Invitation to Your Life

Today I had the privilege of speaking to a group of more than 50 men who have worked hard to complete a substance abuse treatment program inside the local jail, 14 of whom were my direct clients. Many would wash their hands of the chemically-dependent, writing them off as the lowest of society. However, they are sons, brothers, and fathers, and I’m honored to hear their stories and help them see there is hope for a different future. This is what I said to them:

“I am currently reading a book called Love Does by Bob Goff. He writes short anecdotal stories that he relates to the action of love rather than love as a feeling.

One story was particularly interesting to me as I read it and thought of you all and the work you’ve been doing to change. He calls the chapter, There’s More Room, and says, “I used to think I needed an invitation to get into most places, but now I know I’m already invited.”

The shortened version goes like this:

He explains that he has been to the White House to visit on numerous occasions, especially around Easter because of the “swanky” Easter egg hunt happening on the White House lawn, but has never been invited to it. His family would show up and hide eggs along the fence that separates those on the “inside” from the rest of us. They’d dress up and pretend to be part of the “distinguished gathering.” He was always tempted to roll an egg under the fence to see if guys in suits might tackle him and talk into their sleeves. They would use a small area to hide eggs, so they were easy to spot, but his kids were young and probably just thought they were experts at finding eggs. He wanted them to know they were included in important things, that they belonged, that they were invited.

There are lots of events he never got invited to – the Oscars, Paul McCartney’s birthday party, or a space shuttle launch. If he did get one, even to the White House Easter egg hunt, he would definitely go. There is nothing like feeling included. He says there is only one invitation it would kill him to refuse, yet is tempted to turn down regularly. All of us get the invitation every morning to wake up and actually live a life of complete engagement, of whimsy, a life where love does. The invitation doesn’t come in an envelope. It’s ushered in by the sunrise, the sound of a bird, or the smell of coffee. It’s the invitation to actually live, to fully participate in this amazing life every day. Nobody turns down an invitation to the White House, but plenty of you have been turning down the invitation to truly live.

Turning down this invitation looks different to all of us. It could be using a chemical substance or any other number of addictive actions to numb some painful experience or memory. Someone called us a name or put a label on us, and we believe we aren’t worthy of the invitation. It could be distracting ourselves from seeing what isn’t normal because we have not been prepared to deal with it appropriately. It can also look like refusing to forgive or not being grateful for what we have or being chained to fear or envy. It could be fear of reconnecting with a friend because it’s been too long and we are ashamed to have allowed so much time to come between us. It could be that our friends have been participating for years and we’re ashamed to show up late.

We receive an invitation to live each day and sometimes we forget to show up because we’re just tired or have convinced ourselves that we weren’t invited. But we are invited. Every day. Over and over again. When you don’t show up, others will. And yet there is still room for you.

Two things happen when we accept the invitation to participate in life.

  1. Obstacles and hurdles that seem insurmountable aren’t. Things we believe disqualify us don’t.
  2. It’s contagious. Others watch and see that life is amazing, and start believing the invitation is open to them as well. There IS room for them, too.

So, you’ve spent about 18 weeks here, clearing your mind and your body of chemicals that are capable of damaging your body. Understanding that the choices you made are not who you are. Opening your eyes to the opportunities that are yours. This place is not a place to live your life. But this is a place to start again. This is your invitation to truly live a life of engagement. To fully participate in the work of showing up. Time to show up for the real party called life. Welcome to your amazing life.”

In reality, these words were not only for the graduates. Much of the content was also directed at me, as a reminder that I need not wait around for the perfect storm to put things in motion. I must get moving, taking each small step after another to create the life I want.

Goff, B. (2012). Love does: Discover a secretly incredible life in an ordinary world. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Addiction: It’s Not About the “What”

So many different thoughts and arguments exist when the topic of addiction comes up. Most people automatically associate drugs and alcohol when the word “addiction” is mentioned. They get pained looks on their faces because the family member or former friend who has fallen into the using or drinking lifestyle is sad at best. There are no easy or simple answers to the problem of addiction. Pointing fingers at druggies and alcoholics as the basis of the problem is counterproductive.

Recovering-addict-turned-comedian, Mark Lundholm, explains addiction in possibly the best, most simplistic way I’ve heard. He says what someone is addicted to isn’t the problem. Caffeine, marijuana, cocaine, crack, methamphetamine, heroin, alcohol, food, porn, sex, relationships, gambling, video games, attention – it’s all the same. It’s not the “what.” The foundation of any addiction is “now.” We are addicted to now. Our fast-paced, have-it-now society has pushed and promoted this behavior. We want food now? There is a microwave or a fast-food restaurant to make it happen. Nevermind the question of health. We want creativity? We want nearly instant relief from pain? We want to get past grief or trauma now? We yearn for intimacy? Anyone of those chemical or non-chemical remedies are at our fingertips. Is any one of those choices worse than another? Obviously, chemical use might get you dead faster. However, the others can be just as devastating to your mental, emotional, spiritual, relational, and physical health. The mere fact that the fast-food drive-thru exists confirms this have-it-now-no-matter-the-cost attitude.

In reality, addiction is the evidence of life being out of balance. The NOW attitude leads our human nature to engage in whatever gives us relief from pain or stress. Once respite has been achieved, our brains have locked into memory all the related sensory information, causing a craving that is virtually irresistible. Those of us with coffee or sugar (aka sweet tooth) addictions can smell a Dunkin Donuts within a mile and begin to salivate. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but you get the point.

We can write-off the addict/alcoholic as the scum of society, but until we teach people to take the time to deal with the get-it-now attitude, to learn that achieving anything of value (pain relief, weight loss, fitness, inner satisfaction, creativity, etc.) takes time, very little progress will be made. When instant gratification isn’t the goal, when grief is a process to work through, when a relationship is worth the time and effort to repair – that is when recovery begins. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a small part of experiencing “aha” moments of people who struggle with addiction. And in those moments, I find the inspiration to overcome my own challenges.