“Coming Clean” — A Book Review

Coming Clean

This year, I have said ‘yes’ to too many friends about reading and reviewing their books. I love doing it, I do. But suddenly, at this point in the year, I am feeling overwhelmed, more than a little bit guilty, and very, very late. Seth’s gorgeous book debuted at the end of October.

Sigh.

And I LOVED it.

Sigh, again.

So . . . better late than never, right??  RIGHT??

This book, this amazing book — “Coming Clean, A Story of Faith” — is its own strange and wonderful animal. Part memoir, part journal, part devotional, ALL honest and true. And so very, very good. In fact, this is one of the best books I’ve read. Ever.

And I’ve read a whole lotta books.

Seth has really important things to say and he says them so well. He had me at the preface, which contained this gem of a chunk, to which I wrote a very large, very red YES in the margin:

“Read this less as a book about alcoholism and more as one about the pains and salves common in every life. My alcoholism is not the thing, see. Neither is your eating disorder, your greed disorder, or your sex addiction. Your sin is not the thing. The thing is under the sin. The thing is the pain. Sin management without redemption of life’s pain is a losing proposition.

“There is an antidote for the pain. It was taught to us, commanded of us. It is simple in word and sometimes impossible in deed. It is free, but it isn’t cheap.

“Are you ready to explore with me? Are you ready to find the medicine?

“This is an open invitation to come clean.” (pg. 14)

And the book continues to unfold exactly what he means by these words. Journeying through it is at one and the same time delightful and exquisitely painful. Why? Because I recognized myself on almost every page — and I have never had an entire drink of alcohol in my life. “My alcoholism is not the thing, see.” 

Oh, yeah. I see. I see.

The pain became overwhelming for Seth when his youngest son Titus was critically, unexplainably ill. Going from doctor to doctor, hospital to hospital, finding no answers. None. They watched this beautiful little boy slowly wasting away. And to stop the pain, Seth began to drink, finding in alcohol a friend and a comfort and a salve, albeit quite temporary, for the ache inside.

Seth is a thinking Christian, an intelligent man and a loving one, and as he walked this hard road, he began to wrestle with the things he had always believed. He saw no sign of an active God in his world or anywhere else. He knew that his own personal battle with the bottle would not be a welcome topic of conversation in most church gatherings — sad, but oh-so-true, I am sorry to say. And he began to journal. Early in that process, he found one person who was safe, a person who had walked the road to sobriety before him, and with her gentle help, Seth slowly began to turn in a different direction.

Here’s what I love about this story. First of all, it is masterfully written. Seth has taken his journal entries from the first 90 days of his ‘coming clean’ journey, edited and thought about them and created a small work of art in these 219 pages. Just for the language choice and the thoughtfulness, this is a worthwhile read.

In addition, he has told the truth as he was learning it. He asks the right questions and he wrestles hard with the answers, freely admitting that he cannot always find them. The journal moves into memoir when he writes of his early life, especially of his early faith, of meeting and knowing God in the sound of wind through the mesquite trees of his Texas childhood. He remembers his own early feelings of tranquility and assurance that all is right with the world because there is a benevolent God present in it. 

Thirdly, he frankly admits and swears by the therapy he received in this process. I am a big believer in good therapeutic intervention, having found it to be life-changing, maybe even life-saving. And Seth writes it true, true, true. A good therapist asks the right questions and listens beyond listening, getting to the heart of things in ways most of us either cannot or do not. An encounter with a faith-healer in childhood, and the skillful way in which his therapist wove together technique and prayer to help him understand why that experience was so deeply formative, is a wonder to behold and a critical piece in Seth’s recovery process. I believe that reading some of these scenes in a group setting could be liberating and life-changing for many, and I was delighted to read that this book will be part of a group study in an Indiana prison.

That’s  the kind of book this is, my friends. An instrument of grace, a means of revelation and a call to honesty, openness and hard, personal work. Read it.

And then do it.

You won’t be sorry.

31 Days of Aging Gracefully: Day 16 — Cherishing Friends

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As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to value long-time connection more and more. People who’ve walked the road with me for a long time, those are the ones I yearn to be with. I’m so grateful for newer friends, for later-in-life community — I am and I will continue to be.

But those people who’ve known me for a lifetime (or at least, a good chunk of a lifetime!) are the ones whose presence I seek out. My calendar has reservations for those folks. Maybe not a whole lotta reservations — but regular ones, that’s for sure. Those three women up there are my maternal first cousins. We live within 90 minutes of each other and try to get together for lunch and catch-up about twice a year. They’re remarkable people, each and every one. And we share so much story. It’s not very many people who can see me after six months and say, “You’re looking more like your dad every day, Diana.” Who else would know that about me? (And they’re right. I’ve always looked like my mom — but I see dad in there more and more as I age, especially in the hair color, body size/shape and, regrettably, that nose.)

