Living With My Hero

As part of the blog challenge I am participating in this month, I am writing about people who inspire me. A lot of people have to admire their inspirations from afar. I get to live with mine. This post was originally shared in August 2012 under the title “An Excellent Woman.”


“If you want to keep your family together you better get some help.”  Those words were spoken to me by my wife, Shawna, eight and a half years ago.  You see, I had messed up.  Royally.  I was losing my battle with alcoholism and decided it was time to let her know everything.  So I packed a bag, sat her down, told her all the terrible details, and watched as she surprised me: she left.

But the next morning she came back.

A year and a half later, she found out that I was still losing that same battle, only now it resulted in me losing my job as a minister.  Her response was to call some married friends who had been through the same struggle and ask if we could spend a few days with them.  Those friends said yes, and we started (again) on a long road to recovery.


Several years, three states, and a couple of jobs later, we made the decision to move back to Abilene, TX, so I could enroll in graduate school.  She now works to help pay for my tuition.  And the bills.  And the food.  And the benefits.  Have I mentioned our three children yet?  Or that she is continuing her education as well? (Note: I have since graduated, but she is still working on her education. And three jobs.)

She has embodied grace in our relationship as husband and wife; but it goes even farther than that.  She does not know her biological father and she has a strained relationship with her mother.  Yet she has become like a mother to the young girls and women of every congregation we have been a part of.  She reaches out with motherly love and guidance to the young people she works with; many of whom have strained relationships in their own families of origin.

She was not raised with any sense of spirituality or religion, yet now her life is guided by prayer and an intense desire to do what is right.  She loves God and strives to make decisions that are in step with His will for her life.  She loves others and truly wishes to bless them in any way she can.  She prays for people, talks with people, teaches people, and provides food and other material blessings for people in need.

She does not always have it easy.  She struggles at times to be content or at peace; yet during those times of struggle she seeks counsel from those who are willing to listen.  She has a drive to learn more about herself and how she can continually improve in her service to God and others.  She pours her heart out in worship and in fellowship as she yearns to become the Godly woman she knows she was called to be.

I am who I am and where I am today because of my wife and her love, grace, support, strength, and excellence.  Our children are turning into young people who love God and serve others because of the example their mother has set for them.  I am in awe of her because of the journey she has traveled to arrive where she is.


(Thanks to Michaela Kasselman for this fun pic! Check out more of her pics here.)

Every day I wake up, I thank God for the woman he has blessed me with.  Every day, I am reminded that our lives continue together because she was willing to come back.  She was willing to exhibit the grace and love of God.  She was willing to say, “I will walk with you.”  I will never be able to estimate her worth because it is beyond my ability to comprehend.  Yet I will continue to thank God every day for blessing me with a most excellent partner, wife, and friend.

My Brother Is My Biggest Fan

My oldest brother, Robert, died 5 years ago. He never “got” recovery. But no one supported me more than he did.


Addicts are not deficient people.

I would love to assume that statement is unnecessary, but unfortunately many addicts are viewed as weak, lacking self-control, uncaring, immature, and failures.

But this simply is not true. (At least, no more true than with any other group of people.)

I said in a previous post that addicts are not problems to be solved, they are people to be loved. When a story hits that another celebrity has died of an overdose, I always feel grief. I wonder what their journey with addiction and sobriety has been.

And then I feel anger. Anger at the people who suggest the person “got what they deserved.” Anger at people who say, “That’s what you get when you give people a lot of money.” Anger at the people who feel as if the person who died was some moral failure so let’s not waste any time shedding a tear for them.

When people make choices, they have to be ready to face the consequences of those choices. And sometimes, those consequences are fatal.

And you may want to think the person failed at life. But I don’t believe that is true. I believe they struggled and felt they had nowhere else to turn.

One of the difficulties many addicts face is the shame associated with being an addict. Even when everyone knows the person is addicted to something, that person struggles to say the words out loud. What is too often viewed as failure, or immaturity, is in actuality suffering.

And too often, it is suffering in silence.


My brother was never able to maintain sobriety. He tried many times. For a variety of reasons, it never stuck. Ultimately, it was his addiction and its consequences that took his life at a young age.

But I will not allow you to call my brother a failure.

My brother worked hard. My brother loved hard. My brother, to quote the cliché, never met a stranger. At his funeral, Brother #4 (there are 5 of us!) acknowledged that Bob did not do a good job taking care of himself. Part of the reason for that was his view that everyone else was more important.

Bob was kind. He was funny. He was intelligent. He had his flaws. He made his mistakes. He caused his fair share of pain. He was human.

And he called me every year on my sobriety anniversary. He told me how proud he was of me. He told me he was praying for me.

He told me he looked up to me.

