Archive for the ‘healing’ Category

I love you my readers! I treasure you!

As we all struggle through a difficult season of life, I find myself wanting to be talk about what it means to be connected to each other.

Today a close friend stopped by. He shared about his battle with cancer earlier in life. He reminded me of the time, before a major surgery, when we walked in the park and talked and he disclosed his feelings and I listened.

We talked about my current chronic pain. We talked about his hearing loss. We talked about what it feels like to be dependent. We talked about what it feels like not to be able to do the things we use to do. We have a bond over shared experience — and shared loss.

The question arises, how well can we connect with others during this time of social distancing, during this time of racial and political tension?

In contemporary parlance to be rightly connected to each other is to be “woke.” The word “woke” has now taken on a specific political meaning. It means to be woken to the awareness of social, class and racial inequality and injustice. It means to wake to the institutional nature of racism, of the harm it causes, of the need for change.

Early in my career, when I was teaching a class in Advanced American Literature, I had my gifted students read the Autobiography of Malcolm X. One of my female students, a black Muslim, stayed after class one day, and told me that I was of the white devil race, I was an oppressor and that I would never understand the black experience.

I didn’t argue. I heard her. What she said had truth in it. She was resolute. I tried to receive that, but in a very real sense we cannot fully understand and feel the exact experience of another. She left. I felt pain. I still do over this issue. I felt some of her pain, and I felt my own, and I felt the pain of the history and literature of the people of the United States of America.

I was the white teacher, I was male, I had wealth and with these things came many advantages and many privileges. My goal was to empower my students. Not one my students in that class was white, and so the very dynamic of our relationship argued in favor of my accuser’s position. I had all the power over what they were taught, over how they were allowed to behave, and over the grades that would determine their future.

A question stands before us as a nation, a question for conservatives and liberals alike. How does one wake up to what another person experiences and feels? How do we wake up to truths that we haven’t made our own, truths that we haven’t wanted to hear? How do we awaken to what someone else thinks and feels about us? How do we bring justice to the harmed?

This morning as I spoke with my pain brother, my pain elevated to the point that after a while I wept in front of him —so much so that we couldn’t continue. My sense of loss in the moment of connection actually increased in the very presence of what I need and loved the most — my dearest friends. He sat quietly as tears roll down my face. He knew my heart. He was present. just as I had one known his. I didn’t hide my pain. He didn’t look away from it.

Before he left we prayed for each other and I found myself praying for the whole world, that God would have mercy and bring healing to all of us.

How do we connect? How do we understand? Understanding begins with being present. It proceeds along a path following the awareness of shared pain. Then brokenness begins to connect with brokenness. Loss with loss. Tears with tears.

Our losses may be different, but our tears are the same. How do we become woke? We “weep with those who weep.”

A close friend texted me today. She wrote, “Funny. I am amazed at how much spontaneous crying I do. There is a vulnerable place opening up within me. I’m in a less thinking, more loving place. I hunger and stumble after ‘the love that will not let me go.’Finley said ‘I’m not God, but I’m not other than God. I’m not you but I’m not other than you.’”

We know this. Within us is the capacity for understanding. The secret lies within our tears. We may not merge with another, but we can identify. Inside us there is the possibility of unity. The secret is in the awareness of our shared losses. Inside us there is the possibility of justice and equality. This happens when we realize that the other is none other than us.

Recently, watching the news I saw disturbing images — children dug from earthquake rubble, reports of missing people, an arrested wife murderer, political infighting and name calling, failed governmental processes, corrupt, greedy leaders. I saw pictures of people with contagious diseases and images of terrible auto accidents.

I find that somewhere inside of me I want to reject there parts of our world, to get away from them, even deny them at times. Instead I want Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom. I want the wolf to lay down with the lamb. I want no more tears. I want no more harm.

Of course this is completely understandable, and of course there is the validity in longing for safety and reform and justice and newness, but rejection of our current world is not the answer. Rejection of people is not the answer; rejection of harm is not the answer. People will do wrong. There will be harm. The truth is that in this life we can’t get away from all of that.

This is a huge issue for us. we want aponia, the Greek ideal of the absence of pain. I love the absence of pain. But life has pain; it comes to us, and we don’t welcome it.

