Thanksgiving, 2008

In 2008, the Patriots went 18-1, my mother passed away, and I began recovery after hitting rock bottom in acting out, and again with a suicide attempt. On that incredible, miraculous eventful day, however, Jesus finally got through to me, and completely changed my life.

This is my journal entry for Thanksgiving 2008 [with a few minor punctuation edits, some comments in brackets, and some emphasis in italics]:

“Slept in – awake 8:30! 2008 what a year. I still miss my Mom. I’ve got a scar I can’t [see]. A memory that will never be forgotten. I’m 100x closer to my wife and trying to get that close to my children. I’m breaking forty-year-old habits. And making something happen. [My motto had always been “waiting for something to happen”.]

“A year of pain, terror, great love. And the biggest change (although, maybe not, because He has been with me all along – I just didn’t realize it): God and Jesus in my life. 2008.

“I feel amazed at how much I’ve been through this year – how many moments I don’t think I’ll forget. Awestruck like a child, but with a tinge of sadness for what has been lost and what still has to be lost – for what had to be necessary to bring me to this day. ‘It’s that in me which wants to run and hide’ (Nov 24 [see my previous post]). To change. To learn. To fix. To improve. And to take time to rest and reflect (like today) and to play, too. But to keep moving forward, no matter how painful – because there will be joy again.

“God, I’m so sad right now, writing this. The next few years will be emotionally the hardest for our generation, because the previous generation, their time done, will all be called home. My Mom was just the first. And the world will look to us.

“But let me not focus on sorrow.
‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.’ Psalm 30:5

“Joy. Joy to simply be here, able to write this today, able to write on this topic, given this year 2008. I am alive, and I have a reason to be alive. A reason to be thankful.

“I am blessed. Blessed to be who I am, a very interesting series of thoughts and experiences am I! Blessed with enough – despite the ‘hardships’ and extravagances of this decade. I sit here in warmth, with a pantry full, in a happy home – knowing that we will continue to move forward, having learned [the meaning of] ‘enough’. What a word! Blessed with family, unique each, full of potential, capable, and loving, (although, a challenge 🙂 ).

“I am blessed. I am awed at that. That Jesus – even the mere concept of Jesus – (who in this world would conceive of Jesus – it’s unlikely; it’s so unlikely so it must be true) – that Jesus would consider me bless-able. That is what – more than anything else – inspires me to want to fix, learn, improve, CHANGE.

“Change. The only unchanging thing in this existence. Change… chain-ge… Bound by it, we are. Consider a sports team [yes, I’m a lifelong Patriots fanatic]: the players change, come and go, but a well-managed team succeeds despite; the sum of its parts. For a brief time, so brief; so brief we are not even aware of it – aware that we are ‘there’, in a time of joy; a time when all seems well, fun, simple, complete, at peace, operating smoothly. But, change.

“Even in a family. Children grow, expand, become more each day. Even each of us, growing, learning, fixing, improving, changing. But, so often, we find a spot in time, and try to hunker down in it. I think I realize that now – the no time will ever last long – long enough – in this existence. That’s the concept of heaven: all those times of joy, lasting. I feel understanding about this. I’ve always been resisting of change, working to stay in those joyful times. Not accepting that need for opposites: no joy without sorrow. A thing has no meaning without its opposite – no distinction. So change in the pendulum’s swing between opposites, left/right, right/wrong.”

From ‘Rock Bottom’ (wow, that’s deep)

Entering recovery with blood on my hands was not my rock bottom. I had further down to go. Maybe that’s why “90 meetings in 90 days” is so strongly recommended – because I didn’t, and my literal attempt at immediate self-destruction came about three months after God had stomped the brakes on the behaviors that were slowly consuming me. Wow, that’s a deep depth to fall to.

Picture a bungy jump in slow, slow motion from way, way on high: decades of free fall – in “real-time” hurtling towards death, with the awakening coming at the cord’s first tug. But then there’s the stretching, the relapse and stinking-thinking dragging me even lower, until the abrupt jerk of the absolute limit of the lifeline. God didn’t let it break, and ever since, I’ve been on a rebound that hasn’t stopped climbing higher and higher.

Recovery is me “swimming” in air, trying to do something – anything to continue the change, the upward movement, that He began in that miraculous instant, when he restored, repaired, and healed the deepest, innermost broken part of me. My flailing equates to learning and prayer and journaling and serving and, above all, listening to Him speak His Word.

