Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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Couples & Individual Intensives

I often get asked about making a referral for couples or individuals who are in need of attending an intensive counseling program. Intensives are a great way to get a jumpstart on issues that have been bottled up or that have been ignored for some time. My personal and professional opinion is that more need to experience what an intensive has to offer. Resources, mainly time and money, are often the reason folks don’t do these.

I’m offering both a couples and individual intensive program. Depending on the individual or couples need, I am available here in Nashville, or am willing to travel to your location. You can visit the intensive page on my website to learn more and see what a intensive program looks like. Please pass this on to anyone that you might know who would benefit or be interested in hearing more.

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Not all Space needs to be Filled

If your daily, weekly, monthly, yearly life with all the activities, commitments, and “things you do regularly” were manifested as various sized cardboard boxes in your home; what would your home look like? Would there be any open spaces, or would you be the next candidate on a “hoarding” reality show?

The U.S. is a culture that values doing more than being. We don’t rest well, which means that most spaces and places of our lives are filled up. We are a culture of performers, of doers. Unfortunately, when cultures are driven by performance, doing, addictions and life controlling habits flourish. Said another way: We fill our lives up with stuff. Shopping, Toys, Food, alcohol, internet, reality (not really) TV shows, porn, and drugs are all ways that we medicate the reality that we don’t have enough capacity to get what we want.

It’s impossible to live life for long as a human doer. We are human beings. We’re finite creatures with needs that sometimes defy age, logic, and reason. We’re not the great conquerors and rulers of life that we want to believe we are. As the poet and songwriter Lenoard Cohen once said, “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Living life with spaces, pauses, takes great discipline. It also takes acceptance about our limitations and finitude. We cannot perform as though we are whole creatures and value brokenness and faults. Not all spaces — in all aspects of life, physical, emotional, relational, mental — are meant, or need, to be filled. Rhythms create space. What rhythms are you practicing?

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Rock Bottom

Over the past few years, one of the only television shows that I watched was (and sometimes is) Gold Rush. It’s a Discovery show about some broke and struggling men who mortgaged their lives for an Alaskan summer land claim to mine for gold. It’s the ultimate show about striking it rich. They’d operate their big rigs to dig through the earth, searching for pay dirt. Ultimately though, the gold they were and are looking for was well below the surface. The gold is at the rock bottom, or bedrock. This is true in Alaska, just as it’s true in humanity.

We cannot find the gold of life, that is, the true purpose and joy, until we have hit rock bottom and come to the end of ourselves. This usually happens as a result of our, or someone else’s, poor choices. Rock bottom is a date with suffering, pain, and adversity. This is especially difficult when we are not the ones that chose poorly. But even when we don’t choose what happens to us, we still have a choice in what to do next. When we hit rock bottom, we can choose to be a victim, or find a way out.

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Adversity Matters

(Authors note: This article was originally published in September 2012 at StartMarriageRight.com)

I had someone tell me the other day, “Samuel, I’ve dealt with it. I’m done and have moved on. There’s no changing the fact that my husband just won’t love and care for me the way I need him to. I don’t feel anything about it anymore, I’m apathetic. Numb.”

I engaged with some questions to hear more about her apathy, and found the opposite to be true. She was locked in the battle of such intense conflict, she was doing everything in her power to shut down and numb her life.

I’m not sure about you, but when I’m truly apathetic about something, I don’t talk or think about it anymore. Not caring about something creates silence, or a lack of attention. Silence is the only true evidence of an apathetic spirit. The problem with apathy is that until we’re six-feet under, it’s impossible to be completely apathetic. We humans have too much hope, passion, and desire to be alive and fully numb at the same time. It’s just not possible.

Just last week I ran across this website, which highlights 20 or so young women who have taken some sort of movement towards addressing an issue in the world. They have all started with an idea and have built it up to become, in some instances, a thriving social justice platform. Each of these women have embodied the spirit of hope that resides within all of us. I don’t personally know any of these women, but I’ve met many like them and I can promise you they have suffered greatly for their passion.

They have chosen to bleed, sweat, and cry instead of giving in to the ease of anesthesia by way of food, sex, tv, or isolation.

The woman above who claimed to be apathetic is actually caught in a struggle very familiar to all of us. It’s the struggle of choosing to face or dim the pain. Seneca, a Roman philosopher, exclaimed that the bravest sight known to man is to see someone struggling with adversity. Bravery isn’t contingent upon victory, it’s about showing up and facing the difficulties of life. Just as hope is the enemy of apathy, so bravery is to failure.

