Mother’s Day Addendum: What my Mom’s addiction taught me about shame, resilience, and grace

The outpouring of responses to my blog about my Mom’s addiction has made me realize how many families are in this same struggle. As I’ve told some of the people who contacted me to thank me for sharing it: it’s been a long road to this place and I’m still learning and faltering and crying and getting back up every day. But, if my sharing the struggle this vulnerably can help other families struggling with the pain of addiction, it’s worth it.  So this post is dedicated to all of the families out there – daughters and sons and sisters and brothers and husbands and wives and mothers and fathers – who are struggling with a loved one’s addiction. The cultural norms and pressures around Mother’s Day are to keep it all “sweetness and light” – but the truth of relationships in families is almost always a lot messier and sometimes incredibly painful.

Part of the pain of seeing a loved one struggle with addiction is seeing what it does to their bodies and minds. And my Mom was no exception. Her addiction caused multiple forms of cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. She couldn’t keep food down and weighed only about 80 pounds. She had to have all of her teeth removed and rarely bothered to put in her dentures. She fell down frequently, and often had bruises on her face, arms and legs. She attempted suicide multiple times. She struggled to remember things, make decisions, and interact with other people. Her mood shifted wildly from one minute to the next, and she could be incredibly cruel in her words and actions.  And I’ll be honest: there were times when I was deeply embarrassed by her and for her. Times when I didn’t want people to know she was related to me. Times when I wanted nothing to do with her.

She did have two periods of sustained sobriety – lasting about a year each time. One was when I was about 12 or 13 years old. The other was in 1997, when she left her husband (my step-father) for about a year.

Among the collection of letters she wrote to me is one especially poignant and beautiful letter, dated March 22, 1997, during that year when she was clean and sober and healthy. She was the exact same age that year that I am now: 56 years old.

Here’s an excerpt from her letter to me:

“ . . . I look at myself so differently now – in every sense of the word. I’ve really taken charge of my life, but I’m not cocky about it (that’s a seductive trap I must ever guard against). I have no illusions that to go back to drinking “socially” (there’s a deceptive word that’s stricken from my vocabulary!), it would be my own personal destiny with my inner Dr Kevorkian . . . I’m much prettier now than I’ve been in 15-20 years (what an egotistical statement, I know!) – but even in less than a year, the puffiness & blowsiness is gone from drinking. I have CHEEKBONES, good skin tone, my hair’s thicker, I only weigh between 85 & 90, but I’m solid as a rock (work out EVERY AM for 1/2 an hour) – have a 22″ waist, better carriage & everyone asks me what I’ve “done” to myself! I guess I kinda glow with some self-confidence, too . . . Really, Melanie, at LONG last, you CAN be proud of me. And I hope, in time, I can gain back your respect. I KNOW I have your love. You don’t know what a rock that’s been to cling to! I can’t wait to spend some really honest-to-God HONEST quality time with you. We have a lot of ground to cover & a lot of years to make up for. I’m so looking forward to us REALLY discovering each other – not just as mother & daughter (which I honestly don’t know what that’s supposed to be like – bet you don’t either, as NEITHER of us had much to go on by example there) but as friends, and I mean REALLY CLOSE LOVING SHARING friends. I think you’re going to like me a lot. I like me a lot. And I LOVE YOU! Mom.”

And here’s a photo she had taken of herself that year:

Mom_1997 Glamour Shots photo copy_CROPPED.JPG

So, this Mother’s Day, THIS is how I choose to remember her: as a courageous, honest, beautiful, vulnerable, perfectly imperfect human being, created in God’s image, who, in spite of everything, was still worthy of love and belonging in this world.

Here’s my original post:

Mom_ashes_Coeur_dAlene_Tubbs_Hill_2017-04-29 08.55.56.jpgToday would have been my Mom’s 76th birthday. Mom died eight months ago after a 50+ year battle with the grave disease of addiction and, in her later years, significant mental health issues.

When I applied for the Baldwin Fellowship a year ago, planning to spend my Baldwin year delving into the research on childhood trauma, its impacts, and healing and resilience, my goals included exploring the ways that growing up with a mom who struggled with addiction had shaped my life, and the multi-generational effects of addiction in my family (my mother, maternal grandmother, and maternal great-grandmother all had the disease of alcoholism), and to focus on healing those wounds. Little could I have imagined what a gift this year of exploration and healing would turn out to be: exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it.

