Jeremy Hampton: Little Drummer Boy

Jeremy Hampton: Little Drummer Boy

“The Little Drummer Boy” is a familiar holiday tune about a poor young boy who performs for Baby Jesus.  While the song itself is a Christmas classic, the Rankin & Bass TV version received only a lukewarm response in Nielsen ratings.  Children were put off by the lead character, who wore a wooden expression on his face throughout.  He never smiled – not when his pet lamb was miraculously healed, and not even when Baby Jesus smiled at him.  

In hindsight, we think the Rankin & Bass production was ahead of its time, but 50 years ago there just wasn’t anybody out there with enough charisma for the lead role.  Today, we know of the perfect person.  He possesses the excitement, poise, and glamour needed for the protagonist’s part.  With piercing eyes framed by a rugged face and well-groomed beard, our guy even has an infectious smile.    

Meet Jeremy Hampton!  CORE Church members readily recognize Jeremy as the accomplished drummer for our popular praise and worship band.  His resume doesn’t end there.  He’s also a house manager, recovery instructor, spirituality class teacher, softball team member, and volunteer for CORE special projects.  Jeremy is able to serve in these positions because he has recovered.  

While people today have difficulty picturing this, five years ago Jeremy was a struggling addict who hit rock bottom.  He told us “I was doing a lot of meth, weed, everything.  I was 118 pounds and malnourished.  I was sleepng in my car and miserable.  I was dying.”  His predicament was the product of denial and blaming others.  “My thinking was that I just needed to get away, change my location and friends, then I’d be fine,” he recalls, “it all made sense in my head at the time.”  Jeremy shook his head while telling us this, and we understand why.  Within CORE, we know that such thinking is eternally wrong.  Unfortunately, it’s terribly common with an addict trapped in the cycle of addiction.  

By the end of his last spree, everything Jeremy had worked for in life was gone, again, and this time he had nobody to turn to for help.  The moment finally had come for him to quit, but he couldn’t, no matter how hard he tried.  In desperation he called our program manager Kevin Hunt who, Jeremy says, “answered my phone call and got me in [CORE]; he probably saved my life.”

Jeremy worked his recovery program in earnest and, after 6 months, was doing Steps 10, 11, and 12 daily.  He vividly remembers the exact moment when he “suddenly realized” – in the Big Book’s words – “that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”  Jeremy was at his place of employment, a local resort:

I opened a drawer, and there was a bag of dope.  I’d never expected to see that there, but I went and flushed it without really even thinking.  Five minutes later, it hit me.  There was no craving or desire.  My mind didn’t race about how I could do it without getting caught.  And that’s when I knew it; the miracle had begun.  It was an awesome realization.

Jeremy credits his recovery to God, who he sees as loving, forgiving, and understanding of his past.  He maintains conscious contact with Him by “expressing willingness, by doing the act of getting on my knees, praying, and by doing the steps.”

He shows gratitude to God through abundant service work.  Within a few months of his recovery, Jeremy went through our presenter’s training and began studying the AA Big Book cover to cover.  In his first class, he told us, “I was so nervous.  My mouth was dry and I could hardly talk.”  He walked through fear by faith, nevertheless, and now Jeremy’s recovery classes are always popular with clients.  In time, he also began helping teach our weekly spirituality classes which, he says “probably helps me more than it helps anybody else.  It makes me really dig into scripture and learn.”

At CORE, we are so very happy and pleased for Jeremy!  We sincerely hope that his association with us bears fruit and continues for years to come.  But – what does Jeremy see for his future?  His answer for us was altogether encouraging.

He enjoys his profession in real estate, but he also feels that God may be leading him into working full-time with clients in recovery.  There has been talk of CORE possibly opening a third recovery center.  Jeremy hints that if this does happen, he may be interested in helping get this started and underway.  He said, “that looks like where my calling and destiny is headed, where God wants me.  It’s in the recovery field, and I’m at the point where I need to surrender and give into what God wants.”

Ordinarily, we might conclude Jeremy’s story here.  We know, however, that many Readers are fans who really want to hear about Jeremy’s musical career.  We dug hard to get this information, which is 100% true, so here goes.

Jeremy always had a knack for music.  He remembers rhythmically beating on pots and pans as a toddler.  When he was 7 years-old, Santa Claus brought him a “Fraggle Rock” drum set – a child-sized, working drum kit, with Jeremy’s favorite Muppets shown on the bass drum!  

While these seem like humble beginnings, Jeremy already was on a trajectory toward musical greatness.  He never had formal lessons and didn’t need them.  He rose from being first chair in junior high, to jamming with garage bands in high school.  By his early 20’s, Jeremy played with a local rock band whose popularity took it to towns up and down the Mississippi River.  Sadly, his musical career was derailed by drugs.

In Jeremy’s mind, being a member of CORE’s band today is a great blessing.  When given the opportunity to play, Jeremy says, “I was grateful and cherished it.  I still do.”  In our humble opinion, his performances are central to the band’s pulsating energy, a conduit of raw power.  His drumsticks seem to blur in a whirlwind of controlled chaos, yet his limbs move with precision and dynamic athleticism.  Each rhythmic crash of his cymbals sends the crowd into excitement, mesmerized by sound, movement, and spectacle alike.  

It’s a pity we don’t have an actual pic of Jeremy performing, because it’s really something.  Happily, our graphic artist has been kind enough to make a fun facsimile that gives Readers a mental picture.  He looks something like this:

A Christmas Wish from CORE

A Christmas Wish from CORE

Christmas, the season of hope, invites us to revel in the spirit of joy and cheer that warms our hearts.

This festive time reminds us that God bestowed a supreme gift upon all humanity some two thousand years ago.  It was the arrival of a very special baby named Jesus, wrapped in cloths and nestled in a manger.   We readily envision the parents watching over the newborn, accompanied by humble shepherds and gentle animals sharing the stable.  We immerse ourselves in the coziness of the scene by identifying with the baby’s mother, who treasures and ponders everything in her heart.  

The nativity scene is much more than simply a miraculous, heartwarming historical moment.  As we already know, the quiet, unassuming arrival of this baby holds a promise that surpasses the grandeur of any human achievement.  The baby is destined for greatness, and He makes everything right again.  At Christmastime, we celebrate God’s ultimate gift: Jesus came into this world to save us all, giving everyone reason for hope and joy!

