Lessons From Untangling Yarn

274188732_603e536a16_zMany years ago, when I was around nine years old, my Grandmother taught me to crochet. When I took it up again several years ago, to refresh my memory and teach my daughter, I found it to be quite relaxing. Of late, I have been working on a head-covering for my daughter and decided to try using a lace-weight yarn that came in a twisted skein. I was unfamiliar with this method of packaging and neglected to research the proper method to untwist and use this yarn. Not only did I fail to untwist it properly, I also dropped it in the process and created a huge mess of tangled, super-fine yarn.

Since then, I have been working for quite some time on getting the yarn untangled. Oddly enough, this has also been a rather relaxing exercise as I work to untangle the unruly mass; slowly, bit-by-bit. While working on this project one day, it came to me how this applies to our lives and recovery efforts as we work to untangle the various messes that have developed in our lives. This is particularly true when addicts look to clean up their lives after having spent so much of their lives lying and deceiving others while trying to hide and/or minimize their activities. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

There are likely any number of parallels between the physical untangling of yarn and the efforts required to untangle the webs of lies that have been woven as we struggled to conceal our addictions. However, I am going to focus on just two: The need for good, strong light; and the need for clear vision.

Good Light
Just as light is essential for seeing to untangle yarn, so we need The Light both to see and stay on the correct path, and to point out what areas of our lives require our attention: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105 NKJV), and “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23 & 24).

Clear Vision
If you have ever experienced blurred vision or had an eyelash in your eye, you know how hard it would be to see clearly enough to be effective, regardless of your project. In Luke 6:41 & 42, Jesus tells us the same is true on a spiritual level, “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

As Christians, we need to be especially careful and exercise great discernment. We need to make sure we are untangled from our own webs before trying to help someone else, just as we must take care not become too closely involved with them else we may be drawn into their web, leaving both in an even bigger mess. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1); 2 “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning” (2 Peter 2:20).

In General
When seeking assistance in untangling the issues and messes in our lives, we must be careful whom we turn to for help. We need to ensure those who declare to be Christians, claiming to be desirous of providing help or counsel, are fully following God and His Word. In Matthew 7:15 we are warned to, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” Likewise, Paul tells us not to be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14 & 15). We must rely on God, His Word, and His leading us through the Holy Spirit rather than relying solely on the methods and theories of people, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).

Given enough time, and patient perseverance, even the toughest of knots and the biggest of messes can be overcome through Christ.

Taking Every Thought Captive!

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

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Respecting Authority

picture1Last week I mentioned our attitudes towards/against authority, which can frequently lead to violence and a break down in Law and Order. There seems to be a continuing attitude of disrespect for LEOs and a general disregard for Law and, coupled with this breakdown, is continued violence against, and targeting of, First Responders. This cannot go on forever unchecked without consequence and there is potential cause for cautious optimism for the future. Not only does this potential relief stem from a change of attitude within our leadership, but is also echoed within Scripture: “Then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries” (2 Peter 2:9 & 10 NKJV).

Regardless of where one works, those in a position of any authority, expect their subordinates to respect their position and/or authority.  This is particularly true with First Responders, where we expect those we come into contact to respect the authority of our position and to obey our commands/directions [though the more cynical or realistic probably expect quite the opposite these days].  Ironically, so many are willing to disrespect or even disregard those in authority over them, offering various reasons or excuses, all the while expecting to be respected without question.

Hebrews 13:17 tells us to:  “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”

This verse brings to mind the “cautious optimism” I mentioned earlier, in that our Government is seeking to implement policies and potential legislation aimed at shoring up existing laws, establishing “tough on crime” policies, and providing a safer environment for those tasked with enforcing those laws.

President Trump has issued Executive Orders charging the Department of Justice with establishing three task forces to examine current efforts and to recommend any necessary changes to legislation and/or funding required to fight drug cartels, reduce violent crime, and reduce attacks against police. There are specific goals for the Justice Department to “enhance the protection and safety” of law enforcement personnel by increasing penalties for crimes committed against officers.