My Mom had a painful and lonely childhood. Mom was an only child and Grandma was a single mother (Mom’s parents divorced when Mom was five). Due in part to the pain of HER childhood, Grandma wasn’t very good at nurturing or showing love. She, too, struggled with alcohol addiction, and frequently sent my Mom off to stay with relatives while Grandma entertained a string of boyfriends. There are indications that my Mom may have been sexually abused as a young girl by one or more of those boyfriends.

Writing publicly about all of this flies squarely in the face of a central mantra that I grew up with: “Don’t air your dirty laundry.” Not to mention, it feels vulnerable and exposed and scary as hell.

So why am I putting this out there? Well, one of the many things I’ve learned this year is that, as individuals, families, and communities, we NEED to talk about these difficult subjects.

A major reason we DON’T talk about them is shame. Shame researcher Brene Brown says shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment. And research shows that shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, eating disorders, bullying, aggression, and a host of other ills.

Mom_ashes_Portland_Pittock Mansion_2017-05-03 18.49.49.jpgBut the good news is that research also shows that the best way to address shame and to build resilience is to bravely bring these difficult subjects out into the light of day, to acknowledge what’s broken in our lives, to name it, talk about it with trusted others who will offer us compassionate listening, empathy, and grace, and to ASK FOR HELP.

We can’t do it alone. (which flies squarely in the face of another core message from my childhood: “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.” Turns out, there’s no such thing. That whole “your own bootstraps” thing is hogwash. We need each other!)

What I’ve learned from my study over the past year of the brain science behind trauma and resilience has helped me to better understand why my Mom was the way she was, and how her mother’s and her grandmother’s experiences trickled down through three generations of mother-daughter relationships. It has also helped me to better understand myself, and to be deeply grateful for my own daughter and our strong, healthy bond.

I have a collection of hundreds of letters that my Mom wrote to me over a period of 40 years, and I’ve spent a lot of time this year reading through those letters, seeking to understand her life and our tumultuous mother-daughter relationship.

And here’s what I’ve discovered: She loved me the best she could. She DID the best she could, given the pain and trauma of the things she had experienced, and the resources she had available.

Mom was never able to maintain the single marker of “success” that I wanted so desperately for her to reach, that I judged her harshly for NOT achieving, and, truth be told, that I’ve been angry as hell at her about for my entire life: she never got and STAYED clean and sober. (she had two year-long stints of sobriety, but relapsed hard both times…)

But I’m realizing that she DID live a life that had meaning for her. And in spite of her struggles, maybe in part BECAUSE of them, my Mom was a gutsy, funny, tenacious, unconventional, strong-willed, fiercely independent woman. Or, as she always
told me, “Darlin’, I’m tough as grits.” This is the very definition of resilience.

Mom_ashes_Columbia River Gorge_2017-05-05 08.50.28.jpgOne of the things Mom and I shared in common was a great love of traveling to new places. So, I took Mom with me on this three-week trip, sprinkling her ashes in each of the trauma-informed communities I visited. Leaving a little piece of her, and by extension, a little of myself, in communities that have committed themselves to healing, strength, resilience, and grace seemed like a fitting tribute to her life.

In the process, it has helped me to do what one of my heroes, Father Greg Boyle, of Homeboy Industries, suggests as a marker of authentic kinship with other people: to stand in awe at what she had to carry, instead of standing in judgment at how she carried it.

Be at peace, Mom. I loved you the best I could, and I understand now that you did the same.


Walla Walla Part 2: Integrating a Focus on Success

Youre brave_brilliant_oh so resilient_WallaWalla_Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 6.41.31 PM.pngIntegrating the knowledge about ACEs, brain science, and resilience into practice has been a cornerstone of Walla Walla’s trauma-informed community initiative. At every monthly meeting of their Community Resilience Initiative (CRI) team, the first item on the agenda is “Integration” and attendees are asked, “What have you done since the last meeting to help integrate our principles and learning into your daily work and into the work of your staff?”

Here’s how several members of the CRI team answered that question when I met with them:

  • Mike Bates, Director of the Walla Walla County Corrections Department: Mike is in charge of the Juvenile Justice Center (a youth detention facility) in addition to the county’s adult jail.

