Uncle Willard

A front-page story in my local newspaper today detailed the DUI/manslaughter charges against a 38-year-old man in a nearby community. His life undoubtedly changed forever when he opted to get behind the wheel of his pickup truck and drive drunk. The driver of the car he hit head-on is dead, several others in another involved vehicle are injured.

1966-1968 were my hell-raising years. A college drop-out pumping gas at a local Gulf station, I was entirely rudderless. My day consisted of working my 3-12 shift, getting together with buddies after work, buying a couple six packs at a bar which accepted my bogus ID (I was 18 and the legal age in Pennsylvania was 21) and heading out to a few favorite spots in the woods where we weren’t bothered by the law. We all thought we were so cool, and we thought we were having fun. Didn’t matter that I lived about 25 miles from my party spots, and I had to drive frantically to get home before daylight when Grandpa got up to start the farm chores. Mom had already left for work and several times we passed on the winding country road leading to my home. Several ‘alcohol – related’ mishaps did not deter me from my nightly adventures.

Nobody could talk any sense to me, “Aww hell”, I would lament, “just out with buddies having a few beers.”

In later years with a bit of sobriety behind me, I was told that angels were riding with me on those tire-screeching, engine-roaring trips back to the house. “No,” I replied, “it was God Himself riding with me, my angels were too scared.”

So, you are asking what this has to do with my Uncle Willard. First let me say that the front-page story in the Sunbury Daily Item back in 1966-68 could have been a story with my name and my picture detailing the underaged drinking and DUI/manslaughter charges against a good boy just having a few beers with his buddies,

Uncle Willard was one of 10 children, my father Paul being the oldest. Due to family dysfunction, I did not meet Willard until one summer afternoon as I was finishing up on chores behind the barn. I was probably 18 years old. A car drove by, the driver tooted its horn and then turned around and returned to park along the highway. The man who emerged was unknown to me.

He civilly introduced himself as “Willard, your dad’s brother. I’m your uncle.” (No, at age 17-18 I did not know any of my father’s family). “I heard you wrecked your car last week, are you OK? “

He then proceeded into an ass-chewing that would have made any Army drill sergeant or Navy petty officer proud. Attaboy, Willard, you tell it how it is. I was speechless, but I knew dang well that I deserved every word and more.

He had his say, shook my hand, patted me on the back saying, “Straighten up, son, before you kill someone.”

That’s my Uncle Willard story – the only time we ever spoke.

stairway to heaven

Yeah, I know. Your mind probably zipped back to the iconic rock classic from Led Zeppelin, “Stairway to Heaven.” Me too. I still love that song and always crank it up when I hear it.

But this is about another stairway to heaven. As a young boy I was totally taken by a painting I saw which pictured angels climbing up and down a stairway presumably to be with God Almighty on His throne in heaven. Back then God was an old, snarling, bearded, gray haired man breathing fire from his nostrils and throwing lightning bolts from his hands. It was indeed a very intimidating depiction of our Father, but it kept us young hooligans in line here on earth. The message: don’t piss off the Father or the consequences at judgment day will be dire.

Fast forward to a young man about 38 years old with several years sobriety under his belt and pretty damn sure about everything spiritual. That stairway became an escalator with signposts along the way: read the Bible every day, memorize a verse today, pray ceaselessly even when you don’t want to, love your neighbor as yourself, go to church every Sunday, give up ********for Lent (you fill in the blanks), don’t lie or cheat or steal, throw 10 % to the collection plate, don’t blaspheme and don’t swear oaths. The list went on and on riding that escalator to heaven. Then one day I met a stranger going the other way. He was going down on the up escalator. Why on earth, thought I to myself, would someone be going in the opposite direction from heaven?

“Sir,” said I concerned about his misdirection. “You are going the wrong way, heaven is up, not down.”

“Son,” bellowed the stranger, “I am going down to be with the people who need me; the hungry, the poor, the oppressed, the sinners, the lonely, the homeless, the friendless. There amongst them I shall do the work of my Father.”

“Oh, and who are you?”

“I have many names, but you should call me Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. Follow me and I shall make you a fisher of men. I shall show you heaven on earth.”

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” LUKE 9:23

41 years

I am 74 years old and have enjoyed continuous sobriety for 41 of those years. Eureka, I have been sober more years than under the influence. January is my celebration month. No, I don’t remember the exact date, but I do remember that it was ungodly cold at my first AA meeting in the social hall of a local church. And, I can still see the faces of those sitting at that table, what they said and the love which they extended to me. Praise God for those AAers. Down through the years I heard one after another proclaim that were it not for the AA program and the people, they would be dead or institutionalized, another casualty of “self will run riot”.

Trust me, it is not always a cake walk. Life’s challenges can gang up mercilessly during the course of a day and each one of us must surrender self-reliance to the grace of a merciful and loving God. Where we go and whom we go to during these times will determine a life of ‘clean and serene’ or a life filled with the same old rot we had before only now without our crutch alcohol/drugs. Insanity waits outside the door to overtake us once more if we cannot or will not surrender to that Higher Power.

Thankfully, we know where to reach for strength and hope, don’t we? It is no longer about drinking or not drinking. The obsession is past and, on a daily basis, God puts into our day reminders of what life used to be as active alcoholics. Can we sincerely say that we would sooner die than return to the hell of our past? What are we willing to give up today to stay sober?

A friend is in jail tonight, I am not. I shall keep him on my heart while thanking God for another lesson in sober-living. It could have been me….or you…. put in lock-up. Please, for the sake of family and loved ones, talk the talk of sobriety and learn it well, but then get out there in life and walk the talk. Make it part of everyday. People will turn their heads in amazement, “Isn’t that Larry Brown, the drunk? What in God’s name happened?”

