no man's land

This year has been tough for me so far.  

I'm not ready to tell all the stories yet.  I'm not sure I'll ever be ready to tell all these stories.

But I can tell you how I feel.  




I wonder.  

I grieve.

I pray to see the goodness of God in the land of the living.

That's just kind of how it is right now.

Probably not by accident, at this same time, I've been working on final revisions of The Book.  

You know The Book.  

The memoir of my breakdown and healing and all the grace found in strange places along the way.

The memoir where I talk about how God takes the stinkiest, smelliest, worst manure piles of life and redeems.

That book.

 photo:  Andy Bruner

photo:  Andy Bruner

If there was anybody who needed to read that book through 157 times this spring, it was me, I guess.

Because in that book I've written about all the times when I was just at The End, and how God met me in every one of those places, and how his love carried me through.

There are many days right now when I feel like I am at the end of myself again.  

I just don't know what to do.  I can't make things better.  I just have to wait.

And somehow, God continues to meet me in those places and carry me through this strange and scary no man's land.

The other night, I heard this song on the radio, and I fell in love with these words:  

Life can be hard, and hard can be good.

Because that is a truth that I know in my heart.  Hard can be amazing.

Some of the hardest things in my life have been redeemed into the best things in my life.

And the Owner of that process loves me and mine and you and yours with an Everlasting Love.

I cling to that. 

And I wait, like we wait for the roadside wildflowers in Texas every spring, for beautiful things to happen in no man's land.

He took his chances and he ran 
Out from the hills to no mans land 
Oh my lord life was hard, back then 

Oklahoma sky was his roof. 
Tore into the earth it brought him food 
Oh my lord, life was hard back then 

He said oh, 
Life can be hard 
But oh, 
Hard can be good 
So he built his home where no one else would 

I follow in his footsteps in my dreams 
Memories of my old bedtime stories. 
Oh my lord, life seemed good back then 

He said oh, 
Life can be hard but 
Hard can be good 
And he built his home where no one else would 

I felt my heart beat! 
I filled my lungs deep 
In no mans land 
And then like my forefathers I took a chance


No Man's Land, from Darkest Hours, released 14 January 2014 

Songwriter: Wheeler Sparks

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so your faith community is unhealthy? now what?

Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite authors.  His books are a mix of masterful story-telling and fascinating sociological insights.  The man makes everything interesting.  

(Case in point, this TED Talk about spaghetti sauce.  I kid you not.  Spaghetti sauce.  Watch and be amazed.  That's your bonus gift from me today.)

A few years ago, Gladwell wrote a book called Blink, exploring the power of intuition.  

But, oops, I've used a word Gladwell doesn't like:

"You could also say that it’s a book about intuition, except that I don’t like that word. In fact it never appears in Blink. Intuition strikes me as a concept we use to describe emotional reactions, gut feelings–thoughts and impressions that don’t seem entirely rational. But I think that what goes on in that first two seconds is perfectly rational. It’s thinking–its just thinking that moves a little faster and operates a little more mysteriously than the kind of deliberate, conscious decision-making that we usually associate with “thinking.” In Blink I’m trying to understand those two seconds. What is going on inside our heads when we engage in rapid cognition? When are snap judgments good and when are they not? What kinds of things can we do to make our powers of rapid cognition better? ...

"One of the stories I tell in Blink is about the Emergency Room doctors at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. That’s the big public hospital in Chicago, and a few years ago they changed the way they diagnosed heart attacks. They instructed their doctors to gather less information on their patients: they encouraged them to zero in on just a few critical pieces of information about patients suffering from chest pain–like blood pressure and the ECG–while ignoring everything else, like the patient’s age and weight and medical history. And what happened? Cook County is now one of the best places in the United States at diagnosing chest pain.

"Not surprisingly, it was really hard to convince the physicians at Cook County to go along with the plan, because, like all of us, they were committed to the idea that more information is always better. But I describe lots of cases in Blink where that simply isn’t true. There’s a wonderful phrase in psychology–”the power of thin slicing”–which says that as human beings we are capable of making sense of situations based on the thinnest slice of experience."

