no longer strangers

NAMASTE

 

 

LUKE 15:11-32

The PRODIGAL SON in the book of Luke in Christian scripture is undoubtedly my favorite of the parables taught by Jesus.  It is my story.

I was raised within the love and protection of a community of hearty, salt-of-the-earth farmers.  Their lives were dedicated to raising families and raising crops.  Very simple needs, even simpler desires.  I often have reminisced that we were the prototype for the “Waltons” of television fame.  Indeed, it is true.  My extended family of great-grandparents, grandparents, mother and two aunts lived in an early 1900s house with 9 upstairs rooms which could be used as bedrooms when necessary.  During the years previous to my arrival in 1947, the household consisted of numerous children and a full live-in housekeeping staff plus an assortment of farm-hands.  During the harvest season Mammy (my great-grandmother) assisted by her daughters prepared a lunch table groaning with several meats, 2 or 3 potato dishes, vegetables fresh from the garden and at least 4 pies for dessert.  They fed 6 to 12 hungry men.  As was customary, the women folk ate after the men had finished.

But it was a hard life.  I was earning a wage by the time I was 12 years old, had after-school chores, and during the summer worked long days in the fields as well as helping to tend the cattle, pigs, and chickens.  It was a very hard life.  I determined early in my youth that I was not going to be a farmer.  When my friends from town came to visit they were awed by my lifestyle.  I, on the other hand, was envious of their freedom to join social groups and participate in extracurricular school activities.  They enjoyed the farm chores which to me were onerous.

Church attendance was mandatory.  Through the eyes and ears of this thirteen year-old, the preaching was ominous and the threats of a punishing God were overwhelming.  I finally accepted that anything which felt good was probably a sin.  When I turned sixteen I was no longer required to attend services or participate in my family’s religious tradition.  When I turned seventeen, one of my multiple addictions had already consumed much of my life and another two, smoking and drinking, kicked in with a vengeance.  By nineteen I was fully controlled by substance and behavior addictions.

My grandfather, who raised me as his own son, offered me his farm.  I ridiculed the offer saying that no way in hell was I going to be a farmer.  Fifty-two years later I am still haunted by the look of rejection on his face.  We never recovered that father-son relationship.  My last remembrances of him are of a sickly man sitting in his favorite chair which offered a view of the highway.  Reading his Bible he would look up to see who was driving by.  Sometimes it would be the community’s undertaker, a solemn man named Lawrence.   Looking at me with his clear blue eyes, Grandpa would quip in his Dutch accent, “Well, maybe next time Lawrence will be coming for me.”

I had an idyllic upbringing and a wonderfully simple life surrounded by people who loved me.  But, I thought something was missing.  I thought that those city folks living in the midst of glitz and excitement were offering a dream which my community and my family’s traditions could never provide.  And at age nineteen I chased after that dream.

Drinking, smoking, drugging, and carousing assured me that finally this farm boy had arrived.  Life was going to be grand and lavish.  Partying every night, trashing relationships became the norm and for a few years I loved it.  Never looked back on what had been sacrificed.  Lost my job because of drinking, failed college because of my drinking, destroyed a military opportunity because of my drinking…..”Aw what the hell?  That wasn’t the life I wanted anyway.”

Then the blackouts began.  The car wrecks, the addiction-imposed poverty, the broken promises to friends and family stirred within me memories of a much simpler life, a life of hard work, joy, and focus.  Like the prodigal in the book of Luke, I asked myself if I could go back home.  Could I return to age sixteen and redirect?

Of course my answer was no.  The farm had been sold, my family was cautious of their wayward son, no eligible prospects for a relationship wanted to take a chance with me, and my faith walk had virtually dead-ended.  I was spiritually, morally, and physically bankrupt.  I was a broken man at age 34 with no hope for redemption.

