The rhythm of the liturgical seasons reflect the rhythm of life — with its celebrations of anniversaries and its seasons of quiet growth and maturing. For me, the liturgical calendar gives me an annual guide to tell myself and the world the recurring, alive story of the Gospel of Jesus. With each season, we experience the life of Jesus in the light of our own life.
Just as our lives have big days of celebration, so does the Church calendar. Christmas, Easter – these days we know. There are other seasons that are less recognized, yet no less important. The season that follows in our exploration of the calendar is Ordinary Time. This is a time for growth and maturation, a time set aside to ponder mystery. But there’s nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time, as when leaned into, this is a time that focuses on reflecting and celebrating our call to follow Jesus day by day.
Ordinary Time, meaning ordered or numbered time, is celebrated in two segments: from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday; and from Pentecost to the First Sunday of Advent. This makes it the largest season of the Liturgical Year. The color that represents this season is green, the color of hope and new growth.
As I have come to rely more and more on the story of Jesus as told in the Church calendar year, I find that if we as faith participants in the body are to mature in the spiritual life, we have to learn to descend the spiritual mountain peaks of Easter and Christmas in order to dwell and rest and grow in the meadows of Ordinary Time. So often, “spiritual” life equates to emotional highs. Ordinary Time forces us out of the big movements of Church energy into the daily discipline of a formational and grounded faith.
In my first season of Ordinary Time, life was full. Life was preparing me for the coming seasons. In laying the groundwork of spiritual development, Ordinary Time gave me the undergirding to face the future. I believe this was the exact season of contemplation and growth that God ordained for me. The fruit of my contemplation was my connectedness with the world and with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. You see, this next season was anything but ordinary.
Toto, We Are Not In Texas Anymore
In May of 1997, I graduated from Baylor and set off to adult. I quickly learned that adult-ing is really not all that it is cracked up to be. I moved to Alvin, TX for the summer and worked in full-time youth ministry. Lucas and I saw each other on the weekends and while he loved playing sports with “my kids” he wasn’t quite sure about the schedule. His family and personal reference point was the chemical industry. He knew labs and turnarounds and emergency calls. Lock-ins and mission trips and 10 day trips on charter buses in Colorado were new territory. I tried to teach him with great excitement but until that point in his life, church was a Sunday morning thing not a 24/7 way of life.
August brought a hard decision. With my imminent departure out of state and his junior year at TAMU ahead, we decided to stay together. From our first hard conversation, we made a commitment that as long as we were having fun, we would be together. Long distance relationships are really anything but “fun,” but we wanted to try. So we called and wrote letters (yes, young people, we used handwriting and stamps) and even discovered this amazing tool called email. I did not have a computer in my dorm, so I would walk to the computer lab and hold my breath with excitement while I opened this thing they called an inbox. I still have all of those emails printed in a book. We needed to get a life. Only in the midst of young love can you find that many things to talk about. Knowing what I do about my husband, I still can’t imagine how he tolerated that many words.
Before I go on, let me give you a very unscientific description of seminary. From my experience, people go to seminary for 3 primary reasons:
- They are called by God to ministry and gifted with a specific skill set. Seminary is a place of clarification and training.
- They are unsure about their future and in light of unease, no one argues when you say you are “called by God.” Seminary is a good place to delay next steps.
- They are wounded and broken in profound ways. “Being” spiritual is a lovely way to hide in the safe world of professional Jesus and avoid hard interior work.
I can honestly say that #1 and #3 were equally true for me. I knew that I had some serious festering wounds that needed attention. The world told me I was capable and gifted. My heart told me that I was broken and useless. The Church convinced me that they could “fix” me. Within weeks of life in a new state, with no one I knew and a constant state of spiritual roller coastering, this year was setting up for a crash and burn of epic proportions.
After only about 6 weeks at school, I developed physical symptoms that were a cause for alarm. This required further testing, a trip by my mom for a procedure and ultimately surgery over Christmas break. Without an understanding of the spiritual and emotional changes that were taking place in my life, my body began to take the stress and internalization out on itself.
In a brilliant attempt to find my space and place and independence, I called Lucas and told him we should not date anymore. Few times in my life have I seen him mad. And Lucas mad is really disturbing. It begins with a 3 sentence moment of a passionate raised voice. There is no colorful language, just a clear expression of disgust. This is then followed by an eerie calm that in someone with my wiring would mean that a mass murder is about to occur. In Lucas, it is simply a processing tool. There is no screaming. There is no throwing. There is no door slamming. There is no sarcasm. It’s absolutely bizarre.
After the three sentence fit, and one more questioning phone call, the calm commenced with these words, “Do what you need to do, I’ll be here waiting.”
Damn, Lucas Hilbrich. Nice mic drop.
Did You Know That Bees and Dogs Smell Fear?
So he waited.
And, I ignored him.
During this period of emotional pouting, we both had some work to do. If I have discovered nothing else about healthy relationships, I know that two people cannot make each other whole. Jerry Maguire was the the first movie that Lucas and I saw in a theater together. And while the line, “You complete me” is an adorable sentiment, the truth of the matter is that we can make each other better but we will never be the filler of soul holes. And boy, did I have holes.
Fasting and arguing and fussing and yelling became staples of my life. For the first few months of this new journey, these moment came out at people. The more that I spent time studying things like discipline and contemplation and pastoral caregiving and accountability, the more that I came to terms with the fact that people were only part of the problem. I was really, really mad at God.
I can vividly remember sitting in the prayer chapel at the seminary with a friend after a very real tantrum of the spirit when she looked at me and said, “It’s ok to be mad at God.” WHAT? I would NEVER be mad at my precious loving Creator. And she just kept looking at me. It was seriously uncomfortable. Like so irritating that I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Until I didn’t.
You know how I described Lucas’s lack of anger? Imagine the complete opposite of that reaction. You know the one that includes passionate sh-words and fu-words? Yep, that was the next step. When I finally trusted that God could handle all that I had to say, I was voraciously using all the vocabulary to describe some things that I wan’t sure God had any concept of understanding.
I would like to tell you that my time in seminary was a beautiful picture of faith confirming truth. The reality was that this short two semester school year was a time where, for the first time, I scratched the surface of what it meant to deconstruct and question and prod and not have all the answers. The number of hours that I spent speeding through the back hills of rural Kentucky with Chumbuwamba and Dr. Dre assisting in my fits of honest prayer were significant.
A few good car rides did not fix all the things that I had going on my heart. Not even close. But just the ability to approach my Creator in honesty, and not be afraid of scaring or disappointing or alienating, was life changing. At a time when young adults often push far away from all that is faith related, this opportunity to safely and honestly talk to God was critical.
On a side note, there were many aspects of seminary that I hated. But there were a few that changed me forever. As with all things in my life and story, people were key. Asked today, I could not tell you much that I learned from a book. But I saw lived before me struggle and passion and seeking and discovery. One of the main examples of this impacted my life for decades, so there is no way that I could even know the importance my short time at school would play in my life.
And then there was the tall Aggie. I came home for weekend in the late fall to return to Baylor and visit my family. We had not talked for weeks. As he said, he gave me space. Up to that point all of this breaking up/not talking/quiet was over the phone. He asked if I would stop in College Station on my way back to Houston and have a face to face conversation. I was sure that there was nothing he could say that would make any of this any better. I had convinced myself that he knew nothing about my journey as a developing SPIRITUAL leader. I mean what could engineering at A&M have to offer in the eternally significant department???
I begrudgingly complied. And, as Dorothy Boyd said so well, “You had me at hello.”
