This Is Not Your Father’s “Adulting”

This Is Not Your Father’s “Adulting”

This is a post about tradition, and the benefits of … if not heeding it, then at the least taking it into all account.

64034B60-A4E5-43A8-A338-8F509E98A266-5198-000005BEE76EB9DAI love acronyms. I use them all the time to help me remember stuff. I’ve heard one for the Bible: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. This is very, very true about that particular book. Trust me on this, as someone who has done life the hardest way – completely on my own and by listening to those who were in the same situation as me: just starting out (aka my friends). But there is something – quite a lot, actually – to be learned from those who have gone before (aka my elders). They got that way by picking up a thing or two. Listen to them.

Now, I’ll keep this general (iow non-faith specific) by stating that in every corner of the world mankind has collected the “wisdom of its ages” into one place, freely available to all. Unfortunately, the primary audience – those who would benefit the most – are the ones most likely to ignore. The question for every culture has always been how to convince the young to trust and adhere to this knowledge. For a long time, describing it as “sacred” was the best answer. But today we live and grow up in a post-spiritual world. The unseen has become unheard.

terrifiedFor youth is ever rebellious, thinking it knows better, wanting its own way, so sure it knows all the “whys” and “hows”. Wisdom, however, comes only with age. (There are a couple of apt sayings: ‘Youth is wasted on the young.” “Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.”) Youth does not seek to understand the “whys” embedded in traditions but instead steamrolls right over them.

Quite simply, life’s goal(s) have never changed. We each want to live, love, and prosper. What changes are the tools (the technology, the “hows”) available to us. Life is like a game and not like a game, at the same time. It’s not a game because it’s deadly serious. We get one chance to go through it.  We don’t get to go back to “go” and collect $200 on the way. It’s like a game because it does have “rules” and we do get a “do-over” of sorts each morning. The challenge is that when we start out, we have no idea what the rules are, and we must take that do-over together with whatever foundation we’ve already built. (What’s the best way to get out of a hole? First, stop digging.)

How is one supposed to discover life’s rules? Quite simply, from those who have been in the game for some time already. From tradition, from others, from examples good and bad. And after these sources, from one’s own experiences and growing wisdom.

img_3295We have parents and/or family, those with whom we “belong” in a direct way. We have community, our “village” of those to whom we’re not directly related but who do have good intentions and common values. (“It takes a village to raise a child.”) The church used to be that community. It’s lessening influence (and the world’s attempts to “kill” the Creator), has had a sad effect on society. (But I don’t want to get into all that right now.)

It’s also true that one can follow good ways yet still not “get it,” like the prodigal’s older brother. It’s not better to be entirely prodigal or entirely older brother, but to have a cautious little of both, and to never stop being open to understanding the theory of a thing before putting into practice. It’s better to hear the prodigal story (both sons’ parts) in the first place.

Here’s one of those “there are only two of kinds of people” declarations for you: those who start with/from blind faith (aka trust) and live to see it verified, and those who question everything only to arrive right back where they began because they’ve experienced exactly what they refused to accept. (Funny, though, I’m proud to be one of the latter. I wouldn’t be who I am without having made the journey that way. But sometimes, I wonder if I would’ve been happier believing it the first time.)

The one takeaway for today’s post: Proverbs 1:2-7. Wisdom. Respect for tradition – the way things have been done. Curiosity about why things have been done that way. Willingness to trust those who have gone before to know – maybe not always what to do but certainly what not to do.

And here are some very, very good songs that express some of these ideas.

Dear Younger Me by MercyMe (YouTube). Buy it here (from my affiliate link).

Listen by Josh Wilson. Buy it here.

“All I have to do is Act Naturally” NOT

“All I have to do is Act Naturally” NOT

“Acting Naturally” for me is, unfortunately, completely contrary to being God’s man. What to do? What to do? Well, “to do” is the key…

“Doing” for me is not – or is no longer – something that comes naturally. I like to sit, to think, to write, to watch, to rest in the sun (like our grown-old dog, Poochie – that’s him above, going for a walk). Featured Image -- 14820I’ve written before about my struggles with following up planning with doing. This morning, I’m contemplating this in a new way. (See? Just pondering…) But I’d like to think that writing this post is, in fact, completing a process. (After all, “to be” a writer is my goal – it is what I want “to be doing.”)

