Olympic-Sized Falls

Everyone falls. It’s a simple fact of living an ambulatory life.

I have a friend who recently tore up her ankle when she caught her shoe on the crack in the sidewalk.  Another friend, who fell going UP the stairs, ended up needing surgery on her ankle. Both of these women have been qualified “walkers” for over 30+ years….expert-level skilled walkers you might say. Walking the walk, as they say, didn’t keep them from falling.

In my opinion, Recovery and walking actually have a lot in common. :)

Think about an infant learning to walk…..it takes A LOT of skill building, practice, tenacity, and resilience….it takes a lot of steps. Pun fully intended!

Step 1: Learn to rollover.stages

Step 2: Learn to sit-up.                                                                              

Step 3: Learn to stand-up with support.                                                 

Step 4: Learn that when you fall, you can still get back up.

Step 5: Learn to stand-up without support.

Step 6: Learn to move legs and balance on one foot with support in preparation for first step.

Step 7: Take first step while supported.

Step 8: Take first step without support.

Step 9: Learn that one step is only the beginning…..many more await!

Step 10: Learn to balance without support in prep for taking multiple steps consecutively.

Step 11: Learn to follow first step with additional steps.

Step 12: Learn to enjoy your new-found freedom!! :)

And there you have it….who knew we underwent our first 12 Step Program as babies?!?!?

In all seriousness…can you see the similarities? Stepwork is a process…one frought with tumbling, bruises, and the occasional slices of humble pie.

Even Olympic track & field athletes fall. Yup…the pros do it too, despite the enormous hours of training they have logged. Morgan Uceny was a distance runner for the US team just a few short years ago. She had what was considered to be one of the most impressive resumes in history and was usually favored to win the races in which she competed…and usually did so. In 2011, at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, she fell and did not finish the race….nor reach her goal of earning the title of World Champ….all on International television. How horrible that must have felt…to have her dream squelched…and for all to see…over….and over…and over on network television. Heartbreaking.

But Morgan had a choice…..she could drop back in embarrassment, bathing herself in self-pity….or step back into the ring….or onto the track. :)

With a dose of tenacity, Morgan dusted off her wounded heart and did just that, stepping back onto the track to qualify as a runner in the 1500 meter dash at the 2012 Olympics. Morgan Uceny of the U.S. falls during the women's 1500m final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic StadiumI can only imagine the redemption that must have wafted through her soul as she was heralded as the expected winner leading up to the Games. What happened at the London Olympics is almost too bizarre to believe.

Morgan fell…..again.

She never finished the race.

As best my research shows, no athlete has had two separate significant falls in such prominent races…and especially not back-to-back as did Morgan. Massively heartbreaking.

It just goes to show….everyone falls. Babies…..Olympic athletes…..and 12 Steppers.  And often those falls come at the most inopportune moments. Looks like we’re not so different after all, eh?? None of us are perfect, despite how hard we may try.

We are all on this journey working towards our goals and we will never taste the sweetness of success unless we learn to also stomach the bitterness of defeat from time-to-time….that’s just reality, friends. But here’s the giant asterisk to the whole shebang….falling is not final.

Remember that.

Falling is not final.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Ornaments of Change

What’s your favorite ornament to hang on the tree at Christmas? Or maybe your favorite decoration for the holidays?Ornament

My all-time favorite ornament was a little corduroy dog. He was always the first ornament to go on our tree as a child….and invariably was placed in the space to which all ornaments aspire….the coveted center of the tree.  Every year, I cherished reviving him from 11 months of hibernation (though sometimes only 10 months…as is tradition in our house to leave the Christmas tree up as long as our favorite NFL team remained in contention for the Super Bowl!). :)

Unfortunately however, in 2007, my treasured ornament (we’ll call him Ralph) and I found ourselves estranged. It’s true. I had decided to take a job across the country, moving away from both of my parents (whom have been divorced nearly my entire life). One parent in particular, did not take kindly to the news and decided to use Ralph and the family Turkey Pan (used by me to cook our Thanksgiving Turkey for as far back as I can remember) as weapons of mass destruction….emotional destruction. As a full-blown representation of the dysfunction I grew up in, I was told that should I decide to take the job 1000 miles away, leaving behind my able-bodied parent….I would not be entitled to the various gems of my childhood.

I faced a decision…..

  • Option #1: Ralph, Turkey Pan, Cabbage Patch Kids…..

              or

  • Option #2: Breathing room from the insanity of family dysfunction, career advancement, and an opportunity to spread my wings and see if I could fly.

As I already alluded to, I chose Option #2…..and aside from giving my life to Christ in 2004, and joining my 12 Step Program….it was the best decision I’ve ever made. Sadly, though…it left Ralph packed away in a box for what ended up being 7 years. AppleTreeLg

A lot has happened in those 7 years, friends. I have found Recovery.  I continue to work on letting go of my need to control (hmmm….can you tell from which tree this apple fell??). I’ve come out from denial and begun to see how things really were….and are.  Recovery has afforded me the luxury of finding as safe a space as you can amidst the hurricane of dysfunction in a family….space that allows me to have relationships with my parents on my terms; a bit of restoration to a limited degree.

