Tomorrow…You’re Only Forever Away

“Tomorrow! Tomorrow! You’re only a day away!” Annie

“Sorrow may last for a night. But rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30

We all walk through difficult times in our lives. For many of us, those times are temporary. Overall, we know things are going well, so we endure the bad times and just kind of hold on until something better comes.

Others of us live our lives without ever experiencing anything good. And when we take one of those stories and turn it into a movie, we end up with optimists like little orphan Annie singing about the sun coming out tomorrow. And I am certain there are people who have that kind of endurance, perseverance, and forward-looking ability.

But, when those of us who experience more good than bad sweep the bad under the rug and hide it AND we turn people’s hard-knock lives into feel good stories, we unintentionally tell people that their stories of grief and struggle are not welcome. They are signs of weakness. Get over it.

Let me repeat: I don’t think this is always done intentionally (though, sometimes it might be). I think this is a result of a lack of intentionality, vulnerability, and transparency. We are too busy making ourselves appear to look good that we never acknowledge the bad. And when we spend time talking about a story that may be difficult, we share the ones with happy endings.

Because we all want a happily ever after, don’t we?

We must remember, however, that one of the unintended consequences of never sharing our struggles is that people who have more struggle than blessing feel weak, inadequate, and like they need to hide.

So let’s be more honest, shall we?

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Not everything is great. I even find myself falling back on telling people I am fine. But we all know that’s a lie.

For sure, some things are going well. But there are those one or two things that are not right and don’t look like they will ever get right. I am just unsettled. And as I look over the course of my life, I can see that most everything works out. Even in moments of grief, I am not alone. Even when I lose out on something I want, I have encouraging people supporting me.

But right now, it is hard for me to see all of that clearly. Even if it is true that 90% of my life is going well right now, it’s the 10% that I focus on.

Last week, I was doing my morning Psalm reading and journaling. I came across Psalm 30:5 and read one of the verses that has comforted me in the past: sorrow lasts for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

But this time, the verse brought no comfort. As I look over the current status of my life, the statement of joy coming did nothing. Even though I know (and have witnessed, and have experienced) joy coming after sorrow, it just didn’t sink in with me this time.

And then it hit me: I have no problem believing that joy comes after sorrow. I have seen that numerous times in my own life and the lives of those I love. I have seen some of the darkest times lead to some of the most joyful.

My problem is I don’t believe tomorrow is coming.

Sure, things may be better “on the other side,” but I am so firmly quagmired on this side that I don’t foresee things flipping.

And I hate to admit that. Because now you might think I’m weak.

Oh well. It’s where I am today. But the sun will still come out, right?

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There will come a day when your life feels like it is falling apart. Unfortunately, we have created a society where we think that is a sign of weakness and failure. It isn’t. It is a sign of being a human. If you are struggling, and if your life is more struggle than blessing, please find someone to talk to.

On the other hand, if your life is more blessing than struggle, please be honest. Share when you are hurting. Share how you are able to overcome. Make yourself available and inviting to those who may need you.

On Funerals, Grief, and Sobriety

My youngest son and I had a great conversation over the weekend. We had just left a funeral and one of the songs played was “When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder.” That song was sung at my brother’s funeral. I still cannot hear it without breaking down.

My son asked, “Dad, is it bad that I don’t cry at stuff like that?”

You see, my daughter and I are the cry-ers of the family. The two of us are emotional and break down at things like sorrow and grief and Hallmark commercials. My wife and two sons are very compassionate, caring people; they just don’t cry a lot.

So we talked for several minutes about the gift of tears. When people are crying, it is good for others to come and cry with them. It lets them know people care and that crying is okay. It lets them know that they are not suffering alone.

Yet, even when the tears are coming, there are still questions to be answered. There are still things to be done. So when a compassionate person comes along who still has use of their voice, they can speak on behalf of the person who is unable to speak. And it does the same thing: It lets them know people care and that crying is okay. It lets them know that they are not suffering alone.

So the ability to cry and the ability to not cry are both gifts that are needed in times of grief.

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One of the hardest lessons for me to learn in recovery was that it is okay to feel. I have always been a somewhat emotional person. But when I began drinking, I learned that I could hide most of the intense feelings if I just drank enough. And if I covered up enough of my feelings, I would appear even stronger to those around me.

My faulty thinking led me to believe that emotion was weak; stoicism was strong. But little in this life is that cut-and-dried.

When I began sobering up, emotions started rising up within me. They started coming to the surface and bubbling over and there was nothing I could do to stop them.

And although it took a while, I came to realize that all of that was okay! There was no need to stop the emotions from coming out. In fact, my sobriety in many ways relied on me allowing my emotion to no longer be bottled up. The more honest I was with how I was feeling (to myself and others), the more I healed.

Also, I learned that not everyone responds to every stimulus the same way I do. Some people process emotion privately and quickly and that is healthy. Others wear their hearts on their sleeves. Some talk through them, some spend time in silence. Some cry, others feel compassion in other ways.

In other words, there was no single solution to the question of dealing with emotion. The important thing was to learn to actually deal with it.

