joy, in the dark

"Be joyful though you have considered all the facts."  Wendell Berry

Every year, I struggle with Week 3 of Advent, the dadgum Joy candle, and how to be joyful, considering all the facts.

The thing about Advent is this: we're waiting.

And sometimes we're waiting for things that aren't going to happen.

That abusive husband is not going to change.

That health issue is only going to get worse.

That relationship is not going to get its Disney-approved happily-ever-after.

That budget bill looks like it is going to pass, the one that gives the Wal-Mart family a $52 billion tax break, while the CHIP program that provides insurance to poor kids is being defunded because "we can't afford it."

And even if we're in a situation that we think will get better, this Advent might just be a sucky time of life, a season full of facts we'd prefer never, ever to consider at all, thankyouverymuch.

I have to tell you, JOY is not exactly what I feel, right off the bat, when I consider things like this.

The nativity that makes no sense: made in Peru, depicting a (sort-of) Thai Mary and Joseph, with a red-headed Baby Jesus. And elephants.  Naturally.

The nativity that makes no sense: made in Peru, depicting a (sort-of) Thai Mary and Joseph, with a red-headed Baby Jesus. And elephants.  Naturally.

Last year during Joy week, I struggled through to see that when I recognize Love, I can find joy.  Here's what I wrote last year:

I recognize Love in a field of wildflowers: I feel Joy.

I recognize Love in the creative work of an artist:  I feel Joy.

I recognize Love in the intentions of another:  I feel Joy.

I recognize Love in the face of my best beloveds:  I feel Joy.

And it occurs to me that maybe Joy is just this simple: seeing the Love, all around me.

Reading back over that today, I realized that is that this is a lesson in MINDFULNESS.

Seeing what is right now, right here, right in front of me.

Recognizing what I so often overlook.

Receiving Love in every infinite way that it presents itself.

Maybe NOT waiting (sorry, Advent) but seeing where the Kingdom of Love unfolds here and now.

Sometimes Love is obvious and wonderful, that person who shows up at the right time and place, bringing the gift of joy.

Sometimes Love is just the next beautiful breath, that conscious, grateful receiving of Spirit and Life.

Most of the time, I think we can be recognize Love somewhere around us. 

Most of the time we can be mindful if we take a moment to look and breathe.

But maybe today, for you, life is so sad and hard that you can't be mindful of anything outside of your own tears. 

If that's the case for you, know that this is why we light candles at this dark time of year: to share Love and light with each other.

Every candle on earth shines for you, because we are all part of each other.

Your tears are ours, and our light is yours.

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May this light from my home in Texas

shine Love and joy for you today,

wherever you are,

no waiting required.

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peace begins with justice begins with me

"Teach us the peace that comes through justice." Candle-lighting liturgy, Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ

"Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." Sy Miller and Jill Jackson

It feels deeply ironic to be talking about peace this second week of Advent. 

It's ironic every year, I guess. 

There's never a year without war somewhere on the planet. 

This year, however, aside from the wars already raging, there are tweets and threats and political palaverings that place peace at risk on practically every continent. 

If there's a spot without outright war at this minute, it seems like it's just a matter of time.

Olive wood nativity from Bethlehem, photo: me and my cell phone

Olive wood nativity from Bethlehem, photo: me and my cell phone

What do we do with the second week of Advent and its peace theme at a time like this?

First of all, I think we have to face this reality: 

True peace only comes through justice.

Peace without justice is simply oppression that we happen to be ignoring right now.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When we stop ignoring injustice, then we feel pain. 

And we don't like to feel pain. 

But if all of us, who have the privileged option of pretending that things are okay, would allow ourselves to experience just a fraction of the pain that victims of injustice suffer every day, then that pain might motivate us to be the change we want to see in the world.

It's a very common truth in the therapy world: pain is the great change-agent.  As long as we're feeling fine, we'll keep doing what we're doing.  Give us some pain, though, and we're pushing for change.

If the terrible realities so blatantly displayed before us right now (sexual abuse, racism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia) actually end up causing us some pain, which then motivates us to care for victims, to care for the sick and suffering, to become kinder and more compassionate, to end wars rather than start new ones--well, that would be some measure of justice in the world: justice and peace.

Justice and peace often begin with our own personal pain and motivation to do better, which ties right in to my second point:

Peace begins with me, right here and now.

We can't wait for someone to legislate peace from on high and let it trickle down.

