Jesus Didn’t Have Teenagers

It is just before 5:00 on a Thursday morning. It is raining and rather cool for late September.  I have gotten about 4 hours of sleep, if you can call tossing, turning, can’t-turn-off-the-thoughts, twisting around, it’s 5 AM might as well get up – sleep.

The past 24 hours have been something, I can tell you. I work as a counselor assistant at an inpatient drug and alcohol facility. I deal with a lot of people with serious issues and lots of serious consequences. I like my job. I really do. Not all of my clients “get it” – the recovery thing, but some of them do. Those that”get it” make it all worthwhile – all the frustration, all the countless hours, all the emotionally exhausting work that goes into leading addicts and alcoholics from the brink to a better, more whole life.

Yesterday was an exceptionally long day – 11 hours. Monday and Tuesday were long days also. So coming home last night was supposed to be a welcome respite from the frenetic atmosphere of treatment. It certainly started out that way but quickly devolved into chaos and drama.

Did I mention that I have a teenager?

My son has issues, issues that I don’t feel is appropriate to discuss in such a public forum as this. I will say that he has been diagnosed with PTSD and is supposed to take some medicine to help him regulate himself. He is not consistent with doing that simple task and the evidence of what happens is clear. The result … a crazed, manic, obsessive desire to upend the downstairs because he wants to clean. Threatening to throw out other people’s stuff, rearranging things because that is where he thinks it should be placed and generally causing havoc and mayhem in the household (all at 9:00 at night). I suspect, as the decibel level in the house is ever-rising and the cursing would make a longshoreman wince, that he has not been taking his meds and that suspicion was confirmed. As anyone who has dealt with someone with PTSD, when the manic state begins it is very difficult to de-escalate the situation until the stage of exhaustion is reached. After an hour or so of arguing, threats, me walking out to cool off, trying to disengage from the circus unfolding in my living room, we finally reach the stage when the balloon pops and things begin to settle down.

Honestly, I really struggle with dealing with this. It is exhausting. We’ve been dealing with episodic displays like this – and worse – for the past two years. There are times when I just want to give up. There are times when I just want to walk away.

There. I said it. Sometimes I question my sanity and my decision-making process. I question my ability to stay the course. Yes, I know. As a Christian I’m supposed to ask “What would Jesus Do?” in situations like this. I’m sure that Jesus would continue to love and turn the other cheek and stuff.  Spoiler alert: I’m not Jesus. I’m a guy that yells, curses and loses his temper … a lot!  My patience is not inexhaustible.

It’s dawned on me recently that we don’t know what Jesus was like as a teenager. The gospels go from Him being 12 or so to Him being 30. Nary a syllable about his teen years or His life as a carpenter working with his father. Did Jesus give Mary and Joseph a hard time? Did He carry around tons of attitude when His hormones kicked in? Was He a know-it-all? Did He have an entitlement mentality? Did He lord his status over others saying, “Don’t you know who I am?”  Did Mary and Joseph throw up their hands in desperation, yelling at the heavens in frustration?  Did Mary ever question saying “yes” to that angel all those years ago?

One thing we’re told about Jesus is that He could understand what it was like to be us, humans. He experienced the same things we do, He struggled with the same things we do, He felt the same emotions we do. I mean, that’s one of the greatest aspects of the Christian faith, isn’t it? God wasn’t just sitting on some lofty plane without any understanding of the plight of humanity; no, He became one of us and could empathize with our struggles.

So, if that’s true maybe Jesus was a pain the ass to Mary and Joseph during his teen years. Maybe He flouted their authority and sassed them and felt entitled. I don’t know for sure. The record is silent on that matter.

One thing I do know is this: the gospels are silent on Jesus having a family of his own. There is no mention of Him having to deal with a surly, snarky teen. There is no discussion about how He responded to a teenager who had attitude as big as the day is long.

Perhaps there’s a reason for that. Perhaps not even Jesus could keep his cool in dealing with a teenager. Perhaps He would have reached a breaking point with His patience and cast the teen into the sea like he did with the herd of swine. That certainly wouldn’t have been “on message”.

Imagine, an entire faith never takes wing on account of a surly teenager who tries the patience of God.

Jesus never had a teenager to deal with. Just saying.

Ever Northward

It is late November.  I can feel the muslin shroud begin to descend over the holiday season – dulling my senses.  The Christmas season is my favorite time of year and my least favorite. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.

