Spiritual Adoption (Adoption Awareness Month)

Adoption is a wonderful concept and action. It is beautiful. But with adoption comes a host of questions. Doubts. Insecurities. Identity issues. Trust issues. It’s complex.

November is ‘Adoption Awareness Month’ focused on the need for foster care, and ultimately adoption. While I most definitely appreciate the focused efforts of those that acknowledge the need to care for our kids (and continue to join them in that), I also have deep tensions when it comes to this month’s focus. I’m not an expert on the subject of adoption or scripture or really anything, nor do I want to be. But Adoption and Fostering is a part of my journey in a couple of different ways, and part of my recovery, in ways that I am not yet fully aware of.

While working with teenagers in a local church I decided to embark on a book venture I never completed. I decided I would write about the development of a child as it related to spiritual development. I began reading everything (I was especially interested in Fowler’s theory, As Rose Ann Karesh summarizes) that I could get my hands on, regarding the subject because somehow, in some way, the idea that we progress as a child and progress spiritually work hand in hand. At least that was my premise. I ended writing that book after realizing the vast nature of the project. I also flirted with  contemplating ‘adoption’ as a spiritual concept.

I was taught from an early age that adoption was a good thing. I’m adopted, and that’s a good thing. I was taught that God was “loving” but was also taught that being adopted by God was important and that it represented the means of living forever with God. Within that belief, I was taught that if I was not adopted by God, I would go to hell for all eternity. Seemingly, there is dissonance between the idea that God is ‘loving’ and sending people to Hell. In no way do I want to argue the validity of heaven or hell, because I personally see that to be a clear truth in scripture, rather, I want to specifically share my own thoughts as it relates to this dissonance.

My premise as I write currently is: adoption is a great choice, a good concept, a complex decision and undertaking, and a difficult spiritual concept for those that have been adopted or adopted a child themselves. I’ll try to address each of these in the following words, but the reality is that people a lot smarter than me have numerous scholarly and smart things to say about the subject.

A Great Choice

For those that make the decision to adopt a child into their home, however young or old that child might be, it’s a great choice. Our culture (at least in North America) has made adoption a badge of not being able to bear children, although statistically, those that adopt are not always those that cannot have children biologically. Those that are unable to conceive do choose adoption more than those with the ability to conceive, but there is a stigma associated with adoption that may not be completely accurate. Often, when I am having a discussion with a friend or acquaintance, I am reminded of this stigma. There is often a question regarding whether or not I have other children and how old they are. The assumption is often that those other children are also adopted. In my case, they are not. In many cases, and sometimes in painful cases, all the children in the family are adopted. Whether one is infertile or fertile does not diminish that adoption is a great choice for adoptive parents to make. And there is a great need for adoption in our country and world, as there are millions of children that do need a loving home and environment to grow up in.

It’s a great choice for the mother of a child to make when determining the future of her child. I’ve never been faced with the hardship that it must be to adopt a child away from me, but I would imagine it is extremely painful for all involved. I have watched a mom give a child to adoption, because she loved her child in amazing ways and wanted the best for that child. But I also recognize that it wasn’t easy. It was a great choice, but one that was one of the hardest that a woman could ever make.

It’s a great choice politically speaking. I’m not overly political but the issue of adoption is close to my soul, so when politicians start talking about adoption or put into place laws or other actions supporting adoption, I am ecstatic. Barack Obama (regardless of what you think of him overall) did a great job of supporting those in the adoption journey through tax reform. There were other taxes that I did pay that I would prefer not to have paid but the help that I received when adopting, from a financial standpoint, was substantial. It’s a great choice for the government to come alongside adoption and do anything and everything that can be done to both promote and support it. Anytime our governing officials take the welfare of a child into account, it’s a good thing.

But adopted children don’t get a choice. It’s not a great choice for them, because there is no choice at all. And to some degree, this is a great thing in and of itself. Can you imagine if we gave children under the age of 18 the choice of who their parents would be? We would live in far worse chaos then we already do! In all seriousness, generally speaking, adoption is a great choice made for the welfare of the child. Barring some psychotic, sick, or demented adoptive parenting, most children that are adopted are loved, and cared for by their adoptive parents.

A Good Concept

Making sure that the next generation is cared for and that child rearing is a priority is a good concept. It is a concept that cultures and generations have held for a long time. We find families caring for one another in almost every historical account within any culture, religions, creation story, and mythical stories. Caring for children has always been on the forefront of humanity, probably because there is an internal drive within humanity to keep the kids alive, to continue the lineage and race of humans. At its simplest level, it’s what God meant when he told Adam and Eve to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ or why Mormons are encouraged to have children or why Catholic folks are discouraged from reproductive limitation. We want our kids to grow up, succeed and live a life that reproduces more children. If you ever meet a grandparent with ‘great-great-great’ grandchildren, you can see the pride in their eyes as they discuss how many offspring and family that they have. It’s a good thing to have many kids and raise them successfully.

It’s also a good thing that adoption has been around since the very inception of life, whenever that might have been. When a child needed a parent or a caretaker, there is always an example where that is provided in history and throughout stories that we find (scripture is replete with familial homilies and narratives, for instance.) We want all children, regardless of who their biology says that they are a part of, to both survive and thrive.

But adoption is a complex decision and undertaking.

We adopted our youngest child and that was a complex decision because we knew that it would have a significant impact on our family dynamic. Just as the decision to have another biological child is sure to have implications on a family, so it is to add another child whether by birth or by adoption. It’s difficult and it causes tensions to rise, relationships to spar, and all of the issues that seemed small before, to loom within a family.

The first time that I had the opportunity to hold our new daughter, there was a unique and special bond that formed. We were both experiencing adoption in our own ways and I saw the story unfold in front of me that I resonated with, even if only in thought process. I obviously don’t remember my own adoption, as I was an infant in the process, but I still resonated with our daughters reality.

