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!

The Bridge of Vulnerability

How deep The Father’s love for us… His timing is impeccable. He sees us. He knows what we need, even when we aren’t sure. May I share with you my most recent revelation of His love?

So, I’m simultaneously reading Daring Greatly, Brené Brown’s bestseller, subtitled, How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead and working Step 8 in my Twelve Step group. If you’re unfamiliar with the 8th Step, it goes like this: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” There’s a lot that is scary in “working” Step 8. It’s definitely an opportunity to prepare for the risk of being vulnerable with those who may or may not receive my attempts at amend-making or be interested reciprocation.

I’ve got my list made. I’ve asked God’s Spirit to reveal to me whether anyone else should be on it. One of the questions in my Step work this week asks, “What people have I injured by withholding response or relationship?” Ouch. Isn’t it so much easier to just remain silent? To allow years and decades to pass without responding to or engaging in relationship with someone who has crossed our life’s path and gotten injured in the crossfire of our own pain and the ways we’ve numbed it? If you’ve ever worked a 12 Step program, you know that the one who ends up injured most when “I” refuse to face truth is “myself.”

Honestly, I’m scared of Step 9. I know it’s coming. Making a list is one thing. Making “direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others” is quite something else. I’m nervous about what “they” might do or say, or worse yet, what they may not do or say. I’ve tried this before, with an ex-boyfriend whom I left in a hurtful situation. He didn’t acknowledge my angst. Didn’t accept my apology. I’ve not forgotten the aftermath. But I want to.

Guess what Our Loving Father did for me? Right in the thick middle of Step 8 and reading all about how vulnerability is (according to Dr. Brené Brown) “the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences,” He gave me the opportunity to know how it feels to be on the receiving end of “making amends.” He allowed me to hold the vulnerability of another person in my hands and to recognize the truth of what Brené Brown shares in her powerful book: vulnerability is not weakness. Instead, it is “the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” Brené says, “If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” (p. 34) After last weekend, I am in full agreement.Vulnerability

Here’s the short version of how it happened: My biological father, whom I have not seen in four years, bought me a plane ticket to come for a visit to Colorado, where he lives with his wife and two teenaged sons. My husband came, too. We had a great time hiking in the Garden of the Gods and enjoying the beauty of a crisp Colorado spring. Then the blizzard came. (I can call it a blizzard – we were visiting from Florida, where it was 92 degrees Fahrenheit when we left home.) The chill forced us to sit by the fire one evening and talk. Talking can be pretty terrifying when it’s something you and your father have spent a lifetime avoiding.

The backstory may sound all too familiar to you (or to your children): My parents separated when I was 5. Divorced by the time I was 6. By the age of 7, I had a new stepdad and lived on the opposite side of the United States from my father. We rarely saw one another for most of my life. I was in high school before I made an internal decision to be intentional about getting to know him. We tried, but it was difficult because we lived in different worlds and connecting often felt awkward.

So, here I am last weekend, freshly turned 44, sitting in my father’s living room reading Brené Brown’s book on vulnerability, when he does one of the most outrageous, courageous, vulnerable things I’ve witnessed. He starts sharing his heart. With me. I will honor his privacy by not disclosing the contents of that conversation, but it was sealed with tears of anguish for the years of regret, and a passionate apology from a father who wished he had been able to be more of a daddy to my sister and me. I was dumfounded, frozen and staring. Then moved by compassion to embrace him with love.

As I lay in bed later, reflecting on the things my father shared, I was reminded of the way they parallel so many of our God stories. We may wander through life feeling abandoned, alone, and unloved, never realizing that Our Father agonizes over us. Unaware that He loved us from the very beginning and never once stopped, no matter how far away we were. He’s spent eternity longing for relationship with us: forever allowing us the freedom to choose to be “found,” always aware that true intimacy can never be forced, even by the Creator of those He longs to be intimate with.

I thought about the fact that my relationship with my earthly father shifted when I made a conscious effort to reach out to him as a teenager. That is when the walls began to slowly come down, brick by brick. Unfortunately, many partitions remained intact…until last weekend, when, with one giant leap of vulnerability, he bravely knocked down all remaining barriers, opening a way for healing to take place. It was a rare and beautiful thing to observe. He did Step 9 without even realizing it!

Being on the recipient end of “making direct amends” revolutionized my looming Step 9 and made it seem not so scary after all. I now understand how burden-relieving it is to witness the courageous vulnerability of a person seeking to make things right. I can only pray that I will be that brave.

Our earthly fathers are important. Whatever the status of our bond, it’s a relationship that matters. Unfortunately for so many of us, the fraying of fatherhood has deeply impacted our view of God and our perception of His view of us.

My Father's Bible

My Father’s Bible

Perhaps we can learn something from my experience with my father. Maybe it will be simply this, “For God so loved___________(put your name right here) that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, KJV). God longs for an eternal relationship with us. He has done everything within His power to provide for that. He has loved us from the beginning. Unconditionally. Even when we didn’t know it. The choice is ours. Do we accept His gift, or do we reject it? Will we take His ministry of reconciliation and spread it to those whom we, in our broken humanity, have injured? Will we dare to be that vulnerable…with Him and with others? I pray so. There is abundant life waiting on the other side of the bridge of vulnerability. Just ask my father.

How Deep The Father’s Love For Us… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7fGEOH2XiY