the same neighborhood. We made it all the way to the closing table and the deal fell through at the last minute. What we didn't know at the time was that we would find a house we liked even better a few months later.

After I wrote my children's book "The Bald-Headed Princess"(Click here) it took 2 years to find the right publisher. I was ready to give up. After praying and surrendering it to the Lord I let it go. Finally, one day one of the publishers that I had queried called me and said that they were interested. The date that they had called was my son, Chris's birthday, the son to whom I had dedicated my book.

What all of those stories have in common is that they did not follow my expected timeline. They followed God's perfect timing. 

As hard as I've tried, I cannot predict God's timing any more than I can predict the future. I do know that time has changed me. It has taught me patience, increased my still imperfect wisdom, and given me humility. It has also gifted me with a few more pounds and gray hairs, but along with them has come the ability to laugh at myself. When I was younger I took myself way too seriously!






Psalm 90:12: "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."


Even though I can't gauge God's timing, there have been instances when I felt in sync with it. When my son ,Chris, was diagnosed with cancer I knew that my place was by his side. I don't know why he had to get cancer, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I, and no one else, was meant to be his mother.  

Me, Chris, and Rob



The year after my book for children with cancer was published I had a little boy in my fourth grade class who was a cancer patient. I knew that I was supposed to read that book to my class. He overcame his shyness about his condition and began to share openly. That year my class became a family. The Lord gave me those students and my book in that exact moment in time.

Have you ever had a moment in time when you knew that you were right where you were supposed to be? Would it have happened if you had dictated the timing?

Esther 4:14: "...And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Usually when I follow God's timing  I feel a sense of peace. If the opportunity to help someone arises, that's another sign that my timing is right. However, sometimes God keeps me waiting. For me this is the most difficult aspect of God's timing. Abraham and Sarah had to wait until Sarah was ninety before Issac was born! I don't want to wait years to see my departed loved ones, but I am slowly learning to trust God's timing.

There is only one person that time does not change. That is Jesus Christ. Since he, along with his father, and the holy spirit invented time, they exist outside of it.

Hebrews 13:8: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."

 God, does not promise that time will pass smoothly. He only promises that he will stay with us through it.

Hebrews: 13:5: " I will never leave you nor forsake you."

According to Merriam-Webster 'never' means not ever; not at any time. No matter how slowly or how quickly time seems to pass for us God is still there. He does not leave at any time. The anxious waiting for the better home, the better job, the hugs from our deceased loved onesall of this pales in comparison to eternity. After all, eternity is the opposite of never.







Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Taking My Grief Outdoors

Some days my grief is like a wet blanket smothering me. Especially since I suffer from out-of-order grief.  I have buried two young sons. There are no words in the English language for that specific kind of grief. The closest I've heard is 'bereaved mom'. Perhaps instead of widow, I could call myself a 'kidow'. But even that sounds like too gentle a term for the gut-wrenching loss of children. No weddings, graduations unattended, grandchildren not heldthese are some of the losses that I struggle with.

So I take my grief outside. I wander in the woods. I find beautiful things to look at. Last year my husband and I sold everything we owned and moved into an RV. We did this so that we could be closer to the healing power of nature. When I gaze at natural creations I am reassured that there is indeed a God above. God promised us that we could find him there.


 
Our RV--"Harvey"



Romans 1:20 NIV: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse."

When I'm outside my brain automatically returns to the sensations of my childhood. The curiosity of what lies behind the next bend in the path, the burst of color from a cardinal hopping on a branch, the iridescent blue on a butterflythese all return me to a place in time and space when the world was filled with wonder and promise. The same can be said of seasonal walks through the fall leaves or the pristine snow. It all makes me ponder the beauty that my boys must be witnessing in heaven.




Many books have been written about heaven. What they all have in common is the promise that it is even more beautiful than we can imagine. It is not the boring, stereotypical image of clouds and angels with harps.

 In Revelation 21 verses 18-21 The apostle John describes the new Jerusalem"...The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, and the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eight beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelve amethyst..."It goes on to describe the famous pearly gates and the streets of gold.





