driving on a flat tire

One morning a few weeks ago as I headed out to meet a friend at our local coffee shop, I noticed that my car seemed really loud inside.  

Really loud.  Hmm.  

I kept driving.  

Then I changed lanes and when I ran over the reflector bumps in the middle of the road, it was super-super loud.  

Again, hmmm.

I kept driving.  

Wondering why the car was so loud.  Driving a little slower, in case it was going to blow up or something.  

Then I tried running over the bumps with the other wheels, and it wasn't loud.  So then I started thinking that maybe I had a flat tire.

Guess what?

Yup.  I'm sorry to say it, but it's true:  I kept driving.  

All the way to the coffee shop.  Then I got out of the car, looked at the tires, and sure enough, one of them was flat as a pancake.  

Whereupon I did what I always do when something mechanical or technical malfunctions:  I called Andy.  And he did what he always does:  he came and fixed it.  

I would say "no questions asked" because he never makes me feel bad about fixing whatever it is I've broken.

But actually he did have questions like, "When did the noise start?" and "Exactly how far did you drive on this tire?"  Those were legit questions, trying to ascertain the possible extent of the damage.  

My answers, unfortunately, were pretty vague, because I just sort of didn't know.  I don't pay much attention to the mechanical and technical things in my life.  Maintenance doesn't cross my mind.  I just roll along, expecting everything to work.

 photo:  Michael Bruner

photo:  Michael Bruner

I was thinking about that this morning, because my first experience with anxiety and depression years ago was a lot like that flat tire.

I was rolling along in life, when some bothersome symptoms began to appear.  I had repetitive nightmares.  I would wake up in the night with racing thoughts, and have trouble falling asleep again.  I was unhappy and tearful and down about myself and other people and life in general.

There was a lot of emotional noise, but I didn't know what it meant.

So I kept going.

And going.

And going.

Until the day I just literally could not function any longer.  In fact, I may have been just the teensiest, tiniest bit psychotic every now and again.  

It was only afterward, when I looked back with the wisdom of hindsight, that I realized how long I'd been driving on an emotional flat tire.

I don't know that we deliberately set out to ignore the emotional symptoms of life and make ourselves completely crazy, but sometimes it just works out that way.

First of all, we may not really understand what's going on.  When I started waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep, I had absolutely no idea that I was experiencing the most common type of insomnia associated with anxiety.  That had never happened to me before. I didn't know what it was.

And then, who wants to pull over and change a flat?  Not me, friends and neighbors.  I have places to go, people to see.  As long as that sucker will move forward, I'll drive it.  The reality is, when we stop to work on our emotional stuff, it can make a mess of our plans.  It can be really complicated.  Really.  Reallyreallyreally complicated.

Besides all that, some of us have gotten the idea that having emotions other than joy and peace means that we aren't very spiritual, so it's pretty hard to admit that anything at all might be wrong.  

Sometimes when we've tried to talk about what's wrong, people have said things like, "Cast all your care on the Lord, because He cares for you" and "Take every thought captive" and "The joy of the Lord is our strength."  

And we retreat into our alone and broken selves, because we've tried that.  For a while now.  It just doesn't seem to be that simple, but everybody says it is, so we just don't know what to do.

So here's the question:  how do we STOP AND CHANGE THE TIRE?

Sometimes it's a medical issue, and we need meds.

  • Honestly evaluate your functioning.  If you're struggling to do what you're supposed to do every day, then it might be time to look for medical help.  I know it's hard to go there.  Meds do have side effects, and sometimes it does take time to get the right meds working in the right way.  And sure, Jesus can heal you without meds.  But most of us these days would take antibiotics for pneumonia, and say "Thank God" when the fever lifts.  If you're not functioning well, if you're not able to sleep or eat like normal, if your moods are seriously out of whack, and especially if you've got thoughts of suicide, please talk to your doctor.  Modern medicine is a gift.  Take it as needed.

Sometimes it's a social issue, and we need to make changes in our world.

  • Most of us have a front door on our house, rather than a big open space where anything and anybody can run in and out at any time.  A lockable door is a normal part of a house.  Sometimes, however, we have a hard time believing that it's an equally good idea to get some boundaries against the emotional chaos that wants to intrude.  Unhealthy stuff sneaks in over time, and other people get used to us being like we are.  Change can be tough.  And it can be so, so, so good.