My biological children were the first people on earth (that I had met) that were related to me, via genetic makeup. That was a new and amazing experience. And then with our adopted daughter, I experienced another relation to me, but it was experiences shared, not DNA given. The decision was complex and at times painful, but our adopted daughter has become part of our lives just as our other children are. There isn’t favoritism, there isn’t a singling out of either adopted or biological child, there is just extreme love for all of the.

We have experienced relationship with our daughter’s biological mother. She is an amazing young woman that has been through so much, and has come so far. While I wouldn’t wish what she has been through on anyone, I know that she has conquered much in her life, the past few years. She has been a great mom from afar to our youngest. I have often wondered how complex it must be for her. To be far away from a daughter that she doesn’t know, to work through the trauma that is associated with giving a child to adoption, both of those things must be so heavy, so complicated. And I am so grateful that she chose us, to our adopt her biological daughter. As complicated and difficult as it was, we are forever grateful for the opportunity to raise our youngest, and we don’t ever want to take that for granted.

Our daughter will have a lot of questions. She will have a lot of concerns, both spoken and unspoken (though she currently shares her mind more often than not…) and she will have to grapple with the reality that she is an adopted child. She knows, even at a young age, that she is adopted and we try to celebrate that fact. She is already very interested in the concept of what a family is and loves her brother and sister. She is fascinated with the idea of being with family and is a cuddle bug. But I know for her it will be complex, complicated, and sometimes, quite confusing. I know from both research and experience, that it is a difficult task of self identification and discovery of identity.

We are teaching our daughter to know who God is and know God personally. She is open to learning and understanding simple concepts, with the very smart brain God has given her. However, I know that the prevalent theme in both scripture and in church doctrine, regarding adoption, is going to be a difficult spiritual concept. Those that are far smarter than me and that study these things day in and day out point out that children that are adopted struggle in various ways to the idea that God ‘adopts’ them. There are many different theories of why this may be the case and I suppose you can read about each of these theories in the many books that are written on the subject, but I thought I would just share my own wrestling, as a case study.

At a very basic level, in Christianity, one learns that God loves them. John 3:16 is a verse that many people have memorized and even those that are not part of the pop culture of christianity would know the verse.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son…”

For an adopted child, this is pretty close to home. Why would God give his only child? How does that show love for his Son? These are questions that are probably more internal than external and for me, may have been present even in my subconscious. I have always been and will forever be thankful that Jesus was willing to live a human life and die on a cross, but really struggle to understand how it was ‘loving’ that God would give his Son, for folks that were otherwise destined to defeat as a human race. I know me. And I have seen enough in human nature to know that giving my children away for someone else’s well being would be insane!

In adoption, often the reason that the child is adopted is because the biological family ultimately loves that child enough to give them a home that will be best for them. Even if a child is taken by the state and then given to the state to be adopted, the child’s wellbeing is the reason that these decisions are made. We want our children to succeed. The concept that God would give his child is both ostentatious and mind blowing. 1 Corinthians 1 talks about the struggle that I have with Paul’s authorship when he writes that ‘the message of the cross is foolish to those who are perishing.’ The easy answer for those that seek to understand God is to ‘have faith.’ But sometimes, oftentimes for me, that is an easy answer, but not a complete answer. It’s also not an easy answer to live. I don’t trust most people, including myself, and so to have faith that God, the great Father, would give up his Son, seems like foolishness to me. But what do I know? God is God, and the mystery of God is just that…A mystery!

So, I choose to live with the tension within the concept that God both gave up his ‘one and only Son’ and then chose to adopt humanity, if they chose to follow him. I’m not God and don’t want to be (well sometimes, I do, but that would end poorly for everyone involved!) The issue of adoption in the bible is further complicated by the cultural norms that existed for adoption when this is referenced by Paul several different places in the New Testament.

In 1984, Scottish Law Professor Francis Lyall published a study of the “Legal Metaphors in the Epistles (Slaves, Citizens, Sons, Zondervan) and pointed out several different concepts within adoption that Paul’s readership would have understood because of Roman reign and rule during that time period. Here is what Lyall concludes in his dissertation of adoption in scripture.

  • First, we have to recognize that there was no Jewish concept of adoption. If a parent was unable to care for a child, whether by death or otherwise, the immediate family was responsible for that child (brother, brother in law, or otherwise.) With this in mind we find that Paul is referencing “Roman” adoption or a Greek paradigm.

 

  • Romans had a very different idea of adoption than what we as Americans immediately think of when we process adoption.

As Ellen Mady rightly points out in her discussion of a similar subject,

“In ancient Rome, adoption had a powerful meaning. When a child was born biologically, the parents had the option of disowning the child for a variety of reasons. The relationship, therefore, was not necessarily desired by the parent, nor permanent.

 

Not so, however, if a child was adopted. In Rome, adopting a child meant:

 

  • That child was freely chosen by the parents, desired by the parents.
  • That child would be a permanent part of the family; parents couldn’t disown a child they adopted.

 

An adopted child received a new identity. Any prior commitments, responsibilities and debts were erased. New rights and responsibilities were taken on. Also, in ancient Rome, the concept of inheritance was part of life, not something that began at death. Being adopted made someone an heir to their father, joint-sharers in all his possessions and fully united to him.”

There was a punishment for those that would go back on their word as it related to adopting a child, sometimes resulting in death by the government in horrific fashion. Adoption was a very legal process, and one that was not for the faint of heart (but had great benefit to the family that was adopting as they received special government treatment). In Roman culture, there seems to be a very clear connection between familial bonds and adoption. There was first a legal contract, and then the adoptive parents were ‘forced’ to parent that child in a way that was deemed as loving.

I don’t know that I have really understood the cultural concepts of Roman adoption (nor am I an expert now), so I have always lensed God’s adoption of humanity through my own ‘experience’, questions, and doubts. It’s not the ‘right’ way to process scripture, and until recently, I had simply suppressed the compulsion to really seek to understand my own heart and mind as it relates to this subject.

