Be more trauma-informed

Somebody once asked W.H. Auden why he smoked so much. “Insufficient weaning,” he replied.

In a split second two children were cut off from their parents and left orphans following one of the IRA’s most savage bomb attacks in La Mon House Hotel in the Castlereigh Hills above Belfast. In that split second safety and goodness disappeared. I was eleven, and lived 25 miles away. The bomb killed a total of twelve people, including 7 women. Some of the victims were burned beyond recognition. It was one of the most lethal bombs ever put together by the IRA and was likened to the type of device that might have been seen in the Vietnam War. The blast bomb was attached to four large petrol cans, all of them filled with a home-made napalm-like mixture of petrol and sugar which was designed to stick to whatever or whoever it hit.

I was reminded of the infamous bombing by family and friends in Belfast last month. I needed a room after a memorial service for my mother and it was the closest and most charming venue.

The language of “trauma” and “traumatic stress” has made its way into culture, movie, TV scripts, the news, and public policy discussions. Nowadays people say “Tell me about your trauma.” Trauma has touched all of our lives in one way or another. It takes many forms too; from abuse at home to sexual assault, experience in war, disasters, accidents, medical trauma, traumatic losses and interpersonal violence.

The diagnosis of PTSD and the term we use now came about because of post-Vietnam War advocacy. According to psychiatrist Bessell Van Der Kolk, “It’s really the Vietnam veterans that brought this in and the power of the large numbers of psychiatrists and patients at the VA. That was strong enough to make it an issue and a diagnosis.”  Van Der Kolk says “the goal of treatment of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is to help people live in the present, without feeling or behaving according to irrelevant demands belonging to the past.” His own father spent time as a religious prisoner in German concentration camp during World War II.

The road to understanding and coming to terms with my own emotional consequences of war trauma is a long and difficult path. Embracing the glory and guts of emotional messiness is challenging. I feel emotions intensely. Analytical thinkers and expressive types process differently. Losing a loved recently made me more aware of how people choose to avoid social interaction when there is trauma or loss. One easily becomes isolated. Maybe others don’t know what to say, or they’re afraid to say the wrong thing, so they say nothing, or completely avoid you.  Research has found that what makes us more resilient to trauma, both individually and collectively, is to make a decision to own ourselves fully, emotionally and physically (sensate dimension). This acceptance and leaning into your own trauma and the trauma and suffering of others can produce great benefits. Some of those benefits include wisdom, patience, creativity, clarity, deeper empathy, and resilience.

Talk therapy is helpful too but limited. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. Van Der Kolk says, “It’s an outstandingly effective treatment and goes beyond the tyranny of language offered in talk therapy.  Trauma is not about being reasonable or to be verbal or to be articulate. The parts of the brain that help people to see clearly and observe things clearly really get interfered with by trauma and the imprint of trauma is in areas to the brain that really have no access to cognition.”

I still have great faith in the power of the human spirit to overcome horrific circumstances. I’m constantly amazed by how others face adversity, build resilience, and find joy in the world. It’s possible to build resilience and healthy  responses to trauma by pressing into, or leaning into the suck of trauma. These three T points might help us in that journey ;

  1. Trauma is complex, overwhelming and non-reasonable. When someone is triggered don’t expect them to be able to talk about it reasonably.
  2. Try not to pressure or incessantly question others about traumatic experiences or places. Guard against naive views. A naïve view about a place, or people group, or a seemingly innocent question on your part may be a huge trigger for someone else.
  3. Two of the most innovative and outstandingly effective techniques for treating trauma today are Yoga (Holy Yoga for Christians) and EMDR.

Spiritual wisdom is a tree of life

One of the most encouraging activities in my spiritual life is bible study. In my early walk with God I was lead to a remarkable bible study in Holywood, Northern Ireland. Roy and Rosemary Millar graciously facilitated it over the decades from their beautiful red brick Victorian home, on the shores of Belfast Lough. As we renewed our friendship recently, and I joined them again on their journey I had a revelation that this place was my Irish Sea of Galilee.

