Reflections

A New Song

Originally shared by Crissy Wilson at The Gathering Church on Sept. 29, 2019.

My name is Crissy Wilson and I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ and a recovering alcoholic. They call it recovering regardless of how long it has been since you’ve had a drink because the Enemy still waits to use your past drinking against you. The book Alcoholics Anonymous puts it well in saying that the privilege of drinking alcohol has been revoked because you’ve abused it so heavily. I’ve been in situations since recovery and will be again where I am offered a drink. If a simple “no thank you” does not seem to get the point across I simply state, “I’ve had enough for my lifetime.”

I’ve been laughed at during secular recovery meetings for my talk of spiritual warfare, but in the world of addiction or alcoholism, in my experience, the battle is as real as night and day. The Enemy waits to get you. Not just to make you sad or isolate you or have you believe the lies that will allow your insane behavior to seem appropriate in your own mind. But to kill you dead. Alcohol was the Enemy’s weapon of choice for me but Jesus saved my life.

 It would take much longer than the time we have here to give a full testimony. The Lord is with me every second of every day and the more I lean into him, the more I am able to see the affection and love He has for me and for all of us. What I say to you this morning cannot begin to explain or describe the countless ways in which He has rescued me and will continue to rescue me. Isaiah 46:4 says “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” He is my best friend, my comforter, my mending wall, my guide.

When God rescues you two things happen. Well, a lot of things happen but two that I will mention today. 1. You are never the same as you were before He rescued you and 2. You must tell someone. Not just because Scripture says to or other people tell you it is a good idea or because the 12th step is to work with another struggling human being, but because when He rescues you, there is a longing in your heart to stand on a rooftop and shout about it. I considered this when I first became of sober mind but decided to keep my quiet apartment community quiet. The Enemy has kept me from talking since the first time I decided not to say anything. I have told a few people over the years but not in great detail and even last week and every day including today, the Enemy has tried to keep me from saying anything. “You are right in the middle of moving, you have a baby, remember that other thing you are supposed to get done, it’s ok to wait.”

Fear is an odd, adaptive trait. It can save our lives in some situations but in others it can kill you. The type of fear I feel in my hesitation to share is the kind that kills, that of the Enemy. In the gentlest of ways, our Father has encouraged and enhanced my desire and need to say, “My God has saved me and I am going to tell someone about it.”

I talk with Him all the time. Prayer is a funny thing. When you decide that you want to get to know God, (and it is because He is calling you that you make that decision, do not for a second believe you had anything to do with it), you pray. Oh so important. He loves hearing us own what is on our hearts. He wants to hear you speak it, though He already knows what is on it. Reading the Bible is great and you will yearn to learn more and more once He has chosen to call you to Him but the most important thing, in my experience, is our personal relationship with the Lord. It is a living, growing relationship that sustains me in this life.

As a child I knew I was loved. Not just by my parents or grandparents, but by something big, something HUGE. We all feel that way in the beginning. It’s impressed upon our hearts. Little girls wear crowns of clover and little boys bath towels for superman capes. Then something happens. Cue the Enemy. Something tells us that we are incapable of achieving greatness and sometimes if given the right circumstances and vulnerability, we believe it.  

I watched my mother die an alcoholic death. Not the kind where someone who already has liver disease drinks too much and doesn’t wake up again, but the kind that happens over years. She stopped eating whole meals. She stopped making sense, eventually stopped bathing and though you would think that these things would cue some type of personal awareness and the behavior would change, it didn’t. The alcoholic or any addict, suffers an insanity greater than any sickness I’ve ever seen or heard of. My favorite scripture is Romans 5:3-5. Not only so, (Paul speaking on standing in the glory of God), but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

After my mother’s death, in 2007, I found myself constantly worried for the future and living in the past and I was exhausted. I continued to drink for five more long years. I began to see what it was I was doing to myself but could not seem to stop of my own power. Every morning I would get into the shower with my hangover and tell God that I didn’t want to drink anymore. Sometimes right in the middle of saying that I was thinking about where I would go to get a drink when I got off work. They call it being a “functioning alcoholic” when you are able to work and somewhat manage your life while drinking daily. Let me tell you, that is no way to function. I was tired for years. Everything seemed in order from the outside but I was often a week from eviction, from car repossession, I pushed the limit on anything and everything and was in a living hell emotionally. Was I sad? Was I angry? Who knows, have another drink. I was in a constant state of grief. I grieved for the life I wasn’t living aside from the death of people close to me. I grieved for the little girl that I used to be, so happy and hopeful. I was being killed slowly by the Enemy himself and at my own hand. I believed his lies. They were so loud and direct.