Paul is describing a very legal obligation, a contract of sorts, that God engages in, when he adopts us as His kids. When Paul writes about adoption, he is NOT making a statement about God’s love, primarily. Instead he is making a statement about the legality of our ‘purchase.’ When adoption is referenced, often slavery is an accompanying metaphor that is used. Slavery was not a positive thing, at least for the slave (unless they had a fair master) and is certainly not a positive in our current culture, and so these were problematic pairings, for my small mind.

It has only been in the past few months that I have been able to somewhat reconcile God’s love apart from the legal contract that he had to make, with the ‘giving’ of his Son. Had Paul been writing today, I wonder if he would have instead focused on a different ‘legal contract’ such as the contracts between governments, or even the contract that many people make with their banks to pay a mortgage. The example that Paul is giving is providing evidence that God has ‘paid the contract in full’ with other places in scripture that reinforce God’s love for us AND his only Son. Jesus himself talks to the Father and declares his love for the Father, and his Father’s love for him. Adoption by God is not devoid of love. Giving of God’s only Son is not devoid of God’s love for the Son and does not show us that God loves humans more than his own Son. His love transcends that of my small mind. And for that I am grateful.

I do want to follow God’s example by being a good Father to my kids. God was  and is a good Father to his Son, a good Father to his human kids, and a good master of his slaves from a legal perspective. And then in a very relational and personal way, he loves each of his kids, Jesus and humanity, well beyond our understanding.

Adoption is a wonderful concept and action. It is beautiful. But with adoption comes a host of questions. Doubts. Insecurities. Identity issues. Trust issues. It’s complex.

 

Step 1: Acknowledgment of Chaos

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” –Step 1 of Alcoholics Anonymous

There are very few things in life more terrifying than not being in control, at least for me. Psychologists agree, generally that control is a human desire and need.  I want to always have a handle on the future, a tight control of the past, and very rarely live in the present. I am a planner, one who wants to make sure that in 3 years, in 10 years, in 20 years, I find myself and others in the place that I think we should be. Within addiction, the irony is that we want more control over our emotions, our feelings, and the parts of us that no one sees, but we give up control of the things on the external. I gave up control of my financial situation, gave up control of relationships, gave up control of my job, and that of my family. I sacrificed the external to remain ‘in control’ of the things that were internal to me. Those became near and dear to my heart, instead of the things that actually mattered. My secrets began to consume me.

I knew that my life was becoming unmanageable the first time that I couldn’t remember the night before. The first blackout that I experienced, I swore off any drinking of alcohol, because it left me feeling guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, and frankly, out of control completely. I wasn’t sure what I had just experienced and couldn’t remember certain things about the evening before. I knew that that was completely unmanageable. As the disease progressed, I couldn’t manage the issue of drinking internally any more and began to put myself in situations where I would do damage to relationships if I was ‘found out.’ I was ironically, still, all about control.

The hardest part about step one is not the recognition of the lack of manageability, instead, it is the admission of the inability to have power over the situation. At least that was for me. I had always had ‘power’ over my actions. I always had ‘power’ over my future. I always had ‘power’ when it came to a career, schooling, relationships, and, well, you name it. I never had a drinking problem, until I did. And it was at that point life became unmanageable. The indication of powerlessness is the lack of manageability, and that is what I first had to admit. That I lacked the power to do this ‘on my own.’ The more isolated I become the more desperate I became to control the situation. The more isolated I wanted to become, the more lonely the landscape of life seemed to appear.

I recently took in a Netflix special. “Six Days” is about the bombing of the embassy in the U.K. in 1980. A negotiator takes up the mantle of peace after 6 young men take over the embassy and threaten to kill the hostages, if they are not granted their wishes. The psychology of a hostage situation is something that I resonate with. The more alone that the perpetrators became, the more desperate they would become to reach the demands of those around them, thus giving up control of the hostages. Unfortunately, they didn’t give up control and ended up having to be eradicated by the Special Forces unit. During one of the scenes, a commanding officer says, “They have become desperate, and they will either kill all of those involved, or they will admit defeat.” I resonated with this. I became destined to ‘kill all of those involved’ or admit defeat. I wasn’t going to kill anyone, in fact, I’m a pacifist at heart so killing is not something I ever considered. But I would begin putting relationships to rest, one by one, so that no one could get close enough to know the truths that were underneath the surface. When this started happening, manageability was out the window.

As I sat in my bed, in a nightgown that the the hospital had provided me, and waited for the nurse to come in to welcome me to my new room in the psych ward, I’ll never forget the denial that existed within me. “If I could just get out of here, I can manage this drinking thing, and move on with my life. If I just simply drink once in a while in moderation, it will be fine.” I was in complete and utter denial of the situation that was in front of me, thus rending me out of control and lacking any sense of management. The nurse came in and began to ask me questions about my feelings. I wasn’t really in any mood to discuss my feelings, in fact, I’m sure that I was quite curt and gruff with the middle-aged woman who would become the nighttime annoyance over the next few days, waking me up to take my blood pressure and ask me if I had any thoughts of hurting myself. On Day 4 of my stay at the luxurious mental health facility, that same nurse came in and sat down. With care in her eyes and tenderness in her voice, she asked me if I was ready to admit that I was powerless over this alcohol thing. She sat patiently as I determined whether I was really powerless or whether I could manipulate this situation further. I managed to say, “Yes.” And in that moment, all control, all power, all grasp of this lie that I was living, fell away. I knew that I needed others to help me. I knew that others needed to be let into the world that I was covering, hiding, protecting. I knew that I needed to cut back the layers of pain, emotional turmoil, and the self medicating-guilt inducing- lifestyle that I was living in. I had to go deeper emotionally then just recognizing the bi-product of anxiety and depression. I had to begin to examine the root cause of my anxiety and depression. I was terrified of what I would uncover.

All of our lives are unmanageable, whether we are addicts or not. There are parts of each of our lives that we cannot control, and to do so would prove to be futile. Addicts are not special in their experience with powerlessness and unmanageability. The only difference between an addicts way of life and a non-addicts way of life is that non-addicts can cope well with life on life’s terms. Addicts cope as well, but in a way that does complete and utter destruction in the world that they live in. It’s a slow fade, for many addicts, and then one day it seems to all catch up with that addict. I know that for me, it was a slow fade over many years when I wasn’t even drinking, that led me to a point of utter chaos in my life.