Whether you want to face it or not, there is adversity in your life. It might feel as distant as your divorced parents, or as numb as your sexuality because of the abuse. The truth is, adversity has often been seen as your unwanted companion in life. This adversity might not show it’s true challenge until later in life, when some trigger summons it’s memory. In choosing marriage, one is inviting these distant adversaries to take residence in your home.

Some of the adversaries are specific stories, such as the time when your cousin inappropriately touched you, the times your father was violent, or when your best friend committed suicide. Each of these deserve your suffering and attention.

Though it may be paradoxical, knowing your adversary is a blessing.

These are the stories representing a cornerstone in your life. Some aren’t so fortunate to know what foundational moments to point to in their life.

It may be that there are no such traumatic stories in your life, which in and of itself in a different way may be traumatic. Sometimes the lack of suffering in life produces intense internal conflict, “why am I so unhappy, I have everything I’ve ever wanted,” or “there is no reason for me to be sad, but I am sad.” I often hear people asking questions about their own sufferings in comparison to those in worse situations. Usually though, comparison only leads to minimizing. The reality? If my hand and your finger are both severed in an accident, it doesn’t make the pain of a severed finger go away by comparing it to my severed hand.

If Psalm 73 is true, all of us experience some level of peace and orientation in life. This season at some point deteriorates and a period or season of disorientation sets in. This is followed by a period of reorientation or a new orientation. It’s the equation for maturation and growth. We start off in one direction, get thrown off that path (by our own choosing, or someone else’s), and then redirected onto a new path.

Perhaps your path today is taking you to something you’re incredibly hopeful about, like marriage. Let me be the first to congratulate you and cheer you on. Marriage is an exciting and wonderful adventure. It’s a hopeful union. Be confident and courageous in your new journey together.

Be on the lookout for emotionally numbing, apathetic responses towards your spouse and life, or unrealistic expectations of the other person.

When adversity happens, take time to consider the source and get help working through that with your spouse. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is in the kingdom of Heaven.” Your suffering or adversity is your ally: Will you allow it to be?

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Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

 

Chapter 1

 

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

I am lost … I am helpless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

 

Chapter 2

 

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in the same place.

But it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

 

Chapter 3

 

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in … it’s a habit.

My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

 

Chapter 4

 

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

 

Chapter 5

 

I walk down another street.

 

 

~ Portia Nelson ~

 

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Book Excerpt: The Great Divorce

Editors note: I read this book in college, but have recently been reminded of one particular story that seems apropos for modern day life. CS Lewis wrote this book describing the differences between Heaven and Hell. It’s a story of people visiting both places, and as they near Heaven they appear as ghosts. The below excerpt is a poignant example of how difficult it is to let go of things in our life, especially the harmful things. In short, we cannot live fully if we resist the pain associated with change. 

—–

I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ. Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily. What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. “Shut up, I tell you!” he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile. Then be turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains.

“Off so soon?” said a voice.

The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.

“Yes. I’m off,” said the Ghost. “Thanks for all your hospitality. But it’s no good, you see. I told this little chap,” (here he indicated the lizard), “that he’d have to be quiet if he came -which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won’t do here: I realise that. But he won’t stop. I shall just have to go home.”

‘Would you like me to make him quiet?” said the flaming Spirit—an angel, as I now understood.

“Of course I would,” said the Ghost.

“Then I will kill him,” said the Angel, taking a step forward.

“Oh—ah—look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,” said the Ghost, retreating.

“Don’t you want him killed?”

“You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.”

“It’s the only way,” said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the lizard. “Shall I kill it?”

“Well, that’s a further question. I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here—well, it’s so damned embarrassing.”

“May I kill it?”

“Well, there’s time to discuss that later.”

“There is no time. May I kill it?”

“Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please—really—don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.”

“May I kill it?”

“Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.”

“The gradual process is of no use at all.”

“Don’t you think so? Well, I’ll think over what you’ve said very carefully. I honestly will. In fact I’d let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I’m not feeling frightfully well today. It would be silly to do it now. I’d need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day, perhaps.”

“There is no other day. All days are present now.”

“Get back! You’re burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You’d kill me if you did.”

“It is not so.”

“Why, you’re hurting me now.”

“I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.”

