Free preview: When You Can’t Find Your Way Home

Free preview: When You Can’t Find Your Way Home

(Today I’m giving you a peek into my free Heart Callings group on Facebook. Each week I share a reflection. You can join us here.)

“God told Abram: ‘Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.’” (Genesis 12:1, The Message)

Many years ago I was working in my home office when I noticed the dog trotting up the street. And then down the street. And then up the street. Looking from one side to the other. Always staying in my portion of the block.

I could almost hear him thinking, “I know it’s around here somewhere.”

I stepped outside and called to him. Without hesitation he came dashing over to me, tail wagging. Without a word, he curled up gratefully on my welcome mat.

It didn’t take me long to find his home. He was a rescue, newly adopted by my next door neighbor. He’d gotten out but didn’t yet recognize his new home.

Joan Chittester writes that in order to have creativity we must first have confusion. We must have the confusion of the old structures no longer standing, no longer serving their purpose. Like Abram, we must leave the home of all that is familiar in order to receive God’s promise of all that is being made new.

The structures and beliefs that once served us may have brought huge blessings to our lives. I grew up as a Southern Baptist. Although now I don’t claim them (and they sure wouldn’t claim me), I recognize that I received many blessings from that structure (not the least of which was a top notch seminary education that cost next to nothing.) Over time, however, they changed and my beliefs changed and we no longer fit together. I can bless what was without having to cling to it.

Lest our structures – and even our beliefs – become our idols we must be willing to let go of what was and what no longer serves.

Sometimes Christians get nervous when they hear someone talking about changing their beliefs. The person in question is branded as less than faithful and possibly heretical. But it is more heretical to make a god of our beliefs and to forget that we always know in part. This much that we know now – it may be exactly the faith we need at this time in our lives. But God always calls us forward. Sometimes that means traveling to a new place in our lives. Sometimes that means traveling to a new place in our hearts and souls… and minds.

We don’t embrace change for the sake of change. We (sometimes grudgingly) face change because God is not done with us. We have to endure the confusion of not being certain in order to allow the space for Spirit to do her creative work.

In the meantime, however, we can feel like my canine friend. The old home is no longer here. But we don’t recognize the new one yet. We dash from one end of the block to the other, hoping to hear Someone call our name.

The testimony of faith isn’t that we never leave one place for another. Just ask Abraham and Sarah about that. The testimony is that we never journey alone. God always goes ahead, preparing a place for us.

One Person. A Hundred Monkeys.

One Person. A Hundred Monkeys.

I got the sad word today. My friend and mentor Sharon had died.

I met her many years ago when I arrived for her five day workshop for abuse survivors.  (She’d staffed and trained staff for Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ Life, Death and Transition workshops.)

Sharon scared me that week. And yet also made me feel safe. She pushed me to go to places I wanted to avoid and pushed me to do work I didn’t want to do. And when I survived all of it I began to hope that healing was possible.

So I kept going  back to workshops.

I was convinced that telling parts of my story would be the end of me. She pushed, and I told and far from being the end of me, it was the beginning. When I needed to wail with the grief deep in my bones, it was Sharon’s hand on my shoulder keeping me grounded, reminded me that I wasn’t alone.

At the close of one workshop Sharon said, “Perhaps one day after you’ve finished your school (I was getting my graduate degree in counseling) you’ll get the training and work on staff.”

Of course, I didi just that. I did my training and then started working as an apprentice in workshops. What an honor it was to be working with that staff. And what an amazing learning experience. It is no exaggeration to say that at least 75% of what I do as therapist I learned from working with them: Sharon, Shannon, Connie, Nancy and David. They were all brilliant and they taught me things about working with wounded people that can’t be learned in a classroom.

Sharon had a masterful intuitive sense and an absolute commitment to what it took to hold a space safe enough for people to do such deep work. As staff, we could do what we did because we knew Sharon was there. She held the safe space for all of us.

She insisted that being on staff meant taking care of your own stuff first. And it meant taking care of any issue that arose between the staff. We had to be clear with each other before we could work clearly with participants. She also taught me about knowing when to say goodbye, retiring her Safe Harbor Workshops long before anyone wanted her to, but also before she grew tired of doing the work.

She was smart and wise and most of all, loving. She (along with the rest of the staff) changed my life. I’m in private practice today because when I finished grad school, I didn’t want some boss saying I couldn’t take a week of vacation to staff a workshop. She made me an infinitely better therapist and a healthier person.

Staffing was hard and demanding work, but such rich work. Being able to share in it along with that staff is one of the greatest blessings of my life. The gift of it still fills me with wonder.

I know Sharon touched hundreds of lives. Through the work that I do now, both as a therapist and as staff of a similar grief workshop, her influence and her work flows on to many more people.

At the close of each workshop Sharon told a story. It was about the hundredth monkey.

The government started studying animal life on a group of Pacific Islands. They noticed on one island monkeys started washing their food. It spread one to another – monkey see, monkey do. That wasn’t so remarkable, except when the number of monkeys reached a critical mass (for simplicity, we call it the hundredth money), monkeys on another island began washing their food.

