when ostracism means release

A funny thing happened when my son came out four years ago: every bit of the conditional love in my life went away.

I didn't know that the love in my life was conditional, because I was always meeting the conditions: saying the right things, going to the right kind of church.

But when it became clear that we were no longer going to say the right things or go to the right kind of church, all that love and support went away.

It was so unbelievably painful.

SO PAINFUL.

BUT.

AND.

 ThankGiving Square chapel, Dallas (me and my cell phone)

ThankGiving Square chapel, Dallas (me and my cell phone)

Just lately I've realized that the love we have now is truly unconditional: with our kids, at our new church home, with our friends who have stuck and stayed.

Anyone who's here now loves and accepts us as we are, without judgment or criticism.

That's something I've never before experienced in my life.

Previously, I avoided judgment and criticism by complying.

Now that's no longer an option, and my life is better for it.

The other thing I'd never before experienced in my life was the true freedom to be myself in the world, without the constraint any kind of religious boss.

I did not know how much my soul needed to escape those constraints, but it turns out my soul needed it. So badly.

I'm by no means an Enneagram expert, but I'll tell you that I appear to be an Enneagram One with a 2-wing. Type One is the Reformer, Type Two is the Helper. Put them together: "Advocate." 

As a woman, Type Two is perfectly acceptable in our culture. As a wife, as a mother, I was really good at being empathetic, warm-hearted, and self-sacrificing, so I leaned hard on that side of myself for many years.

However, the Type One/Reformer was the less acceptable part of me: called scary, called mean, often told to be quiet, to calm down, always simmering away in the background, feeling frustrated and unfulfilled.

"Ones are conscientious and ethical, with a strong sense of right and wrong. They are teachers, crusaders, and advocates for change: always striving to improve things, but afraid of making a mistake. Well-organized, orderly, and fastidious, they try to maintain high standards, but can slip into being critical and perfectionistic. They typically have problems with resentment and impatience. At their Best: wise, discerning, realistic, and noble. Can be morally heroic." (The Enneagram Institute)

"Critical and perfectionistic" and "having problems with resentment and impatience" describes my emotional state for many years.

Because my passion for justice, for healthy change, was exactly as the prophet Jeremiah describes: "a fire shut up in my bones."

When we left the evangelical fold, the fire was set free to write whatever I want, say whatever I want, see whatever clients I want. 

The fire in my bones is now focused on doing good for my family, my clients, and myself. No church, no organization, no boss gets to tell me that I have to abrogate my ethics as a parent or a therapist or a human being in order to comply with a man-made system.

There is no "I love you BUT" in my life. 

Only Love, only Love.

Love is the ethic.

Love is the North Star.

Love is the Law and all the Prophets.

The gift of unconditional Love and the freedom to exercise my true Self powerfully has healed me in ways I did not know I needed healing.

I didn't know I needed this healing, and I didn't even realize this healing was happening until I started having the oddest experience of freedom and total release (which a lot of people would call forgiveness), even in situations that would formerly have been extremely distressing to me.

I can enter into spaces where I have been judged, criticized, gossiped about, and condemned, and feel totally at peace.

I used to come away from toxic situations needing days, weeks, months, or even years to recover.

Now I can walk into the situation in peace and freedom, and I can walk away from the situation in peace and freedom.

Unconditional Love is mine.

My life and my gifts are my own to exercise.

I am free indeed.

When the pain of ostracism becomes release

into freedom, power, and peace:

that's resurrection power, y'all.

That's the Kingdom, here and now.

That's Love, always winning, because that's what Love does.

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unconditional love does not condone abuse

It seems like an awful lot of toxic theology comes my way, and lately there's been a real spate of blogs and posts that seem to imply that unconditional love means taking whatever abuse comes your way.

"Jesus did it, so should we," the logic goes.

Funny thing is, wherever I see this logic employed, from "biblical womanhood" blogs to church leader's online offerings, taking abuse only seems to apply to women.

If someone can find me a church blog that tells men to just take whatever abuse comes to them, please pass it along. But I don't see that narrative being much advanced. 

I think maybe it's because men are doing the abusing and men are running the churches. I wish I didn't sound so paranoid, but it's starting to look like a pattern from where I sit.

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At any rate, in one of my Facebook groups, we got to talking about what unconditional love actually means, if not going back to get your lights punched out time and time again.

I think there are two main points we must keep in mind.

ONE: I AM NOT THE SOURCE OF UNCONDITIONAL LOVE, SO IT'S NOT UP TO ME TO SUPPLY LOVE TO EVERY ABUSIVE PERSON ON THE PLANET.