In the meantime, we need to continue to safely enforce existing laws and treat all people with dignity and respect, whether they are our ‘superiors’, co-workers, or the public at large.

Let us also remember to keep our President and Nation in prayer:  “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” (1 Timothy 2:1-3 NKJV); “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NKJV)

Taking Every Thought Captive!

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

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What Is Your Heart Saying?

heart

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” These words from Jesus, recorded in Matthew 12:34 b (NKJV), are particularly applicable when it comes to addictions and our efforts at recovery. So, let’s take an honest look at what our hearts are really saying about us and our recovery.

Regardless of what the struggle, addicts do not like their activities, attitudes, and actions scrutinized. They prefer to keep their actions hidden, secret, and private to avoid the guilt and shame or other, more severe, repercussions. But this hiding will only last for so long before it is revealed. Again, Jesus tells us, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:19 & 20)

However, verbalizing our thoughts is not the only way our hearts speak. You have heard it said that ‘actions speak louder than words’. This saying is particularly true in the life of a recovering addict. While you may be relatively successful at controlling the actual words that come out of your mouth, your actions and attitude will frequently reveal the true state of your heart, and the status of your recovery.

For example, let’s say you have an issue with your Boss or a Department policy, but you refuse to directly address the issue and, instead, stuff your feelings and pretend there is nothing wrong. Sooner or later the bitterness and resentment you are harboring will become apparent, either through your speaking your disdain aloud, or your actions and body language will scream out the issues in your heart. As Jesus states in Mark 4:22, “For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.

Instead, we are to continue to “walk in the Light” (1 John 1:7) as we seek to follow God’s leading towards recovery, healing, and a right relationship with God through Christ Jesus. Then it can be said of us, “But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:21)

Let’s listen to what our hearts are truly saying, and then take remedial actions as required!

Taking Every Thought Captive!

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

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We Are Not Promised Tomorrow…

flatlineiWhile this is definitely not a verse found in the Bible, it is certainly a concept expressed in a number of different Scriptures, such as James 4:13-16:  “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.  Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’   But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” (NKVJ)  This Scripture, coupled with Hebrews 9:27, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,” certainly point to the grim reality of this familiar saying.  These truths have certainly been underscored by various events of the past year or so.

Professionally, it is painfully clear none of us are guaranteed a safe return to our homes and families once we step out the door for our assigned shifts, regardless of where we work.  This is particularly apparent in light of the obvious ‘war’ that has been declared against First Responders, by a, seemingly, ever-growing segment of our society.  The uncertainty that pervades our lives is accentuated by fairly recent events that have received considerable media attention; each representing a slightly different aspect of this issue:

Suddenness – This is represented by the death of Officer Ashley Guindon, and far too many others like her, who was killed last February 27th while responding to a domestic disturbance in Virginia’s Prince William County.  While we all know the potential dangers involved in every call we respond to, it is often when we are least prepared that we are confronted with sudden and unexpected violence that threatens, too often successfully, to take our lives.

Randomness – Last April Deputy Constable Clopton was shot in Houston, TX, as he was speaking with a fellow officer following an unrelated traffic stop.  While he is expected to fully recover, any one of those bullets could easily have taken his life as was the case with Trooper Chad Dermyer who was killed by a stranger during a training exercise at a bus station in Richmond, VA.

On a personal level, the reality of this age-old maxim was driven home when a dear family friend died suddenly last February 10th.  Although he had been battling leukemia, tests showed he was clear of the disease down to the cellular level since 2013.  Apparently this was a particularly aggressive and rare form of leukemia which came roaring back with a vengeance.  Within days of our being notified of his hospitalization, he was gone. 

Common with any sudden death there are often sub-plots and unfinished business.  In this instance, our friend frequently confided his regrets over the mistakes he had made in his relationships with his children, fully realizing there was no way to undo the past.  However, he wanted to pick up the pieces and try to (re)establish relationships with them using the current reality as a baseline.  Unfortunately, he never fully reached out to rebuild these relationships and work towards forgiveness and reconciliation until it was too late.

