One Year Sober

I bought two pairs of running shoes today. Why? To celebrate. Now you’re probably IMG_6431wondering how two pairs of shoes constitute a celebration.

Well, I’m one year sober today.

(Gasp!)

Approaching this day, I knew I needed to be vulnerable and write something, but I have also had a lot of fear as the day drew closer.

The thing is, I don’t fit the picture of an alcoholic that most people have in their mind, or at least what I had in mine. I’m young. I wasn’t drinking every day. I was capable of having one drink and calling it quits. I was successful.

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I’m not going to go into detail, but behind every smile you may have seen on my face, there was pain waiting to be drowned in wine. Successes were celebrated with tequila. Happiness came with beer. Whiskey provided relief from this world.

Eventually, I lost touch with who I was, who I wanted to be. I was worshipping alcohol, craving the sweet, sweet burn of the next drop, the next night not remembered, the next emotion unfelt.

A year ago today, that came to an end. I knew I was using alcohol as a vice, but I always figured one more glass wouldn’t hurt. I knew I needed to stop drinking, but I didn’t want to let go.

What a lot of people don’t know is I was presented with an ultimatum. As I was pouring myself a glass of wine, I felt God so clearly lay on my heart, “It’s alcohol or me.”

Either God is everything, or he is nothing.

My last glass poured went down the sink drain.

I didn’t know what not drinking would look like. Frankly, I was scared. My life the past almost five years functioned around alcohol. How would I turn down a drink offered to me? What if people judge me? Well, so what. I knew this was a choice I needed to make and stick to.

The past year came with struggle. I still crave the rich flavor of red wine, the belief that everything will be better with one more glass. Wine has been offered to me and I have had to politely decline, wondering what aromatic flavors I’m missing.

There has also been the self-judgment, which has been prominent the past week. Am I really an alcoholic? How did this become my life? This isn’t who I wanted to be, but this is who I am.

And let’s not forget the enemy’s favorite weapon: shame.

I woke up this morning expecting to be excited that I made it a year without drinking, but instead I was overwhelmed with shame. “God, I know this isn’t what you meant for me. I feel like I’m honoring you in not drinking. Why do I feel this way?” I was brought to tears and very irritable from being overwhelmed with shame. How was I supposed to be excited for this day if it’s already starting so rough?

Fortunately, I was advised to celebrate. So then I brainstormed: how would I celebrate? A lot of people didn’t know I stopped drinking, so I knew I had to be vulnerable, especially for prayer to overcome this intense feeling of shame. So, that’s what I did, which was way out of my comfort zone.

Here comes the part with the shoes: I already knew I wanted two new pairs of running shoes to reward myself, but I didn’t have it in my mind to buy them today. I miraculously found some spare time, so I knew I needed to buy them today. Buying the shoes woIMG_6428uld be my celebration. I found myself at the store, and my friend happened to be working. I can’t even explain how excited I was to see her. She usually doesn’t work Sundays. I sat there while she was sizing my feet, telling her why I was buying these shoes today. Also, I was genuinely excited while telling her I reached one year of sobriety. The hour or so I was at the store was possibly the best hour of the day. I felt so much joy radiating from this friend of mine. My heart was happy. God knew I needed to be released from the shame, and he used her to bring me that taste of freedom.

You’re probably wondering, why two pairs? Honestly, I only have one simple answer: a pair for trail running and a pair for road running, and buying two pairs was a special treat to myself.

Here’s my last thought: maybe, just maybe, those shoes represent freedom. Running is my time to talk to God, to listen to what he has to say to me. It’s my time to be alone, to be myself, to be free.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Romans 8:1-2

The Heart of Authenticity

Okay ya’ll, it’s real talk time.

Remember that word I mentioned 10 days ago? That word that kept appearing in my life? If not, or if you need a refresher, check it out here: https://ericagrogg.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/authenticity/

Are you caught up? You can probably guess where this is going.

It. Keeps. Appearing.

Authentic.

Let’s investigate: to be authentic is to be raw, known, and accepted.

Wait. Did you read those last two?

Known.

Accepted.

Maybe that’s it… maybe the heart of living an authentic life is being known and accepted.

It’s time to dig a little deeper. One of the definitions of “authentic” I found a week and a half ago was “worthy of acceptance.” I wonder, is that at the heart of living an authentic life? Bear with me just a bit.

