Chipping Away Your Mask

When my brother entered treatment, my parents were less than enthusiastic. Once they learned that a “family weekend” was part of the package they were downright hostile. They attended anyway, dragging their bad attitude along with them like a security blanket.

By the time our family had access to treatment, we had all become adept at wearing masks and playing predictable roles in our family system. In hindsight, I suspect these various roles helped us cope and enabled us to survive. The chaos and conflict that active addiction caused in our family did not leave much room for creativity, collaboration, and addressing the needs and wants of the entire family as they arose. Our rigid roles enabled us to think and feel less. Our roles served as a means of energy conservation so that we had what we needed to fight and fume and blame and berate one another.

“Mask” is a Greek word that means “engraving in a stone” and that accurately summed up how I felt. I was stone cold. Furious. Enraged. Embarrassed. Frustrated. Ashamed. And fake. Recovery is the spiritual process of chipping away at our defense mechanisms while building up our capacity for honesty, coping, and living out our life’s purpose. It is hard intensive work; it is art; it is a sacred journey. This is not unlike the work God promises to do with us, shaping and molding us.

Then God’s Message came to me: “Can’t I do just as this potter does, people of Israel?” God’s Decree! “Watch this potter. In the same way that this potter works his clay, I work on you… Jeremiah 18, selected verses from The Message

As I worked my recovery program, I felt conflicted, resistant even, to this idea of God “working on me”. I trusted no one including God. But desperate times called for desperate measures and slowly, gradually, I began to trust others to help me. Decades in, I can see how the early masks and armor that my family wore to cope with our family issues contributed to my reluctance to trust and contributed to my own issues. Sometimes the hardest part of growing up for me is trusting that there are different ways of living than what I learned as a child.

How about you? What do struggle with?


I attend a lot of funerals.  It is the rare funeral when at least one person in the crowd of mourners is not interested in finding a success story in the life of the dearly departed.  Rarely do I attend a funeral of someone who has lived to a ripe old age and then slipped peacefully off into the next life while surrounded by beloved relatives.  Regardless the circumstances, funerals are often a time when folks try to make sense of a life that in some cases was a mess. Funerals for folks who have led complicated lives and often passed way too soon are hard to navigate.   



At some of these events there are conflicts among the remaining relatives and friends who are trying in various ways to “manage the story”.  I am often pulled into broom closets or bathrooms to be filled in on who “knows” and who “doesn’t know” all the nitty gritty details of this life and loss.  Other times we have competing ex’s or family feuds that make getting the family seated in the reserved pews an act of diplomacy. Many, many times we are surrounded by sadness and regret, guilt and frustration.


Over the years I have developed a policy about funerals.  Someone might say, “Hey, I want you to do my funeral.” And I reply, “Sure, but you need to know that I don’t lie at funerals.”


Lately I’m changing my tune.  I am coming to realize that finding the truth in life or death is not as easy as granting the pastor permission to tell the truth.  Humans are complicated, so why wouldn’t the wrestling through with the mourning of one’s passing and/or the celebration of their life be less so? Who is to say how to interpret the actions, intentions, and various ways we all interact with the world?  The older I get the less confidence I have that I can find the “truth” much less speak coherently of it during the stress of a funeral gathering.


Today, I pray for each of us that when our time comes, we will have lived in such a way, within a tribe of people, that stories can be told that reflect the often-complicated circumstances of our authentic albeit imperfect lives with tenderness.  To do so, we have to continue to tease out what it means to live successfully. In the days ahead I will continue to unpack and reframe success - with the end in mind. (What if you wrote your obituary, how would you want to be remembered?)

Spiritual Presence

I am not a big fan of deciding how to live my life unless and until I can find parallels in the scriptures to support my assumptions.  I personally like to think of pairing my experiences within the framework of a biblical context. When I ponder presence, I immediately think of a few examples in scripture that help me draw some boundaries around my principles.  



Here’s another way of saying what I mean:  I think for people who ascribe to the Christian faith it is always a good idea to challenge my lived experience with a consistent study of God’s word.  It will not always be helpful. If I look in the scriptures to understand how best to feed my grandchildren, I find no answers. But if I consider what it means to be a decent grandparent in general and sometimes even specifically, I find breadcrumbs that help me evaluate my daily life choices as a MeMe.


Tomorrow we will consider one biblical example of presence in the face of bad behavior.  Prepare for future days of conversation by asking yourself the tough questions: what “presence” failures have you experienced?  What did you learn? What patterns do you notice that continue to trip you up in terms of practicing presence? Are there any examples of times when you felt you failed only to later learn that others disagree?


Pausing to Prepare

My best Christmas ever was the year I received a jewel-toned green bicycle with a light.  It was a thing of beauty and provided me with freedom to travel hither and yon.  But getting EXACTLY what I wanted wasn’t enough to keep me from feeling the post-Christmas slump.


After the holiday havoc is under control at your place, can you find some time to sit still and reckon with what you need (as opposed to what you want)?


These next few days can be crucial times of contemplation and preparation for 2018.

People who study these things tell us that contemplation is an essential prerequisite to execution of a desired lifestyle change.


Today, may you find time for the pause.

Labor of Love

Christmas Day – a time when families gather together and follow traditions that have been passed down through generations.  This is a mixed bag of sacred and profane; joy and suffering.  Families are complicated.


Today, if your life is…..complicated, lonely, disappointing…I encourage you to do something different. 


Text people and let them know you are thinking of them.  Find a way to enjoy the day you have even if it doesn’t fit your expectations.  Aren’t with the people you love love love today?  That’s ok, love the ones you’re with!  Don’t be a grumpy pants just because the day isn’t ordered according to your preferences!


Practice a sacred spiritual discipline.  Don’t have one?  No worries – there’s an app for that!  You could start a meditation practice. (I am currently obsessing over insight timer.)  You could make plans for creating a sacred space for daily quiet time. 


Do something you love.


And if all else fails, remind yourself that today is 24 hours long – this too shall pass.


Now, why are you still reading this?  Go make the day a reflection of your inspired way of seeing!!!!