Restoration that led to an expedition this past Thanksgiving in a small garage about an hour from my home….the parking lot of old friends from my childhood….including Ralph. The same parent who swore I would never be entitled to the mementos of my yester-years…freely offered them to me (to keep!) this year. A gesture so simple, yet loaded with such meaning for my heart. So many of the memories from my past….I’d be happy to never see again, but so many of the ones I cherish dearly are tied to Ralph and his croonies…and the Turkey Pan….and my Cabbage Patch Kids.

This year….Ralph is hung in the center of my tree, along with Strawberry Shortcake, Blueberry Muffin, and a hand-blown glass Rudolph….all charms that speak of childhood fondness. A glance at those ornaments reminds me….we’ve come a long way, Baby. The honest reality is that the dysfunction in my family has not gotten all that much better….but my ability to address it and cope with it in healthy ways surely has. These ornaments bear the fruit of a life that has been forever been changed by Recovery…..forever changed by the kindness and blessing of a God as I am learning to understand Him. Oh, how He spoils me. :)

Hear me on this, Fellow Travellers….this change has not happened overnight. It has been the organic outpouring of a tremendous amount of hard work, commitment to the Steps, and determination to not give up. The only thing special about me and the only reason Ralph greets me every morning as I turn on the Christmas tree lights (aside from God’s blessing)….is that I have continued to work my Program. That’s it. The healthier I get…the healthier the people around me learn to treat me and the better I become at taking care of myself. It is progress…sometimes a bit of a zig-zag…and even some back steps in there, but a trend towards balance and, dare I say, Serenity.

As you celebrate this Season….it may be a joyful time of year or it may bring up a host of not-so-glad tidings, but either way…I encourage you to take a moment and took around for the ornaments of change that adorn your Recovery Tree. What are the mile markers of progress you see in your life?

If you are struggling to find them….ask God to shine His light upon them. In the same way that Rudolph led the way for Santa with his light….so it shall be that He will do for you with His light…be assured of that.

And once you have found them….the gifts of your Recovery….Celebrate them. :)

rudolph

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. – Numbers 6:24-26

Perfect Peaches

My favorite food group has been “cake” for as long as I can remember (Yes….I believe cake is a food group unto its own!!). Truly. I have always been, and remain today, an equal-opportunity cake-eater; I do not discriminate….yellow, chocolate, red-velvet, angel-food, white, Boston-crème, King, Carrot, Black-Forest, Bundt, Marble, Pineapple Upside Down, Cup……I could go on forever.

Interestingly, a new horizon beckons and I am forced to make a choice between the varieties of Old Faithful and the new kid on the block…..The White Peach. I’ve emphatically enjoyed the perfectly ripened white peach for several years now and I must say….white peachesI am jumping ship on my gluten and sugar-laden friends of yester-year. (Gasp!!)  I’m officially changing my favorite food to: White Peaches.

There’s just one problem…..a love-affair with the perfectly ripened white peach necessitates a bit of finesse and patience that simply was not required of my former “go-to” treat. I find myself carefully selecting would-be perfect peaches at the local market….evaluating the ratio of maroon to peach (no pun intended!!) skin coloring (though I have absolutely no idea what ratio would dictate one being better over any other), relative degree of ripeness and tenderness, and of course….overall shape and size (translate: The Big Payoff!). Scampering home, I can scarcely wait for the exact moment of ripeness.

After a few years of falling completely in love with these sumptuous little treats, I’ve gotten to be fairly good at estimating the “TTR”…Time To Ripeness. I place my peaches in a small paper bag and gingerly set them near the back of the counter where ripening will hasten without disruption. And I wait. And check on them. And wait. And check. And wait….

I believe there is an exact hour where those little buggers are outrageously perfect; bursting with flavor and juice. Nothing says, “Good Livin” in the summer like peach juice rolling down your chin!! Sometimes, I’m lucky enough to purchase the peaches within a day or so of their perfection…other times, it may be up to a week. And sometimes…I guess completely wrong and either over-ripen them or end up waiting far longer than I had imagined or desired to enjoy their awesomeness.  Without exception, each time I bite into the Perfect Peach, every grueling moment of waiting is vindicated. Pure delight.

I found myself thinking about Recovery in the same way the other day. I was talking with a friend and jumped the gun a bit as he was explaining something to me…it would be fair to say I reacted immediately to that which I did not like. Of course, he knew…there was a bit more to the story that he presumed (and rightfully so…) I would like….positing, “Wait for it…wait for it…” When he finally delivered the punch-line….indeed I did like!! Part of my “like” ended up being diminished, however, because I clouded the moment with recovery from my impatience and “not like” just a few moments prior. Seems I do that in my Recovery at times as well….

