Saturday, April 26, 2008


I am both a pastor and a counselor. If you don't know me well, you're probably sitting there thinking that I'm some uber-perfect hybrid of Billy Graham and Dr. Laura, their secret love child. You might assume you would feel a little uncomfortable around me at a party where there is alcohol, and you might try to clean up your language around me. In other words, you might think that I have it all figured out (at least in my own estimation), and that I'm harboring judgments about you because you DON'T have it all figured out. The truth is, I'm just as human and flawed as anyone, and perhaps more vulnerable. I want to talk a little bit about that vulnerability.

Last month everyone heard about the scandal surrounding Eliot Spitzer. I don't really want to get into that, but it's an old, old story: big name, big fall. Everyone loves to hate these people. It's a sick kind of fun when people who have a strictly moral public persona are caught with their pants down. My reaction is a little different these days. The more public my own life becomes, the more I understand how these things develop. Don't get me wrong, I'm not excusing anything...I'm just confessing that I think I get it in some weird way.

As my life becomes more and more public, I'm noticing the subtle pressure to appear a certain way. As a counselor, people expect that I will be extremely emotionally healthy with really wise and simple answers to all of the issues in their life. As a pastor, people expect that I will have a carefully constructed theological answer for everything and that my life will always reflect a kind of luminous spirituality. Together, the counselor-pastor combo amounts to the great double-whammy of pressured expectation. It becomes harder and harder to be real about my struggles and questions. Sometimes I bend and morph under the push and pull of it. If I'm not careful, I could leave myself behind and never really notice it.

I wonder if this is what happened with these other public figures? I wonder if little by little they forgot who they really were and what they cared about? I wonder if all that bending and morphing and hiding eroded their "me-ness" over time, and resulted in an identity that bore no resemblance to the person who first entered the public arena with all those high ideals? This thought scares me badly.

So here's my public confession, a kind of watermark to help me measure when the floods are threatening to overwhelm my "me-ness". I am a woman with a complicated personal history that I both love and hate. I have made a lot of mistakes, and some of those mistakes have hurt others. I have not been a perfect mother or wife or friend...far from it. (If I've done one thing really well, it has been to say "I'm sorry" when I was wrong...I've said that a lot in my life.) Sometimes depression and fear and doubt move into my chest like squatters and chase out all of the space required for breathing. In other words, I'm really no different than anyone else. All those titles really mean is that I am pointed in a particular direction and doing my best. I have not arrived anywhere and I don't have any room to judge anyone.

So there it is. Remind me of this if you ever run into me and I sound a little fake. Make sure there's someone home behind my eyes. Don't let me disappear into the world of expectations. Knock me over the head if you have to. Thanks.


  1. Terri, this post is so potent. It really makes me reflect. I admire your transparency and forthrightness. The humility in the words speaks for itself. And you’re right: the titles that identify the direction of your life are double jeopardy. Somehow people mistakenly think those titles infuse you with superhuman qualities. Consequently, people are always trying to define you and recreate you in the image they deem aligns with their understanding of those terms. In some ways, it feels a little like what I was trying to enigmatically describe here. Your willingness to publically “confess” your humanity inspires me. Thank you.

  2. terri,

    i love you.


  3. Hooray Terri! Hip Hip hooray Terri! Yes Terri! You have my standing ovation.
    You are human that is so scandalous, such a staggering revelation. You are headed for the front page of the inquirer now.

    I have a philosophy, only people with wagging tongues read the inquirer of our lives any way. That is why Jesus commanded us if our eye causes us to sin pluck it out.

    My translation says if your tongue is wagging you have a forked tongue and all forked tongues must be sacrificed as a burnt offering, an offering made by fire unto the Lord. It is in proverbs, or psalms, or Exodus or something.

    Tongue piercing was first Jesus' idea, He commands that they be circumcised and tacked to the roof of our mouth.

    For the record, i don't have a skeleton in my closet. I am too pious for the habitation of just one. Last time i checked there was a cemetery in my closet.

