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.

My Affair.

I’m married and have been for 13 years. I love my wife, care deeply about her, and want to spend the rest of my life with her.

I made myself a promise early in marriage that I would never cheat on my wife with any other person. This was for many good reasons, and those reasons still remain true today. What I didn’t anticipate in our marriage were the affairs that could be had that were outside of relationships with other people. Here is an excerpt from a letter to my recently ended affair that I wrote just a few short months go.

This is not a love letter. This is a letter letting you know how I am redefining our relationship. I can remember the day that we had our “defining the relationship” discussion together. You didn’t say much, and I remember thinking to myself that I could take advantage of you for my own self gain. If you weren’t going to respond to my advances, then I would keep advancing. It was a night in the winter, and my stress level was high. You were at the store, and I knew exactly where I would find you. I had determined that you would be mine tonight, preplanned and prepared. I drove to the store, got the milk and eggs that I needed to pick up for the next day’s festivities, and on my way home, try as I might, I could not help but go visit you in the store. I walked in and found your brown body, with red lipstick and immediately knew that I had to have you. I took advantage of the fact that you were ‘cheap’ and that I would only have you a little bit, and then stop, knowing that this advancement in our relationship could do damage to the relationship with my wife, who was unaware at the time that I was pursuing you. I opened the door for you and you sat on the seat next to me, begging me to touch you. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had never touched you before, at least not with this intention in mind. It was too scary, I could lose too much, I would be thrown out of the community of faith that I was apart of for having this love affair, I could lose the only means of livelihood I had in that community of faith. And yet, I reached across the glovebox in between you and I and grabbed your neck. I pulled you close to me. Our lips met. Euphoria swept over me and you gave me a warm fuzzy feeling in my stomach. You beckoned me to drink deeply from your lips and I kept going, forgetting the stress and anxiety from the life that I was living. You seemed to momentarily take the pain from me and replaced my level of anxiety and doubt with hopefulness, passion, and a sense of a potential new reality.

In the midst of the affair, it seemed amazing. But she always let me down, time after time. Here’s another excerpt from ‘the aftermath.’

And so I went looking for you. All of you. And I found you. Right where you always were. I paid my dues, cheap, and left caressing your neck. I left thinking about the fake life that you and I were living, about all the ways that you destroyed my family, work, friends, and material possessions. The way that you stole the character traits that I and others treasured and invited me into a life of darkness and despair, away from anxiety, away from pain…But what you brought me to was so much more. I was angry with you. I pulled off to the side of the road and I opened the window. I gazed at you, and you had a dull look back at me. I couldn’t seem to find your life, your energy that you provided, the euphoria that you had once caused within me. And because I had earlier tried to kill myself, I looked at you, and gave you the one thing that you had not yet taken from me…my life. I didn’t intend that you take my life. I didn’t intend that you could have all of me. But there I was taking all of you, drinking you deeply, and fully. It was a vengeful moment. I wanted to take from you all that you had taken from me. And I did. And you left me right where you left me each and every time that you seduced me. Asleep. Alone. Anxious. And in trouble.

For me, the affair wasn’t a human relationship. But it was more powerful, more cunning, and left me breathless, empty and drained. I am reminded of these things daily as I continue to take one day at a time.

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.

Confidential Confidence

I lacked confidence, in almost everything that I was said to be good at. I lacked confidence in my faith, lacked confidence in my abilities, and lacked confidence in my potential. Confidentially, or, maybe better said, privately, I knew that I would let everyone down.

Throughout my adult life, I have lacked the confidence that is necessary to navigate through life’s unmanageable terms. I navigated okay for many years, relying on the praise of others to get me through tough times, hard times, and good times. I reveled in the glories of being a young professional who was successful at the very beginning of his career. I reveled in success. One of the people that I have had the privilege of getting to know the past several months, an influential businessman, was telling me that ‘success can be more baffling than failure, for we think that success defines us. Not so: Failure defines us. When we fail our character shows as well as our confidence. I believe there are three types of confidence. First, there is the confidence which is born from the word of God. It is a confidence on which we can build our house and the gates of hell will not prevail. It is a confidence on which we can rely. Second, there is the confidence that we have in ourselves. It is called self confidence. Thirdly, there is the confidence that comes from others who build us up and we believe them. It is a false confidence. It is like a vapor that disappears with the slightest breeze. Like I said, I tended toward the third one. Others would be my barometer for ‘success’ for so many years. I am left to think about and wonder what might have happened had I simply been confident in the way that I was wired. Would I have had the flame of success and then the flash in the pan career? Or would I have been able to go long term?

During recovery, I think I went through some of the most difficult and stress inducing exercises that I could have encountered. I changed jobs. I was apart from my family. I changed jobs again. I made new friends and tried to patch things with old ones. I dealt with some things at my job that were stress inducing. And it was during these difficult, hard to explain times that I developed some level of confidence. I hesitate to share my confidence with you, the reader, because I know that confidence can lead to deceit of oneself. I know that if I become arrogantly confident, I am right back to the place where I was…Confidentially void of confidence. Isn’t that really arrogance at its’ finest? To believe that everything that others say about you is always true? I was arrogant in my ways and, as a human, probably will always be to some extent.