Recovery has a life of its own. As we work our Steps, our Recovery takes on a shape and tempo of its own design. On every occasion that I have attempted to force it into the box of my own desire, I am met with frustration and often set-back in my overall Program progress. I admit…it’s a defect of character rearing its ugly head….control. Boo!! I want my Recovery to look and feel a certain way….to flow a certain way…and personally reach some type of self-imposed milestone on my timeline, rather than trusting my God to personally escort me along the road He brought me to in the first place.

Recovery requires time.

Recovery requires gentleness.

Recovery requires flexibility.

Recovery requires space.blank map

Recovery requires me to relax.

Recovery requires me to suspend judgment of myself and others….and of the process.

Recovery requires a blank sheet of paper with a detailed course yet uncharted and a future yet unseen.

Recovery, like my perfect peaches, must be allowed to ripen at its own pace, but will inevitably deliver its promise of freedom and peace.

Simply said….Recovery requires trust.

Dr. Charles L Whitfield wrote of Recovery….

Recovery takes patience and persistence. We are naturally impatient to reach the end without delay and skip the hard work of the program. An important part of successful recovery is learning to accurately name the components of our inner life as they come up for us; including our various feelings, and learning to tolerate emotional pain without trying to medicate it away.”  (Even with cake or perfect peaches!!) :)

Another milestone of Recovery patiently waits for each of us. We must hand over the reins to a God who loves us, who only has it in His character to bring healing and not harm….and we must trust…..both Him and The Process.

The Paradox of Freedom

When I first entered a 12 Step meeting room, I wanted one thing. Freedom.

Freedom from what, I wasn’t entirely sure, but freedom, indeed. Probably one of the hardest things I first had to do, aside from initially admitting I was powerless, was to determine what “it” was from which I was seeking freedom. Whatever “it” was, it brought heaviness and oppression, fear and shame.

I soon found that my “it” was a composite of my past, my worry, my pride, and my incessant need for control.

What is it that you are seeking freedom from?

I had tried running from it, but soon found it to be a formidable opponent, capable of not only out-running me, but remaining one step ahead of me at every bend in the road.

I had tried denying it, only to be met between the eyes with the sobering reality of the breadth and depth of its wake throughout my life.

I had tried making excuses for it, which invariably no one seemed to care about.

And then….I admitted it…and that I was powerless over it. And then, step-by-step, grew a righteous anger toward it, tenacious enough to serve as the backbone of my recovery…..and my journey towards freedom.

So what exactly would freedom look like….that became the $1,000,000 question….million-dollar-question

We often interchange the words freedom, liberty, and independence…so here are a few definitions for your pondering (source: Dictionary.com):

FREEDOM: the power to determine action without restraint

LIBERTY:  freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions

INDEPENDENCE: freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others

“Without restraint….control, interference, restriction, or hampering conditions.” Just gazing upon those words brings sheer delight to my soul.

Freedom can be fought for, granted, or provided for in a declaration of rights. Examples of these have woven their way throughout history.  The US fought for its freedom from Britain and we now celebrate Independence Day every July 4th.  In the Old Testament, the Israelites had been granted freedom by God from Pharaoh/Egypt. Interestingly, however, they were only willing to take possession of their freedom in partiality, leaving Egypt, but not forging ahead to the Promised Land. It took another 40 years of wandering in the desert, notably of their own volition through a lack of discipline or self-control, before the Israelites experienced the fullness of God’s promise of deliverance and freedom.

I can’t help but wonder….do we do the same thing? I feel like I spent so many, very long, years searching for it and freedom from it, yet all-the-while knew that in Christ I have been “set free,” (Rom. 8:2) so what gives??

Have I just been wandering in the desert?wandering-in-desert

The more I ponder the notion of freedom, the more I can see how, perhaps, is it not merely wandering in the proverbial desert that has held me back, but also layered with an understanding of freedom that has been drafted entirely backwards…

I’ve been chasing independence….”freedom from the control….and hampering conditions” of my Circus Tent (see post 2/26/13).  Yet all-the-while, freedom in its purest form is found in dependence. It’s the paradox of freedom. Running from the influence of others, while ostensibly does bring a temporal freedom, running from the influence of God will only bring enslavement. And then there’s the issue of pursuing God’s partial influence…also a trap for suffocation. The freedom equation is a simple one…

Total Freedom = Total Dependence

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Reaching this point, however, is not so easy.  If we review our Stepwork, we can see how each of the Steps guides us towards this realization….recognizing we are not in control, turning our will over to God, gaining awareness of where we have fallen short of walking in His will, seeking to experience Him more fully…all of these things pointing in a unified direction of dependence. TOTAL dependence. When I can grasp the notion that to be set free, I need to be set entirely under His guidance, I can embrace serenity in its fullest capacity.

I am free from my past….because He’s got my future entirely in His hands.