I'm referencing Gladwell here partly just because he just makes my brain happy.  But mostly because my last post was about feeding our good judgment, improving our "powers of rapid cognition," when it comes to deciding if a faith community (or family, organization, or friendship) is healthy or unhealthy.  

We don't need to hang around for years and have a bunch of terrible things proven in a court of law.  

Last time I talked about the work of Dr. Diane Langberg.  Langberg finds that abuse victims are routinely silenced, isolated, and made to feel helpless.

I think our faith communities should be the exact reverse.   

A healthy community is a place of voice, value, and vitality for all its members.  

And I think, like Malcolm Gladwell might say, that we can make a good decision about the health of a community pretty quickly, with just that thin slice of of experience.  

 photo:  Michael Bruner

photo:  Michael Bruner

Just to review:

Voice means that everybody is invited to speak and be heard.  

We don't get our own way all the time, because that would probably mean we're bullying others, but we get to speak, we listen to others, and we cooperate together.  That's how voice works in  a healthy community.

  • Adults attend to the needs of children.
  • Spouses value the opinions and input of each other.
  • A pastor is open with and accountable to parishioners.
  • The system for feedback is transparent, easy to navigate, and open to all.
  • People with varying opinions and ideas are welcomed and encouraged to share.

Value means that we are invited to be in honest relationship. 

  • We don't have to pretend.
  • We can be ourselves.
  • We can tell the truth about what we think and feel and want and need.
  • Our story will be respected.
  • We will find strength to help in time of need.

Vitality means that I am invited to be a powerful, contributing person in the community.

  • I contribute according to my gifts, not according to arbitrary rules and regulations.
  • I can have ideas and be celebrated for bringing new life to the community.
  • I'm encouraged to grow and mature.
  • I feel hopeful, motivated, and energized in my community.
  • When I am worn out and discouraged, I know where to turn for help, and I'll actually get help.

So, what if we are NOT experiencing voice, value, and vitality in our faith communities?

What if our community is a place of silence, isolation, and helplessness? 

I'd say the first step is this:  give it a whirl.  We need to be responsible, and do our part.  So try a quick experiment.  

Try speaking up.  Try being really honest.  Try offering to contribute, according to your gifts.

See what happens.  

Community health probably falls on a spectrum, rather than into a simple dichotomy.  Perhaps your system just needs some healthy people to speak up and jolt some life into the thing.  Maybe you could help make it normal and safe to speak up, to be real, to exercise your gifts and grow into maturity.  Communities can grow in health, and it's exciting when that happens.  By all means, try!

But, if you try out your voice and you get silenced, if you tell your story honestly and get isolated, if you try to contribute and are told "no thanks"--then let me pass along the advice a wise friend gave me years ago.

When you find yourself in an unhealthy system, you have three options, and three options only.

  1. Stay and conform.  Be a part of the unhealthy system.
  2. Stay and work for change.  Be a reformer.
  3. Leave.  Shake the dust off and move on.

Stay and conform is what we most often do.  It doesn't even seem like a choice.  We're already in the system, committed for ministry or fellowship.  We stay and conform without thinking, because if we thought about it, we'd have to do something about it.  

But conforming is a choice, and if we make that choice, let's at least make it honestly:  "I'm going to stay here in this unhealthy system and be unhealthy for a while longer."  

Maybe you can't go just yet.  I understand that life is like that sometimes.  But even being that honest about your own choices is a step toward health.

Stay and work for change seems like a good option, except that most often I have seen that circle back into conforming.  Maybe you're a great reformer.  Awesome.  Just keep a check and make sure that change is actually happening.  

Deeply unhealthy systems often work on a bait-and-switch basis.  You're offered a little piece of pacification, in the hopes that you won't notice that you're back to conforming again.  Just keep an eye on that.

Honestly, I think leave is a really good option if a faith community is unhealthy.  

