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.



A prayer for prayer

I don’t pray enough.
But I suppose
you already know that.

I know I should
have a routine.
I know I should
clear out a space in the morning
or create a time in the evening.

I know I should
be more disciplined
more focused
more earnest in my seeking
more regular in my gratitude
more focused in my asking.

I know I should have a prayer list or maybe a prayer journal
or at the very least
a time and a day
for settling into prayer.

I want to do all of those things.
I need to do all of those things.
I know that it’s important
to do all of those things.

And God,
I am trying.
Honest I am.
But for now
surrounded by shoulds,
this is all I can manage.
A quick word
here and there…

to turn off the radio
so we can talk as I drive.
A chat as I walk my dog.
Sitting on the patio in a soft summer evening.

Mostly, God, I want that
what I know I should do
not to get in the way
of what I can do.

At least for today.

We can work on tomorrow together.

from heart prayers 2 by Peggy Haymes

Tim Duncan and Plan B

Tim Duncan and Plan B

Even though we’re a long way from San Antonio, a lot of us here in Winston-Salem are celebrating the San Antonio Spurs’ NBA championship won last night. If you’re not a basketball fan, one of the key players in the Spurs’ five championships has been Tim Duncan, who is without question one of the greatest players ever to play the game and the only man to have won titles with the same team in three different decades. Some of us here in Winston started watching Tim play when he was a skinny, unknown kid from the Virgin Islands. Duncan played four years for the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. (Duncan is one of the last great players to postpone the money of a pro contract in order to play four years and earn his degree.)

Here’s what you may not know, unless you’re a diehard Wake Forest fan. Duncan wasn’t the big man recruit everyone was excited about. Makhtar N’Diaye was a Sengelese player who came to Wake by way of Oak Hill Academy and was considered a top recruit. But before he played a minute for the Deacs he was declared ineligible due to concerns about the recruiting process. He transferred to Michigan and then to UNC. He gained notoriety for his bad behavior on the court. He signed as a free agent, played about 4 games in the NBA and then spent his career playing in Europe.

Tim DuncanThere was a lot of gnashing of teeth by Wake fans when Makhtar left. He was the big man we were counting on. We were stuck with this Tim Duncan fellow, whom only one other US college had seriously recruited. It didn’t take too awfully long before we realized that fate may have given us the better part of that deal. Tim went on the become National Player of the Year and help Wake win its first two ACC championships since the early sixties.

Duncan was the first pick in the 1997 NBA draft, won rookie of the year, two time NBA most valuable player, three time NBA finals MVP and fourteen time all-Star. And, as of last night, help lead the Spurs to their fifth NBA title. He makes news off the court by not making news.

When you put the two careers side by side there is really no comparison. While few knew it at the time, Wake got the better end of the deal all the way around, both on and off the court.

One of the things that is tempting for us to do as human beings is to create stories about our lives. Actually, in telling the story of our lives we find and weave the threads of meaning. But too often we create too quickly, creating stories out of incomplete evidence – or no evidence at all. As soon as something happens in our lives we have to make a judgment that it’s the best thing or the worst. We tell ourselves that because things didn’t go as we’d planned that it’s a disaster.

We create stories about what we’re sure other people are thinking when we actually have no idea what they’re thinking of us – or even IF they’re thinking of us. We think it’s a terrible thing that we’ve lost the best recruit from this class when in fact, we’ve opened the door for one of the greatest players ever.

The next time you’re ready to make a quick judgment and write a sad story of your life, remember a swimmer from the Virgin Islands who was Plan B.
His name is Tim Duncan.

Photo: AP Photo/Alan Marler

Sometimes I struggle as a counselor…

Sometimes  I struggle as a counselor…

I’ve been doing this work for over ten years now, and sometimes I struggle. I struggle because we live in an increasingly clinical world and I see therapy as both dance and art… as well as clinical wisdom. I struggle because I believe that a diagnosis may open a window into a client but will never tell the whole story of them.

There’s a checkoff on one of my online record keeping forms that I am to check if I think this treatment is medically necessary. And I never know what to do with that, because isn’t all my work medically necessary? As people heal old wounds or stop beating themselves up or punishing themselves or trying to make the entire world happy, their bodies are able to let go of heavy and powerful burdens. As we get healthier emotionally we tend to get healthier physically. But I’m not sure I can whip out an evidence based study to prove it. I just know it in my soul from all of the people whose journeys I’ve been privileged to share.

Some days my work is in asking the right questions. Some days it’s simply sitting and listening and really hearing the stories they’ve been too afraid or too ashamed to tell anywhere else. Some days I reassure clients that they are not crazy or hopeless, they are simply in the midst of the grand rhythm of life, a rhythm that brings birth but also loss, and that loss can take a thousand forms, from the husband you lost to the childhood you never got to have. I remind them what their bones know, that grief is not a thing to be done but a journey to be lived, and there is no going back to the place where we used to live.

A little while ago I just read a powerful blog about the journey of grief; or, more accurately, one woman’s journey of grief, and all of the misunderstanding she faced from those who thought they had the right clinical box to put her in.

It is a deep and powerful story and I cannot commend it to you enough.

You can read it here

“But, when a child dies, even “good therapy” doesn’t cure or fix. Good therapy is merely joining the sufferer in their pain, non judgmentally with full acceptance and compassion.” Bereavement and snorting seaweed, by Dr. Joanne Cacciatore

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.

