Pornography Saved My Marriage

Pornography Saved My Marriage. I've been wanting to use that title for years.  Imagine how it would just fly off the shelves of the Christian book store.

Companion volume:  Martinis for Missionaries.

(I'll be here all week, folks.)

But seriously.  Really.

God can use anything.  Balaam's donkey, Jonah's whale, you name it.  Nothing is outside the realm of redemption when God gets a hold of it.  Not even a pornography addiction.

Romans 5:20-21 says this:  "But as people sinned more and more, God's wonderful kindness became more abundant.  So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, so now God's wonderful kindness rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  (New Living Translation)

The  more sin there is, the more grace we find.

But "should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more kindness and forgiveness?  Of course not!"  (Romans 6:1-2, NLT)

I can't help it y'all.  I live in south Dallas.  This is the picture that comes into my mind:

The sin is not good.  But the grace of God and His power to redeem is awesome indeed.

This little chapter of my story has a happy ending.  Our marriage is exponentially better than it was before.

I realize that many, many people don't get that particular happy ending.  And maybe it seems like the story just gets worse and worse.

I don't know how God is going to redeem in all those other stories, but I believe with all my heart that He will.  I believe that He is alive and well and at work.

And our job is to keep pressing on, toward That Day, believing that God can use anything and everything to bring us Home together.

***

So.  I think I've said what I wanted to say in this series.  This has been a challenging enterprise for yours truly.  I'm grateful to my nearest and dearest, who held my hand through the anxiety-laden days leading up to publication.  You know who you are.  Thanks for loving me through it.

I'm especially grateful to Andy, for his vulnerability, unwavering support, and encouragement.  I love you more.

If you've picked up partway through the series, and want to read the whole thing, it starts here.

And up next, here on the blog, I'm going to indulge  my passion for Handel's Messiah during the holiday season.  I haven't written anything yet, but I already cried while listening to the overture this morning.  So I'm off to a good start.

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An Anatomy of Redemption: Poking Around

"What difference does it really make, all this poking around in your childhood?  What good does it do?"  A friend of mine asked me this the other night. Well, since you asked...

The truth sets you free.

Jesus said it, we believe it, that settles it.

And when we try it out, we find it actually works, even when you're poking around in your childhood.

I can't tell you how many times somebody comes  into therapy saying, "My childhood was pretty good.  In fact, my parents were in ministry.  Nobody abused me.  Why am I so depressed/anxious/addicted?"

And we start exploring the tender places, the hurts.  And I'll ask about when they first remember feeling that way, and they'll tell me a story about something that happened when they were little.  Many times they've never talked about it before, and the shame or guilt or hurt or anger has stayed pretty much the same since it happened.

(And if you don't think that little kids can feel things deeply and strongly, go hang out near the church nursery on Sunday morning.  Let me know if you observe any intense emotion.)

One of my clients experienced extreme shame as a young adult.  So we talked about important emotional experiences early in life, and she told about a household accident in which her younger sister was quite seriously injured.  And as she told the story, it was clear that she absolutely believed that the accident was completely and solely her fault.  She felt incredible shame over what she had done.

My client was four years old at the time of the accident.   

Finally I said to her, "Where were your parents when all this happened?"

And she said, "Huh.  I don't know.  I never thought about that before."

We started wondering why a four year old was in charge, and how these events could have occurred without adult intervention.  It was a pretty big aha moment.  And an opportunity to let go of something that could not possibly have been her fault.

When something happens to you as a child, you understand and process it as a child.  And if you never get a chance to think about it as an adult, and process the emotions as an adult, you're stuck with your childish understanding and your childish emotions about it.

Here's another thing.  When we poke around in our childhood and bring the truth to it, we can let go of the burden of fixing our families.

Our families are all composed of human beings.  Our parents are human beings.  Our grandparents are human beings.  Our aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, and in-laws are all human beings.

None of them were perfect.  Some of them were significantly less than perfect.  Some of them were neglectful.  Some of them were actively harmful.

It is sometimes hard to tell the truth--even to ourselves--about the hurtful choices and actions of our beloved family members.

