Celebrate Recovery

As I have journeyed through life I have had different purposes for different seasons of my life.

When I was a senior in high school I took a psychology course. I was fascinated by the concept that there are reasons why people do what they do and feel what they feel. This course was the beginning of a lifelong desire to understand what makes people tick. I subsequently majored in psychology in college, went to graduate school where I earned a master’s degree in clinical social work, and embarked on a career as a psychotherapist. I also engaged in therapy myself as a client to understand what made me tick.

The desire to understand what makes people tick grew into a passion for helping people live healthy, happy lives emotionally and relationally. When God called me to lead a Celebrate Recovery ministry in August 2003, I was given another avenue through which to help people heal the hurts, habits, and hang-ups which impeded them from living the lives they were created to live.

In July 2014 God narrowed this passion to focus on women. He lit a fire in my heart to help his daughters be set free from the belief systems and practices that tell them they are second-class citizens, and stop them from being who God created them to be. I put form to this passion and calling by writing When Going with the Flow Isn’t Enough, Swim Upstream. In this book I focus on how the Christian Church has contributed to maintaining gender inequality in the United States. I hope that the men and women who read it will be encouraged to swim upstream against gender inequality wherever they either see it happening to others or experience it themselves. I finished this manuscript about one month ago. The publishing process will begin in January.

I don’t know what else God may want me to do. I don’t need to know right now. I just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other, trusting that he will let me know what he wants me to do. “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

turn turn turn the byrds lyrics


My name is Mary. I’m a recovering people pleaser and approval seeker.

Growing up I learned that other people’s opinions were very important, that their opinions were the source of my self-worth and of love. I, of course, didn’t realize at the time that I was learning these things, however, I grew into an approval seeker and people pleaser PAR EXCELLANCE!

I lived this way for my first forty years on the planet. I then became a follower of Jesus Christ and my idea of where my self-worth and where love came from slowly began to change. As I walked with Christ he taught me that my source of self-esteem and self-worth does not come from the approval of people. It comes from my relationship with him. I am a child of God and therefore I have worth. He loves me, period. Jesus taught me that I cannot and do not need to earn his love. I cannot make him love me and I cannot make him not love me. He loves me no matter what, and he knew me and loved me before he placed me in my mother’s womb.

Fairly early in my faith walk (mid to late 1990s), I started experiencing a nagging sense that I was supposed to do something for God. It kept gnawing at me inside and wouldn’t go away. Though I had this sense, I didn’t have the faintest idea what God wanted me to do. In an effort to try to understand what it was I was supposed to do, I served in a number of different ministries. Though each of these were good and enjoyable and somewhat fulfilling, not one of them felt like the right fit. Each one felt like putting on a jacket with shoulders that were too tight or sleeves that were too short. I didn’t give up though, and eventually I found the right fit.

In 2003 God let me know beyond the shadow of a doubt that he wanted me to be a Celebrate Recovery leader. As I served in that capacity I knew I had finally found the right fit. I knew I was walking in the will of God for my life. This knowing was accompanied by a profound inner peace and joy that was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Soon after this I developed my personal definition of success, i.e. to faithfully fulfill my God-given purpose. That definition has not changed. I am now living my life for an audience of One. I am living to please God, not to please human beings. This extends to all areas of my life, not just the ministry I serve in. My ultimate measure of success, which flows naturally from my definition of success, will be to hear, when I stand before God, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

Since I put God in the driver’s seat of my life, I have not always been successful in leaving him there. There have been times when I put myself back in the driver’s seat, doing life my way. When I allowed God to be in the driver’s seat of my life, I experienced an internal peace and joy that surpasses all human understanding. The reason for this is that kind of peace and joy can only come from God. When I put myself back in the driver’s seat of my life, I was looking for that peace and joy to come from human achievements and human relationships. What I received was the peace and joy that the world gives. Having experienced both of these scenarios, I can tell you that the peace and joy that the world gives is hollow compared to the peace and joy that God gives. Nothing can compare to that deep certainty you feel when you know you are right where you are supposed to be, doing exactly what you were created to do.

