The Merge Lane

We have been in our new home and city a couple of weeks. There are many differences between northern Florida and South Florida. Some things I miss like more palm trees than pine and the familiarity of place.

What I don’t miss from South Florida is the traffic. It gets more and more crowded which makes commuters tense. We haven’t experienced that here too much but what we have noticed is the merge lanes are very short. You have to decide quickly to get in there. Hesitation can result in a backup or worse.

In some ways, retirement is like the short merge lane. One day you have the keys no one else has, the title and power and literally, the next day, you don’t. We have both been okay with that. It has felt freeing to us.

Yet, there is some hesitation as to which lane we will merge. For now, there are many projects to keep us busy. The yard was more weeds than grass and Henry is already in competition to have ours as lush as the neighbor across the street.

I’m still cleaning out things that just don’t seem to work in this house.

my favorite chair in a quiet corner

One area I’ve decided needs to merge is my blog. As we’ve transitioned out of full time ministry the focus isn’t on recovery though there will always be lessons to share from that community.

For a couple of years I’ve been wondering how to merge what feels like my two lives: ministry / maker. I created a Facebook page where I’ve shared my artistic endeavors but it felt like a split personality.

I will be merging Living In Graceland to a new blog that will encompass all of who I am. It will have sections where I’ll share the creative side as well as the personal parts of life that connect us.

To unify things by name it will simply be called Debby Hudson Creative. I have dreams for this new blog with a main one being connecting to others. That is emerging as one of my purposes. It’s always been, I’m just recognizing how meaningful it is to me.

There are three areas where I hope we can connect: Eat, where I’ll share stories about me in the kitchen which my husband calls ‘Misadventures with Debby’, some recipes, and definitely some laughs.

Make will be where I share a variety of artwork along with some tutorials. 

Breathe is where we get personal and share life, even the messy life; especially the messy life because it is messy. My theme for the blog is “Embracing Imperfection”. Yes, Yes, and Yes!

It will still be a place of grace because we are living in the grace-land of God’s mercy.

Compassion Fatigue in Ministry

How do you tell them you’re tired? That your smiles aren’t as real as they use to be? That, many days, you have to make yourself show up.

This isn’t suppose to happen. Not to us. Not to people who are the ones who hug you when you’ve come back after your last relapse. Not to people who are grace-givers and hope-peddlers. 

This isn’t suppose to happen.

But it does. It has and I don’t know what to do with my tired heart and pretend smile.

In the early days I held a little distance between these men with their addictions and lives I knew nothing about. I watched and listened and let God soften my words and make wise my heart. I walked carefully into this new ministry, a foreign world on home soil. 

I let their stories pierce my heart and I let the tears fall when one didn’t return home because we want this place that houses 100 men to be a home for them. We want this to be the home that loves and cares about their comings and goings, a home where they can know love and grace and mercy and that love and mercy don’t exclude rules for communal living.

God was using this community of residents and staff to show me that grace was more than a prayer said before a meal. Yes, I’d grown up in the church and sang Amazing Grace but this, this acceptance of the guy who was holding a sign on the side of the road yesterday, this was grace.

This was compassion and mercy and love and they will steal your heart and leave you empty and tired with no more tears to cry for the next one. 

We pull away, we take vacation, we have creative endeavors, we do all of the things that should keep us healthy and our souls fit for caring one more day. But now, my tears are from feeling numb to it all.

I want to feel like I did a dozen years ago, when it was fresh and I was learning about the disease of addiction and finding my place in this story of recovery and relapse and grace. Now, it seems like the same song on repeat. 

Caring too much can hurt. When caregivers focus on others without practicing self-care, destructive behaviors can surface. Apathy, isolation, bottled up emotions and substance abuse head a long list of symptoms associated with the secondary traumatic stress disorder now labeled: Compassion Fatigue

Where is the renewal of my soul? 

One of the perks about our ministry is the competent counselors on staff.  What could be better than a licensed mental health counselor, who I also consider a friend, just down the hall from my office? So I told her. I told her I’d lost it. I’d lost the passion and energy and that I had to make myself show up.

She looks me in the eye, listening to my words as well as my heart. Her voice softens and she asks me, again, ‘What about you? You’re a nurturer but are you taking care of you? What are you doing that’s for you?‘ 

You know I am, Marian. You know I’m taking a photography class and that I write. You know I do those things for me.

She pressed on, ‘But who are your friends? Your girlfriends? The ones you do things with, not your husband, yourfriends?