To me, the point of community is that I give and I receive.  Others give and receive.  And if we're in an unhealthy faith community, how can that giving and receiving actually take place?  I don't think it can.  

An unhealthy faith community is like this.  You are working so hard to plant a beautiful garden.  But every time the seeds start to sprout, someone comes along and sprays weed killer over everything.  Eventually the soil is toxic and nothing grows any more.  It's just a barren patch of dirt.

I think we have to ask ourselves:  why are we here?  What are we accomplishing?

As for all the children trapped in unhealthy faith communities, my heart breaks.  And let me put this in capital letters, bold and italicized:


Talking to the abuser so he can "repent" is colluding with a criminal.  

Reporting it to church leaders is NOT enough.  

The report needs to be made to the police or to child protective services. 

Just this morning, I was encouraged to read that the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) has issued a strong statement about how to deal with the abuse of children.  

Let this be an example of good health to other faith communities.

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voice, value, vitality: the face of healthy community

There's so much stuff that's wrong in the world today.  

I guess that's always been true, but with the explosion of social media, the amount of wrong seems overwhelming at times.  

I mean, I used to live on an island in the South Pacific.  No TV, no internet, no phone, snail mail every two weeks if the ship happened to stop by.  

Mostly we got our news by listening to the Voice of America.  The.  News.  In.  Easy.  English.  

I'd be twitchy by the end of the first sentence.  In-depth reporting it was not.  I missed out on both of Bill Clinton's administrations that way.  With all that blue dress stuff, I count myself lucky.

 Makira, Solomon Islands,  Photo:  Andy Bruner

Makira, Solomon Islands,  Photo:  Andy Bruner

Now I live in Dallas.  I have unlimited access to media, and with the overwhelming flow of endless information, I sometimes wish myself back on the island.  (Until dinner time.  Then I want to call for pizza.)  

I wonder this:  what am I supposed to do with all this information?

I find I am just too old and too tired to sustain a great level of outrage for every single thing I find outrageous.  

Believe me, I find many, many things outrageous.

I'm often tempted to throw something up on the blog here and rant.  

But mostly I pray the prayer that Anne Lamott taught me:  "Help!"


Today there is something I need to write about.  Not just to be outraged, although the story is pretty outrageous.  

But so that we can all learn to look with open eyes at our communities of faith, and asses how healthy or unhealthy they are.

If they are healthy, oh happy day!  If they are unhealthy, it's time to get busy.

Here's the nutshell of the story:  Bob Jones University, a very conservative Christian college, has brought in the nonprofit organization, Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), to investigate how the university has dealt with sexual abuse.

(Hint:  when the GRACE team gets called in, sexual abuse has not been dealt with very well.)

According to this news article, released yesterday:

"More than 100 people have come forward to GRACE investigators, and the report is due out in the next few months.  Boz Tchvidjian, the head of GRACE, believes Christian organizations across the country have failed victims in similar ways, and that the Protestant world could in fact be 'worse' than the Catholic Church."

Did you get that?  It's not just BJU.  The whole Protestant world needs to take a good hard look at itself.  

That's not THEM.  

That's US.  Anybody who sits in a Protestant pew on a Sunday morning.

While only a few people are the actual victims in a situation like this, many times there are systemic patterns that make the environment a safe haven for potential abusers.  

And while only a few people are the actual abusers, many of us can blindly participate in the patterns that create the unhealthy environment.

Edmund Burke famously said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Too many times in unhealthy Christian environments, good people do nothing.  

The problem is, we don't know what to look for.  What's healthy?  What's unhealthy?  

As I said a couple of weeks ago, I am not much interested in the nitty gritty of theology.  I'm mostly interested in how people get treated on the other end.  

How people get treated is the biggest clue to me in whether a theology, whether a system, is healthy or unhealthy.  

Jesus said it this way:  "By their fruits, you shall know them."  (Matthew 7:16)

So here's how I judge healthy.

Diane Langberg is a Christian therapist who works with the victims of sexual abuse.  She has identified three key components of healthy personhood:  voice, relationship, and power.  These, she says are our gifts from God, and these are the things we find devalued in abusive situations.