You Honor Us With Your Presence, Now It’s Time To Party
How did you know that he was the “one?”
I love this question. And I love my answer even more. I knew he was the one when he nursed me though a less than pleasant surgery before we were engaged. That’s love. The messy. The painful. The times when you can’t sit, so you make a pallet in the living room floor and don’t move for days. That’s what it means to walk beside each other for better and for worse. That was how we spent New Year’s Day of 1998.
And after the winter break, when healing had commenced, I went back to Kentucky. School was underway, white stuff was falling from the sky and all was right in the world of long distance romance. As Valentine’s Day approached, I was reminded of the fact that just a year prior, I did not know this person that had become a fixture of hope and clarity in my life. It seemed strange to think about, but so much had transpired in a year. We had learned to fight for each other. We had fallen in love with each others families. I could see that this was far more than anything I could have imagined. This is what people talked about when they spoke of a relationship that was worth the hard work. It was.
Call it sentimentality or naive bull headed Taurus behavior, but on February 14th, I took things into my own hands. This story sets the tone for so many things in our relationship, so I fall on the sword of embarrassing truth in its telling. I am a great planner, I just suck at subtlety. By February 14th, I missed Lucas. The thought of staying in KY for another year to finish my degree was looming. My health was declining again after surgery and I wanted to be back with my people and my Houston doctors. So I took matters into my own hands.
Lucas: Hey babe, happy Valentine’s Day.
Lacy: To you, too. I don’t want to finish my degree. I want to come home.
Lacy: I want to come back to Texas. And I don’t want to be in Houston.
Lacy: I want to be in College Station with you.
Lucas: (who is newly 21 and a JUNIOR in college) ***silence***
Lacy: And If I am going to be in College Station, I want us to be married.
Lacy: Can you make that happen?
Lucas: Are you being serious?
Lacy: Yes. Like this summer. Let’s get married.
Lucas: Well, should I just call your dad and tell him that you told me to marry you?
I think he thought I was kidding. I was not. Not at all.
My health continued to hamper my semester. By mid March, I was 30 pounds lighter than when I arrived in Kentucky and the doctor there told me that all signs were pointing to Crohn’s Disease. I freaked. I didn’t want to do this by myself, I couldn’t focus on school and I missed my people. With the support of my professors. I came home to Texas at Spring Break. In some ways, I felt like a failure. In others, I was so relieved to be home.
We set our wedding date for August 22nd. I don’t mess around, and my dad was happy to follow along with any plans that meant I was off his payroll. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that Lucas Hilbrich was the most stable thing to happen in my life in, well, ever. Just six weeks before we married, I had to have another surgery. He was there again. Showing off with all of his capable self. I knew that we could do anything together.
Our wedding day was one of the most celebratory, joyous days ever. We had our people. We had some cake. If you don’t know our parents, you are missing out. My father wrote a warranty on me that he read at our rehearsal dinner. Let’s just say the paragraph of overuse by the owner had me hiding under the table in embarrassment. My father-in-law wore a tux.
That simple act was a gift, but the love and pride and blessing that we were offered that day would carry us on the days when things were not rosy and easy and fun. Our parents have been married collectively for almost 90 years and both of them have given us the foundation that marriage is good. So, so good. Notice I didn’t say easy.
But on August 22, 1998, all was right in the world. We were young and broke and idealistic and in love and ready to take on all the things. Hang on friends, we have 20 years of adventures ahead and few of the coming days are as clear cut as the phone call that I made on 2.14.98.
No Money and So Rich
September 1998. I am married and precious and 23. I was a seminary drop out with a Family and Consumer Science degree and we were living in a crappy apartment that Lucas had previously signed a lease with his friend to inhabit. When you call and instruct a boy to marry you, you inherent the bachelor pad lease. Note to self, make this move in November and not February.
Our apartment was so cozy that we could jump from the bedroom doorway to the bed. There was not room for a bedside table. The bathroom door hardly closed. We went through 3 refrigerators in 2 months. The stories of that year and a half are things that new marriages are made of. There were tears and much laughter and more than one month that we looked at our bank account on the 26th of the month and had $7. We shared Lucas’s first wife (that is what I called the jacked up Aggie truck) and most days he rode a bike to school so I could get to one of my 3 jobs. Let’s just say that this season made us appreciate all of the things that came along with a bit more financial stability.
In early 1999, I went to work as a part time youth director for a small United Methodist church in Rockdale, TX. On Sundays and Wednesdays Lucas and I would drive an hour there and back to serve and love OUR first youth group. It was the perfect fit for us. In that year, we fell in love with doing ministry together. We taught Sunday school, led youth group, planned trips and did lock-ins. Lucas helped with his first youth Sunday and it was as special and meaningful as good ministry is supposed to be. We loved it. We loved the families. We loved the conversations. We loved that we were on mission for Jesus together.
Lucas graduated in December of 1999 and we moved to League City. When you marry a boy that has been saving for his first house since he was 16, you have a downpayment before you have your first “real” job. Of course, only pre-real estate bust could you get a home loan with an offer letter. We immediately began looking for a church home in our area. It was also during this time that my grandmother was undergoing cancer treatment so I was often back and forth from Mississippi. I knew that Lucas was excited to find a church because he would visit by himself on weekends that I was away.
One of those Sundays, he visited a neighborhood church that announced that they were looking for a youth director. I had no intention of going immediately on another church staff. I’m not sure what I thought I was going to do all day as Lucas worked and we hardly had money for me to be a lady of leisure. We had a four bedroom house with a king sized mattress and frame, a guest bed (which was a REALLY big splurge), a couch and a love seat. We purchased a two seater kitchen table and at that point we thought we had arrived. We were living large, but we certainly did not have disposable income for me to fancy up the joint.
When you move to a new place, the normal questions people ask include your name, where you have recently lived and your profession. When we set out to find a church, I intentionally did not mention that I “knew” anything about church work. I wanted to find a church that we could love, not an employer. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to work full time in vocational ministry. That was short lived. Upon receiving a call from the Associate Pastor to thank us for visiting, apparently I asked questions that were a dead giveaway. I knew too much. She quickly picked up on my love for the Church and students. Within weeks, I was in a final interview, and by March 1, I was on full time staff as the Director of Youth Ministry.
The church got a package deal with us. And really, Lucas was the best bonus. I could plan and organize and do the details. I could impart wisdom and offer friendship. But Lucas, he was the fun one. The worst part of being my husband was that he had to follow my rules. In the first 3 years of our marriage, we grew to love serving and working and playing and dreaming as we journeyed with some of the dearest people in our lives, still to this day. The memories we made and the laughter and tears that we shared as we served and skied and canoed and taught and played and worshiped and drove and chaperoned were foundational to our love of Church. There is nothing that can take that pure joy away from us as a couple.
And as we grew to love other people’s kids, we began to dream about what it would look like to be parents ourselves. We had handled youth camp, how much harder could it get? It was with that insane naivety that we began praying for the “right time” to talk about a family. And if you have ever navigated these waters, you know that you are never really ready. Never.
Ready Or Not, Here She Comes
There is a part of me that feels very guilty telling portions of the next season of our story. We have so many dear friends that have tried for years and conception was all but impossible. With the humility of learning from their struggle, I have to confess that we didn’t plan the whole parenthood thing very well. Sure, we were tinkering with the idea, but the timing was less than ideal. We found out we were pregnant on Father’s Day weekend 2001. All I could think about was the summer of youth ministry ahead and a bridesmaid’s dress that would need to be worn in December. Oh, and yeah, I was going to be a MOM!
