Monthly Archives: February 2017

Here Comes The Truth

Honesty.

I always tell my clients that honesty is at such a premium in this world that being a truth teller is a skill worth developing. People thirst and hunger for truth, for words that are plain and simple, without sugar coating or gentle couching or even padding. Basically, there is so little honesty in this world that we are starving for it.

Don’t believe me?  Just think for a moment about how many times you have talked to one of your friends and had them read you a text or email to see what you think it means.  We have been become experts at analyzing words and phrasing in texts and emails, hoping to decipher what the person really means, what they are actually saying…which makes it painfully obvious that we don’t trust people to speak the unadulterated truth.

I mean it when I say that truth is so rare that we are starving for it.

However…I have to distinguish being truth-telling, and beating someone with the truth.

Sadly, I have heard plenty of people speak sentences full of barbed words, swinging sentences like a bat aimed at the other person’s head. After they finish speaking, these people all say the same thing: I’m just telling the truth, that’s all.  And they are, kind of, but not really.

You see, the truth—if you want it to be heard and accepted—needs to be spoken in love.  The kind of truth that sets you free is truth that is given as a gift, delivered directly and bluntly without sugar-coating…and without any barbs or knives.

I call it the open-handed truth.

Basically, I tell my clients to hold out their hand, palm up, whenever they speak the truth. This is to signify to them and their listener that the truth they are telling is offered as a gift. The listener is free to take that gift or leave it, but there it is: honesty and truth, offered to them as a gift.

I ask them to do that because any move away from giving a gift to delivering a barbed truth will cause their hand to suddenly shift from an open palm to a pointed finger. You know what I’m talking about: that finger-shaking, “I’m going to give you a piece of my mind” gesture that we use when we are slapping someone across the face with our words.  I tell my clients that the difference between an open-handed truth and a finger-shaking truth is the difference between honesty as a gift and honesty as a 2×4 upside the head!  It’s an effective metaphor, because who the hell wants to speak the truth as a 2×4 to someone’s head?

The answer to that question is: any member of the media when speaking to Donald Trump, but that’s another blog post entirely.

Why am I busy talking about the truth?  Well, when I started as a counselor, I found it very hard to speak certain truths to my clients, especially if the truth was particularly ugly. I also shied away from telling my clients when they were engaging in unhealthy behaviors, even when they were engaging in unhealthy and unwise behaviors right in front of me.

In short, I have been an incredible wuss for years.

And then recently I decided to try something for my stress. Being a counselor is very stressful. Clients can be very demanding, and the need to help them can leave you feeling like the weight of the world is resting on your shoulders. It can be overwhelming, and it does overwhelm me occasionally. It really wouldn’t matter that much, but I have chronic health issues, and stress makes them worse. I am at a point where something has to change or I am not going to be able to keep up with my practice. I am not willing to let stress derail my health…and I’m not willing to let my health end my ministry.

The thing was that no matter what I was doing, nothing was reducing my stress level.  Exercise was helpful, but not enough. Diet changes were helpful, but not enough. Hobbies, vacations, meditation…all of it was helpful, but not enough.

Then I remembered something I learned from watching my daughter get sober. The 12 Steps are powerful and deeply spiritual, and without them people often fail to overcome their addictions because the biggest problem in addiction is that we keep trying so hard…instead of relying on a God who is so much more powerful than we are.

And that was my epiphany.

I began reciting the first three steps (as best as I could remember them) in relation to my clients.

I admitted that I am powerless over my clients—powerless over mental illness and trauma—powerless over my client’s lives—and that trying to be a healer is becoming unmanageable.

I remembered that there is a Power greater than myself who can restore both me and my clients to sanity.

And then I made a decision to turn myself…and my clients…and their problems…and their healing…over to God’s care.

I cannot tell you how liberating that felt. Every time I’d start to get stressed about my clients or my practice, I’d remember that I am powerless over mental illness and trauma, and utterly incapable of healing anyone. Then I’d remind myself that God is more than capable of handling all that and is willing to use me along the way to bring that about…and I’d calm back down and my stress level would drop and I’d start to feel less overwhelmed and exhausted.

