Tag: 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

 He sat quietly trying not to be seen 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, attend recovery meetings and meet with your sponsor – the things that keep you sober. So you miss an AA meeting because your job has left you worn. One becomes five when 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, many 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 been a soft-spoken man and this day perhaps softer as he said, “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! Thank YOU for knowing this is a safe place.
This story of redemption is one played on repeat. I confess my failures and sins one day and take them up again the next. I fall victim to gossip and pride because it’s hard out there when I stop following the program of following Jesus.

I’m scarcely different from these men who have couch surfed in crack houses or lost their business, their nursing license, their teaching positions, lost it all because of the disease of addiction.

The only difference is 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.

God stands before us with open arms saying ‘Welcome back’, again and again through his forgiveness and grace.

Thanks for having me back.

faith grace recovery

Some families are dancers with feet never touching the ground. They dance with words cutting wide circles around politics or problems. They smile and curtsy to others who are tripping on their own feet.

It’s okay. If you don’t say it it’s not happening. Just keep dancing to the song playing in your head, keep singing to the tune we’re playing.

***

It’s obvious he has a problem with alcohol but let’s never say it. Let’s not actually confront or intervene. They still have their job. They just don’t remember last weekend or the conversation with their son.

We might nod in agreement when someone uses the word relapse or raise our eyebrows as if in surprise. Really? I never noticed there was a problem.

***

You never smell the alcohol. You haven’t seen them touch a drink. She says she’s going through the change. Or maybe some kind of allergic reaction.

We can dance and twirl and sing and smile because as long as we’re playing this tune the song will never end.

There’s no dancing in recovery.

***

Our work is about naming the song. About learning new steps to new tunes that sing true words. Our work is about redemption. About reclaiming life.

We say you’re only as sick as your secrets. Ignoring the disease won’t bring healing.

You recognize the voices that are singing out of tune. We try to help them hear the pitch, to tune their ear to the words that are true. The counselors are vocal coaches really. We’ve all admitted we’re a bit tone deaf and we help one another find the pitch.

But there’s this tune the family has been singing for generations. The lyrics sing a happy song but the notes never seem to match. There’s always a clunker in the choir who’s offbeat and off key. The others try to fix it by singing louder hoping the volume will cover up their mistakes.

***

She’s trying, she really is. Him? His hearing has never been sharp. Sing louder and no one will notice. Maybe they can mouth the words and we’ll keep smiling. It’s our family song, after all.

***

A mama got tired of trying to sing the happy words. She came in with her 33-year old son who was fresh out of detox. Their voices carried pain and his seemed tinged with anger. There’d been a misunderstanding and the voices of both raised. A third part started bringing the crescendo down and then the rest for a breath. Everyone took a breath but the mama wasn’t letting hers out. She was afraid. The real song is terrifying. But it must be sung for healing to begin.

She hugged the counselor then grabbed me in her embrace while the tears couldn’t be contained. This song was a bit warbly. There were no words in this section, just the tender sound of tears.

***

I’m not sure what song their family has been singing. I’d guess it’s somewhat like the part in Bohemian Rhapsody where the two parts seem to be singing against each other.

Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?
No, we will not let you go!
(Let him go) No, we will not let you go
will not let you go

Only there are three parts being sung. The mama pleading to the drugs “will you let him go” and the son hearing the familiar refrain of heroin’s song “No, we will not let you go”.

It’s always the song of desperation that brings people to us. These are the songs of aching desire and fear of failing, again.

They are akin to the songs of King David as he wrote in his despair. His sins had found him. They had been named. There was no more hiding, no more dancing. Psalm 51:3 VOICE

There are songs of truth to be learned. There is a new rhythm in which to choreograph our steps. We sill sing and march and claim recovery found in truth. It is the only true recovery.

We will dance to the redemption song.

faith family hope recovery

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

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

Comfort is a word with a double edge.

We are urged to get out of our comfort zone and curb our indulgence in our comfort foods, the pint of Ben and Jerry’s we crave at the end of a hard day….not our best go-to.

Comfort is familiar. It is routine and known and safe.

It is also complacency and hiding and avoidance. When does the contentment that soothes your soul become bad?

Harder still is the answer. The answer for me isn’t the same for you. And it seems to change, starting with the disclaimer: it depends.

It’s not that comfort is bad, maybe it’s that we don’t always look for it in the best places. To be honest, I’d rather toss back a few almond M&M’s than recall a verse of scripture or inspiring quote. Comfort=easy=lazy=not real comfort

Most would say it’s about balance. The truth about balance is that it’s elusive. It’s not 50-50 as I’ve mistakenly believed. We grab our doses of ease when we can. We stay in our zone. We lap up conversation with a good friend because it tastes better than ice cream and is calorie free. Or maybe we share the conversation over the sweet comfort of ice cream or cookies or pie – yes pie…with ice cream!