Unconditional Love means that every human being is inherently precious and valuable.

**Yes, even the abusers. God loves them too. Which just proves that you really don't want me to be the source of unconditional Love because I just don't have it in me. Anything I'd give to the abusers would be pure pretend, and I think they need better than that. They need real, healing Love. So let's just accept that God gets to be in charge of that and wish them well.**

Because I'm not the source of unconditional Love, however, I am not required to be close to people who are abusive, unpleasant, or in any way toxic to me.

I can still accept that the person is precious and valuable, and probably doing the best that they can, while I remove myself from toxic situations.

Unconditional Love will still be available to that person, even when I am not.

TWO: I AM INCLUDED IN UNCONDITIONAL LOVE, SO I GET TO RECEIVE LOVE JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE.

Because I am included in unconditional Love, that Love does not allow others to abuse or harm me.

Unconditional Love must include love FOR ME just like everyone else, otherwise it's a very limited, seriously conditional sort of love.

Unconditional Love does not condone abuse FOR ME, just like unconditional Love does not condone abuse for anyone else.

(Those of us who grew up in abusive systems will have a hard time believing that unconditional Love includes us, but sit with it a while.)

Because the other person is included in love,

even while they are being toxic to me,

I can do what is healthy for myself

while trusting that Love will do what is best for that person as well.

Unconditional Love does not depend on me, and unconditional Love always includes me.

Be well and whole, my friends, and free indeed.

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perfect plastic flowers

Last September, when we were in Ireland, we often saw buildings adorned with beautiful baskets of flowers.

One day I finally got close enough to get a close-up photo, and that's when Andy said to me, "Those are plastic."

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That's when I realized: it's late September, these are summer flowers, yeah, all these baskets I've been seeing are full of plastic flowers.

They were still pretty, don't get me wrong. 

It's just different when you realize they're all plastic.

 Dublin; pretty flowers, but you know...plastic

Dublin; pretty flowers, but you know...plastic

I was thinking about plastic flowers because I wrote about perfectionism last time, and I showed you a picture of my Tangerine Crossvine in full springtime bloom.

Remember this?

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Well, two days later, I woke up and it looked like this.

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Not looking so perfect any more.

Of course we all know this is just the natural growth cycle of this very healthy, mature vine. It's doing exactly what it's supposed to do: exuberant spring blooms, a big die-off, and then sporadic blooms throughout the summer, depending on how much rain and heat we get.

The problem is, though, that we don't accept these kinds of growth cycles very easily when it comes to ourselves.

And if we're in a religious system that pushes the perfection narrative hard, our religious system may not accept our natural, maturing growth cycle very well either.

If we're maturing, we're going to be growing.

And if we're growing, we're going to be changing.

Change is inherent to growth.

You can't have "spiritual growth" without spiritual change.

Scary stuff, right?

Fear can keep us sticking a bunch of perfect plastic flowers all over the place, rather than allowing ourselves to go through whatever is next in our spiritual process.

Maybe it's a bit less scary if we look to the example of Jesus and consider the flowers, for they grow and mature and change.

They bloom and they wither and they die and they bloom again.

And it's all okay.

It's all normal.

It's all maturing.

It's all good.

In fact, it's very good.

It's the only way to Real.

To read more about spiritual growth and change:

Stages of Faith, James Fowler

Faith Shift, Kathy Escobar

Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey

Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans

Finding God in the Waves, Mike McHargue

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perfect in Love

Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48

That verse just about killed me.

It certainly made me psychotic and suicidal for a while, after I'd exhausted the limits of what I thought it meant: the perfection of my own personal morality project.

 Tangerine Crossvine on the pergola over my back patio.

Tangerine Crossvine on the pergola over my back patio.

Day in and day out, I worked at perfectionism as hard as I could.

I didn't drink, I didn't chew, I wouldn't go with the boys that do. I went to a Christian college, only had Christian friends, was at church every time the doors were open, became a missionary.

I looked good--even GREAT--on the outside, but on the inside, the more perfect I tried to be, the worse it got.

There was no rest for my soul, no joy in my heart.

I was exhausted by all the performing, all the attempts at perfection, frustrated with myself for never being perfect, and angry with anyone who wasn't trying as hard as I was.

I was disconnected from myself, disconnected from others, and increasingly disconnected from God, who apparently was not interested in participating in my personal morality project, since he wasn't answering my prayers for perfection.

After all that hard work, nothing turned out like it was supposed to. 

And I couldn't quit, because perfectionism is a gerbil wheel.

The minute you stop running, the jig is up. 

