Faith/Spirituality, fear, freedom

“Napping” Fear

I am not always aware of the fear “napping” in my soul. The other day I was reminded. Let me tell you a story about me that I’d rather not, but know I need to. It’s a “soul-selfie” in it’s most un-doctored form; the kind that makes you look like you just rolled out of bed.

I was having lunch with a friend the other day. Feeling pretty normal and unflustered about life. All was well. As I stood up to leave, a person who have felt very wounded by got in line. She didn’t see me. I had a moment where my stomach flipped over, but she didn’t see me so I wished her well in my head and headed to empty my tray. “That wasn’t so bad”, I thought. “Maybe I am getting better at this forgiveness thing”.  As I turned around, I caught a glimpse of someone joining her, whom was a part of the falling out. She wash heading for the exact area I needed to go to empty my tray. I paused, prayed, and proceeded to walk over, meet her at the door and say, “Hey there. Nice to see you. Hope you and your family are well. Have a great day!”.

Oh wait…that’s what I wish I. would have done. Or at least something in that vein. Instead, what I did do, was ran. I saw her coming and without any pausing or praying, I proceeded to shove my tray into my confused lunch-date’s hands and said, “Please throw this away for me, I gotta go!”, and I fled to my car and locked the doors (for extra protection). I was reacting out of a fearful spirit that I thought I had overcome.

Here are some of my thoughts on fear as I unpacked this event in my head a couple days later; Oh, the crystal clear benefits hindsight.

I have a visual of what fear looks like that helps me see it for what it is. Let’s call it a “he” for the sake of this blog. He is a little imp, devilish and devious, who behaves like a toddler having a tantrum. He is out of control, bigger and stronger than even a grown adult can handle most days, confounding to those around him, exhausting, raging with chaos, all-consuming, exasperating, bulldozing and bratty and mean. When he is like that, I do a lot of praying and meditating and reading and talking to counselors and mentors and friends to get him calmed down. I have been doing that consistently for the past several years. I actually thought I might have have finally given him the big heave-ho.

But then…then something happens and I realize that he wasn’t gone at all, he was just napping on my living room floor. I had been tip-toeing around him so as not to disturb him. Like we do when a child finally wears themselves out and falls asleep in their car seat. Side note-my parents often tell me the story of a time I was inconsolably crying and fussing ( when I was little, not like, yesterday, just to clarify) while traveling ( as I screamed and raged on blankets on the floor of the back seat because that was way before seat belts mattered) When I finally wore myself out enough to fall asleep, they didn’t dare risk waking me up by stopping to change drivers so they made the switch while in motion. Fear is kind of like that. He seems harmless and small while sleeping, but when he gets disrupted, run for the hills. I realized that though I thought he was gone, he was really just taking time out to recuperate. I forgot about Fear,  and when I wasn’t paying good attention, I tripped over him and woke a sleeping giant.

So-how do I deal with this Fear guy? Can I kill Him once and for all so I can stop scanning rooms for people I might need to flee from? Let me say that I have done hundreds of hours of work in an effort to rid myself of Fear, but so far, my best efforts have just lulled him to sleep. What I am finally realizing through much reading, prayer and open-mindedness, is that he is impervious to death but eviction is an strong possibility. As author Beth Moore puts it, I have been focusing more on the strength of my stronghold than the strength of my God. I have left a cushy place for Fear to rest instead of filling my “house” with more considerate and helpful guests like love, Joy, peace, patience, kindness, trust, bravery, forgiveness, compassion, grace, self-control, passion, faithfulness. When those inhabit my spaces, Fear gets squished out. There’s simply no room for him.

I have a few ideas about how to make this shift in my life. I’ll get back to you on those in a few days. For now, I will begin by NOT giving Fear more attention than he deserves. He’s already monopolized this entire blog. Enough of that already. I’ll be in touch soon.
For now:
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about THOSE things. (Philippians 4:8)

Brokenness, Comparision, Faith/Spirituality, freedom, Growth, identity

The comparison trap

I love it when a good blog topic comes together! I always know I am supposed to write about something when I get this kind of affirmation from God. Let me tell you what led up to me sitting on my couch talking out-loud about one of my hugest character defects: Comparison. If you ever struggle with feeling less-than or better-than, you are in good company and I hope you can learn a couple things that might alleviate some of the pain that comes from living with the emotionally detrimental effects of comparing yourself to others.

None of this is a new battle for me, I just have become excruciatingly aware of the damage it has on my serenity through some recent and serious comparison “opportunities”. As a result, while driving 3 hours to Missouri, I finally listened to some CDs a friend gave me about a year ago ( sorry, girl!). There were 6 CDs hammering home “The Power of Vulnerability” by Brene’ Brown, a Shame Researcher. Ya, I know, just some light travel entertainment. She said a lot of poignant junk that I could definitively benefit from, but one particular phrase that stood out was, “comparison kills vulnerability.” According to her, comparison is the number one blocker of real, authentic relationships with others and peace with oneself. I knew immediately this was an area of growth that was gonna involve some retraining and rewiring of my default setting: comparing myself to practically everyone.

