Tag Archives: gratitude

Waiting again for the miracle

There was a time when I felt mired very close to that place we call “the bottom.” A miracle seemed the best hope, maybe the only hope. I’d try to step outside the mess during that time and somehow imagine my way forward to a life that made sense. It seemed remote at best. Impossible at worst. Time and again I found myself thinking, praying, hoping, even begging for the “miracle” that would set my life to rights.

The miracle came. Undeniably. I can point to it there, there, over there and here, in so many places. I’m sure it came.

But I’m also sure it never once came as I expected. Never once came in the simple math of asked for equals answered prayer, like spiritual equations I’ve heard so many preachers promise. It didn’t arrive like a torrential downpour that made me gaze up to the heavens with a stupid happy expression over the obvious miraculous intervention. I pictured that many times. It never once became a reality.

But here’s the thing: I have no doubt that waiting for the miracle was the right thing to do.  The miracles came like dew. Everywhere, yet hardly noticeable. Constant, yet seemingly evaporating before the day went very far at all.

A skeptic would say they weren’t miracles at all.

Skeptics question all sorts of things that others insist are true, like love, like faith, like “signs” and especially miracles. They are fueled by often being right. Let’s be clear. The skeptics are right far more than they are wrong.

We believers in miracles are often wrong.

I think it’s by design. If miracles were that easy to see, we’d all want them, like a genie in a bottle. We’d miss the giver of the miracles and the reason for the miracles and all the other stuff to be learned. That’s why the saints call faith a “mystery.” We can’t know it all. We see, at best, like a glimpse. We are often wrong about what we see and experience. We are often wrong about our miracles. As I look back over the last decade and beyond, I realize I am most always wrong about what God is up to in any given moment.

It was precisely in recognizing how wrong I was that I began to see the miraculous dew that kept my life fresh and growing and vibrant in ways I couldn’t have dreamed up. God’s plan for me far outpaced even what I could plan for myself when dreaming of a miracle.

So why on Earth would I ever think the miracles stopped? This hit me the other day as I listened to a favorite song from singer Marc Cohn who sang,

Yeah, I’m willing to wait for a miracle
willing to wait it through
willing to wait for a miracle
what else am I gonna do 

I have these issues in my life that seem undone. I convince myself that God planned this life then forgot to deal with some really important shit.  I want to fix it all myself. I want to just finish the job. God then asks, “are you willing to wait for the miracle…?”

In AA they have this phrase: “Don’t give up right before the miracle.” It’s compelling to think about. Discouragment can pile on. The slog of recovery can become what seems like an impossible burden. Addicts think about just tossing it in. At those times if we hold on just a bit more, the miracle arrives.

I know this well. And yet… and yet. I still have to remind myself to be willing to wait for the miracle.

I’m living the miracle every day and yet far too often I’m not nearly as happy about it as I would expect. The pressures of the moment, the lack of perspective, the stress I allow to creep back around the edges, the lack of balance that knocks me off stride all conspire to rob me of joy and hijack the gratitude.

When I Iact ungrateful, I make my life more difficult even as it is infinitely better. I choose to be less than happy because I look around and see the need for more miracles. I get anxious about what I can’t change. I stress that I don’t have a plan better than looking to God and saying, “help.” Even now, that place, that dependence is perhaps exactly what God has in mind. Still.

Though I believe I shouldn’t need the miracle any longer, I do. Because that’s the plan. I may be a long, long way from bottom, but I don’t ever want to be a long, long way from faith in the plan that God has that I can’t see.

So the song reminds me. I am best when waiting for the miracles. I am best when I’m willing to wait it through. With so much evidence of blessedness in my life, what the hell else am I gonna do?

When there are no robes to tear

As a columnist of a daily newspaper, I had great liberty to choose my topics. About once a month I’d try to write something positive.

My editor hated that.

Not that he was a curmudgeon. He was a good-natured, upbeat guy. But he was plain spoken when it came to my so-called “feel good” columns.

“They stink,” he told, more than once. “You are at your best when you are complaining.”

I’d rip apart the city council or the latest civic injustice or mock some new plan to do something at taxpayer cost that would end up not doing anything, and my columns would take flight.

I once so infuriated a city councilor he wrote a letter to the editor claiming that I had “the moral authority of Bullwinkle writing on the freeway underpass.”

I’m not sure what any of that meant, but I loved it enough that I still remember it.

I wrote a series of articles on downtown improvements that so riled up the folks a rival city councilor turned my ideas into a town hall just so that people would show up and argue. They did. A packed house full of angst.

A judge in my divorce proceedings stuck it to me and told my attorney, “Advise your client he should watch what he writes,” as if that had anything to do with my divorce.

At one point the police kept harassing me with minor infractions so much that I was in danger of having my license revoked.

It was great. Muckraking they used to call it. I was a mucker and a raker.

But as soon as I wrote about something wonderful happening, my writing would hit the snooze button.

I tend to be an upbeat guy. I like to laugh. I love to have fun. But I’ve realized I tend to lose my mojo when there is nothing to lament. My Jewish friend said I’m Jewish. I took that as a bit of compliment. Jews are the best at dancing and laughing and still have a long line at the complaint department. Throughout the Bible, everyone tears robes, dumps ashes on their head in one scene and then whoop it up in the next. The Whiplash seems to piss off Yahweh. I’m not sure it’s the best approach to a spiritual life, but I think it’s so interwoven into their DNA they can’t help it.

Neither, it seems, can I.

The last couple of week I just can’t rile up any good ole fashioned ire.  Rather than come to God in my prayers with a laundry list of neglect, I look around me, and I see only… blessing.

It freaks me out.

