Another Captive Set Free

BREAKTHROUGH!!!

In my opinion, this blog entry is 8 years overdue, but alas everything is in God’s time.

I’m not even sure where to start. It’s been so long since I’ve posted I’ve probably lost all my original readers and likely few if any remember the season I’ve been in, so I’ll provide a little backstory.

January 3rd, 2011 was my Saul to Paul conversion, in a place of near-suicidal depression and alcoholism I cried out to Jesus Christ… and from that exact moment in a campground in Big Sur California, I was set free.

And I’m not exaggerating, from that exact moment I haven’t had a single drink or drug, I went all in and became a student of the Bible and passionate follower of Jesus Christ.

I was on fire for Christ and shouting my testimony from the rooftops. And it did truly inspire people and draw them close wanting to know what happened to me.

From there I got plugged into Celebrate Recovery, and before I knew it I was leading groups. And after a series of what I will always believe to be God inspirations, I was called to move to a new town and join a new church, a church that didn’t have recovery ministries at all.

It was not my intention when moving, but soon I was meeting with church elders, which led to me giving my testimony at a men’s conference on a Saturday morning… and that day 55 men signed up to join an Every Man’s Battle workshop; Recovery Ministries was now launched at our church.

That was nearly 6 years ago and there are now over a dozen separate men’s and women’s recovery ministries covering everything from depression to abortion grief to sex/drug/alcohol and chronic illness support groups and several more.

It is now a rich ministry impacting hundreds of lives and it all began with one man’s testimony and the Blood of the Lamb.

Revelation 12:11 
And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.

Since those humble beginnings, I have led Pure Desire, EMB and a host of John Eldredge discipleship groups, each packed with men hungry to become the best version of themselves for the Glory of God, I am truly humbled.

Yet…

For nearly all of those 8 years, I continued to feel sick inside. Insecurities, recurring relapses with lust, a shaming voice that regularly condemned me, a voice that told me I was less than, unworthy, weak, unable and unlovable.

Sure, the Gospel told me all of those things were untrue, my church told me all those things were untrue, the men I mentored told me all those things were untrue, my family, bosses, coworkers, friends even God repeatedly told me they were untrue, and I begged for it not to be true, but life remained hard and salvation seemed more distance with every passing year.

The Heart Grows Heavy

It’s a dark place when our actions, thoughts, and behaviors betray the New Creation we are told we have become.

And for me, anyway, I realize that most of the scripture that told me who I am, what I was capable of, and what was promised for me became mere “if only that was true” longings.

The only conclusion I could draw was either I was doing this Christianity thing wrong, or I wasn’t trying hard enough. And anyone around me would tell you I was killing myself serving 3 groups a week, serving on Sunday’s sometimes all services, and working a 60+ hr job and maintaining social and family activities… no wonder I hit the wall with Chronic Fatigue Syndrom nearly a year ago, lost my career of 30 years, and I am still trying to recover!

And as the years rolled by and no matter how many accolades and praises I got, I figured I just “had them all fooled” and “they were just being polite” or “if they really new me they wouldn’t say that”.

I truly began to wonder if I was actually saved, and the scriptures began coming alive in a new way;

Matthew 7:21-23 
21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 
9 Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, …… none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:20-22 
20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God

And the hole in my heart continued to grow bigger.

I have evidence of fruit in my life, lots of it, yet clearly I deduced, that none of that matters; surely God’s Word was affirming that the ugliness in my own soul is declared by God Himself; I’m not enough, I’m coming up short just as I have my whole life.

As hard as I strive and am killing myself trying to “make people and God happy”, nobody is, not even God, surely not me, it’s just like it has always been for more than 50 years.

And through all of this, every time I went to God all I got was “can’t you see how much I love you, when will you believe me”.

Even though the suffering was real, I couldn’t see the insidious infectious narrative running under the surface. So I began seeking pastors to provide healing and cast out demons, secular counseling, deep Inner Healing work with Jesus. And each one claimed to have “seen the source” and “healed me”, yet the hole I was standing in continue to erect even higher walls until the sunlight became something I only saw in fleeting moments throughout the week.

How could this be, I knew Christ set me free when I cried out that morning; He changed EVERYTHING in my life, but why do my insides still hurt so much?

Why do I still feel so alone in a crowded room

Why do I feel like such a fraud when I’m standing in front of my peers accepting recognition and performance awards

Why does it feel like I’m down to 50 pounds yet I look in the mirror and see a 400lb person

Why is it I desperately hang on to toxic relationships like a battered wife

Why do I have God and respected elders saying often “George, if only you could see yourself as we see you”.

I couldn’t tell you why, year after year.  I continued to take more classes, prayed harder, got more counseling and sought out more specialists. And what did those get me, some really neat labels like PTSD from the severe childhood traumas which I experienced, and OCD, ADD and Social Anxiety Disorder and now my body was shutting down with Chronic Illnesses, times truly became desperate.

But I never stopped praying, hoping, expecting, trusting… and then new allies began to show up.

“When we deny our pain, losses, and feelings year after year, we become less and less human.”          Peter Scazzero author Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

“Inner healing is the healing of the inner [person]: the mind, the emotions, the painful memories, the dreams. It is the process whereby we are set free from feelings of resentment, rejection, self-pity, depression, guilt, fear, sorrow, hatred, inferiority, condemnation, or worthlessness, ect.  Betty Tapscott

Charles Kraft, a controversial Christian healer who claims demon possession of a Christian is possible and thereby has lost significant credibility in traditional Western Christianity, has spoken deep into my own heart.

He talks of salvation and freedom as being two completely separate entities. Salvation is complete at the moment of conversion, however, the man himself oftens remains very sick and release of past mental and physical beliefs and even demons remains critical in creating the whole Christian who is fully free.

For one, a child abuse survivor has no reference to even know what freedom and love actually feel like, we wouldn’t know it if it bit us.

I can remember past girlfriends who I thought “creepily idolized me” and I had to break up with them because “how they treated me felt so fake like they had some kind of mental illness”.

I really need to track them down and make amends, because just as I’m typing this I realize now that it was me with the illness and that they actually loved me, and that’s what love looks like. No wonder I have been alone my whole life.

Once I began to believe that it wasn’t a sin to be a Christian and yet still feel/belief/act as if was still broken, I then began to experience a hope shift. And not coincidentally, one of my Men’s Groups began doing hands-on spiritual healing via John Eldredge’s Moving Mountains study we were doing.

And I began noticing a lightness take hold, more profound “spiritual experiences” were taking place… a momentum shift was happening. I couldn’t describe fully what/why/how/where but I simply trusted God to lead and stayed the course.

