Don’t Try to Be More Extraordinary (Just Try to Be More Human)


Photo Credit: Rob Briscoe via Compfight cc

We’re riding our bikes through the dead.

Our new town is a lot hillier than I remember it, and the cemetery is the flattest ground we can find for a family bike ride. The day is sunny and just the right amount of warm, as we wind our way on the one-lane asphalt road, through the fields of tombstones. My kids don’t even seem to notice, but I can’t take my eyes off the names and the dates on the weathered graves. Some have been there for more than a century, names I don’t know and names that, perhaps, no one can remember.

Some are more recent.

Less than two years ago, the judge who I trembled in front of during elementary school mock trials stepped off this mortal coil and into the mystery of what comes next. It seems like yesterday he sat above us—youthful, healthy, powerful. Time undoes all of these things. We’re riding through the dead and the awareness of it does to me what it always does:

It makes me want to seize the day.

I think of that scene in Dead Poet’s Society—the young boys looking at the pictures of young men long since passed, Robin Williams leaning in amongst them, in a ghostlike whisper exhorting them, “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

The urge to do so seizes me. Like it does every time I’m faced with my mortality.

But then I’m faced with my reality.

Why Therapists Are Clueless

Therapy is like bedroom carpet and many therapists are completely clueless. And that’s a good thing. This is what I mean by that…


Photo Credit: mφop plaφer via Compfight cc

Earlier this year, our family was preparing to embark upon an adventure, picking up our lives and plopping them back down in a new town and a new culture. It seemed grand and epic, but it began with a lot of tedium.

Like replacing the carpet in the bedroom.

Our realtor said we needed new rugs so we called the rug people. The morning they arrived, we thought we were taking a big step toward where we wanted to go, but it came to a screeching halt when they pulled back a corner of the carpet.


It was another hurdle and it was expensive and it slowed us down, so it was a little frustrating. But even more so, it was a little disorienting. We’d been walking on a toxin for six years and hadn’t known it. It was a little concerning that something so important existed just beneath the surface of our life.

Disorienting and concerning, but not unfamiliar.

Because I’m a therapist and, at the beginning, that’s exactly how therapy can feel.

We usually go to therapy for help with a specific problem, like dirty carpet we can see and want to remove. But, inevitably, we start to pull it up, and we find stuff underneath we didn’t know existed. Stuff that’s a little more complicated, a little more frustrating, probably even a little more painful.

Therapy doesn’t create it; therapy reveals it.

We sense this might be true, and so we avoid the endeavor altogether. We decide to live with the dirty carpet, or we put on blindfolds and try to replace the carpet ourselves, without looking at what’s beneath it. Yet, there comes a time for some of us when we decide we’re ready to lift up the carpet and face the unknown.

We pick up the phone and call the rug people…



To find out more about my first therapy experience and what it taught me about being a therapist, click on the link above to read the rest of this post on the Artisan Clinical Associates blog. This is the first of three times over the next several months that I’ll link to my original content on my new practice’s website. After that, you’ll need to be subscribed to the Artisan blog to read my Artisan posts, so don’t forget to subscribe in the sidebar while you’re there!


You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Next Post: Don’t Try to Be More Extraordinary, Just Try to Be More Human

Free eBook: My eBook, The Marriage Manifesto: Turning Your World Upside Down, is available free to new blog subscribers. If you are not yet a subscriber, you can click here to subscribe, and your confirmation e-mail will include a link to download the eBook. Or, the book is also now available for Kindle and Nook

Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

The Only Real Secret to a Healthy Marriage

The only real secret to a healthy marriage is to not have any secrets. In AA, they say our secrets make us sick. They’re right. And marriage is the place we learn how to empty ourselves of them…

marriage secrets

Photo Credit: theloushe via Compfight cc

I keep secrets from my wife.

Just last week, the kids were released early from school, due to a heat wave and old buildings with no air conditioning. While debriefing the shortened day, they mentioned their mom had taken them to an ice cream shop the day before after the early dismissal. It seemed like a random comment, but I’m sure it was strategic.

They know how to work me.

And I knew they didn’t need the sugar two days in a row, and I knew we didn’t need to spend the money, but who doesn’t want to be the cool-dad, especially when you’re married to a woman who’s always the cool-mom?

So, we piled in the car.

When we got home, I collected the empty ice cream cups, and I buried them deep in the garbage. I actually did that. Rearranged some dirty paper towels over the top of them. Like I was six years old again, sneaking a spoonful of fudge swirl from the freezer at 6am.

