Hayne Steen, MAMFT
THE TALK - Navigating A Critical Conversation

Recently several of our closest friends have initiated some very important conversations about sex with their pre-adolescent and adolescent children. Some of the stories are absolutely hilarious in their pure innocence and sheer honesty. One mother found her son’s journal wide open on his bed with a cartoon the son had drawn depicting he and his father having the first of what I suspect will be an ongoing conversations about sex. Two stick figures standing face to face with their own thought bubbles. The larger stick figure (aka the dad) is depicted saying, “SEX, SEX, SEX, SEX,” in his speech bubble. The smaller stick figure (aka that son) is then depicted with his own thought bubble of unspoken thoughts screaming, “Dear God, make it stop!” 

There is a certain hesitancy among parents to have this increasingly important unfolding conversation about sexuality. One of the questions I hear so many men ask one another is, “So, when did you and your dad have “The Talk.” Many men seem to increasingly admit that “The Talk” came way too late. They report having already been exposed to sex through their own poorly informed network of friends in the neighborhood or at school.

Some men even report never having had “The Talk” with their dads and as a result were left to fend for themselves in that area like sexual orphans. They just roamed off through this forrest alone with misinformation and no real sense of understanding about this gift we have been given. I suspect that if people were given the open space to be honest, they might express the shame of navigating that time of their life all alone not feeling like they could really sit down and have a shame free conversation about sex, pornography, attraction, curiosity, desire or regret.  

There is no denying it. We are sexual creatures made for relational connection and intimacy within the context of a loving marriage in which we are able to pursue and experience a oneness that simply can not be replicated outside of that context. This truth is widely omitted and never naturally emerges for our children in the manner that the culture teaches our children about it. Never more than now should we be creatively engaging our children around these important conversations.

This morning after church a friend approached me to ask about my awareness of any helpful resources for parents that specifically address talking to your sons about sex. He verbalized his concern over a shift that has occurred in youth culture catching many parents off guard where so many of the girls are initiating a sexual dialogue with boys. As the parent myself of an eleven year old girl, a ten year old son and an eight year old daughter I am so grateful for his honest and direct question because it’s one that is definitely on my mind, as I am certain it is for many other parents of pre-adolescent and adolescent children. 

Here is a link that I send him that directly addresses his specific question. 

So, I thought I would take a couple minutes to share some of the resources I have been gathering. But first here are a couple of guidelines as we begin to have these conversations with our kids. For the last 20 years I have had a first row seat in “How Not to Talk to Your Kids About Sex.” The following will hopefully guide us with 

1. Acknowledge the awkwardness. 

There is just no way to avoid the fact that you will be entering into a conversation that has the potential to feel very one sided and awkward. Make room for that in the way you approach it. Even say it out loud to them and honor those feelings. That can be very disarming. 

2. Begin by asking thoughtful open ended questions. 

There is nothing better than a really great well timed question. There are lots of resources around that can help, but this text should really help you have an age appropriate conversation. 

3. Choose a location where you will not be interrupted. 

Going for a walk together or a long drive in the car can be a great way to begin as it creates space to be together without the pressure of maintaining eye contact. It puts you in a posture of walking with them side by side. This can take a lot of the pressure off getting the conversation started. 

4. Dialogue is the goal but do not force it. 

The best learning takes place in a shame free environment. Prepare yourself to create space like this for your own child as you engage them in a dialogue around sexuality. Focus on the Family has some great things to offer in this blog focused on “Talking About Sex and Puberty.”

5. Engage the topic creatively and often. 

You may be even wondering when to initiate the conversation. Here is some help as you navigate that dynamic in your own family. 

6. Free yourself up from the pressure of a perfect performance. 

As you prepare for this with your own children, consider taking some time to navigate your own sexual story. Focus on the Family offers some wonderful wisdom for us in this blog as those seeking to help our children navigate sexuality in a healthy manner. 

7. Give your child the freedom to ask very specific questions. 

I love what Mayo Clinic says about this. Kids need to know that we are not simply lecturing them but authentically inviting them into a conversation where they have permission to ask any question without worry of being laughed at or critiqued for the simplicity of their questioning and clarifying. 

