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Through the Red Door Blog

In the early days of the Church, when the front door of the parish was painted red it was said to signify sanctuary – that the ground beyond these doors was holy, and anyone who entered through them was safe from harm.

In the lives of many recovering people, it is through these same red doors that sanctuary is found on a daily basis. Initially that sanctuary may not have started in the rooms with high vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, but in the basements and back rooms of churches where 12-step meetings are held.

This blog was created for recovering people to share the experiences they found walking through those doors of safety, refuge and peace.

To submit a entry to the blog, please click here for the details or contact us at info@episcopalrecovery.org.

  • 11/30/2016 8:19 PM | Anonymous

    In 1992, as I was nearing my one year anniversary of sobriety, the season of Advent began.  “Cast away the works of darkness” spoke to me in a new way that year, even though I had heard and sung that line for nearly 40 years.  While the world around me moved into the darkest time of year, I was emerging from the darkest time of my life.  Putting on the armor of light of recovery and the sanctuary of the Church was literally and figuratively meaningful.

    Thomas Cranmer’s words about casting away the works of darkness was for me about shedding the darkness of 20 years of drinking, a darkness that was so familiar, yet so debilitating.

    In detox and treatment, I learned that sobriety was going to require action on my part.  Not difficult or stressful actions, but it was not going to be a passive undertaking.  I’ve heard it said ‘I didn’t do a thing’ to acquire my sobriety.  That’s not my experience.

    If I show up for a meeting, I am taking action.  If I ask someone to be my sponsor, I am taking action.  If I go to lunch with a newcomer, I am taking action.  If I meet a fellow alcoholic for coffee, I am taking action.  If I pick up folks from a halfway house and take them to a meeting, I am taking action. Taking action is a way I put on the armor of light and experience God’s grace.

    God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved, forgives us, enlightens us, and strengthens us.  Only with those gifts from God do I continue to have the ability to cast away the works of darkness on a daily basis.  For we know well that recovery is a daily reprieve, if we maintain our spiritual condition.

    Until those last weeks and months before the bottom rose to meet me, I had never left the Episcopal Church. I believe that God missed me and came looking for me, through the action of friends who intervened, moving me to refuge and safety.  Words came back to me from countless hymns.  Immortal, invisible, God only wise, He tends and spares us, well our feeble frame he knows, God of grace and God of glory, I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true.

    Together with what I was reading and hearing in treatment, I realized God was responsible for guiding me through the storm, keeping me alive and safe, when the course I was on was anything but.  Tears of peace and joy streamed from my eyes one afternoon when I was overcome with that realization. 

    In retrospect, I realize it was in that moment I became conscious of contact with God, and I had the good fortune to feel the tears and be overcome with gratitude. 

    Advent reminds us that God has visited us.  And God is coming again.  Put on the armor of light, again today, and be blessed with another season of sobriety.  Soon the season changes: the world is about to turn. The days get longer, the light moves closer, hope takes hold.

    Gary G.
  • 11/23/2016 9:06 PM | Anonymous

    Okay, first off, I stole that title. It’s actually the headline from a recent blog post by the marketing guru Seth Godin.* My story does not relate to Seth’s story, it’s related to the headline itself.

    About a month ago I had the pleasure of attending a talk by the Director of Community Relations from Hazeldon/Betty Ford, William Cope Moyers, a former crack addict and now a bestselling author. In his presentation he mentioned that when someone tells him that they had ‘hit bottom’ as a result of their addictive ways, he corrects them by saying, “The only real bottom is death.” In a Q&A following his talk, he unpacked the phrase to explain that while everyone has a different depth to which they have fallen, it’s not so deep that there is no way out. To describe a situation as a bottom means that there is no further depth to fall. Many of us who have lost friends and loved ones to addictive diseases know that whatever depth we have fallen to, it is not the ‘bottom’ that has taken so many others.

    My personal journey into alcoholism has taken me to deep depths that have created feelings of grief and remorse for what I have lost and the hurt that I have caused loved ones that will last for the rest of my life.