Certainly, I can speculate about why I tend toward inactivity. For most of 2015-2016, I was hospitalized or in physical rehabilitation from severe health conditions. kid-leashI can see, too, a family history, perhaps because my parents grew up during the depression and their parents’ way of not spending was just not doing. (I do have to point out, however, that this led to frequently getting together with extended family, which is and has been a good thing.) Then, there are those stories about me being tied to a tree or kept on one of those kid-leashes. (I shudder at the thought – what could more effectively Pavlovianly limit a person’s desire to go and do?)

The virtue that I think defines the follow-through I’m missing is diligence. So, to start this morning’s topic, I searched BibleGateway.com for it in the AMP translation. The first hit was

Proverbs 4:23
Watch over your heart with all diligence,
for from it flow the springs of life.

At first glance, this didn’t seem of help to me in becoming active. On further thought, though, this watching over my heart is an action at the root of my issue. To me, it infers not closing my eyes to God’s standard, which is not my own, which takes a big effort to follow. (My major addiction, sex, is a perfect example. Keeping to God’s standard for human sexuality continues to be a huge unnatural thing for me, but that’s another post.)

Further down the list of search returns were these verses:

IMG_3765Psalm 119:4
You have ordained your precepts,
That we should follow them
With [careful] diligence.

Proverbs 12:27
The lazy man does not catch and roast his prey,
But the precious possession of a [wise] man is diligence,
[Because he recognizes opportunities and seizes them.]

Now, these get to the heart of the matter! My preference is for the lazy river, but life and growth happen more consistently in the rapids. The noun, precept, is defined as “a general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought.” It derives from the Latin words prae + capere, “before” and “take,” which were combined to form praecipere, meaning “warn, instruct.” If there is anything that should alert us addicts especially, it is a “warning.” (The trouble I find is that I always want to know “why?” and then I feel obligated to put it to the test, guaranteeing my learning it the hard way.)

This is one of those “easier said than done” things, summed up nicely in Ephesians 5:15-17:

 

IMG_3763
me, about to mow for the first time in years!

Therefore see that you walk carefully [living with honor, purpose, and courage, shunning those who tolerate and enable evil], not as the unwise, but as wise [sensible, intelligent, discerning people],
Making the very most of your time [on earth, recognizing and taking advantage of each opportunity and using it with wisdom and diligence], because the days are [filled with] evil.
Therefore, do not be foolish or thoughtless, but understand and firmly grasp what the will of the Lord is (ME: and not your own will). 

Walking carefully and grasping firmly are both very conscious actions. In them, we are advised to be more than normally aware, to check and recheck ourselves, to not be habitual and thoughtless, to not forget because my mind is wandering. (This may be what is meant by “staying in the moment?”)

effortThere’s a fear here: to always be choosing, deciding? Every second of every minute of every hour of every day?! Not only does it sound impossible to do, the very attempt sounds absolutely exhausting. “No rest for the weary?” What a burden it seems!

So I searched on “peace rest.” The answer that was given is the whole point to faith and belief in Christ:

Come to me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation].
Matthew 11:28

Life in this world is not easy. It was never meant to be easy or thoughtless. As a follower of Christ, I am constantly tempted by the world’s “easy way,” and, when the effort of following becomes too much, Christ is my refuge. By focusing on him and not on the weight of the world, I can “do this.”

img_3337IMG_3741
First, we walk, then we run. Then we soar on wings like eagles.

Here’s a great song that expresses my feelings today. It’s Worn by Tenth Avenue North.
Buy the digital download here..

Coming To Life On Easter, The Epitome Of Second Chances

Coming To Life On Easter, The Epitome Of Second Chances

When I was a lad, my favorite holiday was Thanksgiving because it seemed, of all the celebrated days, to have the only practical (and understandable, to my child’s mind) explanation. It was The Day to eat and be grateful for it.

