January, 1981, my story was changed. On that cold night in the social hall of a local church, I wasn’t looking for sobriety, I wasn’t searching for a savior to guide my life forever thereafter, I wasn’t willing to take the steps necessary to become a new man. I just wanted to stop hurting, stop the pain that defined my life. What those men and women sitting at the table of my first AA meeting shared was a familiar story because I knew it well. After 17 years living the insanity of alcoholism, I was ready for a new chapter in my story, but, “Good Lord,” I cried. ‘What a tall order, I can’t do it. Living without alcohol forever. I can’t.”
Then that voice which has become so very familiar answered, “Yes, together, we can. It’s not forever, it’s one day at a time, let go and let me.”
Forty years ago my story was changed. Not by my will power nor luck, rather by loving, sober people who cared and a God who could and would make a new man out of me. That’s my story. Chris, Jack, Jo, Cindy, Tom, Danny, Father Bond are just a few of the characters from my recovery…..Jesus is the author.
“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” JOHN 8:36
“I love to tell the story! ‘Twill be my theme in glory to tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.” Catherine Hankey
Who or what is the god of our lives? What do we hold closest to our hearts? Where do we turn in troubling times of the soul?
Of course the answers matter. Troubling times for humanity are not just a 21st century happening. History tells us that, as a species, we have encountered hardships, heartbreak, devastation, genocide, world war, political unrest and plague throughout each generation of mankind. So, let’s not think that we are unfairly oppressed by the inhumanity of the world or the wrath of a vengeful God.
I often refer to my grandpappy, a wise and thoughtful man, in my assessment of life. One of the most profound and profane summaries of his world was shared in these words: “Shit happens.”
My faith, still immature, says that I have no control over most of the events in my life. A simple prayer learned in the rooms of AA says:
“God grant me the serenity to accept that which I cannot change; courage to change that which I should, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
That prayer poses questions to be answered: 1) what can I not change? Most obviously, I cannot change other people. I cannot change my past. 2) What should I change? That is easy….I made a mess of my life in drunkenness. I need to change myself and thus my future.
In a nutshell, that philosophy guides us to a successful recovery from addiction and a serene path through life. The ‘Serenity Prayer’ is a life-changer for millions of alcoholics. Most of our challenges (call them failures, if you must) were the result of our attempts to play God. When we recognized that the higher power directing and controlling our lives was a substance such as alcohol/drugs or a behavioral addiction, we then searched for a replacement, an entity worthy to be our Higher Power.
“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Step 2, Alcoholics Anonymous
Knowing a higher power was nothing new to us – it had been alcohol and drugs. Finding a sane alternative was the challenge we faced.
From Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions we read:
“Therefore, Step Two is the rallying point for all of us. Whether agnostic, atheist, or former believer, we can stand together on this Step. True humility and an open mind can lead us to faith, and every A.A. meeting is an assurance that God will restore us to sanity if we rightly relate ourselves to Him.”
Will I relate myself “rightly”, who’s my daddy going to be? Where is my heart’s treasure? With whom do I share the depths of my heart, the concerns and fears, the joy and love?
Like grandpappy always said, life happens regardless of what we think it should be. But, with a commitment to sober-living, life can be a stroll through serenity, or under the ravages of addiction, a trip through hell. It’s our choice.
A well-remembered adage flowing freely around the tables of Alcoholics Anonymous was this:
“You have got to give it away to keep it.”
Sobriety, the clean and serene, the return of sanity, the restoration of family and community was a gift of a Higher Power whom we trusted and revered. It was freely given through the grace of a loving, magnanimous God. Many of us, needing definition to this God, rely on the Christian concept of Jesus, the Christ. I have to give Him away to keep Him.
Celebrating the birth is part of this Jesus story that has given meaning to life as well as understanding to death. A boyhood verse learned in Sunday School said, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”
Alcoholism kidnapped my relationship with Jesus and set me in the darkness of the deep valleys. My story is found in the New Testament book of Luke, chapter 15, the parable of the prodigal son. Through Jesus, my Father and I have claimed victory over alcoholism and spiritual death.
Yes, yes, yes, I will go tell it on the mountain, in the valley, on the streets and wherever anyone will listen. Tonight I celebrate the birth of the Son who saved me from insanity or jail or death. Tonight is all about God’s gift to humanity. This little light of mine – I’m gonna let it shine.
When I found on YouTube this a cappella rendition of JUST AS I AM and saw that it was sung by a Mennonite choir, I knew this was today’s post. I have journeyed with very fine Mennonite men and women on this trek through life. They are non-judgmental, they are humbly devoted, they are peacemakers in a violent world.
Decades ago I answered the altar call at a Youth for Christ rally. Penitently, I walked up to the railing, knelt, bowed my head, cried. It was a transformative night. But then the ‘humbly born again’ me tried to assume the posture and image of what people told me a Christian, especially a born again Christian, should be. Over the following years I rebelled against and rejected anything religious.
That table of invitation, the seat reserved for me did not move. It is I who have changed and moved. Today, what others profess does not matter. What others think about me does not matter. What others assume as ‘Christian-like’ behavior does not matter. It was my seat waiting and I claimed it. Verse 3 of the hymn by Charlotte Elliot says it all:
“Just as I am! tho’ tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, with fears within, and foes without, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!”
The truth of the Jesus story says to me that there are no conditions on taking a seat because the table is open to anyone – black or white, man or woman, gay or straight, drunk or sober, earthling or Martian – the truth has not changed. This has always been a universal invitation which only man’s theological interpretation has limited.