    My recovery has forced me to take 50 years of Christian formation and turn it upside-down. Most of what I studied was always through the filter of applying the lessons from scripture and the studies of theology to other people. People who needed help more than myself. How could I identify with those that needed these messages when I was, well, not perfect, but in complete control of my life? Wow. Talk about alcohol being cunning, baffling and powerful. I was the model of that sediment. I was not in control. In no way, shape or form.

    I cannot, however, let my feelings and past failings get in the way of what God has laid in front of me, an incredible opportunity. This is where Seth Godin’s headline comes in. It’s a great metaphor.

    The writings of Richard Rohr, with his plain and clear style, really spoke to me and forced me to look at life with a new set of filters. I could use my fall, to my depths, as a brand new starting point to not just rebuild a life, but to build a new life. One that can take the strengths and skills of my past life, work through the challenges created by my addiction, add a new ‘clearness of thought’ and emerge as a much stronger, focused and humble Christian servant.

    “It's not the bottom, it's the foundation.” As clearly stated in Psalms 118:22-23, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”

    That passage from Psalms always takes me back to my younger days as a counselor at Sheldon Calvary Camp with the words of Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary fame from his song Building Block, “There is a man who has collected all the sorrow in our eyes. He gives us love as God directed but is seldom recognized. When all your dreams have been connected and your vision has been returned, remember, love, you are protected by the truth your heart has learned.”

    Amen. Every day I am thankful for AA, my spiritual advisor, my Church, and my triune God for this amazing journey.

    Andy M.
    Sober since August 26, 2013

    * http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2016/11/its-not-the-bottom-its-the-foundation.html

  • 11/16/2016 7:11 PM | Anonymous

    I was looking forward to attending my first Episcopal Recovery Ministries Annual Conference in Williamsburg, VA on November 3-5. The wonderful opportunity to connect with good friend in recovery journey from a previous parish, to hear about the work and resources for supporting recovery and healthy recovery living at my parish, and to meet and make new friends along that “happy road of destiny.” However, the literal “happy road” did not start very well.

    Driving along I-64 to Williamsburg, I was about 1 mile from my exit when traffic stopped due to a truck accident ahead. I stopped in the right lane, turned on my emergency flashers, glanced in the rear view mirror to an empty highway behind me, and then started to text my friend to alert her of the delay. Something nudged me to look again in my rear view mirror, now to see a tractor trailer appearing around the bend at a high rate of speed. Sensing he would not be able to stop in time, I pounded on my horn, and then began to move to the right side of the road … just not soon enough. The truck clipped my back driver side, then careened and totaled two more cars in the eastbound lane, rocketing across the median strip to the westbound lane and totaling another two cars before stopping by hitting a tree. I joined with others in reaching one man who took the brunt of the impact, turning off the car engine and providing care until emergency help arrived soon afterward. There was a long waiting process, speaking to state police, completing reports, clearing the road of debris, and replacing my destroyed rear tire with a spare. My insurance carrier directed my to a local tire and car repair facility, who were most understanding and helpful in processing the work to obtain a replacement rim, tire, and damaged sensors so I may return home to attend to the body damage to the car.

    Finally arriving at the hotel, most of the first day session completed, I sat in my room looking at the mini-refrigerator. Although and thankfully nothing was stocked inside, my addiction whispered in my soul, “A drink could make this all better, just like old times.”  I was firing on all the H.A.L.T. cylinders at this point – exhausted physically and mentally, just settling into the shock that I could have been in the hospital at that point, if not dead. I sat with that thought, the old voice whispering, and then …

    I texted my friend to say I had arrived and needed to meet with her and others gathered as soon as possible! We met in the hotel lobby a little while later, driving with other new friends to the evening dinner and program, where I met more new friends in recovery. We shared stories, said prayers for the unknown man badly injured, trusting the Holy One would direct our healing intentions. I got out of my self, got right by using the recovery tools I know well, and the subtle but strong whisper disappeared. Sessions the next day were wonderful, learning more about brain science and spirituality of recovery, sharing resources, and making more new friends for the “happy road” ahead. I was reminded in spirit what my first sponsor would often say, “The grace of recovery is great because we receive God’s grace gratefully.”  The car was temporarily repaired to make my way home to family and parish, and my Sunday after All Saints Day sermon was changed to GREAT with GRATEFULNESS!