This tendency toward rejection of pain and difficulty isn’t just limited to our world. We also tend toward rejecting our own selves, our bodies, our own souls, our own emotions, our experience, our own behaviors, any parts of theses we don’t like.

We get sick, our teeth decay, we experience pain, our bodies change sizes, we need surgeries. In these hardships we don’t like how we feel. We don’t like how our bodies look or how they smell. Then there is the same response as to what we don’t like in our world. We reject the unseemly parts of our bodies and of ourselves.

We become separated from parts of ourselves, de-integrated, fragmented. We experience a mind-body division, perhaps our soul rejects our emotions. This can happen when we reject painful memories, when we reject our painful or damaged body parts, our sexuality, our physicality — our long nose, our thin hair, our bulging tummy, our aging face, our short legs, our scars, our wrinkles, our sadness, our depression, our seeming failures, our loneliness.

But this rejection will not work for us. We need integration and congruency with our world and with our bodies. We need to belong. We need integration. We need everybody who we have rejected and everything we have rejected to come home. We need a united kingdom, on earth and within ourselves.

How do we do this?

We do this by saying to our world and saying to our bodies, “I do not reject you. I am aware that you are part of me and I am a part of you.”

To those parts of our world of our body that we have rejected we say, “I welcome you back. I invite you home.”

We don’t invite evil, but we realize that we too are evil and not so different from the ones that we want to reject. We do not invite harm, but we recognize that we too harm and are harmed. Our souls and our bodies are harmed and we reach out to them and touch them and accept them, ragged, raddled and frayed as they are.

We take our direction from Jesus in doing this. In one of his most famous sayings, he said that he “did not come into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved.” Rescue came through him, in him, absorbed within him. And in his sacrifice Jesus engaged everything. Everyone.

Apply this. We are not in the world to condemn the world. Neither are we here to condemn our bodies. The dynamic, healing and therapeutic power for good comes not from rejection or condemnation. It comes from acceptance and from love.

But you might say that the Apostle John taught us to reject the world. He did not. He taught us to reject sin, harming others — evil, greed, pride, selfishness. John’s main teaching was that “God is love” and that anyone who does not love his neighbor does not love God. Love is the ultimate form of acceptance.

Place your hands on the people of the world that you have a tendency to reject and tell them you love them. If you can’t touch them still tell them that you love them. Seek complementarity. Tell yourself every day that you care for the whole earth. Place your hands on the parts of your body that you tend to reject and tell those parts that you love them.

This is the way. The way is not in rejection. The way is found in acceptance, forgiveness and love.

Let’s talk turkey! Let’s talk about the real stuff. Let’s have a conversation about our bodies, our thoughts, our behaviors. Let’s be friends and talk openly.

Guilt, shame, regret, insecurity — over our bodies, over our thinking, over our behavior, over our eating — it’s a rough go

“I ate too much, I eat the wrong thing, I shouldn’t of said that, did that, thought that.”

Of course guilt over things actually done wrong and forgiveness for those are real and important, but so much of the negativity inside of us is not that — it’s just a crazy kind of insecurity, false-guilt and self-flagellation.

Our minds naturally go there, critique ourselves, and tend to be negative too much of the time.

I know. Lately I’ve been ill. I have needed to think differently about my body, about eating and about doing.

This happens to all of us at times. Life is not static. Our bodies and our circumstances and our success rates and our opportunities change over time. They change in pregnancy, they change in illness, they change as we age. They change with other people’s decisions. They change because the world changes.

Enough thinking that life is anything different than this. Enough thinking that we have to maintain some standard, some image in order to love ourselves and to be loved by others. Go to the grocery store. Watch the people. They come in all shapes and sizes, limping, running, with walkers, in their beautiful workout clothes, in their stained and old clothes, life rich, life weary and poor. You see it all. What should we think of it? How should we reflect on the change in circumstances of our lives and other’s lives? How do we navigate the vulnerability, changeability, the ephemeral nature of life?

Not by being self-negative.

