Too Far Gone

“The Prodigal Son Returns: The Art of Soichi Watanabe,”
“The Prodigal Son Returns: The Art of Soichi Watanabe,

By: Jana Greene

www.thebeggarsbakery.net

Ever feel like you are just too far gone?

For a long time before experiencing my current spiritual  revival, I felt an awfully long way off from the Father.

I love the story of the prodigal son because I can relate to all three of the central characters.

I have been the prodigal child, returning to the father after making an absolute wreck of her life.

I have been the brother who did not think his father’s warm welcome of the long, lost brother was fair.

And as the mother of three teen and young-adult daughters, I have been the joyous  parent when a rebellious child returns home that I would gladly kill the fatted calf (or at least make a trip to Costco for a porterhouse steak) for her welcome.

But the most poignant thing about the story is this:

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.  But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then kill the fatted calf and  roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ Luke 15:20-24 (MSG)

While the son was still a long way off. The father did not stand on the porch, arms folded, waiting for his son to reach him.

So tonight – praying on my knees – I  told God that I was sorry for wandering such a  long way off  (as I am want to do from time to time) and that I was feeling pretty lousy about the low-grade effort toward my faith walk.  I’ve been giving it the old college try, but only half-heartedly, feeling like I’m slogging through a muddy rut.

But getting me out of muddy ruts is one of Abba’s specialties.

When I am truly a long way off –  in the throes of addiction, depression, anxiety – and feeling ‘too far gone,”  He simply cannot wait to hold  me. And nothing is sweeter than the embrace of the Father.

When the air (and mud) clears, it is the supernatural, unexplainable, un-containable  God, wildly in love with me.  The God that is not content to be the vague and angry character  we all learned about in  Vacation Bible School as children,  or the long-ago Messiah who turned a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish into a mass-meal.  But the radical, revolutionary of love itself that I want to walk close enough to to be covered in the dust of his sandals.

“My beloved daughter,” he is saying. “You were given up for lost – if only by yourself  ….and now you are  found!”

And this radical, revolutionary Savior who  sees me in various states of disrepair from a long way off,  running toward me  to pull me into a crazy embrace.

And I am 100%, all-in, too far gone in love with him to let go.

Skewer the Stigma: In the wake of losing a star, an addict shares “who we are”

Philip_Seymour_Hoffman_2011
Rest in peace, Mr. Hoffman.

He had enjoyed 23 years of clean time, previous to his relapse.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

In the announcement of his recent death from a drug overdose, CNN refers to Hoffman as “everyman,”  and indeed, he was extraordinarily talented while still remaining personable. I know in my head that people with two decades of sobriety “fall off the wagon,” but it is always jarring to my heart when I hear about those occasions. Addictions will not be taken for granted.

There seems to be a slight shock that Hoffman, who suffered the same disease as Amy Winehouse, died from the same disease. His spin was not that of a train wreck, but of an accomplished and revered performer.

The article goes on to describe Hoffman as an actor so versatile that he “could be anybody.”  I’m not sure the author of the piece really appreciates how true his statement is.

We are everyman …. everywoman.  We alcoholics and addicts. We are legion.

Hoffman is Winehouse,

Who is the twenty-year old kid who died in the bathroom of a fast food joint with a needle in his arm,

Who is the elderly gentleman in the nursing home, stealing pills from a roomate,

Who  is the wealthy businessman drinking in the wee hours of the morning to get going,

Who is a soccer mom who cannot stop at three glasses of chardonnay,

Who is me.

If the silence of those ripped from the landscape of the entertainment world is deafening;  the gaping voids left by loved ones lost to addictions are life-swallowing sinkholes.

We alcoholics and addicts…..

We are not weak. The strongest people I’ve ever met have been recovering alcoholics.

We are born with super dopamine-seeking brains, susceptible to a hijacking of our brain chemistry. We know that our choices can keep our disease at bay, but we usually have to learn that the hard way.

We don’t want to make excuses for the train wrecks we pilot; we just want you to know they are not by design.

 We are sensitive, and are often creative forces to be reckoned with.

We contribute to the landscape of the world. We make music and poetry and art. We make business deals, and partnerships. And we value relationships more than you can imagine.

We love deeply, intrinsically…..sometimes so deeply that our souls cannot seem to bear it sober.

We punch time clocks and live ordinary lives. And truth be told, it isn’t always the pain that makes us want to drink and use, but fear of the ordinary.

We love our children fiercely. Yes, we would change  “For the sake of the children” if only we could.

We have heart.  We grieve so for hurting people. We often lack the instincts to handle that grief without self-destructing.

We really don’t want to self-destruct at all, but we don’t always know how to keep it from happening until the process has begun.

We crave the ability to handle life on life’s terms “normally,” like you do.

We don’t mean to embarrass you.

We don’t want to inflict the pain on others that our brain chemistry urges us to.  Addiction is as a plaque in the arteries of the spirit, a disorder of the brain. Like any mental illness, nobody wants to have it.

A good portion of any recovery program worth it’s salt is accountability. We want to make ammends with you (and if we don’t want to, don’t despair….we are working on it.)

We are brought to our knees in a desperation that normally-wired brains cannot fathom.  And we can get better – if we stay on our knees.

We need each other for survival. We sit in meetings in drab church basements drinking lukewarm coffee with others like us who are cut from the same colorful brilliant, thread-bare, sturdy cloth – because we want to go on living and contributing to the world, just like you.

We need God most of all. He is the Power Greater than Ourselves that can restore us to sanity.

We are “everyman” and “everywoman.”

And we get sober. We even stay sober, with work. With the understanding that our disease will not be taken for granted.

But we need you to understand some things:

You can support people who are trying to win – and daily WINNING – the footrace with tragedy.

You can try not to shame them. They feel guilty enough.

You can start here to educate yourself on the realities of alcoholism and drug addiction.

You can know that you are NOT ALONE – if you are everyman or everywoman, too.

You can ask someone who struggles with addiction – past or present – to church.  Our spirits, above all else, need to be nourished.

You can ask a recovering friend to go to the movies with you, or out to dinner, or for a walk on the beach.  Our minds and bodies need to be nourished, too.

You can ask questions.

You can pray for us.

You can just not give up on us.

You can know this, mothers and fathers. Your child’s addiction is NOT YOUR FAULT.  You did not cause it.

You can be tender to us in recovery, just as you would anyone in treatment for a disease.

By simply talking about it, you help strip away the stigma. Because the only thing worse than battling a disease is battling a disease that many people don’t believe exists. A disease that – if treatment is not embraced as a way of life – can be fatal.

For everyman.

Please take a moment to consider the loss of life and talent that alcoholism and drug addiction has taken from the cultural landscape.

And then think about the voids left by the vastly more important “everyman”  lost or still in the trenches of addiction – the children, spouses, friends and family that you love.

Amy Winehouse, musician; Brian Jones, musician with The Rolling Stones;   Chris Farley, comedian, actor;  Cory Monteith, actor  and singer;  Darrell Porter, American professional baseball player ;  Elisa Bridges, model, actress;  Elvis Presley , musician, singer, actor, cultural icon; Freddie Prinze, actor;  Hank Williams, Sr., country music singer-songwriter; Heath Ledger, Australian actor;  Howard Hughes,  business tycoon, movie producer and director, aviator, engineer, investor; Janis Joplin, musician; Jim Morrison, musician, singer; Jimi Hendrix, musician and singer-songwriter;  John Belushi , actor and comedian; John Entwistle, bass guitarist for The Who; Jon Bonham,  drummer  and songwriter for Led Zeppelin;   Judy Garland, actress and singer; Keith Moon, drummer for The Who;  Kurt Cobain, Nirvana singer;  Len Bias, Boston Celtics player; Lenny Bruce, comedian ; Marilyn Monroe, actress, model, singer;  Michael Jackson, singer and icon; Richard Burton, actor; River Phoenix, actor;  Sigmund Freud, considered by many to be the founding father of psychoanalysis; Tommy Dorsey, jazz musician; Truman Capote, writer; and Whitney Houston, singer and actress.

For a more comprehensive list of the famous who have passed away due to substance abuse, click here.

Head-Over-Heels – love from a God undeterred

I cannot talk God out of loving me. And neither can you.
I cannot talk God out of loving me. And neither can you.

By: Jana Greene

“For those who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God, it requires enormous trust and reckless, raging confidence to accept that the love of Jesus Christ knows no shadow of alteration or change. When Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened,” He assumed we would grow weary, discouraged, and disheartened along the way. These words are a touching testimony to the genuine humanness of Jesus. He had no romantic notion of the cost of discipleship. He knew that following Him was as unsentimental as duty, as demanding as love.”
―     Brennan Manning,     The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out    

From the very first minute I met my beloved husband, it was obvious that he was interested in me. He made is so clear! If ever there were a love at first sight, we totally nailed  it.

But seemed to be such a good man, that I had this primal urge to warn him.

“You should probably know,” I said, while waited  for a lunch table on our first date. “I’m an alcoholic in recovery.”

“And  have two daughters, 10 and 13, who I raise by myself.  And they are really handfuls.“  He only smiled at me, undeterred.

As that first date progressed, it was clear that this man was special, different. He was warm, attentive, interesting. I had butterflies, but in the most comfortable, natural way. As it turned out, that he had a 13-year-old daughter, too.  In our first, long conversation, I kept having the oddest feeling that this was The One.

We saw each other every day after that. We simply couldn’t be apart.

In times of anxiety, I wanted to tell him, “RUN! I am not worth it!” and when he didn’t run, that dark place in my spirit that was born of so much rejection in the past, whispered, “He will one day abandon you, you know. He will figure it out.”

Even after such a brief courtship, it occurred to me that If he wanted to run, I would rather it be right away, before I fell any deeper in love with him. I felt like such a mess, with nothing to  bring into this new relationship.

Nothing but me.

“I have medical issues,” I would say at otherwise intimate times. Or, “I struggle to pay my bills.”

I was sure that this sexy, compassionate, amazing man would not stick around, if only he knew the true me. But a strange thing happened … the more he came to know the true “me,” the more he just kept falling in love.  The alcoholism recovery (which is a lifetime endeavor,) the single-parenting of teenaged girls, the health issues….none of these – or any of the other in the plethora of anxieties and insecurities – kept him from loving me.

Oh how many times I experience the same dynamic in my walk with God!  From the very first moment I accepted Christ as my savior, it was obvious that he was head-over-heels with me.

From time to time I remind him: “I am small, insignificant. I battle anxiety, and fear abandonment, and have nothing to bring to the table. Only me.”

He is such a good God, it’s almost as if I feel I should warn Him.

Often, when I feel those butterflies that come from knowing the Living God has fallen in love with me, I still wonder “why?”  I am in awe that the God of the universe is undeterred by my character defects, challenges, and  not concerned about what I can “bring to the table.”

I’ve told God that – if he wants to run, I understand. I’m kind of a mess. Sometimes, when I am most anxious and depressed, when the old feelings of being a “mess” crash over me, I think about the early days when I tried to talk my Beloved husband out of loving me, and he just smiled. I was enough, he wanted me, just me – forever.

What kind of God would be crazy about me?  The kind that cannot be talked out of it.

The kind who just wants  to be with me, because when he created me, it was love at first sight.

And when he runs, it is only toward me.