Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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On Healing

The way we heal the wounds in our lives is to tell the story. Tell the story of your harm over and over again until you are no longer limited and harmed by what has happened. This is the essence of therapy … to become familiar with our own truths (and lies) and live honest and peaceable lives.

You cannot do this alone. We are not unbiased about our wounds, nor the words we use to describe our experiences. We need others to hear our stories, and to help us to see parts that we’d rather not see. Parts that we hate.

Untold stories (secrets) poison our hope, dreams, and relationships. Yes, there is much pain in these stories but pain is only there because there has been a fracture of relationship. Just like cold is not it’s own created thing, it is the absence of heat, so too is pain. Pain only exists because a relationship (love) has been broken.

If we cannot forgive those we hate the most (and this doesn’t mean that we have to like the person we’re forgiving), we will never be able to accept the forgiveness of others. Telling our secrets—our stories—is the process of grief, of forgiveness.

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Myth #2: It Takes a Village

This post is part of a series in response to an article about reasons not to be afraid of a divorce. The bolded first sentence/statement below are the words from the author in the linked article. The following comments are my opinions in response. Read the introduction to this series of posts here first.

Previous posts in series:
Myth #1 — Divorce Pain is Temporary


 

Myth #2 —  “Society says divorce is bad, that may not be true.”

The above quote links divorce to caffeine where the author states, “society used to think caffeine was bad, now it says it might help prevent cancer.” I’m in agreement that there are a host of issues society has gotten wrong. I don’t think anyone can argue that point. But, have we gotten the issue of divorce wrong? A question I had after reading this was: ‘Is divorce harmful to the body like caffeine was once thought to be?’

I don’t think the author intended for this connection to be taken literally, but I went on a search anyway and here is what I found. In 2009 the Journal of Health and Social Behavior published a study that linked divorce and widowhood to a decrease in physical health. In fact, there was a more significant toll on the physical health than on the mental health of those who’d divorced or widowed. I think some of this decline in physical health is linked to the need for companionship, because in this study those that remarried reported physical health issues getting better.

Not surprisingly, our society has drastically changed over the past 50 years. In the summer of 2013 I, and my extended family, buried the patriarch of our family, my grandfather. He was a man rigorous in his commitment to family, responsibility, and hard work. He grew up as the country exited the great depression, fought on the front lines in France, and stayed at his job for the entirety of his career. His work ethic was remarkable. I don’t think he would consider himself all that special amongst his peers, or others from his era. They did what they had to do, regardless of how hard it was.

The society he helped create said divorce was bad because (the following are my words), there was a cultural understanding that marriage was hard work, just like the rest of life. The culture supported hard work in every facet of life, and marriage was no different. Doing what feels good was not something my grandfathers’ culture promoted, or advertised. That is not the case today. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements promoting pleasure. The culture’s message is clear: Do what feels good. This is not a helpful message for those facing hardships in their relationship.

Last week I wrote about marriage being one of the main pillars that creates culture. If you take marriage away, what is left? Doing what feels good often does not take into account the effect upon those around us. If our society is more bent towards encouraging choices that feel good, which I firmly believe to be the case, then there is tons of support for divorce being a acceptable (and desirable) decision. But did my grandfather’s generation, his society, get it wrong? On the issue of marriage, I think they got it right.

Usually doing what’s right comes at the expense of our own individual freedoms and desires. This is a difficult reality: The good of the whole doesn’t make all the individuals happy. In fact, the good of the whole often time comes at the cost of individual pleasure. There has to be a bigger story, a more compelling story, that causes people to lay down their rights, freedoms, and preferences for the good of the whole. Divorce is not that compelling story for a society because it promotes a me-first, “every man/woman for themselves” attitude. This is a dangerous and slippery slope. The history books do not reflect well upon those who take it upon themselves to act on desires for personal glory, or pleasure.