Indeed! In God’s name comes healing and restoration.

John says in chapter 8, verse 36, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

stinking thinking

“We would rather be ruined than changed, We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the moment and let our illusions die.” W.H. Auden (1907-1973)

Sound familiar? We alcoholics are specialists in ‘stinking thinking’, are we not? How often in my career of alcoholism did I sit on that bar stool with my buddies believing (not just thinking) that I could drink like they drank and drive home safely, maintain a home life with a spouse happy to see me pull in the driveway, wake up the next morning refreshed and ready for work, and remembering everything I did during the drinking session and owing nobody (especially my spouse) an apology? How often did I believe that I would not be ashamed the next morning of inappropriate behavior while drinking on the barstool with my buddies?

Of course the answer was always. I sincerely believed I could drink like they drank and the outcome would be different than last night or the many nights before. I believed that I could control my addiction. It was stinking thinking that fed my illusions for nearly 20 years.

Not until, “we admitted that we were powerless over alcohol and could not manage our own lives,” did the light break through. My way of thinking was flawed, it stank and it wanted to kill me. I then invited the True Manager into my life, called it Higher Power until I could fathom the depth of a “spiritual experience” as described in the AA Big Book.

If you are sober today, rejoice in the miracle of saving grace.

when nothing is everything

"Most people have too much;
I alone seem to be missing something.
Mine is indeed the mind of an ignoramus
in its unadulterated simplicity.
I am but a guest in this world.
While others rush about to get things done,
I accept what is offered.
I alone seem foolish,
earning little, spending less.

Other people strive for fame;
I avoid the limelight,
preferring to be left alone.
Indeed I seem like an idiot;
no mind, no worries.

I drift like a wave on the ocean.
I blow as aimless as the wind."

               2oth verse, The Tao Te Ching

birthdays and death

Birthdays come and go;
if we'll have another, we do not know.
But here is advice of which I'm sure:
for getting older, there is no cure.

So, we should eat, drink and be merry.
Eat that triple dip sundae topped with nuts and a cherry?
For on this, our birthday month, I'm happy to tell
I kicked the grim reaper back to hell.

"Old man," said I, "you find yourself other souls,
cause today it won't be us for whom the bell tolls.
It's our birthday and I'm proud to say,
We're gonna see another day."

A GREAT BIG HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY COUSINS, GORDY AND JOYCE, AND MY FRIEND CAROL IN PENNSYLVANIA.

it’s a choice

Serenity or calamity – which do I choose to follow every morning….the serenity of inspired readings, morning worship, prayer and meditation or the calamity abounding on my media feeds? Awful days do not just occur randomly. Good days are not merely accidental blessings from a gracious Father. The thoughts I think, the things I do, the images I feed into my brain upon rising will determine where I spend the following hours.

When I truly believe that I am worthy of goodness and mercy, peace and hope, then I seriously pay attention to my day’s beginning. Then I know with certainty that I am not walking alone on this journey through the dark valley.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of mine enemies; thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” PSALM 23: 4-6

Rev. Alan Houghton

from his book, A BOOK OF UNCOMMON PRAYER

Lord, help me this day to shut up, listen up, open up and lighten up. You have a lot more to show and tell me than I have to show and tell you. Please be patient with me – allow me a glimpse, give me a hint of what is really going on around me as I walk and watch and wonder and work throughout this unfolding day. I know I need to worry a lot less – I need to stop overreacting- to be calmer and not to insist on being special or right. The world does not revolve around me nor am I its or anyone else’s savior. I must learn to look up and out, not just in. I must try harder to be wiser, nicer, less grouchy, a more sensitive human being. Please help me pray my life and live my prayers.

Rev. Alan Houghton

Please……help me pray my life and live my prayers.

Happy Trails, Rocky…..part 2

The one on the left, the handsome one…..that’s me, Rocky.

There is a part two, the rest of the story that needs to be told. It’s the ugly side of humans; it’s the abuse our beloved pets suffer.

Rocky suffered seizures which began about 10 years ago after a visiting family member, in a fit of anger threw him head first into the living room wall. About 3 or 4 weeks later, Rocky had his first seizure. Traumatic for us, his humans, we cannot imagine what our cat endured. His doctor confirmed the injury-related condition and placed him on a medication, Levetiracetam. Only Jim and I, Rocky’s doctor and the perpetrator know what happened to our cat. Initially, the vet suspected us of abuse. My anger is yet to subside when I think about this dark episode.

Rocky was not a wuss. He endured several more seizures, a few in the arms of his protectors, became unsteady on his feet, fell a lot more than cats should, lost weight and finally in recent weeks became incontinent. But, we adjusted to our cherished family member’s needs. Even the puddles of Rocky pee in which we stepped inadvertently on our nighttime nature calls became accepted routine. Last Friday, however, a decision had to be made. Rocky’s front paw was just dangling from his knee joint. Apparently, he had broken it in a fall.

The image of him trying to walk on that broken paw is heart-breaking. He did not yowl or complain, just wanted us to hold him and scratch his ears.

This post is all about me. A favorite saying runs through my head today….”dogs have owners to take care of them; however, cats have staff to wait on them.” Rocky is at peace, no more seizures, no more falling. He knows he has served us well as a ‘pet’.

I, however, am not at peace. The anger, the inability to forgive Rocky’s tormentor for the abuse that happened 10 years ago is festering in my day.

Please, Lord, let me forgive and also be at peace.

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