Practicing Resurrection: Step Four, Part 3

November 16, 2015

 We made a fearless and searching moral inventory of our lives.

So, what’s bugging you about your life?   What’s bugging you most?

Do you find yourself doing the same thing, choosing the same self-defeating behaviors, re-creating the same problems in the same kinds of relationships over and over?

Are you in the midst of a situation, demanding to know how you’ve gotten in the mess you are in?  (Hint:  To whom are you directing that question?)

“Most people flail away at the smoke,” a wise man told me, “but neglect to look at the fire or the cause of the smoke.”

Years ago, I realized that getting to the source of whatever addiction, self-defeating behavior or habit was going to be a great deal more helpful than simply treating the symptoms.    At the root of those behaviors that I cannot seem to change is often one of these afflictive feelings:







(Before you read on, take a minute to look at those words again.  Number them from 1-6, with 1 being the one that bothers you the most.  Hint: If there’s one that you think is no problem, watch out!  Look again.)

It was in a Yokefellow Spiritual Growth Group that I learned that whatever the outward problem is, if I can trace it back to one of these motivations, I could work on the problem at the source.

In Yokefellow, those basic feelings were called Sins, with a capital S, and through the years I have learned that other afflictive feelings such as resentment, pride, frustration, jealous and envy, greed and even forms of depression are often a mixture of one or more of those afflictive feelings.

It’s one thing to make a list of the people I resent, but it’s another thing to identify the basic core feelings that fuel the resentment.   Separating them out from each other helps to be more specific in the inventory process.

The behaviors that are problematic for us — a critical attitude, bullying, people-pleasing,withholding, using and abusing  processes, people or substances to numb ourselves and many other hurtful behaviors are all masks of the real problem, the Sin that fuels the problem.   We call the behaviors the sins, with a lower case s, not because they are not as important or as harmful, but to differentiate the behavior from the root cause.

Indeed, this process requires self-reflection and self-honesty, but they yield great benefits.

Once you have identified the root feeling or motivation, you may be astonished at how many other places that feeling causes you trouble.   Again, a ruthless self-honesty in this process is a path to freedom, but it should never be seen as a cause for punishing yourself.*

* * * * *

In this moral inventory, there comes a time to examine your golden shadow or to take a look at the ways in which you have hidden your talents and abilities, your gift or your purpose in life.

It is also helpful to examine the ways you have given your power away to others — either your power to make choices or your power to live your life according to your values.   You may have taken the easy road through life, doing what other people tell you to do or want you to do, living to please or placate others and missing what Mary Oliver calls “your one wild and precious life.”

(Hint:  If you often feel resentment toward others, take a hard look at where you may be giving your time, your resources, your personal power away to someone else.  Takers are good at finding people who easily give in and give up to their whims, and givers are good at finding people who will use them for their own purposes.  Always, there is a need for balance in a relationship; when someone either takes or gives all the time, the relationship is clearly off-balance.)

Some questions to guide this exploration are these:

  1. Do you feel that you have neglected taking responsibility for any part of your life  that belongs to you?
  1. How have you “hidden your light”, either living through others, fearing failure, blaming others for not “letting” you shine?
  1. How often are you jealous or envious of others’ accomplishments or achievements?
  2. What dreams about your life have you relinquished because you simply “never got  around to it”?
  1. Do you blame anyone in your life for any failure or problem
  2. What excuses do you tell yourself and others for the reasons for your failure to be, become or do what you want?   How is that working for you?

* * * * *

Always, the purpose of examining one’s own life is to assume adult responsibility for what you have done that has hurt others and what you have not done that you should have/could have done.

I will never forget listening to Dr. James Hollis, Jungian analyst and author discuss the problem of being “guileless”, which is a word often used as a compliment .   Dr. Hollis firmly repudiated the compliment and made it clear that to be guileless often means that you are unconscious either of your own flaws and defects and those of others.   Often, those who carry a Pollyanna attitude about life or those who make a career of never calling a spade a space simply cannot bear the thought of looking bad to others.

Childlike innocence in children is a beautiful thing, but that same behavior in adults can be dangerous, and Hollis urged those of us in his classes to be bold in dealing with the toxic waste dump of unprocessed feelings and motivations in our own inner lives  and to face the violence within our own lives so that we would not project it out or take it out on others.

As I write these words, I am heartbroken over the latest acts of terrorism in Paris, a city I have come to love.  As I have watched the stories unfold over the past few days, I have remembered  Hollis’ words after 9/11.   He had much to say about what could happen if the people who have inflicted violence on innocent strangers had dared to face the violence in their own lives.  The truth is that that which is not healed, forgiven, addressed, managed in our own inner lives will be sprayed out onto others, one way or another.  What happens in one’s inner life gets expressed in the streets, in the boardrooms and in the marketplaces of our lives as we take out our pain on other people.

For more about this, I highly recommend Hollis’ masterpiece, When Good People Do Bad Things.

The Fourth Step is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful and healing activities or personal practices I have ever experienced.  It is one of the clearest ways to inner freedom; it is the way of taking full responsibility for one’s life.

* * * * *

What about you?

If you feel that you have wasted your life, what is the way forward?

If you are caught in a trap of blaming others for the state you’re in, what would happen if you started taking responsibility for your own life?

What about those secrets you harbor and the things you are afraid to tell about yourself?

Have you ever heard the truth that says, “We are as sick as our secrets”?

Have you ever had the feeling that if anyone knew you, they wouldn’t like you?

Is there someone who has tried to help you that you keep pushing away?  What’s that about?

Are you dying with your song still in you, yet unsung?

What are the excuses you tell yourself and others about why you are the way you are and why you do the things you do?

Do you secretly long for another chance to live a day, a week, a lifetime in a better way?

Can you see this self-examination as an act of love you give yourself?

What’s the biggest fear you have about getting sane and sober, free, healthy and strong, serene and at peace with yourself, your addictions, your pain, your life?

In that same Yokefellow Group I learned the following words, which are full of grace and mercy for me.

I am neither bad nor good, but both,

and because God accepts me, I will accept myself.

I am neither selfish or unselfish, but both,

and because God understands me, I will accept myself.

I am neither loving nor unloving, but both,

and because God loves me unconditionally, I will love myself.

Grace to you–


  • *I have written more extensively on this process in my book Joint Venture:  Practical Spirituality for Everyday Pilgrims, published by Smyth and Helwys Publishing.

Practicing Resurrection Step Four    Part 2  

October 23, 2015

We made a fearless and searching moral inventory of our lives.

 “I’m too scared to do an inventory of my life.   I’m afraid of what I will discover.” 

It’s appropriate to be cautious, setting out on an exploration of one’s life, and I always suggest that having a wise and experienced sponsor and having taken those first three steps  to persons interested in such an undertaking.

It’s wise to consider the challenge ahead seriously.  It’s important to set aside enough time for reflection and a plan for doing an inventory.

It’s helpful to plan ahead so that you give yourself the time to take as long as it takes, and it is a good idea to have a start-up time and a flexible end-time, and when you get bogged down or if you move from doing an inventory either to flogging yourself or making excuses for yourself, a good sponsor can help keep you on the course.

It makes a lot of sense, as well, to realize from the beginning that it’s pretty easy to slide over into telling yourself that “it wasn’t that bad” or “I am the worst person in the world”.

Either response to a moral inventory leads to a dead end.

It’s a good idea to have a sponsor who knows the program really well and who knows you really well so that he or she can tell you when you are blaming someone or something else for the pain you’re in.

Children blame.  Adults take responsibility. 

* * * * * 

There are all kinds of barriers that will seemingly rise up out of nowhere to keep you from moving through this step.   Here are some I’ve had to face:

Inability or unwillingness to see or to own responsibility for one’s own actions.

Over-responsibility that makes a person take all the blame for a situation.

Misunderstanding of the purpose of the Fourth Step….or of the whole program of recovery.

Fear     Fear     Fear

of doing it wrong

of finding out something that is too terrible to admit

of having to change

of thinking that self-awareness and self-knowledge will lead you to self-disgust

of thinking that following this program will somehow give others control over you

Commitment to living as a victim

Lack of practical aids — a sponsor, a guide, a plan, good support

Flawed understanding of God and sin and self-knowledge

Seeing only your liabilities, defects and sins

Fear of discovering the gifts and assets that are yours and taking responsibility for them

You may have your own unique and self-designed resistance to this moral inventory, but  at the heart of the process lies the question, “Do I want to recover from my ________________?”

If the answer is no, then you can keep on keeping on down the road you’re on, and with this reality:

We always arrive at the destination that is at the end of the road we’ve chosen to walk. 

* * * * *

               Question:   “Can’t we just leave well enough alone?”

Answer:      “Yes, when it is well enough.”

Here’s what I know for sure:  Cleaning up the inner  toxicity of my life — my guilt or shame, inferiority or inadequacy, anger or hate and fear — is one of the most loving things I can do for my family and the world — and for myself.

That which is not worked out or talked out will either be projected out, taken  out or acted out onto others, often the ones we love the most.

Guilt that is not forgiven will either be self-punished or repeated.  Count on it.

This step isn’t punishment, for crying out loud. It is about live in grace and mercy and freedom.

Step Four is about liberation, healing, transformation and empowerment to live the “one wild and precious life” you have been given.

So, have courage. Go boldly, and yes as fearlessly as you can into a clear-eyed, loving examination of your life — your strengths and your weaknesses, your successes and your failures, your good deeds and your mistakes, your loving acts of kindness and your sins against yourself and others.

My guess is that knowing oneself as one really is opens the possibility of loving oneself — one’s True Self — as one is taught to love one’s neighbor.

* * * * *

What about you?   What is your experience with the whole issue of admitting your defects, sins, flaws, mistakes to yourself?

Have you ever “gone to confession”, only to have it be a forced, phony expression of contrived contrition?

Have you ever done a “Daily Examen”?

What is your biggest fear in knowing yourself as you really are?

A Prayer for Self-Honesty

Oh, God,

how can I ever see myself

as I really am?  I am so good at hiding

from myself.

How can I stop

the wide spring, back

and forth


being too hard and too harsh on myself

on the one hand,

and then,

letting myself off the


making excuses,

justifying my behavior,

turning a blind eye

to the things

I don’t want to see?

(How can I finally understand

that just because I refuse to see

myself as I am

doesn’t mean that others

are as blind as I choose to be?)

Please grant me the grace

to see myself as You see me.

Please grant me the mercy

to accept all of mySelf…..even as You do….

And Please give me the courage

to come to You….as I am.

Show me who You made me to be

and who You intend for me to be today….

and help me to accept mySelf,

no matter how wonderful I might

turn out to be.

JM   11-13-03


book signed 1

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 4


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 3

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.




Practicing Resurrection: Step Three, Part 2

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

My self-will is the only part of me that I can know is going to wake up raring to go in the morning.   It is tireless in wanting its way and thinking it knows best.

My self-will is also really good at engineering self-sabotage, as long as my will is under the domination of my complexes, my fears or my codependency.   As long as I have “My will and my way” on the throne of my life — or as long as I have another person on the throne of my life, I’m under the control of something other than my best self-interest.

When my self-will is running riot, I can spout all the religious language in the world, but the truth is that it isn’t God who is running my life.

The other truth is that when I’m in the grips of codependency, I routinely and unconsciously turn my will and my life over to the care of other people, especially people I want to please.

Especially people whose rejection I fear.

Especially people upon whom I depend for approval, security, or _________________.  (the

options are infinite)

Especially the people who hold some kind of power over me.  (I can hardly bear to write that!)

Looking back over my life, I don’t have a ton of regrets, but I do regret that I handed over some of my power to certain people.  Sometimes I didn’t know any better.  Sometimes I knew better, but did it, anyway.  Sometimes I thought I didn’t have a choice, and sometimes I was just not strong enough or brave enough to take the stands I needed to take.

I’m not going to become a victim of my own regrets, but it has been helpful for me to take a look at the people I let take up too much space in my head and learn from those few regrets I have.

I’ve learned that if I can turn over those regrets to God’s grace, even the worst mistakes I’ve made can become lessons and can even give me strength and wisdom.

The key is if I’ll surrender those hard experiences to God and let God’s love make sense of that which doesn’t make sense and make good what was intended for evil.

* * * * *

When I was a child, I did what most children did in my particular religious world.  We said it two ways:   I invited Jesus into my heart  or I turned my life over to God.

That early surrender was so easy and natural.  After all, I didn’t have that much to surrender to God when I was nine!

Looking back, I don’t doubt the childhood decision I made, and I don’t doubt that God as I understood God then or understand God now honored that decision.   My understanding of that experience is more sophisticated now than it was when I was 9, but my God-concept is ‘way bigger than it was when I was a child.

The truth that I stand on is that at that point in my life, I gave as much as I knew of myself to as much as I knew of God.

The problem was that with my limited understanding at that time, I didn’t realize that there was going to be a great deal more to my relationship with God than anyone bothered to tell me.

I suppose it is best that I learned it for myself.

What I know now is that it isn’t until you have an understanding of what your “will” really is that you can fathom what it means to surrender  it to a Higher Power.

I know now that you have to have a sense of your own self to have anything to surrender to God, and what I believe is that you probably have to be like the Prodigal Son and walk away from your beginning place (your childhood home and family) to understand what it is like to return home.  When you come home to yourself, I’ve learned, and when you grow up, you always go back to your family of origin as a changed person.

* * * * *

I grew up in a culture that places high value on self-reliance and self-responsibility.   Independence and being able to take care of yourself and your responsibilities is the mark of an adult.  The proclamation of a two-year-old, “I’ll do it myself!” can become the defiance of an adult.  To need help is considered a weakness.

Furthermore, in our culture the very word “surrender” indicates defeat.  It means you lost or failed and you must resign yourself to being at another’s supervision, superiority or domination.

In our culture, it is even considered a weakness to apologize to someone, even if you are wrong, as if apologizing is demeaning and humiliating.

Surrender, turning yourself or something over to God, asking for help, yielding to a program of recovery, being malleable may be prompted by a humiliating experience, but the real truth is that surrender, in the spiritual sense, is an act of extreme courage.  It is an act of humility, and is ia declaration of a willingness to be led to a healthier way of life.

We humans do resist surrendering our wills to another, and yet, to resist is to persist in a pattern that keeps you doing the same self-sabotaging behavior over and over.

The act of surrender is one of the hallmarks of all spiritual growth and is to be found in all religions.

In my lifetime I have made countless declarations of surrender.  I have turned the same thing over to God repeatedly and then taken it back, refusing to give God time to work.   I have thought that I knew best.  I have believed that something that was outside my realm of influence was mine to repair, only to discover that no matter what the issue is, everything goes better for me if I can surrender myself and/or the situation, the problem, the challenge or the feeling to God as an on-going habit.

At first, I thought that surrendering my will to God would take away my freedom to choose.

I thought that surrendering my life to God would give him permission to push me around and pull me into places I didn’t want to go.

Now and then, I thought that giving my will to God would mean that I no longer had to do anything about stuff and could just rest on a flowery bed of ease, waiting for God to move me like a puppet on a string and arrange things for me.

I never have expected God to open up parking places for me, but I did think that if I gave myself to him, he might give me special rates on the hard trips of life.

At times I assumed that giving myself to God would mean that I wouldn’t have to struggle with myself any longer, but that I would just automatically stop being codependent.  I would instantly have deep wisdom and know what to do about everything.  I would not have an inner battle with fear or depression, anger or shame, and that other people in my life would quickly step in line, obviously impressed with my recovery.

What I have discovered is that surrendering my will and my life to God has meant these things and a lot more that I still have to learn:

— I now have access to a power greater than myself who is willing to help me help myself.

— I now have direction to the people, places, opportunities and information that I need to

learn how to live this new life I’ve chosen to live.

— I have access to mercy when I fail.  I have access to grace when I need it.

— I have people come into my life at exactly the right time to be my teacher, my guide, my


— I have access to patience and the ability to keep on keeping on when I think I cannot go

another step.

— I have a feeling of being loved profoundly of who I am and who I am becoming.

— I have a deeper, greater and more prevalent sense of the exquisite beauty of life.

— I have more compassion for others and their struggles because I know how hard it is to

recover from any kind of addiction and any kind of character defect.

— I have more self-compassion and more patience with myself as I try to replace old,

self-defeating habits with new, self-nurturing ones.

— I no longer am attached to my “pie in the sky” idealism; instead, I am able to accept

the complexity of life, the imperfections of life and the mystery of life.

There’s something more, too, about turning my will and my life over to the care of God.

I have a sense of being carried by that Power greater than myself.   I have a sense of the holiness of life — and a sense of God’s presence in everyday, ordinary events.

Singer/songwriter Peter Mayer says it best in this song that always takes my breath away when I remember the long, arduous passage from childhood innocence to adult faith, the long and winding road of recovery and the long, hard walk to freedom.  This song speaks of the holiness of everyday life, one of the gifts of surrender:

When I was a boy each week

On Sunday we would go to church

Pay attention to the Priest

and he would read the Holy word

and consecrate the Holy bread

and everyone would kneel and bow

Today the only difference is

Everything is Holy now



Everything is Holy now

When I was in Sunday School

We would learn about the time

Moses split the sea in two

and Jesus made the water


I remember feeling sad

Miracles don’t happen still

but now I can’t keep track

cause Every things

a Miracle

Everything, Everything,

Every things a Miracle


Wine from water is not so small

but an even better magic trick

is that anything is here at all

Sooo, The challenging thing becomes

Not to look for Miracles

but finding where there

is’nt one

When Holy water was rare at best

It barely wet my fingertips

but now I have to hold my breath

like I’m swimming in a sea of it

It used to be a world half there

Heavens second rate hand me down

but I walk it with a reverent air

cause Everything is Holy now

* * * * *

Taking myself off the throne of my life — giving up having to be god in my life and others — and opening my mind and my heart up to the Mystery of God has infused my life with a sense of love, joy and peace that I never could have imagined while I was refusing to give up control of my life.

Don’t get me wrong.   Under stress, I’m still vulnerable to feeling that I must be in charge, and if the threat is really big, I can go into action on a dime, thinking that it’s all up to me to run the world.  I still have to take myself off the throne of my life, and I have to take others off that throne, as well.  I suppose it — the eternal vigilance — won’t be over until it’s over.

Challenged, I still  may get defensive and try to impose my will on another person.

Angry or anxious, I can slip into one of  Dr. Jung’s complexes in a heartbeat.  Thankfully, I now have the tools for recognizing that I’m in a complex (most of the time) and can work my way out, often with heavy doses of self-compassion and self-soothing.

If I’m hurting or if I am lonely, I’m still vulnerable to the big temptations to slip back into an unconscious state, asleep at the wheel of my life while thinking I’ve got to run my life, and then turning to old behaviors to assuage my pain.

Thanks be to God my Twelve Step sponsor taught me that “it’s progress, not perfection that matters.”

Over and over, though, life hands me the opportunity to return again and again to the stance in life that I have found to be the stance of peace, and that is the surrendered heart and mind.

Over and over, like the prodigal returning home, I can return “home” to the Father’s house, assured that my failures and flaws do not keep the Father from welcoming me home with loving arms, mercy and grace.

And the miracle is that even when life is messy, even when I’ve blown it and gotten off my path, the habit of surrender leads me back to the place where I remember and recognize that everything is holy now.


What about you?

How do you know when you’re clinging to your “my way or else” mode?

When do others’ wills and ways take over your mind and heart and control you?  How does that feel, on any given day?

Complete this sentence:

I’d rather _______________________ than turn my will and my life over to God!

Think about it long and hard before you answer:

To what and to whom do you typically hand over your will, your decisions, your thoughts, your

life, your well-being?

And then answer this:

How’s that working for you?

Book Signing in May 2015

Practicing Resurrection Step Three Part 1

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 —