Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

If you look at the lower right hand corner of this photo, you will see the tractor that has been methodically traversing this barren field across from our home for 5 days. We wake daily to the sound of it’s engine early in the morning, and observe the cloud of dust surrounding it’s implement, breaking up the earth’s crust in it’s wake until quitting time.

What has me stumped, is the need for so many trips across, back and forth, side to side, diagonally, back and forth, over and over?

Well I looked it up on motherearth.com and after sifting through pages of instructions on farming, I learned about “harrowing” which, after plowing, breaks the ground into dime-sized pieces that will allow the tiny seeds to push up their tender shoots unimpeded, simultaneously allowing water to evenly soak into the earth. Harrowing takes numerous treks across the field in order to refine the soil.

So why am I suddenly interested in this familiar activity now, after watching this same scenario for almost 14 years?

Well, for the first time in these 14 years, that large field across from me has lain fallow for awhile. The routine was interrupted. Instead of the plowing, harrowing, rowing and planting of cilantro or parsley, cabbage or bok-choy, we have had weeds and dirt out our front windows, with the accompanying invasion of more dust than usual inside our home. Usually, the first thing I see through my windows when I walk out of my upstairs bedroom is the lush plants that seem to pop up over night after the tractors do their work. No such loveliness for months!

This brings me to the point of my post. When I am engaged in my Fourth-step inventory (part of ongoing 12-step recovery work) I experience it as a breaking up of fallow ground. The methodical plowing up, turning over and harrowing work of inventory can take a miserably long time, each time. When I work this step thoroughly, I often ask myself the same question – “why is it necessary to go over all this ground again and again?” To be rigorously honest, it is sometimes a tiresome process. Each time, however, I am reminded of a precious Bible promise in Hosea 10:12, “Sow with a view to righteousness, Reap in accordance with kindness; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD Until He comes to rain righteousness on you.” I dare not let the ground lay fallow for too long.

Recovery is not about rehashing the past to blame, justify my actions or defend myself. It is about seeking God and allowing the seeds of His righteousness to have a soft and fertile field in which to grow and bear the fruit of His Spirit in me so that others may taste and see that the Lord is good.

It takes many passes over the fallow ground of my heart in order to accomplish the rich environment for a good harvest, especially if I have let the ground of my heart harden. But I can trust my Heavenly Gardener to break up the fallow ground enough to finish the work He has begun in me.

I have learned over the last 20 years of recovery that this breaking is always painful, always longer than I anticipate but always for my good. (Romans 8:28)

Heros

Somewhere between a book of my acquaintances and a notecard of my friendships, a space exists for which I have no title. My Facebook page says I have upwards of 900 “Friends” but in actuality, this accounting includes family and friends I have never even met! I would love to have a page appropriately titled for those people in my life who have influenced, awed or genuinely earned my respect, but are not necessarily those with whom I have intimate contact. I often wish I had more interaction with some of these people, but whether distance, opportunity, lifestyle or just priority scheduling  interferes with my wishes, they remain extremely important to me.

One person in particular is a woman I have known for at least 25 years. I first met her and her husband when I was the Director of Children’s Ministry at my church. They volunteered every year of their two children’s preschool and elementary career- and then moved on to middle and high school volunteers with them as well. Her husband ran his own commercial real estate business and she was a “stay-at-home” mom. She is every bit what we Evangelicals call the Proverbs 31 woman. She led prayer groups, supported missions, volunteered in the community, had dinner on the table every night and loved her Savior, her Church and her family and friends with understated passion. Her children were well-mannered, respectful and successful in their pursuits. Her daughter is very much like her, choosing the very lifestyle she observed growing up. 

From my perspective, I would describe Debby as “devoted”. She has an innate beauty about her that was never enhanced by makeup or extravagant clothes. Her speech is slow and self-depreciating. She has one best-girlfriend whose name is almost always said in the same sentence when talking about her. Their families are closer than any blood relationship I know. Even their daughters are best friends.

Debby would probably say that of course we are friends! Yet, although I see her on an almost weekly basis even today, we have never enjoyed the pleasure of one another’s company outside a church event. I don’t think she is even on Facebook or Twitter, but her husband is my Facebook “friend”.

A few years ago, Debby’s husband was diagnosed with cancer. True to her consistent, devoted and unassuming character, she served and loved Jim with true devotion. She prayed, graciously accepted the help of her church family when needed and lived fully and optimistically through the days of treatment. She even cared for her grandchildren on a regular basis during that frightening period. Perhaps the only clue to her worried mind is a touch more silver in her hair, but there is no doubt her faith in God carried her through.

