Category Archives: Masterpiece: A Love Story

A heart formed of barbed wire

There I Am Also

This material was developed for my memoir Masterpiece: A Love Story but not used in the book. (A five minute read)

Who am I now, anyway?

For many years I answered that question only by comparing myself against the signposts I saw in the world. That left my identity fluid, easily distorted, and subject to my whim of the moment. I used to compromise my values in the moment for the moment, instead of faithfully investing for the long term.

This all led me through about 40 years in the wilderness, where I refused to choose God’s best for me. Everything good was relative. Victory meant I got ahead of you. Success came when you thought I was doing well. Prosperity was about avoiding lack or punishment, not enjoying a full life.

These battles were all fought on the human playing field, the one where no one truly wins for long. When I suited up for that game, I had no time for God. He was the bad guy anyway, keeping me from the things I desired. If I couldn’t reach them, it was because He hadn’t made my reach long enough.

Apparent Failure is Not the End

But God being God, showed mercy, even though I was his enemy. My loss of a moral center had made me morally destitute. But God can redeem anything and anyone, including me. And He always has His best in mind.

Sometimes I still doubt that. When I do, it means I temporarily believe one or more lies about myself, instead of the truth. My recovery program is simple. I read the prayer written by the apostle Paul for the church in Ephesus. It’s a reminder of the promises God made to those of us who believe in Jesus.

It’s powerful to read it aloud and insert my own name in place of the words ‘we’ and ‘our’ and ‘us’ and ‘you’ and ‘your’. I won’t quote the whole thing here, but here are a list of the promises it contains. The next time you doubt yourself (or the Almighty!) remember these. And if you aren’t yet a follower of Jesus Christ, well, these will be true for you as well, when you take a knee for Him.

A Few Promises

  • You are a saint
  • You are faithful
  • You are blessed with every spiritual blessing (though Christ)
  • You were chosen by God before the foundation of the world
  • You were chosen to be holy (set apart)
  • You were chosen to be blameless before Him (thanks to the sacrifice of Christ)
  • You were predestined to adoption (into God’s family)
  • God’s grace has been bestowed to you (in Christ)
  • You are redeemed (through Christ’s blood)
  • You are forgiven of your sins (through repentance)
  • God has lavished the riches of His grace upon you
  • God will make known to you the mystery of His will (through the Holy Spirit)
  • You are part of God’s eternal plan
  • You have received an inheritance through Him
  • You get to live for the praise of God’s glory
  • You have been sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit1

A little further on, Paul reminds me about the sinful lifestyle I used to live. Yes, I still wrestle with these temptations, but they no longer guide my steps, just cause an occasional stumble.

I was spiritually ‘dead’ in the sins I used to walk in, Paul writes.2 This was all the way the world and the devil said I should live – insensate. I once pursued these things with abandon, and they almost killed me. I did only what my body and my mind demanded, and I was by my very nature a disobedient enemy of God.

When the Light Changes

What changed? He met me in a seedy motel room in Vancouver, Washington in August of 2003. I was a broken-down drunk crying out for mercy. I meant my plea. He knew it. He responded. By grace I was saved.

He pulled me out of the dung heap I’d made of my life.3 Why? Because, as Paul concludes, ‘For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.’ 4

There’s a plan. I’m an important part of it, and so are you. Our success only comes by being who God says we are, not what others say we should do.

So – how does it feel to know you are part of God’s plan to save the world?

1. Adapted from Ephesians 1:3-13
2. Ephesians 2:1-3 ‘And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you formerly walked..doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind.’
3. ‘I waited patiently for the Lord, and He turned to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet on a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth, even praise to our God; many will see it, and fear, and will trust in the Lord. – Psalm 40:1-3
4. Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

Santa's workshop

12 Step Christmas (Pt. 2)

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

(A four-minute read – catch up with Part I)

In Part I, the burden of grudges, resentments and petty hatreds, the burden of unforgiveness, was likened to a Christmas shopper weighed down and unbalanced by too many bags of purchases. Shoulders, arms and hands, backpack, all pulled to earth by what is owned.

The burden is not light

So burdened, we can’t skip along, or stride purposefully. We aren’t even walking, really. Because of the mass we choose to carry, we’re trudging, perhaps even plodding, or slogging. It’s no easy way to travel. Why choose it as a lifestyle by refusing to forgive?

Is it any wonder we speak of personal baggage when describing this? Baggage is something we carry. It has our “stuff” in it. When we travel on an airliner, the size and weight of what we can carry is limited. Too much, and the plane would burst at the seams, or not be airworthy. An apt metaphor for us as we journey through life with this junk!

So here we are, resolutely and stolidly toting all our baggage, refusing to relinquish it. What’s inside? Remember, in the shopping metaphor, we spent an entire day spending good money as it were to invest in these things. If they were a good investment, they will increase in value. But how can a grudge increase in value?

It can’t. It has no value in the first place. And anything times zero equals zero.

This begs this question: at what point do we cut our losses and divest? Why is divestment beneficial? And what are the risks, if any?

A frightening prospect. Is it worth it?

