Finding True Freedom

What does it mean to be free? Where is freedom? Can we find it? How do we find it? Who is a free person? What do they look like? How does a free person live their life? I want to take a look at this word Freedom and talk about what it really means to be free.

Freedom can mean many things to many different types of people. Whether it’s freedom from political persecution, freedom from physical restraint, immunity and civil liberty or simply the power to exercise choice and decision without constraint; freedom is a powerful state of being which we all crave and for that matter deserve.

I’ve lived the life of a people-pleaser for most of my 51 years; to the point that I was living my life for everyone else. I was a social chameleon trying to be all things to all people. I sacrificed a college education to be a stay at home mom, committed to home school my three children rather than subject them to the failing public school system. In early adulthood my husband and I were in a denominational church that put a lot of emphasis on service. My husband and I taught 4th grade Sunday School for years, I taught preschool choir and sang in the adult choir, not to mention caring for aging family members. I worked hard to be the ideal wife, mother and citizen. All while my husband was climbing the corporate ladder of success; working 60+ hours a week with a 3 hour round trip commute to our suburban home. We were practicing Christians living a “Christian” lifestyle, but were we free? Was I free? Looking back, I would say no. I was in deep bondage to what I thought others expected of me and of the expectations I had on myself. They weren’t real expectations, but they felt real to me and I lived my life accordingly. Where does a person go from here to find true freedom?

Not long after this, my life took a dark turn that led to a lifestyle filled with sin and addictions. The “selfless” people-pleasing life I had been living built up so much resentment that I exploded into a monster no one who knew me would have ever dreamed I could become. I was lost in my own pain with no where to turn. Searching… but what was I searching for? Freedom. Freedom for me began to mean I could do whatever I wanted to do, no matter how it effected the people around me. The freedom to be myself on my terms. The freedom to be who I wanted to be no matter what anyone said or thought. It was all about my freedom. A very narcissistic mindset, but one in which many of us live today. In reality, my “freedom” brought with it a bondage that ultimately destroyed my life, my reputation, my family and my marriage. Where was this true freedom I so desperately desired? I ended up having to spend time in jail to find true freedom. Ironically, there are people behind bars today that have more true freedom because of a relationship with Jesus Christ than many people walking the streets in the darkness of their own personal bondage.

Jesus Christ says, ” You are truly my disciples if you keep obeying my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… I assure you everyone who sins is a slave of sin…if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free.” – John 8:32,36 NLT

The note in The Life Recovery Bible to this verse states:

To be “set free” is to know the truth– the truth about ourself and about Jesus our liberator. The truth is this: We are a slave to sin and powerless to manage our life effectively. With God’s truth as a standard for our moral inventory, we can recognize and confess our needs and struggles, our sins and addiction. As we confess these to God, to ourself, and to at least one other person, we share the truth about our life. When we turn our broken life over to God, who alone can make us whole, we are again acknowledging the truth. These different applications of the truth can combine to set us free from sinful habits, chemical dependencies, and emotional bondage.

It is my prayer that in reading this column you can find your way to true freedom in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. God Bless You.

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Dealing with Disappointment

Something important that I don’t see dealt with enough in recovery groups is the issue of disappointment. It often leads people into addictive lifestyles and running from reality. Whether it is disappointment in ourselves, others or circumstances; how we deal with that disappointment is key. This is a trap I fell into several years ago that led to the destruction of my family as I knew it.

In the mid 90’s my husband, Bill, had an opportunity to partner with a start up company. It just so happened all the business partners were, like us at the time, professing Christians. We felt safe; believed they were men of integrity and could be trusted. Several months past, Bill had put in endless hours of work and invested thousands of dollars towards the new business goal. When out of the blue, the other partners gave Bill the boot for no reason at all, other than pure greed. This was devastating to our family. We thought these people were our friends. It sent my faith whirling… ‘How could God allow something like this to happen to us?’ I dwelt on the offense so much, that it got deep into my spirit and totally destroyed my faith in Christian people, the church and ultimately God.

This heart breaking disappointment along with other family life issues — my father’s death, a major move to a new city, life with three teenagers, demanding jobs– were all stresses that kept us walking further and further away from God. Until one day He was no where to be seen in our home. While trying to find desperately needed time together for dates; Bill and I got caught up in the Swinging Lifestyle. We began living for the weekends; for whatever party we would attend or give. Not only alcohol and cigarettes but drugs crept in, then the infidelity began. Over a period of seven years our kids witnessed their parents marriage self destruct before their very eyes. I became a full blown narcissist…living my life only for me and my addictions. I didn’t care anymore who it hurt or what I had to do to numb the unending pain in my heart. Then I found myself in jail for domestic assault of a family member (my husband).

Ultimately, we are all searching, deeply thirsting for one thing…a relationship with God. When we allow ourselves to put anything, even anyone in that place and expect them to fulfill that need, we are going to experience disappointment. The higher the expectation the deeper the disappointment. When was the last time you were deeply disappointed in someone? In yourself? In the outcome of a particular situation? In God? How did you react? How can keep ourselves from that downward spiral that leads only to destruction?

Larry Crabb’s book Inside Out speaks specifically to this. “When we learn to accept people who disappoint us by no longer requiring them to satisfy us, then we’re free to love them, to reach toward them for their sake without having to protect ourselves from feeling disappointed by their response to us.” This is what Christ taught about constantly. What’s seen all throughout the New Testament in the Apostle Paul’s writings. The love of Christ is to be shed abroad in our hearts.

Four years have past since that Summer in jail. God has graciously restored my marriage and our individual relationships with Him. It was hope that allowed my husband to believe that our marriage could be healed. It was hope I had that I could be free of the bondage of sexual addiction. It is still hope that gives us faith to believe our entire family will again be restored in Christ.

We need to acknowledge our disappointments, not run from them into denial. We can’t hide from them with forced love or cheap forgiveness; numbing the pain with drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, porn, etc… We should instead use these disappointments as a time of growth. We must reflect on our relationships and how others have let us down and allow this to drive us to hope. This is critical. For me that’s exactly how my downward spiral began, I lost all hope, in people then finally in God. We can’t allow ourselves to ever lose hope. For it is from the foundation of hope that true Faith is born.

There are three things that will endure–faith, hope, and love– and the greatest of these is love.— 1 Corinthians 13:13

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Walking Through Steps Two and Three…

Step Two
We came to believe that a Power greater that ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Step Three
We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.

In October 2004, my husband, Bill, and I attended a marriage seminar where Dr. Doug Weiss taught on Intimacy in Marriage. At this seminar, I became aware for the first time that I was a sex addict and saw my powerlessness over my addiction. (see Working Step One blog below)

Steps 2 and 3 go hand in hand for me. I can’t really separate them, because the time in which the changes took place is so closely related. For me Step 2 was really about coming to the end of myself. Realizing, that I could no longer carry the weight of my addiction/guilt/shame. Some people don’t like the part…admitting insanity…but like the saying goes… “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.” That sounds like the definition of addiction to me…so addiction and insanity must go hand in hand. Step 3 was finally getting to a place where I knew I had to give it all up and totally surrender to God’s will for my life, no matter what it meant. Anything could be better than what I had been doing for myself.

At this point in my life, I was a practicing Buddhist. Intuitively I knew I had a spiritual problem, but in my stubborn pride I wasn’t going to go to God for help. Instead I went the Eastern Philosophy/Indian Mystic route. One day in November 2004, I was upstairs in my prayer closet, reading and meditating on the Buddhist bible. I wanted so much for the teachings to sink in; to internalize them, for them to come alive in me. I even tried to memorize portions. But it simply wouldn’t stick. I’ll never forget, God spoke to my spirit at that moment and told me– those words won’t stick because they aren’t the Truth. I never read it again.

It was nearing Christmas season and Bill very sweetly, offered to take me around Houston to some local church celebrations. I cautiously agreed, but went with a good attitude. We went to a Living Christmas Tree choir program, A Christmas Antique Car parade, and finally a live reenactment of the Bethlehem city, where tour guides took us through the different events from the night of Christ’s birth.

Over that period of two weeks, God had been gently tugging at my heart strings, inviting me to come back home to Him. Softly whispering to me that He still loved me, no matter what I had done. Our son, John, had come home from Denver for Christmas, and Bill asked if we could all go to church as a family. John and I both reluctantly agreed.

I can’t tell you what Dr. Young preached about that morning, I just knew it was time to make things right. On the Sunday morning after Christmas, December 26, 2004, at 2nd Baptist Church in Houston, I was born again. Walking down the isle that morning was like an out of body experience. My body, just got up and went. Sobbing uncontrollably, certain, I wasn’t worthy to be received, yet desperate for God.

Since 2004, God has been so gracious to give me a deep hunger for His Word. Through the Bible and my different studies God has brought about incredible healing in my life, my marriage and my family. Sure, there is still some work to be done. But one thing I know for sure… I may not be where I want to be, but thank God, I’m not where I used to be!

God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases Him. — Philippians 2:13

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Finding True Peace

I was at Celebrate Recovery the other night and met a woman who reminded me of who I used to be. She seemed so lost, like a piece of driftwood floating in the ocean of life. I began to reflect on how far God has brought me from the days when I had no idea who I was or why I was alive on this earth.

I’ve spent most of my life feeling completely inadequate and incompetent… unable to meet what I thought were the standards of others. I saw myself as less than and certainly not as smart as everyone around me. I desperately wanted others to approve of me, to give me a sense of value, to show me and tell me I mattered. I became a total people pleaser. Starting at a very young age, I was willing to do pretty much anything to make others like me. A peer pressure set up if there ever was one.

In Jr. High, I made friends with some girls at church. Why they liked me I still don’t really know. But before long they were all smoking cigarettes/marijuana and having sex with their boyfriends. I wanted so much to be like them. They were smart, intellectual and hip. So, of course, I started doing everything they were doing, not because I really wanted to, but, because they were. My friends all seemed to have strong convictions about politics and the world. They were reading J. R. R. Tolkien and listening to Woodstock. I didn’t really understand what life was all about, but I pretended like I did. I was immature and gullible.

Through high school and early adulthood, I continued to search for my significance through the eyes, words and actions of others. I was so desperate for love and acceptance, I would have sex with anyone who even showed a little interest in me. One night stands abounded, numbed by drugs and alcohol followed by a continual feeling of disappointment. I couldn’t stand to be alone. I was afraid to be alone. Not because I was afraid of something or someone harming me, but because, I couldn’t stand to be with myself. So I stayed busy with multiple jobs, and/or endless entertainment.

I married my husband, Bill, in 1979. He was much like my teen friends, very confident, smart and assertive. No fear. One of these too smart for his own good, kind of people. Breezed through college on an Academic scholarship and up the corporate ladder with a resume that reads like an interesting novel. I lived in his shadow for years. Not because he lorded anything over me, but because I resented how smart he was. He could do anything he put his mind to, and not just do it, but be successful, and not just successful, but so qualified that two Fortune 500 companies would spend a 4th of July holiday weekend negotiating a deal, competing to get him to work for them! Incredible!

Yet, here I was, just a housewife, with a beautiful home, three precious children and a husband who would do anything for me. But I never really appreciated my life… my kids, my home, my husband. What was missing? We were going to church, doing all the “right” things… But deep inside, I was a miserable person and the funny thing is, I didn’t even know I was miserable. I just thought this was the way life was supposed to be.

Mid-life crept in with it’s different crises…my father died, children began to leave the nest, sexual identity issues, marriage problems. I found myself again using sex to find love, but this time outside my marriage. I was falling deep into a pit of despair. Using drugs and alcohol to numb the increasing internal pain. Who was I? Why was I here? I wanted to die, but I was too vain to commit suicide.

But God in His infinite grace, reached down from heaven and picked me up, out of the garbage that I deserved to be thrown in, and showered me with forgiveness and mercy. Some days, I wonder why me? I get overwhelmed with gratitude to the point that some see my happiness as delusional.

It’s been 4 years since I was born again. God has graciously restored my marriage of 29 years. He has put me on the path of ministry, to reach other women who struggle with the same issues I fought with for 47 years. Now I can honestly say, I have true confidence; not in myself, but in Jesus Christ. I can’t take credit for the person I’ve become. I am who God has allowed me to become through the saving blood of Jesus Christ. I see life through the filter of God’s Word. I no longer have to prove myself to others. I no longer search for the constant approval of others. Finally, I have peace with myself.

Now the mind of the flesh [which is sense and reason without the Holy spirit] is death [death that comprises all the miseries arising from sin, both here and hereafter]. But the mind of the [Holy] Spirit is life and [soul] peace [both now and forever]. -Romans 8:6 The Amplified Bible

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Remorse vs Godly Sorrow

As addicts we sometimes confuse remorse with sorrow. Because sex addiction includes activities that are kept secret, often times guilty feelings and remorse only come about when we’ve been caught. Many of us grew up in a shame based environment and because of that, shame is usually felt even before guilt or remorse. But we must go beyond these feelings to get to true healing.

Once our sexual sins are exposed, our lives will never be the same. We may have lost our job, our home, maybe even our family. Family members who have been hurt by our sexual sin may turn from us even when we try to make amends. We may tell them we are sorry, but that doesn’t mean we have changed. In the bible, God did not respond to the people when they were sorry for their wrong. He only responded when their remorse led to a change in their hearts and behavior.

We must take a sincere and honest look at ourselves. The sin in our heart that causes the outward behavior must be exposed. Any secret sin kept hidden will continue to hold power over us. When we finally expose our sinful hearts to the Light of God’s healing Spirit and Power He will reveal to us our inner wickedness. Only then can He heal our hearts, minds and soul. Then we will experience true godly sorrow, not just worldly remorse.

David spoke from a truly repentant heart when he wrote:

Have mercy on me, O God because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sins. For I recognize my shameful deeds–they haunt me day and night. Against you, and you alone have I sinned. …Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit within me…Restore to me again the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise.— Psalm 51:1-4; 10, 12, 17 NLT

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Working The Twelve Steps…Step One

Growing up my father was an alcoholic. I had been raised around The 12 Step Program but had never really seen much proof of lasting success. In my childhood, watching my father and mother work The Steps was akin to brushing their teeth in some degree to me. It was like a ritual, just another set of rules to follow rather than putting it together with a relationship to their heavenly Father and His Word. I know the traditional AA 12 Step program is founded on principals of faith, but in trying not to offend other’s beliefs by using the term “Higher Power” I think the program is doing a great disservice by not grounding the program firmly in the Word of God. Over the years I became skeptical of the program.

One Mother’s Day 2005 I was at the mall with my husband, Bill and son, William, when we ventured into a bookstore. At this early point in my recovery (sober only a few months) I had been in a constant search for different bibles. Every time I was in a bookstore, I immediately went to the bible section. In doing this I was gathering a collection of great study bibles. This day I stumbled across The Life Recovery Bible. I had never heard of this bible even though it had been in publication since 1998. No wonder in 1998 I was no where a bible!… Anyway, I started reading it in the bookstore and couldn’t put it down.

I was excited to find a bible with The Steps worked in with scripture. I purchased the bible and started using it immediately. This bible has been a pivotal key to successfully working The Steps in my recovery. For the first time recovery and The Twelve Steps started to make sense.
The Live Recovery Bible
brought everything together for me. It was relevant and fresh, not just a dogmatic “program” from man. Instead it showed how The Twelve Steps can be found in the Word of God.

I didn’t start working the program in the traditional sense by going to meetings and finding a sponsor. God didn’t lead me in that direction. In essence The Holy Spirit became my sponsor. For almost a full year, I spent many hours each day reading and studying the bible…listening to Joyce Meyer’s teaching tapes and reading her books. I put strict boundaries up for myself. I only watched Christian television, restricted myself from listening to secular music or reading secular magazines. Because I was able to be at home, not out in the world working around other influences, I was able to work my recovery this way and feel safe. I’m not encouraging others to do it this way, but this is how my recovery process worked. If I had had to go to work, I would have definitely needed a sponsor with ‘skin’ on to be my accountability partner.

My recovery process has been one of deep inner searching within myself to understand where I’ve come from and why my life has been what it has…searching God’s Word and using it as the mirror to my soul to bring about correction and discipline. I did, however, work the steps by actually doing what each step required. Over the next few weeks, I’d like to share with you a study of The 12 Steps and how I worked them …one by one…

(The Twelve Steps and Scripture references are taken from The Life Recovery Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.)

Step One

We admitted we were powerless over our dependencies–that our life had become unmanageable.

I took this first step at a marriage seminar my husband, Bill had requested me attend with him in October 2004. Dr. Doug Weiss from Heart to Heart Counseling Center in Colorado Springs was speaking on his book Intimacy. Bill had asked me to go to the 2 day workshop and I reluctantly agreed. I told him I would go on Friday evening, but if I didn’t like the guy speaking I wasn’t going back for the Saturday morning session.

The group was small, about 25 couples…friendly and inviting. I was nervous and had my defenses up. Dr. Weiss spoke from his heart and told how he had grown up with a sex addict for a mom and because of her addiction he was shuffled around foster homes and then eventually back to his mom and step father. Through their bad influences he too became addicted to sex and pornography at a very young age. He explained how people get addicted to sex, what happens in the brain and the suffering to come as a result. He was so transparent and real. He seemed to understand exactly the pain I had. I was really listening. I realized for the first time he was talking about me. I was a sex addict. I didn’t know what it was about him and his story that touched me…I now know it was an anointing from God. Dr. Weiss talked about his clinic in Colorado and that they have Three Day Intensives for couples suffering from sex addiction.

Bill and I returned for the Saturday morning seminar. I was actually looking forward to talking to Dr. Weiss when it was over. I told him I would see him soon at his center in Colorado for counseling. I left that weekend scared by hopeful that help was available. After all the sex, drugs, alcohol, running away, various therapists, medication and jail time through Dr. Weiss God opened my eyes and I was finally able to see and here the truth of my own addiction. It was a miracle. It truly was the beginning of my recovery.

The First Step is the hardest. It can be very scary and humiliating to admit powerlessness… especially for someone who likes to be in control. Most addicts think they have it all under control…”I can handle it!”…that’s one of the biggest lies. The admission of powerlessness is truly the first step to recovery and forms the foundation for working the other steps. If we rely on our willpower alone, we will end up escalating our addiction to get out of the unending pain.

We must come to a realization that not only are we powerless over our addiction, but over ourselves as sinners. We can’t do anything without the healing power of Jesus Christ.

I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong… but I can’t help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things…No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. — Romans 7:15-18 NLT

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Gratitude

I woke up this morning thanking God that I am no longer walking in the dark. Thankful that I am awake and aware of God’s goodness. No longer drifting along, wasting day after day, living for the next high or trying to make the next unlived fantasy come true. Thank you Lord for choosing me.

You have been chosen to know me, believe in me, and understand that I alone am God. There is no other God, there never has been and never will be. I am the Lord, and there is no other Savior.
— Isaiah 43-10-11