Category: hope

When we were kids there was the boogie man. I wasn’t sure what he looked like but I knew it was scary. Left to my imagination, he would have been shrouded in dark shadows, hunched over with a wicked smile. Maybe a little like Ebenezer Scrooge.

For years I thought addicts looked like dead-eyed men, swaying on their feet in front of convenience stores asking for change. Their clothes were crusted with dirt as they hung from their bony frame. Their skin was weathered from the sun and their faces hadn’t seen a razor in months. Aren’t these the faces of alcoholism? Of crack?

What does an addict look like?

President Trump has declared an opiate crisis in our country. The word is out. It’s broadcast on the evening news and Netflix documentaries. We have a drug problem. Addicts are being made every day and they look a lot like me and you.

There are more people addicted to prescription medication than any other drug. Kids are more likely to get their drugs from their parent’s medicine cabinet or from the doctor to help ease the pain of a sports injury. Xanax will ease the stress and Vicodin will soothe the pain.

Let’s not forget our love affair with alcohol. The morning news anchors laugh about one more glass of wine. Wednesday is called Wine-day and the commercials show all the fun we’ll have with a Bud Lite in hand.

The problem isn’t necessarily the substances, the problem is us. We decide how best to medicate us. If one is good, two will be better. There’s a saying for alcoholics: one drink is too many and 1000 is never enough.

Steve, JoJo, Thomas, Anthony, Terrance, David, Matt, …none of these men look like addicts. They look like my son or your brother. You wouldn’t cross to the other side of the street if you saw them walking your way. Today. Today they are healthy, clean, employed and productive. They are still addicts.

We don’t look like sinners. We keep our secrets and hide our hurts, habits, and hang-ups. I know. I’m well practiced at this too.

When men enter our rehabilitation program, we start with the basics. We start with the outside. Collared shirts have to be tucked in and belts worn. Their hair can be no longer than their collar, and no beards. It’s about change. If you aren’t willing to change the small things how can you expect to change the big things?

Their outward appearance is a starting place. What we hope will change most in inside.

They don’t look like addicts but they can look like redemption.

All my hope is in Jesus
Thank God that yesterday’s gone
All my sins are forgiven
I’ve been washed by the blood

All My Hope, Crowder

faith grace hope recovery

Old ways won’t work anymore. New ways are taught and shown. Having fun in recovery is as important as any other aspect. Whether you’re recovering from addiction, alcoholism or the wrongs you can never get right, tt’s about living this life the rest of our life.

So we celebrate.

Every day is a celebration of God’s redemption. We are part of His story.

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faith hope recovery

I saw his grizzled face, breadcrumbs around his dry mouth, as he offered a smile that looked genuinely happy to see me. I returned the smile that probably showed more concern than joy. He didn’t look well, not like the last time I saw him. He was much thinner, unkempt, but his eyes eager to be seen, to be welcomed ‘home’.

He’s not the only one I’ve seen worse for wear lately. Jay is still too thin after being back a month or so. Joe looked good but he’s just come from jail and detox so he’s had time for life to brighten his face again.

This is our work.

Whether they leave or stay, for this moment, they’ve been rescued.

There are few who speak of being delivered from their addiction. The kind of deliverance church folks talk about when they said God delivered them from smoking. They put the pack down and that was the end. They never had a desire for another cigarette.

Can’t say as I’ve heard that in our 13 years of working with folks in recovery. I believe it happens, but not often.

The way we’ve seen it, delivery comes one day at a time.

Sundays my husband is at the pulpit, I’ve planned the service and we worship with this unlikely group of seekers. I sit in our small chapel, large enough to hold our 100 men and an extra twenty or so. They come in wearing the clothes we’ve given them: all in ties, some in full suits. Their shirts are always tucked, their hair groomed, faces shaved…We start with the small changes. My husband tells them they look like a room full of doctors or lawyers and collectively, they know plenty of doctors and lawyers.

We sing old hymns that only a handful of them know scattering some newer songs they’ve taken more of a liking to. They raise their hands when we sing Amazing Grace and every week we sing Amazing Grace because it is and they are living trophies of that grace.

Those sitting up front will get called on to be ushers and collect the offering.

