How do you qavah?

The word we focused on at the Wonder retreat this year was “qavah”. It’s a Hebrew word that means to wait, look for, hope, expect, to linger, to collect, bind together a “line” or “cord,” a collection of fibers that are twisted together to make a strong and firm cord. This same word is also used for the abstract idea of “hope,” a strong and firm mind.

And so we gathered at the top of a mountain and we lingered. We found rest in the beauty of the nature around us, in laughter and friendship, in the silence of a still morning at the top of a mountain, in the majesty of a clear night sky and all the stars, in a rainstorm that brought fresh wind and bright lightening, in a Texas sunrise painted by God Himself, in worship and reflection, and in the sharing of our stories with our sisters. We also found it in shared meals, coffee, queso, and cake.

My revelation this weekend was that it is okay to be okay. I realized that in the past few months I’ve been looking for something to be wrong. I’ve always lived in chaos. I’ve spent more time looking for a problem than looking for Jesus; I thought that certainly there must be a problem somewhere. So I kept deciding the problem was me because I couldn’t find one in my life.

“What is wrong with me, God?” I journaled this weekend.
“Nothing”, He replied.

And so, at Wonder Weekend, I left behind my false belief that there must be something wrong with me.

It’s really hard for me rest in being okay, to know that there doesn’t always have to be chaos or problems. Speaking with wise sisters this weekend, I came to understand that my past and survivor’s guilt leave me feeling uneasy with being okay, especially knowing so many others are hurting. Right now I’m doing really well, and I have to learn to press into that and be grateful for all He brought me through and all He’s doing now.

In 2016 there was so much chaos in my life. I was dying inside and out. I went to a Christian woman’s retreat that year too. Absolutely everything in my life changed after the November 2016 Splendid retreat. It wasn’t easy or fun or expected, but it was needed for my survival and for my relationship with Christ. I had to let go, surrender, wait, and be willing to be stretched. Stretching hurts, but that’s how you grow. My journey these past 2.5 years has been scary, ugly, beautiful, painful, exciting, sad, joyful, freeing, healing, restoring, riddled with anxiety, and filled with love. Every bit was worth it.

I am okay. I am happy. I am healthy. I am no longer just surviving, I am thriving. I am excited to see what He has planned for me next. I am walking into His best for me.

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Me watching the sunrise at Mo-Ranch in Hunt, Texas. Photo by my friend, Pauline.

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Overcoming fear. Freedom from the idol of addiction.

When I first started penning this post in my head, I knew I wanted to write about a time that I overcame fear. I wanted to share with you the tools I used to help me overcome my greatest physical, emotional, and spiritual battle. I heard a song recently called Clear The Stage by Jimmy Needham. The lyrics are so true to what I had to do to survive quitting my 20 year addiction to opiates. You can listen to the song here: https://youtu.be/6smGew7dGto

I’ve overcome many fearful situations in my life. Specifically, in the past 2 years, I’ve overcome the fear of leaving a decade long abusive relationship and marriage, the fear of leaving a good job, the fear of leaving my home, my husband, my dog, my town, and the fear of moving home (again) and telling my family the truth about how I had been living.

I also recently overcame the shock of being verbally abused and pushed out of my home church by pastors I love and respect. To be fair, they didn’t tell me I had to stop coming to the church. They did, however, call me names and treat me inappropriately, and so I chose to leave. Praise God that I never had much fear about telling my family why I wasn’t going to that church anymore. I actually had a great peace about it. That peace came from God and from knowing my family loved me so very much. I’ve heard horror stories of families and friends disowning and turning on loved ones because of their sexuality. But I had no fear about that with my family. After all, with everything I’d been through, the least of their worries was who I chose to love… as long as it was a healthy, loving relationship. There was some fear about telling certain friends; friends in the church, my friend who is a pastor’s wife, my friend who is a pastor’s daughter, my mentors and women I consider spiritual mamas, and my friends at work who didn’t know much about me. I am so blessed that in each of these instances I’ve been met with nothing but kindness and love. In fact, all of the above was fairly easy compared to the fear of quitting my addiction.

Absolutely the scariest thing I’ve ever done is quit my 20-year addiction to opiates. Quitting was a decision I had to make. It was hard. I knew what was ahead of me once I quit using the drug that prevented my withdrawals. I was under a doctor’s care and being prescribed a medication to prevent withdrawals. It was a band aid medication. I wasn’t abusing painkillers anymore, but I was now addicted to this anti-opiate medication. What a lot of people don’t realize is that stopping that medication would bring on the same sort of physical and mental withdrawal symptoms as quitting heroin. I knew what that meant because I had tried to quit many times before on my own. I knew the weeks and months of physical pain and sickness and emotional turmoil quitting a 20-year addiction would take. I had tried to quit dozens of times before. I knew the fire I was walking into. I also knew that going through the fire was the only way to get sober. It would burn me inside and out. But it would also refine me and heal me, burning out the old and replacing it with the new. And I wasn’t going into that fire alone; this time I had Jesus and my loving family.

