His Sad Eyes Blessed Me

For a dozen years I was an LDS Home Teaching companion to a fellow who was mentally handicapped.  Harold was a wonderful man, full of childlike humility and love.  His large stature was balanced by an equally large, continuous and genuine smile.  His not always intelligible speech would always be clarified by his patient and repeated attempts to convey what he knew he was saying. But said in “Haroldspeak,” it would take more than a few attempts for me to understand. Harold passed away this past week. My wife and I, along with my little dog, Buddy Wu LI (He is a Schipperke, a Belgium barge dog), drove the 4 hours to St. George (Utah) to participate in and attend his funeral.  I was privileged to say a few words. With my guitar, I sang a slightly altered version of the Mormon Primary song, “I Am a Child of God.”  The funeral was not a sad affair, more a celebration of a special man. Indeed special: the first mentally handicapped boy in Utah (perhaps in the entire country) to earn the Eagle Scout Badge. Having a certain belief in Life after earthlife, I know I will one day reunite and celebrate with a now perfect, whole, and precious man.

But this blog was not intended to be about Harold.  It is intended to be about the homeless hitchhiker I encountered at the halfway point rest stop near Cove Fort, Utah. As I walked into the small convenience store that sponsored the rest stop, a man in his late twenties was sitting on a bench in front of the store.  His clothing was dirty and worn. Apparently all that he owned as he had the contents of a small backpack laid out on the bench beside him.  There was a piece of climbing rope, something I’m sure he had salvaged in his travels, a cell phone taken apart with the battery outside of it. Again something I’m thinking he picked up. Some soda crackers, and small pieces of cloth were about all I could notice as I walked past him. As I looked at his face, his nose had a large recent scab from a fight or a fall. But what affected me most was the sadness reflected in his eyes.  I recognized it. It was a sadness I had known earlier in my life. A hopelessness only those who have experienced could recognize. As I walked into the store, I felt haunted by those eyes. There was no anger in them, no hatred, no victim. Just a profound sadness.  I encounter homeless from time to time in the small city I live in. They seem to notice me as they usually ask if I have a “dollar” to  spare. It’s probably because I am usually wearing an “Affliction” shirt; or I just look like someone who understands Karma.  But this man’s hand was not out and no query was offered.  He seemed intent in examining the few possessions he owned.  As I entered the small store, a parable I had been pondering earlier in the week came to mind. The setting for this teaching of Jesus’ was in the now-cleansed temple on Tuesday of Passion Week (The week before Easter Sunday). It would be Gethsemane on Thursday and The Cross on Friday. It was a parable that Jesus must have given with great love and concern for those He would soon leave.  It ends with “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Having earned, through my alcoholism and addiction, membership in the “Least of These My Brethren,” club, daily encounters with this “social class” are more pronounced.  When I left the store, I had to get the man’s attention to hand him the few dollars change I had.  He immediately recognized me as the man who was “walking the little black dog and playing the guitar in the grassy area near the rest stop.” I had taken a moment to tune my guitar and practice the song I would sing at the funeral.   His intelligent response and keen attention was unexpected.  He said, “Do you have a leash for your dog?” I replied in the negative as I never put Buddy on a leash. He is more than obedient to my every command and request. The fellow reached into his bag and pulled out a quality retractable dog leash and offered it to me with the explanation that he had picked it up when someone had left it at an earlier rest stop. He had kept it thinking maybe he would encounter a stray dog in his travels.  He offered it to me. I mumbled something about Karma and went back into the store for a bag of chips.  I had to leave quickly. He would have noticed the tears in my eyes.  I really wanted to just hug him and tell him that in Surrender to God he would be protected and things would be OK.  With my purchase, I obtained some cash and, upon leaving the store, handed the man enough money to help him a little on his way.   As I walked back to my car, I felt an almost overpowering love for this, just moments before, stranger.  His parting gentle  “Bless you” echoed through my mind as I drove away. I am sure I will never forget his sad eyes. Truly–he had blessed me; and, surely–He had blessed me!

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Hitting Bottom

In my last BLOG, I provided the story of Bill W’s surrender and the spiritual experience that began his lifelong quest to help other alcoholics. The following BLOG, quoted from pages 135-137 of PBH, describes my “hitting bottom.” Prior to this experience, I had been trying unsuccessfully to get sober for ten years. As my alcoholism progressed, I often stayed at alcohol treatment facilities hoping to find help for my addiction.  The following entry begins with an account of my next to last visit at a treatment center and ends with my final surrender:

Remaining at this facility for a week, I began to feel alive again. The staff had been extraordinary in their encouragement. Leaving treatment “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” I felt a renewed commitment to my wife, to the clinic, and to myself that I would never, ever drink again. My wife told me that, promise or no promise, she would no longer stand by and watch me die. But this time, I was confident.  I was convinced I had reached the lowest bend of the alcoholic pipeline and was heading up the recovery side.

I was wrong. “Never, ever” is too long a time for an alcoholic to commit to. Two months later, I checked back into the same treatment facility.  I was crushed. I was certain there would be no more chances with my wife. I knew there shouldn’t be. The fact that I had let her down was one thing, but there was more. The National Guard had relieved me from duty—permanently! Then, following a medical exam at the treatment center for a painful hip, I was informed that, at the young age of forty, I had degenerative arthritis. If I wanted to continue walking, I would need a total hip replacement! “You have to hit your bottom,” the Old-Timers say. Like the funny little fellow with the big ears at the Alcohol Recovery Center had advised me many years earlier, “You have to be willing to crawl through cut glass to get sober!” Well, shattered glass was all around. I had hit bottom directly in the middle of it.

