PEACE WITHIN

Are you a battler?  Do you argue at every turn with the ones you already know to be right?  We simply have a need to be scrappy.  No one can counsel us, no one knows better than us, and certainly no one shall tell us how to run our lives.  This is not a just a denominational problem or a cultural problem or a societal problem.  It is a human problem and it creates an enormous load of unnecessary baggage and heartache.

Psalm 46:10New International Version (NIV)

10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.

Exploring great verses of Scriptures and studying the possible meanings often brings renewed comfort for the soul and deeper understanding of the human condition.  So it is with this verse found in the book of Psalms.  David, the assumed author, is one of the most studied and dichotomous characters of Jewish literature.  A great warrior and king, his lineage to the person of Jesus Christ is presented in the New Testament’s Gospels.  But, King David was also a man of exquisite writing skills expressing elements of peace and calm in his society’s volatile environment.  The Jewish rendering of “be still” is often “cease striving”.  Relax, accept, understand that I am God.  In this context the required action is passive.  “Just stop and shut up for a minute, listen to me.”

But another response which requires initiative on the reader’s part is to view this with more emphasis on “know that I am God”.  The God of the Jews is telling us in no uncertain terms who He is and that He indeed is Lord of the universe, of all nations and of all peoples.  He is saying, “Relax, I’ve got this under control because I am God, not just your God but everybody’s God.”  The act of accepting and knowing has to be accomplished in the stillness of God’s presence.  This is not just a Jewish or Christian obedience; it is part of any faith’s supplication to the entity called God.

And therein we can find peace within.  The inherent human need to challenge, to argue, to dispute spiritual matters can readily be appeased and need not be a part of our inner sanctum.  First, be still.  But then, know the truth of your God.

Very often we have said, “I am going to let God control my life.”  Truly, does God need us to give control to him?  Maybe we need to kick back and understand that He is in control.  Matters not if we give him control.  He’s already got us covered.  The peace within happens when we accept that.

 

 

36 YEARS AGO

 

door-not-takenOn a very cold, wintry, January night of 1981 a 34-year-old man entered the parking lot of the Episcopal church in Sunbury, Pennsylvania.  The lot was empty of vehicles as it was a Thursday night and the man, although early for his appointed meeting, sat for a few minutes in his vehicle contemplating the events of the past few weeks and what he anticipated to happen that evening.  Not normally timid or shy, he was shaking, not from the weather but from anxiety over his decision to take a life-changing direction that would be so vastly different from any other of his life’s experiences.  It was an extremely difficult choice to make but, he knew he had come to a dead-end.  More often than he cared to admit, suicide had become an  increasingly favorable option and he was absolutely terrified of where his mind had been taking him.

Psychoanalysis had helped, counseling had helped, well-meaning family members had tried to help but, the feelings of despair, self-loathing, and worthlessness continued to haunt him.  In the darkness of that church parking lot he battled the urge to run, to wage the struggle alone just as he had faced so many other hurdles in life, or to maybe, finally, find the courage to end it all.

Why were no other people here?  Was he too early or was the meeting cancelled? Did they not know how desperate be had become?  He already believed he was not worthy of anyone’s concern and now it was being proven to him.  Nobody was showing up for his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  Yeah, the world really sucked and he was the world’s biggest fool for believing anyone cared.

It was 7:30 o’clock, time for the meeting to start and the church was dark, the parking lot was still empty.  From his car he could see just one doorway to the social hall where they were supposed to meet.  A light hanging over the doorway barely illuminated the walkway up to the door.  It was cold, dark and desolate.  Shivering, he shifted into gear and decided to leave, maybe stop for a beer at a nearby pub.  It was a stupid idea anyway.  How could a bunch of whining ex-drunks sitting around a table commiserating over not being able to drink anymore…how could they help him?

Ready to pull back onto the street, he looked back one more time to the lighted doorway.  Standing there under the light, shoulders huddled, pouring an icy mist from his nostrils was a man beckoning him to return.

“Lord, where did he come from?  He wasn’t there just a second ago.”

“Hey, my name is Tom,” the voice said as the angel walked toward my car.  “I think you’re probably at the right place.  The meeting’s at 8:00 o’clock.  C’mon in, I’ve got the key.”

January 22nd of 2017 is my 36th sobriety anniversary.  I can see Tom standing in that doorway and I remember the details of my first meeting, the people who were there, and most of all, the immediate realization that, just as Tom had said, I was at the right place, and indeed he and AA had the key to personal liberation and a life victorious over the demon alcohol.

My name is Larry and I am an alcoholic.  On that cold night nearly 36 years ago I had two doors before me.  In one door stood my angel beckoning me to be bold and courageous in pursuit of recovery from alcoholism.  The other door questioned by whose power did I believe a drunken wretch like me could survive even one day without alcohol. The darkness in that door told me I was unworthy of anything other than the hell of addiction.

