The Work

Chisel

I was watching a toddler today while I was at a sporting event with my family. I think it was Johnny Depp who best described them as “drunk little people.” The little boy was very cute and equally as rambunctious. Every time his parents would put him down for a second, he was off to the races. He was climbing on and behind and under the bleachers beneath our feet, then he crawled at Mach speed toward any door knob or gate latch that he could reach and of course attempted to open them.

I laughed a little while and just observed the toddler and his parents. Don’t get me wrong, if the little boy had done something to hurt himself that I could have prevented I surely would have swooped down and helped him. Nothing seemed bad enough for me to intervene so I just watched in amusement. Over the next few minutes I felt God speaking to me. It wasn’t audible or anything it was just an awareness of his presence, his nearness. I think it’s always there but unfortunately most of the time I’m not really tuned into him.

So, the toddler breaks away from his parents on one of his first few attempts and starts to climb on these cold metal bleachers we are sitting on. It was almost predictable, the little boy hoists himself up and in the same motion falls forward just enough to hit his mouth on the bleachers. He immediately began to cry and scream for his parents, who, as parents should, came over to swiftly aid their son. There was no blood, nothing to really be alarmed about and soon the crying subsided and the toddler was once again trying to break loose from his dads clutches, why you ask? To get down and crawl around again and return to his rambunctiousness, as kids will do.

The toddler then began to do the exact things he’d done before. He was climbing on the bleachers once again and I thought to myself, “why would you do that?, don’t you remember what happened last time?” But obviously he has quickly forgotten because yep, you guessed it, he pulled himself up and did the exact same thing, this time a little less extreme, he bumped his head and began to cry again. Rinse, cycle and repeat.

This is where the light bulb came on, it was at this point that God spoke to my spirit and brought a verse to my mind from Proverbs. “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” I realized in that very moment I was just like the toddler I’d been watching. I mean the circumstances have been a little different and varied but I do the exact same thing, I’ve been a fool, ALOT!!

What comes to mind immediately is my own personal story of addiction and recovery. When I first started realizing there was a problem, in my mid 20’s, I would get into a drug and alcohol fueled frenzy and then realize I needed help. I was much like that toddler, crying for help. I would end up getting the help I needed , going to treatment or detox, but soon after I would forget the pain that drove me to my knees in such a desperate state and I would relapse or return to the exact same behaviors I’d done before. It made no sense, it still makes no sense but that’s the insanity of addiction.

Here’s where it gets even more tricky. I’ve been able to put the drugs and alcohol down for long periods of time but when I do it seems like I always have another issue that raises its ugly head, (in recovery we call these things defects of character) and the cycle starts all over again. I’m perpetually in this sick cycle and I feel like what the word says is a “dog returning to its vomit.” That May Sound extremely harsh unless you’ve ever been stuck in this type of cycle, then of course you know this is the truth.

Time and time again since I’ve become a believer and follower of Jesus I’ve gotten stuck in these “sin cycles” where some behavior I’m repeating is making me feel alienated from God and from who I really am. The good news is we have a God who doesn’t condemn us but instead continues to draw us to himself with what the Bible calls “cords of love.” Now, that makes no sense in my mind but I’m so glad it’s the truth. I’m so glad that his mercies are new every morning.  I’m also grateful for a program of recovery that allows God to heal me through the 12 steps.

I’ll close with this little children’s song that sums it all up for me. Sing it with me If you know it. “He’s still working on me, to make me what I ought to be. It took him just a week to make the moon and the stars, the earth, the sun and Jupiter and Mars. How loving and patient he must be, he’s still working on me….”

Hiding Places

hiding

As I think back to my childhood I have a lot of memories stored away and that I have held on to that make me happy. Memories of family vacations to Florida in our 1984 Caprice Classic Station wagon, carving pumpkins, decorating a Christmas tree and the like. Then, there are also things I remember that I would have rather forgotten.

Recently I found myself in a scenario where I was forced to relive and process some of these things so I could finally move forward and I thought I would share those thoughts here. See, my mom was an alcoholic. She was very much a functional version. She never had any problems holding down a job, cooking dinner or whatever. She was never homeless or destitute or desperate which of you asked me now I’d say was to her detriment.

Mom would come home every day after work and almost immediately begin drinking. She poured a tumbler 90% full of Popov Vodka and a splash of grapefruit juice. She would sit and drink glass after glass and chainsmoke cigarettes and watch TV. This ritual went on night after night. As the night progressed her mood changed, She could go from semi jovial to volatile in a matter of a few short hours.

I remember trying to sit and have conversations with her and her speech slurred and her words became venemos. I was always on edge because for some reason she used me as the target for all her frustration. I remember the sinking feeling I had and the dread I had when I saw her sitting in her spot on the sofa. This pattern became a daily routine for our family, things always escalated as the night went on.

Of course at that age I didn’t know what an alcoholic actually was I just knew that I hated seeing her like that, I hated the effect it had on our family. This continued night after night for years. I recall actually pouring her vodka down the drain when she wasn’t looking and filling the vodka bottle back up with water but this was only a temporary solution, she always found a way.

It got so bad that I figured out the best way to avoid it was to just go straight to my room right after school and just stay there until she drank herself to into oblivion and finally passed out. My room became my hiding place, a place safe from all the chaos, a sanctuary of sorts. When I closed the door behind me I could leave all the bad stuff outside and just concentrate on being a kid.