I tell God this, but I qualify: “look, don’t change! I’m not saying that. I’ve had enough torn robes to last a lifetime. But just give me a moment to get used to it, OK? I’m freaked out here!”

My spiritual director asked me about this. “Any idea why you are anxious with so much good in your life?”

“Because I’m a fucking masochist,” I moaned.

“And what would your friend, your brother Jesus, say if told him that?” he asked.

I laughed.

“Uh… knock if off?”

“Perhaps,” he said with a smile.

We sorted out some of my anxiety. My need for torn robes turns what looks to be God’s feet walking in front of me leading the way toward her blessings into the other shoe about to land and smash my brains.

It’s not the healthiest view of life, or God, or my place in all of that.

I have often written that I could use a time when the wind of God’s spirit fills my sails with joy. I suspect that is what is happening in my life (even now it scares me silly to say it for fear the wind is a hurricane).

Allowing my life to be good may be the biggest spiritual challenge I’ve faced. I have to learn to trust this, that there is no “other shoe,” and that I am capable of living into this time of blessing well.

Years ago God impressed a verse in my head as a type of prophecy: “By God’s tender mercy, the morning light of heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and guide us to the path of peace.”

In those darkest times, I longed for that morning light of heaven. I see it on the horizon in my life and blink into the glare. I feel afraid, but oh so hopeful. It’s heady stuff. Hard. Wonderful. Scary. How will I greet this dawn?

The same way I endured times of terrible hardship. By faith. One day at a time. With a song of thanksgiving on my heart. I learned gratitude at the time of my greatest despair. It’s now time to put that lesson to work.

“Good news, bad news? We shall see,” the sage says.

Agreed. We shall see. Thank you, Yahweh. Thank you.

Food, work, prayer: An unexpected good day

Mania can be a wonderful thing in moderation. I had a nice blast of it yesterday.
If I had to pinpoint one change — the biggest change — in my life in recovery, it’s that I have energy. I am interested in so many more things than when I was drinking. These interests motivate me and infuse me with life. I guess it could be construed as manic behavior, but it’s not hyper. It’s an energetic calm. I like it. It’s a gift of sobriety, and it played out nicely yesterday:
I wrote a story before 7 a.m. Then finished the overdue revisions of my book proposal. Then baked a pot of black beans. Then made homemade tortillas. Then with the kitchen back in service after a month of solitude, I went full force into Effin Artist favorites: I made a nice wheat bread with flax, paprika, chili and pepper.
I made decadent triple chocolate cookies.
I then remembered I had lost my wedding ring a couple of weeks ago in my pond. I know I lost it in the pond. The cold water made it slip off, I was certain. I had thumbed the blank spot uneasily for days, so I decided to go get it back.
I drained the entire thing and sifted the gook through my finger. No ring! I prayed for my ring while I fixed the pond all up and reworked the little waterfall to make it flow better.
Stinking like a dead fish I decided to weed the driveway, move the planters into the back yard (protected from the deer that gave them a haircut in my absence), filled the pond and while tweaking the creek found my ring!
Back inside I showered off the gook and decided I was hungry. I made homemade fish tacos. One bite and I was envisioning an Effin Artist taco truck in downtown SF charging $10 bucks for these with a line so long it blocks traffic. Wowsa. The Giants pounded the Twins while I ate.
fish tacos
The cookies capped off the manic day along with a prayer of gratitude for both the day and my ring (and a little cheer for the Giants win).
Good days aren’t always easy to find, but a little work, a little creativity, a little prayer and a most unexpected, welcome, grateful tired ended this one. A very good day indeed.

Don’t worry? Not easy but worth the effort

My bride comes by worry honestly. It’s woven into her DNA, a sort-of default status that her brain clicks to if she doesn’t give it a better alternative.

She married a guy who didn’t get it. For most of our married life, I was immune to worry, even at times when worry would have absolutely been the most sane reaction to the events at hand. But I had help. I drank. A lot. And that had an amazing ability to drown worry with bravado and recklessness before it ever got fired up.

Then I went to rehab. Guess what happened? I developed an anxiety disorder. The bride got the last laugh on that one — but alas, the bride doesn’t work like that. She simply understood better than I did the things I was feeling. She showed me all the empathy I lacked.

2014-01-05 19.44.42

I’m convinced worry has a toxic effect on our well-being. Eastern spirituality talks of it in terms of energy and aura. This is useful. A negative, worry-filled outlook colors everything else, seeping through our bodies with deleterious effect.

Rooting out the worry from our lives is one of the healthiest, hoof to head things we can do.

Now we both deal with worry in more proactive ways. I don’t drink. She tries not to ruminate and let her mind race ahead to a future of doom. We use our spiritual exercises in the morning to stay in the present and give the worry to God.

We also hike. It’s amazing how a trek past a gorgeous madrone grove (see above photo) can take your mind off the troubles you literally walked away from.

When I hike, my mind races towards gratitude. It just flows that way. The more grateful I am for the blessings of this life, the less room I have for worry.

I take comfort in the scriptures that reveal a God who, unlike me, shows tremendous empathy toward our inclination to worry. Jesus reminds us that God takes care of the worry-free lilies and birds whose needs are met. He sent his disciples out with nothing and said their needs would be provided. Before he left he gave a strong reminder:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he said.

St. Paul strikes me as a guy who once suffered from some serious worry. But in one of the most tremendous passages of ancient writing (Philippians 4) he tells us “be anxious for nothing” and to simply pray instead.  From the barren loneliness of a prison cell he tells us the secret of contentedness.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” he wrote.

Paul had plenty to worry about and opted instead for joy and faith, which seems to have worked better than wine.

Don’t worry, be happy, the saying went. It wasn’t bad advice.