Want Wisdom? First, LISTEN!

November 9, 2015

Version 2This page from the Rule of St. Benedict, written 700 years ago sits in a showcase in an Abby in Melk, Austria.  For the Benedictine monks, their Rule of Life begins with “Ausculta” which in German means, “LISTEN”.   For centuries, those who seek wisdom have realized the importance of listening.

Rewind another 2900 years to hear Moses teach the Israelite people that before they enter the Promised Land they need to listen to God. “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  It’s a timeless wisdom; before we do anything of significance, listen to God.

When Peter, James and John stood on the Mount of Transfiguration, telling Jesus about their great idea of building tents to house Jesus, Moses and Elijah, a voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”  Once again we see how important it is to listen before doing anything.

But listening goes against our basic nature. On October 18, 2015, Reverend Chad Scruggs, one of our pastors, gave a sermon on the book of James showing us how we need to grow up.  We need to discipline ourselves to listen quickly (because we are naturally slow to listen) and to slow down our natural tendencies to speak and to express anger quickly. Perhaps James was thinking of the Proverb: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Prov. 18:13)

Why is listening so primary? What does it accomplish? As I look through the Bible at all the references to “listen,” I find that most of them have to do with listening to God. In those passages, we could just as well replace it with the word “obey.” For example, Proverbs 8:32-33 or Isaiah 46:12.  So listening to God is almost equivalent to obeying God. What do we accomplish when we obey God? We achieve oneness with Him and out of that unity comes wisdom.   But when we listen to other people, we’re not always instructed to obey. Listening well helps us create harmony and builds up others.  For example, Ephesians 4:29  In our church choir, our director often reminds us to listen carefully to the other singers around us and to the other sections. When we sing in tune with others, the result is harmony.   In our regular interactions with friends and family, we listen to understanding them more clearly and to respond constructively rather that react destructively. We minimize conflict, we contribute to a harmonious relationship, and we might even build intimacy. When we listen to someone else, we communicate respect and concern. We tend to trust others more easily when they are good listeners.

I’m beginning to understand why listening is more important than anything else we might be inclined to do. It contributes to unity and harmony. When we are one with God (through obedience) and one with others (through understanding), we begin to demonstrate wisdom in dealing with life.

Antithetical Complementarity

November 7, 2014


Art does not often move me. I’m auditory; art is visual. But my son moves me and he is an artist. He recently commissioned a work by a Venezuelan artist, Rafael Araujo, and hung it in his office. My initial response at our family viewing/party was “l like it because I love him.” Then I kept looking. The more I looked, the more I saw. The more I saw, the more I was moved. Here’s what it stirred in me.

In the language of the artist, “Araujo creates an imagined mathematical framework of three dimensional space where butterflies take flight and the logarithmic spirals of shells swirl into existence.” What I saw was the stiffness and rigidity of the construction lines providing a realm within which the butterflies could flow along their patterned courses with fluidity. Rigidity and fluidity come together. Mechanical drawing all by itself is just that, pretty mechanical. A view of butterflies flying around by themselves is rather chaotic and, to me, pretty fluffy. Each has its own brand of “pretty” (or at least interesting) but when they merge in a complementary manner, mutually offering and receiving qualities to the other, they express a completeness that is fundamental to life. This concept resonates with my world of counseling.

I counsel couples. Often, one of them is very functional while the other is very aesthetic. So he leaves his “stuff” where things can easily be reached – in piles, in stacks, where he last used them. She objects to the visual clutter, the unsightly “mess” within which she cannot relax without putting it in order. The resolution of the conflict lays not in one side winning over the other, but in creatively finding ways for his functionality and her aesthetics to serve one another. Yes, to enhance and enrich the other so that the resulting unit thrives at a harmonious higher level.

Then, there’s the playful, spontaneous partner, tugging against the responsible, planned partner. One seems to be antithetically opposed to the other. Perhaps, with a little creativity, this couple can experience “planned spontaneity” or even “playful responsibility”. The goal is complementary enrichment.

