Matthew remembers it well. Jesus had just finished the Sermon on the Mount and was headed into Capernaum. Probably not a long walk but an eventful one all the same. Along that dusty trail sat a man living out a death sentence. This story is recounted in three of the Gospels (Matthew 8, Mark 1, Luke 5), none of them give details about this man except that he was a leper. It was the untreatable condition and thought by most to be a judgement from God on a person. It starts off as a small, harmless looking, rash and slowly spreads over the entire body. Causing open running sores, nerve damage, muscle loss and ultimately death. This was the man’s future; the only possible outcome. But he had heard stories about Jesus.
Read the tail end of Matthew Chapter 4 (verses 23 – 25). Jesus was going all over the region healing everyone and anyone brought to Him. He must be asking himself: “Why doesn’t He come to me?”. “Doesn’t He know the condition I’m in?” “Maybe it is a curse from God.” Perhaps that’s why he phrased the question the way he did. And then the man hears that Jesus is close by, teaching on a nearby mount. Capernaum is surely His next stop and he readies himself to have an audience with Jesus.
Matthew says the encounter happened “suddenly” (NLT) and it must have seemed that way to him and the others. But both Jesus and the man knew well ahead of time that it was going to happen. Matthew makes note that the leper approached Jesus. The law required that the man move well off the path when someone approached. It also specified the warning that must be shouted for all to hear “unclean!, unclean!” Yet the man did neither. He wasn’t letting Jesus pass him by so he hobbled up to him, oozing sores, atrophying muscles and knelt or as some versions say “fell” at Jesus feet. And then comes the question. “If you are willing, you can make me well”
Notice that the question isn’t can Jesus heal; it is “are you willing to”. The man had heard of His ability to heal and believed it to be true and therefore the only question he had for Jesus is not can you help but are you willing to? It’s a common question. I work a lot with addicts and alcoholics. Earthly knowledge is that addiction is an incurable disease. It may have started off small, even hamrless, but for many it grew into a life eating issue that slowly consumed them. And secular reasoning is that this disease is incurable and the best you can do is abstain and go sit in a meeting at least once a day with others who have this disease and complain. This man was living an eerily similar life. He was tired of hanging around with other lepers all day waiting for the inevitable so he asked what so many others have. And his question is one I’ve heard literally 100 times in my seven years. I cannot think of one time that I was asked “Can God heal me?” No every time it has been “Do you think He’s willing to heal me?” The crowd following stopped; the disciples stopped and every eye went to Jesus because we’ve all had the question run through our minds as well. And everyone breathlessly waits for the answer.
Verse 3 is forever etched into my brain and I hope it takes such a place in yours too, “He stretched out His hand and touched him”. God reaching down to comfort a man; being moved with compassion for someone like him; God being love.
Everyone else must have sucked in their breath. Touching a leper made you unclean. Jesus then says “I AM willing!!!” The Bible gives us many I AM statements like I AM the God who heals, I AM the God who saves and now we can add to them I AM the God that is willing. And poof the leprosy is no more. One minute he was incurable, the next he is healed! Can you imagine the relief that flooded him when he first felt “normal” again? It’s a feeling that some of us do know. Because like him, we too have gone from incurable to healed in the blink of an eye. But before we get too far along we need to address Jesus. Did you notice that there was no problem because He made the unclean, clean. And He’ll do it for you and I like He did for this man. Jesus then tells him to “go and show himself to the Priests; bring the correct sacrifice and be a testimony for them”. Jesus immediately puts him to work as an ambassador of His healing power. My Jesus will do the same for you as well. You need no fancy degree or official title to be a testimony. You already have all you need, your story. The story of when Jesus reached out to you.
It is probably apparent by now that I’m not a fan of the “addiction is a disease” concept. If it wasn’t before, let me tell you, I am not! I offer my life as a testimony that what man said was incurable; God healed! When I asked “Are you willing?” My God replied I AM willing! And my life has not been the same since. How could it? God made unclean Thom, clean and I must go and be a testimony for Him. Think I’m a fluke? I can introduce you to hundreds of others who asked and received the same answer. Yes, my God can. Yes, my God heals. And yes, my God is willing!
I often hear someone say, “when I get to heaven I’m asking Jesus about…” And I always think “no… no you won’t”. Every person who met an Angel in the Bible fell to their knees and that’s from meeting a creature who was in the presence of God. If second hand glory does that, you won’t be able to speak in first hand presence! The gospels record numerous times Jesus spoke with large crowds, measuring in the thousands. But the gospels also share several incidents when Jesus spent time alone with someone, one on one. I am especially drawn to those incidents. Just imagine Jesus, knowing full well the limited time He had on earth and choosing to spend some with a single person.
John 4 – The Samaritan Woman - “Who is right?”
