Since leaving office, former President George W. Bush has been living quietly in his home state of Texas and working on his highly anticipated memoir, Decision Points. In it, he outlines the most critical personal and political moves he made that defined his eight years in the White House. In this excerpt, President Bush gives readers a glimpse inside his mind during three challenging moments: his personal battle with alcohol, his path to finding faith and what he calls "the worst moment in my presidency."
It was a simple question. "Can you remember the last day you didn't have a drink?"
...Laura's little question provoked some big ones of my own. Did I want to spend time at home with our girls or stay out drinking? Would I rather read in bed with Laura or drink bourbon by myself after the family had gone to sleep? Could I continue to grow closer to the Almighty, or was alcohol becoming my god? I knew the answers, but it was hard to summon the will to make a change....
...I awoke the next morning with a mean hangover. As I left for my daily jog, I couldn't remember much of the night before. About halfway through the run, my head started to clear. The crosscurrents in my life came into focus. For months I had been praying that God would show me how to better reflect His will. My Scripture readings had clarified the nature of temptation and the reality that the love of earthly pleasures could replace the love of God. My problem was not only drinking; it was selfishness. The booze was leading me to put myself ahead of others, especially my family. I loved Laura and the girls too much to let that happen. Faith showed me a way out. I knew I could count on the grace of God to help me change. It would not be easy, but by the end of the run, I had made up my mind: I was done drinking.
How President Bush found his faith
In the summer of 1985, we took our annual trip to Maine. Mother and Dad had invited the great evangelical preacher Billy Graham...
...I was captivated by Billy. He had a powerful presence, full of kindness and grace, and a keen mind. The next day, he asked me to go for a walk around the property. He asked about my life in Texas. I talked to him about the girls and shared my thought that reading the Bible could make me a better person. In his gentle, loving way, Billy began to deepen my shallow understanding of faith. There's nothing wrong with using the Bible as a guide to self-improvement, he said. Jesus' life provides a powerful example for our own. But self-improvement is not really the point of the Bible. The center of Christianity is not the self. It is Christ.
Billy explained that we are all sinners, and that we cannot earn God's love through good deeds. He made clear that the path to salvation is through the grace of God. And the way to find that grace is to embrace Christ as the risen Lord—the son of a God so powerful and loving that He gave His only son to conquer death and defeat sin.
These were profound concepts, and I did not fully grasp them that day. But Billy had planted a seed. His thoughtful explanation had made the soil less firm and the brambles less thick...
...At first I was troubled by my doubts. The notion of a living God was a big leap, especially for someone with a logical mind like mine. Surrendering yourself to an Almighty is a challenge to the ego. But I came to realize that struggles and doubts are natural parts of faith. If you haven't doubted, you probably haven't thought very hard about what you believe.
Ultimately, faith is a walk—a journey toward greater understanding. It is not possible to prove God's existence, but that cannot be the standard for belief. After all, it is equally impossible to prove He doesn't exist. In the end, whether you believe or don't believe, your position is based on faith.
That realization freed me to recognize signs of God's presence. I saw the beauty of nature, the wonder of my little girls, the abiding love of Laura and my parents, and the freedom that comes with forgiveness—all what the preacher Timothy Keller calls "clues of God." I moved ahead more confidently on my walk. Prayer was the nourishment that sustained me. As I deepened my understanding of Christ, I came closer to my original goal of being a better person—not because I was racking up points on the positive side of the heavenly ledger, but because I was moved by God's love.
President Bush recalls "the worst moment of my presidency"
At an NBC telethon to raise money for Katrina victims, rapper Kanye West told a primetime TV audience, "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Jesse Jackson later compared the New Orleans Convention Center to the "hull of a slave ship." A member of the Congressional Black Caucus claimed that if the storm victims had been "white, middle- class Americans" they would have received more help.
Five years later, I can barely write those words without feeling disgusted. I am deeply insulted by the suggestion that we allowed American citizens to suffer because they were black. As I told the press at the time, "The storm didn't discriminate, and neither will the recovery effort. When those Coast Guard choppers, many of whom were first on the scene, were pulling people off roofs, they didn't check the color of a person's skin."
The more I thought about it, the angrier I felt. I was raised to believe that racism was one of the greatest evils in society. I admired Dad's courage when he defied near-universal opposition from his constituents to vote for the Open Housing Bill of 1968. I was proud to have earned more black votes than any Republican governor in Texas history. I had appointed African Americans to top government positions, including the first black woman national security adviser and the first two black secretaries of state. It broke my heart to see minority children shuffled through the school system, so I had based my signature domestic policy initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act, on ending the soft bigotry of low expectations. I had launched a $15 billion program to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa. As part of the response to Katrina, my administration worked with Congress to provide historically black colleges and universities in the Gulf Coast with more than $400 million in loans to restore their campuses and renew their recruiting efforts.
I faced a lot of criticism as president. I didn't like hearing people claim I had lied about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was a racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all-time low. I told Laura at the time that it was the worst moment of my presidency. I feel the same way today.
More of President Bush's most difficult decisions
Printed from Oprah.com on Friday, May 24, 2013
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