I Need Jesus: Step One

March 29, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

If you read the last post, you know that we are embarking on a journey through the 12-Step program.  As I study these steps, I realize they are not about alcohol at all although that’s where they started.  What they are really about is a systematic approach moving from the Tree of Me to the Tree of Life… from a life dependent upon me, my willpower, my strength to a life dependent upon God, His strength, His peace, His mercy, and His love.

The amazing thing is as I read these in that light, I see how relevant they are to stopping the cycle of misery in a life and turning it toward a cycle of love and acceptance.  It is honestly the steps I went through that brought me out of my misery into a life set on the foundation of God.  It is how I moved from “I can to do this” to “I need Jesus!”

As I also told you in the last post, some of this understanding I’ve gained on this point came from reading the book “Left to Tell” by Rwandan genocide survivor, Immaculee Iibagiza.  This is so important because her story is a physical representation of the emotional, mental, and spiritual battle we all fight every day.  So in her story, one can come to understand how Satan works in our lives under the surface to get us to doubt and to ultimately give up on God and how relying on God can bring us to freedom.

It is in this place of bondage where we will start.

“Addiction” is a concept most of us know something about even if we’ve never seen it up-close-and-personal.  Addiction is that state where we need something more than life itself.  We will trash our family, our friendships, ourselves in order to have what we are craving.

But how does an addiction start?

I think it starts when we realize that through the substance we can gain something that feels beneficial to us.  Most of the time, that is simply a temporary escape from pain.

The truth is, we all have pain.  It might be physical pain from abuse or self-abuse.  It might be mental or emotional pain.  But all of these have a root in spiritual pain.  And in the addiction, we are looking for something outside ourselves to make us feel better about ourselves and life.  The world is set up to cause this pain.  At the deepest part of this pain is an understanding that we have been separated from God and we have been led to believe that He no longer loves us, that our sin was too great, that we are forever separate, that we are on our own.  Therefore, we do what Adam and Even chose first–we eat from the Tree of Me.  When we do this, we further separate ourselves from God causing more pain.

It is that pain of separation, manifested in a million different ways, that we are trying to escape.  And we do so through behaviors that do not serve us long term in productive ways.

Maybe we choose societal-ills like drinking, drugs, promiscuity, over-eating, or violence.  Or maybe we choose things that others will cheer on like working harder and harder, gaining money, or achievements and accomplishments.  All of these are ways we talk ourselves out of feeling bad and gain for a moment an escape from the pain.

But if the pain remains, we will go back to the thing that got us out of it over and over again.  This is when addiction sets in.

In the extended version of Step 1 on the 12-Step Program page found here, we see this cycle:

  1. Pain ->
  2. Reaching out to an addictive agent, such as work, food, sex, alcohol, or dependent relationships to salve our pain ->
  3. Temporary anesthesia ->
  4. Negative consequences ->
  5. Shame and guilt, which result in more pain or low self-esteem

Notice that PAIN comes first.  Then we “find” the thing that temporarily helps us escape the pain.  However, the negative consequences soon set in.  Now for me, who was caught in something that looked “good” to everyone else, the negative consequences were as simple as the praise dying down.  People went on with their lives.  I was no longer at the center of their attention.  I became “invisible” again.  Which landed me right back in the pain I had momentarily escaped.  That meant I had to do something to get out of that pain again.

For me, my “something” was achievements and success and accomplishments.  So the second the praise died down from “all those A’s,” I had to start over.  Worse, as every alcoholic and drug-user will tell you, it began to take more and more and more to get that same “high.”  I had to do more, be better, accomplish more in order to gain the praise that got me out of the pain.  So instead of getting a 96, I had to have a 100.  Then instead of a 100, I had to have a 105.  It was exhausting.

In my book “Princess,” Heather goes through this exact thing, except she has figured out (just as I did) that there comes a point when others get tired of you “being perfect,” and the thing you have based your worth on and have learned will get you out of pain begins to turn on you as others get annoyed with you always getting A’s or good grades.  You learn that some people will be very jealous and will inflict more pain because of the thing that will get you out of pain.  It’s a trap.

It’s ALL a trap!

So the First Step is:  We admit we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.

Here’s an easier way to say this, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Have you ever felt like that?  Just at the end of your energy, at the end of what you know to do, at the end of your rope?  Some people call this “rock bottom.”  I mean you have tried EVERYTHING, and the pain just keeps coming back.

