Tag Archives: Fear

Today I Am Afraid

*** For those of you in the DSW Conference, no I do not know anything that you don’t. I am just experiencing some anxiety mixed with hope in light of the vote we are about to have this coming Thursday. If I have concerned you because of my personal fear, I am truly sorry.  It’s just a prayer that reflects my own anxious nature.  Blessings and peace…and perhaps prayers that we will all be less anxious. ***

Abba, Father…

I did what I thought was right.  I read their theological exams and I expected from them what I expect from any candidate for ministry: honesty and theological robustness. I expected them to write their exams like they were writing papers for seminary, in conversation with the Scriptures and with the theologians that they studied.  I interviewed them Lord, and I tried hard not to give them breaks that I wouldn’t have given to other candidates.  I did my best to be thorough, firm, and fair…and then I voted my conscience and I approved them.

I approved two LGBTQIA candidates for commissioning and admission to the clergy of the United Methodist Church.

I was proud that day and certain that my colleagues would join me in celebrating their entry into full time ministry. I was certain that our entire conference would celebrate our stand for justice and equality in ministry.

Today I am not so certain. In fact, today I am afraid.

I am filled with fear that my conservative colleagues will unite and stand against these two people. I fear that they will block their entry into full time ministry. I fear they will vote against them, but not because they aren’t fully prepared, and not because they aren’t theologically articulate, but solely because they are LGBTQIA.

That’s not the right reason, Lord.  You have given us ample evidence that You call the weak and foolish to show your strength and wisdom. Goodness knows you called ME and there isn’t much that is weaker or more foolish than I am.

My stomach hurts and I want to cry.

I want to believe that I serve a church that is just and wise. I want to believe that I serve in a conference that will stand for justice even when it means that we will be hated by other conferences within the larger Methodist church. I want to believe that you are leading the Desert Southwest, and eventually the entire Methodist Church, into new spaces of equality and tolerance that our church has never known before.

But I’m so afraid that I’m wrong in what I believe. I’m afraid that I’m about to watch these two poor souls be crushed when they are turned away and labeled unclean and unfit for ministry only because of the way they love.

All I can do, Father, is to put the whole thing into your hands and beg you to have your way with our conference. Let your Spirit move as the clergy votes over these two who have submitted themselves to your will and put themselves into your hands.  Protect them from any harm should my colleagues choose to reject them.  Never let these two children doubt for one moment that You have chosen them and nothing else matters.

You alone can stop the prejudice and fear that runs in the hearts of those who would reject the children you call just because of who and how they love.  Grant me the grace to forgive them for their fear, because you know that I am also consumed with fear. Grant me the grace to remember that they are only trying to do what is best for the church, just as I am trying to do what is best for the church.

Grant us…grace. Lots and lots of grace…because we are going to need it in abundance.

Father God, today I am afraid. But I am trusting that you are bigger than this entire issue, and that it matters even more to you than it does to me.

Thanks for listening. I needed to get this off my chest.  I might need you again later, because this fear doesn’t seem to go away and it keeps threatening to leak out of my eyes and run down my face.

Amen.

The Morning After the Mourning After

This morning I went to a yoga class.  I was exhausted and anxious and needed to let go of some stress. My daughter is getting married this evening and all that anxiety has built to a peak of anticipation.  I figured a little stretching and sweating would do my soul some good.

The instructor, Jeff Martens, is a great teacher. He speaks softly during class, reminding us of proper posture and breathing techniques.  He also speaks words of wisdom, meant to guide us into greater relaxation and greater submission to the spiritual process of yoga.

Today he reminded us that every posture is a prayer that we pray with our body and our soul. He reminded us that prayers are not requests; prayer is more than asking for things. The prayers we make with our body are affirmations of all that is already ours: health, peace, communion, joy…or conversely, they can be affirmations that we believe we exist in a state of struggle, discontent, and FEAR.

There has been a lot of fear this week.

I told you in my last post that the days after the election were particularly difficult for LGBTQ persons, minorities, and women.  Many were consumed with fear that they would lose their civil rights, their safety, their nation and their home.  This week wasn’t much different, and I had plenty of people who cried their way through their session, worried about the future and wondering what they should do next.

One of my clients yesterday was particularly upset, and nothing seemed to comfort her. We talked about the allies that are all around her; people who love her, people who are not willing let her be re-victimized or denied safety.  I reminded her that I will always be an ally.  And then I told her that my greatest hope is that there are many good people in powerful places, people who are not willing to silently stand by as millions are denied their civil rights and human dignity. I said that I believe those people will slowly reveal themselves as Trump’s plan unfolds; I believe that one by one they will stand up and say “Not in my America!” and they will be our allies as we fight against a rising tide of bigotry, sexism, and homophobia.

It won’t be as simple as the split between Democrats and Republicans. I told her that we will probably all be disgusted to discover bigots, misogynists, and homophobes among people we thought were our allies.  I’m betting we will also be stunned at the number of staunch Republicans who stand up for civil rights, equality, and justice.  Neither side has a monopoly on righteousness; in the long run, I believe that this will be a great blessing that will work to our advantage.

She smiled at me and said it was a lovely idea, but she wasn’t sure it was realistic.

I told her that I am counting on it.

I never thought it would happen so soon!

Today Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton made an announcement in response to President Elect Trump’s decision to begin deporting undocumented immigrants.  The mayor stated:

“Phoenix is an incredibly diverse and welcoming city where we endeavor every day to protect our community while treating residents with dignity and respect, no matter who you are, who you love or where you come from.

Our diversity is our greatest strength as a community, and our strongest selling point as an economy. It says much about who we are as a people that Phoenix is considered one of the safest and most welcoming cities in the United States for those seeking refuge from the violence of war-torn countries.

That will not change, regardless of who is president.

