undying love

Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus shows what it means to have one person hold fast to us in our hour of need, despite the apparent hopelessness of it all. cac.org – RICHARD ROHR

This magnificent woman of the Jesus story has been horribly maligned over the centuries since the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries.  The male dominated Church chose to depict her as a sinner suffering seven demons within, healed by Jesus, then becoming a follower of the Jesus and the Way.

In 591 Pope Gregory I delivered a series of Easter messages blending Mary Magdalene with the “sinful woman” of Bethel who anoints the feet of Jesus with precious oil and then wipes his feet with her long hair.  This led to the theory that Mary, the apostle, was a repentant prostitute.

Even more interesting is the theory that Mary was in reality the wife of Jesus as popularized in the book and movie the Da Vinci Code and that they possibly had a child.  And why not?  Considering how the Roman Church had bastardized the teachings of Jesus, why can’t we believe that a healthy, devout Jewish man in his early 30s would  have a wife and family.

I’ll answer my own question – that would negate the basic foundation of the priesthood of the Roman Church – chastity and celibacy.  It would also question the Church’s premise that men were superior to women in spiritual affairs thereby justifying that women should be relegated to submissive roles in family life.

I have digressed from the intent of this writing:  one’s undying love for another.  Have you ever loved another person so deeply and unconditionally that even in the greatest times of despair you refused to give in to hopelessness?  In a family unit trying to  navigate the despair and hopelessness of an alcoholic loved one, we hang on to faith and hope, don’t we?  We pray, we plead, we beg, we threaten, we cry, we yell…and then we pray some more.  Why?  Because we still have hope in the face of hopelessness.  That’s what our Higher Power gives us.  The examples of undying love which we see around the tables of AA, the power of another’s comforting words, the personalities we read about in Scriptures all give us reason to go on for yet another day.  We cannot allow despair and hopelessness into our lives.

Mary Magdalene was that kind of person.  She loved her Jesus, stood by his side, wept at his cross, went with him to the tomb, guarded the tomb, and then arrived first at the tomb on the 3rd day to see it empty.  Not quite understanding, even though Jesus had told them in numerous conversations that he would indeed resurrect, Mary thought the body had been taken away.  Perhaps, briefly, at this moment she gave in to despair and hopelessness thinking the recipient of her undying love was forever lost:

“They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him,” was her reply to the angels standing nearby who asked why she was crying.

The resurrection message from John 20:10-18 continues to tell us that her Lord was there all the time even when she did not recognize the presence.  Mary Magdalene stood by her Jesus through the good times and the bad, through the trials of being a rebel, being an outcast from the Jewish hierarchy, being an insurrectionist in the eyes of the Romans, through the humiliation of his crucifixion, and finally through her perceived loss.

My loved ones were my Mary Magdalene through the difficulties, the heartbreaks, the disappointments, the betrayals, the lies, the drunkenness.  Theirs was an undying love.  Today, in sobriety, I hope to be the same to the ‘still suffering alcoholic’ who shares my life.

for my best friend, with lovecropped-cropped-picture40.png

 

So many of us have lived our lives placing unmerited value on the opinions of others while discrediting our personal truth and reality.  Breaking the shackles of people-pleasing requires honest self-appraisal, a healthy dose of self-esteem, and an enormous commitment to self-realization.  

pride8

….as near as the destination may be, it’s still the journey that matters….

not just another day, is it?

So many of us have lived our lives placing unmerited value on the opinions of others while discrediting our personal truth and reality.  Breaking the shackles of people-pleasing requires honest self-appraisal, a healthy dose of self-esteem, and an enormous commitment to self-realization.  

pride8

….as near as the destination may be, it’s still the journey that matters….

Are you having a good day today?  You came home at a decent hour last night or, in this covid-19 environment, you stayed at home with family and enjoyed a movie and quality time with loved ones.  You remember whom you were with, what you did, where your vehicle is this morning, don’t you?

Wasn’t always like that, was it?  The hangover, the nausea, the headache, the self-loathing, the empty wallet on the bedside table, the questioning – “why did I do that again?”

