After Hurricane Harvey

Dear Friends & Family of Heritage,

“We’ve never seen anything like this before.” “….unprecedented….” “largest water event in history….” “catastrophic”…. “of Biblical proportions….”

These are the phrases we’ve heard repeated over and over again over the last several days.
Hurricane Harvey is unlike anything you or I have ever experienced before, and it is a storm we will never forget.

So many emotions are being stirred as this storm has wrecked havoc on the greater part of the south Texas coast. We feel powerless, even desperate. Some of us feel relief for having been spared from the massive damage brought by flood waters. Often that relief is followed by guilt as we witness the devastation spread across our own communities. We realize just how little control we really do have over our lives.

My heart goes out to all our families, friends, and neighbors in the greater Houston area, as well as our friends all along the Texas/Louisiana coastline who have lost so much. I can also say I have never been more proud of how our community is responding to this terrible, traumatic disaster.

I never planned on being a Houstonian and had no idea this would be my home for more than two thirds of my life. Since arriving in Houston just after the oil crash in the early 80’s, I’ve seen a few economic cycles in the oil industry, some real estate industry ups and downs, TS Allison, Katrina, Rita and Ike…and now the catastrophe, Harvey. Even through the bleak moments, Houston ALWAYS pulls together, Houston ALWAYS survives, and Houston ALWAYS comes back stronger than before. I saw a newspaper headline that read: “Houston, You Are The Change Our World Needs to See”. Further stated, “We need to follow Houston’s lead and come together, not only to overcome the storm, but to overcome the oppressive divide we are seeing in our nation.” AMEN AND AMEN. My hope, my prayer is that we will continue to do just that…put foot action to that which we were called to do “Love our neighbor as ourselves.”

Today, I love Houston more than I ever have—because of her strength, her unity, her compassion, her resilience, and her generosity.

We, the Heritage Family, will continue to walk along side you, your families, and our community as we have for the last 20 plus years. We love people. We love our relationships. We love our community. And we love YOU, for Love is the foundation of our Heritage.

My heart and prayers are with you as we rebuild together,
Julie

The Mindset of Harvey: Understanding Mental Health and Natural Disasters

Flooded streets, lost pets, destroyed homes, abandoned cars, homes under water, crying babies…. These are all the images we have seen on the news, our neighborhoods, or even inside our own homes. These vulnerable images are being played over and over for the world to see. Houston is now being put under a microscope, being judged, looked at, and misunderstood. However, there is one part of this scenario that will not be televised. In fact, it will be brushed over briefly and not be prioritized, and that is the mental health of the survivors.

I am writing this blog on day 4 of Hurricane Harvey, and the only emotion I have been constantly hearing and witnessing is overwhelming feelings of numbness, anger, depression, and in some cases acceptance. Houston is in a state of shock, and we do not quite know how to feel. This disaster is still processing in our minds and we are in state of disbelief. Did this really just happen? Am I really homeless? Has everything that I have worked for just get washed away? So many questions with answers we are not ready to address. Being in sense of denial, and though we see others dealing with the same disaster, we are still toiling with our own feelings of isolation and loneliness. Millions of Houstonians are about to go through the stages of grief at the same time and in different ways.

So as you sit in your home looking around at all your belongings under water, or in a shelter looking at strangers that are dealing with similar circumstances, in a friend’s home taking shelter, in your yard picking up clothes from your front lawn, or next door helping a neighbor…. I need you to know that you are not alone. That means these thoughts and feelings you are holding in… do not ignore. This blog was not written to make you, the reader, feel better or “happy”, but rather an acknowledgement that I….we….Houston have some idea of what you are feeling and that you’re not alone.

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster.” However, that trauma is not only about the event but rather by one’s reactions to it and the symptoms. Any painful or overwhelming experience can cause trauma and that trauma (Hurricane Harvey) is only recognizable by its symptoms.

