“I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees … At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’ Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, The Message
God willing, on this coming Saturday, May 23, I will give thanks for 18 years of recovering living. It certainly has been by God’s grace alone WITH my working the program of recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous. It certainly did not seem to be ANYTHING of God’s grace on that Friday morning in my office at the parish where I then served.
I had been a “professional” drinker since the age of 19. I had successfully navigated a business career for almost 20 years. Then in the Infinite’s sense of humor, I was called to follow into the life of ordained ministry in 1992. It was not like my drinking had not been noticed and mentioned in concern over those years by co-workers, bosses, my wife and friends. I knew what I was doing, always showed up and did what needed to be done on time and successfully. I deserved a drink or two for all that I did every day for all those other people, until … The last years of drinking I noticed a shift of needing a drink or two earlier in the day to get me going, then during the day to keep me going, and then to end the day because I deserved it so much. On the evening of May 22, 1997, after another argument with my wife about having yet another beer, I stormed outside the house in another fit of rage. I sat on the back porch steps, the last beer in hand. I looked over to the recycling bin filled to overflowing with my empties finished just in that day, and I knew something was not right any longer … something needed to change … but I had no idea what that was or how I could do anything about it. So I looked into the warm evening sky, the stars just emerging in vast array, and simply said “God help me … Jesus help me …”
I am living proof that one must be careful for what one prays for! At 8 o’clock the next morning, my Bishop and six others walked into my office. They needed to talk to me about my drinking … they wanted me to get the help I needed … one by one they told me MY story. After each one had spoken their peace, the Bishop offered that I could go with them immediately to a rehabilitation facility in a city 70 miles from where I live and served, or I could choose not to go. In either choice, there were consequences to my decision. The addictive voice that desperately needed feeding screamed “Tell them to go to hell! I’ll take care of you … I always have!” The voice I heard speak from within me and outwardly responded, “Yes, please help me, thank you.” This day began a journey of life that at that moment I expected would not have continued as it has to this day.
While certain I would lose wife and family, be deposed as a priest, and be outcast from all I knew and loved, including God’s love, this was not the case. My wife and family have walked with me in truth and love these almost 18 years. I found the parish, or at least one-third of the parish, wanted me to return as their priest, which I did 46 days into my new life of recovery. To say it was a welcome with open arms would not be faithful to “this is an honest program” we seek to live! It was hard, very hard at times, to redeem and regain trust of the people who called me to serve. When I thought there was no reason to continue, I would hear God’s word spoken directly to me by someone else’s story shared in the many AA rooms I frequented for solace and strength, pardon and renewal. As day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year pass, I continue to find God using these “thorns” I bear to God’s glory in helping others living a life free from those things addictive that bind us away from God’s love – and those bindings are not just addictive substances alone!
I find that when I live deeply and intentionally into the words of St. Paul, day by day, I am living proof that ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’ And for this gift, I am grateful.
With grateful heart,