Being Found by Mollie Taylor


Did you ever think that the ache in your gut
Could one day transform into such a treasure as this:
The way your heart has come alive,
Been given a voice—and space and reverence,
The way your words which spring from this aching heart
Find resonance and meaning in the hearts and lives of others.

This is the radical hope of renewal:
That in the face of all the beauty and pain,
You choose, finally, not to run but to turn
And face the presence of every other aching heart
Longing to be seen, longing to be known,
Longing most of all to be held in the fierce grip of love.

Do you want to keep running? 
Go ahead—for there is a well-worn path
And it carries its graces, too…

But know there is no place—no place
Like the arms that long to hold you,
The eyes that will see you
As you’ve never before been seen—
As though within your face is held
The very face of God. 


If you enjoyed this poem by Mollie Taylor, you can find more of her brilliant courage here.

Barn raising: thoughts on going through change with the help of others.

In the summer of 1983, a tornado cut its way through rolling hills of Holmes County, Ohio.  It only took twenty minutes to gouge 15 acres of land, destroying a forest of magnificent, 100-year-old hard woods.  Trees weren’t the only casualty that day.  Four Amish barns were also leveled.  As though the tornado had been given a mandate to destroy them, these four magnificent pieces of Amish craftsmanship were turned into nothing more than kindling.  For the Amish farmer, or any farmer for that matter, this would have been devastating.  To lose a barn means also losing  the livestock, hay, grain and equipment they housed.

What happened next was astonishing.  Gene Lodgson, a local farmer and writer in Upper Sandusky, Ohio had this to say about what happened after the tornado:

…what followed in the wake of the tornado during the next three weeks was just as awesome as the wind itself. In that time—three weeks—the forest devastation was sawed into lumber and transformed into four big new barns. No massive effort of bulldozers, cranes, semi-trucks, or the National Guard was involved. The surrounding Amish community rolled up its sleeves, hitched up its horses and did it all. Nor were the barns the quick-fix modern structures of sheet metal hung on posts stuck in the ground. They were massive three-story affairs of post-and-beam framing, held together with hundreds of hand-hewn mortises and tenons.

The Amish farmer who was the recipient of this new barn smiled. The structure, complete with donated hay, grain, and animals to replace all that was destroyed by the storm, cost him “about thirty thousand dollars, out-of-pocket money”–most of that funded by his Amish Church’s own internal insurance arrangement. “We give each other our labor,” he said. “That’s our way. In the giving, nothing is lost, though, and much is gained.  We enjoy barn raising.  So many come to work that no one has to work very hard.  And we get in a good visit.

I can just hear it.  As beams are being raised and joined, the conversations are

So, where were you when the tornado hit?
Hey, did you hear Jacob and Beth are expecting again?
(Ishmael – More nails!)
So, what do you think crop yields will be like this year?

This is so wonderfully weird.  Something terrible happens to one and many gather for a bit of work and a visit.


How does this happen?  How does a farmer who just saw his barn reduced to scrap seem to be at ease about the whole thing?

The answer is they relentless participate with one another in creating a future.  There is this covenant among them that sounds something like, “When your barn is leveled, I will drop everything to help you rebuild.”  Even before the tornado finished its work he knew his neighbors had his back.  His life may have been threatened, but not his livelihood.  He knew no matter the damage, rebuilding would be a group effort.  And he knew this not because it was written down somewhere in some book on Amish life (though I’m sure it is somewhere) but because he had seen this lived out since infancy.       

If you’re Amish barn raising is mandatory.  Young and old, women and men – everyone rolls up their sleeves to help in some way.  Though all you see in the video above are the men hard at work during a one-day barn raising, there are dozens of women and children present.  Everyone has a task to do.  Whether it’s feeding mouths or pulling nails out of old boards to be reused, or serving as the job site gopher – everyone participates.  And to this farmer’s point, no one is utterly depleted by day’s end, for it’s not on the shoulders of a few, but everyone.

At the end of the day, a farmer get a barn.  But really, he gets something better: a future.

There is this verse in Jeremiah that Christians love to quote: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Many are confused by this verse when unwanted change happens in their life.  All kinds of unhelpful beliefs tend to seep in.  Seven years ago, I feel off a roof and shattered my ankle.  This event sent shockwaves through every aspect of life for me and my family.  On several occasions, I heard people say to me, “Boy, God sure is trying to get your attention.”  I remember thinking, Really?  And he’s not yours?  You think God needed to give me a hip-check off a roof to do that?  Why do we so easily assume that God is authoring “tornadoes” in our lives?  What if it’s just a powerful wind that destroyed a barn, or a wild fire that burned a neighborhood, or a tormented young man who ended the lives of 17?  What if instead, God’s trying to do his best work in all us by embedding the learning and transformation we most seek for ourselves in the very acts that build a better future?

What the Amish understand is that tornadoes happen.  But futures don’t.  Those get made – one bulky beam at a time, which are best lifted by many hands.  They know that it’s in the many hands lifting that beam where the mystery of their faith and love for one another is realized.  They know that the best plans to become better humans – that being more loving, creative and courageous – don’t get rolled out for us like blueprints.  God doesn’t drop a future in our laps.  God invites us again and again into an experience, a relationship of participation with him and one another, to co-create something better.  Given that each of us are creatures charged with the responsibility and freedom to create meaningful lives, it would seem to take away from that truth if we weren’t invited to participate in being that for our futures.  You don’t sit and passively wait with hope for a future you wish you had.  You help create it.  What a gift, really, to not be robbed of that opportunity to participate in future building.

Imagine how a community like the one in the video above feels at the end of that day.

Community through Transition

Let’s say Amos, another Amish farmer, wakes up one morning to his barn engulfed in flames.  Scratch that.  Instead, let’s say the story is about abundance, not hardship.  Amos is skilled in the art of organic fertilizers and his crop yields for the last several years have been extraordinary.  Seeing the need for more storage space, he decides it’s time to build another barn.  But Amos does not want to inconvenience his Amish brothers and sisters for help.  He decides that they’re all too busy with their own work and families.  So, he shares nothing of the need.  In secret, he hires outside contractors to build a new barn without anyone in his community knowing.  Instead, Amos keeps it to himself acting as though everything is normal at monthly meetings and social gatherings.

How would the community respond to Amos when they find out?  What it would not be is congratulatory slap on the back followed by an, “At a boy, Amos!  Well done!”  They would be in confused.  Shocked.  Devastated.  Angry.  And, I think, quite hurt.  Why? Because somewhere along the way Amos forgot that a barn raising isn’t for him; it’s a visceral reminder to everyone that no matter what characterizes the season – calamity or abundance – a life is best lived in relationships that relentlessly participate with one another.

In my work with those going through a significant life transition, I often ask them to put together a coalition – a community of mentors, friends and colleagues who will help them see and tell the truth, identify and follow clues, provide encouragement and accountability, show up and really help, etc.  Hands down, the number one response I get from clients after introducing this idea of inviting others to participate in this way – and I’m not even talking about relentlessly, just occasionally – is,

I’m hesitant to ask.
I don’t want to inconvenience them.
They have their own problems.
They are so busy.

I live in a region where if you feel stuck, aimless or in any kind of pain the only real option is to hire a pro (e.g. a therapist, coach, pastor, spiritual director, etc.).  Commiserate with those who love you, but don’t ask them for help.  That’s what professionals are for.  Which, at times, hiring a pro is good and necessary.  Certain locked doors need the help of an experienced key maker.  I think what many of us are needing though is a barn-raising, an experience within a set of consistent and persistent relationships that roll up their sleeves and build a future together – during times of calamity or abundance.

We love the narrative of rugged individualism, the freedom to help ourselves out, choose our own way, and make a future.  There is a gift in that freedom of choice.  But somewhere along the way that gift gets perverted when we believe that’s something to be achieved without help.  No one person’s future is really self-made.  To be viewed as such is in my experience more a statement about what kind of person he or she has become in relationship to themselves and to those around them, and less about what they’ve accomplished.


The Amish have this strange and wonderful word to describe an activity that combines the following three things: the celebration of community, hard work, and common goals.  Any practice that satisfy these conditions are called “frolics”. For them, a barn raising is the most prolific frolic.

To feel everything from stuck and lost to progress and growth, are ordinary things; it’s what comes with being human.  Wanted or not, seasons of change come and go.  Some bring good.  Others a lot of difficult.  And many seasons serve up both.  These turbulent experiences aren’t to be avoid at all costs or moved through as quickly as possible.  Since they are going to happen, what if they could become that “transformational experience” to be engaged and frolicked through together?  Navigating through turbulent times isn’t something we need to fix or correct.  It’s something we need to engage and anticipate just what will happen.  The tornadoes and “high yield crops” are not the problem to be solved.  But learning to frolic during transition – engaging community in hard work and common goals – is the solution.  A good frolic best honors the challenging season by going into the loss, pulling out the beams, and building a desire future.

Given the times we live in with turbulence and uncertainty felt at almost every level of society, there lies a profound opportunity to build a better future.  Imagine how this kind of relentless participation changes a person’s heart and faith.  No, not the guy who got the barn.  Who wouldn’t be engorged with gratitude if you’re that guy?  The harder and more rewarding thing for us to connect with is how this kind of participation transforms the heart of everyone helping raise the barn.

When we choose to go through a life transition without the help of others, we steal away from those around us the profound joy of building up a future – real acts of hope, faith and love in the world.  To frolic through them reminds us of how we were created to be in the world: in relationship with one another, always connected, through all seasons.  For all seasons, wanted or not, hold valuable lessons to teach us about what it means to be human.  And hopefully along the way, get in a good visit.

For 2018, Dig Deep and Keep Promises, Not Resolutions

So many friends and colleagues I’ve spoken with have a common sentiment as they look back on 2017 – “I’m so tired.” It appears for many, this past year took a toll. When I look back on my year, by all accounts I should be cheering. But I, too, feel a weariness. Some of the exhaustion is like the thrill of crossing a finish line after a marathon. But some is because my soul is fatigued from the heartaches of “real life,” and the continued glimpse of humanity at its worst that 2017 offered.

By any standard, I should (and do) feel immense gratitude and pride for what 2017 wrought. Professionally, I completed my 75th article for Forbes and Harvard Business Review. I did two TEDx talks, one Authors at Google Talk, and one HBR live. I was a guest on more than 60 podcasts. I worked with some amazing clients who inspired me as we watched their organizations transform.  And I spent my days working alongside some of the finest consultants on the planet. Personally, I got to take an amazing long vacation with my wife and two dear friends. I got to volunteer extensively with an organization I am passionate about. I helped a dear friend complete ground breaking research on a pernicious affliction. And I lost 30 pounds.

And still, I’m very tired. Because in between all of that, the rest of life happened. I lost several friends too early in life to cancer. My older brother passed away unexpectedly. Both of my kids got very ill, and they live thousands of miles from me where they are in college. As a world, we faced unprecedented natural disasters that have left countless without homes, livelihoods, and care. Almost as if routine news, we saw headlines of leaders commit horrific abuses of power to exploit and harm others. And we continued to watch our nation further divide across political, social, and economic lines.

A few weeks “in between years” is hardly enough time to rejuvenate one’s mind, body, and soul. But it’s a start, and we all try and do it. For 2018, I’ve decided that rather than making “resolutions,” I want to make promises. To myself, and to others.  I don’t want to be another statistic among the near 80% who make and break “resolutions” weeks after the New Year begins. Resolutions are something we intellectually decide on our own. Promises feel more sacred. And most importantly, they involve others. As kids, “pinky swears” were the most inviolate of commitments. You’d never think of breaking one once made. That’s the kind of promise I’m talking about. If I learned anything in 2017, it’s that having others on the journey may well be the most important thing we need to learn in life. To participate in the journey of others’, and to invite them to participate in ours. With a pinky swear.

Maybe like me, you feel like you went all out in 2017 but instead of momentum, you feel weary going into 2018. If so, see if some of these promises might help you shift perspectives, and think differently about digging deep to gear up for the year ahead.

I promise to take honest stock. The first principle of being reflective is being self-honest. 2017 was great and it was painful. In some cases, it was painful because it was great. I don’t naturally like to hold two paradoxical truths. I tend to focus on one or the other – either how great things are, or how challenging things are. But if I can learn to hold both truths at the same time, I will be more honest about what 2017 was and wasn’t, and I can honestly grieve what cost me, and celebrate what delighted me.

I promise not to confuse “not yet” with “not enough.” One of my worst habits is that I dismiss progress when it’s just that, and not more. I confuse milestones and goals, and disregard one for not being the other. So when all of the above professional accomplishments didn’t add up to the ultimate goal for which I began them, I felt discouraged. Inadequate. Resentful of others further down their path than I. I refused to allow them to be enough. And while I know this to be extraordinarily unhealthy, it’s always been my weakness. But I am learning to distinguish “not yet” from “not enough.” I know life, professionally and personally, is a marathon. The mile markers along the way give us our bearings and indicate progress. They are to be celebrated, not dismissed. I am realizing that an inability to celebrate the “in between” now and not yet not only makes me bitter, but constrains me from being able to celebrate the in between of others too. So in 2018, I will honor each milestone with joy and gratitude. I will learn to anticipate with wonder, the next milestones, and even the ultimate goals that they indicate I am that much closer to.

I promise to keep my love affair with help going. I hired a coach two years ago, and we’re beginning our third year of work together. When I look back at all I have learned, I feel giddy. At the end of many of the podcasts I was on, when asked what piece of advice I would offer, I answered with, “Get help.” Honestly, help from others is one of life’s greatest gifts. Why on earth would we EVER want to undertake difficult things alone? Yet, we all do. We fear being a burden. We don’t want to feel weak or unqualified. We don’t like feeling vulnerable or looking incompetent. We don’t want to admit we need others. (Oddly, we’re perfectly ok being helpers to others, expecting them to admit they need us). Whatever remnants of that faulty thinking I had are almost gone! Help is my love language. I can’t get enough of it now, and in 2018, I intend to find ways to get more! If you have one ounce of resistance to others joining you in places you need help, PLEASE get past it. I promise you won’t regret it. You can’t truly appreciate the honor of being needed by others until you embrace your need for others as well.

I promise to be formed by the crucibles. My first TEDx talk was in early November. It was “the talk I was born to give” according to dear friends. It was on a topic near and dear to my heart – power. My thoughts were formed by my book built upon ten years of research data. And the event was in my home town of Seattle. The day before, I flew in from Connecticut from my brother’s funeral. The dissonance was unbearable. Saying goodbye to my big brother, and the next day, walking into the coveted red circle to tell the world my ideas. As I walked on stage, I looked up, fighting back tears, and thought of my brother. And on the way to the red circle, all I could think of was the faces of so many friends and family who’d carried me that week, many of whom were in the audience. Inside, I knew digging deep to “show up” for this was forming me. Refining me like fire does dross. Though I still have no idea how. I was keenly aware that suffering does yield strength, empathy, wisdom, and resilience, and reveals supplies of strength we didn’t know we had (especially when we allow others to help). We can’t prevent life’s cruel parts from invading. But we can let them form us into better human beings, which in turn allows us to care for those suffering even more than us.

I promise to reach back and give to others earlier on their journey. When I look at the many people who reached back from further up ahead to offer me practical advice and support, encouragement and kindness, I’m astounded. So when I look back and see others earlier on their journeys, at places I was not that long ago, it makes me eager to offer them what was so generously offered to me. Thought leaders who lent me their voices. Friends who gave me time and compassionate ears. Family who cheered me on. Wise guides who gave me sage ideas. One of the best ways to truly savor the milestones of “in between” (#2 above) is to look back and offer the same to those coming behind me. If we all do the same in 2018, we truly will make the world stronger, together.

I promise to rest and play. I rediscovered the beauty of sleep this year. (As an aside, whoever said we need less sleep as we get older was an idiot). I took my physical and emotional health more seriously this year. I promise to keep playing (to keep these 30 pounds off – which we all know is harder than losing them in the first place!). I promise to play racquetball with my friend more. I promise to take longer weekends away with my wife. I promise to keep making better choices about food. And I promise to keep exercising regularly and not get complacent. (I’ve already gotten clothes a size smaller, so I have no choice). It’s so cliché, but we only get one body and if we don’t take care of it, it has ways of “giving us feedback” later in life. I’m praying “50 is the new 30” is really true. I’m going to act like it is until I learn otherwise.

I promise to remain grateful for the privilege. Down the hall from my office is a conference room and kitchen where I get my morning coffee. I have a collection of coffee mugs from all of the world, and from numerous special moments with people I love and regard. Each morning, when I pick which mug to use, I hold it in remembrance of the person it represents to me, remembering joyfully the moment it symbolizes, grateful for who they are to me and the parts of life we’ve shared. It’s my (some might say corny) way of reminding myself of everything above – that others in my life have shaped my journey, and that I need to remain grateful for the privilege (including the really hard parts) of being on the journey. Beginning my day with a reminder that my story is part of a much bigger, grander story keeps me grounded, and in 2018, will surely help me keep my promises.

However your story has unfolded in 2017, my hope is that you can make a few promises to yourself, and those that matter most; that the chapters about to be revealed can be full of all of life – the not yet, the milestones, the crucibles, and the wonder of others loving and cheering you on, helping you keep your pinky swear.

Liminal Space Fundraiser Breakfast – September 2017

On Thursday, September 28, we hosted over 42 guests at our annual fundraiser breakfast at The PIER Learning Center.  It was an incredible morning of great food, mimosas, and inspiring client stories of transformation during some of life’s most turbulent life transitions.

That morning, our Liminal Space partners helped raise nearly $30,000 to continue our work in the coming year!  As we close out 2017 soon we are incredibly grateful for those who continue to believe in our mission and who desire to expand our work in the world.  Thank you!

A special thanks to all our volunteers who helped pull of this special event.  We truly couldn’t continue to serve our clients and guide journeys of transformation without you!


Ellen Kilcup served as our cellist for the morning.
The space was completely full and beautiful for the morning. Every seat filled!
Jessie Owen, one of our Liminal Space client speakers.
The highlight of the time was simply listening to clients, past and present, speak about their work during a major life transition.
Amy Li, Liminal Space alumni speaker
Bary Morgan, Liminal Space alumni speaker
Jon DeWaal, our Executive Director speaking about the importance of community and relentless participation with one another during transition.
Ron Carucci, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, sharing about the future of Liminal Space and our work to transform how the world views these formative times in life.






To Be Told Simulcast with Dr. Dan Allender

Register Here.

Friday, October 13, 6:30 – 8:30 pm

Saturday, October 14, 9:00 am – 4:30 pm

Cost: $25 per person

The PIER Learning Center at Liminal Space is hosting a live simulcast of the To Be Told Conference with Dr. Dan Allender.  Dan has been a story sojourner for more than 30 years. He brings his own vulnerability and kind spirit to his teaching as he challenges individuals, couples, and communities to do the important, holy work of entering their stories with grace, courage, and hope.

Our stories, in all their beauty and heartache, shape and influence every dimension of our daily life and relationships. Knowing the impact of our story and finding God’s redemptive work within it is vital for emotional, relational, and spiritual formation and health. Our culture often encourages us to focus only on the positive experiences and put the painful ones behind us. Far too often, when the true impact of our stories of wounding and heartache go unaddressed, we find ourselves bound to unhealthy and unfulfilling patterns without hope for change.

The To Be Told simulcast is a unique opportunity to bring Dr. Dan Allender to Liminal Space and experience alongside others how our stories shape our faith, understanding of self, relationships, and engagement in everyday life. This event will be a chance to delve into our unique stories and explore how life experiences have shaped who we are today. And by exploring the complexities of our story, we will discover the true goodness of relationships, delight, and love that God desires for each of us.

Register Here.


“Our own life is the thing that most influences and shapes our outlook, our tendencies, our choices and our decisions. It is the force that orients us toward the future, and yet we don’t give it a second thought, much less a careful examination. It’s time to listen to our own story.” – Dan Allender, To Be Told


Dr. Dan Allender has pioneered a unique and innovative approach to trauma and abuse therapy over the past 30 years. Central to Dr. Allender’s theory and approach are the categories of Faith, Hope and Love, and their converses betrayal, ambivalence, and powerlessness. Through identifying and engaging these categories in one’s personal narrative, healing and transformation can occur by bridging the story of the gospel and the stories of trauma and abuse that mark so many.

After receiving his Master of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr. Allender earned his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Michigan State University. Dan taught in the Biblical Counseling department of Grace Theological Seminary for seven years (1983-1989). From 1989-1997, Dan worked as professor in the Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling program at Colorado Christian University in Denver. In 1997, Dan and a cadre of others founded The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology, in order to train therapists, pastors, artists, and leaders to more effectively serve in the context of the 21st century. Dan served as President of The Seattle School from 2002-2009.

Dan continues to serve as Professor of Counseling Psychology at The Seattle School. He travels and speaks extensively to present his unique perspective on sexual abuse recovery, love and forgiveness, intimacy and marriage, worship, and other related topics. Dan is the author of The Wounded HeartThe Healing PathTo Be Told, and God Loves Sex, and he has co-authored several books with Dr. Tremper Longman, including Intimate AlliesThe Cry of the SoulBold Love, and Bold Purpose.

5 Misguided Reasons Why People Don’t Follow A Budget

Many of us have heard that we should follow a budget but not many of us do. A 2013 Gallup poll found that only 32% of US households put together and follow a written budget each month. Following a budget, which may also be called a spending plan, is the key to success in personal finance, no matter how much money you have or the difficulty of your life’s circumstances. But why don’t people use a budget? Here are some reasons that I have heard from clients and friends, and what I tell them about their excuses.

1. I don’t know how.

This is the most common excuse that I hear. And I would say that it is a mildly valid excuse. I didn’t learn how to budget until I was 37 because nobody sat me down and said “you really NEED to learn how to do this! This is important. Let me show you why and how.” Ignorance cost me a lot of money in this budgeting realm, and it’s why I’m committed to helping others. That is why I’ve teamed up with Liminal Space to offer a money management workshop specifically on budgeting. No excuse! If you’re navigating through a major life transition and feeling the pressure on your finances, learning now how to budget will be critical to a successful outcome.

2. I don’t have time.

If your house was on fire, you would find the time to call the fire department or at least get a hose! If you don’t follow a budget, your financial house is on fire. You cannot afford to NOT make time for your finances. If you don’t then one day you will find yourself standing in a pile of ashes and wonder where your financial house went!

3. I don’t do math.

Budgeting is not about math, especially not in this age, as there are so many great budgeting apps available that do all the math for you! Making and following a budget is about making decisions: deciding where you are going to spend your money at the beginning of the month and then deciding to follow your plan.

4. I track what I spend – that should be good enough.

Tracking what you spend is looking in the rear-view mirror. It already happened and unless you didn’t take the tag off, you can’t undo the spending you already did. Budgeting is about making a plan for your money BEFORE you spend it. Look out the front window and be in charge of your money by making a plan for it. Again, this couldn’t be more true than when money has stopped flowing in. You’ll need to wisely and thoughtful tell those dollars where to go and where not to.

5. Talking about budgeting only instigates arguments with my spouse. 

If budget talks start fights, it’s because you aren’t on the same page with your spouse. You don’t agree on where you are going and/or how to get there. The money management workshop or financial coaching can help you discover what is at the root of your money fights and how you can make changes that will make budgeting a bonding tool rather than dynamite.

David and Katie’s Story: Vocation as a Journey

We began working with Jon to explore vocational calling during the final year of Dave’s doctorate degree in clinical psychology. Then the real exploration began when Jon coached both of us as we were about to finish up a year long residency in Hawaii.

We knew that we wanted adventure to be a big part of our lives but weren’t sure exactly how that would look. One of our favorite exercises Jon had us complete was story writing. This drew out some of Dave’s self-doubts and Katie’s fears. Once they were on the table we could address them so they didn’t undermine God’s calling on our lives.

After working with Jon, we went on to live in Guam and serve Chamorro people. This adventure then led us to one of the biggest decision of our married lives: opening our home to foster children. We have since adopted the foster daughter we met while in Guam and are hoping to adopt our current foster daughter.

Liminal Space provides the key ingredients needed to navigate life’s future uncertainty. Rather than espousing a “pray and wait” approach, its all about “pray and actively discern”. Jon will provide you with the self-knowledge crucial to choosing a path, exercises to imagine a future, and encouragement to build motivation to pursue that future. We are extremely grateful to him.

Our most recent adventure has led us to open our own joint private practice therapy clinic in northern Utah (, which fulfills one of the dreams we conjured while with Liminal Space: working as a husband and wife team.

David Johnson, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

The Noise of the Day

“What is going on?!”

Countless times I’ve asked myself this question while watching the news and world events during the last year. I’m baffled. Concerned. Outraged. Confused.  And I have found very little understanding amidst it all. I know I’m not the only one feeling this way.

We ask, ‘What will come of it all?’  What’s so unsettling is that we don’t know. While we may not fully understand where this turmoil will lead us individually or as a country, you personally can ask yourself this question – Who do I want to become in the midst of all this?

Why Do We Have So Much More Noise Than Before?

We, as a country, are in  a protracted transition; a word used to describe the spaces between what was, what is no more, and what is to come. It’s the ‘in between space’ in which all the noise is made. But what exactly is the noise? And why does it seem so much more incessant in the age of social media? The ‘noise’ is not only the daily reminders that we live in a messed up and broken world (terrorist attacks, global warming, corrupt governments, etc), but also the non-stop commentary on all of it.

Decades ago, our world news was limited to what the newspaper reported about distant countries. The commentary was the Op-Ed piece or what we talked about around the water cooler and on our front porches. Now, 140-character thoughts shift what we all talk about for days.  And with a finger scroll,, we have seemingly unlimited access to news and politics from around the world with a thread of everyone’s opinion on it.  It’s assault feels never ending, especially when the commentary has been as derisive as the last 18+ months.

Much of the noise today is coming because there is so much uncertainty during a transition. Change ushers in uncertainty, and that’s too uncomfortable for me … and for most. The discomfort creates a great deal of noise both inside and around us. There is a lot of uproar eagerly clamoring for attention. And that uproar is often reactive and thoughtless. It’s in this protracted transition where we scratch our heads, shed tears, shout, pound our fists, and ask the really hard questions. It’s where voices rise with “I have to do something!” but exactly what we’re supposed to be doing isn’t so clear.

What Can We Do About It?

So, how do we express our thoughts and emotions healthfully? There are two common approaches to the noise – running away from it (i.e. putting our heads in the sand and ignoring it) or running in with fists a-blazing (i.e. starting social media arguments). Neither of these approaches is healthy or appropriate, unfortunately.

What if instead we actively chose to listen to the noise? I don’t mean interacting with Internet trolls who are out looking for an argument. But finding people who have a different understanding than you, and listening to them. Choosing to stay in the midst of it is something completely different. In fact, it seems in this day and age, it’s counter-cultural. Actively listening to learn (and not forming a new argument in your head as you pretend to listen) leads to understanding.  And understanding is what we want most. The goal cannot be to win. Healthy communities, families, couples, or friendships that have journeyed through life together for some time understand this point well. There is something breathtaking about healthy relationships: their differences don’t divide them, they serve as glue. They do the hard work to understand one another because they believe that the best plots end with restoration, not fragmentation.

How we listen and engage—especially when it’s this loud and crowded—matters; for it will determine whom we choose to become.

Who will you stop and listen to this week?

Ethan’s Story: Capacity to Engage

Family PhotoI got tricked into counseling. First by my wife, then by a God ordained meeting. My wife politely forced me to join a marriage class at the City Church in Seattle, WA focused on relationships, communication and attachment theory. I began learning about self-awareness and EQ. During 2013, my work life began to suffer as other colleagues and I began suffering from frequent anxiety attacks and a loss of drive/passion/focus due to a debilitating and stifling organizational culture. I had moved my entire family from Montana out to Everett to pursue a new career in aerospace that was supposed to be incredibly exciting and lucrative.

My wife and I quickly realized that Seattle is expensive and it takes time to climb the ladder and we both began wondering what we were doing and why we were there. We had two young children and had just learned that my wife was pregnant. I began looking for new jobs but didn’t know how to marry my passions, skill set and experience. We were also concerned about our daughter changing schools, moving a third time and figuring out the logistics of life with a new job, house, three kids, etc. During this time, my wife briefly and very randomly met Jon DeWaal at a local park during a kids play date with one of her friends from church. While our kids played together, my wife and her friend chatted with Jon briefly and he told them about the work he did. My wife relayed this story to me later and I blew it off as counseling sounded too messy and embarrassing. A few months later, during a particularly hard week at work, my wife’s friend encouraged me to call Jon. However, I had lost his number and didnt know anything about where he worked. So I began using google to find pictures of counselors in the greater Edmonds area and I texted and emailed the photos to my wife and her friend. After 5-10 attempts, they identified Jon’s face and within a week I was sitting in his office for our first session.

The first memorable moment was when I realized that vulnerability and transparency could be the hallmark and legacy of a man of influence instead of pride and rugged individualism. The second moment was when I realized I had a deep yearning and desire for relational connection in marriage, friendship and in my career. I had spent most of my life pursuing masochistic solo adventures that left me feeling empty and alone and the more I engaged with others, asked questions and sought understanding, the more rich life became.
I discovered that I had a capacity to engage, connect and seek understanding that my family narrative had never taught me, shown me, or told me was appropriate. I discovered that the greatest attribute of a leader is not always their ability to strategize, plan a budget or give a speech, but to simply connect and seeking understanding from another human.
Advice…dive in, do the hard work, lean into the hard conversations, write as much down as you can along the way, stay organized and be patient with your progress. And no matter how much it costs, its worth it, I promise.

A Dark & Holy Night


A few years ago my family and some friends decided to go caroling.  We bundled up, handed out song sheets and hit the streets of our neighborhood on a dark and rainy December evening walking door to door to spread Christmas cheer.

Now, most of us had never caroled like this before, actually singing to our neighbors.  We really didn’t know what to expect.  Walking to the first couple of houses we joked, “What if they don’t open the door, or worse, turn off their lights and hide!”  That felt like a distinct possibility.  It’s an awkward thing for a group to sing to one, maybe two people.  But I discovered something that night: if you’re willing to wait in it, awkward – which is really another word for vulnerable – can be the precursor to holy.

The formula was two carols selected by whomever shouted their request first with the finale always being “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”  Then, on to the next house.  One person would knock and we’d begin belting it out before they opened the door.  You don’t slap someone with Christmas cheer.  Instead, you let harking nudge them to investigate the clatter.  And surprisingly, this happened at almost every house.  The door would open, you’d see a friendly face emerge and they’d stand there listening and smiling.  But not at the last house.

Everyone has this neighbor: Valentine’s Day, Easter, Fourth of July, Halloween, Christmas – for them these aren’t just dates on a calendar, these are seasons to be embraced, which means decorating their property to the hilt weeks in advance.  This house was our last stop, an extravagant display of tacky that was truly something to behold.  Imagine going to Walmart on December 26 for the last four decades and buying every Christmas decoration on clearance, and then each year putting that on display in your yard the day after Thanksgiving.  That was this house.  There was a little bit of everything from years past: plastic-molded Santa complete with sleigh and reindeer; dozens of candy canes strewn about the lawn; inflatable snowmen; inflatable Rudolph; inflatable elves; inflatable Santa; light everywhere; and to top it off, this foamy fake snow covering the bushes and grass.

All of our eyes widened as we approached the door.  I fully expected the door to be swung wide open and all be invited in for hot cocoa and cookies.  Far from it.  The door cracked halfway, just wide enough for the porch light to reveal her.  She was older with a small frame.  She wore an old nightgown printed with pink and pale green flowers that trailed down to her slippers.  Her eyes were tired and stern.

She just looked at us.  No smile.  No warmth.  It was so awkward.  She was so small and old, and yet her presence caused all of us to feel off-balance.  I felt relieved as we were singing our exit song wishing her a merry Christmas and a happy new year, which felt very unlikely given the look on her face.

Our singing stopped, and then something happened.

She spoke, and as she did her voice cracked and her chin quivered.  Tears formed in the corners of her tired eyes.  “My husband would have loved to hear this.” She managed to say and then paused.  “He’s at the pharmacy right now.  He’s not been well.  Can you come back?”

It was such a vulnerable ask.

“Of course!” We said, knowing that even if he was gone for three hours this was going to happen.

It must have been only five minutes later though when we noticed his return while singing at the house next door.  We wrapped it up, and made our way back, aware that there was so much more happening for this couple than just another Christmas.

For a second time we knocked and began to sing.  I wasn’t sure what to expect as the door swung open.  Before us stood a tall, older man with a proud, salty beard next to his bride.  He wore a red turtleneck with a green and red Cardigan sweater with quarter-sized buttons on the front.  Leaping white reindeer were knit throughout.  It was quite something, and you could tell he knew it.

The whole time he just stood there cozied up next to her.  He towered over her filling most of doorway.  His arm was draped and tucked around her like an old tree branch fitting snuggly into position, a stance they’d done hundreds of times before.   He smiled, his face and hers exuding warmth and welcome.

We broke from our formula and sang three or four songs, and as we did they both joined in.  No one else that night had done that.  Most just looked at us with a “this is weird and kinda nice” look on their face.  Not them.  They were so glad to have us there.  As they sang they both were crying.

We ended as usual with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”  It felt like the most honest wish we’d made to any home or person that entire Christmas season or since then.  And I’ll never forget what I saw her do.  As she sang her voice and her body began to slightly bounce and move more with the beat of the song.  She bent her free elbow, closed her fist and began hammering down with the beat of the song.   Her voice raised louder and louder, eyes wet and her face full with defiance, sorrow and joy.  She was such a beautiful contradiction given the story.  They both were really.  Even the house with all its tacky twinkle.

A few months later their home was empty.  I presume the story she told us in the way she sang that night came to pass: her husband’s life stolen away by some disease.  And yet, facing the year ahead with most certain death, sorrow and loneliness, they swung the door wide open that night and sang.  With clenched fist, she sang.

Hope is that song of defiance, always a rousing blend of sorrow and joy.  With things that are difficult to endure and painful to understand, hope keeps you human.  It reminds you of a more true song inside you that nothing – not even death – can steal away.  It reminds you that you were made for love, no matter what.  It reminds you that this moment – your life today – is a precious thing not to be wasted.  Hope invites you to voice an acheful wish, “My husband would have loved this.  Can you come back?”  Hope, if you’ll let it, welcomes others in, even in the thickest of darkness.

This is what Advent and Christmas means to me: in the darkest of times, the most absurd and mysterious contradiction surprises the world in the form of a baby making it possible for us to become more human.  Most years I try to get to this truth by starting with the baby in the manger.  This year it came through an extravagant display of lights, tacky inflatables and the tearful singing of this joyful couple at the end of their journey together.

Whatever you are waiting for this Christmas, whatever it is that you’re having to endure, whatever you’d want to write out of the story entirely, may hope find a place on your threshold.  While you wait for whatever it is that you seek and are crying out to understand the why of it all, may hope rise giving you something of a voice for your feelings, desires and confusion.  It doesn’t have to be sung with a cheerful heart.  Just honest.  Each threshold holds a choice: we can self-protect, stay rigid and guarded.  We can push it all away.  That is an option.  Or, we can sing with a clenched fist.

Merry Christmas, friends.  And I wish you a happy new year.