Is That A Pickle On Your Tree?!?

Call me crazy (it is only two days after Thanksgiving).  Call me a hypocrite (the season of Advent doesn’t even start until tomorrow).  Or just call me desperate to suck in as much Christmas joy as is possible this season.  But the tree is decorated.  And this year’s ornament of distinction is, you guessed it, a pickle.

Christmas Pickle 2014 2

Pickle ornaments aren’t anything new.  They have been part of some families’ Christmas traditions since the late 1900s and may or may not have originated in Germany.  You can read more about their history here.  But it just seemed necessary that this pickled pastor’s first sober Christmas have a pickle on the tree.

I have no adult memories of a sober Christmas, so this year’s holiday is going to be a little different (to say the least).  No egg nog, no hot spiced wine, no Kahlúa in my morning coffee, and no—under any circumstances—merlot.  Merlot is not invited this year.  Her name was a necessary deletion from my guest list.

But I do believe my sobriety will make for a very special Christmas.  That is why I wanted to get the preliminaries out of the way early.  I intend to spend the entire month of December staying focused on all things joyful:  children’s laughter, dancing lights, and carols celebrating the birth of Jesus.  Yes, I want Jesus to be front and center this year.

Now that I am not responsible to coordinate and deliver a spectacular season of worship experiences, I anticipate actually having the time to prayerfully reflect on the significance of our Savior’s birth—especially as I continue trying to reconcile my vocation, my faith, and my alcoholism.

I am going to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas every time it airs and let Linus preach to me.  “That’s what Christmas is all about, Pickled P.”  Indeed it is.  Christmas is about forgiveness, about hope and restored relationship.  Christmas is about the love of a God who still hasn’t given up on her people—even me.

Yes.  This Christmas is going to be different.  I am going to sing and laugh and pray like crazy.  And whenever I lose focus and forget all that Christmas is meant to be about, I have a pickle on the tree to remind me.  I am a servant of Christ who also happens to be a recovering alcoholic.   Each and every day is cause for celebration and gratitude.

Merry Christmas!

Baskets Are Better Than Bottles

What can you keep in a bottle?  Oh, some people build entire ships in bottles.  And there are the occasional messages that wash up in bottles on distant shores.  But mostly, bottles are for keeping liquids from becoming puddles.

bottles 2

Now there was a time when all sorts of liquids were stored in bottles.  There were milk bottles, soda bottles, beer bottles, baby bottles, and medicine bottles.   But, with the advent of aluminum and plastic, bottles (and especially the environmentally-friendly returnable kind) became far less common.

Today, if someone says they’re going to pick up a bottle, bring a bottle, or drink a bottle, there is little question as to what said bottle contains.  Bottles are for booze.  Just stop by your local bottle store and behold the seemingly endless display of shapes, sizes, and concoctions!

Baskets, on the other hand (while admittedly worthless for puddle containment), are far more practical.  You have your gift baskets, fruit baskets, bread baskets, and laundry baskets.  And there’s also the ever popular bushel basket which, when combined with a peck, can hold a whole lot of love.

Once upon a time, a mother even tucked her baby boy into a basket and hid him among the reeds of a foreign river.  That boy grew into a man who would one day lead his people from slavery to freedom in a land flowing with milk and honey.

What can you keep in a basket?  The possibilities are endless:  Precious memories.  Fragile dreams.  Renewed hope.  Baskets hold but a sampling of God’s abundance, each can be thought of as a cornucopia of sorts, pouring goodness into this bottle-less day of gratitude and thanks giving.

That’s a puddle I can play in!

Ninety Days

I was told to look for the little things.
That they would be what mattered,
the moments I would remember.

But there are no little things.
Just these billboard-sized celebrations
marking my journey from nowhere.

Another hour.
A glimpse at love.
The comfort of warm slippers.

Who knew absence
would clutter up my life
with such all encompassing joy?

No nausea.
No tremors.
No regret.

Only hope
and the delightful buoyancy of being.

Trouble and Mercy

I’d like to introduce you to my cats, Trouble and Mercy. I adopted them as kittens a little over two years ago.  Back then, they were palm-sized purring puffs of fur.  I guess you could say that life brings you a whole lot of trouble and God blesses it with just enough mercy.

