A Blast from the Past…
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What I’m about to do is kind of like popping my head through your
front door unannounced and singing at the top of my lungs…
“‘CAUSE IT’S THE SONG THAT NEVER ENDS,
IT JUST GOES ON AND ON, MY FRIENDS!!!”
…and then running away as I give a maniacal laugh!
So, Click the play button…I DARE ya!! 😉
Why do I feel so much like the Winter Warlock in this beloved Christmas classic?
For my entire adult life, I’ve struggled with demons. Demons who tell me that I AM a despicable creature at heart. Demons who tell me that it is SO DIFFICULT to [sigh…] really change.
So, what do I do? Like the Warlock, I go hide in my ice cave, all cold, lonely, and miserable, not letting anybody in. There, I sulk and feel sorry for my self. And in my self-imposed exile I complain: “Woe is me…I’m so alone!”
Could it really be as easy as coming out of my cave and putting one foot in front of the other?
Lets find out!
They say taking the first step is the hardest part…while there’s some truth to this, I’m convinced that it’s not completely accurate.
Meet Charles Blondin. When I heard Blondin’s story earlier this week in a Time Out For Women speech given by Emily Belle Freeman, I immediately wanted to learn more about him. From Blondin,we learn that although the first step is terrifying, losing focus further down the line can be even more deadly.
Blondin is one of those larger-than-life characters from the mid-19th century. As a circus performer and daredevil, Blondin decided that he wanted to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope.
About Niagara Falls
I had the opportunity to visit Niagara Falls many years ago, and I observed some things about the falls.
First, Niagara is absolutely BEAUTIFUL. It’s one of the most awe-inspiring sites I’ve ever seen.
Second, it’s always windy. The massive air turbulence caused by 600,000 gallons of water per second falling 167 feet into the gorge means it’s always windy. And its not a steady directional wind, but swirling, unpredictable, and amazingly strong and turbulent.
And third, everything in and around the gorge is always wet. Those swirling winds carry an incredible volume of water mist. It’s the only place I’ve ever been where the price of most of the paid tours INCLUDES the purchase or rental a raincoat or poncho.
So, think about it…does this sound like a good place to walk across a quarter-mile long hemp rope? A windy, wet, slippery, path 3 inches wide and over 160 feet in the air? One end of the rope was placed on the American side of the gorge, and the other on the Canadian side, just downstream from Horseshoe falls. They were able to place smaller “guy line” ropes every 20 feet to slightly stabilize the rope, but there was a 50 foot section in the middle where they were unable to run guy lines, making the very center far less stable and far more dangerous.
The “Experts” Speak:
Before Blondin’s historic first crossing, HUNDREDS of “experts” inspected the rope and certified that it would be impossible to cross, and they strongly recommended Blondin not make the attempt.
Blondin proved that the impossible can be done, traversing over 1100 feet, and traveling a 3-inch wide path 160 feet above the treacherous canyon floor.
After completing his crossing once, he decided he wanted to do it again. And again…and again…and again. In the end, and over a period of many years, he crossed the Niagara tightrope over 300 times. One time he did it blindfolded, another time he walked it backwards. Once he even took a small cook stove, set it up mid-river, cooked an omlette, and ate his breakfast there. We’ll revisit Blondin in a few minutes and talk about a couple of his more notable crossings.
Seeing God’s Hand…
I’d always considered myself an intelligent person. However, if this next quote is any indication, maybe I should admit the truth: I’m really not so bright after all.
Intelligence is not to make no mistakes, but quickly to see how to make them good.— Bertolt Brecht
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m really good at making mistakes, but honestly, I suck at resolving them…
Most of my readers know my story by now.
- Born and raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Life-long struggles with addiction
- A 15-year stint as a hard-core (but high-functioning) alcoholic
- Another decade of self-imposed “forced sobriety” (complete with numerous relapses and slips).
However, through it all I have remained active in the Church my entire life. I’ve attended church nearly every Sunday, fulfilled callings, provided service, and actively participated in gospel-related activities on a regular basis.
I’ve been a prideful, blatantly disobedient sinner. But, by the grace of God…quite literally…I’ve been blessed every step of the way. At the hardest times of my life, God has given me ministering angels. He has placed helpers in my path, guided my steps, and inspired me. Although I have not always been worthy of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, I have been blessed to feel and recognize the Light of Christ frequently.
Free to Choose
God’s plan requires him to allow us to choose our own paths and make our own mistakes. Because of this, he would not just reach down, take away my addictive behaviors, and stop me from drinking. (By the way…he CAN do this if we do our part and sincerely ask, but I was NOT asking, nor was I doing my part.)
Even so, many times he did do what he could. At critical junctures, he placed me in circumstances where I became a little more receptive to his guidance. Then he unexpectedly inspired me not to follow the path to deeper addictions.