I am free from worry…because He’s got my future entirely in His hands.

I am free from pride…because He’s got my future entirely in His hands.

I am free from control….because He’s got my future entirely in His hands.

….and most importantly He can be trusted. (Check out some great verses on the Character of God here)

Finding freedom means not running from something, but running towards someOne!

let-freedom-ring1

“Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof ”

-Leviticus 25:10

Fertilizers and Flood Lights

The beauty of spring is (finally) upon us in my hometown. Nothing is as sweet to me as the sights and smells of spring. It’s a time when we are able to put on our flip-flops, sun-hats, and gardening gloves and spend some time in the splendor and majesty of our Creator’s artwork!!

But, spring also means a couple of other things in my household….

Every year, I am just certain it is the same bird with which I find myself negotiating regarding the pending location of her cozy abode. I love hosting she and her family….really, I do. I just don’t like hosting her immediately outside my front door, as surely she will finally grow weary of the visits from the UPS delivery person and my pooch darting out the front door with greetings….and downhill it will all go from there. This year she and I have finally settled on a delightful spot for her nestled in a Lodgepole Pine tree out front….far enough away from the front door that we both have a little peace and quiet. :)

Spring also brings forth the inevitable “dead spots” in the grass…..the spots where the rabbits have chewed it to the core or disease has set in…or that precious pooch of mine has relieved himself in the same spot one too many times over the winter, rendering the grass all but lifeless.

Enter Revive Soil Treatment.

REVIVE_crop

I’m telling you….this stuff is amazing! The product description reads…”Composed of organic matter and fortified with chelated iron, these granules will solve multiple lawn problems and provide nutrients for plants. They will help eliminate brown spots in turf, increase water penetration and break up hard soils.”  It’s a bit of a “catch-all” problem solver for the parts of your lawn where the life has been nearly drained entirely.

It occurs to me…is that not exactly who God is???

He is the One, “Composed of all things good and fortified with love, grace, mercy and hope, able to solve multiple problems (or defects) and provide a foundation upon which I can grow. He eliminates my dead-spots and increases my ability to give and receive love by breaking up the hardest parts of my heart.” Wow!! That’s the God I serve….that’s my Abba!!

This past weekend, I celebrated my 1-Year anniversary in my Program. Everyone around me kept congratulating me on hitting the 1-Year milestone, but for some reason I was really struggling to connect with the actual day that marked the beginning of my recovery. And then it donned on me….I honestly could care less about the actual tenure I have in the Program…truly….what I am most excited about is the person I am becoming. As they say, “I’m not who I once was.”

I was reading a commentary earlier today about the process of recovery and noted one lyricist that commented, “I changed.” Indeed, so have I, but I remain in denial….void of any imprint of Stepwork in my life, if I do not acknowledge that this mighty work of ongoing transformation has been led by God, not I. He is the One marking out my path, providing me courage to do the heavy-lifting. He has taken a shriveled up heart, closed off in many areas, and shone His face upon each of them; He has replaced the darkness with the reflection of His light….folightr where His light shine, darkness must vanish, as they cannot co-exist. He has steadied me as I have walked along the Road to Recovery this past year, flooding my heart with His light…..He has brought revival to my soul. Hallelujah!  I still have Steps 10, 11, & 12 to complete, but am filled with immense excitement as I pause to celebrate the woman I am today and the Journey which has delivered me here.

He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my
feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. – Psalm 40:2

Two of my favorite songs along my Road to Recovery….ENJOY!! :)

“Redeemed” – Big Daddy Weave

Seems like all I can see was the struggle
Haunted by ghosts that lived in my past
Bound up in shackles of all my failures
Wondering how long is this gonna last
Then you look at this prisoner and say to me
“son stop fighting a fight that’s already been won”

I am redeemed, you set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain
Now I’m not who I used to be
I am redeemed… I’m redeemed

All my life I have been called unworthy
Named by the voice of my shame and regret
But when I hear you whisper “child lift up your head”
I remember oh God you’re not done with me yet

I am redeemed, you set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain
Now I’m not who I used to be

Because I don’t have to be the old man inside of me
’cause his day is long dead and gone because
I’ve got a new name, a new life I’m not the same
and a hope that will carry me home

I am redeemed, you set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains and
Wipe away every stain
Now I’m not who I used to be

I am redeemed you set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains and
And wipe away every stain
Now I’m not who I used to be
Oh God I’m not who I used to be
Jesus I’m not who I used to be

‘Cause I am redeemed
Thank God redeemed

“You Revive Me” – Christy Nockels

You revive me
You revive me Lord
And all my deserts are rivers of joy
You are the treasure I could not afford
So I’ll spend myself till I’m empty and poor
All for You
You revive me Lord

Lord I have seen Your goodness
And I know the way You are
Give me eyes to see You in the dark
And Your face shines a glory
That i only know in part
And there is still a longing
A longing in my heart

My soul is thirsty
Only You can satisfy
You are the well that never will run dry
And I’ll praise You for the blessing
For calling me Your friend
And in Your name I’m lifting
I’m lifting up my hands

I’m alive
I’m alive
You breathe on me
You revive me

Runin Rhinos

Have you ever played those “what if” games….the ones that make you think of outrageous things like if you had to choose between walking naked through a grocery store or eating ants, which would you choose?