Those of us who have tried perfectionism, tested it to its outer limits like I have, we know that the fruit is bad. We know it doesn't work. We know it's rotten to the core.

People ask how to get out of the trap of perfectionism, and the underlying concern I hear is this: how do I exit perfectionism perfectly?

Because this is how us perfectionists roll. We don't ever want to give perfectionism up. It owns us, body and soul. (It might actually be the devil, come to think of it.)

I'll be honest, y'all: I don't know how to do this pretty, because I was such a determined perfectionist that even when I knew it was wrong and bad and crazy, I was so afraid of jumping off the wheel that I just kept going until I was psychotic.

I kept doing perfectionism until my body and brain gave out and perfectionism was no longer an option, and then I found this:

LOVE.

Love lifted me.

That was pretty much it.

When I couldn't do anything,

when I couldn't perform,

when I was the farthest from perfection I'd ever been in my life,

Love healed me.

(And Love heals me still, every single day.)

I don't think it really matters how you get off the gerbil wheel, or even if it's pretty. It's like that old song: "Just slip out the back, Jack, make a new plan, Stan, no need to be coy, Roy, just get yourself free."  

I made a mess getting myself free, and it came out okay, because that's how Love works.

A while after my perfectionism-fueled breakdown, I ran across that Bible verse that had plagued me all my life: "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48

And for the first time I could remember, I looked at the context: Love. 

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even Gentiles do the same?

Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect. 

When this verse talks about being perfect, it's talking about Love.

It makes sense if you think about it, because the Bible clearly says, I John 4:8:

GOD IS LOVE.

If we want to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, then "perfection" is going to be Love; in fact, it's going to be a radically inclusive Love that gives goodness to everyone, and not just the people we deem "righteous." 

**That Love includes our undeserving, imperfect selves, by the way. We are not excluded from Love.**

And how do we come to be so full of Love that we can love even our enemies and do good for the people who are evil to us--and even love and do good to ourselves?

It's as simple as this: receiving Love and letting it fill us until it overflows.

When you're ready for Love, there's nothing more to do.

Just receive.

Will it make a mess when you jump off the gerbil wheel?

Maybe. Probably. 

But when the spinning stops, you'll find that you're free indeed.

And then the strangest thing starts to happen.

Love, as it fills you up, starts to crowd out all the not-Love.

When Love comes to town and buys up all the real estate, you'll stop doing things that harm yourself and others. It's incredible the energy and the life you can access, for yourself and for others, when you stop beating yourself to death trying to be perfect.

Andy did a little word study on the Greek word teleios, which is rendered "perfect" in Matthew 5:48, and he tells me that it has several shades of meaning: mature, complete, finished.

I just had to laugh when he told me this, because YES. YES. YES.

When we get off the gerbil wheel, this is exactly what we find to be true: there's no more perfectionism, but everything is more and more mature and complete and whole in Love.

Perfect in Love, without a shred of perfectionism.

Jump and see.

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all about the fruit

Here's a question that comes up in faith-shifting circles a lot, a question that's usually voiced with deep-seated anxiety:

"How do we know if our new understanding of God is right? What if we were right before and now we're wrong? How can we tell?"

I have a one-word answer:

FRUIT.

 Tropical fruit: papya, banana, lilikoi, orange, Kauai

Tropical fruit: papya, banana, lilikoi, orange, Kauai

What is the FRUIT of our theology? 

To take a biblical list, does our theology produce in our lives and in the lives of others: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control?

Or does our theology produce in our lives and in the lives of others: fear, exclusion, anxiety, exhaustion, perfectionism, performance, approval-seeking, frustration, shame, addiction?

I remember the day when I realized that I did not truly believe that God loved me like the Bible says he does: unconditionally, passionately, sacrificially.

I gave lip service to those ideas, but my life was all about getting everything right to avoid punishment. I was a gerbil on the wheel of spiritual perfectionism and performance: an overseas missionary, working as hard as I could to stave off the fear that I would never be enough.

I date my faith-shift to the day that a retreat speaker told our group: "God delights in you." And those words rang in me like a gong, and I knew. I knew. I knew.

I didn't know that I was faith-shifting then.  I didn't realize that I'd been invited on a whole new journey.

I didn't understand that all the bad fruit in my life--the anxiety, the exhaustion, the judgment of myself and others--was directly connected to the bad theology I'd ingested, that God was primarily wrathful, demanding total obedience immediately, and if I didn't do everything just right, he was going to throw me into a lake of fire and torture me forever. 

It wasn't until I'd been coverted by "God delights in you" into truly experiencing God's Love that the bad fruit slowly began dropping away.