When we honor the personhood of ourselves and those around us, we are honoring God's loving intention for healthy community.

Alliteration helps me remember better, so I'll call these elements of personhood voice, value, and vitality.

Voice:  we should be able to speak up, ask questions, and have our story be respected.  When we are told to sit down and be quiet, when our questions are dismissed, and our story is devalued, we are not in an environment of Godly truth.  Simple as that. 

Value:  we should feel valued and welcomed in relationships.  When we are isolated and rejected, accidentally or on purpose, this is not an environment of Godly truth.

Vitality:  we're supposed to be powerful people, growing more and more into the image of God.  When we feel powerless, helpless, hopeless and ignored, this is not a place of Godly truth.

Langberg says this:

"Again and again throughout history, whenever one human beings acts toward another in a way that is not rooted in the truth of God, the same results occur: silence, isolation, and helplessness.  this devastation can occur in milder forms, as when one person speaks sharply or critically to another.  We have all know the experience of being rendered silent in the face of a cutting remark.  Severe destruction occurs whenever one human perpetrates an atrocity against another.  It is here, in our understanding of the nature of personhood, that we can begin to grasp the evil perpetrated in the life of a human being when trauma occurs."  (Diane Langberg,  Counseling the Survivors of Sexual Abuse)

Whenever we have a system or a family or an organizational culture that produces silence, isolation, and helplessness in its members, we've got a problem.  It may not necessarily be a sexual abuse issue yet, although it's an attractive environment for abusers, because it is a place that essentially does not function in the truth of God.

A healthy faith community is a place of voice, value, and vitality for all its members.

He is the Vine, we are the branches.  All necessary, all valued, all growing together.

How do you feel in your faith community?  

  • Do you have a voice, and is your voice welcome?  
  • Are you honestly, openly, truly valued in loving relationships?  
  • Are you experiencing an emotional and spiritual vitality that leads to love, joy, and peace in your life?

Remember this as you evaluate:

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.  2 Timothy 1:7

(Next time, I'll talk about what to do when you find yourself in an unhealthy community.)

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knowing what you know

I am a little bit addicted to TED Talks.  I liked them on Facebook, and now they send me all these high-octane, deep dark chocolate morsels of wonderfulness for my brain.

So yesterday I watched this talk by Margaret Heffernan, called Dare to Disagree.  She says that good information is not enough, because all too often, we're willfully blind to what we already know.  

We're too afraid of conflict to let ourselves know what we know.

But disagreement and conflict, Heffernan says, is the way we know more and get better.  When we allow ourselves to keep doing things the same old ways, without questioning, without stirring the pot, we can actually end up causing harm.  

(Think about the days when doctors didn't wash their hands.  Eeesh.)  

She says that we have to let ourselves know what we know.  And then we need the will, the talent, and the moral courage to use what we know in the service of good.  

Heffernan's field of expertise is organizational culture, but what she has to say applies to where I live, in the world of counseling therapy.

Because an awful lot of what I do is giving clients permission to know what they know, and supporting them to have the moral courage to create conflict if necessary, to live in the truth of what they know.

And, if you've read my Manifesto, you'll know that I won't ask my clients to do what I won't do myself.  So I have to know what I know.  And I have to have the moral courage to create conflict at times, to live in the truth of what I know.  God help me.

 photo:  Michael Bruner

photo:  Michael Bruner

When we don't allow ourselves to know what we know.

When we live in willful blindness.

When we live in fear of conflict, in dread of disagreement, enslaved to What Everybody Else Will Think.

Then we base our life on lies and the truth slips away, far from us.

God's gift to us is power, love, and a sound mind.  (2 Timothy 1:7)

The Truth sets us free.

Not lies.

Not fear.

Not slavery to What Everybody Else Will Think.

So, today.  

Let us all know what we know, fearlessly, powerfully, lovingly.

Let us live in freedom and truth.

And let us be a haven of freedom and truth to those around us.

