Christianity, Recovery, Relationships, Spirituality

Happy Birthday to…

My time on the porch was brief this morning. Texas weather has a lot to do with that. Yesterday, it was 80 degrees outside. This morning, we have the furnace going. Go figure. It didn’t freeze though, so the tomatoes are safe…

One of the blessings of the morning is seeing the first blooms of the heirloom roses in our backyard. The roses in front are “knock-out” roses. They bloom regularly, even during the warm spells that Texas winters are famous for. Unlike heirloom (or real) roses, they lack any rose scent. That’s why the one in the back is so important to me. It smells like a rose should smell. Damn cross-breeding and gene splicing! The blooms remind me that Spring is here despite the cold north wind: a reality I really enjoy…

Yesterday was Margaret’s birthday. I won’t share her age, that’s her business to share. Today is my oldest son’s birthday. He’s still under forty so I don’t feel so bad about telling you he’s thirty-seven today. I’m extremely proud of my children, and especially proud of him. The night he was born is crystal clear in my mind, and the subsequent years have left moments indelibly stamped in my memory

All of this got me thinking about “choice”: the one’s we make actively and the ones we make by default. I spent many years trying to meet up to other people’s expectations, whether it be from my family, my friends, or my peers. I lived life by default: others made my decisions for me. When my disease of addiction progressed, it made all my decisions. It controlled every waking moment; where I went, what I did, and how I did it. When I came into recovery I had no difficulty understanding that I had no control, no ability to manage my own life, and totally powerless over my ability to make my own choices in life. Talk about as state of hopelessness…

I don’t normally share publicly about recovery. It’s not a matter of “look at me now”. I prefer the anonymity of the twelve-step program I attend regularly although I have no more shame attached to my past. I made a conscious choice to be open about my failures in the hope they could benefit someone else. That’s what the God of my understanding called me to do. Sometimes the best lessons in life are what not to do…

Recovery gave me hope. It gave me the ability to make choices and decisions of my own free will: an ability God gave all of us (and we often surrender just as freely). It also gave me a path to an interactive relationship with God. Although I grew up in a religious (and loving) household, I never knew such a relationship was possible. I had some pretty conventional misinformation about God as a judgmental, detached deity that set impossible expectations for piety and religious service: one that comes from human constructs rather than divine reality.

Recovery was much like what I imagined the first century church to be like, because I found people who, for the most part, love God, love and help each other, and have a lot of fun together. I found community. The deeper I stepped into community and my relationship with my “Higher Power”, the more I began to understand the “Good News” I’d heard about growing up. It wasn’t so “good” back then. Today it’s a reality in my life. That reality dictates my decision-making process.

What I know today is that people make choices and act on their beliefs. “Show me how you act, and I’ll tell you what you believe”. That won’t come as a surprise to some folks, but it was earth-shattering for me. My definition of common sense has changed. Piety no longer has a place in my life but respect for myself and others does. Trying to meet unreasonable man-made expectations has been replaced by simply doing the “next right thing”: taking care of whatever’s in front of me to the best of my ability. The Zen proverb, “chop wood, carry water” makes perfect sense today.

In many ways, I’ve been blessed to have a religious background. It taught me a great moral and ethical code. It taught me to be kind and concerned for “the least of these”. Unfortunately, it also taught me to fear the very God they said, “was love”. Talk about some mixed messages. It’s somewhat of an irony that I discovered my relationship with God among the very people I was told to stay away from, the “least of these”. Go figure…

I’m not perfect by any means! But I’m comfortable with that today. My choices are far less fear-driven – how do I fix it? – and much more trust-based – how do we fix it? Once I believed that God had my back, my choices and behavior began to change. That was “Good News” to me. Simplicity has replaced complexity and over-thinking the difficulties that inevitably show up in life. Isolation has been replaced by a sense of belonging, by a sense of community.

We celebrated Margaret’s birthday over dinner last night. The celebration’s really been going on all week. Our house has been full of friends and family and by God’s grace, we’re fully present to enjoy it all. Some of you know exactly what I mean when I say that, “just for today”, I’m going to enjoy life, my family, and friends. My actions aren’t dictated by falsehoods and pretentious piety, but by believing God loves us all…

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