Residents and visitors can be assured we will professionally and steadfastly uphold the laws of our city. But that does not mean that Phoenix will fall victim to discourse that is openly antagonistic and hostile to members of our community.

The Phoenix Police Department will never turn into a mass deportation force, even if the new government in Washington, D.C., threatens to revoke federal dollars. This is something worth fighting for, and we will not be bullied into taking backward steps on civil rights.

I cried when I heard it on the news, and I cried when I read the article online, and I am still crying as I write this right now.  There are things worth fighting for: our deepest values and dearest morals, but most important is human lives.  These things are worth standing up for, no matter what the cost.

Today the Phoenix mayor (along with mayors in Boston, New York, and Chicago, as well as the police chief of Los Angeles) took a stand against bigotry, hatred, and fear.

This morning I heard that every posture is a prayer, an affirmation of what we have.

Today powerful people in a number of major cities struck a posture of resistance to injustice. They still have some stretching to do before their posture can be firm and true, and we need to join them. We are only beginning to understand just how deeply our privilege (white, straight, male, educated, etc.) has stepped on the necks of our brothers and sisters. As a nation, we need to change our posture to a prayer that affirms freedom for all, justice for all, and welcome to all who would live in peace.

Today I stand in a posture that breathes a prayer of willingness to stand for others, and gratitude for allies in the struggle.

And I am going to stay in posture for as long as I possibly can.

For more information, use the following links:

ktar.com/story/1362041/phoenix-mayor-greg-stanton-vows-city-police-will-stay-deportation-process/

www.azfamily.com/story/33729670/mayor-stanton-phx-pd-will-never-be-a-mass-deportation-force

For more information on yoga or on Jeff Martens http://www.innervisionyoga.com/

Finally, congratulations to Katie and Phil!  I could not be happier for the two of you, and wish you a long life of joy together.  Phil, Michelle, Dan, Jason, and Arianna…welcome to my family!!

That’s My Resume?

Self-esteem is such a dicey thing.

When you’re a child, most of your self-esteem comes from your parents and how they treat you. If your parents are kind and loving, you come to believe that you are deserving of love, deeply worthy of time and attention, and that your potential is unknown and therefore you are capable of almost anything!  Sadly, if your parents are unkind and unloving or unavailable, you learn the exact opposite: that you are unlovable, unworthy, and your potential is meaningless.

I was blessed with loving and kind parents and I came away from my childhood deeply aware of my own lovability, worthiness, and potential.

As a teenager, you start putting more faith and weight into the words of others, and your parent’s opinion of you comes to mean less and less.  This is why the teen years can be such damaging years. It doesn’t matter if you are utterly geeky or unbelievably popular, there is always someone in your peer group who is glad to tell you how worthless, stupid, and disgusting that you are. It’s during our teen years that we learn to hide ourselves lest we become open to criticism and character assassination.  Some of us discovered that no matter how much we hid, that we become the target of people whose need for power and attention drove their need to belittle and harass others, and we become the target of bullies.  That’ll kill your self-esteem for sure.

If you aren’t careful, you can come out of your teen years with no self-esteem left at all, believing that you are utterly worthless with nothing to offer and no one who cares enough to challenge your self-evaluation.

It can take years to stop believing in the opinions of others and regain your self-esteem.

I spent plenty of years learning to care less about what other people thought of me and more about what I thought of myself.  I learned to ask myself crucial questions: Would I trust me if I was my own friend? Am I honest? Am I genuine and kind? If I met myself coming down the street would I want to be my own friend?  If I met myself and took an hour to talk to me, would I respect me when it was over?

These questions changed me and how I behaved, because I could no longer betray myself in the interest of getting other people to like me better.  With only myself and my God to judge me, I became less beholden to the opinions of others and more free to be authentic in all my interactions.

This whole experience led me to share what I learned with my clients.  I tell them to be themselves all the time, no matter what anyone else is doing, because at the end of the day there is only yourself, the mirror, and your God to evaluate you.  God will always love you, but…if you met yourself coming down the street, would you want to be your own friend? Would you respect you?  Would you trust you?

Sometimes it is painful to discover how little respect people have for themselves, how untrustworthy they feel they are, and how disgusted they are at the thought of being their own friend.   It breaks my heart.

Over time you learn not to believe what other people think about you because of the damage it can do.  You learn to create your own self-esteem lest you find yourself at the mercy of others who don’t care how their opinions take you apart and render you worthless.

But what do you do when what other people think of you…is amazing?

This week I led a two-day meeting that was supposed to be led by a friend of mine.  It was a last-minute change brought on by a severe illness that he could not control.  He was so sick that I wasn’t even able to get direction from him; I couldn’t call him and ask me what he wanted me to do.

In my own evaluation of me, I was irritable, exhausted, freaked-out and barely functioning.

That’s not the feedback I got.

Certainly people sensed how taxed and exhausted I was.  Many of them asked if I was okay and I was honest with them: I was so anxious that I wasn’t sleeping well at all.  No sleep leads me to be cranky and brainless. I admitted that I was overwhelmed.  Why lie?  It’s not like they couldn’t see it on my face.

But still…when all was said and done, the praise was effusive and more than kind.  After the meeting was over I led a training that ended with even more praise and kind words.

I was stunned and didn’t quite know what to think.

What do you do when you discover that others think you are better than who you think you are? Do you believe them? Do you disagree with them openly and tell them that they are wrong? Do you secretly discount their opinions and ignore what they say?