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And, of course, there is my longest-term-best-friend, my mom. The parts of her that made for true friendship are not as evident as they once were, but that twinkle in her eye is a reminder, that smile is a heartstring to the past. She does not remember me, but oh! I remember her.

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And then there is this glorious posse, this group of long-term friends from our days at Pasadena Covenant church (1975-1996). Many of them are in this photo, but a couple of them weren’t able to make it to this gathering, just as I can’t make it to the one tonight.

These friends knew me before I wore any of the hats I’ve worn in the past two decades. Before seminary study, before pastoral ministry, before spiritual direction. Before. 

And most of them knew my kids. At least they knew me as a mom to those kids, which NO ONE in Santa Barbara does. I was so surprised at what a loss that was to me when we moved here. My role as their mom has been my primary identity since 1968 — and nobody in this congregation had a clue about any of that. It makes a difference, friends. It truly does. People who’ve walked with you through the joys and pitfalls of parenting and marriage (even if they themselves are not married or a parent) — those are the people who know you best. And who love you anyhow.

You gotta keep those friendships going. They’re lifeblood, even though IRL connections may be few and far between, they’re always rich and memorable. I was also part of another friendship group for a few years, one that I miss to this day. Six of us who were ordained as pastors in the same denomination gathered together for retreat every year for about 6-8 years. And then it just sort of died away. I have limited contact with three of that group and seldom hear from the other two. I miss them all and wonder every year about how to try and reestablish our connection.

Do you have friends  you’ve known forever? Special interest friends? Shared life experience friends? What do you do to stay in touch?

31 Days of Aging Gracefully: Day 8 — Looking for the Good

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Let me tell you about my friend, Lucille. Please. Let me tell you.

We met in 1975 when my family began attending Pasadena Covenant Church, where Lucille and her then husband Harold had been leading members for decades. She was the head honcho of the woman’s organization in the church and she was GOOD at it! Gifted organizationally and an exceptional cook, she had vision and energy to spare. At this point, she was 58 and I was 30.

If you’re any good at math, then you’ve figured out that she is now 98 years young. She has some trouble walking these days, but overall, she is still amazing. In fact, I would say, Lucille is a real pistol! In the very best way.

God put this good woman in my life at precisely the time I needed to be inspired and encouraged. She saw gifts in me and she patiently drew them out over the 21 years we worshipped and worked together in that community. She always saw the good in me. Always. And she told me about it, in ways both direct and indirect. She was, in many ways, a third mother to me — my own mom and mother-in-law being the first two. And I even looked a little bit like her daughter (and like her, too). 

Can I just tell you what a gift it is to hear from another adult whom you admire that you are a good and gifted person? It is life-changing, as a matter of fact, and I will be grateful to her and for her until the day I die.

She now lives in assisted living at the same retirement community where my mom is located. Because my mother’s condition has been so demanding, I’ve had little time to visit with her of late, but I’m making an effort to change that. Why? Because I love her. And because I’m grateful for her. And because I don’t know how much longer she’ll be here for me to sit with and smile at.

When I went to see her new little apartment (her third in this place – she started in a HUGE one with her second husband . . . which is another beautiful story I will tell some day . . . and then downsized to a still lovely smaller one when he died. And just last year, moved into assisted living. Her same beautiful things are still there and that smaller space radiates her beauty and grace in every corner.

When I went to see her, she asked me to go get a box out of one of her closets and bring it to her. Inside were some lovely needlepoint zipper bags that she had made and she insisted that I take one. “My daughter is coming soon and she’s bringing me new ones to do. I love to do it while I sit and look out the window or watch television.”

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Her beautiful handiwork sits now on my bedside table, a glorious reminder of someone I love who took the time and made the effort to see and speak the good in me. Thank you, Lucille. And thank you, Jesus.

So, where are you looking for the good in others these days? And who has seen and named the good in you?

Just Wondering

Slowly, but Surely . . . and My Word for the Year

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Already, this has been an interesting year, marked by events both painful and rich. 

And it’s barely three weeks old.

A dear friend is facing into a difficult cancer diagnosis — for the third time. A young father I love just endured surgical removal of a cancerous body part, prognosis very hopeful. . . but still, difficult and frightening. Another friend discovered some challenging news about her unborn child. My mom forgot where she lived the last time I took her back to her room. And I am swiftly approaching a milestone birthday. 