John 4:4 records “Now He HAD to go through Samaria”. Although the most direct route between Judea and Galilee, it was through an area considered unclean by the Jews. Their reason for declaring it thus was because of those who lived there. Blood relatives who followed a similar yet different religion made them unclean in the eyes of good Jewish people. I’m sure the Disciples tried to talk Jesus out of going. Surely the longer, more traditional way would be best. But Jesus insisted that He HAD to go; evidently without acceptable explanation. So off they went. Arriving at about the halfway point just before noon the Disciples went into town to purchase lunch. Jesus decided to wait at the well. The Disciples no doubt passed her on their way in. A single lady coming out of town along the only path between it and the well, they must have passed each other. And yet neither spoke, neither acknowledged the other. Then she comes to the well where sits Jesus. The lady didn’t notice anything remarkable about him. She only saw the exterior which was clearly Jewish and then comes his question. “Can I have some water?” Seems simple enough on the surface but the feud and bitterness in this relative dispute has been simmering for years. So instead of kindness she senses weakness and pounces. But Jesus doesn’t return the anger no he offers her “living water”. Her interest in this new substance may be completely worldly but Jesus uses it to reveal just exactly who He is. “Go get your husband.” Those words must have stung. She knows the score. Her lifestyle was tolerated by neither religion. The shame of her past came rushing in. “He won’t know” she thinks and tells Him “I don’t have one”. Then Jesus reveals Himself by telling her what the real truth is. Without judgement or condemnation, Jesus simply states the facts as they are in her life to date. And folks, sometimes facts hurt but they weren’t said accusingly. Jesus told her ALL about herself and then kept on talking with her. It’s at this point that I believe she knows who He is but she hedges her bet by saying that He is a prophet. Now comes her question. Alone with Jesus she asks “which of us is doing it right?” Jews say this mountain and these laws, we say differently. Surely there is only one right answer so which of us got it right. And Jesus replies “neither”. See it doesn’t matter which building style or set of rules you adhere to. If there is no spiritual connection; then you are doing it wrong. End of statement. God wants us to worship in spirit and truth not location and style. I am so glad that I have the ability to freely enter into a close personal relationship with my God. Free of any regulations or man-made restraints. I can simply come as I am and be loved, corrected and encouraged to keep moving forward.
Now both Jewish and Samaritan texts proclaimed that the Messiah was coming. Their interpretation of those scriptures was that He would come and tell the other side that they were doing it wrong and settle things once and for all. Jesus ends His time with her by fully revealing that He is the Messiah. And off she runs to the town. The Disciples return and their question was why Jesus even bothered speaking to one of “them” at all. Out of the village comes the entire town stirred up by the lady’s testimony. “He knew everything about me” and spoke to me anyway. They beg Jesus to stay and a two day revival broke out in a little backwoods town, along a dusty road in Samaria.
Why did God choose this town? I haven’t a clue. Why did Jesus choose her? I believe He knew the impact her, the town hussy’s, testimony would have on the rest. I mean if He would want HER then He’ll surely be OK with ME right? Was Jesus trying to mend the relationship between the Jews and Samaritans? Maybe but probably not. What comes out clear in reading the story is that God desires a close intimate relationship with each of us. Don’t get me wrong, I love church and small groups but I treasure my one on one time with God even more. For it’s in those quiet places that I can be completely transparent and know that I’m loved. Let me urge you to spend some one on one time with Jesus today. Time spent alone with God is never wasted.
Pledge and Prayer – Start your day off right.
Every school day started the same. The bell would ring announcing the start of another day. Shortly after that the PA system would crackle to life and the Principal would ask everyone to stand and face the flag. Then a student would lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Principal would then ask everyone to bow their heads for a moment of prayer. After a bit, the Principal would encourage us to have a “Bulldog” day! Faithfully we started every day this way regardless of whether it was an easy day or one of “those” days. I might be looking at a substitute or multiple tests it didn’t matter, everyday started the same.
For the longest time I forgot this critical piece of my day. I would jump out of bed, having milked the snooze button for all it was worth. I would rush headlong into my day without a pledge; without a prayer. And life became all too quickly unmanageable. Overcome by all the “things” I thought I had to accomplish I was constantly frustrated by my life. It seemed I was always tired but never accomplishing anything of note. I simply dropped into bed exhausted each night but unable to sleep with all the undone things running through my head. Soon it was pills and later them and a “nightcap” to go down; energy drinks and coffee to get up. None of which helped me accomplish more and, in fact, led to life becoming even more unmanageable. Then it all came undone.
Shortly after I became sober, a mentor shared with me this secret and it brought me back to Langham Elementary. Start your day off with prayer and an affirmation. Desperate to not repeat my former life, I gave it a try and the results have been nothing short of miraculous!
I changed up my affirmations until I met Kirk Samuels. Kirk has an incredible pornography recovery ministry and part of his program is having each man recite the below each morning. I haven’t changed affirmations since. Check out the rest of his stuff at www.freeindeed36.com Save and print the below, placing it on the bathroom mirror or fridge. Say them out loud each morning. It helps frame the mind just as the Pledge so long ago did.
Always start your day off with prayer. No matter whether it is an easy or hard day, start it off the same. Have a morning quiet time that includes prayer. Ask for guidance and wisdom for the day ahead. It always reminds me of my prayers back in school “OK Lord we both know I suck at math but help me remember what I studied last night”. Being mindful of God’s presence helps frame your mind around all the “things” that need to get done. I am always amazed at how He works through those tasks, removing the extraneous and adding more meaningful ones. This time of prayer helps me focus on God which helps take the focus off me. It needn’t take long, just a few minutes each day will go a long way toward keeping you in the right frame of mind. Print off the affirmations and plan a time for prayer for the next seven days and see if it doesn’t provide peace and clarity.
My plan was to write the final installment on my series of things you learned in grade school and need to be doing today. But I can’t. See I’m from a little town in East Texas called Nederland. It’s situated between the cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur, about 90 miles east of Houston. Growing up we would have one field trip a year to Houston, normally to visit the space center or perhaps the zoo. My family went to Astroworld during the summers and occasionally to the galleria at Christmas time to see all the beautiful holiday displays. I obtained my undergraduate degree in Beaumont and met my wife there. We were married in Houston near where her parents lived at the time. Beaumont and Houston have a special place in my heart. It’s home to me.
My wife and I took our granddaughters camping this weekend with a group from church. It was the perfect Colorado weekend to do it. Sunny skies, temps in the mid 80’s and those gorgeous sunsets with a cool evening to follow. And there we were glued to our phones as Harvey seemingly came from nowhere and grew into this monster. The in- laws along with most of Chandell’s family now live in Corpus Christi. They had the foresight to leave prior to land fall and were spared damage to their homes. Then the storm began a painfully slow meander up the coast in Texas. Familiar landmarks flooded filled my Facebook feed. Friends gave updates on their and their parent’s homes. Homes I used to play at, ate at, spent the night at.