My daughter is in a 12-step group where they teach that “what others think of you is none of your business.”  It can be daunting to live by the opinions of others, and when you have no self-esteem you can find yourself seeking the approval of everyone, yanked hither and yon as you try to please each and every person that matters.  I get that.  I have it in me to be a people-pleaser, and it has taken years for me to get comfortable with people who are angry with me or people who think I have failed.  I still beat myself up when I have genuinely failed another person because I have trouble forgiving myself for being human.  I am still growing as a person and I hope that by the time I am 60 years old, I will have mastered the art of forgiving myself after I genuinely disappoint someone else. You think that I’d be disgusted with myself for still being this sensitive after 52 years on the earth, but the idea of still growing as a person as I move through my sixth decade of life is actually an exciting thing for me, so hey…I guess I’ve got to be failing somewhere or I’d have nowhere left to grow.

The funny thing is that I struggle with praise almost more than I struggle with criticism.  When others criticize my failures, I find myself agreeing with them most of the time.  It’s not like I don’t know where I have failed.  But when they praise me, I feel…

Terrified.

There. I said it.  When other’s praise me, I am terrified that I am not who they think I am. I fear that I am much less than they say I am; I fear that they will trust in my skill and my fidelity and that I will fail them terribly.

I guess that’s because I’ve had people trust me before and I’ve failed them so badly.  I can tell you each and every person I’ve failed because I never let myself forget.  NO…I’m not saying that I don’t forgive myself for being frail and human and incapable.  I just try to remember where my weak points are and how I have failed others in the past, because the past is a great predictor of the future, and I want to do so much better next time.

So why does praise terrify me so much?   Honestly, I don’t know.

I could say that it’s fear of failure or an acute awareness of my own frailties.  Maybe I still don’t have enough self-esteem, but honestly, I doubt that.  I know what I’m worth, and I know what I am good at.

I think the truth is that I struggle to accept how much impact I have on the lives of others.  It’s so much easier to believe that I could fall off the face of the earth and only the people who love me would notice.

I think I struggle to trust in my own worth because my creation is much more magnificent than I can understand, and my potential is so much greater than I am willing to believe.

I truly believe that God created each of us with the seed of greatness already planted inside of us.  I guess that I just want to believe that my seed is smaller than yours and therefore so much less meaningful then yours.  It’s easier for me to see what you are worth and why you have that worth than to actually step back from myself and admit that I have the ability to do great things over and over and maybe even the ability to make a difference.

I think that I struggle…just like everyone else does…with what I’m capable of, and I mean that in all the best ways. And so I’ve come to believe that everyone struggles with praise and positive feedback the way that I do.

I think we struggle with the image of Jesus within us because we think we cannot possibly be that kind, loving, and self-giving.  We like to forget that Jesus was also irritable, occasionally wrong, and short tempered. Lest you not believe me, let me remind you that Jesus went a little off the hook, braided a whip out of cords (wow that’s so loving!!) and then turned over tables, screamed, yelled, and beat people while he chased the money changers out of the temples.  Do something like that in the food court at the mall and you WILL get arrested no matter how much you talk about zeal for your Father’s house.  You can zeal all you want and you’re still going to end up in the back of a patrol car.   Jesus may have been sinless, but perfect in all things?  Not so much.

My point is that we think we are so NOT like Jesus, so not loving, and not patient, and in the end, not capable.

Wrong.

You have been created in the image of God Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth.  Jesus Christ dwells within you and guides you with His wisdom.  The Holy Spirit fills you and produces fruit like love, patience, kindness, and humility deep within you when you aren’t looking. Don’t be surprised when other’s see the fruit of the Holy Spirit growing in you before you can see it in yourself.

Give your life over the One who created you and you will discover that your potential is limitless. Your worth is beyond measure. Everything you are is all that God intended you to be and nothing about you is a mistake.

Maybe it’s time to start listening to what other people say about you…and believe them.  Not because I want you to become a people-pleaser, fearful of angering those whose approval you seek, but because there is no way to step outside yourself and objectively see all that you have become in the Father’s hands.

Maybe it’s time to start listening to what other people say about you so that you will understand just what good you are capable of, what potential the Lord has given you, and the exact ways that you reflect the image of God.  You have an impact on others and you should know what it is.  Let them tell you.

What other people think about you still isn’t your business, but it might be your resume.

American Dream To Me

Have you been on Facebook lately? Watched the news much? Listened to talk radio?

If you have, you might just be thinking that the American Dream is coming to an end, that the US has become one giant mess of racial division and hatred. And there is plenty of evidence to support that worldview, except for one thing: it’s not true.

I used to have a professor in seminary who would say “Everything you see and hear confirms your fears, and your fears are still not true.” It took me a long time to understand his statement, but he’s right.

Just because you hear all about on every news source you turn to doesn’t make it true. I’m going to say that again: just because you hear about divisiveness and hatred every day on TV doesn’t mean that this nation is consumed with racial divisiveness and hatred.

Pay attention: THE NEWS DOES NOT REPORT ON WHAT IS GOING RIGHT IN THE WORLD–mostly because that’s kind of boring. News programs report on crime, violence, economic problems, and worldwide concerns. Sure they’ll throw in the occasional human interest story that will make you feel good, but most of the time in any news show is dedicated to reporting what is going wrong in the world.

If you focus on what’s wrong for very long, it will seem like what’s wrong is all there is to focus on.

Everything you see and hear confirms your fears and your fears are still not true. So let me drop some truth on you:

Anyone who tells you that America is rife with division and hatred is lying.

WE ARE MORE UNITED THAN WE REALIZE.

The truth is that you don’t care what ethnicity your neighbor is or what their religion is, as long as they maintain their home and help you create a safe neighborhood for the children to play in.

You don’t care what country or state they came from as long as they will sit next to you at the PTA meeting and work to increase the quality of the schools.

It doesn’t matter what strange foods they eat or how they dress as long as they will help you set up the Halloween Festival in the park in your neighborhood…if they will sit next to you and smile at the children’s costumes…if they will help you with the clean-up afterwards.

You don’t care what your neighbor earns or where they work.

You don’t care who they love or who they choose as their partner, as long as they are private in their lovemaking. (Praise the Lord…I don’t want to see anyone getting their freak on.)

