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.

The Thread In Between

So, over the past several weeks the conversations at Hopesprings have been about walking, finishing the course and now, finding the thread of God in that journey. Jonathan, my pastor, has challenged (perhaps that’s too strong a word but it seems to fit me at this juncture) me through these conversations to chronicle my journey with Presence. Finding Presence in the mundane as well as the momentous. Frankly, it couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.

You see, lately I’ve been talking about feeling disconnected with Presence. I shared with some friends how I had these “revelations”, these “spiritual awakenings”, early in my recovery. It seemed that I was having these “magical” moments on a weekly basis – you know, those moments when everything seems to click, to mesh, and a universal truth is “revealed”. Looking back on that time period, perhaps those moments felt so dramatic, so euphoric, because for so long I was spiritually bankrupt. The light always seems brighter when you step out of the darkness. Through4284919085_13c1190738_mout my struggles I felt like I was slipping further and further into the inky blackness of the abyss. The light got ever fainter; my soul was leaking. It felt like I was all alone. No Presence … at all. And yet …. the light never was extinguished. Presence was there; I was just too messed up to notice.

Some how, some way, Presence never abandoned me. It never stopped believing in me. It saw that I was worthy of “saving”, that I had a mission to fulfill, a mission that only I could fulfill. Even though I felt shameful, degraded, worthless and hopeless, Presence said I had value. Presence said, “I’ve got plans for you whenever you’re done with this nonsense.” A series of unfortunate (?) events occurred like dominoes falling, events that would break me down enough to allow me to be rebuilt better than before – jail, divorce, cars repossessed, family lost, friends leaving me, career lost. Presence was there throughout all of it, guiding me to a place where I could be reborn.

Some information was placed right under my nose – a small news article in a local newspaper that I never read very much. The article discussed a “recovery day” sponsored by an addiction out-patient facility in Bangor, PA; there would be speakers, information and free food! Yahtzee! A faint voice in the deeper recesses of my mind whispered that this would be good for me, that I needed this. So, I signed up in over 8 years ago – penniless, jobless and hopeless.

Thus began my more meaningful journey with Presence. This time it would be a much closer walk, a truer walk, a humbler walk with my leaning into Presence to help get me through the tough times and to show gratitude during the joyful times. My new relationship did not come with any guarantees in life. I faced many challenges and will continue to work through difficult situations. So what’s the difference between then and now? Here it is: I know that no matter what happens, no matter what life throws at me, I will be okay for Presence will not and never has abandoned me. Even in the darkest times it was me who walked away from It, not the other way around. Anne Lamott wrote about something like this when she describes feeling as if Jesus is sitting on His haunches in her room, waiting patiently in the dark for her to turn around and ask for help. She can palpably feel Presence. She resisted for some time but eventually broke down to Presence sitting in the corner, waiting patiently. I can relate to that!SAMSUNG

That being said I come to the root of today’s post … feeling Presence in the mundane, in the everyday routine, in the repetition of daily tasks, in the blah, blah, blah of the days, running into weeks, running into months. While I “know” that Presence always has my back and is always within me I don’t always “feel” Presence. Perhaps “notice” is a better word than “feel”. I don’t always see the “wow” within the monotony. I don’t always see the color within the gray. It’s easy to see Presence and feel Presence when things are going really great or really awful. It’s harder to find the Thread during the “in between”. I dare say I think that most of the living and loving and crying and dying happens in the “in between”.

In all likelihood I suppose my expectations were unrealistic. I may have expected that those moments I experienced early on, those moments of elation and awe when the clouds parted, the sunshine beamed down and revealed the universe’s secrets, to continue in ever-increasing frequency and intensity. I didn’t get that. What I got was a healthy dose of reality – dogs needing to be walked, laundry piling up, groceries to be purchased, bills to be paid, a job to go to and people to interact with. Honestly, I was feeling a little deflated. “Is that all there is?” I asked myself. “I thought it would be different.”

Gradually, the everyday rhythm of life and all it’s demands tempered those moments of “awe” and connectedness to Presence. I started to feel like Presence was busy in the next county taking care of someone else’s dreams. Every once in a while I would get those reminders, those “coincidences”, that Presence would send up to reassure me that I was being heard and cared for. Still, I felt like I was adrift.

So when Jonathan talked about finding God in the “Wow!” and in the “Ho Hum” I took notice and sat up a little straighter in my seat. Something clicked. While those “Wow!” moments are beyond description and are cherishable in their own right it is in the mundane, the tedious, the boring, the grayness, where the rubber meets the road.12814240514_8aaebd4df7_z

Presence was there when I marked up the apartment walls with crayon as a toddler. Presence was there when Dad dropped me off at my first day of kindergarten when I was too scared to take the bus. Presence was there when we went on picnics with my brother and sister. Presence was part of the conversations I had with my Mom throughout my life. Presence was there when my grandparents passed away.

Presence is in the satisfaction of putting in an honest day’s work. When there is laughter among friends, Presence is laughing right along with us. Presence is listening in on the phone call with Dad. Presence is in the ordinary encounters with people struggling to make it through their troubled lives. Presence sees the sparkle in my wife’s smile. Presence enjoys the sounds that come from my guitar. Presence is there when my dog greets me in the morning with a wagging tail. Presence was there when we hosted Daniela and when we met Nelya. Presence was with us in Jaycee’s kitchen when we first met Kris. Presence is there in Peter’s joy. Presence is in the kindness shown to others. Presence is in the little finch at the feeder as well as the eagle soaring high in the sky. I’ve just been to busy with16602238939_e87f048c34_m the “busy-ness” of life to notice.

No matter how hum drum or gray it may seem I will try to find the color hidden in plain sight. I will endeavor to notice the Thread working throughout my story. I will try to remember that if I can’t see God in all, I can’t see God at all. I will strive to remember that Presence is present.

Always.

Talking

Nine years ago I avoided his phone calls like the plague. For almost a whole year he wouldn’t take my phone calls. Growing up he was a tough guy to get close to. Over the past seven years we’ve grown closer. Nine years ago he couldn’t rely on me at all. Today he trusts me. Things change. Sometimes good things can come from terrible ordeals. Today, we went out to dinner. Nothing special … just an ordinary meal. We talked … about Facebook (“What is it?” he asked. “Should I do this Facebook thing?” “Can’t people just send me pictures by e-mail?”) … about how he met my late step-mom (“I was meeting with a lawyer on an estate matter.  She was the lawyer’s secretary.  I had to meet the lawyer many times and things just progressed.  She told me she thought I looked sad and needed cheering up.”) … about baseball; yes … baseball. Cliche, perhaps, but that’s what this father and his son did … talked baseball.52025301_c773f451f7_m He talked about the glory days of the Yankees. He reveled in comparing Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle.  He told me about Sal “The Barber” Maglie and Ryne Duren ( a relief pitcher for the Yanks with a blazing fastball and lousy eyesight!).  “The best hitter I ever saw play was Ted Williams. He never struck out swinging.  DiMaggio was a better all around player but Williams was the best hitter … ever.  You know it’s saying something when a devoted Yankee fan says this about a Red Sox player!” “When I was a kid, I’d get a $1 allowance for doing my chores.  I’d walk all the way to Yankee Stadium – about 50 blocks. I’d get a bleacher seat – $0.60, a scorecard was $0.25 and that left me $0.15 for a soda and a hot dog.  I used to watch DiMaggio in center field.  He could see the signs the catcher was giving so he knew what pitch was coming. At the crack of the bat, he was racing off.  He made it look so easy.” “Today’s baseball just isn’t the same.” No, it isn’t but neither are these conversations. Thank goodness for change!

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

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