Underneath it all through the years, however, a soft steady voice remained constant. “You are more than this, you are loved.” Again, once God has called you to Him, He does not let go. With an internal battle going on, I got church clothes out one drunken Saturday night and made up my mind that I was going to church the next morning. Fairly simple it would seem to most.

I was not taken to church as a child but in my adolescent years, I attended a Sunday night youth group and then eventually episcopal church with a family that lived down the street from my grandparents. People that God brought into my life. Now, though it is the house of God, imperfect people make up the church and as people we can be judgemental. After a few too many judgements by people my own age and even adults, I let fear once again keep me from God. I visited one church when I went away to college in Greenwood, SC but the pastor remarked about catholics going to hell and I left immediately and never returned. Who was he to condemn anyone, especially people of faith?

So relatively simple it would seem to lay out clothes for church on a hungover Sunday but it was by the grace of God. I got up that morning and got dressed then dropped to my knees. I didn’t want to go, or did I? I could barely tell the truth from the lies any longer and I was tired and hungry and had a horrible headache. Something a drink could have fixed. I prayed, “Tell me what to do!” “Get off your knees and go to church.” The truth He wanted me to hear had never been more clear.

So I went. When I arrived I pulled on the handle of the door and it felt locked, “a good enough reason to leave” said the Enemy, “you are tired, after all”. I pulled again with all the strength I could summon and the door opened. I still don’t know if I was weak or if that battle for my heart continued all the way to the door of that church. The faces were friendly, it was reaffirmation Sunday. Ironic. People were rededicating themselves to God in front of their congregation. I sat in the back and cried the whole time. Relief, sorrow, real feelings, not fabricated ones induced by alcohol. I was invited to the church by a neighbor in my apartment building but as I stood up to give peace during the service do you know who I saw? The mother of the family from down the street at my grandparent’s house. I pushed through the crowd and tapped her on the shoulder. I was ashamed because I just knew I smelled of alcohol but I accepted the embrace anyway. I was ashamed a lot.

I forced myself to go Sunday after Sunday. It was the only day I felt sane out of the week any longer and I didn’t seem to be able to do anything else to help myself but make sure to go to church. I filled out one of those little cards they pass around during communion that asks if you are a visitor and whether or not you are interested in talking more about the church. I didn’t expect anything, I had filled these out before. No one had ever reached out. And besides, I didn’t have any money to give them. At my former church during adolescence that was an issue. No adult in the clergy wanted to invest time in me because my parents didn’t come with me and as a teenager, I didn’t have any money to give. To my surprise, I got a call. Not a letter, not an email, a phone call. The pastor wanted to know if Id like to have coffee. Here was a chance to be sane on a day that wasn’t Sunday! I went. I didn’t tell him that I had discovered that I was an alcoholic, that everyday was a living hell and putting one foot in front of the other to get to work and back home again felt like a nightmare. I just met him for coffee. 6 mos later I was baptized and the mother from the family down the street was my baptismal sponsor. We met on Wednesday evenings for dinner. Another day I felt sane again. I was baptized with a hangover, tears running from my eyes as fast as they could be produced on an Easter Sunday. I was changed. I was still drinking, but I was changed. I began to remember who I was before the lies of the Enemy crept into my childhood and I began to dream again.

The war waged on within me and one night I could no longer take it and I cried out to Jesus from a defeated position on my knees in my bedroom floor. “Is this it? Is this all you have for my life? To die like Mom did, sad and alone? Use me! I beg of you! Use me for your works! Help me, I can’t do it without you, I don’t want to be an alcoholic, I want to do your work” I wept and asked Jesus to hold me. He did. Best I can remember, I found rest for the first time in a long time. I woke up the next morning to a hard look at what my life had truly become. I hadn’t made it into pajamas, or even under the covers. My bedroom light was on, the bathroom light was on, the hall, the dining room… there wasn’t a light in my house that wasn’t on. What was that about? I always turned the lights out, even when I was drunk. I had to save on my electricity money so that I could drink. There was a spoiled dinner in the microwave that I hadn’t made it around to eating. A puddle of urine was in front of my front door because I hadn’t stayed conscious long enough to take my dog out. (She was also a gift from God, I’m positive of it) Before I did anything else I opened the refrigerator door to see what alcohol was left, if any. I did this often, in preparation of the next night’s “therapy”. I didn’t take anything out, but all of a sudden the air seemed different like it was shaking and I heard one word, “Enough!” To this day I don’t know if that word was meant for me or the evil that had hold of me, but it was all that was needed. I began sobbing uncontrollably and out of nowhere. I was free. I panicked and pulled a list of AA members that I hadn’t thought about in years out of a nightstand. I don’t know how I knew it was still there. I had gone to a meeting once or twice close to ten years prior to appease a friend at the time.

