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)

“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.”

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/

Connectednes and Closets

My Strength-finder Profile: #3 Connectedness – confident in the connectedness of the big picture, that we are part of something bigger.

Ah yes, so dealing with the small and insignificant daily routine is so contrary to my nature! Take, for instance, purging my bedroom closet.
Cleaning out a closet is rather uncomfortable. It’s dusty, a little smelly near the shoes and the piles seem to multiply on the shelves along with wire hangers from the dry cleaner. On this day the object of my discontent and reminder of my failure as a seamstress, is a small, neat and be-flowered cardboard box. Casting it’s shaming shadow from the high shelf above the hanging rod of longer length clothing items, I wonder how I have tolerated it’s taunting presence for so long. I have dusted and relocated this commonplace yet decorative box from sewing room to shelf to closets over the years, with never a change nor improvement of it’s content.
It sits in all it’s humiliating glory, next to my fall and winter purses, which were dutifully switched out to my spring and summer purses in May, silently mocking the uncountable resolves to finish that little summer shift in time for the hot weather. Yes, the “Simplicity New Look Easy Option FIVE Dress Variations IN ONE” -Size A pattern sheath lies in repose. Delicate tissue pieces cut and neatly pinned to a lightweight cotton, flower-print fabric waiting patiently for the skilled dressmaker’s touch upon the Brother Portable. Like a time-capsule, only not buried in the ground.To be completely honest, there is also a lace curtain panel and two skeins of yarn (I checked to make sure for the accuracy of this post).

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Whenever I am uncomfortable with myself – be it current aggravation a or nagging issues of the past, unfinished projects in my home appear larger and more noticeable – like the droplets of dried soap attached to the backsplash behind my kitchen sink, the marks of teething-toddlers on the low window sill near the front door, the dust on the blinds in the laundry room…like that obscure little box in my closet. It’s time to scrub, patch, paint,dust and deal with that box.
Likewise, I have come to notice recently, in the course of what we “Recovery People” call doing a 4th Step, a character defect about which I have been in denial. I have in past “step work” identified my three chief character defects. They present as DEFENDING, JUSTIFYING and BLAMING . But there it is, epitomized in that old, wretched little box, IGNORING! Hidden within unassuming pieces of corrugated paper and glue, tidy pieces of cloth and steel lie ignored. All that is needed is dedication of time and patience to move to full potential – ignored.

Maybe I am just justifying my lack of time or defending my right to do more important things than sew. Perhaps I’m blaming my 6th grade Home Economics teacher for giving me a discouraging”C” in sewing…but reality sits there in my little box. I have had hundreds of opportunities and not a few choices to do something about that box. Ignoring, like good intentions without action, is a low road. So i’ve learned to ask, what is the core issue of my discontent? What was the “trigger”? What is really bothering me?

It’s right there in the first paragraph…I didn’t even know until I re-read the post to this point! Failure. Failure to notice. Failure to act. Failure to get it right. And what was the trigger? Something totally unrelated to a box of fabric, a dirty backsplash, uneven plaster, or dusty blinds. A connectedness much bigger in the grand scheme of things. Connectedness, really? It’s just a box of scraps!

Because of the ease of connectedness via Internet, it has become increasingly difficult to ignore what’s happening in the world. Even in a foreign event like the birth of the Royal heir to the English throne, there is a connectedness in being human, emotions we feel for people we’ve never met. We read, watch Barbara Walter’s interviews, cheer and text and blog about the privileged future of a tiny monarch and sometimes speculate about all that can go wrong in the most ideal family.
Ironically, my trigger occurred while reading a prayer written and posted by Christian writer and speaker Ann Voskamp on behalf of the Royal Family. “A Prayer For All The World’s Sons” It is a lovely prayer, filled with the poetic word images for which she is known.
Instead of taking delight in this insightful and blessed piece on royal sonship, I began “connecting” in the worst way to the past; desperate cries of my heart to God with other mothers on behalf of sons who had turned away from their spiritual inheritance and are the Lost Boys of Christian families. Some of these sons are in jail, or on the streets, or have died too soon because of their lifestyle choices. For some, they are still squandering their time, treasure and talents for that which can never satisfy, destroying their marriages and short-changing their own sons. Still the mothers pray with faith to a seemingly silent God, and try to figure out what went wrong.

This was the trigger of my own Core Issue – my own doubt, fear, guilt and feelings of failure as a Christian mom despite good churches, constant prayers, Bible knowledge, teaching and counseling others, giving money and time, performing community service, and authentic zeal for the Kingdom of Christ. There was however, this hidden box of dysfunction in the closet of my heart that I justified keeping secret BECAUSE I was a Christian, defending it’s presence. I blamed others for giving it to me and yes, ignored dealing with for decades.

In Recovery we have a saying ( well we have many sayings) “You’re only as sick as your secrets” The grace of God finally led me in brokenness to Celebrate Recovery and a safe community of other “box hiders” in connectedness – to clear away the wreckage of my past. With Jesus and with one another, our destructive hurts, hang-ups and habits were transformed into gifts of experience, strength and hope to share with others. Sometimes triggers and painful core issues, like leftover material and yarn need an event to bring the box out of the closet again to deal with them. It’s His grace and kindness that leads to repentance.

Today I am grateful to God that my sons (and daughter) never knew life apart from a practicing Christian family, albeit often dysfunctional. My children are not without issues of their own, but I cherish their love for Christ and their authentic faith. I’m grateful that they are passing on faith to their children as well. I pray and trust that God will free them from the harm I unknowingly passed onto them, and for a deepening surrender to Christ’s care and will for their lives.

Thanks be to God for sons (and daughters), for the new little Prince, and thank you Ann Voskamp for your beautiful prayer. I’m copying it for my sons and grandsons and all the world’s sons.

Addicted to the Unreal

Last night was like a flashback to days of old (before Recovery). I had some extremely unrealistic expectations. Tonight i was looking forward to a friend’s Birthday Celebration. What I wanted to happen and what i suspected might happen were in mortal combat. Reality bites. Like an allergic reaction, resentment began to swell, and the pain was intense. What began as an irritated thought, resulted in an attitude of entitlement. My tendency would be to fight for my rights, but I gave up. Giving up is not surrender. It is definitely not “letting go and let God”. It is more like scratching an itch until it bleeds. What’s left is a scar, a reminder, not of the healing, but of the choice not to utilize the balm of grace available to me at all times. The night ended “unresolved.” I hate that!

The timing of this incident comes as I am smack in the middle of Principle 6 in my Celebrate Recovery program – “Evaluate all my relationships, offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others when possible, without expecting any reward.” There it is “expectation”. I’ve noticed how easy it is for me to genuinely forgive a debt when it is incurred by a new relationship. I easily make amends because I have not yet developed any expectations. The deeply troubling “histamine” of familiarity is quite another matter.

Carol Kent, in her excellent book Secret Longings of the Heart is quick to point out that our human expectations have their origin in being made in the image of God prior to the “fall” of mankind. So while I may still have the expectations for the righteous course of deeper relationships like community, marriage and family, in a fallen world, disappointment is eminent. Disappointed expectations sets up a longing for change. My Program tells me I have no power to change anyone but myself! Without my Higher Power (Jesus Christ) I am powerless to even do that!

God has given me free choice as to how I will respond to the disappointment. One choice is to default to my old ways, utilizing my carefully crafted character defects of excusing, justifying or blaming. Fortunately through recovery, I recognize this as “insanity”. If I do not run my disappointed expectation through the “grid” of God’s will, I will continue to allow the pain of the past to rule, allowing circumstances to determine my choices for today and thus, sabotage the hope of future serenity. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things (and people) I can not change, the courage to change the things I can (my attitude and actions) and the wisdom to know the difference…taking as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to Your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You in the next.” That is what I am choosing today.
How do you handle disappointment?