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dissonance |ˈdisənəns|: a tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements.That's it really. It's what I do. I create it on purpose as a clinician--a counselor. It is what makes people wake to reality and see how they contribute to their own chaos. It becomes a cathartic and challenging experience well suited for change. I create it accidentally as a husband, friend, son, brother, and believer. I AM: 32 years old; a counselor; a husband to a beautiful woman; a believer in The Way; and most of the time clueless to my own dissonance that I create.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Scaredy Cat

I confess. I most often cover my ears and look away when I’m watching a scary movie.  I learned my lesson from watching the movie “It” which haunted my nightmares for years.  Pennywise the clown has lurked in my mind and has crept into my dreams even now that I am thirty-two years old.   It’s a silly thing.  Reflecting now, I probably would undo having seen the film.  Some experiences are better to avoid; especially given the effects which follow them; however, fear can also keep us from the wonderful experiences of life.  We cannot avoid all chances.  
Fear is a powerful thing.  I would say that it singularly is the most effectually prevalent force in all of humanity save God’s enacting grace and love.  The shadow of fear stretches over almost every encounter in some measure or form—from avoiding a simple conflict to completely socially isolating.  Its prevalence can be seen in minor insecurities to extreme avoidances.  I see it everyday in my clients; I see it everyday in my friendships; I see it everyday in my family; I see it at my church, the internet, and everywhere.  Fear is celebrated by some, denied byothers, and still embraced by many.  It often prevents us from achieving our calling or drives us away from each other. It is a tyrant that rules with an iron fist.  Yet, fear is the very thing that believers are called to counter.  It is our great enemy.  Scripture address fear more often than it does almost any other foe.  The phrase “fear not” or some derivative shows up almost enumerable times (I’ll leave it to the biblical linguists out there to count).  
How do we beat it you ask? Love.  Or at least that is the Sunday school answer—  “Perfect love drives out fear.”  But like you all; I don’t know how to love perfectly.  As a one liner—it’s great but in practice I am dumbfounded on the how. Love is the mutual connecting we enact. Perfect love must be the balanced connection in relationship.  Yet, perfect love comes with a caveat.  We must give up our natural inclination to reactively pull away—to attempt to guarantee our safety.  But perfect love comes with no guarantee.  To love perfectly, we must overcome this fearful reaction. In other words, we must give up our need to control.  Control, or at least our attempt at it, is how I see fear being played out.  The problem is that control is something that we never truly have; and it most definitely is not a part of love.  Control cannot be love.  It drives people apart.  Control hardens our hearts.  Control is a lie.  It’s a lie we tell ourselves to convince ourselves that we have nothing to fear.  So, like me watching a scary movie we cut off our perception in denial thinking that we are safe.  It is a lie.  C.S. Lewis said it best saying
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  To love is to be vulnerable.” (Lewis,The Four Loves).
C.S. Lewis nails it.  Fear drives us not to connection but isolation; while love drives us towards connecting byencouraging vulnerability, pushing us towards a more perfect love.  God did this in becoming us—the ultimate vulnerability, the ultimate perfect love.  This love drives fear from shadowing our hearts; it drives into loving connection.  I must confess; I’m not very good at this.  I still am a scaredy cat.  I still cover my ears and close my eyes when fear presents itself.  But, I do know perfect love; and by this love I will seek to drive out my fears to emulate the perfect love of Christ.  I strive for this knowing that it is a work characterized by fear and trembling.            

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Orphaned



My friend gave me a rather silly nickname of “Peter Cotton Nips.”  The aforementioned portion of this affectionate title comes from a pair of bedroom slippers that I wear that my friend calls my “bunnies” due to the strangely placed lining on the exterior heel that serves no purpose but to aesthetically appear as a rabbits tail.  Strange, I know.  The latter comes from an experience I had related to my friend recently.
 
I finally gave in to my wife’s begging and surprised her with a kitten this past summer for our anniversary.  He had been abandoned and left in the garage of my coworker at only two or three weeks old.  He was so small and was not weaned from his mother—an orphan with neither his natural mother nor an adoptive human one.  I took him.  I had him to myself for almost a week prior to giving him to Charley as she was out of town for her work.  I would hold him while in bed at night, and he would “nurse” on my cotton tees as though it would serve as a surrogate both for those parts I do not have and a mother he did not.  Well, I became “Peter Cotton Nips” and a cat owner to boot. 