When my 14 year old Chris was on his deathbed he already knew this. He said, "Mom, when I get to heaven there's going to be more flavors of soda than they have here on earth. There'll be flavors we haven't even invented." The Lord had allowed Chris a sneak preview that he could share with us.

After Chris passed I devoured books on the subject of death. Authors such as Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross and Raymond Moody all described the beauty of the heavenly encounters of the dying. I was both surprised and comforted by the accounts that mirrored my son's deathbed experience. God has in store for us more color and flavor than we can possibly imagine here on earth. When I gaze upon the beauty of nature I feel as if I get a small nibble of what glory is in store for me, and I am comforted by the knowledge that my boys are already experiencing that.

But nature isn't just beautiful. It is purposeful. It is divinely created.

 Jeremiah 31:35: "Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its wave roar; The Lord of hosts is His name."

It is no accident that our sun is the correct size and our earth is the perfect distance with the exact tilt of the axis and the precise mixture of gases to sustain life; just as all of the beauty we see in our outdoor ramblings is no mistake. From the six sides of a  snowflake to the intricate mathematical patterns in seeds and seashells the nature we gaze upon is intentional and ordered. See Fibonacci numbers: For examples click here.

My husband, Rob, and dog Marley, enjoying a North Carolina waterfall


Let's not forget the fluffy side of nature. When our Chris was on his deathbed he also knew that there would be animals in heaven. "Mom, remember how Moonshine(our black lab) always used to drop the Frisbee. Well, in heaven he'll catch it every time!" I can't help but smile when I think of my loved ones playing with our deceased pets. The bible even promises that natural enemies in the animal kingdom will get along.

(Isaiah 35:1) "The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox…"


Recently, Rob and I encountered a large black  bear crossing the road as we traveled along The Blue Ridge Parkway. We were grateful to be inside a vehicle! Imagine having such fearsome creatures as playmates when we get to heaven. There the violence in nature will be erased, and only the grace will remain.

Some of us who are grieving find relief in prayer and meditation. Try taking it outdoors. See what happens. Sunlight is a well documented mood enhancer. If you are like me, you may incorporate your prayer and meditation into exercise. As I jog around my favorite lake the beautiful scenery and the endorphins almost always elevate my mood. It makes it easier for me to remember the temporary nature of this existence.  Acknowledging this gives me hope. 

One of the lakes at our campground where I jog and talk to my boys.

Those of us who grieve will continue to have bad days. Our second son, Jarrod, died in an accident so we didn't get to say goodbye like we did with Chris. But we know that Jarrod is experiencing the same beauty and peace as his brother. Please be assured of that for your lost loved ones. We still cry and we should. We are human and we live in a fallen world. But when we take our tears outside they fall into the perfect cycles of nature, reminding us of the glory ahead.


Psalm 19:1: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork."


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Recovery, Humor, and God

I belong to an anonymous fellowship of people trying to help each other get better. We do this several ways. We have meetings, we have a set of spiritual steps and principals, and we spend time together. For me, one of greatest attractions of the program is the fact that we can laugh at ourselves. For this blog post I have included some of my cartoons.


One of the ways that we poke fun at ourselves is with cool nicknames like "Wild Bill", "Thank God Johnny", and "Midnight Mary". Our meeting home groups often have whimsical names as well. Here are some listed in 'The 12 Step Gazette' a recovery magazine based out of Philadelphia: "Hair of the Dog", "Sobriety Bowl","Nope To Dope", and "Mixed Nuts." Our humor is a delightful way to describe our insanity. This is vital because we can't address our problem without acknowledging it first.

For many of us admitting that we had a problem was the hardest step in getting sober, thus the popular refrain, "Denial is not a river in Egypt." We have lots of funny denial stories.
Here's an anecdote from a member of our fellowship. " After they pumped my stomach they put me on the short bus to the mental hospital. They took away my shoelaces and put me in a locked ward. The psychiatrist there told me I should go to AA. I looked at him like he was crazy. What!? Are you kidding me? I'm not that bad!"