As I got older and finally left the house to go to college I found myself doing this same behavior in new ways. I discovered alcohol and other drugs for myself. The feeling that they gave me was the same feeling I had about going to my room after school as a kid. It was an escape, with alcohol and drugs I could hide from my emotions. I never had to feel or deal with all the bad stuff, the hard stuff in life. When I was drinking or using I felt safe for lack of better words but I learned this was only a temporary fix, when the alcohol and drugs wore off, the chaos returned. My only solution was just to never stop drinking or using and it worked until it didn’t.

I really never made that connection until a recent therapy session but when I finally saw that it was like a light came on. I realized and saw this same pattern in other places in my life. There were other places too that I was searching for that same peace, the peace that I had discovered as a kid in my room and I’ve been doing it ever since.

The therapist looked at me during our last session together and asked me “Why do you think you work so much?”. At first I didn’t know where he was going with it. I replied with all the normal answers like “I got bills man” and he just looked at me, I knew that answer wouldn’t do. So we processed my insane work schedule. He pointed out that my schedule was too crazy for anyone to maintain any type of normal life or sanity and then he asked me, “Why do you think you do that to yourself?”

Then it hit me, I was using work as an escape from all my problems. Work had become to me a place where I didn’t have to feel. It became the new version of the room I fled to as a kid, it was my new safe place, my hiding place. See if I just maintained the unmanageable schedule there was no time for things like feelings or emotions. I couldn’t believe it once I finally saw it but now the question becomes what do I do about it? How do I correct this behavior? Where else am I doing this?

This is such a recent revelation that I am only just now discovering how far reaching this is in my life but it’s really helped explain some things for me. For example, things like my tendency to isolate as another coping skill. The list could go on and on but at least I’m beginning to see it. Now, I just have to begin to correct these behavior patterns which I am discovering is easier said than done. The good news is I’m not where I once was and I guess that could hopefully be said of all of us. In the words of John Mayer, “I’m in repair, I’m not together but I’m getting there.”

Dearly Beloved, WE…

Prince

I’m originally from Columbia, Tn. It’s a small town in Middle Tennessee. I remember growing up there were a number of even smaller outlying communities but one in particular that was memorable was Summertown, Tn. The one thing I remember about Summertown is there was a group of hippies who lived on something they called “The Farm.”

Anyone who I ever met from “The Farm” were always way different from the “regular” people I encountered every day. They men all had beards, wore very simple clothes and they most of the time wreaked of pot and. B.o. I was taught at an early age that I didn’t ever wanna be like these people or live on “The Farm.” I wasn’t really given a reason but I remember it was pointed out to me that people on “The Farm” shared cars, clothes and even wives I think. I’m not so sure everything I was taught about them was wrong or right but I’ve since come to believe they could be on to something.

I’m a big Prince fan, probably one of the bigger fans you’ll ever meet! I’m not saying that to brag but I seriously love his music. I wasn’t really a fan of his during the 80’s but I really grew to appreciate him about age 15 or 16. His music gave me a sense of identity and purpose. It made me feel connected in a way no other artist I had ever encountered before or since.

I’m not sure I agreed with everything he’s sang about over the years but I admired him simply as a musician and entertainer. I will still argue to this day there has never been, there will never be anyone like Prince. I believe one day his work will be held up next to Mozart or Bach or any other great composer in the history of the world. You may disagree with me but you’d be wrong, I told you I am one of the biggest fans of Prince you will ever meet. I think my affection for Prince’s music may take a backseat only to my friend Robby or Matt.

Robby, Matt and I have seen Prince live, in concert dozens of times throughout the years. He was by far the best entertainer and musician I’d ever seen. He was a true genius. I don’t think we ever would’ve thought he would leave us so soon. I remember the day they announced on TMZ that he had passed away at the age of 57. I was working that day and I remember I was sitting at my desk, choking back the tears, hoping it was just some sort of fake news but it wasn’t.

Anyone who has ever heard the music I make would probably say something like “it sounds like Prince, are you trying to sound like Prince?” Although I would consider that the highest compliment, I don’t really feel that way about my music, (ok, maybe the earliest stuff I wrote was a little derivative lol). I think I spent so much time listening to and studying his vast catalog of music that it just became part of me. I honestly didn’t mean to sound like him on purpose I don’t think, the music just came out that way.

Even though I’d seen him in concert dozens of times and had a couple of backstage shoulder brushes with him I never really knew the man. Although, he did give me a high five over a a crowd at a small after show one night in Mississippi. I screamed like a preteen girl and I felt like I never wanted to wash that hand again…seriously I know he was just a man but I can’t talk enough about his music.

One of the things that had and still has me baffled is how he really was a one man show. He quite literally didn’t need a band. He would go into the studio and literally play every instrument and sing every part on the record. When I found this out I was floored. He was doing this from the very beginning of his career. His first few albums had the words “Produced, arranged, composed and performed by Prince” on the back of the albums. My mind was blown, not only was the music stellar, he did it ALL himself. This was revolutionary at the time he did it and very few, if any artists had done this.

Early in my musical career I decided I wanted to be like this. I wanted to be able to play ALL the instruments and sing all the parts. We had one BIG problem though, I was no Prince. Oh, I tried to be a one man show early on but I couldn’t pull it off, at least not for a whole album. It made me realize even more what an immense talent he was.

My failure at trying to emulate Prince showed me something even of greater value. It showed me the power of collaboration. I had to lean on other musicians to help me pull off what I was trying to do. It was through this process I realized that in this exchange with other musicians, my own music became something different and most of the time way better than I could have come up with by myself.

This process of collaboration is the reason many of the greatest bands of all time worked so well. You’ve got greats like The Rolling Stones, who’s music is really defined by the collaborative efforts of Mick Jagger, their singer and Keith Richards, one of their guitar players. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith fame are another pairing that, without them, the bands just wouldn’t have been so great!

