Feelings Are Meant to Be Felt

We are at my in-laws summer home in Pender Harbor. It is a beautiful place and it is a beautiful day. Christine (my daughter) is busy looking after our lives and Carole is helping out, as they chat happily. Brent (my son in law) is reading beside me and Jasper (my grandson) is wanting my attention. There are books spread out and games to trip over and a general feeling of urgency between him and me. I want to sit and do nothing and Jasper wants my playfulness, loud noises and funny faces.

At a particular point of exasperation with my non-involvement, Jasper hits my arm with all the strength he could muster, trying to get my attention I suppose, and I speak sharply to him. He’s not used to sharpness from me – he gets mostly big affirmations and funny voices and silly ways to walk. This is the kind of Papa that I want to be, not the sharp and defensive kind.

My scolding scared him and the urgency of the moment provoked a gasp of tears and a startled cry. He doesn’t want me to be close to him or touch him and he moves to the protection of his father’s arms while looking at me with strange horror. A few moments pass and his hurt falls away.

He stands in front of me looking sorrowful and I say to him, “Did I hurt your feelings Jasper?” “Yes Papa, you did.” I say, “I am very sorry for hurting your feelings Jasper.” And then everything changes as he says to me, “I’m not sad anymore Papa. I happy now. Are you happy Papa?”

I know that feelings are meant to be felt. But sometimes my hurt feelings stay with me too long. Jasper seems to have the capacity or the grace to let his hurt feelings go. Paul writes in Ephesians, “live as children of light for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth and find out what pleases the Lord” [Ephesians 5:8 – 10]. Seems like good advice to me.

Mourning for Maaloula (Guest Blog)

This paragraph is a blog from my “other ” work at Carey Theological College where Axel Schoeber is a colleague and professor. I have read about Maaloula and but the need and tragedy went by me too quickly. Axel’s comments have stirred that memory and caused me to think and pray. Perhaps it will you as well.

Aramaic was the language Jesus would commonly have spoken and was the trade language of the nations around Judea in his time. The use of the language has almost died out. One community that is making big efforts to revive Aramaic is the Syrian Christian town of Maaloula. A world heritage site, Maaloula has become the scene of repeated battles in the Syrian Civil War in the past week. Many Christians have fled, though some nuns are staying in order to care for some 20 orphans. There are reports that some of the rebels have killed Christians and attempted forced conversion to Islam. Apparently, control of the city has changed hands several times. Yet it is hard to imagine that this community will be able to return to normal functioning in any case. This historic Christian community is at risk. John Donne wrote, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Similarly I am grieving with our brothers and sisters from Maaloula. (Axel Schoeber)

The Heaviest Emotion (David Ducklow)

This blog is from my son, David Ducklow who is now part of our counselling team. These words are from his blogspot, entitled “Grace & Peace To You.” You might want to sign up to get them regularly. Here are David’s thoughts on the heaviest emotion.

When I was at university, I would hear well-intentioned, married staff members talk about how singleness is a gift. But at the same time, you could hear a tinge of ‘poor you’ in their voices as they empathically looked at us, hoping that we would not remain this way for much longer. I was not impressed.

“Sure,” I thought, “maybe singleness is a gift. But if this is true, then loneliness must be a gift as well.”

At around this time I concluded that I was satisfied with the single life…  360 days a year. Except for days like February 14, December 24 and 25 and 31 and my birthday, I was alright with my non-marital status.

This is not a blog to solve the problems of single men and women, because we have no more or less problems than you or anyone else. We just need encouragement, someone to change the subject now and then, and a helping hand because loneliness is the heaviest emotion. And at one point or another, everyone needs to carry it.

Updated September, 2015.

A Memoir of a Marriage (Remix)

I have been reading a book by Wendy Plump entitled “Vow: A Memoir of a Marriage.” Because I mention the book does not mean that I recommend it for your reading; in fact I do not recommend it particularly. There is a chapter entitled “The Efficacy Of Therapy” where the author designs a kind of therapy instruction card for couples in crisis. I would like to give some comment to the several things that she says. (The author’s words are in italics.)

One, everything doesn’t have to be solved in one session. And, in fact, it will not! Short-term marital therapy is usually 8 to 12, one or two hour sessions over several months, and, of course,  we want the “problem” solved immediately. It really does take time to re-create what has been lost through ignorance or carelessness.

Two, be clear about your need. I often sit with people who think I am reading their minds. I find this humorous – or at least I used to – that people submit their intelligence to someone who is looking at them with care and concentration. Please do not forget that your purpose is for concrete advice and direction and not just consolation. So get what it is you want and need.

Three, remember that it is the two of you who matter most. It is very easy to allow the therapist to intrude herself or himself into the marriage. A therapeutic triangle is when the therapist stands outside of the marital dyad and observes, wonders and considers. As Wendy Plump says, “it is you and your spouse against the world, not you and your therapist.”

Four, each person in the marital dyad needs to take some responsibility for the efficacy of your therapy. The therapist may be marvelous in every way but the therapist cannot make the changes that the couple needs to make. The couple is really the expert on how their marriage can work as well as how their marriage is unworkable.

Five, be willing to hear that you screwed up royally and need to make amends… and then make amends. It is so common to use excuses, or explanations, or “context” to avoid personal responsibility. In my experience, no one moves ahead without consistent and thoroughly thoughtful apology.

Six, there are many ways to get out of the woods. If you are not going forward in your marital therapy with one counsellor, you can switch. There are times when you need consolation and support and there are other times when you need confrontation and challenge. Also, therapy is not necessarily better or more efficient then good friends, a supportive community, and the consolation and direction from healthy parents.

Seven, and most important, understand that you can bear it. Of course, most of us do not want to bear the responsibility or challenge of change. A competent therapist will help a couple defuse their emotion and increase their thinking. At least, that is the goal.

This is pretty good advice, whatever you might think of the book. Wendy Plump summarizes that “therapy has its value, but it remains a stubbornly limited one. I’m not sure that therapy can rescue any marriage…. A therapist will listen and listen and listen, which is one of the things you need most. Rescuing the marriage seems a tall order. But there is a chance that therapy can rescue you. Perhaps the expectation should end there. It does seem like enough.

Vow: A Memoir of a Marriage” by Wendy Plump, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013.

Is Your Spouse Your “Best Friend”? (Carole Ducklow)

Good friendships are built on trust and trust takes time to mature and develop. What better context for this kind of friendship to grow than in the covenant of your marriage? Friendship involves intimate sharing, a shared place where you can talk about your feelings and hopes with honesty, transparency and ease.

How do you work with your partner to be each other’s best friend? Paddy and I have been married for 43 years. There have been great times of intimacy and some character-building tragedy. And through it all we have remained the best of friends. Here is what we have learned.

Assign top priority to your friendship. Nothing gets in the way of our doing what is most important to us. If you really want to be friends with your spouse, make time for it. It will be time well spent. One of the hindrances to spending time with your spouse may be the demand of raising your kids. They require lots of creative time, but it is important to remember that you were lovers and friends before you were parents,

Cultivate openness in your relationship. Honesty with your self and each other makes you a better friend. Discover the freedom that comes with being who you are. Find times to talk about your ambitions and dreams. Make sure that you know each other’s hopes and needs, especially sexual needs.

Dare to risk talking about your affection. Make, and use, a batch of little cards that say, “I love you because….” Fill in the blank and put them in lunch boxes for your kids, in jacket pockets for your spouse, in letters to your best friends. Use text messages in the same way. Your spouse, especially, wants to know he or she is loved.

Learn your particular languages of love. Each person needs to learn how to say, “I love you,” not only in those three little words but also through actions of respect. Do you show your spouse that you love him or her with their favorite meal, a bouquet of flowers, a small gift, remembering to do an errand, doing a chore without being asked? Keep your eyes open for common, everyday events that give you the chance to express your love.

Give your spouse freedom. Don’t let your unforgiveness or possessiveness control your spouse. Give him or her room to explore their potential, learn from their mistakes, and have some personal private time that is totally their own. Accept your partner – unconditionally – and encourage him or her to be the person they were created to be. And, as the seasons of your lives change, notice and make adjustment for the variations in your friendship.

A friendship that is tended and nurtured will do much more than endure; it will thrive. And being your spouse’s best friend will also enable your marriage to thrive as well.

Carole Ducklow, M.A., Registered Clinical Counsellor

Done (or “Disposable Art” as a friend once said)

July 1, 2013 and it is the hottest Canada Day on record and I have spent the day dumping old sermons into yellow plastic recycling bags.

Now please take this blog in the spirit with which it is written – total self-pity. I think that sometimes a little public pouting is good for the soul, in spite of what psychology claims, especially when one feels that “life as I have known it is over” (I have been muttering this a lot lately as I approach my 65th).

So, as I have said, it is a sweltering day, 30 degrees upstairs in our house, and Carole decides to go for a swim in the ocean but I mope downstairs where it is 10 degrees cooler and shuffle through 40 years of my paper life. For those who don’t know, preachers used to write sermons on 8.5×11 inch paper and drew outlines on acetate sheets for projection, way before PowerPoint and laptops but way after flannel graph.

Into the yellow recycling bag went all my Biblical brilliance. Sermon series entitled “Questions God Asks of Ordinary People,” “LAF, It’s Only the Church” and “Some Things I Learned Since I Knew it All,” were interspersed with less colorful topics such as “Romans in a Week,” or “When God Comes Down,” which sounds a bit frightening if I didn’t have a decent theology about who God is. He probably won’t incarnate again just to rebuke me for pouting.

In dumping my theological history, my occasional rants and revelations, my hope for a truth that can be walked in, my compulsions to see the church be what it can be, as well as some wisdom along the way, I feel relieved, finished finally. Done.

Seeing my soiled and written-on outlines, I can also see my anxious delusions as well as worthy hopes and good intentions and I am content that both get dumped together, slumming side-by-side in my yellow recycling bag. This seems fitting and the yellow tinge makes them look more antiquated, more special than they are.

It occurs to me that the best preaching that I could muster is to be recycled into Starbucks cups. So if you see the word “grace” or “hope” or “heaven” prisoned inside your paper latte cup, it might have been written by me.

You’re welcome.

Depression — This is Really What It’s Like

I have written about depression on this blog. It is my familiar experience like a noisy and nosey relative, and the recurring onslaught of many of my client friends.

In my practice I hand out questionnaires, teaching outlines and recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy books. I listen as deeply as I can as well.

But sometimes I discover something that just says it all while making blog everything else redundant and does so without all the clever and self-important diagnostics that psychologists seem to need. I love this blog and I hope you do too. Congratulations to Allie Brosh for making it through and leading others in her wake.

My Virginity Mistake (Eryn-Faye Frans)

What do you think about a kind of faith that promises to remain a virgin prior to marriage? Here is the hard part: what if you are 21 years of old, madly in love with someone, believe you have a covenant future and deeply involved in your faith community?

Does sexual and emotional attachment (as in, what do I do with my surging feelings?) before marriage interrupt or harm one’s attachment towards God and faith? Does virginity before marriage make it more likely that you will have a joyful sexual life once married? Perhaps you think that you have made a “virginity mistake.”

Eryn-Faye Frans is a friend of mine and has been for many years. She is a Toronto lawyer and is also “Canada’s Passion Coach” who confronts sexual issues that may be uncomfortable for some and deeply welcomed by many others. And she has a special interest in the church and its mission in the world.

In her blog, Eryn-Faye responds to a Salon.com article (also very interesting) on the debate around faith and virginity. I found the discussion very thoughtful and I hope that you do as well. Also, check out my friend’s web site at ErynFaye.com.

She has published “The Essential Elements of Sex” and I use this book in my marital practice.

Been Thinking About Change (Laura Sportack)

Laura Sportack, a friend as well as the chaplain at GF Strong (Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver), has been thinking about change. Here are her thoughts and you could add your own.

  • — Moving from where one is to where one wants to be.
  • — A decision made out of necessity.
  • — Deciding to do something good with painful memories.
  • — The undoing of a habitual action, response, thought, emotion.
  • — Behaviours that assume a different sequencing or timing.
  • — A choice to act on thinking rather than, or at least more than, feeling.
  • — Using different language to describe an emotion or an action.
  • — An achievable hope.
  • — Listening instead of speaking.
  • — For the better or for the worse, and sometimes it is hard to tell which it is.
  • — Not always noticed by others.
  • — Identifiable.
  • — Simultaneously intrapersonal and interpersonal.
  • — A measured response, not a spontaneous or intuitive reaction.
  • — Specific to a need.
  • — When you are afraid and decide to go ahead with it anyhow.
  • — Forgiving yourself and others before you understand how you failed.
  • — God’s way of saving me.

If Laura sounds like a therapist, she is also that. Thanks Laura for your list. (And you might wish to click on the “change” tag below to read some other thoughts on changing.)

Join the Movement

After reading Half the Sky, a women’s book group wanted to make a difference – a real difference. They dreamt, created, argued, consulted, prayed and decided to showcase charitable organizations that actively rescue and work with women and girls. Note: this group decided not to form another NGO and compete with all the other excellent organizations. Last May (Mother’s Day weekend) they launched their first Half the Sky (Canada) event focusing on awareness, advocacy and action.

In just a few short weeks (on Mother’s Day, Saturday, May 11, 10 am – 5 pm), these women advocates will hold their second annual awareness and fund raiser at Park Royal Shopping Centre (south mall) in West Vancouver, BC. They will host 18 charitable organizations that are actively supporting women and girls locally and internationally.

There will be a craft table to make a gift for mum, an outstanding raffle (draw will be at 4pm) and family portrait opportunities. Two BC Lions will join us at the EVA table. Join the movement!

So, having written this because my wife Carole is one of the leaders in this movement and because I deeply believe in advocacy by women for women (of course, men also need to advocate for women and children), a friend forwarded me this wonderful article by former President Jimmy Carter entitled “Losing My Religion for Equality.” Please read it and cheer.

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