“In the youth detention program, we had a point system where, if a kid didn’t make their bed for example, or they would commit any number of other infractions, they would lose points. But they had to have a certain number of points at the end of each day to get certain privileges. When we started looking at the brain science behind ACEs, and trauma and resilience, we realized it would be more effective to focus on the positive things we wanted kids to do and reinforce that, instead of the negative reinforcement and all the focus on what they were doing wrong. So, it’s a little thing, but instead of saying, “You didn’t make your bed, so you’re losing a point,” we started saying, “Hey, you made your bed – good job! You’ve earned a point toward today’s privileges.”  Mike explains that all of the teachers in the youth detention center have taken the ACES, trauma and resilience training, and while the teachers at this point don’t explicitly talk with the youth about ACES and resilience, they are at least thinking about it as they interact with the kids.

When I asked about what’s happening at the adult jail, Mike explained that things have been a bit different there. “I took over the county jail two years ago,” he explains. “I spent the first few weeks just going in and looking at how staff interact with the inmates. I realized we needed a culture change.” But, he admits that changing the culture has been a real challenge.

“There are some basic things we need to do, like treating inmates with respect, saying thank you – you did a good job today.”

He has been talking with Teri Barila about how to get all of his employees at the county jail trained about ACEs, trauma and resilience, but hasn’t yet come up with a workable plan to do this, given all of the mandatory trainings his staff are required to complete every year, and the budget limitations that don’t allow for paying overtime for staff.

“Unfortunately, our criminal justice system with adults is more rigid. There’s this attitude of ‘you did the crime, now do the time.'”  But he explains that they’re getting ready to start a drug court program. “We understand we need to have a different way of treating people with drug addiction. I think the training over the years about ACEs has influenced our judges to be more willing to look at alternatives to jail.” Their drug court is going to take on the tougher cases, not the easy, low-hanging fruit cases that he’s seen other drug court programs take.

Mike also represents Walla Walla county in the national “Data Driven Justice Initiative” started under President Obama and now led by the National Association of Counties (NaCO) to effectively use data to identify and divert people charged with low-level offenses, and those with mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders, out of the criminal justice system and into effective, community-based care.

In Walla Walla County, they’ve identified 140 people in the community who are constantly in crisis, and who are the “super users” of the community’s resources, from emergency room visits and mental health services to homelessness and incarceration.

He explains,”Given what we know about ACEs and trauma, these 140 people probably have pretty high ACEs scores. Hopefully, we’ll be able to draw on that knowledge to effectively serve these individuals as well.” One immediate thing they’re doing is developing a common release of information and consent form so hospitals, lawyers, county jail staff, and others can share information with each other and get these folks the services and resources they need in a coordinated way.

  • Becky Turner, Executive Director of the Successful Transition and Reentry (STAR) Project:

STAR staff, in addition to Becky, include a case manager, a housing coordinator, an employment specialist,  a pre-release transition specialist who works at Washington State Penitentiary to develop reentry plans and coordinate services for people who will be released to Walla Walla, and a special populations program manager for people convicted of sexual offenses. STAR (along with other reentry programs around the state) has been funded by the proceeds of a class-action lawsuit against AT&T for charging extortionary phone rates in the Washington prisons, though Becky and her team are currently looking for other longer-range sustainable sources of funding.

Becky and her staff integrate the ACES and resilience knowledge into their reentry work starting with initial intake into their reentry program, when they do an ACEs assessment to  help identify each client’s needs and appropriate services.  Then, in the case management part of their program, they do 1:1 and some small group work on developing resilience skills. Their knowledge of ACEs and resilience also informs the work they do to teach clients skills to be good tenants and successful employees in their housing and employment programs.

  • Tony McGuire, instructor for the Building Maintenance Technology program taught inside the Washington State Penitentiary:

Tony was an employer for 16 years, so he knows what employers are looking for in good employees. Now, as an instructor at the Washington State Penitentiary, Tony helps the incarcerated men in his Building Maintenance Technology course understand that a big part of their employability is dependent on their ability to regulate their emotions on the job. “They can only do this when they understand the impact of their childhood and other trauma they’ve experienced,” he explains. So, Tony gives the guys the ACEs quiz and they talk about the challenges they’ve had. But more importantly, they talk about resilience and building skills and strengths to move forward.

“One guy recently took the ACEs quiz and found out he had an ACEs score of 10. His first question to me was ‘Now what do I do?’  So we started talking about the strengths he already has and what he can do to keep building on that.”

