Surrounding Yourself with the Right People

Before I started this long journey called sobriety, I was alone. The shame was mine. Although I had become a Christian, this secret made me feel like a hypocrite.

I prayed to God that I would stop, but I just couldn’t.

Early in 2016, I teamed up with someone who acted as my Accountability Partner. What a pain in the butt he turned out to be. Having been an pill addict himself, he REALLY emphasized the Accountability in Accountability Partner.

Besides just installing Covenant Eyes, an internet filter, he looked up reading for us to do together to give us the framework of how to deal with this addiction. Shortly afterwards, we talked about the spiritual implications.

He forced me to reveal my dirty little secret, and part of that effort became the blog that you are reading today.
Boy, there were times that I really would get pissed at him. These were things I didn’t want to hear.

But in the process, we grew to love each other as Christian brothers. I was given a gift of immeasurable value: truthful words spoken by a faithful friend.

In fact, he has said to me that the biggest compliment I ever gave him was that I finally understood the relationship between David and Jonathan.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. ~1 Peter 4:8

Since then, I have joined several recovery groups. My world has grown by surrounding myself with more right people. They hold me accountable to my recovery. They remind me to get closer and closer to God.

(Some of you reading this blog are part of that “right people”!)

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. ~Proverbs 27:6

See someone hurting? Have the courage to speak gentle truth over them. Always with tenderness and covered in prayer.

I know make it a point to talk and pray with others. I am a living proof that such love works.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” ~John 13:34-35

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On wearing “the suit”

A week or two ago I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming. The last few times that a Spider-Man movie was released in was a retelling of the same old story of how Peter Parker became Spider-Man. I wasn’t expecting much.

So I was pleasantly surprised and more than a little relieved when it started with Peter Parker already being Spider-Man. They did a great job tying the movie in with the rest of the Marvel Universe. It takes place right after Peter Parker helped Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War (I still think that should have been an Avengers movie but nobody asked me).

Let me try to get to the point I want to make. Peter Parker is all pumped up after his adventure and being asked to continue being a member of the team so to speak. (He was even given a cool suit with all sorts of gadgets.) The only problem being that there isn’t anyone or anything to fight against. So he obviously gets restless and bored. He’s a teenager. What do you expect.

He then starts fighting small neighborhood crime but every time he ends up making a mess. After one mess where Tony Stark/Iron Man has to save his a…, life Tony tells him.

“Listen, I know school sucks. I know you want to save the world. But… you’re not ready yet.”

Peter really wasn’t ready. He needed time to mature and grow in his skills. Peter wasn’t able to see this. He was impatient which blinded him to everything except his desire to be someone, to get to the destination or the next level.

I think this is human nature to some degree. But our society feeds this thinking. Advertising is especially guilty of this. We are inundated with messages that tell us we will be happy if we have the latest gadget or the nicest care. We become consumed with what we don’t have or where we want to be.

I do this sometimes with my walk with God. I get focused on what I can’t do or where I want to be in my faith or my ministry. I start to compare what I’ve done with what someone else has done. What I need to realize is that I’m on a different journey than whoever I’m comparing myself to.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” ~Hebrews 12:1

I need to realize that my life and my faith is a journey. I can’t expect to grow in my faith and knowledge of God over night. It requires discipline and doing the right thing for the right reason, repeatedly. I have to read the bible. I have to learn to hear the Spirit and have the discernment to know how to act in situations.

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. ~Hebrews 12:2

So, of course, Peter tries even harder to prove himself. He wants to prove he is ready. He wants to be somebody. He wants to prove that he matters, that he is good enough.

Peter goes after some really big bad guys, but in the process he nearly gets a hundred people killed. Once again Iron Man has to save the day. We find Peter on top of a building feeling sorry for himself and angry too, He blames himself. He blames Tony for not giving him more help and for not believing in him. Here is part of the conversation between Peter and Tony.

Tony Stark: What if somebody had died?

Peter Parker: I was just trying to be like you.

Tony Stark: I wanted you to be better. I’m gonna need the suit back.

Peter Parker: But I’m nothing without this suit!

Tony Stark: If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it.

Peter thought he was nothing. He believed that his power and importance came from the spider suit. He was looking for acceptance from other people, especially Tony Stark. (The kid really needs to raise his standards.)

Until Peter saw himself as someone, as someone of value and worth, no tool that Tony gave him would enable him to be a hero. No amount of success as Spider-Man could change his mind on that. He had to choose to believe it. Praise and success can help but worth can’t be given by other human beings.