By meeting regularly with a community of bible based believers, I encouraged myself to engage with the wonderful life-giving word of God. Group study is fun. And, it’s interesting when the bible scholars come and share. I enjoy the variety of interaction and how Roy used biblical people, places and things to stir my curiousity and search for truth. Curiosity and asking questions was welcomed and assumptions and judgments were challenged. Roy always asked great questions. Jesus was the ultimate master at asking questions and used them to reveal underlying motives and intentions of the heart. He needed this skill when dealing with the argumentative and confrontational Pharisees and Scribes of his day.

I discovered that rigorous study or meditation on the bible is not a strictly intellectual exercise. My mind was often quieted, and my heart opened up to the presence of God. Quiet the mind, open the heart describes how I drop down from the intellect into the heart to hear what Father God is saying to me. This is divine heart revelation that bypasses the intellect and more predictable information highways.

In a decreasingly communal society and a 24/7 media saturated world (including the production of fake news) we need more revelation not information.

Roy and Rosemary were amazing bible study leaders because they walk in the Father’s ways and are obedient to his word. Their ministry and leadership are marked with humility, love and goodness. Great leaders possess these qualities. In Psalm 23 David reminds us “surely goodness and mercy (love) shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” when we obey the Lord and walk in his ways.

Our social breaks, at the middle of the study were filled with all kinds of baked goods (love and goodness, Rosemary style). Sometimes we would have so much fun during the break, Roy would have a hard time re-establishing our focus and attention. Sometimes through the studies I would receive revelation, or guidance, or wisdom about a particular area of my life. Sometimes I would be convicted of personal sin. Sometimes I’d develop great friendships outside of the group that lasted for years and still continue today. Sometimes the group would take a trip to Israel or Uganda or host a celebration in someone’s honor. Sometimes Roy and Rosemary would invite a person to live in their home and join the bible study, so we got to meet people from around the world.

The world’s wisest man, King Solomon, created the world’s most dangerous book – Proverbs. He taught us through this wisdom literature how to use God’s wisdom to steady us, balance us, connect us, guide us, protect us and bless us.

Maybe you know of other benefits to living with God’s wisdom? Or maybe you know of other good bible studies in your area. Please share them with me in the comments section below.

Even though my favorite bible study has officially ended, Roy in his wisdom and incredible generosity has created a treasure chest of wisdom for us through his “Wisdom is a Tree of Life” website.  The site has a single purpose – to assist you to engage with the wonderful, life-giving wisdom contained in the Bible. Check it out here;


A tribute to an overcomer, Margaret Helen

I became keenly aware of the beauty of my mother’s name whilst sitting in a doctor’s waiting room in Roseville, California. Two delicate floral paintings hung side by side. One was named Margaret, the other Helen.

What a wonderful name it is. Margaret stands for Pearl. Helen stands for shining light.

On Saturday past, family and friends gathered, to remember before God, my mother, Margaret Helen. To give thanks for her life; to commend her to God and our merciful redeemer and judge; to commit her body to be cremated, and to comfort one another in grief.

Just like a pearl formed through suffering in the heart of an oyster, my mother’s childhood years involved suffering in the heart of a religious organization that failed to love and protect her when she was most vulnerable. Mum suffered horrible deprivation of body, mind and spirit and torture but she LIVED. She had to possess an immense amount of courage, strength and determination to survive such an experience in her formative years.

Not only did she live but she generated love and life in me and my brother James.

My mother’s final illness was far from easy, and was her final test of courage. It brought me back to Northern Ireland from California and my brother back to Ireland from Argentina. Parting from a parent, at whatever age or circumstances causes grief, and is also a shock because it marks the end of an era in our own lives. I can only hope that her passing was sweetened by the presence of the two people whom she loved most in the world. We had known a mother’s love in contrast to her own experience. It was sweetened also by the way my mum received grace to welcome a loving Savior into her life, and be assured of a greater and eternal life in his presence. Death could not hold her. In the end she silenced the boast of sin and grave.

Margaret Helen became a ward of the Irish State, confined to a Sisters of Mercy convent in Clonakilty, Cork at the tender age of two. She remained confined for 12 full years. Despite the horrors of what she was subjected to she was graced with a beautiful gentle, quiet and determined spirit. This gentle yet quietly determined way of being helped her to overcome future obstacles too.

Mum was unique in many ways. She had a special way of washing, hanging, ironing and neatly folding all of our clothes. She’d then place them in neat little rows, side by side. Every piece of clothing or cloth went under the touch of her steaming iron.