“Oh, I know. You think I’m a coward. But it isn’t that. Really it isn’t. I say! Let me run back by tonight’s bus and get an opinion from my own doctor. I’ll come again the first moment I can.”

“This moment contains all moments.”

“Why are you torturing me? You are jeering at me. How can I let you tear me to pieces? If you wanted to help me, why didn’t you kill the damned thing without asking me—before I knew? It would be all over by now if you had.”

“I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?”

The Angel’s hands were almost closed on the Lizard, but not quite. Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying.

“Be careful,” it said. “He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever. It’s not natural. How could you live? You’d be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us. Yes, yes. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams—all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent …”

“Have I your permission?” said the Angel to the Ghost.

“I know it will kill me.”

“It won’t. But supposing it did?”

“You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.”

“Then I may?”

“Damn and blast you! Go on can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,” bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, “God help me. God help me.”

Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken backed, on the turf.

“Ow! That’s done for me,” gasped the Ghost, reeling backwards.

For a moment I could make out nothing distinctly. Then I saw, between me and the nearest bush, unmistakably solid but growing every moment solider, the upper arm and the shoulder of a man. Then, brighter still and stronger, the legs and hands. The neck and golden head materialised while I watched, and if my attention had not wavered I should have seen the actual completing of a man—an immense man, naked, not much smaller than the Angel. What distracted me was the fact that at the same moment something seemed to be happening to the Lizard. At first I thought the operation had failed. So far from dying, the creature was still struggling and even growing bigger as it struggled. And as it grew it changed. Its hinder parts grew rounder. The tail, still flickering, became a tail of hair that flickered between huge and glossy buttocks. Suddenly I started back, rubbing my eyes. What stood before me was the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold. It was smooth and shining, rippled with swells of flesh and muscle, whinneying and stamping with its hoofs. At each stamp the land shook and the trees dindled.

The new-made man turned and clapped the new horse’s neck. It nosed his bright body. Horse and master breathed each into the other’s nostrils. The man turned from it, flung himself at the feet of the Burning One, and embraced them. When he rose I thought his face shone with tears, but it may have been only the liquid love and brightness (one cannot distinguish them in that country) which flowed from him. I had not long to think about it. In joyous haste the young man leaped upon the horse’s back. Turning in his seat he waved a farewell, then nudged the stallion with his heels. They were off before I well knew what was happening. There was riding if you like! I came out as quickly as I could from among the bushes to follow them with my eyes; but already they were only like a shooting star far off on the green plain, and soon among the foothills of the mountains. Then, still like a star, I saw them winding up, scaling what seemed impossible steeps, and quicker every moment, till near the dim brow of the landscape, so high that I must strain my neck to see them, they vanished, bright themselves, into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning…

“Do ye understand all this, my Son?” said my Teacher.

“I don’t know about all, Sir,” said I. “Am I right in thinking that the lizard really did turn into a Horse?”

“Aye. But it was killed first. Ye’ll not forget that part of the story?”

“I’ll try not to, Sir. But does it mean that everything—everything—that is in us can go to the Mountains?”

“Nothing, even the best and noblest, can go on as it now is. Nothing, not even what is lowest and most bestial, will not be raised again if it submits to death. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. Flesh and blood cannot come to the Mountains. Not because they are too rank, but because they are too weak. What is a Lizard compared to a stallion? Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering, whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed.”

— Quoted from The Great Divorce (1946), New York: The Macmillan Company, pp. 98-106.

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Making Black and White, Grey

 

Over the past few months, I’ve heard and read a lot about the bestselling book series “50 Shades of Grey.” This series is permeating so many different levels of cultural conversations: From sports talk radio, to morning talk shows, to social conversations, to “Shades of Grey” themed parties. One point is salient with all this: America are depressed. Due to our depression, we are not easily aroused from this numbed state of being. It’s taking more and more to wake us up, and 50 Shades of Grey is doing just that to a lot of people.

I have not read the book(s), but I get why they are popular. Twenty years ago, Fabio graced the covers of many romantic novels, which presented the fantasy of a man so tender, soft, and loving, yet beautiful, strong, and safe. He was the symbol of comfort, safety, and the lush fantasy of how to please a woman. Today, Fabio is dead and in his place is the hard, chiseled, and dominant fantasy of Christian Grey (the male character in the trilogy). In discussing this book with those that have read it, I get the sense that what’s so erotic about the series is the BDSM nature of the books sexual encounters (for those unfamiliar, BDSM stands for Bondage, Domination, Sadism, Masochism).