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."  Nelson Mandela

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transition sucks (forever and always, i'm afraid)

With love to all my friends finding themselves in a season of transition:  here's a post from two years ago.  

 photo:  Michael Bruner

photo:  Michael Bruner

Transition sucks.

I have been thinking about this for several days now, and I'm not sure there is much more to say about transition than this:  it sucks.

I know people have written big long books about it.  And they're probably good books.  Of course information is a helpful thing--knowing what to expect, if there are different stages, if there are certain things you can do to manage it.

But essentially, transition is a grief process.  There's a lot of loss on the way to the new normal.  Loss, by definition, is going to be painful.  And you just can't completely control that.  Anybody who says otherwise is selling something.  Probably their book.

It's OK to be sad.  Even really, really sad. 

It's OK to be weak.  Even really, really weak.

I know sadness and weakness are horrible feelings.  I hate them myself.  But when God says, "My power shows up best in weak people"--well, I think there's something to that.

I remember having that experience, living overseas, when I was so DONE that I couldn't even get out of bed.  I was in a profoundly difficult transition between the way life used to be, and the way life would need to be afterward.  I just lay there in my grief and pain, and somehow knew that God was there, loving me.

I had no framework for the idea that I could be completely useless and completely loved.  But it happened anyway.  I had that experience that Ephesians 3 talks about--experiencing the love of God, even though it is so great I can't understand it.

And then...well, it still took a while for me to change the way I lived.  I think I have a tendency to be a human bop-bag.  Knock me down with the truth, and I will bounce right back up to be stupid with lies again.  I can look back over a 10-year period of my life and see that same pattern over and over and over again.

It finally, finally got through to me a year or so later.  I was at this retreat at a church in Austin, bawling my eyes out in front of this pastor and saying, "When will it ever be enough?"  And this man looked at me and said, "It is enough already."  Words straight from God to me.

I think I had been in a process--probably my whole adult life--leading up to that moment to finally be ready to hear that I don't have to do one thing more.  God loves me.  And I can just be who I am, where I am, and He loves me.

Even if I have been in this place before.  Even if I should be able to look ahead and know that it's going to be worth it in the end.  Even if I feel like I should have this figured out so it won't bother me so much.  Even if other people think I should be managing it better, more gracefully, more spiritually.

Today, in my pain and in my confusion and in the constant transition that is my life, Jesus loves me, this I know.   I am weak, but He is strong.

Transition sucks. 

And God is good.  All the time.

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the real truth about those ideal, "boring" men? they're kind of hard to find.

Ann Voskamp wrote an article in praise of "boring" men that has been viral on my Facebook feed this week.  


Basic premise:  a lifetime of dedication together is better than the over-the-top romantic/sexual brouhaha you'll find in various forms on the internet.


She gives this advice to her sons:

"And a man begins being romantic years before any ring - romance begins with only having eyes for one woman now - so you don't go giving your eyes away to cheap porn."

She talks about how her husband has only ever had eyes for her.

Also awesome.

But--you knew it was coming--***asterisk.  


Some women get to have that "I only have eyes for you" guy, which is great for them.  

But what about the rest of us?

***About half of women my age (40 something) are dealing with a situation that is significantly less than optimal when it comes to that particular standard.

***As for younger women?  Probably 80% of college women are going to end up with a guy who's had significant pornography exposure.  

The stats vary, but they go something like this:

80% of teens.  47% of Christian homes.  53% of Promise Keepers.  All viewing porn.  Starting about age 10 these days.

We've spent several decades hoping that guys would figure this out.  I don't see it happening.

God said in the Garden, "It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a companion who will help him." (Genesis 2:18)

I love this:  God sees a man in trouble, he sends a woman in to help.

Let's start helping. 

Women before us have been queens and judges and prophets and warriors.  We can do it, too.

To get battle-ready, we need to understand a few things:

1.  God redeems.

Many of us have worked hard to have the ideal marriage.  When that ideal fails, we fear it's all over.

And that is just not true.  When the perfect ship has sailed, and we are out of options, God still works.  