Tony uses the Resilience and ACEs playing cards developed by CRI with the men in his class and on a daily basis, they talk about how to develop their skills in resilience and self-regulation.  Tony also has the training presentation he got from Teri and the CRI Team, and he goes over that with the men in his class. “There’s one slide about hitting a ‘breaking point’ that the men really relate to – so we talk about that, and then we focus on the building blocks of resilience.  I tell the guys, ‘eat the chicken, throw away the bone.’ Take what applies and is meaningful and useful for you – and don’t worry about the rest of it.”

  • Jeff Gwinn, supervisor for the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program

“When we train and recruit CASA volunteers, we train them about ACEs,” Jeff explains. He had Teri Barila provide the basic training about ACEs, brain science and resilience to his CASA volunteers so they understand the brain science as they are getting into working with the children for whom they serve as advocates. “But it also helps our CASAs to understand the parents of the children they’re advocating for,” he adds. “When the CASA goes out and talks with the child’s teachers, pediatrician, parents, others – they can ask the right questions to understand some of the stressors on the child and what may be behind the child’s behaviors.” And that understanding, in turn, helps the CASA understand how best to advocate for the child in court.

Jeff also comes to the CRI meetings every month to stay informed about what’s happening with CRI, trainings and opportunities he can promote to their CASA volunteers. “Our CASAs are are required to have 12 hours of additional training every year. This year, we’re sending some of the CASAs to the Beyond Paper Tigers conference that Teri and her team are putting on in June.”

They incorporate the language of ACEs into the court reports the CASAs provide. “Our judges are familiar with the ACEs language, and it helps the judges to understand what it might take for a child and family to be successful.”

Jeff describes the CASAs role, in part as being ‘stress detectives’ – asking questions and understanding patterns and behaviors with a child, and what may be happening with them. “We want to focus on positive reinforcement – catching them doing something right,” he explains.

It occurred to me as I listened to all of them sharing their integration work that the common thread is that focus on strengths, resilience and SUCCESS.


Walla Walla – Where Resilience Trumps Aces

walla walla welcome_2017-04-29 17.27.36.jpgLike the sweet onions for which Walla Walla is famous, the story of this community’s 10+ years of  investment in becoming a Trauma-Informed Community has many layers.

Teri Barila is the person widely recognized as the initial champion and catalyst for Walla Walla’s trauma informed approach, after she attended a conference in 2007 where Rob Anda, one of the original authors of the ACEs study, challenged attendees to take the information he had presented about ACEs and “get something started in your local community.”

I had the privilege of meeting and talking with Teri Barila, as well as several members of Walla Walla’s CRI Team:

  • Mike Bates, Director of the Walla Walla County Corrections Department,
  • Becky Turner, ED of the Successful Transition and Reentry (STAR) Project,
  • Tony McGuire, instructor for the Building Maintenance Technology program taught inside the Washington State Penitentiary, and
  • Jeff Gwinn, supervisor for the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program

I came away from our conversation deeply moved and greatly inspired.

In the decade since starting this work in earnest, Teri told me, “Two central goals have withstood the test of time:

  1. create a community that is conversant in ACEs, brain science, and resilience; and
  2. INTEGRATE that knowledge and the related research into changing the practices in our schools, human services organizations, businesses, justice systems, healthcare systems, and elsewhere to better respond to the ‘bad things that happen to good people.'”

From the beginning, however, Teri says, “we thought it would be important to focus on the hopefulness of RESILIENCE, not the negative outcomes and ‘shame and blame’ of the ACEs.” Hence the names of the cross-sector, community coalition they formed (Children’s Resilience Initiative, or CRI) and their website:

From the beginning, they’ve operated at multiple layers and levels:

  • MEET 1:1 WITH STAKEHOLDERS AND POTENTIAL PARTNERS: Teri came to this effort with a strong background in community organizing and coalition-building. So she and Mark Brown, a co-facilitator she engaged from the beginning, developed a list of individuals and organizations who could be key stakeholders and partners in the effort to make Walla Walla a trauma-informed community. Then, they met with them one by one to share information about ACEs, brain and resilience research, the issues they saw in Walla Walla related to ACEs, and their goal of creating “a community conversant in ACEs and resilience.” At these meetings, they answered questions, addressed resistance and doubts, and refined their core message.
  • FORM AN INCLUSIVE CROSS-SECTOR TEAM: After the 1:1 meetings, they put together a team of interested stakeholders and partners, and made sure to include parent representatives.
  • CRAFT A CHARTER PLAN: The CRI team created a Charter Plan mapping out their vision, goals, and an elevator pitch that team members could use to engage additional partners, about how the entire Walla Walla community could benefit from understanding ACEs and resilience, and why it was important to use that knowledge to change practices, policies, and systems in the community.
  • SECURE ORGANIZATIONAL COMMITMENTS FROM COALITION PARTNERS: They crafted an MOU for partner organizations to sign, to commit that they would send staff to training about ACEs, brain science and resilience; and that they would form internal agency “core teams” of staff who would then evaluate and revise their agency’s internal policies, practices and programs to make them “trauma-informed.”
  • DEVELOP AND PROVIDE TRAINING: They pulled together all of the resources and research they could find and created a 3-hour basic training and started offering it to local nonprofit agencies, businesses, community and civic groups, schools, churches, and governmental departments (including police and sheriff’s departments, the local prison, juvenile justice and others). They realized early on that the information about ACEs could feel ‘shaming and blaming’ to parents, so they have been very intentional about how this is presented, and have involved numerous parents to help develop the materials and craft the message. Periodically, they also brought in outside experts to give presentations, provide trainings, and help “deliver the message.”
  • MEET REGULARLY/DISCUSS INTEGRATION: The CRI team meets monthly to discuss how each partner organization is integrating the knowledge about trauma and resilience into their day to day work, and to identify opportunities for further collaboration and expansion. The “integration” discussion at every meeting has been transformational, as it helps to document the successes of a trauma-informed approach and gives everyone additional ideas to try in their own organizations. (NOTE: In a future blog post, I’ll share information from Mike Bates, Becky Turner, Tony McGuire, and Jeff Gwinn about some of the specific things they’ve done in each of their organizations and programs to integrate the knowledge about ACEs and resilience into practice.)
  • Oct-resil month_2017-05-01 14.20.35.jpgSECURE HIGH LEVEL GOVERNMENT & INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT: For one of their early trainings where they brought in an outside expert, John Medina, for a half-day forum on ACEs and brain science, the Walla Walla School Board voted unanimously to close the schools for the day so that all school district employees could attend. As a result, they had attendance of 1200 people at that training.  In addition, they approached the Walla Walla City Council and requested that they declare the month of October “Resilience Month.” This has now become an annual proclamation and provides a terrific opportunity to draw additional attention to the topic at the beginning of every school year.

Teri cites several other keys to success in this work:

  • MULTIPLE EXPOSURES: they realized early on that, in order to really “get it,” most people would need to be exposed to the information about ACEs, trauma, brain science and resilience multiple times, through multiple channels, from multiple experts, in multiple locations and multiple formats (trainings, flyers, bulletins, PSA’s, posters, games, social media, etc). They’ve held formal events like classroom trainings, speakers events, conferences, and film screenings – and, yes, they’ve shown the films “Paper Tigers” and “Resilience” here too, because, as Teri explains, “even though the films are about our community, not everyone here knew our own story!”.

They have also used informal apprYoure brave_brilliant_oh so resilient_WallaWalla_Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 6.41.31 PM.pngoaches, like quick surveys of shoppers at the community’s Saturday Farmer’s Market and the community 4th of July celebration to gauge what people know about ACEs and resilience, providing basic information about developing resilience to new parents at the local hospital and at parent-teacher conferences at the local schools, an art show related to resilience, and a traveling signboard that appears at different places around town.

They also developed a whole series of games and tools that they now sell on their website.  (note: I bought a copy of everything they’ve created and am bringing it all back to Lancaster! Good thing I packed an extra empty duffel bag!)

  • MEASUREMENT: They have conducted multiple surveys, focus groups and other measures to assess overall awareness and understanding of ACEs, resilience and related topics in the community at large. In addition, individual agencies have gathered their own internal data on the results of taking a trauma-informed approach.
  • ADJUST WHEN NEEDED:  Though their initial focus was on addressing ACEs and building resilience for children and youth in the community, they have realized it is every bit as important to build adult capabilities as well (see next item). So, they are about to change the name of their initiative from “Children’s Resilience Initiative” to “Community Resilience Initiative”, to reflect this. They have made other adjustments along the way, as needed, listening carefully and with humility to coalition partners, parents, youth and others.
  • BUILD ADULT CAPABILITIES: They have come to understand how critical it is for all of the adults involved in the schools, human services agencies, parents and other adults to be in touch with their OWN “stuff” related to their experiences of trauma, and to have the necessary skills and abilities to be resilient themselves, before they can help children develop resilience. Teri highly recommends this 5 minute video overview from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child that addresses this topic.  In addition, here’s specific information from Harvard about ways service providers, caregivers and other adults can build their own capabilities and help other adults do the same.
  • SUSTAINABILITY: Over the past several years, they have implemented a robust “train the trainer” initiative so they have an extensive cadre of people across many of the CRI partner agencies and in the community at large who can deliver the initial 3 hour trauma/ACES/resilience training. They have also created a “Speakers Bureau” of CRI team members who can help carry the message out to new audiences.

