Announcement—Come On Over!

New Location!  www.stonewritten.com

I wanted to let everyone know that my husband and I have decided to consolidate our blogs onto one site. In the process we are making the switch from WordPress.com to WordPress.org. If any of you WordPress.com users are curious about the differences our friends at PhotoBotos.com have written a helpful review comparing the two. The move is going to help us as we prepare to publish some other materials later in the year, as well as continue our normal blogging.

For the most part it should be a smooth transition, and pretty much the same experience for anyone willing to read our blogs. Speaking of which, thanks to everyone who has been willing to take some time to read, discuss, like, reblog, and share the blog with others! You are such an encouragement to me!

I will leave the posts on this blog up for a while so that links and reblogs will not be disrupted on your sites. Thanks again for reading.

The new site went live today. Come on over and check it out StoneWritten.

If you are subscribed to this blog and would like to continue to receive email notifications you will need to re-subscribe to the new blog.

See you at StoneWritten!

Hairy Dog, Agnostics, and Surprising People God Uses

***Parallel Processing

Parallel process is a clinical term used to describe the common occurrence in therapy when the therapist’s own experience is reflected in the client’s. It is when a client comes in grieving over the loss of a loved one while the therapist has only just experienced his or her own loss as well. It is a therapist helping a client through feelings of anger and hurt that the therapist has also just recently confronted.

But, here’s the thing: we are all in parallel process. Too often in life it goes unsaid.

Here is where I say it.***

For my high school years I attended a captivating, red brick campus at the foot of Signal Mountain, Tennessee.  Both a boarding school and a day school, I experienced each of these worlds, living on the campus as a boarder my junior and senior year.  Are you old enough to have seen Dead Poet’s Society?  Got that campus look in your mind?  Ok, welcome to my high school.  In fact, I was told that they were going to film part of that movie at my alma mater, but because our chapel was under construction at the time it did not work.  SUPPOSEDLY one of the crew boat scenes has something to do with our campus?  Not sure how much of those rumors are urban…aww…suburban… legend…

That school wasn’t and isn’t for everyone, but I am not going to lie.  I loved it.  I loved my tennis team.  I loved my friends.  I loved the view from the library that overlooked the Tennessee River.  I loved the walk to the tennis courts…over Baylor lake that we always complained was a nasty mess, through the woods, to the tennis center… and I even loved the walk back…ALL the way up the hill to the dining hall…up all of those chapel steps…across the quad…my friends and I all sweaty from practice, our legs still wobbly from the suicide sprints Coach Bandy had ended practice with.

I was in complete awe that I had the opportunity to study and play tennis there.  I never lost that sense of gratitude.  It was as though God plucked me out of my life and dropped me onto that campus.  Freedom.  But that’s another story…

I loved my teachers, too…almost all of them.  (Smile)  But, like most students, I had a favorite in high school.  His name was Mr. Harris.  Hairy Dog most students called him.  He was short in stature, but what he lacked in height he made up for with his bushy beard, his dramatic flair for teaching history, his humor and enormous laugh, as well as the erasers he would throw at you if he thought you were being an idiot.

I was brand new to Baylor when I walked into his class that first day of my sophomore year.  I was scared to death and it only took watching a couple of erasers fly by my head to decide my quiet classroom nature would be a huge benefit to me in Western Civilization.

Mr. Harris’s classroom was straight out of a novel with old fashioned wooden desks, artifacts all over the shelves, and a teacher that could, at any moment, stand up in his chair with a Robin Williams flair that made me want to stand up and say: “O Captain! My Captain!”

Our textbook in that class?  Mr. Harris wrote it himself.  It was housed in a red Baylor binder and each week we would read our material, have a lecture, discuss, and then expect a quiz at the beginning of each class.  The quizzes were tough.  The only way I could ensure an A was to get to school early and go see Mr. Harris to make sure I had answered all of the review questions correctly.  Mr. Harris encouraged this routine among students and he could always be found at about 7:30 AM outside his classroom, smoking, and answering students’ questions…sometimes with a sarcastic edge.

I was afraid of Mr. Harris, but knew that in order to do well in the class I had to endure any potential looks he might shoot my direction in response to my ignorant questions.

So, morning after morning I would show up outside his classroom.

Mr. Harris’s curriculum for the class was challenging, but usually interesting.  He made history entertaining.  Then, one day, I turned the page and found myself staring at that day’s reading assignment: the book of Job from the bible.

Mr. Harris lectured that day on Job.  He explained the position of this piece of literature in Western Civilization as well as the Hebraic Canon.