Gone is the day that Fabio rules the bedroom with his long flowing hair, and emotionally charged conversations and walks with the maiden. The prevailing notion behind these books is that women ultimately want to be dominated and controlled. Taken into the bedroom, a world of overt sexual fantasies is constructed and exploited to the nth degree. The author has taken the nature and need of safety in relationships and turned it into sexual dominance.

The problem with this book (which represents an entire genre of literature) is that it’s mentally and emotionally pornographic. The main audience is women, which is normally the case for erotic/romantic based literature. And as is the case with so many other books/stories like this (The Twilight series being another example, though less erotically driven), the heroine is a shell of a person. She typically has little to no personality, an absence of curiosity or uniqueness, and is represented as the ‘flatlined’ character. All of these traits allow the reader to project themselves into the character as though they are the main character. This is not a new insight, or original thought, but the reader gets to feel what the character feels. The reader imprints their unique story into a story that’s written, and let the fantasy take them away.

It’s a brilliant way to write because it hooks the reader in so quickly, and immerses them so deeply into the story.Porn and fantasy are both hollow and shallow in nature and require more and more exposure to satisfy. One book isn’t enough, there must be three. After experiencing so many highs (emotionally and physically) in the reading of a book like this, the reader wants more. The next logical step is to take the fantasy into real life.

The main consumer of pornography is men, and the main consumer of emotionally driven romance novels (emotional porn) is women. The convergence of these two realities are happening in our neighborhoods, and are having a devastating effect on marriages and families. There is no risk, no fear, and no rejection in pornographic material.

My advice to anyone considering reading these novels: Don’t. It might provide a brief respite from the doldrums of life, but eventually the fantasy will wear off and will result in a deeper pain that will now include one’s sexuality. You can’t unlearn fantasy scenes. Research has shown that sexual experiences produce oxytocin, a naturally produced chemical in your body which works to emotionally bond two people together. When these experiences are had in the context of visual or emotional porn, your bonding chemicals get released to fictitious people and characters. It’s difficult to detach from those images and ideals when facing real-life issues.

If you’re feeling depressed about life, sexual issues, or your marriage or relationship, a fantasy novel won’t help.  Americans are quite adept at numbing our feelings through substances, entertainment, or relationships. These novels provide a secret way to escape the trappings of reality, but ultimately will end up leading the reader into a deeper and more desperate way of life.

 

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Life in the Real World

Over the Christmas break I found a new game on my iPhone called tiny tower. The premise is pretty simple: build your own sky scraper, populate it with people and businesses, rinse and repeat. It’s wildly addictive in that you can spend tons of time in the game earning money and building more. It’s amusement at its finest. And thats why I stopped playing.

Amusement is good in small measured doses, not in vast quantities. The carnival or county fair only comes to town once or twice a year. Any more than that and it would lose its novelty and amusement. But I’m afraid that this natural law of diminishing returns isn’t as obvious in the virtual world.

As I played the game and built my tower, I began thinking about this little empire that I was building. It brought momentary pleasure to see my tower grow to 30, 35, and then 40 floors. But as soon as I turned my iPhone off, my building disappeared. It only existed virtually. And I began to wonder why I spent 20-30 minutes a day building something that will never be real. In reality I don’t know that building a real tower would provide much more satisfaction, but at least there would be something real to show for my work.

What I’m realizing about life is that unless we are engaging with real things and people, we will not grow. When we don’t grow, we get anxious and depressed. Life is not designed to be lived in the virtual world, even though the virtual world offers a painless and entertaining life.

Relationships are not amusing. They are challenging, difficult, and rewarding. Virtual rewards are just that, virtual rewards. It takes hard work to live life on the real world, which is why there exists an enormous quantity of escapes to the virtual world. Because these worlds are so accessible, we need to be aware of how much and when we use them.

One of the ways my family is combating this issue is that we do not use devices with screens between dinner and bedtime for the kids. This means no tv, wii, games on the phone/iPad, etc. it’s been harder than I thought to follow through with is. It’s easy to grab your phone and check Facebook, the news, your tiny tower, or any number of apps that are a daily part of life for some.

If amusement is bringing less and less to your life, create something. Build a Lego tower or town, write a shorty story, bake a cake, paint a picture, or start a new relationship with someone. Obviously this is a short list, but the idea is that life will be more fulfilling and enjoyable when you do something in real life, instead of the virtual world.