Andy and me?  This is our story:  God redeems.  

God doesn't redeem because our life is a chocolate sundae and He just needs to stick the cherry on top.  God redeems because we are in deep trouble, and His redemption is essential to the next breath we take.

I may be out of options, but God is not.  He redeems.  That's his job.

2.  Sometimes perfection is just not all that perfect.

As one of my battle-ready friends wisely said yesterday, "Doing things the right way can actually be a way of avoiding emotional intimacy."

Having our "perfect" marriage fall apart was the best thing that ever happened to us.  

It was painful and scary, for sure.  

But it was an opportunity to be honest, to get real, to be vulnerable and connected with each other like we never were when we were "perfect."

And guess what.  

I would not trade away the life I have now for a pornography-free past.  

True story:  I am grateful.  For everything.

3.  Get connected to resources.

Get information.  Here's a post we did a while back that includes advice and resources.

Get your internet filtered, using a good resource like Covenant Eyes.  I love CE because it's internet-based; if it gets uninstalled, if the settings get changed, we get a message.  I would not feel secure with a "parent-controlled" filter.  

Get help:  individual therapy, Celebrate Recovery, a 12-Step group.  The offender needs to own the problem and work on it, to restore trust by being trustworthy.  The injured person needs a safe place to feel emotions, work on boundaries, and move toward forgiveness and healing.

4.  You are not alone.

Look at the statistics!  You are NOT the only one dealing with this.  

Almost every single time I tell my story in a new setting, somebody lets me know that they are struggling too.  That's one of the incredible joys of telling my story: the community that gets built.  

We can fight through this together, as a band of sisters.  


Wish your guy was more "boring"?  

Wish Al Gore had never invented the *^$###!! internet?

I hear ya.

But listen to me now, because this is what I know:

God's redemption is way better than my perfection.

And all of us together can be on the side of that redemption, strong and courageous.

Even though our romantic ideal has failed, God never fails.

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the 6 gifts of failure

Ten years ago, our marriage failed.  The way we had designed it was a disaster, and it collapsed.   In the aftermath, we were able to build something completely new together, and that's been amazing and wonderful.  I love the relationship we have now. The happy ending is great, but lately I've been thinking about what God did in the mess itself.   He didn't just wave a magic wand and make it go away.  He used the mess to teach me, and He gave me these gifts through failure.

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excuses for everybody and nobody

I used to think that we all agreed on certain things.

  • If you hit your wife, that's bad.
  • If you sexually molest or verbally abuse or physically neglect your child, that's horrible.
  • If you have a pornography habit, or if you sleep around, then surely surely surely, something is wrong and you have difficult emotional work to do.

But then it turned out that people with patterns of incredibly harmful behaviors toward other people would come in to therapy and say things like this:

Everybody makes mistakes.

Nobody's perfect.

In fact, the more egregious the behavior, the more likely the offender would be to say something like this.  With great conviction.

And I would sit and listen, just struck dumb by the whole thing, because:

  • It's true.  We all do make mistakes, and not one of us is perfect.
  • I'm going to be judgmental if I call bad, bad.  Because I'm not perfect.  I've made mistakes
  • The offender appears to sincerely believe that "nobody's perfect" is an adequate explanation for anything and everything.

For a while now, I've been trying to untangle this whole mess in my head, and here is what I've come up with so far.

1.  There is a difference between mistakes and abuse.  

All of us make mistakes, no doubt about it.  We get mad, we get pushy, we want what we want, and it's not pretty.  We have to apologize and forgive and move forward.

However, in an abusive situation there is a power differential.  The offender is bigger, stronger, the adult, the parent, "the spiritual leader."  And the offender uses that power to hurt another person, in order to meet their own needs, physically, sexually, emotionally.

In the process, the offender creates a mental system that allows the abuse to be acceptable to himself or herself.  (Nobody's perfect.  Everybody makes mistakes.  I was drunk.  She asked for it.  I'm the husband, and she has to submit.)  This set of excuses has been repeated, probably for years.  The offender can deliver the excuses with ease and even sincerity.