With nothing to lose except my wretched life, I arrived in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Something about those AAers sparked hope within me.  Their message of sobriety through a Higher Power and a fellowship with kindred sober-living drunks offered a glimpse of a new life through recovery.  I latched on to the enthusiasm and promise which I discovered in those rooms and held on to it for dear life.  Unspeakable joy interspersed with debilitating depression controlled many of the early days getting sober.

My Father welcomed me with open arms as if we had never separated.  He told me that those arms were wrapped around me all of the 17 years spent in the far country.  I finally understood that God walked that trek every step of the way protecting and loving me while patiently waiting for me to return.  The parable of the Prodigal tells me that Father was overjoyed to have me home.  He prepared a feast and a celebration for my return.  The celebration continues.  We are no longer strangers, I have come home.smiley 3

 

 

 

hangovers

heart manateeJust 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.

Hangovers.  We who partied hearty with the demon alcohol probably remember them well.  And it is good that we do lest the allure of the good times overshadows the misery of the bad times.  I continue to have drunk dreams occasionally and I welcome them as my Higher Power’s blessing.  Those dreams keep me in touch with the reality of alcoholism.

We can also experience emotional hangovers.  This past weekend all the excitement of worldwide “marches for our lives” built up to a crescendo of incredible hope for a humanity free of violence.  The millions who participated displayed an energy uncommon in our society, one that brought together like-minded brothers and sisters who value the sanctity of all life over the various interpretations of citizens’ rights.  The young speakers were amazing, the crowds were peaceful, and a sense of dignity for all humanity governed the atmosphere.

Then, later that evening, the disparaging tweets, comments, and hatred filled our airways and moved across our viewing screens.  Yes, it was an amazing day, but now the reality of what we are as a society hit with a vengeance. The emotional hangover set in. Once again we faced the truth of a world which says that even as voices concerned with species survival speak peace, governments and government agents do not, the powerful do not, and those lost in the darkness of self do not.  They thrive on discord and discontent.

At these moments I have a decision to make.  1) Forsake my truth to venture into their world of strife or 2) grab onto the power which leads me into a place of green pastures and still waters.  President and Mrs. Obama called it “taking the high road”.  Oprah defined it as “not giving power to negativity.”  It’s one of the Buddha’s teachings: observe the thoughts that pass through our minds, do not dwell, do not judge, just allow them to be and then pass on. My serenity depends on preserving an inner sanctum, a space within where the world’s activity is observed and then dismissed.

That emotional turmoil does not need to be the controlling factor in life.  That muck of strife and discord does not need to be wallowed in.  Recognize it and then allow it to pass.  Know it is out there, but don’t participate in its life-sucking discourse.  That is what the Obamas, Oprah, and the Buddha encouraged us to do.  Instead of wallowing, set a course on positive, empowering energy which will encounter and conquer that which is dehumanizing and hateful.

A childhood Sunday School ditty says it all:  “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

CANDLEcopyright 3

 

 

 

world peace

larry6Often I wonder if the characters who are portrayed as spiritual stalwarts centuries ago could survive in the madness of today.  Would they be as courageous in the face of modern-day persecution?  Would they be as capable of finding the quietness of contemplation and meditation of which we are so desirous in today’s culture?  My answer is always a resounding “yes”.  Although the connections of social media and news media were not as immediate as that which we have today, I believe the issues were the same and I know from historical accounts that the persecution was extremely horrendous.  The coverage that rolls across our viewing screens continues to depict the unfathomable inhumanity of man against man.  It is historical and it continues to be the ungodly force which defines mankind.

But, I don’t have to live that way or be deterred by hatred and violence in my life’s journey.  You don’t either.  Realizing that the hope for our world lies not in the might of peace enforced by military power or governmental control, but in each individual member of mankind who is determined to live according to the message of ancient and modern mystics by recognizing an indwelling God, some call it Spirit, and God’s directive to love one another as we have been loved.  We are called to replace devotion to self with service to neighbor.  It’s an attainable solution to a worldwide problem which is leading our species to annihilation.

