awareness, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality

Detoxing my mind…(Who’s Your Inner Critic part 2)

My brain kinda hurts already, just thinking about thinking. A couple months ago I attended a conference and heard a Cognitive Neuroscientist speak about detoxing our minds. She says we do this by ridding our brains, or rather, retraining our thoughts, to eliminate toxic thinking patterns. Perhaps that talk is what has got me reflecting on how I talk to myself in my mind. Last time I wrote I told you about my inner critic, Miss Mary Poppins, who whispers judgment and harshness and criticism to me. I have listened to those words for so long that the repetitive nature of them has created neuropathways in my brain. Caroline Leaf showed actual pictures of the inside of a brain and what happens when a person has a thought. It fires up like a short squiggly line in your brain with every idea. Over and over this little zap occurs. But here’s the kicker, if the same thought is repeated over and over again, it wears an actual groove in your brain and eventually forms a little cluster of thoughts that get rooted in your mind, making it easier for them to happen the next time.

I have a few pathways that have been forged and frequently travelled over the years. There are two main ones that I want to tell you about today, but I know for sure that there are dozens more.

One recurring thought I have is some version of the following: “What is wrong with me?”. I can already hear my counselor saying to me, as he always does, “there’s nothing wrong with you.” I usually just blow him off and continue to tell him about something negative, childish or dumb that I did or thought. Instead of giving myself grace or permission to be less than perfect or a mere human, I beat myself up in my head about mistakes, failures or shortcomings. The more I have these kinds of thoughts, the more I believe them to be true about me. I am pretty certain I have a mass the size of an apple in my brain on this one.

The other pathway that I’m sure  leads to a mass the size of a grapefruit (just thought i would be consistent since all doctors seem to relate tumors to a size of fruit to illustrate severity!) is “I’m bad.” I don’t say it quite like that every time, of course, because that would be too obvious. I use Mary Poppin’s type words and phrases so it sounds intelligent and well thought through and much much more convincing. Again, my counselor calls me on it when I say something like, “I know I’m bad, but I…”. He reminds me for the thousandth time, “You’re not bad.”

The fact that I preface what I tell a counselor who, in theory, is paid to not judge me (at least on the outside), with “I know this is bad” tells me even more about how I think of myself. What does it say, you ask? It tells me that I often talk/think negatively about myself because I care too much what other people think of me. Think about that for a moment…I have a twisted belief in me that if I point out the “bad” in me to others ahead of time, then maybe they will be less hard on me or feel bad for doing so. If I just say it to myself, maybe I can avoid criticism or correction from others. I beat them to the punch, in essence.

Not to confirm what I am saying about myself, but that seems “bad”! The one positive thing I will say is that I’ve improved over the years. 12 Step programs and cancer and faith have helped that happen. I remember a long time ago (in galaxy far far away) in my marriage I did that a lot to avoid “getting in trouble” or just prevent my husband from finding out I wasn’t perfect (I’m sure he would have been shocked!). Basically, it’s a form of trying to control or manipulate what someone else thinks about me. Image Management, if you will. I would audibly beat myself up when I forgot to drop off a payment, send a lunch to school, or backed in to my husband’s cute red sports car with my minivan (hypothetically speaking, of course). I did this to hopefully prevent someone I loved from thinking ill of me or being, God forbid, mad or frustrated.

I don’t really know the root of all the reasons I tend to have lots of little zappy negative squiggles in my mind, but I am working on doing something to unravel them. I am becoming mindful enough to correct Mary Poppins and replace her words with kind, accepting, gracious, loving words that come from God. Words that I would whisper tenderly to those I love the most.

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, freedom, grace

Who’s your inner critic?

You may have heard the saying, “hurt (adjective) people-hurt (verb) people”. I recently read through some notes I took from a speaker that had the quote, “free (adjective) people-free (verb) people”. Even though at my core I believe God’s grace received gives me the gift of being free at all times, I don’t always feel or live in that freedom. Sometimes I choose to sit in the jail cell even when the door to freedom is standing wide open. I guess the idea is that we often operate alongside and influence those we encounter based on what state we are currently living in. So, regarding my particular state, I would have to say I am a “wanna be”. And “wanna be free” people can often help other “wanna be free” people be, well, free. Or more acutely, I am a “wanna live free” person. Being free and living free are worlds apart. If you are one of those people, maybe you can join me in learning how to do this.