Mum was thoughtful. She threw the best birthday parties. And when I left Ireland, I never failed to receive birthday, Christmas or Easter cards.

Mum was gentle and giving. She was the most generous person I knew and she taught me first about acts of kindness. Unlike her own mother she regularly went without to make sure we had what we needed, or wanted.

Mum was creative and great with her hands. She could paint or wallpaper and entire house like nobody’s business. She use to knit the most intricate Irish Aran jumpers without reading the pattern book. She was a semi-professional Irish dancer, and could sing a high Latin mass.

Mum was energetic and hard working. Always on the go. She re-located from leafy suburban, middle class Dundonald, in east Belfast, to a new housing estate in Craigavon, Armagh to work with Good Year. Thus providing us with a stable and secure childhood for the next 16 years. Mum had a lot of physical energy and some of the last words she spoke from her hospital bed were, “hurry up, hurry up, c’mon.”

Mum gave me plenty of freedom as a child and adult. She taught me how to be self-reliant. She was naturally humble and served others easily. She emptied herself by her steadfast love, service and committed stand for our small family.

Mum was fun loving and playful. Treasured memories will always include holidays with her and my brother James in Portrush. Together we enjoyed the beach, sand dunes, Barry’s, spectacular scenery, sugary and greasy holiday foods that are unique to Portrush.

Mum was adventurous. She spent time with me and happily explored every place I’ve ever studied in, or lived. She especially enjoyed San Francisco and Hawaii, driving across the Golden Gate Bridge in a bright red fire truck, or sailing out and exploring Alcatraz, shopping in Union Square or strolling through open air art festivals in the Bay area.

Our time together was limited in the past decade but I will treasure our mutual exchange of “I Love You.” I am so thankful now that I did that consistently and regularly.

Margaret Helen’s love was always with her family. She took a lifelong stand for us. I know no-one who comes close to displaying the courage that she did. She lived out well, the fine qualities of her beautiful name. She was a pearl of great prize, and a bright shining light. And she lives on in the lives she touched and the love she shared. In the words of Julian Norwich long ago “All things are well, and all things are well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Her legacy as “strength and courage” lives on in me. My mother brought heaven down for me and she helped form in me a sharpness to see beyond the naive and superficial, at a time in the world when it is so deeply needed.

Taming the flood waters of sectarianism

Here in Northern California, on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, flow the clear, sparkling waters of the Feather River.  Once as prized for its gold deposits as it was feared for its floods, the river was tamed by the building of the Oroville Dam. The reservoir that resulted remains the primary storage facility for the California State Water Project.

Exceptionally heavy rains damaged the spillway of the nation’s highest dam this winter, threatening the surrounding area with flooding and causing a mass evacuation. Although people were allowed to return home within a few days, the crisis was a source of great anxiety and drama.

Governor Jerry Brown now wants millions of dollars for beefing up safety inspections of the state’s vulnerable dams. Someone has fallen behind on dam safety inspection :-).

As an act of service and a source of encouragement, I offered my apartment to a co-worker and his family who had been evacuated and needed shelter. My church community prayed and offered assistance to other evacuated families.

I reflected on these factors — rising water levels, the damaged spillway, fractured landscapes, prayer, the fragility of the nation’s dams, neglectful safety inspection — and asked the Lord for insight. He gave me three themes:   

Encouragement. Energy. Reconciliation.

Rising rivers have boundless amounts of movement and energy. Some contain gold.

Our energy for prayer needs to rise like the recent water levels.  Steve Holt, a former pastor of mine in Colorado Springs, wrote recently,  “In the latter days, as in Acts, there will be a correlation between Great Prayer and Great Power. Greater Prayer. Greater Power! When the water level of prayer rises in the Church, the water level of the power of the Holy Spirit rises in the community; where the water level of the power of the Holy Spirit rises in the community, the water level of the works of the Kingdom is manifested throughout a city.”

For a couple of years I’ve spent considerable energy helping create the world’s first vertically integrated clean energy company. It’s now a Tesla-operated business. I was part of a movement that encouraged homeowners to convert to clean sustainable energy.