At CORE, as we reflect on our many blessings, we are keenly aware that our mission is made possible only through our friends and supporters.  With heartfelt gratitude, we specially want to recognize these individuals for their commitment and belief in our cause.  Your encouragement, prayers, and generosity are the cornerstone of our success. We sincerely thank you – you’re the best! 

To those still struggling with addiction, take heart!  There is a solution for your difficulty, and you are not alone.  At CORE, we offer open arms and unwavering support to guide you on your journey to recovery and health. You are deserving of a brighter future, and we’ll help you find it.  Every member of our staff – in whom the drinking and drug problem has been solved – speaks from personal experience.  We’ll show you the solution and how it works.  

To all our readers, this Christmas season, let’s reflect on the true essence of hope.  Our real hope transcends human achievements and reaches into the depths of our souls.  It begins with a baby born in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago.

CORE wishes everyone a Merry Christmas
filled with the timeless hope and joy
that Baby Jesus brings to us all!

Robin Trotter: Making a Difference 

Robin Trotter: Making a Difference 

Meet Robin Trotter!  Robin is our new women’s admissions coordinator at the Branson recovery center.  She stepped into the job when Jen Brinkmann made a lateral move to our finance department.  As the point of contact person for our female clients, Robin now has many important responsibilities.  

We recently had the pleasure of spending several hours talking with Robin in preparation for this article.  Our original intent was to focus on her addiction and subsequent recovery but, for obvious reasons, our conversation kept gravitating toward her new job, and especially her hopes and dreams for the women under her care.  

Robin works at CORE because she is talented and has a heart for God.  In this sense, she is similar to all of our employees. Nevertheless, while she is gifted and spiritually devoted, our interview uncovered one curious detail that definitely sets Robin apart from the rest of our staff.  This little known fact has to do with her morning commute to work.

Every morning, our employees travel from all over the Tri-Lakes region to get to our Branson location.  Once we’ve put on our sunglasses and messed with the car radios, our trips take several minutes or more.  For some, the drive takes more than a half-hour.  Robin’s morning jaunt, by contrast, is on an entirely different scale.

When Robin puts on her seatbelt and checks to make sure she has everything needed for her busy day ahead, her commute takes – wait for it – seven seconds!

It takes longer to put on shoes and socks than it takes Robin to drive to work, owing to the fact that she lives right next to our Branson recovery center.  Her trip is faster than a TikTok video.  But please don’t assume this means she gets to sleep in.  Robin actually gets up each morning before the sun does.  She has important duties to look after even before she leaves for work.

Robin also manages CORE’s intake residence for our women in Branson, and one of her formal tasks happens early each morning.  She leads the whole house in a morning devotional which sets a positive and spiritually-focused tone for their day ahead.  She shared with us a rare glimpse into this event, which we think is well worth repeating.  As she relates:

Every morning, all the girls meet downstairs in the living room for a devotional.  We sit around in a circle and read out of different books.  They take turns doing that, and then we talk about it.  After that we go around the room and hear what everybody has planned for the day.  We finish by circling up.”

Within the house circle, Robin recites a series of positive affirmations for the ladies.  They include things like, I am blessed, healthy, confident, motivated, a child of God, and so forth, and the group repeats these affirmations.  The devotional is concluded by the whole house saying the Lord’s Prayer together.  

We think what Robin describes is a great way to begin the day – for any house, for anybody!  And it’s after this devotional that Robin prepares for her famous excursion to our Branson recovery center.  “I grab my keys, phone, and coffee, and head off to work. I get in my car, drive a few feet, and I’m here,” she laughs. 

Once she arrives, Robin’s office gets busier than Grand Central Station. She serves as the point of contact for our female clients, communicating with them about CORE’s rules, expectations, and services. “Being able to be the go-to girl for over one-hundred women is exciting,” Robin says, and we agree.  There’s never a dull moment in her day.  

She’s already well-acquainted with her job.  Multi-tasking is a must, for example.  Robin might be found speaking with a client, taking a call, and typing a letter – all at the same time.  Clients also bring family, medical, and legal issues to her.  Unforeseen crises also arise that must be attended to.  On top of this, Robin is responsible for doing screenings, determining eligibility, and guiding new clients through the intake process.  And she must be prepared to provide immediate support and guidance to handle every situation effectively.

Robin describes her life today as full and rewarding, and we can easily see why.  Still, she will be the first to point out that this wasn’t always so.  She arrived to CORE very much like so many of us do – at rock bottom.  “I was at the lowest of my lows when I got here,” she says.  Nearly her entire adult life had been wasted in abusive relationships, and on drugs and alcohol.  She had no contact with her parents, and she didn’t have a friend in the world.  Even worse, she had no relationship with God, and she felt too ashamed to even approach Him.  CORE turned out to be exactly what she needed to begin turning things around. 

For the first time in her life, Robin heard about the 12 Steps.  She also listened to others sharing their experience, strength, and hope.  Robin met other women at CORE who had returned to health and wellness even though they once were as hopeless as her.  Encouraged, she wasted no time in working her steps.  By the time she completed her 5th Step, “I started to feel myself again,” she remembers, “really wanting it, to just keep continuing, to get better and better in my program, and become closer to God”.  By sticking with her program, Robin recovered.  Looking back on her experience, Robin primarily credits two things for her success.  

First, she very much wanted to get right with God.  She tells us, “I wanted a relationship with God.  I’d been so depressed and miserable, and I worried about my future and what might happen if I didn’t change.”  Working her steps made this relationship a reality for her, and along with this came the miracle of recovery and the promises of the Big Book.  She tells us, wide-eyed, “once I started doing the right thing and began seeking Him, I accomplished more in one year than I had in thirty“.  Robin also got baptized, which she proudly declares “was an act of obedience that shows I’m living for Him now.  I am a Christian.” 

Second, Robin purposely avoided romantic relationships, a distraction that so easily hinders people from finding recovery.  She says, “There was great freedom by not having to deal with that.  People just don’t realize that.  They think they just have to have a man but, how can getting into a relationship ever work if we don’t fix ourselves first?  So, when I got here, I had no intention of looking at another man.  Nothing was going to distract me from my recovery program.”