He went on to explain that he was an agnostic.  He didn’t know if he believed in God or not.  He also admitted that he really struggled with the book of Job.  Why would God allow Satan to play with Job like that?  Mr. Harris brought up all sorts of things that day about a book in the bible.  He attempted to engage us in dialogue, but I am ashamed to say that many of the students, although professing Christians, knew little about the subject. “Most Christians know very little about their book, the Bible” Mr. Harris observed as we finished up class that day.

I left that classroom with so many questions…questions I took to my parents and others I trusted.  Mr. Harris had provoked me as well as my faith.

It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Over the year I would come back and engage Mr. Harris in conversation beyond the study questions for the quiz.  I wasn’t afraid anymore…just respectful and curious.  I was hungry…to grow.

I remember bringing him a tape of my pastor’s sermon because my pastor, who was also brilliant, had spoken on a topic that related to one of Mr. Harris’ lectures.  He actually listened to it and discussed it with me.

I remember when I thought he said something disrespectful about Christians in class approaching him about it afterwards…he was quick to apologize and explain.

I remember him walking…across the bridge, through the woods, to the tennis center…to watch our matches…and how he would praise my strong forehand and chastise my much weaker backhand.  “Your forehand is so good! What happened to your backhand?”

I remember his wife, who ended up being my French teacher, keeping me after class and quietly handing me a book, saying: “I thought you might appreciate this.”  It was the Bible…translated into French, Spanish, and German.

I remember…will never forget…Mr. Harris keeping me after class one day and expressing concern about how I had answered an essay question on a major exam.  “It sounded like you were losing your faith.”  I don’t remember the question or why my faith would have been relevant in the exam material, but I assured him I was not.  He was concerned because he did not want to be the reason.

My faith grew that year under the teaching of my smoking, antagonistic, agnostic teacher, Mr. Harris…but, I wanted to be challenged.  Craved it. I didn’t realize it, but I guess I was hungry for it.  Other fifteen year olds could have responded in other ways, but I was in the right place at the right time.

My relationship with an agnostic teacher who took time to talk with students every morning outside his classroom watered my growing love for scripture and theology.

Twenty years later, just earlier today, I mentally stood outside myself, regarding my attitude, and realized that I was being judgmental.  I know, I know.  It was awful.  Horrid, really.  I was sad to realize I was judging the ability or “preparedness” of others for God to use them.

I am appalled.  Really.

Anyway, I realized I was criticizing, thinking inwardly that because a person had not done “A” or HAD done/was still doing “B” they were not in a position for God to use them in certain ways yet.

Well, move over God…Emily seems to have a plan for how things should work!

Good grief.  Really, Emily?  REALLY?

But, the thing is…so many of us do this even if we do not realize it.  We put parameters on who God can use and how.  We say…inside our little insidious minds…you have or are still doing “X” so you really should not be doing this or God cannot really use you.  Or, because you have not done “Y” you cannot be effective here.

My judgment of others is like a boomerang.  It always comes back as judgment on myself.

When I make those judgment calls on others, I am also making them on myself.  I am saying…Emily, because you have done or are still doing, struggling with “X”, God cannot use you…so don’t even think about it.  Close yourself off until you are…PERFECT.  Until you have it all together.

My judgment of others is like a boomerang.  It always comes back as judgment on myself.

Or, Emily, because you have not experienced “Y” you cannot really be of use here.

This concern is something I struggled with a lot as a newbie therapist.  Either I would bring it up to myself or someone I knew would ask me: “Well, you have never been through “A, B, or C” so how can you help them?

I do not remember which teacher or supervisor offered me this analogy, but it goes something like this…

If you broke your leg, when you went in to get help from the doctor, would you stop him or her and say: “Have you broken your leg before?  Because if you haven’t…I don’t think you can help me. I need someone to help who has broken their leg…in the exact same spot if possible.”

So, what’s the point?

The point is God can use you.  Right now. Right here.

He probably already is.

You (and that person you were judging last week) will never have it all together.  Ever.

The church IS full of hypocrites.

We are all in process…messed up humans making mistakes all the time…seeking the One who can make us whole.

So, in the midst of my internal, judgmental rant (are you judging ME now?  Go ahead…it is awful, I know!), God quietly recalled Mr. Harris to my mind.  I had not thought of him in years

I thought about Mr. Harris, Hairy Dog, with his bushy beard, his dramatic flair for teaching history, his humor and enormous laugh, as well as the erasers he would throw at you if he thought you were being an idiot…

Mr. Harris…the antagonizing, agnostic…not who I would choose to disciple my children..and I realized that God knows.  He has the plan.  And, He can use anyone, anytime, anyhow to bring growth in a person’s life…if the other person on the receiving end is open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

We are all in process.  I doubt many of you reading this are agnostics or atheists…but, I’m guessing you sometimes feel just as ill equipped for the job of helping others in faith and life.

