Mistakes will happen. Accidentally, or on purpose, sometimes mistakes are unavoidable, but they are valuable experiences if we choose to learn from them.
You see, it is our choice to learn or not to learn, to pull something tangible from the wreckage of a choice gone wrong, to rescue any hope from a self-made or inescapable disaster.
Today, as I sit here typing away in the middle hours of the night, I am thinking about the paths we choose to walk. The lonely roads of self-doubt, self-denial and even self-destruction. The long and winding roads that twist and turn in our minds, that fork randomly, that lead to the “bridges” we either build, burn, or cross.
Lately, I am in the habit of building bridges. Building a way where I once thought there was no way, and crossing over to a life and land that I once thought wasn’t in the cards for me.
Walking peacefully over to a land of hope, freedom, and security. A place of safety, sobriety, stable mental health, and lasting commitments.
I have become a master architect of the most skillfully and beautifully constructed bridges your mind’s eye could ever look upon, and I often have to stop mid-journey, as I stroll through my own mind, walking down that road called Memory Lane. I stop just to admire my handiwork, and I’m proud of it. It’s taken a lot of time, a lot of help, and a lot of work to get here.
In fact, in order to learn the art of bridge making, I had to learn lessons from a skill I was unnaturally good at. The art of burning bridges.
I was absolutely a master craftsman when it came to the ability of setting a bridge on fire. A fantastic pyromaniac, in fits of pain, self-doubt, anger and alcohol, I torched quite a few beautifully constructed bridges. In fact, I burned most of those bridges so well that there was no way I was ever going back, and there was no way anybody was ever going to follow me to the other side.
At the time I thought that was what I wanted, but that’s exactly what bipolar disorder does to you. It has all of the control and you have none of it. Mix it with booze, and it destroys bridges that may have taken years to build, and it can destroy them in a matter of moments, even seconds. Riding a manic high can cause you to make a decision that has lifetime consequences, and you just watch the flames grow higher and hotter. And when you’re winding down? It’s sickening, heartbreaking, and it’s utter despair as you watch the flames die.
Imagine you’re peering over a cliff where once there was a golden bridge that led to a bright relationship with a loved one, or to a great job, or the perfect opportunity, and now all you can see, after the smoke and flames have cleared, is a gaping chasm of emptiness. Imagine that what you truly needed is still on the other side, but you can no longer reach it, and the inability to cross back over is your own doing. That my friend, is a sinking, grim, and indescribable feeling. It’s a feeling that makes you want to jump and plummet down into the pit of despair that your burned bridge once spanned so perfectly.
And sometimes, you do. You jump. And you fall… And fall, and fall, further into the emptiness. You fuel that emptiness with more alcohol, or other destructive habits, and you fuel it with bitterness and rage. You take it out on yourself, or the rest of the world, and you burn more bridges in the process. You burn so many bridges that it feels hopeless. It feels scary. And the scariest part? Sometimes, it even feels good. At least briefly, and it’s that brief pleasure that keeps you burning. Burning bridges, burning relationships, burning yourself. The fire is hot, and the burns hurt. They ache. They blister. They scar.
I have burned quite a few bridges, over the past years. Some of those bridges are irreparable, some are being repaired, and some have been rebuilt. The construction process of rebuilding has taken me years. Four years, two months, six days. Around 1,529 days or so, if you’re counting, which I am. Everyday is another step across a new bridge, a bridge of hope. One thousand, five hundred and twenty nine days ago was approximately about the time I woke up one morning, with a hangover, an almost completely destroyed bridge, absolute self-loathing, and a whispered prayer.
That morning I decided to put the bottle away permanently, and I dusted off my long neglected relationship with God. I quit drinking, and got into the repair business, and business was certainly good. There were a lot of repairs to do, a lot of work to get started on.
So, I built new. I repaired what I could. I constructed a few masterpieces. As with any skill, the longer I worked, the better I became.
I had to repair a lot. Relationships with loved ones, with the parents I hadn’t spoken to in eight years. Friends I avoided, because I was afraid of being judged. A love with my soulmate, a man I plan to grow old with, the man I love, my husband. These were the most delicate bridges of all. One wrong move, and I could have destroyed all of my hard work in a moment.
Fortunately, Jesus had my back, and the supplies I needed. He gave me courage, He gave me strength, and He held my hand as I tested new bridges when I felt unsure if they would even hold my weight. He steadied me as I crossed, and pointed out any weak spots along the way, so that we could fix those spots together. That’s another thing I’ve learned about bridges, they require regular maintenance and upkeep. There’s no use in building something if you’re just going to let it fall apart.
As I have carefully crafted new bridges, and worked on repairs, I put the fire back in my heart and burned a few more bridges. I set ablaze all the bridges I never wanted to cross again.
Alcohol Bridge? Burned it to the ground. Gambler’s Bridge? I torched that one too. The Bridge of Self-Destruction? That one was initially hard to set a match to, but it certainly was invigorating to watch it go down in flames. I watched, hypnotized by dancing fires as everything I needed to burn, burned away. In my mind, there was no going back, and those were the bridges I most needed to burn.
Now, with God, I forge ahead on newly constructed bridges, venturing out into the beauty that surrounds me. I pause often and admire the view, because these new bridges took so much strength, prayers and effort to construct.
Sometimes, I still reminisce about the bridges I am unable to rebuild. Lost friends. A job I absolutely loved that I walked out on. The last days of a loved one’s life that I spent drinking instead of with him (if we only knew how short our days were). I reflect on the pain of my past mistakes, and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am a new person, who has learned some very valuable lessons about mental health, alcoholism, and hasty decisions. I have learned to avoid any path that leads to those types of bridges.
Do you have bridges to burn? The ones that lead nowhere fast, that take you to a place you don’t want to be? If you do, I’ll be happy to hand you the match, and stand with you as we watch it burn away forever, because some bridges were just meant to be burned.
Do you need help building new bridges? The ones that take you somewhere worthwhile? Like healthy relationships? Wholesome mental health? To the destination God has had planned for you all along? Then get to building. I’m telling you, the Bible has some pretty amazing building plans tucked away inside of it, words just for you, just when you need them most. I promise you that God is listening. He’s waiting. He’s ready to get to building, with you, and for you.
Look at the beauty that surrounds you in this world, all created by Him. There is no bridge anywhere that is too hard for Him to complete. He will provide you the tools, the energy, and the imagination you need to build the bridge to your dreams and the most amazing bridge to your future. Whether you are 23, or 93, it makes no difference. So get to asking for help, and get to building. There is no better time to start than right here, right now.
I encourage you to burn all the bridges that lead to self-destruction, to light them up like the Fourth of July. Let them sizzle and spark, let them smolder away. Just let them go. Burn up all your bridges that lead to nowhere.
Now get to work building the bridges to somewhere new. To the land of possibilities, to a future, to hope. God has great plans for you, if you would cross the most important bridge that leads to Him. He’s been waiting on the other side for you, patiently, and lovingly. He’s been waiting to help you build something new, something great, you and Him, together. That’s a bridge that’s worth running across.
I pray tonight that you cross the right bridges, repair the broken bridges, and burn all the wrong bridges.
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For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord , “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.
Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be.
he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Will you keep to the old path that the wicked have trod?
The path of the righteous is level; you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth.
my heart grew hot within me. While I meditated, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: “Show me, Lord , my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.
but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”