Sometimes it's a psychological/spiritual issue, and we need to process through gunk from the past that informs how we think and feel and believe today.

  • Some of us believe that there are rules for acceptability:  we have to achieve great heights, make others happy, be wonderfully nice, be successful in ministry, be thin, be the perfect parent.  We don't actually live in Love, believing deep down that It Is Finished.  We have to keep going and going, and life is just one long, exhausting performance.  That's a lie.  But there is truth.  And it can set us crazy-free.

A whole bunch of times, it's all three--medical, social, and psychological/spiritual--all mixed up together.  

Changing that flat tire can be a whole lot of work.  Like Westley says in The Princess Bride:  "Life is pain, Princess,and anyone who says otherwise is selling something."

But I want to tell you that it's worth the work.  And I want you to know that there is help.  God has not left us here alone to struggle through things by ourselves.  

There are doctors.  

There are friends.  

There are therapists.  

Most of all, there is Love and there is rest for our souls, when we'll stop and let Love help us.

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trying hard

To all my fellow members of the try-hard club,

trying hard this Monday morning

to love,

to serve, 

to help,

to understand,

to be responsible,

to make it better because it desperately needs to be better,

or just to make it through the day.

We all need to remember this:  we are not in charge.

And that is okay.

It really is okay.  We know that deep down.  

We need to bring our not-in-chargeness to the front of our minds,

and hold it there like a hug.

Let it relieve us and set us free.

We are not in charge.

Love is in charge.

Love is in charge, and we are not.

 photo:  Michael Bruner

photo:  Michael Bruner

Let the knowledge of Love, the experience of Love,

fill us up every minute of today, and bring us




and the hope to remember that

no matter what happens,

we are safe,

in Love.

We are safe, and all of ours.

So hold my hand, and I'll hold yours.  

Hold on tight.

We'll walk through this day together.

Safe in Love.

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one thing i know for sure about parenting

I felt pretty confident as a parent when I was younger.  This I attribute to a number of factors.

  • I was 23 years old and I didn't have a clue.  Ignorance was, as they say, bliss.
  • I was the eldest of 7 children.  There was always a baby in the house.  I knew what to do with little kids.  Feed, change, sleep, repeat.  Snuggle, read books, play, repeat.
  • I thought that if you did everything right, then your kids would turn out right.  (Having failed, apparently, to check out the first few chapters of Genesis where God parents the first two humans and they go completely off the rails.)

Now I'm 47, and in the process of all this parenting, I have become a whole lot less confident of my capacity to make things work out right, because:

  • I don't have as much control as I wish I did.
  • My kids all came standard with free will.  Part of the factory installation package.
  • The whole big, broken world full of pain and sorrow is out there, and I can't keep it from hurting my babies.

Don't get me wrong, there's a bunch of stuff I think is important, when it comes to parenting.

Do justice.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly.

Apologize.  Laugh.  Rest.

Balance that freedom and responsibility thing with your kids, one developmental stage at a time.

And, while you're spinning all those plates:  deal with your own junk.

(Maybe you're not sure if you have junk that needs to be dealt with, but this is your lucky day.  I have created a handy-dandy assessment tool that will let you know, for sure, if you have junk or not.  Here it is:  Are you a human being?  If the answer is yes, then you have junk.  If the answer is no, welcome to our planet and enjoy your stay.)

But at the end of the day, my perfect parenting (which exists only the realm of pure fantasy) guarantees pretty much zippola.

My kids get to choose.

And other people get to choose.

And all those things collide out there in the real world.

Which leaves me in a place that sometimes feels pretty scary.

But, in the process of learning that my parenting capacity is woefully limited, I have experienced this other one whole beautiful thing, for sure.

Here it is.

1.  God is at work, and His love never fails.

When I have failed as a parent.

When my kids have made bad choices.

When other people have made bad choices.

No matter what.

God is at work, and His love never fails.

This is one of those things that we know to be true in our heads, because the Bible tells us so.

But I've also found it to be true in my heart these past few years.  I've lived through it now, and I know that I know that I know.

The best and most amazing transformations, both in my own life and the lives of my children?  Those have come when I could not.  

When I could not do one more thing.

I had tried and tried and tried and fixed and fixed and fixed and I just could not.

And then God.

(This probably surprises one whole person.  Me.)

I'm thinking about this now, because tomorrow is college move-in day.

