So, You’re Getting Married?

By now many will have picked the setting for the wedding, worked out the invitations and the mailing list, chosen the reception and honeymoon locations and taken care of many of the details in between.  Now it is just a matter of planning for and going through the wedding itself.

With the time, energy and expense that goes into preparing for a wedding might I suggest that one expense worth considering is pre-marital counseling.  Usually 4-6 sessions can encourage thoughtful conversations before the knot is tied rather than risk potentially explosive confrontations later.

More importantly, there are times when certain insights and new understandings before tying the knot can enrich our lives afterwards.  Especially when it comes to communication skills, conflict resolution coaching to help couples push through tough issues constructively can be priceless.  The skills needed to produce more win/win situations can make all of the difference in contrast to the win/lose scenarios that can be so destructive.


Evil, Innocence & Traffic

traffic jamDriving through Detroit recently I was impressed by how much we all depend upon everyone else obeying the rules of traffic.  For example, anyone who has been through driver’s training knows that the rules of the road are to obey the speed limits, use your turn signal when changing lanes, keep proper distance between your car and the one in front of you, slow down in construction zones, etc.

When people obey the rules it is often appreciated by other rule-abiders who are grateful for simple things like predictability, a shared commitment to minimizing dangerous situations, thoughtfulness and consideration on the road.  When accidents occur among rule-abiders, it is easy to believe the best and assume the fault was due to a malfunction of the car, an unanticipated road hazard or some health issue such as a heart attack, sudden kidney stone or some other natural, unpredictable event.

Others who appreciate those who obey the rules are those who do not have regard for the rules.  While they share some of the same values such as an aversion to pain from serious accidents, they are also grateful for people who keep a safe distance from the car in front of them so they can weave back and forth through traffic.  Also venerated are law abiding people who choose to obey the speed limit and stay in the right lanes except to pass.  This honorable practice gives freedom to the anarchical motorist allowing wide-open left lanes for traveling at excessive speeds, knowing that if a legalist wishes to change lanes he or she will use the turn signal giving the speeder time to quickly accelerate and race by before the car’s lane change begins.

This tongue-in-cheek perspective on traffic rules leads me to a more serious reality that involves the fingerprint of evil.  Enamored by those who assume shared core values for life, personal responsibility, deference to others and respect for the individual, the person consumed by evil intentions perceives these behaviors to be weaknesses upon which they choose to capitalize.  Surrounded by people who choose to trust, believing the best in others, evil people see opportunities for doing as they wish in spite of the rules with one governing principle: don’t get caught.  These people laugh in the face of victims and sneer at law enforcement personnel, marvel at their own ingenuity for beating the system and covering their tracks, leaving behind little more than circumstantial evidence…and, of course, the victims of their crimes.

In Psalm 36:1-4, David writes:

I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before their eyes. In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin. The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;  they fail to act wisely or do good. Even on their beds they plot evil; they commit themselves to a sinful course and do not reject what is wrong.

The point is that a the total disregard for others begins many times in the small things done in secret.  We first note it as a twinge of conscience that informs that what we are about to do is wrong and we choose to blow past our own internal warnings to stop.  As James observes in James 1:13-15,

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

CainByLovisCorinth copy
“Cain” by Lovis Corinth

This is not to say that minor infractions of our consciences will make us into mass murderers.  I am simply observing that the inkling for doing good or evil begins somewhere among the little choices we make every day and the fruit of those decisions impacts our own inner compass as well as the lives of those around us.

As God told Cain shortly before he decided to murder his brother, Abel, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).

It seems to me that the nature of man’s struggle with God has not changed very much: it still comes down to those little choices we make every day.

Marriage and Family Therapy

In April 2014 we closed the Trenton office in the southeast part of Michigan to move to Saint Joseph on the southwestern part of the state.  Since July 2014 I have been working as the Lead Minister of the Church of Christ of Saint Joseph, settling in to become better acquainted with God’s people here and the community around us.  My goal has been to discern God’s leading and how my private practice will fit into my ministerial responsibilities.

