What snow berms taught me about Holy Week

My husband and our Buffalo city pastor were having a conversation yesterday about the berms of snow finally melting. Steve, the pastor, told David that one thing he had to get used to when he moved from California was all the foulness revealed as the white beautiful snow began to melt. This is not the kind of image that the awakening of spring normally brings to mind. Yes, these berms are filthy right now as they melt away: ugly mounds of black, gritty toxic-looking snow mounds of street debris and animal foulness. They once were white, pristine-looking, snow-covered Olympic mountain range miniatures but now…….

west juneau snow berms_cropped

SRX_berm_city__t470Spring is coming but now there is that awkward in-between stage.  What was white and pristine now is revealing the ugly.

The celebration of the resurrection of Christ is coming.  A celebration of the victory not only over death but a victory over all that is debased, decayed and disgraced.  But the resurrection of Christ means nothing without that painfully tragic and awkward crucifixion.  The Passion Week signaled the end of Jesus’ humble presence on earth with his teaching, empathy, miracles and wonders…snow covered glistening mounds of purity and beauty.   There was great judgment, yes indeed.   Pure white mounds of snow burned away to reveal dark toxins that had been transferred from us to Him.  And then after that awkward, tragic, ugly time came spring in all its glory.  The Resurrection.

What is my part in all this?  I have a choice. I can deny the ugly with well-crafted exteriors of looks, clothes, charm, sharp intellect, sardonic wit and nice helpful manners, or….. I can acknowledge the foulness not just in my world but in me. I don’t have to be timid or offended at such an image or accusation. I can own it, admit it, confess it and look to the crucifixion for my forgiveness and its meaning of love and then finally be greatly relieved and forever thankful at so great a salvation as Christ’s resurrection promise. This life is not all there is. Thank God! I mean it!  For this is great news if this life has disappointed with its hurt, loss and misery which is by far most of this world’s experience.  He is risen indeed. And so what does that mean for me? What does this grand biblical narrative have to do with me? If I believe it to be true historically and spiritually then it means freedom – freedom from having to pretend.children laughing in fields

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,

The sun forbear to shine

But God, Who called me here below,

Will be forever mine.

– Chris Tomlin, Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)W

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Jesus, the Crying Judge

15 + 6 = 17_revOn March 15, 2015 the Buffalo News published a story about an arranged Indian wedding that ended with the bride walking away from the wedding festivities before the final pronouncement of marriage. Her reason? The groom could not correctly answer the question: “What is 15 plus 6?” When he replied 17 she called off the marriage.  She judged him as uneducated and there was no convincing her otherwise. The bride’s family came to her defense and accused the groom’s family of misleading them regarding their son’s educational status.  According to the local police, who were called by the groom’s family, the incident caused ‘quite a flutter.’  Matters were finally settled when the respective families returned the gifts and jewelry exchanged prior to the wedding.

Both funny and sad, this story is fascinating with its layers of cultural and societal expectations gone awry.  It is an eastern drama that leave us westerners bemused and confused.  Or does it?  If we distill this story down to one of humanity’s basic concepts we should not be surprised by such an outcome.  There is judgment and there are tests to pass in this world in every time and in every place under the sun. Judgement is part and parcel of our interactions with each other despite our modern protests of “don’t judge me,” “don’t judge me,” and “don’t judge me”.  “You don’t have the right to judge me.”  We know how the refrain goes because each of us have either said it, felt it, or been accused of it.

So, does anyone have a right to judge?  And a related question: If someone has the right to judge does it follow that there will there be a judgement day? I think so and apparently Jesus cried out about it. Text reference can be found in the Gospel of John, chapter 12, verses 44-50

If you have been a follower of my blog it will come as no surprise that I am impressed with the articulation of faith and culture presented by the pastor and writer, Tim Keller. I credit his book, “Walking with God in Pain and Suffering, “ as instrumental in helping me through an intensive 9-month cancer treatment last year.  Recently, I have been listening to podcasts of Keller’s sermons from his six thousand member church in Manhattan.  One message, given on February 18, 2015, called, “Accepting the Judge,” I found very provocative as he explained the need for judgement.  To tease you into listening I offer the first two of four propositions that he makes.  Here are the first two: 1) Why we need a judgement day; 2) Why we can’t have a judgement day.  If I listed propositions 3 & 4 they would spoil the sermon for you so listen to the podcast here.  (Click podcast on lower left of the page.)

Post script:  After listening to the podcast I would appreciate your comments.  I won’t publish them but would like to work them into future posts.

Confessional post script: I first wrote this post with the following: “The groom could not correctly answer the question, what is 12 plus 5?  He answered 17 and then she walked out of the wedding ceremony.”  I caught my error before I posted.  I’m grateful the only question asked me at my wedding was, “Do you take this man to be your husband?”