It’s very interesting to me that THE music Prince is most known for is still his Purple Rain album. Interestingly enough that album was one he credited as “Produced, arranged, composed and performed by Prince and The Revolution.” This was a collaborative effort that really defined his career. If you are a Prince fan, you know what a profound influence that his band mates Wendy and Lisa from the Revolution had on Prince’s songwriting at the time.

I believe that that this idea of collaboration is something the Bible shows us is essential for our lives to be all that they were designed to be. Even the Bible itself, all 66 books is a collaborative effort. I don’t mean to say let’s collaborate just for creative purposes but doing so just to get the most out of life. We are not wired for isolation but for community.

If we look in the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis we will notice that God said even back then “It is not good for man to be alone.” So, God creates Eve, someone very much like Adam but at the same time very different. Eve is someone who quite literally completes Adam in every way. I believe we are all like this and I’m discovering that we need each other to bring out the best in all of us. We are, as Jack Johnson once sang, “Better Together.”

I am an alcoholic. It’s been through my recovery process that I’ve learned to move from isolation and self addiction into community for the sake of growth. This has been a slow and often painful realization but Its’s been through the relationship with my sponsor and other recovering people I’ve come to know the value of community. It’s also been through this process I’ve begun to see God’s plan more clearly for my life.

I am still In repair in this area of my life but I’m slowly moving from being someone who wants to be a one man show to being someone who is willing to be vulnerable with others. This is reshaping my life in many ways. I’m discovering as I come out of my isolation that this thing called life is best lived as a collaboration with others and it really isn’t just about me at all.

In Proverbs the Bible states that “as Iron Sharpens Iron, so one man sharpens another.” That simple truth sums up what I’m learning in the new part of my journey. We are all designed with strengths and weaknesses that are completed in our relationships with one another. Even Jesus surrounded himself with community with the 12 disciples, if he did how much more do I need to?

In Romans 12 The Bible talks about the church. He makes the analogy that the body of believers is like our physical body. Just as we have arms and legs and fingers that all serve an individual function so we as believers all have a part to play in The Church body. Each person in a community brings something unique that only they can bring. So even here we can see that we are wired for connection with one another.

So, I’m learning, I haven’t arrived but I’m growing. No, I probably won’t go join a hippy commune like “The Farm” but I will be more intentional with community. I’ll fight my tendency toward isolation and selfishness and try to make myself available and vulnerable to others after all that is more of what life is about and as Prince once so beautifully said “Dearly Beloved, WE are gathered here today to get through this thing called life…”

See, what had happened was…

prodigal son

I think I was 16 the first time I got arrested. I was caught driving the get away car. See, I was out with a couple of friends late one summer night playing a more grown up version of knock and run or whatever you may call it where you live. We thought it was hilarious to drive through a neighborhood with our headlights off, let one guy out of the car and send him up to knock on the door. Then my friend would sprint back to the primer blue Toyota Tercel and we would peel out and speed off into the night. This was all fun and games until that one fateful house in Sunnyside.

Since I was driving the get away car I would just go where they would tell me. I am truly directionless and really had no idea where we were and wasn’t really familiar with this neighborhood. Sometimes we could coast down a hill with the engine off since it was a five speed. We staked out our next house and we were ready. Engine was off, all was silent except frogs and whippoorwills. My friend tip toed to the door and then knocked REAL loud about 4 x and took off through the yard. He was sprinting like he was a football player about to score a touch down when OUT OF THE BLUE came an older man in his underwear who proceeded to tackle my friend. OH SNAP!! We didn’t know what to do.

My other friend in the car with me shouted, “Go man, drive” but I couldn’t leave my friend to the hands of some dude in his tighty whiteys. So I jumped out of the car and tried to pull my friend out from under the hairy middle aged man. Eventually, we got him free and we sped off into the night. We were all out of breath, laughing and trying to recount the incident when all of the sudden we saw blue lights in our rear view mirror. This is it, we were busted.

The officers pulled us over and asked “what are you boys doing in this neighborhood at 3am?” We must have just looked guilty cuz they arrested us on the spot. The police, for whatever reason, took me home that night instead of to a police station. I begged them to take me to jail because I knew that would be better than the reaction my parents were gonna have.

They pulled me from the back of the car and I stood on the front porch of my house handcuffed and surrounded by 2 officers. It took a little while for my parents to wake up, after all it was 3 in the morning. Finally after a few minutes the porch light came on and my heart began to pound. This was it, my life was over as I knew it. There I stood in my baggy, acid washed jeans and backwards starter cap and then my stepdad emerged from the shadows and slung open the front door in his underwear. They began to explain to my parents why they were bringing me home, it was brutal.

The officers then turned me over to my parents. The looks they gave me are hard to describe. Disappointed doesn’t even begin to touch it. They both stood in the living room as I sat on the couch. They were both yelling and screaming and pointing their fingers at the same time. Then my stepdad looked at me and said “well, what do you have to say for yourself.” I don’t remember exactly what I said but I’m pretty sure it started out something like “See, what had happened was…”

See, I had tried to come up with a good story in the back of that police car. I came up with excuses about how it wasn’t my fault and I was just the driver, blah, blah. My parents were so irate they hardly let me get a word in so it didn’t really matter, they weren’t really interested in my story.

Years later, I’m sheepishly sneaking into the back of an AA meeting. I had been battling addiction for some time at this point and had just come out of relapse. I thought if I snuck in and grabbed a seat as usual that nobody would even notice my long absence. Much to my chagrin, they did. I started getting hugs from people I didn’t even know and everyone was saying the same thing. “Welcome back, we’re so glad you made it back.” Wait, what?