There is not one thing that will ever prepare you for the moment that you confirm that you are pregnant. You cannot learn or study or brace yourself hard enough for the feeling of overwhelming weight when you realize that you are now responsible for the life of another human. I knew it was heavy from the very beginning. And by heavy, I include the 60 pounds that I added to my body as I enjoyed unlimited chicken fingers and pies. All of them.
I did not struggle with infertility. I did not struggle with morning sickness. But my body was never really fond of housing another human. Neither of my pregnancies were smooth. Anna Jane wanted out. At 32 weeks, she began her march towards independence. She was due on February 20th. I spent the month of January on the couch on my left side. She stayed in until January 31st. I should have known then that her spirit was one that I could not contain.
A similarly passionate entrance was made by my second daughter. In 2004, we found out we were expecting again. I will tell you the story of that journey when we get there, but for the sake of the motherhood discussion, you must know that this gig is tough. Initially we were pregnant with twins. Just weeks into my second pregnancy I thought that I was miscarrying and we discovered that I lost one of the twins. At 17 weeks pregnant, my gallbladder went kaput. Filled with stones and sludge, anytime that I ate fat, it would freak out. Eventually, this led to early labor, AGAIN. This time, I was hospitalized at 33 1/2 weeks and my second girl made her arrival at 36 weeks in all her Ally-gator glory.
I say all of this to remind myself that from the very beginning, I was not in control of one thing. Motherhood is the ultimate joke on control freaks like me. The Urban dictionary defines MOTHER as:
Smelling newborn hair. First baths. Tiny tongues and fingers and toes. Theses are the things that we see in the movies about newborns. No one tells you about the misery of sleep deprivation and the INSANE tears and sweat and all the things that come from all the places that you didn’t even know about until your own DNA is birthed from your body. Immediately, you are more than just a caregiver, you are now a human refrigerator, professional crevice cleaner and master multi-tasker. And there is no owner’s manual. You get a crash course with on the job training from a human incapable of caring for themselves. Glamorous, huh?
For me there was another side of motherhood that I knew very little about. Sure, I knew that new moms could be moody, but this was more. I had everything you could ever want in a beautiful baby, great husband, super job and all the while the ground under my feet began to break apart. I began to have these fits of intense anger. I wasn’t sleeping, which is not all that uncommon for new moms, but this was more. I spent energy worrying and working in the night on things that didn’t matter at all.
The more I worried, the more I tried to fight it, which only caused a cycle of perceived failure. I could not will myself out of this. I was convinced that this was all because I sucked at being a mom. This little one did not deserve this. I knew she would be better off without me. And the deep dark hole of lost swallowed me up like hot lava. I could not outrun it and it was burning me from the inside out.
What I didn’t understand at the time was that hormones are wicked powerful. Combine that with a brain chemistry and DNA that is predisposed to mental health issues and you have a recipe for postpartum disaster. We lived less that 10 miles from the neighborhood where Andrea Yates drowned her 5 kids in a fit of postpartum psychosis in 2001. That was my only reference point for postpartum anything. I knew that I did not want to harm my baby, so I falsely assumed that this was not what was wrong with me.
Without the knowledge of what was really going on and without the ability to ask for help, things had spiraled completely out of control. One afternoon, I was headed east on NASA Rd 1 approaching the bridge. My thoughts were jumbled. Nothing in my brain was connecting. I was physically present, but I wasn’t there. My best thinking told me that everyone in my life would be better if I drove my car off the bridge. At the moment I made the decision to do just that, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw her.
Actually, I could not see her face. I could see her car seat. She was almost 9 months old. She was precious. Her smile and laugh were a gift to so many people. My mind told me that I was failing her. I was fully convinced that her very capable grandparents and daddy would do a better job of raising her than I could ever do. But her presence in that car kept both of us alive that day.
I was dying. No one knew it. I was finishing a busy summer as a youth pastor. I had gone on mission trips, to camps and to youth week and Astroworld trips. I taught Bible studies and led worship. If you were to look at an album of pictures from that summer, you would see a smiling happy Lacy. I was a master of the cover up. I was a self-sufficient machine that had powered though pregnancy and childbirth. I returned to work after 4 weeks, baby in tow and launched back into all that full-time ministry to students requires.
We were on a trip with my family when Lucas saw just how bad things had become. I woke from a fitful sleep and FREAKED OUT. That’s a very technical term for a panic attack. He had never seen me like this. He literally held me against the bed. All I could think was I am broken and I didn’t think I was repairable.
Let me pause for a moment for my life PSA: There is nothing more co-creating in God’s plan for redemption than modern medicine. Please don’t ever buy the lie that somehow faith alone is the only path to mental health. Depression and anxiety and phobias and countless other diagnoses are MEDICAL conditions and require medical help. What that involves is best left to your doctor, therapist and your heart to discern, but there is nothing that gets me more furious than a religious teaching that includes spiritual guilt about seeking medical help.
We came home from our trip and I called one of the only therapist that I knew. He patiently sat with me and talked me through these lies and many others that I had perpetuated in my mind. He got me in to a doctor and a psychiatrist. After many attempts, we found medication that helped me see small cracks in the fog. It took many months before I could see daylight. Many days, I could only see the darkness of failure and worthlessness and fear. That’s what isolation and shame do to you. And there is nothing that can pile on both of these like the great magnifier of all things unhealthy, the Church.
To say that Postpartum Depression took my life hostage would be a gross understatement. It controlled my thoughts. It imbedded my fears. It caused me to doubt my best decisions and greatest gifts. And just like every mental illness, there is not a quick or easy fix. To give me tools to function as a person, I was taking multiple medicines, seeing multiple doctors and spending many hours working on myself in counseling. In many ways, my care and work to treat my disease was as important as eating and taking in oxygen. It was a lifeline.
Perhaps it goes without saying that every aspect of my life was impacted. As much as I wanted to pretend that I could still do all the things, I could not. Early in treatment, I began to tackle the shame that surrounded me. I felt shame about not being able to bathe my daughter because I worried about drowning her. I felt shame about not being able to enjoy dinner with my husband because I could not be present in conversation or dream about the future. And as much as I tried, I could not will myself to enjoy a lock-in or retreat or teaching Sunday School.
Things that gave me life in seasons of health, brought pain and misery in the depths of depression. I could not plan dinner for my family much less think about a ski trip that was coming in 5 months. And in my worst moments, the apathy of my heart spilled into my spirit. I could not talk to God. I was more than mad, I was broken-hearted that this thing that the world tells me will complete me as a woman took away from me, well, me.
There were two primary aspects of this dilemma. There was the task of doing my job as a youth director and the soul care that I needed as a human. When it came to my job, my ever-present partner in ministry did for me what I could not. Our unity became a magical dance in this season. When I could not hold a baby, he did. When I could not teach a lesson on self-esteem because I had none, he would take the lesson that I wrote (because I KNEW what I was supposed to say, I just didn’t believe it) and twirl it into a thing of beauty. He led the games, he brought the donuts and he encouraged me to walk in the door when I felt insufficient. So the TASKS of the job were completed.
But then there was the soul care. At that stage of ministry, I had never seen a church leader pastor from a broken and vulnerable place. Those that had been lifted high as models of ministry excellence had this superhuman ability to separate their personal life and their ministry. So as I found myself incapable and out-of-place in the arena, it was yet again another way that I was sucking it up at life. My shame at not being enough convinced me that I did not have the chops for ministry.