To describe the invaluable relationships  in my life like Debby,  I think “Hero” or in her case “Heroine”  is not too far off the mark. She is definitely one whom I admire for her consistent testimony of faith, her devotion, her courage and commitment to God, family and community. There are others, particularly in my Faith Community for whom this category applies.  I am greatfull that because of our shared faith, I will have all eternity to continue developing genuine friendship with my “Heros”.😊

Retirement Options

I’m thinking that I might be in a good place to evaluate the last three years of “retirement”. I put the quotation marks around the word because the context of retirement is so variable. Many look forward to traveling, having more time for a hobby they enjoy, or volunteering for worthy causes. I considered all of these as I neared the final work-day.

I always thought of retirement in terms of what I observed growing up in a lower-middle class white family in Southern California. My Grandfather worked for a large manufacturing contractor for over 40 years and retired with a nice pension. My Grandmother raised two kids with a violent alcoholic. In those days, domestic violence was never mentioned…neither was physical and sexual abuse of children.

Upon retirement, they bought a small mobile home in Orange County in the late 50’s. Grandma spent her time cooking, sewing, gossiping with the neighbors and looking after her Grandchildren when called upon. My Grandfather quit drinking, had a beautiful garden, smoked a lot, and listened to the Dodger games on the radio. Mostly I remember the silence between them.

As I was growing up, we went to Sunday dinner at their house after church. I loved my Grandmother, avoided my Grandfather for good reason, and rarely visited them after I left home at 18. I rarely visited my parents either, until my daughter was born.

My Dad retired early due to advancing Multiple Sclerosis. He had worked at a large Aircraft company for 30 years, and his union provided for him abundantly. My mother worked periodically, but her mental illness prevented her from enjoying any career opportunities. She was a compulsive cleaner, with a debilitating germ phobia. She was one of the first to be prescribed a new wonder drug called Prozac. They also purchased a mobile home, after retirement – first in Orange County and then in Hemet, CA. They became very involved in their church and traveled as often as my Dad’s illness permitted. They had great friends and a lot of fun. When my sister and I started our families, they enjoyed the kids whenever we visited. My mother was especially close to my daughter and indulged her much more than the other grandchildren.

Out of the blue, my mother took her life. My dad was beside himself with anger and grief. He met a retired Army nurse and married her not two years after Mom’s death. She took great care of him, and they spent most of their time watching TV and going to doctor appointments.

Well I certainly did not picture myself in a mobile home watching TV all day, nor did I have travel destinations in mind for my retirement years. I did not want to emulate any part of my family of origin. I did not, expect that I would be a full-time caregiver for three of my grandbabies!
I actually have the best “retirement” job ever. I still have a significant ministry in my church, and the wonderful opportunity for what I often refer to as a “do-over”. I’m having a blast actually, and very much enjoying this season if my life. I feel blessed to be part of influencing the next generation, while enjoying the fruit of my own parenting.

My kids will probably never know or experience a “pension”. They certainly are not counting on Social Security. Statistically, they are the first generation in American History whose standard of living will not be better than their parents, nor will they live as long! I’m sad for that. Hopefully I can leave them enough to help out with college expenses and a bit of a nest-egg for their retirement years. They are sure providing me with a rich retirement of my own.

“Only” Ten – the sting and benefit of Relapse.

Today I am 10 years “sober” from acting out in my primary addiction. I say primary because I have had a life-long addictive cycle of binging and purging on activities, food, substances and people. But my primary default behavior is self-pleasure, whatever form is handy.

Addiction is usually thought of as alcohol or drug dependency, maybe adding gambling or sexual addiction (fastest growing addiction, btw). Some confess to food addiction but have no idea how to recover even if they are passively in the slow suicide of diabetes, tobacco-related heart disease, cancer or starving themselves to death. . Maybe the latest patch, pill, diet or surgery will give a quick-fix?

In my experience, and those with whom I associate, no quick and lasting fix exists. Only the slow, step-by-step, one day at a time, cinch by the inch plodding yields the reward of honest sobriety. Oh there are plenty of “top that testimony” dreamers out there, many who have been “delivered” by the laying on of hands or spiritual visitations. No judgment here – well maybe a little. Maybe some envy thrown in…

And then there are those who proudly say they have or can stop on their own. Trouble is, they can not stay stopped for very long.