My Trouble has grown into a gentle giant.  He is my “big man” and a real lover of a cat.

trouble on table 1

Mercy on the other hand, with her soft coat and still-pink nose, is definitely the lady in our house.  She’s a little skittish at times, but can match her brother’s antics paw for paw.

Mercy on chair cushion 1 (2)

As cats go, I dare say these two are pretty awesome.  Thank you so much for taking the time to meet them.  At the moment, they are both looking incredibly pleased with themselves for being so popular.

Believe It or Not

I am not my favorite topic of conversation.  Although, to read this blog, one might think otherwise.  I did not set out to make my posts all about me, and I certainly didn’t intend to write in the first person all the time.  Oops, here I go again.  No, seriously, I’m not feeling at all pleased with how this blog is shaping up.  Granted, I’m only five posts into the thing and I’m almost always disappointed when I first start a new project, but enough already.  I truly do want this blog to be something other than the endless whining of a pickle who’s been forked out of her jar.

I have been reading some incredible blog posts.   There are so many of you out there whose writing is simply awesome!  Brilliant ideas.  Tremendous gifts for word craft.  Oodles of faithful followers and excellent comments abound.  Oh, how I want me some of that!  I know it’s going to take time, though.  And lots of practice.  Chances are my posts are going to be somewhat soggy with residual brine for a while yet.  But please know, dear reader, I want to do better.  I plan to keep stringing words together and am going to try, really try, to write about something—anything –other than me.  Real soon.

Good Old Days

Truth be told, I don’t remember the good old days being all that good.  All that peace, love, and rock ‘n roll may have seemed pretty cool at the time.  But the black and white horrors of Vietnam were simultaneously unfolding on our TV screens.  I remember the seemingly endless news coverage taking its own place at my family’s dinner table.  Night after night.  My mother wanted the TV off.  My dad insisted it be kept on.  And I just wanted to get back to whatever I had been pulled away from.  Sure, I was still a kid without a clue as to the responsibilities and disappointments life held in store.  But, even from that perspective, those days weren’t all that good.

With adulthood came the long awaited freedom to go where I wanted to go and do what I wanted to do.  I left home when I was 19.  I wasn’t all that young, but I also wasn’t all that smart.  With no real idea where I was headed, I set out in search of the independent life I had dreamed of.  My first place?  A dilapidated hotel room with peeling paint and one electrical outlet.  I remember having to sit in the dark in order to keep the stereo plugged in.  Oh yeah.  Those were the good old days, alright.  Listening to The Rolling Stones by candlelight and eating beans out of a can.  I might have had my freedom to come and go and do as I pleased, but I don’t remember those days being particularly good either.

As I got older and found I was able to keep a job, my living circumstances improved.  I rented a third floor apartment.  Collected furniture to put in it.  Even went back to college.  But a bachelor’s degree can’t magically transform mediocre days into good ones.  And not every woman can bank on a husband and family in that order and before menopause.   It seemed I was always looking for something.  Looking for fun.  Looking in the clubs.  Eventually looking through the bottom of a bottle.  I may have thought I was having fun, but it was probably just the wine.  No, those weren’t good days—old or otherwise.  Those were the days that eventually led me into alcoholism.

Fast forward to today. Finally, I am sober.  Three whole months.  That may not sound like a lot, but insofar as I think I drank every day for the better part of three decades, these past 90 days pretty much constitute a small lifetime.  Have there been any good old days along the way?  No.  Not yet.  Getting sober and staying that way kind of really sucks—at least in the beginning.  But it hasn’t been all bad either, and I am hoping for better days ahead.  Indeed, I guess you could say I am hoping for some good old days.  Those are likely to be the very best days of all.

Making Friends

Making friends was never easy for me.  If I’m honest, I guess I’d have to say I was never all that interested.  As an active alcoholic, I didn’t appreciate having folks around holding me accountable.  I wasn’t good at making plans.  Even worse at following through.  Not having anyone expecting me to be anywhere or do anything was ideal.  It kept my commitments to an absolute minimum.  Allowed plenty of time to drink and ample time to recover.