I can vividly recall one afternoon that I found myself in tears in my boss’s office. With the door closed and my feelings in the raw, I confessed that I was so depressed, hopeless and could not figure out how to reconcile not wanting to live anymore with teaching teenagers about abundant life. The response in this moment was beautiful and terrifying. The first words included the promise that in this season, when I did not have hope, there were those around me that would hold the hope for me. BEAUTIFUL. This was quickly followed with the instruction that I should not tell others what was really going on with me because the truth would cause parents to not “trust me with their kids.” TEEERRRRRRRIIIFFFYYYIIINNNGGGGGGGGG.
In case my shame meter had not seen maximum capacity before, it did in this moment. I was not only taken aback, I was also thrown into a world that I was not equipped nor prepared for. I knew about the face. You know the one that you paint on to avoid the truth? But this level of hiding was going to take an Oscar winning performance. And in front of some, I could not pull it off. I remember trusting a few people with my truth. And every single one of them loved me with grace and mercy and warmth. But even with that example, I was convinced that if THEY knew, I would lose my job, my heart and my passion. So I hid it. I told the lie. Everytime someone asked how I was. I would stand in the foyer of the church on Sunday with my name tag and greet and smile and LIE. I would sit with other moms and try to make sense of my pain, as I heard their tales of breastfeeding happily ever after. I would look atpregnant moms and pray that they would not ask me what it was like.
As the months passed and I gained some wisdom and courage, I began to tell small pieces of the story. I talked about how being a new mom was “hard” in ways I wasn’t prepared for. I stressed the lack of sleep. I allowed myself the ability to ask for help from trusted friends. I did these things with the constant fear that if they knew the truth I would lose it all. Sure, while my job was a concern, the root of my biggest fear came back to the belief that the need for medicine and counseling meant I was unqualified for ministry. That somehow, this was a faith issue. And from this moment on, the need for self-protection began to win over the need for honesty. If ministry and imperfection were mutually exclusive, I had so much to cover up, so I better get to work.
Survive and Advance
The first year of motherhood was killer. I had finally begun to feel as if my legs were able to hold my own weight as we neared Christmas. In youth ministry, every school holiday is primetime for work. We traditionally took a trip over New Year’s. Being the team that we are, I wanted Lucas to travel with me. My wonderful in-laws kept AJ in League City and off we went on our winter adventure! We were enjoying a Colorado evening when I received the call that there was a minor problem at our house and water remediation was in process.
Because I love him more than he can understand, I have the ability to take a cheap shot at my father-in-law in this story. As the tale goes, Goat (yes, that is what we call Lucas’ dad) was holding down the fort for a few moments. There was a trip to the bathroom, the flush of a toilet and a grandfatherly period of infant watching that commenced in the next room. At some point in the not so distant future, Goat then made a discovery that he will never live down. Our downstairs bathroom had standing water. So did the kitchen. And the closet under the stairs. It went under the wall to the livingroom and because the bathroom is the center point in the downstairs, it also impacted the dining room.
15 years later, I reflect on the next steps. My poor in-laws were being helpful! They had given their downtime to allow us to travel, and they knew the kind of year that we had just endured. They just wanted to love us well. And then Goat (we always make sure to keep Nanee far away from all guilt) flooded our house. He had to call his son who had lived through the year of hell and tell him that he was coming home to no floors, the furniture in the garage, the cabinets needing to be torn out and he had sheetrock removal to look forward to. After all of the laughs at his expense, I kinda feel sorry for Goat. Just this once.
AJ struggled with allergies and asthma, so living in a construction zone was not an option. Shortly after returning home, we moved into the Homewood Suites. We had a one bedroom suite with a crib crammed in the kitchenette and a bathroom. This was home sweet home for 6-8 weeks. AJ celebrated her first birthday in the hotel. She took her first steps in the hallway. Riding toys and afternoon popcorn from the front desk became a regular part of this routine.
Meanwhile, January of 2003 brought a turnaround for Lucas. Turnarounds at chemical plants are from the devil. Lucas was on days, which was helpful, but he worked 5am-5pm for 13 days and then had one relief day. This went on for 72 (yes that is exact) days. He would get home from work at 6, we would find something to eat, he would play with AJ for a few minutes and he would go to bed by 7:30-8pm. This meant that he was in the bed. Please recall that AJ was in the kitchenette. That left me the bathroom. For our entire hotel stay I sat on the floor of the hotel bathroom with a puzzle or a book as my only companion. This was before the days of iPhones and iPads. There were no tablets on which to stream Netflix or Hulu. I was alone with my barely sane thoughts praying that the other people in my family would not be woken by a noisey neighbor or worse yet each other.
By the time we made it back to our house in March, I was fried. Not in a clinically depressed way, but rather in a ‘I just want to be alone and have a room without a toilet to relax in’ kind of way. All things considered, I held up pretty well. Until one day. Lucas was coming off turnaround and we were both exhausted. He came and without warning began discussing possible next steps for his job. Without malicious intent, but also without forethought, he announced that the company had asked him about going to work a second turnaround and taking an extended stay in Rotterdam. By himself.
I handled this news about as well as you can imagine. That well. The PG version of my first response was similar to, “you are welcome to go to Rotterdam, but it is likely that I won’t be here when you get home.” I cannot be certain that it was the same night, because things were less than pleasant for a while around Casa de Hilbrich, but a vital life lesson was learned in this season.
On a particularly argumentative evening, Lucas and I could not communicate. Our words were hurtful and our attempts to listen were even more pitiful. I screamed. He ignored. AJ was sleeping upstairs and I was done. I was tired. I was depleted. I wanted comfort. I went to her nursery and pulled her from her sleep. Buckling her in the car seat, I slammed the door and drove off into the dark of night. I called my parents on the cell phone. As I launched into the story with my mom, being protective and caring, she told me to slow down and drive safely to their house. And then I heard another voice. This one was deeper. It also was firm. “Hamdi (that’s Frank for Favorite), turn around and go home to Lucas.”
I wanted to accuse him of not caring. I wanted Dad to rescue me. And he did, just not MY way. He reminded me that relationships, especially marriages are not easy. He told me that we were better together. His directions were clear. Do no run away. Do not run away. Do not run away.
When I drove back up into the driveway, Lucas was coming out – keys in hand – to chase me down. We cried. We hugged. It wasn’t over. The weeks and months ahead were proof of that reality. It wasn’t forgotten, but we made a commitment that night that we would not run away. And there are days that is so hard. But most days, there is no other place I would rather be than sitting in joy or struggling in tension with the person that has not given up on me. And when you have a good thing, you want to share it. So we began to think about the next little human addition to Team Hilbrich. This felt like the win of a lifetime.
“After your experience with PPD, how did you ever decide to have a second child?” I still can’t fully answer that question. Upon reflection, I find the biggest driving force to be Liz and Bo, Ben and Jake. Lucas and I have amazing siblings. We adore the friends and partners that we have because our parents gave us the joy of brothers and sisters. When we married, we both agreed that having the approval of our siblings was as important to us as our parents. And as we get older, we appreciate those gifts even more.
As AJ neared her 2nd birthday, we began to entertain the thought of round two. This meant a diligent partnership with my doctors to prepare my body to be free of damaging medicine. This is was a fear inducing prospect. The journey to pregnancy was not quite as easy with round 2. I believe the time that we waited allowed my heart to be healed in ways I didn’t know that I needed. We found out that we were pregnant in November, and in December we discovered that we had been pregnant with twins, but miscarried one.