The BIG BOOK shares wisdom about the insanity of our alcoholism – doing the same thing again and again expecting different results.  Addiction does not change.  It is cunning, baffling and powerful.  It wants to see us dead, but will settle for an institution and insanity.

If you are sober today, give yourself and your Higher Power a hand

sober emoji

May our lives be deeply blessed today.  It’s not just another day.

“The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”  NUMBERS 6:24-26

FREEDOM

What does freedom mean to you?  Picture6
What price will you pay for it? 
Would you be willing to die so others could enjoy freedom?

I’m not sure what the motives were for my father and three of his brothers.  They all enlisted in the military service of their country during WW2.  But, whatever their reasoning, they are my heroes on this Memorial Day.  Returning to civilian life after the war, they continued to serve their families and communities.  In my eyes they put everything on the line to ensure the freedom of every one of us for generations to come.  That kind of courage and selflessness is rare in today’s America.

Freedom is not free.  It comes at great cost.  I often wonder if I have paid my dues – have I paid the price for the freedoms I enjoy today?  Perhaps that I.O.U will come due sometime in the future.  What do I owe and to whom?  Will I have the courage and selflessness to pay my debt?

The greatest gifting of freedom, aside from the sacrifices of our fallen military heroes, has been the adventure of sobriety given to a helpless, hopeless drunk.  Undeserved and unmerited, this gift of amazing grace has allowed a life of celebration and thankfulness rather than one of dread and misery.  John 8:36 says it all:

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

This is not a freedom with conditional clauses and a litany of ‘thou shalt and shalt not’.  It is not tied to any particular faith walk or theology.  It does not consign me to hell for being bad or promise me heaven for being good.  There are only two requirements for enjoying this freedom forever.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all you mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  JOHN 10:27

Pretty simple stuff.  Freedom can be costly, but need not be difficult.

LOVE

 

this too shall pass

So many of us have lived our lives placing unmerited value on the opinions of others while discrediting our personal truth and reality.  Breaking the shackles of people-pleasing requires honest self-appraisal, a healthy dose of self-esteem, and an enormous commitment to self-realization.

I was brought up in a broad-minded community of church people.  The Lutheranism of my church family was a faith of tolerance and compassion for fellow mankind.  We had a39 few quirks, but most of them could be dismissed with a smile and a touch of humor.  We learned not to take ourselves too seriously.

Subsequent addictions severely tested that innocent faith leaving a young man rudderless and questioning.  The questioning was probably a good thing; however, being rudderless was not.  Not until completely shattered and disillusioned did I reach out from my alcoholic depths to the foundations of my youthful convictions where goodness and mercy still dwelled.  There is where a physical, emotional, and spiritual road to recovery began.

That recovery was a long, arduous journey filled with heartbreak and joy.  Today, having been reconciled with who I was and what I did in the grasp of addictions, I hold on to elements of the faith walk that nourished and encouraged me as a young teen-aged boy.  The 23rd Psalm was a favorite passage which has comforted and stayed with me.

“…yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…”

When my world rocked with fear, when my mind went haywire with depression, when staying sober another day seemed impossible, I repeated Psalm 23 because it ends with these words:

“…surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

In that valley which I sometimes walk even today, the path can be tortuous and difficult walled by mountain peaks of disillusion, pain and suffering.  But, there is always a gap in the high walls just ahead.  There is always a beautiful sunrise over the far mountain peak.  Today I know I will not be in this valley forever.  This too shall pass.  My challenge is to learn the intended lessons from the current sadness or despair and hold true to the person the Creator intended me to be.  My heart can then rejoice and sing….“surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

backlit-dawn-fog-585759

I   AM   LARRY – worthy, unique, loved

unshackled 3

practice, practice, practice

 

sober emoji SOBER TODAY ?  Give yourself and your Higher Power a hand.