Ultimately, beyond the possible myriad human experiences, I see a picture of the character of God himself! Is He a God of wrath or a God of love? Yes, perfectly! Is He just (executing justice) or merciful (granting grace)? Yes, perfectly.   God’s punishment of his people in the Old Testament was always accompanied with a compassionate plea to return to him so he could bless them. In his wrath, he never rejects his chosen people. He loves them. His holiness and justice require him to administer sanctions as consequences; his mercy and love require him to provide a way back to his caring arms and his blessings. So Paul can say

“ . . . that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”   (Romans 3:26)

and the psalmist can (without fully realizing it) anticipate how God’s complementary nature showed forth on the cross, where Christ took on the wrath of the Father and provided loving access to his eternal security.

Lovingkindness and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.   (Psalm 85:10)

My friend, Dr. Larry Waters, recently presented a talk at the Dallas Theological Seminary chapel in which he described the personal traits of that great man of God, Martin Luther. Listen to how he was described: “Rough and tender; poet and boxer; boisterous and devout; deadly serious and a possessor of keen wit; exquisitely sensitive and volcanic invective; and bold before men while humble before God.” I think that as we surrender our lives to God, we take on more and more of His characteristics even the blending of those characteristics that don’t seem to fit with each other.

Would that this goal of conciliatory complementarity would infect our political system. In the wake (wave) of last week’s election returns, I’m reminded of why I’m frustrated with politics. If God is present at all, the Republicans believe that their emphasis on balance budget, family values and small government is aligned with God’s priorities. But the Democrats believe that social need provided by the government is the priority that is closest to God’s character. Why can’t the answer be “Yes.” Then our work could be characterized by creating an enriched harmony of antithetical complementarity.

IMG_0040Back to butterflies. My son’s painting moved me because it pictures a timeless universal reflection of how the world ought to work. There is no winning in the war against one good thing versus another. There are no “trump cards” in the deck of antithetical complementarity. Real victory comes from rigid structure and free mobility integrating harmoniously in an organized fluidity.

Intimacy in Your Marriage: Could Your Marriage Use A Little More?

January 21, 2014
Lorie Ammon

Lorie Ammon

Imagine how inspiring it could be to meet someone whose approach is creative and innovative but grounded in the basics.  Lorie Ammon is such a person.  She takes you back to the basics of building intimacy in marriage.  But she does it in a group setting, yet without embarrassing anyone.  Her educational approach equips everyone with what they need to know.  Then she challenges everyone to practice in the privacy of their home.  She has found material to use that helps you make relevant application of biblical principles, yet it’s not a “Bible study” per se.  It’s about how you do it.  I supervise Lorie and can testify that she walks what she talks as is apparent in her own marriage.  Could you marriage use a shot of increased intimacy?  Consider what she has written:

Sitting in a circle together with several couples participating in the newest marriage program, I found myself feeling distressed by the continued struggle in the group.  One husband epitomized the struggle.  A bright and good-looking man with a loving and attractive wife, beautiful children, and a successful business had figured out all the major issues in life save one.  In a heartfelt and exasperated tone he commented, “I never thought married life would be so hard.”   I empathized with his struggle but I felt disheartened that our group had not brought him any hope.  The image of my friend’s beleaguered face never left me as I pursued training as a professional counselor.  As a new LPC intern, I was determined to help couples navigate toward a genuine loving bond, having had the experience in my own marriage that ‘happily ever after’ is not born from commitment alone but from vulnerable sharing of emotional needs.  With this predilection my supervisor wisely affirmed my direction to pursue training in Emotionally-focused Couple Therapy.  That was a year ago, and I can say it has been a satisfying investment with consistently fruitful results in 7 out of 10 couples I have had the privileged of working alongside.  What was missing to help the husband in our group setting was understanding how to find the way back toward emotional closeness with his wife.  I believe now this is the hard part, the pain people get into when they cannot reach their partner to restore a loving connection.  Just as the infant cries for nourishment, so too, our hearts scream for connection.