We have to take responsibility for peace within our own circle of influence, and let peace rise like the tide. 

The powers that be, the powers that love the status quo with all its injustice and personal payouts to the mighty, those powers might dam up a river. 

They might build a wall. 

But they will never stop a rising tide.

And we can all be part of that tide of justice, one drop at a time in an ocean of mercy.

(And on the eve of elections in Alabama, where the choice for justice is facing voters, I just have to say it:  roll, tide, roll.)

The practical reality of bringing justice and peace, I have found, is that I must first create within myself a space for peace. 

I cannot fight for justice and peace unless I already possess it myself. 

The tide of peace has to rise in me first.

In my line of work, I am a witness to endless experiences of injustice.  Without some peace-space within myself, I will quickly begin to oppress others to deal with my own pain, which just births more injustice and un-peace into the world. Without that peace-space inside me, rage against injustice will burn me down in a heartbeat. 

For me, creating peace-space in myself means a contemplative practice, receiving the Love of God and the peace that passes understanding, receiving the life-breath of the Spirit for myself, before I can breathe it out to the rest of the world. 

A helpful read is How God Changes Your Brain, and here's a short introduction to contemplative prayerYoga is a huge part of my contemplative practice as well.

As I attend to my own peace-space, I'm able to extend justice and peace into the world. 

How peace flows out of each of us into the rest of the world will be highly individual.  We occupy our own finite spaces in the world, we have our own finite spheres of influence and interest. 

When we accept where we are, when we accept who we are, when we let ourselves see what we see, when we attend to what impacts us, then we'll naturally find the peace we're supposed to make and the justice we're supposed to do.  And if we all do that together, peace comes on earth.

Andy and I happened to be up at church on Saturday morning for a volunteer training session.  After the training session ended, I was talking with a friend and Andy went over to look at the "Giving Tree" where there was one last request from a child at a nearby elementary school. 

"Daniel is 5 years old and in kindergarten," the tag read.  "His teacher and the school counselor say that he has had a really hard year.  He wants a bike, like the other kids in his neighborhood.  Can anyone help out with this last-minute request?"

So Andy and I had a wonderful time on Saturday buying a bike (and a helmet, because I'm a mom) for Daniel.

How is does giving a kid a bike promote peace and justice? 

I don't know for sure, but my hope is that this child understands that he is equally valued in the world. 

I hope he knows that his voice matters just like everyone else's. 

I hope he knows that we care that he's had a hard year. 

I hope a bike brings joy and makes his life a tiny bit better. 

I hope that peace reigns in Daniel's 5-year-old world when he is respected and cared for, heard and responded to, on Christmas morning.  

I believe that every time we act with justice and mercy, we contribute a drop to the great rising tide of peace, a peace that is "too big" for a single person to accomplish, but completely within the reach of every one of us together, as we each "Do small things with great love." (Mother Theresa)

Peace comes in every place where every person is perfectly loved and safe and chosen, a precious part of the whole, on earth as it is in heaven.  And that is the work of justice that each of us has in our  hands today.  We can make that kind of justice and peace come right where we are, every minute, always.

When we light the peace candle in the Advent wreath this week, we're also lighting the justice candle. 

When we commit ourselves to be lovers of peace, we're committing ourselves to be lovers of justice. 

I wish that this Advent season, I could feel all comfy, safe, and warm and pretend that peace is a present reality.  Instead, I'm disturbed and uncomfortable, losing my faith in political and religious leaders to do the right thing.  In this particular season of Advent, instead of waiting in hope, it feels like we're just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But when I let myself center down and breathe, here is what I know for sure.

I have faith in YOU.

I have faith in ME.

I have faith in the Love that flows through us and never lets us go.

We are the Branches of the Vine. 

We have the mind of Christ.

We are the light of the world.

We will do justice, we will love mercy, we will walk humbly.

We will be the change we want to see in this world, you and me.

Love will light the way for us, to justice and to peace.

And so we light the candle of peace today, and the darkness will never overcome it.

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hope, our anchor and our wings

The first candle of an Advent wreath is traditionally the "hope" candle, so this is the "hope" week of Advent.

We wait in hope.

We wait, not in fear and dread, but in hope.