Here's the thing, though.  When we can't face the fact that Daddy or Mama or Grandpa Joe are making bad choices, and have been making bad choices, and look to be making bad choices til the cows come home--most of the time we will find ourselves engaged in all kinds of crazy behavior in an attempt to prevent and conceal and fluff their bad choices.

When that's an entrenched way of life, we call it codependency.   I've written about it before.

Maybe, as I face things honestly, and let go of having to fix everything, I can trust God for THEM, and let Him deal with ME, too.

(You can see how this starts to expand past your childhood and get all up in your present, with the other people who need to love and approve and attend.)

When we face up to reality, it's hard and it hurts.  But it's also very freeing to get off the crazy train.  A little disorienting, for sure.

But when the dizziness wears off, and you find yourself unshackled and running in the open air--that's a good, good day.

Trust me, it's a good thing to get free and breathe.

Here's one more thing.

Your life is God's gift to you.

And, potentially, your life is God's gift to those around you.

When we live our lives small and afraid, Satan wins.  And when we live our lives out of lies, Satan wins.

But when we are willing to face the truth, and let it set us free, we're asking God to redeem.  We're saying no to bondage and yes to freedom.

We trust God with everything that weighs us down and holds us back.  All our hurts, all our shame, all our anger and grief.

And ultimately, that's why we poke around in the past.  So we can lay it down and press on to all the promises before us.

What does "poking around in the past" bring up for you?  

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An Anatomy of Redemption: The Baby Bears

"You're like a momma bear with her cubs." The person who said this to me (right in the middle of the worst year of my life) was, I think, attempting to admonish me.

But all I could say in reply was, "Well, yes.  Yes, I am like a momma bear with her cubs.  That is my job."

I have four children.  I love them fiercely.  If you try to hurt one of them, you will run off with claw marks down your back.

(I can't figure out a way to feel bad about that.  Although I must admit that I haven't tried real hard, either.)

That was one of the hardest things for me about the whole pornography mess in our family:  how it impacted our children.

Maybe you're a fairly perfect parent.  If so, you can spend the next few minutes reading a post you don't need.  Or go back to the football game.  Whatever.

But maybe you're a human being.  And you've screwed up.  Or you're married to a human being who has screwed up.  And you're worried about how your baby bears are going to survive the mess.

Let me tell you some things about our experience.  I hope they'll give you hope.

When we returned to Dallas in April 2003, it was our 5th international move in 3 years.  It was also our kids' third school situation--and third country--in one school year.  They had been home schooled in the Solomon Islands, attended a small mission school in Papua New Guinea, and then went into huge public schools in suburban Dallas county in April.

They were at four different ages and four different stages of life and the multiple moves and family upheaval impacted each of them differently.

To say that it was an emotional disaster zone is not an exaggeration.  And there was not much we could do about it, except cry through it with them.  And wait for the healing.  There was a lot of pain and I think some of the healing is still happening.

But Andy made a really good choice, back in 2003, that I think has made healing and redemption possible.

He told our kids the truth.  He told the older two at the time, and then waited to tell the younger two when they got a bit older.

I will admit that I was opposed.  I thought it would just hurt them more, at a time when it seemed to me that they'd had way more than enough.

But he felt strongly that he should tell them.

And he was right.  Genius, in fact.

It was difficult.  Painful.  But absolutely the best thing he could have done.

Telling the kids means that we're not hiding things from them.  

They know what's going on.  They don't have to make up stuff to explain the emotions in the house.

And that's what kids do when they don't have the facts.  They create a story that explains the emotions.  And usually that story involves self-blame, because every child believes that the world revolves around them.

Our kids are free to be angry with us, but they don't have to blame themselves.

Telling the kids means that they aren't responsible to fix the family.

This is an adult problem, the adults are taking responsibility, and the adults are doing what needs to be done to fix it.

When the adults aren't honest and when the adults aren't taking responsibility, the kids will do their best to fix their family.

Some will turn to perfectionism.  They'll try hard to make their parents feel better by being perfect or funny or beautiful or care-taking.  Others will become the black sheep.  They'll try hard to fix the family by creating problems that bring everyone together to work on solutions.

Our kids can be mad at us, but they don't have to fix the family.

Telling the kids means that we admit that we are human and imperfect.