Emotionally-focused Couple Therapy (EFT) has de-mystified my own experience in marriage by explaining the ruptures in emotional connection though the lens of Attachment Theory. Over fifty years ago, John Bowlby introduced this Attachment theory to the British Psychoanalytical Society in London with little receptivity. However, today it has been described as the dominant approach to understanding early social development in infants based on the secure emotional attachments they form to familiar caregivers, especially if the adults are sensitive and responsive to the child’s communications.  The embrace of attachment theory to EFT was brought together by the research of Dr. Sue Johnson, the author of Emotionally-focused Therapy.   EFT proposes and rightly, I believe, that the need for secure emotional attachment never disappears but evolves in the adult as a drive for a secure emotional bond with a partner.   This attachment need is met by the interactions with a partner that convey a belief that they will respond when you call, that you matter to him or her, that you are cherished, and that he or she will respond to your emotional needs.  This hard-wired need for emotional responsiveness from significant others is originally visible in the way a mother lovingly gazes at her baby, and yet again in the interaction of new couple who stare lovingly into each other’s eyes.

Marital IntimacyWe all can remember how our relationships began with that exhilarating feeling of intense closeness to our partners.  Our attachments are so powerful that our brains code them as “safety.”  But our attention can wane as life happens.  Any perceived distance or separation in our close relationships is interpreted as danger because losing the connection to a love done jeopardizes our sense of security.  This experience of distance sets off an alarm in our amygdala—the fear center of the brain, shutting off our prefrontal cortex that negotiates our safe emotional closeness again.  A primal fear is set off, once the amygdala is activated, and we react without reason but instinctual action.  This fight-or-flight response is what Sue Johnson says occurs in relationships where people are either angry with one another or are withdrawing in response to a perceived challenge to their sense of attachment.  This is a normal response of attachment when we lose contact with each other.  Problems arise by how we react after a time of disconnection, setting the relationship off in a downward spiral. Most couple difficulties can be traced to one or both not feeling the “safety.”  The spiraling down leads to inappropriate attempts to elicit the reassurance that the other is really there for them.  When the trouble in a relationship can be understood as being trapped in this cycle, we can begin to address the normal drive for attachment. The attachment drives ask questions such as, “Are you there for me?” “Can I count on you?” and “If I call, will you come?”  EFT explains how attachment needs get distorted and misinterpreted, leaving each partner without a connection.  How can they get out of this trap and reconnect?

The first step over of the dis-connection is to be aware of the trap that perpetuates emotional distance.  Once a couple can identify they are trapped in a pattern of arguing and distancing they can   agree to step out of the trap.  With a dose of empathic understanding about their attachment needs, couples can take a leap of faith toward vulnerable sharing and reach toward each other for re-connection.  This hope in reaching for emotional closeness is that their partner will be there and respond with a welcomed reconnection

Convinced by EFT’s demonstrated success, I will be initiating the first Emotionally- Focused Couples Groups in North Texas.  After extensive training from the leaders in EFT from Houston to Chicago, I want to benefit Big D with a proven successful couple’s therapy.  Being zealous for couples to experience emotional closeness, I have united my group psychotherapy training from the American Group Psychotherapy Association with EFT, to offer the first EFT group counseling setting for relationship enhancement.  Couples groups are forming to build “Conversations for Connection” that will join for 8 weekly sessions.  Each group meeting will be based on the Seven Conversations of Connection*:

1)    Recognizing Demon Dialogues – First, couples identify common emotional reactions that lead to negative cycles in order to step out of them.

2)    Finding the Raw Spots – Next, each partner learns to look beyond immediate, impulsive reactions to discover the vulnerable feelings under the negative cycles.

3)    Revisiting a Rocky Moment – This conversation develops a safe platform for de-escalating conflict, repairing disconnections, and building emotional security.

4)    Hold Me Tight – Now the partners can move into being more accessible, emotionally responsive, and deeply engaged to strengthen and protect their emotional connection.

5)    Forgiving Injuries – Old emotional hurts can block intimacy and a secure connection. Knowing how to identify these injuries and offer and accept forgiveness empowers couples to strengthen their bonds.

6)    Bonding Through Sex and Touch – Here, couples learn more about how emotional connection enhances physical connection, which in turn creates deeper emotional connection – the best kind of cycle.

7)    Keeping Your Love Alive – The last conversation in the program builds on the understanding that a love relationship is a continual process of losing and finding emotional connection; it helps couples to be deliberate and mindful about maintaining that connection.

Hold Me Tight Book Cover*Based on Dr. Sue Johnson’s Book, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Emotion Focused Therapy is now research proven to be the leading theory for couple’s therapy.