The more I study about addiction and the more stories of addiction I hear, the more I realize just how fortunate I am. Although I’ve had my fair share of opportunities, I never made the leap to drug abuse, and I never had any legal entanglements involving my addiction. And all by the GRACE of God.
But did I recognize God’s Grace? NO!! I couldn’t even see it.
What’s my definition of Grace? Simply put: It’s the help God gives us. Given even when we don’t want it, we don’t deserve it, or we don’t ask for it.
Throughout my life, I’ve been so self-absorbed and unwilling to submit my will to God that I had no clue He was involved in my life in such a personal and powerful way.
God gave me His grace. He gave it to me literally every day. Even (and especially) on my worst days when I was being the most disobedient.
And from the depths of my ice cave, how did I respond? By offending him! Consider this:
“And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.”–Doctrine and Covenants 59:21
Despite all his help and inspiration, what did I do? I offended him and kindled his wrath. I was so blinded and selfish that I didn’t even see his hand in my life. And on the rare occasion that I prayed to him, I did not thank him for his grace. Instead, I complained for his allowing me to get into “this mess”. Instead of resolving my mistakes, I made them worse by continuing to break the commandments.
Now, with the benefit hindsight, I finally realize the truth: My situation has proved over and over again that God is good. It proved that I am a child of a loving Father in Heaven who guides and protects my every step…even when I’m not following His path. And it proves that HE WILL NOT GIVE UP ON US…EVER!
I testify to you that no matter how bad the things are that we’ve done, and no matter how little respect we have left for ourselves, He is always there, blessing us with His grace.
So, how do we learn to SEE God’s hand?
You’ve probably noticed my increasing emphasis in the past few posts regarding the Addiction Recovery Program’s 12 steps. I’m particularly smitten with Step 1, in which we admit that our addiction makes life unmanageable, and that we are powerless to fix this problem by ourselves.
Like most alcoholics, I was in denial. Then (after about 15 years of struggling) God put a path before me that could lead me to recovery. Since I already believed in God (that’s Step 2…) I skipped Step 1, closed the addiction recovery manual, and said “Thanks God…I’ve got it…I’ll take it from here!” (See my post “Filling the Empty House” to get a greater appreciation for my love of “2-Step Programs”.)
By doing this I progressed directly from denial to severe denial. I still was NOT recognizing/seeing His Grace for what it is and was not recognizing his hand in all things. As such, I was still offending Him, even though I was trying harder to obey his commandments.
It was only a few months ago that I picked up the Addiction Recovery Manual again, and with a new-found humility, actually went through it cover to cover. Revisiting Step 1 OPENED MY EYES.
As soon as I came to realize that my addiction makes life unmanageable and that I am powerless without my Higher Power (a.k.a. God!) I started looking back at my life. WOW! His Grace had been in my life every day…not just “after all I could do” (2 Nephi 25:23), but, as Brad Wilcox points out: “in spite of all that I could do” (and despite all that I had done).
The Savior tells us:
” The light of the body is the eye; if, therefore, thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If, therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!”— 3 Nephi 13:22-23 (The Book of Mormon)
Realizing that I could do nothing without God opened my eyes and changed how I saw everything. Looking at things with an eye “single” to God (recognizing that I was powerless and that He was the true source of endless power) caused my “whole body [to] be full of light”. My cravings became much more manageable. My wife and children became far more beautiful in my eyes. Loving and helping my fellow-man became far more important. All because of the simple act of SEEING the Grace of God in my life.
A tightrope is the Ultimate “Straight and Narrow Way”…!
A wise man once told me that no gospel discussion is complete without an “object lesson”. The Savior would agree…but he didn’t call them object lessons…he called them PARABLES.
The story of Blondin is a great object lesson that can be “for our profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23) . So, what can Blondin teach us about addiction recovery?
- Blondin’s Niagara tightrope was put in place for him (with considerable effort and at great expense) by others. He couldn’t embark on his journey without help from others (think Higher Power).
- Blondin always carried a long pole, called a balancing pole. It lowers the walker’s center of gravity. It also slows his body’s rotation if he loses balance, making a slip or fall far less likely (a.k.a. your “sober buddies”, sponsor, and/or support group).
- The wind was constantly trying to push Blondin off the rope, and it was constantly changing in direction and intensity. (Temptation is ALL AROUND US, and comes from unexpected sources!)
- Blondin’s actions and the turbulent wind caused the rope to wobble and waver…he constantly had to pay attention and make small course corrections with every step to make sure his next step landed firmly on the rope. (We make adjustments as we recognize triggers and avoid cravings)
- If Blondin lost his balance and stepped off of the rope, there would be painful (or fatal) consequences. (Can you say “relapse”??)
- If you survive the consequences of falling off the rope…how do you get back on the path? You have to climb out of the canyon before you can try again (…as in back to Step 1).