It would be nice if we were perfect, and they never had to deal with this.  Because at some level, kids want their parents to be perfect.  So when we give them hurtful evidence of our imperfection, it's painful for them.

But the perfect ship has sailed.

So we tell the truth and we deal.

Telling the kids means that when they're struggling, they know it's OK to tell the truth and ask for help.

Our kids are having to learn how to cope with the internet in a healthy way, and it's tough!  Accidental exposure to pornography is almost a given at some point.  (Unless you're Amish.  And if you're reading this post, you aren't.)  Because our kids know what Andy's dealt with, they can come to him and say, "Dad, you need to block this one website, cuz it's giving me grief."

Most of all, what I've learned is this:  when we are not perfect, God can still take care of our kids.

I Corinthians 12:9 says this:  "My gracious favor is all you need.  My power works best in your weakness."  (New Living Translation)

God's power works best in our weakness.  His grace is all we need.  Even for the baby bears.

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An Anatomy of Redemption: The Lesson

On Easter Sunday morning 2001, we got up early to watch the sunrise over the coast of Papua New Guinea. We went out in the dark and we sang songs and read Scriptures.  But as the sky got lighter, we saw that it was completely overcast with clouds.  Everything was kind of gloomy and gray.  As million-dollar-view ocean sunrises went, it was pretty disappointing.

So I stood there.  Pouting on the hill because the sun wasn't shining.

And then I started to realize that the sun IS shining.  What I see is clouds all over.  Dark and disappointing.  But the sun is still doing its thing, even though I can't see it.

(They called me Einstein in school.)

But here's what I've been pondering recently.

I don't have to "have faith" or "trust and obey" about the sun still shining.

I KNOW THE SUN IS SHINING.

And it would be completely crazy to think otherwise.

The sun is totally predictable.  It comes up every morning and goes down every night.  I, and billions of others, have experienced this without fail and know that it is true.

So.  The incredible value of experience.

People say to me, "What am I supposed to be learning in this mess?  I wish I could figure it out and get it over with!"

And I've learned all kinds of things in my messes.  Things I know God wanted me to learn.  I've had truths to face about myself and my motivations.  Forgiveness to extend to those who hurt me.  Abundance to offer out of what I have received.

But more than anything, my experience teaches me that this is true:

Lo, I am with you always.  Even to the end of the world.

Many, many of us have had our worlds end.

I have dear, darling friends who have been called upon to deal with way more than any human being should have to cope with.

Disease and death and abuse that results in overwhelming loss and grief.

But the Shepherd of my soul doesn't chuck a huge load on me and walk off to let me handle it until I learn my lesson.

He says:  This world is full of trouble.  Don't be ignorant about that.  But take courage.  I have overcome the world.

He says:  Come to me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

For all of us who wander, afraid and alone, and wish for home, he says:  I have prepared a place.  And I will come, and I will take you there, and you will be perfectly at home with Me.

However our world has ended, Jesus is there.

And those of us who have walked through the dark places?  We know.  We know that we know that we know.

Job, the innocent sufferer, said this, "I had heard about you before.  But now I have seen you with my own eyes."  (Job 42:5)

The story is not over.  He has loved us with an everlasting love.  Our names are written on the palms of His hands.  Just like a nursing mother cannot forget her child, He cannot forget us.

And whatever else you might be learning in your valley, know this for sure:

"You are precious to me.  You are honored, and I love you."  (Isaiah 43: 4)

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An Anatomy of Redemption: Deal With It

I have been reading romance novels most of my life. And it started way before I discovered the Harlequin romances in the high school library.

I was in love with Gilbert Blythe in junior high.

Almanzo Wilder before that.

And the movie version of Prince Caspian just confirmed what I knew at age 10:  I want to be a princess!  Pick me!  Pick me!

But there's a reason this stuff is called fiction.  (Spoiler alert.)

IT'S NOT REAL.

We might wish, that in some perfect world, our knight in shining armor would come riding up and sweep us away from "all this."  But in reality, he just pulled into the driveway in a dinged-up Honda that has 225,000 miles on it.  People have been after him for computer support all day, somebody in  Singapore is still not able to upload their files, the boss is back in town with a long list of what went wrong, there were no good snacks in the break room, and he just wants to sit down, watch the ball game and not talk to anybody for a while.