See, I had already prepared excuses for anyone who asked me about my relapse. I was gonna tell them how I was just so stressed out and my girlfriend told me I was better off just trying to control my drinking, etc. I had a ton of excuses but it was as if nobody could even hear me. I tried to tell them “See, what had happened was…” and no response just “welcome back.”

There’s a well known parable in the Bible most know as the parable of the Prodigal Son. The story focuses on a man and his 2 sons. One son looks at his father one day and says basically, “Dad, you’re not important to me, I want my inheritance now.” This was basically like saying “Dad, you’re dead to me, now give me my $$” So, the father gives him his inheritance much to the dissaproval of his older brother and I believe as really sad father.

Jesus goes on to say in this parable that the younger brother spent his inheritance on wild parties, prostitutes, crack and late night Waffle House(my more modern translation.) The younger brother finally spends ALL his money and winds up broke and homeless. He even got a job feeding slop to the pigs. The Bible says he was so hungry that he daydreamed about eating the slop he was feeding to pigs.

This is when he hit his “bottom” as we call it in recovery.  The Bible says “he came to himself”, he had a moment where he finally realized what he had done and was ready for a way out. He then made a plan to go back to his fathers house to ask for a job as one of his fathers servants. He was at an all time low.

On his way home he was rehearsing a speech over and over that probably sounded something like “See, what had happened was…” The Bible goes on to say that while he was still a “long way off” the father saw the son and ran toward him. No, it wasn’t to scold him or lecture him on how he had blown it but instead to welcome him home!! The story goes on to say that the father wouldn’t even listen to his story, he basically ignored him because he was too busy welcoming home. The father then threw a party for his son that had been lost and was now found!!

For a long time in my life I thought that in order to have a relationship with God that I would have to clean up, get rid of some of my bad habits, my addictions and what have you. I think religion made me believe that I had to have all the right words for an apology for God to get back in a relationship with Him or even start one with Him. I had worked up my “see what had happened was…” story but I thought it was just too messy for God to handle. I thought I had disqualified myself from ever being in a relationship with God.

What Jesus is saying in this parable is that the Father isn’t interested in where we’ve been or what we’ve done, he’s too busy just welcoming us home and he’s ready to throw a party. He will certainly allow you to use the story of where you’ve been to show others of his love, grace and redeeming power but as far as beating us up over the details, it’s NOT happening, never.

The term “repent” gives me the hee bee gee beez. I think I’ve just heard it used so wrongly for so long. It just simply means to turn the other direction. When I screw up I don’t have to come up with a fancy prayer or go see a priest, I just turn the opposite direction and head back home. I’m just like the Prodigal son, who’d wasted his inheritance and disgraced his family. The Bible says he “came to himself” and headed toward his fathers house, this was simply a turn in the opposite direction of all that was destroying his life.

God is the same way. He is perpetually inviting us into his abundant life(John 10:10). He’s not concerned about where we’ve been or what we’ve done and he ISN’T expecting us to start with “See, what had happened was…” he just wants us to come home!! He’s ready to throw a party!!

Map Out of Madness

Map

One of my biggest Pet Peeve’s is getting/being lost. Literally, I have to use a GPS to go anywhere. I mean even if I’ve been there dozens of times, I still plug my destination into my phone every single time. My kids often make fun of me about it but I’ve always been directionally challenged, I’ve always been this way. The kids will usually chime in from the back seat, “Dad are you sure we’re going the right way.” Ha ha, you’re hilarious kids.

For example, if someone is explaining to me how to get somewhere and says something like “Go west for about 5 miles etc” I immediately begin to freak out internally. I don’t know where West is..unless a sign tells me or a GPS specifically tells me where to turn, I am lost.

We didn’t always have GPS. I can remember back when I was in my 1st band. We travelled around in an old, worn out Ford van pulling a uhaul trailer full of gear. To get to any destination we had to consult a well used and tattered Atlas that we kept in the floor of the van. This usually required some forethought and planning before our trip. We had to map out our trip and destination BEFORE we headed out.

I remember in those days we would have to often stop and ask directions, it was just part of the trip. We’d pop into a convenient store get some Fritos and a coke and ask specific directions to whatever venue we were playing. The Atlas got us most of the way there but many times it just got us close and we had to rely on people who had been to the venue before to fill us in on EXACTLY where it was.

It wasn’t hard to get lost back then. If we read the map wrong we could potentially go for miles and miles in the opposite direction of our destination, just one wrong turn and we could be lost for hours. This used to drive me crazy, especially when were exhausted after a long day of traveling, then a show later on that night and were attempting to head home. I just wanted to get home and crash in my bed but often times it did not happen as we planned. Ah the good old Rock and Roll lifestyle wasn’t as glamorous as I thought.

This got me thinking about something God has been showing me lately. Many times in my journey of life I have taken some small Wrong turns that would land me somewhere completely different than I intended. I was listening to a podcast of a guy named Andy Stanley who said it best when he said “Direction always determines Destination.” Direction, not intention determines destination!

For much of my life this has been the story. I’ve had lots and lots of good intentions but somehow always landed somewhere I didn’t really want to be. For example, I never sat down and said “I want to be an alcoholic one day.” No way, nobody ever thinks things like this. My intention was just to have a drink and “knock the edge off.” My direction, however said something completely different.”

In fact I would go so far as to say my “good intentions“ most often would get me lost. I always INTEND to do something good but often times these intentions lead me to a place of inaction which in turn DO NOT lead me to a destination where I want to be. For example I may have intended to go to Atlanta to play a show but if my direction was toward St. Louis, well, obviously unless I redirected the van I wouldn’t ever make it to Atlanta.