In the midst of all the updates has been the constant request for prayer. Let me ask that you all stop right now and pray for all those along the Texas and Louisiana coast. Don’t just do a quick “help them Lord” and go about your business. PRAY!! It’s not the least you can do, it’s all that we can do. The Salvation Army is collecting funds, and please donate toward their efforts which will be needed in the coming days. But right now what those folks need is constant prayer. God promised King Solomon in II Chronicles 7:14 that “if my people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray….” Don’t get me wrong the National Guard, Salvation Army, Cajun Navy and the like are helping but we as God’s children need to quit believing that “we got this” and humble ourselves to the point of asking for Divine assistance. And then we need to pray. Maybe like never before. Pray without ceasing for those who are affected.
If my life has taught me anything, it has been that God can work ALL things out for our good, if I place my trust in Him. I had royally screwed up my life; but once I turned to Him, He made everything not just good but exceedingly abundantly good!
May this time of prayer be only the beginning; for there is much healing needed in our land. May God use this time of distress to shake His church onto their knees. May He show us that we need to remain humble; seeking Him all the time. May God begin the healing of our land with my prayers tonight for all my friends whose world has been turned upside down. I am lifting you up and am encouraging everyone who reads this to do the same. May this moment of tragedy become the start of a powerful revival and may it sweep our nation. Let’s come together at the Throne of the Most High God, only He has the power to heal.
Advancements, Milestones and Graduations – Celebrating Your Achievements
As I would start school each year, I always had the same thoughts running through my mind. “This is harder than last year! Why can’t I just be done already! And May seems forever away!” And yet the days turned into weeks, which led to months until finally we were at the last week of May. The last day of school always began with an assembly and each class would take turns standing while the others clapped as their advancement to the next grade was made official. As soon as the assembly was finished, it was celebration time. The PTA mothers fed us and we participated in a number of games until the school bell rang one last time and we were on vacation. Those of us who had maintained A’s and B’s all year got an extra special treat at the soda shop in town!
My fifth grade year started and drew to a close the same as the others. Only this time after the assembly, my class boarded buses to the middle school. As soon as we got off, the ninth graders got on and departed for the high school. I’m not sure who looked more frightened. We went on a tour of our new school and then sat through another assembly where we were welcomed and the Principal spoke about this milestone we had reached. We were on to bigger challenges and closer now to our ultimate goal. All too soon (it seems now) I was boarding the bus that had just brought over the new middle schoolers and toured the high school. Again the Principal spoke about this milestone I had just accomplished and what lay ahead as an official high schooler. The years there flew by as well and all of the sudden me and my best friends were planning our graduation party. And folks that party was 4,380 days in the making.
I talk with so many who feel their dreams are unattainable simply because of the time commitment. It’s like we forgot that it took us 12 years just to graduate from high school! Sure, most of the dreams they share are multiyear endeavors. But we’ve already proved that we can do that. We simply need to plan out our journey toward that goal with an eye toward setting aside time to celebrate our advancements toward it, the milestones as we reach them, and the final graduation party. Here are a couple of examples from my own life.
I’ve written before about my addictions. Shortly after I became sober, I decided to reward myself with a steak dinner for staying sober the entire week. I still continue this today. I watch for them to go on sale and cook it myself each week. The only thing that has changed is that now my daughter and granddaughters come over when they have a chance and eat with us. And she doesn’t know that the biggest reward is spending time with them (which would not have been possible had I continued) while we enjoy my advancement treat. When I hit five years, I bought myself a nice truck. My wife didn’t completely understand why I “needed” one but I knew that I had to celebrate the milestone. My wife and I are coming up on 30 years of marriage next year. It’s a big milestone! And we have always celebrated our decade anniversaries big! But that doesn’t mean that we wait 10 years to celebrate. No we mark each November that passes as anther advancement toward our next milestone. Now my examples don’t have a graduation point, maybe like yours (i.e. be a better spouse, parent), which is all the more reason to celebrate advancements and milestones along the way. We need not wait until we fully realize a goal to celebrate, make it part of the journey.
Have a dream but feel overwhelmed? Try this and see if it doesn’t help:
Every six weeks when I was growing up I would leave school with my report card in hand. Sometimes I would run the whole way home to show Mom and Dad. The Pharmacist in town had a soda shop in the store and any student could come by for a free treat if they had all A’s and B’s. Other times I slowly walked dreading the conversation that would take place that evening. Think you have outgrown the need to check your progress now? Think again, this is a vital skill we need now more than ever.
Actually the report card was just part of an ongoing feedback loop between the teacher and their students/parents. That feedback was necessary to ensure that you stayed on the path that would take you on to the next grade. Bomb a test and there was a note from the teacher to you. Bomb two or more and your parents needed to sign the test. Every three weeks progress reports came out that showed where you were cumulatively in regards to assignments, tests, and homework. As the semester ended your report cards to date were averaged to show progress for the year. There was no way that a student could approach that glorious day in May without knowing already whether they were being advanced or held back. And yet as adults we just go through life with few defined goals and those we do have, we never check our progress on. We must schedule regular checkups to make sure we are drawing closer to those goals and not further away.
I said above that sometimes life got the better of me and my grades were less than the threshold for a double scoop dipped cone. Same thing happens today. All too often the daily fires get in the way of completing actions toward my long term goals. Your goals will never materialize if you don’t have a regularly scheduled checkup. If left unchecked, your goals will in fact revert back to being day dream fodder. Here are a couple of tips to help you make this a part of your life today:
The necessity of recess.