I do admit that I am powerless over alcohol. Just like I cannot ‘control’ people’s response to the things I do or am, I cannot control the alcoholic consumption that I choose to have. This is not an excuse, in fact, it allows me to give myself permission and control to rather make choices before I ever have a sip of alcohol to never start in the first place. I know that once I drink, I won’t stop. I admit that alcohol is cunning, baffling, and powerful, and is most certainly better at those things than I am. Alcohol consumption is ‘amoral’ but when it becomes a way of life, and something that captures the heart and soul of the individual, it’s time to admit defeat. Admit power loss, and come to terms with life, on life’s terms.

My life was unmanageable before I started drinking. My life was unmanageable during my time drinking. My life will be unmanageable for the foreseeable future until I am dead. But I will retain the power of choice of alcohol. Whether to start drinking or not, is a choice, and it is something I choose. Once I start, I am powerless over my enemy. Loneliness, isolation, depression, anxiety, and destruction follow when I choose to drink to deal.

I admit that I am powerless over alcohol and I choose to admit that my life is unmanageable. At some level, that brings a sense of relief. I don’t have to control everything. I don’t have to get the ‘right’ reactions from others. I don’t have to find fulfillment in things that don’t matter. And I can work through my own pain, peeling back layer upon layer, to make sure that I am dealing with core issues, rather than trying to medicate for pain. Step one is for all people at some level. For me, it was the key to moving forward. It took me a year and a half to get to the point where I could admit. Once I did, there was a newness of life that I found. A freedom, if you will, in the present.

So I keep living a day at a time. One day at a time. Powerless, Unmanageable, but at peace.

 

Joe

“Joe. My name is Joe. I’ve been here 8 days, and they want to kick me out tomorrow. I have a condition that I can’t get medicine for, and before they know it, I’ll either be dead or back in here.”

I knew I wouldn’t mind if they kicked me out the next day. I was ready to move on, move forward from this nightmare. But Joe was fearful. His voice trembled as he described his life outside his walls of this confinement. He told stories of having it all, being a contractor making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, working construction and then owning a construction company; married with three kids, and living in a modest ½ million dollar home. “I’m 71 now.

That was a different life, 36 years ago.” Joe was 35 when he first started drinking regularly. He had hurt his arm in an accident and to ease the pain, he had found alcohol seemed to help the pain while also being socially acceptable. His wife of 12 years continued to scold him for drinking too much at times, and eventually she left him alone, in the house of his dreams.

He sold his construction business and moved to Florida. And then drank; for 36 years. His kids had graduated and gone, and this was a blur of a time for Joe. He couldn’t recall the times he had attended graduation ceremonies, weddings, or anything that was normally a landmark moment in a person’s life.

Joe had been admitted to the mental health psychiatric center because he had tried to commit suicide. Alone and in pain, he found solace in the fact that he could leave behind his pain, guilt, shame, remorse, and lonely existence. He swore that when he got out, he was going to figure out, this time for good. Clearly, Joe was not in good shape. He had long been on workman’s compensation and disability, and had been in and out of homeless shelters for years.

I’ll never forget watching midday television one afternoon with Joe. As we sat there, he gruffly asked if I was married. “Yes. I’m married.” I replied with some question in my voice, because at that particular moment I was married, but wasn’t sure how frail that reality was, moving forward. Joe leaned in, across the table with the most intense eyes an old man has given me, probably in my entire life, and said something that haunts me and motivates me all the same.

“When you get out, take advantage of a second chance. Don’t f*** this up and lose everything. You’ve only started to lose your future and you can turn that around.”

And with that, he sat back in the uncomfortable chair and took in the rest of “Judge Judy.” I was taken back. He had told me his story and it had eerily resonated with me. Similar ages, similar life situations, similar pains, and aches and emotional scarring. He had come to the crossroads and the intersection 36 years ago, and had chosen to go down the gravel road of selfishness, self-seeking, and what seemed to be an easier and softer way than living life on life’s terms. He had shut people out of his life, out of his pain, and out of his existence only to find at the end of the day, he had to live with himself. He didn’t like himself very much and so he had made it his goal to rid the world of himself.

The last day that I was at the mental health center, Joe gave me his phone number on a little piece of paper. He folded it up in a square and told me to call him, when I got out, and when I landed somewhere. I forgot about the little piece of paper until about a month after this exchange when I found it in a pocket, in the jeans that I was sporting at the hospital. Memories came flooding back to me, and I knew something had to be different. I didn’t want to end up a 71-year-old man, with a crazy story of living life in a blur, trying to end it all by any means possible. I didn’t want to look back on my life and tell a 35-year-old kid not to screw this up, like I had done. I wanted to choose a different road. One with twists and turns, bumps and valleys, mountains, and rivers. I didn’t want to live a flat life void of emotion, relationships, and joy. I could deal with the pain, as long as I could live life to its’ fullest potential.

I tried to call Joe, the day that I found his number. HIs number was disconnected and no longer in service. Joe was, and is, an angel of hope whom I encountered. I don’t know that I’ll ever see Joe again, but I think of him often. During the times when I descend into a difficult valley or peak a mountaintop, I remember him looking at me, with intensity, desire, and earnestness, and saying “Get it right the second time around, son.” And then we watched another episode of Judge Judy.

*Names in this post are not actual names of people represented to protect the anonymity of those that were involved. Joe, if you ever read this, please know that you saved one man’s life in that clinic.

What Do YOU want?

I have had to grow up, and will continue that growth process until I can’t any longer. I still want the same two things.

  1. I want to be healthy.
  2. I want to know the God of my understanding.

It was the end of the “winter of hell.” The hell that had become my life, and current reality. Questions had been posed to me and I needed to answer them. For me. Not for others or how others would want me to answer them, for that would be how I arrived in this situation to begin with.

