The Way of Broken Things

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Today is what is called Maundy Thursday in the Christian church. It is the day that Jesus shared the Last Supper with his disciples. It was a moment for him to prepare them for the new way things would be after he was gone. I have sometimes wondered why Jesus taught so often in metaphor, and I believe one reason is because the naked truth can be too painful to receive. Some truths just hurt too much. They are not palatable. We would reject them. And this is certainly true in the metaphor of broken bread and shared wine.

Luke 22 tells us “When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table…. And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me’” (v. 14, 19). We know that this symbolic gesture was a foreshadowing of the physical breaking Jesus would endure in the coming hours, but I believe Jesus was also preparing us for the breaking we all will endure. The breakings that are common to mankind, that are indicative of living, that are the mark of growing and changing. The painful breakings we endure where parts of us die, parts that need to die, they are allowed to die. The breaking that comes as friends and family leave this earth and leave us behind. What greater gesture than for Jesus to show us— you will be broken, I’ll go first.

Breaking, dying, then resurrecting. This is the way of becoming better and better versions of ourselves. This is the way of shedding ego, lies, old habits, dysfunction, relationships, and prejudices. These old patterns once held us. They got us through difficult situations and seasons of our lives and then they outlived their purposes. Old beliefs start to hold us back, hinder us from moving forward. They must be broken, and when they do it is terrifying. It’s terrifying to let go of an illusion that I once believed was actually keeping me safe in this world or even alive; yet Jesus prepared us that these breakings would come and offered this assurance— I give thanks for what this breaking is working in you. I share in the breaking with you. As you endure it, remember me.

But he didn’t stop there, he offered a solace. Matthew 26:27, 28 says “Then he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’” Again, this is a foreshadowing of the blood Jesus will physically shed in the coming hours. And as is his way, it is also a metaphor for the emergence of new things, resurrection. The only way we can allow breaking and dying is with the assurance that something new will come after this pain. Jesus didn’t just tell us to break and die. He also demonstrated what new life looks like. He offered the promise that he is the cocoon that holds us while we disintegrate. He is the grave that holds our many dying forms. I can’t let parts of me die and contain myself at the same time. God does the containing. This extension of the cup is a new promise of a new way— as you suffer, change, let go, and grow, there will now be the power of a grace to cover your messy processes. Breaking and dying is painful and ugly. We are not our best selves during these seasons, but they are the way of broken things. We have forgotten this in our culture that wants to be free of all pain and suffering at all times. We like all things neat, tidy, predictable, and orderly, but that’s just not how life always unfolds. Grace is the cup that allows for messy change inside of it. God is a God of allowing. Allowing breaking. Allowing dying. Allowing the emergence of something new.

So on this special day, whatever stage of the process you are in, may you take comfort in remembering Jesus’s gentle symbols for a not so gentle process. May you learn to allow all stages and seasons of life and of your own growth. May you learn to receive graciously then let go when it is time. May you learn to love with your whole heart then say good-bye when loved ones must go. May you learn to live with a heart that is ever breaking then ever being restored. In every death is a beginning. May you receive the broken bread and the cup. And may you emerge on the other side, something altogether new.

My Valentine's Visitor

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In July 2018 I lost a very dear friend much too soon, and since that time I have tried unsuccessfully many times to connect to her. It’s not uncommon, after death, to feel the presence of those we love, and so I have longed to feel her again. So far, there’s been nothing, and I’ve been confused as to why. Not a dream, not a felt presence, not a bird on my windowsill, not a voice from deep in my meditative places, nothing at all. I eventually reached some peace about this, that my friend resides in heavenly places I cannot reach and if and when she ever wants to reach me, she can.

Today was finally that day, and my experience was so wonderful that I reached out to her husband to share it with him. He was also touched by the experience I had and asked that I write about it. Although I don’t fully understand the timing of her visit, I’m just so grateful for it that I won’t question it! She came to me in a dream, and because it had been so long and so long-awaited, I was deeply shocked and overwhelmed at first. Her presence was incredibly sweet and warm, and I was giddy and crying tears of joy to see her again. I spent a long time just reveling in her presence until I realized we were sitting side by side in a movie theater. I could see that she was very excited about what we were going to see together. She always had a particular smile when she was finding something to be especially cool. Her friends and family will know the look I mean. I didn’t understand why we were watching a movie, but I looked at the screen and it began to fill with hearts. First one, then another, then another and another. They filled and crowded the screen, growing and growing. I kept watching her and could see this was the coolest thing ever to her. It was beautiful and conveyed love, so I looked back to get a sense of the projector. What I then realized was that the movie was projecting directly out of me. It was my own heart projecting onto the screen, a light extending from my own chest. I was taken aback and looked at her and her smile only said, “I know, right?”

What my friend told me and demonstrated to me is that we all have what we feel is a reality we are seeing and experiencing, but this always is a projection from our own hearts. The “reality” I see is my own projection, and I can make of it what I want. Why not love, love, and more love? If you perceive with love then you’ll have more of it.

The hearts on the screen multiplied so vastly and intensely until then I saw my friend standing at the top of a waterfall. It was massive and I was struck by how powerful the water was pounding down below. The hearts had multiplied into a waterfall of love. My friend said, “It’s actually even bigger than this, but I have no other way to show you. You wouldn’t understand.” Both the Source and the impact of love is beyond what we can really comprehend here, and I am reminded of the verse “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

We enjoyed the massive overflow of love together for a while until I felt she had to go. Before she left she extended a candle to me. I got the sense it was a birthday candle. Her face was illuminated with joy sharing the candle and I reminded her it wasn’t my birthday! She then reminded me that it is her boys’ birthdays this week, and she celebrates with them and for them. She showed me that she is ever-present around her children, it’s where her presence can be felt strongest. She’s always there. It’s the week of Valentine’s Day, the holiday of love, and that in every red heart, she is there. To let them all be a reminder of her love, God’s love, and the unequivocal power of projecting love.

I didn’t want her to go, because I worried I may never see or feel her again. Throughout this experience with her, she had maintained an excited energy about where she is and the work she is now doing. I felt so sad to say good-bye and I showed her my sadness and the sadness of her family and friends, how we miss her so much. Without ever losing her excited grin she said, “I will see you again.” Apparently my broken heart pales in comparison to what’s in store. That’s a comfort too.

In Hebrews 12:1 the writer says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” I know there is only one source of love, and that is God alone; and that God’s grace is sufficient for all I need. But there is something empowering and comforting about being reminded that the saints that have gone before us stand as a great cloud of witnesses. My friend always loved a good movie, and now she gets to sit in the greatest of theaters, witnessing the most incredible movies of all time— those that project from within us onto the world. Those that have gone before now surround us with a loud cheer. They join with God in supporting us through this race.

Thank you, my friend, for your beautiful visit today. I will never forget it. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Worthiness: The Ultimate Gift

Like so many of us, I often get bogged down with the "Should've Disease."  I should've cooked a better dinner for my kids; I should've cleaned house instead of taking a nap; I should've worked on my writing project instead of lounging in front of the TV; I should've gone to the gym instead of sleeping in; and on and on and on.  The should haves will never end, because shame never ends.  Shame is a bottomless black hole of "not good enough."  No matter what I do, say or don't do or don't say, the shame in me will always find something wrong with it. Shame is a dark state of being, filled only with negativity, able only to see and feel the negative.  Shame is capable only of finding evidence within myself and this world that I am, in fact, a bad person and undeserving of any mercy.  If there is any glimmer of "not enough" anywhere within me or my environment, shame can sniff it out and use it as confirmation of my unworthiness.  Shame is a fear-fueled engine that never stops finding the bad, the wrong, the negative.  It does not stop itself and we cannot wait on it to stop itself.  It just doesn't work like that.  Shame is the absence of light, and the only way to escape from it is to shine some light on it.  

When we allow ourselves to get sucked into the Should've Disease, then we are launching head first into the shame pit.  And it's a long descent, one filled with sharp rocks, hard bumps, and complete loss of self.  It's difficult to escape it once the descent has begun.  Once I have spent too much time in the pit, I forget truths about myself and other people.  I forget that I am actually doing the best that I can on a daily basis.  I forget that I am a child of God and deserving of respect and kindness.  I forget that other people are also doing the best they can and deserving of my respect and kindness.  These are truths filled with light and thus, completely absent in the pit.  And these are dangerous truths to lose, because to believe I am actually NOT doing my best and NOT always deserving of compassion, means that I just hitched my worthiness onto my own ability to perform.  It's that kind of dark thought that can hasten a descent.  

So what do we do when we feel ourselves lost in this dark place?  The first thing is just to remind ourselves that we are stuck in a shame pit and riddled with the Should've Disease, which means that all the mean, nasty, and critical thoughts happening in our heads are purely a result of the disease.  These thoughts are, thus, a lie and to be ignored, banished to a far away place.  I refute them, and when I do, there is a flicker inside of me.  There is enough of a flicker for me to hitch myself onto the side of this slimy pit and begin the ascent back out of it.  

Just as there is momentum in the fall, there is momentum in the rising.  Just as shame pulls me downward with force, grace lifts me up with a greater force.  "Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." Romans 5:20  The law is a set of rules that define one's worthiness, and only by keeping the rules faithfully can one remain above reproach; but who can do that?  Who can ever really do that?  It's only by the fact that I am eternally incapable of ever doing enough, that I am then made deserving of grace.  My imperfection makes me qualified to receive grace, which is light.  Only light, and completely devoid of any darkness.  Ever.

So, what if, this Christmas, you could be given a lifetime supply of worthiness?  Well, merry Christmas to you.  It is given!  We need only to lean into the momentum of it and allow God to do the heavy lifting.  The gift of grace means I am forever free of both your judgment against me as well as self-judgment.  In 1st Corinthians, Paul said, "I care very little if I am judged by you or any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.  It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.  He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts."  This is a man who unwrapped the gift of grace and found worthiness in knowing no one stands capable of judging but God alone.  May we all receive and hold year-round this precious gift!

Detachment: A Pathway to Peace

Detach. What a beautiful, yummy, and yet terrifying word. Webster's definition of detach is "To disconnect: separate: to extricate oneself or withdraw." Detachment is an action often prescribed to us in 12 step groups or by our therapists or friends. It means to emotionally let go of a situation or the outcome of a situation. Often we need to detach from people, because our remaining connected is poisoning us in some way. Always we detach as an act of love and ultimate respect toward ourselves. 

Detachment becomes necessary when my connection to a thing, a person, or a situation is threatening to my sanity, my peace, my integrity, my health, or body. There are people so incredibly toxic that to remain involved with them means constant chaos and pain. Sometimes we may need to detach from a person who we cannot fully exclude from our lives, because they are our child or our boss at work. This type of detachment is a mental and emotional releasing. It is arriving at an emotional place where our own stability no longer hinges on what the other person says or does. We come to a knowing within ourselves that regardless of how the other person behaves, we will not be moved. We will not be flustered, angered, or care more than they do about themselves or their personal affairs. We lovingly lay down another's personal responsibilities at their own feet and walk away. We separate our sacred self from the choices of another human being. We detach. 

There are situations in our lives that are troublesome and painful, situations which we cannot change despite our best efforts at trying. I am prone to worrying excessively, turning a problem over and over in my mind for a solution. Eventually the time comes when I have to be assertive with myself! I have to tell myself to detach from this situation. It is my responsibility, after I've done all I know to do, to go to my Higher Power and ask for help. It is good that I lean on my Higher Power in these situations that are larger than me. I pray the Serenity Prayer for courage, wisdom, and serenity and I detach. I extricate my mind from the worry place. I forbid myself from going there. I connect to the resources of my Higher Power and disconnect from believing a situation outside of me holds the power to care for me or keep me happy. Often I must detach several times in one day or perhaps several times in one hour. Nonetheless I detach as often as I need to until I feel my peace begin to return. 

Today I am so thankful for the skill of DETACHMENT, and today it feels good. There are times when detachment does not bring immediate relief, particularly the first few instances we detach from a painful person or situation. Laying down responsibility for things we cannot control can force us to take responsibility for ourselves in a way we have not been doing. We become more aware of our own feelings, all of them, the good and the bad. Although uncomfortable, detaching from others opens us to our own spiritual growth.  Sometimes there is intense grief after we detach from a situation. This is good and signifies moving toward ourselves and a fuller awareness of how we feel and what we need to do for ourselves. 

How detachment comes and how it happens is a mystery to me. We do it when we're ready. I love this passage from Melody Beattie's Codependents' Guide to the Twelve Steps: "Love and accept ourselves, as is, no matter what our present circumstances. The answer will come. The solution will come. But not from trying so hard. The answer will come from detachment" (pg. 26). We may do it when we're worn out from trying everything else. We may do it out of anger or frustration. We may do it with tears of grief or even tears of relief, but do it. Just do it. When you know you have lost your very self to someone else's mess or troubles beyond your control. Just detach.

How to Grieve

If only we as therapists could give a brilliant yet simple answer to this question.  How do you grieve?  Grief is a sort of hallmark for so many of the emotional struggles that might bring someone to therapy.  There is the grief of losing a loved one, a divorce, loss of a job, a disability, coping with emotionally absent parents, or even the loss of one's own fantasies about themselves.  

Grief is hard.  It is messy and painful.  There's no pretty way to go through a grief process.  You're going to be hostile, then desperate, then numb, then sad, and at times all of these things in a one-hour period.  Despite your best efforts and your own good intentions, grief will leave you too exhausted to do those dirty dishes or go to a family gathering; grief will leave you too bitter to spend time with your friends who don't understand; grief will make you snap at the people you love most.  At times, grief will turn you into someone you don't recognize and maybe don't even like.  This is how you'll know you're doing it right.

There are only a few things I can think of that I absolutely know are essential to moving through the grief process.  First, you must practice unconditional compassion and loving care toward yourself.  Grieving is exhausting and requires much of your emotional and mental energy.  You will need to be well-rested, well-fed, and surrounded by kind people where possible.  You will need to extend large measures of compassion and forgiveness toward yourself for who you are during this period or who you fail to be.  Grief behavior and feelings have no value label placed on them; they are neither "good" nor "bad."  They simply are.  Judging yourself for "crying too much" does nothing to support your grief process, rather it blocks your wise self from giving you exactly what you need in that moment.

This leads to the second important part of grieving, which is just show up.  You don't have to do anything to grieve.  Just show up with your sadness.  Invite it inside, sit with it, listen to it.  Give it what it needs.  That might be a nap or a hug from a friend.  Perhaps you just need to cry or you might even need some loving motivation from yourself to get up and clean house.  It doesn't matter what it is that your grief tells you, just show up and listen.  Even when what it says is hard.  Listen.  This process reminds me of labor and giving birth.  Labor is a painful process for a woman, but my body knows how to do it.  I can either try to relax, breath, and trust my body's work or I could panic and fight against it.  I did both when in labor with my children, so I get it!   Your mind, body, and soul know how to grieve.  Just because it's hurting doesn't mean something is wrong with you.  It's just part of the process.  Just as in physical labor, the grief process is producing a valuable work in you.  It requires just as much energy to fight the process, yet the pain of fighting grief produces nothing valuable but more pain.

And the most important thing I believe we can do during the grief process is to find those practices that connect us to a larger source.  The love we will need to give ourselves during this time is an unconditional love that can only be called supernatural.  From a source larger than us.  You will also need some supernatural wisdom, supernatural grace, and supernatural strength.   You're going to need to get connected to a supernatural source.  There as many practices to get you there as there are people in this world.  For me, I am connected when I am running on a sunny day, writing in my journal, in prayer, listening to music or singing.  It's in those moments I can draw from a Higher Power to get what I need for one more day of showing up.  Through engaging in these practices and mindfully participating in them, I am opening myself to the source of limitless love.  I will need all I can get to both endure each moment and hold hope there is relief on the other side.

Most of all, know that heavy, intense grieving does not last forever.  You may not come out of it the same person you were before, but you will come out of it.  Stay engaged in giving yourself what you need and know there is relief waiting down the line.  Returning from grief is a slow process like a sunrise.  You will notice it as a subtle change in your thinking, your energy, your focus.  The peace arrives slowly until one day you recognize, almost in surprise, that the heaviness you carried before no longer pulls you down.  Where once it was dark, there will be a beautiful glimmer of lightness.

"The past is grieved fully only when the present is healed too.  In fact, the energy that had been tied up in past hurts has finally become available to you for reinvestment in new ways of living."  How to Be an Adult-- David Richo

Anxiety Cramps

The theme for this month seems to be ANXIETY.  We are an anxious culture and no feeling is quite as unendurable as anxiety.  The landscape of it is different for everyone but always it is marked by the feeling of being on edge and out of control.  Sometimes the anxiety is colored with an intense fear of something intangible and dark; other times the anxiety is tinged with agitation and borderline hostility.  Anxiety is the result of our brain telling us to ramp things up, because danger is lurking near.

I believe that the ultimate hallmark of anxiety is when we leave this present moment and become stuck in some future event that we've imagined (i.e. the loss of a job or relationship, death, danger, deadlines) or stuck in an event from the past (i.e., shameful mistakes, loss, traumatic events).  Anxious people have great difficulty remaining in the now, and yet this is exactly where they need to be.  When we are anxious, we believe we are maintaining control of a scary situation by either imagining how we will control it in the future or how we could have in the past.  To sit in the present means to sit in the potential distress of the unknown.  For many people, worry and compulsive planning have been preferable to sitting in the distress of right now.

But what if you could find GOOD things in the right now?  When we learn to slow our minds and our bodies, we connect to ourselves in a meaningful way and to a power greater than ourselves.  Through this connection we are energized, motivated, and fueled with creativity. I tell many of my clients that their brains are in a perpetual "anxiety cramp."  Years of worrying and panic have set the brain's default response mode to ALARM.  Unfortunately, the brain begins to send these alarm signals in the absence of any true danger!  It takes time to massage the worry from our minds and learn that we have some control over the content of what is happening in our beautiful, chaotic head.

God calls himself The Great I Am.  In the now.  The present.  This moment.  If we want to connect with the ultimate source, we have to stay in the right now.  God meets us there with peace, comfort, and sometimes answers.  For many people, learning to still their minds is difficult, but I encourage you-- it's not impossible.  By daily practicing new skills, you can change your brain, and you set your new default to this wonderful setting called peace