As Babbel (2010), stated the most immediate and typical reaction to a natural disaster is shock, which at first manifest as numbness or denial. Quickly or eventually shock can give way to an overemotional state that often includes high levels of anxiety, guilt, and even depression.

The American Psychological Association stated that the following are common symptoms of trauma:

• Feelings become intense and sometimes are unpredictable. Irritability, mood swings, anxiety, and depression are coming manifestations of this.
• Flashbacks: repeated and vivid memories of the event that lead to physical reactions such as rapid heartbeat or sweating
• Confusion or difficulty making decisions
• Sleep or eating issues
• Fear that the emotional event will be repeated
• A change in interpersonal relationships skills, such as an increase in conflict or a more withdrawn and avoidant personality
• Physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and chest pain

Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? Some survivors of Hurricane Harvey will seem at first perfectly fine, actually a little “too fine”, but these people can be beset with symptoms later on.

So what am I saying, why am I writing this blog? Well… my fellow Houstonians… my fellow Hurricane Harvey survivors… I am too a survivor. A person that has experienced this disaster, but also a person that wants to help. We, survivors of this horrible disaster, are recommended to seek professional guidance if we find ourselves unable to regain control of our lives.

In the upcoming weeks, I will attempt to update you on resources and coping techniques to help yourself and others.

Citations:

http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/recovering-disasters.aspx

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/somatic-psychology/201004/the-trauma-arises-natural-disasters

Teens and Technology

Ding!
My body becomes alert with anticipation as I reach for my iPhone. “Is it an Instagram like? A Facebook comment? A Snap? A text?” My mind wonders with excitement and hope as the home button reads my fingerprint. Light appears on the screen and I’m given access to a virtual reality. To my dissapointment it is only the notification for high pollen alert on my weather app.

Have you felt this way too? I realize I have been conditioned by my Smartphone! When it rings, I come running. There has been a lot of talk about the potential dangers of excessive electronic use for teens and children. A colleague of mine sent me a wonderful article written by Jean M. Twenge entitled “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” I found The Atlantic article to be quite balanced in its view of electronics and the upcoming generation despite its scandalous title. The author ends the article with a caution stating “Significant effects on both mental health and sleep time appear after two or more hours a day on electronic devices. The average teen spends about two and a half hours a day on electronic devices. Some mild boundary-setting could keep kids from falling into harmful habits.”

Many parents know boundaries are necessary when giving children access to electronics. However, many are unsure of the best way to do it. I have listed out 6 principles to keep in mind when setting limits on electronics for your teen.

1. Use clear, concise communication. Long lectures do nothing for the parent-teen relationship and more times than not your teen has tuned you out, leaving you both feeling exacerbated.

2. Set up a family contract, see your teen as a contributing member to this contract and be open to their feedback.

3. Be consistent in implementing the agreed upon contract.

4. Model your own self-control in using electronics, this will be most impactful for your teen. Show them how you set limits for yourself, that will mean more to them than what you say.

5. If you have monitoring systems on their devices, this should be communicated to your teen from day one. Let them know from the beginning what your expectations are and how you will be monitoring them. Emphasize that the monitoring system is for their safety, not for a lack of trust in them. Being transparent and creating open lines of communication is essential during the teenage years.

6. Let them know you love them for who they are, no matter what.

Try being mindful of these six principles when setting limits with your teen. Remind yourself that you are only human, and raising a teenager is hard. If you would like more assistance in creating open communication with your teen, try family counseling at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants.

 

 

Permission to Cry as Baby Birdies Fly

As a mother of 3 young adult women, I have seen and experienced many conflicting emotions. Each spring, I watch as formal gowns emerge at boutiques as well as the mall. The front of every teen magazine reflects the current year’s trend for prom, invitations arrive in the mail and I am reminded of a bittersweet time. I encounter mothers and fathers daily who are facing this exciting time of celebration, graduation and transition. Often these parents start off with concerns of whether the child is ready for the new level in academia, or responsible enough to get up and go to class. The focus is primarily on the anticipated success or challenge of the child going away to college. In this extremely busy time, it is easy to focus on them and neglect the churning of our own personal emotions.

I personally experienced great surges in pride, joy and accomplishment accompanied by sadness, fear, even loss and grief. No one else was talking about the lump in their throat and tears stinging their eyes as they thought about letting go. I had this overwhelming sense of fear, like the first time I left them with a babysitter alone. Again, there was a silence that surrounded me that was deafening. I maintained control of my emotions until on the last Sunday before leaving the middle child said to me in front of the church, “Don’t worry mommie, you have done a great job. I am ready to go.” A deep loud cry escaped my throat and I let it out, and the tears flowed as if there was no off switch. At first I felt embarrassed, and then parent after parent with wet cheeks approached to say, “me too”. The lesson that I pass on from one extremely proud parent to those of you approaching your own new sense of freedom is CRY!!!

It’s ok to admit that you will miss them even though they still don’t pick up after themselves, that you are fearful for their safety in this big bad world. Talk about the approaching quiet and lack of “have to’s” with your spouse and be purposeful about planning for those times together to build your relationship as more than just mom and dad. And express your grief about the transition of baby growing up and the need of your care changing. And then rejoice, because you have done what you could to prepare them. And now you must trust that the pouring of prayers, lessons, corrections and accolades that you have bestowed upon them will be put to good use. It is now their time to forge their path and for you to redesign yours.

Happy Graduation and Prom parents! You have earned it.

Learning From Royalty

Prince Harry recently shared about the grief he experienced when his mother, Princess Diana, tragically passed away. He participated in a refreshing interview conducted by Bryony Gordon for her podcast, Mad World, in which he confessed, “losing my mum at the age of 12 and, therefore, shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but also my work as well.” His confession was in part to promote the Heads Together campaign, created to fight the stigma associated with mental health. Prince Harry’s primary message is that while he did not seek professional help for anxiety and aggression until he was on the verge of a breakdown, there are millions that could learn from his mistakes and walk through healing much more quickly.

This isn’t the first time public figures have come out regarding their personal challenges with mental health. Lady Gaga has shared about her battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through an open letter posted on her Born this Way Foundation website, and her declaration gave permission to all her fans to express their struggles with PTSD and/or other mental health issues. When high profile individuals expose their personal challenges with mental health, it normalizes the experience for all who look up to them and encourages those who are suffering in silence to speak up and choose to stop suffering alone.

Why are we afraid to talk about our painful emotions?

We all experience them. We are bombarded by disappointment, fear, hopelessness, doubt, insecurity, and the list goes on and on. But many of us refuse to speak up, largely because this is what has been modeled for us either growing up or in the society around us. This way of coping leads to a false hope that depression; anxiety or grief will erode away over time. We may fear merely talking about our emotions or facing them because they could get out of control. And when they don’t go away, we may resort to self-medicating with food, drugs or relationships. For a moment, we may feel confident that we have our emotions under control, but, once we realize this approach isn’t helping, we might choose to talk to someone about it or to continue to suffer in secret until the situation becomes worse. In reality, the avoidance of emotions can only last so long, and as counselors, we often receive phone calls of desperation, when a person is fed up with their life course and truly believe their sole option is ending it all. Avoidance is merely a temporary fix, and true healing requires a deeper and more intentional approach.

So What Do I Do Now?

Family and friends are not always equipped to help with mental health concerns, although that’s a great first step. Sometimes talking about personal struggles with a trustworthy friend is all we need to feel relief. Other times, professional help is necessary to tackle more debilitating concerns.

We might believe that professional help for mental health is only for severe cases. The truth is, counseling is for anyone experiencing any mental distress, which can include: life transitions (good or bad), loss of a loved one or a job, difficulty making decisions, feeling overall dissatisfied with life or unhappy in a relationship or alone. I’ve had clients express concern that they’re not sure they even need counseling and others who call and ask questions about the counseling process but aren’t yet ready to schedule an appointment. This information gathering process is very healthy, and once they feel ready, they call and schedule their first appointment.

The initial step to get help is always uncomfortable and feels unnatural. Finding a counselor, with whom you can share, your deepest most personal concerns with can be daunting. If you’re not totally sure about what you need, it could help to find someone who could point you in the right direction, like a primary care physician. They usually have referrals available for their patients. Be honest about the symptoms you are experiencing, and if you are having suicidal thoughts, share it with your doctor or call 911 if you fear you’re in danger of hurting yourself. If you need to call or email a counselor to ask questions about counseling before meeting with them in person, do it. Psychotherapists are aware of the fear and hesitation that most clients experience before they make their appointment. If the counselor you meet doesn’t seem like a right fit, that’s okay too. Find someone who works for you.

Prince Harry and Lady Gaga are human just like us, but because of their very public lifestyle, it’s hard to imagine that they have hard days or that they struggle with their mental health. In reality, we all struggle, and now it’s our turn to break the cycle of avoidance in our own lives and choose healthy living.

To The Mamas of Teenage Boys

Things change quickly when boys begin turning into men. They look weird. Their voices change. They always smell one of two ways, sweat or an entire bottle of Axe cologne. They spend WAY too much time in the shower, and…the girls. It can be difficult, particularly for moms, to adjust to the physical changes as well as the emotional withdrawal that takes place during puberty. As a mom, our desire is to connect with our children emotionally. We want to be there for them. We would happily suffer through the awful smell and cracks in their voice if they would just, for a moment, let us IN. They don’t want to let you in, because it’s weird to talk to mom about anything. Frankly, it’s awkward for you too. You don’t know what to say or how to start and the old ways of communicating just don’t work anymore.

Here is the truth…it HAS changed. All of it changes, and it happens way too fast. This adjustment, although it feels tougher than all the other ones, is simply an adjustment. Just like when he started school or when he learned to use the potty. It all worked itself out then and it will now. You do, however, need some tools to get through this one. Luckily, there are some good tools that can make this time a bit easier to navigate through. If used correctly, you may even see a glimpse of that precious little one who wanted to share everything with his mommy first!

  1. Know that there are changes, BUT do not pretend to UNDERSTAND all of them: You have NO idea what it’s like to be a teenage boy. Not emotionally, not physically. Additionally, remember that HE has no idea what it’s like to be a teenage boy; he too has never been one! Rather than focusing on the physical changes, focus on how it must FEEL in his body. You don’t know what it must be like for a boy, but you do know what it feels like to be awkward, confused, and hormonal. This is an out-of-control feeling that nobody likes. It can lead to anger, outbursts, and frustration. Use these moments of anger to connect rather than respond emotionally. Take a step back, breathe, listen, and provide a reasonable consequence for the behavior.
  2. Set Boundaries: In therapy I often hear parents of teens become so overwhelmed with the emotional outbursts that they choose a hands-off approach. They don’t want to deal with the fluctuating emotions and behavior so they quit trying. NO, NO, NO! Boys in particular need structure. They need safety at a time when things can feel out of control. Don’t remove boundaries; adjust them so that they are age appropriate with clear
  3. Model Healthy Behavior: If you are not in control of your emotions or relationships, he will not know how to be in control of his emotions or relationships. If you know this is an area you struggle with, work on it. He will not learn how to treat a woman with respect if you are not setting that expectation for the men in your life. He needs you to SHOW him, much more than he needs you to TELL him.
  4. Accept & Embrace Dad’s Time to Shine: Let’s face it – this is a time in which boys need a father figure. They will need more time with Dad or uncle, or male pastor, ect. They need somebody who understands, yes more than you, how to be a man. Leave room for this. Encourage this. Help them find this if they don’t already have it.
  5. Give them Responsibilities: Teenage boys are busy. With increasing school loads, after school activities, and friends there is not a lot of room left for chores. Some parents worry that giving them responsibilities is adding to an already heavy load and so they remove the burden. Remember that teenage boys need a sense of control in a chaotic time. Rather than removing chores all together, change them. Have them create and cook dinner once a week. Give them three options for a weekend chore that allows for an added sense of control such as:

1) Not just re-mulching the yard but going to the store to buy mulch and telling him he will need to figure out the best option for the yard on his own.

2) Have him pick a person to assist with a task, chore or errand in some             way once a month. This can be a neighbor, teacher, friend, ect.

3) Take a sibling to a book store monthly, buy a book, and read it to them             once a week.

  1. Balance: It might be time to LET GO a bit mama. I know, it’s hard but they need some space. You want to set boundaries, give responsibilities, and GRACE. The hardest part can be trying to hold on to the developmental stage that they were in before. If you let go a bit and embrace the time rather than fight it – you will see that underneath the smell, through the hormones, and around the corner from the girls is the MAN you worked so hard to raise. You did well, Mom. Let him show you!

The Pitfalls of Perfectionism

Inadequacy. Striving. Shame. Worth. Measurement. Anxiety. Criticism. Comparison.

I am betting you do not want to read that string of words again…yikes! I notice sensations in my body just as I read those words. There is a sinking feeling in my stomach and heaviness on my shoulders. Unfortunately most of us are all too familiar with those words and their heavy meanings. Most often they are a result, or variable in the equation of perfectionism.

According to Merriam-Webster, perfectionism is “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.” Unacceptable. Let that sink in. A perfectionist is someone who lives by this disposition and holds himself (and sometimes others) to this impossible standard. We (yes, I include myself in this) will not accept anything less than perfect. We do not place this standard on others or ourselves because we enjoy being critical or mean or controlling, but because we often feel it is the necessary thing or the expected thing to do. It is a philosophy that resides deep within us, sometimes so much so that we don’t even recognize it. Much to our dissatisfaction though, nothing in our life is perfect. So what are we left with? We are left with a constant state of dissatisfaction and striving. It is exhausting!

The antidote to perfectionism is a change in our philosophy about how we define success, and more importantly, how we define our intrinsic worth as human beings.  It is possible that many of us may have grown up in churches or religious communities that emphasized the “fallen condition and sinfulness of humanity”.   While it is true all humans have their own set of strengths and shortcomings, it is equally and maybe more profoundly true that humans are Divinely inspired and uniquely created. Our desire for perfection and harmonious relationships resides deep within us.  Our desires and strivings are not intrinsically bad and often times they come from a good place. However, we sometimes get confused and use our desires and goals as the measuring sticks for our worth, which leads to shame and dissatisfaction…and the cycle continues.

Acceptable. Content. Worthy. Valuable. Satisfied. Peace. Hope.

There is hope. We can learn to break the cycles of perfectionism by developing new ways of seeing ourselves and defining success differently. It is so important that we cultivate safe relationships that welcome vulnerability. When we are honest with each other about our shortcomings and our fear of failure, then we are leaving no room for shame to take hold. This work is not easy and many times a therapeutic environment is a recommended safe haven for perfectionists, strivers, and fellow strugglers. It is a place where discovery and new learning can begin.

Written by: Taylor Garcia M.A., LPC-Intern

Under the Supervision of Julie Summers M.A., LPC-S

Communication Styles that Kill Relationships

Recently a friend shared that she noticed a shift in her relationship with a good friend. She expressed concern that their once fulfilling friendship has become draining. She noticed that she feels on guard during their time together and no longer feels comfortable sharing her thoughts and feelings. She hates that the dynamic of the friendship has changed drastically but feels it would be too difficult to address. She decides to avoid her friend for a while until the awkwardness dies down.

How many times have we experienced a disagreement or a misunderstanding with a friend? If you have friends you have known for a while, you know this can often happen. When problems arise, communication is vital to reaching a solution. The ways we use communication reflect our goal in a relationship. Our goal could either be to foster connection or disconnection. Connection is developed through vulnerability. Disconnection is maintained through avoidance of vulnerability.

Deep down we all long for others to accept us, to choose us and to desire our friendship. Memories of rejection or manipulation by others could lead us to create strategies to protect ourselves from future pain. If we grew up in an environment in which others validated our thoughts and feelings or experiences, we are more likely to develop confidence that our view matters and that we are valued as individuals. This confidence allows us to be vulnerable with others and still feel secure in who we are. On the other hand, if we grew up in an environment in which our thoughts and feelings were invalidated or ignored, we are more likely to believe that our view does not matter and that we do not have value as individuals. If we believe that our thoughts and feelings are not important, we probably won’t value the opinions, thoughts, beliefs or feelings of others.

A critical environment creates a sense of fear of judgment and shame for who we are. We don’t feel secure to speak our mind and share what we think and feel. Fear and shame begins to motivate unhealthy communication styles such as: passive communication, aggressive communication and passive aggressive communication.

Passive Communicators keep their real thoughts and feelings to themselves. These communicators are extremely agreeable in an effort to avoid judgment. They can be described as people pleasers. They never allow others to see them upset and they may discount their own desires for the sake of others. They want to matter, but to risk trusting someone else with their thoughts and feelings is so scary that they choose to avoid it all together. It does not take long until this communicator begins to resent the other person for the one sided relationship they have created.

Aggressive Communicators desire to have all the power in a relationship. They maintain control by intimidating the other person and invalidating their thoughts and feelings. Any time they perceive their power is threatened, they become more aggressive. If a disagreement arises, aggressive communicators refuse to gain understanding but instead focus on getting the other person to agree with them.

Passive Aggressive Communicators avoid being vulnerable in relationships but still hold people accountable for any offense they perceive. They may withhold attention, affection, forgiveness or love in order to punish the other person for hurting them. The other person may sense something is wrong but because the passive aggressive communicator refuses to admit any hurt the other person has no opportunity to make amends.

The healthy approach to communication is Assertive Communication. Assertive communicators speak to gain understanding. They value others opinions and are not threatened by different points of view. They don’t tell people what to think, they ask people what they think and genuinely desire to know. A power struggle does not exist in this style of communicating since both individuals are secure in their worth as individuals.

As you read the descriptions of unhealthy communication styles, you may have had a few people come to mind. Maybe you thought about a friend or your parents that are unhealthy communicators. It’s easy to recognize these styles in other people, but I want to challenge you to see if you, intentionally or unintentionally, use one of these styles in your relationships. We cannot change other people but we can absolutely change the way we communicate.  If you notice that you are a passive aggressive communicator and your goal in relationships is to connect, something needs to change. The first step to change is to explore the ways that your communication style keeps you from intimacy in your relationships.

A Christian Perspective on Mental Health

True or False:

  1. A diagnosis of anxiety means that my faith in God is weak.
  2. I cannot truly be a Christian if I suffer from depression.
  3. A child with ADHD is just an undisciplined child.

If you answered true to any of these statements, then please keep reading! All of the above statements are false, but I believe that Satan has done a great job in confusing the minds of the Christian community to believe that these ideas are true. This perspective, that Christians should not suffer from mental illness, is one that saddens me the most. My heart aches for clients that I see that are truly struggling with a mental illness and doubting their faith in God. How can someone who has so much hope in God, feel so hopeless? How can someone who has such anticipation for heaven, feel so much despair? How can one pray daily but still be controlled by anxiety?

These are appropriate questions. So, can a “real” Christian have a mental illness? YES! Absolutely. It is important that we define what a mental illness is and what it isn’t. Depression is not just sadness. Anxiety is not just nervousness. ADHD is not just disobedience. It is not a decision. It is clinical. It is biological. It is chemical. There is actually something physical occurring in your brain that involves neurotransmitters, hormones, genetics, and environmental factors.

Even in the Bible there are instances of godly men who suffered from a mental illness.

  1. Saul – Saul was a powerful king and he was also a very troubled man. He sought to kill his own sons, he attempted to kill David on several occasions and he eventually committed suicide.
  2. Elijah – was a prophet and he suffered from depression. He was in so much despair that he asked God to take his life.
  3. Jeremiah – aka “the weeping prophet”. Enough said! Read the entire book of Jeremiah and you’ll see for yourself.
  4. Jonah – struggled with suicidal thoughts and wanting to die.
  5. Paul – who was probably the most zealous for God, describes a time when his struggles were so great that he “despaired even of life.”

I look at these examples and my conclusion is that yes, you can be a faithful, devoted, committed Christian AND suffer from a mental illness. They are not mutually exclusive. The Bible says that there is no temptation that you feel that Jesus hasn’t felt. So take heart, Jesus knows exactly what you’re going through. It’s easy to feel isolated and somehow different from other Christians, but remember that you’re walking with Jesus even through tough times. Don’t allow your Christian walk to be a barrier to getting the help that you need. And don’t let the fact that you need help be an obstacle in your faith.

Love Thy Neighbor Matthew 22:36-40

I feel compelled to write about the recent events in our country. With the shootings of African-American men by police officers caught on tape, the shootings of police officers in Dallas and the bitter political climate, I’m left with a plethora of emotions. I’ve gone from anger to fear; from sadness to apathy; from hopelessness to optimism. And back again to anger.

I’m not sure what you think or feel about the recent happenings, but I am certain you think and feel something. This got me thinking. I am fortunate to live in a diverse neighborhood. I love seeing the different colors of skin, the assorted culture and the intertwinement of ethnicities. My walking partner and close friend is Caucasian (I’m not!) and we can walk and discuss our lives, husbands, families, work and religion with no difficulty.

One thing I noticed however, is that with all that I have been feeling and thinking, I’ve only been able to talk about these emotions with my family or African-American friends. And the only people that have opened up to me about their feelings about racism and the current environment are people who look like me. My church and my work placed are filled with people that look like me and with people that don’t. Even in these environments I haven’t had one conversation about #blacklivesmatter, police shootings or anything pertaining to these topics with someone who is not African-American. This disturbs me. How can I feel so connected on so many levels with those around me that are different, yet on this topic, we stay clear of each other?…………….

Most Christians, if asked, would be able to answer the question, what is the greatest commandment? Well, if you’re unsure, here is the answer. When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, He says this: To love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Then Jesus offers up a freebie, even though He wasn’t asked. He goes on the say that the second greatest commandment is just like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.

I can’t help but think that we as a people, as a nation, are not doing well in keeping these commandments. Jesus is so right (of course!) that the first and most important is to love God with all we are and all we have. And that there is nothing else we can do in obedience to God without this – including loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our relationships with those around us cannot be right if our relationship with God isn’t right. All of our efforts to be united, peaceful and unbiased towards one another will fail if our foundation isn’t the rooted in the greatest commandment.

This doesn’t mean we have to agree. It doesn’t mean we have to understand. It means that we have to be willing to hear each other. Why don’t we engage in these conversations with each other? Fear? Lack of understanding? Anxiety over saying something you might want to take back? .

There are many problems in this country, including racism, classism, ignorance, abuse of power, hatred and the list goes on and on. And there are so many proposals as to how to go about changing this. I believe that if we truly lived according to these commandments, we could erase all these prejudice. And it would start with us being comfortable enough, loving each other enough, to engage in conversation with one another about sensitive matters.

I welcome any and everyone who would like to discuss anything with me. I promise to listen with the intent to hear and not with the intent to reply, criticize or force my views. Can you do the same?