I can feel the tug of “the journey” begin to pull at my heart strings.  December 22nd has come and gone fifteen times already; fourteen Mother’s Days and fourteen July 11ths.  During the past fifteen years, I’ve made this passage dozens of times.  Sometimes it was multiple excursions in a year, especially in the early years but not so much in recent times.  For two years during my battle with my inner demons, my addiction, I didn’t make the trip at all; too ashamed to make an appearance on those “holy grounds”.

I travel northward, ever northward, like the snow geese above me.  Passing the Canadian geese heading south with their incessant honking.  Over the same pathways as before, through the barren and bleak winter countryside.  Past the familiar hamlets and lakes that dot the route of PA 402 through the mountains.  I pick up US 6 through Wallenpaupack and Hawley and Damascus.  There is very little in the way of traffic except in the villages.  Not many people are making this trek.

As I approach Narrowsburg I cross over the Delaware into New York.  Sometimes it feels like I’m crossing the River Styx for nothing awaits me except for reminders of death.  Nevertheless I push onward through Lava.  All around is evidence of a region that is long past it’s prime: unkempt lawns, cars on blocks in the driveways, paint peeling off the ramshackle homes.  Depression epitomized.

I am close.  The summer camp sites that surround Lake Huntington are the harbinger that my pilgrimage is nearing its end.  The three hour journey ends when I pull into the cemetery in Fosterdale.  Fosterdale is so tiny a town that one would miss it if one blinked; it doesn’t amount to much more than a gas station/convenience store, a church and a flashing traffic signal. An unlikely backdrop, I admit, for this blog post but there it is.  This is where she “resides” now.  The car comes to a stop and I turn off the engine.  Silence.

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Not much has changed since last year.  I remove the dried out decorations and memorials from last visit and replace them with fresh ones.  No doubt they will be there next year and I will repeat this little ritual.  I brush away the dead leaves.  My aunt, Margaret, rests nearby.  I silently pay my respects to her memory as my cousin, who has accompanied me on this trip for the past five or so years, places her Christmas memorial greens on my aunt’s resting place.

She used to live not far from here, my Mom.  I can’t be sure for how long but it was long enough for me to have visited several times.  The truth is, I think I’ve visited her more since her untimely passing than when she was living in the area.  There was always going to be plenty of time to visit … maybe next Mother’s Day … maybe next summer … maybe next Christmas.  There wasn’t going to be any more “next times” after December 22, 2000.

Honestly, there were several trips when I felt “obligated” to make the trek – six hours of traveling for a 15 minute visit – but this trip felt a little different.  This time it felt as if she were saying, “It’s ok. You don’t have to do this anymore although I do appreciate the effort and the thought.”

But as I write this I feel something else.  I feel that gentle tug on the heart, that flash of the memories, and I reach a place of serenity and coalescence.  For as long as I am able I will make this pilgrimage to that holy place.  Her memory deserves it and I need it.

 

 

Friends With Benefits?

“Friends with benefits”

When I hear that phrase what I actually hear is: “Friends with benefits … (wink wink, nudge nudge, snicker snicker)”.  The phrase connotes a certain self-centeredness. It is a one-sided, one-way description of relationship.  When the phrase is used by the one speaking it, that one is never the one “with” the benefits. Rather they are the one “receiving” the benefits, right? It’s definitely one of “what I can take from the relationship” not “what am I contributing to the relationship”.

It’s not a very positive message, in my opinion, but it got me thinking.  What does that phrase sound like, what does it look like, from the third-person point of view?  Is there any difference if it is used to describe a person without the self-centeredness undertone?  What if we insert a comma in just the right spot? “Friends, with benefits.”  Looking at it in that light, the tone and meaning changes dramatically from selfishness to one of recovery, redemption and grace.  It turns into an apt description of those progressing toward wholeness in life.

The Wedding

I attended a wedding not too long ago. Two friends I’ve known for several years. Two friends I’ve been privileged to get to know on a deeper level. Two friends I met in recovery.  They met in recovery, fell in love in recovery and are building a life together … based on the principles of recovery.Wedding 1

Years ago, that kind of life would have been unfathomable. Years ago, addiction  tore, tattered, bruised and shattered their lives like it did mine.  It was unrecognizable from the whole life they experience today. Today, although it sometimes seems drab, mundane and unexciting, the possibilities are limitless in their new, redeemed lives.  Marriage, new careers, family, travel, adventures, friendships and hope are all blessings for them.