This Group format will demonstrate conversations for connection to help unravel the mystery of love and see what helps couples strengthen their emotional bond with one another.  We will explore building more trust and safety with each other.  Often this leads couples to find a way to problem solve without arguing, and stand up for themselves without being defensive. You can learn what drives the repetitive negative pattern you get caught in, what you and your partner really need from each other, and how to have conversations that create lasting change and connection.

The group setting will involve sharing of ideas, and viewing real video clips of genuine  couples demonstrating conversations for connection that unravel the mystery of  what helps couples strengthen their emotional bond with one another. It is always up to you whether or not to speak up in the large group setting, for some, having the chance to share with others enhances their experience.  You will have practice exercises with your partner (privately) to improve relationship skills.  You are encouraged to read Hold Me Tight before the workshop. This book has been endorsed by leading researchers and authors in the marriage and relationship field.  Couples of all backgrounds, and stages of life are welcome.

Contact Information: Lorie Ammon at (817)405-9127 or email lorie@graceadvocates.com.   The cost for the group meetings will be $400 per couple for the entire eight 90 minute sessions.   Each group is limited to only 5 Couples to insure a maximal group experience.



Counselor to Missionaries

August 19, 2013


“Oh, what a need for what you’re planning to do!”  That’s the typical response I hear when someone learns of an exciting new ministry I’m starting.  Technically it’s part of member care,  (Member Care is the ongoing preparation and taking care of missionaries for strong personal lives and effective ministries.)   Not that member care hasn’t already been going on, but it’s new to me.  The question I have is why aren’t there more counselors doing what I’m doing?  When I put it together in the form of a job description, I begin to understand why not.


Member care requires a lot of travel.

I will be taking 4-6 trips a year to various places in the world.  I like to travel and I love to get to know people in the areas where they live and work.  The trips will not include all the comforts of home but I will experience how a lot of different people manage.


Member care requires a lot of counseling experience.

After 37+ years of counseling, I feel pretty comfortable helping people express their concerns.  I can listen non-judgmentally while discerning deeper issues.  People who are struggling don’t need as much advise or criticism as they need encouragement and clarification of issues.  They need to see how their behaviors impact others as well as how others impact them.   Generally speaking, we tend to evaluate others on the basis of their behaviors while we evaluate ourselves on the basis of our intentions.  What a wonderful opportunity to put my experience to work in the challenging situations involving individuals, couples and groups in conflict overseas where they are feeling stressed and alone.


Member care requires cross-cultural flexibility.

Having taught cross-cultural counseling and providing counseling in several different countries, I’ve discovered that a lot of things that we assume to be true here in the US do no fit in other cultures.  When I was in Zanzibar, for example, I discovered that there is no word for “depression” in Swahili.  It turns out that in their interwoven corporate society, they don’t experience depression like we do.  They help each other out of their down times.  We tend to push our rugged individualism beyond the limits of our abilities to cope.  Some places respond to stories, some to small group interaction, while others to applied Bible passages.    This leads to a fourth requirement that tends to filter out a lot of people.


Member care requires a deep knowledge of Scripture plus training in counseling. 

What a blessing it’s been for me over the years to see the ideas taken from my PhD in counseling turn into applications of Bible truths that I learned while getting my ThM in New Testament studies at Dallas Seminary.  The Bible is truth, but sometimes it’s hard for us to understand how to apply it.  Psychology seeks to apply principles in a practical way, but isn’t always anchored in truth.  How exciting to see the truth of God show itself in cross-cultural, practical and trans-historical timeless ways.


Member care requires submission to the authority and structure of a mission organization.

East-West Ministries, International has been so gracious to make a place for me among their missionaries so I can work on a team.  The job that needs to be accomplished is too big for one person or a small group.  East-West Ministries has missionaries in 40 countries and their vision calls for adding 200 more missionaries in the next five years!  That will require a lot of screening, training, developing, supporting and encouraging.  My first assignment may be to train counselors in China.


Member care takes a lot of money.