Relapse was the key to my own recovery. I’ve been told that relapse starts long before the actual event. For me it began as I was entering my fifth year of recovery from addiction. Expected and required of Christians, especially of those in professional ministry, I mistakenly assumed God would magically take the obsession away if I had enough faith to believe God for healing. If I prayed enough, read and studied the Bible enough and served others enough, surely I would be healed and free. Disappointment over my powerlessness to be sin-free was the obsession behind the shame that drove me very close to ending my life.

So with 4 years of relatively joyful recovery I grew complacent. I went to my weekly meeting, but only to do my duty – not to work on progressing through the principles. I allowed “small” compromises in what I viewed, with whom I spent time, and more importantly how I allowed resentment to grow as I judged the motives of others.

So my 10-year celebration of honest sobriety collides with the shame of relapse more painful than I care to admit. Yet, the vivid memory of working two years to earn a sixty-day chip strengthens my resolve to never again compromise my relationship with Jesus Christ (the One and only true Higher Power) and to stay actively accountable with my Sponsor and recovery group. I have come to believe that after my relationship with God, sobriety is my most important priority; for without sobriety I have no capacity for honest relationship or purpose.

Recovery is work, and the work never stops. For me it took several meetings a week, medication and weekly therapy. I had to make the daily decision to surrender to whatever sobriety required. It’s work, but sooo worth it.

Tonight I am grateful to say, “Hi, my name is Connie and I am a child of God in recovery. I celebrate 10 years clean and free from addiction and compulsive behaviors. I am also careful to remember that I am always vulnerable and tempted to slack off. The thought of relapse puts me in the right frame of mind again no matter what is happening in my life.
“Thanks for letting me share.”

Burnout/Balance

I’m re posting a comment I made in a friend’s blog to remind me of my tendency to do the wrong thing — even in retirement!
“…I have the desire to do what is right but I cannot carry it out. ” Rom. 7:15
So do I leave houses and land and spouse, and children to devote all my time to ministry. Do I place my health at risk by long hours of service to others without self-care? Do I devote all my income to serve the poor when my credit card balances (and stress) continue to rise trying to meet the needs of my family?
These are personal situations I experienced early in professional ministry. Balance never entered my thinking. Whole-hearted commitment required every sacrifice – seeking first the kingdom and the promise that God would take care of everything else. My mentors would shout “vacation? How can you think of vacation when people are perishing all around you and headed for hell?”

What I failed to consider was that my perspective was flawed, my character defects colored my decisions. I saw God as a Tyrant-King who required continuous unquestioned obedience. I had to be a willing servant or I was rebellious and unfit for the Kingdom.
As my marriage and relationship with my children declined, I spiraled into physical burn-out and clinical depression.

In recovery, medical intervention and therapy, I learned that neglecting my physical and emotional needs put me at risk – so off balance that I needed medication. For me, rest, order and balance became a lifeline through which Jesus began a work of grace that saved my life, my marriage and my relationships. Like Elijah of old, I needed food, rest and care. I needed boundaries and balance.

Perhaps others have a special dispensation of grace that allows for the scales of balance to tip in their favor. Yet it is crucial, in my experience, to consider and solicit accountability for life-balance as well as spiritual growth in order to sustain a healthy and long-term ministry throughout my life.

Excitement

20130918-211050.jpg

Sometimes my life is too exciting! I need a “freedom zone” and I need it often.
The reason is that most every week day, I can look forward to a lot of excitement at my house. Three little grandchildren, 3 and under, fill the air with alternating giggles, screams, songs and wails from 8am-5:30pm. Now that’s excitement!
It would be nice to have an unlimited pass to the Freedom Zone at the Ojai Valley Spa, but my go-to (and much less expensive) Freedom Zone is most often the master bedroom.

My sanctuary is tucked away in the upstairs back of my house, away from the buzz of appliances, flicker of giant screens and ever-present street sounds. It is where I begin and end my days with prayer and most of the time, with gratitude.
Lately I’ve found the freedom zone in the newly renovated back yard patio. The weather has been amazing, and the end-of-summer colors, smells and sounds have a quiet excitement if their own. There is a stirring in my spirit that the excitement of the holidays are not far away!

