"When everything's made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am"
These words are from a Goo Goo Dolls song Iris in 1998. But they apply to one of the key reasons it is so important that we continue to give to the downtrodden, the outcasts, the marginal of society including sometimes hopeless addicts and alcoholics. They just want you to know who they are, despite everything being broken in their lives.
That is a major reason why ATB exists and so many others who are in a similar role as an organization - we understand what these folks need to begin a new journey that may change their lives. They need someone to talk to, they need some attention, they need a spark that lights the fire to come out of darkness. And once they understand the authenticity of why we give, many begin to listen to a message of hope.
They need someone to know their story, to know who they are, and now they need someone to point them in the right direction. Further in the song are these words. "Yeah you bleed just to know you're alive". So we give, and often it requires sacrifice and often we see no appreciation, but every now and then folks show it and it makes us realize that we were glad we bled, for their sake, it made us both feel alive. And, when they make it to a year clean, we rejoice and feel like if we only reach one in ten, it's worth it.
Someone else bled for us, but before he did he gave a gift of healing to 10 lepers, and only one came back to thank him. In fact, he was not only an outcast as a leper, he was a hated Samaritan. But I guarantee you Jesus was pumped, he felt alive in his purpose because he knew what knuckleheads we are, and he just converted someone who was in darkness.
Giving for sure is living, it is the purpose God intended for us to have as demonstrated by the greatest, Jesus. And even the greatest ignored the nine who seemed unappreciative, to go on for the one who was. This is a blog, but it could easily be a sermon.
I was that one, that's why I know, and now all I do is what he did for me in whatever manner he asks me to. That's why I really know I am truly alive!
It stuck in my mind like Gorilla glue, it would not go away. That song we used to sing in church that seems to be buried as somewhat irrelevant compared to today's new worship music. "Count Your Blessings" and those prophetic words, "count your blessings, name them one by one, count your blessings see what God has done", they just keep on rolling through my spirit.
And then I think of Job, who despite all that came against him, remained faithful and full of blessings during the process of severe hardship. And I ask myself a question, one you may be asking too, am I honoring God in the same way he is blessing me? Am I thankful enough that I act the way he wants me to, and in the way that serves him best? And when things get extremely difficult can I still sing that song myself?
Hard questions to answer, but I know that I must admit to myself, I will never give or love like God can, but I can never forget what he has done, and despite my flaws and ridiculously skewed sense of logic, I must get back on the path of gratitude even if I take a short detour. God loves me anyway, which is definitely hard to grasp for someone who spent many years trying to destroy himself and others.
And then, that song plays again, and I realize that this amazing God we serve has delivered me from addiction, healed me from COVID, propped me up every time I tried to fall and has placed in my heart a desire to serve others like never before. Sometimes I ask why?
A good friend called me the other day and talked about how great she felt from helping someone else, getting outside of herself and her own problems. So I remarked that maybe she wasn't such a pain to me after all that she thought she was with all of her problems, maybe it was a blessing and honor for me to listen.
Maybe our greatest blessings are simply found in the moments of our greatest service to others, not in trying to repay God through our good behavior. Our commitment to him is not to be perfect, but to perfectly fit into his plans. Thus comes the blessings of joy in service to the ultimate joy giver.
There goes that song again!
It was an electric moment. The nurses came in and said that I had been released from ICU to go to a regular room. Joy filled my heart and as one of them who had talked to me quite a bit extended her arms to get out of that chair I was in, she said to me....
Do you want to dance?
Ever the one to not miss a special moment I took her in my arms and as feeble as I still felt, we took a few spins as the other nurses cheered. Certainly a highlight of my COVID trip to the hospital but to me it was part of a philosophy of life. Do you want to dance, or sit this one out?
Jesus asked that question in a slightly different form to his disciples, more of a statement: follow me and I will make you fishers of men. Yes, I know this is stretching the dance analogy, but he was in effect saying, do you want to make a difference, help change lives, or do you just want to exist as an ordinary fisherman? The dance is life itself and how we approach it, as living in a relative box, or coming out to really live.
