Monthly Archives: September 2011

Mirror Mirror On the Wall

No, this is not a post about my hair :) However, I have noticed the mirror at the hair salon seems very harsh. Is it just my salon or do you find that too? Our home mirror is far kinder. The edges are softer looking through this mirror. And then you walk into the light…YIKES!

in the mirror

It seems odd that I would find working around men in recovery to be like a mirror, exposing my flaws and imperfections. A mirror that show the image of a broken person in need of grace.

I never thought I’d see myself in the lives of addicts, alcoholics, homeless. No, no, I don’t look like that. I’ve never lacked for a roof over my head or a meal anytime I wanted. No, I don’t look like them at all.

I sit in bible study with them and hear them talk about knowing God’s purpose, uncertainty for some. One saying, “If there is a God…” and others saying “I can tell you there is.” Questions of where they’re going and the challenge of breaking the chains of their past. I listen because I am learning. From them.

The more I hear them, see them, walk among them, the more I see me. The dirt they once had on the outside I carry inside. Shame? Yes. Regret? Yes. Failure? Yes. Willful? Definitely.

One of the counselors said to me recently how unusual it is the empathy I have not sharing their disease. (More confirmation this is all God.) There is much I don’t understand and can’t relate to. But I’ve been lost and walking my course leading nowhere. I understand pain and sorrow. Those are the things I ache with them. The cause is different for everyone. The scars the same.

When I look through their mirror I am challenged to “clean up” the same as they are. There’s a Canton Spiritual they sing called “Clean Up What I Messed Up”. They sing it with such feeling because they’re singing about themselves.

“Clean up what I messed up, start my life over again…..I made up my mind I ain’t lying no more, ’cause a liar and cheater don’t make it through the door…gotta clean up what I messed up……”

The truth is we can never clean up our own lives. Only Jesus can rid us from the dark spots that threaten to eat our souls. Praise God he takes us just as we are.


Superheroes

Henry, Jeff and Richie

I have watched Jeff since we were appointed here in June of 2007. I’ve watched him because there is much to learn from him. His work ethic is admirable. His observations of the new men spot on. His seriousness about his recovery intense. These things are enough to make Jeff one of my heroes but he makes it even better by addressing me as “young lady”. A gentleman too!

Jeff with co-worker Richie and Marie

Did I say Jeff has a great smile? He was sharing that smile Monday as he opened an envelope to show us his GED. He’d earned it some time back but didn’t have the actual certificate. Someone told him how to go about getting it on the internet and he stood in the office beaming so brightly. I love that he would share this moment with us. I love that he has much to smile about.

Jeff on Alumni Sunday - 8 years clean and sober

Jeff teaches recovery through his actions. He is the dock supervisor which is where most of the new men are initially assigned. It’s physically demanding as the summers are hot, humid and long. None of this scares Jeff. With one eye on work and the other on the men he manages to be an example of how recovery is lived.

Earlier this year, Jeff and his co-worker Richie stepped out in faith for something they felt God leading them to do. They started a sober house. They found a place near the ARC, leased it, set their house rules and set about screening men to rent to. They plan to only rent to graduates of our program since they will have known these men. As they both work for the Salvation Army I can tell you these men don’t have the extra income to risk. What they do have is faith, incredible faith.

It’s no wonder I miss being in the company of these fine men when I’m away, as I have been lately. They bring to life God’s grace and mercy. They remind me miracles are all around.


Mama’s New “Home”


Mama and one of her sisters in mom’s new home

Many prayers have been said surrounding finding the right place to care for mom. Prayers for her adjustment, things to go smoothly, and that it would all work out. To be honest, my expectations were for her to have some resistance. Even the director confirmed this was normal. Most of the residents took several weeks to adjust to their new home. So while I prayed for something else, I really didn’t expect that would be the answer we got. Realism? Small faith?

It doesn’t matter which because this is about mom and the wonderful way God continues to write her new chapter. We’ve become joyful bystanders watching mom adjust comfortably to her new “home”.

Our fears were many. The voices of dissent even more. Aunts that said she didn’t need it. Cousins that asked why so far. Church friends concerned she wouldn’t get to church now because of the distance. Guilt burdening my sister and me.

I wonder what God must be thinking about all of us. Is he amused or sad? I expect he’s so use to our petty selfishness that he barely blinks at it. Rather he must be thinking if we just wait and see, again, his glory will be revealed. His graciousness will be given. His unfailing love given lavishly to his children. Even his doubting, weak children.