See, getting lost is never intentional I don’t think. Nobody in their right mind says, I’ve got some extra hours, I wasn’t doing anything anyways, I have so much money, let me just waste some of it. Nope, we would never do that..unless we are insane. Often times it’s just that we start out heading in the wrong direction. Have you ever been there?

I was recently thinking about all this and for some reason the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden came to my mind. Adam and Eve are in the perfect place and have a perfect connection to God, they received specific direction about what to eat and what not to eat. Their GPS was on and they were headed in the right direction and were even told how NOT to get lost.

They got distracted and they lost their direction and wound up some place completely different than they intended to. There was the voice of someone who said he knew a shortcut or a better way to get there, despite what the map said. As the story goes they took the DETOUR and wound up lost and afraid. This is where the story gets interesting to me.

God was wandering the Garden as he always did and was set to meet with them as usual. But Adam and Eve weren’t where they were supposed to be, they had taken a detour and gotten lost. They certainly didn’t intend to end up separated from God but because they went in the wrong direction they just ended up that way.

God then asks the question of Adam, “Where are you?” Now, what I’ve learned over the years is that God never asks the question for his benefit. He already knows the answer. He asked Adam the question so he could help him see that he was lost. Adam basically says “we knew we were lost God so we hid from you.”

Has this ever happened to you? I know it has for me. I can most readily relate this experience to my recovery. I know I write a lot about drugs, drinking and recovery but it’s what I know the most about so I’m just sticking to what I know.

When I got into recovery there were lots of people in the rooms of AA/NA/Celebrate Recovery that all basically said the same things. They were the voices of the people who had been lost and were now back on track. Many had been “on the right track” for many years. When I got into recovery that seemed unfathomable to me because I was SO very lost.

To quote Russell Brand’s latest book, they gave me a “Map Out of The Madness.” These “old timers” as they were so often called said things like “go to meetings, get a sponsor, work the steps” they said these things OVER and OVER again. Interestingly enough when I wasn’t actively doing those suggestions I always went into hiding, like Adam. I was so ashamed that the shame would keep me out of the meetings. Talk about a detour, geez. Then I would get a call from a sponsor and they would say “Where Are you?”

What did they mean? They knew I wasn’t at meetings, they knew I wasn’t calling my sponsor or working the steps. So, I feel like they asked me that question for my own benefit, so I could see where I was. I was lost but the good news is I had a map AND a GPS with all their experience, strength and hope.

You see it was always my intention to do all these things that were suggested to get back on track but often times they were just intentions with no action. I’ve learned that I can “intend” to go to meetings all day long but unless I go sit my butt in a chair IN a meeting it will do me no good. I think that’s a large part of why I’ve had such a bumpy ride in recovery. I’m like a guy with a map but I think to myself, “no I know a shortcut, I’m not really that into maps.”

In the south we have a little saying “I fixin’ to.” Meaning we intended to take action very soon. I might say “I’m fixin’ to lose 10 lbs but instead I didn’t take any action and I put on 10lbs. How does this happen? One Twinkie, one compromise at a time. That’s how it always happens. We never get lost overnight. It always happens when when our direction is off, sometimes it seems just by a little bit.

Direction is what determines destination. If I want to get somewhere I have to move beyond my intentions into action. In many respects I’m on the “right road” now because I’ve consulted with the map and I’m headed in the right direction. However, at any point now I could choose to ignore the map and take a shortcut but that’s never worked out really well for me. So as I close I’ll leave you with the question that I have to ask myself all day, everyday. “Where are you?” And “is this the direction that will lead you to your destination?”

Born This Way

blind

As I write this I’m currently hearing that Lady Gaga song “Born this Way” over and over again in my head. I’m not exactly sure what she intended it to be about, but it’s a great song that fueled my thoughts about this blog…oh and now you’re probably singing that song too!

I’ve struggled with insecurity all my life. It’s a feeling I can remember even as far back as a person can remember, maybe age 5 or so. I can’t pinpoint one particular character trait that started the flood of insecurity i currently face but I know it seems like it’s always been there. I’m thinking about making an appointment with a therapist as we speak.

What sticks out to me are things that I was born with that were and are seemingly out of my control. For example, in the earlier years of my life I was always very short and pretty skinny. I’m not short or skinny now but when it seemed like the most important years I was tiny and felt I didn’t measure up. I was made fun of called “shrimp” even in high school I was known as “Big D”, (cuz I was small they thought this name was funny I guess.)

I was about 5’3” when I finally got my drivers license. A friend of mine who was also really short gave me the idea to sit on a phone book while I was driving and I would be able to see better. I was having to function, like driving a car, as “normal” people do but was seemingly always having to make adjustments just to keep up and be “normal.”

This wreaked havoc on my self confidence and self esteem. The worst incident that caused the most pain was I think when I was in 10th grade. I had played basketball the previous year for my schools Freshman Basketball team. I don’t think they cut anybody who tried out but when I went out for the team my sophomore year of High School I got cut. While I was a pretty good shooter, my skills and height weren’t enough to make the grade for Coach Claiborne. This was a devistating blow all the way around.

Up until that point in my life if you would have asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would’ve said “a professional basketball player.” This is when I started looking for another outlet. I started looking for a new hobby, although I still loved basketball I think that getting cut from the team squashed my dream of ever being an NBA player.

I started putting my energy into other things like cars and car stereos, tinted windows and the like. That lasted for a couple of years but I think the thing that garnered the most attention was recreationally drinking alcohol with my friends. It started out as a way I could express myself. I remember a feeling of freedom that would come over me when I drank. From the very 1st time I ever drank I remember thinking. “This is the feeling I’ve been looking for all my life.”

Drinking finally put me on a level playing field with my peers. What I mean is the feeling it gave me. I didn’t once think about being too small, too skinny or even getting cut from the basketball team. Alcohol made me feel like I had finally arrived at what I’d been looking for all these years, in alcohol I felt accepted and could accept myself.

Several years of my life were spent doing this very thing. Every opportunity I had I would go to parties, really anything that had drinking as a part of the equation I was game. Alcohol was my best friend, my secret weapon. For years I didn’t go to anything that didn’t have alcohol involved, if I did I was really uncomfortable and got out of there as quickly as possible.

Alcohol was my solution to a life long hurt. It was this way for many years until one day it turned on me. I don’t remember having to have alcohol to physically function until I got out of treatment for the 1st time. It was almost as if an internal switch got flipped, it was so odd. I remember waking up and craving alcohol for breakfast for the first time. At that point I couldn’t get my day started until I had consumed some alcohol. I didn’t have any confidence or any sense of peace unless I drank first.

This was the first time I think I realized that I was alcoholic. I mean who else drinks the first thing when they roll out of bed? It sounds crazy to someone who’s not an alcoholic but it seemed like a perfectly sane solution to me. It wasn’t long after this that the physical dependency on alcohol started wreaking havoc on my body and my organs. I had gotten to the point where if I DIDN’T drink that my body would revolt. I would have DT’s, shakes and even hallucinations if I didn’t consume alcohol. I usually started the day by puking yellow bile and would continue to do so until I could get enough alcohol in me to steady myself. The worst part of it is I now literally couldn’t stop.

Sounds like a nightmare, huh? It was. It even got worse when I added drugs into the equation. I developed a dependency on cocaine. See, cocaine helped me drink more so I loved it. Same thing happened to me the 1st time I tried cocaine. Total peace came over me, it was surreal. This led me down many a dark path that are the subject for another blog.

Here’s where I wanted to arrive with this whole thing. I am GRATEFUL for the Disease of Addiction, sounds strange, huh? Yes I’ll say it again. I’m glad I was born an addict. Being an addict is the event/process that lead me to seek wholeness. If I had been a “normal” drinker I would probably still be on a barstool right now making small talk with the guy next to me getting ready for another round. As things have turned out, that’s no longer an option for me, Thank God.

This thought about being “Born this Way” took me to a story in Scripture. In John 9 we are given the account of Jesus healing a man who the scripture says was “blind from birth.” The story goes on to tell how his disciples asked him WHY was he born blind “was it his sin or was it his parents sin?” Jesus replied that it wasn’t any of those things. He simply said he was born blind so that “the works of God could be seen in him.” This story continues to get even better.

So, Jesus spits in the mud, rubs it in the blind mans eyes and says “go wash your eyes out”….and he’s healed. It gets even better, people are so blown away by this miracle that that speculate that this is NOT the same guy. The religious teachers of the day even bring the blind man in for questioning and his simple response is something like, “I don’t really know WHO this guy Jesus is but I know I was blind and now I see.”

I was recently watching a Netflix show called The Bible. It’s pretty good but kinda cheesy in spots. I watched the episode on Samson and Delilah and when it was over I had to go read the scripture because the story was so compelling.(Judges)The story goes on to tell about how Samson was incredibly strong and how it was a gift from God. He’s the guy that maybe you’ve heard about that draws his strength from his hair. Well, that is until he met Delilah.

The account talks about how basically nobody knew what Samson’s secret was, why he was so strong. In a moment of vulnerability and emotional weakness he revealed this to Delilah. She ended up getting his hair cut off and captured by the Phillistines. They also gouged his eyes out in captivity. It’s a brutal story.

Here’s what got my attention though. This was a man who’d obviously been gifted by God to have extraordinary strength. Somehow in the end that led him away from God, but here’s what gets me. In his final moments he regains Gods vision for his life. It was as if his blindness led him to see God more clearly. He’s been distracted and thrown off by Delilah but at the end of his life he was able to fulfill God’s purposes EVEN if he was blind.

That’s where I connected to this story. If it hadn’t been for my “blindness”(alcoholism) I would’ve never really sought a relationship with my higher power. If it hadn’t been for all the pain I would’ve just coasted through life being disconnected with God. So, I thank God for my alcoholism because in the end it’s what led me to Him and in turn seeking wholeness. There’s a scripture that comes to mind. It says He works ALL things together for my good.(Romans 8:28)

This is not the way I would’ve written this story. Pain as a pathway to God, to freedom? Being born to two addicts and in turn myself becoming an addict? I feel like now I know why, and I’m so GLAD He did it. Why was I born this way? Was it my parents fault or my fault? Neither. I was BORN THIS WAY so that works of God would be evident in my life.

Psalm 139 states that “Before I formed you, I knew you.” What I hear from that is that God didn’t make any mistakes with the way I was created. Everything that I think of as a flaw is actually by divine design. All my insecurity, all my character defects, all my “flaws” are just places where God shows up and shows out!

Today I’m drug and alcohol free and I don’t take that lightly after what I’ve been through, it’s truly a miracle. I live life one day at a time, one moment at a time. I don’t have all the answers about this Jesus but one thing I know, I was blind but now I see, Thank you Jesus.