Then “IT” Happened

I won’t go into all the details, but in a nutshell, I went to a new secular therapist. I had my doubts but I felt God led me to her and so I prayed all the way to her office each morning and simply said: “Lord use this vessel, your daughter, whether she knows you or not”.

And He did just that!

My eyes were completely opened to all of my trauma, my roles in the hurts and hardships that I created in others, and most importantly, just how beautiful and wonderfully made I am, and how good my heart has been my entire life, and how complete I am just as I am.

I believe in each of only 3 sessions I was visited by The Holy Spirit, Jesus, and God Himself.

The first session, through The Holy Spirit, I discovered the profound truth of the power that I have over my thoughts, feelings, emotions, behaviors, and actions. I am fully responsible for who I am, what I have done, what I am doing, and what I will do. Free will is not only a blessing, but it is also a responsibility we must wield properly.

The second session was orchestrated by Jesus Christ and I was fully released from all of my self-condemnation through the reframing of the childhood trauma. I call it my Good Will Hunting Event… I have always “known” those horrific events were not my fault, but in hindsight, I now realized I could “say” that as many times as I wanted, but I “felt” and “believed” deep in my body and soul that those events were somehow my fault.

The third session was God himself and through a profoundly emotional and supernatural experience; the fear of death, and thereby all fear, was lifted.

I’d love to go into greater detail on each of those sessions, and surely I will as it is now a foundation of the new endeavor I have just launched.

It has been nearly a month and every day is (and I promise I’m not exaggerating) the best day of my life.

I live fully present in each moment, extracting every ounce of life out of the personal encounters with others, the rich moments of prayer, meditation or getting lost in worship music, pressing into my new Life Coaching business (nikaos.net).

I had a 1.5-hour miserable commute in heavy Los Angeles traffic yesterday but instead what I felt is that ” the trees alongside the highway looked like God’s fireworks”. (imagine the shape of a Palm tree) Yes, I might be losing it with that one, but it’s a near euphoric embrace of all of creation… all people, places and things, whole or broken, are beautiful.

I am filled with overwhelming gratitude for each breath, each morning I wake, and each night I put my head on the pillow. I used to “joke” that I was my own worst enemy but now I am without a doubt my biggest fan, I LOVE ME… EVERY VERSION OF ME.

There is so much I have to share with the world, my 20/20 hindsight of how even as a fully saved, fully loved, fully complete and whole Christian through the works of Christ, I was still totally captive to my own internal prison, it wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t my condemnation… ever!

God weeps when his children don’t love themselves and never realize how deeply He loves us. He never intended perfection for us, He intended us to enjoy this life, and become warriors for His cause.

The beauty is He uses the pain and suffering as the very weapons to be used against the enemy, but it only happens when we ourselves are raised from the emotional death that overtakes us early in life.

I am not kidding when I say this is true ascension, the PTSD is completely gone, the fear is gone, if I died tomorrow I would be assured and overjoyed knowing that even though I have so much more to do while I’m here, I have nothing left undone. Such joy, inner-peace, fulfillment, empowerment, enlightenment.

I now know what Freedom feels like, I know what it means to love unconditionally, and it is beyond what I thought was possible.

If you are still with me and understand what the ache and confusion of being Saved and Captive at the same time feels like, then watch this video and know it’s true!

Father God, forgive me for thinking in the first couple weeks after those sessions that it was the “therapist” who “fixed my emotions”. Clearly, it was You who did just as I prayed and brought someone into my life who made way for The Holy Trinity to open my eyes and heart. And what I found wasn’t anything that I expected, it wasn’t the solution that I was seeking because I still thought the problem was my actions, my sin, my character, my core. But You revealed Lord that my biggest sin my entire life has been believing the lies that were fed to me in my childhood. The Truth is I have never been less than what You say I am, and I have never been incapable of doing anything less than what You say I can, and I believed in the futility of fear, for even death’s sting is removed when eternity with You is the result.

Thank You, Lord God, that you never condemn us in our blindness, You Save us and then You love us enough to never give up until we see ourselves through Your eyes. And until that day happens, I now know it’s not possible to see other’s through Your eyes, for only what we have received can we give away. 

May everyone Lord come to know how wonderful you are by recognizing how wonderful they are, in You and through You, may everyone experience true freedom. Through the powerful atonement and unfathomable Love and Mercy of Jesus Christ, I pray…  

Blessings in Christ,

George


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Posted in Addiction, alcohol, Celebrate Recovery, CFS, depression, drugs, God's story, hope, Jesus, my story, Nikaos.net, pornagraphy, Recovery, Salvation, sex, The Cross | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Season Of Suffering

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
    Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
    Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
Our ancestors trusted in you,
    and you rescued them.
They cried out to you and were saved.
    They trusted in you and were never disgraced.

source: Etsy

I have been avoiding writing about my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) journey. I’m not sure why other than it has likely taken me several months to get to a place where I have accepted the reality of my situation. Denial is not just a river in Africa.

But this morning, as I pressed into my daily devotional book the study was on this passage in Psalms and the anguish David portrayed yet still embracing enduring faith has been the ground zero struggle for me.

And how much does that resonate with the echoes of Job…

Job 2:13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.

And of course the ultimate suffering that nobody in all creation will ever experience, that of our Savior Jesus Christ…

Matthew 27:46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

By no means am I suggesting that ME/CFS ranks up there with the suffering on the scale these endured; but how much in our own lives do we feel overwhelmed to the point that they describe?

Just as Paul cried out three times, Lord remove this thorn, God replied “My grace is sufficient”.

I am now coming up on 6 months of being out of work. At times, sadly, I feel worse now than I did when this all started 6 months ago. The Post Exertional Malaise (PEM) is almost violently debilitating when it hits leaving me in bed for days at a time yet at the same time I find myself incapable of describing properly to friends and family the experience.

And that is only one aspect; the complete brain shutdown, inability to handle light or sound, laying in bed so exhausted that it almost feels painful after simply taking a shower or doing the dishes, I get it; it defies any common sense.

I need to study Job more deeply, but for me the physical and mental aspects are not the worse, being misunderstood and somehow judged by the ones closest to me is the hardest to endure.

I Have Never Felt More Alone

Comments like “it must be nice to get paid to lay around all day” or “you are sleeping too much, force yourself out of bed” and “you’re just out of shape” or “sounds like depression”.

I have tried defending these comments, tried to educate them, nearly begged for support in my situation, but yet the cold steel of condemnation and judgment seemingly continues to be my bedmate.