While we’re at it, let’s put our favorite play list on in the background and talk about the last good book we read. Let’s laugh at our silly mistakes. Let’s get comfortable with the rhythms of life and let’s make space for grace, the truest comfort.

 

 

Five-Minute Friday grace

They are gathering for Saturday breakfast in the back area of Panera Bread. This group of 10 or so are dressed in their church clothes; men wearing ties and most of the women are in dresses.

Her hands were full as she held a plate in one hand and coffee in the other when another woman put her arms around her shoulders and whispered in her ear. The older woman nodded and said, with a resigned smile in her voice, “I’m just gonna let it hang”. I looked down to notice the lacy edge of her slip hanging below the hem of her dress.
How old do you have to get before you decide to just let it hang? To not be bothered with it or embarrassed by it? to loosen your grip? to let it go?
The only time I’ve stepped outside our house without makeup has been to walk to the mailbox. The one exception for early morning walks and even then I wear sunglasses.
I’ve had nightmares that I was someplace in shorts or a skirt only to notice I hadn’t shaved my legs. Nightmares!
I’m not going to stop shaving my legs or wearing mascara but maybe there are some things I need to let hang.
Things to not care so much about
How to load the dishwasher
Drivers that don’t get out of my way
Which lane is shorter/moving faster
Cellulite (it happens)
How many likes my photo gets on Instagram
The newest iPhone/car/eyeglasses….you get the idea
Getting older
Your turn. What’s on your list?
Summer has been the time of the year that calls out in its long days to slow down….relax….let it go. Now might be the best time to cultivate a new freedom.
Put the map away for a day or week and wander. And enjoy the wonder of creation.

grace

The phone call came from one of our truck drivers, a man who was a graduate of our program. A man with a long history of addiction.

“We heard a sound from a box behind store 7 (one of our Family Stores in our county). There’s a puppy in it. Can we keep him?”

 

We’ve heard the saying that a dog is man’s best friend. I grew up in an animal loving, particularly dog loving home. Daddy brought them home, mama took care of them.

I married a dog lover and we raised two children who are dog-lovers.

The friendship these loyal animals provide is unmistakable. They run to the door when they hear the sound of his car rounding the corner. They wait with wagging tail to greet him with paws and, sometimes, pee. Not on purpose, mind you. They’re just so excited they can’t hold it all in.

They cower at his scolding voice, sometimes sulking, only too ready to sidle up to him when he calls.

Dogs give unconditional love.

*Disclaimer: If you’re a cat lover, you can write about that. While we’ve had many different pets in my childhood home (including a couple of monkey’s and a raccoon) dogs were the mainstay and the ones I know most about.

We do, however, have a cat taken in by the men too. They named her Sally because she lives with them at the Salvation Army.

She mostly sleeps…
…and climbs into our worship table scenes.

Henry had been taking our dog to the office every day. This dog, a mutt from the pound, was the best tempered dog we’ve had. Ever. His looks were a cross between Marmaduke from the comics and a German Shephard. His temperament, all Marmaduke. He was big, with a scary, deep bark, but what he wanted most was to jump up and lick everyone. He could put his front paws on the shoulder of a 6 foot man and nearly look him in the eye. Then lick him all over his face.

Tripp quickly became an unofficial therapy dog.

Our friend Tripp
Training Noah

Now we had this tiny puppy and 100 men all eager to be his friend, trainer and feed him scraps they sneaked out of the dining room. This could be trouble.

We decided to bring the puppy home with us at night and on weekends and let our dog, with some help from us, train the new pup. We’d train the men at the same time.

The puppy was named Noah, because he lived at the ARC.

That was 8 years ago. Tripp lived to be 13 and we’ve been without his teeth chattering during thunder storms and his loving eyes for 2 years.

But there’s a new puppy to be Noah’s friend and for the men to love. Another dog found abandoned behind another store. Maybe people know we help the lost and just like many of our men, we took in this new puppy too.

She’s friendlier than Noah, mostly black with a tuft of white on her chest. She’s leggy and we think she must have some Lab in her. She’s been welcomed by Noah and Sally the cat, the staff and, most especially, our residents who need this kind of friend.

Her wagging tail will bring a spot of refreshment to their long day. She will play with them regardless of their background. She won’t discriminate in any way. When their days are hard, frustrating and defeat feels close, she’s there with her gentle spirit offering a welcoming paw.

We named her Grace.

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grace Salvation Army

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.

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family grace recovery Salvation Army