BOOKS RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TALKING WITH CHILDREN:

Talking to Your Kids About Sex: How to Have a Lifetime of Age Appropriate Conversations With Your Children About Healthy Sexuality by Mark Laaser

Teaching Your Children Healthy Sexuality by Jim Burns

Aggressive Girls, Clueless Boys by Dennis Rainey

God’s Design for Sex by Stan and Brenna Jones

RESOURCES FOR PROCESSING YOUR OWN ADULT SEXUAL STORY:

Building Intimate Marriages with Mike Systma

A Celebration of Sex by Doug Rosenau

Surfing for God by Michael Cusick

To Be Told by Dan Allender

Feel free to contact me at hayne@elbowtree.com or 423.517.7070 if you would like set up a time to process any aspect of this blog entry. Feel free to check out our counseling practice online as well at Elbow Tree Christian Counseling

RESURRECTION PRINCIPLE

by Hayne Steen, MAMFT

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“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss in life is what dies inside of us while we live. (Norman Cousins).”

Death is a reality that we are well acquainted with. The truth is that we spend billions as a culture attempting to deny its reality. The anti-aging industry is an 88 billion dollar industry alone (Chicago Tribune, 2010). “Arlene Weintraub, a former senior health writer at Bloomberg Businessweek, explores the subject in her new book, “Selling the Fountain of Youth: How the Anti-Aging Industry Made a Disease Out of Getting Old — and Made Billions.”

We do not like death. But we absolutely love resurrection. Reality television has picked up the anti-aging baton and carried it exhaustively into several arenas. “Extreme Makeovers” have ruled the airwaves and have crushed the ratings game for nearly a decade. Different versions of this same idea continue to emerge shining light on massive weight loss tocleaning up the home of a loved one who hoards tobrand new homes built where a trash heap once stood. Regardless of the niche focus, we are infatuated with this idea of “resurrection.” We love to see something that was lost be recovered. This, in many broken and beautiful ways, all points to something called “the resurrection principle.” Not everything that is dead stays that way forever.  Can new life can spring up through the ashes of death and decay? Yes, but how?


"Some skeptic is sure to ask, “Show me how resurrection works. Give me a diagram; draw me a picture. What does this ‘resurrection body’ look like?” If you look at this question closely, you realize how absurd it is. There are no diagrams for this kind of thing. We do have a parallel experience in gardening. You plant a “dead” seed; soon there is a flourishing plant. There is no visual likeness between seed and plant. You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don’t look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different.” (1 Corinthians 15:35-58, The Message)


Our counseling office is actually located in a building that reflects this same “resurrection principle.” “At the time of the founding of the Southern Saddlery company, and for many years thereafter, transportation and agriculture were dependent on the horse or mule. Southern Saddlery was ready to meet the demand, with hand-crafted saddles, collars, and other riding equipment. When automobiles became available, the company supplied leather fan belts. When the Great Depression caused families to be unable to afford the purchase or upkeep of cars, some returned to the horse or mule, and Southern maintained a steady business in saddles. (The Chattanoogan).” The space was eventually just used for storage for an extended season and then it went up on the auction block. Years later it was purchased, renovated and 7 years ago we established a counseling practice in this space which by design continues to serve as an invitation (to ourselves and our clients) to engage on daily basis in this “resurrection principle.” There are things inside every person that run the risk of dying. The distressful things that bring us into counseling are often the very same experiences that can launch us into our own experience of resurrection. Admitting that something is dying or has died is a vulnerable place to be. But vulnerability is the birthplace of change, innovation and transformation…and resurrection. Whether we are describing an abandoned building, an old home, a struggling marriage, messy personal finances, or a broken friendship or business partnership - these are all opportunities for seeing the resurrection principle at work. 