Or if you could be any kind of animal what would it be? I remember being asked this a kid, which actually seems to me an odd question to ask a kid, but so be it. I never really knew what I’d want to be….maybe a dog because (almost) everyone loves them and they usually get treated pretty well (at least the ones in my house always did….and still do!), maybe a giraffe so I could see over everyone’s heads, or maybe a lion because they are so revered and respected in the animal kingdom.

Never….I repeat never, did I ever consider wanting to be a rhinoceros….until now.

horizon planningI’m a big-picture thinker….usually about all things. In my work, I tend to be the one playing the tape forward to see how a particular decision or project will fit into the scheme of things into the future and evaluate how all the different components fit together. I’m the one who questions a lot of things to make sure I understand….it annoys even myself. :P I’m the one always thinking about how this fits into the future…..often waaay into the future. In my defense….my view of the horizon has saved me and a smattering of my friends and colleagues from disaster on many occasions. Some would say…..and occasionally I am inclined to agree….that I am a worrier. I prefer “planner” or “horizon watcher.”  :)

While planning, as I like to call it, is a good thing at it’s very essence…..the incessent pull towards certainty and, subsequently, control is where I fall flat. You see….keeping my eyes focused on the horizon leaves my soul deficient in two ways. First…..evaluating e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g and planning accordingly keeps me out of the place of authentic serenity….a place built out of trust and surrender to God. When I am not surrendered, I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders as though it’s my job to insure everything works out copacetic. Barf-o-rama. Thank goodness for the gift of stepwork in removing the veil so we can see our defects for what they are. Maintaining a focus on the horizon and deploying a hyper-vigilance to all scenarios that could impact the state of the future…it’s all rooted in pride.  Pride that I’m actually the one in control. I find myself exhausted, often disappointed, and most importantly separated from the only pure and authentic source of joy I’ve found….my Abba.

In addition to this separation, I miss enjoying the moment for all that it has to offer. You’ve heard the quote….

Yesterday is history, Tomorrow is a mystery, Today is a gift…that’s why it’s called the present.”

And all of this brings me back to the rhinoceros……

Did you know that a rhinoceros can weigh up to 10,000 pounds (depending on their species….White, Black, Indian, Javan, & Sumatran)? Wow….that’s big….very big.

I recently learned some other very interesting facts about the rhinoceros. Their eyesight is very poor…..it is estimated that they can only see about 10 feet in front of themselves. (Insert need for defensive horns!!) Interestingly, I also learned that they can run up to 45 miles per hour. Can you imagine driving down the road at 45mph and only being able to see 10 feet in front of you? If not insanity…that would take some trust….trust that you will have what you need, in the moment that you need it, to address whatever comes your way. When a rhino is charging through the grasslands, he is not worried about the horizon….he couldn’t see it if his life depended on it….and sometimes it does; he is only able to identify the next right thing (10 feet out) and act accordingly.

Isn’t that what surrender and trusting in God really  is…..to stop focusing on that which I really can’t control anyway and just focus on the next right thing? To seek His will on this next right thing???

I want to be that person….the one who focuses on here and now….who isn’t always thinking about things 47 decision points from norunnin rhinow….who has the trust and courage to run full speed at God’s direction without worrying about what lay ahead at the 11 foot marker and beyond.

So the next time I get asked….”If you could be an animal, what would you be,” I’ll be ready…..I wanna be a rhino!!

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? ………..But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:25-27, 33-34

 

Fish-hook in my Heart…

Am I really unwilling to forgive? That question has been haunting me ever since my last post….

It seems an odd equation of sorts, upon which I have been questing to solve. First, defining what forgiveness really is. It is said we should “Forgive & Forget,” thus implying these are each distinctly different propositions. So in this case….forgiveness is not forgetting. The forgetting…the letting it go part appears to be separate from extending a hand in the grace and mercy of forgiveness.

After marinating on this equation for several days, I felt pretty good…forgiveness really isn’t my issue (theoretically)Forgiveness equation…it’s the letting go part that really is. Letting go of my self-righteousness. Letting go of my record of your wrongs. Letting go….of my hurt. That’s the goocher in the whole thing…letting go of my hurt. But then the question that quickly reverberates in my soul….”Why on Earth would I want to hold onto my hurt? My hurt……well……it hurts. Who in their right mind would want to hold onto this?”  Soberingly I confess…..me. That’s who.