It’s Just a Flesh Wound

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I work as a custodian for a church and while I’m cleaning toilets I get a lot of time to think. I was recently scrubbing those lovely porcelain bowls and I had a thought about Monty Python and one of the hilariously famous skits.
Which one comes to your mind? Maybe this will ring a bell, “it’s just a flesh wound” it’s hilarious. If you’ve never seen it just stop now and click here. Welcome to the club, this skit will NEVER leave your mind, you’ll never be the same and now when people reference this skit you’ll be able to jump in!
It’s just hilarious on its own cuz it’s so dang ridiculous. The “black knight” is getting his butt handed to him and he just keeps on fighting. Even when you think, ok, that’s it he should give up now..he keeps fighting and keeps LOSING. That got me laughing but then I started thinking. The black knight is me or at least I’ve been there before.
Denial is a topic that we talk about in recovery quite a bit. In fact, our personal recovery cannot and will not begin without overcoming denial. That may sound obvious but stay with me here. We must come out of denial and admit there is a problem/issue or we will look very much like that “black knight” in the Monty Python skit.
Step one of the 12 steps of recovery states that “we admitted we were powerless over our addiction and that our lives had become unmanageable.” For a select few this probably happens with relative ease. For the rest of us this can be a long, slow, painful process in which we finally arrive at a dead end like that “black knight” where we’ve lost everything and we’re still holding on to the thought that we can control this beast of addiction, we’re still trying to fight to no avail.
This process might look different for different folks but it’s often a slow fade that leaves us stating things like, “it’s not so bad, my boss hated me anyways or I don’t have a problem, The DUI was just bad luck…again and again as the consequences keep stacking up we make excuses to stay “in the fight” rather than just choosing the surrender that will start the process of healing. We say things that sound eerily similar to our ill fated knight In the example we’ve used. All our options are cut off and were still ignorantly claiming “I got this”. Trust me NO you don’t.
Another term we share in recovery is hitting our “bottom.” This is a place where you finally have to face the reality of your situation. There are no ways out except UP or jails, institutions and death. You’ve exhausted all resources, you’ve burned all your bridges, you’re life at this point is completely unmanageable.
This cycle has happened to me several times during my life and in my recovery for several issues but the one I can most readily think of is my battle with drugs and alcohol. I started drinking and using at an early age even though I swore I would not end up like my parents. It started out as something I would do for “fun” or temporarily escape my emotions and it worked for a while..until it didn’t.
I was about 25 when I realized it had turned on me. The thing I started using for fun and recreation was now using me. I no longer used for escape but I had to use to feel normal. Like I said this is when it became obvious to me but it retrospect it was a problem way before I realized it. I was at this point in my life saying “it’s just a flesh wound” but I was bleeding uncontrollably.
So, because the consequences began to stack up in my life due to my drug use I thought to myself, “I need some help.” Honestly at this point I didn’t really want to stop using or drinking I just wanted to pain to stop, I wanted people to get off my back about my bad habits. So I went to treatment for the 1st time.
I graduated my 1st treatment program in 28 days and I remember telling the counselors that Yes, in fact cocaine was a problem for me but alcohol was another story. I convinced myself in treatment that I could still “drink like a NORMAL person.” I thought as long as I don’t do cocaine I’ll be fine. So on day 28 I graduated and headed home.(I don’t know who came up with the idea that 28 days is the magic number but I don’t think it’s even close to enough.)
Literally 30 minutes upon leaving treatment I had my girlfriend stop at a convenient store so I could grab a beer. I flash back to our example of the black night, it was me saying “‘‘tis but a scratch.” Upon exiting treatment for the first time I was in complete denial about my disease of addiction.
There’s an account in the Bible that many know as the story of The Rich young ruler. He sounds very much like someone in denial. He comes loaded with excuses and ready to explain to Jesus just that “I’m ok, I have held it together and played by the rules” He is in denial but deep down he knows the truth. He knows he has a problem but is looking for a way around it, I’ve been there too. Jesus says in response to The Rich Young rulers question, you know the commandments but there’s one thing left for you to do. He tells him to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor…ouch, Jesus. It wasn’t the money that was really the issue, it was the place the money had in his heart.
The scripture says that he goes away sad because he knows he can’t do it. All of his excuses occupy a place in his heart that he is unwilling to let go of. His denial sounds something like this. “How can he say that to me, I’m a good person, I don’t have a problem” or maybe he says something like “I still go to work everyday, pay my bills, I function just fine, there is no problem.”
My personal denial has run that deep. I remember trying to come up with any excuse I could to maintain something of a “normal drinker.” I tried non-alcoholic beer, I tried just drinking beer, I switched to wine cuz that’s what normal people do, normal responsible people drink wine, “normally.” I tried this approach for years and in several different ways. In the end it always led me back to the same place. I literally could not stop once I started.
I was like that Black Knight in the Monty Python skit who’d had all his limbs cut off and was laying on the ground screaming, “come back here, I’ll bite your legs off.” My denial ran deep. My life continued to be unmanageable but like the rich young ruler, I kept making excuses and looking for an easy way out.
I started to see the solution to my problems by attending 12 step meetings. I went begrudgingly at 1st thinking to myself, “I’m not like these people, I have a college degree.” The more I went and listened the more I realized I was in the same boat as all of the people in the meetings. The stories were varied and somewhat different than mine but the pain and problems seemed to be the same.
These meetings helped me start to come out of my denial. Meeting after meeting I heard stories similar to mine. These people had try to control their drinking, they’d switched drinking to different types of liquor, drinking only on days that ended in Y. I was truly in a setting where I could understand and be understood.
Not only did I start to come out of my denial I also began to seek a solution. I began to dive into WHY I drank and used in the first place. I started to see that all of my effort and excuses stemmed from a spiritual void. I began to see myself and my drinking for what it really was, a temporary fix for a deeper problem.
Many years later I’m still working on this issue. I uncover levels of this denial and work on them one day, one step at a time. The best news is in this process I’ve grown. I’ve ceased fighting everyone and everything. I’m nowhere near where I want to be but I’m no longer the Black Night laying in the road with my arms and legs cut off saying “it’s just a flesh wound.”

