When All Else Fails, FaithWorks

I originally posted this in January. I am posting again today because Class 40 is graduating tonight! FaithWorks of Abilene is an amazing place. I love telling people about it.

“It’s never too late to become what you might have been.”

I love my job. My actual title is Classroom Instructor; however, I learn so much more than I could ever teach.

At FaithWorks of Abilene, we provide underemployed and unemployed individuals with the confidence and skills necessary for gainful employment. Our mission is to help people find their place in the job market. We use a career counseling curriculum, provide counseling, teach the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, look at the life of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, and provide lessons in how to deal with conflict.

But that’s just a program description. It is important. I love telling people about it. (Seriously…invite me to speak and I will fill you in completely!)

However, there is so much more to FaithWorks than our program. It is all about our students. The reason I learn so much is that a diverse group of students bring their life experiences, their challenges, their unique abilities, and their resolve and determination to the classroom. We have students who have been told for so long they will never amount to anything. They come to us and prove people wrong.

I could tell you about the woman who made a mistake at a young age and spent many years in prison. When she came out, no one wanted to hire her; even though she attained three college degrees while incarcerated. After FaithWorks, she was given a chance by a local employer and has been promoted twice.

I could tell you about the man who was highly educated and working very successfully in his field. After a relationship break-up and emotional breakdown he lost everything. When he came to us, he had lost all of his self-confidence. Within two weeks of class starting, his confidence started coming back. He actually became a second teacher in the classroom.

I could tell you about our kitchen coordinator who never held a job for more than six months. After graduating from FaithWorks she started working in our kitchen and has been here for six months. Plus 3 and ½ years.

I could tell you about the woman who was homeless and always drunk who was estranged from her family. When she started, she had been out of work for a while. Due to some medical issues, she has not been able to find full-time work but she has been consistently volunteering ever since graduation. She has maintained her sobriety and has been living in her own home. She has reconciled with many members of her family.

I could tell you about the other 400+ students who have come through our doors.

I could tell you about the single parents who attend class and work part-time jobs in the evenings and weekends to take care of their families while they are in class.

I could tell you about the people working to make their lives better after making mistakes and picking up a criminal record.

I could tell you about the recovering addicts and alcoholics who just needed someone to give them a chance.

I could tell you about the students who experienced an unplanned life transition in their 40s and 50s and needed help getting reestablished.

I could even go on to tell you about how the systems in place that often work to make it more difficult for unemployed people to find work. I could tell you about all the obstacles that are placed in the way and all the hoops that people are made to jump through. I could tell you about the scores of people who keep telling our students, “You can’t.”

But instead of telling you about those, I just want to tell you that every single one of our students has faced a number of challenges. When they come to us, all they need is someone who will say to them, “I am on your side. You can do this.”

And once they receive a little bit of encouragement, they take off.

It truly is never too late to become what you might have been.

*If you live in Abilene and would benefit from our program, our Fall Class begins September 12! Check out our website: faithworksofabilene.org and our Facebook and Twitter pages.

One Blank Screen At A Time

Whenever I open my word processing program*, I stare at a blank screen. Sometimes, I know exactly what words are going to end up there. Sometimes, I stare and stare and nothing comes.

But whether I know what I want to say or not, I always begin with a blank screen.

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Some mornings, I wake up and know exactly what I want (or need) to do that day. Some days, my schedule is filled from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed. I just bounce from activity to activity accomplishing all the necessary tasks. (At least, on a good day. On bad days, I struggle to get to each activity and my success is limited.)

Some mornings, I wake up and wonder what the day will hold. I have no idea what I will be doing until I start doing it.

But whether I know what I need to do or not, I always begin with a new day.

One of the key phrases in 12 Step recovery groups is, “One day at a time.” It is said so much it is often heard as cliché. Yet there is much wisdom in this phrase. One of the challenges many people face in early sobriety is thinking about how difficult it will be to stay sober for a long time. But the goal of AA is not long-term sobriety.

The goal of AA is stay sober today.

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When I first began my sobriety journey, my sponsor thought that living one day at a time was still too large of a time frame for me. He encouraged me to live one hour at a time. For me, one day was still an opportunity to think too much and get overwhelmed with all I needed to do.

It took some time, but I finally realized that every day I woke up was a new day, a clean slate. I could not do anything to change the actions of the previous day. I did not have any power to control what was going to happen in the future. All I could do was decide to stay sober that day.

This practice of sobriety has carried over into every other aspect of my life (with varying levels of success). When I am starting to get overwhelmed with everything life is throwing at me, I step back and think, “What can I do about this today? What can I do in the next hour?”

There are seasons at work when each day is hectic. There are so many deadlines and so many people and so much drama that I am exhausted by the time I get to the end of the day. And then I have to wake up and do it all over again the next day! If I am not careful, I get stressed out trying to figure out how to solve each dilemma and fix every problem and meet every deadline. I get so caught up in trying to figure out how to make it the next month that I forget to focus on what is going on that day.

At home, my wife is working on a Master’s degree while working three part-time jobs. Our three kids are all teenagers. Our oldest is about to begin his last year of high school. There have been days when I am trying to figure out how I am going to survive his senior year and get him moved in to the dorm that I have forgotten to remember that we don’t even know for sure which college he will be going to. I can so wrapped up in next year that I miss the joy of what is going on in this day.

I need to remember my blank screen. Each day is a beginning. Each day is a gift. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Let’s all plan to live one day at a time.

*Apparently, I should be ashamed that I still use Microsoft Word…

What makes it difficult for you to live one day at a time? What can you do to remember your blank screen?

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.

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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.

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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.)

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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:

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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.