Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: What a year!

A year passes and you look back at all the things that have happened and sometimes it’s a regular passage of time with few changes or challenges other than coping with the change of the seasons and growing another year older. 

2015 was not one of those years.  I reflected on my year and my journey today and was brought to tears of joy and was shaken by the unbelievable experiences that I had in 2015.  As David Bowie sang,  CH- Ch-Ch-Ch Changes, (turn and face the strange)….. CH –CH- Changes just gonna have to be a different man. 

The most significant change in my life is that in March I decided to pursue and surrender to Christ to the point that I decided to stop drinking and go into recovery.  I know that sounds strange but that really is what happened.  Granted after attempting to quit drinking in the fall of 2014 on my own and failing, I entered into a pretty low period of regular drinking and hopelessness wondering why if I was a born again Christian for four years I was still caught up in this viscous Jekyll & Hyde cycle where I knew drunkenness and my faith didn’t compute.  I had reveled in the forgiveness I felt after being saved but I fell into sin in some ways worse than I ever did before I was a Christian.   Much to my shame, I used my forgiven status as license to sin.  So in late 2014 and earlier this year, I sort of hit rock bottom.  I hurt others, myself, and my relationship with Christ. It was at this point that I didn’t care what anyone thought about me or my reputation.  I reached the end of my rope and was all in for Christ. I was going to put down the lust of the flesh and pick up my cross and follow Him. 
So I initially went into recovery for religious reasons.  I didn’t have a problem. I could quit drinking.  I was giving it up for my relationship with Christ.    BRAVO!!!  

You see, that was sort of a cop out.  “I wasn’t like the rest of these drunks and addicts who ruined their lives.  I have a job, support my family, and even go to Bible College. I’m trying to get closer to Jesus. I’m really more of a social drinker but I am willing to lay that down for Christ. ”  

You see this is denial.  Although I had the illusion of control over my “bad habit”, I soon learned that I was in fact “powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing”.  I could hold out for a while; just have a few drinks and stop here and there but that TENDENCY to get good and drunk was coming sooner or later.  I had a million reasons to drink: holidays, weekends, to celebrate virtually anything, to reward myself, to blow off steam, to deal with stress, game’s on!, etc.   The TENDENCY loved these reasons. It was my recognizing the TENDENCY that made me able to admit that I was powerless over my addictions and compulsive behaviors and that because of this my life (although sometimes organized, systematized, and regulated) was unmanageable.   

So I came out. I announced to the world I was in recovery and amazing things happened. 

I saw the presence of the Holy Spirit at work right in front of my eyes one night at recovery.  We had been at it for a few weeks and an older gentleman in our group (“Stan” age 70ish) was showing up but wasn’t sure about all this Jesus stuff.  We were getting started in our small discussion group and just going over the first couple of principles.    Principle 2 is “Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and that He has the power to help me recover.”  Stan wasn’t so sure about this but he let me continue to read the next one.  Principle 3 is “Consciously, choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control”.  To which Stan, said he wasn’t there yet.  We said that we respected that and continued along.  In attendance was “Brian”, a stereotypical addict, tattooed, intense, ex-con in his early to mid-20’s.  Brian, although his father was reportedly a pastor, had aspirations of being a heavy metal musician but had spent his life in addiction and incarceration.  Everyone took turns sharing their struggles.  Brian was discussing his girlfriend and how she suffered because of him and how he loved her. At one point Brian lamented how he wanted to quit cigarettes but couldn’t do it.  He said “If Jesus could just reach through the veil and tell me to quit. I could do it. “Breaking group guidelines; old Stan says something to the effect of “Son… you just…  (At which point Stan sort of brings his hands together and pulls them away from each other in an opening gesture)… let go and let God.”   This seemingly tame gesture hits Brian hard and has me saying “Stan… that’s exactly what we were talking about in the principles!”  Whether or not my comment was heard is hard to say because the next thing you know “Brian” is out of his seat and standing in front of Stan and says “Stan, you say you don’t know whether or not God cares about you but I’m telling you HE does! And we are going to pray for you, and you are going to pray to ask Jesus into your life!”   Stan hesitates for a second but quickly pulls himself out of his chair and starts praying to ask Jesus into his life!  The guys rise, join hands, lay hands on Stan and pray. Brian starts praying in tongues.  I reach out and lay hold of Stan and pray.  Meanwhile the group leader, my sponsor and Spiritual mentor Bob Costello, is in the other room dealing with new comers.  He’s been working with Stan from the beginning and Stan gets saved while he’s in the other room!  Stan is in his 70s and was in a bad place in his life.  He grew up on a farm and the tales he told of his childhood described a struggling existence where joy and love were not expressed but that night in the basement of Rock Solid Church he knew the love of Christ!  He was washed clean by the Holy Spirit and he was in awe of the power that had come over him.    Stan was struggling financially at the time, in danger in losing his farm.  Since coming to Christ though, Stan is no longer in financial difficulty and has started a foundation to help veterans that are struggling to readjust to civilian life after combat deployment. 