I never really thought about this until I was well out of grade school. Every day we would get a PE period AND a recess, one in the morning and the other each afternoon like clockwork. What took me years to discover was that there was a science to these rest breaks. They always occurred in between those core subjects. Concentrate on math then take a 25 minute break. Another hour of science; take a lunch. Social studies and then recess time. Finish up with English and you’re headed for the bus. Those rest periods gave you the ability to relax, have fun and cleanse your mind for the next subject. I’m telling you it is brilliant and it should be part of your daily routine today.See if this typical day sounds familiar. You arrive at work having already had a full morning just getting there. You immediately launch into your day quickly and seemingly effortlessly grinding out the work that lies before you. Lunch time comes and you decide to be “smart” and eat while continuing to work. Before you know it your shift is done and you head home, taking some small project with you. As you pull up the drive you notice the flower beds need attention as does the lawn and that section of gutter along the side looks bad. All projects for the weekend you hope to get in around the kids sporting events. You’re through with dinner before you realize you didn’t listen to any of the talk during it. You were focused solely on the project you brought home for the evening. The kids play, the TV blares and you are oblivious to it all until the familiar voice of the nightly news anchor breaks through. You save your work and begin getting ready for bed. You’ll repeat this five times and then comes the weekend which is packed with projects, chores, events and church. All of the sudden it’s Sunday evening and you realize that in 12 hours you are about to repeat the above yet again. And I ask you where the recess was?
If you were nodding as you read the above consider this. I’m working toward a goal right now that my reward for achieving it is a new motorcycle. I know the make and model I want, even have three different colors picked out. Now it won’t be a brand new one because brand new Indian motorcycles are expensive! In looking around I’ve found several that fit my desires to a tee. One in particular is 10 years old and has less than 5,000 miles. Think about that for a second. The owner paid a hefty price for the bike and has ridden it less than 500 miles a year. They bought it and didn’t take a regularly scheduled recess.
Folks there is a hefty price to be paid for not taking a recess. Your stress level will only continue to rise until you take recess seriously. Your work-life balance will be forever out of whack until you make this change. Try the following for a week and if it doesn’t lower stress and bring balance then you’ve lost one of the 3,744 weeks you have on average to use on this earth.
Part 1: The therapeutic value of a big chief tablet and a number 2 pencil.
Our daughter is fond of saying, “adulting is hard”. I believe most of us would agree. It seems like school simply did not prepare us for life as an adult. Or did it; and we simply are neglecting to put those life skills imparted to us to good use today. I know when I walked across that graduation stage so many years ago I thought I would have little to no use for the knowledge I had just gained. To a large part that’s true. I love playing along when I catch a rerun of “Are you smarter than a fifth grader”. I’m sure I knew the answer to each question once upon a time, just don’t need it today. But what about the life skills those long ago subjects helped instill in us? Those I believe we desperately need today as we navigate the world of adulthood. Let these next few blog posts remind you of them and if you will bring them back I can promise you will lower your stress, better manage your anxiety and lighten your life.
Now I realize that I’m dating myself bringing up the big chief tablet. But it was the essential tool in my grade school classrooms. Everybody (in my day) had one along with the ever reliable number 2 pencil. You won’t find the tablets anymore so I’m guessing at some point we determined that they were politically insensitive. Yet my Granddaughters had as a requirement a bound notebook as part of their school supplies this year. So simply bring this forward to whatever you had that contained bound, blank, lined paper in it. Just seeing the image above was enough to transport me decades into the past. To Mrs. McElroy’s third grade homeroom class and the dreaded book report. As the date drew near to turn in said report, my mind was probably full of math problems, history lessons, etc. An amazing thing would happen though as I took out my tablet and sharpened my pencil, my mind began to clear. Those math problems, history lessons and the like were tabled for a later time. The big chief was open and my thoughts began to coalesce into the outline of the paper I wanted to present. Fast forward 40 something years and the same thing happens every time I take out a notepad and pen. My brain wants to not waste the paper or ink. Just the act of taking my notepad and pen in hand causes my brain to focus in on what is most important. I do this with clients all the time during a brainstorming session. Their thoughts may be all over the board but as soon as I take out a notepad and pen, the magic happens. Suddenly they are more focused on the task at hand. (I believe we were all scolded at one point about wasting paper!) Just having them see those two everyday items is enough to cause their brain to focus so as not to waste them.
Try this out for yourself the next time you are having trouble focusing. Stop trying to mentally untangle the issue and instead take out a notepad and pen/pencil. I promise you it will work. Your mind will sort through everything with less effort on your part in order to allow you to write down the truly important things. I’m a huge fan of to do lists. Again the act of having to take out paper and pen makes me focus on what is it I really have to get done today. Now I know I will hear from someone about how their phone can voice record their notes and allow them to type out lists or thoughts. IT’S NOT THE SAME!! I too have those apps on my phone and use them from time to time when note taking is simply not possible. The therapy is not in the note itself as it is the sight, smell and feel of a notepad and pen. Sometimes you just got to rock it old school! Try this out for yourself. I’m telling you it was an invaluable tool imparted to us long ago that will ease your world today.
I absolutely love living in Colorado. I love the marked change of each season, the weather and the people here. But recently we have been in a rather strange weather pattern for summer. Cool temps and gloomy skies have replaced our normal sundrenched, warm (but not too hot) days and cool, pleasant evenings. It’s not that I am opposed to rain or the occasional cloudy day, just don’t like too many days in a row. I find it hard to motivate myself to get going on gloomy days. I know the seasons will soon change and there are many chores to get done now in order to be ready to celebrate fall. I also know all too well that waiting to the last minute won’t bring the success that I want to enjoy come fall. Couple this with my observations of late regarding that period of recovery right around the 30 day mark and you get this.Recovery in the beginning often takes on the look and feel of a new relationship. Everything is new and it’s exciting to explore all the possibilities this new relationship holds. Each moment is treasured while family and friends encourage the new relationship. In recovery circles this time is referred to as the “pink cloud”. Everything is starting to turn around; sobriety seems almost effortless just like those first few weeks of a relationship. But unfortunately, it can’t last. As much as we want the newness to stay, it must give way to gray, gloomy times. Yet through those times the relationship strengthens and grows far deeper than if it had been allowed to remain in the shallow honeymoon phase. I thank God every day that He brought me and my wife together and has held us together through 28 years of bright sunny and dark, gloomy days.
