Juggling and Grace

Step 11

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out”

Amid the hubbub of Mallory Dock, with its eclectic mix of tourists, part-time locals, and street entertainers, I wedge myself between a fence and a row of camera-wielding sunset-watchers to celebrate the daily ritual of watching Earth’s nearest star disappear on the western horizon. As yellow-orange light spreads across the water and a silhouetted sailboat poses against the fiery ball that keeps our planet alive, I hear “Amazing Grace” behind me._DSC3976

Turning my camera from the beauty before me, I focus on the source of the song: barefoot and ponytailed, he hunches over a guitar, singing of the One who holds each star in place. With simple chords and timeless lyrics, a reveling crowd is stilled by one unassuming street musician, reminding us of the Beauty Maker, who paints the skies each evening with an invitation to join Him for eternity. I sing along, losing myself in the beauty of the moment. After the sun and the song disappear, I close my eyes, savoring the scene.

That was a month ago. Now I’m juggling.

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I’m an all-eggs-in-one-basket girl. I’m challenged by juggling… eggs, apples, bowling pins… you name it – I can’t keep it in the air! When Honey and I were recently in Key West for vacation I was amazed by those guys who entertain tourists by juggling flaming torches, swallowing swords, and commanding cats through fiery hoops. We “ooohed” and “aahhhed,” clapped and tipped our way down Mallory Dock until the sun began kissing the water with orange, pink and yellow light. I didn’t think any more about the jugglers until last week, when I started my new teaching job.

Two and a half years have passed since I’ve been queen of my own classroom. It was quite a learning curve to come home from vacation on a Sunday and walk into a classroom on Monday, knowing that I was the teacher, and nobody had mapped out my day or week in a neat little stack with a Post-it that said, “Substitute.”

I was on my own. Sink…or swim! (I’ve been “swimming.” That’s why you haven’t seen me here, writing about Step 11.) Swimming, like juggling, is exhausting.

My personal juggling act consists of trying to keep a classroom full of multi-age students functioning and on-task, learning a new school’s system of doing things, effectively teaching an unfamiliar grade level, grading papers, making lesson plans, meeting a deadline for my book, keeping up with my blogging (I’m three or four weeks late!), posting regularly on my Facebook page (another fail!) and being a good spouse, daughter, sister, auntie, godmom, friend, pastor’s wife, and neighbor. Oh, and keeping groceries in the house and gas in the car that takes me back and forth to work and church. Sound familiar? I’m sure you each have your own flaming torches to juggle every single day! How do we stay sane on our Western World hamster wheels?

Did you notice that something, or rather Someone is omitted from the above list? Yes, I failed to mention spending quality time with the ONE who keeps me sane and on the right track; the ONE who holds me together when I want to cry on the way home from school because my nerves are shot and my to-do list is still too long; He who gives me the words to write, the thoughts to think, the heart to love and the patience to work with His little ones. It is only He who sustains me, you…the whole wide world in His big, holy hands. And THAT’s what Step 11 is all about – Getting to know Him by spending time with Him.

Step 11 reminds me to do three things:

  • Seek to improve my conscious contact with God through prayer and meditation,
  • Pray for the knowledge of His will,
  • And pray for the power to carry out His will in my life.

By incorporating these three things into my daily juggling act, everything else becomes easier to manage. When I consciously invite God into my little world, taking the time to talk with Him and to listen to the counsel in His Word, I am a more organized, disciplined, compassionate teacher, a wiser, more dedicated writer, and a better friend, neighbor and lover.

When I pray for His will to be done and His Spirit to dwell in me, I can say, “yes” to the things that are most important on God’s to-do list and let go of the things He’s not asking me to do right now. I don’t have to juggle the world. Jesus died for the world. I don’t have to be miss perfect-teacher-pastor’s wife-friend. Jesus in me can perfectly love those He places in my path. I can rest in Him, believing that I can do all these things through Christ, who gives me strength (Philippians 4:19). If I just juggle Jesus – keeping my eye on Him, making Him the focus of my life, the rest will fall into place and I will not fall flat on my face.

I don’t need to be amazing. I just need His amazing grace._DSC4057

Father in heaven – remind me to be still and focus on You amid the chaos of daily life. Let me be more like that barefoot guitarist, just sitting still among the throng and worshiping the One who made it all. Help me to seek more and speak less, to pray more and strive less. Amen & Amen

Dear Reader – How to YOU do it? How do YOU juggle life? When and where to you find time to pray and meditate? Please share in the comment section so we can learn from one another. I’d love to hear from you!

Step 10 – “I Was Wrong”

Step 10

“Continued to take personal inventory

and when we were wrong promptly admitted it”

Who likes to be wrong? Nobody. Who is never wrong? Nobody! Who “promptly admits” when they are wrong? In my experience – very few people.

I met one recently. It was incredibly refreshing to see Step Ten in action! Please allow me to share the experience:

My honey and I were dinner guests. The table conversation was pleasant as we reminisced and chatted about people we knew in common. Subtly the mood shifted when one of our friends began speaking of another in a manner that lacked the seasoning of grace. I listened for several minutes before the topic turned a corner, wondering if those same words would have been spoken had our mutual friend been present at the table.

Key Lime PieBefore dessert was served, I had a pleasant surprise! Our host humbly admitted the unfairness of her words and apologized for speaking them aloud in our presence. What a rare treat! That piece of humble pie tasted sweeter to me than any dessert!
I had just witnessed Step Ten.

Step Ten has two components: Taking a continual personal inventory and promptly admitting when we mess up. Both of these work best when accompanied by the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

When we are in the spiral of addiction or are the “co-addict” or co-dependent trying to control the aftermath of a loved one’s out of control behavior, we become little gods of our own lives, often forgetting that we have a God who is more than happy to take the wheel and steer us onto a better life path. We ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit, choosing, rather, to rely upon our own strength. This gets us nowhere.

When we discover Step 1, that our life is out of control and unmanageable, and we learn to submit to the Highest Power of all – God, something begins to change inside our hearts and we learn to listen to His voice above all others. Slowly, slowly, our lives become more manageable and peaceful. This can be a dangerous place to be, because this is where complacency creeps up on us and causes us to forget what we’ve been through and Who brought us out of the depths.

Keith Miller, in A Hunger for Healing (p. 164) suggests that in our daily inventories, we must ask ourselves questions like, “Which of my character defects popped up as uninvited guests today? Am I using the tools of the program? Am I praying? Am I thanking God for all the good things he has done for me this day, and for any positive things he’s freed me to do?”

He says, “The reason this is so important is that the Sin-disease, with its denial and delusion, is always hovering “just a decision away” to throw us back into fear and confusion. Its tactics are to convince us in various ways, “You’re ‘well’ now and don’t need a stupid program to lead a normal life. You can and should operate on your own as a mature adult.” The disease’s “strategy” often works like this: When we begin to feel a little secure and happy and our relationships are more comfortable, many of us “forget” to have our quiet time. We forget to go to meetings and don’t call our sponsor. We’re busy again, because the pain that drove us into the program has been alleviated. This is a dangerous place to be, because it is one of the major delusions of the spiritual life that we can “do it ourselves” without daily contact with God and a daily look at the reality of what is going on in our own lives.”

The Bible, in 1 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV), warns us about this:

“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.”

But God doesn’t stop there, He also promises to make a way of escape so that we don’t have to fall back into our old patterns of behavior: “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (verse 13)

It’s great to know that God provides a way of escape BEFORE we fall into the temptation. Taking that route would definitely be “Plan A.” But it’s also important to be aware of the fact that none of us is perfect, and we will make mistakes. We may even chew up a friend in conversation now and then. When we do, “Plan B” is Step Ten – humbly allowing the Holy Spirit to make us aware of our error, and taking immediate action to admit our wrong and make it right.Step 10 Meme

Father in heaven, thank You for loving human beings so much that You not only gave us Your Son, but You promise to give us Your Spirit, as well. Give me ears today, to hear that quiet Voice that says, “Caution! You are moving in a direction that leads to pain and sorrow. Here’s your chance to make it right.” Please help me to take an honest inventory today and to right what is wrong in my life. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Beginning With Amends

Step 9

“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible,

except when to do so would injure them or others”

Happy New Year, dear reader! New Years Day is perfect for starting fresh, perfect for beginning to make our Step 9 amends.

Step 9 Meme

“Step 9 completes what I started in step 8. I make amends to those that I have harmed. I pay back debts I owe. I apologize. I write letters. I find time to do and say things that would help heal the damage that I have done. I try to bring goodness where previously I had brought discord and destruction. It takes insight, courage and dedication to make such amends, but now I have the help of my God to know what to do and how to do it. I learn to earnestly seek the right way to go about this process from my God. I start to live the kind of life that my God has meant for me to live all along.” 12Step.org (http://12step.org/the-12-steps/step-9.html)

As we think of the list we made in Step 8 and begin to ask God how to go about making amends with those we’ve harmed in our struggle to control our own out of control lives, we may begin to feel overwhelmed. We may have a mountain of amends looming before us. The enemy of our souls will attempt to heap fear, guilt, or shame on us as we prepare to contact those we’ve harmed. We do not need to accept his lies.

Although the New Year is a good place to begin with human beings, we never have to wait a whole year to start fresh with God. The Bible has great news for those of us struggling with addiction in our lives or the lives of our loved ones. It is found in Lamentations 3:22-24: Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I hope in Him!” (NKJV)

With each new morning, God’s “mercy,” “loving-kindness,” and “tender compassions” (see the Amplified Bible) are fresh for each of us. We never have to wallow in yesteryear with God. He does not hold shame over our heads, waiting to douse us in a fresh dose whenever we mess up. God accepts our humble acknowledgement and confession of sin. He moves us forward each day with fresh mercy.

I wish I could say the same for the humans we deal with. Unfortunately, they are a mixed bag. Sometimes we will find mercy and compassion as we navigate Step 9. Sometimes we will run headlong into someone else’s unhealthy rage, retaliation, or indifference.

Claudette Wassil-Grimm says, “We need to be open to any response we get from the people we’ve injured, and be ready to accept their responses without becoming angry. We are not there to manipulate them into forgiving us. In order to have this come off smoothly, we should make every effort to purge our bad feelings toward the person or incident before we meet to speak. This will help us resist the temptation to point out to them what we felt they did to provoke us. We are only there to talk about our own behavior.The Twelve Step Journal, p. 224-225

When I took Step 9 again a few months ago, I experienced a not-so-great response from someone I reached out to. She wasn’t unkind, but her words stung like a slap in the face. It had been more than seven years since my actions had hurt her. She seemed shocked that I would reach so far back to make amends. Then she basically told me that she had forgiven me because that’s what God commands. She said she would say it to me if that’s what I needed to hear from her to make myself feel better. Ouch. Yeah, that’s what can happen when you reach out to make amends.

But you know what? It’s okay. I had deeply wronged her and I needed to let her know that I knew I had and that I am sorry. However she responded was her choice. I’m not sure I would be very gracious, either – to someone who had done to her what I had done. Sometimes we just have to move forward, doing our part and releasing all of the persons we’ve hurt, to our God, who IS merciful, gracious and understanding of why we acted how we acted in our wounded and/or addicted state.Colorful Couple

As we welcome 2015 today, let’s move into it with open hearts, open minds, and courage to make our amends. If you have any amends stories of your own, please feel free to share them in the comments section, or even email me with them at info@julietvanheerden.com. I would love to hear from you and share your stories with others.

Happy New Year!