At present, our society is losing clarity on why marriage is important. The conversations are about civil rights and freedoms, not about what it actually takes to build a sustainable marriage. This is problematic, regardless of who you married. Our culture has deemed divorce acceptable thus we have lost a vital support system for marriages to thrive. I’m sure the saying is familiar: It takes a village to raise a child … well, it also takes a village to raise a marriage.

Next Up — Myth #3: The same people judging you for getting divorced are probably part of the Miserable & Married crowd.

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Sources:
Hughes, M. and Waite, L. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, September 2009; vol 50

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Myth #1: Divorce Pain is Temporary

This post is part of a series in response to an article about reasons not to be afraid of a divorce. The bolded first sentence/statement are the words from the author in the linked article. The following comments are my opinions in response. Read the introduction to this series of posts here first.

Myth #1 – ”Divorce pain is temporary.

Temporary pain means that whatever causes the pain wasn’t that significant to begin with. We make pain temporary by escaping and numbing ourselves. Ultimately the pain resulting from a divorce does not just affect the couple, it affects an entire community.

Marriages are an essential building block of how our communities were formed. Yet we are increasingly viewing marriage like it’s shopping mall. When we don’t get the desired product, we return it, go to another store and get different one. Disposable relationships cannot hold love for long, thus they cannot hold pain for long either. Find me someone who has lost a child that says the pain is no longer there. It’s just not true. Marriage has been reduced to a pursuit of happiness, which creates an untenable position: ‘If you don’t make me happy, someone else will.’

Marriage is an unseen fabric that binds our homes, restaurants, businesses, and community together. Without the marriage fabric there would be a chaotic “free-for-all,” making every man, woman, and child available for whatever pursuit the moment called for. Marriage provides the safety and protection for a community. By staying, loving, and committing to my marriage, I am allowing and asking for you to do the same.


Typically, a marriage happens before friends and family allowing for new friendships to be forged. If that marriage ends, it fractures these relationships. It’s like two cities that have been connected by a bridge. When that bridge is destroyed, so too are the comings and goings of those cities. My people stay my people, and the same for you and your people.

Unfortunately, as divorce has become more common, the strength of our communities has deteriorated, thus leading to more divorce. I rarely hear a couple talk about what is best for “us”, instead most talk about what is best for me, and what I’m not getting. The pervasive idea is this: “I deserve to be happy. I want what I want when I want it. To hell with anyone, including my spouse, who stands in my way.”

The pain in life is temporary because we want it to be. Divorce is no different. We humans are pretty adept at finding ways to escape from our pain. Very few people actually travel the road of healing by facing the pain they feel. This reality is true for all aspects of life, not just marriage. It’s why relapse rates for addictions are so high. The more we escape pain the more entrenched we become in our habits.

Like a piece of candy, pleasure is short lived and always leaves the consumer desiring more. If the pain of a divorce is short lived, it’s because the orientation of the marriage was towards immediate gratification. We wouldn’t marry if self-gratification delivered the goodness of life we all desire.

Marriages will never thrive if happiness is the sole purpose of the relationship. The hope of marriage is that my spouse will be as oriented towards love as I am. If we can join together in that love, the pain of ending that hope would deter pursuits of divorce, not encourage it.

Next Up — Myth #2: “Society says divorce is bad, that may not be true.”

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Anne Lamott on Brian Williams and scapegoats

Anne Lamott, one of my favorite authors, recently posted some thoughts (originally posted here) about Brian Williams (NBC Nightly News anchor) and our common humanity. This is worth reading, even if you don’t have a clue what’s happening with Mr. Williams. My favorite line encompasses something most of us are afraid of doing: “Let’s be human together.”

 

Brian Williams is our new Old Testament goat. It’s like being the new It Girl, although of course, not quite as festive. And I’m caught up in it, too. It’s hard to turn away, and a part of me, the dark part of me with bad self esteem, is cheered. The handsomest, richest, most perfect guy turned out to have truthiness issues; and it was good.