Two things immediately come to my mind when I hear the word "hope":

"Hope is an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." Hebrews 6:19

"Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all."  Emily Dickinson

Nativity from Peru on my mantle, photo: me and my cell phone

Nativity from Peru on my mantle, photo: me and my cell phone

These quotes represent two opposite things that I think are equally true:

hope is our anchor, and hope is our wings.

Hope is necessary to life, like water and air and food and shelter and friendship. 

Hopelessness, the feeling that everything is bad and that nothing can change, is a mental state so painful that human beings can't stand to live with it for long. 

Hopelessness is a big red flag for suicidality, in fact.  When a client tells me that they have no hope, I want them to go to the doctor right away.  I want to make sure that all the chemicals that make up our emotions are doing what they're supposed to be doing.  Once we're okay on the chemical front, then I feel comfortable talking about what else might be contributing to the hopelessness.

Most of the time, it seems to me that hopelessness arises from the loss of something vitally important to us:

the loss of a marriage

the loss of a loved one

the loss of purpose or meaning

the loss of identity.

We can't imagine our life without that crucial person or purpose, and with that loss, hope drains away. 

How can life ever be okay again? We just don't know.

I think maybe hope returns to us as we follow the anchor down, deep within ourselves, where we discover new truth, and those discoveries give us the capacity to fly again. 

  • When we've lost somone precious to us, we follow the anchor down in grief, and we find at the depths of ourselves a longing and a capacity for love, which gives us courage to connect again to others.
  • When we've lost a sense of passion or identity, we follow the anchor down in exploration, and we discover anew within ourselves the truth and beauty of who we are, so we can carry that gift out into the world once again.

A few years ago, I bought this little card by artist Deona Fish. 

My friend who was with me said, "Oh dear, is this how life feels to you?"

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And I guess it is. 

When we lived overseas, I had this picture of myself in a laden canoe, paddling far from shore, waiting for the big wave to take me down, clinging to the sides of the canoe, living in dread, sure I was going to drown.  My hope was that I would do everything perfectly so that nothing bad would happen.

And, of course, bad things did happen.

The waves did take me down.

But then I survived.

And somehow life became even better in the aftermath.

And so now, when I look at this picture, I see the girl in the boat, but she's not living in dread and fear.  She's at peace, doing her thing, even though the seas are rough at times, and maybe she will still get tipped into the drink at some point.

But here's what I know now: there's an anchor, and there are wings (not pictured).

If I get tipped out of the boat, I'll follow the anchor-chain down to bedrock. 

I'll learn what I need to know, down there in the dark. 

And I'll rise up with those feathery wings of hope.

I think this is true for all of us, and how we take hope out of the Advent wreath and walk around with it in real life, no matter what happens:

we remember that hope is our anchor,

and hope is our wings.

When we remember this, we will not be afraid to follow hope deep into the darkness, down to its anchor-point, because we know that new truths will show up for us there in the depths. 

New light will shine there, because ultimately we are anchored in Love, and we can never come to the end of Love.  There is always newness of life in Love.

And when hope has anchored us again there, we rise.

Anchor and wings: this is hope.

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advent, and the protest-power of Love

When we set up our Christmas tree this past weekend, Andy chose my Spotify "Protest Songs" playlist as our sound track.

Church window, Prague.  Photo: me and my cell phone

Church window, Prague.  Photo: me and my cell phone

This seemed appropriate, as the first-ever Advent song, Mary's Magnificat, is a protest song, too.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty."
Luke 1:46-53

When Jesus first spoke in the synagogue, he read a passage that echoes Mary's song:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free."  Luke 4:18

It's as if Mary was the original Social Justice Warrior, and Jesus learned his lessons well. 

I've thought before about social justice and protest in terms of tearing down systems of oppression IN ORDER TO set captives free, to bind up the broken-hearted, to provide comfort to the suffering, to bring beauty for ashes, and to offer joy in place of mourning. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

But I've been thinking lately about how Jesus went about it, and it seems like he just walked right into the existing system, and started doing his thing.

Where people were hungry, he fed them.

Where people were sick, he healed them.

Where people were outcast, he welcomed them.

He didn't wait for the system to fall. He just got busy.

Sure, he said stuff to the Pharisees, like:

"Woe to you, who create heavy burdens, and lay them on people's shoulders, when you aren't even willing to lift a finger."  (Matthew 23:4)

"Woe to you, who shut the doors of heaven in other people's faces!" (Matthew 23:14)

"Woe to you, blind guides!" (Matthew 23:16)

"Woe to you, who know every inch of the law but forget all about justice and mercy!" (Matthew 23:23)

He made some whips and flipped some tables, for sure.