I recently began reading my journals from the very beginning: the day I got home from the “behavioral center”. (I had finally taken seriously my need to follow through on this very basic self-improvement habit.) The entry I read today: Wow, it’s deep!

“The urge to re-engage in that behavior still surfaces, but I look at it, seeing it for what it is: deception, immoral selfishness harming my entire family, as near to evil as I can come… my physical parts… are given [to] me as a gift, a means of connecting and sharing with just one, my soulmate, my partner for life…

“[Blame] that in me which desires to run and hide – hide in it
[which] desires not to change,
[not] to fix,
[not] to learn,
[not] to improve,
[not to grow],
[which desires] to keep a status quo,
because at least it is known and familiar,
even if it is lonely and painful.”
(11/24/08)

Instinctually, a being reacts with fight, flight, or freeze. I had been paralyzed, unable to do anything differently, primarily, I think, because of fear. Fear of pain. Fear of the pain of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of loss – the potential for loss. Fear of shame and guilt, despite their having become my very closest “friends”. Recovery is revving up to move differently, powered by an internal-combustion engine, with ignition by God’s healing touch. It’s driving past fear, though not always speedily, with my attention focused solely (soul-ly?) on the road ahead.

Men of Integrity is excerpting a great book this week, Dan Baumann’s A Fresh Look At Fear. Dan writes,

“… getting over fear isn’t the goal of our faith, but living to discover and know God is … As I began to switch my attention to simply knowing and enjoying God, I [became] overwhelmed by how good He is [instead of being overwhelmed by all my attempts to to get over fear]…
“… the peace and joy of the Lord… [is] what I actually wanted all along.”

John 14:15
If you love me, you will obey me.

In that moment of ultimate desperation – Rock Bottom – what happened is that I realized God’s love and mercy for me. Isn’t that deep?!

“… we long for tangible signs … but seeing God take care of me and rescue me … how merciful he was to me…
“As … follower[s] of Jesus, we are invited to discover his love again and again…”
Baumann

Picture Matthew 13:44: A man discovers treasure in a field, and goes to sells everything he has so he can buy that field. What am I willing to sell – to let go of – in order to be able to have it?

Father God, You speak in such simple ways that we often miss the message completely. We are so looking for overtures of majesty – Holy Majesty – an introduction to a coming sign with trumpet fanfare. But we walk right by because You work with subtlety. A whispered, nudging voice. An inflection or the wink of an eye, the nod of a head. If we’re not focused on you, we’re looking the other way at just the wrong time. Lord, slow my senses down enough to catch – to find the beauty, to realize the “the peace and joy of the Lord are what I’ve wanted all along.”

Peace and joy aren’t big, impressive showy feelings. They’re in the depths of me, first, producing calm, trusting serenity and contentment, truly understanding, knowing, and believing that You, O Lord, will always “take care of me and rescue me”, even when it will be by calling me home.

Bought For The Boughs

Here’s a visual for Lord of The Nerds fans: imagine you’re half-sized and perched on one of the countless boughs of an infinite Treebeard. You’re seeing the world from on high; so different a view it is! You feel the breeze on your face, ruffling your hair and rustling the green leaves. You cling tightly to your seat as it sways, back and forth, its owner taking great strides. You smell earthiness – creation. You notice close by, all your loved ones (equally proportioned), and just a bit further away are even more halflings sitting among the leafy branches. You hear all their voices as a buzzing chorus or, if you focus, individually. Over all is the soft, rumbly voice of the great Ent, Himself, and you all converse, with you saying brave things like, “The closer we are to danger, the farther we are from harm;” and “Take us south.”

This is the picture this morning’s Tw/G (time with God) has conjured for me. God is like a universal tree, and we are tiny beings raised to sit among His limbs, talking merrily with fellow believers, and praying that He listen to our requests to head toward the battle in the hopes of rescuing even more Hobbits and friends. There are two important messages growing from this imagery.

One is the price of the ticket to this ride. It’s been paid for, in full, by the mighty Vine. All we need do is raise our arms, like a toddler asking to be picked up. We are bought for the boughs.

The other is that any who wish for the light are welcome, and are equally positioned, blessed to be cargo in this canopy. And all are equally concerned with the fate of those still aground. We are trying to

…count others more significant than yourselves…
Philippians 2:3

“Getting humble is recognizing all people as the careful works of God, equally worthy of love and sacrifice.”
WiRE devotional “Gotta Get Humble”

“It’s still all about me – I’m not being able to ‘focus’ on helping others – too much… ‘work’ and ‘business’…”
My journal, 2008

Is humility an intentional thing? Certainly! At least, at first it is. It can be a learned behavior, practiced until it becomes habit, done without a second thought.

