Monday, October 28, 2013

The Beverly Hillbillies and My Faith

I am sure that this is a confusing title for a blog. After all, what could the Beverly Hillbillies possibly have to do with my faith? Did the show lead me to God, or did it help me get saved? No, it did not, nor did I learn anything about my faith from watching the show. That said, there are similarities between me and other Christians in the church and the Clampett family and the socialites in Beverly Hills.
The Beverly Hillbillies was a “fish out of water” show. It was about a dirt poor family from the sticks that became rich instantly. They moved to Beverly Hills where they were around other rich people. Because of where they were from and how they acted various things happened. They were sometimes looked down upon They  frequently did not understand the conversations that occurred around them. They were frequently misunderstood by those they lived around. They did not understand a lot of the things they observed, and when people would try to become their friends there was often issues that occurred.
At least in the show, this was always met with laughter and applause. In real life, this is not the case. Instead of laughter and applause there are often bridges burned and greater divides created that separate and hurt one side or the other. Are you still wondering what this has to do with my faith?
I was Agnostic for most of my life.  It started in the 5th grade, when I decided that God could not be true because of all of the abuse that I was subjected to and the hypocrisy I saw from those who professed to be Christians (mostly my parents). How could a God that cared about me allow this to happen? It continued through my life as I struggled with various addictions and mental health issues while going in and out of jail and prison. It ended when I turned my life over to God at 37.
When it comes to living my life Christ-like, I was definitely the polar opposite. I was a soldier for Satan for probably 2 decades of my life, as I dealt drugs and played a part in the manufacturing of methamphetamine. I had a different lifestyle, used different language and sought after goals that were completely different from Christians. But, after struggling for over 20 years with addictions/anger/depression/PTSD, I gave my life to God and everything instantly changed.
Like the Clampetts, I went from being poor to rich overnight. In my case it was not financially, it was spiritually. I then started going to church, and a lot of the things that came out of my mouth were not understood or alienated some people from me. I would talk about my addiction and prison, because that is what my life previously had consisted of. I think of the dirt that the Clampetts sometimes had on their boots that caused others to turn their noses up in disdain, except my dirt was on my soul.
The Clampetts had Mr Drysdale, who had lived a much different life and had different interests always there to tell them what they need. He was all about the money, which was important to him and he felt should be important to Jed. Today we have the “seeker-friendly” church reaching out to the lost, trying to give me what l already knew. I came to the church for something different, not something comfortable. Change happens not from the ordinary and known but the extraordinary and unknown!
I call it as I see it. I found that there are many who don’t, and much like Jethro I get confused when I see sin called something else. I see sin as black and white. I seldom see shades of gray. Do not get me wrong, I still sin. That said, I try to work on my shortcomings and I still see what I did as sin. Here are a couple of examples that I see often:
1.       How can you look down on someone who is watching pornography or using drugs/alcohol when you have a gluttony issue? Addiction is addiction, no matter how you slice it. Just because yours may be more socially acceptable does not mean that God sees them any differently.
2.       Here all I really have is the name of a book, “50 Shades of Grey.” Have you read it? I had a friend tell me that she had read the book. When I asked her if she was okay with her husband watching pornography she told me that was sick. She was offended when I told her there was no difference between watching it and reading it.
3.       Greed, the “name it claim it” creed and the “prosperity gospel” seem very close to the same thing, although people keep telling me they are different. Some people have a lot of money. There is nothing wrong with that. Other people shaft friends, spend little time with family or ignore the Holy Spirit’s voice because they are busy chasing wants not needs. That is greed, and that is wrong.
Because of these examples as well as many more, I am the fish out of water much like the Clampetts. I try to understand what I am seeing, but I interpret people’s actions instead of just listening to their words and get confused. I am used to taking things at face value, which is what I did in the world I used to live in. Back then it was life and death, so you had to learn how to read people and the best way to do that was by their actions.
Now that I am in a battle for my eternal soul, it seems to even more important that I prepare myself to be successful and here are the 5 Pillars I have found to do that:
1.       God/Jesus/Holy Spirit - This is where I found my hope, faith and strength. Without hope and faith, change is impossible. If I don’t have hope that it can change and the faith to pursue change, I am stuck right where I was. Recovery programs refer to a Higher Power, but “there is no High like the Most High!” (This was stolen from Mike Rogers new church in Springfield, MO)
2.       Bible – I say the book of James in particular, which is a great guide to help you live a better life. In recovery they talk about the 12 steps, in life I say there is no better game plan for living your life than the Bible!
3.       Mentor - Find someone who is living the life you would like to live, and ask them to help guide you there. In recovery programs, t hey call this a sponsor. Someone who is living t heir lives sober that has worked through the 12 steps to guide you through the 12 steps. In my walk, I would find someone that is walking the Christian walk I want to walk that can, with the help of the Bible, guide me to an improved walk.
4.       Accountability Partners – These are people with similar goals to yours that can encourage and support you while you encourage and support them. The best way to see if they have similar goals is by fruit inspecting, or gauging them by their words and their works.
5.       Church/Small Groups – This is the place where you gather with a group of people who have similar goals and gain hope/faith/strength. In recovery they talk about 12 step meetings, in life I talk about small groups which are set up with a specific topic!

Monday, October 21, 2013

What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up?