God made us good! God built into us a sense of what to do. It’s called intuition. And he gave us a conscience. It knows right from wrong. And if we listen to scripture, the fact is that God is living within us, ready to guide and advise and encourage. He gives us who believe his Spirit.

Because of this I believe we often intuitively know what we need to do and not do, eat and not eat, think and not think, and instead of living by a pack of rules and a bunch of social judgments — a raft of diets, workouts, behavioral codes, and unrealistic expectations about body image, moral perfection and peer acceptability — we need to lighten up.

Seriously! Take it easy on yourself. Be kind to yourself. Trust yourself. Be intuitive. Live intuitively. Be an intuitive thinker, chooser, eater. Deeply care about yourself as a unique and special created being not like any other one.

Consider eating — it can be by the book, or by the hook and crook or by a simple sense of honoring the moment and your body.

We need freedom here! I need deliverance from old ways and old thinking here! We would do well to become intuitive eaters.

An intuitive eater has been defined as a person who, “makes food choices without experiencing guilt or an ethical dilemma, honors hunger, respects fullness and enjoys the pleasure of eating.”

Yea! I need that.


And intuitive lifestyle the same. Of course as you live apply the knowledge you have about health, about behavior consequences, about your limits and needs, and about morality, but live more by the Spirit, who gives you a built-in sense of what’s best for you.

Live intuitively by the idea that there is no “normal” when it comes to any part of us. Listen to your body and your heart and make the best decision given the unique circumstances you are in at the moment. Then be okay with yourself. Rest in what you’ve decided and don’t rethink it it

“Our life is what our thoughts make it,” said Marcus Aurelius.

If your thoughts are self-shaming they’re not from God. If you’re always trying to do what somebody else has done, you’ll only end up frustrated. If you don’t honor how God has made you or what he has allowed in you life that makes you who you are at any given moment, you will harm yourself.

Intuit the divine.

Intuit your life!

Be free my friends from law and from judgement — because you are!

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7

A trifle consoles us, for a trifle distresses us.

— Blaise Pascal

We’re fragile.

Trifles mess with us  — things break, people make remarks, inconveniences throw us into a fit, expectations arise, and we easily get caught up in negative mental loops.

Trifles toy with us, they torture us — comments, accidents, unfulfilled expectations, petty comparisons — and we are often ashamed of them, ashamed of losing our calm, ashamed of getting upset. And, of course, we also suffer shame from the significances that bother us — health issues, broken relationships, debt, jealousies, all manner of losses.

But under duress, I think we are too quick to tell ourselves, “This is not normal,” or “I shouldn’t be so upset,” or “I can’t believe this happened,” or “I can’t believe this is effecting me so much!”

I’m changing my views on us, on our reactions, our emotions, and I am developing an acute tolerance for upset, in myself, and in others.

We are fragile, but that’s good. We were made that way, for a reason.

To be fragile is also to be sensitive, attuned, aware, sentient — and those are not bad human traits. The opposite is to be hard, insensitive, out of touch, unaware, numb. But that doesn’t work, not for human beings, not for good relationships, not for anybody.

The way to maturity, the path to good relationships, the way to a healthy sense of self in a  frustrating world is to begin to understand our frailties, our sensitivities, our upsets, and  to listen to them, to listen to our bodies, to listen to our emotions, and to learn from them.

Recently, one of my daughters was jealous of the other. It came to tears. It was heartbreaking. We had to talk it out.

My response?

I told my daughters, “Jealousy is normal. I’ve been jealous. It’s painful, I know, but jealousy is a normal human emotion, something we all experience, and hide, and suffer over, and have shame over.”  Jealousy — it is that one piece of clothing that we all have in the closet and just can’t bring ourselves to wear out in public — or to throw away.

But jealousy, admitted, confessed, attended to, can teach us so much about ourselves. It can teach us that we are hungry for approval, and that we all want to star, be noticed, be attractive, succeed, be loved.

I’m learning — and trying to help my family learn — that we can talk about such things, things we may tend to hide, our feelings, our “trifles,” and we can process them, we can admit our hidden shame, and we can help each other by normalizing this stuff.

In fact, I don’t think we can do a better thing for those we love than to normalize them being human, to normalize them being fragile, to normalize our universal need for love and care for our bodies, our emotions and our sense of self.