Throughout this pioneering process, I realized that everyone needs encouragement to try something new. Anyone can be a source of encouragement, too. Encouragement brings sunshine into our lives. It’s a powerful source of sustainable energy for our friends, family and communities and it’s free.

Americans are incredibly encouraging and endlessly optimistic, particularly when faced with crisis and natural disasters. This is so inspiring to me.

The pastors at my Church (Bayside) are also a rich and deep source of encouragement. John Ortberg describes the founding pastor (and author of the book, “Jesus Called And Wants His Church Back”) like this: “If you were to look in a dictionary … between the words encouragement and energy, what you would find is a picture of Ray Johnson.” It’s true, too. Giving encouragement is a mark of a good prophet. Not only do they challenge God’s people to live up to God’s calling, but they also share in themselves the humility and repentance of falling short.

As I prepare to head back to Northern Ireland in April, I will enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. I’ll also be on the lookout for the beautiful energy and marks of a sustainable peace process.

The political peace that was negotiating in 1996 was good. Delivering a lasting peace on the grassroots level is a much slower process, especially when there are complex, long-standing issues that still need to be resolved. It’s even more complicated when fragility (like a weakened dam structure) exists in the political institutions, north and south of Ireland.

I remember the dark days of consternation, mass evacuation and murder spilling out onto the streets. I remember the religiously divided communities ravaged by violence and destruction. I lived through the huge social deprivation in the ‘70s and ‘80s. So I’m incredibly grateful for the economic opportunities I’ve had in the U.S. As an immigrant, no less, and now a naturalized citizen, I’m incredibly grateful for the outstanding support of the United States, financially and politically, and their strategic role in facilitating parts of the reconciliation process in Northern Ireland.

Sen. George Mitchell was deeply involved in the peace process in Northern Ireland and he said, “What people feel, think and believe matters more than non-human entities.”

I look forward to seeing new visually powerful symbols of reconciliation, and new iconic locations that create a sense of normalcy. But the prize of gold in peacemaking and a sustainable peace process rests in the degree to which the floodwaters of sectarianism have been tamed. I’ll be pondering the following three points as I go there ;

Is there a full, genuine, meaningful reconciliation taking hold in Northern Ireland, among the people?
Are there changed attitudes?
Are people still suffering from trauma and open wounds?

The Corrymeela Community with its turf cross, open bible and lit candle has an established history as a witness of peace. Its a safe and transformational place to ponder these points.

I’ve created a GoFundMe page, and included a video of this place for anyone who would like to support me, either, prayerfully or financially (or both) on this journey. Here’s the link;

When does a religious institution become a criminal organisation?

A BBC story and Royal Commission inquiry from Australia touched my heart this week.  It’s worth sharing in another format to make people aware of the full scale of the horrendous problem. Also to raise awareness of how importance it is to listen to children who have the courage to come forward and talk about difficult or harrowing experiences.

The Commission shows the religious institutions involved in alleged child abuse and the percentage of church figures behind the abuse. It’s a sad reflection on the sexual health and spirituality of the nation’s Catholic priests. And it’s a global problem and not just confined to Australia.

Percentage of church figures behind alleged abuse, 1950-2010
Religious institution Percentage
St John of God Brothers 40.4
Christian Brothers 22.0
Salesians of Don Bosco 21.9
Marist Brothers 20.4
De La Salle Brothers 13.8
Patrician Brothers 12.4
Society of Jesus 4.8
Missionaries of the Sacred Heart 3.3
Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart 0.6
Sisters of Mercy (Brisbane) 0.3
Source: Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

Although a lot of the stories, which took on average 33 years to surface, are depressingly similar one survivor story stuck out for me. A survivor told reporters that it was drummed into his head by the four men who abused him, over a long period of time that he was the one who had “done wrong.” I find that very disturbing and cruel, psychologically.

Bob Goff, is a New York Times Bestseller (Love Does) and a hero of mine. He speaks regularly in my Church. He is always encouraging and inspiring, and loved by many. He has a great sense of humor, witnessed by the fact that he has an office on Treasure Island in Disneyland.  Recently he encouraged us to “hold people close, not accountable” and I felt that was a lovely sentiment but in the back of my mind, it also struck me as a bit naive. I’m looking forward to sharing with him how that principle just doesn’t fit here. The findings of this inquiry prove that oftentimes we need to hold people accountable and not close. There are 3 points I’d like us to ponder from this inquiry;

  1. There was a massive failure by the Church to protect children.
  2. The Catholic Church has a history of actively hiding perpetrators.
  3. The average age of the victims was 10.5 for girls and 11.5 for boys.

