Vegas Feigns Freedom

This summer took me to a conference in Las Vegas. Seriously, Las Vegas. I’m in the business of helping design and implement community-wide prevention efforts related to substance abuse, and promoting health and wellness. And our national convention is in Vegas.

Vegas, where the perverted is promoted as compelling. Where temptations are touted as deserved. Where what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Vegas1

I’m not trashing Vegas…there are some amazing people doing good things and trying to rise above the onslaught of support for selfish indulgence that is sold by many advertisers. But it is a unique place to observe the dichotomy of humanity. For the most part, humans all over the world and right here in the US speak of wanting to find their life-partner and of living in harmony together, of raising kids that are healthy and happy, of doing work that is fulfilling, and playing in ways that are fun and challenge them to grow, and of investing in their community or world to make it a better place.

Yet the heart of downtown Vegas screams a different story. A story of entire self-satisfaction, of disdaining any inhibition because of values or commitments, of pushing limits of restraint whether related to money or sex or drugs or rock ‘n roll. It calls…begs…taunts…you to dare! To live! To try! From the garish advertisements that start inundating you at the airport, to the recovery water prominently available right in your room…from the legal prostitution and bare pools to the free drinks when gambling and concierge’s willingness to make anything available for you at any time…

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So what do we really want? What do we really value?

I think for many years, for all my years, prior to discovering the double-life that was my life…right in my own home…I somehow thought we could balance the onslaught of transgressions-made-to-look-pretty and not-making-bad-choices. I thought it was all about morality and being a good person and doing what was right and have a strong-will. But now I see that we are so incredibly multi-faceted and the normalization of the macabre does wear us down. It can, very subtly, without even realizing it, shave the edges off the strong parameters we have made in our own lives, we can find ourselves cheering for or engaging in things that would have caused us pause at one point. From the clothes we accept our loved ones wearing to the shows we watch ourselves…from the jokes we laugh at to the websites we frequent. We are inundated in a culture that flaunts it is all about YOU-yes-YOU, BABY! And it is all there for the taking and my happiness is the most paramount reality to be pursued and truth is all relative and by DAMN I deserve this or that or that or this RIGHT NOW…

You get it. We are affected by our culture. By no means in any way do I believe this is an excuse for betrayal, but we must begin to see it as one of the many root causes, core attitudes. Somehow the painful, ugly and devastating reality of illicit sexual and emotional relationships have been normalized. They are on every tv show and movie, often glamorizing the affair partner and reducing the spouse to a needy, driveling idiot. They are touted in magazines, and just search websites for affair sites…you find sites to help you have affairs, hide affairs and for sure, not-get-caught. Then search for apps that can help you out if you want to shop for lovers, chat with lovers, meet up with lovers or track your partners. There are thousands. Some of them help you out by deleting all the information with the simple shake of your device (you know, for when the spouse is asking to see your phone). Some look like stock apps or weather apps but when the secret pass code is entered, voila! There are all your secret communications with your lover along with storage for pictures and videos. Doesn’t it just make you warm and fuzzy all over? And of course, we need to start them young: youth love apps like Snap Chat that ensure no one can see their photo or video after 30 seconds. Why would such an app even be developed except for illicit purposes?

Culture

Over and over in all kinds of surveys, between 85 and 90% of people indicate marriage should be monogamous, yet (depending on the survey) 40-60% of those SAME PEOPLE admit to having been involved in an illicit relationship. So what is that? Other than cognitive dissonance? Our culture is boldly and subtly, overtly and covertly screaming to seek constant self-pleasure at all costs, despite costs, yet deep in our souls, it never satisfies.

And then…then the game comes to a grinding halt with discovery and devastation and soul-death and often divorce.

So, back to Vegas where I started this diatribe. Vegas is simply a symptom of the soul sickness we have allowed to permeate our culture. It makes so many promises, but ultimately, keeps none. Surreal experience visiting Vegas, promoting health and wellness in the midst of degradation and darkness. I am grateful, oh so grateful to have found the real light, the light of transparency and commitment and grace and truth. It cost everything, but what price freedom? What price love?

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Essential Enabler

With addictions, there are often, if not always, people around who “enable.” We all know this. We all have seen it or lived it or read about it, and I never wanted to be an enabler. I did not see myself as an enabler before I knew addiction lived in my house. I was determined to raise strong, independent children who would grow into strong, independent adults so when they forgot their lunches? They ate the proverbial peanut-and-butter-on-white-bread sandwich and drank water supplied by the cafeteria – no running the forgotten lunch to the school for this mom. Didn’t get the permission slip signed? Missed the field trip – no frantic return to school to provide the missing document for me…or how would they ever learn? No way, no chance I was going to raise an enabled child – huh, uh. Not me.