Confidence has been bred in me, the past several months. I know that it takes a track record to claim experience, but right now, in this moment, I can be confident that I have overcome some difficult things without coping in ways that are destructive to me or to others. I can go somewhere in my car and not be completely consumed with my thoughts. I can lay down at night and fear not the evening that will encapsulate me with no sleep. I have confidence.

My job is an area that I have sought identity placement from before.

I have shrugged off that idea, that my job defines me. I enjoy what I have the privilege of doing, and I enjoy the folks that I get to work with. And I’m good at it. Not because others say that I am good at it, but because I know that I am. This allows me to work gratefully and to enjoy the work that is happening around me, even when it doesn’t go ‘my way.’

Early on, separated from my family and trying to discover both who I was and what I was, one of my dear friends (whom I discuss in earlier writing) instilled in me small confidences. He would gently say things that would help me talk to myself in a way that was both gentle and forgiving. He would remind me that I needed to move forward and whatever happened in the future, stay the course. He would remind me that I was to continue to plod ahead, and let the chips fall where they may. Most of the lack of confidence that I have been plagued with in the past is simply a response to the inability to control the future and outcomes. I knew that I could not do so, and yet, I was desperate to try. I knew that my abilities were not God’s, and yet, I desperately wanted to accomplish what only God can. My motives were sometimes pure (as a human can be) and sometimes they were selfish (more often than not) but I wanted to dictate an outcome that would be one of success, accolades, and influence. What I have found is that I can only control me, within an outcome that will happen. Whatever happens to me, I get to respond to. How I respond is one of the more important thoughts that I need to process. I need to respond to those that would reject me for whatever reason with gentleness and grace.

I need to respond to those that may not have a clue what to do with me, with the same gentleness and grace. I have to develop the confidence in these responses. I am hardwired and well practiced to simply live for the glory and renown of what others think about me instead of having confidence in my own ability to make good choices, to find peace in the midst of turmoil, and to be okay with the present moment. Rewiring ones brain can be difficult, if you have practiced something for so long, so opposite of the hoped for behavior.

Are you confident? Maybe you are confident in a confidential way and that is awesome. You and I were created to work and be successful. Part of that success is failure and our response to it. Confidence is stoked when we are able to move through the valleys, celebrate the peaks, and live in the mundane of life that is in between. I know that I am growing in confidence each day and that I will never arrive. And that’s a good thing, as long as I am making progress daily. A lack of confidence was a poison to my soul, and over time, I began to wither and rot, because I wasn’t grounded in God or who I was. It’s different now. It’s still changing, still morphing, but at least it’s different.

The Day I Bought Meth

I could see desperation in her eyes. She needed something, anything to give her life again.

I’m an alcoholic, not a drug addict, and so the title is confusing to some of you. It’s true. I’ve bought meth before. I even intentionally did it. It may have been one of the more defining moments of the past several months for me as it relates to the recovery journey. There are many ways in which one can encounter God, and this was just one of them, in a strange and yet profound way.

I had a couple of friends and some family help me buy a moped when I first got out of the hospital. I had been served a document stating that I would most likely lose my license and that I would have a suspended license that would become invalid. So, I thought, I need some sort of motorized vehicle to get myself to and from work, recovery, and anything else that I chose to do. Keeping in mind that this was February, in the midwest, I found a moped that was amazing. It was new, but it was cheap. It didn’t run fast, but it was street legal, and very orange. I affectionately to this day call it the ‘orange stallion‘. I drove it everywhere in those early days. There were rainy days, cold days, windy days, and my favorite, icy days. When you are going 25 miles per hour with a headwind of gusts of 50, sometimes a moped is not the right mode of transportation. But I was determined to make this work. I was determined to figure out how to get back on my feet and try again. I rode across town to treatment, then to work at night, then to AA after that. I did that, day in and day out, seeking the help that I needed and the income that I knew my family would need soon. One morning, after an early morning AA meeting, I was driving in the downtown area. I came up on an intersection to see a beleaguered older woman standing at the crosswalk. She was clearly in need of money, or something. I had to stop as the light was red, and because I didn’t have glass between her and me, I had the opportunity to have a discussion with her. “How are you?” I asked, not really wanting to know the answer, because I knew she would ask me for something.

“I’m not doing well. I need to get a hit, and if I don’t, I think I may die. I only need $4.” With bewilderment, I stumbled over my words and my thoughts. I pulled the orange stallion over to the side of the road and began to reach for my wallet. Really? I’m going to help a woman get a hit? I would never do this in the past. In the past, I would simply offer to take her to get some food at McDonalds, or pray with her. As I looked into her eyes, I could tell she was desperate. I could tell that she wasn’t kidding when she said she might die. So I pulled out my wallet and handed her four, rumpled dollar bills. As I placed them in her hand, she had a look of gratefulness come over her face, and she said thank you profusely. I told her that I was part of a group that helped people get off of drugs and alcohol and asked if she would want to be a part of it. She told me that she would love to be free of this but she had tried everything. I told her I would give her a ride to the group, and she said, “Give me just a couple minutes and I’ll go.” She walked down the sidewalk, up a couple of steps, and found her drug. She took the hit, came back and jumped on the back of the orange stallion (which has a weight capacity that I almost hit alone). We rode to group together. I had to go back to treatment, but she stayed and the good folks at the group helped her get into a detox facility. I saw her many times at meeting since that day.