I hope the survivors continue to seek and receive the healing they need. I support survivors of Clergy childhood sexual abuse. This is just one simple way of honoring their lives and suffering so they are not forgotten.

A time to march !

In the wisdom books of the Old Testament, Solomon, son of David, king in Jerusalem, says,  “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

The new year is often a season of and time for reflection, resolution or revelation. This year it’s a time spent absorbing the shock of the recent election campaign, and letting it sink in. Some need to heal from it, and some may feel the need to be less passive and engage more politically. Are you feeling passive or more inclined towards grass roots action ?

I love living in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in America, and the world.
My thinking and perspective is stretched and challenged daily in the Bay Area, and Sacramento region. By listening well, I absorb many perspectives and views on life.
If I’m humble and spirit lead, I can discern the times, like Solomon, and increase in wisdom.

As I listen to understand, as opposed to listening, to be right, or to offer quick pat replies I’m learning that president-elect Trump scares many people. To many he is an unpredictable leader. They say his behavior has all the toxic tactics of emotional abuse – especially emotional abuse aimed at women – in order to put other people down. Some have said the language he uses comes straight out of the handbook of toxic masculinity.

Many fear that this misogyny and war on the hard-earned rights of women will take America backwards. A recent New York Times opinion piece, “Feminism Lost. Now What?” is a wake-up call.

One of my Bay Area friends, Karine, encourages women and men “who oppose his sick world view to keep talking among ourselves. This helps us to get out of our individual isolation and fear. Share information and ideas about the political battles that faces us. Encourage one another to take action wherever it may do some good. Mobilize and fight for the ‘better angels of our nature’ vision of America that we believe in. We all need to be part of collective resistance, grassroots mobilization, citizen journalism and civil society engagement.”

I come from a culture where marching and parades were used to defend and commemorate civil and religious liberties and privileges. In Northern Ireland marching can be celebratory, a show of triumphalism, professional, militant and highly controversial. Marching in that province was conferred on Protestants by William of Orange, the Dutch prince who became King of England, Scotland, and Ireland in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

If you visit Northern Ireland today you can still witness an entire ‘Marching Season’ across the province, instituted to recall the victories of William III and his forces in the Battle of the Boyne.

If you feel lead to get more politically engaged, and take a stand for women’s rights in this season in America, the most important grass-roots action underway is The Women’s March on Washington. It will take place on Saturday, Jan 21, from 10-5, starting at Independence Avenue and Third Street SW. Here’s the official site for the March.

In other cities in America and around the world, sister marches are being planned as well. Click here to find out if there is a march in your area.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, we’ve got three marches. Click on the drop-down menu for “Events” and select either Oakland, San Francisco or San Jose.

This quote on Facebook made me laugh but it also struck a chord;

“May the election of Trump bring forth the fiercest, smartest, toughest generation of ass-kicking women this country could imagine.”

I haven’t met this man but I can tell he values gender justice and mutual respect.

Speaking out about radical Islam

It’s easy to feel paralyzed by the rising wave of terror attacks today. Global politics have kept me on my toes. They have also inspired me to speak out more. Sexy photos, funny statements, angry memes and kittens on social media are somewhat cute but what will it take to penetrate apathy ?

As a survivor of terrorism in my native Ireland, my recovery journey has been long and difficult. Facing denial. Finding my voice. Speaking truth with love. Finding courage to share my experience strength and hope. Talking and writing about the dynamics of terror, in an increasingly, politically correct world.

This Christmas I’ve enjoyed seeing the beauty of lights strung from trees, homes and places of worship. Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The Irish statesman Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Remaining silent in the face of evil is not an option for me. Leaders have failed to educate us about the real threat we face today as a nation. I’ve lived through bombing campaigns and atrocities committed in my community. I feel I have a responsibility to warn the public about a threat that is even greater than what I experienced.

The threat and the enemy is radical Islamic terrorism.