And slowly, slowly (because this is fruit, you know) new fruit began to grow.

 Apricot blossoms, Escalante, Utah

Apricot blossoms, Escalante, Utah

It's been 15 years since "God delights in you."

And I would not trade the person that I am today, to go back and be who I was before.

Plus, Andy does not want to live with that person ever again, and I don't want to live with the person he was then, either.

We were both miserably being the best we could, and the fruit was just bad. 

Our lives were like those apples you get sometimes that look great on the outside, but when you bite into it, it's rotten to the core. (I wrote a whole book about that if you need the deets.)

We both look at our lives now, at the fruit of LOVE, where we have been and where we have come, and there's no turning back, no turning back.

We don't have to be theatened by punishment, threatened by hell, to live a life of Love.

We don't have to be coerced or manipulated into perfectionism and performance.

We have a life full of rest for our souls, a life overflowing with an abundance of peace.

I'm not trying to convince anybody else of anything here on my blog.

I just feel like the blind man that Jesus healed, who ended up in hot water with the religious leaders:

So a second time they called for the man who had been blind and said, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, "Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. There is one thing I do know: I was blind, but now I see!"  John 9:24, 25

I don't know what your story is, where your road needs to go, or what your fruit is like.

I'm just telling you what happened to me.

And the fruit is sweet and good.

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announcing our NEW TRAVEL BLOG!!!

Andy and I got married young, had our kids young, and became empty nesters young (at least we like to think so).

A few years ago, when contemplating the impending empty nest, we used to talk about what in the world we would do without ourselves when our kids weren't around to keep us entertained.

The one thing we both really wanted to do: TRAVEL.

 Dunluce Castle, Ireland

Dunluce Castle, Ireland

But being two people of average income, we didn't know how that dream could ever come true.

And then Andy discovered the wonderful world of credit card points, offering FREE airfare, FREE car rentals, FREE hotels.

It sounded too good to be true.

He cautiously decided to give it a try, with the goal of taking our family to Hawaii.

We left the Big Island in 2013, having spent less than $1500 for the entire week (including travel, lodging, food) for our family of 7 adults. 

Once we realized what points could do, there was no turning back.

Since that first successful trip five years ago, we have traveled to Hawaii (again), Italy, Canada (twice), Hungary & Czech Republic, Ireland & Scotland, plus a bunch of cities within the continental US like San Francisco, Chicago, Las Vegas, Phoenix...and the list goes on.

I've loved writing about those trips here at kaybruner, but I've never really felt able to write as much as I want, or to talk about the tricks and tips that make traveling more manageable. I've wanted to write more, but this isn't a travel blog, so I've held myself back.

On our recent trip to Arizona and Utah, we stopped by The Watchtower on the Grand Canyon South Rim. On the top floor of The Watchtower, they've installed those telescope-viewer thingies, the kind where you put in a quarter and it magnifies everything.

I happened to notice the label on the telescope's leg, and took a photo that captures exactly what I love most about travel: there's always more to explore.

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As we drove the next few days, I started talking with Andy about all the things I want to write about, but haven't: the fish and chips we ate in Scotland, what it was like to get towels at the thermals baths in Budapest, what kind of rain jacket saved our trip to Ireland from damp despair.

We started talking about creating a blog just for travel stuff, and what we might call it. On the last day of our trip, I remembered the words in this photo: "There is more to explore."

Amazingly, no one had bought that domain name for a travel site, so we snapped it up and went to work.

Today, Andy and I are happy to announce our new collaborative project:

More to Explore Travel.

I've been having the best writing fun of my life creating content for the site, and I've only begun to scratch the surface! I'll be adding more travel stories as fast as my little fingers can type them out.

Beyond our favorite travel stories, we want to share the tips and tricks that make travel fun and easy for us.

If you've ever wondered how you can travel without being independently wealthy, we've talked about that in our Travel Tips.

If you want to know where I got those cute headwraps I wore in Utah, or which travel pillow will save your neck, More to Explore can help you out with that, too.

Click on over, and have fun looking around!

You can find links at the top of the home page to follow More to Explore Travel on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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being the seed

"They tried to bury us. They didn't know we were seeds."

Dinos Christianopoulos

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During this season of Lent, I'm interested in everything that gets buried and reborn.

Right now our sidewalks in Texas are ankle-deep in acorns, these everyday miracles of resurrection, these tiny fragile seeds of oak trees.

It seems to me that a lot of us like end product of growth. We like the poetic results of maturity.

"For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit." Jeremiah 17:8

"To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory." Isaiah 61;3

Not too many of us, though, love the process--the falling, the burying, the darkness, the breaking open--all the things that have to happen, to make way for new growth.