As a missionary, I’ll need to raise financial support, both one-time gifts and regular monthly contributions to pay for one-month’s living expenses (I cut back my Dallas Seminary contract to only 11 months) and for all the trips plus administrative expenses.   Will you consider committing to a monthly contribution?  All contributions are tax-deductible.

To contribute on-line, click here.  East-West has made it very easy.

I would very much appreciate your support in this important endeavor, both in the form of prayer and finances, however large of small.  Many, many missionaries don’t make it for more than a few years because their adjustments are more than they can bear.  My hope is that my encouragement and perspective will strengthen them in continuing with the Lord’s work.



To Africa to Train Pastors in Effective Counseling

June 18, 2012

Leaving for Tanzania in 2-1/2 weeks.  In addition to teaching pastors how to meet their people’s needs through counseling, I’m preparing a men’s retreat and two Sunday sermons for an English-speaking church.   Here are some of the details.  Still needing additional financial contributions to meet expense, so if you feel moved, please send to East-West Ministries (see bottom of letter below).


Good Counseling Comes to the Broader Community

May 8, 2012

Good counseling costs a lot of money.   But not always, thanks to Dr. Michael Leach.  He has opened Richland Oaks Counseling Center right in the middle of a multicultural area and commits to providing services that are



     and culturally responsive for all who participate.

Right across the street from Richland College near Abrams Road and Walnut St., “ROCC” provides easy access.

How does he do it?  First, he focuses on social justice rather than making a lot of money for himself.  That’s the kind of guy he is.  A highly trained and skilled therapist and educator himself, he opts to supervise doctoral students and master’s level students from Argosy University and other graduate schools in the Dallas area.

He holds to a vision of a community in which staff, clients and various community organizations join in supporting persons with mental health needs so that all persons have the opportunity, including the necessary services and supports, to participate, with dignity, in the life of the community, with its freedoms, responsibilities, rewards, and consequences.

So, here’s a good man doing a good thing in the community.  How can you benefit from this service?  Give them a call at 469-619-7622.  Check out their Facebook page by clicking here .  Then, give them a try.  Some cynics say about counseling, “What you want, you can’t afford and what you can afford, you don’t want.”  Here’s a refreshing exception.

Baby Boomer Divorce on the Rise

May 3, 2012

angry-boomer-coupleResearchers found the divorce rate among those 50 and older nearly doubled from 1990 to 2009.

The  video report of NBC’s John Yang states the statistics but spins the trend in a shallow way.   Okay, increased freedom and independence may be part of divorce adjustment.   Starting to do things you’ve always wanted to do sounds like a positive adjustment.  But it doesn’t sound to me like people are learning much by simply “getting used to going solo at middle age.”  I have some questions.

How can a couple learn to do more of what they want to do by helping each other?

Doesn’t learning how to build a relationship of intimacy sound more like growing into adulthood?

Where does personal growth fit into the picture?  I don’t believe “it is what it is” any more than “I am what I am.”  too static for me.  Seems to me that a healthy marriage is one that stimulates personal growth for each person!

If  “knowing God” is our ultimate goal in life (and I think it should be), then shouldn’t we devote ourselves to any and every means of complying with His design?

Do you have some questions?  Let’s hear them.



Help Children of Divorce

January 17, 2012

Kids suffer from divorce.  My heart goes out to these boys and girls who often demonstrate more common sense about getting along than their parents.  They face an enormous adjustment for which no kid is equipped without some help.   Now, KidWorks provides that help.  Here’s a note from Rob Pine, the Executive Director, ChristianWorks for Children, highlighting a strong leader, Monica Epperson, and a ten-year-old boy of divorced parents, Cody.   Watch the video, read their story, let your heart respond with some kind of support.   They need facilitators as well as financial support.  Are children important?  Jesus thought so: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  (Matthew 19:14)

Rob writes:

God directed Monica Epperson our way to serve Him and join us as a National Representative for KidWorks, to develop and distribute materials, and to train others across the country.  She has a powerful story of her own as a child of divorce, and she has a passion to help children defeat the fears and worries that accompany that experience.  The author of two children’s books, Bounce and A Heart with Two Homes, Monica provides personal and heart-rendering insight into the issues that children of divorce face and into how KidWorks effectively addresses those issues.   She writes about this in a posting on the ChristianWorks.

