Monday, February 25, 2013

What an AA Meeting Taught Me

I wasn't exactly expecting to learn anything. And yet, here I was, having a group of alcoholics teach me something very powerful about the position of my heart. I think one goes through life and typically elevates himself over those he deems "lower" or "less-sanctified" than himself, but as usual, I had forgotten one is never more than a few steps away from the worst person he thought he'd never be. And there I was. Taking advice from the people who had taken those few steps into darkness. Because, in the end, the light of truth shines most brightly in utter darkness.

By this point, you might think that this is a post about me coming clean about alcoholism. Close, but no cigar. (Ooh, two controversial substances in one paragraph!? Oh, the humanity.) No, I was simply attending some Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as a part of my Psychiatric and Mental Health nursing clinical rotation. But, apparently, God had more in mind than me just checking off some required clinical hours.

If you don't know anything about AA, I'm either really glad that you don't have a problem with alcohol, or I am really sad that you haven't heard of how you can deal with it. It's an amazing program that goes way past the cliche of, "Hi, my name's _____ and I'm an alcoholic." Granted, the downside is that it's not a Christian program, but it does help people out of some pretty dark times, if only for a benefit in this life.

The integral core of AA is something called The Twelve Steps. If you want to read all the steps, check it out here (they're legitsauce), but for the sake of this post, I'll just talk about the first one.

"We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable."

As I was sitting there, staring at the big "Twelve Steps" poster, it suddenly struck me that you might as well throw out the word "alcoholics," and slap a big, 'ole fat blank right there. Because, if we're really honest with ourselves, I'm pretty sure we're powerless over everything. Over our next breath. Over getting to work safely. Over living to see our grandchildren. But, if we're gonna take the next step and be painfully honest, we are utterly powerless over our sin. Over lining ourselves up with how God wants us to be. Over communicating the marvelous, glorious praise of Christ.

Now, look, I had always understood that. Somewhere in the sticky lobes of my skull, I understood that I was powerless. But for some reason, this past week, in an AA meeting, I realized how weak I really was. And I find it no coincidence that this is the same week that I was given the opportunity to tell my story in front of a crowd of a few hundred people.

God smacked my smart-icles and showed me that I have no message to give. That I could not communicate how great He was. That I could not even begin in any way to help people unless I am doing so in the grace of God's mercy.

And so, I tell you, my readers, I have no tale to tell you that will perk up your ears to wisdom. Anything you read here will not be able to change your heart. If you so happen to be moved by these pitiful words of mine, know that it is not the words themselves, but Christ Himself reaching down into your life. I think this is the reason that 1 Corinthians 2 says,
"This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words."
And for that, I praise the God of both the alcoholic and the arrogant.

Friday, February 15, 2013

An Island, A Boat, and A Lie

We had planned our trip to Peanut Island months in advance. And yes, you read that correctly. Peanut Island is its unfortunate name. They could've picked something much more grandiose, like Spearfish Island, or The Island of Legend. But, for some reason, they chose a small, awkwardly-shaped legume to label one of South Florida's most visited tourist spots. Fabulous. Anyway, we were taking high-schoolers from Youth for Christ out for a day of fun on the island.

I was in a speedboat watching high-schoolers get dragged around by a long rope connected to a tube. For some odd reason, people (myself included) love being thrown around in the waves with the target of having of fun and getting whiplash. In the moments when we had to stand completely still so that somebody could climb back on the boat after being thrown off the tube, I paid attention to the rocking of the boat.

It felt like I was moving it.

For some reason, whenever I get in a boat that's swaying in the tide of the water, it always feels like I'm the one that's making it move back and forth. As if my 145-pound, mayonnaise body somehow had the ability to influence the movement of a several ton boat. False. The moments I felt like my weight was influencing the swing of the boat were actually the moments where I had aligned myself to the independent swaying of the vessel.

And I was fooled into thinking it was my own doing.
"The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps." (Proverbs 16)
One of the largest temptations I face is that I always think that I've brought myself to where I am. That I've pulled up my own bootstraps, so to speak. That in all of the major events in my life, I've swayed the boat in my favor. It turns out that the times when I thought I was swaying the boat the way I wanted it was actually God allowing His Hand to shape and mold the steps of my future.

For those times when things are going right, and you feel as if your life is headed where you want it to go, I plead with you to realize that it is not of your own doing. After all, how many other times in your life were you doing everything right, only to be met with the most opposing of circumstances.