But there was this funny side effect of all this: I’m not a wuss anymore!

All of a sudden, I find myself saying things in session that are blunt, open-faced truths that I was unable to say before.

Dare I say…I have become strangely bold?  And I’m not talking 2×4 bold, either. This is calm, open-handed truth that is popping out of my mouth without hesitation or even the slightest twinge of guilt.

Jesus said that the truth would set us free, and the truth I discovered is that I am powerless, and when I accept that powerlessness…suddenly I am far more free to share the truth with others.

The truth about me became the truth recognized by me and spoken to others becomes the truth that sets them free.

If this is powerlessness, sign me up. And we will all be free together.

Amen.

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God in the Grocery Aisle

I spend a lot of time with anxious people.

Some of them are anxious because they have anxiety disorders. Some are anxious because they are dealing with PTSD and trauma. Some are anxious because they have an addict in their household and they are exhausted from trying to save that person (and their entire family) from the consequences of addiction.  These folks have really good reasons for their anxiety, and learning to deal with the anxiety is about learning to accept what can’t be changed and address what can be changed (usually the answers to those two questions are ‘other people’ and ‘your own behaviors and attitudes’…but that’s another blog post entirely.)

Lately though, I have been seeing a woman who is anxious because…well, because…

Of life. She is anxious because…career, boss, bad friends, what now?  She is anxious because of life.

She’s a great lady and I love working with her. She’s really serious about the change she’s trying to achieve and actually remembers what we talk about and tries to work on it between sessions. She is what we counselors call a YAVIS client: young, attractive, verbal, intelligent, and social. Personally, I’m guessing she’d be really thrilled to know that I label her as a YAVIS client, first because she’s a little older than I am, and second, because YAVIS clients are usually there to see a counselor because they are having an existential crisis instead of serious mental health issues.

existential crisis:  a moment at which an individual questions the very foundations of their life: whether this life has any meaning, purpose, or value.

During our last session, my client brought me a list of what she thinks she needs to be working on in counseling.  One of her goals was to work on finding a purpose for her life, a larger reason for being. She felt like her current career, while it earned her a good living, was not very meaningful and did not provide her with sufficient purpose.  She wanted to find her purpose in life so that she could get busy living out her purpose.

That was when I put on the brakes.

You see, what I heard my client saying was that God’s purpose for her life was something other than what she was doing right now and that she wouldn’t really be living out her God-given purpose until she found that purpose and then began to fulfill it, daily.  In other words, “I’m not doing what I need to be doing and my life has no meaning or purpose until I do the thing I need to be doing.”

Wow…that’s a troublesome idea.  And I’m betting that my client is not the only person who has this idea.

The problem with this idea is the way we tend to define purpose.  Purpose is a big, weighty word that implies something deeply meaningful, something incredibly impactful…our purpose is supposed to be the thing we do that makes a difference in the world.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? And for most of us, our purpose is tied in pretty heavily with our careers or our daily jobs.  I’m guessing that any job that helps us fulfill our God-given purpose is going to be something impressive, like a teacher, a civil rights lawyer, or a doctor; a trauma counselor, or a pastor or maybe a person who works with the disabled.  There are plenty of careers that will fill our lives with purpose and give us a chance to make a difference in the world.

Actually, it doesn’t matter what you are doing as your career or as your current job…if you are out there, living your life, doing your best to be good human being then you are fulfilling your purpose right there, where you are, and that’s all there is to it.

Personally, my favorite job that makes a difference in the world is…

The cashier at the grocery store.

Yep…you read that right. The cashier at the grocery store.

A couple of years ago, I went grocery shopping and was just overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff I needed to get done that day. I was harried and in a bad mood, wishing that I could clone myself so that the work would get done quicker.  When I got to the front of the checkout line I immediately started writing out my check (okay…it was probably closer to 20 years ago) and didn’t even look at the cashier. He greeted me with a casual “How are you today?” and I answered truthfully “Harried.”   He immediately replied “I know! Doesn’t it make you feel really alive when you’re busy like that?”

