Service through Presence

service through presence

I graduated with my PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision on May 12, 2018.  I was privileged to be the commencement speaker for Adams State University’s graduate school ceremony.  Below is the text of my Address:

Great Accomplishment

Graduates!! Is this a great day or what?!!

If you are like me, there were moments in the last several years when you thought this moment would never get here. You are relieved, thankful, and excited to walk across that stage. Today is a GREAT DAY!

Family members, friends, and supporters this is a great day!

This is the day you get your loved one back. It is as though they have been on a long journey and today you pick them up at the airport! Hopefully they have not lost their luggage.

Adams State Administration, Faculty, and Staff today is the culmination of years of planning and hard work. It is a birthday of sorts. You celebrate and honor a new crop of graduates poised to enter their respective fields with energy, excitement, and passion. Today is a Great Day!

I have been thinking a lot about the meaning of this moment and the degrees we receive today. For us graduates these robes, hats, and diplomas represent a pinnacle of academic success. We have spent countless hours, immeasurable amounts of energy, and years of disciplined focus to accomplish what is awarded in this commencement. Only about 8% of people earn a graduate degree. There are a lot of really smart and hard working people in this room. It is incredible to have done this it is a rare accomplishment. It is as though we have scaled Mt. Everest.

This is a historic moment for Adams State University. It is the first time that the university has awarded the degree of Ph.D. Conversations and plans for this moment began to take shape in 2009. 5 years later the counselor education department enrolled its first group of Doctoral students. Now, 4 years after our initial interviews, “cohort 1” will be awarded our degrees. We have often discussed how thankful we are to have been members of this first cohort. First, we are thankful because we have grown close and could not have done it with out one another. Second, we are thankful because of the level of commitment, support, and excellence demonstrated by the counselor education department and Adams State University. The awarding of these first Ph.D. degrees is truly a huge accomplishment.

A great accomplishment is that the ultimate meaning to be found in awarding and earning these degrees? Did we do all this work and sacrifice all that time, just so we could say, “I did it”? We have reached a “Mt. Everest” moment.   Here we are sitting on the summit soaking in the beautiful view, but Why? Why in the world would we go through all that we have gone through for (a piece of paper, a funny hat, and a fancy robe) this?

Did you know that 30% of the deaths on Mt. Everest over the last 100 years have occurred while descending from the summit? These men and women made it all the way to the top but never made it home to share the experience with their loved ones and communities.

Service Through Presence

Fellow graduates, administration, faculty, and staff I don’t seek to minimize the accomplishments of the day. I have come to believe, however, that in my journey, and I think maybe in yours the ascent to great accomplishment is meaningless without a descent into a life of service.

If the accomplishment is to be meaningful then it has to be more than the paper, the hat, and the robe. I think the best way to make these things more than just accomplishment is to take what we have learned, return home (descend) and serve those we love and our communities.

I confess that I am not good at this. I began this doctoral program hoping that more experience and education would create a safe distance between the most difficult people in my community and myself. I think I hoped for more peace of mind, safety, and something easier. It is tempting to return home and live in this distance. I am convicted, however, that just the opposite is needed.

Henri Nouwen, a 20th century theologian, professor, and author describes in his book, “The Wounded Healer” what the most difficult people in our communities need, he says,

“The emptiness of the past and the future can never be filled with words, but only by the presence of a human being”

Our accomplishments are made meaningful when they compel us to be PRESENT with those we love and our community. Nouwen goes on to explain what this life of service through presence may cost us.

He says, “Who can save a child from a burning house without taking the risk of being hurt by the flames? Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in their own heart and even losing their precious peace of mind? In short, who can take away suffering without entering it?”

Our descent into a life of service through PRESENCE will require suffering. Suffering? I was hoping for less stress and less chaos. I was thinking about a more sanitized version of “helping others”. Something, where I equip others to get dirty while remaining at a safe distance.

I have come to realize that “safe distance” is not part of the servants vocabulary. Service through presence is a dangerous endeavor.

Mahatma Ghandi said, “ The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service of others”

John Maxwell said, “leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.

The bible uses a farming analogy to equate service with death,

“I tell you the truth unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” John 12:23.

