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.

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What a toddler taught me

What a toddler taught me

She was camped out on one side of the waiting room, an obvious grandmother charged with wrangling kids while other family members were having an appointment.

A boy sat in the chair on the other side of the table, all arms and legs thrown over the chair, lost in the world of a game on the grandmother’s phone. She was grateful that he was breaking through the levels that had long frustrated her.

She herself  sat surrounded by the sure signs of toddlerdom – an open bag with toys that weren’t working their magic today. The little girl was fine with a set of keys until she started trying to eat them, at which point the grandmother demanded them back. The little girl roamed her half of the waiting room, seeking and destroying.

The grandmother appealed to the boy. “You have a choice. You can let her use the phone or listen to her scream.” The older brother was unmoved and kept playing. I aspect eh’d learned long ago how to tune out the screams.

The grandmother appealed to the toddler, “Have some more biscuit.” The little girl obediently toddled over, even though her cheeks were bulging with uneaten biscuit.

I caught the girl’s eye and years of babysitting, children’s ministry and aunt-dom kicked in. I started playing peep-eye with the magazine I was reading. She stopped, giving me the side eye. I raised the magazine to cover my face and lowered it again. She stared, considering whether to join in this game until the grandmother offered biscuit again.

Let me be clear. I don’t stand in judgment over this overwhelmed grandmother. Sometimes we do what we can do and with small children, survival is always a noble goal.

But the encounter also made me sad. The only avenues of connection for this grandmother were food and electronics. Peep-eye. Itsy bits spider. So many ways to capture the attention of a toddler.

It made me think of the ways in which we interact with each other as adults. I’m not advocating for games of Itsy Bitsy Spider, although if you’ll start I’ll join in. I’m thinking about all the times that we miss the  simple ways of connecting with each other.  We distract each other with shiny objects when what we really want is just to be present with each other.

Some days I think it’s the most powerful thing that I offer in my therapy office: a space in which one human being is present with another human being.

This week today I dare you to connect with one other person. It doesn’t have to take more than a minute. Forgo the shiny objects. Set the electronics aside. If you and they are the hugging sort, give them a hug and allow yourself to feel how it feels to connect. Look them in the eyes and ask how they’re doing… and make a space for them to answer.

Sometimes we just want the simple things.

 

6 things I learned in choir

  1. Sometimes you need a little help from your friends. I am grateful for those voices beside and behind me that help me hit the right note at the right time, who remind me with their singing that I should have already come in by now.
  2. Sometimes you need to ignore the people around you and do what you know is right. (I’ve been singing in choirs since 1973, so I am not talking about YOU.) But sometimes those people around you? They’re wrong. They come in at the wrong time or sing the wrong pitch. Sometimes you just have to trust that you know what you know and ignore the rest of the noise.
  3. Some truth can only be sung. A colleague on Facebook regularly posts videos of him singing accompanied by his guitar. Not so very long ago his son wound up in ICU unexpectedly and then died, leaving behind a young family. My colleague continues to post his songs but now the words are imbued with a deeper, broken hearted meaning. It is a holy thing to witness his journey, knowing that sometimes grief is so deep that all you can do is sing.
  4. Magic still happens and sometimes we get to be a part of it. We were singing one of my favorite Christmas anthems. Something happened when we sang it in the evening service. The music took us up out of ourselves. We flowed like a river. We soared towards the tops of the arched roof, carried by notes and by spirit. It was so magical that  I nearly wept in the midst of it just for the privilege and blessedness of being part of such a thing. Sometimes we take one step and step into something bigger than us, being reminded that it’s not all up to us.
  5. The end of the story seldom looks like the beginning and the difference between those two places depends, at least in part, on us. Our minister of music starts introducing our Christmas music to us in the post Easter lull of the spring. The more difficult anthems are usually train wrecks in our first readings. But after all of the hours of work, when we sing it before the congregation it comes pretty close to something like music. Yet too often in our lives we tend to judge ourselves only by our beginnings.
  6. What we focus on becomes a part of us. Two days ago we sang two Christmas concerts.  This week as I started my workweek I’ve sung alleluias in the shower and a magnificat while making breakfast. After all the repetition of rehearsal the music is now woven into my bones, ready to bubble up to the surface. With inspiring music that’s a good thing. When we are meditating upon bitterness or upon all of the ways in which we have failed having such music in our bones ready to surface isn’t such a fine thing.