Did you know it is possible to become addicted to behavior?

It is important to understand that, just as we can manipulate our moods by ingesting substances from the outside, we can also manipulate our moods by becoming intoxicated with our own internal chemicals, set off by behavior. We can become addicted to behaviors that set off certain internal chemicals. One of the behaviors we can become addicted to is taking care of or helping others.

Some of the signs of an addiction to taking care of others are: doing something we really don’t want to do, i.e. saying yes when we want to say no; doing something for someone that he/she is capable of doing and should be doing for him or herself; meeting people’s needs without being asked; speaking for another person; solving people’s problems for them; fixing people’s feelings; doing other’s thinking for them; experiencing people’s consequences for them; doing more than our fair share of work; consistently giving more than we receive in a particular situation or relationship.

People who are addicted to taking care of others don’t just care for others; they breed dependence. Caretakers need dependent people around, so if there aren’t any dependent people handy a dedicated caretaker will find some. So the real question isn’t “Why do they act like that?” the real question is “Why do I find myself in the same predicament over and over?”

Personal experience: At the beginning of my career as a mental health professional I was driven by a desperate need to “fix” my clients. I believed that the only way my worth and value as a therapist and as a person was measured was if my clients “got better.” Further, I believed that my clients’ progress in therapy was entirely on my shoulders. These two beliefs combined drove me to take responsibility for my clients’ mental health and progress in therapy. The result of this, of course, was that my clients did everything but “get better,” due to my failure to give them the responsibility for their own mental health. By taking that responsibility on myself, I enabled them to stay dysfunctional. Then, of course, the more dysfunctional they stayed, the harder I worked, which meant they stayed dysfunctional.

Lessons I learned: 1. I did not create their problems and I could not fix them; 2. I had to tolerate feelings of powerlessness and not act off them; 3. I had to detach from the outcome; 4. My responsibility was to bring the best I had to each session, and my “best” differed from day to day; and 5. If I was working harder than they were at solving their problems I was taking responsibility for them.

Once I truly understood and embraced my addiction to taking care of and helping others I began my recovery from same. I then started to truly help people rather than enable them to stay stuck in their dysfunctional behavior patterns.

This particular excerpt has been on my mind and heart for the last few days. Not sure why. Decided to share it, maybe someone needs to read it.

Excerpt from When Therapy Isn’t Enough:

Therapy and recovery exist for similar reasons and have similar goals, such as healing, growth, change, improved functioning, healthier relationships, and so forth. The ways in which each accomplishes these goals, however, are quite different, as are the underlying beliefs regarding how change happens.

Though therapy and recovery share a similarity of purpose, it has been my experience that the healing one can attain working a recovery program far surpasses anything one can experience in therapy. John Bradshaw, in his book Healing the Shame that Binds You, states: “…Twelve-step groups literally were born out of the courage of two people risking coming out of hiding. One alcoholic person (Bill W.) turned to another alcoholic person (Dr. Bob) and they told each other how bad they really felt about themselves. I join with Scott Peck in seeing this dialogue coming out of hiding as one of the most important events of this century.”

I join with John Bradshaw and Scott Peck in seeing the dialogue between Bill W. and Dr. Bob in which they each came out of hiding and gave birth to twelve-step groups as one of the most important events of the twentieth century. I believe that another important event of the twentieth century, a building block on what Bill W. and Dr. Bob did, is what John Baker and Rick Warren did.

John Baker understood the vision God gave him for a Christ-centered recovery program and he acted on it, giving birth to Celebrate Recovery. Rick Warren gave John Baker the needed permission and support to establish and build Celebrate Recovery at Saddleback Church and then take it to the world.

The phenomenal growth of Celebrate Recovery, however, is not due to the efforts of John Baker or Rick Warren or countless others who have dedicated themselves to this ministry. Rather, it is God who has grown Celebrate Recovery. The human contribution to the growth has been the willingness of individuals to allow themselves to be used by God as his hands, feet, and voice in the world. It’s amazing what God can do through individuals who are willing to allow themselves to be used as his instruments.

Link to book:


I was recently talking with a young woman who was physically, sexually and psychologically abused as a child. I said something about trusting God. Her immediate, and angry, response was “Why should I trust God, he didn’t protect me as a child!”

Now that’s a tough question. My reply to her was “I don’t know what to say to that. I need to think about it.”

Twenty four hours later I remembered a Celebrate Recovery teaching on this very issue and sent her the following message: “Don’t be mad at God for what your parents did. He gave us all free will. If he took away your parents’ free will He would have to take it away from all of us.” I haven’t heard from her since. I hope she’s chewing on this.

After writing my last post I was reminded of an article I wrote a number of years ago titled 12 Steps=the Christian Walk. Here is the article beginning at Step 2:

Step 1, if worked properly, leaves us feeling empty and ready for Step 2 – We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. When we begin to see that help is available to us and as we reach out and accept what our Higher Power has to offer, we start to feel hopeful that our life will improve and we’ll feel better. To take this step we need not understand what lies ahead. We need to trust that God knows what lies ahead and that He loves us and will take care of us.

Taking Step 2 positions us to take Step 3 – We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God. In the first 2 steps we became aware of our condition and accepted the idea of a power greater than ourselves. Step 3 is decision time. When we take Step 3 God becomes the manager of our life and we learn to accept life on His terms. Many of us initially take Step 3 by turning over only certain parts of our lives to God. We are willing to turn over the problematic parts of our lives when we see they are making our lives unmanageable, however, we hold onto other parts of our lives thinking we can manage them just fine thank you very much. We eventually realize, however, that we cannot barter with God. We must surrender our entire will and every area of our life to His care if we really want to recover. When we are finally able and willing to accept this reality, our journey to wholeness begins for real and we are ready to work Step 4.

Step 4 – We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves – opens our eyes to the weaknesses in our lives that need changing and helps us to build on our strengths. We examine our behavior and expand our understanding of ourselves. As we begin to see ourselves clearly, we learn to accept our whole character – the good and the bad. As our self-discovery unfolds, we begin to recognize the role that denial has played in our lives. This realization is the basis for embracing the truth of our personal history. An honest and thorough inventory leads to self-acceptance and freedom.

Step 5 – We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs – gives us the opportunity to set aside our pride as we see ourselves through the lens of reality. Step 5 is a pathway out of isolation and loneliness, and results in freedom, happiness and serenity. Working Step 5 lays a new foundation for our life of relationship to God and commitment to honesty & humility. Our growing relationship with God gives us the courage to examine ourselves and reveal our true self to ourselves, to God and to another human being. Self-disclosure is an important part of our Christian walk. We were created to live in community with both God and people. Authentic community requires disclosure. It is tempting to believe that telling God is all that is necessary because He ultimately forgives all sins. While this is true, confession to another human being provides special healing and wholeness and releases the grip of hidden sin. Once we share our inventory with God and with another human being we are ready to move on to Step 6.

Step 6 – We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character – provides us with a needed rest as God works in us to create needed change. Our task in this step is to develop the willingness to respond to God’s desired action in our lives. We may believe the saying “God helps those who help themselves, so get busy and change.” This, however, is not true. Change comes from God, not from our self-will, and it comes when we are willing to Let Go and Let God!

In Step 7 – We humbly ask Him to remove all our shortcomings – we Let God. We work this step on our knees in humble prayer, asking God to remove our shortcomings, one defect at a time. Asking God to remove our defects is a true measure of our willingness to surrender control. For those of us who have spent our lives thinking we were self-sufficient, surrendering control can be an extremely difficult task. It is also an extremely freeing task. It takes much faith & trust to work this step. We need to remember that God hears us and wants to answer our prayer. We also need to remember that God works on His timetable, not ours. He will remove our defects when He knows we are ready.

Step 8 – Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all – begins the process of healing damaged relationships. Up to this point in our recovery we have been looking at and dealing with how our hurts, habits and hang-ups affected us. We now begin to look at how they harmed others. Reviewing our Fourth Step inventory helps us determine who belongs on our list. Once our amends list is done we are ready to move on to Step 9 – We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. This step gives us the opportunity to take concrete action to heal the damage of our past and to move further along on the pathway out of isolation and loneliness. Accepting responsibility for the harm we’ve done to others is a humbling experience because it forces us to admit the effect we have had on people that we care about. It requires much courage to successfully complete this step. It is not easy to admit to someone face to face that we have hurt him or her and to ask for forgiveness. Doing this, however, leads to increased self-esteem, serenity, and peace, both in ourselves and in our relationships.

Steps 8 & 9 help us repair our past. Step 10 – We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it – is a maintenance step that is designed to help us stay on track in our recovery. Doing a daily inventory and making amends as needed strengthens and protects our recovery and is a vital part of walking a healthy Christian walk.

Step 11 – We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and power to carry that out – is another maintenance step. Our relationship with God is our most important relationship. In order for that relationship to be vibrant and alive, ongoing honest communication is critical. As we draw near to God in prayer and meditation, we draw close to our source of power, serenity, guidance and healing. To ignore communication with God is to unplug our power source.

Step 12 – Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs – is an action step. Step 12 calls us to reach out to those who are hurting and struggling, and to share with them our experience, strength and hope. 1 Peter 3:10 tells us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”. The most powerful way that we can work Step 12 of carrying this message to others is to actually WALK the Christian walk, to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. When working Step 12 a good rule of thumb is “Actions speak louder than words”. There is no more powerful witness of God’s transformational love and power than a transformed life that lives that transformation day in and day out.

Over the last couple days I have been reminded of how difficult it is to embrace our powerlessness, i.e. we have no control over other people’s choices and actions. We only have control over our own choices and actions, including how we choose to react to the choices and actions of others, especially when we don’t agree with or approve of them.

This reminder came as a result of participating in a dialogue on Facebook about what can be done to decrease or eliminate gun violence in the U.S. It seemed that everyone who took part in the discussion agreed that it is not a gun problem, it is a heart problem and that gun violence would not decrease until hearts changed. The disagreements began when the discussion shifted to how hearts can be changed.

My position on this is that legislation will not change hearts. Prohibition did not stop people from drinking or making alcohol. Civil rights legislation did not end racism. Illegal abortion did not stop women from getting abortions or doctors from performing them.

This DOESN’T mean though, that there is nothing we can do to decrease or end gun violence or any kind of senseless violence for that matter. Those of us who are Christ followers have a very powerful option, we can LIVE the gospel. I said LIVE the gospel not preach the gospel, i.e. walk the walk not talk the talk. Hopefully others will see what we have and want it and hearts will begin to change.

Embracing our powerlessness, our inability to control others, may sound very frightening or horrific. In actuality though, it is very healing and very freeing. It is Step 1 of the 12 Steps, by which I live my life.

Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable – is an invitation to face reality and admit that our life isn’t working. We stop pretending that it IS working, we admit our powerlessness and we stop trying to manage our life OUR way. A very common addiction and compulsion is trying to fix, help or control others.

The idea of taking this first step can be overwhelming until we stop looking at our lives through the lens of DENIAL and start seeing it through the lens of reality.

We may have been taught to believe that we only have to accept Christ as our Lord and Savior for our lives to be complete and satisfying. Our proclamation that “I am a born again Christian; my past is washed clean; I am a new creature; Christ has totally changed me” is true. Our Spirits are born again. Our flesh, however, is holding on to a lifetime of hurts, habits and hang-ups. We need more than salvation. We need transformation. We need change. To over-spiritualize the initial work of salvation may be to deny the actual condition of our lives.

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