The message of God’s messengers from Buddha to Jesus to St. Francis to Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. has always been social revolution by peaceful resistance to violence.  And that revolution begins with you and with me.  It’s a readily available inside solution to an earth-threatening plague.

And it’s not that difficult.  Many of us in recovery know the power bestowed upon us when we “came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” and then, “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.”  steps 2 &3, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

We were lost in the insanity of addiction much as the world today is lost in the insanity of hatred and violence.  Addiction and hatred are both soul-killers and the cure for both will be found when we turn to the indwelling divinity which does not need to be sought or discovered from outside sources.  It is innate and readily available.  Just “be still and know.” Psalm 46:10

This journey of discovery is a life-time process which I will never do perfectly.  But, I can travel through this experience as a fearless sojourner who relies upon a Higher Power which wants nothing but goodness and mercy for me and for the world in which I live.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  Psalm 23:6

in sickness and in health

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

orange tree

Everybody raise their hand who has been sick in 2018.  Yes, I’m talking about those days when the influenza in your home town finally catches up to you.   You have taken precautions, you have avoided crowded rooms, you meticulously wiped down your grocery cart’s handle with a sanitizing wipe, but one morning you wake up and there it is.

Feeling green, sniffling, headache, fever, running to the bathroom every 10 minutes.  It’s not something which I love enough to enjoy , but when I realize I will be sick for a few days, I relish the thoughts of having an excuse to be all about me, me, me.

“Oh, sweetheart, please fetch my slippers.  Can you bring the newspaper over to me?  I’m so cold, would you find my favorite blanket.”

I line up a full day of watching TV because I’m sick.  I hang out in my jammies all day because I’m sick.  I cancel all activity outside my own little crisis because I’m sick.  I become a grouch with the excuse that I’m sick.  I yell at the dog because I’m sick.  I’m sick, sick, sick, and the world needs to tend to my needs.

That’s me when I get sick.  I’m sure none of you are like that.  When I don’t feel well I sometimes forget that I’m a Jesus freak.  I forget that there are people in the world who are starving and homeless.  I forget there are some who are also sick with the latest round of influenza and have no bed in which to snuggle, no fuzzy blanket with which to cover themselves, no chicken broth to warm their insides.  For them being sick with flu is sometimes a matter of life and death and it intensifies the misery that normally fills their lives.

I relate the times of physical sickness to the days of soul sickness, the days spent in the hell of alcoholism.  When my flu finally reaches its worst point and recovery appears on the horizon, I become ecstatic with the thought that there is nowhere to go but up.  It’s similar to the transformative realization that when I hit the bottom in my alcoholism, I was ready to be healed and get healthy.  Life was guaranteed to get better.  No, not easier or trouble-free, but better.

The book of Luke tells us about Jesus walking with his disciples to Jerusalem.  He knew he was about to be betrayed, tried, tortured, and crucified.  Undoubtedly Jesus was sad and conflicted about that which was about to happen.  I would be.  I would be mortified and screaming to God to find another course for me to follow.  The last thing on my mind would be the suffering of another person.  “Me, me, me.  All of you, pay attention to me, I’m about to be crucified in a few days.”

When they came to Jericho, a blind man named Bartimeus sat by the roadside begging.  He heard that Jesus was coming,

“…..he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.  And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me.”  

Jesus heard Bartimeus and commanded him to come forward, “What wilt thou that I should do unto you?”

“…..Lord, that I might receive my sight.”

The last line, verse 52 of Mark 10 tells us that Bartimeus did indeed receive his sight and followed Jesus in THE WAY.

There are astonishing lessons for us in this account by the author of Mark.  1) Bartimeus had such great unconditional faith in the power of Jesus that, after his miraculous healing, he became a follower of the movement of Jesus and his disciples which was called THE WAY, 2) a fully human Jesus, undoubtedly overwhelmed with great despair over his approaching crucifixion, nevertheless overshadowed his own sorrow with compassion for a suffering blind man.