I am so sorry to be such a downer, This is a GREAT DAY after all

Yet, I believe that today is made even greater when we consider it a commissioning for service.

May we relish our time at the summit today. Take a moment to enjoy the view and celebrate the obstacles overcome.

Then, tomorrow may we descend into our communities to serve through presence. It will not be easy, it may come at incredible cost, BUT it will be MEANINGFUL

Check out my blog Parenting Boys Raising Men

Read about my approach to counseling




Forgiveness in Marriage

forgiveness in marriageSometimes in marriage counseling we encounter couples that overcome their demon dialogues, create a new dance of intimacy, and rewrite the story of their marriage. Yet, just when it appears they will move to a deeper level of connection one partner brings up a seminal incident that they just can’t seem to “let go”. Susan Johnson describes these hard to let go moments as “relationship traumas” and states that many times they include one partner feeling a profound sense of abandonment. Such incidents may include an overwhelmed husband isolating in his bedroom just after learning about his wife’s cancer diagnosis. Or maybe it involved a wife’s difficulty in showing empathy for the death of her husbands father.

Susan Johnson offers six steps to forgiveness in marriage for relational traumas.

The hurt partner speaks his/her hurt

The hurt partner describes the wound without attacking the other. The partner may use words like “I felt…alone, abandoned”. This communication is not about the details of the incident but the feelings and experience of the one hurt. The pain, which in the past had been covered with anger and criticism, is now revealed in honesty and vulnerability.

Presence and Acknowledgement

The injuring partner remains emotionally present as the hurt partner shares their experience. The injuring partner now more fully understands how their actions hurt the other. This new understanding leads to an acknowledgment of hurt and creates the safety needed to move forward.

Risk and Vulnerability

Both partners soften towards the other moving from the defensiveness of “you will never hurt me again” to “I think I can trust you now”. The new position of trust and openness allows for both partners to express emotion surrounding the incident leading to deeper understanding and connection.

Owning the Mistake

The injuring partner is now able to take full responsibility for how their actions impacted the hurting partner. This probably includes a heartfelt apology. The injuring partner is able to communicate deep regret, empathy, validation, and a commitment to “being there” in the future.

Verbalizing Needs

The next step is for partners to communicate with one another what they need in the present. This will most likely include presence, touch, responsiveness, awareness, and connection.

Rewriting the story

The couple is now ready to create a new story surrounding the incident. The new story describes how the incident damaged trust in the relationship. It also highlights what led to the demon dialogues. But, the resolution of the story is shaped by how the couple confronted the pain of the incident and was able to heal through the process of openness, vulnerability, risk, and connection.


Johnson, S. & Sanderfer, K (2016). Created for connection: The “hold me tight” guide for Christian couples. New York, NY: Little Brown and Company.

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How to Teach Emotional Intelligence to Your Son

What is the most important thing you hope to teach your son before he turns 18? Many parents focus on skills like, driving a car, spending money wisely, working hard, or study habits. But, research seems to show that teaching our sons emotional intelligence may be the most important thing we do.

In 2003 researchers at Yale University studied a group of college age students and found that as emotional intelligence goes up so do positive relationships with others. These researchers also found that the ability for a person to manage their own emotions is closely related to positive interactions with others.

The same group of researchers later discovered that Lower levels of EI are associated with adolescent risk taking behaviors like use of illegal drugs, consumption of alcohol, and deviant behavior.

So, what is emotional intelligence? There is some disagreement about the exact definition but the one that I find most helpful can be summarized like this:

Emotional Intelligence is,

  1. The ability to Perceive Emotions
  2. The ability to Utilize emotions to facilitate thought
  3. The ability to Understand emotions
  4. The ability to Regulate emotions of self and others

So, What are some ways that parents can help their son to learn emotional intelligence? Here are my thoughts

  1. Focus on Connection

The research about how children develop emotional intelligence shows that it is passed on through connection with parents. Those parents that use an authoritative parenting style (balance between control and empathy) have children with higher levels of emotional intelligence. Sometimes our fast paced culture encourages parents to get their children involved in activities that will enhance their brains and build their resume. What research shows, however, is that it is “us” that matter, the time spent connecting over low cost activities enhance our children’s lives. So, build connection with your son by using the basic listening skills (I wrote about them here). Play their favorite board game one evening a week. Schedule them to cook dinner for the family one night and help them through the process. Spend a few minutes talking about the day before shutting off their bedroom light for the night.