The Job

In recovery, especially in early recovery, we’re fortunate to be employed and employable.  Lord knows we weren’t the most trustworthy or reliable people when addiction ravaged our lives.  Because we weren’t dependable we were unable to hold down a job which led to feelings of worthlessness and despair. That, in turn, caused us to dive deeper into our addiction in order to numb those feelings.

Courtesy of flazingo.com

I ran into a young adult in town a while back.  She used to work at a local eatery but I hadn’t seen her there in a while.  I came to find out that she has a new job.  It’s a better job.  The job carries more responsibility.  She smiled as she told me she now works in a bank.  While she was describing her new job she was visibly animated and excited about the direction in which her life was heading.  I could see the positive effects on her self-confidence and self-image.  The blessings of improved self-worth was a catalyst to her further growth and she could sense it.

The Love

I was at a meeting recently.  A friend was celebrating 20 years in recovery and the room was filled with well-wishers and loved ones.  One of the speakers that evening related a recent incident that occurred in a market parking lot.  Someone called out his name and when he turned he saw someone he used with in the past.  She was drawn, disheveled and desperate as she begged for money.  It served as a reminder of where we were in our addiction – slaves – and that we have an obligation to help the still sick and suffering. How grateful we must be that we are free souls in recovery, one day at a time.

We don’t ever have to be suffering in addiction again.  We are people in recovery who get another chance to live again.  We don’t get a pass on the trials in life just because we are in recovery.  We just learn how to get through those tough times.  We are blessed to experience everything life has to offer – the good and the challenging.

Courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

Courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

The celebrant’s family were at the meeting too.  Mom had the opportunity to say a few words.  The gist of what she said was: lots of mistakes were made along the way but we’re in a better place now; just know that you are loved, then and now.  I could feel my own Mom speaking those same words to me that night, at that moment.

“I love you Philip.”

“I love you too, Mom.”

Hugs and kisses across eternity.

Friends with benefits? No.

Friends with blessings.  I like that much better.

Busy Signals

I haven’t posted anything in a while. Stating the obvious, I know, so I thought I would write about being busy.

Do you remember when you were a kid? Do you remember the exhilaration and joy when school let out for the summer? Summer seemed to go on and on. A seemingly endless series of warm summer days filled with swimming, arts and crafts, bike riding, exploring and just plain hanging out with your friends.

Fast forward to adulthood. Set the scene: George Jetson is out walking Astro on the treadmill sidewalk. Astro sees the cat and jumps off the treadmill. Poor George is left scrambling as he gets whipped around and around screaming “Jane! Stop this crazy thing!” That is how fast my life seems to be moving as an adult. Hurtling along at breakneck speed until one week runs into the next and before you know it another year has vanished.

2288775081_e835759c7e_zIt seems that my life is filled with the busy-ness of “noise” – appointments, work, school activities, yada yada. Before I know it, it is Sunday evening and another week begins. I’ve tried to slow things down without much success. Kind of like that scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – they are hurtling along in that little mine car, going faster and faster, and the brakes are useless. The frenetic pace was taking its toll on my well-being, physically and spiritually. I felt like I was so distracted by the “terrain” of life that I got bogged down in the swamp, way off course. Was my life nothing more than a collection of To-Do lists? 10519508175_f3ced9dfc2_m

How do I get back on track with fulfilling my purpose? How do I break out of this briarpatch, this sticker bush?

Not too long ago I went to a meeting and heard this guy I know talking about some stuff going on in his life. He turns and looks at me at one point and starts talking about how he doesn’t want to “lose himself”. Hmmmm.

Shortly thereafter I was having a conversation with Dad. We were talking about how I was coming along with my continuing legal education requirements (I need to earn some credits before I can apply to reactivate my law license). I explained that life was really hectic now. “You have to make the time. Make it a priority.” Words of wisdom from Dad.

Finally, the other day I opened a daily devotional book that I had not read for some time. When I opened it to the day of August 10 the topic was the necessity for regular prayer and meditation as part of my new way of life in recovery. BLAM!!!

So I have been doing my best to set firm boundaries for my time and attention. I am making a better effort at carving out quiet time for my spirit and working on my connection with God. The past few days I’ve noticed a softening of the edges of my spirit. My life is better balanced and it is sorely needed!