Brian never returned to recovery after that night.  Ironically, Brian, the son of a pastor, was used by God to lead an old man to Christ, who upon being saved made it his mission to help young men who are struggling to adjust to society, like Brian. 

Stan and I finished the 16 week recovery program.  Stan went on to do his thing with his farm and the veterans.  I went on to be part of the leadership team when our recovery group, Celebrate Freedom, started up again in the fall.  Three weeks in to the program, I picked up my guitar and lead the group in worship.  Just two songs a week; but man to use my guitar (which I had only played in my basement, alone, and usually under the influence) to give glory to God for what He has done in my life is something I would have not believed 12 months ago. 

Our group is on hiatus for a while but when we start up again, My friend, Bill Hamm, and I will be doing the teaching each week.  

In May, I earned an Associate Degree in Applied Science in Telecommunications Technology from Hudson Community College completing a course of study that took five years, going to school one day a week through my employer. 

Also that month, I earned my Associate Degree in Biblical Studies from Vision Christian Bible College & Seminary, taking classes at night one day a week for the past two years at Rock Solid Church, Hudson NY.  I just completed my first semester of my junior year as I pursue a Bachelor Degree. 

This year also saw my physical body transformed.  I started reading Men’s Health magazine and started exercising every morning.  I get up at 3:30 am and exercise while listening to an R.C. Sproul teaching about God each day. After my work out, I pray thanking God for everything I have and the earnest intension to surrender my will for His will for my life.  I pray for friends, family, and the pastors that have crossed my path. I pray for the persecuted church, those suffer throughout the world for their faith in Christ. I then pray for the lost, for the Holy Spirit to convict them of their sin and to bring them to Christ for their salvation.   I then read the Bible.  I then read a couple of prayers out of 2 devotional books I have. Then it’s off to work. 

I know it sounds intense. I share this though because God wants our relationship with Him.  The way to build a relationship is to spend time and to put in effort.  More than once this year the prayers I have made in the morning have been answered in an amazing way. 
I started doing the physical work of a lineman and walking on my lunch breaks during the summer.  In autumn, I start to run.   On September 26, I ran in my first 5k.  I have since run in 11 more.   Through nutrition, exercise, and faith, I have built muscle and have seen changes in my physique.  I have lost 45 pounds this year and I continue to train to be healthy. 

I have had spiritual breakthroughs in my understanding of Christianity and my relationship with Christ that I didn’t think were possible.  It is my goal to glorify and serve the Lord with rest of my life.   I have committed myself to a missionary trip to Africa in February where I will perform humanitarian work and where I will spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I am not sure where God is taking me but after a year like this one I know it won’t be boring. 

I strongly encourage everyone who reads this to press in to your faith and surrender yourselves to Christ.  I wish everyone who reads this a very Happy New Year!  First Sober New Year for me in 25 years! God Bless You!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

MERRY CHRISTMAS 2015: I am certain

First and foremost, Merry Christmas to you my friends!  Anyone clicking on a link to read my blog, I honestly consider a friend.  In this, what is often, a cold and lonely world to know someone cares enough to listen to what you have to say is no small thing.  Even though we are all interconnected as human beings on this earth and we may be surrounded by friends and family, we may seldom speak about what we really feel or think.  So if you just stumbled upon this blog, are an old friend, or just want to see what I say next, thanks for checking in and I hope your Christmas was as peaceful and bright as mine was today. 