This new information had been marinating in my mind for a few days when I had a revelation one morning while jogging on the treadmill next to some “real” runners. Well, that’s what myself told myself. I was running with all my might and felt a little like my heart was going to burst. I was about a stride away from just flying off the back of the treadmill into the people on the rowers-who I am pretty sure were staring at my backside and feeling sorry for me (“bless her heart…she thinks she is a runner:). The people on either side of me were clipping along at a much more rigorous pace and yet they were smiling, talking and hardly sweating or breathing hard. What gives? This is when the slogan I have often quoted to myself but not totally bought into, apparently, came to mind: “Don’t judge your insides by other people’s outsides”. This is exactly how it works; I feel something or know something inside me and determine I am a mess, a failure, a loser, because people around me (in my office, at the gym, at my church, and on the guru of all vulnerability killers, social media) SEEM to be just fine and dandy. They don’t seem to be “huffin’ and puffin’”. Their life looks glamorous, their kids and husband appear successful and kind and amazing. None of my internal reaction to what goes on in my dark, insecure, egocentric, judgmental, embarrassing insides makes me want to share anything with people who I perceive as having it all together based on what they portray on the outside.

The final “sign” to me that this is an area I could stand to do some work on, came when I sat down to write about it. I had piddled around so long that I ran out of time so I decided to just do my daily reading in my Recovery book and revisit this blog another time. I opened to the page for February 13th and just started crying. Here were some of the phrases:

-Comparing myself to others was a defect of character that plagued me all my life.
-I didn’t like myself because I wasn’t living up to what I believed to be true about others.
-I (now) know that my growth can’t be compared with anyone else’s…I have learned that I can’t judge my insides with other people’s outsides. We’re all doing the best we can.

Another reading earlier in February points out that when we live like we are are on a ladder, “everyone above me-to be feared or envied-or below me-to be pitied”, we kill vulnerability. We sacrifice our chance to have authentic, meaningful relationships with others and ourselves. We ante-up or work to protect our secrets and flaws. We can’t relax and just be our whole-hearted selves. We end up lonely and exhausted.

And by we, I mean me. Though I have a hunch I might not be alone in this Comparison trap. In order to get out if it, I plan to change my belief and expectations about who I wish I was and who I am meant to be. I have to own my own story and stand firm in the knowledge that I am exactly who and where God wants me to be today.  I am enough. And so are you.

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, freedom, thinking

Swipe left…

Not that I have used them personally, but because I try my best to not bury my head in the technological sand just because I am 49 (…and happily married, I might add), I know a thing or two about dating sites. Bear with me…

The one thing I know is that at least one site allows you to swipe the picture on the screen to the right if you are interested and may revisit their profile later, or swipe left if you (by merely looking at someones face/body/body parts) give that person a thumbs down. You basically move them to your “trash”. It sounds insane when you say it like that, right? Well, before you get too worked up about it, let me assure you that I am just using this as a metaphor to help you have a visual for how to control your thoughts without letting them control you.

I mentioned awhile back that I was reading a book about how to Detox your brain. While I still have miles to go, I have tried to come up with ways to get this done, because my thoughts-my negative, destructive and degrading thoughts-often hijack my mind and create stress and anxiety and fear. For some reason, this idea popped in my head a couple days ago and I have been attempting to utilize it, sorting through my thoughts as the pop up. I am still in the process of tweaking it, but I’ll give you the gist.

When any thought pops in my head, I am trying to discipline myself to ask a couple questions about it. The first is: “Is it my thought or my business?”. This question is easy to answer and can eliminate huge amounts of time and energy I might otherwise give it. Let’s say, for example, I am with a group friends and one of them brings up a subject that I know is a sensitive issue and might trigger anger in another friend. Typically, I would immediately feel some tension and perhaps try to figure out how I can smooth out or fix what has just happened. But, if I ask the question, “Is this my thought or my business?”, the answer is clearly NO. So I give it to God. I swipe left. I “trash” it and mind my own business, leaving me to enjoy my friends for exactly who they are and where they are at that moment. Or how about when I notice I am fretting about what some one else is or might be angry/frustrated/worried/stressed about? “Is this my thought?”. Nope. It is a thought that belongs to them alone and I don’t have to give it any attention or let it effect my serenity. I give it to God. I swipe left. I trash it.

The next question I added after I had been practicing this for a couple days: “Can I control it?”. This one is pretty cut and dry. You can’t? You know what to do with it!

The last and biggest question you will have to decide for yourself, as long as it falls into a similar vein as this: “Is it beneficial, kind and true?”. If you have a relationship with God, you can simply ask “Is this from God?”, because that will automatically alert you to all the good thoughts that God imparts and represents (His thoughts and ways are lovely, kind, nonjudgmental, gracious, forgiving, compassionate, empathetic, honest, uplifting, encouraging, gentle, etc.). I definitely need to ask this question so I can better relate to people in my world; my family but also my clients, my friends and people God puts in my path as I go through my day. But the main reason I started this practice was to eliminate repetitive thoughts I have about myself that are very much NOT “beneficial, kind or or true”. When I have thoughts, which are often subtle and sheepish but have razor sharp teeth, like “I’ll never get better at…”, or “I don’t think I will ever be able to…” or “I am always going to struggle with….”, I have to put them to the question test. 9/10 times my thoughts fail that test. But instead of continuing down the mental, emotional and physically draining path these thoughts try to take me on, or worse yet, beat myself up for having them in the first place, I now have a tool. If the answer to my question is “NO”, I give it to God. I swipe left. I trash it. I move on and replace those thoughts with the God’s instructions:

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-Think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Swipe left my friends…

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.