 

Miles Davis and Jesus

Rhodes

Have you ever listened to Jazz Music? As a musician I’ve always admired Jazz and people who can play Jazz. The technique, skill and ear it takes to play Jazz is far beyond anything I feel that I’m capable of, but I still enjoy it, especially live Jazz. Some of my friends are Jazz Musicians and I’m in awe of their ability.

If I’m being real though I get a little intimidated by Jazz cuz I don’t fully understand how it works. The chords, rhythms and phrasing’s that these musicians use leave me feeling alienated sometimes, so it’s probably like a self defense mechanism but it often leads me to tune out. I think to myself, “that’s so far beyond me, I’ll never get it”

Come to think of it I do this same thing with anything I feel I’m not very good at naturally. I played baseball when I was about 13 for a city league team and I just sucked. I couldn’t throw, catch or bat as well as the other players on my team and in the league(that’s an understatement). To top it all off they stuck me in right field, which I now know they put me there cuz there was less of a chance I would have to catch any fly balls. I only played that one year and if I could have quit before the season was out I would have.

I have a confession, I’ve been that way about God most of my life. I mean, I hear people talking about How great he is and how much he loves us and it’s so unfathomable that, yes, sometimes I tune out. I know that’s probably wrong to say but it’s just true. Especially when people who “understand God” start throwing around big religious words to describe him. Not only do I tune out, I often retreat the other direction.

My best example would be this. I grew up not knowing my real father. He died of a drug related heart attack at the age of 31, that’s way too young to die. I was only 7 years old when this happened and I had no idea what a profound affect it would have on me in every area of my life, especially is relation to God.

People often refer to God as a “Father” and as bad as it sounds I often tune out cuz I can’t relate. I understand it better now than I ever have but I think I’m still healing in that area cuz to this day when I sing “Good Good Father” I just feel like it falls a little flat for me. I’m trying to understand it I really am.

Since we’re being honest here as I write I’m even becoming aware of how this plays out in actually being a father myself. Since I never knew mine I just never gave much thought about being a dad. I always felt I didn’t wanna have kids. Little did I know that at the ripe old age of 35 I would become a father to an amazing little boy named Bowie Presley Mitchell, and yes he’s named after The musicians David Bowie and Elvis Presley. (I went for Prince but she wasn’t going for it lol).

I remember being at the hospital and just being so overwhelmed. We spent several days at the hospital in the NICU when Bowie was born because of some issues with his blood. I remember them rolling him into the room in one of those plexiglass cases. It was all a bit much for me. I remember asking the nurses and doctors, “So, when we get him home what do we do with him??” And I meant it, I had no clue.

Not having a father led me to believe that I didn’t know HOW to even be one. I remember being so intimidated by this whole fatherhood thing that I can recall retreating to my little home music studio in his early days thinking, “let me just go do something I think I’m good at, something I actually know HOW to do.” I think I still do that sometimes and he’s 9 years old now.

So, what’s the solution? How do I get more comfortable with this God thing? How do I become a good father myself? What about being a husband again? How do I even do that?(I didn’t Fair so well the 1st time.) I don’t know for sure but I can tell you my experience with it and maybe you can relate.

Throughout Scripture God perpetually calls on people to do things they think they can’t do. When he was told to go talk to Pharoah (Exodus6) Moses even told God, “no I can’t do it, don’t you know I know I’m a terrible speaker?” I’m not sure but I think that God knew that tidbit of information.

Also when Jesus calls on Simon and Peter and Andrew to follow him and be FISHERS OF MEN, he was asking them to do something they wouldn’t and couldn’t do on their own. In those days if you were gonna be able to follow a Rabbi you had to have been taken on at a much younger age, so they resigned to be being fisherman, Heck it sounds like they weren’t even really good fisherman cuz when Jesus found them they had their net on the wrong side of the boat (this is just me speculating.) Isn’t it funny that Jesus taught them how to fish first??

Well, I think when I look at Scripture I’m in good company. I’ve heard it said before that God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called or something to that effect. So, I’m in over my head with this whole being a father business but I’m learning. I’m learning to lean into the truth that God has called me to be a father and not the lie that I “don’t know how.” I’m also taking notes from other Dads and applying them to my relationship with my kids. The verdict is still out on whether I’m doing very well at this but I will keep you updated.

I was recently reading Miles Davis Autobiography and it blew me away. Just the way that his music developed through the years, he was truly a trend setter in many ways. One thing that stood out to me is in his later years he was asked to put together a project of some of some of the older musicians/legends that he used to play with and he REFUSED. He stated that “I don’t go backwards.”  Miles knew that his music and his gift would only be developed by doing things that he’d never done before.

So what do I do about this God “Father” shaped conundrum? Well, for starters I’m just going at it. What I mean by that is I’m just jumping in and trying to learn more about God than ever before. I’m listening to messages, reading books, examining scripture and praying and you know what’s strange? The feeling that I’m out of my league is slowly fading. Don’t get me wrong I have a lot to understand and a long way to go but I’m not as intimidated as I once was so I guess you could say I’m intentionally tuning in.

Today I pray as you read this that God brings to your mind something he’s calling you to do. I pray that you wouldn’t be intimidated by the calling or tune out because you’re unsure of how to go about it. He will withhold nothing good from you. I pray that we just trust him and step into unfamiliar territory! No need to go backwards or stay stuck, he’s calling you forward!

There are lots of areas I feel God is calling me that feel like I’m out of my element but I’m leaning on Him more than ever and trusting the He’s not as crazy as He seems. Shoot, you never know, before it’s all said and done I might try to learn to play some jazz.