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.

How To Addiction-Proof Your Church

A lot of churches are uncomfortable dealing with addiction. It’s messy. It’s painful. It hurts a lot of people, not just the addict. And it appears like a lack of willpower. It is seen as a sign of weakness. And it is often obvious. If someone walks in high or drunk or hungover, it is usually easy to notice.

My guess is a lot of people would like to know how to addiction-proof their church. Is there any way we can move forward knowing that we will not be potentially allowing someone to stand in the pulpit, or be on the praise team, or lead a prayer, who may be high or buzzed or slightly incapacitated.

And there is. There is one simple step you can take to make sure addiction is never an issue in your church ever again:

Stop having church.

See? Pretty simple! In order to assure addiction is never present in your church again, your church has to stop accepting people. Which pretty much means it can no longer be a church.

Too many of us have forgotten the reason we have “church.” Church is not a place where the people who have it all figured out show up to pat one another on the back. Church is a place where we gather to acknowledge our weakness, our shortcomings, our need for community and to celebrate the grace that frees us from the bondage of ourselves.

Instead of ridding our churches of addiction or sin or problems (because to do so means no people can come to church), we accept those that come, warts and all. We welcome all the hurting, lost, hopeless, despairing, struggling people who walk through our doors.

Because that’s what church is. A place to offer grace, hope, and freedom to people who are lost, despairing, and in bondage.

Now to be sure, we don’t stay there. We hold one another accountable. We call one another to something better. We pray with and for one another to overcome the temptations in our lives. We serve others because that is what the people of God do.

So, yes. You can addiction-proof your church. You can even go all out and completely sin-proof your church.

But why would you want to? Thank God that Jesus’s mission was not to create a sin free zone. Jesus’ mission was to create a place where all the hurting, sinful, broken people could come and find healing.

And for that, I am grateful.

Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the Exodus story. A story of deliverance; of rescue; of overcoming overwhelming odds. And my favorite part near the climax of that story is what the Israelites are told to do when they are facing certain death: stand still.

That’s it. The army of Pharaoh is bearing down on them, certain to crush them since they are trapped between two mountains and a sea. And Moses says, “All you have to do is stand still.”

Overwhelming fear. Insurmountable odds. Certain death.

Stand still.

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I hate being still. I mean, there are some days when I get to veg out in front of the TV or I actually get to sleep in. But as a general rule, I am not still very often. In fact, I love to read and I love to listen to podcasts that others put together, but I don’t do either very often because I have to be still when I do. I feel as if I am being unproductive.

I do not suffer from ADHD (though some would suggest maybe I do), but I do often jump from one activity to the next or one thought to the next. I can be hyper. I can struggle with telling people no. I feel like I must always be doing.

Which is a real problem when something occurs that I can do nothing about:

A sick child.

A broken down car.

A bank fee for a bounced check and the knowledge of five other checks about to clear.

A cancer diagnosis.

A faith struggle.

A question of sexual/gender identity.

A child being bullied.

The Presidential election cycle.

In the face of losing control, my go-to response is do more. Get busy. Work. Find a solution. Apply everything. Go. Go. Go.

And it almost always fails. But the next time I am faced with a similar situation, I certainly am going to do the same thing.

I am nothing if not stubborn.

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A long time ago, I was at a summer camp. We were playing kickball. It was fun. At one point during the game, a kid laid his foot on the ball and just launched it—high in the air and deep in the outfield. But the left fielder was there. All he needed to do was put him arms out, take a step or two, and the ball would be right there. Instead, he just stood still. Ball bounced near him. The kicker ran around the bases. Home run.

In a fit of competition-induced anxiety, the coach yelled at him, “Don’t just do something! Stand there!”

Now, it was a mistake. The coach meant to say the more traditional rendering of that cliché. But it was hilarious. It broke all the frustration for the team that gave up a run and allowed everyone on both teams to laugh together.

Little did I know that 30+ years later, that statement would still be with me as one of the wisest, most profound ways to deal with the hard times in life.

Don’t just do something. Stand there.

To be sure, there is time for action. There is time to plan and prepare. But so often, we jump to action first. We need to learn to be still.

What are you facing in your life? Can you be still? Just stand there. Pause. Reflect. Meditate. But don’t just do something. Be okay with standing there.

What Are You Grateful For?

Have you ever just stopped to be grateful?

In the past three weeks, I have shared many things about struggle, temptation, being still, addiction, and other things that can sometimes be hard to deal with. And I believe we need to talk about them more. We need to be more vulnerable. We need to be more honest about our struggles.

But we also need to be more grateful. We need to name the things in our lives we are thankful for, even when we think we have nothing to be thankful for.

So what is it for you?

It could be anything. Some days, I am able to list item after item of things I am thankful for. Other days, about the only thing I can name is that I got out of bed that morning.

I have met people who were facing some of the most difficult struggles anyone could face in life. Yet they were grateful.

I have met people in the midst of grief and loss. Yet they were grateful.

I often hear stories of victimization of the worst kinds. Yet the victims have become grateful.

So what are you thankful for?

Today, I am thankful for my students at FaithWorks of Abilene. Today, I am thankful for the young people at the church I attend. Today, I am thankful for my family.

So even in the midst of fatigue and exhaustion and worry, today I can say I am grateful.

What about you? What are you grateful for?