The pink cloud becomes gloomy and just as those new relationships can’t remain in the honeymoon phase forever; the real work to maintain recovery begins. Addicts are often overwhelmed by the realization that our lives were far more damaged than we had (during our use) estimated that it was. Expectations of a quick, effortless recovery lie shattered on the floor. What will you do? Will you run back to an old familiar (although thoroughly toxic) relationship? It sure seems easier than forging ahead in building a new one. Too many cut at that 30-day mark. Forsaking their new relationship with sobriety for their substance. Most think to themselves “I won’t get in too deep this time” which never happens.
There are many of us who weathered that time. Who felt the need to cut and run and yet stayed true. Who desired the ultimate benefits of sobriety above the temporary relief the substance brought. After trying numerous times, I began my last attempt knowing that day 30 was coming. What was I going to do to get beyond those gloomy days? I began by planning with an eye to weathering those days because I knew the sun would eventually return. If you have struggled getting beyond the 30-day mark, then try these two profoundly simple tweaks to your next recovery:
Recently I found myself in court with a client. As we walked in, those words were written on the wall behind the judge. His case was one of many that were to be decided today so I had the opportunity to reflect on those words as we waited.To show up implies that I am completely there (mind, soul and body). We occasionally take our granddaughters to a nearby park. I’m always disappointed with parents who are there physically but glued to their phones while their kids are running and playing and developing right before their downcast eyes. Those in the courtroom that day were completely present during their case. I’m sure the fact that some might not be leaving played a large part in their complete attention. As we waited, I thought about all the times I had been physically present but mentally far away. Why should it take a looming jail sentence to force us to be completely there wherever we find ourselves? I came away with a renewed commitment that I will be completely present at all times. No more checking out and being ok with simply blessing those in my life with merely my presence.
As the cases proceeded, I saw the wisdom in the second part of the statement. Others were there for similar crimes. They and their lawyers spoke eloquently about how they were truly repentant for their crime and that they were changed. The prosecutors would then present facts that showed that their words were not true. That their conduct from arrest till today was not in keeping with someone who had changed their behavior. The judge would hand down her decision. Sometimes leaning toward the harsher end of the scale based on the apparent disconnect between the words and actions. I thought about how many times are my words and actions not in alignment with each other. I left that courthouse that afternoon with a renewed commitment to change both until they complimented each other.
Eventually our case came up. The lawyer spoke, my client spoke and I got a chance to speak on his behalf as well. The change in his behavior over the last few months was apparent. His words and actions had finally met up. He spoke convincingly about this change and asked for the opportunity to continue to prove to the court this change. The judge thought and then rendered her decision. Unlike others, she leaned this time toward the minimum. My client’s family thanked both the lawyer and I profusely. Both of us pointed to the client as it was his efforts that made the outcome possible. He chose to embody Show Up; Be Honest and it worked out. I left the court that day with my renewed commitments and the assurance that if I put them into practice, everything will work out.
I attended a networking event not too long ago. The room was fairly full of small business owners hoping, as I was, to make a connection that might lead to a referral. As this wasn’t my first rodeo, I have a well-practiced response to the inevitable question “So, what do you do?” I respond with “I help make peoples dreams become their reality”. That usually gets their attention. Everyone’s got a dream that they aren’t living. I then tell them that I’m a life coach that specializes in small business owners and addiction recovery. Occasionally I’m asked why I’m drawn to these two vastly different crowds. And if time permits I explain how they truly aren’t that different. See both have control issues, struggle with some semblance of life balance, and both really want something but the obstacles ahead seem so daunting. That’s where I can help. Sometimes I’m asked who my ideal customer is for each. They assume that surely there must be two separate lists and are shocked when I tell them in either case that I want to come alongside those that are seeking, struggling and/or scared.
Seeking – I love sitting down with those who have an idea or concept for a business but that’s as far as they have taken it. They have a wonderful end state in mind where their product or service will greatly supplement their current earnings or even replace it. They are seeking guidance though on how to start. What’s first, when and where often come up as well. This morning someone woke up with a dream of life without substance use. They too have this incredible end state in mind, but are in need of guidance as to how to begin. Both have usually sought out information on the internet only to quickly become disheartened by the glut of useless info out there. And so they both sit with unfulfilled dreams. Both are in desperate need of someone who has walked that path before. Who can show them the pros and cons of those different paths and walk with them the path they choose. Seekers are, in my opinion, the best because they are the most eager to try something new, to dare to explore, to strike out on what promises to be a wild and wonderful adventure. Find someone to help you begin.
Struggling – I feel especially close to those that are struggling. I know all too well the frustration of trying to break through to the next level and nothing seems to be working. I’ve also experienced the thrill of the big breakthrough and the resulting struggle of maintaining the momentum. Small business owners know the above scenarios all too well. There are a number of folks who also woke up this morning struggling with substance use. They’ve tried numerous meetings or programs with little success. They are doggedly determined to keep pushing on but they, like the business owners, are losing a little more faith each time they try and fail. Sometimes I meet folks who have obtained sobriety but are now struggling with the wreckage their use caused. Both they and the business owners are fighting to maintain the momentum. If this is you please know that there is hope; it can be done; don’t give up! Maybe someone with fresh eyes can help.