For all you choir members past and present, what have you learned?

 

The problem with toys for boys

The problem with toys for boys

I was searching online for a Christmas present for a boy who is developing a passion for things scientific. I was horrified to see on one website for science toys a listing of toys for boys… but no corresponding listing of toys for girls. My old friend Scholastic did a little better – on the toys for girls site they had toys for budding engineers. But the boys site had no toys for boys who might like kitchens or dolls.

Maybe only a very few boys will be like my friend who, as a boy, was ecstatic to get a much wanted Barbie doll. But when we designate engineering toys as the norm for boys and dolls as toys for girls, well then, they become the norm.

So what? you might ask. The problem is that if you are a girl wanting a toy from the “boy section” or heaven forbid, vice versa, you are then by definition abnormal.

football BAs you can see by my picture, I have some experience in being abnormal. While my mom wanted a girly girl who’d take ballet, I  wanted to be playing ball with my brothers. While my mother faithfully came to my basketball and softball games in high school, we both knew it was her second choice. (She also used to tell me that I shouldn’t yell so loudly at college games because it wasn’t “ladylike,” but that’s another story.”)

One web site whom I’d contacted about the issue said that they had the listing because people typed the phrase “toys for boys” into search engines. What a wonderful world it would be if typing “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” brought up the same page.

Then no one would have to be abnormal. We could just be ourselves.

 

 


 

  • Ever wonder why you keep sabotaging yourself when it comes to your goals?
  • Ever get tired of biting your tongue and not saying what you really think?
  • Is your heart heavy with what you couldn’t tell them before they died  – or wish you could tell them now? (Even if them is a beloved pet.)
  • Do you wish you had help in making an important decision?

What if I told you there were ways to address all of these things, and all you need is a pen and paper?

It’s true. I see it often in my practice as well as in my own life.

I’ve put together a collector of five writing techniques that I often recommend to my clients. In fact, I use them myself.

You can download a guide to these techniques for only $7.

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How I Changed My Mind

I’ll admit it.

Once upon a time when it came to homosexuality I was in the “Hate the sin, love the sinner” camp. I mean, it was so clearly against God’s law. It said so right there in one or two verses in my Bible. Besides, I didn’t know any gay people.

Well, actually I did. One of my first escorts to a winter dance was a gay guy in our youth group. Except no one openly said he was gay. There were just some oblique remarks about the fact that he was different, maybe he was “that way.” I didn’t care. He was a great dancer and I had a great time.

As I got older I was scared of looking at the issue directly. It was so different from my experience and that foreignness felt like threat. Still, I eventually decided that I owed it to myself to consider the issue more in depth.

Two things happened.

The first is that I read a book. Entitled, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor, it provided for me a context for the biblical verses regarding homosexuality. I realized that the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality but a terrible abuse of the Middle Eastern hospitality mandate. For the first time I considered what sort of practices Paul was really railing against, and the fact that he had no model of a committed, monogamous gay relationship.

Ironically, I’d been on the wrong side of selective scripture myself. I came along as a woman called to ministry in the eighties in the Southern Baptist Convention, a time when that issue was part of the dividing line between folks on one side and different folks on the other. I’d had people tell me straight out and to my face that I must be wrong because after all, Paul said that women should keep silence.

Of all people, I understood the dangers of proof texting. In reading this book and others I finally understood that we’d been doing the same thing to gays and lesbians.

A second thing happened that was just as important and even more powerful. Openly gay people started coming to my church. When they found welcome they told of other experiences, like being met at the doors of churches and told not to come in because “we don’t want your kind here.”