Here’s the upside: divestiture makes our lives, and our hearts, lighter. Without carrying baggage, we can pay more attention to what’s in front of us. We can enjoy the moment for what it is, instead of being on a fearful hunt for obstacles. When we carry so much weight, the risk of a drop or a stumble is so great, there’s no opportunity to stop being on the defensive.

Our feet become so occupied they are useless for anything but preventing a fall to earth. Our hands are so occupied they are useless for any good work. Our minds and hearts are so occupied by concentrating on the burden, we can perceive nothing else.

Our internal world consists of what we consider, and the things we refuse to forgive can eventually grow into the only things we consider, trudging along in that state.

Over time, without forgiveness, life then becomes a balancing act, full of deliberate steps not toward anything joyful, but away from or around anything which could possibly be harmful or painful. Our lives become filled with lack, not abundance.

The trap is this: until we lay down our burdens, we can’t feel free and easy, not ever, not for one moment. We can pretend they’re not there, but the pretence itself only becomes more mass in the sack. And on it goes.

Caution: divestiture also hurts. Holding something tightly for too long makes it painful to unclench the muscles. The path of least resistance is to leave it alone. It also hurts to emotionally unclench, because it means admitting failure. The ego resists that.

From capture to release

I started my journey toward forgiveness with self-talk like this: “If you only knew what he did to me…” “What happened was unforgivable…” “She has to pay for this…” “I can never forgive.”

The things I tell myself over and over become the elephant in the room. Living with an elephant in the room is messy and smelly and claustrophobic, but I got used to it. Worse – I became blinded to its presence, just as I become so used to the unhealthy ‘weight’ I carried, I couldn’t imagine living without it.

But if the elephant disappears, how do we clean up its mess and use all the space that leaves? The beauty of true forgiveness is that the space immediately becomes empty and clean, the mess being removed by the act itself.

Christmas should be a season of forgiveness, and the miracle of my AA Christmas was that this freedom was very near. It was right on the other side of one simple act. Forgiving myself.

Jesus says if I have a heavy burden, I should go to Him and get rest. I take off the painfully heavy yoke of my unforgiveness and put on His yoke, which He says ‘is easy,’, adding, ‘My burden is light.’ *

Once I realized I could give this weight to God, I could accept that He forgave me. And I could then forgive others. Everything tumbled into place. I am light, and free, and I refuse to go back.

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

* Matthew 12:29-30

Image: Public Domain, Jenny Nystrom via Wikimedia Commons

Christmas presents

12-Step Christmas

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

(A four-minute read – read part II here)

Collecting garbage

By my early 40s, the world of weed was just too spooky. Maintaining a respectable image while simultaneously patronizing drug dealers became difficult. The dread of being busted was balanced uncomfortably with the fear of running out of weed. I carried an intense level of denial. Eventually, the pot did run out and booze took over. It was legal, easy, cheaper.

Where marijuana was a spirit guide, alcohol was a balm, a saviour, and finally, my master: the only thing I truly cared about. Even my sense of self-preservation was subservient to the need to drink. I lived to drink, and ultimately, drank to live.

Within ten years, I crashed onto the floor of a seedy motel room and began the return to life. I had to unlearn lies before accepting truths, undo evil consequences before accepting fresh ones and unburden myself of baggage before packing a new kit.

Doing the work presented by the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous was like getting through a busy Christmas shopping season. For many of us Christmas is jolly and joyful, but it can also be full of rush, pressure, expectation, a need to perform, and an undercurrent that something is not quite right somehow, as though Santa is about to drop the other boot.

12-Step Christmas

The softening of my heart was a 12-Step Christmas. It was messy and demanding, even while liberating. It centered on the greatest gift I could have given myself, the gift of forgiveness. The more time I spent drunk, the more the perceived wrongs done to me piled up.

When I got sober, I could finally smell the stink of them. They had to go.

I resisted the idea that I could only get rid of them by getting even. There’s no value in getting even, only in getting free. It’s a simple act; not always easy, but it changed my life.

Forgiveness of others can be a difficult, demanding and painful thing. I know. Some of the grudges and resentments I found myself with I’d borne for years. I needed to unburden myself.

Let’s consider them as a ‘burden’ because that so well illustrates what the unforgiving soul packs around. Unforgiveness itself is literally that: a burden, a drag, a friction. It keeps me weighted to an unhealthy past instead of releasing me for a better future.

An uncomfortable picture

To illustrate, imagine yourself walking along having just finished all your Christmas shopping in one go.

On your left shoulder is a very large bag, the long strap of which is over your head to keep it from slipping away. Your arm hangs out over its bulk in an uncomfortable arc. The hand of that arm grips another shopping bag, this one hanging low and heavy, outboard of your knee.

These stuffed satchels would have you tipping hard left if it weren’t for the oversized weighty sack you desperately clutch with your right hand as a counterbalance. Meanwhile, you’re kept from being hunched over by the giant rucksack resting heavily on your back.

That one appears to keep you above the center of balance, but it’s an illusion. In reality, it weighs you down even more, creating additional pressure.

This is the picture we need to see when we choose to bear a grudge or carry a resentment. Grudges are heavy things, and they get heavier over time; their inertia grows. It’s as though gravity increases where they are present. They are truly weighty matters.

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

Read part II here