There does come a point in the movie where Spider-Man is seemingly defeated. There is no way out, he’s trapped. Then Peter remembers the words of Tony Stark, “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.”

It was at this point that he finds the strength to get out of the situation. The movie doesn’t say what was going through his mind. But I would imagine that he decided in that moment that he was tired of feeling worthless and trying to be someone else. He finally decided to be who he was created to be.

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

 

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. ~ Ephesians 6:10-18

As Christians we don’t have to rely solely on willpower to act out of a place of worth and strength. We are created in the image of God and have the Holy Spirit living inside us. Our identity is found in Christ. We just have to allow ourselves to act like it.

Footsteps In The Sand

I want to share a poem that has meant a lot to me since I was a child. The name of the poem is Footprints In The Sand. No one truly knows the who the author is. And there are at least four slightly different versions that I have personally seen. I have one of them hanging on the wall of my bedroom.

Footprints In The Sand

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed
he was walking along the beach with the LORD.

Across the sky flashed scenes from his life.
For each scene he noticed two sets of
footprints in the sand: one belonging
to him, and the other to the LORD.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him,
he looked back at the footprints in the sand.

He noticed that many times along the path of
his life there was only one set of footprints.

He also noticed that it happened at the very
lowest and saddest times in his life.

This really bothered him and he
questioned the LORD about it:

“LORD, you said that once I decided to follow
you, you’d walk with me all the way.
But I have noticed that during the most
troublesome times in my life,
there is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why when
I needed you most you would leave me.”

The LORD replied:

“My son, my precious child,
I love you and I would never leave you.
During your times of trial and suffering,
when you see only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you.”

My personal “footprints”

I guess in my case it should be footprints and tire marks. Sinking sand perhaps? I definitely need his help for the beach. Wheelchairs and sand don’t mix.

Seriously though, when I was growing up and slowly losing physical abilities there were times that it didn’t feel like God was with me or even cared or noticed. Living in northern states in the winter, and in general, without being able to walk and play with the other kids made for a lonely existence.

I grew up before, way before, the Americans with Disabilities Act which mandated accessibility and equal access. It started to be enforced when I was halfway through high school. So my opportunities for education and recreation began to be easier in my college years. It wasn’t perfect and still isn’t but has helped greatly.

My family and I moved to Florida when I was in the 6th grade. It was great because a lot of places had great access. Florida was mostly a state for retirees at the time so things were designed with older people in mind who’s health may be deteriorating.

I could go outside all year long. I usually didn’t have to worry about whether or not I would be able to get off and on the sidewalk. This may not seem like much but for a kid who uses a wheelchair it was a huge thing. Freedom. It was easy to see God walking with me.

Then, around the time I started high school, I started to feel isolated and lonely, and like no one understood me and I had no one to talk too. Partly because of the usual adjustments that go along with starting a new phase of life. But there was also family dynamics issues that weren’t healthy. It wasn’t abusive but definitely wasn’t healthy. All that would take several posts.

My family stopped going to church, the church wasn’t healthy either. Our church painted God as a God to be feared. So that ended up a good thing in the long run. One or two people tried to arrange for me to go or at least conference call in. But person after person let me down. I eventually turned my back on God. I never stopped believing in God. But figured that if I couldn’t do anything to make him happy then why try to.

Then my brother’s health started to deteriorate as well as mine. My brother had the same condition I do and died at 23. When I was born, doctors said I’d die by 16. So I decided not to get close to anyone and wait to die.

I couldn’t see how God could let someone be born just to die young. As my health got worse my dad’s addiction got worse. As an adult I know that isn’t what happened. That it was his choice, I had no control over that. But a kid growing up doesn’t have the ability to make that distinction. Even if it’s not said a child will internalize it and subconsciously will believe it..

 

He carried me…

Then when I started college my dad went to prison for a year. But before that I stopped breathing and wound up in the hospital. Then I ended up using a ventilator for the rest of my life. When I was in the hospital I was scared to death and was asking God where he was. At that moment I felt his presence in the room and a physical touch. That reassured me that there was a god of some sort out there. I swore that if he got me through that hospital stay.

I kept that promise, eventually. I would look into different religions and beliefs sporadically over the next 12-15 years. But during that time I went down a bad path myself. Developed my own addictions and bad habits. Went to the clubs and got drunk most weekends. I probably weighed 80 pounds soaking wet. It’s amazing that I didn’t get alcohol poisoning.

I went to these places hoping to have a good time and feel better about myself. But all I got was more loneliness and isolation. And a hangover on top of it all.

Through all of this God was looking out for me and even calling me to him. I wasn’t able to see it while I was going through the hard times though. I only saw it in hindsight. They do say hindsight is 20/20 after all.