“The advantage of most spiritual practices is precisely that they are about practice rather than belief…open to religious people and to nonreligious people.”  RUPERT SHELDRAKE

The chapters HOW IT WORKS & INTO ACTION (chapters 5 and 6 of the Big Book) present the plan which has proven successful in the recovery of millions of alcoholics.  In summary the final words of chapter 6 are a telling description of who we are:

“We alcoholics are undisciplined.  So we let God discipline us in the way we have just outlined.  But this is not all.  There is action and more action.  Faith without works is dead.”  ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS pg. 88

For many of us this is the core of our recovery program.  Belief is a wonderful thing which leads to a miraculous transformation, a peace and serenity beyond comprehension.  However, we love to stagnate and procrastinate.  Call it ‘wallow’ if you like.  Wallowing gets us into trouble.  That wonderful belief, our personal transformation, the peace of mind cannot withstand the powers of addiction if a rigorous program of action is not enacted.

The wisdom of the ancients in scriptures says:

“As the body without spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”  JAMES 2:26

What are my deeds today?  Do I show gratitude for the gift of sobriety in my actions, verbally affirm in prayer, reach out to the still-suffering alcoholic, follow the behavior necessary to avoid wallowing?  I am, after all, by nature undisciplined.  If I were a disciplined man I probably would not have spent uncountable afternoons sitting on a bar stool rather than tending to my favorite recreation, gardening.  If I were a disciplined man I would have appreciated the woman who shared my life rather than carouse the honky-tonks at night.  If I were a disciplined man I would have succeeded in college, in the military, in the jobs which I trashed while chasing my demons.

Then again, maybe not.  My nemesis is cunning, baffling, and powerful.  It wanted to see me dead or institutionalized.   It told me the lies which I wanted to hear.  It was the higher power of my life before I embraced the actions of recovery.  It did not care whether I was disciplined or not.  Seeing another sucker for the allure of the jukebox and the bottle, alcoholism claimed 17 years of my life.

Appreciating sober-living involves belief.  But, keeping sobriety is all about practice, practice, practice.

UNSHACKLED 2

 

solitude

He who sits alone, sleeps alone, walks alone,
who is strenuous and subdues himself alone,
will find strength in the solitude of the forest.
BUDDHA, DHAMMAPADA, 305

How many of us wish today, as adults, that this wisdom would have been shared with us as children?  It simply was not considered normal for a child to prefer the solitude of the woods to activity with other children in the park.  We were called wall flowers when we did not keep up with the chatty ones at lunch break.  We were graded as slow learners when we did not engage in classroom discussions.  Yes, my elementary school report card (do they still have report cards?) had a space to inform my parents that I was not a team player, not a participant.  Do they realize the damage inflicted on a young boy who merely wanted to enjoy his solitude, a boy who did not rely on friendships and social activity for his fulfillment?  The birds, animals, and flowers in the countryside fields and woods were my intimate companions way back then.  I enjoyed the peace and quiet of these gifts infinitely more than the company of rowdy playmates in games of baseball, tag or hide-n-go-seek.

I reached adulthood believing that I was deficient.  My waning social activity supported that idea.  Not a joiner, not a member, not a community person, not a party person.  Even my growing alcoholism, ages 17 to 34, revolved around drinking in the woods with a few select friends or by myself at home.  It became a problem when I began to avoid social commitments with loved ones and friends.  My perceived deficiency controlled most aspects of my younger years as I nosedived into deep depression and obsessive alcoholic behavior – a symptom of the misconceived impression of Larry, the socially awkward introvert.

However, looking back on those years, I don’t remember ever feeling lonely.  A lover would slam the door when leaving in anger and disgust saying, “You don’t need anybody, do you?”  Sadly, the truthful answer confirmed those words.  I didn’t need anybody to fill my empty spaces.  I became a socially deficient drunk who just wanted to be left alone.

Recovery from alcoholism has demanded even more intense self-scrutiny and introspection.  Initially, I had to learn to love myself as I was, not as someone else thought I should be.  In the meeting rooms I met many other men and women just like me – socially awkward and withdrawn from life.  We held each others’ hands, cried together, prayed together, hugged, and instilled a sense of completeness in each other that had always been missing before.  The healing was slow and painful, but we became participants in life even in our own quiet, unassuming ways.

