In Anne Lamott’s audiobook, Word by Word she shares a poem written by her dog Sadie Louise. One line from the poem reads, “Drunks drink because they miss Jesus.” You read that right. Anne Lamott’s dog Sadie wrote a poem. Sadie the dog got the essence of me in that line.
I have struggled with the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus. The way I understood things was something like a good cop-bad cop scenario. God was this powerful being – and yes, He had a long white beard and booming voice- who sent plagues, snakes, and destroyed things a lot. Jesus was the good guy. He calmed God down, He apologized for us all here on earth by dying for our sins, and He was supposed to be my BFF (Best Friend Forever). I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I believed I was saved. I could quote Bible verses and have theological discussions with anyone.
Some of the women in my church talked about their dream of going to Heaven and dancing with Jesus. It was hard for me to get my head around Jesus dancing. We were Southern Baptists and back then, we didn’t dance. I attended a Baptist high school and we had a Junior Senior Dinner NOT prom. (In later years, the prohibition against dancing seemed to vanish along with women pastors.) I felt I had missed some important teaching or doctrine lesson. I knew I didn’t have that kind of relationship with Jesus.
As the years went on, I felt my relationship with Jesus was at best conflicted. I couldn’t seem to find that very deeply personal relationship others claim to share. I imagined God standing in Heaven with his arms crossed, looking down at me, and shaking his head. I imagined Jesus standing with Him explaining His efforts to reach me.
When I began drinking, I began talking more to God and Jesus. I was much bolder drunk than sober. I told God how frustrating it was. I begged them to show me what I was missing. I would sit outside at night with my drink in hand staring at the stars and wondering where They were hiding up there. The more I drank the farther away God seemed until it felt as if He had turned away from me altogether.
In my desperation, I turned to music. Music and books have always been my way of coping with life. Music touches my heart and soul and can elicit joy or tears. At times music was the only I way could feel—anything. During this time in my life records and radio were the main avenues for music. I had record albums from the Beatles to Peter, Paul, and Mary. My largest collection of music was albums from the newest genre of Christian music. It was different from Gospel music and very controversial. I had artists like Don Fransico, Sandi Patty, Steve Taylor, Petra, and Michael W. Smith. However, my biggest collection was Amy Grant. Her music spoke to me like no other.
I would drink and sit in front of the record playing listening to Amy Grant for hours. It was the closest I could feel to Jesus and God. I was drink, cry, sing, and pray. One of her newest songs is, “Better Than A Hallelujah.” One line says, God loves the drunkard’s cry………Better than a Hallelujah sometimes. I believe God hears anyone who cries out to Him-sober, drunk, scared, angry, even sinners.
There were a couple of songs I played over and over again. There were my prayers when I couldn’t pray.
Raining on the Inside
God sees my heart–The deepest part
Inside this lonely me
And reachin’ in -His love begins
To heal the heart in me
I’m raining on the inside
Oh, my heart wells up with tears that start to pour
I’m raining on the inside
But then your cries of love break through
And I fall in love with you once more
Arms of Love
Lord, I’m really glad you’re here
I hope you feel the same when you see all my fear
And how I fail - I fall sometimes
It’s hard to walk in shifting sand
I miss the rock and find, I have nowhere left to stand
I start to cry
Lord, please help me
Raise my hands so you can pick me up
Hold me close – Hold me tighter
Storms will come and storms will go
Wonder just how many storms it takes until
I finally know – You’re here always
Even when my skies are far from gray
I can stay – Teach me to stay there
I have found a place where I can hide
It’s safe inside — Your arms of love
Like a child who’s helped throughout a storm
You keep me warm – In your arms of love
Sometime around 2:00am on the morning of April 11th, 1987, I sat on my mattress on the floor in the little corner of the room where I slept. I was so lost and so alone. I was drunk. I was always drunk. I was playing those songs and singing as loud as I could. (This much to the confusion and dismay of the young man who brought me home that night. He didn’t stay long.) I had what is described by many in recovery as “a moment of clarity.” It was in church terms, my burning bush experience. I knew in that moment God was with me and that Jesus had never left my head and my heart. I had tried to drown Him with alcohol and destroy Him with drugs. But, He was there in that moment. I was clear-headed for the first time in months. I took a deep breath and said, “OK God. I get it. I am an alcoholic and need you in my life. I am willing to do whatever you want me to do.”
I feel sleep and awoke about noon the next day. I stayed in my corner of the room and thought about the events of the night before. I remembered exactly what had happened and I knew what I had to do. I finally showered, got something to eat and pulled out the AA meeting schedule my therapist had given me. I figured out which bus to take. There were no busses running late enough to get me home. I would have to figure that out later. I had to walk about a mile and a half to the bus stop. I decided to try a new shortcut and got lost. I arrived at the bus stop to see the bus pulling away.
I started to pray. I couldn’t understand why God would abandon me like this when I was clearly following His will for me. But, I was going to keep my word. I would walk to the meeting. I had no idea how far away it was. I started walking. It started raining. I walked into a convenience store and asked for directions. The meeting was at a church and they told me it was almost six miles away. I didn’t care. I went back outside and started walking.
I made the decision to hitchhike. It was the only way to make the meeting in time. I asked God to protect me and send the right person to help. This was not the first time I had hitchhiked. I usually did that drunk. I had never attempted it sober. A car pulled over and they took me to the church.
It was a really big church. The parking lot was filled. I wondered if the church was having a service or classes of some kind. How would I ever find this meeting? I walked towards the front steps. I tried to look as if I fit in with the nice church folks. There was a sign at the top that read, “Step Meeting Room 105 and Newcomer Meeting Room 101.” It didn’t say which room held the AA meeting. I wasn’t about to ask any of these good people and give myself away. (For those of you in recovery–you can stop laughing now.) Step meetings and Newcomer meetings are both AA meetings. To my surprise, all the people there that night were coming to the AA meetings.
I saw a set of double doors with a small window. I looked inside and saw a table at the front, a lot of chairs and some AA brochures. I walked in and approached a red-headed woman at the front.
“I’m not sure where I am supposed to be.”
She raised her eyes and took a long look at me. “When was your last drink?”
I counted back the hours. “About 15 hours ago, I think.”
“Sounds about right. Sit down. You are in the right place, my all American girl.”
I sat down confused by her statements. Immediately a woman named Pat came and sat next to me.
“Hi, I’m Pat. I’m an alcoholic. Want some coffee?”
“I guess so. Why did that woman call me all American Girl?”
Pat laughed. “Your eyes are red, white, and blue.” Let me go get you some coffee and cookies. It will help with the shakes.”
As she walked away, I looked at the wall and saw a huge banner. It was the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, but I only saw three. I later learned they only post the first three steps at Newcomers or Beginners meeting. I read them and when I got to Step 3, I almost bolted. Step 3 says, “Made a decision to turn our lives and our will over to the care of God, as we understood Him.” I decided AA must be some kind of secret organization run by the Baptists to make people stop drinking alcohol. I certainly wanted no part of that.
Pat returned and started talking, taking my mind off the words on the wall. I don’t remember much about that meeting. What I do remember are the people, the caring, the phone numbers people started handing me, the ride home, walking to the front of the room to get a white chip-a plastic token signifying the desire for new way of life, and a feeling that I was exactly where God wanted me. And for just a moment, I could even imagine dancing with Jesus.
Sadie Louise may be a dog but she sure got it right. “Drunks drink because they miss Jesus.”