Scared – The third type I feel drawn to is sometimes but not always found in the above categories. They know what needs to be done and they are scared to death to pull the trigger. Take the business owner who knows that they need to bring on a partner in order to grow. They struggle with not the need, but relinquishing some control. Now before you go looking down on them answer this: How many of you would be scared inviting what might be a stranger in to help you raise your child… Change is scary but fear can be and should be overcome. I occasionally am asked to visit someone in the hospital or jail that is in the throes of addiction. They can easily see the need to change but are scared to death of the change required. Their addiction has been going on long enough that every part of their life revolves around it. They know that this single change will reverberate through their entire existence and they are terrified to pull the trigger. Again I know both scenarios all too well. The military taught me how to overcome fear and then awarded me with a medal for simply putting it into practice. I gladly share my story of overcoming both in business and my own addiction recovery with everyone. Fears can be met; there is no need to live in fear of the change.
If you have read this and thought “man Thom needs to speak with _________,” then pass along my contact info. My purpose in life is to not hoard all my life experiences but to share them. My passion is to come alongside those described above and help them grow.
All humans have, at the core of our being, a collection of values that guide our behaviors, actions and words. These values may have come from a variety of sources (society, church, family friends) but we have chosen a select few for a place of prominence to help guide our navigation of life. Now not all values carry the same weight. We also have an established hierarchy so that when faced with restrained resources (time, money, etc.) our core values or those that are highest in the pecking order get funded. All others line up in their respective place. For example while I value fun, I treasure providing for my family, eating and my home so the bike stays in the garage and off to work I go. All too many have never really considered their values, how they came to adopt them, what their rank order is and how they play their vital role in governing our behaviors and actions. What so many fail to realize is that anyone who cares to notice can easily see what those values are, their order and anticipate how you would react in a given circumstance. I love people watching, in short order I can tell a lot about a person’s values simply by watching their actions and interactions with life. For instance I can tell whether there is a cross or a kettle at the heart of you.Now you city folks read carefully for I’m about to learn you something!
ket·tle (kĕt′l) A metal pot, usually with a lid, for boiling or stewing.
Kettle folks have a special place they put every wound, every slight, every bad thing in their life. They open the lid and put it in and then begin to stew on it. They rarely smile (slows down the stewing) they rarely are thankful or grateful and are the quickest to point out the wrong (so as to have more for the kettle) in something or someone. Just like physical kettles, emotional kettles have a capacity or limit. On occasion kettle folks blow up and “spew the stew” on those around them often over a seemingly minute incident. Kettle folks are prone to fits of rage because the stew in the kettle is toxic and like eating something bad, it’s going to come out forcefully. They walk through life hating and often being hated. They telegraph to anyone who cares to notice that they store their wounds and hurts. Next time you are in Walmart smile at everyone you encounter. Kettles will not only fail to return the smile; they will look away from you. Go to a meeting room and, if it is large enough, there will be a kettle there. They may measure their sobriety in decades but they are so negative and bitter that you wonder to what end. Surely if they had continued their use, they would be dead by now and wouldn’t that be more desirable than what seems to be a miserable, meaningless existence. And the sad fact is there are kettles in every church of any size. They know the name Jesus but refuse to let him exchange their kettle for the cross.
The cross was a landmark event. On it, Jesus took all my sins on His shoulders and let them die with Him. All the times I had/have/will fail, He gladly bore. And three days later, upon leaving the grave, He sought out those who had run, hid and denied Him. Not to open the kettle and “spew the stew” but to let them know that He had risen, that the cross had accomplished its purpose, and there was now no need for kettles. Jesus could have opened the kettle and let them have it for their actions, surely He felt hurt, betrayed, wounded by their actions, but instead He let The Cross be at the core of Him. How can I do any less? Cross folks have the realization that not only am I forgiven but that I can and should forgive others. They are gracious and full of mercy instead of stewing. They are calm when kettles are filled with rage because they understand that the cross accomplished this for not only them but everyone else as well. They navigate life showcasing that the cross works, that it has transformed them and they telegraph this message to anyone who cares to look. By their actions they attest to the transformation in their life. Because He forgave me, I forgive you.
Now I need to let you know that I’m not there yet. I’m like many that have both. I don’t want the kettle but all too often I retain hurts for later stewing. I’m a work in progress; an exchange in process. What keeps me going is that Jesus promised His Cross is easy to bear the kettle I know from experience is heavy. I’m tired of dragging hurts around from people long gone and having it affect those currently in my life. I want and need The Cross. This begs the question… Which one are you? Which do people around you see? Because someone is always watching how you interact with others. Will they come away from that time of observation with “definitely cross” or “definitely kettle”.
Today we celebrate our independence. You may remember from your school days that on July 2, 1776 the Continental Congress met and voted to declare our independence. Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence which was unanimously approved two days later on July 4th. Perhaps at some point today you will reflect on those days in 1776. But have you ever stopped to consider why they chose July to embark on this great adventure? Did the founding fathers foresee the need to take a day off each summer? Did they desire to bridge the gap in holidays between Memorial Day and Labor Day? No! They simply decided that now was the time, today was as good a day as any to initiate a change. Surely some must have thought “why not wait till January 1; you know New Year, new us”. Others may have preferred to wait till after the growing season was done. “Let’s get the crops in and then we’ll address independence”. But they chose not to wait, to not postpone and instead begin immediately.
We should all take a note from our founding fathers. Now is the time to begin, today is the day to start. I meet many who have a goal or a dream but when pressed as to why they aren’t starting today; they begin with the excuses. “I can’t right now because…; Just let me….; I need to ____ first. Jesus encountered several who wanted to follow Him, just not now. In Luke 9:57 – 62 He refused all excuses and instead urged each to begin immediately. What did Jesus know that we don’t? That the time for excuses has past. We either do it now or let those dreams die away, crushed by the overwhelming mediocrity of of mere existence. I believe everyone is called to not merely exist but to thrive, live and truly enjoy each moment. And there is no better day than today to begin changing things toward that goal. All the excuses for not making your goals into reality are simply wasted effort that could have been put into making dreams happen. The time to stop procrastinating is now. Let’s begin that new adventure today. Let July 4, 2017 be the day you began your next adventure; don’t wait another day.