This year I began seeing clients at the church building and I have found it to be well suited to my needs as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  Therefore, I am now taking appointments with individuals, couples and families, dedicated to “Helping people overcome obstacles, manage transitions and reach their potential” according to the principles of brief, solution-focused marriage and family therapy.


Clergy Sexual Abuse

Clergy sexual abuse should be a title that betrays an obvious oxymoron.  Too often it is not.  As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who is presently serving a small congregation as their Lead Minister, I know that two things are true.

First, the way clergy has been viewed in the past–sometimes just this side of sainthood–makes it vulnerable for attracting people who lust for adoring people who give them–what they perceive as–command, power and control.  Second, traits of predators lure them towards the clergy because of the perceived adoration of people and command, power and control that is often associated with their calling and profession.  These traits are described in a recent article entitled, “5 Indicators of an Evil and Wicked Heart”.  Listed briefly, they are:

1. Evil hearts are experts at creating confusion and contention.

2. Evil hearts are experts at fooling others with their smooth speech and flattering words.

3. Evil hearts crave and demand control, and their highest authority is their own self-reference.

4. Evil hearts play on the sympathies of good-willed people, often trumping the grace card.

5. Evil hearts have no conscience, no remorse.

If you just read this list and all of a sudden faces, names or situations shocked back into your memory may I suggest that you find a reliable confidant to whom you voice your sudden awareness. Particularly if they are among professionals in law enforcement, social work or the counseling field, they can advise you about whether or not to take action on your sudden hints or insights.  You will also find helpful resources and links at the website for The Hope of Survivors and on their Facebook Page.

As a witness to the poison that clergy can inject into the body of Christ and trusting families because of their behavior coupled with churches that fail to address the predator decisively, this is one of those absolute zero tolerance matters.  The priorities?  First, protecting the victims and recognizing the damage that has been done so that the balm of Gilead can begin to bring about healing and growth.  Be aware, this can take a very long time.  Second, removing the predator from anything and everything related to the victim and his/her family while striving to see that help is administered.  Be  aware that the best potential for healing and reduced recidivism may include criminal prosecution and imprisonment.

This is one of those situations where the decisive action of a congregation to suspected clergy sexual abuse may speak more about God’s grace and forgiveness than expected.  Conversely, how tragic for God’s people to suffer prosecution for not having taken the threat of clergy sexual abuse more seriously.

Catch and Release Update

Au Sable Fly Fishing near Grayling, MI.

“Catch and Release” is one of those bittersweet expressions that is common in the fishing community.  Careful to remove the barb from the flies used in trout fishing, among other regulations, the whole point is that the pleasure of the sport is in catching the ‘big one’ and leaving it for another to enjoy.  The bitter part is the temptation to bag the whopper you just caught in order to drop it in the black skillet for dinner.  It’s almost too much to bear.  Yet, to allow someone else to enjoy the sweetness of the singing reel means carefully removing the fly with hands pre-wetted in stream water and releasing the trout back into the water with minimal trauma.

When we first came to Trenton back in the summer of 1999 our intention was to leave the barb in the hook and bag this one to take us home.  Looking back, it was important for us to learn the lesson of the ‘catch and release’ principle.  In truth, I have learned that the journeys of life rarely leave you where you ‘entered the stream’.  Taking the metaphor a little further, things that enter the Lord’s streams and stay in the same place for very long are often inanimate…things like deadwood and boulders.

For several years the Lord has been guiding us through a journey that has reminded us that His stream is ever flowing.  While He takes us as we are, He never leaves us there as He shapes and molds us into His image.  First, however, He must break us to prepare us for the journey because a necessary ingredient to being a faithful disciple is wholly selling out to His leadership, His will, His discipline…and, when the time is right, He will open the door to move us to where He wants us.

It is in these times of transition that ‘catch and release’ takes on a new meaning more associated with Jesus’ words about the plowman who is always looking back to see where he has been instead of looking forward to where he is headed in Luke 9:26.  I like the way the message paraphrases the verse: “Jesus said, ‘No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.’”  In this case we look back to catch our bearings and then set our sites on a door that is opening before us and release ourselves into His leading.