“What is it that YOU want?” Two of my closest friends asked me the question, within days of each other. It’s as if they had been talking. “It’s not enough for me to want something for you. It’s not enough for me to desire for you to be someone that you don’t want to be. It’s not enough for you to try and be someone for someone else anymore.” Both of my friends were honestly asking me, neither of them wanting something fake or manufactured. They honestly wanted me to figure it out for me instead of trying to figure it out for everyone else.

I heard these words.

I understood that I needed to determine who I wanted to be.

I needed to make a determination on desires, on abilities, on futures, and on the situation that I found myself in. What did I want? I wasn’t sure.

I knew that I didn’t want what I had found myself to be. I knew that I didn’t like me and I knew that the way I was living, a life of least resistance,  would end in a catastrophic moment.

I leaned into the question, and began asking questions of myself.

Did I want to be alone (This is an honest question that I believe most introverts wrestle with)? Did I want to be alive (This is probably a question that more people have then I ever realized)? Did I want the life of an addict, always going back to the same things that drove me insane in the first place? Did I want to be a person that focused on the things that inhibited me from being me? Or did I want to be me and be okay with that? What did that even mean?

So many questions posed and most them were posed within my own head. Some of them came out in conversation with a dear friend of mine, who had many years of experience ahead of me. Some of them came out in writing. Some of them came out in my own emotion, and inability to control the emotion.

So many questions have yet to be answered. And yet, in a stunning beautiful array of current and ongoing reality, I began and continue a journey of discovery.

I can remember in college people telling me that I was going to ‘find myself’ or that I would ‘own my own faith’ or that I would have a ‘spiritual awakening.’ Unfortunately mine didn’t come until well after college. I’m grateful. I’m thankful that it finally did come and is still coming. I am finding joy in the little things. Finding joy in the present moments is something that I have never really known. I have always focused on the future, trying to manipulate situations around me to achieve the success that I somehow craved. There were times when I didn’t really know who I was, in fact, there were very few times that I knew who I was. I understand that now to some degree. And each day is another day to understand that more and more. To understand who I am and to understand who I want to become are two very important things in my current reality. I am very focused. But not focused on the future realities that could exist, rather, I am trying to focus on the current reality that does exist. For if I am to focus on the future reality that could exist, I will rob myself of being me, in the present moment. I will never find comfort in my own skin, and I will lack the joy needed in life to sustain life, love, and relationships.

I went fishing with my son recently. We haven’t fished much the past couple of years, mostly because I have been too focused on myself to really find joy in the idea and act of sitting by a dirty midwest pond and catching smelly catfish. But that is me. It’s one of the things that I have loved doing since I was a young child. I can remember being excited about the next time that I got to go to the pond. There was freedom at the pond. The water was mysterious, and unpredictable, and yet, it was always there. It was always present. It was always waiting for me to step up beside it and find peace hearing the waves lap against the shore. I love catching fish. But even more than that, I love the focus that fishing brings. I have a singular focus when I cast my lure into the weeds, hoping that a ‘lunker’ as my son and I call them, will snatch the lure and run. Each cast provides a new hope. And then a new reality. Either there is a fish on the end of my line at the end of the cast, or there isn’t. Either way, I get to be at the pond. And I get to be at the pond with my son, alive, joyful, and in conversation with one of the brightest kids I know.

There are many past conversations that I remember vividly, that I can recount with complete accuracy, as I have the ability to recall conversations with clarity (Which is also a curse because I often play them back, assign motives to what people say, and concoct a reality in my own head that may not actually exist). There are so many meetings, discussions, dialogues, monologues, and emotive statements that I dare say I would not care to forget. Pain is something that I choose to entertain, but some of these discussions happened to me, not because of me, and for those I am now grateful because they have made me into the person that I am becoming. All of the experiences, whether good, bad, ugly or otherwise, mold us and shape us into who we are, what we believe, and why we exist. The discussions, conversations, pain, sorrow, victories, and accomplishments, all play into the current moment. This is one of the reasons I choose joy, in my current moment, rather than find all of the reasons that I should be angry, confused, mad, or otherwise blaming.

I discuss many of these conversations elsewhere, but for the purposes of this particular journal, I remember a conversation with a friend of mine in early March. I was still angry, broken, confused, and trying to figure out which way was up. I knew which way was down because I had been to the edge and back of the bottom of the barrel. I had experienced a depth of life that I never, ever want to go back to. I asked this friend of mine what I needed to be doing to figure out how to climb out of the darkness that had surrounded me.

He said to me, “You are going to grow up in the next few months and years. And you are going to discover life that you have never known. Life that will find you, that you don’t have to manufacture, and a life that will bring immense joy.” At the time, I scoffed. I didn’t let on that I was somewhat irritated with his implication that I somehow was a child. I should have probably at least let on that I was mildly irritated but at the time, I wasn’t sharing emotion with anyone, except to show anger to the world.

Who was he to say I was a child? I was grown up. I was an adult. I made my own decisions and I would continue to do so. As I journeyed along over the next few months, I did find myself growing up. In my core, I have been a small child for so long. I made the choice to live life a certain way, always reliant on others for direction, as a child is reliant on their parents for food, clothing, and shelter. I have always relied on the accolades of those around me to continue to motivate me. I have always relied upon my personality to get me out of difficult situations. But I found myself growing up. I began to limit my ‘approval rating’ from others, and began to see myself as autonomous. I began to understand what it meant to take care of myself, not just in the feeding and clothing of myself, although those things are very important, but in the area of self care and management. I began to sort through the things in my head and could make determinations on whether they were based in reality, facts, or emotion. I began to become level headed enough that I could make rational decisions without fear of reprisal, anger, irritation, disappointment, or approval of those that were around me. I began to see myself as independent from others, where I had always been dependent.


Growing up has downsides as Peter Pan pointed out years ago in the book, movie, and retelling of the fable. Growing up means that you have responsibility. Growing up means that you have obligations. Growing up means that you get to work for the things that you want. Growing up means that you have to determine what you actually want. And I have been in that mode of operation for a few months now. I know these things to be true, and have begun to experience the benefits of growing up as well as the downsides.