And I just need to remind myself of what I know for sure.

God has been at work.  He will be at work.  

His love never fails.

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i'm not helping

Every once in a while, a client will tell me that therapy hasn't done them one 8@!#&** bit of good. And when this happens, often the circumstances are a mess, and it feels good to zero people in the room.

And this is a sticky point in therapy for yours truly.

Before I became a therapist, I'd heard that the most successful therapy happens when the client and the therapist have a good, supportive relationship.  And I thought that meant that if the client trusted me, then I would be able to give my fabulous advice and she'd listen, and it would work and we'd all go home happy.

Then I went to grad school.  And what I got out of it ($30,00 later) was this.

The relationship IS the therapy.  

For me, anyway.  That's how it works.  We get hurt in relationships, we get healed in relationships.  All our fears, our hopes, our dreams, our disappointments.  Our questions about whether we are enough, whether we can be loved and accepted, whether there is meaning in our lives.  All those deep, existential questions of life.  They are held in relationship.

And what I personally have to offer you, as a therapist, is a relationship that (I hope) can grow strong enough to contain those things.

So when I have a client who says I'm not helping, that is not a good moment for me.  I start to question whether the relationship is working the way it should.  And it's really, really hard for me not to flip into fixing.   I'm an eldest child, such a good girl, emotional over functioner, blahblahblah, pick one.  Fixing is a nasty old habit of mine.

Usually the client desperately wants to have a to-do list, instead of having to trail tears and snot all over the room.

And I would like to do more than  take up space and emit carbon dioxide.

But I have learned that fixing is an emotional disconnect waiting to happen.  

No matter how much both of us want the fix, it's badbadbadbadbad for the relationship.

Fixing is all on the surface.  It depends on perfection and performance and approval.  (And you know all those things are on my icky list.)

Fixing believes that good circumstances make a good life.  And while good circumstances are nice (nobody likes comfort better than moi), "when I get x, y, z in place, I'll be happy" is a big fat lie.   And we all know it.  We need to dig deeper than good circumstances, to find the emotional connection that's going to get us through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Fixing all goes along well for a while, especially when everybody is in try-hard mode.  But the day will come when it doesn't work any more.

She (gasp) stops following my fixing plan.  At that point, she will feel guilty and ashamed.  And disconnected from me.

And then I can blame her in my head, for ignoring all my fine suggestions.  And I will feel disconnected from her.

Now we're separated by shame and blame and we can't have the kind of relationship that supports and heals.  

The connecting (and scary and difficult) thing is to offer myself and a relationship, without fixing.

That's vulnerable for me, and I think it's vulnerable for my clients, too, because they're being asked to hurt for however long the hurting lasts.

When I say to somebody, "I think we just need to grieve through this," it is not a happy moment.  This is generally not what they wanted when they came to therapy.

And I get that.  I hate pain.  I want to feel better as soon as possible.

But I've learned the hard way that what I really need is to BE better in deep, healing ways that will lead to deeper connection, and greater capacity in preparation for the day when life takes the next whack at me.

I really want to pass that experience of deep healing on to my clients.

So.  When it comes to fixing, I'm sorry, but I'm not helping.

I would still love to be with you, even though I can't fix it.

Would that be enough?

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it's a wonderful life. i'm depressed.

"Real depression is being sad when everything in your life is going right."  So says Kevin Breel, a young man with everything going for him--except debilitating depression, which brought him to the brink of suicide in his teens.  (His TED Talk is well worth watching.)

And I think the kid is onto something.

We are OK with being depressed when something terrible happens, or if life is generally awful.  It's no fun, but it makes sense to be depressed in bad circumstances.

But how can you possibly be depressed, when it's a wonderful life?

Well, I think there are lots of ways that can happen.

You can be depressed in the middle of a wonderful life, when you've been running too hard for too long.

When you do too much for too long, you'll exhaust your body's chemical capacity to cope, and you'll end up depressed.

Listen to Tommy Nelson, pastor of Denton Bible Church.

This is a guy who, by his own admission, believed that if you just prayed, read your Bible, and trusted God enough, you could get through everything just fine.  And then he started having panic attacks.  And now he has a new understanding of what it means to be a human being with finite limits, who has a need for real rest, and help from good meds when necessary.

