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

 

 

 

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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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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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.

Why Do We Need Churches?

Why Do We Need Churches?

This morning I saw the story of a 91 year old man who came home from his cancer treatment at the hospital to an empty kitchen. He had no food and no way of getting food. Out of desperation he called 911. The operator and her supervisor agreed to let her take him some groceries, then help get him signed up with support services.

You see, this is why we need church. We need communities to support us when we are frail or sick or disabled. We need communities to step in and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Of course, there are other nonprofits. Out of necessity, however, their mission has to be focused and limited. Used to be you could count on your neighbors or extended family to step in. These days most families are smaller and many are spread out across the country and around the world. Some people have neighbors they can call on. Many others wouldn’t know a neighbor’s name to make a call.

There is no shortage of things the church gets wrong these days. There is no shortage of sins for which we need to make heartfelt confession. There is no shortage of challenges of which we’re still trying to figure out the answers.

But for once, can we talk about what church – what local churches – get right?

I’ve not been a member of a ton of churches. I tend to go and stay put in a place. But here’s what I’ve seen. Older folks get their lawns mowed, even when they’re crotchety about the mowing. Kids have adult friends who are not related to them but who care about them and care for them. Tired new parents have two dozen other arms to hold (and love on) their baby for an hour or two a week. Someone who never had a family before experiences what it feels like to be connected.

My present church is in a partnership with a local school, a partnership that continues to grow. Through it kids are tutored and have new buddies. Through a partnership with Bookmarks, every child was given a book of his or her own. Every child who needed a warm winter coat received one. Think about it. Not one child at that school went cold last winter for the want of a winter coat.

When I was in a wheelchair for two months my church, located thirty miles away, brought me meals every week. When my parents were dying, my church held me up with love and care and just checking in not just on them, but on me. When I was a kid and faced with circumstances that told me that I was worthless the people of my church told me that I was priceless and treated me as if it was true.

By its nature, a lot of the caring that goes on in a church has to be kept confidential. Some needs don’t need to be trumpeted. And by our nature a lot of us don’t like calling attention to such things because it runs counter to the whole spirit of why we do it and Who we’re serving by doing it.

Civic clubs adopt schools as well. And the tennis team can rally around a fallen member. But the church not only does these things but also reaches out to those who would otherwise fall through the cracks, like a 91 year old cancer patient coming home.

Maybe we don’t talk about it much because we really do it out of a kind of self interest. We do it because Jesus said that’s where we’d find him.

Ferguson, boarding passes and race

In these last few days as the racial tensions in Ferguson, MO have made public the simmering tensions of our culture, I’ve been thinking about an episode of the TV show, “Airline.”

In the show cameras follow Southwest Airline employees as they evaluate whether or not a passenger is too drunk to fly, deal with bags infested with ants, juggle late arrivals and thunderstorms. In this episode the conflict centers around an African American man and his fiancee. The employees are debating whether or not to deny him boarding.

What happened was this: A white woman stepped in front of him in the boarding line. She had a boarding pass for the B group and the man was at the front of the C group. He didn’t understand this distinction, and immediately demanded to know why this woman was allowed to jump in line.

I felt like I was watching hundred years of history in just a few moments. For the man, a lifetime of being treated as less than rose to the surface. “It’s not right,” he demanded. “My money is just as good as hers.” As he got angry he got loud, and as a large, loud black man he now became a threat to bystanders. The gate agents reacted and denied boarding to the couple on this flight because he was “scaring the other passengers.”

The episode made me feel very sad because everyone walked away with their fears and prejudices confirmed. For the man, it was just more evidence as to why there is no justice for a person of color. For the gate agents (and at least some of the passengers) it was a reinforcement that loud, angry black men are to be feared.

I felt sad because it was all so unnecessary. All it would have taken is to listen to one another. All the gate agent had to do was to listen to why the man was upset instead of immediately trying to shut him down. All the man had to do was to understand the system and that in fact, the woman was simply acting within the boundaries of that system.

But no one explained that. All he needed was to be heard, but everyone was too busy trying to get him to be quiet.

pic - boy with black lab puppyI don’t know what really happened in Ferguson. I know that police officers live with knowing that the next driver they stop may pull a gun on them and end their lives. I know that many African Americans live in a world I cannot imagine, a world in which boys have to be taught how not to be scary simply because of the color of their skin.

My sadness is that the conversations that didn’t happen in the airport terminal still aren’t happening. No matter what the issue, we’ve seemed to have lost any desire to listen to people whose experience is different from ours. We aren’t interested in what their lives are like, only as to how our lives will be affected. The question as to whether or not this is best for the greater good has been replaced by the question of what it will mean for me. When that’s the only question we ask, we’re in trouble.

I don’t have the answers. but I know they will not come until we can begin to listen to one another.

Who are you today?

I’ve been reading Ruth Reichl’s memoir, Garlic and Sapphires: Adventures of a food critic in disguise. Reichl served as food critic for the New York Times, although you may know her, as I do, as a judge on Top Chef. One of the challenges of any food critic is remaining anonymous. Before she even arrived in New York for her interview with the Times, local restaurants had her picture on the wall for employees to see. Of course, if you’re found out a food critic the visit is worthless; you’ll get the very best treatment possible.

When Reichl began working for the times she began getting creative with her disguises. With the help of her friends she began creating not only a disguise but a persona, crafting a story that fit her character. She enjoyed this rather advanced version of playing dress up. What took her by surprise, however, was how different she felt inside the garb of each woman. With some she felt free and outgoing; with others she felt burdened and invisible.

But she didn’t just feel different; she was treated differently. From the doorman of her apartment building to the taxi drivers to the restaurant staff, her interactions varied widely according to her disguise. Sometimes people were eager to engage with her. Other times people are just as eager to hide from her.

All of which made me think: what guises do we put on? As you prepare for the day, do you put on the emotional clothes of the failure and screw-up who can’t do anything right? Do you wear the jacket of a victim who never seems to win? Do you put on confidence or a trusting curiosity about the world?

Just as Reichl discovered, the people we become affects the people we meet.

Tomorrow morning as you prepare for your day, ask yourself: Who am I today? Who do I want to be? Who do I choose to be?


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