Peter Scazzero in the devotional linked above goes on to share the suffering of Horatio Spafford. Briefly, he lost his fortune and all of his children nearly all at once, yet it is he who coined the phrase “It is well with my soul“. (follow that link for a deeper look into the song lyrics and story)

Job had to endure the betrayal of friends and family during his greatest need for emotional support. I can’t think of anything worse than to be forsaken at your greatest time of need.

Yet, It Is Well With My Soul

I do not know if I am going through the same evolution that those men had to fight through in their own souls, but today I can say that gratitude and hope is beginning to replace fear and resentment.

The journey these last few months through the poking and prodding of specialists and the gallons of blood draws all of which find “nothing wrong” and the (unintentional I believe) betrayal of friends and family has driven me inward and to my knees.

I have come to discover that the reason the words of those closest to me sting so deeply is because just beyond my own conscious awareness has been this Inner-Condemner who has been spewing the same lies my entire life!

It is this voice that tells me I’m not doing enough, even though it was my over-striving to do everything way beyond my body’s ability to endure that put me in this situation in the first place. He tells me I am a loser, and that I will never amount to anything, and that I’m a fool to even try, and that nobody cares.

It is the pain inflicted by my father, or the apathy of my mother, the condemnation of my ex-wife, the voice of all those I have codependently given up my own soul in search for their affirmations.

I May Be Sick, But I Am Not Forsaken

It is this journey into complete isolation that I finally was led face-to-face with the demons of my past that I’ve never seen in this light before. Without this season of suffering I do not know that I ever would have to come to this level of awareness of the spiritual battle that rages within my own soul. One that I myself have been keeping alive through the agreements I made with the Enemy many decades ago.

Today, with this new awareness and the arsenal of biblical Truth and help of counselors and my supportive church family, I am turning the tide on the negative voice within.

I can clearly see the hand of God, Who will allow the suffering that often comes as the result of our own poor choices, but He will NEVER let us suffer just for sake of suffering. There is ALWAYS something to be gained in the valleys of hardship, if we will open our hearts to The God Who Is With Us and begin to sing His praises in the midst of the pain; not waiting until after the storm has passed to sing our song.

Romans 8:28-30  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

I have been sober from drugs and alcohol for over 8 years now, but that Inner-Condemner has continued to have his way with me. Now, I can say definitively that through this season of suffering that voice is now being replace with an Inner-Encourager and an Inner-Protector and they are having a profound affect on the condition of my soul.

My life verse for 2019

CFS is not only opening the door for a new hope, but confidence that God is with me, and that this is not the end of my story but instead a rewrite of the story I was living, it is becoming the new song I am discovering.

And funny enough, that is the life verse I chose on January 1st…

Psalm 96:1 Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. 

Much like my 10 year relapse to drugs and alcohol which led me to an awareness and reliance on Christ in a way I never even new I was missing, nearly 8 years later to the day I can honestly say that this CFS journey is equally leading me to next level stuff; a new life of reliance on the redemption of Christ and a desperate need for the voice of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to sustain me in ways that I didn’t even know I was missing.

Praise God!! It Is Well With My Soul!!

Lord God, my Redeemer, my Strength, my Hope, my Joy, my Restoration, MY SAVIOR. I know that You won’t bring suffering and sickness upon those You love, but You are ever-present with us, and You promise that our endurance of the trials in the present pale in comparison to the future glory that awaits us. I continue to pray for and embrace the sanctification of my soul more than I desire the restoration of my physical body. Never have You claimed that Your Path was easy, but I believe that if our hearts can continue to sing You praises in the midst of the storm, that the Yolk Becomes Light. Thank you Father that in Your great mercy You are redeeming my season in the valley, may my testimony bear witness to Your faithfulness. In the glory of Your Precious Name Jesus I pray…

Posted in Addiction, alcohol, bible study, CFS, depression, drugs, encouragement, faith, God's story, hope, Jesus, my story, Recovery, trials | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

When No Means Yes

Colossians 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Colossians 3:8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices

I woke with this thought on my heart and I have tons to say on the topic, dozens of verses come to mind and a thousand personal life parables.

Bottom line….

When you say NO to selfish pursuits and pleasures, you are saying YES to God

Therefore…

Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Colossians3:15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Lord, I thank you for this simple yet profoundly important message today. You expressed the highest most selfless form of love in sending your Son Jesus to be born of a Virgin, live and die for the sins of all, and offer forgiveness and eternal salvation through His resurrection; that free gift is our choice to make, by saying NO MORE to the lives we used to live and say YES to a new eternal life in You. 

Merry Christmas to all my blogmates!

Posted in encouragement, faith, hope, Jesus, love, Salvation, The Cross | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

50 Days of Promises (47) Looking Back To Move Forward

Philippians 3:12-14 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.Up until a few days ago if you had asked me what my addictions were I would have said I’ve battled the strongholds of drugs, alcohol, pornography, food and pretty much anything else you can be addicted to; but today I now realize at the core…

I Have Been Obsessed with Self

It has been what feels like 8 long years since I came to an overwhelming awareness and surrender to Christ in January 2011. Over this last year my tears have been “Lord when will this inner suffering go away, when does healing and redemption of my broken soul actually take place, where is the promised peace and rest”.

I knew I have been at this place for a long time, working too many hours at work, putting in all my spare time at church and in recovery ministry, and then cramming in family and friends more out of obligation and guilt than a Holy Priority or righteous desire.

Something Had to Give

And it did. On August 10, 2018, I hit the wall with force. Complete exhaustion had taken me out and I found myself in ER with significant health problems. 4 months later I’m still out of work trying to navigate how I got here.

“My heart is good, my motives are pure, I’m pouring myself out for everyone and everything around me, isn’t that being a servant Lord? Isn’t this by Your power and calling that I do these things? Why am I now flat on my back, I don’t understand.”

I have lots of acquaintances and even friends who don’t understand why counseling and recovery groups are necessary. The common pushback is “just get over it, forget the past”.

The problem is the past often won’t let go of us

Being in recovery ministry for many years and still experiencing my own emotional bombs that can take me out in a split second, I have wrestled deeply with several questions:

Is it possible that “being in recovery” is the reason why I can’t get over the past?

Is always looking back and peeling off more layers and sitting in more pools of sorrow and loss the whole reason why I feel stuck?

With the help of counselors, a trusted sponsor of many years, countless 12-step and Christian recovery groups like Celebrate Recovery, Every Man’s Battle, Waking the Dead and Pure Desire, I believe God in His mercy is answering that question for me.

I do now believe that all of those resources are what God used to prepare my heart for the biggest shock to the system I’ve ever experienced.

Just a few days ago I was given a look into the mirror of my heart like I’ve never had before and the horror of what I saw has undone everything, my entire life is suspect, even… no… especially the stuff of my life AFTER coming to Christ.