Of course, when I was six, I didn’t have three accomplices to spill the beans.

When my wife got home and asked about our afternoon, I didn’t mention the ice cream. But my partners in crime did. And I cringed. I cringed a little because I got caught. But I cringed a little more because marriage isn’t a place for secrets.

It’s a place for pouring them out.

The Lesson We Can Learn from Kids About How to Care for Our Souls

Sometimes we give the last bit of our time and energy to trying to change our minds, when what we need to do is simply rest our bodies…

mental health

Photo Credit: Ffîon via Compfight cc

It’s the first heat wave in our new house.

And, for some reason, the air conditioner won’t turn on.

And I’m out of town, working long hours, getting my new therapy practice up and running. My family’s back home sweating, and I’m at the office putting all my blood, sweat, and tears into this new enterprise. Do I quit early and go home and try to fiddle with the faulty appliance? Or do I stick with my professional obligations and call in other professionals to fix the A/C?


I work until 11pm, travel an hour home, hit Walmart at midnight, install a new thermostat (which still doesn’t fix the problem), and fall into bed for four hours of sweaty sleep before the kids wake up for school. Because my unspoken motto is:

If life throws you lemons, juggle them all day long and finally think about making lemonade when you’re too tired to drink it.

Just Be a Person

Growing up isn’t about growing older or wiser or more mature. It’s about growing into the awareness that we’re all in this together…

being human

Photo Credit: splorp via Compfight cc

I wonder if I’ll be sixteen years old forever?

I’m walking into my son’s new middle school. It’s the school I attended as a boy, in the town where I grew up—the town I left because I thought I needed something more and the town I returned to when I realized I already had everything worth having and always had. I’m delivering a cross-country uniform that was forgotten in the kitchen, when I open the main doors and almost bump into a woman about my age.

I don’t know if she recognizes me, but I recognize her.

And suddenly, my tongue is tied.

Back when I was a junior in high school, she was a senior and a cool kid—and I was decidedly not. Here we are, decades later, back in a school together, and instead of saying “hi” to her like she’s an actual human being—an ordinary person like myself, with kids and stress and a mortgage and hopes and dreams and fears—I lose the power of speech completely and we pass each other silently.

Sixteen years old forever.

And what exactly does that mean? It means some part of me—the part I think of as my ego—still looks at the whole world like it’s a ladder, with everyone contending for the higher rungs.

What’s the Difference Between the Good Life and the Redemptive Life?

Hint: the difference is, one of them exists and the other one doesn’t. So, we can spend our lives chasing a mirage, or we can roll up our sleeves and get to work…


Photo Credit: STC4blues via Compfight cc

Our new neighbors are throwing us a welcome-to-the-neighborhood party.

Three hours in and I’m pinching myself a little, because everyone seems so kind and generous and, well, welcoming. But as the numbers start to thin, the most elderly man at the party steps forward and voices a complaint. He points out a problem: across the street, there is a small roundabout and, in recent months, the contractor who used to mow it has suddenly stopped doing so. The weeds are growing wild—it’s probably covered in poison ivy and poison oak—and it’s become a bit of an eyesore.

I figure this is where things will get real.

We’ll all start complaining about the state of the town or the person who quit doing their job, or we’ll debate whose property it is closest to and thus who should be responsible for mowing it. But mostly, I figure, after a lovely afternoon of conversation and community, we’re going to end it by complaining about the problems in the world. Instead, this gentleman stands among us and suggests, “I’m thinking we can all work together to take care of it.”

Now I’m pinching myself a lot.

Because it reminds me of the most common question I get asked in interviews: “What is the difference between the good life and the redemptive life?”

Why I Want My Kids to Be in Pain

I used to think it was a parent’s job to protect their kids from pain. Now I know, it’s a parent’s job to point their kids in the direction of the pain…


I failed my daughter.

It’s the end of August, we’re in a new town with new schools, and we’re walking toward the building where she’ll begin kindergarten in three short days. It’s our first back-to-school orientation in this new place, so we’re figuring it out as we go. And, as I look around at the converging crowd, I see moms and dads and grandparents with little human beings in tow, and all the big people are carrying big bags full of bulk Kleenex, gallon-sized Ziploc bags, and vats of hand sanitizer.

I, in contrast, am empty-handed.

And my daughter is observant.

She looks up at me with concern in her eyes and asks, “Daddy, why are all the other kids bringing their stuff to school today?”