John Adams, one of the founders of our new nation, said, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward for evermore.”
Sobriety is a lifestyle change NOT a diet from your addiction.
We’ve all done it. Swim suit season is upon us so we try on last year’s suit and notice a budge or a roll. We decide right then and there to cut out the sweets, carbs, etc… We deny ourselves those treats hoping for a dramatic change. We are excited about the future us and charge into our week full of confidence that, with a little will power, we are going to rock the poolside this year. Then we get to work and someone brought donuts, someone else offers pizza for lunch. And you just sit there starving, longing for the things you can’t have. Every commercial that evening is about food, happy people eating delectable food with nary an once of fat on them. You cry out at the injustice of it all, why can they have all the food they want and I can’t have any! For a week this goes on and then you hop on the scale only to see this seemingly herculean effort has resulted in negligible results. At that moment your will power evaporates and you decide to cheat. Just a little decadent desert, something to reward all your efforts you say. Two tubs of Ben and Jerry’s and a supreme pizza later you’ve lost everything you’ve done so far. So you just give in and accept the fat.
Unfortunately people try the diet approach in sobriety all the time. “No need to change anything else, I’ll just quit____”. They start off with such high hopes only to fail because, while their heart was in the right place, their mind wasn’t. Sustainable weight loss and sustainable recovery require a life style change, not the mere avoidance of certain things. To be sure the new life style will involve the absence of things but the key is the introduction of healthy, equally satisfying things. The mindset should be not to give up things but to replace them with things that will lead me closer to my goal. People often feel overwhelmed with the loss of their substance. It was literally an integral part of their everyday life. It is similar to losing a loved one in a sense. That loss is so complete. There are two paths forward; think of nothing but the loss or forge a new life without them. You’ve probably seen both in those around you. The man who loses his spouse and remains broken hearted the remainder of his days. The lady that loses her spouse and goes forward to volunteer or devote her time in other worthwhile endeavors. Addicts have the same paths; look at the loss or look forward. Finding healthy, beneficial activities does not have to be a big obstacle. Simply find a recovery community in your area and participate in some of their activities. Phoenix Multisport is a fun, sober, physically active community that may be in your area. Step Seven is a faith based community and there are hundreds of others made up of recovering addicts that are banding together to celebrate life. If you are stuck on where to begin a search for a community near you give me a call.
Thought for the day: When my mindset is not “look at what all I can’t have or have lost” but “I am working toward a better me where I will be able to ____”. That mindset will produce results because it is set on a better future state. Look forward, seek new activities, broaden your reach!
Let’s face it; we have all failed at something. That is a “common to all” kind of experience as is the universal dislike of that feeling of having failed. How we deal with those failures will either set us up for future success or continued failure. All too often I see folks who take the more destructive path by not gleaning lessons from their failure and thus dooming themselves to future repeats. I believe all life experiences (good and bad) can be life lessons if we will seek them out and apply them.
I was taught the value of the “after action report” while serving in the Army. It is a critical look at every person’s actions during the preceding exercise. No detail was too small to overlook. We all took turns telling the good and bad; what worked, what didn’t. Some could be brutal as you had to take ownership for your decisions and actions. What kept being repeated was that we were not performing this exercise till we got it right. We are going through this exercise until we can’t get it wrong! Failures always gave us more to learn from as did the time(s) we got it right.
I use the term “autopsy” with my clients today but the spirit is the same. We dissect the failure to glean lessons. It is always frank, sometimes brutal, but incredibly necessary so as to not have a future repeat. Here are three simple steps to take the next time you encounter a failure:
Choose your higher power wisely.
The second most common mistake people make in recovery is to not choose a higher power. They do this despite its prominence in the steps and at recovery meetings of all flavors. It’s as if that first lie we ever told ourselves, “I got this” or “I’m in control,” just won’t die. Folks try and fail because if you truly had this, you wouldn’t need to recover in the first place. All that wreckage and disarray in your life when you first sober up is a direct result of the “I got this” mentality. “I’m in control” got you to rock bottom. To think that you and you alone can lead yourself out of that mess is only setting you up for failure. If you are struggling with finding and relying on a higher power then please consider these two steps:
Step 1: Get specific! Your higher power cannot be vague or undefined. Rarely do I meet someone with long-term sobriety whose higher power is “nature” or “God”. The vast majority of those who are in long-term recovery have a well-defined higher power. They know exactly who it is they are leaning on and into. They have done their due diligence in researching them and have become intimately familiar with how they can aid them in recovery. It’s not enough to say that “God” is your higher power if you have no concept of who/what He is or how He operates in your life. Dig in and read up on who/what it is because your success in recovery depends on it. Interview those in long-term recovery to get a starting point, but don’t just appropriate their thoughts. You must study it out for yourself, and personalize the relationship. Failure to do so will only mean that in your weakest moment, when you need it most, your higher power won’t be there for you. Not because it can’t, but because you didn’t take the time to develop the relationship.
Step 2: Incorporate your higher power into your lifestyle. You shouldn’t have to tell someone who is familiar with you who/what your higher power is. They should know based on your lifestyle. You can’t tell me your higher power is God and then not have a church you regularly attend or a Bible you regularly read. Your higher power must have time to regularly provide input into your life. Relapses start long before the first use. They invariably involve a series of steps where lifestyle changes made early in recovery are tossed aside. Any higher power worth their salt will call you to task when these changes start being discarded. The void will get filled by something and left to our own devices, that something will be a substance. If you have a higher power that isn’t present in your daily life, you don’t have a higher power. If I say my higher power is ____ and yet there is no evidence on it in my lifestyle, then I don’t really have a higher power. You can’t fake a higher power any more than you can fake long-term sobriety. The two are intricately entwined meaning you either have both or you have neither.