It was a typical night at KidWorks, and all the groups had been in session for awhile.  The topic for the evening was Fears and Worries. One of the Middles’ facilitators suddenly appeared with a little boy named Cody who had asked to leave the group. Cody was obviously having a hard time that evening and began to cry. Our KidWorks Coordinator listened as he explained he wanted to leave because he didn’t want to cry in front of the other kids. In Cody’s own words, he expressed that “Fourth graders are too big to cry, but I know it’s alright to cry.” This exceptional ten year old boy must have felt very torn. As the conversation continued, he eventually shared what was behind the tears. His divorced parents continued to fight in front of him even while talking on the phone. The public display of his parent’s inability to get along was a big worry for him. After a bit of conversation, and composure on Cody’s part, he was ready to go back into the group. He felt better!

Cody was really brave to share as he did. He was brave enough to cry, even though it was not in front of the other kids. As is often the case with children of divorce, his pain and hurt were deeply rooted. Being able to release the pain and hurt is a step in the healing process.  KidWorks is a safe place where kids can share their deepest hurts along with their fears and
worries. Group facilitators help kids like Cody learn to address issues of divorce as well as help them learn coping skills to deal with those issues.

You can contact the KidWorks Coordinator, Beverly Ritz at britz@christian-works.org, for more information.

Be Prepared

March 17, 2011


Be prepared!  A good boy scout is.  A marine after boot camp is.  The Japanese were (as much as anyone could be . . . but they got whacked beyond imagination).  But young married couples typically are not prepared for the difficulties and blessings that a marriage brings.

A counselor who is now in practice  in College Stations, TX (near Texas A&M) wrote an article about God’s design for marriage that has helped several thousand people get focused over the past few years.

A young therapist in town, Matt Inman, has just come on the scene.  He is wise beyond his years.  He not only provides good pre-marital counseling here is Dallas, but he also has started a blog which I want to follow.  It’s called Fig Tree Counseling and his latest post looks at the importance of pre-marital counseling.  Check it out.

All this talk of preparation makes me ask, “What does it mean to be ready for the Second Coming of the Lord.  He said he would come again (John 14:3,18).  The Bible says it will be sudden (Matt 24:27).  Jesus said that we are not to know exactly when it will happen (Acts 1:7).  The Bible consistently indicates that the preparedness of his coming should bring comfort to us who believe (1 Thessalonians 4:18).   I think I can be prepared to the extent that my heart is surrendered to Him and my devotion is to do His will.  What does it mean to you?


February 21, 2011

We don’t do a very good job of listening.  I work real hard to listen to my clients as they express their personal issues.  Often, I miss what they’re saying and need some help.  More often, they miss what each other is saying and need a lot of help.  So if we don’t listen well, we don’t understand what’s really going on with the other person.

Some years ago, Wiley Miller wrote my favorite series on Non-Sequitur cartoons.  The first panel showed what one person heard; the second showed what the other person heard.  For example:

What She Heard – “Anything less than absolute perfection makes you an utter failure as a wife and mother.”

What He Said – “Mom is coming over for dinner.”

Or another . . .

What He Heard – “You’re way too stupid to be trusted driving in bad weather!”

What She Said – “Drive carefully, dear.”

Someone wisely said, “If we have two ears and one mouth, we ought to do twice as much listening as we do talking.”  Certainly, one of the reasons we don’t hear so well is that we are too busy giving our answers.  Proverbs 18:13 says,

“He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.”

So we ought to be working hard to make sure we listen intently so our responses are to the point.  Ken Boa writes a wonderfully clear article about what the Bible ways about the importance of listening.

Just to illustrate the point more vividly and visually, take a look at Clement Valla’s artistic project.  He asked 500 people to use an online drawing tool that lets users do just one thing – trace a line. Each new user only sees the latest line drawn, and can therefore only trace this latest imperfect copy.  Watch the distortions that take place over the sequence of 500 attempts to trace a line!

A Sequence of Lines Traced by Five Hundred Individuals from clement valla on Vimeo.

It’s amazing to me that we’re able to communicate much of anything, given our poor skills.  In the meantime, let’s be patient with one another, not expecting to be heard precisely right the first time.  We need to work on clarity.