Stated clearly, at the end of June Pamela and I will once again join together in ministry at the St. Joseph Church of Christ in St. Joseph, Michigan.  We trust that we have caught the leading of the Lord as he as gently guides us to this new beginning.  Consequently, Southshore Counseling, LLC, my private practice here in Trenton, will be closing at the end of June.


Fortunately, after losing my last provider I was able to maintain my email address and website.  Also, I will continue to provide counseling services at my Trenton office until the end of June.



decideLife if filled with opportunities to learn new coping skills.  From the simplest adjustments of growing up to the normal transitions of adolescence into young adulthood we begin a very personal process of learning how to deal with life’s challenges and opportunities.

On the anvil of personal and interpersonal stressors we hone our coping skills by learning and adaptation based upon a wide spectrum of circumstances.  Factors such as the degree of pain we feel, the double-bind of no-win scenarios, our moods, our personal values and principles, past or present traumas and injustices are just a sample of the possibilities that we are called upon to adjust.

Under pressure,  we forge many of our virtues like patience, tenacity, integrity and honesty, compassion, and so forth.  Conversely, our choices also include their opposite such as impatience, weakness, deceitfulness, dishonesty, callousness, etc.  Across the prism of our own unique makeup and experiences we become both who we are today and who we will become tomorrow by the coping choices we make along the way.

In more relaxed times we have opportunities to reflect upon our past experiences and choices as well as the consequences that have unfolded from those dynamic elements of life.  The hope is that our past will provide learning opportunities for our present and future decisions and how we will cope with them.

The Compass

To the extent we make our choices in advance, clarified by our principles and values, we can anticipate times when decisions have to be compassmade with decisiveness and inner peace.  Life presents times when we must navigate our way through surprises, catastrophes, challenges and opportunities where our past and present meet to give us direction based upon those times of reflection and experience.  It is at those times that we choose to either react impulsively based upon the emotions we feel or we act proactively based upon who we are combined with the person we have chosen to become.

Marriage and Family Therapists specialize in helping clients clarify their principles and values, weigh interpersonal alternatives and consider the potential consequences in their relational systems.  Many times it is the coping systems themselves that require modification to meet new challenges and opportunities.  At other times new coping skills must be learned to move people forward towards their potential as family members, working together to overcome obstacles and manage transitions.


People, Love, Intimacy and Family

woman-talking-to-manTo develop a close, intimate relationship with someone else requires honesty, openness and transparency; being truthful, even when it is painful. Of course, there are many other definitions of this interpersonal phenomenon that depends upon one’s willingness to be vulnerable, choosing to allow someone else into their private world.  Intimacy is a close, personal, private relationship that is warm and friendly.

Positive, intimate relationships are built upon the foundation of trust that is defined by certain assumptions.   Consistent, predictable behavior over a long period of time that reinforce those assumptions breeds a trust that goes deeper than a vow and a promise, penetrating right to the heart of everyday behaviors.  Getting caught doing the right thing fosters reassurance and security…and trust.

Intimacy Toxins

While there are many things that stand in the way of intimacy, perhaps the most pernicious is  lying:  making an untrue statement with the intention of deceiving someone else, creating a false or misleading impression.  It is the poison of intimacy.  It is a toxin that will injure or terminate a relationship, for trust cannot blossom where words and actions are designed to deceive and mask true intentions, not reflect them. 

Nonetheless, a recent Psychology Today article ventures into the gradients of lying, suggesting that we all do it to one degree or another.

Studies show that the average person lies several times a day. Some of those are biggies: “I’ve been faithful to you.” Others are par for the course: “No, your new dress looks good.” Some forms of deception aren’t exactly lies: comb-overs, nodding when you’re not listening. And then there are lies we tell ourselves, as part of healthy self-esteem maintenance or serious delusions. In the end, it appears that we can’t handle the truth. (Psychology Today: Deception)

People look for intimacy in all sorts of places.  Logically, they expect to find it in their families; and, in most cases they do so.  At other times, our hope and desire to find love and acceptance in our family of origin may blind us to the fact that their communications, behaviors and attitudes convey exactly the opposite.

