I Am A Failure At Life

I am a failure at life.

I never taught my kids to ride a bike. One child figured it out on their own. But then the tires went flat and needed to be replaced and I never made it to Walmart to buy the new inner tubes. Well, I made it Walmart. I just never bought the replacements. There are currently two bikes in our shed. Both in need of repair. Two children don’t even know how to ride them.

And it isn’t just the bikes. There are so many ways I have failed my children. So many opportunities they have not had. So many times I procrastinated something away. So many missed chances to have a family fun night.

It has even been so bad that my daughter felt a B was a failing grade. I never told her this. In fact, I was encouraging of the hard work she put in. But she watched me while I went through grad school. She has heard me criticize my work and efforts over and over. Based on her observation of me, she has learned that anything short of perfection is failure.

I have failed my wife again and again and again. The lying, betrayal, deception, silence, and who knows what else have popped up more times than I care to admit. She has forgiven me many times. I do not know where she gets the strength. I often think how much better she deserves.

There are times I lie awake at night feeling miserable. I start thinking about the things I have not done; all the opportunities missed; all the time wasted.

And I cannot shut up the thoughts that continue swirling.

_________________________

That’s why I drank.

I couldn’t deal with failure. If I wasn’t perfect at everything, it was not good enough. I beat myself up constantly with statements like, “How could you do so poorly?” “Why can’t you get this?” “What is wrong with you?”

I couldn’t deal with conflict. If someone disagreed with me, I would shrink into my shell trying to figure out what it was I was doing wrong to make someone not love me.

As a preacher, people leaving the church HAD to be my fault. If I would just preach better, teach better, visit more, answer more questions, solve more problems, then people would definitely stay and bring more people with them.

At least in addiction, I could pass out. Now, when I feel this way, I am just miserable.

_________________________

It is not only addicts who feel this way.

This coming weekend, my Dad will attend a church of about 20 members. My brothers will attend churches of a couple hundred. One of my friends will attend a house church with 10. I will attend church of 2000.

All of us have this in common: there will be people present who feel as if they are failures.

And they will probably be hiding it. Hiding it behind their Sunday best, their piety, their photo-ready family who is all smiling so pretty. They will be hiding it by talking about anything and everything other than their discouragement.

Or they may not be hiding it all. They may arrive with disheveled clothing and eyes puffy from crying. They may be wearing their emotions on their sleeves.

(Unfortunately, we may run away from them and try to make conversation with the people who can hide it better.)

And then we can all leave and go back to our daily routines of hiding behind our addictions—whether those addictions are drugs, alcohol, work, pornography, shopping, food…

Hiding from our struggles is so much easier than facing them. (Even when the hiding just creates more struggles.)

_________________________

Here’s the deal: I am not a failure. You are not a failure. Some days, I think I am. Some nights, I lie awake at night because I am telling myself I am not good enough. But that’s not the truth. I have made mistakes, I have said bad things, I have not come through in areas where I really wish I had.

But I am not a failure.

Actually, maybe I am. (Have I totally confused you yet?)

I am a failure at living an unrealistic life I created for myself with expectations that are too lofty for anyone to accomplish. I have failed at that life. Because it is an impossible life. I have failed to be the perfect husband, father, person because all of that was based on me doing all the things I told myself I needed to do to make myself complete.

So I am a failure at (that) life.

And I am grateful for that.

Now I can focus on taking life one day at a time, on being honest, on doing the best I can each day, on admitting my mistakes and learning from them, on facing my fears and not running from them.

If you think of yourself as a failure, I would like to ask what standard you are using to measure. Because my hunch is you’re not doing as bad as you are telling yourself.

Let us learn to give ourselves a break. Let us learn how to live in today.

Addiction Is Real

Addiction happens to real people.

The consequences that come from addiction happen to real people.

It is painful. It is messy. It hurts.

And too often, as with many issues, we talk about addiction in impersonal terms. We try to understand it, cure it, solve it, heal it. We don’t mean to, but too often we de-personalize it. Maybe we have seen too many movies and TV shows deal with it. Because when the show is done, the actor who portrayed the addict does interviews entirely cleaned up and we think the problem was resolved over the course of the production.

And then we see something that reminds us we are dealing with real people.

This post is from my friend, Zanna (she is the one who painted the background picture on this blog). Zanna is a real person dealing with the consequences of another real person’s addiction, her daughter.

to my beloved Attic crew and followers:

at this point in time, i’m willing to bet that there’s not one among us whose life hasn’t been touched in one way or another by addiction.

*deep breath*

some of you know that my daughter Casia has been dealing with a heroin addiction for quite some time. years. this last year has been the most challenging, and she started actively seeking help. she finally realized that detox alone was not enough, and got into a transitional home a little over a month ago. the program typically lasts 6-12 months, and so far the difference it has made in her life is tremendous. i recognize my baby again. i’d lost hope for that. LOST. HOPE.

this painting was made after a day spent trying to get Casia help, after hauling her tiny, fragile, traumatized, doped-up body around, trying to make some sense of what was happening, trying to understand, begging all that was holy to show me what to do.

i don’t know where we’d be today, where Cas would be, without the tremendous support of our circle.

so here it is. insurance won’t cover the housing program. Casia is looking for work, in the meantime i’m doing what parents do and finding a way. as you can imagine, this is not easy. the sale of this painting will cover Casia’s next month’s rent, a little pin money for her, and shipping to the buyer.

i’ll be sharing this multiple times to reach as many people as i can. please share freely!

Look Away (Portrait of My Daughter)
acrylic on 12″x36″ canvas, applied only by fingertip, painted in one sitting
2016
$600

thank you, friends

~z

And here is the painting:

13511041_957723241021409_1618678418698812895_n

If you would like to purchase the painting, follow this link: https://www.facebook.com/ZannasAtticGallery/?fref=nf

Maybe you cannot purchase the painting. But will you do these things instead:

Pray for the people who are suffering from addiction. Addicts are not problems to be solved, but people to be loved.

Talk to the people in your life who are suffering from addiction. Let them know you care. Let them know you won’t turn your back on them.

Be honest about your own addiction. Seek the help you need. It begins by admitting to yourself that you need help, and the next step is telling just one person, asking just one person to help.

Addiction is real. The consequences are real.

And so is the love we can all share with one another.

What Churches Are Doing Right

“Why does preaching always talk about the badness of humanity but not the goodness of humanity?”

It was an interesting question. My daughter, age 15, is an aspiring preacher, herself. She has noticed that the sermons that seem to have the greatest impact are the ones that talk about what we are doing wrong as Christians and as the church.

Our conversation went on to talk about the balance of convicting people (which will often come across as negative) with acknowledging the good that is being done (which will often come across as positive).

Her follow-up question was, “Why don’t we hear more of those acknowledgments?”

It is a necessary conversation to have. I hope wherever you live you can have this conversation with your family and with your church.

But it led me to think about this topic in a different context:

I have long stated that churches do a poor job helping addicts recover. I started this blog with the hopes of starting conversations, raising awareness, and providing insight into how “normal” people can help those of us who struggle with various forms of addiction.

But I have I forgot to mention the good parts? I have failed to point out that there are some good things going on in some Christian circles?

If I have, let me try to correct that.

Church offers a place of healing. One of the blessings of social media is to be connected with friends all over the country and even in some other parts of the world. That connection allows me to have a small glimpse into their places of worship. There a lot of churches out there who are intentional about being Spirit led. They are not focused primarily on tradition or primarily on show, but first and foremost on allowing God’s grace and mercy to flow through. Many pastors are learning about the pain their members are experiencing and speaking to that. If you have found one of these places, be grateful. If you are still looking, please do not give up. There are a lot of Godly houses of worship out there.

Church offers community. Many churches are learning how important it is to create community as opposed to padding numbers. Sunday school classes, small groups, activities, and service projects are becoming more and more popular. Which is great. One things most recovering addicts need is community. (Which is why the AA model has endured for 80+ years.) The community that is created does not need to necessarily address “Jesus and the 12 Steps” or some such topic. All community needs to do…is be community. This is also an area where home based churches are so powerful. People who have spent most of their lives in isolation are truly blessed by a community who knows them and loves them, warts and all.

Church provides guidance. And by guidance, I mean spiritual leadership. Mentoring. Examples of people living faithful lives even in the face of difficulties. It is much easier to get out of one’s self when there are others you can follow. Again, the guidance aspect of AA (sponsor-sponsee) is one of the reasons it has been around for so long. Churches are learning how important this is. This doesn’t have to be done formally (in fact, it goes hand in hand with community), but it just needs to happen. As people in recovery observe others, they learn that people can deal with the difficulties of life in healthy ways. I have been able to witness a lot of relationships between non-addicts and addicts that have yielded great results. Because both people just loved each other.

There is a lot that churches have to learn about dealing with addiction and recovery. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t doing anything right. So let me take this opportunity to thank the churches that have been instrumental in my recovery.

From Rochester, NY (Lawson Road Church of Christ and Hope Lutheran Church), to Pennington, NJ (Princeton Community Church), to Abilene, TX (Highland Church of Christ and Freedom Fellowship), I have been loved, nurtured, and carried to where I am today. My family has been shown extreme care and love as they dealt with all the consequences my addiction wrought upon our family. They have not gotten everything right. But neither have I. We are just a bunch of humans fumbling our way along this journey we call life.

And I have been able to witness a lot of the goodness of humanity along the way.

Rest

Rest.

So hard to find. So hard to accept. So necessary for surviving. So necessary for thriving.

