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One Thing

It’s the official first week of holidays. The seemingly endless year-end tasks and interactions with children have been replaced by the restful sounds and sights of nature out here at High Lake. A wonderful diversity of birds sing without ceasing, including loons with their haunting tremolo. The glassy lake mirrors the deep green forest and cools us for all our swims. Every window of the cabin offers pristine views of “shield country”. If I wake at night, I hear only the rustle of trembling aspens and nighttime animals, not the restless sounds of the inner city at home. “Blue lake and rocky shore, I will return once more,” were the lines of a childhood song describing this area, and I say an inner yes.

Not too many weeks ago, I had an emotional meltdown one Wednesday evening, where a lack of faith felt like it was getting the best of me. Our community rallied to shore up my faith, and Bev said something that came back to me on the High Lake balcony where I’ve been sitting each morning for my quiet time. “It’s like you need to re-read all your blog posts,” Bev said to me, recognizing that I’d lost perspective.

The end of the school year is a time for reflection, and I decided to take up Bev’s suggestion. The lack of internet connection out here is no obstacle as I’ve gone to my computer files to read each month’s entries, starting with exactly one year ago. As I write this, I’ve gotten as far as May, 2012.

For many years, I’ve had a December tradition of re-reading the journal entries of the year. I always read with a certain wince on my face as I see all the ups and downs of the year, but reading the blog posts has been different. They have been a gift to me as I hear the clarion call of faith in each one. More than once I’ve teared up and felt stirred to a deeper faith as I’ve remembered so many Words and experiences that kept me steeped in God’s Story all year.

I also see the stark contrast that my life usually is to these words and the haunting, trembling call of the loon begins to sound in my soul. “You don’t live this way kiddo!”

What do others see after reading my blog?  I’m sure that I come across much more worried than my faith words would suggest. My inner state of anxiety and doubt belie my faith words. One day not long ago, a co-worker said to me at recess that I seemed frustrated and that I often had that look on my face. “Oh oh, she’s onto me,” I quickly thought.

I’ve been thinking of this contrast as I’ve re-read my blogging words this week – this gap between my deepest faith and my too-often lived experience of doubt. Normally, my first response at this hypocritical contrast is to feel shame. Why can’t I have more faith? Why am I so prone to stumbling?

As if in answer, the universe gave me something to address my dilemma. I read a fantastic book called Broken, a memoir by William Cope Moyers. My friend Cal told me about it a few months ago, knowing it was just the type of book that I loved, and I’d been looking forward to reading it.  The subtitle says it is a story of addiction and redemption, and tells the story of more than a decade of drug and alcohol addiction and how God found and healed him amid the destruction of his life.

As I settled in at the lake, I spent hours gripped by the author’s story. I was surrounded by birds and a calm, blue lake, but my imagination was filled with crack houses and seedy streets. It was difficult to read of his downward spiral into the world of addiction, and though the subtitle promised redemption, I couldn’t figure out how it would happen. Each turn of the page seemed to be one further step down into destruction.

As I contemplated my own shame at not living what I believe most deeply, I saw myself mirrored in Moyers’ story. Raised in a solid home, he had been surrounded by deep faith and love. Everyone had such hopes for his life and his gifts of leadership were recognized early on when he was baptized. Yet there was always a shadow following him; a sense of inadequacy that seemed to be fixed by drugs. It was a love affair that exacted a huge cost of course. Drugs are a slave master dressed in angel’s clothing.

His shame only deepened as he relapsed again and again, even after finally getting into treatment and a 12 step program. He despaired of ever getting out of his hell hole. Addiction is a progressive, incurable disease, and he feared that one more relapse would be the end of him.

I’ve never been addicted to drugs or alcohol, but the story still gripped me. I identified with the shame he wrote about; that sense of failure at living up to what I believe. I write eloquently about faith, but does my talk equal my walk? Do I really believe even when tough times hit?

Recently, Paul Patterson emailed his stepson, who has been grappling with what he believes. “Where things really hit the road,” he wrote to Erik, “is when the storms of life come. It’s there where what we cling to will be tested. The question is always – does your faith sustain your life?

As I sat out at this peaceful lake, reading over my blogs and remembering how quickly I regularly abandon my deepest beliefs, I remembered Paul’s question to Erik and found myself addressed too. “What do you believe, Lydie, even in failure?” 

The story of Moyers’ redemption was so helpful to me as I pondered all this. He was freed from the slavery of addiction when he was at the bottom. At first, his failure and utter lack of hope was all he could see, and he felt completely alone. And that was where he gave up. He could not figure things out anymore. “I’m done God,” he prayed. “Have me.”

Peace came to his soul at that moment, replacing all the anxiety and failure, and it changed his life. There was nothing left except what the 12-steps called “One Thing”. For him, “One Thing” was the need to keep sober. Keeping his focus on “One Thing” was his redemption.

The older I get, the more I see that everything in my life depends on one thing as well. My one thing is to keep my sights set on what I’ve glimpsed in my blog posts, which is seeing things through God’s binoculars. The evidence seems so much stronger in the failure department, but that’s only when I am focused there. When I look through God’s lenses, I am free. I screw up a lot, but thank God that it doesn’t depend on me. My shame can only be healed by one prayer, “I’m done God. Have me.”

One Thing. God’s reality is the only thing that has ever really helped me. God is there and doesn’t

Canoeing on High Lake this week

ever worry about my sense of failure. The scripture says that “Darkness is just like day to God.” (Psalm 139:12)  I’m beginning to glimpse God’s kingdom in my blog posts and I’m forever grateful.

I want to become the person that consistently sees things this way, but in the meantime, I know I’ll be held in God’s heart just as the lake holds me when I swim. God is the One Thing that keeps me from drowning.

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