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.

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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.”

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let go – let God

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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?

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joy or misery – it’s a choice

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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?

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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.

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poor, poor me

devil

“I am much better, thank you.”

“What’s that you say?  Larry, were you ill?”

“No.”

“Were you in an accident?”

“No, but thanks for asking.”

“Have you suffered a loss?  Did your cat die?  Have you become homeless?  Was your home burglarized?  Did a stray dog bite you?  Was you truck stolen?  Did your best friend desert you?  Have you switched political affiliation?  Is the devil sitting on your left shoulder?”

“No, no, no.  Nothing like that?”

I awakened this morning with an attitude that could have turned sweet milk sour and sent the sun in the sky ducking for cover behind the nearest clouds.  My mindset upon crawling out of bed was one that would not be coddled by cheery verses of inspiration or a breakfast of pancakes with fresh strawberry topping.  Nope, don’t bother me.  I am going to be miserable today, mope around the house and probably take a nap before noon time.  Then I will vegetate in front of a baseball game on TV all afternoon and I will probably not get out of my pajamas until supper time.  Heck, why not just stay in PJs until bedtime?

But, I am better now, thank you.

“Why is that, Larry?”

Nobody came to my party.  Pity parties are lonely affairs with no cake and ice cream nor gaily wrapped presents.  There is no music to dance to and the conversation is boring.  I choose to slouch in the chair with my chin drooping to my knees.  Between sobs and sighs of “I am so lonely, I am so unlovable, I don’t have enough, I am stupid, I am worthless,” my pity party just drags on ad nauseam until the last bag of Cheetos is gone and all the Twinkies are history.  Bingeing seemed like a great idea, but then I hate myself for breaking my diet and being such an emotional wimp.

Sound familiar?  Well, congratulations to me.  I did not stay at my own party.  The Cheetos and Twinkies are still on the cupboard shelf.  Today I shoved all those negative thoughts into the category of drinking thinking  – “poor me, poor me, yeah why don’t I just pour poor me another drink?”

Drinking thinking is akin to stinking thinking – 1st cousins, I believe.  Both will get any recovering addict into a world of do-do if he/she doesn’t take remedial steps pronto.  Do a gratitude list, call a friend (no, not a drinking buddy), start a housecleaning project, take a walk, do some exercises, find a meeting. Sometimes just moving to a different room in the house will get us over that initial “poor me, woe is me.”

“This too shall pass.”

Fighting those negative feelings without a drink or a drug was always challenging.  We are not normal people with normal emotions, probably never will be.  It is of utmost importance to keep our battle armor nearby – a plan, a chore in which to engage immediately, an inspiring book, the list of phone numbers, an escape route from social situations that tempt.  How about the easiest of all – a prayer to the God of our understanding?  Talk to him/her/it as if you are the best of friends because, whether you believe it or not, that God always has been, always is, always will be waiting to caress you and me, hold us in loving arms and get us through the “poor me” moments.

I will walk through the valleys of darkness, because that’s what humans must do to get to the light beyond the horizons.  Our God will guide us and protect us so that we can walk fearlessly on paths of comfort and blessing.  Over that next summit is an overflowing cup of joy and peace.  Go for it!  We are worthy and loved. UNSHACKLED 2

Well, I never!

old codger

In high school junior class, “Well, I never,” became one of those responses to just about every situation that caused one to raise an eyebrow or melt in shame.  The math teacher assigns 2 hours of homework for homecoming weekend – “well, I never.”  Our English teacher assigns 3 hours of reading for the night – “well, I never.”  My girlfriend tells me she’s pregnant – “WELL, I NEVER.”  I relate my generation’s words to the recently popular, “Shut up.”  Yeah, thankfully, what was cool years ago like, “cool, daddyo,” and “friggin far out,” wear out and the younger hip dudes and dudettes come up with their own lingo.  OK, OK, forgive my lack of current jargon literacy, I don’t interact with many young people.

But, it was, in my days of being cool,  just an expression of exasperation over something another person said or did.  And it caught on in junior class to the point that even junior high kids were using  it.  Of course to us hip cats in junior class that meant that another response needed to be found.  “Well, I never,” was just so not cool anymore.

Later in life, after years of self-flagellation at the hands of alcohol, when sobriety became a matter of life or death, we heard the “I nevers,” many times at our recovery tables.  I never cheated on my spouse, I never stole from my employer, I never beat up on my lover, I never hurt the kids, I never wrecked my car, I never swore at my dad, I never murdered anyone, I never, I never, I never.  And the correct response to all those “I nevers” was a resounding, “not yet.”

Go back out for more field research, hang out in my favorite bars, start feeling sorry for myself and that I never list will dwindle.”  Many sober drunks became again drinking drunks and did things they boasted would never happen.  Their I never list shrank.  Some died chasing down remaining items on their list.

I don’t tempt the statistics.  If those numbers prove that hanging out with the wrong people in the wrong places doing the wrong things reduces my chances of staying sober than I will not put my sobriety in jeopardy.  When my friends argue with me that I have been sober a long time and not an alcoholic anymore, “Go ahead have a glass of wine,” then I am in a dangerously precarious situation.  When I am tempted to forget my last drunk and my last car wreck and my last blackout, then I need to get on my knees and turn it all over one more time to the God of my understanding.

That same God says in the Book of Hebrews in chapter 13, verse 5:

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

That’s an “I never” to which I will nail my sobriety.  How about you?

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I claimed my miracle, have you?

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

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“I’m sorry, we are out of wine.  Would you like a cup of water or perhaps fermented goat’s milk?”

“Noooooooooooooooo.”  Undoubtedly, the scream echoed through the hills and valleys of Galilee as the feast master in charge of the wine supply realized his calculations for the wedding’s needs were misjudged.  His reputation throughout Israel would be ruined.  Nobody would hire him to cater their wedding after this fiasco at Cana.

