I am coming to the end of one full quarter (13 weeks) of being at work "full-time" even though I went to a type of "semi-retirement" last December. By this time next week (actually Thursday at 4:30) I will be back as a supplemental employee working one to three days per week, depending on the week. I got back from our month in Alabama back in March to find that I was needed to come back and do some filling-in for a colleague on leave. I said yes for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that it was going back to the position I held for about 4 full years that I loved the most of all that I have done in 20 years as an addictions counselor. It was also still winter around these parts, but that was only a small part of the reasoning. I truly liked the job and was excited to get one last chance to go back and do it one more time.
So, for the past 13 weeks that is what I have done. I have not regretted it for a moment.
Over there on the right sidebar is a quote that for me describes what I have been doing for most of my adult working life.
Some want to liveAs a pastor and substance abuse counselor I have been along one of those front lines where people come to do something unique and different with their lives. Most of the time these amounted to standing with them as they attempted to turn from the "gates of hell" itself. When I first saw that quote about 10 years ago it jumped at me, grabbed me, and I knew it was mine.
within the sound
of church or chapel bell;
I want to run
a rescue shop
within a yard of hell.
-- C. T. Studd
It brought to mind an incident back about 22 years or so ago. A member of the church was in a bad situation and was threatening suicide. They showed up at the front door of the parsonage and I spent the next three hours talking with them in my living room, attempting to contact a counselor they had been working with and finally contacting a treatment center in a neighboring community. At the end of those three hours I took them to that center for an evaluation and care.
A few days later I was at my own therapy appointment and was describing the event to my therapist. My counselor looked at me and said that she never thought about those of us who were there on the front line of situations like that. She, as an outpatient, hospital-based counselor only saw people after they were stabilized, "talked-down" so to speak. She commented on how important that front-line work was.
I remembered many other such times. Some were being there with a family as their loved-one died. Sometimes it was sitting in the ICU waiting room as life was artificially upheld long enough to make arrangements for an organ donation. It has also been the young mother who has discovered her husband was abusing their daughter and was shaking with anger and a sense of deep betrayal. Or it was baptizing a baby who may not make it. Once it was being a "shaman-like" presence in a wind-swept cemetery as a few family members, the funeral director and myself paid our last respects to a recently found homeless relative who had died of tuberculosis or AIDS or both.
I could go on and on. There are many I no longer remember in detail but in that spiritual place in my memory where rest the spirit of those souls who were facing the gates of hell. These moments of seeming hopelessness, fear, sadness, panic or just plain numbness at the depth of ones soul need not be faced alone. We humans have known this for millennia. We seek the people who can stand with us and the places where a sense of peace can begin to permeate the emptiness that has suddenly or even slowly taken over our world.
To be a counselor, a presence of hope and healing with those facing the devastation of addiction and alcoholism is to be at the same kind of junction of hope and despair, life and death. No, I don't believe that is too strong. Many people in that position are at the place where life is teetering. They are facing hell- or perhaps realize they have just stepped back from an abyss that can only be described as hell. They do not know if they can make it. They are aware of a sense of powerlessness. To be there with them is at once humbling, scary, and challenging. It is a place where the deepest compassion and acceptance is needed. But they must be tempered with a willingness to speak to the truth of what they are facing, to not sugar-coat it or make it seem less dangerous.
It is to run a rescue station at the gate of hell- their very own personal torment of hell.
So for the past 3 months I have had that privilege one more time as a full-time counselor. It was developing the helping and healing relationship that can hopefully break through denial and uncertainty.
It is a great way to work and I am grateful I had the chance to do it again. I am sure there will be other ways I am called to do that work in the future. But for today, as much as part of me doesn't want to stop, I know it is what I am going to do next that needs my attention.
Back in December I spoke of my move to part-time employment as beginning my Third Career. I have no doubt it will continue as part of my lifelong call to be part of that rescue shop. It may not be as immediate or quite as close to the gates as I have been, but it is where I have been called.
So it's back to semi-retirement. I have lots of music to make, especially over the next two months, lots of genealogical research to do for those ghosts in my family that are nowhere to be found prior to 1940, time with my wife and daughter and her boyfriend, time to write and read and dream of more ways to be what I am called to do next. Yet always to be one who can help bring healing and to continue to build my life in secular ministry- ministry beyond the doors and walls of the institutional church where I am now called to serve.