Robin’s enthusiasm eventually led to her becoming a house manager.  On social media, she became outspoken supporter of faith and the 12 Step program.  At this point in Robin’s testimony, we interrupted and pointedly asked if CORE helped her recovery, to which she nodded, saying “Yes, in every way.  I didn’t escape my past until I came to CORE.  It gave me a safe place to be while I sorted out my life.  CORE showed me the 12 Steps that got my addiction under control.  Everybody here has become like my family.  I’m very grateful for everybody.”

We at CORE are so pleased for Robin, her new faith, and her new life in recovery.  She has friends who love and care about her today, and she has been reunited with her mom and step-dad.  We’re especially happy she has become part of our organization.  As an added bonus of Robin’s addition to the CORE family, at a recent staff luncheon she introduced many of us to the Korean dish Bulgogi, which was delish!  And there also was Kimchi, sticky rice, and egg rolls to round out our dining experience.  All in all, we really have to give Robin brownie points for her culinary skills.  

So, where does Robin see herself in five years?  She thinks a moment and says, “I want to keep achieving and believing, and growing in this job.  I want to see these girls make it in their recovery programs.”  She then adds, “I love having a job where I can make a difference in other people’s lives.  Not everybody gets this opportunity, which is what makes it so exciting!”

What Are CORE Clients Thankful For?

What Are CORE Clients Thankful For?

As Thanksgiving approaches, we at CORE are grateful for the abundant blessings that God has bestowed upon us.  He has granted us the miracle of recovery and the opportunity to help others in need.  We are humbled by God’s grace and the many favors that we have received.

At a recent CORE event, we chased down as many of our clients as we could catch and asked them a simple question: “Who or what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving season?”  While some seemed a bit nonplussed by the recorder placed before them, each took a deep breath and summoned the courage to speak.  We think everybody had something valuable to share.  Here are their awesome responses!

I’m really indebted to God for my recovery.  He’s at the forefront; my recovery starts and ends with Him.  For my friends and all the staff at CORE, I’m very thankful.  I’m glad that I can enjoy life today, as opposed to the 25 years of what it was before.” 
– Adam G

My relationship with the Lord is most important, because I couldn’t have done this without Him.  I’m very blessed today.  And it’s because of Him that I was able to repair things with my mom and my dad.  That’s awesome, because I never thought that would happen.  And I love the fact that I have a job where I can help people.  I get to oversee the greatest group of girls ever, and I’m very grateful for that.” 
– Robin T

I’m grateful for sobriety and recovery.  I’m so thankful for my daughter.  I’ve got a great daughter, you know?  She’s such a good kid, and I’m so happy to be there for her again.  Also, I’m very blessed that she’s got a good mother.”  
– Christopher M

God, for His grace and forgiveness.  For saving me and allowing my recovery.  I’m happy to be alive today.  And thankful for CORE, too, because this program saved my life.” 
– Audrey H

I wouldn’t be where I’m at if not for God.  He’s been my rock through all this.  Sobriety isn’t always rainbows and sunshine, but he makes challenges manageable, somehow easier.  I’m also thankful for the people in my life pushing me to grow.  With their love and support I’ve been able to strive and achieve my goals.” 
– Gavin L

“There’s so many people. First and foremost, I’m thankful to God, who gave me a second chance at life. And for this program, the women at my house, and my children and people looking after them. I’m grateful to be alive today.”
– Katie R

“I’m grateful to God, and to the people who showed me the way out of addiction. I’m really thankful for the opportunity to help others and show them what I’ve found at CORE. I’m glad to give back, to pay it forward.”
– Neil F

If it wasn’t for the fellowship and friends I have here at CORE, I don’t know where I’d be.  They supported me throughout.  I’ve never really had a family, my whole life.  The people here are like my sisters and my brothers.  They’re okay with being leaned on when I need help and support.  And I’m thankful for God.  He opened my heart and mind to see the world differently and in a better way.  I have happiness and joy in my life.  He changed me.” 
– Megan B

I’m thankful that God has given me the opportunity and gift of teaching newcomers how to recover by sharing the 12 Steps that were given to me.  Pass it on.  I’m thankful for a great family,  the relationship with my son, my parents, and getting to see my brother and nephews.  And I’m grateful to Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for my sins.  I didn’t deserve that, but He did it for me anyway.” 
– Nick B

What am I thankful for?  Everything!  My work family, my real family, and the opportunities open to me.  With God, the sky’s the limit.  God can do all things!” 
– Jen B

I’m thankful for everything God’s done since I turned my life over to Christ, the connection to my children and family back home, and for my new family here.  I’m grateful for everything – the program, my new outlook on life, my job, and that I’m not running the streets anymore.” 
– Owen H

I was given a second chance with God.  A long time ago I gave up and left Him.  But then He found me, and it’s been wonderful.  I love it!” 
– Caren B

I’m thankful for CORE.  They never gave up on me.  It’s like that verse in the Bible where you go after that sheep.  I feel like God found me through CORE.  I’d tuned Him out.  I had resentments and selfishness.  But when I became open, willing, and honest, I started working the 12 Steps and all the negativity got removed.  God moved in and changed me.” 
– Gabriel T

I’m thankful for my family.  They were always there for me, even when I wasn’t there for them.  For my dad, especially, for giving me that tough love and doing what was right.  And my kids, who are wonderful, I’m able to be in their lives again.  And I’m very grateful for God, who’s responsible for my recovery.  I prayed to Him.  He answered my prayer and got me to where I needed to be.” 
– Cricket I.” 

I’m thankful for leaders in this program who have the kindness to tell me what I need to hear instead of what I want to hear.  And in a loving way, the way that makes me grow as a person.  They’re like family who I can depend on.  And, of course, I’m thankful for God and His will for my life.  Looking around this room is a great reminder of why I’m here.  I’m able to help the newcomer who comes here just like I did.  Ultimately, I’m very grateful for that.” 
– Dallas C

I had a stroke that should have taken my life.  I’d been a 40-year long drug user, in the hospital and paralyzed all along my left side.  I lost a business, everything I owned, and had no place to go.  I came to CORE in flip flops.  It was only by being humbled that I found my way to God.  Today, I’m walking.  I commenced this program, and I am in the Second Mile.  I volunteer at the hospital and can even help Second Milers along the road.  Who am I thankful for?  I owe my life to God.” 
– Brian L