PBJ

Except there was one little problem in my plan.

I was an enabler.

See…an enabler can look kind of good in many ways. And when you grew up in that kind of home, it is all you know…your way of life…part of your DNA. Some of the things enablers do? And that I do, NO, that I did?

  • Enablers act out of a sincere sense of love, loyalty and concern: I honestly loved HUSBAND. Adored my children. Had high levels of concern for all and was loyal – to a fault.
  • Enablers step in to protect, cover-up for, makes excuses for and sometimes take responsibility for others: Even though I worked overtime on the obvious to NOT do this, over and over and over I did each of these things. When HUSBAND abandoned me during important times (story for another blog) I made excuses and covered up. When he treated someone poorly, I took the blame – he often even made me the heavy knowing I WOULD take the blame.
  • Enablers avoid potential problems by working to keep peace…doing whatever they can to avoid conflict thinking this will actually solve problems: Funny that I could see this so clearly in my own mother and determined not to do it…yet upon close examination, I did the same. You know, avoiding subjects. Not saying how you feel to avoid conflict. Curbing your ask to make it more palatable. Yup, I was a master who learned from a master.
  • Enablers have a hard time expressing their feelings, often keeping emotions inside: This one was tricky, because I acted like I had emotions. However, I stuffed my real feelings so deep inside that I didn’t even know what they were. I was STRONG. I was EMPOWERED. I didn’t need anyone or anything. Of course, that girl was impenetrable but really deeply wounded, deeply needing to be cherished and valued and loved.
  • Enablers minimize situations thinking “the problem” will get better later: Over and over and over. Again, I acted as if I was facing issues. HUSBAND and I went to counseling from time to time. We went to marriage classes and family seminars and family groups and all that stuff. But the real meat of pain and sources of confusion? Just couldn’t quite go there even though I fooled myself into thinking we had and were.
  • Enablers tend to lecture, blame or criticize the person they are enabling: This really doesn’t need more explanation. Other than it is tied to protecting, covering-up and making excuses. After doing so, HUSBAND would get a lecture to which he’d respond “I’ll do better.”
  • Enablers sometimes take over the responsibilities of the person they are enabling. They will cover up for them, pick up their slack and come to the rescue – all to minimize consequences: Again…doesn’t need much more explanation. But if this is you, then you know you likely pay the bills, select and purchase the presents – even for his family, explain to others why you forgot the event/party/funeral/etc, complete the expense reports for HIS company/work, write the reports for HIS company/work…the list goes on. Interesting, though, how HUSBAND was fantastic about planning hunting trips, fishing trips, fucking trips…didn’t need any help there…
  • Enablers are good at enduring…convincing themselves that this, too, shall pass: A life mantra…
  • Enablers believe in waiting…often believing God will take care of this: He has a plan and all that…
  • Enablers give one more chance. Then another one more chance. Then another one more chance… Story of my life with HUSBAND, pre discovery of the double-life.

Enabler

So DDAY sucked. But it started me on a path of self-discovery like no other event or time before. My healing and journey and changes have been important no matter the outcome or state of our marriage. This…THIS is what I had to recognize, to grieve, to let go of and to change about myself. NOT to save my marriage…to save me. Whether I stayed married to HUSBAND or moved on, this would follow me unless I learned to see it, to purge it, to learn new ways to approach old things. I had to find my voice, a healthy, non-manipulative voice that could recognize and care for me – share my needs and hopes and wishes and dreams and allow myself to feel – DEEPLY – without fear. I have put that essential enabler in a grave, alongside my old marriage, and today am living in a freedom I never knew existed. The essential enabler has become a healthy human.

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He Did It First

One day in our couple support group, our leader showed a video. The video is the work of The Skit Guys and is called Baggage. In the video we see a poignant visualization of how we get baggage…different people who throw it on us…friends…parents…lovers…and before you know it, we are weighed down trying to move forward in life, yet carrying bags on our backs and arms and hands. And then the actor talks about Jesus promising life, life abundantly – but life weighed down doesn’t feel like life. Then the actor remembers that Jesus told us to bring our burdens to Him – and that He would give us rest – so he goes to God and cries out…please, please take these bags…the bags slide of his body…and the actor lets us know that He – God – took the bags.