Forgiveness – Recovery Style

I remember the first time I did a “forgiveness list”. It was part of a “Step Study” in my Celebrate Recovery Program. A Step Study is a 9-12 month commitment to a weekly sharing of homework with 10-12 others. The study is focused around the Eight Principles of St. Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus’ most famous sermon, and the 12-steps of Recovery.
Principle 6 states: Evaluate all my relationships. Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me, and make amends for harm I’ve done to others, except when to do so would harm them or others.
Happy are those who are merciful to others. -Matt 5:7
Happy are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. -Matt 5:9
In Celebrate Recovery: “We are told to forgive because God has forgiven us. The Bible also says,”Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate with one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”(Ephesians 4:31-32, NIV)
We all stand in need of forgiveness and mercy! In the model prayer, Christ taught us to pray, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

I have been a Christian for most of my life, and I know what the Bible says about forgiveness and making peace – but I never knew the process of forgiveness until Celebrate Recovery. Like most people, I just thought “the past is the past, so just move on”. I never thought to evaluate all my past relationships to see if there was un-forgiveness, resentment or bitterness lingering in the closet of my soul. I was in deep denial about how the painful relationships of my past were still affecting all my current relationships, as well as keeping me enslaved to patterns of relating that were unhealthy and damaging to others.

So as I “inventoried” my past relationships, I discovered that there were several people I needed to forgive. That inventory was excruciating! I had prayed “search me O God, and know my heart. See if there is any deceitful way in me and reveal it so that I may be free to embrace Your forgiveness.” God answered my prayer! Fortunately, I have discovered that He did not overwhelm me with every person I needed to forgive in that first inventory. It has taken many other Step Studies and 17 years of recovery to deal with the rest!

Principle 6 deals with three main actions we must take in order to know the freedom that forgiveness brings, and we must accept God’s unconditional forgiveness. Jesus paid for all sin for all time when He died on the cross. He exclaimed from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). If you believe this fact and accepted the free gift of forgiveness Jesus offers, then you are forgiven for the sins you have committed in the past, the sins you did today, and all the sins you will commit in the future! This is the good part of the good news! Now you are able to take the steps of forgiving others. The “Steps” include the following instructions (with my notes)
1. You must forgive everyone who has hurt or harmed you.
Yes, there is a difference between hurt and harm. For example – eating and drinking is pleasurable, but too much can be harmful…you can develop a host of health problems and not even know it! On the other hand, a surgeon’s scalpel will result in a world of hurt – but that pain will result in purging the defective and healing the body. Pain is part of the healing process. This reminds me to keep my inventory balanced. There are people who enabled me, lied to make me feel better, thought they were helping me by drawing me into questionable lifestyles, but it was harmful to my soul. I had to forgive even the “nice” people who thought they were doing the right thing but were definitely not. On the other hand, there were those who spoke the truth, even when it hurt. My reaction to the pain this caused prompted me to ask THEM for forgiveness! (that is the “amends” step, another post!)

The most difficult to forgive were those who perpetrated abuse and neglect against me as a child. Principle 6 reminds me that forgiving those who have harmed me in this way no way excuses the harm done against me. Forgiveness allowed me, however, to be released from the power that they had and continued to have over me. I was instructed to write out my forgiveness to my perpetrators in detail. Because I no longer had contact with them, I read this to someone I trusted to keep my story confidential (my sponsor). I have no words for the relief and freedom I felt as I confessed what had happened, and verbalized my forgiveness out-loud.

2. You must forgive yourself.
I felt that the guilt and shame of my past was too much to even think about, let alone forgive. I learned to cover-over the shame with compulsive work-a-holism and other addictions to avoid dealing with it. This is what God says about the darkness of the past – “Come, let’s talk this over! Says the Lord; no matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can take it out and make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you white as wool! If you will only let me help you” (Isaiah 1:18-19 TLB). Until I was able to forgive myself for the shameful ways I had lived-out my past abuse, I would continue to defend, excuse and justify my actions, or blame others for my hurtful behavior.

3. You may need to forgive God!
I had a very distorted view that somehow God had made me defective, and because He allowed the abuse to happen, He was not to be trusted. I had to realize that because God gave everyone free-will, it was the choice of my perpetrators that were responsible for the abuse, not God. In fact, God has redeemed my pain to such a degree that I am able to be more compassionate and loving to others who have experienced the shame of addiction as a result of past abuse. 1 Peter 5:10 says, “After you have borne these sufferings a very little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to share in his eternal splendor through Christ will himself make you whole and secure and strong.”

If forgiveness is an ongoing battle for you, I highly recommend Celebrate Recovery. You will find a step-by-step walk through the process of forgiveness with the bonus of having others to encourage and help you along the way.
Celebrate Recovery meetings are located in thousands of churches throughout the United States and in nearly 40 other countries around the world.
http://www.celebraterecovery.com/