Tag: God’s grace

There have been times this month that I wondered if I had one more story to tell. It was a fleeting thought because every day I look into the faces of Johnny, Blair, Chris, Matt, Jason, Jeff, David, Robert, the Steves, and Mikes, and Joe’s. There’s JoJo who never got one swing for the Mets, the team that drafted him before he injured his arm and eventually lost his teaching career at the grip of addiction.

Or Armstead who carried the label “black sheep” of his family. How did his alcoholism fit with his college grad siblings working their professional jobs? Today he holds a blue-collar job but his fleece has been made clean by God’s redemptive grace. He’s welcome at family reunions again.

Whether I look in our counseling wing, administrative office, warehouse, stores, kitchen, truck drivers, I will see faces of redemption.

The challenges some have overcome are nothing short of miraculous. How can one not see the hand of God when their lives have been touched by it?

There are the faces we see when they’re coming back to worship with us or as sponsors or to lead a group or chair a meeting. There’s Curtis, Alfredo, Jason, Jack, Joe and Richard and Dodd whose life wasn’t changed through our program but is no less a redemption story.

They are talented and brilliant. They are, as the old hymn says, once lost but now found.

 

But those aren’t the only stories of redemption. Most of our stories aren’t grand, they aren’t what miracles are made of except that God’s hand has made each of one of us a miracle.

There is a list of women’s names who are signs of God’s redemption. They haven’t come through the doors of our Center but their souls have been changed and their lives marked as God’s own.

Phylis and Joan, Betsy, Crystal, Ruth, Dawn, Beki, Janice, and Lisa….and more, so many more who share the light of Christ in a world stumbling in darkness. They are singing redemptions song. My life is touched by theirs and our awkward notes work to sing the song of hope.

Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble[a]
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

Psalm 107:1-3 ESV

We tell our stories to give thanks to our Redeemer. We tell them to speak light in a dark world. Because our redemption shows it’s available to everyone.

We tell them to speak light in a dark world. Because our redemption stories prove it’s available to everyone.

faith hope

There are some people you’re drawn to. You don’t always know why and I couldn’t tell you even now what it was about Mike that drew me. He’s not musical or with any other special talent. He’s not the outgoing sort. He was quiet but not introverted and I figured he was around my age.

It was Mike’s 4th time in our program. It was easy to welcome him back because there was something that gave me more hope.

I suppose part of what drew me to Mike is that he’s local. He grew up here and while I’m a transplant like most residents, this is more home to me than any other place. Mike graduated from my high school’s rival. We know the city and where things use to be. We talk the local language and he laughs at my silliness.

Mike had the God part down. He grew up in church and having a belief in Jesus wasn’t his problem. Alcohol and drugs were. He had prayed, his family had prayed, for deliverance from this addiction.

This time, Mike determined to do things differently. He was going to take suggestions and get a sponsor that was more than a name to tell his counselor.

When he shares his story he talks about looking for a sponsor. He figured the man would be a lot like him. African American. Mid 50’s. Christian. That didn’t work out too well.

Who eventually became Mike’s sponsor is a short, white man nearing 70. He was college educated and retired from a high-level government job. I call them the Odd Couple.

While Mike was still in the program, *Dale would come and meet with Mike in the dining room weekly. Four years later, they are still meeting every week in the dining room.

Mike moved out long ago and has been driving a truck for us since graduating. He goes with his sponsor to AA meetings, sometimes chairing the meetings. He’s at his church every Sunday and with us for special events.

You can count on seeing this odd couple every month at our Sobriety Awards dinner. You can also count on seeing them roar in laughter about anything and everything.

Mike knew God’s redemption from sin many years ago. In his addiction, he took his will back and until he surrendered to God’s will his story was incomplete.

Like many others, life isn’t problem-free in sobriety. Like redemption, sobriety brings peace. The combination of both is priceless.

recovery Salvation Army

I don’t know Margaret’s story. I only know her critical spirit matched with a voice like a sharp-edged knife could make my shoulders scrunch with tension.

It was our first pastorate. We were not what she expected. Their congregation of retired pastors and long-time members were entitled to more. She took it upon herself to let us know.

