Donny's Ramblings


Leave a comment

A Letter to My Addicted Brother, Of Whom I Am Very Proud

This is a letter to my brother, Daniel, who is in a Teen Challenge Program overcoming his addictions. He’s had problems with drugs and alcohol since he was a teenager, but only recently decided to take responsibility for himself and seek help. I’ve helped him several times over the years, and finally threw up my hands in frustration and limited all communication with him.

Until recently, that is…

You see, my brother finally took responsibility for his actions and sought out help. He’s enrolled in a Teen Challenge program in Arkansas. And I couldn’t be prouder.

The first letter he sent after being in there was one of discouragement. It was addressed to my mom ’cause he and I haven’t been talking much. She shared it with me. I knew it was coming. It’s normal to be down in the dumps when starting a program such as this. He threw out things like, “I want to be in a program that teaches me what alcohol does to my body” and “this isn’t even a rehab – I thought it was…” and “they force me to read the Bible all the time” and “they don’t have work placement assistance after the program is over” and… blah blah blah. I smiled as I read through his excuses. I knew he was in those initial stages of settling in, and he was looking for any excuse to leave. So I broke my silence and wrote to him. Here’s what I wrote (for the record when his name is mentioned, Caden is my son):

Daniel,

Mom let me read your first letter. I’m not surprised you’re not the happiest camper right now. But I am asking a favor of you: do NOT walk away. Hear me out.

First of all, I want to address one thing you mentioned. You said that you wanted to know what alcohol does to your body. I’ll tell you and save you the trouble of transferring to a place that educates you about it. You ready? This is gonna be heavy:

It screws it up!

That’s really all you need to know. Honestly. Addictions have stolen your life from you and ruined relationships, including ours. What more do you need to know?

Now, let me tell you this: I could NOT POSSIBLY BE MORE PROUD OF YOU THAN I AM RIGHT NOW! The only way you can take that away from me is to quit. You work your butt off in there, okay? Trust God. I know that sounds cliché and sometimes worthless after all the things we’ve felt about Him, but I know this: you’re in the right place.

The fact that teen challenge isn’t a “rehab” is actually perfect for you. You’ll eventually see that. Your eyes are going to be opened and you’re going to see life from a bigger perspective. If you can’t trust God on this, trust me. I can promise you that if you finish this program your life will be infinitely better.

But as I said before, I am asking you as a personal favor to stay in the program. I’m pretty confident our relationship will be restored through this. In fact, I have one more favor to ask of you: study the Bible with me. Here’s what I mean by that… let’s choose a topic. Or if they assign topics to you, write to me about them. Then let’s talk about them. I purchased this Bible Software called Logos 4 Platinum. It’s very expensive software and worth every penny. There are more than 3,500 books included. The Bible is coming alive for me because of it. I’ve actually WANTED to read it and haven’t really read much else for awhile now.

I’m emailing you, but if they reply to me and tell me that they can’t print it out and give it to you I’ll do so myself…. print it out and mail it regularly. I just wanted to get a response to you as soon as possible.

I’m going to mail some envelopes and stamps so you can write to whomever you wish. Let me know when you’re low on supplies like that.

I’ve been reading through the website for the Arkansas program. I know you’re not seeing it right now, but God’s all over it. You’re life will be changed if you let it. I’m asking you to do so.

One thing you’ll find is this, Daniel: most rehabs treat the symptoms of problems. This one treats the cause. The focus on God is important because once you’ve finally encountered Him, the root issue is then being treated. Your heart is where the problem lies. You need to know who you are. You need to know how HE sees you. That information needs to sink into your heart, not just into your ears.

You are my brother. There has never been a time when I’ve not loved you, but there sure has been times I don’t want to talk to you. The reason is because you were not willing to take responsibility and do what it takes to get what you need. NOW you are doing that. STICK WITH IT. STICK WITH IT. STICK WITH IT.

Did I mention that I want you to stick with it?

By the way, I’m also convinced there’s a big huge GOD PLAN involved in your being at the Arkansas facility. That makes it just a bit more difficult to run away. And stop being concerned about being close to family. Right now it’s time to focus on Daniel. Right now it is OKAY to be selfish. In fact, that’s exactly what you need to do: focus JUST on yourself and God. Don’t worry about what you’re going to do for work after you get out. There is not a single doubt in my mind that will turn out just fine.

