Keep coming back

Today I sat on a puffy leather couch at a local coffeehouse, answering questions posed by a kind woman who’s writing a news article about our local recovery program. My enormously pregnant belly served as a great prop for my decaffeinated gingerbread latte. I curled my marshmallow-like feet up on the cushions.

Me in 2007, two months before I began my journey in recovery

What a difference five years makes. Five years ago, I attended my very first 12-step meeting out of total desperation; a crisis in my romantic relationship had alerted me to the possibility that I might not actually know as much as I thought I did. I might not be in control of every single thing. And I might need help to determine the next best step to make.

I began learning. SLOWLY. I was eager and willing to read my heart out, work through the 12 steps, and attend meetings. Changing my behavior–which, in turn, changed my patterns of thinking–was a more gradual and reluctant process. Old habits die hard, and I had several unhealthy habits clinging to life support (thus sucking the life from me every single day). Thankfully, the patient people in my group reminded me that they’d just keep loving me until I loved myself and encouraged me to “keep coming back.”

They told me to keep coming back because they knew that if I worked at it, the same miracles God had performed in their lives through recovery would duplicate themselves in my life, too.

They were right.

I’m so grateful I did not give up before the miracles began happening. And so grateful they’re still happening in my life, day after day.

 

A writer’s gratitude

*Thank you, Toinette Thomas, for your willingness to serve as today’s guest contributor.*

My life is not and has not been easy, but when compared to so many others less fortunate than me, my life is actually pretty sweet. I’m a self-published author, which basically means that I’m not afraid of a challenge, am often misunderstood, and even more often overlooked. Then to top things off, as a day job I work as a teacher’s assistant. What that really means is that I am desperately vital to proper daily production, but that I’m ultimately underpaid and under-appreciated. If it sounds like I’m being a downer, things are about to perk up.

In so many ways and for so many reasons, I could be a very unhappy person, but I’m not. Gratitude keeps me from getting too down in the dumps. So my life isn’t everything that I want it to be; if I got everything I wanted, I’d be stuck with a lot of regrets. I choose to be grateful for what I have, and boy, do I have a lot.

People all over the world believe in all kinds of things, and some people even choose to believe in nothing, but for me belief is essential. I’m grateful that I have faith in something greater than myself. I was raised a certain way, but as an adult I came to know, experience, and believe things on my own and in my own way. I’m grateful to have that faith and belief in my life.

I’m grateful that I married a man who really and truly is my best friend. I’d like to brag that my husband is my biggest fan when it comes to writing, but he isn’t. He isn’t much of a reader, but that’s ok. He understands me in a way that no one, in all my huge family, ever had or does to this day.  He has stuck with me through all the ups and downs and has encouraged my writing to the point where he has made sacrifices so that I could be able to write. He’s not perfect and doesn’t say all the right things all the time, but he knows the right things to say and do when it really matters.

Then there’s my mother, a woman who doesn’t understand me at all, but loves me anyway. Now, she is my biggest fan. My mother supports me so much as a writer, that if she had the money, she’d buy a copy of my book for every person in the country to have, just so it would be a best seller and everyone could read it. My mother and I are alike in few ways, but the ways in which are, are so very special to me. I look like mother, a fact that can’t be denied. Many people mistake our voices all the time and people constantly have to ask when pictures of us were taken to determine who it is in the image. The ways in which we are different, are the types of things that usually tear mothers and daughters apart, but our love is greater than that.

As for the rest of my family, I can’t put them in this message because there just isn’t enough time and space to write about them. I love my family. Without them, I don’t know if even my writing would be enough to keep me going from day-to-day. I am grateful that I have been blessed with an ability to tell tales and write my own personal meaning to the world and the meaning of life. I am grateful for my god. I am grateful for my husband.  I am grateful for my family and I am grateful for my writing. These things make me who I am.

 

*Learn more about Toi by checking out her blog.*

Can’t get away

The first time I heard the song “You Won’t Relent” by Misty Edwards, I was 29 years old. I was recently separated from my second husband. I knew our divorce was the best option, but I still found it to be difficult, painful, and devastating. I was bitter.

Quite honestly, I was consumed with my own concerns. I wanted to go my own way, do my own thing, and drown out the difficulties temporarily. So I did what I’d always done–dated people who weren’t right for me, drank wine by myself on my front porch one too many times, and stopped going to church to avoid becoming the subject of “prayer requests” (AKA gossip).

The idea that God refused to relent until He had all of me just didn’t sound realistic or appealing to me then. In fact, it intimidated me. I wanted to benefit from knowing God, but I didn’t really want Him to know all of me. I wonder if I was afraid that He might not love what He found if He “had it all,” as the lyrics go.

Fortunately, His jealous pursuit of me ended as predicted–He found me, He knows me, and He loves me. Thank God.

No matter how many times I’ve held back parts of myself, He has never stopped coming after me. This is love–not that I did all the right things and gave all the right Sunday School answers and earned my way as a spiritual Teacher’s Pet, but that “while I was still sinning, Christ died for me” (Romans 5:8).

And continues to lay Himself down for me, break through walls I painstakingly built over the course of decades, and fight Death, Darkness, and Despair on my behalf.

Last night, during my insomnia-induced restlessness, pieces of the lyrics to “You Won’t Relent” kept replaying themselves in my mind. Only now, four years after the first time I heard it, I’m not afraid of the words. I couldn’t wait to look up the song online and remember why this song matters so much to me. It’s not a song; it’s the story of our Love.

 

 

 

 

 

Just wheat

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

My eyeballs automatically rolled back into my head at the recitation of this phrase which my mom repeated to me and my sisters so many times that I swore I’d never say it myself.