I called the first one, disconnected, I called another, no answer, third one, she said to me- go to the 6pm meeting tonight, they will teach you how to live. “I don’t know if I can stay sober forever”, I told her. I had no desire to drink any longer but I was afraid for my life that it would come back. “You only have to stay sober for an hour” she said. “Then two hours if you want, then a whole day if you feel like it, but right now, let’s just say an hour.”

I’m still sober. I don’t test it. I have a girlfriend who said to me a while back, “don’t you think you could just have a glass of wine now and then, it’s been years.” No, I’m not testing that. Sobriety was gifted to me by God himself and it would be an insult to Him for me to try- not to mention, I don’t know that He would gift it again. As Dr. Parks stated in his sermon last week, “God has a rap sheet.”

I liked the same fellow for the last few months of my drinking and the first couple of my sobriety although I didn’t see him for the first couple of sobriety as I was busy getting my life back together. I went to a birthday party for a mutual friend of ours three months into sobriety and he happened to be there. He was hungover, he reeked of alcohol. It was the first time I’d smelled it since becoming sober and it made me sick to my stomach. It smelled like the poison that it is. I left the party sooner than anyone else for fear I might smell it again. On the way home, I prayed, “Lord, I’m good alone. If you want me to just be with you for the rest of my life, I’m happy to just do your work. In Jesus name, Amen!” I cranked up my Christian station, sang my heart out and oddly enough met Jason Wilson three hours later. Something else amazing happened. I understood my mother’s struggle. I could see how she could have been taken over by alcoholism and not be able to find a way out. I forgave her. This is just a small portion of what I have seen God do and an even smaller part of what He has done that I don’t even know about. Thank you for letting me share.

Pray With Your Hands

I’ve tried to make a habit of walking and praying for our “parish,” the neighborhoods around the church. Our parish is pretty unique. My walk takes me through Wofford College, government subsidized housing, abandoned properties occupied by the homeless, VCOM med school, the county courthouse and offices, newly renovated and rehabilitated homes, and several ministries and churches serving the needs of the community. On one of my walks I stopped to pray with folks at a ministry that provides fresh produce at reduced costs to people with limited access to grocery stores. I thought I would stop, spend a few minutes in prayer, and head on my way. But when I walked in the door, there were about ten people packing boxes of food. When I announced that I was there to pray, my friend Rabbi Andy from the Messianic Jewish Synagogue, handed me a produce bag and said, “Here. Pray with your hands.”

That phrase has stuck with me. I confess that I often opt to pray from a distance rather than taking the time to engage with the people for whom I’m praying. But as John says, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). It’s how Jesus loves us, not just with words but all the way to the cross. Love enters in. Word made flesh. And so for us to be the body of Christ as his Church, we must love as he has loved. We must pray with our hands.

I took the bag from Rabbi Andy, and we spent the next hour packing six apples to a bag while praying for the people who would receive them. It felt inconvenient at first, but there was a joy and sense of community among the people serving together. I was privileged to share that time praying and laboring with them.

I feel the Lord’s invitation to us as a church to pray with our hands. It means that we have to let go of our agendas at times in order to be present. Sometimes we do the behind the scenes, unappreciated work. Sometimes we may go places where we’re uncomfortable. But it is our privilege to be the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s our privilege to pray with our hands.

Real Power

God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
-2 Timothy 1:7

It’s a crazy notion. The One who has all authority and power has given us His power through the Spirit in us. Not a theoretical distant power, but a real, living, authoritative power. Crazy, but true. But we too quickly forget. We find ourselves flooded with fear and anxiety or held captive by the lies of the Enemy or trapped in persistent habits. We feeldefeated. Meanwhile, the power of the Almighty God is in us.

