Thursday, November 25, 2004

"Over my shoulder, a backward glance..."

As I start writing this, it is late Thanksgiving eve in Chicago...a snowy, blustery night. My apartment-mate is in the western suburbs with his family for an early turkey-day, since he is stuck working on Thanksgiving Day, so the apartment is empty. The folks at the Garfield Park Conservatory, where I'm doing some temp work, said that we could go home at 2 p.m. - but if I didn't stay there, I wouldn't get paid. (And trust me - I really need to get paid.) So I was the last one out of the building, and took the El (the Green Line) back to Hyde Park about 6 p.m. in the blustery, slushy & snowy slop.

I should be packing to leave for Toledo tomorrow morning. I'm riding with my former schoolmate Barb, whose family is also in Toledo - but the weather prompted us to stay overnight, and leave in the morning. Instead, I took the time to fix myself a pretty decent dinner - a tolerable attempt at "pad thai with shrimp" - and catch up on a bunch of my friends' blogs. It has not been a particularly productive evening, but it's been a good one.

It's one of Paul Harvey's favorite lines...."Over my shoulder, a backward glance..." Those six words signal reflection, introspection, and most of all, a discernment of what is a source of gratitude in life. I've always loved it...and it fits, today.

Am I grateful for this last year? That's a tough call, in a way. I have walked through some long, dark days, and over the last half-year I have felt much more like living in the incinerator than in "the refiners' fire." I have to admit that in the last seven months, I have experienced some of the darkest depression I've encountered in sobriety. I have wept more, and had more Book-of-Job-like run-ins with my Creator, than I would ever have chosen to have in one 12-month period. Can I really be grateful for that?

In fact, if anyone would have told me when I left my job in Kansas City in August 2003 that fifteen months later (and a scant few months from my 48th birthday) I would be on the outside of the seminary community, without permanent employment, without health insurance, without even car insurance, and down to my last few sheckels, trust me...I never would have left. Had I seen what was coming, I would surely have said to God, "We evidently have had a hideous misunderstanding about what 'following God's call' means." So yeah - this has not been the year I would have hoped for, back a year ago.

But despite all that, I am truly grateful for my life - beyond any measure I could share with you.

The four or five times I "hit bottom" in this year (financially, emotionally, and spiritually), there were people who were there to give me a "hand up" (not just a hand-out) when I needed it most. I have found friends who have been willing to pray for me when I have been absolutely unwilling to pray. And I have found amazing insights into my life, and my sometimes wobbly relationship with my God, as a result of it all. It's hard not to be grateful for all that, no matter what it took to get here.

I'm grateful to God, the community of faith and the community of recovery for getting me through the storms of my life, one day at a time. There have been many, many times when "giving up" sounded like the absolute next right thing to do (because I'm a wimp, at heart)...but each time I've come close to the precipice, real live people have acted as God's hands and feet to ensure that I might certainly get "down," but never completely "out."

I'm thankful to my brothers and sisters here at LSTC - first, for the bulk of my classmates who (on the rare occasions that we interact, now that I'm not in school) are still uniformly glad to see me whenever we cross paths. But I'm really grateful for my apartment-mate Tim, and for Laila, Lisa, Barb, Mike and Michelle, who have worked hard to help me stay connected. Along with a few blessed professors who have been willing to listen and encourage, these people continue to let me know that even though I am "walking apart from" the community, I am still "a part of" their lives. That means more than they will ever know.

I give thanks for the sisters and brothers who have supported me financially when I couldn't help myself...Jerry & Bev, the Lentz family (all of you, but especially Nathan), Barry H., the Tea Tin crowd, and a whole bunch of folks whose small but timely gifts kept me from complete and abject failure as a going concern. I owe you all more than just money...I owe you life itself, because that's what you gave me. I'm still a long way from out of the woods - but I never could have made it this far without you. Thank you.

My companions in faith and recovery have meant the difference between spiritual life and death over the last year. Sandy M., Natalie, Mike M., Eric, Norma, Barry, Cherri J., Ben B., Momma Delphine, Larry K., Tim B., Tom S. and Michael D. - as well as Pastor Joe, Pastor John, and my late mentor and surrogate dad, Pastor Tom Housholder - have been encouragers, prayer partners, and recovery partners (both here and in KC). I am so very grateful for the gift of love and friendship you have shared with me. Whatever fractional share of sanity I have today is (in large part) because of you. You have carried me spiritually far more than I have walked - and I give thanks to God for each of you.