Another will read the selected scripture for the morning. It’s as if we have a front row seat to God’s redemption story watching these men labeled addict, alcoholic and thief be part of this time of worship. Yes, they’re required to attend and some will be pulling their ties off the minute they’re out the chapel doors. Some will not hear a word of God’s message. But this is not for us to decide. Ours is to be obedient to sharing his message of hope and every one of us in that room needs hope.

“It’s God’s job to judge. The Holy Spirit’s job to convict and my job to love.” – Billy Graham

grace hope recovery Salvation Army

Redemption was just a word to me before we became part of this community.

It was one-dimensional, it was theology, a belief but not one made of skin and bones. I suppose that’s a byproduct of growing up in the church and hearing things without seeing them. Or maybe they were in front of me but I needed someone to say, “Look – that’s redemption!”

 

When we have a time of sharing I hear our men speaking words of rescue and faith as they say things like:

“My addiction has taken me to multiple suicide attempts the past year. I knew I would be welcomed here.”

“I’m working on step 4, where I walked away in the past. It’s hard but God is faithful and leading me closer to him.”

“Twenty-eight years of jail, prison, detox, psych wards but I’ve gotten a foundation here and my faith and gratitude are growing.”

“I have 3 months clean, still a baby but I’m taking a chance on God and recovery.”

Their simple faith is rescuing me from cynicism and judgment. From not seeing past the sign the panhandler holds.

Deliverance is for everyone. They are delivering me from despair to hope.

Redeemed by Big Daddy Weave

faith hope recovery

The two men taking up our Sunday offering aren’t elders or deacons. They aren’t pastors or teachers. One of them probably doesn’t know the bible is divided into Old and New Testaments.

He is the young one. The other man is at the tail end of the baby boom generation. John’s shirt sleeves are rolled up revealing his tattooed forearm.

They move up and down the aisles passing the plate, sometimes pausing to make change. There have been times in both of their lives they wouldn’t be trusted with money and I don’t think this is lost on them.

A band has formed among this group of addicts and alcoholics. It probably started on the smoke deck, one musician finding others. Or maybe in the dining room or when one heard another picking on an acoustic guitar in the chapel. They’re metalheads and rockers and have known little of church and its music, new or old. The first song they played on Sunday was the closest they could find to what they thought would fit in church. The amps and distortion turned up as the lead sang out, “Oooh-oh-oh, heaven let your light shine down”. (Shine Down, by rock group Collective Soul.)

They’ve played Knocking on Heaven’s Door and Tears In Heaven and some original songs they’ve written with words leaning more toward a Saving God.

We’ve been in this area of ministry 13 years and I never tire of hearing them encourage one another. It never gets old seeing their comfort in this gathering for worship that in a traditional setting can easily become rehearsed. I think some may not know what a testimony is when we have this time of sharing but they’ll stand and offer from an honest place both struggles and triumphs.

Though scripture is read, prayers prayed, hymns sung and testimonies shared, there is no official membership in this church. Some who have completed this 6-month program come back to worship with us. They come back to encourage others and strengthen their souls. They come back as one beggar showing another where the bread is. That is the membership required for this fellowship of the broken.

You can read the rest as I join with Lesley at Life in the Spacious Place, sharing God’s redemptive work. 

 

hope recovery The Church

Danny is the best kitchen supervisor we’ve had. He leads with an even temperament even as he speaks correction when needed. He prepares for the smallest of details putting the needs of the residents above his own.

Danny and his family were under evacuation orders when hurricane Irma headed in our direction. We were planning to evacuate the men and he volunteered to come along if we’d allow him to bring his wife and 5-month old son. The next few days we saw him prepare for every situation. In new surroundings, he took charge of the kitchen and assigned men to help in cooking, serving and cleaning up. He led the way. He was, quite honestly, amazing.
When we lost power for most of the day, they managed their way through the dark food storage areas so not one meal was missed. His assistant found a way to make coffee. When you have over 70 addicts and alcoholics with you, coffee is a necessity.
But this isn’t the Danny we met 5 years ago. This isn’t the young man who came in angry and rebellious. It’s not the one who came through the program not once or twice but a third time before his hard-head and heart began to soften.
It wasn’t an overnight transformation. It starts, it always starts, with willingness. We must be willing to listen, to accept suggestions, to let go of past hurts and mistakes. You have to let go of pride, anger, and self-will. You have to be willing to take action to change.
The good news is, redemption happens before the external change. Restoration begins when the heart and mind are willing to admit wrongs and accept God’s grace.
There’s a song often sung in the halls of recovery. It’s a good old Black gospel style of song but the words are wrong. The song says I got to clean up what I messed up. Jesus says, his grace cleans up what we messed up.
Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageableFor I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. Romans 7:18-23