“If, therefore, the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” JOHN 8:36
Enjoy the freedom. The centerpiece of the table is unrelenting love for your Lord and, then, the entirety of Creation. We can add a plethora of ‘thou shalt’ and ‘thou shalt not’, but why should we want to? NAMASTE 🙏
The word emancipation has been used frequently over the past few days – and it should be. When we can celebrate together as One the freedom of all, we will then be socially emancipated. All groups of immigrants coming to America’s table of equality desired emancipation – Germans, Irish, Asian, Catholic, Muslim, etc. It’s an innate destiny to live our lives as designed and intended by a Higher Power. Our nation is unique in that we have historically welcomed any who wish to be a part of our melting pot culture. Lady liberty, standing in New York Harbor, shares these words:
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
But, emancipation is more than the freedom granted by society. It is also personal and spiritual. That shameful habit that we have hidden within hoping no body would discover our little secret, that unlawful act we committed decades ago, that extra-marital affair with our best friend’s wife….all waiting for the grace of emancipation. It can happen only when, “we admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” STEP 5, TWELVE & TWELVE, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
Getting honest is not a fun thing. It can be heart wrenching and difficult. The Big Book tells us to be fearless and thorough in our personal inventories. But, there is a light at the end of that dark tunnel. It is the freedom brought about by the emancipation of our souls. For some of us it is a return to foundational principles learned young, but then squandered during our addictions. Come to the table where equality dwells and find your freedom now.
“…..if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” JOHN 31-32
Really? Do I remember where I was last night, whom I was with, what I did? Do I know where I parked my truck? Am I reeking of stale cigarettes and whiskey? Must I extend apologies (again) to my friends and family?
NO! Today is not just another day. Today is a spectacular day in the sobriety journey. It is a day to rejoice and be grateful.
You and I are sober today – get up, get motivated and let’s give ourselves and our HP a hand.
I know your troubles, I know that your heart is heavy with concern and fear, that you are severely challenged by the violence and insecurities of this world. Look into His eyes, see what I have seen and know that my Father, and yours, will gently guide us through the difficult times we are facing.
Just imagine Jesus holding us in loving arms, soothing our hearts, asking us to trust him…
I have been there, I understand. Have you ever read what they did to me? They called me a heretic, a blasphemer, and a charlatan. All I wanted was peace and brotherly love, to live my life as a beacon for the Father whom I worshipped. I believed that all people were equal in my Father’s eyes, that all should equally participate in his abundance. They hunted me like a criminal, beat me, stripped me of my clothing, humiliated me, flogged me, spat upon me, and then nailed me to a wooden cross to die an ignoble death.
But, I survived. 2000 years later people still quote me and read about me. Now, loved ones, you tell me who died on that cross? Those who persecuted me and drove the nails are nothing more than ashes and bones, but I am still alive and well in the eyes of millions of people.
I have been there, I know your pain. The illness and devastation in your world today – I understand. The possessed, the lepers, the lame, the plague ridden were part of my world. The corruption, the crime, the deceit, the hypocrisy were also part of my world. Just trust me for I have endured it all and I have conquered everything put upon me simply by dying to the things of this earth and turning eyes to a power greater than any on earth. I AM ALIVE!
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest in your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” MATTHEW 11: 28-30 NIV
Sober today? The thin line separating life in sobriety from the death hold of alcoholism is the blessing of a Higher Power known worldwide by many names. Our sobriety is an undeserved, unmerited gift. Give your Higher Power a hand.
For breath and clean air to breathe,
for heartbeat and healthy flowing blood…
I am thankful.
For arms and legs that move,
for toes that wiggle…
I am thankful.
For sobriety and the willingness to live soberly,
for a clear head and commitment to sane, rational thinking…
I am thankful.
For waking up knowing where I was last night,
for knowing what I did last night and where I parked my truck…
I am thankful.
Sober today? Give yourself and your Higher Power a hand.
Even after years of continuous sobriety, Step 1 of the AA program is as relevant today for me as it was back in 1981. They called it “self-will run riot” at the meeting tables. We, if we were honest about our situation, could heartily agree with the unmanageable existence that had become everyday life under the control of alcohol.
But, there had to be more than merely admitting that we had a drinking problem and that our lives were unmanageable. We had to change who we were, how we processed life situations. We had to change our thinking and our priorities. It was not easy. Many did not make the transition and returned to old ways under the clutches of addiction.
So, you might ask, “what made the difference, why would some succeed while others slipped back into drinking?”
SURRENDER. Surrendering to the wisdom at the meeting tables, to those who cared enough to share their stories, to those who sat up into the wee morning hours to guide us through moments of weakness, to the inspiration given in the writings of Bill W. and Dr. Bob, and finally to a power greater than us – that Higher Power which appears under innumerable names and philosophies. We had to surrender everything which told us that we were special and unique, separate from the gutter drunk or the teenaged hustler on the street corner. We had to accept that “but for the grace of God, there go I.”
Have I surrendered today? Have I turned over all my concerns, all my fears, all my prejudices, all my doubts and insecurities? Have you?
We are told that we no longer need to live lives of continual turmoil. We don’t need to worry about the stock market, about wars in distant lands, about turmoil in our country, about pandemics that could kill us because ultimately we do not have control over anything outside the heart and soul that comfort us. We, if we have surrendered, trust in the goodness of humanity and the grace of a Higher Power. It is the only pathway to internal peace. Internal peace is the only pathway to a world of peace. Worrying contradicts surrender and robs us of peace. What’s our choice going to be?
A favorite passage from the book of Luke tells me:
“…can any of you, for all your worrying, add a single moment to the span of your life?” LUKE 12:25-26