Failure, Faith, and Forward Progress: A Recipe for Transformative Change by Corey White

"When you're sick and tired of being sick and tired.” My mother would repeat this statement to me constantly. “You will change when you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.” My mom was full of these clichés. “Fake it ‘til you make it.” “One day at a time.” These little pearls of wisdom were drilled into Jo White-Linnemon on her lifetime journey into sobriety.  

She spent a quarter century walking the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. For over the last 25 years of her life, my mother remained steadfast and sober. This fact is one of the reasons she remains, years after her death, my hero. Yet this journey toward temperance did not come easily. 

Jo White-Linnemon with Corey Patrick White.

Jo White-Linnemon with Corey Patrick White.

When my sister and I were young, my mother was offered a choice: Get sober or lose your children. At this point my mother had lived a lifetime surrounded by alcohol. She had bonded with her own mother over glasses of vodka. She had spent time in and out of rehab until her own husband and the father of her children had had enough. Thus, the ultimatum.

I often think about my mother in this moment. I think about how she must have felt, knowing that her life, everything that meant anything in her life, was hanging precariously by a vodka-soaked thread.

There is a good reason why my mother’s story came to my mind when I was asked to write about change. Change is rarely easy. For an addict, it’s unbearable. 

For an addict, giving up one’s substance of choice is akin to removing a piece of the body, expelling a member of the family, or saying goodbye to a particularly seductive mistress. The writer Stephen King once remarked on the success rate of those who enter Alcoholics Anonymous, “For every seven alcoholics who walk through our doors, six walk out again and get drunk. The seventh is the miracle we all live for.”

My mother was that miracle. 

Yet, only was it through sheer will and heavenly grace that she became that miracle. That sheer will and heavenly grace, she didn’t just need it on the day she decided to shatter the bottle and choose her children over vodka. She needed that sheer will and heavenly grace every single day of her life, from that moment forward.

I was asked recently by SALLT founder Wes Lane how I came to Christ. My response was, “Kicking and screaming.” It was a bit tongue in cheek. Yet, like most of my self-deprecating jokes, there is some truth hidden within. My own journey toward redemption is meandering, a lifetime spent in self-indulgence and self-importance while ignoring an internal murmur that told me I wasn’t the man I needed to be, nor the man I could be.

I won’t bore readers with this meandering journey. Yet, I will talk about one moment of that journey. It was a moment of my life that was particularly broken. I felt overwhelmed by loneliness, shackled by a deep depression. A relationship in my life had ended, one that I had taken for granted and one I should have anticipated how its dissolution would affect me.

Rarely, do we come to Jesus standing. We come to Jesus on our knees. It is not the 99 he must search for, but the one.

The one is lost, usually in darkness.  We are more likely to seek the savior not when our lives are going according to plan but when they’re not. We often don’t seek Him in triumph, but instead in wreckage. We often look only to the heavens when we are standing in the ashes of our lives, burned by a fire of our own making.

There I was, standing in that place. Keenly aware that something had to change. I understood that change wouldn’t happen on my own. I needed help. In that moment, a lifetime battling righteousness was replaced by something much greater.   

In a black water trough sitting in an upper elementary school in Guthrie, Oklahoma, I was reborn. I was dunked down into the water by my pastor and friend, the venerable and effervescent Heady Coleman. I rose again a new man. 

Courtesy: Mitchell Alcala / NORTH.CHURCH

Courtesy: Mitchell Alcala / NORTH.CHURCH

Before I stepped into that water trough, and gave myself over to something greater, I was asked to write down the reason I wanted to get baptized. My answer, scrawled in my childlike penmanship, was “Because I can’t be the man I want to be without Him.”     

 A commitment to Christ changes a person. That’s undeniable. When one follows Christ, she grows her generosity, increases in love and kindness, and beyond. The cross becomes something greater than a piece of gold jewelry wrapped around a neck. It becomes a mission, a call to an existence beyond worldy things. Yet, this dramatic change doesn’t occur immediately.

It can take an instant to become a follower of Christ. Yet, becoming Christ-like will take a lifetime. A person must change his behavior; she must change her attitude; he must learn to soften the words he speaks. This is more than change. This is transformation.

I may be saved by grace, but that doesn’t mean I automatically live that grace. I must still effort, every single day, to be generous when it is easier to be selfish. I must work to be humble when my pride tempts me to be boastful. I must learn to remove my hands from the keyboard at the sight of a perfectly incendiary social media post. I must fight to silence the voices of past mistakes and failures that scream at me when I’m alone. I still struggle with these things, and more, and I will for the rest of my time on this earth. While God allows us to walk with Him, we still must learn to walk with Him. While He is perfect, we are anything but.

What makes transformative change?

Water Baptism Note.jpg

The first step is failure

One recognizes a serious deficit. That deficit could be in one’s character, behavior, or circumstances. There must be a point of brokenness, when one understands that the status quo is no longer acceptable.

Next, comes faith.

There must be a believe that change will lead to something greater. This takes faith, because change comes with no guarantee. There is no assurance that this change will bring about the desired outcome. So, one must have faith that it will, in order to take the first step.

Finally, one must make forward progress.  

When my mother stood at the trailhead of sobriety, she didn’t look down into an easy hike toward recovery. She instead stared at a towering mountain, its peak obstructed by dark gray clouds. I can only imagine her fear as she gazed up at the challenge that awaited her. Yet she took a step forward, and then another one, and then another. And in that motion, that beautiful progress, what she found was change, what she found was transformation.

Can you feel it? Those little incremental changes? Those whispers in the wind that are building into a tornado of transformation. Those whispers surround us. If you’re in Oklahoma City, standing on its red dirt, you might recognize these whispers. You might feel these strong winds rubbing across your cheek.

You might recognize them on the northeast side where you see a beautiful new youth center in which vulnerable children will find a safe place to play and learn.

You may hear these winds in the teachers and educators who blindly sacrifice their limited time and treasure to their students, in spite of often inadequate support.  

You might identify them in the men and women who are building a bridge across the sometimes seemingly insurmountable divides of race and class to create one united voice.

In a state that incarcerates more people per capita than any other place on the planet, you may witness it in those who are tirelessly pushing for a more just way than locking lost people up, throwing away the key, and restraining any shot at a redemption. 

You may sense them in the pastors who take God’s love out of the safety of suburbia and plant it where it is needed most, in the places where people are most struggling and in need of a hand up or a way out.

You don’t transform a city overnight. You may not transform a city in a decade. However, you can change a city. Countless men and women throughout Oklahoma City are doing just that. This is the foundation of transformative change: failure, faith, and forward progress.  

Jo White-Linnemon and her 25 Year Sobriety Chip.

Jo White-Linnemon and her 25 Year Sobriety Chip.

After my mother found sobriety, she became an AA sponsor and an addiction counselor. God only knows the amount of people that she helped find sobriety. God only knows the number of struggling individuals she led toward transformative change. None of this would have occurred if my mother had not taken those steps, every single day, to remain her own sobriety. It never would have occurred if my mother hadn’t changed. Because she changed herself, she helped to transform the world. God uses broken things. He locates the one lost in darkness and offers a way out; He offers transformation, but we have to seize it.    

An alcoholic finds lasting sobriety. A desperate man finds salvation. A city works toward transformation. These are beyond mere changes. They are miracles. They don’t happen immediately. The journey to transformative change is an endless process. And it is not easy. Yet, it is always worth the effort.

To read more from Corey White, visit his blog at www.placidpress.com.

David Skidmore