I can trace it back….I’ve carried a deep sense of hurt around for a looooong time. The disappointments of a dad who wasn’t there for me. The longing for a mom who wasn’t so busy with the details of life in order to pay a bit more attention to me. Those hurts, ingrained over and over, are the “friends” with whom I kept company for over 30 years. Those hurts were my survival kit….they kept me company in my lonliness…and they formed the wall that “protected” my heart.  Sadly….carrying the hurt has become all too familiar. Some people crave comfort-food….apparently, at least to some degree, I lean towards “comfort-hurt.”

So here I am….holding onto my hurts, lulling myself into a sense that I’m right with God…I have forgiven…just not forgotten…so I’m off the hook with God and just need to heal my heart.

Or am I?

What is forgiveness to God?

In The Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-11), we ask Him to forgive us the same way we forgive those who have hurt us….which gets me to thinking, if God “forgave” me, but held onto the hurt in His heart toward me…..told me He wasn’t sure He could trust me again…..where would that leave me? I don’t like the thought or the image conjured up here….not to mention that my forgiveness of others is a prerequisite for receiving His forgiveness. Gulp.

In researching what forgiveness is to God, I came across this equation in the “Women of Faith Study Bible (KJV).”

Forgiveness comes with the removal of past offenses from the mind (Phil. 3.13), followed by meditation upon Scripture (Ps. 119:157-160), giving over to God our hurts (1 Pet. 2:21-23), praying for our offender (1 Sam. 12:23, Matt. 5:44), and serving as a willing channel for God’s grace.”

I seem to be stuck on Step 2 of forgivness…..here lay the fish-hook in my heart. Fish hookOddly, I keep praying for my offenders and trying to extend a representation of God’s grace in my quasi-forgiveness, though, much in the way our 12-Step Programs work….you can’t skip a step!! The foundation continues to be built along the pathway of following the process and order of the steps. That hook, it keeps a constant tension and pull with an ever-present firmness to remind me of its presence. This analogy sets forth an entirely new perspective for me on what it means for me to truly let go of the hurts and give them to God for His Sovereign healing. If all I had to do was simply release my grip, the gradual softening of my heart should naturally trigger the opening of my clasp around that which I cling to so tightly. However, in this word picture….even in the image to the right, you can see when something has a true “hook” into your heart, you have to slightly rearrange your stance in order to allow the hook to have a bit of wiggle room to “unhook” and release. It’s also interesting to note, the end of that hook has a jagged edge, so the final pull on its way out will likely sting the most as I surrender to God….my hurts. The ones on the hook….and the actual hook itself.

After final review, it appears that indeed…forgiving and forgetting are different things. However…they are a bit like epoxy glue. If you are at all familiar, there are two integral parts that are distinctly different, but must be mixed together immediately before use to create the adhesive; alone neither one provides the binding power of the epoxy mix. Separately, each offers very little lasting value…but when combined, you can almost glue water to water (OK…that’s a bit of a stretch!!). The chemical reaction that takes place almost instantaneously when the two are combined, brings out the desired result. The components are mutually exclusive….and you will never get the superior fruit without bringing forth the combination of the two!!

Sanctification, by its very definition, takes us through a process of becoming more Christ-like, who like ourselves, was made in the image of God. That said, my goal is to mirror my forgiveness to that of the grace and mercy of His forgiveness. His forgiveness is whole….complete….no fish-hooks….no holding onto record of wrongs…..no holding onto crazy-comfortable hurts. Nothing held back…..purity of intention…purity and completeness in forgiveness. It is epoxy forgiveness!!

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” – Isaiah 43:25

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord..” – Acts 3:19

            “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” – Isaiah 1:18

Forgiveness v2.0

Picking up on forgiveness from “Special Sauce & Secret Ingredients.”

Over and over….I keep coming back to Beth Moore’s definition of forgiveness…..

Forgiveness….is our determined and deliberate willingness to let something go. To release it from our possession. To be willing and ready for it to no longer occupy us.”

To be willing and ready for it to no longer occupy us. I keep circling back on, “Am I willing?” It seems the answer is no….I am not willing and I am not ready, but why?

I’ve heard what they say about forgiveness…it’s really for us (the forgivers), and not the forgivenbroken heartbut that doesn’t seem to help much. There appears to be a deep-rooted and festering abscess in my heart that just won’t let go. The more I ponder and examine my heart, the more I can see the ulcer of unforgiveness is rooted in my own self-righteousness and only exacerbated by my bent towards judging others.

Ouch.

The honest truth is that there is something dark within me that is fueled by being right in any given situation. I’ve watched as this darkness is fueled by the notion that someone has “done me wrong.” I seem to almost want to hold onto the one-upness of knowing that they have offended me.  Oddly, though, so often the person doesn’t even know I’m upset!! Seems a bit absurd….