  1. Focus on Perception of Emotions

Help your son to understand that other people’s behavior is a clue to all that is happening on the inside. Your son can learn about how to interpret facial expression, body language, tone of voice, and other communication from you. You can help him to accurately perceive emotions by guessing at what you think he is feeling and expressing it verbally (ex. You are angry) if you are correct he feels heard and now has a word for what he was just feeling on the inside. If you are incorrect he can tell you and therefore clarify his feelings for himself and for you. It is also very helpful when you verbalize what you are feeling in the moment with your child. If you have lost your keys you might say, “I am really starting to get frustrated” when you experience a setback at work you might say, “I am disappointed that…” The bottom line is; help him to perceive his own feelings by verbalizing them for him and then discussing it, help him to perceive what others are feeling by sharing your feelings in the moment.

  1. Focus on Managing Emotions of Self

Again, the best way to help your son learn to manage his emotions is to be good at managing yours. Modeling appropriate emotional reactions to normal and difficult situations shows him exactly how to do it. For younger children games like red light/green light are helpful. Older children can learn skills like belly breathing, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques. Additionally, the way you listen can be a very powerful way to co-regulate your child, which enables them to learn to regulate emotions by experiencing the process with you. (read about it here).

Emotional intelligence is one of the most important skills that a boy can learn. You can help him to learn it by focusing on connection, perception of emotions, and managing emotions of the self.

Check out this video to hear some more about boys and their emotions.

What are some other ways you have found to help increase your sons Emotional Intelligence?

How to create a great marriage

A great marriage

How do you create a great marriage? At the end of couples counseling sessions I often ask, “what is one thing you could do to serve your spouse this week?”  If a great marriage is something that is created, I believe serving your spouse is the first act of creation.

What are some ways we can serve our spouses?

What is EMDR?

communityI have been getting a lot of calls lately regarding my use of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). It seems that word has gotten around about the effectiveness of this treatment and that more people are searching for a counselor/therapist that is trained to use it. I am pleased and honored to have gone through eight full days of training in the use of EMDR as well as a period of consultation in its protocols. Although, I am not certified in the technique I have completed levels 1 and 2 of the training.

The EMDR international Association (EMDRIA) described EMDR as “an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma. EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorportates elements from many different approaches”

Ok, so what does that mean? Well, The protocols are a set of guidelines that trained practitioners use to assist clients in processing traumatic events and stimuli. The practitioner starts out by establishing a strong relationship with the client so that the client feels safe and cared for. This relationship helps the client to trust that when difficult emotions arise the counselor is there for support and will walk alongside them through the experience. The next step is to identify the specific traumatic event or events that the client would like to process. After identifying this target event the counselor assists the client in recognizing specific thoughts, and feelings about the event that tend to provoke strong emotions or sensations. The client rates these thoughts and feelings on a likert scale (1-10) as a way to measure how effective the processing of the treatment has been. After this “assessment” phase the counselor and client begin to process the trauma using Bi-lateral stimulation (eye-movement). These eye movements, directed by the therapist, allow the client to access memories, thoughts, feelings, and sensations associated with the events to be processed and to desensitize the client to the material. This process results in the client being able to think about the traumatic experience with less emotional difficulty, subsequently decreasing symptoms. The entire process is experienced within the safe environment established by the client/counselor relationship.

The following quote from the EMDRIA website provides a very succinct understanding of what it means to “process” trauma

“Processing does not mean talking about it. Processing means setting up a learning state that will allow experiences that are causing problems to be ‘digested’ and stored appropriately in your brain.”

Again, according to EMDRIA, EMDR has been demonstrated effective for treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, it has also been used for other issues such as Panic attacks, complicated grief, phobias, performance anxiety and stress reduction.

The 8 Phases of EMDR treatment are listed below.

  1. History and Treatment planning
  2. Preparation
  3. Assessment
  4. Desensitization
  5. Installation
  6. Body Scan
  7. Closure
  8. Reevaluation

If you are considering EMDR treatment for PTSD or another issue I encourage you to visit these websites to learn more about the treatment

EMDR International Association


If you decide that EMDR is the right treatment for you give me a call at 217-231-1413 to schedule an appointment or go to EMDRIA FIND A THERAPIST to find a therapist in your area.

The Three Biggest Challenges of Christian Fatherhood

Fathering is not something that perfect men do, but something that perfects the man.I recently read a report on the “State of Biblical Fatherhood”. This report was based on a survey that Manhood Journey asked members of their online community to complete. The survey received responses from 274 fathers most of whom are Christians. Although this survey was not conducted as a scientific research endeavor it does offer some interesting insights into the minds and hearts of these Christian fathers. I find myself relating to these fathers and I think that many others will as well.  The report identifies the three most common challenges that Christian fathers report as they navigate life as a father.

Challenge # 1 Dads feel like they are failures

44% of the fathers made comments that aligned with the theme of feeling like a failure.   One participant stated,

“As a father struggling with this for over 4 months I feel like I have failed God as a Man, a Father, a Dad, a Husband and a leader of the family”

Wow! This is tough stuff no one wants to feel like a failure in all the major relational areas of life. It appears that Christian fathers are overwhelmed with the gravity of the role and do not feel equipped.

Challenge # 2 Dads want to be more intentional

42% of the Christian fathers surveyed made comments that fit under the theme of “I’d like to be more intentional”. These fathers struggled with issues like having enough energy after work to be engaged with their kids, marital problems, setting a good example, and battling outside influences.

One father said it like this,

“The decision between good-better-best is the dilemma. That is my SINGLE biggest challenge as a father right now.”

There are so many things calling for our attention and the attention of our families. Sports, music, culture, and friends are all calling for time and energy and in many instances these things are calling us away from worship and discipleship. Fathers are struggling to balance these demands and to be the one in the house that sets the limit and priority of Christ first.

Challenge # 3 Dads struggle with Disciplining and training

Although coming in a distant third, a significant number of Christian fathers (14%) identified disciplining and training as the biggest challenge they face as a father.

One participant remarked,

“Trying to raise them in a world of expectation and entitlement, I used to think it was just my kids but have realized it’s our world mentality…”

Our culture is saturated with material possessions and our families are bombarded with messages designed to create a sense of NEED in us. It can be incredibly difficult to set boundaries and expressions of discipline in this context.

Another participant stated it this way; “I have one child who has been a handful for years. He makes really poor decisions, but never owns up to it.”

I am so thankful for this report because it verbalizes experiences that I have had as a father myself. Not only that, many of the fathers I work with have expressed similar concerns and struggles.  This report includes some helpful ideas on how to move forward if you are experiencing one of these challenges. Here they are:

  1. Admit your mistakes and ask for forgiveness, frequently
  2. Stop trying to “be God” to your children, instead reflect His Character.
  3. Stop trying to compare yourself to the “perfect” dads around you, they’re a mirage.
  4. Learn how to say no.
  5. Shelve non-family-centric hobbies when the kids are young.
  6. Keep at it, and stop checking daily results.
  7. Get with other guys.
  8. Take advantage of great Christian parenting resources
    1. Parenting by the book John Rosemond)
    2. Shepherding a Child’s Heart (Ted Tripp)

If you would like to download a copy of the full report go HERE

What are your greatest struggles as a Father? Leave a comment below.

5 Ways to Connect With Your Son

Parenting is all about connecting with your children.  Sometimes we want to make it about obedience, education, success or love.  But, really all of those things follow from connection.  If you are connected to your son he will obey you.  Connection with your son increases his chance at success in school, relationships and work.  The ultimate measure of success is how one fairs in relationships and your son learns to “do” relationships through connection with you.  Your son experiences love in connection with you.  Sometimes this busy life we lead can get in the way of connecting with our sons.  There are sports to go to, meetings to attend, homework to do, and sleep to be had.  Well here are five incredibly simple ways to connect with your son that take no more than 1 hour of your day. Try just one of them this week, see what happens when you focus on connection rather than parenting.

What others ways have you found to connect with your son? Leave some suggestions below

5 Ways to connect with-2