My last blog post was entitled uncertain times. I wanted to blog during the last 24 days since I last posted but I was surrounded by rumors and speculation of where I would be going and what I would be doing. If I had posted all my thoughts and anxiety during the last couple of weeks, you would have thought I was caught up in the heights of political intrigue or on the verge of a mental collapse. On the surface it was all business as usual but when you are going through a change it can cause you to worry and wonder.  Add to it the stress of preparing for Christmas, finishing classes for the semester, maintaining sobriety, and the pondering of questions of faith and purpose, and you can see where my mental dialogue may have been a little chatty and chaotic.   On the outside, I was all: “Whatever will be, will be.”  “It’ll be fine.”  

And you know what? It was fine. 

I now report to the Schenectady garage as a construction tech.  I took the truck I had been driving in Albany with me.   I am more suited for construction work so I am happy with this although I would have preferred to stay in Albany.  

So there you go. My employment situation spelled out in three simple sentences.  The content of those sentences could have been different but no matter what those sentences said about my job, I was going to have to be fine with them.  I get good pay and benefits. I have a family to help support and leaving the company doesn’t seem to be in the cards right now.  So whether it worked out to my liking or not, I was still going to have to go in.  That can be a distasteful reality to accept but even in my most paranoid and anxiety riddled moments, I was able to maintain my composure (never let ‘em see you sweat, right?) because of my study of the Bible and my relationship with Jesus Christ.   

During this time of contemplation, I grabbed hold of verses like:

Deuteronomy 31:6  “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”

Hebrews 13:5  “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.

Genesis 28:15 “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”

I constantly reminded myself that wherever I went God was going with me. I wasn’t alone and I never will be alone again.

At one point, I had received some less than favorable news about my reporting assignment, to which my colleagues were outraged by the news but were more perplexed by my seemingly docile acceptance of my less than favorable fate. They expected an emotional outburst of anger I think but as a Christian I have been taught:

That I am to be obedient to authority:

Hebrews 13:17  “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

That I am to be content:

Philippians 4:12 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

That I am to be slow to anger:

James 1:19-20 “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Like I said above, regardless of what decision was going to be made about my job, I was going to have to live with it.  So I didn’t get angry because, for all I knew, this “bad” report was the final report. I was going to have to be obedient and content with it so I thought it best to wait and see if this report would be final, knowing that it very well could be. 

Even in the midst of possibly an unfavorable outcome, I had some peace knowing that I would do my best and that God was with me.  To be honest though I did pray for a change in circumstance and things have seemed to work out fine. 

One thing I learned during this time is that there is not going to be a time when things aren’t uncertain. I figured I shouldn’t speculate about what maybe and to wait until a decision was made before I wrote. However, I realize now that as temporary beings on this earth we are not promised tomorrow and we don’t know what the next day brings.  To live in fear is not to live. A runner runs. A writer writes.  To change what you’re doing on a daily basis because of some distant “what if” is not being true to yourself. 
I really wanted to write during this period but didn’t want to give power to my anxiety by giving a voice to them.  However, what I should have done was voiced my fears and remedied them with the word of God. 
2 Timothy 1:7 “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Psalm 34:4 “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”

Psalm 56:3 “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.

So going forward, if I want to write I’m going to write. To be honest, it’s therapeutic.  It didn’t feel good to not tell my story.  You see because it’s not just my story anymore. I have the Holy Spirit living within me and my testimony is a testimony of the power, grace and love that I have come to know through my experience with Him.  When I fail to tell of what He has done for me, I am not giving the proper honor and glory that God deserves. 

Oh, first sober Christmas in 25 years is in the books! Sober for over 9 months. I exercise, pray, and read the Bible daily. This is all possible only through the power of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in my life. 

 I am moved to tears of joy in contemplation of all the Lord has done in my life and especially in consideration of the gift of our Savior, Jesus Christ, during this Christmas season.  I encourage all who read this to seek God and make Him a significant part of your life with honor and service.   



Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Uncertain Times -

Life is uncertain. Sure for the most part we know what is going to happen on a daily basis. We wake up, go to work, go home, eat an evening meal, relax, go to bed, and repeat.  However, at times, circumstances beyond our control change the game.  What you are doing tomorrow may not be the same as what you are doing today. 

In corporate America, the fourth quarter is time to reassess where you are and where you are going.  The last number on the calendar is going to change so it’s time to do something new.  A fresh new year means a fresh new start. It’s a great time to get better; a time to reorganize and possibly restructure.  In the overall scheme of things it is a simple change made on paper in the name of efficiency.  On the human level, people are redistributed.  For the vast majority of the work force nothing changes.  However for some it can be a whole new ball game. 

My department has been targeted for termination.  Don’t panic! We are just being reorganized.  Thank God I don’t have to worry about losing my job.  Say what you want but, Go UNION!   So that is good.  I am also pretty sure I will still be field technician in some capacity.  I am fully capable to do whatever I am called to do.  As the sole provider of my family, I have to be.  (To paraphrase an Oliver Stone quote “that’s why they call them “techs”; because a “tech” can take it, a “tech” can take anything.”) 

So in about a week I will be told where I am going.  I will have a new boss.  I may be doing the same job function, maybe not.  I maybe at the same garage, maybe not.  I’m pretty sure I’ll have the same truck, but possibly not.  So I am “sure” everything will be fine, possibly not. 

One aspect of these changes that is upsetting is that the cast of characters that I work with will change. After a few years together, you develop friendships and camaraderie that develops naturally from working together.  This isn’t the first time this has happened in my career and it is somewhat sad to have your path diverge from people you have spent a significant amount of time with.  You take these relationships for granted and at the whim of someone far removed from your situation, people are separated from your life.  I’m sure I’ll keep in touch, I’ll miss them, or maybe not…..   But regardless I’ll wish them well in their new situation. 

I also got some bad news on a personal front.  A friend in recovery has relapsed today.  Ironically, they were making significant progress and on the verge of a new situation themselves.  They were living with drugs and alcohol all around them in a lonely situation but they were resisting temptation.  They are due to move out there in a day or two and they fell from grace.  Moving is a stressful time?  Who knows? Maybe they thought that the drugs wouldn’t be around in the new situation and they had better get off while they could?  Maybe they thought they would have a going away party?  I am not condemning them. Recovery is not about perfection and relapse is a part of it as they say.  My friend is with their sponsor and I know they will give good advice and counseling. The fact that he confessed his relapse is a good sign I think. Hey we all make mistakes right?

I’m self-obsessed so my friend’s relapse makes me wonder if I’m doomed to failure.  The good news is “not today!” I joke about relapsing saying if I am going to fall it will be epic: multiple drugs, alcohol, & sex!  Scandalous! You know?  Like I have said before I am addicted to things that don’t exist, like a situation where that would happen and I would feel good about it.  You see, I have 25 years of experience of the lies of getting drunk or high and I now have some understanding that these things don’t make me happy and they cause more trouble than they are worth.  

Situations like my uncertain work future and my friend’s relapse make me glad that I have faith in Christ.  In the past, I would have turned to booze at least to say goodbye to another chapter of my career if not to bury my anxiety.  If I had been trying to stay sober in my own power, I would have probably felt utter hopelessness at my friend’s relapse and gotten wasted; failing on purpose just to avoid the inevitable by self-destructing.   

You see, my focus really is on my faith in Christ.  I don’t know what God’s plan is for my life.  Right now I’m trying to learn more about Him through prayer, through service, through meditation on His word, and by going to Bible College.  I look forward to my trip to Africa where I will surrender two weeks of my life in service to Him.  So I don’t know where I’m going to be working by the end of the year, I don’t know if my friend will back at recovery on Thursday, or if I will fail someday but I do know that where ever I go Christ goes with me and that has made all the difference. 

 This world has temporary remedies but the answer lies in the Truth, Jesus Christ.  I encourage all who read this to seek after God.  It can start with a simple prayer to ask Him to come into your life.
I know what suffering is. I know life is hard. I was so full of myself. I found peace by becoming empty for Christ. I made room for Him and He has shown me amazing things.  I wish you the all the best.