And here's one of my personal favorites: "I'm not homeless—I'm camping!"

Outsiders may think we are making light of our transgressions, but the opposite is true. Our stories remind us that we really used to think that way, and now we don't anymore!

Another aspect of recovery that generates laughter between the tears is relationships, or as some of us like to say "Relationslips." As we work the program it slowly dawns on us that it really wasn't all his(her) fault after all. ( I believe Jimmy Buffet sang about that!) While in active addiction we were just too immature and self-centered to bring anything to the table.



While it isn't written anywhere in the literature, many recovering alcoholics and addicts advise against getting into a serious relationship during the first year. We learn to work on our relationship with ourselves and our higher power.



Humor helps many of us who have been deeply depressed, even suicidal. The rooms of recovery afford us a safe place to share openly. One fellow told this tale of his well-planned demise. "I was too chicken to shoot myself so I decided to go to the beach and just keep swimming towards Mexico. It was a beautiful evening and as the sun was sinking low on the horizon I was thinking about how it was the last time I'd see it...and I got in the water and started swimming. I swam and swam...And as I was swimming I learned something very important about myself..." We were all on the edge of our seats waiting to hear about his divine revelation. "I learned," he finished, "that I was a good swimmer!"

Some fun quotes:
“You know you’re an alcoholic when you misplace things … like a decade.”  — Paul Williams
“The worst gift I was given is when I got out of rehab that Christmas; a bottle of wine. It was delicious.” ― Craig Ferguson

While the shared humor bonds us, there are still some things we don't joke about. We don't make light of our need to make amends for how we have hurt others. We don't share amusing anecdotes outside of the rooms if they would upset our loved ones, and we take seriously the harms  that we have caused them. Our humor is always at our own expense.

The most important thing we don't joke about is our need for a higher power. Twelve step programs do not require a belief in God. Atheists and agnostics are welcome, and if they follow our step by step directions they can be every bit as successful as religious folks. Some of them refer to their higher power as G. O. D. or Group Of Drunks.

But that wasn't enough for me. I had established intimate relationships with my friends in recovery, and I craved the same type of relationship with God. That relationship had begun with laughter. I realized that humor was one of God's greatest gifts to me.

Proverbs 12:22: "A joyful heart is good medicine..."

I need a God with human humor! For me, that is Jesus Christ. In Matthew 7 and Luke 6 Jesus talks about the absurdity of pointing out a spec in someone else's eye when you have a plank in yours. In Mark 10 he talks about how it would be easier for a  camel to pass through the eye of a  needle than it would be for a rich, prideful person to get into heaven. In Matthew 23:24 Jesus  pokes fun at the pharisees by saying they "strain out a gnat but swallow a camel". Now that's a God who hangs out with folks and uses levity and exaggeration just like the rest of us.

I respect the right of everyone in recovery to find "a God of their understanding", but perhaps you are questioning your higher power. I ask you to consider the Jewish carpenter. He'll sit beside you at meetings, anonymously of course.




Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A JOURNEY UP THE HILL OF DIFFICULTY

"Grammy, take my picture!" My granddaughter, Saradi, exclaimed after a steep hike up a mountain trail.



She rejoiced at the view, savoring the accomplishment. But the trip up had not been an easy one.


The path was rocky and steep. We had to watch our steps carefully. There were side trials that looked easier, but they were closed, and we had no idea where they led.

In John Bunyan's classic "Pilgrim's Progress" his character, Christian, must climb "The Hill of Difficulty". His two companions opted for easier routes and met with destruction. Christian knew that there was no avoiding this trek if he were to arrive at his destination, The Celestial City

What kind of  hills have you climbed? Are you panting up one now? Do you  feel like the author in Lamentations 3:1-2:

"I  am the man who has seen affliction
By the rod of the Lord's wrath
He has driven me away and made me walk
In darkness rather than light;"
In "Pilgrim's Progress" Christian also enjoys the 'Delectable Mountains' where he gazes upon the beauty of God's creation. He discovers a reward at the top. "…So they went to the mountains, to behold the gardens and orchards, the vineyards and fountains of water…"

After you climbed your hill what was your view like? Was it a new job? A new outlook on life?
I've climbed many hills, and fallen on some. I think the toughest hill a person can climb is parenthood. Leading our little ones through this troubled world can be treacherous. It is so tempting to take one of those seemingly easier paths, allowing them to bury themselves in media, sleeping in and skipping church, following questionable friends.

Proverbs 22: 6 "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from  it."

We used to battle with our son, Jarrod, over chores. Honestly, it would have been easier to do them ourselves, but we persisted anyway, hoping that the character lessons would stick. When Jarrod was 20 he went to stay with another family for several months. One of them shared this story with me."Jarrod watched my teenage sister arguing with my mom about doing the dishes. Mom wasn't feeling well, and she was really giving her a hard time. Suddenly, Jarrod turned to me with a tear in his eye and said, "Wow, I used to do the same thing to my parents."

Jarrod had climbed a hill of difficulty, and he was experiencing a higher viewpoint.

When my other son, Chris, was on treatment for cancer, that uphill included awful side-effects, and loss of childhood fun. We learned to cherish moments of pleasure when they came. Like colorful butterflies encountered along the mountain trail, we paused to appreciate beautiful sights.

Between treatments, I had the opportunity to take Chris to the 'delectable' mountains.
This is an excerpt from my book, 'Christopher's Journey"http://www.maribethditmars.com/: "We each grabbed a sled and trekked up the hill. We then hopped on and soared down. If we tucked our legs under Indian style we could almost fly…Finally, we sat poised at the crest of the hill ready for our final ride. We watched in awe as the sun set on the Wasatch Mountains, shadows creeping slowly upward from the valleys below. The peaks were bathed in sparkling pastel shades…Then Chris turned to me and said, "I'm so glad you're my mom."


I enjoyed a true mountaintop experience that day. 



Two years later, after Chris went to be with the Lord, I climbed another hill of difficulty. One of those easier-looking paths involved numbing my sorrow with large quantities of alcohol. Before I knew it, I had lost the trail. Eventually, I made my way up that hill. The Lord provided me with 12 steps to the top. And the vista from up here is unbelievably lovely! Like Jarrod, I had arrived at a loftier viewpoint.

As a result of the fellowship of recovery I have more friends than I could have ever imagined friends who will drop what they are doing and rush to my side if needed. I have had the high honor and privilege of mentoring struggling women as they trudge their hills of difficulty. God took my mess and made it my message. He can do that for you too. I believe one of the greatest callings that we can have in life is to help someone else with their hill of difficulty.

However, not everyone is ready to be helped. A particularly harrowing hill was our daughter's drug addiction. During that time I was already in recovery myself so I had all sorts of trail maps to offer her. She refused my help. She had to find her own way up her personal hill of difficulty. I had to pray and wait.

One beautiful blessing that came during that time was that we had the joy of raising our granddaughter for several years. She is back with her Mom now who has been clean for 2 years. My little hiking buddy and I enjoy a special bond. The Lord gave me some time with her so I could insert a little proverbs 22 into her life.


I am still climbing. My Jarrod also died young, and some days my grief clings to me like low hanging mountain clouds. Sometimes I feel just like the author of lamentations, but then I remember that  God doesn't let us suffer endlessly.

Lamentations 3:31-32: "For no one is cast off by the Lord forever.Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love."

But, when I think of the many hills of difficulty that I have already climbed in this life, I realize that grief, this most challenging of climbs, will eventually lead me to a view much greater than anything on earth.


Deuteronomy 8:7 "For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills;"

In the meantime I have the opportunity to live the remainder of this life as a woman of dignity and grace, sharing the hills with my husband, daughter and grandchildren.

Isaiah 40:9: "Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion, bearer of good news, Lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news; Lift it up, do not fear Say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!"