When I was depressed, this was part of the problem.  We had a stressful life overseas.  Even though we wanted to be there, and there were many good things about it, it was still stressful.  And then extra things kept happening and happening and happening.  And eventually, my body and my brain chemistry just couldn't keep up with the demands anymore.  Kind of like a diabetic.  Too much sugar, not enough insulin.  Danger, Will Robinson.

You can be depressed in the middle of a wonderful life when you've got unresolved grief and pain.

I can't tell you how many people come to me and say, "I wasn't abused as a child.  I don't understand why I'm depressed."  Somehow, we have collectively gotten the idea that child sexual abuse is an OK reason for adults to be depressed, but that's pretty much it.  You're only allowed to have grief and pain if certain truly terrible things happened.

Unfortunately, nobody got the memo to the toddlers of this world.  "Hello, kiddies, I know you are terrified right now and it looks like your world is coming to an end, but don't worry, there are kids who have it way worse than you do, so you have no right to be upset."

As adults we look back and rationalize, "Oh, it wasn't that bad."  But when you're little, it is that bad.  The grief and pain of our childhood is legitimate grief and pain.

And, when I was depressed, this was part of my problem, too.  I had grief and pain, but I had no permission to have grief and pain.  I could never work through anything, because I wasn't supposed to have anything to work through.  I looked strong, perfect, and invulnerable.  But I was really lonely and sad and broken.

You can be depressed in the middle of a wonderful life when you have bad boundaries.

Because your wonderful life isn't yours.  It belongs to the expectations others.  You're a slave to the expectations, to the demands, to the guilt, to the shame.  You can't say no.  Your life is fake.  It's a lie.  Even lies that are told to be nice, so that other people will be happy, are lies.  

And ultimately, lies belong to The Bad Guy, y'all.   The roaring lion is tearing you up inside with lies, and that's why it feels so bad.

I have lived with bad boundaries for most of my life.   When I have bad boundaries, everybody else gets to say what's best for me.  I don't listen to God.  I listen to whoever yells the loudest, and I try to stop them from yelling.  And living like that makes me wonder, "Why am I even here?  I have no voice, I have no meaning.  I don't matter."

Mostly, I think, we get depressed in the middle of a wonderful life because we start depending on our wonderful life to define us.

We all say that the interior life is what matters.

But really?  Really, truly?

We believe that being beautiful and thin will make us happy.  We believe that being recognized and applauded will make us happy.  We believe that more money will make us happy.  The right house.  The cutest kid.  The best college.  The most meaningful job.

And we get a little adrenaline bump from somebody telling us how fabulous we are, so we keep doing it, because it seems to work.

Until we find ourselves in a far country, behind of wall of glittering garbage, surrounded by people who all believe we are something we are not.

The truth is far from us, and we don't know how to dig out of our mess and find our way home again.

Here's what I think needs to happen.

We get real.

  • We get real about how many hours there are in the day, and what we can reasonably do.  We stop trying to save the world, and let God have His job back again.  We go to the doctor and get medication if we need to.
  • We get real about our grief and pain, and we let ourselves feel it and work through it.  We talk to our nearest and dearest about what's in our hearts.
  • We get real about our close relationships and we work on our boundaries.  (Boundaries, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.)
  • We get real about our wonderful life, and we get willing to let go and let God.  (Celebrate Recovery is nation-wide, and a great place to go for support.)

Most of all, we learn to do what Brennan Manning says:

"Define yourself radically as one Beloved by God.  This is the true self.  Every other identity is illusion."

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tornado alley

We live on the back end of tornado alley.  Every spring, severe thunderstorms come through with damaging winds, golf-ball-sized hail, and the possibility of tornadoes. And at least once each spring, we have a severe thunderstorm that prompts me to pull all the luggage out of the closet under the stairs, spread the egg crate foam, open the windows, and wait for the tornado siren closest to our house.  If that siren goes off, we get in the closet with the dogs and wait.

One night last week, I got the closet ready and we sat by the windows and listened to all the sirens from the towns around us.  While we were listening, 16 tornadoes touched down, south of us in Granbury, Texas.  And some people lost everything, including their lives.  And then a couple of nights later, it happened again, to the north of us, in Moore, Oklahoma.  And some people lost everything, including their lives.

The next morning, Andy woke up and said, "Well, if we reinforced the closet under the stairs..."  And we talked about reinforced steel and lengths of u-bolts and things like that for a few minutes and then we kind of looked at each other sheepishly.  Because, yeah.  The first thing we want to do is guarantee that this won't happen to us.

