"Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words." - St. Francis of Assisi

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Winds of Change

There stands a great forest with many trees and vegetation. Many of the trees are old and showing signs of weakness; others in the prime of their lives and stand firm and produce many leaves. Their roots grow deep into the ground and even the mightiest of storms barely cause movement other than the outermost limbs and leaves. Still others are young, pliable and have difficulty in the windy and stormy days that come.

For years, the forest remains secure in the circle of life and the cycle of life runs without causing any major disruption in the community. However, at times, a great wind will come and many of the trees do not survive if they are unable to withstand the buffeting and turmoil brought to them.

We, my friends, are such a forest and such a wind is coming. We are buffeted on all sides by disruptions of nature, such as droughts, hurricanes, melting ice caps and the like. The winds of politics blow in uncertain directions with no clear distinctions between candidates and platforms. All we seem to hear is empty rhetoric and what everyone else is doing wrong. We hear churches arguing about other churches, charities disclosing untrue claims about other charities, healthcare not meeting the needs of the many who need help and public policies being changed without the input of the public. Innocent children in Africa and other countries are dying from starvation and AIDS due to the lack of funding and internal wars that prohibit help from being received. Friends and loved ones are contracting illnesses that we have to face even though we would rather crawl into bed and deny. We find ourselves frustrated, anxious, angry and disappointed. The forest is in chaos as trees begin to sway and many snap off bringing down the tender young trees as they crash to the ground below. The future of the forest is in danger as the storm swirls and many of the young are being destroyed within their core and their roots are pulled loose.

In these times, we can remember the writings of Isaiah that tell us, “when you pass through the waters of life, I will be with you; and through the rivers, you will not be overwhelmed. When you pass through the fires in your path, the flames will not burn you and you will not be consumed by the fire because I am the Lord your God, the Holy one of Israel.” (Isaiah 43:2-3).

In my own personal world, the winds of change are blowing even as I write. My tree has been blown and upheaval has been close at times. I am not one to easily face changes of life because I prefer the security and comfort of the known instead of the challenges of the unknown. Over the next few weeks, you will learn of the changes taking place in my life and I face them with a slight tinge of anxiety, but a great dose of excitement because I believe the course set for me is the right course. I am learning that through change, we grow; we learn and become stronger as humans and as a community. I would encourage anyone facing the winds of change to remain strong, remember that your roots run deep if your faith is in God and that He will keep you from breaking.

“Trust in God with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding of situations. Acknowledge Him with your daily walk and He will direct your path.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Coming Home

Hi folks,
Today's posting is a bit different than normal, but I think it is a story worth sharing. To back up a little bit, one reason I have not been as active in my posting recently is that I am working more at the newspaper, mainly doing the front page feature articles, local interest articles and still writing my religion column. They have offered me the position of Managing Editor, but that's a decision I am not able to make yet.

Anyway, a part of these new responsibilities was to meet and write a column about the tragic increase of methamphetamines, ecstasy and other drugs. We tend to think about these things in the large cities, but they are right here in 'small town America" such as McDonough and Henry County, GA. I had the privilege and absolute joy to meet a young man from our town who grew up here, lived a life of horror through addictions and is now two years sober, praise God! I share a small part of his story with you below as it appeared in the Henry County Times last week. Folks, it is a pleasure to let you meet Brian "BJ" Elliott.


One Man’s Journey Out of the Darkness of Meth Addiction

An honor’s graduate from Henry County High School, active in his church, school and community, awarded a full scholarship to Georgia State University and another graduation with honors, close-knit family and friends; you would say that, Brian “B.J” Elliott had it all going for him. And, he did until one night at a party shortly after his college graduation. That night he was introduced to a popular drug, crystal methamphetamine, known more familiarly as Meth.

B.J. learned that the statement “you can’t get hooked on your first time” was a lie. He was hooked on Meth that first time and from that point on, our McDonough boy was never again to be the same. His life quickly began to spiral into a darkness that can never be imagined by most of the Henry County community. After all, we aren’t in the big city with the big drug gangs; we are a nice small community where such things just don’t happen. B.J. is here to tell all of us this is not true. Drugs of all sorts, and alcohol is a drug just as serious as any other, have been in all areas of our city, county, state and nation and without education and help, this lifestyle will claim more and more of our family members.

B.J. tells us, “For many years, I lived a life that most people in McDonough will never believe exists in their town. Today, I am willing to talk about my life, the drug culture and the damage that an addict has on, not only in their own life, but also in the lives of their families and the community. I destroyed my family and my career. Some bridges I not only burned, but threw atomic bombs underneath so they can never be repaired.” Living a life controlled by alcohol, prescription medication and other narcotics, B.J. lost all he had and had no place to call home. The hometown boy with the bright future hit bottom.

This past week, B.J. Elliott celebrated his two-year anniversary of being clean and sober thanks to 12-step programs, the gradual return of trust and love from his family and an internal strength and faith that he possesses. He knew that he had to get clean, or he would die. He chose life, recovery, sobriety and a return to life. B.J. now has a sparkle in his eye, a winning smile and an intense sense of purpose to tell his story so that others can avoid the same mistakes he made.

When I met B.J. in the McDonough Square, I saw him first sitting on a bench just looking around the town and the beauty of the square. He appeared to be just another guy enjoying his lunch hour in the gorgeous late summer afternoon. The first question I asked him was, “how do you feel to come back here, where the dark life began, where you went from top to bottom of the world?” After a moment or two of thought and a sigh, a small grin came to his face as he said, “I guess it is sort of a vindication that I have made it back. McDonough has always been my home and now I can come home to my family and many friends with whom I have made amends.” He volunteers at a local counseling center when in town to tell his story to others that are trying to recover. He speaks to schools, churches and other groups all over the country simply to tell what he has been through and to provide a support system to those who need encouragement and support.

What advice would B.J. give? “Stay away from the influences and the crowds that promote this life. You never know you are hooked until it is too late.” As a recovering addict, B.J. gives the advice to others to, “keep looking forward, be strong, have courage and have hope.” To emphasize the importance of those concepts, he has an Asian symbol for Courage tattooed on his forearm so that anytime he writes or uses his right hand, he sees that reminder to have Courage. Courage to face your past, Courage to get out of bed in the morning and Courage to make it just through that day ahead.

However, all is not flowers and sunshine for B.J. now. The years of drug abuse have left him with a stroke, short-term memory loss, essential tremors and other physical challenges that prohibit him from the ability to work. The miracle of this man is that he continues with all his strength and abilities to spread his story while still making himself stay active in his 12-step program and other programs essential for his own continued day-by-day recovery.

Twenty years ago, Henry County had a reason to be proud of B.J. Elliott. Today, we have a reason to be prouder. He has beaten a lifetime of addiction and rejection to become a young man committed to helping others. The sincerity in his face as he speaks is an encouragement to anyone he meets and the commitment to tell his story to help others gives him the strength to continue his recovery. In all honesty, I am now a better man for having met B.J.

For more information on recovery and to read more about B.J.’s story, please visit his recovery web page at www.therecoverywagon.com.