Step Eleven – Connecting with God Picture-Imperfectly

IMG_0259
STEP ELEVEN
“We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and power to carry that out”
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” – Colossians 3:16

This post took me forever to write, and that is not coincidence. I really struggle with how to best illustrate Step Eleven.

I struggle with it because I have a preconceived notion of what conscious contact with God is supposed to look like.

And it looks all Instagram-y.

You know ….

I wake up refreshed in the morning hungry for the Word of God. The very first thing I do is make a picture-perfect cup of coffee in the Keurig (for extra effect the coffee cup should be emblazoned with the words “Hope” or “Faith” or “Love” and – in finer print – a scriptural reference.) Taking my place on the sofa, I pray for God to expand my understanding during this special time with him as the kitty cats snuggle in next to me. I open The Message, and hey, looky there! I flip open my Bible and it ‘just happens to’ turn to a verse so very pertinent to my current circumstance. It is already highlighted even!

Thank you, Lord! Your will be done.

Amen.

It’s so tidy. So picture-perfect.

Tidy, yes. But not an improvement over my current contact with God. And in recovery, improvement trumps tidiness every time.

I have ADD to a pretty good degree, and I find it hard to focus long enough to even make a cup of coffee on some days. It is easy to lose the essence of Step Eleven when we allow our preconceived notions of what conscience contact with God looks like.

How do I even know what to ask for? God is the perfect parent. He knows what I need before I even ask for it. Seeking Him isn’t about knowing what I need when I sit down to a perfect cup of coffee!

Going into my fifteenth year of sobriety (all glory to God, still one single day at a time) a more accurate illustration of my Step Eleven work might be as follows:

I wake up grateful for another day sober, but perhaps a little bit frustrated about a given circumstance. I Say, “Good morning, God. Can you help a sister out today? I need you.” Make a cup of coffee in the Keurig (most likely in either the “Life’s a bitch and then you die” or – my personal favorite – “I thought I was having a hot flash, but my boobs were in my coffee” cup). Accidentally piddle around too long on my way to the sofa doing stupid stuff around the house  (Sorry, God.) Get to the sofa, only to find the cats in my spot unwilling to share the space. Hump back to the kitchen table, sloshing coffee on the floor. Pray for God to expand my understanding of Him this day, and open The Message. Hey – LOOKY!

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:9 (NIV)

It’s highlighted even!

And the more I delve into what God has to say in His love letter, the more His message becomes apparent.

I want to help you.
I want you to know Me.

I LOVE YOU.

Step Eleven in recovery isn’t about getting it right. It’s about seeking right exactly where you are today.

Be a seeker. He will take care of the rest.

Thank you, Lord!

Your perfect, pleasing will be done.

STEP TEN – GPS: God Positioning Self

IMG_0997
STEP TEN
We continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
Biblical Comparison: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”  Corinthians 10:12
I like to call Step Ten”The GPS Step” because it is so directional. It reminds us that recovery is not a destination but a journey.
Taking my personal inventory is much like plugging in my address to a GPS system. There are many possible routes, but only one destination.

One of the first times I used my GPS was on a trip to visit my cousin in another state. I am a late-comer to this technology. My two adult daughters were accompanying me, and before we departed, they showed me how to pull up the GPS and ask the Very Knowledgeable Lady who lives in it how to get to our destination.

“How?” I asked my tech-savvy offspring.

“Just ask Siri,” they told me.

I did ask Siri, and – wonder of wonders – a magical map appeared that pinpointed my exact location (which was kind of scary.) I then told her the address of my cousin’s house and the entire 200-mile route to her house appeared with my journey clearly marked.

“Take a left on Highway 17,” The Very Knowledgeable Lady helpfully chirped. “And take exit 12 in 70 miles.”

I laid my cell phone down on the console and drove in awe as we traveled the thick blue route line. We were the little digital thumb tack on the screen, chugging down the road! Here’s where it got interesting.

Several times on the trip, I picked up the phone to make sure Siri knew what she was doing, even though I did not know the way myself! And although I had no reason to distrust the voice telling me where to go to arrive in the most efficient manner, I even stopped at a fast food place when we arrived in the destination city to ask for directions to her street!