This move has turned out to be what mom needed all along. She is mingling with the residents, attending bible study, going to the weekly hymn sings and joining in the fellowship. I think she believes she’s at church all the time and that’s what she enjoys most. It’s what she remembers. When I asked her if she had children one time she answered, “yes, a lot.” I know she was talking about the youth programs she directed in church for so many years. These were her children.

The director of this facility is also an answer to prayer. Have I mentioned she’s a former Salvation Army officer? That’s got to be a God-thing. Joan can talk the ‘Army’ language to mom. Joan has given so much attention to helping mom’s adjustment go well. She has even gotten mom to play Uno with her a time or two.

Director of Sheffield Manor, Joan and mom on right

The day I met Joan I told her it was evident God has called her to this ministry at this time. No, this residence is not a “Christian” facility. God isn’t bound by the restrictions we place on him. But Joan is serving others, a clear call God has placed on her life.

Mama and granddaughter Jordan

Mom’s new living situation has been good for the whole family. The granddaughters are more comfortable around mom because mom seems more at ease. All I know is how good God is. How much he cares for us even when we think he’s forgotten. In the words of song writer John Mark McMillan:

“When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realise just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us all”


When Joy Seems Elusive

“…you can’t get to joy by making everything perfect. You can only get there by seeing in every imperfection all that’s joy.” Ann Voskamp

Memories

My soul does better when I’m around our community of broken, in the presence of my children, and when I read great writers. Ann Voskamp is one of those writers that speaks to the quiet and sometimes hidden places in me. You can find her writings at A Holy Experience. As I read this post her words on joy made that kind of deep connection with me. It made me think about the joy I’ve tried to describe and understand.

It’s important for me to draw the distinction between joy and happiness as I see there is a definite difference. It’s especially want the men in our program to know because happiness can be that seductive temptress that never delivers what is promised.

We seem so caught up in pursuing happiness, chasing things, titles, status. The temporary parts of life. That’s what happiness is, isn’t it? Temporary?

But joy…ah, joy, that thing that causes the apostle Paul to write to the Corinthians “our hearts ache. but we always have joy” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Later in the same book Paul says, “They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.”

And I read Ann’s words that joy doesn’t come from making everything perfect. But seeing joy in every imperfection.

Joy in a mom who no longer remembers her daughter? Joy watching a co-worker suffer with cancer? Joy in seeing relapse after relapse with one who just can’t find peace?

Yes, joy in the imperfection. Somewhere in the hurt, pain, somewhere we can find joy. Joy in knowing a Father who loves us in our brokeness. I need the joy. Darkness is too heavy and I need his joy to bring that sliver of light, of hope.

“Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy” Philippians 2:18


In the Company of Sinners

Greece 2003

Henry and I didn’t set out to minister to men in recovery. Eighteen years ago, we gave ourselves to full-time ministry in The Salvation Army. That was it. It was where we felt God was calling our family at that time. It is still where we believe God has called us. We had a fair idea of what would be involved. As much as one can without being in that exact place. We’d grown up in The Salvation Army with our parents being pastors in it and knew the basics. Especially the part about moving. That’s the big one.

God being God and all he radically altered our area of ministry seven years ago and placed us squarely in the midst of a population of men whose lives have become so messy they’ve ended up at The Salvation Army. Ironic in that we planned on ending up here and it was their last choice. Or only choice when you consider the other was on the street.

2010

I have become protective of this ministry in the way I am protective of my children. The funny thing is, I find myself protecting “it” from other Christians. From friends. From Salvation Army officers even.

Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m too sensitive about things. Maybe when I told someone about a mutual friend that had relapsed, maybe I took it too personally when she said “He’s an addict!” (As in, what did I expect?)

Maybe I was a bit touchy when a friend made the insinuation that attending a worship service with the men in our program was not church.

Yes, maybe it’s me.

In the words of basketball player Charles Barkley, “I may be wrong, but I doubt it.”

I understand that relapse is a part of the addiction. And so is sin part of redemption. I get that having a church service where the majority of attendees are there because it’s a requirement is not the norm. They live on the floor above the chapel. We don’t have a youth group or pancake breakfasts. Is that what makes it a church? Or maybe it’s the people who live like hell Monday through Saturday and put on their best face Sunday morning? Too harsh?

Yes, I am offended. I am protective of this group of misfits. But I’ve seen it from both sides. I’ve stood in the pulpit looking down to a small group of people with earnest hearts and a handful of rowdy children whose parents just wanted to get them out of the house on Sunday morning.

I’ve sat in the church council meetings where ridiculous things were discussed like paint colors. We’ve had congregants who made the hair on my neck stand on end at the sound of their voice and we’ve had some of the most wonderful caring and giving people.

