Controlling Fear

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I was talking with friends the other night about fear and the way it affects our lives. I grew up in what might charitably be called “a funky family,” and I was left with some behaviors and beliefs that aren’t helpful. Over time, I’ve discovered that most of these unwanted character traits are fear-based.

This makes sense, because when you are a little kid and there’s yelling and door-slamming and incomprehensible behavior that is later denied, you do not feel safe. And there’s no sense of degree when you’re little. When you don’t get breakfast, you fear you might starve, and when your father forgets to leave the bar and come home to dinner, you fear he may never come home again and your whole family will be on the streets.

You learn the fine art of “catastrophizing” and spend hours lost in the dreaded land of “what if?” which, if you’re like me, will turn you into a control freak. No matter your age, at some level your inner child believes that if you are not in absolute control of absolutely everyone and everything, terrible things could happen.

You could die.

Managing, Manipulating, and Mothering

Your body is grown-up, but your emotions are stuck in childhood, over-reacting and trying desperately to control things you can’t control and have no business trying to control.

We are all familiar with the manager type, the one who knows just how everything should be and who insists on having everyone meet her demands. If she doesn’t get her way, she usually responds with rage. Anger is a great way to manipulate people. Also useful are shaming, guilt-tripping, and enabling — doing for others what they can do for themselves so that all are dependent on the “mothering” manipulator.

Such people can be unpleasant to be around. They haven’t healed  their childhood wounds and they are bleeding pain and fear all over everybody. Look at the man-child in the White House. A perfect example (if a highly pathological one).

Fear of Self-Care

At any rate, ever since my friends and I had this discussion about the ways that fear can mess us up, God keeps putting more examples in front of me. Today I realized that I’m afraid to take care of myself. Wow.

I was reading Frederick Buechner as follows:

“Love your neighbor as yourself is part of the great commandment. The other way to say it is, ‘Love yourself as your neighbor.’ Love yourself not in some egocentric, self-serving sense but love yourself the way you would love your friend in the sense of taking care of yourself, nourishing yourself, trying to understand, comfort, strengthen yourself . . . “Mind your own business” means butt out of other people’s lives because in the long run they must live their lives for themselves, but it also means pay mind to your own life, your own health and wholeness, both for your own sake and ultimately for the sake of those you love too. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them. A bleeding heart is of no help to anybody if it bleeds to death.”

I knew I struggled with self-care because of low self-worth — I mean if you don’t consider yourself of much value, why care for yourself, right? But I hadn’t thought about it in the context of fear and control. I mean seriously, if I am concentrating on myself and my own well-being, who is going to run the rest of the world? Who is going to make sure that something dreadful doesn’t happen?

Recovering from Fear in These Fearful Days

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the election of the man-child has helped me cope with my fears. I know I can’t control his madness, and so I have to “let go and let God,” as the twelve-steppers say. For my own sanity, I am allowing God to pry my clutching fingers from around the globe. I cannot save the world. I cannot control this.

“One day at a time” is another bit of twelve-step wisdom that helps me. Here again, the rise of the man-child has been a lesson for me. Catastrophizing about tomorrow or next week is entirely unnecessary when the president of the United States may daily taunt an unstable nuclear-armed dictator, purposefully escalate religious violence in the Middle East, intentionally increase global warming emissions, and attempt to undermine the free press or the justice system.

The words of Jesus are a lifeline for living in the age of trump: “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

The upshot of releasing fear and control to a higher power is that I don’t have to spend my days fretting about tomorrow and trying to control the uncontrollable. Instead I have time to focus on my own self-care.

I think I’ll put on some Christmas music and cook up a pot of healthy veggie soup on this snowy afternoon.

Practicing self-care

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”    — Jesus







When I Was a Liar



I lied a lot when I was young, but I never thought of myself as a liar. The first time I spoke any particular lie, I generally felt a twinge of uneasiness, nervous that someone might question me. Usually, though, by the second or third telling, I fully believed what I was saying and I’d vociferously defend my lie as truth.

I lied so often that it became the norm. Exaggerations, made up conversations or events, rationalizations. All kinds of lies. It never occurred to me that I was lying, because that’s just the way my mind worked. It went there automatically.

The goal of my lies was always to draw attention to myself, to get people to think more highly of me and/or to like me. I wanted to be smarter and braver and kinder and funnier and more interesting than I believed I was. So I just made myself all those things in my head.

It wasn’t until I was almost thirty years old that I came face-to-face with my own dishonesty. It must have been winter because I remember there were coats hanging on the backs of our folding metal chairs in the church basement where our support group met weekly. Together, we wrestled with the effects of growing up in alcoholic homes.

A young blond guy who didn’t often speak sat across the circle from me, squirming. Finally he said tearfully, “I’m feeling a lot of confusion and shame. I lie a lot. I make stuff up. I’m not sure why I do that and I don’t know how to stop.”

The harsh neon lights seemed to dim, and I actually felt as if time had stopped. 

“Oh my God. Oh my God, that’s me,” I said to myself. I’d had no idea.

God has graciously taken away this shortcoming over the years. Once in a blue moon I’ll find myself exaggerating, but I recognize it right away and chuckle fondly at my silly inner child who still wants attention any way she can get it.

It’s so wonderful to know that I will never again have that sinking feeling when someone says, “Wait a minute, I thought you said…”

The President’s Pathology

All this to say that I understand the man in the Oval Office. He is not well. While his disorder is clearly way more complex than mine was, I understand his desperate need for attention.

Sadly, there’s not much chance of the man getting help for his issues. He thinks that psychotherapy is “a crutch” and has said, “I don’t like to analyze myself because I might not like what I see.” Trump is trapped behind a one-way mirror: he sees everything in the world through his own distortions, but he can’t look back inside at himself. It seems that until he’s driven from office one way or another, we are stuck with his pathology.

I just thought you might want to know that I’m pretty sure he believes all his lies. He has to believe them in order to feel OK about himself because underneath, I imagine his self-esteem is about as low as a human being’s could be.


Thanks for the WordPress word prompt, one-way. 

Gratitude in Adversity

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In the room — it doesn’t much matter which room — there is pain.

There is the woman whose middle child died four months ago today. She doesn’t say boy or girl, adolescent or adult, just that her “middle child” has died.

“Thanks for sharing,” we say. Thanks for sharing your pain.

“The good thing is,” she says, “my husband and I are finally seeing a counselor, something he’s been promising to do for years.”

“My child has died . . . the good thing is” — who says that?

A younger woman flushes ruby-red with emotion as she tells us that her ‘tween daughter has been in and out of the hospital for two years since a virus invaded her heart and caused brain damage. “I just got fired from my job for missing too much work,” she says. “But I have my priorities.” She straightens her back. “I’m grateful to have so much extra time with her while I’m job hunting,” she says. “It’s a gift.”

“Thanks for sharing,” we say.

A man holds his wife’s veiny hand and says he’s proud of himself for not giving in to obsessive worrying about her newly diagnosed immunodeficiency disorder that might cause permanent blindness or stroke. “I’m just grateful she finally got properly diagnosed and is home from the hospital where I can take care of her,” he says.

His wife gently retrieves her hand and places it on her heart, her other hand on her throat. (Later she tells me that she was doing Reiki on herself. I didn’t even know that was possible.) “I’m grateful that B put up a hummingbird feeder on the porch with the little overhang so I can sit out there on rainy mornings and do my meditation and watch the birds.”

“Thanks for sharing,” we all say.

A woman who was almost killed when she was hit by a car three years ago says the accident put her on “an emotional and spiritual healing path to joy I never dreamed of.” Then she laughs and says how appropriate it was that our group leader randomly chose the discussion topic of “gratitude in the face of adversity.”

We all laugh with her.

“We are survivors,” she says.


“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

— Rev. John Watson (pen name Ian Maclaren)

Hindered Healing



Funny — I am asked to write about healing and I draw a blank, despite the fact that only a few weeks ago I gave an entire sermon on healing and prayer.

I think it must still be the Syrian bombing that has blasted my brain and made me unable to write. And perhaps the fact that President Tweet has now experienced the adrenaline rush of military aggression and couldn’t resist sending a Navy “strike force” speeding towards the Korean peninsula.

For whatever reason, I have nothing fresh to say about healing. Some days I feel as if I haven’t healed at all, even after years of spiritual practice, therapy, and support groups. The dangerous man-child in the White House has caused me to revert to a scared and desperate kindergartner hiding behind the couch while my drunken father rages around the house with his slippers on the wrong feet.

So I am going to cheat and simply share a bit of my sermon. I didn’t have to tell you that. I could have just regurgitated these words as if they were hot off the presses. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about healing, it’s that honesty and vulnerability are step one.



One of the first things we discover when we begin a life of prayer in earnest is that we are not well. We need healing. As we experience God’s amazing love through prayer and worship, our eyes are opened and our hearts get softened. We see more and more the darkness in the world around us and also the brokenness and imperfection in ourselves, in comparison to God’s vision.

Prayer opens our eyes to the truth that we are unwell, that we are sinners, which is a word a lot of us don’t like because it’s been used in unhealthy shaming and controlling ways. But the word in Greek — hamartia — simply means we are missing the mark, missing the target. And because we are all missing the mark, the world is missing God’s mark.

Step one in getting back on course after prayer has shown us that we missing the mark and need healing is — more prayer. Prayer opens our eyes to our need for healing, then as we continue praying, it gives us the courage to become willing to heal, willing to change, which is what “repentance” means. Because it feels risky to change and we need to pray for courage.

Do we even want to get well? Because getting well entails honesty and vulnerability. We spend a lot of time trying to avoid the painful reality of our brokenness and our imperfections. We don’t like admitting we are unwell.

We might choose denial, we may numb our pain with food or alcohol or Facebook or TV or self- important busyness. Or — one of my personal favorites — by deciding how other people should change because we can’t bear to focus on our own need for change. We don’t want to be defenseless and vulnerable and ask for help.

Sometimes our brokenness can define us and become so much a part of our persona that we don’t even know who we would be without it.

That’s why the silence and solitude and reflection that’s so important to our prayer lives can be tortuous for some people. We don’t want to hear the call to change. We read in the Bible that God will turn us into a whole “new creation!” That’s scary!

So prayer helps us recognize that we need to heal, and prayer gives us the courage and willingness to heal. And then deeper prayer gives us the power to heal through the Holy Spirit.

And that power to heal is God’s Love. God’s love and compassion is what heals, and our faith is made real and tangible when we open ourselves to be channels of that healing love.

Assisi, Italy

The Focus of Desire



One of the good things about being a cocaine addict is that it gives you focus. You’re never unclear about what you want or how to get it. You get your paycheck, you go to your dealer’s house, and you get what you desire. If you need more cocaine than you can pay for, you sell some to your friends at an inflated price and then they become better friends because you have what they want. And need. **

Later, you give up cocaine when the fact that it kills young and otherwise healthy people is made painfully clear to you. Then you have to rely on alcohol to give you what you want. It’s cheaper, but the clarity is missing. What you desire isn’t as obvious. You settle for laughing uproariously with other friends who drink too much, and you occasionally get drunk enough to have a heartfelt conversation that feels like intimacy only it’s not. You make mistakes.

Sex is always good for a quick shot of dopamine, but in my case it usually made the emptiness worse because although it satisfied for a time, it could not give me what I was really seeking. I didn’t know precisely what that was, but I was becoming dimly aware that I was a bottomless pit of desire, craving love and acceptance and belonging and meaning.

It wasn’t until I started sniffing around spirituality that I identified the deep desire that lay beneath all of my clambering needs: peace. I distinctly remember writing that in my journal, lo these thirty years ago. “What I really want is peace.”

Finding Peace

Peace is not a familiar feeling when you’ve grown up in an alcoholic household, or any other kind of dysfunctional home — which probably describes most of us! Many “adult children” of imperfect parents don’t really know who they are or what they want because they’re too busy worrying about what other people think of them. We are people-pleasers, afraid of rejection. We often don’t like ourselves; we have this chronic feeling of not being good enough. Out of fear, we work tirelessly to manage everything and everyone so that nothing feels “out of control.”

Peace is hard to come by under these circumstances, which is why so many of us numb out with sex, drugs, carbs, alcohol, social media, TV, etc., etc., etc. Oh, there’s the occasional pearly pink sunset or lazy Sunday afternoon with your lover. But I’m not talking about a peaceful feeling, I’m talking about a deep-down peaceful spirit. Being OK with the world, OK with yourself, and OK with everybody else.

beauty and darkness

I have found this deep and lasting peace through my growing belief and trust in a loving Higher Power, which I call God but I don’t call “He.” My God is Love. My God is not bound by time and assures me that my spirit is not bound by time either. My God is crazy-powerful, but often subtle, so I have to pay attention and be on the lookout for Her fingerprints.

And they are there. I’ve seen them often enough now to know for certain. I am intimately known; I am being cared for and upheld; I am part of a divine plan to bring goodness and reconciliation to the world.

I know this. But I forget. And that’s why I love Lent. It’s a time to intentionally re-enter the house of peace and linger here, not needing to rush off.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” — Isaiah 26:3

** I apologize to nice Christians who think they are signed up to read a nice pastor-lady’s blog. This pastor has a past. And I especially apologize to my grand nieces who sometimes read this blog and who don’t know about Great Auntie Mel’s mixed up past. I am more than happy to tell you all about it if you ask, and especially to tell you why you should not emulate my journey.

Ancestral Voices in My Head



I have these voices in my head. You know the ones I mean. Right?

(Please tell me that you do.)

Mine mostly entail shoulds and oughts and shames. Judgement. I’ve spent years in therapy, meditation, and prayer, and many hours in recovery programs for dysfunctional families, trying to rid myself of these voices.

Girl shouting with fingers in ears

Before that, I just drank and did drugs and overworked, trying to quiet the unacknowledged chattering. As long as I had a romantic partner, I could throw myself into the drama of trying to fix them and “us” instead of noticing the voices in my head. As long as I was an environmental lobbyist, I had a whole planet to save. Who has time for self-awareness?

I was oblivious to the submerged script that directed my life, causing me to make unwise choices and judge others and numb in any way I could.

I coped. I was OK. I didn’t always feel good about myself, but I was OK.

When I began my journey of spiritual and emotional healing, I finally started to hear the voices. I did not hear them in an auditory sense, but their words were clear and loud: “What is wrong with you?” “Why are you are so stupid?” “I can’t believe you did that!”

They were regular and insistent and alarming. Who talks to someone like that?

Well, as it turns out, everyone in my family did.

Digital Mouth

Family Voices

“Whose voice is that?” my therapist would ask. And I’d close my eyes and try to pinpoint it. It was often my mother, my sister, or my brother. They weren’t unloving people, they were just responding to the harsh and commanding voices in their own heads, I guess. It pains me now when I hear families talk to each other like this because I know it’s being internalized, especially by the youngest ones.

These are ancestral voices, passed on through generations. When I trace mine back as far as I’m able, they belong to my grandmother, born Zillah but called Beedie. Her judgmental voice haunted my mother, who passed it on to my older sister and brother.

It’s not Beedie’s fault. Someone talked to her that way. She grew up highly privileged, the daughter of a wealthy diamond mine magnate in South Africa, surrounded by servants and governesses and nannies. Of course she had a strong sense of the way things ought to be and the way people ought to act. They ought to act like wealthy British imperialists, better than everyone else.

And so when I don’t measure up to Beedie’s standards, the critical voices kick in. The underlying “truth” of all the negative voices is “You are not good enough.”

I imagine she felt the same way, or she would not have internalized the judgement and passed it on.

Placing the Blame

Of course when you find someone else’s voice in your head and it’s been hounding you as far back as you can recall, you get angry at them. You need to blame someone for your own brokenness. It’s my family’s fault! It’s that kindergarten teacher’s fault!

The problem with blaming someone else is that it disempowers you. You give away your power of recovery to someone else, and you get stuck. Might as well pour another Scotch, I can’t get these voices out of my head anyway.

The other day my therapist asked me what I would say to Beedie if she were here today. And I said without hesitation: “You are dead and I am still alive.”

She has lived her life with her voices. I still have a chance to heal and become more whole. In fact, that’s a good way to honor those who have come before us.

Birthday Blessing

Today is my grandmother’s birthday. She was born on February 15, 1889 in Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa. In honor of Beedie, I’ve decided to let go of the blame and negativity that I’ve held. I release her judgements and her critiques — I don’t need them. Instead, I choose to think of her with compassion and love. I want to remember her true, best self.

Happy birthday, dear Beedie. Thank you for your sense of humor and absurdity and fun. Thank you for your love of animals and flower gardens. Thank you for your small kindnesses (often involving chocolate) and for passing on your appreciation for “a proper cup of tea.” Thank you for holding to your values and always doing what you thought was right.

You were a strong woman, Beedie; you were courageous. Your best friend was murdered by Zulus when you were a child; you lost your own little boy; you lost your husband’s love to his philandering and then his young life to a ship fire; you lost your fortune and lived in poverty but kept your family together. Gangrene stole your ability to walk and dementia stole your ability to think.

Nevertheless, you persisted.

Thank you for being who you were, Beedie. Thank you for being an example. I treasure the day that you were born. I love you.


Thanks for the WordPress prompt: sound

How Trump’s Rise Can Make You a Better Person

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Here’s something good about the rise of trump™. (I know, I’m grasping at straws.)

This is a chance for us to become better people. I don’t mean just being better citizens, although that’s great — being vigilant about what our government is up to and who is getting rich because of it, standing up for people who are being bullied or intimidated, gathering with our neighbors to protect our communities — no, I mean actually becoming better human beings.

You know how they say that the behavior that drives you crazy about someone else is likely lodged deep inside of you, too? We have visceral responses to unwanted aspects of our own personalities. Oftentimes, this is unconscious; we are not even aware that we have the same attitude or behavior that’s driving us nuts in someone else.

When you are annoyed by someone, try searching your own heart, especially if you sense you might be overreacting. Might as well look at your own crap, because there’s nothing you can do to change them. Why not work on changing yourself? If you are successful, you will find compassion for that annoying person and peace for yourself.

This is not a new idea and it’s not my idea. The Bible says to take the splinter out of your own eye before you start prying the plank out of someone else’s eye.

Old lumber and two by fours stacked in a wood pile. Shallow depth of field.

Pathological Neediness

Back to trump™. There’s a lot not to like in him, and I won’t go through the list. You know it. Ugliness and brokenness.

One of my heroes, Father Thomas Keating, says that we all carry childhood emotional needs into adulthood, and they become distorted if they weren’t met in childhood: safety & security, power & control, and esteem and affection. Trump™ has all of them to a pathological degree.

What horrifies me most about him is the esteem and affection bit: his endless need for recognition, his boundless self-glorification, his screaming craving for adoration. He thought money would buy him love, but now he’s not sure if he is loved for his money or for himself. He is abusive to anyone who criticizes him, and he is transparently manipulated by anyone who compliments him.

Hence Putin. Soooo dangerous.

My Splinter

The thing is, I can relate to his emptiness. I have been praying for many years for God to change that very trait in me. I *hate* how much I want people to like me and recognize me. It makes me do and say things that don’t come from my true self; it makes me a hostage to other people’s opinions.

And it’s nuts. I’m a grown woman with gifts and skills and with shortcomings and annoying traits. At times I rock out and at times I screw up. I have a ton of friends who love me regardless. And God loves me so much I ought to have no time to ponder anything but my response to Her spirit.

For some reason, God leaves this thorn in my side. It’s better than it used to be, but I am still painfully aware of it. It’s OK, though. It humbles me. I try not to obsess about my shortcomings, because in the end that’s just being self-absorbed, but I want to recognize them and offer them up to God for fixin’.

So here’s the good thing about the rise of trump™ that I promised: this is an opportunity for you to call out the negative in yourself. Which of his many unpleasant traits really annoy you? And — is it possible that you host them inside yourself?

This inaugural week, in recognition and protest of the new president, let’s work on making ourselves better people. 

And I just want to say God bless Barack and Michelle.

Thank you for your dedication and love for our country and its people.

Be well.


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