 I have grown affectionate with Scout, and as a “father” to this growing kitten.  He still “nurses” on both Charley’s and my shirts before he goes to sleep.  I would presume this is more for comfort and a sense of security than any real nourishment, as cotton does not usually produce cat’s milk.  Why would he continue with no actual benefit?  My guess is that he is looking for the connection he would have gotten if he had not been abandoned from a healthy and whole feline family.  It does not surprise me.  I see this in my counseling practice all the time.  Children and adults alike are looking for this security, identity, and love, which has been denied to them left in the metaphorical garage of broken families, friendships, or a depraved society.  Alone and naked, they try suckling at the false hopes of all sorts of empty roads that lead nowhere.  Try as they might; they never get milk from cotton tees.  Yet, every day they try to distract from the reality of an empty garage. 

I could let the metaphor end drawing the line dividing those who are in faithful practice and those who are not; however, the truth is I am an orphan.  I have left the comfort of my family and found myself abandoned in a world that seems full of cotton tees and nothing of substantial nurturance.  The discrepancy I have with many of my clients is that, in my orphanhood, I have found an adoptive home.  My adoptive Father is one who can offer more than my t-shirt does to Scout.  He calls me into relationship that roots itself deeper than I could perceive on my own and gives me identify, connection, and love more fully into my personhood.  I am remade to fit the family line and the family name.  In this, I call Scout my brother—in that we share a remaking of our family; and God whispers to me as Charley and I do to Scout that “We make you whole; we are your real family.”        

*Photo Credit: to Rhonda C. Bohart Photography

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

To Live is Christ...


I see pain daily. Suffering is the defining theme of the woven narratives that I sit and encounter.  Children that have been raped, neglected, and abused; women who have been taught that they have no value or worth; men who are stuck in cycles of shame and anger—this is the brokenness that I endure throughout each day.  I had to learn to create some measure of distance from their stories to be able to be the aide that I have trained to be for them; however, the truth is often I suffer with them.  Those stories often haunt my waking day—images of the gruesome discovery of a suicide victim are there; women who have been violated; children orphaned both emotionally and physically.  I suffer.I am a man who loves fun and humor; however, this calling is not one for the faint hearted.  It calls me to a measure of shared sorrow.  It challenges me into those questions that have few satisfactory answers.  Why? How could God allow this to happen?  How can God be love when He seems indifferent to all this pain?  The truth is simple.  My job brings me closer to the One who is most “acquainted with grief, a man of sorrows.”  Somehow in our suffering we are united with Christ in His.  Paul seems to hit this point most clearly stating that “we rejoice in our sufferings” because in them we find the honing of our nature to be more in the likeness of Christ [my paraphrase].  Our suffering produces His character in us.  I do not mean to espouse the falseness in seeking martyrdom but rather not to shy from our call to suffer and cry out in the Spirit for God’s saving intervention. 
This is what distinguishes our suffering from those without the hope of Christ.  We have the faithful One to cry out to for help.  The Psalms epitomize this distinction.  They invite us into this back and forth of despair and hopefulness.  It gives voice to our struggle through our state of the Kingdom—“already but not yet.”   We cry out that “darkness is my only companion” and then turn to exclaim “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, for ever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.”
Our faith also gives us a renewed perspective.  We see beyond the thin veil of our lives.  We see into our future resurrection—our rebirth.  Paul writes that we are “co-heirs with Christ; provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”  Suffering leads us to this hope in our glorification.  We strive against death but yearn for its release from the burden of a life that surrounds us with suffering.  I love Andrew Peterson’s exposition of this very tension.  He writes
            How long until this curtain is lifted?
How long is this the song that we sing?
How long until the reckoning?

You are holiness and grace
You are fury and rest
You are anger and love
You curse and you bless
You are mighty and weak
You are silence and song
You are plain as the day,
But you have hidden your face--
For how long? How long?

And I am standing in the stillness of the reckoning
The storm is past and rest is beckoning
Mighty God, how I fear you
How I long to be near you, O Lord

How long until the burden is lifted?
How long is this the song that we sing?
How long until the reckoning?
And I know that I don't know what I'm asking
But I long to look you full in the face
I am ready for the reckoning

So we yearn in our suffering.  We hope in our suffering.  And I will count my suffering as life in Christ sharing his sufferings.    

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Forgetfulness

My grandfather does not remember me. It is a hard thing to reflect on the moments I have shared with him and realize that while I hold onto those experiences he cannot because of his dementia. To visit is difficult because much of what made my grandfather my grandfather is through our shared experiences. It is how I have known him. He looks at me now with a bit of vacancy. As a believer, I hold to the reality that his spirit remains and is more vibrant and enduring than his failing cognizance. However, it feels like a loss. Memories are important. Memories enable our learning. It facilitates our ability to grow as individuals and, ultimately, it is the sinews of our makeup. Our experiences form our identity and memory serves as a foundation on which we continue to build as we continually experience and grow.

Memory is not untainted. My grandfather’s experience reaffirms this reality. I cannot remember except through my own framework, and my framework has its own tint. In my relationship with my wife, this tint is seen most vividly as I clearly omit those offenses I have inflicted on her so easily and can enumerate even the most trivial offense she has committed against me. My memory fails. Instead of serving the purposes of God in my marriage, it serves to sew discord. As a therapist, I see the burden of memory in those that have experienced trauma. The long fingers of memory stretch from the past and paint our relationships with others, our identity, our ability to love, our health, and all of our being—that which we are. Memories can serve the dark as well as the light. Without self-discipline and forgiveness, we become slaves to our memories. We do not allow for mistakes to be made, and we perpetuate the sins committed against us into sins that we commit on another. The abused become abusers. The victim of violence becomes the perpetrator of it. The offended becomes the offender. Memories become the catalyst for a cycle that has no end.

Today is September 11, 2011. Ten years from the day violence ended many American lives. The call heard on every television channel, radio station, online article, commercial, tribute, and memorial is that “we will never forget.” We rush to immortalize this atrocity. I wonder if this is not our fatal mistake. I wonder if this memory will become the trauma that reshapes us for evil because we see through our tint of hurt and hate. I hope that we do not allow this tainted memory to become our identity. God has a divine ability to forget our sins. He says to us that he will no longer choose to remember those great acts of violence we commit toward him and towards our neighbors. The memories of our sin are the barrier that keeps us from communion with God and others. God’s answer to this barrier is to simply forget them. It is His choice to lay aside this defining evil in us and forget. As a believer trying to emulate Christ, I seek to forgive, but I also seek to forget. I can acknowledge the pain and trauma without perpetuating it. I do not want to be redefined by this evil. So I seek out this divine gift of forgetfulness—this Divine dementia—and trust to the perfect memory of God’s love.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Denial

I’ve taken on the habit of getting home and turning on the tube (or idiot box as my Dad refers to it) after work these days. Between getting home after dark all winter, being snowed in, and just pure emotional exhaustion from work, it’s all I want to do. The results are a jealous (for time) wife, an extra 15 lbs, and a general disengagement from life. I guess its how I turn it all off, the pain I confront daily. I will admit that it’s a poor coping skill, but I guess it feels better than the alternative—carrying it with me. Nevertheless, I have decided that this, my security blanket of isolation, must be carried to the altar; and Lent has offered me this opportunity.

Much like most seasons of the church calendar, I was not acquainted with Lent before being turned on to the liturgical helps of our faith. It seems a practice that wades against the tides of the outside world. Lent truly stands in opposition to what the world espouses, nature begins to quietly reveal, and our self-gratifying selves might crave. As winter begins to recede and spring encroaches on us, we clothe the altar in black and fast. Alleluia is hidden in the somberness of the reality of our brokenness and sin. We enter into a season of reflection and confession. We are not worthy of our salvation is the only conclusion we must come to in our hearts. This is the point. The world rejoices in the hope of spring, yet we pause to remember and sit in the scarlet squalor that was our pride.

It should not be a false humility nor a self-abasing chastisement, but rather a denial of the common practice of ignoring the reality of our fallen state. “The World goes not well” is this sobering reality. So we fast. We pray. We make confession. We deny ourselves our comforting disengagements to face the world, though the tide ebbs against us. We reacquaint ourselves with the purposes of God: truth, grace, and repentance.

So, I come home and face the brokenness. I fill my time without the anesthetic. Its dull sting reminds me to petition God again for salvation for my family, my friends, my clients, the world, and myself. Yet, I do so not in despair, but rather in light of Easter’s nearing. So let me simply confess that “the world goes not well, BUT the kingdom comes."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Freedom in the Form

I remember going to First Love Ministries for the first time. I was really uncomfortable. The charismatic tone of the worship was off putting for the likes of me—a traditional Southern Baptist. I did find something there that I had not really had before; a feeling of being wanted and accepted. A man named Charlie quite literally reached out to me and grabbed my arm. He told me that he loved me. I wept hard that night.

So I went back and regained my faith in that little house tucked away in Perry, Ga. Yet, the truth is that it was a forced fit. I loved the people. I met God weekly in the faces of that community; however, worship was strained for me. I wanted to force God to show himself to me as I watched those around me experience the fullness of the Spirit. I was a dry well. It’s not that I didn’t believe that Holy Spirit was moving in their life; on the contrary, I could see them living it out in their love for people. I am just a cynic. If it was going to happen to me it was going to have to be real. So dry.

Throughout this seminary experience Charley and I stuck with the familiar. We attended a wonderful little Baptist church in town. However, when we felt the need to move on from that community we decided to stop and rethink our understanding of church. I have always felt drawn to form. I was the goof who loved the rituals of my fraternity more than the parties. In my faith, this also holds true. My Baptist background gave me a love for the Word, but left me wanting for worship; my time at First Love gave me worship, but left me wanting for direction; and my time in seminary humbled my dogma, but left me wanting for a practical faith.

For me, a lot happens in my head. I am drawn to compelling exegesis, worship that speaks to my experience, and the bigger picture of my faith—the community of believers, past and present. I love feeling the connection with my faith in the tangibles too. After a few months sabbatical from church, Charley and I visited higher liturgical confessions. Through prayer, trial visits, meetings with trusted advisors, and ultimately, our comfort, we settled in at St. Aiden’s Anglican church. I no longer feel like a dry well. Instead, my prayer life has taken off. I reflect on God throughout my day. I meet God in worship with my entirety—the physical and spiritual. I feel a level of comfort in approaching God that I have never known before. Don’t get me wrong it’s not an infallible practice, but I have discovered a freedom in this form, this holy work.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Overwhelmed

It’s nine hours home from Wilmore. It’s not a quick kind of ride. I have the original Nano that cannot store the entirety of my music library, which in all honesty is not that extensive. I rarely update it anyway and end up listening to the same old stuff; however, this trip home led me to explore some high school era fads, namely Five Iron Frenzy. Ahhh, my ska days…another desperate attempt for me to be both cool and Christian. Charley and I sing to the top of our lungs more reminiscing and being playful than reflecting on the lyrics. Then we get to “Where the Zero meets the Fifteen.” The song narrates a tipping point moment for its author who begins to realize the gravity of desperation around him and his own incompetence to evoke lasting change. I guess I began to identify with the music because I had to start fighting back tears.

I am learning that the counselor’s chair is a hard one in which to sit. I am charged with sifting through the pieces of a lot of broken lives. My original conceptualization, during college as I first started this vocation, was one that foresaw my “saving” people from their heartaches. I was voted “most likely to ‘save’ the world” in high school after all. So far, this vision has been shattered. Instead, I find myself crawling up beside another bent-over individual searching for the missing pieces and hoping that in some small way I am a help. I found myself crying out with the singer and asking God what it is that I contribute, really? The lyrics go,

I put my face down in my hands,

water wells inside my eyes.

What do I have to give them?

Does it matter if I try?

I can't stand to see you suffer,

I try to intellectualize,

a formula to end your pain,

it doesn't work,

God knows I've tried.

I want to try and save the world,

but it never goes that way.

God I don't know what to do,

down at Colfax and Broadway.

I don’t intend to be a wet blanket; my purpose is not to be a discouragement, but rather to express this deep yearning to meet the needs of my clients. I want them to see the love of Christ in my service to them, but I also hope for them to be made whole. I don’t have the answers for them. Most of the time I’m struggling to come up with a treatment plan that is efficacious. In my friendships, it’s the same story just with a different twist. I give a very imperfect kind of love. I offer brokenness in exchange for brokenness. It is not despair that I am evoking, but rather, it is a realization that what they need does not come from me. This would be a disconcerting idea if what I was hoping for was to be a form of salvation; however, this is not mine, my family’s, my friend’s, nor my client’s hope. Our hope is not in what I have to offer anyway; it is way beyond me. The reality is that just like the author of the song, all I have to offer is “thirteen cents and a broken pen.”