More Lessons from the Garden

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Once again, I was working to prepare our garden for spring planting and, just as in past years, I found myself thinking about the lessons learned from gardening that can be applied to our lives. In past posts I have discussed the importance of controlling the ‘weeds’ of sin and addiction(s) in our hearts and lives. I also wrote about the importance of preparing the soil for planting by removing all the leaves and debris that have accumulated over the winter months and then breaking up and amending the hardened soil so the seeds can germinate and thrive.

In a similar vein, I began the task of clearing our garden beds and the issues of complacency and neglect came to the fore of my musings. You see, it has been a couple of years since we last planted, and it was readily apparent considerable work would be required to get things ready. In addition, there was the issue of invasive plant species, but I will address that a little later on…

As I began cleaning the leaves and debris that had been accumulating over the past years, the parallels to maintaining our recoveries became obvious: Do not let junk pile up; it becomes much more difficult to clean up. Proverbs 4:23 tells us: Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” (NKJV) It is easiest to attack and clean up our besetting sins when they first show up, when they are still small, before they completely take over our lives. However, the only way we can be sure of success is to completely eradicate these invasive thought and actions before they are able to establish roots.

This brings me back to my current lesson in gardening and the control of invasive species while trying to prepare our garden beds. You see, years ago, we planted a wisteria tree on one side of our back yard. Later, when we decided to start gardening, we moved the wisteria to the other side of the yard to make room for some raised-bed gardens. In the process, I had to try and dig out the main root(s) for the plant, but finally gave up when the hole I was digging got way too deep. I reasoned that surely that was deep enough, and the root would wither away and die deep in the ground.

Here we are all these years later, and I am, again, doing battle with this wisteria root. Not only did this buried root survive, it thrived after remaining underground and spreading quite some distance before surfacing in various locations. In working to dig out these roots, many of which are quite substantial, I managed to leave that corner of my back yard and a small portion of the front yard looking like a series of WW I trenches; and I was still nowhere near finished….

A search of the internet for methods of eradicating wisteria produced the following advice: “Cut the wisteria to the ground to prevent it from re-sprouting. Be sure to bag up and dispose of all wisteria branches (and seed pods) to eliminate the chance of new sprouts popping up somewhere else. Then, use a specially formulated herbicide such as Round-up for getting rid of wisteria for good.” Serious measures for a seriously invasive menace!

This situation serves to illustrate the dangers of not completely dealing with sin in our lives. We can clean things up on the surface, but there is danger and death lurking beneath the surface if we do not completely and ruthlessly eradicate the sin(s) that may maintain even a small presence in our hearts. Again, serious measures for a serious menace as called for in Scripture: “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience,” (Colossians 3:5 & 6) and, “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.” (Matthew 18:8 & 9)

If we try to eradicate these weeds (sins) under our own power and do not turn the process completely over to the Master Gardner, we are likely to be like Paul in Romans 7:15-23. Here Paul describes how he desires to do good but finds himself doing what he does not want to do because of the sinful nature that is within him.

While there is potential for considerable pain while well-established weeds are pulled from our lives, Paul proclaims the way out of our predicament: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24 & 25)

May we all keep the gardens of our souls watered, weeded, and fertilized; and our fruit trees well-pruned! Pay attention to not leave those small, stubborn roots of sin (rebellion, pride, etc.) behind, only to have to deal with them again when they become a full-blown menace. Call upon Jesus today to help you rid yourself of the troublesome weeds of sin, He is more than capable of handling everything if you will just let go and let Him work in the garden of your heart.

Taking Every Thought Captive!

Scott Pipenhagen
Recovery / Transition Chaplain
Serve & Protect & Guns’n’Hoses
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

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Service Dogs and Recovery (A Public Service Message)

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Let’s be honest; we all need help if we are to successfully navigate our individual path to a healthy recovery.

While it is true that no one else truly knows the exact details of what one another is going through, and one may be tempted to go it alone; there is a better way. Just a cursory glance will reveal others around us who have been down a similar enough path that we can draw upon their experiences, both positive and negative, to help us in our recoveries. Scripture clearly backs this up in called out in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, 12: “Two [are] better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him [who is] alone when he falls, for [he has] no one to help him up… Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (NKJV) About three years ago I wrote about the importance of building a strong and godly accountability network to walk alongside you as you continue your recovery journey. This, coupled with the power of adding accountability to God, as a threefold cord, makes a nearly unbeatable combination, assuming one is willing to truly pursue lasting healing and recovery.

I normally do not advocate for specific businesses, but at this juncture, I would like to break from my usual format and talk about the healing benefits of another aspect of partnership in recovery; that of teaming with a Service Dog. Many veterans, both LEO and military, are invisibly suffering. They are trapped within their own minds, unable to take that initial step of reaching out and opening up to another human being in order to receive the help they so desperately need in order to recover. One effective way to begin the process of breaking down this barrier is through teaming them with a fully trained and certified Service Dog. By working with a Service Dog, many who suffer from PTSD, TBI, or related mental health difficulties are more willing and able to interact with other people as their dogs help their emotional recovery and are a reassuring presence during stressful times.

