Thursday, September 8, 2011

There are many voices talking about the 9/11 10th anniversary in our country. While I understand the traumatic impact that day has on our time in national history, I am puzzled why the Oklahoma City bombing, a domestic terrorism event, doesn't hold the same power. Perhaps it is easier to focus on 9/11 because it involves an outside enemy. Oklahoma City was perpetrated by a couple of good ol' white boys who hated our country's government. That is way scarier for us to face than an enemy force abroad.

Among the very few I want to hear talk about 9/11 this weekend is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. I give thanks to God for her, her words, and her mission to lead one corner of the Christian tribe in service, worship and community. Thank you, Bishop Katharine. I'm listening.

Bishop's brief reflection on 9.11

Friday, August 19, 2011

College Mom: I'm Trying, But It's Hard

We dropped our first born off at university this week. We have spent the last year plus supporting him as he got ready. From taking AP classes and exams, to doing half of his senior year of high school at our community college, our son was looking forward. We thought frequently about how the transition to college would be for us all, and he and I often would tell each other that we would certainly miss one another and that it would, yes, feel very weird.

Well, it does. I didn't even shed a tear until I walked into the house after we drove home without him. Our house, minus one of our children, just doesn't feel like our home. Walking into his bedroom brought me to tears. The boy is gone, at least until Thanksgiving break, and I have to get used to the change.

We left him seeming excited and confident, and for that, I am deeply grateful. He is competent to meet the academic challenges ahead, and has support for everything else.

I've been comforted by the texts we have sent back and forth a couple of times a day since we separated. Does that qualify for a helicopter parent? I don't think so. I have told my husband that I think my/our job continues to be to love and support our son. As for decisions and problems? They now belong to him. And he needs to confront them so he can develop his individual skills with people and their strange, strange ways.

Of course, sharing space with others is always a challenge. I want him to be able to get his own needs met, live with compromise, and assert himself. This is what I am struggling with. He is a really, really nice guy, and doesn't always speak up for himself. I'd love to swoop in and solve an issue or two, like a therapist could. But I. Must. Not. Interfere.

He knows where we are. He knows how to speak his mind. He knows what he needs. As my friends who have traveled this road before are good at reminding me, we have taught and modeled problem solving all his life. He has a set of values that are worth defending. I need to let him figure out his own boundaries, and how he is going to manage them. He's just getting started.

Just so you know: it's a lot easier to say than to feel. I think I have more to learn about this change than my son does. I used to know what being his mother meant. It's something very different now. It's pretty hard to stop being his champion, defender, provider and comforter just like that. But just like that, that is exactly what my life is asking of me now.

Thank you, God. Help us all.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tiger Woods : How Far the Great Have Fallen

With news this morning that Tiger missed the cut in the latest PGA tournament, sports journalists are beginning to comment on his astonishing fall from golf and sports greatness. It does seem as if his personal and professional troubles have created a failure that reminds us of an airplane in free fall. How could someone with such unusual talent lose it so disastrously?

There is something of gloating in all this talk, too. After all, who among us doesn't feel just a bit of pleasure in seeing the untouchable hero now seem so human?

While the sports writers opine over this and that detail, it seems sadly simple to me. He is suffering, and his life is demonstrating the difficulty he is having holding all the pieces of his super-star world together. What propelled him to greatness - his focus, consistency, precision, unflappability - are all possible because he once managed an internal calm. Even if that calm was managed, or maybe controlled, even masked, by dozens of handlers, unlimited resources and a sex addiction. What we are seeing is a man whose masks have been ripped away, and what is left is the internal chaos, doubt, confusion and frustration that remains.

I hope, for his sake and the sake of his children, he can heal his mind (and his chronic injuries) and successfully return to the game around which he shaped his life. It doesn't matter if he returns to his former greatness. I doubt that is possible. But what is possible is a re-made adult life, a life he can live in the long run, a healthier, happier, more whole self.

And wouldn't that be a fabulous story? I just doubt it will make the front page of the Sports sections. No matter. It will make for a better life. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

More Deadlines

It's Thursday night, and I have more writing deadlines. I'm late on my professional blog post at (again), and I have a sermon to do for Sunday.

For the first 12 years of my parish ministry life, I preached about 46 Sunday sermons a year. I had time away for vacation, and occasionally for continuing education, or a bout with laryngitis, or a special guest preacher, but otherwise, I had a deadline every week. In addition, each year I had a half dozen Lenten sermons to write, a dozen or more funeral sermons to prepare, half a dozen wedding sermons, and a dozen or more newsletter columns to do. When I joined a staff for my last 8 years in the parish, the rhythm slowed to about every third Sunday plus the added services which I led. That's a lot of writing to the clock. That's a lot of writing, period. I know I learned to cope with this demand while an English major in college. What I remember most about my Major are the piles of papers I had to produce in every class. I was writing something, or some things, for some class All. The. Time.