Music Breaks – and Heals – the Heart

I’ve been thinking about the power of music a lot lately, perhaps not surprising considering we’ve been in the rehearsal laden lead-up to today’s Christmas music at my church. But in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal a column by Anne Adkins gave voice to some of my half-formed thoughts, so I gladly share it with you.


Music Breaks – and Heals – the Heart

The King Moravian Church Choir was giving its annual Christmas concert for my Salemtowne community two years ago when its music broke, and then healed my heart.

I was sitting beside my friend when choir director Drake Flynt invited the audience to join the choir in singing the great “Hallelujah!” chorus from Handel’s majestic oratorio, Messiah. Alzheimer’s had tightened its grip on my friend who had enriched my life as my companion for over a decade. He no longer knew me or where he was or that the English language which his once-keen mind had commanded, was no longer his friend. But that night he stood beside me and, with his soul set free by music, sang every note and word of the bass part in perfect rhythm, diction and pitch.

Drake Flynt, who has his own landscaping business, has directed the King Choir for at least 30 years. His belief in God as Creator is the heart and soul of both his music and his work as a landscaper. Recently Drake and I talked about the overwhelming desire within the human spirit that makes us want to sing.

Drake offered this explanation. “I believe God’s Spirit is a thread that runs through all of His creation, the trees and the rocks and the animals, and that we need to own this. I believe that through art we can find that place that is beyond ourselves, that is deeper than we are, that puts us in touch with that thread of life. It is very exciting when we find that thread that makes us want for more. We’re being fed in a way we don’t know what it is but we get in touch with God through the arts or through meditation or whatever way.”

Drake’s thoughts on group singing made me want to rush out and join a choir. “When you are making music, you can’t think about the beans burning or the argument you had with your neighbor. You have to look at that page, you have to think about your breathing, you’ve got text, and you just can’t hold two thoughts like that at the same time. Music gets you out of yourself and puts you in the immediate moment of what’s right there in front of you and your expression of it. When you get to the point you feel that something is great, something is joyous about this, and I believe that’s the moment when we feel connected to God.

singing“So we do that on the individual level, and then it is multiplied and shared as we make music together. It’s the same with art and dance or watching a child at play. I think God is alive through what’s living, God wanting to express Himself and to learn about us and to be with us is through us, and it’s only through each other that He can do that. The more we can allow to go out, more comes in.”

Drake described this connection as “the joyful feeling we have when we tap into something deeper than our personas and is at the root of our lives.” He acknowledges that this connection to what he calls “the Life Force” is not the same for everyone. “Each of us has to find our super highway to what is, and for a lot of us, arts do that.”

I asked him about those times when it becomes difficult to establish this kind of connection. He replied, “There are moments when everything falls apart and we don’t have the answers and the world does not have the answers, and we have to rely on something besides our own resources.

“If you have already built this connection, you know immediately to go to church and sing or to call your friends or to sit down by yourself and listen to a certain piece of music or to do whatever brings you to that feeling of being connected to everything. There are situations like 9/11 that are so catastrophic, there is nothing to do but to sing.”

I have been thinking about Drake’s words this holiday month of music and how often music has built my bridge from darkness into light. My friend who sang with such assurance will not be beside me this Christmas. He died earlier this year. This December I will join others singing Handel’s “Hallelujah!” and feel the music take hold of my heart and open it to God.

Anne Adkins is a former newspaper reporter and columnist for the Elkin Tribune. She is a resident of Salemtowne.

Amazon versus Advent

So the world, or at least some people, were abuzz with the news that Amazon was working on plans to use drones to deliver orders, turning three day delivery into thirty minute delivery. My first thought was that this couldn’t possibly be a good thing for birds who have enough challenges. (Do you think those birds wrecking jet engines are accidental? I think they’ve volunteered for suicide missions in a bid to reclaim their skies.)

My second thought was, why? I don’t know of many things that truly demand that sense of urgency. Blood for transfusions. Organs for transplants. Maybe rings for a wedding service.

I feel fairly certain that Jeff Bezos wasn’t thinking of the contrast with Advent when he made his announcement on 60 Minutes but the contrast is there. Drone delivered orders are about instant gratification. You don’t have to wait.

AdventAdvent is all about waiting. Not yet. Not quite yet. In liturgical churches there’ll be no singing of “Joy to the World” for a while because the lord is not yet come.

We wait for the coming of the child who is yet the lord. We wait for the full serving of the kingdom we have but tasted. We wait for God to complete the work that God has begun in us, even when we cannot see a reason for God to be working in us.

We wait for a day in which earth is filled with peace and good will towards all people. We wait for the ringing sound of a blacksmith hammering swords into plowshares. We wait for the day when weeping shall be no more and the separation of loss is replaced by the joy of union and reunion.

The waiting of Advent isn’t a passive thing, however. It’s not sitting by the door waiting for UPS to ring the bell. Our active waiting demands of us that we act as if it’s already here. We see glimmers of light in the darkness even though the sun is not yet risen.

Sometimes with clients and with friends I will invite them to sit with something. They don’t have to do anything with the thought or the question or the feeling. Just pay attention to it. Does it grow stronger or get weaker? Does the question seem simpler or more complex? Not all questions have to be answered before the music stops. Sit. Pay attention. Wait.

Do justice. Love mercy. Wait.

Our books may be dropped from the sky into our laps but wisdom follows no such schedule. Pizza and toys may come to us  in the space of a sitcom but soulmaking stretches the length of a life.