grace hope recovery

Jason stood up to share during our testimony time. “This is the best-kept secret in Broward County.” He was talking about this place, this program, this residential facility, a place I call Grace-land. He was talking about The Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was talking about our ministry, our people, our heart, our prayers. He was talking about redemption.
Granny and mama both saved Green Stamps. As a child, I helped put these stamps in little booklets that mama would take to the Redemption Center. She would hand the required number of stamps to a clerk in exchange for something she could use in our home. Redemption was a process of exchanging one item of lesser, or no, value (the stamps) for something of greater value, for something of use.
The Oxford Dictionary defines redemption as the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil: God’s plans for the redemption of his world.
Redemption stories are testimonies of the priceless value of God’s grace in the form of his son, Jesus, being exchanged for the wreckage of our lives. This is amazing grace.
 

We were gathered in our chapel for our regular Sunday worship service. The congregation is made up of the residents who are required to attend and other men we call Alumni; they’ve completed this 6-month month program and are living on their own. Sometimes we have family members join us but most Sundays the only two women in the service are our paid pianist and me.

Our surroundings are humble. This 55-year-old building that has kept winds and water at bay through a few hurricanes doesn’t look like much from the outside. The street in front of us is one of the busiest in town. Yet, the thousands who drive past us each day aren’t aware of what goes on behind the concrete block walls. The sign spells out Adult Rehabilitation Center but really, we are a redemption center. Like the Green Stamp store, we’re exchanging hope and grace for broken lives.
As Jason said, we are the best-kept secret in town.
Write31days is an annual event joined by thousands of bloggers. The challenge is to write every day of the month. As I write through 31 days, I want to share stories of redemption.I want to share about addiction and disease and hope and restoration. We’ll share stories of living in this place I call Grace-land.

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grace hope recovery Salvation Army

The woman in front of me in line at Costco turned and asked, “Do you have power?” I felt embarrassed to say yes. It was three days after Hurricane Irma swept through our area and tens of thousands in our county were still without electricity.

“You look happy. You must have power”, said the technician administering my exam. “Do you have power?”, asked the nurse and over and over strangers and friends have asked the question: “Do you have power?”
Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character,
give him power.
– Abraham Lincoln
Most of the homes in South Florida are powered by electricity. The water in our homes is heated by electric gas heaters, our kitchens are all-electric and the much-needed air conditioning at this muggy time of year depends on the power of electricity.
Our county was more fortunate than many with most damage caused by high winds uprooting trees and knocking down power lines. It sounds whiny knowing how much of the world doesn’t have our conveniences but I’m not apologizing for living where we live. The most horrific example of the danger of not having this ‘convenience’ is the death of 8 elderly people living in a nursing home that was without electricity for a few days. There was no generator for auxiliary power and the hot conditions inside the nursing home was a major factor (if not a direct cause) for their deaths.
Power. This week, in our lack, we have all been focused on our need of power.

The greatness of the man’s power is the measure of his surrender. 

William Booth, founder, The Salvation Army

 
Step 1 of Alcoholics Anonymous says:

We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable…

I would suggest, the first step in living a life of faith in God, is also admitting we are powerless. 
 
Often it seems to be a game of tug of war: we give it and take it back. We strengthen our grip and pull thinking we have this. We exercise control that evaporates like morning fog. 
 
God turns our notion of power upside down. The prophet Isaiah said: He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Isaiah 40:29 NLT
In what is meaningful in life, we are powerless. We can’t control the weather or electric company. Our best lullabies can’t soothe a colicky baby. Diet and exercise won’t stop us from aging. And what can stop a spouse determined to leave a marriage?
There is power in the name of Jesus. 
Not the kind of power that magically makes life perfect but the power that will hold us together in hard times.
One of our friends living in a part of Florida that felt Irma’s wrath a bit more wrote this on Facebook: We may not have electricity but we certainly have power – the power of prayer.
I am powerless but with Jesus, all things are possible. He is the power.

faith hope

This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that.” Matthew 5:45 Message

Routines are good. Routines feel safe. On Wednesdays, I plan our Sunday worship gathering. Our congregation is men living in our residential rehab program. They are believers and doubters. Catholic, Jew, Protestant, and Atheist. They are local and from far away and on Sundays they are, what some describe, our captive audience.