I don't like that pressure. Never did. Even if I got good at it. So this is me, procrastinating, writing on my blog because I want to.

Writing well is not easy. It takes a lot of thought, and a pretty sharp mind. And a good deal of discipline. Just to be clear, I do have an idea what I'm going to write about on the blog: I will be talking about how hard it is for family members to really listen to each other. And for my sermon, I will be talking about the OT story of Jacob wrestling with God as he makes his way back home to finally ask his brother Esau for forgiveness. So, I'm not a total slacker. I've got my central ideas for each project.

But whining occasionally helps me get back on track. And writing in my journal, or warming up on here. So tomorrow afternoon, after the gym, and my noon meeting, I'll be on the deck, writing my first drafts. Fountain pen to paper. Promise.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Oh No You Don't

Medical docs, you don't get to run over a patient and their therapist with your assumptions just because you believe you can.

Yesterday one of my long term clients called me to ask for a psychiatrist referral. The message was a puzzle, so I called her back to learn the details.

She had been in to see a doctor for medication for an infection. After that examination, blood work and diagnosis was over, the doctor asked my client about an older mental health diagnosis that was in the chart. "Well, I see that you were diagnosed XXX in the past." "Yes," my client answered, "but my current therapist assures me I don't have XXX anymore." Well, that information was ignored. My client was ushered in to see yet another physician who "specialized" in mental health issues. He proceeded to give her a brief screening, and in a few minutes told her that while she probably didn't have XXX anymore she probably had ADHD.  She should see a psychiatrist to confirm the diagnosis and get appropriate medication.

This is an abuse of power, as far as I'm concerned. I have seen this client dozens of hours over a span of more than two years. I have more training and experience in mental health diagnosis than these doctors ever will, and I am the health professional on record who is providing mental health care. If they had bothered to LISTEN to the client about her experience, paused to consider my license and the limits of their training, my client would have been spared their authority run amok.

I'm just glad my client called.  I could assure her she didn't need screening for ADHD, and save herself the $300 + she would have spent to see a shrink for a disorder she doesn't have.

What is astonishing to me? These doctors believed they had the whole picture on our patient after 10 minutes, and ran right over her own health care history. Medical arrogance is everywhere, but here, for this one person, is a stunning example of it when it comes to mental health care.

Medical docs, I'll make you a deal: I won't try to set broken legs or cure infections if you don't try to heal the mind with 5 questions and your electronic prescription software. You're out of your league, believe it or not (and I know you don't).

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

‪What is a healthy marriage?‬‏ - YouTube

MFT research in the last 15 or so years points to this key concept of healthy marriages:  a secure, trustworthy, consistent emotional bond between the partners.  Dr. Sue Johnson talk about this in this brief, helpful video. Check it out :-)  What is a healthy marriage?‬‏ - YouTube

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Just Kidding.....Not

I've had the pleasure of being around girls in their early teens quite a lot the past few years, and I have noticed a quirky turn of their conversation that has got me thinking.

One girl in the midst of a conversation with another girl will say something critical, blunt, or even hostile;  pause;  and then follow up immediately with a smile and "Just kidding!" Thinking it might have been a style of humor unique to one (particular) girl I know very well, I listened for it when these girls were together in groups, or chatting back and forth on Facebook, or in conversations I overheard while driving or waiting for them (I'm always waiting for them).

from the film " Mean Girls"
Over and over the same pattern. Critique, "just kidding," then the other girl usually follows with a response that might be equally snarly and if not met with a light heart and smile in return. The first girl might answer with another blunt remark. Et cetera. I've often wonder how these relationships survive this emotional dodge and weave. And the answer is, many don't.

I think that this particular stage of relationship building, coupled with the rocketing growth of body and brain in this age of adolescent girls makes this a way that girls are able to manage aggression with one another. In the same way that adolescent boys may push, poke and even swing at one another on a daily basis, girls push, poke and swing with words, attitudes and facial expressions that emote hostility and aggression.

I've not been reading the adolescent literature lately, and so I can't quote the latest author that has put this observation into article or book form: I guarantee someone has had this thought before me. But I wonder if any one who is around this age group (11-17) of girls from a different part of the US or outside our country shares this or a different observation.

I know a few readers of this blog are living around the world in quite different cultures. If you have an observation, comment below. I'd love to hear what you're hearing! No kidding.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A time of grace for women clergy | The Christian Century

Yes, women clergy can be particularly lonely. A retreat and contemplative community reaches out and gives a healing embrace:

A time of grace for women clergy | The Christian Century

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Remaking the Heartland, by Robert Wuthnow | The Christian Century

Robert Wuthnow, a preeminent sociologist of religion, has written a new book about our region of the country. But this reviewer says he writes surprisingly little of the Christian church's influence on the culture. Odd.

Remaking the Heartland, by Robert Wuthnow | The Christian Century

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What's So Bad About Excellence?

I had another conversation with my professional mentor last week, and she said something about me and my good friend, K, as we finished the conversation:

... "it's because you (both) over-function."

Now, if you have been part of my training in psychotherapy, you would know that over-functioning is not a great thing. It's not even a good thing. It implies that I regularly do more in my relationships than is necessary or even helpful. I felt the power of her comment today in a session with a couple in which I was working hard, being helpful, resourceful, and empathetic all at once. I was working, but I was working very hard.

But here's the rub: what's the difference between doing more than necessary and striving for excellence? Because that's what I see myself doing. Pursuing professional and personal excellence. My clients count on me to bring a centered self into their time with me, a professional who has done her homework, reflected on their lives with them in session and on my own time, and who is prepared for their questions.

If I don't bring my best efforts to my sessions, isn't that the same as me under-performing? In the context of the primary models of family therapy, doing too much in the room doesn't allow the space or energy for the client to lead their own therapy.  I want my clients to lead their own work. I just find, however, that that is only possible when I model what that means in the context of self reflection and critical thinking.

I know one thing for sure: I don't want to be an under-functioner just to show how flexible I can be. Like most things in the therapy room, I will be looking for the sweet spot of the middle way, doing my best and then, helping my clients succeed, to get out of their way and walk beside them. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Asking Permission

One of the most irksome things I've heard people say in conversation lately is this little quip: "After all, it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission."

What this says to me is that most people are so convinced of the entrenchment of power in their various workplaces, families and organizations that they would rather move ahead on their own initiative, knowing they will have to repent and grovel for a moment or two when confronted instead of go through the rigamarole and nonsense of trying to get something done the expected or defined way.

I love initiative. I really (REALLY) hate power plays. But just doing something, knowing you will have to apologize later for it, smacks of manipulation to me. It's much more honest to try to accomplish things by the accepted process, get stopped in one's tracks, and then decide to act anyway, knowing the consequences, than to act anyway without announcing your intention.

Those whose behavior constantly calls for (planned) apologies are as much to blame for sucky organizational systems as those who hold their power and won't bend or think outside their boxes. You're in the dance together when you play these games. You're just in different corners of the same dance floor.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Does Handwriting Matter Anymore?

As someone who collects and uses fountain pens every day, I really value the importance of handwriting and what it does for and with our daily lives. According to this study, even with all the digital tools we now have, no one is about to stop writing by hand any time soon.

Will handwriting survive in the digital era? Learn the provocative results of a new study | The Hot Word | Hot & Trending Words Daily Blog at

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Post Rapture: Why We're Still Here

           Did you find yourself just a little distracted Saturday night, May 21st around 6:00pm? If you were, you weren’t alone. It was hard to ignore the latest, confident predictions by fundamentalist Christian preacher and Family Radio Network owner Harold Camping about the end of the world. Never mind that he had predicted the same “rapture” of the few faithful, the destruction of the world and the suffering of millions left behind before. And had been wrong, of course.
His predictions, sent around the world via radio, newspaper articles, billboards, internet posts and video links gave him a platform of influence like never before. People persuaded of his insight are said to have sold homes, cashed in pensions, quit jobs and left incredulous families behind to publically warn their neighbors, just like Old Testament prophets of old. The date came and went. But Camping didn’t miss a beat, saying he hadn’t had all the data he needed, the real day for the rapture, he now says, is this October 21st.
Camping isn’t the only source declaring dates of doom recently. Others are focused on the end of a major cycle for the Mayan calendar in 2012, convinced that the ancient civilization had some special insight into space and time. NASA, that great brain trust of space exploration, measurement and science, has been talking about an increase in solar flares next year, and has thousands of people sending in on-line questions, wondering what might happen to everything from communication satellites to the magnetic poles of the earth.
While all the anxiety about the end of the world is as old as developed human cultures, the current anticipation reminds me of several different waves of religious people waiting for the end. I think of some early Christians who sold their belongings and waited on the hills of Rome, believing Jesus literally would return “soon.” A wave of hysteria flew around Europe at the turn of the first millennia, thousands filling cathedrals in fear as the year 999 turned into 1,000 AD. And in the periods of religious revivals from 1800 into the early 20th century known as the 2nd and 3rd Great Awakenings, ignorant, charismatic preachers had hundreds and thousands expecting the rapture at multiple turns of the calendar.
All this religious energy around the judgment of God, the return of Christ, and the mention of a special “rapture” of the faithful in the New Testament is centered in three primary religious perspectives, not shared by most American Christians.
1.     The Bible as Code. In this perspective, only specially gifted preachers can figure out the messages of the Bible. Instead of the Bible as a library of ancient documents written to a culture and people that takes some education, care and patience to understand, the Bible is treated like a codebook for an elite few.
2.     Human beings as Good or Bad. Instead of seeing individual human beings as both good and bad, capable of great imagination as well as petty selfishness, this perspective puts people in one of two camps: in/good; or out/bad.
3.     God as Angry Judge. It takes a certain theology to believe that God has given up on the world, that God is no longer actively holding the world together, and interested in humanity’s future. This theology believes it knows the mind of God, and that God is finished with the world and not only is finished, but is ready to act in violent judgment.