My kids kept telling me, “Mom, just follow the route already mapped out.”

It has to be more complicated than that, I thought.

Have you ever trusted Siri to get you someplace and ended up somewhere else? That happens too. Once I drove six hours to attend a Blogger Conference in the mountains of North Carolina and instead of taking me to my Hampton Inn late at night, it led me down a dark road to what appeared to have been an old, abandoned sock factory. Really. It was in middle of nowhere! When I pulled in to reboot the GPS, The (not so) Knowledgeable Lady tried to save face with her response.

Rerouting.” Like she meant to do that.

Although she had mistakenly taken me someplace else, she then had to re-route because my starting point was different from where I’d left six hours prior.

There are many, many routes to take on the recovery journey. Re-routing is always a possibility. The two important things to remember when continuing to take your personal inventory is to keep moving in a forward direction and don’t back-track and return to bad places. Promptly admit when you are lost.

In the GPS analogy of the tenth step, you can replace the Very Knowledgeable Lady in the cell phone to God Himself, who is more than happy to direct your path if you allow him to.

But you have to ask. And keep asking. He will not take you to a dark place (or an abandoned sock factory, for that matter) You have to ask, and you have to trust that His direction is perfect.

Throughout the previous work of Steps 1-9, you have pinpointed your exact location (and that can be a little scary, too.) The tenth step is insurance that we don’t revisit the dangerous places that led us down the wrong paths, even though our journeys are not always so clearly marked out.

It has to be more complicated than that, right?

Only it isn’t.
It is plugging your coordinates back in. Being honest with yourself about your stinkin’ thinkn’. Reaching out. Spending time in self-reflection. Going to meetings. Asking  for directions. And when wrong, promptly admit it.

When do you arrive?

That is of less importance, everyone’s route is different.  Don’t you see? We were absolutely built to travel –  collecting wisdom and experience and fellowship and memories along the way.

And to walk in joy every step of the way.

Step Nine – Hurt People Hurt People (but healing is possible)

296878_3625876817927_1688681910_nSTEP NINE
We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Biblical Comparison: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24
Step Eight is taking your inventory – making that list of those whom you have harmed as a result of your addiction.
Step Nine is organizing that list into a manageable chunks of  manifesto to present to those you have harmed, so that the clutter takes up the least amount of space in your spirit.
It does not mean that rainbows and butterflies will invade the space between you and another person.
It does not mean that you will break bread on a regular basis with this person.
It does not mean that the person your actions have harmed will necessarily forgive you.
But it can mean that those things become possible.
Step Nine is difficult because we mire our transgressions in one of two thick muds of thought:
Denial – “I didn’t hurt anyone but myself in my active drinking and using.”
Shame – “I can never make things right, the damage is too deep.”
I’m not sure where you are in your process of making amends, but I can tell you with reasonable certainty that neither one of these two extremes are true.
You and I did hurt others with our behaviors.
And the damage is never too deep to repair while doing Step Nine work. The step is more about your accountability than reconciliation, and repair begins by your very admission and asking for forgiveness.
Step Nine goes something like this:
“I drank a lot more than you think I did all those years ago, and I know I hurt you by disrespecting you when I was drunk.”
Or
“I’m taking back control of the parts of my life that drugs hijacked. Those times when I bruised your feelings with my words, I’m sorry.”
Or just
“Please forgive me.”
When I got to Step Nine in my own recovery,  I had two very important direct amends to make to each of my daughters. They were five and eight years old when I got sober. The youngest claims not to remember very much about Mommy’s drinking, but my older remembers more than I’d like – especially the fights between their father and I, the shadow alcohol cast over my spirit, and the sickness and sloppiness toward the end of my active disease. My kids are everything to me – they were the one single thing I was going to do right in my life and not screw up like everything else. (Expecting perfection from myself in any area – and combining with with living in addiction – is a recipe for disappointment.)
With the clarity of new-found sobriety came light and sharpness, but also illumination of the damage I’d done to my beloved children by not making them top priority.
They were still young. How to make amends?
I started by educating them on an age-appropriate level about alcoholism as a legitimate disease; but not as an excuse for my behavior. Mommy has a sickness to drinking and drugs and it is my responsibly to get well and stay well, and that means staying away from drinking and drugs and working the program.
I followed up by staying sober, no matter what.
As I grew in recovery, I said things like:
“I know there was a time in your life when I did not stay away from those things; I wasn’t strong enough. I didn’t trust God enough to help me, and I was very unwell as a result. I never meant to hurt or embarrass you, but I did those things all the same.
I am making the changes now to become stronger.
I am staying away from the poison that affected our relationship.
I am trusting God to help me now and forever, one day at a time.
Will you please forgive me?”
A funny thing happened on the road to redemption. My daughters are now 20 and 23, and they are not ashamed of their mama and her (now 14 years of) recovery. As a matter of fact, the are proud of my clean time, and our relationships are closer now than they have ever been. They have a compassion that they might not otherwise have for people in the throes of addiction. They are spectacular young ladies and I’m so grateful to Abba that they accepted my amends and have forgiven me.
It was hard admitting I’d hurt them, but restorative that their complete forgiveness has transcended a disease I once thought would take me from them altogether.
Step Nine does not invade the space between you and the person you harmed with rainbows and butterflies. But it does make space for healing.
And that’s ever more beautiful still.

Step Eight – Your First Amendment

IMG_0889STEP EIGHT
We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Biblical Comparison: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:31 
Protected behind presumably bullet-proof, fire-proof glass, there it was – one of 14 original official copies of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States.
My husband had surprised me by taking me to our local museum where it was   showcased as part of a national tour. I’m a hopeless history nerd; it was a very thoughtful surprise.
Leading up to case that displayed the bill were velvet ropes with tassels on the posts. It was all so fancy. You knew you were headed for something special just walking towards it.
The Constitution was an incredible and liberty-bestowing document, but it needed amending to increase the freedoms in America. It doesn’t take away from the original document to be amended. Rather, it adds value.

The definition of ‘amend’ is: 

Change, modify, reform.
Remedy. Revise. Alter.
Correct. Enhance.  Improve.
Mend. Reform. Repair.
The definition of ‘amendment’ is: An alteration or addition.
Making a list of persons we have harmed is hard enough, but being willing to make amends to them all is even harder. By taking pen to paper and making your list, it’s important to include each:
  • Person who has been harmed as a result of your active addiction
  • Memories of harm done
  • Thoughts resulting from the harm – perhaps the thoughts that are continuing to haunt you as a result
  • Intentions you now have in making things right
  • Amends that you can make to help repair the damage

 

Making amends with those you’ve harmed is not a privilege for the more spiritually enlightened among us, but a right as a person in recovery. Making amends increases your freedom.

It’s easy to get stuck here on Step Eight.
There might be relationships that survive addiction that will not survive recovery. Step Eight work is not about extending the amends yet, but about becoming willing to make them. You are setting up the velvet ropes to healing relationships, and letting others in on making history in your recovery.

Step Eight is change, modification, revision or correction to bring about an alteration or addition to your spirit.

It’s not about taking away from what’s been done to you, but owning what you’ve done to others.

It doesn’t take away from your recovery, but adds value.

Amendments modify our existing plane to create a higher existence.

You are heading for something special, just by walking toward it.

Change, modify, reform.
Remedy. Revise. Alter.
Correct. Enhance.  Improve.
Mend. Reform. Repair.

Make history.

 

And prepare your heart for liberty.

Step Seven – Walking Wounded and Reaching Out

Franken-ankle
Franken-ankle

Step Seven

We humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings.

Biblical Comparison: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” – 1 John 1:9 
Once upon a time, there was a very stubborn woman who woke up at night to use the bathroom, stepped out of bed, and heard a terrible and loud ‘crack’ in her leg.  She collapsed on the floor, writhing  in agony from the pain in her right ankle. The pain seared through her entire body. This was no ordinary boo boo, she could tell. But when she was finally able to stand, she told herself it was sprained, and she believed that to be true.
“Walk it off,” she thought. “Walk it off and don’t be a big baby. You just turned your ankle, that’s all.”
This woman is me.
The next day, it was worse. It looked like some kind of poorly-trained circus balloon animal maker had tried to make an ankle out of black and blue balloons. The pain was beyond excruciating.  Still, for eleven full days, I wrapped it in an ACE bandage and acted as though it were business as usual.
I’ve heard it said that “if you can walk on an injured leg, it’s not broken.”  But whoever said that does not appreciate my capacity for denial. I walked on it, doing everything I normally would, just with a bit of a limp. It kept swelling. I walked more. It’s not broken, I thought. Or I wouldn’t be able to stand the pain.
If I’m honest about it, I can say that over the span of nearly two weeks, I developed a  twisted sense of pride that I could carry on with this OBVIOUS, swollen, throbbing issue attached to my leg. I felt like a badass, almost. Look what I can withstand!
The mind is a very powerful thing.
I had to become entirely ready for medical intervention. And eleven days after the incident, I could take no more, badassery or not.
“I think I’m going to the doctor to have it looked at,” I told my husband. “You know, just in case.”
The doctor looked at it, with a series of x-rays. It was broken, and there was no fixing it without surgery. I was sent directly to an orthopedic surgeon, who confirmed it and asked, “How are you even walking on that?” The funny thing is that on the way to the surgeon’s office,  I drove myself to the grocery store and hobbled around for ONE LAST TRIP for things we “needed” before I might be told I couldn’t drive. Keep in mind that I am blessed with the most helpful and supportive husband of all time, who would have been glad to go for me. Stubborn.
My inner control freak cannot be reasoned with.
But she can be beat down, which is what happened. By going to the surgeon’s office, I was ready to have this defect fixed.
By the morning of surgery, I was asking – BEGGING – for it to be remedied. The pain was too much to bear.  I humbly asked the surgeons to just do this thing already. They did, and it took a metal plate, five screws and a large pin to fix it.
Because I had walked around on it broken for so long, it was fractured in TWO places, not just the one original break. Stubbornness rarely pays off.
That was three years ago. Since that time, many things have changed, inwardly and outwardly. I don’t feel invincible anymore; I know I am a Spirit poured over breakable bones and under fragile skin.
The ankle has healed beautifully, although it will never be the same. You can feel the metal just under the skin, and it still swells at odd times. It has to be babied. It is affectionately referred to by my family as “Franken-ankle” now.
Step Six is admitting your unmanageable pain and knowing it’s not “just a sprain.” Step Seven is asking for help, and asking is an action word of the highest order. Ask God to remove your shortcomings.
Contrary to popular belief, you can walk around damaged and broken. Most of us are.

You cannot be prideful and humble at the same time. Handling it yourself isn’t working. Step Seven is all about humbling yourself and actively reaching out for help.

Just because you can stand the pain doesn’t mean that you have to.
You know what’s wrong now. You’ve identified it. It is obvious to yourself, and most likely others that you need forgiveness and purification. Okay, so you can withstand the character defects and their pesky behavior sidekicks….
But why? That’s the question. Ask yourself why you feel you need to withstand it.
Our broken parts are often manifestations of our war parties, and they are far less interesting than we believe them to be. I broke my ankle getting up to pee at night, not in a glamorous way such as skydiving or horse-back riding. What bad-ass trophies are you holding on to?
Now, ask The Great Physician to do a healing work in you to mend you back together.
Anything less – especially ‘walking it off’ under your own power –  is needless suffering.
You will never be the same.
But you will be whole again.

Step Six – Character Defects and the People they Cling to

Character defects are the barnacles of the spirit.
Character defects are the barnacles of the spirit.
STEP SIX
We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Biblical Comparison: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” – James 4:10 
Many years ago, when I was a boat owner, I learned the adage “a boat is a vessel that you keep pouring money into.” It seemed like the maintenance for a salt-water vessel was never-ending. Each season, there was barnacle-scraping to be done.
The thing about barnacles is that if you never lifted your boat out of the water, you may never know they were even there. You would only be able to tell because every little barnacle affects the ‘drag’ of the vessel….making it slower and less reactive, and steering less accurate. Even though you cannot always visibly see them, they are disruptive and – if unchecked – can multiply in number and destruction.
They have to be dealt with every season. Not only are the little critters unsightly when a boat is lifted out of the water, they have a horrible stink.
And scraping them off is a very unpleasant experience. They seem glued to the surface and have to be scuffed off one-by-one. Work on too many at a time, and you don’t get them fully removed.
The stench makes you wonder if you shouldn’t have just left the boat in the water and pretended not to notice them. But the boat is on dry land now, there is no turning back.
Barnacles remind me a lot of Sixth Step work. They are much like our defects of character. If you are in recovery – even for one day – your boat has been lifted from the water. The cleaner your vessel becomes, the more you realize how encrusted it had been and how much it had been affecting your ‘drag’ – your life force.
Is it your season to scrape off the barnacles? The hard-shelled, parasitic character flaws that are slowing your recovery down?
Are you entirely ready to be free of those hangers-on of stinking thinking?
Ask God to remove your defects of character and he will lift you higher. Ask him to be gentle but effective, and ask him to make you mindful of destructive thoughts and behaviors. Sometimes they have been hitching a ride in us for so long that we don’t even realize they are there.  Own every single one of your issues; you can’t work on what you don’t own. Pray for peace in the process. It will take time. That’s okay. There is no turning back now.
The scraping might be unpleasant and stinky, but there is nothing like the smoother sailing experience when you are seaworthy again.
If you had never been lifted from the water, you might have never been able to sail so free. There will be maintenance. But there will be a season to deal with those in due time.
A spirit is is a vessel that you keep pouring love into.
It is your season to be free.

Step Five – The Exact Nature of our Wrongs

IMG_4392-001
STEP FIVE
We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” – James 5:16 

“There are some secrets I will take to my grave.”

Have you ever said the statement above? I have. It is a sentiment that keeps sickness active and recovery stunted. Step Four helped us form an inventory and delve into the wrongs done to us and done by us to others. What to do with the indiscretions laid bare by the hardscrabble work of the fourth step?

Step Five is clear about taking action.

Words have power. What you speak from your mouth can change the trajectory of your healthy recovery, even change the world around you. Speak light and life over people, and their lives change. Speak darkness and it attracts darkness. Let’s not confuse admitting the exact nature of our wrongs to another human being as speaking darkness. To the contrary, as our searching and fearless moral inventories, they can be cleanly dealt with. It’s hard to see in the dark. But whatever the light touches is seen. And can be grasped to be fully put behind you.

Some items on our inventories might be harder to admit than others. Some may seem impossible to own before God, much less a sponsor or accountability partner. But our wrongs – our sins – stay powerful unless confessed to those we trust. Confessing them deflates them so that we can step over them and move forward.

The exact nature of our wrongs, taking responsibility for those things so shameful we vowed never to admit them on this side of the dirt. You really are only as sick as your secrets.

The problem with taking secrets to your grave is that it requires you to lead a grave-tender’s life to some degree. It forces you to spend your lifetime keeping something destructive underground, making sure it stays covered up. Part of you is always tending to that, protecting it. Digging it back up to make sure it is still there so that you can flog yourself with it’s shame, reburying it twice as deep. It’s a lot of work to keep secrets.

You don’t know what I’ve done,” you might be saying.

And you’re right, I don’t. But I do know that – in order to live victoriously in recovery – you must not keep it to yourself. All the things you’ve done in active disease and otherwise are covered under the blood of Christ Jesus if you accept Him and His love.

You see,  God already knows what you’ve done, and is crazy in love with you anyway. If you are in a 12 Step program, you already know people who are equipped to help you admit the exact nature of your wrongs.

“I’ve done bad things” doesn’t cut it when working Step Five. Share your heart with someone who is trustworthy and then burn or bury your past indiscretions in the place of the secrets that have required you to tend to your grave as you are in the living.

So that you can say “Grave? What grave?”

So that you can get on with this big, juicy life you’ve been given and ask “What’s next, Papa?”

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!” – Romans 8:15-17 (MSG)