…And then I woke up…

Musings of a hostile therapist, writer, and teacher

Ubi Pus Ibi Evacua — November 10, 2013

Ubi Pus Ibi Evacua


The parent with “issues” is sometimes easy to see:  the mom who still wears skinny jeans, the dad that cusses out the umpire.  But the sin of loading our own baggage into our children’s luggage compartments is often more subtle.  It influences everything from the way we prioritize discipline to the way we choose conflict avoidant or passive aggressive behavior.

As one who works with parents for a living, I’ve seen a huge increase in the number of parents who have not faced directly their own hurts and pain.  These parents have learned from their parents (or have self-taught) the art of avoiding pain by not addressing problems head on.  In my own life I’ve developed a set of questions to help me realize if my parenting issues are due to baggage that has created the avoidance of pain:

  1. Am I sending off an email to avoid meeting face to face because I’m afraid the confrontation will be painful?  Who hurt me to cause me to avoid this person?
  2. Am I ignoring pain, telling myself that a situation is not worth the bother? Do I mask it by calling it forgiveness? When did that last work for me?
  3. Am I slow to show grace because the last time I showed grace it was not well received?  In what way was that grace recipient like this person?
  4.  Do I feel the need to “check with other parents” to see if they are having the same struggles I am with a teacher or coach? Why am I so afraid to meet with the individual in a Biblical manner? What is the root to that issue?
  5. What or who has hurt me so deeply that I “just can’t go through it again”? Why can’t I go through it again?  Why can’t I use it to show grace?

Grace—undeserved favor—is the only way to cure the past baggage of pain.  Grace often involves giving someone kindness, understanding, and forgiveness when they absolutely do not deserve it. Grace can only be found in going directly to Christ with the expectation that He will help us carry the hurt.

There is an old Latin phrase used by doctors,” Ubi pus, ibi evacua.”  It means, if there is pus, there must be evacuation.  Gross, I know.  But puss has to be removed from the human body.  Why?  Because it contains the damages of a battle the body has performed on infection.  The war remains have to be removed for the health of the body.  Not a bad quote for emotional healing either.

It’s About Me — October 20, 2013

It’s About Me


If you are not an evangelical Christian, you should probably skip this blog post.  When I counsel unbelievers, there are many things they can learn from Scriptures without accepting all the pillars of the faith.  However, the ideas I’m about to discuss are so steeped in Christian perspective that they may not make sense unless the reader has the same worldview.

The difficult thing, especially for those of us whose sins revolve around self-involvement, is that even when we do good things, we do them to benefit ourselves.  This process is especially tricky when it comes to relationships.  I am normally so inexcusably focused on myself that my motivations are at best murky.  As a therapist and principal I have to watch that my goal for making parental (or professional) decisions is not to be approved of by whomever views my parenting, but that it is honestly to encourage my child to godlier in her behavior.  As a member of a generation that has been repeatedly criticized as the worst to parent in recorded history, I stand guilty of putting myself before my child, even when I fooled myself into thinking I was putting my child’s needs before mine. To this end, I must ask myself some convicting questions.

  1. Am I putting my child’s comfort over my child’s character?

If my child is uncomfortable and not pleased with my decisions, others will know.  If they know, they will be critical of my parenting.  In addition, if my child isn’t comfortable, I have to deal with whining, rebellion, or other taxing behaviors.  It is often easier to just give in.

With clients I have found this is a major temptations with mothers.  Because mothers are by design nurturers, the tendency is to protect and defend those who challenge their children.  We Christian fathers can assist by leading and discussing with our spouses when the nurturing is character building and when it stunts the maturity of our children.  Sometimes it hurts a child more to be given what he/she wants than to do without.  Are you aiding your child in being self-sufficient?  Will he/she be a good employee?

2. Am I focused on tearing down those with whom I don’t agree? Or do I model Biblical restoration principles?

One of the most necessary aspects of the Christian community is the virtue of forgiveness.  All of us have been on the need to give and the need to receive side of mercy and longsuffering.  The modern Christian is often viewed as judgmental and bitter.  Sometimes that perception is unavoidable; there here are certain tenets of the faith for which we must stand.  The contemporary idea of tolerance is not a Biblical one (Luke 12: 51-52).  However, I’m confused at why we so often have to assume so many people are our enemies.  The school teacher is our enemy when she doesn’t grade papers quickly enough.  The store manager is our enemy when we aren’t served quickly enough.  The pastor is our enemy when he doesn’t preach the way we think he should.  The Christian of the twenty-first century is an expert on just about every field from economics to literary criticism.

The effects of this hard-heartedness has a profound effect on our children.  When we view ourselves as the consumer in every aspect of life, we expect to be pleased 100% of the time.  We demand satisfaction in everyone from our physician to our church congregation, and when we disagree, we simply choose a provider that more effectively meets our needs.  “I don’t want to create a stir” is usually the reason given as we refuse to approach those who offend us or whom we offend in a Matthew 18 manner.  Our children notice.  How will they act as adults?  Are you aiding your child in being forgiving?  Will he/she be a good spouse?

3. Do I gossip?  No, do I really?

I’ve heard “venting” is the new gossip.  We don’t gossip any more.  We vent.  I’ve looked for venting in the Bible, but I can’t find it.  When we talk in complaint against someone who is not present instead of going to him/her, we gossip.  I am praying for forgiveness as I type this.  My generation has a lot to answer for in the way we have wounded children through our parenting, but one of those most damaging things we do is have our children listen to the filth that comes from our mouths.  Not profanity—the filth of unproductive talk sandwiched in hatred.  Are you aiding your child to be understanding?  Will he/she be a good friend?

4. Do I resist the devil and pray for my child’s spiritual protection?

I have returned to an old classic book by A.W. Tozer in my private reading lately.  In I Talk Back to the Devil, Rev. Tozer stresses the importance of prayer in our Christian life.  This is an area I know I am weak in.   Often, we dole out requests, without spending any of our time in worship, thanks, or confession.  Our children are in a real battle.  Whether they are in home school, private school, or government school, they are facing not only temptations, but a secular message that undervalues the young while simultaneously obsessing about youth.  To properly pray for my child, I have to turn off the computer, stop looking at email, quit watching TV, and pray.

Are you aiding your child to be godly?

Will he/she be a godly person?

Why Antiques are Beautiful — September 29, 2013

Why Antiques are Beautiful

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The internet is a funny but scary thing.  All of us can jump online and in the space of a few paragraphs establish ourselves as experts.  The easiest subjects about which to do that is parenting and education.  After all, we all have had parents, and most of us have been to school.  Our individual opinions on the subjects should have a lot of validity.  Right?

In a recent internet post complaining of the school she had chosen for her child, the strongly opinionated Ms. Lugie (who tried desperately to cloak herself in internet anonymity although her identity is easy to discover with minimal sleuth) stated that “my child’s teachers just LOVED entering zeros into the grade book. It’s statistically impossible to recover from zeros and an antiquated notion of grading at that.”  As a government school employee who chose private school for her child, her idea was similar to those of school systems in the US and Canada who have made giving students zeros for assignments not completed a thing of the past.  The theory behind the policy is that schools exist to teach students information.  Giving a child a zero does not teach the student anything, but merely penalizes the student in a way from which they cannot recover.  They learn nothing.  But do they? (For a story on the no-zero policy, go here: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/04/25/no-zero-policy-reversed-edmonton-schools_n_3155630.html)

With the focus in government education on core curriculum, there is a stressing on objectives that are taught only directly in educational goals according to subject matter.  What many teachers and parents realize is that there are many other lessons that we teach students that are part of what I call the “paraclassroom.”  These are subtle lessons that may not always be objectified in classroom goals.  One of these lessons is personal responsibility.

Unlike parents with whom I began working when I began teaching in 1987, or even ones that I worked with at the beginning of my counseling career in 1997, some parents today resist the discussion of personal responsibility.  At one point last year I was told by a mother that her child was too young (at ninth grade) to learn personal responsibility.  She argued that it was the teacher’s job to follow up with her child to make sure that she turned assignments in, or completed activities.

In my counseling work with typical students and students with learning differences, I have stressed the importance of “life skill teaching.”  To be successful workers, students will need to learn skills such as completing projects on time, working together with groups of workers, and making their differences work for them.  While different students work at different speeds and need different amounts of understanding and training, removing zero from the grade options of middle and high school students is harmful to the student who needs to learn that there are real consequences for work not done.

Old-fashioned?  Thank God, yes.  I love Ms. Lugie’s designation of giving zeros as “antiquated.”  I happen to love antiques.  They are beautiful and often reflect back to a wiser time, a time when parents knew how to hold their children responsible and “trained them up in the way they should go.”  Some lessons are more important than curriculum reform would like to admit.

Why me? — September 20, 2013

Why me?


Before we go much further in this blog-writing thing, I wanted to briefly share a little about me.  It will make stomaching the tougher things I have to say in later posts easier since you’ll be able to say, “Bless his heart; he doesn’t know any better.”

As my bio says, I was born in Savannah, Georgia.  What it doesn’t say is that I was born to an overall terrific Christian family who, because of some dangers reported in public schools at the time, sent me to a private Christian school.  I stayed in that private school from kindergarten through my graduation.  Some of my experiences were good, and I met some powerful Christians that were great examples to me.  Others were not, and I had teachers who admitted to the class that they were not even believing Christians.  Both types of people taught me a lot about Christian education—the negative and the positive aspects.

When I went into teaching English, I thought I’d be doing that for the rest of my life.  That’s why I almost immediately began and completed my Master’s degree in English education.  But God had a way of shaking things up when He shut down the school in which I was working.  All of a sudden, I saw Christian parents in a different way.  I experienced the gossip.  I experienced the lashing of the tongues of Christians in the parking lot.  I watched mothers and fathers destroy the lives of administrators with innuendo.   I also discovered the hypocrisy and agenda-setting which plagues many Christian school boards.  It was a faith shaking experience that made me leave Christian education for two years and teach in a secular private boarding school.  The experiences in working with the boys in the boarding setting convinced me to get a second Master’s degree in Professional Counseling and begin pursuing the hard, long road to state licensure when I was at first thinking of getting my Ph.D. in Creative Writing.

Why do I tell you this?  As I speak to you in future, (hopefully) weekly posts, I want you to know my angle.  Yes, I’m a writer.  I’ve had poetry and short fiction published in a variety of venues and journals, and I continue to produce.  Yes, I’m a teacher.  Currently, I teach AP Psychology and AP Literature and Composition, the two courses I ADORE.  Yes, I’m a principal.  Officially, I’m the Principal of Faculty and Counseling, meaning that I often teach teachers, and supervise a counseling program.  Yes, I’m a therapist.  I’ve worked in private practice for over a decade with teenagers suffering from anxiety and mood disorders.  I’m a mutt of occupations.  In short, I’m a writeapalist.  You have to know my background and the way I think or you simply won’t get why I harp on the things on which I harp. In fact, I harp on things so much I often pop the strings.

Philosophically, I believe that it’s time for us to let our kids learn responsibility and sometimes fail, our fathers lead, and our mothers nurture.  When we try to keep any of those family members from completing their tasks, none of them thrive.  I believe that the Christian worldview is the only one that makes sense in any rational terms, and I believe only a Christian can have full total mental health although many choose not to.  And I try to remind myself that we should all take ourselves a lot less seriously than we do.  BUT I don’t expect anyone else to agree with me on any of these points in order to get along with me.  I love a good argument.

There are many of other things I can share with you—like how I’m an introvert and basically melancholy/choleric—but that’s all you get for now.  Everything that is to come will make more sense.

The Counter Intuitive Prayers — September 3, 2013

The Counter Intuitive Prayers


My family and I have a weekly ritual: Dance Moms (don’t judge). My daughter is very involved in dance, and we often laugh at the silliness and drama that goes on in this “reality” TV show. In this week’s episode a mom said that every parent has to be on the lookout for opportunities for his/her children, no matter what. She was countered by a mom who said, “But are you teaching her to be a good person?”

That got me thinking about my mom. She was not a super saint by any means, but she taught me a lot. When she was about to go home to be with the Lord in 1987 and leave behind a husband, a college senior, and a high school freshman, she spoke to me about what God had taught her about prayer for her children. She said she had learned to pray what I have begun calling “The Counter Intuitive Prayers” as she prepared to meet her savior in glory. She said she prayed, “Have them fail so that they may learn success in Christ. Have them be lonely so that they may find a friend in Christ. Have them be poor so that they may find riches in Christ. Have them be weak so that they may find strength in Christ.”

Wow. Quite a different prayer than what parents usually pray; isn’t it? Try and pray it. If you’re like me, the words are difficult to pray because we’d like to see our children spared from such things. When Margaret Cooper Peeples, my mom, was eternally healed from cancer, we found the following poem in her Bible. I now have it framed and hanging in the entry way of my house. It is not a great piece of literature. However, I think you’ll find it moving.

A Mother’s Prayer

by Phyllis Didriksen

I do not ask for riches for my children,

Nor even recognition of their skill;

I only ask that Thou wilt give them

A heart completely yielded to Thy will.

I do not ask for wisdom for my children

Beyond discernment of Thy grace;

I only ask that Thou wilt use them

In Thine own appointed place.

I do not ask for favors for my children

To seat them on Thy left or Thy right;

But may they join the throng in Heaven

That sings before Thy throne so bright.

I do not seek perfection in my children,

For then my own faults I would hide;

I only ask that we might walk together

And serve our Savior side by side.