All that stuff is hard.

And we'd just rather get to the end.

(Speaking just for myself, anyway.)

This last year, one of my mantras for myself has been:

ACCEPT.

Accept, accept, accept.

Accept the reality of the present.

Accept my emotions in light of reality.

Accept the change that comes.

Accept the brokenness, accept the pain.

Accept the process.

Let the acorn fall, let the rain fall too.

Let life be kindled, at its proper time.

Let growth take place, as growth is designed to do. 

Let healing come, as healing does.

Accept: trust and rest and let it be.

"All is well, and all shall be well,

and all manner of things shall be well."

Julian of Norwich

"You can't rush your healing
Darkness has its teachings
Love is never leaving
You can't rush your healing."

Trevor Hall

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witness to darkness, witness to light

I want to say thank you to everyone who's sent kind words after my last post, along with thanks to everyone for your patience with my season of silence.

It feels appropriate on many levels that my interior world is dark and quiet during this season. 

First, I have my own grief to process, my own pain to bear.

Then, we are in the season of Lent, and that's often a subdued season in the church calendar. A time of reflection, a time of release, a time of darkness, a time to remain in the tomb before the resurrection of Easter Sunday.

Also, I am struck once again that I am always, because of my work as a therapist, a witness to seasons of darkness and grief and waiting-for-resurrection in the lives of others.

I am a witness to darkness and, I am a witness to light.

I'm a witness to light in my own life, healing that comes after seasons of suffering.

I'm a witness to light in the cycles of death, darkness, resurrection, and new life that all the stories of Love has written since time began.

I'm a witness to the light that shines when together we recognize the reality of darkness, stare it straight in the face, and choose Light and Love as our Way instead.

The thing I've realized over time is this: in order to be a good witness, I've got to be an accurate witness.

 Culross Abbey, Scotland. photo; me and my cell phone

Culross Abbey, Scotland. photo; me and my cell phone

I've got to accurately witness both the darkness and the light, without glossing over the darkness or creating a counterfeit light.

If I I gloss over the darkness, if I try to make counterfeit light, I'll end up with quick fixes that do more harm than good. 

We've all probably had this happen to us: we try to be vulnerable about the deep pain in our lives, and somebody tells us to cheer up and stop being such a Debbie Downer. It just makes everything worse.

But if we're going to accurately witness the darkness and light with others, we've got to first do that with ourselves: go into our pain, be in the silence, learn its shape and its secrets, so that when we come again into the light, we're wholly there, fully present.

That way our witness of light is as real and as true as our witness to darkness, both for ourselves and for others.

When we're accurate witnesses, we don't have the false arrogance to believe that we're in the light because we're good people who have it all figured out.

When we're accurate witnesses, we don't malign the pain of others by suggesting that they're in the dark because they've done something wrong.

When we're accurate witnesses, we walk in the light, we lift our faces to the it, bask in its glow, we share it with others every chance we get. But we never, never think that we've somehow cracked the code and gotten this light for ourselves by our personal goodness, no matter how comforting it would be to believe so.

Something I've learned about being an accurate witness is this: not everybody likes it, and that's painful too. 

The truth is, people like to think that they have control. They like to think that they did get this light for themselves by personal goodness, perfect following, or at least by the power of prayer, for goodness sake.

The illusion of control is a safety net, and people love to feel safe.

My own story, my own experience, it often flies in the face of that safety.

People don't want to read my story and know that you can be a missionary and your husband can look at porn anyway. They don't want to know that you can love your kids and be a good parent and your kid can be gay anyway. They don't want to know that you can love God, have doubts about a lot of religious stuff, and be okay anyway.

People like guarantees and my story is not exactly full of them, which means some people don't like my story one bit. 

Until the darkness comes to their life, and they need a witness.

And then I'm here to say, I understand.

I know what it's like when the walls all fall and everything is wrecked past repairing.

I know how the pain feels, like it will drag you down and never let you go.

I know how it is, when those who said they would help made everything exponentially worse.

I am a witness to that darkness. I know every inch of it well.

And I also know the light, I'm a witness to that, too.

How the little shoots of green pierce the cold earth in the Spring.

How the ray of solstice-sun gleams down the darkest passage-tomb.

How Love emerges out of devastation, a miracle every time.

That light is Real, and that light is True, and when it shines, the darkness cannot overcome it.

I'm a witness to all of that.

And that's why I say to those who are deep in the dark, wandering a cave underground: 

Keep walking.

I'm right here with you.

I've been here before.

I recognize this bend in the tunnel.

There's light, just up ahead.

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