I know I was there, and it was only the Grace of God that saved me.  I know others who have gotten there and who just refused to take this first step.  Some times rock bottom is a LONG way down, especially if you have been taught that it’s all up to you, you have to be strong, you have to learn to “stand on your own two feet.”   Oh, yes.  The world has laid quite a trap beneath us.

So today, your first step is to look at your life and see where it feels out of control.  Maybe it’s in your marriage or with your children.  Maybe it’s in your job or your finances.  Maybe it’s your weight or your time management (busyness!).  Whatever it is, consider that in that area you are addicted to something outside yourself that you are trying to assuage the pain.  See the pain at the bottom of it.  Is it having never felt good enough?  Is it trying to prove yourself to someone?  Is it just feeling emotional pain that you can’t even yet pinpoint?  Whatever it is, today is the day to ADMIT that you are powerless to stop the pain, that you have tried everything, and it’s NOT working.

Then breathe and quietly invite Jesus in by simply saying, “I need You, Jesus.  I need Your help here.”

I wrote a Twitter post the other day, something like this:  “God will only unlock the doors that you give Him the key to.”  Someone wrote back that they believe God can open any door whether He has the key to it or not.   Well, yes, He can.  But He will not take the key from you.  In fact, He has already opened the door through His redemption of you on the cross, but it is YOU (and me) that are choosing to stay in that cell.  It’s time to choose something different.  It’s time to come out, Lazarus.  It’s time to rise again, to be reborn, to shake off the chains and walk free. And the first step is to admit you can’t do it on your own.

Like Imaculee, we are confined to that little bathroom, with killers outside intent on our destruction.  In the story, this brave woman finds a place of peace and rest while in that bathroom jail cell… by going to God, by prayer, by meditation.  We will get there in the 12-Steps as well, so stay tuned!


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I Need Jesus

March 26, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

The last couple of weeks have been interesting and illuminating although I can’t put my finger on exactly why.  It’s just that one message seems to be coming through with great clarity though again, I can’t tell you just why.

It started with a conversation I had with a friend of mine about the bad things that happen in the world.  She was questioning how a loving God could do the things that happen.  How can a loving God allow people to die in tornadoes?  How can a loving God let people die of cancer?  How can a loving God not step in and make everything better?

Well, first off, we choose the world we live in.  Yes, there are many things out of our control, but our reaction to them is under our control.  And too often we CHOOSE the reaction that takes us further from God rather than the one that brings us closer to Him.

Like when danger strikes.

Do we immediately go to God with that, ask for His protection and guidance?  Or do we blame Him and ask, “Why me?”

Or take the case of disease.  When disease strikes, do we become bitter and angry, or do we use that as a reason to cling to the God Who is on this sideand the other side?

Shortly after this discussion, I read a book called, “Left to Tell” by Imaculee, survivor of the Rwandan Holocaust.  I don’t know if you remember this, but in 1994, there was a genocide in Rwanda.  The Hutu tribe went on a killing spree trying to wipe out the Tutsi tribe.  Imaculee was of the Tutsi tribe.  When the genocide began, she was sent to the house of a Hutu pastor who hid her and 5 other women in a tiny 3′ X 4′ bathroom at the back of his house for 3 months.

The story is amazing, but the thing that comes through the most is how desperately Imaculee clung to Jesus.  When she did not, the demon voices would whisper to her that she was never going to survive, that it was hopeless, that God did not love her.  After all, if He loved her so much, why was she in a tiny prison being stalked by killers?  Why was her family probably dead?  No her life was meaningless and she would die just like the rest.

It was only in clinging to God and what He would tell her as she prayed that she was able to keep the demons at bay.

To me, as I read the book, the message God has been showing me grew ever brighter.  The point of this life is to come to the conclusion that I need Jesus.

Really.  It’s that simple.

While I was reading that story, I drove in to get my kids from school, and I heard a song on my iPod that I have loved for a long time.  It’s called, “Wine Into Water.”  The premise is that the guy is an alcoholic.  He has literally drunk himself almost to the point of oblivion.  He is at the bottom of everything, and finally he comes to the conclusion that he cannot beat this thing on his own.  He’s tried everything, and it hasn’t worked.

As I listened to the song, I began to cry.  Why?  Because I got the heart message.  It wasn’t about taking away the alcoholism.  It was about this man finally realizing, “I need Jesus.”