This is a weird head space. You are so thrilled to see that heartbeat on the ultrasound, but at the same time, you are heartbroken at the loss. I hate when people tell me that things happen for a reason, but in this case, with retrospective vision, it was true. I was mid-second trimester when continued abdominal pain was revealed to be a gallbladder full of stones. My grandmother died 5 years before this from gallbladder cancer, so I wanted that organ out of my body. The surgeon was not keen on the idea of operating while pregnant, so I waited. For those unfamiliar with the gallbladder, the main function is to store bile, which helps the body break down and digest fats that you eat. Those with gallbladder issues usually have discomfort after a fatty meal. Because I had a growing human that was pressing upward into my abdomen, any amount of fat could trigger my gallbladder to feel the pressure of excreting bile. So rather than gaining 60 pounds like I did the first go round, I gained a total of 16 pounds with baby #2.
Gallbladder pain is very uncomfortable. And even though I tried hard to control fat, it would flare up. To help combat the pain, my doctors gave me a prescription for Hydrocodone. And I took it. In June of 2005, as Lucas was trying to watch game 7 of the NBA finals, I began having a severe gallbladder attack. My meds could not control it, and quickly the abdominal pain began to trigger contractions. So mid-3rd quarter, I sheepishly announced that I needed to go to the hospital. The baby was not due until July 31, so I knew it was too early. I was in so much pain, I didn’t even think to wear shoes. I just got in the car.
After seeing the contractions and the state of the gallbladder, I was admitted. And from that moment until July 6, I was offered IV Demerol and Phenergan to control my pain and nausea. Don’t get me wrong, I was miserable. But every 4-6 hours, life got a little better. When that medicine would hit my veins, I was transported back to the night of my first drink when Wild Turkey made everything a little lighter. The worry lifted. And most importantly, I did not have to be in control.
During this pregnancy, our family began participating in a small group with 3 other couples. For the first time in so long, I was learning and engaged in conversations about the mission of the Church with grown ups. In the world of students, it was rare to carve out Church space for yourself. During Lent of 2005, our church did a book study and we began meeting weekly with this group. It was around a dining room table with a group that grew to be family that I began to ask some really hard questions.
Because I was tired of the show, I was longing for a place that I could begin to let my walls come down. I had absolutely no idea what it would look like or how to do it, but I wanted to try. It was in this season, that I began hearing different voices. Ones that were not published by Cokesbury or found on the pages of “The Faith We Sing.” My traditionally traditional way of doing Church was failing me. And It was from this space, that voices like Rob Bell and Jon Foreman and Donald Miller and Brian McLaren became salve to my infected wounds of religious hurt.
Through their words and songs and writings, I began to crack open this small place of hope that maybe this thing that I dreamed of giving my life to might really change the world. I started to talk with people who had similar thoughts. I began to see that the Church did not live and die in a denominational system, but instead in the hearts of people who were committed to changing the world for the One who turned their world upside down. I began praying again. And, listening again. I began to say these things out loud to friends. It was so very clear that the ones who ‘got it’ totally did. But the ones that did not, thought I was off my rocker. So most days. I would tuck my new-found discoveries in my back pocket and keep on doing things like tracking attendance and planning fundraisers and trying not to rock the boat.
When you have a major shift happening in your life, change can be hard. When all of your tectonic plates start moving at the same time, new continents start forming. And when an earthquake like addiction begins to tremor, it is only a matter of time before buildings crumble and tsunamis take hold in the ocean. For me, the hardest thing to reconcile about the next year and a half of my life is that it was some of the best and absolutely the worst, all crammed into one explosive package.
I am married to a man who has worked for two companies after college graduation. My parents owned and ran their own company for more than 30 years. My in-laws raised all three boys in the same house while my FIL worked the one and only job he ever held. We are not the leaving kind. We are loyal, sometimes too loyal.
For about 6 months prior to Ally’s arrival, I had been feeling a distinct call towards something new. The more that I explored and read and dreamed, the more frustrated I became. With my excitement about new things, came my desire to share them. Unfortunately, some things were not quite as exciting to others. As we processed these new dreams as a family, the call to move on was clear for me. It took a little longer for Lucas; but when the time came, I resigned from my youth ministry job because God made it obvious that our season was complete.
For years, I challenged people to take risks and trust more in God than their abilities. To be honest, I wasn’t practicing much of it. God called my bluff. I wanted security and plan and stability. At the same time, I wanted to dream and be unconventional and push. What I discovered is that these desires are not often seen in the same organization. I was a bad fit. Not because of anyone’s fault. I was a bad fit because God had birthed in me a new season.
The most important lesson that I learned was that how you leave a place, particularly the Church, matters almost as much as the ministry that you do there. When we decided it was time to go, we made the decision to do so in a way that would celebrate the great things that we had experienced and lift high the relationships that had blessed our family. We also made the decision to live into the value of season. We had reached the end of a season. That was neither good nor bad. But it was over. And the best way to honor our next steps and the work that God had for the person that would follow me in ministry was to get out of the way.
Sure, there were aspects of ministry and friendships and the students that were so hard to leave behind. I can remember when we got home after our Sunday morning send off party. We looked at each other. What now? We don’t have youth tonight. What should we do? The answer seemed so clear. It’s time to start looking for a new community. So I got dressed and went to church. That very night. While we knew clearly that it was time to leave our church, we were equally as clear that we could not leave the Church. We wanted a community. We wanted people who were giving their lives away in radical, culture clashing ways.
So we kept meeting with people we loved and praying for guidance and reading and studying and serving. It was such a great season. I was more convicted of my call to be a part of the Church than ever before. I loved the freedom of designing space for my family to connect with Jesus in worship. I loved the organic expressions of faith that I was reading about and experiencing in other communities. It was like God had opened an entirely new chapter on Church and I could not get enough.
In my quest to re-examine my faith, ministry and beliefs about the Church, there is one voice that led the charge. I was introduced to him as a main stage speaker at the National Youth Worker’s Convention. One of my favorite talks I heard him give was a year later. He engaged the hearts of thousands with a teaching on the ancient Jewish prayer shawl. He talked about the beauty and necessity of going to that quiet place and the sacred gift of being honest with God. He promised us that God could handle anything we had to say. Right on the convention room floor, I crawled to my hands and knees, put my face on my chair and wept.
And then something transformational took place. He wrote a book. About faith. And called it Velvet Elvis. That should say so much about this guy. He was clear that he did not speak in the language known to be safe and Jesus-y. I loved every word. To this day, I have multiple copies on my bookshelf at anytime to hand out to those wanting to ask questions. His name was Rob Bell and he still speaks truth to hard places in my life.
Rob was a gateway drug of sorts. When I began to think and dream about my model for church and ministry, I allowed myself to think outside my box because I saw brave and forward thinkers that were more concerned with the heart of the world and less concerned with accepted religious practice. This sounded so much like a guy named Jesus that I happened to admire. In addition to Rob, books like Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives and A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren helped propel my mind into new conversations. This was before the days of podcasts on every corner, but the voices that were sparking new conversations in the Church were rallying together in ways that could be heard. They were making video films and publishing regular interviews. They were doing live events and speaking at conferences.
What I quickly discovered was that their voices, their message and often their way of doing Church flew in the face of the establishment. What I was drawn to was not just the weird factor (although I never minded that), but rather the unwavering desire to see every person included in the message of the Gospel. And unlike many churches that I had experienced, there were no rules to enter the ring. Each, in their own unique and individual context were committed to reaching the ones most forgotten and uninvited to the party. The ones with the messy story. The ones with the broken hearts. The ones that had been told they don’t fit. The ones that didn’t match the dress code. And they weren’t just tolerated, they were given the seat of honor. Now that I could get behind.
