Standing for the Relationship

I am used to conflict both in myself and with those that mean the most to me. I read somewhere (a Family Systems Theory book) that conflict is most likely a result of too much closeness (as in smothering) or too much distance (as in cutoff). Either way, people then often blame, attack or hide and get all emotionally flooded. We stop thinking. Emotional ruminating is not thinking.

Even when we hide from the other who we feel has hurt us, we probably fight with them in our heads. We imagine beating them into powerlessness with our wonderfully practiced attacks. Our opponent is probably doing the same thing right when we are.

It seems to me that when we attack and defend, we ignore our relationship. How we are covenanted suffer-ers in the elusive benefit of defeating the other.

Who stands for the relationship?

I visited with a couple in noisy conflict yesterday. Like pugilists whacking and hacking, they listened only to their “inner dialogue” not to each other and thus projected rage and hurt to their partner.

I asked them “how is your hatred working for you?“ The husband complained that he didn’t hate his wife, but she agreed with the word “hatred.” I said, “how is your hatred towards your marriage working for you.“


When couples bicker they bleed the goodness of what is between them. The couple may harangue each other thinking that it is just about them. But it is the marriage — a distinct entity — that loses most.


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Grief: Part 2 – Grief is Another Way of Remembering

“Grief is another way of remembering,” said my pastor friend who died too young (see previous blog). She said this at my father’s memorial. He died from drinking. For many years all I could remember was the slovenliness of drunkenness. Grieving, like remembering, takes time. It is a process, never fully accomplished.

But slowly I remembered finer memories. Looking at photos helped me to discover what was also there. I see sober Christmases and I can hear telephone conversations when I worked in a mining camp and I had something to say that impressed him. He would call me “son.” I remembered him putting together my green CCM bike with ribbons falling from the handgrips.

I was afraid of my father and I felt hurt and anger much of my life. That was the core of my grief. Grief is often a mush of fear and hurt and anger – all primitive emotions. When I experienced some of this over time, I discovered the tenderness just below. Sorrow needs to be wept out or sobbed out – it can hardly be thought out. Tears help us drain the pain.

If my unconscious carries an unexpressed wound from my past, I will always be black and blue inside. I will not be able to approach life with my eyes looking forward for fear they will trigger the repressed pain. Have you met people who cannot look into your eyes for fear that you will look into theirs?

People have said to me, “It was the way you looked at me. You didn’t take your eyes from mine.” I have learned to see grief and the emotional mush that is behind it.

The grief that I carry stowed away has great power over me. More than ruminating, I become a rumination. Until I feel my grief and allow myself to know it, I will not be free of its grip.

You may know the song, “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton as he grieved the accidental death of his young son. He sings, “I must be strong and carry on, ‘Cuz I know I don’t belong, here in heaven.” This grief connects him to the child he loves.

Until I know how to grieve with my heart and my soul, with my voice and my time, I will never know how to love with all my heart either. Jesus gives us a model to follow. And his words are true: “Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.”


[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing]

Grief: Part 1 — Lying to Ourselves

I have led three memorial services in the past couple of months.

One was a young and once vibrant woman who had a near-fatal car accident that left her with a serious brain injury and personality change. She spent her insurance money on “sex, drugs and rock and roll,” eventually killing herself.

The second was a municipal councilor who invested his life in making his community better, advocating for the ordinary, and insisting on budgetary prudence. He was a champion of autism and died far too young with brain cancer.

The third was a woman who was a covenant friend of mine. She was a pastor, a counsellor, a teacher and a loving mother, wife and grandmother and she was funny too. Her middle name could have been integrity or compassion.

They left people behind.

Jesus said an odd thing to those that these people left: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4). How weird is that?

I led my mother’s memorial service years back. It was over a year before I could visualize her or smell her perfume. Sure I cried, in fact I wailed – but I couldn’t connect. She was dead to me.

When Jesus’ best friend Lazarus died, Jesus wailed too. And when we experience loss and are anxious and grieved, we do the same – loud and often in public. But when we say we are “just fine, thanks,” we lie to ourselves and the friends that ask.

Someone said, “Every unshed tear is a prism through which all of life’s hurts are distorted.”

Distorted emotions make us do distorted things. We don’t feel, we don’t think, we don’t talk. That’s distorted. And we ruminate. Our brooding circles our brain, repeating untruths, causing more distortion, aching our stomachs, taking away our energy and delight.

In a strange way, like the person who has died, we stop living. Not feeling, not thinking, and not talking sounds like death to me.

(More when I get to it.)


[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing]

Questions for Living

Many of you know that I like questions more than answers. And when I come across a good question, I almost always write it down. Imagine my delight in finding a bunch of questions written by Ellie Harris entitled “Questions for Living.” We learn by asking questions when we have the patience to grow into our answers. So here they are from the beautiful magazine “Bella Grace” (Spring, 2016). (I’ve italicised the ones I love.)

  • What do you want to be and who are you now?
  • What do you unequivocally believe in?
  • What was the last time you were your own best friend?
  • Have you found that something you are looking for? Do you even know what it is?
  • Do you welcome things you don’t understand and give room for clarity to grow?
  • Who or what do you wake up for?
  • What makes you feel like a child?
  • When are you in your past self? When are you in your best self?
  • Can you truly forgive others? Can you forgive yourself?
  • Whose voice brings you peace?
  • Have you decided what to be when you grow up?
  • Do you like what you’ve become?
  • What are you holding onto? Is it time to let it go?
  • What memory do you hold the tightest?
  • When is enough truly enough?
  • Why do you fear what you fear?
  • Why do you believe what you believe?
  • What makes you feel important?
  • What are you sorry for?
  • What is your most secret wish?
  • When is the last time you have a real conversation with God?
  • Do you wish you had a do-over?
  • How can you make this day not ordinary?
  • What you love about yourself?
  • What is the dictionary definition of you?
  • Are you living out of desire or circumstance?
  • Do you wake up thankful?
  • What are you waiting for?
  • Who do you love? Do they know?
  • If you could have a conversation with anyone, who would you want to talk to?
  • What is the last time you took yourself out for a date?

Here is something interesting – people with social anxiety can often “solve” it by digging a bit deeper and getting out of the superficiality of superficial conversation. I ask my anxious clients to pick 3 questions to ask a friend or a stranger and watch what happens.


[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing]

The Body Song (Guest: Eryn-Faye Frans)

This past week, I had the privilege of introducing my family to Paddy and Carole Ducklow.  Back in the 60’s, when my parents left Texas to move up to Canada, Dad met Paddy in graduate school and they began a life-long friendship. My father wrote his first book in the basement of their home. He logged countless hours sitting out on their deck drinking beer and debating life, the universe and everything. Paddy flew to Texas to attend his funeral.

As a child, I have many memories of the Ducklow’s being a part of our lives. Even when the two men were living in different parts of the Lower Mainland, they always stayed connected. And then, several years before our family returned to Texas, they worked together at Burnaby Christian Fellowship. Dad was senior pastor, and Paddy was on staff as the church psychologist who ran a practice in the church.

One of the programs that they collaborated on during this time was a seminar to teach kids and their parents about the concept of “appropriate touch”. The kids and parents were split into different rooms and taught about issues surrounding personal boundaries, safety and communication. I was one of those kids, and my favourite part of the whole seminar was learning the song, My Body by Peter Alsop (which was thereinafter referred to by us simply as “the body song”).

Fast-forward 20+ years. My family is driving to the Ducklow’s house for the first time and I am explaining to my daughter about the importance of this family in my life. Having a vague memory of the body song, I decided that it would be spectacularly impressive if I could teach it to my daughter to sing for Paddy over dinner. Riley was very much into this idea (life is, after all, a musical for her) and enthusiastically embraced the task. The more we sang it, the more furrowed my husband’s brow became. He finally cleared his throat and said, “Uh, honey? I think you are not remembering that song right. I am pretty sure that’s not how it goes.” I pooh-poohed his concerns and, undaunted, Riley and I sang the song a few more times – to ensure that she really knew it.

When we arrived at Ducklow’s, the conversation inevitably turned to the body song. Actually, Eric brought it up because he was so smug in his assumption that I had the words wrong and thought it would be hilarious to see Paddy’s reaction. I was hesitant because I had an ever-growing suspicion that Eric was, unfortunately, right. Eventually, he coaxed Riley and me into singing it together.  So, in a vain attempt to prove that I was correct (or more that he was wrong) I belted out with great gusto:

My body’s nobody’s body but mine.

You touch your own body,

Let me touch mine.

There was an eerie silence that fell over the room for what was only a moment but felt like eternity.  Then the room erupted!  I thought Paddy was going to fall off the couch laughing. He fell to the side and buried his face in a pillow as he howled in laughter.  It was suddenly inherently obvious to me that I had turned a song on appropriate touch into one on mutual masturbation.

***Epic FAIL***

Later in the evening, Paddy and Riley went to the computer and drudged up the words to this 1980’s song. Thank goodness for Google!

The true version of the body song can be found here and goes like this:

My body’s nobody’s body but mine.

You run your own body,

Let me run mine.

I will admit that the correct one is a much better version for Riley to be singing out in public.  But as I am not one to be easily dismayed, I will brazenly confess that personally prefer my version…even if you’ll never hear me sing it aloud ever again.

So inn the midst of all of this personal humiliation, I figured that I should try to redeem myself by unabashedly sharing the story with everyone and using it as a teaching tool to help parents talk with their children.

Eric, however, is still laughing.

(And so is Paddy!)

My Life Now: An Alliteration of “P”s

Thinking About My Semi-retirement

My name is Paddy. I have been a psychologist, pastor and professor, an alliteration of “P”s. These days I am mostly a fellow pilgrim in the practice of personhood, a new set of “P”s. And I am a Poppa to my 3 grandkids.

To change primary letters for a moment, I would like to learn how to be a friend. This does not come easily to me. I think that I want to be a good friend but I am not naturally wired for it. I am used to influencing more than anything else. It seems to me that women do things together (“Let’s go shopping for shoes”) but men don’t go shopping for a new pair of pants. Men compete with and dismiss each other, often humorously. We men find our social lives through occupations (what occupies us like computers and fishing trips).

Unlike many friendships that seldom appeal, I deeply enjoy and am challenged by the people I visit with in counselling. I think of therapy as confronting, sometimes confusing, frequently funny and always pressing into change. And counselling is also a safe place to tell the truth and to grow. I think it is here that I have the privilege of being most honest and of being me. I think of these people as “client-friends.”

Carole laughs at me when I say I don’t have many friends. But with these good folk I mostly do not practice personhood. I settle for superficial catch-ups and positive gossip. I don’t think that I am so good at being a friend.


Time-IN, Not Out (Guest: Kristin Vandegriend)

Time-IN, Not Out (Guest Kristin Vandegriend)

I love “time-in.” When Carole is cross with me, she doesn’t usually send me to my room, but sometimes she freezes me out with her pointy glares and chilly words. (She won’t like me saying this.) But usually she does a time-in – she lets me work things out for a bit and then we talk and plan for a next time. There is always a next time.

Kristin Vandegriend is a friend who is doing time-ins masterfully with her little girl. I guess this is best used in parenting. You can read about it right here:

Back in the summer, we came across a parenting concept called “time in.”  The basic concept is that when a child is struggling, what they really need is connection, not isolation and distance. Instead of punishing with a “time out” which is isolating, we respond with choosing to stay in proximity to our child until they can calm down and find a better way to cope. We had tried “time out” before, but with disastrous results.

Several weeks ago, our 4-year-old daughter was having a hard time at the dinner table.  She was crying, screaming and hitting, behavior that is not acceptable in our home. Both my partner and I tag-teamed in trying to lay down boundaries with her and set expectations for behavior. It was really frustrating to see her behavior escalate and I could feel that I was starting to get angry as well.  But in the moment, I thought about how she must feel when it becomes a 2-against-1 battle.  It made me wonder if what she was simply asking for was to be heard and to feel a sense of connection (plus it was entirely possible that she was just really hungry as well.) I took her onto my lap and simply helped her eat her supper.  She calmed down almost immediately and once the intensity was over, we were able to dialogue about what had happened and our expectations for her behavior in the future.

In other situations, I have taken her into her room, set a timer and simply been with her while she calmed down.  On rare occasions, we make several trips back and forth to her room as she tries to regulate her behavior.  We practice some breathing and we talk about ways that we can help calm ourselves down when we get overwhelmed with emotion.  We address the inappropriate behaviors and outline expectations for more positive behaviors.

I don’t know if this strategy has worked for us because of who my daughter is or who I am.  But when I think about when I am upset, what I really want is deep empathy, to be loved despite my failings and to know that I am not alone.  So it makes me think that perhaps that this might actually be a deeper human desire and that children, in particular, need to know that they are not alone despite the ways that they may act.

Here is a further article from Positive Parenting Connection.

Thanks Kristin.

Go Easy, Go Gently, Go in Peace (a prayer for my clients)


Most of us pray sometimes and some of us pray a lot. I know that we have differing hopes and expectations of how we journey in our lives, and I also know that most people appreciate the prayers of others when we face crises and challenges.

I found this prayer somewhere (I can’t remember) and it has been meaningful to me. it is like a benediction (meaning “a good word”). It is called “Go Easy, Go Gently, Go In Peace.”

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

You may have to push forward, but you don’t have to push so hard.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Do not be in so much of a hurry. At no day, no hour, no time are you required to do much so frantically. Move, but move faithfully, decisively, and deliberately in the plan of God.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Be urgent about the things that are urgent. Be easy about the things that are not essential. Pursuing the wrong urgencies may cause you to overrun the essential… and the important.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

In tragedy look for God when you can’t find meaning. In hopelessness find meaning when you can’t see God. Either way you will move ahead.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

The frantic and stressed actions of uncontrolled urgency are not the foundation for the wholesome walk. Nor does such anxiousness reflect the gracious intent of the Creator. The frantic cause you to fall further away from the calming confidence of God’s calling.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Know God’s identity for you and in you. You are His creation and His people. Allow your soul to be immersed in the many joys of God.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Go generously and walk thankfully into your work, your relationships, your leading, your family. Meet God in your hours, in your days. Let the pace of your life flow naturally toward its unforgettable completion.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Beginning or ending, planning or reflecting, hurting or healing, cherish each moment. Savour God’s guidance. Seek what’s really important. Surrender your soul to the simple peace of God’s leading and urging, to His beginning and ending.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Now go, with easiness towards yourself, with gentleness towards others and with peace in God.


A Call for Restraint in the Age of the Opinion (Guest Blog)

The following blog comes from a client-friend who finds listening lost in the world of unconstrained opinions. This has been helpful to me.


Better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.[1]

I admit it; these days I’m as prone to get my news from my Facebook feed as I am from the New York Times. My hope is that trusted friends of mine will post legitimate links, and as I survey the field of opinions I may be able to wade through the myriad of information to arrive at some sense of an informed outlook.

Although social media is a helpful tool in this regard, I also cringe at the way many of us use and abuse our posting privileges. We are navigating new ground in this information age and many of us are making gut-wrenching mistakes along the way.

It seems to me that we need to recover the art of being slow to speak (or in this case post) about complex issues. Reading a few blog posts does not entitle us to expert-level truth claims. Though we are entitled to our opinions, too many of us project our minimally informed opinions as fact, unwilling to accept or engage with those who have researched the subject thoroughly.

What I fear is that, for all of our newfound ability to share information, we are losing the ability to communicate with one another. We don’t allow each other the space to sit with complexity, or the respect to disagree without breaking connection. With our quick-fire opinion bombs, we blow up our relationships for the sake of our truth. We unfriend our opponents, never having really taken the time to consider their perspective.

We amateurs ought to watch our words more carefully and hold our perspectives a bit more loosely. We do not know the extent of the harm our words may cause, or the relational cost we may incur in our unbending expression of personal opinion. Perhaps, in some cases, it is better to hold our tongue and keep our friends for the time being.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t speak up about injustice, or that we shouldn’t stand for equality or other important issues. What I am saying is that we need to acknowledge our own limited perspective and grant others leeway to do the same.

This age, with all its technological wonders, offers unprecedented opportunity to dialogue and inform one another. May we be those who foster grace and humility, rather than antagonism. In other words, may we be “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry;” (James 1:19, NIV). Amen.

[1] This quote has been variously attributed to Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, and Maurice Switzer. It’s more positively stated alternative is found in Proverbs 17:28: “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues” (NIV).

Is Depression Treatable with a Mobile Phone App?

Now this is interesting to me. Can you do therapy without a therapist? Will I be out of work soon? (Smile.)

Thousands of new mobile phone apps have popped up to treat symptoms of depression and anxiety. Though many claim to employ clinically sound methods, critics say that human interaction is key to mental health care.

Is it safe or effective to use apps to treat anxiety or depression? What do you think?

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