We all have something we need/desire to put to rights.  Is it family relationships, health-related decisions, getting serious about our recovery from addictions or, most importantly, turning our lives and wills over to God?   All too often life ‘gets in the way’ of our good intentions and we never get around to those items we need, or want, to address.  Like my friend, it does not matter that we have the best of intentions if we fail to take action.  As Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today,” – yet another familiar saying that would appear to have been born of the realization that we are not promised tomorrow

May we all avoid being like the rich man that Jesus taught about in Luke 12:16-21 who made great plans for his wealth and future life, disregarding the status of his soul, only to hear God say to him, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?”  

 

Taking Every Thought Captive!

 

Scott Pipenhagen

Recovery / Transition Chaplain

Serve & Protect

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

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The Hopelessness and Frustration of Being Becalmed

5869860560_2bc007c206_zThe period beginning in late 2015 and continuing through 2016 turned out to be a very challenging time for my family and me; thus, I have not actively posted since October of 2015. Without going into details now, we have experienced the loss of family members and I have been dealing with some significant health issues. The whole of these events was rather overwhelming and served to take the wind out of my sails and set me adrift for a considerable period as I struggled with discouragement and doubts. I apologize and ask for your prayers as I strive to get back in the fight.

Life is rough and unpredictable; throwing events and circumstances in our path that can ruin our equilibrium or sweep us completely off our feet. However, if we seek God’s help in these times of distress, these same obstacles and setbacks can make us stronger as we garner strength and understanding from the process of ‘going through’ the difficulties.

As we go through the “weather” extremes of life, we can often experience both ends of the spectrum in quick succession. Whether we set out in rough seas or are experiencing the ‘calm before the storm’, we oftentimes find ourselves fighting to stay afloat as the storms of life are raging around us, threatening to take us under. It is only once the tempest finally dissipates that we see the broken and tattered remains of our rigging and sails. It is then, amidst the relief of having survived, the eventual realization sets in that we are now becalmed, stalled and stagnant, drifting aimlessly. Unless we have prepared ahead of time and had the foresight to ensure we had the necessary tools onboard with us to get out of the situation, we can sink into discouragement, hopelessness, depression which, if left untreated, can lead to death.

Preparation is essential for our survival when life leaves us drifting and hopeless. If we have a foundation of trust in God, we can go before Him in prayer and ask for help from the Holy Spirit; seeking His strength and guidance in getting moving and making the necessary ‘repairs’ in our lives. However, the longer one waits to act, the weaker they can become from exposure to the (negative) elements. Positive actions will prepare us (repair our ‘sails’) to be able to, once again, catch the Wind as the Holy Spirit moves through and around us, propelling us towards the joy that awaits us as we continue in our recovery and in a life dedicated to His service. Hebrews 4:14-16 tells us, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

With the proper knowledge/training and tools we can take steps towards getting out of our predicament, but they will do us no good unless we first determine to take action. In a physical sense, we could have canvass, rigging, or even oars at our disposal, but we would need to actually put in some ‘sweat equity’ to get ourselves moving again. Just as in recovering mentally and spiritually, both oars and repairs may take a lot of time, but at least progress is being made towards recovery. Beware of the weariness of slogging through with, seemingly, no results. The Scriptures tell us to persevere, “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13 NKJV) and, in Galatians 6:9, we are assured that eventual success can be ours if we continue on: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (KJV).

What tools are in your toolbox: Friends, Family, Accountability, etc. …? Whatever you keep close at hand, I implore you keep God and His Word the closest of all: But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31 NKJV).

Taking Every Thought Captive!

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

 

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Decontamination

DeconIn my last post I closed with a call to clean the HAZMAT of addiction(s) out of our lives and the lives of those around us. I would like to dig a little deeper into that thought today; however, before we can do this we must, first, identify what has contaminated our hearts prior to beginning the decontamination process.

Here are a few ways to accomplish this: 1) We can take a prayerful and introspective look at ourselves, “Let us search out and examine our ways, and turn back to the LORD,” (Lamentations 3:40 NKJV); 2) We can ask God to identify our flaws and addictions, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24) and “Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my mind and my heart” (Psalm 26:2); or 3) We can ask another person for assistance in identifying the flaws or character defects that contaminate us, just as in Leviticus where the Israelites were instructed to present themselves to a priest for identification of potential leprosy illnesses, we sometimes need someone else to look at our circumstances and identify/diagnose our aliment(s).