You see, I have this theory that every single person who has lived on this earth craves acceptance. The problem is where we turn for acceptance. Maybe a few of these ring true for you:

Opinions.

Relationships.

Performance.

Status.

Success.

The list could continue on, but here’s the thing: what if I told you that there is someone out there who doesn’t care about any of the words on that list? Would you believe me if I said there is someone who already finds you worthy of acceptance?

Okay, okay, I know I probably sound kind of crazy right now. Who in their right mind would ignore that list and only look at your heart?

Ready for it? God.

Yep, I said it. God.

He knows the depths of our hearts. He longs for us to invite Him to pour on us the surplus of grace He offers. He deems each of us as being worthy of acceptance.

So, here’s my question: are we willing to open up our raw and vulnerable hearts to Him, allowing Him to fill them with His grace and love, thus bringing us the opportunity of feeling true freedom and acceptance?

That, my dear friends, is what I believe to be a constant struggle. Our humanness can’t fathom a love so deep, a love so authentic, a love so pure. Yet, there is a Love that accepts us as we are, presenting us with the opportunity to be deemed worthy to drink of its overflowing cup.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27cropped-img_72901.jpg

Authenticity.

Authenticity.

Every time I read or hear this word, a picture of a young child learning how to pronounce it pops up in my mind. Can you see it? Can you hear it? AWE-THIN-ticity.

This word and versions thereof have appeared in my life numerous times this past week. When this happens, I ask myself, “What could God possibly be trying to tell me?” You see, this seems to be a pattern of His, bringing something to my attention numerous times to the point I can’t deny it must be from Him. I would like to assume it’s because I am skeptical and ask Him to make things obvious to me, which He so graciously seems to do.

Before continuing on, let’s examine the meaning of the word, shall we? From reading the definitions as presented by the Merriam-Webster dictionary online, I gather that to be authentic means to be: true, worthy of acceptance, and original.

But, here’s the thing. When I see or hear this word “authentic,” I tend to add another to it: love.

Authentic love.

Hmm… I continue to sit here questioning why this combination of words would be brought to mind so often.

Pause. As I am sitting here typing this, I audibly sighed when it hit me: If to express authentic love means to show truth, acceptance, and originality, haven’t I just described our Father’s love for us?

He, who loves us so dearly, so authentically, opens up His arms for us. This true love so vast we cannot fathom the depths of it is lavishly poured on us. And this love, isn’t this the love we are called to display for all to see? To live a life of authentic love, pointing everyone in our life to Christ, isn’t that our mission statement for life?

To not ignore the obvious, I continue to fail time and time again at living an authentic life of love. My prayer is that I would relentlessly continue to strive for actively living out this authentic love, continuing to be held in our Heavenly Father’s loving arms.

Will you join me?

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” 1 John 4:7-12

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The Spirit of Adoption

This past weekend, we had another baby born at The Sparrow’s Nest. There are never adequate words to describe being part of a tiny human entering this world, but in my feeble attempt, I can say there was strength, joy, beauty, suffering, and heartache.

Wait. Pause. Heartache? Yes, you read that correctly. Heartache. See, this baby’s momma chose the route of parenting where she created an adoption plan. We didn’t know exactly how this would play out. What emotions would we feel? How would we help care for the grieving mother? How are we happy for the adoptive parents when we know we are entering into a trying time for our Sparrow momma?

I experienced emotions I never expected. Watching my “boss lady” coach our Sparrow momma through labor and delivery was absolutely beautiful. She had a soothing voice and calming touch while encouraging our momma to push on. She was speaking words of truth, as I imagine God speaking words of Truth to us as He also encourages us to push on. People she loves who also love her made the long journey to the hospital and surrounded our Sparrow momma. She delivered a precious baby girl. I watched our Sparrow momma hold and nurse her baby, knowing she would soon be passing her baby on to a new family. I watched the adoptive family instantly fall in love with their new baby, a baby whose life was formed for them from conception.

As I was crying about the pain of being on this side of the adoption to a dear friend of mine, the side of watching a mother hand over her baby, she pointed something out: even Jesus experienced adoption. He was the sacrifice. God place His one and only Son on this earth to experience every emotion we could possibly feel, yet remain focused on His Father. Jesus was fully human and God.