Now that I’m sober, I’m still not particularly thrilled with the idea of making friends.  Just because Merlot and I are no longer together doesn’t mean I’m ready to get into a new relationship.  I can’t imagine anyone ever taking Merlot’s place.  I wouldn’t want anyone to.  That relationship was sacred.  I plan on honoring it for the rest of my sober days.  Sure, our breakup still hurts like hell, but I feel like the pain is all I have left of her.

In my heart of hearts, I know I can’t go on like this indefinitely.  And I have actually found myself being friendlier with strangers at the supermarket.  Isn’t that pathetic?  My entire social life revolves around the freshness of produce.  Hey, it’s something.  Used to be a time I wouldn’t talk to anyone.  Now I find myself engaging in small talk in the check-out line or offering my empty cart to the old man emerging from the car parked next to mine.

It’s odd I tell you.  Who knows, maybe one day soon I’ll expand my social life to include the regular patrons at a local coffee shop or sign up for some sort of class or something.  Don’t push me, though.  I’m not 100% sure I’m ready to commit to any new relationships.  But it would be nice to talk about something other than the bananas being too green or reporting a spill in aisle 19.  Chatting it up about a political scandal or comparing projects in process with a fellow crafter almost sounds appealing.

Except I don’t follow politics all that closely and I’ve never been the crafty sort.  But who knows?  Maybe now that I have all this time on my hands, I will develop some outside interests.  It would give me something to talk about.  How can I ever hope to have an actual conversation with someone if I don’t have anything to say?  I mean, how many people out there are really interested in the verbal clutter in my head?

Well, apparently I think someone might be.  Otherwise, why would I have started blogging?  Maybe I’m delusional, but on some level I really do believe people are interested in what I have to say—even if it isn’t about politics or my latest craft project.  I know I’ve have actually come to enjoy other blogs.  Some so much I’ve chosen to follow them.  Their authors make for great companions out here in cyber space.  They keep me honest.

Whoa.  Did I just say I feel accountable to my fellow bloggers?  Could it be that I have been making friends all along and didn’t even know it?  Well, it apparently is possible, because I do continue to be delighted with each and every one of them.  They are the folk behind the “Blogs Beyond the Brine” and I guess one could say they are my friends.  I know I like them a lot, am interested in what they say and would be genuinely concerned if they shared a problem they were having.

Go figure.  I must be enjoying this blogging thing.  I’m even making friends.


Waiting On Ready

Maybe I’ll go to church after the mere thought of being in sacred space no longer turns me into a blubbering idiot.  It has been a long time.  A long time for me anyway.  And I miss it.  I truly do.   But I’m not ready.

When I was still a parish pastor, I used to love pew sitting.  It was a selfish pleasure.  I thoroughly enjoyed having the Word read to me and listening in on another’s interpretation.  It’s different now.  Now, I’d just be sitting there feeling sorry for myself.  Maybe I’d feel differently  if I had retired.  But I didn’t retire.  I ended up having to publically admit I was an alcoholic and resign.  It’s a stigma that will follow me for the rest of my life.

Yet, despite my self-imposed exile, I still read the appointed scriptures for each week.  This Sunday’s gospel is the parable of the talents.  It’s the story about a wealthy master who puts his slaves in charge of his fortune prior to setting off on a journey.  Upon the master’s return, he is delighted to find that two of his slaves had invested wisely and even turned a profit.  These two get themselves invited to share in their master’s joy.  A third, however, had played it safe and stashed his portion away, actions that displease his Master greatly.  So this last slave ends up getting himself tossed into that proverbial outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Oh, do I know that place well.  I’ve been gnashing my teeth and weeping for nearly three months now.  I screwed up.  Bad.  I know that.   But wait a minute.  This is a gospel story, so there’s got to be some good news, even for the likes of me.   I’m still breathing, so it’s not over.  Do I still remember?  Can I retrace my steps to the place where I last had possession of my talent?  Who’s to say I can’t retrieve my portion of the Master’s treasure and start again?  I may not be able to be a parish pastor, but I certainly can do something.  There’s got to be a way I can still turn a profit before the Master returns.  Yes.  That’s what I’m going to do.