You don’t care what they drive. You don’t care who they vote for. You don’t care what TV shows they watch or what music they listen to…as long as they don’t play it so loud that you are forced to listen to it.

In the end, all you really want is for the person who lives next door to be a GOOD NEIGHBOR…so that you can be a good neighbor towards them and together you can build a safe neighborhood for everyone to live in. All our differences are meaningless when we are kind to each other…once that’s taken care of, what matters is what we have in common.

And we have more in common than we realize. We all want a safe place to raise our children; a good job so we can support our family; enough money to save for our future; and a community that stands together for the good of all. And the things that make us happy are the same: a loving partner, a cozy home, good friends, and occasionally a barbecue and a beer so that we can sit back and enjoy how good life is.

The things we have in common are so much bigger than the differences that supposedly divide us.

And of course, you will always be able to find people who are only in it for themselves, who don’t care about being a good neighbor or a good person. People who are willing to let the public support them; who don’t care about their property; someone who makes things harder for everyone around them. Those people will always exist and you are free let them ruin your ability to believe that we are best when we are united, but I don’t recommend it.

America is not about the red, white, and blue. America is about the black, white, brown, red, and yellow. America is not defined by our geographical borders, but by the unity of the American people, which is far bigger than coasts and islands, and transcends skin color, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity.

Anyone who tells you that you are living in a country that is divided is LYING. Our unity is bigger than our diversity. It is entirely possible that we are able to be unified because of our diversity, since the American Dream is based in the idea that anyone can succeed in this country if they are willing to work hard enough—anyone, regardless of color, gender, or sexual persuasion. We do love our success stories in this country, and we hold up those successes like beacons of promise to remind us that our goal is to be an equal opportunity nation. It’s no wonder why so many people are trying to immigrate into our nation. And while we may not truly have achieved the equality we seek for all persons, we are still striving for it. We are still working to end discrimination, still striving to recognize the areas where our biases create invisible walls that prevent others from achieving their dreams, discovering that even unknown privilege is a problem.

In the United States of America, we have ideals that are far higher than our actual achievements and we are still working to reach those ideals.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you that our ideals cannot be achieved. If you are losing hope in those ideals, get out there and work to make those ideals a reality in your community. You are only one person and you may not be able to change a nation, but changing your little corner of the world is a great start.

I like what Joe Biden had to say in his speech at the Democratic National Convention: “We are America, and we OWN the finish line!” Indeed! Now…let’s work to make sure that everyone crosses that finish line in the most spectacular way possible. Sounds like the American Dream to me.

Dear Parent of an Adult Child…PART II

Last week I wrote about dealing with adult children and codependent behaviors.  This week I want to make things a little clearer because it’s hard to change behaviors when you don’t know what you’re aiming to eliminate, and if you don’t have anything healthy to substitute in its place.

Let’s return to our initial example, that of my client and her mom, after my client’s breakup from the unbalanced boyfriend that her mom really liked.  What could mom have done instead that would have been emotionally healthy?

To make this discussion clearer and easier, let’s give these people names:

My client:  Trina               Her mom:  Mabel               Trina’s unbalanced boyfriend: Fred

Let’s break this down (and no, it’s not Hammer Time):

Until a month ago, 22 year-old Trina was living with 23 year-old Fred, who recently moved to the state where his parents live so that he can pursue an externship in his field.  He graduated a year ago and was unable to find an externship in Arizona.  After Fred moved back to his home state, Trina moved back home and is living with 48 year-old Mabel.

About two weeks ago, Trina admitted to herself she wasn’t in love with Fred anymore and broke up with him.  Fred didn’t handle it well, threatening suicide, which freaked Trina out pretty badly.  Not knowing what to do, she asked her mom Mabel for help, and Mabel ended up on the phone with Fred.  Mabel spoke to Fred and couldn’t calm him down.  During the phone conversation, Fred reiterated his desire to commit suicide.

So…what should Mabel do?

Before Fred threatened suicide, the proper response to Fred is listening. Listening is always good. We are always free to be a soft shoulder for someone to cry on, but listening and attempting to fix their problem are not the same thing. For that reason, Mabel should not offer her opinions about what should be happening between Fred and Trina in regard to their relationship.  Letting another adult unload their feelings and struggles to you should be an “in one ear and out the other” kind of moment.  Not that you should forget their concerns, but that you shouldn’t let yourself get emotionally invested in what happens next. If it’s not your life, don’t get emotionally invested.  The best thing that Mabel can do in this situation (if she’s going to talk to Fred at all) is to listen to Fred’s concerns, let him unload, maybe encourage him to express his feelings (some folks have trouble with that), and then listen some more.

Once Fred expressed a desire to commit suicide, everything changed. Always take threats of suicide seriously, and don’t allow yourself to be manipulated by them.  In other words, call 911 and let the police handle the person threatening suicide.  People who are seriously threatening suicide need immediate help, and you are not qualified to determine what constitutes a serious threat of suicide. Even mental health professionals and police officers struggle with that.  Finally, anyone who threatens suicide but isn’t serious about it is using the threat to manipulate you into doing what they want you to do.  Refuse to be manipulated by taking all suicide threats seriously and refusing to intervene except by calling 911.

What would a codependent response look like?

  • Begging Fred not to commit suicide and giving him a list of reasons he should live.
  • Agreeing to talk to Trina and convince her that she shouldn’t break up with Fred.
  • Agreeing to intervene with Trina at all, in any way.
  • Yelling at Fred for being over-emotional and encouraging him to “man up” or “get a grip”.
  • Doing anything other than listening to Fred and calling 911 after he threatened suicide.
  • Getting emotionally invested in the outcome…in other words, getting emotionally involved with what happens after the phone call with Fred ends.