Many of my European sisters and brothers feel like a Muslim invasion of Europe is underway. Genuine refugees who should be protected are no longer welcome because of the rancid rape culture of criminal elements who are seeking refuge too. My heart aches over Sweden which has become the rape capital of Europe. Half of the women in Sweden are afraid to go out after dark.

I’ve read reports that say Judges, the Police and the Media are conspiring to keep the depravity hidden and rapists are not being held accountable for their crimes. Progressive politicians in the name of “equality” have been accused of  making it (rape) the female’s fault.

In Germany just this week a suspected radical Islamic attacker – a bogus asylum seeker who came to the country in February under a false name – murdered 12 and injured dozens gathered at the Christmas market.


Across the pond, here in the USA president-elect Trump continues to build his team. Some are encouraged by his selections while others are outraged. His language, behavior and tone alienates people. His demand that all Muslims need to register alienates and may have the opposite effect of what he intends. Instead of containing a threat, it may  encourage Muslims, out of fear, to radicalize.

However Trump IS consistent in calling radical Islam what it is. He names the enemy. Many leaders have failed to educate us about the real threat. I’ve been talking about this threat for fifteen years in and out of Church circles, and I feel that my words have fallen on deaf ears.

We need to get the politics out of threat assessment. Rule # one of war is to understand and name your enemy. If you’re not allowed to speak truthfully about the enemy, it’s going to be very hard to win the war against them.


I am mindful of the generation born just after the end of World War Two. Or in the words of Prince Charles, “those who fought the battle against intolerance, monstrous extremism and an inhuman attempt to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe. That nearly 70 years later we should still be seeing such evil persecution is, to me, beyond all belief. We owe it to those who suffered and died so horribly not to repeat the horrors of the past.”

In my opinion, the problem is not with Muslims who make up 1.6 billion of the world’s population. This just happens to be about the same population of Russia. About 90 % of Muslims do not have a radical perspective. The problem lies with the seven to ten percent around the world who do have a radical perspective. This ten percent believe they should use violence to create a Global Islamic Kingdom.

I see three dynamics at play;

1.There are ruthless radical Islamic leaders, and an enemy who is trying to bring about the end of the world as we know it.

2.There is a rapidly growing rape culture. In many Muslim cultures women are considered less than human.

3.There is an eternal aggressor who manages to be the eternal victim.

Noteworthy too are the strategic and tactical differences between the way radical Shia (Persian, Iran) and Sunni Muslims see the arrival of the 12th Iman, and the ushering in of the end of times. Theologically, radical Sunni Muslims believe that you can accelerate the coming of the 12th Iman. If you have a sword and an A-47 you can create carnage and chaos and usher in his arrival of the Global Islamic Kingdom. Al Qaeda, Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, and ISIS believe this. 

Radical Shia Muslims have a long-term view. They focus on nuclear power, inter-continental ballistic missiles, and want to launch global thermonuclear war.

In a nutshell radical Islam says we will use force and violence to drive infidels out of holy land places. Their goal is to totally eradicate infidels. If we don’t convert they will kill us.

But fear not friends for Christ has come! The light of the world came to bring people out of darkness and into His marvelous light! And he commands us to Make Disciples of ALL those who know him not. Together we can complete the task. I’m encouraged by the unprecedented amount of Muslims coming to faith in the Middle East. Many are seeking truth though satellite TV, radio and the Internet. Some are reading the Bible and examining the claims of Christ for the first time. Others are seeing dreams and visions of Jesus. And they are coming to faith in numbers we’ve never seen before.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Romans 1:16

Team building for Tesla in Sacramento

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:1-2).

I live on Vineyard Road which is about an hours drive from the fruitful hills and wineries of Napa Valley in Northern California. I’m intrigued by the wine making process, and there is no better place to taste and grow wine.

My physical location is a reflection of an even bigger spiritual truth and call to Make Disciples. Jesus gave His followers a command: “Follow Me.” And a promise: “I will equip you to find others to follow Me.”

Good vineyard owners examine and take care of their grapes. Inspection ensures the grapes are transformed into the choicest of vine. Bad, sour or bitter grapes are consistently removed from the vine.

Jesus and His father were the original fruit inspectors. Being a disciple of Jesus means we are being transformed daily into His image. We learn from Him, fellowship with Him, and obey everything that he commands us. Acting on and abiding in the truth seekers words from two thousand years ago, “Follow me” creates the fertile soil that produces good fruit.