He might come into the house wishing to find Angelina Jolie, wearing a low-cut ball gown and having the kids singing a ballad in 6-part harmony.  But he's going to find the dogs barking, homework all over the kitchen table, the kids needing a ride into Oak Cliff 10 minutes ago, the computer with the blue screen of death, and me in my sweats.

Reality bites.  Pretty hard sometimes.

But underneath the surface stresses we can slap up for a Facebook status, the deep questions remain:

  • Am I an OK person?  Am I normal?  Does anybody else understand how I feel?  Or care?
  • Am I worthy of love?  If you really, really knew me, would you still love me?
  • If I'm not perfectly beautiful/perfectly strong every day, will you still love me?
  • If I told you the truth, could we still be OK together?

I think, in particular, when we start talking about sexual issues in marriage, a lot of us women would rather not go there.

But we are fighting a war for healthy sexuality.  Let me remind you of the statistics:

  • 67% of children admit to clearing their Internet history to hide their online activity
  • 79% of accidental exposures to Internet porn among kids take place in the home
  • 56% of divorce cases involve one party having an obsessive interest in online porn
  • 29% of working adults accessed explicit websites on work computers  (Source:  covenant eyes.com)

If we're going to help, we need to stop being Rapunzel in the tower, and start being Rosie the Riveter, building bombs in the factory.

One of the first books I read, after finding out about Andy's pornography use, was The Sexual Man by Dr. Archibald Hart.  I wish he would write another book, now that the internet is such a part of our lives.  But his research is incredibly valuable.  Dr. Hart has worked for many years, both as a clinical psychotherapist, and as a seminary professor.  For this book, he surveyed over 600 men:  Christians, seminary students, clergy.  The good guys, y'all.  He was trying to determine what's normal for men who are trying hard to do the right thing.  The subtitle is "Masculinity without guilt."

So I would read passages out loud to Andy, and say (possibly in an accusing tone), "Is this true?"  And he would sheepishly say, "Well, yeah..."

Another great book on marriage is The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman.  He's done a truly ridiculous amount of research, and he can tell within 5 minutes of meeting with a couple whether they will divorce or not.  You'll have to read the book for his seven principles--and also for his Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  Fascinating stuff.

Here's one thing Gottman found:

"The determining factor in whether wives feel satisfied with the sex, romance, and passion in their marriage is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple's friendship.  For men, the factor is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple's friendship."

Many of us are saying to our husbands, "There's this whole part of you that I don't want to know anything about.  If you told me the truth, I couldn't handle it.  So let's just pretend it doesn't exist."

He asks, "Could you love me if you knew?"

And we say, "No way.  Keep it to yourself."

In our quest for comfort, we reject our husbands at a deep level.

What quality of friendship can we expect when we do that?  Not a good one.

What impact will that have on our marriages?  Not a good one.

Here's what I know.  Prince Gilmanzo can take a hike into the sunset.

I just want my BFF.

And I want him, being who he is, not feeling like he has to hide stuff about himself and protect me from reality.

I'm a big girl now.  I can deal with it.

So here's what I would say to other big girls.

  • Read The Sexual Man.  Learn, grow, accept.
  • Read The Seven Principles.  It's really positive and empowering for marriages.
  • Get your shields up and your internet filtered.  Covenant Eyes is our friend.
  • If you need counseling, go!  Even if you have to go alone.
  • You might be scared, but you can still be strong.
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An Anatomy of Redemption: Interview Postscript

After hitting the publish button on Andy's interview the other night, we were talking about how maybe his recovery experience doesn't look very spiritual.  Yes, he had a very important experience of repentance and healing in his relationship with God, back in Papua New Guinea. But from our perspective, that was the doorway that he walked through, in order to begin the journey to recovery.  The long and winding road encompasses a bunch of other stuff.

Honesty.

Accountability.

Owning the junk as it comes up, still to this day, and on until the day we die.

Staying engaged in the marriage and keeping it a place that we love to be in.

And probably a bunch of other stuff that you can't always put a Bible verse next to.

