Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Last week I had the opportunity to dive into the beautiful waters of Grand Cayman and explore the sunken wreck of the USS Kittiwake.

Every time I go scuba diving I'm in awe of the stunning beauty that lives below the surface. The vibrant colors of the fish and the intricate patterns of coral provide a living showcase. Every single inch is alive with movement. What a testimony to God's creativity!

But the USS Kittiwake didn't start out as a hotel for fish. It was a World War II submarine rescue vessel designed to support Navy submarine missions. In 2011 it was deliberately sunk off the coast of Grand Cayman to create an artificial reef.

As I swam through the corridors and hatchways, spying the corals and tube sponges sprouting from the sides of the vessel, watching schools of shimmering fish dart about, it occurred to me that the designers of this ship probably never imagined that it would rest serenely on the bottom of the sea nestling an abundance of life.

It also occurred to me that I am a wreck as well. Much of my life has not gone according to my plans. I have also been sunk.

Psalm 31:12 ESV: "I  have been forgotten like one who is dead; I have become like a  broken vessel."

 My hopeful plans for the futures of my two sons have been sunk. They both died at very young ages. My aspirations for my daughter have been sunk. She is a struggling single parent. We have lost a lucrative business—torpedoed  and sunk during the great recession.

 Have you been shipwrecked too? 

The bible doesn't promise that we won't have adversity, as a matter of fact, it states just the opposite.

John 16:33 NIV: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Besides  predicting trouble; however, God's word promises peace if we learn to rely upon Him.

Matthew 5:3-4 ESV : “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

 There is a special place in God's heart for those of us who mourn. We who are shipwrecked can ask God to repurpose our lives like the Kittiwake.

When my first son, Chris, died, and I felt myself sinking into emotional and spiritual depths, I turned to alcohol for comfort. At first it felt like a safe little lifeboat, but eventually, I sank even deeper into despair. But now I am an active member of a 12 step program that has given new purpose to my life. 

Sometimes I am the ship, and I provide shelter for other suffering women, particularly those who struggle with loss and addiction. I can testify that my sons are with the Lord, and I will see them again. I can have hope and stay sober.

Other times, I am the pretty little fish, swimming over to a meeting, looking for comfort and fellowship.

Another way that God has redesigned my sunken vessel is through my writing. I have connected with others who have lost children and with families struggling with cancer. 

In this fallen world, those of us who are sunk have the opportunity to become an artificial reef for others, and in turn, we enjoy the beauty and color of intimate relationships.

Has God begun to repurpose your life as well? Or are you still sinking? I'd love to hear about it. 

John 12:24 ESV / 

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Relapses in Recovery

Many of us who are in recovery have relapsed or " gone back out" as they say. If you are in that category then this blog post is for you!

First and foremost, if you are reading this, there is hope for you.

 Let me tell you about my friend "Ben". Ben was a tavern owner for many years. He had the perfect alcoholic job! Since he made his livelihood selling booze he was a happy camper for a while. But then, like many of us, he lost everything.

Another thing Ben lost track of was his number of relapses. He did, however, remember how many half way houses he had lived in before he finally got the program. The total was 13! He would get settled in, drink, get asked to leave, then start the cycle all over again. This process took years of his life and frequently rendered him homeless.

When I met Ben he had over 20 years sober. I saw a responsible member of society. He was sponsoring other men, and he was enjoying life. When Ben passed away a few years ago he died of natural causes, not alcoholism. His legacy lives on for me, because I will never forget his 13 half-way houses! I can only imagine the number of people that Ben helpedpeople who had thought they were hopeless.

Galatians 6:9: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

Secondly, I wish to remind my readers not to be ashamed to come back. We love you, and we need you! Helping new-comers as well as retreads does two things for us. It brings us joy, and it keeps us sober. Have you ever considered the fact that your participation in the program actually helps your sponsor?

Remember the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. After disrespecting his father and squandering his inheritance, the hard-partying son came back with his tail between his legs expecting a harsh reprimand and a lowly position. What he got instead was an embrace and a full restoration of his former status. We do the same in the rooms! Instead of a gold ring we give you chips and key tags, but the love and the acceptance are the same.

"Karen" was a friend whom I saw at meetings regularly. She had an advanced degree and held a respectable job. She disappeared from the rooms for a while, then returned full of tears and remorse. She spoke of how embarrassed by her relapse she was. 

Do you know what was on my mind the whole time Karen was sharing? My first reaction to seeing her after her long absence was delight, followed immediately by a sense of relief. I couldn't wait to give her a hug and invite her out to coffee. Unfortunately Karen snuck out before the meeting ended. She had let shame get the best of her. Don't be a "Karen!" Give yourself the opportunity to reconnect.

My first sponsor always told me that relapse is not a requirement, but it is so common that for many of us it has become an important step towards the acknowledgment of our powerlessness. Some folks even make light of it and refer to it as "research and development".  But we must be cautious here, and not give ourselves permission to relapse for we can't ever forget how deadly this disease is.