Honor the Lord, and do not forget His arm stretches farther than you know.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Art of Breathing

For the past few months, I've been having some sort of issue with my back muscles. I'm not sure exactly how to describe the feeling, but it's a little bit like the fibers in my back suddenly tear from each other.

"You need to get that checked out, sir."

First of all, I'm offended that you would tell me what to do. I am my own man. Or something.

Second of all, I'm not really big into getting things "checked out," for the main reason that the doctor usually can't find anything without extensive testing. And when I say testing, I mean the whole bit: MRI's, blood work, etc. And I ain't about that life. I'll take the open air over getting put in a skinny cylinder that looks like a tube of toothpaste any day. But I should probably take your advice. Sometimes, the ripping pain will happen while I'm doing crazy things, like a jump serve in volleyball or while I'm riding my longboard. 

"You obviously pulled it."

Listen, I'm getting tired of your shenanigans. Can you just listen to me this one time? As I was saying, the ripping pain doesn't just happen in moments of action. It's also happened while sitting at Chick-Fil-A or while walking through my kitchen. Unprovoked. And when it happens, it often hurts so bad that it becomes hard to breathe. It's as if expanding my chest is the last thing I want to do, so breathing becomes a pretty heavy task.

But I'm not the only one who had problems breathing.

Studies have been done that have tried to replicate what it would have been like to be crucified by the Romans during their golden age. The Roman executioners were highly specialized in the art of torture, and they knew exactly how to beat you within an inch of your life, making death a better friend than the excruciating life you're experiencing.

Part of this skill was the way the cross was set up. The only way you could breathe on a cross is to push up on the nail that was going through your feet. This essentially meant that you had two options:

1. Breathe.
2. Endure indescribable pain.

You could only pick one. Something about all this reminds me of a saying about a rock and a hard place. And yet, for Him, it was neither.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12)
The joy? What!? I'm sorry, but that doesn't make a lick of sense. Who on earth would joyfully go through crucifixion?

It was Christ's joy because He knew that it was all for you. Every push up on that nail was His way of expressing His love for you. The same God who breathed life into Adam was using every one of His breaths as proof that He would do anything to get you into His family. And so now you stand, redeemed by the diaphragm of Jesus, breathing life because He decided to be your Rescue Inhaler.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

She Was a Drawbridge

It was dark, windy, and too cold for my thin hoodie. And yet, I sat out there on the concrete wall, retaining what little heat I had and hoping to connect with God next to a parking lot that was butted up against the waters of the intracoastal. The sky had its stars, the water had its waves, and man had his bridge, sitting there atop the waters like one-half of a hand cupped in clapping.

She was a drawbridge, totally in control of those who would walk all over her, and yet rarely exercising her ability to make them stop. No one ever really appreciated her: she was just a means to an end. The other end, specifically. They never counted the cost of the innumerable tons of concrete used to construct her gentle slope and never took the time to notice the strength of her intricate mechanized underbelly. And yet, she never reacted in anger to those who would ignore her, but only every so often would she open her mouth to sing, stopping driver and pedestrian alike in their pursuit of the other side.

But when she sang, everyone stopped.

Not everyone would stop out of a wish to admire her grandeur. In fact, more often than not, her beautiful song went unnoticed, covered by her audience's insignificant distractions. While they were worried about who was going to make dinner, or why their lives never seemed to work out quite as they had hoped, her gears turned and her rivets held a long, silent note that pierced the night air. Her beauty made them stop, but their admiration was their own to indulge.

On that day when we find ourselves at eternity's shore, we will also be confronted with an immeasurable beauty - that of the bridegroom accepting His bride. All of the most lavish weddings of the earth will rise in their humble submission to the fact that they were a drop in the bucket compared to the elegance to be portrayed that day. The altar will be the Great White Throne room, and the Father will give away His Bride to His Son, recounting the long and strenuous story of redemption as a joy that resulted in that moment of union.

Dear friends, the beauty of a drawbridge, or a mountain, or a song are meant to point us to the beauty of Christ, not only on that wedding day, but every day. The only difference is that Christ will be too beautiful too ignore.

So take a minute, read the Psalms, walk out into nature, see the ocean. Anything. Just reflect on the beauty of Christ.
"Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them." (Rev. 20)