- As a performer, Blondin always had an audience. Most of them hoped for his safe passage and offered encouragement (Care-givers and loving friends).
- Other spectators were actually watching in hopes of witnessing the carnage when Blondin fell. At many performances, he had hecklers who yelled out, telling him he couldn’t succeed in the hopes that he would get distracted and fall. (Non-supportive friends and acquaintances)
Certainly a daunting challenge, don’t you think?
The Parables of the Tightrope
Over the years, Blondin had many adventures on the Niagara tightrope. I’d like to share two of them with you.
1. The Wheelbarrow
On July 15, 1859, Blondin started on the U.S. side of the gorge and walked backwards across the rope to Canada.On the return trip to the United States, he was pushing a wheelbarrow in front of him. There were over 25,000 people watching this feat. As he reached the end of the rope, the crowd cheered wildly. He had proven he could do it; of that there was no doubt.
Being the consummate showman, Blondin played up his achievement as the crowd cheered. He shouted out “Do you believe I could carry a person back across in this wheelbarrow?”
And they replied “Yes, we believe you can. You are the greatest tightrope walker in the world. We believe you can do it!”
And then Blondin posed the question:
Of course, nobody got in the wheelbarrow.
“I think to myself this question… What is the difference between this crowd and the person who would dare get in the wheelbarrow? And the answer is BELIEF…You have to believe that this man can seriously get you to the place you need to go, without losing you along the way.”–Emily Belle Freeman, “Finding His Grace Where You Are”, 2018 Time Out for Women Tour
Remember what I said in “Of Muggles, Magic, and Miracles“? We talked about having FAITH. And what is Faith?
Faith = Trust (Belief) in God
Are YOU willing to get in God’s wheelbarrow?
2. Carried to Safety
Later in August of 1859, Blondin was again standing on the brink of the gorge at Niagara. This time, his manager, Harry Colcord was clinging to his back. Colcord obviously BELIEVED in and TRUSTED his friend Charles. This day, however, Colcord’s faith would be put to the test. They proceeded onto the rope, and all went well for the first half of the journey.
Remember that 50-foot section of tightrope in the very center of the canyon? The place that could not be fit with stabilizing guy lines? As always, the Niagara winds were whipping and the rope ahead of them wobbled and swayed uncontrollably.
As they reached this point, Blondin leaned back to his manager and he said this:
And then Blondin finished the journey. They made it, all the way across. A few of the guy lines actually snapped as they went, but eventually they arrived safely on the other side. And all because Colcord was willing to become “a part of [Blondin] – mind, body and soul”.
Interpreting these parables:
A parable is a story about something in every-day life; something that people can relate to and understand. But the parable can be interpreted to bring understanding to a much deeper concept by substituting terms in the original story.
You’ve probably already figured out where I’m going with this, but just to be perfectly clear, here’s how to interpret these parables:
Emily Belle Freeman points out this:
“Charles got Harry to a place he would not be able to get to on his own. I think there will be many times in our life when all we can do is cling to the Lord with all of our might, mind and strength, with the belief that he will take us to places that we could never get to on our own.–Emily Belle Freeman, “Finding His Grace Where You Are”, 2018 Time Out for Women Tour
I testify to you that God is real. He is our loving Father in Heaven. His Grace is real and it is given to us every day of our lives, whether we realize it or not.
His only-begotten son Jesus Christ not only suffered in Gethsemane for your sins but also for your PAIN, your AFFLICTIONS and your WEAKNESSES. In a way we can’t even begin to imagine, he has experienced first-hand what you’re going through. His Grace is sufficient. I believe Grace is his strength, made complete in our weakness.
I hope you can come to realize as I have to see His hand in your life. No matter where you are, no matter what you have done, YOU ARE ALREADY ENOUGH to qualify for His Grace. As Brad Wilcox said: “His Grace does not just make up the difference…it makes ALL the difference.”
What’s the first step?
I started out today asking you to “Put one foot in front of the other”. Your first step is to believe in God’s Grace. Then as you bring the other foot forward, cling to Christ and follow his promptings when he says to you, as Blondin said to Colcord:
In closing I’d like to quote Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.”–Jeffrey R. Holland
I pray that you and I can come to the realization that we “sinners” are just like the Apostle Paul, and that we can say as he did:
“…by the grace of God I am what I am, and His Grace toward me did not prove vain…”–1 Corinthians 15:10
We’ve talked a lot about grace today. Brad Wilcox’s teachings on grace and the atonement were the catalyst that kicked my addiction recovery efforts into high gear. This video is only 2 minutes long, but it is powerful. Put on your “spiritual ears” and click the “Play” button. I can promise you’ll have a whole new outlook on God’s Grace.
As always, I invite you to share your successes and failures with me. I am inspired and uplifted by your efforts and by the stories of your journey. Comment below or private message me at Kyle@ChangeOfHeart.LIFE