I’m thankful for rock bottom.  I believed in God but never really had a relationship with Him.  I had to burn every option, every bridge, until God was the only option.  Had I never hit rock bottom, I never would have found God.  I have a new life now.  It’s hard to pick just one thing I’m thankful for today.  I appreciate every moment now.  I’m glad to be able to show others that it is possible to get out of addiction and not be bound in chains.” 
– Kristi K

I’m thankful for so much, my family and health, and my sobriety.  I’m grateful to the Holy Spirit, who gives guidance and direction through conviction and leads me to bigger challenges.  And thankful for CORE, which showed me the way out – how to make a connection with God.  I’m also thankful to be able to serve, to get out of my comfort zone, and be able to help others.” 
– Jeremy H

I’m grateful to God for everything, for restoring my connection back with my family, and for giving me a second chance at life.  I’m very thankful for my CORE family.  The fellowship got me through some rough times.” 
– Jen M

God made it possible for me to be whole again.  I’m able to be with my family now.  I’m thankful to God, this program, and the 12 Steps.  I appreciate my mom for never giving up.  I get emotional just thinking about that.” 
– Brian F

I’m thankful for CORE and for coming here. I totally believe that if you give God control of your life that he will restore and establish you where you need to be.  I’m so thankful for my family and the relationships that have been restored.  And for God, who made me whole.  My eyes have been opened.  I have a good work ethic and believe in myself.  I’m committed to helping other people, which I believe is very important.” 
– Heather S

I was talking with the guys about this last night in the living room.  I’m thankful that God has given me a new attitude and a new heart.   Today I understand that the important things I will do are often the things in my past life I rarely wanted to do.  God has given me new vision, and especially an attitude of humility and service, which only He can accomplish.”
– Nick Z

I’m thankful that I got into a recovery program that saved my life.  CORE showed me how to get closer to God.  And now I can fill my cup and give it to the girls in my house so they can find the peace and serenity that I have.”
– Jeanna K

I’m grateful to God.  He’s the reason why I’m recovered.  He brought me back to where I am today.  I’m really thankful for CORE and my family.  They’re the best!” 
– Daniel B

Just thinking about everybody makes me want to cry.  I’m thankful for my relationship with God and for my family.  And my sobriety.  Today, I’m thankful for everything in my life!” 
– Alexandria P

I’m thankful for new beginnings, because without a second chance in life, I wouldn’t even be here.  And for God, who offered his Son for the forgiveness of all of our sins.  Family and friends, too, and my children.  And everybody at CORE – for the great community.”  
– Bracy S

I’m grateful for my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And my family.  I’m also thankful for the family and friends I have here at CORE, who are my support group, the people I spend my time with and who I look up to.  I owe God everything, without Him my life wouldn’t be possible.” 
– Dylan B

I’m thankful for being here in Branson, at CORE, to start my life over again and build up the tools that I need to be successful on my own.  I’m very grateful to God.  He put good people in my life and made big moves in my life.  I’ve been growing closer to Him, praying more fervently, and recognizing His will for my life.” 
– Terrance M

An Incredible Festival Weekend

An Incredible Festival Weekend

CORE is a happening place.  Something interesting and fun is always going on at one of our recovery centers or residences.  But when so many entertaining activities happen outside of our facilities, in a single weekend, that’s worth writing about!  Such happened last month when Hollister and Branson kicked off the fall festival season with competing events.  CORE took part in both and had a blast!

State of the Ozarks Fest

In mid-September, the bellwethers of fall were upon us.  The evening air became crisp, the pumpkins were ripening, and Friday night football was in full swing.  On Saturday, September 16th, the weather was perfect for the State of the Ozarks Fest in Hollister!

This festival lived up to its billing – a one-day celebration bringing community together in a heightened street fair filled to the brim with food, art, craftsmanship, and uproarious fun, all tied to the history and culture of our land.

CORE’s tent was right next to our friends at Queen City Beard & Mustache Federation, who kindly brought us to this event.  Our Second Milers handed out literature and talked to interested parties about recovery issues.  We also held a free raffle for two beautiful, new bicycles.  

We wish to thank our friends at QCBMF for sponsoring CORE at this festival.  The federation’s mission is to grow hair and communities, and to support charities.  Judging by the public’s response to our tent, all we can say is “Mission Accomplished!”  

A crowd of thousands of people turned out to enjoy the more than 100 vendors and the many activities.  One festival highlight was the Queen City Beard & Mustache Competition.  While several of our CORE people wanted to enter the competition, they quickly learned that it takes more than facial fluff to be in a mustache competition.  The winning peach fuzz has to have style and panache!

MCRSP Recovery Jamboree

On the same day as the SOTO Fest, our Second Milers also were across town in Branson, at a festival sponsored by the Missouri Coalition of Recovery Support Providers. 

The Recovery Jamboree is an outdoor, family event featuring free food, family fun and games, live entertainment, food distribution, and recovery resources.  This annual festival brings together recovery providers from all across the Tri Lakes Area for a day of fun and of making valuable connections.

For our participation, CORE offered putt putt golf for the kids.  Happy children laughed and giggled as they took turns putting colorful golf balls on the golf mini-green.  Parents and friends offered spirited encouragement, and the youngsters’ faces lit up with joy with every successful shot. 

The children were motivated by the thrill of victory, to be sure, but at CORE’s putt putt contest there was much more at stake – prizes!  Every winning shot earned a reward.  Happily, every child who showed the temerity to play successfully sank the putt and took home the prize of their choice.

While the children putted, our Second Milers handed out more literature.  We held another, free raffle for new bicycles for Recovery Jamboree participants, too.

We at CORE give a shout-out and a big thank you to MCRSP for inviting CORE to this treasured event!

CORE Holds Final Creek Commencements and Baptisms of the Summer

CORE Holds Final Creek Commencements and Baptisms of the Summer

On the last summer weekend of the year, CORE gathered together along Bull Creek for our final outdoor commencement ceremony and baptisms.  The sunny day, green trees, and grassy fields contrasted with temperatures in the 70’s and the chilly creek running beside us which hinted at the impending approach of autumn. 

Nestled in picturesque surroundings, the more than 200 in attendance held a celebration for the ages.  First there was fun and a barbeque.  There were games and activities, music, and socializing.  While everybody was mingling, Christos Papanikas and his crew prepared the feast.  They grilled burgers and brats, prepared pasta salad, sliced melons, and made other yummy stuff.  Everybody eventually settled onto lawn chairs and beach blankets for a delicious meal. When all tummies were full, we did baptisms.