…I am laughing at myself, because at the end of that last sentence I started to type “better”. And therein lies the obstacle to why I don’t feel free in my head: I have terrible trouble accepting who am and being ok with me. With letting myself be enough of (fill in the blank). I am constantly trying to be better than I am right now. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless you berate and frown upon the person you are presently. How I talk to myself is so subtly abusive that I don’t even notice it most of the time. But the words and the beliefs those thoughts create in my brain-actual neuropathways-keep me from living light.

Maybe I am being too vague. Maybe it will help to have a visual. A few months ago I was privileged to do a book study with a group of women in leadership in Springfield. One of the weeks, our assignment was to characterize our “inner critic” and give him or her a name. Without thinking very long about it, I identified her as Mary Poppins. I am a pseudo-expert on her character, based on the fact that I have seen the original Disney flick approximately 79 times. When my 23 yr old son was about 4, he was obsessed with the “Step in Time” song/dance. You know, the one where Burt (Dick Van Dyke) dances on the rooftops with Chimney Sweeps? My son would place couch pillows on the floor (these were the chimney tops) and leap from pillow to pillow with a long duster (the kind you use to clean spider webs and such from the ceilings of your home), mimicking the choreography. I tell you that adorable story to validate my Mary Poppins expertise. Anyway…here’s the relation. I find Mary Poppins to be slightly intimidating, arrogant, judgmental and have exceedingly high expectations of others. She’s also a bit cra cra if the truth be told. Several times in the movie she takes the kids on some wild adventure and when they try to tell their father about it she denies it ever happened saying something like “we did nothing of the sort!” (Or some other funky English phrase).

When the voice in my head tell me I am not enough (didn’t manage my time well enough to get the dishes/laundry/phone calls/appointments made, am not working out often enough or eating well enough, that I should have give more attention to my kids and given them more responsibility and hugged them more, etc.), she sound like Mary Poppins. She has a nice English accent, which we all know makes everything sound more romantic and pleasant even when it’s not. She doesn’t curse or accuse in a way that causes me to tell her to take a hike. She simply points out all the ways I don’t measure up. It’s a running monologue, background static that seeps into my subconscious until I eventually accept those ideas as truth. Once the are solidified, she moves on to other areas so there is never a moment of rest.

Maybe you are ready to call 911 and send them over to have me take to the hospital for evaluation. Or maybe you could take a moment and ponder what your inner critic is saying to you. What’s his/her name? What kind of lies is he whispering, or shouting, to you throughout your day? What kind of truths can you cling to that can be used to combat that voice? How can you put her in her place-in a time-out, if you will-and replace her words of bondage and criticism with ones of freedom and acceptance.

My intention is to pay attention to my thoughts, evaluate if they are true and from God, who loves me and created me and accepts me exactly where I am today, or if they are from Mary Poppins who thinks she’s “got me”. I intend to listen for the voice of truth and counter her lies by acknowledging that I am doing the best I can with what I have at any given time. And so is everyone else, for that matter. I get pretty worked up when I think of cruel or hurtful things other people have said to or about me. To quote Marianne Williamson in A Return to Love, “whatever abuse they gave us was often mild compared to the way we abuse ourselves today. It’s true that your mother might have said repeatedly, ‘You’ll never be able to do that, dear.’ But now you say to yourself, ‘You’re a jerk. You never do it right. You blew it. I hate you.’ They might have been mean, but we’re vicious.” This type of self-loathing is destructive and deadly. It is the root of all that is bad in us and in the world. She points out that all this emotional energy has to go somewhere. “So we sabotage.We drink. We do drugs. We control. We obsess. We codepend. We overeat. We hide. We attack. The form of dysfunction is irrelevant. We can find a lot of different ways to express how much we hate ourselves.”

Without being hard on myself and therefore responding counter-productively to this whole blog, I do want to say that i am going to do what it takes to silence Miss Mary Poppins. I need a new voice in my head. I need to listen for God’s soft whisper and mix it with the kind and gentle part of my own spirit. The one that gives me a break for not being perfect and tells me to rest in who I am at this current moment. That tells me I am always enough. And so are you.

Faith/Spirituality

“I guess God…”

We just got back from a vacation in Branson, Missouri. You know, home of the Baldknobbers, Elvis impersonators, country western shows, Silver Dollar City amusement park and the strip, lined with wax museums, Ripley’s Believe or Not, mini golf and go carts and water parks. It’s kind of like a hill billy version of Vegas. Cheesy and blingy. We were planning to leave around noon on Monday, so I was excited to just sit by the pool and relax after a couple days of Hill Billy overload. When I woke up it was pouring rain. Instead, I decided to work out (the antithesis of relaxing by a pool).