“We never know,” Sharon said as we stood in our goodbye circle, “who will be the hundredth monkey, who will be the one to be the tipping point.”

On days when I feel discouraged by the amount of need I see and the seemingly impossible mountains before us, I think of that story. And I press on, for who knows who will be that person to be the hundredth monkey, the one voice that begins to tip the scales in favor of love.

I’ve seen it happen, you know.

I’ve seen a stranger step into my life and tip it in ways beyond my ability to dream or to imagine. For such a life, and that it touched my life,  I am grateful

 

 

 

Traveling together through Lent

Traveling together through Lent

Growing up Southern Baptist, Lent wasn’t a really big deal. For us, the holy action didn’t start until Maundy Thursday of Easter week.

As I got older, we got a little more ecumenical and a lot wiser.We started observing Ash Wednesday and having events like lunchtime lenten services. What I’ve learned is that the more I am faithful in this season of preparation, the more meaningful Easter is for me.

There is scholarly disagreement on the actual origins of Lent. A quick Google search will bring up articles as diverse as directions for fasting to explanations as to why it’s a pagan observance shunned by true Christians.

For many of us, Lent is a time when we call ourselves back. We call ourselves back to putting spiritual practice at the top of our to-do lists, instead of in the “if there’s time” section. For some that means more times in prayer or meditation or scripture reading. For some it means reading books that challenge, uplift and encourage their faith. For other is means taking specific actions, whether it’s doing something for someone or making a change in how we live our lives. For some people it means letting go of something… sweets, TV, Facebook or gossip.

For all of us, Lent is an invitation to let ourselves rest in the lap of the God who loves us more than than we can say. It is brushing away the cobwebs to see ourselves again as children of God – flawed and struggling and sometimes falling down on our faces… but beloved children nonetheless.

This year I’m offering a Facebook group, Heart Callings through Lent. Each day I’ll post a brief reflection and you’ll be free to respond, if you so choose. (It will be a closed group so that your posts won’t be public.)

Come and join us. You can read more and find the link here.

 

The most embarrassing thing I’ve done… this week… so far

The most embarrassing thing I’ve done… this week… so far

Monday morning.

I’m rather proud that I’m getting an early start on my lengthy one mile commute to the office.

Briefcase packed, cell phone in my purse, jacket on – I’m ready to go.

Except I can’t find my keys.

keysI usually put them on a coat rack just inside the door. They’re not there. They didn’t fall to the floor beneath the rack. I check my pants pockets. I paw through the dirty clothes to check the pockets of the clothes I was wearing the previous night.

I check the kitchen counters. The dresser in the bedroom. I check in every room of the house and then I do it all over again. No keys.

By now it’s time for my first client who, thankfully, is running behind herself.

As I try to figure out the mystery of the missing keys (thank you, Nancy Drew) my hand brushes against the vest I’m wearing. It’s a cute vest, and being as it’s from Eddie Bauer, it has lots of pockets.

One of which holds my keys.

I still beat my client to the office and all is well.

Later I thought about what a great life parable that was. We search high and low for something while in reality, it’s been with us all along.

We read a hundred self help books. We talk endlessly with friends and family and coaches and therapists, all in a quest to find that missing something.

Direction. Peace. Hope.

The great family therapist Virginia Satir was completely flummoxed after World War II. She began seeing people who’d survived Hitler’s camps. She was overwhelmed by their stories and felt completely helpless to help them. She thought about it and meditated on it and even prayed about it.

What could she offer to them?

One day she realized that she’d gotten it all wrong. She felt helpless in helping the victims of those camps but in truth, they were survivors. If they didn’t have some kernel of strength inside they wouldn’t have made it through, much less making it to her office.

Her job was to help them reconnect to that strength. Her job was to reconnect them with what they already had inside but had just forgotten.

(If there is a single story that guides my work as a therapist, it’s this one. If you’re able to make an appointment and make it into my office, you have more strength inside you than you know)

We run hither and yon looking for answers but never take the time to stop, be still and listen to our own voice of wisdom. We’ve gotten disconnected from that voice through the years, or maybe we never had a chance to connect in the first place.

If you want to start listening, journaling is a great way to start. Ask that wisdom to write a letter to you, and see what it says.

You may need someone else to help you listen, whether a wise friend or good therapist. We learn early on to discount our own wisdom so it helps to have someone who can provide a different perspective. Or tell us if we really are full of it.

What keys have you tucked away in your pocket? 


Need some inspiration for your reflection? I’ve just launched a Kindle version of my devotional book, Strugglers, Stragglers and seekers: daily devotions for the rest of us.

If you order by February 14, you can save $3.00. Find out more here.

Change a life. Change the world.

Change a life. Change the world.

Most days as a part of my journaling I make a list of five things I’m grateful for from the previous day. This morning one of the my items was the opportunity to change lives.

Lest you think I’m being too grandiose, let me explain. I’ve just returned from staffing a grief workshop in Maine. Having witnessed and participated in this work (both as a staff member and workshop attender) for many years, I know that it has a capacity to make a profound difference in people’s lives. I’ve sen the changes that healing can bring.