But mostly he spent his time hanging out with "prostitutes and sinners", and getting a reputation as a glutton and a wine-bibber (Luke 7:34).  Which sounds exactly like the kind of person I most like to hang out with, to be honest.

Maybe the best way to bust the system is just to have a party and invite everybody over.  That seems to be mostly what Jesus did. 

Honestly, I think this is what people are looking for today: a place of acceptance and unconditional love. Food, comfort, healing.

It's as simple as that.

We don't have more money than the powers that be. We can't bomb, buy, or legislate "them" into submission.

But by golly, we can LOVE.

And the protest-power of LOVE is needed today more than ever before, because we have been living in a system full of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, known and experienced primarily by its victims, who are desperate for a place to call home.

We can be that home, we can be that place of healing. 

This is how the Kingdom comes, on earth as it is in heaven: when we love like Jesus loved.

And so, this Advent season, I pray with Mother Mary:

Scatter the proud,

Cast down the mighty,

Exalt the humble,

Fill the hungry with good things,

Send the rich away empty.

And teach us to build a home for the suffering,

where Love is always enough for us all,

and the bread and the wine is always waiting.

"I am Willing" by Holly Near

I am open and I am willing
To be hopeless would seem so strange
It dishonors those who go before us
So lift me up to the light of change
There is hurting in my family
There is sorrow in my town
There is panic in the nation
There is wailing the whole world round
May the children see more clearly
May the elders be more wise
May the winds of change caress us
Even though it burns our eyes
Give me a mighty oak to hold my confusion
Give me a desert to hold my fears
Give me a sunset to hold my wonder
Give me an ocean to hold my tears

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feeling resentful? step back.

Some of us here are overfunctioners.

This means that we tend to do more than our fair share.

Of everything.

Household chores, emotional work, the burdens of the world.

We care about everydamnthing, so we just pick up the load and carry it.

Everybody loves us, because we make it all A-Okay for them.

Triumphant female, Budapest.  Photo: Andy Bruner

Triumphant female, Budapest.  Photo: Andy Bruner

Sometimes that's okay for us, too.

Hey, I'm a clean-surfaces person, and it bugs me to have cups on the kitchen counter, so I put them in the dishwasher. 

Most of the time it's no big deal.

But.

When I feel myself getting resentful of anything and everything, I've learned that it's time to take a step back.

I used to push forward and do more in situations like that. 

Clearly the problem was that nobody else was doing enough, so I had to keep doing it all, poor pitiful Christian martyr that I was.

The problem with overfunctioning is this: the more I overfunction, the more I overfunction.

The demands never stop. 

Everybody's always hungry, victims are always needy, the orange man never stops tweeting.

And as long as I keep running on the gerbil wheel, it's going to keep turning and I'll have to keep running.

But what I've learned is this: I can stop.

I can rest.

When I'm feeling overwhelmed, overworked, resentful, used, and depleted, I can step back.

And the world has never once stopped turning.

I've tried it, and I promise you that it's true.

So here we are, the day before Thanksgiving, right before the holiday insanity strikes, my overfunctioning friends.

I want to invite you to step back whenever you need to in these days ahead.

When it's just too much, when everything's going to fall apart if you don't doallthethings, do the one radical and insane thing that's never, ever crossed your mind to do:

Step back.

Find rest for your soul.

I'll leave the cups on my kitchen counter, and you can leave yours.

We'll sit down instead.

We'll breathe.

We'll let things be.

We'll receive as well as give.

We'll accept ourselves for who we are: human, limited, in need.

We'll release our need to be the hero, the martyr, the saint.

We'll just be and let be.

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this one life hack will change your life forever

Did I make you click?  Huh?  Huh?  Huh?

Or did you think a robot had taken over kaybruner.com, breaking my strict rule against clickbaity headlines?

Whatever got you here, here it is, the one thing that will change your life forever:

Treat yourself with the same loving kindness with which you treat your best friend.

I've started saying this to clients on the regular, and you know what I get in return?

A shy laugh.

Downcast eyes.

A shocked look.

An "I never, ever thought of that."

"Be miraculously kind to yourself."  Church window, Budapest, photo: me and my cell phone

"Be miraculously kind to yourself."  Church window, Budapest, photo: me and my cell phone

Because you know what?  As women, we have been taught to treat everybody really, really well.  We are taught to be nice, to speak softly, to always say the kind thing.

And there's NOTHING wrong with this.

EXCEPT.

EXCEPT.

EXCEPT.

Our own selves are the exception to the rule of niceness.

We know that love and kindness, dignity and respect are the right things to do for everyone else, BUT we somehow think that we are supposed to give ourselves:

a good talking to

a good scolding

a good spanking

**Why are these things called "good" by the way?  Why?**

We would never, ever treat another person the way we treat ourselves.

We would never, ever speak aloud to others the mental abuse we heap on ourselves.

We would never do the kind of violence to another person that we do to ourselves.

And only one person can stop this violence against myself: me.

And so I'm giving my clients this wonderful, radical, crazy life hack, and I'm trying it out for myself as well.

When we are sad, when we are lonely, when we are depressed, when we are scared, when we are upset at all the wickedness in the world, we ask this question:

How would we treat our very best friend who felt like we're feeling right now?

We'd probably bring them a cup of tea and a really good chocolate, fuzzy blanket and our own favorite soft pillow.  We'd put on some soothing music and light a fire.  We'd get their favorite Indian take-out and watch their favorite movie together, even though it's only 2:00 in the afternoon.

We know what we'd do unto others, because we do it all the time.

Now the challenge is to do the same unto ourselves, because we are just as beloved, just as cared for, just as deserving.  

And there is plenty for us all.  No shortage of supply.

There is plenty of Love for us, plenty of kindness for us all.

Be kind to yourself today, dear friend.

And I will do the same.

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abuse revelations and the raft of rationalizations

Abuse revelations are much in the news these days.

Harvey Weinstein, Judge Roy Moore, Louis CK.  

Many more will come to light, I feel sure. 

Many more will never come to light, I know.

To victims, please know that I believe you.  I will always believe you.  I am with you.  I am on your side.

neighborhood clouds, photo: Andy Bruner

neighborhood clouds, photo: Andy Bruner

As we watch these revelations unfold, we see a range of responses from those accused of abuse.

There's denial, as in the case of Judge Roy Moore.

There's admission of guilt, as the case of Louis CK.

But wherever the accused fall on the range of responses, there's one thing we can count on for sure.

Rationalization.

Rationalization: the excuses that explain why things are not really as bad as everybody thinks.

Rationalization says:

"I didn't know it was wrong."

"I didn't think it would bother you."

"I'm a good person, everyone admires me."

"Mary and Joseph..."

The person who violates KNOWS that they are violating their own personal values, the law of the land, their marriage vows, the boundaries of another person.  They have to create a set of "reasonable" explanations--rationalizations--in their own mind to continue with their behavior.  

They violate, they can't face the reality of what this means about themselves, so they rationalize.

Every single offender rationalizes.

Every single one.

Whether it's a big-name celebrity or your porn-watching husband, every single person who violates their own values, or the values of society, will rationalize.

After many years of dealing with situations where there's a clear offender (abuse, adultery, addiction) here is what I have learned:

WHATEVER the offender says, early on, is going to be rationalization.

He's had to create rationalizations to deal with his guilt and shame.

He's going to verbalize those rationalizations, because this is the only story he has. 

The offender has made their brain work this way to keep offending, until it seems plausible inside their own head.  The offender thinks others will see it as plausible as well, so out it comes.

Sometimes you get a farcical rationalization like "Mary and Joseph" in the case of Judge Roy Moore.  

Many times, there's an attempt to pretend innocence, as if the offender doesn't know the ethical rules of his own culture: "I didn't know it would bother you."

A lot of times, you'll get a round of victim-blaming: "What was she wearing?"

Every once in a while, you get a much more sophisticated and confusing rationalization like Louis CK's statement.  (Hint: if the person tells you 4 times in his confession how much people admire him, he's still protecting himself with rationalization.  Be wary.)

Whatever the specifics, know this for sure: the offender is rationalizing. 

He can't help it.

Assuming that there's going to be rationalization keeps me off the galighting crazy-train, and I hope it will help you, too.

If we get on the crazy-train, then we're using the rationalization exactly the way the abuser does: to distract from the abusive behavior.

But if I recognize rationalization for what it is, and I don't waste time and energy engaging it, I can turn my attention to what is actually within my control: healthy boundaries for myself.

Given the facts of the situation, regardless of the offender's excuses, what is healthy for me, here and now?

This is what I can do: decide on my boundaries, hold to my boundaries, live within my boundaries.  No matter what the other person chooses, my boundaries belong to me.

Most of the time, healthy boundaries are what offender doesn't want, because boundaries will mean consequences for them and a disruption of the fantasy world that they've created in their minds.  Boundaries will mean, possibly, that the offender begins to face some of his pain.

He won't like that.  And culture tells women to be nice, so we don't like it either.  

Now.

It is totally possible for the offender to face reality in recovery, and stop the rationalizing.

There is hope for us all.

But facing the reality in situations like Roy Moore's or Louis CK's, or even our husband's, will be personally painful to a degree that many people can't handle at a deep level.  A lot of people, when their offenses are exposed, will simply figure out how to be more socially acceptable. 

Being socially acceptable is good!  It needs to happen!  Behavioral change is important, no doubt about it.

However, I think that for true healing, the person has to face their own demons in the same up-close and personal way that their victims have had to.  Their own personally-felt pain should be comparable to the pain they have caused others.  Not for the purpose of shame, but for the purpose of truth and healing.  If that doesn't happen, I suspect there will continue to be dysfunctional outbursts.

Unfortunately, the rules of toxic masculinity have socialized men to deny and repress emotions (big boys don't cry, be a man), then taught them that it's inevitable that they'll act out (boys will be boys, locker room talk).  

True recovery from these deep roots of offending is a dark valley to walk through.  Not only do they have to face up to the reality of what they've done, but they also need to rework their entire interior landscape. This involves the kind of emotional work which men have been actively trained against.  They have to learn the skills on the job, and the job is a big one.

I personally think this is a generational project, and that true healing will be carried on as we parent our children in gentler, healthier ways, teaching every child, regardless of gender, to be emotionally intelligent, well-boundaried, loving, self-loving human beings.

So just be aware that true recovery is a tall order.  Not saying it can't be done.  Just saying it is painful and difficult.  It's easy for the process to stall out along the way because it's just so hard to push through.  

Nobody can do that work except the person whose work it is.  We have to let them do their work.

And we hold to our boundaries, adjusting our boundaries as needed.  We can't get caught up in rationalization.  We have to continue to face the truth and let it set us free.

I often get asked about "restoration of relationship."  How and when does that happen, people want to know.

Here's what I think.  If you're a victim, you are IN NO WAY EVER REQUIRED to be in a relationship of any kind with your abuser.  Whether the abuse is emotional, verbal, physical, sexual, economic, spiritual, you are not required.  

You get to choose what's healthy for you, and if that's no-contact, I am with you all the way.

Other people can walk with the recovered abuser.  It doesn't have to be you.

If he tells you that you are required to be in a relationship with him, he is not as recovered as he claims. 

If his therapist says you are required to be in a relationship with him, that therapist is violating the professional ethic of client autonomy.  Call your state licensing board and report that therapist immediately. 

If it's your pastor who says this, find a better church.  

If it's your parents who tell you this, my heart breaks for you. 

Release them to it, grieve, and find healthy community that loves you, respects you, and treats you with care and compassion.

You get to choose a life that reflects the value and beauty of who you are.

You get to be treated and loved the way you want to be treated and loved.

Boundaries, my friends.  Boundaries.

Whatever someone else chooses, we can choose to be healthy and whole.

And free.

Free.

Free indeed.

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authentic self, connected and free

It is really okay for us to be ourselves.

We are loved and safe, just as we are.

Nothing separates us from Love.

If life, death, angels, and demons can't separate us from Love (Romans 8), then our honest attempts to live into the truth of who we really are won't separate us, either.

In fact, remember that definition of "sin?"  "Missing the mark," that's what they always said.  "Sin is missing the mark."

What if the sin is missing the mark of who we really are?

What if the mark is the Imago Dei that every human possesses?

And what if each of us bears out some precious part of the divine image, unique completely to ourselves?

And what if, in trying to hit targets outside of ourselves, set up by culture, religion, family expectations, what if THAT is the real sin?

What if we're just really supposed to be who we are?

What if?

The thing is, though, that

being our own true selves

feeling our own true feelings

asking our own true questions

finding our own true answers

all these things require being a separate self.