He’s our sin offering. Wow, how often do I get to type those words? Not nearly often enough! It’s exhilarating. It’s Shirley Jackson’s “Lottery.” Each worsening detail is like a self-esteem ATM.

I’m watching talking heads on the biggest news stations come down on him, and I know some of these most famous men to have been unfaithful, and worse–way worse, with children. They’re in the delicious throes of schadenfreude, which part of me is, too. The sweeter part of me, the child, the girl in her little blue kilt, the mom, the nana, the black-belt co-dependent, wants to shake her fist at the bullies. Who here doesn’t lie, emebellish, exaggerate? (I’m reminded of the old joke about Jesus telling the crowd who is stoning the adulteress, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Suddenly a woman throws a rock at the adulturess. Jesus looks up, and says, “Oh for Pete’s sake, Mother.”)

No one, not one single person, has stood up for him. I would, but I’m a lying liar, too–well, maybe not as egregious as Brian Williams. I don’t tell people “I looked down the tube of an RPG”. Well, maybe that one time I did. But that was just so people would like me more.

I would stand with Mr. Williams, because he’s family. There’s a scene in Small Victories where I was giving a writing workshop to the prisoners in San Quentin, with my friend Neshama, and she told them. “I’m human. You’re human. Let’s be in our humanness together for a little while.” So yes, I stand with him.

But my solidarity wouldn’t mean all that much. My son rolls his eyes sometimes at family gatherings, because the story I’ve just told has changed from its last telling. But then again, so has his.

The sober people I know began sobriety by minimizing how bad their drinking and drug use was; by the end of the first year, they’re copping to the most graphic, disgusting behavior you can imagine. This was definitely my case; I started out mentioning that maybe I had a few too many a couple times a week, to the truth, which was that I was insane, trying to buy opiates, guys, the random RPG.

(Of course, Brian Williams did not do nearly as socially repellant things as my addict brothers and sisters did. In our defense, though, we rarely said we had been struck by RPG’s. So it’s sort of a wash.)

The truth eventually set me free. It’s the “eventually” that gets ya. But it did. I hurt a lot of people, mostly other women, but with a lot of help and solidarity, I told my truth, and there was great healing, for them and me; and what I did still sucked. Sometimes, they still do.

Take, for instance, the words for which I am probably most semi-famous, besides “shitty first drafts” and that my bad thoughts make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish. The words were not even mine: it was my wild Jesuit friend Tom Weston’s word who actually said that you can tell you’ve created God in your own image when He hates the same people you do. Father Tom said it in a lecture 23 years ago, at a small gathering. The first few times I quoted it–probably at Salon, and possibly in Bird by Bird–I attributed it to him. Then the next few times, I didn’t. I just shoe-horned it into conversation, as if I’d just thought of it that minute; brilliant daring me

And not exactly “conversation.” More like, “While being interviewed.”

Then, it got picked up, and it was everywhere, and I started trying to correct the lie–at a big public level. In print, and on Kurt Andersen’s gigantic show, Studio 360 on WNYC, New York City’s NPR. It was the childhood dream of going to school naked. But I did it.

The line is frequently quoted, as mine. It’s a great line; it says it all. But I’m sick of cringing and saying I borrowed it. Okay–stole it. Fine.

Me, and one of our greatest historians, Doris Kearns Goodwin, right? Do we say, as people are saying now about Mr Williams, “Well, we wouldn’t be able to trust Goodwin after she plagarized.” No. We absolutely trust her. We decided to. She earned our trust back.

The point is, we are gigantically flawed. Oh, my God, such screw-ups. We can be such total asshats. And if you’re in the public eye, like Brian Williams, or in the public baby toe, like me, it goes viral.