Just as soon as I’m ready.

I’m (Almost) Over You

I guess I was lonely when I was drinking.  I just didn’t care.  Merlot was the only company I needed.  Together, we could handle any disappointment life threw our way.  Or so I thought.  Turns out, we were never really as close as I thought we were.  A real friend wouldn’t have ever let me down the way Merlot had.  I am still reeling.  How dare she go from confidant to saboteur overnight!  One day we were just hanging out like best friends.  The next, I couldn’t bear to even look at her.  Come to find out, she had been poisoning my body and my life all along.  I never thought a friend would do a thing like that.  Now I know better.

These days (all 86 of them since I last saw Merlot), I guess I’m still lonely, but I feel better.  One day after another is scrutinized, counted, and strung on the invisible thread which has become my sobriety.  Turns out, there are support groups for people like me, other people who have been double crossed by Merlot and those like her.  I am grateful for the companionship these others provide.  It’s nice to have someone to talk to, someone who understands.  I still have no idea what the future holds.  I try not to think about it too much.  Break ups are never easy and I’m giving myself time to heal.  The others have encouraged this.

One thing about me that hasn’t changed is that I’m really not all that comfortable around people.  I’m sure that’s why me and Merlot got along so well in the beginning.  For whatever reason, people make me anxious.  I’m never sure what to say, and when I do manage to speak, I worry about what the other person is thinking and whether or not I really do have two heads and if it just might be better for everyone if I didn’t venture out.  But the loneliness is even more unsettling, so me and my heads go out anyway.  We go to be with others who have tasted the bitterness of betrayal.

And sometimes someone who most definitely only has one head and looks to be in all respects perfectly normal says something that makes sense, something I can identify with.  And for a moment, perhaps even for an entire hour, I don’t feel so alone.  I’m not sure of much these days, but being with these others does help some.  So I keep going back, keep listening to what the wise one-headed people have to say, all the while wondering if I’ll ever be as over Merlot and ok with it as these others seem to be.  It’s something to hope for and even the slightest glimmer of hope makes life more bearable and far less lonely.

Most recently, I have discovered wise one-headed people can be found other places, too.  I’ve even found a few online, which is so perfect, because if I’m just sitting at my computer there’s no worries about whether or not somebody’s doing a head count.  Granted, every once and a while I actually make a comment or—shudder at the thought—post something and I experience a momentary wave of panic.  But, what the hell, I didn’t come this far to be scared of a little box of text.  So I keep coming back to these pages, too.  Pages like Unpickled and And Everything Afterwards make for great company.  I so appreciate their companionship.  They, too, are helping me feel less alone.

I find I’m thinking less and less about Merlot these days.  Maybe the day will come when I’ll realize I really am over her.  Better yet, maybe I’ll even be ok with it.  It’s something to hope for.


Getting Started

So I decided to write a blog.  Three months ago.  Getting the thing set up was the easy part.  Actually posting a few words on an otherwise pristine blank page was what proved problematic.  I didn’t want to start off writing some lame little ditty for the entire world to ignore.  I wanted that first post to be perfect—leave the reader wanting more kind of perfect.  And so I waited.  I waited for the perfect words with which to begin my perfect blog.

I would still be waiting if I hadn’t remembered that wanting everything to be perfect has pretty much been my problem all along.  You see, I am a recovering alcoholic and have spent most of my life keeping all things as neat and tidy as possible.  So long as I maintained some semblance of orderliness about outward appearances, I didn’t expect anyone to come poking around.  My drinking was my business, the beloved secret I worked like crazy to protect.

Only, my alcoholism isn’t a secret any more.  Everyone knows—or at least it feels that way.  The entire façade I had worked so hard to maintain now lies in rubble around me.  Turns out I am not exceptional.  I am just your garden variety drunk.  So there really isn’t any reason to expect this to be anything other than a garden variety blog.  And, if I’m going to be honest with myself, I have to be honest with you, dear reader.  This is the beginning of my blog, imperfections and all.