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.
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.
Some people just need to be heard. They need to be seen. They need a hot shower, a clean bed. They need hope. Fun doesn’t hurt either.
“But what is the use of preaching the Gospel to men whose whole attention is concentrated upon a mad, desperate struggle to keep themselves alive?” – William Booth, founder, The Salvation Army
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
I can’t narrow it down to one year but a series of years that began shortly before I turned twenty. Over the period of the next four years, I’d marry, have two babies and buy our first home. Change always seemed to be around the corner but change that brought joy and blessings. We were too young to know what we didn’t have but old enough to know we were blessed. I’d have to say those were the best years.
Jack said this year was the best year of his life. The year he lived at the Salvation Army. That’s his best year. My mind has to let that settle as I can’t come close to imagining that. To think my best year would include walking into a place alone because there was nowhere else to go. Sharing a dorm room with nine other strangers and a shower room with no curtains or doors.
That’s the best year of his life.
He said it with enthusiasm. Jack is always thankful in that way that rings true. I don’t know much about his life before he walked through our doors at 1901 W. Broward Blvd. I only know no one comes here because they’ve heard we have Celebrate Recovery or because Friday night Bingo is on their bucket list. I never knew if he’d settle down when he first got here. He’s a younger man, a bit jumpy and you hope he won’t jump right out before his mind clears.
But he did. He stayed. He went to his meetings, he performed his work therapy assignments, participated in group sessions and did everything required of him. What we can’t require is for the men to take it to heart. We can’t make them change their thinking or find purpose. Those they have to do on their own. Jack did.
The best year of his life has been in a tired building with leaks, signing in and out when he leaves, and having to blow into a breathalyzer when he comes and goes. The random U/A tests, eating what’s served in the kitchen or go without and a curfew. He has to ask permission to have an overnight pass. But this has been the best year of his life. Not a good year. The best year.
He found more than comfortable living can offer. He’s found sobriety, peace, and purpose. He’s found redemption. He’s found a home.
“And now I have it all—and keep getting more! …You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus. Our God and Father abounds in glory that just pours out into eternity. Yes.” Philippians 4:18-20
Every Sunday we are meeting across the country with residents of our ARC programs. We gather to worship in song and words. There will be a prepared message but often the real message comes from the men.
The church word is testimonies. Sometimes we just call it sharing.
It’s a little more real in our setting than it is in the traditional church. There is no need to pretend or dress up our words. When you’re living at The Salvation Army that tells its own story.
My sister-in-law tweets the words from their time of sharing. From in the large chapel in Dallas, TX, she listens and shares bits of their redemption stories.
“Grateful God is a restorer of broken hearts. Lost my wife 2 yrs ago. Grief owned me. I’m learning to see beyond my grief.”
“Recovery is not for those who want it. It is for those who work it. Recovery takes God, the Steps & hard work.”
“Returning here after a relapse that cost me everything I applied the principles & gave myself to God. He blesses.”
“10 years ago I entered this program. 7 1/2 years later I relapsed. What do I know? No God & no program means no recovery.”
Need more encouragement? Check out the hashtag #ARCtestimony on Twitter. You’ll be praising with us God’s redemptive grace.
Tuesday night is our Celebrate Recovery meeting. We start with an hour of singing and either a lesson or someone sharing their story. The lessons are the 8 CR principles which correspond to the 12 steps. It’s usually my time with the guys. I try to have some short videos playing before the meeting starts. It gets them in the chapel sooner because often the videos are humorous and we all need to laugh.
This week I pulled out the song we used as our theme song of the weekend when we had our annual camp retreat. The song, appropriately titled: I AM FREE.
The men, already on their feet, were into it from the beginning. Singing out, jumping up on the line “I Am Free to Dance” and then Felix happened.
“CRACK” “ALCOHOL” “SISTER-GIRL” “ANGER” “FEAR”
Their voices on top of each other. Not done yet, Felix, in sports-huddle style began hollering into the crowd. Again, I couldn’t make out the words as he turned to face the room, arm piercing the air as if he’s leading an army. He calls out, the men respond. Back and forth this goes until we all begin singing the chorus I Am Free.
I was taught you sing one of those “just above a whisper” songs to lead into prayer. Not tonight. Not tonight. This is in your face recovery and time for some big loud prayers. O.k. the prayer wasn’t that loud but the energy surrounding it was huge.
After the meeting was over Felix came and apologized. Apology? For what? This is church, your church. This is an expression of worship and praise. Not an imitation but pure.
Just what God wants from us. The pure, honest expression of praise. It doesn’t have to be loud, sung or spoken aloud. Just true. And offered to Him because He is.
You’ve heard deaths from drug overdose are rising at alarming rates. These are our statistics. This is our county.
The sad reality of recovery is that even those who’ve experienced a year or more of sobriety relapse and sometimes, it’s fatal.
*Scott finished the program and left on his own. He came back earlier this year when a good friend of his, another graduate, was beaten to death in an alley known for drug deals and use.
*Roger came back for his third time. He had done well. He’d kept the same job over a year. But he’d left the principles of recovery and, as so many do, was doing it on his own. Then he and his girlfriend overdosed. He was resuscitated with Narcon but she couldn’t be revived.
Last year we noticed the rise in fatal overdoses from men who’d been in our program. The recovery community is close and word spreads quickly about relapses and ODs.
As the year came to a close we printed photos of those lost to addiction and put it on the Christmas tree in our chapel. It was a time of deep sorrow looking at the faces of men, some barely 30, lost to what many don’t see as a disease.
Earlier this year we attended Mike’s funeral. He was several years in recovery. Mike counted being part of his grandchildren’s life as one of his greatest gifts of recovery. He was in his late 50’s at the time of his death, a death contributed to from what is commonly referred to as wet brain. It’s a type of dementia caused by long-term alcoholism. The medical name is Wernicke-Korsakoff.
Whether it’s long-term or immediate death from substance abuse, friends, and family are left to mourn their loss.
There’s a David Crowder song that makes me think of Pat. And it’s hard to get Alex’s dimples out of my mind. Some days I forget we won’t see them again. But the sting of death returns and my smile turns sour. Too young. Too soon. Too sad.
It’s tempting to think about the maybes and what ifs. If we’d kept him on restriction or maybe we missed something.
We could never continue in this ministry if we allowed those false thoughts to take space in our minds. Each person is responsible for their own recovery.
Good love has boundaries. But it’s grace is without limits. Perfect love, God’s love,
Perfect love, God’s love, is beyond our understanding. It’s a love that never fails.
“I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” Romans 8:38-30 the Message