Could I do that?  Probably not.  I’d be in bed under my blankets whining for my jammies and hot chicken broth.

CANDLE

 

 

 

fear

smiley-face-2Just 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.

“….So false pride became the reverse side of the ruinous coin marked ‘FEAR’.  We simply had to cover up our deep-lying inferiorities.”  AS BILL SEES IT, Bill Wilson, pg. 46

Often, I have heard “fear” defined as the absence of love.  In acts of unconditional compassion and love, there is no thought given to the “what if” moment.  What if this person is scamming me, what if that homeless man intends to harm me, what if my spouse is cheating on me, what if I lose my life trying to help my friend, etc.?  The list of “what ifs” can be endless.  They will control who I am and undermine my commitment to be fearless and thorough in all my actions.  Fear will always keep me from realizing my full potential as a person in recovery.

In addition to concerns about physical safety, which are healthy in certain situations involving the unknown intentions of people I encounter, fear has always been a tool used to hide my deep-lying inferiorities.  Having endured bullying at the hands of “the big kids” in junior high school, I convinced myself that, yes, the names those boys used were accurate.  I was everything they called me and I was inferior to “normal” guys.  I learned how to fend for myself, not by fighting back which would be against the faith in which my family raised me, but by justifying the self-hatred growing inside me.  I deserved their attacks because I was ugly, I was stupid, I was a coward.

My driving response to life became fear.  Fear that friends would not like me if they saw that which I saw inside of me.   I despised myself and therefore expected others would also feel that way when they came to know the “real” me.  I learned very effectively to present a persona completely contrary to the insecure man into whom I had grown.  Alcohol aided that deception tremendously.  Under the control of my demon, I eventually believed the lies I portrayed about myself.  Honesty was replaced by justified lying.

Fear, fueled by alcohol, led me into a life of torturing self-doubt and an inability to form any semblance of intimacy with another person.  When that possible mate reached a point which required absolute commitment, Larry bailed out.  My fear refused to accept that any other person could love me unconditionally.  How could they?  I certainly could not love me because I despised whom I was.  How could anyone love me?

Fear, consoled by alcohol, took me to a place where the walls were high and the moat was filled with emotional tools to protect myself from the intrusions of life.  I refused to participate in those events which brought joy and camaraderie to other people.  I convinced myself that they did not truly want me to be a part of their lives.  I resorted to my indwelling unworthiness to seclude and detach.  My concept of happiness was living in a cave of a cliff-side monastery baking bread and meditating on the meaning of life.

Fear, having consumed every second of life, finally brought me to a personal ultimatum.  It said to me, “You are worthless, you are useless, you are a failure, you should probably die.”

The absence of self-love in my existence was preparing the final victory for fear.  It was a demoralizing moment in an alcoholic’s life.  My constant companion, alcohol, had taken me to a place where human determination and self-will could no longer hide me.  There were no more places where I could run and continue life.

So, when I remember and when I tell others about the miraculous intervention of a Higher Power at that point in this alcoholic’s life, I joyously give all the credit to a God and a fellowship which loved me more than I had ever been able to love myself.  And guess what?  That love eventually rubbed off on me.  From my deepest insecurities flowed a healthy self-awareness of whom I really was.  From the self-loathing came an appreciation for the person God had discovered within me.  From the loneliness of a self-imposed cave on a cliff-side sprung a home among millions of brothers and sisters who had also been saved from lives of despair and worthlessness.

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right Spirit within me.”  Psalm 51:10

It required a thorough, internal house-cleaning  and a complete restoration to bring the demon alcohol into submission and defeat.  The praise and the victory belong to a commitment to sober-living, the power of God as I understand God, and the fellowship of like-minded survivors.  If you are sober today, give yourself a hand.

clapping

 

cease striving

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”

namaste rainbow

Be still (cease striving) and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  Psalm 46:10

Embrace my soul in warmth,
lift from me that which disrupts,
quietly lead me to your abode,
hold my hand in comfort,
open my mind to magnificence,
to light, to beauty, to stillness.
In this place we are one,
you and I are One
we release the pain,
the concern,
the sorrow.
We release it to your fire.
The realm of discontent passes,
it pales and disappears,
only You and I in the stillness,
the warmth,
the quiet,
the comfort.