As inspiring as it was to hear from Teri, Mike, Becky, Tony and Jeff about the importance of this trauma-informed work from their adult perspectives, for me, the most moving testimonial about why it matters so deeply for our communities to understand ACEs and work to build resilience comes from several young men in Walla Walla’s Jubilee Leadership Program sharing their own stories of hope and resilience after trauma in this incredibly touching video.


Mending with Grace

(Here’s the sermon I offered at Grandview United Methodist Church in Lancaster, PA on Sunday, April 2, 2017 on the subject of trauma, shame and healing. There’s an audio recording of it here)

One of my personal heroes, Father Greg Boyle, of Homeboy Industries has said,


But it occurs to me that to achieve a real sense of KINSHIP with those who are marginalized requires a deep understanding and acceptance of our own imperfections and brokenness or, as one of Father Greg’s “homies,” former gang member Jose, says,


My work as Director of the RMO, a prisoner reentry initiative, is with people who carry numerous wounds: addiction, mental illness, poverty, violence, the dehumanization and stripping of dignity that goes with incarceration, not to mention the additional wounds of shame, stigma, and being judged, labeled and ostracized by the community as “criminals”, “offenders”, “ex-cons”.

For longer than I’d like to admit, I had been operating under the delusion that to serve them effectively, I needed to be a pillar of strength and model of someone who had things pretty well figured out.

The core messages of my childhood were: 




Those messages steeped me in what author and shame researcher Brene Brown calls the “myth of self sufficiency.” In her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection”, Brown writes,


I finally came to understand that in my work, I was often attaching judgment to “helping” people coming out of prison because I had not come to a full understanding of my own brokenness and my own need for help. And I had to make the painful admission that the reason I had not done so was SHAME.

Some of my shame comes from having grown up with a mother who struggled with addiction and, later, mental health issues, and the pain and trauma that created for me throughout my life. And because I had not done the necessary inner work to transform my pain, I transmitted it to others around me by being judgmental and critical, with a “holier-than-thou” arrogance. I hurt people because I was hurting.

Those childhood messages: “Don’t air your dirty laundry” and “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” meant that, for years, I didn’t recognize or acknowledge, and certainly didn’t talk about, any of this. When I was a kid, our family did go to church regularly on Sunday mornings, all cleaned up and dressed in our finest.  But even at church – in fact, I now think, ESPECIALLY at church – we kept silent about what was going on with my Mom’s addiction behind the closed doors of our home.

This morning, there are many people, many families, in many churches, in many places – even right here in this place – who are sitting in silent shame, over things going on in our lives, how we feel about ourselves and the kind of people we are, about sinful and shameful things we have done that have hurt others or ourselves, about things our loved ones have done. And there are many additional people who feel such deep shame that they feel like they aren’t even worthy to come into a church.

(This is the “squirmy part of this sermon” . . . but that’s okay . . . stay with me here . . . )

Brene Brown says that shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives:


Her research shows that:


In other words . . .


We are afraid to admit or let anyone see the broken places in our lives. We may think, “If others knew this about me, would they still accept and love me?”

But here’s the good news: There IS a way for us to overcome those fears and address our shame, so we can heal and move forward.

The scientific research shows that the best way to address shame is to bravely bring it out into the light of day, to acknowledge what’s broken in our lives, to name it, TALK about it with trusted others who will offer us compassionate listening, empathy, and forgiveness and to ASK FOR HELP.

We can’t do it alone. Here’s the secret: There’s NO SUCH THING as pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. It’s a myth. We need each other.

Interestingly, what the research shows will help us deal with our shame are the same things that our Christian tradition teaches us: the things we know as:


Pastor Andrea said in the first of her sermons in this series that the CHURCH has a vital role to play in healing shame and creating healthy community, because of the church’s unique offering of GRACE: the central tenet of our faith as Christians and the focus of this morning’s lectionary texts.


and in the passage from Romans:


These promises of God’s grace and forgiveness, of God’s abundant love, despite our sinfulness, our brokenness, are what give us HOPE. God’s abundant love is so much stronger than our fear of admitting to the brokenness in our lives.