I was in a group the other day and that question was asked, “What did you want to be when you were a kid and what is stopping you from doing it now?” What we were talking about was the way our various traumas and addictions had impacted us in the past, but at the same time acknowledging that we could still do anything we set our minds to.
I was not the first person to go, and I listened to various answers. One had wanted to be a fire fighter. There was the kid who wanted to be a bull rider, until he had gotten thrown a couple of times and he decided it was not for him. The opiate addict that had wanted to be a doctor, but both his drug of choice and the felony he had for fraudulent attempt to obtain a narcotic held him back.
Then it came to me. I said that I wanted to be happy and normal. When I was asked what that meant, I explained a little of my past. I was molested starting at 4 for a couple of years by a baby sitter. My parents were constantly screaming at each other from the earliest I can remember until they split up my first week of 5th grade. From there I went to live with my grandparents, and my grandfather was an abusive man who would beat me and keep me home for the week “to help out on the farm” so the bruising and cuts could heal up. I thought it was because he had found out how “disgusting” I was.
So, all I wanted was to be happy, safe and normal. I had obviously not been safe due to the physical, sexual and psychological abuse I underwent. I was not happy. Who could be happy with all the aforementioned going on? I had lost my faith, as I could not imagine a God of love allowing me to suffer as I did and I became an Agnostic. Finally, and the part that probably hurt the worse, was knowing I was not like everyone else. I was abnormal at best and felt like a freak on my worst days.
I would hear other kids talk about their moms and dads and what they had done together. My parents were not together. In fact, I was being raised by grandparents. Because I had been molested I felt disgusting, as I had once heard my mother talk about grown ups touching children and she had said they were disgusting and sick. I thought that she meant me. Finally, I knew that the other kids were not getting beat like I was because they were always at school.
The kids I went to school with almost always had smiles on their faces. Somehow I knew that there smiles were real. Mine was not. I was dead on the inside but I build walls to keep the pain inside and not let it show to everyone else. I was crying on the inside, and it came out in the form of anger and violence as early as the 5th grade.
In the 5th grade I was already seeing both a school counselor and a counselor outside of school for my behavioral issues. I never once spoke to them about the abuses, because I did not want them to judge me for them the way I felt everyone else did and I feared my grandpa and what he would do to my sister if I told.
Instead, I kept it all inside. That is where the outbursts came from. It is kind of like a pressure cooker, if that steam is not released somehow you create a bomb that will explode when you least expect it. Not only that, but I felt I could never let people know who I really was. I looked normal but did not feel normal. I felt like an unloved outcast, because that is how I was treated.
It is difficult to function well when the people that are supposed to love and protect you are the ones that do you the most harm. Instead, you learn not to trust, not to love and how to mask your feelings. You learn to adapt and become a chameleon so that you appear to fit in. The truth is, doing that causes you to lose your identity over time and you forget who you are.
Then we ended the group talking about where we were today. Today, I am very grateful. I have accomplished my goals. I am happy and safe, though far from normal and that is okay. I have found that I was built from the ground up by God to do what I do today. Today, I get to share my strength, experience and wisdom with people by sharing the hope found in both grace and recovery.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I have been through several bad break-ups. I can count on one hand the number of break ups I have had that hurt me, and of those three were truly brutal. I am going to talk about the most recent break up that I had. This is one of the ones that really hurt me. For those of you that know me, you may be a bit surprised at this since it happened earlier this year.

About 6 months ago I had a 5 year relationship end. I was beginning to have doubts about the relationship, and was uncertain how to move forward. Should I end it, should I work through it. I didn't really know what I was going to do for sure. I talked about my dilemma with a group of friends at my birthday party and somebody went and told. My ex found out, and the decision I was unsure of making was made for me.

It hurt me, but I don't think I realized the extent of that pain until recently. It has really made it hard to move forward, but I am getting ahead of myself. To help you understand why it hurt me so bad, I feel that I should start at the beginning. The summer before I started 9th grade, I was fixed up by my dad and step-mother in a relationship. I know that sounds weird, but it happened. I guess they thought they knew what was best for me.

So we started seeing each other. As we got to spending more time together, we started having more and more in common. We spent a lot of time together, and suddenly we had the same interests. We shared hobbies and soon all of our friends were shared. It was then that I decided to open up and let someone in.

Dropping my walls and opening up was really rough for me. I had lost faith at a young age. I was abused physically, sexually and emotionally by people that were supposed to care and protect me. I thought I would never leave myself open to be hurt again. It took me some time, but I felt myself starting to care and trust again. I was beginning to believe it could happen.

I was wrong. Less than a year into that relationship, it ended. I made a couple of mistakes that I did not feel were that serious, and yet I was told we were done. When that happened, I had most of my friends stripped from me. In this break up, all of our friends chose sides and it wasn't mine. They sided with my ex and stopped talking to me.

I was hurt, but it was only a year relationship and I got over it. I made new friends pretty quickly, or so they thought. The truth was, the walls were back up and they were stronger and more impenetrable than ever. I was not going to let anyone or anything get to close to me. To insure that, I started using drugs and alcohol on a daily basis. It numbed me and allowed me to keep my distance.

I did this for years. I used more frequently and in larger amounts as my addiction grew. Soon I was confident that I would never be hurt again. I took pride in it, and most of my friends became people that were either hurt like I was or were celibate. Then I met a couple that changed the way I felt. They were in a relationship that was unlike any I had seen. It was real.

They talked to me about getting into a relationship like they had.  The more time I spent around them, the more I could see that their relationship was genuine and I wanted what they had. I wanted to be happy again. I wanted to trust again. More than anything, I wanted to have hope again. I was fresh out.

So finally I let them set me up. I was very wary at first. I was slow to open up. We would only go out once or twice a month. Even though I saw my friend's relationship was real, I was reticent to open up again. I had already seen what would happen if a relationship went south. I had seen it before, and I was sure that it would happen again if I opened up. I did not want to hurt like that again.

Over time, as we continued seeing each other, I began to get comfortable. I heard the things I needed to hear and began to develop feelings but I denied them. I continued to keep my distance and kept my walls up. Then one night I had a life changing event and decided to give it a chance. I would open myself up again and really pour myself into the relationship.

And pour I did. We began seeing each other a couple of times a week. I found myself talking about the relationship with my friends and coworkers, as well as telling them all the reasons I felt as I did. Soon, I began to believe that this time was different and I really opened up. My faith was restored, and I finally began to trust again.