    It is a good thing i believe in reincarnation and the rapture too, cause the dead in Christ shall rise and i am ready to shed a few pounds. I suppose those who don't rise will come back as cows or goats or Budda forbid that you come back as a possum you are headed for road kill and a boiling pot.

    Oh yeah, i don't want to come back as a cow either, you are headed for a Big Mac or the steak house.

    I have no idea how i went from your standing ovation to cows and i forgot to mention pork chops. It must be all the drugs Terri.

    Love ya for this honesty.

  4. Terri
    I just popped back over here to re-read this post. On a more serious note i think i have said this before to you. I was listening to a radio preacher once and he said, "people (non-Christians) don't want to see perfection they want to see honesty."

    I have a very difficult time hiding things if i am mad the whole world will know about it. So a few years ago i would leave work and go home and cry to God because of this snappy behavior. I knew it was destroying any "testimony" i could conjure.

    In the stillness God spoke to me and He said, " I am not interested in changing your image, i am interested in changing you."

    I never really understood that my "public image" was not me until He spoke this to me. This post reminds me a lot of the poem on my blog.

    I think people will always judge us out of one of two pair of eyes, the eyes of judgement or the eyes of love. Love covers a multitude of sins and mercy triumphs over judgement.

    i think if you truly love someone you will embrace all of them that means embracing their sin or faults as well. People will probably misunderstand that and assume you to be condoning sin, and actually it may appear that way.

    But i think that love leans on the side of mercy and God is Love.

    I will say this again, Terri you will always be perfect in my eyes no matter how human or faulty you are.

  5. terri, i love this post. the pastor of my church frequently reminds us of this too: that he is a leader with a limp. that he probably gets it wrong more than he gets it right. that he's not endowed with superspiritual abilities above & beyond those of us sitting there & listening to him.

    i can only imagine what a dangerous combination this is: counselor & pastor. i think i get it (not quite as deeply as you experience, i'm sure, but cognitively at least): this pressure to appear a certain way. to be emotionally healthy, to have answers to profound spiritual/emotional dilemmas. i imagine you might get compared to someone's ideals of all that those "counselor" and "pastor" labels imply.

    thank you for being human. for not having it all together, but for having a heart that extends outward in love and upward for grace. thank you for not being afraid to say that your life gets pretty darn messy too, sometimes.

    love you so much.

  6. I share one of your titles - that of counsellor, and I worked really hard early in my training to clarify for myself that I have no "face" to put on, that it's about being more myself in all areas of my life, and not some notion of what "counsellor" should look like. But it's a work in progress. I like your humanity. I like your realness. I don't care what label you carry. I like you just fine.

  7. "being safe" is what i would label the most important characteristic of a counselor and/or a pastor ~ there are things required to be that like humility, grace, understanding, being real, maintaining name but a few

    it is indeed a deep calling

    to whom much is given much is required and my dear you have been given much and you give much and i love who you are and extend grace and mercy for who you are not yet just as you do with others ~ of course none of us do this as perfectly as we'd like, so praise God for tender, receptive hearts and minds that can adjust and suspend judgment and love each other deeply from the heart [i'm talking to myself in my need to do that more and more often]

    i feel for those who are under constant scrutiny in the world and even moreso when it creeps into the church ~ where you'd think you could expect more of each other, but...alas, we're all human

    love you.

  8. Terri, I've followed your blog since the beginning. Love it! Such a distinct blend of honest, poetic, and theological reflection. Thank you. (It took me a long time to work up the courage to post. I thought the internet was supposed to be a boon for introverts?)

    You were always such a great writer; it is a gift to watch you develop your writing in real time.

    Your "confession" about the inevitability of professional and religious facades really resonated with me. (I had no idea, however, that you frequented prostitutes.)

    Keep writing.
    I hope it's OK that I keep reading.

  9. It must be a tough combo. I know I have expectations of anyone with the title pastor and that those expectations are probably unreasonable at times.

    I see where Danny get some of his open hearted honesty from.

    Take care

  10. Well, dear, we can always quit and work at that video store like we talk about. I admire your courage, TC, in even allowing the possibility of a more public life. I think I have some little idea of what that costs you. But great is your reward in Heaven. I don't ever experience you as fake - however you choose to navigate this tricky job combo is genuine and always the best solution available at any given time.
    rock on in the Holy Ghost.

    and... is that OUR Lance?