(Parenthetically, let me just say I cannot imagine Jesus ever saying such a thing.) 

They told me of the anguish and sometimes near suicidal despair of trying to reconcile being who God made them to be and who God’s people demanded that they be. I saw a brilliant, kind, funny and deeply faithful man face his own death with fear that the fundamentalist preachers were right. This man who’d followed Jesus his whole life at the end of that life feared going to hell.

I’ve seen them care for partners whom they could not marry, in sickness and in health. I’ve seen them care for their friends and give sanctuary to abandoned and abused four legged friends. I’ve laughed with them and been inspired as they’ve shared their gifts in worship. I’ve seen them care for Christ’s body, the church, doing what needs to be done for the church as a whole and for individuals within it. I’ve seen some of them be deeply involved and others just show up on the occasional Sunday – kind of like the rest of us.

I’ve seen my friends love God and love people.

If this be the gay agenda, then by God, may they be successful in overtaking our culture.

When I was called on staff of that church I was the first ordained woman to serve. One of the older members later admitted that she couldn’t understand why we were calling a woman when “there were so many fine male ministers around.” After confessing this to me, she said, “but then I met you and saw that you were going to be my friend.”

I met these folks, and saw that they were going to be my friends, and in that I was blessed indeed.

Reading the book opened my mind. Embracing my friends opened my heart.

I have to disagree with something President Obama said after the Supreme Court handed down its decision. He lauded the “small acts of courage” that led to this day, like people coming out. With all due respect, Mr President, that’s no small act of courage. That’s a great big, knees knocking, heart pounding, doing it even though your life may change forever act of courage.

Through these roller coaster weeks it has become increasingly evident to me that we cannot afford not to know each other. Law enforcement and citizens, black and white, gay and straight, popular and outcast. We need to know each others’ stories and to catch a glimpse of each others’ worlds. Only then can we truly hear with our hearts what the other is trying to say.

Mat on Cats

Mat on Cats
cats
Pre-mat version of my cat

She purrs on my lap as I focus on one section of fur. Finding a sliver of space to slip the comb in, I slowly work the teeth of the cat comb back out.

My best guess is that as my cat’s blood sugar got out of control with her developing diabetes, my cat didn’t feel vey good and her grooming suffered. However it happened, she developed large mats of fur along each hip.

So now we work each day working them out. My job is to keep combing until we hit pay dirt – a section of matted fur pulling loose and getting free. Her job is to allow me to do it.

We’re making headway, the two of us. In some ways it’s become a meditative time, an exercise in mindfulness as I focus on the fur before me. I think it may also be a pretty good metaphor for the healing process.

1. We don’t always know our lives are getting matted up until after it’s done.

One day we realize that everything’s in a tangle. We have to do something different.

2. It can be a slow process and you’re not always sure you’re making progress.

Some mornings I work, not really sure if we’re making headway or not. The mat looks the same. Or, it’s become more disorganized with raggedy patches of fur now sticking straight out but still matted up. All I can do is keep working patiently, trusting that even the little bits of fur that are coming out are a step in the right direction.

Likewise, as I work on my life or help someone else work on theirs, there are stretches in which it feels like nothing is happening. We’re focusing on making different choices but everything feels the same. We’ve been working on our insides but our outsides look unchanged. All we can do is keep trusting the process, trusting that all of these small steps are yet leading us to better places.

3. When we least expect it, a big chunk breaks free all at once.

As I work on my cat, something starts loosening up. I pull gently with the comb, and suddenly a large chunk of fur breaks free. One more piece down.

Most of our journeys are travelled by one small step following another. But when we least expect it, a lightbulb moment breaks upon us. We find the one puzzle piece that fits everything together. In a moment of clarity, we realize that everything our therapist has been telling us is ACTUALLY TRUE – and we see that relationship, that job, or even ourselves in a whole different light. Something shifts inside and we know the ground has shifted beneath our feet, in all of the best ways.

So, as you consider the work of healing and change in your life, remember my cat and be patient with your own mats.