Another of my personal heroes, Bryan Stevenson, author of the book Just Mercy, writes,


One of the things I’ve learned through my work with the RMO is that there’s pretty extensive evidence that a majority of the people in our prisons and jails have had a history of trauma in their lives – often when they were children. They’ve experienced emotional, physical and sexual abuse, emotional and physical neglect. Many have grown up in households with a parent who had addictions or mental illness. Many have witnessed domestic violence and other forms of violence. Many have lost a parent to death, abandonment, or incarceration.

It isn’t that these experiences excuse what they have done to harm others, and we may struggle to feel compassion for THEIR PAIN, asking what about the pain THEY have caused?

And that’s absolutely a fair question, with, I admit, no simple answers. And yet, our common humanity and our Christian teaching compel us to recognize THEIR SACRED WORTH rather than judging and shaming them; to EMBRACE them; to truly LOVE them as our NEIGHBORS.

I like what the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote:


Much of what we do with brokenness in our own lives, as well as the lives of people with addictions, mental illness, and those in our criminal justice system, is like using an aspirin and an ice pack for a broken leg. While aspirin and an ice pack might temporarily relieve the pain and reduce the swelling, the TRUTH is that the leg is still broken – and if we never PROPERLY mend what’s broken inside of us, it may continue to “cripple” us.

But I’d like to close this morning by offering a different vision for mending the broken places in all of our lives.

In Japanese culture, beautiful pottery is an important part of everyday life – pottery bowls, plates, cups and vases.


When a bowl or vase or cup or plate gets chipped, or cracked . . .


or even completely broken into pieces . . . 


rather than throw it away, they have a beautiful traditional practice called:


or as it’s sometimes called, “mending with gold.”

What they do is mix up a lacquer to which they ADD precious metals – usually GOLD DUST –


Then they take the broken pieces of that bowl or vase or plate, and they carefully and lovingly apply the golden lacquer along the broken edges and join the pieces back together.


Their philosophy is that when something happens that damages a piece of pottery, it should NOT be tossed aside or thrown away as worthless. Instead it is WORTH taking the time and care to mend what’s broken.


They treat the breakage and the process of repairing it as simply part of the history of that object, instead of something to be hidden or disguised.


They believe that chips, cracks, even completely breaking into pieces – these are all just natural parts of life. 


Not only is there no attempt to hide the cracks and brokenness, but the repair is literally illuminated. 


And because they have used precious metals (GOLD DUST!) . . .


to mend the broken places . . .


. . . the resulting piece is considered even more valuable and beautiful than the original.


We are not called to be perfect. We ARE called to be light and love to one another. Acknowledging the cracks in our own lives, and letting the light get in, can help us to heal our own brokenness, and give us the capacity to be compassionate, wounded healers in kinship with others.

Slide27Here’s what the research says about what we need to HEAL from the trauma of our own inner brokenness:   We need:

  • Opportunities to share our stories with empathetic listeners
  • Meaningful connection with others
  • Support from trusted others
  • Spiritual connections: a sense of something larger than ourselves
  • Opportunities to participate in social activities
  • Opportunities to be of service to others
  • Healthy, meaningful rituals
  • Opportunities for fun, play, laughter
  • Opportunities for creative endeavors
  • Opportunities to connect with nature

Amazingly, the CHURCH offers EVERY ONE of these things – and all of these things foster the kind of KINSHIP that Father Greg Boyle talks about.

In Jane’s Dutton’s sermon a couple of weeks ago – she highlighted the repetition in New Testament stories of the words: “Us”, “Our” and “We” – this is the language of KINSHIP. And I love that the word “Kintsugi” is so similar to “Kinship.”


Grace is like that lacquer mixed with gold dust – God’s grace can mend the broken places in ALL of our lives, making us whole again, even more valuable and beautiful than before.

And through our compassion, love, empathy, and golden offerings of grace to others, we can be instruments of God’s ultimate transformation, to make gentle a bruised and broken world.

SO, I echo Pastor Andrea’s call to all of us in her first sermon in this series: to live into who God created us to be – wholehearted people who make up a grace-filled AND grace-giving body called the CHURCH.

Mending the chipped and cracked and broken places in our own and one another’s lives with God’s golden, and amazing grace.