As folks in addiction, we took this to the extreme, we danced way too much to the wrong kind of music. But now, as this incredible rash of one year plus sobriety chips continues, we find the Lord extending his arms to us saying, now you are on your way to healing and out of the woods, let me use you to really make an impact on others. Take a few new dance STEPS.
Think about it, a nurse asking a patient fresh off off COVID to dance is just like Jesus going to eat with tax collectors and notorious sinners. Reaching out to those in need by taking a dance spin, and taking a chance that instead of getting hurt in the process, you will bring the joy of healing to their life.
To the missionaries, the evangelists, the sponsors, the mentors, the sober living founders, those who put themselves at risk often to help others, let's dance to the rhythm of God's beautiful music of a full life.
And, take a little time to go fishing!
My partner since being released from the hospital with COVID has been an oxygen supply in various forms. I have a main control unit that stays on 24/7 which allows me to be fed by an extended tubing from about 50', or if I travel there is a 3 hour tank for use as I need that goes with me. It supplies 3% of what I need, a whole lot less than when admitted to the hospital.
As I remain under my doctor's order, plus what the lung specialist says, I should be able to discontinue the oxygen within 30 days. But for now I can go 60-90 minutes without it and still rate on a high level of supply. But I can feel a difference - very subtle, but I know when I have gone too long without it.
In a simple manner, receiving a supply of faith every day is just as easy to receive as any oxygen machine, yet difficult for so many of us who have no time for refreshing. It's there, read about it or listen to it, take it in in a meeting or service, faith runs 24/7 available always. All it takes for a boost is the time it takes to receive it.
Just before going into ICU, someone bought me a pulse oximeter, one of those things you attach to your finger to measure your oxygen and heart rate. Mine was so low then that I had to go in. And there are days that I realize without prior warning, that I have ignored hooking up to my faith meter components. Then I feel a subtle difference that I may be off course in my daily direction.
And without faith it is impossible to please God...... Hebrews 11:6
If I only have 50% of the faith I need, then I only give a halfway effort to the Lord. It is impossible to generate the other half from within myself because I am already down on supply. I need a hook up to that faith meter to re-supply my needs. And, I can never forget that because the people we serve need to see 100% of the faith God gives us, not 50% of Him and 50% of what I make up as a substitute.
Having this constant companion with me lately has reminded me of this, maybe He designed it that way. Whatever the case, truth is that this Oxygen machine will go soon, but I cannot ever stop breathing in the air of God's spirit daily, 24/7 to reach the level of faith he wants me to operate at.
It helps us to breathe life into others when we have a full supply!
Six months ago entering the hospital with COVID-19 would have been much more precarious than a few weeks ago. We knew little of how to combat this thing, only that it was a deadly killer and we couldn't slow it down. There weren't enough morgues to hold the bodies.
As I lay in ICU, nurses pumped me with Remdesivir, anti-biotics and steroids and even a little Insulin now and then it occurred to me that they had found something that worked, this was at least slowing down if not eliminating the killer. This was healing me and each day, as I have now at home, things have improved. What those dedicated, trained and always searching for answers medical professionals did saved my life.
As any of us who have dealt with the other strangler - addiction do, we stand before you with the cure. What if I had just lost it there in the hospital, ripped off the tubes and just said the hell with it, I am tired of all these restrictions and not sleeping and constant weird thoughts? Where would I be now?
Our cure didn't need FDA approval, it was approved by the one who loves us, who provided a pathway to freedom for us and then let the professionals write out several types of prescriptions for the pain. The pathway has several options but the first option has to connect with God or we just end up shooting ourselves with placebo's with no real effect.
Ask a patient who can't breathe in ICU, "You want a placebo or something that helps you breathe?" Hope I am not insulting your intelligence with that question, but the answer in this world of addiction I know is more often than not, "just give me the placebo that seems like it works" Cunning and baffling that is what we are.