In 2005, the first graduating class that I served in student ministry turned 28. What I had sadly discovered was that they were successful. They were thriving. They were even beginning to have spouses and babies. But most of them wanted nothing to do with the church. There was not a place for them. And I bore a huge responsibility because in an attempt to create a love for Jesus, I had perpetuated a love for programs. Many of them had gone to college and beyond and had yet to find a Sunday morning or Wednesday evening church experience that left them feeling like youth ministry. I realized in this season, that we were failing our kids. Programmatic ministry was missing the mark.
We were producing kids that loved youth group, but they didn’t love the Church. And in come cases, our efforts to make faith fun had stood in the way of them falling in love with Jesus. With all that I had hoped to offer, I failed to teach kids to ask hard questions. I failed to prepare them for the times when their faith would not feel sufficient. I had not lived before them the honesty of the days when I wasn’t sure I believed the lines of religious talk, and in the process had failed to show them what working out your faith is all about.
In those moments of confession and truth, I grew to dislike the Church. My ability to tolerate and forgive was almost non-existent. I walked the fine line of wanting to fight for change and wanting to walk away. But there was something that kept me grounded. And in my weakest moments, it was the Monday night gathering on Sawgrass Court that helped me see a third way. It was not an either/or, it was a both/and. And in that light, the only option was to get to work.
Can We Do That?
Before we proceed on this next topic, there are a few words that I want to define:
denomination – a distinct religious body within Christianity. Side note: Did you know that CHRISTIANITY is a religion? Your particular “brand” is not the religion, that the denomination.
theology – in its simplest form, it’s the study of God
doctrine – the set of beliefs taught by a particular church
missiology – an area of practical theology that specifically deals with the calling and message of the Christian church – especially as it relates to serving and reaching the world with the message of Jesus.
I need to share these with you because for those of us that like to use words like this, this part of my story is really important. There are many, even in my bloodline, that often question the inner workings during the next season of my life. To try and give clarity to the mystery, I am going to work hard to fully explain the why’s of the how’s.
When we left our church, Lucas and I both walked into the most usual time in our personal church history. Being raised as a United Methodist and marrying a cradle Lutheran, our denominational backgrounds had more similarities than differences. In the major issues of doctrine, our paths were very parallel. As with any expression of the local church, we experienced how unique people, places and towns lived into the cultural values. When we married, we did not hold fast to the church of our childhood. My background in vocational ministry led us to connections within the UMC, but when we moved into the next season of life, the exploration commenced.
In the months that followed our choice to step away from my job, we visited churches all over the Houston area. Lucas’s job was such that living in League City was not a requirement. We drove to churches in The Woodlands. We traveled to churches in Montrose. We went to services at night and in the morning. We visited churches where dresses and suits were the norm and those where people had more tattoos than children. It was a great few months. Time and time again, we prayed that the right community would be so clear and that we would know where God was leading.
As much as I prayed, I was never given the ‘go in peace’ message about League City. And honestly, I wanted it. I wanted to be able to start over. Most of the people that we knew in the area were from church. I was ready for a fresh start. But each time things began to move in that direction, the uneasiness was strong and so we pressed on. During the Spring of 2006, in the previously mentioned living room, I came to peace with the fact that I had not found what we were looking for in the Clear Lake area. DISCLAIMER: This might not have been the case, but in our genuine prayer and searching, we had not found it.
By this point, I had solidified a few things in my own doctrinal system. Things that I felt were key in being “all in” in a faith community. There were many, but the predominate narrative needed to include:
- a significant (time, money and staff) commitment to meeting the spiritual and physical needs of the poor, the marginalized, the uninvited and the unwelcome
- a place for gifted women to serve in every aspect of leadership
- the regular practice of The Eucharist and baptism (including the celebration of both infant and believer’s baptism)
What I found, time and time and time again was that for churches that could affirm these ideals, many had great reasons why one or more were not considered vital beliefs in their missiological model for ministry. I can remember sitting with a man who I have great respect for, personally and spiritually, and he said to me, “Lacy, I think you are being unrealistic.” I didn’t think so.
So week after week we sat with friends and we asked questions like: What makes church Church? Can you be a church if you don’t have a Pope or a Bishop? Does this whole Jesus thing fall apart if we ask really tough questions? Could we change the world if we gave the money we were spending on a new gym to build a homeless shelter? Do we need lock-ins to have student ministry? What would happen if we really lived out the call to come and die?
Some of these we had answers for. Some of them we did not. But what quickly happened, is that we all realized that the bread and the cup and the conversations that we shared were more life-giving and hope inducing than conversations about cutting budgets and evangelism and debt payments and attendance numbers. For each of us, coming from very different denominational backgrounds, we found the story of tradition-breaking Jesus to be a breath of fresh air.
One random Monday, over dessert, laughter and I’m sure some tears, someone said out loud what we all had been thinking. This IS church.
Come and Listen
When we finally began to wrap our minds around the fact that the church IS the living, breathing, heartbeat of God’s people, we stopped trying to do it perfectly. Instead of waiting until we had enough, or the right or even the most talented, we chose to gather on a Sunday night in a living room with a guitar and Bible. We had prayer, we had stillness and we had each other.
Within weeks, we needed more space for worship so a family that was journeying with us approached their karate instructor about the possibility of using their space. One of my favorite acts of worship was transforming the padded walls and sparing gear with fabric and candles. Somehow making a gym into a sanctuary was an offering. As we planned each week, we looked to people in our community that were speaking words of hope and truth all around. We listened for unique voices that were responding in real and radical ways to the call of Jesus in their midst. We invited friends, new friends and even strangers to share music and messages with us as we navigated the road of birthing a community on mission for Jesus.
There were two non-negotiables from the beginning. We believed that the church could change the world if we sacrificially gave of our time, talents and resources. We also knew that being the hands and feet of Christ meant being willing to get messy. To us, that meant that staying in our churchy space and inviting people into our thing was not enough. We were committed from day 1 that mission and ministry meant listening and engaging and responding to the needs of the world.
One of the first ways that we did this was through helping a neighbor. After meeting a family that had little to no financial resources, we became aware of a gap. The need for personal care items (shampoo, soap, toothbrushes) is real. Food stamps cannot help, and many items used for grooming and hygiene are the first on this list of “wants” for those struggling to make ends meet. So we started buying and setting up giveaways for these items. We would talk with families, see what they needed and help meet a need in a parking lot of the poorest zip code in our county. And we made new friends and learned of new challenges. Like the need for fresh produce. Again this is one of the more expensive items on a grocery list, so they are often cut. More than 10 years ago, from this raggamuffin gang came a vision for a monthly produce distribution that still takes place more than 120 months later. Just last Saturday, my husband and oldest daughter were passing out fresh food. And that has been a normal rhythm of faith life for my girls for more than a decade.
This image doesn’t look like much after a decade of wear and tear, but every time I look at my ankle, I see a permanent reminder of a season that changed me. This water drop represents the many ways that a dedicated group of Jesus followers changed my life forever. The ripples in the water of my life continue to make rings of inclusion and grace and forgiveness and friendship.
2006 was the year that showed me that Church was everything and yet it was nothing that I would have asked for. I didn’t want to start a church. Matter of fact, I did almost everything to get out of it. But when you begin to live out your faith l like a responsive reflex rather than a forced exercise, you make a shift. And when you see life from a posture of humility and dependency in the face of inadequacy, God begins to gift and grace you with all you need. And what I enjoyed most in this season was a community that required me to listen and fear and drink and praise. So this became our song of hope. Thanks, David Crowder, for speaking truth and light for us At The Water’s Edge.
Come and listen, come to the water’s edge, all you who know and fear the Lord.
Come and listen, come to the water’s edge all you who are thirsty, come.
Let me tell you what He has done for me.
He has done for you,
He has done for us.
