Practicing Resurrection Step Four Part One

October 6, 2015 

We made a fearless, searching moral inventory of ourselves. 

This Step is what separates the men from the boys,” my sponsor told me, beaming her dark brown eyes in my direction.

I laugh now, thinking about how the “men from the boys” wasn’t even a glancing blow to my consciousness.   It should have, but it didn’t.

In these decades since that moment when my sponsor set my feet on a new path of awareness and accountability, I learned that when it comes to the Steps, some people never get past the Two-Step, doing Step One (admitting powerlessness) and Step Twelve (bringing someone else to the meetings) or the Recovery Waltz, doing the One-Two-Three of the first three steps, but coming to a dead halt at the thought of moving on to the Fourth step and doing a moral inventory.

It is pretty terrifying, unless staying in the pain is worse.

The first time I did a Fourth Step, it was a pretty feeble attempt to name my flaws and list the things I had done that had hurt other people or myself.

In the first place, my sponsor was pretty easy on me, and besides that, I still had residual effects of an image of God that demanded perfection and punished imperfection and mistakes harshly.

That God-image I carried, albeit unconsciously, had a profoundly negative effect on my developing self-image.   To put it bluntly, I was afraid to tell the real truth about myself, even to myself.  I held back and so did she, and so I pretty well flattened out at that point.

Finally, I chose a woman who is what I have called a “black belt sponsor”, a woman who had worked the Twelve Steps rigorously for over twenty years.   She took me on with great hesitation, but I was persistent. She told me she was tough, and I told her that that was what I wanted.  She was a recovering alcoholic and had worked the Steps to save her physical life, and sometimes she would put her head in her hands in despair over me and say, “It would be so much easier if you were a drunk, but your gods look good.”

(She was talking about my codependency and my tendency to put persons on what she called the throne of my life.   She was right.   Workaholism and codependency are hard addictions to break because we who practice those patterns get praise for them.  Furthermore, when we begin to make the changes necessary for our survival, the persons who have benefitted from our addictions to pleasing them, performing for them or idolizing them aren’t happy.)

To my sponsor’s credit, she hung in there with me, and I began to work on those Steps as if my life depended on it.  The truth is that it pretty much did, but it took me forever to recover even a little bit from my need to please.

I worked hard on the Fourth Step, mostly because I desperately wanted to experience some relief from the pain I was inflicting on myself, but if I tell the truth, I also wanted to please my sponsor and make her glad she was hanging in with me.  (See?  Sometimes our flaws and our complexes actually help us get to the places we long to be!)

Before I set out on this part of the venture of self-discovery, my sponsor had me read about the Fourth Step in the Big Book, and then she began setting some direction for me.    I remember feeling that this was going to be an extremely important and liberating effort.

My sponsor started out by talking about an inventory as being an assessment of both the strengths and the weaknesses, assets and liabilities.  “We aren’t going to talk only about your failures and your sin,” she told me.  “We are going to take an inventory of your good qualities.”

What a relief it was to think in terms of an inventory.

Once she thought I had grasped the concept of an inventory of my life, she expanded the idea of what “moral” meant, in terms of this Step.

“One of the ways I’ve come to look at the word “moral” is in terms of who makes me whole and what keeps me from being and becoming whole.”

We sat in the afternoon sunlight for a long time as I began to make a shift from viewing myself as either good or bad, right or wrong to a broader, deeper and more loving view of my life as a journey and wholeness as the ultimate goal.   Suddenly, something in me began to relax as I pondered my sponsor’s words, but also felt her acceptance of me just as I was.

In that tender moment, I began to move slowly and ever-so-carefully from an either/or perspective to a both/and view of myself, a view that was merciful enough to include all the parts of myself.

“It wouldn’t be right for you just to list the negatives,” she told me, gently.  “Besides, I am pretty sure you would beat yourself up, and that is not the point of a Fourth Step.  We must list your positives and you must claim them as much as you claim the negatives, or it won’t be a moral inventory.”

Not only did I feel this woman’s acceptance, but I began to feel a kind of grace.   In that moment, she brought no judgement to the conversation.   I wasn’t going to have to earn her approval by telling her only my polished up life, nor was I going to get her disapproval for the mistakes I had made.  Whatever I found in this moral inventory of my life, I was going to bring into the light of grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Whatever my sponsor said or did to convey those qualities to me, I knew she had received and worked deep into the soil of her own life.    She could be with my stuff  calmly and with no condemnation because she, too, had experienced the acceptance of her imperfect life.

She had been radically honest, and it had saved her life, and so she could give  me the safety of coming clean, first to myself, in an inventory of my life.

* * * * *

And so it was that I went to work with the first part of my inventory.

My sponsor asked me to go through my life, listing everyone I resented.  She wanted me to write the names in a notebook and tell exactly why I resented them.   She asked me to tell what kinds of actions I had done that harmed me or that person by holding or expressing resentment.

I thought the assignment would be easy, and parts of it were.  Parts of it surprised me, and there were situations I wanted to leave out.   My sponsor had told me, however, that this was to be done in ruthless honesty, and that if I wanted to recover from my need to please, I’d better tell the unvarnished truth.

And so I began, and that first Fourth Step was going to set me on a path of self-awareness and God-consciousness like nothing else ever had.

What about you?  Have you ever worked a Fourth Step?

Do you long to be able to be free from those things you did that you wish you hadn’t done and the things you didn’t do that you wish you had done?

Do you keep repeating the same mistakes, never figuring out why it is you self-sabotage, choose the wrong partners over and over, keep having to learn from the same mistake?

I highly recommend the Fourth Step.  It’s been a powerful, even miraculous tool for those of us who are flawed human beings, stumbling around, but sometimes soaring.

Grace to you —




Practicing Resurrection Step Three Part 3


We made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of

God as we understood him. 

God — as we understood him?   Right.

This is the part of this program that gives me pause because I have learned that it is often one’s understanding of God that is at the core of the problem, whichever problem you might have.

Sometimes, God-as-I-understand him can keep me locked up in my old patterns, doing the same self-defeating things over and over again.

Figuring out just who God is to me and how I understand God may be one of the most important pieces of this program of recovery.

That’s why the term “not-God” is so important.

Frankly, a lot of things I’ve used as God are not-God — like power and success, family and religion, education and money.

A friend told a story about a woman who could not stop drinking.  One day, on a trip to a far-away city, she headed to the bar in her hotel.  As she sat there drinking, she twirled the bottle in her hand and saw her reflection in the bottle.   “This isn’t a big enough god for someone like me,” she said, as she put the bottle down, left the bar and got into a Twelve Step group.

There are other gods we worship and adore and use to distract us, numb us, take us away from our lives or our problems:  shopping, gambling, sex, persons, food, work, drugs, TV, extreme sports, danger.

I have been haunted all of my life by the title of J. B. Phillips’ classic book,  Your God is too Small.

What God other than a God of love is not too small?

* * * * *

Time was, when I was a child, when I assumed that when someone used the word God, we were all talking about the same thing/person/being.   After all, ‘way back then, somebody different for me was a Methodist.

That time I am remembering is ‘way back when I didn’t understand that one’s mental picture of who God was might be different from her emotional understanding/experience/feeling about God.

That time was before I understood that a child’s God-concept was formed, based on the child’s earliest experience with his or her first caregiver and first authority figures.   In other words, we form our God-concepts when we are from earliest infancy.  Some people believe that that image of who we believe God to be begins in the womb.

Some powerful quotes collected over a lifetime have shaped my evolving understanding of who God is and how I relate to this being I can never fully grasp.*

I could not believe in a God I could define. 

All we can talk about is our image of God. 

The only thing you need to know about God is that….you ain’t he.

 I call God that which flings itself violently across my path, for the good or for the ill. 

I’ve explored the importance of the God-concept a person holds in his conscious and unconscious in various ones of my books because I believe it is the most important concept we have.   Right behind it, but barely, is the self-concept, and I believe that whatever you believe about God shapes how you experience your own self in the world.

Some people image God as judge and jury, the county sheriff or the taskmaster with a whip.  Others see God as a benevolent, but fairly impotent Santa Claus or an indulging parent.  Others see God as “the man upstairs” indicating a distant being whom they call on when they need a helping hand, and others see God as The Boss, and one who is impossible to please.

“You need to fire that god!” I have said to persons in spiritual direction.  “That god-image you hold is not only not helping you, but is hurting you.”

I admit that that is a shocking things to say to someone, but when someone is stuck in a self-punishing mode and unable to believe in a God of love and grace and mercy, sometimes a little shock to the system is in order.

I’ve also learned that “God as I understand him” can be the concept that keeps me in my self-defeating patterns.   I may drift into my codependency out of uncasing and unrelenting self-imposed guilt or shame, feelings of inferiority or inadequacy or fear if I believe in a God who is never satisfied with me, always critical of me and ready to abandon me at the first flicker of a mistake.

Persons do that, I’ve learned, but God as I’ve come to understand God is always as near as my breath as the empowering and liberating Spirit of unconditional love, forgiveness and patience.

If God as I understand him is an indulging mother or father who sort of chuckles at my foibles, I may never grow up out of my childish narcissism to admit that whatever I do has consequences and results and that I can’t get by with my self-indulgent ways without reaping the exact harvest I have sown.   I’m not ever so special that I can thumb my nose at the  natural laws that  govern the universe.

Every one of us finally gets to the destination of the train we’ve chosen to ride, but I am convinced that no matter how disastrous that ride might be, there is a loving, merciful God even there, waiting to embrace us and give us a new start.

* * * * *

I’ve spent decades thinking about who God is, and the more I think about God, the more mysterious and incomprehensible God is.

Long ago, I relinquished my image of God as a huge Abraham Lincoln figure, sitting on his enormous throne with the Book that contained all of my wrong-doings — the things I should have done that I did not do (we called those the sins of omission in my childhood) and the things I did that I should not have done.  (Those were really terrible.  I just knew that once God read all of that on Judgement Day, my mother would be the one most horrified!)

God is no more a fixed being, a Caucasion e male with a huge white beard floating around the heavenlies with his critical eye fixed on me than the wind is something you can see with your naked eye.

I no longer try to define God, but I take seriously the words I learned as a child in Sunday School.   Whatever or whoever else God may be, I believe this to be the most eloquent and definitive things I can say about who God is.

God is love. 

That understanding of God — God as unconditional love — is something you can stand on.  And with everything in me, I believe that there is nothing I can do to make God love me any more than he/she loves me now, and there is nothing I can do to make God stop loving me.

God’s very nature is love.   God cannot be God and God cannot not love.

The God of love is the God who can liberate us, heal us, transform us and empower us to live the sane and healthy, wild and precious lives we are created to live.  That is a belief/image/concept of God that can get you sober and keep you sober, whether your addiction is to people-pleasing, a person, a substance or an activity.

* * * * *

Think about it.    What is your image of who God is?

(This isn’t the place for the polished up Sunday School answer.  It’s the place for the “in the dark of the night when it’s just me” answer.)

Who is God to you?

Who are you to God?

Those may be the most important questions you’ll ever answer.

And within your answer may lie the key to your willingness to surrender your will and your life.

Your answer may reveal the key to your sobriety.

This “God” we talk about so easily, so much, so flippantly and so casually — is mysterious and majestic, invisible and transcendent.

This God we talk about is holy and beyond human comprehension and words — and, yet, as near as your breath.

This God is pure, unending love.

Grace to you —



* In order, those quotes can be attributed to Nietzsche, Pittman McGehee, a poster in my dorm room long ago, and Carl Jung.

New book Fierce Love

Practicing Resurrection: Step Three, Part 2

September 5, 2015

We made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over

to the care of God as we understand him. 

It’s hard to admit you are powerless over something — a substance, a habit, a process or a person, and I’ve heard it said by veterans of recovering that if you’re blocked at one of the steps along these Twelve Steps, it may be because you didn’t fully “work” the previous step.

I’ve heard it said, as well, that people who never really recover from an addition have probably not ever honestly or fully taken that First Step.

It’s hard, isn’t it, to admit that you are powerless over something out there or within you, and it’s hard and humiliating to admit that your life has become unmanageable.

It’s difficult to take that Second Step and admit that that there might be a power greater than yourself or that you might be restored to “sanity”.

Time was when  I thought that if only the words could be changed, these steps might work with me.  Being a writer, I could come up with some more palatable words than “powerless”, “unmanageable” or “sanity”.  Brought up in a church, I didn’t have any problem with admitting there was a Power greater than myself, but I had also been brought up in a culture that taught me that I should be able to be independent and self-reliant, pulling myself up by my bootstraps and “getting over it” when things were hard.

I’ve struggled with all of these Steps, and I’ve tried to work with changing the language until finally my sponsor, with her head in her hands and a few sharp words, said to me, “Would you consider that what has worked for literally hundreds of thousands of people for decades just might work for you?”

* * * * *

Notice, please, that  in the wording of this powerful and difficult step,  my will is placed before my life.

That has always both fascinated me and reminded me that I often turn my will, my welfare, my well-being and my happiness over to other people, substances, self-defeating habits or action, and that decision always results in regret.   To turn my will over to something or someone else other than the One who created me in his image is to allow those other gods to have power over me.

I’ve learned that whatever I turn into a god or whatever I make into an idol will ultimately fail me, or I will destroy it.  Either way, God will be God, but more about that in the next blog.

Turning my will over to other things or people is not the same thing as cooperating  with others or the sometimes necessary give-and-take of human relationships.  It is allowing another person or substance to control me, to wield power over my mind and heart, to be an idol to me.

We humans seem infinitely prone to turning good things into idols.  Family, education, success, money, our children, work and other good things can become the organizing principles of our affections, our schedules, our expenditures and our moods.    Substances that can destroy our minds and bodies can become our substitute gods, as well.  It’s easy to see the damage that some pastimes and substances can bring, but it’s hard to recognize church, family and physical fitness as addictions!

So it is that what must be surrendered is both the will and one’s whole life, and frankly, that’s no small task.

* * * * *

How I have longed for those moments when I turned my will and my life over to God and could move on with my life, forever changed from that moment on– with no turning back, no stumbling, no relapses, no slip-ups.

I have wished for I could just pray a simple prayer with three or four points and have all the burdens of my life lifted from my shoulders.

For me, surrender has been an on-going, one layer at a  time process.

Spiritual growth and recovering from co-dependency has been a laborious baby step at a time, and now and then I’ve been granted a moment of soaring.   I’ve had to work out my salvation like Paul in the New Testament, and for me salvation is a lifelong process.

I’d like to use the excuse that my surrender is made more difficult because we codependents and workaholics get rewarded for our addictions, and the truth is that when we try to change our obsessions, others sometimes protest.   Both codependency and workaholism are ego-gratifying, as much as I hate to admit it, and the hard, cold truth of the matter is that when I allow myself excuses, rationalizations and justifications for why authentic surrender is so hard for me, I am succumbing to the old trick of avoidance of the one thing that will move me forward into wholeness, health and the abundant life.

So it is that I have learned that I must give as much as I know of myself in the present moment to as much as I know of God and trust that in that yielding to that Higher Power, I am doing my part.    In that abandonment of my will and my life into the care of God, I am moving into the realm of Mystery and trusting that the process of this mysterious dance between the Almighty and us creatures, human beings made in the image of God really works.

What about you?

If you have worked this step successfully, what wisdom have you learned that you would share?

If you have struggled to take this step, what is the stumbling block for you?

What is the hardest thing for you to surrender to God?

To what other “gods” have you surrendered your will and your life?  How has that worked for you?

Is your experience that you have had to surrender your will and your life more than once, or has once been enough?

I know this much:   God is at work in all things, including my surrender, at an unseen, invisible and mysterious level, attempting to work for good in our lives.

The miracle is that sometimes, in spite of our strong and stubborn wills and the messes and tangles we have made of our life, we can actually see and feel and know the power and peace of God’s work…..and that is amazing.

Grace to you–


On another note:  Welcome to this new website.

For a variety of reasons, it was time to re-do and refresh my website.   David Cassidy with FaithLab has done a remarkable and beautiful job, helping me for many years, and I will forever be grateful to him for his patience and creativity.  Thank you, my friend.

Long Nguyen, the owner of Trusty Mobile Marketing and my computer guru and helper has set up this new website and helped me immeasurably.   Since he is local, he can come to my rescue when I get stuck and is also eternally patient, teaching and re-teaching me the ways of computer-world and social media.   If you live in Houston, I highly recommend his services.



Book Signing in May 2015

Practicing Resurrection Step Three….Made a Decision….

Practicing Resurrection

Step Three:  We made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

“I’m not sure I can do this!” I said to my Twelve Step Sponsor.

I had more than willingly expressed my eagerness to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understood him — in general terms.  Coming to this specific issue that I needed to surrender to God was another thing.

Looking back on that early, innocent eagerness, I recall now my childhood experience of inviting Jesus into my heart.  With what childlike trust I had in my parents and with my eagerness to please them and Jesus, I had no problem accepting him as my personal savior, an act that I was told would guarantee me protection from hell and a glorious entrance into heaven.

With all that I knew of myself and all that I knew of God at that nine-year-old point in my life, I gladly gave my life to Jesus.

Now, as an adult with a lifetime of struggle with my own stubborn will, I don’t question that childlike trust, but I do know that I didn’t have a clue on what it was to “follow Jesus” at that time except to do what I had seen my peers do before me and to do what my parents wanted me to do.

Now, sitting with my Twelve Step sponsor, I was pressed to the wall with the need to surrender what I wanted, what I thought I had to have and perhaps could not even live without, I wasn’t so sure about that surrender thing.

It turns out that surrendering to God would not be a one-time event for me, either at nine or at thirty-nine nor now.   I would have many opportunities to do that, some of them more willingly than others.

Nor was surrendering my will to God turning out to make everything nice and easy for me, no matter how sincere I was.   Sometimes I had to let go of the same thing over and over, I’d learned, and sometimes I had to let go of things that were mighty precious to my ego!

“I can’t do it,” I said again, trying to impress on my stubborn sponsor  the impossibility of doing what was being asked of me, which was handing over to God the very thing I valued most in life.

“All you have to do is be willing to be willing,” she said, quietly.

Even now, years later, the memory of the tone of her voice makes me want to weep, for in her voice I heard nothing but tenderness, compassion and her desire for me to be free.   Her words to me were pure love.

I’d chosen well when I chose my sponsor.  She was as stubborn as I was.   She was tough and then, in a moment, the greatest tenderness possible would come from the same voice that, seconds before, had held firm to the program and the next step indicated.

It was from my sponsor that I first heard the words “my self-will run riot”, and nobody had to explain to me what that meant.   I felt some better when I read that the great Christian writer Oswald Chambers had struggled with his own stubborn will.

When my three daughters were young, I lamented to my mother about how strong-willed my little girls were.  She chided me by saying, “Oh, Darling, you should be glad.  They will need  strong will to do whatever they are meant to do in life.”

I had a sense that my parents had supported my own strength, but it was my confrontation with my own stubborn will run riot that had me up against a wall I could not move.

Perhaps it was then that I began to learn the difference between a stubborn will and a strong one, and, even more, I was to begin to learn the difference between a self-will and a surrendered will.

Therein would lie freedom, if only I could learn the important grace of letting go and letting God take over.

This Third Step starts with making a decision.   That decision lies at the crossroads between freedom and slavery.  It is at the crossroads of admitting our lives are in chaos, shambles, disarray and even insanity because of our powerlessness over a lifestyle, an addiction to a substance, persons or an activity and admitting that there is a Power greater than ourselves that can restore us to sanity and the willingness to do what needs to be done to cooperate with that Power and participate with that Power to move into the state of freedom and grace for which we were made.

Track back to the origin of the word decide and you find that it means to cut, to make the cut, so no wonder some of us tremble a bit when we come up to those moments when we have to make the cut between what has been and what could be or must be.  It is no wonder that making the decision creates fear and anxiety in us!

What if I cannot keep my commitment to my decision?

What if I make the wrong decision?

What if I make this decision and I learn something new that I don’t know now?

What if other people don’t approve of/like/support my decision?

What if I can’t live with my decision?

I suppose it’s when your back is up against the wall that to make a decision can be harder than it’s ever been or easier than it’s ever been.


About 8 weeks ago, I knew that I needed to make another important change in my life.   For too long, I had lived as a compliant or a victim, depending on the situation, to what was going on in my outer world without putting some things that were extremely important to me first in my time management and daily life.

I could have gone on forever, letting other peoples’ schedules and agendas run my life, fitting in what was most important to me as I could.

While this particular decision was not especially of the importance as turning my will and my life over to God, it was something I needed to do if I was going to live out this particular part of my life in the way I knew was best for me.   It wasn’t a moral or ethical decision I needed to make, but a time management decision, and it was that decision that would make the rest of my life work better.   Simply put, my decision was to break an old habit and form a new one, a new one based on putting first things first.

I didn’t have a great deal of confidence in myself, but I did some research on what it takes to form new habits.    I researched on the internet about forming new habits and breaking old ones, and I read The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg.  I thought and thought about how I would set myself up for success because I really, really wanted to form a habit that was really important to me, and then I discovered this “movement” called “The Hundred Day Challenge”, and I knew I had found the key for myself.

I had no intentions of telling anyone what I had decided because I was so afraid I would fail and break my commitment to myself, but on the first day I went to my yoga lesson after I had made my decision, I blurted out my decision before I had even unrolled my mat.

It doesn’t matter to me that what I needed to do is easy for some people.  It doesn’t matter to me that I should have made this decision long ago. What mattered to me was that a part of my life was out-of-control and I knew that bringing it back in line was going to make a huge difference in my daily life.  What matters is that keeping my commitment to this 100 Day Challenge is an important piece in my recovery from codependence.

“I’m going to do yoga first thing every morning for 100 Days, ” I told my teacher, and then I added, “and I am going to do my Centering Prayer right afterwards.”

The words literally fell out of my mouth, and I was terrified that I had told her.

Before I could give in to the fear, however, my teacher responded with such a positive affirmation of my decision that for the first time in this process, I felt confidence that I could do what I had set out to do.

Tomorrow is Day Fifty, and I have been amazed, surprised, encouraged and deeply moved by the Power greater than myself that has come from within to help me, energize me and keep me inspired one day at a time.

What I have learned about myself in just these fifty days has amazed me, but more than anything, the help I’ve received just from making the decision brings me to my knees every morning with gratitude and a sense of awe.

It may seem like a little thing, but it isn’t.

This decision and this process follows a lifetime of struggling with my stubborn will to do things my way and on my own timetable.

For the record, I have a list of other parts of my life that I still need to decide to turn over to God, but what I’m learning is the power of taking first things first and keeping it simple.

* * * * *

My friend, mentor, teacher and longtime guide in matters of the soul and heart Father Keith Hosey listened to an update of my life and my struggles on his annual trip to lead a retreat at the Cenacle Retreat Center, here in Houston where I live.

“Learn to say Yes sooner, ” he said to me, and I looked at him with what was surely a puzzled face.

“When God is leading you, say Yes sooner,” he repeated, and then he chuckled.

“You take too long to decide whether it’s going to be God who leads or your own will. Say Yes sooner.”


I’m glad I decided to choose such wise teachers!

What about you?

What decisions are hardest for you to make?

Do you put off making decisions that you know would be good for you or might even save your life?   What are the reasons you give yourself for doing that?

When is a time when you made a decision that you felt was empowered by God, working within you?   What was that like?

When was a time when you made a decision that was against your best interest, against what you believed God was asking of you, out of defiance, out of fear, out of rebellion?   How did that work for you?

In your life, how are deciding, trusting and obeying connected?

What do you fear most about making the wrong decisions?

Do you fear defying God’s guidance, especially when it is a guidance toward sobriety, serenity, courage and peace?

My favorite verse from Deuteronomy 30:19 in  the Old Testament is this:

I have set before you today life and death,

blessing and curse.

Therefore, choose life.

Make a list of the things you choose/decide that bring blessing and life.

Make a list of the things you choose/decide that bring curse and death.

May we all choose well — and choose blessing and life.

Grace to you —