The Lord said "Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest". Matt 11:28
That invitation is an invitation to heal, to learn how to breathe again, to learn how to enjoy life instead of constantly swimming upstream. The pathway to recovery begins in God's ICU - all we have to do is come and he has the rest of what we need - just come!
COVID or addiction, neither one is a match for him.
Six months of success, being back on the front line after the initial COVID shutdown, helping folks get through the other pandemic - addiction, things were going very well and lives were changing. Then it hit me, The COVID Strangler struck with a venomous bite on September 25th.
I have been through war, divorce, death of a son and countless other trials and battles that have built up my faith, my courage and my resolve to fight any life insurgent. But this one took me out. So much so that my family had to do an intervention where emergency crews broke into my place and took me to the hospital. It strangled me, clouded my thought process and made my ability to fight like one who has both hands tied behind his back.
I did not even realize for days I was in the ICU but I knew I had 24-7 care. My oxygen level was so low they had to pump in 60% of it. Then someone with good intentions said 'This is like the flu right?"
I will recount other phases and thoughts on this journey with you in coming blogs, but here is the knot that ties the COVID, addiction and severe hardship of life together - it attacks your immune system, it strikes where it can destroy our ability to think, function properly and act on our own.
Think of this, we say in the Steps, we are powerless, Jesus says without my power you are virtually helpless, and the 35 year old, 98 Lb. heroin addict has worn themselves down so far that there is no immune system left to fight anything. We have become asphyxiated by the strangler, whichever one that is. We need oxygen from a healer.
What brought me through in addition to the incredible care of The Gwinnett Northside Hospital, was thinking about how David, the guy who had it all together, retreated to a cave, where his parents came and did an intervention, his gang of misfits encouraged him through and he realized how many of his people loved him, supported him and were now there for him in his time of need.
God was, but they were certainly there too, and you were there with me. And I thought about you in ICU for 7 days, I felt the love and I felt the strangler have to let go because we were not done fighting those battles that still have to be won together.
Love you guys and thank you for the prayers, calls, texts, posts, cards and love - we will see you very soon!
Jesus did it! He told the story so eloquently in a short, concise, and caring manner in a simple parable:
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won't he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one he has lost? (Pause) Now why would he do that - because one is important. He had ninety-nine good obedient sheep but the shepherd went after the sheep addict because he was lost. He did the same thing eating with tax collectors and wayward sinners. I would bet he went one on one with many of them.
And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that did not wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father's will that even one of these little ones should perish. Matthew 18:12-14
We can, as evangelists, leaders, business owners, preachers and recruiters go after the ninety-nine for volume, but it is the one that matters most to our Lord, the one who is lost, and the only way to keep that one in the flock is to go one on one with it to teach it how to remain with the flock, or in today's jargon - stay connected. It got lost because it got disconnected.
The opposite of addiction is connection and at ATB we will always be about the one, because we have a whole bunch of ones. Therefore, we can develop Strategic Plans, Business Plans and all other kinds of plans, but I personally believe that we should follow the growth blueprint Jesus gave us, and engage other volunteers to spread the message of hope as he did with the Apostles.
We have some incredible numbers in our 9-10 meetings a week, but we measure our success in one's. They need the connection, we need the connection, and we all need to be connected to the One who does not want any-one to perish!
It happens at the end of every meeting when we hand out the recovery milestone chips that range from 24 hours clean to multiple years. May not mean much to folks not involved in addiction recovery but these are for the courageous efforts of recovering addicts and alcoholics to come in from the darkness to find light in sobriety.
At the end we hand out the "Encouragement Chip" which has the footprints on one side and this quotation on the other, "Follow the footprints of the Lord they will lead you through troubled times and brighten your life". Needless to say these small metal coins the size of a quarter are our most popular. Why? Sometimes the Lord has to carry us through times of trouble when we have no strength to make it ourselves. The history of this dates way back to the Book of Deuteronomy. Listen to Moses words to the Israelites:
The Lord your God who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place. Deuteronomy 1:30-31
When my oldest son was very young we were on a winter trip in the mountains of Pennsylvania sledding and snowmobiling in -5 degree weather. Somehow he lost his gloves and we were about a quarter mile away from the building we were staying in. He kept screaming how cold he was. My wife told the story how I picked him up and ran with him all the way to save him from frostbite.