Allow me to explain…

Goodbye Dad

One of the most heart-wrenching experiences of my young adulthood was my father’s death. Not so much that he died, but more the events that took place during the last time I ever saw him.

It was January 1990 in the hospital’s Critical Care Unit. The doctors had told my mother and I that he likely only had 24 hours left at most. His organs were all shutting down. He had been suffering on dialysis for failing kidneys and liver, having his lungs pumped of fluid several times a day and on oxygen for emphysema and a myriad of other tubes and machines keeping things going.

After getting the news that this could be the last time I would see my father, I had the desire to put our strained relationship of 25 years behind us and just tell him I love him.

I poured out my heart, apologized for being such a difficult rebellious kid and for the years starting in middle school of drug and alcohol abuse. I said that although he was hard on me I understood it was to make me a good man and that I would have never asked for another father, I said I loved him and none of the other stuff mattered anymore.

His response: “So, I suppose you are ready for me to die now huh?“. 

I was floored, destroyed inside… “Really, I pour my heart out one last time and this is what YOU want to say to ME? Well, fuck you too asshole!”

I didn’t say those words to his face but my heart sure did. And something in me died in that moment, well before he actually died.

The hospital called several times in the middle of the night saying “your father is asking for you, he won’t make it to morning”. I said thanks and hung up the phone.

I then called my mom, I could tell she was totally hammered, drunk beyond description. We both agreed at that moment, he dies alone. His lifetime of abuse of my mother and my searing resentment and unforgiveness wrote the end of his story, and die alone is what he did.

That event became just one of the flagship recovery testimonies of how horrible my parents were to me, and how my addictions and bad choices were born out of the trauma of growing up in a physically, sexually, emotionally, spiritually and mentally abusive home.

“Can’t you see, it’s not my fault. I’m like this because of them, my pain grows deep, you need compassion for me, not judgment”

Fast forward to today, nearly 30 years later

Matthew 20:32 Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

John 5:6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?

Those questions have been at the core of my journaling this past 4 months… I believe they have been God’s response to my plea mentioned above “when does the suffering end“.

As I have continued to press into Scripture, empty myself out at counseling sessions and deep dive yet again into the foundations of 12-step programs with Step Zero and Step One I have come to realize that in all honesty…

…my answer to Jesus’ questions have been NO! 

No?!?!?! How could anyone not want to be healed” I asked myself?

I now realize more than ever that being a victim is the most pervasive trap of Satan, it provides the seemingly self-righteous fuel for resentment of others and self-justification for the strongholds of our addictions and bad life decisions.

And I have also reeled back at the discovery that a stronghold is not the drink, drug, food or lust having a grip on me, we are the ones who are clinging to our vice(s) for dear life!

2 Timothy 3:1-5  But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

In the brilliant story of The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, he draws the image beautifully of the battle with lust specifically through the parable of the Red Lizard


Excerpt from The Great Divorce…

“Would you like me to make him [lust] quiet?” said the flaming Spirit – an angel, as I now understood.

“Of course I would,” said the Ghost. 

“Then I will kill him,” said the Angel, taking a step forward. 

“Oh – ah – look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,” said the Ghost, retreating. 

“Don’t you want him killed?”

“You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.” 

“It’s the only way…


As I pressed into the reality that even after 7 years of sobriety over drugs and alcohol and “working a program” and leading men’s recovery ministries that I was still hanging on to the demon of lust.

Dredging up old thoughts and behaviors were still an option when the soul began to hurt and the bones became weary. Granted I was nothing like the old me who would shamelessly dive deep into depravity without hesitation, but the fact that feeding lust was still a viable option after all these years began to cut deep.

I have claimed to be “all-in” however I have still been hanging on to control, rebellion, and entitlement. I have said to myself “God understands”, “Grace covers this”, “you can’t out-sin the cross”, “it’s not about works”,

These may be true, but then 2 Timothy 3:5 began to sear into my soul

…having a form of godliness but denying its power…

Could that be me? Am I still in such denial that I’m operating on the brink of grace and judgment without even realizing it?

Galatians 5:19-21  The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Matthew 7:21-23  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

As I gave God access to those places, begged Him for true healing,  asked Him to lead me in the way of true repentance, reveal to me my own heart… I believe He has done just that with incredible mercy.

I asked my counselor what the definition of success is and he proposed the following:

“The easiest way to know if something was a success is to ask the question, did  God get glory in it”

As I began to lay that litmus test over the events of my life the horror of what I found has become the foundation that has undone me. There is no place left to hide.

I’m coming to understand that the emotional scars of my childhood may explain the source of evil operating within my heart, but it does not excuse it.

The narratives I wrote throughout my childhood and especially on that last day with my father I believe has fueled my subsequent vows:

“Nobody will ever be allowed to hurt me again like that”

“I am a monster unworthy of love”

“My opinions, feelings and ideas are not worth putting out there”

God Was Not Glorified

As I now revisit that scene with my new perspective of glorifying God, clearly Satan won that final meeting between a father and son on earth. It fueled decades of resentment even though I claimed to have forgiven him.

As I stood outside the situation searching for my own “true” motives I realized that I did not give my father that deathbed speech as a gift for him to carry into the afterlife; I said those things to offer him one last opportunity to say to me:

“I know son, me too, I’m sorry, you are a great boy and becoming a great man. I was really hard on you. I am proud of you, I always have been but I just didn’t know how to show it. Have a great life son and know that I have always loved you as only a father can love his son and I always will”.

The reality: My entire life has been a desperate search for validation

I now realize that he wasn’t free to express his feelings and fears, I needed him to validate me on his deathbed dammit and he let me down one more time.

If I was truly there for him with compassion and love, my reply to his comment could have been something like this:

“No dad, I’m serious. I love you and I hate how we were somehow torn apart by my rebellion. I am devastated at losing you but I am forced to accept that neither of us has a choice in this situation. I need you to understand how desperately I’ve always loved you and I will miss you all the days of my life”.

But that isn’t what I said, in my heart, I said: “fuck you asshole”.

For the first time since coming to Christ the dark reality of how deeply-rooted my selfishness and fear has driven everything I do has begun to come into focus.

All this time I have seen myself as sacrificial and service-oriented, especially after coming to Christ, but instead, I have remained manipulative and self-serving with everyone around me so they will like and affirm me.

Proverbs 26:23 Smooth words may hide a wicked heart,
just as a pretty glaze covers a clay pot.

So what does this revelation have to do with this “I AM” Series, or the verse in Philippians 3:13 of not looking back?

The reality is, we must look back before we can move forward.