Here’s the thing. That kind of opportunity isn’t just limited to those of us who have the privilege of doing this work. It’s available to everyone.

  • Extending kindness to a clerk who’s been getting chewed out by irate customers.
  • Holding the door for a mom struggling with a stroller.
  • Writing a note or sending a card just to say I care.

You may not feel like such things are big enough or matter enough, but let me tell you a story.

A woman who was going through a very bad time decided to kill herself. For some reason she had to wait a few days and went to the grocery store in the interim. The cashier smiled at her and treated her with lovely kindness.

The woman decided that if she was worth being treated so nicely that maybe she was worth something after all. Maybe a little something. Just enough of a something to keep going, to keep living.

You have no idea of what people are carrying inside of them. You have no idea of what power it may be for someone to be seen and welcomed as a person, as just another beloved child of God with the right to occupy a place on this planet.

As we change lives in these small hidden ways we are also a part of changing the world.

That’s good news enough for a Monday.


For more good news, visit me at my Better Deeper Life blog.

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“Don’t just stand there despairing.”

It’s been a rough week on this corner of the planet. A boy is killed, apparently for the color of his skin, and the long simmering racial divides of a community erupt into what looks like a third world uprising: unarmed protesters against authorities in full military gear. And we wonder how it will be different.

A man who was obviously enormously talented in moving us both to laughter and to tears as well as making our hearts soar (and who was by all accounts a lovely human being) takes his own life. We try to imagine – or try not to remember – the depths of such black despair and we wonder how it will be different for others.

In other parts of our planet centuries of conflict are being played out with weapons old and new. Hatred stoked by the centuries erupts into killing and cruelty, and we wonder how it will ever be different.

Along the border of our own nation there is a struggle between too much and not enough. Children fleeing from too much danger, abuse and hopelessness find themselves rebuffed by communities feeling already over-stretched by not enough resources, not enough answers for the problems they themselves face. We wonder how it can ever be different.

There were events in my own life this week that didn’t make the news. A former client shared an email with me that she’d sent to her friends, “outing” herself as one who has struggled with the great black dog of depression and who now consciously chooses to live her life in ways that allow the light in. It was a brave and heartfelt email, and a reminder that for her, life is very different.

Last Saturday I also attended a meeting of the Steering Committee of Baptist Women in Ministry, NC. As we talked about next year’s meeting I thought back to the first meeting I attended so many years ago. Thirty, maybe forty people huddled together hoping for hope that locked doors might be opened. Our theme, taken from a song lyric, was “One by one, truth will grow.” As we met on Saturday I thought about how different things are now. We provide not insubstantial scholarship money for a woman student at each of the Baptist Divinity Schools in NC. And in recent months women have become pastors at both Watts St. Baptist in Durham and Riverside Church in New York City. One by one…

This week I’ve been reading John Philip Newell’s book, The Rebirthing of God. In it he quotes Nobel Peace Prize winner (and Mayanmar activist) Aung San Suu Kyi who has spent most of the last twenty-five years under house arrest. “Don’t just stand there despairing. Do something.”

It seems as good a word as any for this week. Don’t know how to resolve the Middle East or global warming or immigration or race relations or the scourge of depression? Do what you do know. Do one thing. You may think you’re only touching one life but you do not know how many other lives that one life will touch and how many lives those lives will touch. You may only write one letter but you do not know if yours will be the letter that’s the tipping point. You may only clean one stream or befriend one person who is of another race or political party or from the other side of the tracks. But you do not know where those steps will lead.

Don’t just stand there despairing. Do something.

Before you make your New Year’s Resolutions

According to University of Scranton Professor John Norcross, who studies such things, by June 60% of us will have abandoned our New Year’s resolutions.

Cheery thought, isn’t it?

A lot of things contribute to our failures. We make goals that are too big and too broad. I will never eat sugar again for the rest of my life. (There’s a reason people in recovery talk about taking it one day at a time. Forever is a big bite to take on at once.) They are too much of a leap from where we are. I will start running and do a marathon in a month. They are too vague. I will get into shape.

Good goals are SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound.) If I make a resolution to give up brussels sprouts that’s not relevant because I never eat brussels sprouts anyway.  If you’re into such things, here’s a worksheet.

But there’s another reason we drop out before reaching our goals. We define what we’re going to do but we never address the mess inside our head. It’s like trying to drive with the brake on. It’s hard to succeed if there’s a voice in your head telling you that you’ve always been a failure. (Here’s more specific information on dealing with the critical voices in your head.)

fitness motivationAs a mentor with the No Boundaries program sponsored by Fleet Feet (as well as in my own journey) I’ve seen how much our heads can get in the way of our feet. That’s why I created MindRight/BodyFit, a weekly podcast or PDF addressing an issue that can get in the way of beginning or maintaining a fitness program. You can read more about it (and even sign up!) here.

 

The beginning of a new year is a great time to set goals for living in healthier ways. Just don’t forget to take care of the unhealthy stuff between your ears.