The benefits outweigh the downsides easily. There is an ease to my mind that I have not known before. I am able to sleep well at night, and wake up refreshed in the morning, and at a normal hour.. I’m able to be both physically and emotionally present with my kids, family, and people around me. I am able to find joy in the small things and look at each day, with a newness and gratefulness. Growing up is a challenge, but as it is happening, is a joy to behold and experience. I see life through my kids eyes again, but with the lens of an adult. I am one that has determined who he is, and who he will become.  

So, what do I want? There are just a couple things that I decided upon, way back at the end of the ‘winter of hell.’ I determined that I wanted just two things.

  1. I wanted to get healthy.
  2. I wanted to know the God of my understanding.

These two statement are packed full of all sorts of growing pains–pains that I have only begun to experience, but necessary, nonetheless. They are packed full of joy, excitement, and impatience. I want these things to be true today. Right now. It’s probably human nature, but certainly my nature to want things quickly. I wanted things well before I was ready to have them, and the same is true in the ‘growing up’ sense. It takes time for maturity to become a reality. It takes time for a child to become a man. It takes time for those that are around that man to understand who he is and what makes him tick, especially when that person has been unsure of himself for so long. “Patience is a virtue” they say. My impatience with life has led me to a place where I have had to develop virtue. I had to develop patience at some level (and that will be an ongoing thing until I die!). I had to experience an independence from those vices that kept me from experiencing who I needed to be, who I wanted to be, and really who I had always been. I have had to find me and be ‘okay in my own skin.’

I have had to grow up, and will continue that growth process until I can’t any longer. I still want the same two things.

  1. I want to be healthy.
  2. I want to know the God of my understanding.

Neither is completed, and I know that these things take a lifetime to experience. But I know that I have clear direction and clear marks of who I am, who I want to become, and how I want to get to these places. People are always going to be part of the equation, but people don’t dictate my growing up. They don’t dictate me being a child. The “approval rating” of others means less to me today than it did yesterday, because I know that I am loved by God. And I know that I am loved by my family, friends, and others. Love is alot of things (and I write about that elsewhere) but one of the things that I have learned as I journey through adolescence, is that ‘love is something that cannot be earned, kept, or lost. When one loves another, that continues, regardless of the circumstances.

As C.S. Lewis says To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.”

Thanks to my friends, who asked me the same question…Just a few days apart.

Disillusioned Joker

“All right kids, it’s break time.” These were some of my favorite words in outpatient treatment. It meant that we would keep discussing life, on life’s terms.

I met her near the end of February. I had cold called from the hospital down to a place in Wichita that was connected with the hospital system, loosely, and that promised to help people deal with their addictions and vices. It seemed to be a place of hope and came highly touted by the psychiatrists that I was working with at the psych ward. I called using the monitored phone, asked if they take my specific insurance, and then made an appointment to meet with the intake counselor within the week. The woman on the other end of the line made it very clear that if I didn’t show up, I would not have another chance to book an appointment, for intake. The week before this meeting with the counselor was difficult. There was much change and a lot of heartache. I walked in on a Friday morning to the waiting room several minutes before my scheduled time and sat down in a seat after checking in. I filled out the necessary paperwork that they had handed me with the usual questions such as “within the last week, how is your mental health?” and “on a scale from 1 to 10, how well have you slept?” During this season, I had a hard time ‘passing’ these tests.

I knew that I was a mess, but as I sat in that seat, waiting for the intake person to come holler my name, I became resolute to the fact that I would most definitely get into some treatment, get some help, and find reprieve from my own demons.  I needed to do this for me, for my own sanity, for my own wellbeing, for my own life to be ‘normalized’ (whatever that means). A shorter woman with dyed red hair came to the top of the stairs and hollered out my name, and then told me we were headed down the stairs. I followed her through what seemed like a maze to a dimly lit room, that was her office. She had me sit in a seat next to her desk and she let me know that everything that she asked was to be put into my ‘intake assessment’ and that it would be used for insurance purposes as well as to determine a good treatment plan. She asked me a question, and I began to tell a long story of how I arrived at the spot that I was in. This little short lady, fire hair, and all interrupted me, and curtly said, “I have to get through all of the questions on this list, and I only have one hour to do it, so, keep things shorter and we can get through this.” I kept things as short as I possibly could, and tried to tell all of what was happening and had happened in my short time before. At one point, she looked at me, knowingly, and said, “Really? That’s the whole story?” And I knew that she was aware that I wasn’t telling her all that had happened. So I kept on going. And spilled my guts. At the end of our time, she declared that I was definitely a candidate for intensive outpatient treatment and that I could come back the next week. Whatever day I showed up, would be my first day, and from there it was an 9-12 week process. I left that day, and found hope in the fact that I was actively pursuing health in a tangible way. I wasn’t checking off the boxes for anyone else, I wasn’t having to fulfill an obligation, and I wasn’t trying to manipulate a system. I was self caring, and self working on something that I had to figure out, for me.

The next week was the first week of treatment. I jumped into the middle of a class, and tried to hold on for dear life, as I learned the ropes of the outpatient therapy. I began to get the rhythm of the class in week 2 and by week 3 was really enjoying my time. The instructor was raw, blunt, honest, and pushed each of her clients. She was aware of everyone’s story and very aware of what the room ‘felt’ like. I found out later that most of what she did in class was observe people’s response to her and to others. She was always finding ways to get under my skin, say things that would make me think, or make me smile, at the right times. In case you didn’t know, I can become a ‘class clown’ when put into a highly stressful situation. It’s my way of alleviating tension, awkwardness, and difficult circumstances. I found myself saying really funny things, or I thought that they were, early on in those classes. People seemed to enjoy it, and I felt like I was contributing, at least on a comedic relief level. Then one day, the instructor pulled out an article for us to read together. The article was about personalities and addiction. As we read through the article, one of the headings was the ‘joker.’ The paragraph that came after the heading was stunning to me. It described me in detail when circumstances became contentious. But it didn’t just describe my outward behavior, it described the things that I felt deeply in these moments. Shame, guilt, pain, and anger were behind the mask of the joker. Figuring out how to make others laugh would be the way that the joker would run from conflict, and if forced, the joker would simply vacate premises to avoid confrontation at the highest level. This was me to a ‘t’ and I found some solace in the fact that it described the common background that jokers had as it related to life experiences. I have always been fascinated with personality discernment, and even have done several different personality profile consultations with different teams, etc. This particular write up, with it’s particular nature, was rather in my face, using common language to describe the depths of my own heart and soul. It felt as if I was being read, from the page in front of me.

As the instructor finished the reading, I looked up and immediately blurted that I was a ‘joker.’ There was probably nothing further from the truth in that moment. I had not been truthful with my family, I had not been truthful with myself, and I found myself in a place that the only means of current escape was comedy. The instructor looked back at me with direct confrontation in her eyes and she said, “What are the strengths about the joker?” I had not heard the strengths, I was too busy focused on all of the areas of my weakness and failure. I had totally missed that section as she was reading. I looked back down at my paper and read through the ‘strengths’ bullet point list. There was much to absorb. The strengths that were there had and were present in my life. Hard working, caring and compassionate, able to work with others, finding and helping others that need it, and always willing to lend a hand, when necessary. This was definitely me. For years, I had been helping others as a Pastor, as an employee, and as a friend. I desperately wanted to help people succeed, to help organizations succeed, to help my friends succeed. The write up pointed out that when the joker experiences a lack of success, they become disillusioned with life and the issue at hand. I had. Years before this, I struggled with significant disillusionment with the local church. We were working so hard to lead a group of people toward something that seemed so tangible, and yet, there was very little followership. It felt as though we were grinding forward, only to see people sit in the peanut gallery to watch the show. I remember telling my then supervisor, that at some point, if this was going to be how ministry was, I would probably take my pink slip and ‘get out.’ Little did I know the future. Really does anyone know their future?

Disillusionment with a job, family, life, or relationship leads people down strange paths. As I became more and more blinded by what I was seeing in the churches that I was serving at, I became more and more self focused. It was ironic because I was always asking people to think outside of themselves, for those that didn’t yet know Jesus, and yet I was becoming more and more focused on self preservation and protection. For sure I wasn’t going to let people into my world of dark clouds. I needed to lead, be faithful to the message that I was carrying, and be bold like any ‘preacher’ is supposed to be. But you can only do that for so long before it wears a person out. And it wore me out. I had seen things in the local church that were painful, mind boggling, and scary. I had seen the backside of what it means to lead in the church and it wasn’t a pretty backside. I had seen what church politics, broken relationships, and mission driven prodding was doing to me and others and I hated it. There were times where I desperately searched for a job online that I could apply for that would ‘get me out.’ I never found it, or it never found me. My resume certainly doesn’t scream business. It screams church and clergy.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved each and every church that I served. I love the church as detailed other places. I told people as we hired them at churches that if they could find any other place to work other than working for a church they should do that. It was always tongue in cheek and it was always in my joking, comedic tone, but I began to believe that and still do today. Church work isn’t for wimps and I respect the hell out of the men and women that toil day in and day out for the sake of their faith and the cause of their savior and take a paycheck for it. It’s so much easier to ‘toil’ when you are simply attending. It is so much easier to be removed from the muck and the mire of knowledge when you simply show up and drop your kids off, attend church, and then leave. It’s so much easier to simply pray every night, and then go to sleep rather than stay up all night wondering if there is going to be another dollar in the offering plate to be able to pay bills, or wondering whether your job is secure because the church is taking a dive in attendance, or wondering if you are really doing what “God” called you to do. For the last couple of weeks of my life, I have simply prayed, thanked God for the things I am grateful for, kissed my wife on the forehead, and fallen into the deep sleep that I have lacked for years. Maybe it’s my body making up for the lost time, or maybe it’s just what is normal, for people that don’t have to deal with church demons. Disillusionment almost got me. It almost killed me. I almost killed me. I chose to live in the disillusionment far too long. And I chose to stay and battle when the fight became impossible. And, I chose my response to that fight, which was damaging at times, and caused a lot of heartache that has yet to be addressed.

As my instructor pulled me out of my own thoughts, I knew that she had asked me a question. But I had no idea what the question was. So, trying to provide comic relief, I simply said, “Yes.” She looked at me with a smile cracking through and said, “you don’t even know what the ….I’m asking do you?” I told her I didn’t and she smiled. In that moment, I knew that I was in the right spot. I was allowed, and expected to process through some of these experiences. I was allowed and expected to come to some sort of conclusion. I was allowed and expected to dive into the material in front of me. Not to accomplish it, but to absorb it, grapple with it, find life again, and fight the temptation of disillusionment. It wasn’t five steps to being a better leader/pastor or the five temptations of those in charge, but it was life training. It was skills training, and it was raw.

The instructor has been an incredible influence on my life. For a lot of reasons. She has overcome her own addiction to substances and has been sober for many years. But that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t struggle. And it certainly doesn’t mean that she keeps quiet about the ‘crap on the plate.’ Instead, she is honest with people about where she is from day to day, from week to week, and knows the right people to tell, when she is really struggling. She has overcome so much in her life, overcome some of her own tendencies that cause pain, and has leaned into her strengths to be the best mom, grandma, and instructor that she can be. She’s the only instructor that I have ever had, in this area of study, but I believe she may be one of the best.

Intensive outpatient treatment has since ended and I received a certificate. But the certificate is fairly meaningless without the experiences, the conversations, the learning and growing that was done, the memories that were jogged, the laughter that was had, and the break times where the class would just get to ‘be’ together. Many of the folks that started treatment with me, sadly, didn’t end treatment with me. But then there was a new group, and I saw an instructor full of grace, hope, and forcefulness deal with each and every one of the clients that walked through her door. I also experienced and heard about what it meant to simply leave the work at work, a concept I knew nothing about.