I hate what alcohol did to my brother. I hate the internal struggle that he dealt with that I was unable to resolve—even knowing it was not my responsibility to do so. I hate that someone so loving and funny and smart was not able to see in himself what others saw.

But he was not a failure. He was an addict. He was a Christian walking through life the best way he knew how. He was a human being with human shortcomings.


He was everybody’s friend.

A Second Time

For those who have been following my blog, this post will look familiar. For those who are new: this is my story. At least a portion of it. I hope you can read, relate, and then share your story with me. That’s what this blog is all about!

Jonah has been one of my favorite Bible stories for a long time.  Specifically, Jonah 3:1 has been my favorite verse for a long time:  “The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time.”  When I left Abilene the first time, my family moved to Rochester, NY, so that I could preach for the Lawson Road Church of Christ.  It was great.  I developed great relationships with our congregation as well as the others in the area.  I was able to learn from some great preachers who had been serving God for a long time.  As I was preaching there, I used Jonah a lot.  There is so much to this short book, it continues to amaze me.

From the outset of the book, we see a character who is a spokesperson for God, a man who was used to speak the Word of God to God’s people, and he runs away from it.  God called Jonah; Jonah ran.  What really stands out to me is that Jonah runs; not because of a lack of faith.  Jonah is running from God, not because he doesn’t know what God is going to do, but exactly because he believes God will do what God always does.  Jonah, as any good Israelite, hated the Ninevites.  So being told to go preach against them should be something Jonah would jump at.  But Jonah knows God; he knows what God is capable of.  So Jonah runs away.

But God won’t let him.

All throughout chapter 1, God is acting; He is preparing so many different things for Jonah.  The storm, the fish, God is moving in Jonah’s life even as Jonah is trying to evade God.  And you know something, this is one of the ways that God, sometimes, if we’re honest, can be annoying.  I grew up the youngest of five boys.  The more my brothers didn’t want me around, the more I persisted to be involved in their activities.  The more they tried to get away from me, the more I fought to be around them.  I was relentless.  And so is God.  God wants the Ninevites to hear His Word.  God wants Jonah to proclaim that Word.  And Jonah running away is not going to stop Him.


God does not just pursue Jonah and the Ninevites, either.  The sailors on the ship begin crying out to any and every god they can think of; they have to wake Jonah up to do the same thing.  These pagans are more willing to act in a spiritual manner than the man of God.  So they ask Jonah what he has done, they try to find some way to save him, and then they give in and throw Jonah overboard, and then the sailors worship God.

Up until this point, Jonah knows what God can do, but I think Jonah is starting to think God won’t do it for him.


Sometimes, life is just unbearable.  There are times when we get to that place we call rock bottom and there is no way we can get any further down.  At least it seems that way.  We think, “Yeah, I know what God can do, and has done, for everybody else, but He’s not going to do it for me.”  And that is where Jonah finds himself.  Isolated, in a dark, damp, smelly place, all alone for three days and three nights.  He has nothing to do but think:  about what he’s done, about running away from God, about failing in his call as a prophet.  And sometime during this three day period, he finally starts to get it.

“In my distress I called to the LORD.”  How many times does it take a period of distress for us to finally call out to God?  How much of our difficulty, how much of our despair could we have avoided had we only reached out to God sooner?  But we can’t change any of that, can we?  So all we can do is cry out to God from where we are.  And that is what Jonah does.  He cries out to God in his distress, and he ends with a song of thanksgiving.  Jonah says he will worship God, Jonah will make good on the promises he has made to God.  It took him falling as far down as he could possibly fall, but he finally got it.

And Jonah is easy for us to pick on, isn’t he?  The prophet who ran away and was disobedient and didn’t pray and only called to God when he was in the belly of the whale.  But I wonder if many of us relate to Jonah more than we care to admit.


So I have always known I was going to be a preacher.  From the time I was very young, I was telling people I was going to preach, just like my Dad.  My whole life, seemingly, was preparation for me to be a preacher.  I used to go everywhere with my Dad:  preacher’s meetings, Christian camp board meetings, Gospel meetings, area-wide sings, hospital visits, nursing home visits.  Every time I had to the opportunity to do something “preacher-y” with my Dad, I did it.  I went to Abilene (TX) Christian University and majored in Bible focusing on pulpit ministry.  I started a Masters of Divinity, and only left early because my wife and I were expecting our first child and I thought I needed to start finding a job.  I have always had a love for the Northeast, so all of my interviews and try-outs were in that region of the country, and the position at Lawson Road in Rochester was absolutely a sign of God working in our lives.

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When we got to Rochester, things started off real well.  We developed a lot of relationships with the families who were there.  We were able to connect with a lot of the young families and that brought more energy and life to the church.  There were three great, Godly elders who invested their time in me, helping me to develop as a person and a preacher.  Everything was going great.