    On Thanksgiving Day, I will begin my ninth and final year of serving at my parish, retiring sometime in 2017. While serving and sharing my recovering life with many during my years in this parish and others I have served, I am looking forward to being able to “spreading the message of recovery” with many, many more in years to come, along the Happy Road!

    And for this, I am grateful

    Paul G.
  • 10/27/2016 10:17 PM | Anonymous

    Before I stopped drinking I walked in fear and isolation. It was not until AA that I came to know that my life has a purpose. It seems to be to help other people just like me. This is the gift of AA and living a sober life. I see now that suffering is a part of all our lives, but being a victim is optional. It is what we do with our pain that makes a difference. I realized through the help of others in the program of AA that I didn't need to be a victim anymore. When they reached out their hand to me, I said yes to their gift. They helped me see that my powerless could actually set me free, and that by surrendering my life as I knew it, I would be changed. It wasn't an instant change, but a slow gradual one that happened by going to meetings and not drinking and by helping others.

    By helping others I began to see that I was being released from my wounded spirit. I first saw this through the eyes of a newcomer! I will never forget the night a lady walked up to me at a meeting and asked me to be her sponsor. I only had about 6 months of sobriety and I was afraid. I tried to think of an excuse to say no, but I looked in her eyes and saw how serious she was. Before I could answer her she told me she was an atheist and she did not want to hear about Jesus because she didn't believe in him or God. She had never gone to church or read a Bible in her entire life. I was speechless. I wanted to say no. How could I share with her my sobriety and not talk about God--the God I knew and loved? Then I remembered when I had asked for help someone had said yes to me. Couldn't I do the same for her somehow? I would do my best and so I promised her I would not force my Christian beliefs on her. I decided to show her the love of Christ with my actions instead of my words. I started slowly using secular words and ideas as we did each step. Sometimes I would hit a wall where I knew no other way to explain something to her or how to share my experiences without a story or an idea that was part of what I believed. We agreed that I would tell her in advance that I needed to use a Christian idea and gradually she began to trust me and just let me share however I needed to. This is how we began the steps and our friendship.

    As we went through the steps I started to realize what I would have missed this relationship if I had not said yes. By doing the steps together we learned to trust each other and to trust that the steps would work for her as they had for me. To my greatest surprise she began to help me. She became a mirror so I could truly see my true reflection. We were more alike than different! She saw herself as a victim just as I had. However, we shared the greatest character defect of all...Resentment!  I never could see resentment in myself till I met her. Resentment was the log in my eye that I had to release! The whole experience with this person made me see the purpose of Jesus' life and what he was calling us to do. It is the action of really living in community with one another and loving one another that we can lift each other up. She saved me from my resentful self. She has been one of the greatest gifts in my life and I almost said no!

     My dear friend died last year after being sober for seven years from COPD. It was my honor to have been with her through her illness and to help her make choices about the end of her life. She knew it was time to truly surrender and let go for real and she allowed me to walk that last mile with her. I cannot describe in words the sorrow and joy of this experience, but it has been profound and it changed me forever. Our last words together were words of love and surrender. I can truly say we became like Christ to one another. Although her faith didn't look like mine it didn't matter. I knew she found her Higher Power because she died sober and free. Just like the man Jesus healed from Gerasenes that was living in the tombs alone and destitute from his personal demons, my friend and I were healed and made whole again too. We are no longer possessed by our addiction. We are always being saved by the love of God no matter what words we use to talk about our Higher Power. God's grace comes to us in many ways. Sometimes we become aware of it when we sayv"YES" to another alcoholic!


  • 10/14/2016 10:59 PM | Anonymous

    I remember well that cold, wet February evening when I walked in to my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.  I believe that the minute I walked in the door my spirit began to awaken from a deep and deadly sleep.  The room was bright, warm, full of people with love for me before they even learned my name.  Yes, I inwardly rolled my eyes at the corny slogans on the wall -- One Day at a Time and Easy Does It – but the atmosphere of the room reached a part of me that had grown as cold as the weather outside.

    A kind woman gave me the A.A. Big Book and in it she wrote, “It’s a WE deal!”  Apparently, that was the topic of that night’s discussion.  All I can remember was the talk about God.  I thought God had abandoned me and I cried through most of the meeting.

    A few members of the group invited me to dinner and I followed them to a local restaurant.  I had a bowl of soup and listened to their happy conversation about their lives and how A.A. worked.  When a young man asked if I still had alcohol in the house, I answered honestly, yes.  I believe that was the first fruit of my spiritual awakening, that simple honest answer from me – a person who lied when telling the truth would be just as easy.  Someone else asked me if I could pour it out when I got home.  Again, an honest answer came from me when I admitted that I didn’t think I could do it.  It was suggested that I put it outside, away from sight.  I believed I could do that much and I did.

    I was so hungry for relief from the agony of my alcoholism that I read almost the entire Big Book before I went to sleep.  I also prayed the Serenity Prayer that night and the miracle of my spiritual awakening really kicked in.

    By the time I started on my second step with the guidance of a sponsor, I had become reacquainted with the God of love I’d grown to know as a child.  I had no trouble turning my will and my life over to the care of God when I did my Third Step on the banks of a beautiful little creek near my home group.

    The rest of the steps weren’t as easy or maybe I wasn’t quite as desperate but I did them to the best of my ability.  When I got to Step Eleven, it was like coming to an oasis.  Establishing “conscious contact” with something I couldn’t see, hear or touch was a challenge but the process of prayer and meditation brought me then and now into contact with a loving force beyond my understanding.

    I arranged a small meditation spot at a table with windows on two sides.  I keep a small vase of fresh flowers, a candle, my journals, a meditation book, my bible and a few other things that are special to me.  Almost every morning, I make time for what I call “Coffee with Jesus” at this small table.  My gray cat often joins me and as I enjoy this quiet time with my Lord and we watch the birds and squirrels in the backyard.

    Currently, I’m struggling with a couple of life’s challenges and I have to admit that I’ve been discouraged and questioned God’s love for me as well as his very existence.  Nevertheless, I continue to have that brief quiet time at my table in the mornings.  It enriches my spiritual connection even in these times of doubt.  If I keep at it, I know my spirit will continue to awaken a little more day by day in spite of trouble and the difficulties that life presents me.  God is good!


  • 10/05/2016 8:51 PM | Anonymous

    Before I had a program, I thought that my life was a play that I had to write, direct, star in, and produce. Even though I had prestigious degrees and affirmation at work, I felt overwhelmed and angry at all the different people I had to please to pull off the show. In my exhaustion, my solution was to isolate on the weekends, passing away hours alone in my apartment ruminating about how I ended up being so unhappy despite outward success. My solution to my isolation was to imagine the person who would break through the walls of my heart, freeing me from my isolation, fear, and shame. Looking for that person got me out of the physical walls of my apartment but I never found “the one.” Instead I found affairs, romantic intrigue, and the deep pain of feeling like I had failed God and my own values.

    That pain brought me to program. I remember the freedom I felt when I first time I heard page 61 in the Big Book and the line when the authors describe how most people are like actors trying to run the show rather than letting God be the director, “Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well?” Those words freed me from the shame of feeling like a failure - of course I couldn’t manage; I was trying to do a job that was God’s job, not mine. So I poured myself into program – 90 in 90, three outreach calls a day, sponsorship, steps, service, daily meditation – to learn how to let God direct my life.

    I am on step nine and feel the promises of the program bearing fruit in my life. I left a painful and destructive relationship. I left a job that paid well but that disconnected me from my Higher Power. I have moved to a new city I have wanted to move to for more than a decade. However, with all the positive changes are new fears about economic insecurity and uncertainty about where to find new friendships. But today when I feel overwhelmed and afraid, instead of going into a cycle of shame, overwhelm, and isolation, I make even more outreach calls, go to even more meetings, and spend even more time in prayer. I know that what I crave isn’t really any particular outcome but the freedom of knowing that God is running the show. The more I work my program, the more I realize that his play is far more joyous, fun and abundant than anything I could create.


  • 09/28/2016 8:50 PM | Anonymous

    Headed out the door, late as usual, I paused with my hand on the key. The neighbor’s cat was immobile on the front porch, deathly still, ready to strike. My eyes sought out his prey. After a moment, I saw it: a lizard or green anole, just three inches long. It was a dusty, unremarkable brown, still as a stone, about three feet off the ground. It was out of reach of the cat, but was it aware that it was safe? Looking closer, I saw its throat was pulsing rapidly, and it looked like fear to me.

    When I am fearful, anxious, out of control, I forget to breathe and lose my focus, paralyzed by the threat I am so certain is about to pounce. Then I am best served by stillness, because that’s how I sometimes discover how to act, think and become what my Higher Power has in mind for me.

    My first impulse was to rescue the lizard from the fanged, clawed predator, but some instinct or maybe just curiosity stilled my movement. I stopped and witnessed the stand-off, a miniature high noon, completely inconsequential except to the three-inch anole. For the lizard, it was literally a life-or-death situation, and I wonder now: did those few seconds feel like an eternity to the cold-blooded creature?

    Then, because of impatience or a short attention span or a desire to look like a responsible adult who owns a clock, I twisted the door knob. The cat, quite accustomed to my comings and goings, barely flickered an ear. The chameleon’s throat seemed to pulse even faster. How ironic, that the apparent source of its salvation at that moment caused even more distress.

    I told the cat, quite nicely, to leave the poor beastie alone for the time being, and Rocket complied with feline aplomb. That is, he ignored me for a leisurely beat or two before strolling a few feet away and burying his nose between his long, upthrust legs.

    I stood on the threshold and watched the lizard. The fresh air reminded me to breathe, and the deep stillness of the creature gave me a little jolt of joy. As I watched, and breathed, and remembered to be grateful, an electric, vibrant green crept from one end to the other of the chameleon, a transformation so soothing, so astonishing, so poignant I gasped – and just like that, the lizard disappeared.

    When I came home hours later, no sign of the lizard. But Rocket, my neighbor’s cat, was sprawled across my front step, and deigned to allow me the pleasure of sinking my fingers in his silky, warm belly fur. He purred, and it was as if we had never held the balance of a tiny life in our control. Perhaps we never did.

    Karyn Zweifel

  • 09/14/2016 9:49 PM | Anonymous

    One of the greatest gifts I received from AA was learning and understanding that I am both good and bad. That sounds crazy at first doesn’t it? What a contradiction! Aren’t we supposed to be good and not sin? Aren’t we supposed to be perfect? What a gift to know that we are supposed to be both! It’s the spirituality of imperfection that brought me the peace of God that passes all understanding, to the knowable mystery of God.

    I tried for years to pull myself up by my own boot straps and try to figure out what I could do to make you like me? All I did was wear myself out and push people away. Wasn’t my being nice and trying to figure out what you wanted a good thing? Why didn’t you like me and why didn’t God like me? Why did I not fit in? Was I not being perfect enough for you and God?

    Actually it was crazy to try the same thing over and over for years and of course all of my endeavors never worked! I finally gave up and jumped into the bottle when I could no longer feel comfortable and stand your company. I had to be drunk to endure certain relationships. So whose fault was that? Who was right and who was wrong? Who was I supposed to blame…you or me? I lived in a very black and white world where it had to be one or the other, no liminal space where all belonged!

    In giving up and trying a different path, a different way of being, my life began to change. I will say it was not overnight and I had to do the work of the 12 steps and take all the suggestions I was given. I became teachable. I became willing. I also began to learn about my character defects as part of the steps and how to look at them honestly, to accept them and to admit I am wrong when I am wrong. How freeing is it to say to the person I hurt that I was wrong? That allows for forgiveness and reconciliation for both people! I also learned to ask God to remove my shortcomings and to accept if they were removed or…. NOT. Let me say that again… accept if they were removed or not! I have come to believe our character defects are our greatest gift from God. Character defects actually bring us to God. Again another contradiction! Without these defects why would I ever need a Higher Power in the first place?

    This acceptance of my defects also taught me that not all character defects will be removed when and if I want them to be. To date the ones that have not been removed have taught me about humility and it has also taught me how to love and accept these behaviors in others. Even Paul asks God three times to remove the thorn in his flesh and the answer he gets from God is, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.” (2 Cor. 12: 7-9) Talk about powerlessness! Paul shows us how step one works by admitting he is not in control! Paul’s thorn was not removed and through his acceptance Paul rejoiced in God’s immeasurable grace. The reason for the thorn remaining like my character defect is an affirmation of God’s Grace. It becomes a way for us to name and claim our defects and that naming and claiming frees us from them. Sitting in an AA meeting I began to see my own reflection in the voices and faces of the other people in the room. We are all good and bad, right and wrong and we need each other to live through these choices we make, to love and accept each other as we struggle in our life here on earth. We are all in the same lifeboat; actually the whole earth is in the same lifeboat called LIFE. We are all needed to keep the boat afloat and to share the work that it takes to do that. Some of us are more skilled than others and that is why we are to carry the message and share the gift we have of this miraculous program.

    Today I am grateful that what was broken in me led me to this new way of seeing, feeling and perceiving. Yes, life is still a struggle and there are things I, too, wish would pass from me, but today I know as I am falling into the abyss of life, God has me firmly grounded in His love.

    Margaret D.

  • 09/07/2016 10:16 PM | Anonymous

    I was two months sober and my mind still foggy when my dad invited me to an Episcopal Recovery Ministries retreat.  Actually he didn’t invite me, he said, “I think you ought to come”, and I said “OK,” which was about all I was saying at that point.  So we went, my dad and I, who hadn’t had a good relationship since I was about 12.  I was flabbergasted that a church denomination would have an entire department devoted to recovery from addiction and alcoholism.  How did that happen?  They must have a bunch of drunks in their midst! 

    The retreat leader was a Catholic priest in recovery.  There were two more things I couldn’t wrap my head around – an alcoholic priest and a Catholic being at an Episcopal gathering.  If I wasn’t messed up before, now I was really confused!  But I played along.

    We went around the room introducing ourselves, telling how long we’d been sober, and what brought us to this retreat.  I said I was dragged there, and been sober 2 months.  The priest reached in his pocket and said, “Well, this must be for you!” and gave me a 2 month coin.  I already had a plastic poker chip coin, but this was a real metal coin – Wow!

    He told an old Native American story about Jumping Mouse which made no sense to me, and I don’t remember the rest of the weekend.  But I knew that I was hooked, and already planned to go the next year.  I don’t remember anything about that year either, but I know it was part of my recovery. 

    In addition to AA, my sponsor, working the 12 steps, and prayer; these retreats gave me a warm “coming home” feeling every year.  I started getting more and more out of each gathering, remembering more and more, and beginning to put into practice some of the things I learned.  It was good to see the same people every year, especially the ones whose first time coincided with mine.  We can now look back and laugh at crying our way through those first couple retreats. 

    All this to say – Thank you, thank you, Episcopal Church, for creating such a needed and special ministry for us drunks and addicts.  I, for one, may not have survived without it. 

    Rachel M, Birmingham, AL

  • 09/01/2016 2:57 PM | Anonymous

    Last week I arrived outside of Iconic Ink, (a real place) for a consultation on two tattoos that I was getting as enduring reminders of two pilgrimages I have had the good fortune to take in the 12 months.

    In June last year I was blessed to travel to Assisi on my honeymoon with the love of my life. We met nearly five years ago when she relocated from another diocese to take a new position as rector of a neighboring parish. That happened on September 1, 2011, which also happens to be my sobriety date. Assisi, according to my new bride, is a “love drenched landscape.” That nails it in my opinion and experience. Francis and Clare are lurking around every medieval building and throughout the countryside that nurtured two of the most influential Christian lives in history.

    We hadn’t even been married yet when the opportunity arose to take a pilgrimage to Israel, Jerusalem, and the Occupied West Bank during the week of Passover and Orthodox Holy Week this year. We jumped at the chance. Needless to say it was a very special and poignant time personally and spiritually.

    I had been tattooed for the first time just before my sabbatical to Ireland in 2012. I was there in the first year of sobriety and on my own for several weeks. That was a graced time given that Guinness Stout was my drink of choice at the end of my drinking. St. Brigid and St. Brendan crosses had been inked into my shoulders as sort of a talisman on that way.  I was surrounded by grace and not a few AA meetings in Ireland during my stay in West Cork.

    Before I had left on that trip I had experienced a continuous if not rapidly growing belief in the truth of the Step 9 promises that are read in my home group before each meeting. Those promises end with this phrase, “We will suddenly see that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Are these extravagant promises? We think not!”

    As I walked in the door of Iconic Ink, I followed the proprietor who had arrived to unlock while I was waiting in my truck listening to the news of an earthquake in Umbria, not far from Assisi, and a story of the beating death of a Palestinian who had been jailed on suspicion of attacking an Israeli soldier the previous week. (God can weave some remarkable patterns in the tapestry of our lives if we take the time to step back and look!)

    He asked me, “What do you do for a living?”

    I told him I was a priest. He said, “I’ve never tattooed a priest before. I have inked a couple of my fellow deacons in the past.” He used to serve as a deacon at a neighboring UCC church near where I live.

    I told him that I was the first priest that each of my two previous tattoo artists had inked as well. I told him that one of them asked me, “Are you going to hell for getting tattooed.” And that the other one had asked, “Am I going to hell for tattooing you?”

    The proprietor of Iconic Ink and I shared a good laugh and then he told me that he had been raised Roman Catholic and only gone back to church after getting sober some 15 or so years ago. The spark of connection was swift and unmistakable (I suspect he may have seen among the many bumper stickers on the tailgate of my truck, ‘I’m a Friend of Bill W.’

    We talked a little bit of sobriety, a bit of church, and went on to work on the designs that he would inscribe on each of my calves in two days time. It was fellowship that only The Fellowship of AA has provided me on a regular basis.

    Two days later we opened up the shop together sharing stories, experiences, and views on sobriety and faith while we prepped for our session together. As he finished measuring, applying the stencils, and confirming the color schemes and selections, he asked me, “Should we pray first?”

    We joined hands over the table. I offered a prayer and we concluded with praying for one another’s families, our shared faith, and our continued sobriety. I have to say that was not one of my expectations as I planned to honor and remember these pilgrimages--that I would be praying with my tattoo artist on a bright summer morning.

    This vignette is only the latest in a string of graced events that I have received since I started living the Promises of AA with a confidence born of experience. A new ministry, a new wife, a new circle of friends, and deepening friendships that had shallowed out until I got serious about working on spiritual fitness as the bedrock of each day of sobriety that I am blessed to live.

    Life is full of unexpected graces. I have learned to expect the unexpected with varying levels of faith and confidence since I turned my life and will over the power of God and the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.

    Are these extravagant expectations? I think not!!!


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