That was when I looked up at him, thinking I was going to find myself face to face with Happy Elf, or The Grocery Unicorn, or some other mythical creature of that sort.  Instead I was greeted by a man obviously going through chemo. He didn’t have a strand of hair anywhere on his head and he was bone thin and pale.  He was grinning at me, genuinely happy to be ringing up my groceries and talking with me. He radiated joy.

It was an instant attitude adjuster.

I didn’t feel guilty or shamed. I didn’t feel like a bad human being. I just suddenly recognized how profoundly lucky and blessed I was to be standing there, totally healthy, buying groceries for my growing family. I was blessed with sufficient funds to feed my children without worries. I had a list of tasks as long as my arm because my children were healthy and active, and because both my husband and I had full-time jobs which meant that I had to do all my errands and shopping on the weekends.  I was very busy…and it did make me feel alive. Burdened, but gloriously alive.

Talk about making a difference in the world!  This guy had his purpose nailed and he was living out that purpose, right there, ringing up the groceries at the Albertsons.

The key to fulfilling your purpose to know, first and foremost, that you are able to fulfill your purpose in life exactly where you are, doing what you are doing…right now.  You don’t have to wait until you finish your degree or until you change careers or until you get married or get divorced or…anything.  You are valuable where you are right now, doing whatever you are doing.

If you want to fulfill your purpose in life, start by being yourself…be who God created you to be, all the time, and give your gifts to the world whenever you can. Be the best version of you that you can, and do your best to draw out the best in others.

And if God calls you to a bigger purpose, or to express your purpose in a different way, know that you have been living a meaningful, purpose-filled life every minute until now and are about to go on an adventure to see what other great things God can do through you.

Enjoy your adventure!

I’m sure enjoying mine.

And That’s Exactly How I Feel

I ended up in an unusual discussion with a friend of mine today. She was commenting on the riots at Berkeley and her feeling that the riots happened because “the left” is unwilling to hear dissenting opinions.  I had to disagree, partly because I am a liberal and so technically part of the ‘left’ and I don’t really have a problem with dissenting opinions as long as the other person is able to explain their opinion to me logically.  The other reason I disagreed with my friend is because I don’t really believe you can categorize a group that is so large and diverse with just two words.

“The left.”

Is there actually such a thing? If there is, surely there must be “the right” as well. But can we so easily be divided into two camps?  Are we really so simple and so binary in our opinions?

If we are going to be honest with each other, no.  It isn’t possible to simplify our politics into two separate groups labeled ‘left’ and ‘right’ and then fully describe each group to clarify their positions.  The idea that we are so easily divided and defined is a fallacy that many politicians and journalists like to use when they make statements; it’s a great way of polarizing the issues and labeling your opposition as ‘other’ and incorrect in their thinking.

Except people aren’t so easily defined.

My parents are conservatives both theologically and politically and yet they are both disgusted with our new President and his latest antics. They are disgusted by Breitbart News and horrified by the taint of racism that hangs over Steve Bannon and several of Trump’s cabinet nominees. My parents have voted republican for as long as I’ve been alive, and their views have grown more conservative as they’ve aged, and yet they fail to meet the criteria of being in the religious right.

Why? Let’s start with the fact that neither of my parents is interested in the “Freedom of Religion” legislation that allows Christians to discriminate against LGBTQ persons on the basis that the LGBTQ lifestyle is counter to their religious beliefs.  To quote my mother, “If you find that kind of lifestyle sinful, then don’t live that lifestyle. Other than that, what’s the issue? They are people just like you and me, sinners just like you and me, and God loves them, just like you and me.”  Remember, this is my conservative mother who continues to believe that homosexuality is not God’s will and not righteous… and both she and my father believe that to discriminate against any LGBTQ person is to offend God and to commit a sin.  So are my parents ‘right’ or ‘left’?

Both?  Neither? Somewhere in the middle?