As I was on the elliptical I had this very mature thought (which kind of caught me off guard because I was pretty disappointed about not being able to lay by the pool and also, I am not that mature): “I wish I could have laid by the pool, but I guess God had different plans for me.” I wish I could say that I “know” or “trust” that God had other plans for me, but I guess “guessing” is the best I can do for now. It’s honest at least. I don’t know what I want half the time, so it stands to reason that I can’t always know for certain what God wants. But, when things don’t go as planned for me, when I don’t get my way or the world around me seems to be working against me, I can choose to say, “I guess God…”.

I have been created to make up my own mind and choose to do my life however I wish, but even when I am operating with my best intentions, I am not privy to how my actions effect others or how they will effect me long term. As a result, sometimes my best laid plans need to be redirected and I am frequently in the dark as to why. Why can’t I have it the way I want it? I may never understand, but what I can do is acknowledge that perhaps I don’t always know what’s best for me or for the world around me. When I make plans or have expectations about how things are going to play out, and they seem to crumble or disappoint, I can say, “I guess God has a different or better plan/knows better than me what needs to happen/wants to teach me something that can only be learned another way/wants me to consult with him before I run out ahead of him as if I am the leader and he is not.” Any of those options put me in a place of humility before God and give me wise perspective about what is and what is not happening around me.

So let’s try it out, just for today. Maybe you can adopt a new, go with God-flow attitude:

“I guess God…”

Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, Serenity

Boneless and Skinless

“In the same way a piece of bone-in, skin-on chicken will always be juicier and more flavorful than its boneless, skinless counterpart, fish benefits from keeping its protective skin and bones.”

Now that’a a good “hook” to kick off a blog, right? Hang with me…

Even though I generally buy my chicken boneless and skinless”, we all know that it releases the most flavor and maintains moisture better when it is cooked together with the bone and skin. Seems to be sort of the opposite to bring out flavor in the fish. Whichever way you frame it, I think we can agree that having bones and skin involved=better.

On various occasions in my past, and even as recent as the past few weeks, I feel like I have been walking around without them. I am “boneless and skinless”. This is a phenomenon that happens from my inside out when especially emotional situations enter my life and don’t leave in a timely fashion. I cling to the book of Psalms during these periods because David, who wrote the majority of them, does a lot of pleading with God to come quickly to his rescue because he is “poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint”(Psalm 22. ). I love, or at least understand, that metaphor. when my heart is wrecked and my mind orbits around a wound 24 hours a day without relief, I feel like my very structure is incapable of “doing the next right thing” that’s needs doing. Laundry=too hard. Dinner=way too hard. Making a phone call=too much. And being “present” with people I am with?=not happening. It’s all just so much work. I physically can’t seem to put one foot in front of the other sometimes.

And what about skinless? That’s a painful one. In Psalm 73:26 another Psalmist talks about his “flesh/skin failing” as a result of his suffering. Sometimes, and maybe you have had your own experience with this, I feel like I am literally walking around without my skin on. Everything and everyone that brushes against me during the day feels “extra”. Extra harsh, extra tender, extra soft, extra scathing. “It’s not you, it’s me”, as the saying goes. I am raw and sinewy and exposed to outside elements in the most vulnerable and cringy way. I really hate being like this. It makes me feel not only emotional, but weak. Crying in front of people is something I hate to do but it seems to happen a lot in this kind of season. I don’t think people around me mind (what? She’s human??), but I certainly don’t like to let my guard down like this!

When I read the Psalms, I don’t always get the answers I want to hear (although, and I ‘m not proud to admit it, but sometimes I read and re-read the ones where God finally brings down justice on David’s enemies 😬). I do, however, observe a posture that David seems to circle back to over and over, and I hear a common refrain that keeps me from completely imploding (which is what happens when one tries to live life without proper bones and skin).

First-after David begs God to help him (and whines a bit about his unfair circumstances), he remembers his track record. Or should I say, God’s track record. He says things like:

*For you have been my hope, O Sovereign God, my confidence since my youth
*Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again
*For you have delivered me from death, and my feet from stumbling.
*If your word had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction
*I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me.

Second, He gives us the solution: Trust in God.

*In you our fathers put their trust.; they trusted and you delivered them.They cried out to you (God) and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. (Ps. 22:4,5)
*The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy (Ps 28:7)
*Be still and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10)
*When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me? (Ps. 56:3,4)
*Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you (Ps. 143:8)
*But I trust you o lord. You are my God, my times are in your hands (Ps. 31:14,15)

Have you been doing life “boneless and skinless”? Me too. We are not chickens. It’s not healthier this way. Maybe we can do what David did; remember God’s track record and how he has shown up for us in the past. And maybe it will help us both if we read through some of the Psalms I listed above and then wait patiently for God to restore us to physical, emotional and spiritual health.