Praise our God for He is good.
(un)Managing My Alcohol
From the time of my first youth staff position, my bosses and mentors trained me to be aware of the example I was setting for my students. Whether you agree with it or not, there is a certain level of public moral policing of paid church workers. My guideposts on lifestyle issues became less of a moral compass and more like mandates in a perfectionist’s mind. I was particularly aware of even the appearance of deficiencies. What clothes I wore, what books I read, what movies I saw – these were all scrutinized under the magnifying glass of being a great role model.
One area of modeling where I had strong self imposed rules was alcohol consumption. I was rigid about the ways that I avoided alcohol. We didn’t have it in our home. We did not drink in the county. 2007 was the first time in my adult life that I was not on staff at a church. This single fact lifted the black and white veil of my life and allowed new perceived freedoms. I felt free to have a beer in public or even have alcohol in my home, which up to this point as a 30 year-old, I had never done.
I often find myself after a day of mommy crazy thinking, I deserve a drink! the thought fed the desire and the desire led to action. Before I knew it, I was drinking most nights, many time after the kids and Lucas were in bed. What started as a way to relieve stress quickly turned into a ritual of release. In my experience, drinking your emotions is a sure sign that your motives are off. Why do I tell this story in the midst of our church planting joy? Because they coexisted. I was living the stay-at-home mom dream during the day, reading everything I could get my hands on about the postmodern church and simultaneously spinning out of control.
This is the ugly truth about ministry. For so many the isolation and weight of being a spiritual leader is back-breaking. In the midst of trying to be and do all things for Jesus, we feel inadequate, ill-equipped and weak. From that place, we grown anger, bitter and discontent. And in the mind of an addict, there are deadly traits. Rather than seeking Sabbath and soul rest, we push down the hard by controlling our food or drink. Just like everything in life, the holistic nature of our world means that in the absence of health our issues will continue to come to the surface.The undercurrent of the approaching tsunami be seen in the little things.
I don’t know where this posture was introduced to us, but it was in this season that Lucas began to audibly articulate the ways that we were called to walk into each situation in our lives – church, family and all the others. He called it sitting on YES. This means that when presented with a challenge or opportunity, we begin the discussion with an attitude of how CAN we, rather than the list of reasons why we cannot. This approach is in direct contradiction to my wiring. If you ask me to do something, my immediate answer is always filtered through the lens of the cost rather the opportunities for the possible gift.
This is the first of many reasons that we are better together. I would sit around and make sarcastic quips about all the negative things and he would live boundary-less with great intentions but no time to enjoy life. But together, we are often found to be an overbooked, loving people machine of doing all the things. Most of the time this is great. Sometimes, we have to lock ourselves on a cruise ship to force ourselves to say no. But I digress…
As At The Water’s Edge began to reach in and up and around in our world, we saw new opportunities for action. I can remember countless nights that we spent rocking babies, giving bottles and dreaming of the next way we could respond to a physical, emotional or spiritual need that we had discovered. There was nothing that had the heart of our community like children. Whether it be through providing diapers or school supplies or food, we were committed to saying YES with more than just our money. Sure, we could buy some crayons and markers, but we challenged each other to be the face of the backpacks and diapers, as we looked our neighbors in the eyes. We refused to be content with tipping out hat at community service. At the heart of this church was a central call to not just “help” the neighbor but the love, and learn from, and care for and BE neighbors.
And this gets really messy. Because when you begin to look people in the eyes and listen to their stories, everything changes. When you are sitting with those that are marginalized by society, by people like me, you hear a new story. You hear the stories not as statistics or needs or even causes, but rather as Mike and Ann and Angel. Rather than news topics, the things that are tearing apart the fabric of our communities are happening in the lives of those you know. The opioid epidemic is not something that you see on 20/20, but something that you are watching your friend die from. The struggle to pay the light bill is not an annoyance, but the reality of families that live on wages that are determined by the sun or the rain or the fact that there is no gas in the car to get to a job. Coming to face the reality that children are wearing the same diaper all day because when the choice is food or Pampers, we eat, the the hardest of the hard. Once we saw these things, we could not look back.
Sure some would like to think this was because we were some liberal over the top socialwork-ey types. But I can assure you that most of us were far from it. Instead, what happened is that we discovered the world of following Jesus has no political agenda and instead has one agenda, to love. And there are days where that feels really squishy. But I think the opposite was true. Because when the reasons for ‘NO’ continued to disappear and the call to be the hope of the world came into focus, there was nothing warm and fluffy about it. This mission to change the world so that others would know the hope of Resurrection changed us. We went from meetings and budgets and all the hold outs to a beginning place that said if we have it, it is your. Our YES’s took over. And so did our excitement for the Church again.
When she was little bitty, my sister named my second daughter Myrtle the Turtle. It stuck. We have countless tiny turtles that were gifted to her in the early years. Ally was 6 months old when we first suspected that something was not quite right. I can remember that with AJ, every milestone check-up brought proud announcements of overachiever firsts. With Ally, things were a little different. I was determined not to compare milestones between my kiddos, but there were normal development moments and we missed them. At 6 months, it was sitting. At 9 months, it was crawling. At both 6th and 9th months, our pediatrician was cautious, but not alarmed. But by 12 months, when her attempts to crawl utilized mainly one side of her body, we had to start looking for possible solutions.
Without a doubt, she needed some physical therapy, so we began to line up options. There were also some concerns about her fine motor skills and speech, so we began working with more therapists. Our pediatrician was very quick to send us to Texas Children’s for evaluation. We saw a neurologist that began to do testing and make recommendations. The most noticeable symptom was that Ally lacked muscle control. Unlike other children her age, she could not hold her weight to stand or walk. It was decided that with therapy and leg braces that we would give her until 20 months to take a step before the testing became more invasive. They prepared us for a muscle biopsy should we reach 20 months without a step.
She went to therapy 3x a week. We experienced and did all the things they suggested. We put her in a Mother’s Day Out program to have her with kids her own age and size in hopes that they could inspire her to follow their lead. With each new manipulative step on our part to coax her to move, she developed a skill to bypass and overcome. My favorite of these was her ability to roll across the room and in her inability to stand, grasp her sister’s legs and drop her to the floor to tackle her.
Not one person, ever, has accused Ally of being lazy. She is messy. She is deliberate. She is one of the most strong-headed people I have ever known, but she is NOT lazy. She is busy. She is always on the move, and most of the time her energy is aimed for good. From the time she was too little to know better, she has had an opinion and oh, does she like to express it. We learned this far too well in 2006.
With the 20 month mark looming, I was dreading the result. With all the therapy we could manage and many hours of working with her at home, we could not see how the process would not end without more invasive testing. But my favorite part of Ally then, is still the thing that gets me today. She never saw her deficiencies as obstacles. She saw them as opportunities to be stronger. She saw them as things she was going to have to work on. But not once in her voice or simple words did she say, “I can’t.”
She was fitted for leg braces weeks after her first birthday. She wore the braces inside her little toddler shoe for more than a year. And just when I thought that we were headed down a long road of medical uncertainly, she took a step. One step. That was all we needed for more time. So, we kept working and therapy-going and praying. We created ways to challenge her and help her gain strength. We constantly reminded her that walking and using muscles and building tone was worthy work. Benign Congenital Hypotonia. That was the diagnosis. And the easiest way to explain her condition was loose muscles. The brain and the limbs and the muscles had to coordinate and learn to control her body. So, we did all in our power to help it along.