I knew I had. I hit my bottom like a concrete block plunging through a twelve-story building, shattering glass as it went. When I hit, I didn’t even bounce—I just crunched into a lifeless heap. More than a degenerative hip joint, I was a degenerative disease—degenerative addiction, degenerative marriage, degenerative soul. Depression rolled over me like the waves of a dark, stormy ocean. Heavy and suffocating, my condition was more than I could bear. I had no more tries left in me. I despaired. I prayed. My prayers were unlike any I had ever uttered. I didn’t ask for anything. Not to stay sober. Not to have my job back. Not for my wife to stay. Not to feel peace. Not to remove my pain. Not for anything! I was conquered. All I could do was mutter words about my total nothingness and cry out for help.

As my prayers continued, something about the way I viewed life began to change. It was not as if I had been struck with sudden brilliance. I was not filled with the burnings of truth or peace. I realized it was futile to say, “This time I’m going to stay sober,” or “I promise . . .” It was just the opposite. Alcohol had won. I was broken. I knew I couldn’t stay sober—no matter what. As this realization settled upon me, for the first time in my life, I honestly and completely admitted my powerlessness and gave my life totally over to a power greater than myself. With childlike demeanor, I humbly asked for God’s protection, direction and care. As a hopeless beggar, I surrendered all of me into the waiting arms of my Heavenly Father. “Do with me what you will. I can do nothing.”

 I began to feel tiny stirrings within me—a feeling of warmth, barely detectable, as if a tiny penlight had turned on in my bosom. A powerful key turned. Somehow, I knew in my heart that it could be over. I stood at that point I had heard described in hundreds of AA meetings—the testimony of myriad alcoholics who had hit bottom and had found the only way up: “Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.” (From Chapter Five of Alcoholic’s Anonymous).  I knew I didn’t possess the ability to manage all of my life. I couldn’t even manage a small piece of it. I suddenly understood that if I could just focus my energy on today, turning the guilt of yesterday and the fear of tomorrow over to God, then this terrible ordeal could be over. Like finding and putting in place a long lost, last piece of a puzzle, the picture became clear. I understood what to do. My life could be pieced back together—I simply needed to do it in humility and surrender—and one moment at a time!

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Thanks For Your Book Reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

I want to thank each of you who have supported the new publication of PBH. Thank you deeply and from my heart for the great ratings you have given the new book on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.

Thank you for reviews you might yet give. Thank you for supporting the desperately needed message of my book – love, compassion and non-judgement! In gratitude I live. In gratitude I honor all that is good.

Phil

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My Sister Sent Me Your Book

I received a letter today (2/27/13) from a man incarcerated in an Idaho prison.  I would like to share how he came by a copy of my book:  “Greetings. My name is . . . . .  I am a pedophile and have an addiction to pornography. I am currently sitting in prison as a result of my crimes.   I have just finished reading your book, “Perfect Brightness of Hope” for the second time.  Words can’t describe the thoughts and feelings I have for you, your book, and your testimony. Thank You.  . . . .  I would like you to know how I came about getting your book.  At Christmas Time, one of my 5 sisters was in a bookstore wondering what books she might buy to send me.  As you know, books coming into prisons must be sent directly from the bookstore.  When my sister went into the bookstore, she prayed a quick prayer to know what books I needed. She told me that Perfect Brightness of Hope jumped off the shelf to her. She asked again what other books she might choose and two others, ‘Conquering Your Own Goliaths,’ and ‘Getting Past If Only,’ stood out for her.  After receiving the books, I sat back on my bed to look over what was sent.  As I was pondering the book titles, I was overcome by the Holy Spirit and knew that these were great books and that they were chosen just for me at this time.”

A few other comments from this letter are pertinent. After giving some of his history as a returned LDS Missionary, his marriage, his addiction to “caffiene” [I describe my similar addiction in Perfect Brightness] and his descent into pornography and addiction he writes:  “I”ve failed my family, my now ‘ex-wife,’ and my children.  I so deeply understood the words from your Dedication Page for Perfect Brightness:  ‘To all whose lives are affected by alcoholism and addiction. More especially to my first family whose lives were so terrible altered and for whom I will always need forgiveness.'”

A few more comments from his letter:  “I had several days and months of just wanting the world to stop spinning. I want off this ride. I’m so tired of this.” “At one time, I had the thinking that I was the only one who had troubles.  But, [your book] helped me understand there are others, perhaps many others. I am so grateful for the success stories and testimonies of overcoming.” “Thank you so much for your inspiration.”  “If you could change your addiction [in your book] from alcohol and drugs for my sex and pornographic addiction, you would have written my book. You give me HOPE.”

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Intended Audience for “Perfect Brightness of Hope” (Segment 1)

On a hot Sunday morning in July, 1980, following a week of heavy binge drinking and in great despair and hopelessness, I walked mile after mile through neighborhoods in the small Mormon community where I lived. As I walked, I observed many families leaving their homes to attend church. Even though I was filled with remorse and sorrow, I could still feel the goodness of these families. I realized that they had no idea of the sorrowful man who walked, with heavy burden, on the sidewalks of their neighborhoods. On that morning there arose within me a powerful conviction to someday write of my experiences as a Mormon alcoholic. (See page 85 of Perfect Brightness of Hope).

Contrary to the popular notion about my story, the intended audience for my “someday book” that morning was not the alcoholic or addict. It was just the opposite. The powerful desire I felt that morning was to someday help the “good person” —those with no clue about the plight of the alcoholic—to better understand this deadly disease and the plight of those who have it. I was filled with compassion towards the good people I saw that morning.  I felt that if I could someday increase their understanding of me as an addict/alcoholic, I would also increase their compassion toward me, and others like me.  (To be cont.)

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