It is well with my soul,
I do not fear,
I do not desire,
I do not despise,
it is well
for we are as One

“We have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol.  For by this time sanity has returned.  We can now react sanely and normally, and we find that this has happened almost automatically.  We see that this new attitude toward liquor is really a gift of God.”  AS BILL SEES IT, Bill Wilson, pg. 121

 

awesome

CANDLE

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.

Redeemer, counselor, comforter.
Lord of lords,
king of kings,
merciful and mighty.
Awesome.

Light in my darkness.
Refuge in my fear,
comfort in my pain,
everlasting and eternal.
Awesome.

Forgiver, father, confidante.
Ever present,
always within,
never failing.
Awesome.

Come, see, believe.
You belong,
you are loved,
you are also His.
Share my awesome God.

“Jesus said unto him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life……'”  John 14:6

In our recovery we follow the way set before us in the literature and the fellowship.  We are not alone and we are not perfect.  But, our Higher Power guides through all turmoil, fear, and temptation.  We only need to accept the mercy, grace, and forgiveness offered to us.  Have we found the truth and a new life in sobriety?

Came to believe that  a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  TWELVE & TWELVE, step 2

forgiveness – remember no more

namaste rainbow

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

 

 

“…..I will forgive their iniquity; and I will remember their sin no more.”  Jeremiah 31:34

Forgiveness.  It is commanded.
We ask it in our prayers,
“Forgive my shortcomings as I forgive others.”
And then, remember no more.
Am I capable of not merely forgiving,
but remembering no more?
Do I hang on to those transgressions against me?
What good does that do for me?
Perhaps, I feel vindicated.
Perhaps, I feel superior
when I return to past transgressions against me.
I am told that my sobriety does not benefit,
that my sober walk does not mature.
I must remember no more.
I must forgive and remember no more.
Can I do that?

“If we ask, God will certainly forgive our derelictions.  But in no case does he render us white as snow and keep us that way without OUR COOPERATION.  That is something we are supposed to be willing to work toward ourselves.  He asks only that we try as best we know how to make progress in the building of character.”  AS BILL SEES IT, Bill Wilson, pg. 204

 

to guard against a slip

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”

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Feeling ashamed and sorry for our actions,
promising to change,
to never do it again,
we again stumble,
falling deeper into
addiction’s hell,
begging for relief,
crying in our darkness,
pleading, “Thy will be done.
Restore me into your glory and grace.”

Have you found relief?
Do you see a light in the darkness?
Do you know you are not created to live in darkness,
to stumble through alcoholism?
The One I name God
may come to you
with another name.
It matters not
for we all must claim that spirit as ours
and declare freedom from the demon  alcohol.

Recovery is claiming our freedom and becoming the beacon which we were created to be.

 

“Suppose we fall short of our chosen ideals and stumble?  Does this mean we are going to get drunk?  Some people tell us so.  But this is only a half-truth.

It depends on us and on our motives.  If we are sorry for what we have done, and have the honest desire to let God take us to better things, we believe we will be forgiven and will have learned our lesson.  If we are not sorry, and our conduct continues to harm others, we are quite sure to drink.  These are facts out of our experience.”  AS BILL SEES IT, Bill Wilson, pg. 52

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restoration

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me

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Came to believe a power greater than ourselves
could restore us.
Restore our sanity, our destiny, our dignity.
Return us to community, to family, to God.
We became willing to choose freedom over addiction.
The light of victory became an indwelling spirit whose
beacon defeated alcohol’s darkness.