Power and Tears: Part 2

Reflections on the story in John 11 (read previous post for context)

Why did Jesus cry over the death of Lazarus if he knew he was going to use his power to change the natural order( resurrect Lazarus from death) and restore joy to his friends?tears 2

Simply – He cried because his friends were crying.  He became fully present with their suffering. He was not thinking of their future (what he was going to do for them in the next few minutes) nor was he thinking of his own future which was soon to take a dark painful course.

Nor did He feel a need to defend his actions when Mary, the sisterJesus cried of courseaccused of him of insensitivity or procrastination. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (vs. 11). Absent in Jesus was any need to defend his actions even in the midst of laments that if he had come sooner the dire situation would be different. He stayed present.  His friends were grieving and that sadness affected Jesus with empathetic sadness.

Empathy – We may be born with the capacity to empathize but nurture plays a profound role.  We must be taught and modeled the experience of feeling another person’s pain. When people lack empathy we, in the mental health profession, assume, a childhood of abuse and/or neglect or a disorder. We assume that they were never the recipients of empathy nor had it modeled for them by the significant relationships in their lives. We recognize that something is off.

A story of parenting small children:  I was at a playground with my grandsons observing small children and their parents. One man’s daughter fell and cried loudly. The father gently examined her and lovingly reassured her of his presence and his sympathy for her pain.  Another parent noticed the situation and looked on. The child with her tried to reengage her in what he was doing – building a sand castle. I heard the following:  “I will look at what you are doing in a moment but right now I feel sad about that little girl who got hurt so I want to look at her.  Let’s look at her together for a few seconds… (Pause)  She seems comforted; so now show me what you were doing.”

If that intentional modeling continues to be that mother’s practice, the child will catch it and develop capacity for empathy.

But what about those who have been deprived of empathy at vulnerable stages of development? There is hope.  God’s gift of community – godly loving spaces for transformation interfacing with malleable brains is one such place of hope. Brains can be rewired over time through strong emotional connections to develop empathy. The church with all its warts and imperfections is still the functional body of Christ.  It provides opportunities for loving interactions with others that include  listening with empathy  to people’s messed up stories.  According to Curt Thompson, author of Anatomy of the Soul, it is within this context that people who have been formerly deprived of loving attachments begin to sense what an attachment to God feels like thereby understanding God’s grace for them and for others.

Andy (a man in his early 40’s) was a child that had to raise himself.  Without going into detail, anybody hearing his story would label his childhood as harsh and neglectful. Attachments to stable caregivers were absent; normally the harbinger of a distrustful adult. However, there were times when he took advantage of caring interactions. He described living for a brief time in a neighborhood where buses destined for Vacation Bible School and church services would pick up children who wanted to go.  He was one of them. There was a kind neighbor who noticed his loneliness and neglect.  Andy began to sense there was a God who loved.  “I would hear stories in church and something exploded in me about God and it was beautiful.”  However later,  Andy would go down a path as a teenager and young adult that would lead to drug addiction and a stint in jail.

Andy told me, “When released from jail, I did not know what to do with my life. Eventually, I took a woman’s advice and enrolled in a Christian program called ‘Teen Challenge’ (a ministry dedicated to the transformation of young people with substance abuse.) Through their accountability and structured program of prayer, chapel, work, prayer, chapel, prayer, fellowship, counseling, I found myself wanting to know as much as I could about God.”

Andy attended a bible college for a period and did mission work in Asia.  Today he serves others through an urban ministry.  A man full of empathy and warmth, Andy humbly says, “Sometimes being a Christian is the best thing, sometimes it is the hardest thing, but it is the only thing for me.”

Jesus cried. Of course he did.  This powerful empathic being carried empathy where no man or woman has ever taken it – to a cross of suffering for us. Many before and after him have spoken “truth to power”; but He and only He spoke “God’s power into God’s Love.”

Post script:  Tears are filled with the presence of stress chemicals and hormones.

Post script: Tears are a functional way of getting cortisol and other stress hormones from inside us to outside us.  Have you ever wondered why you have felt slightly better after having a good cry? God blesses tears on this side of heaven but there will come a time when he will wipe every one of them away. Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away.”

end of times

Power and Tears-Part 1

Have you ever wondered why Jesus cried?

tears 2

The account of Jesus crying can be found in the 11th chapter of the Gospel of John and worth your time to read.   I will summarize: Jesus had some dear friends named Mary, Martha and Lazarus. They were adult siblings who were very close to each other and to Jesus. (Yes, Jesus loves everyone but the gospel story makes it clear that these siblings had a special closeness and attachment to Jesus and he to them.)  As it turns out Lazarus had been ill.  Jesus had been petitioned by his friends to come to Lazarus quickly and possibly heal him. But Jesus did not come quickly. In fact, he seemed to take a leisurely pace to their home in Bethany.  By the time Jesus reached Bethany, Lazarus had been dead 4 days. As Jesus neared the home he was accosted by the overwhelming grief and disappointment of Lazarus’ sisters.