The first line of Jimmy Needham’s song says “Clear the stage and set the sound and lights ablaze. If that’s the measure you must take to crush the idols.”

That is what I had to do. My addiction had become an idol. I had come to know Jesus years before I quit. I was going to church, doing Bible studies, listening to worship music, going on Christian retreats, reading my Bible and praying daily… all while being medicated everyday just to maintain “normal”. But as the lyrics go “you can sing all you want to and still get it wrong; worship is more than a song“. I had to clear the stage, clear my life of all the stuff that was preventing me from quitting drugs. I had to leave my co-dependent abusive relationship. I had to quit my job where being high was the only way I could function. I had to set ablaze all the things I thought I wanted, and set them at the foot of the cross, entrusting myself to Jesus. I had to humble myself before my family and Jesus. I needed help and I couldn’t do it alone.

I was very sick for weeks; weak, malnourished, depressed, not sleeping … all the typical opiate withdrawal symptoms. My memory was awful and my moods rollercoastered. I was a terror to live with and a sad sight. One very specific thing I remember is that at 39 years old I was too sick and weak to load a dishwasher. I knew that in time I would heal physically but that it would take even longer for my brain to heal. It can take the brain a year to begin healing from the type of addiction I had. And so I waited.

“Take a break from all the plans that you have made and sit at home alone and wait for God to whisper. Beg Him please to open up his mouth and speak, and pray for real upon your knees until they blister. Shine the light on every corner of your life until the pride and lust and lies are in the open.”

During that time of waiting, during the sickness and pain of withdrawal and healing, I turned to God. I put a battle plan in place. Sick as I was, I laid in bed for weeks reading the Bible. Weeks turned into months. Tired as I was, I wrote the Psalms (specifically 34, 116, 23, and 91) out on paper over and over and read them aloud over myself. This was a very good tip from a dear friend, and I recommend it to anyone dealing with a difficult situation. I still do this today when experiencing difficulties; it calms me and brings me peace. There is something about writing the Word out on paper, not typing, but slowly writing, paying attention to each Word and reading them aloud over yourself as if God wrote them just for you. I prayed and had trusted friends praying for me. I listened to worship music and praised Him even though I was hurting so bad.

“Then read the Word and put to test the things you’ve heard until your heart and soul are stirred and rocked and broken.”

It had been weeks, going on months of me lying around the house sick and weak. More times than I can remember, I thought for sure I would not survive, or didn’t want to. One day, as I lay sick in my bed, I opened my Bible to John 5:8 where Jesus tells the man to “pick up your mat and walk”. And so I did. I got out of bed and went for a walk outside. I had not been outside for so long. The sun felt good. I couldn’t do that every day. Some days I was too weak or too depressed. Some days the best I could do was go sit in a sunny patch of grass in the yard. It was springtime. The giant oak trees became my church, the flowers the stained glass, and the birds the choir. I just kept looking for God. I knew He was healing me.

“Then seek the Lord, and wait for what He has in store, and know that great is your reward, so just be hopeful.”

Then it happened. One day I was able to help my mom load the dishwasher without getting sick or too tired. Before I knew it I was able to unload the heavy dishes and stack them up in the cabinets. Who knew that doing the dishes would be one of the biggest memories and milestones of my healing? It meant I was getting stronger. It meant I could finally help my mom who had taken such good care of me even when it was extremely hard to do so. I was thrilled in that moment. Standing there over a sink of dishes in my mom’s kitchen I wept. I wept for joy knowing God had healed me. I was getting stronger and I knew I would continue to get stronger as weeks turned into months which turned into a year.

Today I am proud to say that I conquered my fear, crushing the idol of addiction, and I am 1 year and 7 months sober. The process drew me nearer to the Lord than I had ever been before. The tools I used, like writing out the Psalms, praying with friends, and leaning into the Lord through His Word and worship, are still tools I use to conquer fear today. I know I could not have gotten off drugs and remained sober for 19 months now without Jesus. I have not relapsed once. That in itself is a miracle. I was healed completely by God. It is my biggest testimony. Praise God; I am healed.

“We must not worship something that’s not even worth it. Clear the stage; make some space for the One who deserves it. Anything I put before my God is an idol. Anything I want with all my heart is an idol. Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol. Anything that I give all my love is an idol.”

(1st picture: 2016, 2nd picture 2018)