This brings to mind "Alex". He used his youth as an excuse. In his early twenties, he went on one last outing with his party friends. He had just completed a 30 day inpatient rehab, and was planning on starting the steps after his little trip. Alex thought he had all of the time in the world, but he didn't survive that weekend. Being young doesn't mean you are allotted more relapse time!

And finally, when we do return to the program, we must share our struggles and be thoroughly and rigorously honest! Of course, the intimate details we save for our sponsor's ears(This is accomplished by a fourth and fifth step as it it outlined in the literature.)but it is beneficial to ourselves and to others to share in general what type of problems we may be tackling at the moment.

Since my story is one of devastating loss( the death of 2 of my children) I have the privilege of reminding others that it is possible to stay sober while enduring every mother's worst nightmare. Ben's story was a shining light for the habitually homeless. Your story will help someone too! You can turn your relapse experience into valuable insight for others.

Let me conclude by telling you about my dear "Dana". At the time we both had about 5 years sober, and I identified very closely with Dana as our stories and backgrounds were very similar. Dana was chairing meetings, sponsoring others, and doing service work at the central office. One day I walked into our local recovery club and saw Dana's picture on a table with a candle next to it. She had put a gun to her head.

In tears, I asked a mutual friend, what could have possibly gone wrong? Fear gripped me. "Am I next?" I asked her.

"No way, Maribeth," she replied. "You share your pain at the meetings. You see, Dana was always 'fine' every time someone asked her. She hid herself in service work and never looked at her own issues." 

So when you do come back after a relapse, please come back all the way! Get a sponsor, follow the directions, and share your story. Remember, half measures availed us nothing. We will be waiting with open arms. 

Matthew 10:27: "Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God;all things are possible with God."

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Thorns and Roses on the Journey

 I remember sitting in church as a child hearing the story of Paul’s thorn in the flesh:

2 Corinthians 12:7 : "... a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited."

I recall trying to figure out exactly what Paul’s thorn was. Did he have a barb stuck in his foot? Maybe one leg was shorter than the other so he walked like Frankenstein. Did he break out in hives whenever he had to preach? Was it migraines?  Or perhaps he suffered from the heartbreak of psoriasis! This curious kid just had to know, and she was somewhat annoyed that no one had the answer.

Later in life, I realized that that was the point. We aren’t supposed to identify Paul’s thorn because we each have our own unique thorn, our own type of brokenness. We are supposed to model Paul’s acceptance and fill in the blank with our own thorn.

One of the people I admire most, Richard Wurmbrand, was a Christian minister in communist Romania. In his book "Tortured for Christ" he describes his multiple imprisonments, torture, and the persecution of his family. He suffered unimaginable physical pain as well as many cruel indignities. 

Another person I greatly admire is Mary McCleod Bethune.  Bethune, an educator who lived at the turn of the century, was burdened by the lack of educational opportunities for African Americans, particularly the girls. She rented a house and started her own school, soliciting door to door, asking for wood crates and donations of furniture. They used charcoal for pencils and crushed berries for ink. 

Probably, the person I admire who has influenced me the most is Bill Wilson. His thorn was uncontrollable alcoholism that tried to steal his health, his family, and his livelihood. One day in 1935 Bill accepted that he couldn’t drink safely anymore and he called his friend Bob. They met together to share their common problem and seek a spiritual solution.

All of these thorny examples have one thing in commonthey sprouted roses! Like oysters that require an irritant to grow a pearl, they produced beauty from pain.

Richard Wurmbrand's thorn of torture eventually produced the worldwide organization "The Voice of the Martyrs". The VOM has a network of offices that support persecuted churches around the globe.

Bethune's thorn of prejudice spurred her tireless efforts that won her national recognition from President Franklin D. Roosevelt and led to the founding of Bethune-Cookman College, later to become Behtune-Cookman University.

Bill's thorn of alcoholism gave birth to a global fellowship that has helped millions recover from hopeless addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous is a program that now serves 117,000 groups in approximately 170 countries. AA is so successful that judges regularly sentence offenders to attend meetings rather than go to jail

My thorn is tremendous loss. First I lost my teenage son,Chris, to cancer, then the recession devastated our financial stability, and finally, last year we lost our other son, Jarrod.

 I haven’t built any schools or started any worldwide organizations, but I’m gradually learning  how to cultivate the roses.

One of my roses has been staying sober through all of my tragedies(Thank you Bill!). Others in the rooms of recovery have told me that I have inspired them.

Another of my roses has been my writing. I have received emails from folks telling me that my books have helped them.

But I still struggle, and probably will for a long time. The gentle scent of  the roses keeps me going. I remind myself that Jesus Christ wore a crown of thorns as he secured for us our place in eternity. There I bet the roses bloom year around!

So what is your thorn? Have the roses stated budding? I would love to hear about it. Please post a comment.