Yet a few days ago, as election season crept upon us in all its obnoxiousness, I found myself surprised by the number of negative comments and posts on Facebook regarding candidates, political parties, and ideological viewpoints. Election year seems to bring out the dark side of many normal, happy-go-lucky, non-partisan people. Lately, I find myself wondering if everyone had the benefit of learning the lesson, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Most of my “I will be kind and loving to my sister” sentences resulted from my failure to follow this maxim as a child. Each time, my mom would either…

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Life review of gratitude

*Special thanks to guest writer Debra Dickey-Liang for sharing with us!*

A person that you are extremely grateful for . . . .

As I read that sentence, my initial reaction was:  “How in the world could you pick just one person?!?”, because immediately, a score of people, and the reasons that I am grateful for them, just overflowed into my consciousness. Thus, this lengthy narrative became an expression of enormous personal gratitude and acknowledgement of the personification of God’s perfect love through His chosen people, revealing a whole litany of worthy recipients of great honor and acclaim.

First and foremost, I am grateful for my parents.  My mom and dad were always the most grounded, genuine people that I have ever known; honest, upstanding, hard-working individuals who taught me well — full of integrity.  A close second are my siblings.  Each of my brothers and my sister have added their own unique layers of individualism and goodness to my life, and I cannot imagine how I would have grown into the person that I am without all of them.

Then there’s my Grandpa Short.  I was the first grandchild, and boy was I spoiled!!  He loved me without reservation, and I loved him back just the same!  He treated me like gold, and let me have the run of his house — no child could have asked for a better grandpa .  . .  Hey, I said I was spoiled!

I am grateful for teachers who saw more in me than I saw in myself.  I am grateful for aunts who extended generous invitations into their homes and day-to-day worlds, not only looking out for me, but granting me new situations and interesting places.

I am grateful for people who have treated me kindly.  Kindly, while I was learning, and who exercised patience and understanding to help me navigate new systems, processes, and protocols in order to perform at the highest level of efficiency in whatever I do; for people who have gone out of their way, above and beyond normal expectations, to show me kindness, lend extra assistance, or, unannounced, to drive back to Little Rock to quietly check on me as I slept in Mom’s waiting room, concerned because I was by myself.

Photo by Jessie Covington of Say Cheese Photography

I am grateful for special friends.  People who have come into my life for a time, a reason, or a season.  Each specially given just at the right time  . . . . when I needed them most!  Friends who gave me a purpose, but who gave back much more than they received; friends who saw my need and surreptitiously took me under their wings and cared about me and watched over me without expecting anything in return; friends whom I have always known that just continue to become more important in the niche that they fill;  friends who remain friends even if I don’t get to see them as often as I would like; friends who are just nice people to exchange a laugh and joke with; friends from a lifetime ago that still break into a smile and give me a huge hug when we meet; friends who have opened their homes, shared their resources, and invited me to engage in their cultures and customs with amenity; people whose lives I entered by way of marriage, embraced me without hesitation, then loved and cared for me as if I had always belonged there; friends who are my children; friends who I know because of my children — some who have it rough, yet never complain.  So many, many people to be grateful for!  Each and all, supplying their own unique and wonderful blend of character and spice of diversity that so richly enhance my life.  A veritable bevy of mortal souls sent with Divine Purpose, that infuse every chapter of my being with an essence of grace and love unequaled, by whom I have been extremely privileged to be touched along this road that is mine to walk.

I am grateful for people who are good to my children; I am grateful for generous and caring neighbors; I’m grateful for people who began as mentors, and quickly earned my admiration and respect because of their authentic spirit, attitude, and strength of character; I am grateful for the person who generously shares her ‘blog’ space, graciously allowing me a writing opportunity that only now do I realize I had been longing for;  I am grateful for ‘little’ people  who come my way, in the form of nieces and nephews, who are way cool, fun, and all without an ounce of insincerity,  each and every one making a contribution of value that adds great dimension to my existence, a variegated and multicolored tapestry of extraordinary facets that glimmer and sparkle in everything that I do.

And a bit surprisingly, this ‘life review’ turned into a tearful and emotional journey of commemoration and remembrance . . . .  \

As I thought back over a lifetime of people, I was deeply and profoundly humbled to recount the indescribable number of wondrous and diverse ministering spirits that God, through His Bountiful Grace and Omnipotence, has placed upon my path, to know, love, and be loved by, throughout the years  –  rare and priceless jewels of great and lasting beauty; innumerable and immeasurable, with blessings beyond compare.

And so any endeavor on my part to denote the gift of one Divinely inspired ‘pearl of great value’ as more cherished than another ‘precious gem’ perfectly given, would nowhere begin to Glorify the Giver of All Gifts, from Whom all Blessings flow, and in Which we Believe, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.(James1:17)   Amen and Praise God, I am extremely grateful for them ALL.

 

 *And I am grateful for my friend Debra who shared her life review of gratitude with all of us. Who makes it into your life review of gratitude?*

 

God with skin on

Photo by Phoopla Photography

Chicken pocket filling for a ready-made supper.

A visit from two hours away.

Shadow box shopping with a crafty friend who is creating something special for our daughter’s nursery.

Eight hours slaving away over a stubborn sewing machine.

Countless encouraging comments.

Genuine prayers.

Two different sets of people planning baby showers.

A phone call–just because–from a 17 year-old who, I’m sure, has more exciting things to do than talk to me.

Meals prepared and renovation work completed in spite of sore muscles.

These are just a few of the blessings I received from the very valuable people in my life within one week. Once, a wise woman I know referred to people who bless us as “God with skin on.” I can’t think of a better description. My friends, family, and loved ones constantly extend their helpful hands and hearts to me, adding items to my gratitude list and strengthening my faith in God. How much must He love me to place so many precious people in my path?

Who has been “God with skin on” in your life?