One of the great gifts I have received in sobriety is the restoration of my relationship with my sisters, Sue and Sandy. Being closer to Toledo has meant seeing them more in the last year than I have in the prior four or five. And given how long I went (before I got sober) without really expressing to them what they meant to me, I am so incredibly blessed to have them (and their families) in my life.

I'd be incredibly remiss if I didn't mention the online blogging community, who have accepted me, encouraged me, and uplifted me with their faith, their insights, and the power of their stories. To Renee', Rick, Drew, Bobbie, Mommy T., Levi, Poor Mad Peter, Chris (Radio Reb), and so many others - thank you for your incredible honesty, and for sharing your stories, your insights and experiences, and your faith with me. Though we may never meet face-to-face, you are daily proof of what my first AA sponsor told me before I left my hometown for Kansas City: "If you are walking hand-in-hand with God, and I am walking hand-in-hand with God, then you and I are walking together, no matter how many miles lie between us."

All these people - and so many more that I cannot name - form "the cloud of witnesses" that continues to lift me up, to bless me, and to encourage me on my way. How could I not weep with gratitude for those kind of gifts in my life?

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: if (by some accident, medical trauma, or tragedy) this is my last day on earth, I can truly say this: It has been a good day; it has been a good life. I woke up sober, was of service to my sisters and brothers, brought some smiles, shared some joy, and was able both to love and be loved by more people than I can count. Regardless of my material standing in life, that puts me 100% "in the bonus round" of life. I know that my Redeemer lives, and I know I am redeemed; I know the love of God and of my fellow human beings.

That makes me rich beyond all the measure of this world.

I'll be "off the air" for a few days while I'm in Ohio. But you all will be in my heart, wherever you are, and wherever I am.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Peter said...

"If you are walking hand-in-hand with God, and I am walking hand-in-hand with God, then you and I are walking together, no matter how many miles lie between us."
Couldn't have said it better: happy (US) Thanksgiving, Steve!


Reader Michael said...

I especially appreciated the quote you attributed to your AA sponsor. What a beautiful thing it is to be in the invisible church of God on the earth. I'm thankful for your companionship as a cojourneyer.

New Life said...

Dear Steve,

Funny how this blog-stuff works. What a gift to the world. Thanks for your sharing and for your words of encouragement to me this year as well. I remember the day I discovered your blog. I was stoked and told my wife about a guy I share some things in common. It is if God has closed the gap distance that your AA sponsor discussed.

Thanks, I look forward to this coming year and what God has in store for us all.


Anonymous said...

Have a great thanksgiving! I return my gratitude to you and acknowledge the deep heartfelt love for the whole blogging community. I'm with Nomey, great quote from your sponser. It's awesome to be walking with you. Hopefully, post holiday, our walk will trip paths more often.


steph said...

Steve I am thankfor for the journey you have shared on this blog. Your courage, your honesty, your authenticity and your wrestling into a deep and real relationship with God is so encouraging. You have lost so much in this world and I believe you are gaining, deep in the core of you, the real kind of treasure. It is hard to see in the long dark lonely days, but we hear it when you speak here.
Thank you and bless you as you continue to walk with God, seek His face and find Him showing you His glory.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve,
D.O. from Toledo,here. Thank you deeply for your
intro of your blog and your kind words of inner most feelings. It touched my heart to here of your trials and accomplishments however so immense or miniscual. I can honestly say,as you know my testimony, there is hope and we are not alone. I just pray increasingly for a glimmer of his wisdom for his plan for me. It just might be the solitairy message of hope. We so often want proof or something tangible of his love for us.Maybe, I'm it?! This is truly a season of Thanksgiving and a daily celebration of his grace!!
Thanks again for being in my life.
D.O. :>)

3 nails + 1 cross = 4 given

Im A Foto Nut said...

Thanks for the mention, I feel the same way about you. I am going to take the lazy man's way out and tell you to head over to my blog and read about my Thanksgiving. (Rather than emailing you, I will be bathing my children.)

Still tired from the weekend, since when I got back to work I was filling in for one of my employees who had three days worth of work backed up because of the holiday.

By the way maybr I can call you tuesday to discuss the moral issue I hinted at in my blog.

bobbie said...

i too love that quote, and am thankful for you steve!

it's when the other things are burned away, crucible like, that we can truly see the things that matter.

your story is so encouraging to me, and i am grateful your hand is in his today!