The only way to find true humility is to personally examine through the eyes and heart of Christ those scenes of our life where we felt righteous in blaming others and missed our role in the hurts.

2 Samuel 12:5-7 David was furious. “As surely as the Lord lives,” he vowed, “any man who would do such a thing deserves to die…. 7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are that man!…”

We must become intimately aware of our own wretched hearts before the cross of Christ and His Blood can do the redemptive work in our life that He promises.

Matthew 7:4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?

Secondly, we must then go back to take ownership and make amends where possible

Matthew 5:23-24  “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

So you see, looking backward to extract truth is actually a critical process of straining forward

As I declared to my counselor a couple days ago through tears streaming down my face that “my whole life is a lie, where do I go from here” he said with compassion “we start at the beginning, we must undo the ultimate lie, your worth”… and he pointed me to Psalm 139

Psalm 139

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!

We are so incredibly precious to God, not because of what we do or don’t do, but because we were given this life by Him, created in His image for His pleasure and glory.

Why was I born? Because God wanted me to be born.

What is the meaning of life? To glorify God with all my heart, soul, mind and body

My success and failures, joys and sadness, victories and heartbreaks are all equal parts of this blessed journey called life.

To be “all in” is not to say I will make myself as perfect as possible to glorify God, it is that I will love and be loved as perfect as possible as I navigate within a broken body in a fallen world.

His joy is found in my joy, His peace is unearthed through my peace, His love is my love.

He is perfect, I am not… as it should be.

I’ll end with this one last revelation that I believe God placed on my heart to help me learn how to not let my desperate need for validation cloud my motives for serving and loving others.

“Feelings were never designed to be the pre-meditative consultant in making a wise choice, feelings are the righteous result of choices already made”

In other words, trying to avoid conflict or be nice to others only to manufacture a source of validation will never work. Simply step into the messy and trust God with the outcomes.

And, if I don’t want to feel shame, stop doing shameful things

Father God, the sting… no, the horror of seeing how my desperate search for validation has caused harm to those I profess to love breaks my heart. I will concede that I can’t change what I can’t see so with that I am grateful that you didn’t let me walk away from recovery groups with the lie that I don’t need to look back in order to move forward.

The cry of my soul has changed but continues to run deep Lord, search me and know my heart. Teach me in the ways of true repentance. Break my heart for what breaks Your’s Father. Continue to give me humility, strength, and courage to face the image looking back at me in the mirror knowing that the joy that awaits me through each level of sanctification brings You great joy as well.

Thank you for the realization that both life-changing decisions and inconsequential tasks only need to meet one criterion – which action, thought and belief will glorify You the most.

If this is what dying to self looks like then as difficult as it is I continue to surrender to the process Lord, by Your mercy and grace continue to reveal those strongholds of my own hands and heart that I haven’t been willing to let you kill. May I be allowed to move righteously towards the day that I will hear “well done my good and faithful servant”.  

It is in the power, glory, and righteousness of Christ that I pray these things…

Posted in 12-steps, Addiction, alcohol, bible study, Celebrate Recovery, conviction, depression, drugs, encouragement, faith, God's story, hope, I Am, Jesus, Joy, love, my story, pornagraphy, Recovery, Salvation, Series, sex, The Cross | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

Matthew 22:39 
A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself

It has been said many times in many circles – you can’t give away what you yourself don’t have.

How can I truly love my neighbor if I don’t first truly love myself?


Bernard of Clairvaux (AD 1090-1153), the abbot of a Cistercian monastery in France was perhaps the greatest Christian leader and writer of his day. In his great work entitle Loving God, Bernard describes four degrees of love:
  1. Loving ourselves for our own sake
  2. Loving God for his gifts and blessings
  3. Loving God for himself alone
  4. Loving ourselves for the sake of God
The highest degree of love, for Bernard, was simply that we love ourselves as God loves us – in the same degree, in the same manner, and with the very same love. We love the self that God loves, the essential image and likeness of God in us that has been damaged by sin
Quoted from Peter Scazzerro – Emotionally Healthy Spirituality – Day by Day page 44-45

It has been a long road for the last several months. I became ill from working 18-hour days and 70 hour weeks, and that is just my day job. That doesn’t account for the ministry hours, the time spent with family and friends, and other personal endeavors.

Workaholism is a serious ailment and is often driven by a need for validation and escape. I’ve written on the topic before so I won’t go into detail now, but clearly, a heavily imbalanced lifestyle that drives one into the hospital or a sick-bed on a not so irregular basis shows a complete lack of self-care and a critical warning that a healthy self-love is not present.

I’ve known I’ve personally had a problem with this for many years, I preach and blog about it often because it is one of the self-induced thorns that I can’t seem to give up.

On August 10, 2018, everything changed. I found myself again in the hospital, this time with internal bleeding. Gratefully that symptom proved not to be serious however once I was down, I went down hard.  I spent the next 2 months in bed sleeping almost around the clock.

This time I had pushed too far 

There was no cause the doctors could find for the extended recovery time needed, and believe me they tested. I likely gave gallons of blood, MRIs, CT Scans, brain scans, ultrasound… something was taking me out, but we never found anything.

Then came the diagnosis – CFS

I was happy there was a name for it and it matched everything I was experiencing, until I started to research what it is, or isn’t. It’s almost a purely shamed condition, the “I don’t want to go to work” flu.

Everyone experiences exhaustion and fatigue, and most everyone recovers with rest. I know I always have. But this time was different. The exhaustion never went away, the relentless brain fog and almost confusion with simple tasks, the hot sweats then cold chills, body aches that just come and go.

If you haven’t experienced that, you simply can’t understand it.

I’m not surprised it is shaming, you should be inside my head, the enemy loves to tell me how I’m less of a man for “giving in” to this… as if I have a choice. My Christian family tells me it’s spiritual warfare, doctors say it’s in my head, friends and family seem to imply I’m making this up and need to just “get over it”.

The doctors are telling me it doesn’t have a cure, but we know our God is bigger so I know I’m already healed and I’m just waiting to be released from this.

I am told however it can be managed. The key to living with ME/CFS is knowing our boundaries. I can no longer live in the extreme push/crash lifestyle that I have been doing for a very long time, my body and mind simply can’t take it any longer… it is forced self-care.

I’ve got to tell you, a workaholic man who gets validation from his career being pinned down in bed for months, being diagnosed with a “lazy man’s disease”, and being told there is nothing I can do about it is a freight train to crazy town, or at least it has often felt like that, and still does at times.

And even better, when you can’t use busyness to escape you are left in the desert, just you, God and your demons. What a gloriously miserable place to be, and if you’ve been there you know what I mean. A true dross-burning truth exposing experience if I’ve ever had one.

So as I’ve gained a little strength over the last month I’ve started to move around more, and on the advice that my doctor gave me the last time this happened, I went camping.

It was supposed to be just two days at a close location so my energy output would remain at a minimum; this was basically the first time I’ve been out of the house in nearly 3 months for anything significant.

We had a good time, and on day two my buddy left with his motorhome as planned. I packed up my gear and drove off behind him. But after stopping at a nearby town I believe the Holy Spirit put on my heart the desire, no, the need to go back and set up camp again and stay a while longer… He wasn’t done with me yet.

In fact, God was just getting started

I will save the details of what happened over the next 11 days and 6 separate campgrounds with just me and God. It was powerful beyond words. Most places didn’t have cell service and I had an arsenal of healing books (such as Emotionally Healthy Spirituality – Scazzero, Adam’s Return – Rohr, AA – Daily Reflections), journaling materials, devotionals and of course the Bible to keep me thoroughly engaged for the entire time.

Sorry, I know this is a long buildup and if you are still with me, you must be asking by now…

…what does all this have to do with loving your neighbor as yourself?

Well, I’m excited to tell you!

In those almost 2 weeks of nearly complete solitude in what I would call the deepest communion and dependence on God that I’ve ever experienced since my conversion on January 3, 2011 (at one of the campgrounds I just revisited!), I began to experience visions in dreams and have callings and direction placed upon my heart and mind like never before.

I believe it took the months of complete rest and separation from the lifetime of busyness and weeks of nothing but communion with God before I got my first small taste of what it looks like to love God and love myself.

And in that place, His still small voice put on my heart how I could love my neighbor.

Although the Holy Spirit moments are too numerous to articulate, one of the most impactful things that happened to me over and over was I met people at nearly every campground that shared their story with me.

One was a young married couple struggling to get through their masters teaching degrees and paying $3000 per month for a tiny one bedroom outside of San Francisco in a place with paper-thin walls and rude neighbors. They are full of hope for the future and would love to move, but they can’t afford it. 

Another was a French-born artist, designer, and chef with a lifetime of hardship and reliance on Christ. Her story was both painful and inspirational as she recounts how God has seen her through the best and worst of times. She now has a dream to open an Airbnb back in her hometown in France but she can’t afford it.

Another was an elderly couple – the sweetest people with the most heart-wrenching stories I’ve ever heard. From losing a teenage daughter to being disabled and yet having to care for their 82-year-old mother with dementia and cancer. They need medical aid but they can’t afford it.

What evolved through those very personal connections was a new ministry idea that I believe came straight from God.

I can create a new website which highlights the people, places, and things that I experience in my own healing journey and for those people and causes that could be blessed with financial support I will create and sponsor GoFundMe campaigns for them all.

And so it was born out of the ashes of my own poor choices and a relentlessly patient and loving God

Journey of Redemption – Healing   JORHEALING.COM.

I got home a couple days ago from this extensive time away exhausted but in a better place. My body and mind are still worn but my soul for the first time in a long time is motived again, filled with energy from the Holy Spirit and the creative juices have been flowing. I started creating the various moving pieces of this new ministry opportunity the minute I got home.

So, I’m reaching out to you, my regular readers, and any who may stumble on this blog to please go check out my new endeavor.

It is very young and there are no donation opportunities available yet, but you can get an idea of the entire concept with the seeding of stuff I already have on there and I’d love to hear any feedback.

And if you would toss in some gratuitous likes and follows that would help too (shameless plug)


Father God, I thank you for the current illness that has forced me to my knees, forced me into solitude and silence, forced me into repentance and communion. The weakness instills concern in me Lord but please let this season do the work it needs to do above all else. I have felt you nearly laugh at me when I say “I’m all in”, responding only that I have no idea what all in looks like. I do believe Lord this is next level stuff you have placed on my heart and imagination. I would love to break my financial dependence on the overbearing workloads and stress of my existing job, but as you know fear drives me more than faith. Help us all Father to experience first hand the joy of resting at your feet more than our need to be doing dishes. Help us to love ourselves better and in that learn how you want to use us to truly love our neighbors as you would, all of them. We pray these things in the mighty and precious name of Jesus…

Posted in conviction, encouragement, faith, God's story, hope, Jesus, my story, trials | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Search For Peace

Romans 8:5  Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.

knowpeace

Peace comes up so often in the bible. It is truly one of the greatest desires and gifts the Father has for us. So why is it so elusive?

What parent doesn’t enjoy watching their child being fully content. Whether they are building something with Legos (do kids still do that), having a tea party with their dolls (are dolls even still a thing?) or reading a book (ok, now I’m really pushing it)… a child at rest or recreation.

The point is, a parent hopefully isn’t grinding constantly on “do your homework, clean up your room, take out the trash, do the dishes”. There is a time for service to the family but how much MORE joy is there when watching a child take a nap, or having a fun conversation with a friend on the phone laughing and joking, to know our child is fully at peace.

It’s like the point of this is elusive in my own heart. It feels so much like I need to be “doing” for God to make Him happy, but yet how much more does He find great joy in me when I am simply experiencing great joy and peace.

I’ve found this concept of PEACE (or lack there of) has been coming up more and more lately.  So this morning I ask myself;

Am I truly experiencing peace?

After some time of reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion the honest answer is rarely.

I have moments of accomplishment, moments of laughter, moments of worship, moments of prayer & meditation… at times I believe I do authentically experience God.

But all too often I feel driven more than peaceful. I actually feel guilty when trying to embrace a sabbath and rest, or worrying about those who are suffering hardship or persecution while I’m “having fun” at some social or recreational outing, or even feeling shame when being forced to rest, as is the case the last 2 weeks while being out of work for medical reasons.

So what does God say about peace?

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peacebut now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.
Blessed are the peace-makers, for they will be called children of God.
There is so much more to be extracted from the Word of God on the subject, but the message is becoming more clear.
What then are the ingredients of peace?
  • Discipline, Obedience and Righteousness
  • Faith
  • God’s Favor
  • Joy and Unity in the Spirit
  • Living as the New Creation
  • Being a peace-maker

It is so easy for me to get wrapped up in the world, in the pressures of family, work and ministry. The things I worry about I believe are good things, but I am not supposed to worry at all!

Provided I’m am doing my part through faith and obedience to the the Word of God, the outcomes are ALWAYS up to GOD.

And as is always the case, God’s Word simplifies this topic so much better than I ever could.