We have celebrated more than a “principle of resurrection” this weekend. Rather we have worshipped the Author of it. It is more than just a phenomenon. God has woven resurrection into the very tapestry of His unfolding story we are apart of. On Friday, death. By Sunday, life. My hope is that you would sense this Easter Hope welling up within you. That you would know you were not meant for ashes but for rising up through it. 

Here’s the bottom line. You are God’s beloved. He longs for you to know how dearly loved you are. Yes, you are worth dying for. But even more…you are worth coming back for. Like Brennan manning says, “He is crazy about you and longs to hear the sound of your voice and be in your company.” You are not alone. God. Is. Alive.



"This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!" (Romans 8:15, The Message)

"Do not worry about your life…"

simplyorthodox:

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Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

- Matthew 6:24-25

Life in communion with God sustains life in community with others and within myself.

SECRET SAUCE

SECRET SAUCE

What is your favorite “Secret Sauce” from any restaurant? You know what I am talking about? Whether you are eating with friends at PF Chang’s when your waiter appears and makes their own special blend of a spicy/hot/zesty sauce for your meal or you are sitting in the drive through line at your local Chik-Fil-A ordering a #1 Chicken sandwich meal with an extra large sweet tea. We are all very aware that it’s the secret sauce that keeps us coming back for more. There is even a web site dedicated to helping us to replicate the secret sauce from our favorite dives. [Click Here for Secret Sauces]  

What is the secret sauce in your marriage? In your family/ If you were to poll the folks in your ministry and ask them what keeps them coming back, what might they say? That would be such a fun and risky experiment. We might risk finding out that our secret sauce is not all so secret after all.

So what would YOU say it is? Small groups? Worship? Incredible teaching? Missions? Outreach events? Media and technology? Lights and sound? Relevance? 

The list could be endless. Any secret sauce is a blend of special ingredients that are carefully mixed together with just the right amount of potency - not to bitter, not too salty and not too sweet.

There is always a team of people behind the scenes who are working hard to make sure that the entire experience is a tremendous value so that when the secret sauce collides with your taste buds there is a clear connection with the great service to your palate.

Is the secret sauce in your ministry even really a sauce…or is it an ethos of loving Jesus for all He is worth and moving authentically into intentional relationships with the teenagers within your influence? When we build a team of passionate and called people who love to deliberately place themselves in the presence of teenagers we are whipping up a batch of the most lethal secret sauce known to man. This is the stuff revivals are made of.

Bible studies, worship experiences, mission trips and outreach events will flow from a well of relationship where students (a) will not only invite other students to your ministry but (b) they will be embedded as missionaries who know how to whip up a secret sauce that whets THEIR friends’ palates to see and savor Jesus as well. 

CRUMBS

This is an adapted blog post I wrote on April 29, 2011 after hosting an event for youth workers making sense of recent suicides in our community.

In March of 2011, I was on staff at the Chattanooga Youth Network and I designed my very first CRUMBS event with youth leaders in a community where several suicides had recently taken place. Our hope when we present on topics like these is that we would be helping youth leaders, parents, teachers and students to “Notice and Navigate the Evidence to Teens in Crisis.” 

Our staff had the opportunity to be invited to share “CRUMBS 2.0 - Self Injury” a month later to over five hundred Marion County middle school students and faculty members. The focus this was on Self Injury and mainly the eraser game (or as Marion County students call it…”the sissy game”) and cutting. 

Eight sessions with 50-60 students each from 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. were focused on helping students and teachers get a sense of what drives someone to Self Injury. One of the things that I spent a lot of our time unpacking was that our skin is both a boundary and a billboard.

“The psychology (what we know and understand about the mind and soul) and the anthropology (what we know about the body and people) of Self Injury Behavior (SIB) are important to consider. The skin is the ultimateboundary between the self and others and serves as “our message center orbillboard. For example, blushing, tears, cosmetics, piercings and tattoos can communicate information to others. SIB can serve as a symptomatic remedy, commemorative wound, symbolic, self punishment or cry for help and attention.”

If our skin is a boundary then it must be there to protect us or others from something. That is what a boundary is for. To protect the content within the boundary and often to protect what is outside of that boundary. We lock our doors at night to keep the bad guys out. We fence our yards to keep our barking dogs from running free and scaring our neighbors. Our skin is there to protect us.

