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!
On the Boeing 707 Jet aircraft, a line of small blades is placed halfway down the upper wing..These little blades that stick up from the otherwise smooth wings are called "vortex generators". They are put on the plane for the purpose of creating turbulence in the airflow that passes over the wing.
The plane designers had discovered that the Boeing 707 would not steer accurately when the air current is too smooth. Seems like our addiction recovery does not steer accurately when everything is too smooth either. We seem to need a little roughness and turbulence in our program to make progress.
When Jesus got in the boat to cross the lake with his disciples, he knew he was about to become that spiritual vortex for them. As the thunder grew louder, the waves rushed over the boat and the wind almost blew them out of the water, they woke him up and shouted "Lord we are going to drown". As He calmed the storm, he taught them something about having faith in the turbulence, he awoke their faith in Him.
He is that vortex turbulence for us now, the one that reminds us this human race is not for sprinters in extreme highs and equally extreme lows - it is about distance runners who don't panic and bail out or use when things get a little rough. He is the one who steers us accurately into understanding how to live not only in those highs and lows. but also in that smooth sometimes mundane middle of life.
And when we need to be reminded who is steering, and where we are going, he lays out this perfect scenario for us in James 1:2-4 NLT as if to say, "This is your captain speaking.....Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. For when your endurance is fully developed you will be standing in character and ready for anything!
Fasten your seat belts brothers and sisters, we are on an adventure of faith!
This is a first: Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Jesus and Bob Marley in the same blog to make a point.! Stay with me.....
Have you had enough of using?
Have you had enough of not feeling like you are enough?
Have you had enough of what you needed to live a sober life and be happy and free from addiction?
In plain words, are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Thousands of years ago Solomon wrote frustrating words about "the eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing" - he could never get enough despite having everything. He kept doing more to get more.
We too, tend to keep trying to achieve and be everything on our own and add God on for the leftovers because we can handle it, we are taught to be self sufficient, only to realize it has gotten out of hand, and we have gone beyond human limits to extremes. Then Solomon comes to his senses and finds a key: When God gives us what we need and we accept what our lot in life is then we seldom reflect on what else we need, and instead become happy for what we have.
You see, he has no limits, but his limits for us are always enough. Take the Samaritan woman at the well, she of 5 marriages and living with her boyfriend. She could never get enough or thought she could be good enough. But Jesus set her right by speaking to her when no other Jewish person would, then asked her for help - he validated her, which is what he does for us, even at our lowest point - he speaks to us today in what he said to her.
If you drink that well water you will be thirsty again, but if you drink my water of life, you will have living water and never thirst (for any form of addiction) again. In other words, don't worry about achieving it all yourself or you will never have enough, just put your hope in me and you will always have enough!
So, we will let Bob Marley take us toward home in this blog: Here's a little song I wrote, you might want to sing it note for note, don't worry, be happy. In every life we have some trouble, but when you worry you make it double, don't worry, be happy. As Solomon says, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart, not because he keeps worrying about what he doesn't have.
Then Jesus again said: Don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it's own. Was Bob Marley thinking the same thing? Don't know but I know God will supply enough, make us feel like enough and give us enough to live on that we remain happy, even in the midst of trouble.
As we close, sing it and remember who the original author was: Don't worry be happy, you have enough, and He, not Bob, (but thank you for the song) will make sure of it!
It was moments of electricity! Last week at Real Talk Recovery we got in circles to talk about life changing situations where God had shown up. Incredible stories by people who had been locked in an addictive culture.
One woman shared that she had just entered a dope house when a smoke bomb was thrown in (not by police) and the place quickly caught fire. She jumped out of a second story window to safety but everyone else perished in the fire. Accident or the providence of God?
There were more enlightening stories of escape from death, an overdose and countless bad moments, all this in just one of a half dozen circles with 5-10 people. While it's easy for people to talk about solutions to drug and alcohol problems who are outside the circle so to speak, those who are in it experience these types of things almost daily living on the edge.
The question is why? And, the answers would take many conversations to come forth. But here is the problem which can be resolved. Change the circle you live in. We get so caught up in having to be a certain way or living a certain lifestyle that we forget there is a way out that leads to circles like the one we were in where truth, forgiveness and understanding prevail.
Jesus created a circle of 12 men and selected women he would operate his ministry in that helped to create a new culture and offered redemption from any wandering lifestyle. Once he passed on to heaven, he left behind his Spirit literally, and figuratively in those closest to him - his circle. They helped change the world.
Today, we the recovered, we the redeemed from addiction, we the freed from sin are the circle that offers hope and encouragement to those who have barely escaped death. We need to remember to keep that circle open to anyone who wants to join us because the solution exists within the circle not just in the programs.
In that circle where the Lord is present, is where freedom is found!
The decisions we have to make about who to help and whether we are actually helping or enabling are often very difficult and heart wrenching. Our first thoughts as a Christian are to help everyone, but not everyone gets helped when we think we are helping.
There was the man on the side of the road with that sign, you know the one that says "Need work" or "No food". We all have differing opinions as to what to do, but quite possibly helping that person randomly when the Spirit speaks to us is obedience that transcends a perceived notion, and may be benefiting us as well to do it. What we did was right, what they do with it is between them and God.
Do you remember that scripture in Matthew that ends with "Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me"? Well this week a couple asked me for a tent to protect them while in the woods after recent relapses - I said no. (Next day they bought their own tent) Then they asked me for food, which we provided enough to last until Monday when they can get to a rehab, and only after I spoke at length with both of them.
Here's a key to making a difference. Think the way God responds to our prayers: he doesn't always give us what we want, but he supplies what we need. And, when you think of it, he knows we may squander some or all of what he gives us, but he gives it to us anyway, whether as a test or because he just loves to give.
Get to know the recipient of your gift if possible, then you will know what they may do with it. And if they don't use it wisely, then we learn, but we also ring up credits with the ultimate giver who is smiling I am sure when we act like Him.
Who knows, by giving we may actually be making more of a difference in ourselves!
In my world, finding the time to go on vacation is not easy, plus the effects of COVID-19 make it difficult to travel
where I would like to be - the beach. Maybe you have dealt with this issue now or in the past and it has hurt you. It behooves us to find an alternative which allows stress relief without mind altering substances.
I found one, actually more than one, but this one allows me some sunshine and meditation. It's sitting in the back of my pickup truck facing the sun with virtually no one around, in the parking lot of the ATB building. Now please, do not rush to be a part of this, but understand this is my beach - for now!
Get a tan, have some conversation with the Lord and listen for instructions. Very relaxing, extremely stress free and totally priceless - really it costs nothing. Actually I got this from a reliable source, Jesus himself. When he was tired and stressed, he found a place to go off and pray, he found his proverbial beach.
Truth of the matter is that burnout can be just as harmful as not doing enough. And even truer is that when we operate on our own power without plugging into the ultimate power source, we find we have a weak battery so to speak. Especially when we are trying to serve others, we can become angry, judgmental, short with words and many other symptoms of doing too much, when we use that personal battery up.
We have to find our power from above, and find our beach wherever we can or like a car without a relevant battery, we won't start. And, for sure, we won't finish.
Finding my beach is essential in helping you find yours!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.