We don’t have Sunday School campaigns or church growth programs. We don’t have elders or deacons or church quarrels and budgets. We have truth-tellers and grace-givers. Some are searching and others are existing one more day.

Every Wednesday, I choose songs, scripture, and all the elements traditionally part of a Protestant church service. We give it a twist with throwing out all the rules when it comes to who can participate. Addicts and alcoholics are our readers and ushers. The share when it’s testimony time and their words will pierce your heart.

These are the men in our care and these are the men who we’ve become a shelter. That word takes a physical meaning in the shadow of Hurricane Irma that is pressing our way. All we know is we don’t know. There is no certainty with nature, there are only ifs.

Because of our location and best predictions, my husband and I will be evacuating with about 60 of the men to the northern part of the state. Some men will leave to be with family but most have chosen to go with us. We hope to be there no longer than the weekend but on the other side of this storm is more uncertainty. What will we have to come home to? Will there be power? Yes, we have a generator at our facility but what toll with the storm take on our community? Will be able to get food deliveries and gas for the generator?

With all of this in mind, I plan for a time of worship. I’m planning for a time of thanksgiving because why not? I have been wrought with anxiety watching the details of this storm slowly take shape. I’ve lost sleep and been worn out from the not knowing. Yet, what came to mind was we need to give thanks. I need to give thanks. I need to be reminded of God’s goodness and faithfulness, even when our prayers for this to go away, haven’t been answered with yes.

It’s easy to thank God in the good times. It’s easier to forget to give thanks when all is going our way. It’s necessary to give thanks in the uncertain times.

We will gather with our men in a camp outside the little town of Keystone Heights. We will set up board games and dominoes, chess and checkers. The spade players will have the cards out and the readers will have their paperbacks.

We’ll take frisbees and footballs, a basketball and volleyball. If the sky is clear we’ll play outside and take cover in the rec hall when the clouds come. We will scatter and gather and we will look to the skies and we will give thanks to our God who rains on the just and the unjust.

We will make thanks our routine as we find our shelter in Jesus.

faith hope recovery Salvation Army

At a time when the residents around Houston have finally seen the sun, when the water has begun to recede and reveal the destructive nature of Hurricane Harvey, at this moment when we’ve sighed a collective exhale, we are keenly tuned into the weather channel for updates on the new threat to our comfortable lives.
Hurricane Irma is headed this way and she is fierce. This way meaning toward us. It’s early but not too early for the weather people to say make sure you have a plan. Bottled water is selling out at our stores because Harvey has brought back memories of 25 years ago when Andrew unleashed his might on South Florida.
I said to my husband, it doesn’t seem like our prayers matter. Countless were praying for the people of Texas to be spared and still it bore down. Like Katrina and Wilma and Charley and Hugo, people of faith and desperation pray.
In the western part of our country fires are ravaging the land and keeping people indoors making the air quality hazardous. If we turn to the east or the west we see natures fury. And prayer seems anemic.
When I think of what our daily prayer should be – Thy will be done – prayer gets scary.
rains
“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” CS Lewis
I don’t believe God unleashes his fury on us through nature. In Genesis 9:11 we read where God declares “Yes, I am confirming my covenant with you. Never again will floodwaters kill all living creatures; never again will a flood destroy the earth.”
He sets a rainbow in the sky as a reminder of his promise. 
 
But what if God’s will is to be inconvenienced? To remember what it’s like to not have every comfort? What if for today, a week, a month, His will is to remember him more than our plans?
Is this the painful best Lewis is talking about?
I don’t want to be burdened by a disruption of my life. I don’t want the aggravation, the burden of work of boarding up and cleaning up. I don’t want our neighbors to go through this mess.
Why is it in the hard times that we more quickly recognize God’s grace? The times that look dark to the point of not seeing are the times we reach out our hand searching for him.
As Lewis said, I’m not doubting God will do his best for us. I am fearful of how selfish it reveals my prayers to be.
Before the winds and rain, before the knowing if we’re in harm’s way, I’m looking for his promise of love. I’m searching for the rainbow.

faith hope