God made us so intricately that he would also have our skin serve as a message center or a billboard for us. It is constantly announcing to the world how we are really doing. Tears, smiles, grimaces, blushing all announce to others like a billboard a message that we want or need sent. Tattoos and piercings are ways we use the skin to send a message for us. Self Injury also announces something to others that needs to be (1) noticed with confidence and (1) navigated with compassion. 

Four percent of the population is involved in Self Injury whether it is cutting, burning, hair pulling, nail biting, bone breaking, punching objects or self and more. Many would be tempted to think that “they must not care very much about themselves if they do that kind of thing.” In fact the opposite is true. It’s that they care far too much that is the real problem. 

A cutter generally struggles with deep seated self hatred, anger, sadness or frustration. Cutting becomes a means of expression and dealing with these emotions. Here is what a friend of ours who struggled with self injury had to say

“My wife and I both had personal experience with self—injury. Mine had more to do with hating my mom. My wife’s was more about hating herself. the common theme is that some how self-destruction becomes a path. Somewhere in there for all of us is a deep shame. I think those deep messages that say “not that you DID something wrong, but you ARE something wrong”—are sometimes what we are trying to dig out, or cut out.”

So how do we help someone who is struggling with Self Injury? 

1. Notice with confidence - Learn the warning signs. 

2. Navigate with compassion - Lean in with loving intent. 

The bottom line is that students and adults need to A.C.T.
Acknowledge - Acknowledge that your friend has a problem.
Care - Let the person know you are concerned and want to help. 
Tell - Tell a trusted adult.  

To have me come speak to your group, organization or Church email me at hayne@elbowtree.com or call me at (423) 290-3510.

ONENESS

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I am actually attempting to recapture blogs I have written and consolidating those here. This one hails from June 10, 2011. 

In John 17 Jesus is recorded praying a dynamic prayer for believers and unbelievers. Our heart is to help the Church experience a dynamic oneness that will announce the reality of the Gospel.

In the 17th chapter in the Gospel of John we get to be a fly on the wall of Jesus’ prayer life. The Gospels record Jesus pulling away to be alone with the Father. This prayer flows powerfully from the well of Jesus’ deep heart for those who believe and those who will one day finally rest in the cosmic reality of God’s great invitation into holy brotherhood and sonship. 

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

   24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

   25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.26 I have made you[e] known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Last weekend I had the opportunity to officiate my fourth wedding. The words I crafted flow right from an ongoing interest of mine in the connection between Trinitarian relationship and Christian marriage. Within the personality of God we see a “oneness” that we are invited to experience when we bind our lives to another person. Speaking to the primary purpose of marriage at a wedding seems like a very relevant direction to head. Even as I was looking this young couple in the eyes as I spoke, tears formed in theirs (and mine) as I charged them to chase oneness every minute of every day. Oneness with God. Oneness with each other. During this message I was at one point very aware that I had not referenced my notes once. This message was flowing right out of my own life and marriage. Probably because this has been a place of radical challenge and change for me. 

The morning after the wedding I spoke to about fifty students at my church. All week I prayed about what God might like me to share. Lots of topics floated through my mind during daily prayer times as I considered before God what direction He might like me to head. At least ten times throughout the week I had this same recurring thought that I should speak on marriage but each time dismissed it saying, ‘What would a middle or high school student care about marriage? Isn’t it a bit premature to teach on marriage? Do you really want to encourage students to know this information when they can not or should not access it for themselves?” After the wedding on Saturday night I sensed the Lord really press me hard to teach on Oneness and specifically related to marriage. So I crafted my message preparing to dive wholeheartedly into the Biblical purpose of marriage which is “Oneness.” 

On Sunday morning as students were seated after worship I made a few introductory remarks to lighten up the mood in the room and then asked students to raise their hands if they have ever heard anyone teach on the purpose of marriage specifically to students. Not one single student raised their hand. I asked them a follow up question. “How many of you are interested in what the Bible says about marriage?” Every hand was raised. Interesting. 