What have we got to lose?

awareness, Change, Faith/Spirituality, Growth

Things I learned the hard way…

When I refer to things I “learned” the hard way, I mean that in the truest sense of word; to gain knowledge or understanding by study, instruction or experience. It’s important that you know that I don’t mean to imply that I have mastered any of what I am about to share with you. It’s more of an exercise in putting some pretty excruciating and embarrassing scenarios and revelations on paper in order that it might help someone. It’s quite possible that I am the someone that most needs help today…

We learn best in hindsight, unfortunately. I really wish I could have been more aware of the growth opportunities in the midst of my pain, but sometimes it takes the rear view mirror perspective to truly appreciate the the wisdom hard circumstances provide if we are willing to receive it. In the interest of time and attention span, I’ll limit today’s lessons to a small handful of items so as not to overwhelm either of us (my heart is already racing, just thinking about some of the experiences that brought me to my awareness in these areas…)

1. I can be “scary”. I finally get it. I have been told this in a variety of ways over the past 30 years but always had a defensive argument for how that is ridiculous. how could I possibly be scary to anyone!?!  I now understand, after years of keeping potential friends away, losing many valued friends and being confronted by some real friends who loved me enough to risk pointing this out to my scary-self. The root of it was a result of expectations that I put on myself and others that were impossible to live by. That attitude resulted in my friends feeling a sense of being judged, being not enough, being a disappointment. If no one, not even me, can fulfill these expectations, everyone loses. I have done a lot of soul-searching and found that when I “live and let live” and focus on myself and doing my job (which is to take care of myself and not try to do God’s job and work on other people) I can actually maintain some long-term, intimate relationships.

2. “I care way too much about what you think of me.” This is really an awareness that I have to keep in check regularly. When I get unfit spiritually, I start making idols out of the people around me (whether or not I like or know them). My identity and self-worth become dependent not on God, but on what I think others are thinking about me. That is a dangerous lens to view myself through considering much of it is based on your brokenness mixed in with mine. It’s hard to see anything clearly with that standard and makes for some pretty unstable self-esteem and security. I didn’t always see this as a problem and am grateful, having been in a twelve-step program the past 6 years, that I am beginning to get a handle on it. I used to put all my eggs in the baskets of people who were not capable, because only God is capable, of meeting my needs and giving me my identity. After years of suffering I finally stopped blaming them and transferred my eggs to God’s basket (can’t deny that I occasionally steal them back until it get’s painful again).

3. “I’m not much but I’m all I think about.” ‘Tis true. In spite of the fact that I tend to trash myself (telling myself I am a bad friend, bad Christian, bad mom, bad wife), I think about myself an awful lot. I can obsess about my woes and worries and completely forget that anyone else could use a word, a text, a call, an hug, a simple smile. Self-consumption is a sickness that I haven’t always recognized in me. I think Leukemia was a really good remedy for that kind of sickness. Even in the midst of a pretty terrifying threat of dying and potential for absolute self-absorption, I chose to write and share hope and strength with others. That was only a God-inspired decision that I take no credit for at all.

4. “I can be right or I can be happy.” Apparently I was born with or cultivated a very vibrant and stubborn “justice gene”. This has gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion. If in the right context, God can do a lot with this genetic wiring. But if it goes astray, it manifests itself in an attitude of self-righteous superiority toward groups or individuals. Neither of which are productive or feel very loving to the recipient. When I am sure I am right on something I feel compelled to prove it (feeling like I have to “win”) and the recipient often feels as if their views or needs are disregarded and devalued. I almost never see it that way and am therefore shocked when I get a strong pushback. I have most certainly not entirely recovered from this, but am at least willing to acknowledge that I have the propensity to go there and don’t argue my “way” nearly as long as I used to. 😬

5. “I am a wimp”. I have an embarrassing memory of a conversation I had between a friend and I several years ago (like 20 years, so give me a slight break). She asked me why I never drank before I was 21 or did drugs or had sex before I was married. I told her I thought it was because I wasn’t afraid to do the “hard thing.” It’s actually a “hard thing: for me to even get those words out;  it’s so arrogant. And so far from reality, now that I can see myself a tiny bit more clearly. As I mentioned a few blogs ago, I am afraid of practically everything! And I wasn’t any better back then. Just a bit dumber (is that a word?). I actually think I have an extra large aversion to “hard things”. I mean, I won’t even go downstairs to put my laundry in because it’s too far and the very thought of even planning a meal or following a recipe makes me want to start fasting. I work out the shortest time necessary and eat as much as possible without crossing the line into excess. I text and email instead of call because that is easier. My whole life revolves around doing what is easy. Who am I trying to fool? Today, the answer is “no one”. I am fully aware that I am doing the best I can for now and so is everyone else. I am not special. I only do hard because I have to, not because I want to or am up for the challenge. Most people do. I used to take pride in my “uprightness”, whatever that is, and now, I am just glad to be upright and not in jail (ok, that’s a little extreme, but you get my point). I have been humbled once or twice, and continue to be reminded that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”

So there you have it. That is the tip of the ice berg on what I have had to learn the hard way. Maybe sometime soon we will get to what’s underneath all of that-consider yourself warned.

awareness, Faith/Spirituality, Trust

“Putting the cart before the horse”

Maybe you are better than me, but sometimes, I forget things. Sometimes I forget where I put my sunglasses (which are on my head) and forget where I set my phone (frantically searching for it while talking on…my phone). Yesterday I ran off to show a house, forgetting to remind my son to take the chicken out of the oven (good thing it is spring now and we can open our windows!) and I can only remember to take my vitamins consistently for about 4 days in a row. After that, I have a tendency to forget that my general health care sort of needs a regular boost.

But what I find most disturbing are the soul-level things that can be forgotten even when I believe them in my deepest parts. It’s especially in-my-face when I read a little book I wrote and think, “Oh ya! I forgot I believe that! Maybe I should practice living as if I really do!”

This morning I was reading from a book called “Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True self” by Richard Rohr. He brought up an analogy that gave me a phrase that perfectly describes what it looks like when we forget. In this case, the forgetting involves what happens when I “put the cart before the horse.” When I put the “cart”, my cart, with it’s load of trash and treasures and decorated like it’s going to be in a parade, before the “horsepower” itself. Rohr says that the “horsepower” is precisely our primal (elemental, vital, central) union with God. When I get ahead of God, it’s as pre-post-erous as expecting a cart (with essentially no power in and of itself) to pull the horse. You ain’t gettin’ nowhere like that.

I love that when I looked up the phrase “putting the cart before the horse”, wikipedia told me that “preposterous” was a one word description for just such an action. “Pre” means before or front and “post” means at the end or in the back. So when something that should be in front is in the back and vice verse, that is preposterous! In case you are sleepy today (or I am being as clear as mud), this means that when I get out in front of God, not only in the wrong position but trying to do all the work, I demonstrate a lack of faith and trust and reliance on His power and His will. My EGO ( some say a good acrostic for that is “Edging God Out”) keeps me running and striving and exhausted, trying to provide my own horsepower for all of life’s experiences, good and bad. Sometimes I forget I am not that powerful.

Rohr reminds us that “the horse does all the work. Your work is of another kind; to stay calmly and happily on the road and not get back into the harness.” St. Teresa of Avila used a similar metaphor when she described how you can either keep digging the channel or find the actual spring and let it just flow toward you, in you, and from you. “Her entire mystical theology is about finding that Inner Flow and not wasting time digging trenches.”

Have you, too, forgotten? Forgotten that God is the ultimate Source, the horsepower that makes it possible for us live and move and have our Being? Forgotten that it’s not about works, but about grace and connection to God’s own heart first and foremost? Forgotten that he bids us to come to him because His burden is light and he will give us rest from the weariness of trying to pull our own cart?

If you tend to forget, like I so often do, may this be the day you remind yourself to remember all you have forgotten.

Faith/Spirituality, fear, Trust

“Do it afraid”

The more I think about fear, the more I realize that there are many nuances to it and that it’s going to take a few blogs to make a dent in any of it. Today I want to process something out-loud regarding the kind of fear that makes the most obvious sense: fear of doing something scary. The circumstances that are “scary” differ from person to person, but we all have one or two items we could hang in this closet. Sometimes they are as superficial as fear of riding a roller coaster and sometimes they are as personal as fear of intimacy, vulnerability, self-reflection, etc.

And speaking of roller coasters, let me tell you a little story that has helped me get a better handle on my ability to address my fears. Since I was in college my husband (then boyfriend) have been going to Silver Dollar City almost every year. It’s an old fashioned them park in Branson Missouri, and I mostly go for the Carmel apples, fresh fried pork rinds and funnel cakes. They also have a few rides, including about 3 terrifying roller coasters. One is called the Powder Keg which blasts you off from 0-90 in about 3 seconds. I love-hate it.

Every time we go there we have the same discussion.

Before:
Me: I don’t think I am going to go on the roller coasters this time.
Husband: Yes you are.
Me: No. I am not. I am too old and too scared. My tummy hurts and my heart is pounding just looking at them.
Husband: You’re going.
Me: No I’m not.
Husband: You only have to go once.
Me: Fine. (Sweating/nauseous /terrified)

During:
Me: Holding my breath. Then screaming until my kids tell me to hush. Then cursing under my breath until the ride is over.

Afterwards:
Me: That. Was sooooo scary! (Nervously laughing)
Husband: What did I tell you!?
Me: Let’s go again right now!

By the end of the day I go back to these roller coasters when there is no line and while my family is in the gift shop, I ride them over and over and over by myself or with my daughter who sort of has the same love-hate relationship with roller coasters as I do.

Some of our fears have to be addressed with this same strategy. You have probably heard the saying, “Courage is fear that has said it’s prayers.” I have a note on my bulletin board at work that reminds that the first step in overcoming fear is to “move my muscles”. Sometimes, as a mentor of mine tells me, you have to just “do it afraid.” You are scared to go on a roller coaster? That’s understandable. Do it afraid. You are scared to make those phone calls at work? Totally legitimate. Do it afraid. You are hesitant to be real/authentic/tender with someone who you love? Pefectly reasonable. Do it afraid. Move your muscles. Say a prayer, invite God in and ask him to go ahead of you, and do it afraid.

What you might find is what I discovered after I forced myself to “do it afraid” when I went on those roller coasters. The more you do it, the easier it gets to do it again. And, that even though you are still a tiny bit apprehensive at first, you have a sense of exhilaration in the end, if nothing else but from feeling proud of yourself for not letting your fear get the best of you.
In order to live a life not dominated by fear, we need to understand that a little fear is normal, but we can overcome those fears by acknowledging how we feel, and “doing it afraid”. Eventually we will develop a track record of confidence and success and trust in the powerful process and results that come from not allowing fear to immobilize us.

(Just talking about fear-and roller coasters-is literally causing my heart to race right now. But here I am 😳)

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Trust

“Terrification”

When my 22-year-old son, Berkeley, was about 2, he had an irrational (yet adorable) fear of “fuzzies”. Now that I think about it, maybe my house-keeping was lacking, because the “fuzzies” he was referring to were little balls of lint. If one made it’s way out from under the couch or was stuck to an item of clothing, he would panic and scream “Fuzzy! Fuzzy! Fuzzy!”. And while we’re on the fear-note, my kids and my husband all share a heightened fear of spiders. Spiders don’t just get stepped on or squished in our home, they get tortured, often with poisonous spray or a combo of fire and hairspray if time allows.

I am not particularly frightened of the usual suspects; snakes, spiders, public speaking, the dark, clowns, or fuzzies. But here is what I have come to realize about what I do fear: I am often afraid of pretty much everything else. Well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but let me tell you, it’s a lot. And most of the things I fear are about as rational as a fear of fuzzies.

Recently, quite by accident or divine direction, I came across some writings that helped me put some of my thoughts on fear into better words than I have been able to express on my own. See if some of them ring true for you:

*”The problem isn’t that we’re lost or apathetic, narcissistic or materialistic. The problem is we’re terrified…A lot of us know we have what it takes-the looks, the education, the talent, the credentials. But in certain areas we’re paralyzed. We’re not being stopped by something on the outside, but by something on the inside. Our oppression is internal…We’re just afraid, period. Our fear is free-floating. “

“Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking other people don’t have as much fear as we do, which only makes us more afraid. Maybe they know something we don’t know. Maybe we’re missing a chromosome.” 😂

“Fear is to love as darkness is to light. It’s a terrible absence of what we need in order to survive. It’s a place we go where all hell breaks loose.”

“God is not the author of fear. You are.”

On my way to work, almost every day for the past month or so, I tell Siri to “play ‘Fear, He is a Liar’ on U-Tube”. It ends about the time I pull into the office parking lot. I have to remind myself before I walk in the office and through-out my day, that “Fear, He is a liar”. I have to remind myself that the antithesis of fear is love and for me, Trusting that God knows better than I do how my day, my life, should play out. He knows that what I want is not always what I need. Even though I am not always 100% satisfied with the way my life is at that moment, I am still terrified that it will change or be taken away.  I believe that fear is at the root of most everything that is at unrest in my spirit (my anxieties and worries and hauntings) and the source of all my egomaniacal behaviors ( that’s the intellectual phrase for bragging, posturing, image-managing).

I don’t like having fear. It feels weak. It feels weak because it is weak. And even though it can be a powerful force that keeps me immobilized with insecurity, worry, hyper controlling and self-focused thinking, It is not all-powerful. There is a power greater than fear. I have found that power to be my God. He tells me that “perfect love casts out fear”. That’s definitely something worth unpacking because otherwise fear will get the better of me and hold me back from living in freedom, serenity, and unwavering trust.

Now that I have unearthed this idea that maybe we might all share a common struggle with terrification (a pseudo-intellectual word I made up meaning “a state of being terrified instead of terrific” ), I am going to sign off and think on this for a few days. Feel free to weigh in. More to come.

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Serenity, Special ed pre school

“Make Good Choices👍” (From the “Everything I need to know I learned in Special-Ed Preschool” series)

Some of my biggest life-lessons have come as a result of working for a few years with Special Ed pre-schoolers. As a 48 year old with a full-time job, a published author and a mother of 3 almost-grown children, that’s saying something. The “something” that is says is that at my core, I still need the simplicity of pre-school principles in order to address my emotional, relational and spiritual challenges. If I ever master the basics, I’ll be sure to let you know.

So, without further ado, I bring you another entry of “Everything I Need to know I Learned in Special-Ed Preschool”.

I tell you what, it’s been about 4 years since I worked at that school and I can still picture their adorable faces and hear their tiny voices in my head. One life-skill we worked very intentionally to teach them is the importance of making good choices. We regularly said to them, about a thousand times in a 2 hour time frame, “Make good choices” and accompanied that instruction with a smile and symbolic “thumbs up”. It occasionally made a difference, but it also took tattling to a whole different level. I distinctly remember a little boy finding me during play time and proudly informing me that so-and-so had made a “bad choice”, accompanied with a symbolic ‘thumbs down” gesture. Bless his precious pre-school heart…

This weekend, out of the blue (or maybe not so much, since I was thinking not-loving thoughts about and being extra critical of myself), I had a revolutionary thought. Remember the days (sadly, a fad that has waned a bit) when people wore WWJD? bracelets and put said stickers on their cars? It is an acronym for “What Would Jesus Do?”. And regardless of what you believe about him in a spiritual/salvation sense, I think most of us can agree that if we could indeed model our life and love patterns after Jesus, we would be pretty darn pleasant people. So, back to my revolutionary thought; Maybe it would be a better practice to ask myself WWJT?. “What Would Jesus Think?”. Because, my brain has a hard time deciding what exactly Jesus would do. Would he really work-out or tan or spend $5 on a coffee drink or kill time by wandering through Target? It’s a confusing question for me (like I said, I learn a lot from pre-schoolers so that should make perfect sense to you). But what I am fairly certain I can answer “yes” or “no” to is about what kind of thoughts I allow myself to entertain. It’s one thing for a thought to come through my mind, but whether I choose to let it in again or ruminate on it should depend on my answer to that question.

In other words, or in pre-school lingo, that means I have to “make good thought-choices”. Not that I am in the clear entirely about my not-so-nice thoughts about others, but I have found that my most destructive and anti-like-Jesus thinking is more about my thoughts about myself. In fact, even when my negative thoughts start off being about others, they usually circle back around to me (the EGO is a powerful monster). When I have jealous or covetous thoughts about another persons success at work or their material possessions, the root of those thoughts goes back to me feeling like somehow I have failed or don’t measure up. My thoughts quickly beat and batter myself over my perceived failure. I have a hundred more examples, but I think you get my point.

But most of all, it is worth posing the WWJT? Question to all the self-thoughts that cycle through my head minute by minute. I think part of the reason this idea was triggered in me this weekend was because I sang at church. I regularly doubt myself and my talents, comparing them to others who seem to be more confident and blessed with more natural vocal abilities. That’s when it occurred to me that these were not thoughts that I believe Jesus would have about himself. I can’t imagine that Jesus would tell himself that he stunk at what he was doing or that he wasn’t as good as that person so he might as well quit. I don’t believe he would complain about the body God had blessed him with or whine because his Father didn’t answer his prayers the way he expected him to or in the time slot he felt would work best for everyone. And here’s a good one, I don’t believe Jesus would worry in his mind about what his employer or co-workers think of him. He would do his best and forget the rest. What they thought of him ultimately had no bearing on his calling. I don’t even believe he would stress about what other people believe about him or if was who he said he was, knowing that they are in the hands of God himself who desires that each person should have an intimate relationship with Him. He just focused on loving God and loving people. He probably didn’t spend time obsessing about his problems, telling himself that things usually turn out bad for him so why bother expecting God to show up. Pretty sure he didn’t have thoughts like I often do: “I’m so stupid-lazy-forgetful-insensitive-worthless”. And this haunting thought that I am not enough (not spiritual enough, not thin enough, not smart enough, not tidy enough, not attentive enough, not serving enough, etc.) is not something I imagine he would entertain.

If I can learn to catch myself quickly, as all my thoughts creep in, and ask myself WWJT?, I just might be able to finally give myself a break. Maybe I can relax and trust God for my well-being, my affirmation and my identity. Maybe I can learn from Jesus’ way of thinking, how to think kinder, gentler thoughts about myself and my world.

What do ya think? Time for another kind of bracelet? WWJT? 🤔

Anxiety/Worry, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Trust

I’m OK. You’re (not) OK. That’s OK.

At first, I was struggling about what to say this morning. When I do my morning reading, I usually get a nudging or prompting from God about what to write about. More often than not, it is something I am personally working through, and it leans heavily toward ways my thinking has gone haywire. Today, just when I thought perhaps I had nothing to say, I connected the dots and in no time at all was snuggled on the couch with my IPad.

Let’s connect the dots together. Lately I have been having a hard time with being OK even when those around me are not OK (or at least not OK in the ways I want them to be OK). This way of living is disturbing to me. And that is an important and intentional way to say it: It is disturbing to me. Not to others. To me. When I allow what others do or say (or don’t do or say) to affect my peace of mind, I am allowing my own happiness and well-being to be determined by forces outside of myself. Depending on other people being OK for my OK-ness is dangerous, unsettling and exhausting.

I was reminded of this as I was lying in bed last night, not sleeping. I generally fall asleep pretty easily, but my son has had some issues getting to sleep so of course, like a responsible mother, I was laying in bed worrying about that on his behalf. Do you ever feel like that? That somehow fretting about those we care about is a requirement to prove ( To who? Not exactly sure.) that you really and truly care about them? This example is pretty minor. You can imagine what it can look like when people I know and love are in actual turmoil or battling a potentially terminal disease. It seems preposterous to consider that I could have a peaceful, happy and God forbid, fun, day or life when such circumstances are attached to people I care about.

I belong to a Recovery group that works the 12 Steps. The first step addresses this exact challenge (admitting you are powerless over ________ and that your life has become unmanageable) and I have read it out loud and studied it inside and out for about 6 years. And it’s still hard! You wanna know why? Because it is and always will be hard. Sometimes I act as if I will win if I just manage that thing, person or situation to death. But, because I am now aware of the solution, this mindset isn’t impossible to combat when I use the tools I have been introduced to. Here is a bit of that solution from some of the literature I draw from:

“…life is unmanageable whenever we lose perspective about what is and is not our responsibility. We take offense at actions that have nothing to do with us. Or we intervene where it is inappropriate and neglect our legitimate obligations to ourselves and others. Our misplaced concern for others becomes intrusive, meddling, resented, and doomed to failure. Instead of helping those we care about, we demonstrate a lack of respect for them or create discourse in our relationships.

When our preoccupation with others distracts us from our responsibilities to attend to our own physical, emotional, and spiritual health, we suffer. Our health and self-esteem decline. we become incapable of accepting reality, coping with change, or finding happiness.”

If you have been “preoccupied” in your mind with a loved one’s troubles or choices (whether they will make good ones or have already made ones you don’t agree with, which doesn’t always equal “bad”, by the way), neglecting your own health (forgetting to eat, over-eating, losing sleep, finding yourself immobilized or unable to have fun) or find yourself minding their business without invitation ( while forgetting to “mind” your own), it might be time to press “pause”. Pause in a quiet space and talk with God about what his will is for you. For you and only you. So much of the time I know I am missing it because my Being is consumed by the sayings and doings of others.

I have to learn to continually “let go and let God” take care of the people, places and things that are legitimately out of my control. I have a responsibility to live my one and only life with joy and passion and hope. I can be happy even when those I love are not. I can have a good day when those I care about are having a hard day. I can have peace in my soul even when others are at unrest and distressed.It’s called “detachment: separating myself emotionally and spiritually from other people”. It doesn’t mean I am irresponsible, indifferent, calloused or flippant about what others are experiencing. I can pray for them and extend kindness and love and appropriate help when it is welcomed. But ultimately, my serenity and contentment come from within me and can remain even when seas of anxiety and pain and stress swirl around me. It is indeed responsible, healthy, possible and desirable for me to be OK, even if you are not.

OK? OK.