“Humility is NOT thinking less of oneself, but thinking of oneself less [often].”
Cliche

WiRE suggests these things to do:

  • Initiate a conversation and listen more than I talk
  • Serve in a way that’s mundane or difficult, (even unpleasant)
  • Help anonymously
  • Give someone the credit they deserve, even if I deserve some, too

I have seen people consciously do these things for me, and it encourages me to try and not be the one just being heard, or being served, or given the credit. “I know I still make mistakes,” (name that song), and I make them when I am still the focus of my own thinking. And I pray, asking God to ‘Take me south.’

The Last Christian Couple

After a pure engagement of some length (which followed a growing friendship of several years), having already established sober and honest, hard-working yet service-based habits of living, they were wed. They had just arrived at the honeymoon suite – when Jesus returned.

There were absolutely no regrets.

2 Peter 3:3-4 ERV
It is important for you to understand what will happen in the last days. People will laugh at you. They will live following the evil they want to do. They will say, “Jesus promised to come again. Where is he? Our fathers have died, but the world continues the way it has been since it was made.

My niece got married yesterday. It was a very simple, practical yet beautiful Christian ceremony and reception (with an LotR theme), held at the same hall. All who attended had a great time, without any alcohol, celebrating the two becoming one. I suppose these days it would be considered an “old fashioned” courtship. Relationships like theirs just don’t happen that often anymore.

Both the bride and the groom are firm in their faith, and I say it was a “pure” engagement because their character convinces me so. I believe they “did it by The Book.” As a prodigal, eight years returned home, I can respect that. I’m even a little envious of the commitment they have already displayed by the years leading up to the wedding. I wish for such righteous stubbornness.

The Lord is not being slow in doing what He promised, the way some most people understand slowness. But God is being patient with you. He doesn’t want anyone to be lost. He wants everyone to change their ways and stop sinning.
2 Peter 3:9

Let me be clear in saying that I do not regret my path. I would not be happily writing this post if I had traveled by any other route. I like to think I’ve earned the joy and peace that I have in my current circumstances, but I know they are a gift from my loving Father, as are my beautiful wife and wonderful children (and grandchild). Despite all I have been through, I would not trade my journey to receiving any of them away. But neither would I wish my road on anyone – only now, finally, are there things I won’t do again.

Actually, I would warn the happy couple of quite the opposite of my experience. The greatest danger I perceive for them is the Elder Brother’s … the pride of having “stayed the course.” Remember, the strength that has kept you on “the straight and narrow” has its source in your trust in God. Humbly, “It was a gift. Keep it.” (I had to get a quote from the movie in.)

The verses I highlighted in your Bible are:

1 Corinthians 10:13 (memorized early in my healing)
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

You’ve already got this one down, whether you realize it or not. Simple being true to your values through your wedding date is proof of that. This world offers many shiny things to distract you from your beliefs.

Psalm 13:5-6
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
will (still) sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Know that you will fail sometimes. You will feel like God has abandoned you. I pray that these times will be few, but they are the way of this broken world. Hang on to this whole Psalm, which has taken me from anger and despair back to His loving, comforting embrace many, many times.

Being Christian is understanding that we will have absolutely nothing to regret on that day – even the ‘good’ things we might have missed. We are in this world only temporarily. Yes, there are things to consummate here, and we can enjoy our successes and learn from our trials, but, in the end, we are bound for something better. A renewed Eden, where only good is.

I Welcome His Welcome

Is it my choice or His? The American Dream of Self-Sufficiency prompts me to take credit, and that might be somewhat true of life after, of the way I have ‘been’ since salvation struck me. But, self-evaluation confirms Biblical Truth: He gave first. He loved first. He sacrificed first. I was simply incapable of making the first move. Maybe that’s what really changes in those Jesus saves: the ability to choose the completely unselfish action.

I would really have to sit down and think about whether, in my past, I ever did anything of no perceived benefit to myself. I know some say that is the only human motivation – we do a thing because we get at the least a good feeling from it. But I look at the cross hanging on my wall, and really doubt that. Nothing could have been pleasant about that; even a masochist like me would not want to feel that pain.

No, I did not ‘seek’ Him – I desperately sought something to save me from myself, but I knew not what. Nor, at that moment, did I care. I had descended to a place of paralyzing despair, all thought and action unfruitful, even quitting had been unproductive. I slumped, weighted and spiralling downward by crushing waves of … just absolute readiness to cease, but complete inability to do anything. I imagine I could have sat there until I perished, but, instead, Jesus leaned down from that cross, lifted me up, and touched my very heart, wiping it clean, and sparking new life – a new desire for life – in me. So, I know that I am not my own. And, no matter how strong the temptations or doubts, I am never free of that awareness.

It’s this new sense of ‘never being free’ of Him that I write about. When it’s phrased like that, it sounds like a bad thing. A thing to dread. Sometimes, reminiscing about my past ‘fun-centered’ existing, I can tend towards resentment – until I remember where living that life left me: literally hanging. The desires I pursued then were unfulfillable. I know that now. But Christ overflows, full of blessing now and nothing but promise (of all good stuff) to come.

Is it just an appreciation for the sacrifice someone else has made for me? Certainly, becoming a parent gave me an understanding of my parents and their sacrifices for us kids. Or the 12 straight hours the heart surgeon gave. Or the full measure of some. But there’s something more about Jesus. To the death, yes. For all of us, incredibly. To accept the punishment for the entirety of evil, amazing!

Periodically, someone posts a “Would/could you do this for that” meme: stay in a derelict and remote cabin with all the necessities but no electricity or internet for a month for $100,000. A posh house but no blogging or football for a year for $1,000,000. These pale in comparison to what Jesus took on. Dying in agony, convicted and despised, suffering divine wrath, to save everyone else? Would I be willing to even try?

Today, I got up to try my little bit. I understand now how my Heavenly Father’s ever-open arms were always waiting for my return. They are a constant welcome relief. I welcome His welcome. And I am changed.

It’s “Step One” For Good Reason

We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.

Romans 7:18 AMP
For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh [my human nature, my worldliness – my sinful capacity]. For the willingness [to do good] is present in me, but the doing of good is not.

The first of the Twelve Steps is, bluntly, all about admitting my inability to control myself. The Bible teaches that this is because something is missing. Some special element is not yet in me, and without this very important piece, I am powerless to choose any other way but my selfish way. It’s as if I remain a child; immature, foot-stomping, breath-holding, and stubborn. I want what I want when I want it – whatever “it” happens to be in any given moment.

One of the true indications of maturity is displaying the understanding of delayed gratification: deciding against the single treat now, in favor of the double-treat later. I don’t see a lot of this in the world today; should I be surprised when it is missing in my own life? This is wisdom that should be gained simply by aging, but it escaped me, particularly in regard to a few specific “treats”.

I found a liking for them a long time ago. At first, they just felt good, pleasantly satisfying me either physically or emotionally (or both). But gradually, oh so gradually, these things began to have a hold on me by coming up short, leaving me wanting more of them, sooner. I had to have them, even when it became clear that my best interests were not being served, and that I was literally being harmed. What’s worse, those around me were being negatively affected, too. The “good feeling” slowly faded into a mirage, not reality. My desires were unfulfillable. But by then, I simply could not do anything differently, no matter how much I wanted to.  I “couldn’t help myself” with my addictions and compulsive behaviors. But I was finally ready for Step One. It took me a long time to get there.

I remember reading about the “cycle” of change: how it starts with complete denial that there’s a problem, with a slow “dawning” that something about me, not the world could be improved, followed eventually by the desperate willingness to actually try something different, even though it was terrifying. Then there are many, many failed attempts, no matter how determined the starting motivation would be. Even a near-death experience was not enough. Because something was missing.

 

But, at that point, I became ready for Step Two, the epiphany of meeting something – someone – greater.

To be continued…

 

A Plea

1 Peter 4:10
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others,
as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

Come and hear, all you who fear God. Let me tell you what He has done for me.
Psalm 66:16

There is no question in my mind that I have been given Grace beyond Grace. Everyone of us is at some point in a one-and-only life, and, as believers, we are called to share that story to give others hope. For some, their immediate circle of friends and family is enough of an audience. I feel called to relate my journey to a much larger group.

Perhaps this is because I’ve been more the prodigal than the elder son, rebelling and revelling – and learning the hard way. Always the hard way! But these lessons are the gift with which I serve you.

I sincerely thank all of you who have ‘liked’ my writing on WordPress or Facebook, and I ask you to become a patron by adding your name to this blog’s email list. It’s easy enough, just click on the “Follow” button on the SharingGodsStory.net page, or comment to let me know that it’s ok to add your email address.

I’m looking forward to continuing telling my tale “to give a little hope to you.”