My parents are what I like to call Compassionate Conservatives, a group of people who hold their religious beliefs and morals close to their heart but refuse to use those morals and beliefs to exclude or openly judge the lives of others. They consider such behavior counter to God’s will that they extend the love of Christ to everyone, no matter who that person is or what their choices are.  In the same vein, they realize that their life experiences have led them to certain values, morals, and beliefs that other people who did not have those same experiences may not share. In fact, they openly admit that perhaps they would think differently if they had had different life experiences.

And that is the crux of the matter.

It is so easy for us to judge someone else as wrong from our personal vantage point.  It’s so easy for white people to throw out the line “All Lives Matter” when we have not ONE idea what it is like to fear racial profiling, to fear the police will shoot you simply because you don’t get on the ground fast enough after a traffic stop; we have no idea what it’s like to wonder if our black life actually matters to our local police or politicians.  It’s so easy for men to call women out on using the “woman card” when they have no idea what it is like to be demeaned, mansplained to, sexually harassed, sexually discriminated against, and to be passed over for promotions because management fears that you’ll consider getting pregnant sometime in the distant future, as if your brains and skills are worth less because they come with a uterus as standard equipment.  It’s so easy for financially comfortable people to give that dirty look to the person who pulls out their EBT (food stamp) card, yet they have no idea what it is like to live in a two income family and still not have enough money to pay for food and electricity if you also pay for rent and transportation, or for your child’s schooling and medical needs…or to be a single parent trying to figure out how to work and pay for child care and still have enough to cover daycare so that you actually can get a job.  Don’t even get me started on white privilege and the number of times I’ve had to explain that white men in sports cars don’t get pulled over on the assumption that a white man must have stolen a car that nice (which happens to young men who are black or Latino all the time.)

My point is this: YOU ONLY THINK YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE FOR THAT OTHER GUY OVER THERE.

We only think we know what it’s like to be that other person, to live their life, to wake up in their skin, to face their daily challenges, to have to see the future through the eyes of their past, and to live with the things they fear.

And because we don’t know what it’s like to live their life, maybe we should try asking a few questions before we start judging them.

To give one example: if we wonder why the people of Ferguson rioted in the streets, maybe we ought to listen to them tell their stories of bad action by the police. Maybe we should ask them what it’s like not being able to trust the local police to treat them fairly and with justice, to fear that instead they will be unjustly arrested and perhaps even attacked by the police. Maybe we should try to imagine living in a city where you don’t know who to fear more: the criminals or the police.  Maybe we should try to imagine being arrested by policemen that we believe will do everything in their power to unjustly convict us.   Still wondering why the young men in Ferguson act in confrontational ways towards the police? No, me neither. No.  Actually, their reaction kind of makes sense in light of the reality they live in.

When I was a young girl I read Corrie Ten Boom’s memoir, telling the story of her resistance to the Nazi’s and subsequent arrest for hiding Jews. My father discussed the book with me and told me that true Christians stand in opposition to unjust authorities, even if it means that we will be arrested and punished.  My parents taught me that morality is greater than the law because God Himself declares what morality is…and the highest moral is love for all God’s people. To stand against an unjust authority is to act in imitation of Jesus Christ.  If I lived in Ferguson…I’d be resisting the local police for the sake of justice for my neighbor.

That brings me back to Compassionate Conservatives.

I only call them that because I’m liberal and I think we are a compassionate bunch, but I’m betting there are some conservatives who would disagree, and they’d probably have really good examples of liberals who have done horrible things in the name of being right (not ‘right’ but right as in correct.)

Maybe this whole deal—religion and politics—would work better if we just started being more compassionate, if we started working more diligently to see how hard the other guy has it before we rush to judgement.  Maybe we should assume that people have a good reason for the behaviors and beliefs we think are so strange and unacceptable.  Maybe we should even start asking more questions and listening more than we speak.

Holy smoke, I think I’m onto something.

Whether you are ‘right’ or ‘left’ doesn’t really matter, because we’re all just trying to do what is best for our country and our people.  Let’s start there: that we all want the same thing—prosperity and success—for ourselves and our country and then see if we can’t find some more common ground to stand on.

Because if we continue with this ‘right’/’left’ thing all we’ll manage to do is play tug of war, and I don’t think that’s how you run a nation unless you are running it into the ground.