I’m tempted to respond, “Well, Sweetie, because those bags are bigger than you, and it will be impossible for you to carry it into your first day of school all by yourself along with your big backpack and the big lump in your throat, so every other parent is doing the completely obvious thing and getting the delivery out of the way ahead of time. You see, the other parents are smarter and probably just plain better than me. Also, though you will already feel lonely and alienated enough on your first day at a new school in a new town, I wanted to make sure you feel even more different than the other kids.”

Then, I imagine handing her a blank check for the years of therapy she’s going to need.

What I actually say is, “Sweetie, this is all new to us, so we’re making it up as we go. We’ll figure it out, though.” Meanwhile, the little kid inside of me who remembers what it was like to be on a first-day-of-school-in-a-new-town playground is off crying in some corner of my heart and quietly hating me for my incompetence.

After all, isn’t it a father’s job to protect his kids from all pain and suffering?

3 Words to Keep You Sane During Back-to-School Month (Or Any Month)

The school year is a sleeping giant and it’s about to awaken from its slumber. Three words are going to keep me sane in the midst of the onslaught of activities. Maybe they’ll keep you sane, too…

back to school

Photo Credit: donnierayjones via Compfight cc

I just assumed the picnic was cancelled.

It was the first annual community picnic for my wife’s upstart pediatric development center. Employees and families were invited, and six families who had already been served by the project were planning to attend. There was a hayride scheduled. And a cookout. And volleyball. And an array of other outdoor events. But right when it was scheduled to begin, the skies opened and flooded the land.

I just assumed the picnic was cancelled.

Then, ninety-minutes later, as the rain continued to fall, we got a text saying the people had gathered anyway. Surprised, we piled into the car and, as we fishtailed down a muddy hill into the campground, we saw a small band of employees and families gathered beneath a pavilion. I did’t see a hayride, the volleyball court was a mud pit, and it looked like the festivities had failed.

I met the director of the center and told her I was sorry her first picnic got cancelled. She looked at me and smiled pleasantly and said, “Oh, it wasn’t really cancelled. Four families showed up and during a break in the rain, we went for a walk in the woods, down to the river.”

I just assumed the picnic was cancelled.

Because I’ve been seduced by programming.

The One Thing Nobody Can Take From You (And What To Do With It)

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances—to choose one’s own way.”

–Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning


Photo Credit: GerryT via Compfight cc

“You can’t get everything you want. Just deal with it.”

I’m sitting with my two youngest kids on a log, in the North Woods of Wisconsin, waiting for Oldest Son to emerge from his two-week residential summer camp. Younger Son is getting nothing he wants—no air conditioning, no reprieve from the bugs, no LED screen to stare at, no sugar, no nothing—and I’m watching him gather his little internal army for battle.

“Some things you can’t change, buddy. It is what it is. Just accept it.”

I’m dispensing life lessons like crummy candy at a hot parade.

Now he’s poking Youngest Daughter, half-heartedly tripping her, his chin so far out it might tip him over, daring me to go to war with him. I decide it’s time to start disciplining him because even though he’s just being a kid—just testing out selfishness, just trying out entitlement—he needs to learn a lesson:

Refusing to accept the things we cannot change has consequences.

Reflections on Beauty (From Main Street U.S.A.)

Beauty. There’s an entire industry dedicated to it. But what if beauty isn’t something you can buy or paint on or put on? What if beauty isn’t even something you can create? What if beauty is a reality we cultivate and something in which we participate?


Dixon, IL (July 15, 2015)

I’m walking down main street in the small, rural town that was once my hometown and is, as of two weeks ago, my hometown once again. It’s my first official day as a writer in our new home. I’ve just dropped the kids off at camp, and there’s a conflict playing out within me.

I’m feeling pressure to race home and write something beautiful.

But up the block, there’s a coffee shop where people are gathered and laughing, and I haven’t had my morning dose yet. And one block further down the street is my wife’s new pediatric development center, Florissa, which I haven’t yet visited. And lining the sidewalks, from here to there, are hanging baskets, with thick cascades of pink and purple petunias.



It’s a July day that has dawned like the best kind of September day. Baby blue sky, mashed potato clouds, sunlight that kisses your face instead of slapping it. It’s the kind of day on which you don’t really need a breeze, but it feels just right anyway. I’d been planning to rush home to capture some beauty in words, but here, ambushed by beauty, I’m reminded:

You don’t capture beauty. It’s too big to be caught and too wild to be grasped. You don’t even discover beauty; you slow down, take a breath, and you let it find you. You make yourself available to it. You bear witness to it.