The defining moment came for me, when I looked into her eyes and I could see desperation. She wanted out, and she wanted help, but she was literally desperate for an outside influence to help her. I had become that, in that moment, and found life in serving and helping. I wasn’t repaid for it, or compensated at all, but it was something that I did outside of myself.

And now, I can start a story with, “Have I ever told you about the time I bought meth?”

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

Death and Life.

Sitting on a railroad track, waiting for a train to fly by at 55 miles per hour, I called 1.800.273.8255. And then…life happened.

It wasn’t that I was mad at anyone in particular. In fact, I had no one to be angry with. Regardless, I was furious on the inside. Furious that I had let things go this far. Furious that I was going to lose it all. Furious that someone would find out about me. I was just irate. I drove, and drove, and drove. Until I decided that I couldn’t drive any longer.

On February 13th, 2018, my life would change forever. For the first time, ever, I was going to make an attempt on my own life. Selfish, stupid, but I believed that it was necessary. I needed to be relieved of pain, guilt, shame, doubt, and find some rest in what I believed would be best for all. To die. I drove around in the morning, contemplating life, family, and future. I knew that taking my life would have huge ramifications for my family. I knew that it would have future ramifications for the churches that I had served. My friends would be disappointed in me, but weren’t they already? My extended family would have no idea how to process this, except with disappointment and anger. But that is what I felt from most of the people that I considered ‘close.’ Anger, disappointment, irritation. There was nothing else left to live for if I couldn’t gain the approval of those around me. There was nothing more that I could do, to try and gain that approval, as I had done the best I could, with what I had to work with, and still failed, time and time again. The rage and anger inside of me could be felt in my face, my neck, my ears, my back and my brain. I thought and thought and thought about how I was going to navigate this season of my life that was turning into a supercell storm. I went back and forth between self effacing and self hating. “God, if you are there, save me from these things.”

These were the words that I remembered uttering before driving another half mile to the nearest set of train tracks. As I pulled up onto the two sets of tracks, on a dusty gravel road just a mile from where I lived, I knew that this would end the pain. I knew that this would be the last time that I would have to feel. And it would be the last time that I had to fail myself or someone else. Somehow, I had come to the place where I truly believed that it was better and best for me to simply not be on this earth.

My iphone was next to me in the seat, and I took it out, trying to preoccupy my mind with something other than the fearful and raging thoughts inside my head. I texted a couple people, letting them know that I loved them and that taking care of my family was a primary concern that they could have. I don’t know that I told anyone outright, “I’m going to kill myself.” but several of my friends got the hint. I then did something that I cannot explain. I called the suicide hotline. A nice lady on the other end of the line answered and asked me how I was doing. I decided, “What the hell do I have to lose?” so I told her everything that was going on. I told her about the fights, about the alcohol, about the lying, the covering up, the suicidal thoughts, and the fact that I was sitting on a train track, waiting for the next train to whisk by, going 55 miles per hour. She assured me that it was not worth it, to die. She started asking me about my family, friends, job, and home. She eventually got me to move off the tracks and toward the hospital to get some help. I started driving, eventually arriving there. When I hung up, I was walking into a place of refuge, a place that I would later attribute to saving my life.

I’ll never be able to quite put into words the things that I was thinking that day. It may be because I had been driving myself insane for about a year. It may have been that I was just so incredibly exhausted with life that it seemed as though this were the only option. It may have been the guilt, shame, and immorality doing the talking. Later, I learned, these were all ‘stinkin’ thinking’ techniques. I sat down to write what my thoughts were that day, over and over again. The only thing that makes any sense at all is that I didn’t die. I know that it makes more sense that I should have, but I didn’t. Days later, in the behavioral health unit, the nurse kept asking me if I wanted to hurt myself. I didn’t want to hurt myself, I wanted to stop hurting. Pain was the last thing that I wanted more of. Dying seemed like the ultimate way of escape. I had sat long hours with people that were suicidal and never before had understood the way of their thinking and the reality that they found themselves in. I never understood how death might be better than life, until those moments when reality seemed as though life would stop regardless.

After my experience at the hospital (which I talk about in the book), I went to the store, found my affair, which was whiskey if I remember right, and found a not so secluded area on the side of the road. I drank the bottle, and fell asleep. A deep sleep apparently.

Alcohol damn near killed me. But that day, it saved my life. Had I been left to my own vices, to my own thoughts, to my own hopelessness and despair, and had I continued on, day after day, I would not have had the opportunity to live the last several months. I would not have had the opportunity to experience life on life’s terms outside of the jail that I found myself in. I would not have been able to feel (the good, the bad, and the ugly) as it related to my marriage, my family, my job, and my friends. I would not have experienced recovery or found solace in the ‘God of my own understanding.’ I would not have been able to experience the joy of serving someone for ‘serving’ sake’ and I would not have experienced what it meant to walk through high levels of stress not relying on my own selfish vices to help navigate the tumultuous waters. I wouldn’t have celebrated my 9 year old daughter’s birthday nor would I have got to wake up next to my wife again. I wouldn’t have got to spend time with Kermit, a dear friend before and now a brother for eternity. I wouldn’t have learned how to use 76 calories (this is part of living with Kermit and Velda.)