Baggage

Yet, over the years of my faith-walk, I cried out numerous times. I asked for Him to help me be better, or think clearer, or speak kinder. I begged Him to take my marriage to a deeper place, to help me be a better mom and to show me the right path for my family. Life was good, we plugged along and were “happy” yet there was always something – MORE – that I wanted but could not define. Baggage…that I held deep inside and didn’t even admit I was carrying. I told myself that was because we would never have satisfaction in this life…we are made to yearn for the Kingdom that will be ours in heaven…

Then I found out about HUSBAND’s double life.

Betrayed

In that short period of time, everything changed. It was as if all the prayers and what-seemed-to-be-answers-to-prayers through the years were now just a mockery. The God that I’d cried out to either wasn’t real, or He couldn’t/wouldn’t do the things I’d been told He could/would, or He didn’t love me. I was angry at my belief whichever of those things was true. After those initial weeks of shock and denial and anger began to move into what am I supposed to do next to survive, I began to have some images.

Images of this Jesus I rejected in a garden, knowing He was to die, on His knees crying out to God, His Father, to please, please take this cup…let there be another way.

There was no other way. Not for Jesus. Not for me.

Images of Jesus being abandoned. Being mocked. Being beaten and abused. Being betrayed. Like me.

Images of Jesus on a cross, pierced physically, emotionally, mentally and hanging, exposing his brokenness and pain and bloody insides. Like me.

And then, three days later, an empty tomb. The evidence of His death laying there, bloody and tattered, but He was gone having transcended the pain and filth to become whole again. Images of Him reappearing to His people, scars evident on His hands and feet, but whole and beautiful and full of mercy and love.

I began to understand that He had never left me or forsaken me. That I had tried to take a path around or under or over the very path that would lead me to freedom. It was the path directly through the pain that would take me so beyond “happy” – that would get me MORE – the MORE I’d always really wanted. He had forged the path, He showed me He didn’t want it either, that it is fraught with all things overwhelming, but that He’d gone first and would be there with me through the journey.

And that…THAT is when I began to step into my healing, into freedom, into MORE.

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Betrayal Decided.

 

Wednesday (or the third day) of Holy Week. Not much happens on this particular day, or at least I never realized it in the same way I did today. Wednesday was the day that somewhere around two-thousand years ago, a man named Judas decided he would betray the One whom he had loved, and followed, and dedicated his life to over the prior years. The One to whom he had listened intently, shaped his understanding of his past, and the direction of his future.

JudasBetrayal

I find it astounding that God chose to let us see a window into the heart and mind of Judas…not just the action of his betrayal the next day, but that he chose betrayal before he acted. That on the day before he moved into the action of pointing out Jesus to his captors, he considered it, saw the “reward” of thirty pieces of silver, and decided to betray his Lord.

HUSBAND and I have talked incessantly about how the betrayals happened within our marriage. The last affair began immediately following his HS reunion. As we were standing toward the exit, talking with another couple and preparing to leave, HUSBAND’s body jolted a bit and I glanced over, only to notice someone had bumped into him. It was a non-moment, a non-event with a non-descript person that I hardly noticed. But as HUSBAND turned to say “I’m sorry,” he now tells me that there was a fleeting moment of eyes meeting eyes that went beyond two old friends. I didn’t see it, or sense it, or have any idea it had happened. The next morning, HUSBAND sent a brief text…are you heading back to Atlanta…and SW answered…why…what do you have in mind…

The affair began.

BUT…what HUSBAND now sees is that isn’t really true. The affair began with his own inner pain and personal disdain, with small thoughts and little justifications and tiny moments for the months prior. It began with HUSBAND rejecting the good that was us and making us bad so that he could seek the bad and make it good. It wasn’t thirty pieces of silver that his whore offered him, but it was a quick path to momentary pleasure of the body and mind that led straight to a deep plunge into destruction. And he had sold out to the lies along the way long before he accepted the trade, long before he did away with the journey of the real for the mimicry of the false.

Circumstances reveal

How wise is the God who reveals the path of betrayal so clearly, both for the betrayed to be able to see they played no role, and for the betrayer to be able to learn his foolishness was his alone. Jesus…so pure and kind…betrayed and laid out for his betrayer…

I am humbled to read this story with new eyes. And to grieve with Jesus with a broken heart. And to thank Him for showing me that betrayal, and death…in a way that only God can make happen…can be a path to freedom, and life.

Freedom