In the same way that the Napa Valley intrigues me, God wants to change us so much that it intrigues others. This is what gives us the opportunity to tell others about the God who is transforming us, and changing us into the choicest of vine. Teaching others about Christ is essential to being one of Jesus’s disciples.  When good teachers, leaders, and followers of Christ teach others how to love and obey Jesus, we are fulfilling His command to make disciples.

Weak or bad leaders like bitter or sour grapes do not help us to grow. Defective leadership leads us astray and contributes to chaos and destruction. Examples of this type of leadership were notable during the United States Election. When leaders, including the media fail to inform and educate us, in an ethical and objective way, we must examine the fruit of their leadership and spot for ourselves prideful, deceptive and charlatan leaders who offer quick pat, hollow answers, or paint over complex issues with broad brushes. This leadership style causes chaos and division. It also makes us vulnerable as a nation. We loose sight of reality, are left ignorant to current threats, and open to attacks from the enemy.

In the same way that Jesus and His father are fruit inspectors, we as the Church must examine the way we are called to live together. We follow the example of the Savior of humanity caring for one another in the faith community and inviting sinners, or those living on the margins, into our community. Just as grapes are intertwined on the branches and protected under a canopy of leaves, we must protect each other and teach people what Jesus commanded. We intertwine our lives with the Christians around us for the common good.

Good vineyard owners know how to treat and take care of their vines. God too cares about the way we love each other and the way we pursue his mission. Discipleship is not a canned program, and we are not called to have a spectator mentality. Jesus invites all of us to be a part of his plan. He commands us all: “Go into all the world and make disciples.” (Matthew 28:19).

Connection and belonging

I sit window facing in the dryness and warmth of the Roseville Whole Foods. My hot coffee and circular English toffees laid before me. I take joy in the atypical California weather. Palm trees swaying back and forth in the wind. Puddles abound. Folsom Lake has reached full capacity. The American River in Sacramento continues to rise. My coffee and English toffees make for a sweet lunch.

I’ve become a California weather wimp. My light pink raincoat is more a fashion statement than a protective layer from the rain. The strong winds and consistent rainfall remind me of long winter day’s in Ireland. A comforting memory.

I came face to face with another reality today.  My sugar addiction. I drastically reduced my sugar intake from mid-January to about May. It was fascinating to watch the weight melt off my body. I got too confident and started compromising. I had gone off the rails totally by August. Cheap hardcore candy and frozen yoghurt were the main culprits.

From mid-January to August I had lost approximately 40 lbs just by cutting out sugar in my regular diet, and by eating a regimented 3 healthy and measured meals a day. No snacking whatsoever.

I dropped from a size 16 and could squeeze back into my size 10 or 8 trousers and skirts that still hung in my closet.

As I sat in Whole Foods I reflected on one of my earliest memories as a child. It involved taking 50 pence from my dad’s coat pocket and buying a big white paper bag filled with candy. I’d eaten it all alone before anyone rose from bed that morning.

Using daily pocket money for candy on the walk to primary school allowed me to slowly suck on candy throughout the school day. Cocoa cola cubes or yellow bon bons were favorites. A 2 oz bag got me through the entire morning.

Today I’m reflecting on what triggered my childhood sugar addiction. We live in a society that is so vulnerable to addictions. And technological connection does not bring emotional connection or social recovery. As human beings we crave and need bonds, relationships, flesh and blood connections, and the courage to be present in our own life and in the lives of others, addicts or not. The following video highlights for me a thoughtful and compassionate approach to how we might perceive and treat people who may be traumatized, isolated, beaten down or addicted.

As I struggle to overcome my sugar addiction today, I ask myself ;

What am I really hungry for, on a deeper level  ?
Why do we treat addicts and addiction in the punishing, isolating way we do today?
Is there a better way for individual and social recovery ?

Thankful for the scars

“So I’m thankful for the scars
Cause’ without them I wouldn’t know Your heart
And I know they’ll always tell of who You are
So forever I am thankful for the scars.”

I AM THEY – Scars

One grey, blustery and overcast day in ancient Ireland, I arrived home from primary school, tired and hungry. One of my peculiar patterns of eating back then included two slices of refined white bread, smeared with Heinz tomato ketchup, and sprinkled with white sugar.