Soon, almost all of the friends we had were shared. Our weekends revolved around each other, and we would frequently see each other during the week as well. We picked up a couple of shared hobbies, and I was sold. This time I was pretty sure I had found the one.

As I felt this, I began to read about other relationships and what people thought of them. I read books written by some of the most prominent authors on relationship; from both the present and the past. I also read what many consider to be the ultimate guide on relationships, the Bible. You see, the relationship I am talking about is the relationship I had with the church. The authors I am talking about are Francis Chan, Os Guiness, Charles Spurgeon, A.W. Tozer, G. Campbell Morgan, etc.

They made me start to look at the church I was going to in a different way. Then I began to see some faults. I felt some of the things I had partnered with them on were not supported the way I saw them support other people. Things had changed, some for the better and some of them for the worse. It was the ones that had changed for the worse I had issues with.

The church had opportunities to make things better in my opinion, and they did not. I decided to visit a couple of other churches to see what they had to offer. There were a lot of differences between the church I attended, the ones I visited and the mission of the church the authors I was reading espoused.

I wrote a blog called "The Secular Church" about those differences after a particularly bad experience at a church I visited. I was not sure what I wanted to do. I needed some input. My wife threw a surprise birthday party for me and invited my close friends. One of my friends talked about switching churches, and I said that I was having some thoughts about it too. I told my friends that I was unsure of what to do and we talked about the problems I was having then we went our separate ways.

Somehow church leadership found out about the struggles I had talked about at my birthday party.  That, coupled with the blog I had written, led to a divide between the church and me. I am unsure if it was hurt feelings or pride on my side, their side or both that caused the division. There were awkward things said and done. Even if I had wanted to stay, at this point my wife and I felt like we could not. It culminated with my wife being asked not to sing on a Sunday she was scheduled to lead worship.

At that point we stopped attending, and started looking for a new church. This is where we find ourselves now. I have not been attending a church regularly or consistently since the break up. I find myself on Sundays struggling to make it to church. I wake up on Sundays and I am not excited like I used to be for church. Instead, I am once again wary and putting up walls to keep me safe. I don't want to get hurt again. It has happened twice before.

My first experience with church was going with my parents. My parents would yell and scream at each other all the way there, then get out of the car and act like nothing had happened. Our parents had a friend of theirs from the church babysit us and that was the person who molested me. This is why I stopped attending church in the 4th grade.

Five years later I was made to go to the Kingdom Hall. That is the prior relationship I was talking about in 9th grade. I was lulled in and gave the church another try. One of the elders at the Kingdom Hall had two daughters. I made out with one of them, and my step-brother made out with the other. Nothing happened to the elder's daughters. My step-brother and I were disassociated, which means that we were excommunicated from the church and everyone there was forbidden to talk to us.

I am right back to where I was after that last time, only this time my friends are not forbidden from talking to me. Instead, it just seems kind of awkward. I talk to them and they ask what happened, if I answer their question they get offended. Some of the people who used to call me frequently have stopped calling me. Most of our shared friends don't seem to be as friendly as they once were. That is one of the ways it feels like past break ups.

Then there are the people who we run into that don't know we are no longer attending the same church. It is like running into someone you have not seen in a while who asks how you and your partner are doing when you are no longer together. Just a couple of weeks ago, I ran into someone who asked why my wife Julie was no longer singing. When I told them we were no longer going there, they were shocked. They thought we were just going to a different service then they were and they wanted to know why we left.

That is another difficulty, how do you answer that question, "Why don't you go there any more?" I always answer that question, as the Bible tells us to always bring to light things done in the dark. That and I have always been a pretty honest person since I got saved. Some would say I am too open and honest.

The problem now is that I compare every church to the last one I went to. I want all that was right with my old church coupled with all of the things I thought were wrong corrected to be present. Then it has to be a place that can use the God given talents that my wife and I have been blessed with. Unfortunately, I am having trouble getting close to any church. I am making excuses to not go to church which is a bad deal but I have good cause.

I am separated from the church I considered to be my home for 5 years as well as many of my friends. Since I had invested so much into it, I guess that it will take a lot longer to work through than I had originally thought it would. But I am coming to realize a couple of things that may help me as I pray on them and turn them over to God.

I forgot that churches are filled with people, who are imperfect. I realize that as hurt, confused and betrayed as I feel I am sure that there must have been others who felt the same way at my old church or it would not have ended as it did. I think that a big part of my pain was not leaving on my terms but instead feeling no longer welcome and my wife being asked not to sing. I took it as personally as my blog must have been taken by others.

In closing I ask for prayer for both my wife and I. We need understanding and strength to work through our still present confusion and hurt as well as a new home church that is Biblically sound, community focused and can use the abilities and gifts my wife and I have to further their ministries.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Maria Kang: What's Your Excuse

Maria Kang, who is a 32 year old mother of 3 who owns two residential care homes for the elderly, runs a fitness non-profit that she founded and is a freelance writer. She posted a picture of herself posing with her 3 children who are 3, 2 and 8 months old. It had a caption over the top of it that said, “What’s Your Excuse.” Her point was that if she could have 3 children, the most recent one born 8 months ago, and still be in shape what is holding everyone else back?

I can relate to what she is saying with her picture. I am trying to lose weight, and have lost about 30 pounds so far this year. I still have another 30 or so pounds to go. It is impossible for someone else to cause me shame because I feel it myself. I am glad that people post fit pictures of themselves while discussing the hurdles they had to overcome in order to get there. It gives me inspiration and lets me know that I am not alone in my struggles and that success is possible.

Of course, many people are offended. Why? “How dare her be a bully!” followed by “I can’t believe that she is fat shaming!” There were also those who felt that she was trying to tell them how to look. I do not even begin to understand the bullying they are talking about, not the fat shaming. I am not even sure what fat shaming is. Finally, she is not telling anyone how they should look. She is making a point. So why are so many offended at this?

Honestly, I guess the truth really hurts. Another reason is because she is taking away one of the most popular excuses people have for gaining weight, having a child. There are multiple other excuses, like not having enough time, their genetics and the environment they live in. The truth is, many of us love to make excuses rather than take the time to make changes.  Finally, there is the blame game, such as “I am fat because I was abused as a child. Let us work at taking these excuses away.

 The first is not an excuse, it is just realistic. The truth does hurt. If people are saying untrue things about me, I can laugh it off. If they are saying true things or if something they say hits close to home I am liable to get angry and offended. That is my defense mechanism that allows me to stay the way I am while getting mad at someone else for simply being honest.

Next are the excuses. As long as I have reasons to act the way I act, look the way I look and think the way I think I never have to change which is good. Change makes me uncomfortable, and feeling uncomfortable is not something that overweight people enjoy. We generally eat to numb ourselves from real life, to escape problems or to insulate us by keeping people further away.

Finally, we have the blame game. I love to blame other people. If my problems are always someone else’s fault I can do nothing to change them. They have to change, and often they have to change things that are done in the past. Since this is impossible, I can remain the way I am and feel good about it. Maybe not good, but I can relegate myself to the fate I feel that others have thrust upon me.

How do we overcome these issues:

1.       I have to hold myself accountable for where I am today. I may have had things happen that led me down this path, but it was my choice to continue walking down it.

2.       Realize that although I may be powerless over the past and other people, I have the ultimate power when it comes to dealing with them. I chose how to deal with people and situations.

3.       If someone says something or does something that offends you, get honest and try to figure out why you were offended. It will frequently be something in your life that you need to work on.

4.       Stop making excuses to fail and start creating reasons to succeed.

5.       Start your day off with a gratitude list and a goal for the day. List 3 things you are grateful for and one thing you want to achieve that day. It can be as small as walking around the block or as big as running 5 miles.

6.       It is okay to have big goals, but make sure that you have little ones that help you step up to reach the big one. I want to lose 60 pounds; my first goal was to lose 5 pounds in the first month. I have been working in 5 pound increments.

7.       Eating and exercising are choices. I can choose to eat fast food, or I can choose to eat lean meats and vegetables with a weekly cheat. I can choose to be lazy or I can choose to be active.

PS – How dare some of you use your kids as an excuse to be lazy and eat poorly! I have kids, and we play. My 6 year old and I play basketball and catch. I chase my 14 month old around the house and take her to the park. Get off of your butts, set an example for your kids by eating right and get some fresh air with them and play OUTSIDE!!!!

Monday, October 14, 2013

What Brought Me to Church and Kept Me Coming Back

The church is losing people according to recent polls. There are probably some good reasons for this, but I don’t want to focus on what the church is doing wrong. Instead, I want to focus on what some churches are doing right. I was an Agnostic when I first came to church. I felt totally and completely uncomfortable there and I had preconceived notions about the church and the people inside. There was a reason that I came there, and a reason that I kept coming back.
I came to church because I had people in my life that loved me and cared about me, even though I had a lot of issues. I had always run into judgmental, hypocritical Christians in the past. I was raised by them, in fact. In my addiction I have had people telling me that I was going to go to hell because I was not saved while they were doing methamphetamine with me. I finally met a couple that were truly living their lives as a Christian should, and their empathy and kindness is what finally got me to step foot into a church.
The church that I walked into with them had a Celebrate Recovery meeting. It was a meeting weekly to help people with their hurts, habits and hang-ups. There was a chemical dependency group that I went to at the church that was faith-based. The church was not only willing to admit that many people who came there had issues, they were not afraid to talk about it. I had tried other programs, I needed something different and I found it in Celebrate Recovery.
The very first song that they played the day I went was called “Cry Out to Jesus.” It was by a band called Third Day, and in the song they actually talked about addiction. They were talking about struggles that I could relate to in their songs. I realized that the outside world often sang about addiction, but never would have thought that Christian music would come right out and talk about such a taboo subject.
The associate pastor heard that I was an Agnostic and asked me if we could meet and talk. When we met and talked, he was very warm and genuine. He answered my questions, and then gave me a book to read that he said had helped him. It was Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ.” He then offered to meet with me regularly to answer any questions that came up. He did not push me, scoff at my ideas/beliefs nor did he talk down to me.
The church was very friendly, and soon I knew the names of several people and a lot more of them knew my name. I would always have people talking to me, asking me how I was doing and showing real interest in me as a person.  If I did not come one week I would have people ask me if everything was okay the following week “because we missed you last week.” I felt accepted and wanted.
The sermons were about the Bible and how to live life Biblically. They were often about the words and teachings of either Jesus or one of his disciples. It was not wishy washy stuff about staying the way I was and how much God loved me. It was about how much God loved me and how I would make positive changes and better choices as I continued on my walk with him. We talked about how my life would change. 
That is a few of the things that really helped me begin my walk with Christ. I have already discussed how I feel about the choices many churches are making in reaching out to the unchurched. As one who was unchurched, all I can say is that by the time many of us step foot inside a church it is because we are hopeless and searching for something to fill that void. It is because we are tired of the way the world is and are looking for something different. Give us something different. That is all I have to say about that.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Recovery Quotes and Slogans

  1. You never have to use again
  2. Live your life with an attitude of gratitude
  3. Easy Does It
  4. One Day at a Time
  5. Drugs gave me wings then they took my sky away 
  6. It is called alcohol-ism not alcohol-wasm
  7. Never along, never again
  8. I was the black sheep of my family until I came to NA and found the rest of my flock
  9. Give us 90 meetings in 90 days and if at the end of that you are not fully satisfied we will gladly refund your misery 
  10. Insanity = Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results 
  11. Insanity = Doing the same thing over and over again, knowing the outcome yet doing it anyway 
  12. I may not always know God’s will but I will always know what God’s will is not
  13. It's really simple. The only thing you have to change is everything
  14. KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid (or Keep It Simple Silly)
  15. If you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got 
  16. If you want to change who you are change what you do
  17. If you hang out at a barbershop long enough you are going to get a hair cut
  18. Change your people, places and things
  19. Old playgrounds and playmates get you into trouble
  20. I used to be a hopeless dope fiend now I am a dopeless hope fiend 
  21. I went from dealing dope to dealing hope (David Stoecker)
  22. People who judge don’t matter and people who matter don’t judge 
  23. Holding a resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die 
  24. The world record is 24 hours 
  25. Don’t quit before the miracle happens 
  26. I can’t, God can so let Him 
  27. I looked to a drug for courage and it made me a coward 
  28. You are either working on recovery or working on a relapse 
  29. If you are not working on the solution you are working on the problem
  30. You are either part of the problem or part of the solution
  31. My mind is a scary place to be all by myself 
  32. Your best thinking got you here
  33. My pickers are broken
  34. Addicts suffer from a condition called first thought wrong  (Mark Lundholm)
  35. I wouldn’t trade my worst day sober for my best day high 
  36. I may not be where I want to be but thank God I’m not where I was 
  37. Being humble doesn’t mean we think less of ourselves, it means we think of ourselves less 
  38. Pride is who is right while humility is what is right
  39. Give all your problems to God. He’ll be up all night anyway 
  40. I’m allergic to drugs and alcohol. Every time I use I break out in handcuffs and felony charges 
  41. People may not always believe what I say but they will always believe what I do 
  42. I stopped counting the days and started making the days count 
  43. It is not what I know that keeps me sober, it is what I do that keeps me sober
  44. What happened in the past is over. You can’t unscramble scrambled eggs 
  45. You can't turn a pickle back into a cucumber
  46. 7 Days without a meeting makes one weak
  47. There is no elevator, you have to take the steps
  48. I only drank on special occasions, like the grand opening of a pack of cigarettes
  49. While I am sitting in this meeting my addiction is out in the parking lot doing push ups
  50. HALT - Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired
  51. HALT - Hear, Assess, Listen then Talk (Mark Lundholm)
  52. My drug of choice was more
  53. Relapse is part of the program (Good intentions but one of the worst sayings ever)
  54. Your Higher Power can be a door knob (Good meaning but a horrible saying)
  55. I didn't like NA. After all, I had lost a lot of good friends to NA
  56. Addiction is Cunning, Baffling and Strong 
  57. Addiction ends in Jails, Institutions and Death 
  58. Drugs are bad, M'kay.......
  59. The only thing I only did halfway was the steps
  60. How do I know I need to go to a meeting? When I don't want to go to one
  61. Attitudes are contagious. Always make sure yours is worth catching
  62. If you don't drink you won't get drunk
  63. Suit up and show up don't shoot up and throw up

Friday, October 11, 2013

Affordable Health Care Act: Affordable for Who?

I am not good at any kind of political writing, but I feel compelled to do it any way because I am uber frustrated right now. I write about recovery and my faith, losing weight and dealing with mental health issues. That is my bailiwick. That is my disclaimer because what follows is pure frustration and anger, which are pretty alien to me now that I am in recovery. Now for the rant!!!!

Affordable for who????? They call it the affordable health care act and I can't see how that is. My wife was paying $300 a month for our previous insurance so we opted out of my insurance. Her insurance was a little bit better than mine was, so we went with her. Now that she is stay at home, we have looked back to my work for insurance. My work insurance went up 25% after the new affordable health care act went into effect. That was after them shopping around and changing plans.

We looked at Blue Cross/Blue Shield a month ago, and since the new act went into effect the price they have quoted us was doubled from a month ago. I want to know who this is supposed to be affordable for? Because for most of the people that I know, a 25% increase in one of your monthly bills that is NOW MANDATORY OR YOU GET FINED is too much.

To put the quote into perspective, the price for my wife and I alone is MORE THAN OUR  HOUSE AND TRUCK PAYMENTS COMBINED!!!!! Again I ask, how is that considered affordable? My daughter has insurance through medicaid since she was born with cataracts and is considered legally blind and we only have to pay $75 a month for her. The premium I talk about being more than both payments does not even include that $75.

I guess that if you are disabled or have insanely low income, this may be affordable because you will have medicaid. Other wise, it looks like we are screwed. I will pay almost $10,000 a year for insurance that has a $1,000 deductible and $4,000 out of pocket each maximum. If we both get ill, that is almost $20,000 a year for and with insurance. WHO IS THIS AFFORDABLE FOR!!!!! 


This is by far the most bent out of shape I can remember being in quite some time. I just cannot fathom how we are supposed to be able to live after they take 50% of my pay check then expect me to pay deductibles and everything else. I see why people stay on welfare or disability once they get on it. It sucks to have these stressors. I could just check out and get disability.

I could probably get a disability check for my multiple mental health diagnosis, from bipolar disorder to generalized anxiety and a personality disorder or two to boot. Here is what that would look like: low cost/free housing, medicaid, SSID of about $1000-15000 a month, $600 in food stamps and maybe $300 in TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). But I will not take that, because I have the ability to work and there are a lot of people who can't function who really need that money.

For those who think that I am going to side with one group or the other, you are out of luck. For the most part politicians are millionaires that we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to do several months of work. Our tax dollar also pays for them and their families to have insurance. Ninety percent of those in congress are so far out of touch with the realities a middle class family faces.

I am almost tempted to just pay the $2,000 per person fine for my wife and I. That is only $4,000 a year and it is cheaper. If I get sick, then I can just file bankruptcy. That would keep me in line with the members of congress. Last I saw, there were over 100 bankruptcies filed by members of congress and the senate. If it is good enough for our leaders, I could just follow their lead.

I am so frustrated and disgusted right now. I am not used to these feelings, so I am using my blog to vent. If anyone agrees with this rant, please let me know. If you disagree, keep it civil but let me know why. And if you have an alternative solution, please share it.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My Favorite Recovery Quotes and Meaning to Me

1.       Drugs gave me wings then they took my sky away At first drugs are amazing and gave me this rush of excitement and clarity, they made me more social and I felt like I fit in. Over time, I began to distrust everyone and I constantly chased the greatest high. Eventually, I got to the point I used just to feel less bad, because I always felt horrible and I was constantly paranoid of everyone and everything.
2.       It is called alcohol-ism not alcohol-wasm This is not a disease that will go away. I am an addict and an alcoholic for the rest of my life. As Verbal Kent says in the movie The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” The same is true of my addiction.
3.       I was the black sheep of my family until I came to NA and found the rest of my flock I never felt like I fit in to my family, I was an embarrassment. I was the one who was in and out of jail and went to prison. I was the one with all of the mental health problems. I was the one with the addiction issues. I was the one who could never be counted on. When I started going to recovery meetings I found others who had been the black sheep in their family, and they had gotten better.
4.       Give us 90 meetings in 90 days and if at the end of that you are not fully satisfied we will gladly refund your misery It is not that 90 days is a magic number, nor is 90 meetings the magical amount. Instead, going to at least one meeting every day for three months give us structure and consistency in our life and allows for us to meet a lot of people in recovery and begin to make friends with positive, sober people
5.       Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results Also defined as doing the same thing over and over again, knowing the outcome yet doing it anyway. They both mean the same thing, that as addicts we will tell ourselves lies to continue our addiction, such as I can drink just one beer or I won’t get arrested this time if I use.
6.       I may not always know God’s will but I will always know what God’s will is not I do not know for a fact what the plans for my life are, what my successes will be or how I will accomplish them. I do, how ever, know the quickest ways to derail my future and make sure that I don’t succeed in life. I may not know for a fact what God has called me to do but I can reason out with pretty good certainty what He does not want me doing.
7.       If you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got also said as, “If you want to change who you are change what you do.”  If I continue to make the same choices, go to the same places and hang out with the same people I will always have the same outcome. Basically, if I am unhappy with the outcome in my life I need to change all of the inputs.
8.       I used to be a hopeless dope fiend now I am a dopeless hope fiend I changed this one to “I went from dealing dope to dealing hope. There was a time that I had no hope and my entire life was focused on getting and staying high. Today, I no longer do drugs and my entire life is focused on sharing the hope of a better life in recovery with everyone I come into contact with.
9.       People who judge don’t matter and people who matter don’t judge This is a way for me to see that if people are not able to see me for who I am today and not who I used to be in my addiction, I don’t need them in my life. This does not mean that what other people think is unimportant. If I offend others and they have good reason to feel that offense it is on me to adjust my behavior and/or attitude. I need to realize that other people’s feelings are valid, otherwise I will fall back into my old addictive narcissism and the general lack of respect for everyone but me I had in my old criminal lifestyle.
10.   Holding a resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die When I have a resentment against anyone, it is never them that it hurts.  They may have forgotten about it, or have forgiven me or simply no longer care. The only person it really impacts is me. I cannot make a better past for myself, but I can make a less stressful present and future by learning to let go of things instead of holding on to them. Keeping that resentment alive creates a chance for relapse in my future.
11.   The world record is 24 hoursSome people get caught up in the amount of time that someone else has and they put them or a pedestal, or even worse they get overconfident because of the amount of clean time that they have. Both of these can and will lead to relapse. The truth is, I cannot stay sober on the work I did yesterday, so I need to focus on the things I can do today for if I don’t I will not stay sober.
12.   Don’t quit before the miracle happens We forget that we did not get addicted overnight, so we will not get into recovery that way. Time takes time, and we need to be patient because if we give up we will never attain recovery. Sometimes we forget that, because we are addicts and we want what we want and we want it now. Life doesn’t happen that way very often, and neither does recovery but it will as long as we don’t give up and keep doing the next right thing. 
13.   I can’t, God can so let Him This is an eloquent way to put the first 3 steps. We found in our addiction that we were powerless and could not control everything in our lives so it is time to turn it over to someone who can. I have also heard the 1st 3 steps translated as, “There is a power that wants to kill me and a power that wants me to live. Which do I want to do? (if you want to die you can stop here, other wise keep working the steps)
14.   I looked to a drug for courage and it made me a coward We may take a drug or drink to give us courage to deal with something that we feel we could not deal with on our own. Eventually we discover that if we stay messed  up we can stay numb and emotionally unavailable so we let drugs take our life over. In time, we use them to avoid anything and everything, which is a sign of cowardice and fear.
15.   You are either working on recovery or working on a relapse Another way to say this is, “If you are not working on the solution you are working on the problem” as well as, “You are either part of the problem or part of the solution.” There is no gray area in recovery, you are either putting it first in your life so that you can stay ahead of your addiction or you are slacking and eventually your addiction will become stronger than your desire to stay sober.
16.   My mind is a scary place to be all by myself This is also said as, “Your best thinking got you here.” It means that we struggle as addicts with a condition that Mark Lundholm calls, “First thought wrong” and I say is more like first five thoughts wrong. I need to surround myself with positive sober people and be willing to listen to their feedback and apply it to my life because my thinking patterns are faulty when I first get into sobriety.
17.   I wouldn’t trade my worst day sober for my best day high also shared as, “I may not be where I want to be but thank God I’m not where I was.” The truth of this one is that over time we no longer use to feel good, instead we use to feel less bad. This is because of a severe depletion of various neurotransmitters in our brain and using being the only way to obtain them. Add to that the hopelessness of addiction and we find ourselves getting stuck in a rut. The reality of my addiction was that no matter how great today was I would still be running from my feelings, trying to escape life and being overly paranoid tomorrow. In my recovery I know that no matter how bad things are going today they will be better in the future.
18.   Being humble doesn’t mean we think less of ourselves, it means we think of ourselves less This simply means that when I am humble I do not think that I am less than anyone or everyone else. Being humble just means that I have learned to put the needs of others before the wants I have.  This  has also been said as pride is who is right while humility is what is right.
19.   Give all your problems to God. He’ll be up all night anyway We tend to hold onto things that we can do nothing about, beating ourselves up over our past and stressing ourselves out over our future when what we really need to do is focus on today because that is where change happens. To give us more energy physically, emotionally and psychologically we need to learn to let things go and there is no one better to turn those things over to than God. After all, He knows all about it anyway.
20.   The good news is your feelings come back. The bad news is your feelings come back When we get clean and sober our feelings start to come back, which is amazing. I can feel genuine happiness, love, compassion and joy. Those feelings are amazing. But if I can feel again, that also means that I now have to deal with grief, loss, depression and heart ache. On one hand, yeah!!!! On the other hand………….Boo!
21.   I’m allergic to drugs and alcohol. Every time I use I break out in handcuffs and felony chargesPretty self-explanatory, if I get into trouble when I use that sets a pattern that I should not continue if I no longer want to get into trouble. Much like an allergy, if I have a bad reaction to eating something I generally avoid it so I should do the same with drugs and alcohol because I have already experienced the outcome of using them.
22.   People may not always believe what I say but they will always believe what I do Simply stated, actions speak louder than words. To the people who matter the most to us, our word has probably lost all meaning. We have burned bridges by continuously lying, stealing, cheating and manipulating people. They are no longer going to believe what we have to say, so instead we have to show them that we are telling the truth through our actions and choices over time.
23.   I stopped counting the days and started making the days countIn the end, who cares how much clean time you have? I have seen people with 6 months making a bigger impact on the recovery community than people with 20 years. It is not about who has the most, but instead what you do with it. I would rather focus on what I can do to make myself and the people around me stronger and wiser than get caught up in the amount of clean time I have. Clean time will not keep you clean.
24.   It is not what I know that keeps me sober, it is what I do that keeps me sober We hear people spout the Big Book, quoting it by page and then reeling off one of the steps telling someone else what to do and we begin to think that person has it together. That can lead us to stumble. I have heard a drunk at a bar quoting the Big Book to the person drinking next to him. Knowing and doing are two completely different things. Never forget that. See #22
25.   What happened in the past is over. You can’t unscramble scrambled eggs This is also quoted as once you are a pickle, you can never be a cucumber again. They both mean the same thing, you cannot change the past. In fact, getting stuck on the past often leads to relapse and it always takes our focus off of today. The truth is, I thank God every day for prison, the physical and sexual abuse I experienced as a youth as well as my addiction. They all made the person I am today, and that person is a Hope Dealer. If not for all of the things that I have encountered, I would not have the strength and wisdom that I do today. Make amends, give the rest to God and move on. Never forget: You are exactly where you need to be!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Quality not Quantity

I am seeing a growing trend. There are bigger and bigger churches springing up all around the area I live in. Some of them look to be the size of NCAA Division I football stadiums or concert arenas. Some of them are spread out over many acres and would make a junior college campus envious. They are packing the seats inside of those churches, too.
As big as they are, they continue to open up other “campuses.” That tends to be their term for the new churches they open up, not mine. When you look up campus you will see definitions ranging from “grounds of a college, university or institution of higher learning” as well as “a large landscaped business or industrial site.”
Next we will look at the church service itself. I have seen multiple churches promoting their services as a “60 minute experience.” Come visit us and listen to a great message. There are also the buzz phrases: “seeker friendly,” “seeker sensitive” and “culturally relevant.”  Then there is the promise of being comfortable and having fun. There sure is a lot of things going on at these places. Let’s look at that next.
There are the electric guitars, strobe lights and fog machines during worship music (which sometimes includes secular songs that don’t tie into the sermon at all). There are the subjects discussed, as well. Let us talk about pop psychology and media 101 in our church “experience.” We can talk about the latest books, movies and popular music during your 60 minute stay so that you feel comfortable, safe and informed.
Great advertising, good marketing and top notch entertainment provided in a minimal amount of time. Sounds like an amazing place. I can see why they are packing them in. Who wouldn’t want to go there? It sounds simply amazing, especially to someone from “old” churches that could go for 2 hours and sang boring hymns and had choirs. Who wants that? Not the average, unchurched person of today. In fact, not that many of the churched, either based on attendances.  
After all, the new church is just being Biblical. That is why Jesus then Paul packed them in to hear them speak. They had the harps and horns rocking, and when people came to hear them it was for only 30-60 minutes so that they could go about the rest of their day and not be inconvenienced. They even talked about entertainment, often referring to archery and wrestling contests as well as the latest games held in the coliseum.  
Okay, maybe not. I am confused by some of the wording. For starters, why is it called a campus? The argument could be made that it is because it is an institution of learning. On the opposite side, the argument could also be made that it is because it is a business per the definition of the word. After all, businesses tend to have cool logos and catchy slogans. They also use buzz words to attract people to their place of business. It is all about the marketing.
Calling service a 60 minute experience is wrong on many levels. For starters, how do you actually know how long the sermon will be? What if the Holy Spirit leads you to preach longer” What if the worship leader is compelled to play longer? What if prayer takes 15 minutes instead of 60 seconds? We are putting the Holy Spirit in a box. “Well, the Spirit knows how long it has to work on people,” is the answer. After all, that is Biblical????
Next, we look at seeker friendly, seeker sensitive and culturally relevant. We are non-confrontational as we slide in beside people and tell them what they want to hear. After all, the message in the New Testament was never about judgment, in your face instruction or discipline.  “We are not to judge. If you don’t believe me read Matthew 5:1,” said no one who has read the Bible EVER! We are no longer Christian soldiers engaged in warfare with this world, but Earthly hipsters’ intent on making sure everyone likes and accepts us!
We need to keep up with the trends. After all, we are part of this world too, right. How can I possibly share the hope of salvation and the impact of Christ’s grace if I don’t know how to relate it to people in a funny, engaging way by talking about a movie they have seen, a book they read or a song they listen to on the radio? Plus, how can I possibly get people to visit my church if it is not loud, short and exciting.
We need to dress down, so that the people coming in can feel better and more comfortable. It sends the message that we are no different from them. Also, remember to keep the “message” superficial and positive. There is no need to go on and on about this being a sin-filled, fallen world. After all, we are part of this world and that would send the wrong message. We are not separate, we are just like the rest of the world and that is why they will come here.
Now I ask you, what is the problem with the above scenarios? There are many who attend these churches that have great Biblical knowledge and live amazing Christ-like lives and it puzzles me. I would like to know why you are drawn to these churches. I personally and Biblically see major issues with these churches. Here are some of them:
1.       The message appears to be determined more by the world than the Word
2.       They try too hard to fit in with this world, becoming of it more than just in it
3.       People who are  hopeless are looking for something different, not what they already know
4.       Change does not happen when you are comfortable. It happens when you are uncomfortable
5.       There is a focus on the unchurched, not the unsaved. There is a big difference in those 2 words
6.       Churchgoers are being entertained instead of equipped to share the Gospel with all they come in contact with
7.       There is a focus on attendance instead of discipleship
8.       The Holy Spirit has been given time constraints
9.       It can be highly uncomfortable to be a Christian, and people are misled into thinking otherwise. Jesus said that they would hate us as they hated Him and that we are to daily pick up our cross and follow Him. He told the prostitute to go and sin no more. Those do not sound like very seeker sensitive messages.
10.   People are not being taught to stop sinning. We can no longer continue doing the things that we know are wrong. You cannot put new wine (a Christian lifestyle) into an old wine skin (your previous secular life)and expect to begin living Christ-like.
I am not judging, I am instead fruit-inspecting. When the fruit is not ripe, there are problems with the tree. When someone says it is an apple tree and all you see are oranges hanging from it, you know there is something not right. When I ask someone what they like the most about their church and they say the music or how laid back it is, that worries me. When I hear no mention of the Holy Spirit moving or the presence of God being felt, I get a little scared. When they don’t speak about how it made them feel uncomfortable and see that there needed to be big changes made in their lives, I get worried.
The seeker friendly church may be a good place for those who are not Christians, but I am not sure that it is a good place to go other than the first time or two.  After that, you need to grow and I am not sure that real growth is encouraged in church service. Instead, you are tasked to go to small groups for that. Small groups are an awesome thing, but church is where your coach should be using the playbook and teaching you how to win the game. Translation, this is where your pastor uses the Bible and teaches you how to live Christ-like.
In closing, don’t judge the validity of a church by the attendance. After all, rock bands sell out 50,000 seat arenas every day. People love to be entertained. They don’t like to be called out, though. That is why just because a church has 1,000 or 20,000 members does not mean that it is better than the church of 50. In fact, it may be worse.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Weight Loss Wednesday Results of My 90 Day Challenge