Do I believe in God’s amazing grace?  You betcha.

unshackled-2

 

 

 

ALCOHOLIC?

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If you are one who remembers this music, sit back and reminisce. If you don’t remember it, that’s OK also. My point in composing this page is to remind myself and other recovering addicts that not always in our addictions was life unbearable. There were good times interspersed with the horrible episodes of drinking and drugging. We had great music and most often loyal friends. Many of us were functional alcoholics with relationships and families. Until recently I painted those years as absolutely dark and void of any joy. I refused to entertain the thought that remembering those times could be therapeutic and possibly uplifting. Faith in an unfailing God has strengthened and encouraged me to revisit those days. Of course, today it is not the same. I don’t fill my head with a steady diet of rock and my predominant interest now is contemporary Christian music.

I celebrate a sober life, clean and serene, remembering some of the great artists of the time who suffered through their demons and did not make it to a time of recovery. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison are just a few who died. They made great music. Please take time to enjoy it on these pages.

The music of our generation defined who we were. The 1960’s rocked. We rebelled, we protested, we despised the hypocrisy of our government, our parents and our society. We embraced the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan sweeping into the 1970’s a newfound freedom in drugs, sex, rock and roll. The Vietnam war and Woodstock showed the world how polarized we had become. Most of us survived and matured to become upstanding citizens and family people just like the generation before us. Some of us stayed in the 1960’s drinking and drugging ourselves into oblivion. Many died.

The music is epic. Only recently have I been able to listen and reminisce comfortably. It no longer takes me to a dark time. It’s merely part of my journey.

‘Nam was a huge part of the late 1960’s for young American men. The government conscription which was in effect struck many of us as discriminatory and unfair as evidenced by the large numbers of draftees who were poor, unable to obtain deferments, and African-American. It seemed that a disproportionate number of men from those groups were drafted into the Army and trained for Vietnam.

It has been argued that indeed a large number of those sent to Vietnam were from these groups; however, not because of discrimination in the system but because they lacked the skills and education for employment in the States. Vietnam looked like opportunity to improve their lives.

Whatever the circumstances were, many young men succumbed to a habit of alcohol and drugs in the jungles to combat loneliness and fear. Those of us who managed to serve in other foreign countries and the States were not immune from the effects of war. My service in the hospital corps put me in daily contact with amputees returning for rehabilitation and with emotionally debilitated soldiers and marines. There were also numerous drug and alcohol abuse casualties.

I also relied on alcohol to combat my fears and insecurities. My disease was rampant and easy to conceal because nearly everyone in the Navy drank, most of us to excess. That was simply the Navy way of life. However, the difference between my fellow corpsmen and I was that I was much more comfortable socializing with my patients than with my peers. I and the men and women to whom I ministered belonged to the same brotherhood of brokenness.  Music was a huge part of our lives.

In January of 1981 God was looking at me, a sorry example of his creation, and decided to put it on the road to sobriety.  At the time I was unsure of his decision but did not have many options.  Honestly, I didn’t know it was God’s decision because I didn’t know God. Oh, I had some carryover from childhood of the vindictive, judgmental entity my family’s religion force-fed me.  But, I decided at a young age that no god was better than their god.

What I did know was that my life had dead-ended and I needed to find a change or kill myself.  It was that simple.  Of course, in my estimation, being the alcoholic that I am, my excessive drinking was not the problem .  Other people, the job, my boss, money problems, my lover, my upbringing, etc. were the reasons I hated myself so much.  I could never come up with an honest appraisal of me.

I decided that I needed counseling to learn how to deal with the issues and people that were creating my unhappiness.  On the way to my first session with a psychologist at the hospital’s mental health center I stopped at a favorite watering hole for some fortification.  I sincerely believed my drinking habits were normal and ridiculed those who did not drink.

After just one minute of baring my soul to the psychologist he simply asked, “How much do you drink?”

“Oh, maybe a few at night,” I lied.

The incredulous look from that man behind his desk was worth more than a thousand words of professional counseling.  We both knew at that precise moment, “Bingo.”

That was my day of reckoning.  God had decided to take me out of my miserable existence and in the beat of a heart I became willing.  It all played out so clearly in that moment of acceptance.  It was a light being turned on in a darkened room.  I didn’t at that time know who or what it was that had opened my eyes.  God’s revealing of himself then was just a twinkling and has been an ongoing experience, which continues to this day.

I did know that my drinking habit had destroyed much of my life since that first beer at age 17.  From day one of my career in alcoholism I was addicted to a potion that made me fearless, charismatic and good-looking.  I was so cool sitting up there at the bar with a cigarette dangling from one hand and a beer or a scotch in the other.  I could do anything and be anybody I wanted.  I was intelligent and funny.