Sixteen people were baptized in obedience to our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.  The water was cold, yet the hearts of all in attendance were warm in spirit and faith.  The baptism candidates made public confessions of their faith in our Lord Jesus, and they were immersed into the water by Cary McKee and Bracy Sams.  This was an important foundation for their life as Christians.  We ended up with a bunch of soggy but happy people, and our attention next turned to the graduates of our one-year recovery program.  

Eight clients commenced in all.  Amidst a backdrop of hope and resilience, the commencement ceremony was a poignant celebration of transformation.  The graduates came forward one by one.  Family and friends spoke on their behalf.  Whereupon, they all got roasted by their CORE house managers and friends (in good fun, of course!)

For each, tears of joy flowed freely as heartfelt words and applause resonated through our forest clearing along the creek.  Commencement is an important milestone in the recovery journey for each client.  God has gifted them hope, freedom, and life.  May their commencements mark the beginning on the road to happy destiny for each.  We are so pleased for them!

Bracy led the crowd in prayer to close the ceremonies.  We’ll continue to hold our commencement events at our Springfield and Branson recovery centers until springtime when warm weather returns.

CORE Wins Unprecedented 4th Consecutive Championship!

CORE Wins Unprecedented 4th Consecutive Championship!

On September 28th, CORE’s softball team pulled off the improbable by winning its fourth consecutive championship in Branson’s church softball league!

Our team overcame adversity all year, compiling a record of 7 – 5 during the regular season despite suffering injuries at key positions throughout the 2023 campaign.

When slugger Adam Guss went down with a knee injury during the semifinal game, the whole season hanged in the balance.  Rather than folding, our team rose to the occasion.

We won our semifinal game, and then we jumped out to an early lead in the championship match over the #1 seed.  The opposition tried to mount a comeback, but two things put an end to their shrinking hopes of victory.  In the 5th inning, Cade Ulery for CORE smacked a grand slam home run.  Then our defense got busy. 

Our defense came to play,” said pitcher Bracy Sams, who also manages the team.  In fact, CORE did not allow a single run for the rest of the game.  In one really exciting play, catcher Nick Brooks blocked home plate to prevent a runner from scoring.  And Bracy, who himself has battled bruised ribs for weeks, pitched two strike outs as part of the defensive effort.  Our infield also turned multiple double plays.

We added more runs late in the game, winning 13 – 3.  To celebrate, the team went out together at midnight for breakfast.  

Assistant coach Gary Osborn well summed up CORE’s 2023 season, saying, “We saved the best for last” – as he ate his grand slam breakfast.

Front Row (L to R): Jackie Hankins, Alex Saebens, Cody Renzelman, Bracy Sams, Nick Brooks, Adam “Big League” Guss, Jeana Knous

Back Row (L to R): Terrence Miller, Jeremy Hampton, Rollen Summers, Jeremy Mikel, Nick Larose, Cade Ulery, David Marti, Charlie Miller

Adam Guss: Phoenix Rising!

Adam Guss: Phoenix Rising!

Meet Adam Guss!  Guss – as he’s known around CORE – directs CORE’s transportation department in Branson.  He also manages one of our men’s homes.  On top of all that, Guss also is a star player on CORE’s softball team that plays in the Branson Church League. 

As we sat down with Guss and began hearing his testimony, not only were we mesmerized by his story, but we also felt the strangest sensation seize us.  In our mind’s eye, we practically could see Guss rising from the ashes.  His story plainly is about transformation and rebirth!  Given a second chance at life, he has arisen renewed and radiant.  Today, Guss soars beyond his past difficulties toward newfound heights of growth and possibilities.  

We became overwhelmed by a light bulb moment — Guss is a phoenix rising!  Or, so we hypothesized.  The only way we could make sure is by putting feathers and bird’s feet on Guss to see how he looks.  Does he look like a phoenix?  What do you think?

If Guss is or even is like a phoenix, it’s only because he has had a spiritual experience.  We must remember, however, that such experiences while very powerful often begin with great suffering.  So that’s where we’ll begin his story.  

Twenty years ago, Guss was barely out of high school when he became an addict.  Like most addicts, Guss was not exactly a party animal.  Rather, he was involved in a car accident that injured his shoulder and required surgery.  The surgery wasn’t entirely successful, so his doctors put him on pain medication until another one could be performed.  “Percs and Norco 10s,” Guss told us, that’s all it took:

I’d had two shoulder surgeries.  The first one didn’t go well, and they had to wait to go back in there.  Until then, all they could do was keep me as comfortable as possible.  That’s where my addiction to opiates took off.  By the time of the second surgery, I was finding OxyContin on the streets from other people.”

Guss kept buying Oxys until they became too expensive, so he started buying heroin.  Then he discovered methamphetamines.  Meth, Guss tells us, was a game-changer:

The first time I did meth, I felt something I’d never experienced before.  It made me feel like I could do anything I wanted.  From my mind set to my confidence, it made me feel like I could kick superman’s butt.  That’s the way I felt.

Once Guss began using meth, his life became like the ups and downs of a roller coaster ride propelled by an ever downward slope.  We spent some time talking about these details, but space considerations constrain us to compress his story into some short, pertinent observations.  For this, we’ll pick items that will be familiar to somebody who has struggled with addiction.

First, while we commonly see families at CORE who are reunited once a loved one recovers, this did not happen for Guss.  By the time he arrived to us in April of 2021, his wife already had had enough.  Marriage is for better or for worse, for richer or poorer.  The couple had seen both during their time together, but she mostly had lived with his addiction.  This had gone on for over a decade, during which time the couple’s financial [in]security rode the waves of Guss’ illness.  He candidly told us, “My wife was done.  She said she wasn’t at the time, but I could tell by the look in her eyes, by her body language.  I broke her heart too many times.”  Guss doesn’t fault his wife for going her separate way.  He still speaks highly of her and her efforts to build a new life for herself, and he wishes her nothing but the best.

Second, in order to continue his drug habit for so long, Guss tried to live a double life.  He turned his career into a cover for his drug habit.  He would either work late hours or take out of town gigs to hide his meth use.  He recalls, “I would be out of town and away from everybody, leaving on Monday and staying all week long.  So I’d be doing meth all week and then coming home.  I wouldn’t do it on weekends, or I’d just do it in moderation.  I’m living a secret life.  My whole life had been a secret.  I had a wife and a mistress – meth.”

