31 Years later: One Day at a Time

(Image courtesy of recoverychip.com)

“But for the grace of God go I.” This phrase is often mentioned in AA rooms. It is a simple recognition of the fact that drunkenness or drug abuse would still plague us if it were not for the power of God’s grace to intervene on our behalf.

I joyfully profess that truth again today, May 3rd, 2022, as it marks the anniversary of the 31st year of my journey in recovery from alcoholism. I know in the very depth of my heart that it is God’s grace that has kept me sober all this time.

Yet it occurs to me today that this grace of God poured out for my benefit is not merely a defensive measure against picking up a drink. If it were so, I think one good dose of it back then would have been enough to set and keep me on this path. The grace of God is powerful enough to free a helpless and hopeless person like me so that recovery could happen and my drinking problem would stay in the past.

But I am discovering that God’s abundant grace is also a powerful and guiding force for life itself. Above and beyond recovery, as wonderful as that fact, the grace that pours from our loving God’s heart is constantly at work within us. It will transform us from selfish to being more selfless, if we allow grace more fully into our heart and mind.

Grace, by definition, is God’s unmerited favor. I/we cannot earn it and for my part, I certainly don’t deserve it. Still, God’s love is such that grace is offered to all; without condition!

The question/choice then becomes: What will I do with this awesome gift? For me, and over time, I am learning to allow this gift fuller reign in my life. As I do, I discover that God does indeed want only good for me. By allowing grace to permeate my heart, I find the direction and desire to follow God’s plan more willingly for my life. And why not? I have come to trust God without reservation to keep me sober, one day at a time. With this realization I am coming to know that God also has a plan laid out for me that if I choose to follow, with bring glory and honor to God and joy to me.

Be assured, there is absolutely nothing special or unique about me that has somehow broken the mold and earned God’s care and protection. God cares for and loves all creation simply because God is the Creator!

Because this love is equal to all, we all have the same opportunity to allow God’s grace to do its powerful and transformational work in each of our lives. One need not be an alcoholic or drug addict to experience God’s love. Rather, simply consider the possibility that God loves you, period. No past is so terrible to somehow stop God’s love from coming to you. It is only our reluctance to embrace grace that prohibits us from more fully knowing and living in it.

Today I celebrate not merely a milestone of time sober, but rather I give praise, glory and honor to the God who has brought me from death to life. I thank God for the chance to be more actively involved in living in grace. May you be encouraged to do the same!

Thanks for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

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Improve your conscious contact

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(image courtesy of my12stepstore.com)

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. Step 11 (of 12) from the Program of Recovery from Alcoholics Anonymous.

As many of your know, Faithful Readers, I have been blessed, by the grace of God, to live free from the bondage of alcoholism for nearly 30 years. Where once was a helpless drunk now stands a person living a sober life. I give God all the credit, for it is He who lifted me from the darkness of that former life into the light of His love, free from addiction.

I must also give credit to the program of recovery as laid out by Alcoholics Anonymous. The guidance offered by those who came before has helped me to live a life of personal growth, which I in turn try to share with others as was done for me. The 12 Steps of Recovery as explained in the book Alcoholics Anonymous have been solid guideposts for me all these years. Again, I learned much of what I share from those who took the time to help me get started and as we say in AA, ‘you have to give away what you have in order to keep it.’

Those 12 Steps that I mentioned were written in a specific order. They are meant to help a person get a foundation on which to base their recovery (Steps 1-3). The remaining 9 are more action steps. When followed honestly, they help us to deal with the wreckage of our past and give direction for a happy and productive life of sobriety going forward. In my opinion, there is no graduation day, as the working of the Steps into my daily life is an on-going process. This allows me to assess my thoughts and actions, while helping me to always remember that I am afflicted with a disease that is relentless. It wants me dead, but will settle for drunk. Continually working on the 12 Steps helps to safeguard me from slipping into bad thoughts or behaviors.

I write of this today because the 11th Step (quoted above), was brought up as a topic of discussion at an AA meeting I attended recently. As I listened to what was shared by others concerning Step 11, a few thoughts came to my mind. I shared some of them then, and would like to do so again here. I believe that these 12 Steps are vitally important for recovery, I also hold that they can be of practical help to anyone who wants to take an honest look at themselves with an eye toward becoming a better person, regardless of whether or not you struggle wit haddiction.