If I recall, the Fourth of July was my second-favorite day, because it, too, was in remembrance of some tangible thing, our country’s hard-won independence, and because it featured the very visible baseball games and hot dogs and fireworks. And, since I was a sweets-loving kid (as much as Mom and Dad permitted), I suppose Halloween would’ve been a runner up (for the candy), along with Christmas (only for the presents).

For a long, long time, Easter had little meaning for me. It was just some made-up (but yes, anticipated) rite of Spring. Oh, how that now has changed! This morning, I had, for the first time (I’m pretty sure), a quiet revelation about it.

April 16, 2008 (or it might have been the 14th) was the day I entered into recovery and was exposed to the healing and transformational power of God, and his plan of salvation. To put it more accurately, I should say that it was the day I began to understand Good Friday; Christ on The Cross, paying the penalty for all my sin(s). And for nine years, I’ve thought and dwelt obsessively only on that part of God’s New Deal. (And in effect, only on what I dared to presume to have unforgivably done to nail Christ there.)

This Easter morning, during my quiet time and at a sunrise service, I reconsidered this day and its real significance. The Work of Christ was not in just taking the punishment for all that’s wrong in the world, but in the equally important act of rising again. The Resurrection, the epitome of second chances.

Because, really, the one without the other is a half-finished job. It’s incomplete (and dare I say, almost meaningless – in a way) to have sin just taken away without the rebirth of new life. Good Friday without Easter is like the night without the following dawn.

The lesson is important on this Easter day, 2017, because it symbolizes a return of me. Dear Reader, you may have noticed that I’ve been absent on Sharing God’s Story. This is due to my being… out, of sorts. My thinking this morning revealed to me that the old doubt and disbelief had been creeping back into my mind and soul, taking my body along with it, exactly like feasting on Good Friday without drinking in The Third Day and living again. I had lost The Light, the passion of belief from my early days of faith. I had lost sight of God; my eyes focused, instead (and again), lustfully on this world.

I pray that this figurative resurrection, one of an uncountable number of second chances, this time will continue. I have, at least, continued journaling, and have a backlog of topics to blog about. Please rejoin me in Sharing God’s Story In My One Small, Salvaged Life.

“Never Again?” No, Just “Not Right Now”

“Never Again?” No, Just “Not Right Now”

OPIA – plural of “opium (countable and uncountable, plural opiums or opia)”

I Obsess. I Procrastinate. I Isolate. I Avoid. These are the traits of my ‘drug’, my escape, my addictive trend. Today, I live “in recovery” from these things (as opposed to specific actions or substances). I’m being healed and transformed. It’s a long, rough road. Sometimes the “destination,” a life full of sobriety, seems very, very far away. No wonder, when I look at it that way.

I sit here in the midst of my life, and seek a “life full.” Do you see? The only time I will know that my life has been full (of anything) is at the end of it. Knowing that I need to stay sober for it all, I then think to myself when I’m tempted, “Never again.” How utterly dismal that seems. Many of my problem areas are life’s pleasures!

For someone who so easily becomes obsessed with anything – especially if it helps avoid any kind of pain or discomfort, “never again” is insurmountable, impossible. I know I won’t be able to accomplish it, so why not just let it go now?

I needed a way to shrink my goal down to a manageable size. How do you eat an elephant?
I determined it could be done with a change of this point of view. I welcomed the limit of “not right now.” This is a period of time I can handle.

Take this morning, for example. I lingered over a problem behavior, flirting with danger. I was in despair, in a “never again” mood, and was dejected about my chances of success, so I let the ‘nostalgia’ of old times play. I yearned for it, distracted from the reasons – the things I know I’m capable of – the things I want to stay away from, the things that are milestones on that downward-spiraling path. I confess, it was a close call.

I was saved by another recent change to my point of view. The old definition of ‘sober’ included “force”. I was ‘keeping myself from’ these things I really enjoyed. Who wouldn’t resist such efforts? Nowadays, I have turned it around; I now voluntarily give up an opportunity to experience a gratification – as an offering, a living sacrifice of a bodily indulgence – to keep myself whole, holy, and pleasing to God.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.
Romans 12:1

This has made a huge difference. Even though temptations occur predictably, I have maintained my purity. But, as the above example demonstrates, “never again” can still dig me into a hole. I’ve also been praying daily for protection from thoughts, memories, fantasies, visions, and dreams of by-gone bad habits. “Right now” it is working.