Openness, acknowledgment or our humanity, acknowledgment of weakness  — that is good for the soul. It’s truth!

Pascal was correct. It actually only takes small doses of openness and acceptance to calm us. Mere minutes of openness, of transparency, of empathy, mere moments of talking and connecting can calm the many various and sundry squalls of the human spirit.

Do this: take seriously your inner emotional tides and waves — and other people’s too — no matter how small they may seem, or how shameful, and hear them, honor them, learn from them, and by doing so, recover from them too.

I could see around the next corner — there was a continuous line of cars and trucks and buses moving very slowly — rush hour traffic.

I logged in on my laptop; the numbers were still greyed out. The account hadn’t yet funded — money, the ever stressful issue of money.

I sat at the long, heavy, dark board room table and looked down the line of board members on both sides as we sat bemused by the the tension between paying our employees well and providing affordable services to the underserved — decisions, decisions and more decisions.

I sat in my chair looked him in square in the eyes; he was looking me square in the eyes, and I said, “When you are with people be present, put your phone away, listen, focus on them. This is going to be something you will want to work on.” It was an evaluation, an  employee evaluation, and with it went the stress of balancing affirmation and correction.

I am stressed. I have been for a long time. All of are. Being responsible is stressful. Not being responsible is stressful. Life is stressful.

What to do?

Recover. Take time to recover.

We all need to recognize that we all need to recover, to heal, to repair, emotionally, physically, spiritually from the labor and anxiety and stress of life.

To do this park. To heal we must park ourselves; we must park ourselves in safe, beautiful, quiet spaces and we must sit with ourselves, and honor our need for rest, our old donkey’s need for rumination, for chewing, for reflection, for aloneness, for recovery.

Yesterday, I did just that. I went to the park, and parked, and sat by the lily pond, and took in some the music from the cool, longhaired musician playing an electric guitar for tips, and walked over to the art museum and ogled the Bruegel they have there, “The Parable of the Sower.”  And I sat some more.

I am learning something. After years of hard driving and achieving and succeeding, I am learning to listen to my body, to respect my body, to let my body tell me —  the amped up, productive, hard-driving, anxious, image conscious me — to settle down, and rest. 

Here is the deal. In each of us, our mind, body, spirit, and emotions are all connected and for for us to heal one is to help to heal all. Current somatic therapy emphasizes listening to our selves better, paying attention to what our bodies need, paging attention to what our bodies are speaking, what our bones and muscles and nerves and skin is telling us is needed for life, for a truly good life.  

I need to do just that.

My body is talking, all the time. Often I have failed to listen. I tell others to be present and yet often I am not present to myself. I am hungry; I deny it. I am anxious; I ignore it. I am tired. I push on.

For years my body has been saying, “Rest. Please, rest me. Please, just sit with me. Please sit with me and listen to me. Please cloister yourself away, please hide away for a time from traffic, money, decisions, evaluations and stress, and sit in gratitude for what has been done, for what is, for who you are, for the gorgeous, spectacular simplicity of being.”

I have listened; I am learning to listen better now. I am sowing. I am living within the parable of the sower. I am sowing more tranquilly —  a more robust tranquility — within my own lovely, sacred, intimate, garden borders.

I am sitting more, doing nothing more, doing nothing but recovering — which is a big something — healing from life more in a large, safe, friendly, soft, warm pile of quiet self-awareness and gratitude.


“You have to have a label, to get services,” I said, looking my friend in the eyes and repeating a truism I had heard years ago.

But it is true.

My daughter got services when she got labeled —  seizure disorder, brain damage, disabled, slow.


Deep ouch!

But this is what we tend toward when things deviate from the norm. We tend toward simplistic labels — mental illness, addiction, autism, brain damage  — and we like the labels very much, because we can pin simplistic solutions on these simplistic labels and feel like we have done something.

But simple labels don’t always well represent complex realities, and labels may lead us to apply wrong, overly simplistic solutions.

“She’s autistic.”

“He’s an addict.”

“Cancer patients tend to …”

“The low functioning  … ”

“The sexually abused  …”

“Males  … ”

“Latinos  …”


It’s that simple?


Broad labels, one-word simplifications of reality have resulted in some of the worst human behaviors on earth — racism, genderism, overly heroic and invasive medical treatment, neglect, fear, violence   — which ironically are themselves overly simplistic labels.

Take the autistic thing. It’s not simple. We refer to a person being on the autistic spectrum, thus admitting that there is a range, that there are differences within the label, within the diagnosis. But reality is much more complicated than even the ranging, reaching, inclusive idea of a spectrum.

I know a person who has been diagnosed as autistic but was also sexually abused as a child. Plus she is in a family that lacks resources, plus her siblings are disabled, plus her single mom has to work full-time. Is there a label for this?

The best we might say to even get started is, “It’s complicated!”

Yes, it is complicated. It’s complicated and a team of  helpers and specialists are needed and a complex treatment plan is needed. To help this person and their family recover and thrive, we must help them grieve, and help them understand all they are dealing with. We must team up, pray, find and learn compensating behaviors, discover social solutions, discover medical helps — really uncover all the relevant solutions in all the relevant arts and sciences.

Yes categories and labels help us to understand similarities, understand experiences we have in common,  understand kinds of realties, but too often labels short change understanding and keep us from needed, nuanced thinking.

The family with a complicated reality is in need of more than one label and more than one solution. A concerted, integrated multi-solutional effort is needed.

What are we saying?

The sciences need to cooperate with each other better. The helping professionals in various fields need to team up more.

And, as we work with people and families to try to help them — perhaps because of our own areas of specialization — we must not overly simplify their problems, or the solutions.

If we want to help, if we want to be a helping person or helping team for someone’s spiritual problems, social problems, physical problems, resource challenges and mental problems then we must open up our minds to the full and complicated contexts of their situations.

And we could do with fewer labels.

A person or family in difficulty may well need a multi-solutional response — yes to prayer or other spiritual helps, yes to recovery groups, yes to doctors, yes to therapists, yes behavioral specialists, yes to medications, yes to financial support and yes to a supportive family and community.

Complicated — it’s the solution to complicated.

It’s hard to tell if you have done a thing.

Well, not always.

Yesterday, I trashed one of my Christmas angels. I knew I’d done it because I could see it. Unscrewing the motor that ran her wings,  pulling the bulbs off her trumpet,  stuffing her head first into a dumpster — it was fairly definitive.

I told her, “You’ve served well honey, but you’re done. Rest in peace — in the dump.”

Then I put the body parts I had harvested from her in a drawer in the garage — ready if needed — to patch up my other angel, the one lighting up my driveway these Christmas nights.

It’s done, the body’s gone.

Not every body is like that.

Forgiveness is not like that. You do it, you dismember the offender in your mind, you dump the body in the river Lithe, and then it floats to the surface again, bloated and horrible in the backwaters of your mind

“What? I just can’t get rid of this guy!”

That is because forgiveness can’t erase the past. It was what it was and forgiving someone doesn’t dispense with the memory or emotion of their offense — the attendant regret, the sadness, the anger.

Forgiveness is no eraser.

Then what is forgiveness?

Forgiveness is keyboard, a keyboard that can write the present and also write the future.

Forgiveness is the agency that allows us to positively address the issues of the present without being controlled by a residue of anger and resentment from the past.

Forgiveness is the ability to love again.

Sometimes we think we haven’t forgiven because we haven’t been able to dismember the bodies and tossed them in the River Lethe. But getting rid of the bodies is not forgiveness.  They won’t go. We will lug our heaviest offenders to our graves with us.

Forgiving is not forgetting; it is thriving, while not forgetting. We know we have forgiven when we find ourselves harvesting a special awareness and sensitivity from what we have learned from our past wounds and bringing that into the present to love and care for others again.

Forgiveness is the freedom to enter the present with fresh eyes and an open heart and ready hands.

Sometimes you can tell you are doing a thing when you are doing it without thinking of the things that could keep you from doing it.

With divine assistance, choosing to exist existentially and exponentially within the forgiveness available to you, forgive the dark angels and the even darker humans of the past; do this by taking loving care of the bright ones of your present.

