Jesus said, I AM...the Bread of Life...the Light of the World...the Gate...the Good Shepherd...This is our Wednesday Lent Worship Series, looking at all the "I AM's" of Jesus.
We too need to claim our identity. My identity includes admitting, "I am an alcoholic." But more importantly in Jesus, "I am a Child of God!"
While growing up, I attended a very special church. However, just stating it was special may not be the most accurate description. After all, in some sense, all churches are special. No, this one was much more than that, as it became my refuge on so many occasions to evade the chaos that was taking place in my home. I remember vividly calling members of the congregation, primarily the parents of my fellow confirmation classmates, and asking them, “Could you please come pick me up and bring me to church?” Funny thing is, now as I look back in hindsight, it’s without a doubt how I was able to get confirmed. The Good Lord sure works in mysterious ways. I also think now as I look back, some of those people may have figured out or simply known about my dad and the drinking that was going on at our house. But I can’t blame everything on him because even by then my little life was already in shambles, and I was drinking and drugging all the time as well. You may wonder how that’s possible for a fourteen-year-old, but back then, as it is now, drugs and alcohol were readily available to any kid with an ounce of creativity. And let me tell you what, when it came to getting booze and drugs, I was about as creative as they get. In the last month of confirmation, I was expelled from high school. And being home alone, I was able to drink every day. It only took a few short months before I was admitted to inpatient treatment for the first time with an already enlarged liver.
Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of my battles with addiction and more so with myself and even God. I never stopped believing, I just thought God hated me. I also believed that both my earthly father, as well as my heavenly Father, somehow got their kicks out of tearing me down, making me feel “less than” or implying in so many different ways that I was simply not quite as good as the other kids. You know, like damaged goods.
I won’t go into details of the next seventeen years of my life, but let me state, plain and simple, things never got better for me. It wasn’t merely a phase, my addictions didn’t “even-out” and there was absolutely no moderation for me, only the insanity of thinking there was. Not even after my dad cleaned up, trying so many times to encourage me or help me to quit. I was in and out of A.A., N.A. and treatment, had acquired three DWI’s and had even gone to jail a few times. Not to mention the physical and mental abuse and trauma I caused nearly everybody who came near me, because addiction doesn’t care. It doesn’t care about love, it doesn’t care about family, dreams, or God. Speaking of God, my relationship with Him was almost nonexistent. The only time I even talked to God was when I begged Him to magically get me out of the trouble, I had gotten myself into, but blamed Him for.
As I sunk deeper, I resorted to stronger drugs. My hands shook, and I could no longer drink without blacking out unless I had cocaine, crank or speed to keep me going so I could drink more. Using stronger drugs was nothing new to me though, as I had discovered most of them before turning seventeen. Addiction, alcoholism, trauma, fear, resentment, and a destructively low self-esteem eventually took over, and I could no longer function without chemicals. I existed in that Godless place between Earth and Hell, and it wasn’t only ruining my life, but was also pulling my loved ones down with me. After years of unsuccessfully trying to quit, I had given up hope and decided this was my fate. However, my God, whom I had forgotten about, had not forgotten about me.
Many people in recovery experience what is called “a moment of clarity”. And if you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s when, for a brief moment, you see your life. You see your past, present and future. You understand what everybody has been saying. You understand the pleading, the heartache, and the destruction the drugs and booze have caused and for some reason it impacts you now more than it ever did. I’ve heard many people talk about this phenomenon; however, I think it’s much, much more. I believe that a moment of clarity is actually a divine intervention from God. I believe this because after so many years of failed attempts, I truly believe God talked to me. Now before you have me hauled off, know it wasn’t with a burning bush or a thundering voice, it was subtle and maybe lasted twenty seconds tops. But in that short time, God grabbed ahold of my heart and showed me all the things one might see in their moment of clarity. He also gave me strength, hope and faith. He showed me that even though I had caused so much damage with my drinking and drugging and thought there was no hope for someone like me, that I was indeed forgiven by the grace, power, and mercy of Jesus Christ. I started weeping uncontrollably and as soon as I realized what God was saying and that He was talking directly to me, He was gone. Again, this all took about twenty seconds. And maybe some will say it was indeed in my own head, but I refuse to believe it. Because when all else failed me, God did not. He picked me up and saved my life, and the proof is that twenty-eight years later, I still haven’t taken a drink, and I haven’t taken a hit.
Here’s the kicker though, I believe God talked directly to me again twenty-five years later. And not because I’m something special, but because it takes dang near an act of God to infiltrate my thick head sometimes. Some years ago, God placed it upon my heart to start a recovery ministry based on the love of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Many times, God had me share my story of faith and recovery, but as a professional musician, He also had me use music as well. I spoke and played at churches, recovery gatherings and even at a few luncheons, but selfishly I continued to ghost God’s calling on my life. However, and as we all know, if God wants something, God is going to get it. He never gave up on me, just like He hadn’t given up on me before. So, through some extreme personal struggles, continuing to lose friends and family members to this diabolical disease and even seeing His grace and compassion first-hand through one mighty miracle after another, I still couldn’t figure it out. Yup, God pretty much had to womp me upside the head to infiltrate this thick cranium of mine once again. But once He did … Whoa! The flood gates burst open, and it dawned on me why I was still alive: to share my faith, recovery, and music (His name, not mine). I am alive to serve Him while helping others by sharing our experiences, testimonies, hope and inspiring music through the love of Jesus! Wow!
So fast forward to today and I’ll tell you some of the blessings God has bestowed upon us. In three short years, Faith, Recovery & Music has visited churches, teen/youth centers and treatment facilities with its unique and uplifting recovery worship services. Focused on Christ’s love for us, we use shared experiences, Bible verses and music to lift and inspire those in recovery from drugs and alcohol and those who would like to be. When Covid-19 struck, God had even bigger plans by having us create an ever-growing online presence. Currently Faith, Recovery & Music has a YouTube Channel, a private Facebook group, a website and a weekly podcast listened to in eight different countries! God also helped us become an official 501c3 nonprofit ministry.
But as they say, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” Because God was far from finished! A year or so ago, when so many recovery meetings were still closed due to Covid, we were able to start a bimonthly meeting of Faith, Recovery & Music in New Prague that was in complete accordance with Minnesota’s Stay Safe Guidelines. It only took a few short months before we started offering this meeting every week. The problem, however, was that we had many people coming from north of the river, and it was a struggle for them to travel to New Prague. God put it on my heart to find another location, maybe something closer to the metro area. So, I prayed about it and put out a feeler on Facebook that said, “Looking for a church maybe in the Bloomington area to host a weekly Christian-based recovery service.” And guess what? In a few short minutes I saw someone had tagged this Rob Norris-Weber guy and literally two minutes later I received a message from him. He stated he liked the idea and thought the church he pastored may be a good fit. I was super excited and looked up Rob to find out where his church was and nearly fell off my chair when I saw it was St. Luke’s, my church refuge as a kid. God Is So Good!