One of the ways lives get tangled up is with grief. Sometimes part of the tangle is not realizing that what we’re feeling is grief – or that we have a right to grieve. If that’s you (or someone you love), check out the recording of my webinar, Is My Grief Weird? Find it here.

For other webinars, visit www.BetterDeeperLife.com.

Let’s stop Celebrating this Heritage

Did you know that the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery? It was an economic battle. Or a fight for states rights.

That’s the wisdom i’ve gleaned from social media in the last few days since a young man spewed his racial hatred in a flood of bullets in a Bible study in the historic Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.

Confederate flagOh, and the Confederate battle flag is just a symbol of our heritage. And there really isn’t any racism, unless it’s what whites have to experience. (The views expressed on social media are not necessarily the views of this writer.)

The heritage thing is a biggie. The argument for the continued display of the Confederate flag over the SC statehouse is that it is a symbol of our southern heritage. Let’s be honest. Isn’t it time we stopped celebrating that heritage?

Lest you call into question my right to ask that question, let me establish my southern cred. My ancestors came to this country through Jamestown in the 18th century. One of my ancestors fought for the South at Gettysburg, as I recall, being wounded there. After the war the family homeplace in Chatam, VA was taken over by a northern carpetbagger… until that carpetbagger “disappeared. On my grandmother’s walls hung portraits of two fellow Virginians: George Washington and Robert E. Lee.  I’ve never lived farther north than Piedmont North Carolina. Recently when I ordered coffee in a coffee shop in Princeton, NJ, the transplanted Virginian serving me said, “Your sweet tea will be right up.” My accent gives me away.

There is much of my southern heritage that I am indeed proud of and deeply love. I love biscuits and ‘lasses. I love walking through a park and having total strangers speak to me with kindness and welcome in their tone. I love the southern tradition of story telling and singing, part of the heritage of summertime churches with the windows wide open and two dozen funeral home fans moving in rhythm while the varnish from the pews is melting and staining our Sunday best.

I love magnolia trees and dogwoods and azaleas and the way spring just comes right out and loses all decorum, blooming all over itself. I love neighbors who keep interrupting my yard work because they want to stop and talk. I love a slow southern accent and its thousand variations. (There is one sports commentator on TV who talks faster than my ears can hear.) It’s all part of my heritage, bless my heart.

And none of it has anything to do with the battle flag. That was the flag of a rebellion.

Of course the Civil War was driven by economics. Southern plantations were built on the foundation of slave labor. They couldn’t survive without them. And of course it was a states rights issues. Southern states wanted the right to have slaves and moreover, wanted new states entering the Union to have that same right.

The South fought to preserve their peculiar tradition of slavery. While individuals may have fought because it was their home (Lee himself was torn between serving the Union he’d sworn to defend as a West Point graduate and fighting for his home state), the driving issue behind the war was slavery.

That’s the heritage the battle flag celebrates. That’s the heritage we need to stop celebrating. I am proud of my ancestors but not proud of the fact that they fought to defend an indefensible way of life. I cannot celebrate the fact that my ancestors owned at least one slave. (A surviving family will calls for the transmission of ownership for a female slave named Sukey.) That is not a heritage to celebrate. That is an injustice.

The other week I saw a car with a sticker on it from my alma mater. I went to a small school, and I’ve had people, upon seeing my school sticker on my car, run across a parking lot to tell me they went there too. But this time, for the first time, I didn’t want to meet the driver of a car with my school’s name on it. I was sick to my stomach.

Because the car had a bumper sticker on it as well. “Free at last” the sticker proclaimed, but there was no picture of Martin Luther King on it. Instead, there was a picture of the White House with a confederate flag flying above it.

That flag wasn’t expressing the hope for a southerner to be in the White House. (Off the top of my head, I can think of presidents in my lifetime from Texas, Georgia and Arkansas.) No, it was clearly a racist statement: the white people will be free at last when this black man is out of the White House.

That’s no glorious cause. And neither was the Civil War. That chapter in our heritage calls for repentance, not celebration.