Third, like so many addicts, Guss initially had no understanding why he couldn’t just use like everybody else.  He said, “I didn’t know anything about addiction back then.  I didn’t know how to change, because I didn’t even know I had a problem.  Everybody else did it.  Why wasn’t it okay with me?”  In time, however, Guss tried with all his might to quit.  Many, many times.  He went to detoxes, rehabs, and recovery programs.  He even came to CORE for a stay – a point which we very much want to mention here.  It drives home an important warning: none of these places by themselves, including CORE, can keep an addict sober indefinitely.  They are but human resources and, as the Big Book says, probably no human power can relieve an addiction.   Only God can.  And He will, if He is sought.

When Guss finally returned to CORE in April 2021, he was a broken man who had reached rock bottom.  As Guss offered during our interview, he didn’t even care at that point whether he lived or died.  

Our Program Manager Kevin Hunt then decided to send Guss to our Springfield program.  While he’s not aware why Kevin made that decision, Guss says that in retrospect it was “single-handedly the best thing that happened in my two years of recovery”:

I went to Bluejay, the intake house, with Nick Zahm.  He’s so strong in The Faith, and I was able to work with him one-on-one.  It gave me a chance to grow and to get out of myself.  I worked with the new guys who are doing their steps.  It’s actual recovery stuff, and I’m sharing my experience, strength, and hope with them.  So, I’m in Springfield, re-finding myself and becoming less codependent on anyone else.  I’m relying on God by now.  I know that I can do this. 

Guss thoroughly worked his recovery program and his inner phoenix began to emerge.  Guss sought God, and he recovered. Even as we spoke with him, Guss looked totally comfortable and confident with the man he’s become.  There was no swagger in his voice or manner, only a heartfelt appreciation for God’s grace and mercy shown to him:

I owe everything in my life today to God.  Without Him I’m nothing.  You know, maybe there’s a reason I’m still here.  It took years to finally get back to CORE, do the program.  As I look back on my life, I was full of myself.  But maybe God was like, Guss, you’re on your way.  It will take years, and it will be hard, but you’ll get here.  You’ll find Me.  He let me trudge through all of that, put myself through utter hell, because until I went through all that, I was never really going to get it, anyway. 

Guss also mentioned what CORE means to him personally.  He suffered a tragic loss last year when his mother died.  At that time, Guss already had been reconciled with his family, both parents and siblings.  He spent over a week at a hospital in Kansas City to keep watch over her, and further points out, “I’ve got really great friends at CORE who helped get me through it when Mom died last October.  We were on the phone every day, and I was 10 days with her at the KU Med Center before she passed.”  Guss also said “CORE has given me a safe environment in which to grow and the spiritual tools to truly find Christianity in a way I could never have done on my own.  It’s given me the opportunity to grow into the person I am today.”

When we asked Guss about his future with CORE, he just shrugged and smiled.  Right now, he says, “I’m enjoying my recovery.”  Additionally, he’s back in Branson and also has become a member of our staff (asked by Kevin Hunt himself!).  Guss is heading up our transportation department, which always has been a challenging place to serve.  Is being the director of this department doubly stressful?  Guss assures us that he’s happy and content to be there as part of the CORE team.  “So that’s where I’m at right now,” he said, “just learning this new role as a department head.  I want to get that down before I pursue anything else.”

Our last topic of discussion was CORE’s softball team, which already has begun play in the Branson Church League.  We peppered him with questions.  How many games will you win?  What about your odds of winning a championship?  How many home runs will you personally hit?  Guss seemingly leaned over to respond but then shook his head.  “You can’t put that in the newsletter!” he laughed.   

The 5th Step: Facing Our Wrongs?  Or Feeling Sorry for Ourselves?

The 5th Step: Facing Our Wrongs? Or Feeling Sorry for Ourselves?

Grandparents like to give advice, probably because they want us to make good choices.  They have lived longer than us and want to spare us the pain of making mistakes.  Any grandparent worth their salt has said, at one time or another, “there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about things.”  This is good advice.  Here at CORE, while not all of our staff are grandparents, we’re pretty much all Old-Timers.  We’ve been in recovery for a long time – long enough to give this same advice about the 5th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The step itself seems straightforward enough.  It reads:

Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

As far as directions go, this one unambiguously calls for a confession of wrongdoing.  Notwithstanding, there are some in the recovery world who seem intent on publishing misinformation about it.  They can be found online, in the field, and in print.  They paint this step as an opportunity for a gripe session, or a time to get things off our chests, or even a chance to have a good cry.  

According to these gurus, we addicts and alcoholics have been holding onto our pent-up emotions for our whole lives, and we need relief.  It’s all that negativity weighing us down that prevents us from achieving our true potentials.  We need catharsis, a powerful emotional release.  So, using the 5th Step to vent about our complaints in life is just what the doctor ordered.  We’ve got to turn those frowns upside down, and we have to be fearless and thorough in the process.  But be forewarned: while we may be moved to tears, we’ll leave completely satisfied and be free to move forward.

It’s not just the recovery crowd saying these things.  We found an addiction recovery center that confidently tells its readers, “The purpose of Step 5 of the 12-Step Program is to unload all your past burdens, let them go, and start moving on from them.”  

Not to be outdone in this pity party, there’s a publication for sale that goes even further.  The author tells readers to turn their 4th and 5th Steps into something positive.  All of their talk about sadness, losses, and painful, even shameful events, should end with a so-called Reconciliation Rite.  To do this, you make a cup with your hands and think of a word that symbolizes your 5th Step.  Imagine this word resting in your cupped hands while slowly pouring it onto the floor like water.  Whereupon, the person who heard your 5th Step should say, “That which has kept you divided within yourself is gone.  You are whole.”  And you say, “That which has kept me divided within myself is gone.  I am whole.”  The ritual is completed once “you feel your feelings and meditate” for a few minutes.

All of the foregoing is very curious.  The cry-fests produced by this advice aren’t difficult to imagine, either.  We envision two people sitting privately, with one of them successively voicing his resentments against all of the people, institutions, and principles that failed him, all while cycling through the emotions found in the classic stages of grief.  For his own part, the listener intermittently interjects encouragement like “Face your pain and draw strength from it!” The whole drama ends once he instructs the sufferer to release his pain forever, or something to that effect.  They might do the Reconciliation Rite together, too, perhaps.

Sadly, it appears that newcomers are being encouraged to play the victim while doing their 5th Step.  Self-pity, however, plays no part in actual recovery.  

To the contrary, in working the 12 Steps we’re on a road to take personal responsibility for ourselves in both word and deed.  This step begins with “Admitted,” which implies we divulge matters against our otherwise selfish interests.  We’re making a confession, in fact, because the matters we discuss come straight out of our 4th Step moral inventories.  They concern “our wrongs,” not those of others.  

In fact, Step 5 is part of a progression to which we’ve already devoted considerable time and energy.  In Step 3 we asked God to be relieved of the bondage of self.  So, in Step 4 we naturally looked for our own mistakes in dealings with others – where we had been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, or frightened.  In Step 5 its time to acknowledge the exact nature of our wrongs – and out loud.  We are taking full ownership of our own mistakes, shortcomings, and misdeeds.  We can’t change until this happens.  

Our taking personal responsibility also excludes all of the ways we might deflect responsibility.  Whether making excuses, blaming others, minimizing our actions, self-justification, changing the subject, or playing the victim, such items are not proper assertions of a 5th Step, except insofar as they are to be found among our personal faults. 

So, why the popular trend to downplay and even ignore the need to take personal responsibility?  Because it seems hard, and there are newcomers who will procrastinate this step, refuse to tell certain matters while doing it, or even fail to undertake the 5th Step at all.  The Big Book recognizes the fear and hesitation about this step, saying “We think we have done well enough in admitting these things to ourselves.”  The market for recovery sees this, too, and is trying to give consumers an easier, softer way.     

Now, it is true that the prospect of telling somebody intimate details about our lives initially may seem like an embarrassing, even terrifying, undertaking.  We are making ourselves vulnerable, i.e., somebody will know our dark secrets.  Yet sharing our lives with another human being is indispensable if we are to live free.  The Big Book observes that “In actual practice, we usually find a solitary self-appraisal insufficient.”  We at CORE agree.  Any undertaking of this step must be fearless and thorough.

For one, confession to another person gives us a perspective and appreciation of our life history that we wouldn’t have otherwise.  Simply put, it makes our own wrongs more real to us.  Left to our own devices, we’re susceptible to selective attention and inherent biases.  We’re free to minimize, distort, or ignore matters that disturb us.  Stating them out loud announces that, one, this happened and, two, that I did it.  There’s no turning back from that.  We’re taking full ownership.  We’ll understand our need for change, and decide to make it happen, too.  Not coincidentally, our guilt and shame also recede upon making this commitment.

Additionally, telling our dark past to another person pierces a veil of secrecy which had separated us from everyone else, for our entire lives.  As the 12&12 observes, “There was always that mysterious barrier we could neither surmount nor understand.”  We felt it even before finding a community of recovery like CORE.  While being in a recovery community helped our isolation, it still didn’t fix it.  These people understood us, which was tremendously exciting, but until we sat down with somebody and talked with complete candor about our lives, a barrier still remained.  This step turns out to be the answer to our separateness.  It is “the beginning of true kinship with man and God” according to the 12&12.  This also is our experience at CORE.

Importantly, there also is the practical matter of maintaining sobriety itself.  The Big Book observes, and rightly so:

Time after time newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their lives.  Trying to avoid this humbling experience, they have turned to easier methods.  Almost invariably, they got drunk.  …they never completed their housecleaning.  They took inventory all right, but hung on to some of the worst items in stock.    

This observation is now more than eighty years old, which means that today there is now more than eighty years of experience by legions of newcomers to prove it.  The 5th Step is confessional.  Trying to fulfill it by airing our grievances in life is one of the “easier methods” that the Big Book warns about.  We strongly caution the newcomer from pursuing such an approach.  

Finally, doing this step properly grants a very rare gift, of humility.  Our CEO Cary McKee recently reminded us of his own 5th Step, saying that he emerged fully understanding “who and what he truly was apart from God.”  He was humbled, understood his need for change, and realized that he needed God’s help to do this.  His heart was in the right place to work the next step, being entirely ready to have God remove all of his defects of character.

Cary recovered, and you can too.  If you still need to do your 5th Step, join him and the rest of us who have recovered.  Be fearless and thorough.  Ask God’s protection and care with complete abandon.  Find a trusted person at CORE, your sponsor or another member of our community.  This step is a powerful tool for personal growth.  It’s indispensable for living sober and being helpful to others while you build a new life for yourself.

Caren Barnes Speaks about Recovery, Christmas, and a Little Box Turtle

Caren Barnes Speaks about Recovery, Christmas, and a Little Box Turtle

Meet Caren Barnes!  Commencing CORE’s one-year recovery program just this past March, Caren manages our 6th Street House for women and also is a member of our Second Mile benevolent group.  Her testimony for us was dense with information about her addiction, recovery, and hopes for the future.  So, we’ll get straight to the point and write about parts of her testimony that maybe we shouldn’t, i.e., the top secret stuff about CORE!  We can’t sit on this (looking both ways) so here goes . . .

Ever wonder how certain things happen at CORE?  Not the regular stuff, but like, the BIG events?  CORE’s annual Christmas event, for example?  This is a truly monumental undertaking.  But who actually does this stuff?  How do they do it?  What actually happens behind the scenes?  

We had no idea how to answer these questions until Caren walked through our door.  While we exchanged the usual pleasantries, CORE’s Operations Manager Gary Osborn peeked into the office, said hello, and thanked Caren for all of her hard work.  That sure got our attention.  What work?  It turns out that she and her teams of volunteers – in the middle of summer – have been preparing for Christmas all along!

Every year, CORE sets up a gigantic holiday store where people find toys and household items to last throughout the whole year.  It’s all free, and last year’s event was so big that it took four classrooms, a central foyer, and a long hallway at the Hollister School District just to hold everything.  Everything was beautifully organized by item and category, too.  This year may be even bigger, and the person in charge of organizing this year’s event was sitting right in front of us.  As Caren explained:

The [Branson] warehouse was getting to be kind of a mess.  We’d had people every Tuesday picking up donations and putting them there.  Little did I know it all had to be separated, marked, and organized.  Gary’s like, you know all this has to be organized?  He asked if I would take on the project, and I agreed.  So the girls from 6th Street, or any other girl who wants to volunteer, have been coming over there.  It’s become a huge job.  A really huge job.

At first I’d just go over there and play my music and start in.  From there, I started having meetings over there where we’d get pizza and stuff.  And then people who needed community service started coming over.  So now it’s Mondays and Tuesdays, and I make sure everybody gets over there for whatever time they need.

We always wondered how CORE’s Christmas event happens.  Now we know.  

For her own part, Caren didn’t notice what CORE was doing last year for this holiday event.  She was still a client and “still in myself,” as she puts it.  What a difference a year in recovery makes.  What’s important to her today is that people in need will get help.  “Whatever they need, here it is,” she says, “It’s their Christmas.  They don’t have to know who I am, but it’s the best Christmas present I can give to the community.  I’m overjoyed to help, and it really warms my heart!”  

Caren certainly has a lot to be thankful for today, too, but it wasn’t always so.  She lost her husband while she was still in her teens, and then spent twenty years in her addiction.  “At one point, my kids got taken away,” she remembers, “It was a big fight.  All the money, the court dates.  I was eight years on probation and did jail time.  My whole life seems like a blur.  I can’t tell you how many times I ended up in jail.  DUI, meth, crack.  I was always caught.”  

How bad did things get for her?  She was unable to even think about what life might be even if she got clean.  She explains, “I was powerless, but at the time I didn’t really know what addiction really was.  I’d seen it most of my life.  It was the harsh reality of life, normal.”  Moreover, a mere eighteen months ago, Caren’s life had become completely unmanageable.  To top it off, she was fired from her job because of substance use.  A despondent Caren had to walk home because she had lost her driver’s license, too.

Fortunately, every cloud has a silver lining.  In this case, losing her job turned out to be the first in a chain of events that brought Caren to CORE.  While she was trudging home that day, Caren saw a recovery facility where they also held AA/NA meetings.  She’d never been to a recovery meeting before, not ever, but this time she remembers “I was upset and thought, well, I’m going to walk in on this meeting.  I need something.”  At that very meeting she met the son-in-law of her boss, the one who just fired her.  He promised to help get her into a detox, to which she consented.  “I went home, packed my bags, and went to detox.  I was there for 40 days.  And a counselor there kept talking about Branson, Missouri.  She said, I have a place I think you should go, it’s called CORE, in Branson.  She said, I don’t know why, but I just see that you would do good there.”

Caren had never been to Branson before, but she made the trip with the help of her concerned father.  The first thing she remembers was our women’s coordinator, Jen Brinkman, taking her in with open arms.  Because she arrived on a Friday, she spent the day at our recovery center and attended our Peace in the Storm worship services that evening.  “When I first went to church, I cried when Cary [McKee] was talking,” she remembers, “I knew I truly belonged here.  After church, I couldn’t wait to get home and see the house.”

She describes herself as a slow starter in the program itself.  Nevertheless, once she saw the truth about who she is apart from recovery, there was no turning back for Caren.  She says, “I did pay attention in class, and then the more attention I paid at church and in class, I came to really understand that I’m here for a reason, and that I’m powerless.  After that, I’m giving everything I can to my program from here on out.  I became a chore coordinator.  I’m volunteering.  At work I’m a totally different person.  I’m giving everything I can.” 

This past March, Caren commenced our one-year recovery program.  She vows never to forget where she came from, and she credits God for her recovery:

I feel like my turnaround is because of having God in my life.  I hear God now.  Not by sound, but by the journey I’m on and which way He wants me to go.  Living in what He wants me to do.  I meditate.  I reflect back on my days.  I do my steps and preach it, walk it, and do everything I can.  This is my one shot in life.  I can’t see living any other way ever again.”  

On April 24th of this year, Caren received a telephone call from Jen asking if she wanted to manage our 6th Street House.  “Jen said, we talked about it, and we think you’d be the best fit.  She said it’s your house; do what you can to make it a great one.  I’ve been there ever since, and I absolutely love it.”  To Caren, being a house manager is not having  people look up to her.  She explains, “I’m helping other girls.  I’m the same as them, and I’m going to treat them the way I want to be treated.  That’s what I do at 6th Street.  We’re all the same.  Everybody feels like they can open up, and we’re all really close here.” 

As a supplement to her new role, Caren is determined to put her gardening skills to use.   “I did take crop science and love gardening,” she says, “I’ve always pictured myself in a truck with a bed full of flowers and stuff that I’m doing.”  By the happiest of circumstances, she’s not only eligible to get her license back, but she also was working on it the very day we spoke.  We hope Caren gets her truck soon.

Our interview with Caren then brought yet another unexpected bonus.  She told us stories about a box turtle living in the yard at 6th Street House.  We listened intently, and we wondered – is there a children’s book in these stories, perhaps?  The off chance that Caren may become a famous author someday makes us hesitant to retell these valuable stories here.  It suffices to say that the box turtle is busy at 6th Street House and is enjoying many turtle adventures there. 

On the family front, Caren excitedly described how she maintains close contact with loved ones. “My main amends were to my children.  Raising them, they knew I wanted them to finish school.  They’d seen some of my caring nature.  I fed them every night.  But they didn’t really know me.  Now, I talk to them almost every day.  Of course, they forgave me before I even made amends.  And I’m a grandma now.  I do talk to her [i.e., her granddaughter] every day.  We Facetime.  She points at me through the phone.”  Caren also reports being in good standing with her siblings (“they’re proud of me”) and suddenly offers “My dad called me just yesterday, too, which he’s never really just called me out of the blue.” 

So, what’s in Caren’s future?  For one, she loves her job here in Branson and plans to be there for awhile.  She started the job in the first week she got here, and further reports, “It’s great to be working and being in the best health I’ve ever been, and to be at peace.  Money can’t buy what I feel right now.  I feel richer now than I’ve ever been in my entire adult life.”  Hearing this, we naturally are very pleased for Caren.  But what about CORE?  And the turtle?  

Happily for all, as a member of our Second Mile group, Caren will be here for at least another year.  She still feels new to recovery and wants to give herself time to learn what she likes and doesn’t like, and about self-care and loving herself more.  Also, she says confidently, “as a house manager, I feel like I’ve more to give.  I’m not done helping.  I still feel like I’ve got a lot to do here.”