Stormy Weather

Calm seas do not a skillful sailor make. – Old Proverb

Life is not dull, is it? We are each of us faced with innumerable (and sometimes never-ending) challenges every day – some small, some big.  Thank the good Lord there are challenges!  Can you imagine how stunted our lives would be without some adversity, without some hill to climb? 15645758187_d6ba340168_m

Oh, for sure, there are days when I relish the peace and serenity afforded to me by those rare days of “laziness” and “calm”.  But too many of those days and we begin to go a little loco, yes?  They say that variety is the spice of life. Shake things up. Do something different, Try new things. Challenge yourself.  Push those boundaries.  Growth comes out of those experiences.

Sometimes life throws us those challenges when it is inconvenient.  Seriously, is it ever really “convenient” to face adversity? Not really. Sometimes, those opportunities for growth leave me gasping for breath and feeling overwhelmed.  When I have a chance to regroup, I roll up my sleeves and get to it to the best of my ability.  Yes, those challenges can be terrifying when they demand that I step outside my comfort zone and take the leap. Invariably I learn a little more about myself in each of this episodes.  I learn that I can get to the other side of situations, tough and not so tough; I learn how to navigate through those storms, should they arise again, and guide my “life” boat to safety.

15524633193_cc6f05b90c_mIf I only experience doldrums at sea, only fair weather, I become unprepared when the storms arrive. Absent those storms I don’t know what I am capable under a given set of circumstances.  If I don’t use the tools in my toolbox, it won’t be long before they get rusty and dull.  If I don’t exercise my wits, my physical strength or my spiritual principles … they atrophy!

That being said, I struggle with applying spiritual principles on a consistent basis in my daily life.  I forget that I have patience, empathy, tolerance, serenity and others like them in my life toolbox   The application of spiritual principles does not depend on time or circumstance!  I fail and I fail often at this.  I stumble in consistently moving forward toward being a better man.  I fall short of being a better father to my sons (who try my patience at times).  I miss the mark at being more affectionate with my wife.  I lose my perspective, my patience and my cool … a lot!  It’s frustrating!!!!

Thank God for 12-step programs and the life tools embodied in those steps.  It is the progress, the incremental movement forward, not the attainment of perfection that matters.  I fail only if I don’t get back up from falling.  I only have today and each day presents a new opportunity to move forward, a new opportunity to make this place a little better for my having been here.15210355055_912c2ae555_m

I am not a loser for failing, for falling.  It just makes me human.

For a great read on success/failure check out this little article: http://www.onbeing.org/blog/fail-better/7465#.VUFn55P8r2a

Choices

IMG_20150421_095725043I was taking a walk this morning in a nearby public park when I came upon this scene.  I thought of Robert Frost’s poem about coming upon a fork in the road and taking the path less traveled.  Then I thought about the metaphor of the fork in the road and the choices we make in our lives.  Take the path on the right and who knows where it will lead.  The same can be said of the left.  Decisions, decisions, decisions.  Flip a coin.

Most of the time in my life I’ve made pretty good choices.  They have usually been healthy choices that have lead to many blessings and spiritual growth.  There was a time, however, when good judgment went out the window and I couldn’t make a good choice to save my ass.  I made some very poor choices and those terrible decisions very nearly destroyed me.  Who knew where that path would would take me? God knew but I sure didn’t.  That path of addiction started out all bright and sunny but soon dipped into the forest primeval – dark, sinister and full of despair. Once in the quagmire, I had no more choices.  The addiction took that from me.  Fortunately for me, through the inky blackness of addiction, there was the tiniest pinhole of light and, following that light, I managed to crawl out of the great swamp.

For almost eight years I’ve been on the correct path of wholeness and spirituality.  That path is laid out before me by God and I travel that road one step at a time, one day at a time. I have been blessed by many people I’ve met along the road who have encouraged me and assisted me (sometimes unknowingly) along the way.  I am forever grateful for those tender mercies already shown me and those yet to come.

Today I have choices.  As anyone in recovery can tell you, that’s a blessing.

So today I first chose to go left on this fine morning and was greeted by beauty.  IMG_20150421_094508935IMG_20150421_094327391

The second time around I went right.  It led to the same grove of flowering trees.  Win win!IMG_20150421_094444634IMG_20150421_094348127IMG_20150421_094522446

It Is What It Is

14692471997_aa360acf66_mI’ve been stressed lately.