I recently met with the President and the CEO of a local a nonprofit organization, Leashes of Valor, whose mission is to, “ensure that every Warrior receive a top quality trained service dog to assist them in mitigating their symptoms from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.” Leashes of Valor was officially founded in May of 2017, by a group of disabled Veterans with Service Dogs who have made it their goal to ensure others are able to receive the life-saving help they, themselves have received. The founding team of Leashes of Valor have extensive experience in providing Service Dogs to Veterans, having worked with one of the nation’s largest organizations of this type, K9s for Warriors. The President of Leashes of Valor said they saw the great need for this service and decided to form their own organization, setting up shop in rural Virginia, where she would have greater access to policy makers in Washington D.C. in order to better advocate for Veteran and Service Dog related issues. Though they are just getting underway and are anxious to provide much needed help, Leashes of Valor is starting small (currently one Veteran in their in-house training that lasts a minimum of two weeks) and have modest plans to expand over the next several years to the point where they can house and train up to 25 dogs while distributing up to four dogs to four Veterans each month. In addition to the emotional support, these Service Dogs can assist Veterans with physical impairments with three or more duties to improve their health and mobility.

If you, or someone you love, is having difficulties in dealing with the emotional and physical aspects of PTSD, I urge you to contact Leashes of Valor, or a similar organization, to see about being teamed up with a Service Dog as another tool for getting started on the road to recovery.

Please remember, while adding this ‘four-legged’ support into the mix may help stimulate personal interaction and facilitate recovery, there is no substitution for the healing power of God’s love, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Taking Every Thought Captive!

Scott Pipenhagen
Recovery / Transition Chaplain
Serve & Protect & Guns’n’Hoses
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

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In Pursuit of Praise?

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For anyone out there who may have noticed, it has been quite some time since I last posted (8/31/17 to be exact), and I apologize. This is far too long to have been disengaged, particularly for my own recovery and well-being. In looking back through my entries I, unfortunately, see this is not my first lapse nor, thankfully, my longest. In March of 2015 I ended a three week gap, but this was soon followed by nearly a sixteen-month gap that began in October 2105. One could blame it on a lack of focus, or call it writer’s block…but it comes down to a matter of discipline; or does it?

Upon further introspection, it seems to go deeper, to a far more dangerous internal threat; that of seeking / needing approval of others (read as ‘positive feedback’). A healthy feedback mechanism is a good thing that can work to help one better themselves through receiving, and acting upon, constructive criticisms and accolades. By applying lessons learned one can achieve self-improvement. However, over-reliance upon receipt of ‘positive feedback’, particularly when used as a primary motivator, can be a fatal flaw. This self-check made me question how much I was relying on feedback as a motivator for continuing to develop these posts:

Was I seeking the accolades and recognition of others and, in so doing, valuing this input more than God’s approval? Was I trying to do more than my part? Was I measuring the “success” or “effectiveness” of my efforts by looking to visible results and feedback from lives touched rather than just doing my part and leaving the results to God? To do so is to fall into the trap Jesus described in Matthew 6:1-4: Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. (NKJV)

Unfortunately, the answer to these questions seem to be varying degrees of “YES”. While my initial (and continuing) motive for writing these posts is to provide “Hope and inspiration for First Responders and Military dealing with addictions”, it has proven difficult for me to stay motivated at times when it seems as though I am sending electrons into a void… Instead, I need to remind myself to stay focused on doing my part and let God do His: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-8)

Like Paul, I need to continue to run the race set before me (Hebrews 12:1) and remember that, even when little seems to be happening, God has a plan and I cannot allow my feelings to get in the way of what I am supposed to be doing. “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23)

No matter what, if I stay focused on God and seek to follow His plan for my life, He will be sure to prompt me to stay on the right path: “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ Whenever you turn to the right hand Or whenever you turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21)

Thank you for bearing with me as I work through this by using you as a sounding board. Keep listening for God’s guiding voice in your own recovery journeys!

Taking Every Thought Captive!

Scott Pipenhagen
Recovery / Transition Chaplain
Serve & Protect & Guns’n’Hoses
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

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GOD is Love

God is LoveIn my last post, I focused on how those of us joining different communities quickly find that those communities are speaking a different ‘language’. Whether this is the tendency of military personnel to speak in acronyms, First Responders and Emergency personnel communicating via the 10-code, or members of various recovery groups engaging in ‘Recovery Speak’, the results can be the same: confusion, frustration, and isolation. However, as I mentioned in my closing, there is one universal language that supersedes all others and can overcome so many communication and recovery- related issues: The language of Love.