To summarize, two point-of-view changes to help “stay clean” are:

  • rather than thinking that I’ll “never again” be allowed to do a thing I enjoy, I am ‘sort of’ doing it – just “not right now”
  • rather than thinking that I must ‘force’ myself to be sober, I gladly offer the opportunity to do a thing as a sacrifice to my God
  • Bonus: pray specifically for protection from the things that give temptations free reign

Why Do I Fear NOT Turning Back?

Why Do I Fear NOT Turning Back?

My Dear Readers,

I’m in need of encouragement. Today, something may happen that will have an immeasurable psychological impact on my comfort level. I “say” I am a writer and blogger as a means of earning my way; it may come to a point where I have no other choice. Or chance.

Thorin: “You’re afraid.”
Balin: “Yes! Yes, I fear for YOU…”
– The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug

You see, my self is ever mired in James 1:8 (a double-minded man). I desire, and believe (help my unbelief!) that God has called me – and literally paved the way – to a life of service to others via Sharing His Story in my life. But I do love my padded golden cage, and this makes me consistently irresolute. Shamefully, I don’t/can’t/won’t fully trust Him.

“When he reached the New World, Cortez burned his ships.
As a result his men were well motivated.”
Remius, The Hunt For Red October

Quite often, I lack motivation to pursue this vision intensely. I’m pretty laid back in mood and effort – perhaps even lackadaisical? It is, so to speak, the way I am. I avoid all or nothing scenarios. (Yet I believe that is the way Christians are led to live. Be Living Believing.)

And these past few years of recovering (on disability) from severe health issues (with a few more years to go before I am transplanted back into the “real” world) have been made safe by not one, but two, fallbacks. (If I fail to earn a living as a writer/blogger/speaker, I have job – to me, a four-letter word – leads.) But suddenly, Plans B and C are in jeopardy, before Plan A has really gotten started.

“Follow your bliss.”
“Where you stumble, there your treasure lies.”
– Joseph Campbell

I’m certain you all will understand my fear of not turning back. Dare I risk the certain discomfort and stress of risking all? Of forcing myself into a life of making my bliss a “should/have to do” instead of “enjoy/want/like to do”? Of committing to this one thing? (How long can one keep all options open?)

The thing is, my life IS a story of repeated miraculous provision – those just-in-(God’s)-time rescues. The evidence throughout my past is refutable. We’ve never not had our basic needs abundantly filled. I have every reason to

Trust in the Lord with all [my] heart and lean not on [my] own understanding;
– Proverbs 3:5-6

He has made my paths straight (although kind of like a stock market uptrend), yet I still resist submitting 100% to him.

It pays to take life seriously;
things work out when you trust in God.
– Proverbs 16:20

Dear Followers, you have read some of my “work” (it hasn’t felt like toil). I need assurance that it “sells”. Is it worthy? Please comment. Can you make me sure?

The only bad decision is no decision, because it leads to inaction.”
– Jonathan Fields

The featured image is our senior kitty, Squeaks, who came to interrupt my writing this post. Kind of just like the doubt and fear that hampers me figuratively.

Step 4: A Searching, Fearless, and Open-Minded Self-Examination

I am a grateful believer in the redeeming power of Jesus Christ, who is transforming me from sexual brokenness, alcohol and substance dependence, some severe health issues in the last few years, and, currently, from an obsession with idleness. My name is Marshall.

Have you ever heard of the 1-2-3-shuffle? This is when people who know they have hurts, habits, and hang-ups (aka addictions, unhealthy obsessions, and compulsively-bad behaviors) undertake the 12-Steps of recovery, who diligently work their way through the first 3 steps, but who then stall out at the 4th, The ‘Moral’ Inventory. They may repeat this pattern several times before the pain of staying the same is finally greater than the pain of change.