Andy was initially given a program for treatment that was basically a Bible study.  It wasn't all that helpful, to be honest.  Because he already knew all those verses.   He'd translated every single one of them into another language over a ten-year period, and he was addicted to pornography half the time.

Information about God's word was not the issue.

The issue was letting God loose to change and heal deep down inside.  And until the owning and the working, at a deep level, you could quote scripture, or you could say "abracadara, bibbidi, bobbidi, boo."  And either way, you'd have wasted your breath.

For Andy, and I bet a whole lot of other guys (and us girls too), the real deal was owning his stuff, and working on it in a bunch of different ways.  All of those ways, I believe, are under the mercy and grace of a loving God.

I do believe in the power of the Word of God.  Living and active and able to slice us right open.

A sword.

Not a magic wand.  And not a band-aid.

Our God is a consuming fire.  

Not a tame lion, as C. S. Lewis would say.

He wants more from us than memorizing the right verses and acting the right way.  We can do a bunch of stuff right, on our own, with our hearts of stone.  He wants to give us a heart of flesh.

Your heart of flesh is going to be open and vulnerable and able to let love in.  If you have trouble with that--if you have to be always perfect, smart, funny, well-coiffed, perfectly employed, or in full-time ministry in order to deserve love--I will double-dog guarantee you that your problems are rooted in your childhood.

I'm sorry, but you're gonna have to go there.

The purpose of going there is not to blame the people who hurt you back then.  The purpose is to get honest about the pain that shapes your life today.  And to go with Jesus into that pain for the purpose of forgiveness and healing.

Here's what Andy said last night, which I love.

"I used to try hard when I was younger, to read my Bible and pray the right way.  If anybody asked me, I could say that my spiritual life was good.  But if I look at the fruit of the Spirit in my life then, compared to now, it's a whole different thing.  The love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and faithfulness that I have now, I never had back then."

So, did I just make a bunch of ya'll really, really crazy with this post?

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An Anatomy of Redemption 2

In April 2003, we left Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea for Dallas, Texas.

It was our 5th international move in 3 years.

I was sick with anxiety and depression and grief.  We had four kids going into public school with just two months left in the school year.  We were looking for a house to buy, searching for a church home, and above all trying to reconfigure our marriage into something real and true and good.

I had thought I was done in February.

But I got done-er in April, especially when we encountered our mission's counseling department.

My second child was delivered by a young intern who had just started his OB/GYN clinical rotation.  I was his first delivery.  And here is how we met.

I was just starting into a contraction when the curtain around my bed parted, and this young man introduced himself to me.  As the contraction progressed, he began to ask me questions from a checklist on his clipboard.  I answered as pleasantly as possible.  At the peak of the contraction, he asked, "And what is your blood type?"

Through gritted teeth I shrieked, "I don't knooooooooooooooooow!"

My experience with our mission's counseling department was sadly similar.

The counseling department had a clipboard and a checklist.  And before they were prepared to give me counseling,we had to undergo nine hours of evaluation.  I was assigned a counselor.  Andy was assigned a counselor.  We each had to do our evaluation.

I had never been to counseling.  I thought maybe this was how you did it.  They told me it would be helpful.  So we started.

One of the first questions was, "What was it like for you, growing up as the eldest of seven siblings?"

What?

I'm incredibly depressed, in so much emotional pain I can hardly walk across the room, and you want me to give you a paragraph on my childhood?

I remember indignantly saying to this person,"I don't know!"

It didn't get better.  It didn't get more relevant.

I thought the evaluation was ridiculous, and I didn't want to be evaluated.  I just wanted help.

When I communicated this to administrators and counseling staff, I was told, "This is a helpful process."

I said, "It's not helping me."

But it just didn't matter.  Gathering information was the most important thing.  So that's what they did.

I would come home from evaluation sessions, lay on the bed crying, and say to myself over and over, "God loves me.  God loves me.  God loves me."  That was all I had to hang onto.

I kept saying I didn't like it.

My counselor told me, "You don't understand.  This is part of the discipline process."

I went to my administrator and said, "Hey.  Pretty sure I don't need to be disciplined, since I haven't done anything wrong.  Go ahead and discipline Andy.  But leave me out of it."