The reality of the Spirit in us means we do not have to be held captive. We don’t need to fear. The Spirit leads us to come to the Father, to trust Him, to invite Him to accomplish in us and through us what we cannot manage alone. It does not feel easy at times because it is an act of surrender on our parts. We have to let go of the allusion of our own power. We have to die that Christ may live in us. And the Spirit who raised Christ from the dead will give us life! (Romans 8:11). That is real power at work in us. The church of Christ, His Body, is marked by the power of the Spirit.

This is the Spirit we have seen at work. This is the Spirit that made the way for our friends to move here from Tennessee when it seemed like an impossibility 6 months ago. It is the Spirit who is bonding together communities that have beenhistorically divided in Spartanburg. It is the Spirit who encourages us through the Word and the words of other believers when we need it most. It is the real power of the Spirit that has brought greater depth, joy, and unity to our marriage than we could have ever hoped for or imagined. We see the Spirit of God at work building the Church here in Spartanburg. We are blessed to be witnesses to what He is doing. And we know He will do far more.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21

Running On Empty

As a college student I would often push the limits to see how far my car could go after the gaslight came on. On a few occasions I remember coasting into a gas station only to realize I didn’t have any cash. This was before I’d been suckered into carrying a credit card and debit cards were just coming on the scene. So being a resourceful college student, I dug around under the car seats and scrounged up some change to put half of a gallon in my car. Back in the day, that cost about 56 cents. It was a great relief if I cranked the car and the gas light actually went off, even though it usually came back on a couple of miles later. I lived in a cycle like that, constantly scrounging to get enough gas to keep going.

As I look around and as I reflect on my own life, I realize many of us are living that way, on the edge of empty, scrounging just to keep moving. We’re all tired, anxious, and stressed. Our internal “gas light” is saying, “You’re on empty! Time to stop!” But we don’t. At least not for long. Then, if we stop, it’s only for the few minutes we can scrounge. And if we stop, we don’t seem to know why we’re empty or how to be filled.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are wearied and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). We make a mistake if we think of this call as a one-time only call to repentance, Jesus beckoning to the prodigal. Certainly, it is that. He frees us from the guilt and burden of sin when we come to him in faith and repentance. But it is more than that. The word translated come here is the same word Jesus used when he called the disciples to follow him. The disciples woke up every day and followed him. Coming to him is not a one-time deal. It is something we do and must continue to do.

Jesus knew the weight of the world. He knows the broken, sin-filled, painful world in which we live. He experienced it, and he retreated to be with the Father. We are designed for intimacy with the Father. Jesus gives us that intimacy through the cross. So as the world wears us down, we must come to Jesus and connect with the Father. Not just regularly, but constantly. We weren’t designed to run on empty. Jesus came that we might have life to the full. But if we don’t come to him by spending time in prayer, in His Word, and in worship, we will continue to feel wearied and burdened.

We don’t need to feel guilty about feeling weary and worn down. That’s what the world does to us. Our weariness is an invitation to come to Jesus, to let him give us life. Nothing else will fill us. We need him and always will. Therefore, there is nothing better we could do with our time than be with him. The world is full of weary people. If we come to Jesus in our weariness, we will be people who point to him as we live in the rest he gives. It is a beautiful invitation before us.

Come, Lord Jesus, and give your rest!

Too Many Churches?

One of my biggest struggles in church planting has been the nagging thought that there are already plenty of churches. As we drive through Spartanburg we see countless churches. I question our calling as I think that with so many churches already, what could we possibly accomplish that isn’t already being done?

A couple of weeks ago Mike had an amazing opportunity to attend a gathering for local pastors called Come Closer, an initiative in Spartanburg to bring unity to the body of Christ. This is so exciting because this is what Jesus prayed for us: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (Jn 17:20-21)

As God has laid the vision for The Gathering on our hearts over the last 10 years, this desire has become deeply rooted in us. That the Church, the body of Christ, would be united for the Kingdom of God so that the work we do is not just for our individual church body but for the Church as a whole. We were awed to find this work already in progress in Spartanburg. We had imagined it would be a pioneering work that would need to be done, but instead we can jump right in to the work in progress. Mike was able to connect with multiple pastors who welcomed us to attend worship with them and even said they would want to support our work. We had been afraid to walk into a church fearing they would think we were coming to steal their people, but as it turns out they are gladly opening their doors to encourage us. Wow. It is so amazing to see God at work in this way. I praise Him for the work He is doing to unify His Body, the Church. 