We do the best we can. Sigh. Some days go better than others. We get to start our new 24 hours every time we remember. I’m also remembering the old wisdom story about the elder who tells a young girl that inside him, inside all humans, are two dogs, a good dog and an aggressive dog. They’re always at war. The girl asks him which dog usually wins. He thinks about it, and says, “The one I feed the most.” So I am going to feed my kinder side, forgive and trust Brian Williams, me, and, sight unseen, you. His story will to play out however it does, almost entirely based on NBC’s financial considerations. In the meantime, we can wish him and his family well.

 

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Are you Hopeless in Marriage?

Most people who have not done significant spiritual or relational work do not know how to do conflict well. Invariably, we will unconsciously adapt our conflict styles to what we were exposed to in our childhood homes. The saying “the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree” is true here, how are we to know a different way of being without the help of someone else to show us another place?

Marriage provides the context for taking another person to another place. It offers hope that I can live alongside someone who will help me to become a better person, and I can do the same for them. The reality is that once the newness wears off (which happens at different rates of time for different people), couples often lose sight of the purpose of marriage.

I often hear, “I just want to be happy and live in peace” when asking people what they desire in their marriages. Generally this is in reaction to the growing disconnect and conflict that exists between husband and wife. However, when you don’t do the necessary maintenance and work, It decays and begins to break down. This is true of the material world just as it is for relationships.

Cleaning up and fixing something that has been neglected for a long time takes more energy and effort than the time it would have taken to maintain. In relationships, if you do not spend the time proactively working and engaging the faulty issues in your marriage, when it comes time to “fix it” or “buy a new one”, it’s going to feel overwhelming.

This overwhelming feeling coupled with the already everyday needs and demands of life make it even more difficult to find the courage, energy, and hope to dig out of the mess. If you’re at this place of hopelessness in your marriage, seek out a counselor. If you’re afraid you’re on the road to hopelessness, here are some suggestions to work on:

Do go on regular dates with your spouse.
Do monthly budget meetings to review and plan financial concerns and needs
Do yearly/bi-yearly marriage enrichment activities (counseling, retreats, books, etc)
Do not turn on the ’screen’ (tv, phone, computer/tablet) at least 2 nights per week
Do not blame your spouse for anything, ever. Take responsibility for your actions.
Do not use the word divorce unless you are filing.
Do not have an affair with work, alcohol, Facebook, video games, food, or the TV.
Do practice non-sexual touch without it leading to sex.
Do not hide behind your kids activities to avoid conflict.
Do not use your kids to fulfill your loneliness.

No relationship is beyond repair. I have seen couples dealing with multiple layers of betrayal, lies, and brokenness work diligently on repairing their relationship. When you married your spouse, they became the right one, don’t buy into the lie that there is someone better out there for you. If you’re willing to do the hard work, your hopelessness can be healed.

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The Invitation of Advent

I don’t know all of what Mary feared, but I can guess she had plenty. An unwed pregnant woman was not what it is today. She had good reasons to be afraid, as did Joseph, Zechariah, and the Shepherds. The Angels spoke directly to them, saying the same thing regarding the coming of Jesus: “be not afraid.” They were afraid, with good reason, and so are we.

My guess is that your fears are similar to mine. Fears of being seen or unseen: The reality that I can bear neither the pain of your rejection, nor the intimacy of your staying with me. Fears of being enough, of my value: Good enough for love, acceptance, forgiveness, or even something as simple as a hug from someone I have hurt. Fears about safety, stability, and self-control. Regardless of the fears, it’s a shining star illuminating the need for something greater.

The Angels command to not be afraid foreshadowed the coming of Peace. We are reminded in 1 John 4 that perfect love casts out all fear. Advent is the birthplace of perfect love, of God’s peace.

Advent is an opportunity to allow God’s peace to enter into our lives. But just like any other physical container, we have to remove the current contents before we can fill it up with something new. I don’t have to look too far into my life to see that I’ve filled much of my space with things like some of the fears I mentioned earlier. To allow for peace, I have to have space.

Advent’s invitation is about space. This season, the question is: Will you make room?