Since I don’t know what you’re currently studying, I’m gonna take a few minutes to figure out a Bible study that I want to do with you. This is just us… you and me…. Donny and Daniel… studying the Bible. What an awesome thing to do. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do tonight. In fact, just so you know, this is my weekend with Caden. You KNOW I never take any time away from that, but I am doing so right now. I read your letter to mom while I was cooking dinner for Caden. I couldn’t wait to reply. I know you’re feeling down, but that is expected for awhile. I know you don’t like rules, either. None of us do. But I’m asking you to submit yourself to those rules. Make a choice to trust God that no matter how silly a rule might be, following it is what you need to do right now. I promise, in the future you’ll see a purpose in every single “petty” rule. The way the rules make you feel is up to you. You can feel joy or anger. It’s your decision. Seriously.

Also: I’ve posted on twitter and facebook how proud I am of you. Some of my facebook friends have promised to write to you, too.

Okay… anyway… on to the Bible Study.

Even more shocking than finding out that I like reading the Bible is finding out that I like reading the Old Testament. It’s seriously cool once you learn to study it – to dig into the context of it. To find out what it meant to the people who wrote it or to the people who read those original documents. I’ve been telling Bible stories to Caden in a way that really captures his mind. I just interrupted his video game playing and asked him to tell me which story he likes most so I can share it with Uncle Daniel. He told me that he wants me to tell you the story about the “guy with the 300 men”… he’s talking about Gideon. So here goes…. this could get long.

The story of Gideon focuses on his struggle to overcome fear. The Midianites along with other eastern peoples had oppressed Israel for seven years (Judges 6:1–10). They had basically taken everything away from Israel. God wasn’t protecting them because they had this really dumb habit of turning to idols when they were comfortable. What I mean is this: they served God when they needed Him, but after He’d done so many great things for them they’d always decide to “fit in” with the people around them and serve the stupid gods worshipped by the people they lived around.

Anwyay, God came to Gideon and challenged him to lead Israel like a “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12) and get rid of the people oppressing them. What you need to know, though, is that Gideon was the least important person in his family. And his family was the least important family of all the families in Israel. Gideon really didn’t have any self confidence. He actually couldn’t believe God would choose him to do anything of importance. One thing you’ll see as you study the Bible is that God often asks the least likely people to do His work. Israel’s first king (Saul) actually was from similar circumstances: an unimportant man in an unimportant family.

Anyway, back to Gideon.

Gideon passed his first test of faith by tearing down the altar of Baal that belonged to his father (people actually wanted to kill him for doing that). That was significant because he was showing God that he wanted to get away from the false gods yet again and worship the one true God. After tearing down the altar to Baal he prepared for battle against the Midianites. By setting out a fleece of wool, he devised a test to learn that God was really with him (Judges 6:36–40). Why did he do that test? Once again, he wasn’t sure God really would use him. He kept having to test God to make sure. His self confidence wouldn’t let him believe it.

At first Gideon gathered 32,000 soldiers, but God tested Gideon’s courage once again. So that HE was the one who received credit for the victory, He initially reduced Gideon’s army to ten thousand. It went kinda like this: “If I let you take 32,000 men with you, when you win you’ll be tempted to think it was because of your big army. I want you to know that you couldn’t have done this without me. I want you to be certain that I’m doing this for you.” But even 10,000 men were too much. God whittled Gideon’s army down to only the three hundred who “lapped the water with their tongue like a dog” when they stopped for a drink (Judges 7:5). These three hundred were selected because they showed that they were more watchful for the enemy. Here’s the part that really kicks butt: those 300 men were going up against THOUSANDS of trained soldiers. But here’s what they did: They split into three groups and surrounded the camps of their enemy. All they had to do was blow trumpets and break the pots that covered their fire lamps. The Midianites were confused and started killing each other because they thought there were huge amounts of Israelites in their camp. Usually for every person blowing a horn and holding a lamp there were a TON of soldiers behind them. So when they saw and heard 300 people doing this, they were convinced there were enemies swarming all over them.

So in spite of a weak leader, small army, and the foolish weapons of trumpets and torches, Israel won the day because of the power of God (Judges 7:22). Now that he was no longer afraid of battle, Gideon went out and humbled the cities of Succoth and Peniel, which had refused to gave aid to his fatigued army (Judges 8:4–17). By executing the Midianite kings, Zebab and Zalmunna, Gideon avenged his brothers (Judges 8:18–21) who had been killed by those kings. He pretty much became a major butt kicker.

Thing is… Gideon wasn’t some perfect man. He ended up marrying all sorts of women, having 70 kids, etc. But that’s kinda the point: God often picks insignificant, imperfect people to do His work. Not only does He do so in order to make it clear that HE is the one in charge, He also does so to make the point that none of us are truly unimportant. There is something for all of us to do.

Read through the passages I mentioned and let me know what your thoughts are. Share with me anything you get out of them. I want to know. This kind of thing gives us a common focus, so study with me, my brother. Please? Instead of seeing the Bible as pointless and boring, I think you’re going to find the same thing I have: it’s pretty deep. We’re not just reading at surface value… let’s find out what lessons we can learn that apply to US. Okay?

Let your mind relax there at Teen Challenge. Trust that you’ll see a bigger plan as time goes on. You’re really treating the root of the problem now, instead of just the symptoms. I’ve been really getting to know God, and that’s what ends up changing everything. Once “getting to know God” becomes real to you, instead of something dumb that you just hear in church, you’ll start noticing that the problems in your life are being treated. THAT is the beauty of Teen Challenge. So, again, just go with it. Finish it. What if it fails? Then we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. For now, just trust. I’m asking that as a favor to me, which you’ll eventually see was a favor to you.

Your very proud brother,

Donny

For someone going through a program like this, letters are very important. If you’d like to say something encouraging to my brother, or to send him, say, an encouraging postcard, here is the address to send it to:

Daniel Pauling
C/O Teen Challenge
P.O. Box 8177
Hot Springs, AR 71910


4 Comments

Dear Daniel

I don’t really tell you I’m proud of you, do I? I can’t remember doing that in the recent past. The “man” in me doesn’t really let me open up and do that in person, I guess. So I’m writing it publicly, right here on my blog. One thing the two of us have in common is that we really don’t care if all of our junk is aired in public. I’m not sure why that is, but I do know that God can use it. Somehow.

You’re an admitted alcoholic, and those who’ve been reading my blog for awhile already know that. Don’t let that get you down, because I have no doubts whatsoever that alcohol abuse is only a short-term thing for you. I also realize that falling to that desire may cause you shame, but what I want you to know is that I could not be more proud of the fact that you have not let go of God. You keep getting back up. You keep going. Do you know how much strength that takes? You may not see it, but I do and I want you to know that.

As part of his sermon this morning, Bill Giovannetti said God doesn’t count how many times we fall down. What’s important is that we get back up one time more than we’ve fallen. He said it much more eloquently than the way I just worded it, but I know you get the message. Continue standing back up when you fall, my brother. God’s there for you, and so am I.

You and I both know that I nearly wrote you off. I really thought you were hopeless for a few years there. Then you let me have the priviledge of witnessing you surrender your life to Jesus, and I knew things were going to be different this time. In case you don’t know, I’ve bragged about you all across the country to people who have invited me to speak in their churches. Often times they clap when they hear about that day.

I’m very happy we live together now. I’ll admit, just a few weeks ago on the day I had to make a decision about taking that new apartment and having you move in as my roommate I wasn’t totally sure if I liked the idea too much. Here we are almost a month later and I must say it’s been very good for me. I like having you around, even though I’m gone so much we hardly see each other. Just having you there eases my mind. I know you’re watching over my stuff and I know you care a lot about me. Having you there makes my life better.

Today I’m making myself accountable to you. I have done you a disservice by not sharing some of the amazing things I’ve been learning lately. That is going to change. Even when I’m on the road or working and we don’t have time together, face to face, I have no excuse for not writing to you or emailing you. I am hereby making a promise to share with you some of the things that have resulted in my faith in God deepening to a point I’ve never imagined possible. This stuff will change your life, and that’s not some exhausted cliché… it’s 100% true. This isn’t boring Bible banging. You’ll be intrigued. I know you well enough to know that.

