Monday, November 19, 2012

When the Dream Dies, Who Are You?

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul,..
1 Peter 2:11 NKJV

            My parents instilled in me some sense of moral values, but having a mere head knowledge of them – the concept of morals minus the divine foundations on which to cement those truths – was inadequate, especially in the late seventies and early eighties. My values were assaulted, criticized and stressed to the breaking point during my late teens and early twenties on an ultra-liberal and permissive college campus. And break they did. Built on a weak foundation, the wobbly, insecure façade finally crumbled.
            Within five weeks of arriving at college on an out-of-state, full-tuition athletic scholarship, (rare for women in 1977), I suffered a career-ending, leg-deforming fracture during a disastrous vault landing at the Big Ten Championships. The athletic activity to which I devoted more than half my eighteen-year-old life was over. Overnight, my life altered. My social circle flip-flopped, my goals evaporated; the negative effects of prescribed, sleep-inducing painkillers and my inability to stand in three-hour laboratory classes leaning on wooden crutches forced me to drop classes.
            With beer on tap until 12:45 AM in the dormitory snack bar, (back in the days when eighteen was the legal drinking age), and alcohol flowing at the twenty-one bars within a one mile stretch of road cutting from campus to the state capitol building, I was introduced to a life of drinking and partying by other college students, college student hangers-on, and recent (and not-so-recent) flunkies who seemed determined to earn their college degrees in those two disciplines. My father was a social drinker, so this activity – at first – didn’t faze me. I was just doing what my dad had done so many Friday and Saturday nights with his friends at the Elks Club. Except I soon added Thursday nights and Monday nights to my social schedule.
            A shattered existence arose in the wake as a substitute for a life of discipline and intense focus, a life previously intermixed with profound adrenaline rushes and nosedives – the excessive highs and lows of practices and competition, success and failure. My dream died, abruptly murdered. No proper burial or memorial service. I felt robbed and directionless. Lost. My life had orbited around athletics; to me, gymnastics and I were one and the same. It gave me my self-esteem, my purpose for living. If I were no longer an athlete, what, or who was I?
            Drinking would help me find out.
            Without the dream and its purpose being alive to dictate good choices, I unconsciously sought to recreate the highs and squelch the evermore frequent lows another way. I drank to mask my introversion and insecurities; I drank to dilute my psychological and physical pain. I drank to feel accepted in my new surroundings, with my new friends. I drank to become someone else, an uninhibited life of the party who could still gain attention. But mostly I drank to drown the blossoming depression from being forced to relinquish something I loved passionately, obsessively; something in which I had invested my life. Something I didn’t know how to surrender. Something I’d erected as an idol before my God and unashamedly bowed down to.
            But the more I drank, the more depressed I became. And the more I drank, the more I found myself saying and doing things only a few months earlier I’d found reviling, repulsive, unthinkable. Impossible. Eventually I didn’t care what I said, what I did, or what I looked like. One day a concerned friend asked me when I was going to stop covering my hair with a bandana, change clothes and take a shower. Unknowingly, I’d sunk into a deep, mind-deadening depression, suffering shipwreck in my faith and in my life. Years of misdirection, lack of discipleship, hard-heartedness, hard-headedness and foolish choices led me to flail in a self-destructive pit for nearly two years.
            A legitimate child of God who consciously rejects God’s loving presence and who wanders away to deliberately wallow in slop is the most miserable of creatures. Miserable doesn’t begin to describe my emotional, physical and spiritual condition.
            Either God wearied of looking at my back or could no longer tolerate watching me cause myself so much pain and self-destruction, because He jolted me awake my sophomore year. Thankfully, He knows His sheep by name, and they hear His voice. And hear His voice, I did. In one eye-blinking moment, in a way only God can shock someone into responding to His Divine voice. In one powerful, High Definition instant, like an electric current shot into a nerve. Yet it took another semester for me to realize that I needed to avoid circumstances and people who preyed on my weaknesses and provided temptation leading to a fall. Like an alcoholic needing a new support network, I needed to avoid destructive friends.
            But good-intentioned human effort and simple courage don’t destroy strongholds. Two-and-a-half-years later I fell again. Yet this time there’d be no heavenly rescue. God obligingly stepped aside and allowed me to crash with a resounding thud. I felt His firm hand of discipline on my broken, confused heart.
            A twelve-year valley bound my life before I returned to church and Sunday morning worship then firmly informed my betrothed – Chris – that if he didn’t believe in Jesus, there would be no “us.” (Thankfully, he did, and thirteen months later we were married.) After so many barren, wasted years the process of fully, unabashedly identifying myself with the Lord commenced. It would take almost eleven more years and a heartbreaking tragedy for God to fully penetrate the self-protective fear, accumulated anger, thick pride, competitive spirit and calloused, double-minded heart.
            I was going to find out just exactly what, and who I was, with and without God.


NEXT WEEK: Another ultrasound indicates a potential problem with the pregnancy – which the doctor dismisses.  

Thanks for joining me!



NOTE: We’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving here in the United States on Thursday, November 22, so I’ll be adding a special post Wednesday in honor of this special holiday.