Let’s take a moment to talk about getting emotionally invested in the outcome.  Please note that calling 911 to stop Fred from committing suicide is not ‘getting emotionally invested in the outcome’.  It is an ethical action required to save a life.  You don’t have to be emotionally invested in the outcome in order to care about a stranger enough to call 911.

Getting back to the point: we love our families and friends and of course we will have feelings and emotions about the things that happen to them.  Your daughter gets a promotion and a raise?  You will probably feel happy.  She has a breakup with her husband? You will probably feel sad and anxious about what will happen next.  That’s normal.

What’s not normal is getting emotional at the level you would be emotional if these things were happening to you.  The emotions we feel about our own lives are necessary to help us take action on our own behalf.  So…if our emotions are there to help us take action…what action can we take if the emotions we feel are about someone else’s life?  It can be very hard to restrain yourself when the impulse to act is driven by such strong emotion…and in the attempt to stop ourselves from taking actual action, we often try to emotionally influence the other person to do what we want.  This is called manipulation. The word manipulation is defined by Webster as to “control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously.”  In my counseling practice I define manipulation to my clients as “using emotions or words to try and force other people to do what you want them to do.”  Force?  Dang…that’s a strong word, but that’s exactly what it feels like when someone is manipulating you.  You might think that getting emotionally invested in the outcome is an innocent thing that happens when you have a tender heart or you are a very caring person, but tender hearts don’t force people do things and caring persons don’t attempt to control or influence unfairly or unscrupulously.  If you are actually a caring and tender hearted person, take steps to protect your tender heart and care enough to control yourself (the only thing you actually control) and let others do the same.   We’ll talk about how to protect your tender heart next week.  Wow…it turns out that this codependency and adult children thing is going to take a while to discuss.

Now let’s talk about the furniture.

Fred called Trina and said that he had resigned himself to losing her and needs to move on.  He asked Trina to send him certain items that he left with her when he moved, thinking that she would move to his home state after graduation so they could continue living together. Fred only wanted the smaller items sent to him and was not interested in having Trina ship the furniture to him; those he wanted donated to Goodwill.  Then Fred called Mabel and said pretty much the same thing to her. He requested that his bed and desk be donated to Goodwill because he no longer wanted them and then he told Mabel that he could not bear the idea that Trina might sleep with another man in that bed.

What should Mabel do?

Let’s start with the fact that Mabel doesn’t need to be involved in this at all.  The fact that Fred called her after giving Trina instructions is a clear sign that Fred is up to another act of manipulation.  Remember how we defined that earlier as using words or emotions to try and force other people to do what you want them to do.  Do you get the picture now?

Let me remind you that Trina is a 22 year-old adult.  Other than the moral issue of keeping things that Fred requested be sent to him, Mabel has no reason to interfere with this situation.  She is free to ask Trina if she needs help getting things gathered up and mailed off, just as Mabel might help any other adult who needs to get a large number of items to the UPS store.  But what if Trina refuses to mail Fred his possessions?  That’s a little stickier, but we aren’t talking about criminal activity, just ethically and morally reprehensible actions.  If Trina decides to be unethical, then Mabel is free to share her disappointment and disapproval of Trina’s actions…and then Mabel needs to shut up.  Trina is an adult, and her choice to be moral or ethical is her own.  We don’t go next door to monitor our neighbor and make sure they return all their spouse’s property when they get divorced, and we need to be careful what we say to our adult children for the same reason.  If you disapprove of another adult’s choice, you are free to tell them so, but it is wise to shut up and let it go after you tell them the first time.  Anything more than that is harping and nagging…and a direct attempt to force them to behave according to your will…and that is manipulative and codependent.**

What about the bed and desk?  Fred doesn’t want them…so Trina is free to do whatever she wishes.  If Trina wants to follow Fred’s wishes, she can donate the bed and desk to Goodwill.  If she decides that she needs those items right now, she is free to donate them to herself (after all, Fred has requested that she donate them to charity…he doesn’t need them.)  If Mabel wants to follow through with Trina about that, she may want to ask Trina what she’s going to do…and Mabel is even free to have an opinion about what is the right thing to do. Let’s remember that Fred doesn’t want the bed or the desk.  Now you might think that perhaps Fred was trying to be charitable and would not be okay with Trina keeping those items because of their value.  If Mabel thinks that charity was Fred’s goal then she is free to suggest that Trina donate a certain amount to Goodwill to make up for what Goodwill could have gained by selling those items.  Then again, Mabel might want to tell Trina that she thinks it would be wise to get rid of those items, but no matter what Mabel thinks, it is Trina’s to decide what happens with the bed and the desk. Unless Mabel paid for the bed and the desk (which would make them her property) what happens with them is not her decision and she has no right to force Trina to do anything.  Then again, Trina is an adult…so Mabel never has the right to force Trina to do anything.  She can refuse to let Trina live in her house, but that’s about all the leverage she has when it comes to Trina’s behavior, and it is not okay to threaten to throw someone out of your house just because they won’t do what you tell them to do…that’s manipulative and codependent.  We will deal with adult children in your house who are out of control and have no respect for your boundaries two weeks from now.  Again, this adult children thing is going to take a while to discuss.

Several times in this post and the last, I have said that Mabel needed to ask Trina what Trina wants to do.  This is called respecting the agency of another person. Then again, you can just call it respect, and respect is always a good idea in theory and in practice.