I know a little about Alcoholics Anonymous, and one of the things I know about it is the basis is the 12-Step program.  Here is a version based on the AA 12-Steps from http://www.12step.org/

  • Step 1We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable
  • Step 2Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
  • Step 3Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God
  • Step 4Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
  • Step 5Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
  • Step 6Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
  • Step 7Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings
  • Step 8Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all
  • Step 9Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
  • Step 10Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
  • Step 11Sought 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
  • Step 12Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

I am beginning to recognize the power of these steps, not just for alcohol but for finding peace and learning to live a life based on God’s strength not on our own.  So for the next 12 days here, we are going to go through these steps one at a time so that you can see the power of the simple prayer, “I need Jesus.”

For now, feel free to explore the 12step site and see what insights you can glean.  Until next time, “Live in the Light!”


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Good Job, Holy Spirit!

March 22, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

For a mom of three kids, one of the most challenging things is keeping up with all the “extras.”  I don’t even mean like drum lessons and gymnastics.  I’m talking about the “little assignments” from school–those off-the-beaten-track things that you don’t see coming and can’t plan for a month in advance.

For example, the other day my son said, “Mom, I need jeans for swimming on Wednesday.”

Now first of all, I know you’re thinking, “Why would he need JEANS for swimming?”

Second of all, you’re wondering why this sent me into so much panic.


Well, let me explain.

One day a year from 3rd through 5th in swimming (once a week on Wednesdays, through the school), they study how to make clothing into flotation devices.  (I don’t know how, so don’t ask me. 🙂  Older daughter did the same thing, so I fully understood the need.

So why the panic?  Ah.

For that answer, you have to know my son.  I don’t know why.  I really don’t, but the kid does NOT like jeans.  He hasn’t ever since he was little.  He simply won’t wear the things.  At first I thought I would eventually talk him into it.  Nope.  Not gonna happen.  So about 4 years ago, I gave up and I quit buying them for him altogether.

What does he wear, you ask?  Khakis for anything nice, a suit if called for (and he likes that, go figure!), sweatpants, and shorts (but NOT jean shorts!) and never, ever for any reason jeans!

So this kid literally does not have a pair of jeans in his possession.  For a nine-year-old boy, that’s weird, I’ll grant you, but it’s the truth.

Well, I meant to go get him some jeans for swimming.  I really did.

But one day was spent getting ready for a meeting and then next was spent on taxes and drum lessons.  So all of a sudden, it was Tuesday night and Mom (that would be me) hadn’t given it another thought.

Long about 7:30 as he was getting his things ready for the next day (I’m telling you, I have weird kids!), he comes in.  “Mom, I need jeans for tomorrow.”

Oh, no!  Great! Now what?!

Well, he didn’t have jeans in his closet so there was no reason to even go look.  What were we going to do?

I asked if they had to be his jeans and older sister confirmed, you needed to be able to wear what you brought.  Grrrr.  That took out the possibility of using Dad’s jeans.

What were we going to do?  Stores were closed, so that was out.  Only close-in-age cousins live 45 miles away.  That was out.  Hmm….

Then all of a sudden, I knew.  I said, “You are not going to believe how smart the Holy Spirit is.”  He was like, “What?”

I took his hand, and we marched through the house, up the stairs, through the upstairs and into the attic.  He thought I’d lost my mind. 🙂

In the attic he said, “MOM, what are you doing?”

I said, “Six years ago, the Holy Spirit knew we were going to need jeans tonight, so He sent them so we’d have them.”

You see, six years ago a man my husband only knew in passing and who knew we had a small son gave us a box of clothes.  Why?  I don’t know.  We literally never saw the guy again.

But I had marked the box with my son’s name and 10-14 (the size of the clothes) and put it in the attic.

About 2 months ago, I saw that box and thought, “I should just give that away.  He’s never going to wear those things.” HA!  So funny how the Holy Spirit puts things together!

So I got the box down, and I said, “Let’s see just how smart the Holy Spirit is.”  I opened the box.  There, on the very top, lay a pair of very nice jeans.

I shook my head and said, “Wow.  Go Holy Spirit.  You are SO good.”

I pulled the jeans out and held them up to my son.  If I’d have been at the store, I couldn’t have done any better.  So I told him to go try them on.

You guessed it.  They fit like they were made for him.

What else can you said when the Holy Spirit comes through that perfectly?!  “Good job, Holy Spirit!”

He’s so cool!


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The Pain of Rejection

March 19, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

It occurred to me the other day how difficult and painful rejection is.  In my stories, the characters often go through experiences and feelings that cause them, at least for a time, to reject the other person–even if they really do love or are falling in love with them.

Maybe the guy has been “once-bitten”–having another love-interest abandon him.  Or the woman is worried about the man controlling her in the relationship and so pushes him away.