My instructor cared deeply for her clients. But each and every night, she had to say to herself, “I don’t make their choices for them. They do.” And when someone messed up, she moved on from it. She hated that they didn’t succeed, but also knew that trying to hold on to the pain and the anger that came out of the situation wasn’t worth the heartache and bitterness that could develop.

She would often tell a story of the first person that relapsed and died in her program during Intensive Outpatient Treatment. My instructor would tell her co-worker, “If this is what it is like in this job, I don’t think I can make it.” But my instructor did. She did it with self care, self esteem, and by working with the strengths that she had. When I grow up, maybe I will have some of these same traits.

-Joker

Emotions. Insanity. Fight.

Insanity took over. Mind racing, heart pumping, fists swinging, and rage looming, I gave up. My mind won that day, but each day is a new battle.

Each and every day, I fight. I’m not abnormal or special in this fight, all of us, to some degree have a battle. Mine happens to be my mind; if left to its’ own vice, goes insane. Things rattle around in my head, thoughts creep up that are scattered and unfounded, and things seem to get all jumbled as I try to make sense of the present moment, past circumstance, and a future reality. I have to fight these moments. I have to fight insanity.

If I were to tell you some of my insane thoughts, you would look at me and wonder where the calm, collected gentlemen in front of you went. You would wonder whether I was a psychopath or unstable. You might wonder whether you were in any of my ‘crazy thinking.’ I have been in a psych ward after all.

One of my children is fearful. Fearful of the dark, fearful of the closet being opened, fearful of what others will say about them or think about them, or fearful of loss and pain. She regularly expresses her fear I at bedtime, and asks how she can not be scared anymore. Regularly, I have had the conversation with her regarding fear that invites her to give her fears and her worries over to God, who ultimately is in charge of all things. While I have said these words, dozens, maybe hundreds of times, I am not a great role model of giving my life and will over to the care of God. In the daily fight, my natural inclination is to give ground. To let up and allow the thoughts to consume me, beat me, and ravage my brain. It’s easier. And frankly, I can be lazy about this issue, if I am not completely aware of myself around it. Awareness is something that I have lacked for most of my adult life. Instead of being aware of the present moment and what is happening on the inside of me, I have tried to suppress pain, guilt, shame, and instead fill it with things that repress the emotion that is inside of me. I have lived in the future, and not enjoyed the present.

Emotions suck. And especially when your mind is going insane.

To feel the present moment is to feel the complete pain of the moment, with all of the judgement, with all of the darkness, with all of the hopelessness, with all of the past behind me and the future before me. To feel is to recognize that pain and hurt is iminent and constant. To feel is scary. This is why I struggle so much to ‘make a decision to give my will and life over to the care of God’ and allow whatever happens to happen. I have always wanted to control outcomes. I have always wanted things to be within my grasp. And what I found, especially in the last few months, is that I am unable to manage life in the way that I would prefer, where I am in control of everything around me. Life is unmanageable, and becomes especially unmanageable when one is using chemicals to suppress the present emotional reality. I dare say that life may be unmanageable for most people, it’s whether we recognize that or not that influences us. 

Here’s what I had to learn.

To feel the present moment is to feel all of the things above AND it’s to feel the goodness of life, the relationships in life, the little things in life. Being grateful for even the smallest of life’s pleasures is something I have never done well. Toilet paper is something I am thankful for today, in moments when I am alone in a public restroom. Air is something that I am grateful for, as I have experienced the suffocation of my own insanity. My children being loud and obnoxious is something that I am grateful for, because I know the deep silence that I have plunged into. Feeling the present, experiencing the present, is a fight, but it’s worth it. The amazing part of the present moment is that there is always something to be grateful for. There is always a sliver of hope. The reason that we watch movies is that we love an impossible situation being solved. We love when the  main character overcomes. And I love when God overcomes my will, and in turn, my insanity.

As I have navigated the past few months, fighting each day, maybe even moment by moment to give my will and life to the care of God, I wrote down several items on a piece of paper at different times. If I were to simply take a picture, you wouldn’t be able to read it, because I have terrible handwriting. But I remember them and I review them daily. . I want to remember these, for the rest of my life, so that I might live in each moment, allowing emotion to be felt, allowing light in the darkness, and allowing God’s will to trump my insane mind.

I can’t control other people. Their thoughts or opinions of me, their actions against me or others, their response to my action, or their own acknowledgment of wrongdoing. I can only manage those things, in me.

When I am tempted to live insanity, I have to remember that no one else is living the insanity with me. Clearing my mind, heart, and experiencing grateful life is what I choose to do.

Finding solace in others, finding identity in others, is worthless and leads to a place of deep darkness. Finding my identity in who I really am, and who I am created to be, is necessary. Finding my identity in the hands of my God is ‘home.’

No one else can control me as much as they think they might be able to. I make my own decisions, am responsible for my own actions, and experience the consequences of all of the above. There is no one to blame, but me, and blame is not meant to continue on forever.

Insanity, in addiction, is often the reason we started the activity in the first place. To allow ourselves to go back to insanity is to relapse, without experiencing relief.

I am not my own. I was bought with a price. And that’s a good thing, because left to myself, I am not worthy or worth a whole lot. Even so, the price that was paid for me, was extraordinary.

Self esteem is not some mumbo jumbo that is talked about to make kids feel good. Self esteem is looking in the mirror and being able to say what Jesus said. “Love others as you love yourself.” It’s being able to look yourself in the eye and be proud of who you are, what you have done, and what you will do!

Getting out of bed each day is not special. It’s not unique. But getting out of bed requires strength, will, energy, and hope. And today, I choose to get out of bed.

Suck it up, buttercup.

The last one is something that I heard a very influential person in my life say recently. It was during a time that I was bemoaning something happening in my life that wasn’t to my liking. I had to fight through that experience. I had to feel each moment. And I’m glad that I did because what I experienced was a new lease on life. Each and every day, that I put my feet on the floor, I have new hope.