Next comes the shortest sentence in the English translated Bible: “Jesus cried.”  We don’t know for how long. The biblical text does not say.  But stop and imagine that Jesus cried for ten minutes or longer. Stay with that image (Jesus crying) for a while before you move on to the climax of the story and take notice of your feelings and thoughts.

The Biblical writer was understandably excited to move on to the real action, the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus’ display of sadness gave way to an unearthly power that shook the grip of sin and death right out of the grave of immutable realities.  A shouted command by Jesus was all it took for Lazarus to be resurrected from the dead.  Lazarus was made alive. Stunned joy and amazement was not the reaction of all the bystanders, however. The narrative explains that some would believe in Jesus by this supernatural miracle but others in power would feel threatened. (The powerful can feel threatened by the more powerful.  Our human history exposes us humans as naturally being guarded and fearful, predisposed to self-defense and self-interest.  Embedded in empathy is vulnerability – the capacity and willingness to be hurt; a risk that the powerful generally don’t take.)  Jesus’ display of power provoked by love would be costly to him.  He would pay for it with his life as seeds of sedition began to take root around him as some would begin a plot to have him killed.  The next chapters of this story would reveal a Jesus who would consciously constrain his power in favor of the ultimate sacrificial display of love, empathy and vulnerability.

But why did Jesus cry?

Read next week’s blog post.

5 shades of Grey

Disclosure: I am an American so in protest I won’t be spelling the color gray, “grey” even though I lived two wonderful years in the UK having my accent and vocab critiqued dozens of times, albeit deserving.

Confession: I have not read the book (you know the one I’m writing about) or seen the movie of the same name but I have read a bunch of reviews so I’m somewhat an authority.  Well, not the kind of authority you are thinking about.  I’m an authority on opinions.

Disclaimer: If you came to this site because you were hoping for a titillating take or review on the most important news of the century (based on the media and social network frenzy) then you are going to be big time disappointed.

Plot spoiler: I will be commenting on my hair which is coming in after chemo in 5 different shades of gray!!! Yes, can you believe it?   So, as it turns out, my blog topic is less superficial than the “buzz” about 50 Shades of Grey SHoG because studies have shown that women think about hair every 18 seconds or am I confusing that statistic with something to do with men.

I am Christian Grey. No, wait a minute, I got a little confused (chemo brain). I am a gray Christian. I didn’t used to be either one.  I went from natural brown to fake brown without anyone noticing – not even me; that shows how committed I was to the bottle. Clairol was my favorite brand and the cheapest. I never got help – I didn’t want to pay for it. So, I handled the pain of aging hair the only way I knew how – coloring it myself and it showed. I would characterize my Christian conversion differently, thankfully.

I knew the day would come when I would turn 90 or 100 and not look normal with dark brown hair but I chose not to think about it.  I just could not see how I could make the transition without looking like a skunk.

Chemo came into my life and the hair color dilemma was solved.   So, here I am – 3 and half months post-cancer treatment and sporting 5 shades of very short gray hair.

This is all well and good; but I must note that I get lots of comments that would be considered within the gray area of good manners.  Here are the top five:

  1. “You now look so much like your husband.” David has gray hair but he also has a gray mustache and goatee! Do you know how hard I am working so that doesn’t happen to me?!!
  2. “You look so much better with gray hair”. Gray or Brown – who cares?  Apparently lots of people based on the comments I am getting.  Less occasionally I get, “Hmm…you look fine now but you looked better with brown hair”.   Social tip:  whatever the color bring on the compliments without the comparisons.
  3. “You look so distinguished.” Read, “You are doing the best job you can at your age.”
  4. “Why do women talk about their hair so much?” Comments like this come from men like my husband. I see right through this one. Men are thinking about hair as much as women. They just aren’t talking about it and if they did it would not be about the shade but whether they are losing it.  Maybe women talk more about their hair because they generally have more of it than men at this age to actually talk about.poodle
  5. Patting my head, while saying “It’s so cute and fluffy.” I feel like a poodle. My husband is the main perpetrator.

Over all I am happy with my 5 shades of Gray. I don’t need 50.  I am liking Gray . He, I mean, It makes me feel mature, wise and honored as I visibly wear my wealth of experience with life and love.

One Journey, Two People: Part 4

David’s story continues:

“I have reached a point in my life where what I know about God and my Christian world view is not adequately addressing a growing discontent and sense of unease.  I’m coming up short.  This is not to say that I am ready to jettison my core beliefs; far from it.  Who wants to live in a house built on shifting sand?  And it is not that I don’t see Christ working in this world and even in myself.  But I’m beginning to see that a relationship with God based exclusively on facts and reason is contributing to a sense of isolation.  When I was young, ambitious and things were going well I thought myself as living a reasonably authentic life based on rational beliefs. I may have been naive. I am both an emotional and rational being.  Reason and belief alone might not be enough to ‘finish well.’  I suppose it was inevitable that God would see to it that I reached this point.” And, finally, I’ll need to get past my reluctance to navel-gaze.  As Socrates was reported to say, ‘The un-examined life is not worth living.’

brain and heart cARTOON

So, David and I – a very willing co-traveler – are carefully working through a second book.  The first, ‘Walking with God through Pain and Suffering’ by Tim Keller, was read through my 9 months of cancer therapy.  The second book, ‘Anatomy of the Soul’ by the Christian psychiatrist Curt Thompson takes a different but equally well-grounded approach in addressing suffering, longing and discontent.  I suspect that Thompson’s approach will move David significantly outside his comfort zone.

Anatomy of the Soul provides some interesting information about our neuro-biology and spiritual practices, including our interaction with scripture and connections with other people. The book also provides practical exercises to assist in our movement to a better integration of soul and mind as we venture into the territory of being known- “one of God’s passions for us”.brain 2

“Transformation requires a collaborative interaction, with one person emphatically listening and responding to the other so that the speaker has the experience, perhaps for the first time, of “feeling felt” by another. The interpersonal interaction exposes these functions of the mind and facilitates the integration of various layers of neural structures and brain systems, which in turn creates new neural networks.” Curt Thompson.

Thompson explains that God is at work here. He created our brains and wants our story to intersect with His. When we allow this to happen we move into deeper security, joy and confidence in knowing we are loved by God. From this place of really knowing we are loved by God we are more inclined to bring about the changes in our world that reflect ‘God’s Kingdom here on earth as it in heaven’.

(However,) “God never connects with us simply to make us feel safe or loved.  His transformation always includes a command (a word against which our tendency is to rail) to follow him to the remaining places within ourselves and the world where darkness, cruelty, injustice, and rebellion persist.  He invites us to go into deeper places within ourselves and within the world, both ventures requiring a greater degree of faith, hope and love.” Curt Thompson

It is here that I think David is going to be helped most. My cancer may not have started his angst but it certainly added to it.   His feeling of inadequacy in always being my comforter brought out some deeper stuff. The kind of stuff that our brains are designed to shield us from or expose in us, depending on what is at stake. Our brains, amazing organs of human and divine connection, were created by a God who delights in being known by us as well as delighting in knowing us.  Telling the stories of our lives connects the different parts of our brain to assist in creating new neural circuitry of peace and understanding.  In addition, telling our stories to trusted individuals not only transforms our minds but also transforms the brains of our listeners.

Aside:  As a mental health therapist I have experienced this listener transformation many times with various clients.  It wasn’t until I read Anatomy of the Soul that I came to appreciate this as a good thing.  Most in the mental health profession caution practitioners to stay objective and secure in their emotional boundaries. This makes sense up to a point but it leaves out something profound and inherent to our shared humanness.

Deborah, eventually started telling her story of neglect and loneliness as a child and teenager. Together we were trying to make sense of the anxiety attacks that were making her life miserable. She humored me as I asked her to tell the story of a very fragile childhood.  She was not sure that it had anything to do with what she was currently dealing with because as she put it, “that was a long time ago and I can’t see the connections to what I am enduring now.  After all, I am a 45 year old woman who has a good marriage, 2 great kids and a strong relationship with the Lord. I just don’t get why I am dealing with this”.  An unexpected emotional collision of unresolved childhood hurt and abandonment with her first child leaving home for college would be the catalyst that brought her to me.  She would later come to see that there was a connection between her insecure childhood and her anxiety attacks The point of this story is not to delve into her issues (Deborah is not her name and I have changed some of the circumstances of her story) but to mention something that happened in the telling of her story that was pivotal in healing.  As she described the abandonment of her mother and the remembered feelings of loneliness, sadness and fear; a picture of my grandson who was the age that this woman was at the time of her story came uninvited to my mind.  My grandson experiences safety, love and support from parents who are deeply devoted to him. Deborah, as a small lonely frightened child, came to my mind immediately following my grandson’s image and without intention my eyes welled up for her. Deborah took notice and as she did, her story became more emotionally experienced.  She was “feeling felt”( a term Thompson uses taken from Dr. Dan Siegel).

and thereby more deeply connected to me.   I, too, was feeling more connected to her and also sensing a more compassionate- me emerging from her story; a compassion that would reach beyond the four walls of my office.