Western culture places an enormous emphasis on assertiveness and achievement.  We are considered weak if we are not pushy and demanding.  Those of us who are perfectly content with the quiet and peace of a meandering stream through the meadow or a walk along wooded trails or an afternoon reading poetry are sometimes deemed lazy and unproductive.

To others like me, I say STOP!  Just stop!  Stop being a people pleaser trying to fit into a preconceived social mold.  Introvert is not a cuss word.  Not everyone can be extroverted, nor should they try to be.  When I appreciate the person whom the God of my understanding created, when I accept that today at this moment I am a perfect product of this creation, then life can also be perfect.  Doesn’t mean that I don’t pursue growth and try to make tomorrow’s version of me even better.  It simply means saying quietly and thankfully, “Just as I am, Lord.  Receive all of me just as I am.”

UNSHACKLED 2

let go – let God

adult-adventure-backlit-915972

In the King James Version of the American Standard Bible there are 400 verses that mention the word “peace”.  The BARNES’ NOTES commentary on a passage from Philippians 4:7,

“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding…..”

writes that “this peace is that which is felt when we have no anxious care about the supply of our needs, and when we go confidently and commit everything into the hands of God.”

“….shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

The commentary goes on to say that ‘shall keep’  was translated from a military term meaning guarded and preserved lending further definition of peace as freedom guarded from the intrusion of anxious fears and alarms.

LET GO – LET GOD

In my first recovery meeting room, those framed words were hanging on the wall in front of me.  “What in the world does that mean?  Let go of what?  How does a man do that?”  Not an easy undertaking for an alcoholic dedicated to self-will run riot for his entire life.  “Absolutely not, I will not surrender anything to something I can’t see, touch or talk to.”

I was urged by the others, sitting at the tables sharing their stories, to embrace steps 1, 2, and 3, the surrender steps of the 12 step program which had graced their lives with sustained sobriety.

1) Admitted we were powerless over  alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable. 2) Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 3) Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God, as we understood God.

Surrender – once and done?  Not really.  It became a daily practice which for most of us continues even after years of sobriety.  It directly affects the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding.  Without surrender I will not enjoy peace. Without peace, life once again becomes unmanageable and insane.

This way of living, sober-living, is not about religion and Bible passages.  Neither is it about performing the 12 step programs perfectly until completion.  It is the way we approach all of life’s challenges and surprises.  It is an ongoing surrender to the energy which we call Higher Power.

One of my most trusted prayers is the prayer of St. Francis.  It begins:

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace…..”

When I reflect on those words, it is not a request to send me out into the world as a peacemaker among friends, peoples or nations.  No, it is directed inwardly to create a space within which is free of worry and anxiety.  The world’s insanity will probably not embrace peace in this day, but I can.  Join me?

beard-beggar-face-35015

 

joy or misery – it’s a choice

4k-wallpaper-beautiful-flowers-clouds-1266810

Let me repeat that.  In this new day we can choose to be joyful or we can choose to be miserable.  Within each of us is the power to wallow in this world’s drudgery or soar on wings of joy – and it is possible without the use of pharmaceuticals, alcohol, or any mind-altering substances.

“…..we are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness….we will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace…”  from the promises, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

The promises listed are not just fancy ideals written by a successful recovering alcoholic.  They are reality for millions of alcoholics who choose to follow a program of sober-living earnestly and honestly….“are these extravagant promises?  We think not!”  That, in a nutshell, is the beauty of our lifestyle.  Today, we have choices which were dismally not available before.  Joy or misery is one of those choices.

Alcoholism is a disease of the mind, of the body and of the soul.  It is cunning, baffling and powerful.  It wants to see you and I either in a mental institution or in the grave and it will not rest until it destroys us.  But, we have resources available that can conquer our disease.  For some it is Alcoholics Anonymous, for others it is Celebrate Recovery, still others discover sobriety through numerous spiritual programs.  They all present to us a way of changing our lives and living victoriously as new men and women.  They rebuke the power of alcohol in our lives and replace that demon with the power of choice.