So, Bub, just know I love you. Even if I don’t tell you often enough. I’m pretty sure you already know, but I also know you need to hear it in person once in awhile.

– Donny –


8 Comments

A Week With My Brother

It’s now been a week since I picked my brother Daniel up from his home to bring him here with me. When I picked him up the intent was to take him to church last Friday, have him spend the night at my place and take him home Saturday morning. I’m so glad reality ran in a different direction.

Daniel’s been a real pleasure to visit with this week. Not only has he not taken another drink since early Saturday, he’s gained at least 10 lbs. It’s good to see him actually eating something.

All week long he helped me in several ways, from photographing cars to packing my stuff in preparation to move. We’ve probably driven a thousand miles together this week, talking and listening to one of the comedy channels on XM Radio. I’ve snuck in some Christian music from time to time to see what he thinks (he prefers the comedy channel).

I took him to one of the small group meetings I attend through Bethel Church. I knew he’d like it if for no other reason than the fact that several attractive girls also attend. Daniel could safely be classified as “girl crazy”.

Of course, that’s not the only reason I took him. He wanted to have a real encounter with God, and I wanted him to meet a lot of people his own age who have. This particular home group is filled with Bethel students: young people who are encountering God on many different levels. That was a really good evening for Daniel. He experienced some very good things and had a lot of people speaking with him, encouraging him and welcoming him.

To be honest with you, I think this brother of mine is going to do some really great things. He has a boldness to walk up to people on the streets and talk to them about anything, not really caring how they react. I know that God can use that.

I really want to share much more about my brother, and will do so in future blog entries, no doubt. But at the moment I need to wake him up and get to work. We started moving everything out my house yesterday, and need to finish up today. I’ve gotta be out of here by 5pm. As I mentioned in the last blog entry, the bank owns my house now too. Moving would be much harder, both physically and emotionally, if my brother wasn’t here to help.


46 Comments

My Brother Daniel



I have one sibling, a younger brother named Daniel. He’s 3 years younger than me, which makes him 30 years old.

The two of us were always very close growing up, except during certain times when he thought it would be funny to shoot me in the butt with a pellet gun, or when he’d decide to try shooting me with a rock from his slingshot. Other than that, childhood together consisted of two brothers who felt they could take on the world together. We did fight a bit from time to time, but what siblings don’t?

As an adult, Daniel grew as bitter as I was toward church. In fact, it just might be possible he hated church and the “saints” who attend even more than I did. Where I attempted to drown out my anger and frustrations using porn production and rebellion, Daniel chose meth and alcohol. In 2005 I forced him to move from Las Vegas to Chico to live with me for awhile because his meth use was close to killing him. There was no way I was going to sit around and wait for him to die, so I packed as much of his stuff as I could fit into my Explorer, evicted him from his apartment and got him away from the so-called “friends” with whom he enjoyed shooting up.

For some reason he’s always been in the habit of not just using, but seriously abusing his drug of choice. One example is with his alcohol consumption: where other alcoholics might be happy to just be drunk all the time, Daniel chooses to drink half a gallon of vodka per day. He was recently at a doctor’s office having his shoulder examined. His doctor asked about alcohol use and Daniel was honest with him. At that point the doctor let him know that there really was no point treating his shoulder because his alcoholism was going to kill him soon anyway.

I’ve fought pretty hard to make my brother seek professional help, as has my father. He hasn’t wanted to listen. He is of the opinion that when he’s ready to quit he’ll just do so on his own. Because of this, our relationship is not nearly as close as it once was. We’ll sometimes go a few months without talking.


THIS PAST MONDAY:

This past Monday I decided to drive to the small mountain town where both my brother and my father live. My dad had an errand to run so I waited at his house. When Daniel called to give my dad his new phone number, I answered instead. He was surprised I was in town.

“Dad told me you want to talk to me about this new life you’re doing. You can talk to me anytime you want, bub.”

An hour or so after our telephone conversation I drove over to talk to him in person. He let me know how surprised he was that I was “going back to church again”. I asked him if he wanted to hear some of the reasons why I’d chosen to do so. He said he’d listen.

“But honestly, Don, I believe in God but I don’t believe in Jesus or the Bible and I never will.”

I started sharing with him some of the things that I’ve been reading and experiencing that have been rewiring my mind. We talked for a long time about the Christians from our past, mutual frustrations we’ve had, anger and a wide variety of other Christian oriented topics.

I pointed out to Daniel that the hatred coming out of his mouth was hatred toward PEOPLE, not toward God or Jesus. I started showing him scriptures that demonstrated Jesus was all about love, not condemnation and judgment. I read to him from Blue Like Jazz and Velvet Elvis, two books that have changed my life.

Over the course of the time we talked I could see tears forming in my brothers eyes. The message of love, not judgment, is something all of us need to hear. It’s so important to separate the love our father has for us from the hatred the “saints” so often show. There is nothing unattractive about a perfect, pure love. Nothing.

I could write several pages about the conversation we had that night, but what it boils down to is this:

I HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF LEADING MY LITTLE BROTHER BACK TO A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD!

Yep, he invited Jesus Christ back into his life this past Monday.

I explained to Daniel that Jesus isn’t going to beat him up if his alcohol problem doesn’t immediately go away. All he wanted was for Daniel to reach out to him first, and he’d take care of the rest.

“Do you want to go to a crazy church service with me this Friday, Dan?”

“Sure, why not?”


“Okay, I’ll be back Friday morning to pick you up. You can stay at my house.”

The service was different than anything from our past. It touched him. Like mine, his mind has begun to be rewired as well.

Out of respect for me (and because he knows he needs to do it) Daniel significantly reduced his drinking when he arrived at my place. Rather than a half gallon of vodka, Daniel only consumed half a beer on both Friday and Saturday.

SATURDAY NIGHT:

Last night (Saturday) Daniel and I were sitting in my room. As I’ve mentioned, I live in the master bedroom of my house. This is a living situation that will be changing this week, as I get the last of my things out of the house and turn the keys over to the bank this coming Friday. The house didn’t sell. I couldn’t afford a $3,600 per month house payment anymore and the bank finally decided not to wait any longer. That really doesn’t bother me too much, however. It’s just one more weight off my back.

Daniel was sitting on the floor watching a movie on TV while I sat in my easy chair doing a bit of writing on my laptop. As the day got later and the room darkened, the only lights came from the TV and from my computer. At 7:06pm the TV turned off and the room went completely dark. I asked Daniel to turn it back on. There was no response so I got up and turned on the light. My brother was having a seizure on the floor. He’s never had one before in his life.

That freaked me out. Big time. But I resolved to remain calm and I kept him on his side as best I could. Puke was coming out of his mouth at the same time, and it sounded like he was struggling for every breath. I dialed 911 on my cell phone, gave them my address, quickly ran to the front door to unlock it, then returned to his side while the convulsions continued. They went on for a minute and a half. I thought he was dying.

He must have been hungry because he bit a nice piece out of his tongue.

Once the convulsions had passed, and as I waited for the ambulance to arrive, I tried to communicate with my brother. Every time I’d get near him he’d scream and jump, scared out of his mind. He struggled to his feet and walked toward the bathroom. When he saw his reflection in the mirror he screamed again and fell to the floor. He had no idea what was going on.

The paramedics arrived and Daniel was taken by ambulance to the hospital. To make a long story short, we spent several hours in the ER as the doctors ran tests to see what was wrong. It turns out his body was going through alcohol withdrawals.

Daniel was given some prescription drugs to help with the withdrawal symptoms. He’s also been instructed to check into rehab ASAP because his liver is highly inflamed and the doctors don’t think he’ll live longer than a few years if he continues to drink.

Perfect timing. After his decision for Jesus on Monday he realized quitting is something he desperately needs to do. Now he has the motivation to do so, and a God he can lean on to help him through it.

Daniel is doing well today. He’s asleep on the floor in front of my television as I write this. I’d like to ask all readers to say a prayer for him as he struggles with this addiction.

These last few days he’s mentioned several times that a real God encounter is something he badly wants. Help me pray that he gets it.