COMPASSION-mindful-happiness

We share a common image bearing status with others, whether they are clients or not.  Made in God’s image we are also invited to know Him and be known (a kind of human and divine (small t) trinity).  Our brains, intricately mysterious organs made by God are somehow structurally altered by our human connections.  There are benefits not only for us but for the world as this knowing frees us to be unencumbered agents of justice and change.

How will David experience “being known by God?” How will I? Knowing things about God won’t necessarily get us there.  Objective truths are important. Language, definitions, classifications, labels and propositions are soaked up by our human brains like sponges.  We are designed for it. But the experience of being known by God and by others does not necessarily come by these ways.  We aren’t just homo-sapiens becaworship God nature sceneuse of pre- frontal cortex superior development. We are also human beings with brains designed to love and be loved.  God our creator is love. Why would he not create our brains with such a grand  design in mind?

One Journey, Two People: Part 3

My two most recent posts set the stage for a conversation with my husband about his baby boomer angst. Read One Journey, Two People: Part 2 and Part 1 before you judge David’s navel gazing (his words, not mine).

Simply put, he described himself as content a few years back, even to a place where he could “leave this life for the next tomorrow without regret.”  Although far from ready to quit and head for the golf course in his twilight years, a life suddenly interrupted would not be one of ‘I-wish-I-had’s’.  He felt satisfied about his contribution and life’s purpose.  He felt at peace.  An even better description would be shalom; a Hebrew word normally translated as peace but meant to be more – a state where everything is where is should be; a whole and complete existence.  We have all had those fleeting moments when our since of joy or contentment was so complete that we could ‘die this very moment happy.’  To my way of thinking that captures the essence of shalom.

My cancer diagnosis wasn’t the catalyst for Dave’s discontent.  Although often a tremendous strain, providing physical and emotional support to someone you love provides tremendous meaning and purpose.  But he has found himself often flummoxed and pained by not being able to reassure a wife whose fear and angst could be impenetrable at times.  His feeling of inadequacy in being my comforter brought out some deeper stuff.

We both knew that something else was going on.  I agreed to do some research on middle life angst but my findings were not very satisfying to him or me. Previous post explains.

Through this process David has done his own work.  He listed the components of the problem in typical bullet point format.  He felt this angst might be brought on by the following:

  • Loss of influence, insider status or being needed. (This is in part due to his age. Younger people are taking the reins of responsibility and leadership as they should.  Another factor is that at this point in our lives we do not stay in one geographical location long enough to built the connections that can make a difference.)
  • The grand adventure might be over. (Throughout his life David has worked hard to place himself in situations where he could generate stories to tell the grandchrisk-takingildren.  And he does have some great stories that he would love to tell you about.  These opportunities are now mostly in the past.)
  • But still busy. To use a David phrase, “I’m in a rat race in the wrong race.”

David realizes these feelings are not as negative as they might indicate on paper. To his mind, most of the time his world is one of satisfaction and opportunity. He is doing a reasonably good job navigating the transition from the back side of a career peak with its mantle of influence and insider status to one that involves more of a support role. But every so often, and these days more often than he wants, he feels those bullet points as forceful shots across the bow.

Of course, he sees this trap and realizes he must reintegrate himself emotionally into the grand purposes of God.  I say emotionally because he has always put mind and feet to loving God and people.

At this point I have to resist the desire to write something original.  Ego says, “Dazzle David and my readers with my unique insights.”  Common sense says, many wise ones have tread this road before.  If I really want to be helpful then capture their insight.  To quote CS Lewis from Mere Christianity, “Even in literature and art no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring two pence how often it has been told before) you will nine times out of ten become original without ever having noticed it.”

So, with that caveat be prepared to hear from a few wise folks who have articulated insights with clarity and spiritual maturity that make sense to David and me.

The Problem:

Tim Keller from his book, “Counterfeit Gods,”

“How can we break our heart’s fixation on doing “some great thing” in order to heal ourselves of our sense of inadequacy in order to give our lives meaning? Only when we see what Jesus, our great suffering servant, has done for us will we finally understand why God’s salvation does not require us to do “some great thing.” We don’t have to do it because Jesus has. Jesus did it all for us and he loves us – that is how we know our existence is justified. When we believe in what he accomplished for us with our minds, and when we are moved by what he did for us in our hearts, it begins to kill off the addiction, the need for success at all costs.

The gospel does not work directly on the emotions or the will. The gospel asks, what is operating in the place of Jesus Christ as your real, functional salvation and Savior? What are you looking to in order to justify yourself? Whatever it is, it is a counterfeit god and to make a change in your life you must identify it and reject it as such.” Tim Keller, page 174 of counterfeit gods.”