While I appreciate testimonies and think there is something INCREDIBLY valuable in relating over shared stories and have participated in such powerful moments, you do not have to have broken your leg in the exact same spot as the person you are helping or ministering to.  You don’t have to have it all together.  God is probably already using you…and you don’t even realize it.

Maybe, God was using me in Mr. Harris’ life even as He was using Mr. Harris in mine!

Watch out! God can be tricky like that.  He has an amazing sense of humor.  He likes to use surprising people…people like you!

For What It’s Worth…Anger as a Secondary Emotion

Therapy is way more than a toolbox of intervention.  Information alone cannot replace professional help. However, information can be very powerful.  So, for what it’s worth to you, here is the weekly post offering a therapeutic idea, concept, or intervention that you can try out in your own life or relationships.

Anger is sometimes called a secondary emotion…not because it is any less valid of an emotion than any other, but because it rarely stands alone.  There is almost always another emotion that reinforces it.

The image that is often used to illustrate this idea is the iceberg.  You know how an iceberg works.  If from nothing else but from watching Titanic the movie you know that the wonder of the iceberg is that what you see on top of the surface of the water is only a fraction of what lays underneath.  The unbelievable tragedy of the Titanic is that by the time they spotted the fraction of ice on the top it was too late to change their course in time to miss the monstrosity of ice underneath the surface.

When we experience a person’s anger (including our own) it is like the fraction of ice on top of the surface.  It takes our focus.  However, what is underneath the surface is much larger and more extensive.  We would do well to reserve our attention and energy for this part of the iceberg.  In fact, like with the physical phenomenon of the iceberg, if  you are aware of what is underneath and focus on preparing for it then you are in a better position to avoid the deadly dangers of running into what is on top.

What is that ice underneath comprised of?

  Fear.  Insecurity.  Depression.  Anxiety. 

Any variety of emotions that can make a person feel incredibly vulnerable.

For men and women alike, anger can feel more powerful and not as painful as the other options.

So, for what it’s worth, the next time you encounter someone who is angry (including yourself) I encourage you to remember the iceberg.  Be still.  Observe.  Don’t react.  Use some reflective listening.  Be curious about what is underneath that anger.  Like a balloon that has been deflated, identifying what is underneath the surface of the anger iceberg can let out some of the steam of what is on top.

In other situations, you might decide that the anger…or what is underneath…is not worth addressing.  Perhaps, it is not a person you are close to…like the clerk at the store or a parent you see from time to time at functions or a classmate you sit next to in class.  It could be that it is not safe to address it.  In these scenarios just this information can be helpful in not letting another person’s anger to get the best of you.

Saturday Sampling March 17, 2012

Better late than never.  It is still technically Saturday, right?!  It has been a strange and sad week in our family with three funerals in eight days… 

Here is what is quickly becoming one of my favorite things to do each week…finding some of my favorite blogs to share on the Saturday Sampling! 

Here is a sampling of some posts from this past week that inspired me, educated me, or made me think.

Do you think I missed anything significant?  I try to look for variety.  Can you help me with that?  Please post any of your recommendations below so we can all benefit!

Christian Politics: On Not Just Becoming Another Angry Voice

Thanks, Jonathan.  This post is much needed.

Undone

Beautiful.  Also check out Tiny Warrior, Transition, and Legacy.

Thankful Thursday

I celebrate thankful Thursday, too!  If you haven’t read this author you are missing out.  Start with her blog and then move on to Cold Tangerines.

An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

This post reminds me of the book Kisses From Katie.  Both have challenged me.  I want to read the book that this blogger has written.

A Few Things I’ve Learned in the 10 Years Since Jason Died

Sometimes reading about the lessons of those who have lost and are courageous to be vulnerable in their grieving to share their journey with us can be a powerful thing.

The Magic of Family Dinner

As a big proponent of the family dinner (or breakfast…or lunch…) I was glad to have someone identify my own passion on this topic.

Scattered

I could very much relate to the feelings expressed here. Sometimes there is a fine line between stewarding opportunities and being “scattered”.

Change, Undone, and God’s Doing

***Parallel Processing

Parallel process is a clinical term used to describe the common occurrence in therapy when the therapist’s own experience is reflected in the client’s. It is when a client comes in grieving over the loss of a loved one while the therapist has only just experienced his or her own loss as well. It is a therapist helping a client through feelings of anger and hurt that the therapist has also just recently confronted.

But, here’s the thing: we are all in parallel process. Too often in life it goes unsaid.

Here is where I say it.***

When we moved back from Prague (as in the Czech Republic and not as in New Prague, Minnesota), after it had become prayerfully clear that moving back home was what we were supposed to do, after Jon and I had already started processing what our missions work had meant and would mean, after Jon’s job came like a miracle, like manna from the sky even if it was working in a middle school, which he had never done in his life…after all of this it became clear that I was going to have to go back to work…if we wanted things like a house, food, or toilet paper.  It became clear that one salary was not going to make our ends meet and at the end of a date night with Jon, I sat in the parking lot of Barnes and Noble in Chattanooga and cried.

I cried because I had already gone through this once, this giving over to change when I surrendered as a stay at home mother, and then began to relish the experience of being at home with my babies.  I cried because I remembered how anxious I was being away from them for even the few hours it took to finish school before we had moved to Europe.  I cried because I did not know if I could handle that anxiety again.  I cried because I was angry…angry over a lot about our transition back to Cleveland even though I knew it was what God had for us, knew it even if I didn’t understand it, knew it even though many people close to us did not understand it.  I cried because what had become my idea and identity of motherhood was being challenged…again.

Stability and routine are all very good things.  It is this kind of security and knowing what to expect that promotes growth and healthy development.  Too often we do not have enough of it.  We need things like breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.  We need to know that we will always brush our teeth and that we go to bed at about the same time after the same cup of tea and a bedtime story.  Rituals and routines keep us grounded and are so very important because the rest of life is…more often than not…anything but ritual and routine.

Life is full of changes.  You used to see these bumper stickers on cars and they would say things like: “Whoever dies with the most toys wins” or something like that.  If I could create a bumper sticker, I would make one that says: “Whoever is the most flexible in life wins.”

Ironically, it is the routine and rituals that we grow accustomed to as children and teenagers that make room for flexibility in life.  Our little bodies and minds learn that they can count on so many things like supper around the table, church every Sunday…so that, sure, why not be ok when the unexpected does happen.  We can deal with that.  Because I still know that I will eat three meals a day, brush my teeth, can count on mommy or daddy coming home, and going to bed at about the same time after the same story.  Bumps in the road can be tolerated in this kind of environment.

The less routine and ritual a child has growing up, the more rigid they actually become as adults.  It is as though our not so little bodies say I don’t know what to count on so I am going to hold on for dear life to any thing I can grasp and not be willing to let it go because who knows what is coming next.  I don’t know that I can count on three meals a day, mommy coming home for supper, or on church every Sunday so when something good comes along I will grab it, strangling it to death or until I am tired and exhausted and have worn out everyone around me.  I might even be a little obsessive about details and perfection and bite your head off if you do something not quite right…because I have learned that you have to fight for any good thing to last very long… and even then it usually doesn’t.  Bumps in the road are not so tolerated in this kind of context…where routine and stability were not the foundation.

Flexibility.  Being able to go with the flow while still making your way.  Having the ability to adjust and adapt.  Not demanding that life look a certain way every day every month every year.

I cried that night in the parking lot.  Then, I got up the next morning and got to it.  If I was going to have to work then I was going to do what I knew I was supposed to do, what I was trained to do.  I was going to be a therapist, a good one.

God was in the crying in the parking lot of Barnes and Noble.  He was in that bump in the road.  He knew that I could count on so many things…like that He would provide for me, that He would take care of my family and children because He always had.

He knows that motherhood looks a variety of ways in a variety of seasons, different with each child, with each new place of residence.  There is no real box, even the SAHM box is usually filled with work that mothers do on the side.  Mothers are mothers.  Mothers do what needs to be done.  And, somewhere in all of that He creates the mother he wants me to be, the mother He wants my children to have and see.

We get into trouble when we demand that life look a certain way, when we hold on to rigid ideas and identities.  We get into trouble and do damage to ourselves and to the loved ones around us because when I say that life has to look a certain way and that I have to look a certain way I am also saying that you do, too.  Or else.

I love Nora Jones.   Jon and I were listening to her as we drove into California for the first time less than a year after we got married.  I will always associate her with California and driving with the top down, wind in my hair…exploring the west.  In her first album she sings these lyrics in her song Cold, Cold Heart:

“my heart is paying now for things I didn’t do.”

Sometimes when we refuse or find it difficult to be flexible, to see God working in the undoing that needs to be done…perhaps due to things we went through as children or teenagers…we make those around us today pay for things they didn’t do.

Our inflexibility makes others pay.

I cried that night.  Then, I got up the next morning and got to it.

That’s how I do things.  I get it all out.  Jon and I learned a lot about ourselves when we moved to Prague.  We learned that I get the grieving over with fast and furious.  I cry.  I get angry.  I face culture shock and stare it down.  Jon’s comes, too…a few months later.  Thank God we don’t go through it at the same time.

I knew that with my education I was blessed to have choices in going back to work.  As soon as word got out, a former colleague of mine who was the director of counseling at a local clinic called and offered me a job.  40 hours a week, 9-5 of seeing clients.  While my brother is doing excellent work in this context, I knew there was no way that as a mother I would do a good job with clients in that kind of schedule.  I would get burned out within weeks.  I needed no time to give him an answer…thank you, I am honored, but no.

My head clearing from the cascade of tears just nights before, I knew that there was a very good chance God was in this change, that God was calling out gifts I had been content to lay down forever.  Before children, I had always dreamed of having my own private practice.  So, with a fire lit inside me, I made the difficult choice to do the hard work of digging out a private practice where I could set my own hours and create an environment that was healthy for me, and therefore, healthy for my clients.

My husband helped me design my first website and fliers. I sat up at night and created mailing lists from the phone book.  I did it the old fashioned way and licked all of my own envelopes, writing out the addresses, until my tongue was raw and my hands were tired.  I read books on starting a practice.  I was blessed to have watched my father do this for almost 30 years.  I knew that there would be very, very hard times.  I had a colleague who had her own medical practice in town.  She had told me that the first two years would be tough.  Expect it.  So, I did.  I expected a slow, steady growth.

I was able to get some adjunct teaching to help make ends meet and did some writing for my church’s International Girls’ Ministry office.  I wanted to support two things: my family and doing good therapy for my clients.  I would settle for nothing else.  I was on fire for my work and it got me through the anxiety of change.

That was well over four years ago.  I can hardly believe it.  My practice has seen changes and growth.  I have developed some wonderful professional relationships.  I love what I do.

God was in the crying in the parking lot of Barnes and Noble.  He was pushing me out of a nest.  He knows that motherhood looks a variety of ways in a variety of seasons, different with each child, with each new place of residence.  There is no real box, even the SAHM box is usually filled with work that mothers do on the side.  Mothers are mothers.  Mothers do what needs to be done.  And, somewhere in all of that He creates the mother he wants me to be, wants my children to have and see.

For What It’s Worth…Relational Transactions

Therapy is way more than a toolbox of intervention.  Information alone cannot replace professional help. However, information can be very powerful.  So, for what it’s worth to you, here is the weekly post offering a therapeutic idea, concept, or intervention that you can try out in your own life or relationships.

An older but incredibly helpful theory in field of understanding human relationships is called Transactional Analysis, first developed by psychiatrist Eric Berne in the 1950’s.

Here is the basic gist of it.  Each person operates, communicates, and behaves out of three different parts of themselves: a parent self, an adult self, and a child self.  So sometimes when we talk to another person we talk in a parent, authoritative voice.  In other situations when we talk to someone we talk in a collegial, adult voice.  In yet some circumstances we talk to others in a submissive or even playful child voice.

What complicates things…or, rather, makes things more interesting…is that the person to whom you are speaking is ALSO operating, communicating, and behaving back towards you out of either a parent self, an adult self, and a child self.

And, then sometimes we can, based on past experiences, expect, anticipate, or assume that others will operate, communicate, and behave towards us out of a certain “self”.  Perhaps, this previous “transaction” has not been very pleasant and you learned to respond out of a certain “self” as a defense mechanism.

Let’s use some common, real life examples to understand how these relational transactions take place.

A husband and wife use all three of these “selves” when communicating and all three can be healthy.  When husband is sick (or vice versa) you can imagine husband taking on a “child self” as the poor sick little boy.  J  The wife might operate, communicate, and behave towards him as the “parent self” as she helps him recover.  As long as this relational transaction does not take place all the time there is nothing wrong with it.  However, while doing something like their taxes together it is more appropriate if they talk “adult self” to “adult self”.  If in a situation like this example if one spouse tends to take on the “parent self” and talk “down” to the “child self’ of the other it is probable not a healthy situation in the long run.

Or, perhaps a woman never felt acceptance from her mother so, in an effort to constantly try to regain the parenting she lost through that relationship, even into adulthood the woman might take on the submissive “child self” when talking to other women.  She doesn’t realize that taking on this submissive role puts her at risk of manipulation in some situations and makes women uncomfortable in others.

In some relationships this is how co-dependency takes place.  As one person in the relationship, the addict, constantly gets themselves into a situation when they are the child who needs caring and “picked up” the other person in the relationship constantly takes on the parent role that is sometimes the supportive, sweet mommy figure, but can turn into the nagging mom as the “parent self”, too.

A person might struggle to maintain friendships or for them to remain incredibly surface, but the person might not realize that he or she is constantly talking to others as the authoritative “parent self” and not everyone enjoys that type of transaction on a regular basis.  Often people adopt this “parent self” because the only way they feel secure in relationships is if they feel “higher” than the other person…compensating for actually a deep feeling of being “lower”…deep insecurity.


The classic reads in Transactional Analysis are Eric Berne’s 1964 book Games People Play and Thomas Harris’ book I’m Ok, You’re OkBoth are still very popular and in print.

What can be helpful about TA is to think about your own transactions and be aware of them as you go throughout your day.  How do you talk to others?  Do you operate, communicate, or behave out of “parent self’ in response to certain individuals?  To certain types of individuals?  Or, do you take on the “child self’ when relating to some people?

Without condemnation or judgment, I encourage you just to be curious about your relational transactions and the “selves” you take on.  This curiosity could lead to awareness that might spark some powerful life changing insight….and produce some life changing results in relationships throughout your life.

Saturday Sampling March 10, 2012

Here is what is quickly becoming one of my favorite things to do each week…finding some of my favorite blogs to share on the Saturday Sampling! 

Here is a sampling of some posts from this past week that inspired me, educated me, or made me think.

Do you think I missed anything significant?  I try to look for variety.  Can you help me with that?  Please post any of your recommendations below so we can all benefit!

Rush Limbaugh and three evangelical blindspots

We need to read this thoughtfully and with open minds.

The Reluctant Pioneer

The words of a pastor in a church plant. Thank you for your example, Tracy.

The Word

We don’t read the Word to find a set of principles for life, but to find THE Word…Him.

The Small Picture

I love Tonia’s thoughts here.  I have been in this same place when it comes to children and wanting to make decisions to change things for them before realizing that they are right where they are supposed to be.  She has a lot of wisdom.

Why Did Porn Cost So Much?

I think the title gives you a good idea.  Thank you for your courage, Jonathan.

Reason #409 Why I Don’t Watch TV…Especially Good Christian B+@#$%

Some thoughts on the new show GCB…what are yours?

The fierceness of God

Here is a look at the mother hen nature of God.

Finding My Own Rhythm

I don’t like the word “busy”.  I don’t like to get in a conversational competition over who is the “busiest”.  Kelly talks about finding her own rhythm in the face of this cultural norm.

The Underground Railroad

Our freedom is not just about us.

4 Easy Exercises to Help Your Kids With Anxiety

A helpful blog with some basic tips for addressing some mental health care.

Mercy, Wholeness, and Self-Centered Perfectionism

***Parallel Processing

Parallel process is a clinical term used to describe the common occurrence in therapy when the therapist’s own experience is reflected in the client’s. It is when a client comes in grieving over the loss of a loved one while the therapist has only just experienced his or her own loss as well. It is a therapist helping a client through feelings of anger and hurt that the therapist has also just recently confronted.

But, here’s the thing: we are all in parallel process. Too often in life it goes unsaid.

Here is where I say it.***

Our honey jar is almost empty.

Until my oldest daughter was in first grade she ate honey almost every day.

Ok, ok, for those of you who know us very well…she really ate the same thing EVERY day for EVERY meal.

Oatmeal for breakfast, peanut butter and honey sandwich for lunch, and chicken nuggets for supper.

We were going for the nutrition award as parents.

It worried us me sick, but eventually she grew out of her eating habits just like my more gracious friends and family members assured me she would.  She now eats salmon, tacos, and her favorite kind of food is anything “spicy”.

She grew out of her honey stage and now I am the only one in the family still eating honey on an almost daily basis.  So, when the honey is collecting almost empty at the bottom I dread to purchase a whole new jar just for me.

I often forget to leave the honey turned upside down, which makes it easier to pour out onto my toast.  In this situation, if I am running late in the morning, planning on eating my toast in the car on my drive to class in Knoxville, there is no hope that I will get the honey out in time.

Honey stuck at the bottom has to be turned upside down for what seems like an eternity before it runs all the way down to the bottom where it is useful to the person who wants to eat it.

All of my children have gone through stages when they have had little tolerance for anything less than “just right”.  Their food, their blankets, their homework, their clothes…if anything is out of order a meltdown ensues.  I often find myself doing a great deal of work helping my children learn to tolerate imperfection…so that they can keep moving forward…so they don’t get stuck…so they can laugh, enjoy life, and grow.

Growth and strength require flexibility and, like my children, I have struggled with being bendy since I was young.

In a very literal, P.E. class, presidential fitness test kind of way, too.  My arms just never seemed to match the length of my legs.  A dream of mine in grade school was to actually pass the reach test past my toes.  Since I could barely make it past my ankles, I never came close.

I still contend that something was wrong with the tendons in my legs that kept me from being a presidential fitness champion.

But, my lack of flexibility goes beyond my inability to touch my toes and if God had his own course schedule for me this school year I believe the course would be entitled: “Flexibility 101: Learning to Tolerate Imperfection”.

I have heard many people call themselves “perfectionists” and sometimes this proclamation carries an air of boasting to it.

What we often fail to realize is that perfectionists…TRUE perfectionists…often do not fare well in life.  Their obsession with perfection usually leads in one of a few directions:

  1. Never starting anything at all.  If you don’t do it, then you cannot fail.  Sometimes known as “Paralysis of Analysis”, people in this state will often spend a lot of time analyzing or planning, but never following through.
  2. Never finishing anything.  They get started, but out of fear of failure, they keep redoing, making changes, or stalling because as long as they are in process then no one can accuse them of failing.  After all…they aren’t finished yet!

And, remember what failure is…anything less than perfect.

3. The final, perhaps the most deadly, path of a perfectionist is when a person will put all sorts of valuable resources at risk in order to attain perfection.  These resources include time, sleep, loved ones, health, etc.

This path can lead to anxiety, depression, and all sorts of addiction.

Let’s be honest, shall we?  Perfectionism is insanely (and I do mean INSANE) self-centered.

The whole reason a person wants to be perfect is about their own image, what people think about them…their own reputation.

Perfectionism is rarely about benevolence and compassion.

Perfectionism is about the perfectionist.

Ouch.

I started this semester a little uneasy about how I was going to manage all of my responsibilities.  I have this bad habit that my husband now knows well.  When I get overwhelmed rather than shifting down a gear, I shift up.  I decide that the only way I will feel successful in this crazy time is if I do it all…and do it all perfectly.

So I can’t just pass my statistics class where we are studying things like polynomial regression…I have to make a 100 on every quiz.  Anything less and my day is a little bummed.  And, statistics is just one part of my responsibilities.  So I stay up late and get little sleep and put all sorts of demands on my time, re-writing notes three times to help me study, and going overboard in my teaching responsibilities, doing my best to never encroach on my children’s time because I have to be a perfect mama, too.

And, all through this school year I hear God’s whispering to me over and over again… I want you to learn to tolerate imperfection.  I want you to learn to be flexible.

NOT…I want you to be perfect, doing all things with excellence.

Somewhere in our American Christianity we have equated “excellence” and, perhaps, perfection, with faithfulness.

Matthew 5:48 does tell us to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.  Doesn’t than mean that perfection is not only condoned by God, but preferred?

What does this idea of perfection here mean?

The gospels often parallel each other and the beautiful part of hearing the story of Jesus from four different disciples is that we get a very full, beautiful, four-dimensional view of Jesus and His words.

Matthew 5:48 is found in the famous “Sermon on the Mount”.  The parallel passage for this section of Matthew is found in Luke. In fact, if you go and read both passages you will have fun seeing the similarities.  However, there is one striking difference and it has to do with the parallel verse to Matthew 5:48.

Luke 6:36 says: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

What is the point here? What kind of information is this?  Maybe a closer look at the word “perfection” will give us some clues.

The word for perfection in Matthew 5:48 comes from a word that is translated 42 times as “whole”.

When you put all of this very cursory information together (you can find scholars who do a more exhaustive treatment of this subject I am sure) it seems that what God desires from us, more than perfection, is

Wholeness

Mercy.

My husband came down with the shingles last week.  He is an amazing, laid-back man with a big, kind, wise heart and a great sense of humor.  Although he was in pain he was able to laugh about his predicament.  Many people told him that shingles is caused by stress at which point he teased me.  I am pregnant and working on a Ph.D.  He wonders where the stress comes from?  Har-har.

I know I along with my pregnancy and Ph.D. didn’t cause my husband shingles (and so does he!), but I found myself hearing God’s whispers again.

I want you to learn to tolerate imperfection.  I want you to be flexible.

…so that you can keep moving forward…so you don’t get stuck…so you can laugh, enjoy life, and grow.

I’m like that honey in the jar.  Like SO much of our western, American society, I am so programmed to demand perfection. Like my children, I have a difficult time tolerating anything is not “just right”.   Changing my ways, altering my thinking is like turning a honey jar upside down.  It takes forever for the honey to start flowing down to where it is useful.

Like a train going in one direction, changing my way of approaching life means slowing the train down to a stop first.  There is a lot of screeching in that stage.

Then the train can start going the other way.

That Wednesday I took my statistics quiz.  I had made a conscious decision the night before not to stress out about it.  I just went with it. I was prepared, but I did NOT re-write my notes three times.

And, I did great.  I missed a question.  Big whoop.

When I got home I went through all the routine of picking up my kids, making supper, and getting ready for church.

In the middle of these preparations I got a phone call with information that was destined to rock our community.  A friend of mine, a precious family at our church, had lost a husband and a father, in a horrible accident…probably about the same time I was getting home from picking up my girls from school.

As I cried out for my friend and tears streamed down my face that night, I found myself hearing God’s whispers again.

“Please, please…

I want you to learn to tolerate imperfection.  I want you to be flexible.

…so that you can keep moving forward…so you don’t get stuck…so you can laugh, enjoy life, and grow.”

In that moment, worldly perfectionism will keep the friend from reaching out because the wrong word might get said.

Worldly perfection will steal, kill,and destroy moments with our loved ones…and, we are never promised tomorrow.

Christian perfectionism is concerned with mercy, wholeness, and relationship…all of which can get kind of messy and require tolerance for things being not “just right”.

Loss…grief…life…is rarely “just right”.

God, You don’t care about my perfection and excellence was not on Your mind when Your son was born in a dirty stable.  Neither does my husband expect it nor my friends or my kids.  I do.  In fact, the pursuit of worldly perfection is nothing more than a distraction from what is important…what matters in this world.

Wholeness….in relationship to others and with You.

Mercy…a merciful life with a full, gracious, open heart to others, You…and for myself.

I know you are still working on turning my train around.  It is a constant battle amidst and against the tides of our culture.  It may never be a done deal.  Thank you for Your patience with me.

I want to encourage you today to turn the honey jar of your way of being upside down.  Ask God to help you.  Stop your slave work to the hamster wheel demands of a wordly perfection that brings nothing but anxiety, depression, and regrets.

Work hard, sure.  I doubt I will stop doing that.  But, I promise your work will mean more and go further if you make room for wholeness and mercy in the context of relationships as your priority.

Christian perfection is just not the same as wordly perfection.

Any message that tells you otherwise is a lie.

I truly, passionately believe God is calling each of us and whispering the same message amidst and against the tide of our WORDLY perfection driven culture…

“I want you to learn to tolerate imperfection.  I want you to be flexible.

…so that you can keep moving forward…so you don’t get stuck…so you can laugh, enjoy life, and grow.”

“Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.
Hello lamppost,
What cha knowing?
I’ve come to watch your flowers growing.
Ain’t cha got no rhymes for me?
Doot-in’ doo-doo,
Feelin’ groovy.

Got no deeds to do,
No promises to keep.
I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep.
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me.
Life, I love you,
All is groovy.”

Simon and Garfunkel

For What It’s Worth… Loss

Therapy is way more than a toolbox of intervention.  Information alone cannot replace professional help. However, information can be very powerful.  So, for what it’s worth to you, here is the weekly post offering a therapeutic idea, concept, or intervention that you can try out in your own life or relationships.


One thing that all of humanity has in common is that each person will face loss in many ways many times throughout life.  Loss does not just take place through physical death.  It also takes places through moves across the country or across town, job changes or job loss, divorce, infidelity…the list could go on and on.

I am not going to tell you anything today that will take away the pain or speed up the process of grief that you or a loved one will experience in response to any of these losses.

I don’t have a magic wand.

I am going to share a well-known understanding of grief as a cycle as proposed by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, sometimes referred to as the acronym, “DABDA”.

D enial

A nger

B argaining

D epression

A cceptance

Denial: “She couldn’t be dead…I just saw here this morning.”

“He will come back.  I know he wouldn’t really do this.”

It doesn’t have to make sense.

Anger: A person can be angry at anyone or anything.  A person might be angry at

the company who let them go, the pastor who left for another church, the man with whom the wife had an affair.  A person might be angry at themselves, at God, or even the person who died.  Again, it doesn’t have to make sense.

Bargaining: “Maybe if I am a perfect little girl mom and dad will get back (or

stay) together.”

“If you will let her live I will do anything you say or go anywhere

you ask.”

“If I workout every day and lose all of this weight maybe she will

still love me.”

Bargaining does not have to make sense either.  There is some reverting to  childlike “magical thinking” that takes place in the early grief process.

Depression: This stage comes before the last, acceptance, because a person comes face to face with the reality of the “new normal”.  This stage is when a person realizes that this loss is for real.  There is no going back.  That realization is tough.

Acceptance: This stage is a misnomer.  It could imply that grief comes to an end and you never hurt again.  Life goes on AND life events will likely trigger some grief.  On mother’s day ten years after your mother has died…at your wedding when your parents are divorced…at the birth of your first child and your father is gone…at the anniversary of your spouse’s death…and the holiday seasons.

This cycle is not linear.  A person can jump around and skip phases.  Grief is messy.

The power in knowing these stages is understanding that you or your loved one is NORMAL.  Realizing that what you are going through is normal can be one of the most powerful realizations in your grief process. The more we think we are ABNORMAL, the more we fight the process, the more we feel weird, the more we get down on ourselves…and of course none of these beliefs or behaviors are very helpful for the healing process.

So, I am guessing that this week, today, this moment, you can think of someone that is facing loss.  Perhaps it is yourself.

For what it’s worth, knowing about the stages of grief could offer some comfort.  When a person understands that they are not alone in what they are experiencing that understanding alone can be comforting.