Life won that day, because I chose it. 

It is said often in recovery. “Life didn’t get easier when I stopped coping with alcohol. It got harder.” And it has. And at the same time, I am freer than ever before. I am living life and experiencing the new reality of God, my family, my career, friendships, good food, and conversation. I am free to live, and not bound to die. Certainly I will die someday (hopefully it’s the day before taxes are due so I can avoid that, at least once) and when I do, I will meet my creator, and thank him for that day, February 13. There is so much to say about the grateful place that I find myself in, but maybe another time. If you are in a place where life seems bleaker than life, give the suicide hotline a try. They care. Or they wouldn’t be there. 1-800-273-8255. When you call, tell the good folks there, “thank you, for the opportunity to live.”

Psych Ward

Terrified, I found myself being wheeled to the psych ward. What was I doing? Did they think I was crazy? Maybe I was crazy! Maybe I should be admitted here. Maybe I should remain here. So many thoughts and a thousand question rattled around inside of me, driving me more and more insane, on the edge.

I sat there, in a wheelchair, looking at the sign in front of me, waiting for the security clearance to pass from the outside, to the inside. I wasn’t going to jail, yet, but was about to experience something that was radically different in nature than anything I had ever encountered. All because I was going to the “psych ward.”

I quickly realized once I was inside the psych ward that this is not the correct term for the place that I would call residence for 5 days. I quickly realized that there were more politically correct terms than this, and so using the term ‘behavioral health center’ seemed to be the more acceptable way to describe what was happening inside these four walls. The place was bustling with activity and what I later found out, was always that way. I walked through the front door and had to strip down to nothing so that the security folks could take everything that I had on me at the time, put it into a bag, and lock it away, for safekeeping. I was given a hospital gown, which is a sorry excuse for the front part of a shirt, and then ushered to my abode that I would be inhabiting for the next few days. The nurse met me at the room and let me know that they were doing what she called ‘intake’ and that it would be a few minutes until they came in to let me have access to some clothes, and some of my showering possessions. I had been in the hospital for a full day at this point, and thought maybe a shower would be in order. The nurse left and I was left to sit on the bed, pondering how I made it to this point in my life. As I studied the room, I realized that I was here for a very specific reason. The hospital staff had good reason to believe that I was a threat to myself and so they admitted me on the basis of ‘suicidal tendency’ and then ushered me to the “Behavioral Health Center” for safekeeping. I knew this because all of the vents were covered with a small wire mesh. The outlets were glued shut, and there were no metal sharp edges anywhere. I don’t think I was looking for any, but these things caught my attention, and for the first time in a few days, I really did want to die. I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be in this situation. I didn’t want to be locked in the hospital for any longer than I had to be. And now I was stuck. The night before, when I was recovering from my experience with the Emergency Room I had asked the nurse if I could leave. I’m not sure what I was thinking (I wasn’t) and thought that if I could leave, things would simply be all better. They knew better than to let a guy who had just showed up in the position that I was in go back out into the streets. I don’t remember what they told me, but I remember thinking that it was a good reason as to why I shouldn’t be allowed to leave. Now, in the Behavioral Health Unit, all I wanted was to get home to my wife and kids, for things to return to normal, and for me to figure out how to cope with life again.

The nurse interrupted my thought process as she wheeled in the large machine that would take my blood pressure. For the next few weeks and months, I would battle significant heart issues, such as high blood pressure and an enlargement of the heart. When one doesn’t care for themselves well, the body tends to respond poorly. She pumped up my arm and then exclaimed how high my blood pressure was. She asked if I was nervous. I told her that I was a little nervous and asked what was going to happen to me. She told me that the unit would figure out the best move forward, to keep me safe and sound, in the next 24 hours. 24 hours!! I let that sink in. I wanted to be gone in the next 24 minutes. She walked me through the ‘rules’ and the schedule and let me know that I could walk around the unit and be anywhere except other patients’ bedrooms. There were books, a television, and some coloring books out in the lobby outside of my room. I sat on my bed as she brought in my clothes so that I could get into something a little more ‘comfortable.’ All I had with me were the same clothes I had arrived at the hospital with, so I put them on. They didn’t smell great, but they were a heck of a lot more comfortable than the half shirt I was wearing, moments earlier. I laid back on the bed, for the first time in several hours, disconnected from any sort of medical device or monitoring system. I did what any manipulative individual would do in this situation. I schemed on how to fool people to think that I was fine, that I would move forward with little to no consequence. And I fell asleep. Not deeply asleep but enough that an hour passed and then I heard the nurse come around and ask if I was ready for dinner. I got up out of my bed, and went out to the lobby to meet ‘the other crazy people.’ I sat at a table by myself (even in a mental health facility I was a loner) and ate my dry, chewy chicken and drank my carton of milk. I wasn’t hungry and hadn’t been for quite some time. My appetite and everything that had been enjoyable was now gone. The only thing that I wanted in this moment, was to be away from this place. I met several folks that evening as we gathered around the 6 pm scheduled TV watching. We sat in the chairs in the lobby and talked and discussed amongst ourselves why we were there. For the first time, in a very, very long time, I told someone how I felt. I told a cocaine addict and alcoholic why I was in there with them. They couldn’t get past the fact that I was an alcoholic and a Pastor. I told them that it shouldn’t be that weird, I was still human. We had many discussions the next few days about my occupation and my drug of choice. We had many discussions about their escapades of doing drugs, overdosing, and the kinds of things that they were going to do, when they ‘got out.’ You see, all of us were in the center because we really were crazy. We thought that death would be a better alternative than life itself. And because we believed that, others believed the opposite for us and thought that this was the best place we could be. There were two more intakes that evening. One was a young gentlemen that I recognized and he recognized me. He had gone to the church that I had been pastoring at and knew that I was from there. He had tried to commit suicide and was unsuccessful. The other was a man who was about six foot seven and weighed 120 pounds. He was clearly not doing well, when he came in, and was babbling nonsense and yelling obscenities. The nurses were doing their best to get him to his room and give him a tranquilizer. The little band of alcoholics and drug addicts sat in the lobby, and looked upon this sight with wide eyes. This is what we all expected, when we came into the Psych Ward, I mean, the Mental Health Center…We expected to be placed with other folks who were insane. We all knew we were insane and our minds weren’t working correctly and that was the only difference between us and the gentlemen that put up a fight. We found out later that he really didn’t function well mentally and that he had a several mental illness that cost him memory, personality, and function.