Margaret let us know plenty in the two years we were there. She and her husband invited us to dinner at their house. It was a simple meal meant to provide our need for food. No more, no less. This would be an indicator of Margaret’s way of life. No fluff, no need for compliments, just clear and direct.

Most Sundays she inspected me. She’d put her hands on my shoulders squaring me with her as she flattened my color or smoothed my lapels.

She marched into my office one day informing me our son had given her a real scare. He was crossing the street as she was parking their car. He hit the front of her car with his hand intending to make her think she’d hit him. He succeeded. More than startled, she was, let’s just say, not happy.

I listened, nodded yes in agreement that wasn’t appropriate behavior but inside, I was smiling. I could only think how she couldn’t see what everyone saw: she was an old biddy!

Margaret was a talented pianist. Hum any song in her ear and she’d pick it up and play along. Lead a hymn that is noticeably high for your range and Margaret magically lowered it to just the right key. No fuss. No need to tell her what a talent this was. She could have been the originator of the expression “it is what it is”.

She and her husband were faithful in attendance and giving. They gave of their time, talents and finances.

Whatever her hard edges were, Margaret was no stranger to redemption. While her rough exterior was evident, so was her desire to serve. She held her faith in Jesus dear. It just didn’t look the same way in her life.

Familiarity is comfortable. Even in redemption. We question the different, the unfamiliar. We question practices and which Bible translation is the “right” one. But His grace fits all. God’s grace isn’t limited to color, gender, geography or talents. Redemption is given to all who believe and accept Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

 

faith grace 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

When my brother and I were kids, May 1st was when we were allowed to go barefoot. I don’t know what it was that my brother liked about going barefoot through the cool, damp grass but he would peck at dad with his questioning of ‘when?’ like a hen pecks at the dirt.  Daddy’s answer was always the same: May 1st. I think if we’d had a freak snow storm on May 1st he still would have said it and my little brother would have kicked off his shoes to run barefoot through the snow.

May was my birthday closely followed by Mother’s Day, closing out with granny’s birthday. Later my sister would join the May celebrations with her birthday being in the middle.
Last year, we added an ending to May as our mama was delivered from her earthly body and, we believe, restored whole in her eternal home with Jesus. It was sad and relieving all at once.
This was the first year we haven’t given her a Mother’s Day card. It was pointless the last 5 years or so as she couldn’t put together who we were or how we were connected. But I’d find a card and sign it “your daughter” and send it on its way. Another memory for to hold.

1982

home fades

My trips to fly across country have been to see mama. My sister lived next door with her three kids and there are bunches of cousins and their families who I’ve never lived around and can’t keep track of whose kids are whose half the time.
This year I’m flying out to see Lisa. The sister who’s more than a dozen years younger than me. The one who stands out with her big blue eyes next to my brown ones. The one who’s never lived in Florida and I’ve never lived in Washington but somehow we formed this bond and are more alike than we could have believed.
I didn’t realize the dates I was looking at would have me away mother’s day but our kids can call me anywhere. It seems right to be with her this year. It seems right to be there where we were a year ago, the whole lot of us gathered around a hole dug deep through the green sod as we held hands saying a last goodbye.
*****
I’ve come and gone and parts were harder than I expected. I go numb when I’m at her house. Not numb exactly but a large part of me is closed off. It’s not my house, routine, food or weather. It’s all different. Not bad but foreign and I’m the visitor. I try shutting off from the differences. How can we think so much alike and be so different?
I questioned if I was being present. Was I allowing myself to be there, to listen and be part of family. I feel the distance between her kids and me and the cousins I’ve rarely seen. It’s hard to be present in the distance. I did my best and it seemed right. It’s like being a dinner guest when only one person speaks your language. You don’t understand much of what’s going on but you’re glad to be there for this moment. Each time you’re there you pick up a few more words. These visits won’t be many but that’s okay too. We’re living our lives where we are. Each of us trying to follow a calling of service to others, hoping to create space for grace.
 Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish!
Ephesians 2:8 Message

faith family grace

John bends down to encircle me in a big hug as he calls me mom. Rob walks by me in the hall with his big smile as he calls out, “Hi, mom”. Both are at least in their mid 50’s which makes us all giggle at their audacity to call me mom.

