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.

 

Time to Resume.

I took some time away from writing. To reflect, to seek clarity, to make sure my head was on straight, and to make sure that I was writing for the right reasons.

I have always enjoyed writing, even from an early age. I have enjoyed using words to help others understand concepts, theology, structures and systems, and seeing the benefit of a product. Being a writer is something I’ve always aspired to. It’s something that I have and probably always will dream about. It’s something that helps me find solace in the midst of adversity and chaos as it is a ‘centering’ activity. As I type, or write using a pen, I am able to reflect the thoughts in my head in a clear, black and white way. I am able to see what is happening in the jumbled mess that is my brain, and I am able to sort through the things that are being processed. Writing causes a person to slow down, to think about what they are saying, to reflect on what they have said, and be contemplative about what they are going to say in the future. Writing forces me to understand the concepts that I am writing about with great clarity and precision because as I write, I know that I will eventually have to read my own writing again.

The fear of what others think and say has caused me to stop writing more times than I care to admit. Probably a far greater issue that I struggle with is the fear of others opinions in general and this bleeds over into the arena of writing. The reader is always evaluating, always searching for the heart and soul of the author, and trying to connect with the content that they are absorbing. When I read, I tend to be evaluative in the content, because I am spending valuable time reading the material that is in front of me. I know the types of books, articles, and blogs that I enjoy consuming, and when a reading doesn’t match my consumer grading, then I tend to leave that book or blog or article. I tend to read things that I disagree with because that is how I often learn, but then evaluate the actual communication within the words. I would wager that there are others that read articles, blogs, and books that are in agreement with their theological position or political affiliation, and I have met many of them. Those that only read their prerogative are generally those that are fearful of what an opposing view might do for them. I have lived a portion of my life in this world as well. Currently, whether I agree or not with the article, there is still an evaluation of communication, almost subconsciously.

So, since I don’t care to admit it, I admit it. The fear of others opinions caused me to stop writing for the past season. I quit typing, quit penning, and quit thinking about the dream that is inside of me of being able to communicate through the writing of a blog or a book. I gave up on helping others through reading and writing regarding the things that I have or am learning. I gave up on others because I couldn’t please everyone. I quit.

I was reminded this last week during a meeting that I attended that quitting is not a great way to cope with anything, and to quit something admits defeat. I have chosen to be defeated by others’ opinion. I have chosen to be frozen in fear, not knowing how to navigate the waters of turmoil and criticism. I have chosen to let others’ have control in my heart and spirit, instead of living a life of freedom and focus. This is not a character flaw that is contained within writing. It is a character flaw that inhabits most of my life and has for a very long time. It’s a character flaw that allows me to place blame on others, for actions that I take, instead of claiming for my own response to those around me and their opinions. It’s a flaw. And it’s hard to overcome. There are people that have developed a tough ‘shell’ as it relates to others opinions about them. They have figured out how to let things ‘roll of their back.’ They have understood how to make the choice to not let people control their emotions or actions. I have long envied this type of person because I desire to live a life that allows others to say and do whatever they want and it not affect my own life or emotion. There is a phrase that we say often to our kids.

“You worry about You.”

And that is what I must actively choose to do each and every day. Certainly, I worry about my family, finances, faith, and others. But I must actively choose to not worry about the opinions of those that surround me and instead be careful to listen to the truth about me, from me and God. I cannot rely on others to ‘hold me up’ or carry my weight because that often leads to let-down and disappointment. I also know myself well enough that I will let myself down. As noted in previous blogs and chapters, this is an area that I must actively work hard to allow for. I’m not perfect. You might be. But I’m not.

Recently, I’ve started to meditate on a couple of lines from the bible.

The first verse troubles me. And the second verse troubles me because of the first verse.

Matthew 5:48 – Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

2 Corinthians 12:9 – And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness ” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

It’s troubling because I know I won’t attain the first, and I really don’t want to admit the second.

I don’t know that I want to ‘boast’ in my weakness, but certainly, admission needs to be a regular part of my everyday life, or I become overly critical of myself and take myself far too seriously. It’s hard to be imperfect, as a perfectionist, or at least hard to be perfect when you want everyone else to think you are. I’m not perfect. In fact, I am pretty hard pressed to find a day when I don’t make a mistake or multiple mistakes in a row. Admitting those mistakes allows me the freedom to drown out the opinions and ever nagging judgment of others. It allows me the space to be at peace with who I am, and regard the opinions of others as just. Opinions. Everyone has them, and there are no opinions that should debilitate a person.

I’m actively choosing to move forward carefully and with consideration for honesty, consistency, and imperfection. Each day is a battle to not succumb to humanities opinion of something I did or didn’t do. Each day is a battle to admit imperfection and then own it. As I have grown up, just a bit more than I was yesterday, I have a growing sense of freedom and peace, navigating the difficult waters of life, that we all face. I’ll keep writing. And keep pursuing the things that are between my ears, and acknowledge the ostentatious missteps that I am sure to makealong the way.

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

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.