Dec. 2010

I have learned about real church from these men called addicts, drunks, convicts, lost, lonely, angry. They have taught me about perseverance. About hardships I can’t fathom. About hope they haven’t lost.

I am in the company of sinners and there I have found home.


Music Sunday: Listening In

 

The room was filled with 50 or so Salvation Army officer’s. We were concluding several days of a bi-annual meeting. Gathered in a hotel meeting room the ensemble of musicians began playing. Honestly, does anything say Salvation Army more than music? (Well, other than our uniforms which we weren’t wearing at the time.)

We had just had brunch and hotel staff were busy clearing things away in the back of the room. Amy came to the microphone to sing a solo. Her mezzo voice began singing the familiar words, “…we are standing in His presence on holy ground.”

 

The uniformed hotel employee stopped when he heard the song. He seemed captivated as he stood quietly giving his complete attention to the soloist. It made me wonder…does he know the song? Maybe he doesn’t know God and these words are pulling his heart? Or he’s a church goer and has a rare moment on his job to join his heart in worship? I couldn’t stop watching him.

At the end of our meeting we closed with another song. A newer arrangement to the familiar hymn Trust and Obey. Again, the gentleman stopped and watched in quiet while the verses were sung. I must talk to him.

It was nothing so exciting as a wanderer finding Christ that day but as I commented on how he seemed to be caught up in the music, he smiled and said, “I’m a born again Christian”. He went on to tell me about his church and their choir. “God bless you” he called out as we left.

Music, that thing that is said to calm the savage beast is clearly the medium that crosses all bounds of religion, culture, race, gender. Music one of the finest of God’s creations giving us common ground and calls our hearts and ears to listen in.


Simply Saturday: the Hike

On the road to Mt. Lincoln near Colorado Springs. Sept. 2010

It’s been a year since our great outdoor adventure. It had been ten years since my brother and husband hiked Pikes Peak and two years since they hiked another ’14-er’, Mt. Democrat.

That last hike, in 2008, we were in Colorado for a conference and stayed an extra day so the two could make the hike. They left the hotel long before dawn to drive to the base where the hike would begin. My sister-in-law and I slept in for a lazy day of walking around Colorado Springs. That changed last year.

In 2008 my sister-in-law took up jogging and the guys talked us into joining their adventure. I was somewhat apprehensive but kept reminding myself it’s just walking. A lot. In very high altitude. Just walking. Having been somewhat consistent in my running I added some squats to help with the climb. I hoped. (Have I mentioned we live at 7 ft. above sea level?!)

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

The days before our hike had been pleasant with cool mornings and warm afternoons. There had been no snow on the peaks this summer, something considered rare. The forecast for our hike was looking good. We had walking sticks to help in the rough terrain and felt prepared. My brother and sister-in-law much more prepared than we seemed to be.

Still dark out, we began the drive to the base of Mt. Lincoln, our conquest for the day. The rental car indicated the temp was in the upper 30′s. No problem. We’ll make plenty of heat hiking up the rugged terrain.

Light began breaking and we stopped for an early breakfast and bathroom before reaching our starting point. The only place was a Subway in the back of a convenient store/gas station.

Ours was the second car in the parking area as we set out on our journey. Already the path was hard to distinguish as it was so rocky. About an hour into the hike it started. The fine, damp bits you know aren’t rain. Even this transplant Floridian remembers the feeling of sleet. Sleet that began to blanket the rocks and a wind so fierce we bent over when it gusted so we didn’t have to feel its force. My brother leading the line and my husband in back, we continued on. And up.

The dusting of snow starts to stick

The path is starting to disappear

The story gets a lot shorter because so did the hike. We found our way to the saddle of the mountain where the wind was gusting at least 50 mph, if not more. It was near white out conditions and my brother made the decision to turn around. Let me just say it was almost an “every man for themselves” as we all picked up our pace in our decent. This didn’t come without some falls as the rocks were now slick with moisture from the snow.

We can't see the summit

Wet and cold!

We reached the car, soaked from our legs down from the blowing snow, the first snow on the mountains for the summer. No need to thank us, really :)

As we drove back, we were all laughing and immediately reliving this hike that fell about 500 feet short of our goal. At one point, we were questioning our decision to even attempt this when my brother said “We don’t go on hikes. We go on adventures.” So true.

Now go create your adventure!