I should say, “before the fear of the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the fear of the pain of changing.” For it is fear that makes this part of the process so difficult:

  • fear of the real written-down-in-black-and-white words;
  • fear of emotionally-revisited-pain and the hard work of “going there,” to the places in our hearts and minds we’ve walled off;
  • fear of what we think we will find there.

But I tell you, it is more correct to say ‘what we might find.’ Because it is possible to be pleasantly surprised by what is revealed; by good days that had been hidden away and forgotten in the dark corners of our memories, overlooked because they were inconsistent with the negative self-image we held before beginning recovery. I can say this from personal experience ,especially of the first time I made it through the inventory. And, now, every time I do my daily review.

The Inventory is perhaps the most important – yet the most difficult – part of the early stages in a recovery journey. If not approached inclusively, with the right attitude and for the right reasons, it could easily do further harm, instead of healing.

I think this can be attributed to the wording of the step. Let’s take a look:

We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
The Christ-based 12-Steps  #4

Openly examine and confess our faults to ourselves, to God, and to some one we trust.
Celebrate Recovery Principle 4

“Moral” is a word that these days has a negative aspect; it kind of defaults to the meaning that actually belongs to the word “immoral.” And the phrase “confessing our faults,” used without any other qualifier implies that failures are the only type of character trait we have – that we have only flaws to examine. But the actual definition of “moral” concerns both the right and the wrong, the good and the bad. I’ve found it helpful to think of the inventory as an “open-minded-self examination,” allowing me to “identify and confess my true faults” and “to be absolved (and self-absolved) of the guilt and shame I carry that does not belong to me. I can then focus on the healing and forgiveness of what I truly am responsible for.”

Bringing my virtues back to my attention is key to making my turn back to God; key to seeing myself as He does. Have I sinned and made mistakes? Yes, “all have sinned…” (1 John 1:8). But I am not evil through and through. I’m just “human.” There is good in me. Accepting this – by documenting its evidence – is extremely important to my transformation to a child of God.

Let’s consider the Bible verses usually matched up with The Inventory – Step 4, with the expanded meaning I include:

Matthew 5:5
Happy are the pure in heart. [Confession is psychology good for the soul and the body. “We often feel different as soon as we admit our feelings.”]

Lamentations 3:40
Let us examine [all] our ways, [all our behaviors and attitudes], and test them
[against what has recently been revealed to us as “moral”],
and let us [re]turn to the Lord. [Let us turn our flaws over to the Lord, so that we may turn from them and back to Him.]

I like Jeremiah 33:3 and 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to summarize the effect I found in doing the inventory with this in mind:

Call to me and I will answer you, and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not [currently] know [or remember].

But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.

Doing the inventory is basically like taking a very extensive trip down memory lane, especially of early life, because that’s where the roots of hurts, hang-ups, and habits are found. I visit every memory, good and bad. Humans remember significant events from childhood because they had a significant impact on us. The first time I went through a 12-step program was in Colorado with Final Freedom – which was specifically for men suffering from sexual-brokenness.  I specifically looked at each phase of life separately:

  • early, early years
  • elementary school years
  • adolescence/puberty
  • young adulthood
  • later years

Again, I stress the need for BALANCE! My impression of myself before beginning recovery was overwhelmingly negative. I viewed myself as almost completely sinful and unsalvageable. But, in doing my inventory, I was careful to be completely open (open-minded) to the good and the bad, and I put extra thought into being honest about my part in each incident. I literally color-coded events: red for bad, green for good, yellow for neutral. In the end, there was far more green than I expected!

Can you imagine how I felt when I realized there was more good than bad about me?! Talk about a self-attitude change! Some of my cherished memories from when I was very young include

  • sitting on the floor of my Gramma Bunny’s kitchen, drumming on those Quaker Oats cylindrical cartons
  • Nana Benny’s scrambled eggs (my other grandmother), and going to a Red Sox game with my Grampa Tom, sitting right near the field, and the team winning something like 15 – 1.

(Note that those memories are with my grandparents. I’ll come back to that in a minute.)

I want to talk further about those earliest recollections. John Eldredge in Wild at Heart writes about how boys receive “The Wound” from their fathers. I’m not knocking dads. These incidents can be very unintentional, and they can be from any person in a position of trust.