Only something wasn’t.  I had begun drinking occasionally, but now the occasions were increasing in number.  I was being smart about it:  only at home, only when the kids were in bed, never in public.  Shawna was working part-time nights at a grocery store, so I would just kind of drink until she came home and then go to bed.  And two things happened:  one, Shawna told me she thought I was drinking too much and that I should stop; and two, life started happening at the church—arguments about what direction the church should take, struggles with people who led by manipulation, frustration with the elders for not stepping up to some of the people who were becoming overbearing. And I had a response to each of those two things.

First, I wanted to prove to Shawna that I was not drinking too much and that I didn’t need to stop.  So I started to hide my drinking from her.  I would make sure I was in bed before she got home or stay up real late until after she had fallen asleep.  I would prove that I could drink as much as I want and still be okay.  Second, I did not want to stand up to the people who were making noise in the church.  I was afraid of confrontation.  I was afraid to stand up and say anything, even something as simple as, “Let’s spend time in prayer to discern God’s will.” I found that the best way to quiet that noise was to drink.  But then I would wake up in the morning and feel guilty, which just created more noise in my head, so I drank even more.

And throughout this whole time, I never once asked God for help.  Because I knew He would help me and I didn’t want Him to.  So my drinking kept increasing.  People were questioning, wondering what was going on.  And finally, I had had enough.  I was ready to quit.  Only, I wasn’t ready to quit drinking.  It was a Wednesday night after Bible class.  I had packed a bag because I was ready to go.  I sat Shawna down and told her everything, all the hurtful things that I wish I could take back.  And instead of leaving with my packed bag, I watched as Shawna got up and left.  She called me later from the friend’s house she went to, and was understandably extremely upset.

But the next morning, she came back.  She came up to our room, woke me up, and said, “If you want to keep your family together, you better get some help.”  So I did.  I went to the elders and told them everything I had told Shawna.  And I broke down weeping.  And these godly men surrounded me with love and mercy and told me they would walk beside me and my family as we all recovered.  I continued preaching because they had faith in me.  I started attending AA meetings.  Shawna and I went to a Christian counselor to work on our marriage.  Once again, things were going well.  Only…

I had about three months of sobriety.  And Shawna went out of town for the weekend on a church retreat.  I still remember having the thought that I could take a drink while she was gone and no one would ever find out.  I also remember thinking that I should tell somebody, Shawna, an elder, my sponsor, only what would people think about me if they knew I wanted to drink?  So I kept it to myself.  And I drank.  And for the next year and few months, I continued falling deeper and deeper into my despair.  Still preaching, still attending AA, still drinking.

Until, finally, one Sunday morning, someone thought they could smell alcohol on me.  So they told the elders.  They had previously asked me to be willing to submit to random urine screens, so they gave me one.  And I failed.  And I was fired.  The only thing I ever wanted to be, the only thing I had any training in, the only thing I could do, was now taken away from me.  I had been swirling for so long, avoiding God, avoiding my support network, avoiding myself, and now I was in the belly of the fish.


In order to make sure we could still pay the bills, I took a job working overnights stocking grocery shelves.  It was a mindless job, and that was exactly what I needed at that time.  Go to work, put product on shelves, go home.  But while doing that, I couldn’t stop beating myself up.  I couldn’t stop telling myself how much of a failure I was.  I had a lot to time to tell myself how terrible I had become and everything that my family was experiencing was all my fault and it would never get better again.

And then one day, driving home from work, I heard these words on the radio:  “Oh what I do to have, the kind of strength it takes to stand before a giant, with just a sling and a stone.  Surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors, shaking in their armor, wishing they’d have had the strength to stand.  And the giant’s calling out my name and he laughs at me.  Reminding me of all the times, I’ve tried before and failed.  The giant keeps on telling me, time and time again, boy, you never win, you never win.  But the voice of truth tells me a different story, the voice of truth says do not be afraid, the voice of truth says this is for my glory, out of all the voices calling out to me, I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.”

I had to pull over because I could not see through the tears streaming down my face.  Yes, I had messed up, yes I was in the midst of great distress, but now I could sing a song of thanksgiving, because God had not given up on me. All because the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time.

There is a lot more to come. I hope you will join me for the journey. I hope you will be willing to share your stories with me. Let’s journey together!

Bringing Humanity to Social Media

Social media sucks.

And I say that realizing I will be sharing this post on three social media platforms and hoping that you have found my website through someone who shared it on their social media platforms.

But honestly, when it comes to communicating, social media is just about the worst way to go about it.

