dear friend,

You are in the darkest place your soul has ever known, and my heart hurts for you because I’ve been there too. It is beyond lonely. The voice of shame and accusation feels stronger than the voice of truth and love, because you feel more acutely aware than anyone around you, even your dearest loved ones, of how deep your sin and darkness have run, how far they have taken you from the person you thought you were, the person others thought you were. You wonder if your life was a lie, and it feels near impossible to even imagine yourself regaining any resemblance of that life again. You don’t know where to turn. You don’t feel you can fall any further and yet you feel you can never move forward again.

I want to say some magic words, pray some magic prayers, give a hug somehow strong enough to bring your heart back to freedom. I hurt because I cannot, but I hope because there is One who can. Oh my beloved Christ, He never gave up on me, though I ran, though I cursed, though I protested, though I shook my fist and said it was impossible for me to come back to life, I’d gone too far. I thought I understood grace until I didn’t understand grace. I had made such intentional choices against the One who gave up His life for me. Who forgives that? I deserved my emptiness. But He was stronger than the grave of my heart. He ran to me and wept over me and sang tenderly over my sick and broken spirit and loved me back to life. He will do the same for you. Maybe you have never fully understood the grace you preached, but maybe now, now you will, more than before, more than ever. Your life can still count for good, because of Him, because of the Gospel.

Friend, you may not believe me, but I still respect you as much as I ever did. Not because you are the hero you felt you had to be, but because you are my dear friend, because you are a child of God, that’s all, that’s enough. Please don’t walk away from the ones who love you. We won’t leave you, we won’t shame you in our words or our thoughts, we won’t. Please just let us love you.

The Case for Counseling

At first, I thought it was a copout response. My patient’s mom knew that her child was extremely sick, but she told the medical team that she didn’t want any real “bad news” until the father was able to join her in a week. The overly practical part of me thought, with a shameful lack of sympathy, “So we’re just supposed to keep this poor child in medical limbo, and an expensive one at that, until Dad gets here to make any sort of plan one way or another?” The more that I considered the mom’s position and response, however, the more I saw and respected her self-awareness and her humility. She knew that any decisive family conference would essentially determine the entire course of her child’s life – aggressive but painful measures to try and fight the awful disease with a poor prognosis, or comfort measures that would likely lead to an earlier but hopefully peaceful death. This mom was aware that one set of shoulders and one heart, valiant but frail, was not enough to hold the weight of this burden. She needed the help of another, and not to mention, the dad certainly deserved a voice in the matter. She was wise to advocate for herself, because it would not do her other child, healthy and growing, any good for mom to become consumed by the heartache of a burden too great.

This is my case for counseling. A friend and I talked over lunch about the taboo that still exists with regards to seeing therapists. I understand completely that therapy might not be for everyone, or perhaps only for certain seasons of life. But why do we hold such judgment towards one another for our common brokenness, our need for the help of another?

When a person has a broken leg and cannot walk, the doctor is wise to prescribe a crutch and the patient is wise to lean on it. Unhelpful pressure is alleviated, and healing can happen. The person who tells the patient that he should be strong enough, brave enough, to just keep walking without a crutch is not kind nor wise. It always saddens me when I hear deeply hurting friends say in response to the suggestion of counseling, “I just don’t want to be seen as someone who needs counseling.” I have to ask again, why do we judge one another and judge ourselves so harshly for our brokenness?

I’ll dare to get even more controversial here. Some Christians say that the Bible and prayer should be sufficient for any faith-filled believer to work through his or her troubles. I love the comfort and the direction of the Word of God. My heart has been relieved of many burdens through times of prayer. But does this mean that the Apostle Paul was wrong when he wrote, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in so doing, fulfill the law of Christ”? Did he misunderstand the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, our Wonderful Counselor, when he penned these words? God knows I need my family and friends when life is hard. Why can an insightful therapist not be another tool that God uses to help carry out this exhortation in our times of trial and confusion?

I have not been a parent to a dying child in a pediatric intensive care unit. But I have faced issues in my life that have been bigger than me, bigger than my understanding, bigger than my maturity, bigger than my solitary heart could manage. It is the discernment, the objectivity, the outside, unbiased perspective of a tender-hearted, insightful, truth-speaking therapist that has helped me untangle myself multiple times from the mess of painful circumstances, the twisted lies of Satan, the flawed voices of people too close to the situation, and my own spinning thoughts. I can see situations for what they actually are, and I can breathe again. The outside pressure is alleviated, and I have the space I need to heal.

I am thankful to God for those who have the courage to help bear our burdens this way. It is my prayer that we will be kinder towards one another and towards ourselves when considering the option of undergoing counseling in our times of need.

Wearing Pajamas to Work Leads to the Most Schizophrenic Compliments

With my typical work attire being just slightly a notch above pajamas, and my standard work hairdo being the ever so ageless ponytail, I wouldn’t exactly say I dress up for work and dress down on my days off. I could swing through my nursing unit on an off-day for a meeting or a class, dressed in jeans and a decent blouse with my hair let down, and one of the most common comments I get is:

“You look really nice today! I didn’t recognize you at first.”

Haven’t we all either had someone say this to us, or said it to someone else? Somewhere in there is a compliment, but there’s something else there too. Something that consists of… well, not a compliment.

It’s curious, and rather revealing, the things we say without actually verbalizing them. Other unintentionally mixed compliments that leave me awkwardly scrambling to find a non-awkward response include:

“You’re really good at (some ability). I wish I could be as good as you.”

“Oh, so you’re a (fill in job title or some other specific role)? I could never do that.”

“You’re so funny” (in reaction to something you said that was not an actual joke).

There is a Bible verse that says, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” It’s true. We aren’t so good at not saying what we don’t mean to say. (How’s that for a brain-bending sentence?) We inadvertently end up saying it anyhow, somehow. It makes sense then that the responder to a schizophrenic compliment has a hard time knowing which aspect of the schizophrenia to respond to. It’s easier to just say “thank you” to the compliment portion, but somehow the other implied commentary lingers in the air and begs for our attention.

Somehow, I think there has got to be a better way to have these conversations. Either keeping the compliment in pure compliment form (which we still have struggles giving and receiving), or else shamelessly but ever so graciously delving into more honest discussions about what we’re actually thinking. Maybe what we have a hard time with is keeping that conversation going from a place in both parties that is full of grace and free of shame.

Why is that? Why do grace and shame exert such strong influence over the dynamics of these kinds of conversations?

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For reference and credit, Adam McHugh’s recent blog post, “Why I Sometimes Lie About my Profession” inspired me to write this.

awkward fine dining and the question worth asking

I am an awkward fine diner. I never know which fork is for the salad, I always drink from my neighbor’s water glass, and I’m pretty sure I’ve used my butter knife to try cutting my steak at least once. I’m an awkward fine diner because I never feel sophisticated enough to be in those restaurants, with my knock-off purse and my substandard dress among the chic and refined.

But if you put me in a hole-in-the-wall in the middle of a run-down neighborhood, I sure feel fabulous. Rich. Respectable. Uncomfortably so.

This unspoken hierarchy in the context of public establishments and business transactions is a curious one. We may not even be fully aware that it exists and that it affects our expectations, behavior and reactions. But it does. In a restaurant, we look at the décor, the prices, the reputation. We form quick judgments about the appearance and perhaps the accent of the person who is serving us. We behave and interact accordingly, to at least some subtle – or not so subtle – degree.

I saw a Facebook posting recently by someone who experienced what was unarguably very poor customer service, in any context. The cashier had cursed and thrown paper at this acquaintance of mine. In response to this person’s Facebook post describing the incident, however, another person commented, “They work those jobs for a reason.” What reason is that? And what gives any outsider the right to automatically assume with such confidence that only a certain type of person with only a certain level of competency, morality, and worth, would end up working a customer service job in a casual, run-of-the-mill restaurant?

I worked at a coffee shop while I was in nursing school for my Masters in Nursing at a well-regarded university. As I poured coffee and fetched napkins and mopped floors, I could feel that unspoken stigma towards me and towards my coworkers, many of whom were quite brilliant. I have to confess that I felt a strong need to explain that I was only working that job in passing, on my way to my Masters. See, I have bought into that mindset as well. I’m guilty too. But I hope I’ve changed and am still changing for the better since my time in that coffee shop. Because I’ve seen that for many people who work “those jobs,” their reason for being there is because they are incredibly hard-working, sacrificial, and humble. Some have travelled unimaginable roads that I am not strong enough to endure, in order to secure “those jobs.” They are their family’s heroes, their community’s heroes. And they serve some people who come in with their fancy cars and poor coffee shop behavior, day after day after day. Those friends of mine are my very misunderstood heroes. Not all people in “those jobs” are worth-less. And not all people in the CEO chair behave any better by virtue of their job title, nor are they worth more.

Why we have allowed this curious aspect of shame to pervade even our dining experiences and day-to-day business transactions is a question worth asking. I am an awkward fine diner trying not to feel ashamed about my lack of class. I am a blessed middle class working woman trying to remember not to shame others who very often work much, much harder than me, receive much less in return, but deserve so much more.

How about you? Have you ever witnessed or been a part of a dining experience or business transaction that became very awkward because of this aspect of shame?