Because we live on the back end of tornado alley.  And it gets scary out here sometimes.  And we want to push away the fear by taking control of something.  Anything.

And because I'm a writer and a counselor, I like to think and write.  And thinking and writing can turn into spiritualization and being all up in my head.  Because, yeah.  I don't want to really feel what happened to those kids.  And to their parents, who were just having a normal spring day.

Because I live on the back end of tornado alley.  It's scary.  And I want to push the fear away with my supposedly ginormous brain instead of feeling it down in my broken heart.

And then the internet blows up with some theologian who says something and then a bunch of people say something else.  And I just look at that and I say, yeah.  We all want to guarantee that this won't happen to us.  And we want to control it, by our theological correctness.

Because we all live on the back end of tornado alley.  And if we can't control it, at least we can be really really really mad at the idiot who doesn't have a clue what God really thinks about all this.

It's very distracting, being busy with fixing things so the bad things won't happen.  It's very distracting, being all brainy and spiritual so I don't have to feel the bad things.  It's very distracting, being mad at the idiots of this world who clearly have gotten it wrong.  Again.

All that stuff keeps us from feeling sad.  It keeps us from feeling scared.  

It keeps us from being connected with our own emotions, which seems like a good idea at the time.  

But then it keeps us from being connected with the emotions of others, too.  And, over time, that turns into a big problem.

When we get disconnected from our own emotions, and from the emotions of other people, we find ourselves thinking and doing all kinds of crazy things, instead of the really important things.

My friend Lisa teaches first grade, and this is part of her Facebook status from that night when the tornado struck Moore.

I can't help but think of the children in Moore, who woke up this morning thinking about starting a new week, finishing the end of the school year, and probably making plans for summer, yet their plans were cut short. Selfishly, I hope nobody in class wants to talk about it tomorrow, but I am sure that will not be the case. Honestly, if they ask about the tragedy, it would be easier to lie to them and tell them it would never happen here, that we all will be just fine. However, since they seem to be able to see through my sugarcoating of situations, I will repeat the same truths I have said all year during the school shooting, the Boston bombing, the fertilizer explosion, and even parts of it after the death of a student's parent: 1) Safety and preparedness are the reason we practice all our drills.  2) I love them and will do whatever is in my power to keep them safe.  3) God is our rock and our strength and we need not fear anything.  4) Should a tragedy happen, I know someday we will dance and sing together in heaven again.  And strangely enough, in His perfect wisdom (at least so far) that has given us all peace to carry on.  

And that is one of the best things I've ever read, about what it means when we wake up the morning after, needing to keep walking.  She cuts right through all the crap of things I'm tempted to do in the face of tragedy, and reminds me of what's really important.

We make ourselves willing to move beyond the world of control and easy answers and angry disconnection.

We make ourselves willing to live with tragedy and the fragile uncertainty of life.

We admit that we don't know and we can't stop it.  And we resolve to love with all our hearts, anyway.

We do what we can, because that's what we're told to do.

We prepare.  We love.  We trust.  We hope.

We weep with those who weep, we mourn with those who mourn.  We bear burdens with those who have too much to bear.

We make whatever little bit of peace on earth we can, while we wait for the Prince of Peace to come.


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I am a visual learner.  And I almost always have a mental image that represents my current emotional state. I've talked before about seeing myself in a dugout canoe, alone, paddling hopelessly for shore.

And the panic and thrashing that ensued when the canoe went down, ten years ago now.

In fact, that was one of the first posts I wrote when I started this blog a couple of years ago.

I shared this poem by Philip Booth, and it remains one of my favorite things.

First Lesson

Lie back, daughter, let your head

be tipped back in the cup of my hand.

Gently, and I will hold you.  Spread

your arms wide, lie out on the stream

and look high at the gulls.  A dead-

man's-float is face down.  You will dive

and swim soon enough where this tidewater

ebbs to the sea.  Daughter, believe

me, when you tire on the long thrash

to your island, lie up, and survive.

As you float now, where I held you

and let go, remember when fear

cramps your heart what I told you:

lie gently and wide to the light-year

stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

It just seems to be that time of year, when a lot of us are on the long thrash.

It's like that for me, anyway.

I get distracted, I start to panic, and then I remember.

You've been here before.

You know how it works.

Lie back.


The sea will hold you.


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