Part of writing romance is just this “pushing away” and “pulling together” dance that all couples experience.  It’s hard to be together, on the same page, in the same boat, on one another’s team all the time.  Human nature says that will not happen.  But oh, how hard it is to be rejected.  It can be such a deep wound, especially when we have chosen to make ourselves vulnerable believing the other has our best interests at heart.  To find out that is not always the case is traumatic.

As I thought about this concept and how hard it is to keep loving even when the other rejects you, it further occurred to me that God experiences this every day with His children.  I’ve heard several parents of teens voice this hurt.  “She used to love being with me and doing things.  Now she just wants to be with her friends.”  As parents we know as our children grow up, they will become less and less dependent upon us, but with that autonomy comes a necessary “rejection” that can come as a huge shock if you’re not prepared for it.

I remember in “Fireproof” the scene in which Kirk Cameron’s character is hacked off because no matter what he has done to win her back, his wife keeps rejecting him.  He is angry and bitter and resentful.  He makes this list of all the things he’s done for her, and she still rejects him.

His father, the wise man that he is, points to the fact that Kirk’s character has done the same thing with God.  God gave everything.  His only Son.  His very life.  And still we reject Him.  Even those of us who know and love Him.  We get too busy with other things. We forget to make Him a part of our lives.  We make other things more important and carve out no time for Him.

As I told my Sunday School class the other day, “What if I came to see you and I talked the whole time, never let you say a word, and then left?  Would you think I was a great friend you wanted to spend more time with?”

The amazing thing to me is that God, even when we’ve rejected Him, forgotten about Him, and neglected Him, will take us back in a heartbeat if we just turn around.  It’s amazing that He doesn’t go, “Nope.  You’ve done this one too many times.  I’m outta here.”

Because I imagine if we are made in the image of God that means God probably has feelings too.  And I know how difficult it is to consistently return love for hurt when someone hurts you.  That God is able to do that with absolute consistency is mind-blowing.

I do wonder sometimes if that is one reason Jesus wept.  “I’m going to do all of this for them, and they still aren’t going to get it.”

Imagine if it were you.  Imagine that you were going to lay down your life like Jesus did for someone you love so desperately, and that when you did, they would turn around and deny you, and forget you, and make everything else more important.

What love that must be to persevere in the face of that!


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Meeting Hurt with Love

March 15, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

I may have touched on this topic before.  If so, consider this a repeat lesson.

The other day a friend told me about someone who had done something really nasty to another friend.  Friend #1 was appalled that anyone would do such a thing.  “Aren’t we supposed to be about supporting one another, not tearing each other down?”

Well, yes.  We are.  And it would certainly be nice if we all remembered that.

However, I’ve lived long enough to know that even Christians don’t always behave very kindly to each other.

We get going on our own agendas with our own back stories and the hurts we’re dragging along with us, and sometimes that spills over into how we behave toward each other.

See, I believe in Heaven, the point is that we will all get this concept.  We will be so in tune with God and others that we will naturally respond in love.  In fact, that’s how Heaven can happen right now.

But right now, we also get a lot of “not Heaven.”  Why?

Because we haven’t yet learned that love always works and nothing else does.  Here, we’re still trying things out like jealousy and anger and revenge.  We haven’t decided for ourselves yet that love is always the best answer.

So we meet the hurt of other people with our hurt instead of our love.  Someone does something to us, and we give our hurt permission to hurt them back.  That is the knee-jerk response.

It is only when we begin to realize that all that does is perpetuate the hurt that we begin to wonder if there is another way.  So, instead of hitting them back, we choose to forgive.  We meet their hurt with our love.

That’s what Jesus did all the way to the cross–even before He was carrying it!

He met the world’s hurt–disease, fear, anger, jealousy–with perfect love.  He believed in the power of love to overcome everything, and He clung to that belief all the way through death, Hell, and the grave and into the Resurrection.

Now I will be the first to tell you, this is NOT easy.  It is not easy to return love for hurt.  In fact, the only way we can do that consistently is to cling to God Who is the One Whose love never fails.  We go to HIM to fill us with enough love that we can meet hurt with love.  If we’re trying to go on our own love, we’re going to be sorely lacking.

So whatever trials you are facing, resolve to be the one in the situation who will react and act in love no matter what.  When you do, love will change things.  When you don’t, nothing else will change anything.  But only YOU can decide which way you will respond.  Choose wisely.