What to take away from this if you want to be healthy:

  • Just listen…don’t fix. When other people are talking to you, listen! Don’t tell them what to do, and don’t attempt to fix their problem unless they ask for your assistance. Listening is kind and loving and lets the person talk through the situation until they come to a better understanding of it.  Telling them what to do or ‘fixing’ things by intervening without their direct request tells them that you think they are too stupid or utterly incapable of handling things on their own.  Just listen…don’t fix.
  • Ask before acting. You are always free to offer assistance, but ask the person what they want from you.  You have no idea what someone else really needs until you ask them, and it is possible any ‘help’ you would offer will be experienced as interference by the person you are trying to help.  Don’t assume you know what someone else needs. Ask before acting.
  • Don’t insert yourself into someone else’s drama. It doesn’t matter if they are your child, your friend, your sibling, or your parents…if the issue is theirs, let it stay that way. This includes practicing “in one ear and out the other” listening, as well as not allowing anyone to manipulate you into entering their drama (think: Fred calling Mabel about the bed and desk.) No matter how dire they say their situation is, no matter how upset they are at this moment, you don’t have the answers to someone else’s problems. In the end, all you are doing is creating a mess that will make a great episode of Jerry Springer or Maury Povich. Don’t insert yourself into someone else’s drama.
  • Don’t get emotionally invested in the outcome. I know I said this earlier but it bears repeating.  No one wants to be called controlling or manipulative, but that will be the label you get if you allow yourself to get emotionally invested in the outcome of things you do not actually control.

While we didn’t talk about these specific things in this post, here are two more things crucial to avoiding codependency and manipulative behaviors.

  • Let people screw up and make bad decisions. Essentially, let people fail. Failures can lead to all sorts of good things!  The inventor of vulcanized rubber was trying to do something else entirely and accidentally invented the rubber used in your car tires. Technically, his experiment failed, but I’m betting you’re not going to give your tires back.  You might think that failure is not always so positive in our personal lives, and you would be right. Failure is not always positive and good things don’t always come from failure.  On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that you can list quite a few failures in your own life right now as you read this…and you are still here, breathing, reading, and learning. Apparently, failure isn’t fatal.  So don’t freak out when someone you love makes a choice that you fear will lead to epic failure.  You are always free to tell them that you don’t think they’re being wise, but don’t try to stop them. Failure is often the doorway to great things and it always leads to learning important lessons. Let people screw up and made bad decisions. Let people fail.
  • Don’t save people from the consequences of their own bad actions and failures. This one is hard.  When you love someone, you don’t want them to suffer…but sometimes suffering is exactly what we need to cause us to change.  Consequences are our best teacher!  And it is really uncomfortable watching someone go through the consequences of a DUI, or of an affair, or of a failed marriage.  It is going to cause you pain to watch this person you love experience their consequences…and if you love them, you will suck it up and feel the pain—both yours and theirs.  If you love them, you will let them learn this lesson this time so they don’t have to go through this twice…or three times…or more.  Far worse than suffering through this pain with them this once would be suffering through it with them two or more times because you prevented them from feeling the pain the first time.  Don’t save people from the consequences of their own bad actions and failures.

Next week I am going to address the issue of being tender hearted.  Remember that a huge part of codependency is being unable to deal with emotions that other people’s actions cause you.  It is really hard sitting back and watching your child make a foolish decision with their life or their career.  It is painful to watch your sibling deal with the consequences of their DUI.  In general, the behavior of our friends and family can cause us to feel overwhelming amounts of anxiety, pain, shame, and anger…and what do you do with all those feelings?  Let’s discuss that next week, because dealing with the feelings was the hardest part for me to conquer, and it was the key to ending my own codependent and manipulative behavior.

**If you are having problems with letting an immoral / unethical person live in your house, please see last week’s post for a short comment, and then come back for the next two week’s posts.  I promise that we’ll work our way through the whole thing before we’re done.

Dear Parent of an Adult Child…

Every parent eventually ends up as the parent of adult children.  You know, those little guys grow up and become big guys.  One minute they are smearing chocolate frosting all over their toddler face and then BAM! Out of nowhere, your little boy is a man or your little girl grows into a beautiful woman.

And for some parents, this is the moment when they rejoice.  Done!  Completed!  Empty nest and all that!  I totally get the joy of that moment and how much fun it is to be able to put yourself and your spouse as the top priorities in the household. Being an empty nester is quite a lot of fun…if you know how to let your kids be adults.

Let me give you an example: Monday morning my oldest daughter Alex walked out of her condo to her car and found the remnants of a ‘smash and grab’.  Her driver’s side window was shattered. Her pack of cigarettes and a bag of clothes were missing. Her passenger side window was no longer functional.  This is no way to start your Monday morning.

You can guess what happened next: she called her mom and dad and asked what to do.  We encouraged her to call State Farm immediately and let her know that she’d probably have to file a police report.  Then we told her to keep us informed about what happened and then we hung up the phone.  You have no idea how hard it was for me to not cancel all my clients for the day and help my daughter handle her disaster…but I didn’t.  I told her that I was available if she needed me and then I hung up the phone.  Her father also went to work, but encouraged Alex to call or text if she needed him.

What’s the big deal, you ask?

Well, Alex called at 8am…and at 11am I had an appointment with a 22 year-old client of mine who recently broke up with her boyfriend.  Since the breakup, this young man has threatened suicide, driven from another state to show up at her front door unannounced and unwelcome, feigned amnesia so that he could deny the breakup, posted unreasonable requests and private information on her social media pages to cause humiliation and drama, and finally attempted suicide just last week.  Clearly this young man is unbalanced, and you’d think my client would be beside herself just trying to deal with the results of the breakup.

Nope.

She’s in my office overwhelmed and crying because her mother keeps interfering in the breakup, taking sides with the young man and yelling at her daughter for all the distress she’s caused him and stating that she knew her daughter would ‘screw up’ the relationship.  The fact that her daughter doesn’t love the young man anymore apparently doesn’t figure into the equation.

That’s right: her mother wants her to stay with the unbalanced young man even though she doesn’t love him anymore!  But that’s not all:

Mom takes calls from the young man and has interfered in the splitting up of property her daughter and this young man owned while living together, leaving her daughter with no bed and no desk simply because they young man requested that the furniture that he no longer wanted be donated to Goodwill…even though my client would have no bed otherwise.