As my dear friend also pointed out to me, the trinity and adoption correlate.

The Father made an adoption plan for His children. He sent His one and only Son to walk the earth so we can be adopted into His family.

Jesus experienced being adopted as he was baptized and the Spirit descended upon Him.

The Spirit, in us, shows us in increasing ways that we are chosen, purposed.

Rejoice! Oh, how beautiful! God chose us to be adopted into His family! It isn’t without pain, but the joy of being part of God’s family surpasses the amount of suffering!

I also want to share with you some words from my boss lady in response to texts about feeling inadequate: You are chosen. You are Imago Dei, the image of God.

We are created in God’s image, a God who chose us to be adopted into His family! My soul rejoices for this Truth!

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Romans 8:15

At the Cross

Last night, I pictured myself on the cross, and I fell even more in love with our Savior. Have you ever done this before, pictured yourself on the cross? It’s rightfully our spot, but Christ bore the weight of our sin for us. He hung on a tree and was crucified even though He was blameless.

Picture this with me for a moment.

You’re walking, but you’re barely picking up your feet. You feel heavy, heavier than you’ve ever felt before. You’re dragging a cross, your cross, the one you’re about to hang on. It’s weighing you down. You pause, take a breath. A whip cracks on you, making the pain you feel even worse. How can you carry on? You must, though you are marching to your death. You look down at your naked, bloodied body. Is it really you? Look left, look right. People yelling at you, cursing you, mocking you. Their words blur together, but you hear some of the lies. Unlovable. Damaged. Dispensable. Look ahead, there’s the hill on which you will die. It’s so close, yet so far. The sky is grey, the air somber. Must you keep going? The whips keep cracking, but then something changes. You hear the whips, but you don’t feel them. The words stop penetrating your soul. Look left again. There’s a man, dragging along beside you. His flesh is torn, he wears a crown of thorns. You feel light, then you realize you are no longer dragging your cross, but he is carrying yours, too. You recognize him, you know he’s blameless. Why is he here? He looks at you, and says, “I will carry you, all you need to do is ask.” 

Do you run the opposite way? Do you continue on to your death alongside him? What do you choose? 

You look around, the people are now inviting you, luring you with riches of the flesh.

You look at the man, considering carrying your cross alongside him, the cross that is rightfully yours. You hear the crowd turn against you as you look at the man. 

He offers more, a drink of water. “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

You look back at the people, tempted by them. But, you choose. You drink the water he’s offering. You take your cross from the man. The suffering begins again, but this time you feel unexplainable joy. You carry on to the hill, this man beside you. It’s your joy and honor to walk this path with him. To die with him. To give him the glory in your death, a death from hanging on the cross beside the man whom you love, the man who loves you. The nails, yes, they hurt. The thought of living in death hurts even worse. You know the riches for you are not of this earth, but in the kingdom of heaven.

This picture stuck with me all night. How could Christ possibly love me so much that he would walk this earth, suffer, and die on a cross, offering himself as the sacrifice for my sin? I deserve that death for my sin, yet all he asks of me is me. I have nothing to offer him except myself, my life, my service. I come to the cross with my arms stretched, hands open, because that’s all I have to offer: myself.

What about you?

At the Cross as performed by Johnny Cash

Alas and did my saviour bleed and did my sov’reign die
Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I

At the cross at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day

Was it for crimes that I have done he groaned upon the tree
Amazing pity grace unknown and love beyond degree

At the cross at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day

But drops of grief cannot repay the debt of love I owe
Here lord I give myself away it’s all that I can do

At the cross at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day

At the cross at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day

My journey to “yes” … and “yes” again

It was a drizzly afternoon in mid-August and one of those days where things simply weren’t going as planned. I was conflicted about what I would do if I were invited to Connect Week for AIM. I wanted to go wherever God led me, but I also knew it would be devastating to my family.

“Father, lead me to a place where I am in full obedience to you.”

I went on a run in the drizzle, and no one was out considering the light rain. I was listening to a playlist I created that I use to remind myself of God’s love for me, and I started bawling. I was able to find a place to sit, and it was in that solitude where I broke and cried out to God. I repented of the part of me that struggles to serve Him, begging Him to make my heart to fully desire to follow Him wherever He leads me. Also during that prayer, I told Him that if He opens the door to go to Africa with AIM, then that is where I will go, no matter the sacrifice.