  11. nathan: sometimes it feels like confession is all i have going for me. thanks for understanding. that post you refer to is one of the earliest things i read from you. kind of ironic that we got to know each other over a post about misunderstanding.

    christianne: the feeling is mutual.

    tammy: so you must have the free association version of the bible. :) and thanks for what you said about public image and God's relationship to all that. i know it's true that he's calling out what is true. thanks for being one of those people who cares about what's underneath.

    marcia: it's hard to find a comeback for that.

    kirsten: i think you do get it. and actually, i suspect you're going to be more and more public as your life moves in the direction you've chosen. one of the things that i admire about you is your willingness to be real and honest. you do that well and beautifully.

    imelda: i didn't realize you were a counselor. i'm so happy to hear your thoughts and that you resist this impulse to appear a certain way. it truly is a work in progress. and i like you too...quite a bit.

    di: your comment made me cry. safe is good for sure.

    lance: oh my goodness it's good to hear from you! (i know you had to get in a big wrestling match with your introversion to show up here.) i think about you a lot and miss you more than you can imagine. it's fitting that you appeared on a post about staying have always demonstrated that quality in your life, along with lots of love. i hope you'll stay visible. thanks for the words about my writing. and no, i haven't gotten into prostitution. *whew*

    dean: i hope i've given that gift to danny. and i hope he'll always see it as a gift even when it's costing him something. hope your move is coming together.

    marcell: tee hee...that's our lance alright. and thank you for saying all that. it helps that my office mate is about the most honest and unpretentious person in the world and would kick my butt from here to kingdom come if i ever started posturing. :)

  12. I can't believe you've made mistakes. I feel entirely unsure of everything I thought before reading this post.


    I like that you have the titles "pastor" and "counselor" but that neither mean you are without fault --- and I like even more that you are normal and humble and loving enough to clarify it. I agree under the spot light it is hard to just be who you are -- the pressure to perform a certain way and speak a certain way --- those pressures are real.You rock the house Terri.

  13. Your post makes me wish I lived in your area so I could attend your church.

  14. tara: "normal and humble and loving" are my greatest aspirations. and yeah, i know that my "confession" wasn't all that surprising or scandalous but sometimes i feel like i should embroider it on all my clothes like a scarlet letter or something. did you ever get the sensation that someone was only seeing your title and was missing YOU completely? icky.

    mary ann: awwww. i'm actually an associate pastor in our care ministry, but the speaking pastor is one of my best friends and you'd love him like crazy. if you're interested, you can be one of our "podrishiners". go to and you can download sermons. (if i were you i would be thinking..."yeah, i'll get right on that after i get my teeth drilled" but i promise it really is some good stuff.) also, greg has written quite a few books, and you can get a good flavor of what we're about by reading "Repenting of Religion" by greg boyd.

  15. Terri, your words here have so much power. I love how you've said this, though I'm not sure how to describe what I love. I feel like I'm talking to you when I read it, like Terri is sitting in front of me and talking and I love it.

    And there's so much TRUTH here. I hate telling people that I've been to seminary, that my husband wants to be a chaplain, that we both offer spiritual direction, because out comes THE BOX...the super-spiritual, all-her-ducks-in-a-row box that I just don't fit into. But there's a draw to make it look like I fit into it, to bend and twist until maybe I do, a little.

    In some ways, a blog is a small place, but thanks for showing us your heart here.

  16. A pastor?

    A counsellor?

    I would never have guessed! :-)

    Just teasing...Hi Sweetie...Big post! Big words! Sounds like big confession!

    You shouldn't be so hard on yourself...was thinking what people think about you...whatever!?

    I know how difficult it is to let people's views and words just flow over us, as if it does not hurt. I also realise just HOW human people with 'titles' are. I want to say something about my dad...but no! thinking of people with titles...I'm thinking of Maithri...just a guy...or a girl like you....with a BIG heart! who by chance have a doctors degree...or is a counsellor...or a pastor...or a teacher...or writer...