We are, at once, a necessary and unique part of a whole, and also a necessary and unique separate self.

A great mosaic, perhaps.

Alphonse Mucha window, St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, photo: me and my cell phone

Alphonse Mucha window, St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, photo: me and my cell phone

We are not separate from Love when we are a separate self.

We can never be separated from the great life-blood of the Vine, remember that.

But we are separate in the sense of being fully free,

not under the control, domination or oppression of others.

Love will never control, dominate, shame, bully, or oppress.

Only Love is our life-line, not others, no matter how religious, how expert, how powerful those others are.

We do not allow others to put themselves in Love's place as our source and supply. 

In that sense, we are separate.

We come to Love,

we let it flow through us,

and we Become.

We become the selves we were meant to be, our

whole,

healthy,

risk-taking,

rest-taking,

life-giving,

Love-receiving

selves.

Fully connected to Love.

Wholly free.

Free indeed.

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belief and faith (they are not synonyms)

I started reading James Fowler's Stages of Faith, subtitled The Psychology of Human Dvelopment and The Quest for Meaning.  It's very academic, and I've only limped into chapter 3 so far, but I wanted to share an insight of Fowler's that has already made the reading worthwhile to me, and that might be helpful to you as well.

Here we go: belief and faith are not the same thing.

Fowler says that belief is "the holding of certain ideas," and quotes Wilfred Cantwell Smith on faith, in contrast:

"Faith is deeper, richer, more personal.  It is engendered by a religious tradition, and in some cases and to some degree by its doctrines; but it is a quality of a person and not of the system.  It is the orientation of the personality, to oneself, to one's neighbor, to the universe; a total response; a way of seeing whatever one sees and handling whatever one handles; a capacity to live at more than a mundane level; to see, to feel, to act in terms of, a trascendent dimension."  W. C. Smith, quoted in Stages of Faith

St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, photo: me and my cell phone

St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, photo: me and my cell phone

Fowler's separation of belief and faith is extremely helpful if we are going to be intellectually honest on our spiritual journey.

We need to acknowledge that, as human beings, we just don't know everything.  We like to think that we know everything, but we don't.

How many religious beliefs have proven false over the years?

  • Remember when the church believed that the earth was the center of the entire universe, and excommunicated Galileo for saying otherwise?
  • Remember when the church believed that white people were superior to people of color, proved it with Bible verses, then oppressed, enslaved, and murdered millions of brown people?
  • Remember when the church said it was God's will to vote for... well.  

Let's just accept that humans are prone to error, and in the service of intellectual honesty, it might be helpful to hold our beliefs as spiritual hypotheses rather than absolute truth.

"Based on what I know now, I believe that X is true.  However, if and when new evidence comes to light, I'll adjust my beliefs."

If we can separate our specific beliefs from our higher faith, we can continue to explore the world around us without fear.

If we can't separate specific beliefs from higher faith, when we conflate belief and faith, we're afraid to change beliefs, even when they are proven false.  And we end up with epic cognitive dissonance: we know things that we can't let ourselves know.

When we have cognitive dissonance, then we have emotional turmoil, and when we have emotional turmoil that we can't be honest about, we project that fear and anger out onto other people in the form of Spanish Inquisitions. 

It's happening in our country today, all in the name of "protecting religious freedom."

Those of us who care about justice and mercy, we have to let the revolution of righteousness begin within ourselves. 

We have to be people of rigorous honesty and self-responsibility, so that we don't join the chorus of insanity, baying for the blood of whoever it is that represents our cognitive dissonance to us.

We have to be willing to face the truth and let it set us free, even when we have to say, "I was wrong.  Racism is a thing.  Misogyny is a thing.  Transphobia is a thing.  I was wrong, and I will change."

Because that's really the problem with changing our outdated beliefs: our ego doesn't like it.  We'd rather be arrogantly wrong and let others suffer, than admit we were mistaken.

God help us.

But the reality is this:  we can set our FAITH on higher ground than our specific, often-mistaken beliefs.

Here's what's true for me:

LOVE.

My faith that God is LOVE.

LOVE is the bedrock of my life, my North Star.

I no longer believe many of the things I used to believe. 

But my faith is stronger than ever.

The deep, rich, personal quality of Love within me, oriented with compassion toward myself, my neighbor, the universe? 

That part of me is more open and available than it's ever been.

