We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.  

At the end of your life you will be asked to give an account for all of the pleasures God allowed you, but you refused to enjoy.

   I’ll never forget the first time I saw that quote, tucked into a book by Roger Housden.  I liked it immediately.   I tried to find the source of those words, but couldn’t find them.

Later, I saw it in an Oprah magazine, attributed to the famous writer Anonymous.

Regardless of the source, the words rang true to me — and important, especially since I had spent my childhood years envisioning standing in a long line to report my sins to God before I could be approved for Heaven.  Thankfully, my understanding of God has changed through the years, and while I no longer imagine Heaven with any of the childhood images of my childhood, I do understand practically the unrelenting reality of cause and effect, payback and the pain of having to live with consequences of my actions.

Thankfully, I have taken this quote by Anonymous seriously, especially as I have allowed my God-concept to change into one that is more consistent with the compassionate, forgiving, gracious and merciful love of God that is all through the scriptures.   I have come to understand that we are punished more by our sins than for them, and I have learned that God’s wrath so dramatically pictured in the Old Testament is redemptive wrath.  What that means is that I believe more and more as I learn that God really is at work in all things, working for good.

Exploring the idea of “dancing with God” as I did the research and reflection to write Dance Lessons: Moving to the Beat of God’s Heart.  The more I pondered the concept of dancing with God, the more I understood this beautiful question.  Because I was not allowed to dance when I was growing up, dancing is something I have learned to love.  Moving to the beat of God’s heart, an idea inspired by John Phillip Newell and the spirituality of the Celtic traditions, has healed something deep within me, and so I resonate with the idea of an end of the day examen that focuses on what delights I have been offered instead of what sins have I committed.

(I must add that I still look for the ways I have hurt others or myself during the day.  I still ask for forgiveness–often.  I still work with my codependency issues, my stubborn flaws, my character defect, my mistakes and my sins.   I do carry within me, however, a statement my special friend Frank Pool gave me, which he attributed to his mother:   The bigness of God’s forgiveness is greater than any sin we can commit.

This beloved quotation, then, is one of the most important I have ever heard.   Indeed, God has granted us so many beautiful gifts in creation, day after day.  He has given us laughter so that we can enjoy what is funny, delightful, surprising or outrageous.  He has given us the capacity to receive his gifts intended for our pleasure through our eyes and ears, our sense of smell and taste, as well as our ability to feel the warmth of a loved one’s hand, the pleasure of a beautiful thing we can hold and the weight of a baby’s sleeping body next to our own hearts.  The list of pleasures, indeed, is endless.

God has also given us the capacity to feel appreciation, to experience pleasure and to enjoy our lives every day.  If I’m doing any of those important things, I have to ask myself why I deprive myself of so much goodness.   What is blocking me from enjoying my own “one wild and precious life” to the fullest?  Am I really too lazy or too fearful to experience pleasure?  Or, am I afraid of looking foolish, wasting time, or going too far away from duty, responsibility and my almighty schedule?

And why is it that I cannot receive God’s forgiveness or forgive myself for something I deep unforgivable?  Do I really think that my own sin is so special that it is excluded from the mercies of God, mercies that are new every morning?   Am I such a case that God’s grace cannot redeem me?

So, at the end of the day, why not take a scan of your day and ask yourself questions such as these as part of your personal inventory?

Did I allow myself to take time to give myself compassion when I needed it?

Was there a moment when I blew off a compliment, thereby missing the lift it could have given me and discounting the giver’s intent?

In what moment of this day did I rush through a meal without taking time to savor it or ponder gratitude for having plenty to eat?

Did I spend too much time listening to things that unnecessarily upset me instead of taking time to savor a piece of music that I love, pausing to hear the wind blowing through the leaves, reading a good book, taking an invigorating walk — and on and on?

Where was God attempting to get my attention in order to show me something beautiful or love me through a child, an older person, a friend….but I was too rushed, too busy, too preoccupied to take just a moment to experience the gift of God to me?

Am I depleted, feeling unloved, playing the martyr or feeling resentful because I don’t allow myself to participate in the things that give me pleasure because I’m so busy doing other things, tending to the wheel that squeaks the most and missing what is really the most important part of my life?

At the end of the day, how would you answer if someone asked you, “So, tell me, what pleasures that God has offered you have you refused to allow yourself to enjoy?   Are they gone forever, or can you reboot and try again?

No matter what, I’m learning to bet on God’s unending mercies.  No matter how bad I feel about something I did or said at the end of the day, I’m giving myself to God, surrendering my will and my life, as well as my wrongs to his will.  I’m placing my hope in what I know is true:  Love wins.

Grace to you —




Step 10:  We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

    Following the news, I was reminded once again of something Dr. James Hollis mentioned in a class at the Jung Center several years ago.  It was a wisdom that struck home with me, a commentary on our current state of affairs today.  Thoughtfully, he asked something close to this:   “How could things be different in our culture if each person could take personal responsibility for the violence, the dysfunction or the pain that is within him?”

   I pondered his question all the way home and have recalled it many times since.  Remembering his words about how each of us tends to deal with that with which we don’t want to face or cannot see with denial, avoidance or projection.  Whatever we can do, it seems, we humans are highly skilled at either turning a blind eye to that which is within us or we project whatever is in us out onto others.   Sometimes, even, we do great harm to others by taking out our own fears, insecurities, anger or hate onto another — and that “other” is often innocent, but made to bear what someone can’t acknowledge in herself.

 “Oh would some Power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us.”

   This line from Scottish poet Robert Burns always comes to mind when I think about Dr. Hollis’ question.  I take it seriously, and his question and Robert Burns’ homespun truth are closely connected to my efforts to keep my commitment to that daily personal inventory.

Yes, it is hard to see myself as others see me.

Yes, it is hard to do that daily inventory.

Which reminds me of a line in A League of Their Own:  Of course it is hard.  If it weren’t more people would be doing it.

* * * * * *

   Now and then, someone attempts to take my inventory for me.

My reaction ranges from mild annoyance to hurt at having my weaknesses, flaws or mistakes pointed out by someone else.

Now and then, I am shocked that I hadn’t seen my own flaws and later — often much later — I am grateful to have had someone point out what I could not see in myself.

And sometimes, instead of going into a shame spiral, I examine myself and discover that the person wanting to do my inventory for me is projecting their stuff onto me.

What I do with others’ projections, criticisms and judgements says at least as much about me as it does my critic.  Sometimes people are right, and sometimes they aren’t, but how I respond or react is a part of recovering my equilibrium and staying emotionally stable, sober and in peace.

* * * * * *

   When someone feels called upon to do my inventory for me, I work on trying to remember to remind myself to take a few deep breaths before I respond.

Time was when I instantly bought what another was selling, seeing myself always as the one at fault, the one to blame, the one who was wrong.

Sometimes now, however, I ask another person (my sponsor, a trusted friend, etc.) to give me feedback.  Is this criticism or judgement about that person, or is this about me?  Sometimes it takes a lot of discernment to know what is projection and what is perception.

I often have to deal with my feelings about what that person said before I can adequately assess the fairness or truth about what the person has said.

Is my response instantaneous defensiveness and an unwillingness to see the truth about myself?

What is underneath my reaction?  Is it fear, anger, guilt or shame?  Does my insecurity make my reaction stronger than it ought to be?

Is the giver of the criticism someone I barely know or someone close to me?  Is it a repeat behavior or out-of-the-blue?

Does criticizing me seem to give the giver some kind of satisfaction?   Make him feel superior?  Does the person talk down to me or meet me                                 straight across as an adult, a loving friend, an authentic helper?

After I have worked with this event, can I shake it off, or does it continue to read its head, disturbing my peace?

Do I need to take the time and the trouble to talk through this problem the other person sees with my sponsor, or it is worth my time?                                           (If I shrug things off every time, I probably need to take a look at myself.)

And does my response become my hitting back, doing the other person’s inventory as a payback?

And am I overthinking this?  And if so, what is my reason for doing that?

* * * * * *

   “I don’t understand why people think they can say such rude and cutting things to you,” a weathered West Texas ranch woman said to me one day.

“You shouldn’t let people talk to you the way they do.”

The truth is that “letting people talk to me that way” was part of my codependency.  Upon long reflection and the help of my sponsor and a skilled and caring analyst, I began to see how I had been set up to act in such a way that I drew people to me who had a need to “talk to me that way”.  This blog isn’t the format for explaining how that character defect developed over my lifetime or to lay out all the ways that behavior contributed to some deep insecurities.

Working the program with a sponsor who was neither afraid to hear whatever my 4th and 5th steps brought forward nor hesitant to speak the truth to me in a firm voice.   I was never afraid to ask her to help me see the truth about myself because I knew that she longed for and prayed for a “return to sanity” for me with every fiber of my being.   She never did for me what she knew I must do for myself, but she stood with me while I flailed and faltered.  She propped me up on the leaning side until I could stand to do my own daily inventory.   She loved me toward God, encouraging me to speak the truth in love only to myself, giving up my self-judgment and self-censoring, even when someone else had shredded me with judgement and censure.

And what is a huge part of my recovery?   Recovery means that I accept the mercy and grace of a God who stands ready to forgive me.  Recovery is working only my lane in life, doing my inventory consistently and with radical honesty and uncommon patience.

Recovery for me is a lifelong learning curve toward wholeness, but I have to do it only one day at a time, one hour at a time, one breath at a time.  And yes, it is hard to fall from grace in my own eyes, but it doesn’t have to be fatal.

Recovery is a joint venture.   I do my part.  God does God’s part.  And others do their part, for the good or for the painful.

The 10th Step may be hard, but recovery is a lot harder without it.

Step 10:  We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

   One of the major doctrines of my religious tradition is the doctrine of “Once saved, always saved.” Frankly, I have seen that doctrine misinterpreted for my entire life to mean, “I can live any way I want to now, do anything I want to do, treat others and myself (my body or my mind) anyway I choose because I’m in with God and will go to heaven when I die.”

Others may feel that they because they practiced a particular religion, joined the “right” church,  participated in the right rituals, said the right creeds — or were born into the “right” denomination, they can live any way they want to, and they are covered.

Have you ever been rocking along, working your program, but then said or did something that showed you hadn’t “arrived” at sainthood yet?   Have you ever fallen from grace in your own eyes?  Have you ever been caught when your walk doesn’t match your talk?

One of the most important things I know for sure is what Paul the Apostle wrote in Romans 8:38:  I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ our Lord”.   (More about this in Step 11)

What I also believe is that Paul’s assurance is spoken about God’s perspective.

I believe that God is as near as my breath and that there is nowhere I can go where God is not.

As my father used to say, “The Bible says it.  I believe it, and that settles it,” but along my journey, there have been times when I have felt that God was silent and far away from me.   I have felt separated from God, and like many in my particular religious world, I have “rededicated my life” to tie myself back to God.

I have at times felt his absence so severely that I felt desperate.  There have been times I have cried out to God,

“Where are you?   Why don’t you do something?” 

   I know what it is like to have my own fear, anger, guilt, shame or insecurity to overwhelm me so greatly that those feelings feel that God has abandoned me.  But the separation part is within me; it’s not about where God is.

And when I am consumed by any of those feelings, I say and do things that I regret.

I know what it is like to say in utter exasperation, “I thought I had gotten over that” or “I can’t believe I did that or said that!”

I know what it is like to slip off the rails of my devotion to God or my intention to work my program and subsequently face the humiliation of doing the things I don’t want to do and not doing the things I have declared or even vowed that I would do.  (another pearl of wisdom and mercy from Paul.)

I understand what it is like to question my salvation.  I know what the dark night of the soul feels like, and it feels awful.

With great sorrow, I  have listened to beloved friends pour out their regret over something they have done.   I have walked through deep and dark times with soul-friends/directees who are looking for the slightest glimmer of hope that God has not abandoned them.

I understand their despair and their feelings of guilt because I have had to face my own failures.   I have had to wrestle to discover the true meaning of the “once saved/always saved” doctrine to others who, like I am, wrestle with actions and character defects that surely prevent the assurance of that doctrine.

However, there is another important thing I know for sure:  Recovery is a lifelong process.  And for those of us who want to continue to walk our own way, have our own way and do whatever we choose to do, that is a daunting reality.  And I know this for sure, as well: Salvation is both an event (when I surrendered my life to Christ or, in recovery terms, took Step 1)) and a process (the one-day-at-a-time journey that has many starts and twists and turns), and it is a process that depends on the mutual love relationship between us and God.  The journey of becoming whole and healthy (salvation) also involves other people who come along in our lives to show us the way and stand by us when we lose our way.

I also know that grace and freedom are gifts from God, freely given, but often misused by us mere humans.  Unless a person is in complete denial, each of us stands in the need of prayer every day, 24/7.  No living human is exempt.

And that is why we need Step 10!

I have learned many things about salvation — and what it really means, and how what is happening now and here is all a part of “eternal life”, but I don’t live the way I want to live or work my program so I can go to heaven when I die.   I choose to work my program and practice my spiritual practices to have the quality of life I want now.   I  will entrust and leave the afterlife in God’s hands.  Since none of us can speak with assurance about what will be going on after our physical bodies die, I confidently leave that to God; it is enough for me to keep my life aligned with his ways on this side.

I trust God with the afterlife;  tend to the life I know, which is right now, and for me is all I can handle, and that is why working Step 10 is so important.  I believe that eternal life is about quality of life., and I leave the quantity of life up to God.

This is good news, my friends:  Recovery is a lifelong process.

And the other good news is that everybody — no matter how smart, broken or holy we maybe — gets to work this program one day at a time.

We get a new start every day.   And the new day can start at any hour.

Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

His mercies are new every morning.

Great is his faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

   Guess what:  It’s morning somewhere at any time.

Step 10 has been called the graduate level of Step 4.  Some have said that it is the way we put our recovery process in perpetual motion.

Bill W., the founder of AA wrote that “We can commence to put our AA way of living to practical use, day by day, in fair weather or foul.”

Pertinent to Step 10, he also said, “No one can make much of his life until self-searching becomes a regular practice.”

St. Ignatius of Loyola’s great gift to the practice of spiritual growth is his Daily Examen.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Thomas Keating, one of the founding principle architects of the Centering Prayer practice and movement, Trappist monk, author and one of my favorite teachers in my own spiritual journey devoted much of his energies in his last years to prisoners and members of Twelve Step groups.

He was quoted as saying “This (Step 10) is a rather advanced stage of the spiritual life in any tradition.  It means that one is ever mindful of one’s immediate experience.   One is sensitive to responding to the needs of the present moment and also to the presence of God in every nanosecond of time.”

Do your inventory at the end of the day or as you go through the day.   Your choice.  Just do it.

If you need to report in with your sponsor or your group as a part of working Step 10, do it.   There’s nothing shameful about that. Make repentance, confession and receiving forgiveness a habit.   God’s mercy and grace are as close as your breath.  Take it in big gulps.

Grace to you —



Step 9:   Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

“And now it is time for you to make amends to yourself,” my Twelve Step sponsor said, but I didn’t have a clue what she meant.  After all, I had been brought up in a religious  culture that put service to others as a top priority.

Self-centeredness was to be avoided at all cost.  Selfishness was considered a sin, and narcissism was the ultimate sin.  Self-indulgence perpetuated an on-going sense of shame that finally led to self-sabotage.  I learned early to put others first.  Would making amends make me too self-absorbed?    Would I cause injury to myself or others if I gave myself too much time, too much attention?

What I was to learn, mercifully, over many years were the necessary practices of self-care and boundary-setting, and with those practices I also learned self-respect.

“You have the best boundaries of any preacher’s wife I’ve ever known,” a woman said to me, and I thanked her warmly.  I made a mental note to call my sponsor and report what was said to me.

“That wasn’t a compliment,” she said, and I felt the sting all over my body.

Making amends to oneself is often a complicated and difficult process because by the time we get to adulthood, our habits are so ingrained and unconscious  that we see the behaviors, thought processes and attitudes that motivate them as “natural”.  Furthermore, when we start taking actions that interrupt our habitual responses, those around us may not like our new behavior. Those healthier behaviors likely upset the status quo of the relationship.

Recovery isn’t easy.  Change is difficult.  People remain enslaved because slavery is easy and freedom is hard — and costly.  And making amends to oneself doesn’t get much press, does it?  Where does one even start?

But, if you can’t forgive to yourself, how can you extend forgiveness to anyone else?

We often treat other people better than we treat ourselves, although some persons treat others worse than they treat themselves.  “It just depends…,” we say, meaning what?

Look at the command from the Great Commandment of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 22;37-39:  Love the Lord your God with all our heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Not more than yourself.  Not less than yourself, but as yourself.     What does loving yourself have to do with making amends?

I didn’t have a clue what that meant.   I’m not sure I knew what it meant to love myself.  I knew what it was to respect myself, but what did loving myself mean?

********** Read more

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

I have worked the Twelve Steps for most of my adult life because I am a codependent.  An on-going, recovering codependent.

There are specific spiritual practices I follow, all of which are intended to nurture my soul.     I don’t follow those spiritual practices to please any external authority and I don’t do them to check them off my to-do list.   I do them to keep myself centered and at peace.

My spiritual practices strengthen the inner connection I have with God, and at this point (Day 73) of sequestering at home during this pandemic, I have come to understand in a new way that working the Twelve Steps is a powerful way to Keep Hope Alive.

Today I return to writing about  the challenge of Step 9 with a new understanding about that Step that comes as a result of spending this time at home.  I also have a new understanding of what my teacher/sponsor said to me when I first took  Step 9 under her wise guidance.

“A superficial apology isn’t enough when you have hurt someone by your behavior or your words.  You don’t have to grovel, but in your inner being you must feel the weight of what you have done to another person.  You must be truly sorry, and that comes from seeing clearly what you did and how it affected that other person.”

There is a tendency in all of us humans to dread having to face ourselves clearly and honestly, but there is nothing as healing as being truly sorry for the hurt and harm you have inflicted on another human being, likely someone you have said you love.  “At times, you even have to feel disgusted by what you have done,” she said.

I have never forgotten that moment.  Being disgusted with myself  wasn’t what I really wanted to feel.   In fact, the word repelled me.  Looking back, I realize that what I needed to do was be willing to be willing to feel the full weight of how my behavior had harmed other.

Read more

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others

For some of us, the mere idea of making direct amends to people we have harmed is so terrifying that we can’t even get past the first three words of this Step.

However, this Step is crucial. It is the Step that completes the process begun in Step 4. It is the way of placing ourselves in the position where we can receive the forgiveness of God and others for what we have done and what we have left undone. This process is a way of “working out our own salvation”, as the Apostle Paul counseled; it is also the way to begin living in a state of grace

Since this Step is so important, let’s take a look at what “making amends” doesn’t mean before we panic and hit the pause button on the process or recovery. It is not about fixing the past. It is not about explaining why you did what you did. It is not about making excuses and it is not saying, “I’m sorry IF I hurt you.”

It isn’t a mere apology.

It is about owning what you did honestly and bravely. It is about asking for forgiveness. It is about being willing to do what you can to repair the damage you have caused.

To make the list of the people you have harmed, however scary that is, is nothing compared to making those direct amends! Serious discernment and the wise guidance of a good sponsor or a spiritual director can make the process one that can set you free.

Unfortunately, so many well-intentioned people rush out to make amends so that they can feel better. Yearning to be absolved and hoping that things between yourself and the person you have harmed can sabotage a good process, winding up with more hurt between you.

To reflect on what the idea of “making direct amends” means to you and what you want from the process, consider seeing the process of pulling the weeds out of our garden, cleaning out what is dead and what is debris. Consider it a preparation for a new season, at least in your own life.

The problem with being human is that we cannot keep from hurting each other, either out of neglect, innocence or ignorance, our own hurts or because we just don’t care how our behavior affects others.

It is possible — and with terrible results — that human being sometimes harm or destroy others willfully. They know what they are doing and they don’t care.

Most of us don’t hurt each other on purpose. Many of us use our wounds as weapons; we have been hurt and so we hurt others, and while a serious undertaking of this Step will not prevent or stop our hurting each other, it can help us to avoid hurting each other more or as often, going forward.

In thinking about how you can make direct amends to someone you have harmed, it is important that you can truly feel the impact of the pain you have caused another human being and that you can have empathy for that person without justifying your behavior. It is important to feel sorrow for what you have done without going into guilt and self-hatred. This Step is not about blaming anyone or rationalizing why you did what you did. Just own what you have done and admit the impact it has had on someone you love.

The very spirit of this Step is the readiness and willingness to accept the consequences of what you have done.

If you want the grace that comes from making amends, you have to be able to say, “I hurt you. I did that. I am so sorry. I wish I could take it all back and take the hurt away.”

No excuses. No squirming out of the hard stuff. Speaking the truth about what you did. Say it and mean it, but don’t say it if you really don’t mean it.

The challenge comes in realizing that one’s efforts to make amends does not sprinkle star dust over what you have done. It doesn’t obliterate the results of the choices we have made, but making amends has the potential for depotentiating (taking the sting out) the crippling and toxic power of those choices and behaviors, with the mercy and grace of God. While we may live for a lifetime with the results of the choices we have made, making amends can help us live with those choices and their results in a new way.

To make amends, you don’t get to choose how the other person will behave as a result of your gesture. You have to examine your motives, discern what making direct amends mean and decide the most loving way and most appropriate place to approach the other person. You have to pray for discernment to see yourself clearly and to assess your willingness to take the risks of being honest about what you have done and what your intentions are in making direct amends. You have to be cautious about the timing.

Once again, we are called to give up our attachment to results. We only have our hand to play, and we can play only that hand. We have to trust the outcome and the results to God.

Sometimes, a person can go into a conversation with the intention of making amends and asking for forgiveness, but walk away from that encounter feelings disappointed that the other person did not automatically respond in the way he wanted.

Making amends or offering to do what you can to make up to the person for what you have done may not change that person’s opinion toward you. If someone chooses to remain bitter toward you, then that person will have made his choice. If you have done all you can do, and if you have attempted to make complete amends, that is your responsibility, and you have no responsibility over the other person’s choice.

There was a time in my own life when I had done everything I could do to make up to a significant person in my life for what I had done to offend her. With clear and discerning guidance from a wise spiritual director, I was finally able to accept that there was nothing I could do to avoid this person’s constant disapproval of me and nothing I could do to win this person’s approval. I had to face and admit that I had done great damage to myself, trying to please or placate this person, and that my continuing to act as if I had done something wrong was self-injuring.

It was hard for me to believe and accept the fact that continuing to try to win this person’s favor or hear her say, “I forgive you” gave this person a kind of perverse satisfaction and power over me.

I wish it could have been different, but finally my 12 Step sponsor said, “Stop beating yourself for something you didn’t do. Can you respect another’s autonomy enough to allow the other to have his own feelings, which may or may not be solely about you?”

And my spiritual director said, “You are never going to make enough amends to get this person’s forgiveness. There are two keys that unlock the gift of forgiveness. You have only one key. The other person has the other key, and for whatever the reason, doesn’t choose to use it. Go forward, Jeanie, with the grace of knowing you have done everything you could do, and let this go. Give this person the gift of acceptance. Give the gift of agape love — the love that lets be.”

Grace, amazing grace…..in this imperfect, flawed, beautiful world…..

Grace abounds.


Step 8:   Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. 

The second half of this Step is where the path gets a bit steeper and the risks greater, but it is also the Step that can change your life.  By taking this Step, I’ve learned that the greater the risk, the greater the possibility and potential of reward.

I’ll never forget how my sponsor talked about this Step.  I remember clearly her ton of voice and the expression on her face when she said, “Jeanie, all you have to do right now is become willing to make amends!”

She must have seen the look of panic on my face, but as with every preceding Step, her intention was always for my best welfare and for my serenity and peace.  Always, there was mercy and grace in her work with me.  Never once did I feel censure, condemnation or criticism; always, my identifying my defects, doing my inventory and now, being willing to look at making amends was offered as a way to open my mind and heart to forgiveness and reconciliation.

As in every other conversation with my sponsor, she gave just enough guidance to be helpful, but not so much that I felt overwhelmed to do the work her way.  Looking back, I realize how perfectly she held a safe and firm container while, at the same time, honoring my own process.

“We need to talk about what making amends means,” she said, “and we need to talk about what it doesn’t mean.”

And then she paused.  “Today, we are going to start with “becoming willing” because I don’t want you rushing off and doing this in a way that makes you become a victim.”

* * * * *

Being willing…. 

Honestly, when it comes to making amends, there have been times in my life when being willing to be willing is the best I can do, and my sponsor assured me that my reserve or even hesitancy about making amends could be a warning to proceed with caution.

Over time, I have learned that making amends can bring about a reaction from the other person that makes my guilt worse.

I have learned that some people view both the character defect and the act of making amends as potential soft spots where they can bind you to your past, holding your weakness over your head like a black storm cloud that can rain lightning and thunder on you when you least expect it.

“You may have to explain to the person to whom you want to make amends what it is you are doing,” my sponsor told me.  “Proceed with caution.  Give up your preconceived notions of the outcome.  Do your part and your part only, and then leave the rest to God.”

In the moment, I wasn’t sure what my sponsor meant, but in subsequent years, I realized that she understood how easily codependents can, in the process of making amends, take all the blame for a problem and all the responsibility for solving that problem when, quite possibly, others might have some ownership of the problem, as well.

“You’re only required to make amends for what you have done or said,” she told me, and then she added hard-won wisdom.  “You see, Jeanie, there are people who interpret others’ making amends or even saying they are sorry as a sign of weakness or, worse, a way to gain power over you.”

Always sensitive to my expressions and tone of voice, she must have seen the confusion on my face.

“You see, for some people, others’ admission of guilt or request for forgiveness is a green light for holding your guilt over your head.  Withholding forgiveness can be a power thing for others, and so it is important to know how to make amends.”

“Sometimes people interpret your willingness to make amends as your soft spot, and they might see it as hurt they can exploit.”

Honestly, I knew that what she was saying was true, but that reality was almost enough to scare me back into a hiding place and skipping this Step.

Becoming willing to make amends is simple, but not necessarily all that easy.  Here is what I learned about making amends:

–Becoming willing means that I have gotten a clear idea of the exact nature of my wrong.

–Becoming willing means that I have a clear idea of what it is I need to say or do.

–Becoming willing means that I understand that I cannot control how the other person responds to what I will say or do.

–Becoming willing means that I want to be healthy and whole, serene and peaceful enough to take the risk I need to take to clean up a relationship and do whatever I can to make things right.

–Becoming willing means that I understand that while I cannot ever put things back like they used to be, after my offense and after my amends, but that God can take the broken pieces and make something beautiful or useful out of my wrong choices.

* * * * *

Making Amends takes many forms….

So, it was that I was to come to understand that making amends takes many forms.

–Sometimes, all that is necessary is to say, “I did this.  I am sorry.  I ask for your forgiveness.”

–There are times when I must change my behavior not so much to prove that my amends is sincere, though that is important, but because behavior tells the truth.  If I really mean it that I am sorry, then my behavior must match the words I say.

–Making amends means that I will do everything in my power not to be a repeat offender, and the person with whom I am hoping to reconcile and I may need to talk about what action would communicate that I am sincerely wanting reconciliation.

–Making amends requires me to look at what is broken.  Is it communication between myself and another?  Did I break the trust between us?  Is the relationship broken permanently, or is there hope for reconciliation?

–Making amends means that I am intentional, consciously choosing my words and actions to show that I want to repair what I have broken, if that is possible.

* * * * *

What making amends is not…

             Making amends doesn’t mean I give the other person the job of being my parole officer to watch over me to make sure I don’t repeat my original sin.

Making amends doesn’t mean that I grovel and beg for another chance.

Making amends doesn’t mean that I appoint the person I offended as God, allowing that person to decide when I’ve done enough to earn his/her forgiveness.

Making amends doesn’t mean that I allow another person to determine my punishment.

Making amends doesn’t mean that I have to be reminded of my errors, defects and sins. I will likely do enough of that to myself.

Making amends does not mean that I take on the wrong of another person as my fault.

Other people have their part in making the messes of our lives; I can make amends only for what I have done or said to harm myself or another person.* * * * *

When your best is not enough – and never will be….

 “Jeanie,” my sponsor said to me, firmly, “the devil’s best weapon of defeat is to keep us bound by the one relationship we cannot repair, the one defeat we cannot overcome, the one person’s whose forgiveness we can never earn       .”

Sometimes I have carried my amends with an open heart to a person I have offended, betrayed or hurt, and the person refuses to forgive me, won’t let me try to fix what I have broken or ridicules me for my weakness and my flaws?  What if that person keeps a closed heart and mind to me and won’t hear me or give me another chance?

There was a time in my life when I agonized over a relationship I could not repair, no matter what I did or said.

“There are two parts to forgiveness,” a wise priest told me. “One part is asking for forgiveness and the other part is giving forgiveness.”

He paused, and then he asked, “Has this person asked you for your forgiveness?”

“No,” I responded, and the sound of that one syllable sounded like a last gasp in a long process of pain and suffering.

“You have done all you can do to repair this relationship,” he told me.  “Now, go in peace.”

And I did.

* * * * *

And what about making amends to myself?

Facing the facts about what harm we have done to ourselves is only the starting point to serenity and peace.  Here are some suggestions for accessing self-forgiveness and appropriating the forgiveness of God and others.

I make amends to myself when I form new habits that are based on healthy choices.

I make amends to myself when I set appropriate boundaries with all persons in my life, and especially with those who have enabled me to stay stuck in unhealthy behaviors or those I have enabled to continue in unhealthy patterns.

I make amends to myself when I move from self-judgement to self-compassion.

I make amends to myself when I change from self-neglect or self-abuse to self-respect and self-love.

I make amends to myself when I become more conscious of my patterns and more mindful of my motivations, my feelings and my habits.

I make amends to myself when I accept God’s gracious and merciful forgiveness by living as a forgiven person.

I make amends to myself when I move from self-rejection to self-acceptance and self-appreciation.

* * * * *

            At an event at Rice University in Houston, I heard the Dalai Lama say in response to a question from the audience, “You do not ever allow another person to abuse you in word or action,” he said.  “When you do so, you are participating in that person’s cycle of self-injury and self-hate.”

“When another person abuses you, he hates himself for doing it and he hates you for allowing it.  And when you abuse another person, you hate yourself for doing it and hate the other person for allowing it.”

I have learned that I can enact those cycles of violence on myself.  I have learned that only I can stop them.

* * * * *






Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other,

Just as in Christ, God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32


What about you?

For what do you need to make amends?

Do you have trouble saying, “I was wrong”, “I am sorry” or “Please forgive me”?

What might change if you could more easily make amends when you need to do so?

What happens when you just can’t make yourself make amends?

(Remember:  When we live in unforgiveness, we leave the door wide open for self-punishment, and sometimes that self-punishment involves repeating the same cycles of mistakes!  Think about it.  Doesn’t it make more sense to accept forgiveness from God and forgive yourself?)

This recovering life really is lived one day at a time and sometimes one breath at a time.

For today, breathe out fear.  Breathe in peace.

Grace to you –


My newest book, Practicing Resurrection:  Radical Hope in Difficult Times has just been released by Smyth and Helwys Publishers.

When I began writing this series on the Twelve Steps, I had not yet even outlined the book’s chapters, but now that the book has been written and released, it is time to differentiate between this series and the new book.   I do, however, see that working the Twelve Steps is a powerful way to “practice resurrection.”  I hope you will read both.

Thank you so much for reading this series on the Twelve Steps, formerly named “Practicing Resurrection”. From now on, this series will appear as “Working the Steps”. Step Eight, Part 2 can be found below.

Working the Steps:  Step Eight, Part 2

Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them.

If I have wounded any soul today,

If I have caused one foot to go astray,

If I have walked in my own willful way,

Dear Lord, forgive.

Leaving the birthplace of Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi, on a late summer road trip across the South, I unwrapped my new CD of Elvis’ gospel music and popped it into the CD player in the car.

It had been years since I had heard this song, but I can remember my mother’s singing this old hymn.  For a few miles and with the power of memory, I was back in my childhood home, feeling nostalgic.

However, with a lot of life between then and now and a longtime practice of working these Steps, the “If I have” beginning to each line of that song caught my attention.

“The question isn’t if I have wounded someone else or gone my own willful way,” I told my husband.  “I have,” I stated firmly, “and it’s my job to know precisely how I have done that!”

No one sings a gospel song quite like Elvis, and I would love to linger awhile in the “If I have’s”, but these many years of working the Steps won’t let me play that coy game with myself.

“If I have” may be a substitute for “help me to see what I’ve done”, but it must be the first step I take toward becoming aware of the ways I have harmed myself and others.  If I stop with “If I have done anything wrong”, I’m playing games with myself, asking for cheap grace.

Before I can get to forgiveness, I have to look at my own actions, motivations, words and habits that have caused pain or suffering to myself or others.

I can tell myself “It wasn’t that bad” or I can hope that the persons I’ve hurt didn’t notice what I had done.

I can justify what I did by saying, “He started it” or “I didn’t know what I was doing.  I can make any number of excuses, but the only way out of the deep hole of denial is to stop digging and begin telling myself the cold, hard, unvarnished truth.

I can minimize what I have done or blow it up to be bigger than it was, which is a strange way of avoiding telling myself the truth.  Being the best of the worst sinners and doing the most horrible of all bad things that anyone could ever possibly do doesn’t really tell the truth about what I’ve done.  Awful-izing and embellishing the story is yet another way to distract myself and lead myself astray into the drama of it all.

Making the tale of my shortcomings and harmful deeds more than they are may be entertaining.  They might even make funny stories, but in the end the old “Tell the truth and nothing but the truth” is the best policy.

Working this Step is hard.  It’s humiliating and painful, but here’s the Good News:  It is also liberating.  It is the way to forgiveness and freedom.  It is the way to activate the amazing grace and mercy that is available, if we have the courage to open our minds and hearts to it.

* * * *  *

When I did this Step the first time, I divided my life into seasons, going back as far as I could remember, and simply asked God to show me what I had done to hurt someone else in each phase of my life.  I wish I could say that it was hard to remember, but it wasn’t, and what I was to realize was that all of those memories I had stuffed were wrapped in regret, embarrassment, shame and guilt.

So it as with a sense of relief and even hopefulness that with my journal in hand, I wrote down all I could think of as each incident came to mind, sifting through my memory.  Carefully, I wrote down the precise nature of my wrong.  I recorded how I hurt the other person, and sometimes I cried.

I had to take breaks, too, so that I wouldn’t overwhelm myself with guilt.  I remembered, as well, the counsel of my sponsor who told me to try to find just the right amount of zeal in uncovering my wrongs.  I didn’t understand at first by what she meant about finding the balance between being too hard on myself and not hard enough, but over time, I came to understand that finding that balance was a gift that came with a willingness to tell myself the hard facts and the unvarnished truth about my actions, attitudes and words.

When I finished with that first list, my sponsor had me go back to my journal and write down everything I had done to hurt myself, which included the times I allowed someone else to injure me.  Again, I wrote about the exact nature of that self-injury and how it felt when it happened.   Later, it occurred to me to write about how I felt about the incident as I was doing this Step, comparing the felt and perceived impact from the past and my experience of the incident in the present.

Over time, I have learned to keep my accounts current, to pay attention to the times when I offend someone, unconsciously or consciously.   I work to know what I’ve done when I have done it, and I work to stay conscious and aware of my motivations that cause me to say that cutting remark, withhold affection or love, criticize, offend or harm another person.

In these years of working this Step, I have also learned how to handle other peoples’ harmful acts toward me in a way that helps me acknowledge the hurt or anger, but not react to it in a way that makes the problem worse.  Ignoring the impact of others’ actions and words doesn’t make the hurt go away, but untreated wounds do fester over time.  I’ve learned that others’ injuries become self-injuries if I don’t deal with them, and I’ve also learned that if I allow resentment and anger to fester, those energies will leak out or explode out in words or actions that will hurt both myself and others.

** * * *

On surely one of the hottest and most humid days in Houston’s history, I stood in a line on the campus of Rice University for what seemed like an entire morning to hear the Dalai Lama speak.  My husband and I were herded with the crowd from building to building for some unknown reason.  Perhaps the crowd was bigger than expected or the security concerns were such that we were moved around so much, but the wait was so long that we were tempted to leave.

Packed into the basketball gym, we waited even longer for the appearance of the man who is an ambassador for kindness and happiness. I don’t remember what his topic was that day, but I do remember that the crowd listened to him in rapt silence.  At the end of his speech, he took some questions, and his answer to the last question is the one take-away of the day for me.

The Dalai Lama’s answer was powerful, but equally impressive was the change in his voice from the relaxed, happy tone to a deep bass and a stern tone.  He got up from his chair and walked to the edge of the low stage, getting as close as he could to the young man who had asked a question I have long forgotten.

“You don’t ever allow another person to abuse you or inflict violence on you by words or actions,” he said, which made perfect sense to me.  It was what he next that brought the entire gym to utter silence.

“By allowing another person to injure you, you are participating in his violence he is inflicting on himself.”

I have never forgotten what he said next.

“When a person abuses another person, he hates that person for letting him do it, and he hates himself for doing it, and the person who is abused hates the abuser and hates himself for letting himself be abused.   And that is how the cycle of violence is perpetuated.”

* * * **

The cycle of abuse begins with hurtful words – insults, put-downs, labeling, name-calling

The parties blame each other or someone else —

The anger escalates into actions that are harmful and destructive —

Left unaddressed, the anger escalates into physical violence –

Once physical violence begins, it can be deadly.

* * * **

What about you?

What do you dread most about writing down the actual names of the people you have harmed, including yourself?

Can you see this list as the way to forgiveness and freedom?

What do you have to lose?

What do you have to gain?

There is grace ahead – all the grace you need.

Believe it.


Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

“If I have done anything to offend you…..”

“Tell me what it is that I did!”

“You know I did that only because you did what you did….”

Stop right here.

Those are not good openings for doing this Step.  In fact, if there were rules for doing this Step, these approaches break all of them, but they are common and frequent ploys for wiggling out of taking responsibility for the harm we have done to others.

The first one puts the burden on the offended party for being offended.

The second one makes the injured party do the work, setting up a line of defense in the offender.

The third approach places the blame on the person who has been harmed.

This is the point in the program when you really do start to grow up.   This is where the point is not about other people have done to make you do the things you have done or may even still be doing.

This is the point in the program when you do what spiritually mature people do and start taking responsibility for how you have hurt other people and yes, even yourself.

* * * * *

Taking Step Eight starts with making a list of all the people you have harmed, and on the front end, it’s only about making the list.  You can’t get ahead of yourself and go even to the second half of this Step just yet or you might get too scared and run back inside yourself and close the door.

On the other hand, you may want to ponder this list for a period of time because it is scary to think about having to own up to some stuff you’d rather forget in front of someone who already knows what you have done and may also be hiding in an inner cave, closed off in fear, disappointment, pain and suffering.

You might want to make a pact with yourself or with your sponsor, however, about timing.   If you linger too long, making that list, you might get stuck.  Moving forward it the underlying goal of this Step.  Moving from guilt and shame and through the paralysis of fear to the freedom of forgiveness, restitution and restoration is a worthy goal and worth the trouble.

* * * * *

When I come to this Step, I have to acknowledge that it is really truly hard and unpleasant and painful and just plain terrifying to have to face the truth about how my words and behavior have injured someone I love or maybe some innocent person who came across my path in a moment when I was out of control, either with my self-will running riot, my self-destroying behavior or an emotion that is out of control.

Face it, I tell myself:  It is so hard to fall from grace in your own eyes.

It is so hard to face the things I have done that injured other people — either emotionally, physically, financially or spiritually.

Just remember:  At this point, all you have to do is make the list.

Take out a piece of paper and a pen or go to your computer and start a list there.  This Step is potentially life-changing for the good, and the sooner you start, the sooner you will be able to experience mercy and grace.  This Step is potentially healing, liberating, transforming and empowering.  That’s not a bad outcome, is it?

Yes, there is a time and a place for dealing with what others have done to us, but at this point, the focus is on taking full responsibility for what you have done to harm others, either by word, action or indifference, neglect, abandonment or the violence of silence.

* * * * *

The first time I took this Step, I really wanted to shift the responsibility for what I had done over to someone else.  I can remember the look in my sponsor’s eyes when I started explaining to her why it was I was the way I was.  I remember how she listened to my justification for a moment, but I will never, ever forget the moment when she said these words of grace:

Yeah — That’s how you got this way.  Now……what are you going to do about it? 

Years later, sitting in my analyst’s sacred room, I knew I had another layer of stuff that I needed to confess.   You would think that I would have learned my lesson with my sponsor, but I guess I thought I might try a similar approach.

“I am not responsible for what I did when I didn’t know any better, am I?   I am not responsible for what I did before I was aware, am I?”

Even now, I cringe with embarrassment, but then I smile to myself, remembering his response, other words of grace.

Children blame.    Adults take responsibility.

That was then.  This is now.

Woe to the person who believes that grace always comes in a flavor you like.  Sometimes, grace begins with a terrifying moment of hearing someone say that whatever you have done, you gotta own it, and you’ll feel ‘way better when you do.

No more excuses.   No more rationalizations.

Don’t explain.  Don’t justify.

Own it.

Make the list. 

* * * * *

It is true that there are some wounds inflicted on us that we will carry for the rest of our lives, but this Step helps us carry them in a different way because there is something infinitely liberating about owning our own stuff.   Ironically, it feels good to admit that the way we have carried what others have done to us has also hurt other people.  The ways we have suffered have also done self-injury.  We all know that hurt people hurt other people, and we all know that our we have used our wounds as weapons.

The Good News  and amazing grace is that our deepest wounds can become healing balm for others.

Somehow, admitting the ways we have harmed other people by or because of  our character defects opens the door of mercy.  Even better, admitting our wrongs with ruthless honesty helps us join the human race.

A memory verse from Isaiah 53:6 reminds us of our common tendencies as humans:

All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned our own way.

 Either out of innocence or willful intent, ignorance or stupid carelessness, arrogance, indifference or anger, all of us sheep tend to think we can go down our own selfish path.

 Those words pretty well state a part of the human predicament, and there is more truth from 1 John 1:8.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

 I like the way Eugene Peterson renders 1 John 1:8 in The Message: 

If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves.

A claim like that is errant nonsense.

 (As much as I resisted the pressures of memorizing scriptures when I was a preacher’s kid, those memory verses come back to me when I need them.)

Here’s the Good News:   It is in a simple process of making the list of those I have harmed and following a path that has been life-changing for countless thousands that I place myself in a position to experience amazing grace — and here is where 1 John 1:9  affirms this process:

On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—

he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself.

 He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. 

(To be clear, the “he” in these verses is God, and yes, we all have done things that have separated us from his love.)(And oh my goodness, could we ever have long and lengthy talks about this– Remember that God image discussion, ‘way back in Step 3?)

* * * * *

When I am guiding people through this Step, I see it as part of my job to stand as a witness to God’s loving compassion in this sacred process.   One of the things that means is that I attempt to empower the other person to claim the wrongs he/she has actually done out of his/her character defect.   I find it is vitally important to walk the fine line between being too hard on yourself and letting yourself off the hook too quickly or easily.

This isn’t so much about hitting your brother when you were a small child and it isn’t about saying bad words to annoy or offend your mother, and so some deep reflection and prayer for guidance is appropriate.    What it is about is owning your harmful words and actions when you were acting from your character defect.

When doing this Step, I always ask for God to give me the courage to see what I have hidden from myself, either by convenient forgetting, denial that it really was that hurtful, fear of what the other might do if I make myself vulnerable enough to make amends or by excusing, rationalizing, justifying and explaining my wrongs away.

* * * * *

It is important to keep a firm focus on my behaviors, my deeds, my attitudes, my wrongs and not let other peoples’ stuff bleed over into mine.

Sometimes it is helpful just to let the memories come to you as they will, and sometimes it is helpful to divide your life into seasons and comb through those years sequentially.  You get to choose how, but do it.

You may want to reflect on the time you first began acting out of your primary character defect.  Or, you may want to go to the first offense against another you can remember.  Suit yourself, but come clean, if only with yourself, for now.   Often, telling yourself the truth is the hardest part.

Let yourself feel the regret, the guilt and the shame, but count on your good and wise sponsor not to let you drown in your remorse.  An experienced sponsor has a keen sense of when you are into just beating yourself up, being super-scrupulous and trying to be perfect, which can be part of a character defect, and when you need to be honest to the bone.  Punishing oneself and taking responsibility for oneself are two notably different acts with  radically different outcomes.

* * * * *

So….back to making that list.    Just take the first steps.

Equipped with your computer or pen and paper, begin.

Ask God to help you and then, write.

Take breaks if you need to, but promise yourself you will stick with the process until you are finished.

When you have finished, offer it to God.

Give thanks that you have the moral courage to admit your wrongs, and give thanks to God for bringing them to your attention.

Take a walk.  Mark the moment.   Give yourself credit.

Be willing to understand that in the strangest way, it is God’s grace that allows us to come to our senses, feel the pain and shame and guilt and regret we need to feel, own our stuff and be open to the forgiveness and peace that is ahead.

Remember this:  Only the dead feel no pain, and only those who have a moral center and a healthy conscience  are willing to face the truth and tell the truth about the ways they have done to hurt another person.

* * * * *

When one of my grandsons was only four, he had enough of something one of his cousins was doing, and so he picked up a bucket and banged her over the head with it.  Of course that set up a great wailing in their Montessori classroom where they were both enrolled.

And, of course, the incident was reported to their mothers who are sisters, which set up another one of those conflict of interest things sisters tend to have.  Each of them was torn between wanting her own child to be able to take responsibility for what he had done, and each of them wanted to sort of blame the other cousin.

On the way home, my daughter asked the offender if he had hit his cousin on the head with the metal bucket.

My daughter could  see her child in the rear-view mirror as he sat in his booster seat, sucking his thumb.

He took his thumb out of his mouth and said, “I did,” and put his thumb back in his mouth.

“Why did you do that?” my daughter asked, probably hoping that there was a good reason.

Again, he took his thumb out of his mouth and said, “I just did it.”

Clear and simple, it was.  A confession and a statement of ownership.  No excuses.

Sometimes I have to suck my thumb — symbolically — when I’m up against a wrong I’ve done, but I have to make sure that whatever I do to soothe myself doesn’t encourage me to regress back into my old defects.

What about you?

Is there something you have done that is standing between you and someone else like a brick wall?

Have you tried to make amends before, only to have the other person wind up laying more guilt and bad energy on you?

Has anyone come to you to make amends?  Have you ever rejected another’s attempts at making amends?  How has that worked for you?

Is there something from long ago that keeps on knocking at the door of your consciousness, wanting to be faced and forgiven?   What holds you back from the free flow of grace?

Do you long for peace of mind?

I love the bumper sticker asks the question, “Do you want peace?  Then work for justice.”

Justice is about making things right.  Step Eight is a giant Step toward making things right, with yourself and with other people you have harmed.

Grace comes first, it seems…..and then, peace

I wish it all for you.