Note: Those who are assisting others as they seek to identify the sin in their lives must take care not to become contaminated in the process themselves. Just as First responders may also require decontamination due to their proximity to the release, contact with contaminated victims, off-gassing, and clean-up of the contaminated area, we must ensure we are protected through the use of PPE (Bible & prayer) in order to mitigate the effects of potential cross-contamination.

Once the HAZMAT has been identified, the decontamination effort needs to begin. One key way to break away from the chains of addiction is to expose the sin and bring it out of the shadows so it no longer has the same grip of shame on your life. It is imperative that you complete this task with someone who is COMPLETELY safe, and thoroughly grounded themselves: “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much,” (James 5:16).

As effective as this may be, it will not fully complete the required decontamination. It may break up the crusts and get the process started, but in order to be fully clean we must be washed in the True universal decontamination agent: The Blood of Jesus. “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin,” (Psalm 51:2); “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1 John 1:9). Unlike basic HAZMAT decontamination, this process must take place from the inside out, rather than merely focusing on cleaning up our exterior appearances, actions, and habits, just as Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:26 when He told them they needed to “ first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.”

As with any HAZMAT situation, those infected must physically leave the source/area of contamination to ensure they can get fully clean and to prevent cross or repeat contamination from taking place. We must be determined to break away from those sinful actions and lifestyles that only serve to bind us and kill the Spirit within us. However, if we make the commitment to break away, God will cleanse us and make us His own: “They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be My people, and I will be their God,” (Ezekiel 37:23).

Just as HAZMAT and BIO-HAZARDs can be deadly if proper protective/decontamination measures are not enacted, the Spiritual contamination represented by the sin of addiction, be it to drugs, alcohol, pornography, etc., can lead to Spiritual death if they are not dealt with and expunged from our lives.

Taking Every Thought Captive!

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

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Walking the Talk

thKEGSRHIEThere is one thing I am certain we can all agree on: all the theories and classroom instruction in the world will not fully prepare anyone for the realities they will have to face as a First Responder. It is not until we actually hit the streets and try to implement what we have learned that we can actually appreciate the full force of what the job is truly about. We may think we know what to expect and how to react based upon what we have read and seen in our training, but we would only be deceiving ourselves if we did not put our learning into action and actually do what needs to be done and learn from that experience rather than just being learners and accumulators of knowledge. “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves,” (James 1:22 NKJV).

Limiting ourselves to merely reading about rendering First Aid without going out and being willing to put that learning into practice through fighting for someone’s life, will do no one any good. While this is certainly a necessary function of our duties as First Responders, it often leads to some pretty messy and nasty situations. Likewise, it really does us no good to learn all there is to know about various aspects of recovery without actually putting that knowledge into practice. However, true recovery can be just as messy and painful of an experience; bearing little resemblance to the more sanitized recovery testimonies we may have been exposed to in our research concerning the recovery process.

But how do we go about putting what we have learned about recovery into action? The best way I know of to put ones recovery on the right track is to deal with our denial, stop trying to work things out in our own strength, and completely put things into God’s hands and ask Him to show us what, specifically, we need to work on or let go of and how to do so. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

Once we have asked God to show us our weaknesses we need to be aware that this can often be an overwhelming experience, especially if we try to do this without first establishing a support network. It is not uncommon to start to feel like we are so messed up that there is no hope of ever coming through to the other side of our addictions. This is when we must fall back upon God’s promises to help us and to cleanse us: “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the LORD, ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool’” (Isaiah 1:18).

We all need to take stock of, and repent (turn away) from the various besetting sins and compulsions in our lives, bring them out into the light so they lose their hold on us, and get set free!! “But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God,” (2 Corinthians 4:2).

Let’s get suited up and be prepared to get messy as we do whatever it takes to clean the HAZMAT of addiction(s) out of our lives and the lives of those around us!!

Taking Every Thought Captive!

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

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