Clue #1 - Teenagers care about what God thinks about marriage. 

I laid down a foundation for students to understand Trinitarian relationship. I then shared with them the words that I had spoken the night before to this young Christian couple who were surrounded by their family and friends. Here is what I shared…

Each member of the trinity exists to amplify the strengths of the other members. Were any of the other members to to exalt itself above the others it would destroy the perfectly submitted relationship that they share together. Their oneness would be compromised.

Here we have the image of God modeling for us the true purpose of marriage - Oneness. 

Each member of the one plays a critical role in the fellowship and to the degree that they are faithful to pursuing oneness, maintaining this oneness will be blessed by the experience of oneness. 

So God in His generosity, created us and He invites us into relationship for the primary purpose of experiencing perfect submission - first to Him and then with one another. 

“Perfect submission” looks very different than we would even imagine in our post modern culture today. The word submission conjures up images that have very little to do with Biblical submission at all. 

Submission is not one member being stronger and another weaker

Submission is not one member being more and another less

Submission is not one person losing their voice 

Submission is not one person making all of the decisions

Submission is not one person standing center stage while the other member lurks in the shadows. 

Remember, all of the members exist to amplify the strengths of the other members. 

Peter a disciple hand picked by Jesus writes to us about what perfect submission looks like. It has often been a text widely misunderstood and ripped out of context. The central image that Peter uses in the context of submission is “power.” 

Basically you both want the other to win. 

1 Peter 3 has this to say about “perfect submission.” 

“Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands.”

Our culture supports the lie that would tell us that the strength of a woman is completely external or that a woman’s power derives in her outward beauty alone. Look on the cover of any magazine targeting women (or men) and you will see the lie being perpetuated. 

Does that mean that a woman can not be beautiful? No. Does this mean that these fine clothes are worthless or fundamentally wrong? Absolutely not. This passage simply amplifies the truth that aims at where really beauty and strength are formed in a woman. From the inside out. 

Jess, you look absolutely beautiful. Everyone is in awe of you today. But I know this about you. You are a strong woman not because of your beauty but because of what God has done and continues to do inside of you. You have heard God call you His beloved and you have allowed him to resonate and renovate every fiber of your character and your heart. That is what drew David Hutton to you. Now, your outward beauty may have made him do a double take but it is your character that leads him to stand so resolutely beside and with you today. 

Peter then addresses the husband.

Husbands in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives. Treat them as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing can hinder your prayers.

Our culture is just as quick to offer up their perspective as to where the strength of a man lies or does not lie. 

In commercials men are often portrayed something like this…a woman is standing in the forefront shaking her head saying something like, “My husband is so stupid. He doesn’t even have a brain.” In the background the husband is all wound and wrapped up in the blinds like a fool, probably because he attempted some simple home repair project that failed and he can’t seem to find his way out of the blinds.

There is no doubt a real misunderstanding where the power and lie for us as men and women. 

Men get a bad rap when it comes to these passages on submission because they were penned by the hand of man. But the next passage was penned by Paul, a single man who went on to write most of what is called the New Testament in the Bible. 

Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the Church and gave herself up for her (1) to make her holy (2) cleansing her by the washing with water through the word (3) to present her to himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or blemish, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands out to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all noone ever hated his own body but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the Church - for we are members of His body. 

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh. 

What men are being called to as husbands is a dramatic surrender in order to amplify the holiness of their wife. It is compared to Christ and his sacrifice - which was a complete physical death to himself for his bride the church. That is an image of real power and real strength. 

David, you are an incredibly strong man. Not because of your physical stature or your ability to strike fear into the heart of another person. You are strong because of your character that is reflected in your love for Christ. It is not your brawn that attracted Jess to you, it is your character. That is why she would risk in such a substantial way to stand here and unite herself with you for the lifelong adventure of pursuing oneness. 

I concluded my thoughts with a couple of anecdotal comments and prayed for students before they departed. A few minutes later I bumped into one of the high school guys I have come to know and love as a member of our Discipleship Group. Evan is an encourager by nature but is never afraid to let us know when things do not “land” on his heart and mind. He thanked me for the message and then proceeded to tell me that he wished we spoke about this topic more often saying, “We just can’t talk early enough about it. ” What Evan is saying here is powerful. The earlier the better. The more the better. That is when and how often he would like to learn about how to prepare himself for the holiest relationship we could ever experience with another person on this planet. 

Clue #2 - Teenagers really want to know what God thinks about marriage. 

Are you teaching on this topic to students? If you are considering it, please make sure the person you elevate to communicate shares Jesus heart expressed in John 17. That as the world would notice oneness in a marriage that they would know that God is real and that God is great. 

We do a substantial amount of teaching on abstinence. Have we really helped students see that oneness is at stake when we sin sexually. The bottom line is that your student want to hear about it. They are longing to know God’s heart on this issue. Let them know yours in the process as you lead them and love them.

Shame is Soul Crushing

Lately I have been most aware of the soul crushing power of shame. Many of the things that keep us from doing the necessary work of processing heartache are wrapped in shame. Brene’ Brown is a researcher who has devoted a great deal of time and effort to making sense of shame. She recently spoke on the TED stage saying,”If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.”

“In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.” (Psalm 31:1, NIV)

One of the things that can make the counseling process so powerful is that, by design, it is a shame free environment. There is an explicit freedom in the counseling relationship that allows for brokenness, raw honesty and boat loads of vulnerability. Why is vulnerability so important? Because it is the gateway for real growth, insight and change. Entering into a counseling relationship demands ruthless trust and risky vulnerability.

It is my deep desire for folks I have the honor of sitting with to be offered an intentional space where they can be consistently reminded of their incredible dignity. Three ways I hope demonstrate this are through (1) a genuine warmth, (2) a holy curiosity, and (3) empathy. The first two are pretty straight forward. We all benefit from someone who is warm and listens to us. But why empathy? Brene Brown reminds us that, “shame is an epidemic in our culture. And to get out from underneath it, to find our way back to each other, we have to understand how it affects us and how it affects the way we’re parenting, the way we’re working, the way we’re looking at each other…we have to understand and know empathy, because empathy’s the antidote to shame.”

Shame has never been the sound of God’s voice. Of all the ways that God could have strategically gone about winning our hearts back to Himself, He seems most committed to the work of restoring us to our original dignity. When we experience the tenderness of Jesus, we are introduced to our dignity. Brennan Manning reminds us in this audio clip of our inherent value and worth. Not an ounce of shame can be found in the love that God has for you.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

Attending to Loss and Disappointment

Another election night has come and gone. America has elected herself another president. For some this is an experience of extreme relief and elation while for some others it is an experience of substantial loss and disappointment. I’d love to camp out around the experience of loss tonight as I make some sense of my own thoughts and feelings. It is so important for us to thoughtfully explore loss and seek to make sense of it. To press ahead  and suppress these real honest thoughts and emotions would betray what it actually means for me to live with a healthy awareness of how I am impacted by the world around me. 

There is something that we can all truly unite around. While we may not all vote for the same candidate and celebrate the same outcome, there is definitely one experience that remains common for every person in every state, in every country, on every continent. It is the common experience of “loss and disappointment.” No person on this spinning sphere lives above the reality that loss and disappointment will come knocking on their door at some point. For some it comes more often while for others not nearly as much. The question is not IF it will come but WHEN. How will I address and make sense of it? Will I cave into fear and anger? Will I lash out at others? Will I increase momentum? Will I avoid and reject them? Or will love and humility pave the way for an intimate encounter with loss and disappointment allowing me embrace them both as beloved old friends who have been faithful traveling companions on a sweet journey through every decade of my life? 

Henri Nouwen has been a shepherd of my heart and mind for over twenty years and he continues, even in his absence on the earth, to call my heart Home when I am needing to make sense of loss and disappointment.

May Henri’s words be of tremendous encouragement to your heart and mind as you walk through your own experiences of loss and disappointment. 

“While you may feel physically and mentally strong, you still experience a forceful undercurrent of anguish. You sleep well, you work well, but there are few waking moments when you do not feel that throbbing pain in your heart that makes everything seem up in the air. You know that you are progressing, but you can’t understand why this anguish keeps pervading everything you think, say, or do. There is still a deep, unresolved pain, but you cannot take it away yourself. It exists far deeper than you can reach. 

Be patient and trust. 

You have to move gradually deeper into your heart. There is a place far down that is like a turbulent river, and that place frightens you. But do not fear. One day it will be quiet and peaceful. 

You have to keep moving, as you are doing. Live a faithful, disciplined life, a life that gives you a sense of inner strength, a life in which you can receive more and more of the love that comes to you. Wherever there is real love for you, take it and be strengthened by it. As your body, heart, and mind come to know that you are loved, your weakest part will be attracted to that love. What has remained separated and unreachable will let itself be drawn into the love you have been able to receive. One day you will discover that your anguish is gone. It will leave you because your weakest self let itself be embraced by your love. 

You are not there yet, but you are moving fast.

There will be a bit more pain and struggle. You have to dare and live through it. Keep walking straight. Acknowledge your anguish, but do not let it pull you out of yourself. Hold on to your chosen direction, your discipline, your prayer, your work, your guides, and trust that one day love will have conquered enough of you that even the most fearful part will allow love to cast out all fear.”

-Henri Nouwen

Meeting Vanessa - Day 1

Today has been one amazing day for sure. There are only so many times in life when you see God’s plan come together perfectly. The journey of adoption for the two of us, and really for our whole family, has been one of absolute trust. Every day and every little detail has been a moment of ruthless trust. At 11 o’clock this morning we drove to meet Vanessa for the first time. On the car ride over to her house both of us were feeling a little nervous. Before our day started as we were getting ready to check out of our hotel room, Ruth Ann asked me to pray for the two of us and for our day. It was a sweet time of pausing before we entered into one of the most substantial things we’ve ever been a part of. In many ways, as we stood together praying in our hotel room, I already sensed the Lord was going to truly bless this day. To say that God blessed our time today with Vanessa and her host family would be a massive understatement. It was fun to watch Ruth Ann move in so naturally with Vanessa accommodating all of her siblings from her host family and it was really fun to get to know her host parents who have been caring for her for this last year. The entire day was absolutely comfortable and natural. It’s obvious that she’s been loved well by her family here. So as we consider tomorrow with Vanessa we are so satisfied and eager to spend more time with her. She is already so curious about Sam and Sadie. She wanted to see pictures of them and understand what kinds of things that they like. This evening as we were wrapping up our time with her, Vanessa asked if she could get Sam and Sadie a gift. It was really touching and encouraging to see her wanting to get them each something that would connect them together from the moment they meet. We posted all sorts of fun pictures on Facebook today and on Instagram that speak far more intimately about the nature of our time with Vanessa today. This blog update will hopefully be a simple way of communicating to our friends and family how grateful we are for you, for your encouragement, for your prayers and your enthusiasm about this journey that were on as we invite Vanessa to join our family. We’re already looking forward to the time in just a little over a week we will be at the beach with Sam and Sadie and Vanessa with nearly every member of our family on both sides. Tonight we just simply rest in the satisfaction of knowing that what we were experiencing as a call on our life a decade ago is now being confirmed by our time here so far. Stay tuned…more pictures to come!

THINGS YOU FIND OUT LATER IN LIFE | One of my high school surfing buddies posted this online this afternoon. This is the story of my friend’s martyred Grandfather and his Grandmother who past away a couple weeks ago. It was produced about 3 years ago and was narrated by his dad. His grandmother has an amazing story. I’d encourage you to take a few minutes to watch this. Thanks Eric for sharing this. It is a powerful story for certain. I still tell the story of our sitting on the roof of our house checking the surf during the Gulf war and being surrounded by Military Police inviting us to kindly come down off the Base Commander’s house…which they soon learned was my house.