The ability to respond in Love, to see and handle life with Love, the capacity to live in Love, to see and feel and act in Love in both the mudane and trascendent moments of life? 

That part of me is richer, fuller, deeper than ever before in my life.

Making Love the faith-center of my life has meant that along the way I've had to leave behind specific beliefs that are incongruent with my faith that God is Love. 

  • I've had to drop the belief that my perfect behavior was going to save me and mine.
  • I've had to drop the belief that shame was a good, helpful tool that would keep me in line.
  • I've had to drop the belief that shaming others would make them into better people.
  • I've had to drop the belief that controlling others was my job in life.
  • I've had to drop the belief that God wants to shame and control us into perfection.

No doubt I'm still carrying beliefs that are incongruent with Love.

No doubt I have things left to drop along the way.

But I know that this is true:

every time I trust Love more,

I have more freedom.

I have more beauty.

I have more light.

And all that freedom and peace and beauty and light is well worth the work of changing some mistaken, outdated beliefs along the way.

But don't just take my word for it.

Try it yourself and see!

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self love

A while back, my daughter friendship-evangelized me into the yoga world, and once I was converted to the wonders of yoga, I became an enthusiastic evangelist myself. 

My favorite teacher is Adriene, of Yoga With Adriene on YouTube.  She's cute, she's sweet, she wears normal clothes, and says non-stressy things like "Find what feels good," as opposed to the studio teacher who wanted me to stand on my head the first day I was there.  "You don't trust your body," she accused me.  I gave her my stink eye and came home to Adriene.

I always feel better, even after just a few minutes with Adriene's voice coaching me along to "Breathe lots of love in, breathe lots of love out."

My counseling clients know that I hard-core preach the benefits of yoga, research-proven to help alleviate even the toughest anxiety.  (If you haven't read The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, or at least listened to his interview at the OnBeing podcast, you're missing out on the research behind the yoga revolution.)

For clients who aren't quite willing to take the plunge, it often becomes a joke between us to see how long into the session it takes me to suggest that yoga, might, maybe, possibly, be a helpful thing to just try this week?  Just a sweet little, low-to-the-ground anxiety-cure practice?  Just a little alternate nostril breathing, pretty please, because three minutes of this will make positive brain changes?

So.  I love Adriene, and Friday morning, the Yoga with Adriene roadshow came through Dallas.  It was a red-letter day, y'all.

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It was wonderful to be in a room with hundreds of people breathing lots of love in and lots of love out.  I had lots of good, teary moments, creating lots of emotional space inside myself. 

My friend Shelly came along, and it was fun to practice with a friend, and then we stood in line for ages to talk to Adriene, and then we went for lunch in a super trendy industrial-concrete-floor-meets-cozy-upholstered-furniture sort of place.

It was a lovely, lovely day.

The only bump in the road was when I went to buy a t-shirt from the merch table. 

And the t-shirt says "Self Love."

I don't know if this is just me, but somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that it's not a good thing to love myself. 

It's good if God loves me.

It's nice if other people love me.

But if I love me? 

That's selfish. 

That's narcissistic. 

That's unspiritual.  

So goes the story in my head, anyway.

I've learned to treat the story in my head with a certain amount of suspicion, because a lot of my head-stories are pure, vicious fiction.  Horror genre stuff, some of them.

So I bought the shirt, because I wasn't willing to trust my head-story without further examination. 

Plus, you only get to go to the Yoga With Adriene roadshow once in a lifetime, and after all the free hours of yoga on YouTube, I felt like I owed Adriene the price of a shirt.  Or 100. 

I wore the Self Love shirt all day Friday and all day Saturday.  

I thought a lot about self love while wearing the shirt that says Self Love.

I thought about how powerful my love is.

I know that my love is a power for good in my husband's life.

I know that my love is a power for good in my childrens' lives.

I know that my love is a power for good in my friends' lives.

I know that my love is a power for good in my client's lives.

Eventually, I asked myself:

Why can't my love be a power for good in my own life, too?

You know what?

It can.

And it will.

I don't have to ration this love, divert it away from myself, starve myself of my own affection, or in any other way deprive myself of this power for good that is my love.

I'm discarding that old story about how self love is bad. 

I'm going to let myself have as much love as I want. 

As much love as I need. 

I'm going to give myself just as much love as I give to all the other people I love.

And then let's just see what happens, shall we?

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For all these great gifts of yoga, Lord, I am truly grateful.

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