The Process

In the book “The Sensation of Being Somebody”, the late Dr. Maurice Wagner, gives a formula for a rock solid self-concept. “God plus me equals a sense of being a somebody.”  He explains that dependence on status, performance and appearance – attributes that many times come out of insecure attachments or over attachments in our childhood – are our default for feeling significant but they end up “biting us in the butt” (Dona’s words).  They are fleeting and unreliable in taking us through life’s challenges and natural aging processes of loss and deficits. They are also dependent on others to justify ourselves as significant. Others, are people like ourselves-imperfect who will eventually die, disappoint or both.

Dr. Wagner gives an explanation for the Trinity that is psychologically unique. From God, the Father we get our sense of belonging as we submit to the Creator of us all; from Jesus Christ we get our sense of acceptance as we embrace the forgiveness he offers and from the Holy Spirit we receive our sense of competence as he leads, teaches, counsels and redirects.  Belonging, Acceptance and Competence are the building blocks of a healthy self-concept and we get them all in relationship with the triune God who is perfect, permanent and predisposed to carry us through all of life’s stages, disappointments and losses into a forever life of ultimate significance and wonder.

So, how do we absorb the above in a tangible way that makes for the closeness with God that we are longing for?  We (David and me) need help to move from intellectual assent and understanding to a heartfelt sense of what truly validates us and makes us feel known and loved by God. Tim Keller tells us what the problem is and what needs to be believed and understood. The late Dr. Wagner tells us the anatomy of true self-worth and significance as found in the trinity.  But, there is another leg to this three legged stool which still needs to be addressed. Part 4 of “One Journey, Two People” is coming next as David and I need to further digest a book by Dr. Curt Thompson called, Anatomy of the Soul.

One Journey – Two People: Part 2

An eleven-hour car drive from Buffalo to Hampton Roads, Virginia prompted the question I had been meaning to ask my husband. (Read previous post for context.)

“Hey David, here is what I have noticed in the last several years… You were once contentwalking about your life and now, not so much … Am I off or on track and do you care to talk about it?”

“You may be right, up to a point, Dona.  I’m still mostly content and believe I have lived a ‘completed’ life and could go to the Creator without regrets.  But recently some insecurities have surfaced.  In fact, it is part of the reason I have asked you to blog about late middle age baby boomer insecurity. I was hoping that you could do a little research and then enlighten me to what may be going on.”

Therapeutic communication:

Before I did any research I wanted to hear more of what David thought might be going on. So, I continued with a communication phrase that I have instructed many couples to practice.

“Is there more about this that you can tell me about…..” (There is always more that aids in clarification).

“Is there more” and continuing to ask, “Is there more?” until you finally hear,

“No, I think I have said all that I was feeling or thinking about the matter.”

This type of persistence in dialogue is one of the kindest and most courageous self-disciplines you can practice when having meaningful communication with someone. Kindest, because there is always more that someone has to say, and you, the listener, are giving them the time, mental space, and patience  to reflect and be heard.  It aids in the speaker’s own self-clarification and provides insight as room and time is given for them to think out loud and even to rethink and revise what they originally thought in order to get closer to their core belief.

courage
COURAGE

It is also a courageous self-discipline because you are placing yourself in a position of vulnerability – hearing more than your “thin skin-ness” is typically able to handle without getting hurt and making it about you. My experience with this grownup communication tool is that if a person can trust the process without reacting to the content with the typical self-justifying filters and insecurities then something happens that leads to emotional connection and intimacy that would have typically been buried in a sea of defending, accusation and misunderstanding.

Back to David’s narrative:

“Maybe your cancer diagnosis and treatment leaves me feeling my life is not complete because I wouldn’t want to die and leave you in a lurch.  Of course I have no control of that.  That is in God’s hands.  Could be that as I get older I’m just feeling more irrelevant and further away from making things happen in a way that a younger generation can and does?  Maybe it’s more akin to the loss of an “insider status.”

(To be honest this is not exactly how David described his unease on that 11-hour car ride.  When I showed him this post he edited his quote; he rewrote the quote; he left it, came back and revised it again as he struggled to concisely define his feelings.)

More therapeutic stuff:

Putting pen to paper brings the mental clarity that so often alludes us when we just talk.

I have found in my mental health practice that this process of writing down thoughts and feelings is therapeutic. Putting pen to paper brings the mental clarity that so often alludes us when we just talk.  When we write our thoughts down we are placing boundaries built writing hardby our language’s syntax and grammar.  Writing down our thoughts forces our brain to reign in free-floating anxious thoughts. It happened that way with David; giving him more to time to get to the heart of what was bothering him and it gave me the needed content to know what to research.

By this point my digressions have likely made you forget what David wanted me to research (i.e. Baby-boomer insecurity).  As it turned out, my initial research would bring me to articles that were more about our baby boomer power than about the obvious – we are old and we are feeling it in our bones, our gut, and our culture and in our soul, and we are quite self-absorbed about it.  The articles I read leaned to reassurances.  They encouraged us to resist self-doubt and summoned statistics that made us sound pretty darn relevant as consumers, social media connectors, political and health care industry influencers. Oh hum… who cares about all that and apparently not David after further communication.  The John Mayer song, “Get Off this Train,” pointedly gets to the heart of the matter.  We are getting old and no pep talk or consumer statistics are fooling us.  So, where is my navel-gazing husband (his words) to go from here?

Sorry, dear readers, as it turns out I have more to say in this blog before I fulfill my original “One Journey-Two People” series.  My next post “One Journey – Two People: Part III” I’ll try to get to the heart of the matter that was teased out of David’s angst.

One Journey, Two lives: part 1

No regrets 

“At this point in my life the thought of dying does not bother me that much.  I feel that I have lived a fairly faithful life (to Christ), a full life; accomplished a few meaningful things that have made a difference and been blessed beyond anything I deserved or earned.  I don’t want to die, but I think I would depart without regrets.”

This sentiment was not expressed by me, the recent cancer survivor, but by my husband about 4 years ago.  But recently some of his reflections seem to modify that original statement.

The lyrics of a song in one of David’s iTunes playlists by John Mayer, “Stop This Train,” has made me wonder whether he has had a change of heart.

Stop this train
I want to get off and go home again
I can’t take the speed it’s moving in
I know I can’t but honestly won’t someone stop this train

So scared of getting older
I’m only good at being young
So I play the numbers game to find a way to say that life has just begun
Had a talk with my old man
Said help me understand
He said turn 68, you’ll renegotiate
Don’t stop this train
Don’t for a minute change the place you’re in
Don’t think I couldn’t ever understand
I tried my hand
John, honestly we’ll never stop this train

Long journeys

Today, an eleven hour car drive from Buffalo to Hampton Roads, Virginia prompted the question I had been meaning to ask.

“Hey David, here is what I have noticed in the last several years… You were once content and now, not so much … Am I off or on track and do you care to talk about it?”

Long car rides or walks are the business for relationship talks and/or philosophical musings. They are better in some ways than the prescribed, “sit across the table from one walkinganother and talk.” There is something about movement of two bodies in close proximity to each other that feels safe, purposeful and engaging. Looking ahead together as opposed to looking at each other allows spoken thoughts to be free of the distraction of disconcerting facial expressions.

”Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know but your eyes did a weird thing when I said…”

Expectations are high when sitting across the table (excluding sit down meal times) to have ‘the talk.’  A contrived setting has been established for a limited time to reach a resolution, solve a problem, or discuss a serious topic.  The pressure is on and so is the stress that there could be a misstep. Long distance journeys are not limited on time and have just the right amount of boredom, leaving room for the spontaneous and reflective.

We can all probably think of some piece of literature or a movie where people on a journey together make observations of life, people, and relationships. The topics range from the sublime to the ridiculous to the evil.  A pastor once quoted someone as saying, “all good stories begin and end with a journey.”  I would add that if that journey is accompanied with other individuals the possibilities of new insights and revelations are heightened, deepened and possibly breathing lessonshealing. Many books (here are a few from my recent reading list) verify such insight:  “Peace Like a River” by Leif Enger (a family’s journey of discovery) and Pulitzer prize winning, “Breathing Lessons” by Anne Tyler (a married couple’s long car journey revealing the meaning of a long marriage with its ups and downs).  But lest I sound naïve, people on journeys together can also prompt the ridiculous, mischief and evil, i.e.…  “Dumb and Dumber”, “Thelma and Louise”, “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Natural Born Killers” to name a few.

Easter-Road-To-Emmaus1Jesus on the road to Emmaus appearing to two disciples (Luke 24:13-35) is an example of the sublime. The gospel reports that on that journey the post resurrected-Christ walked and talked incognito to the two unnamed disciples, giving time to answering questions and explaining deep scriptural truths that revealed His true nature and life’s purpose.  “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as He talked,” exclaimed the two after Christ disappeared from their midst.  That journey changed them forever.

Back to David and Dona’s 11-hour care drive journey:

“You are insightful, Dona, up to a point.  It is not about fear of dying but contentment.  I have more discontent than 4 years ago.  Not a big deal but something is going on.  In fact, it is part of the reason I have asked you to blog about late middle age baby boomer insecurity. I was hoping that you could do a little research and then enlighten me to what may be going on.”

So, I am taking his challenge and will do the research for next week’s blog.  For now, I will stop writing and make sure I am not wasting a journey’s relationship discovery possibilities.

“I said I was sorry, what more do you want?”