It’s such a precious thing to hear this word. For Adam it’s momma and Steve calls me mom #2. Most of them think this is silliness I guess or they recognize they’re just too old to call me that. More and more of them are younger than our children and that is a good/bad thing.
In our counselors meeting I hear the words abandonment, abused, and traumatic used too often in describing backgrounds of some of our residents. This is’t the cause of addiction but with too many it was the reason they were searching for something to numb themselves of the pain.

My husband says he had a Leave It To Beaver childhood and I think he was mostly right. They had their tragedies too when the middle boy was killed in an accident at home at 6 years old. My in-laws were wonderful people but we’re all flawed because we’re people. The best of the best isn’t perfect. So we don’t try to be.
Jerry says “Hello family” as he stands to share a word of gratitude. To some it’s words to others this group of addicts and screw-up’s is the best family they’ve had. It’s definitely one of the truest they’ve had.
This year was the first Mother’s Day I wasn’t there to celebrate with them. It’s a hard one for me to program given the diversity of their experiences. This year I needed to be with my sister and even 3000 miles away several of the men sent me messages on social media wishing me a happy Mother’s Day.
When I got back, there was an orchid on my desk with a card signed “from your illegitimate and legitimate sons”. I had to laugh.
A week after Mother’s Day, Lynn stood up to share in our chapel service. He barely had three words out of his mouth when he suddenly went silent, then garbled out a few words as tears dropped on his cheeks as he thanked God for his mom seeing him sober this year. The men clapped and I teared up and again God spoke to me about his grace.
There’s a verse in Hebrews that talks about a cloud of witnesses. The visual imagery of this is what takes hold in my mind as I picture Granny, mama, grandma, my in-law’s, heroes of the faith like Martin Luther and William and Evangeline Booth, Keith Green….so many. And now, I picture not only those whose lives have been documented by their good works, but I know one day the cloud of witnesses surrounding me will be a motley crew of crack addicts and alcoholics. Those who were caught in the spiral of opiate addiction and saved by the grace of God through the simple hands of his servants.
This is the best family. A broken and hurting family who’ve been brought together in search of healing. God accepts us through his unconditional love and is restoring us through his grace.

SaveSave

family grace recovery Salvation Army

He sat in all humility, my guess is he wanted to disappear completely, but he had to come back. He had to try again to get this thing called recovery. He had a piece of it but it’s hard outside our walls. It’s hard to work your job, go to school and get in those recovery meetings and meet with your sponsor, the things that keep you alive. So you miss an AA meeting because your job has left you worn. Then another and another and no one is requiring a signed slip like when you were in the ARC. You don’t have a required group to attend where the tools of recovery will be reinforced. You aren’t surrounded by 99 other men and the staff supporting and pulling for you.

You’re out there. On your own.

And sometimes it’s too much.

“Welcome back”, I said as I saw him sitting in the chair outside the Intake office. He’s always a soft-spoken man and this day perhaps softer as he said, “thanks for having me back.”

Thanks for having me back? Really? As if we wouldn’t or as if we aren’t the ones grateful you chose to come back and regain order and sobriety and peace. Thank you! YOU for knowing this is a safe place.

His words have been playing in my head as I think of the times I’ve left. I know I’m the same kind of different as these men. The ones who have couch-surfed in crack houses or lost their business, their nursing license, their teaching positions; the one who have lost it all because of the disease of addiction.

We have a program too, we followers of Jesus. Because it’s hard out there. Out there where we so easily fall victim to greed and gossip, or envy and apathy. I’m only different in that my failures have been kept quiet. It’s like that for most of us. The envy, hate or whatever it is that haunts us makes us no different. Just more presentable. Not to God but to each other.

Still, God loves me. His forgiveness and grace are free and unending. His love, unconditional.

Thanks for having me back.

This is edited from the original post published in 2012.

faith grace hope recovery Salvation Army

 

people kneeling

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.

Monday – Friday my husband starts early with the house of 90 – 100 men living in this residential center. He tells a few jokes and they vote thumbs up or down, or a hearty laugh at some and groans at others. Announcements are made, new folks welcomed, prayers are said.

Five days a week they start this way, these men who had no place left. Some will leave after they’ve had a few weeks of good meals and a good sleep in a real bed. They’ll believe the lie in their mind that they’re better now and this time will be different out there. Or that they have one more run left in them.