There was no space for Jesus’ birth in the hotels, B&B’s, or even the dilapidated truck-stop motels. There was only room in the stable, the barn. This is the place in the Advent story for us to consider what areas of our lives are too full for Jesus. The hotels and other establishments are too sensible and upscale for an unwed mother in childbirth. I imagine the innkeepers felt similar to the way I do during a church service with my kids are doing somersaults on the chairs during the doxology. The message is clear: “Go away, you’re not welcome here.”

Not all the rooms of our life need to be occupied. We need to leave space, to allow emptiness. I can’t think of a more difficult challenge than to intentionally let there be places of emptiness in my life. The innkeeper in me says, “why would I ever want to leave a room empty?” Actually trying to leave room so that you feel some emptiness might be the craziest challenge you’ve ever heard. The sensible thing to do is to fill everything up so as to not feel empty.

The Advent season is not about our sensibilities. It’s about allowing space for peace to enter. For peace to reside, take shelter, and begin to grow. This is the language of hope, and hope is not sensible. Hope is a bit crazy, kind of like giving birth to a child in a barn.

Here is the great thing about Advent. Even if we’re too full and don’t have room, Advent will still happen. The invitation will still be there when we are ready. So, keep heart, make room, and let Peace fill your emptiness. May the Peace of the Lord be with you.

(postscript: This piece was written for my graduate school, The Seattle School, for an Advent series they have created. To subscribe to the entire series of articles, poems, and other Advent reflections, click here: https://theseattleschool.edu/forms/advent2014/)

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Thriving the Holidays

Raise your hand if you don’t feel some twinge of anxiety about the family dynamics during the holidays.

If you’re honest, you feel pretty conflicted about having your parents or siblings over for Thanksgiving dinner, much less visiting your childhood home. And you likely feel somewhat reluctant about going to your in-laws or some other place than what is normal.

Surviving the holiday season is all about eating more food, drinking more wine, and watching more football. Basically, if you want to just make it through the holidays without rocking the boat, spend as little time sober around your family as possible. And by sober, I don’t mean alcohol and food inebriation, rather I mean that you not engage with what you really think and feel. Alcohol and Food provide great buffers to numb out the pain that so many of our family situations trigger. Surviving is about just getting by, Thriving is about being present and not letting the old patterns and behaviors become the go-to actions.

Here’s some ideas on thriving this holiday season:

1. Don’t expect changes to have occurred in any of your family of origin relationships. This isn’t to say that you need to expect them to have not changed, but be available for surprise if that has happened. You’ll build resentments if you have unrealistic expectations.

2. Practice not saying all that you have to say. It’s easy to get triggered and have a flood of old emotions come sweeping in during time with family. Use caution about what you say, and who you say it to.

3. Plan your exit strategy ahead of time. Set boundaries for how much time you will spend, and where. Don’t let big decisions be made on the spot, make those proactively.

4. Be mindful of eating and drinking indulgently. There is always copious amounts of food and drink during holiday celebrations, and it’s easy to numb out to excessive caloric intake or alcohol.

5. Don’t completely deviate from your normal routine. Take some of your normal non-vacation habits with you. Bedtime, morning, mealtime, etc. The more familiar you are with what the day holds the healthier you will be able to respond to challenging situations.

Above all, be honest with yourself and those that are committed to truth and vulnerability. The holidays can provide some great contexts for healing, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to be involved in that process.

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Making Room in Your Family

Earlier this fall I was asked to share some practices and habits our family does that help to make room for relationships. So much of family life is dictated by events and schedules that we often miss out on relationship building with our spouse or kids. Here are a few of the ideas I shared. Disclaimer: by no means does my family have it figured out, rather we are figuring it out as we go. Our kids are all under 12, so I expect these ideas to expand/evolve as our kids grow up.

We think of making room in our family in two sections: Work/school week, and weekend.