Much of Marriage and Family Therapy involves examining the relational realities of life.  This often means assessing the best ways to address the positives and the negatives in a way that respects boundaries, acknowledges tensions, accentuates the positives and adjusts behaviors to those influences that are toxic.  Many tools are available to the seasoned therapist ranging from personal interviews with individuals, couples and families to a variety of testing instruments.

Southshore Counseling, LLC: Helping people overcome obstacles, manage transitions and reach their potential.

Last Time: “I love you!”

goodbyeWhen our kids would ask why my wife and I would always say “I love you” every time we parted, we would tell them: “One day, there will be a last time to say, “I love you.”  Only God knows when that last time will be; so, we still hedge our bets, making sure the final words we say affirm our eternal love for one another.  How comforting it is to know that “The last time I saw him, he said, “I love you! ‘”

This haunting phrase becomes so important to us when we lose a loved one.  Sometimes, recalling someone’s final words brings a smile and a quiet sense of assurance.  Of course, this is how most of want to be finally remembered when our time comes.

However, sometimes those words are filled with pain and heartache.  In a heated argument words of parting can bring pain years later when neither party seeks reconciliation or attempts to affirm the positive aspects to a relationship.  Many times people say hurtful things without restraint due to alcohol or drugs that end up being the last word spoken.  While they may not remember what they said, the scars left on the recipient can be a source of pain that outlives the one who did not filter their words or seek forgiveness.

Discussing the concept of developing a mission statement, Steven Covey recommended beginning with the end in mind.  To illustrate the principle of “Beginning with the End in Mind,” he suggests that we imagine being in a dream, walking into a funeral home where we recognize the people in the funeralchairs as they quietly wait for the service to begin.  Meanwhile, a line of people stand behind the podium, waiting for their opportunity to speak a word about the person in the open casket at the front of the room.  As you walk to view the person there to pay your respects, you suddenly realize that the person in the casket is you!  Now you have an opportunity to hear what the people who knew you have to say about you.  No doubt someone will say, “The last time we met, he/she said these words to me….”

The question is, what will they have to say?  The answer is to proactively start working, now, on helping shape their message by your own words and behavior based upon your own principles, values and sensibilities.



Positives From Negatives

Which words will you choose?


Sometimes the difference between a positive and a negative statement is as simple as our choice of words.  Gary Smalley in his book Secrets to Lasting Love: Uncovering the Keys to Life-Long Intimacy creates a positive reframe of negative expressions.  While he intended to use this insight with married couples, the fact is that positive interpretations can be very important in reshaping and even motivating people as a general rule.  Next time, before you state a person’s negative trait, consider the following list of alternative, positive statements:



Nosy                                      Overly alert or sociable

Touchy                                  Very Sensitive

Manipulating                      A resourceful person with creative ideas

Stingy                                    Thrifty

Talkative                              Expressive or Dynamic

Flighty                                   Enthusiastic with Cheerful Vitality

Too Serious                        Sincere and earnest with strong convictions

Too Bold                              Strong convictions, uncompromising, high personal standards

Rigid                                      Well disciplined with strong convictions

Overbearing                        Confident; sure of him/her self

A Dreamer                           Creative and Imaginative

Too Fussy                             Organized and Efficient

Being thoughtful about how we say things tells another person that they are important, that you respect their trait…even though it may drive you crazy sometimes… and that you appreciate how their trait complements your own.  Conversely, focusing on the negative traits with out putting in the effort to say it in a positive way tells the other person that they are not important, that you do not respect their trait and that you do not appreciate their different perspective.

It takes only a little imagination to deduce which approach produces the better effect in the end.   If you want to discourage another person, make frequent observations about their negative trait.  To encourage them, consider the alternative of letting their trait inspire positive, creative observations that emphasize the positive qualities of their trait.

*Smalley, Gary. Secrets to Lasting Love: Uncovering the Keys to Life-Long Intimacy, 2000, pp. 156-157.

Helping people overcome obstacles, manage transitions and reach potentials.