I’ve read so much about how forgiveness is the release of a desire to seek revenge or “repay evil with evil” (1 Pet. 3:9) and noted that I don’t struggle with this particular aspect. I don’t hold onto a desire to see the other person brought to some type of justice….or do I? I don’t wish ill-will on people…ever. But isn’t it thrusting ill-will upon them (if I am still in relationship with them) by withholding my forgiveness….by keeping the tallymarks of their wrongdoings?  I certainly wouldn’t want someone doing that to me…..so why do I do it to others?

Ick.

Do I really understand what forgiveness is??? In reading about the topic, I read a lot about what it is not….

  • Forgiveness does not equal forgetting
  • Forgiveness does not equal excusing the sin
  • Forgiveness does not equal staying in relationship with someone once they have hurt us
  • Forgiveness does not pardon the offender from the consequences of their action

And finally got to some quality material on what it is…..

  • Forgiveness is a decision
  • Forgiveness is a process
  • Forgiveness is often excruciating
  • Forgiveness benefits you, not the offender

I thought the quote below, taken from “The Shack” embodies all of these learnings….it shows the authenticity of what forgiveness is…and what it’s not…

Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat……Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established………Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation………Forgiveness does not excuse anything………You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness……”
Wm. Paul Young, The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity

I am working on learning the process of forgivness….embracing it and walking it. More thoughts to come…..

Special Sauce & Secret Ingredients

One of my girlfriends has an amazing homemade pancake recipe that has been passed down for generations in her family…..and you will have to trust me, but these pancakes are outrageously delicious. I’m talking, skip lunch (last made them for all of us for dinner…..I so love breakfast for dinner!!) and save some room to load up on these things.  Ser-i-ous-ly!  After many attempts at peer-pressure badgering in hopes she would reveal the recipe….and subsequently, the secret ingredient, we’ve finally accepted if we want to indulge in the delectable and unparalleled fluffiness of her pancakes….we simply have to make a request and she is happy to spoil us….but is unwaveringly unwilling to budge one iota on the recipe.  (She even makes the batter before she comes over to your house…bringing it pre-mixed and ready to go, so as to prevent any possible breach of security regarding the special ingredient.”)

So many of our favorites in life are adorned with special sauce and/or secret ingredients.

mcdonalds-Big-MacFor example, take the McDonald’s Big Mac. Without the mystery-ingredient special sauce, the burger’s claim to fame is diminished and what have you? A really big burger. That’s it. But….add that special sauce and you’ve got yourself a burger experience.  Personally, the Big Mac is not my “go-to” sandwich at McD, but I have to admit….were it not for the special sauce, the likelihood of me ever ordering another one is rather nill!

Special Sauces & Secret Ingredients are funny that way. They are the magic that transform the entire protocol. They take the mediocre to the extraordinary, the status-quo to the monumental, the good to great, and the uninspiring to the most memorable!

Interestingly, I learned that most special sauce recipes are not actually patented; patenting would require publication, thus rendering the special or secret sauce no longer a “secret” (which is bad news for biz when the patent expires seven years later….).

Working Step 9 in my program recently uncovered a bit of a secret ingredient.  I had read thoroughly through the Step 9 material in the Big Red Book and my workbook to prepare for officially entering into a season of amends. 

A season of amends….it is a humbling thought, one mixed with equal parts sorrow for the past and hope for the future.

I spent so much time focusing on my shortcomings in the Fourth Step inventories, that by the time I reached Step 9, I was more than ready to work towards freedom in my soul through extending heartfelt amends to those I had harmed. After relinquishing my defects of character….and I mean ruthlessly rooting them out and surrendering them to God (on a daily basis in some cases), I want to see the line in the sand clearly drawn….”Pre-Program Jen” vs. “Post-Stepwork Jen.”  Realizing that Stepwork is a lifelong commitment and one does not actually “graduate,” I remain attached to the hope of my progress thus far….using this hope to fan the flames of anticipation that I will see a different woman staring back at me in the mirror when I round out my first run at the 12 Steps.

It wasn’t until I was also reviewing the correlating principle in the Celebrate Recovery program (#6) that I made the heart connection on the secret ingredient in Step 9 and Principle 6. We focus so much on working our way into a willingness in Step 8, and focus on cleaning up our side of the street in Step 9, that we can easily miss the oftened-glossed over secret ingredient of Step 9…..forgiveness.

Gulp.

In making amends, I have owned my behavior and how it impacted the other person, all-the-while remembering that the amends is really for me…it is, after all, part of my program…not theirs. I do not undergo amends until I can do so with no strings and no expectations…..but if I’m being honest, though, I’m not doing it without hope. Hope that I may be forgiven for my transgressions and our relationship can be restored or reconciled if need be.

This hypocrisy of it all smacked me rather hard this week. I am holding out a ray of hope in my heart that the other person will find it in their heart to forgive me, but the question I still hadn’t addressed was: Had I forgiven them for the harms they had done unto me? That’s another process entirely.

Forgiveness means a lot of different things to people. Bible teacher and author, Beth Moore, has defined it as “our determined and deliberate willingness to let something go. To release it from our possession. To be willing and ready for it to no longer occupy us.” Our old Stepwork buddies, “willingness” and “ready” appear on the scene once again….

Forgiveness……the secret ingredient of Step 9…… is the magic that transforms the entire protocol in the 12 Steps. It is, perhaps, the key that unlocks the final chamber in my heart, revives my soul, and releases this new version of me on the other side of the line in the sand.line in the sand

 

I am committed to digging in on this topic…..more to come in the next several posts on what I learn. Until then, praying for willingness; He has been faithful in answering my prayers along this road to Recovery thus far and I am certain He will continue to meet me right where I am at and lead me once again to my Stepwork-sidekick…..willingness.

The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world.”  ―    Marianne Williamson

The Circus Tent

How many times have we asked God to take something from us?

Our troubles?

Our defects of character?

Step Seven states: “Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.”  If you are only scanning the steps, it is easy to skip right over the heart-work that precedes this request.

I’ve heard before that God will only do for us that which we can not do for ourselves. You’ll note that He doesn’t do what we will not do for ourselves. I’ve also heard that God is a true gentleman; He will never force Himself or His will upon us. He is after our hearts….our motives. He doesn’t simply want robots that “do the do”…He wants a rich response of obedience birthed out of love from us.

As I completed my Step Five, the ushering of Step Six was quick to follow….and subsequently the consideration of Step Seven…..giving up the goose…so to speak. I keep feeling not quite ready to make the request of God in Step Seven….or if I am gut-level honest…not quite ready to face the reality of that request in “shedding my shell” of shortcomings. (What can I say…I am into quirky clichés today!)

How will I know when I am ready???   That’s really the question on my mind….

And then I remember a little conversation I had with God over a year ago. I was sitting in church for the last sermon in a series entitled, “Welcome Bowlers,”  a clever little play on words, really,….all about the things we need to let go of in life. Sadly, I had missed 2 of the previous 3 messages; each one was on a different thing we need to process and release…

  1. Letting Go of the Past
  2. Letting Go of Worry
  3. Letting Go of Pride
  4. Letting Go of Control

At the end of the last sermon, the lights dimmed and the background music began to play. You know the tune…it’s the music that lets you know…it’s about to get heavy.  So the music starts and the pastor asked each of us to carefully consider which of the four things was the one of which we most needed to focus on letting go; under our seats were index cards and pens. We were each asked to write down which thing was the biggest source of distress in our lives and place it in the basket next to the bread as we lined up to take communion, so the cards and our consummate bowling balls could be prayed over.  ;)

Sometimes we have divine appointments at an exact moment in time, at an exact place, with exactly the right people….sometimes it may just be us and God. I bowed my head and prayed…asking God to guide me in which of the four needed my focused attention. I knew the answer before I ever asked the question. For me…the answer was all of them….equally. Tears began to roll down my cheeks as I sat there, head still bowed in a dimly lit room amongst hundreds of others asking the same question. I felt a still, small voice in my heart….

“Give me all of them, Jennifer.”

“Do you know what you are asking of me, God?”

He tenderly replied, “Sweetheart…I am the ONLY one who knows the depth of what I am asking you. I have been there all along, Jennifer. I AM.”

For so many years, I had known these four areas to be points of struggle for me, exploited and exacerbated by stress. I had read all the books on how to conquer each of them and pleaded over and over….and over and over…with Him to take them from me.  Truthfully….all that effort and pleading had yielded minimal deliverance. I wanted to be truly free from the bondage in which they kept me. And here we were….God and I…talking with one another about them over a 3×5 card.

These four things weren’t just coping mechanisms for me. After over 30 years of defaulting to them in all areas of my life….they were part of me…I thought. When I asked Him if He knew what He was asking of me (kind of a silly question, if you really think acircus tentbout it!!), inherently built-in was my belief about these things. They were the pillars of my being; they were the pillars that held up my circus tent of a life. Take a peek inside and you’ll see all the funny mirrors that reflect back a distorted sense of reality.

“Do you know what you are asking of me?”

“Sweeheart, I AM the only one who knows the depth of what I am asking you. I have been there all along, Jennifer. I AM. Give them all to me….and trust Me to hold you up.”

Giving them to God was something entirely different than me asking Him to pry them out of my tightly clenched fists!

Picture a small child with some candy in their hand (BTW..that’s how God sees us!!!). Would you rather take a piece from them through a clenched fist or from an open hand, offering to share their treasure with you?

fist_crop

give-hands

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll know I am ready to ask God to remove my shortcomings….to move from Step Six to Step Seven, when I can hold my list of defects of character loosely, offering it to God, rather than asking Him to rip it out of me. I trust, in time, He will complete the good work in me He began (Phil. 1:6) by fully removing these traits; He will do for me that which I can not do for myself….but as a Gentleman….He will wait until I am willing to give Him those parts of me.