During the school week we attempt to eat together as a family as often as possible. We don’t allow technology or other distractions (books, TV, toys, iPods, phones, etc) to be at the table and we try to have conversations about our day. It usually begins with discussing our high and lows. It almost always includes at least one of our four kids trying to sabotage our efforts. I did the same thing as a kid, so I can’t blame them. Conversations are “boring,” as my kids put it.

We, my wife and I, limit our personal technology use. We try not to use technology (tv, phones, etc) while the kids are awake during the “school nights.” It’s really easy to want to come home, turn on the TV and check-out. The “screen” has become the biggest influencers of relationships.

For the kids, there is no tv, no video games, or other technology use on school nights. This helps the kids to focus on the homework but also allows for us as parents to play or relate to them in whatever it is they have going on.

On the weekend:

We don’t police tech use on Saturday. It’s the day to play video games, watch a cartoon in the morning, and let the kids be kids in this modern day and age. Surprisingly, whenever we ask the kids to turn their iPods off on the weekend, they rarely complain. They intuitively know that too much technology is not a good thing.

We have made Sunday until Noon our time of rest. We generally stay in bed and have all the kids with us after they wake up until breakfast. We lounge around together in our pj’s, reading, playing board games, legos, or something else that is open for everyone (Our kids range from 3-11 with one girl and 3 boys).

Sunday mornings are the few hours of the week that Stephanie and I feel the most present and available with our kids. It’s my favorite time of our week because there are no agendas, the kids know we’re not doing anything outside of being together as a family.

Lastly, one of our favorite practices together is sitting by a fire. We have the benefit of a big backyard that allows us to build a great campfire. Usually 2-3 times a month during the spring and fall we are outside sitting around the fire together. It is probably the single most influential relational time that we have together as a family. The fire sparks so many conversations and openness between all of us. The fire is one of those things that unites people. I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case, but it slows us all down.

The main idea we have come up with for our family is the limiting of technology. There are very few places we humans can go where technology is not surrounding us. If you as a parent don’t do anything else with you kids but eat dinner together, and limit their technology use, you’ll be in rare company.

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Stop Trying to be Normal

There is no great genius without some touch of madness. ~ Seneca

The more normal you try to be (or the more like others you try to parrot) the less of you we will see. The move away from genius leads to people wanting to be normal, to not have to risk their necks with some dream, idea, or stroke of genius.

Normal is depressing. Normal is just plain vanilla, no toppings. Normal is the path of no resistance. Not least resistance, no resistance. Normal is normal, and more and more people are looking for the supposed feel-good nature of being normal. Let others define what normal is, then jump on the bandwagon to feel accepted, part of the team. But you’re not accepted or connected. You’re a drone that parrots what you think others want to hear, what you think others value as popular or normal.

The problem is, normal doesn’t feel good for long. It’s cheap. Like plastic forks. Good for the occasional use, but rely on it for too long and it’ll break. It’ll let you down. And then you’ll try another version of normal. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Trying to be normal is really about a misguided search for meaning. For purpose. For life.

Normal is death. It’s death to the soul. To the creative part of you that only you know, that only you see, and that only you choose to hide or show. Trying to be normal is self-rejection. It’s death.

It’s crazy to enter into and commit oneself to another person for life… It’s even crazier to become parents. Yet we put aside stats, conventional wisdom, and follow our hearts into some of the scariest, most dangerous, and land-mine-filled area called marriage. Over 50% of marriages fail today. Yet people still get married. Why? Because they’re in love. Because their heart believes that they cannot go on without the other person. That, my friends, is madness. Ignoring logic and going with you’re heart is madness.

And it’s genius. Pure creative genius. Picasso wasn’t a genius because of what he painted, he was a genius for when and how he painted.

The same is true for you. You’re not a genius for what idea you come up with, or what decision you make. You’re a genius for taking the risk to fulfill your dream. In putting your neck on the line and risk being called a fool. And trust me, those who will call you a fool are envious, because they’re normal and you’re not.

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The Guest House

THE GUEST HOUSE

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

 

— Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks