The River

This is how a river loves:
shedding the linen fog of spring,
she opens herself
to the naked feet of men,
whispering what it means
to be made clean.

Step into my body of love,
the dust of living washed
from the soles of your feet.

Spinning new linen at dusk,
she repeats the words
she’s always known:

Having loved my own
who were in the world
I loved them to the end.

 

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If Dandelions Could Speak

Where the cinderblock of the coffee shop
meets the pavement of the parking lot,
there in that infertile groove
a lonely dandelion grows,
face spread to the sun.

Lift up your heart;
I lift it to the Lord.
Let us give thanks
to Lord our God;
It is right to give him
thanks and praise.

It is right to praise him, she says,
for the redeeming acts of love,
for the fertility of chance
and the life that brims
from the dust
of foundation
cracks.

 

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Partnering to the Death (A Marriage Reflection)

It’s been six months since I first met my friends John and Margaret Paine. John and Margaret took vows at a tender age, just like Amber and I did. Their marriage started the way so many do, with hope, promise, and a commitment to love. But what happened along the way? The same things that happen to so many. The details are ordinary. Mundane, even. For clarity, though, let’s name them.

Long hours at the office. The difficulties of raising four children. The death of a business or two. The loss of identity. The churn, church, churn of obligation. 

There were years of disconnection, they’d tell you, years where the only thing holding them together was a commitment to spoken vows. You know this drill, don’t you? You know how life grinds a marriage down to nothing but bone and bone, tethered by vows?

In December, I sat with John and Margaret at their dining room table, the couple now fortyish years into their shared vows. If I were a betting man, I’d bet they’d make it another ten, and not because they’ve not learned the secret of sacred fidelity after all those years (although this much is true). They’ll not make it another ten on account of the terminal nature of life–John’s life to be exact. John is in the last throes of his battle with ALS.

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Normalizing Therapy (Or How To Ungoop Your Noggin)

In the autumn of 2013, I found myself walking into a new season, a season of sobriety. If you’ve followed my work for any amount of time, you know the story, how my inebriation grew from a great pain. (You can read this story in Coming Clean.) You know, too, that I was able to untangle my mental morass of pain and alcohol dependency only by way of a good therapist. That good therapist–he helped me find the road to recovery. For that, I’m grateful.

In these years of different life, I’ve continued to share my story of sobriety and have praised the virtues of therapists. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it ad infinitum: if there are experts in the human psyche, in mental health, pain, or recovery shouldn’t we use them? On so many occasions after I’ve shared my story, I’ve heard from others who’ve failed in their own attempts to unwind their tangled black brain threads, who only found clarity by way of their own therapist.

Last week, fortune smiled, and I was invited to share my story at a local clinic. I gathered in a group room with some of the best therapists and counselors in Northwest Arkansas, and I shared my story of pain, shared how it gooped up my noggin for a murky few years. I encouraged them in their work, told them how a member of their profession helped me live into a new reality. He helped me find the path to true sobriety, a sobriety characterized less by the to-drink-or-not-to-drink questions and more by the to-live-whole-or-not-to-live-whole questions. I could not be more grateful for their profession, I told them, and I meant every word.

These therapists were gracious, and they fielded my honest, rootsy, real confession. Maybe I cried once or twice while I shared my story (sometimes the pain still comes calling). Maybe one or two of them did, too. Maybe I cussed once or twice (pain pulls tears and curses from even the best humans), and not one of them blushed. Maybe I found empathy in the faces of these very human therapists, and in that empathy, I saw the beauty of people who cared about my story, who care about the stories of their clients. I saw folks who carry the hope of stability to folks who’ve gone awonk.

These therapists–they have a calling.

There are those who believe they don’t need therapy, the John Wayne types who six-shooter their way through any issue and come out smelling like gunpowder and Old Spice. Likewise, there are those in the Christian faith (perhaps pastors, priests, and deacons) who believe therapy is little more than applied humanism, that it supplies thin excuses for sin. “Repent and quit,” they say, as if it’s that easy.

Dear Mr. Wayne, Mr. Pastor, Sister Christian, let me be clear: your bootstrapping hornswoggle ain’t worth the bluster that blows it.

Weeks ago, I spoke with a pastor about my sobriety, how it was born from more than a handful of visits to a therapist who didn’t beat me over the head with scriptures on repentance. To his credit, he wasn’t dubious, wasn’t critical of my process. In fact, he showed great deference and support. At the tail end of the conversation, he asked how the church could normalize therapy for its parishioners. I choked down my immediate answer–does the church really think there’s something abnormal about therapy? I muddled out some answer about vulnerability in leadership, about pastors and leaders needing to lead the way to the therapists’ office, which is true. To be frank, though, I failed to give him a clear answer.

I’ve mulled the pastor’s question over, and I think I found my answer in the clinic visit last week. Normalization of therapy (in or outside of the church) happens when we admit that sometimes we can’t sort out our own noggin-goop, our own tangled black brain threads. Normalization of therapy happens when we watch therapists exercise their gifts, flex their empathy, when we participate with them in that process as patients. Normalization of therapy happens when leaders (read: pastors and priests) use their platforms to speak of their own therapeutic experiences, when they admit that they’re no John Wayne.

There’s no magic to normalizing therapy, whether in or outside the Christian faith. There is this, though: go, and you’ll see how normal it is, how magical it is, too.

If you’d like to read more about recovery from any addiction, habit, or dependency, please check out my Recovery Room series. No matter the vice, I think you’ll find something there for you.

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Spring Questions – Exercise Your Observer

Spring’s annual resurrection has come to the Ozarks, and as is her way, she’s sprinkled her pixie dust over the dry bones of winter. The red buds have woken; she’s uncorked the sweet and sour perfume of the Bradford Pear trees. She’s called the songbirds back from Mexico, or Texas, or wherever. She’s cleaned up the boughs, prepared a place for them. Each morning I hear the cardinals and robins singing as if every tree were an avian cabaret.

The air is thick with the spring’s hope, and as I’m prone to do each year, I find myself prone to the spring questions. (Sung to the tunes of the songbirds.)

How can a cardinal be so chipper?

How do I describe the new, almost Laffy-Taffy purple of the young redbud?

Where do tiger lilies come from; how do they seem to spring from nowhere each year?

How can I observe this season with intention?

How can I stay present to it?

That last question–the question of presence–it is the trickiest one. And yet, this is the first and best spring of 2017. It will come with new life, give birth to summer, then pass like the mother mayfly. This fleeting season deserves presence, attention, examination, observation.

Why?

If a season visits and the people fail to observe it, what was its visitation but an exercise in the perfunctoriness of nature and the incurious self-centeredness of men?

Tell me.

 

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