As I laid down that night to go to bed, I was given ambien to sleep. It knocked me out cold, and I woke up to some visitors. I was groggy and don’t remember much of anything of this encounter but know that all I wanted to do was sleep. About an hour after my visitors, the nurses came back in, turned on the lights, hooked me up to the blood pressure machine and again remarked how high my blood pressure was. One of them started down a list of questions, one of which was, “Do you want to hurt anyone right now?” I thought to myself, and wish I had only thought to myself, but ended up saying out loud, “I want to hurt all of you, you keep waking me up!” I was joking, or trying to, but in the center, you don’t joke about these things. The room came alive and the next thing I knew I was talking to a therapist who was also the psychiatrist, in the middle of the night, and talking about anger and emotion. He finally left and I was able to sleep just a bit. I fell asleep convincing myself that this was all just a bad dream and that things would come to a close soon.

When I awoke the next morning, I had no idea what time it was. I didn’t have a watch, phone, clock or any way of knowing what the hour hand said. I sat up and realized that it was sunny outside. I got up, walked out the door, and found the clock to say 5:40 am. I went back in and laid down for awhile, then got up and found a book in the lobby. It was a bible, but it was the recovery bible. I opened it and read just a few of the entries that were focused on the 12 steps to recovery. I began to resonate with what the authors had written and found myself writing furiously on my notepad. As I wrote faster, my mind raced. I was here because…and my mind went all kinds of places. I played the ‘blame game’ for awhile. I went down the path of self effacing and self beating. Then I decided I would be emotionally dulled to the point of not feeling anything. I would stuff this, and I would move on. The last entry I read in the bible was regarding step 3. The writing became blurry as my eyes filled with tears.

“Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

I had tried this. In fact, my entire life, I had tried to turn my will over to the care of God, and look where it got me? It put me in the mental institution and cast away by most of the community that I had tried to serve for the majority of my adult life. I was done with God and decided in that moment that I would not read this jargon anymore. I’m out, I declared internally. My will didn’t get me here, God did. And in that moment, I had blamed the creator God, the God of the universe for my own perverse nature, sin, and demise. And he took it. I’m glad he did, and I’m glad he gave me a second, no, a millionth chance. Later, I would learn that this step was crucial to recover, but that is written about extensively in the book. God was there with me, and yet I felt further from him than ever.

The next several days were filled with classes about drug use, suicide and anxiety, and seeing psychiatrists to determine the readiness of the patients to get out of the center. I tried my hardest the first day to convince all that I was doing fine, that I was strong enough to leave and be in control of my emotions, etc. I wasn’t but I sure tried to show that way. At the end of my second day in the center, my wife and I had a conversation that would change the course of my recovery. It was simple and it was icy. She told me that she didn’t think it to be a good idea, or even option, to come home. For the sake of our kids, for my sake, for her sake, it would be best if I got the help that I needed. I got off the phone a much more broken man than when I started the conversation. I went into my room, sat on the bed and cried. I cried like a baby, more than I ever had in my adult life. The people that I loved so deeply, the people that I had hurt the most, were now not accessible for the time being, in my life. And I was breaking apart in these moments. A nurse walked in and sat down in the chair next to my bed. She was my favorite nurse as she had a sense of humor and was a bit motherlike. She was a tough cookie, and allowed for people to be honest, even demanded it. She looked at me, and I looked at her through blurry eyes and she asked me, “What happened on the phone?” I recounted the conversation through whimpers, tears, and sobbing and at the end of it, when I was done talking, she asked me a question. She said, “Do you love your wife and kids?” What was she asking me? Of course I did, wasn’t that obvious? I answered swiftly, absolutely. She then said something that I remember as vividly as if it were five minutes ago. She said, “If you want any part of their lives moving forward, you have to be brutally honest with yourself, with your wife, and with your alcohol problem.” Up until that point, alcohol had only been addressed by doctors and psychiatrists as a question. “How much do you drink?” or “How frequent do you drink?” She had made a statement and told me that I had a problem. But the part that I remember most vividly is that I needed to be honest with myself and with others. I assured her that I would try and she walked out. She and I would have a few more discussions related to this same statement, but they are recounted other places. She saved my life. Had I not declared myself to need honesty in all areas, I think I would probably be dead. I don’t think I would have made it to today, let alone through that day.