That was my “yes.” That was my full commitment to serving God with all of me.

There was freedom in reaching a point of being willing to sacrifice all, but I was still struggling. Would I even get invited to Connect Week? If I was invited, would I be able to actually carry through with saying, “yes?” What about this other potential Africa opportunity my friend had brought to my attention?

As you know, I was invited to Connect Week, and I said, “Yes,” to going.

But wait. What about this other opportunity I couldn’t shake out of my mind?

I continued pursuing preparing for Connect Week though books I was reading, booking my flights, and communicating with people on staff, but I was struggling. Why wasn’t I motivated to start fundraising? My heart wasn’t at peace with my decision, which was new.

“God, isn’t this where you are leading me? Why am I not motivated to keep pursuing AIM? Father, if this isn’t where you are leading me, please make another opportunity known to me, and let me know that I am supposed to pursue that instead of AIM, if that is Your desire.”

I watched a video from the organization my friend connected me with called Under the Same Tree. I broke down crying because the video was exactly my heart.

“Father, is this it? Is this where you are leading me?”

I met with the director of the organization and fell even more in love. Her organization seemed like my heart on a silver platter. It was exactly what I envisioned when working in Africa was first laid on my heart back in December. This was it. My heart was at peace.

“Thank you, Father, for fully knowing my heart. Thank you for revealing my sinful heart and leading me to repentance. Thank you for your grace and hearing the desires of my heart, as a Father would hear of his daughter.”

It was honestly kind of scary with carrying through to say “no” to AIM. I loved the people I had been communicating with and felt like I was letting them down, but I also knew without a doubt that God was leading me to Under the Same Tree (UTST). In it, though, I learned of the freedom of choice. God presented me with a choice of AIM or UTST, and for that I am thankful.

“Father, thank you for leading me through the journey of saying ‘yes’ to you, a journey that brought me to a place where I was willing to sacrifice all. Thank you for the freedom you brought in allowing me to say ‘no’ to AIM, and once again say ‘yes’ to following you towards UTST. Thank you for being a God who hears the cries of my heart and loves me enough to provide me with an opportunity that makes my heart sing.

“Thank you for being a God who sees me, a God who knows me, a God who hears me, a God who speaks to me, and a God who loves me.”

Awe.

14141640_10154510786168055_587422127551494217_nI had the blessing of being in the delivery room for a birth last week, and I have yet to find the words to describe it. Beautiful? Amazing? Stunning? All adjectives seem to fall short of the beauty that is birth, but I keep finding myself ending at the word “awe.”

I was in awe immediately after the birth.

I was in awe when the baby girl took her first breath.

I was in awe when she swallowed her first sip of milk.

I am in awe of watching her grow.

Today I am still in awe of this miracle of life.

Who is this God who so perfectly knitted together this little girl, His own precious daughter?

I stand amazed at the fact that this little life grew inside her mother’s womb for 40 weeks and just like that she is here in this world, still reliant on her mother to nourish her, protect her, and love her.

I stand amazed that she instantly knew how to breathe and eat.

I stand amazed that a pregnancy is 40 weeks long. Forty is a number that appears in the Bible numerous times and seems to represent a time of testing and trial. (Side note: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2014/10/03/what-does-the-number-forty-40-mean-or-represent-in-the-bible/)

I personally have never experienced pregnancy, labor and delivery, but from my time spent working in a maternity home and having now seen labor and delivery, I can see how pregnancy is definitely a time of testing and trial. Patience is tested. A woman’s physical body is being tested. Emotions are tested. Pregnancy paints a picture of testing and trial, and the end brings deliverance. Isn’t that how it is with God? We go through so many trials that bring us to our knees, leaning closer in to our Father, and He delivers us.

I am in complete awe of our Creator, who designed each of us in His own image.

It’s true that watching a new life come into this world changes you. I am honored that baby girl’s momma invited me in to this time of raw emotion and vulnerability. I am blessed to have had this experience. And like I said, I still do not have words worthy enough to describe birth, but goodness did I ever fall more in love with our Creator, our Lord and Savior.

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
Psalm 139:13-16