The braces that Ally wore in her early years sit on a shelf in her room next to her medals and trophies from her sport of choice, swimming. If you had told me in 2006 that Ally would have just completed her 6th short course season of year round swimming and would become a backstroker that qualifies for state and national meets at 12, I would have told you that my beautiful and precious girl could not crawl, much less swim. May this be a lesson to us all, there are times when our gifts and skills are very turtle like. They are slow. They are deliberate. But buried in the heart of the tiniest turtle can be a fire. And when the fire is brought to life with a passion and determination, that little turtle may transform into a fierce Ally-gator.
The Fall of 2006 brought many changes. At The Water’s Edge was worshiping regularly on Sunday evenings and while it was such a place of comfort for me, we were about to experience our first set of growing pains. We were intrigued by a conversation to partner in helping start an extension of Ecclesia Houston, but while all of this was swirling in the air of change, there were personal undercurrents for each of us as individual leaders. In the time of my life when I was the most open to God and what I was being called to, I was also confronted with a big demon.
Authenticity. This word that we valued as a community began to haunt my soul. I longed for people to know me, but only the parts of me that were nice and neat and pretty. Developing and thriving in honest relationships with women, in particular, has always been tough for me. I’m not feel-ey. I don’t like hugs and Vera Bradley and I hate all things kitchen related. The passions and interest areas that draw many women together are not appealing to me. And then there is the drama. I cannot handle it. I don’t want to have to work at being close to people. As an introvert, I’m really quite content to be alone. But at 31, I had not yet embraced that reality.
I found myself time and time again trying to put my square non-conforming girlfriend needs into round wanna-talk-about-all-the-things relationship. And when I could not figure our how to do friendships well, I would run or combust. Either option was a safe bet. What changed in this season was that I found partnership in the shared vision and mission for the Church. It was out of the pain of past wounds that I can remember standing in a dear friend’s house one afternoon and saying the words, “I will push you away. So, please don’t let me.”
But the truth of the matter is, when you want to hide, you can…try. And I wanted to hide. In my attempt to hide, I pushed and shoved and wiggled my way to shutting out the people that were the closest to me. I had spent my life in full time ministry managing my emotions, hang-ups and issues in an attempt to create the facade of a shiny happy Jesus loving leader.
Until this point in life, I had never had a friend that could call me on my spiritual shortcomings and drive me towards my strength. And the truth was, she knew me. She knew there was more to my story in this season of life, and I can remember the day that I made the conscious decision to push her away. No one else was on to me, and I was not ready to give up this double life dance that I was leading. I disconnected. I did not fight or intercede to salvage some external factors that caused stressors on our relationship. I walked away never admitting what was really going on.
This relationship was but one example of the division and heartache and separation that exemplifies an addiction that was spiraling out of control. There are signs. There are the ways that addictions are portrayed in the movies. Then there are the insidious, many times unnoticed, and emotionally devastating components of the disease that make those around you think they are at fault. Especially when the addict is a on a cover-up mission.
Little Orange Bottle
In a year, I had quit my job, become a stay-at-home mom, made major shifts in my spiritual life, cared for a child with medical challenges and had significant changes in my friend group. To take a step back and view this with 20/20 rear facing vision, the writing on the wall was clear. Change is stressful. And then you add poor coping skills. One of the only things that can make challenges more difficult is to try and medicate your way through them.
My mind-implemented morality police gave me quite a few rules about drinking. I didn’t drink in front of teenagers. I didn’t have alcohol in my house. Even after my days on staff at churches, I had deeply held norms about my public consumption of alcohol. Looking back, these mandates were as much about cautiously approaching a substance that I knew I had a family history of abusing. The genetic component of addiction was clear in my family. While it was not a secret, it was almost a subject of generational lore. I had not seen the direct impact, but rather heard the consequences and tales from days gone by.
From the time that I took my first drink, I knew that the feeling of escape was a glorious high. As an overly religious teen, my fear and trembling pushed me far from drug experimentation. Always concerned about the approval of others, I was terrified of getting in trouble or disappointing someone I admired. These are valuable stop gaps for many teens, and I can honestly say that they saved me from many dark roads.
After my introduction to pain killers during my pregnancy, I knew of another path to escape. Suddenly, this temporary fix of all things hard was PRESCRIBED to me by a doctor. Sure, I knew that that these drugs had warnings about the harmful effects, but because they were given by my healthcare provider they seemed better, or at least safer than real drugs. After childbirth and surgery, I was given refills for pain medicines from both doctors. As those began to wane, I began to tinker with ways to find similar release points with anything I could easily get my hands on. On days when I felt particularly out of control, I would go back to the pain pills. As I began to run low on my stock of prescriptions, I began to get creative.
At the height of my insanity, I had 4 doctors that were all being used as supply agents. Sadly enough, I was a very convincing patient. I was nearing a desperation point when I discovered ways around the time release of capsules. One my doctors began to see through my antics and I felt the heat. It was at that point that I “perfected” the mix of the the pills and the alcohol. A little of this and a little of that meant that nothing was in excess. I considered this quality management.
I had a list of reasons in my mind that I needed the pills.
I was sure that the quantity that I was drinking was not problematic. Geez, all I had to do was look at a friend or neighbor to see what excess really was.
Because all of my life, I had been a high-strung, type A, full throttle gal. For the first time in my life, I was taking time to relax and unwind. This is NORMAL adult-ing, right?
Fat (Saturday) Tuesday
Fat Tuesday is the traditional name for the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Christian churches. Fat Tuesday is more commonly known as Mardi Gras, which is simply Fat Tuesday in French. Originally known as Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday is often known as Pancake Day, because people used up their dairy and eggs by making pancakes and similar pastries. Traditionally Lent was a time to fast from meat and all products produced by animals, including butter and milk.
If you have never been to Mardi Gras, it is a paarrttyyyy. It is a celebration of excess. In the celebrations of all things Mardi Gras, especially Fat Tuesday, there is no thought to moderation or control. For most, the goal of Mardi Gras is to “celebrate” with all that you have, and that was the the mission of my life in this season. I was living in very real space of excess. In my desire to find the feeling of numb, I believed wholeheartedly that if a little was good, more had to be better.
In March of 2007, I was increasingly out of control. My best decisions led me to think that no one knew I was spiraling down the drain. Sure, I had plenty of people fooled. Some even blamed my erratic behavior on things other than pills and alcohol. But much like the Mardi Gras parties that I still love to attend, there are only so many shiny beads and glitter wigs that you can wear before everyone notices that the person under the costume does not have it all together. The parades are great. The big beads are exciting. But sometimes the insanity of the party is just that…insane.
I was attending my small group crawfish boil with kids and families and boiling pots and beer. At this point, I was free from the church rules, so why not? While everyone else had one or two beers, I had a secret stash in a small cooler. In addition, unbeknownst to anyone, I had already taken pills. The mudbugs were consumed and the yard games were enjoyed, and all was great. Deep into the evening, I was in the yard and someone noticed that I was standing in a fire ant bed. I had no clue. After dusting off the ants, I was escorted to the car and I will never forget the look on Lucas’s face when he asked, “Are you drunk?”
I passed out on the way home – in my 5 year-old’s lap. I don’t remember getting from the car to the bed or the bed to the bathtub, but sometime in the middle of the night, I crawled to my bathroom. I recall crying sobs of misery and the only words that came to me were, “I love it too much.”
What in the hell was about to happen? When the light of day hit the mess that I had created, what was going to happen? I had never felt so alone and so ashamed. I didn’t know it was possible to hate myself that much. I just wanted to die. I wanted to fall asleep in that empty bathtub and never wake up. Because surely it was easier than facing the destruction that was coming when the light of day was cast on the mess that I had created.