And then Jesus, having been summoned by his mother, saved the day by turning six stone pots each filled with 20 to 30 gallons of water into vessels filled with wine.  When the wine was tested by the ruler of the wedding feast he went to the bridegroom saying, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”  (John 2:10 NIV)

The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John reveal to us the miracles performed by Jesus as recorded in the ancient manuscripts.  Turning water into wine was the first miracle of Jesus’ ministry occurring three days after Nathaniel became a follower.  John 2:11 tells us that this “was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed him.”

“He did whaaat?”  Had I lived then and one of my neighbors who attended that wedding at Cana told me about some yahoo preacher man turning about 150 gallons of water into wine, I am certain my doubting Thomas nature would have replied, “You’re out of your mind.  What were you smoking up there at Cana?”

Many people today say they don’t believe in miracles.  They also deny Jesus, God, and eternity.  Years ago I was one of those people.  I wanted to be an atheist, tried to be an agnostic and failed miserably at both.  If God did not exist why was I on my knees in a drunken stupor begging God to heal me?  If Jesus was just a myth like Santa Claus why did I talk to him like a friend when I wanted to end my life?

Yes I believed, but I refused to accept my miracle.  It was right there in front of me for years , but I was not done with the pain and self-loathing.  I wanted to beat up on myself for a while longer.  It gave me satisfaction to be a victim.  The floor of my bottom had a trap door that I wanted to explore.  Let’s kick me around and refuse my miracle a little bit longer.

But, you see, the God which I rejected did not give up.  Every night on my knees in a drunken stupor, God held my hand listening to me, comforting me, showing me the way to accept grace and mercy.  I tearfully forgave myself and accepted life, eternal life.  Miracles still happen today.  I claimed mine.  Millions of others like me, addicts and drunks clean and serene, are each and every one the story of a miracle.

“What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed him.” (John 2:11 NIV)

I believe him too.

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crazy?

 

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Are we crazy?  Many people think we are when we express belief in a formless, invisible power which can’t be touched or seen.  How often have acquaintances and family ridiculed our naiveté when making reference to the One who gives life and breath, the One who transcends all human understanding and reasoning?

“Well,” they say.  “Define it.”

“Can’t.”

‘”Describe it.”

“Can’t.”

They question further, “Where does this undefinable, indescribable power live?”

“Within me.”

“Ohhhhh, I see.”

Yep! Undoubtedly and indubitably crazy.  They didn’t get it.  They didn’t understand that I had to go crazy with love for the Higher Power that pulled me out of the insanity of alcoholism.  They didn’t know, as I did, that there is a difference between crazy good and insanely stupid.  Why was I insanely stupid?  Because every time I sat down on that bar stool, I thought that this time was going to be different from all the other times.  I thought that I would have two social drinks and then go home.  I was sure that my drinking habit would miraculously change.  Why?  Because I had will power.

Many years passed with innumerable drunken escapades resulting in hangovers, lost car keys, misplaced wallets, puke-covered shirts, broken relationships, car wrecks and a shattered self-image.  I finally understood the insanity of my alcoholic behavior.

Admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.

It was insane to think I could drink and expect a different outcome at the end of the night.  It was never going to be a night like that of my buddies who knew how to drink socially.  You see, I would drink with them at the nice bars, bid them all a good-night when they went home to their families and then sneak to the other side of town where the action was.  You know – the sleaze bars where it was easy to score and the potential one night stands got smarter and better looking as the night progressed.  And that’s when I went crazy.

Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Initially, family and friends thought it was extremely cool that I was on the wagon.  “Hey, Larry’s not drinking anymore.  Awesome.”

But, Larry had to change more about himself than simply not setting his butt on a bar stool every night.  There were deep-seated issues that needed attention.  Issues of insecurity, anger, envy, pride, and laziness.  And that’s when the heavy artillery had to be called in.  Detox, psychotherapy, meetings, meetings, meetings.  Changes had to be made and I could not do it without help.  I surrender, I give up.  HELP!

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

I took the “as we understood God” part of step 3 very seriously and, unfortunately, not many people (family and friends) got it.

“Crazy!  He’s crazy with religion.  He went from a drunk to a Jesus freak.  I liked him better when he was drinking.”

Yep, I’m crazy….but at least I’m not insane anymore.

 

 

 

Proclaimed to shepherds

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”  LUKE 2:8-9

Shepherds! Who would have thought the Messiah would be introduced in the world to shepherds?  Truly, our God has a sense of humor.  Or perhaps the message of Jesus was intended for those who had little about which to cheer.  Maybe it was meant to empower the oppressed and downtrodden, those whom proper society and righteous religionists had disinherited.

God showed them, right?  At that moment in the story of Jesus of Nazareth, the subsequent storytellers let the entire world know, through shepherds and wise men, whom would receive the inheritance of a gracious and loving God.  The life and teachings of a poor, probably homeless, vagabond Jew set the table for a resounding rebuke of elitist power and control.  The story which was told and retold showed mankind that truth and power and salvation resided in a singular action available to all peoples – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all you soul, all your mind, and all your strength,”….and love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:30-31

God told us, right?  God incarnated in that baby who spawned the writings which have changed the world. Why would I not listen?  Why would I not sit with the shepherds in the hillside pastures outside the town of Bethlehem and celebrate “Glory to God in the highest, peace and good will toward men?”

Maybe it’s just a story, maybe not.  But, when ‘just a story’ can bring joy to the disheartened, salvage a lost soul, make sober the alcoholic, then, to those of us who needed to be broken in order to be healed, it has to be the greatest story ever told.  AMEN!