We have attended a few of different churches. Surprisingly, this has helped my understanding of our call to plant. These churches are at work for the Kingdom, growing in God’s love and desiring to spread the gospel. And they each have their own personality. It is almost like walking into someone’s family gathering. You can fully enjoy it and see their joy in it but still know it is not your family. Our church will have its own personality as well, and some people will be drawn into that dynamic and others will find that it just doesn’t fit them. And this is why we must exist as much as the church that may be right down the street from us. Different people will call each place home, and God will use each place to further His Kingdom, bringing His healing, wholeness and truth. 

So my perspective has changed. You can’t have too many churches. Each place is different and each place is called, set apart, and used by God to bring His fullness. I am excited to see who we will become, what uniqueness God will bring to our gathering. It is a privilege to watch that unfold. May we be open to who God calls us to be!

Gather, Pray, Trust

For a season it seemed like we would never make it to this point. But here we are. In Spartanburg. God is faithful and His timing is good. Looking back it’s easy to see how He gave us what we needed when we needed it, even though in the midst of it all we really had no idea what we needed. He shatters our plans and gives us something far better…Himself. He asks us to trust Him even when it doesn’t make sense, and it rarely makes sense. As we trust Him we find a life far better and deeper than we could have imagined.

So I should have known. Surrounded by boxes, after months of waiting and planning, I had a huge to-do list. Unpack, connect with people, make repairs, schedule meetings, and on and on. A few days in and I was already feeling frantic. How is all of this going to get done? How are we going to make this happen? Where are the people? Let’s make a home. Let’s start a church. Let’s do this!

When I slowed down enough to listen, I felt the Lord pulling back my anxiety to remind me that this is not my work. It’s His. My role is to pray and trust. Our role as His Church is to gather, pray, and trust Him to do His work through us. We need Him. And He is faithful and good. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us. And He will because this is His work, not ours.

So we will gather, pray, and trust Him. Not just to give us what we think we want, but to give us what He knows we need. To give us life to the full in Him.

Come, Lord Jesus. Fill us, lead us, empower us to be your witnesses.

God with Us

I have been reflecting lately on one of the first times Mike and I skied together.  We were dating at the time, still getting to know each other in so many ways.  As we started out, Mike asked me what kind of hills I liked to ski, and I told him I liked anything but black with moguls.  I am able to ski black, but I do not care for the thrill of it.  I like to enjoy being outside.  I like the feeling of gently swooping back and forth across the hill marveling at God’s creation, all while perfectly in control of my body.  Mike on the other hand, skis for the thrill. The point for him is to find a challenge and go fast. Regardless of our differences in taste, we enjoyed the morning skiing a variety of hills working our way around the mountain.  Conceivably, though, Mike was secretly assessing my skill because suddenly we “happened” upon a hill, steep as could be, full of moguls. DOUBLE Black.  I clearly stated that I did not want to ski this hill, perhaps mentioning that I had already told him this once before…. Mike, in all his gentleness, replied that at this point we didn’t have any other options, and he supposed the only thing we could do was go down it.  After some comforting and consoling, he took off down the hill leaving me to decide if I was going to follow or not.  So I followed. 

I thought that this was a simple event in our dating history, laughable even.  As I have reflected on it the past couple of weeks I see that in a very real way it characterizes our life together.  Mike at the edge of adventure, and me, praying for strength, following to places that I never dreamed I’d go.

Maybe that day of skiing was a test I didn’t know I was taking; would I follow into the scary? Into the unknown? Into the adventure? I didn’t know then that we would go to places I didn’t want to go, didn’t plan to go, but God has nonetheless given me everything I need to go.  And that is HIMSELF.  “This is my command: be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

So here we are again at the top of another mountain, freshly reminded that it is God’s power alone that we can walk in, that we are weak but his grace is sufficient for his power is made perfect in weakness.

So deep breath.  The waiting is seemingly almost over.  Our house is under contract again.  If all goes as planned we will be closing in about 7 weeks.  Mike is working full time for the church plant which has made it possible for us to travel back and forth between the beach and Spartanburg, starting to build relationships and making new connections.  We’re looking for a house in Spartanburg. I am homeschooling Parker full time to further allow for this transition (which truly has been a blessing!). It’s certainly not the relaxing descent I envisioned. The hill is steep with lots of bumps, but the Lord our God is with us in this adventure.

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