As I drove to my new home for the next few months, riding silently in the cab of the truck of a good friend, being released from the Behavioral Health Center and leaving my drug friends behind, I pondered what was next for me. How would I live out the honesty that I had been so quick to agree to? How was I going to rebuild my life, with or without my family involved? How was I going to engage my problem with alcohol. How would I live life, when life seemed so chaotic? The answer for me was complex and to a degree, difficult to explain, which is why I am writing. There was no answer that I could come up with, and that proved to be the answer. I needed others. I needed God. I needed honesty and a belief in myself again. I needed to dream again, to be excited about life again, and to find joy in the present moment. And through these things, I lived to see another day, another week, and another month. And by God’s grace, I’ll make it through today.

Identity and Argument

The latin phrase “Know Thyself” is a catchy phrase. But how many of us identify with other human beings in a way that builds relationship? How many of us wrap our identity in one sole area of our lives, instead of recognizing we are multifaceted? I know I am one of them.

Being separated from the people that you care most about sucks. I know, I have been separated from my wife and kids for the past several months. After February 13th, I left the behavioral health unit and headed to a different city, away from the church that I was at, to begin to pick up the pieces of life. Looking for friends, I began to contact some of the people from my past church experience to see if I could find a place to stay. I ended up staying with a dear friend and now brother, who is a 22 year old stuck in an 84 year old man’s body. The story of how I got there is written elsewhere, but what happened at his and his wife’s house was nothing short of a miracle. I wish that I could capture the moments in his living room, learning and being challenged by a man that was learning humility right along with me. I was challenged, irritated, held accountable, and ribbed. I was a wreckup and down like a kite. My emotional barometer was all over the place and the folks that I was staying with never knew what to expect emotionally as I walked through their front door. They were so gracious to me in those early weeks. After the first night living in their home, they should have kicked me out, but they believed in me, believed for me, at some level.

My friend and brother likes to argue. It’s how he learns. Honestly, he drives me nuts when he argues because I am a people pleaser and don’t want to engage in conflict. Conflict, at any level, causes deep anxiety and pain to spring up within me. So the first time that he challenged something I said by muttering, “I don’t know about that….” I was taken back. I didn’t want to argue with the man that I was living with. I didn’t want to have to ‘know things’ to win an argument like I have done all my life. I just wanted to focus on the things that I knew would help me recover and not have to deal with the pain of argumentation or irritation. I didn’t want to have to draw on my understanding of scripture or experience to argue my point. But I couldn’t help myself. I decided I was going to ‘win’ the argument. I later learned that winning an argument with him was simply to say that we had one, and he would call it a ‘good discussion.’

He asked me a question“Why do you identify yourself as an alcoholic at the meeting? Why do you call yourself that, when you are a child of God?” The question itself was irritating to me. So, I decided to engage it. Listen you….

First of all, I call myself an alcoholic at the meeting because I am an alcoholic and I’m introducing myself as one, just like the other 24 people in the room. I also call myself an alcoholic because I am reminding myself of who I am and why I am here, living with you! My crisis statement was one that I need to remember, and I remember it every time that I identify myself as an alcoholic. And finally, it’s the first time in my recent memory that I can be honest with a room and not experience judgement for not being perfect (more from myself than others, if I am honest). The second part of his question, about being a child of God, in the moment seemed like a needle below the skin. I was in the middle of a faith crisis and he was calling me a child of God. It was all that I could do to not show irritated (although he would later tell me that I was very emotive and he could tell when something was wrong). In my best pastoral voice, I said, “Because I am not sure what to think of God quite yet. I don’t know that I am his child.” I thought that would quiet my dear friend and brother and we could continue our car ride in silence. But he kept pushing. “So, why don’t you say you are both?” Inside, I was furious. Not at my beloved friend. Not at God. But with me. At who I had become. At what choices I had made. Inside, I became indignant. Why do I need to tell people that I am an alcoholic? Why do I need to do this recovery thing? Why do I need to not drink? It all became overwhelming in that moment.

Looking back, identity is something that we talked regularly about. When it comes down to it, I am both an alcoholic and a child of God. I’m a lot of other things as well. For instance, I’m a dad and a husband. I’m a blogger and an artist. I’m a musician and friend. I’m lazy and hardworking, all at the same time. I’m messed up, screwed up, and insane at times. You see, identity really becomes identity when I am able to look eyeball to eyeball with someone and we have something in common. We identify a shared experience. I cannot tell you the number of times that I have sat with another father and we have discussed the woes of parenting young children. Or the times that I have chatted with other people that have a distinct taste in music. Or maybe those that enjoy coffee who identify as ‘coffee drinkers.’ You see, we all have identities and sharing those identities in the right context makes us human. It allows us to be an integral part of each others’ story. It allows us to build relationships and a narrative between a group of people that can become like minded.