Last week, we hung art in our new REFINERY Church and Center For Enriching Relationships Counseling Center.

It was the end of a process.

First we prepared the walls — dusting, wiping, sanding, re-texturing, applying primer. Next, we installed new French doors in every room, black wood with gorgeous etched glass squares. Then, in went the floors — unifying, lightening, pulling the rooms together from below with a warm, clean, modern look. After that, we went after the application of wall color — a beautiful warm grey, perfectly matching the flooring — then a second coat, then touching up, installing white baseboards, caulking the baseboards, more touching up.

After all that, we choose the art. That was a wild boar hunt and more — a hunt for color, content, matting, framing, cost, size, style, feel. It had dead ends, stone walls, frustrating web searches, super-vetoes from our passionate decor team members.  Too small, too cliched, too expensive, too cheap, too orange, too realistic, too abstract — too not just the right blue.

We finally bought some gorgeous stuff, just the right colors and lines and splashes of creativity for a place dedicated to healing.

Then there was the measuring-of-the-wall, the establishing-of-an-attractive-hang-point —  not to low, not to high, midway between to lateral points. Borrow a hammer-drill, buy a masonry bit  — the walls are solid concrete! — drill a hole, drill deeper, put in an insert, pull it out, drill again, insert, screw in the screw, adjust the screw, adjust again.

Hang the picture off one side while holding the other side up, put a level on top, mark a second hole, drill, insert, screw, hang, check with the level, right on  — “Ah!”


It was all work, it was all plan; it took more steps and more time than expected; it wasn’t exciting; it was! This will be sacred, healing space.

Wow, that art, on that wall, it’s subtle, just the right feel, medicinal, except for that one on that wall — that one just pops with curative warmth!

Fitting, restorative, salutary, soothing, perfect. “I love it!”  I knew we would get to this point, this end-of-the-line, this excitification, exultifaction, soothosity, satismongering.

Life — it is a series of steps.  Life is a process, life is preparing, finding, drilling, hanging, finishing. Life is pushing through, pounding through, so we can get to solid, to good, to admiration, to satisfaction, to gratitude, to beauty. God himself knows that, and he himself took steps, many steps, to get to beautiful earth, to very good, to just right, for us.

Sometimes we want instant. Instant money, instant status, instant skill, instant comfort, instant art, instant food, instant healing. We want to take step one — and be there.

Not so, not reality, not how things work, not how the good life gets hung. Everyone healed from psyche wounds in the new counseling center will themselves engage in a process, will heal over time, will heal step-by-step.

Do this.

Do this to thrive.

Take the first, second, fifth and tenths steps that you need to take toward the exultant good surging within you. Step, and step again over the crumbling sea wall of your own immediophila, your single-stepiditude, your skulking sloth.

Resistance to hard work —  and to process, and to steps — has for too long been restraining the swelling passion for healing, and for beauty surging within us all.

Life can get heavy — relationally and physically.

“Without further adieu, let’s give it up for some new elements, very heavy, recently discovered and added to the periodic table, numbers 113, 115, 117 and 118 — nihonium, moscovium, tennessine and oganesson!“

These are — as you can see — mostly named after the places they were discovered, and furthermore and interestingly enough, they are superheavy and super-unstable. They decay almost instantly, like some relationships, and for now anyway, they have absolutely no value.

In the last few weeks, I’ve discovered some more heavy elements, in people’s reactions to me — weighty emotions, unstable relational stuff.

Someone expressed jealousy over my social circle, and then they got snarky with me for having so many friends. Somebody else wanted to team up on a project, then they didn’t, if they couldn’t run it. Somebody wanted me to give them money — after they told me all the crazy things that had just happened to them — but I think most of those things didn’t happen.

Niffle-naffled; I’m baffled. What do you do?

In each of these cases, there was stuff going on that didn’t have anything to do with me.

Funky relational stuff — what do we do with it? What do we do with it if it is rooted in the other person’s past and has absolutely nothing to do with us?