    Just wanted to say...I hear you. Loud and clear.

    I love you. With or without. xx

  17. Phenomenal post.
    I imagine it starts to feel isolating, to be in two professions so filled with other people's images.
    I love you for listening to yourself, for being yourself, for letting yourself have space to just be real.
    You really gave me new ways of seeing this.
    your voice is, as so often the case, a fresh breeze.
    i feel invigorated and moved having been in its presence.

  18. Classic Terri post.

    I have moved into a leadership position at church over the past several years. I don't have the "P" word attached to my name but it is listed in the bulletin every week. There are plenty of people that greet me by name and I don't know theirs. Heck, I can't even place their faces sometime. I have actually felt bad about not having memorized 600 names. Getting over that now. Bigger point: Eyes are on me that I don't even know about.

    I, too, find it terrifying that someone could find out all my faults and ask for my head. But, as the pastor who placed me in that position told me when I had doubts about my fitness: "Man, if I only had perfect people working for me, I'd never get anything done."

    Thanks again for this honest post, Terri.

  19. sarah: i love that you're here talking with me, that we're connecting. i love that you get this from a place of experience. this is a small place but it's good that we can hear each other's heart.

    linni: you make it easy to by myself. there are these people you bump into here and there who really do see past those titles and provide this great big space to just be. you're one of those people.

    bella: i don't quite know why, but your words really touched me. i felt so understood when you wrote the word "isolating". that's so true. and i think you probably know very well what i'm talking about. you probably get pushed in the "wise sage" box all the time. kinda cramped in there, huh? i love you tons.

    johnny: i didn't know that about you. that's an odd feeling, isn't it, when people address you by name and you have no idea who they are. you feel exposed somehow, vulnerable. but my big fear is not that people are going to find out about my faults and ask for my head (some days that sounds really good.) my big fear is that i'll forget about my faults from hiding them so long and try to pass myself off as some other person. *shiver*

  20. yikes, terri. it's a scary thought when you put it that way - about life becoming more public. but you're totally right. it's going to happen & instead of being derailed by it, it's a good idea to know that it's going to happen & maintain that awareness that people just *might* have some unrealistic expectations.

  21. very poignant terri. counselling is a nurturing profession but as human beings we all need the nruturing...and the let-out

    hugs hugs

  22. Terri,

    I too have been reading your blog since the beginning. You are such a poignant and introspective writer. I wish I had your talent for words. Please keep writing.

  23. Theres something in the way you write...

    When I read you, I feel like you're speaking straight to my heart...

    This one resonates so deeply within me my friend...

    Its this exact realness, this unabrazened, 'unapologised' humanity which is so deeply needed in our whitebread world.

    I've never understood why people put people on pedestals in the first place...

    I wish instead we could learn to celebrate our collective humanity, our woundedness as well as our wings,

    and give each other enought room to grow and learn and make mistakes

    Soft love and deep peace to you and yours beautiful friend,


  24. I like it that you don't try to be "pastor woman" at home. yikes!!

    I also like how you are mindful of the traps that inevitably comes with the leadership position you are in. I guess you just have to listen to your husband more often and his sage advice . . . I see you . . .

  25. You're the coolest counselor-pastor I know---because you're always real/honest. I don't think I've ever seen you "fake". Never. So if you ever say/do something fake around me I will have a shocked look on my face. I won't even have to say anything!

  26. kirsten: oh honey, brace yourself. that's all i'm gonna say about that. except that i love you just the way you are.

    li: hugs right back. thanks for the nurturing.

    laura: welcome! (are you the lady from the refuge?) i love it when my blogstalkers come out of hiding. :)

    maithri: i'll bet you get a lot of that weird expectation stuff. i'm glad you have the ability to stay in full contact with the essential "you". it would be a damn shame if you got the life "expected" out of you. i would miss you a lot.

    dave: yes, you do see me, and some days that's the only thing that saves me. i am so fortunate to have your lovely blue eyes seeing me, and loving me.

    tess: how many counselor/pastors do you know? anyway, i'm glad i have friends like you that make it easy to be myself. either that or i'm a really, really skilled would you know? (clearly i've been hanging around your mom too much, yanking you around like that...smarty pants out.)