When Paul talks about the identity we have in Christ (for my bible teaching and scholarly friends, some of the references would be Galatians 5:19-21, Romans 5, Ephesians 1-2, 2 Corinthians 5) he really is discussing what the reality of salvation means. We are brought into the sight of God no longer as guilty, but as free. It’s a change in both perspective and reality that God has. Paul identifies himself as the ‘chief amongst sinners’ as well, in 1 Timothy 1. What are we to make of the dual reality? Obviously, we are still human and are NOT perfect even in our state of salvation. But maybe Paul was talking more about the fact that we can now identify with both Jesus’ humanity AND his deity? Before Jesus made us new, and transformed us in God’s sight, we only identified with Jesus’ humanity. We identified with the temptations that he faced, the physical pain that he suffered, and the relationship nightmares that he found himself in. We identified with his anger, with his justice, and with his ability to win arguments with people. After we have experienced the changed reality and perspective of God, we are able to identify with his deity as well. We are not God at this point, we never will be. But we have access to know God in a new way. As my friends in recovery say, “Those who give their will over to God will recover, may you find him now.” Christians often celebrate the fact that God was both man and deity, but the reality is, maybe we should celebrate the fact that we can now identify with both. Our identity is found in both our humanity and our deity. Paul said it over 160 times. We are to be ‘in Christ.’

Enough of my pondering, borderline preaching. I enjoy pondering the nature of identity, for mine is reforming from what it was. I no longer have to be something for someone else, care about how people will respond to what I say or feel, or find solace in others’ feelings about me. I identify with many of you as human. I identify with many of you as ‘in Christ’ (and jacked up as well!) And my identity is multifaceted. I’m a lot of things with alot of people, and that changes as I build within the narrative of relationships.

Early on in recovery, everyone knew that I was an alcoholic. The poor check out lady at Walmart asked how my day was going. I said, “It would be better if I weren’t an alcoholic and could have a drink.” As she stood there mortified, not sure what to think, I realized that I had broken the rule of narrative within relationship. This was not a time or place to put that bedrock of who I identify with at the forefront. This was the time and the place to give the pat answer of “I’m doing okay, how are you?” I try not to put people in awkward situations like this anymore, but sometimes cannot help myself. I will be honest with people but am relearning what it means to identify with people, instead of telling them my identity in one word. I’m an alcoholic. I’m a failed pastor. I’m a child of God. I’m a dad, husband, size 34×34 pant wearer, and a coffee drinker. And so you and I identify with each other on some level, and continue to build the narrative within the relationship that we have.

I desire to know myself. All facets of myself. And get to know you as well, with shared experiences. Identity is to know someone, and our identity is brushed stroked quite broadly.

I’ll keep going to meetings and identifying as an alcoholic, reminding myself of who I am and clearly letting others into my world. It’s good for me, and good for you to remember who we are, so we don’t lose ourselves.

Calling. The Great Mystery.

God has not given up on his church. But sometimes, he has to tear the temple down, only to rebuild it in his timing, and for his glory.

Wasting away for a year and a half, and maybe longer, and finding myself wasted (literally, emotionally, physically, mentally) at the end of it all was one of the hardest moments in my life. I had given it my all, I had lost it all, and for what? So that the organization of the church might succeed moving forward in it’s quest to have more people in the seats? Make more kingdom impact? Have a bigger budget? No. I did it because I believed that I was called. I had an experience years ago at a church camp that will always have wonderful memories for me where I was walking on a gravel road early one hot summer morning. I was doing my morning devotions as any good Christian camp counselor would when I looked up at the sunrise and distinctly (it was distinct then, it feels so distant now) heard deeply in my soul that God would use me to help the church. He didn’t say that I was to be a ‘professional pastor’ or that I would lead in big churches across the United States or that many people would come to faith because of me or the church I was in. He told me to serve the church. I remember questioning this experience for many weeks, maybe even months. I had never had any spiritual encounter like it before or since this day. I was reeling from trying to make sense of what it even meant. With this encounter in mind, I made a choice to major in something at college that would direct the course of my life, so far, and take me down paths I never intended to go down.

Calling is an interesting idea when it comes to spirituality. In Christian and non-Christian circles alike, we equate calling to something that we understand about ourselves to be true. Some people have the calling of being a missionary (whether for Christianity or against) while others have the call to help people by being a doctor, a construction worker, or a fire fighter. My call was not so specific. God wanted me to ‘serve the church.’ And so I did what any 18 year old would do at the time, I began my crusade to change the church. In college, I had everything figured out. If the church would just understand and implement the idea of honesty, authenticity, and then gracious care of those that were honest and authentic, I naively believed that it would change the entire course of the church in America. I had grown up watching church dysfunction, and somehow, I was going to save that dysfunction from happening to others in the future. I dove in headlong and took every opportunity to be bold about my opinions and my hypothesis. I made claims that the church would only be the church when we were willing to confront one another, approach sin, be gracious, and move forward. I chastised churches for simply doing a Sunday morning gathering and all the ‘programs.’ If only churches would just choose a simple path to programming, they might find themselves in a much better place, a growing place. Maybe then churches would grow with people that had come to Christ for the very first time. Maybe then churches would have the momentum and influence in this world to be able to actually make a difference in their communities. Maybe then, the church would no longer be considered a slow dying organization in the United States and instead we would see the likes of ‘google success’ or ‘apple success.’ We needed simple programming and better systems, within the context of relationships. I really did know it all.