If you have a history of relapses, especially if 90 days, is about as long a term of sobriety as you can make then you need a higher power. You must have something greater than you to call upon in order to get over the hump. True and lasting sobriety is possible but unobtainable without a higher power at work in your life. Failure to spend the time and effort to learn and incorporate it into your life will result in relapse. At the same time, a well-defined higher power that is present in your lifestyle will result in lasting sobriety. The great news is that it’s not too late to start. If you could consider Jesus as your higher power then please contact either me or my friends at Step Seven. If you can’t, then find a similar recovery community and become involved with them. Either way get started today!
Over the years, I’ve met folks whose recovery looks more like a seemingly endless series of relapses than any meaningful sober time. Through coaching them, I’ve developed three cardinal rules for successful, long term sobriety. Break one and your chances of success drop dramatically. Successfully incorporate these, and your recovery becomes much more manageable. Here is rule number one:
You must be married to recovery, not date it. You’ve no doubt been to a wedding and heard phrases like “forsaking all others”, “till death do us part” and “for better or worse”. All those play a part in a successful marriage and a successful recovery. Many approach sobriety like a casual date. You know, “try it out and see where it goes, if it gets difficult I can just walk away.” Wrong answer and wrong thinking because unfortunately things get worse before they get better. As the detox finishes and you survey your life and all the wreckage, it is unfortunately only the tip. There are many things that won’t appear till a month or two down the road. When the going gets tough and the path seems incredibly steep, those that are dating sobriety cut and run back to the open arms of their substance. Those that are married to sobriety know they are building a new life together and that this will pass. Those folks go on to lasting, meaningful lives apart from substance use.
Sometimes people encounter negative consequences for their substance use (i.e. legal, family strife etc.). Those folks tend to treat recovery as a “rebound romance”. I’m mad at _________ it has caused _________ and so I’m hooking up with sobriety to show it. They almost always go right back once the heat is off. They never intended to be faithful to sobriety. That “forsaking all others” part plays a crucial role in a marriage and your recovery. You can’t keep old using buddies' numbers in your phone any more than you can keep old girlfriends' numbers.
The “till death do us part” gives a young couple the expectation for the length of their relationship. Most married couples know the divorce rate but they, at that moment, are committing to a lifetime together. That is their mindset, and it must be ours in recovery, as well. The fact is that I will never be able to drink again like I will never be able to date again. I’m married to sobriety and my wife... neither of which would be happy if I changed that arrangement. Another fact is that my life is incredibly more rich as a result of those two marriages. So, if you are having trouble with lasting recovery - quit dating it and put a ring on it!
I’m often asked about the tag line for Aim Point, “hit what you're aiming for”. I’m all about living life deliberately. To me, the tag line means live your life with forethought and purpose. I always want to be aiming for something bigger and better for my life. Aiming goes beyond merely hoping, it’s a deliberate act toward putting your efforts onto a target point. Unfortunately, too many folks I meet seem content with hoping to accomplish a goal without putting any effort into it. This will never work. I call these the “plinko” crowd.
Growing up we would always attend the local heritage festival each spring. The rides, food, and of course, the carnival games. You’ve no doubt seen them, brightly lit, loud music and of course the prizes proudly lined up just waiting to be won. While they may go by different names in your area, plinko and the duck shoot were always at ours.
Plinko is a game of chance involving a steeply slanted board with pegs jutting up from it. You pay your dollar and are given three disks. You then ascend the stairs to the top of the board. There is a cat walk that allows you to move across its length and the slope allows you to see the pegs that are placed, seemingly at random, between you at the top and the prize bins along the bottom. The bins always included a “grand prize” that paid like $1,000. There were other pay out amounts, as well as several “win another turn” bins. Also present were the “lose a turn” bins, located throughout the other options, at the bottom of the board. You would eye your prize and place your disk at what seemed to be the start of the optimal path and let it go. Counting the prize even as the disk careened downward interacting with the pegs in a seemingly random way until the disk finally entered a bin at the bottom... “lose a turn”! You’re perplexed and try another approach, only to experience the same result. With your last disk in hand you try yet another point on the board, all hope of the grand prize is now gone. Your only focus is one of the two “win another turn” bins. You leave a dollar lighter and not much wiser.
That’s why I was much more excited to try the duck shoot game. It’s a simple arrangement, there is an older BB gun affixed to the front counter. It’s loaded with 10 BB’s and in front of you is a series of ducks pulled along a track. Hit a duck, and it falls over scoring you a point. Get 10 points and a grand prize is yours. You walk up and hand over your dollar. The Carnie loads your weapon, and the ducks begin to march across. Your first shot is off, and the second only nicks the duck, causing it to wobble but not fall over. But you now have your aim point worked out. The next falls as do the following seven. Close, but no grand prize. As I walked to the end of the line, those waiting would ask, “How’s it shoot?” “Low and right,” would be my reply. “Aim high right along the beak, and pull as soon as the beak appears in the sight and they’ll go down.” Using my advice, there were several grand prizes handed out before my next turn. I would walk away with one large stuffed animal, as well.
Why did I give out advice and try to help others? Because there were plenty of prizes to go around. We should all get a prize... and if anyone can benefit from my experience, then let’s do it. That’s why I started Aim Point Coaching. There are plenty of prizes or goals for everyone. What is the worst that can happen, we all become better and reach for even more? But goals aren’t going to become reality by themselves. They aren’t going to be reached by simply tossing disks with minimal thought and effort. No, they are only reached by careful aim and deliberate action on your part.
Thom Straley - Thom is the Executive Director at Step Seven Ministries & is a certified life coach specializing in addiction recovery and small business growth as Aim Point Coaching. To learn more about Aim Point Coaching, visit Thom's website by clicking the link above!