The next time you hear someone telling you they know exactly what the end of days will look like, have compassion on them. They operate with some pretty extreme beliefs about the God and world, convictions that makes living their lives pretty hard. Chances are, that fact alone makes them anxious for God to put an end to everything they know and have them begin anew in paradise. For them, it seems like the only real way out. And that is a sad way to live, don’t you think?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Being Blog • Complicated Grief: How to Lessen Pain that Persists

As I have tried to help people, both as a pastor and now as a therapist, move through their experience of grief, I have not had a good model for what is known as complicated grief. Complex or complicated grief lasts longer than most people mourn a loss, and is so intense it blocks every other life experience of drive, desire and pleasure.

Researchers at UCLA have made brain scans of complex grief that look and behave like trauma would. Treating complex grief with a model of exposure therapy has shown a great deal of promise for people.

At last, a map for this territory!

Being Blog • Complicated Grief: How to Lessen Pain that Persists

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Major Mental Illness (MMI) and the Family

For all the research that has been done in the last twenty years attempting to understand the brain, the organ at the top of our spine retains its essential mystery. We know more now than ever how the brain works, how it has developed over the centuries to do the miraculous things it does, and what is happening to it when it gets injured. Doctors, parents, coaches and professional athletes are more alert to the dangers of brain concussion. Neurologists study to become adept at repairing the brain with surgery, cellular transplant, or electrical stimulus. Every one of us has a stake in the health of our minds.
But no one has now, or may ever, understand what to do when a brain loses its essential emotion balance. Major mental illnesses (MMI) like bipolar disorder, major depression, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorders, and severe personality disorders are currently treated with hospitalization, a variety of medicines, and several kinds of therapies including group, art, music, physical, occupational and individual, couple and family therapy. All of this effort does help a person suffering acute episodes create some safety from self-harm and violence to others. But we currently have no cure for the worse of brain diseases and dysfunction. Those afflicted with the most severe mental illness bear this burden without much hope of recovering their former, pre-illness selves. It’s a terrible, life-changing diagnosis.
Many of those who suffer also try to help themselves with illegal drugs and alcohol. It’s estimated that nearly half of those with MMI also may be drug addicted. It’s quite easy to see that a chronic emotional disorder, topped with occasional medications from a hospital stay, plus a chemical dependency, legal or otherwise, is a simple recipe for chaos. And that’s exactly what can happen. These are the majority of those we call the Homeless: adults whose illness and addiction make any kind of stable life impossible. Whose schools, work places, doctors, community programs, churches, friends and family in an uncoordinated effort tried to help but ran out of options, money, beds, time or energy.
If you have a family member with chronic mental illness, it certainly has affected your life as well. If you are like most of us human beings, the early months or years were a mix of denial, sorrow, anger, and accommodation as you tried to learn how to manage life with someone who couldn’t stay in the lanes of the average emotional highway. You may have had more than your share of blinding rage at promises broken and soaring optimism as your parent or sibling found a new doctor, a new medicine, a new religion, a new apartment. And then the up and down cycles of recovery and illness, of stabilization and hospitalization, continued. It feels insane. And in fact, it is. It’s easy to see how many people give up on the most mentally sick.
In the grand scheme of life, it’s to your emotional and spiritual benefit not to lose touch with your family member who struggles to stay mentally balanced. You may be their only connection to a person who remembers them when they were well, who has the same family features, who reminds them of their place in the human family. You may be the only person they know with a shared childhood memory. As exhausting as it can be to stay in their lives, I urge you to try.
To keep your own life in balance, to have good relationships, keep your job, and sleep well at night, you will need a simple but unyielding strategy when it comes to dealing with your loved one. Here’re my suggestions:

1.     Education: Get informed about your loved one’s diagnosis. Have a basic understanding of the medications they are on. Attend family meetings held by hospital or other care providers. Learn about the long-term physical and mental outlook of the disorder. Speak to an attorney if financial support, inheritance, property, arrest or civil commitment issues arise.