  27. Terri,
    I wish I was the lady from the refuge. I am just a Mom of triplet boys in Indiana trying to find her way. Your words touch my heart and soul.

  28. laura: JUST a mom of triplet boys?!? you must be joking. that is a sentence that should not have a "just" anywhere near it. i hope this space continues to bless you and move you forward. take care dear.

  29. Terri, What a beautiful post. It's so true that we make assumptions about pastors and counselors. But more true, as you show us, that what really matters is that we are honest and open and vulnerable. I think that's a great gift for other people coming from you. It means we're all okay just as we are. Love, Cathy

  30. Terri, the one thing I am never worried about: you becoming fake.

    The one thing I have always worried about: "you leaving yourself behind and not noticing it" because you are too busy caring for others...and because for you that is easier than caring for yourself.

    Terri, I love you because you don't have all the answers. That makes me feel so much better about my own questions.

    And I love you because when you don't know the answers, you sometimes take a stab at them anyway and the way you word the possibilites is so cool, that I don't even care if it's true or not!

    And I love you for all the fricking answers you DO pressure or expectations's just the truth!

    And I just plain love you.

  31. cathy: thank you for that perspective. sometimes it's a costly gift, and it helps to know that it's worth it.

    julie: holy cow i love you. i love how we wrestle with things together and neither of us is afraid to say things out loud to one another. and i love how sometimes you see me in ways that wake me up to something important. i love how you make me feel less alone. i just plain love you like crazy.

  32. Dear Terri, I relate to this so much. I may even elude to it in a future post if you don't mind. I do worry that all the people that are supporting me think that I am something better than what I actually am. You know I am so far from perfect of course. I hope I don't give the impression that I have it all going on and that I am so brave and so whatever. Ya know? I think I might do a post on my faults, it'll be a long one lol!! Take care sweetheart Hugs Jen B xx

  33. Certainly no one looks to me for spiritual guidance (I’m laughing just thinking about that one) or for all the answers, but I know all too well the feeling of having false ideas projected onto me…ideas that I am judging them or that I think myself superior etc. It’s very painful when someone assumes that of you. I have also been in the position of being very harshly judged for decisions deemed immoral by religious figures. That was equally as painful. I remember from your previous posts that you went through an extreme case yourself, and I image you are very sensitive about not appearing to judge others. It makes me happy to know that someone like you is in the position to touch so many lives. Thank you for being human and for letting us all be human right along with you.

    And just for the record…I would totally hang out with you at a party.

  34. jen: i don't think anyone thinks you are're a humble person always asking for feedback and advice (people who are perfect don't do that.) you're actually a beautiful example of transparency and honesty. i love that about you. truly. i hope you're feeling well and resting my friend.

    chloe: i would hang out with you too. thanks for those words. it means a lot to me to think that these values are coming through.

  35. Thank you for the link to your church's Web site. I've been exploring the archives and forgot to come back and say thanks!

  36. I really appreciate your openness and realness. Your authenticity is alluring. Speaking of alluring, have you ever read "The Allure of Hope" by Jan Meyers? It is an incredible book which helped me be more authentic myself. I so enjoy the comments you leave on my blog and feel privileged that you take the time to stop by! Thanks! ;0)

  37. 37 comments momma?! holy crap!!! ha... you've started quite a discussion here!
    i love you mom. you and your honest heart. you've been more than a wonderful mother to me.

  38. hi Terri,

    just passingby to wish you a happy Mother's Day.


  39. mary ann: glad you're enjoying the website. you can consider yourself greeted now when greg addressed the podrishioners. :)

    annie: i've never read that book. i'll have to put it on my ever growing reading list. and no need to thank me for visiting your blog. i feel like i know your little family and you and tom both are amazing people.

    danny: it's 40 now homeboy. thanks for saying that honey. you made it easy for me.

    deli: what a thoughtful thing to do! i'll be popping over to your blog soon.