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The Myth that Christians Shouldn’t Suffer

March 12, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

During the craziness that was the beginning of February for me, I was on Twitter a lot.  One thing about Twitter I’ve learned is that people are not shy to point out when they don’t agree with you–especially if you’re a Christian.  Some people, it seems, live to try to de-faith you.  They send posts saying you’re wrong, that God doesn’t exist, etc.  Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say back.  After all, you only have 140 characters to work with, and if you haven’t noticed by now, brevity is not always my strong suit.

So when I got this message, it took me a little bit to figure out how to respond:

“Africa is a Christian country.  So why is there so much suffering there?”

Now frankly, I don’t usually think of Africa as particularly Christian, but maybe that’s me and not accurate.  So let’s assume this poster knows what they are talking about and that Africa is, in fact, a Christian country (which of course, it is not because Africa isn’t even a country or a nation.  It’s a continent with a bunch of different nations), but we’re going to proceed on the assumption that it is a nation and Christian.

My first thought was, “This is a gotcha question.”  This person doesn’t CARE about the people in Africa.  He just wants to attack me with the whole, “If God exists and He loves Christians, then how do you explain that Christians suffer?” line of thinking.

Lots of people who don’t believe in God will try to attack you on this very point.

“If God loves us, why are there…” fill in the blank… “earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis…”

To this I say that there are natural earth laws–laws that most of the time are very good for us.  Gravity is great, for example, unless it pulls a plane out of the sky and kills 290 people.  The Law that says two objects with mass cannot be in the same space at the same time makes sense and is good–until a car hits a tree, and something’s got to give.  The wind shifts that come together to cause thunderstorms are good for the crops and the people–except that sometimes they also cause tornadoes.

So in counter to the natural laws argument.  The laws themselves aren’t necessarily bad.  In fact, often they are very good and helpful.  But sometimes they lead to things we’d rather not experience.

The same can be said if you fill in the blank with things like “war or violence or murder.”

See, there’s also the Law of Human Free Will.  That means you get to CHOOSE how to react to things that happen.  Most of the time that’s a good thing, right?  But sometimes when we or others choose things that are not helpful or productive or even destructive and dangerous, it is tempting to think that law should be revoked.

The same is true with Christians who suffer.  Now if you’ve been a Christian for more than about 10 minutes, you know that being a Christian doesn’t somehow exempt you from suffering.  Being a Christian is not some magic pill that POOF makes everything wonderful in your world.  You are still, in fact, in the world, but you are no longer OF the world. That means Christians who suffer are not the exception to the rule, they are simply still under the laws of the world just as everyone else is.


And here’s the catch.

Christians have the amazing gift that they are not alone in their suffering.  God is right there.  He may not override the laws, but He will help you through whatever it is you are going through.

So I told my Twitter acquaintance…

“Being a Christian doesn’t mean you don’t suffer, it means you know the One Who can get you through the suffering.”

See, I can be brief and to the point when I have to be. 🙂


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Take Your Finger OFF the Talk Button

March 8, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

Today in Sunday School we did the classic “Our Father” skit in which the poor person is just trying to get through the prayers as fast as possible, and God isn’t letting her.  It’s so funny.  Every time she says a few words, God interjects His thoughts until she’s too befuddled to continue.  I told the kids I used to pray really fast, I’m talking SPEEDDEMON fast!


Man, I could get through that prayer in about three breaths if I had to.

Why?  Because I had other “more important things” to do and praying?  Well, it was on the list under “duty,” and once that was checked off, I could go on with the rest of my day or evening.

So this little skit always makes me smile and cry just a little.  I remember me back then, and I think of all the things I missed by having a one-way conversation with God and that was it.

I told the kids that it’s like we have walkie-talkies with God.  Have you ever played with walkie-talkies with a friend?  They are like a cell phone except for the talk button.

The talk button is pressed when you want to say something, and released when it’s time for the other person to talk.  If you never release the talk button, you will never get to hear what your friend is trying to say.

The same thing is true with God.

I think too many of us have our fingers mashing down the talk button when we talk with God.  We tell Him our wants, the things that would make us happy, our desires, the things we want Him to fix or finish.  Maybe we say a memorized prayer or two and then…

We shut the walkie-talkie off and go about our business.

So my question is, when we do this, when does God get to talk?  Do we ever let Him?  Do we ever in prayer-time just get quiet and listen?  Or is it a one-way so we can get it checked off our to do list conversation?

I challenge you today to take your finger OFF of the talk button.  Just listen.  Don’t do.  Just listen.  Get still, be quiet, and listen.  You might be surprised that God’s been trying to talk to you for a very long time!


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