So that is what I weighed this morning, 221 pounds. I started 90 days ago with a goal of losing 25 pounds in 90 days, and I managed to lose 23.8. I am very happy with my results, but I am pretty disappointed in the overall way that this first 90 days has gone. Don't get me wrong, I am very happy with almost reaching my goal. After all, it was a lofty goal. But I could have done better.


Weekends killed me the last two months, period. I would lose 4-5 pounds during the week, then gain back 3-4 of them over the weekend. Fortunately for me, that still allowed me to lose what they consider a healthy amount of weight. After all, healthy is 1-2 pounds a week. I need to watch what I do on the weekends, and not just because of wanting to lose weight.

I have some internal issues, which I am quite sure come from my addiction's impact on me physiologically. Unfortunately, my addiction is still kicking my butt. Now my addiction takes the form of food instead of drugs, alcohol, money, power, sex, violence, chaos and criminality like in the past. I eat foods that I know I will have a bad reaction to because they taste good and make me feel better. I know that I will pay for it later and I don't care. I need to work on that.

This will be my goal for the next 90 days, to only have one cheat meal a week and to add at least one cardio during the weekend. I might add 2 if I can make it fit. That is one thing that I managed to do well during this 90 day challenge, cardio. I abhor cardio, and yet I was able to do 30 minutes 4-5 days a week. I am aiming for 3 1/2 hours of cardio a week this time, instead of 2-2 1/2.

In closing, food addiction sucks because you have to eat. There are a lot of addictions you do not have to do to survive. Food is a must. Besides, it is hereditary. As far back as I can remember, everyone in may family ate. Plus I was raised around food, so it is both nature and nurture.

Seriously, if you are having struggles I can relate. Here are a couple of tips for you:

  1. Keep a food journal/diary that records everything that you eat.
  2. Allow yourself one cheat meal a week, preferably on one of the days you work out on
  3. Set up an accountability partner or two who you can be accountable to
  4. Find a couple of other people who are also trying to lose weight. Meet at least once a week and update each other on your progress. If you want set up a contest where the winner gets something (I prefer cash).
  5. Drink AT LEAST 80 and I would recommend 120 ounces of water a day
  6. Get 7-8 hours sleep a night (here is where I fail, I get 4-5)
  7. Do at least four 30-60 minute cardio sessions a week even if it is just walking. The best cardio in the world is the cardio that you will do
In closing, I am down 23.8 pounds for the challenge and 26.7 pounds for the year. My goal for this next 90 days, ending on January 1st is to lose 21 pounds and weigh in at an even 200. I will try to keep you updated on the first Wednesday of every month until then. I would love to hear encouragement, advice, or be able to give you support in your goals so leave comments!