Now…mom is free to think that her daughter has made a mistake in breaking up with this young man.  Mom is free to mourn the fact that she thought her daughter had finally found the one and let him get away.  Mom is even free to tell her daughter that she thinks her daughter is making a huge mistake that she will deeply regret later.

But all that interference?  Really?

Imagine if my client was 42 instead of 22.  Imagine she lived next door to the woman who is actually her mother, and imagine that they are not related but simply neighbors.

Would you view the mother’s behavior differently if I told you that she took calls from her neighbor’s ex-boyfriend and then went next door and yelled at her neighbor, swearing that she knew her neighbor would ‘screw up’ the relationship? Would it be inappropriate if she went next door and demanded that her neighbor get rid of her bed just because the ex-boyfriend didn’t want her to keep it—and then hauled the bed out the door to take it to Goodwill?

Can you hear the police sirens yet?

Long about the moment that mom showed up at her neighbor’s house to verbally harangue her neighbor, things would have gotten problematic.  Forcing her neighbor to get rid of furniture? That’s where the police show up.

Remember: this furniture doesn’t belong to mom.  She didn’t buy it.  So she has no right to decide what happens with this furniture.  And this young man is not requesting that the furniture be shipped to where he is living. He wanted the furniture donated to Goodwill—except that if he actually doesn’t want the furniture, why should he care whether his ex-girlfriend keeps it or donates it?  What business is it of his what happens to things he no longer wants?

Why am I detailing this mess for you?

Simple.

Listen closely, parents.  When your children are adults, you need to remember that healthy adults do not allow random outside people to interfere in their relationships or with their possessions or in their decisions.  Adults like to be allowed to decide what is best for themselves.

This is true for your children!  Once your children turn 18, they are adults.  I know that 18 isn’t very old, and that they may still be living with you, but by law your 18 year old child is an ADULT.  This means that you have to allow them autonomy in making decisions about their own life and their own possessions (and if you are supplying their furniture, car, etc…those are not their possessions. They are your possessions that you are letting them use temporarily.  Your child owns something when they buy it for themselves or you put the object in their name, i.e. a car.)

If you wouldn’t do it to your neighbor…if you wouldn’t speak those words to your neighbor…if you wouldn’t take that action with your neighbor…DON’T DO IT WITH YOUR ADULT CHILD.

Please understand: it’s your house, and if they are living in it, they are like any adult living in the house.  The owner of the house determines what behaviors are acceptable in the house…behavior outside the house is none of your business unless it’s criminal.  And when I say criminal I mean against the law, not outside of your moral code.

Seriously, I spend more time in my office trying to get people to stop inappropriately interfering with other people.  The funny thing is that no one comes in my office and says to me “Today I inappropriately interfered with my spouse/child/sister/mom by …blah blah blah.”  Nope, they come in and say things like:

“I just don’t want him to feel bad so I told him that he can come by the house anytime, even though we’re divorcing.  I just don’t want him to feel alone. And then he goes off on me because I changed the living room!”

I just don’t want him to feel…   Stop right there. What do you mean that you don’t want someone to feel?  That’s strange. Do you want someone telling you how to feel? Do you want someone attempting to control your emotions? What if you need those feelings to help you move on? To help you get over the loss?

This is not merciful. It is attempting to control another person’s experience emotionally, and it is unhealthy and unwise.  It is also codependent.

“If she doesn’t go to school now she’s not going to be able to do it later.  She’ll end up married and having kids and then she’ll never get an education.  She has to go to college now while she’s young.”

She has to (do this thing I want her to do)…  Stop right there.  What do you mean that you know what is the best course of action for this person?  That’s strange. You can’t possibly know what is best for another person because you can’t accurately predict the outcome of this decision.  Do you want someone else making major decisions for your life? Do you want to be forced into certain actions and choices by a third party that doesn’t have to carry the burden of that action/choice?

This isn’t wisdom.  It is attempting to control another person’s life journey, and it is unhealthy and unwise. It is also codependent.

“He can’t divorce her. She’s the best he’s ever had and he isn’t going to find anyone else to put up with his crap.  If he divorces her, he’ll end up alone for the rest of his life. Besides, the whole family loves her!”

He can’t divorce…  Stop right there.  Do you really want him to stay with someone that he doesn’t love? Do you really want them together if they fight constantly?  That can’t be good for anyone in the relationship.  Do you want someone else choosing your life partner? Do you want to be forced to stay in a loveless marriage? And if you know so much about what’s right for the relationship, why didn’t you step in and help them before they got to the point where they want to divorce?  Maybe you don’t know so much after all.

This isn’t helpful. It’s requesting that someone else remain miserable so that you don’t have to endure loss or discomfort or shame or whatever. This isn’t you knowing what’s best for them, it’s you wanting to do what is most comfortable for you.

And that’s what codependency comes down to over and over.  The codependent person/parent wants to be comfortable, pain-free, and anxiety-free.  And in order for that to happen, the adult child/other person has to make sure that they don’t do anything that makes the codependent person/parent uncomfortable, sad, disappointed, anxious, fearful, sorrowful, frightened, frustrated, or angry.  Dear God!  How the heck is anyone supposed to control their behavior sufficiently to prevent another person from feeling anything uncomfortable?

It’s not possible. That’s the whole point.  And attempting to do so…is codependent in and of itself.

Life is uncomfortable.  Life is filled with things that make us anxious and fearful.  Life is also filled with things that are exhilarating and surprising…and if you ever want exhilaration or surprise, you are going to have to endure some anxiety and fear.  Do you see my point?  All the negative emotions have their positive counterpart, and getting to that positive counterpart usually involves enduring a certain amount of the negative.  You can’t fall in love without enduring the uncertainty and fear that you will not be loved back. You can’t have a child without enduring the discomfort of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth. You can’t raise a child to adulthood without a few sleepless nights…okay, a lot of sleepless nights…and tears, and fears, and anxiety, and anger, and sorrow.  But let’s admit it: raising children is worth everything you go through because the joy and love you get back from those children is stunning and powerful and one of the most amazing things you’ve ever experienced.  In other words the gain is worth the pain.