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 twelve years of working with folks in recovery. I believe it happens, just 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. Occasionally one will need to make change from the offering plate and we wait and smile at their generosity.

Another will read the selected scripture for the morning. It’s as if I 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 was one dimensional, 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!” I can be thick that way.

When we have a time of sharing I hear them 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 is growing.”

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

From not seeing past the sign the panhandler holds.

They are delivering me from despair to hope.

I’m honored to be over at the Mudroom today but their site has been experiencing technical difficulties. Please visit them  here 

faith hope recovery Salvation Army

Sally cat

Phylis wouldn’t stop at one question. There would be follow up after follow up, her interest in people was astounding. I don’t remember her specific questions but I know she knows all about my life and I know a lot about hers.

We met when she was our children’s fifth grade teacher. Curiosity and teaching are the perfect blend. How does one teach without first asking questions?

Our friendship developed and has continued over years and moves, through life changes and grief, both hers and mine. We never stopped asking each other the simple questions about life.

I’m not a dreamer, you see. It’s far too impractical and risky. Dreaming isn’t safe. Dreaming follows curiosity so I’ve never fancied myself a curious person either. Only curious in the way a mama wants to know why her four-year-old son suddenly got quiet. Or why she hasn’t heard his teenaged self come home yet. Some might be so bold as to call that nosy. I call it good parenting.

There’s the curious and the nosy with me falling in the latter category. Who, what, where and why are what I want to know. The answers to those aren’t always what I want to hear but fear doesn’t make me shy away from asking.

Don’t fret, the story continues over at Cara Meredith’s where I’m guest posting today. Won’t you hop over and join me at Cara’s?

faith

There are some who would say men don’t cry. Not real men. He didn’t make a sound but I saw his tear-streaked face. I saw the lines of grace, mercy and love in the faint lines glistening against his dark skin. He didn’t try to hide or wipe them away. I suppose he was proud of those tears. I hope he was.

Chris D prayer

I have this love/hate thing with my tears. They tend to come unbidden and when I try to fight them back it’s just an ugly scene.

Tears weren’t welcome in my home. I learned that early on. That lesson will stay with you and when you’re a grown woman trying to choke back the tears at tender things because you’re not suppose to cry, yeah, that’s not healthy. It’s taken me a lot of years to learn my tears are okay and even right at times. But, I’d rather control them instead of them controlling me.

prayer square

This man is in his 50’s and I wonder if he’d been told “big boys don’t cry”? If he had, he knew that wasn’t right and what he was searching for was right because he was searching for love.

Tears have come in my searching, searching for time lost with a parent taken unexpectedly. Tears of grief for loss of place, of home and family; tears of celebration and tears of lament have taken me by surprise and left me without words. Except that tears are a language of their own.

The story in my mind of this man’s tears were a story searching for love. A love he’d had all along but maybe a love he couldn’t believe existed. You know that story don’t you?

Intellectually, you know God loves you. He has to love you because He’s God. Sort of like our spouse and those hard times when we say, “I love you, but I don’t like you much right now.” So maybe we think God is like that. He loves us because he has to. But we aren’t loveable, are we?

What’s lovable? A newborn baby with their innocence and tiny fingers that curl around yours? A puppy? They’re without guile and just as innocent and cuddly as the newborn.

Am I lovable if I have all the right answers, look right and know the right people? Or will going to church and leading a small group make me lovable? Maybe if I like everything you like?

What’s your idea of lovable?

God seems to have this crazy idea that we’re all lovable. The sinner and the saint. The lost and the found, the blind and those with eyes to see and hearts to believe. All of us, the anorexic and the bingers, the addicts and the compulsives, the faithful and unfaithful are loved by God because God is love.

prayer

When there's no room left at the alter they come on the stage.

The story I believe is that Earl found that love on Sunday. When the preacher told us we can begin again Earl wanted that so he walked his tall self down the church aisle right to the front of the chapel and knelt his body all the way down, his head bent over as he leaned on that altar rail and opened up his heart to God’s love.

That’s where Earl found grace. I saw it in the tear stains on his cheeks. And love found him. God’s love claimed him and those tears weren’t just his, as mine joined with his in this great love called grace.

Linking up with Holley Gerth and Coffee for Your Heart

faith hope