The joy of living soberly is directly linked to an attitude of gratitude.  What is on this morning’s gratitude list?  Nothing?  Let’s think again.  Did we sleep in a warm, comfortable bed last night?  Do we remember this morning where we were last night, what we did?  Do we suffer from blackouts?  Are we filled with self-loathing because of what we did last night?  Were we unfaithful to our spouses?  Did we spend the family’s grocery money on booze?  Are we calling the boss and lying about why we will not be at work?  Yeah, we have much about which to be grateful, don’t we?

I suffer varying degrees of arthritis pain on a daily basis.  Many of us endure medical and physical conditions that limit activity.  Are we going to allow these maladies to diminish joyful living?  Absolutely not.  The pain I feel this morning is a reminder that my body is still alive and functioning.  When the day arrives that this body is not responsive to stimuli, good or bad, then I shall likely be dead.  And although that is neither good nor bad, I am not yet ready to be dead.

So let’s make our choices.  Will that choice be a joyful interaction with all that has been restored to us through the grace of recovery or will it be a miserable day of drudgery wallowing in the pit of negative thoughts and behavior?  Which will we choose?

UNSHACKLED 2

 

control freak – who, me?

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, wisdom to know the difference.”

44

Most of us in recovery are failed control freaks.  Read those words again.  You and I have been miserable failures at controlling our lives. Lord knows we did our damnedest to cajole, manipulate, wheedle, urge or threaten loved ones, family and friends to think and do the ‘right way’ which, of course, was always our way.  I see some of you out there denying it, but let us just take a moment of truthful inventorying our past behavior before claiming innocence.  Yeah, just as I thought.  Guilty as charged!

Sometimes our game of controlling others actually worked and we felt victorious.  But our success came at the expense of ruffled feathers, resentments, anger from our victims.  The end result was that we distanced ourselves from those around us who loved us the most.  Ultimately, through the progression of our disease, we reached a point where, in the depths of our self-imposed exile from reality, we could not even control ourselves.  In those depths, alcohol was the victor controlling every aspect of our being.

Enter sobriety and the grace of a Higher Power.  We repeated in the recovery rooms of AA the Serenity Prayer.  Sometimes our discussions centered on the words of the prayer analyzing each word and each part of the three statements.  What do they mean?  What do I control?  What can I not control?  And when does the wisdom appear in my life?

Sobriety is not a commodity to be purchased at the recovery store.  It does not happen miraculously on the first day of not drinking.  We hang out with others like us, we listen to the wisdom spoken in the rooms, we take our thoughts to the quiet space within and begin to process what sober-living means.  Contrary to the previous drinking before which carried us to the depths of our personal hells, sobriety becomes our beacon of hope, our lifestyle resurrecting us to a purposeful place in society.

And eventually we discover the truths of control.  I accept that I control no other human being on earth, I control no other entity on earth, I control no political undertaking, no politician, no corporate CEO.  I do not control my spouse, family nor friends.  I don’t even control Max, the cat.  Lastly, I do not control the recovering friend who decides to go back out and do some more ‘field research’ on drinking.

“Pheeeew!  What a relief,” we exclaim, “I am not responsible for anything.”

Whoa, not so fast.  Yes, we are responsible.  “Whenever anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA to be there.  For that I am responsible.”

“Courage to change the things I can.”

In order to be a helping hand, I must change the only thing I can…and that is me.  I must change my thinking, my attitudes, my responses to others, my behavior, my prejudices, my lifestyle.  I must change myself to reflect the grace freely given on that first day of recovery when I walked into my first AA meeting a scared, hopeless drunk.  And therein is the wisdom to know the difference.  Today, I know how and when to surrender Larry, the control freak.  Not always easy, not always first choice, but always the path to serenity.

UNSHACKLED 2