Please, for the love of God, if you are a parent, stop acting in codependent ways with your adult children. If you are behaving like this with others who you love but who aren’t your children, stop! Stop interfering in their decisions, in their emotions, and in their actions.  Give them the same respect and autonomy that you want to have in this world.  And when you think they’re being stupid or doing the wrong thing, tell them honestly and directly how you feel ONCE…and only once, and then shut up about it.

Being healthy is hard work but it is worth all the effort that you’ll put into it.  Emotional health is no different than physical health, in that it pays off in the best ways when things are the most difficult.  I promise that I’ll be saying more about this next week, and I’ll even have some examples about how you practice emotional health, especially with adult friends and family members.

The Once and Future King of America

Psalm 47
Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy. For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth. He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet. He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves.  God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm. God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.

Ephesians 1:15-23
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

I was stunned this week when both John Kasich and Ted Cruz pulled out of the race for the Republican candidate for president; suddenly I felt my choices had been removed from me and I was faced with a very limited and unsatisfactory set of choices.  I was, in a word, incredibly disappointed.

I get really caught up in this political stuff. It is easy to think of the presidential elections as some sort of barometer for the nation.  I recently saw a post on Facebook targeted at my age group (sort of).  It had to do with my generation’s opinion of the presidential candidates.  I suppose I should explain the generational thing first. I was born in 1964, and technically my birth year falls in the sociological cohort of the Baby Boomers.  You might notice that I refer to science when I describe the ‘group’ that I belong in, because while sociology might identify my birth year as placing me in the generation of the Baby Boomers, I don’t quite relate to the Baby Boomers.

Part of the problem for me is that my mother was born in the very first year of the baby boom: 1947.  She married young and immediately became pregnant, so my birth year falls inside the set of years defined by Sociologists as the Baby Boomer Generation.  However, I don’t really identify with the Baby Boomers, mostly because I needed something to rebel against as a teenager, and that something is my mother and father.  My father was born in 1941, the generation preceding the baby boom, and my mother was born in 1947…as I said, the first year of the Baby Boomer children.  If I am going to successfully rebel, I can’t be a Baby Boomer!  So I fall into that nebulous group loosely termed the Baby Busters—kids born from 1962 to 1981, a generation too young to be Baby Boomers and too old to be Slackers.  We’re kind of boring, but at least we aren’t Baby Boomers. (It’s a joke…lighten up!)

Back to the Facebook post. I recently saw a post of Facebook targeted at my age group (sort of) and it was titled ‘Stop Scaring The Children!!’  The post was a video of Andy Stanley, the pastor of North Point Community Church, preaching to his congregation. Andy Stanley was reminding the older adults of his congregation (mainly Baby Boomers and Busters like myself) to lighten up when it came to the election; he wanted us to stop making dire predictions about the end of American culture as we know it, to stop predicting the rise of American facism.  Andy wanted us to stop declaring candidates like Trump, Clinton, or Sanders as ‘the destruction of everything America stands for!’

I have to admit that Andy Stanley a point.

I am terrified of what a Trump presidency could do to our nation. I fear that a Clinton presidency would be another eight years of lots of promises and not enough change, and I fear that a Sanders presidency would be fiscally unfeasible.  I am faced with choices that I don’t want to make, and no option seems like the right one.  My children’s futures depend on my choice, on my husband’s choice…and we don’t appear to have any good choices when it comes to our presidential candidate.  This is not a comfortable position to be in, and I fear what will happen in the next four to eight years—crucial years for my children who are young adults.

And yet…

When I read the scriptures for today I am reminded to lighten up.  I need to seriously lighten up!

Our nation has faced a civil war, two world wars, two wars overseas that had to do with the rise of Communism, the threat of nuclear war, three more wars overseas that had to do with the rise of extremism and terrorism, the threat of terrorist attacks and insurgence, and the ugly specter of racism, sexism, and fascism… and most of the wars I listed happened after 1940!  As a nation, we have been beset by threats on every side.

And yet we stand, strong and proud, free and brave, American to the very core.

Just one look at today’s scriptures makes it clear.

“For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth…He chose our heritage for us…Sing praises to God, sing praises…For God is the king of all the earth…God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne…for the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.”   Psalm 47

“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe…God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.    Ephesians 1:17-21

What am I so afraid of?

I keep forgetting that although my nation might go astray and do stupid things, I still have the power to follow Christ!  I still have the power to do those things that bring glory to God and grace and mercy to the people I serve.  Nothing can stop God’s power!  Nothing can stop God from extending His mercy and provision to those who are in need if I am willing to serve Him as He calls me.  In the end, all my fears of what will happen in this presidential cycle boil down to me forgetting that nothing can stop the people of God from serving God. There is no one that we can elect who can stop us from feeding and clothing the poor, from building houses and clinics, from reaching out to the homeless and the prisoner, from doing the work of God in the name of Jesus Christ.

No matter what person…or idiot…the American people might elect to the highest office in our land, God alone is King.  God alone leads this nation to do what is right, and if (or when) our elected officials stop listening to God’s guidance, nothing stops the people of God from soldiering onward, even if it is in the face of political opposition.

The people of God have nothing to fear. Nothing at all! Andy Stanley is right—we need to stop scaring the children. We need to stop telling them to fear who is elected, and start telling them to serve the one and only King of all that exists: God Almighty.  If God is our King and we follow His will, nothing can derail us, destroy us, or bring us down.

Our God is King.  Follow the King.