Philippians 4:6-8
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Father God I confess I so often focus on the wrong things. I am judging what I do for You instead of just rejoicing in who I am in You. Yes we are to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling”, but does that mean my salvation hangs in the balance of my works or holiness? I come to you this morning humbled and somewhat surprised that after all these years of reading Your Word, especially these passages in Romans and Philippians, that I have continued to search for and question why peace and rest is so elusive. Let not this message of being transformed by the renewal of our minds fall on numbed hearts or deaf ears, mine most of all Lord. 
Posted in bible study, encouragement, God's story, hope, Jesus, my story | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The Best Divine Appointment Ever

Challenge Accepted!

An amazingly creative and inspirational fellow blogger over at Fractured Faith posted a Flash Fiction Challenge. Fiction is not something I write so I felt this would be a fun and challenging way to stretch my imagination and writing.

fractured faith blog

I have no clue where this will go but thanks for the challenge!


Her Name is Helena

When I hike I like to be at the trailhead before sunrise, today that is 5:15am and I’m on the Cliffs of Fairhead.

belfast cliff

Cliffs of Fairhead

The cliffs have been around forever, truly one of the most iconic locations of Northern Ireland. Access to some of it hasn’t always been easy until a little more than a year ago when a new hiking trail was created near Ballycastle.  It quickly became one of my favorite walks with breathtakingly beautiful views from the top of Ballycastle, Murlough Bay, Rathlin Island and the Scottish isles

I love this time of day for many reasons and often find myself at sunrise visiting trails around my hometown of Dunmurry, just outside of Belfast.

I usually hike alone. Not because I’m a loner, but because nature is the place where I truly feel closest to God. To smell the fresh air and feel the crispness of the pre-dawn dew on my skin; to witness the magnitude of his creation and hear the sounds of the birds and the scurry of the badgers, rabbits, and hedgehogs or maybe even catch a glimpse of a small Red Fox in the brush or the wild goats on the cliffs below.

fox

Red Fox

Some of my favorites hikes have been the Mourne Mountains in early winter when the first dusting of snow sticks to the highest peaks yet the warmth of the morning sun quickly silences the bitter chill of pre-dawn.

Mourne Mountains

Mourne Mountains

Or the Tollymore Forest Walk in early summer when the temperatures rise and the river is at full flow.

Tollymore Forest

Tollymore Forest Park Walk

Or the Polygonal Basalt Columns along the Causeway Coastal Walk. Some days it’s only the 2-mile walk from Windy Gap but if you can afford the 2-days off work during mid-week you must try the longer 33-mile treck from Portrush to Carrick-a-Rede to Ballycastle.

basalt

polygonal basalt columns in Northern Irish Coast

And along the way, a highlight for me is a must-see stop at the Dunluce Castle.

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle

But I digress, this day was to be something special, something different. This day I believe God Himself introduced His beauty of creation to me in a very personal and extraordinary way. This day I would meet Helena.

This trek started as most others. A short uphill climb gets the heart pumping and muscles attuned to their task ahead. This is another reason why I like early morning solitude, I always find myself breathing a bit labored (ok, gasping for air) in the first mile.

As I crested the first hill I saw the silhouette of what appeared to be a woman or young man in the distance walking the same direction I was toward the cliffs. I remember thinking that was odd being that I didn’t see another car parked at the trailhead.

Due to the distance between us, I lost sight of him/her as the trail rounded a bend up ahead. And anyway, my pace slowed as I once again connected with the peacefulness and majesty of God’s handiwork.

I distinctly remember feeling expectant this day as I had earlier petitioned God for a Divine Encounter. Whether it be witnessing something spectacular or rare in nature, or working out some pressing problem that incessantly rattles around in my head. I was even open to having the opportunity of sharing Jesus Christ with someone.

Mind you I’m not an outwardly Evangelical kind of person, but my story is a very crooked path and I am truly grateful to be just a broken man plucked from the ashes by a gracious Savior, so any opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus is welcomed.

As I resumed my journey up the hill and around the corner I could now clearly make out that the person ahead was a woman. She was standing on the bluff and I recall thinking to myself how much she must be enjoying the spectacular view.

As I drew closer however something didn’t seem right. She was standing alarmingly close to the cliff’s edge. Mind you these are rocky and crumbly cliffs and not considered the most stable; enjoying the view from a safe distance is always the best plan.

And she didn’t seem to be looking out at the horizon, or up and down the coastline, but instead staring, somewhat intently, down at the crashing surf some 120 meters below.

As the trail neared her location it made a sharp right turn into the valley. She hadn’t noticed me yet and I realized I had a decision to make; go toward her or move on.

“Clearly, she wants her solitude,” I thought to myself. But something was drawing me to her. A feeling, a sense of urgency, a calling if you will. It’s that voice that tells you to do something far outside your comfort zone, the one that urges you to stick your nose in places that it many times doesn’t seem to belong. I hate that voice oftentimes, however, I recalled praying for a Divine Appointment earlier that morning and clearly, this had His earmark all over it.

As I left the trail and move towards her I remained almost shocked at just how close to the cliff’s edge she was standing. I actually felt afraid that if I startled her the slight jump and turn would be enough to send her plummeting over the edge to her untimely demise.

I was also close enough now to see that she appeared to be a beautiful woman, well, in my estimation anyway. Long flowing auburn hair wearing a sundress and cowboy boots; neither of which seemed appropriate for a sunrise trail hike.

As I neared her I made an intentional effort to drag my feet, scuff a rock, clear my throat… anything to let her know she wasn’t alone up here before I got too close to be considered a space invader.

She did eventually hear me and thankfully safely turned toward me. I could tell she had been crying and I stopped my forward progress about 10 meters from her and called out “good morning”.

She replied, “if you say so”.

It didn’t take a spiritually tuned psychologist to put the pieces together, this was a woman who was out of place and clearly hurting.

“Well” I said cautiously, “by the looks of the scenery and weather this morning it seems like a good morning”. She replied, “I hadn’t noticed”.

Without thinking (I do that allot btw) I blurted out “how could you not notice?”

She gave a half-hearted smile and paused as if to consider whether to end this conversation or sacrifice a few minutes in pleasantries.

I have become very accustomed to this situation of waiting on another person’s decision to engage in conversation or not. And as I always did at this moment I simply prayed silently to myself “God, if you have something for her then open her heart and ears and take control of my thoughts and words”.

To my somewhat surprise (I don’t know why I am often surprised by God’s intervention) her entire body seemed to soften; her shoulders dropped and she took a deep breath and let it out in an almost ghostly sigh.

“I suppose you are right” she responded, “it is a beautiful morning and I do love this place”. “That is why I came up here I suppose, I’ve come up here often in happier times and I guess I went on autopilot when I got the news”.

Cautiously I replied, not wanting to give the impression I was wanting to pry into her personal life “what news is that if I may ask”.

She again paused, clearly mulling over the reality that her decision to engage in small-talk has quickly run its course and now is her last opportunity to reply that she would rather not talk about it and go back to the solitude she came up here for.

I again silently prayed,  “Your will not mine be done Father” and I was at peace with the silence that filled the space between us.

It felt like something out of a Star Trek episode, her scanners were looking me up and down, assumably checking the expression on my face, the posture of my body, who knows maybe the clothes I was wearing and the wrinkles at the corners of my eyes and leathery brown skin; she had to quickly discern, friend or foe.

She then softly replied in a voice that was barely audible “I was given the news yesterday afternoon that I have cancer”. I remained silent, just looking at her with a pain in my heart. I understood what she was going through, I lost my mom to cancer, it is a horribly vicious disease and everything about her being here made sense at that moment.

She continued, “I left the doctors office yesterday and just began to drive, and drive and drive. No specific destination in mind, I just needed to not sit still. I ran out of gas somewhere and then just began to walk, and walk, and walk”.

She again paused, gave me another glance and then continued returning her gaze downward at the ground. “I believe God has a plan for us all, but this was not anything I was prepared for” she confided. “I didn’t set out to do anything drastic but to be perfectly honest, just before you walked up I was considering how much easier it would be to just take one small step of faith off this cliff and not have to go through whatever lies ahead”.

All I could muster through my welling up eyes and crackling voice was a mutter, hardly audible, the words: “I totally understand”.

We locked eyes at that moment, she was all-in. She wasn’t going to have to share this burden alone, at least not in this moment. She began to cry and I moved closer and she fell into my arms sobbing.

We cried together for what seemed like an eternity. I was reliving the heartache of the loss of my mother and I’m sure she was painting a picture of the worse to come in her mind.

It became clear to me at that moment why I was there; why God had me hiking that trail on that day.

I asked her if she had family in the area and she shared that she was an only child and that her dad passed away many years ago. And that her mother married a not-so-nice man several years back and they were living in Manchester England but that they don’t speak much anymore. “I couldn’t call her with this news out of the blue” she said, “it would tear her apart”.

“How about friends,” I asked. “I have a couple girlfriends but their work has them traveling all over the world at times, neither of them are home at the moment and I haven’t wanted to say anything to them yet”.

There was a breeze coming up over the cliffs as the sun got higher in the sky and the prevailing ocean winds began to pick up. I took off my windbreaker and placed it over her bare shoulders. She looked at me appreciatively and snuggled into the jacket.

By this time we moved to a log a few feet back from the cliff’s edge. There were seabirds souring along the tradewinds looking for breakfast and we just sat there watching them for a while, not saying a word.

I broke the silence by commenting that I didn’t see her car in the parking lot. She said she didn’t even recall where she had run out of gas. “It was probably 3 am and I was walking for a couple hours prior to noticing I was close to this place, so I just headed here”.

“Would you like help to find your car” I inquired and she responded, “if it is OK with you, can we just sit here a while longer”.  “Of course,” I said, and we sat.

In the silence, I had the opportunity to converse some more with God. I have been a single man for quite a while. Being in my 50’s I’ve pretty much given up on actively dating so meeting women outside of church or work isn’t a regular occurrence. At that moment I assured God that I was VERY aware of her vulnerable position, that I would be there for her for as much or as little as she (or He) needed that day but that I won’t even consider anything beyond that… even though I found her very well spoken and attractive.

I could have sworn I heard God reply, “don’t put limits on what I am doing here”.

My heart literally skipped a beat at the thought of dating her but I quickly put that thought aside believing it to be my own wishful thinking and incredibly selfish considering what she is going through and concluded it clearly couldn’t have been God’s voice.

Looking at my watch I commented that it was 6:30 and inquired if she wanted to find her car and maybe get something to eat. She looked at me with kind soft eyes and said yes, she was ready to go.

It wasn’t a long hike back to my car and being the gentleman I am I unlocked her side first and closed the door. As I walked around the car my head was spinning with what had transpired in the last hour. Life can change in the blink of an eye, we never know what God has in store for us at any given moment.

As we left the parking lot she wasn’t even sure which direction she came in from. We drove around for a few minutes but no matter which direction we went none of it seemed familiar. She then said she had a doctors appoint that morning back in Belfast and asked if I wouldn’t mind giving her a ride. I almost excitedly replied, “I live just outside of Belfast in Dunmurry”. She equally excitedly said one of her girlfriends lives in Dunmurry”. A coincidence?

So we abandoned the hunt for her car and headed southward. It was over an hour drive but conversation came easily as we spoke about jobs, places we lived, the hobbies we enjoy and the pets we have owned. We spoke of past relationships both good and bad. We then both seemingly at the exact same time realized we didn’t know each other’s name. She told me her’s was Helena, what a beautiful name I thought. I replied “my name is Roger, nice to meet you” and we shook hands with a giggle.

It was nice to see that it appeared her mind was taken off her condition for at least a brief moment anyway. Gratefully doctors had discovered her cancer early on, and the prognosis was very good that treatments and a healthy mind, body and spiritual lifestyle could have a great impact on overcoming this.

As we entered the city at rush hour around 8am she commented that her stomach was upset and that she hadn’t eaten since getting the news yesterday afternoon. I asked if she would like to stop at a restaurant but she assured me she wasn’t that hungry.

So I pulled into a local Tesco and asked if she would like to get something small like some fruit and rice. She looked at me almost apologetically and said: “I left my purse in the car” and we both laughed at the notion that it was now nearly 100km away.

I told her that was no problem at all and we went inside. She playfully said that since I’m paying for her that this was officially our “first date”. I was shocked and thrilled at the comment, not even believing I heard her correctly but when I looked at her I knew she was very intentional with her comment. I offered her my arm and she took it and moved in close, and we walked into the store.

This all took place several days ago.

I’m happy to report that she made it to her doctor’s appointment ok and the initial news is that she is a great candidate for biopsy and that chemo should not be necessary initially.

Later that day, we drove back to Ballycastle and found her car. In fact, ever since our fateful encounter, we have been nearly inseparable. I don’t recall ever feeling so comfortable or happy to be around another person. We have plans to continue hiking together, and I’ve committed to going with her to each of her doctor’s appointment to ensure that she doesn’t have to go this alone.

Who knows where it goes from here, but I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to spend a season with Helena.

Oh, and if you think this story sounds too fate-filled to actually be true, we even saved the receipt from our first date!

banana and rice

It may not seem like much but I have a feeling we will be sharing this gem with our kids someday 🙂

(Editor Note: inspiration and some pictures for locations mentioned in this creative writing exercise came from this website)

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