Now I have fun on my facebook and twitter feeds. I laugh at the funny memes and enjoy looking at the photos my friends post. I often engage in delightful conversations (especially when I make fun of certain pop stars whom I cannot stand).

So social media can be fun. It’s the serious stuff that can be stressful.

Last summer, I decided to use my social media presence to speak up about some of the more controversial news stories of the day. I shared stories, retweeted comments, and posted pictures that drove a lot of people crazy. And there were other times I decided not to share anything regarding a certain story and people got on my case about that, too!

It is tough deciding what to say and what not to say; when to speak and when to be silent. And then there is the issue of time: I don’t want to be on my social media platforms all day every day. I am glad that some people have decided to be on top of the news and reactions and can respond immediately throughout the day.

But I am not willing to make that commitment.

So I find this truth at work: When I try to take a stand, someone is going to be mad. When I decide to be silent, someone is going to be mad.

And I am finally at a place in my life where I am okay with that. I have finally realized that I am not going to win any arguments on social media. And here is my secret for why that’s okay: I don’t want to win arguments.

It’s that simple. I am not trying to outwit, out-debate, out-intellectualize, or outsmart anyone. I truly want to build relationships and create spaces for conversation. So I might post something that angers you. And you may want to respond. And it might start to turn into an argument.


And that is why social media sucks.

But it doesn’t have to.

I am grateful for several people who have called me and asked to have face to face conversations. Or private message ones. Or phone calls. Some way that we can talk person to person and respect one another. I have had several people reach out to me and say, “Can we meet and talk?” I have conversations about many different topics. Each time, the other person has been nervous to bring the topic up. I have been nervous listening to them.

And every single time, I have walked away from those conversations feeling closer to that person. Every. Single. Time.

Because here is what is true: no matter how close we are to the person behind the twitter handle or screen name, on our devices we are tempted to treat them not as a person. Instead, they are an enemy to be defeated, an impressionable mind to be convinced, an idiot that needs to be mocked.

But when I sit with that person face to face, they are human. They are my relative. They are my mentor. They are my friend.

Social media can be a good tool to start conversations. And in those conversations, there may be some disagreement. Remember: that is okay! If you start to feel your blood pressure rising when you are engaging someone online, reach out to the person in some other venue. If they are local, invite them to have coffee somewhere. If you don’t know them in real life, see if you can send them a private message in some way.

Let’s re-insert humanity into our social media feeds. We will not always agree, but we can always be kind.

I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

Have you ever heard the joke: “I don’t know how to act my age. I have never been this age before.”?

Haha! Very funny! Only…it’s kind of true.

There are some days that I have absolutely no idea how to act—I don’t know what to do or what to say. I am afraid that everything I want to say and do is the absolute wrong thing at the wrong time. I just do my best to fake it until I can go to bed.

I have been married for 18 years now. I usually think that 18 years of experience in any given thing makes one an expert. But there are days I look at my spouse and think I have absolutely no idea how to be a good husband. Most days we laugh and get along great. But there are those days when one of us just says something so incredibly stupid it boggles the mind (I’m often the one saying that stuff). Some nights I go to bed thinking, “I need to figure out how to make up for this.”


I have three kids. I love being a dad. I love watching them as their gifts and talents grow. They are all smart and loving and gifted in a variety of different ways. But they are teenagers. So many days I cannot say or do anything right. I am often “lame.” And I often get called out on it, too. So many days I have realized that I cannot come up with the right thing to say to help them through whatever they are facing. I try to be there for them, set boundaries for them, nurture them, and so on, but I feel like I have just angered them in some way.

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I want to be a good employee. I love my job. I get to work with people who are discovering their talents and getting connected with their goal careers. Some days. I am on the ball—people are learning and growing and making new realizations and getting closer to their goals. And other days, I am just left at a loss with how to help. Some days, I get questions that I can’t answer. Some days, I realize that I forgot to do something the day before and I have let someone down. Some days, I have to admit that I can’t help everyone.

There are so many other categories I can go into. I can talk about my volunteer work at church. I can talk about my time spent with people in 12 step recovery. I can talk about my desire to be more vocal and more active in helping people who face injustice every day. I am fully aware of all my failures and all the ways I could have done better. (I am also aware of the ways I have done the right thing.)

I am just trying to maneuver through this life in a way that pleases God and helps others. Some days, I do better than others.

And I think that makes me human.

I don’t know about you, but that is a difficult thing for me to allow myself to be. Because to be human means to be imperfect; to make mistakes. To be human means to struggle with decisions, temptations, addictions. To be human means to be in relationship…and that requires vulnerability.

To be human means that some days I am going to fake it.

Please feel free to join me. I have a feeling I am not alone.

So what about it, readers? Anyone else have to fake it through one (or more) days? How do you deal? Join in the conversation!