2.    Support: Seek out the understanding, company and expertise of others who struggle with mental illness in the family. Support groups such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and those run by your county or local hospitals or churches are excellent places to find on-going information, support and referrals to local mental health resources. It’s here where you can grieve the person your loved one may never become, and figure out to live with the person as they are.

3.     Clear personal boundaries: You will need to figure out how to care about your family member while leading your own life. Your job, your marriage and your children will all suffer if you can’t say no to requests you can’t fill, to demands on your time that can’t be met, to assumptions about money you can’t meet. You may need professional help (i.e., a good therapist) to help you manage, grieve, and maintain your limits, especially if you are connected to your family member in any helpful way.

MMI is a devastating brain dysfunction that can destroy every good relationship in its wake. One day, we may have more than a bucket load of powerful drugs to help manage and even heal diseases like schizophrenia. But until then, if you have MMI in your family, do everything you can to manage its effects and continue to lead the life you want. You’ll need help to do it; it’s a long journey.   


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Missed Deadline

Chalk it up to personal development; I missed a writing deadline and I haven't fainted dead away.

For a writer, a deadline is a looming, ever-present line in the sand. The Thing Which Must Be Met.

All through college, seminary and grad school, I have made my writing deadlines. With more or less aplomb. For twenty years I had weekly sermon deadlines. And those deadlines were deadly, let me tell you. There is absolutely no getting around a Sunday morning pulpit. Nothing quite so serious, at least for me. I have written a spiritual reflections column every dozen weeks or so for a local paper since 1997. That's over 100 columns of over 500 words each. I have pushed my editor a time or two, but never failed to make my deadline.

And I write as a volunteer for an online psychotherapy directory, I'm one of their Family Therapy topic experts. I have had this monthly gig for about a year and a half. It's here, in my volunteer world of therapy expert, that I missed my deadline last week.

Fortunately, no one called, emailed or texted me to rattle my cage. I'm a volunteer, after all. No money changes hands, no federal forms get filed on this job. Yet I have met my self-imposed deadline time after time, until sometime last week. I just didn't have the 700 words about family life and therapy to offer.

Very simply, my own therapy life and family demands didn't give me room to think about my column. And I didn't force myself to create something I wouldn't have liked a day or so later. So the Family Therapy section of the large website awaits something new from me, soon. I will get to it, as soon as I can settle on my subject and create enough time in the day to do it justice.

Perhaps that will be the topic of my next submission; how family commitments often must come first before the stuff we would like to do, have promised to do, should do. I'll think on it. It has potential.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pr. Rob Bell's Revision

Rob Bell, evangelical pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, MI, is making quite a stir with his new book, "Love Wins." I hope lots of people read his words. I hope they come to his side of the old Christian debate about the nature of salvation and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. 
While I haven't read his book, I know what it contains. It contains much of what I have been taught, studied, preached, written about and believed about God's intention for the human world through the life, ministry and death of Jesus.

In my words, it's less about the details of certain parables and teachings of Jesus about hell and suffering, and more about the nature of God being grace, love and welcome to us sinners. We are all helpless without the love of God. And once we experience that love, Christianity is not so much about right belief anymore. It's about living with freedom, forgiveness, and using our lives to help and heal the world. To care about the kingdom of God. Now.

A gospel of grace is centered in a large understanding of God, a God who created and loved this world so much that God was compelled to enter into our human experience, live among us, and suffer for our brokenness and violence toward one another. This is how we see Jesus. A God who is interested in relationship with us now, today, not just in life after death.

It's the amazing grace of this faith that sends me out into the world to serve. Not fear of death. Not fear of God's judgment. Not some sense that I have "it" right and those poor (fill in the blank) don't.

I'm happy that this young, bright, Fuller Seminary educated pastor can reach so many with a perspective that seems radical and new. It's nothing we dull, old, boring mainline preachers, teachers and believers haven't been saying for decades.

Welcome to the wider mainstream of Christianity, Rob. We're glad to be in your company. Perhaps tthe American mainline and evangelical churches can be renewed and with this next generation be a force for community, service and healing like never before. One can only hope.