Very stressed!

In fact, I’ve been running in panic mode and it’s taking it’s toll on me.2059225092_5287415008_m

What’s going on? Well, I’ve been out of work for about five months now.  As you can imagine that has put a real crimp in the cash flow pipeline.  Yes, I’m getting unemployment and yes, I’m actively looking for work and trying to make things happen.  Despite all that, it is no walk in the park being unemployed; it wreaks havoc with your finances and, more importantly, your psychological state and self-confidence.  Being out of work really chisels away at your feelings of self-worth and, sometimes, self-respect.  I sometimes feel like I’m not contributing.  That’s torture for a guy.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of crap and hasn’t experienced the unemployment doldrums.  Well things just got tighter financially and that put me in a tailspin.

I was very frustrated and, honestly, pissed at God.  I felt that I should be further along after 8 years of recovery.  I should have more money in the bank. I should be driving a better car than the one I am currently driving – at least one that is a model year within this millennium! My career should be cruising right along by now.  Instead, I find my self pinching pennies, shopping the dented can aisle, worrying when my car is going to crap out and the like.  It seemed like I was sliding backwards.  Hell, at this point, being stuck in the mud was looking pretty darn appealing. 100761143_226e540b49_m

Quite the pity party, huh!

Yesterday my lovely wife pointed out that I’ve been miserable and it’s making life a bit difficult in the family.  She reminds me of some of the good things that have happened in the past five months: finalizing the adoption of Kris; helping out with Peter while she recuperated from a broken arm; helping Kris adjust to life at home and at school; having the time to help Dad adjust to life as a widower.  She also reminded me that this is not forever.  Smart woman. (Thanks sweetie for the perspective check.)

Then this morning I read two pearls of wisdom that solidified my improving perspective.  One was an email and the other was a blog post.

“Acceptance is kind of like ending a longstanding argument you’ve been having with the Universe.” I took a deep breath, exhaled and said to myself “It is what it is and this too shall pass.”

“Tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver.  My answer: pretty much anything I’d like.

It just might take a little longer than I expected.

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Four-Minute Span

I listen to NPR a lot; I enjoy the depth of their stories and news features.  I usually listen to NPR as I drive – it presents me with the opportunity to learn about my world instead of listening to crap commercial radio stations.  NPR gives me a different perspective that I’m not sure I would get otherwise.  The stories are such that I would not likely hear them on commercial television or radio.  That being said I don’t always agree with their take on things but it is always educational and provocative.

So the other day while I was driving I listened to this brief story on NPR.  It was a StoryCorp piece (http://www.npr.org/2015/02/20/387309723/pain-but-no-regrets-a-father-remembers-his-adopted-son?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&fb_ref=Default  ) about the believed first single man to adopt a child in California.  The elapsed time of the story was less than four minutes.  In that four-minute span, Bill Jones tells the story of his initial encounter with Aaron and his decision to adopt this little boy. In that four-minute span, Bill tells of his son’s mental and emotional struggles and Aaron’s ability – sometimes – to let his loving, kind nature shine through the darkness of addiction.  In that four-minute span, Bill tells of Aaron’s succumbing to the disease of addiction at the age of 30.  In that four-minute span, Bill’s story has me in tears; had me in tears because that could have been me.

Bill was able to see deep into Aaron; he was able to see with his heart.  Bill was able to separate the person from the disease.  Bill was able to freely share God’s love for another human being – one who desperately needed to know that he was worthy of receiving love unconditionally.  In return, Bill received Aaron’s love right back.  He told of the time that Aaron, upon hearing Bill’s voice, came running up to him as a little boy and latched onto his legs with a vise-like grip. 5397213636_c7af2a4597_m

Aaron died due to his addiction just like countless others.  I almost did too.  There is no hell on earth like the hell of addiction – despair, hopelessness, loneliness, separation, degradation, worthlessness.  I am one of the fortunate ones.  I am in recovery.  I have been in that hell and, through the grace of God working through people in my life, I have been on the path of wholeness with others and with God.  It has not been an easy road, this road to wellness, but it is oh so worth the struggle! If you struggle with addiction of any kind or if you know of a family member or a friend who struggles please know that there is a better way.  Seek out the help of professionals in recovery centers, self-help groups like AA or NA and rehabs.  You’re not alone! 5057210527_b5d69ae811_m