On this particular day I was met at the doorstep by a buzz of visually contrasting colors and activity: policemen in dark clothing and ambulance men in white with stern faces stopped me dead in my tracks. I couldn’t get into my house. I was forced to wait outside. I was about nine or ten, perhaps younger. My worn, brown leather schoolbag was snugly strapped round my back and chest. I was frightened. I thought about my homework. My stomach growled. What happened? Who is in there? Is it my daddy? Then I saw my father being carried out of 82 Moylinn on a stretcher. He was groaning and covered in blood. He staggered home drunk from the pub and fell into a glass cabinet. I watched, frozen in fear, as his bloodied face and body was carried away and hoisted up into the ambulance. The ambulance door slammed shut. I stared at the back of the ambulance motionless. The thought that is was bad luck to stare at the back of an ambulance flashed through my mind. I felt sad and scared.

The rest of the day is a fog. Denial is helpful like that. It can protect us. I don’t remember if anyone helped me to process that event. My father’s alcoholism frightened our neighbors as much as it frightened our small family.

Although a naturally joyful, and carefree child, growing up in an alcoholic home, and dealing with trauma like this eroded my self-esteem, self-worth and sense of identity. The disease is cunning and baffling. I became good at hiding from it and others. I lost trust in authority. It was easier to not feel, or think or voice my opinion.

Fast forward to 29 years of age, and a nervous breakdown led to a dramatic spiritual awakening in Ireland. I committed my life to Christ and became rooted and grounded in the Celtic Christian Faith and Traditions. Later on, in Colorado Springs, I discovered the Alanon program. Along with AA, Alanon is probably one of the most powerful spiritual programs developed in the last century. Through working the 12-step program, I learned that the experiences I had within my alcoholic home did not make me terminally unique. I became hopeful that I could heal myself from the wretchedness and gloom of my alcoholic home life.

As I worked the 12 steps of the program, I began to open up emotionally. I felt safe. I developed an emotional vocabulary. As I opened up and talked, I began to release my shame, guilt, self-pity, anger, rage and resentment.

As I grew in faith and recovery, I came out of hiding. I gradually found the courage to speak my heart and mind. This led me on a sacred call to self-discovery. Christian spirituality has a great deal to do with the self, not just with God. The goal of the spiritual journey is the transformation of self. This requires knowing both oneself and God. Both are necessary if we are to discover our true identity as those who are “in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I’m inspired on this journey by others who stay true to themselves and show courage in difficult circumstances. I call it courage under fire. One example is Desmond Doss. He was a conscientious objector during World War II, refusing to touch a gun due to an alcoholic incident in his home, involving a gun. Ostracized at first by his fellow soldiers for his pacifism, he would go on to earn their respect and adoration for his bravery, selflessness and compassion.


In action on Hacksaw Ridge during the battle of Okinawa in 1945, Doss, an unarmed combat medic, saved scores of wounded men by retrieving them in the face of Japanese fire. When the order came to retreat, Desmond stayed. On each foray into no man’s land Doss would pray,  “Lord let me find and save just one more man.” His personal sacrifice brought healing. He was true to his religious convictions and God used him to save 75 lives, against all odds. Following his heroic action, the men in his unit refused to go into battle until Doss had prayed for them. He was eventually awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Coming out of hiding and staying true to myself required that I embrace the vulnerabilities that sent me scurrying there in the first place. If I retreat from God’s presence, he still wanders every moment of every day in my inner garden looking for my companionship and asking, where are you Jeanette, and why are you hiding? Sometimes I AM hiding in the bushes and the first step out of the bushes is always a step towards being honest with myself.

The five points below helped me to stay true to who I am in my brokenness. I was rescued by the one True God who comes to rescue the broken, the abused, and the wounded. If we surrender to his leading, he will show us the treasure within our scars and “he is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” Ephesians 3:20-21.

I find my true self by seeking God, not myself.
Self-acceptance always precedes genuine self-surrender and self-transformation.
If God loves and accepts me as a sinner, how can I do less?
If I repent and commit to his ways, he will heal and restore me.
Jesus is the True self. I find my true self when I fix my eyes on him.