As a father carries a son in that passage has been lived by me when I carried Tom, but also when God carried this broken man when he was down and out and frozen in his heart. Footprints is not just a word to me, it is a sign always that the Lord is still with me, even in multiple pandemics and social unrest.
I have one simple job now, point the way to those footprints that walked toward that cross and out of that tomb so that any alcoholic or drug addict could follow them or be carried by them, to home where there is healing.
That has brightened my life, it can enlighten yours!
I love the song "Friend of God". It reminds me of how far I've come, from that despicable alcoholic lost in the darkness to being a friend of the creator who knows my name. That comes from the refrain: I am a friend of God, he knows my name! My new identity came from a process of Transformation that is best described in Romans 12:2.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.
How it worked for me was by surrendering to Christ, then learning how to drop my pride for humility, then by losing the condemnation of myself for the affirmations of a changed positive life. We are certainly what we think we are and what we think turns into words, then into actions which show our true intentions. And we must remember that in addiction behavior our intentions were usually bad which reflected our selfish thoughts and that was manifested in our harsh words.
So I had to ask myself a question, what did I tell myself daily versus what God was telling me? Some words change entirely in their meaning by one word. I can/I can't or I love/I lose or I need hope/I need dope. We are so easily swayed as the Devil proved with Eve in the garden - one letter changed an entire world outcome.
So, aside from understanding that humility heals the pain of our past and generates an opportunity for learning how to be transformed, I had to begin telling myself affirming things daily that I would also suggest to you:
1. I can recover from addiction (or fill in another sin word)
2. I will not repeat my past mistakes (took several times to learn this one)
3. I am smart and trustworthy
4. I am handsome (beautiful for the women)
5. My fear of life is disappearing
6. My life is just beginning
7. I am a friend of God
And remember what being a Friend of God means, no condemnation through Christ, plans to prosper not harm, we are fearfully and wonderfully made in His image, and select any chapter of the Bible and read how God treasures us. He longs for our friendship.
Yes, when we are transformed by the renewing of our mind, we know His mind. That tells us everything we need to know.
Now that's a word I have struggled with. Since my return from a very complicated war, and in the days of my active addiction, that was a word with a floating target. Tired of paying attention to leaders who did not know what they were doing, and to people who kept trying to push me away, my commitment became to myself only.
Only through a radical change of faith, when I first came to believe in Jesus, did my level of commitment change. Interestingly enough it was an Old testament story in the Book of Daniel that helped alter my way of thinking - those three Jewish men Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who did not waver in their faith, no matter what consequences they faced.
I had learned this concept in the Marines, for God and country, but many bottles of alcohol had drowned out the rationalization of this fact. But these three men exhibited what a commitment if life, faith, marriage, purpose (you fill in the blanks) actually meant. You don't waiver just because it gets too hot to handle.
These classic words still resonate in my soul - "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O King. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O King, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up".
For God and country, for the sake of our children, for the freedom we have in this country, for the ones we love, that word needs to remain in our every day vocabulary - Commitment, no matter what!
Amazingly they came out of the fiery furnace with no burns, no smell and no harm done and managed to change the heart of the King. Maybe that's what we need the most from each other, especially now, the commitment to believe in God, to love each other as he loves us, and to put this into practice rather than just talking about it.
That might help change the hearts of those who have misplaced this word. Selah!
Glenn is an ex-Marine Viet Nam vet who is also a recovering alcoholic, clean and sober for 30 years. He has been involved in start up and ongoing recovery ministry at North Atlanta Church and Campus for the last two decades. He has a passion for outreach and to spread the message that the answer to lasting and fulfilling recovery from addiction is in a relationship with Jesus Christ. He and the ATB team are available to assist in your questions or needs on an individual basis and will do so maintaining complete confidentiality. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.