He agreed and promised to make it clear to the counseling department that the process was a restorative process, not a disciplinary process.

But by the time the evaluation wrapped up in September, I was done being helped by the helpful process.  Way, way, way done.

I wrote a letter to the organization, saying I would no longer participate in any of their counseling processes.  I think I might have said that now I needed counseling for their counseling.  I know I said I would seek my own therapy outside the organization.

I figured we would be fired.

After a month, we received a short letter apologizing for the difficulty, saying we were allowed to seek counseling wherever we chose, and that they would just appreciate a brief letter from the counselor whenever he or she felt we were recovered.

I've been told they don't do it like this any more, and that's a good thing.

But here is what I do know.  Beyond all shadow of a doubt.

Whatever the intentions of those people at that time, whatever mistakes they made, God meant it for good.  And He has done great things.

I really struggled with whether or not to tell this part of the story, because it's kind of crazy and ugly.  But these things happen.  People do things that hurt us, sometimes accidentally.  Sometimes on purpose.  But no matter what, God redeems.  The more we believe that, the more we can tell the truth and let it set us free.  Even if it's crazy and ugly.

And, the more time goes on, and the more I see what God has done, the more grateful I am for even this part of the experience.   Maybe the mistakes of other people became the flames of the refiner's fire.  If that's true--and I think it is--I can only be grateful.

Here's another thing I know.  I have had to learn a lot about forgiveness.

I had to forgive Andy for what he did.  It helped a lot that he was sorry and worked hard to be trustworthy again.

I had to forgive administrators who made mistakes.  It helped that they were sorry and worked with us in the end.

I have to forgive counselors who made mistakes.  That has been harder, because they kept telling me they were right.

So I forgive.  And God heals.  And when the other person repents, we have the possibility for restoration of the relationship.

Other times, I forgive and God heals and the other person never gets it.  That's hard, but we keep walking and God keeps healing.

Jesus told the parable about the man who owed millions, was forgiven the debt, and then got crazy with the guy who owed him a dollar.

And I just don't want to be that person, worried about every penny stuck to the sidewalk.  I don't need the pennies, and it messes with the manicure.

So for the experience of forgiveness and healing and restoration, I am truly grateful.

And for the things I don't understand and I still think are crazy, I'm grateful that God knows and understands.

I believe He redeems everything.  Even this.

But hear me now.

If I were in that situation today, I'd be out the door in a heartbeat.

Because there are basic legal and ethical rights that the law provides for clients in counseling.  Things like:  I have the right to keep anything private that I want.  I have the right to ask questions.  I have the right to helpful therapy.  And guess who decides whether it's helpful or not?  Me.

I am a counselor now.  And if you come to see me, you'll receive a copy of your client bill of rights.  And I will go over it with you verbally.  And I will tell you that if you meet with me, and then decide to see another therapist, please go with my blessing.  In fact, if you don't like the color of the walls or the office furniture, bon voyage my darling.  (Although if you've tried 10 counselors and none of them were any good, you might start thinking about other common denominators.  I'm just sayin'.)

Can God redeem?  Yes.  Always.

Is it necessary to stay in a harmful situation?  No.  Absolutely not.

When you're in a bad place, what you need is help.  Make sure your therapist is helpful.  To you.

We stayed at the time because our translation project wasn't finished.  We had devoted 10 years to that project and we wanted to finish.  So we felt like we had to retain membership with the organization, no matter what.

Today, I would say:  not so much.  God has other ways.  And those other ways don't have to include me being mistreated.

Which, at the end of the day, was a really important lesson for me.  Really important.  Huge.  My capacity to stand up for myself was practically non-existent.  I might make some noise, but over and over and over I'd go along with things I knew were wrong for me.  I kept hoping that other people would notice and do the right thing for me.  I didn't take responsibility to do the right thing for myself.

In the refiner's fire, I learned to take a stand for myself.  I learned that God does love me, even when He doesn't rescue me right this minute.  I learned to press on through the pain with the hope that God is always at work, always redeeming.  I learned to be grateful even for this.  Truly.

No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening--it is painful!  But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.  So take a new grip on your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs.  Mark out a straight path for your feet.  Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but become strong.  Hebrews 12: 11-13

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