I don’t like to rest. I feel lazy. I feel non-productive. I feel as if I am wasting time.

And I also am tired, exhausted, worn out. I am not really able to complete anything well because I don’t have the physical or mental energy required. Without rest, I often settle for good enough. Which drives my perfectionism crazy! I must do better. So since I am tired and only doing “good enough,” I must work harder and more often.

Why don’t I rest?

As a parent, I know my children need sleep.

As a therapist, I know the value of rest for mental health.

As a minister, I know the value of rest for spiritual health.

As a teacher, I know that my students need to rest to become more successful.

As a recovering alcoholic, I know that if I do not rest I put myself at higher risk to relapse.

So with all that knowledge, why don’t I rest?

I am on vacation this week. I have nothing planned. I am reading, writing, and watching TV. I am moving from sleeping to sitting. I am talking with friends and family. I am accomplishing nothing.

And it is wonderful.

We can’t all take vacations whenever we feel like it.

But we can all rest. We can all disconnect. We can all give our bodies the chance to recover.

If only we choose to do so.

So here is my challenge to you this week:

Do nothing. Take a break. Relax. Breathe. Even if it is only for 30 minutes. Find some time to be as non-productive, lazy, and time-wasting as you can be. You have permission.

Rest.

Baptizing Brandon

I baptized Brandon Sunday.

It was not something I was planning on. Brandon asked me about an hour before it was to occur. What an incredible honor to be asked to play a small role in a profound event in someone’s life.

Brandon is a new friend of mine. I met him a couple of months ago at Freedom Fellowship. He also started attending Highland Church and he attends the high school Bible class. So I get to see him quite a bit each week. Brandon is a good kid. He is kindhearted. He is friendly. He is inquisitive.

And he has Asperger’s Syndrome.

If you do not know Brandon, you may think he is awkward. You might even think he is rude. Because although he is friendly, he does not respond to social cues the way most people do. He may walk off in the middle of a conversation. He may change the subject of the conversation while you are in mid-sentence. He may blurt out answers to rhetorical questions while the speaker is teaching.

If you were to compare someone like me to someone like Brandon, it might appear that I have the capacity for much greater intellectuality than Brandon. It looks like I can process information quickly and abstractly. It seems I can understand nonverbal and verbal cues; I can read and retain facts and details well.

But Brandon has something that I desperately want: he loves God with all his heart. He is not distracted by all the things that pull my focus away.

Brandon is not overly concerned with what others think about him.

Brandon is always honest.

Brandon is not afraid to ask questions.

Brandon is not afraid to express joy and do things that make him happy.

Brandon is determined and will fight for what he wants; especially when it is something he deeply believes in.

I may know more about God than Brandon. But I do not know God as well as Brandon does.

_________________________

“God will take care of the babies and the fools.”

There may be a good intent behind this statement. But there a couple of problems with it: first, it is not in any way biblical. It is a made up statement to reassure humans who cannot completely wrap their minds around God’s great mercy and love. Second, it actually comes from a too narrow view of baptism—thinking it is only about erasure of sin. There is much more to baptism than that.

Is baptism about salvation? Yes.

Is baptism about claiming the identity of Jesus follower? Yes.

Is baptism the pledge of a clear conscience to God? Yes.

Is baptism a ritual that unites us to a great cloud of witnesses? Yes.

There are some people who know a lot about baptism when they go into the water. But none of that is a requirement for baptism. Every biblical example of baptism we have is of people being convicted and desiring a closer relationship with God. Did instruction follow? Sure.

But the point of the act of baptism was a person responding to the call of God on their life.

Some of the most beautiful baptisms I have witnessed are those where the person putting Christ on in baptism has an understanding of their relationship with Jesus that I doubt I will ever have.

There is also another issue with that statement: It is ridiculously arrogant. It assumes that because we are (what has been deemed) normal we are somehow better than those who are deemed abnormal. It ends up being a way we can serve as gatekeepers to God’s Kingdom. “Yeah, you may not be as good as I am, but God will have pity on you so come on in.” In other words, it leaves us in charge of determining who is or is not a “fool.”

And that is a dangerous position to put ourselves in.

_________________________

There are people who are different. And I don’t mean the surface differences of gender, ethnicity, and age.

There are people who have severe physical disabilities.

There are people who have severe mental health struggles.

There are people who are addicts.

There are people who cannot communicate the way most others in our society do.

And their faith is no less real or profound than anyone else’s. Their spirituality does not suffer because of those differences; at least, no more so than anyone else’s.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: instead of thinking that someone lacks the maturity and depth of your faith because they are more limited than you in some way, ask how they may know God more because of those perceived limitations.

Does God take care of babies and fools? Sure. (After all, he is taking care of you and me!) But God does not call them by those names.

God calls them sons and daughters.