On that day in January of 1981 God crushed me. I said to the psychologist, “Yeah, let’s try it your way because my way just doesn’t work anymore.”

I was 34 years old and I had not an inkling of the road ahead.  If I had known what was in store for me, I probably would have said, “Know what? Maybe we can try this another time.”

I spent 2 weeks in detox, another 3 months in a counseling program and introduced myself to Alcoholics Anonymous.  Life since than has been one helluva ride.  Calmness and serenity interspersed with absolute, sober terror and suicidal moments convinced me that my alcoholism was indeed just a symptom of deep underlying emotional issues just as my AA friends always said.

My road to recovery has been unconventional and probably not completely AA approved. However, I find myself with substantial continuous sobriety and have been prodded to share my experience, strength and hope with others who may gain an insight into their own struggles.

Who prods me to do this? God, of course. Who else?

 

POWERLESS

powerless

“Admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Click to access en_step1.pdf

http://alcoholicsvictorious.org/12-ste

1 We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.

http://www.celebraterecoverygabc.com/12-Steps.html

REALITY

scan0034Many years ago I found myself at a crossroads in my spiritual life. Having been sober for several years I began searching for an extension of the entity I called HP. Believing that sobriety had cleared my mind sufficiently to venture into the world of theology, I found what I believed to be a true path to a better understanding of God. Sincerity and fervor was not an issue; I wanted to be one of those ‘normal’ people who worshipped in churches.

A local community church promised to be the answer to my searching; it offered to me the ‘black and white’ of every issue which life raised; there were no gray areas. Promoting itself as inerrant, literal and true to the Word of God, this fellowship of Godly believers covered me with their version of righteousness.

Unfortunately, it did not accept the recovery program of AA as Biblical and I was encouraged to abandon the AA fellowship. They told me the AA program was an unacceptable theology for a true believer. In retrospect I know today that it was only by the grace of God that I continued to stay sober while worshipping in their version of godliness.

The dilemma of breaking away from AA and then leaving the church was not part of the sobriety script. It left me with a foot in both doors; neither fellowship fulfilled my need to fellowship or worship. I learned from this experience that theology, religion, and spirituality are not interchangeable words.

Theology is knowing about God or a God-belief system; religion is a personal walk with God; spirituality is the inner change as a result of that walk. Thirty years after that near fatal encounter with the inerrant literalists I joyously practice religion, graciously accept spiritual blessings, and warily keep an eye on theologians.

This evolution leads to the gist of my post: gaining knowledge about varying theologies is important to discernment, practicing religion is soul food, cherishing spiritual gifts from differing sources honors God’s inherent intelligence.

My self-identity as a Jesus follower does not ascribe me to any particular faith or theology. This journey I am undertaking has led me to revere and trust the historical Jesus as presented by numerous non-religious sources as well as the writings of early Jesus followers. It is my personal belief that when Rome established Christianity as its state religion, theology overshadowed religion and spirituality; thus resulting in the loss of the true message of Jesus Christ and the 1st century disciples.

My quest for spiritual sanity demands that I learn about other faiths and their messengers who have presented the truth of God to an unbelieving world; the God of my understanding, my HP, is universal and omnipotent using differing avenues to approach the unbelieving world.

“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
John 14:2 kjv

The author is not speaking in terms of the physical world, rather in the spiritual realm which in essence is what all scriptures are about. It is the spiritual manifestation of our desire for God. This verse speaks to me very clearly that my HP has room for differing religious persuasions, that there are many differing relationships with the Supreme Being.

AIN’T HE SPECIAL?

 

 

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There was a time when I thought I was somewhat unique.  Nobody, but nobody, in the world was like me, the good, the bad and the indifferent.  Yep, I was surely special.  Then day one of my recovery from alcoholism occurred and guess what?  I met a bunch of other people just like me.  What a revelation!

Then I knew that whatever I was thinking, someone else had thought the same before me. Whatever I was doing,  someone had done it before.  The phrase, “been there, done that” took on a very significant meaning in my life.  And I was no longer unique.

However, I can occasionally make side trips to that place called special and unique.  It feeds my ego, pumps my self-esteem, and ultimately puts me in a dangerous space in my sobriety.  The God of my understanding tells me that truly I am loved in his eyes, but I am just a grain of sand in the sea of humankind.  I am just one of a multitudinous flood of creatures who face the same issues; we dream, hope, grieve, worship, sin, worry, rejoice.  And it is guaranteed that each of us will physically die.

The only one who is special in this scenario called life on earth is our HP.  Who else could put together a bunch of bitter, demented, angry, back-biting, self-absorbed, whining, drunks and turn them into souls afire for sobriety and fellowship?  It’s got to be a God thing.  Nothing else is big enough, almighty enough, loving enough to make us over into something special.