Ah, yes. The ones who live in other states. Those friends? The story gets complicated and our talk grows quiet as she knows I’ll walk out her door and nothing will change.

We are wired to tend to the needs of others while ignoring the weakening pulse in our heart. The bible is full of verses about putting others first and serving the least and how the last will be first in the Kingdom. These verses of works walk hand in hand with the faith on which they are built. One without the other is dead so we carry on until we slowly die on the inside.

There is that one verse. The one I like reading in the Message, the one that makes me think of music and the ocean and the graceful rhythms of both.

It’s as if Eugene Peterson was reading my mind when he wrote this paraphrase:

“Are you tired? Worn out ? Burned out on religion?” 

Well, yes. Yes, I am.

“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28-30

Sometimes keeping company with Jesus looks like a phone call with a girlfriend, a heart to heart with my sister or laughing at an eleven-year old’s joke. These are life breaths to suck in deeply, slowly and remember that I’m refreshed and walking in the rhythms of grace-land. 

The Withering Beauty of Grace

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This withered and dying sunflower holds remnants of what was. It’s color is still true and some of the petals refuse to let go.

 

When I brought the bundle of yellow from the store some blooms weren’t fully open. Over the course of the week their petals relaxed and exposed more of the round center. Their stalks are thick and have the strength to support their brilliantly colored heads.

 

Over two weeks time I watched them cycle from full strength to petals dropping and starting to wither. Even as their blooms fade their beauty does not. The petals aren’t smooth or full. Yet it doesn’t negate their beauty. Neither has my admiration diminished. Through all of the stages they carry themselves with strength and a quiet grace.

 

Two years ago we lost the last of our parents. They are all gone on to glory now. We watched them age, color draining little by little. Dark hair to white. Energy slowly waned unable to keep pace with their younger selves or their great-grandchild. Some held tighter like the petals on the sunflowers. But life wins as it always does. The ultimate oxymoron.

 

Remnants have been left in their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Remnants of beauty that defies the kind in magazine pages. Beauty isn’t always smooth skin and clear eyes. It’s not about strength or memory. It is more. Somewhere in the withering and fading you see the grace.

 

 

Two Tragedies

HOPE CHANGE logo

There are two tragedies with addicts. There is the tragic life of the addict. A person whose life has unraveled and become a stranger to all who knew them. They have changed in every way.

Physically they have aged. Meth and crack destroy their teeth. Opioids take them to skin and bones. Eyes become pinpricks and eventually flatten out to blankness. Flakka can leave long-lasting paranoia and mental confusion.
The once good looking brother, son, husband so well-groomed and well-mannered is hiding things, stealing from family, lying about jobs and money until everyone has cut them off. Until the crack house is the only place that welcomes them and even that will end when they can’t pay. One way or another. The lucky ones are put in jail which can lead to detox giving them a chance.
The second tragedy happens to those who love them. Addicts are the real walking dead.
“Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in his own heart and even losing his precious peace of mind? 
In short: “Who can take away suffering without entering it?”  
– Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society
These are the people who enter our lives and wreck our emotions forcing us to draw boundary lines and make hard decisions. They are why we’ve attended too many funerals and memorials. Their names are on my tears and they leave bruises on my heart.
*Tom has left. Again. When he came back this time he was thinner than the last time. He’s not a big man, only a couple of inches taller than me. But his eyes were alive before. Now they are desperate. He grabs me in a hug nearly every time he sees me and there’s something about it that isn’t him. The counselors have expressed his ongoing paranoia and I learn his last run involved Flakka. He has prescriptions but he’s decided the amounts he should be taking which completely violates our policy. We know his level of care has gone beyond what we can handle. We wish we had the power to Baker-act him. It would put him directly in the system to have a mental evaluation. It could give him a chance. But we don’t have that power. Before we can meet with him about options he leaves. He’s become sure he’s being targeted, a manifestation of his paranoia.
So he left. Walked out. To nothing. And I’m so afraid he’s going to die. Out there. Alone.
You’d think after 14 years in this ministry we’d become numb. There are many times I’ve wished for it and times I’ve felt it. There is a layer we must wrap ourselves in every day to be able to look at the night log to see if anyone has left. I can only explain our ability to still care by saying God is with us. I don’t know why we haven’t been destroyed by this except that He is with us. And right now I want him to also be with *Tom.
Two tragedies multiplied by every man in our Center.
“Dare to love and to be a real friend. The love you give and receive is a reality that will lead you closer and closer to God as well as those whom God has given you to love.” 
– Henri Nouwen

Five-Minute Friday {free}

Linking up with the gracious Kate Motaung, host of the weekly free-writing prompt known as Five-Minute Friday. Stop by and join this group of lovelies.

I’m a suspicious sort, tossing the junk mail with banners reading: CLAIM YOUR FREE PRIZE. Scan the fine print and you’ll discover the cost of free.

It pushes my buttons when someone, often a customer in one of our Family Stores complaining about a price with the rationale of, “you get this stuff free”.

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bible conference

bible conference

I have to practice calm when explaining, no, it’s not free to us. It costs us the price of trucks, employee salaries, gasoline…utilities in this very building your standing in…….(serenity now!)

Yeah, I have to take a deep breath over that one.

I like free, but rarely are things without cost.

HOPE CHANGE logo

Oscar Roan

FtL prayer

Our 6-month rehabilitation program is free to the men. They receive counseling, food, clothes, purposeful duties, but it cost them something. It cost willingness to follow the rules, to get up at a certain time, to attend group meetings, to participate in their recovery. It costs them change.

For some that cost is too high.

Change carries a high price. No money is required to change but it’s a price many of us aren’t ready to pay.

Grace. Free. No cost. At all.

Paid for by Jesus. His life for us.

Grace because He loves.

Always.

Forever.

Free.

Five-Minute Friday {meet}

arms of grace quote

It seems we always meet at the worst times. The times when anger wells up inside or fear of the unknown stifles my being and turns me into a complaining mess. Yes, she has a knack for showing up at just those times.

Too often, I ignore her presence or can’t hear her over my selfishness but she is there, waiting with the patience that only comes from above.

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things – Grace, U2

The unknown tomorrow is known by a loving God and through our fears and anger and hurt, his grace will meet us.

When light leaks grace

Boxes. The best gift a toddler can ever receive. They can be surrounded by the latest, greatest and push it away in favor of the box.

They examine the box, pick it up, look in it, get it in. They engage with this piece of cardboard. This no-tech, soundless thing that will be set at the curb as garbage.

I’m thinking about boxes and the darkness they contain. I’ve been in one of those big boxes playing with the kids when they were little. It’s dark inside but there are tiny pinprick holes at the corners, holes that allow minuscule beams of light to cut through the darkness.

These small places….these tiny beams of light are grace.

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“Only deeds of Light can drive out depths of dark. Only lives of Light can drive out lies of dark.” – Ann Voskamp

My friends posted these words by the lovely Ann and all I could think of was the shroud of darkness I’ve been feeling. Darkness that comes from words made to create drama and anxiety. Darkness from power meant to remind who has it and who doesn’t. Darkness from selfish deeds.

There are days this darkness hangs heavy like a box is over my head and I forget to look for the pinpricks of light. Worse, I haven’t wanted to look for the light. I’ve held my hurt like a badge of honor and fear grips me, fear of I don’t know what. Have you known that kind of dark? Are you saying, “You too?” We must know we aren’t alone because alone is surely the deepest darkness and you are not alone.

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Holy Land Tour  prayer candles

We don’t need the light to be strobing or as a big as a searchlight. We don’t need to see lights stream across the night sky to know grace. It seems it most often comes in these little streams, the kind that cuts right through darkness and reminds us that He reaches through the shadows to touch our lives with his grace.

Our lives are entwined with men who have known the darkness of boxes of addiction, who have been unwanted and discarded. Men and families who have forgotten there is light. And this is what we give to them: light that drives out the lies of dark.

This is what friends give me. Even when I push their tender words away with my sarcasm which is barely disguising my pain, even then they are grace-givers because grace doesn’t need to be returned to be given.

Our men like to sing Grace Like Rain

grace like rain falls down on me
…all my stains are washed away

I’m standing in the dark rain, knowing I need to see that trickle of light, when the light leaks grace.

Five-Minute Friday {good}

We work in good and bad.

We meet each Tuesday around the table with our Production staff. How are donations? How are sales? These two things vital to our providing for the 99 men in our Center.

Thursdays we meet in the same room, around the same tables with our Program staff discussing the residents, new men, periodic reviews, those who left and why.

30, 60 and 90 days their file is brought up and the questions asked:

Appearance and neatness? Work therapy? Recovery program?

Our answers range from poor and fair to good and, at times, excellent.

Our days are filled with casual conversations about how this man looked so bad when he came in or how good this other man is doing in his program. Good and bad aren’t academic or professional terms but they are the everyday language between staff to which we know the deeper meaning.

We recognize the good because we have seen the bad.

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Is that why today is called Good Friday? We know the accounts of Jesus’ mercy and grace, of the great love he showed to the forgotten and outcasts. He showed what good really is in the life he lived and showing us this good reveals the bad. It reveals my bad.

There’s a verse that talks about wherever sin is grace will be more. Wherever the bad and ugly, the wrong and unjust, in the midst of that grace will be deeper. It seems without the bad, we don’t see good.

It’s hard for me to be completely mournful on Good Friday because I know the anguish of the bad he suffered. But the good that is coming….that is the cross to which we cling. The one stained by his blood of sacrifice. The cross He left empty in his victory over death, victory over life. His ever lasting victory over good and bad because we have been redeemed.

Linking up with Kate Motaung and word loving bloggers to spill out unedited words for five minutes on the prompt she provides. Join the party!

Now

It’s a huge, busy, skipping from place to place week around here, one that could be written in a colossal, run-on sentence. It’s the granddaughter’s spring break and we’re blessed to have her with us though she may not feel it’s a break as we shuttle her with us on the to and fro circuit.

It’s spring, which means it looks exactly the same outside here as it did in winter. And fall, and summer: brilliant blue skies, palm trees swaying to a swift breeze and the humidity starting to crawl its way up.

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I don’t do these kinds of weeks well. The kind where we sleep in one place for two nights and then another for two nights and so on. Especially with a 7-year old when I know how important routine is. She is doing better than me.

We caught our breaths yesterday before we leave today. A trip we’d rather skip as we’re going to wait beside my sister-in-law, no doubt laugh the tension we’re holding inside because that’s how we cope. My brother was recently diagnosed with stage 2 prostate cancer and is having surgery tomorrow (Tuesday). The news is optimistic and we are holding to that but inside, yeah, my heart is beating a little harder and my breathing not quite as deep.

When news  of his diagnosis came it brought with it all kinds of unrealized feelings of our little family. Things that had never surfaced but make so much sense. The feeling that it’s been he and I alone ever since our parents divorce. Almost like I’ve felt us orphaned in an odd way because we’ve always been loved by our parents but I realized how the physical separation made me feel alone. And in charge of this guy who drove me crazy when we were kids but is my best friend now.

With this week and next staring me down, not much is certain, as if anything ever is but God. That seems to be where he wants me these days. Knowing that whatever else is swirling about, in the thick of uncertainty about cancer, moving, relapse, and our next breath, He is certain. His unending love, his compassion and mercy, his grace that pours over my doubt and fears is certain. Always. Forever.

 

I surrender…..some

The words were barely out of his mouth when my body tensed, my mind closed and all kinds of ugly were running through my mind.

I was sitting in a place built for worship. With a group of people there for that purpose. Mostly. Some were there out of obligation and responsibility. That would be me this time. This time.

I heard him say something about breathing in holiness and a songbird outside the stained glass window whistled a tune I knew was from God. A song to bring me away from my ugliness and turn to God’s beauty. But I wrestled. Hard.

This is not a side of me I like. Not one many see. I justify my objections and pick away at the minutia and this ugliness was winning. I wanted to walk out. I thought that would be better. Better for those around me, better to get away and find God in the nature just outside the walls.

memorial chapel stained glass

Instead, I sat in the old wooden pew; between two men who have had their own struggles in life. The kind that look uglier than mine because they’ve been on the outside of life and mine, mine can be buried deep inside. Mine can be disguised as critical observation, a difference of opinion, a sharp wit.

It can be dressed up and worn like a pair of stiletto’s; oh, so, fashionable, but so very sharp.

Appearances can be deceiving, they say. A smile, our priestly robes, the kind words said in truth because God is there. Inside. This is the beauty I want to take over my life. But how do I find that sweet spot between discernment and self-control? When do I let go of control and choose grace?

Surrender is that graceful beauty that seems so Un-American. It goes against every bit of yearning to control that is buried deep within my “do-it-yourself” being. It is not natural to want to give up. The word bears hard on me even as I listen to the old hymn, I Surrender All. I want to and do. For a minute. The thing I’m learning about surrender is that you do it every day. Again and again. Throughout life. All of it.

The mistake I’ve made is in forgetting who I’m surrendering this all to. This all that wraps around me like a straight-jacket spewing barbed wire words. Why is it not easy to surrender this?