It happens. Unstable responses to what we say, decide and do — it happens. Sometimes we ourselves put our stuff on others. I’ve done this. I’ve made something someone else fault when the problem was really in me. Such things are part of the universal periodic table of emotional and relational heavy elements. We create problems for others that are our own; we try to solve issues that aren’t ours.

If we have been socialized to be overly polite, (many introverted or shy young people suffer from this) we may get triggered and apologize for stirring someone up when we didn’t. If we have been overly and dysfunctionally Christianized we may rush to the moral imperative “love your neighbor as yourself” and get busy loving, in other words owning a problem that isn’t ours.

Ah, so painful!

No dysfunctional, unnecessary apologizing, and no misguided Christianized enabling will help.

Owning other people’s stuff is not good for us or them, not good relationally and not good for maintaining healthy psyches.

People’s reactions, those deeply rooted in the issues that arise from their families of origin, or reactions deeply rooted in their previous hurts, these are not ours to adopt. They are unstable; they complicate our relationships unnecessarily; they decay relationships.

We can’t own what isn’t ours. We can’t fix what isn’t ours. We can be gentle with everyone. We can refuse to judge others; we can overlook their craziness, but we can’t take their issues into our souls. Even if we are therapists or pastors, we aren’t wise to try to own what belongs to someone else.

Those who are painfully triggered by their past can examine their emotions — we may be able to help them do that if they ask — and they may heal from them if they can own them, but as far as us taking responsibility for what isn’t ours — it does no good.

Without further adieu, let’s give it up for the discovery of emotional boundaries. Healthy barriers work really well in avoiding harm from other people’s super-heavy emotional elements!

This weekend one of my brother’s asked me an interesting question, “How do you think pain was handled in the family we grew up in?”


After we threw this around for 45 minutes — my brother, his wife, my daughter, me — I can note a couple of things.

Siblings don’t grow up in the same family.

Each child has a unique experience of their family, based on the child’s own personality, based on what is going on in the family during the most vulnerable years, based on difference in how the parents relate to the children.

I had wonderful parents. They were loving, godly, present, good. But I didn’t always get what I needed when it came to processing pain. I needed more processing than I got. I needed for us to sit down and talk about the pain, the psychological pain, particularly how we experiencing it, what it was doing to us, how we felt about it. I think that I needed this because I am a very verbal processor and because I am sensitive to emotions. I am a thinker, but I am also a feeler.

When my mom got breast cancer, I was 15 or 16 years old. I remember sitting by her bed, in her bedroom, holding her hand, worrying about her — mom and I alone in a dark room. I never remember any helpful conversations about her cancer, with my dad, with her or with my brothers. My mom had a mastectomy. My dad worked, my brothers and I went to school, my mom recovered. We we’re a product of our times. We were workers, doers, not emotional processors, but even if we had wanted to talk, I would say that we didn’t even have the language we needed to talk about all this.

Only later in life did my mom tell me how emotionally painful the surgery was for her, how she felt horribly disfigured by it, how she suffered over that through the years. Only later in life did I realize how alone she was in that, and how alone I was during those years. My mom has always been a classy woman, always beautifully dressed, very conscious of her appearance, but she became a cancer survivor, a mastectomy survivor — with a hidden wound —  and her experience shaped my experience.

After finishing my undergrad, I fell in love with Linda, the woman I married, the love of my life. We started off talking, and we kept on talking. We talked, and talked and talked, about everything, always —  we still do. Talking is at the core of our relationship. We process life, it’s events, our emotions, our two daughter’s emotions with talk. Perhaps we over-process things, but talk, talk, talk — we go for the talking cure.

My kids aren’t perfect. They too didn’t get everything they needed from the family my wife and I created. Looking back, even with our penchant toward processing, some things in the family didn’t get adequately processed. At times, we simply didn’t know what the girls were feeling, or thinking or what they needed.

I love the family I grew up in. My parents are beautiful people. They absolutely did the best they could.  I love the family I created for myself. We too did the best we could. I come from good stock. Throughout my extended family, we have handled pain well enough to stay together, to have successful lives, to avoid addiction, to avoid separation. But I would say this, from my own, limited, needy perspective.

People need to talk.

More than we even know.

Talking helps.

Listening helps.

Talking and listening — this helps relieve pain.