My husband and I had just exhausted an unpleasant argument several years ago when he said something that became a ‘click-moment’ for future apologies.  I have taught it to others-clients and friends.

The argument was unbalanced.  Neither of us were innocent but I knew and he knew that this time I was the over reactor and the unfair wordsmith-er.  (He just now read this part, and says that he has no idea of what I am talking about but is getting mad on principle. He also guessed that the phrase that I am soon to reveal is not, “love is never having to say you are sorry”- made famous by 70’s movie and book, “Love Story”).

Aside:   I’m amazed this phrase actually stuck in our collective consciousness even though none of us have ever believed it.  In fact, I got married about the time that movie was still popular and even I, a love-struck young woman, knew that “love is never having to say you are sorry,” was a bunch of hooey.  In fact, once again, before I leave this teaser, I actually included in my wedding vows something about “needing to forgive and ask for forgiveness” (Those were the days when we thought we were too cool and clever to use the traditional vows and now we are too embarrassed to reread what we actually said to each other.)

Back to the argument that taught me what more was needed to be said to mend a broken-hearted fence.

After I came to my humble senses, I confessed to my husband that I knew I was the major provocateur and was sorry.  I even went as far as to say, “Will you forgive me for saying what I said?” He said, “Yes,” and I extended the apology with more words of contrition.  It took me a few minutes, however, to realize that the fence was not mended and it was not because he was still angry with me. He was still smarting and feeling the burden of the offense. Finally, he took a leap of trust and vulnerability and asked me the question that showed me the true nature of the hurt I caused.

“I sense you are sorry but I need to know whether you actually believe what you said about me during the argument.”

My surprised reaction to this question led into a new insight of what it takes sometimes for relationship reparation and healing.  My response was surprisingly a new one for me and possibly a God-inspired one as I witnessed the relief that my sincere words brought to my husband.

“No, I do not believe what I said about you.  I said it because I was angry, hurt and verbally undisciplined. You did not deserve those comments because they are not what I fundamentally believe about you and again I am sorry to have put you through that.”

So, are you wondering what I said that caused the hurt? I am not really sure as it happened awhile I go but I can guess from knowing how thoughtless arguments go among folks that it was probably in the vein of some kind of “you are” character slam like, “You are selfish, or you are thoughtless, or you have to always win or be right, or you are immature,  or you are always judgmental or you always only care about yourself or any number of careless,  lousy communication statements thrown around when disagreements arise among spouses, friends, children, parents, and, more rarely because we don’t take them quite for granted, co-workers and employees.

We have all heard that when we argue we must stay away from the “You are” statements or the “you are always or never” statements and stick with the “I am feeling this or that when you do or say this or that” statements. So, I am not going to bore you with what you already know about good communication practices but maybe don’t always practice!  But I do want to explain why the apology I gave my husband may be necessary for reconciliation.

When we launch a character slam statement something deep and rarely examined is triggered in the offended party and this is so, even if the offended one knows that the statements are over the top and spoken in anger and poor judgment. In every criticism, regardless of its unreasonableness, there is a part of us that thinks there is truth to it.  And you know why? Because there is, even if that truth is only true 1 percent of the time.  None of us are always virtuous all of the time giving unconditional positive regard and love to those we care about.  So, even the one percent truth of the “you are” statement stings and dregs up self-doubt and self-condemnation. The offended one has two hurtles to navigate: one: the unfairness and hurtfulness of the statement, and two: the anger and hurt resulting from a wounded self-worth. An apology that restores respect (“I am sorry, forgive me”) and healing (“you did not deserve that because it is not the big truth about you”) is restorative and therapeutic.

Theological understanding for the offender:

“Don’t judge lest you be judged with the same measure of behavioral standard that you are judging the other “- roughly paraphrased, “For every finger you are pointing at someone there are 3 fingers and a thumb pointing back at you.”(Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7:1-5)

“No one but God is perfect in love and righteous judgment.”  Show respectful humility about who you are and who God is. Muster up empathy and humility to admit that someone did not deserve your harsh judgment. (1 John 1:5-8)

Psychological understanding for the offended – two points and commentary:

When the shame of being exposed by hurtful comments from a loved one arises, wait for the dust to settle and ask for clarification.  (“Is this really what you believe about me?”)

Claw yourself out of self-denial and self-condemnation and humbly realize with gratefulness that true self worth is found in being a forgiven child of God through the sacrifice of Christ not in some attempt to be always well thought of in some feature of appearance, performance or status

Jesus is the perfect one; not me, not you, not anyone.  And after countless generations He is still being loved by many.  He, unlike us, is undaunted by criticism, accusation or even flattery.  He is the perfect self-possessed being and therefore, unlike us, has the only love that “never has to say I’m sorry.”