Here’s a couple more young memories:

  • my dad bought a new handle and lock for the front door. I was “helping” him install it, and played with it, putting the key in and turning it, etc. He blew up in rage at me – something about my breaking the lock
  • once, in elementary school, I stayed after – as I remember it, it wasn’t for anything bad, but my mom (my parents were both teachers in our town), exploded in anger, and I got the only pants down, bare butt whooping I recall ever having.

These are examples of a caregiver over-reacting to a child’s child-like actions. My dad was not a handyman, so much so that installing a door lock was a stressful thing. I can relate because I’m not a handyman either. (Just recently, my wife and I changed the kitchen faucet together – and she did most the physical activity. I supervised.) And my mom, who knew many of my teachers from having worked with them, was image-conscious – as if it reflected poorly on her that her kid had stayed after school.

(Note that these memories involve parents. I’ll get back to this, too, in a minute.)

To summarize, there can be times when the unintentional, unthinking re-actions of a caregiver can have a huge and lasting impact on a child. The caregiver is simply unaware that their own issues are dictating their uncontrolled responses and being transferred onto the child.

Of course, unfortunately, there are also hurts that are inflicted quite on purpose. I put sexual abuse in this category. Any kind of family generational dysfunction is similar. There are subjects that are taboo – but kids can pick up on things that are not to be spoken of, and these things beckon to them. They are intriguing mysteries just begging to be explored.  In my family – even in the extended family, we never talked about sex or alcohol. I  believe much of my struggle could have been prevented if early on these subjects were taught and discussed.

Regardless, these wounds are collected by children like stones in a back-pack – which becomes the burden they will try to bear as they grow. They will be weighed down, and naturally seek ways to cope.

I want to talk about parents and grand-parents now. I am both, with a 13-month-old grandson, Wee B – we call him that because he has the same initials as his dad. My wife Barb and I are privileged to spend most of most weekends with him. So, I’m qualified to make a comparison. Grandparents, by far, get the best part of this deal. I experience the true joy in seeing this child growing up.  He’s a happy toddler – we rarely see him fussy or screaming. Parents, on the other hand, get all the bad parts of child-rearing. They get the sickness and the tantrums. When they’re working full-time, and sometimes sleeping very little, I think it can be somewhat understandable when they over-react to the inconvenient results of a child’s actions – like the proverbial spilled glass of milk. Parents are human, too.

OK, so here we are, at a pivotal point in our development. We have begun to see that some things don’t add up. Our parents (or caregivers) – the ones from whom we’ve experienced unconditional love – have just done something that doesn’t fit the pattern. And we wonder why. No one talks about what happened. But there has to be blame, and somehow we get it into our head that it is our fault.

Let’s speculate for a minute. Let me ask you why I might not find interest in handyman projects? Maybe it’s the negative association coming from that memory with my dad. In my understanding, I had been the cause; almost as if he were justified in getting angry with me. Maybe this thought grew (along with other impactful incidents  and I stress this: it’s not just a single memory) and I got to stretching the truth about my own value. Somehow, I got to seeing myself as inherently unlovable, undeserving of love, and more likely to mess up than succeed. My self-esteem suffered. I began to punish and self-sabotage myself. I felt comfortable with friends like me, friends who were also in low places. I became comfortable there, and my fear of the unknown was fear of success – because I didn’t realize I’d ever had any successes.

Can you see the importance of an open-minded, true appraisal of my part in “The Front Door” incident?

Matchbox Twenty has a song entitled “Back To Good.” This is essentially what recovery is.

You must turn from your sins and become like little children.
Matthew 18:3

I look at my happy grandson. He’s happy and fearless. He’s learning stairs now; up and down, up and down, with one of us behind him. He’s got more energy than I do. He has this complete trust, this sense of security, this joy and eagerness for new things,and he loves back without worry, lifting his arms to us to be picked up. This is the way we were all meant to be. This is the way God made us for relationship with him. He wants to see us the way I see my grandson.

God didn’t give us a cowardly spirit but a spirit of power, love, and good judgement.
2 Timothy 1:7 GW

That good judgement is what we need to apply in doing our inventory step.