Scripture talks about this:  "God gave them over to a reprobate mind" (Romans 1:28).  They've said it so long that they believe the crazy.

But other people's crazy doesn't have to be our crazy.

We own our own stuff, we acknowledge our mistakes.  And we know abuse when we see it.

2.  Knowing where the line is?  That's not judgmental.  

Abusive, addicted people hate it when draw the line, because that stops the gravy train.  Their world depends on having victims to victimize.   And they need for people to be deceived by the crazy, or at least be confused enough not to confront it.  That helps keep their reprobate-mind-mental-system intact.

When you say to an abusive, addicted person, "That is a lie, and here is the truth," you may get a big backlash about how mean and judgmental you are.  That's no fun.

Or, you may say to an abusive, addicted person, "That is a lie, and here is the truth," and the person may be able to hear it and get out of their mess.  This one we like a lot better.

Either way, being able to tell lies from truth is not judgmental. 

Being able to tell truth from lies is a necessary life skill called good judgment.

3.  Excuses appear to be kind, but they are not.

When we make excuses for the offender, then excuses are all she's got.

Under that reprobate mind, desperately chanting "No big deal, no big deal," is a person who needs to lay down the burden of guilt and shame, repent, and receive the relief of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is available for all of us, but only when we stop the excuses and face the truth.

"But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says 'Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology...' But excusing says 'I see that you couldn't help it or didn't mean it; you weren't really to blame.' ...And if we forget this, we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses. They may be very bad excuses; we are all too easily satisfied about ourselves."  C. S. Lewis, "On Forgiveness," The Weight of Glory

I think abusive, addicted people DO know that they're over the line.  They DO know what they've done.  And they have so much guilt and shame that the excuses are about the only thing holding them together.

When we hear those excuses, it can be confusing.

But there is so much more available to us than excuses.

We have repentance.

We have forgiveness.

And, by the gift of God, we have redemption.

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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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why do I write?

I ask myself this question sometimes, during all the hours I spend at this computer desk. Why do I write?  What is this about?

And there are a bunch of reasons, I think.

I write because I can.  It's just a thing I can do.  It's not always easy or fun, but at the end of the day, I write because I can.  I can't do math, and please don't ask me to fix anything with moving parts.  But I can write.

I write because it helps me process.  My head is like the inside of a refrigerator.  There may be all kinds of stuff in there, but until you open the door and the light comes on, you have no idea what you've got.  And for me, writing turns the light on, helps me figure out what I've got.

I write because writing helps me make meaning out of the mess.  God redeems.  And writing about all the ways He redeems helps me participate in the redemption.  It's not always easy to put the bad, the mean, and the ugly out there for everybody to see.  But the point of it is not that life is hard and things are broken (although this is often the case).  The point is that God redeems.  I've seen that in my life, and I get to say so by writing about it.

I write because writing connects me to other people.  I love putting something up on the blog, and having somebody say, "Thanks.  I needed that today."  I can't be everywhere that my friends are.  But the internet can.  And that's pretty cool.

So primarily, I write and publish here on the blog.  (Thanks for reading!)

I've been able to guest-post a couple of times this year at Covenant Eyes, and also at A Life Overseas.

Right now, I have a short article up at CausePub called Love in a Green Skirt.  I'd love for you to click over there, read, and even vote if you want.  (It's the story of one of my favorite God-moments, when He showed up for me on the beach, wearing a green skirt, some tattoos, and not much more.)

But the big thing I've been working on these last few months is--deep breath--a memoir of my life overseas, depression, and recovery.  Untitled and first-drafted, as of yesterday.  I'm already thinking of stories I left out and madly second-guessing everything I put in.  But it's a first draft.  And I'm really happy to have something that feels (somewhat) complete.

I'm putting this out here today mostly as an accountability thing.  Because ever since I told Andy that it was done and let him read it, I've been freaking out.  And I think that unless I say something about it here, it will get no farther than a couple of good friends and my kids' Christmas stockings.

So, that's me being brave for today.

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