I cry. You may or may not. I like to think and process events mentally before talking through them with people. You may or may not.

But today, when I am healthy, I am acknowledging and dealing with all those things that come my way.

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After our conversation ended, my son and I drove past the church building at the time a funeral for an 11 year old boy was taking place. This community had been praying for this young child as he bravely faced leukemia. Unfortunately, the battle was too much and he passed away a little over a week ago.

The parking lot at the church building was packed. Some funeral goers were parked in the shopping plaza across the street. Others parked on the grass surrounding the building. It was a large crowd.

I said, “Wow. Just seeing that makes me want to cry.”

My son’s response? “Actually, it makes me happy. I am glad that so many people showed up for him and his family.”

I might have cried a little bit more.

Waiting In The Dark. An Ash Wednesday Reflection

It is dark and lonely.

Waiting can be so terrible.

Waiting for relief. Waiting for no pain. Waiting for no more funerals; especially for young children. Waiting for no cancer. Waiting for no addiction. Waiting for all the bad to go away. Waiting for justice.

Waiting for that day when I don’t feel so torn between what is right and what feels good.

During the time of waiting, there is so much hurt. There is sin. There is pain. There is evil.

And then the ashes. “From dust you are, to dust you will return.”

All that is old will be made new. There is the hope for a rebirth. There is a resurrection.

Waiting is important. Waiting is necessary. Waiting is temporary.

Something else is coming. To dust we will return.

But then, something…else. Something new. I want that something.

But for now, it is terrible.

For now, it is dark and lonely.

Your Story Matters

I have enjoyed being part of a blogging challenge over the past 30 days. I hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I have enjoyed sharing.

I love the opportunity to share my story. I am grateful that I am in a place now where my past experiences can be a blessing to others. I am truly honored every time someone asks me to share about my journey—where I have been and where I am going.

And I have learned something along the way. I have come across many people whose stories are much more tragic than mine. People have dealt with far more serious issues than I have. And I am grateful when they share those struggles and experiences with me.

I have also come across people who feel as if their story is insignificant. They feel as if they  have not suffered enough. As I come to the end of this blogging challenge, I want to say this:

Your story matters.

Your story is a blessing. You may not know realize how. I might not be able to tell you exactly why. But someone, somewhere needs to hear your story. Whatever you have faced or overcome or endured or maintained, your story is your story. And it is important.

This challenge is ending. My story-telling will continue. I hope you will join me.

yn4l8

Lessons Learned From The Bottom Of The Bottle

Early in my recovery, I kept hearing the phrase “grateful recovering alcoholic.” I hated it. What was there to be grateful for? I had lost my job, my young children were confused as to why everything was so different, and my wife didn’t trust me. We were in danger of losing our house and I took a part-time job working overnights. Our church home changed. People who had been hurt by me were still figuring out how to interact with me. I was an embarrassment to myself and to my family.

And you want me to say I’m grateful?

It took me a while to learn, but yes. I was growing in gratitude. It took me a while to realize it, but I could indeed be grateful for everything that happened. As many people in 12 step groups put it, “Everything that has happened to you has brought you to this point in your life.”

And there was some good in my life. And there has been even more. So I learned to say that I was a grateful recovering alcoholic.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I wish I could take away the pain I inflicted on other people. I wish the hurt that I caused had not happened. But, I learned a lot from my addiction and continue to learn more in my recovery.

First, I learned that I can do anything I set my mind to. If anyone ever thinks that an addict is lazy or lacks determination or has no drive, that just reveals that they don’t really, truly know any addicts. Do you know how hard I had to work to keep my addiction a secret? Do you know how difficult it was to hide my bottles and credit card bills? Do you know how difficult it was to inventory and schedule restock trips so that I never ran out?

I do not say any of that to be flippant. I say that because when I was drinking, I was determined to make sure I could keep drinking. And I would do anything I could to continue. And if I could forth that much effort on something so destructive, just imagine how much I could accomplish if I would apply all of that on things that were constructive.

Second, I learned that when it comes to addiction, I am really no different from anyone else. I love the anonymity of 12 step groups. But do know why anonymity exists? It is not primarily to protect the identity of people who attend. The main purpose of anonymity is to say, “We are all here for sobriety. It does not matter who we are or where we come from. We want to get well. Titles, fame, money, status, all of that is not important here.”

It does not matter that I was a middle class, white, preacher’s kid. It did not matter that I was college educated. It did not matter that I still lived in a house with my wife and kids. I was a drunk. And I needed help.

Third, no matter how far you sink, God is still there. And this is a very annoying truth. God’s back is never turned. Even when you want it to be. Even when you are ready to give up on yourself. Even when you think you are unworthy of any love or grace. God says, “Sorry. I am not ready to give up on you.”

There is so much more. There are days that I wish I did not have to go through the bottle to come to these realizations, but most days I realize this: I am grateful for the lessons I have learned; I am grateful for the ways I have been changed; I am grateful for what I have in my life.

And that gratitude only came when the bottle was finally empty.