On the brighter side, we have these tidbits: A grandson is off to Budapest for a semester. BUDAPEST! We have a great family vacation coming in July. I am walking, gradually building up strength and endurance, and managing about 1.5 miles every other day. This after six months of either NOT walking at all or moving very slowly and carefully everywhere I went. Also? I am swiftly approaching a milestone birthday. (Some things are both painful AND rich in this life.)

And so we inch along, moving from shadow to light, putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.

Life is like that, isn’t it? A crazy quilt of the hard and the lovely, all of it forming us, shaping us, sifting us. And it’s that sifting part that we resist, not at all sure we want to release the things that need releasing, to let that chaff be winnowed out and blown to the wind.

I’m wrestling with a few small personality issues in my life these days, letting my feelings get hurt too easily and worrying excessively about the underlying agendas at work in some of the smaller groups I belong to. I spend way too much time wondering what I should say, how I should intervene to insure that everything turns out the way I’d like it to turn out.

But here’s the truth of it: it’s not up to me, is it?

This much I know: I am asked to reflect the Savior I serve wherever I am and whomever I find there. And in each and every situation, to trust that ultimately, ‘all things will work together for good,’ that God knows what God is doing, and as long as I enter each tender place with my heart in the right space, nothing further is asked.

But I gotta tell you — for a control freak, like me? Someone who has long believed that competency, clarity and harmony trump just about anything? Yeah, well. Sometimes, it’s hard to let go, to trust that things will work out just fine, even without my intervention and/or feeble attempts at manipulation. It’s tough to keep my mouth shut when it needs to be shut and to speak when I need to speak and leave it at that.

I am a slow learner, it seems, because these are lessons I have to keep learning over and over again. This letting go stuff requires a daily — sometimes hourly — response in my spirit. Will I cease and desist from obsession, over-worry, hyper-sensitivity? Will I breathe in and out, and with each inflation and deflation, make space for the Spirit to rule? Ah, yes. THAT is the question.

So when I asked for a word for 2015, it took a while for me to hear it.

Last year’s word was obedience,  and that proved to be a tough one for me on many levels, perhaps beginning with the very physical act of relinquishment required for that foot surgery mid-year and the long recovery that followed. But there were other areas of life where I watched God do God’s thing in me, asking me again and again, “So . . . is you in or is you out??”

So in the midst of all of this, the word that came to me for 2015 was a strange one, at least to my ears. I like it, but I’m not quite sure what to make of it, and I haven’t a clue what to expect because of it.

So you wanna hear it? Here goes . . .

S T R E T C H

After a year like the last one, that particular word felt wonderful, to tell you the truth. Yes, yes, yes! I want to stretch myself, to reach out physically, to walk more and with greater confidence. To take more trips, see more of this grand world, enjoy these years of retirement and relative good health. Goody, goody!

And then I began to remember that stretching, as great as it as, as good for me as it is, can sometimes hurt. Sometimes it’s difficult to reach for something just beyond your grasp. And God has this way of pushing against the very places in me that are resistant, that curl up in a ball and hide away from the light, that whisper self-protection, isolation, and fear. 

Maybe I’m going to be asked to stretch in ways that are scary, to step outside my very familiar comfort zone and do some things that I’m afraid to do. 

Am I willing?

I want to be . . . I think. 

Interestingly, the very first way in which I think I’ve been asked to stretch is to take a step back, to unsubscribe from a long list of blogs that I’ve read for the last 4-5 years. Not because I no longer wish to read what I find there, but because I sense I’m being asked to simplify, to pare down.

Why?

Because I am being ever-so-gently-but-ever-so-firmly pushed to tackle some things that are (to me, at least) big projects. These are major challenges to me, they are the Large Overwhelming Anxiety-Producing Things. And in order to stretch into those areas, there has to be some give in my schedule, and in my spirit. 

I promise to keep you posted as the year progresses. Should be interesting, right? Let me know your word for 2015, if you have one, and tell me what you think it means now, as the year is new. Maybe we can check in again at mid-year and in December and see what we’ve learned. What do you think?

Linking this with Bonnie, the FaithBarista 

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Small Gifts

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I have some delightful friends that I have yet to meet. That is the glory of this thing called cyberspace. And about two weeks after my surgery last summer, I got this little box in the mail. I had no idea who it was from and happily ripped into it.

The delightful contents shown above are what the box contained, but this was the first thing I saw as I opened it up:

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And it was exactly that: a little box of sunshine. Everything in it was yellow, from plush tea towels to boxes of candy to smiley face stickers. All of it, yellow.

And I laughed out loud from the joy of it all. In truth, I received a number of delightful surprise boxes from a lot of my internet friends — my deep thanks to each one of you. But this is the only one that came from someone I have yet to meet IRL. So thank you, Addie Zierman, for making my day back then. And thank you for inspiring me to do something like this for someone else someday.

It is the little things, isn’t it?

Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Support

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This is an old eucalyptus tree, down by the beach where I love to walk or sit and look. I happened to notice it a few days ago, while I was resting after a good walk. Do you see how crooked some of those branches are? And how the one on the bottom is sort of holding up the bigger one just above it?

I’ve looked at this tree dozens of times, but this is the first time that I noticed how gnarled it is. And how the branches are helping each other grow.

And I reflected for a few minutes on all the ‘branches’ that have helped me to grow over this long life of mine. My parents, my brothers, my extended family, my husband, my in-laws, my children, my grandchildren, my close friends, my professors, my fellow students, my parishioners, my directees. It’s a long list!

So when I got back home and looked carefully at this picture, I just took a minute to say ‘thank you’ for all the good, sturdy branches God has put around me.

Who has supported you along the way?

Just Wondering

Giving Permission . . . to LEAN

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So, right now,
these people (and a few others)
are saving my life.

These are sisters at the soul level,
and I find that I lean on them for all kinds of things
that are good and important and transformational.

It’s hard for me to lean on others.
I’ve always been the go-to girl,
the strong one, the leader, the loud-mouth.
It’s taken me . . . oh. . . about 40 years,
give or take a decade,
to understand that I am weakest when I try to go it alone,
that strength is truly found in numbers,
that I was never meant to carry the weight of the world
on these shoulders, even though they are b-r-o-a-d ones.

We are communal creatures, even when the community drives us batty.
We need one another to make it to the next Big Thing,
and we’re designed that way on purpose.

Nobody was ever meant to suffer life’s tragedies —
or celebrate life’s joys — all by themselves.
Yes, indeed, solitude is a good and necessary thing.
It helps us become quiet,
it centers us on the Center,
it encourages and nourishes and gentles and guides.

But the solitude and the silence,
the centering and the re-creating
come to fruition in the messes of everyday living,
in the intersections we have with others.

When we learn to lean,
we learn to grow, and even to flourish.

So, right now, this community is the one that
helps me find my way home in the dark,
the one that holds me accountable,
the one that teaches me new things about grace
every.single.day.

Have you found some leaning space?
If so, tell me a little about it.
If you’re working’ on it, let me pray for you.
I’d be honored to! 

Giving Permission . . . to LEARN

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These words speak to me today,

“Come to me, all you that are weary . . .
take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am gentle and humble in heart

and you will find rest for your souls. . .” 

I consider myself a ‘life-long learner.’
I enjoy learning new things, re-learning old things,
challenging myself with new ideas and difficult concepts.

But some things . . .
well, some things, I never seem to learn deeply enough.

And these lovely words from Jesus tell me that
THIS is one of those things:

resting in Jesus.

Oh, my. I say I love to learn,
that I’m eager to try new things.
But this one?
This kind of learning?

I am a slow student in this school,
plodding through life on my own strength,
adding responsibilities, 
accumulating too much stuff,
making too many commitments.

There is a drivenness in me that
pushes me to jump on that merry-go-round,
the one that spins on my insecurities
and overweening ego,
the one that makes me dizzy and tired.

So today, I am going back to school.
I want to learn from Jesus about gentleness,
about humility,
about rest.

What about you?
Is it time to rest from the spinning,
to let a plate or two drop,
to admit that you aren’t a super-powered human being?

Because the good news is that Jesus wants us to be life-long learners.
As long as this lesson is on the top of the to-do stack: 

“. . .take my yoke upon you, and learn from  me . . .”

The 31 Day Challenge!

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. . . to disconnect

It’s been quiet here the last week or so.
And there’s a good reason for that.

I’m traveling right now,
a combination of business, pleasure,
and commitment.
There was no room for writing in this space,
not any way I sliced it,
so I gave myself permission to . . .

disconnect

for a few days.
Not forever, and not from everything,
but from here, for now.

And you know what?
That simple act sparked something in me,
something which I’m going to be talking about
for the next 31 days, right here.

I’ll be talking about giving permission to . . .

ourselves.

Permission to do new things,
familiar things,

scary things,
easy things,
unusual things,
usual things,
startling things,
ordinary things,
things that we too often either
forget,
delay,
ignore,
hide,
or deny.