I am not talking about just any love but, specifically, GOD’s Love because, “… God is Love” (1 John 4:8 NKJV). Regardless of who we are, what we have done, or how unlovable we may feel as a result of our actions, GOD loves us more than we can possibly imagine. He loves us so much that, even while we were in the depths of our rebellion and sin, He provided a way for our salvation: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This key truth serves to help us realize we really are loved. GOD’s healing love is available to us no matter how lost and beyond hope and help we may feel while struggling with our addictions and compulsive behaviors. There is hope and healing in GOD’s love we see in Paul’s words of encouragement in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Likewise, GOD’s love can be felt even in the depths of the despair experienced by those who live with (or through) the effects of their loved ones’ addictions. The truth of this is exemplified by the famous line from The Hiding Place in which Betsy Ten Boom, despite the deadly conditions experienced in the concentration camp, declares, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still”.

While GOD’s love is always there waiting for us, our response to Him is the key to successful recovery. It is not enough just to acknowledge and accept that He loved us enough to lay down His life for us, we must also put this love into action. In John 14:15 Jesus tells us that, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Scripture provides additional direction for this in 1 John 3:16: “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”

One of the best ways we can lay down our lives and reflect GOD’s love in our lives is to reach out and help others as we walk out our recovery: “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17). While there is no need to be overly confrontational during this process, we still need to be honest and forthright while showing ‘love in action’ while dealing with recovering addicts by, “…speaking the truth in love…” (Ephesians 4:15). However, this does not mean we overlook missteps and relapses in the ‘name of love’. No, just as we must do when we see trouble creeping back into our own lives and recoveries, we must confront them and point out the issues as we see them begin to appear. There is promised blessings for those who persevere in their recovery battles, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

Micah 6:8 sets out a good starting place for us as we go about interacting with the general public in our duties as First Responders, Military, and Dispatch: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Stay humble and be safe!!

Taking Every Thought Captive!

Scott Pipenhagen
Recovery / Transition Chaplain
Serve & Protect & Guns’n’Hoses
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

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Code Talking

speakingincodescreengrabJoining any new community involves a certain amount of transition time. This is especially true when you encounter those communities that are prone to speaking in codes or acronyms, in which case the it can be a little like learning a ‘new language’.

Amongst the Military and First Responder/Dispatcher communities, these acronyms and codes are often universal; however, there can be some variances in the 10-code between various police departments. This is equally true in the Military where the same acronyms can mean different things to different Branches. Even within the same Branch/Service, there are often instances in which the same acronym can have a completely different meaning based upon the nature of the job or the community of interest you are dealing with.

There is certain degree of comfort derived from this common mode of communication, one that can cause some degree of anxiety or frustration when dealing with those who do not understand. In this regard am reminded of the time when I was overseas and my wife was back in an area where there was little military presence. It got to the point where she went into the local Marine Corps recruiting office and said, “Quick, somebody talk to me in acronyms!”

This is also true when it comes to the area of Recovery. For those new to the Recovery arena, it can be like having to learn yet another language when you finally step out to attend that first meeting. This unfamiliarity with the words being used can sometimes inject additional angst into an already stressful situation. Yet, we tend to become more comfortable as we become more familiar with the ‘language’ spoken by any group we join, and it is this comfort level that encourages us to relax and share our hurts, needs, and struggles.

However, we must bear in mind that as we become more fluent in this new language, there are others who may become increasingly frustrated; our family, friends, and other loves ones. If we do not include these people in our recovery, we are not using some of the most important resources available to us, and one key to this is ensuring they know and understand “Recovery Speak”. Unless they are familiar with all the new terminology we come home with, those closest to us will not only have a hard time understanding our struggles or progress, they may draw false conclusions concerning the status of our faith. This can be especially true when dealing with some of the more common and more secular recovery groups. Although we may understand what we are meaning, using phrases such as “Higher Power” rather than referring directly to God, Jesus, or Christ have caused those unfamiliar with these groups to question one’s faith, particularly when they are unaware of some of the restrictions placed on what can and cannot be said at some of these meetings. Hopefully, this confusion can quickly and easily be overcome and those around you will seek out an understanding of what you are saying, much like Paul’s encounter with the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in Athens, “…And some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods’… for you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore, we want to know what these things mean.” (Acts 17:18-20 NKJV)

No matter if the ‘language’ you are speaking is from work or from recovery, it is to our advantage to ensure those around us can understand what we are saying. However, there is one language that is universally understood, and that is the language of Love. But what does this language sound, feel, and/or look like? I will address this in my next post but, for now, know that Love, in its purest sense, looks like God because, “… God is Love.” (1 John 4:8)

Taking Every Thought Captive!