And then one day I lost my understanding and knowledge. We had planted several churches at the church that I was serving at and I was pushing for more to be planted. One of my dear friends, a church planter that was part of our network, was slated to meet with me for breakfast. I went through my morning ritual and met him to eat bagels, drink coffee, and talk life. Over this meal, he let me know that he thought it would be best to close the church that he had founded and was leading. Clearly, the church that he planted was one of the more successful church plants that I had been a part of. It was growing, there seemed to be people coming to faith, and those that were a part of the core team still seemed fairly excited about what was happening. But as this church planter looked at the financial reality, he understood that the church was on a very quick and very painful trajectory toward failure. They didn’t have enough money, enough people, enough time to really make it happen. In my own selfish like way, I tried to save the church. I campaigned for fundraising money. I tried to help the church down a different path and plan. I schemed and came up with ways that it could succeed moving forward. And then, one day, it closed. There was no more organization that I had ‘prayed for’, that I had ‘invested in’, that I had ‘promoted.’ It was just gone. The people were gone, the location was gone, my friend was gone. And all that was left was a distant memory of having great hope that this church, yes, maybe this church would ‘get it right’ and be the gamechanger for other churches in America. How wrong was I?

As one of my former supervisors once pointed out, I was ‘dead wrong.’ To have hope and to have excitement about something that would have the global effect that I was hoping for was not helpful and created more turmoil within a system that is built on slow change and anti-adaptation (at least the churches that I knew and were a part of). It was wrong. I could only change what was in front of me, and that was something that I didn’t spend a lot of time on. After this experience with the church plant, my drive to plant churches and see a ‘new wineskin’ (pardon the reference to alcohol, but the bible does say something about it…) churches birthed that would radically shift the global environment, that drive ended. I knew that planting churches would never cease to exist because church folks that are American are also franchise wired. We want to take what works and ‘capitalize’ on the market that exists. I had become a mere franchise builder, taking what was already and shifting it just ever so slightly to look, feel, sound, just a little bit better, a little bit cooler. But at the heard of the matter, God wasn’t speaking. He wasn’t meeting with me on any gravel road and giving me direction of how I needed to serve the church. I think of Abraham when he took matters into his own hands in Genesis 12 and 13, and resonate. We needed to change the church, the organization, and actually produce what I believed God wanted us to produce. I retired from planting of churches and having that be my outlet for ‘serving the local church.’

As I ponder these days of my life, where church planting consumed my every waking moment and activity, I know just a few things to be true. I know that God did call me to serve His church. I am currently serving the church by staying away from it (at least from the inner workings of it) and focusing on being healthy. I cannot and will not offer anything to anyone, if I am not healthy. I also know that, maybe for the first time every in my life, being a pastor isn’t synonymous with serving the church. It is anti biblical in fact, to say that it is. Paul points out that there were ‘some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be shepherds and teachers and some to be evangelists.’ They were made that way, not knighted into some conditioned occupation. Those ‘pastors’ in the early church worked hard, alongside each of the members of the church, to maintain their life, for the sake of the one that they served. Some sacrificed everything, but you know what they didn’t do? They didn’t try to ‘change’ the nature of the church. They just were. They found solace in the fact that they were growing slowly in some cases and some cases literally dying off. It’s why Paul writes ‘I give everything up for the sake of Christ.’ A dear friend of mine, who desired reform in the local church for years, probably even before I went on the crusade, told me once that the only way that things will change is if God chooses to work in the same powerful mantra that he employed at the beginning, the genesis of the early church. Only then will things be different in the United States, he would tell me. I tend to agree. There is not one person that can change a church, an organization, or correct a misguided ship. But there is a God who can, and, as they say, may you find him now.

I know that churches do amazing things. You may be sitting here thinking that I hate the church or that the church is something that I am criticizing. The opposite may be true. To criticize the church would be to be a complete and utter hypocrite, of which I have been for many years. I called the church to certain action, and privately and inside, didn’t engage the practices that I believed that the church, my employer should engage. I love God and am falling more in love with him daily.  I loved (and to some degree, still do) God’s church. I love people that were part of the churches I had the opportunity to work for. The disappointment in God that I have experienced because of ‘calling’ is something I am still grappling with and processing. I may continue to do so, until I meet my maker, post this human life. I don’t have all the answers anymore. I know less now in this subject than I have ever known before. And certainly a collective group of people that are thinking about these issues daily together can navigate reform further than even I can in my head.

I’m reminded again of what one of my atheist friends posed as an answer to the question, “What is the will of God?” He said to the group sitting in front of him, “I believe that if God’s will was a reality, it would simply be to ‘do the next right thing.’” And I still think he’s right. I also believe can and will save, redeem, restore, remake, and renew his church in his timing and in his way. Before Jesus died, he said, “I will destroy the temple in three days and then rebuild it.” It would be foolish for me or others to say the same thing about his ‘temple’ today. I personally lack the power, the authority, and the influence to do what only Jesus can do. And that is probably for the best.