Things that move us out of our rut,
or snap us out of our mood,
or force us out of hiding.
Things that add dimension to life,
that bring fullness,
variety,
intrigue,
maybe even transformation.

Are you interested?

Well then, just check in each day of October.
There will be a new topic everyday.
Some days there will be a lot of words,
some, not so many.
There will usually be a photo or two,
there will be room to laugh, cry,
sing, dance, doubt, lament, rejoice.

Because that’s who we are,
who we’re designed to be,
who we’re meant to be.

Whole.
Interesting and interested.
Curious and open,
attentive, inventive,
creative and responsive.

So let’s start with disconnecting, shall we?

Take a break from one thing this week.
I don’t care what it is – something that gives you
just a squinch more breathing room in your day,
something that opens up a crack for fresh air,
fresh thinking, maybe even soul searching.

Are you up for it? 

 Tell me your one thing – put it in the comments.
Maybe that way, you’ll actually make that space in your day,
that tiny space. . . just to breathe in, to breathe deep.

Signing on with The Nester for the 2nd year in a row. Come on over and see the hundreds of others who will be enjoying this fun (and challenging) experiment.

Every day? For 31 days in a row?
I must be nuts
But you knew that, right? 


12 Things I Learned in August

That Emily Freeman, such a talented and fun lady. She started a meme a couple of months ago that I’ve been dying to try, so this is my first entry for the link that goes up tomorrow. August started so very well and is ending . . . not so much.

Most of these pictures are from item #2 on this list, except for the wedding picture, the stained glass church window from Hanalei, Kauai, and the last 2 miscellaneous shots from the same paradise. 

1. A personal calendar is truly only effective if you LOOK AT IT. (The editors at A Deeper Story/Deeper Family are very kind people, who forgave my forgetfulness and inattention, even providing space for an essay written very late indeed. Thank you, Megan Tietz!)

2. Playing miniature golf in Kilauea, Kauai is a whole lot more fun than playing miniature golf almost anywhere else on planet earth. Yowza, it was beautiful. Who knew you could combine a mini-golf course with a botanical garden and SCORE with both.

3. Saying good-bye to paradise gets harder to do each time I do it. For the first time I can ever remember, I did not want to come home from vacation. Sigh.

4. Getting airline seats early enough to secure the 2-seats-by-the-emergency-exit-in-a-3-seat-section saves the day. Literally.

5. It is possible to undo 4 weeks of restful vacation time with 9 medical visits during the first 10 days you’re back home. NINE, people. Nine.

6. Making slight adjustments in the medications of a 92-year-old dementia patient can make a large difference in her happiness and your own.

7. Discovering that 27 adults in your congregation of about 300 people are willing to come to quarterly meetings in support of your children’s and student ministries team is one of the single most heartening things you can discover about your community. Wow.

8. Rediscovering that meeting with people for spiritual direction is a privilege, a joy and a challenge, all rolled up into one, helps soothe the trials and tribulations of re-entry. I met with my five directees this year within hours (well, really, it was days) of returning home and each one of them is a gift in my life.

9. Seeing the daughter of a dear friend and former colleague marry a good man – outdoors and in a park, no less – provides nourishment for the soul that lasts a long time.  (And the actual meal was delish, as well.) Also? Cowboy boots look grand with sassy coral-colored bridesmaids’ dresses!

10. If  you sit with someone for a Google+ chat, said chat can be videotaped and PUT ON FACEBOOK. Who knew?? Good thing I love Deidra Riggs, because she’s the one who put us out there. It was a privilege to talk with these four women about a film that touches on so much important stuff. (Lee Daniels’ The Butler)

11. Having dinner with all your children and all your grandchildren (including the ‘big boys’ who are now in college) is the best reward ever for anything. Such great people.

12. The Telluride Film Festival is a BIG DEAL and they keep their schedule tightly under wraps. But . . . I have a copy of it on my computer because. . . TA DA!!! . . . my #1 grandson got the film he was the cinematographer for into the festival! This is good news, my friends. And this ‘student’ film? One of the best short dramas I’ve ever seen anywhere. It is that good. (And it is featured Saturday and Sunday morning at the festival. YES!)

All in all, August has been a good month, despite all the medical crap in and around everything else. Every single test I had came back just fine – and there were a heckuva lot of those suckers. Thanks be to God – and to those vigilant doctors, too.

Couldn’t find a button of any kind, so just click here to jump over to Emily’s place and see that grand collection of posts all about what we learned in August.