Scott Pipenhagen
Recovery / Transition Chaplain
Serve & Protect & Guns’n’Hoses
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

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Encouragement and Fellowship

thUDMBK2HCFeeling alone and isolated can be bad enough when there are no “major” issues in our lives, but it can be a very serious and dangerous place to be when we are dealing with addictions and compulsive behaviors.  Isolation breeds depression and can lead a recovering addict to look to the wrong places for relief and, eventually, (re)turn to self-medicating and falling back into addiction(s) – either the old ones or new ones.

In Hebrews 10:24 & 25, Scripture tells us, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”  (NKJV)  Unfortunately, this can be hard when one is isolated due to corruption in the church, or conflicting beliefs, and/or physical circumstances.

In contrast, it is refreshing and renewing to come along side to assist one another, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”  (Proverbs 27:17)  This truth was brought home to me this past weekend in a very tangible way.  While at an annual Homeschool convention with my daughter we met and spent a few hours talking with a like-minded Brother and his family.  The time spent was very refreshing for my daughter and me in that it showed us we were not alone, and that there are others out there with the same beliefs and are walking in the same path(s).

Unfortunately, they live in another state and we will not be able to see each other frequently but, we can still keep in contact to encourage one another until (hopefully) we can meet again at next year’s convention:  “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.  For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.  But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up.  Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”  (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

These verses from Ecclesiastes are particularly applicable in the realm of Recovery and tie in with past posts pertaining to accountability, etc.   We are strongest when we are able to partner with someone who shares the same goals and concerns, and is willing to come alongside to assist in those times when we falter.  Such partnerships are key to recovery, but they are the strongest and most effective when God is included, making a “threefold cord” for us to use as a life-line.

Find yourself an accountability partner, someone you can trust to be charity-1299988_960_720there to encourage you and to help you back onto your feet should you stumble and fall on your recovery journey.  “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”  (Proverbs 17:17)

Taking Every Thought Captive!

Scott Pipenhagen
Recovery / Transition Chaplain
Serve & Protect & Guns’n’Hoses
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

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Discernment In Recovery

wolves-in-sheeps-clothingSupport is an important element in our recoveries, and there are any number of groups and organizations available dedicated to assisting us in developing a support network to help us through and over the rough spots.  Equally important, however, is ensuring any network we do develop provides proper support in a safe environment that also encourages our Spiritual growth and health.

On the job, we are the Sheepdogs, watching over the sheep entrusted to our care.  However, when it comes to recovery and dealing with addictive and compulsive behaviors, we need to transition from being the Guardian to being the Guided and, hopefully, the Guarded.  In so doing, we allow those who have gone before us to guide our steps down the path of recovery and restoration.  It is here that it becomes imperative we exercise discernment in determining whom we are allowing to lead us; we must be able to determine whether those leading us, as well as those ‘supporting’ us, are fellow sheep or Wolves in sheep’s clothing?  Jesus warns us of this very thing in Matthew 7:15, when He states, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”  Likewise, Jude provides a similar warning in verse four when he writes, “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (NKJV)

Be clear on this, those who don’t love The Lord will not help us serve The Lord since it is not possible to fight fleshly temptations with fleshly weapons, or by following the advice or counsel of fleshly/worldly people: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)

This is especially true when dealing with the spiritual aspects of our addictions since, as Paul warns us in Ephesians 6:12, our struggle extends beyond our physical bodies: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  Unfortunately, if we are not careful we can hook up with an individual (or group) that only pays lip service to overcoming their various addictions, treating their weekly meetings as merely a social gathering with no discernable effort made to break free from their besetting sins.  It is not possible to fight a fleshly appetite by indulging it, just as it is not possible to lose weight on a diet by eating unhealthy foods, or to break free from alcoholism while having an occasional drink.

Carefully observe the behaviors and character of those you might potentially collaborate with to ensure they are truly following God and leading their groups to seek His face for their delivery.  We are warned in 1 Timothy 5:22 not to appoint (ordain) someone to a leadership position without fully examining their character and commitment to God and His Word, and it is equally important that we do not to rush into an accountability partnership, either with a group or an individual.  We see additional guidance as to whom we should associate with when we read Paul’s words to the church in Corinth: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.  For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?  And what communion has light with darkness?”  (2 Corinthians 6:14)

The bottom line is we are all accountable for how we conduct our own recoveries and the choices we make along the way.  Do not blame your poor decisions on others, or even God, which is something the Scriptures specifically speak to in James 1:13-15, where it says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God “; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

Be cautious whom you join yourself to as you continue working to achieve and maintain recovery.  Remember, God loved us even when we were at our worst and were under the direction of “the prince of the power of the air” and, through His mercy, “made us alive together with Christ”.  (Ephesians 2:1-9)

Taking Every Thought Captive!

Scott Pipenhagen
Recovery / Transition Chaplain
Serve & Protect & Guns’n’Hoses
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

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