I do have some good memories as a kid. There were times when I felt no one cared that people would make an effort to do things with me. One time when I was especially depressed a party was had at my house with a bunch of kids from church. God was there. I saw it only as an adult.

When I isolated myself as a teenager, God was there. He didn’t enjoy seeing me isolated but I can see times when he comforted me through the people who got to know me despite myself. I also learned self reliance. He carried me through and gave me a heart for those of us who do the same.

… even when things went from bad to worse.

At this time, things went from bad to worse with my family.  God surrounded my family with people who cared and helped us when we were in need. Most of them were the nurses I had at the time. One went so far as to let us rent her house dirt cheap. We had no idea how we were going to survive. It would have been so easy to just give up. God carried my whole family through that. I think it was then that I started to realize that not everyone will let me down.

Also, if God hadn’t intervened with my dad’s addiction,  my dad would be dead. He was given a second chance, one that was undeserved and took it to help other addicts. God took the seemingly worst and used it for his glory. God carried us through so much even if we didn’t even see what he was doing.

Eventually I made good on my promise to search God out. That is a story in and of itself.

I think if we look back on our lives we all can see moments or seasons where the only reason we came through it had to be God carrying us.

What I find awe inspiring is that God carries us through whether we want him to or not. All of the things I mentioned were long before I became a believer. He carried me right into his kingdom and family. Thank you Jesus.

 

Every Breath For God

The other day I was feeling short of breath like I wasn’t getting enough air. I was fine but once I started breathing normally I thought about how God wants us to long for him the way we would long for breath if we couldn’t breathe.

If you have never had an experience where you couldn’t breathe consider yourself lucky. It is far from pleasant. It is a feeling of desperation, fear, anxiety, and longing all wrapped into one. You would do just about anything for a breath of air. Words cannot describe it.

We can’t live without having oxygen in our lungs. We can’t live spiritually without having God in our lives. When we don’t have God in our lives He wants us to long for Him the same way we long for air. He wants our relationship with Him to be so close that we feel as if we can’t live without his presence.

Consider this, we were created with the breath of God. The breath of God is within us. Even after Adam and Eve blew it God still wanted us. He wanted us so much that he sent Jesus to die on the cross so that we could once again have complete unobstructed relationship with Him once again. Not only that but we were given the Holy Spirit to guide us and comfort us among other things.

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” – Genesis 2:7 (KJV)

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. – Luke 23:44

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” – John 20:21-22

I don’t want to spend much time here but I want to take a moment to appreciate how much God longs to be in relationship with us. He was willing to come to earth and live in a broken body just like ours. He went as far as being brutally beaten nearly to death followed by enduring the worst torture and death possible by hanging on a cross. He endured the wrath of God the Father that we deserved.

Who does that? Someone who really wants to be with you.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:6-8

Now if you’re anything like me, you don’t always feel like being with God. I don’t have this constant craving for His presence. I don’t always feel his presence when I’m actively seeking Him either. This is normal. God isn’t necessarily looking for us to have a strong emotional response. But they sure are nice when we have them.

God is looking for a relationship. He does want us to long for Him but more at the level of a couple who has been happily married for 50 years. Not that eweey gooey feeling of falling in love. The latter isn’t even love. The former is love because if you do it right you know each other intimately and feel lost without them.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God? – Psalm 42:1-2

So how do I get to the point where I long for God and desire for Him like my very breath? I know I have talked a lot about this in the last few months but it comes down to spending time with Him. It takes prayer and meditation, Bible reading and study, and praise and worship.

I have had seasons in life where I have been so consistent with being in relationship with God that if I didn’t spend time with Him I didn’t feel quite right all day. As soon as I was able to spend some time with Him I felt right again. I wish I could say that those seasons are often but they’re not.

I compare it to an earthly relationship with a girlfriend/boyfriend or spouse. When you are in a committed relationship you want to spend as much time with that person as possible without making them sick of you. When you don’t get to spend time with that person you feel like something is missing in your day or week.

The same thing will start to happen with our relationship with God. The more time we spend with God the more we will want to be with Him. There will be days where we just don’t want to read our Bible, pray or worship. In those times it is important that we do it anyway. At least do something, even if it’s five minutes.

In the long run, we will have a full relationship with God. Eventually, we will want him as much as our very breath. And in turn, we will bring him praise with our mouths and our actions.

I bless God every chance I get;
my lungs expand with his praise.
I live and breathe God;
if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy:
Join me in spreading the news;
Together let’s get the word out. – Psalm 34:1-3 (MSG)