Open House

My Girls

It’s been a long, tiring week. The Salvation Army southeastern headquarters is in Atlanta. When we have to go there, as we did this week, we take advantage of our daughter living in Jacksonville, FL and stay over night with her. It’s a nice break in the ten-hour drive and a bonus to have some family time, no matter how brief it may be.

Last night was Open House at our granddaughter’s new preschool. What a delight to see her face light up as she sees her mommy walking up with us. The sparkle in those deep brown eyes and her brows arched in excitement. It’s enough to wash away the weariness of the too many meetings and too much sitting of the week.

In the classroom filled with children, parents and a few grandparents our granddaughter gets a bit overwhelmed. It becomes too much to take in for this almost 4-year old and the smile turns to tears. A distraction is needed and I crouch beside her, taking out my camera and say “What should I take a picture of?” Momentary success as the tears stop and she decides the pencils.

I’m quite pleased she chose those as I was wanting to take a picture of them. I’m becoming more and more challenged by pictures of the ordinary. She walks over to them and selects a pink pencil. This is the one I should take a picture of.

The pink one MayMay

For the moment we have won and quieted her restless soul. But just for a moment. Then the flurry of children takes her away. “Tell me the bird’s name, Christabel”, I say. She looks toward the cage and says “Cocoa” but even that hasn’t gotten her attention back.

I’ve been like that this week myself. Too many, too much. And I’ve not pulled myself away to look at the colored pencils or watch the bird. I’ve not allowed myself the fullness of the life around me of what God is giving me. Rather I’ve allowed the rush and hurry to steal away the beauty.

But not this moment. This moment is brought back the beauty in the  enveloping hug of my daughter and tenderness of her voice calming her little one. It’s like that when we feel ourselves in the too much of life. We can’t seem to stop and we need that calm, soothing voice. What a loving God that would choose to use my child to remind me of His beauty.  Of His grace.


It’s a Family Business

Sometimes we in the Salvation Army think we corner the market on many things and it being a “family business” is one of them. There’s a saying in the SA to be careful who you talk about because everyone is related. It’s true, the Salvation Army family tree has few branches.

Case in point, my brother is a Salvation Army officer. In fact, he is also an ARC officer. Last year they were appointed to Tampa, FL making it the first time we’ve lived in the same state since his ordination. His passion for this ministry is as deep as ours.

We are together this week at our officer’s councils. He was asked to share in one of our meetings about his experience at a special educational opportunity last year. We talk frequently and while he tells me a lot he hadn’t shared this with me. He said while he was at the International College for Officers last year, one of the leaders told him God had spoken to her heart that Paul is gifted at calling the prodigal’s home. My first thought on hearing this was, wow, what an awesome gift. That’s what we do and I’d never thought of it that way.

Paul went on to say he’d never thought of it that way either. Not put those words to it: “calling the prodigal home”. At the conclusion to Paul’s talk he shared about a few of the prodigals. I felt every word he said, understanding how his heart is impacted by what we encounter.

He told of a man who was raised by an aunt and uncle that never allowed him to live inside. They brought him to the Tampa ARC to “see if you can do something with him.” Paul said the man couldn’t look him in the eye when he first came there. He and his wife, Dawn, agree there are probably some mental challenges there but how could there not be when you’ve been raised with the family pets.

Today, a little over a year later, and this man is an active part of his church and sponsors others in recovery. He’s been hired by the ARC and counted as a vital part of their Center.

Another man had relapsed after loosing his spouse, child and one parent all in a single accident. This man, too, is enjoying many months of sobriety while working through his grief.

Debby, Dawn, Paul

My heart celebrates when I hear these stories. They don’t have to be my stories. Hearing another share in this joy of redemption stirs me too. Having it be my brother makes it even sweeter.


Not Me

One of our counselors tells about her many attempts at recovery. When she shared her story I connected to what she described.

Mary, an educated professional, was in eleven different programs before surrendering. She describes sitting in group meetings where each person shares part of their story. As Mary listened to the women in her group share, her mind was telling her, “You never did that.” “You weren’t like that.” Always, thoughts telling her how she was better. Her addiction hadn’t made her into “that“.

There was a familiarity about her words. Had I actually thought that? Have I watched another pour out their struggle only to think “at least I’m not like that”? Have I put another down because I don’t do “that”. Oh, I’m so much better because I answer emails within 24 hours or my house is tidy. When you listen closely to people sharing their truth it can be a convicting reality to you. And so much like Mary, as she was in and out of numerous treatment programs, went on her way. Her way. My way. Failing to surrender my self to God. I thought we Christians were better than that? Change my heart, O God.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.

–Reinhold Niebuhr


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,131 other followers

%d bloggers like this: