Saturday, November 1, 2014

Ride a Little Longer: Memories and a Tribute to John Peterson

Premature death puts life in perspective like nothing else.

This week another robust, powerful and influential life was cut short by cancer.  A cherished husband, father, friend and pastor was taken way too young.  John was 42.  Left behind is a devastated wife, and bewildered children.  But even as I write that, I hear my John protesting.  "They have hope in the hereafter, Jeff, and trust that God as Father will provide for and sustain them."

If anything, John was always ready with a word; specifically The Word.  He knew the Bible well, and dedicated his life to teaching and applying it to his own life, and many others, beginning with his own family.  And his cycling buddies got our fair share of good hearted and well-intentioned instruction about the "Higher Ways" of the One John wholeheartedly believed in and trusted as his Maker and Savior.

But friendship with John wasn't all serious and sober.  Man, we had some good laughs!  "Do you guys want to hear a joke?"  Whether we did or not we usually said yes.  John's nature as a story-teller was to spare no details, so it afforded an extended opportunity to focus on breathing while John used extra breath to tell the story.  As we learned this drill one of us would often ask John if he had any jokes just before we started a long climb.  Eventually he caught on, and would wait until the road was flat before speaking again.

Then, there was language practice.  Often John would roll up beside us and begin speaking in some foreign language.  I think Korean was the most frequent.  John and Melissa had adopted Isaac from Korea and so John had taken it on himself to learn his son's native tongue.  Amazing.  And speaking of different of John's favorite collections was Bible's in different languages.  I heard John 3:16 in no fewer than seven languages!

Singing was another of John's favorite ways to pass time while rolling on two wheels.  He had a good voice, and was known to break into song during sermons at church.  Just to tease him we'd pick up the pace to make breathing difficult on the bike.  But rest assured, slow down and the song would return.

When John first got sick I visited him at the hospital.  He couldn't resist telling extended family about his first ride with me.  "Remember that Jeff?"  Of course I did.  He wouldn't let me forget.  "The guys gave me a bike as a gift on New Year's Day, 1999 (see 'Reflections of a Dying Pastor for details).  When spring rolled around it was time to ride outside.  So off we went, me and Jeff.  I did pretty well for the first part of the ride, so coming down Morris road, Jeff said it was time to turn up the intensity and to show him what I had.  Well, I did my best to keep up, and I did but when we got to the stop sign I got real dizzy and had to get off the bike and sit down, and Jeff had to go get a car to drive me home.  Remember that, Jeff?"  Yes. Not one of my proudest moments, but the beginning of learning to enjoy the ride and doing well by my friends instead of trying to win the ride and beat them.

But the competitive thing wasn't over.  We were all amazed by how strong John became as a cyclist.  I teased him mercilessly about the size of his calves and how they flexed w/ every pedal stroke. John had a natural gift which he honed through long hours in the saddle.  And as he grew strong, it wasn't me putting the hurt on him any longer.  Now John could keep pace and take his turn leading the group, sometimes for miles and miles on end, like a turbo-diesel on a long cross country trek.  As Butch and I sat in John's draft we often reflected that we'd created a monster.

The inevitable finally happened on a day our group was racing the sign sprint in Clifton.  As we flew toward the sign, John pulled away from me and there was nothing I could do about it.  Finally catching him as we all caught our breath after the sprint I pulled alongside to congratulate John.  His words were classic.  Looking at me with a lot of pride (well deserved) and satisfaction, John glibly said, "Whose your daddy?"

Guys bond through activity, especially Epic experiences.  Thankfully, now with hindsight, I'm glad that most of our rides were Epic.

Just last summer as Jill and I drove down Montego on Father's Day, we spotted John, heading out on a ride.  We pulled alongside, "Hey John!"  "I'm headed out for a Father's Day ride, Jeff.  I can wait, wanna go along?"  It was an unexpected treat to get to ride and to ride with a friend.  That's a fond memory.  Big smile on his face, trademark bandana tied in the back, flapping in the wind, mashing the pedals very easily yet powerfully with well-muscled legs ticking out a slow cadence.  He couldn't have been happier.  That was Epic

Many other rides were Epic because as an older brother and cycling mentor John trusted me to make good judgments about where we rode, how long we rode and how hard we rode.  Just let me say simply that this wasn't always well placed trust. I was intense about going further and faster, and John (and those waiting for him at home or the office) often paid the price.

Start of the ride:

John: 'Jeff, I really need to be on time today.'
Jeff: 'No worries, John.  I have a route planned, and I'll behave myself.'


John: 'Jeff, where are we and how long is it going to take to get home?'
Jeff: 'I'm not sure John'
John: 'Not sure about where we are or how long to get home?'
Jeff: 'I'm not sure about either. Sorry.'

So, we'd mash the pedals with me on front.  Being on front was the price I paid for getting us lost again. 'That's the price for leading us into another Epic ride, Jeff', said Butch, a common third companion on many rides with John.  It was a drill we repeated countless times.  The result?  We often rode a little longer and a little harder than we'd anticipated at the start of the ride.

Knowing now, what I didn't know then is how short John's life would be.  And knowing that now, I'm glad that we often rode a little longer.  I'm just sad that now we can't ride a little longer.

I'm consoled by imagining that John is enjoying his Maker, asking questions, and probably telling a few jokes, and going for rides in warm sunshine with a new body and the wind at his back (certainly there can't be any lactic acid in Heaven).  Pedal on dear brother, and map some routes for us to ride together, again.  And know that we're here for your family, and I'm certain you would be for ours.  Jill and I stopped by the house to hug on and sob with Melissa for a bit last night.  It won't be the last time.

Goodbye John.  We loved knowing you, and we love you.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Emotional Hygiene

I had a dream about a friend being in trouble because they were carrying things that had happened to them in the course of ministry leadership.   The cumulative effect was weighing them down, visibly in the dream, as pieces of lead dangling from their body, as if pinned to them.  Can you identify? (I don't think this phenomenon is isolated to ministry or leadership).

I called my friend to share the dream, believing that I may have received a divine communication intended to help him.  He said that it was on the mark, and proceeded to share honest feelings about some things that have happened.  I was gratified by his trust, and he was helped out of isolation in his pain.

"What's the takeaway?  What should I do?", he asked.  We agreed on a simple plan of action:  "Make a list of your honest feelings (mad, sad, scared and glad) every day.  Make the list as long as possible.  Then, ask Jesus to speak to you about your feelings.  Ask His perspective and input on what you are feeling.  Sometimes He will probably validate how you feel, and other times He may challenge you about your attitude or conclusions.  Sometimes He'll prompt you to take your feelings to the person that they are about (speaking truth in love)..."

Emotional hygiene is identification and expression of your honest feelings in prayer, journaling and/or conversation with a trusted friend or counsel.  It is essential to build and sustain emotional health.  The alternative is to become emotionally constipated, numb and inward.  This erodes mental and emotional health just as physical bowel constipation becomes unhealthy.

I reminded my friend that it wasn't his fault that he'd been unfairly accused, judged and misunderstood, but that it was his responsibility to respond to the realization that he was carrying things by recognizing and removing them so that he can stay spiritually, physically and relationally healthy.

"In this world you will have many troubles...but take heart. I have overcome the world." - Jesus

Jeff Williams is a co-founder of Grace & Truth Counseling and Coaching, licensed as a Supervising Professional Clinical Counselor in the State of Ohio.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Who is My Shepherd? THE Good Shepherd

The weight of responsibility to care for people in pain is very HEAVY at times; too heavy for people-helpers to carry by ourselves.  That's why I'm so glad that THE Good Shepherd cares for me, and the people I/we (Grace & Truth) serve.

Nearly every session I pray for knowledge and wisdom from The Good Shepherd.  Why wouldn't I?  He promised His presence and ministry to us by the indwelling of The Holy Spirit as His very presence and power to inhabit us as Wonderful Counselor, Great Physician, Comforter, Teacher "who will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have taught you" (John 14:26).

And at the end of nearly every session, I exhort clients to talk to and listen for The Good Shepherd; that they are not without care and counsel just because they aren't in session with me.  I'm pretty convinced that teaching the people I care for as Jesus's Helper that He is their Shepherd (and not me) who wants to communicate with them, guide them, teach them, comfort them, and to lead them on the path of truth, righteousness, purposeful life in and for His Kingdom, IS the MOST IMPORTANT thing I can do for them.  Pointing them to cultivate a listening relationship in which they learn to hear His voice "My Sheep know my voice . . . "

This is good for them, and it is good for me.

It's good for them because they are inoculated against elevation of man to positions that are above and beyond us, even if we are counselors, doctors or pastorally gifted helpers, and empowered to approach Jesus directly themselves (not through an intermediary such as was required under the old covenant to approach God through a priest).

It's good for us helpers (those that some would entitle 'shepherds') because we're reminded that while we may indeed by gifted and positioned to provide pastoral care to those on our path, that there is ONE who is above and beyond us whom we rely on for Knowledge and Wisdom, and on whose behalf we care for them.  AND, that they too can directly approach Him for the same 'after hours'.

As a compassionate care-giver, I feel a sense of loss and anxiety when I open the door to say goodbye to a client in pain and crisis.  But they are comforted, as I am, that they can directly access Jesus, and hear from Him.

One day a mother asked my opinion on a complex set of issues facing her family.  "What do you think?  You're the professional."  I began to answer, but felt checked by the Holy Spirit.  "Ask her what she has heard from me."  So I did, and my jaw dropped as this 'untrained' lady (not a professional counselor or minister) responded with an elegant solution.  There was a long silence before she said, "That's bad for your business, you know.  Empowering your clients to hear from God Himself vs. relying on you to hear and see for them."  She'd heard the brilliance of the Lord's guidance in her situation, and knew that it came from Him, not from me.

Practicing counseling in this way may indeed be bad for 'client retention', if maximizing my client's financial value as an ongoing customer is my objective.  (As they say in Washington, D.C., "There's a lot of money to be made by prolonging the solution to the problem").  But it's certainly not bad for the Kingdom of God to have yet another empowered and powerful (filled by the Holy Spirit) special force worker in the world to continue hearing Him and teaching others to do the same!

Who is my Shepherd?  "The Lord is My Shepherd" (Psalm 23).

Who is your Shepherd?

Monday, November 18, 2013

How to Decide with Whom and How Much to Share Your Heart

The question often arises in counseling: How much should I share with ____ ?  And it is usually in the context of relational strain, hurt or desire to reconcile.

"They sometimes use it against me."
"They don't understand or try to understand."
"They twist everything I say to fit their view of reality, and don't try to consider mine."

And it goes on.  You can probably very easily add to the list, because you've probably run across a few 'unsafe' people.

In Scripture we see descriptions of close community in the Body of Christ, and proscription for intimacy in marriage and family.  How does that happen without knowing each other, and how do we know each other without open sharing?  Many relationship education models agree that Emotional openness + physical closeness = Intimacy.

Naked and unashamed is a phrase from Genesis that Jill and I use to talk about the goal of marital communication; that we might present our honest thoughts, feelings and desires to each other without fear of judgment, reprisal, scoffing, disregard or dismissal.  In other words, a goal in relationship to be a safe person; one whom is capable and trusted to hear and hold other's hearts when they open it to us.  But the degree to which we are trusted to hold other's hearts varies.  Sometimes people hesitate to share because they've been burned by others in the past. And sometimes they hesitate because we've burned them. The reasons vary, and they are many.

But what I want to focus on is the razor for making the decision about whether to share and how much to share.  Here is my usual suggestion:

"Take a slight risk to open your heart and see how ____ responds.  If they don't treat your heart with respect, take it back.  Imagine handing ___ something precious to you, like a family heirloom.  If they don 't hold it carefully, or worse, if they begin to harm it in some way take it back.  This is part of protecting your heart, which scripture admonishes us to do (Proverbs 4:23, "guard your heart for it is the well spring of life")

"Sometimes we find that _____ has a track record of hurting hearts.  So when you discern that they haven't yet changed their manner don't give them the opportunity to practice their pathological way of relating to you. Tell them why, and suggest that if they want to have a more open and healthy relationship with you that it will require a change on their part; that they become a safe person whom you can trust to hear and hold your heart."  This is truth spoken in love that provides an opportunity for confession and repentance (making a wholesale change in how they relate to and respect you.)  Casting pearls before swine applies (Matthew 7:6), "you should not put what is valuable in front of those who will reject the notion that it has value and furthermore that they will seek to diminish or destroy what you offer" (wikipedia).  Some people won't change, but at least you gave them the opportunity to understand why you are disengaging and an opportunity to make the changes necessary to continue/heal a relationship with you.

It is all too common, and injurious, to misapply the notion of turning the other cheek amongst Christians I've counseled.  Many have become so downtrodden that they have great difficulty rising up again to try in a relationship again.  Their condition would be much better, if they'd said "When" a bit sooner.  Sadly, many look and feel like they're beyond the point of no return.

Here's how I'd say it in a couple of sentences; Keep your love on (Danny Silk) and remain open to sharing your heart, but don't do it indiscriminately.  Be vigilant to discover who will hold and honor your heart vs. those who repeatedly injure and disrespect it, and don't be afraid to take it back and refuse them further opportunities to defile you and themselves by trampling on that which is precious.

Blessings, Jeff

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Good Reasons: Why People do the Things They Do

Why do people do the things they do?  For Good Reasons.  

Dig deep enough, long enough and you will discover that people have good reasons for the ways they act, feel and respond.

"Why did I/do I do that?"  "For a good reason' has become my stock response.  But its more than a cliche.  I believe it.

Twenty-three years in Clinical Psychology, thousands of patients later, and I have yet to serve a person, marriage or family with "problems" that didn't make sense (eventually).  Listen long enough to appreciate the context in which people's problems have developed and surfaced, and you'll find a good reason for the way they act, the beliefs  they believe and the things they do.

I don't get surprised much anymore.  And I hope I have a poker face.  Our youngest, Laura, says I do.  Upon Harley's rescue (our dog) from a runaway episode into busy traffic Laura asked why I wasn't more visibly upset. "I"m sorry, honey.  Guess I'm a bit desensitized by the things I hear and see everyday."

Consider these scenarios:

  • Her father began violating her during the middle of the night when she was three.  
  • His nights were filled with moans and screams from his mother's escapades with abusive men.  
  • A pedophile fulfilled her desperation for affection after her father 'disappeared' into himself with serious illness. 
  • She spent entire days cleaning and re-cleaning the bathroom.  
  • She 'loses it' if he becomes authoritarian (like her dad).  
  • He lacks compassion when she cries, and finds himself wanting to pile on the abuse.

It all sounds pretty sick, right?  But dig a little deeper.  Let them tell their life story. Walk in their shoes for a few hours and it will begin to make sense.  I promise.

Neurotic reasoning and responses remain hidden until the valid reasons for their existence are discovered, understood and accepted. But this happens only in environments and where Grace is the fragrance of the relationship.  

Do you do this for those that God has put on your path?  Does the scent of acceptance and understanding waft around you?

Pat Conroy, said it well in his book, "The Prince of Tides" through one his characters who was severely abused throughout his childhood.

'People are quick to judge my relationship failures.  But they haven't lived my life.  They judge by my appearance that I am like a racing Schooner (boat) that should cut through the water fast and true, but fail to see that below the waterline that the hull is full of holes, and that I'm doing well just to make the sucker float.'

Sit with such a person long enough, and lovingly listen with heart and skill, and I guarantee that their attitudes and behavior will begin to make sense. And as you validate and accept that they have good reasons, those reasons will begin to make sense to them.  They will connect the dots, and begin to act (and react) out of awareness rather than self-protective habit.

And as you do this, you will be administering Grace while recognizing the Truth of their lives, and your manner will be full of Grace and Truth!

The results of such understanding ministry will be a more whole and healthy Body of Christ, one person, one marriage, one family at a time.

Hopefully, Jeff

*Jeff Williams is founding director of the global counseling and coaching ministry, Grace & Truth Counseling and Coaching.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Recovering ME, and Recovering US

It's a story all too common.  She's at the end of her long-suffering patience, and has fled to freedom in the home of a safe friend or family member.  She's been a good troop for too long.  "Whatever you want, honey" she's said so many times that she no longer knows what she wants.

"I've lost me, and I've got to have some space to find myself.  For way too long I've given in to keep the peace, but I can't go another day like this."

Lost ones present for counseling because their mind has taken over the body to produce symptoms that can't be ignored.  Panic disorder is common.  The symptoms resemble those of a heart attack; tightness and heaviness in the chest, shortness of breath, tingling or numbness in fingers and arms and an impending sense of doom, that something bad is going to happen.

The really tough ones, and most of them are, buck it up for a long time . . . so long that by the time we see them they're in pretty bad shape and we're astounded how they've survived with such painful symptoms.  "I thought there was something wrong with me that I was feeling this way."  No, Mam.  It's normal to feel like you do when you are absorbed into the life of another for their good but not yours.  Your symptoms is your mind's way of telling you that the dynamic of your relationship is unhealthy, and its high time to do something about it.  You probably aren't going to be able to tough your way out of this one.  It's going to require real change in you, and in him for the symptoms to subside."

And so we embark on a journey on which she will rediscover herself; her honest thoughts, feelings and desires.  And she will begin to say No as often as she said yes in the past, setting healthy boundaries regarding where he stops and where she begins.

There is so much more that could be said, but let's end with a short answer.  LOVE.

I Corinthians 13 makes clear that healthy love, the highest form of love is sacrificial in the best interest of another.  Whereas self-love doesn't consider or honor the needs of others.

How's the balance of selfless love in your relationship?  Is it all about him (or her)?  Or is there sharing and reciprocity?

Biblical marriage is about sacrificial love and sharing, not domination and submission as has too oft been misquoted and misappropriated.  If that's your story, or someone you care about, get them some good counsel that tells the truth to men and women alike; that its about both of them and not just one of them.



*Jeff Williams is a Supervising Professional Clinical Counselor who also coaches and trains marriages with his wife Jill.  Grace & Truth Counseling and Coaching

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tears That Heal

"I'm not going to cry today" said my tough minded client.  "Okay" I replied as I watched them toss the Kleenex box to the other side of the couch.  "I'm tired of crying."   A few minutes later they reached for the box.  "Guess I'm not done being sad . . . ".  "It's okay.  In fact, I'm encouraged that you are able to grieve and that you are letting yourself.  To a therapist tears are healthy.  See the tears in my eyes?  I feel compassion for what you're going through, and its good that you are letting yourself feel the magnitude of the loss and change in your life.  Keep the tears in and you've got a pretty good recipe for depression and anger.  Let them out . . . even though you're tired  of how it feels and you'll get through this time to a 'new normal'.

It's hard to think of a case that turned out well without some tears.  Whether it was grief about tragic death, remorse for infidelity, harsh and unkind treatment of a spouse, anger and sadness at self for wasted time and opportunities due to selfish pursuits or the damage done by addictions . . . clients need to cry.

I know that folks we serve are cooperating with the process when they look for the Kleenex box and put it beside them at the beginning of a session, "Just in case" they say.  They we often cry together.

At Grace & Truth we regularly see God turn mourning into dancing, but not before tears have soaked the dance floor.  Healing and growth isn't necessarily comfortable or easy, but its worth it.

Are you holding back tears? Tired of crying?  Who are you comfortable to cry with?

Joy comes in the morning because joy is restored through mourning.



*Jeff Williams is a Supervising Professional Clinical Counselor, Founder and Director of Grace & Truth Counseling which provided clinical counseling and life, leadership and relationship coaching globally,