Step 11 is built on the premise that one has at least some conscious contact with a power greater than themselves. For me, as I have made abundantly clear in my blog, that power is Jesus Christ. It was the Lord who offered me the opportunity to live a sober life, and it continues to be Him who calls me to live a life that honors Him. I make no apologies for my faith, nor do I want anyone to think I water down what I believe in order to make it somehow more appealing.

Having said this for personal clarity, what the 11th Step teaches is that the offer to improve one’s conscious contact with a power greater than themselves is available to all. The key point is that for any lasting sobriety, a person must come to grips that they are totally defenseless against the ravages of addiction on their own. Hence the need for this Higher Power. It is a humbling thing, but by so doing we gain access to the awesome power that desires to help set us free.

Rather than go into a discussion of how one might accomplish the ‘prayer and meditation’ Step 11 advises, let me simply ask two more straight forward questions.

First, regardless of if you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, where do stand in regard to a Higher Power? If you do not recognize one, may I humbly suggest that you investigate the issue further. My journey through life has been made infinitely more peaceful, with life’s speed bumps included, simply because I have entered into a relationship with the God of my understanding, Jesus Christ.

This leads to my other simple question: If you have discovered this power made available to you, a power that wants only the best for you, why wouldn’t you want to improve your conscious contact with it? For me, the many challenges of life, as well as its rewards and joys, have been kept in proper perspective because of this relationship.

By recognizing my complete dependance on my Higher Power to get and keep me sober, I have come to trust Him more and more as the days have turned into years. Improving my conscious contact with Him has allowed me to acknowledge the areas of my life that still need work, as well as to be evermore grateful for what I have come know as His blessings on me.

My advice: Take/make the opportunity to improve your conscious contact with a power greater than yourself. It will only do you good!

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

An Attitude of Gratitude

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(image courtesy of gratitudeseeds.com)

One of the suggestions I took seriously as I entered into recovery from alcoholism was the need to develop an attitude of gratitude. This required a total realignment of how I perceived things, as I had for so long only seen the negative and dreaded everything that was to happen. Existing in this black hole left me no option toward optimism or thankfulness about anything.

It turns out that my early mentors in recovery were correct: I had to adjust my way of thinking to develop a new way of life. Though it has not been easy to maintain the gratitude attitude all the time, I am happy to report that it has become easier the longer I have stayed away from booze.

Another of the practical tips my newfound friends gave me was to purchase and read daily the Twenty-Four Hours a Day book, known affectionately to AAers as the ‘little black book.’ This book contains daily readings and insights from others in recovery as well as prayers that are designed to help the one in recovery to navigate another day clean and sober. Like so many of their other suggestions, I took them up on this and am so happy I did.

I do read from it every day. In fact, I have been at this so long that my original copy fell apart and was replaced two years ago. I would like to share an excerpt from today, January 22nd, that has reminded me again of the importance of maintaining an attitude of gratitude:

Meditation for the Day

I will never forget to say thank you to God, even on the grayest days. My attitude will be one of humility and gratitude. Saying thank you to God is a daily practice that is absolutely necessary. If a day is not one of thankfulness, the practice has to be repeated until it becomes so. Gratitude is a necessity for those who seek to live a better life.

Prayer for the Day

I pray that gratitude will bring humility. I pray that humility will bring me to live a better life. (The above is quoted from Twenty-Four Hours a Day, Hazelton Publishing, for January 22nd)

Learning to thank God one day at a time for this chance He has given me has helped me to be a more grateful person. Yet, this does not come naturally for me. I can still to easily lose my focus on what God has done for me if I allow myself instead to concentrate on what I do not have as opposed to what I do. I must remember that it is my choice to live in this gratitude. When I do, I have such a greater appreciation of the world around me, and my place in it!

When my attitude is wrapped in gratitude, I am truly a ‘glass half full person.’ Not only am I more optimistic about the world around me, but in recovery I know exactly what my half-filled cup has in it (either coffee or Pepsi!).

It truly is a matter of perception. With a grateful heart/mind, I can have a much fuller and better appreciation of things. And when I start to look at the empty space instead of what I have, I need to pour the contents of that proverbial glass into a smaller one, thus reminding me to focus on what I do have going for me instead of lamenting what I don’t.

How about you? What are you grateful for today? And if like me you struggle in this area sometimes, what do you do to pull yourself out? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Hi, My Name is …

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Hi, my name is Chuck and I am a pastor. Those of you familiar with 12 Step meetings may recognize this opening line. In truth, I am many things, included in which is the fact that I am an alcoholic, sober now for nearly 30 years by the grace of God.

I am also, as stated above, a pastor. My wife Betsy and I run a ministry out of our home. You can find out what we are doing for the Kingdom of God by going to www.lakesidechristianministries.org if you would like.

I am also a fledgling blogger. This is one of those activities that was not on my radar of things to do. It was the suggestion of my wife that I start jotting down some of the thoughts that rattle around inside my bald head. I am so happy I took her up on it, because blogging as become one of the highlights of the things I get to do with my time. WordPress has exposed me to some wonderful people. Though we are of varying backgrounds and beliefs, I have found this venue to be open-minded and fair. I cherish the friends I have made around the globe here.

As I said, being a writer was not on my to do list. In the past, writing has been an exhausting exercise for me. I think back now of the numerous papers that needed to be written for seminary and I wonder how I did it! Again, the encouragement of fellow bloggers has helped me to overcome much (not all) of the self-doubts I had. Thoughts like, ‘who wants to read anything I write’ no longer get much attention in my consciousness.

These same blogger friends encouraged me not to look at the numbers of ‘likes’ or followers and just keep writing what is on your heart. I must admit though, I do look at the numbers from time to time. As I glanced at them yesterday, I saw that the numbers of followers had jumped up noticeably. I am awed and humbled by this.

So, to those who have been with me so far on this journey, thanks so much! Your input and encouragement truly mean the world to me. For those who have recently signed up, here are a few pertinent facts about me that might spare you having to go back through all my blogs for context:

Betsy and I have been married for 37 years. She is simply the most wonderful human being I have ever known. I am blessed to walk through life with her. We live in a small town, Fulton New York. It is most famous for its lake-effect snow, as we get an average of 250 inches per winter (that’s over 20 feet!)

We have two adult children: Our oldest is Kenny. He is married to a sweetheart of a girl named Ashley. They live only 30 minutes away so we get to see them often. Kenny took over my old job as Facilities Painter at Le Moyne college when I stepped away from full-time employment to oversee our ministry as my primary focus. He learned the trade from me over the seven summers he worked with the summer paint crew there. These past 4 summers I have gone back to work with him from mid-May to the end of August (good thing I was a good boss to him now that our roles are reversed!)

Our youngest son Auger lives about 3 hours from us. He lives with his partner Mic. They make a great team, and we love them dearly. Over the past 18 months Auger has taken up the pursuit of his undergraduate degree in English, with an emphasis on creative writing. At no surprise to me, he is excelling at this. He has been gifted with the ability to write in ways that are so compelling on many levels. We are excited for what the future holds.

Betsy and I share our home with Violet, a standard-sized (70 pounds) Goldendoodle. You would not have to go back far in my posts to see one about her. She is, in my humble opinion, the best dog ever. The joy she brings to our home is immeasurable.

Our home ministry is quite active in the community. One rewarding activity is the bringing of bible studies on the road, going to peoples homes. This is especially helpful to folks who have had trouble in church settings in the past. Our ministry goal is simple: To be the hands and feet of Jesus and to meet people right where they are, just as the Lord did.

Betsy and I have a unique hobby, if you will: We sing our National Anthem at sporting events around the central New York area. We also sing O Canada when teams from north of the border to play here. We really enjoy doing this. It allows us to honor our country that we love, and we have met some really cool people in our travels.

There you have it, for now, newest followers. Again, thanks so very much for taking the time to read my stuff and to comment when so moved. I appreciate you all!

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Life is Happening in Front of, not Behind You

Violet

Another walk with Violet, another illustration on life. Violet, I’m sure most of you know by now, is our Goldendoodle. Unless it is a downpour, my wife Betsy and I take her for a 1.5 mile walk every morning.

Violet, in my somewhat jaded opinion, is simply the best dog ever. She is everything I could hope for in a pet: a wonderful disposition, smart and non-shedding (those of you who have had Basset Hounds know how good this can be!) All in all, Vi is very low maintenance.

This is not to say that she has no faults at all. Her need to have absolutely everything (wind velocity and direction along with proper barometric pressure) in order so she can go number 2 can be frustrating. The other quirk my dog exhibits is the inspiration for this post: Violet frequently (and for no apparent reason) will whip her head around to look behind while continuing to walk forward. This peculiar behavior has caused her to walk into more than one car bumper on our strolls.

Being one who talks to the dog like she’s human, I have tried to explain to Violet that life is happening in front of, not behind, her. If she would only stop looking back so much I tell her, she could avoid the painful bumps on her skull. While my discussions on this point have revealed little change in Vi’s frequent over-the-shoulder glances, I have been trying to apply this same principle to my life.

One of the teachings from 12 Step recovery says that we do not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. (From AA’s Big Book.) Simply stated, this tells me to learn from my past mistakes to reduce the likelihood of repeating them. To shut out all the memories from my dark past, then, would be a mistake, less I forget the lessons I have now gleaned from them.

For the most part, I have had success with this. By keeping some of the pain I caused in my consciousness, I am reminded daily of the devastation I am capable of but certainly do not want to inflict or go through again.

However, there are certain events or conversations, no matter how old they are, that will still pop up in my head, trying to gain my full attention. Things that I thought I had dealt with will seemingly be there out of blue. Hurts, both real and imagined, will come swimming to the forefront of my thoughts. These tend to keep my focus on things past rather than on what is in front of me.

Most of the time, I realize that these random intrusions are just that, random. Part of not shutting the door on the past does make it possible for other things kept back there to want to creep out. Staying aware of this happening often allows me to quickly put them back in their proper place.

When I do not quickly put these thoughts back into the past however, if I decide to linger over them, I risk joining Violet in bumping into something right in front of me because my focus was on what I thought might be behind me.

Like Vi, I need to remind myself that life is currently happening in front of me, not behind. If I will but properly use and learn from the experiences of my past, I can usually avoid bumping my head when I did not have to.

Life’s joys, challenges and yes, mundane daily occurrences are all happening before my eyes. Things to enjoy, challenges to be met and rote things to be done can all be further experiences to help me learn and grow in this life. But I must face them all, head on, without spending undue time trying to walk forward while staring backward.

Like most opportunities to learn, this one is a process for me. There are times when I wonder how I could have ever stumbled by looking back, and there are times when I wonder if I will ever get my focus back to where it needs to be.

God, in His mercy, is always ready to guide me back into His light. He will minister to my heart regarding those things in the past that vie for attention when they have already been forgiven by Him. When I live this out, I avoid many unpleasant bumps to my noggin.

As for Violet, I guess I will just have to be diligent for her as I remind myself that some of her lumps on the head have helped me avoid some of my own!

How about you? I’d love to hear how you have dealt/deal with the thoughts of the past as you try to navigate the present.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

I Must be Having Fun

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“Times flies when you’re having fun.” We’ve all heard this and, hopefully, many have experienced it as well. I got to thinking about this old saying during my morning meditation time today. You see, today is rather important anniversary in my life: 29 years ago, May 3rd 1991, God placed me on the journey of sobriety. A journey He has kept me successfully on ever since. Let me start today by thinking Him for this inexplicable gift and life saving gift. I have been blessed by tremendous support from my wife, family and many friends over the years, but without God’s intervention, nothing would have been possible.

Nearly 30 years have, pardon the cliché, flown by in the wink of an eye. Hence my oft repeated phrase, ‘I must be having fun because the time is going by so quickly.’ I recall the earliest days of sobriety as I marveled at the men and women at AA meetings who spoke of their length of sobriety in terms of decades! Fresh from de-tox and rehab, those numbers seemed more like fantasy than reality. I can also recall thinking that if I were to reach those lofty heights of time away from I drink, I would be 60 years old. (Guess what Charles, you hit that number a few months ago!)

My message today is to encourage each of you to embrace the gift that today is. I realize that many, especially in these times, are struggling in ways never thought possible just a few short months ago. My prayer for you and me is that no matter what cards we have been dealt, we hold onto hope. Hope that not only brings a properly timed end to shutdowns, but also a hope that opens our eyes and hearts to the tender care of our Creator.

May these words from the Apostle Paul be a light in the darkness for you: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13 NIV).

Relying on God’s strength can help you to do so much more than simply endure another day; it can make it possible to experience the joy and peace that only God can give. God’s peace is not restrained by our circumstance. It is abundant and can overflow into your life. Admit your need to Him, whatever it is, and God’s faithfulness will not only see you through but will lift you nearer to Him.

Give it a try and see if today doesn’t zip by in warp speed as the joy of life lived by the loving lead of God fills your heart and mind.

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Call Waiting

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A blog that I faithfully read is titled My Way Home. I highly recommend you check it out if you haven’t already.  It is not only excellently written, but the topics are timely and presented with a transparency I can only hope to attain someday.  It was in responding to a recent post there that caused me to offer this fuller explanation of how our ever-faithful God showered me with His patience, waiting for me to answer His call.

Before cell phones became a ‘necessity,’ most folks had a phone (or two) placed strategically in their homes.  One of the innovations of that era was Call Waiting, a service provided by the phone company that alerted to you to an incoming call during a call already in progress.  I know it doesn’t sound like much know, but twenty some years ago it was a big deal.

But enough about ancient phone technology, suffice to say I would ask you to keep the idea of Call Waiting in mind as you plow through the following.  As many of you know, I started my journey of recovery from alcoholism in 1991.  From a detox to in patient rehab; I then dove wholeheartedly into AA.  It was their teaching that to recover one must rely on a ‘power greater than ourselves’ that I came to know Jesus Christ as Savior.  I’d gone to church every Sunday as a kid and heard all the stories; they simply didn’t mean anything to me.  That is until I was faced with the prospect of a slow and lonely death if something didn’t change in my life.

As the length of time away from a drink continues to grow, so did my trust in Jesus.  I counted on Him to not only keep me sober, but also to live my life in a responsible way.  Little things that had always been beyond me, like working and paying bills, became things I could do with the Lord’s leading.

I didn’t feel the need to go back to organized religion, for I had all I needed on a daily basis in this gift of sobriety.  I did not object, however, when my wife suggested we start going to church again, for the kids.  It is as I starting attending services regularly during this time that the story of Call Waiting began.

After being with this wonderful group of people that made up my new church family a short time, I became involved in various activities.  There was choir and bible study and fellowship dinners as well as other ministry activities.  I did many of them, enjoying a freedom in my spirit I had never known.

I also began to take an active role in caring for and about others.  Visiting folks in the hospital or those who were home bound became very important to me.  It seemed only right to give back in some way after having done so much damage caring only about me and my wants.  As I look back, it was during this time that God’s Call Waiting started to happen.

All of a sudden, it seemed to me, various people that I had contact doing these various ministry tasks started to tell me that I had a ‘pastor’s heart.’ I smiled and nodded at these kind words, thinking to myself they had me confused with someone else.  I was barely scratching the surface of learning how to take care of myself and my young family; surely this pastor business was not for me.

While hoping in my heart of hearts that these comments would die a peaceful death, they in fact became more frequent and were now being followed with questions like: “You really ought to look into this,” and the big one, “This is God’s calling for you.”

Well, I thought, if it was God calling, He was going to have to wait.  I had debts to pay and a wife and children I wanted to spend time with.  Being a pastor seemed at that time to entail lousy working hours with little pay.  I was all for helping out, when it was convenient, but not full time.  No, that call was going to have to wait.

If I’ve learned anything in this Christian walk all these years, it’s that you cannot out-wait God.  He left that line open all those years.  I eventually saw that there was a call on the other line, if you will, but I was still not picking up.

I am ever so glad He is as patient as He is.  For once I did answer the call to be a pastor, I have found some of the greatest blessings in those lousy hours and the pay scale is truly unmatched.  What God was calling me to is so much better than my own best plan could ever be, but He let me figure that out over time.

Part of me wants to apologize for leaving Him on hold for so long but yet the larger portion of my heart is grateful for His patience.  All that time that I thought I was doing my things my way; He was working on my heart to be able to trust Him more; which most certainly worth the wait!

How about you? What’s God calling you to do.

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck